Memories in Glass and Clay

That one special thing.

My grandfather played the violin and loved music.  He had a stroke when I was a toddler, so I never really knew him that well.  Never really got close to him, except when he would sit on the piano bench and help me through a piece of music that I had trouble with.

Grandpa was an engineer and a professional violinist.  Music was his passion.  He played violin for the St. Louis Symphony orchestra until a tragic accident at the plant he worked at sliced off his thumb on his right hand.  His heart broke.  He could no longer play the violin.  He lost his job during the depression because of the accident.  As I look back on those times, I think grandpa was depressed.  But, oh how he loved grandma.  And I always wanted to have a marriage like grandma and grandpa.

So, you might say, what does that have to do with your opening phrase, that one special thing.  Well, grandma and grandpa lived in a little brick house.  And on top of the refrigerator there was a pitcher and six steins made of ceramic.  The pitcher and steins were shades of yellow and brown and had Franciscan monks painted on them.  Monks playing a fiddle, drinking from a pitcher, Monks surrounded by branches.  And those monks looked so peaceful and had such personality.  Grandma never used them, they were for display only.  They were given to her by her grandpa.

When grandma passed away in 1996 my mom inherited the pitcher and steins and they sat on her refrigerator in our finished basement.  Every time I would visit mom, I’d see them and they would remind me of grandma and grandpa.  I’d smile and recall grandpa sitting in his easy chair listening to Nat King Cole with the TV turned on with no sound.  I’d remember grandma making us sugar water tea and serving it to us kids in pretty little glasses.  I remember walking around grandma’s yard, such a peaceful place with flowers and birds and butterflies.  But, most of all I remember how that pitcher and those six steins made me feel so happy.

Dad died in 2008 and mom was looking to downsize.  She wanted to give my sister and I things that we wanted before she died.  She was visiting my house and we were about to take her home when she asked me what I wanted.  I said, “mom I really don’t want anything other than the pitcher and steins that were grandma and grandpa’s.”  Mom was so happy and said, “well then, when you take me home I’m going to give those to you.”

I told her she could keep them for a while, but she was adamant that I should have them.  So, we packed them up in newspaper and I brought them home.

I had just purchased an oak hutch for my kitchen and knew exactly where their new home was going to be.  I unwrapped each one.  The two with the monk playing the fiddle.  I thought of grandpa and his love for music and the violin.  The two with the monk drinking from a pitcher.  I thought visits to grandpa and grandma’s and how grandma made each visit special.  The two with the monk surrounded by greenery, and thought of grandma’s park-like backyard.  I washed each piece and put them on the shelf in my hutch.  Their home was no longer on a refrigerator top, but this new home was equally special.  I was able to glance at them everyday.

I’m sure mom had lots of things that were worth more money, but nothing held a more special place in my heart.

My first husband passed away after 30 years of marriage.  I met a wonderful guy and we married in 2010.  He gave up his home and moved into mine.  As we unpacked his belongings he came across a green bowl and smiled.  He said, this was my mom’s.  It’s just a simple sea green bowl with ridges, but Steve remembers his mom using it.  It’s special to him, I can tell.  So, I took the little green bowl and put it on a shelf in the hutch.

It’s funny how we hold on to the simplest things.  It doesn’t matter their dollar amount.  That pitcher and steins are worth a million in memories.  Steve’s mom’s green bowl brings back days of old.  The hutch is filled with memories, and memories keep the past alive.

 

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It’s All What You’re Used To

My husband and I moved to Fort Myers, Florida August 19, 2013.  It was a whirlwind decision.  Talking to realtors.  Selling our house in Bloomington, Illinois.  Finding a condo in Fort Myers.  Selling all our stuff.

This is a second marriage for both of us.  Our spouses passed away in 2006 and 2008.  Mine from a sudden heart attack.  His from cancer.  Both tragic.  Both deaths different yet the same in that we were left alone to find a new normal.

We both retired, him in 2010, me in 2012.  We wintered in Florida during the months of January and February 2013.  Fell in love with the climate.  Came back to Bloomington in March to freezing cold weather.  And from there we talked and talked and talked about Florida.  Time for a change?  We thought so!!

