Spoons


table-copy“When you are more fortunate than others, it is better to build a longer table than a taller fence.”  Author unknown

Those of you who follow me know that my grandparents came from Poland. But for anyone who has just happened on my blog, the context to this post is that they arrived with little only to find they were not always welcomed. Some of my family members changed their names in order to escape the ski that gave away their heritage and kept jobs from them.  welcome-statureMany in my family worked more than one low-paying job in order to secure a better life for their children. My father’s father helped build the railroad in the late 1800s and ultimately, secured a job as a conductor.  My great-grandmother set up a bakery in their family home, so 3 adults and 6 kids lived on the second floor above it. Everyone worked in the bakery so the two oldest, including my father, made it to college. My other grandfather made hand-made suits. We all learned a strong work ethic and America was good to us. (Want to know more: this is my post on my family’s experience, Mother of Exiles.)

colored-spoons-copyWhen I was little, my friends and I played a card game aptly named “Spoons.” Somewhat like musical chairs there was always one less spoon than players. A card was turned over at the beginning and each person added a card in turns until someone turned over a card that matched. At that point everyone made a mad dive to grasp a spoon because whoever didn’t get one was eliminated.  You played in rounds until there were only two players left and one spoon.  The game was won by the attentive and quick. Hard work didn’t matter. Age helped…as well as a certain willingness to do anything it took to win.

spoon-pile-copyIn this children’s game, the younger and slower could be quickly excluded, but the cards for the next round were just dealt amid the tears. The winners were determined to get their spoon at any cost, even if it left a sister or a friend in tears.  I would “throw” games of “Go Fish” so my sister could win, not asking for a card I knew she had, hinting I had one she wanted and as I aged I threw her the card she needed to win in Rummy….but not in Spoons. Something about getting that last spoon lit a fire in me to win.

soupspoon-copyWhile I know this is not Lord of the Flies level stuff, I can admit to usually being one of the winners. Later, I would learn to compete against myself and spend a career trying to help everyone acquire a spoon.

So perhaps you can see my internal conflict and yet simultaneous understanding of ambition and drive. Perhaps you can also see that in regards to policies toward immigrants at this moment, I look around and see those who think this country has one too few spoons to share. Too many, so many, want taller fences or walls. defianceThey shake their fists, lean over the “treasure,” daring those who arrived late to the game to even think they should have a seat at the table let alone capture a spoon. “Mine, Mine, Mine, Get Away,” they seem to say.

Perhaps, they and their family acquired their spoons the hard way. They worked in the mines, or shoveling coal into steel producing blast furnaces, or bent over assembly lines mind numbingly putting hundreds of screws into pre-stamped holes as cars went down the line, or like my paternal grandfather lugging ties, pounding in the rails. Many of these were a sort of “family” business. Sons followed fathers who followed grandfathers into this work. Typically, it was unionized because often it was the kind of work where men died or were injured leaving needy families, but it was security, food on the table, with a pension at the end. Some of the anger we see comes because generations in their families “sweated blood,” as my mom would say, for jobs that now have evaporated like ice on a sunny day.

baby-spoon-pile-copy“Someone” took away some or all of their spoons. Robotics and other technologies, outsourcing and corporate closures of plants resulted in downsizing, lay-offs, lost or reduced pensions, and fear for themselves, their children and their future, and for their country. It was a disappearing way of life, a vanishing culture.

fieldSo while to many of us, those who still have more than others, or at least enough that we feel secure enough in our homes and lives to still believe in a future, it seems as if building fences misses the bounty on the table of America.  To us, the idea that the son of a coal miner in West Virginia is going to want to pick fruit in California, or trim tobacco blossoms in NC, or pick strawberries in Florida, or apples in New York seems off kilter. The jobs illegal immigrants are willing to do, do not match the blue-collar but middle class income jobs that have gone away.

Many of us still see America as a Field of Dreams….the field that made the Irish, the Germans, the Polish and the Italians come more than a hundred years ago.  Just build a bigger table and invite everyone in, we say because we “know” with the farm workers will also come student and tech geniuses, doctors, and entrepreneurs.

