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We all have our routines, private time, and if you are a morning person as I am, you know how special that early hour can be. Most mornings in the mountains, especially in winter, I padded barefoot from window to window looking out to see if there were any elk or moose strolling by before dawn. I would spot their tracks. After a cup of tea, I would walk outside, often say a few words to Mom, telling her how much I miss her, and then carry a couple of loads of firewood into the house. Build the fire and be ready for the day.

I know now how fortunate we were to have such a quiet, peaceful corner of the world, a valley that will forever be in my mind’s eye. 

Though I grew up in a very small town, I didn’t appreciate the solitude of the surrounding farmland; the quiet only meant boredom to me, a teenager, longing for something more. As an adult working and raising children in New Jersey, I had that big city life, well, primarily suburban.  The ex-burbs weren’t perfect, but we were less than two hours from the city; trips into Manhattan were a treat. After decades of work, moving to the mountains for retirement was a leap of faith. The contrast in our lifestyle was great.  We took afternoon walks and often did not see a soul. I finally could see the beauty of the grasses, the Aspen and the mountains, the wildflowers. I didn’t know how white snow could be.

In My Antonia Willa Cather’s character Antonia speaks of her love of the country, knowing she would never be happy in the city, too lonely there. She says to Jim, her city friend, “I like to be where I know every stack and tree, and where all the ground is friendly.” I understand her and I have felt that, too. As an adult returning to Illinois for visits, I rode my bike on what I called the country mile. The land was finally home to me. I could appreciate the wheat fields and the wide vistas of flat-land crops.

Now I wonder:  What will it be like to live in a neighborhood again. No elk, but lots of houses. A mountain range we can barely see through the pine trees. Carpenters hammering all afternoon, a noise that will continue for months as more new homes are built.

People! How will we know if we want to get to know them better? Will they look at us and think we are too old to bother with? Will their political views mesh with ours? What will they think of us? What will we think of them?

It’s a little scary. More frightening that meeting up with a moose on the road, where it was more likely to see a fox in the evening than another human being.

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Last Saturday we had dinner with the kids and talked about how difficult it is today to feel a sense of community in a neighborhood. People stay to themselves, even before the pandemic. There is a wariness about letting people into your life. We all agreed that it was probably better in the old days.

After we returned home, Bob opened the front door to look at the starlit sky and spotted a note and a jar of marionberry jam on the welcome mat. A gift from a neighbor whose garden we can see clearly from our front windows.

Our country life is in the rearview mirror. I believe the image will never disappear. But today kids are on our street riding their skateboards and a jar of jam was left at our door. So it begins in our new home.

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December 23, 2020

It starts with a set of yellow towels ordered on-line. What colors for a contemporary house that has a pale grey palate? That’s how our new home began last night after we signed a contract. We thought there might be champagne, but we weren’t feeling it. Too anxious about starting over. Too sad about leaving our past.

We are experiencing what so many others are and have in the past. Leaving home because of fire or tornado or hurricane. Many must leave their homes for health reasons or the need to be with others, loneliness too much of a burden. 

It continues to amaze me how resilient we humans can be. We have so many struggles and fears and doubts, yet we carry on. What is it? How can we do all that we do?

When we stood at the remains of our mountain home, on that sunny, blue-sky Colorado day taking in that all was gone, I looked out at the burned ridge in the distance. All that Nature had given us during the many years that we visited and lived in that valley was still there. And it is hard for me to believe now, but I felt a sense of peace. There was a spirit that I experienced, that I knew life would continue; that valley would live peacefully and we would too. 

Native American tribes that inhabited these lands called the Great Spirit many names, among them Wakan Tanka and Gitche Manitou. In her Christmas card, Sandy used the word Hozho, the Navaho word for peace, harmony and order. I don’t know the Ute tribe name for what you and I call God. The next time that I drive Ute Pass, my favorite road in Colorado, I do know that my appreciation will be deeper. And I will think of the tribe, the families that were pushed off of this beautiful mountain landscape.

I felt that Great Spirit on the day we walked our property and witnessed our loss. I will never forget my outlook, the vista we loved and the message it sent me. The looking away from loss to hope and peace—harmony and order. We all experience loss. It is my hope that in the New Year we look forward to the messages the land, sea, and sky can send us, all of the amazing vistas that are before us.

