Category Archives: Family

Father’s Day 2024

Daddy and I, July 1965, in Lebanon, KY.

A particular image of my father has taken up residence in my mind recently. I see him sitting at our kitchen table in our house in Atlanta. He has a map open–a fold-up highway map, the kind we used to buy at gas stations and welcome centers–those old ones that today’s young adults have rarely seen. He has a pen in hand, and he’s cheerfully planning the route for an upcoming trip. The destination is likely to be one with which he’s very familiar. Probably it’s a town in central or eastern Kentucky, to visit family. Even near home, Daddy didn’t like to follow the same path twice. Mama said that was one reason she never learned her way around Atlanta. Daddy enjoyed driving, and he was good at it. He’d had considerable practice, as he’d been driving since he was twelve or so. He was born in 1929, and he learned on a Model T. I always knew that if I needed a ride somewhere–anywhere accessible by car–Daddy could, and would, gladly oblige.

Mama remembers how Daddy poured over such a map while my husband and I were on our way to New Jersey after our marriage in the fall of 1995. I was moving away, and this time, it seemed likely to be for good. Before, I’d always returned after a few years. H and I were in a packed U-Haul, with my little Rabbit convertible behind on a trailer. Because we left later in the day, we spent a night on the road in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. When I called home to report our safe arrival, Daddy quickly picked up the phone. He’d been worried about us. (He didn’t yet know that I’d perhaps married as capable and confident a driver as he.)

My husband and I with the moving van in Atlanta, November 1995.

“I’m so relieved to hear your voice!,” he exclaimed. “I think I drove every mile with you!”

Daddy was not a man who cried easily or often. But Mama said she remembers him shedding some tears that evening, as he worried over the map.

H with the van in Carlisle. The trailer for my small car was huge, and could easily have held a Cadillac. As H said, “We were long.”

On this Father’s Day, and every day, I’m grateful to be my father’s daughter. I know that wherever life takes me, no matter how treacherous the road, Daddy is there beside me, every mile.

My husband and my father in Atlanta, December 1996.

Somehow now the years have spun by like the numbers on the oven timer, and H and I are a married couple past middle age, with a daughter of our own. She’s twenty-five, a young career woman, living in another state. But it’s Maryland, and she’s still nearby. So far, we’re lucky that way. I know that she, too, counts herself fortunate to be her father’s daughter. She can be sure that her Dada, like her dear Papa, will be forever at her side, driving with her every mile.

For another post on my sweet Daddy, see here.

Low Bridge! (On the Eerie Canal)

Just about every time we cross the New York state line on our way to my husband’s boyhood home in Rochester, he starts singing some mishmash of the chorus of the old Eerie Canal song.

Loooooowwww bridge, everybody down. . .Low bridge. . .15 miles on the Eerie Canal!

I guess every fourth grader in New York learns about the Eerie Canal as they study state history. As well they should. It was a truly big deal. I was introduced to its significance on my first trip to the Albany area. I went home with my friend Mike to Clifton Park during winter break in grad school. It was mid-January in 1987, and the northeast was still a bit stunned after a blizzard that had dumped three feet of snow. The two things I remember most vividly about that long-ago excursion were these: the snow (so much snow), and the Eerie Canal.

Mike had been a fan of the canal since his elementary school days, and he wanted to make sure I grasped its importance. It was a marvel of engineering, he stressed, created under extremely demanding circumstances. Irish immigrants provided the bulk of the back-breakingly difficult, poorly paid labor. They toiled with little more than pick axes, shovels, plows and wheelbarrows, using the occasional ox or mule. A stump puller was designed to assist in tree clearing. The original Canal, forty feet wide and four feet deep, took eight years to build. It was completed in 1825, two years before the country’s first railroad was begun. The Canal links Lake Eerie with the Hudson River, and from there, in New York Harbor, meets the Atlantic Ocean. Flat-bottomed packet boats heavily laden with products like wheat, flour or lumber were pulled by mules along the towpath that bordered the waterway. (Their descendants are today’s gargantuan ocean-going container ships, like the one that recently destroyed the Key Bridge in Baltimore.) The Eerie Canal spurred the development of the Great Lakes region, as well as further westward expansion. It was an early driving force that turned New York into an economic superpower and helped earn it the nickname “Empire State.” It brought wealth to the towns it bordered, from Albany to Buffalo.

