Category Archives: Blog series– Long Ago: Community

Long Ago: Community Entry #28

These trees keep watch like three ancestors, believing that I can write this book, even when I wonder...

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

I love how we can touch who we are in the faces and hearts of our forebears.  Please enjoy this lovely piece from Michelle Roberts. 

yrs. Laura

Freckle-faced Filipino, by Michelle Roberts

“Ah que linda!”, Mara squealed as she stepped through the front door putting her warm, plump hands on my freckled cheeks.

My mother told me it meant “oh, how pretty” but it didn’t help me get over my pale skin and strawberry blond hair. Strawberry blond because kids teased little girls with red hair and my mother specifically said mine was the most beautiful shade of strawberry blonde. “Women would kill to have your hair color but you just can’t get it in a bottle”, was her way of comforting me.

I was born in 1970 at Cape Canaveral Hospital smack in the middle of the sunshine state. Even though I grew up in Florida I never once managed to get a tan. A day at the beach meant I’d burn, sunscreen or not. By afternoon I was red as a lobster, peeling a few days later and then white again with nothing to show for it but a few extra freckles.

My grandfather was from the Philippines with dark hair and olive skin. Even though he was in his late seventies when we moved in after my parents divorced, he always had lovely Latin ladies visiting him. I envied their dark complexion and thick black hair. Mara was a regular and brought him food, shared stories and rolled her R’s even when laughing. His was the first stable, calm home I could remember and I relished the routine of dinner served every day at exactly 5:30pm. He wasn’t exactly affectionate but a man who tended to his plants every morning before most people got out of bed had a kind heart whether or not he’d admit it. The neighborhood kids were scared of him because he yelled from his front porch when they took a short cut through his flower beds. My mother used to say that he’d mellowed with age. None of my friends would believe it.

It must have been difficult to have three young children move in after retiring but we always felt welcome. My problem was that I never really felt like I fit in. The adults often spoke Spanish to keep their conversations from little ears. Especially my mother and her twin sister who talked so fast Spanish lessons probably wouldn’t have helped. I loved to hear the story about how she learned to speak the language out of necessity as a little girl. When my grandfather married his second wife from Cuba my mother made so many trips to the corner store to buy a sack of sugar? No. Flour? No. She was tired of the store owner shrugging his shoulders and finally taught herself how to decipher her new step-mother’s pantomime.

My grandfather immigrated from the Philippines in 1925 through the port of Seattle and worked for a year in Detroit while living with his uncle, the first of the Owano clan to make the trip across the ocean. He later moved to Chicago where he studied to become a doctor and met my grandmother at a party. A tall, gorgeous blonde with men buzzing all around her, she didn’t notice the handsome man of modest height who kept refilling her glass and fetching her food. She gave her number to another man and my grandfather memorized it. When I asked him what he thought when he met her he admitted, “My children would be tall.” He never became a doctor but they raised five children on his salary as a porter on the Pullman trains.

So it was my grandmother’s height and fair skin and her mother’s strawberry blond hair that I inherited so many years later. The Filipino relatives that visited over the years found humor in meeting their first freckle-faced Filipino. I grew up hearing tales of the huge parties the Owanos threw for family visiting from the United States.

“You’d be treated like royalty the moment you stepped off the plane,” my mother used to tell me. “They’d roast whole pigs and serve eight course meals in your honor especially since you are so fair skinned. The women in the Philippines shield themselves from the sun so their skin doesn’t get too tan.”

Years later when I moved to Washington, DC, after college my grandfather was the first to warn me about the murder capital of the country. He jotted down the address of a cousin who lived in Maryland and I dutifully wrote it in my address book. I wasn’t the shy girl that lived with him as a child but I knew I’d never pick up the phone to call on a relative I’d never met. My college roommate and I were sharing an apartment with another friend in Virginia and moving to a new city without jobs or even prospects. He had every right to worry.

