Twenty years and counting….

It will be twenty years this September that Dave and I moved to Maine. It was not a decision we made on the fly, Dave and I wanted to live in Maine since our first introduction back in the ’60’s. Up and down the old coastal road we would see lovely old houses, in varying state of repair, and dream about living here. There was a quality to Maine that we loved. Small towns with little mom-and-pop stores that sold everything from wedding gowns to guns, home-baked pastries, breads, and pies, bug spray, salt for the driveway, and snow shovels. On the trip to Acadia, we would go by the old houses, and think about buying a fixer-uppers; one of those houses, with all its additions in a row (if you have been to Maine, you know what I mean). They are quite practical in the winter particularly, as you can go from the main house to the barn without going outside. Of course, Vietnam sidetracked us for a time, and when Dave came home there was a recession headed our way and jobs were not plentiful. Our dream of living in Maine got deferred for something like thirty years while we lived in PA, found jobs, and had our children.

Fast forward to 2002 and it became evident that after 25 years with United Parcel Service Dave needed to retire, even though he was only 57. For a number of reasons, working at UPS was not contributing to his mental and physical health. We had done everything we could to struggle through it and after many years it was clear a serious change was needed. I had just graduated from seminary and so we decided, with the kids all fledged, it was time to head north. My siblings all lived in New England, so it made sense to bring my elderly parents back to New England with us.

While we intended on buying or building a new single-story house that was handicapped accessible, it was not to be. The housing stock in Maine definitely included more of those charming old farmhouses than new homes. Given the fact that we moved complete with two families and three dogs, renting was out of the question. In the end we fell in love with one of those old farmhouses (the Big House/Little House/Back House /Barn) described above. In the last twenty years we have repaired, updated and preserved this old house. At one time it housed four generations of Smiths, until lives got straightened out. Now, Mom and Dad are gone. For about 15 years we had, at one point all of our children relocated to Maine, but now two families left to find other places where their hearts wanted to be. We still have the two grown grandchildren near us, one son and his family, at least for a while. While our roots are deep here, like the huge trees around the house, time will tell where the rest decide to live their lives.

Dave and I hope we will not have to move again. A bonus for us was the fact that Togus, the Maine VA Healthcare facility, is only about 12 miles away and provides Dave with excellent health care. We did not plan it that way, but we realize what an added blessing it is. We continue to love the slower place and the little farming community in which we live. We often make time to sit outside, talk over events of the day, and watch the birds at the feeder, with our lab Zane snoozing contentedly as close to my chair as possible. After 20 years we still say, “Have I told you how happy I am to live here?” We give thanks to God, that despite the very real struggles, we have made it here and life is good.

Spring Rituals

Our annual pilgrimage to Wilmington Ohio is something Dave and I look forward to each year. For the last two years we have been doing renovations on our house and so it was nice to just get away and leaving the world of plastering, paint colors, and electrical rewiring behind for a while. Our destination is the site of the Southern Ohio Regional Clock Meet which is the reason we go to the lovely town of Wilmington, an hour northeast of Cincinatti in Clinton County. The Roberts Centre, where the meet is held, is an event center that also hosts dog shows and other events. Across the interstate from Roberts Centre is the huge national headquarters of Roberts Trucking. Just south of town, the Roberts family has several beautiful horse farms, where horse shows are held many weekends. In the event center, there is a large Hilton hotel, a restaurant called Max and Erma’s, and several large convention halls and break out rooms. It is by far one of the nicest venues used by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors. It does not hurt that the Chapter who runs the convention is just the best. They are organized and very welcoming, always greeting visitors with a smile and often a joke. We laugh there more than any other NAWCC event we attend.

We love going to Wilmington the first week in April because spring has already arrived, unlike Maine, and because there is so much else to see in the area. One year we went to Dayton which kept us busy with Wright AF base and the Air Museum there. There is also a Packard Museum (set in a classy art deco styled building that once was an auto dealership). Of course, there are lots of antique shops between Dayton and Wilmington and we have probably stopped at most of them. Wilmington itself has a delightful museum run by the Clinton County historical society. It is well worth the time to browse through it, and learn about its history, and see wonderful examples of architecture, furniture and textiles of the area, along with the stories of the founding fathers and mothers. Dave and I also went into Cincinnati to see the Underground Railroad Museum, but we were unsuccessful in our efforts because it happens to be opposite the stadium where the Cincinnati Reds play. Of course, we would pick the opening day to try to go to the museum. We had trouble finding the museum due to the onslaught of cars carrying very excited baseball fans. That day we drove ourselves in circles trying to find the entrance to the museum only to finally discern that it was barricaded off. Oh well maybe some other time when the Reds open their season in some other ballpark.

Our ride home was a cloudy, chilly, dreary day, cool enough that you wanted to turn on the heat in your car just a little bit. Our route home in Pennsylvania took us up interstate 99 through a lovely valley with tall ridges of mountains on either side. I know one side were the Nittany Mountains, but I am not certain of name of the others, if they indeed have a name. There are little towns called Waddle (seriously), Port Matilda (where there is no water to speak of) and Bellwood. The clouds were low and so there were fingers of mist which drifted down from the mountain tops to the valley below blurring all the blue grey colors of the mountains and the pink tipped colors of the trees that were about to bloom. At the bottom of the valley were little towns nestled between the ridges, churches, houses and schools clustered around the exits, small farmhouses on the outskirts, most with old barns and outbuildings, many who had seen better days. It reminded me of an impressionistic French painting. As we got closer to Milesburg and Bellefonte, we ran into a ferocious storm which dumped heavy rain and gale force gusts of wind, then sleet, then ice pellets and finally graupel (a slushy form of hail). The wipers could hardly keep up sluicing off the slush and it took all of my concentration to stay in the right lane. On interstate 81 we finally switched drivers and Dave got the enjoyment of repeating this event as we approach Scranton. I confess, I was happy when we finally stopped in Newfoundland for the night.