And we may be right. There is even a lot of research backing us up saying the economy grows in times of high immigration. But we may also be missing the point behind the election result.

long-spoon-copySo let me share again a favorite cartoon, this time with a slight twist. It is a two cell cartoon.  The first square shows a small room labeled Hell with a large round table and a pot of food in the middle. Every person has a spoon long enough to reach the bubbling stew. But they are only able to hold the end of the long spoon, so, no one can reach their mouths. Everyone is angry. The second cell shows the same small room with the large table and stew in the middle. Every person has an identical spoon as before, long enough to reach the bubbling stew, still too long to bring to the mouths…but everyone is happy as they reach around the table and feed their neighbor.  This is labeled Heaven.

I was really encouraged by the empathy I saw most recently about the plight of those who were turned away from our shores.  We do have a huge table and we do have big spoons, some might label that second room as America at its best. And yes, we do need to invite EVERYONE to share in our bounty, and that must include those who have been steadily sliding out of the middle class, those who fear to let in the outsider in will further endanger them.  If LOVE is to triumph and really defeat HATE, we need to work hard to be inclusive, and understanding, not just with the refugee, the immigrant, and minorities, but with anyone who is struggling or hurting or being left behind. Not everyone is a bigot – some are just afraid.  We need to mean it when we say everyone can come to the table.

soupspoon-copy

Don’t worry the real bigots won’t join us – they are too busy playing spoons.

 

 

 

Posted in Writings by Wordsmiths and Others | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

A Daughter’s Tribute


part-of-farewell-article-chowan-herald20161130On November 13th, we had a celebration for my husband’s retirement after 45 years in the ministry.

liz-as-jo-lol-20161113It was filled with lots of laughter (A This is Your Life, Doug Eddy! program scripted with a lot of humor – to the left Liz Woodbury as me [my wedding veil] and the doll for our son Chris!), as well as wonderful family and friends, great food, and a few tears…most of those falling when our daughter, who hates public speaking, offered a tribute.

jo-doug-enjoying-skitThe day after all our company left we began to seriously pack for our move, a sort of altered reality. Only now, as we finally are getting genuinely settled, is the reality of his retirement, our retirement, really reaching us and we can look back with a bit of perspective at our lives through the lens of that celebration.

We had asked Gretchen for a text of her remarks and I reread them the other day. As parents, I think we all wonder if the messages we hoped to teach our children really get through. Even when you see them exemplified in their lives and amplified by their own personalities, you can remember every mistake you ever made as a parent, and wonder how your children saw you and what context who you were created for them.

Gretchen’s touching remarks walked us through our lives from her point of view, and it meant so much to me, I asked her if I could share it with you.

Gretchen’s words:

church-sign-copy“Thank you to the Edenton church for taking such good care of my parents…

“When I was preparing for today, my first thought was to talk about all of my parents’ accomplishments, the extensive community work that they did, the awards that they have won and their time at Ground Zero, but my parents are extremely humble, so I decided to talk about being their daughter. It is very important to my dad that this be a celebration of my mom, as well, because he is tremendously proud of her. We are, too.

grey-ella-1“When my father first decided that he wanted to go into the ministry, his parents were not really in favor of it. They worried about the challenges and financial security and like all parents, they wanted that security for their son. But my parents’ calling was strong and they had a dream about what their life would look like and they decided to accept the challenges.

[Ella and Grey, Gretchen’s children]

My grandparents were correct, with two small children, it was certainly a challenge at times to make ends meet. There were times that they worried about having enough food on the table, but somehow they made it happen.

chris-and-grey-20161113“We have talked about the hours it takes to be a minister. There were calls in the middle of the night and we didn’t know what was happening, but we knew that someone needed help. My father managed to do this while pursuing his doctorate. My mother worked full-time and went to school to get her MSW. There were times when my mom worked 3 jobs. We didn’t have the brand name clothes or the best cars, money was tight, but when I think about my childhood, that doesn’t even enter my mind.

“My earliest memories are at the church camp that my father ran in Buffalo. There were lots of kids and activities. The counselors were members of the youth group, in their teens, but even at 4 years old I was    [Grey and our son Chris at right] convinced they were my best friends. My favorite memories there are of our bonfires on the beach when my dad would play his guitar and lead us in a variety of folk songs. Yes, we definitely sang Kumbaya.

salvation-army-bell-copy“When we moved to Syracuse, every year I would ring bells for the Salvation Army with my mom at the giant kettle in our local mall. I believe we started when I was about 8 years old. After our shift, we would take a tag from the Tree of Lights and go shopping for someone who may not have a Christmas without that tag.