Railroads and highways gradually replaced the Canal as a trade route. These days it’s a busy recreational waterway. The mules are gone, but brightly painted packet boats, similar to the old canal boats, are often moored along the banks. These wide, low boats, which may be rented, are popular for touring. And on the Eerie Canalway Trail that runs along the water, it’s possible to cycle the entire three hundred sixty mile-length of the Canal.

The Canal still serves as a central focus of many villages in upstate New York. The colorful Union Street bridge in Spencerport, above, is just steps away from the center of town. A horn sounds when the bridge is about to be raised to allow a taller boat to pass under it. The Spencerport Depot and Canal Museum hosts displays about the Canal and its history, and serves as a welcome facility for boaters. Our nephews are often among those fishing from the banks of the Canal. It’s common to see kids bicycling along, carrying their lunches and fishing poles, as if they were emerging from a Norman Rockwell painting. Another unexpected sight to my citified eyes is that of vending machines selling live bait.

Old and new come together seamlessly and captivatingly in Eerie Canal towns.

The Canal and its towns are well worth a visit!

Spencerport, the Picturesque

Over the Memorial Day weekend, my husband and I drove up to New York state to visit his family in the Rochester area.

We watched our young nephews play hockey, of course, in a very cold, very old-school ice arena.

But there was time for me to indulge in a favorite activity, walking interesting historic neighborhoods. H’s sister and her family live in Spencerport, that picturesque Eerie Canal village bedecked with Hometown Heroes banners. A charming, pedestrian-friendly town, it’s filled with comfortable old homes and well-tended gardens. Spring had truly sprung, at last, in the Rochester area. Lawns were lush, trees were leafy, and flowers were flourishing in the bright sunshine. After a brisk morning walk with my sister-in-law, I retraced our footsteps so I could linger and take many photos.

Spencerport may win the prize for the greatest number of Little Free Libraries per square mile. Their repeated presence is one expression of the town’s gracious, welcoming attitude.

Another is the multitude of cute rock critters peeking out from their dwelling places, to be discovered if one pays attention.

We missed the lilacs, for which the area is famous, but rhododendron, irises and peonies were near their peak.

It’s a town of lovely old churches. Above, from top to bottom, are the First Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, and St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church.

Above, just a few of the village’s cheery old homes.

The stately edifice above, on South Union Street in the heart of town, next to the old Masonic Temple, now houses professional offices. Because of its Neo-Classical appearance, typical of bank buildings on the main streets of American small towns, I had assumed it was built as a bank. But its facade originally belonged to a grand home at 25 State Street, in what is now downtown Rochester. The house was demolished in 1923, and the bank, fronted by the saved facade, was erected two years later. Spencerport’s central district retains a variety of businesses that serve practical needs. In addition to a grocery store (with a handy parking lot), it has quite a few thriving restaurants, as well as a dog-friendly brewery which we’ve enjoyed, in the past, with our family and Kiko.

The town is dotted with verdant pockets of greenery, and two swift-running creeks wind through yards and between homes.

And then, further enhancing the town’s quaint aspect and running through its midst, there’s the Eerie Canal itself, to be discussed in an upcoming post.

For an earlier post on Spencerport, see here.

May, the Magnificent

Of all the warm-weather months, May is to me the most beautiful here in our little pocket of Northern Virginia. For our family, it’s the month of roses. All around our back courtyard, they burst into glorious bloom.

The profusion of flowers and foliage appears all the more fabulous to us, because we remember too well the area when it looked strikingly different.

Our “back yard,” before, c. 2005.

Twenty-four years ago, when we bought our house, there was no real back yard, only an expanse of concrete leading to an ugly garage. In the spring of 2009, after years of idle talk and months of actual planning, we embarked on a major renovation, which included landscaping, a flagstone patio, a wrought iron fence, and a screened porch. (See Up from the Concrete, Roses, May 2021.) With every year that passes, we enjoy our back yard refuge even more.

