Honoring my Father on Father’s Day

Even though she didn’t like to cook, my mother would not allow my father to do so. She said he burnt everything. She had a strong fear of wasting food. Later I think he occasionally tended a barbecue, however they were not in vogue when I was little. I have early memories of him polishing the family silver. My mother didn’t do that and didn’t wish to even display it. We had many different pieces. They were family heirlooms, inherited from elders who had passed on. I remember a huge tea set with lots of shiny parts to it that rested on a big silver tray on a large wooden sideboard. My father loved and cherished it.

As it is wisely said, no one is perfect because God isn’t finished with us yet. Perfection may be something to strive for, and attaining it is most likely impossible. People are people and bound to mess up. Fathers can’t be perfect either. Some are cruel, whether consciously or unconsciously. I knew someone once who said that her father used to tell her and her brother to jump of the kitchen table and he’d catch them, only he wouldn’t. He told them he wanted to teach them not to trust what anyone said.

Doubtless he meant well. Perhaps he had suffered from believing, himself. My father would taunt me and my siblings when we made mistakes. He wanted us to toughen up, learn not to care what people thought. Did he succeed? I believe he did, however it took a while to sink in. Meanwhile, I resented his pointing finger and his “ha ha” followed by some negative comment. That was not all; we had a lot of fun together too, and he could be very kind. I once came home to the apartment my young husband and I shared to find him sweeping the rug. I didn’t have a vacuum and hadn’t realized I could sweep it with a broom. He used to give me lovely valentines.

He bought me my first washing machine—it was state of the art for the time, with a rubber tub that squeezed the water out of the clothes. He taught me how to dance, and he was a good dancer. He gave me money for years, an allowance that helped greatly when I was first married. Later on he paid for my health insurance because he wanted to take care of me. No, he wasn’t perfect, and I didn’t care. I loved him faults and all. He lived large and had wonderful charm. He had a lovely smile and he smiled often.

I miss him. Yet I miss most the father of my childhood and youth, when he was strong , energetic and good looking. He was a snappy dresser and loved loud ties and colorful clothing.  Bad habits and ill health took their toll. His later years were not happy and he declined mentally. It was difficult to see him so diminished. Yet once in a while the old smile radiated from his face and sometimes he told a joke or said something cute and funny that recalled the man he had been when I was little, and we used to build sand castles and jump the waves together.

The More Things Change…

TashasSpiralGarden          Of a recent Saturday, we were out and about checking the yard sales. While Stephen was perusing the items displayed there, I fell into a conversation with the person in charge. She had grown up in Grafton and spoke of how much had changed in the years she had lived here.  I agreed. Although we have lived here only thirty years as of this year, we too have seen many changes. This got me to thinking about how it was then compared to how it is now.

When we first moved to Grafton the shopping center that is now home to the Stop and Shop had a department store where we found a winter jacket for Stephen. He wore it for many years and finally gave it away, still in useful condition. There was a drug store where the deli and sandwich shop is now, and I remember when the drug store went out of business. I bought a pair of real nylons with seams left over from the fifties or sixties.

Restaurants have come and gone in the building by the lake, and there still is one there. There was a book store and later a market where now other stores are, yet the plaza remains and the stores sell items, just different ones. It is truly said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

The garden I began at the first home we lived in in Grafton, has with its different owners, undergone many changes, yet it still exists in its current form. I have had many gardens in my life and all of them have evolved in their own ways. Now though I no longer garden, I still in a way tend to one of another kind: my life has become my garden.

Many years ago I had a dream in which in some way I cannot explain I was both a garden and its gardener. This has become a kind of metaphor for how my life has evolved. Those I love and tend could be said to be similar to plants that grow and thrive as I care for them.  Too I am my own garden as I care for this body the best I can, though sometimes I neglect it and then like a garden deprived of proper nourishment, I suffer for it.

As once I studied how to make my garden grow at its best, so now I try to learn what best nurtures me and those I tend with the same love and care I once devoted to my gardens. At times I weed out what no longer belongs in my personal garden, and at times, those I have tended outgrow their place in my garden and transplant themselves elsewhere.

