Thursday, December 11, 2014

Oh, Happy Day!

Gloom we always have with us, a rank and sturdy weed, but joy requires tending.

Barbara Holland

Sometime in the late 1980s I came to know a woman who I will call Gloomy Gussie. The details of how this came about are lost in the fog, but she had the contract to clean the post office, and she arranged for me to fill in for her when she couldn’t get to town because of bad roads or other reasons.

The people who worked at the post office did not like her very much, mainly because of her attitude on the job and she was so unfriendly. If GG was cleaning the lobby when customers walked in, she was often rude or made unkind remarks.

So no, she was not a favorite there, and at the end of that fiscal year when the contract came up for bid, the postmaster asked me if I would like to have the job. I said I would, so he rewrote the contract and added some requirements that meant GG could no longer perform the job. I placed a bid and won the contract.

I had a good time cleaning the post office. I met a lot of interesting people in the lobby and enjoyed interacting with the people who worked there. I gave up the contract after about 15 years because we were just getting too old and stiff to meet the contract’s requirements to take care of the floors and shovel the snow off the sidewalks, and haul the lawnmower in to mow the lawns, and a few other things that were required.

But I am at the post office every day to pick our box mail. GG also has a post office box and so we often meet at the door of the post office.

We have had rather monotonous weather for about the last 10 days consisting of an almost uniformly gray sky, a lot of rain and fog, and rather cold with a sometimes biting wind. The blessing is that it is always well above freezing, so all of the moisture has stayed liquid instead of forming layers of ice. I am so thankful for that.

On one such morning a few days ago I saw GG at the post office and said,

“Hi, GG, how are you doing?”

Often a question like that gets little more than a shrug, but this time she actually had something to say:

“I am not very happy. I am tired of the rain and the cold.”

I was not surprised by her comment. And yeah, I get it. There are times when the weather can indeed cause a lot of stress. But I also get how important it is not to let the outside weather influence the “inside weather.”

We are advancing into a “hard time” of the year for us as couple, and I know what can happen if we focus on the rank and sturdy weed of gloom and how important it is instead to tend the internal joy “inexpressible and full of glory” that we are promised as Christians through our relationship with the Lord. If we are always depending on external things to make us happy, we are indeed likely to be very Gloomy Gussies.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Crazy Dog Man

It wasn’t long after I brought Mollywog home from the animal rescue...

that my dearly beloved began to call me the "crazy dog lady."

I don’t think I am a crazy dog lady—I rather prefer to think of myself as a “responsible pet owner”—and I don’t want him thinking that I have become “loopy” or unhinged or unbalanced over the dog.

So I try to “watch it,” and not get too over-the-top obsessive about her, and I take his teasing in stride.

Early in the summer, my niece and her husband opened their hearts and their home to an old dog, Mr. Darcy, whose elderly owner had died, leaving him homeless.

I had heard quite a lot about Mr. Darcy and the struggles they were having over the summer trying to help him adjust to his new home. I was curious to meet him, and meet him I did when she brought him to my Dad’s house for a visit.
My intelligent, level-headed, and very talented niece is a crazy dog lady.

She does something that I do not do with Molly. She pretends to be Mr. Darcy and talks in a "Mr. Darcy voice." It is very cute, and it really is OK that she does that. But, when I told Richard about her and the dog, I had pointed out to him that at least that was something I did not do. So there!

Yesterday evening I had been sitting in the recliner reading a book and had left my reading classes on the arm of the chair when I got up to watch TV with Richard. When I came back into the living room, I saw that Molly had decided to move from the couch and was asleep on the recliner. As she typically does, she had made a nest for herself by rearranging the crocheted afghan and the small blanket that I throw over the chair to help protect it. 
It wasn’t exactly like this yesterday, but close enough. My glasses were missing.

Richard walked over and picked her up so I could see if my glasses were tangled up in the covers (and they were). Molly has learned that when Richard picks her up, something unpleasant usually happens—most often she finds herself in the bathtub (which she does not like)—and she becomes very stiff and looks worried. Then, much to my surprise, he said in a funny “Molly voice...”

“Oh no! What’s happening? Why am I flying through the air? Help!”

I looked at him in surprise, and I started to say, “Well, now I know who the real crazy…” But I never finished the statement because we were both laughing too hard.