May is the most fragrant month here, as well. Throughout our neighborhood, there are patches of undeveloped land, property of Fairfax County, which remain pleasantly unkempt. In May, these spots teem with wild roses and honeysuckle. All year long, they offer sanctuary and shelter to wildlife. I’m grateful to live in a place where every last bit of acreage is not overly manicured.

Peonies add their perfume to the rose-scented atmosphere of May.

A new addition to my mother’s back yard is a Teddy Bear Southern Magnolia, which we planted in November. As its cuddly name suggests, it’s a smaller variety. Its creamy white blossoms should be sending forth their luxuriant fragrance well into June.

This May has been marked by dramatic, sudden shifts from clear blue skies to fierce storms, and right back again, just as quickly. On Mother’s Day, after a heavy downpour, we were gifted with a lovely double rainbow.

As spring turns to summer, as May cedes the ground to June, may you push through all your cloudbursts to find the rainbows!

With Mama, After the Fall

One of my favorite photos of Mama and me, in St. Augustine, Florida, 1968.

My first post of 2024 was about how I started the year off on a walk wearing mismatched shoes, or one wrong shoe. Just two days later, my mother started the year off with one wrong step. A seriously wrong step. As she was preparing to head upstairs for the night on January 5th, she fell. In recent years, she’s been quite the frequent faller, and her attitude toward falling is best described as cavalier. She rarely complains about the bruises and occasional cuts she acquires with each tumble. But this fall was different. She was unable to get up, or to contact us, and the pain in her leg was intense. Her little red Jitterbug phone lay just out of reach. Her emergency call pendant was by her bed. She spent twelve hours on her family room floor. I had checked on her around 6 PM, as I usually do, and she’d been fine. My husband or I should have noticed that her bedroom light never switched on. But we didn’t. We didn’t find her until the next morning.

Every time we hear the urgent wails of approaching ambulances and firetrucks (and we hear them often) we know that at some point, they’ll be coming for someone in our family. January 6th was one of those days. That morning, my mother was carried out on a stretcher, and I sat in the front seat of the ambulance. The paramedics couldn’t have been kinder or more thoughtful. We’re grateful to live within easy reach of excellent medical care.

Mama and me, 1970, in Atlanta. We’re wearing our of-the-moment midi and maxi fashions, sewn by Mama, of course.

Surgery to repair a badly broken femur was followed by four days in the hospital. On Day 3, Mama remarked that she was rather enjoying the stay; it felt like a rest in a nice hotel. Anesthesia and pain meds were masking the discomfort, no one was bugging her to try to stand up, and I was a constant presence in her pleasant private room. The staff was attentive and capable. Over the years, she has spent time in three Northern Virginia hospitals, and she found this stint to be by far the least miserable.

It was a different story altogether when she was moved to a nearby rehab facility. I could no longer be with her every minute, day and night. She had a roommate, whose demeanor vacillated precipitously between angelic and menacing. There was an ongoing, simmering dispute over the ideal room temperature. Mama could neither see nor hear the TV on her side of the room, yet her roomie’s TV was always on, too loudly, tuned to a station Mama would certainly not have chosen. There was considerable difficulty in ensuring that she received her prescribed medications, especially those for her asthma, and wasn’t dosed arbitrarily with unnecessary ones. As in any such facility, the staff are too few, and they’re doing difficult, often disagreeable work for low pay. It’s a place where no one wants to be. Mama described it simply as a house of horrors.

Atlanta, 1975

Not quite three weeks later, insurance abruptly decreed that her time in rehab was up. Thanks to a wheelchair-accessible transport van, Mama was summarily deposited back in her own home. For her, it was not a moment too soon, although my husband and I were not sure how we’d care for her effectively when her mobility remained so limited. There’s a good reason that babies are smaller than their parents.

We’ve all managed, somehow. Mama has learned to walk again. She’s progressed through a series of walkers, from wheel-less, to partially wheeled, to a rollator (a word I’d never heard until recently), the kind with four wheels and a little seat that can be used for carrying things. Several times a week, we do the exercises together that I watched her learn in physical therapy at rehab. She is getting somewhat stronger. She can do a few things for herself, including preparing simple meals.

