Looking through my treasure chest

blogthreekidsIt’s been a quiet week at Mama’s Empty Nest.  We’re still ensconced in the winter season and snow continues to blanket the earth.  Somehow, snowfall makes everything seem more hushed, more silent, more subdued.  Even the wild creatures that visit the plot of land that we call home must be huddled down, burrowed in, and waiting for warmer weather as evidenced by the lack of animal tracks in our yard.

In the stillness and tranquility of my home this morning, when the only sounds that reach my ear are the refrigerator singing its humming song and the furnace kicking in to shoot some heated air up through our vents, I contemplate.  Winter proves a good season for doing so.

This week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is treasure.  Treasure.  We all have our idea of how to define treasure.  And the old saying comes to mind – one’s man’s trash is another man’s treasure. 

It seems we humans continually either search for treasure or attempt to acquire treasure for most of our lives.    For some, material possessions are the treasures they seek.  That might be a special piece of glittering jewelry given by a loved one or handed down from one family member to another.  Some folks count their abundant bank balance as a treasure while others always wish for more to stockpile. Silver, gold, and precious gems come to mind as treasures held in high esteem.

I wander through the quietness of my home and glance at items in each room and am reminded of a quote I recently read by an architect named Le Corbusier (1887-1965):  “The home should be the treasure chest of living.”

My home does resemble a treasure chest, at least to me.  My eyes fall upon treasures here and there.  This.  This is a treasure.  A piece of jewelry created in a far-off land and bestowed upon me when my soldier husband came back after a year-long assignment halfway across the world over 30 years ago.

There on the china cabinet shelf in the dining room.  Those are treasures.  Beloved items passed down to me from my parents and my husband’s parents.  Items that belonged to our grandparents.  Surely these are treasures.

And there.  The piano gracing the living room, the instrument I longed for and we saved to purchase all those many years ago.  A source of beautiful music and hours of enjoyment.  A musical treasure for certain.

Yes, there are many treasures in my treasure chest of a home.  Physical things.  Tangible treasures.  Perhaps not much in monetary worth, yet valued and cherished by me.  But as a believer in Jesus Christ, I’m reminded what He told us about earthly treasures. 

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.  Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.  Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” ~ Matthew 6:19-21

So yes, my worn copy of the Bible, with passages underlined and starred, with notes scribbled in the margins.  God’s Word surely is a treasure to me.  Yet, as much as I cherish my personal copy of His Word, that treasure could be replaced with a new one.  And much of God’s Word I have hidden in my heart.

So what precious riches which I’ve carefully wrapped in love and stored away into my treasure box could I live without?  Truthfully, all of them.  Yes, I would be saddened to lose them but they are merely things.

There is one treasure, however,  I value more highly than any other.  And it’s not stored in a jewelry box, a glass shelf, or on my desk.  It’s not a tangible item adorning my treasure chest home.  Instead, my treasure is stored away in the recesses of my mind. 

Memories.  Those are the treasures I cling to most.  They appear in my mind as I survey each room of my home searching for hidden treasure.  Each item I spy prompts a memory.  My eyes linger on one photo on the family room fireplace mantel.  It is my favorite photo of my children and it brings back memories as if they just happened yesterday.

The photo taken when they were young and we lived in the Pacific Northwest sits inside a frame that reads:  “Children are special.  They grow and change.  Children question everything.  Children laugh, frown, grin, pout, and smile.  Children give meaning to silly things, small things, big things.  They give meaning to us. They teach us to be open again, to appreciate everything, and take nothing for granted.  Children teach us what’s important because sometimes we forget.  They show us what it means to be young at heart.  Children are our future.  Children are life.”

Surely, my children are my treasures as well as my husband, my family, and my friends.   But life and all of its memories is one of the most precious treasures we can ever possess.

“Memory is the treasure house of the mind wherein the monuments thereof are kept and preserved.” ~ Thomas Fuller, Clergyman 1608-1661

©2014 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Last minute nostalgia

blogDSCN0379 (2)Nostalgic.  Who would think that such a word would prove difficult for me?

This past week’s photo challenge on Word Press was “nostalgic” and I wrestled with that word all week long much to my puzzlement. 

Nostalgia as defined in my trusty dictionary: 1. a longing for things, persons, or situations that are not present. 2. Homesickness.

I think I often write nostalgic posts, so I figured posting a photo to convey this concept would be a snap.  Snapshot in a snap.  That’s what I expected.

Today is Friday, a new photo challenge will be issued today.  Yesterday, I found myself still struggling to choose which picture means nostalgic to me and what to write about it.

My first thought was to post an old family photo from my childhood.   I pored through old pictures in my collection and couldn’t find just the right one.  Next, I decided it would be appropriate to show a picture of my grown-up and flown the nest children when they were small.  I can’t get any more nostalgic when I think about those years when my little ones were still in my nest.

Yet, that idea just didn’t seem right either.  Several more suggestions came to me, but I rejected them all.  Finally, out of desperation to beat the time line imposed (post a photo before the next challenge is issued), I asked my son what he thought of when I said the word nostalgic.

Son drove in the night before from that state next door because he is in a college friend’s wedding this weekend in our nearby city.  When he took a short break away from his laptop where he was working at his job by computer, I posed the question to him.

