I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, July 27, 2014

What I learned this week

My new friends
I've started feeding these crows, sort of by accident. I had been leaving cat food out for the cats that come by, especially the sweet tom who lets me pet him now and then. The crows found the food and I get to watch them as they perch on the railing and carry on. I got a larger water bowl, too, so they can drink with those long beaks without any problem. They are smart and clever and they seem to eat just about anything. I read up on them and found that cat food, actually, is one of the better things to feed them! Multiple use food, it seems. Anyway, I enjoy learning about their relationships. Did you know that some crows can live to be forty years old? Some of my long-time neighbors have told me that the big crow has been around here for decades.

Today, finally, I will get to travel down to Snohomish with my friend Terry, who is going to make a skydive to celebrate and mark her 65th birthday. We were scheduled last weekend, but the weather wasn't cooperating, so today it will be. Our fine blue skies have returned, and there seems to be nothing that will keep us out of the sky today. I'll jump out with her, while she goes out with her tandem instructor. I'll land before them and hopefully catch a picture of her on landing. It should be fun.

I just finished reading the book, What Makes Olga Run? by Bruce Grierson. I got it from our local library, and I had to wait awhile for it to become available, since Olga recently died at the age of 95 from a brain hemorrhage. I wrote a post about her here, since I knew nothing about her before learning of her death. She competed right up to the end of her life, turning 95 in March and setting all kinds of records for her new age group just a month before she died. I had to put down the other books I was reading, because I only had it for a short time, as others wanted to read it, too. (There is a video of Olga at 93 on my other post, for your enjoyment. Or just type "Olga Kotelko" into YouTube and dozens of videos will come up.)

It is an interesting book. The subtitle is "The Mystery of the 90-Something Track Star and What She Can Teach Us About Living Longer, Happier Lives." It was written when she was 93, and although she did inherit good genes, it was not the only reason she was so active right up to the end. She began to compete in track and field at 77, after five years of playing slow-pitch baseball. During her fifteen years or so of competition, she set dozens of world records for her age groups. Every time she got into a new age group (every five years), she set new records. How many of us know women in their nineties who can throw a javelin, run the 100-meter dash, or perform the shot put? She simply amazes me.

In the book I learned not only some of her secrets of keeping fit, but also those of her competitors, mostly male, who traveled to Finland to compete in 2012. Bruce Grierson went along with her to write about her adventures. He interviewed all of the masters competitors and writes about their secrets. Some are very picky about what they eat.

Bruce went to dinner with her and wrote that she pretty much ate everything, not a picky eater at all. Plus she always wants to enjoy what the locals eat, and he said she put away prodigious amounts of food, at least for someone her size. She was five feet tall and weighed 130 pounds. Not exactly skinny. But she also slept nine hours every night, as most of the masters competitors do. That was interesting to learn. I also require about that much sleep every night to feel good the next day.

One of the men Bruce interviewed talked about his "fountain of youth" secret, the Five Tibetan Rites. Curious, I looked them up online (the Wikipedia link I've provided gave me my first look into what they are). Basically, they are five exercises that were written about in the 1930s by a guy who had learned about them from a British Army colonel who had traveled to Tibet. They are simple if you know anything about yoga, and not unfamiliar to me at all. I used to do yoga daily, although I haven't for years. I tried them out and have decided to see if I can incorporate the Rites into my morning routine. For one thing, they do help me feel less stiff in the morning when I first get out of bed. Who knows if I'll keep it up, but for now it's easy and only takes a few minutes to do a series of 7. You are supposed to work up to 21 but that's for later. I'm curious if any of you had ever heard of them before. I sure hadn't.

The other thing I learned yesterday is that my downstairs neighbor is being evicted for keeping the cat I have learned to love. So not only will I be losing my kitty, but also my pretty darn perfect downstairs neighbor. These apartments don't allow even outside cats, it turns out, and she is unwilling to lose them, so things will be in flux around here again. I will continue to keep my cat food outside, along with a bowl of peanuts, for the crows. I take the bowls in at night to keep the raccoons from discovering the food. I'm sad about it, but it is in the lease that we will not keep any pets. I'm sad, but I also understand where the owner is coming from. Sort of.