Her falls, though, continue. Since her return from rehab, she’s fallen about twice a month, typically while making a transition from sitting to standing. Her legs simply “give out,” she says. With each episode, we make some changes and many suggestions. I remind her that I sleep in her guest room and can hear her summons on the baby monitor if she needs me in the night. She never expects to fall. So far, she’s suffered no further major damage. But we know that may not always be the case. The next broken leg, or arm, or worse–awaits.

Wales, 1988

Throughout her life, Mama was exceptionally active, involved in multiple projects–sewing clothes for everyone in the family, upholstering and refinishing furniture, decorating, gold-leafing, crafting–all while working part time at various jobs, reading voraciously, teaching Sunday School or Bible study, doing the housework, cooking, and being a devoted, compassionate wife, mother and daughter. (She and Daddy gave up their bedroom to move my grandmother into their home and care for her at the end of her life. ) Mama was generally too busy to consider physical exercise for its own sake.

Or for her own sake. And mine. If I could turn back the clock and change anything, it would be to encourage Mama to start weight training around the time I discovered it, in college. Why didn’t I try harder to get her to join me in regular work-outs, at home or at the Colony Square Athletic Club when I worked at the High Museum? Because she had too much else to do, of course. She would remind me that there was a time, when I was in grad school, that she and my father walked for exercise in the early mornings. At least they did that. Every little bit helps.

The frightening truth is that we’re all one small misstep away from catastrophe. That’s life. Our circumstances can change, for better or worse, in an instant.

So we keep on, doing what we can. I’ll continue the PT sessions with Mama. I’ll keep to my weight routine in our basement gym. My husband will, too. I’ll walk the neighborhood with my dog-mom friends, and he’ll use our treadmill. We’ll do our best to maintain our strength and balance. We’ll think of it as a gift to ourselves, to our daughter, and to anyone who may need to care for us one day.

Once Again, Ash Valentine’s Day

This year, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day both fall on February 14.  The last time this happened was in 2018.  I know, because I wrote about it back then.  What follows is my post from six years ago, with a few minor changes. 

These two holidays are unlikely bedfellows, so to speak.  Ash Wednesday is a day when Christians are urged to face mortality head-on and clear-eyed, to gaze into the bleakness of what would have been, had it not been for God’s saving grace.  It marks the start of Lent, the forty-day period leading up to Easter, during which prayer, repentance and self-denial are encouraged.  Lent’s Biblical basis is Christ’s retreat to the wilderness to commune with the Father in preparation for his ministry. 

Valentine’s Day, on the other hand, needs no explanation.  It’s a day for celebrating love in all its forms. It typically involves the giving and getting of various treats.  It’s a day for indulgence, not denial. 

To Lenten sticklers for self-abnegation, the concurrence of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day will likely pose a conundrum.  To deny or not to deny?  Chocolate or no chocolate?  Dessert or no dessert?  Wine or no wine with that special Valentine dinner?  Perhaps a compromise:  to begin the denial process on February 15? 

I’ve written several times about Ash Wednesday.  See: Looking into the Ashes (March 1, 2017), and Saved from the Ashes (February 10, 2016).  I’ve tried Lenten self-denial in the past, but I’ve been known to lose track of the larger purpose.  The season’s truly spiritual pursuits–prayer, Bible reading, penitential introspection–they sometimes were left in the dust (or the ashes) of Ash Wednesday.  A couple of times, when I renounced all things sweet, my Lenten journey became little more than a period of dieting.  I wince when I recall certain instances of self-righteous forbearance that must have made me a most disagreeable companion.  See Mindful Eating, and a Mindful Lent (March 24, 2012). 

The purpose of Lent is to try to become more like Christ.  Instead, in our singular focus on denial, we become more like the Pharisees, those elite Jewish leaders who prided themselves on following every iota of the Mosaic Law.  They were probably among those Jesus denounced for ostentatious fasting:  “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting.  I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get.” (Matthew 6: 16, New Living Translation)  Jesus called out the Pharisees for their empty, showy arrogance and for the stumbling blocks they set up for others:  “You shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces.  You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either” (Matthew 23: 13).  Overly zealous regarding trivial details, they tended to miss the big picture:  “You are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law–justice, mercy and faith.  You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides!  You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23: 23-24).   

