Figuratively Speaking

Your mind is a garden, your thoughts are the seeds. You can grow flowers or you can grow weeds. I am determined to grow flowers.

We’ve had a really great summer and Fall, a nice long stable stretch. As long as we keep my favorite man’s world predictable, quiet, and with enough projects to keep him busy, he remains happy as a pig in poop.

44284050_10216065718829808_8116275771711946752_nCoffee and candy make him as happy as a kid in a candy store and walks by the ocean keep him happy as a clam at high tide. It takes very little to make his day.

Nap time is most important for him, wrapped like a bug in a rug, he will saw logs for about three hours a day. This gives him enough of a second wind, to stay up until well past my bedtime. He seems to enjoy the quiet time. He thinks it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

He continues to enjoy rewatching the last election from a variety of different networks and is thrilled with the surprise outcome every time. He also follows the local sports teams. He is still quite opinionated, so I say squat when he wants to fill me in about what he watches. Sometimes it takes a month of Sunday’s to get his point across, but if I remain cool as a cucumber when he is wound tighter than a three-day clock, he is happier than a pup with two tails. I remind myself to give eye contact, shut my mouth, nod my head, wait, and listen. That’s all he needs.

imagesMy problem is that I am generally busier than a one-armed paper hanger. I feel like I complete everything by the skin of my teeth and that nothing I do is done up to par. However, I’m learning the value of putting away technology and correcting, giving him my time. Nobody ever lays on their deathbed wishing they spent more time working. My undivided attention makes him happier than a butcher’s dog.

As we prepare for the third snow of the season, we are once again enjoying the pellet stove. Not only does it provide warmth, but it gives him something else to be responsible for. Everyone needs a job, and everyone needs to feel needed. It’s a good thing that he continues to be strong as an ox, and his rotator cuff is allowing him to carry the 40 pound pellets with ease. He really minds the cold, and so the stove is the cat’s meow.

We aren’t quite done winterizing. He still needs to put in the window inserts, the plastic, and the orange stakes out for our neighbors who plow for us. However, he is proud as a peacock that he is still able to do so much to care for our home. God knew that my favorite guy would need plenty of projects.

He can still write, although his handwriting isn’t what it once was and his speech, most of the time, is as plain as day. Sometimes he mixes up words or has a hard time getting his point across, but if we let him “warm up” he will generally make connections.

He putters and is often slower than molasses going uphill, but it makes no difference. There is no fire. Sometimes it is a day or two – and he needs to watch and rewatch YouTube to help him with a project snag, but soon the answer is as plain as day and the snaffoo is working slick as poop through a tin horn.

This year he decided that he didn’t want a vegetable garden or chickens. He has been determined to simplify, which started last summer when our goal was to go through everything we own and thin out. It was a challenge, but he tackled it like a champ, and was happier than a pig in a slop trough when he was able to make more room in the garage.

If he’s having “one of those days” and is meaner than a wet hen, we just remember that there is more than one way to skin a cat. If coffee, candy, and a nap doesn’t do it, we employ the toddler technique. Although our 22 month old granddaughter can run around like a tornado in a trailer park, she can take him from looking like something the cat dragged in, with a personality of a damp dishrag, to a a kid on Christmas morning. Nobody can melt his soul, like his grandbabies.

When the house lacks order and looks like a pig sty, I’m on it like white on rice. We will often clean and straighten together- especially on laundry day, since he has trouble separating the clothes.

If it’s too stimulating, we make like a banana and split, and head off like a herd of turtles to his get-a-way. His mood is never anything that a trip to the coast won’t cure, with a walk and to watch the boats . This makes him as happy as a fox in the hen-house and when he’s happy, I’m happy.

Although poor as church mice because nobody has found that blasted money tree yet, we know that we sow what we reap. Therefore, we want to be transparent, teaching others how to push through life’s challenges. We are not greater than thou. We are just normal humans going through challenges just like everyone else. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, we try to meditate on life as a coffee cup, filled to the brim and enjoyed with friends. My husbands favorite reminder to others is that everybody has a story, we only need to listen and observe.

We miss people. Our world has become very small, but we’ve learned that life is like an elevator on its way up, sometimes we have to stop and let some people off. Instead of dwelling on who isn’t around, we are thankful for those that want to be part of our journey, and show us with their actions and prayers.