He paused a minute thinking but then responded with his first thought.  Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  Yes, that was it.

Our family sold my parents’ house after both of my parents died.   That home had been in our family for well over 100 years and it was so very difficult to let it go.  My children have some of their most fond memories of traveling back here to my home state to visit their grandparents.  We enjoy all of our stories about the memories made while staying in that very house where I lived most of my growing up years.

The actual house, owned by a different family now, still exists but it doesn’t look the same.   Its things, people, situations, history, and the family tie that it represented are what we miss the most and what we carry in our hearts.  And that’s what makes it the very essence of ‘nostalgic’ for me.

©2013 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Tis the season for nostalgia

blogIMG_0089“Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home!” ~Charles Dickens

It happens every year in December.  Once Thanksgiving gets pushed out of the way by the onset of Christmas songs non-stop on the radio, we start hauling out the holly, lights, and tinsel, and the Christmas season gets launched at Mama’s Empty Nest.

And just like clockwork, I commence remembering past Christmases.  What is it about this holiday celebration that elicits so much nostalgia?  My birthdays don’t produce such a foray into the past.  I don’t reminisce about Easter or the Fourth of July or any other holiday quite as much as I do Christmas.

Thoughts of Christmas always take me back.  To my childhood.  To remembrances of family now gone, my parents and grandparents.  To my childhood home.  To memories of decorating the Christmas tree, or getting that one special present, or riding in the back seat of the car bundled up in hat, mittens, and scarf exclaiming oohs and aahs while our family observed brightly colored Christmas lights decorating houses in our area.

Christmas invokes remembrances of the hustle and bustle of downtown Christmas shopping when the air was brisk and my breath made visible vapor and my parents’ arms were loaded with Christmas packages to take home and wrap.

It reminds me of home baked aromas of goodness filling the house and the scent of pine in the living room from the real Christmas fir tree.  I close my eyes and remember how it sounded to hear bells jingling outside your house and how my heart seemed to skip a beat at the prospect of Santa and his reindeer up on the rooftop.

I can envision the old-fashioned glass Christmas ornaments placed on the tree, the tinsel and shiny icicles hanging from the boughs.  Christmas time meant carols played and sung at the upright piano.  It meant worshiping the new born King at church services.  It meant ribbon candy, and candy canes, and a sweet smelling orange at the bottom of my Christmas stocking.

Augusta E. Rundel wrote, “Christmas… that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance — a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved.”  

Yes, that’s it.  I’m spellbound by Christmas, engulfed in the enchantment of nostalgia.  The Ghost of Christmas Past comes to visit me, but he never allows the other ghostly visages from A Christmas Carol the opportunity to show themselves.

blogIMG_0073That strong sense of nostalgia for Christmas past proved why I thoroughly enjoyed a little excursion Papa and I took one Sunday afternoon recently.

Here in our little town, a stately Federal style house built in 1842 serves as home for our county’s historical museum/genealogy society.

A weekend Christmas Open House at this house enticed my sense of old fashioned sentimentality enough to want to take a tour and the opportunity to get a glimpse of Christmas from yesteryear.

Each room of the house sported a different Christmas tree and decorations, many of them vintage, sprucing up the antiques and relics on display.

It was a nostalgic wonderland, a trip down memory lane.   My husband, being the history and military buff that he is, enjoyed the “military room” immensely.

I loved the parlor with its antique organ, piano,  and furnishings bedecked with old fashioned Christmas decorations;  the sewing room with its display of hand-made antique quilts; and the kitchen with its homey and familiar cooking utensils from the past all festooned with yesterday’s Christmas flair.

Each room of the house caused my mind to wander with memories of my parents and grandparents.  In the kitchen, tin cookie cutters decorating the tree were exactly like those my mother used to bake Christmas cookies.  Vintage Christmas greeting cards festooned a pine garland and reminded me of my grandmother as did the old sewing machine and kitchen utensils.

blogIMG_0093Interesting tidbits of history related to us by museum volunteers enhanced our walk down Christmas memory lane.  It truly was a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

As we departed the house and stepped back into the 21st century, climbed in our car, checked our cell phones for texts or missed calls, and drove back home, I pondered.

What will our children remember about Christmas?  Will they wax nostalgic for the traditions and special memories their dad and I tried to create for them?  Or will it just be another holiday like so many others?

Each December as they ready their homes for Christmas, will they remember and relive special memories of us and growing up in Mama’s Empty Nest?

Only time will tell.

©2012 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Here today, gone tomorrow

Just a few days ago, they dotted my green expanse of yard with cheery spots of bright yellow.  And now each and every one of them is gone.

They were the dandelions.  The sunny little bloom that most people think of as weeds.  When I see them though, they remind me of childhood.  Of warm, spring-like days when the sun shined brightly as I hopped off the school bus and walked through our yard to my home.

I would stop here and there and gather up a handful of blooming dandelions.  Their juicy stems left a sticky sap on my fingers, but I didn’t mind.  As I presented my little bouquet gift of dandelions to my mother, she never once said, “Why are you picking these weeds to bring to me?”  Instead she would ask, “Aren’t they pretty?” and put them in a jar of water on the kitchen table.

