The Attitude of Gratitude – Thankful Thursday 2

This week’s easy: I’m grateful for old friends, and a hometown that guarantees that I will run into them every decade or so, if not more often, and we can pick right up where we left off.

This town, my hometown, has its issues, just like anyplace, but I brought Mike and our child back here for a simple reason: I knew that there are some things in this town that will never change, and that for the rest of our child’s life, there will be people here that have known and cared about our child since elementary school.  Any visit to a regular destination like a local grocery or pharmacy is a pretty sure bet that we will run into someone we know, and every Fourth of July dozens of peer-aged people will return here, and our child will have a happy reunion or two, if only for a few minutes. It’s worth it for that.

This is the kind of place where people you have known since kindergarten, people you grew up with, who share history and memories, will be around, even if you don’t see them often. When you do see them, you’ll take right back up again, wherever you left off, and it just feels good knowing that can happen, at random, any given day.

I’m grateful for the reconnections I made in the summer at my high school reunion (the decade marked to remain unspoken here!) and that I’ve managed to sustain. As my classmates and I cross into new decades, aging into numbers I’m still in denial about, losing parents and spouses, watching kids grow up and leave, or adult children with disabilities take on new challenges, gnawing our nails with nerves but enduring, because we have to, because it is our job as parents, I’m grateful to know I’m not alone in this – that we remember what it used to be like, whose house that was, what the kids looked like when they were small, what the parents looked like when they were young, how they partied, how we did, and how we survived. How we keep going.

And how many of you are thriving. I’ve seen old girlfriends recently who never looked better – who have endured loss, grief and estrangement but who have rallied, reinvented, not just endured but gotten better and stronger. I’m so proud of you, and so grateful that you call me friend. I admire you and hope to be more like you if I can.

So here’s to you, old friends – see you ’round town, soon. Keep up the good work, the strong living, the moving forward. I’ll try to keep up!

The Attitude of Gratitude – Thankful Thursday 1

The chair wasn’t empty after all – it was imprinted with the form and memory of Mom, Grandma and still more Grandmothers before…

It’s the chair my Mother sat in every day, watching television, when she could still make it from the bedroom out to the family room to sit, on the days when she could just tolerate the frustration of the walker and the tether of the oxygen line.

It has been in my house since Mom died, nearly four years ago. For three years it sat in our little “library” room (a room probably more appropriately called a “den”) and I never sat in it.

Predictably, that cat commandeered it, claiming it as yet another spot she owned in this small house.

It still had the blue seat cushion that Mom used, and I could see her there, scowling, angry, frustrated, fed up, tired, defiant.IMG_20180103_220530955.jpg

On the day I was ready to finally get rid of Mike’s chair, the beat-up glider he had used in that den, I noticed that the cat’s occupancy of Mom’s chair had destroyed that blue seat cushion. It was past salvaging. So after I dragged Mike’s old brown glider, the one that managed to absorb crumbs and dust on its rails in a way that made it impossible to clean and thus also unsalvageable, out to the street as our one allowed “bulk item” for our weekly trash pick-up, I took the blue seat cushion off Mom’s chair, and threw it in the trash as well.

I moved the chair from one corner of the room to another, in a position across from my Dad’s chair (that’s for another post, another day) and slightly more toward the window.

And I sat down in it, for the first time in more than thirty years.

Immediately I noticed how well the chair fit me, as if it were molded for me, or on me. The meat of my palms at the base of my thumbs was cupped exactly by the rounded ends of the chairs’ arms.

The chair hit me in just the right place in my back. My feet rested perfectly on the floor, with my knees at a comfortable right angle, instead of dangling as they usually do from most all the other chairs in the world that seem to be made from some universal measure for people six inches taller than I.

The seat accommodated my, let’s say, “ample” behind like it had been waiting just for me.

I suddenly felt gently immersed in a kinship with generations of women in my family who had used that chair before me – not just Mom, but Grammie, and Grammie’s Mom, and her mother before her, if I remember the history of the object correctly.

That chair has a sort of genetic memory, and sitting in it gave me a moment of that memory.

These were tough, no-nonsense, New England women. Mom, a nurse. Grammie, a schoolteacher who like me, was widowed early. Grammie’s Mom, both a farm wife and shopkeeper’s wife, in early twentieth century Maine.

My relationships with Mom and Grammie couldn’t really be described as “warm.” Loving, yes. But filled with the kind of petty struggles that seem never-ending between Mothers and daughters, generation to generation. Stand up straight, comb your hair, set the table, hem that skirt, sew on the button, shuck the corn, can’t you do something about that hair! Call the men to dinner, dry the dishes, get your nose out of that book and go outside!

But when I sat down in that chair, I felt a depth of kinship, a physical kinship, with these women that was never so apparent to me before.

We were the same physical size. We walked through the world with nearly identical hands. Their hips were broad, like mine, and they liked to sit up straight, as I learned to do after all those little struggles.

