Traditions

How long does it take for something to make that giant step from repetition to tradition?   A year?  Ten years?

Well, I’ve decided that three years is a fine number of years in which to create a tradition so here, on this Christmas Eve, is the third printing of a Christmas memory.

Our family wishes you and yours the best in the new year.

The Christmas Spirit

The year was 1961.  I was working in Boston at the New England Conservatory of Music as a receptionist. It was, in all respects, a wonderful year.  I was in love (still am) and was surrounded by talented, generous and joyful people.

But Christmas was always hard for me.  What to give to my parents?  My father never wore anything but a suit, had enough ties to last several life times, bought his own socks and had no hobbies.  My mother was choosy about the things she wore and the things she had in the house.  I always had great angst about what to give them. That year I found a little Japanese porcelain dish which I hoped they would like, but it cost more than my small salary could comfortably bear. Still, I bought it.  There wasn’t any joy in the purchase, however.  I was worried and poorer…not a good combination.

The Conservatory was, back then, in a less than desirable part of town.  It was surrounded by poverty level housing and people.  There was a drug store right across the street that I visited on my lunch hour to pick up necessary items.

One day, near Christmas, I was at the drug store, mindlessly purchasing some stuff, not giving it any thought as I stood in line to pay for my items. An older woman was in front of me.  She wasn’t dressed warmly enough for the cold Boston December day.  It did strike me that she most likely didn’t have a warmer coat, but the thought was fleeting.

And then something happened that I will never forget.  As my arms were carelessly full of stuff, I realized she was buying  a single box of tissues.  And I heard her say to the clerk:  “This is for my friend for Christmas. She’ll really like it.”

I find myself as speechless now as I did then. And still a little close to tears.  It was a hard reality.  She was delighted with her choice of a gift for her friend, confident that it would be given, received and used with love and affection.

And I was worried about an expensive porcelain dish for my parents who needed nothing and would most likely put the dish in a drawer anyway?  Not a Christmas goes by that I don’t think about that moment.

Sometimes, I wish our family could just exchange boxes of tissues, carefully choosing one that might appeal…they come in such jazzy colors and designs these days. Wouldn’t that be fun?  We could wrap them up fancifully with pretty paper and ribbons, confident they would be used and appreciated.

Now, I know we can’t….and would never want to…deny our families the joy of Christmas morning and presents under the tree.  Santa Claus does exist.

But, for me, perhaps, a box of tissues has become a symbol of friendship and love,  of a longed-for simple Christmas season, of joy, of an opportunity to share with others less fortunate, and, of course, in its own way, the true meaning of  Christmas.

December 14, 2014

How Cats Think

He always does this when we’ve been gone for one or more nights.  We ask ourselves: “Why?”  “Why does he bury (most of) himself under the hall runner?”

We’ve decided it’s his message to us: “You left me here in this house all by myself.  Yes, you arranged for me to be fed and watered.  But you were far away and unavailable for loving, petting, cooing.  All the things I value.”

But since he can’t pack his bags, walk out the door and leave us as we do him, he burrows under the rug and becomes unavailable for loving, petting, cooing.  All the things we value.

Wretched being.

And all the more loved for his cunning and very feline behavior.

‘Tis the Season

We’re in full shopping mode at this point.  It slowly creeps up on us and then takes over.  I weary of it and I don’t think I’m alone.

Our families and friends are so fortunate.  Our well-being doesn’t depend on those things we don’t have.  We’re blessed that way.

Still, we feel the pressure, the urge, and yes, the fun and joy of giving at this time of year.  Even if it’s something small, we want to give a gift to those we care about.    And yet….

A friend and poet, Thelma Naylor, wrote something a while ago that found its way into my “frequent reading folder.” With her permission, I’ll share that poem:

Please, don’t give me anything

I’ll have to recycle its packaging

Decide on its appropriate setting

Take care of it, clean it, move it

Determine its fair market price

And give you something nice

 

Please, don’t give me anything

Just your touch

 

How lovely.  Just that small, beautiful gift of friendship.  I can’t think of anything I’d rather have.

 

 

Image thanks to Babam Media

Coulda Shoulda Woulda ?

I should have written a check.

I would have written a check.

I could have written a check but I pay on-line.

It’s so much easier to do it that way.  Just a couple of clicks and it’s done.  Think of the paper I save.  No long lines at the post office to buy increasingly expensive stamps.   No trips to Staples to buy envelopes or order checks.

It’s all just great until the on-line people decide it’s time to verify I’m who I say I am.