Anyway, I've got to leave in less than an hour for Terry's house, so we can travel in one car down to Snohomish. Her class is scheduled for 10:30, and we have an hour and a half drive. I'll need to get up and get started with my day. I do hope that you will have a wonderful week, and of course I'll let you know how it all went with the skydive. Be well until next Sunday.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summer hits the Pacific Northwest

I like the shadow as much as the toes
I took this picture to show my sister what's left of the pedicure I got when I visited her in February. Just at the tip of my big toes, there's a little bit of chipped "purple rain" polish. I also liked the shadow play in the picture. I was sitting at the bus stop when I spied my toes and actually sent this one to her while I waited for the bus. I know that people do that all the time these days with their smartphones, but it was a first for me.

How technology has changed my world! When I realize that only a short time ago, I didn't walk around with a computer in my pocket, I couldn't ever imagine that something like Facebook would become so important to me. Through it, I keep track of goings-on with family and friends, and people I haven't seen in years still feel present in my life.

I had been keeping track of my niece Trish, my brother Buz's daughter, through Facebook, and I knew that she had recently separated from her husband and was at loose ends. I read her posts with interest as she made arrangements to fix up a van and travel across the country to Seattle. She is providing moral support to a friend who lives there; the friend's mother is very ill with cancer and not expected to live much longer. I got to be with my own mother when she grew sick, but this young mother is only 47, and while it's never easy to lose a loved one, it's especially awful when it happens at such a young age. At least I was an adult when Mama died. I know how much harder it was for my twenty-years-younger sister Fia to deal with it. And Mama lived a very full life, even if she only made it to 69.

Anyway, Trish was born and raised in Texas and moved to the East Coast with her husband and attended college. She has become a very talented artist and creates wonderful portraits of family pets. I've also watched her progress through Facebook as she put pictures up to share, and I was amazed, simply amazed, at the likenesses she is able to create. It's hard to understand just what it is in any portrait that makes the expression and features so unique, and the ability to capture and preserve such a moment is worth a great deal. And now I've gotten a chance to know her much better.

Trish's mother stayed with me in Boulder while she was pregnant with her, and I remember getting to know my brother's wife a little. They didn't stay married for long, and when Trish was born her mother had already moved back to Texas. Most of my family members are in that state, which is not a place I particularly like. It gets too hot in the summer, and there are no real mountains anywhere. Not to mention that Texas politics are not very easy for me to deal with. I've chosen to live in progressive communities and find Bellingham to be very much to my liking. Texas is a great place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. So when Trish decided last week to come and visit me in Bellingham, I looked forward very much to showing her what I like about my chosen home.

Over the years, I never had a chance to spend much time with her, one on one. When she was growing up, Buz only got to be with her on weekends, and it didn't happen often that I would be around when Trish was. But gradually I watched her grow up and become a very unique person. The last time, before this weekend, that I spent any time with her, she was in Texas for Thanksgiving. We were both staying with Buz and Phyllis (Buz's wonderful life partner), and I met Matt, Trish's husband, for the first time. What I remember most is being a little intimidated by the extensive tattoos both Matt and Trish sported. Trish only had a few back then, but Matt was decorated from neck to toe. It's such a different approach to one's body than I have, and it took some getting used to.

Now Trish has many very large tattoos, and before long I had forgotten about them. I didn't realize, until I would notice how people look at her, that they must give one a completely different relationship with strangers. I remembered how intimidated I was when I saw Matt's years ago, but if your loved one has tattoos, before very long you just don't see them any more. It was a bit like she was wearing a unique shirt, and I'd sit and admire it now and then, since the art is quite distinctive. She told me the meaning behind them and I realized that, just like always, the younger generation finds a way to be particularly unique and different from previous generations. These days tattoos and body piercings are everywhere. The world has come a long ways from the pierced earlobes that I thought were racy when I got mine done.

