Tuesday, November 5, 2013

O., N., and mostly L. speak

L., donning a rack that is supposed to hold puzzles on his head:

"I am wearing mine space helmet.  I am rocket man.  Achully, I don't need mine helmet.  I am riding mine motorcycle."

Me, to L.:  "You're a pretty good kid."
L.:  "Yep.  I sure am.  Tanks.  For sayin' dat."

L., in response to nearly anything remotely good that happens:  "Oh yeah.  Dat's what I'm talking bout."

Or:  "That's dunna be awesome!"

L., in agreement with most things.  "Yep. Yep, I sure did."

Looking around the basement or family room, usually before heading to a nap.  "I need sumting.  For to play with."

Panicked, missing a treasured item (usually in a restaurant booth or grocery cart):  "I got-for mine truck in dere!!"

N., playing outside with the neighborhood boys who are largely ignoring her.  "I said first one to the driveway is the loser.  Loser.  Loser.  Loser.  Winner!!  (pats self on the back)  Way to go, me."

Me to O., dejected because it's only little kids at the museum on his day off of school.  "It's tough to be big sometimes, isn't it?"
O.: "Yeah, I can't just hang out on that car all day.  I'd rather be home."
Me:  "Doing what?"
O.:  "Studying.  Math."
Me:  "Really??"
O. :  "No.  Just kidding."  (runs off to play vet.)

O:  "Do you think there are more road signs, or mailboxes in the world?"

L., looking out his window before nap:  "Hey!  There is a squirrel in our yard!  And in our driveway!  Maybe it is looking for acorns.  Or poop."

L., every afternoon when we put N. on the bus to go to kindergarten:  "It's just you and me, Mom.  And Hazel."

L.'s favorite knock knock joke.  (Still)
Knock knock
Who's there?
Banana who?
In water.

L., backseat commentary on the drive to some errand:  "Why is that mixer truck on da road?  Supposed to be on dirt.  Wish I could be a mixer truck driver.  Or a backhoe.  Wish my backhoe could turn into a jetski.  Or a boat.  Or a ship.  Maybe.  You thought it was a digger man.  But it was a sailor man."

L., imagining any number of strange sights or scenarios. (a bear on our street, a fire man stuck in a tree, something wearing an odd hat, whatever.  "Would that be silly?"

L., wielding a pretend sword or stick or bungee cord with hooks:  "I am bad knight!  They have swords!  And hit people!"

L., every single day:  "I yuv you Mom.  You're best mom in da world."

Monday, September 16, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Summer

School has been back in session for over three weeks now, but the weather finally started to feel like summer just when it began.  It's only now we're getting ready to change our long summer days of adventures over to cool weekends of making messes in the basement while we watch Browns games and eat chicken wings.

I think it's worth noting now what a great summer it was before we move on to the new adventures a year with two school age kids and one I'm not quite ready to give up to a school routine will bring.

This summer, we were on the go even more than usual it seems.  We didn't take as many road trips, but we found ways to squeeze the fun out of every day we were home.

This was the summer I made a conscious effort not to over-schedule us with camps and week-long commitments, but still felt like we were always trying to find a a crack in our days to meet up with all the friends we wanted to see and the family with whom we wanted to spend time.

This was the summer all the kids had fun hanging out on the top bunk at the cottage, and two of them even slept up there, rather than piling on top of me on the lower bunk.  At least not all of the time.

It was a time of painting rocks, catching crayfish and tadpoles and minnows and frogs and looking for dead things in the woods.

We had a beach vacation with the extended family, with historic lighthouse and snake sightings along the way to a new beach house further south along the island of the Outer Banks.

We celebrated July Fourth in our matching cousin shirts again of course.
We tried to get decent pictures of all three kids and our whole family, and only sometimes succeeded.

