Sunday, February 27, 2011

To Love and Cherish

Valentine’s Day has not held any good memories for me in a long, long time.   I am a romantic at heart, and would love nothing more than to prepare a special dinner, set a lovely table with flowers and candles, and celebrate a good marriage.  However, life is what it is, and I tend to overlook Valentine’s Day, now that my children are grown up and I am no longer responsible for making their holiday special.
Valentine’s Day 2010 & 2011 were a revelation of sorts for me.  As one who has not been “cherished” since childhood, I now realize that to be cherished is a great gift, and one that lasts beyond your worldly life.  After my sister’s death in July of 2009, I worried about my brother-in-law as their 20th wedding anniversary approached in October.  How sad, I thought, to be faced with this milestone celebration such a short time after losing her.  He told me that they had already celebrated together on the Valentine’s Day before she died, when they knew she would probably not live until October.  He said that Valentine’s Day was terribly special to them, because that was when he had proposed to her, and that this celebration had been more significant to him than the actual anniversary.  I have had several conversations with my brother-in-law about their marriage, and his loss.  He has eloquently described to me his feelings for her and the pleasure and contentment they found in their marriage.   It somehow eases my sorrow to know how much she was cherished.
This Valentine’s Day, the first after the death of my mother-in-law, provided me with yet another example of cherishing.  While the holidays were especially difficult for my father-in-law, I think Valentine’s Day was the most heartbreaking of all.  My father-in-law is a man with a stoicism inherited from his German ancestors.  However, since my mother-in-law’s death, his sorrow has been etched on his face.   I discovered that he had proposed to my mother-in-law on Valentine’s Day.  This year, he made his way through deep snow to her grave to place a single red rose in memory of this special day.  Although surrounded by family, he was feeling her loss very deeply.
I remember watching them at their Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary Party in 1999 – a lovely occasion.  As they danced together, there was a glow about them, as if it was once again the day of their marriage.   The long years of sharing and cherishing each other had given a depth to their love that was a joy to behold.
Both my brother-in-law and my father-in-law lovingly and gently cared for these women they loved as illness overtook them, and death drew near.  It was a tough job, which wore them both down – physically and emotionally – but they stayed true to their promises and their wives died in their own homes, surrounded with love and security.  It would have been so much easier to place them in a nursing home or hospital, but these men did not take the easy road, because they cherished these women.
Now, they are both dealing with the anguish and loneliness of their losses.  The memories are bittersweet, and sometimes the pain must seem too much to bear.  I do hope they realize, though, the great gift they gave their wives – to be cherished is much more than many of us can expect from life.  I am thankful that these two women I loved so much were cherished by the men in their lives.  

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ode to Borders

The news came this week that they are closing the Borders bookstore in Saratoga soon.  It is ironic that this news upsets me, because several years ago when the Borders and Barnes & Noble chain bookstores were settling in our area, I worried that our small local bookstores would disappear in the wake of this big business competition.  However, over the years I made peace with the "giants" and now feel sadness at their demise.

It wasn't too long ago that the Borders on Wolf Road in Albany closed, leaving a smaller store in a local mall.  The Barnes & Noble on Wolf Road moved to the mall across the street at about the same time.  I miss the freestanding stores.  I have many wonderful memories of browsing in the peaceful Barnes & Noble store -- a haven of sorts whenever life became too much for me.  Its new location in the mall is loud and busy, and not at all conducive to quiet introspection.  The Wolf Road Borders holds memories of hot chocolate and warm conversation in its peaceful cafe, which is non-existent in its smaller mall location.

The reasons given for the closing of the Saratoga Borders is the huge popularity of E-books and online bookstores, as well as the death of the music CD market.  How sad!!!  As a sensual person, I cannot imagine how an E-book can possibly compete with a hard copy.  I love the process of reading as much as I love the knowledge or entertainment found in a book.  I enjoy the weight of the book in my hands, the cover illustration, the font styles, the scent of a fresh new book or a dear old friend with pages worn and a musty scent.  Often as I read late in the evening, I begin to drowse, and must turn back a page or two to find my place.  I keep a quotation journal, and often page back through a book after I finish it, jotting down memorable quotes.  How cold it must be to read a book from a computer. 

