Friday, December 27, 2013

Looking Back at Christmas

My dad always said December 26th was the saddest day of the year. I never questioned anything he said. He was a smart man. Sensitive, too!
However, until this year, I never felt that December 26th was particularly sad. When I was young, it was a bit of a let-down after all the build-up to Christmas. But after I had a family of my own and a lot of responsibilities, it was a huge relief when it was all over. I couldn’t wait to get the decorations down and the presents put away so we could get our lives back to normal. In recent years, though, I have enjoyed the week between Christmas and New Year's very much. It seemed restful after so much activity and Mr. H. and I took advantage and did only what pleased us.
But this year is different.
Yes, there was the big build-up: weeks of shopping, baking, decorating and getting ready for guests. It was tiring and I got very little sleep, but it didn’t matter. Everything had to be done by December 21st for us because that’s when our daughter and her family would be in from North Carolina. Having to be ready three days earlier than most people made it a little more difficult, but we knew we’d get it done in time. We always did.
Looking back, it already seems like a dream. My daughter, son-in-law and their two grown children arrived. We greeted them, had dinner, visited, laughed, talked and, along with some of our other children who stopped by, had a great evening!
The next evening, it was planned that the rest of the family would be here to celebrate, as most people do on Christmas Eve. My daughter and her family wanted to leave on the 23rd so they’d get back to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in their own home.
So, on the 22nd, a total of nineteen people, some of them little children, gathered in our home to eat, exchange gifts and celebrate. Although enjoyable, it was hectic, to say the least.
But it all went too fast!
And so... the next day, when our North Carolina family members drove out of the driveway waving goodbye and looking forward to another celebration at their home, Christmas was literally over for Mr. H. and me. We’d had our family celebration the night before and nobody would be back. They’d all planned their Christmas activities around being here when their sister and her family were here. Now, they had other places to go. In-laws to see. Friends to spend time with.
Christmas Eve was quiet for us – not at all like the noisy, chaotic ones from the past when all our children were at home and each one brought a friend or two to our celebration. Nothing like when both Mr. H’s and my parents were still with us and always a part of our Christmas Eve shindigs. So different from the Christmas Eves when we tip-toed to bed at daybreak to try for a little nap before the kids got up to open presents.
Not like that at all!
On Christmas Day, I prepared a nice dinner. Our eldest son came and ate with us and visited for several hours. It was enjoyable.
But when I awakened the next morning, it was December the 26th – the day my father had dubbed “the saddest day of the year” many years ago.
And, for the first time, I felt it! He was right. After weeks of preparation and expectation, it was over much too quickly and I felt sad. Empty.
It’s not supposed to be that way!

The Christmas Spirit is all about love. We should be filled with it throughout the season. Ideally, throughout the year.
To be without it is very sad, indeed!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

An Orphan Boy for Christmas

Recently, I was visited by The Ghost of Christmas Past just as surely as was Ebenezer Scrooge in the well-known Charles Dickens novel, A Christmas Carol. 

While preparing for the most important holiday of the year, I began thinking of former celebrations – all the way back to my childhood. As a little girl, Christmas couldn’t have been more wonderful. An only child, I was doted on by my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. I received more Christmas presents than any child deserves.  

But I was thankful. 

My mother taught me at a young age to appreciate what others did for me; I always showed delight with the gifts I received so that the givers knew they were appreciated. And so I wouldn't get into trouble with my mother! But one Christmas, when I was eleven years old, there was a surprise I hadn’t counted on, and wasn’t sure I wanted. 

My parents decided to bring home a little boy from an orphanage to spend Christmas with us. They didn’t ask for my input, which I resented, and I was uncertain how I felt about it. All of my relatives will want to make it a wonderful Christmas for this little orphan boy. What if he gets more presents than I do? Will I be able to be thankful and appreciative, or will I be envious of his loot? I’ve never had to share before. 

I didn’t say anything, but I was secretly concerned that this unusual venture might turn out badly for everyone. Especially me. 

Tommy was eight years old. He had pale skin, blonde hair, and was so skinny he looked like a stick with ears. At first glance, I felt a little sorry for him. The few clothes he brought were in a large paper bag. My mother put them in drawers in the room where he’d be sleeping. 