Or like other plants, they outgrow their earthly existence and move on. My life like my garden provides me with wonderful opportunities to learn and grow, and I try to take advantage of them. What matters most to me is that I do whatever I can with whatever resources I have to be a good gardener, and that I stay awake and aware to what works best to make my gardens grow.

 

 

The Beauty and Bounty of Fall

 

Autumn Blaze

One house we lived in had a window in the upstairs bathroom with a view of trees and fields. Each year in August I would look out this window in anticipation of the bright red patch that always appeared in an otherwise green expanse of a maple tree. It seemed that much brighter for being surrounded by the remaining green leaves. Later the rest of the tree would turn red, yet there was something very special for me about that first splash of color.

Perhaps that is because it heralded my favorite time of year. I cherish the first tinges of red and yellow beginning to blossom in the trees by the roadside. It is truly said that the strong colors of fall echo the pastel shades of spring except that they are strong and vivid. I have also noticed that in the weeks before the autumn colors emerge, the green of tree leaves takes on a grayish look that hints at the ageing of the leaves, preparing them for their ultimate brilliance. The other colors are present in the leaves all along. When the cooler weather comes, the green disappears and the red and yellow take over.

Fall colors are lovely and bright. Pumpkins, squash, chrysanthemums, apples, and fiery leaves are all part of its panorama. Highway vistas of hills plumped up with pillows of brilliant hue are a delight to drivers and passengers alike. As spring is a time of tentative melodies and pastel colors so fall is loud and strident, its colors are bold, its thunders vibrate around us. Farmstands open up and share their bounty with passers by. In more rural areas little collections of garden produce appear by the side of the road with prices and trustful boxes for payment.

When I was a child I delighted in scuffing through the rustling leaves. I loved the sounds and the tastes of fall. The sweet concord grapes that grew on the fence around my great aunt Alice’s garden tasted so wonderful. I was equally happy to breathe the slightly sharp air of fall that held a tinge of the frosts to come. I didn’t care much for raking the leaves, however I got paid to do it and that helped. I never tended my parents’ gardens, nor was I asked to. Later when I had a garden of my own, as fall emerged I hurried to pick the last tomatoes as well as the remaining marigolds. However I paid someone to rake the leaves.

Busy squirrels scurry around storing up food for the winter. Some alas are harvested by swiftly traveling automobiles. These provide a feast for the crows, so nothing is wasted. Autumn is a time for all of us to store food. My mother busily canned and later froze her garden produce. When I had a large freezer I did too. I loved the feeling of providing for my family. Now I can’t store much food for the future, however I can take advantage of the seasonal plenty. I got out my old Fanny Farmer’s cookbook and looked up apple recipes. We had Apple Brown Betty for supper. Yummy! Fall is my favorite time of year and I rejoice in its bounty as well as its beauty.

Dust is Visible in the New Light of Spring

Spring water           One day years ago as a relatively new bride I returned to the apartment I shared with my then husband and our baby to find my father sweeping the rug.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“Cleaning the rug,” he replied.

“Oh,” I said. I didn’t have a vacuum and didn’t know any other way to clean the rug. Now I did. I had never seen anyone sweep a rug before. My dear father smiled at me and suggested that perhaps Santa might provide me with a vacuum. I don’t remember if he did or not, but my father bought me my first washing machine some years later. He was a generous man. Also, I never saw him do any cleaning in the home I grew up in, so his sweeping was a great revelation to me. I have never learned to love housework but I have learned to do it more efficiently–except for dusting.

While I welcome spring and the new light it brings, I also recognize the need to dust. The new brighter light coming from a sun now, in the Northern Hemisphere, higher in the sky shines on all the surfaces in our apartment that have been neglected over the winter. Dusting is not my specialty. I have a tendency to get impatient or careless and damage or knock over items on shelves and surfaces. Stephen is far better at dusting than I, and thankfully he is willing to do it—in his own time. Sometimes this means waiting a bit.

