Back to school no more

blogDSCN0263Autumn hasn’t flaunted its pretty self yet.  My wall calendar only turns over its leaf to September tomorrow, but there’s something in the air that conjures up the feeling of fall. And as always, I am so ready for the change of season.

Stepping outside my door, I can sense it. I can feel it. I can smell it. Fall is on its way. The days have cooled down and the nights are cooler yet.  Thankfully, a crispness in the fresh air shoved summer’s heat and humidity out of the way.

That crispness reminds me of one thing – it’s time to go back to school. Many years have passed by since I sent my last child off to his final year of college classrooms. School shopping for supplies and college dorm rooms are a thing of the past for me, and I can honestly say I don’t miss that one bit.

For over a decade, I experienced that back-to-school feeling myself when I worked for a non-profit as an education program coordinator and visited public and private school classrooms. For the last four years, I headed back to school as a private school substitute teacher.

But for the first time in oh, so many years, there won’t be that back to school feeling for me. My subbing days are limited because I’ve traded that job in for an even more important one – taking care of my granddaughter while my daughter works. And I’ve decided to join the ranks of the semi-retired.

So even though school days have become a thing of the past, I can still recall that back to school feeling quite vividly. Thinking back over my own first days of school, excitement and a bit of nervousness always was the norm.

In elementary school, I already knew who my teachers would be and who the other students were in my class, unless there was a new kid. Walking to the bus stop in the dewy morning with a nip of cold in the air, I remember shivering slightly, a little from the briskness of the morning and the topsy-turvy nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach.

By the time I reached junior and senior high school, the excitement and nervousness accelerated. There were so many things to worry about!

Awakening a good bit earlier than those leisurely summer days, I know I carefully dressed in one of my new outfits hoping to fit in with the latest styles everyone else would certainly be wearing. Hair and a smidge of makeup had to be just right as well.

Back to school then meant new class schedules, new locker assignments, new teachers, and not knowing who would be in your classes or who would have the same lunch period as you.

It meant Friday night football games cheering your school team on in the chilly night air while scoping out cute boys that you just never noticed before. It meant reuniting with friends and classmates that you may have not seen all summer.

After a hot, sluggish summer season, back to school meant the start of something new. And maybe that’s why the thought of back to school always invokes the allure of fall for me. 

When there’s a little bite of chilliness in the air, I experience renewed vigor. Somehow fall days feel cleaner, fresher, and way more invigorating than summer did.

And even though it smells like the beginning of school outside, the big yellow buses are traveling down the roadways, and social media is plastered with all of those first day of school children’s photos, my back to school thoughts are just memories now…well, at least until little sweetie gets old enough to attend school.

But I’m more than ready to meet my beloved autumn season head on. I can’t wait.

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Front porch musings

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“No front porches. My uncle says there used to be front porches. And people sat there sometimes at night, talking when they wanted to talk, rocking, and not talking when they didn’t want to talk. Sometimes they just sat there and thought about things, turned things over. My uncle says the architects got rid of the front porches because they didn’t look well. But my uncle says that was merely rationalizing it; the real reason, hidden underneath, might be they didn’t want people sitting like that, doing nothing, rocking, talking; that was the wrong kind of social life. People talked too much. And they had time to think. So they ran off with the porches.” ~ Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Yes, I know.  I’m on this front porch kick.  If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I just recently wrote a post lamenting how folks don’t seem to be outside their homes enjoying a nice Sunday afternoon and I don’t see people sitting on their front porches any more.

Maybe I am an old-fashioned person, but I truly miss those days of folks sitting on the front porch, waving at passersby, chatting with the neighbor, or simply watching the cars go by while enjoying a moment or two of quiet solitude.    

I do sit on my front porch pretty often.  One of the regrets I have is that when we built our home, we didn’t make the front porch bigger.  But it serves its purpose which is to house my favorite piece of outdoor furniture – our porch swing. 

I grew up in a house with a large covered front porch.  And on that porch were several chairs and my favorite spot – the porch swing.

Memories wash over me when I remember that old porch swing.  I remember summer nights, swaying back and forth talking things over with my mother. Often, we didn’t speak at all, just swung in perfect rhythm and enjoyed the cricket concert and firefly show in our yard.

