Category Archives: Looking Back

Story Time


I was standing behind my youngest daughter, brush in hand, working my way through the big snarl that often forms in her hair overnight.  I don’t know how she does it, but it’s always in the same place, in varying degrees of twisted and intertwined mats.  To take her mind off of my tugging and the pain I was obviously causing, I began a “when Mama was young”-type story.

“You know, I used to spend hours untangling knots just like this from my horse’s tail when I was about your age.  We used to call them fairy knots and imagine mischievous pixies dancing on the horses backs and weaving the strands in and out, just to give us extra work.”  I thought she would like the image of those trouble-making imps taking the horse’s tail and messing it all up.  Instead, she went a whole different direction with it.

“Does that mean you think my head looks like a horse’s behind?” she asked, with a gleam in her eye.

Some things just don’t come out the way you intend them, especially when you have a smarty pants for a kid.  I lifted one eyebrow in her direction and let the words “If the shoe fits, deary…” roll around in my head.  Wonder where she gets it from?

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Filed under Day to Day, Looking Back

Happy Birthday, Dad


Every Spring I think about the forsythia we left at the old house when we moved to the new, almost eighteen years ago.  When we bought our first house, my father brought small tubs of forsythia that he had grown from cuttings from his own multitude of bushes. He had cut them and put them in water, moving them to the portion of the garden he called his “nursery” when they got enough root on them.  There they spent one or two years branching out, growing stronger, tended by him, until they were robust enough to move.  He tenderly dug them up, bringing them to my new home, my first house, helping me to plant them so I could enjoy the bright yellow every April like he did.

From him I learned the patience it takes for such things, that not everything comes immediately.  You have to look into the future and see what you will need, and plan accordingly.  He was always puttering around, both never still and always still.  A steady stream of varied but unhurried work would be interrupted by a routine of breaks, to the point that you would know where he was when.  In the Spring through the Fall, he was most always outside on the acre of land they had.  In the winter, he had projects in the house or more frequently, in the workshop he had made for himself of half the garage.  I would slip in the makeshift door, trying not to let too much heat out from the space heater, and sit on the stool and watch him work.  Enveloped by the smell of fragrant sawdust, he taught me woodworking and a little about metal working, though I don’t have the machines for it now.  He was a tool and die man by trade, and had a craftsman’s ethic to go along with it.  He could copy anything he saw that we wanted, and do it better.  He taught me that you always finish the back of a piece, even though it might be hidden.  No one else would see it, but you would know it was as beautiful as the front.

He delighted in all the grandchildren my brothers and I graced him with, sharing the wonders of his workshop and the fruits of his labors with them.  All but one were girls, and they had him wrapped around their small fingers.  I would catch his looks of pride and amazement out of the corner of my “busy mother” eye.  No matter how harried I got, he always could calm and cajole them.  I think that when they were babies they were fascinated by his creased smile and white shock of hair, but as they got older, they competed to make him laugh.

Our neighbors would always know where to come for a special tool or advice on how to get something done.  The man next door once sent his wife to Dad for a left-handed screwdriver, which she diligently came to get.  Dad calmly took her into his shop and made a credible show of finding just the right one and sent her home with it.  He retold and chuckled about that story until we lost him to lung cancer only a month after my last daughter was born.

Today he would have been ninety-four years young.  Happy Birthday, Dad.

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Filed under Family Relationships, Looking Back, Loss, Seasons

Big Red Bus


“I’m here to pick up the big, ugly van.” The man behind the counter didn’t hesitate or ask my name. He went right to the key for our old conversion van and started printing up my papers.  The van doesn’t see much use anymore, but is available for times we help with the high school band bottle and can drive, or haul sails and winterized equipment back to the boat, or pick up lumber at the home store.  With this little spring tune up, it’s ready for service yet again.

For many years that maroon behemoth was my drive-around car.  I used to drop off and pick up kids from school, go grocery shopping, drive to the mall, run errands, and be able to transport almost a whole troop of Brownies on a field trip.  I didn’t think twice about hopping into it and zipping wherever I needed to go; rain, snow, sleet, whatever.  When I got my little car, it seemed so small and unprotected.  I felt almost too close to the road, like my behind was right on the pavement.

