He called it, "my medicine." Hot burning liquid in
a wide flat bottle, slightly concave on one side; it was easy to grip, then pour,
and drink. Often, it sat on the kitchen countertop beside the small shot glass,
accessible for scheduled times of day. Sometimes I'd see him. I remember the
sound of the top being unscrewed and the plop while pouring. He'd stand with
one arm akimbo, bring the glass to his mouth with the other hand, throw back his
head, swallow, and exhale through his mouth with a simultaneous,
"Ahhhh." Years later, Mom laughed as she told my brother how he
imitated Dad's ritual, proclaiming, "This is how you drink liquor."
My brother was a young boy then. I thought it was funny, too. Dad also drank coffee, though I can't remember seeing him
make or drink it during those early childhood days. How I know is because of
the small, metal percolator that was on top of the stove. There was a basket inside and a glass knob on the
top; a contraption hardly used nowadays. Mom said she never drank coffee, so
Dad had to be the one using it. What would Dad have been like without his coffee and his medicine? A World War II veteran born in
1921, he married at 31, later than most of his peers. As a husband and father,
he fit in with all the other dads in the neighborhood; working hard during the
weekdays to take care of his family, mowing the lawn on Saturday, and going to
church on Sunday – a typical family
life. Was the shot of whiskey typical, too? The Kent cigarettes? When did it begin? As a
poor teenaged boy in Norfolk, Virginia? As a young soldier in the Philippines?
Re-entering segregated civilian life in the United States? When did it become
his medicine? My thoughts about "feel good" substances didn't
start with Dad. Instead, I began with the grateful feeling I had on a dark,
rainy day as I held a cup of English Tea in my hand; drinking and relishing the
heat that traveled from my mouth to my stomach, warming my body as I
anticipated the effects of the caffeine – a mind cleared of cobwebs and a boost
of energy. Ahhh Yes… love that late morning cup of tea – my medicine. When did it begin, my love of tea? I don't remember;
probably like most people who don't remember when their love and dependence on
coffee began - America's favorite morning beverage. If coffee didn't give me jitters,
I'd be drinking it, too. My teenaged kids drink it. Starbucks, the drive-thru at McDonald's,
the Keurig brewer – all have
contributed to the inception of coffee in their lives, along with the influence
of their parents. If my husband treats himself to a coffee, he'll ask the girls
if they want one, too, which is usually a foo foo type.I, on the other
hand, have contributed to the normalcy
of other substances. "You're still working on that project? Drink a cup of
tea; that might help you to stay awake." "Here's a Benadryl.
It'll help with your allergies and stuffy nose. You'll sleep all night." "You're feeling tense? Drink some hot Chamomile tea." They are the next
generation of medicine takers. Everyone seems to have their medicines that range from mild to destructive. We have our coffee
and tea to get us going; our 4 diet Cokes
during the day, our beer after work,our
wine for dinner. We eat our sweets, fats, and chips. According to recent news
reports, a handful of moms are swiping the kids' ADD medicine that they claim
aids in getting through the long list of things to do. On the other side of the same coin, we take 15 vitamins and
herb supplements a day, we run until we run it
out, hit the gyms, and do other exercises or sports to the point of obsession.
Many say that these are better choices. The illegal stuff – I don't know much about it and it speaks
for itself. While surfing the NET, I came across a woman who refuted
everyone's need for stimuli and/or sedatives. She recalled the life of her
grandmother; how she worked hard, ate well, and loved her family and friends,
and that that's all she needed. She suggested that we do the same. What's your
"medicine;" if you care or dare to share? Other thoughts?
Running on the long, winding road that stretches from one end of my subdivision to the other, I passed the home of "Jan" and "Steve." Fifteen years ago, they invited Darling Husband and me to a party. At the time, we were parents of a three year old and a one year old and chose not to go because we were tired or because we had another commitment or because we didn't feel like going through the hassle of finding a babysitter. I forget.
DH knew Jan and Steve through friends that they had in common. They were, and still are, professionals with interesting careers (who do not have children); people who I would have enjoyed talking to; however, I blew it. When they invited us to their home again, I RSVP'd on their voice mail with a hint request to bring my children.
Mistake. Not good.
We did not hear back from them; nor did they ever invite us again.
It was summer. I envisioned a back yard grill with hot dogs and hamburgers. We had taken the kids along to parties before and it worked out. Cling-ons and lap babies who were satisfied to have a cracker or a juice cup in their mouths while people watching, they never disturbed anyone...
Or did they?