Today people use weed killer spread over the lawn in an attempt to eradicate these bursts of color in their yard.  But I don’t.  Because yellow, perky dandelions remind me of spring and sunshine and childhood memories and even my own children.  And they make me smile and fill my heart with happy thoughts.

But time marches on and so the dandelions come to the end of their blooming cycle.  Where once were lemony colored petals on the stem, only wisps of seeds remain.  When I was a child, I picked the stems after the blooms turned to white balls of fluff, closed my eyes, made a wish, inhaled a deep breath,  and blew with all my might to send the dandelion seeds and my wishes sailing into the air.

A spring gust of wind would lift the feathery seeds up and carry them along as they floated and sailed in the breeze.  Fluttering.  Gliding.  Drifting.

Today in my book called Opportunity, I’m reminded that life is much like the dandelion.  Here today, gone tomorrow.

Bursting forth with vim and vigor, and then fluttering along in the air of life. Floating.  Sometimes soaring, but eventually brought down to earth until we wither and are no more.

But the story doesn’t end there.  The dandelion seeds produce more happy yellow blooms next spring.  For us humans, our legacy lives on in our children and their children.  Just like dandelions.

In reflection of that, I’m savoring my thoughts and memories today, holding tight to these joyous moments of life as we prepare to marry off our three offspring.   Just yesterday it seems my home was noisy and full of rambunctious children.  Now it is quiet and tranquil.

Just yesterday it seems my middle child, the one full of spark and livelihood, was a youngster.  And now she is a grown up young lady who will be dressed in white lace and escorted down the church aisle by her father to be given in marriage in just one short month.

She’ll fly off with her husband …. her husband…my daughter is old enough to have a husband!   There will be new adventures for her, a new home, a different state in which to live, even a new job.   She looks forward to this exciting next chapter of her life with such joy.  I saw it glowing in her face at her bridal shower this past weekend as she opened her  gifts and talked about the wedding.

Just like the dandelions I once held in my hands, I also once held my precious children.  And now the day draws near when I must release them completely.  As the wind carries the wispy remains of dandelions to and fro in this spring season, my children also will soar into their futures, to their upcoming marriages, to their new lives in this current season of life.  I will watch and rejoice as they float and glide along and I will remember dandelions.

Copyright ©2012 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Making a Withdrawal from the Snow Bank (again)

blogProject15(Today in Chapter 12, Page 9, in my book entitled Opportunity, I’m visiting a post that I wrote last year in December when I was still suffering from those empty nest blues. )

Christmas memories float in and out of my mind like a delicate, intricate snowflake swirling and twirling through the air as it journeys downward.

One of two events must take place – either the bit of snow lands softly on the icy backs of all the other flakes that fell to earth or the tiny fleck alights on something of warmth, like my outstretched hand, where it melts away forever.

I make concerted efforts to make certain my cherished memories land on heaps of other memories, to deposit them like snow in a snow bank, where at any point in time, I can withdraw thoughts of a pleasant place, event or a meaningful conversation with a loved one and remember.

I’m not sure who Augusta E. Rundel was, but I found this quote she wrote tucked away in my quote notebook –  “Christmas — that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance.  It may weave a spell of nostalgia.  Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance — a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved.”

The Christmas season always sends me to my memory bank.  I feel blessed and fortunate that it invokes delightful memories that I can wrap around myself like a magic blanket.  I can only hope my children will have pleasant recollections to also remember someday.

For the last two days, my co-workers/friends and I have been weaving spells of Christmas nostalgia at our office.  Well, if the truth must be told, we’ve been relating our fond Christmas memories in between gobbling down all the goodies that have been pouring into our office non-stop.

Just today –  and I am not exaggerating – we were treated to several plates of Christmas cookies, pizza, sweet snacks, salty snacks, homemade candy, chocolate and raspberry candy, nutty homemade caramel candy, (who makes homemade caramel these days – a lovely supporter of ours, that’s who!) and six different flavors of fudge!

Perhaps our sugar highs contributed to all the reminiscing, but I heard some great and heartwarming stories.  One of my dear friends has grown children like I do.  She was very near tears as she shared that this year, for the first time, neither of her children will be home for Christmas morning.  Her family will be together later in the day, but she felt blue about the changes in her Christmas tradition.

I tried to console her (although I don’t think I managed very well) and I thought about those changes that will someday affect me.  None of my children are married yet, so they have nowhere else they must be on Christmas morning.  But how will I cope with those changes when my children spend Christmas morning in their own homes with their spouses and families or with in-laws?   Hmm…considering that inevitability caused me to make a withdrawal at my memory bank.

Let me take you back about 18 years ago…..  My family, consisting of hubby, our three young children and myself, lived in the Pacific Northwest.  The day after Thanksgiving, as was our tradition, we had ventured out to chop down our fragrant Christmas tree, one with such a large trunk we had to purchase a sturdier tree stand.  They grow big trees out there!

Our three were beside themselves with excitement as we hauled out the ornaments, lights and the special angel who always sat on top of our tree.  That evening, we extinguished all the lights in our living room and gathered around as hubby plugged in the decorated tree.  Our children squealed with delight, and then fell into silence as we sat enthralled and basked in the shining beauty of it!

