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.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


More photos.
New dog.
We love her.
She is energy defined, but also knows how to take some amazing naps.
Finally she needs a little obedience.
Say, to come when called, and stay within the invisible fence ALL the time, not run off the retaining wall after squirrels, or dart off into other people's porches and garages.  Say, to leave diapers in the trash can, underwear in the laundry basket, and wooden puzzle pieces in the puzzles.  Say, not to jump up on every new person in the house.  Say, to not make me look like an idiot by racing in laps around the house just out of reach every time I need to put her in her crate.
She has found her favorite spots on every couch, chair and bed, proving we are indeed "dog on the furniture people."
She fetches toys, something that makes J. happy.  
She snuggles on laps, something that makes my children happy.  
She is sweet, sweet, sweet, something that makes me happy.
We're so glad we welcomed her into our life.
Sweet Hazel.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

September Kids

A little photo essay I never captioned/posted back when we were deep in celebration of all of September's glories.  I'll let them speak for themselves, as I obviously am short on words of my own these days.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Oh, sweet Scouters, my little Miss Moo. This is the one where I get mushy about my dog, whom I miss.

I don't know if all writers are like this, but it often takes me quite a bit of time and distance to process important events and issues through writing.  Fine when you're a poet, and you take the time to shape and craft the exact words and lines that will express emotion and experience.

In the land of blog, the days come and go so quickly when you don't post.  You feel like you have something to say, but not time or attention to give to a moment in your life you'd like to pause and reflect upon, you can get to a paralyzing place and a big long gap in your posting history.

Such is the case with myself, ever since we had to put our sweet dog Scout to sleep three months ago. I am really not sure how others manage to get through the difficult moments in their lives and post so eloquently about them.  I seem frozen, paralyzed by not being able to choose the right words, pay enough homage to the moments of my life.  Before I know it, they are gone, and not even mentioned in a superficial or sloppy way.

I'm not going to say it's the only reason I haven't posted.  There have been other issues that I've been working through behind the scenes.  Add to that, all three children home and mostly awake all day, up until late at night, and simply, there is not enough time in the day.

However, there was a sense that I needed to pay tribute to the loss of a member of our family, even if it was of the canine persuasion, before moving too blithely on with the day to day craziness around here.

It's been three months, and still.  I miss her, every day. I miss there being a dog in our house, and I miss her particular spirit.

My necklace jangles at my neck and I swiftly turn, thinking for a moment I'm hearing her collar announce her arrival in the next room.

I come in the house through the garage and am reminded again that I don't need to go find her, make sure she's still breathing, doesn't need help up and outside.
Happy to deal with the mess of the Small World.

I look around when I'm outside with the kids, sure I'll see her sunning herself out on the grass by the wall.

I went for a walk by myself one evening.  Though she hadn't been able to come with me on the leash for months, it still felt strange not having something to do with my arms as I strolled.

There are crumbs.  A staggering number of crumbs.  Shredded cheese, hardened cereal.  Banana sludge.  Goldfish bits.  Toast, muffin, waffle and bagel bits.  Every single one that I have to sweep up into the dustpan seems an affront, a reminder of the ways I took my dear dog for granted while she was here.  Climbing under the high chair even when her back legs were too unsteady to keep her vertical on the slippery hardwood for the best morsels of baby leftovers.  Hoovering up the remains of lunch even when I thought she couldn't see or hear enough to know that we were done eating.

I'll admit, I don't miss cleaning up pee spots, or dealing with the loss of bowel functions.  I am glad I don't have to feel sad for her arthritic joints and her mournful eyes.  Old age is not for the faint of heart, for sure.

For fifteen years, nearly all of my adult life, I cared for her.  For fifteen years, she was my true friend, who moved with me and lived with me and companioned me in six different homes.  She amiably accepted husbands separate but definitely not equal, then three children, lived off and on with three other dogs.  Not long before Scout passed away, when things were getting bad for her and I was struggling to know what was the right thing to do, a friend who's known both dog and me for a long time said, with tears in her eyes:  "She saved your life. She was your best friend all that time, through your worst stuff." And that is truer than true.

