Saturday, April 5, 2014

Losing Things in My Old Age

Wow! It took re-installing AOL to get back to my blog, but it is worth the slower computing time if I am going to slowly--or not so slowly--forget how to get into things. Now I can write down my sign in and password in my little white book so it won't get lost.

Memories, whether good, bad, or warped by age or perspective, are worth keeping around. We seem to learn more when we have some kind of associations with our past or with some kind of past. For instance, I think back now on the trip to Scotland, London, and Paris that Jennifer Ostand and I took in March. The best memories are of her delight in seeing some of the things she has always wanted to see. If we missed some experiences for whatever reason, we still were able to enjoy one another's company. That alone was worth the entire trip.

Eventually I will write down some of the impressions I had of Edinburgh, the Highlands, the castles, churches, graveyards, museums, and the people we met. Paris, not surprisingly, was another story altogether! Why I was surprised by the size and quality of life there is probably caused by my lack of understanding how the French look at their homeland.

If one thing stood out about our trip more than any other, it is SIZE. Living in Texas, we drove home from DFW airport on freeways that were spread out among green belts of fields, livestock, housing projects, large or small homes, and just acres of room. In our travels we saw nothing that was not nailed down or fenced in or otherwise restricted in size or permanence. Of course, things in Europe have a history. The buildings have been there for centuries. The only thing America has by comparison are the Spanish missions. Ours in a young country. I cannot really ever imagine NOT needing wheels to get from one place to another in our state. Even last year when I went to the East Coast and enjoyed the history of Williamsburg and Jamestown, nothing was all that restricted by borders of encroaching civilization. America is just big in the most immense sense. I think her heart is similar. Maybe our hearts have developed along with our expansion of borders, but whatever the reason, our country has not become a narrow strip of scenery and history. We are still learning how to develop our corner of the world.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Our Grandmother Pollard

Our Grandmother Pollard

My children grew up thinking that there was only one GREAT grandmother in their lives: Grandmother Pollard. Oh, there was at least two grandmothers they knew and three great-great grandmothers that they had met, but Grandmother Pollard was always the only person they knew who was just called Grandmother. She loved the title and our niece and nephew and even my sister-in-law called her Grandmother. She was happy to be a grandmother to just about anyone who needed one.

Everyone NEEDS a grandmother. Mine just happened to be the best in Clay County, Texas. I knew she was the best around partly because Granddad Pollard loved her so much. Whenever he needed her to go chase sheep or otherwise do something a little odd, she was willing to try. I never saw her drive a tractor, but I can imagine that she would have tried if Granddad had asked her to. But my memory of her pretty much claims her spot in the kitchen and in the garden or even in the cellar during storms. Back before the old farm house had indoor plumbing, Grandmother would fill up an old number 10 washtub and have me take a bath on Saturday night before we were to go to church the next day. She taught a class of young kids my age at the Methodist Church. She always seemed to have something special to keep them coming back to class. If nothing else, she bragged on them for knowing scriptures that she had asked them to read.

When I was a child, all birthday parties that I ever had were organized by Grandmother Pollard. She also saw to it that my brother and I had a new Easter “outfit” for that Sunday, as well. My mom did not approve of shorts, so Grandmother Pollard had GRANDDAD take me to Alcorn’s in Henrietta to buy my first short set—a sailor suit that had shorts. I actually got to wear it since Granddad had bought it for me. Grandmother knew how to get around my mother and her ideas of what was acceptable for little girls.

Grandmother also liked to organize groups of women so that they could enjoy each other and learn something at the same time. She had book clubs, Home Demonstration club, the Methodist Ladies’ club, and assorted community clubs that met in her home or in the homes of one of her friends. She got Granddad to organize the local Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association so that those in Clay County who had sheep could combine forces to hire shearers each year and find better breeding stock as well as find better markets for their wool. My grandparents also provided lambs for the young teens that needed projects for their FFA or 4H animals.

Grandmother always seemed to know what was needed in our community and found ways of filling the need. One year she had me going with her from house to house as we raised money for the March of Dimes. She said that she never worried about going up to someone’s porch with me because I seemed to know every dog in town! A year or so later she took me with her while she volunteered for the Red Cross in Wichita Falls. Back then they still used bottles for blood donations. We did not donate any blood, but we certainly got the bottles ready.

Grandmother Pollard thought my husband was a grand guy and wanted to be sure that I fed him well and kept him happy. She told me that a man who provided for his family, who did not drink or leave us at home alone, and who played with his children was worth every effort to keep happy. When we needed her to come and stay with our two children when the last baby was born, she was so excited that she packed without putting any underwear in her suitcase. To this day, all of the family laugh and tell each other to be sure and not to pull a Grandmother Pollard when we pack our suitcases!