I have the most vivid memory of sitting on the living room floor with oldest daughter, who was probably 10, cuddled up on one side of me; middle daughter, at age seven, on the other side; and four-year-old son on my lap.  Our twinkling, sparkling Christmas tree glowed like something magical as we began the season in which we celebrated the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Emotion welled up inside of me and I started to weep.

“Mommy, Mommy, what’s wrong?” my children asked.  “Why are you crying?”

Hubby looked at me questioningly, probably thinking, “What did I do wrong now?”  But he bravely inquired, “What’s the matter?”

It was difficult to get the words out and make any sense of them.  But the joy and happiness I experienced sitting in front of our tree with my three little ones and my husband had suddenly turned to melancholy.   Even now, recalling that night and writing about it brings tears to my eyes once again.

I tried to explain my tears to my husband, knowing my little ones wouldn’t really understand.  I remember saying, “I just want to sit here and hold our children close, to remember this moment forever because some day, they will be all grown up and times like this will be just a memory.  They will grow up and leave our home and we will never get these moments back.  And I don’t want to lose that.”

That’s the truth.  I really did think that all those years ago.  This memory is stored in my bank.  I saw a glimpse of the unavoidable future that night and I knew that when that time came, it would make me sad.  And here I am, those years are upon me.

This year as our Christmas tree was lit for the first time, only hubby and I were here to experience it.   In the near future, we, no doubt, will encounter Christmases when our children aren’t home for the holiday.

That’s why this Christmas with all of my kids home, I will once again cherish the memories, guiding each whirling, twirling thought into my snow bank of reminiscences.

I hope you will do the same.  Hold tightly to those you love this season, take a moment to savor the sweetness of your time together, and then stow your lovely thoughts away in a spot for safe-keeping, whether it’s in your memory or written down – lest like the snowflake, they melt away.

©2010 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

2 good 2 be 4 gotten

Image source: en.wikipedia.org

Back in the day before kids wrote spitefully mean things about one another on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking media, they actually wrote pleasant words in something called an autograph book.

Instead of ‘sexting’ obscene photos to each other, they would  draw funny, harmless illustrations, with an actual writing instrument like a pencil or pen,  in your autograph book for you to remember them by.

Autograph books became passé eventually.  But if you’re of a certain era, you’ll remember those small hardbound books and you might even have one stashed away in a box of school mementos like I do.  I actually own three of these little gems from my elementary and junior high school days.

All this simple fad required was taking your book to school with you and asking your classmates to sign it.  Mine had different pastel colored pages,  and I still remember the girl who wrote, “Just because I’m writing on pink doesn’t mean that I stink.”    I never thought she was stinky, so I always wondered why she wrote that particular ditty.

Friends penned funny lines in my book like “Yours till the ocean wears rubber pants to keep its bottom dry” and “I love you, I love you, I love you divine.  Please give me your bubblegum, you are sitting on mine!”  One silly friend wrote, “I went to your funeral.  The preacher did say, This is the shell, the nut has passed away.”

Some entries proved sweet and sentimental like “In the golden chain of friendship, consider me a link” and “In the ocean of friends, count me as a permanent wave.”  As a young girl, I always hoped some handsome young man would write something endearing in my book and my wish came true with this one:  “Roses are red, violets are blue.  Sugar is sweet, but I love you.”

On one special page, my elderly grandfather signed his name.  Nothing more.  Just his name.  But I treasure that signature since both of my maternal grandparents died six months apart from one another when I was nine.

My mother purchased all three autograph books for me and I realize now that she must have wanted me to cherish memories of my school years just as she did.  When my parents passed away and my sisters and I were clearing out all those years of accumulation at our folks’ house, we found our mother’s autograph book from school days dated 1929 to 1934.

The rhyming lines written in my mother’s book are clever and poetic.  I suspect children today don’t memorize poetry very much like those youngsters of yesteryear.  I’d like to share some of the sentiments from my mother’s autograph book and a simpler day and age with you along with my thoughts in parenthesis.

“Remember me well, remember me sick.  And when you buy candy, remember me quick. Your friend, Hazel” (Hopefully, Hazel wasn’t just my mother’s friend when she had candy.)

“Roses are red, pumpkins are yellow.  You’re the girl that stole my fellow. Your friend, Margaret” (Well, at least Margaret was still her friend!)

“When hills and vales divide us and you no more I see, pick up your pen and paper and write a line to me. Your friend, June”  (Friends whether they were near or far.)

“Far out on the ocean carved on a rock are these three words, forget me not.  A friend, Eleanora” (Isn’t that a sweet thought?)

“Remember me and bear in mind, a good true friend is hard to find.  But when you find one good and true, change not the old one for the new.  Your classmate, Marie” (Marie understood friendship well.)

“When you get old and ugly as people often do, remember that you have a friend that’s old and ugly too. Your friend, Esther Olive” (This dear lady is still alive at age 92, elderly but she’s certainly not ugly!)

“A wish for a friend is often given, but my wish for you is a home in heaven.  Your dear friend, Mildred Marie” (Since Mildred Marie cared about my mom’s spiritual life, she was a dear friend.)

