Archives for category: Friends

There’s nothing like the lessons that history teaches us about ourselves. I sometimes wonder how this time in our lives will be judged in even a few decades with all the venom spewing onto social media and the internet. To escape the news, I picked up Bill Bryson’s wonderful book, “One Summer…America 1927.” I know it was a bestseller when it was published, but this was the perfect time for me to read it. I had also recently read “In the Garden of Beasts” by Erik Larson, a history of Germany in 1933 as Hitler was coming into power.

The current news is disturbing, watching crowds of Americans chanting hateful words at fellow Americans. Everywhere there is the fear of people who they assume are different from them, whether they be Mexican, Middle Eastern, of different religions or sexual orientation. We seem to be confused about what kind of people belong in America.

Reading Mr. Bryson’s book, my senses sharpened as I read his description of the 1920s, noting that instead of the terms like the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties, etc, it could have been called the Age of Loathing. “There may never have been another time in the nation’s history when some people disliked more people from more directions and for less reason.”

He continues with descriptions of the bigotry, especially the Ku Klux Klan, which reached record numbers. It’s focus was regional with hatred of “Jews & Catholics in the Midwest, Orientals and Catholics in the Far West, Jews and sometimes Europeans in the East, and blacks everywhere.” Then there was the national interest in eugenics, the scientific cultivation of superior beings. Using eugenics, people were deported, groups were restricted in the places they could live, civil liberties were suspended and thousands of innocent people were involuntarily sterilized, including people who scored low on the newly developed IQ test, used not to determine who was the smartest, but who was the least intelligent so they could be weeded out. In the way that these things tend to move, the people chosen to make these decisions had their own prejudices and interests projected onto the results of testing. Those with epilepsy and other mental or physical disabilities which made them inferior stock, so to speak, were victims also. Europeans were tiered with lighter skins being preferred to the darker skins of the more southern regions.

You can read both of these books to see the similarities of what is going on in our country today – and you should!

I had already been trying to process the anger and fear I see daily. It’s hard to understand where it comes from when I look around me. For one thing, what exactly qualifies a person to be considered white? Since the beginning of our country, immigrants have flooded in, assimilating into the country while still retaining some of their heritage. You can drive across the Kansas plains and see tiny towns on the flat horizon with the steeples of large churches built by the European settlers who came there standing out as the places the farmers came together to worship in this new land. I was just in Okarche, OK, which was settled by Germans who conducted all their education and worship services in German until just before World War I.

Since I was born in 1945, I have seen the acceptance of so many different kinds of people in my own little corner of the world. As a child, I only knew African American people in service areas but, through the years, I became friends with bi-racial couples and worked with professional people of all races. Being Native American was not embraced even in Oklahoma, the land of the red people with more than 70 tribes today. Now it is a source of pride with people searching for traces of Indian bloodlines.

The recent surge of interest in genealogy has opened up the realities of our country’s growth with DNA tests available to reveal our roots. My family seems to have moved from the east to the west in the traditional ways with my father’s family moving from the British Isles to Maryland and on to Kentucky, with some spurs in Louisiana, before my ancestors ending up in Oklahoma. My mother’s family took the southern route from the east coast, farming through the southern states into Texas and, eventually, southern Oklahoma. No telling what other family tree branches hold as far as mixed breeding along the way.

We’ve welcomed refugees even if it took awhile for them to be totally assimilated. I remember enrolling Vietnamese children after they were sponsored by local churches. They were so sweet as they came to a new country, a new state and city and started school when they couldn’t even speak the language. They were model students, hard working and thankful to be there.

Today, our wonderful diversity is all around me in ways that were shocking mere decades ago. Children with disabilities are not hidden or shuffled off to institutions as we mainstream them in schools when possible and celebrate them with Special Olympics. They are beloved children who teach us as much as we teach them. Medical advances have made so many lives more livable and children learn to accept rather than ridicule those with differences. One of my grandsons has grown up with a friend with disabilities and doesn’t seem to even notice.

Both of our presidential candidates have children who have married into the Jewish faith, which would have been hard to do in past generations, both from the Jewish and protestant sides. My grandmother was raised Catholic but had to leave the church to marry  my grandfather who was Episcopal. True love ruled out back at the turn of the 20th century and they were married over 55 years. I can remember the fears around the candidacy of John F. Kennedy as to whether the Pope would try to run America if Kennedy were elected.

I was fortunate to grow up in a community where Jews and Catholics were community leaders and friends, so I didn’t see the kind of ugliness as much as in other places. When I worked for the American Red Cross, I took classes such as water safety, disaster planning, and even diversity to many rural schools. For our fundraising records, I was supposed to bring back the racial breakdown of the classes where I made presentations. This was almost a joke as I answered that I could barely tell the girls from the boys. In rural Oklahoma, there were so many kids who were of mixed heritage – African American, Native American, Hispanic and white. Fortunately, the teachers had the statistics for me from enrollment numbers. We all keep those kind of records these days, I guess. It was eye-opening for me to look out at a sea of 2nd or 3rd graders and try to figure out who they were. They were all kids to me and it was amusing to try to decipher the different colors of skin and facial features that could be from anywhere. Such is the melting pot we live in.

One of my grandsons asked me years ago to explain the differences in religions, especially protestants. After pondering that for a minute, I explained some of the differences in structure of the governing bodies and of the basic beliefs. I also explained that churches vary by community depending on the people who are members. You might want to join the Presbyterian church in one town, the Methodist church in another or some other religion. It was about finding which one felt right with your beliefs and where you felt you belonged as far as the membership. It gets confusing in today’s world because each religion is also subject to interpretation by the leadership. This is world wide and we all know that the worst things mankind has done to fellow human beings throughout history is usually done in the name of God. Not the God I believe in who is about love and acceptance, but the God they describe to meet their own desires.

