Our Gigantic Vat of Lemonade

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Well life has dumped a truckload of lemons on all of us and as usual with humans there are lots of folks who are making sweet lemonade. Time and again people prove that it’s rather difficult to hold mankind down. We are a feisty bunch that finds a way to make the best of the worst kinds of situations.

I never cease to be amazed with individual creativity and I see tons of it in the people who are my friends. I had a great time yesterday watching the latest homemade version of Chopped from my former neighbors who have taken to devoting Tuesday evenings to producing their own rendition of this Food Network classic. Each week the two children compete in a cooking challenge that requires their ingenuity in using four key ingredients for their creations.This past Tuesday they had to use ground beef, bacon, Captain Crunch cereal and almonds in whatever they ultimately chose to prepare. The stakes were high because last week’s winner had been victorious by a very slim margin so her brother was determined to steal the crown.

I was thinking that it would be impossible to make something edible with the strange mix of ingredients but the youngsters came through like champs. One prepared a delightful pasta dish and the other used the Captain Crunch to bind bacon filled hamburger patties. Somehow it didn’t matter to me who actually won as much as to witness the fun and laughter that this precious family was enjoying and sharing with others. There was no moaning about boredom or cancellation of life as they had known it. Instead they were making the best of the situation and creating memories that will make them smile for the rest of their lives.

As I scrolled through posts from other friends I was taken by a delightful schedule that a mother and her toddler had made for the following day. It included learning time but also made room for walks outside and playing with toy trucks and cars. It had enough free moments for hugs and those unexpected moments of sadness that must be lovingly addressed.

I’ve witnessed a family in Japan playing a lively game of Heads Up that would have made Ellen DeGeneres proud. As the mom of the family attempted to guess what her word was from the crazy clues that her husband and children were shouting the room exploded with hilarity and the kind of closeness that having simple fun brings to a group of people who know and love each other.

Those videos of quarantined townspeople singing or clapping or dancing together from a distance are so moving. The Zoom conferences that put musicians together to create music are beautiful. The reworking of poems and Broadway show tunes to reflect the current reality tickle the funny bone. I am literally in awe of the genius of people who use the time they have on their hands to create something unique and uplifting.

There are so many incredible ideas pouring from the genius of teachers and moms who suddenly find themselves in the role of educators that make me giddy with delight. They are proving to the world how hard they always work and how much they love their students. Without much direction at all they have joined together across the world to make certain that the education of our children will not suddenly cease. For an old teacher like me it is exhilarating to witness the enthusiasm that drives my comrades to do the work that has so often been under appreciated. It’s not money or governmental directives driving their march forward, but rather the understanding that what they do is the foundation of society itself. Those children who are learning in their bedrooms today will one day lead the world and remember those dedicated individuals who brought light into their lives when times seemed so dark.

Aside from making me feel wonderful when I view such things, it also insures me that we will ultimately be okay. We may experience more hardship and sacrifice than we wish but we humans are going to defeat this setback much as we always do. We will put our best minds and talents together and make the biggest most delicious concoction of lemonade imaginable.

A dear friend with whom I once worked called me a couple of days ago. She now lives in India, the place where she and her husband were born. She is self isolating just as we are here. We spoke of the common bond that each of us is feeling right now. Somehow this is not about politics or geography or ideology. It is about people whose hearts beat in the same way, whose blood courses through their veins without consideration of color, whose lungs long to breathe in good health and healing. Surely we realize more than ever how much more we are alike than different. Hopefully it is something that we won’t soon forget. Maybe we will try harder than ever to continue to work together as we concoct our gigantic vat of lemonade. 

No Greater Love

my love forever

I have known great love. I have witnessed great love. I have wondered why some people appear to find their soulmates and others struggle to discover that thing that we call true love. I am a reader of fairy tales but I learned when I was still quite young that life is almost always more complicated than stories with happy endings. I thought my mother and father were madly in love and I am rather sure that they were, but I also know that they fought with one another from time to time. I watched an aunt and uncle divorce and then remarry as though they could not quite decide if being together was right for them. I have cradled a friend whose heart was broken by someone that she believed would love her forever. I have only recently felt the pain of a cousin who lost his first and only love of over sixty years. Love is wonderful until it hurts.