We hit it off pretty well. I taught him how to play one of my board games and we played until dinner was ready. He seemed alright. This might work out after all, I thought. 

Two days before Christmas, my mother took Tommy and me shopping to get a gift for my dad. We watched as she chose a nice wallet and had it gift wrapped and topped off with a big red bow. Then she took us to a soda shoppe for ice cream. It was a fun afternoon. On the way home, my mother cautioned us both, “Now, you must not say anything to your dad about what we bought him. It’s a surprise!” 

“Okay,” we said simultaneously. 

The next day was Christmas Eve – the day all my relatives came by to say Merry Christmas and deliver presents. My mother had all kinds of cookies, candy and other goodies made up for the occasion. Much fun was in store. 

As relatives started arriving, Tommy became more and more excited. Everyone smiled and spoke to him and, as presents were placed under the tree, he noticed that some of them had his name on them. He could hardly contain his excitement! 

After everyone was gone, Mother gave us some eggnog and cookies and told us it was bedtime. “Santa won’t come until you’re asleep,” she said. 

I went right to sleep, weary from so much activity and excitement.

Someone said my name. When I opened my eyes, Tommy was standing beside my bed smiling. “It’s Christmas!” He said. 

“Tommy, it’s not even light outside. What time is it?” 

“I don’t know,” he said. “Let’s go see if Santa came.” 

I can honestly say this was the first Christmas ever that my presents weren’t as important to me as watching someone else enjoy his. Tommy ran from one thing to another, not stopping long at one place before moving on to something else. He had cars, trucks, board games, GI Joe army men with a tank and an airplane, and other toys, but what he needed most was clothes. And he got them. There was a nice winter jacket, pants, shirts, socks, shoes, pajamas and underwear. He made quite a haul! He even got a little suitcase to put his clothes in when he goes somewhere. 

When my parents finally sat down to open their gifts, Tommy and I settled down nearby to watch, clapping our hands excitedly each time a gift was opened. When my dad picked up the familiar looking gift with the big red bow and began to tear the paper, Tommy couldn’t stand it any longer. With a glowing smile on his face, he blurted, “Somebody’s gonna get a billfold!” 

My mother waved her hands in the air and shot a nasty look his way, but the damage was done. My father, who loved a good faux pas, laughed heartily.  

Christmas Day was wonderful! My mother cooked a big turkey dinner with all the trimmings and Tommy and I played games and enjoyed our gifts all day long. My friend, Carol came by to see what I got for Christmas and told me about her gifts. 

That night, when Mother was tucking Tommy and me into bed, he surprised her by saying, “Goodnight, Mom.” 

The next morning, I asked my mother if we could keep Tommy – adopt him as a member of our family – my little brother? After a little hesitation, she said, “I’m sorry, honey. It just wouldn’t work out. It was a nice Christmas for Tommy and we enjoyed it, too, but we have to take him back now.  I knew better than to argue with my mother, so I nodded and wiped away the tears that were brimming in my eyes. 

Mother packed Tommy’s new clothes into his new suitcase and boxed up his new Christmas toys. And after a leisurely breakfast, we drove him back to the orphanage. The whole fifteen mile trip was silent – Tommy, looking out the window on one side of the car and I, on the other. 

Inside the orphanage, we took turns hugging Tommy and telling him goodbye, then he ran off to show some of the other boys what he had gotten for Christmas. He didn’t even look back as we were leaving.  

I cried all the way home. 

We never saw Tommy again. Nor did we ever hear from him.  

Sometimes I think about him and wonder where he is and what kind of life he had. I like to think that he was adopted by parents who needed a little boy to love. Someone who gave him a good home, an education and everything he needed for a good life. 

I think my parents thought they were teaching me a valuable lesson - showing  me how fortunate I was to be loved by so many and have so much given to me.

Letting me see the way some not-so-fortunate children live. 

I suppose it was a worthwhile lesson, but, after many years, it still makes me sad to remember Tommy and the way he looked on that long-ago Christmas morning when he stood beside my bed while it was still dark outside, and said, “It’s Christmas!”