Today, I have friends who have had to hide their sexual orientation for most of their lives and are now able to lead very happy lives, loved and accepted by their families and friends. It’s not always easy for them but they can at least know there are places and people who are working to make it easier for them to live and work as they please. My boss at Oklahoma State University is from Malaysia. Last week, I sat with three friends and thought about where we all are. One of them has a gay son, one has a daughter who is married to a Muslim and raising her grandchildren in that religion and one has a son who is married to a German girl. A friend from long ago was able to see his son married to his partner and accepted at last. As parents and grandparents, we accept and love, even if we know there are still those who will make it more difficult for them along the way.

As two of my grandchildren graduated from high school this year, my own high school, I took pride in watching the cheers from the students as classmates of various racial backgrounds crossed the stage. They are so much more accepting than we were because they are exposed to the differences in their everyday lives. They play sports with them, go to class with them, and get to know them as people. Sure, there are still those who snicker and make tacky jokes or mean comments, but it is infinitely better. In their world, where everything can change in a minute with social media, I still see things as better.

I worry today with the hatred I see spewing because it’s hard for me to understand the fear. The more people with differences of race, religion, sexual orientation or physical limitations you meet, the more you relate to them as fellow human beings. Basically, we all want the same things in life – to love our families and provide homes and ways to contribute to our societies. Sure, there are aberrations with people who have distorted visions and sick needs and ugly aspirations for power and control, but people are basically good.

What is a white person, this ideal that people want to bring back, anyway? There are so many shades of skin that I don’t know what that term even means. How can you be a white supremacist if your own heritage may be of a nationality that was once the focus of the hate you are now spewing? Do you have Italian or Irish blood? You were once hated and feared too. Scandinavians were also suspect as were any people who spoke another language. Where do your people come from anyway? Who are you to think you are superior to anyone? Really?!

What were those good times that people talk about? Do you want to go back to a time when people were discriminated against because of their heritage, their skin color or even because they were women? How good were those times? I can look back fondly at the past and loved growing up in the 50s and 60s, but there were some things that weren’t so great. Adults didn’t talk about anything with kids and I’m always finding out family secrets that were hidden in those days. Finding them out makes understanding easier. There was alcoholism and abuse and no telling what other ugliness hidden in those perfect families of the day. There was discrimination in the workplace and in daily life, all hidden in pleasant seeming communities and churches. It wasn’t quite as peaceful as it looks like in the nostalgic pictures we see.

People will always be people, with all the good and bad things that implies. In our country, in our time, I hope that we will always try to be the best of the best. Let’s be the place where people feel free to believe and live and love because when those things happen, our whole world gets better. Today and every day, let’s look at our own prejudices, which we all have, and try to understand why we have them. Take each prejudice one by one and find someone who makes that prejudice just wrong. If you can find one person, you can find many and, maybe, just maybe, one person at a time, we can put people in perspective and not judge them as a whole but as individuals who enrich our lives. Together, we can recognize the ones who are making it difficult for others and make changes. Together, we can do lots of wonderful things.

We have to keep trying to stop hatred and the ugliness it spreads and encourages. We have to keep trying!IMG_0090

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re living in historic times with the first woman about to be nominated by a major political party to run for President of the United States. This thought was fresh in my mind this morning as I took my younger granddaughter to her summer program.

This little six and a half year old is already rolling her eyes at me because she thinks I’m doing it wrong. Yesterday, she told me I was going to make her late and she would miss her fun time. The exasperation in her voice, the tone…when did she make the leap to 13? Of course, I didn’t do it wrong, but I remembered exactly what it feels like to be going into a new situation and knew she was taking her anxiety out on me. This isn’t my first time around this block.

My maternal grandmother was the cutest thing, always seeing the best in a situation. This was a woman with about an eighth grade education who married an older man when she was 18 and then was left a widow with three children before she was 30. In the depression. She raised two boys and a girl to be strong, hard working adults. My mother was the youngest and was a beautiful, smart girl, but she was probably rolling her eyes at an early age. My grandmother always had an innocence about her and my mother was more of a realist. I’m sure there were many times in their relationship, loving as it was, when my grandmother was tickled by this serious little girl who was facing their often rough life with her head held high.

I was a shy little girl, one of those who wants to please. As I reached adolescence, there was no limit to the embarrassment my parents were causing me. Their amusement at the situation only made it worse. I loved them, but, honestly, what was the deal? Leave me alone with my teen angst and my friends. We were discovering boys and our changing bodies and minds and solving the world’s problems at those slumber parties. We were seriously silly and ridiculously serious, all at the same time.

My eye rolling was there during college, maybe slacking a little. By the time I married and then graduated and had my first daughter, I was a little more respectful. Three daughters and a son later, I was much more grateful as I edged into my own years of being the object of the eye rolls. With that many children, I endured “the look” more than my share for more years. I still get it today, the result of raising strong women.

With amusement, I watch my middle daughter laugh at her 14 year old daughter as she weaves her way through these years. You either have to laugh at it or cry and our family chooses to be a laughing bunch. It’s not that it’s funny, but you have to have compassion and remember exactly how you felt at that age. We all stumble through finding ourselves, hoping we do.

So this morning, as this little 6 year old woman in the making decided to give me driving directions, I let her do so, smiling all the while. When I told her she needed to let me know when to turn ahead of time, she said she didn’t understand what I meant, “ahead of time.” Time isn’t as important to her since she has so much of it ahead of her. I explained and she said she had to get to the corner to know where she was, which was obviously not where she thought she would be. She did admit she wasn’t on the downtown streets that much. Without a strong “I told you so” tone, I explained that we were at our destination and that my way was ok too. When we got in the building, she asked me if I remembered the code to check her in and I assured her I did. And she soldiered on, bravely marching into this new situation like the strong personality she is with a slight wistful look and wave to me.

What I wanted to tell her this morning was that the world was changing and that she really could be President some day. I’m not sure that will mean much to her since she currently wants to be a veterinarian for wild animals, but it meant something to me. Girls today owe their opportunities to the women – and men – who have believed they can do anything. Today, it’s not a figure of speech to tell them they too can be President. Today, it’s the truth.

You go, Girls!DSC_0077

Lucky me! I got a break from my regular life at a time when it was much appreciated and went south to Florida with friends for a few days. For something different, we left the beauty of St. Petersburg and traveled north to Crystal Springs on the Gulf Coast.