We closed on our condo in Fort Myers on August 19, moved in and began to set down roots in the land of sunshine and warm air.

As I write this we are visiting family and friends in Bloomington.  Although, we have begun to call Fort Myers our home.

Starting over in a new city at 56 and 61 was not without its moments.  There were times when both of us were out of sorts (at different times).  There were times when we both thought, separately, what have we done!!  Because, moving to a new place, beginning a new life, may sound romantic, but it’s difficult work that requires much effort.

Making new friends.  Finding new places to do shopping.  Setting up our new house and making it our own. We had it painted and changed the oatmeal walls to sunshine yellow, the most beautiful shade of tropical orange, and blue water.  Finding new art that fit our personality, together.  Finding out more about each other.

Steve and I are peas and carrots.  I’ve said that from the beginning.  But, even peas and carrots enjoy separate flavors.  We love doing things together.  We bought kayaks and are enjoying the peaceful waters, sites and sounds, nature and wildlife.  We like to golf, him more than me.  We love the beach.  And we love being with friends.

We’ve made quite a few friends in this short time, and have had a few of them to our house for dinner.  I love to cook, to prepare a meal and watch people enjoy it.  We love to gather at friends’ houses or go out to dinner.  Meeting people, who are transplanted like us, has been a breath of fresh air.  He likes to sing and take pictures.  I like to write and dabble in painting.  And what we’ve learned is that Florida has brought us closer together and also given us time to figure out who we are as individuals.

We’re back in Bloomington right now, but Fort Myers feels like home.  It’s our new normal.

Sometimes Life Stinks

(Assignment 18 — Story, first person, from the perspective of a 12 year old.)

 

“Today’s a beautiful day,” mom said, “why don’t you go outside and enjoy it!”  “Go see if Maddie is home!”  “Why don’t you play with her anymore?”  “I really like her.”

I finish the chapter I’m on and take my book and go outside.  Mom may be able to push me outside, but she can’t take away my book.  Stories never let you down.

I sit out on our front step.  There’s a little bit of shade.  I open my book and start to read when I hear Maddie’s voice. Can’t miss that sound.  I look up and she’s waving and smiling.  I start to wave back when I realize she isn’t looking at me.  It’s Susan from down the street.  I should have known better.  Madeline doesn’t like me anymore, she found a new, and as she says, cooler friend.  I get lost again, not in my book, but in my story.  What’s wrong with me.  Tears start to fall.  I wish I were gone.

I take a breath and look up to see a police car coming into our neighborhood.  Wow, that doesn’t happen on Sycamore Street.  It’s dull and boring here, unlike the places in my books.

Hmmmmm.  The car is stopping a couple houses down, Mrs. Pauley, or grandma as I used to call her.   The policeman is at her door, the screen door opens.  I can’t hear what’s going on.  Mrs. Pauley invites the policeman in.  A few minutes later Mrs. Pauley and the policeman walk outside.  Grandma looks sad.  Madeline sees her grandma and runs over.  She looks like she’s crying.  I watch.  My heart is sad.  Maddie was my best friend and I guess best friend feelings last forever even when the person doesn’t want to be your friend anymore.

Susan is waiting in the street.  She looks frustrated.   I’m sure she and Madeline had plans to do something fun, but can’t she see Maddie’s upset?

Mrs. Pauley was grandma to me too; that is until Susan stole her away.  I wonder if Susan calls her grandma.  I sit and stare and begin to feel so sad for Maddie and her grandma.  I’m not sure why I’m doing this, but I get up and walk over to grandma and Maddie.  I stand there for forever without saying anything.

“Hi,” I whisper.   Maddie is crying so hard, and the policeman looks so nervous.  Maddie says, “the policeman told grandma that my parents are in trouble.  A wreck.  Dead.  I don’t know what to do.  Why would they leave without me?”  “I spent the night at grandma’s and when I woke up I saw our truck loaded up with our stuff.”  “I asked grandma where they were going and she just said they were taking stuff somewhere.”  “I walked over to Susan’s house and she wasn’t there.”  “We had plans.”  “Grandma just told me mom and dad left before they got thrown out of our house.” ” I don’t understand.”  “Why did they leave me?”  Tears were streaming down her face.  She was talking in-between sobs.