My Happy New Year wish for you.

Always,

Linda

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Holding On

When I first visited my boyfriend’s home many years ago and saw the beautiful objects on display, I was overwhelmed. The porcelain figurines from Germany—angels and birds—the Hummels, crystal pieces in the cabinets. Everything so fine and so foreign. But I was surprised that with so many extraordinary things, some of her dishes were chipped. White and blue china cups, with a German inscription on the bottom, so many chipped at the edges. I didn’t ask why she didn’t buy new ones.

Lately I’ve been going through our house, boxing up dishes for donation to our local non-profit thrift shop. Too much accumulated over these decades of housekeeping and entertaining.

I have glassware and dishes from my mother-in-law, my own mother and grandmother, my forays to garage sales and online sales. Red and white and Fiesta colors, pitchers from Germany and who-knows-where. On one of these days of thinking these thoughts of purging my cabinets, I served us a bit of gelato in our wedding cups—Dansk white from the 70’s. I have four cups remaining and one is chipped. I thought of my mother-in-law’s dishes and suddenly realized why she had kept hers. It’s hard to let things go.

In this time of pandemic and general upheaval of all that we have known, I have had time to read more deeply and thoughtfully. The publications that I receive and the books I am led to have made me realize that I have been holding on to false thoughts and assumptions. I follow the news of protest and Black Lives Matter, having known all of this in the past, but I am now realizing that I haven’t really known it.

For example, I’ve asked myself often if I’m a racist and my answer is always an emphatic “No.” But through a Times article by Isabel Wilkerson, I’ve learned that I am a casteist. A new word for me. Wilkerson provides examples to illustrate her meaning, but I have my own.

A couple of months ago we were walking back from a hike with friends on the eastern shore of Grand Lake, undoubtedly one of the most expensive stretches of real estate in Colorado. We saw women of color unloading a car, preparing to carry things into one of the lakefront homes. My immediate thought was that it was a cleaning crew. As we got closer and said hello, it became apparent that they were renting the house or visitors of the owners. 

Wow. That took me aback. Weeks later Wilkerson gave me the word for my assumption. I may not be a racist, but I am a casteist.

Other reading I’ve done by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Nikole Hannah-Jones and watching the coverage of John Lewis’s funeral have made these weeks an awakening. I’ve had to make a turn in my thinking about the topic of reparations, the era of Jim Crow that still haunts so many, the current violence and protest in cities. And Gone With the Wind! I’ve had to become a better thinker, a different thinker. I have been holding on for too long to what I was taught in school where our textbooks were written by white men and published by the same. 

Letting go now of false thoughts and incomplete knowledge and awareness, I can feel the twists and turns in my head as I continue to read. I feel my mind letting go of many of my assumptions. It is embarrassing that it has taken me so long to get to this point, but I think I may not be alone. It is probably acceptable to keep a chipped cup, but I think it is no longer acceptable to hold on to untruths that have been in our national conscience for hundreds of years. Time for me to grow.

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Thinking About Fathers

Bob needs xxxxx (keeping it secret:) so with Father’s Day on the horizon, I placed an order. And I wanted to do something special for Tom, his first Father’s Day.

But yesterday my thoughts were about other fathers. I thought of George Floyd’s daughter, what a terrible loss she will have for all of her life. No more happy Father’s Days.  And this morning I woke to words in my e-mail from a friend who lost his dad to a heart attack yesterday. He wrote, “My dad is so much a part of who I am.”  I know that when my dad died in 1970, if I hadn’t been so angry about my terrible loss, I would have said the same.

I have written much about Mom; it took years for me to understand that she was at the core of my life, the person I have become. Yet it was Daddy who had center stage for me when I was young.

I watch the TV coverage of the protests and looting, and I see so many angry young people, an anger that I try to understand. I am more significantly struck by the black men who are interviewed on the street, men who have become angry. Not born with anger, but who have learned it from the injustices they feel daily. I think many of them are fathers. 

One of the things I have learned since Mom’s passing is that friends of my age enjoy sharing memories of their mothers. I, however, have not opened the door to thoughts of Dad. Moms get so much credit:  We wear so many hats; we are great at multi-tasking; just how did Mom do it all—work and cook and take care of the kids and house?

Today I am thinking of dads.

