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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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Stepping Out

Jordan Pond House and Hike around the Pond (5)

Stepping out with friends Monica and Susan in the beautiful state of Maine!

Blog Post #50 Thursday

I very seldom travel. I forgot how.

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I guess that’s an exaggeration, but not by much. I used to get in the car at 6 AM, drive straight through and pull up in front of my parents’ home sixteen hours later having covered exactly 1,000 miles from my door to theirs.  I could do this virtually blindfolded. I had my gas station stops timed to within minutes. After pumping my gas, and squeegeeing off the mashed bugs who should have known better than to hitch a ride on my windshield, I greeted with the same fondness reserved for old friends the clean bathroom stalls that bade me rest a moment, and bathe my hands, arms and face in cool, clean sink water. Each towering mountain, the heat-scorched desert, the acres and acres of pastureland, and the seemingly endless road stretching down that long, one-point perspective to the horizon were as familiar as my own backyard. I’d lost count how many times my family and I had made that same trip. It was second nature to us—like kids riding bikes around the neighborhood.

But the past few years I’ve stuck like a leech close to home, draining the lifeblood of travel out of my soul, but with good reason. I had an aging father who needed me. As time passed, he needed more time and attention, and I became more sedentary as a result, and less and less mobile. The time came when he needed constant attention. My husband Brad and I played musical chairs at his side. Sometimes, after work, Brad would relieve me so I could run an errand or visit a friend. These activities were mostly local, and were mostly brief. After a while, even short trips to the grocery store became a nuisance. For the most part, I was content to be home.

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Brad and me sitting in my usual spot. You can see my dear father resting in his chair in the background. (2016)

I’ve always been a homebody. It’s in my nature and always has been. I’m a snail, loving home so much I carry it with me wherever I go. If I walk out the door, a bag of “stuff” goes with me (books, sketchpad, writing paper, pencils, extra clothes, sweaters, snacks—just stuff). I keep a backpack of stuff in the car for emergencies, too. No matter that I’ve yet to use the roll of toilet paper, toothbrush, stash of outdated food and stale granola bars, bottles of hot, stagnant water, flashlight (with extra batteries), first aid supplies, deck of cards, and a plethora of other necessary items from home stowed inside. I might need them, and so the pack continues to occupy its spot in my trunk until … well, forever. (I have plans to rotate the food…one of these days.)

Of course, it’s hard to need these kinds of items on a trip when you don’t go anywhere.

My dear father passed away a year and three days ago. Even after he was gone, I found my desire to go out almost nil. The fact was I had spent so much time sitting quietly at his side, I not only didn’t much care to go out, I didn’t realize I could go out; I had, in fact, forgotten this was a possibility. It didn’t occur to me to walk out the door. I had forgotten there was one. Yes, I saw it. I opened and closed it occasionally. I knew it was useful in admitting others, but the idea of using it as a portal to other places had completely escaped me.

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Our front door…the one I wasn’t using to go anywhere

It took time, but eventually, I found that there was a life for me outside of the house. I could go for a walk. I could run to the store—on a whim, if I wanted to! I could visit family and friends in neighboring towns while Brad was at work. I could do these things! But I still found myself somewhat paralyzed at home. Not because I was afraid to go out, but just because I was out of practice. It took a year to really understand just how much freedom to move I actually had.

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Then, one day, a trip that I’d been talking about for years and years with friends Monica and Susan resurfaced, like the boulders that grow in the town where I live. You think they’re gone because these rocks are out of sight—undisturbed and forgotten. Then, you do just the tiniest bit of digging, and there they are, sitting above the ground before you: hard, unmoving, eternal. The question of this trip was a boulder buried deep in the ground of my “never will dos.” For the first time in all the years we’ve contemplated this trip (I’m talking decades, here) I found that I had no reason in the world why I couldn’t go. For the first time EVER, the kids were all grown, I was not tied to a job, I had the needed funds, and I was free to come and go. I could go, if I wanted to. And I did want to. It was time. And so Monica and I got online at the same time and bought airfare to the other side of the galaxy! Well, that is an exaggeration. But for all the traveling I had done, or rather, hadn’t done, we might as well have booked flights to Jupiter! I have to admit I was a bit anxious about making this trip. We were going as far from Southern California as was possible while staying in the Continental United States. We were going to a remote little log cabin in the middle of Maine! For someone who, in the past two years had barely walked out the front door, this was galactic.

