Thanksgiving Memories

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Thanksgiving 2019 arrives this coming Thursday, bringing with it a multitude of memories.  When I was a little girl, our Thanksgiving celebration was a small one — my parents, grandparents, my sister and me.  The turkey was fresh from a local farm, the pies made by my mother (with me helping to roll the dough), and the table was set with my mother’s best “china”, many pieces of which still reside in my own china closet.  While I always looked forward to this special day, it somehow felt as if a “real” Thanksgiving should have more people around the table.

I married into a family whose Thanksgiving dinner was much larger.  The faces around my mother-in-law’s table also included aunts, uncles and cousins, and later, my own babies and my little nephew.  It was a day to celebrate family, as well as give thanks for the good things in our lives.

As my mother-in-law aged, we celebrated Thanksgiving at my sister-in-law’s house — such a lovely place to be, with her fireplace adding warmth and atmosphere as we ate.  As the family grew, we never knew for certain quite how many cousins and second cousins would be there, but the food was always plentiful, and there was ALWAYS room for one more at the table.  

Through the years, there were only a few times that I hosted Thanksgiving; we always gathered at my house for Christmas dinner, until my daughters-in-law took over the Christmas celebration.  Last Thanksgiving we all gathered here, but my old Victorian house with its many rooms, does not have one room large enough to hold our growing family.  Somehow, a buffet-style Thanksgiving lacked that beautiful feeling of family gathered around one table.  This year, our ever-growing family will be at my son’s house, where we can all sit together to celebrate our day of Thanks.

Holidays are a time of both celebration for the family surrounding us, and sadness for those who have passed from this world.  There have been many Thanksgivings when our hearts were aching, but the traditions helped us through our losses.  We may have had tears in our eyes, but we also had the beautiful memories of our loved ones to cherish.

Somehow, after all the years that have passed, with my dream of large family celebrations answered, one of my fondest Thanksgiving memories will always be helping my mother to roll out her delicious pie crust in our little kitchen (sampling pieces as I helped).  My heart misses her gentle heart and her kindness.  By the way, she did not enjoy cooking, and usually ended up with a terrible migraine when dinner was set out on the table — Love you Mom!!

 

Evolving as We Grow

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In a little country graveyard, lies my firstborn baby, in a grave marked only with corner markers.  She was laid to rest at the feet of a good friend’s husband, and at the time, I marked her grave with a wooden cross, which slowly deteriorated through all of these long years.

I am writing this today, in an effort to show how our beliefs and opinions evolve through the years.  At the time my baby was stillborn in 1973, abortion was a contentious issue, as it still is today.  In those days I was strongly pro-life.  A few months after the loss of my baby girl, I wrote an article for a local newspaper about the hopes I had carried for this first child of mine, as well as my deep feelings about the abortion issue.  Following are excerpts from this article:

“When I first learned that I was pregnant I was thrilled.  I had wanted a baby for so long…it was an answer to my prayers.  I read everything I could on prenatal care and kept an avid eye on all of the month by month developmental charts.  I was awed to think of this small being I was carrying.  When I first felt the baby move and heard its heartbeat, I felt that this must be one of the most special moments of a woman’s life.  I began to think of how I would raise my baby.  I wanted to help my child to grow up at peace with himself and show him the beautiful side of people and nature.  As I began collecting baby clothes, I pictured the tiny little body which would be using them.  I wanted my child to know he was loved.  I fell asleep at night cuddling my stomach because it seemed somehow as if the baby would know I was holding him and loved him.

Two months before my due date, my little girl was stillborn.  It was a shock and I was heartbroken.  I never even had a chance to hold her and tell her I loved her.  I could have nine more children but I would not miss this one any less.  When I see a little girl laughing and playing, I know my little girl will never laugh.  When I see flowers and sunlight, I know she will never see them.  She will never fall in love or be a mother.  A part of my heart is lying in that tiny grave, under the flowers she’ll never be able to see.  Nothing can change the heartbreak and regret I feel, but perhaps this story will touch the heart of a mother who at this moment cannot decide whether her baby’s life is worth a change in her lifestyle.  Maybe in this way my baby’s death will count for something.”

As I read these words now, 45 years later, after being blessed with three more children and five grandchildren, I realize how cold and cruel these last two sentences seem to me.  In those days, I saw abortion as completely wrong and selfish.  I was young and had not experienced much of life.  I did not know how difficult and tiring raising a baby alone could be.  I didn’t think about how a single mother would need to work to support her child, to pay for childcare, to feed and clothe her little one.  I did not know that the costs of healthcare would rise so astronomically.  I did not think of so many issues that arise for single parents to face alone.  

