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Blog Post, The Last

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“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” -Frank Herbert
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Dear Friends,

Three and a half years ago I started this blog. It was a creative outlet during a time when I was very much home-bound tending to the care of my father, and feeling very much the need to give expression to the stew-pot of random thoughts and observations simmering inside of me. Once again in my childhood home, surrounded on every side by things that reminded me of my youth and the familial happiness I had always enjoyed, I found I had a new, more experienced perspective  from which to  interpret the past.  Once again I walked the neighborhood frequently. (I used to walk this neighborhood by necessity, to get to school, to visit friends, or to go to the store, but since returning I have walked mostly to add variety to my days, and for my health.)

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As I walked, I couldn’t help but feel the past and present mesh into a finger-painted blur. The most interesting observation resulting from this fusing of times was that everything that was old was new, and everything that appeared new was shaped by the old. Once, there were orange and lemon groves skirting the foothills on the north end of town, now there are big, expensive homes that have stealthily crept up the mountainside. The homes in our more workaday neighborhood have remained the same, yet have become different, having undergone updates, remodeling, drought-tolerant landscaping, or having been worn down by time and neglect.  Still, basically, they are the same homes, roosting like hens on their nests waiting for something new to hatch out from under, within, or around them.

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One walk took me onto the premises of my old elementary school. Peering through the windows of the first classroom I attended at that school produced mixed emotions—the once tidy, orderly classroom with the honey-colored wooden shelves and cabinets housing fresh manila paper and stacks of sack lunches, had become cluttered and tacky with too much “stuff” covering the walls, windows, counters, and floors. The large picture windows on one end of the room, once brightly beckoning weary brains to recess, had been blocked at the lower levels so students, I supposed, couldn’t see out, or daydream, forcing Light, the literal Revealer of Knowledge, to diminish. Surely the school wasn’t perfect when I was there, but I turned away from that window feeling melancholy at the loss of something that was once unspoiled. Also gone was the old-fashioned playground equipment from my past: the extinct teeter-totters, the variegated metal rings and the uneven bars that all the girls of my generation had used to test out (and show off) their athletic prowess. The school still stood, was still in use, but it was changed and affected by the times.

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Our neighborhood park has often been incorporated into my walks. It, too, at first glance, appeared to be what it once was, but the trees have grown tall, or have been removed, old playground apparatus’ have disappeared, the rec center is now a day-care, and scores of soccer players now populate the lawns. When I was a child, the park, like the housing development, was brand new, the trees—but saplings back then—provided little to no shelter from the sun. The park has since become an oasis of shade, a welcome stop for grandchildren to climb trees and scramble over the playground, letting off pent-up energy from being indoors.

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The city center, once a cute, small-town “village” still has a reputation as such, but up-scaling has produced higher-priced, fancy restaurants, haute couture clothing stores, and a library that was once a quaint, little gem transformed into a ziggurat-ish eyesore. Still, much of the old has been preserved in town, and, for the most part, it retains its charm and attraction, for which I’m grateful, and very fond.

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Neighbors have come and gone, too. Mostly, they have gone. Besides me, those directly across the street are the only ones left from the “olden days.” They’ve been in their home almost as long as our family has occupied ours—over fifty years. They are both now eighty-five, and tend their front lawn with tender loving care and a fine-tooth comb. (It was only this summer they finally broke down and hired a gardener.) It’s comforting to see their familiar faces, and to share produce and jam, as well as watch over each other’s homes during vacations. They are like the pepper trees lining the street, rooted to the neighborhood, providing the kind of constancy that shades and protects that which is cherished. But I know even they will not last forever. Things change. Time slips by in unintelligible increments, quietly amassing into years filled with subtle change.

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I have often written about change in my blog, and here I am writing about it again, one last time. A year ago, my dear father passed away. The reasons that writing a blog were so appealing to me at the time I began this blog have become moot. A time for reminiscing has transformed into a time for wiping the slate clean, so to speak. That’s not what I’m really doing, of course, but it feels like it. It feels like I’m in process of taking down, ripping apart, discarding, or throwing away almost every remaining vestige of my childhood and former life, and of the lives of my parents, kissing them all a tender good-bye. Today, I went through another closet. My father’s old corduroy jacket was buried in a sack of old sweaters. I pulled it out, smelled it, and hugged it for a long time, weeping over the loss of my dear parents.  I took it into his old closet and hung it up. It won’t stay there, because going through the things in that closet are also on my have-to-do list. I have to do this—there is no one else who can. It is my lot, and I must face it, and carry the weight of it.

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Before long, the house will be sold. But first, it will have to undergo even more change—a face lift. Nearly everything in the house is original, except the carpet. The linoleum tiles can be picked up and moved around like puzzle pieces (the glue wore off long ago). The wood cabinets are thread-bare and tired. They cry out for me to put them out to pasture. The yards, too, have suffered great neglect during the last two years of my father’s demise, and the decade-long drought that beset California until this past winter.  Yes, the house must undergo change. It’s gray hairs are showing, just like mine. I miss the days of dark-haired youth, but there is no holding back time or the tide. We all ride the great gushing wave of eternity, and there’s no getting off. My own mortality beckons to me frankly, and it’s okay. I am not afraid of what lies ahead and beyond.

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But there is an overwhelming sense of so much to do. Will I ever finish? Does anyone ever finish? My parents didn’t. Each left projects undone, words unwritten, music not played. As I wade through receipts that are a half-century old, old negatives, artwork, books, clothing, letters, photographs, stamp collections, family history work, and endless, heart-strung memories, I find much of my parents’ life work in a state of suspended animation. I think “finishing” is a false idea, a foolish notion. We come to the great Finishing School of Earth without the slightest notion of finishing, of becoming fully polished and ready to enter the vast gates of eternity, though we may work toward it all our days. We struggle with human frailty, with ambition, or lack thereof, with responsibilities, fears, and trials. We grasp for every moment of joy life affords, and relish time with loved ones, friends, and the beauty of the earth. We study hard and take exams, we marry, and rear children, we gather the sheaves of the depth and beauty of life into the garners of memory to cherish in our old age. We wrestle with aging bodies, health, and dementia, and watch our beloved, aging parents become as children, needing their children to “parent” and assist them as they exit this life. They welcome and parent us into life, and we bid farewell and parent them out of this life. It is a circle. We are an intrinsic part of that circle. It will all happen again. As I sift through the relics of their lives, having to part with most of it, I wonder if I will have time to complete those things I have longed to accomplish. Simple things, like writing my personal history for my posterity, and spending time with and knowing each precious grandchild and great-grandchild intimately—having a relationship that will outlast time. Those relationships are the things that endure, that stay in the innermost pockets of the heart, and that are valued throughout eternity. Nothing can take that away from those who nurture those relationships. Not even time.

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And so, I have come to the point where I realize I have little left to write of in my blog, at least right now. I can’t think about it anymore. I must move on, finish, if possible, reliving my parents’ lives as I go through what they left behind, and attempt to finish what is left to live of my own life (and I hope there are decades-worth left). My mind and heart are beset with the sheer volume of stuff, the monumental size of the task, and the overwhelming sense of a book that has turned its last leaf and is winding down towards an unending finish. It is at this point I find I must also end my blog, at least for now.

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“A Random Harvest” has been therapeutic for me. It allowed me to reach out and interact with others without leaving my father or the house. It allowed me to ponder upon my past and to share the blessings of life that my husband and I have enjoyed, (alone and together), to muse on the beauty and poetry of life, and to observe with friends the interesting little inconsistencies, the absurd, the delightful, and the profound aspects of life. Whenever someone—someone known to me, and someone I did not know—responded with a comment to my little offerings, I felt a greater extension of the brotherhood and sisterhood we all share with one another. I hope you felt it, too.

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Mine are just little scribbling symbols of random, haphazard thoughts and ideas. But I have felt such gratitude and such unity as I have learned that others have felt much the same. How can I ever thank you for reading my obscure, little blog? For holding my hand, as we’ve walked this small byway on the path of life together? When I have looked at the stats page on my blog, I have been amazed at the people from around the globe who have—I’m not sure how—happened upon and read my humble thoughts. I find that absolutely unfathomable. But I am humbled and fascinated by it every time!

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I love Emily Dickinson’s poem about books– “The Frugal Frigate”–one of my favorites:

There is no Frigate like a Book 

To take us Lands away 

Nor any Coursers like a Page 

Of prancing Poetry – 

This Traverse may the poorest take 

Without oppress of Toll – 

How frugal is the Chariot 

That bears the Human Soul –

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In many ways, I feel similar sentiments about this blog. For me it has been a frigate—a chariot—bearing away my human soul, traversing lands, and ideas, and hearts, without oppress of toll. I have connected with others who share my love of all things good and virtuous. This makes me happy. There is a lot of good in the world! I’m so grateful!

 

So this will be my last blog post as “A Random Harvest,” at least for a while—maybe forever.  I am allowing it to enter into a state of suspended animation. At some later date, if a desire has not rekindled to post again, I will retire it into the annals of things of the past. Like my childhood home, my blog has run its course. Both have brought me joy, and I have learned and grown because of them. I hope it has been one small pinprick of light and joy for you, as well. I will miss it. I will miss you.