This week I have looked at those black men on the screen and seen their burden. In a time of pandemic and unemployment, in an era of continued racism and injustice, they are prevented from doing all that they need to do. My own dad felt this burden, I believe. He was expected at a very young age to make a living for babies he probably wasn’t ready for. He was expected to be the disciplinarian and the stern one. In those times he was expected to be the man and handle everything without showing a sign of weakness. I believe it was too much for him. 

I wish I could write a happy story now, but it isn’t in me. Yet I’m a positive, glass-half-full person. I believe fathers today are better at their job. They know how to share their feelings and how to share the financial burden of raising a family. Yet much is wrong. From our comfortable chairs, safe at home, we have to keep the images of black fathers in our minds and hearts. I remember the anger I felt fifty years ago. Fortunately, I didn’t hold onto it. I think, however, that I understand a little bit of what the protestors are feeling:  An anger at not being understood, at not being given a full life of opportunity and justice, an anger at the death of another father.

I sit at the sidelines as most of us do, wondering what to do. I saw a black man at the lake the other day, which is not a daily sight here in the mountains. I wanted to say, “Welcome. I’m so glad for you to be here in this beautiful place.”  I stopped myself; it would have been crazy to run up to him and give him a hug.  All I could do was smile and say “Hi.” It felt so lame, so insufficient. All of us in our communities need to do more;  our country needs to do more and become better through real change.

What doors can I open to ease the pain of these fathers and their children? I may never know. But I can vote. And I can read to better understand what it means to be black in America. I can write. I can advocate for change in my conversations with friends and with those who still don’t see beyond the surface of the TV images. God help us all as many in our country seek to lead us to change.

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So Many Things I Didn’t Know

—I didn’t know that I would miss seeing smiles on strangers, now that so many are covered by masks.

—I didn’t know I would feel annoyed and even threatened by those strangers who aren’t wearing a mask.

—What day is it? I hardly know at times.

—I never thought that the 2020 Presidential campaign would not be on the 24/7 news programs this spring.

—I didn’t know that I would look so forward to receiving mail, especially the weekly New Yorker:  The cover art has been amazing.

—Oh, my gosh! Zoom! I had never heard of it before the coronavirus.

—I didn’t know that we should have invested all of our money in Zoom. I thought the same thing about Google many years ago. Now I should know that any company with such a cool name should have our entire investment account. (I remember thinking that about Apple and Google, but I evidently forgot.)

—I didn’t know that there are so many kind and giving people in the world.

—And unfortunately I now know that there are people who aren’t kind, who show such anger over being asked to wear a mask and to stay six feet apart. I begin to know that there is much stupidity in our country.

—I didn’t know that tattoo parlors and bowling alleys are important services.

—I knew that people in many service jobs aren’t paid nearly enough, and I knew the statistics that many Americans haven’t saved any money, but I didn’t really know. Now I see it in the lines of cars at food banks.

—I didn’t know that I could wait eight weeks for a haircut.

—I didn’t know that I wouldn’t miss eating out at restaurants—I don’t expect all of my readers to agree with this one.

—Did I know that my husband and I could get along so well without a social life? I don’t think I knew that.

—I certainly didn’t know that our winter Scrabble tournament would spill over into May.

—I never imagined that school would be dismissed for so many months. A funny note that my sister forwarded from an on-line site:  “You think it’s bad now? In 20 years our country will be run by people home-schooled by day drinkers.”

—I didn’t know that given day after day of time on my hands I would choose not to clean out drawers and closets. Well, to be honest, I think I did know that.

—I didn’t know that Bob would not miss even one Sunday of church, a seven-week record. (You know Trinity is Zooming, right?)

—I didn’t know how much I would enjoy having a cup of British Breakfast during the church service. Well, again, I think I did know that about myself.

What am I learning during the pandemic? I think I’m still sorting it out, and I imagine that you are too. But I do know that I am fortunate to have a wonderful daughter and son-in-law, a son who for the moment is doing okay, a husband who I want to be healthy with for many, many years to come. And a baby in our family that I want to protect from germs and hate and want. I am fortunate to have sweet memories of Mom on this Mother’s Day. And I am fortunate to have friends and readers. I don’t know what you are thinking and learning during this pandemic, but I know it is deep and important. I know because that is who you are.