“I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time at the Salvation Army daycare center. At one point, when I was around 11, I became an assistant teacher, almost by accident.”  (Proud mother’s note: Our lead teacher in the 6-year-old class went out for surgery, our assistant teacher was trying, but Gretchen, competent even as an 11-year-old, just took over. She told the assistant teacher what needed to be done, organized the lessons, and seeing distress in one little boy, put him on her lap to read him a story.) But back to Gretchen’s words:

thanksgiving-army-motto-copy“I remember one Thanksgiving my mom got a call that a family was looking for a Thanksgiving basket that had long since been distributed. When she hung up the phone, she told my boyfriend (now husband) that we needed to go to the store and we shopped for everything you would need to make a Thanksgiving meal. When we were done, we went to the family’s home. My mom told the woman that we were able to find one more basket. As we brought in the bags, their children were peeking out at us from the stairs. This was one of the most meaningful Thanksgivings I have had.

wounded-bird-copy“Often times, I would go to my parents with what they would call my wounded birds. I remember one Christmas, I was working at BJs with a single mom who worked 2 jobs. She told me that she wasn’t going to be able to buy her boys Christmas gifts that year because she was struggling to just keep up on her bills. So I did what I always did. I called my Dad. I told him the situation and asked him to help. Christmas was only a week away and my dad told me there was nothing left, but that he would see what he could do. I took a private collection at work and managed to gather a small amount, but before the end of the day, my dad showed up with a large donation. My friend, who worked so hard, was able to buy gifts for her children that year.

Grands at Christmas copy“I remember asking my father how he was able to find a donation so late. He told me that as he was leaving the church, a man showed up and said that God had been good to him that year and he wanted to make a donation. Did this man actually exist? I don’t know. What I do know is that my father is one of the most selfless people who I know and that never, not even one time, has he ever let me down.

“So what I would like to say is thank you, Mom and Dad. Thank you for taking the challenging path and for giving me this childhood. You have given me deep roots, shown me to have the passion to fight for what is right and how to give someone a voice when they may have lost theirs. I am profoundly grateful and proud to be your daughter.

jo-doug-leaves-on-the-sein-per-chris-bunch“I hope that you enjoy taking life a little slower, although I have a feeling there will be some sort of community work before I know it. You have done what you committed to each other. You have touched countless lives and have made this world a better place.

“Today has been tough, you are my minister, too, Dad. It is emotional to think I don’t get to see you preach again, but Grey told me that if I ask nicely, maybe you will preach in our living room.”

…well, that may take a while.

cross-copyDoug is enjoying not having to preach. He always described writing sermons as a bit like producing a term paper every week, not just a couple of times a semester, but week in and week out. The unrelentingness of the task is not all: it needs to meet the needs of every life in the congregation, no matter age, or situation, and speak to every hurting soul there present. And if that isn’t enough pressure, you are doing this for God, as well, so you are not allowed, or don’t allow yourself, a merely adequate sermon.  To use a sport’s analogy, Doug loves those, you can’t even just bat over 300 like the great Babe Ruth, because that would mean (only) getting a hit one out of three times at bat. No, you need to hit a home run out of the park every time while doing all your other pastoral duties as well.  So, after forty-five years, and batting close to 900, a little rest at this point seems fair.

…so give him another month or two, Gretchen. Then, plump up the pillows in the living room, and bring out that great rocking chair you bought him. Let him sit down… Then, have Grey ask him.

Posted in Writings by Wordsmiths and Others | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Leaving a Trail – Forging Ahead


trail-copy“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have been known as a collector of “treasures.” A few awards, some mementoes collected over time, most given to me by others, lined a shelf in my office at The Salvation Army in Syracuse. There was my magic wand, all social workers need one of those, of course, and a duck one of my managers gave me because she thought of me as the Mama Duck, and the Family Services management team as my ducklings.

eagle-copyAnother of my favorites was a small framed picture another manager gave me of an eagle soaring with a Knute Rockne quote that read: “Leadership: Eagles do not flock, you find them one at a time.”

I believe that a big part of my work has been to help others learn to soar, to rise as high as their wings could go, and for my managers, to also help them discover the leadership I saw in them, to assist and guide as they cleared away any obstacles they might face, and to live with the integrity and values foundational to leaders. At least this was what I tried to do, modeling my leadership on Bobbie Schofield, our Executive Director. I think the entire executive team did the same because Bobbie inspired us so. She was an expert at finding the eagles among us, and seeing eaglets even amid a world filled with ugly ducklings.

emerson-quote-copyIn downsizing to move to my new house, I have pared away many of these items. However, a stone with a motto on it that I chose for Doug now resides on my new desk in my new home. It reads, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

I’m keeping that one.

