Priorities of Growing Old

This summer, August 20thto be exact, my husband and I celebrate our 30thwedding anniversary. We began young, with an instant family and responsibilities from the start. It was a time before the internet made travelling so efficient, and on our tight budget we didn’t bother to make a reservation before joyfully hitting the road in our tiny, powder blue Subaru to seek out the beauty of Niagara Falls. From the Vaseline on the windshield wipers, to the pebbles in the hubcaps, our friends and family took pride in the decorating of our humble hatchback.

My new husband had laundry to finish before we took to the road that evening, and in retrospect we should have just left the next morning bright and early. But that isn’t the material in which memories are made.

Leaving the Adirondacks just before dusk, we pointed ourselves north. After several hours of driving, with “No Vacancy” signs from here to Canada, the rain began. We could barely see 10 feet in front of the car, and finally called it a night in a random parking lot just before the Canadian border. We tried to make the best of our wedding night, but even with the back seat folded down, my new 6’3” groom struggled to fit in our water-logged hatchback with his bride andour luggage. In my defense, I’ve learned to pack more efficiently these days.

At dawn’s first light, we looked more closely at the map and realized that we had gotten slightly off track. We shifted direction and wasted no time finding a room within commuting distance to the falls. No passport was required to cross the border back then, so we rented a room on the American side and drove to Canada during the day. The novelty of the falls wore off quickly, as did my palate for soy-burger joints that lined it on the Canadian side, and by Wednesday we were ready to return home 3 days early. The money we saved came in handy to set up our first apartment downstairs at my in-laws. But our economizing didn’t last long, because by the time we celebrated our first anniversary I was pregnant.

In the years that followed we worked 40-60 hour shifts, purchased and sold our first home, relocated to the Lake George area, rebuilt our home from the ground up without the assistance of contractors, raised our sons, then with my husband’s full support I returned to school to earn a master’s degree and change careers. In essence, we were the responsible adults we were supposed to be.

It wasn’t until our 18thanniversary that we finally flew on a plane together. I confess it was worth the wait, since this was to be the first of 4 trips to Oahu in the years that followed. Yet nothing I said could convince him we should get our passports to expand our options.

Two summers ago, we lost my mother-in-law to dementia and the problems brought on by this horrible condition. Last summer we mourned the untimely death of a close family friend who went to high school with my husband. A few days after the funeral, we gathered with family and friends to celebrate his life and after a long silence my husband spoke up. To no-one and everyone he said, “I figure we have another good 20 years left, if we’re lucky, and we better make it good.” The very next week we were at the post office getting our passport photo taken.

We celebrated our 25thwith a drama-filled cookout in the back yard that took weeks to plan and are in agreement that our 30thbe between the two of us. After years of being responsible, paying bills, raising children, and working hard, we have outgrown the hatchback and are embarking on what we have come to affectionately refer to as the summer of Mike and Lisa.

As with all adventures, it’s about the details and the details are what keep me inspired to write. In the next few days we begin the first leg of our summer travels- destination Bonaire. Even now I am reminded that the clock is ticking, and every day is precious. How will you spend your next 20 years?

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In the Day

Today I watched my grandson, and aside from having caught the cold that kept his nose bunked up all week, it was just another day. The challenge was trying to keep the boogies at bay considering his inability to blow his nose. Leo was on the upswing and getting a little energy back, while I was coming to terms with the fact I too had caught it.

I do that. I try to use psychology when I think I might be sick. I’m not sick if I don’t admit it. Today my optimism succumbed to reality.

Even my husband caught it. We watch him together, so it only stands to reason.

The living room is right outside my bedroom, so the transition between rooms is simply a sneeze across the thresh-hold. Wrapped in my fuzzy robe to stave off the chills, I sit down on a stool in front of the wood stove and continued surveillance over my seventeen-month-old charge.

Like any self-respecting grandparent, I like to brag a little on Facebook. The flip-side of this is that social networking likes to remind you of a year ago. A year ago it was easy. We just shifted Leo around the house in his carrier throughout the day, fed him, and changed diapers. Our routine went along like that for a while, but inevitably he became a little person with needs and wants.