Whenever we travel, no matter how far, we are always happy to see the large green bridge over the Piscataquis River that welcomes you to Maine. Halfway across the bridge we see a small, square sign that simply says ” Maine line” and we sigh, glad to be home. Ironically, we also came home to warmer weather, although it would not last very long. Still, we know that spring is coming and that winters grasp of our state is loosening each and every day, and if it does snow it will melt immediately. The snows in the mountains are rapidly receding, the ice has left the ponds and lakes (except in the most northern reaches of the state) and the rivers and streams are full of rushing water. As we head north the numbers of cars traveling with us drops dramatically, occasionally we see a camper headed north to Quebec or Nova Scotia, no doubt returning from its winter in the sun down south. Spring is here. We are home. I look forward to enjoying the warming days, knowing we will have months of delightful spring and summer days before we get hit with the dreaded “Hazy, Hot and Humid” summer doldrums. Plenty of time to worry about the three H’s later, today is a day for reveling in a New England Spring.

Enjoy.

Ukrainian Courage

Like many people in the rest of the world, I am in awe of the courage of the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people. The rest of the world is doing their best to restrict and punish Putin short of starting a third world war. They, however, are living in a war zone day in and day out, fleeing their beloved country to ensure the safety of their children, undergoing a separation from their husbands, brothers, fathers, who stay behind to defend their homes and their country. I am sure the Ukrainian people think we are not doing enough, and they are right. The world, who fears a third world war believes we need to be patient and keep tightening the screws on this despot, meanwhile Ukraine waits and watches its cities shelled, its people killed, and their cities and towns destroyed. Meanwhile, many women, children and elderly are trying to walk their way to freedom praying for some safety and relief in neighboring countries. What a terrifying thought. People in those countries are doing their best, offering supplies and medicine, food and diapers along with baby carriages and temporary housing.

Meanwhile, we have people in our country who are so engrossed in their own lives they are embroiled in arguments about gas taxes, inflation, and required masking, all the while cruising around D.C. wasting precious diesel fuel, claiming to be patriots. Many of these people are the same “patriots” who brought us January 6th. They go on and on about their rights and freedoms all the while complaining about the foreign aid we are sending overseas to support the refugees and the citizens who are fighting for their country inside Ukraine who actually are fighting for their freedom and to keep their right to self- governance.

Perhaps there are things we really can do to help.

  1. donate to legitimate relief efforts, if you are able. Do your homework, find ones who really provide the assistance the Ukrainians need and don’t rip off donors by charging extravagant overhead (Like paying their CEO millions and millions.)
  2. fly the Ukrainian flag or place one in a window or on a door. Show your support to other Americans, who knows who you might inspire. While you’re at it- some flags are made by Americans, for Americans. Buy local if you can.
  3. Boycott companies that continue to do business with Russia. It might require some internet research, but it helps to be knowledgeable about multi-national corporations. Some multinationals say they do not do business with Russia, but that might be only one of their many brands, while others under their umbrella continue to do business with Russia. Patronize those who are currently refusing to do business with them. Yes, it might mean sacrifice on your part but that is where the rubber hits the road as they say.
  4. Stop screaming about gas prices. Sure no one loves it, and yes it pinches in the pocketbook, be informed about what causes the prices to soar: start looking at the subsidies (welfare) that we give gas and oil companies, and it is time to expect that corporate America tightens their belt (and accepts less profits) in order to do what they can to support Ukraine; check out the tax structure for your state that adds tax to the cost of a gallon of gas; inform yourself of how the global market works.
  5. Pray. Pray for the Ukrainians for strength, that the world will support them enough to repel the Russian force and pray for the Russian people that they will be moved to demand an end to the war.
  6. Observe the comments made by politicians of any party. Listen, if you can, to not only what they say, but to the underlying message to the rest of the population of this country. If their underlying message lifts up Russia or Putin or if it dismisses Ukraine as Europe’s problem, or if their biggest concern is that we might need to welcome our share of Ukrainians who now need a safe home; make note of them and do your best to ensure that they not be re-elected. If they represent you in Congress, call, write, protest, and work to field an opponent with values closer to your own. If you go to church, enlist others and consider presenting a united front for peace, and a commitment to loving the Ukrainian people as our neighbors. Doing so does not mean we cannot continue to help the needy in our own communities- it is not an either, or, but a both, and.
  7. In short, do not fall into the “there is nothing I can do” trap. We can and we must step up now to help not just the Ukraine, but to send a message to autocrats world-wide (outside and inside our own country) that the people of the world will not condone their naked greed, their land lust, and their obvious disregard for the lives of civilians. It must stop now.
  8. Do not be distracted from the fight going on here in the polls. Do you disagree with banning books? Do you believe that we need to affirm all families including families that might contain two dads or two moms? Do you believe it is important that we are honest in our portrayal of our history: including an honest accounting of how immigrants to this country treated the native population, the slave trade, the internments of Asian families during WWII, etc. Do you believe we need to make it easy and straightforward for all American citizens to vote?

Be vigilant, be strong, be involved.