Spring cleaning has a long, honorable history. I am thankful I do not have to haul my rugs out, drape them over a clothesline and beat them with a rug beater. These are now antiques. I remember them as being woven out of wood, like baskets, in the shape of several round circles intertwined. They had handles and were sufficiently sturdy to raise the dust from the rug and into the air to land heaven knows where—hopefully not back on the rug.

Before central heating or cleaner electricity and oil as opposed to wood fireplaces and coal furnaces, a good housewife washed down room walls every spring to remove grime from smoky fires and particles of soot delivered from heating vents. I remember coal being delivered to a coal bin in the cellar every fall. Now an oil burner has replaced that coal furnace. Cobwebs too needed to be removed. Windows had to be washed. Ammonia was in common use for cleaning them in days gone by. Horrid stuff! Now a vinegar/water spray does the job.

I am grateful for my vacuum cleaner, for the size of my apartment that needs much less work to clean than either of my past houses, and for a helpful husband who is willing to clean with me. The only thing I remember my dad cleaning was the silver. He polished it all himself because my mother would not. It is also true that we often had a cleaning person come; yet sadly it was my mother’s nature never to be satisfied no matter how well the job was done. I am grateful both that it’s not a hundred years ago, and that spring is on the way.

 

Befriending Ourselves

Bridge reflected

For the most part very young children are naturally generous. This may be because they do not yet have a strong sense of individuality or perhaps because they feel others will enjoy what they find tasty or enjoyable, whether a cookie or a cherished plaything. Later on they lose this openheartedness and fight to keep what they believe is theirs. At this point most parents teach them to be polite and sharing. This lesson becomes a kind of inner imperative that guides us as adults. We learn to feel better when we obey this inner morality and as a consequence often end up depriving ourselves in favor of giving to others.

When was the last time you bought yourself a present—not something practical but something you wanted and didn’t think you ought to spend the money for? You might even have recently bought a gift for someone else that you would have liked to give yourself, and yet didn’t quite dare to for fear of your own disapproval. Most of us have been taught to think of others before thinking of ourselves. While that is a nice way to behave it often leaves results in making us feel deprived or at least somewhat resentful.

Giving to others is praiseworthy. Depriving ourselves to give to others is not. It often results in our feeling the other person ought to be more grateful than they may be…especially if the other does not know how you sacrificed to do that. The reason we too often give to others at our own expense is that it feels nicer to do for others. It gives us good feelings because we’re acting in accordance with what we feel is the right thing to do. But is it? I believe it is important or even necessary to treat ourselves as we would a friend.

Long ago I met and studied with a teacher that taught me about this. It was the beginning of a friendship between myself and me. I learned that if I listened to a wee small voice inside me I would receive true guidance toward correct behavior when it came to giving to or acting for myself. I am not speaking of being selfish or self-centered. There is a big difference between befriending oneself and spoiling oneself. I do not believe in self indulgence to a point of neglecting others, only in being fair about the balance between giving to others and giving to myself.

The real key here is that balance. I can tell when things get out of balance because that inner voice will cry out in pain or sorrow. I may feel neglected or ignored even when I am actually not. Learning to hear that inner voice requires giving up the righteous feelings I get from self-sacrifice and instead asking myself what I really want to have or do instead. I can ask myself if is this how I would treat a friend? The answer comes as a knowing or an understanding. Then my actions are guided by what is good for all concerned including me. When I am my own friend I treat myself the best way I can, and I am happy and content.

The Climate of Violence We Live In

Icy Branches

Growing up I read fairy tales featuring ogres and ferocious creatures, yet I knew they were not real. Besides the hero or heroine always won, often through trickery and clever alternatives to violence. I grew up protected from discussion of ugly or violent happenings. I’d hear, “Nicht fur das Kinder,” (not in front of the child) Then I would be sent away so the grownups could talk.

As a mother I brought up my children to work things out peacefully. There was no fighting allowed in our back yard or the combatants were sent home. Before TV and its depiction of worldwide conflict and violence, American children were not directly exposed to war and cruelty. Sadly, while there have always been violence, cruelty and destructiveness in our world, only recently has it been so blatantly displayed. Today’s youngsters will never remember a time of peace.