There was an occasion where another couple invited us to their cookout; a couple who knew we had babies and who welcomed them. I seem to recall that there were a few other children there, too. Anyway, the wife of the host couple wanted to hold one of my girls and enjoyed doing so, and the kids were quiet as usual. But... I wonder how the other guests felt.
(By the way, that couple invited us back to next year's cookout and somehow got the message to me that it was for adults only. I appreciated her honesty.)
When I was a new parent, it took a few years for me to figure out that most people prefer that kids be left home; even when it is a casual, outdoor, neighborhood party. They feel that getting away from their own kids and then having to look at some else's, puts a damper on the atmosphere. Others are empty nesters who've gotten away from frequent contact with kids. Also, there are the party goers who want to drink to no end and act accordingly, which includes dropping a few f-bombs.
On a visit to the outskirts of Chicago eight years ago, friends of ours had a party at their home to welcome us, which included the kids. The other guests brought their kids, too, but it was obvious that "the kids" were expected to play outside or in another room and that "the adults" were given free range of the party room - complete with a stone enclosed fireplace, a long table with a feast on it, and a full bar. One of my three daughters, Girl #1, had no interest in playing with the kids and would not be separated from her parents. A male guest seemed to purposely make his point that she was not welcome with constant and overt cursing. A woman noticed "the child" being in "the wrong room," too, and told me that she thought it was good of me to be patient with my daughter by letting her eat with me while I was having conversation with adults.
I think that was her way of saying that she felt sorry for me because I was stuck with my child.
Jogging past Jan and Steve's house often stirs up memories of having young children and the specific challenges they presented. When they come into the world, the metaphorical helicopter begins to fly around them and parents tend to lose perspective.
I don't know if Darling Husband and I were wrong or not in taking our young children to, presumably, adult parties. They were like appendages and we didn't give it much thought; maybe because it wasn't often and because it was typically a "shorts and tee-shirt" setting. Also, other party throwers insisted that we "bring the kids" because they knew the effort and expense of hiring a sitter.
I'm not a "gotta go to the party" person and neither is my husband; though his work lands him at quite a few. When we go, we start with, "We'll go and stay for a short time." Most of the time, we stay much longer and are almost the last to leave. Whether the kids are there or not doesn't seem to matter. If we are there for the pleasure of the conversation (and food) with friends, it seems to work.
Some parties are obviously not meant for children to attend; however, if there is a fine line, do you mind kids being there or would you rather not see any?
In the waiting area of the doctor's office, a man sitting with his wife and daughter, 20 feet away, says to me, "God bless you."
At home in the kitchen: Ah-Choo!
Watching TV in the family room, Darling Husband says to me, "Bless you."
DH again: "Bless you."
Susceptible to springtime allergies since forever ago, my sneeze follows me around for a month or two; getting the attention of a family member, friend, or stranger who promptly says, "Bless you," "God bless you," or an occasional "Gesundheit."
When I was a child at home with my parents, I rarely got those responses. More likely, I heard, "Woo, that was a big one!" "Cover you mouth," or Turn your head"...not that Mom didn't want God to bless me. After all, my heart was dangerously stopping and missing a beat each time I sneezed... according to the belief of many.
Always a smidgen of a non-conformist, it occurred to me that I don't have to say "Bless you" every time someone sneezes; though I think it's a kind and personable act. With no expectation of a reprimand, I tried it (silence) when my daughter, Girl#1, who likes attention, sneezed.
"You didn't say anything," she said.
Oh. Bless you.
"Thank you," she responded with a smile of satisfaction.
Dictionary dot com defines tradition as "the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice." Bless you seems to fit.
I began to wonder about other traditions. For instance... When we name a child after a relative - an honor to the deceased or to family unity - do we really like the name? And godparents... When I was little, I was told that a godparent took responsibility of a godchild if something happened to the parents. My children don't have godparents. Hmmm... (I'm counting on DH and I staying alive for awhile.)
I finished another book recently - This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. A Jewish father dies. His wife and children sit shiva, a tradition of grieving together for seven days. The family in this R rated novel is probably not a good representation of sitting shiva, yet the characters learned some of life's lessons and benefited from it by forming stronger bonds.
Do we benefit from the traditions we follow? Do acts of tradition maintain order, as similar to laws?
Are you a traditional person?
(Rhetorically speaking: Does the bride have to wear white? Does the man have to be the breadwinner? Does the family have to spend holidays and vacations at the same place each year?)
Lately, it's the word that often enters my mind when making decisions that seem to have no concrete right or wrong answer. I've entered a phase of my life, the sixth decade, where it has become apparent that I simplify my routine, minimize my belongings, stop sweating the small stuff, and absorb as much of the beauty of life as I can.
No, I'm not ready for the retirement condo home.