On Ash Wednesday, I look into the dark ashes and contemplate Jesus’s supreme sacrifice.  I give thanks that his unimaginable love lifts me from the depths of destruction and despair. 

On Valentine’s Day, I’ve usually painted cards for family members, sometimes also for friends. There will be candy for my mother and daughter. I try to cook one of my husband’s favorite meals. If I’m really on top of things, I’ll make the caramel-topped sponge cake, or the sugar cookies he likes. (I apologize in advance this year, when there will be no homemade desserts.) H may come home with a box of Russell Stover’s candy–maybe the Assorted Cremes? He knows that’s my favorite. He’s also learned over the years that I’m not a fan of that traditional over-priced Valentine staple–the bouquet of dark red roses.

During Lent, I’ll try to take Jesus as my role model. I’ll keep my Bible close at hand.  I’ll eat some chocolates.  I may also swallow a few gnats. 

But I hope to avoid the camels.  

Happy Ash Valentine’s Day!

For a Vintage Dollhouse, a New Home

A while ago, my friend Amy was immersed in the ongoing process of emptying out her childhood home and preparing it for sale. I’d struggled with years of anticipatory dread before having to face such a prospect, and I admired her matter-of-fact approach. (Interestingly, and as is usually the case, my experience turned out to be not nearly as bad as I had expected.) But I found myself batting away pangs of melancholy as I thought about what she was going through. Our families have grown close over the years, often spending Thanksgivings, and even the occasional vacation, together. I’ve written before about the special friendship that our daughters, who grew up together, continue to enjoy. We’ve gotten to know Amy’s parents, who are gracious and good-humored, like the rest of the family. Her father passed away in 2016, as did mine. Her mother was planning a move to assisted living. Even if Amy wasn’t particularly sad about saying goodbye to her girlhood home and all its contents, lovingly gathered in over the decades, I found myself feeling sad for her.

One item with an uncertain future was a dollhouse that her mother had built, decorated and painted in the 80s. Since then, it had sat, largely untouched, on a table in an upstairs bedroom. Would I be interested?

She doesn’t want it? I asked, knowing full well the answer. I could hear her mom chuckling at the ridiculous suggestion of carting a dollhouse along to her more limited quarters in assisted living. Like her daughter, she steers clear of sentimentality.

I do not, at least in cases like this. Given an easy opportunity to save a once-beloved home, whether full-size or miniature, my instinct is to say yes. Of course I wanted the house.

I had never been inside Amy’s girlhood home, but the pretty bedroom with the dollhouse prominently displayed was instantly familiar. Decorated in shades of pale blue and white, a trellis-patterned paper covered the walls. At the windows were floor-length floral draperies, expertly sewn by her mother. The furniture was graceful white wicker. I grew up with rooms like this. I spent sleep-overs with friends in rooms like this.

The blue palette of the dollhouse perfectly matched that of the bedroom. The house is larger than any I’ve made. I recognized it as the Magnolia kit from Greenleaf Dollhouses, described as a “classic country farmhouse.” I had expected to be impressed, and I was. Amy and her mother are talented in a wide range of endeavors, practical, artistic, and everything in between. Only a confident crafts person would take on as sizable and complicated a miniature house as this in a first attempt. It was one that I might have worked up to, eventually. But now, I didn’t have to. I could simply welcome the ambitious creation into my collection.

I could also happily receive its extensive and charming furnishings. Amy’s mother was nothing if not attentive to detail. She outfitted every room and hallway thoroughly, with thoughtful touches that make the difference between house and home. She painstakingly painted and papered the walls and ceilings, stained the floors, staircase and doors. She made curtains for many of the windows. There’s a wealth of delightful little objects: books, newspapers, potted plants, framed artwork, lamps, candlesticks, and ornate rugs. In the upstairs bedroom, a fancy hat rests on a stand, and a pair of dainty lady’s slippers lies beside the bed. The effect throughout is cozy, warm and inviting.