As we spent two full days together, I would sometimes get a flashback to those long-ago days when I was around Trish's mother. They have the same laugh, and I would be transported back more than three decades, thinking of Boulder in the sunshine, riding bikes and trying to get the pregnant mother to eat better and smoke less. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, smoking was everywhere, and I realize now how much I've grown accustomed to not being exposed to cigarette smoke. I realized with a jolt that her mother was actually smoking inside my house during those days! It was a different time, indeed.

We've gone through a couple of weeks of warmer-than-normal weather here in Bellingham, and for a few nights I even had some difficulty getting cool enough to sleep well. Those sandals in the picture are only worn around here for a few weeks during July and August, and then it's back to my more normal tennis shoes. Makes them last a long time when you don't use them much. I know some people are very accustomed to sandals, but for me it's like being in an alternate universe, having a chance to walk around with no socks like that. Feels good, though, I have to say.

Yesterday was our first day in weeks with a little rain, and of course it would happen on a Saturday, when I took Trish to the Farmers' Market. We didn't mind, though, walking around in a light rain, which has become much more familiar to me than days of unremitting sunshine. While my garden loves it, I was glad to have a respite from having to water. It looks like today will be much less rainy, and I'm hoping it won't interfere with my travel down to Snohomish. I've got a dear friend here in Bellingham who wants to celebrate her 65th birthday with a tandem skydive, and I've agreed to go with her and jump out at the same time. I did the same thing with Jonelle last year, which you can read about here, if you're interested. I'll climb outside the airplane and watch as she and her tandem instructor leave so that I can let go when they exit, and if all goes well, I'll land before her and get a picture of their landing.

It's been a very good week since we last visited, and everything is as usual here this morning. My tea is gone, my partner is still sleeping, and the birds, especially the crows, are making their usual racket. Since I've started feeding cats and now crows, I think they might be waiting for me to put out their breakfast. Cheeky birds, those crows. I like them, and they recognize me, I know they do. Take care of yourself between now and next Sunday, and enjoy your own little spot on our beautiful blue planet, until we meet again.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Another weekend without any skydives

Supermoon setting
When I woke yesterday, the moon was just setting over the trees, so I grabbed my camera. This is the best capture I was able to get, but it's not bad, really. The high humidity added a wee bit of haze, giving it a little fuzzy halo. I had been reading about supermoons, what makes them super. Turns out that it's when the moon is at perigee: the moon's closest point to Earth in its orbit. We'll have two more this year, in August and September. The tides are especially high and low when we have a supermoon.

I was supposed to go skydiving yesterday, with my friends Linny, Christy, Dave and Cindy. But things transpired to make it not happen. Linny had another difficult opening last Sunday under her canopy and will be seeing the doctor this Tuesday to see if she strained something again. I fear that my dear friend may not be skydiving much any more, as she struggles to get back into it. Dave and Cindy had something come up that would keep them from attending, and I really didn't want to drive 75 miles south to make some two-way skydives with Christy, so I begged off. It's funny to realize how much more fun even three people can have in the air together. And I so enjoy the fun we've had over the years.

In a way, it's fitting that I am winding down my skydiving now, when things are changing with all of us. As much fun as I have been having, I'm realizing that taking care of my body, especially my knees, has real priority in my day-to-day activity. Without good knees, it's hard to stay as active as I've become accustomed to being. But that last jump last Sunday was a really good one, and I keep wishing I could bottle it up and partake a sip at a time. I'll try to describe it.

It was Linny, Christy, and me. Linny loves to check the spot and make the decision when we will leave the airplane, and we decided to have what's called a "no-show" exit. That means Linny would look out the door, with the two of us behind her, and would leave without warning. We then dove out of the airplane door after her, catching her as quickly as we could. Then we did what we call a "fly around" maneuver. One person lets go and flies around the other two and then joins them again. It's easy and a lot of fun. We did that for awhile, until suddenly I noticed that there was a cloud directly beneath us, and I realized that we would be falling through it. (I had seen a few clouds forming on the way up, but there weren't many and I hadn't worried about them.)