I realize that technology has brought significant positive changes to our culture.  However, I truly believe we have sacrificed some measure of pleasure and humanity as we move into this high-tech world.  While texts and Emails are convenient, nothing can compare to sitting quietly with a friend and watching his eyes as he talks.  Words viewed on a screen cannot convey the inflections behind conversations.  How easy to misread the actual intent of a sentence when viewing it in abbreviated form on a screen.

I remember the days when business phones were answered by receptionists who listened to your needs and referred you to the proper person to handle your issues.  Today's phone menus are frustrating and completely impersonal.  I have become enraged several times when asked to speak to the computer, only to be told that the computer does not "recognize" my voice.  In fact, my Ford Escape has this "wonderful" Sync System that allows me to press a button and make a phone call.  For some reason, though, the car does not "recongize" my voice.  My husband's voice works like a charm, but for some reason my "voice" is unrecognizable in Sync's repertoire.  After a few futile attempts, I do not try anymore.  I take out my trusty old cellphone and dial the number -- at least my "dialing" is recognizable.

With our busy lives, much of the food we consume is "take out", or processed foods from the grocery store, picked up on the way home and heated up quickly before we head out to our next meeting.  Gone are the days when soup simmers on the stove all day, filling the house with its tantalizing aroma, and cake batter is stirred in a big old mixing bowl, baked in layers and frosted with buttercream icing made from scratch.  We sacrifice process for convenience, and everyone loses --

Of course, I realize that our technological world is constantly reinventing itself, and I try to keep abreast of the changes.  I certainly do not want to become an old lady who cannot communicate with her grandchildren or search the internet for important information.  I realize that our children must be educated to compete in the world as it exists and changes.  I do try, though, to make certain that my grandchildren have the chance to enjoy the sensuality of this world, too.  We read real books together, snuggled in a comfy chair; we make cookies and taste the dough, smell the vanilla, and enjoy the process of creation.  They sniff the flowers in the garden and feel their soft petals; they experiment with writing and drawing on different paper with all types of pens and crayons.  We take time to enjoy the "process" of what we do as much as we enjoy the final product.

And, as usual, I have digressed.  Obviously, the closing of one Borders store in a lovely little city in upstate New York is not the end of life as we know it.  However, it is the end of one more little pleasure in the lives of its patrons who gathered there to browse and read and enjoy coffee and face-to-face conversations with others who love books.  Good-bye Borders!!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Won't You Say You Love Me, Too

It is early afternoon on a snowy February 1.  I am sitting in the office, trying to catch up on a backlog of work.  Suddenly, from downstairs, I hear Alivia yelling, "Grammy, Grammy!!!," and I yell Back, "What?"  "It's OUR SONG!," she yells.  I leave the desk and hurriedly descend the stairs to hold her and sing the Barney song that has become "Our Song" to Alivia and Luke.  Of course, I make it down for the last stanza only, but that isn't what is important.  What is important is that we don't miss the hugs & kisses that accompany the song.

My days with these precious grandchildren are tiring, challenging, and more rewarding than anything else I could be doing at this moment.  This Barney song is ingrained in our hearts as the call that draws the three of us together from wherever we are to hold each other tightly and renew the bonds of love that we share.

I know that I am giving them both a tremendous gift -- the unconditional love of a grandmother during the hours their own parents are away.  As they grow up and move into the larger world, they may not remember many details of their days with me.  In fact, they may not even remember the "specialness" of this Barney song, but they will be more secure, move loving adults because they were held closely in the loving arms of their grandmother.

And I will always wipe a tear from my eye when I hear the Barney song and they are grown up and no longer yelling, "Grammy, it's Our Song!!".

"I love you, you love me,
We're a happy family --
With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you,
Won't you say you love me, too.

I love you, you love me,
We're best friends like friends should be --
With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you,
Won't you say you love me, too."