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April 5, 2020: Snow Tonight, Sunshine Next Week

That was the weather forecast when I looked a couple of days ago. Tonight the sun in shining as it goes down in the West. We did have snow today, but we also had baby grunts and smiles as Trump was delivering his daily address. Sunshine in some corners; craziness in others.

Isn’t that what all of life is. Of course, we are living in these extremes now. Yet most of us are okay. We need to remember that and reach out to those who are hurting.

Yesterday as I walked in Bend, I met a homeless man. He was doing okay. Amazing. We were complaining that our rental cottage doesn’t have cable TV.

I feel as if life as we’ve known it in all of our baby boomer years has been put on a shelf. All that we’ve known is over there somewhere. Within reach, but not touchable. I remind myself that we are the privileged to sit at a computer and write while doctors and nurses struggle each day—not enough safety equipment, tears when they leave their shifts.

That brings me to tears and outrage. Are we the greatest country? I don’t think so. We have to do better, one vote at a time, one voice spoken when the opportunity presents itself. For now, all I can do is take care of my own little family, and you no doubt feel that too. For now, that is what is right. But in November there will be an opportunity to do more. 

We took Theo for a walk today in the local park. Every time another jogger or walker approached, I moved as far to the right as possible though Bend is not exactly a hot spot. My mama bear instincts—well, grandma bear to be more exact—were on high alert. Don’t you dare infect this sweet, innocent baby. Grandmas, Omas, Gigis, Mormors, we need to lead for our babies. And we need to believe in hope—faith, hope, and love and the greatest of these is love. And in this era I would add action.

Will we be different after this virus passes. I don’t know. I fear not. But I would wish that for our babies we would be stronger, more outspoken, more active in saying what we know is right. 

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What Will We Remember?

What Will We Remember?

Last week I called my cousin, who is in her mid-eighties—so hard to believe. I will always think of her as Jean, who sunbathed at the public pool in town and no doubt was made to take my sister and me along. Perhaps this only occurred a couple of times, but I remember how beautiful she was and those shining legs! Baby oil no doubt, no sunscreen in those days.

As we talked about the corona virus, she said that memories of the Great Depression had been coming back to her. She was nine or ten and remembers rationing and hard times. Today as we hunker down in our mountain home, where many of our daily patterns have been put on the shelf, I’m wondering what all of us will remember of this time.

Will I remember the empty shelves at City Market. Will I remember how tired some of the workers look. Or that my iced tea yesterday at Starbucks cost over $3.50, when last week it was $2.74!

Most of my friends, retirees, are safe. Disappointed about cancelled travel plans, but safe. No doubt some feel lonely or bored or simply at loose ends. One talked about cleaning out closets. Oh, no, that’s not for me. I’d rather bake cowboy cookies and deliver them to neighbors (and save some for myself:)  I’ve sewn two baby bunting bags and today will begin p.j.’s for the new mama.

Yes, a baby born during the pandemic. Oh, the stories we will have for him. 

I don’t know if we can control our memories, the ones that we will talk about over wine—when we are allowed to venture out and have a glass together. But I heard two stories this morning thanks to the perky anchors of the Today Show. The first was a $2,500 tip left for the wait staff at a restaurant that was on the verge of closing. A note asked that the money be divided among all of the workers, whose financial security is now at risk. The second was a video clip from Italy. An elderly lady in quarantine was standing at her window listening as neighbors serenaded her with a birthday song. A birthday during the pandemic. It was a beautiful scene.

Many of us will have birthdays celebrated alone or with one or two family members. Our friend Sid celebrated Sunday with the kids and has decided for now that will be their group:  The eight of them, including the in-laws, will get together as much as they can, keeping themselves all safe in that family bubble. 

What will your memories be? Think about it. Maybe we can work to hold onto the good and forget about our losses. Maybe we can give a thank you to the folks who are still working, stocking grocery shelves. Maybe we can call a neighbor. We can make memories for others and for ourselves so that we have sweet ones to share someday with the Theos, Lalas, Harleys, Louises and Elaines–all of those dear babies of our world.

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Moments

A quotation from an English Lit class, read so long ago, comes back to me again and again:  Virginia Woolf’s language for those times that are often sudden and unexpected but that stay with us for a long time, in some cases forever. She called them “moments of being.”We all have them. Sometimes joyous, often sad, but always deep. The little fragments of time that stay with us. We all have many moments of being.