You see, skydivers are not supposed to fall through clouds, because you need to see the ground and the pilot could lose his license if he intentionally allowed it to happen. It does happen occasionally, though, and really, there's nothing quite like the feeling of falling through one. It's not the first time for me, but it always takes my breath away. From being able to see everything, suddenly everything turns white and there's nothing to see except each other. It didn't last long, and then I saw the mist clear and the ground appeared once again. I saw Linny smiling from ear to ear as she flew over to me. Then it was time to go, to separate from each other so we would have clear air to open our parachutes.

As I tracked off (a maneuver that allows you to move horizontally at a quick rate), getting away from the others, I shouted with joy as I reached back to find the handle to open my beautiful canopy over my head. It was a perfect opening (thanks to my packer), and I oriented myself to the landing area, ascertained the direction of the ground wind, and set up my landing pattern, coming to the ground softly and filled with happiness to have had such a fine experience.

Then Linny landed and came over to join us. She had a split lip from her hand having hit her face, and she wasn't walking with her usual bounce after a good skydive. Then I learned she was feeling some tightness in her chest. She packed up as usual and went home. She told me that she hoped she would be feeling better so that we could play this weekend, but she still was feeling bad enough that she needed to see her doctor before skydiving again. I'm worried about her, and I realize that my skydiving enjoyment is tied directly to those people I've grown close to since I moved here from Boulder.

Everything changes, and having made the decision to let this activity go, I realize that I may not be the only one of us who won't be coming back next year. The Drop Zone closes during November and December, and only the hardiest skydivers are out in the winter, making freezing cold skydives just because they can't wait for nice weather. I've been on many a below-zero skydive, but that was a long time ago. Now I'm a fair-weather skydiver, and not even that for much longer. Although I still enjoy it very much, it's no longer the same thrill that I experienced in the first thousand or two skydives. I would never have thought that something as exciting as leaping from an airplane and being in freefall would get boring, and even if it's not quite that ho-hum, the experience has lost a great deal of its adrenaline rush for me.

When I was an instructor, being responsible for another person made me feel just as filled with adrenaline as my student, and I needed to be competent and as on top of my game as I could get. I would have as many as seven or eight skydives in one day, and by the end of the weekend I would be tired out but filled with satisfaction at a job well done. Today, I see others teaching students at the Drop Zone, and I am glad someone else is doing it. I've been there, done that, and don't need to do it any more. I suppose there will be a day when I can go to the Drop Zone and watch other people skydive, and in the same way, I won't want to do it myself. Everything changes.

Instead of skydiving yesterday, I spent the day enjoying myself with a nice brisk walk with my walking group, starting a new book (Boys in the Boat), and puttering in the garden. One really nice part of the garden is the community aspect. I have gotten to know my neighbors in the apartment complex in ways I wouldn't have otherwise. I've even stolen a raspberry or two and sneaked an especially tempting strawberry from someone else's plot.

Other than this post, I've got nothing scheduled for the day. The walking group is gathering to take an excursion to Canada and walk up Grouse Mountain in Vancouver. It's a steep and challenging trail, and then they'll have lunch at the restaurant at the top. (There's also a road to the top, but they won't be taking it.) They'll spend most of the day together, taking a tram back down and then heading home. I decided not to go, because tomorrow, Monday, is the first of the Trailblazers' extra hikes of the season, and it will be a long day. I need to be rested up and ready for what will be a new hike for me.

Well, that's about it from my little corner of the Universe. I'm feeling pretty good, and I walked yesterday without my knee brace and had no pain at all afterwards. (I carried it with me, just in case.) Today is supposed to be hotter than yesterday, and it was plenty warm then. I'll stay hydrated and enjoy the moment, as I hope you will, too. I am wishing you all good things until we meet again next Sunday.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Telling secrets

Sunrise from my front porch
It doesn't happen often, but this morning I don't have anything to write about. I worried a little last night, thinking that something would occur to me during the night, or I'd have a dream that would point me in a direction, but it didn't happen. So this morning will be a stream of consciousness kind of post, and about what, I have no idea. I'll just... write whatever comes out.

