Archive for the ‘Memories’ category

Mental Photo Ops

April 1, 2012

A breaking dawn this past week

My mind wandered for a few moments this past week. Okay, don’t verbalize what you’re thinking… 🙂

But in that moment what popped into my head was a mental picture. You know what I mean, don’t you? Those pictures permanently etched on our inner eyelids. And yes, while I think of the best way to introduce a new scene into a new chapter for my current novel, I close my eyes and let my mind wander.

This time, however, I didn’t come up with the best detail to start my new scene, but I did pause and consider those Kodak moments permanently etched in our minds. The one that came to mind was the first moment I saw my son Jimbo just a few hours before he died. He looked at peace. And dead. I can’t describe that look in any less blunt language. For all intents and purposes, he was–as his doctors carefully explained his condition to me.

They wouldn’t have had to. It was very clear to me.

No camera was there to record that moment–not that I wanted it recorded. But that mental camera of mine took its best shot anyway–and saved it. At the oddest moments that scene pops into my mind just like unexpected photos show up in odd places at times, such as in a sock drawer or in an old envelope.

A brief upper edge of dawn

I thought about other mental photo ops I have gathered. My father-in-law’s face when he gazed upon my newborn oldest son–and the man’s first grandchild. That was a good photo memory.

The little carrel in the graduate library top floor where I wrote the first draft of my dissertation. Never did get a real photo of that.

The split second moment in a temporary hospital morgue when the sheet was pulled back on a corpse and I had to identify my second son John.

The inner eyelid snapshot of my hubby’s car, the driver’s side door wide open, our garage door up and the front door to our home wide open as I drove up. That was the day our youngest son fell down the stairs, broke his neck, and would never use stairs again. A momentous event, actually a catastrophic one for our whole family, and one we have lived with daily for the past 17 3/4 years.

My mother’s last breath with my niece, my sisters and I surrounding her as that final tortured breath left her body and the best of Mom joined all those she loved who died before her. Only the negative in my mind remains of that indelible picture.

Here comes the sun...

So I thought about those mental photo ops I carry with me and the fact that once in a while they pop up. I realized most of those moments are not happy ones for me. Those happy ones I’ve managed to capture for real. And frame them, display them, think and talk of them often.

Shaking my head at those thoughts, the perfect idea to begin that new scene slipped into my brain. When I finished it a few hours later, I sat back in my office chair and smiled. I loved what I’d written in that new scene. It wasn’t a sad scene, but it had the elements to make it powerful for my potential readers.

Plus I’d come up with the topic for today’s post. 🙂

So tell me, please. Are your inner eyelid photos more happy or sad in their number?

Or don’t you have any such images?

Pink dawn light on waves with green grass--spring

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Owls and Memories

February 12, 2012

A owl tenant from the past

This past week I received an email from my sister-in-law. Attached were 2 short videos taken from a camera mounted inside an owl box on their property. I could watch the pair of owls that had arrived and settled in.

I suspect the video camera is a new venture for my brother and his wife. They set up that owl box several years ago, and each year about this time a mating pair arrive.

Then comes the fun of watching the owls live their daily routines alongside my brother and his wife.

Those returning owls have become the topic of many conversations, emails, photos, etc. By mid-summer the owls have done their mating, parenting, and leave for who knows where until about this time the following year.

Now we see four

Of course, after they owls leave, my brother does a major owl box cleaning and sanitizing to make sure it’s ready for their yearly feathered visitors.

Each year my hubby and I get an invitation to come out and watch the owls–if only…

Cleaning up after the visitors leave

But after that email and watching the videos, I couldn’t get California and our past trips out of my mind. So I pulled out some photos of past trips. My eyes kept returning to a few which I’ve scanned to share with you today.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my home and my views, but this week California dreamin’ been on my mind.

Now San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge:

My fist view many years ago.

And a sunny day on the coast

Big Sur coastline and rocks.

–Big Sur area.

  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Clouds never deter my enjoyment of the coastline.

Uncle Jim: A Thanksgiving Memory

November 20, 2011

Late November 2011 sunrise

I’m posting late today, but my reason is I’ve been busy caring for my disabled son. He’s a vent dependent quadriplegic—think Christopher Reeve a.k.a Superman. Neither one was disabled by Kryptonite but falls. Different circumstances for my son and Christopher Reeve, but the result was the same—a catastrophic life change. Neither one of them would ever be able to do anything for themselves again.

