rites of passage

I often think of the life I grew up in. We drank out of the garden hose in summer, ate cookies we dropped on the floor if we were quicker than the dog, ignored cuts and bruises, had no air conditioning (attic fan… with all the upstairs windows open it was like one giant ceiling fan).

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We spent summer evenings chasing lightning bugs, playing kick the can till well past dark. We occasionally got into mischief, breaking into a neighbor’s paint shed and spattering the paint, catching someone’s goldfish out of a backyard pond or picking flowers from someone’s flower bed. When we got caught we got paddled.

We generally went to church on Sundays and ate a big dinner with family and friends after. Summer reading was Dick and Jane and Dr. Seuss books in elementary school until we were assigned books. We pledged allegiance to the flag in the morning and had bomb drills where we got under our desks and laughed at how silly it was. We said our prayers at night with Mom or Dad and had a long list of people, dogs, friends we asked God to bless. We were allowed to go pretty much anywhere as long as our Moms knew generally where we were. We didn’t need secret passwords for school because we weren’t likely to be kidnapped and we were smart about strangers.

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We knew enough to come inside out of a lightning storm and heard stories about people who got struck by lightning bolts. We ran barefoot almost all the time and our moms made sure tetanus shots were up to date. We told ghost stories, night or day and halfway believed them.

We had jobs cutting lawns or babysitting that paid 50 cents or a dollar an hour and we thought we were rich. An “allowance” meant an exception to punishment, not more money.

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Almost everybody had a dog. Some had cats but if they didn’t have something they didn’t seem quite right. Arguments were settled with “am not!” “are too!” until we got distracted and forgot the fight altogether. We didn’t hold grudges.

Some families had televisions that took a while to warm up, then the picture disappeared to a dot of light when you turned it off. If you were sneaky you could watch really quietly until around 11 p.m. when the channel signed off with the national anthem, a flag waving, and then a test pattern with a really annoying monotone.

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We didn’t have electronic games, PlayStations, Nintendo, iPhones or iPads. No computers. We relied on our energy and imaginations. We didn’t worry about hurting ourselves. We just ran until we either ran out of time or strength. Or both. We played fair and called out anyone who didn’t so they could make it right. We played by rules everybody agreed to and they shouldn’t be broken. Even as little kids we believed there was a right and wrong and we did our best to do things right and hold our friends accountable as they did us.

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When did everything change, and why?

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(almost) freedom

So husky-mix rescue dog Lily had her vet recheck this week. Cautiously guarded, he gave Lily his blessing and released her to normal activity.

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“Chasing bunnies and squirrels?” I asked. He nodded.

“Going up and down stairs on her own?” Another nod.

He told me to keep watching for plate rejection which they thought caused the irritation that made her chew a spot on her leg, now healed. She still wears the “cone of shame” at night and if I leave the house (which happens seldom since she goes pretty much wherever I go). So we enjoyed many celebratory walkies this week. Her favorite by the river. Her most favorite at the nature preserve. She made the whole trail walk, about 2 miles.

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So for now we are enjoying the freedom of no restrictions. I had not realized before how completely restrained we had been. She could not be off-leash at all. She could not bolt if she saw a rabbit, squirrel or a cat. She would look at me as I shouted “NO!” without defiance, just confused obedience. Which makes me wish I could be as resilient as she. And as compliant. I suppose for Lily obedience is pretty easy. Here I am standing right there telling her what to do or not to do. Pretty clear. She can either do what I said or not.  She doesn’t have to question or try to figure it out.

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When she was younger there was some of that. I would give her a command, she would hear me, look straight at me, and not do what I said. Or we’d be on our morning run and she’d dash in front of me sending me flipping over her while she chased whatever it was she saw in the half-light of early morning.

But now she is older. She is 12. A little stiff, less lean, more patient. She has mellowed. It is sad I suppose that so many years go by before a friendship becomes so comfortable, so easy. Companionable. But worth it.

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favorite quotes: last day

The year my dad’s company transferred our family up north was the hardest year of my life to leave. I had great friends, I had made the jv basketball team (likely because I was leaving). It was truly the happiest year.