But I do indeed think I now know who the crazy dog person in this house really is.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Going to a good home

When our son was little, he was obsessed with all things mechanical—mostly trains, but anything with wheels would do. When he was about 18 months, we moved to a farming community in Oregon, and not far from our house was a company that sold farm machines, and on days when the business was closed, I used to take him there and let him sit on the equipment—tractors, combine harvesters, and the like. I would have gotten into trouble had I ever been caught doing that but, fortunately, I did not.

Among Nathaniel’s favorite books when he was this age was Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things that Go, because every page was filled with “things that go” and the story was very cute.
I read that book to him just about every day for several years. I had it memorized and so did he, and I was never able to skip a page so I could get through it quicker.

When Nathaniel moved back home with us, I was surprised to find two tractors as part of the “stuff” he brought with him. 
He never said what prompted him to buy the tractors, but I like to think they brought back good memories of when he was little.

A few weeks ago, my husband said, “The tractors hold no memories for me. If you want to pass them on, go ahead.”

Which brings me to this little boy, named Elliott.
My brother married a woman who had two sons from her previous marriage, and both sons have, in turn, brought two boys into the world. My brother is having a good time being Grandpa to these four little boys.

Elliott is the oldest boy of the youngest son, and I have only seen him once in person, and that was at wedding several years ago when he was an infant. He is “fourish” now, and I find myself drawn to this child—and his parents—especially after seeing a picture of him with a birthday cake in which a clam shell digger was sitting on top of the cake with the shell taking a bite of the cake itself. How very, very clever.

The boy appears to like “all things that go.” Although he looks nothing like our son did at that age, he reminds me very much of our little boy. These tractors need to be played with, which certainly wasn’t going to happen at our house, where they have been sitting on a shelf and would continue to sit on the shelf until…

And so a few days ago, with Richard’s blessing, I packed the tractors into a flat-rate priority box (which was a good deal for me because the tractors were very heavy) and sent them off to Elliott in California. I believe they will have a good home there.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Getting labeled

During the first part of our marriage we lived in the City of Orange, which rightly deserved its name. The climate in that area is perfect for growing oranges, and the city was surrounded by orange groves that were still in production when we moved there. One of the first apartments we lived in was on the edge of an orange grove that was still producing oranges, and the smell of the blossoms wafting through the air when the trees began to bloom made one giddy. But by the time we left for Oregon in 1979, most of the trees had been bulldozed to make room for people and their buildings. The City Fathers, in their wisdom, proudly announced the city would plant a specimen orange grove in a green space to remind people of the history of the town. How ironic, we thought.

Orange was incorporated in 1871, and in 1971, the city decided to celebrate the Centennial of its founding by having a huge street party. I am not sure how this happened, because my husband is a rather shy type, but he became the chairman of the committee that was organizing the festivities. And somehow, and again, I am not sure how this happened, we came to be in possession of a collection of labels that the packing houses put on the crates of oranges that they shipped.

Some of them are quite beautiful, and have themes—these with a fabric theme hang in our bathroom. 

A few of the many others that are hanging here and there around the house.... 

Fast forward to November 13 when my cousin, who now lives in New York, came to visit (see last post).

His mother (my Dad’s youngest sister) and father lived not too far from where our family lived, and we spent quite a bit of time together when we were children. 

And then life happened, and I hadn’t seen him for about 12 years. It worked out quite nicely that he was able to time a visit to his father and they could both come on Nov. 13 to celebrate my Dad's birthday

He told me that while he on a quest to find fruit crate labels of all the places he had lived in, he happened across a crate label that he thought would be the perfect label to give me for a belated birthday present.
  And indeed it is. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

The communal cup

Sharing of food has always been part of the human story… “to break bread together,” a phrase as old as the Bible, captures the power of a meal to forge relationships, bury anger, provoke laughter…
Victoria Pope, National Geographic, December 2014

And all these things did indeed happen on the evening of November 13 as we gathered to honor our Dad on the occasion of his 90th birthday.
 In addition to the four of us

and assorted spouses, our cousin, who was raised not too far away until they moved North, but now lives in New York, and his father, who still lives in Northern California, also came, bringing with them beautiful flowers for the table...
 some dynamite sauerkraut from Trader Joe’s 
 (a few days later I bought 4 jars of it for Dad to enjoy)
and family photos of shared events—camping trips and holiday celebrations—many of which we had never seen before.