“When you get old and are mending britches, think of me between the stitches.  Your friend, Carrie Belle” (This dear lady sewed a lot of stitches right beside my mother over the years.)

“I dipped my pen into the ink and grasped the album tight, but for my life I could not think a single thing to write.  H.R.” (This gentleman was my mother’s cousin – a man of few words but a kind soul.)

My uncle wrote this one in my mother’s book:  “Germany is a country but Texas is a state.  I can see it on your face when you have a date.”    (Since the word date was underlined, I think he suspected a romance was in the works for my mother and his brother, my father, don’t you?)

This entry tickles me pink.  “Remember me and don’t forget you have a friend in [our town].  Pickles are sour, sugar is sweet.  Candy is sticky and the [our town] girls are very tricky.”   (I laugh out loud when I read this one, not just because the verse is silly, but because of the writer’s initials signed at the bottom of the page.  Those initials belonged to my father.)

Out of all the clever, corny, or cherished verses written in my mother’s autograph album, I really like this one:

“When your walk on earth is ended and your paths no more I trod, may your name in gold be written in the autograph of God. Your cousin, Mabel” (I am thankful both my parents’ names are written in the Book of Life.)

My favorite entry though is one written and dated January 8, 1963 in one of my autograph books.  It reads:  “Dear Daughter, I wish I were a tea cup from which you drank your tea, and every time you’d take a sip, you’d think of your mommie.  Lots of love, Mum.”

On this chilly day, Chapter 10, Page 27 in my book of Opportunity, I sip steaming,  hot tea from my lovely tea cup given to me by one of my own dear daughters as I write these words.  I think of my mother, her life, and all the things she taught me like cherishing memories from an old, faded autograph book.  I think she taught me well and I pray I’ve taught my own daughters the same.

Copyright ©2011 mamasemtpynest.wordpress.com

Labor of love

Meet Cutehead

Meet Cutehead

You may have noticed Mama’s been mum again lately.  This mama’s been too busy to blog, bogged down with a bevy of tasks. 

Baffled by bedrooms, I’ve bandied items around the basement, and now that I’ve burst through the barricade, I’m happy to report I’m breathing easy again.

Usually here at the empty nest, there’s not much astir.  But just as surely as the cool wind and rain brought a change to the season – temps drastically dropped down the thermometer from 90’s to 60’s today! – change arrives soon at the nest too.

Oldest daughter is moving back to the homeland from that place down south.  She’s commencing a new chapter with a new job in the city near us.  And can I just say that I am ecstatic that she will be nearby once again?  Until she gets situated though, daughter will move in temporarily with the ‘rents.

So you know what that means?  Mama and Papa have been shoving and pushing and cleaning and purging to make room for daughter’s kit and caboodle.   First we tackled the basement to make room for storage of some furniture – didn’t we just do that not so long ago? Click  I Declare War if you missed that one.

Next project was oldest daughter’s bedroom.   Along with the empty nest syndrome, parents of certain age fall victim to another malady called SOE (Spread Out Everywhere).   Since that room possessed a somewhat empty closet (well, don’t look on the top shelves at the Barbies, books, and Girl Scout mementos), Papa and Mama took over the closet space with extra clothes, extra pillows, mementoes and pictures…and stuff.

That situation required remedy since daughter needs closet space while she stays here.  Solution?  Just move everything over to other daughter’s closet….no wait…can’t do that, there’s a wedding gown, wedding decorations, and a miscellany of other items belonging to middle daughter there.

No problem.  Let’s just open up son’s closet….oh dear.  Why does that young man have so many items of clothing still hanging in here?  Not to mention, shoes, backpacks, 9th grade framed artwork from an art show, AND Papa’s suits (SOE, I tell ya!).   Pushing and shoving and squeezing uncovered enough room to transfer some items over there.

Time to address the chest of drawers.  Good grief, each of the five drawers is full of extra sheet sets, blankets, etc.   Now to where shall we divert this stuff?

All of this labor finally completed on Labor Day (Chapter 9, Page 5, in my Opportunity book) uncovered a plethora of paraphernalia and pleasant memories:

  • 16 gowns including bridesmaids’ dresses from weddings past, Christmas dance formals, Prom finery, and one 34-year-old wedding gown (that one is mine).
  • 6 high school and college graduation gowns.
  • Assorted college textbooks.
  • 3 high school letter jackets still adorned with pins for each sport (track, cross country, soccer, and basketball) and year won.
  • Stuffed animals with special significance (Rocky 2, Cutehead – that’s him grinning in the picture – and various other friends).
  • 1 lonely pair of Eeyore slippers strangely out of place next to the pairs of glittery, spike heels from aforementioned formal events.
  • 1 Science of Scent perfumery set (oldest daughter wanted to be a scientist from early age).
  • Childhood books galore, Barbies, and an array of special dolls.
  • Keepsake gifts given to our three as babies.

So what do we do with it all?  For now, it’s crammed into whatever space we could find and waiting – just as it has for years – to be surveyed, sorted, saved, or shed by its owners, our three adult children.

But that labor of love will remain for another day.