Catastrophic for the injured party. Catastrophic for their families.

In our case one of the consequences is that if we can’t leave him alone and often must miss events or appointments if we can’t get help with caring for him. Sometimes we can’t plan on this. People get sick, have accidents, die. That often messes with a schedule or free time.

So do holidays and vacations.

And this week in November has Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving week and Christmas/New Years are always difficult. But several years ago, 2002 I think, my uncle and godfather died on this day. I was caring for my son and wouldn’t be able to get to Minnesota for his funeral or to the small farming community in Iowa where he would be buried. I felt so bad then about that. I still do.

But I knew then and still do, that he understood why I wasn’t there. By staying positive about my responsibilities to my son I was honoring him in a manner he always understood. He practiced it himself. And by his example he passed that characteristic on.

Uncle Jim and me

Of course, he had a fantastic example in his father and mother. Both were always about family and being nurturers. My grandfather even extended that to his occupation as a farmer. Hed nurtured his land and his animals as he did his family and his friends.

As an adult my uncle and I lived a great distance from each other. However, my connection and deep affection for him never faltered. I loved his quiet sense of humor. I admired how hard he worked in his life to provide the best life possible for his family. I loved that he always honored his parents; I adored them.

I remember as a little girl and before he married, he tried to quit smoking. He always had a carrot in his pocket or a toothpick. I suspect he started smoking when he was in the service during WWII because my grandfather hated the smoking habit.

My Uncle Jim was younger than my mom but always her big brother. She loved him dearly In the last few months of her life when I was staying with her at night, she would talk of her brother and different experiences they shared growing up. A few days before she died she mentioned she was ready because she would soon be with those who went before her, especially Jim and my dad.

And that reminds me of another part of Uncle Jim. He helped me to understand my father and the complex man that he was. They were very different Uncle Jim and my dad. But they respected each other. They loved each other. Uncle Jim told me once he’d never forget that my dad drove my Gram, Uncle Jim’s mother, to Minnesota when Uncle Jim was very ill. He reminded me my dad had a sense of family and I should never forget it. (Sometimes that wasn’t easy with my dad and me)

Uncle Jim. Dad, Mom

And another special memory I treasure concerns a strawberry milkshake. I was at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and had endured two extensive and very long surgeries on my back. I’d not been able to keep any food down for over a week. The result—I wasn’t starting to heal. My uncle and aunt came down for the weekend. My mom who was staying up there to be near me was very worried. Uncle Jim had his usual calming effect and after about half an hour, he slipped from the room and returned later with milkshakes. Mom had strawberry so he got a tiny one for me. Just in case.

He teased me in his own special way, trying to get me to at least taste it. I had to try. After all, Uncle Jim asked.

That shake tasted so good. Even better it stayed down. Before he left the next day, he managed to get another one down me. Two weeks later I was finally able to go home.

I swear that shake was what started my healing process. Thank you, Uncle Jim.

So every year, Thanksgiving comes around. Every year I’m spending more time with my son. And every year I think of Uncle Jim and how he helped shape me to be the caregiver I’ve become. It’s tradition. It’s family. I’m thankful I had Uncle Jim in my life.

So who are you especially thankful for having been part of your life?

Easter Egg Hunts and Jellybeans

April 23, 2011

The black ones are mine

Tomorrow many of us will celebrate Easter. This holiday is quite late this year and because April is nearing its end, we might expect warm springlike temperatures to greet us over this weekend.

That’s not what’s happening here along the shore of Lake Michigan. 😦  The green stubs of my daffodils have been shivering in the strong lake winds; tomorrow is likely to be a repeat.

Our weather has been a bit like the jelly beans found in an Easter basket—lots of different flavors and usually one or two that are clearly a person’s favorite.

Mine were always the black ones since no one in my family liked them. That way I knew they would last as long as I wanted them to last.  Our weather’s been like that also but no one’s has choices lately. It’s mostly been miserable and like the lonely jellybeans left when everyone’s taken what they like. I think all the good weather has gone somewhere, I don’t know where, but here in my neck of the woods we’ve had nothing but bad weather—or those lonely green jelly beans no one wanted in our family. 🙂

In addition to jellybeans in Easter baskets, in my family it’s been tradition to get together at some point during the day. As a child I loved those times because we’d share foods and desserts not usually served outside of that particular holiday. And Easter meant Easter eggs, baskets filled with candy—again not something we’d have much of, and if the Easter bunny was “rich” that year, a toy or something we really wanted. That seemed a fair reward for long hours spent in church during Holy Week services.