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Happy Celebration

There’s no doubt about it – some days are better than others.
More fun.
For Mr. H. and me, yesterday was one of those days.
It wasn’t anything earth-shattering that made it more fun - just a simple change in our usual routine. Sometimes that’s all it takes. But this change was special!
We went to an open house for a “young” lady who was celebrating her 95th birthday. I say young because she’s the youngest nonagenarian I’ve ever known. Well, actually, I haven’t known that many but this one definitely seems more like 75 than 95. Mr. H. agrees.
After welcoming us with a big smile and a warm hug, she happily told us a little about her daily life. Although she gets around in a power chair of some sort, she lives alone and manages very well. Still, some of her children come by to check on her every day.
The house was inviting. Everything was brightly decorated befitting the season with red and white poinsettias; and a lovely, tasty cake decorated in red was served on red plates.
We didn’t stay too long because there was a steady stream of well-wishers who wanted to spend time with her. She is loved by many and it’s easy to see why.
But we were grateful we didn’t leave before the birthday girl took out her harmonica and entertained us all with a lovely song. She plays very well, I might add.
It was a wonderfully happy occasion and she seemed to enjoy it thoroughly.
She must have been an amazing mother to have such devoted children who are now returning the love and attention she gave them many years ago when she worked hard to give them a good upbringing.
She is the perfect example of reaping what you sow.
When we said our good-byes, Mr. H. said, “We’ll be back in five years to celebrate your 100th.”
She first nodded in agreement, then laughed and said, “I’d better not say that. I might not be here.”
But we all know it’s very likely she will be.
(I shall not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord. Psalm 118:17) 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Life Is Hard

 Almost everyone says something memorable at some time in their lives.
My paternal grandmother was Irish. She was also a little brusque; I was afraid of her. One never knew what she’d say. Most of the time, I steered clear of her.
But I recently heard a story about something she once said that made me think she must have had a softer side, too, even though I never saw it.
My grandfather died at 63, leaving her alone. She lived to be 92 and never remarried. Once, when she was talking with another family member about women who are left alone after their husbands die, she said, “Life is hard when you no longer have an old man's shoulder to lay your head on.”
Interesting how you think you knew someone from your past so well -- and then find out you didn’t know them at all.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ah, Sweet Mysteries of Life

 Odd, how differently people interpret the events that make up their lives.
One of our daughters sometimes complains that she didn’t have a happy childhood. Her siblings don’t feel the same. During one of her complaining sessions, her sister said to her, “Sounds like you grew up in a different household than I did. I don’t remember things that way at all! I remember many happy times. Actually, we had a lot of fun growing up.”
With that fresh on my mind, I was talking to a friend last night when she broached the same subject. She said one of her sons complains all the time about his miserable childhood, while his brother and sister both recall fun-filled, happy childhood memories.

One wonders how two children can grow up in the same surroundings and come away with different recollections.

My friend, Carol, adds the best example by sharing a remark her mother used to make: “When I was a child,” she said, “I was so embarrassed when I had to get off the school bus in front of my house knowing all my friends would see the chickens walking around in my yard and on the front porch.”
But her sister’s interpretation was quite different. She said, “I loved seeing those chickens on the front porch and in the yard, ‘cause I knew that meant we were gonna have plenty of eggs!”
It’s all a matter of perception, isn’t it? We can either complain about the presence of chickens in our lives or be grateful for the eggs they provide.
And so it goes...

Friday, November 8, 2013

Odds and Ends

I watched the Great Gatsby last night, for the second time in a week. The 1974 version. It’s one of my favorite movies, although I’m always sad for days after watching it. The old music is great! I love What’ll I Do? and When We Were Only Seventeen. I have the book, and have read it, but watching a young Robert Redford in the starring role is much more exciting than sitting with a book in my lap for days. Sam Waterston is superb in the role of Nick Carraway, too!
When I visited my daughter a couple of weeks ago in NC, she loaned me her newest Nicholas Sparks book, The Longest Ride. No doubt, it’ll be a New York Times bestseller, as most of his books are. I read that eleven are on that list, and eight have been major motion pictures. With more than 85 million copies of his books sold, I’d say Nick is definitely doing something right!
But after reading the new one for only a short while, I'm afraid I spoiled it for myself last night.