Amazingly, it was predicted to hit a low of 30 degrees the morning we wanted to dive with the manatees in the only place you can do so by law, when they head from the colder Gulf waters into the springs with a constant temperature of around 70 degrees. We almost chickened out, discouraged by reports of visitors only lasting a few minutes before leaving with chattering teeth. At 70 years old, you think you’ve learned to be smart enough to know when it’s not going to work out. We considered a kayak to see them from the surface, but that was a 45 minute paddle, which sounded worse. My friend and I are nothing but game when it comes to a fun experience, so we prepped ourselves by worrying about the cold all night, packing up all kinds of non-Florida like things to keep warm.

It was 30 degrees when we walked to the boat at 7:15 am. I’ll be really honest – I was more worried about squeezing into a wet suit than the cold. Not pretty. I wasn’t shivering and I somehow got into the wet suit as several of us helped each other. Our boat was enclosed which helped.
IMG_9664Their slogan was promising a lot of fun ahead.IMG_9665It was the middle of the week, cold, and we lucked out with the last boat, so there were only 6 of us, my friend and me, two older ladies (maybe our age, but who knows) who are sisters-in-law, and a couple in their 50s celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. He didn’t end up going in but a few minutes at the end because of heart issues. This was on his wife’s bucket list and he was making sure she got to check it off. Captain Ed has been doing this for 27 years, being a guide for 6. We had an extra photographer and another helper, who stayed on the boat and later served us coffee, hot chocolate or Manatee Mocha (a mix of the two). It was looking good.

We watched a video of rules for approaching manatees before we left and Captain Ed gave us more pointers on how to use the snorkel equipment as our boat approached the location. Everyone had their own dive shoes but us, so the worst cold I felt was taking my shoes and socks off on the boat. The water felt warm, there was no wind, and I climbed down the ladder to be met by a curious manatee.

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This was a great start. I’ve been on whale watching trips in Alaska and Oregon and swam with stingrays in the Cayman Islands, but this was different. For one thing, manatees are so cute. When the first one you ever see swims over and rubs against you as you tickle its back, you fall in love instantly. They’re called sea cows, but a cow could rush you. There is absolutely nothing to fear with a manatee. Nothing! They eat plants and their only teeth are at the back of their mouth. We didn’t want to disturb them, not for fear of them frightening us but because we didn’t want to bother this endangered species whose greatest enemy is man. One had great slashes along his body from the blades of boats, even though their skin is tough.

Manatees can be as large as 13 feet long and 1300 pounds, but those were mostly sleeping. Ducking under water in my snorkel and mask, I quickly came face to face with some smaller ones. Oh, those faces.

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We had seen manatees mating, thrashing around near us, as we approached our site. As the captain said, they’re trying to keep from becoming extinct. We also were so thrilled to see a baby nursing at its mother’s side below us.

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In the springs we visited, there were homes around and the waterway was only 8 feet deep at the deepest. Most of the time, I could stand up if I wanted to stop my floating. We were there almost two hours, petting the cuties we met, watching them roll over in delight with our tickles.

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There were some areas we couldn’t enter, full of large manatees resting.DSC_0081

I can’t exaggerate how very peaceful these funny creatures are.

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When you have a chance to spend time with creatures who are so innocent and passive, you have to compare them to every other person or animal you’ve encountered in your life. I don’t know what their purpose is in our ecological system, but maybe it’s to remind us that it’s sometimes enough to get along with everyone, accepting them without qualm. These aren’t stupid beasts as they are compared to the very intelligent dolphin in many ways. They are gentle in the best kind of way. I felt so special to be in their presence.

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At the end of the trip, I knew I’d had a unique experience. Captain Ed said you’re never going to get as much love as we did that cold January morning in the warm Florida spring water. In the end, we never were cold and had almost missed the adventure of a lifetime over nothing. A friend looked at this picture of me and said my expression was different, the glow of the morning showing in my smile. I know the magic of the manatees had rubbed off on me. I’m very lucky!

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Great teachers never stop teaching.

Last month, I traveled to Kansas City with one of my main purposes to see my high school Latin teacher, who turned 95 that week. Bea Notley was not only one of the best teachers I had in a lifetime of exceptional teachers, she is also a friend and one of the neatest people I’ve ever known. She had come to our high school class’s 50th reunion a few years ago and I had promised myself I would go see her.

One would add that this little Scots woman is also a role model for any of us at her age. She fell a couple of years ago and moved to a retirement home so her children wouldn’t have to worry about her. She told me that was the least she could do for them. When I arrived, she greeted me at the door to the home with a walker, much smaller than I remember, and then sped off so fast I had to catch her. She only needs it for balance evidently. Good grief. She had lost none of her spunk or her enthusiasm for life, which was a delight.

After a tour of her apartment, a one-room studio with bed, living area, bath and kitchenette, we went to lunch with some of the men she likes to eat with. She told me they had lost a couple along the way. I have to say that these guys were absolutely fascinated with her and I thought to myself that they are probably closer to my age than hers. Before I came, she told me on the phone that she pays for three meals, but prefers to cook her own breakfast because there are only so many meals she can eat in a room full of old people who are younger than she is.IMG_0207

Outside her door is a bookshelf full of the Latin textbooks I remembered so well, along with other texts. I told her I still had some of them with my handwritten notes inside, including all the Latin phrases we memorized each year. Her daughter was afraid the books would be stolen, but she said nobody would steal them after reading the titles. There was also a framed cartoon that she had quoted when she spoke at our reunion.IMG_9187

A note on that – at one point while speaking at our reunion, she called all of her former students up to the front and told us all to sing “Gaudeamus Igitur” with her. To say we all started singing, even though most of us hadn’t exactly been humming that every day for fifty years, is an understatement. Something snapped and we all sang out like we practiced every day. It was a showstopper.

One of the places we stopped was a memorial plaque to the veterans who lived in the home. Bea said her nameplate would be ready soon. She served as a WAC in World War II. When the memorial opened in Washington D.C, she attended the ceremony. She said she hadn’t thought too much about it, but standing there with all those women made her so proud to be a part of it.