But somehow we managed. I worked a couple of jobs through temp agencies until I was hired by a downtown trade association. The first thing I did when I got medical coverage was flip through the providers list to find a dentist. I made an appointment for the following week with an office that listed Filipino under “languages spoken”. I was hoping she was the hygienist and a mention of my grandfather might spare me the usual lecture about never flossing.

When I went to my new patient appointment I asked them who in the office was from the Philippines. They told me one of the hygienists was working toward her certification and should be there when I returned for my cleaning.

The day of my cleaning I recognized her accent right away. There’s something about the way Filipino’s pronounce their n’s and g’s that reminds me of the smell of my grandfather’s adobo and hours spent in his kitchen.

“You must be from the Philippines.” I said to the woman preparing the instruments for my hygienist.

“Yes. How did you know?”

“My grandfather is from Cebu,” as I waited for her surprise.

“I am from Cebu.” Most people I met would say they were from Manila or tell me they had visited Cebu.

“My grandfather is an Owano.” I was used to locals recognizing his family name since many relatives held political offices and owned land.

“I am an Owano!” By this time the woman trying to clean my teeth was looking back and forth between us, mouth agape.

“Really? Well, my grandfather lives in Florida.”

“Not Bern?”

“That’s my grandfather, Bern Owano.” Now the hygienist was laughing in disbelief.

Joanna, explained that on her first trip to the United States her mother Bernadette stopped in Florida to visit my grandfather and bring him packages. They were cousins and she was named after my grandfather because they shared the same birthday. Joanna insisted that I come to dinner to meet our other cousins. By the time I left the appointment she’d made all the arrangements and gave me her phone number and the address for dinner on Sunday evening.

Sunday I drove to the suburbs of Maryland and to the very same address my grandfather wrote down for me three years earlier. It was the home of an older cousin whose nanny opened the door, took one look at me and, puzzled, called upstairs in Tagalog. All I could make out was the word “Americana”. She invited me in and explained that Joanna had gone to the Metro to pick up some other relatives.

Over the next few hours I was greeted by almost two dozen new relatives who dropped everything to be there. They brought food, introduced me to their children and took out copies of the Owano family tree. They explained that their own grandfather was the uncle my grandfather lived with in Detroit. They all felt so deeply indebted to both men for paving the way for their families to be educated in the United States. This room full of doctors, lawyers, engineers and accountants was so excited to meet Bern Owano’s granddaughter.

They explained that my grandfather’s grandfather had two wives and that most of them were descendants of the first wife while I was a descendant of the second. And at one point when they were raising their voices in Tagalog I asked them what it was about.

“Oh, she’s just bragging because now she has a tall blonde on her side of the family,” Joanna pointed to another cousin from wife number two.

Another relative laughed because he had arrived late and thought I must be a American friend of their cousin. He was still patiently waiting to meet her.

That night was my first visit to my grandfather’s homeland and my first roasted pig. They welcomed me like royalty and admired my fair complexion. Somehow the universe brought me to the very place my grandfather wanted me to be. With my Filipino family, my Owano clan, in a big city that seemed like our own little island.

 

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Filed under Blog series-- Long Ago: Community, My Posts

Long Ago: Community Entry #27

 

Amazing how a wheelbarrow full of wood can mean the difference between life and death, never mind comfort. Mindful living beats button pushing any time.

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

It’s amazing how the simple things bring happiness when we’re brave enough to stop and pay attention.  Please enjoy this lovely piece by Katie Andraski.  yrs. Laura

 

How the Teacher Introduced Herself to her Class on The Joy Diet Or The Teacher Writes About The Happiest Time of Her Life , by Katie Andraski

 

This happy time I’m in now, started with a pot of soup three years ago. It’s been the longest, most consistent time I’ve been happy. My husband, Bruce, and I had just driven five hours from Albany to Bath, Maine. We’d almost bought it three times when semis merged into our lane with us in it. Our nerves were shot. And we were headed for our second family, the Proctors.