When I had my own family and my siblings and their families would gather together for Easter, my sister started the tradition of the Easter egg hunt to give all the little ones something fun to do. One particular Easter we had a glorious, favorite jellybean kind of day. The skies were sunny, the temps warm enough to set up the picnic tables and chairs and serve dinner outside. That also meant the day was perfect to conceal the eggs in spots not so easy to find since the yard had many great hiding places.

My youngest son Steven was the oldest of the group of “little nieces and nephews.” At times he used his oldest title to tease and torment the younger ones. (Probably fueled by the fact that he’d been teased and tormented by his three older brothers.)

Anyway, the rule was “find your own egg and if you find someone else’s egg, don’t reveal the location.” Well, all the little ones found their eggs rather quickly while all of us adults enjoyed the activity. However, Steven couldn’t find his egg. My sister kept giving him hints and he’d scurry off looking but couldn’t find it. The younger ones loved that they beat Steven in finding their egg and those got their baskets filled with the kind of candy they liked.

Now Steven loves candy and he had his reputation to maintain as smartest and oldest; needless to say, he felt thwarted. His face was turning redder and his temper was rising. I’m sure it didn’t help that two of his brothers were “egging” him on. Finally, after about half an hour of his frantic looking, and the final hint from my sister, Steven found his egg and got his Easter basket full of candy.

We still remember that beautiful Easter when we picnicked outside and foiled Steven. I thought of it today especially as my nephew, now a father, sent a photo of his daughter on an Easter egg hunt. Time flies…

This Easter many of those who picnicked with us that day are no longer here: my two sons, John and Jimbo; my sister’s beloved husband, Erik; my mother; my two brothers, Jerry and Ed. The “little nieces and nephews” are grown and celebrating with families of their own. My oldest son is in Alaska. One sister will be out of town and my brother lives in California and will be celebrating Easter with his family and friends out there.

Moon last Sunday seen from my office window

We will be a small group—my sister who started the egg hunt tradition, our youngest son, Steven, hopefully feeling well enough to be in his wheelchair, my hubby and I. We won’t be picnicking outside but at my dining room table. We won’t be doing an Easter egg hunt. But we have phones to connect us to those not here with us. We have Facebook and email too. And we have our memories of those departed. They will linger with us while we gather for we carry them always in our hearts.

I’m hoping for a few black jelly beans in addition to our traditional Easter ham.

I hope you all have the Easter you want.  And I hope you get all your favorite jellybeans.

A Bowl To Remember

April 17, 2011

Scilla in lawn & shrubs in bud

One day this past week, I hitched up my courage, tamped down my emotions, and drove in to check on Jimbo’s home. (For those of you new to this site, Jimbo died about two months ago. He was my youngest biological son.)

I had listed the house with a realtor a few days before. While most personal items were gone from the house, (thanks to help from my oldest son Steve and his friends) I wanted to check on the painting happening the dining room. I also wanted to do another run through the house to determine what else will have to disperse once the place is sold.

Notice the optimism in the previous statement? 🙂

Well, the painting is coming along very nicely. One room is completely done and looks so much brighter and fresher. That lifted my spirits almost as much as a sunny day would have. Finished with that, I went through the house again—from back porch to front porch, basement to top floor. The whole time I thought about the hidden charms this bungalow contained. (For example, an incredible number of huge walk-in closets–with windows.  One bedroom has 3 such closets!)

And I found the loveliest bowl, setting on a table in a corner of one of the bedrooms. I then remembered something Steve said about finding a bowl he thought I should look at. However, that was a week after Jimbo died. I didn’t have much space in my heart or my mind to think about looking at bowls. Especially when I had to portion out to the appropriate people, a lifetime’s collection of fishing and hunting equipment, tools, and stuff—things I had no idea for what they were used.

Now think about it for a minute. Why would Jimbo have a bowl I should look at in the same closet that held 4 bows, tons of arrows, at least 20 assorted fishing poles, hundreds of lures, and two trolling motors? Are you serious????