One thing I have been mulling for a while now is the subject of Shame. One of my blogging friends wrote about her ability to keep a secret, and it reminded me of how I cannot. If you ever share something with me that you don't want other people to know, you are in trouble. I don't know why that is, but this has caused me to lose friends and even make a few enemies over the years. A secret, something that other people don't or shouldn't know, just burns inside me until I let it out by telling someone.

Now, having said that, I realize this was true about me many years ago, and I'm not sure that I'm still like that, since I don't actually have people tell me secrets any more. Plus, twenty years ago I married a very private person, someone who has taught me lessons over the years about how to keep things to myself. We have had numerous conversations about this topic, and I now actually feel a source of pride that I don't have to spill the beans, so to speak, every time I open my mouth.

Some people, like me, often speak without thinking. Just like this post, I often don't know for sure what I'm going to say when I begin to talk, and there are times when the subject surprises even me. It's almost as if I sometimes channel thoughts that come from a place I cannot access if I attempt to find it, but that come out unbidden, if I'm not careful.

Years ago, I read the entire Urantia Book, which is over 2,000 pages long and purports to have been written over many years by a man in a trance. He apparently knew nothing about the pages that came from him during the night, but all of these papers were gathered together in the early part of the twentieth century, published in book form, and now those ideas have quite a following. There is now a Urantia Foundation, I guess, and for many years while I lived in Boulder I attended gatherings of people who follow the tenets of the book. The book and its teachings were of great comfort to me at the that time in my life.

But it does make me wonder if it's possible for something that huge, that involved, to actually come forth from the same place in that anonymous man's mind that I sometimes access in my own brain. It's really almost as if someone else said those things, although they come out of my own mouth. Or is this just a way for me to feel better about having shared secrets that were not mine to share? It's something I wonder about now and then. The human brain is definitely a mystery in many ways. I've always been fascinated by the unknown.

When I was young, I devoured every science fiction book I could get my hands on. There are themes from those books that I realize are now part of my own thought processes. They are familiar and no longer strange, and it's not possible for me to separate out the ideas that I took on from those books, ideas that someone dreamed up and have no basis in real life. But they seemed real to me at the time and now reside somewhere in the corridors of my mind. I may even have turned the fantasy into reality and have no awareness of it.

I guess where I'm going with this is to wonder whether it's possible for me to have changed enough that I can let go of the shame I associate with the long-ago telling of secrets. At first I tried to wiggle out of it by thinking to myself that I didn't actually have the ability to censor what came out of my mouth, but that's not true. I found a secret to be a burden that I wanted to unload, to get out from under, and telling another person released me from that burden.

There is one secret in particular that I especially regret. I didn't even realize that the person I told used the information to injure the other until much later. It was someone who saw me as a friend, who later told me why she wouldn't talk to me any more, why she hated me so much. I was terribly chagrined, sorry for the pain I had caused, and for many years I suffered when I thought of her. I have tried, in recent years, to find her again, but it's impossible, since women change their last names, to follow the trail of where she is now. I just want to tell her again that I'm sorry.

Perhaps admitting it here will give me some further release from that transgression. In any case, I now think that if someone were to tell me a secret, I would not immediately look for someone to share it with. In fact, now that I think of it, I harbor quite a few secrets that people have told me over the years, and they don't seem to be a burden at all. I'm different now.

And when I started to write this post, I didn't know that. I didn't realize how much I have changed. In fact, I think I can forgive that younger version of myself without any help at all. Perhaps the only thing I needed to do was to write it down and give her a voice, a chance to ask for forgiveness.