Bea spends her days in the retirement home reading from the books she has left, especially her Will Durant collection. In the early evening, she turns on PBS and watches television for a bit. That’s all she can stand. She must keep busy around the center since she seemed to know everyone we passed. She told me she should just figure how to lie down and die at her age but she couldn’t do it. That made me laugh. Bea is more alive than many much younger people I know. And sharper. And more fun.

My visit was much too short for both of us so I will have to return soon. I told her the next time we’d get out of there and go someplace fun. I had invited her to do that this time, but she had things to show me. She wants to take me to a cider mill next fall and who knows what in between.

The reason I wrote this was not to tell about my visit but it is so fun to remember that I couldn’t help myself. This woman has taught me so much from the four years of Latin I took with her through our encounters over the past years. She is a treasure of the best kind.

As we were touring her space, I pointed to a photo of President and Mrs. Obama hanging on the wall. She nodded and said there will always be a photo of the President in the Notley home. She said she got some criticism for it around the home, but she said we should always respect the office of the President. I was so taken with the directness with with she told me this, the matter of fact tone she has always had. There is no excuse with her for not having respect.

There are so many things I took away from our visit, mostly her strength and the way she continues to inspire me. But, that photo of the President will stick with me. We have strayed so far in this country from the kind of respect she shows. I haven’t liked every president, but I try to respect the fact that they are in that office because they were elected and are doing a job that is more difficult than we can imagine. She brought it all back home to me. And I remember who helped instill those kind of values in me.

As I said, a teacher never stops teaching. Thank you, Bea!DSC_0097

 

 

Finally! I’ve been waiting my whole life for this day!!! Really, I have. I’m 70 today and my whole life has led me here, like it or not.

I decided to mentally take stock of my years and see where I am.

I’m an educated woman, I’ve been taught and I’ve taught others. I continue to learn because there’s so much to know. So much new stuff to keep up with. And my mind is functioning with a few forgetful moments here and there, probably due to so much being stored in that brain of mine. So much more that needs to be filed away…

My body is still working fairly well, minus a few parts that weren’t in use so much, and I’m lucky for that. I promise to take better care, I promise.

I’ve traveled well, been to several countries and almost all the states. So many more places to go and see…

I’ve given back to my community, hoping to make my little corner a better place, and have received way more than I have given in the life lessons I’ve learned, the friendships I’ve made, the skills I’ve been taught.

There has been sadness and joy, with much much more joy than I ever would have guessed. The sadness has taught me to appreciate the joyful times so much more.

I believe that all faith begins with Love and the Golden Rule and keeping it simple makes life easier in the long run. I believe in living what you believe more than anything.

My friends are there forever, even if we’re not in touch sometimes. It’s fun to reconnect as our lives take different directions.

I’ve been a daughter, granddaughter, wife, mother, and grandmother. Nothing means more. Nothing. Absolutely love my children and grandchildren – absolutely, with all my heart.

So, turning 70 isn’t all that bad. I’m here, after all, to enjoy my friends, watch my children and grandchildren grow into their own lives. Time is going faster and faster and it scares me sometimes to see how little time lies ahead of me at this speed, but what do I know? We only have so much time and we don’t get to know how much, so we live the best we can.

I waited all this time to be 70 and here I am. It’s good. All good.Karen   June 1946

 

 

I’m a picture taker. I hesitate to call myself a photographer because I don’t really take the time to use all the stops and lens and filters I could use. It’s been something I’ve done since I got my first Kodak Brownie camera when I was 12. I took a class when my kids were little and learned to use the darkroom, which I never used again. I took away from that class an understanding of the way you can manipulate photos to make them better after you’ve snapped the shot, an appreciation of light. Today, I do that with a computer, cropping and fixing as I go.

Mostly, I’m capturing my memories, the pictures of my mind. Maybe I think I’ll lose them otherwise, but I do go through my photos all the time, just as I went through my  grandparents’ photos when I was a little girl. Both my maternal grandmother and my paternal grandparents kept all their photos in the top drawer of a dresser. I guess that’s what people did if they didn’t put them in an album. I should have asked them more questions about the people in the pictures. I definitely should have.

Maybe it’s my impatience or my lack of discipline or my trust of the wonder of modern cameras, even on our phones, but I seldom spend too much time using all that I’ve learned in the photography classes I’ve taken. Usually, I have a camera with me and take what I see. And I see pictures all around me. I can’t drive down a street or walk a block without seeing a picture in my mind. I compose all the time, trying to capture the essence of what I’m seeing. That’s impossible sometimes, such as clouds or sunsets, but I can get a little of the wonder of it.

Yesterday, I stepped out my door and was struck by the beauty of the fall leaves in the rain. So, of course, I grabbed my camera and took pictures. For me. Here are a couple so you can see what I’m talking about.DSC_0005DSC_0014I couldn’t let the moment pass. It’s my own memory of that day I walked out my door and saw something so beautiful.