 

I declare to you my faith in a loving Heavenly Father, and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the “Author and Finisher of [my] faith,”(Hebrews 12:2) and the Holy Ghost. They are the hub around which my life revolves, and the balance that keeps me sane and happy. It is through Them that all sad endings, and supposed “unfinished symphonies” of life may be transformed into eternal joy and sublime fulfillment. I share my gratitude for a supportive and loving husband, Brad, (who has good-naturedly allowed me to feature him in my blog from time to time). I also share my love of family and friends, for there is nothing that brings greater joy while traversing this expanse of time on earth. I thank you for your comments, for your interest, and as always….

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….from the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

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©September 22, 2017

*Note: All these beautiful book covers are public domain images.

+Featured Image: “Destiny” by John William Waterhouse (one of my favorites)

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Untangled

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This is me, when I had those pesky snarls and tangles to deal with.

Blog Post #47

I have curly hair. When I was young, it was even curlier, and prone to tangles. My mother would comb and brush the snarls out, but the process was sometimes painful, and I didn’t like it!

Now that I’m older, my hair no longer snarls. As with many laws of science, such as laws of displacement, or the migratory habits of birds, when a snarl is combed out of one’s hair, it has to go somewhere else.  My migrating snarls have displaced vacant spaces in my brain and heart, which have resulted from a year of dramatic change, leaving some gaping holes and empty places—perfect for snarls to settle into.

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A tangled brain is not a good beginning to the New Year.

Let me explain what I mean by a tangled brain. A tangled brain is when a variety of commitments, desires, plans, thoughts, and scheduled parts of life seem to all land on the freeway of my mind at precisely the same moment causing a bottleneck-traffic jam of major proportions in my neural networking. Anyone who has experienced a bottleneck on the highway knows that traffic reduces to a crawl, or even a dead standstill, until a lane opens up ahead or there’s a reduction in the number of cars.

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Bottleneck  traffic jam

It’s the same with a tangled brain. An onslaught of stress or confusion results from too much input coming together at once, and too little capacity to deal with it efficiently.

Like combing out snarls, it may be a painful process trying to sort out the effects of major changes while also dealing with unexpected responsibilities mixed with everyday routines.

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It’s an interesting fact that, just when I see the approach of a free-flying chunk of “time” making its way toward me like a fly ball I’m straining to catch, some all-absorbed outfielder named Opportunity comes at me from one side, a focused short stop named Commitment comes at me from the other, and both slam into me with such force, the ball pops out of my groping mitt, and falls out of play with a thud. It’s happened to me so many times, I can’t even begin to count.

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It’s my own doing; I have the freedom to choose. Yes or no. Accept, or reject. I can decide. Mostly, I choose to accept. Accept is, perhaps, too passive a word.  Invite is more appropriate. I invite these kinds of fly ball responsibilities because I believe in the principle of service. The kind of service I’m speaking of doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “convenient.” I suspect that most true acts of service—the kinds that cause you to put someone or something else ahead of your own selfish desires—are rarely, if ever, convenient. I seriously doubt the Samaritan found it convenient to care for the man he found on the road during his travels.

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The Good Samaritan – Luke 10:25-37

I wish I could say that I always invite, or accept these opportunities with a willing and cheerful attitude, but that would be a lie. I have kicked against some of the opportunities I’ve had to serve, I’ve whined and I’ve complained. The result has always been the same. In the end, I have felt so grateful that I didn’t say no, even though I wanted to.  And not only did I feel grateful, I benefited. I benefited – and in every case, I probably benefited more than the person or organization I was serving. I stretched, I grew, I learned, I became more aware, I became more skilled. I found balm for my soul—my soul. I benefited. So in the end, who was really served? And was the sacrifice I thought I was making at the time really a sacrifice? The unequivocal answer is NO! It was not a sacrifice because of what I gained. Even though I used a portion of my time to do something I had not planned on doing, it really was not a sacrifice, because I was one of the beneficiaries.

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Dr. Seuss’s Grinch 

The best benefit of all is a changed heart. Like the Grinch, when I choose service over the selfish hording of my time, my hard and shriveled little heart softens and grows. I become a little bit better in my heart, a little less selfish, a little more generous.

Many years ago, I heard Camilla Kimball quoted as saying, “Never suppress a generous thought.”  That thought surfaces every time I contemplate any act of kindness, large or small. It has encouraged me in making the choice to serve over indulging in selfish desires. 4dcbbd7950dada094bcc65f827bbd178

So, here it is, the New Year. My brain is tangled up with a conglomeration of anticipated, as well as unexpected events, responsibilities, needs, desires, and opportunities for service that all seem to be converging on the same bottleneck portion of the calendar without regard for the fact that I also have regular, routine things to attend to during that same time slot. The (not so) strange thing (when you consider the explanation about the free-flying chunk of “time” I thought I saw heading my way) is that I had, at least for a moment, anticipated a nicely ironed out length in the fabric of time to do some of the things I have been setting aside for just such a vacant space. That sudden jam-up in my space-time continuum is threatening to create stress that I, frankly, don’t need or want.

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The thing is, I have something to say about that, too.

Looking at my history, a pattern is revealed, which is this.

  • I think I have a chunk of time.
  • It gets filled.
  • It clogs.
  • I stress.
  • It all gets done, (and usually with enough time to spare for a lot of other things).
  • I look back and wonder why I got so stressed.
  • Repeat from the beginning

That’s the pattern.

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(1)Think I have time                              (2) It fills and clogs 

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(3) I stress                                  (4) It all gets done

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(5) I look back and wonder why I was so stressed

Here’s an example of that pattern from my own experience. I’m lying awake in bed at night fretting over a checklist of responsibilities I will face during the course of the next busy day. The list is long. It is demanding. Each item on the list requires a chunk of time. Because the list has so many items, my brain, immediately, becomes tangled. That cluttered, tangled brain reacts with “It’s too much! I don’t have enough time! I’ll never get it all done!” Then that same brain begins to dwell on the first item on the list until it appears to have a dark cloud looming over it in a threatening way, causing it to take on unrealistic proportions. A small puffy cloud grows into a roiling thunderstorm. The more I think about it, the more it grows in my mind into a task requiring super-human effort and hours of time (which is usually a falsehood my brain imagines—not based on reality—like unloading the dishwasher when I was a kid. I thought it would take an hour of my precious playtime, when in reality, it only took about eight minutes.)

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The next day, I get up, and with anxiety, I begin my list. Right away, if I don’t dawdle about beginning because of the stress I’m feeling, I attack the first item, and discover that it only took fifteen minutes, not two hours. I recalculate the remainder of the day’s list based on this new discovery, and my stress level goes down a notch. Because my motivation increased with the time I gained, I complete the second item in a fraction of the time I imagined. My stress level drops another notch. And this continues with the rest of the list, until noon arrives, and my list is completed. I eat a leisurely lunch, while marveling at the weight lifted from my shoulders, the brightness of my mood, and the lightness of my heart as I contemplate how quickly that dark cloud dissipated.

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I know this pattern. I’ve lived it time and again. So for my current brain-tangle, I have made a decision. I am going to work backwards. I am going to look ahead, knowing the outcome, and forewarn myself that there will be time to do ALL of what is required with enough extra time to do many of the other things I have been saving up for, and want to do. I will paint a bright, light vision for my brain to focus on, so I will approach upcoming events and challenges with a bright and cheerful forbearance. I will weigh real-time, instead of tipping the scales with dark presentiments and false anticipation. I will cheerfully, willingly accept and invite these converging opportunities with the absolute understanding that I will be a beneficiary. But more importantly, I will be motivated and inspired by the hope and desire that someone else will benefit at least as much, and hopefully, even more than I do.

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The truth is, and it’s been proven conclusively, that when my heart is right, and I’ve placed my trust in He who is the Author of all Goodness and Service, I am strengthened, guided, and blessed. I can manage and untangle any snarls that come my way, while maintaining a proper perspective about time and my use of it.

Suddenly, my bottleneck is opening up! The snarls in my brain are beginning to untangle because in a very real way I can envision chunks of space in time, and chunks of time in my space.

I will enjoy the moment I’m in and the privilege I have of being alive to live it.

End Piece

© January 10, 2017

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

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“A Story Stuck in My Mouth”

 

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Blog Post #45

I have a sweet, precocious, six-year-old friend named Violet whose natural exuberance and keen mind often make it difficult for her to refrain from talking. While sitting next to her in church on Sunday, during the administration of the Sacrament when it is especially expedient that those in attendance are quiet and reverent, Violet continued to chatter away in a whisper I could almost comprehend, but not quite. I leaned over, put my arm around her small, but capable shoulders, and whispered for her to save what she wanted to tell me until later. At first, she nodded her head in assent, perfectly understanding the expectation. Then, after sitting quietly for perhaps fifteen seconds, she looked at me with that wonderful candor that children of her honest temperament possess, and quietly exclaimed, “I have a story stuck in my mouth!”

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And so she always does, and those wonderful stories easily glide from her articulate tongue to those with willing – and I suppose for some, not so willing – ears. I love Violet’s intelligence, I love Violet’s vivacity, and I love Violet’s stories.