©2011mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Mystery man, I hardly knew you

The only picture I have of this uncle

The only picture I have of this uncle

His real name was Arnold, but he answered to other names.  Some people called him Jim, some named him Skis, but I never knew why.   He was different, a little odd – definitely marched to the beat of a different drummer than most folks.

As far as I know, he never drove a car.  For certain, he didn’t own one.  Instead he walked everywhere he went or hitched a ride with someone.  He never married.  He stayed with relatives and for only a short time had a place of his own.

I don’t know what jobs he ever held, if any.  I suspect he just took odd jobs here and there whenever someone offered him some honest way to make a little cash.  He never had much money, which was evident.

He didn’t have many words to say either.  Every once in a while, he’d mutter something that you’d have to really strain to hear.  You couldn’t tell what he was thinking or feeling because for the most part he guarded his thoughts and words, probably because he had been ridiculed on one too many occasions.

He was a mystery to me.  Part of me was a tiny bit afraid of him, yet part of me wanted to get to know this strange man.  He was my uncle, my father’s older brother.

By the time I was born, he was middle-aged, but I always thought of him as an old man.  Many years ago, he passed away, but for some reason, this eccentric relative crosses my mind lately.

My husband and I lived in another state when my parents called to tell me that this uncle had died.   I don’t imagine many people  – other than a few relatives – attended the viewing or funeral.  My uncle didn’t appear to have friends.  Living so far away, I couldn’t attend either, and after the phone call announcing Uncle’s death, I felt like weeping.

Weeping for a man who no one, including me, really knew…or understood…or took the time to know or understand.  And that made me incredibly sad.

My family alluded to his being a little “off,” maybe a mental illness or a nervous breakdown, but I never knew the real story.  He often just showed up at our house unannounced, never strayed beyond the kitchen, never accepted the invitation to sit on the good furniture in the living room.

He’d only sit in a kitchen chair a few minutes, then jump up, pace back and forth, jingle coins in his pants pocket, look out the kitchen door, and then mumble, “See you” and he’d depart.  My mother, who treated him kindly but found him exasperating sometimes, would shake her head after he left, say “That man’s too nervous,” and continue whatever she was doing.

Sometimes he appeared at the kitchen door holding out in silent offering a honey comb from the bees that he kept.  I know he had discussions with my father, his younger brother, but for the life of me, I can’t remember one thing they ever talked about around our kitchen table.

A few vivid memories of Uncle from my childhood linger in my mind.  A tiny trickle of water ran through a marshy area on our property with weeds, cat tails, and reeds growing around it then into a culvert under the road.  In the spring, the little stream rushed with extra water from melting snows and rain.

I loved launching little plastic toy boats into the upper part of the steam and watching them sail under the road into our neighbor’s yard.   One day, shod in my rubber boots, I trampled through the weeds to find the perfect spot to set a boat adrift.   Uncle showed up, asked me what I was doing and growled, “You better watch out for copperheads.”

Snakes?  The thought had never occurred to me, let alone poisonous ones.  I gingerly picked up my boat, recoiled from the swampy area, and marched back inside, a little angry that he had spoiled my fun.   My 10-year-old mind was divided about his warning.  Part of me wanted to call him a silly old fool, but part of me believed him and thought he was looking out for my safety.

Another memory I harbor is of Uncle watching my father take pictures with his movie camera.   One spring the huge lilac bush in our back yard was lush with fragrant blooms. Dad grabbed the camera to take pictures and told me to get in the shot too.

As soon as I moved to the bush, Uncle bent a branch down low and near to me so blossoming flowers would be in the picture with me.  But he didn’t want my father to take his picture, just like the reclusive uncle not wanting to be noticed.   And I realize today that I have only one picture of this uncle when he was a young man.

My parents and I lived in what once was my paternal grandparents’ house.  When I was growing up, Uncle lived much of the time with his oldest brother, another of my uncles, whose home had a perfect view of ours.  Uncle seemed drawn back to his childhood abode – our house – but never visited us for very long.

I often wonder if Uncle just couldn’t bring himself to stay long in our house because all the memories of childhood and particularly his deceased family overwhelmed him.  As a toddler, he lost a brother to leukemia.  His father, my grandfather, died when Uncle was eight.  His only sister succumbed to cancer.   Uncle lived with my grandmother until she passed away, and then middle-aged Uncle was basically left alone.

I know he didn’t deal well with death because I witnessed that first-hand.   Uncle stayed with his elderly aunt and uncle from time to time, who lost their home to a fire.   A few years later,  his aunt – my great-aunt – passed away.   It was summer and I was home from college at the time.  My uncle showed up at our house, plopped down at the kitchen table, and did something he rarely did.

He looked straight at me and asked a question, “Are you going to town today?”

I looked back at him, noticed his weepy-looking eyes and answered hesitantly,  “Noooo…I wasn’t planning on it.”

“Okay,” he answered, jumping up and starting for the kitchen door.

“Wait a minute,” I stopped him.  “Do you need something?”  I felt really sorry for him for some reason.

“I just wondered if you’d get me a new white shirt to wear to the funeral home,” he replied. “But never mind.”