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Susan’s beautiful home in Maine (Photo by Monica Wilson)

Weeks before the trip I belabored my poor friends with questions. Would I need a raincoat? An umbrella? What kinds of shoes should I bring? (Water sandals!?) What in the world are those? (Yes, I live in a cocoon.) Will it be hot? Will it be cold? Did you say mosquitoes?! What would I like to do there? Bar Harbor? (Yes, I’ve heard of that. In Summer Magic, Hayley Mills’ on screen cousin, Debra Walley, said, “Well, if you must have Maine, why not Bar Harbor?” That was the extent of my knowledge about Maine, and Bar Harbor.) Sure, Bar Harbor sounds great! Acadia? Why not? Lighthouses? How quaint, yes! Cute little coastal towns? Absolutely! And so it went…plans were made, and I collected stuff from home to drag along with me…including my pillow, and a smaller pillow I call my “knee pillow.” Have to have my pillows. Can’t go away from home without that part of home with me! Oh yes, Monica, it’ll all fit in my carry-on. You’ll see!

 

Me searching for sea glass on the sand bar for which Bar Harbor was named, and other pictures of that beautiful area (Photo by Monica Wilson)

 

After the restful night’s sleep I did NOT get, before our flight departed LAX at the delightfully early hour of 6:30 AM, (did I say delightfully? Whoops! Big typo. I meant to write frightfully), I awoke at 3:00 AM, leaving my house at 3:45 for Monica’s. One barely recognizes Southern California at 3:45 in the morning. I zipped over those highways like a marble down a slide, since no one else in their right mind was on the freeway at that absurd hour! From Monica’s house, Monica’s husband, Jeff, graciously agreed to drive us to the airport, depositing us at our gate an hour and a half early for our flight to Newark. (There are no direct flights into Bangor.) Los Angeles Airport was jam-packed with traffic and travelers. Apparently, every other car we had met on the road during the middle of the night was also on its way to the airport, because the traffic we had managed to escape culminated in a massive jam-up in LAX’s terminal queue.

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Yes, this! Only imagine this in the middle of the night!

Once in the terminal, we easily found our way to the gate, which was undergoing construction—the only place in the airport without AC. (We counted our lucky stars that we were there at 5:30 AM instead of in the heat of the day.) Our seats were about two-thirds of the way back in an enormous plane. When cattle call was announced, true to form, the thundering herds stirred, and plodded through the cattle guards in two ponderous lines (corralled down from four lines) cramming to get on board. Flight wranglers with strained smiles herded passengers into two long rows onto the plane. If your seat was on the opposite side of the plane from the row you found yourself in, you had to merge into a bottleneck of cross “traffic” to get into the right row. (If we thought we’d missed the traffic on our way to the airport that morning, it definitely caught up with us on the plane.) At any moment, I expected to hear one of the wranglers burst out with,

music-note-clip-art-music-note-clipart-3 “Whoop-ee-ti-yi-o, get along little doggies, It’s your misfortune and none of my own….”

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Here we are, being herded into the plane along with the other passengers. (Photo by Michelle Floyd / Arizona Sonora News)

I felt sheepish as Monica scrutinized my carry-on, knowing I’d packed half my house, and my two pillows within. When she heard I was packing my pillows, she decided to check a larger bag in order to take her pillow along, as well, but alas, her pillow didn’t fit. I assured her my pillow was made of down, and squished way down into a tiny, compact bundle. (A good reason to call it “down.”) Still, my bag was so stuffed, if bumped just right, I’m pretty sure it would have exploded. I also had a (soggy) un-squished Subway sandwich for our lunch, my raincoat, a sweatshirt in case I got cold on the plane (I did), a pair of shoes, my purse, a quart baggie of toiletry items, and reading material to last a decade among other things stowed in a backpack (which was categorized as a “personal item.” This, too, might have popped open if pressured.