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I find that, like Violet, I also have stories that are stuck, but not so much in my mouth as stuck in my brain. Being of a more taciturn nature, and with less ready wit than Violet has, I prefer to tap out my stories on a keyboard where, for me, thoughts flow more easily than they do when I must trip over the large, lumpy obstacle in my mouth.  (I am referring to my clumsy tongue, but I am forced to acknowledge that my foot is often just as great an impediment to articulate speech as is  my tongue).

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Just as it is difficult for Violet to rein-in the marvelous things that spill out of her mouth from her brilliant mind, it is equally difficult for me, without an easy gift of gab, or a particularly brilliant mind, to rein-in a desire to write. Each morning, I get up with a long list of to dos that I know I must attend to. While I’m scrubbing the toilet or picking up groceries, I feel an itchy sort of urgency to drop all of it and run with carefree abandon to my drafting table and begin typing away. Sometimes, that’s exactly what I do (even when the main feature playing on the screen of my mind is blank)! It doesn’t matter that I can say nothing in a million words. What matters is the need, the desire, the setting free of those things that are stuck within my mind and heart, begging for expression.

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Writing is a means of liberating those of my thoughts that haven’t the ability to take any kind of intelligible form in any other way. If I try to speak them, they come out in a terrible jumble. I am constantly apologizing for saying things wrong. Or I stand, mute, on the sidelines hoping silence will serve my companions and me better. Or I speak, and let the “fool” out.

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It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. – Mark Twain

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Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something. – Plato

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Stuck-y-ness may apply to other things, too. Instead of stories, perhaps songs and poetry are stuck within sore and bleeding hearts. Maybe movement, dance, or athletic prowess is stuck in petrified or disabled limbs. Maybe the desire to see the world is stuck in a nine-to-five workweek, or a tight pocketbook.  Maybe a love of numbers, technological wizardry, social awareness, education, or countless other interests become stuck inside hesitant spirits. Maybe a burgeoning desire to make lasting friendships is stuck in a heart that doesn’t recognize its own self-worth. Or maybe hope and faith are stuck deep within a fear of the unknown.

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Maybe you know what’s stuck inside you, and maybe you don’t. Maybe you think that when you un-stick what’s inside of you there won’t be anyone who will value your offering. Maybe you feel it’s too soon, or too late to try.

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I’ve always had a story stuck in my mind. I didn’t always know it, though. It wasn’t until about ten years ago that I woke up to the fact that I had always had stories begging to come out. At a young age, I made books. Lots of books. I wrote mysteries, children’s stories and poetry, and illustrated every page. (In fact, most of the artwork I’ve created during my life has been illustration work – telling stories with pictures.) As a teen, I continued to make books…hand-bound books filled with pictures, and an outpouring of the tender feelings I had for my family and friends. One would think the production of books, making hard-bound, cloth-covered bindings, sewing in the pages with needle and thread, and filling them with illustrated stories would be a big enough hint to realize that writing and stories were important to me.  Not so. It took half a century before I figured out that writing had always been, and still is, for me, the satisfying channel of expression connecting my secret harbor of thoughts to the open sea of communication with others.

97bb6635c0317d74ff72b7761d791047It amazes me that Violet, at the tender age of six, is already cognizant of the stories stuck in her mouth that she longs to express, and it further amazes me that she is eloquent enough to relate that desire to others.

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Certainly, it is important to learn appropriate times and places to give expression to one’s innate desires; a worship service is probably not the best time to tell one’s stories. It’s important for children, as well as adults, to learn socially acceptable behavior, courtesy, reverence, respect, and self-mastery. Even so, perhaps you may learn, as have I, a lesson from Violet. It is important to know in one’s heart, as Violet does, that one has a gift that aches for expression, to acknowledge that gift, and to discover how to set it free at such times and such places as will most benefit oneself and others.

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We may be profoundly instructed from “…the mouth of babes” (if we will only listen).

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This is Violet. I love Violet.

My dear little friend, Violet, please keep telling me your stories. I’m listening.

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End Piece

© November 1, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

*All of the beautiful pictures included in this post, save the one of Violet, are public domain images, most of which originated in, or are covers from children’s storybooks.


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Tribute – For Karen

This post is in memory of my dear sister, Karen, who passed away on November 25, 2015. Today would have been her 64th birthday.

Blog Post #44

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My beautiful sister, Karen

I wanted so badly to write a special, light, uplifting, and even humorous post for what would be my sister Karen’s birthday, but my brain appears to be in a creative vacuum. Nothing’s coming. One of the last times I saw Karen, she said, “Cynthy, why don’t you write about the funny things that have happened to us…” I have touched lightly on them – albeit indirectly – as part of other blog posts (see “The Day Off,” and “Home School Daze”) but I haven’t devoted an entire post to our silly exploits, and for good reason. How do you squeeze sixty years of tender, laughable, serious, yet ridiculously splendid fun into one blog post? How do you condense gallons of life’s shared experiences and communal thought into a pint-sized tub of impressions and words? How do you turn an epic novel into a pamphlet? Each time I try to write something, I find myself trying to sort a plethora of emotions and events into categories that overlap and snag like woolen sweaters with Velcro. It isn’t a nice clean process. It is fraught with every imaginable detour.

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Karen sent this picture to me a year ago. The statue is of Princesses Luise and Friederike of Prussia by Johann Gottfried Schadow…Sisters.

I need to do a little backtracking now, so the rest of what I write will make some kind of sense.

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Karen and me. I’m the baby. See how happy I am? I had a sister who loved me – and liked me!

On a particular day, a long time ago, my mother insisted it was time for me to clean my closet. I remember sitting on the floor by the open closet, surveying the enormous landfill of an obstacle before me. My mother came in, and sat down beside me on the floor. (My mother rarely sat on the floor.) My courage bolstered by my mother’s presence, we faced the formidable confusion and jam-packed neglect that was my closet together. We opened boxes and scrapbooks, discovering mementos that tugged on our heartstrings. We sat at the closet’s threshold for the better part of the day, reminiscing about each item, each moment, each memory—and cleaning the closet. The closet was an all-day job—not because there was so much to fold, sort, organize and get rid of, but because it took all day to relive each memory to the fullest. At the end of the process, I had a tidy, organized closet.  I still had a box or two filled with wonderful mementos that we’d placed back on the top shelf—pushed to the back—to visit again during the next cleaning, but more importantly, every time I opened the closet after that, I was reminded of my dear mother—the time she spent with me that day, creating memories. I loved cleaning my closet…when my mother helped me, that is. It isn’t as much fun to sort through one’s past alone. But sometimes, it’s not only necessary, it’s the only option.

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Karen and me in 1955–I was one, and Karen, three.

I have, lately, been spending a good deal of time in my former bedroom—the one of my youth,—which was converted into an office for my father decades ago, after I had married and moved away. Just last week, I opened that same closet with the intent of going through things and cleaning it out. In my mind’s eye, I felt myself sitting on the floor with my mother as we had over fifty years ago. Perhaps she was there in spirit with me. I’d like to think so. But whether or not she was, this time, I had to face the closet alone.

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Christmas 1957. Our mother is holding our brother, Craig. 

Karen passed away this past November, and my father followed her home to God on August 1st. The house feels strangely quiet and vacant. My husband and I still live in it, but it seems like an eternity since Daddy was here. Everywhere I look, I am reminded of my past, of my family, of a joyful childhood, and of loved ones now departed. Oddly enough, I am also reminded that we have a future before us, and I wonder what it will hold.

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I had always imagined going through the house with Karen when my father returned Home. I imagined us reminiscing about things, cherishing the memories, and just being together—much like going through the closet with my mother. My brother, Craig, spent a wonderful two weeks with me after Daddy died, initiating the process of going through stuff, but it flew by all too quickly. His present circumstances won’t allow him to return for a long time. So the bulk of the burden has fallen – like a heavy brick – on me. Thankfully, my wonderful, forbearing husband, Brad, is anxious and willing to help, but as amazing as he is, he can’t do what Karen would have done. Although he listens benevolently, he can’t bring to mind, or reminisce, about my early childhood, nor is he in a position to comprehend the deeply ingrained meaning of apparently meaningless things. He does well at sympathizing with the tender emotion surrounding these virtually indescribable treasures of memory discovered in an old button, or a stained handkerchief, but only Karen was in a position to fully understand their significance, and the enigmatic layers of meaning and memory embedded within. Even Craig, though only three years younger than I, and often a part of both of his sister’s schemes and amusements, was never quite as entrenched in many of our guarded sisterly mysteries.

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Karen and me. Playing dress-ups. 1957. 

It is a well-known fact that the best-laid plans don’t turn out as you expect. And that’s partly why it’s so hard, today, to write about Karen.

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“Sisters in the Vineyard” by Kirk Richards (Karen also shared this picture with me because it reminded her of us.)

Karen was my only sister by birth. We were alike in so many ways—including our looks—people often mistook us for twins. Indeed, we felt we knew what it was to be twins. For the longest time, I saw myself as an appendage of Karen—right down to choosing the same silverware pattern when I got married (even though I didn’t particularly like it!). Both of us could finish the other’s sentences. We had like interests, tastes, and opinions on many things. For the better part of our lives, we were not only sisters, but closest, dearest confidantes and friends in the truest sense.