Other times, I perched on the swing and watched summer thunderstorms.  My parents settled on the porch on weekday evenings and Sunday afternoons and waved to all the folks who drove by.  Sometimes a car would stop and the driver would chat for a bit. Or the car would slowly turn into our driveway and the passengers would join us on the porch for some lively conversation.

The porch swing was always a big attraction.  It just seemed that folks gravitated to it.  I know I surely did.

It was where I swung my first baby to sleep many times that first summer and fall of her life while her daddy was in the military in a land far away. And when he finally came back to us and we moved once again to military base housing half-way across the country, I missed the porch swing.

Hubby bought one for me even though we didn’t have a big enough front porch to hang it on.  Instead we suspended it from a metal frame and plunked it down in the back yard where my good friend and next-door neighbor and I would swing our babies and share stories that cemented our friendship.

Many years later when we lived in a Pacific Northwest suburb, we didn’t have much of a front porch again, instead we had what I would call a stoop.   So the swing was relegated to a fenced-in tiny back yard where you felt secluded from all the neighborhood activity.  So most of the time, I sat on the hard cement front steps. We lived in a cul-de-sac and I could watch my kids play with all the neighbor kids from the stoop.  My neighbors were friendly folks and often a neighbor and I sat there to converse.  

That cement stoop fit the design of the saltbox style house we lived in, but how I missed having a real front porch to place my back yard swing upon.  That swing made the journey with us across the country to the place we now call home, this spot in the country. 

The metal frame is gone and my swing hangs from chains attached to the ceiling of the front porch.  The wooden swing has seen a lot of use, been cleaned and re-stained a few times, and it still is my happy place.  Even now, sweet grandbaby loves to sway back and forth with Nana or Papa on that front porch swing.

Occasionally when I’m sitting on the front porch, someone will drive by and toot their horn.  Even if I’m not certain who is beeping their greetings at us, I will throw up my arm and wave to acknowledge them.

And that often reminds me of one special old farmer man who always used to sit on his front porch too. 

In between military life and our time in the Pacific Northwest, Papa and I lived with our three kiddoes in the Midwest.  The land of wheat fields and sunflowers and an occasional tornado.  We lived in the suburbs for the first few years and then opted to move out of the suburban area a little further.   

We purchased a new home in a less developed area and traveled back and forth to more populated suburbs for shopping, or visits with friends, or trips into the city.  The highway we used traveled through farmland that was yet to be developed and along that road sat an old farmhouse where old farmer man lived.  Obviously retired and getting up in years, that gentleman could be seen sitting on his front porch, weather permitting. 

And here’s the thing.  He always waved to cars and trucks passing by his place.  Always.  Every single vehicle. Cars zoomed by and some folks ignored his greetings but still he waved whether people waved back to him or not. 

Not long after we moved there, I pointed him out to my husband and children.  And we began waving back to him every time he waved to us from his front porch.  Every time.

It became a fun ritual.  Our kids would watch to see if he was on the porch and lean out the open windows to vigorously wave to him.  When he wasn’t out, my children seemed disappointed.

Then came a period of time when old farmer man wasn’t on his porch very often.  Wondering if he was ill or incapacitated in some way, we missed his waves. Those short-lived encounters we enjoyed with this gentleman we didn’t even know had made our hearts happy.

And then one sunny, warm spring day, my children and I were on our way back home from some excursion and we were nearing farmer man’s house.  I looked, hoping but not really expecting to see him on his front porch.  And he was there! 

I slowed the car down and exclaimed, “Look, quick, farmer man’s on his porch!” to my kids.  They all threw their arms out the windows and waved to him excitedly. 

He had already thrown up his arm and hand in greeting, but when he spotted my children grinning and waving like there was no tomorrow, his wave immediately changed. 

A huge smile burst on his face as he leaned forward in his chair, then extended his arm in front of him and waved a rapid little continuous hand greeting from his wrist just like you would to a child. 

Joy.  I like to think that’s what farmer man experienced that day waving to my children.  I know that’s what was in our hearts.  And all these years – more than 20 years later – I still feel joy in my heart for that day.  And for farmer man’s waves.