In the woods behind my house when I was growing up, there were many paths. Some were well-worn, beaten into hard bare earth by many feet, and there was one major thoroughfare, a shortcut from our neighborhood to our school…we all followed that one.forest-path

But my favorite thing to do was to go exploring off the beaten path, searching for “discoveries.” J.R.R Tolkien described Bilbo as someone who looked at maps and questioned what lay beyond the borders of the known. That is me, too.

I love solving puzzles, meeting new expectations, living up to challenges, acing tests, designing new ways to serve an unmet need, learning new things, discovering new tidbits of interesting information, creating hypothesis and seeing if they are true, daring myself and others to go further and do more…often with less. I honed many of those skills over a lifetime, and have taken them into many unforeseen pathways.

For 2017, the latest unexplored territory will be our retirement.

unknown-adventure-copyFor a while yet, since we moved in December, it will be figuring out our house and where to fit things…and deciding some things no longer fit. As spring comes, our new yard, a pretty blank slate, will also await. So, I know there will be lots of digging in my future. And of course, there are still this blog and my book…I need to get back on track with my agent and publishing quest now that our move is almost behind us.

magic-wand-copyWhat else awaits is…unknown! What a gift! A new lease on life to discover.  New directions, maybe new work, volunteering – All kinds of possibilities to explore.

As always, I will try to leave a trail….and just in case, if you want, you can borrow my wand.

Until then, I will close out the end of this momentous year with a poem that came to me as thoughts of Dylan Thomas and Thoreau rolled through my head as I wrote this:

The Path to a Deliberate Good Night

No need to rage if life is passionately lived,                                                                           Embraced, delved, explored, even in twilight times.                                                                          The barest bones contain the sweetest marrow.

No need to abandon gentleness, goodness, caring.                                                                  Even tears shed in farewell, especially tears,                                                                         Reflect the light of love found in shooting stars.

No need to fear approaching darkness,                                                                                           Shine a light for another, raise high your lamp,                                                                               And you can always see your path.

Sing, sing away the sunset of the dying day,                                                                             Love, love away the night till morning come,                                                                                   Live, live, and leave behind a path past the horizon.

Happy New Year my friends.

Posted in Inklings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Christmas in the Stars – a Lesson from Star Wars


star-wars“The happiness your toys bring…is your gift.” S. Claus in The Meaning of Christmas

The original Star Wars movie was released in 1977. Our son, Chris, was seven, and our daughter, Gretchen, was three. So, Chris saw the movie first, going with a counselor from the church camp my husband ran as part of his job at that time. Chris had a huge crush on Julie and asked her to take him…it was his first “sort of” date. millenium-falcon-copyOver the next few years, he began to collect Star Wars figures, a Millennium Falcon, a light saber, and we saw the movie several times. He LOVED Star Wars. Finally, when Gretchen was six in 1980, it was re-released just before the Empire Strikes Back was due to come out, so she saw it as well.

snowman town lightsAs was true for a lot of our life, but especially before I went back to work, money was tight. I scrimped and saved all year for Christmas and planned it down to my last penny, like a general marshaling the last of his troops. But the universe, (God to me), had a different message to give that year. It happened this way:

christmas-stollen-copyBy 1980, we had moved to Syracuse. Doug was a Pastor with three Christmas Services on the 24th. So that Christmas Eve, the children and I frosted the last of our cookies for Santa (The recipe is in my blog post Santa Cookies – Making Christmas Memories) and I started the Stollen dough that would be our Christmas morning’s breakfast bread. Then, Chris and Gretchen and I ran to the store for more sprinkles, whose purchase was going take my last $2.00.

christmas-in-the-stars-copyOf course, front and center as we walked into the store, there it was on display: Christmas in the Stars: A Star Wars Christmas Album record. The kids were beside themselves with excitement. I don’t remember what it cost, but I didn’t have the money. So, I tried to talk them out of it – “why, we didn’t even know what it sounded like” – but to them it was Star Wars…so it had to be great. Of course, I was heartbroken as I told them I just didn’t have any more money. Gretchen still had confidence, “Don’t worry, Mommy, you have checks.” But that only works if there is money in the bank, and my Christmas money was spent. More explaining….Chris was crushed.