This was the summer we toured the zoo with our friends and our cousins like the experts on the zoo's terrain and wildlife we are.
We shifted from the family that can only hang in Snoopy Land with one kid in the stroller riding nothing once a summer, to the family that has three kids with three different colored wristbands and season passes to Kings Island.  One adult with a kid riding the Beast and the Vortex, the other trying to make the one who has to wait to ride Surf Dog happy riding the swings.  We spent a lot of time soaking wet fully clothed because the Log Flume is one of the few rides we can all do together.
We talked J. into using some of his extra vacation days on a week in the midst of the summer and actually stayed home for once.  Our staycation ended up being more pricey than a trip, probably, but allowed us to really enjoy our city, and sleep in our own beds.  We really do love Cincinnati.

O. continued to work on his Tae Kwon Do skills, attended Reptile Roundup nature camp, and perfected his flip off the diving board.  He became fondly attached to Animal Planet, watching marathons of "My Cat From Hell" and "Call of the Wildman" and "Gator Boys."  He was into hatching new breeds of dragon on the iPad via Dragon City, and hadn't quite learned about Minecraft.  Yet.

It was a summer of constructing ever more elaborate hideouts in our front woods, with buckets and pulleys and swings and chairs and nerf guns hula hoops and every other toy they could drag out of bins in our garage and then pile up in the middle of the garage floor when they were done.  There were obstacle courses and lemonade stands and races on scooters down the driveway.  There was often more than one child that did not belong to me in my yard, or one of my own missing into someone else's yard. It was the summer I sat mostly on the edge of the lawn in a chair, and sometimes didn't even come out of the house at all to supervise for stretches of time.  It was the summer there was a big difference between my 'big kids' and my baby, and one of the first times he looked like this when he couldn't go in the woods with his brother and sister:
L. got himself potty trained, swam all over the pool in his puddle jumper (but wouldn't get his head wet on purpose), and learned to shoot water guns like a champ.  His favorite pasttimes in the driveway were filling watering cans and playing with pla-doh.  He watched Fireman Sam, Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Dora and Diego, and lots and lots of Mickey Mouse.  He continues to be a pro with the iPad.
Sweet N. wore those dangly earrings and my sunglasses every chance she got. She played with makeup and nail polish, but also with dolls and stuffed animals.  She dyed her hair with chalks that she got as a prize for undergoing allergy blood work.  We found out she's not outgrowing any of her nut allergies, and in fact is even more dangerously allergic to some than we thought.  She didn't go to camp this summer because she did not feel safe enough to do so.  I grieve her future opportunities a little each day, but know that if there's anyone that can cause change due to sheer infectious love and joy, it's this girl.  She got a little moodier, a little more headstrong, a little more of her own person, and while I'm not enjoying this glimpse of her pre-teen self, I admire her spirit and know it will serve her well.  She watched hours and hours of Jessie and Good Luck Charlie, discovered the Full House gang, and has most of the song lyrics to Teen Beach Movie memorized.
These two are friends, enjoy playing babies and animal doctor together, and I could watch them ride this ride all summer.
I saw more of O.'s smile this summer, and it made my heart sing.
We welcomed our new pet, Spike into our house exactly one year after we adopted our sweet Hazel.  I'm not convinced we will love the bearded dragon quite as well as we do our dog, but time will tell.  He is pretty darn cool.

In the space of a month, N. went from a kid who was terrified of riding her bike even with training wheels to a hot rod who rides far ahead of me on two wheels only when we go for walks.
This was the summer we switched from apple juice in sippy cups lined up on the counter every morning to downing orange juice by the gallon.  We shifted from almost all baths to nearly all showers.

We gave up playing with a lot of toys, though we're not quite ready for them to leave the house.  We gave up diapers during the day, the double stroller, and booster seats at restaurants.

We wore jeans in the evening and looked for ways to entertain ourselves in the rain.  We ate lots and lots of meals at restaurants because we were too lazy to cook even the gorgeous produce from our CSA.

There was fighting over who would sit in which seat in the car, whether the windows should be up or down, and what movie should play in the DVD player in the van.  Until most of the DVD's got scratched or coated with gum, and we just watched Alvin and the Chipmunks every day for a month.

It was a summer I reminded myself often that the days are long but the years are short, and for once actually found myself finding solace in the thought.

