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Posts Tagged ‘family’

I was cleaning our bedroom yesterday, not just the weekly maintenance of taking water glasses downstairs or popping stray socks in to the hamper, but get-out-the-Pledge-and-dustrags-and-Swiffer type cleaning. True confession: I’m not a fastidious housekeeper. I really hate taking time out to clean, although I like a clean house and am a bit of a germaphobe, so I compromise with myself. I keep the kitchen, living room, and the main bathroom consistently clean, but the bedroom, while everything has its place, does not get the dusting and floor attention it deserves. Every couple of months or so, it finally gets to me enough that I dive in and do it, but there is a healthy accumulation of dust in the meantime. I really am okay with it, though. Life’s too short, although my husband and our kids would tell you that I always worry about cleaning. It’s all about perspective, right?

Anyway, I also usually do a purge of clothes, shoes, and costume jewelry at this time of year which involves going through all of the drawers, the closet, and such. I also go through the little drawers on top of my dresser where I keep treasured letters and cards that I have received over the years, including a letter that my father wrote to his father in March of 1973. I know that it’s there, but every time I go through that drawer, I pull it out to read. It makes me feel close to him and every time I read it, I gain new insight into his thoughts.

The letter was written at a time when my dad was trying to find himself. From other writings of his that I’ve read, I knew he felt like he didn’t quite fit, that he struggled with what was expected of him, and what his feelings were. To me, he sounds a lot like me.

The letter comes from California. He was nineteen at the time and had left home to go and live with his oldest sister, my aunt, in the land of peace and love. He had dropped out of high school, despite having a high IQ, had been honorably discharged from the Navy after only a few weeks, and really didn’t seem to have a direction in life. He and my mom had been dating on again, off again and things weren’t certain. He tempered his emotions and discontent with other substances, especially weed. He wasn’t getting along with his dad and wanted a fresh start out on the west coast.

The letter is dutiful in the beginning, telling his father all about what they have been doing in California and what the weather was like. Then, a tone of regret as he tells his father that when he gets home, he would like to talk to him, really talk to him, even though they had had their differences in the past. An attempt at reconciliation. He goes on to say that things were much better between him and my mother (A good thing, or I probably wouldn’t be writing this) and then delves into the environmental requirements of cars and lawn mowers in California, a much more comfortable subject for him.

It’s all very cool to read and sentimental, but the thing about this particular letter that floors me every time is that at the time he wrote it, he had just over a year to live. That’s it. On March 22, 1974, one week and three weeks later, he would lose his young life in an impaired car accident. Did he know that? Of course not. And that’s what brings me back to that letter again and again, forcing me to think about things that I would rather push to the side.

We don’t know when our last day will be. We have no clue. When my father wrote that letter, he had no idea that he wouldn’t live to essentially grow up, that he would never see his only child born, that he would never be able to fully repair that relationship with his father, that he wouldn’t marry my mother as he had planned to do. Those plans would never happen and it was terribly tragic, leaving so many people with holes in their hearts, including me, who never got to meet him.

My point is this: we all have plans, every single one of us. I don’t mean plans like redoing the kitchen or taking books back to the library, I mean real plans, like telling someone that they’re loved, or forgiving an old hurt, Plans like making a wrong right, or at least taking responsibility for it. Plans like letting someone know that you were wrong, asking for forgiveness, or maybe letting someone know that they touched your life in some way.  Maybe you need to make a life choice that involves taking a risk in order to be happy. You know, the important things, the things that you would deeply regret if you didn’t do them.

I don’t mean to imply that we should try to repair bridges with everyone who hurt us. There are definitely people who are toxic, who are the sources of trauma, who would hurt us again and again, physically or emotionally, and we should stay far away. I would never reconcile with my abuser or let him into my life in any way. That kind of situation is better left to trying to internally forgive and move on to bring closure rather than to make sense of what happened or connect with those involved. But there are other situations that can be fixed or at least improved.

New Year’s Day is coming up in two more days, a day of resolutions and new beginnings. Maybe, instead of halfheartedly resolving to quit smoking or to lose weight, we can resolve to try and heal an area of our lives. What have you been putting off that keeps whispering in your ear every now and again?