I was actually impressed that he wanted to look presentable to go to Great Aunt’s viewing, so I told him I would run his errand for him.  Did he want to go along?  A brief look of panic crossed his face as he pressed some money into my hand, muttered his shirt size, and darted out the door.

That evening, looking uncomfortable in his stiff, new white shirt and tie, Uncle sat alone in a corner of a far room at the funeral home.  No one really seemed to notice him; no one seemed to care to speak with him.

I quietly sat down beside him, noticed he looked upset, and asked if he was all right.  He nodded his head yes, then hung his head and that’s when I noticed huge, quiet tears streaming down his face.   It occurred to me that when Great Aunt died, he again lost one of the few people who probably were ever kind to him, one of the people he loved.

Because of his odd ways, people tended to shun him.   And I was just as guilty as they were.  But that evening was a turning point for me because that’s when I began to view this strange uncle as a real person with real hurts, fears, and the capacity to love.  And I wept there with him, not so much for Great Aunt but for him.  Years later, I again wept when Uncle left this world alone.

Even now, 30 plus years after his death, tears well up in my eyes as I think of this misunderstood uncle, lost in the world’s shuffle, that few people may even remember.  Today I wish I had taken the time to really explore his life, ask him questions, and try to understand him.

Opportunities present themselves to us every day, often we just aren’t wise enough to embrace them at the time.  When we realize we missed the chance to touch someone’s life in a positive way, it’s too late to make amends.

On this beautiful day, Page 18, Chapter 8, in my life’s book of Opportunity, I remember you, Uncle, but you’ll always be a mystery to me.

© 2011 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Lovin’ summer and summer lovin’

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“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,” a line from George Gershwin’s opera, Porgy and Bess, echoes in my mind today. 

As a kid, that phrase summed up June, July and August accurately because the livin’ really was easy.

Back then, I anticipated three main events of summer, and the rest of the time was pure freedom.  Memorial Day officially kicked off the season, because few school days remained after that.

My family always spent the holiday at an annual picnic hosted by my parents’ friends where relatives and acquaintances gathered for an entire day full of feasting and fun.  One or two days later, the last day of school usually arrived and that meant freedom was finally here!

Freedom to do whatever you felt like doing.  No more studying or getting up early.  Freedom meant spending the day reading under a shade tree or lounging at my next-door neighbors’ pool.

Freedom represented remaining outdoors as long as I desired, ushering in the darkness by catching fireflies, and staying up late until my heavy eyelids drooped, I dragged my sleepy self up the stairs to bed,  and I fell asleep knowing I could sleep in the next day as long as I wanted.

In June, my friends and I eagerly awaited the next big event – the local firemen’s annual carnival, an event still sponsored after all these years.   Matter of fact, carnival week just concluded and that caused me to remember how exciting it all used to be.

Trips to amusement parks were a huge treat back then and I didn’t get to enjoy those outings often.  Vacations were also rare for our family, so the carnival coming to our area was thrilling stuff.

An entire week of entertainment ensued including long parades, where we waved to our friends in the high school bands and grabbed up candy thrown by our local firemen hanging off huge fire trucks; tummy-upsetting thrill rides and games of chance, where you could win the most gargantuan stuffed animal you’d ever seen in your life; and a smorgasbord of appealing carnival food.

We couldn’t wait for carnival week greeting us with dazzling bright lights, loud rock music, the odor of grilled onions, peppers and sausage, and the carnies’ voices enticing you to spend your money foolishly.  My gal pals and I would try to persuade someone of driving age to transport us there as many nights as possible.

As a younger kid, the joy of riding the Ferris Wheel or the Tilt o’Whirl,  of eating greasy french fries doused with lots of salt and vinegar and freshly spun pink cotton candy,  and finally purchasing a candy apple to take home and enjoy later drew me to the carnival like a moth to the porch light.  But when adolescence hit, the carnival was THE place for girl to meet boy.

My teenage girlfriends and I would circle the midway over and over, walking and talking, stopping to flirt with this group of boys or that.  It was innocent back then though:   boy met girl; boy asked girl to join him for a ride on the Scrambler;  boy strolled around with girl, maybe holding hands;  boy might sneak a kiss from girl behind the firehall;  girl’s parents picked her up; boy went home.

Pretty tame by today’s insane standards, but back then, that was an exciting evening.  I still vividly recall one thrilling night at the carnival.  I  spotted my high school crush and after talking (and flirting) with him, he offered to take me for a ride on his motorcycle.  I was in heaven!

I remember how he gently placed his extra helmet on my head and how that motorcycle roared to life when he started it.  I can still recall the butterflies in my stomach as I hopped on the bike behind him and he instructed me to hold on tightly by putting my arms around him. “Oh, be still, my heart!” I thought then.

As we sped down the highway away from the flashy neon carnival lights into the darkness, I couldn’t imagine a summer night better than that.   The evening air rushed at my face as I hung onto my crush, making me twice as breathless as I already was with my arms tightly encircling him, experiencing the exhilarating thrill of just being near him.  I could feel warmth from his back as we raced through the chilly night and I inhaled the scent of his freshly laundered shirt.

As a young and innocent 15-yr-old school girl, I thought, “What could be better than this?”

