I suppose it all takes time. To see the ordinary. And to appreciate it. Those of you that follow me here, have come, I hope, to know my grandparents, my mother, my schoolmates, and teachers. Some might say “just plain folks.” And that’s probably true. But maybe that’s the real beauty of it all. To find the spectacular in farmers, housewives and receptionists. To see the extraordinary in the daily living.
And in seeing them, it helps me see myself. Helps me find the gratitude of the day given. Of the toast for breakfast. The smell of coffee. The hand that reaches out for mine.
I am reading the book, “Love, Kurt (The Vonnegut Love Letters). I have this book, only because I have a special friend. Last year, together with our husbands, we went to Stillwater, MN. My friend and I stood in the bookstore as if before the Christmas morning tree. So many gifts in front of us, we had a hard time deciding. We each settled on our present. I loved her choice as much as mine. This year, she gave her book to me. Those simple words don’t seem to give it enough meaning, but I will tell you that it fills my heart. It brings me back to a laughter filled day on brisk streets and slow choices. It, for me too, is a love letter.
In the book, Kurt Vonnegut writes with his young pen, to his young wife, “Angel, will you stick by me if it goes backwards and downwards? Holy smokes, Angel: what if I turn out to be just plain folks?” Tears fill my eyes. I imagine we’ve all had the worries. Will I be special enough to be loved?
It’s these memories, of course, that give me that comfort. That give me the yes. My heart is packed full of the love from these glorious and plain folks. And I have loved them. Love them still. And I am one. Proud to be living with these extraordinary people. It is plain to see, they, we, are more than enough to be loved.
According to the song, we were not yet even “puppies,” but each morning around 8:15 — just after being dropped off of the school bus at Washington Elementary, and just before Miss Green began our 5th grade class — we sang alongside the turntable with Donny Osmond, “And they called it puppy love
Just because we’re in our teens…”
Of course we weren’t in our teens, but even just having a record player, we felt old enough to experience all the emotions. The closest we actually got to boys was playing four square on the playground. We rotated through the boxes, never touching, hovering somewhere between wanting to beat them and wanting to be liked. I suppose we thought the answers would come in the next song. But none of us actually had the money to buy a new 45 at Carlson’s Music Center, so we sang it again and again, “
Someone, help me, help me, help me please. Is the answer up above? How can I, oh how can I tell them,this is not a puppy love.”We began to lean on Mr. Iverson, our music teacher. Each week he gathered us together to learn a new song — new meaning new to us, but certainly old, perhaps older than our parents. We were desperate for new. “Please please please,” we begged, “let us sing something from the radio.” Our hands shot up straight in the air when he asked for suggestions. “Seasons in the sun” was the overwhelming response. They played it constantly on KDWB, the radio station that intermittantly came in from Minneapolis. Unfamiliar with the lyrics, he said he would play the record and decide. He placed it on the turntable and immediatlely his face turned. None of us had heard the actual verses. We were all just mesmorized by the chorus — “We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun…” Unfortunately, the majority of the song was about dying. Somehow we had missed that. He scratched the record racing to get the needle out of the groove. I guess we were all in such a hurry to become older, at least puppies, that we missed it.
And that’s the gift, isn’t it? I’m always surprised as summer turns into fall. It happens year after year, and I’m still hovering between the bus ride and when class actually begins. Luxuriating in the 15 minutes of unsupervised freedom. Still ready to believe. To become. To begin again.
There’s a small stack of pots resting by the side of the house. A little plastic one on top. I think I used it as a scoop when repotting another plant. I guess some soil was left behind. Were seeds blown in from the wind? Watered by the almost non-existent summer rain? I can’t be sure. And I don’t need to be. Because it’s there. Not a weed — but a real plant. And it’s not similar to the two types we have in the house. No, it’s brand new. Strong. Greening and growing without our help. Without our knowledge or permission. Coming to life. Strong. Through all the madness of this world, it found a way.
I’m not proud of it, but I can be a worrier. Inventing scenarios in my head that may never happen. But thankfully, I can also see the signs. The beauty all around me that says, “Look. We’re given everything we need.” I smile and carry the image with me. And on the days when I feel no stronger than a seed blowing in the wind, I think, I’m going to find a way. Hope grows mighty.
I suppose it’s only natural to get used to things. Even the things we dreamed about for years can become ordinary while living them. And we all want to be comfortable. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the shine, I don’t want to lose that. So I make the small changes. Daily.
It might sound silly, but for me, it’s the little things. I change the painting in my direct view from the breakfast table. And this brand new, this shiny comfort, reflects my smile, and the day begins.
After lunch is my usual reading time. I switch up the place. Moving daily from chair, to bed, to outdoor hammock. Yesterday’s sun jumped off the pages as I swayed above the grass.