Today, I opened the door and peered up into the interior. Grabbing the handle, I hoisted myself up to the seat and buckled up, overlooking the local realm from a high perch.   Taking my time and carefully backing out of the spot, I eased into the lot and then out onto the busy road.  I felt like an elephant in a world of ballerinas, needing to take my time and be careful and gentle as I moved through their world.  As I maneuvered it back into its regular spot in the driveway, I felt a little relief that I had made it the few blocks home without a problem.

It’s all a matter of what you’re used to, I guess.

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Filed under Changes, Day to Day, Looking Back

Ready, Aim, Fire


Sometimes I wish I could find all of the poems and stories I wrote in college.  I vaguely remember them, my memory being worlds away from photographic, but there were a couple I recall fairly well. I ran across two of them in a file card box I was sorting this morning.  I remember the girl that wrote them, but I don’t know her anymore.

There was a writing assignment in college, due on a Monday, of course.  Sunday afternoon I spent several blank hours trying to come up with the required poem and depth of thought, and the only thing that materialized was a lamentation on writers block and how it made me feel.  It was what I was living at the time, so was a rather immediate and heartfelt offering, meeting at least those two requirements of the assignment.  I just can’t bring myself to embarrass that college student that was me, so I won’t post the poems I found.  Perhaps my creative writing professor appreciated my ode to writer’s block all the more for it having been preceded by stuff like that.

Today I’m feeling a little like that Sunday afternoon girl of so long ago, though posting in this blog is a self-imposed assignment.  That’s one of the changes that occur as you grow up – you make your own goals and targets.  Does that make it easier to miss them or more difficult?

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Filed under Accomplishments, Dedication, Finding Inspiration, Looking Back, Success/Failure, Writing

Climbing Out Of Childhood


We have a cedar climber at the back of the yard that used to get played on hard. We researched the best ones, ordered it in pieces, and spent a weekend building it with some friends when our first daughter was two and couldn’t even really use it yet. I hung an infant swing from a yardarm for her newborn sister to safely sway while I spent hours pushing her as she clutched tight to the pegs on the horse-swing. It was quite a few years before she learned to pump her legs on the regular sling swings, and the day she did was something of a celebration for me.  Though I had two more children to get to that point, the independence it gave both of us was sweet.

All three girls found parts of the structure that were their favorites, though different sections were prime in different phases of their childhood.  We had a toddler’s bouncy horse we left outside near the structure that used to get fed a mixture of mud and grass after the kids got too heavy to safely ride it.  The pirate look-out off the one end let the girls watch for any hazards or threats.  There were kitchen toys in the bottom section of the gazebo that were really meant to be inside items but just worked much better out there, growing faded with use and sunlight.  The interior maze of the slide side of the climber got too hard to negotiate as they got too large for the bends and turns, so they just went up the outside of the tower like monkeys to get to the top of the slide.

They aged out one by one, as other pursuits became more important. The slide tower is now a spider’s paradise, the gazebo tower leans a little to the east, and these days all three girls could reach up and touch the swing ladder without having to stretch much. It’s time for it to go, before we fill the yard with well-wishers and relatives and neighbors celebrating that former two-year-old’s completion of high school.  On the one hand, it will be nice to get our yard back and make it a little more adult and clear; perhaps I’ll get a grown-up gazebo out of the deal.  On the other hand, I am a bit sad to contemplate looking out there and not seeing it.  It has been a part of the view for a long time, and it’s disappearance will be a concrete admission that our girls have grown up.

The older girls don’t seem to have a problem with helping us dismantle it and move it to the trash, little by little, but the youngest girl is closer to having used it. She is more reluctant to see it go away so we may have to save the blue canvas-topped gazebo tower, move it back into the ivy out of the glare of the neighbor’s houses, and refurbish it into a pre-teen reading retreat.

That’s not a bad compromise.  Maybe if I don’t get my grown-up version she’ll let me join her every so often this summer.  I’ll bring my own pillow.