I’ve known them since I could think. Gene has told the story that she met my mother when my brother started kindergarten and met her son Bruce. I had to be two, so I’m not kidding about how long I’ve known them.

There are all kinds of stories I could tell you about the Proctors. Martha Beck’s descriptions about how doing nothing can be a frightening exercise because “if you have suffered greatly and not yet resolved your pain, you may find it literally unbearable to become physically still, the moment you really quiet your body, you’ll feel the monsters of unprocessed grief, rage, or fear yammering at the dungeon doors of your unconscious mind” reminds me of my own resistance to taking up Buddhism. Bruce Proctor had challenged me to look into it, but the weird visions a person might see while sitting seemed too close to the demons I didn’t want to welcome into my life. Bruce Proctor literally did nothing for hours on end, days at a time. Sitting practice. I saw him move from a jiggly would-be rock star who couldn’t keep his legs or his eyes still to a man with a calm presence. It was as profound a conversion as I ever saw. Though to be truthful I saw him blast right past that to seeing auras on trees and gremlins hopping in branches and hearing Jesus’ voice. It was creepy how he’d sit on the love seat and weave like a cobra. He’d walked from Paris, Maine to Albany, New York by himself, following old rail beds. He had hooked up with the outfit in Boulder that became known for its excesses and sexual abuse during those years. Eventually he found his way to the Zen Center of New York. Now he photographs his visions using the light and shadow of desert landscapes and junkyards.

I could tell you about Ron Proctor sitting behind me in eighth grade because Proctor came right after Pauley, and he’d kick my chair and call me The Beast. But I was vindicated when I saw what he wrote in Donna Wright’s yearbook how she should be more like me. He is drop dead gorgeous and never been married. One year we were visiting his parents, and he took us to Pemaquid Point, the site of a well-photographed lighthouse where I imagined riding a brown horse along the rocks and into the sea.

He borrowed a skiff and took us to the Kennebec River fishing. The Bath Ironworks are awesome anytime you see them, but we were down in the river looking at sparks bright enough to blind us. Cranes big enough to tower over a naval frigate frightened me; they were so big. Hell, all that iron swept up like cliff faces frightened me. Somehow a hull that is halfway made is more awesome than a finished one. Is it the emptiness that makes it so big? My husband pulled a striped bass as big as he was out of the river. And the water was alive with chop and the amber colors of sunset.

These are men who I fell in love with as a young girl. Bruce Proctor as much as anyone inspired me to write and to think. Ron was my gorgeous classmate. I tried to convert them both to evangelical Christianity in these wonderful arguments about faith and atheism, Buddhism and Christian mysticism. My prayers and Bible readings around them shaped me into the kind of Christian I am, someone not so sure the hellfire preachers of my childhood told the truth. Oh I’d cry they’d come to know Jesus because hell was real as the gravel road and night I walked into. Then the Bible started to speak mysterious things about God not willing anyone should perish, about how praying in God’s will would make it so. So if I prayed for Bruce and Ron, even their whole family to know Jesus, than it was in God’s will, and they’d come to know him. They’d be saved. Don’t ask me how free will plays into this. I don’t know.

The apostle Paul himself talks about the Judeo-Christian mythology—Adam bringing death into the world–universal death that none of us escapes. Then the mystery—Jesus brings life and resurrection to the world, more so than Adam. None of us escapes. As far as I know neither one knows the Lord in the traditional evangelical sense I was thinking of as a kid.

Even after my father tried to talk Bruce into Christ, he’d lean back and say, “I don’t know about that. but you’re my second family,” which flipped when my parents and brother died and suddenly the Pauleys weren’t a family and the Proctors became my second family. It was Bob and Gene who took in my husband, Bruce, and I, giving us a second shot at the kind of love parents give—the pot of soup waiting at the end of a long day kind of love.

