Time For A Change

 

 

Autumn has always been my favorite season.  It is a time of change, of new beginnings.  As a child, it meant  the return to school, reunion with friends, relief from the oppressive summer heat. I loved the smells, the sounds, the feel of autumn.  The rustle of wind through the falling leaves, the smell of apples cooking, the taste of pumpkin pies, the calls of the geese migrating south, the chill in the air.  I loved it all.

But this is an autumn like no other.  We are in the grip of a deadly and relentless pandemic on the threshold of flu season.  Within seven short months (can that be true?) we have lost over 200,000 lives to coronavirus in the US and ar eapproaching 1 million worldwide.  Over that same period, we have weathered devastating hurricanes, floods, and riots.  Fires still rage over much of the West coast. Unemployment is at unprecedented levels and we are in a contentious political battle for the presidency.  This is  uncharted territory.

We’re all in this together; we hear this a lot. And we seem to agree on this.  But we don’t agree on how to get out the situation we find ourselves in.  The popular response seems to be to blame each other for our problems.  It  has become a national pastime. We need only to channel surf or go on social media to find a rabid champion for our cause.   No insult, no accusation is off limits.  We wear our stubborn allegiance  like a badge of honor. Vicious name-calling, unheard of a decade ago, is embedded in the national dialog. Common courtesy no longer unifies us; we are drifting into dangerous waters.

In a recent conversation with a friend, I railed about the corrupt and self-seeking motives of a certain political group, and threw in a few unflattering slurs for good measure. Surely she agreed with my position, after all, she is my friend, an intelligent and thoughtful person. But as her smile stiffened to a grimace,  it was clear she didn’t agree.  At. All. To my chagrin,  not only had my insensitive, and face it, tasteless,  comment threatened a friendship, it  had made meaningful discourse on the topic impossible.  Worse, I wasn’t presenting a reasoned argument, only popular opinions, not even my own.

I am not proud of this behavior.  I need to change.  Uncomfortable as it is,  I need to listen respectfully to the other point of view if I want peace in my family, with my friends, in my community.

But why listen to my opponent?  Why entertain her point of view, when she probably won’t listen to mine.  And even so, I’m just one person among millions.  Perhaps true, but more importantly, being that self-righteous, intolerant person just does not serve me well.  I don’t like how it feels.

And who knows, if a few people become open to listenIng and a few more listen to those people and a few more……

Wait!  Isn’t that how the virus spreads?

 

 

 

 

A Matter of Life and Death

Lately I find myself thinking about death a lot.  Not in a morbid sense, just reflecting on the reality of it.  The necessity of death for the rebirth of spring.  The triumph of spring over the desolation of winter.

I’m not afraid of death, exactly. I’m not eager for it, but it’s harder to “fit in” to the world around me now and I don’t want to outlive my expiration date.   I’m just not finished yet, there is still more to do, more to be.

This surprises me.  By now I expected to  be wise, surefooted and  content to sit placidly with a cat or two, awash in memories of a life well lived.

Guess not.  Maybe in a year or two.

 

Image by joangonzalez from Pixabay

FRIENDS FOR LIFE

 

Years before Millennials coined BFF (text-talk for Best Friends Forever), we were Friends For Life. (FFL).  We were in primary school together.

No one knows you like those you grow up with. Posturing is pointless around these folks. They always knew whether you were clumsy or a basketball star, could or shouldn’t sing, nerdy or poor at math, pretty and popular or not so much… whatever you were. And they still know.

If you think time stops when you visit your college roommate, try re-connecting with your third-grade nemesis who played Mary in the Christmas pageant while you sweltered under a scratchy sheep costume. Or your senior classmate elected “Miss Popularity” while you were voted “Most Likely to Travel.” Or the Football Sweetheart beaming on the arm of the football captain at the Prom while you slinked in accompanied by a truculent cousin. You’ll pick up exactly where you left off, like it or not.

Having now achieved  a certain age, I have come to treasure these friendships, even though I lived far away from them for many years. All is forgiven now — well almost all.  So after the obligatory family news updates, the “do you remember’s” take over. “Do you remember the time the home-ec teacher ripped out all our aprons and made us start over the week before finals? Or the time Becky stole secret photographs of her sister and sold them to neighborhood boys?  Or the summer that June and Vicky drove twenty miles every Wednesday night to meet their boyfriends while their mothers thought they were at vacation bible school? Or the day Wanda backed her daddy’s car all the way home from the lake trying to run back the miles on the odometer? Or the time Jane burned her tongue trying to smoke cornsilk? Or how we used to “Dive and Duck” under the desks for bomb drills?  And so it goes until we’re all hoarse from laughing.  There is just nothing else like it.