When I started this post, I had no idea, really not the slightest, where it would go. Now I actually feel a bit lighter, a bit cleaner, than I did when I began. I hope that this post finds my readers enjoying what is left of the weekend and perhaps a little bit lighter, too.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Love is timeless

Me as a toddler
This picture tells me so many things about my early days. I know I was loved immoderately by my parents, and my sister Norma Jean had not yet made an appearance to move me from the center of the universe. I'll bet my mom made that outfit for me; back in the 1940s there were not very many cute little outfits like this one for toddlers. Plus she loved to sew. It almost looks like I'm wearing two different colors of socks, but it must be a trick of the sun, since I cannot imagine she would have allowed that. I can also see that I'm wearing little panties, so I must have been housebroken by then (I mean potty trained).

Daddy had a darkroom and enjoyed taking pictures and developing them himself. His family at this time consisted of the three of us, a nice little nuclear family during war time. I'm not even sure where we were living; since I was born at the end of 1942, World War II must be close to being over, and Daddy was certainly not gone, for this picture to have been taken. Norma Jean must be incubating, since she was born when I was two-and-a-half. I look to be about two.

I've been thinking about what remains from that time. Since I've read that the cells in our bodies are replaced every seven years or so (most of them, anyway, according to this article), what makes me still that little girl? I sure don't look anything like her now, and I have no recollection of what she was like back then. When I recall my childhood, most of what I remember is being loved, feeling safe and cherished. For that, I thank my parents. I wish I could have given such a childhood to my own son, but it was not to be.

Yesterday I finished reading a book about a couple of star-crossed lovers in the mid-1960s who were foiled in their attempts to get together by life circumstances. They truly loved one another and didn't know that the other was still alive. Forty years later they are reunited, in their late sixties by then, but still the same to each other. The book ended after their reunion, but my imagination had no difficulty filling in the rest. (The book is The Last Letter from Your Lover by JoJo Moyes.)

It makes me think about love, what it is and whether true love really does last forever. If that is true, then the love I received from my parents is part of my DNA, and the love I gave to my sons while they were alive is also still somewhere inside me. That is not to say that I don't still feel love for them, but it's different, laced with pain around the edges, so I don't allow myself to dwell there for long. It's funny; my parents are both gone, too, but when I think of them there is no pain, just gratitude for having had them as part of my life. That love is not gone, either.

But thinking back about other old loves, such as husbands and boyfriends who meant everything to me once upon a time, there are plenty of memories of good times and bad, but the love is rather one dimensional, not full and robust. I suspect it's because I've moved on and they are no longer part of my life today. My spouse of today, Smart Guy, has taken over that position in my heart and I guess there's no need for me to mourn the loss of any other. Must be the neurons in my brain only have room for one at a time. I wonder if that's a genetic trait that millennia spent in monogamous relationships (even if only serial monogamy) has facilitated.

But that's neither here nor there. What I'm trying to tease out of myself is what, exactly, remains when the object of love is no longer there? A phrase from my past just emerged from the fog: "the greatest of these is love." I find that it is a Bible phrase from 1 Corinthians: "So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (How did I ever find anything before Google?) According to this, these three things continue without fading or being lost.

I know that when I am feeling love, great or small, I feel a bit like I am glowing with it. Being suffused with love is a great place to be, and if I could figure out how to be there all the time, I would. But of course life is filled with ups and downs, peaks and valleys, and I guess, thinking a little more about it, I would probably stop noticing it if it were always there, like the invisible air I breathe every moment. No, it's better to have a few valleys where I'm not feeling the love so that I can be aware of it when it's surrounding me.

After this Sunday morning ponder, I sit here with my laptop, tea gone and partner still asleep, and I feel the love. I've got a good day planned, an outing with my friend Judy, and perhaps a bit of time outside in the garden, and the ability to stride out into my day with a full heart. I can only wish the same for you, my dear reader, and hope that your day is filled with love.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Many lives and my faulty memory

Chris, me, Norma Jean, and two masked munchkins
This picture must have been taken in Michigan around Halloween, since Norma Jean's two kids, Allison and Peter, are wearing masks that she knit for them. I spent some time yesterday scanning pictures from the past into my digital library, and I stared at this one for a long time. It almost feels like I was a different person in that picture. Chris looks so fresh and happy, and Norma Jean and I are young and beautiful. I'm wearing a hat that I knit; Norma Jean might be wearing one, too.