The Grand Slap

It has been a week since actor Will Smith walked up to Chris Rock during the Oscar presentations and smacked him in the face, supposedly outraged because Chris made a comment about his wife’s shaved head. Apparently, unbeknownst to some of the viewing audience, she was hurt because she has been diagnosed with alopecia, a disease that results in hair loss, hence the shaved head look. In truth I am not sure how many people really knew of that diagnosis as many folks are busy with their own lives and Ms. Pinckett Smith has been rocking a shaved head since 2009 off and on, and has also worn wigs, scarves and turbans at many outings. She is a beautiful woman with a beautiful head so she has not been shy about baring it at all, as is evidenced being front and center in the audience for the Oscars. Her voice has been drowned out in all the hubbub.

My issue in the Grand Slap is the response. Personally Ms. Pinckett Smith has a perfectly good voice, and a tremendous sense of self-worth, and could have responded directly to Chris Rock herself, if she was hurt by his comment. She is no shrinking violet. I have no doubt that if she got up and walked up to CR and said, “I am bald because I have a disease called alopecia”, there would have been a heartfelt apology from CR; but no, her husband, who, if you look closely at the tape, laughed with the best of them when CR delivered that line and only after getting a side-eye from his wife got up and issued the Grand Slap. Continuing to look at the tape you can see that he was smirking following the assault, and certainly strutting back to his seat, clearly proud of himself. As if that was not enough, he had to have what my dear, departed, mother-in-law called a mouth battle with CR, complete with curse words. Instead of being escorted out, arrested, and forfeiting his upcoming Oscar award; he received a standing ovation, and delivered a very double messaged acceptance speech. He cried and said was protecting his wife, he attributed his actions to love, as some sort of excuse and he proceeded to take up time that should have been given to other Oscar recipients to enjoy and celebrate their big night. He could have simply said,” I am sorry, this Oscar does not belong to me, I failed to live up to the standards of the Academy and handed it back to the presenter and left.

But no, Will Smith had to make it all about him. Listen carefully to the pronouns in his speech. It is all about him, he acts as if he owns her, as if she was his property. We have seen that behavior played out by other public figures: the former President excelled at making every issue about himself till there was no oxygen left in the room. Other politicians: Ted Cruz, Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Green, Lindsey Graham, Marsha Blackburn, and Lauren Bobert come to mind as examples of people who pretend to speak for and protect others but really do not. They want to make others conform to their own personal concept on whatever subject is at hand. Just last week we saw the confirmation hearing for Ketanji Brown Jackson in real time and listened to inane questions (“define woman”) asked of this highly intelligent and accomplished jurist. Rick Santos of Florida believes we should not be able to speak the word gay to our young children or, heaven forbid, allow our children (specifically white children) to learn the real history of our country, both good and bad, for fear they will be “uncomfortable”. Glenn Youngkin recently promoted and signed into being laws censoring the written and spoken word and also promotes a white washing of our country’s history as well. Gregg Abbott has spearheaded laws which would deny other human beings their right to vote and the right for a woman to have control over her own health decisions. All claim to “protect” when really it comes down to who gets to be the one in control.

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not include the person (s)who personifies the controlling malignant narcissist with a capital MN, former President Trump, and his best buddy Vladimir Putin. If you looked up malignant narcissism in the dictionary, I swear you would see their pictures there. It is time for celebrities, politicians, world leaders and anyone who shares these traits and behaviors to put aside their ego and their belief that it is all about them: their well-being, their wealth, their reputation, their power, and allow other people to have a voice and stand up for themselves instead of making it all about you. Cause it is not, and whether you realize it or not, it makes you look like a jerk in the very least, and a war criminal at the very worst.

Let’s let the Academy sort out the disciplinary action, hope that Will Smith sees how inappropriate his actions were, accepts real accountability (even if it is the loss of an Oscar and possible arrest) and learns from his mistake. And then let’s turn our attention back to Ukraine, the threat to democracy here and in the world, and the spouse of a Supreme Court Justice actively supporting a coup.

Aunt Mary- family stories- part two

I love to watch Henry Louis Gate’s show on PBS called Finding Your Roots. My mom was a first-class genealogist, so I grew up with trips to cemeteries tracing ancestors and mother’s excited announcement when she found an 8th,9th or 10th generation relative. My maternal grandfather was also interested in genealogy, so we have the entire family tree back to the Netherlands on Mom’s side. It is interesting to follow the names that show up consistently (Nicholas and Jethro), and some very unique names, like Patience or Luta. I have often read those names and wondered what stories they could tell if we just had a chance to meet over a cup of tea, glass of wine or a beer. Most of the many generations I know nothing about other than their names, birth and death dates. I don’t know if they were kind or manipulative, ambitious or content with life, happy or sad, or if life had been particularly hard or relatively easy. The last three generations above me (parents, grands and great grands) I am fortunate enough to have some stories to relate to my grands. Writing these down might give them some meaning to the pictures and the names on the fan chart. I hope they make them a little more “real”.

Mary and John

It is odd that I would start with my Great Aunt Mary. She died before I was born, so all of my stories are second-hand, but they were stories told to me over the years by my Dad with great love, and it was clear that Aunt Mary was someone extra special in his life. She was the eldest child of Susannah and John, and she had two brothers: John (also known as Papa John in the family) and Mark “Burn”, who was born in 1881 and is your great-grandfather. She never married and lived with Susannah until 1938, then continued to live in the family homestead till her own death about a decade later . Her two brothers bought farms side by side nearby, just on the other side of Cochituate Rd from a blacksmith shop.