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Filed under Growth, Looking Ahead, Looking Back, Parenting, Traditions

Life, Redux


People who keep journals have life twice. ~ Jessamyn West

Perhaps it’s rather narcissistic, but I occasionally find myself re-reading my old posts.  They seem to act as a reminder; whether I am trying to accomplish something or create something new, the old helps in the shaping.  Other times, it’s just a calming influence, a proof that there is some order to my world.

There is a value to reliving both my good times and my mistakes.  Not only does it remind me not to make the same missteps or encourage me to try again, it creates a sense of history and a narrative that can be shared.  In an online version of a journal my life becomes a little more transparent, and I find myself more accountable for the things I plan.  If I say I will do something, perhaps someone will ask me about it later, to see how I am doing.  What will my answer be if I don’t follow through with what I say I will?

We have lost the tradition of telling life stories in this world of sound bites and 18 minute long half-hour television programs.  We rarely are storytellers ourselves. Instead, we read or watch.  The oral tradition of times past has moved into a digital age, making this record of what I do and think an outgrowth of that story-telling urge.

There are many things I wish I could ask my parents about.  Times when I was small, things that I vaguely remember happening or stories I only remember part of.  The “Horace, My Pet Mountain Lion” ramble that my mother told hundreds of times and hundreds of ways, in a humorous, affected “lithp”.  The time I let the cat lick one side of a cherry sucker while I licked the other.   What my brothers liked to do and say.  Had my mom or dad kept a journal or a written account of some of the mundane, day-to-day happenings, I think I’d read it with tenderness and thanks now that I don’t have them as touchstones.

The memories I have set down in these posts let me relive my personal experiences.  Perhaps later they will let my girls relive a few things from their own stories.

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Filed under Day to Day, Looking Back, Parenting, Reflection, Success/Failure

Say Goodnight


I don’t know quite when it began, but my oldest daughter and I hardly ever say good night to each other anymore.  If we do, it’s because every now and then I knock on her door on my way to bed to get what turns out to be an air kiss, hardly a touch.

When she was just a baby (and the first child of rather baby-ignorant people), getting her to sleep became my Holy Grail.  She was a light sleeper.  I was so sleep-deprived and exhausted that getting her to conk out for a little while was a major goal, but keeping her from waking was more like a scene from Raiders of The Lost Ark.  If she fell asleep nursing, I would slowly, carefully, lay her in her crib, inching my hands out from under her and gently covering her.  Then began the ordeal, for I couldn’t just walk out.  The floors were wood, and there were boards that creaked.  If I stepped on one she would wake up, so I left the room Indiana Jones-style, one step at a time, on a pre-discovered path that mostly avoided the squeakers and had to be negotiated lightly, putting the weight of one foot down slowly before lifting the back foot.  It must have looked comical, but I assure you: at the time it was dead serious business.

When she was a preschooler she slept much better.  Then night times became rituals of story-telling and a particular rhyme, in a call and answer style.  The favorite lullabies would turn on, hugs and kisses would be shared, and the “Sleep Tight” poem had to be exchanged.  Then she could sleep.

In elementary school she was quite active, occasionally getting splinters on her trek through her day.  She hated having us try to remove them, so we would wait until she fell asleep and go in and pluck them out.  It worked, so she must have slept very well then.

In high school she joined the ranks of teens everywhere and slept past noon, if allowed.  Staying up too late and sleeping the morning away would be the preferred schedule, but a little thing called “school” continues to get in the way.  Now, more often than not, I go to bed before my teens do.  I leave them still doing homework, because at this point I don’t operate as well on just a little sleep as I did for all those years.

I still get hugs and kisses from my middle girl.  In fact, she demands them often and to the point of irritation sometimes.  I don’t think I’ll complain anymore, though, because it occurs to me that goodnight kisses from my first girl slipped away, and I didn’t even notice it.

Maybe now she’s the one quietly traversing the quest-like path so I won’t wake up to the fact that she is moving on.

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Filed under Changes, empty nest, Family Relationships, Looking Back, Parenting