And that’s what I miss.  The joy of people being neighborly.  The joy of making others happy with just a smile or a friendly greeting.  Maybe just a wave of a hand. 

Instead I see rudeness.  I see inconsiderate people.  I see strangers glaring at others instead of extending a hand of friendship. I see strife and anger and even downright meanness. And it makes me sad.

I live in a rural area outside a small town. You would think it would be friendlier than folks in the city, wouldn’t you? Some people are friendly…to those they already know.

I live in a rural area where houses have front porches yet I don’t even know my neighbors, except for John next door who my husband chats with occasionally when they are both outside.   He’s a good neighbor and Papa enjoys talking with him.

But when I tried to be neighborly with folks down the road and hand deliver their mail which was accidentally delivered to our mail box, I was treated rudely and practically had the door slammed in my face without even a thank you.

Call me old-fashioned.  Call me nostalgic.  But I continue to sit on my front porch, swinging on the porch swing, and yearning for simpler times when folks treated one another with kindness and consideration.  When they visited one another just for conversation. Or maybe just waved to a stranger.

“I nod to a passing stranger, and the stranger nods back, and two human beings go off, feeling a little less anonymous.” ~Robert Brault

©2015 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Where is everyone?

blogIMG_6207Call me old-fashioned or call me too nostalgic but often times I really do wish for the so-called good ol’ days.

Picture this. 

It’s a Sunday afternoon.  Summer time, late August. The morning spent worshipping God in a little country church.  Stomachs full from a hearty home-cooked lunch.  And Dad says, “Let’s go for a Sunday drive.” 

We all jump in the car, wind down the windows, and let the rushing air hit our faces, blowing our hair dos willy nilly as Dad heads out on the blue highways – those two-lane roads that meander up and down hills, around curves, and through farmlands and woods.  

It’s a beautiful day – sunshine filled, blue skies with a scattering of fluffy white clouds, temperatures hovering around 80 degrees, not unbearably hot with low humidity.   We feel the difference, the coolness in the air, when we drive through wooded areas where the sun peeks through spots in the leafy covering that tall trees provide on the road and we say, “Ah, it feels a few degrees cooler here.”

As we drive along, we pass houses clustered on both sides of the road, houses with windows thrown wide open and front doors standing ajar with only a screen door between the inside and outside.  And situated on those houses are front porches.  And on those porches are people.  Swaying on the porch swing.  Gathered for conversation on porch chairs.  Children are running, laughing, and playing in the yard.  Friendly folks wave to us as we pass by even though we don’t know them at all.

Now flash forward a few decades and picture this.

It’s a Sunday afternoon.  Summer time, late August.  The morning spent worshipping God in a little country church.  Stomachs full from a hearty home-cooked lunch.  And Papa says, “Let’s go for a Sunday drive.”  

We all jump in the car, push the electronic buttons to lower the car windows, and let the rushing air hit our faces, blowing our hair dos willy nilly as Papa heads out not on the four-lane expressway but on the blue highways – those two-lane, less traveled roads that still meander up and down hills, around curves, through the farmlands and woods.  

It’s a beautiful day – sunshine filled, blue skies with a scattering of fluffy white clouds, temperatures hovering around 80 degrees, not unbearably hot with low humidity.   We feel the difference, the coolness in the air, when we drive through wooded areas where the sun peeks through spots in the leafy covering that tall trees provide on the road and we glance at the digital temperature on the car dashboard and comment, “Ah, it’s only 76 degrees here.”  

As we drive along, we pass houses clustered on both sides of the road, closed up tight, almost looking devoid of people.  No open windows, no open doors.  If there weren’t cars in the driveways and hanging baskets or pots of flowers decorating the homes, you would surmise the houses were vacant.  

Situated on those houses are front porches.  And on those porches are…empty outdoor furniture.  Lots of it.  Nice patio sets.  Porch swings.  Chairs of all descriptions including pretty rockers lined up in rows.  All empty.  Decorations galore but not a living soul in sight on any of those porches…or in the yard…front or back.

There are no children outside either.  No running barefoot in the grass, no laughing, no playing tag or chasing the dog.  We drive for miles and miles and it’s the same.  No people outside anywhere.  