* * * * * * * * * * *

So here I sit a year later. I watch him maneuver about on the hardwood floor of the living room, and I see he is truly figuring out the nuances of being upright. I watch him curve his steps around a toy on the floor. He shifts to the left to avoid an end table, then backs up to survey where to turn next. He walks down the length of the living room, and turns around to flop down face-first into his oversized floor pillow.

I try not to remember, but I can’t help it. I’ve seen this before. Watched the first steps transition to a full run out the proverbial door. I didn’t know what I was seeing then. No-one does until the next generation shows us that it is human nature.

I watch Leo’s face, full of pride. With each successful turn and stride, I know what’s going on before he does. Today he discovered that his body can do more than he thought. Tomorrow he will realize that he is the master of his destination. The irony is that he won’t figure out what that destination is until he is my age.

I smile, because in my age and wisdom I know the secret. I’m not running off to the next big opportunity, or squeezing in overtime.

I’ve finally learned to sit and do today.

trying to find my voice

dsc_6915I started this blog to motivate me to write. A logical strategy, but before I knew it I was reduced to photo posts that let images speak for me. Just look and you’ll see what I mean. I’ve always been this way about writing anything down to be read by anyone. When I think I have an idea, I let it fester. Yes, fester. To the point that by the time I sit down to write, I’ve convinced myself that it’s been experienced and said. Why bother?

Ruth passed away in 2005, leaving me searching for my purpose, while contemplating hers. She shared so much of our family history while alive, but there were random pieces salvaged in the remnants after her death; items like her first and second semester report cards and text books from Green Mountain Junior College the first year it opened. I knew my grandmother had gone to college but had to return because she was needed at home; she never mentioned that she was 16. The $1,000 she willed me was seed money for my first part-time semester at SUNY Adirondack; this decision changed my life. I had to finish what she started.

Being a student gave me a reason to write. Assignments were given, my audience was clear, and the ‘A’ was well worth the effort. Writing became a distraction from my full-time job. I was successful writing in the comfort of academic papers and research projects. Without a topic, project, or reason, my fingers became idle before beginning.

Academic essays were WD-40 for my self-conscious fingers. I left my job of 20 years and continued full-time as an undergrad. I studied, researched, and wrote about Bradstreet, Fern, Sedgwick, Emerson and his eccentric Aunt Mary, Fuller, Thoreau, Hawthorne and so many other reputable contributors the American literary canon. Impossible shoes to fill. Their lives, and the historicism of their writing filled me with admiration and reverence. My fascination with them motivated me through my masters degree, but unfortunately the assignments ended.

Now that I teach English part-time, I’ve been told we never simply teach. The trick is to have a side-project or two for a creative release. My project started with a gift salvaged from my uncle’s garage and packaged in a Dremel hardcover tool case; 72 letters from Grace (my great-grandmother) to Ruth at Green Mountain Junior College, handwritten and post-marked 1931-2.

I spent the past year transcribing letters written by a woman I never met-a matriarch in every sense of the word. I felt her words transcend time while learning the nuances of her handwriting from one letter to the next. A certain connectedness happens, like a window between decades. The almost indecent opportunity to be a voyeur between mother and daughter kept me spellbound.

Now here I am. Trying to find my voice.

Before graduating with my masters degree, my brother asked, “What are you going to produce for society with that degree?” I wasn’t sure how to respond at the time, but now?

I am a poet, teacher, historian and writer. I have a responsibility to study and preserve the writings of the day-to-day hopes and fears of a mother from the small town of Thurman, New York only 11 years after the Nineteenth Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution.

Among the voluminous letters I found a reason to write and I found a voice.

What am I producing for society? I’m giving life to, and preserving, a voice from 86 years ago, long silenced under a workshop bench in a garage in the middle of Georgia. It’s the voice of influence that spans more years than originally intended, and witnessed by an audience never planned. Time to preserve the voices of Grace and Ruth so I can finally find my own.