My best girls.
She never walked well on a leash, never stuck around home when she was supposed to.  In fact, was a Houdini at heart.  The apartment I shared with my brother had a ramshackle pieced together fence made of loose boards and bits.  Scout used to use her paw to push one aside, slide through, and be gone halfway down the street before I knew it.

Sometimes more cat than dog, she spent good stretches of the day by herself, sprawled belly up in the grass or upstairs on her pillow.  But she knew when her company was needed, sidling up alongside me to nose elbow up so I could give her butt a scratch, then she'd lie right down next to the couch where you sat, to stay for as long as I needed.

Even as a puppy, she did mostly what she pleased.  In obedience class, she did fine with sit, and stay, and lie down, but steadfastly refused to come.  The instructor told me this would not be a dog we'd easily bribe with a treat.  And it was true, for a dog, she was not so much eager to do what we pleased as she was willing to do what she thought might please us.  Her only tricks involved "telling stories" in to form of repeated growly yowling noises in the back of her throat, and sneezing on demand.  Her favored greeting was a growl of excitement while stretching luxuriantly.

O.'s first buddy, staunchest watchdog.
She was the kind of dog you could almost forget at times, until she barked loudly to announce the UPS man's arrival, or scratched insistently at the back door to be let outside.  Our kids, who mostly knew her as an old dog, love to hear the stories about her as a younger dog.  About how she was born in a barn with sheep, and that the day I went to go meet her, she peeked her head out the barn door and came trotting over just to me, as if to say: "Oh hello.  There you are.  I've been waiting for you to arrive."  Or how she and O. would wrestle when he was a toddler, her mouth open in joy and mock viciousness.  O. used to pat her a little too roughly, so that one of his first two syllable words was "gentle."  Only he thought that word's definition was "hit the dog."

Because our house feels so much less like a home without a dog, we have cautiously decided we are going to open our family to another dog this weekend.  Maybe it's too soon.  We're not sure. However, we do think our kids should have a dog around.  We have kind of been enjoying not having to let a dog out last thing at night when you just want to fall into bed, not stand around encouraging pee in the wet grass.  But, we are willing to stand around some in the cold and rain, in exchange for some warm fur to pet.  And the crumbs.  Seriously, the crumbs.

Scout, cutest puppy there ever was.
Also, we remember the pleasant times of having a younger, sprightlier dog.  We remember Scout, who high stepped through grass like a princess, so as not to get too muddy, but never passed up a chance to rub her entire neck and chin in a pile of cat poop or something dead.  Who, with her little bobbed stump of tail, wagged her entire hind end with joy, joy, joy anytime you came home, or talked to her in happy tones.  Who chased squirrels the entire lengths of every yard we ever lived in, throwing her back legs out to the side as brakes to avoid running into the brick walls at their borders.  We remember the days when we'd call her up on our high antique bed, and she would leap through the air to turn in happy circles in the sheets.  She loved popcorn, American cheese, and raisins from my father.  She hated water, cats, and being rushed while eating.
Beautiful girl.  Good dog.

We're hoping this sweet dog we're adopting, 9 months to a year old, will already have a few manners, because we're really not up to another newborn in this house.  We'd love it if she'd actually return a ball after chasing it.  So while we understand, and even hope, that this dog will be different than our last, we're still maintaining that this little one has got some mighty big pawprints to fill.

Last picture ever taken of my old gal.  I think I knew it when I took it, but wasn't quite willing to admit it,
and that's why I included her in the edge of this shot of O's birthday

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hot on the Farm

It's a hot one.  How do I know?  N. told me so.

"Mom.  I am so hot I feel like I am in a stove!"

"Mom.  I am as hot and hungry as a bull.  I am snorting and about to run."

"Mom.  I am boiling like I am in a pot!"

"Mom.  I am thirsty as a flower."

Smudge on my lens, but N. was SO thrilled about the pony ride, I can't resist posting this anyway.

My favorite creatures.
Perhaps we shouldn't have chosen a day expected to hit 93 degrees to visit the farm.  But, do they make days anything other than hot around here these days??

There were some pigs in one enclosure, and one of the workers told us that they put sunscreen on the pigs that morning.  Two enjoyed it, the third wanted nothing to do with it.  That third pig was nosing around the outside of the pen rooting around looking like it was searching for food.  O's take?  "I think that one is looking for food, hoping it is lunchtime.  But no lunch for her.  No sunscreen, no lunch.  That's consequences."