Shouldn’t they warn me I’m about to be subjected to the dreaded “challenge questions?”

They, those inaccessible and inscrutable people, already know the answers to those questions and if my answers don’t match theirs, there will be a shut-down and I will be denied access to my hard-earned money.

I’m a good person, albeit not technically inclined.  I’m also not inclined to remember obscure answers when they were just that to begin with.

Happily, I still have lots of stamps, boxes of envelopes, years’ worth of blank checks and I quite love my writing instruments.

Am I to be ecologically incorrect or suffer at the hands of impersonal machinery?

What an absurd riddle.

 

 

 

Image thanks to bankrate.com

Priority Mail

 

Gotta love Amazon Prime.  When it works, it’s wonderful.  Reliable, fast, next-day delivery.

Not always the case where we live, however.

Our main thoroughfare (all two lanes of it) is frequently blocked.  No one can get in. Or, in our case, out.   And it’s blocked for the most delightful of reasons.

Our town has street fairs for just about every occasion you can imagine.  Orange no-parking cones go up, tents arrive, food is cooked and people throng.

We celebrate all the normal holidays:  Easter, Christmas, Veterans Day.  Parades fill the streets.  People come from all over to join in.

Those parades are just the beginning.  We also have Farmer’s Markets, Book Fairs, Art shows, Craft shows, Seafood festivals, BBQ cook-offs, Art and Wine strolls, Boiled Peanut festivals, pop-up fundraisers.  The list goes on.  No cars, golf carts, trucks or vans allowed during any of those things.  Only people on foot.  And dogs, of course.

So, sometimes we don’t always get our next-day delivery.  Or any delivery for that matter.

I actually find it quite charming that our little town successfully foils Amazon and the United States Postal Service.

We show them a thing or two about priorities.

 

 

 

Photo thanks to Jeramey Lende/shutterstock.com

Once a mouse; always a mouse?

(Please be sure to click on the picture!)

Not if you’re a ballet dancer in the Hilton Head Dance Theater’s annual Nutcracker Suite.

If you’re at all familiar with the Nutcracker Suite, you’ll know that the Mice appear early in the show, all done up with little spiky ears, pink noses, and tails on their tutus.  They’re all under the age of five.  There are usually many, many of them.  Some run offstage as soon as they arrive, seeking comfort from their back-stage mothers; others take to the spotlight and have to be forcibly removed.  Cameras click and families strain to see if they can identify their “mouse.”  They can’t, but it doesn’t matter.

The Mice are wonderful. They put us in the Nutcracker mood.

We’ve had the pleasure of watching our own “mouse” morph into other, more glamorous, more taxing Nutcracker roles.  Fittingly, and through hard work, training, and commitment she’ll dance the Sugar Plum Fairy pas-de-deux this year.

We’ve followed our dancer and her friends from Mice to English Crackers, Soldiers to Candy Canes, Marzipans to Flowers.  We’ve watched them change, grow, take baby steps from ballet slippers to toe shoes, inch their way from the back of the stage to the front.

It’s a community they’ll never forget.  Whether they continue their dancing or not, the value of their collective accomplishments through the years is a wonderful thing.

They might not understand that right this minute but it will all be there for them, some day, when they need it.

 

Photo courtesy of the South Jersey Ballet School

The Time Has Come

 

 

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,

To talk of many things.

Of shoes and ships and sealing wax

Of cabbages and kings,

And why the sea is boiling hot

And whether pigs have wings.”

 

The time has also come for Life on the May to take a short hiatus.

Children’s stories so often have relevance that we need to hear.  And heed.  So, I’ll scare up my copy of C. S. Lewis’ “Alice in Wonderland.”  And perhaps read a little A. A. Milne while I’m at it.

But I’ll be back.  Soon, I hope.  Please don’t go away.  I’m just taking a brief journey  down the Rabbit Hole.  I’m pretty sure they still do marvelous tea parties.  And if memory serves, the March Hare will offer wine.

Maybe you’ll join me there.  I’d like that.  It should be fun.

The Stuff In Between

Uh, Oh, Oreos.

Every people-friendly pantry has a package of Oreos.  You never know when you’ll get the urge to dip one in a glass of cold milk, make cookie crumbles for ice cream or twist off those chocolate wafers to get to the yummy stuff “in between.”

That’s my personal favorite.  That stuff “in between.”  I think that’s where “it’s at” and I’m not just talking cookies here.

Sure, those chocolate wafers are crispy and good and they make a nice shell for the stuff in between.  Sort of like birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and so forth. Those big events hold us together and give us reason to celebrate.  They’re our bookends.  Our markers.