Read the ending!
I always do that. Can’t help myself. I really don’t have the time to read all that background and description that seems to go on forever, to get to the bottom line, especially when I know already that this particular author’s books all end the same way: the hero or heroine dies! Always!
Got a flu shot two days ago and my arm is still sore, red and swollen, but I’m the envy of my grandchildren. Why?
 ‘Cause I’m sporting a Snoopy Band-aid. Mr. H. has one, too. As our youngest daughter used to say, “We’re two-together!”

And life goes on...


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Best Friends

Her decline was incremental and hard to detect, but, although it took us a while to see it, we now know that she has been sick for a long time. She hid it well. None of the family knew she wasn’t taking her blood pressure pills or the pills the doctor had prescribed for arrhythmia. To her, taking pills every day somehow meant that one was weak and unwell. She wanted to be seen as strong, healthy and aging slowly.

Once, while visiting me, I put the tablets out that I take with my breakfast. Only two were prescription meds. The others were vitamins. But to Aunt Betty, that was a lot of pills, and she told me so.
“I guess I’m healthier than you,” she said. “I don’t take any pills and just look at all those you take!” She’s three months older than I am.
I tried to explain about the vitamins, but she wasn’t buying it. I was still ingesting several pills and, to her, that was a sure sign that I was ailing.
And not as strong as she.
Not too long after her visit, I received a call from another relative telling me that Betty was in the hospital. She was having a pacemaker installed. Also, her doctor had not concealed her anger when she learned that Betty hadn’t been taking her pills and she was released from the hospital with strict orders to take her meds as prescribed.
But in a phone conversation with her a few weeks later, I asked, “Are you taking your blood pressure pills?”
“Sometimes,” was her answer.
“Betty, you know what the doctor said,” I told her. “You must take your meds the way you’re supposed to; you could have a heart attack or stroke.”
“Aw, I’m alright,” she said.
Months passed. Her health declined even further. She couldn’t eat. She lost weight. She had no interest in anything and stayed in bed most of the time. I couldn’t reach her. When I phoned, nobody answered and she never returned my calls.
Other family members began to check on her and found her a mere shadow of her former self. She was thin, unkempt and so weak she couldn’t walk without help.
She wouldn’t hear of moving in with relatives who’d take good care of her. She begged them to let her stay in her own home. And they did.
As I write this, she’s back in the hospital. She had a procedure today called Ablation. I don’t understand it fully but am told it’s to keep the heart rate normal.
Relatives tell me to pray for a miracle, but be prepared for the worst.
Outside my window, clouds scud across a star-filled sky and hover over the dark ridges. For a moment, I return to our childhood, Betty’s and mine, and see two little girls squealing with delight about everything from choosing peppermint sticks from large glass jars at the Company Store and slurping ice cream from cardboard cups with wooden spoons on a steamy July evening – to frolicking around the yard in their underwear when a sudden thunderstorm arises. I watch as they explore the mountains surrounding the coal mining town where one of them lives, pick berries and splash around in a rippling creek on a hot summer day. Together since infancy. Best friends.

A tear runs down my cheek reminding me of the pain in my heart.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Kindle Countdown Deal