We are more than an hour away from our home in a rural area where there are still plenty of homes but we see only a handful of people outside – two mowing their lawns and the rest either getting into or out of their parked vehicles.  Finally, after an hour of driving, we spy one young girl, blond pony-tail flying behind her, running around her front yard with her dog.  One child.  One dog.

We drive through a small town with a lovely town square which includes a shady park.  There are only a couple of people walking through the sun-dappled area. Inviting benches, sheltered under grand old trees providing cool spots to rest, sit vacant. 

There’s plenty of traffic hustling down the main street of the town but hardly any foot traffic.  We easily locate a spot to park our car, get out to stretch our legs, take in a few sights here in this quaint little town, and take a stroll through the park and down the street.  We don’t meet a soul on the sidewalk.

Where is everyone?  Where have all the children gone?  Does everyone hole up inside their air-conditioned home on a beautiful summer Sunday afternoon?  To do what?  Watch television?  Play video games?  Be chained to the laptop, the tablet, or the smart phone?  While away time on social media, succumb to the lure of the internet?

Doesn’t anyone go outside anymore to partake of God’s beautiful creation on a glorious day?  Doesn’t anyone take an afternoon walk in the park?  Or soak up a little sunshine or lounge on a hammock under the shade of a tree? Or just enjoy a peaceful moment sitting on the front porch catching the breeze, conversing with the neighbor, or just waving at folks as they drive by?

Don’t children play outside on a beautiful summer day anymore?  Don’t they run and jump or play yard games?  Or chase butterflies?  Or lie down in the warm, soft grass staring up at the sky and finding shapes in the clouds?

Call me old-fashioned or call me too nostalgic but I really do wish for the good ol’ days.  And our Sunday drive just the other day reminded me of that all too well.  If you need me, I’ll be sitting on my front porch.

“If the world had a front porch like we did back then
We’d still have our problems but we’d all be friends
Treatin’ your neighbor like he’s your next of kin
Wouldn’t be gone with the wind
If the world had a front porch like we did back then.” 

~  lyrics by Tracy Lawrence, country singer

©2015 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

I’m dreaming of an old fashioned Christmas

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With my new doll – Christmas 1957

Maybe it’s just my middle age.  Maybe it’s the empty nest thing.  Or maybe it’s just that I have more time on my hands to spend reflecting on the past.  Whatever it is, I find myself singing the words to an old Frank Sinatra Christmas song.

“Give me an old fashioned Christmas, an old fashioned Christmas,

 Family faces, wide open spaces, covered with snow.”

This Christmas here at Mama’s Empty Nest there will be family faces.  And wide open spaces at our country home for certain.  Right now those spaces are covered with snow and hopefully we won’t just be dreaming of a white Christmas.

In my heart,  I’m longing for an old fashioned Christmas – one with less hurry and scurry.  One with deeper meaning.  One with a simpler celebration.  And I’m determined to accomplish it.  Oh, my Christmas to-do list bounces around my brain but I’m simplifying it.  I’m not scouring Pinterest for decorating ideas or cookie recipes or fancy Christmas dinner menus.

I’m sticking to the basics but even abbreviating those.  Christmas cards are signed, sealed, and delivered but this year I opted for fewer cards and a shorter Christmas note.  Decorating our home is completed but not all of the décor, just some favorites, made it out of the storage boxes.  The oven will fire up for some cookie baking but not the usual marathon, just two or three kinds instead of a huge assortment.  Simple meal preparation will follow suit.

Downsizing for a simple Christmas almost doesn’t make sense though.  This year is different than Christmases past when I squeezed in all of the preparations and scarcely had enough time to do it all.  I have more free time on my hands than usual and you would think that would entice me to really do Christmas up big.  Fancy.  Over the top.  One to remember.

But then I recall Christmas as a child.   Do I remember anything fancy?    Do exquisitely wrapped packages with expensive gifts inside come to my mind?  Fine cuisine?  A beautiful and elaborately decorated home?  Do I recollect an over the top celebration?

What I remember from childhood Christmases are simple aspects.  My father would usually bring the Christmas tree home with him one day after work.  Sometimes that wouldn’t be until shortly before Christmas and one year I remember actually decorating the tree on Christmas Eve.