When I travel, I take photos to use in my blog or to remember my trip or to remember where I was. I now take pictures of the restaurants where I eat so I can remember when someone asks me because I would surely forget. I take a lot of photos from the car and it’s amazing what you can get, even through the windshield. It is definitely a problem when I’m the driver because I pull over a lot. A lot. Here’s a photo from Chinatown in San Francisco. I looked up and realized that there were people living lives above the tourists populating their streets. They must be immune to our presence by now.DSC_0508My favorite subjects are the people I love. I’m okay with posed pictures, but I love the candid shots that show me something you can’t see with a pose. My friends are caught in an impromptu dance. She was recently diagnosed with ALS, yet they are marching forward, surrounded by the love of their family and friends. This moment will stay with me for a long time.DSC_1052Here’s a long ago photo of my Daddy, relaxing with his paper on a Sunday morning. Most people knew him as elegant, athletic, handsome and he was. He was also Daddy with his tan line from his golf shoes, his rumpled curly hair, and his daily paper. Scan 32My youngest granddaughter is in love with all animals and not afraid to get up close. This bird was so patient to let her see how his feathers work.DSC_0161Last summer, my family got together for a swim party and I watched my grandsons play like little kids. The oldest one was leaving for college in a month and I caught him enjoying his cousins. How many more times will I get to see them all together playing?DSC_0163The boys made up game after game in the water in total joy with the familiarity of brothers and cousins.DSC_0187The boys are all athletic and I caught one of the younger ones (at 15 and 6’5″) showing his intensity in a ball game. He is a pitcher and first baseman, by the way.DSC_0145I catch my youngest granddaughter all the time in moments that remind me she is still a little one, our last for awhile. Oh, the sweetness of a sleeping child. IMG_7637Here’s another older one that I caught on the Christmas before my oldest grandson was born. All my children are gathered together in that moment before the grandchildren began to arrive. By the end of the following year, we would have three boys…but we didn’t know that at this moment. So much happened after this. So much.photoHere’s a picture I took at the OSU Homecoming Parade a few weeks ago, intending to use it in my blog. Little did I know that a horrible tragedy was about to happen about a mile down the street. Little did I know that this would capture the essence of the parade’s innocence and delight before the horror happened.DSC_0082Years ago, I was volunteering with the local domestic violence shelter. We gave a Halloween party for the women and children and I was taking Polaroid pictures for them. We didn’t use film because we wanted to respect their privacy. That event taught me so much about my camera and myself. One woman held a one year old in a body cast, wanting a photo for the father who had caused this pain. I had to stop myself. I lifted the camera to take a photo of one woman and seeing her eyes through a lens made me put the camera down for a moment. There was too much there, too much of her I was seeing. I lifted it back and took the shot, but I’ve never forgotten the power of what you see through a lens, what focusing on something teaches you in that moment.

So I’ll go on taking my camera with me, stopping to capture my family and friends, everything beautiful, interesting, funny or memorable around me. I sometimes feel artsy, as anyone can with the sophisticated equipment we have today, but mostly I do it because I can’t help myself.

You get the picture.

Forty years ago today, our son was born. Forty years ago. Five years ago today, he texted me:

IMG_1227Two months later, he was gone, his 6’2″ frame weakened by the residual effects of intense radiation ten years previously. At least we had those ten years.

Normally, I’m pretty stoic about all of this, able to process his life and keep it in perspective with the ways of nature and the universe. I understand life and death pretty well, knowing we all aren’t given long lives or easy lives. I don’t cry much anymore, having cried myself out with the death of my husband first and then my son. I talk about it, write about it, keep myself surrounded with the people  who make me happy. I do ok.

This year has been different, especially the last few months. I’m in a new zone of the grief process, a new layer that I wasn’t expecting.  I can’t pinpoint the exact reason for this feeling because I can pinpoint a whole bunch of reasons. Whatever is causing it is real and painful, but I know it will pass. The song, “Forever Young,” goes through my head. Yes, he will be forever young, although I’d like to have watched him get older along with his sisters and all my grandchildren. Not to be.

I try to be angry but it takes so much energy that I need for the living. I should be madder than hell that he isn’t here to watch his daughter grow up. He is missing such fun things with her and her mother. I should be livid that he isn’t here with his wife and daughter and his sisters and their families at our family gatherings. I hate that he’s not here for his 40th birthday, celebrating with his friends. Damn it! That would be easy, I think, to rail against the universe. I don’t really do that too much, although today I will shake my fist once for good measure. I’m not mad at God or nature or any person or event. I’d get mad at cancer, but there are so many diseases equally devastating. It’s part of being a human being, this living and dying.

Mostly, I miss him. I miss him all the time. It creeps up on me at odd moments, as these things tend to do. It’s not the big events in life where the loss is felt the most. It’s the day to day flashes of what was and what might have been.

I defy anyone to think this won’t happen to them if they have enough faith or understanding or people around them or therapy or support groups or exercise or alcohol or drugs or whatever it takes each person to survive loss. It still waits around each corner, ready to disrupt your thoughts or sleep or activities. It can stop you in mid-sentence or mid-thought. If you let it, I guess it can paralyze you. You keep moving, keep moving along.

Don’t feel sorry for me or anyone else grieving. It is what it is and mostly we get through it, some better than others. There are no rules, no timeline, and no way to escape. Maybe that’s ok. Maybe that’s how we measure how much impact our loved one’s life had on us and others. So, don’t feel sorry, just appreciate the power of the love we have lost.

I have a feeling that his birthday will help release me from the pain I’ve felt this year. I hope so. My memories will still make me smile and laugh, his daughter will still do things that remind me of her daddy, my family will remember together. He was part of us from the beginning, forty years ago today, and he will be part of us for eternity. That’s how these things work.

Sharing all of this emotion is debatable but probably a good thing for me and for any of you who ever have to go through this. My heart is with you, whoever and wherever you are. It’s a feeling that you don’t really share with those around you who are going through their own ways of dealing with grief. Even married couples who share the same loss can’t grieve the same way. It’s personal and very very lonely.

I can feel it beginning to shake off because I’m looking forward to being with my family, sharing hugs and laughs. This grief comes and goes, but it will go back into hiding for sure. The sun shines, the seasons pass, the world moves on, and we who feel loss step out and join in the joy that is life, carrying the memories with us all the way.

Images of my son’s forty years pass before me. I don’t have a favorite because each is precious. Today, I can’t summarize his crazy, funny adventure of a life for you, but I can share him, dirty faced in his favorite cowboy hat, at 2 1/2 years old. I can’t help but smile thinking of this baby/boy/man of mine and how much a part of our hearts he will be as long as we can remember.photo

 

 

Oklahoma State University bills its Homecoming as “America’s Greatest Homecoming Celebration” with a whole lotta pride and reason to celebrate. As the university celebrates its 125th year, the Homecoming theme for 2015 was “Stillwater…Still Loyal…Still True.” It makes you pause a day later because of the importance of that statement in the aftermath of a year of planning, a week of festivities, a weekend of wonder mixed with unbelievable tragedy.