Amazon just keeps coming up with great ideas. The Kindle Countdown Deal is the latest and I'm trying it out this weekend. It gives readers a chance to read a book they may have been wanting to read, for a small amount of money. 
Check out the Kindle Countdown Deal for the e-book my Aunt Betty and I coauthored: Unseen Angels. It's only $.99 for the next 20 hours:  If you miss the lowest price of $.99, the next one will be only $1.99. This will be in effect for twenty-four hours before the book reverts to the original list price.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Our house was situated on the banks of the Kanawha River. It had a great yard shaded by large fruit trees. Apple, pear, plum, and peach trees delighted the senses as well as the appetite. What's more, a long arbor laden with succulent purple grapes all summer completed the orchard–like feel of the yard.
Ah, but it was very dark at night. Spooky. Not even the brightest moonlight could find its way through the abundant foliage surrounding the house. It was a small town and there were few streetlights – certainly none at the end of the street that led to the river.
As a child, I cared nothing about Halloween. Still don’t. I realize I was then, and still am, among the minority, but the day holds little fascination for me. When my friends said, “What are you gonna be for Halloween?” I crinkled my nose and answered, “I don’t know. Probably nothing.”
Yet, invariably, a few friends came to my house at near-darkness every Halloween night and begged me to go trick-or-treating with them. It didn’t do any good to refuse. They insisted until I went to my mother’s closet and found something to fashion a costume – an old dress, hat and some make-up was enough to do the trick for me and off we’d go hitting every house in the small town, saying the words, trick-or-treat what seemed like a thousand times and coming home with our bags full of goodies. I enjoyed it in spite of myself, but always vowed never to do it again! It was the same every year.
One year stands out in my memory.
My father loved practical jokes. This particular Halloween, he came up with one that still makes me chuckle.
There was a weathered old garage standing at the edge of our property in the front. It seemed to have no purpose. I don’t know who owned it or why it was there.
My dad got the bright idea that, since the dilapidated old garage was already scary looking, especially after dark, and one could imagine all sorts of things going on inside, it might be fun to make it even scarier for the trick-or-treaters and see what happened.
And so… just before dark, he squeezed through the small opening in the garage door, which stood a little ajar at all times but didn’t seem to open fully. The way it creaked when it was moved made it a perfect Halloween prop! The cracks between the vertical boards were just far apart enough so that he could see out without being seen.
I was given the honor of sitting on the front porch swing with a bowl of candy to hand out when the little ghosts and goblins said, “Trick or Treat!”
My dad watched for the kids through the cracks and allowed them to go to the porch and collect their goodies, but when they turned to leave and reached the end of our walk, which was parallel with the side of the old garage, he’d shine a flashlight through the cracks and let out a horrible monster sound that could have awakened the dead!
Each reaction was almost the same: the child stopped, looked surprised, and then screamed a blood-curdling scream before running away as fast as possible. My dad enjoyed himself to the max.
But as more kids came, they had been warned by others and were ready for the trick. We thought the fun was over until one little guy decided he wasn’t gonna let a make-believe garage monster scare him. “I’m gonna open the door and see who this person is that’s scaring my friends!” he announced proudly.
He bravely walked up to the partly open door, stopped and was ready to peek inside when suddenly, with a deafening bellow, my father lurched right in front of the boy. But something was different.
He had no head!
Even I was startled for an instant.
The little boy’s eyes grew as big as half-dollars and, for a few seconds, he seemed paralyzed, but when he finally managed to move, he turned and ran away.
Unbuttoning his jacket and removing it from his head, Dad smiled, winked at me and said, “Let’s go inside. The fun’s over.”
It was the best Halloween I ever had!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Glow of October

Ah, what a glorious October day it is!

With only four days of my favorite month left, there won’t be too many more days like this one. Why does it seem that the things we love most are so short-lived? Perhaps so we appreciate them more.

My house is filled with that orange glow I tell you about every October. Although I have to admit, it’s not quite as vibrant as usual. For some reason, the huge sugar maple in the center of the front yard lost many of its leaves before it had a chance to reach peak orangeness (my word).

At any rate, we didn’t get to see the towering tree in all its orangey splendor because most of it is now covering my front yard in the form of ankle-deep wet leaves. But we get the orange glow nonetheless. And it’s a spirit-lifter! When I open my eyes each morning and am welcomed by that intense glow, I don’t even mind getting up. But my happiness level drops at least ten points on the cheer meter when Mr. H. decides it’s time to rake the leaves.

It takes him two days to get the job done. First, he rakes them into several large piles, eliciting in me an impish kid who yearns to take a running leap and land right in the middle of each pile – but the adult who knows that Mr. H. wouldn’t be too happy about that, bites her lip and refrains from such a frivolous act.

Once there are a half-dozen or more huge heaps around the yard, he’s usually very tired and decides to finish the job the next day. He quits and goes into the house hoping it won’t rain during the night. But I always say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if a huge wind came up and blew them all away before morning?”

He laughingly agrees, but it never happens.

He finishes the job the next day by gathering up the leaves, putting them into trash cans and throwing them into a large ravine not far from our house. He’s happy the job is finished for another year.

But I'll be longing for the glow of October until it comes again!