Life isn’t all peaches and cream. So, as long as we have air to breath, we will remind our family that, “They (you) are our (my) sunshine”, and when they ask if life’s challenges are over; We’ve hit our max; It’s someone else’s turn, we will tell them to dream on Alice, soon they’ll be in Wonderland.

More than anything we just keep reminding ourselves that love is like the wind, you can’t see it, but you can feel it and when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

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The Biggest Jerk

I used to take life for granted. I said that I didn’t, but I did. Not any longer.

I have been married to my one and only for 31 years, and over time, we have suffered some agonizing times- ones that quite frankly, many could not hang on through. So, what has been the secret?

Faithfulness. I have been absolutely determined to carry through with a promise before God and our closest friends.

On May 23, 1987 we were joined together as one, promising that we would let any ONE or any THING separate us. We were determined to make a lifelong commitment. To be honest, there have many times when I have tried a lot harder than he has. There have been times when I have felt neglected and taken advantage of. Sometimes he hasn’t been very nice, and there have been times when I have felt like a single parent. There was even a time when I considered asking him to find somewhere else to stay. However, I was stubborn and determined not to give up on what God ordained. I knew that my husband was facing some difficult physical and psychological challenges, and that it was my duty to be his number one support system: to lift him up when he didn’t feel strong enough to lift himself up. I made it my mission to pray him through each day and to encourage him even when I was angry, frustrated, and disappointed.

I figured that if he wasn’t going to take care of himself on his own, I was going to help. One of the first things I did was to take over his medications. In his state of mind, he often didn’t know what day it was, and either forgot to take his meds or accidentally took them two or three times in a day. I started by encouraging him to eat more balanced meals, and drink less soda and coffee. I encouraged exercise by walking with him. Since he wasn’t reading his bible or attending church regularly, I upped the ante for myself and made it my mission to stay prayed up for the both of us. During our quiet walks, with nothing else to interrupt us, I shared what I was learning and what was on my heart. When he didn’t talk, I talked enough for the both of us.

Shockingly, what happened was that MY attitude started changing. What was once meant for HIS benefit, began to benefit ME. I wrote him encouraging notes and left them in his lunch bag. I met him for lunch during my time off, determined to shut my mouth and be a better listener. Gradually, I started to see a change in him, because I was so determined to pour myself and my time into him. I loved on him even when I got nothing in return. I made his favorite meals, watched his favorite movies, and listened to his favorite music. I involved him in decision-making for the children and family finances.

We sought counseling that sometimes made our situation worse. It brought up painful topics that had been suppressed for a long time. If he slipped back into bad practices, it was often with others from his support group. The situation did not repair itself quickly, and I would push through the discouragement, and up my game or continue making my husband’s health and our union my top priority. I was determined not to allow Satan any more opportunities to break down our marriage and our family.

I prayed over and anointed the windows and door jams in my house. We burned and prayed over materials from the Masons. I monitored music, movies, phone, and internet that came into our home closely. I regularly prayed over my sleeping husband and my babies.

Most importantly, I took care of ME, because I was determined to stay as healthy as I possibly could, so that I could take extra care of HIM. I walked, watched what I ate, read the Word, looked for encouragement and wisdom from friends and family, and I lived in secret Hell while I remained focused and faithful to my husband.

Just when things began to get better, our family took more hits. Satan continued to take his best shots. We dealt with deaths, rebellious teenagers, financial hardships, the loss of two jobs, and the challenge of a terminal illness that will eventually take my one and only.

Through it all, I continued to take my marriage vows seriously. I never left him. In my heart of hearts, I could not give up on him because I feared that he would then give up on himself and I couldn’t bear that. I knew that I was his lifeline and I was determined to reconstruct our family on a foundation of faith.

I believe with everything I have, that God will reward me for my faithfulness during a time when I had every reason to walk away. As I look at where we are now, I would not be the person that I am today had I done the easy thing. Instead, I remained faithful to my promises, and am so glad to say that I love my husband today more than ever.  The strange thing is that the tough times made my commitment even stronger.

Dementia may take my husband, but it has also provided me with the opportunity to show my faithfulness and not simply “talk the talk”. The disease that was meant for destruction, has taken my faith to a whole new level and I am a living testimony to all who watch.

My advice: don’t give up when the going get’s tough. Take it as an opportunity to practice “walking the walk” and show God, your family, and friends that you mean what you say. Practice what you preach when life seems impossible and there doesn’t seem to be a way out. It’s easy to be joy-filled when all is going well, but how about when the heat is turned up and you are dealing with great loss and destruction?