Being my mother’s daughter, it is not only my joy, but my responsibility, to change my clothes frequently throughout the day. The more challenging the day, the more changes. I will hold the conversation in my head. Clutching my pearls, sometimes real, sometimes imaginary. Humbly offering my thanks. Accepting the worked-for shine that only a mirror and a mother’s memory can reflect.
Now some might say, well it’s easy for you, you live in a beautiful country. You have inspiration all around. Yes, that’s true. But I don’t eat breakfast under the Eiffel Tower each morning. I, like everyone else, am not given a reason to get out of bed…I (we) have to get out of bed and go find that reason every day.
I don’t know what today will bring. I’m not even sure what I’ll wear, or how long I’ll wear it. The clouds overhead say, “you’re on your own today.” I smile. “I’ve got this,” I say. And set out to find my shine.
There were no smartphones to capture the moment. Only real film. Real cameras. No google to tag the time and place. We relied on the story. Packaged it deeply into our hearts and brains. Told it again and again to keep it alive.
I came across the photo of my mother on her hands and knees, in her bra and short pants, all smiles, ironing her blouse on the carpeted condo floor. That’s Hilton Head, South Carolina. I can’t see out any window. There are no discernable markers. But I know the story.
It was my first real vacation from my first real job. We packed our non-rolling suitcases and put them in my GPS-less car. We drove from the Minnesota winter to the beaches of South Carolina.
Having only real film to document our journey, decisions had to be made. It wasn’t like it is today with digital. No, there was a real cost to each photo, so I had to be frugal with my image choices. With all the beauty that surrounded us, the sand and sun, blues skies and flowers, you may be surprised that I used precious film to capture the moment of my mother ironing her blouse on the condo floor. But this WAS the story. The one I wanted to remember. Because I knew the landscape could and would change through the years, but it was our relationship, this was the most important thing of all.
I can still feel the heaving of laughter in my belly. Struggling so to keep the camera still, and focus on the image. It wasn’t really “funny,” — it was just the release of so much joy. This freedom to be ourselves, to be our best selves. So much joy, all we could do was laugh.
I know I took some pictures on the beach. I’ve misplaced them through the years. They weren’t that valuable. I saved what was important.
You won’t find ironed blouses in the Hilton Head brochures, but in my heart, the laughter, the joy, the real story lives on and on.
Sitting next to the early morning window, trying to capture the brief moment of air that might still be called fresh, I slowly scroll my ipad for pictures, ideas to write about. It’s even a little hard for me to believe that I don’t plan out my daily posts. I don’t have a list of ideas or prompts. I don’t even worry about it. (Which, in knowing myself, is a huge deal.) I simply trust that it will come.
This morning, I stumbled past a few photos from winter. Bundled. Scarved. Gloved. It seems almost unimaginable to be cold. I know it will come, (we will even travel deeper into it) but I don’t waste a second of summer worrying about it. I really don’t. If only I could bottle this feeling for everything. The challenges of time and relationships. If I could just let them come and go, as is the nature of all things. If I could just be grateful for the season I’m in. And not be afraid of the ones to come. This is the goal. My goal.
And certainly, just as in nature, I will be better some days than others. Even the fruit trees in our garden know this. I hear their leaves buzzing from the extraordinary harvest of this summer, with not a whisper given to the bareness of last year’s, nor a worry for the next. The birds sing in those branches, as if it were the first morning ever given. I listen with open window and heart, and know that I can do the same, and pray that I will.
In my first remembered summers on Van Dyke road. I ran barelegged and armed through endless sunny days. Thinking they would never end. (But maybe that isn’t true.) I suppose I knew, but I was in the moment, and in the moment there is no beginning or end, there just is…
My window can only open up to today. I smile into the sun and capture the thoughts that still might be fresh. And I tell my brain, what my summer heart already knows — it is enough, more than enough.
I suppose one of the reasons I loved her the most was because she never tried to explain away the magic.
The first time I descended the stairs to my grandparents’ basement, I’ll admit I was a bit nervous. It was dark — even with the light on. Each step had a voice. My 5 year old imagination ran wild. But about halfway down, it started to smell familiar. Books, I thought. It smells just like the library. I raced the remaining steps. Wet, overworked overalls hung by the furnace.This was the army, I thought, that helped my grandfather in the fields. This one sized army, that was just his size alone. This pinstriped gathering of strength. These dampened blues and browns hung thick with the words that told his story. I ran my fingers across each page.
I wasn’t surprised to see my mother waiting at the top of the stairs. She was always the first to gather me in. Listen to me. To take whatever I had experienced and make it real. “It smells just like the library,” I said. “Pockets and pockets and pockets of stories! That’s where he keeps them, isn’t it?” “Yes,” she smiled. She always smiled, and I was home.
She could have explained that the smell was merely the dampness of the paper, the material, perhaps even mold under the collective weight of age and use. But she didn’t. She never would. Some of my older cousins would try — LaWanna said I was a baby, with baby thoughts. But not my mom. She never took the magic away. Maybe that’s why I still have it. Still believe in it. Still carry it. By the pocketful!