Tonight I am thinking of two in my life. One was nearly a year ago when Mom had recently been moved to a nursing home. I flew into St. Louis and drove to this rural facility that was foreign to me and to her. After I had been with her for just a short while, she lifted her hands off of her lap, held them in front of her and said, “I don’t know what is happening.” She was midway in to her slip into dementia. This is a sad one for me that I won’t forget, and truly, I don’t want to forget.

The second one is another memory I return to often lately. Erika handed me her phone as we sat in a restaurant bar on a cloudy day this past September in Connecticut. The first picture was of her little pup; the second was of a sonogram. It hit me that she was showing us their new joy, a baby that would come into our lives. I immediately started crying, tears of amazement and happiness, new life and new possibilities.

I could go on and on sharing my moments of being because there are so many. Like you, I have had many tough times and so many good. I don’t know what Virginia Woolf would have said about these moments, but I now am wondering what is it that we are supposed to do with these extraordinary experiences that create a forever memory in our minds and hearts. Do we simply hold them as photos in a scrapbook, occasionally bringing them out to look at once again? Or do we occasionally share them as I am doing now? I think there can be more. I believe that these special moments can and sometimes should lead us to action.

Lately I am repeatedly struck by the news of what is happening to our planet. More moments of being that are disturbing and frightening. I don’t know if this is because we are expecting a grandchild. I have cared about children for all of my adult life; I don’t want to think that now for the first time I am really caring about what we are leaving future generations.

I am consumed by the news of global warming, cancer-causing chemicals in waterways, oceans filled with plastic. All of it old news, but new in that our pollution of the Earth can no longer be ignored. We are the children of The Greatest Generation. What will our children and grandchildren call us?

I feel so helpless when I read and know what is ahead if we don’t take action to consume less, pollute less, create less refuse for our landfills and oceans. I am not a scientist. I have no grand answers. My feeble, but committed recycling efforts no doubt add up to nothing. I have to do more and I am trying to learn how. Tonight it is my hope to raise your consciousness or let you know that you are not alone in your concern and  frustration.  I have to speak up because these moments of awareness are adding up. Like my mother, I hold up my hands and ask, “What is happening?”

For our babies to come, all of our children, we have to do more. We have to demand that our government servant/leaders, a term from Robert K. Greenleaf, do more. We have to vote for those leaders who promise to act. We have been given much and now must do more.

It must be our generation’s moment of being.

 

 

 

 

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Eight Thousand Days, Plus Or Minus a Few

Mr. Kitty and I enjoy having workers in the house.  Last week it was the window washer, Bruce, who enjoys having Kitty follow him around from room to room, as if the cat, too, wants to become an expert at washing windows that reach to the sky.

Today it’s two plumbers and the chimney sweep.  He follows these men around with such interest and intensity.  I refrain from doing this, but I like the sounds of the work, the footsteps, and the male voices.

I was always the girl who wanted to be with the men after Christmas or Easter dinner.  Of course, I couldn’t get out of helping the women with the dishes, but as soon as I could escape from the kitchen, I would be taking a walk in our village with Uncle Wilfred and Daddy.  What did they talk about?  What could I have understood?  Not much, but it was the men I wanted to be with.

Now I love being in my kitchen cooking, but when it comes to conversation I enjoy listening to the sound of the men. And today it’s the working men.  I hear them talking about the truckbed that needs to be organized, and then they laugh a bit.  I don’t need to be near them, but I like knowing that they are doing their jobs today with a lightness and hopefully a decent paycheck.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that much of the world is still working. As a retiree with many retired friends, the working world is not much in my thoughts, until I wonder how I will spend my next winter here in the mountains.  Volunteering is fine, but there still is within me that desire to be paid for my efforts. On occasion I look in the local paper to see what job might fit my skills; then I remind myself of my age and the fact that I’m certainly not going to work a weekend job or a Wednesday or Thursday or Friday job when I might want to snowshoe or read a book.

I read a lot and know how fortunate I am to have been taught the love of words and stories.  So often I wish I could call every person I know and say, “You have to read this!”  An article, a story, a novel.  So here’s something for you, my reader today, a nugget from the New Yorker.  I’m paraphrasing Joseph Coughlin, the founder and director of the AgeLab at MIT.