“I’m sorry, Maddie,” I said, and started to cry.  I feel so sad for Maddie.

“My parents are gone.  I am,” she cried.  “Why?”  “I don’t know anything.”

Grandma was hugging us both, and I looked up and saw that Susan had left.  Grandma was holding tight to Maddie and Maddie was hugging her right back.  They’re like that.  They love each other so much.  I love them too.

It’s just a . . .

I don’t like spiders and snakes and that ain’t what it takes to love me . . . I don’t like them but I am scared to death of roaches.  That nasty, never say die bug!!

I was introduced to them in El Paso, Texas.  Every spring when the swamp coolers were turned on they would scurry through the vents and sometimes end up on my ceiling.  Three inches with an extra four inches of tentacle.  Scared to death!

In 2007 I went on a mission trip to New Orleans, Louisiana — Breeding ground for La Cucaracha.  We took showers about two blocks from the church where we stayed, in modular shower stalls with wooden floors.  My newly found friend and I were in separate stalls showering and singing after a long, hot, spirit filled day.  I remember the song — I Feel Pretty!  We sang in  harmony just like West Side Story, giggling the entire time.  During the second chorus I looked down and there was a very large roach at my feet.

Singing switched to screaming and I couldn’t stop.  My friend thought I had injured myself but all I could do was scream.  I couldn’t put words together other than — ROACH — HELP — HELP!!  Tears ran down my face and it wasn’t from the soap that covered my hair and body — They were real tears of fear.  I sprung out of the shower but knew I had to get back in to rinse off.  So, I said, maybe if I close my eyes I can finish showing.  That was the quickest rinse in history.

What makes me afraid of something I could stomp?  I don’t know, the mind is a crazy thing!  And left to my imagination, my mind has conjured a monster bug!  One that makes me stupid paralyzing crazy.  It’s just a bug I keep trying to tell myself.  Although, fact has it a roach can live without it’s head for 30 days, and that’s just flippin’ unreal.  They are indestructible.  They would probably feed off a nuclear attack!!  I can see it now — Attack of the killer roaches.  And I’ll only star in Part I, because it will definitely be death by fear with tears.

 

Pieces of Memory

As a retired person, I wanted volunteer job where I could come in, work my hours and leave at the end of the day. I didn’t want any homework, real or mental, or meetings, if you know what I mean. I just wanted to fill my days with a little bit of meaningful work.

 

I found a job at the local thrift store. I was to go through items and clean and ready them for the shelves on the sales floor. There were so many items to sort through, but my favorite were the knick knacks; those objects that people had sitting around collecting dust until they out stayed their welcome. I have a few in my house, but not as many as I used to. I’ve given much to the thrift store. One person’s junk is another person’s jewels, so they say.

 

I spent many days sorting through these lost items making them attractive for their new homes. Lots of ceramics, glassware and such. I’m sure someone spent many hours making them. Or, had picked out that one special item they had to have which didn’t fit with their décor any longer. Life’s like that, we find something we can’t live without and then life changes and that piece no longer fits.

 

One day I was washing some ceramic birds thinking about my grandma. She loved birds and flowers. In fact she raised canaries and African Violets during the depression and sold them. She was an entrepreneur.   Grandma also had a ceramic bird collection, and she had given me a few pieces.

 

As I looked through the birds I had picked to wash and ready for sale, I realized one piece, blue and yellow birds sitting on a flowered branch was actually a music box. I twisted the handle and Unforgettable began to play. Yes, grandma, you are unforgettable, I thought as I smiled. Thanks for visiting with me today.

 

Needless to say, that piece didn’t make it to the metal shelves on the sales floor. I paid the asking price and took it home with me. Sometimes memories are found in the most unexpected places.

So Sad

I am heartbroken.  How could they end such a beautiful day!?!  I just loved the Women’s Conference at church and looked forward to the second Saturday of February each year.