I miss summer already, but am ready for what's next.  How about you?  What treasures did summer bring your way?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Reading List 2012

A sad little list, one I am very belated about resigning to the last year.  I'm sure I have forgotten some in the process of neglecting the blog.
Starting up the list for this year in my sidebar.  Good stuff, and again, I'm not sure I've gotten them all.  I'm back to ordering them to be picked up at the library.  Wish I could get better at reading on my multiple e-reading devices, but for some reason I read so much more slowly.  Too many distractions, maybe?
For 2013, I'm also going to start including the chapter books I read aloud to the kids.  They count too, right?  Besides, I want a record somewhere of what we share together.

Dinner A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach
Murder Plays House by Ayelet Waldman
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
Cradle Robbers by Ayelet Waldman
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese
11.22.63 by Stephen King
Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos
Murder Plays House by Ayelet Waldman
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe
In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard
The Magician King by Lev Grossmann
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me and Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling
Miss Pegerine's Home for Peculiar Children
And Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Thankful Tuesday

It's been a long slog of a winter so far, with lots of overnight travel for J.  There are always too many tasks uncrossed off the to-do list, far too many days that I don't find time for a shower, and many moments I wish I had more attention to spare for one of my children. I don't eat well, don't find time to exercise, and sleep poorly. There is no one thing to point to as a reason for despair or discouragement.  I'm just getting tired of survival being the status quo, rather than a sometimes mode I have to slip into.
However, the more I feel this nagging sense of unaccomplishment, this feeling of falling behind, (Who, I'm not sure.  But I always seem to be bringing up the rear in some way, even if it's just getting everyone buckled into the car five minutes after I mean to.  Three or four times a day.) the more I keep seeing examples of others who are struggling with far more, and doing it with quite a bit more grace than I seem to able to be able to muster.  There's sickness, and financial hardship, and so so much loss.
I am glad for these reminders that my life is infinitely blessed.  I'm glad that most days, the smell of the tops of my children's heads, and a text from a friend or my husband or a call from my parents can keep me up out of the depths, ready to do it all again the next day.  I'm usually even able to find the ways to count those blessings, single out the joys and the gifts.  Here's to remembering to not just note them mentally, but to catalog them in writing them as well.

  • L., cheering "Home!" in his sweet voice every time we turn into our neighborhood.
  • O.'s bedtime questions:  "Do you think it's really possible for humans to teleport?  Because my bus parks the farthest away from my hallway's door.  I have to walk the whole sidewalk every morning."  "How long do you think it takes to feed an elephant?"  "Do you think you can play that game telephone on a real telephone"
  • N., offering to help me fold laundry so I'll have time for us to paint our nails.
  • N. and Hazel, spooning in my bed on top of my pillows.
  • Making myself get out of bed at 6:35 to shower before any kids are awake.
  • All my kids big enough to sit by themselves in a booth at a restaurant.  
  • Toys in the waiting area of the car dealership that actually occupy the kids while we wait for the car's oil to be changed.
  • Dear, good friends who are willing to help me patch together systems to watch each others' children so that we can have some semblance of sanity and be four places at once.
  • Dear, good friends who commit and follow through with making sure to check in, daily.
  • Finding out you are marginally more organized than you appear to be.  Sometimes even finding things in the place they are supposed to be.
  • Eating a salad.  Healthy enough.
  • Hazel did not destroy the house when I gave up chasing her to put her in her cage, and left her free to roam while picking up O. at Cub Scouts.
  • Actually finishing a blog post.  Before 11PM.  
  • Still time to fall asleep during an episode of Downton Abbey.  Again!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Quentin Blair Shaffer: May he truly Rest in Peace

And again there is a post of sadness. A week ago Monday, my grandfather, my dad's dad, died after a  brief and quickly escalating illness.  It was stunning to face this loss so quick on the heels of losing my other remaining grandparent.  It is a season of loss, that is for sure.  One I hope has reached its end.  

Through it all, though, it's been reassuring to be able see the blessings that life has brought to me.  To be entering my fortieth year and still have grandparents I have welcomed into my home, shared my children with, that is amazing good fortune.  To have had their passings be relatively easy and peaceful, and largely without regret?  I am so grateful.  But our family continues to be sad, and we are tired of sadness.      I was not nearly as close to this grandfather as I was to my grandparents on my mother's side, a factor that added its own weight of emotion to his passing.  