I’m an alum, was a graduate assistant in the English department back in my day, my first married years were spent in Stillwater, my oldest daughter was born in this town, some of my children and their spouses graduated from OSU, I am now on staff part time, my oldest grandson is a Freshman and I have another grandson coming here next year. I have ties galore. I really hadn’t been back for Homecoming weekend until 2011 when one of my grandsons, who was 13 at the time, and I came up for the weekend. It was such a delight that I couldn’t wait to come back. I only live a little over an hour away, but you have to plan for it. Stillwater is a town of 47,000 population, but there were 85,000 people there on Friday night this year. Yeah!

OSU Homecoming takes a year of planning, thousands of hours of work by student groups, and lasts for a week. There is something for everyone. The festivities kick off on Sunday with a ceremony to dye the water in the fountain in front of the iconic library orange. America’s Brightest Orange is everywhere!DSC_0030Every day is a new activity, with opportunities for any student group to participate. There is the Sign Contest on the library lawn, which shows off the creativity and spirit of the students…DSC_0017DSC_0038There’s a chili contest, a carnival for children, and a Paint the Street night open to anyone. A late week rain washed away some of the work, but the remnants were under our feet walking to the stadium on Saturday.IMG_8787IMG_8789Friday night is the WalkAround, a night where the streets in front of the university are closed and people walk around to see the massive house decorations designed and created by Greek Students. These were here when I was in school, but it’s beyond my imagination to see how these are built. When I arrived in Stillwater for meetings early Friday, it had rained overnight and students were hustling, working with huge equipment and lifts to finish the decorations before the judges arrived at 1:00. These structures are beautiful, inspiring, have moving parts, and are great fun.DSC_0006 It was my grandson’s first time to work on one, so I was sharing his pride.

DSC_0002He’s in this photo in the white shirt. He’s 6’4″ to give you an idea of the size.DSC_0008Before one of my meetings on Friday, Pistol Pete arrived in the building. I’ve shared my love of our mascot, the only college mascot based on a real person. He was in our department to greet alums and I caught this shot of him walking with one of the little fans, who was just learning to say “Pistol Pete.” He had on cowboy boots with the image of Pete and his grandfather was showing him the picture on the boots and then pointing to the real Pete. I don’t know if this little one understood, but he walked off with Pete, to his mom and grandparents’ delight.IMG_8683While I waited for some of my family to arrive in Stillwater for the WalkAround, I took pictures, as I always do, of things that caught my eye. Here’s Old Central, the original building and the oldest on campus, all spiffed up to greet alums.DSC_0020Everything was in place to greet the OSU family.DSC_0010DSC_0013I walked across campus, catching the moon over the #1 Student Union in the country.DSC_0028As the crowd began to build, the strip was ready with its familiar shops, restaurants and bars.DSC_0027The crowds were building, the streets were closed.DSC_0042When I came in 2011, it was harder to find food if you didn’t want to stand in line for an hour at a restaurant. Now there are food trucks everywhere, tents with OSU clothes and gifts, activities for all ages. The lights came on at Theta Pond, way more beautiful than when I was in school.IMG_8686Five of my grandsons did the WalkAround. Four of them, including the Freshman, had never seen it before and it was fun to share it with them. With bands playing, people of all ages filling every street, sightings of campus celebrities, members of the OSU band doing impromptu songs, dancing on the Student Union terrace, alums running into old friends, the memories flooding, the pride swelling, it’s the greatest street party ever.

By 9:00, the major activities are winding down and the crowd can move towards famous Gallagher-Iba Arena for Homecoming & Hoops, the perfect ending to the evening. This is basically a free pep rally for students and anyone else who enjoys the noise. The arena is famous for the noisy atmosphere during basketball season and this pep rally is perfect in that space. As I entered, the students were seated in groups, waving lighted sticks and screaming. The noise level is intense and my friend had ear plugs. I loved it!IMG_8691

The evening begins with the football coach, Mike Gundy, thanking the students for their hard work and inviting them all to the game the next day. I watched the coach while the music was leading up to him talking. He moved with the music, shooting his hand in the air with the spirit of the evening. On the sidelines, he has to watch the game. Here, he’s a Cowboy all the way – former stat breaking quarterback to coach. Here, he gets to be a fan for a few minutes before he leaves to prepare for the game.DSC_0058Pistol Pete is walking the sidelines, the band is playing. The OSU Women’s Basketball team gives a 10 minute preview of their skills, followed by the pom squad, a skit by the OSU Wrestling Team, a lip sync competition, announcement of winners of various contests during the week, t-shirts are shot and dropped into the student sections, small footballs are thrown to the crowds, a big demonstration by the cheerleaders, ending with a preview of the OSU Men’s Basketball Team. It’s a wild and crazy finish to the day.DSC_0062IMG_8694As we left, by luck of who I know and was with, I got to stand on the field, imagining what a young player must think and imagining what would take place the next day. Those goal posts look very narrow and that goal line is far away from the 50 yard line. Wow! IMG_8706By Friday night, for those of you who are into these things, I had walked over 18,000 steps. And, I still felt good. My head was full of so many years of memories and pride in what was going on in this wonderful place.

Saturday morning, I was ready to go to the Sea of Orange Parade. I remember taking my oldest daughter to it when she was a baby and I loved it the last time I was here. This isn’t really something the student body attends unless they’re in it because many of them have been up all night all week getting ready for Homecoming. This parade is more about families, generations. Stillwater is still a small town and this is the best of what a small town brings to a university experience. I almost didn’t go and visited with my friend I was staying with, but decided I didn’t want to miss any of this great experience and headed downtown alone. I stood near the beginning of the parade so I missed probably the first 1/3 to 1/2 of it, including the OSU Marching Band, all the OSU dignitaries, state politicians, Pistol Pete, the cheerleaders, etc. That’s ok because I got the feeling I was looking for. I’m sharing more photos with you than I planned because it really means more now.

Right after the Stillwater High School band, where I came in, was the OSU Polo Team. I bet you didn’t know we had a team, did you? We also have a Rodeo Team. We do horses here.DSC_0068And there were other horse riding groups…DSC_0072and dogs…DSC_0095and trucks and tractors and motorcycles and cars. DSC_0076DSC_0078DSC_0082

DSC_0069DSC_0114Note the crowds along the street. There were decorated flatbeds and walking politicians and others throwing candy to the kids with nobody acting like they were in any danger of poison candy. I moved down the street and stood beside pick up trucks owned by people who came early to park along the street and use the truck for parade watching. There were generations of families, waving to the parade participants, neighbors knowing everybody who walked by. I overheard people telling each other things like, “she does my hair sometimes,” “that’s my former student,” “he lives in Perkins now.” It’s a small town atmosphere, a family setting at its best.