Young people ask me how one knows if love is real. That’s a question almost impossible to answer. I usually tell them to consider how being with a certain person generally makes them feel. If they time with another leave them happy they are on the right track. If that individual makes them relax and laugh the signs are good. If it seems as though they have finally found their best friend, they may be in for a promising future, but they have to think about the words of the wedding vows very carefully because it is almost certain the there will be better and worse, richer and poorer, health and sickness in a long term commitment.

Sometimes we just don’t know how the person with whom we want to spend our lives will react to difficulties. I will never forget what my grandfather taught me about love when my grandmother was dying of cancer. He never left her side. He depleted his savings. He fulfilled her every need until she drew her last breath. He was patient and kind. He pretended to be stronger than he actually felt. Sadly I have also observed people who were torn apart by an extended illness. I knew a woman whose husband told her that he had to leave because her mental problems were too hard to watch. I find myself wondering if such weakness is there all along but goes unnoticed until problems arise.

I enjoy a good love story but I hate the ones based on superficiality. We do first notice someone based more on appearances that anything deep, but true love can’t stay that way. We all grow older and frankly less attractive than we once were. We should be able to become ever closer because we are able to see the true beauty inside the person that we have promised to love not just for a time, but forever. Sometimes we have to work a bit to keep that spark alive.

One of my dearest friends had a weekly date night, For years she and her husband went out together every Thursday evening. They hired a babysitter to watch their children, they dressed up, they had dinner and talked about things other than the kids, their jobs, the family finances. They made their outing a top priority of each week and sometimes added weekend getaways to their celebration of life together. They were still flirting with each other decades after they had married.

I have learned how to love from observing and listening to those who seemed to have the meaning of commitment figured out. I suppose I’ll never forget Mike’s Aunt Elise coming to check on on her husband when he was doing some work at our house. She was concerned about his heart so she asked us to “take care of her Bobby.” I’ll always remember that the very last thing that Mike’s mother did before she had a stroke that led to her death was hug Mike’s dad and declare her love for him. Even after decades together these women still made their feelings known. We would be wise to follow their example. Love is something to be celebrated and declared often.

People don’t always agree about everything, not even those who are madly in love. It’s critical to the health of the relationship that no one person dominates the other. Whether it be politics or religion or philosophies each one should have the freedom to believe as they wish. Respect is a needed factor in forging a long term partnership. I suppose that I treasure my independence more than anything else and my husband has always honored my thoughts even when he disagreed with them. It has meant everything to me to know that our love is not dependent on either one of us bowing to the other. We are a team but we are still individual.

So what is the bottom line? Love is wonderful and worth the hard work needed to keep it alive. It requires not just trust but trustworthiness. It flourishes best when each partner supports the other with understanding but not at the expense of quashing individual dreams. It may be painful at times so it’s a good idea to create fun to balance the duties that arise. It is about regularly honoring the promises made to one another.

One of the most beautiful love stories that I have ever heard is about a classmate of mine who seemed to actually be living a fairytale existence with his wife. He was handsome and she was gorgeous. When they danced together it was magical. Their life together was like sunshine and roses until one day when she was injured in a horrible car accident that left her brain injured and her body confined to a wheelchair. She would never completely recover and her care would require that she live in a nursing home. All the while he never abandoned her, instead visiting regularly and devoting himself to her well-being. There is no love greater love than this. If we want the real thing we have to be willing to be like him. 

Where Did I Put Those Glasses?

glassesI am still able to pass my driver’s test without the aid of glasses. When I drive I have no difficulty reading the signs and keeping an eye out for problems on the road. When it comes to reading however I’m as blind as a bat. Without the aid of magnification I’m as blind as a bat. Everything on a written page literally looks like a barcode making me think of that poor fellow in an episode of The Twilight Zone who after becoming the last human on earth consoles himself with the thought that he will just read all of the books in the library until his own demise. He’s actually looking forward to living alone and having unfettered time to enjoy his favorite hobby of reading. He gathers a stack of volumes with the intent of settling down with the company of good stories when he drops his glasses and hears them shatter. The look on his face when he realizes that his situation is hopeless has stayed in my mind since I first saw that heartbreaking story.