Many of us, myself included, don’t like making the first move on anything. My anxiety issues make me prone to obsessing over the worst possible outcomes until that seems worse than what I had originally intended to do, so I usually don’t. But what if we knew that we only had a year left, unlike my father? Would that spur us on to reach out, to make that connection to say what needs to be said? Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn’t. The thing is, we just don’t know how much time we have on this earth. We’re not promised tomorrow, whether we like thinking about it or not. What would be your biggest regret if you died tomorrow?

I haven’t put the letter away just yet because it’s been sitting on my mind this whole time and I knew I needed to write about what was inside. It’s sitting on my dresser, my father’s handwriting, the paper he touched and folded into a makeshift envelope staring at me. As I’m getting ready to click “Publish” on this post, I feel that urgency draining away and I’ll be able to return it to its accustomed spot in the little drawer, but I know that my mind will wander back when I think about him and out it will come. Even though he’s gone, my father is still teaching me life lessons.

Wishing you and yours a very Happy and Blessed New Year. Peace to you in 2018.

 

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Sorry I’ve been gone for a while. It’s been a little busy around here with not a lot of time for anything, including blogging, but it’s all good. I’ll catch you up a bit.

First off, I am now teaching for a district, which is a very cool thing. It all happened rather fast and just in the nick of time, as my former job was letting people go left and right with no warning and for no good reason at all. It’s a loooooong story and there are a lot of details, which I will spare you. Anyhoo, I decided to leave before my own head hit the chopping block and I received a wonderful job offer. I love the school where I am. A friend of mine had taught there for years before retiring and always spoke highly of his coworkers and the children, so I felt confident in taking the position. After a month, I am not disappointed. Everyone has been incredibly lovely and the kids are coming along. I think this could turn out to be good fit, once I get all of the new logistics down.

As if beginning a new job and a whole new teaching program wasn’t enough, a few weeks ago, I decided that I could handle everything and go out for a new show, which seems to be going swimmingly so far. I get to play a lovely drunk and couldn’t be more excited, so if you’re in the Metro Detroit area, please come and see Promises, Promises at the Players Guild of Dearborn in November and December.

While all of this was going on, we sent Oldest Child back to college, got Middle Child installed for freshman year at his college, and settled Youngest Child into his new room. (which, incidentally, was his original room when he was born, so not entirely new.) Youngest Child is now entitled to his own room, even when his brothers come home from college to visit. He is also heavily involved in marching band and cross country, so he stays very busy.

I’m choosing to not write about anything political or anything awful that’s happening in the world today, not because things don’t need to be said, but because I’m weary. My heart is sick, my brain is overloaded. I’m confused by how people think, I don’t understand a lot of things, and I know that if I say what I want to right now, there are people who will basically try to put me “in my place”, tell me to stick to writing other things rather than to comment on the travesties of our government and the world. I can’t answer them right now, I don’t have the patience, I don’t have the right frame of mind to deal with such demeaning ridiculousness at the present, so I will abstain from that right now. For future reference, though, I will write what I want to; it’s my blog. Read something else if you don’t like what I have to say.

All in all, everything is fine, just slightly insane at the moment. (Did I mention that I’m married to a saint?) In a few weeks, I’ll return to writing on a more regular schedule. In the meantime, I’m off to study lines, write some lesson plans, and squeeze in some dates with my Marty.

Until then, be kind to each other.

“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” ~Henry James

 

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So, it was bound to happen, and it finally did.

Summer is a prime time for Marty and me to spend hours and days scouring ancestry.com in order to add to our family trees. We don’t indulge much during the school year, as it just gets to be too busy, with the exception of a few breaks. We’ve found loads of really cool stuff (a grandmother tried, and acquitted, for being a witch twice!), some properly documented, some that needs further research with documentation, and some things that are just ridiculous. I wish this tidbit I’d found was ridiculous, but it’s not.

I have slaveholders in the family.

Now, for years, I (foolishly) felt really good about not finding any direct ancestors who had owned slaves. While I did have ancestors that fought for the Confederacy, they were not slaveholders, at least not in any records I’ve found. When I’ve found new ones from the early years of the United States, I would always cringe a little when a census record would come up, hoping that there wouldn’t be a number listed in the “Slaves” column.