My Grandpa Shaffer was a kind man, one who raised an amazingly wonderful man, whom I am so so proud to call my dad.  Whenever I would see Grandpa, he always held on to my hand, pressed two palms on either side of my face, and gave me an amazing smile.    I have fond memories of exploring my grandparents' house so full of interesting knick knacks and decorations, pretending to sing and play their player piano, and searching out all the hidden ceramic animals in his perfectly groomed backyard.  I have no doubt he had great love for me, and was exceedingly proud of my dad and his family.  

I want to share the words my dad shared at his memorial service.  They give a good portrait of the hard working strong man that he was, one with an inimitable sense of style, who was able to overcome more than his share of difficult times. 

Who was Quentin Blair Shaffer?   
by Gary M. Shaffer

To the Shaffer side of the family he was always Quent. To my Mother and her side of the family he was Blair. His friends and those he worked with usually called him Blair or sometimes I would hear him referred to as Shaff. It was a little confusing at times. He preferred Blair. In the last year or so when he was dealing with medical issues Doctors and nurses would call him Quentin. I would ask him “why don’t you tell them to call you Blair?” He would say it was just too difficult to correct everyone when all the paper work says Quentin anyway. He was always one to go with the flow and not try and make any waves.

My sister Cathy and I always called him Dad; except for one time when I was about 8 or 9 years old I called him “Fath” which a friend of mine used when referring to his Dad. I was quickly told that he was Dad and would always be Dad. I didn’t make that mistake again.

My Dad grew up during the depression and as with many of his generation things weren’t always easy. To make matters worse his Mother died when he was 3 years old. Even though my Grandfather remarried, my Dad always said his sister Genny raised him. She was only 3 years older than he. His Dad had a small farm and operated a coalmine and to help keep things going my Dad quit school in the 9th grade. I believe his early years made him a very resilient person that carried him through many obstacles during his long life.

During my Dad’s late teens and early 20’s he worked in the Steel Mills of Johnstown, PA. He started as a laborer and worked his way into doing maintenance on machines. When WWII came along, young men were joining the military. My Dad was told he had a perforated eardrum and couldn’t serve. I think he always felt bad that he couldn’t serve his country. He supported the war effort by working in the steel mills.   He always told me he was proud of me for serving in the Air Force during the Vietnam era and I treasure the way he made me feel.

To get out of the mills he learned to be a welder, most of which was self taught. He did have the help of his brother Gale who was also a welder. They both worked for Thiele Body Company. He built all types of truck bodies from dump trucks to soft drink delivery trucks.

Even though Dad worked hard all day at Thiele’s he strived to make things better for his family and would work every other week in the evening from 6-11 at my Uncle’s service station. Some of my best times with my Dad were when I was in high school and I would work alongside him at my uncle’s service station. Dad always loved cars and he passed that passion on to me during the time we worked together. This service station experience also had an impact on me. My first real job out of college was with Texaco Inc. selling petroleum products to service station retailers and distributors.

Dad had his way of teaching you things and it wasn’t always hands on. Shortly after I got my drivers license I was continually bugging him about getting my own car. He would tell me that I needed to pay for my own car, and more importantly that I needed to learn how to take care of a car. The next thing I know I have 2 cars, both 1953 Chevrolets. One is wrecked in the front end and the other is wrecked in the rear end. He said, “If you can figure out how use the parts from each car to make one car, you will have a car.”  That was quite an experience and a valuable learning experience. I managed to put together a drivable car.

Dad loved classic and antique cars. We often would go to car shows together. He would stop and spend time talking to many of the owners. My son Adam would sometimes go along when he was younger, but he at times would grow weary with all of Dad’s conversation.  One time Adam just went to the car and took a nap until his Grandfather finished talking to an owner of an old Plymouth.

No one ever had anything over on Dad in terms of being a dapper dresser. He always looked sharp with pressed shirts and pants along with polished shoes. My brother-in-law Steve once said he was the sharpest looking truck driver he had ever seen, even while out on the road.