Back then my eyes were like those of a hawk. I had no trouble with eyesight and never considered that I might one day require some kind of assistance just to be able to read a label. I first noticed difficulty discerning letters on a page when I was in my forties studying for my masters degree, In between the reading for my job and the additional load for my classes my eyes were in a constant state of fatigue. Before long I realized that I was continually squinting and holding things as far away as my arms were able to reach just to make out the print. I knew I needed to submit to seeing a doctor to find out what was happening.

I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that I had become farsighted. The doctor prescribed the lenses that I would need and I purchased a rather expensive pair of glasses that made all of my problems disappear. Unfortunately I had to remove my eyewear for all of my regular activities save for reading, so I was continually misplacing them. Not having grown up with poor eyesight made it challenging to remember to keep my glasses at hand. Eventually I lost them somewhere and given what I had spent on them I was reluctant to rush out to replace them. Instead I tried on some reading glasses at the drug store until I found a pair that made everything clear again.

I’ve never spent more than twenty dollars on my lenses but I’ve learned from experience that I can’t be foolish enough to depend on a single pair. I’ve noted that they often have a tendency to break so I carry a little repair kit, but my biggest problem is leaving them somewhere and not knowing where it was that I set them down. Now I have additional pairs of glasses stashed everywhere in case of an emergency. I’m not about to be like that poor man who for all intents and purposes became blind because his source of eyesight was destroyed.

I’ve tried a number of remedies for keeping track of those devilish pairs of eyewear that seem intent on hiding from me. I’ve tried to wear them on a chain or a leather tether around my neck but they get in the way and detract from the overall look of my fashion. Besides I suppose that they think they make me look like an old lady as if nobody would otherwise notice that I am seventy one years old. “Vanity thy name is Sharron.”

I once purchased a cute little pin that allowed me to wear my glasses on my lapel whenever they weren’t on my face. That system didn’t look half bad but the critters somehow fell off without my noticing and left me in a real pickle when I needed them. I’ve found the best defense is to always have an heir and a spare at hand so most of the time I have glasses strategically posted in various rooms of the house, in my purse, inside my car and even in our travel trailer. I won’t go on a long trip without having extra pairs just in case. In spite of my best efforts I somehow I still find myself seeking a store where I might replace the ones that have somehow escaped from me. I usually end up paying far more for the new glasses than I would otherwise do because I am desperate and can’t actually see what they cost before I buy them.

I suppose that the day will eventually come when I will need to wear bifocals or some such thing. Then I will have to keep up with my eyewear all of the time. I’m hoping that having to wear them during all of my waking hours will do the trick but I worry that I won’t be as vigilant as my husband who gets by with his single pair of glasses with no trouble whatsoever. When I think of how often I misplace my phone I feel certain that I will somehow find a way to lose even a pair of glasses that I am supposed to wear all day long.

Wrinkles on my skin and aches in my knees are just a couple of reminders that I am growing old. So far I’ve been able to push back on becoming less and less energetic but my eyes remind me that time will take its toll in spite of my denial. Of late I’ve had to wear my glasses when cleaning so that I don’t miss dirt and grime that fades away without benefit of magnification. I worry about becoming like my grandmother who shortly before her death no longer noticed that her milk had curdled or that a foreign object was in her food.

Pride goeth before the fall. I suppose it’s time to make regular appointments with an ophthalmologist and maybe even purchase some bonafide glasses with a spare to be certain that I never lose the remarkable gift of sight. For now though I’m doing quite well with the cheap pairs that have become regular features wherever I go. For the time being I’m trying to remember where I put the brand new ones that I recently purchased. I suppose I should go look for them.     