There were beauty queens…DSC_0075and dance schools, and karate students, and little baton twirlers…DSC_0102There was pride in America…DSC_0090pride in our school and pride in our lives.DSC_0118There were local celebrities…DSC_0109and the ever popular marching lawnmower team, doing its routines along the way.DSC_0083DSC_0087And, bands, small town bands. I’m so very impressed with the number of kids who play all these instruments in the very very small towns. That’s a tribute to some teachers, some tradition, some pride.DSC_0106DSC_0096I walked up to the beginning of the parade in time to see the last of it, the mounted sheriffs turning the corner onto Main, to be followed by the Stillwater Fire Trucks. DSC_0123I walked to my car a little after 10:00, drove to McDonald’s to use the restroom and grab something to eat before I drove to the other side of campus to find a parking place for the game, planning to find some students and meet my friends later. I turned onto Hall of Fame and headed towards the stadium, not realizing what was going on or about to happen a couple of blocks from me. By the time I parked my car on a side street north of campus, I was starting to get messages that someone had driven a car into the parade crowds and people were killed. I was totally ignorant of where the parade ended, so I couldn’t place anything. Dear friends and family were contacting me to see if I was ok. What in the world? I walked the few blocks to the stadium, taking my phone charger with me because it was going down fast. This was becoming a strange day quickly.

The campus was crowded with tailgate parties. I can’t begin to tell you how crowded it gets and how many parties are going on. Here was an elaborate set up near the stadium. IMG_8747Families and friends were gathered to eat and hug and share the day. The smells of grills and barbecue were filling the air. IMG_8772I realized most of these people, thousands of them didn’t know anything or much more than I did about what was happening. But there was a subdued feeling beginning to hover over us. I found one of my student friends and plugged my phone into their trailer (Gad – there is so much to tailgating now!) and heard the first rumors, all of which proved to be false. I had heard a few sirens and saw some helicopters that I assumed were news media. As I left to walk around, I lost cell coverage, maybe due to the stadium, maybe due to the mass of people using all these devices. I saw televisions in tailgate tents turned to the news, but most people probably didn’t know unless they were being contacted. I was getting messages on Facebook, texts, etc. I was using power fast trying to reassure everyone.  For some reason, this orange colored dog made me smile in the middle of this strange time.IMG_8790

 

Mostly the campus was Homecoming as usual, maybe quieter when I think back. It was a day of celebration and of shock. It was time for The Walk, the parade of the band, cheerleaders, pom squad, coaches and players walking across campus to the stadium through a line of fans and well wishers. Usually this is noisy and boisterous. Today was quiet. The band wasn’t playing, other than a few drummers with a somber march. They were followed by quiet, respectful cheerleaders and pom squad. IMG_8763Pete arrived, cheering the crowd as always, somehow reassuring that our world is still there, living and breathing.IMG_8760The team walked by, huge kids. One stopped to give hugs to the people next to me. I’m sure they wanted reassurance, too. They may be big, but they’re somebody’s kid. IMG_8766Coach walked by, slapping the hand of the woman next to me who reached out to him.IMG_8769There was no noise at the end, the parade filtered into the stadium in silence. Game Day was here.

I decided to go into the stadium early because it’s fun to watch it get set up and I knew my friends were somewhere on their way. Besides, I was still having trouble with texts and messages getting through. Walking into the stadium early, the first thing that smacked me in my heart was the great flag at half mast. It’s really true and happening to these families so close by. You couldn’t shake that image all day long.IMG_8797So I filled the next hour watching the crowd build, the team practicing with different units, the school fight songs filling the air. The team came out and warmed up in formation, which I think is so coolIMG_8803They went back to the locker room, preparing to make their entrance. The KU and OSU bands played and everyone got in place to welcome the team to the field. IMG_8808I felt curiosity, waiting to see how this was going to be handled. As seen on television, there was a moment of silence, appropriate for all. The game was played, OSU won in a lopsided victory that made it easy for fans to slip out after the half-time. I stayed to the end, holding my friend as we sang and swayed to the alma mater along with the tradition of the team singing it with the students after the game. IMG_8816I stopped at a friend’s house after the game, welcoming the chance to get dinner and talk a little before I drove home. It was nice to be with good people, Stillwater residents, though there is no sense to be made of the tragedy of the day. Someone said this was not just an OSU tragedy, this was a Stillwater tragedy. I’ve been through senseless things before, I’ve lost loved ones. I watched video of the crash, horrified to see how close the children on a parade truck and walking came to being hit. I’m horrified they had to see this, horrified that it will haunt them forever. My love goes out to those who were there because the rest of us can only hold them in our hearts and hope for their physical and mental recovery.

The one thing I do know is that the irony of having something like this happen in the middle of such a great traditional weekend of Homecoming is offset just a little knowing how strong the ties are in the community of Stillwater and OSU. This is a strong family with shared memories and a lot of pride and love. It will help. It will.  IMG_8752

As I very rapidly approach 70 in the next few months, I can’t help but be aware that this age seems really really old to most of the world. What kicks me about it is the fact that you can’t ignore you have more years behind you than ahead of you. But that’s been true for a long time, so this is awareness that I have even less time today than I did yesterday. There are things that scare me to varying degrees as I approach yet another milestone, so I’ve narrowed it down to five. These are kind of in order and I know they’re pretty universal from conversations I have with friends.

5. Fear of the earth not lasting. This is a new one but I sometimes wonder if any of us will survive as our planet goes through its own aging process, exacerbated by our own mishandling of our natural resources. Will the west coast fall off into the sea, will a giant split drop middle America into the earth, will global warming burn us all up, will the toxic pit in Butte, Montana, pollute the waters of the west? This one goes on and on and there’s not much I can do. My fear here is more for future generations because I’ve been able to enjoy earth’s beauty in my lifetime. I guess dying in some kind of global shift won’t be any worse at my age than dying in a hospital bed. I’d probably be smarter to be afraid of being shot since that seems to be just as likely in our country these days.