After my older sisters married, they spent Christmas Eve with their in-law families so that meant my parents and I usually attended candle-light service at church to welcome the Christ child.  Before the service, my father would drive us around our area to see neighbors’ homes Christmas light displays and we would ooh and aah over those that glowed the brightest.

No fireplace existed at my childhood home, but I still hung up my stocking over the knob of the front door.  I would be so excited for Christmas morning that I could barely sleep.  When Christmas Day arrived, my stocking bulged full of goodies although not with toys, gadgets, and gizmos.  Dumping it out, I would discover a huge juicy orange, a shiny red apple, mixed nuts in their shells, candy canes, and other Christmas candy.  And I would be delighted with the yummy treats even though they were practically the same every year.  Nestled beneath the Christmas tree, I’d find one or two specially requested simple toys – a doll, a game, or one exciting year, a beautiful blue bicycle –  just for me. 

That afternoon brought our entire family gathered together and crowded into the living room around a simple Scotch pine real tree covered in old-fashioned strings of lights with colored bulbs, metallic icicles, and the same ornaments year after year.  It wasn’t a fancy themed tree; instead a hodge-podge collection adorned that prickly-needled fir which filled the air with the pungent scent of pine.

We exchanged gifts – real honest to goodness gifts that were purchased with thoughtfulness and consideration instead of gift cards or envelopes of money.  And we laughed, and we exclaimed over our wonderful presents, and we thanked one another with smiles and hearty hugs.

My mother prepared a simple but abundant and appetizing meal displayed on the dining room table – no fancy recipes, no exquisite table centerpieces/decorations to make it look like a photo spread from a magazine.  And we bowed our heads thanking God for the most precious gift of all – His Son Jesus Christ – and for our provision of food and family.

After dinner, one of us occupied the bench at our upright piano to plunk out Christmas carols while the rest of us sang the well-known tunes over and over again.  We’d eat dessert and commence a few rousing rounds of cards or games or sometimes just putting a new jigsaw puzzle together.

A simple Christmas.  Not photo worthy because of the food, the glitz, the gifts, or the amount of money spent.   A Christmas worth remembering because of love, gratitude, and joy felt and appreciated when a family assembles to celebrate.

That’s my idea of an old-fashioned Christmas and that’s what I’m hoping for this Christmas.

“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.”  ~ Bob Hope

©2013 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

One of the best gifts

Sister with her bride doll way back then

Sister with her bride doll way back then

“You keep your past by having sisters.  As you get older, they’re the only ones who don’t get bored if you talk about your memories.”  ~Deborah Moggach

Today is my sister’s birthday.  She’s older than me, but not the oldest sibling.  We have another sister who is the oldest of the three of us. 

The birthday girl is in the middle.  When I was born, she was nine years old and our oldest sister was 12.

For most of my growing up years, this sister probably thought I was a pest.  My sisters and I all shared a bedroom, so it was difficult for my older siblings to escape from me.

I followed my sisters around, no doubt annoying them.  When they listened to music on our oldest sister’s record player, I wanted to listen too.  They just wanted me to go away.  I was way too curious about their stuff whether it was lipstick, jewelry, or what they kept in their purses.  They complained about me getting into their belongings.

When my middle sister started dating, I must have sensed it wasn’t a great idea that she date a particular beau.  I distinctly remember hiding the shoes she wanted to wear on date night.  In my five-year-old mind, if she couldn’t find her shoes, she couldn’t go.

Someone once wrote, “Sisters annoy, interfere, criticize.  Indulge in monumental sulks, in huffs, in snide remarks.  Borrow.  Break.  Monopolize the bathroom.  Are always underfoot…”

That probably would be a good definition of what my sister thought of me back then.  I think she did find me annoying, always underfoot, and generally a pain.  And then came the day when I basically ruined the one thing she cherished.

Sister received a bride doll at Christmas time one year.  It was the kind of doll you don’t play with, but instead lay on your bed as a sweet keepsake of childhood. 

She planned on keeping it pristine and beautiful, sealed away in its box, until the day my sister married her Prince Charming.  Then, the lovely bride doll would decorate her marriage bed (hey, this was the late 50’s, things were very different back then!).