Dad was always trying to figure a way to improve his work environment. He figured a way while working at Thiel’s building truck bodies to become part of a travel crew that would transport truck bodies to truck manufactures and install the bodies. He learned to drive the tractor-trailers to the sites to install the bodies and return.  After a few trips he was hooked on the truck driving. Through a friend he landed a job with Swank Refractory transporting circular brick used in the steel mills.  He had reached another milestone in his life and became a full time truck driver. I would sometimes accompany him on his trips while in Jr. and Sr. High. I truly enjoyed those trips with Dad.

While I was a senior in high school, Swank Refractory sold all of their trucks and my Dad lost his job. Even though he was discouraged, his tenacious spirit prevailed. He found a lower paying job delivering oxygen and acetylene tanks for a welding supplier. While making deliveries in Bedford PA he would stop at the Eastern Express terminal and ask if they had any truck driving jobs. Finally he was told he could have a job in Columbus, Ohio if he was interested. Dad took the job.

Dad had the courage to pick up his family and move 300 miles away from a place he had spent his whole life. I remembered that courage when my wife Sally and I were faced with a move during my first months with Texaco to Ironton, Ohio. Our daughter Erin was born in Ironton, Ohio. Poor thing, for the rest of her life she has had to state that she was born in Ironton, Ohio. We ended up living in Proctorville, Ohio and really liked it. Dad, thank you for showing me the courage.

Dad spent the next 23 years of his life working for Eastern Express and Roadway Express. He loved driving the highways and byways even though his schedule was very unpredictable. He often said he felt bad because he wasn’t home more and was on the road.

After Dad retired he spent a lot of time working in his yard and flower gardens. He and my Mother had some beautiful flowers.

Dad had some health issues over time. When he was 60 he had a quadruple heart bypass. When he was 75 he had a triple heart bypass. When he was 88 he had a complete knee replacement. He always had the will and fight to come back. He instilled that fight in me when I fought back from cancer. During the last few years Dad was dealt the blow of some pretty significant hearing loss. He would often deal with it by just shaking his head or grinning in hopes that you would acknowledge that he heard everything you said. In fact he would get a little angry if you laughed a little knowing that he didn’t hear you. My wife Sally, daughter Erin and son Adam now call me Blair when they know I didn’t hear something. Once again my Dad has taught me an important lesson, don’t laugh at someone who is hard of hearing and figure out a way to correct your hearing when the time comes. That time is near.

Dad was never a hovering parent. His way of parenting was to set an example by the way he lived his life. He was committed to his work to support his family no matter how difficult it may be. He was loyal to his employer and everyday that employer got more than an honest days work. The example he set I believe was engrained in my sister Cathy and I. Our careers spanned several decades with commitment and loyalty to only a couple companies each.

Dad was the hardest working person that I have ever known. His work ethic was unparalleled. I like to think that he passed that work ethic on to me.

This last month has been difficult for Dad. He had multiple health issues and a lung problem being the must severe. He finally reached a point where he wasn’t able to absorb oxygen into his lungs. I was with Dad last Sunday and explained to him what his doctor’s appraisal was of his condition. Dad understood that he wasn’t going to get better and he said he was ready to go. I am sad that he is gone, but happy I was able to spend time with him toward the end of his life and that he died peacefully in his sleep.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Every day, at one point or another, I get a little pang of panic that I'm letting days and weeks and months go by without documenting the moments.  And then the laundry or the wrestling on the floor with couch pillows or the toast burning or the diaper stinking distracts me. And then it is again 10:30 at night and I can't stand the thought of sitting down at the computer to try to sort out a coherent thought.

Perhaps it's why I keep waking up at 2AM with sleep the furthest thing away from my mind's agenda.  One of these nights I'll sort through the anxiety and make myself sit down to write, so there's some useful thing to come from those hours...

In the meantime, here are some of the thoughts that keep coming to me again and again when I miss writing on this blog.

We went to Disney World a month or so ago, the place where everyone's a child again.  Instead, my children all grew up before my eyes.  L. started talking in sentences.  N. handled herself like a big school aged kid, capable of new things and ready to ride all the thrill seeker rides.  O., who was sick for a portion of the trip, for the most part sucked it up and carried on.