4. Fear of outliving my money. I’m ok, thanks to Social Security, investments and a part time job. I own my home and am relatively healthy, so how long will what I have last and will I still have some to leave to my kids? I have Medicare and supplemental insurance to help with health costs. But still, how much is enough? You can read all the charts and listen to the experts and you’re still not sure.

3. Fear of either my mind going before my body or my body going before my mind. Nobody wants either of these and it’s not a random thing to wonder about. Even if you exercise your body and your mind, you’re still wearing out. Which part will go first – or next? I find myself walking much more carefully to avoid injuries to bones and parts that many of my friends are having replaced. We’re a generation of bionic elderlies, thanks to modern medicine. Our minds are full, overflowing, with information, so full it takes longer to access those mental files. The wear and tear on our bodies is inevitable. We work with what we’ve got.

2. Fear of not getting everything done. Sigh. There are so so very many things I want to do. Places to go, people to see, books to read, things to organize for my children. Some days I seem to be on frenzy trying to finish all that I’ve planned. As long as I can still go and do and move, I can work on this, but the list is endless. So many beautiful places to visit, so many people I want to see. The Bucket List only seems to get longer. And my checklists are never-ending. Moving along…

1. Fear of losing those I love. I’ve lost my parents, my husband and my son. I’ve lost other family and friends. I can’t control this, but I don’t want to lose any more. I’m pretty stoic about it most of the time, but there are times this becomes the most palpable fear I have. I don’t want to lose any more family or close friends. That’s it. Damn it! And I know this is unrealistic, but it’s there for me to worry about.

Whew! OK, I got those out there in public for all to see. That always makes it easier, especially since I know that others share these same concerns and we can even laugh about it when we’re together. When we’re alone, these thoughts creep in. My cure for the worries to remember how much time I’ve had, how many wonderful memories of places I’ve been and people I’ve known and loved. Most of these worries are because my life is good and I want it to continue. I’m grateful that I have a past worth remembering. I’m grateful for every day I have with my family and friends on this beautiful planet. That’s not a worry. That’s something to smile about.DSC_0639

This month, I returned to Oakland, California, to visit an elderly aunt and cousins of a friend of mine.  As an Okie, California is the land where people from my state went in hopes of a better life when the seemingly never-ending days of dust storms and depression wore them down.  Today, I survey the crazy state of California with love and wonder and, always, a shake of my head.  What a place of natural wonders, bountiful harvests, oceans, mountains, deserts and total craziness.  That’s just the Okie in me speaking, of course.

Oakland is across the bay from San Francisco and my friends live high above the city, up curvy, narrow streets, in the Piedmont Hills area, maybe beyond that.  These Okies moved here after the war, World War II, and purchased the place for $15,000.  They also purchased the lot next door and planted the giant redwoods that tower above them today.  The lots seem to go straight down.  I guess all the coastal people who live on the sides of hills want to be there, even though it’s a long drive up, not to mention bike ride or hike, to the nearest store or, coming up the hills, for help to arrive in case of emergency.  But Californians are outdoors people.  They ride horses, bikes and hike everywhere.  I’m digressing because I really want to share this fun trip with you.  I got to do so many interesting things that it will take a few blogs to do it justice, things that aren’t always on the top of the tourist list.  This was more about exploring.

First, I want to share the beauty of the home we stayed in.  When you drive up, all you see is the garage.  When you look out the front door, here is the view…where is the street?  Just keep going up the stairs…maybe 30 of them.  Imagine getting your groceries down there – or furniture or anything else.  IMG_7283The other side of the house shows the three levels.  There is an apartment 10 steps down and then the main level another 15 steps down.  You can get to the bedroom level down another staircase and then to the rest of the yard, which then goes down, down, down into thick growth.  Here are the stairs that I walked up over and over in the dark and rain from the main level to the apartment to the street.  You do adjust…DSC_0276You know what?  It’s a magical place.  The trees alone are incredible, planted by arborists when these hills were first populated.  Before then, the hills, these steep hills were clear.  I can tell you that planning a house on a steep hill is something that doesn’t appeal to me, no matter how many beautiful homes I’ve seen in the Hollywood Hills, San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle, Oregon.  I’m not enough of a mountain goat.  But, then there are these signs we passed every day, curving up the road to the house…DSC_0273 DSC_0272 DSC_0409And the wonder of hearing a rustle beside you as a mother and fawn wander into the patch of yard…DSC_0161And, the best part of this place is the incredible view, the view that mesmerizes you every minute of the day as it changes and changes and changes.  I couldn’t walk anywhere without my camera, trying to capture any of its beauty.  My hostess said she has never tired of this view she grew up with.  You look over Oakland, over to San Francisco, with Oakland Bay bridge and the Golden Gate bridge in the distance.  DSC_0566DSC_0574DSC_0566DSC_0672And, sometimes, this was the view…IMG_7331I’ve been to Muir Woods and heard my hosts talk of the big Redwoods right up the hill from their home.  For some reason, we didn’t realize that there is a park, a beautiful regional park, a few blocks from this home where these now middle aged Californians, born of Oklahoma parents, grew up, riding their horses and hiking all the day long.  In this park are the remnants of some of the largest California Redwoods, once so tall that they were seen from the sea and used by the sailors to navigate the area.  The trees were logged after the San Francisco fire and after the quakes, but are now protected.  This was a hidden gem during our stay, a place to walk where the big trees once stood and where their offspring shoot up around the former stumps, forming circles of trees, called “Fairy Rings.”  Once you understand why the trees are in circles, you can stand inside the ring and envision the size of these giants.  You can look up to see the light and stand in the forest, imagining the forest as it once was.  DSC_0165DSC_0167
DSC_0193DSC_0178DSC_0167And so the latest California adventure began…with the view and in the trees.  Hope you’ll share the rest of the trip with me.