Finally, when I think how freely she loved all of us and how she made us all feel so special as individuals, I know why I have tried to be like her when I hold my grandchildren. I want them to know that I will always love them—just as she always loved me.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Reckoning the Ages

Reckoning the Ages

In my bookcase are two volumes titled The NEW Century Dictionary. The first copyright date is 1927 and the last is 1944. One would assume that each edition might have included new words that came into being from the first copyright date. Be that as it may, I suspect that those who published these books might have used words quite unlike those used today. Certainly, the authors would find the speech and vocabulary of today quite confusing. It would not be enough to say that the word gay no longer means happy. No, those writers of 1944 would find that new words exist and continue to appear with increasing regularity.

While our language is only a small measure of the changes in our world, the relationships we have had in the past in our families have faced changes that seem just as startling to me. When I became a grandparent, I suddenly remembered my own with a particular and poignant vividness. Oh, how I miss their simplicity and their love! I can only hope that my grandchildren can enjoy being grandchildren as much as we did in our day.

All of my grandparents were born in the early 1900s, and my in-laws and my own parents were born from 1910 to 1928. So their childhoods and upbringing were quite current with that two-volume dictionary. In fact, my grandparents,my parents, and in-laws saw World War II as well as the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Living through those days left an indelible impression upon all of my family. But that impression has only faded to the extent that my memory has lapsed because I still remember the stories and the admonitions to make do with what we had and not waste whatever we used.

My paternal grandmother taught me how to embroider and to make a cake using apple butter or jams from the cellar. Sugar was rationed during the time she was cooking most of her meals on the farm, and she had to make do with whatever she had to sweeten a special cake for her family. She also embroidered simple designs on all of her pillow cases so that anyone staying the night with the family thought that “Mrs. Astor” had no better place to sleep. She served cake, made a lovely bed, and fed her guests from her garden. She was not a pioneer woman, but her mother before her was the epitome of pioneer. Grandmother learned from one of the best. Great-grandmother used her husband’s tobacco sacks to piece together quilt tops that were made from leftover scraps of flour sacks. When she wasn’t having babies, she cared for the pigs and chickens and milked a cow. She churned her own butter and made pound cakes with real pounds of ingredients. And when she was not feeding the hired hands or relatives, she took off on her horse and delivered babies as a midwife.

The men in our family were good providers; the women made what they provided work to the last inch of usefulness. When I think about the examples set by my grandmothers, I realize that I am as different from them as the old dictionary is to the language of this day. We still serve our children and grandchildren and do our best to lead by example, but our world is changing so very quickly that the children may never understand what it means to grow their own food or sew their own clothes or even to provide a restful place for their families. My grandparents did these things as a matter of course—by default of the times in which they lived. Today I try to adapt my commitments to the grandchildren in much the same way as my grandparents adapted to their world—one word, on love at a time.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Rose Moss Bed

This past Saturday I worked on the yard, planting flowers and a few tomato and pepper plants. The daffy-dorks, as Hanan calls them, have just about finished doing all they can do for one spring. The pretty yellow bells have rung until they are wilted and ready to be cut back a bit. The green leaves will look fine until it is time to dig them out of the ground and store the bulbs. And the dahlias have shot up some strange looking stems under the cedar tree where the sunshine hits them every morning. But one area was still waiting for the weather to change a few degrees warmer. In that area was where I planned to plant rose moss--and Lewis' ashes.

Lewis once said that he regretted that he had lived his entire life on this old hill. He grew up here and then stayed after we married. We never lived any other place; and he died right here in his bedroom. And now what little remains after cremation is stirred into the soil to be mingled with the rose moss seeds. He loved my  flower beds out in front of the house under the cedar tree, so if he has to stay here, at least it will be in a pretty bed of moss. If it should work out that this place is still in the family when I die, maybe the children will let my ashes mingle with his in the same flower bed. We made beautiful memories together. Maybe we could be the foundation for something else beautiful as well.

Monday, December 24, 2012

AS IF...and Then

AS IF…and Then

Nothing quite hits a person between the eyes the way a loss does. I suppose it does not have to be the loss of a person that one loves—it could be the loss of a job, a silly thing, some ideal, or just about anything that we cherish. But in my case, this has been the loss of my husband. Someone said that the loss of our mate leaves a hole shaped like that person, and truly, I believe it because a huge part of what I consider to be “me” has disappeared. The hole shaped like Lewis is large and the edges of the hole are still pretty raw. Eventually the edges may not be as painful, but until then, I am just having trouble with the “as ifs” in my life.