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On the boat to Catalina with Craig, our mother, Karen and me (I was about 15 – 1969)

After living in close proximity to each other for many years, and sharing family life so intimately that our children felt like siblings, LIFE took our family a great distance away in pursuit of better employment. During that separation of fourteen years—though we did our best to see each other as often as time and circumstance would permit—it seemed we went a great deal of time with less contact than was normal for us. LIFE changes altered Karen’s circumstances and thinking on certain matters during those years, as well. We were both busy with families of teenagers that made traveling for visits more difficult than when our children were young, but we remained decidedly close in those essential things of the heart.

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Karen’s birthday, 1973.

The fourteen-year mark of living so far away brought significant changes to Brad and me—an empty nest, and an aging father.  We rented our home, stored our belongings, quit our jobs, and determined to move home for Daddy. Not only would we be with Daddy in the childhood watering hole where the entire family habitually liked to herd, but we would be in close proximity to Karen again. I was thrilled! But as with most thrills, it was short-lived.

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Karen and me (left) giving our dog a bath. About 1973.

Wouldn’t you know…just after we moved in with Daddy, Karen remarried and moved out-of-state. Her life became a whirlwind of accumulated frequent flyer miles. She and her new husband, Steve, (a pilot) were always on the go. Sometimes, Daddy’s home was on the list of destinations, but much of the time, it wasn’t possible. Karen had a large and newly blended family to nurture and visit. On those rare occasions that we were together, we crammed in our hurried visits between her endless computer work, and visits with Daddy, then off they’d zoom to see other family and friends. The travels Brad and I made were limited due to our situation with Daddy, so I relied heavily on those visits Karen made to satisfy my longings. Dreams of talking and laughing into the wee hours, musical jam sessions, wandering botanical gardens and Disneyland together, and a wide berth of creative pursuits were mostly shoved into a dusty old box and pushed back onto the top shelf of the overstuffed closet of my heart until the time would arrive when we could retrieve it and savor each cherished moment together. I envisioned dusting it off in the future, and pulling it out—like a wonderful Christmas gift filled with endless pleasure and insurmountable joy.

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Karen and me during our home schooling days. About 1992.

As years passed, and visits proved too infrequent for my hungry heart, I revised my plan. As soon as Brad and I had seen Daddy safely return to his heavenly home—I would be in a position to spend more time with Karen, to make trips to her house for more lengthy visits, and to do all the things I had longed to do with her for years (that I had thought we’d be able to do while I was living with Daddy). We would have time to pick up where we had left off so many years earlier. We were still both fairly young. Things would work out.

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Craig, our mother, me, and Karen. 1990s.

Ha! But LIFE doesn’t consult the poor future-planner, even when her plans are worthy and good. No, LIFE likes to throw curve balls that are impossible to see coming, and that are even harder to hit…and that’s just what happened.

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Me (left) and Karen. August 2006. 

Karen became ill, and retired to her home three states away where few saw her, including family. During the two years of her illness, we enjoyed only a couple short visits together in her home (when I had stolen away small parcels of time from brief trips to visit our children living in the same state as Karen). By the time Karen became completely home bound, Daddy’s needs had also escalated, requiring twenty-four hour care, which left no room for Brad and me to both travel together. Stalemate.

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Me, Craig and Karen. 2007.

Thus, the last time I saw Karen was the result of heaven-sent (and truly the tenderest of) “tender mercies.” Brad took off work, and stayed with Daddy while I drove across state lines to witness a grandson receive a special ordination, as well as to pay a little visit to my sister, whom, I discovered while there, had been given an unexpected and staggering prognosis of only two to three weeks to live! (She was gone a little over two weeks later.)

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Karen with her husband, Steve, Brad and me, and Daddy. 2009

I guess you could say that I was in a stupor for quite some time afterward—and maybe I still am. I walked out of the hospital that trip knowing it would be the last time I would see my dear soul mate of a sister in this life. (You may wonder how I walked out of the hospital at all? It was one of those miraculous moments when heaven supported me on wings of faith, and a spirit of peace and calm surrounded me.) I knew we would be together again someday, when I, too, pass through the veil that separates mortality from the spirit world. But even the strongest faith doesn’t take away the sting of missing someone in the meantime. I miss her now! I miss her being here. I miss all the things we might have done together. I just plain miss her. Daily, I am reminded of some little thing I want to share with her. I see things I want to laugh with her about – things only she would know and understand.

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Steve and Karen, Brad and me. 2009

Today, I was emptying the dishwasher, putting a cup away in the kitchen cupboard. Standing with the cupboard open—the same cupboard I had taken dishes in and out of since I was a child, I imagined I was holding one of two small vintage drinking glasses with little brown deer printed on the glass that I had found at an antique store in Colorado at least ten years earlier. They were identical to juice glasses we had used as children—now long broken and gone. (Back in the late 1950s, the milkman brought them, filled with cream cheese. After the cheese was consumed, a cute little drinking glass remained. I don’t know why I remember this…I just do.) An overwhelmingly pleasant feeling of nostalgia swept over me when I saw those same inexpensive little glasses in the antique store, so I bought both of the ones they had for sale, thinking how Karen would love seeing them again, too. Years rolled by during which I secretly planned to surprise her by serving her with the little glasses during one of our visits—if only to see the look of happy recognition on her face. I knew they would bring her as much simple pleasure as they had me. All these years they have waited in storage for that ideal moment when I would, once again, be in possession of my own things, and could surprise Karen on one of our future visits.

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This is a picture I found on the internet of the same little cream cheese juice glass we had as children. (I bought two of them at an antique store.) Circa 1950s

It’s a little thing—a teeny thing. But I was so looking forward to sharing them with Karen. Today, as I thought of those silly little glasses, I knew it would never happen, and that there was no one else in the world with whom I could share that simple pleasure and have it mean as much as it would have meant to her. As small and silly as it was, it left a huge hole of loss in my heart, and I wept.

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With Daddy on his 90th birthday. Karen is on the right. 2013

I miss those simple kinds of things the most, I think. Those little, tender, sweet moments that are so ordinary, but that we shared with delight. And there were millions of them. They are doomed to remain boxed up on that closet shelf until I step into the realm of eternity where she now is.

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Ah! How this reminds me of our time together, and our time now gone–music and books and being together. How I miss my dear sister. “When Apples were Golden and Songs were Sweet but Summer had Passed Away” by John Melhuish Studwick

This is not what I wanted or intended to write in memory of Karen’s birthday. But I wanted to write something as a tribute to her, and I do remember her—every single day. For now, this is the best I can do. I’m sure that sometime in the future I’ll feel inspired to share lighthearted funny stories that will flit from my heart and onto the page with carefree abandon just as they were once lived. For now, on the first birthday in which I cannot mail her a card, make a phone call that she would be able to receive, or take her out to lunch, I will tell everyone with my pen, that I love my sister, Karen! Words are cheap, thin and wholly inadequate. They can never convey the extravagantly rich depth of feeling behind them. When I left Karen’s bedside for the last time, I left a significant part of myself there with her—burrowed deep within the innermost pockets of her heart—and that is where she always was, and will always be in mine.

Happy 64th Birthday, Karen. I love you forever.

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End Piece

© September 30, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

 


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Cracks in the Sidewalk

View of home

Blog Post #40

My husband, Brad, and I moved back home eight years ago to help care for my 93-year-old father. He lives in the house our family moved into in 1962, when I was eight. My father is the last original homeowner on the street. Even before our family moved into this house so many years ago, we visited it on a regular basis. Each weekend we’d drive out and look at the stepped lots of dirt, where little flags identified each leveled-off lot. We knew which lot was ours in that vast, arid sea of flattened earth.

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Orange groves once covered the parcel of land where our house now stands

I admit that I didn’t particularly enjoy those trips to the house that wasn’t there yet. It was about as exciting as asphalt – a giant wasteland. Then, on one visit, a slab of cement appeared. My siblings and I explored the foundation until that grew old—let’s see, that took about two minutes. Later, the Palos Verdes stone (complete with real, built-in fossils) that would become the fireplace appeared on the slab, then a wooden framework, walls, roof, and so on. Finally—FINALLY,—the house was finished! We sat on the floor of an empty bedroom and ate bologna sandwiches while waiting for the moving van to arrive. I remember the excitement and anticipation of being in that big, empty house! Something good was happening to our family—I could feel it in my bones.

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The new house two years after we moved in

We moved in on the tenth of November, mid-semester. It’s no surprise that our mother registered us for school right away–almost before she tucked us in that first night. 

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Riding bikes in the neighborhood

The first or second weekend, my sister Karen and I got on our bikes to explore. Our explorations took us repeatedly by the model home around the corner. Eager realtors stood by card tables laden with floor plans in the open garage of one model. We knew they had small tokens for the children of prospective buyers, so each time we “happened by” on our bikes, we picked up another novelty eraser for our swiftly growing collection.

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These were the kind of erasers with generic pictures (the Smurfs weren’t introduced for another two decades) 

Everything was new, then. New, meaning undeveloped. Tumbleweeds and mini-whirlwinds blew through the dusty neighborhood, while lizards scampered about the flattened dirt that was our backyard. My sister Karen and I pretended we were orphans of the Shirley Temple movies variety, lost and alone in a veritable desert. When playtime was over, we carpeting our mother’s pristine floors  with dirt accumulated on our filthy little “orphan” bodies.