That was her plan until I ‘played’ with her doll one day while sister wasn’t home.  Being so much younger than my sisters, I often wanted a playmate.  They weren’t willing to comply much of the time because music and boys captivated their interests.   

So that day, I wandered around the house looking for something different to play with.  When I opened the closet door in our bedroom, there she was – the bride doll in her box.

She was so beautiful in her white bridal gown and veil, but I decided to make her lovelier and play ‘beauty shop’ with her.  I took her veil off and proceeded to comb her dark curly hair. 

Ooops, Miss Bridal Beauty started losing a few strands of her hair in my comb!  The more I combed, the more her curls became non-existent and she ended up with a straight, wild array for a hairdo that was anything but becoming.

I moved on to her face.  She needed a better make-up job.  So I ‘borrowed’ my sister’s lipstick and smeared it on Bridal Beauty’s face.  Suddenly, I realized she didn’t really look better like I had envisioned she would.  I placed her back in the closet hoping sister wouldn’t notice.

As if!  Oh, the scorn of it all.  How dare I touch her treasured doll, let alone positively ruin it!  She huffed and puffed and cried and rightly so.  I really did feel terrible because of what I had done. 

I often thought my sister never forgave me for my naughty misdeed.  I know she never forgot because even as adults, she would occasionally mention the time ‘you ruined my bride doll.’

Years passed by.  My sister married and moved out of the house, just like my older sister had also done.  I grew up, married, and moved far away.   As adults, my sisters and I became very close even though we lived in different areas of the country. 

Through the years, we have always been there for one another in good times and bad.  The quote I cited above ends like this:  “…But if catastrophe should strike, sisters are there.  Defending you against all comers.”  ~Pam Brown 

So true.  And that adequately describes the bond my sisters and I have today.

Almost 15 years ago, my family (hubby, my children, and I) moved back to our homeland.   A few months later, my father and I took my cancer-stricken mother shopping one day just for a little diversion.  Christmas would come soon and it would be the last holiday we would spend with our mother.

As Mom and I looked around in one shop  (window shopping as my mom would say), I saw it – a gorgeous doll, garbed in wedding white complete with a bridal veil. 

I picked it up and told my mom, “I know what I’m getting Sister for Christmas, this bride doll.  It’s not exactly like the one I ruined, but maybe she’ll treasure it like she did that one all those years ago.”

My mom smiled and agreed it was a great gift.

That Christmas, I could hardly contain my excitement.  It felt like being a kid again to see what my sister’s reaction would be when she opened her special gift.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I just hoped she’d be pleased and put that hurt I had caused her away for good.  I just wanted to make amends and the doll was my atonement.

The new bride doll in 1998

The new bride doll in 1998

Sister opened her brightly wrapped Christmas box and she was stunned.  She burst into tears at the sight of a beautiful bride doll and she immediately knew what this gift represented. 

Sisterly love.  The kind of love that sometimes hurts, but always still endures.  The kind of love that wants to make it all better.  The kind of love we sisters have for one another.

It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever given another person. 

And on this day, this best day of the year, I celebrate one of the best gifts I’ve ever received – my sister. 

Happy Birthday, dear sister!

©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

2 good 2 be 4 gotten

blogautographBack 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.

©2011 mamasemtpynest.wordpress.com

‘Tis a gift to be simple

blogDSCN8052When I was a kid, Sundays were special in a simple way.

Sunday was a day of worship first, then rest, with maybe a smattering of visiting friends and relatives on the side.

Businesses were closed except for a few restaurants where you could enjoy Sunday dinner.  If you needed milk, you better have run to the store Saturday because you wouldn’t be able to purchase groceries on Sunday.

My family always attended church Sunday mornings and commenced the day by worshiping God, the Creator of our days.  After church, my mother either cooked a big dinner, or if it was just Mom, Dad and me, we’d venture to a restaurant for our Sunday meal.

If we stayed home that afternoon, often times my mother would take a well-needed nap and my dad might watch a little television or listen to the baseball game on the radio.  I usually curled up somewhere cozy with a book to read.  It truly was a day of rest in preparation for the week of busyness to come.