I have to act—or at least I try to act—as if anything matters. But nothing except the children, a few friends, a random stranger or two—these are the only ones that matter. And I have trouble even making myself want to be around anyone. Yet I am still as lonesome as the last flycatcher heading south. I try to make myself find something to do each day. The cat gets me up every morning—whether or not I want to does not matter to him. The dog follows me from room to room as if to be sure that I don’t need something he can do for me. I wonder about that.  My friend Nan says that he senses my moods and knows that I need something. Maybe that is true. I still try, but I catch myself thinking: as if it matters!

I have lost two jobs in my lifetime. We lost a two-day old baby daughter, and then we had a miscarriage. Lewis lost his job—he called it being fired, and I guess it was, but basically the company finished out its agreement with Darr Equipment and let all the older men like Lewis go the day the agreement ended. He suffered terribly for a long time because of the way that they let him go and the fact that it was not his choice to leave. I hurt for him, but I had to keep telling him that it was probably for the best. These losses all hurt, but it seemed we held on to each other and had hugs, reassurances, and whatever we needed just because we loved each other. It is not the same now; he is not here to hold me when I cry.

He didn’t tell me not to cry. And danged if I don’t do a pretty good job of it once in a while. He came to our daughter in a dream and told her that I would be ok. I think he felt that way before he died. He seemed reassured for some reason when he found out that I would still be working with students as an editor and tutor. It wasn’t like I needed to go to work, but teaching keeps me from just sitting down and holding my hands like some little old lady. But keeping busy or reading, playing on the computer, or whatever I do toward keeping the house clean and orderly does not really serve to help me heal—or it does not seem to in my way of looking at things.

All the things I do bring me back to the “as ifs” in my attitude. As if it matters if I work or not, as if it matters if the house is clean, as if it matters if I go to services and sing with others: these are some of the tiny little things that don’t amount to a hill of beans. I try to eat decent food; I try to be sure that my clothes are clean; I try to talk to others with a cheerful attitude. But I feel as if I were on auto-pilot. I go through the motions and then see myself from a distance, as if I were not really there at all.

Folks who have been where I am—more or less—have told me that this experience—and that term irks me for some reason since “experience” has always seemed more like a choice—will take time. Healing takes time, they tell me. Yes, I have had some injuries and a pretty difficult healing from a surgery. But this does not even seem to compare. The pain stays with me in the background, welling up to grab me by the jaws and in my throat every once in a while about the time that I think I might be “getting better.” Getting better in this case means that I am not bawling and tearing up every time I am around someone. Getting better means I can take a deep breath and wait for the pain to subside while I duck my head and hold on to a better thought.

Sometimes I wish I had something that could keep my interest—something I could look forward to in anticipation. I thought that going to Scotland and Paris might be interesting, but now I just want something common—a good flower garden, a new roof, maybe a reorganizing of the junk in the storage and work sheds. I don’t mind getting dirty to keep me busy. I just don’t want to feel useless and empty—alone with the “as ifs” of life. I can’t have him back; I have to wait and go to him. And then maybe that damned hole will be filled with the love we had all those years. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

A House Divided

Today I was reading some posts on Facebook and found myself shaking my head and feeling both sad and astonished. Many years ago our nation divided itself along the lines of monetary and cultural differences. Now, I would never consent to seeing anyone enslaved in chains and their children sold out of their homes, but I am seeing something that looks decidedly similar in some respects. Once the industrial North declared that the South had to give up slave labor. The South was almost totally agrarian, so giving up their slaves meant that what they had depended on would no longer be there for their farms. And no, I would never want ANYONE to have to obey a "master's voice" out in the fields. But has anyone noticed that the fields have changed? Farms have tractors and huge plows, huge tanks of chemical fertilizers, and huge harvests--when there is rain. The back breaking job of hoeing out the rows is done either with chemicals or with cultivators on the back of tractors. So at least some things have changed.

The problems today that seem to divide our country again really have nothing to do with the color of someone's skin. For a while we saw some backlash for the reverse discrimination caused by the mandate to hire so many folks of color or of a particular nationality--whether or not those folks had the skills needed for the jobs. And the colleges accepted anyone who applied regardless of their SAT or ACT scores--but simply based on numbers, not even numbers of colored or national origin. In fact, many of the colleges were thankful to receive the applications of many of the Indian students who came here from India to take their tests to qualify for medical positions in hospitals and pharmacies--mainly because this nation has not taken the shortage of qualified physicians and medical personnel seriously. And now the shortage is at an emergency level!