Coughlin has done the math of our lives:  from age zero to twenty-one is about eight thousand days.  From twenty-one to midlife is the same.  And also the mid-forties to sixty-five is eight thousand days.  And get this:  After sixty-five you have a 50/50 chance of living to eighty-five. Guess how many days that is. Eight thousand!

His point is, that we need to rethink this one-third of our adult lives.  It’s probably not only about grandchildren and senior citizen lunches, though of course, that’s all good.  He asks, “Why don’t we take that one-third and create new stories, new rituals, new mythologies?”

I don’t have an answer for myself exactly, and I certainly don’t have one for you.  But there are so many of us, I think we have to do it: Think about these eight thousand days and what we want them to be.

For Kitty and me it’s now quiet, no footsteps treading up and down the stairs to the work site. Andre is gone, moving on to his next job.  Kitty is having a snack probably thinking a nap is next.  He doesn’t know that our best-neighbor-in-the-world, Clyde, will soon be here to do some handyman jobs.  Kitty and I keep him on the “payroll” because we love his voice and his kindness. What’s next for my thousands of days? I don’t know, but after reading Joseph Coughlin’s words, I know that my thoughts will be there, thinking of his advice, thinking of the many, many days and wonders open to me. And you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Note to Daughters (and Sons): Save a Dress

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Several mornings each week of our winter and spring mornings, I walk out to our woodshed to carry firewood in for the day.  Since Mom’s passing, those cold, early morning treks have been my time to say a few words to her, telling her how much I miss her, how I will never stop missing her. This morning in the first moment when she came to mind, I saw a color, a very bright coral dress.

At the funeral visitation in December, I was surprised to see Joe Niederhofer come through the line. Later when some of us gathered at a local restaurant for pizza, he was there with other friends, all of whom had come back to our hometown to honor Mom. He remembered Mom as a cook at our local elementary school.  I was surprised that anyone would remember that. I told him how much I remember about our mothers together.  His mother was a seamstress, and there was a time in Mom’s life when she evidently could afford to have dresses custom made for her body shape.

It was the sixties.  I think Joe’s mother was probably thinking of Jackie Kennedy.  All of the dresses were the same style, polyester fabric, and Mom only had a few. Short-sleeved shifts with a zipper down the back, hidden, of course.  (I still do a double-take when I see dresses today with zippers brazenly showing down the back—so risqué–when we seamstresses worked so hard to hide them.)  They were bright colors.  Do I remember an aqua?  Oh, I wish I remembered more.  But I do remember that bright coral dress.  And in a family that was at the lower end of the economic scale, these dresses made me believe that my mother was pretty special.

At her funeral there were many people who brought memories back to me. I realized how special she was to so many.  Did I not know that before?  And since that time, back in my own home, far away from my forever-home, I have with a few tears told people how much I miss her.  Every woman I have shared these moments with have told me about their mothers, how much they miss them.  That the feeling of not being able to pick up the phone to call mom never goes away.  That the feeling of loss never goes away.  And one woman at a recent party told me that her mother died when she was a child.  She knows how much she had needed to be nurtured by a mother.  I now see this woman differently, with more compassion.

As I write this essay this morning, I am asking myself, where have I gone with this, what is this about? Sharing?  Letting people in?  Remembrances and the surprise of what others remember?

It started out with a coral dress.  One that I wish I had.  What would I do with it, other than fold it up, put it in my cedar chest and look at it occasionally when I open the lid to get a clean sheet or a blanket.  Maybe that would be enough.

Carrying wood this morning, I thought of another of Mom’s dresses.  When we cleaned out her house readying it for sale, Marsha and I decided we could include her wedding dress, her third wedding, in our Goodwill bundle. Later that became a funny story for me alone and maybe someday I will write it, but I’m at over five hundred words now and that’s enough for this blog. In taking a few minutes to write this morning, I realize I do have these dresses, in my memory forever, a beautiful coral made by a lovely lady in our little hometown.

Finally, a note to my daughter, you don’t really have to save one of my dresses; well, if I had a Jackie one, you probably would.

Love to all of my friends who are reading and especially to all who have shared a bit of their mother-memories with me.

 

 

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