The main thing is that I have no recollection of that time in my life. And where were we going? I would have thought maybe it was Halloween night, but Chris is not in costume, so I suspect Norma Jean and I were going somewhere and she brought the kids over to show me the masks she created. They are really adorable, aren't they? It's easy to tell which one is Allison, who was blond and cute. Peter is of course wearing a mohawk, or are those feathers? Chris didn't have anything nearly as nice as these, and his costume was probably purchased in the store.

What this picture reminds me is that over the years of my life, I've been many different versions of myself. I know there are some people who are raised and live their whole lives in one place, or two, and there is a direct trajectory between who they are today and who they were before. My turbulent past doesn't allow me to have any such a thing.

But the one thing that is constant in almost every one of those lives is my sister Norma Jean. Just this past Saturday we spent two hours visiting on a video chat. There was a period of about ten years in the middle of my life when I didn't have much to do with my birth family, including her, as I was a wandering hippie. When Chris was around twelve, he went to live with his father, and I began a period of travel and exploration. There are major landmarks that I can use to tell something about a particular time, but often my memories overlap and become distorted.

I'm curious about that young woman in the picture. What were her priorities at that time? I remember that I was married to my second husband (he probably took the picture) and we lived in Michigan. Chris' father came to get him every other weekend and for longer periods during the summer and holidays. I well remember how difficult that was for me at first. Somewhere I have a picture of Chris getting on the bus to attend the first day of kindergarten, and I remember crying because he was growing up so fast. He had to deal with getting on the bus alone, as well as his mother's tears. These days I see parents dropping their kids off at school and picking them up afterwards, but it was different then.

When Norma Jean and I recall some of our past, it amazes me that our memories of the same event can be totally, completely different. Of course, at the time that picture was taken, we were married and living our separate lives and only saw each other occasionally. But I don't really remember much from those days fifty years ago. Why would I? And much of what I do remember is not actually accurate. Memory is a funny animal: I've read that some theories believe that every time we recall a memory, it changes. I found an article from the Smithsonian while pondering this question, and this line resonated with me:
[The author] says it may be impossible for humans or any other animal to bring a memory to mind without altering it in some way. Nader thinks it’s likely that some types of memory, such as a flashbulb memory, are more susceptible to change than others.
He defines "flashbulb" memory as those that occur when something momentous happens, such as where you were when Kennedy died, or 9/11 or similar. When we bring up that memory, it can be totally different than what actually happened during the event. I have plenty of flashbulb memories from events that happened in my own life: where I was when Stephen died in the hospital; when I received word that Daddy had a heart attack and I needed to come home immediately; and where I was when I got the call that Chris was gone.

I suppose if I won the lottery, for example, that would be a flashbulb memory of a positive event. But most of my memories, those that I recall, are not of wonderful moments. I found a picture of my first wedding, which is very distant in my memory now, and I was surprised to see people in the picture I don't remember at all. All I remember of that day is my pretty blue silk dress and the ride from the church to my new home with my newly created husband. I was all of eighteen and he was twenty. No wonder I don't remember much! I was also pregnant and desperate to hide that fact from the world.

It would be interesting for me to sit down and write a timeline of my life, to see how much I can actually recollect as far as facts and figures go, and then see what I might actually remember from all those different lives. Now that I've been here in the Pacific Northwest for six years, it feels like those other situations were just vehicles on the path to bring me to this place. And it's a good place, a good life. The advent of the internet and blogging has given me the ability to document and record this period. When I go back and read some of my early posts, it's kind of like revisiting a favorite novel.