santa-claus-copyChristmas junkie that I am, I had always been determined that Christmas would be the one time of year my kids would not do without even if they were preacher’s kids. So, I was equally crushed. But not Gretchen, and I heard her confidently say the words every parent dreads:  “It’s ok, Chris, we’ll just ask Santa for it. It’ll be ok, Mommy.” She believed in Santa and his ability to grant wishes with every fiber of her being, the trust shining in her eyes.  Chris, who had decided immediately after Christmas the year before that Santa no longer existed, looked at me, and wisely said nothing. Yet, more explaining. “Santa’s sleigh is probably already packed, honey. He may not be able to get it into his bag on time to get it here this year.”

santa-mailboxWe finished our baking, ate what had to be a quick dinner with Doug, and went to the 7:30 Christmas service. Then, we raced home. Time to write our notes to Santa and put out the cookies. Gretchen confidently wrote in her note: “Santa, please bring the Star Wars album for my brother.”

Once the kids were finally settled down, I explained to Doug what had happened as he opened cards people at church had given him. Just as I told him, he opened one that had $20 in it. We usually used any money we received at Christmas to pay bills, and to save to give us a little bit of money for emergencies in the months ahead. It never lasted the whole year, and we needed every penny, but Doug handed me the twenty dollar bill, and I raced to the store,  thinking all the while that I would spend this money that we really needed for what would probably be the worst album that had ever been made. Yet, there was no real choice, Santa couldn’t let Gretchen down (or even disbelieving Chris, either).

c3poChristmas morning, on the very top of the jumble of gifts under the tree, wrapped in Santa paper, there it was: Christmas in the Stars. Chris actually jumped for joy – perhaps even restoring his faith in Santa a little. Gretchen, just thrilled for him, said, “I told you Santa would bring it.” The ah ha moment came to me then: Santa had honored my daughter’s faith. It’s just that like God does, he works in mysterious ways.

We put it on the turntable: “Christmas in the Stars, Christmas in the Stars, what a Merry Christmas it will be,” C3PO sang. “Christmas in the Stars, out among the stars, underneath the Christmas tree…” he continued, and “Our hearts are full of joy, full of joy,” sang back the droids working in a factory making Christmas toys.  r2d2-copyThe concept of the album was of a Santa’s Workshop where droids made toys and wondered about the boys and girls who received them.

It was hokey, “What Do You Get a Wookie for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb)” [Jon Bon Jovi sang in his debut on that one] and “R2D2 We Wish You a Merry Christmas” but the music was catchy, melodic, had a beat, and was well produced.

The message was better.

The last song on the album, The Meaning of Christmas, actually brought me to tears. It still does. It begins with this discussion between C3PO and S. Claus, Santa’s son (singing in italics)

C3PO: Mr. Claus, pardon me for asking, but what does Christmas really mean? Could you explain it to us.

S. Claus: “Of course, I would be happy to.”

Christmas is a time for joy. Christmas is a world of snow. Christmas is our own face shining with a special glow, and as any child can see, Christmas needs a Christmas tree, linking tiny lights with family close at hand. Christmas wreaths on every door, Christmas carols by the score, Christmas is a time for peace and love.

star-wars-boy-and-girl-copyWhen we say, I can love you, my gift to you, is that I do, will you all say with me to each other, I can love you, my gift to you, is that I do, I do.

I don’t know if our kids ever knew how much love I felt that Christmas morning. Love for my son who adored Star Wars. Love for my daughter who loved her brother and believed in Christmas. Love for my husband who probably had a hundred uses for that $20 – but gave it to me without a second’s hesitation to make our son and daughter happy. But what I do know is the belief in my heart that day, the joy in the knowledge that our children were the greatest Christmas gift I ever received, and that while we ultimately replaced the record with a CD, Christmas in the Stars is the first album we have listened to every Christmas morning since that day.