The neighbors were also new. We got to know all the families on our block by name. Mrs. Chung across the street had an older daughter who was an opera singer. Her vocal scales blew into our house each morning with amazing clarity —and punctuality. (They moved away not many years later.) The family next door had three children, and would have two more before moving away. The oldest was my age, a son, which automatically disqualified him as a playmate. (I don’t think he sought my particular association either.) Besides being overcome with bashfulness around most boys, I was getting older, and what I really needed, and wanted, was a girl to play with—someone my age to be my best friend.

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I’m standing on the sidewalk in front of our house. The Chung’s house is in the background. (1964)

Up the street, a family moved in shortly after we did. They had kids, too—four of them at the time, and one who would follow later. The oldest was a girl. I knew she was my age because she was in my grade at school, but not in my class. I watched her curiously as we walked to school—keeping just enough distance between us to avoid having to talk to her. I kept the same unfriendly I-wonder-if-you-have-cooties distance while playing outside. I wanted to make friends, but shyness created an insurmountable obstacle. The Great Wall of China could not have been more effective. I watched the girl ride her bike up and down our street. She made a point to ride in front of my house over and over again. Finally, one day, after a week or two of watching her with the scrutinizing eagle eye of a private detective, that toe-headed girl with the pixie cut pulled up on her bike and stopped at the curb in front of our house. Looking at me with not so veiled disapproval, she bluntly asked something like, “Well, are you ever going to talk to me?” Shy or not, I wasn’t going to miss this chance of making friends. Fortunately, Sheryl turned a blind eye to my backward nature, becoming my best friend – for life. Some fifty-odd years later, she is still my best friend. (If it had been left to me, I suppose I’d probably still be watching her from behind a bush.)

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Sheryl standing in front of our house (1964)

The neighborhood was full of kids back then, and we owned it. We rode bikes, but mostly we walked—everywhere. We knew every crack in the sidewalk between our houses and school. “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back. Step on a line, break your mother’s spine” we’d repeat as we carefully navigated the cracks and lines wherever we went, while simultaneously stomping on every dry leaf we encountered just to hear it crunch like a potato chip.

Claremont sidewalk crack

Sometimes, we’d take the back path through the undeveloped field behind our tract of homes to and from school. One day, along the path, we met a handsome fellow—a large *desert tortoise. Wanting to take the heavy tortoise home, we weighed our schoolbooks and the tortoise in the balance. Attesting to our strong responsible natures, and our not so strong arms, we opted to, first, run our books home, then return for the tortoise. Responsible? Yes. Practical? No. Not toward our purpose. (This was during the pre-backpack era when girls juggled loose school books in–or mostly out of–their arms.) If we had thought it through more carefully, we might have concluded that, had we left them, no one would have wanted our school books, but the tortoise was another story. At any rate, when we returned, the tortoise was gone, and we bemoaned our loss.

(*This predated the time when laws were enacted prohibiting desert tortoises as pets. As I think of it, that tortoise probably was an escaped pet, which may have been retrieved by its owner.)

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Desert Tortoise like the one we found on the path home from  school. Isn’t he (she?) cute?

There was a nice little flower shop a couple blocks from home. They had a large greeting card display in the shape of a Snoopy doghouse from the Peanuts comic strip. I was a huge Peanuts fan and wanted that doghouse in the worst way. I asked Mrs. Mayer (in those days we even knew the names of the business owners in our neighborhood) if I could have the doghouse when she was done with it. I wrote my name and phone number down on a scrap of paper, and waited for her call. When I’d almost given up hope, my mother informed me that Mrs. Mayer had indeed phoned! If I would pick it up, the doghouse was mine! I called Sheryl, and off we went—on foot, of course. (Ours was a one-car family until my later teens. My father made a long commute to L.A. each day, or I’m sure my mother would have been glad to drive me to the flower shop and help me haul that doghouse home. What mother wouldn’t be thrilled and anxious to have such a monstrosity in her house?) I developed a very valuable motto about that time: “I’ll make it in one trip.”  (This motto is still in effect today. Be it a giant stack of text books (the densest, heaviest books in existence), bags of groceries, camping gear, or the kitchen sink, I can pretty much figure out how to haul everything in one trip at great inconvenience and possible harm to myself.)

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Peanuts Comic Books: I read them all

The Snoopy doghouse, when assembled was a good five or six feet tall, counting the cardboard Snoopy sitting atop the roof. Made of heavy-duty corrugated cardboard, the doghouse had several levels of narrow display shelves that formed the roof on both sides. (These had once served to display Peanuts greeting cards, books, and stationery.) The base of the house was about the shape and size of a big, empty washing machine box. Had I cut the door out, I could have curled up and slept inside. (Snoopy didn’t sleep inside his house, and neither did I.)

 

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Yours truly (and our dog, whose name was not Snoopy) in front of the doghouse. (1970)

Sheryl was such a good sport. Somehow, and with a great deal of difficulty, we carried that doghouse (which was disassembled into large awkward pieces) home. One might think cardboard would be lightweight, but it was actually pretty heavy for two young girls of about ten years of age. After struggling to get it home, we worked out the puzzle of how to put it together with the intensity of Einstein working out Relativity. It took up the former location of a large four-story homemade dollhouse–a conglomeration of boxes, carpet scraps, and homemade décor. Out with the old, and in with the new! I couldn’t have been prouder of my new acquisition. I used the narrow shelves to display framed pictures, artwork, books, greeting cards I’d received, knickknacks and other odds and ends. It was my pride and joy. (Included in the display, was a framed letter written on official Peanuts letterhead to me from Charles M. Schulz himself, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, which he sent in response to a letter I had written him.)

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The letter I received from Charles Schulz was on stationery just like this. (Currently in storage)

In those days, when the homes in the area were still fairly new, if company came to dinner, there was always the grand tour of the house that followed the meal. Not surprisingly, people did a double-take when they saw the giant doghouse in my room—a room which otherwise stockpiled a hodgepodge of hand-me-down, non-matching, outcast furniture. One guest, with stunned admiration (or was it incredulity?) remarked, “Now, this room has character!” At the time, I was certain I had been paid a great compliment, but on hindsight, I suspect that either I was “the great character,” or that it was a polite way of commenting on the odd conglomeration that was my room.

So attached to that doghouse was I, that it followed me into matrimony, providing the duel purpose of a playhouse and a shelf for our children. Once our children were old enough to enjoy the playhouse aspect of it, I finally succumbed to cutting the door out so they could crawl inside. At last, we faced a move in which we would have to store most of our household until we could settle in our own place, which would possibly take months. My husband thought it might be time to rid ourselves of the giant doghouse, which was beginning to show some wear and tear and the effects of age. I protested at first, however after much reasoning, was convinced that the doghouse would have to go (but not with us). Nostalgically brokenhearted, I gave it to a family with young children in our neighborhood, and girl and dog (house) parted forever. It was the last formidable vestige of my childhood still holding a visible presence in our home, and I felt its absence keenly.

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A bucket of lard

Occasionally, Sheryl and I resorted to baking for entertainment (with a bonus–a sweet treat). Absurd as it was, one time we chose to make lard lemon cookies. Why these tempted us, I’m not sure. Just the mention of lard is disgusting to me, but paired with cookies it’s over-the-top revolting. Maybe that day we were missing an ingredient for other, more enticing cookies–namely chocolate. Or maybe ignorance played a part. I don’t think I really knew what lard was until Sheryl pulled out the carton that held it. The interesting thing about this recipe was it required said bakers to mix the lard with their hands! Pulling up our shirtsleeves, we dove in, grimacing and exclaiming “eew!” and “yuck!” It was a nasty business, but we persevered, giggling as we smooshed about in the greasy mixture. I can’t remember if the cookies tasted good, of if they provided the anticipated boon to our efforts. I can’t even remember if I ate any. Did anyone eat them? Needless to say, we only made them once, sticking strictly to Toll House cookies, Five-Minute Fudge, or  molasses cookies (Sheryl’s mother’s amazingly declicious recipe) after that.  

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Lard lemon cookies similar to those Sheryl and I made

Speaking of Sheryl’s mother, it might be of interest to note that she was an immaculate housekeeper, and her children learned at a young age how to keep a tidy house. When I had a sleepover at Sheryl’s, I followed her around in the morning while she vacuumed, dusted, and completed various other chores before we could eat our breakfast of Wheaties. Looking back, a better friend would have offered to help with the chores, which, I’m ashamed to admit, I don’t recall doing.

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One day, Sheryl was at our house, playing with me in my room. There was a large black scuffmark on the wall that only someone with Sheryl’s keen eyes for cleanliness would notice (mine were blind to dirt in those days). She suggested we clean the scuff off the wall, and, it went without saying that in doing so, we would please my mother immensely. I produced cleanser and sponges from the bathroom and we proceeded to do a number on the wall removing the scuffmark in its entirety—as well as the paint. When my mother came in and saw what we had done…well, let’s just say, she wasn’t exactly “tickled pink.” She turned more a shade of red.

Sheryl and I were inseparable during most of our growing up years. People knew our names, but often didn’t know which of us was which, even though Sheryl had straight, light blonde hair and blue eyes, and I had curly, (okay, frizzy) dark hair, and dark eyes. To the untrained eye, we attached at the hip.