The boy I felt certain I was madly in love with was a perfect 16-year-old gentleman, even though riding a motorcycle was considered a little wild.  After a ride that seemed much too short, he took me back to meet my friends again at the carnival and then sped off into the night on his bike.

I floated along on a dreamy cloud of infatuation for much of the summer after that nighttime motorcycle ride.  Every time I heard a bike roaring down the road outside my house, I would run to the window to see if it was him.  If I was at my friends’ pool next door, I would leap up from my tanning towel and check to see if my crush was coming for me.   And he did roar up my driveway, but only on one summer day.

That summer I waited – a lot.  In summers past, I couldn’t wait for the next big event, the 4th of July (the next topic in my summertime reverie).   But during my 15th summer, I found myself impatiently wishing for the season to conclude and school to resume, just so I could see the object of my infatuation every day.

Now, forty some years later,  in Chapter 6, Page 25, of my book of Opportunity, I wonder how many teenage girls still dream their summers away over puppy love.  I also wonder how many foolishly give themselves to the first object of their infatuation.

I’m thankful I waited for my beloved one, my husband.  And I ponder how many young girls wandering midways under garish carnival lights in attempts to catch the attention of boys who make their hearts beat faster realize the importance of that.

©2011 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Performing for my audience of One

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Flashback to the 60’s.   She is alone, upstairs in her bedroom with the door closed tightly.  Pictures of her idols, “The Monkees,” smile on her from the walls of her room.

Dressed in her most mod outfit, mini-skirt, fringed vest and go-go boots, she dances the Pony and the Jerk to spinning vinyl 45’s on her record player, belts out songs to a pretend audience of thousands but in reality just a few old  stuffed animals and forgotten baby dolls.   And she yearns for the day when she would become famous.

Her daydreams revolve around that thought.  Fame.  It would be exciting to be a famous pop star/singer, but what she truly envisions for herself is becoming a sought-after actress, known and revered by millions.  When that happens, she muses, everyone will be in awe.

Those who snubbed her now, those who didn’t want to be her friend, and those who didn’t realize she existed would clamor for her attention and she would ignore them.  And if that star-studded scenario didn’t occur, she would settle for being a famous author.

Such were the desires of an adolescent girl.   To be famous meant you were somebody, not just the average 13-year-old girl who lived a hum-drum boring existence in an average middle-class home in rural America.  When she was a famous singer/actress/writer, she thought she might occasionally return to her hometown, just to show people how important she was.

That young, teenage girl was me.  Back in the day, I had no clue what real life entailed; I thought being famous was the end all to everything.  As I grew up,  I realized that wasn’t true.

I imagine most famous people have an inborn desire to become noticed, rich or powerful.  Famous actress Katharine Hepburn once said, “When I started out, I didn’t have any desire to be an actress or to learn how to act. I just wanted to be famous.”  So evidently, she experienced that passionate desire and brought it to fruition.

Famous is something I am not.  My closest stab at being a star actress was the lead role in my high school play during my senior year.  The nearest I’ve come to being a singing sensation was performing a few solos in various church choirs and singing ensembles.  The only hints at public awareness I’ve managed in the writing world were my byline on articles I crafted in reporter days for a daily newspaper and my little blips on this blog.

Now I laugh out loud at the visions I embraced back then of performing before audiences of thousands.  Obviously, I did not embody the passion to fulfill those girlhood dreams of notoriety.   These thoughts returned to me recently when I read Dr. David Jeremiah’s book Life Wide Open – Unleashing the Power of a Passionate Life. 

As a young teen, I thought my passion was to become famous.  I wanted to be noticed and applauded by an audience.   That’s what I believed would provide a happy and fulfilled life.

How wrong I was in my youthful zealous daydreams.  Real life led me into an entirely different direction:   marriage, children, family life, enjoyable work, making the world a better place for one person at a time, and most importantly, loving and serving God.

To some, those aspects of life don’t sound very passionate, but they have been my passion all along.  And Dr. Jeremiah’s wise words reinforced what I’ve come to understand.   He wrote this in the study guide accompanying his book:

“The strength of passion is to do whatever we do heartily, and the secret of passion is that we do everything as if we were doing it for the Lord himself rather than for man.”

He continues, “Sometimes we think nobody sees the effort we make to work at our jobs, take care of our families, or serve the Lord.  Not true!  God sees it all.  We play on a field with an audience of One sitting in the stands.  And He is the only one who really matters.  He sees and knows everything we do – the motive and passion with which we live our lives.”

So even back in my foolish days, when I longed for a captive audience, I already had one.  The One.    The only One who matters.  And so do you.

Imagine as you go through your day, there He is sitting in the auditorium watching your performance, sitting in the bleachers watching you play, sitting at your conference table watching you work, sitting on your sofa listening to you talk.

He knows what you’re going through, He sees what you accomplish even when no one else notices and you are weary, and He finds pleasure in all you do for His glory.

On this 14th page in Chapter 6 of my Opportunity book, I find it inspiring to think that I might please my audience of One and that He doesn’t  care whether I’m famous or not.  I know He doesn’t want me to lose heart while I serve Him in the big things and the small.  I hope you feel the same.

“Your life is your message to the world.  Make it inspiring.” ~  Lorrin L. Lee

©2011 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com