After the meal there was much hootin’ and hollerin’ and general laughter

as we shared memories and looked at versions of ourselves as young infants, children, awkward adolescents, and then at our weddings as young adults.

Then came the moment in the midst of this boisterous gathering when I picked up the cup of coffee in front of me on the coffee table
(you can just see it sitting there by my cousin's knee)
 and started drinking it and then realized it was my sister’s coffee—not mine—I had not yet gotten a cup for myself. Under other circumstances perhaps I would have said nothing and looked innocent but for some reason, this struck me as being hilariously funny. I do not laugh quietly.  

In some Christian traditions, the cup offered during the Communion service is a communal cup— everyone drinks from the same cup—and through the laughter and good-natured bantering that followed after I drank my sister’s coffee, I sensed that we were indeed communing in very real sense.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A short tale about a short tail

What have I got in my pocket?” he said aloud. He was talking to himself, but Gollum thought it was a riddle, and he was frightfully upset.

“Not fair! Not fair! He hissed. “It isn’t fair, my precious, is it, to ask us what it’s got in its nassty little pocketeses?”
Which brings me to ask the question:

What have I got in my pocket?

Yes indeed.

It was cold enough the other morning that we needed to move from the light jacket to the medium level coat – the coat one wears when it not quite cold enough for the heavy duty winter coat. This was the first time I had worn the coat since I last wore it in the early Spring.

The coat given to me by a friend, perhaps 15 years ago. I call it my coat of many colors because...
it is indeed very bright and cheerful. It makes me feel bright and cheerful when I wear it.

I had forgotten to wear my gloves, and my hands were a little chilly, so as Richard and I walked along, whichever hand was not holding the dog’s leash was in the pocket.

And it happened that I had my left hand in the left side pocket to see what I might find. One never knows. If I had last worn the coat to church, it might be cellophane wrapped piece of hard candy or some other odd thing.

I did not find any old candy, but down in the seam of the pocket I did indeed feel something was there…
And I was very, very surprised.

Because this was not something that I had picked up and put in the pocket. No indeed.

And when I e-mailed the former owner of the coat, she also didn’t remember picking anything like it up.

But there it was…

It is not from a toy stuffed animal, it is a real tail and I have concluded it is the tail of a baby skunk.

But how it came to be there is indeed one of those odd moments that occur periodically.

Friday, October 31, 2014

It was a dark and stormy night....

The sun has dipped below the horizon and the sky is dark now, and it is easy to turn the clock back 50 years to 1954, when I was 5 years old, and Halloween had come.

It was a simpler time then. My mother made my costume, and a very unsophisticated costume it was, too. I was a black cat, and she had created the costume by dying some pajamas black and fashioning a hat to resemble cat’s ears. A black satin mask completed the look.

And in this photo, when I was a few years older,  I think maybe I was supposed to be a princess or perhaps a fairy godmother.  At that time, the elementary school I attended had a Halloween parade during the day and so we came to school in our costumes.
And again, this was a homemade costume.

Our father had an amazing Halloween costume. My sister and I can recall seeing a picture of him dressed up in it, but neither of us has the picture and we don’t know where it is. He had a rubber mask that looked very much like a Neanderthal, with exaggerated features, and scraggly hair. It was not too overdone, and thus is looked very realistic. He would put the mask on, and wrap himself in some old burlap sacks. And he would go with us trick-or-treating, lurching along next to us and growling and moaning at the other children on the street. They would be delightfully scared and would laugh and screech and they loved it. And he had so much fun doing it. Over the years he became the hit of costume parties that the adults had.  

Our Grandfather lived very nearby and we usually went to his house after we had finished trick-or-treating. On one memorable Halloween he tried to make us hot cocoa but accidently put salt in the cocoa instead of sugar.

In this part of the state, it seems inevitable that on October 31, Nature throws the switch for Winter, and the weather invariably reminds us of what is coming down the pike. The first few years that we moved here I found taking our boy out trick-or-treating was quite a far cry from the “brisk but not bad” nights we enjoyed on Halloween in southern California. It was almost always very cold and not much fun. Several years it poured rain, and we did not go, and finally he was old enough that we didn’t have to go anymore. Whew.

Tonight is no exception. Warm fall days earlier in the week have turned cold. The wind is whipping through the trees, leaves are blowing everywhere, which makes it seem even colder, and there will be a hard freeze tonight. We have never had a child come to our door for candy on Halloween, and I don’t expect there will be one tonight either.