Sheryl owned two beautiful, silky Japanese kimono-looking pantsuits. Our mothers had given permission for us to go, by ourselves, to the Alpha Beta shopping center (within walking distance of home) to eat an early dinner at a quaint little restaurant located there. Sheryl was going to wear her Japanese outfit. I was envious, and she knew it. I didn’t have anything that even came close to those uncommonly pretty clothes, so Sheryl, being the generous and thoughtful friend she was, offered to let me wear her other Japanese outfit. Off we went, bedecked in those delicately flowered outfits, to Little Pigs of America (I kid you not, that was the name of the restaurant). I felt positively exotic as we walked into Little Pigs to eat. In we pranced wearing our silky pajamas (in retrospect, I wonder if that’s what they really were, glorified PJs), and feeling very glamorous in an outlandish sort of way. I’m sure we turned heads, (and drew snickers) a toe-head and a dark Italian in Japanese costume. We must have been a sight!

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The Girl Scout Cabin “La Casita”

Sheryl and I joined Brownies, advancing into Girl Scouts together, and shared all the joys (ice skating lessons, hikes, campouts, and camaraderie) and trials of scouting (selling calendars and cookies door to door. Let me add, it was a different time. No one ever set up camp in front of a grocery store in those days. Parents never took cookies to work to sell. It was door-to-door or bust). When we went to the local Girl Scout cabin “La Casita” in the foothills near home, pairs of girls were assigned (or chose) various chores that had to be done before the day’s regular activities began. I’m not sure why, but we opted (yes, we chose) to clean the outhouse! (Were we nuts? Maybe. Or maybe it was Sheryl’s propensity towards cleanliness, and the repulsive stench of the outhouse that spurred us on to such undervalued benevolence. At any rate, we took it on and magnified our job description.)  We not only swept it out, we scrubbed it as best we could, and gathered pine boughs and flowers to try to sweeten the air (without succeeding). We felt we had done our duty and a good turn, however I’m not sure it was noticed, let alone appreciated, by anyone but ourselves.

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The outhouse was down the hill to the left in those days. (I wouldn’t be surprised if they use regular bathrooms now.)

After the campfire at night, Sheryl and I spread out our sleeping gear next to each other on the wooden cabin floor. My family never went camping. I didn’t have a clue what an air mattress was. Many of the other girls not only knew, but were privileged to have one. I looked at their soft, billowing sleeping arrangements with a sigh. Surrounded by luxury, I knew I’d be roughing it. I had received a Girl Scout sleeping bag for Christmas. It was like sleeping on a chilled paper towel, having no padding or insulation to speak of, yet having considerable bulk when trying to roll it up tightly again. (After rolling my bag, it always looked as if I had, first, wadded it up, then tried desperately to tie up an explosion that had occurred somewhere in its depths.) I looked on enviously as other girls nonchalantly stuffed their bags into nice little tote sacks. I lied awake in a state of misery most of the night. I was freezing, sore, and needed to use the bathroom in the worst way, but couldn’t bear the idea of traipsing down the hill to the outhouse by myself in the dark (even with the anticipation of the fresh scent of pine needles to greet me). I held it in ‘till morning, then, shivering, made a mad dash for the latrine when the first scouts began to stir at daylight.

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Breakfast was its own trial since I was a picky eater. My mother never made oatmeal. I’m not sure why, but, when growing up, we never had hot cereal or casseroles (both typical Girl Scout fare). I was crestfallen when I heard breakfast was oatmeal, not pancakes. I sat there staring at the lumpy white goop while hungry scouts all around me gobbled theirs up. The rule was you had to eat two big Girl Scout bites before you could leave the table. After tasting just a tiny bit of the bland and sticky stuff, I was pretty sure a 21st Century Girl Scout would find me dead on the bench decades later. Sheryl encouraged me along, as did the other girls around me, urging me to put sugar and milk on it—promising it would help. I loaded the sugar on and choked down my two big Girl Scout nibbles, then got out of there as fast as possible.

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I’ve acquired a taste for oatmeal since those long ago days. I especially love it with cinnamon apples, nuts, brown sugar, and raisins. Yum.

When we were about twelve, the big day arrived when our mothers consented to let us ride the bus alone to an outdoor mall about five miles away. We put on our best dresses and boarded the bus. (In those days, going to the mall was an event worthy of dressing up. I think it’s rather a shame that practice of dressing up for special outings has been mostly lost.) We were sure we had reached a certain level of maturity when Sheryl’s mother decided to send money to treat us to lunch in a department store restaurant. Before lunch, we shopped, or more appropriately, window-shopped, as we had very little of our own money to spend. We looked at items on the main floor of the department store, checking price tags with cloaked dismay. We made our way to a less expensive part of the store, perhaps located in the basement, thinking we might find something in our price range while still giving the appearance of being two very independent, and if not well-to-do, at least refined young ladies. While I looked with interest at one clothing rack, knowing full well I couldn’t even afford to buy one of the wire hangers the clothing hung on, Sheryl was making her way around another circular clothing rack across the room. Suddenly, she looked up and called out to me in a rather loud voice, “This isn’t the budget department!” I’m not sure if I disappeared into the clothes on the rack in front of me, or if I just pretended I didn’t hear her. At any rate, the ruse was up!  We were what we were, and there was no hiding the fact.

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We rode the little bus shown in the picture (above) up and down the mall on our grown-up excursion

Honestly, this is one of the many things I have always loved about Sheryl—she is as genuine as they come. No pretense. Honest as the day is long, she calls it as she sees it, so you always know exactly where you stand. A true treasure.

We were a twosome. If Sheryl had a dentist appointment, we walked downtown to the dentist office together, then to the library, and to the bakery for a cookie afterward. We created clubs, played the piano, and vied to see who could take the most notes during class. We walked to and from school together, made identical Halloween costumes, and roasted hot dogs in the fireplace when she spent the night. When I wanted to join drill team in high school, Sheryl was right there trying out with me. We shared all the monumental events girls go through. Our families shared holidays and outings. Our mothers were best friends. Our brothers were best friends. And my sister Karen was welcomed into the circle of our friendship, as well. We laughed and cried together. And we even had our spats, but they never lasted long.

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Halloween: Sheryl and I were majorettes. I’m the one in the tall hat with the curly dark hair, and Sheryl, is my blonde twin. My sister Karen is Peter Pan.(I’m guessing 1965)

Then the dreadful day came when Sheryl’s parents announced they were moving—and not just across town, but all the way to Ohio! I was devastated. We did our share of bawling, and making promises to be true to the end. Before Sheryl’s departure after our sophomore year of high school, my sister and I hosted a going away party for her. It was a bittersweet event. We pledged to write letters (the old-fashioned kind), and we kept our pledge faithfully for a long, long time.

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At Sheryl’s going away party (1970)

We didn’t have cell phones, and with expensive long distance rates, calling was not an option except on rare occasions, such as a birthday, and soon fell out of practice. When high school graduation time rolled around, Sheryl flew out to celebrate with me. That was our last hurrah together.

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Celebrating high school graduation (1972)

We didn’t see each other in person again for close to thirty years, and that was only for an hour at the airport when I was passing through.

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A quick visit at the airport

Letters became sporadic throughout those years. Life was busy with work, family, moves, and other normal occurrences that drive people apart, but we never gave up on our friendship. As we approached our fiftieth birthdays, we determined it had just been too long, so Sheryl flew back to Southern California from her home in Texas, and I returned from Colorado at the same time. We both stayed with my father at my childhood home (the same home I live in at this time), tracing our steps from the past. We walked three houses up the street to Sheryl’s house and knocked on the door. The current owners were gracious, inviting us inside, and giving us a tour of the house as it then stood. They even magically pulled from a brown paper bag the original kitchen cabinet and drawer hardware that looked like bunches of grapes, sending the bag of metal treasures from the past home with Sheryl.

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Sheryl in front of her former home

As is the case with faithful souls, we picked up exactly where we left off years earlier, laughing and having a great time. Time sped by and we soon regretted how little time we had allowed for this visit together. (Sheryl confessed she didn’t know how it would be, and didn’t want to be [stuck] with me for more than a weekend if “things” didn’t go well. She didn’t use the word “stuck,” but she would have been had she stayed longer and things hadn’t gone well. Fortunately, we parted wishing for more time, instead of holding to the sentiment my mother-in-law used to profess: “Company is like fish; after three days it stinketh.” It was time to bid each other farewell again and just as when we were children, it was hard to do.

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Sheryl and me, the last time we were together

This farewell was so like our sixth grade graduation from elementary school. On the last day of school each spring, the 6th graders filed through the younger grades, all of whom were lined up by the bike racks, singing “Aloha Oe” ( in English, “Farewell to Thee”). We knew that when our time came, we’d face this emotional event. Even when singing among the younger grades each year, we felt the weight of this melancholy, and life-changing rite of passage. Usually, we walked to school, but on our last day of sixth grade, we rode our bikes. We walked numbly and with a lump in our throats through the singing students, boarded our bikes, and bawled all the way home.  We knew an important era of our lives had come to a close.

“Farewell to thee,
Farewell to thee,
Thou charming one who dwellst among the bow’rs.
One fond embrace,
Before I now depart,
Until we meet again.”