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Autumn Comes Softly

Lately, I’m starting to think of life as a game of Russian Roulette with everyone waiting to see whose number comes up next. Almost every day, I hear of someone else I know having a terminal illness and I can’t help but wonder when the hand of fate will tap me – or someone I love.
One shouldn’t dwell on such things, I know, but how can you not think about death when it’s happening all around you so often?
I’m not alone. I have a friend whose first act every morning is looking at the obituary. She says she checks the ages of the deceased to see how many are her age or younger and how many are older.
“Why does it matter?” I asked.
“It doesn’t,” she said, “but it makes me feel a little better if there are more older ones than there are the same age or younger. Some days I win. Others, I lose. It’s just a game I play.”
“I don’t even look at the obituary unless I’ve already heard about a friend or acquaintance dying,?”  I told her. “Why look for something depressing?”
Life is short, to be sure!
We glide effortlessly from infanthood to childhood, the teen-age years, young adulthood, adulthood and middle-age. And then one day, we are surprised to find ourselves in the autumn of our years. It’s about now that we begin to question whether we have run a good race – enjoyed life to the fullest. It’s when we realize how little time we have left and we finally start to live in the moment – squeezing every drop of goodness from each one. It is also a time to set things straight. No regrets.
It'll soon be winter.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Too Many Changes! - Part Two

What will we do with the old entertainment center?” I had asked Mr. H. when we’d decided to buy a new TV and something to set it on.

“No worries,” he said, “I’ll take it to the den and everything in it will go right back in it."

“What will you do with the one you already have?” I asked. 

“Don’t know yet. Maybe someone else in the family will want it.” 

So, the new TV was delivered and stashed in a spare bedroom to wait until the stand arrived. And we started unloading the entertainment center that would be moved to his den. Oh, my Gosh! How can two people accumulate so much stuff in a few years?  Not just the things you’d expect to be in an entertainment center, like CDs and videos but there were all the instruction booklets that came with every appliance we ever bought – some long gone. There were candles and ash trays and old 33-1/3 RPM records – dozens of them!  I found bud vases, cat toys, calligraphy pens, and old Christmas cards.  

It was unbelievable! 

But even after throwing everything away that we could, there was still too much to put back into the cabinet along with the “stuff” that had to come out of the entertainment center already in the den. What were we going to do with all this stuff? 

To make matters worse, after some measuring, Mr. H. discovered that the entertainment center wouldn’t fit through the doorways, so it had to be disassembled and carried piece by piece. And then reassembled. What fun! 

But before it could go in the den, the one that was already in there also had to be disassembled and taken out of the spot where the first one would go. Hmmm. 

Well, it was just as full as the one we’d just cleaned out. Mr. H. had dozens of computer books, videos, mugs (gifts from the children over the years), pipes and pipe holders, books and book ends, magazines – you name it – it was there. 

And so… with two cabinets in pieces and their contents all over the house, it looked like we were moving. One set of cabinet pieces went to the downstairs playroom to await pickup by a son, who said he’d take it off our hands and the other was in pieces in the den, waiting to be put back together. 

But first, the new one! 

It arrived on Saturday morning. Guess what? It was in pieces, too! It’s a good thing Mr. H. likes working puzzles. 

It took all day to get the job done, along with interruptions and stopping for meals.  About one a.m. we quit and fell into bed, exhausted. The TV was still in the box. It would have to wait until morning. 

By Sunday afternoon, we finally had a new flat screen TV resting on a new stand. But there was just one problem. As much as I needed the storage space, I had opted for a cabinet with an electric fireplace in the center and therefore, very little storage. I have no idea what I’ll do with all the “stuff” that came out of the old entertainment center.  

Am I a glutton for punishment or what? I thought. 

Then it hit me! Mr. H. had said, “Everything that comes out of this cabinet will go right back in it – only it’ll be in the den.”  

But now… he seems to have put most of his stuff into the cabinet and he’s telling me, “Here are all these books or what are you gonna do with these pictures?” And it dawned on me that he wasn’t doing what he’d said. I reminded him. 

“What happened to, ‘everything that comes out will go right back in?’” I asked.  He looked perplexed. 

We’ll be hassling over this for a while, I fear, but in the meantime, I have a new 55” flat screen TV to enjoy. And a flickering fire. 

It’s nice!  I wonder what took me so long.
Picture from Hampton Bay ad.