Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hoarding Memories

The view from the porch on this February weekend is a bleak one --  shades of gray and brown, the occasional mound of old hardened snow, ice on the stone walkway.  The February Vacation week is over, and on Monday we return to our schoolday routines.  A portion of my week was spent at my desk, doing yet more paperwork necessary to keep our spartan financial life in shape.  There are issues that weigh on my mind, and I am chilled by the long cold days of winter. 

Yesterday I stopped at a local garden store to buy a new feeder for my tiny finches.  Even there it was bleak -- the outside sales area deserted and cold.  And yet, I can visualize it as it will be in May, overflowing with shrubs, trees, beautiful flowers, pungent herbs -- all calling out to those of us who love the miracle of gardening.  I came home and filled my new feeder with thistle seed, hanging it from a shepherd's hook near the front porch; then I removed the last vestiges of Christmas -- the pine garland on the porch post, and the garlands that line the sills of my back porch in the winter.  I took one more peek at the tiny snowdrops peeking through the leaf mulch in the front yard, and felt the combination of anticipation and impatience so common as these last few weeks of winter linger.

At this time of year, my memories turn to my mother.  March was the month of her birth and February the month of her death, so thoughts of her are particularly close to my heart during these months.  I walk into my bedroom as a late afternoon sun lights the lace curtains, and my eyes fall on my mother's antique Arts & Crafts dressing table.  It is battered and old, but to me it is beautiful -- there are so many memories etched into its mirror.  I remember my mother sitting in front of it, brushing her long dark hair --  I must have been very young at the time, because her hair turned gray long before I was in my teens.  I remember her opening the bottom drawer and gently unwrapping the tissue in a box of crystal salt shakers with tiny, tiny spoons -- a wedding gift from a favorite relative that she cherished, even though we never had the occasion to use something so beautiful at our table.  I remember standing in front of the mirror in my early teens, crying to her about my weight and my lifeless hair, and receiving her warm embrace and soothing words, as always.

And then, my eyes linger on the adjacent shelves filled with teddy bears -- the beloved little bears collected by both my mother and my sister.  My mother loved her bears -- they weren't of any value monetarily, but to her they were priceless.  When she passed on, my sister kept the bears and made them part of her own collection.  Then, a few years later, after my sister's untimely death, I found myself searching through my brother-in-law's garage sale items one chilly October evening to save the precious collections of both these women that I loved so much.  Now, they all live safely in my bedroom, and are well-loved by my own grandchildren. 
As we grow older, memories become even more precious to us, and these little reminders of those we love and times we loved can lift our spirits in the darkest of hours.  As I wait for these last bleak days of winter to pass, I savor the small pleasures and treasures of my life.  Each morning dawn comes a bit earlier, the birds are beginning to sing again, and I wake slowly to the beauty of my cozy bedroom and the aroma of coffee brewing downstairs.  It is the appreciation of these little everyday details that enriches our lives, and the memories we carry with us that assure us of the continuity of the seasons and of life itself.  And I hoard them all in my heart and my home -- bringing feelings of spring into the frigidness of February.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Rescue Plants

The beauty of February sunshine dancing across drifts of fresh snow was the view from my bedroom window as I watered my houseplants this afternoon.  The contrast of winter white and lush greenery was remarkable.  The plant I was admiring is a Boston fern, one I rescued from a roadside trash pile in autumn of 2011.  One morning I noticed the parched fern and another neglected little plant huddled next to a trash bin on a nearby street.  I drove past with hesitation; I didn't have time to stop, but I so much wanted to rescue the two plants before trash pickup. 
Later that afternoon, on my way home, I was thrilled to find the trash bin emptied, and the plants still on the roadside.  I lifted them into the car and brought them home.  I gently clipped out the brown leaves and stems, and watered them thoroughly.  I decided to keep them in the house because it was late autumn, with its fickle weather, and I wanted to be sure they got the best chance for survival possible.  I placed them in the front window of my bedroom, where they would receive a good dose of afternoon sun each day.  Slowly, as we progressed through autumn and winter, the plants began to thrive again. 
By the time I took my houseplants outside in May to their summer homes, both plants were healthy.  The fern, in particular, loved its spot on the front porch, sheltered a bit from the elements, with filtered sunlight in the afternoon.  By the end of summer the fern had grown significantly, and was a thing of beauty.   

This past autumn I once again placed the fern in my bedroom window.  I water it regularly, and the afternoon sunshine that filters through the lace curtains has kept the beautiful plant healthy and lush throughout these cold winter months.  What a treasure I found on the roadside that day, waiting for the trash truck to come, and how thankful I am that I was able to rescue it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

In Celebration of the Bonds of Family


The framed faces on the tables and walls of my home are family -- a moment in their lives captured
and frozen in time -- faces that are precious to me.  How I love the photos of my grandparents as teenagers, the wedding photo of my parents, with their proud smiles, the faded family picnics of long ago, and the sweet Easter morning shot of my sister and me as little girls.  So many of these beloved faces are no longer with us.  As loved ones pass on, new faces are added to this complicated tapestry we call family.  One recent Saturday we all gathered to say good-bye to a beloved uncle.  How sad to know we will no longer hear his laughter and enjoy his enthusiasm for life.  And yet, the next weekend a baby shower welcomed the newest member of our family -- a precious little boy soon to be born.
Life moves forward continuously, and our families change, but our underlying connection remains through both the best and the worst of times.  We all hold a place within our families, and the myriad relationships -- parent, child, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws -- are in a constant state of flux.  One year there may be a serious disagreement between two brothers; in that same year two distant cousins may reconnect and form a new bond.  We experience divisiveness, support, anger and love.  No family is perfect.  I look at the faces in these old photos and remember the times I found myself at odds with some of them, as well as the times when I basked in the warmth of their love and approval. 
For the most part, life has a way of smoothing out our family relationships over the years, bringing us to a place where we realize the importance of family connections in our lives.  There are peacemakers in each family -- those who seek to sew together the rough edges of the various personalities -- leaving the family stronger, with an elasticity of sorts, that allows its members to pull apart at times, but ultimately holds us all together.  In times of sorrow and times of celebration, we can stand together -- maybe not happy about the actions or choices of some, but ready to offer support and love, be it grudgingly or with grace.
Several years ago a dear cousin and I embarked on a genealogical journey.  We traced ancestors back some twelve generations.  We discovered, as we gazed at photos of those gone before we were born or visited the gravestones of long-ago ancestors, that we somehow carry their spirits with us.  One lovely weekend afternoon, in a peaceful cemetery in Chestertown, NY, the scent of wild thyme surrounding me, I stumbled upon the gravesite of my great-great grandparents.  I felt a brief sense of recognition -- almost a feeling of coming home -- as if our strong family connection actually transcends time. 
And so, we celebrate this wonderful gift of family.  We pass on the stories, the photos, and the spirits of those who came before us, and nurture the bonds that we share.  We keep in touch, share the milestones in our lives, mourn the losses, and gather now and then to party together.  No one knows our faults better; no one can else can make us so angry, and no one else is forced to love us no matter what!  Family is our greatest blessing.