(“Aloha Oe,” as we sang it to the 6th graders)

Bike racks

This is a recent picture of the school bike racks. When I was a kid, the bike rack area was smaller, and either there was no fence, or it was chain link. The 6th graders processed down the center  through the opening, and the younger grades sang the mournful tune on either side.

At fifty, we bade each other farewell again. Time and circumstance have kept us apart to this day, but fortunately, although we couldn’t foresee it then, we lived to the ripe old age of cell phones and Skype (which we’ve yet to use). We communicate more frequently now, calling at least on birthdays, but at other times, too, and we write emails as well as the old-fashioned, hand-written, snail mail letters.

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Our house in the 1970s.

Now, in my sixties and back at home, I walk on almost a daily basis the same places Sheryl and I walked as children, but most of the time, I walk for my health and diversion instead of to get where I need to go. The neighborhood has aged, but many things remain the same. Instead of tender young shoots, the trees are giants, providing shade and beauty. The homes still stand, some having undergone face-lifts, others falling into various stages of age or transformation. Yards no longer sport dichondra, and even grass is becoming scarce, as a long-term drought takes its toll and people move toward drought-resistant landscaping. The sidewalks are uneven and weathered.  The cracks are still there, and greet me like old, worn-out and worn-in friends. Those cracks in the sidewalk prompted this post. I walk past Sheryl’s house every time I’m out, and remember…remember….

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My younger brother Craig in front of our house.  (About 1970)

I believe memory is a gift from God. All time is present before God. We can experience a little of that miracle through memory. The past is present before my face; time is naught, and I can relive so many of those special moments so dear to my heart as often as I like, and “be with” friends gone from my sight, living far away, whom I treasure–like Sheryl.

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“It is one of the blessings of old friends

that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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From quiet homes and first beginning

Out to the undiscovered ends,

There’s nothing worth the wear of winning

But laughter and the love of friends.

~ Hilairee Belloc

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“No distance of place, or lapse of time can lessen the friendship

of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other’s worth.”

~ Robert Southey

 

“But if the while I think of thee, dear friend,

all losses are restored and sorrows end.”

~ Shakespeare

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“Let the soul be assured that somewhere in the universe it should rejoin its friend, and it would be content and cheerful alone for a thousand years.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

End Piece

© May 28, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.


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Would You Like Your Snails Salted?

Blog Post #39

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Escargot or Babbaluci

My nine-year-old grandson recently told me he couldn’t wait until he could try pouring salt on a snail. I fear I’m to blame for this reckless desire. I once told him how, as children, my sister and I had explored the chemical reaction and scientific wonder of salting live snails. We did it in the name of Science, for isn’t the spirit of inquiry—isn’t downright curiosity—the basis of all science? A child’s mind is curiosity itself. We had heard an intriguing hypothesis about the effect of salt on a snail, and we performed the experiment to prove or disprove it. So fascinating was it, we experimented more than once, just to see the foaming, frothy miracle occur.

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A Snail’s Trails

Snails were in abundance in our area when I was a child, leaving their slimy little trails all over the sidewalks and lawn around our home. We stepped with caution across the dichondra that was our lawn, maneuvering as through an arcade game avoiding all the little round spiral hazards. If by accident, the sole of one’s avatar foot came in contact with these hazards, the result would be a terrible crunching sound, and goosh splattering all over said avatar.

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The ivy was newly planted around the border of the lawn in this photo taken in 1956. After it filled in it became inundated with snails.

Even before the salt experiments, Karen and I were harbingers of destruction to the poor snails inhabiting the ivy in our yard. Shod with flip-flops we tramped through the ivy just to hear that crunching sound so reminiscent of the satisfying snap of crisp fall leaves. I don’t know what we imagined made that sound, but it never occurred to us that each crunch was a tiny life, crushed away by five- and seven-year-old giants. One day our mother saw us and put a stop to it. She told us what was hidden beneath the ivy, and didn’t want the slime tracked through the  house, or her ivy smashed. (No doubt the hearty ivy better survived our stomping than those poor, unsuspecting snails.)

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It’s been decades since I’ve seen a snail traversing our yard. I don’t know where they all went. They seem to have packed up their tiny camper shells and moved on to greener pastures.  Or the real story may hearken back to those experimental days when we came in to grab a salt shaker from the kitchen and our mother wanted to know what we were going to do with it. We dragged her out to the sidewalk to show her, expecting her to be “wowed” just as we were. But she wasn’t wowed. She showed sympathy for those poor little creatures in the face of our rank brutality, convincing me I shouldn’t do such a thing like that again. Sometime after this speech, she went to the garage, got the snail bait, and scattered  it all over the yard. Like them or not, snails are notorious for eating and destroying garden flowers and crops (things immensely valued by my mother). They are, in most cases, considered pests, and though my mother had a tender heart for all living creatures, she did not welcome them, favoring the lives of her garden plants more.

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This leads to other scientific questions: Which would a snail consider to be worse? Salting—a rapid death by osmosis and dehydration? Or a slow demise by poisoning? Science will never be able to accurately answer this question, since it requires interviewing a snail.

Even though she thought salting them was inhumane, my mother really wasn’t crazy about snails. Once, when I was five or six, my grandparents (both of whom were born and reared in Sicily, and could barely speak English) came to visit our Southern California home from Detroit, where they lived out their later years.  Apparently, my grandmother thought to do a great favor for my mother. Wandering in the garden for some time, she at last returned through the back door of the kitchen. Though I was quite young, I will never forget the expression on my mother’s face when she saw her best Wearever pot in my Grandmother’s hand, filled to the brim with mucus-y, tentacled snails slowly slithering over the rim, and leaving disgusting trails of slime crisscrossing every square inch of the pot . (It was a sight I have never forgotten!) Grandmother was going to cook them for dinner. My poor mother. It was clear that repulsion followed hot on the heels of shock. In addition to accosting her delicate senses, how could my mother, (though 100% Sicilian, yet unable to utter a single word of Italian herself ) nicely tell her non-English-speaking mother-in-law, that Escargot (Babbaluci in Sicilian) was NOT happening in her kitchen using these revolting snails and her best cooking pot?

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The snails in my mother’s pot looked something like this.

 

I think my father was there and handled that uncomfortable conversation, explaining that snail bait had been spread throughout the yard in an attempt to eradicate these little calcium carbonate delicacies, and it wouldn’t be safe to eat them. It seems those garden variety snails (Helix aspersa) might have been first class for cooking had they not been exposed to poison.

The looming question became who would clean the pot? Certainly not my mother! (Thankfully, I was too little.) After some unlucky person (who, in fact, probably was my mother) did the initial cleaning and escorting of escargot from the pot, I suspect my mother put said pot through a rigorous disinfecting.

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Fast forward four decades or more. I am sitting in an elementary school classroom in Colorado. Teachers had ordered, through a science catalog or some such, some long awaited specimens for the children to study. I happened to be acting as an aid in the classroom the day the surprise specimens arrived.  I watched with rapt attention as the children’s excitement increased. Would it be some rare butterfly or chrysalis? An ant farm? I was completely surprised when, placed on the tables in front of the children, (with strict instructions as to how to handle—or not handle—them) were none other than humble garden snails (Helix aspersa), just like the ones we had so conscientiously exterminated from two of our home gardens.

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Helix aspersa

(Suddenly, I thought I could account for the exodus of a multitude of snails from our neighborhood. Perhaps some enterprising person gathered them up and sold them as scientific specimens, and perhaps as food stuff, gleaning sheer profit for his efforts.)

The children did not experiment with the effect of salt on live snails, although in the interest of science, I thought the children might find it extremely intriguing and informative. I thought about mentioning it, but, first of all, it was not my place, and secondly, I knew it would have the same effect as it did on me, my sister, and my nine-year-old grandson. It would create an intense desire to perform a scientific experiment and observe the results. I didn’t want to be responsible for the destruction of those expensive specimens, even in the name of science, so I kept quiet.

(I did find myself asking the air, “You paid for these?”) Maybe when all scientific observation was over, the teachers were planning an extraordinary feast.

I have never salted a snail since my mother encouraged me against it. While I recognize that many a gourmet (or Italian grandmother) relishes snails (Escargot or Babbaluci) as a delicacy, I sincerely hope I don’t meet them in my garden or on my plate from this time henceforward.

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My First Blog Post EVER!

End Piece

© May 19, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.

 


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Relativity-ly Speaking

Blog Post #37

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Einstein had his Theory of Relativity, and I have *mine.

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity: E=mc2

(Energy = mass multiplied by the speed of light squared)

My Theory of Relativity: A=pt2

(Age = perception multiplied by the speed of time squared)

*Disclaimer: There is nothing scientific about my theory of relativity. Any similarities to science, math, or physics is completely coincidental. The ideas and philosophies represented in this post are those of the author and are not to be confused or mistaken with anything legitimate.

My First Blog Post EVER!

I began developing my Theory of Relativity when I was in 2nd grade. During the course of my second grade year, I underwent eye surgery as well as contracting an infectious virus, causing me to miss quite a bit of school. It was during that school year, at the tender age of seven, that I began to perceive a change in Time.

Up until second grade, Time moved at a snail’s pace; to my mind, there was no Time to be reckoned with. Life was an endless stream of fun, family and investigation—everything was new. I was young, carefree, and full of energy. I had loving, caring parents who provided a safe and happy environment and life, and school hadn’t yet become a stressor for me (that came later). Worries were essentially non-existent.