But the problems that divided our nation and caused many of the problems that led to the Civil War the first time have reared their ugly heads again. In a nation that once claimed God as its guide, we seem to have lost the ability to follow His laws and His way of love. We cannot tolerate others' opinions, much less allow others the same rights that we would claim for ourselves. The national election consumed as much interest as any previous election in my memory, but the amount of rancor has not diminished. The financial straits have bound those with lower income into an uneasy existence, but those with a moderate income have nothing to expect but higher taxes and more governmental control. Those with higher income are doing their best to remove their money and their businesses from such a volatile market place caused by higher taxes and compulsory insurance rules. For years companies like Walmart have reduced workers' hours in order to keep from having to pay any benefits, but now almost all companies with more than two or three employees will be doing the very same thing. If a company actually keeps employees on at regular hours, the cost of the insurance with be charged to their customers. The point of all this worrisome financial control is the fact that our nation no longer will have a choice about whether or not to be our brother's keeper. And yet, the government is actually not prepared to be much of a "keeper" of those who need health care. Without a sufficient number of health care workers, our country will be in the same boat as India and other third world countries. Yes, health care is "free," but just wait your turn. IF you have money, and enough of it, you can buy your health care in those countries, too. Gifts to a doctor are a type of insurance.

A woman I know used a broad paint brush to say that all the states who did not recently vote for the Democratic candidate were also the ones that were racists. Now that just makes NO sense whatsoever. Just because I don't think that the government has the right to tell me that I HAVE to have insurance or pay a "tax" does not mean that I am a racist. It really does not matter WHY I voted as I did when it gets right down to it. Castigation of others due to their beliefs or their votes is pure insanity--whether I do it or whether my neighbor does it. In my beliefs, God Himself puts those in power who He will. He used Pharoah to destroy a nation; He used Balaam's ass to turn folks back to him; He can use any man to bring this nation to its knees before His throne. Sad to say, but that may be the next major move for us. Whether we are a nation or separate states is beside the point. We are not a people under God's rule now because of our disrespect or Him and of our neighbor. God forgive us.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Watching Work

It is SO neat to watch some folks work. They know what they are doing and get 'er done! This morning the crew who are paving our road are out there doing their thing and were here before I even got out of the shower at 7:15--early in our part of the world. The backup alarms, the thunder and rattle of big machines and all the rest of the attendant noise just tickles the fire out of me. I take a gleefully devilish delight in waking up the neighbor across the street because he and his visitors wake me up at all hours of the night. Turn about fair play, right?

For as long as the road has existed up here in front of this old house, nothing but dirt or dirt and gravel have been on the surface of the road. When Fang and I were able to afford a load of crusher run gravel, we got a friend in the trucking business to dump a load to put in the worst of the mud places and spread it out some. We had to get another neighbor, now deceased--Leroy Fox--to spread it out for us since at the time we did not have a tractor. Fang and I have talked--and talked--about getting something done to this road, but we just never did. He had his heart attack trying to shovel the gravel back up on the approach. Then Donnie Anderson had a heart attack doing the same thing. Time to do something about it before we all start having heart attacks!

The City of Wichita Falls would not let Mr. Anderson deed this street to them for whatever reason, so we are responsible for its maintenance. But you can bet the trash trucks will be going up and down just like before--wallowing out more depressions. We want the trash service, but those trucks are something else again. This pavement is only going to be 12 foot across, so let's hope the trucks don't destroy what we are trying to accomplish.

A city can only provide so much out of its budget for improvements, but Fang and his family lived here for 63 years. I have only lived here with Fang for nearly 44, so maybe I would not have as much right to gripe, but it does seem that taxes ought to count for something in the overall picture of things. I know that we are in Wichita County and that the county commissioner ONCE had our street graded for us. Wow. I am underwhelmed by that kind of service. Of course, at the time it was all mud and dirt, but still. A load of gravel costs? And what is strange is that the city resents any "infringement" by the county services. Go figure.

Making one's neighborhood look half way decent should not have to cost that much. But obviously someone has to start somewhere to get things going. When we had our second child on the way, we tore down a derelict house next door to us. Most of the lumber was salvageable so some of the family and neighbors took the lumber and siding out of the way for us. Then we hauled off as much of the roofing material as we could pick up and burned the little pieces of wood that no one wanted. For all these years we have maintained the area and kept it mowed, even putting a garden in most years.

I think of the areas up north and how much debris has accumulated just from hurricane Sandy and feel sorry for the folks up there. It is going to take some massive efforts to reclaim the areas hit hardest by that storm. However, this is a good time to clean up and rebuild on a better basis. Just like the area between our home and the highway, we keep it picked up, mowed, and maintained the best way possible. Some things are just not possible for someone my age to do, but when it can be done with a little help from the neighbors, it is worth the effort to make home and one's home street look decent.