Yes, I have three kids at home.
In other words, I'm still very much in the mix of a busy, obligation filled life; however, the gradual change has begun. It is my way of incorporating the balance.
"What?" You may ask.
A Quick Story.
I had a journal as a teenager; just for a year. And like many who write, I also had a camera (110 film); freezing the times of my life in words and in pictures. Moments, thoughts, faces, events - I treasured it all. When I wanted to retrieve it to reminiscence or to supply my kids pictures for their Student of the Week posters, I could.
As the number of years increased, so did the number of journals. (I have a teen journal, adult journals, journals for my children, faith journals, a gratitude journal and letters.) And so did the number of photo albums - so, so many.
A large portion of those albums contain pictures of my children from film, as I did not jump on the digital bandwagon until 2007. For three kids, I've captured every birthday, every first day of school, every dance recital, every piano recital, several dips in the pool and the ocean, the first bike rides, award ceremonies, field days, every holiday, etc. And like most of the other parents, I've also squeezed my camera view between the heads of people sitting in front of me to get a shot of my kid performing on stage.
A few months ago, my daughter, Girl #3, said to me, "Mrs. R gets frustrated when the parents are snapping away or videoing instead of watching and enjoying the production." (Mrs. R used to be her theater teacher.)
"She should be," I responded. "She's very passionate and puts together a good show for us. And yes, sometimes I'm getting the shot instead of getting the show."
The Gradual, Energy-Saving Light-bulb comes on.
I'd already begun toning down my photography even before hearing about Mrs. R's frustrations, though she is a catalyst. Three reasons:
On vacation, I'm the only one lugging the camera and video recorder around to get pictures for the family history.
At extended family dinners - again - I'm taking pictures, feeling like the hired photographer, and having to ask one of my kids to get me into a shot or two.
Clutter. After joining my life with my husband's, our photo and photo album stock became massive. We also inherited albums from a deceased parent. Oh, and let's not forget the envelopes galore of pictures that were never put into albums. Remember the "duplicate" craze phase?
I ask myself if I really need to take my camera with me and if I so, do I really need to take pictures beyond the two or three that gives me a memory. After all - how often do I spend time looking through albums or picture files on my computer?
To convince myself, I think of Mrs. R. I also think about a "Quality" training session at a company that I worked for in the 1980s. It was there that I learned the concept, "Be Here Now," to focus on the task or pleasure at hand. Managing that concept means I'm not constantly living in the past. I'm also learning to see the whole of things; to peruse instead of skim; to slow down and absorb. It's a good thing.
When photography "is" the activity. One of many subjects being nature.
Do you ever miss part of the sports game, play, etc. because you're getting the shot or video? or miss the total enjoyment of an event?
Any general thoughts about "living in the present?"
Three days ago, I finished reading The Book Thief, in which an
ongoing theme is the power of words. The protagonist is Liesel, who is nine years old when the story begins. It is 1939
and she quickly realizes that the words of Hitler contained enough power to
rule Germany and a vast area of surrounding countries, ultimately sending
millions of innocent people to their deaths.
While history, both distant and recent, has shown me the
same or similar atrocities as Liesel witnessed,
it is the little, common, day to day words that I hear that can pack a big
punch—a punch that has a lifelong gradual effect. Much of the time, the speaker
doesn't even realize his or her power.
Ironically, the punch is often delivered to children from
their loving parents.
In a perfect world, we'd all be smart, talented, and good looking—among
the obvious traits of being loving and giving. I can't imagine that world; it
sounds like heaven. But while we're here, it would be great if we could improve
upon the delivery of our opinions.
When I was eight years old, my brother began to tease me
about a certain body part. I doubt that the teasing lasted more than a few days,
but during one episode, my mother laughed. That was all it took for the indelible
mark to be formed. It took a couple years of maturing to realize that the body
feature was normal. Fortunately, I've never been overly self-conscious,
allowing my imperfections to dictate the course of my life… well, maybe. I
wonder about others.
Numerous times, I've heard children being told:
You're too short
Your hair is too curly or kinky
That class is for smart people
You need some more muscles
Get out of the sun - you're dark enough
You need some sun - you're too white
Your feet look like boats
You have elephant legs
You have chicken legs
Etc. Etc. Etc.
Or, if not directed toward the victim child,
another child (often a sibling) in his or
her presence will be complimented:
You're so nice and talll...
You're so smart
You're only 14! You're so big and muscular
I love your blonde hair and blue eyes
You look good in everything you wear
You're so pretty
You're so handsome
You have your dad's good looks
You have your mom's brains
Etc. Etc. Etc.