Principal Mary

Aunt Mary was a teacher and a principal at the Roosevelt School in tough section of Framingham. It was in an area of town where a lot of immigrants (back then largely Irish and Italian) settled. The school was known for having its “issues”. It is something that Aunt Mary, a single woman, was promoted to principal. She was steely eyed and not one to put up with a lot of shenanigans, but she also had a reputation of being firm and fair. My Dad loved to tell the story of how her students and former students lined the streets at her funeral to pay their respects.

Dad with Beauty the pony and Shep (?) the collie in front of Aunt Mary’s

Aunt Mary gave special attention to my Dad. She took him swimming in the summer at Farmers, Learned, or Sucker Pond, armed with a book and a box of chocolates (a woman after my own heart). He was in and out of her home almost as much as his own. One day my dad was injured swimming and cut his leg badly. He was taken to the hospital, but the doctor did not want to stitch him up unless his parents gave permission or perhaps till he knew he would be paid. Aunt Mary stepped in and supposedly gave the doctor hell for not treating her nephew NOW. My Dad got treated directly and Aunt Mary was his heroine. Dad spent a lot of time at her house where he would ride over on his pony Beauty just to hang out with Aunt Mary.

Aunt Mary, Grandma Alice, Grampa Burn, Dad, John Jr. and Mutt

Very late in his life, Dad told me a story that fascinated me. Dad was not a real emotional man; he came from a long line of stiff-upper-lip Yankees; he did not know what to do with anyone who cried or showed any emotion other than anger. However, Dad told me that he remembered going to his aunt’s house and she would not answer the door or come out of her room. Apparently, it happened several days in a row and my dad perplexed, asked his mother what was going on? What was wrong? My grandmother then explained that Aunt Mary had gotten some bad news in the mail. It seemed that many years ago, she had met and fallen in love with a man, and they wanted to get married. Her parents forbid her to do so, for the man was a horse trainer and that was evidently not a respectable profession in those days. She did not defy them and he moved away and ended up in Florida. She recently received a letter that he had died, (some 40 years later), so she shut herself off from everyone and grieved long and hard. Underneath that strong jaw and steely gaze, was a heart who longed for someone she could not have. Ahh, Aunt Mary, having heard these stories, how I wish we could sit on a park bench at Sucker Pond, share our love of chocolate and books, and talk a bit about family, life and broken hearts.

When my Dad was about 35 or so, Aunt Mary’s uncontrolled diabetes caused her to have her legs amputated and eventually caused her death. She is buried in Edgell Cemetery in Framingham MA, not far from her brothers, nephew, and parents. Dear Grands, if you ever unroll the family fan chart, and you see your great-great Aunt Mary’s name, remember that she was a complex woman who loved your great-grandfather as if he was her own son.

Stay tuned for the next chapter in family history.

Family Stories

John, Jr. 1943 (?)

A year or two ago, my siblings and I were contacted by a veteran’s committee from Framingham MA regarding our dad’s cousin, John, Jr. The committee was honoring those Framingham residents who had died during their time of service in WW2. John Jr, just short of his 20th birthday, died in Germany during the last few days of the war. Along with the invitation to attend the memorial award service was a genealogical list of relatives. On his father’s side was our family, on his mother’s side was a whole host of people we had never heard of, but we hoped we might meet them at the ceremony. Of course, then Covid struck, and the ceremony was delayed for more than 2 years due to different variants and the inability to get Covid really under control, finally the committee just decided to mail out the commendation and the medal this spring.

By the time I was born, my father had one living uncle and aunt on his side of the family: Papa John and Lena. I learned first-hand that there was discord between our family and Papa John’s. My first-person experience was limited to two incidents. The first one occurred one late summer day when I was maybe three or four. I was chasing a monarch butterfly through the high grass just over the stone wall from my grandma’s side yard. All of a sudden, I heard a booming voice who was clearly not happy with me. I looked up and saw a big man with an angry face (of course I was only 3 ft tall at the time). Apparently, I had strayed onto his land, and he made it clear I was not welcome. Of course, being the age I was, my response could have been to kick him in the shins or cry- I chose the latter. My Grandma heard the ruckus and came out from the kitchen door- she was a tall woman and wore a long apron over her daytime dress, and it seemed to me she was always cooking (she did make great pies). The first thing she did was call me home and sent me into the kitchen. Like many kids I thought her raised voice meant she was mad at me which made me cry even more. The yelling continued, as my grandma gave her brother-in-law a piece of her mind and told him to bully someone his own size. Later, Grandma hugged me and told me that she was not mad at me but at the mean man next door. I am sure that a glass of milk and a warm cookie was involved in stopping my tears. My second in-person experience was with Aunt Lena. One afternoon, when Papa John was surely at work, my grandma and I would visit with Lena. She was a sweet lady and she always wanted me to sit on her lap, (I think cookies were involved then too). We would leave before Papa John got home. and it was our “secret”. What I realized many years later was that dear Lena was hungry to have grandchildren and us kids were the closest thing to grandchildren that she would ever have. It was sad that our visits could not have been openly enjoyed by all instead of something we had to sneak past Papa John.

When I was older my Dad told me why Papa John was so angry all the time. He held a deep-seated resentment and anger towards my father, therefore, towards all of us kids as well. My Dad served in the Army in WW2 but served in Augusta, Georgia at Camp Gordon, where he had a work crew of German POW’s. His cousin John was sent to Europe, where he fought on the front lines and was killed just a few days short of the surrender of the German Army and the end of the war in Europe. As if that was not enough, Papa John and Lena had an older son who was severely developmentally disabled. In those days, children like Frederick were sent away or kept at home but out of sight. During WW2 my uncle was required to bring his eldest son before the draft board to show cause for him being ineligible for the draft. Papa John was deeply embarrassed and wounded by this demand. When my Dad was sent to Georgia and his son was sent overseas to his death it was more than he could take. In fairness, I only heard our family’s explanation for Papa John’s dislike of our family. My Dad was no angel, it would not surprise me that Dad may have gotten into a scrape here and there and involved his younger cousin somehow, but in any event, Dad said that Papa John never liked him and all that happened made it worse, so he transferred his anger to us kids as well.