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Then I got sick. I remember how miserable I felt even though it was well over half a century ago. I couldn’t go to school, or play outside. I didn’t feel like eating, and was so tired—the kind of tired where your head feels like a balloon full of lead. After running its course, the illness passed, but not without making an indelible mark on my perception about life. I had come to understand that being sick meant that during the Time in which I was ill I couldn’t do the fun things that I normally liked to do.

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The eye operation meant an overnight hospital stay. I remember my parents giving me a beautiful, light blue, quilted robe with lacy ruffles as a gift. They said good-night (good-bye) just before bedtime, and went home. (In those days, anxious parents couldn’t stay all night in the hospital with their frightened children.) There I was, almost alone in a dark room, standing in a cage (perhaps it was a large crib) where they must have hoped to keep me from wandering about, looking across what appeared to be a vast, dark wasteland of a hospital room to where a toddler was crying uncontrollably in his cage. I don’t remember shedding a tear myself. It was all so surreal. I do remember lying down in that cage and having a hard time falling asleep with the incessant bawling—not that I could blame the poor little guy. I must have eventually drifted off, because the next thing I remembered was waking up and not being able to see. Once the surgery was completed, the doctor had covered my eyes with patches to protect them while they healed. These I wore for a week.  I was too young to be frightened by blindness, and trusted my parents implicitly, so in many ways, the experience of surgery was an extension of childhood investigation, and I might add, fun. In a way, it was sort of an adventure to have patches—to experience the world without sight. As usual, all my needs were met by my attentive mother, and I found I could still draw on my Etch-a-Sketch and “watch” “Car 54, Where Are You?” and “The Mickey Mouse Club” on T.V. even though I couldn’t actually “see” them. The process of healing lasted two or three weeks, and then I was back to life as usual–school, playing, and just being a seven-year-old kid with a story to tell about what it was like to be sightless for a week.

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Besides improved vision, one monumental thing had changed from this experience: my sense of Time. My second grade year dragged by. It was the longest year of my life, and I recognized it as such even at that tender age. I began to mark Time from that year on, and noticed that each subsequent year began to speed up a little bit more than the last.

In my theory, I propose that Age is equal to perception multiplied by the speed of time squared. (Please see disclaimer at the beginning of this post.) I confess that while my theory is not scientific, it is the opposite—a whim. Still, it rings true for me, even though it follows no logical thread. According to my theory of relativity, aging depends on my perception of things relative to the speed of time. In other words, the older I get, the faster time speeds by, and/or the speed of time shapes my perceptions about my age.

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Interestingly enough, perceptions (including memories) of my childhood have remained intact and vivid during each passing year of my life. However, perceptions during the years following second grade, have shifted like tectonic plates with the passage of Time. The more distance between 2nd grade and the current year, the more the shift, sometimes causing quaking and trembling in my perceptions—especially regarding details, such as what I believe I said to my husband, and what I’m sure he said to me.

The following is an example of how age (A) is equal to (=) perception (p) multiplied by time squared (t2). At a young age, maybe around three years old (A), I became (=) acutely desirous (p) of being two years older (t2) than the age I currently was. (*For your own sanity, please do not try to force my variables into a true equation.) This was probably due to my sister being two years my senior, giving her privileges, which I, as the younger sister, had to wait for. I remember crying at the bus stop as Karen boarded the school bus bound for kindergarten. I desperately wanted to go with her, and I couldn’t understand why I had to wait. No amount of sobbing swayed my mother, who simply scolded me for my tantrum and marched me back home. Wishing to be two years older became more intense as the years passed, which accounts for *time squared. (*Mathematicians and physicists out there, I know this is all sheer folly—please humor me.)

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The inverse was also true. As the younger sister by two years, I had the opportunity of observing my older sister, and those behaviors and consequences I wished to avoid. A very valuable asset and one I exploited to my gain.

There is yet another interesting corollary to perception as it relates to Age and Time, that is, how I perceived those who were older than I was. If I was thirteen, a fifteen-year-old was strictly out of my league in every aspect of life. (I now attribute this incorrect perception to the public school system, which unwittingly forces most children into an unrealistic environment—boxing them into a classroom with thirty other students of the same approximate age and developmental issues for about twelve years of their lives. This short-sighted and preposterous arrangement prepares children for an environment they will rarely, if ever, experience later in life. During adulthood, you would be hard-pressed to find yourself (it would seem unnatural to find yourself) among peers of your exact age group on a daily basis. In fact, most people spend the majority of their lives in family units composed of a variety of ages and temperaments,—the ultimate seedbed for learning—not in a setting as unnatural as that of a public school classroom.)

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When I attended my first year of college, I was eighteen, but my roommate (who was seventeen—having graduated high school a year early) soon after became friends with a girl of twenty-one! Imagine it!—she was friends with a co-ed four years her senior! (This is where my theory of relativity really became obvious to me.) I was in awe of this twenty-one-year-old. To my mind, she was light years beyond me in wisdom, experience, and dignity just by virtue of her three extra years of advanced age—I assumed this without really knowing her.

By my second semester of college, a shift in perspective had already begun to occur. I had become used to sharing the classroom, the campus, the dormitory, and the dining hall with a multiplicity of ages, but it wasn’t until this particular girl—my roommate’s friend—shared a class with me, that I realized the fallacy of my perception about age creating such a huge superiority gulf. On the first day of class during the second semester, we students looked around the room sizing each other up, and because this girl and I had a common friend, we recognized and gravitated to one another, sitting next to each other the remainder of that course. This was when I discovered that she was every bit as childish as I was! We doodled little frogs and cartoon-y characters with text bubbles full of nonsense all over each other’s and our own notepaper, quietly giggling at our silliness. We had so much fun! It was a great class to begin with, but it was all the more enjoyable for me when I realized that “twenty-one” was not the sage old age I thought it was, and that I could have fun and be silly even when I, too, reached the landmark maturity of twenty-one.

Even though challenged with every passing year and season of life, my flawed perception has remained with me; I still view age as a relative thing. When I was a young mother in my twenties, the thirties seemed ancient. Indeed, thirty-nine (or for some twenty-nine) has been the place where many people stop the “aging” clock, refusing to admit to any age above that. Year after year, when asked their age, these people refuse to acknowledge themselves as any more than 39. (Jack Benny comes to mind—he was forever 39. If you are my age, you will know who Jack Benny was. If you are from a younger generation—sorry. It’s one of those advantages of advanced age, to know about and gloat over things those younger than you were unfortunate enough to miss out on—things such as The Great Depression, roller skates with keys, garter belts, corded telephones, and 45s.)

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Hint: The perpetual 39 year-old

As I approached forty, and recognized that I was old enough to be mother to the youngsters of twenty whom I often hosted in my home, turning forty sounded like putting one foot in the grave. To my mind—to my eternal spirit—I was always looking out of eighteen-year-old eyes (that is, from the inside out), and each numerical age I reached was someone else’s bad idea of flimflam (for clearly, I was perpetually “in spirit” the eternal age of eighteen inside—that was my perception). Note: My outward appearance does not necessarily agree with my eternal “inside” age.

Then, fifty came, and most recently, sixty (by the way, I missed The Great Depression, the Revolutionary War, and the age of dinosaurs, though my grandchildren might challenge that). I have friends in every age bracket—age is immaterial when it comes to finding worth in others—and is very instructive as to differences in perception about time and age. With a ninety-three-year-old father, here’s what I’ve discovered: seventy-five is the new “thirty.” It’s all relative.

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For a 93-year-old like my father, age is a badge of distinction—of longevity few live to reach. A 93-year-old perceives the speed of time as being akin to the time spent on a merry-go-round that goes faster with each rotation. You get on, orbit the circumference a few times enduring the usual ups and downs, and then anticipate jumping off your horse, which might throw you at any time. Life is a blink when you’re 90, and often a blur—but things do tend to appear blurry when traveling at great speeds.

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As I mentioned earlier, time began to speed up for me in second grade. During each subsequent year, time has picked up momentum. Although reason tells me this is due to my flawed perception, I think it must also be due to age. With every passing year, I become a year older. (Yes, I know,—brilliant deduction—nothing profound here, folks.) The more years gathered into the garner of time, the faster time passes. Age is the fireman stoking the steam locomotive’s boiler with more and more coal, making Time’s train move on at an ever and ever increasing rate. (Or maybe it’s the other way around.) At any rate, Perception stands on the ground next to the tracks and watches the train fly by, saying “Whoa! Did you see how fast that train blew by?”

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Where once there were long, lazy days of summer, summer days now run into fall, fall into winter, winter into years, and years into lifetimes. Deadlines, responsibilities, calendar events, reminders, commitments, activities, and endless checklists of to dos tip one side of the scale, while the other holds the inevitability of time running out. The scale is rarely balanced. It is all relative. Relative to one’s own age, and time, and maybe even one’s own perceptions.

 

“Time is too slow for those who wait,

 too swift for those who fear,

too long for those who grieve,

too short for those who rejoice,

but for those who love, time is eternity.”

 – Henry Van Dyke

 In light of the relativity of age, time and perception, I would like to repeat the last line in the Van Dyke quotation above:

“For those who love, time is eternity.”

Amen to that.

End Piece

© April 21, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.