But there is more here than nostalgia.  Our bond was created by an accident of birth that consigned us to the same zip code for our most formative years. We weren’t friends because we chose each other.  We were friends because we knew each other. Our parents knew each other.  In most cases, our grandparents knew each other.  Many of us were cousins. We went to the same churches.  We stood in line together for school vaccinations, we rode the same school-bus, went to the same Saturday afternoon movies.  We had crushes on the same cute boys, cheered the football team together and wore the same ugly gym suits. Community was a given. We absorbed it like the summer heat. Even when we didn’t like each other, we belonged together. And we still do.

I have many beautiful friendships that came later in life. They have enriched, supported and inspired me. They are no less cherished, but they are different.  They did not spring from what I will call generational community.   By definition, generational communities accept and take responsibility for their members. We found a place for Linda on our softball team even though she never hit the ball. When Sandy’s ill-tempered little dog Princess died, we cried together. And today, if Sarah needs a ride to the clinic, even though we may cringe at her political views, one of us is there.

These days we choose our friends.  People we work with, who share our hobbies, political views, churches, professional organizations.  But we may live for years next door to families we wouldn’t recognize at the grocery store.   And I think we are poorer for it.   If I don’t know my neighbor, I can’t help my neighbor; my neighbor cannot help me.  If I hide  behind a cloak of anonymity, does anyone really know who I am? Do I?

All of my friends have been and continue to be teachers in my life. But my first grade friends were my first teachers.  They taught me the meaning of community. And the lessons we learned together in our first community have supported and united us through the hills and gullies of our lives.  That’s why we’re Friends for Life.  

 

 

 

Who’s Yo GrandMama?

Visiting Grandma by Felix Schlesinger

Lately I have  become obsessed with my maternal ancestors.  Not in a genealogical sense – I really don’t care whether I am related to anyone famous or have royal blood,  and the proportion of my DNA originating in Scotland, Italy or England  is of no interest to me. So I won’t be ordering the kit

It’s not the DNA, but the lives of these women that fascinate me.   Since there was no birth control  and children were valued as workers, it was not uncommon for women to have 10 or more surviving children; most lost at least one to sickness. Moreover,  because of the physical demands on their bodies and lack of access to medical care, death in childbirth was common.  Surviving husbands in need of help with their households remarried as quickly as they could, bringing their children with them, creating small communities.   All of this in an environment facing epidemics of Yellow Fever, Tuberculosis, Typhoid Fever without antibiotics, immunizations or dentists.  And don’t forget wars.  One of my grandmothers (3rd great 1775-1824)  lost a father and brother in a Tory raid and grandsons to the Civil War.

Life was tough.  But they rose to the challenge, there was no other choice.

 

 

As I sit here in my air-conditioned living room, typing on my wireless laptop, drinking coffee from Columbia, it is almost impossible to imagine how my great grandmothers began their days.   At my age, if she lived that long, she was likely living with a daughter and her family and if healthy enough, charged with the care of the smallest children and the family mending. Breakfast would have consisted of food raised on their farm or bartered with neighbors, and depending on their economic situation, could have ranged from sausage and eggs to corn mash. There was no  radio, tv, household appliances or indoor plumbing.  Access to books was limited, often to a worn copy of The Bible  and most women never completed high school. Nearest neighbors were miles away and a letter could take a month to arrive.

Last week I had a melt-down over the internet service.  Admittedly, it was stressful, maddening, and ate up most of the day.  But really?  Internet?  This is a  problem my grandmother could only have dreamed about.

My grandmothers were hardly saints, as I well know from family stories.   I’m sure they complained about their hard lives. I could never agree with some of their beliefs, but  they were women of strong convictions and the determination and courage to stand by them.  The more  I learn more about them, the more grateful I am for their examples and humbled by the grace with which they lived their difficult lives.

So the next time I’m tempted to go rogue over some minor discomfort, I plan to stop and consider what my grandmothers’ response might be.

I hope it’s in the genes.