Pure Bliss

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The annual RV show hit Houston this week reminding me of the time when we first decided to hit the road each summer to see the USA in our Chevrolet. We had a bright blue Chevy truck, a feeling of wanderlust and the germ of an idea about traveling across the United States smoldering in our minds. The RV show nailed our resolve to take some summer trips when we found a super deal on a camper shell for the back of the truck. Mike worked all spring that year turning the interior of the enclosure into a veritable wonder by installing sets of wooden structures along the front and sides that served the dual purpose of holding our gear and serving as platforms for mattresses that would become our beds. By the time summer vacation came around our truck was a self contained traveling machine.

We got married young and life took over to keep us busy with the art of surviving. Before we had even celebrated our first anniversary my mother became ill with first and most frightening episode of psychosis. I was not even twenty one when I had to swing into action to get her the medical care that she needed and bring my younger brothers to our apartment where they stayed while she was in the hospital. I spent that summer visiting Mama in the hospital, caring for my brothers, and keeping up with the bills that came to my mother’s mailbox.

There was no time for travel that year and the following summer the birth of our first child kept as at home as well. After that there always seemed to be some kind of family emergency or illness that left us busy on the home front, including one year when Mike developed a rare disease and ended up spending three months undergoing chemotherapy four days a week. We were in our early thirties when things finally seemed to settle down and thoughts of summer road trips became our dream.

Our first foray in our rolling conveyance, mobile restaurant and makeshift hotel was to Rocky Mountain National Park. We packed away our cooking gear, food, lanterns, clothing and other necessities and niceties in the wooden boxes along the perimeter of the camper shell and placed almost perfectly fitting mattresses on top of the lids to serve as our sleeping quarters. A fourth mattress on the floor of the truck bed would become Mike’s spot for when we grew weary each evening. With a tape deck playing Willie Nelson crooning On the Road Again and piles of books to keep us entertained during the long drive we were as excited as we might have been if we were traveling first class.

We took our sweet time reaching our destination with a couple of stops at campgrounds along the way. It was then that we developed an elaborate system for keeping things organized. Our youngest daughter entered the camper first and skittered to the far back bunk which was the smallest in total surface area. Next came our first born to claim one of the side beds and then me on the opposite side. Finally Mike crawled into the middle space on the floor and we settled down for a few last minute stories and jokes before we finally fell asleep in what we considered to be our high class quarters. With windows along three sides we were quite comfortable and content and mostly excited about the adventures that lay ahead.

Once we reached Estes Park, Colorado we parked our truck in a spot at Mary’s Lake Campground in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. We set up shop under an awning that Mike created from a gigantic tarp. We had two dish tubs for cleaning our cookware and a propane double burner stove for preparing our food. A plastic tablecloth on our concrete dining table completed the scene of our temporary home along with four folding chairs around the fire ring. We could not have been happier about our vacation heaven under the stars.

We’d travel into the national park each day and spend hours hiking and enjoying the majestic views. At night we’d build a fire and enjoy hot dogs, hamburgers, soup, chile or whatever culinary delight we fancied. We could not have been more comfortable or satisfied with our accommodations and we thought ourselves the luckiest and happiest family on the planet.

We took side trips to see a railroad museum, a few ski towns, a mining town, lakes and other wonderful sights. We had contests to see who could find the best souvenir for five dollars or less. We told spooky stories and read book after book. We gazed at the stars in wonder and marveled at the glory of our world.

Over the years we put thousands of miles on our little vacation conveyance and home. We saw Texas, Kansas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, most of Colorado and even the Canadian Rockies. Eventually we outgrew the our sleeping quarters and opted for a gigantic tent for sleeping but we would never forget those glorious summers inside our magical truck when we saw so many wonders of the United States and realized how lucky we were to have each other.

The girls are grown and gone with family’s of their own now. Mike and I have a much fancier travel trailer complete with its own kitchen, bathroom and comfortable bed. Air conditioning and a heater protect us from the elements and we even have a television to entertain us when we wish. It’s perfect for the two of us as we age but on its best day it simply can’t compete with those times when we and our children were young and thinking ourselves so fortunate to have the cramped quarters of that tiny camper on the back of our truck. Those trips were incredible and filled with the most special of memories. I can still hear our laughter as we climbed into our beds after a long day of exploration. It was in those days that we experienced the meaning of pure bliss.   