Friday night, I was researching a line that hadn’t seen much action before. There had been some muddling of it at some point and I determined to straighten it out. That being done, I suddenly got a leaf on one of my documented ancestors. For those who are not familiar with Ancestry, a leaf indicates a possible new piece of information about a certain ancestor. This particular leaf said that there was a will for this a grandfather I stumbled across, one of my 9th great-grandfathers who came to settle in Maryland sometime in the 1650s, the grandfather of this person I already had in my tree.

In his will, dated 1734, he gave “unto my dearly beloved wife Leaticia Dodson one Negro Man named Henry to remain hers during her life and then to return to my Dearly & well beloved son John Dodson to remain his life & then to my son Walter Dodson. I likewise give unto my dearly beloved Wife Leaticia Dodson the bed and furniture as I and my Wife lies on and also I give Two Thousand Pounds of good Tobacco to buy her a Woman Servant with and one Horse to her liking to remain hers forever.”

Also, “I give and bequeath unto my Dearly and well beloved Son Walter Dodson one Negro Man named Peter to remain his & his heirs lawfully begotton of his body forever.”

I felt slightly sick, and really sad. I found what information I could on Ancestry and then went to online Maryland colonial records to find out more information. Sure enough, he and his family popped up right away. There are family group sheets on the lot of them that corresponded exactly with what I had found elsewhere. To top it all off, there’s a court record of him reporting another slave, not his, for having an illegitimate mulatto child! As if she had needed any more grief in her life; God only knows what happened to her because of it. I can’t find the outcome of the accusation.

There was nothing for it then. While it doesn’t seem that he had a huge plantation, an ancestor of mine did own human beings in Charles County, Maryland. I’m not okay with this, I haven’t reconciled it in my head just yet.

Logically, I know that it was always a possibility, but I had a false sense of surety that no one in my family had ever owned slaves. When I found this new information out, it really took the wind out of my sails. I didn’t want to believe that anyone I was related to could ever do such a thing, but there it was in black and white. While he did pass at least one slave onto his oldest son, I haven’t found any evidence so far that his daughter, my next direct ancestor, owned any as an adult, so perhaps the chain, literally and figuratively, was broken with her generation.

All of this has made me think a lot more about the slaves mentioned: Henry and Peter, and the woman that his wife was to buy with tobacco. Who were they? What happened to them? This was 1734, the Civil War was more than one hundred years away so the chances that they were willingly freed are basically zero. Did they escape? Were they sold elsewhere? How were they treated? Did they have families? There is literally no other information to go on at this point, unless there are records from his farm. I can add that to my list of family research trips. I hope they were able to find peace, but I know it’s not likely.

I don’t really have a conclusion to this post. There’s no good way to end it. Like I said before, I’m still kind of dealing with this whole thing; it feels really personal even though I had nothing to do with it. I feel guilty, responsible for my family’s actions, helpless to do anything about it, and, of course, powerless to change it.

It makes me sad.

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A while back, I posted about the Joy Project, finding and recording things that brought me joy, things to focus on that help to offset the craziness in the world in order to center and not let the bad things get me down. There have been a lot of things bothering me lately: a huge lack of manners in people, the government, work issues, the government, rude teenagers in public places, the government, serious world issues… you get the idea. And while these things deserve attention, if I let them take up all of my thoughts and time, I’d forget why I’m here in the first place. You have to step back sometimes and find the joy because life can’t be all about gloom and doom.

I haven’t been very good at writing down my joys, which was the original intent, but I have been doing a better job at looking for the little joys every day. Still, now that it’s summer and I have a couple of weeks off, I’m going to try to get back into the habit again, starting now. These are a few of the joys I’ve had in my life lately, big and small:

Free time. I usually love being busy, I love feeling useful, and relaxing usually makes me feel guilty. This summer, I am consciously, selfishly, enjoying the time I have off.

Middle Child graduated. Few things compare to seeing your child in a cap and gown. It’s a very concrete ending to childhood and a proud moment for us.