So, before he's suddenly a teenager and I've missed ALL the cute stuff, a sampling of L-speak.  Some of this has been replaced even since I wrote it down a couple of weeks ago, replaced by this constant running commentary.  Like having my own little two year old play by play guy, narrating the action, and yes, constantly pointing out the questionable calls.

L.'s favorite things:

Tandy:  as in Pez, chocolate, and most especially "sutters", Dum-Dum's preferred.

'Top!:  as in, no more kissing me, no more hugging me, and most especially, no more singing any sort of song to me.

Mitty Mouse, Tidder, Winnie Pooh, Pih-it -- all who need many hugs.

Backhoes:  Every morning in the construction-heavy parking lot of N.'s preschool:  "Man ride it?" "Digging."  "Youd." (Loud)

Teriel:  At least two bowls full each morning.  With milk.  Best if marshmallow type.

Dooce:  (Could be any of the following:  Juice, Shoes, or Downstairs.)

'Rain:  Doesn't need to be Thomas.  But does need to be loud and fast.

Cheese:  Preferably orange and square.  Only partially unwrapped so he can do the rest himself.

Yo-urt:  Any old kind is fine.

Roni:  (Matti-roni if he's excited.)  Blue box is good, but bunny kind is better.

Ice Neem.  In a cone with yinkles.

"Do Puzzle? Mitty Mouse One? Very Fun!"  As the last piece is placed:  "You did it!!"

Air-pains.  Riding in them is also "Vewy fun."

First Sentence: "Get out here pease, Hay-el", to the dog, whom he did not want under his crib any longer.

Favorite answers to questions:
"Eye Uh Oh"  (murmured to sound exactly like "I dunno" with no enunciation.)

"Idea."  (ie:  I have no idea.  As in: Where I put that thing that doesn't belong to me.  Who made that mess.  Why I didn't tell you I had to pee.)

Bedtime routine, as verbally dictated step by step:
'Nother Book.
Light, off.
Door, close.
Stars, blue.  (on turtle night light)
Noopy!  (ie: get my stuffed Snoopy right here under my arm, now!)
Added since Christmas:  Doddie Yankew  (cover me in that comfy dog blanket Aunt Beth gave me for Christmas!)

Least favorite things:

Anything "Tawy"  (Scary), like for example Durdles.  (turtles)

Standing up to pee in the potty.

Walking on his own in any public place.  Stops on a dime, throws arms up in air, runs in place, screaming all the while:  "Upppeee.  Uuupppeeee!"  Every nice lady in the vicinity looks meanly at me and says "oh, is he okay?"  Yes, he's okay.  He's nearly two and a half, and has clear use of his legs, and if I don't stop carrying him everywhere, I will soon have a permanently deformed hip.

Any sort of food that is not "teriel" "cheese" or "tandy"  Think he thrives on sugar dust.

Favorite bad words:
"No way!"
"What da heck!"
"Butt Cheeks."

*Yes, someday I'll write a post with details and pictures...

Friday, December 21, 2012

In Memoriam. Grandma 1923-2012

Nearly a week ago, my grandmother died relatively unexpectedly at the age of 89.  She had been battling health concerns for quite some time, though right after Thanksgiving she was doing well enough to move into an assisted living room, up from a nursing care one.  It has been an emotionally exhausting week. We buried her the same day many of the funerals were occurring in another part of the country for the victims of Sandy Hook.  Our family is heartbroken to have lost our matriarch, but we were so glad to have had the chance to have her as the center of everything for so very long.  We all took moments to be grateful for a life so well lived that touched so many with such love.

What follows is the text of a piece I wrote to share at her funeral service.  It is long, so I cut out a few sections when I spoke, but I include all of it here for those that would like to hear some of the ways she shaped me into the person I am today.

When I was three years old and my brother was being born, my grandma came to help take care of me.  She had never been to McDonald’s on her own before, had no idea even how to order, and could not believe I wanted to have a Filet O’fish.  But that day, I had my Filet O’Fish.   It was small acts of heroism and devotion like this that marked my entire life as my grandmother’s granddaughter. 