Through the years, these very issues have influenced my stance on abortion.  The very people who scream the loudest against abortion often do not have any concept of the problems facing a poor, single mother.  I realize that there are women who make this choice for reasons I do not understand, but it is not up to me to judge them.  Giving birth and raising a child to adulthood is, to me, the greatest treasure in life, but to some women, discovering they are pregnant feels like a life sentence.  Who am I to decide for another woman what is right for her?

I still don’t like the idea of abortion — I can never say that I am comfortable with it, and I do not believe in late-term abortion, but I think abortion must be a private decision.  It should not be legislated by politicians who know NOTHING about a woman’s circumstances.  Through all these years of living and listening to all sides of issues, I have evolved, and I pray for the women who must make this difficult decision, and I believe it is a decision better left up to the woman herself.

 

Solitary Time on the Rail Trail

 

 

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While I find great pleasure in spending time with family and friends, and meeting new acquaintances, I also treasure solitude.  There are times when I need to be alone with my thoughts.  One of my favorite escapes is the rail trail near my home.  This rail trail carries with it many memories.  For almost thirty years of my life, this was a working railroad track, and my days were marked by the trains that chugged past.  My godfather was a brakeman for the railroad, and he rode the trains on this track for many years, so I also carry the memories of his stories in my heart.

Several years ago, this track was abandoned by the railroad, and our County bought it and began the long process of creating a beautiful rail trail for our local communities.  Today, it is a favorite destination for walkers, bikers, and runners.  Some sections border the back of homes and businesses, and some are totally wild — filled with trees and wildflowers and deep ravines that drop off sharply a few feet from the trail.

There are days when I walk with neighbors, carrying on conversations as we walk, days when I push my twin grandbabies in their stroller, and days when I walk with my older grandchildren.  The vastness of the wild land surrounding it is breathtaking, and I most often prefer my solitary walks, when I can let my mind wander from thought to thought, or focus on the beauty of the wild world around me.  I love to take photos when something particularly touches me.  A short time ago, as I walked along, I spotted two tall trees which had grown toward each other at the top, forming a lovely arch.  Had it not been for the steep drop-off just beyond the arch, I imagined it as a lovely little arbor area for a small wedding, or a teatime picnic, a sort of fairy-tale treasure.

 

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Most of my everyday life involves interaction with loved ones and friends and community, and I enjoy being active and involved and close to the people I care about so deeply.  And yet, there is that need inside me for solitary time — time when I don’t have to interact with anyone or be responsible for anything.  I treasure any bits of solitude that come my way during the day, and I certainly do not have to be walking the beautiful rail trail to find peace and tranquility, but I am thankful for this lovely haven that has been created for us.  I love the sounds of birdsong, wind in the treetops and the gentle flutter of butterfly wings, and I feel my godfather’s soul walking along with me — quietly, demanding nothing from me, but reminding me that he was once here too, and that he loved me.

Aging With Grace

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That smiling baby is me about 68 years ago.  I look back at her innocent little face, and think of all that has happened in her life, in my life, since this photo was taken.  Just now, as I was looking forward to a peaceful afternoon, my husband stormed out of the house, yelling at me — saying I didn’t know anything about anything.  What he means is that I am not a person who understands technology or mechanics.  He knows very well that I am intelligent and that I know a great deal about many things.  This is just one of his “days” — for our entire marriage, he has had these “days” — days when he feels the need to yell and belittle and be furious.  And, then, he has better days.  Sadly, though, in my heart, the “better” days can never make up for the “bad” days.

As this smiling baby grew up, she never knew what her life would be like at 68.  None of us do.  All of life is a mystery to us, if we really think about it.  Looking back from this vantage point, I can see that we have no control over our destinies, only how we respond to them. 

I began writing this blog in 2007 — back then, I was caring for my first newborn granddaughter during the day, and had a family business to help run.  Now, twelve years later, I have three older grandchildren and twin grandbabies that I am once again helping to care for.  Our family business was a casualty of the recession several years ago, and we now live on a very limited income. 