So what do you do in the meantime? Participate in intense practice sessions, because no one is exempt from the great manure pile of life. If you are lucky enough to be going through a time of smooth sailing, thank your lucky stars, because you will have your turn for turmoil. Get and stay healthy mind, spirit, and soul. Generate a list of reasons why you love your one and only, so that when the time comes, you can refer to it. Build a list of things that you enjoy doing and eating, because you will need to find your joy without becoming unhealthy when your loved one is. Surround yourself with a group of good friends who you are like, or who you want to be like. Determine yourself to be joy-filled and healthy, because you are the only one you have control over.

More than anything: don’t give up. It’s what Satan wants. Don’t let him find even a crack. He is a liar and a jerk and there is nothing that brings him more pleasure than to destroy marriages and families.

 

 

 

Teacher Appreciation Day

images-1This week will mark my 28th Teacher Appreciation Day. Like my birthday, I always come into the day with some hopeful expectations: children bounding into the classroom with chocolates, flowers and homemade cards that explicitly pronounce their great appreciation for teaching, guiding and molding their young minds. They will reminisce about the wonderful units and experiments we have enjoyed together and promise to never forget the contributions that I have made toward their education and futures. The entire classroom will smile angelically and do all that is asked with delight. As a result, their performance on the local, state, and national assessments will show great growth, which was naturally a result of my phenomenal teaching ability. (Can you hear the angel choir and see my halo?)

In all seriousness, I do take this time of year to self reflect and think about MY experiences as a student. I honestly remember very little of my early years, which makes me realize that my little people will most likely not remember me either. I have come to terms with the fact that I work quietly behind the scenes of their education to set seeds and hopefully create a yearning to learn.

I started out in a preschool that felt huge to me. I don’t think it exists any more. I remember singing “Happy Birthday”, coloring pictures that matched the letters of the day, and saluting the flag in a big meeting room. Mostly, I remember my mother making me take a nap after lunch when I got home, and trying to fool her into thinking that I had slept, when I hadn’t.

I’m dating myself, but in Kindergarten, I went to school in a two-room schoolhouse, that is used today as an Administrative Building. The school was built in 1914. About the only thing I remember is the wooden floors. This is a picture I found online. ek_sweetser-500x374

In the second grade, my school was blown up in the evening by some punk kids. As a result, classrooms were farmed all around the surrounding areas. Classes went to the fire house, lodges, and churches while they rebuilt the school. The only additional thing I remember from that time was that I got to be the “Partridge in a Pear Tree” during our concert, because I sang (screamed) the loudest during our rehearsals.

I’m sorry to say that I don’t remember my Pre-K to 2 teachers. However, I have no doubt that they set seeds that made a huge impact on my later decision to become an educator.

In Grade 3 I had Mr. McGovern and he was the bees knees. As I recall, he was handsome and single, and could give a lot of attention to our busy class. He taught us to tie ribbons for wreathes as a fundraiser for a trip to the Boston Museum of Arts. I remember singing the songs that were on the radio during music class, and we loved that. (“The ink is black, the page is white…”) It was during a time when the teachers were expected to instruct art, PE, music. I’ll never forget the day that we went to the museum. I had on a pair of overalls, and I had purchased a glass horse as a souvenir. When I boarded the bus, the horse fell out my pocket and broke. I was devastated. As a result, Mr. McGovern held the bus, ran in, and bought me another one. To this day, that kind gesture makes my heart smile.

We respected Mr. McGovern and he had NO behavior problems, except for one day… Gordon was acting badly and he got a spanking with a wooden paddle in front of the whole class. He grabbed his back side and rolled around on the floor howling, and that was enough for the rest of us. I smile when I think of our own painted handprints that he had us place on the wall on the first day of school. In case of a spanking, we were to place our hands on our own set of prints and bend over. The intimidation tactic worked, and you couldn’t have asked for a better behaved group of 8 & 9 year olds.

To Mr. McGovern, thank you. You made a huge positive impact on my life and I will be forever grateful.

In the Fourth Grade, I had a beautiful young teacher from Peru with long black shiny hair. She was homesick so her parents would send her care packages that included items indicative of the area. We couldn’t wait to see every new doll or artifact that was mailed. As a result, we studied the culture throughout the year and my teacher had a taste of home all around the classroom. Mrs. Johnson recognized my interest in math and allowed me to work ahead of the class, in the grade 5 math workbook with one other student. I remember being motivated and driven, and I loved learning. A big thank you to Mrs. Johnson, who, like Mr. McGovern, made learning fun and encouraged me to excel in the things that interested me.