Watching the Olympic Games, I found it inspiring to see the athletes of today carrying on its tradition of peaceful competition rather than conflict between countries. Unfortunately, despite peaceful athletic competition, today’s youth is growing up in a climate of violence. Most newspapers feature that. Good news is often buried somewhere within the paper almost like a footnote. What has the acceptance of conflict as perhaps the only way to resolve issues done to young minds and hearts?

Yet it is not only the immediate media we encounter daily that contributes, there is also the tenor of our language. We speak of “fighting” bad conditions, disease, and what we dislike in the world. Killing is a casual term for stopping or eliminating: “kill” that article or image. The majority of video games seem to be about fighting and destruction. Comic books and illustrated novels have similar themes. When I was growing up there were curbs on the ugly and the dreadful. There was a comic code whose job it was to protect the young.

Now there seem to be no limits and no safeguards for young minds. When I was young we had bomb drills in our schools, yet the war was far away and no immediate threat. Today children have drills to rehearse for someone coming into the school and shooting them. How can this make them feel? A friend spoke of their child in college as being potentially unsafe in his school. No one ought to have to go through life feeling fearful, yet that is how things seem to be today.

Fear and anxiety separate us from one another. Love and acceptance bring us together. While no one person can make more than a small difference, whatever any of us can do to generate peaceful acceptance of each other’s differences and live in cooperation with each other contributes to a happier world. Where conflict resolution is taught in schools, violence greatly diminishes. Let us do what we can to encourage a climate of peace. Youth no longer bathed in violence will be free to see the world differently and react toward it accordingly.

I welcome your comments and/or questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intentions, Resolutions and Reminders

Dead Branches and reflections 2

Growing up I was somewhat clumsy and awkward. I was always tall for my age—I stopped growing at the age of twelve and was even taller than most of the boys in my class, who soon outgrew me. My parents also thought I was careless. I wasn’t really, just lacking in experience. I also had poor proprioception. That word defines an actual sense: awareness of where one is in space and how much effort is being put out. I once embarrassed myself dreadfully when my best friend’s mother asked me to help her set the table, by pulling it completely out of the sideboard and dumping its contents on the floor.

While I outgrew the awkwardness and with the aid of yoga even became quite graceful, I still struggle with the proprioception. However I found that mindfulness helps greatly with that. Centering myself, slowing down, and practicing deliberate awareness when I am moving around or even pouring water from a pitcher into a glass, is a must. Over the years I have tried to make this a habit, like washing my hands with frequency, especially lately.

The flu season has made it vital to remember to wash my hands each time I return home, especially when I’ve been touching things like Grocery cart handles, restroom doorknobs and even counters or tabletops. The other day in a restaurant a woman near us was coughing with frequency into her hand as well as into the air around her. We are told that washing hands well is more effective than using sanitizers and better for our health.

I learned this the hard way. Last week I picked up a germ that invaded my sinuses and hit my right eye causing me great pain and rendering me unable to read for any length of time. As a result I have strongly resolved to wash my hands carefully not only when using any restroom but especially immediately upon arriving home. I hope to avoid not only the flu, but any other germs.

Resolutions are better kept when we have a reminder to do so, and a deliberate intention is well bolstered by any negative experience that happens when we haven’t. Hand washing is now an imperative for me, and while I regret the suffering and pain of my illness, I am grateful for the positive reinforcement of my intentions. Powerful reminders are not always pleasant, however they certainly are useful. Making lists helps too. Without a list my intentions, let alone whatever I have resolved to do may be forgotten.

Getting older has its good and its bad aspects. Becoming wiser by virtue of experience is helpful. Becoming more mindful as a result of that experience helps greatly also. On the other hand, becoming forgetful is a nuisance. However, my lists do help considerably. The trick is to remember to write things down and then also to look at the list. When I was a young parent in order to stay on top of things I had to outwit my children. Now instead in order to stay awake and aware I have to outwit myself.