But so much of the good stuff arrives differently, doesn’t it?   When you least expect it,  It just slithers in and quietly becomes part of your life.

Watching a cat sleep.

Starting a good book.

Laughing with friends.

Cocktails on the porch.

Stuff.  Just ordinary stuff.   Every day stuff.

That yummy, delicious  “in-between” stuff.

 

Change

Our favorite television character, Sheldon Cooper of the Big Bang Theory, says: “They say change is good.  But it never is.”

Sheldon tends to look at things in black or white so I don’t agree with him all the time but there’s been a change in our neighborhood recently that made me think of him.

The food bank at the church next door has recently moved.

We happened to be leaving our house early on the day of the move.  I saw bins and baskets being stacked in cars.  Shelving was dismantled and trucked.  Folding tables were put into vans. The food bank equipment was going to its new home.  It made me sad.  Surprisingly so.

I had happily volunteered at the food bank for three years.  Our group did the set-up work.  We filled the bins and baskets with bags, stacked the shelves with pantry-goods, stuffed the fridge with produce and dairy products.

The food bank clients would come in the following day and gather their needs.

There was a routine.  A pattern.  A ritual.  A comfort level.  Sheldon would have loved it.  I did, too.

Yes, I know the food bank needed to move to a new space and I know it’s still doing its good work.

But I miss having that regular, reliable, routine stuff going on next door to me every week.

For better or worse, change happens.

 

 

 

Hiccups

“A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”

So sings Mary Poppins.

I always study the medical column in the New York Times Magazine with its tales of difficult-to-diagnose-cases and their ultimate solutions. Understandably, I’m usually lost until some smart doctor or nurse comes up with the answer and solves the problem.

Not so a couple of weeks ago. I may not have grasped the entire picture but I sure could have helped.  Long before the doctors did.

It seems that a man had been suffering from hiccups for days on end. He’d tried all the home remedies….drinking water upside down, holding his nose while drinking water, asking people to scare him, etc. He finally went to the hospital and they gave him a bunch of harsh drugs. He went home and kept on hiccupping.

Back to the hospital; more nasty drugs, MRI’s, Cat Scans, etc.

Poor guy still had hiccups. He was exhausted, losing weight, going crazy.

And I’m sitting there thinking: “Why isn’t someone simply giving this poor man a spoonful of sugar? “

Well, it turns out he did indeed have a little issue (way over my pay grade) that was part of an underlying cause of the hiccups and they fixed it. For the most part.

When he was going home from the hospital, still with more than a few hiccups, one of the nurses said: “You know, there’s a really simple cure for hiccups. Just put a spoonful of sugar under your tongue. Let it dissolve and Ta Da!  All gone!”

Finally, I said to myself, a little common sense.

And some seriously long-delayed comfort and peace for the poor hiccupper.

It works, by the way. If you didn’t already know.

Sign(age)s of Age

No, I’m not talking about wrinkles, creases, sags, and bags.

I’m talking about sturdy old houses, acknowledged for their role in Bluffton’s history.

The Bluffton Historical Preservation Society has recently finished a sterling and thorough job of identifying and dating all the historical buildings that exist in Old Town Bluffton.   And it has generously awarded each its own handsome sign.

I walk past several of those houses every morning.  Many date back into the 1800’s.  One even to 1795. I admire their longevity, their stateliness, their beauty.   Oh, sure, they’ve had a little “work” done.  Wouldn’t you if you were that old?

There is, however, more than one house on that registry that was built as recently as 1940.  Now, that’s getting dangerously close to my own date of birth.

It makes me wonder…

Am I “of historical significance?”

Should I sport a sign so everyone would know exactly when I was built?

Will people take pictures of me?

Do they comment on how well preserved I am, especially given my age?

Does anyone note that my shutters are slightly off center?

The mere thought of all that is quite sobering.

It calls for a stiff drink or two, a  little “work,” and definitely a celebration.

After all, just like those sturdy old houses in Bluffton, I’m still standing.

A Place to Call Home

I went back home a couple of weeks ago.  I’ve been making that trip in late August for the last eight years.

It all started when our daughter-in-law was air lifted from a hospital in Ohio to the intensive care unit of the University of Michigan Hospitals in Ann Arbor.

We were told that her best chance of recovery would be in their capable and knowledgeable hands. Her husband, our oldest son, the Mister, our cats and I followed by car.   We were all leaving our home bases.  And our comfort zones.

We settled into a motel, scared and alone.  Visits to the hospital and the grocery store were our only excursions.