The year before I’d been suspended from school. For 3 months. Doesn’t matter why, especially since classmates later came and said they’d done the same, just got away with it. Little consolation. But that suspension changed my life.

Public schools were not the moral soapboxes they are today. They actually taught Latin. But people, though maybe not rough around the edges behaved rougher. There was definite lack of restraint.

Yet even so this was where I met a girl my age who to this day is likely the best friend I ever had. She and I were so much alike. We laughed at the same things, got mad about the same things, hated snobs of all kinds, we were total free spirits. She accepted me despite my tarnished reason for being at her school. Even though I’d never said why gossip in middle school is like wildfire. I was tough and Betsy didn’t care why I was there. We were friends. Basically the only difference between us, I smoked back then and she did not. So I didn’t, either while we were friends.

Anyways, even after my suspension and I’d resumed my academic pursuits at the school that threw me out we remained friends. Short-lived because the following winter my family moved away. My heart broke, not just because I would lose my first real, true friend but my life would change. There was an event horizon I could not avoid, like a black hole and I was going to reach a point of no return.

Betsy gave me a small soft-cover gift book before I left, “Friendship Is…”, compiled by Gilbert Hay. I practically memorized every poem or quote in that book. The quote from this book, my last in the challenge–

“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.   –Walter Winchell

It did not matter to her what happened, why I’d been tossed out of school, what I’d done. She was the only person I met who could genuinely see past a mistake to the person. Oh I made other friends while I was there, mostly people who enjoyed the thrill of association with a renegade. But Betsy showed me that real friendship sees past everything and only sees what’s real.

We did lose touch. We wrote for a few months but in the maelstrom of transitioning from pre-adolescence to becoming driving teenagers, high school, dating, college we lost touch. The last I’d heard she’d achieved popularity status sufficient to being elected mayor of the town we grew up in but before she could be pigeon-holed she was whisked away by her knight in shining armor after a whirlwind wedding to Pennsylvania.

And this time I was the one left behind.

“It is not how many friends you’ve won in life that counts, but how many you have left. That is the acid test. For it is easy to make them, harder to hold them.”                                                          — Unknown

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A man who has friends must himself be friendly,
But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”   –Proverbs 18:24

 

understanding

Some weeks are long. Like this one. It started when the newspapers didn’t show up. I only get them on weekends. I get 2 different subscriptions. Neither arrived.

Then a notice saying one of my important tax forms would be reissued, corrected. So if I’d already filed 2016 taxes (I hadn’t) I’d have to amend them.

Then my brother and his wife decide to exclude half the family from our annual week at the beach. That was tough to swallow.

Then a kitchen cabinet door fell off its hinges. Just fell. I opened it and it came right off in my hands. So I took one of the hinges to replace them to the hardware store but it is the wrong hinge.

Then a rose thorn I’d unknowingly stepped on (I have pretty tough and calloused feet from years of walking barefoot) decided it would become infected. That took some work to find and remove.

So walking rescue dogs Lily and Lulu this afternoon, a thought came to me. A memory really… my dad lived the remainder of his days in a tiny southern town because my mother had liked the name– Clover. Guess Dad though it would be good to live in Clover. Anyway some years ago before I began my odyssey of searching for the perfect job and still lived relatively nearby, one weekend I drove over to visit Dad. He had a caretaker at that time who told me he’d gone shopping down at the Food Lion that afternoon so I drove over there.

I wandered the aisles figuring I’d find him and there he was, in the canned goods, eyeglasses propped above raised eyebrows as he carefully read the contents of a can of green beans or corn or some such. I started down the aisle toward Dad and just then, eyebrows still raised he looked up over that can and his whole face brightened into such happiness it made me so glad I’d thought to visit that day.

I can’t visit him now, he passed away 11 years ago next month. But that memory erased all the little nagging challenges from this week. Someone who is so glad that you are alive can truly make all the difficult, unhappy, awkward, or mean things just vanish.