I have friends who travel and eat out often, and have new cars and nice clothing.  I don’t.  However, I do have friends who understand and care, and we get together regularly to talk and laugh and drink wine, and help each other through the tough times of aging.  We lost one of our friends this summer to cancer, but I know, even though we feel sad, her spirit is right there with us — we just aren’t able to hear her laughter right now.

I have three children and five grandchildren that I love beyond measure.  I live in a cozy old house in an historic district.  It needs work, but it is my sanctuary, regardless of its sagging porch and worn kitchen.  I have become very active in a local group formed to preserve our historic district and other historic areas in our town.  This has given me purpose, as well as much new knowledge of how town and county governments work.  Some of the members have been long-time friends, and others are new friends — and I thoroughly enjoy being with them all.  I feel my horizons stretching with each new person I meet.

As I’ve grown older, some health problems have set in, but I go for regular checkups and try to follow my doctors’ instructions.  I try to stay healthy so I can enjoy this life of mine, and watch my grandchildren grow up.

I love to feed the birds and savor the sights and scents of my garden in the summer, and watch the snow falling gently in the winter.  I have a large collection of books, and always have a book beside my chair to read.  I enjoy lingering at book sales and consignment shops and estate sales.  I never know what treasure I may find.  Most of all, I love the time I spend with my friends and family.  

Obviously, my life has taken a path I would not have expected — happily ever after was not in the cards for me, but I make sure that I treasure each pleasure that comes my way, enjoy my relationships with friends, new and old, and try to not dwell on the “might-have-beens”.  

Life is too precious to fret about what we wish we had done differently; we need to live in the here and now — and not miss a moment of joy.  If I could look that little baby in the eyes and tell her how her life would turn out, I would tell her to always look for the happiness in a situation, treasure those who treat you well, find your bliss and enjoy it, and never worry about wrinkles and gray hair when you get old — just pray that you grow old, and can have the immense pleasure of holding your grandchildren in your arms.

 

Finding My Voice

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I was always rather shy; I was tall and clumsy, and preferred to not draw attention to myself.  I did well in school, followed the rules, and always wished I was one of the popular girls, but I was not.  I was always very nervous when I had to speak in front of a group — preferring to be as unobtrusive as possible.  I spent time with a small group of friends and when alone, lost myself in books. 

When my children were young, I was involved in their school activities — room mother, scout leader, field trip chaperone — but none of these things required me to speak publicly.  As they grew, so did my confidence, as I began to deal more and more with the wider world around me.  I learned to stand up for my children and myself.  I learned that I was no longer that awkward, shy little girl.  I was learning to voice my opinions and stand up for what I felt was best in difficult situations.

Many years have passed since then, and I have become much more confident and less intimidated by people with more education or experience than me.  I have found a passion that has given me the courage to speak out and be heard.  This passion is historic preservation.  I live in a community that has been designated a National Historic District, and yet we face an uphill battle to save certain areas from development.  Throughout our entire town, there are small and large pieces of history that should be protected, and we are fighting to preserve them, too.  For someone so new to the intricacies of town and county procedures, I often feel frustrated that I am not more knowledgeable when I speak out at meetings, but I do speak out.  I am not afraid anymore to stand up in front of a group of people and express my opinions and my strong desire to protect these buildings and pieces of our history.  

The photo above is of a local small family cemetery in the midst of a large commercial development area.  This cemetery is an example of what can be done if people try to save our historic treasures.  We are fortunate that many of our Town and County leaders are sensitive to the issues we care so deeply about.  It is important, though, that we attend the meetings, talk to our representatives, explain our reasons for wanting to save our history.  And so, I stand up and I speak, and I even argue my point at times — at 68 years old, I have FINALLY found my voice!!

Too Busy??

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My life this spring has been hectic and stressful.  It seems the weeks are filled with doctor appointments, town meetings, parties, get-togethers with friends, and, most importantly helping to care for my twin grandbabies.  Of course, much of this activity is enjoyable except, of course, the doctor appointments; however, even pleasurable activity can be tiring when you are 68 years old and feel like you fall behind a bit each week in your obligations.

Spring began slowly this year, with snow on the ground later than normal, chill winds, and raw temperatures in early April.  By the time it felt warm enough to go out and rake out the leaf mulch, the perennials were already beginning to grow up through the mulch.  I always make an effort to spend two or three days raking out the gardens and picking up windblown branches; some years this is possible, and other years, such as this one, I find myself outside at odd hours, raking out sections of gardens, and never quite catching up to the growing plants.  I am also a naturalist, so I am careful to let the tiny spring flowers and the dandelions scattered across the lawn grow to maturity before the first good mowing of the lawn.