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Me with my “personal item” backpack–stuffed full (this is on another plane later in the day)  (Photo by Monica Wilson)

 

At last, we got settled into our seats, and waited till the cows came home, but the plane wasn’t taking off. After quite some time, a man with a backpack moseyed up the aisle from the back and exited the plane. More waiting. Finally, a distinctly blurry voice came over the loudspeaker saying that the passenger who exited was sick and wasn’t going on the flight. More waiting to take off. (We presumed the wait was because they had to untangle and retrieve the man’s suitcase from the cargo bay.) Monica suggested comforting thoughts like, “He easily could have left something behind on the plane—did they do a thorough search? They really should have everyone get off the plane and check!” At first, these ideas were lost on my untraveled, not-so-savvy pea brain. I was thinking that if he left something, he’d just have to do without! It wasn’t until we arrived in Newark that the gist of what she was suggesting sunk-in and lodged in my psyche—anchoring there, while collecting barnacles of unsettling ideas to fester.

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A starfish savvy seagull on the sand bar at Bar Harbor (Photo by Monica Wilson)

 

As I said, the plane was enormous, second only to the Spruce Goose in girth and length. Seats were eight across, grouped in twos by the windows and four abreast in the middle. We occupied two in the middle section, with me on an end and Monica in the middle seated next to a boy and his father. Monica, with her quick powers of observation noted the boy was not only reading, but reading a book written in French! When the boy’s father got up to use the lavatory, Monica seized the opportunity to find out more about the boy. He readily engaged in conversation, speaking in English with that conspicuously French accent that makes the speaker appear to be gargling as he speaks, or in desperate need of clearing his throat. He was from Paris, and had a distinctly Parisian look—you know, something about the eyes, nose and mouth. He and his father had been sightseeing all over the west—Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, the Bay area to name a few. In a few weeks, those two had covered more territory than the Millennium Falcon traveling at light speed, and he had a collection of photographs exceeding that of the Smithsonian to prove it. Again, at light speed, he scrolled through a plethora of pictures on his iPad stopping on a dime at his favorites. Personally, I found it hard to distinguish one picture from another. Every picture looked like frames in an epic roll of movie film. He seemed a very nice young man, and mature for his twelve years, judging from the way he so ably and amiably communicated with Monica.

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Once in Newark, we had a connecting flight to catch, but again we had to wait for the thundering herds to exit the plane. It was about as organized as a riot—people trampling over themselves and jostling into each other to make their next flights. As soon as we got off the ramp, I told a flight attendant at the gate that we needed to get to such-and-such a gate in a matter of minutes. She told us to go to a different gate where a bus would take us to our departing flight. We threw wistful glances at the women’s restrooms as we passed like speeding bullets, and hustled through the airport to said gate (I, with my stuffed carry-on and overstuffed backpack, moved like a pack-mule on steroids). Just as we arrived at the gate, a door opened to the outside where, down a flight of stairs, a bus was waiting. My carry-on thumped and thudded as I wrestled it down the stairs, (worrying it might strike the edge of the step and the contents pop open like a tube of Pillsbury rolls), and we scurried onto the bus. We were driven at a moderate speed over the tarmac skirting the terminal to the backdoor of our flight’s gate. Exhaling our thanks to the driver, I manhandled my lead-filled bags into submission out the door, and we hustled up the stairs and into line for the last leg of our flight to Bangor, all just in the nick of time.

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This is the tiny plane we flew on from Newark to Bangor.

We were dismayed to see a toy plane parked at the gate! My carry-on was deemed too large for the toy-sized cargo bins, and swept away from me as if by magic. I was promised its quick return upon arrival in Bangor. As we entered the aircraft, Monica and I cast surprised sideways glances at each other, noting the half-dozen individuals sitting in a line of single seats (one seat per row) to our right, before the plane opened up into a large cracker box having divided rows with two seats opposite the single-seated passengers. I was seated on the aisle seat in our row, Monica by the window. I could just as easily see out the window belonging to the passenger across the aisle as I could through Monica’s, and with less inconvenience to her. Our flight attendant was a jolly sort—very casual compared to the strictly business, cattle rustler attitudes of the attendants on the first flight.