 

 

 

Mothers Matter

 

My mother and I  weren’t close.  But we never fought, not overtly.  She was gentle and mild-mannered to a fault.  Mother didn’t raise her voice or indulge in corporal punishment.    She had very few rules  but her  “no” meant no and there was no point in challenging her.

Her tastes were simple and her needs modest.  Frugality was a way of life.  We never bought anything we could make, grow or barter for.    Collars were turned, hems let out.  We sewed our clothes,  ate leftovers. Nothing went to waste, nothing was for show. We wore our clothes until they were too threadbare to wear in public and then they were recycled into fabric for quilts.  She never went to movies or took
 vacations.  She didn’t wear perfume or go to a beauty shop. Lipstick was her only concession to cosmetics.

Farm life is  strenuous and follows a set routine with little margin for error.   Rules and boundaries are necessary to insure productivity and safety.  They aren’t up for vote.  Mother worked hard, gardening, running a household with no modern appliances, cooking, feeding livestock.   In spite of its  demands, she  seemed comfortable with her life and in those days,  it was not out of the ordinary.  Girls married, raised their families on the family homestead, and once the children were out of the house, they cared for their parents and grandchildren,  continuing the pattern of generations.  If girls went to college, it was to become a teacher or a nurse until the children came. Though we never discussed it, I knew this was what was expected of me, of all of us, and it terrified me.

I  was a boisterous and curious child, a puzzle to my parents; forever pushing the boundaries, challenging the rules, asking why.  I read everything I could find in our small library.  I was fascinated with faraway  places, exotic religions, unfamiliar life styles and beliefs.  From a small child, I ached to get out in the “real world,” and abruptly left home at my  first opportunity.  It was a foolhardy decision made with all the selfishness and confidence of youth.  Of course I expected Mother to be disappointed, but instead she was profoundly, uncharacteristically, angry. This was not a decision I could not undo, she told me.  Once I crossed the threshold, she told me,  the door would lock behind me.  That shocked and baffled me, still does.  But I knew she meant what she said and anyway, I couldn’t imagine wanting to go back.

And so began our decades-long uneasy journey. Over the years, she “forgot”  birthdays, ignored awards, expressed no interest in my accomplishments.   All  contact between us was one-way.  She rarely visited; she never called or wrote.  Nothing I did seemed to interest her.  I get it, I thought. I blew my chance when I rejected her and her way of life.

It hurt, but I moved on.  I couldn’t go home again, so instead I tried to convert her to my lifestyle.  This may have been an effort  to justify my rash decision to leave home, I’m not sure.   But leaving any guilt aside,  I couldn’t believe  she could be happy, that anyone could be, with such a claustrophobic lifestyle.  She had few friends, little outside interest beyond church on Sundays and visits with relatives.  Her recreation was  limited to  crossword puzzles, soap operas and romance novels.  I was sure she would want more if only she knew about it, if it was offered to her.  Surely she would be delighted to have some of the luxuries her harsh farm life had denied her!  I was relentless. I enrolled her in exercise programs, bought her the latest labor-saving appliances, sent her books to read.  But to my frustration, she was not interested.  The appliances remained in their boxes, the gym membership expired, the books lay on the coffee table, untouched.

This distorted dance continued for years;  I pursued, she withdrew.  As much as I told myself it didn’t matter what she thought of me, it did matter.  A lot.   I believed she never forgave me for leaving home, and that her withdrawal from me was my punishment for  breaking the rules.   I thought she saw my leaving as a rejection not only of my heritage, but of her way of life.    But in my mind, I was simply choosing the way I wanted to live my life, nothing more. And in retrospect, I wonder if the same might have been was true for her.  Was her withdrawal from me not a rejection at all; but simply her way of living out her life as she saw fit?

The mother-daughter tie is primal, enigmatic, eternal, the strongest of the familial bonds.  It is Mother who breathes the  breath of life into us.  She is our first role model, the architect of those first deep wrinkles in our  developing brains.  Regardless of what we think or  what we tell ourselves, our mothers matter to us, will always matter, probably much more than we realize.

On this Mothers Day, I wish I could re-live the times I hurt and disappointed my mother. I wish we had understood each other better;  that we could have been close.   But at the end of the day,  the maternal bond  prevailed and over the years we developed  a companionable, if not affectionate relationship.  We had some good years.

My mother died over 25 years ago.  But there are still nights that she visits my dreams, mornings when I wake up thinking I need to call her.  Mother still matters, she will always matter.