John Jr. at graduation (?)

The rift was never healed during the decades that followed. My grandfather had died a couple of years after the butterfly incident. When my grandmother died some ten years later, Papa John attended her funeral but stood in back. He really looked a lot like my grandfather. We moved to Pennsylvania a few years later and during that time Papa John, Lena and Frederick all passed away. When I think about how often I went by their house as a teen it is sad to think we could not have bridged that gap, gotten over the anger and resentment, and visited with them.

Aunt Mary, Grandpa and Grandma Furber. My father, Mark, his dog “Mutt” and John Jr. @ 1943

After two years the committee in Framingham decided to give up trying to get us all together for the award ceremony and they mailed it to my brother who still lives in Massachusetts. We will mail it around to each other, so we all get to see it. We reached out to the other unknown cousins on Lena’s side with mixed results. Many had no idea who Lena or John, Jr were, nor were they really interested. The cousin I called however, called me back, and we had a delightful conversation. She was anxious to hear the memories that our family had of Lena, their great-aunt, and we sent pictures of John, Jr and our father in their uniforms and my parents wedding pictures where John Jr. was a groomsman. We hope at some point we might have a mini reunion of our own, meeting somewhere in between our respective homes in Maine and Florida. Perhaps there will be a road trip in our future!

John Jr.’s home.

The City that Never Sleeps

I recently had the pleasure (I wish there was a sarcastic emoji) of driving in Manhattan. I never thought I would ever be foolish enough to try it- after all, at my age you should have acquired SOME wisdom along the way, but life has been so weird the last two years that I decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a go.

It started out with an ebay purchase. My husband saw a clock he would have liked, but shipping was not offered- you had to come and pick it up. Now we have done this before and turned it into a travel adventure- taking a couple of days and making a trip of it. When he brought up the idea of going into downtown NYC, I immediately nixed it. David is not the most patient driver, you see, and I just was not up a heart pounding ride that would be accompanied by a lot of prayer and undoubtedly some heated words. So, we let it go, he brought it up occasionally, and we tried to think of ways to travel there that would be reasonable but to no avail. It failed to sell (I guess other people had the same hesitancy about driving into the City That Never Sleeps as we did). Then, in a moment of weakness, I proposed that we go to CT and stay overnight, and I would drive into NYC alone. Less stress doing it solo, although I was concerned that I would not find a place to park in walking distance of the apartment building. He was worried about me driving in alone, convinced I would get clocked over the head (no pun intended). He then, promised me I could drive, and he would ride shotgun, and he would not yell at other drivers or me. We checked out our GPS Maps directions and decided we might give this a try and contacted the seller. He lives in a lovely high rise on the East side of Central Park, Google maps even showed us a picture of the front door with its full sidewalk awning and doorman. We contacted the seller who promised to have it downstairs with the doorman for a quick pick up.

The first snafu in our plan was the fact that our kennel owner decided January was a good time to redo their floors in the kennel and it was closed. My Zane, while a wonderful dog, is not a dog who travels well so bringing him along was a no-go. We asked our granddaughter if she would come and feed the animals and let the dog outside at supper time and we would do a fast drive down and back in one day. No, we did not fall and hit our head we just forgot for a minute how 13 hours in a car wipes us out totally. But, given that the weather was going to be clear but cold, we thought we would give it a go.

The day came and in Maine it was a cold one. Minus 10 or 15, I do not know, when it gets that cold, it almost does not matter. We left early in the morning and headed south with Dave driving to Hartford and me taking over after that. We had our app running with directions, and just in case it died (it has before) I had handwritten them down, which was a good thing because it gave Dave something to follow along with, He and smart phones do not “talk”, a problem he has with all technology, period. Our directions led us in beautifully without a hitch, until we drove onto our street destination. It was one way with cars sandwiched in on both sides leaving a narrow through road. The place for drop offs and pick-ups in front of his building was solid with cars that clearly were going to be there for a while, perhaps the whole weekend, or maybe the rest of this century. As I drove the block, we formulated a plan: Dave would jump out and go into the building and get the clock; he would then walk a short distance to Madison Ave where he would wait at a bus stop/taxi area. As luck would have it, a car pulled out of a space at the end of the block and the car in front of me stuck its blinker on, indicating its intention to wedge itself into the spot. Horns immediately started but I clearly could not get around it and had to wait, so.. tough luck folks. By the time I was back at Madison Ave, I had reprogrammed my maps app, now all I had to do was find Dave. Fortunately, Dave was there, frantically waving. I threw on my four ways and at the last minute pulled mostly into the loading space. Of course, that is typical NYC driving/ parking, so it was completely acceptable. Dave loaded it quickly in the back seat and we headed home.

We laughed about my trip around the block, and his experience waiting for the doorman, complete in a uniform with a ring of keys, to unlock the front door of the building and let him into the foyer to pick up the clock. It really did go smoothly once Dave convinced him that Kathi was not picking it up but was driving the car while he did the picking up duties. The doorman dutifully recorded the change in plans, and it was accomplished. We easily found our way back to Riverside Dr. and rather than take the parkways back out of the city, chose to travel on I-95 (big mistake). Still, we managed to find our way back to the Merrit Parkway and up to Hartford. By this time, I relinquished driving duties to Dave for a while.