So as C3PO says at the end of the album: “Merry Christmas everyone, and may the Force be with you always.”   Want to listen for yourself (seems appropriate that my first YouTube in a post is this):

Posted in Inklings | Tagged , , , , , , | 18 Comments

A Different Christmas – A Lesson from the Grinch


grinch-movie-copy“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

“Christmas Eve will find me, where the love light gleams, I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams.” Bing Crosby

christmas-mantle-copyThe days are racing. Usually, this time of year it would be my count down to Christmas. It would be putting the candles in the windows, and putting up the tree, picking gifts, baking cookies, wrapping presents, placing Santas I’ve collected on the table, stockings on the mantle and a big Santa in front of the fireplace, a manger set, lights everywhere, while carols play on the stereo, I am a Christmas junkie!  While I wrapped the presents I had carefully selected, I would watch A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

I wait all year for Christmas…and Doug runs around and says, “Bah Humbug” and worries that the real meaning of the season is easy to lose in the paper and the bows. We always seem to find perfect balance between us, each equally overboard in our own way.

christmas-tree-copyThis year there are lots of boxes, but no ribbons. This year it is sorting and taking lots of things that used to be important to the Habitat for Humanity  Restore…hoping they can be just the right thing for a different person, and packing the things we will keep to take to our new home.

Yesterday, at last, we got a “present,” our moving date, December 15th when the moving van will load up our boxes in Edenton, and then arrive at our new home to unpack on the 16th. The marathon of the following week will be to finish cleaning the Edenton house and set up what we can at Shady Stroll Lane.

You see, one week after we move, Doug will have surgery. He will spend Christmas Eve in ICU and Christmas in the hospital. The best present of all will be that we think  the surgery will let Doug truly enjoy his life in retirement.panorama-of-christmas-copy

So, Christmas will be different this year.

“It will arrive without ribbons. We won’t have any bows,
no wreaths, no lights, no presents to show.                                                                                   No star topped tree with a village below.                                                                          Christmas will come as quiet as snow.

Christmas will be different this year.

There’ll be no stockings to hang,                                                                                                      No big celebration, no great large whiz-bang.                                                                               No bells to jingle, no gong to clang,                                                                                               Just beds to set up, and curtains to hang,

Christmas will be different this year.

But if we had no bed, no place to stay,                                                                                               A stable our home, a manger with hay,                                                                                             A star overhead would still shine till the day,                                                                              And the song of the angels would still have its way.

As silent as snow, peace would drift through the door,                                                          Good will would still find us and show how at its core                                                   Christmas is not having wrapped gifts galore,                                                                                In fact, Christmas could never be bought in a store.

Hearts always grow larger this time of year,                                                                                   As we stand hand in hand with those we hold dear,                                                                   For the shepherds and angels draw ever so near,                                                                       And tenderly fill them full of good cheer.

Christmas never changes, not for you or for me.                                                             Christmas is family, not what’s under the tree,                                                               Christmas comes from sharing love, I know that you see,                                                      Love is the true Christmas gift and always will be.

It will be a different Christmas this year, but will still be same                                               The child always faithful who knows us by name.

 

Posted in Writings by Wordsmiths and Others | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

Pack Up….and Smile


duffle-bag-copyPack up your troubles in your old kit bag
And smile, smile, smile.
Don’t let your joy and laughter hit a snag
Smile boys, that’s the style
What’s the use of worrying
It never was worth while
So, pack up your troubles in your old kit bag
And smile, smile, smile.

 

Last week, was Thanksgiving and the closing on the first house we have ever owned. book-boxes-copyThe week before that family came from all over to celebrate my husband’s retirement after 45 years in the ministry, so finally we have begun to pack in earnest.  Perhaps with a little luck, we will actually even finish before the moving van pulls away from the manse.

Doug used to have a nightmare that recurred on Saturday nights that he would get to the pulpit on Sunday and wouldn’t have done or would have lost his sermon. Occasionally, it was that he had forgotten his pants and hoped no one would notice since he was wearing his minister’s robe! (Believe me, they would have!)

wrapped-pictures-copyMy latest nightmare is that the moving truck is pulling up and nothing is packed…or we are only half-packed. (Great motivation to get up in the morning and pack like a fiend!)

We moved to Edenton just a little more than 9 years ago, so how could I forget how awful packing really is? The only good news is that I no longer feel the need to exercise. Bending, lifting, and toting boxes of books, kitchen items, china, paintings, and miscellaneous do-dads are aerobic enough! I went to the doctor today and I had lost 4 lbs!

packing-stuff-copyAnd as for reading and pretty much writing (except for  a break in the evening before bed), my mental challenges right now are about how to encircle precious breakables with bubble wrap and get them in a box well enough that they are not reduced to shards of glass when they arrive at our new home…some so precious we are transporting them ourselves, just to be sure!