On Saturday, when I knew that she was gravely ill, I went through the drive thru and ordered and ate a filet o’fish in her honor.

 Nearly everyone that met Grandma remembered her vividly and fondly.  Even friends of mine who have only met her once or twice, briefly, ask about her with true interest to this day. She was kind, sparkling, loyal, gentle, a force.  She was an excellent listener and speaker, and one of the strongest people I know. 

She persevered, though not quietly, through many moments of true hardship throughout her life.  A child of the Great Depression, she later became a young war bride raising her first child in the absence of her dear and beloved husband.  She lost siblings and parents. Later in life, when she became a widow and was forced into a life on her own, she did not do it without complaining, but neither did she shrink away from it, With the encouragement and support of her family, she made good friends and built happy memories in several homes after she left the one on Bedford Street where she built a life and family.  Even after the fire at Laurel View destroyed her home and possessions, which surely could have easily defeated many of her age, she continued on undaunted, tackling multiple heart attacks and other health concerns.  The women in my Monday night Bible Study have been praying for Grandma off and on for nearly ten years now, and we are always amazed at the way she has fought back again and again, never losing her strong spirit and personality. 

Speaking without a filter was not something that set only late in life for her.  She was always quick to tell you exactly what she thought.  I can still recall the time she said to me “You’re getting a nice little butt on you there.  I was always wanted one of those.  My sisters had them, but I always just had a chest.” 

Yes, you always knew exactly what was on Grandma’s mind.  Start a conversation with her one day and get interrupted, a week later she would pick right back up where she left off.  I used to tell Mom that she had an internal pause button.  She made sure everyone heard the same version of the story, too, nearly verbatim.  I believe she truly just wanted to be sure each and every one of her people was included in the conversation. 

The lesson I take from my grandmother’s approach from life is that it doesn’t do to swallow down the worst that it throws at you silently.  I remember walking along with Grandma one time when bug landed directly on her chest.  “Ack!” she exclaimed.  “That bug just shit all over me!”  Then she brushed it off and kept walking.  No, sometimes you’ve got to yell about it a little, maybe have a cry to acknowledge that what you’re going through downright stinks.  Then you’ve got to grab tight to those closest to you and figure out how to move on to the next day. When you wake up in the morning, you’ll discover you’re a little stronger and a little more able to handle whatever is to come.

Her devotion to each and every member of her family was unparalleled.  It was downright embarrassing sometimes the way she bragged about “her gang.” At family reunions, she’d always be counting up how many she had from her brood to represent.  At other gatherings, she’d list off all who were able to make it, and those who weren’t.   How blessed we were to be in the strong beam of that fierce fierce love and pride.  

It will surprise few to know that many of my memories of Grandma revolve around food: always food.  My brother and I still talk about one cold summer evening at the cottage where the beef stew and homemade bread have never had their equal in terms of comfort food memory. From the homemade noodles she and Pap rolled out on their kitchen counter and dried on the backs of the wooden chairs around their kitchen table on Bedford Street to the gobs she was famous for making and offering with love, there was always something good made with love.  At the cottage, we fried doughnuts and French fries, and she always made a big pot of oatmeal to share.  She made peanut clusters and raisin clusters and chocolate covered pretzels and carefully packaged them into white gift boxes every Christmas including last year. *  At Christmas, there were butterscotch cookies with red and green icing: I can still remember my cousins Jordan and Josh stacking them up from wrist to elbow for a snack in her apartment on Metzler Street.  Every time I came to visit, there was a pan of Tom Thumb bars, my favorite.  You could always count on Texas Sheet cake, ham and baked potatoes, bowls of popcorn, stashes of special potato chips and Cheezits, candy in every covered dish throughout her home, Klondikes in the freezer and Dutch Maid bread with butter on the table.  There were special tupperwares for onion, chipped ham, and swiss cheese, and she put them all out on the table along with a  sliced tomato for sandwiches at lunch. When I got married, and all the cousins were on the dance floor, drinks in hand, we tried to get her to join us.  She waved her cake plate at us, saying, “You drink your drinks.  I’ll just sit here and finish my cake and watch.”