Her Wonderful Life

Jeanne

I vividly remember when I first met Jeanne. She was the kind of person who left a lasting impression on people and she definitely had that effect on me. I was about six or seven years old when my cousin, Leonard, brought his girl friend, Jeanne, to a family gathering at Clear Lake. She was a stunningly beautiful teenager with a mega watt smile and a confidence that made her an instant hit with my aunts and uncles. It wasn’t too long after that when she and Leonard were married providing me with my first encounter with what I thought of as the holy grail of true love.

Jeanne was undoubtedly one of a kind, a delightful spirit who found and gave joy wherever she went. She had a way of making everyone feel special and loved, and she always took time to let people know how much she cared about them. Even the smallest children knew that her interest in them was genuine. With her seemingly boundless energy she gave her heart and soul to every person who came her way. Her humble way of giving of herself guaranteed that she would become a favorite in our big extended family. It was not long before she was the person we felt most excited to see whenever she arrived at our events.

Jeanne and Leonard started a family of their own that grew and grew and grew filling their home with laughter and unmitigated love. Jeanne was at the center of the antics and delighted in planning raucous gatherings where fun and mischief were the order of the day. She was a premier hostess who literally chose her homes with entertaining in mind and understood the importance of having enough room to hold all of the love that was a constant presence in her life.

Jeanne was the bearer of so many gifts that she in turn generously lavished on her family and friends. She was a teacher, a woman of great faith. She was a light of optimism and a ray of hope. She humbly spread her kindness leaving no one untouched by her generosity. She loved to cook and she made preparing a feast for a crowd look easy to do. She danced her way through life grasping every possible opportunity to enjoy people and places and events. She built traditions that brought those that she loved together, hosting family annual reunions and scheduling week long camping trips at Garner State Park each summer.

Jeanne had a particularly amazing way of making each person that she encountered feel welcomed. Nobody in her presence went unnoticed. She took great pains to make everyone part of the fun that seemed to surround her like a halo. She possessed a charisma that made her unique and exciting but more importantly she maintained a quiet strength that was comforting. I found myself drawn to her just so that I might basque in the sunshine of her warmth.

Jeanne lived as full and meaningful life as anyone might desire. She was a loving wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, sister-in-law, cousin, friend. She lived a simple life by choice but somehow everything she touched became extraordinary. She earned a college degree after her children were grown, proving to them that learning is a lifelong goal. She found ways to attend athletic events, band concerts, birthday parties, graduations and funerals with a faithfulness and sincerity that told people how important they were to her.

Jeanne had a beautiful heart but she was also an incredibly attractive woman with a flair for the flamboyant.. She loved bright colors that seemed to perfectly match her exciting personality. There were no grays and whites in her home or her way of living. Instead reds and oranges and deep blues shouted out her never ending joy and matched her ever present smile.

Jeanne left this earth last Friday. She had been very ill for some time. In her classic way she willed herself to remember others even as her health failed. She came to my fiftieth anniversary party with her oxygen tank and looking feeble, but still managing to have a glorious time. On Christmas Day she was surrounded by her huge family doing her best to laugh through the pain that had become her unrelenting companion. It was a fitting final act of love that was the definition of who she was.

Jeanne will be sorely missed. A great light in our lives seems to have gone away, but I believe that her impressions are so indelibly imprinted on our souls that we will always see and be guided by her example and her brightness. I agree with Jeanne’s granddaughter Madison who imagines her grandmother laughing and joking with Jesus and dancing with delight in her new heavenly home. She is waiting for us there, preparing a party for the time when we join her. For now we rejoice that her pain is no more and that she has so justly received her reward for living a truly wonderful life.

I saw a magnificent sunset not long after Jeanne died. Somehow I felt that it was a sign from her that we are supposed to continue to celebrate the beauty of life just as she always did. I know she would want us to embrace and comfort one another and find a way to dry our tears and carry on her traditions. She taught us well.