Breathe

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I have had the grandkids (and our daughter) with us for almost two weeks. I have come to the conclusion that two and three year-olds fight, scrap, say “NO” and pout almost as well as our politicians; so Grandma is taking a break.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

“Grandma, whatcha doing?”

“Grandma’s meditating.”

“What’s medtittatin?”

“It’s when you sit quietly and don’t make any noise.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Because Grandma’s head is about to explode.”

“Would that make a mess?”

“No, there really isn’t much in Grandma’s head anymore.”

“Where did the stuff in your head go?”

“My kids stole it from me.”

“Didn’t you teach them not to steal? My mommy says not to take something if it doesn’t belong to you.”

“Honey, its no one’s fault. They don’t know they are stealing it from you and you don’t know that you have lost it until they are all grown.”

“Grandma, am I stealing your head?”

“No baby. You are stealing my heart one day at a time.”

“Do you want it back?”

“No you keep it and when you go back home and Grandma is here you will have a piece of me that you know always loves you.”

“Like Sophia?” (her dog)

“Yep, like Sophia.”

“Sofia poops in the backyard.”

“Everything poops.”

And so it goes………..

 

 

 

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Childhood Memories

Cottage from lake

Going to my Grandfather’s cottage on the lake holds fond memories for me. It was a long drive north with stops to see the bears who were caged next to gas stations in an attempt to bring in the tourist crowd.It was back in the 60’s before PITA and other such organizations existed and as a result bears who had lost their mothers became entertainment for bored little kids traveling the backroads in old station wagons. Kids like me.

I  still remember the blue Rambler pulling up to the cabin. The smell of the leaves and the fresh clean air. And mushrooms “Don’t touch those!!!! They may be poisonous!!!” poking their heads out from under rocks and growing alongside north facing tree trunks. I can still remember the loons calling out a greeting from the lake below while squirrels flew like acrobats from tree top to tree top. And I recall the sun filtering through the leaves making them light up like the colors found in a stained glass window. No doubt about it there was beauty and tranquility no matter which way you turned. All of it was amazing in the eyes of a six-year-old kid.

After being released from the confines of the car the first thing I would see in the cabin was the old refrigerator that stood guard in the service porch. It smelled musty and was in desperate need of air. My mother would clean up inside while my father would go after the spiders whose webs were proportional to the amount of months that had gone by since the last visit. Of course, there was no television, so my sister and I would go outside to chase leaves, find critters, and do the things six year olds do while in the woods. It was a time of discovery and a place where life slowed down to a crawl.

Memories fill my mind of this special time in my life. I remember the day my father laid his head down on the pillow to go to sleep and inside was a mouse nest filled with babies. I remember a green frosted cake. I remember Chippy the Chipmunk who would scurry over to take peanuts out of my hand as I sat barely breathing on the porch. This is the place I first learned how to swim in waters so cool it took your breath away. This is the place I learned that the sandy bottom of the lake felt silky like the fuzz on the ear of a puppy. This is the place I learned how to dive and this place was where I first got the sense of my own self. I loved this cottage in the woods.

Unfortunately, my grandfather died when I was six and the cottage was sold soon after. He had been the outdoorsman not my grandmother. The trees held little meaning for her as did the hunting. It was the water that captured her attention. Yes, the water was her thing and every day started in the same manner for her. She would arise early in the morning, make a cup of bitter black coffee, and head down to the lake. I can still picture the daily the ritual of my grandmother trying to pull a too tight rubber bathing cap down over her head while snapping off the  cheap rubber flowers that lined the outside in her hast to be the first one to  produce a ripple on the sheen of the sleepy and slowing awakening lake. Yet, my dreams about this place are short and often disappear in confusion … gone the way of bathing caps… which are now regarded as relics and left to rot in a box on a museum shelf somewhere.

Anyway, with these recollections comes a distortion of the truth which often occurs in a young girls mind. For instance I remember a yellow cottage…it was red. I remember it being HUGE. It was tiny. And I know all of this because for years I had told B about this special place, the place of my youth. But what  really stood out in my mind about the cabin were the million steps that it took to get from the cabin down to the lake. Yes, you could have hooked me up to a lie detector and I would have passed…there were a million steps top to bottom.That was the one thing in life that I was absolutely certain of.

Then one year we were visiting my grandmother. By then she was living in a nursing home and she had lost her only daughter, my mother. So B and I asked her how to get to the cottage. We both wanted to see this place that built so many happy memories for me.

“You’ll never find it,” she said. “I guess I will just have to go up there and show it to you myself!”

So my 84-year-old grandmother plunked herself into the front seat of the car and we took off. The roads were better than they once were and we made it there in record time. But by there I mean the lake not the cottage because as we stood in front of three of them which lined the lake she didn’t know which one it was and neither did I.

“Well, we’ll just have to go find the one-armed man who built the place for us. He’ll know. Never saw a man who could hammer faster and better than him,” my grandmother muttered.

And so we set out for his place. We were unsure where he was located or even if he would still be alive but as luck would have it there was an ancient one-armed man standing next to a bright red mail box alongside the road and my grandmother charmed the information right out of him. So back we went over slick rutted roads…this time to the right cottage sitting in the right place.

It was wintertime and it was bitterly cold, yet, we trampled the snow and the decaying leaves around the cabin trying to peek through the blinds which lined the windows. I was trying to see inside just enough to grab tight to the memories that were floating around somewhere in my head. And then it came to me. I could gather those memories by way of the steps  down to the lake…all one million of them.

So I raced around to the back of the cabin looking for a very long stairway leading down the hill to the lake. The one with the millions treads. The one that it used to take half-a-day to climb from top to bottom when I was a little kid. Yet, it was not to be found. Instead, I saw an old rickety set of stairs, hidden in the trees, twisted with age, descending down the hill towards the water. So I began to count the stairs…it didn’t take long. For there were only 14.