And I began to see things differently. I came out from under that cloud and saw so much good. My two dogs are healthy, I basically have all I need or want, I am healthy, my son is happy and in a job he likes, spring is almost here and flowers are beginning to burst out in vibrant color here and there. Camellias, azaleas, daffodils, hyacinths, Bradford pears, saucer magnolias. Nothing ever stays the same but it sure does wonders to have a memory like that when things are a little bumpy.

Dad loved to make things better. Just talking to him helped. Sometimes he’d tamp down a smoking pipe and slowly send tendrils of sweet smoke, like thoughts, in the air. He could absorb and process almost anything. He stopped at whining, laziness, self-pity or meanness. But anything else he could help you through it. And he didn’t fix it for you. He made you think, look at the thing from all sides until you came to a good solution. He might have to prod or help a little with a suggestion or two, but he always left you thinking it was your idea.

So, all in all, I guess things are pretty good.

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Garden

Most everyone likes a garden. Whether they enjoy getting their hands deep in rich soil, sowing seeds, or simply admiring someone else’s toils, flowers are pretty.

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Working in a flower bed is like cultivating a friend. Some think if they want to move a flower they simply grab its stem and yank it out by the roots, dig a new hole and put it in.

Not exactly.

You need to consider what it comes from. What if it’s a bulb? a rhizome? a root system, large and well-established or a taproot? What if it has bulblets, or plantlets sent out on separate shoots? You need to find its foundation first. You need to gently work in and around the soil and its roots taking care not to break or injure them. Tenderly help the roots release from the soil, watering now and then as you work.

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As it comes away from its former place prepare a new place digging in the soil larger than the plant root system. Place the plant centered on its base carefully filling the soil back in loosely so as not to pack too tightly or suffocate and cramp its feet. Continue to cultivate it with water, nourishment, pruning where it has useless, dying leaves or stems. Encouraging the healthy plant to grow.

Friendship is the same. You meet someone you would like to befriend. The friendship is nurtured carefully, fed with interest, attention, and observation. Laughter, listening. Thoughtfully tended. The foundation begins with kindness, gentleness and warmth. Water with love, consideration, grace, peace.

And prayer.

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Esse quam videri

So there’s this nature preserve not far from where I live. It was established as a land trust by a gentleman for his daughter who loved nature and the out of doors. There are roughly 2 miles of trails, friendly dogs are allowed to walk off-leash. My 2 rescue dogs Lily and Lulu love it there. In winter we go sometimes twice a day but these summer dog days with temperatures pushing 110 we only go in the morning, very early. We always meet very interesting persons and their dogs when we walk, this week a bicycler who recently moved to the area from Chesapeake, Virginia. We spoke of native southerners vs. northern transplants and shared amusing stories of how difficult it is to change the south to conform to northern ways. Then we wished each other a good day and moved on.

The title of this translates “to be rather than to seem”. It is North Carolina’s state motto, my home. For years growing up in the south with a New Yorker Mother and Colorado cowboy Father my identity was an interesting challenge. I knew who I was, what I liked, but trying to please everyone else? That’s a problem.

Why is it so hard to break conformity? Maybe some people have no problem with it. Maybe they have a very clear focus on what is expected of them and who they are. Maybe because of their virtue and goodness they don’t need to worry about rules. Or maybe they are those strong personalities who simply draw people into their circles and find safety in numbers, even forming new and improved rules, testing the waters until a consensus is formed.

But the consensus needs to be for the greater good. The consensus needs to be something everyone else can aspire to. Like people from other places. They may seem harsh, outspoken, rude, brash, arrogant, whatever. But it’s not fair to determine necessarily a person is what they seem to be. They might just be having a horrifically bad day. Or they make a lousy first impression. Granted, with many people wysiwyg applies (what you see… etc.)

My dad could call a person usually the first time he met them. And for the most part his take could have knocked me down with a feather. Where he saw humility and grace I saw impatience and pushy. But something in that person would give him or herself away to Dad. And he was almost never wrong. The only times he ever did get someone wrong was when he let someone else’s opinion influence him. Usually my mother. She was not often wrong but when she was her error was generally based not on her heart or her gut but a current issue or situation. She seldom allowed this to play with her instincts but once or twice she let it happen and she was truly way off. But she would always admit her error, she never kept up any pretense of righteousness.