Dates/quality time with my husband. We’re so busy during the school year that it’s hard to find time for us, but lately, we’ve made spending time together more of a priority. It’s a very good thing.

My teenage boys. I know, it sounds contradictory, but as my boys get older, I enjoy them more every day. It’s a different level of parenting now. I loved having squishy babies and snuggly toddlers, but seeing my boys mature into adults is amazing. Conversations can definitely get interesting.

Writing. Editing a completed novel, beginning a new one, and not too worried about balancing the time involved.

A new tattoo. I’ve been wanting to cover up an old (ugly) one for a long time now and took the plunge to trust an artist and get a little color. Still very fresh at less than two days old, but happy to have it done.

Hedgie snuggles. Allegra wasn’t around when I started this project. but she is definitely one of my big joys. My little ball of prickles is quite the cuddler and an endless source of entertainment.

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Little black squirrels. The first time I saw a little black squirrel, I thought it was the cutest thing ever and wished that they lived in my yard. They’ve been slowly spreading out ever since, getting closer to my house, and just a few days ago, I SAW ONE IN MY YARD!!! Definitely a joy.

Travel + family. A couple of months ago, I was able to join my cousin and her kids in South Carolina. (See my earlier post for more on that.) This was a double joy, going somewhere new and beautiful and getting to catch up with far-flung loved ones.

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Theater. I’ve done a lot more of it this year and while that has definitely contributed to time crunches, it has also helped me grow in a lot of ways, including my self-confidence. I’ve gotten braver, both on stage and off, thanks in part to a super-supportive theater community who makes me feel loved.

I’ll leave it there for now. This is a good start for my list and I’ll catch it up as time goes on.

I’d love to know what the joys are in your life. Feel free to comment and spread it around. We could all use a little more joy in our lives.

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I bought a new pair of gloves today. It’s been overdue for a while. Obviously, the pair in the picture, the ones I have been wearing for the past eleven years, are pretty beat up and falling apart, but there’s a reason I’ve worn them for so long.

My grandpa gave them to me.

You see, for a while on my dad’s side of the family, the adults drew names for Christmas gifts because there were just too many of us to continue buying for everyone. The kids got, and still get, gifts from everyone until they, too, become adults. It got a little crazy with keeping it organized over time and we’ve since stopped drawing names, but it was fun for a while.

Grandpa got my name for Christmas of 2005. Along with our names to put into the drawing, we each had to make a short wish list in the price range, probably $25, but I don’t quite remember. I always wanted a pair of nice leather driving gloves, but for whatever reason, had never gotten myself a pair, so I put that on my list. Sure enough, Christmas Day, I opened the pair of gloves that you see above, only they looked much nicer.

“Are they okay? Is this what you wanted?” I remember him asking. Grandma shook her head.

“He picked them out all by himself and he’s been so worried that you wouldn’t like them.” There was no need to worry, they were exactly what I wanted. I’ve always hated big, bulky, poofy, winter gear and the streamlined leather gloves were perfect for me. (I do, however, concede defeat to the bulky stuff when the temperature gets into the single digits. My vanity goes out the window when it’s -5°,  as my friend Inez will tell you.)

I wore them immediately and often, getting them professionally cleaned every couple of years. Remarkably, I think it’s the only pair of gloves that I’ve ever had in my entire life where I haven’t lost one or both. They’ve traveled with me around the Midwest to various conferences and speaking engagements, always making it home safely. There was one time when I thought I had lost one and panicked, but it turned up on my classroom floor the next morning.

When Grandpa died, ten years ago this month, they became even more special. They’ve looked pretty bad for a few years now, but I’ve always resisted buying a new pair because he gave them to me and I want to keep him close. When the right thumb seam completely split this winter, the leather worn and frayed where I grip the steering wheel, I knew that it was time to put them to rest, but it’s still hard. Even going on Amazon to browse the (millions of) gloves felt funny, but I did eventually pick out a pair, which should arrive in the next couple of weeks. This pair will then go where most of my heartfelt keepsakes go, in my cedar chest along with other remembrances I want to keep forever. Hopefully one day when my kids and grandkids have to go through my stuff, they’ll remember this story and not toss them out, but I’ll understand if they do.