The house was in great shape, requiring only a few minor repairs. I re-glued some parts that had popped apart during forty-odd years of existence. I touched up some of the white paint, but I didn’t change the blues of the exterior, which are still fresh and clean. I love the tiny brass lights, the working French doors on the upstairs porches, and the little window boxes filled with bright red geraniums.

On the front exterior, I painted a pair of terracotta pots filled with impatiens, and some climbing roses. I added more variety to the colors of the brick foundation and chimney. I painted the shingled roof dark green, and added a white roof crest. A cheery touch that needed no refurbishment is the white chimney trellis covered with miniature silk flowers.

On the front porch, the white sofa and table remain exactly where Amy’s mom placed them, as does the blue metal mailbox, painted with the message “Welcome Friends.”

The Magnolia Farmhouse has a new place of honor next door at my mother’s. It fits in well. Nothing in that spare bedroom is new; every item has a long and winding history. Most have been enjoyed by multiple generations. The painted yellow furniture, which dates from the 1920s, was originally in my father’s childhood home in eastern Kentucky. There are dolls and stuffed animals–my mother’s, mine, and my daughter’s, and Mama’s Pretty Maid toy oven, ca. 1940. There’s a red rocking chair that was my daughter’s favorite seat at age three. There’s a tall thin chest devoted to my mother’s multitude of sewing notions. Framed prints from the 1960s were rescued from a trash bin in a church Sunday School closet. The room has become a compact museum of pleasant family memories. How appropriate that it’s now home to the miniature house so carefully assembled by Amy’s mom. Its presence reminds me of the many ways that the lives of our two families are intertwined. As I’ve learned, friends are the family that we choose.

If there’s a little house in your life that needs a loving second home, let me know. I bet I can make room.

Summertime? What’s Missing?

One of the things I like most about living in Northern Virginia is experiencing the change of seasons. I enjoy looking out for the many small signs that herald the end of one season and the beginning of another. This year, as usual, I was paying attention as spring yielded to summer. And certainly, it feels like summer, with the heat and humidity expected during a DC-area July. Most afternoons, a storm threatens, typically with lots of bluster and thundery build-up. Sometimes a pounding, torrential rain follows, or maybe it’s just a few sprinkles. Considerable drama, either way. That’s summer, with moods that are shifting and short-lived, rather like those of a fiery teenager with no homework and time on her hands.

Summer is here, without a doubt. But for me, something is off. I’d like to blame it on my broken thumb. Maybe my sense of timing is out of whack because of the injury? During those two months with a cast, followed by a splint, most tasks required twice as much time to complete; that’s true. But it can’t explain my occasional tendency to suddenly forget what season we’re in. It’s more like I’m waiting for some special signifying cue that tells me: Now this is Summer.

A part of me, I think, is waiting for my own fiery teenager, or elementary schooler, or Kindergartner, or preschooler, to finish her classes for the year and be here, at home, on summer break. It’s similar to the way I felt in mid-December. How could the “Holiday Season” have been upon us without our girl home for the holidays? And how can it really be summer without her here?

I’m not complaining. I’m grateful that our daughter has found a career that she enjoys; it’s why my husband and I encouraged her to work hard throughout her many years of schooling. And we count ourselves fortunate that she lives nearby in Maryland. Right now, she’s on a work trip, in Tacoma, Washington. She flew there immediately after returning from Scotland and England with friends. She’s making her own choices, living her life, and we celebrate that.