Grade 5 was a bit of a blur. I remember FINALLY being placed in the same class as my cousin. We talked constantly, and he couldn’t have placed us further away from one another in the room if he tried. I remember really, really wanting to be selected as  Student of the Month, and finally being honored with it in March, just before moving to the farm.

On March 10, 1977, we moved 2-hours north, away from the suburbs of Portland, to a VERY rural area. For the first time in my life, I had to learn to play with just my siblings, because we no longer had a plethora of neighbors from which to play with. The latest styles had not yet made it to the area and I stood out like a sore thumb. I remember rocking my polyester plaid pantsuit on the first day of school and having the kids stare at me. Routines and friendship groups were established and I was absolutely left out and lost. I cried for two straight weeks. I was so homesick. My teacher finally pulled me aside and asked, “What is the matter?” and I poured out my soul. It was then that I became the “Teacher’s Pet” and Mr. Constable’s right hand girl. He made my heart so full, as he asked me to correct and pass out papers. It was then that I decided that I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be just like Mr. C.

Ironically, I did go to school to become a teacher and I did my Student Teaching in Mr. Constable’s fifth grade classroom, the very room that I had been in so many years before. It was in that very classroom at 11 years of age, that I made the decision to act as a public servant and shape lives, just as he, Mrs. Johnson, and Mr. McGovern had done in the 3rd and 4th grades.

I had many more teachers that I admired as I continued throughout my school career. They helped to mold me and shape me into the teacher I am today. Some showed me what I DIDN’T want to be like, and that was important too. So, on this 28th Teacher Appreciation Day, I want to publicly thank those who played an active role in helping to guide, shape, and train me to be the educational professional I am today. Your tireless dedication and devotion to your students has not been unnoticed and I am so grateful for the impact that you made on my life and the lives of others. May there be a special blessing awaiting you in Heaven for your dedication and service.

So this week, as I anticipate the showering of gifts, food, and thoughtful notes, may I remember that whether the children remember me in the years to come, or not, I am setting a seed and playing an immeasurable role in molding and shaping young minds. It is an act of service that is taken seriously, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

To others: I urge you to take the time to thank a teacher. Every card, clothing item with the school emblem, cup, and pen are saved and cherished. Food, flowers, gift cards for coffee, and treats make their day and give them the courage to keep moving forward, doing what they love, even on the tricky days. To my teachers: Thank You. To my parents: Thank You. To my colleagues: Thank you. To my children’s teachers: Thank you. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed.

Happy National Teacher Appreciation Day!  images

 

 

 

The First Time Again

It’s been 5 years since the dementia diagnosis and at this time, he is doing amazingly well. He has shown regression, but it is slow and mostly unrecognizable to the ones he sees regularly. We thank God every day that he is mobile and still has his language skills. He is mostly happy as long as we keep him on a schedule and don’t ask too much of him all at once. We generally learn by failure, since even the best laid plans don’t cooperate with dementia.

Over the past few days, he has crossed paths with people he has known for a very long time, but clearly didn’t recognize. One was his cousin and one was a coworker that he worked with for 17 years.

This is the best advice that I can give anyone who bumps into us:

  1. Introduce yourself. It feels funny to you, but it takes a whole lot of pressure off him. Then, don’t ask him questions. Just tell him about yourself and how you know him. When you hug him or shake his hand, bells and whistles are going off in his head, “Yikes! This person knows me and I don’t know him!” Take the pressure off, by just talking about how you know him and share YOUR memories. Often times, if you keep talking, he will make a connection. Sometimes it is after you walk away.
  2. My husband often talks about past coworkers, friends, or family, but doesn’t recognize them when he sees them. From what I have read, it is because he is looking for a younger you. For example, in the end, he may not recognize my brother, but will recognize his son and call him my brother’s name. My grandmother used to do that with my father and brother.
  3. Don’t correct him. Just go with it. When dementia patients are corrected, it shakes them up and they will stop talking and begin to stutter, stare, shake, or rock. Don’t be alarmed if this happens. It is how they self stimulate and it is a calming technique.
  4. Stick to conversations that you know they can respond to. Think about what you know they like to do. For my husband, safe subjects that he can always contribute to are: walking by the water, gardening, mowing, chickens, baking, coffee, and the baby. These are things that are on his mind and in his bubble constantly.
  5. He is the same old guy. The same things that bothered him before, bother him now. The same things that brought him joy before, bring him joy now. It’s just heightened, and he’s quirkier, but he’s the same old guy.
  6. Too much stimulation and not enough breaks are a deadly combination that isn’t going to end well so we stick pretty closely to a schedule.
  7. He rarely hears from or sees people and it hurts his feelings. He feels forgotton. People really need to come to see him. Since home is his safe place, they need to come when he isn’t napping and not stay long because he tires quickly.
  8. Sleep is very important because his brain has to work so much harder than the average brain to do regular things. It exhausts him, so calling ahead and giving us a chance to prep him for your arrival will set him up for a successful visit with you. His clearest time are between 10:00 am -noon and after 4:00 pm.

So, if you have the pleasure of spending time with someone with dementia, the most important thing to remember is that you are most likely meeting for the first time again. Introduce yourself, tell him about yourself and the connection you have with him, and enjoy. You will be blessed.

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A Day To Remember

“I don’t think about my parents much anymore. I don’t really remember them.” So naturally, we went on a field trip to the old stomping ground…30714670_10214765476844571_7505032437215264768_n.jpg

Any good day involves plenty of coffee, so we started out on the right foot, before traveling through the back roads toward his home town. I told him what I remembered and talked about who lived where. He perked up, and the memories began to leak in.

First stop: to the cemetery to visit his mother and father. As we walked toward their stone, we walked past others with names he recognized, although he was surprised that they had passed within the past few years. He complained about the lichen on the headstones and the cold weather, but the memories remained few.

Next stop: the old homestead. We stopped at his mother’s old shop. He recalled his parent’s making the sign, and helping to build the structure. She sold lightly used clothes and treasures that his parents found at yard sales. She loved that old building and it gave her such joy to recycle, reuse items, and to re-home them.

The memories started to resurface one glance at a time. We looked down the road to the right and he recalled a neighbor that he loved. She worked as a sheriff and buzzed around the area on her 4-wheeler. He was surprised at how close the bridge looked, and how the area where he waited for the bus, looked smaller than he recalled. He talked about the grass triangle that he used to mow, and the trees that had been cut between the old homestead and the cemetery.

We drove onto the property that was once owned by his parents and stopped by the house. The new owners continue to use the pole barn that was once used to house animals, and is now used for storage. Now the house has a full porch, and the new owners have clearly insulated and turned the right side into living space. My husband recalled that the basement was once used for wood storage, the first floor contained an old 2-hole outhouse, and the upstairs held a pool table. The upstairs window over the porch was his old bedroom window. The old house jogged stubborn memories and the stories began to flow.

We drove on. We looked at the fields where the family hayed, and an old cement foundation where an old building once stood. We glanced at the tiny pond that once provided hours of entertainment during the long winters, and the hill where the kids would go sliding. He was surprised at how tiny the hill looked, yet it felt so big when he played on it as a child. He talked about walking through the dirt road to his grandfather’s house, while taking a picture of the brook that ran along the boundary line. He recalled cutting wood out back, and long hours of haying.

30713990_10214765479364634_3320257028319870976_nThe trip to the homestead was the best way to start the day. He talked about his siblings, his parents, and days gone by. It made my heart happy to assist him in remembering his family and the good times. He recalled the fact that they had little, but didn’t know it. He was proud to share about picking berries, being frightened by a bear, and enjoying the benefits of homemade jam on toast and his mother’s good cooking.

We continued our field trip past the dump and he recalled hours of dump picking and finding precious treasures. He said that the siblings would go together and how upset one would get if left behind. As we continued up the road, he named off who lived where, some long passed gone, making note of how the area had changed over the years.

We parked at the foot of the driveway of the home where his parents moved to after he joined the Navy. He talked about how it didn’t look like it did when his father tended it and how it needed a slap of paint. It was never his home, but it was theirs for about 24 years.

We continued to drive through the back roads of his old stomping ground, recalling fields that the family hayed, and a hot date we had while driving freshly baled hay home long after sundown.

It was a good day that continued with more coffee, meandering through local stores, and a lunch date with friends. I brought him home tired and without a nap, but happy. Today he visited with all 5 siblings and his parents, and although he may not recognize them or remember them tomorrow, he did today, and today was good.

Live.Laugh.Love.

This has been a sorrow-filled week. People that I care about very much have been in pain for good reason. It has been difficult to find JOY through suffering. I’ve been trying to figure out how to be an encouragement as I fight with my own inner feelings, which has left me thinking about people in my life who have risen above very challenging circumstances. What did they do? How can I learn from them?

My mother’s mother is one of the first people in my memory, who persevered through devastating circumstances. As a young child, she would tell me stories of living through multiple house fires, one time running to the neighbor’s house after losing a shoe in the snow. The most traumatic tale was when my mother and her family endured the wrath of the ’47 Fires. My mother tells of the wildfire that they watched from afar, trying to figure out which side of the road it would come. Once they realized that the fire was headed for their home, store, and lumber mill, a decision had to be made as to which building would be saved. They chose the mill since it was their biggest source of income for the family. The girls were sent into their home to pick one thing, and they teased my aunt unmercifully because she chose a book on etiquette. Neighbors and friends pulled up to the house and loaded household items such as bikes and the treasured piano, but some items were never returned. As a result, my grandmother had a nervous breakdown. The horror of watching the fire was just too much, and as a result, she spent some time recovering in the local mental hospital. My grandfather made light of it for the sake of the girls and my mother recalls that they even laughed about it. From the stories, he was a man we will thoroughly enjoy meeting in Heaven. He had a great sense of humor and loved to hear his girls giggle. My grandfather died while Mom, the baby of four girls, was in college. He was an unhealthy baby who grew up to be an adult with a weak heart. Yet, my grandmother persevered. She mourned the loss of her true love, but she lived on. My grandmother’s famous words were, “I’ve got —- years to live, and I’m going to live them!” … and she did. My grandmother passed away with Alzheimer’s while I was pregnant with my first-born and I miss her to this day.

I come from a long line of strong independent women on my mother’s side. Most were teacher’s by trade, with a gift of caregiving. They pushed through hard, long, days, where they felt unappreciated, and lonely. Caregiving is a lonely calling, and those in the daily trenches give up their own needs and desires to care for others who are generally unappreciative. I noticed. I noticed then, and I recall it now. They didn’t know it at the time, but they were grooming me for what was to come.

My father’s mother was equally as strong. She and my grandfather started a little farm and raised 5 children during WWII and the Depression. They weren’t as fortunate as my mother’s family, who owned a convenience store and were able to eat expired meat that had been pulled from the shelf. It was either feast or famine in my father’s world. My grandmother would recount dumpster picking, and peeling the rot off the outside of vegetables to feed the family. The most traumatic time of my father’s life, was the early death of my uncle. As the story goes, he fell off a horse, and was later diagnosed with cancer. My grandparents would load up the family, and take them all to Boston in the back of the pick-up for appointments for my brilliant uncle, who had an unusual spiritual connection to God. He lost the battle and died in the arms of my grandmother at the family homestead, and my grandfather cursed God for the remainder of his days. When my mother was pregnant with me, my father found my grandfather on the floor still holding the mail. My grandmother had taken a trip north to spend some time with my aunt and her young family, and he had a heart attack while she was away. She never forgave herself for not being there in his final moments. My grandmother was a tough old bird though, and she continued to thrive by pouring her heart into her church ministry (sending lightly used clothes to countries in need), and babysitting for local families. She lived to a ripe old age, despite being diagnosed with Dementia and losing much of her eyesight. She was a special lady and I miss her very much.

What can I learn from these brilliant and strong women, of whom similar blood runs through my veins? They were women of great faith. They had a strong family commitment beyond their own needs and desires. They were teachers, and hard workers who never gave up no matter how hard life got. They were kind-hearted, had great character, and did the right thing even when nobody was looking. They were responsible citizens who voted, were dedicated to being life long learners, and enjoyed every great gift the Lord provided. They had beautiful homes and properties that they cared about very much. They took care of their possessions and cultivated their passions. They invested themselves into the lives of the next generation and took the time to teach and to guide.