We came here from a house we’d lived in for 28 years. I thought we had really gotten rid of so many things then, but a few have hung on. The largest hanger ons in our lives have always been books. Doug got rid of many when we moved, but we still moved 100 boxes to Edenton. Thankfully, our Clerk of Session was a librarian, and he and another church member turned an unused room at church into a library for Doug – with wonderful hardwood book shelves. More thankfully still, while again Doug has given many professional books away to some young men about to go off to seminary, the church offered to keep Doug’s library and grant him visiting privileges!

book-box-copy

But we have collected quite a lot of books at old bookstores in Cape Cod over the years, Journeys Through Bookland, old Harvard Classics, Collected works of Dickens and Shakespeare, American Heritage editions of most of the great must-read classics of English and American literature, 5 large bookcases full. So, while our paperbacks will go to the used book store, plenty will still go to our new home!

The hardest things to weed through are what my grandmother called cacko (chat-sko) or cacki (chat-ski), the little mementoes that connect to memories of people and places I have loved. I pick up a piece and before I can weigh out if it should stay or go I am off on a walk down memory lane, making it really hard to let any go. Hardest of all for me are items from my childhood, things that started as my mother’s treasures.

tape-gun-copyEven the twins suffered from this dilemma when I asked them to sort through the toys I began collecting when they were babies….they got very sentimental about quite a lot of them…and we kept all of those…a whole bin, in fact.

So long story short, this has to be a short post since I need to get back to work! Not much time for nostalgia or blogging. As quick as I can, I need to get back to sorting the real treasures from the “send to the Habitat for Humanity Restore” items, and still get as much packed into the old kit bag as possible.

whipping-mixer-copyNow, if I only I could decide if the hand-cranked beater my mom always used to make whipped cream has to come with me to the new house…such an odd little treasure. When I was a child we would take turns cranking and cranking the handle, listening to the crazy metallic whirring, competing to see who could turn it the fastest  until we bent the handle , and…savoring the strawberry shortcake all the more for the work….

….what do you think…maybe there’s just a little more room in our kit bag for memories and a few more smiles?

Posted in Writings by Wordsmiths and Others | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Cast Iron Wisdom – On Seasoning and Giving Thanks


gourds-and-pumpkins-copyTomorrow, I will sit at a Thanksgiving Table at our son’s house. As usual, before I do, I will think about the year and of all the things for which I am grateful. As you know, the ending of this year has been one of mounting intensity not only for our country, but for Doug and me as we arrived at his retirement. So this year, I will ask God’s protection and blessing for America, and I will give thanks for all Doug’s years of ministry, for all the churches and people he has touched, and for all of the ways they have touched and cared for us.

turkey-with-wordsI know I will pause in gratitude for the new home that we closed on this week, making it  our very own, and remember Kris Cuddy, our agent,  and Trione, our finance manager, who gracefully turned a dream into a reality, and I will feel a few thrills of excitement over all that awaits: moving and then decorating, gardening and inhabiting Shady Stroll Lane (best name for a retirement street ever!) turning it into Nana and Boppa’s house.

Then, as always, I will spare a moment for all those who went before, without whom this Thanksgiving and all the ones that have led to it, could not have happened. As they used to say in a TV show from my childhood, most of all I will “Remember Mama.”

mother-and-child-hands-copyWe all take in our mother’s everyday teachings: “Don’t touch, HOT….Watch where you’re walking – I tended not to…Pick up after yourself…You turned it on, so turn it off…Always be polite, say please and thank you…Don’t touch what doesn’t belong to you.” I know you remember all those basics your mother taught you, critically needed to get on in the world…or famously the things you had to have learned by kindergarten.

My mother certainly taught me those things, but so much else as well. I have shared some of her wisdom sayings in past posts, because over the years more and more of her wisdom has become real to me.

mark-twain-copyMany of my mom’s lessons to me were apparent at the time. Others required life experience to understand.  Over the years, something she said would sit far back in my mind until just the right moment and then pop back into awareness when life handed me a reason to see the wisdom of her words.

I’ve always been a great fan of the reputed quote of Mark Twain’s, “When I was fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could barely stand to be around him, but when I was twenty-one I was surprised how much he had learned in seven years.”