Those gloves were bought and given with love by someone who thought that I was something special, who saw things in me that I still can’t see in myself, someone who called me his “princess” and did his best for me in all the ways that he knew how. He’s been gone for ten years now and I miss him every day. Putting the gloves away won’t change that, but I did like having that physical reminder of him for all of this time.

As for the new gloves, they’ll be pretty. Again, they’re black leather with lining and definitely not bulky; I’m a creature of habit. I’m sure they’ll be fine, but my favorite pair will always be the beat-up veterans in my cedar chest.

A presto.

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So, I self-published a novel this week on Amazon.com. It’s a little scary to put it out there, but what the heck. I’m thinking of it as an audition. No pain, no gain, right? Besides, with no agent, I have to do all of my own marketing.

It’s geared toward middle-grade kids (4th through 8th grades-ish), but I think a lot of ages might enjoy it. It’s been a labor of love for the past few years and all four of my past classes that I read it to have really liked it. Right now, it’s only available as an e-book, but I’m checking into getting a printed version soon.

Give it a shot.

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My family held our memorial service for my grandma this past weekend. It was held in a little rural church and was attended by not only family, but friends from years past, some of them were my parent’s friends from before I was born. It was a small, intimate service followed by a luncheon that gave us all a chance to mingle and talk about our memories of Grandma.

My cousin had put together a beautiful video composed of pictures of Grandma set to music. The photos were delightful; I had never seen many of them. there was even one of her as a baby with her father, who died when she was three years old. There were pictures of our parents as they were growing up and many of us cousins, then our children. I spoke after the video, that had been scheduled beforehand, and then the floor opened up to let others speak.

My great-aunt spoke, telling us all that my grandpa once said he’d married an angel. My brother/cousin spoke (see previous posts for that explanation if you don’t know the story) about our family and the kind of woman that Grandma was. My aunt spoke, highlighting how Grandma would take care of anybody that was brought home, no matter what. My cousin, the same one who put the video together, spoke about how we were all important to Grandma, how she saved everything that we ever made for her, including some 30-year-old Christmas cookies that she found when going through Grandma’s many boxes of treasures. It was all at the same time heartbreaking and wonderful to hear that such a life had been lived, that one woman could have made that big of an impact on so many lives because of her love. Four children, nine grandchildren, twelve great-grandchildren, and countless others are testament to that love.

So, here’s my question to you: How will your loved ones remember you when you’re gone? We’re all going to die one day, whether we like thinking about it or not. Some of us will have grand funerals with all the trimmings, some will have smaller, quieter services, and some, by request or other circumstances, will have no service. It doesn’t matter what your send-off looks like, how will you be remembered?

Were you kind?

Did you love openly and without abandon or was your love rationed out?

Did you give your children your time or brush them off?

Did you forgive those who hurt you or did you hold onto the pain?

Did you hold grudges on minor issues or did you learn to let them go?

Did you discriminate or did you get to know a person’s soul instead of their color or religion?

Did you do your share or let others carry you?

Did you learn from your mistakes or make them over and again?

Did you apologize to those you hurt and mean it, or did you shirk the blame and continue the cycle?

Did you have integrity? Did you do the right thing when no one was looking?

Did you blame others for your mistakes or did you suck it up and take responsibility?

Did you accept what life handed you or did you push to find your own way?

Did you laugh?

Could you find the beauty in life, even during dark times?

Were you happy?

I’ve been thinking about all of things in the last couple of days. We’re all flawed, sometimes in serious ways, and we usually get on the best we can. Sometimes we recognize what we need to work on, sometimes we don’t. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, there are things that I wish I could do over again that I can’t make right. I know that I have some things that I still want to get right that I can work on before my time comes.

The thought of death as something so final frightens us, depresses us, so we push it away to think about another day until it happens, and then we can’t, because it’s over. Don’t put it off until it’s too late; we don’t know how much time we have left. Put your phone away and play with your children. Tell someone that you love them. Patch up the silly argument that you had with your sister a decade ago and move on. Meanwhile, I’ll be learning from some mistakes and work harder at finding the beauty in life, among other things.

A presto.

 

 

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