So whenever I share an impression or thought with someone I always make it a gentle one. It’s hard not to love others when you know your own fallibility.

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Mom

Mother-daughter relationships are complicated.

They shouldn’t be. The daughter will never be a clone-mini of the mom (thankfully), but there ought to be a modicum of respectful obedience.

Not with Mom and me.

I was never obedient unless it was by accident. Mom called me a maverick. I had horrible grades in elementary school. I day-dreamed all through classes. Looking back I realize what a waste that was. I could have learned so much from my mother. She was charming, attractive, gracious, intelligent, funny… no matter what, I did my very best to not be whatever anyone expected of me.

Mom tried everything. She encouraged me to play golf, her one true love. Too frustrating. She took me to her hair stylist for a perm. She agreed later how awful it was. She would take me shopping and I’d hate every outfit or piece of clothing she chose for me.

Not until my father’s business transferred him to New York did she and I become close. More like sister close than mother-daughter close. And then she got cancer. They operated and she came home. I’d had to learn how to use a mop and do laundry and cook in her absence, grudgingly as usual, but I did it.

She did recover. I went to college, convinced I had to find a fiance which I did. Before him though there was a terrible boyfriend I did not exactly know how to deal with. He wrote me letters telling me how unfair it would be if I stopped seeing him, no concern as to whether or not it was a good match. He thought my family had money so he hung on. Mom had the solution. The last letter I received I wrote “addressee moved, Tombstone, Arizona”.

The fiance who became a husband did not work out. So when that union ended Mom knew I cared little for things but she decided some of those wedding presents were worth hanging on to, so she thought. She drove me back to Tennessee to collect them the week my hearing pending trial was scheduled. China, my bedroom furniture, a few small pieces of incidental furniture, crystal, silver, stainless flatware… she had a mover pack up the lot and shipped it home. She knew at that point the fight had pretty much left me so she went to bat for me.

She was never one to take very good care of herself. Golf was her exercise but she had other things that finally caught up to her. She and I had had something of a falling out before Christmas 1988. It was the only Christmas I can remember not being with my family, intentionally. I had no idea she would leave this earth for her hereafter not 2 months later.

She phoned me the Sunday before the Tuesday that she died. She had talked her doctor into releasing her from hospital after she’d had 2 heart attacks in the span of 10 days. We spoke of some bulbs I’d planted at their beach house that had come up. Did I think they were the freesia or the narcissus? she asked. I didn’t know, I’d replied. Would I plan a visit there sometime after she was a bit stronger? I didn’t need entertaining, did I? Of course I would I’d said and no, I did not need any entertaining. We said “I love you”, and hung up.

Dad called to tell me she’d died and all he said was “Your mother didn’t make it.” I guess I knew what he meant but I didn’t. So I called her best friend and repeated what he’d said. She was as confused as I, but I by then knew.

Sometimes when I am up against a hard decision or in a corner I need to get out of I really wish she were here. She could finesse or deal with anything. And sometimes an answer comes to me, just as if she had told me herself.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you.

Lulu

So I went to the pet store a week ago to pick up some of Lily’s favorite treats. Every weekend there are pet adoptions there and we walked over to where the puppies and dogs were. There, by herself in a crate was a little white dog with a black face. She looked so much like my little rescue dog Murphy I thought for a minute it was Murphy. But she was very sweet, so playful. I asked the lady if I could foster her for a week. She said to come back at the end of the day, if Lulu was still there I could foster her. I said I was pretty sure she wouldn’t be there if I left without her so the lady said I could take her right then.

Thank you.

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The first thing Lulu did was confiscate all of Lily’s toys. She especially loved the squeaky ones. Now mind you, Lily has ignored her toys since the day I bought them. Every one of them. But now that Lulu wanted them they were precious to her. Well she had to get over that, and she did.

Next Lulu appropriated every bed in the house that belongs to Lily, which would be 6 beds. Lily was not happy at all but eventually once she saw that I found ways to encourage Lulu to sit on one while Lily could have another it all worked out.