Often times after lunch, visitors would stop by our house.  Sometimes they were relatives, sometimes friends and –gasp! –the adults would just sit around the living room talking to one another.  The television stayed turned off; there were no electronic gadgets to distract from the conversation.  They talked.  They shared memories.  They caught up with one another’s  lives and activities.  They remembered and shared funny stories or sad ones.  And they truly enjoyed each other’s company.

If we didn’t go visiting, Dad might take us for a Sunday afternoon drive.  We would ramble here and there taking in sights, enjoying the sunshine, the fall leaves, the snow glistening on the trees, whatever scenery unfolded in front of us.  Our car wasn’t equipped with CD or DVD players, no one had an ipod attached to their ears or a cell phone demanding answers to texts and calls.  We either listened to soothing music on the radio, we talked, or we just rode in silence absorbed in our own thoughts.

Often we stopped by someone’s house for a Sunday afternoon visit.  The same thing that happened at our house occurred at our friends’ or relatives’ homes as well – the adults chatted the afternoon away while the children played or joined in the conversation.

From all those simple Sundays, I learned many things.  I learned that worshiping God came first.  I learned that it’s important to spend uninterrupted time with loved ones.  I learned that children can acquire a lot of knowledge from their elders.  I learned to savor quiet time and rest one day a week.  And I learned to be patient.

I miss those days.  My husband and I were just discussing this recently.  We grow weary during the week and we look forward to simple Sundays.  Neither of us works in a profession that requires us to work on that day, so we can do whatever we like.

For us, Sunday morning worship comes first.  Then we may rest here in the empty nest.  Hubby reads the paper, watches a football game on television, or reads.  You can usually find me lounging in my easy chair reading or working a crossword puzzle.  Occasionally, we might go for a drive in the surrounding countryside.

This past Sunday we did just that.   After church, we ate lunch at a local restaurant followed by a leisurely Sunday drive to a nearby community where some Amish folks live.  The day proved lovely with warm sunshine, colors of fall leaves greeting us, and not just a change of scenery, but a change of pace.  As we drove along, Amish buggies pulled by trotting horses shared the road with us.

Observing them reminded me of their simple lifestyle and what their Sundays must be like.  For the Amish, the Sabbath is a day to worship  God and rest, and no doubt, visit friends and neighbors afterwards.

blogDSCN8053I imagine those buggies full of families tucked inside were on their way to either church or social gatherings. 

We noticed children playing in the cornfields while I suspect their elders enjoyed conversations or some well-deserved rest inside their farmhouses.

In that respect I envy them.

It makes me sad that no one stops by our house for a Sunday visit.  I suspect if we dropped in at friends’ places, they wouldn’t be home because we all seem to scurry about shopping or finding somewhere to run on Sundays.  Plus in today’s world, we may feel as if we’re imposing by stopping at someone’s house uninvited or unannounced.

We find it disheartening that the only Sunday visits we seem to have are the chats with people we run into during a quick trip to the grocery store or Wal-Mart.  Visiting in the store aisle just isn’t the same as those warm conversations in a homey, comfortable living room.

I’m sorry to say that the only time we have a bountiful home-cooked Sunday dinner is when our birds come home to roost for a day or so.  But distractions worm their way into our Sunday afternoons with the family.  Televisions blare, cell phones beep with text messages or blasting ring tones, laptops fire up and are constant companions (I’m just as guilty as my kids on that one!), or people dash in and out with places to go and things to do.  We don’t just sit and enjoy one another’s  company.  It seems Sundays aren’t either simple or special any more.

I’m pondering this question on Page 25, Chapter 10, of my book called Opportunity:  what would happen if we just simply visited with each other one day a week – on Sundays?  What would we miss?  We might miss the Steelers football game.   Or the latest status update on Facebook.  Or downloading that favorite song.  Or a text message from someone who wants to run to the shopping mall.  Or spending the afternoon gathering groceries.  But those things could wait.

What would we gain? Time spent together, truly conversing, sharing our stories and our lives with one another.  And that would be priceless.

“A world without a Sunday would be like a man without a smile, like a summer without flowers, and like a homestead without a garden.  It is the joyous day of the whole week.” ~Henry Ward Beecher

©2011 mamasemptynest.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