My husband and I have not been especially clingy parents. We made a conscious effort not to shelter our daughter, or to keep her to ourselves. Growing up as an only child, my small family warmly welcomed others, and we tried to do the same. We encouraged D to forge strong friendships, yet to be unafraid to claim her independence at times. She was among the few students to attend her college orientation on her own. H and I were skeptical of the University’s entreaty, earnest and emphatic, for parental attendance at orientation. Seemed too much like a marketing ploy. D said later that she felt a bit awkward when she sat beside someone else’s mother on the shuttle bus from the parking lot, but other than that, our absence didn’t bother her. When we dropped her off at UVA that first August, (and yes, we helped move her in) we left teary-eyed. We didn’t expect to see her for quite a while, and that thought made us sad, but we tried to keep it to ourselves. We visited her on grounds only rarely, and we didn’t push her to come home on weekends. I have friends who headed to Charlottesville for most home football games and the accompanying all-day festivities. Not us. H, especially, was concerned about interfering with D’s engineering studies. When his sister, her husband and their little boys drove down from Rochester to spend an Easter weekend with us, we didn’t tell our daughter. She’d already said she had too much work to do, and wouldn’t be home for Easter. We took her at her word. She was upset with us. And then the pandemic prevented our visiting during most of her final two years at UVA (with the exception of her graduation, which we happily attended).

All this may make us sound like cold, unfeeling parents. We are not. If we were, I wouldn’t be walking around in the July heat, wondering when summer will begin.

Our daughter in her Jar-Jar pool, July 2003, in her nightgown.

I’m not bemoaning the loneliness of an empty nest. But neither am I unmindful of and unmoved by our daughter’s absence. Images of summers past, when she was with us, are never far away in my mind’s eye. I have sudden flashes of leisurely breakfasts with her on the screened porch. I see her jumping into the blow-up wading pool first thing on a summer morning, in her nightgown. I see D and her friends dashing through the sprinkler spray in the front yard. I see her happily cuddling our young dog. Those were summer days that felt like summer. I miss them. But I have them with me, too. And always, I will count them among life’s treasures.

D and a good friend at the pool club, August 2007.
D and Kiko, June 2009, on our then-unfinished back porch.

A Post-Memorial Day Wish

Last week, my sister-in-law sent me these photos from her Eerie Canal village of Spencerport, New York. Walking past Fairfield Cemetery in the center of town, she saw veterans placing flags on graves of the war dead. She knows I’m a big fan of her lovely little town, which has been a frequent Memorial Day destination for our family. This year, only my husband made the trip; he took advantage of the three-day weekend to spend some time with his Mom in nearby Rochester. I have pleasant memories of walking the old cemetery’s verdant paths with my furry companion, Kiko. It was good to see that Spencerport’s patriotic traditions live on.

The pictures remind me of our American tendency to temporarily lay aside our polarizing differences as Memorial Day approaches. Ever so briefly, we unite in honoring those who gave their lives in defense of our country. Around this time, we join together momentarily to acknowledge the brave men and women who paid the ultimate price.

It’s my ongoing prayer that we might keep this Memorial Day attitude alive all year long. Our military heroes deserve more than to be saluted perfunctorily on certain holidays. Let’s remember that their sacrifice was for our everyday freedoms, which should not be taken for granted. They died so that we may continue to pursue our dreams and live the lives we choose. They died so that we may be able to air our opinions and grievances without fear of bodily harm or imprisonment. Therefore, let’s honor their memory by trying to refrain from snap judgments and personal attacks. Let us not jump eagerly to accept just anything we want to believe. Let us take pains to discern the truth, even, and, indeed, especially, when it may lead us to change our minds. Let’s exercise some of that critical thinking we should have been taught in school. May we learn to recognize the sly manipulators among us, those who benefit from stirring up trouble and maximizing our differences. May we try to lecture, to talk at one another less, and to listen more comprehensively. May we practice kindness, and grow in wisdom. May we be guided toward common ground, toward a vantage point from which we might see some of our perceived differences evaporate like an early morning fog. If we make these efforts, we really might be able to work together toward that more perfect union. This great republic of ours is worth it. The sacrifice of our Memorial Day heroes begs us to do so. May they not have died in vain.

Long may our land be right with freedom’s holy light!

–America, Samuel Smith, 1832

For previous posts on the picturesque and patriotic town of Spencerport, see For the Hometown Heroes on Memorial Day, May 2019, and On The Road Again, and Back into the World, May 2021.

Still Casting About (One Thumb Up, Continued)

As I walked to the car, carrying my raincoat because my new cast wouldn’t fit through the sleeve, I considered what a luxury it has been, throughout my many years of life, to take for granted the use of two opposable thumbs.  Especially that on my right, dominant hand. 