But last Monday during my walk-through, I spotted that bowl. Its hand-painted lilacs hinted of spring and renewal. Steve’s words skittered back into my memory. I figured I better bring this home with me.

My new treasure--bowl

Back home, when I took the bowl from its ragged old cardboard box and removed the ancient newspapers that cushioned the bowl, I realized it was porcelain—very good porcelain. I carefully washed the bowl and discovered the gold trim. The bottom of the bowl showed it was made in Germany, and it was numbered.

I don’t know anything about antiques or porcelain but my friend does. I called her. She sounded excited when I explained what I saw.” Would I bring it over?” she asked.

My bowl and I arrived in 15 minutes.  She examined the bowl and before she said anything I spotted excitement spark in her eyes. “This was at Jimbo’s?” she asked.

I nodded as amazed as she that my beloved son who loved flannel and torn jeans and lived a simple life would have kept such an item around.

But he had—and since I knew he knew every little thing he had in that house, he knew of its existence. I suspect my mother left it there when she sold the house to him. I suspect she left it there because she didn’t like it, probably because it most likely came from her mother-in-law. I suspect this because my father’s mother liked to entertain and always talked about the treasures/lovely things she inherited from her mother, the woman my dad referred to as “Agnes Sarah Craney of the tight ringlets and the skinny feet.”

Of course, I’m a writer, and I’m doing a great deal of suspecting here since I love to create stories (though my dad did use that phrase often and my grandmother regaled her granddaughters about the elegant parties of the past). Since this bowl wasn’t something cheap and was used for large parties, my story could have some truth. The bowl is what is called a Tom & Jerry bowl. Tom & Jerrys were a hot drink served during the winter holidays. The drink first became popular around 1820. Its ingredients were many and expensive.

None of this information fits Jimbo’s lifestyle or interests. It doesn’t fit my mother or her family either. So I like the story I’ve woven about this bowl. Since I love lilacs and I have shades of purple in my living/dining room, this bowl will be filled with some lavender potpourri and sit on my table. Every time I glance at it, I’ll think of family.

Thank you, Jimbo and your sensitive soul, for saving this lovely bowl.

Have you found any treasures lately in places you’d never expect?

Salad, Secretariat, & a Dash of Sad

February 27, 2011

Steve's Spinach Salad

You might be asking, “What’s she writing about now?”

Well, I don’t blame you. I wasn’t sure myself until last night. I had some ideas, but nothing was coming together and hadn’t for the past several days. So I slept on it. That’s one of my sure-fire methods to get to the heart of what’s bothering me whether it’s a personal problem, a memory problem, or a writing problem.

And this morning, I knew what to do. Of course it helped that the sun was trying valiantly to peak through the ever present cloud blanket that’s been hanging over our area for most of February. 🙂

So first the salad. You’ve glanced at the photo. I snapped the photo. My oldest son made the salad. It will always be a memorable one: obviously the fresh spinach was a base—never would I have believed he’d be using fresh spinach based upon his childhood eating habits where green wasn’t something that thrilled him. Then hard boiled egg whites, a few bits of crisp-fried bacon, a mustard-sour cream-egg yolk dressing, all were carefully placed to look appetizing.

It didn’t disappoint.

The occasion was a family dinner we decided to have the evening after my other son, Jimbo’s funeral. The main course was his favorite meal, steak au poivre.  Jimbo never missed a meal if he knew that was on the menu. If for some reason he couldn’t be here, he made sure to stop by the next day for his leftovers. Despite the sadness of that reason for gathering, we had a great evening and a fantastic meal. Jimbo would have loved it, including the spinach salad.

I will treasure this photo always because it will remind me of that evening.

How does Secretariat, or Big Red, as he was often referred to come into this?

From the movie

Well, last night my husband and I finally got around to watching the movie.  Secretariat was a special kind of horse. His records still remain. His owner and others believed in him when most of horse racing didn’t. The movie had some sadness in it since the deaths of Penny Chenery Tweedy’s parents caused her to become more involved in the family business. Death is sad. But it doesn’t have to stop others from living. In Mrs. Tweedy’s case as for others around her, those deaths and the birth of the red foal provided new meaning and directions in their lives. There’s a powerful message there for me and others.

No, the movie wasn’t great by awards standards. But it was heart-warming and had a message. I got it. I’m not sorry I watched it.