 

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Maine from the plane window. Absolutely beautiful!  (Photo by Monica Wilson)

Thunderstorms had been predicted, but thankfully they did not materialize. (A literal answer to my prayers.) The flight was uneventful, quiet, and quick. We watched out both windows, sometimes Monica’s, sometimes the one belonging to the young man sitting across from me (who was from Maine and was eager to get home), to see a panorama of green unfold beneath us. Small, cleared patches of land appeared from time to time into which a house was tucked as if on a Monopoly board. Large, blue lakes (which we later learned were called ponds) dotted the landscape in abundance.  We thrilled to think that soon we would be on the ground and traversing the wonderland of lush green beauty, the quaint coastal towns, and the captivating wilderness of the state of Maine! We landed in Bangor just less than an hour later. We waited quite some time immediately outside the plane on the passenger boarding bridge with two or three other passengers for our carry-ons to be retrieved. The official said they were extremely busy in Bangor that day, having two planes on the ground at the same time! (Monica concealed a big city snicker when she heard this remark.) Finally, we were in the terminal, heaving a sigh of comfortable relief at the small, quiet, empty airport, and, more particularly, at the sight of the quiet, empty, clean woman’s restroom just a few feet away.

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Monica and me at the Bangor Airport

We had a wonderful visit with Susan, her partner Steve, their cat, nine Husky sled dogs, flittering lightning bugs, bunnies, foxes, deer, and other abundant wildlife, lush greenness, a sky full of twinkling stars, the hope of seeing a moose, canoeing on the glassy pond by their house, hiking, sight-seeing, eating great food, attending the theater, watching lobster boats, walking breakwaters, visiting lighthouses and quaint little coastal towns, visiting national and state parks, and talking about anything and everything. The time sped by.

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Susan, me, and Monica walking the mile-long breakwater to Rockland Lighthouse

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Rockland Light  (Photo by Monica Wilson)

 

Jordan Pond House and Hike around Jordan Pond (3)

Bouldering on the trail skirting Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park (that’s me)  (Photo by Monica Wilson)

 

 

Canoeing on Whetstone Pond (10)

Lobster boat and trappings in Bar Harbor (top)    Susan teaching me to row a canoe on the pond near her home (directly above)  (Photos by Monica Wilson)

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Some of the summer “camps” along the Pond  (Photo by Monica Wilson)

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Susan and Monica portaging the canoe after our ride

I bought the very thinnest souvenirs I could find to bring home to my family. Even so, they wouldn’t all fit in my carry-on, even though I squished my pillow down to a fraction of its normal suitcase size. Monica graciously offered space in her large checked bag for my overflow, and we returned home happy as clams to have made this wonderful trip together! (I’ll spare you the details of the flights home.)

 

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(Top) Lakeshore House Cafe and dock, (directly above) Monica so wished to see a moose, but we did see moose signs!  (Photos by Monica Wilson)

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Some of the beautiful scenery near Susan’s home  

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These wild roses smelled like cloves! De-lish!

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Monica kicking back at Lakeshore House Cafe

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Susan and Monica in the quaint seaside town of Camden

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Three crazy ladies who went to see “Those Crazy Ladies In the House on the Corner” at Lakewood Theater in Madison

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Susan, Steve, me, and Monica inside Lakewood Theater

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Our last evening together at Susan’s house in Maine

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Post Script. So now I’ve learned I can leave the house. I can go places and do things again. I learned that the “never will dos” are a figment of my imagination, and that I can do if I just open the door and walk out of it. On a par with the travel kind of doing is traveling outside of my little world via writing my blog. I have only written three blog posts this entire year besides this one. I’m hoping that as the fog in my brain clears as to stepping out, I will step out onto the page more often as well.

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© August 4, 2017

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


8 Comments

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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© September 30, 2016

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

 


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Duet

Blog Post # 27 

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I just returned from practicing a piano duet with a wonderful friend who loves the sweet cadences and depth of feeling that pour from heart to fingers to keys to ears as much as I do. What an absolute joy to share one piano keyboard to make beautiful music together!

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Hands: my mother’s and my       niece’s.      Duet.