All in all, almost no yelling was done, and we marveled at why someone would want to live packed into a city with so many other people and such traffic and trash bags everywhere. We decided that living in Maine with our average of 45 people per square mile was definitely a good thing for us. Living near Augusta (state capitol) might make you think that we might experience some traffic issues, but honestly ten cars in one place at one time is a traffic jam in Maine and mostly that happens at Walmart or some other mall. If you hate shopping the way I do, it is easy to avoid such annoyances. I will concede that if a big snow is called for, the grocery stores attract lots of people getting their milk and bread, but that is easily avoided by shopping early and watching the weather report. We also shop local at small mom and pop shops if possible and shopping online has been a blessing.

I will say that it was warmer in NYC. 31 degrees when I was cruising the block, but by the time we crossed the Maine border it was 17 and it clicked down to zero degrees as we pulled into the driveway. We were so glad to be out of the car and home that we did not care one tiny bit that we were back in the colder climate up here on “the jagged edge of the continent”, as one of my favorite authors (Tim Cotton), calls it. The air was crystal clear. The stars were outstanding and worth looking at, except I was busy watching my step on newly formed ice in the dooryard.

Upon reflection, I am happy that so many people love NYC and are not put off by the congestion and the density. Otherwise, they might find their way to Maine!

Be safe, be warm, and today, stay out of the blizzard if you are in the northeast corner of our country.

Family Reunions, part I-III

Tis the season for turkey, Christmas preparations and family reunions. Our family has had a few of the latter these last few weeks due for a variety of reasons.

The first was a celebratory occasion-a fiftieth anniversary complete with pictures. Having been in the wedding party I was mesmerized by the changes in us all. I was stunned by the tall, slim, dark-haired bridesmaid. Could that have been me? I do remember that the wedding took place on one of the hottest days in Massachusetts that year. It was just 6 weeks after I had major abdominal surgery and the traditional photo shoot was painful. Being much taller than the other bridesmaids, I was one of those who were asked to pose on the grass in the group shoot. Getting down and up was difficult and holding a “lounging” pose was hard on the recently cut tummy muscles. Still, it was fun to look at the pictures of Dave and I in the wedding party (he has zero memory of it at all), of course, we marvel at where the years have gone.

The second family reunion involved the sale of Dave’s grandfather’s family business. If you live anywhere in eastern Massachusetts (and probably much further) and see a recycle/trash receptacle with the name Harvey on it – it is not named for the famous imaginary rabbit, but is named for E.L. Harvey and Sons. The business started as a cattle business back in the day when farms covered the countryside around Boston. Grandpa owned significant amount of land not suitable for farming but it became suitable for the town dump. He had enough land on both sides of the town line that his sons operated the dumps for two different towns. It was not uncommon to get a call telling us that a store was dumping a large amount of unsold product -good for the taking. Family and friends picked the dump and we recycled a lot of perfectly good product that otherwise would have been buried. It wasn’t always pleasant but my two sons wore little striped shirts still sealed in their plastic wrappers from the store for their toddler years. The recycling became big business and those same sons and grandsons expanded the business to what it is today. It has been sold- the end of an era. First time in some 80 plus years that there is not a Harvey descendent running the business. A glass or two of adult beverages and some lobster celebrated the success of all involved. This same weekend I escaped to Cape Cod for a mini-reunion with my brother. Jeff has lived in our home town for most of his life (except for time in the service), and he always rented a home. A year or so ago he and his significant other (they have been together 30 years at least) purchased a home on Cape Cod. I have not been on the Cape for probably 57 years, and my other visit was less than memorable (perhaps a cautionary story for another time). So, I took a couple days and went down to the Cape to visit my brother, visit my best friend from my childhood days who also retired to the Cape and my “Sis”, also a classmate, with whom I share a birthday and many memories of brownies, girl scouts and school. I left my husband visiting his brother and went solo, which does not happen very often. I stayed one night in a motel, and missed an awesome thunderstorm. I wish I had woken up, I would have retired to the front porch to take in the fireworks. The second night I spent at the home of my “Sis”. Shared a lot of meals and caught up with each other, laughing about our school days, and talking about our kids. She and another classmate met at a reunion and married so it was fun to notice the differences in our memories of that time. The visit prompted an ongoing email exchange with my brother and sister documenting the things we remember about our grandparents and parents. There is 7 years difference between my sister and I and so we remember things very differently and Jeff, being a guy, has a really unique perspective and memories that are entirely different from Diane and I.

Our most recent reunion happened following the death of a beloved family member. Sylvia was the last living parent of the Smith brothers and wives. Dave’s parents died in the early 2000’s, two of my sisters-in-law lost their parents even before that, my parents died in 2007 and 2019. At one of the reunions, my sister -in-law asked me if I would consider doing the committal service for her mother, as she could see she was beginning to fail. I agreed and then she said, “You do know she is Jewish?”. Well, no I did not, but that is what research is for. One thing I learned was that when she was very young she joined her husband stationed in post-war Germany, living with a German family so she could be near him. For a Jewish girl it must have been something to be in that place in that time. I wish I had known about that experience when Syl was alive, I would have loved to hear more about it.