And that comes to the third element of my blog title—a dash of sad.  SAD is a disorder that affect many people in low-light, dreary climates during the winter. Sad is an emotion that all of us have at one time or another.  It is not a disorder. In fact if we are truly living our lives, we must expect to encounter sadness and deal with it. I realized over this past week that sadness is like the spices I have in my kitchen, the ones I cook and bake with. If I didn’t have them, I’d have no chance of being adequate at either. Sadness is like the pepper that makes Jimbo’s favorite meal the great dish it is. Or the bacon and spinach flavors melding together to form the great salad. It’s the salt on fresh popcorn, the nutmeg in my pumpkin bread.  We need sadness. It can be the motivator that helps us move on or create something worthwhile. It can be negative if we let it overpower us or control us so others avoid us. Think garlic here.

Lake Michigan Break;up

So I’ve had another dash of sad in my life. But I’ll not dishonor my son by letting it turn bad. I’ll use the sadness to make me stronger and better. Sure I’ll be sad sometimes, but in a good, positive way. After all, winter is leaving us. I can see it do so on our lake.  Like winter, the mourning part of sadness is drifting away; the good memories remain. And spring will come again soon.

What do you think?

A Most Unexpected Ending

February 13, 2011

Icy Cove

I filled this past week with busy work in preparation for my son Jimbo’s memorial service. As I shifted through many lifetimes of photos—my parents, mine, my siblings, my sons—I was searching for the photos that would best depict Jimbo in all of his phases, in all of his moods.

With each photo I reviewed, I triggered memories. Some good, some not so good, such as the photo showing Jimbo all bruised and cut up. Riding his bike home from work (he was saving money to buy a car), he had an accident which landed him in the ER. That late night phone call wakened me and off I rushed to the hospital. When we brought him home a day later, we took photos of him in case we needed them for any reason. And maybe just to remind ourselves that he was so lucky not to have life-threatening injuries.

I found the newspaper article and photo taken of him at about age 9 with his grandmother and great-grandmother. The occasion was Grandparents’ Day at school, and he was handing them cupcakes after the program. It was during that same year that Jimbo would wait for me at the bus-stop where the bus from Madison dropped me off on Fridays. I was going to graduate school then and didn’t take a car to Madison. On Sundays he’d ride with my mother as she drove me back to Madison for the next week of classes. He never missed a trip. And his loving me and seeing these activities as his “responsibility” (“making sure you get to school”) made me realize every moment I was in class how important it was I do my very best.

On Friday evening we had our Memorial service for Jimbo. All the picture gathering, snipping, placing, and gluing were worth it. Just as going through the photos jump-started my memories and a few tears, they did the same for the many friends and family gathered for the service. Jimbo’s boyhood friends, former coworkers, neighbors from areas we lived when he was growing up as well as new neighbors—all showed up on a snowy, cold evening. They shared their memories. The photo collages and artifacts of a busy life cut short too soon prompted many others. Everyone agreed the essence of Jimbo’s spirit watched over our sorrow.

But the imp in him showed up.  Once the service ended, the food was eaten, and people eased away into ebony night, we started gathering up those collages and artifacts. Those doing so insisted I not worry about it, they’d get it done. And they did.

Once we got home, in a heavy snow squall of short duration, got our youngest son (whose wheel chair gets cranky in snow), carried in those collages and artifacts, my husband and I settled down for a quiet reminiscing about the service and all the memories and emotions stirred during those hours. My eyes scanned the room, the box of artifacts, the bags of cards etc, the foam-board collages, but I didn’t see the simple, beautiful, hand-crafted wooden repository with Jimbo’s ashes. We rechecked our car.

Icy Lake Quilt

No Jimbo.

I called my son who had the other car. Was Jimbo with him? “No, Mom; he’s with you.” I called my brother and Jimbo’s biological father. I got the same response.

Jimbo was AWOL.

Frantic, I called the funeral service. Yes, Jimbo had been left behind. We could pick him up in the morning. I breathed a sigh of relief and then I laughed. So like him. He wanted another night at the lake, where the fish always bit, where he’d catch his limit, where he found his peace after a day of work.  When I repeated my earlier calls, I got lots of laughter too. Everyone had the same thought.

So Jimbo. So fitting. So missed. So loved. I hope he’s caught some heavenly record-breaking musky since he’s died. I also expect he’ll pull a few stunts wherever he is. He may even slip quietly into a dream some night to let me know how he’s doing.