When my sister, Karen, and I were young, we often “jammed” at the piano, later adding other instruments to the mix. It was at the piano that we learned to sync our hands and hearts. From Chopsticks, and Heart and Soul, we graduated to our own rendition of a tune from the now defunct Disney attraction, Country Bear Jamboree, banging out the song with knee-slapping, joyful abandon. We felt the other’s timing and touch so well, we could duplicate the unison parts with perfect accuracy. This translated to other parts of life: finishing each other’s sentences, and reading each other’s thoughts from across the room.

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My mother during her college days

It was my mother’s love of music, combined with her proclivity toward the piano in particular, that bred a long line of piano players among her posterity. Duets were a natural outcropping from the bedrock of piano-loving family members, and remind me of a time when my mother was still alive. She was a fine pianist and loved to play hours at a time. I recall falling asleep to piano sonatas and waking on a Sunday morning to sacred hymns. I would come home from school to find my mother and one or the other of her two piano-playing friends at my mother’s baby grand, their hands executing complicated dance moves as they flew across the ivories revealing a classical masterpiece arranged for four hands. I knew the expectation—I was to wait until they stopped before interrupting them for anything, with the exception of an emergency. Some of those pieces lasted ten or fifteen minutes—a long time to wait for an anxious young mind. After waiting what seemed an eternity, I finally interrupted—Sheryl had been hanging on the phone wondering if I could come over to play! If that wasn’t an emergency, I don’t know what was!

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My beautiful mother, perhaps playing Liebestraum or the Harp Etude so many years ago…

When I grew older, my mother invited me to join her playing piano duets. She had high standards of excellence, and insisted I fix any technical errors at the very moment they were discovered—repeatedly playing a bar or two until I had mastered the phrase. I was never technically adept, but I made up for it with unsurpassed expressivo (feeling), for I certainly felt the beauty and emotion of the music, even if I couldn’t always play the notes correctly. Still, she wanted me by her side, and over time, I improved.

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After I had a family of my own, my mother and I performed at a church function an involved arrangement of Stars and Stripes Forever (the famous, easily recognizable march by John Phillip Sousa). It was a marvelous experience! I think the rehearsing was as much or more fun than the performance. A unique kind of bond forms when playing piano duets. There’s something about triumphing over difficult passages, hearing rough sight-reading sessions resolve into a harmonious whole, and feeling the emotional drama unfold with dynamic expression. I think the most satisfying part is when you feel an emotional connection to the music, and you know that an entirely different person sitting next to you is also feeling the music in exactly the same way you are, because you can anticipate and respond to what they’re feeling with perfect harmonious unity. (This doesn’t necessarily mean every note is perfectly executed, or that there is flawless technique. It means that two individuals are, for the moment, one in spirit.)

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Amanda playing duets with her grandmother.                                               So special.

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Amanda with my mother.

When grandchildren came along, besides building puzzles together, and intensely competitive games of Scrabble, my mother invited them to play duets with her. While several enjoyed this privilege, one grandchild in particular latched onto this opportunity. Amanda excelled in playing the classical cadences and disciplined execution of the pieces my mother most enjoyed, which was satisfying to my mother. They made a good team, sometimes performing at church, and frequently for the family. I will venture to guess that Amanda formed a uniquely intimate bond with her grandmother through these duets.

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My son and his wife playing piano together.

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They really get into it!

When my own children were comfortable enough with the piano, I did my best to wrangle them into playing duets with me, however most preferred going solo. It wasn’t until my youngest daughter Caity grew adept enough to participate that I found a duet partner among my children. Even during trying and difficult teenage times, we found common ground and a laughing place sitting at the piano together. Our repertoire ranged from Mozart to Joplin—all played with equally blatant disregard for correct technique and execution. What we lost in technical expertise we made up for in expression. We loved the dynamics of the theme from Mozart’s Symphony No.40, and Burgmüller’s Arabesque. They were our wide-awake pieces. We blew threw them at Nascar speed, and with a roar to equal the revving engines! Who can resist every piano student’s favorite, Ellmenreich’s Spinning Song? We couldn’t. We dashed through it with unparalleled velocity and vigor, laughing all the way. We didn’t limit ourselves to lively pieces, however. Once, when playing an arrangement of Erik Satie’s First Gymnopèdie (which is serenity itself) we became so sleepy, we literally dozed on the bench. A much as we liked the piece, we haven’t played it since.