I discovered that long walks in the woods or on trails is a good way to encourage camaraderie between dogs who are strangers. This works well, especially when one of the dogs is friendly, playful and wide open about life and all things new. Lulu is this dog. Lily loves life, but not when it encroaches on all she knows and loves. Still, she was open to this new friendly little dog.

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So this week also was the week the Arboretum, where I’ve just finished the Master Gardener program is having their annual plant sale. They needed lots of help, and people to staff the plant clinic. I had signed on for this for a couple of shifts which put me out of the house for 3-hour stretches. Praying that I would not return home to blood spatters and wounded souls I managed to get through these as well as a tour of a local historic garden to find all quiet on the home front and 2 pair of beady eyes very happy to see me.

Today I returned to the pet store to properly adopt Lulu and was told by the very kind and friendly lady that 3 others had asked for Lulu after she, Lily and I had embarked upon our foster week. She added I was very lucky that she had agreed to allow me to foster her.

Yes, and I thank her.

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Friends

Friends are gifts we never know where we will find them, nor they us. Sometimes they are neighbors, sometimes chance meetings along the way– at the park, on committees, a fellow-supporter during a 5k, at work, walking our dogs, in the grocery store.

Each of us is a veritable trove of life… anecdotes, encounters, experience. Once that chord is struck when you just know this person will understand there you are with a bond, hopefully, for a long time if not for life.

Friends are more than simply allies or buffers or supporters. Friends help us find a completeness that, without them we are seeking for something in that friendship’s place. No matter how far away or how long since we have seen them they are always with us in some strange cosmic way. We remember things said, stories shared, situations experienced or resolved. So when we lose one it is deeply felt.

Oh we don’t lose the memories or the character they helped build in us. It isn’t as though we have to return the life they gave us when they are gone. There is simply no more to come.

I lost a friend.

She was my supervisor at the last library I was in charge of. But far more she was my mentor, and my friend. She had a dignified strength about her and the wackiest sense of humor imaginable for a nun, which she was. I last spoke to her mid-September, she was in hospital for a cancer which she did not share, only that she was concerned with a pneumonia that was developing. She at the time was at a rehab facility where she planned to overcome this blip, then resume her treatments.

She died 10 days ago.

So though she will always be a part of me for what we shared in this life I can no longer hear her voice except in my memory, can no longer “catch up”, can no longer hear her laugh.

I will miss her.

Books, books and more books

I devoured books when I was little. I was shy even though my party-circuit parents wanted me to be little miss sociable I was not. Eventually I learned to force myself to be charming, laugh at just the right moment, time my responses. I still didn’t like it. Well, I didn’t like having to conform to certain behaviors because circumstances required it. Don’t get me wrong, I had friends I enjoyed doing things with, and we laughed at the same things, we made each other laugh, we comforted each other’s hurts threatening all sorts of torment on the tormenter, and unless a secret was betrayed we were friends for life. I was (am still) a very loyal friend.

But I loved to read. I went so many places, ate incredible foods, encountered dangers that thoroughly terrified me, survived them gratefully. Books become part of us and change us in imperceptible ways. Once my mother said or did something that made me angry. I guess I was about 8 or 9 and I slammed my book on the floor. Profound silence. Mom looked very hard at me and said, “Books are your friends”. I have never forgotten this. And they are. They do not judge. Without expecting a thing in return they offer a virtual banquet of opportunity, ideas, adventure, and run the gamut of emotion in us from hope to despair to fury to indignance to elation to joy. We fall in love in some, realize why we should not in others. Our hearts get broken, we cry for others. We earn respect and are humbled beyond all imaginable. They give us depth, add to our experience even if we never leave the house.

I have lately realized I am becoming a bit over zealous about these books and my shyness threatens to consume me. I will read a review or see a great book sale. Before I realize what I have done I am collecting packages at the front door. I have no more shelf space. I really don’t have wall space to put more shelves. I need to read the books I have before I buy another one!

If no one hears from me I likely can be found beneath a massive pile of books.

At least I am among friends.