Could I drive? I wasn’t sure.  I’d parked in a distant spot, as is my habit, where the lot had been nearly empty.  But by this point, it was full. I was dismayed to see my vehicle tightly hemmed in. Because of an as yet un-repairable recall on my little Beetle, I’ve recently been driving our much larger old Acura MDX.  The ignition requires an actual key, which I managed, with difficulty, to turn with my left hand.  I was able to maneuver the steering wheel, but it was awkward.  I was just starting to reverse carefully, when an enormous SUV zoomed up, looming, asserting its bulky presence.  Its driver sat somber and stone-faced. I held up my cast, pointing to it with my left hand, hoping for a nod or a trace of a smile.  No reaction.  I continued my slow progress.  At last, out of the spot, I opened the window and called out, “Sorry to keep you.  First time driving with a cast.”  Still nothing.  Don’t judge, I told myself.  We were in a hospital parking lot.  Mr. Stone-Face or a loved one might be staring down some frightening health news. But clearly, he’d never had a thumb cast.

I soon learned that many formerly simple tasks could be managed, but the process would have to be rethought and reworked.  I’d need to summon patience, and to be satisfied with slow-motion solutions. Hurrying doesn’t help, I realized, on my first attempt to tie my shoes. I tell myself that for now, I have one fully functioning hand, which is a blessing. And I have one hand that can offer only limited assistance. Which is much better than nothing.

Cooking, I knew, would be a challenge.  I typically do a lot of chopping, much of which would have to be avoided. Opening sealed plastic food packages was more difficult than I had anticipated.  After unsuccessful tries with scissors, and then nearly slicing my good hand with a knife, I realized I needed a pair of left-handed scissors. The can opener was a complete no-go.  Fortunately my mother is nearby and still able to work this device.

I’ve learned that I can create a poor approximation of the thumb grasp by holding an object between my body and my right arm.  Pull-top cans may be opened this way.  But when they contain any amount of liquid, spills are nearly impossible to avoid. I discovered this one morning, when, experiencing an intense and unusual breakfast craving for Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli, I doused my shirt sleeve and much of my cast in tomato sauce.  Good thing I chose the waterproof option.

My left hand has proven to be a slow learner. I’m all too aware of this every time I sit down at the PC and use the mouse. Or attempt to hold a fork like a human, or use the curling iron, or even brush my hair or my teeth. I remember how my father could play tennis, ping pong or darts so well with either hand. Had he been just as ambidextrous when it came to daily tasks? I wish I’d noticed.

There are definitely some good things about the cast. In the first few days after my fall, the slightest motion in my right hand resulted in sharp pains. The cast put a stop to all that. I’ve felt none of the itchiness typically associated with traditional casts. The interior material is smooth and non-irritating. The cast’s protective shelter is actually comforting. Even cozy, at least when I’m not using the hand. And not having to cover the cast in plastic wrap before showering or immersing it in water is one less injury-related inconvenience to deal with.

I return to the doctor in a week. If the bone is healing well, the cast may be replaced by a splint for an additional three weeks. My husband, ever the realist, reminds me that the splint will bring its own issues. I’m aware. I know that some of my favorite activities, including painting and playing the piano, will yet have to wait. Until then, I’ll try to focus on what I can do. And sometimes, I’ll enjoy the freedom to relax. Because I lack two well-functioning thumbs, I can’t start a new project. Since the injury, I’ve found the occasional nap to be especially compelling. A little extra sleep to hasten the healing process? Sounds justifiable.

And today is Friday. That means Mama will likely be watching the all-day UnXplained marathon on the History channel. Hosted by her favorite nonagenarian cutie-pie, William Shatner, the show deals breezily with a wide variety of mysterious occurrences and odd legends. It never fails to inspire us to interesting and humorous conversation. Today might be a good day to rest my hand and enjoy a relaxing visit with a best friend who also happens to be my mother. That certainly sounds justifiable.

If you’re able to use these items without giving them much thought, chances are you have two working thumbs. Congrats!