Well, it's about time for me to wrap this up so I can get on with the day. My partner still sleeps beside me, my tea is gone, and the warm sunshine of early summer lights up the outdoors, beckoning me to get out of bed and get started. Today I'll go to the movies with a couple of my apartment neighbors. We talked about doing so while gathering strawberries in the garden, and now it's become a reality. I am wishing all of you a day to remember, one that you will recall happily years from now.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A day to remember and reflect

Long ago and far away
The only offspring of my parents who are missing from this picture are me and my son Chris. It was taken sometime in the mid- to early 1970s, I suspect, since Daddy died in 1979. My brother Buz (back row, far right) is surrounded by two peripheral extended family members: boys who hung out so much with the family that they were included, no doubt, because they were there. I like to think they were stand-ins for the two of us, Chris and me, who were probably involved in the middle of our own drama in California or Colorado.

Pete probably set up the picture with a self-timer and then slipped in next to Norma Jean, over there on the left. PJ and her first husband Ken stand next to Daddy and Mama. My two youngest sisters are to the right of Mama, one standing and one sitting. Those four urchins in the front row are PJ and Ken's two sons, then Norma Jean and Pete's two kids. Allison, right in front of Mama, is now a career officer in the Army.

Many of us were all together recently at PJ's Celebration of Life in February, those of us who are still alive, that is. Pete died three years ago, Daddy in 1979, and Mama in 1993. Today is Father's Day 2014, and now it's been 35 years since we lost our father. I had already lost a son, Stephen, who died in 1965 at the age of 13 months, but none of the others in this picture had yet lost a close family member.

Daddy was at the center of a bustling, active family at the time this picture was taken. Nobody had any idea what the future would bring, since we all live in the present moment and cannot take a time machine into the future to see what awaits us. But the passage of time takes everyone imperceptibly away from the present as we gradually morph into other versions of ourselves. At this time, my parents had every right to be proud of their accomplishments, their offspring, the life they had created. You can see that happy life reflected in those faces in the picture.

Daddy was only 62 when he died, and I was 36. My sister Fia was only 16. Events like these take a huge toll on us all, but at least I was an adult and had some life experience that helped me put it into perspective. Fia and Markee were just high school kids. We all suffered through, and gradually, as it always happens, we took up the threads of our lives again and went on. Mama was devastated, having lost her husband of 37 years, but she also managed to establish a good life for herself in the fourteen years she had left on the planet. Mama was only 69 when she died. It astounds me to realize she was only 55 when she became a widow. To me, at the time, she seemed much older than that.

Of course, I realize that as I grow older myself, what once seemed to be ancient is now, well, not so much. Someone who is 55 seems young as I look back at the almost two decades that have transpired since I was that age. When I see in the obituaries that someone died at 82 (for example), it feels a little premature. But it's not, is it? In the Bible (Psalm 90:10) the length of a life is supposedly 70 or 80. ("We live for 70 years, or 80 years if we're healthy, yet even in the prime years there are troubles and sorrow. They pass by quickly and we fly away.")

Although my father didn't get to live that long, he lived a very full life, filled with love and laughter, family and friends. After he retired from the Air Force, he continued to work at General Dynamics. My brother wrote, in a previous post, this comment:
Don't forget he also worked at General Dynamics (now Lockheed) for a number of years after retiring from the Air Force. GD was also across the lake, and he often piloted his boat (GiGi, pronounced "jee-jee") to work. It was cool watching him take off into a strong wind with lots of "white cap" waves on the lake, on his way to the office.
That's a memory my brother has of our father that I didn't know anything about. I had already left home and started making my own way in the world. And now, here today, many many years later, I'm taking this time to remember and reflect on a wonderful man, my father, who gave me part of my genetic makeup (along with Mama), and who counseled me over the years we had together. We are intertwined forever, and as I sit here in the dark writing this post on my laptop, I can only feel gratitude for that time. The sense of loss is gone, replaced with a deep appreciation and indebtedness for having experienced it at all.

Thanks, Daddy, for being my father. I hope that someday we will again have a chance to compare notes about what we learned this time around. And to my blogging family, Happy Father's Day!