Okay, so since I've broken the dry blogging spell with this winner of a post, might as well share a few other examples of O., and N. speak.

O.:  "I am never getting married.  I don't want some lady bossing me around."
N.  "Oh yes, you will.  Someday you will fall in love."

N.:  "I know how to do that.  Totally."

N.:  "Mom!  No never sit in that chair on the deck with the bird poop on it.  There was a wasp building a nest in it."

O.:  "N.!  You are screaming like a girl!
N.:  "Well. I AM a girl."

Hopefully more to come from me sooner rather than later...

P.S.  I haven't been entirely silent on the blogging front. Recently, my bible study ladies and I embarked on a project of gratitude for the observable gifts of our ordinary everyday lives,  inspired by our reading of the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

The resulting blog can be found at Up From the Church Basement.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Seven? Oh, all right. I guess I'll let you be seven.

Yesterday Stacia was kind enough to ask me to join her poetry celebration in honor of National Poetry Month.  I was so very honored.  

She also said it would be okay for me to include the poem I wrote for O. here as well.  Today's his birthday, so here in the Small World, it's all about him.  He's turning seven, but as usual, the lucky one is me.  I love you, buddy.

Haiku for Seven
      --for O.

 Tomorrow, seven!
A big kid,; it’s official.
How did this happen?

First boy of my heart,
whose newborn wails echo when
springtime windows open,

I miss morning nests
on the couch, reading Harry
and nursing, nursing.

I miss your backhoes,
trains, trucks, tractors, balls, and cranes.
Teach your brother soon.

Now when no kids wake
at night, it’s worry keeps me
up in the wee hours.

Thinking of you out
in the world, braving your way
on paths I won’t know.

This, the year you left
dinos for Pokemon, glad
animals still rule.

Fan of your break dance,
sibling kindness, fearless joy
on two wheels of bike.

I love your magic,
pranks and all; tae kwon do moves;
your Tiger Cub hat.

Not so your fart jokes,
back talking, button pushing,
all that growing up.

Nighttime snuggles still
are needed for hours, it seems.
When patience is thin.

Not room for two there,
You flop and never settle.
“One more minute please?”

“How does coffee taste?
What makes a hearing aid work?
Why is some skin brown?”

Then you ask the one
 all kids find their way to, and
answer for yourself.

“L. is the baby,
and N. is your girl, but
I made you a mom.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I Dunno...

How did he get to be so cute?  

I "dunno" either.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Wearing of the Green

St. Patrick's Day fell on a Saturday this year. The weather was glorious.  March Madness was in full swing, with our team still in it.  (Sorry, Irish fans.  Really.)   Ideally, that should have meant a day hanging out on the patio of a pub, drinking some Guinness or a pint of cider and listening to an Irish band.  At least that's my husband's fantasy March 17th.  I'll admit, it does not sound bad.  

However, these days in the Small World, St. Pat's is a little less about the green beer and a little more about the wee lads and lasses that live in our house.  It looks a little more like this:

Shamrock stamping done with green peppers and poster paint.

N.'s version.  I think she said the pink outline was a dinosaur eating the shamrock?

Another "Irish" craft.  Paper plate leprechauns!
I tried to convince the kids that leprechauns had left this breakfast for them.  They weren't buying it.  I KNEW not having that darn elf live with us at  Christmas would come back to bite us.  They did enjoy the Lucky Charms and tiny stack of pancakes, even if they knew I made it.

Lunch.  Green eggs and ham.  I didn't go so far as to read the book to them as we ate, but I did quote it extensively when N. refused to even touch hers.  Much eye rolling in response to my "In a box!  With a fox!  He did like it when he tried it!  He would eat it in a house!  He would eat it with a mouse!"

J. gamely being enthusiastic about my green foods snack tray, and the shirt I bought him to wear for the day!

This big kid ate some pickles and cucumbers and grapes, while I tried not to get too emotional about not being along for his first haircut.  

We went outside to explore the green grass and nature, and found this salamander in our yard.

See?  Big kid.

 Lucky, lucky me.