Livin’ Large

A stranger’s furrowed brow, faltering voice, eyes locked on mine helped to make the message unvarnished. His partner silent, shaking her head in disbelief, a Sharpie style embellishment of clarity.

“Your place is beautiful, so many huge trees, private and beautiful, secluded but easy access, storage buildings… but your house! No dish washer, no garbage disposal, no walk-in closets, one TV and only one bathroom? Sorry, but this is just too primitive for us.”

Primitive? I live in primitive conditions?

Take another look.

My Halloween tree, craggy and huge, is home to an owl…night music for the velvet hours spend in the Sunday Room, a large sun room named by a three-year old just learning the days of the week. Sycamore shade keeps the room cool in summer protected in winter. Red-bud trees announce spring along with oak leaves that hold until those red-buds blossom.

A real barn, red and tin roofed, may now be emptied of lifetime collections but it is safe harbor to memories, to a karma of diverse talents and fierce determination to solve any problem.

We washed dishes together, he meticulous with scalding water and me with quick hands and ragged towels. What mechanical thing could replace that time?

Each room bustles with constant and sustaining memories. Family, children, their spouses, grandchildren, friends and neighbors push back against the walls of this house making a mansion where walk-in closets need not apply. Even that one bathroom proved to be a miracle of scheduling, taking turns, learning to G.I. shower during crowded holiday visits.

Among my Catholic friends, a particular practice involving St. Joseph is about 100% guaranteed success. When a home goes on the market, a statue of St. Joseph is buried in the yard to insure a quick sell. Several friends check weekly to see if I have handled that particular real estate boon, promising that it is more important than half empty rooms, bright lights, stashed family photos and a fresh cookie smell.

And still I resist, making little effort to acquire that stature of the saint, even if I knew where to buy it. The For Sale sign persists in advertising my primitive living conditions while I keep reliving volumes of sharing my life with Bob and our family–most definitely Living Large.


My Country Tis of Thee

Yesterday someone dear to me stated that I was not overly sentimental. This person reads me as more practical and dispassionate instead of overly demonstrative. Maybe. Maybe sentimental is a whisper no less felt than thunder.

Births, deaths, holidays, most milestones evoke sentiment. Each Wednesday and each Friday tears spill as family members start down the drive-way after a weekly visit. Family returning to either Colorado or South Carolina requires my face towards the ground, a plastic smile and a mighty stab at self-control. Good-bye is an avalanche of loneliness.

Today is July 4, Independence Day, a celebration of country and patriotism. My activities for the day include painting, stripping wax and buying paper products, laundry supplies and a favorite candy from the nearby Wal-Greens.

As I stood at the card aisle looking for the perfect birthday message (unsentimental but covering all the love and pride I feel for the person), the piped music was My Country Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty…

My reaction caught me…sentimental, nostalgic, sad, and even angry. As a fairly liberal-minded old person, I tend to focus on the warts rather than white-wash over the problems. I absolutely know what a privilege it is to live in the United States even as I lament the excesses and the failures to honor the all-men-created-equal declaration.

Politics lacks integrity and diminishes our system as it pays for professional advice on how to exploit integrity and patriotism. The John Edwards and Sarah Palins of the scene push collective buttons and hide behind personae and rhetoric.

We did learn from Viet Nam and our military men and women are given all deserved honor. The branches of the Armed Services will be prominent in 4th of July celebrations.

People, American people, celebrate this day together. Patriotism waves with new unwrinkled flags, with yearly resurgence of hope that the best can make its way forward and that appreciation can resurrect the best of My Country Tis of Thee I Sing.

Mission Impossible

Once upon a time in the land of make-believe, guts and grit saved the day.  Odds against  accomplishing  the mission  stacked high enough to abolish any thoughts of success.   Not to worry.  Fiction writers yanked those boot straps, reducing  the negative to dust.  Mighty Mouse saved the day.

Christmas can be like that Mission Impossible.  We play the music.  We serve up the sentiments, act our role, play our part.  Deck the halls, make the food, arrange the beds, think the perfect gift scenario for about 11 months a year.

This time the odds against are the reality of baggage borne through years of silence, festered anger, magnified slights, painful memories.  This time there is the look and feel of grungy reality TV , every one lives but no one wins.

That expression about ‘limp with resignation’ is on the menu board today.  Remember that prayer line I like so much…”forgiveness…for what I have done and what I have failed to do”…?  I have that thought every day and November 29 marks the day that I accept that forgiveness will never happen. Won’t?  Can’t?  Does not matter.  The result is the same.  A plastic pink Christmas tree trumps boughs of green and growing holly.