Albeit, fairly mild stuff. (This is not about abusive situations.)
A lesson I learned from my mother came from a story she told
me. When my brother and I were toddlers, an aunt said to Mom, "He's so
cute," to which Mom replied, "Both of my children are cute." (My
brother had more of the physical characteristics of what was—and still
is—considered a good-looking black person.) History repeated itself when a
shopper told my two year old how pretty she looked in her pretty dress as my
four year old stood by. My older daughter probably paid no attention to the woman;
however, I said to her, "Your dress is pretty, too." The embarrassed
woman apologized as I kept walking. It was no big deal, but maybe a lesson for
her - the shopper.
I look at my kids and I don't see physical perfection
(whatever that is); sometimes, not even close. Nor are they candidates for Mensa, embellished with extraordinary
personalities. All three have tease-worthy characteristics, but I refrain… most
of the time some of the time. In other words, I try to think before I talk;
to choose words that will promote balance and confidence instead of insecurity,
but not holding back so much that results in a fragile child. On the other hand,
overdoing it with non-stop compliments might create a sense of superiority. Cliché,
but kids don't come with an instruction manual.
Of course, kids are not the only recipients of the
life-changing words that have the power to shape us and mold us throughout our
existence. Should we just man-up and take it? Or, should we embrace our
wimpiness? Or, should we punch back?
In a nutshell… The examples I cited above seem superficial,
but are they really? "Are they" the impetus for a life thrown off
Did any negative words change the course of your life?
Positive words? Image found here Image found here
I started collecting classics in the mid 1980s. Every month, a beautiful, gilded, faux leather bound book would arrive at my home. Eagerly, but carefully, I'd open the box from the Franklin Library, to see what the title would be and what color it would be and what gold letterings and designs it would have on its cover. After savoring the smell and fanning the crisp new pages, I'd give it a home on my book shelf.
It was over two years before I stopped collecting the books that, at the time, were surprisingly inexpensive. Titles included, My Antonia, Gulliver's Travels, and The Portrait of a Lady. About thirty books were in my library, yet I read only six or so. Single at the time, I could have/should have read more. (Okay, so I had a TV and a life.)
Years later, I subscribed to another book collection - from the Eastern Press - and this time, the books were "genuine leather," a selling point on the advertisement. I read another six or so.
You may be able to tell that I have had a slight addiction to books. All of the above is not even intended to be what this post is about. Somehow, when I began writing, I found myself reminiscing and stopping to browse the shelves of pretty (yes I said pretty) and mostly unread books. Thank you for indulging me.
However, there are two other areas in the house that are filled with books that I have read. People in my life know that reading is one of my pleasures, which results in an occasional book as a gift. Many are from my husband and children, but also from other relatives and friends. How thoughtful they are.
I can't read every book that I own. I'd like to, but I can't.
I was reminded of this when Cousin Bee asked if I'd read the book she gave to me for Christmas.
"No," I admitted. "I skimmed a few pages though. I'm going to put it on my night table," I continued, "that way, I'll remember to read it."
Does she really care if I read it or not? Isn't the gift her way of saying that she likes me and that the book says she thought about my interests?
I think so... or maybe she thought, "I don't know what to get her. I'll go with a book."
A gift to someone is somewhat presumptuous; a book seeming to be more of a message than a vase or a shirt. The title and content says, "You need to know this" or "This will make you laugh" or "This will help you cope;" or simply, "The reviews on this book are good, so I hope you'll enjoy it."
A book feeds you. Whether you like its story/message or not, it presumes what your mind wants to absorb.
A shirt says, "I think you'll like this" or "You'll look good in this" or "You need this." Whichever, it's all external.
The vase: I was at a friend's home when she showed me hers that was a present. I couldn't help but laugh when she said, "I need this vase like I need a hole in my head."
At least it can be stored away and brought out in the spring for fresh flowers; unlike the wedding present my husband and I received almost twenty years ago - a framed art print.
The giver had never been to our new home together and had never asked what type of art we liked. Fortunately, she never visited and asked where it was hanging.
I'm all for books as gifts and fine with receiving more. Which ones I'll read, "Who knows?" Just when I decided my next book to read, I looked over and saw Cousin Bee's gift on the night table, picked it up, and began to read. It's a good book.
Do you give books as gifts? How do you feel about books you receive as a gift? Other thoughts?
By the way, since I started blogging, I've read at least 2 books written by bloggers. Day Laughs, Night Cries: Fifteen by Peaches Ledwidge and Whole Latte Life by Joanne Demaio. (Joanne doesn't appear to be making the blogging rounds anymore.) I've also read a book that I won by entering a blog giveaway. All were good reads.