Funny thing about family reunions….. it does not take too long before it is obvious we are all in the same boat, getting older, grayer and a little more stiff in the gait. (If I had Alexa I would ask her to play the ad “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!). None of us wear the telltale jewelry to call for help …yet. We wonder where the time went, it seems like yesterday we were the young ones. Then when we think about what a journey we have all been on, we can’t help but realize that now we are the elders. With Syl’s death we recognized that despite decades together, there is still surprises to be learned. I am certain there are decisions we made that we wish we could walk back, if we knew then, what we know now. There are also decisions we know were great ones and we have no regrets. Some of those will be revealed as the years progress and others we will carry to our deaths I suspect. We recognize that we are now the elders in the family and the next round of funerals will start to be our generation. In that respect, we have been lucky so far. We have entered into the get- rid-of- the -stuff phase, and we also take more time to hug, hug a little tighter and a little longer and tell each other “I love you” in more than just a perfunctory manner. We even get emotional and laugh and yes,even cry a little (shocker for my stiff upper lip Yankee family!). There is nothing like family, and family are those who love you, whether they are related or not.

Next time, my pretties.

Dostadning

Dostadning is a Swedish word for what we might call decluttering, only it is more specific as it is a hybrid of the words death and cleaning. Anyone who knows me well knows that cleaning and organizing are not my bag, but it seems that it is not uncommon when one loses a parent and one is of a certain age to dostadning- the process of cleaning out your house before you die rather than leave it for the next generation to deal with. This is where Dave and I have found ourselves: both sets of our parents are gone, yet we still have boxes of items belonging to them and they have come home to roost in our home. Of course, we also have stuff we have accumulated in the last 57 years together.

While neither Dave or I have “one foot in the grave” as they say, we do know that things can happen, and much more quickly than we expect at our age and so we have begun the process of dostadning, making sure that whatever items of value or sentimental value are here that our children want get to them now rather than later . Since we are the holder of another generations prize possessions we also have cousins, neices and nephews to consider. In short, it involves a lot of pictures and emails along with the question: do you want this? In some instances the answer is yes, but in many more the answer is no. Our younger generation live all over the country (AZ and OR) and the world (New Zealand).

This “death cleaning” as it is called has sparked yet another project. When trying to figure out what I really needed to keep I realized that we never got to redecorating our second floor bedrooms. After 20 years, the old wallpaper was barely adhering to the walls and the old horsehair plaster walls and ceilings needed some repair and paint. I also recognize that my ability to do this work is rapidly declining so if I wanted to get the house in order for our enjoyment and in preparation for our kids to sell some day I needed to get going.

Our house is large and very old. Lots of our early work on the house was stabilizing some overdue repairs, and fixing up the downstairs everyday living area. We embarked on our last major downstairs project – tearing apart our kitchen- when Covid hit. It took a year but new windows were installed, all of the room was insulated, we eliminated the ingress and egress for the mice and the squirrels and installed new cupboards, soapstone countertops and the farm sink that are placed at my height that I longed to have. It seems that for the last 50 years I was working at countertops more suited to someone 5’4″ than 5′ 9″ (even if I am shrinking at this point). My back loves the change , and when someone says “but what about the next owner” I just smile. Our carpenter friend unfortunately fell off a roof and has been seriously injured and so a few final touches remain to be done and it will not be truly complete until we refinish the wide pine floors (another job I can no longer do on my own). They must wait till summer when we can live in our camper while they are being done over.

So what does the painting projects have to do with dostadning? As I embark on the upstairs painting projects, I approach each room with a critical eye as to what needs to be in it when it is finished and send the rest to either be given away, taken to an auction or thrift store, or simply burned up. Of the three bedrooms upstairs, I have completed one, nearly completed the other and am already planning for the third. The fourth bedroom upstairs was converted to closets and a bathroom many years ago when plumbing was installed and outhouses fell out of favor. All I can say is that it is good I am doing this now because my ability to paint, scrape, crawl on the floor doing baseboards is very limited. I figure the “redo” will last 20 years and then it will be under someone else’s watch. I also figure if none of our kids end up living here, it will make the house more saleable.

In addition to “death cleaning” our house we also have out buildings to attend to. In our early years in Maine, we also inherited and purchased a few antique cars. Our children were interested in them as well and so it became a family “thing” to go to meets and shows and, of course, ice cream runs. These pursuits were family times and we have lots of wonderful memories of car rides to the coast and lots of break down stories that are remembered at family gatherings. Of course, we have, over the years, developed a first name relationship with our local towing service. When you have antique cars the best deal in town is Triple A plus. Little did we know that the local towing community has an informal competition on who tows the oldest car. Since we owned a 1912 and 1913 Buicks the drivers were thrilled to haul them home or to the shop for us. Like most things though, collecting antiques and antique cars, has a natural life span of its own. Our children’s children are growing up and leaving the nest and as we age, we no longer go to meets and shows. We decided it was time to divest ourselves of cars as well antiques stored in attics and outbuildings. The cars were “gifted” to interested children and grandchildren. They can keep them or sell them whichever they need to do. Two were Dave’s father’s cars and we passed them on to our children/grandchildren. In the midst of all this we “inherited” a new grandchild- so we made sure he got one as well. Some of them still reside on our property but we are working at getting them to their proper homes.

Sidebar: The 28 Chrysler, featured in the picture, was sold back to the grandson of the man who sold it in 1924 and it returned to it’s town of origin, Kingfield, Maine. Before it did, we had many an outing and even used it in a movie trailer for the movie “Lost on a Mountain in Maine”- the story of 12 year old Donn Fendler who was indeed lost on Mt. Katahdin for 9 days back in 1939. We were approached by the young producer who was making a trailer to sell the idea for development. It is hard to make a movie, but it was fun to be a part of it. Dave and Josh and some of our church members participated and our old car was used for part of the shoot. The 20 minute trailer was featured at the Maine Film Festival, it has not been developed into a major film yet, but we are hopeful that someday it will happen. Unfortunately, Donn Fendler died before it could happen but it was great to meet him and read his story.