(* I'm told I forgot to mention the strawberry jelly she made for everyone she knew loved it.  I hear it was delicious.  She knew I don't like cooked fruit, so I never got any. :))

Many of my best childhood memories took place with my grandparents firmly in the scene.  Floating down the crick in inner tubes, riding bikes to Judy’s market for a snack, collecting seashells early in the morning on a beach in South Carolina, dying Easter eggs at their kitchen table, watching television in the summer time furniture arrangement of their living room.  In my memory, Barney Miller or Hogan’s Heroes are always on.  The cousins always woke my grandparents by jumping in their bed far earlier than she would have gotten up on her own. 

Playing Fox in the Morning in their driveway. Drinking orange and lemon or grape and lemon by the glassful.  Christmases piled high with gifts, the largest pile usually square in front of Grandma.  Playing game after game of UNO, 500 Rummy and dominoes on long winter evenings.  Collecting pinecones in cemeteries, or playing among the gravestones as Grandma and Pap took care of flowers for ancestors.  Spending time on Aunt Jo-Ann’s porch with kittens.

When I first used Dreft detergent to wash clothes for my babies, I was transported immediately to the warmth of a big claw footed tub, where Grandma used to sprinkle soap flakes when we took baths. 

My grandparents, along with my parents, were my first models of what a good marriage can and should be.  Did they bicker?  Yes.  But they were both verbally and physically affectionate with one another.  I can still remember her giggling and telling him that his whiskers were too scratchy to be kissing her, though not too convincingly.  It was always clear they not only loved each other, but also truly liked one another, as well as understood each other. What a strong testament to the family they built together that their children and their children’s children still make a point to get together for a week’s vacation together each year.  There are so few extended families that know each other the way we do in today’s fractured and geographically separated culture.

I’ll never forget talking about studying the Bible with her, listening to her praise my children, and just sitting beside her as she listened intently to whatever I was telling her.  I’m so glad that my children got to know her through experience, not just stories and memories.  My daughter Nora, who shares her middle name, was especially close to her, always sitting next to her to color or chat.  When she heard she was ill this weekend, she said “Great Grandma is really my buddy.  I’m going to draw her a card.  Now what are her favorite things again?” 

Though Grandma’s failing eyesight has kept her from being able to send cards for a while now, it seems impossible that I will no longer be attempting to decipher a long newsy note from her written on the inside of a greeting card.  I’ve been reading her writing for as long as I can remember, on cards and in postcards, or reporting the day’s events and weather on the calendar hanging across from the toilet at the cottage.  She truly was my first and most influential model of one who writes.  She used to tell me that in school, her favorite thing was to write “themes.”  Of the possessions she lost in the fire, the ones I mourned most were the journals she kept of her trips to Florida and other travels. 

 As a wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend, Grandma made all of the people in her life feel particularly valued.  I once bought a framed print for her that said, “If you love me and spoil me, you must be my grandma.”  That clearly summed up all the ways she went out of her way to make me feel treasured and special.  It is difficult to convey how wonderful it was to be the object of such sincere and devoted love, to have someone in your life be such a firm and clear member of your own personal fan club.

 At the cottage, she always got the top bunk above her and Pap’s bed ready for me with the reading light plugged in so I could stay up late to read and read. She knew, more than anyone except my mom, all of my allergies and food sensitivities. There was always a tin of banberry tarts without nuts just for me, or a bowl of five-cup salad without the pineapple.  She was absolutely the only person on earth who peeled the skin off of every piece of sliced apple for me, and cut and peeled each section of orange so that there was not one speck of white pith to make me cough as I ate it. 
In this room, especially, I do not think I am alone in the feeling of being the one most special to my grandmother.  She had the ability to turn her sparkling, twinkly eyes on each person she met and make them feel just as special.  I think the way my grandmother brought beauty and love to so many lives is a rare gift we are all so blessed to have received.  That’s why I know that the next time you play a game of cards or dominoes, eat a particularly good piece of cake, drink a good glass of orange juice over ice, find a hankie in your pocket, or wear something in that lovely shade of red she preferred, she will be with you, her distinctive voice in your ear, and her soft hand on your arm.