I am grateful for that. The chair brought me close to those ancestresses in a different and deeper way than I had felt or considered before; as a teenager I had simply taken it for granted that my Grandmother’s dresses fit me and I never really thought about what that meant until I sat in my grandmothers’ (plural, at least three generations of them) chair.

Here is some deep connection, I thought. Their hands rested here, just as mine do, on short armrests of just the right length for them, and now, for me. The back of this chair supported their lower backs after long, long days of housekeeping, farming, nursing, just as it supports mine now.

The top of the back of the chair, covered in the picture with the cashmere blanket Dad gave Mom when she was expecting my oldest brother, her first child, is quite ornate. It is not comfortable for resting your head on – HA! No matter how exhausted these women were, they still sat up straight, heads high.

And now that my hands are starting to resemble my Mother’s hands, with hints of the same kind of arthritis, and my joints creak a little more, the way hers did, I feel a deeper kinship with these women, and I sense a message from them – they didn’t expect me to understand this while they were living, but they left a message, in that chair, for me, for after they were gone.

You are not so different from us. You have us within you. You’ll be ok. You can make it, no matter what life throws at you. Rest and rock a bit, but keep your head up.

I hope that means I have at least some of their toughness, their strength and grit, their endurance, their resilience, their clarity and longevity, their practical, no nonsense get-on-with-it-ness that got them past 85, to 89, to 90.

We weren’t demonstrative enough with each other – not enough hugs or endearments. But they did everything they could to transmit practical wisdom to me. 

Mom whispered when she sewed, drawing me in as she showed me the careful stitches to shorten the hems of every new skirt or dress, stitches that would be necessary for every new garment before “free alterations” or the new era of “petite” sizes. 

And I am grateful for that. And for the chair that reminds me of that.

Grammie was fierce with the rolling pin, brisk with the homemade doughnut dough (which she got up at 5 am to make for us on our summer visits to Maine), and I remembered that when rolling out the cookie dough this holiday season, using Mom’s wooden rolling pin, which she wielded with similar ferocity against any pie crust that dared defy her.

And I’m grateful I got to watch and learn from them, skills that seem old fashioned and forgotten, but that give me some small pride and pleasure still.  I’m grateful for the sense of shock I felt when an acquaintance casually confessed that she was walking on the cuffs if her trousers because she did not know how to shorten them.

Well, as a descendent of those hardy New England women, I’m grateful that I know how to thread a needle, measure and shorten a hem, sew on a button, roll out a pie crust or follow the rules of ICE (ice, compression, elevation) after a sprain. There is so much more they knew that I didn’t pay enough attention to – but I’m grateful for that chair that reminds me of those strong women who came before me, small as me in stature but richer by far in practical skill. Somehow when I sit there, in that chair that fits me perfectly, I feel a bit of their wisdom and experience coming through – remember – remember what we could do. What you still can do, if you put your mind to it.

So on this first post for my “thankful Thursdays,” I’m sticking to the basics like that chair.

I’m grateful too for the den in this little house where that chair resides, in the spot where Mike’s glider used to be, where memories of evenings listening to music with him remain vivid.

And for the little house itself, in these frigid January days, that has light and heat  and food and blankets within it. And pipes that haven’t frozen through years of winter as harsh as this.

I’m grateful that so far, the chickens have survived the subzero cold, while ceasing to lay eggs, as expected.

I’m grateful that the car starts, that the plumber came on Christmas Eve (time and a half, but hey, he came) and that I found the right part for the dishwasher, even though I’ll have to pay to have it installed.

I’m grateful to live in a place that values open, natural spaces, or as natural as they can be remade to be, to walk and breathe in, and to see the late afternoon winter sun paint the grasses and the ponds a glowing rose-gold while hawks soar and circle above.

I’m grateful and humbled to be the mother of the most amazing human being I’ve ever met, whose kindness, compassion, and cheerful perseverance in the face of a loud and confusing world is an example I continually hope someday to match.

I’m grateful for that silly cat, who gets nose to nose with me each morning, insisting I get up, get going, hop to it, rise and shine, there’s work to do here, feed me first of course and then you can deal with child and chickens. 

And I’m grateful for two more nights with the loveliest, freshest (and cheapest – free! delivered!) Christmas tree we’ve ever had in this house, which has shed not a needle since I won this year’s Battle of the Tree, and glows there in this den, giving me a little more time to be grateful for the peace and hope of this season and an excuse to linger and rock a bit longer, gently, in my Mothers chair.

Memories in Minutiae – and in Music

…when all six cans had been used…I found myself automatically pulling out a pair of scissors to cut the plastic rings apart….

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Stuff I haven’t thought about in years comes back to me suddenly, triggered by the most ordinary things – things like a six-pack plastic ring thingee. I haven’t seen one of those for quite a while, because, due to its ability to blow me up into a gigantic beach-ball shaped human, I gave up beer several years ago. I used to buy it exclusively in bottles, anyway. Don’t really ever buy soda or much of anything else in six-packs of cans, held together by those plastic rings and I haven’t, for years.

But there is a type of diet mixer that I discovered recently that I can only get in those held-together-with-plastic-rings six packs.