If you are a Gentle Reader visiting this blog regularly, you know that death visited five weeks ago.  You know that grief  invades with zero tolerance for hopes or dreams or myths.  Death cuts that swath so well described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.  Death makes us impotent and raging with anger at that impotence.  Death vomits up the mass that has choked and been swallowed.

No new beginnings.  No phony fits and starts towards understanding or acceptance.  No forgiveness.   The year that Christmas did not happen?  Feels that way…a deep and empty hollow place suffocating under the weight of that  ugly pink plastic.




Once Upon Conspicuous

Like a hamster on a wheel, my brain is spinning with the ideas of conspicuousness of our consumption.  Reeling is a better word for the realization that we have moved too much to the mundane, to acceptance as routine.

Hub caps.  Once upon a time they covered the center of the tire/wheel–a sort of protection.  Have you see the stores dedicated to hub caps, spinners, filigree, touched with gold?  Hub caps as fashion statement?

How about nail polish?  Flowers, multi-colored, rhinestone decked fashion for the end of our fingers.  Tell me again about the state of the economy.

A garage sale hand bag  marked $80.00.  Ignorantly, I laughed as I pointed out the ludicrous tag on a garage sale item.  Oops.  Not a joke.  The owner paid over $400.00 for the designer thing to hold wallet, keys, make-up and whatever odds and ends accumulate at the bottom.  $80.00 was a steal.  My bad.

An acquaintance who works at a high-end retail shop clued me to a great bargain ‘coming soon’.  Pre-decorated Christmas Trees would be on sale for a ridiculous price of $500.00!  What is the fun of that?  Do you have hot chocolate and gingerbread cookies when the pre-decorated tree is in place?

OK…this sounds like old fogey talk.  It isn’t.  At least I don’t think it is.  It is priority talk, perspective from a different slant that sees from service at a food kitchen, a women’s center, a needs center for children.  Sigh…OK maybe it is fogey talk.

Uncluttered: The Mind of My Child (ccr)

The mind of that child that is still inside me, uncluttered by years of passage.  Looking back, I now love that kid though she seemed a bit of a nerd while being formed.

Today, July 4, 2010, I want her back so I can revisit the spirit of  Tauromee Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas.   I want to see her weeding the Victory Garden planted because…just because.  The same because that let me help Dad take the bacon grease to some place where bacon grease mattered to Our Country.  A place where we smushed a capsule of color in a plastic bag of lard so we could pretend it was butter on our toast.   A place where I stood so much taller when I looked at photos of Dad in his Army uniform.  He wore it proudly as a member of the National Guard.

We were unashamed of our love for country.  We had no thought of excuses or caveats.  We loved the United States of American and July 4 was a day to celebrate being an American.

Today I gratefully stand with that little girl and her uncluttered mind.

Valentine Day

Snap shot.  Standing at the card rack looking for non-smarmy sentiments for husband, adult children and grandchildren.   Gentlemen standing a bit to my left. Moving a bit closer, he asked,  “What cards are you looking for?  Husband?  Grandchildren?  There are some good .99 cards here.”

When my non-committal answer did not end the query, he said, “Want to know what I am looking for?”

OK, my conscience pricked.  Maybe he is lonely and just wants to talk about someone special.  He was grandparent category.  So I smiled and waited.

“A dog.  I am looking for a card to send to my daughter’s dog.  Want to help me look?”

Not especially.  Again, I tried that non-committal smile coupled with, “Good Luck”.

An extra doggy treat, a longer walk in the park, more affectionate petting would seem a nice choice, but a greeting card?

Strawberry Hill Museum Preserves History

The last weekend of January is the final opportunity to view the 2009 Strawberry Hill Museum Christmas display.  As always, it is too beautiful to miss.   The museum will close during February for restoration to Victorian character.

An all volunteer Board of Directors manages this  Kansas City, Kansas  treasure.  The Board receives help from a dedicated group of faithful volunteers.  I urge you to consider a tour before the Christmas magic disappears.

Part of the mission of Strawberry Hill Museum is the preservation of  Eastern European heritage .  Rooms are  decorated by descendents of each ethnicity.  It is difficult to imagine so much talent and beauty in a single collection.

Tour guides give the history of the  mansion as a family home through the transformation to an orphanage during the flu epidemic.   At the closing of the orphanage, the building was empty for a time.  In order to preserve the depth and variety of ethnic contributions, the museum became a reality.

Although my heritage is not connected to Eastern Europe, I treasure what the museum preserves.  I am a member and a volunteer.  Please consider a couple of weekend hours enjoying the Strawberry Hill Museum.