I have to confess that am not sure when 14 stairs became one million in my mind. Perhaps it was as my chubby three year old legs had to take so many steps between the steps leading up the hill. Or maybe it was when the horseflies were out and you couldn’t get up the hill fast enough. All I know is that there were once one million stairs and you cannot convince the six-year-old in me otherwise. Never. Ever.

Not surprisingly, I have found that when you venture back to the past you find it is never how you left it. For better or for worse it will have changed. Yet, our memories often remain the same, stuck in a place we want to remember rather than in one that actually existed. And I’m okay with that because childhood memories should be some of the best memories of our lives. They should be the memories that were created in a simple time that was free from expectations and fear. They should be the recollections made when hope was still alive and when our imaginations ran free. A time when conquering the world was doable and when our kryptonite could be found in a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie. For childhood memories are precious, even though imprecise, and they are what motivates us to create a world the way we would like to see it rather than the way that it is. And even though one million steps may seem insurmountable when you are six, one  day you come to realize that a million steps isn’t as daunting as you once thought all thanks to the memories created during a simpler time in our lives.

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Forgotten Things

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These past five days:

I have had the chance to rejoice

In the unconditional love of my grandkids

And basked in the joy of watching

Them learn and explore

Watched as cousins took turns

Comforting the crying baby

Willingly and with a gentle appreciation

Of the difficulties of travel on young ones

I have gotten to have a greater

Understanding of my daughter

Her daily life

And her aspirations and dreams

For herself and her family

I have met cousins from here to there

Two of whom I never knew existed

Until I found them last week

One on-line and one

In a tiny local historical center

The volunteer of which

Called him to say

“Come down here. A relative of yours is here!”

And he came lickety-split

To meet an unknown

Provided with a chance to talk and compare notes

Next to the sloth bones that another cousin

Dug up over 100 years ago

And others I have not seen

Since I was a moody teenager

Sulking in my own misery

And misunderstandings of life.

I have traveled to the towns

Of my ancients

And had a glimpse of how and where they lived

Drove by their houses and fields

Seen the rows of corn

That are planted in the same spot

That my Great-Great Grandparents hoed

I visited the graves of those grandparents

Who made the perilous journey

Across a vast ocean

With hope of achieving something

BIGGER and BETTER

For their children

Their dreams realized in the faces

Of their  never-known great grandchildren

And beyond

I have celebrated the birth of those

Who have shaped me

Shown me love and concern

Throughout these many years

And helped me to become who I am

I have been given precious keepsakes

Hundreds of years old

By my Aunt who loves to make

Others happy in the most

Delightful and meaningful of ways

I have felt the pain of my daughter

Whose child does not sleep

While admiring her calm and patience

On so little dream time

I’ve watched you, B

Love our children from afar

Reminding me, once again

Of all the precious people

I have waiting at home for me

With open arms and love in their hearts

But most of all I have had the opportunity

To feel all those blessings in my life

That I often miss during

The hustle and bustle

Of daily life

And those bountiful moments in time

With family members that love me

In ways once unimaginable

I am thankful for all

That I have

All I can give back

And for you

Giving me the chance

To discover things long forgotten

On Being A Grandparent

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I never thought I would live to become a grandma. I don’t know why. Perhaps it is because my mother died at fifty just in the nick of time to see her first grandchild born. Or perhaps it was because I was such a stupid and hardheaded teenager who by all rights never should have survived the wild 1970’s. Either way, my Mom loved my son wholly and completely just like the “perfect” grandmother is suppose to do. She walked him when he cried, she cuddled him in her arms to remember the shape of his head in hands and she smiled whenever he was close to her. She read to him, begged to bathe him and sang lullabies in her soft and gentle lilt. Mom was enamored with everything about her grandson. Unfortunately, West was less than two years old when she died. They both missed out on so much that they could have gained from one another.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that Mom bought West his first Christmas present. Later, I found out she had bought it in April when she was first diagnosed. It was a hand-carved wooden car crafted of maple, with four over-sized wheels and a honest to goodness running board. It was hefty, polished to a golden luster, and was the kind of car that every male from the age of one to the age of seventy dreamed of owning someday. Yep, it was built to handle some major-league drooling.

My mother had painstakingly wrapped that Christmas present in a metallic blue and silver paper topped by a massive blue bow. Underneath was a homemade tag with West’s name taped to the side somewhat lopsided and in my mother’s script. It was simple and beautiful and just so her. Not surprisingly, it was the lone present sitting under her Christmas tree when she died. Of all the people she could have bought for that year; she thought of him and made the effort. Lung cancer doesn’t give you much time for shopping.

I remember several days after burying my mother, sitting under that brilliantly decorated Christmas tree, tears running down my face, debating whether to open the present or hold on to it until West was older and could appreciate it. Finally, I decided to unwrap the gift and as I carefully slid off the wrapping a note fluttered down to the floor. It read “Do your best but if you can’t then at least be happy and smile.”

When the most important people in your life die young it gives you an opportunity to envision all the things they would have done had they still been there and it lets you plan your own life accordingly. I have no idea if my Mom would have taken all eight of her grandchildren to the zoo, church, or out to a musical; but I know she took my son and in doing so she showed me what was important to her and the things she valued. Now it’s my turn to pass on the love, the fun and the memories that life brings to my own grandkids. In my mind I have envisioned trips to the theater, baking cookies on cold days and hikes along the windy cliffs. I just hope I do as good a job as I have imagined my mother doing for the past thirty years. But even if I don’t, I do know that I have followed her advice… I wear a smile on my face and find happiness in my heart whenever I am fortunate enough to be near my grand babies.  I think my mother would approve.

Copyright 2015