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Two of my grandchildren. When they visit, one or the other, or both are always at the piano. I LOVE IT!

I found a much simpler arrangement of Stars and Stripes Forever that usually brought up the rear flank of our duets each time we played. Racing to beat each other to the end of the unison octaves forming the introduction, we immediately stalled into a belly-scraping crawl—plodding through the bars forming the first strain. The oom-pah-pahs in the secondo part (the bottom hands) were just too much for Caity to play full-speed, yet she insisted upon playing the lower part. I can attest to the fact that it really is difficult to play anything while laughing uncontrollably. We created more guffaws than music. Stars and Stripes became the backbone of hilarity for our duet sessions, and bridged difficult moments with laughter. How grateful I am for the time we spent at the piano together—we made more than music. We engraved musical notes into a stone monument of love. From time to time, when she is in town, we pull out the duet books and laugh it up all over again.

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My mother with my sister, brother and me singing Christmas carols. Another great tradition at the                     piano.

There are many forms of the duet other than those played on the piano. Singing together creates a similar experience and bond, as well as playing other instruments together. But duets don’t have to be limited to music. Four hands, or two souls, when combined in a mutually appreciated and unified effort have the same effect. Duets can build structures, repair cars, prepare meals, dance, climb mountains, and serve others, to name a few.

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Caity and Brad

I’ve watched as my husband Brad with one of our sons or daughters repaired a car, or saddled the horses for a ride. There’s something special in that. There’s a shared feeling of accomplishment and triumph when they both roll out from under the car with greasy hands, unitedly having solved a problem. Other kinds of problems may be solved, or circumvented in the process, as hands and minds repair, restore, or tune-up a thing of greater value—a relationship. There’s a connection when two set off alone on a moonlight ride. They return with a bit of moon inside of them—a bit of that light that warms and unites two hearts against the darkness.

The same may be true when four hands cook or bake side-by-side together, creating a culinary masterpiece or a simple peanut butter sandwich. It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s in the doing together that the bond is created.

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My father with our granddaughter–his great-         granddaughter–where else, but at the piano.

There are other valuable duets: mentor and apprentice, hero and sidekick, teacher and student, peer and peer, friend and friend, parent and child, sister and brother, grandparent and grandchild, husband and wife.

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 One of the most rewarding duets outside of family relationships is when two work together to serve another. Four hands lifting and assisting someone in need, or lifting and serving each other. I have witnessed the power of this duet. It is strong, powerful, and life changing. When two combine their personal gifts and strengths to help another, they develop an unspoken bond. It’s difficult to pinpoint or explain, but I have experienced this, and can tell you that you feel one in purpose and one in heart when you lay aside other plans, and together with another like-minded person, give your time and energy to serve someone in need. You don’t even have to know the person with whom you serve prior to the moment of service. When you are finished, you see them through a familiar lens of understanding and compassion. You are like them and they like you—linked together in a uniquely special way. Four hands, two hearts, one mind.

It is not my purpose to lessen the value of trios, quartets, or other numerical combinations of people gathered for a unified experience. Not at all. Having participated in trios, quartets, double-quartets, and choirs composed of hundreds of souls, I can attest to the fact that there is a shared and harmonious unity in those experiences—even an unparalleled thrill to be part of such a group effort.

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Me at the piano as a teenager–many eons ago.

Playing solo also has its place and benefits. It can provide lessons of courage and accomplishment, and boost self-confidence. Spending hours alone at the piano, alone with one’s thoughts, and the beautiful and inspiring music created is therapeutic.  Pounding out frustration and thinking things through are endeavors worked out on piano keys or through music throughout the ages. All of these are productive, purposeful, and enjoyable.

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Some of the family enjoying a duet.

But when there’s only one, there’s no one else to share the thrill and joy of the experience. When alone, one’s focus tends to center on self—one’s vision narrows. One—a single entity—benefits from another who can provide balance and communion. With two, the focus shifts to the other. What is the other feeling? Will I be able to tune myself to his or her mind and heart? Will we be able to connect and create a thing harmonious and beautiful?

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When we du-et, (do it) it’s magical!

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

© May 6, 2015