The past couple of weeks my grandbabies were sick, so my days were more often filled with holding feverish little ones in my arms than they were with tending my gardens.  Somehow, though, when you are a haphazard gardener like me, you realize that nature tends to take care of itself.  It always amazes me how these tiny little sprouts can push up through a mass of leaf mulch, to drink in the gentle rain and sunlight, and grow into the flowers they were meant to be.  Somehow, the weather this April was perfect for bleeding hearts.  Outside my back porch, my garden is filled with these beautiful plants, which multiply and grow more lovely each year.  The Lily-of-the-Valley are preparing to bloom.  In my mostly ignored round garden by the bird feeder, the Solomon’s Seal, which I thought was gone last year, is growing and budding out in thick patches.  The hardy ferns are taking their place around the pond and the front porch.

There is still a great deal of work to be done, and here I sit, on my quiet Sunday morning, writing at the computer instead of working outside.  I am thinking of the side yard which needs a total refurbish to complement the beautiful picket fence my husband put in last year.  Instead, I spent my Saturday at a large family party for the twins’ first birthday — what a wonderful day, filled with family and friends, and lots of babies and toddlers to hug.  I certainly wouldn’t have traded this special celebration for anything. 

So much of life is a trade-off — we alone can decide the most significant use of our time.  For me, family and friends always come first — no doubt, no exceptions!!  However, the multitude of other choices as to how I spend my days calls for more careful thought.  At this age, my energy is much more limited than when I was younger, and often, even though I would love to cram my days with all of the activities that are important to me, I must choose between them.  Do I do the grocery shopping, or clean the house, or work on my historic preservation letter?  Do I relax with a book, write, finish up the paperwork that lies in wait on my desk?  Do I spend time in the gardens, listening to birdsong and feeling my heart lift with each new tiny plant peeking through the ground?

This is the one drawback of aging — how do we choose our everyday activities when the choices are so numerous and inviting, and time and energy are limited.  I’m thinking, though, that grocery shopping is probably the best choice to make this morning, or we will not be eating this week!!!

 

The Golden Years

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I look at this photo from someone’s Facebook post, and it reminds me of summer days when I was young.  I can still remember the long process of “washday”, as I helped my mother and grandmother.  First, we washed the clothes in a wringer washer (always being careful to not get my fingers caught in the wringer), and then we rinsed them in the big washtub, once again running them through the wringer and into the wicker basket, ready to be carried up the basement stairs to the clothesline outside.  In all of my memories, the days were lush and warm, as we hung the clothes on the line with wooden clothespins, and the breeze rustled through them.  Once they were dry, we unpinned them from the line, and folded them before placing them back in the basket.  They smelled of fresh air and sunshine, and I loved to bury my face in them, feeling the warmth of the sun in their cloth.  

This was my grandmother’s life, as I saw it; her days spent working along with my mother at household chores, cooking dinner for herself and my grandfather, and spending time with my sister and me.  As she aged, my grandfather died before her, leaving her lonely and confused, stuck in a world which no longer held much pleasure for her, even though she was living with my parents and my sister then.  So my role model for the “golden years” was not a happy one.

In today’s world, though, as I age, a whole new life opens up before me.  Granted, there are the health issues that plague so many of us, but with which we learn to live — taking our medications, visiting our various doctors regularly, and living within our individual limitations.  However, I never realized the pleasures that would accompany these later years — having the time to take care of my grandchildren and to be close to them, becoming an activist for preserving our local history, our forests, open spaces and farmlands, and now, becoming involved with a group working to minimize climate change on a local level.  

I am also fortunate to have good friends, good neighbors, and a large extended family, so life is busy.  Perhaps one of my most treasured gifts in these “golden years” is the friendships — there is something infinitely comforting and reassuring about knowing we have friends to turn to as we face the challenges of growing older.  At this age, we value our friendships more deeply and thankfully.  Whether it be a lunch with one friend, or a gathering of several friends, there is always the time for serious conversations, the sharing of memories, and tremendous amounts of laughter.

Who knows what the future holds, and I may very well end my life in a gradual decline to dementia as did my grandmother, but in the meantime, I am enjoying my life with all of its activities, and spending precious time with my family, and my friends — taking full advantage of these “Golden Years” I am living today.