I never thought my mother was ignorant…or the virtual swear word in my family, “stupid.”  If you acted ‘just plain stupid’, you were in trouble, for that was almost unforgivable….as in “How could you do something like that, are you stupid?” Stupid equalled ill-mannered and poorly brought up, making ill-considered, irresponsible choices or acting in ways that embarrassed or brought shame to the family.  (To clarify, this was not a condition of intelligence – It was a choice of behavior.) My mother was never stupid. I tried not to be.

But sometimes, I thought I was smarter than she was. I thought I had learned more, or that times had changed rendering some piece of advice no longer relevant.  Now that was ignorant. My mother’s wisdom has stood the test of time.

teflon-frying-panWhen I was 21, I still hadn’t quite reached Twain’s maturity. So, when Doug and I were getting married, I wanted all the latest in my registry of desired wedding presents including….Teflon pans. They were new!  They were non-stick!  I got them. I scratched them. I replaced them over the years, more than once. I gave some to my mom.  She liked them. She sometimes used them…she rarely scratched them.

eggs-in-cast-iron-pan-copyBut one of my mom’s treasures was an old cast iron skillet.  She always made the eggs or pancakes we had for special weekend breakfasts in it. It was the one pan my sister and I were never allowed to wash when we did the dishes.  Mom would carefully wipe it out and put it away.  When I asked why, she said that if we washed it we would ruin its “seasoning.”

That was a piece of wisdom lost on me – I had teflon! New improved, scratched replaced…so new again. She had that old cast iron skillet, seasoned over time, until the day she died.

large-teflon-pan-copyWhen we cleared out her apartment, I took it home. I’m not sure why, but perhaps because I could picture her making meals in it when I was a child. I kept it. And the old skillet sat in the cupboard untouched for years. After all, I still had teflon.

Well, segue ahead. Ten years after my mom died, cast iron pans began to appear in recipes. As they say, everything old becomes new again, and cast iron wisdom began to reappear.

cast-iron-pans-copyI don’t know how long it took for me to finally learn it, to get out the pan, read up on “seasoning,” and learn to care for it.  My mother’s was an old wisdom even when she was young, I had to get older to get it.

You see, she invested in something made to last a lifetime if it was cared for, something that acquired character as it was seasoned by meals and memories. Something meant to be passed on.

I had foolishly fallen in love with the new and momentary, the designed to be replaced, instead of what was designed to endure.

toad-in-a-hole-casts-iron-copyNow, you know I always use these examples from my life as the basis for lessons – today’s is seasoning: Just like mom’s pan, character is created by endurance, by the life experiences we get through, by the choices we make. The polishing of ourselves, like the surface of my mother’s skillet, happens as we are worn to a shiny patina by living our values, sharing our lives with integrity with those with whom we live and work and, I believe, by reaching out to those in need, (or, to stretch the analogy a bit…by feeding others from our pans.)

rusty-pans-copyThe corollary is that if we don’t care for ourselves as well as others, if we make the pragmatic choice because it is expeditious, or would bring a quick reward, or we want to get revenge, or thumb our nose at others, or only serve ourselves, if we contravene our values, we erode. We create pits in our purpose. We rust. We become of no earthly use.

As a social worker, it was easy to live these values in my job, as a pastor’s wife I did that in my church, and as a wife and mother, in my home. We all have these opportunities.

My mother worked for the air force. She could be as gruff as any of the military guys she worked with, but she had a heart and a passion for caring for the people she encountered. She didn’t need to be a social worker to create a patina of kindness as silky as the butter in her pan. burgers-in-cast-iron-skillet-copyShe “mothered” and brought home airmen away from their families, and was the very best and caring friend, and she believed her children’s abilities, backing up that belief by working to assure we had college money in an era when mothers didn’t work. Her cast iron enduring wisdom is my foundation.

Teflon, the non-stick, slick surface may last for a while – like a candidacy where nothing the candidate said, no many how egregious it was, stuck, but white nationalism cannot succeed forever in a country ever more diverse. And at our roots, our country is grounded on solid values and they will pop up again and again and keep reasserting themselves.

thanksgiving-bounty-banner-copySo for me, this Thanksgiving I am going to give thanks for the things that sustain us, the love of family, the heritage of wisdom, and try to keep polishing my character. Cared for, cast iron will endure forever.

 

 

 

 

Posted in The Call | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments