That’s Not What Ships Are For

Standard

While on our road trip with my cousin, Kate for the past two weeks, we had the time and opportunity to talk about many, many things, ranging from the silly to the profound.

Some of our conversations during those days on the road drifted away with the wind, while a few of them hit home with me and gave me cause to think seriously about some things in my life. One of these conversations centered around my feelings about my place in my family.

As the youngest of four children in our family, I felt like I was always being compared to my older siblings. They were smart, made good (and often, great) grades, and set their courses in life – and it seemed to me – with ease and little or no stumbling blocks. I had to study really hard to make good grades, and I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Both of my brothers married their high school sweethearts, to whom they are still happily married after 60+ years. My sister married at the age of 25, and she and her husband will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year. They are all comfortably retired and living in homes that have been paid for and enjoying enviable financial freedom. As the baby of the family, and from my perspective, the black sheep, I look up to them and wonder what happened to me?

I bucked the system, and broke my daddy’s main rule about getting married. He wanted all of his children to have a college education, and desired especially that his daughters would have a career before marriage “to fall back on” should it ever be needed. My sister got a degree in nursing, which made Daddy very happy, especially since my mother was an RN. I, on the other hand, walked down the aisle at age 19. I was a sophomore in college and had no clue as to what I wanted to major in. It seemed sensible to me to get married and worry about college later, but it took some convincing to get my father to bend his rule and give his younger daughter away to my young teacher husband.

To add insult to injury, I got divorced, not once, but twice. Thankfully, my parents only experienced my first marriage failure and understood, even though their hearts were broken. Both died before Husband #2 and I split up in a crash and burn scenario five years ago. It wasn’t pretty, and nothing that my older siblings could ever imagine would happen to me.During those dark days, I often felt like I was a failure as a daughter, as well as a mother to my two sons.

During my first marriage, I was able to get my bachelor’s degree, and then at the age of 45 my Master’s. But I hadn’t achieved the financial success and comfort that I wanted, and after my second marriage fiasco, I found myself homeless for a short period of time, until I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and started all over again.

This is what I was moaning and groaning about with Kate on our trip. I was feeling sorry for myself, that at the age of 69, I am still working even though I love my job. And while I have made giant strides in the financial aspect of my life, I feel that I do not have the reserves I will need as I head toward my retirement years. She gently reminded me that while things are tight for me right now, I have a great potential at my fingertips, unlike my brothers and my sister, whose lives are in the final stretch, and they no longer have goals to reach or accomplishments to pursue. In many ways, my life still stretches out in front of me, with many adventures yet to be had, paths to wander, interesting people to encounter, and stories to write.

With Kate’s wisdom soaking into my brain, I changed my perspective and as Jimmy Buffett sings, I made a change in latitude and in attitude. The world is my oyster, so to speak. I am not pinned down to any one geographical area, and I have a lot of living yet to do.

It was after this conversation that we stopped at a little gift shop in the Amish country of Pennsylvania. A small plaque caught my eye, and I bought it. It spoke to me as a reminder of who I am and what my life should be. I don’t need to compare myself to my brothers and sister. My ship is different from theirs.

My ship is still at sea, where it is supposed to be.

 

 

Advertisements

A Heart-to-Heart Conversation with Facebook

Standard

Facebook, you and I need to have a little talk.

When I signed on to social media in 2008, I did so at the urging of my son-in-law, who told me Facebook was a great way to keep up with my family and friends and to share photos and life experiences with them. It would also be a quick way, he assured me, to check in with my family to know what was going on in their lives and to keep them updated on what was happening in mine.

Facebook, you have let me down. Or rather, people on Facebook have let me down. And I am angry that I can’t visit you now and then to touch base with my family and friends without getting upset. Instead, when I open my Facebook page, I am bombarded with stuff I have no desire to see, hear, or know about.

I’m talking primarily about the recent presidential election. I was for neither candidate, and I felt that we had pretty poor choices for our country’s leadership. But one of them was elected, and I am still – three months later – reading horrible things from both camps about the other. I understand that you are an avenue for people to express their opinions and beliefs, but I don’t understand why I have to read through these in an effort to find the kind of news I want to see. Before you were part of my life, I didn’t know (or care) who won the Golden Globe Award or what the winner’s speech was about. I wasn’t subjected to venomous rantings about people who followed certain political parties (and I am talking about BOTH of them). I wasn’t exposed to the hatred that seems to permeate throughout the postings on your pages.

I have already unfriended some folks that I really care about, because they are using you as their platform for airing their grievances, fears, and anger to the universe. And I am seriously considering saying goodbye to you altogether. I hate to do this, because I truly enjoy keeping in touch with my Facebook friends, looking at photos of children and grandchildren, learning about travel and life events, finding delicious new recipes and neat DIY ideas, and offering up a prayer when someone is hurting or ill. This week I have watched as my son travels cross-country to his new home in California from New York, and I have savored each message and photo that he has posted along his way. I have also celebrated a few birthdays with some dear friends, and have read about life milestones, major decisions, and other bits of personal news that I wouldn’t know about if it weren’t for your presence in my life.

Facebook, I have tried to figure out a way to block messages that I don’t want to look at. As a librarian, I would love to catalog them into neat little boxes, and then have the ability to choose those categories I want to look at. But I don’t have that luxury or choice, beyond your birthday bar on my personal bulletin board. I have to plow through the venom to get to the new grandchild, the family reunion, the latest travel destination, or the graduation celebration.

On a personal basis, I have to admit that I am easily sucked in. I have a hard time scrolling past items that look distasteful to me. I am compelled to give them a quick perusal, almost always ending up with an upset stomach and angrily clicking off of you until I can settle down and breathe normally. This is not my idea of social media. It seems more like anti-social media to me.

I don’t know what to do, Facebook.

I am holding on by a thread and not pulling the plug completely yet, because I know you have many redeeming qualities that I value. But I am not happy with you, Facebook, not one bit. And I’m not sure what to do about it.

For now, I think I will continue to write in my blog and share my collection of days with my Facebook friends. And, yes, I will use you as my portal for sharing what I write. I will also post photos on your pages that I want to save and share.

But I’m going to have to think long and hard about what our relationship is going to be for the future. Facebook, you and I are in serious trouble. I think we need to separate for awhile and give each other some needed space. Whether we split for good will be something to consider down the road. I am hoping our relationship can be salvaged and that we can reconcile our problems. There is so much good in you, and so much potential, I can’t cut the cord quite yet.

Facebook, I have some thinking to do.

It’s Mother’s Day Week

Standard

When I am asked to write down my favorite holiday as an answer to one of those security questions online, Mother’s Day is the holiday I always state as my favorite. I’m not sure why. It’s not festive like Christmas, doesn’t involve a big family gathering like Thanksgiving, or include flag waving, fireworks, and cook-outs like the Fourth of July. Mother’s Day is more reflective for me, bringing nostalgia, gratitude, sadness, loneliness, a touch of grief and mourning, in addition to the celebration of life, making it the day I claim as my favorite of the year.

It is on Mother’s Day that I remember my mother, the most wonderful, gentle, and loving woman I have ever known. I have strived, with not much success, to be as much like her as possible. It’s just not in me sometimes. I remember her confessing to me shortly before she died, “I never said anything bad about anyone, but I have to confess that I thought bad things a few times.” She was right – I can’t remember a time that she said a negative word about anyone! She could always find something positive to say. I assured her that there was nothing wrong with thinking bad thoughts. I would have to admit that bad things about other people have left my lips quite a few times in my life. I strive to be more like her in that way, and in many others. I miss my mom, and on Mother’s Day, I wish that I could talk to her, to tell her how much I love her, and to thank her for the influence she had on my life.

It is also at this time of year that I tend to beat myself up over my own motherhood. I sometimes wonder if I was a good mom to my sons, and if they think about me the way I do of my mother. I’m afraid that they witnessed some of my ragged edges, heard my raised and angry voice, witnessed my tears, and were very much present in my personal failures. They know me better than I knew my mother, as far as personal matters are concerned. My mother shielded me from the harsher realities of her life, seldom letting me have a glimpse of her personal feelings of hurt, disappointment, or failure; I included my sons in many of mine. I love them more than anything in this world, and would give my life for them in a heartbeat. But I can’t help asking myself if I could have done better.

With my sons living far away from me, I don’t have the opportunity to be with them on Mother’s Day very often. Last year they surprised me with a special Mother’s Day week-end in New York City, which was the most wonderful ever! I hold that special time close to my heart whenever I start missing them or wishing I could be closer to them. It isn’t often that we are all in the same place at the same time, so these memories are precious.

This Mother’s Day I will be alone, at least family-wise. But my sons will be together in Las Angeles! I wish I could be there with them, but I can’t. It makes me happy knowing that they will be having fun, catching up, and enjoying their time together. I am also happy knowing that they grew up to be fine men, independent men, and compassionate men. I am proud of their accomplishments, both professionally and personally, and only want the best for them in all aspects of their lives. I place them daily in God’s hands, as I did when they were infants at their baptisms. I picture them in my mind laughing and cutting up, teasing each other, retelling stories of their childhood, and supporting each other in friendship and brotherhood. I wish I could be there to watch them, to listen to them, and to see a bit of myself in them.

And so I approach Mother’s Day, my favorite holiday, with mixed emotions, a good helping of nostalgia, a bit of regret, and tons of memories filled with love.  I think the reason that this holiday is my favorite is because it’s not really about me. It’s about my sons and my mother. Without the boys, I wouldn’t be a mother, and without my mother, I wouldn’t be a daughter.

It’s Mother’s Day, my favorite holiday of the year.

 

IMG_1231IMG_1232

 

They Called It Killer Hill

Standard

It was called “Killer Hill.” But we didn’t know that simple little fact until too late!

It was also our first winter living in Virginia and finding out what a real snowfall really was. Coming from Georgia where the population panics at the prediction of the first snowflake and then calls off everything for two days waiting for the next five flakes, we really didn’t have a clue what a good snow was. We were very excited about winter in our new home and eager to dive into winter activities, primarily sledding.

One of the members of the little country church where David was pastor (I wish I could remember the man’s name), invited us to come over to his house after our first snow, which accumulated to about six inches. He owned a lot of acreage and said there were some good sledding hills on his property. We’d enjoy it, he said.

When we got to his house and unloaded the boys and their new orange molded plastic sled that we had ordered out of the Sears catalog – big enough for two riders, the ad said – he met us in his yard and directed us out back to where the hills were. David was more eager than either Wade or Brian, and he hardly listened to the man’s directions about the best sledding places before he was leading the way, trudging through the snow, looking for the perfect hill. We walked a good distance, up a few small hills and down a valley or two, until he declared he had found the right place for us to have our sledding adventure. We were at the top of a long, steep hill with no trees to block the way until the hill ended in a small grove of either bushes or small trees. We knew nothing about sleds, downhill velocity, or how to stop. It just hadn’t crossed our minds.

By that time, even though they were still excited, Wade and Brian were weary of walking through the snow and climbing hills. They both had on new rubber boots that they were not accustomed to wearing, bundles and bundles of jackets, toboggan hats, scarves, and mittens – loaded down with outerwear! They didn’t offer an objection when David declared that he and I needed to make the first run on the new sled – to make sure it was a good hill for the boys to try. They could watch us, and then have their turn. It was obvious that David, by this time, was more excited in the sled ride than either of our little sons were.

David sat down on the orange rocket, and made room for me to slip in behind him. I wrapped my legs around his middle so that they would not drag the ground, waved to the boys, grabbed hold of David’s shoulders, and was ready to go. No sooner had I settled myself on the sled, when gravity took over and we began our descent down the hill. It wasn’t a smooth ride as I thought it would be, and the increasing speed surprised me. David was ecstatic for an instant, relishing the ride and the speed. Then we hit a rock that was buried just below the snow. The sled, with us in it, launched, flew a very short distance, crashed through the underbrush and landed in a small stream. Thud!

David rolled off of the sled, writhing in pain, while I scrambled to get out of the freezing water. The creek wasn’t big – actually, it wasn’t more than an inch or so deep, but was it ever frigid!

Wade and Brian ran and slid down the hill to see what had happened. David had tears in his eyes, attempting to be brave after landing like a human rock onto the real rocks and cold water. I was ok. The crash had jarred me, but I knew all I would have would be a couple of bruises. Unfortunately, the sled was not ok. It was now split completely in two, from front to back. Wade and Brian were more upset over the broken sled than they were about their beloved parents. Their sledding day was over before it began, and they were not to be consoled. After promising that we would get them a stronger – and safer – sled, they finally calmed down enough for us to gather up their dad and the two halves of the sled, and gingerly limp back to the house.

Our host met us in the yard. He saw the remains of the bright orange sled and David’s noticeable pain in walking. He asked me what had happened. When I described where we had gone and described our downhill thrill ride, he apologized and said,

“I didn’t think you’d go that far back. I should have warned you about ‘Killer Hill.’”

The next day, Sunday, David had to conduct the entire worship service standing up. He had broken his tailbone on Killer Hill, and sitting was not an option. The congregation buzzed with the sharing of the tale, sympathizing with their new minister from Georgia, as the story grew and grew to become bigger than life.

And, instead of buying a new molded plastic sled for the boys, we opted for four wonderful used black inner tubes – one for each of us – that one of the church members generously donated to our cause. After our day on “Killer Hill”, we had many, many wonderful sledding adventures on much safer old inner tubes, with their built-in cushion, and on not-so-perilous hills.

We never went back to “Killer Hill.”

Reunion!

Standard

I was reminded today that all of the days of my life have been important – good ones and bad. Without them, I wouldn’t have been where I was today.

Today was the day of the Hendrick family reunion. My mother was Jennie Hendrick, and she had three sisters and two brothers. One brother, Uncle Dan, did more to keep the family name going than the rest of his siblings. With Aunt Edna, they raised twelve children on a small farm in East Tennessee. The Hendrick name and legacy is alive and well, as I discovered today.

I think there must have been close to 100 cousins, aunts and uncles, children and grandchildren, and brothers and sisters at the reunion today, which was held in Dayton, Tennessee, not far from where Uncle Dan and Aunt Edna raised their family. I saw cousins I haven’t seen since childhood, along with their children and grandchildren, all filling the social hall of the community Baptist Church. Big hugs, lots of tears, more hugs, more tears, an abundance of laughter, story-telling, sharing memories, eating delicious food – that’s what the day was all about.

I was so very happy to be there, and thankful that my path in life led me to this day and to this place. I have been guilty lately of being angry at myself for mistakes I’ve made in life, decisions that proved to be very poor ones, and for sometimes choosing a path that was not the best one for me. But as I looked around me at all of these people who carry some of the same DNA as I do, and who share a common heritage as mine, I thought about some wise words a good friend said to me not long ago.

As I was bemoaning my past and feeling guilty and regretful over past mistakes and for things in my life that didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, he said to me, “You can’t beat yourself up for your past. You are where you are today because of your past, and you are the person you are today because of your past. Don’t dwell on what is behind you. Be thankful for where you are today and for who you have become. You wouldn’t be the person you are if you had not gone through what you did.”

With these very wise words echoing in my head, I opened myself up to my many Hendrick cousins, knowing that, even with the poor choices and mistakes I have made in my life, everything in my past – good and not so good – has led me day by day to this day, teaching me valuable lessons, to the person I am becoming, and to a wonderful day of celebrating family.

Another great day to add to my collection, that’s for sure!

On The Way To Christmas

Standard

It is less than one week away. My little tree is up and decorated, two stockings are hanging from the mantle in the living room (one for Sunshine and one for me), my Christmas cards have been mailed, and the few gifts I have bought are wrapped and adorned with store-bought bows.

I guess I am ready.

But, am I really ready for Christmas? I’d like to think that I am, but in reality I am not. The whole idea of Christmas baffles me more and more every year as I see the holiday come and go, watching and waiting for the big day, and then wondering what it is all about.  It seems to me that the true meaning of Christmas has gotten lost in manger scenes, songs about angels, shepherds, and wise men, sleighs being pulled by flying reindeer, elves on shelves, Christmas parades, jingle bells, twinkling lights, too many sweets within close reach, and of course, Santa Claus.  I read the account of the birth of Jesus in the Bible, and contemplate on how much of it is true, and how much is just a story written to explain to a waiting people that the prophesy of their Messiah had been fulfilled.  I find myself examining Christmas with a great big question mark hovering over my head, without coming up with any really good answers.

I think my biggest “I wonder” is whether anyone really truly understands Christmas. We love the music, the lights, the decorations, the feeling of good will which comes from giving to those who are less fortunate than we are, and the overall magic of the season. It is also a day for families to gather together for a festive meal and to exchange gifts. We think about the baby Jesus for a brief moment, and turn our thoughts to Santa Claus, opening presents, and eating too much delicious food. And for those of us who cannot be with our families for Christmas, the day is nostalgic and laden with memories of past Christmases when we were together. It is a happy-sad day as we bask in the warmth of the love of our families and friends, but also miss with aching hearts those who are not with us to share the day.

Christmas is less than a week away.  The Christ Child will be asleep in the manger, and Santa Claus will magically circle the globe, leaving gifts for children everywhere. The elf on the shelf will have completed his yearly task, and stores will be gearing up for a day of returning gifts and after-Christmas sales.

And little Miss Jennie will still be wondering – Will I ever be ready for Christmas?

Two Years – What a Journey!

Standard

Two years ago, over the Labor Day week-end, I left my safe harbor nest of two months at the home of my friends, Lynne and Terry Mays, and moved into my little in-town apartment in Monroe, Georgia. I couldn’t afford the $500 per month rent, but I was determined it just had to work, and I knew that this was a step I must take. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, I was scared to death, and I feared the future. I was a mess, on a new journey on an untraveled path, but I knew it was a much better one than the one I had been on.

Everything I had in my possession fit into my Honda Civic as I drove away from the Mays’ home. I unloaded the car at my new place, unlocked the door to the apartment, and after a few trips back and forth from car to new home, I was in. I didn’t have much. Almost all of my personal belongings were still at my house in Social Circle that I had left in July. The only furnishings that first night in my new home were a canvas lawn chair and an air mattress. Before I moved in, I had purchased a few necessities- a shower curtain, a small frying pan and spatula, a cheap set of dishes, and a toaster oven. My brother and sister-in-law had given me some sheets, and I borrowed a couple of towels from the kennel where I work. I was ready for my first night in my new home.

I lived this way until later in September, when I was able to go back to my previous home and retrieve some of my things. Even with what I was able to get, the apartment was still pretty bare. I continued sleeping on the air mattress on the floor for another couple of months, when my cousin, Laura, gave me a lovely bedroom suite, and nephew Steve brought it to my new home for me.

Friends and family circled my wagon to support me and to help me furnish my new home, and thanks to some very special ladies from my church, it wasn’t long before I had a pretty adequately stocked kitchen and linen closet. They were wonderful! Somehow, they knew exactly what I needed, and unselfishly gave me more than I would have ever dreamed of getting. Another friend kept me updated on yard sales in the area, and I was able to pick up some very nice additions to my home from things other people were discarding. He also gave me an old sofa that he no longer needed.

Almost a year later, I was back in my former home, going through the last things remaining after an estate sale pretty much emptied the house, and found a few more of my personal treasures. Both happy and sad, I brought them home, where they added to the coziness of my little apartment and made me feel good and bordering on whole again.

As I look at my home today, two years later, I still don’t have a lot of furnishings, and what is here I have dubbed “contemporary divorce.” But my home is filled with family photographs, special books and photograph albums, and other treasures that hold sentimental value to me. It is a warm and welcoming home, and with my little dog, Sunshine, we are a family.

My collection of days over the past two years have included days of fear and uncertainty, loneliness and heartache, and introspection and soul-searching. But as I write this and look back over this time in my life, I see myself in a way I never could before, and I have a sense of contentment and serenity about my life that at one time I doubted could ever exist for me. I continue to live frugally, as my financial situation nudges me to keep me on edge if I let it. But I have regained my sense of purpose, I can feel the raveled edges of my life getting trimmed and smoothed out, and I am adapting to my new life.

I don’t know what my life would be like if I had chosen another path to travel. I only know that the scenery on the one I am now on is very nice, the vistas stretch my imagination and invite creativity, and the quietness that I now experience allows me to have time for meditation and for discovering the spirit of God that surrounds me and nourishes me.

Two years. It seems like a lifetime. In a way, it is.