That day enabled me to dig deeper into my faith by listening to wonderful speakers.  There were fun things like flower arranging and dessert making that brought out the creative side.  And, there were tearful moments that cleansed the soul.

Hearing a woman’s struggle that ended in success.  Hearing of woman lost and found.  Listening to beautiful stories of hope and faith were so inspiring.  Hands raised during singing of contemporary Christian music and old hymns.  Beautiful voices leading women’s voices in song.  Prayers that focused our thoughts and lives.  A day that filled the heart and soul.

I am heartbroken.

A Letter to the Leader of Me

Dear Protagonist:

You make me take such huge responsibility for my life.

Protagonist carries such power.  Lead role.  I’m in control.  Yet, am I really in control?  I think not!!!  Ok, yes, I control my thoughts, feelings and dreams.  However, I don’t control all the crap that is thrown at me.

Poor pitiful me.  Sometimes.  Yea, things are going great!  Other times.  Oh wait, those are feelings and thoughts and I can control them.  I guess I need to get busy.  After all, it is how I handle things that makes all the difference.

Thanks for letting me vent.  I’m ready to get back to living.

Sincerely yours, in leadership!

Rhonda

 

(Taken from Page 29 of “Life” by Paulo Coelho — Author of The Alchemist)

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoy

I’ve been called the EverReady Bunny, because I keep going and going and going. And it’s always a race to complete this, see that, prepare for one thing or another. Running.

I’ve been a runner for many years.  But recently I’ve found walking.

Not just walking for fitness, but walking, slowing down. You see, running is great exercise, but walking is great awareness. Walk along any path and look at what’s around you.

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A butterfly. A flower.  Leafy plant.  Trees.  Appreciate the beauty.  Stop a moment to take in the sights and smells.  Let them fill your senses.

There are different kinds of walking.  The steady stroll.  The stop and look.  And then there’s the walking we do through our lives.  Stop running.  Slow down.   Take a stroll through life, and appreciate the moments. You’ll be amazed.

An evening with friends. Instead of thinking okay, I’m having friends over for dinner I need to do this, this . . . I just don’t have enough time. Stop running.  Take a few minutes and a deep breath and enjoy.

— Cleaning the house. The fresh smell of Windex. The shiny floor and dusted tables. Stop. Take a look. Smile.

— Preparing the meal. It’s an art. Blending all the right spices, the right sides to go with your entree, and that special dessert. Enjoy each ingredient, each smell, and don’t forget to take a taste. Beauty is in the preparation. Slow down. Appreciate.

— Take a moment to sit and have a drink before showering. Enjoy some quiet time. You deserve it.

— Enjoy your friends, enjoy your home, enjoy the meal. Sit and smile. Easy conversation.  Stay in the moment. Relax.

Walk don’t run.

Faith In An Old Door

The right place at the right time.

Have you ever looked at a six-panel door, really looked at it? The shape of the cross is in the top four panels. I have six-panel doors in my home, but had never noticed that before. While it cannot be proven, it is thought carpenters likened themselves to the great carpenter, Jesus, hence the cross in the door.

My job for the entire week was to restore an old six-panel door that had made it through New Orleans’ Hurricane Katrina and the breaking of the levee. A door that had stood up to 4 feet of muddy flood waters for several weeks. The owners of the home, Alca (pronounced Alsay) and Bernice wanted the door to become part of their newly restored home. They were holding on to a piece of their old life.

The door had been removed from the hinges weeks before and was sitting on the floor in the corner of what was to be their new family room. No one wanted to touch it; the task was too overwhelming. Paint had been splattered on the already worn finish, dirt and dust gathered in the corners of the panels, there were holes and black marks that would never be erased. Lines of age and hard times.

It was an old door, and I didn’t hold out much hope that it could be saved. And to further add to my doubts, I had never done anything like this before in my life. But I began working on it, and as I stripped off layer after layer of old stain, varnish, and remnants of the flood, I saw new life begin to enter the door. I was filled with hope and joy that this door could be restored, and I made the project my mission.