And when all six cans had been used up, I found myself automatically pulling out a pair of scissors to cut the plastic rings apart.

I froze in the middle of this action, remembering why I was doing it and where I first heard of doing it, cutting those plastic rings open.

I was doing that to protect sea life, particularly dolphins, who I was told had been found starved to death, their noses (beaks? mouths? snouts?) stuck inside those plastic rings.

I was told this on our honeymoon, when Mike and I swam with dolphins. The guide-trainer guy said that these plastic rings find their way into the ocean, having been washed into rivers or just dumped overboard by some careless boater, and dolphins get their noses stuck in them, and he asked us to always cut them open.

So I have been cutting those rings open ever since.

Our honeymoon was a little over 25 years ago, and swimming with dolphins, even as an educational exercise, is now considered inappropriate.  Some argue it is even cruel to these amazing beasts. I’m grateful I got to have a close-up experience with these creatures, and I got to discover how soft their skin feels to the touch, but even then I could have done without the obligatory flipper-flapping and jumping through hoops.

I hadn’t thought about our honeymoon in ages (maybe because there was a video of our dolphin experience that our child watched incessantly for probably more than a year running, so I’d had enough of remembering that) but then zap all of a sudden, there it was, front and center, because of something as ordinary as the six-pack plastic ring thingee.

A few days ago, I went alone to the bookstore to do something Mike and I had done annually at Christmastime – to try to find a hidden gem or two in the bargain bin of CD’s in the music section.

And what I found was a drastically reduced bargain bin, and a supply of CD’s that had largely been supplanted by – vinyl records. Which the hipster Millenial generation has recently re-embraced, playing them on weird vertical turntables, and insisting that the sound is better than on CD’s.

And these vinyl records were priced at TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS!

Oh, bless you, hipsters, bless you, Millenials – because of your newfound enthusiasm for vinyl, the price of the (still drastically reduced supply) of CD’s in the bargain bin seems to have gone down a bit. And you have inspired me to ‘more appropriately price’ my old vinyl records at my next garage sale – authentic, original 1970’s relics! Rare gems! Get ’em while they’re hot! A bargain at $15 bucks per LP! (up from fifty cents! Ha!)

But my trip to the bookstore took on a mood of melancholy when I saw how slim the pickings were in that CD bargain bin – many that we already own, some that I just will never be able to bring myself to buy (Mariah Carey Christmas, just sayin’) and others that didn’t seem quite worth the risk. Nevertheless, I persisted.

I found one of the Boston Pops Orchestra with Arthur Fiedler conducting.. Fiedler was the conductor of that orchestra when I was a child, and a favorite in our house.  I found another of the same orchestra when John Williams was the conductor.Each less than ten bucks. Score!

I found the soundtrack to The Polar Express really fun and well produced, also less than ten bucks. Bingo.

One pricier new one by Sara McLachlan for my young adult, which was surprisingly OK, especially when Emmylou Harris’ voice showed up unexpectedly.  Ring the bell.

And one from The Piano Guys who have been all over the internet, and oddly, for a group called “the Piano Guys” seem to feature a lot of cello. But cello is my favorite instrument (OK, now I’ll have to write a post about my never-ending search for the perfect recording of the Bach cello concertos) so that one was fine, too.

But there were no really weird or funny ones, the kind that you think, oh man, it may turn out to be awful but for $4.99 I just have to hear this! A few old Frank Sinatras (already have them) and a Rosemary Clooney (maybe next year, if there are any CDs next year) and, inevitably, Elvis.

Streaming may take over entirely when the hipster fad for vinyl fades. And then I guess I’ll listen to new Christmas music projected from my phone to the bluetooth speaker that came as a freebie with the last new phone I bought for Mike – I’ll put it next to the picture of him on the little side table by my Dad’s chair, where I sit deep in the night, “regarding the tree,” with only the outside lights and the tree lights lit, just as Mike and I used to do together at Christmastime.

They say (and I saw, with my Dad’s decline) that memories of music last the longest. When Dad could no longer speak, he could still sing and recognize songs and music. And whatever the medium, CD, vinyl or stream, the memory of Mike lives with me in the music he liked; at this time of year, the music he chose from the much better selection in the much bigger bargain bins of the past. Mike’s choices invariably turned out better than mine.

A week or two ago, as I was “wondering as I wandered” out under the crisp black winter sky, “where are you out there, loves? Hanging around with Orion?” –  just as I thought that, and turned to go back in the house, I saw a meteor: a shooting star that blazed, then faded.

As Mike did. As will we all, eventually.

Our aduilt child has been anxious lately – checking in, “you’re good Mom, right? You’re here in this world, with me? Dad’s in the next world. A day without Dad. But you’re good, right?”

Yest, lamb. I’m good, as long as I can listen and sing, and hear the sound of your Dad’s voice singing along to Vince Gill’s recording of Breath Of Heaven (Mary’s Song) or Pavarotti’s O Holy Night in my memory. I listen deep in the night, while regarding the tree, to the music he chose for us for Christmas.