In 2019 as we began dostadning, we opened an antique shop stocked completely by the items in our attic that we had purchased back in our dating days when going to an auction was a cheap form of entertainment (all for the cost of some hot dogs for lunch). The shop, Carriage House Antiques and Artisans existed briefly until Covid hit and then we closed it permanently, packed up much of its contents and sent it back to auction for someone else’s enjoyment. Two of the artisans moved to other states and so it only made sense. I suspect there will be several more loads to go to auction next summer as the rooms get finished and the attics get purged of their “treasures”.

Also being “thinned” is my collection of looms. While I love them and love looking at them, I can no longer crawl around under them doing tie ups for the different projects being woven. My body just does not bend the way it needs to any longer, so it is time for them to find new homes. I have some really lovely old barn looms that are huge and those are difficult to “place” because most homes do not have big enough rooms to accommodate them, but I am working with a weaving school in Vermont whose students love barn looms and so hopefully I will be able to rehome them.

All the stuff that goes to live somewhere else makes it possible for us to enjoy what we have that much more. We discover old things that we forgot we had and want to keep and send far much more to new homes for others to enjoy. The items we send to our church thrift shop and annual auction benefits the little church and the ministries it supports. The whole process – giving to our kids, donating to the church, rehoming treasured items to enhance someone else’s life, makes it possible to create new memories and space created in our home and our lives brings us a different kind of joy. I think there is a sermon somewhere in all that.

So dear grandchildren and maybe someday great grandchildren, if you read this and you have one of our “treasures”- keep it with our love as long as it brings you joy, but if it stops doing so, pass it on or dispose of it in a way that makes sense to you and do so without guilt.

Grammy out.

Imagining a different life

I never claimed to be a fast learner in all things. It took me a very long time to begin to imagine who I might become when I finally grew up. For many years, I allowed my vision of the future to be heavily influenced by the traditions and expectations of my family, the larger culture, and the educational system of the 50’s and early 60’s. It was a time when girls wore skirts to school, were steered into home economics and typing rather than chemistry and biology, and guidance counselors directed us into teaching or nursing, for further schooling . More than one made the assumption that we would just get married, therefore were not worthy of or needing further education. I heard, more than once, an older man saying that higher education was a waste for a woman, because all it did was take a good job from a man who needed it to support his family. As if women would never need to work to support their family.

As I said, I was not a fast learner, it took me a long time to get up the courage to justify spending family money on my education so I could add to the family income and/or provide for my kids if necessary. I knew that not having a marketable skill made it nearly impossible to find work that could support the family if needed. Literally, I was one paycheck away from welfare.  Enter the five year plan.  Once I broke through all the old-fashioned arguments that played over and over in my head, I found that getting an education was imperative and, once I had a little success, I found it incredibly exciting, and I was committed to getting the best grades that I could.  I could not wait to start my semesters and I became the Queen of CLEP – a way to study a course, challenge it and test out of it. It saved me huge amounts of tuition money and allowed me to study at home while the kids would swim in the pool in the summer. It also affirmed that I had accumulated a considerable amount of information through experience and self study, which did wonders for my self-confidence.  Of course, the college was on the losing end of that deal tuition-wise and later decided to severely limit how many credits you could CLEP , but by then I had graduated.

My undergraduate degree opened the door to more than just a job, but a career path, even if I was a late bloomer. My success in my field empowered me to developing strategies that helped me be successful in managing relationships in my private life as well.  Working in the mental health field meant you had to develop good boundaries, for yourself and for the people you served. It was critical to being able to do your job well and help people develop their own independence and learn to make good decisions. 

Learning how to have and maintain good  boundaries required that I assess my own personal relationships. I seemed to me that the one who had the least amount invested in the relationship had the power. If you cared less, then it was easier to walk away, or threaten to do so.  I was simply not skilled at constructive arguing.  Instead I tended to hang on for dear life as the emotional rollercoaster dived downward, and I clung to the hope that once we climbed back up it would last and even out, and not plunge downward again in a heartbeat. Of course, it did. Finally, after a lot of trial and error and tears,  I finally stepped off the rollercoaster.  I mastered the strategy of “distance with love”. Being able to separate myself long enough to say, “this is not a healthy way to resolve the issue, I am going to choose not to join in the dance “.  Nowhere is it written that you have to attend every fight you are invited to. It is okay to say- I will sit this one out right now. Amazingly, when you set boundaries for yourself, they keep not only you safe, but others as well.  For those of you who figured this out in your late teens or early twenties, my hat is off to you. It took me a couple of decades longer to not only believe it, but to have the courage to put it into practice.

Doing so gave me the opportunity to imagine a different life, and have different relationships, relationships that were more nurturing, relationships in which I felt valued. Relationships where the interaction, the caring, the commitment was mutual.   I was able to let go of relationships that were not healthy, or invest in changing the nature of the relationship to make it healthier, which is not easy, and takes  solid commitment.  So to my grandchildren I say- be able to take care of yourself on your own. Learn how to fight constructively. Develop strong boundaries. If someone seems to be less invested in the relationship- then step back, distance yourself with love and either make changes or walk away. You are worth someone’s investment of time. You are worth someone who cares as much about your health, happiness and self worth as they do their own.  Do not be afraid to imagine a different life, no matter how old you are. It is never too late. 

Grandma out.