When Bernice and Alca saw I was working on it they both smiled. Bernice took pictures, and kept saying, “look at my door. You need to sign it when you’re through.” Alca said, “this makes me so happy, thank you for doing this. Thank you, I could never have done this on my own, and I really wanted it to be part of our new house.”

Alca and I would spend much time talking about the strength of his wife Bernice, family, life in New Orleans, the flood, and prejudice over that old door. He would pick up the scraping knife and we’d work together as he talked about his life and I shared parts of mine. On the last day we talked about faith. He talked about God and how great He is, and said the 23rd Psalm is his favorite because the Lord says, “don’t worry, I got your back.” He said, “isn’t it amazing that God gave his son for us? Us? He loved us that much. I don’t think I could do that, could you?” I said, “no I couldn’t.” He said, “God does love us so much even through the tough times, even when we’re sure we don’t deserve it. God believes in us even when we don’t believe in ourselves.” We got quiet after that, nothing left to say.

I completed my task on the last day; the door was ready to be stained, finished with polyurethane and hung on new hinges. I showed Alca and Bernice the restored door, and as they smiled I said, “This old door is strong, it made it through the storm just like the two of you. And just like the two of you, its life has been restored.” We smiled, three people filled with joy and hope, filled with God’s love.

This first mission trip to New Orleans changed my life. By working on that old door my old life was stripped away and I found faith. By listening to these people, who came through the storm, came through this great loss talk that God saved them, that they didn’t need to worry because God had their back, I learned what it means to have undying faith. I know I should have been the one teaching them, but they taught me.

I was blessed to have been a part of such a wonderful, faith filled journey. God lead me to New Orleans and that old, flood damaged six-panel door with the cross in the upper four panels. And through the journey of restoration he came into my heart and I will never be the same.

Those Days

My mom passed away in June of 2012 and the first thing I wanted to do after we went to the funeral home to make arrangements, was to drive past the house I grew up in. I stopped for a few minutes at the end of the driveway on North Michigan Avenue, my memories taking me to another time.

I grew up a middle class girl in Belleville, Illinois. Belleville was and is a little town just east and across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. I say was and is a little town because even though the boundaries are reaching further and further to the east, the town has still retained its old world charm. There’s a square in the middle of downtown that my friends and I used to drive around over and over again every Friday and Saturday night during my teen years. Belleville is of German heritage, even though the name is French. Downtown has always been the place to be. Beer and brat festivals. Chili cookoffs. Parades march through the downtown lined with shops, bars and restaurants. The look is nothing special, but the atmosphere reflects old time Americana where folks were happy with the smaller things in life.

I grew up on the east side of town in a middle class neighborhood where families put down roots and never left. When I was a kid my house on North Michigan Avenue seemed so huge. The steps leading to the basement seemed so scary and steep. The kitchen and living room blended together with the dining area separating them. The basement was cool on a hot summer day and a great place to gather with my friends.

And speaking of friends, there were lots of kids in our neighborhood and we would stay out until dark playing kickball, whiffle ball, tag, kick the can, and a host of other outside games. Our parents would gather at one of the houses and drink beer and talk. In the summer we’d play all day with a few breaks in between. Sweaty kids, laughing, playing and arguing until our parents called us home. Those memories make me smile.

However, during teenage years, it was in my room where I spent hours. I’d turn on the record player and sing into a hairbrush while looking into the mirror, fixing hair and outfit — Everything just right. There were other times where I just turned on the music and read. I suppose, as I look back, my room was a place I could be me with all those growing up thoughts and dreams. I could be anything in that room with the three white walls and one red. Black, red and White shag carpeting, and crazy black and white curtains and bedspread. I picked the colors and design. My room. My expression. My place.

I left home at 18 and the years have flown by. I remember before we moved mom to an assisted living home I walked through the house, pieces of memories popping into each room. I also had to laugh when I walked down those stairs to the basement. They seemed so small. It’s funny how life changes the way we look at things.

My memories, sitting at the bottom of our driveway on North Michigan Avenue, took me to everything that happened in that house in my childhood. That day, I remembered the good times, the simpler times. That day I gave thanks for middle class neighborhoods. I gave thanks.