There were times when these strong women could have given up. They had every reason to walk away, but they didn’t. They made a commitment. They made a promise. They planned, they regrouped, and planned again. They clung to their faith, their family, and their friends. They knew that this life here on earth was just temporary and that there is a much greater life yet to come. They ate ice cream and popcorn because it made them happy. They read for pleasure, and to enhance their knowledge. They worked the land, and didn’t resist the opportunity to snitch a fresh vegetable or piece of fruit from a plant that they had cultivated. They canned, froze, and raised what they could. They were thrifty and wise with their spending. They sat in their bathrobes and watched the birds. They knitted, and sewed homemade items for holiday’s and thought of us the entire time. Together, we visited the Farmer’s Market and the local Fair, and they even filled our pockets with candy when our parents weren’t looking.

They lived. They laughed. They loved.

…and I will too.

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In 1980-Something

I’ve been thinking about the 1980’s lately. It certainly was a time when life was much easier for me. I didn’t think so then, but looking back, I can’t help but reminisce. My life revolved around High School, playing field hockey, music concerts, and chores. We grew up on a dairy farm, so a large portion of our lives included milking, feeding, and cleaning animal waste.

I still remember facing a huge pile of calf manure on my 16th birthday because my parents forgot about my special day. I was on vacation and the barn needed to be cleaned. I never had a childhood birthday party that was more than my immediate family. The closest I had, was when my brother and I shared a birthday party in July because my mother felt that my birthday, 3 days after Christmas, wasn’t fair.

I was bombarded with homework, often way over my head. My parents placed me in the most difficult classes in order to adequately prepare me for college. Most of my classmates were way more intelligent than I, and I have to admit that there were times when they carried me through courses. I thought Chemistry and Calculus were going to legitimately kill me.

I looked forward to Youth Group, although memorizing scripture was painful. The leader was my cousin, who was a Nazi in disguise. He lived with us, so I would practice my verses by yelling up over the stairs. If I nailed it, he would congratulate me, and insist that I say them again at church. To this day, I stink at memorization, but for the record, I did earn a monographed bible for my efforts, which I earned fair and square. We counted the days between Youth Group social activities, which were often bowling or roller skating. Our job was to keep my cousin awake all the way home. Don’t tel my parents!

We weren’t allowed to go many places, other than school. However, we did look forward to marching in parades, and swimming at the local swimming hole. My siblings and I would try desperately to stand on an overturned canoe, while my parents watched from the shoreline. Afterward, we would lie in the back of the pickup bed, curled up in blankets, and our parents would take us for ice cream. We generally had three choices for flavors, but if Dad wasn’t with us, Mom would allow us to order a Twist. That was a real treat.

We went through a period of time, where we took Sunday trips to McDonald’s for a fish sandwich. I remember my brother ordered a Big Mac, so that we could sing the song to the person taking the order. I can still sing it word for word. We would often have very in-depth and philosophical conversations during these trips, which would sometimes get quite heated and result in tears.

I remember being frustrated because my parents kept us on such a tight rope. However, they always made sure to support our love for music and encouraged us to attend summer camp. They pushed us academically, and always felt that good manual labor could solve a multitude of behavioral issues. We went to bed early after reading every single night, and our mother would sing at the foot of the stairs to get us up before school to do our chores. At breakfast, each one of us were met with a list of things that needed to be done on weekends and vacations.

We had barn clothes and school clothes, fetched milk from the bulk tank, and our mother smelled our clothes and our hair before we were allowed to go into public. We were clean, neat, well fed, supported, and trained from a very young age to value a good hard day’s work. To this day, I struggle with feeling that I need to be productive at all times.

I was convinced that my life was as difficult as it could get. My parents made us watch The Lawrence Welk Show and Hee Haw, while banning Fantasy Island, because it was on too late and Emergency 911 because it gave me nightmares. They made me share a room with my sister until we moved to the farm, and forced my brother and I to help her to clean her room. It was a huge undertaking.

However, the best part of my childhood was when I met my future husband in 1983. We met during the summer, and went on our first date to a school dance. I picked him up, because I had my driver’s license first. I drove my parent’s tiny Volkswagen diesel truck. He smelled of Avon’s Wild Country Cologne with a hint of cedar from the shavings they used to bed the cows. He looked adorable in his brown corduroy jacket. He held my door, asked to hold my hand, and the rest is history.

Soon, my husband will return to his childhood. The dementia will take him there. My prayer is that he will recognize me with my freshly permed hair, pink Izod knit short-sleeved shirt, and a huge smile on my face. More than anything, I want to be there waiting when he goes back to the beginning. I want to be waiting for him in 1980-something.

 

 

“I wouldn’t trade those days for nothin’
It was 1980-something.” Mark Willis