For the most part, I hung out in the motel with our cats.  The SICU at the hospital was not set up for visitors.  All the energy went to their patients; our daughter-in-law being among the very sickest.

It was on our first day there that I started my travels to Three Pines.   I immediately became a part of that small community.  Its residents accepted me, sustained me, made me laugh, kept me warm.

During those three months in Ann Arbor, I ate warm croissants for breakfast from Sarah’s Boulangerie.  I read Ruth’s poetry and laughed at her foul mouth.  I spent hours in Myra’s bookstore.  In the evening, I joined the crowd at the Bistro for drinks and gossip. Of course, Superintendent Armand Gamache and his wise wife, Reine Marie, were there to bring us all together.

I was NOT alone in that motel room.

I was part of a community.

Three Pines is, of course, a fictional town in Canada, brought to life by its creator, Louise Penney.  Her books are always published on the last Tuesday in August.  Her latest book, “Glass Houses” quickly flew up to number one on the New York Times bestseller list.

So, two weeks ago, new book in hand,  I retreated to my nest and again savored my time in Three Pines, enjoying the characters I feel I know so well.  I emerged refreshed but sad that I have to wait another year.

Until I get to go back home again.

Flags

(Please click on picture for full image)

We frequently fly a flag in the front of the house.   On most occasions, it’s the American flag.  Ours was given to us by a soldier on the occasion of his safe return from Afghanistan.  We hang it with great honor.

But we occasionally fly another flag.  It’s a distress flag.  A Maritime distress flag, to be specific, but we stretch those boundaries just a little bit.

We use that maritime flag to symbolize the distress that we, and I in particular, feel from our country’s relaxation on many environmental restrictions.

I think I feel the pain most acutely because I’m a born-and-bred West Virginian.

West Virginia’s known for its beautiful mountains.  That’s why it’s called the Mountain State.

The mountains and their valleys have always been rich in coal and natural gas.  Both have contributed abundantly to our energy use through the years.

But the time has come to phase out our reliance on them.  The gas wells have run dry; the hills have given up most of their coal.

The only way to continue coal and gas production is to rape and plunder Mother Nature.  It’s called “strip mining” and “fracking.”  And with those atrocities go our  mountains, the valleys, the streams and their beauty.  I feel that pain intensely.  West Virginia roots run deep and strong.

And that’s one reason why we hang a distress flag from our front porch.

 

 

Intelligence Promotion

I’m one (mis) step closer to joining MENSA.   That elite group of nerdy, brainy people.  I’ll explain.

See, I fell a few days ago.  It was a big fall.  A shoe caught on an uneven piece of sidewalk and down I went.  Knees, wrists and face.   In that order.  Happily, I only got a few cuts, some bruises and a bit of gravel in my face.  Nothing broken, sprained or sliced.

I clearly recall that as I thudded to the ground, I uttered a four letter word and it wasn’t “rats.”

I also remember that as I was trying to stand up, I saw a man drive past me who couldn’t possibly have missed my splayed-out body on the ground.  He didn’t so much as say: “Hey lady, you OK?”  I called him a name.  It wasn’t a nice name.

I dusted myself off, limped home, treated my wounds and scolded myself for being so careless, if not outright stupid.  I also took myself to task for using such un-lady-like language.

But then I remembered.

Michael Adams wrote a book, “In Praise of Profanity,”  in which he says that the effective use of profanity has proved to be an indicator of verbal skill.  If not intelligence.

The Marist College has recently published a report supporting that premise.

Given the utterances that flew out of my mouth so spontaneously, so effectively and, I believe, quite appropriately, I decided that I’d earned an intelligence promotion…15 points on the IQ scale, at a minimum.  Look out MENSA, I’m on my way.  I may not arrive all in one piece but I’ll be there.

All in all, it was a very satisfying day.

 

 

A Beautiful Day Today

Saturday, September 9, 2017

It’s a beautiful day today.  Right here on the May River.

Blue skies.  Low humidity.  Temperatures in the 70’s. Birds chirping.  Butterfly’s flitting.  You get the picture.  It’s why we live here.

There’s just one little problem, of course, and her name is Irma.

On my walk this morning I saw several people I know.  The question we asked of each other was not “How are you?”  We all know the answer to that one.

The real question is “Are you staying or leaving?”

We all have our reasons for our decisions and not one of them is easy to make.

There’s really nothing more to be said.   All we can do is wait and see.

We only know that wherever Irma goes, there’s bound to be catastrophic devastation.  And for that, we are deeply, deeply saddened.