The wind had caught the sea at Birch Point, and the water was amber and the wind caught us as we got out of the car, whipping our shirts with enough chill that I didn’t want to walk out to the point. But my beloved Bruce settled himself as the wind and the waves blustered around him as joyously as a barking golden retriever.

Bob and Gene weren’t going to be home when we arrived because they had a wedding to attend. There was a slow cooker of vegetable soup and a pan of chocolate cake, and a Post It note telling us to eat up and enjoy. Which is what Bruce and I did. We took our bowls to the table and looked out their window at the amber light and point jutting across the way with a dock floating at high tide. Opposite us was a lobster boat tied to a buoy. We stared out the window hoping to see the funnels of the Scotia Princess below the horizon as the ship plied her way from Portland to Halifax. On the window ledge was a carved wooden fisherman, a wire hanging down, a line into the air, a line into water.

Part of hospitality is the home a family sets around themselves. That empty space where people live and move and have their being. The Proctors’ house is bigger than it looks even though it’s built on the foundation of a cabin, Maine’s rules for building on the coast, holding the Proctors to that space. It’s full of nooks and crannies with little things Gene has found at garage sales and flea markets here and there. When I’m there, I delight in looking at the dish full of sea glass, delight in the glass frog I sent one Christmas. I sit in the covered easy chairs, staring at the wooden ships and grandfather clock standing straight like a tall person who doesn’t have to stoop, standing tall under the cathedral ceiling, the moon in its face.

Part of hospitality is the home a family sets around their guests—two bathrobes hung on hooks in the bedroom, and orange juice on the front porch, the ocean as glassy and quiet as it was chopped the night before, the air balmy.  Gene has stepped into a mother’s role, taking me shopping at Renys, a Maine department store or buying me a necklace and earrings because that’s what moms do for daughters. Bob has told stories of when he worked as a civil engineer in Alaska and New York, family stories that don’t belong to me because I didn’t grow up with them, but stories that welcomed us to the hearth. They have welcomed us into a solitary space and listened when we’ve needed counsel for our lives. And they have delighted in the gifts we’ve sent, the bulb garden that bloomed in January adding color to the front window, and the black raspberry jam Bruce made from wild bushes in the field across the street.

There’s something about simple loving hospitality that helped put me in my skin after a hard, hard winter that was as close to a dark night of the soul as I’ve come, that began with a sentence small as a lemon twist from relatives I wanted to visit, saying in essence, you’re family, but not for Christmas, not even the Christmas right after September 11, when I wanted to touch my own blood. Amazing how a sentence can twist open a whole bottle of loneliness.

It didn’t help to be reading the classic by St. John of the Cross, wishing I wouldn’t go through a dark night of the soul. But sure enough I did. The details aren’t important—my beloved cousin died, my students didn’t come to my classes, my writing turned me inside out so much so that I felt like an emotional burn patient thinking nobody wanted to be my friend I was so dark–but what is important is how one seems to go with the other—mourning shall last for the night, but a shout of joy will come in the morning.

And somehow that pot of soup and cake and wind tossed evening changed everything. Somehow Gene and Bob throwing their arms around us, saying, “It’s so good to see you” stopped the rule of darkness in my life. Stopped it dead in its tracks. Everything flipped, and I found joy and light and quiet in the simplest of things. And the people I felt were far away suddenly drew near on their own, without me doing anything. Maybe that’s why Jesus says it all hinges on a cup of water or should I say a pot of soup.

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Filed under Blog series-- Long Ago: Community, My Posts

Long Ago: Community Entry #26

May we open ourselves to the gift of self-expression with empathy and courage.

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

I HAPPY, by Ani Bell

You like me a lot.

That’s what Brian (pronounced Bree-ahnsaid to me on New Year’s Eve, nearly nine years ago. We were salsa dancing at an outdoor club in Samara –a hard-to-get-to coastal town on the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. 

You like me a lot.

Hands on my hips, smile on his lips, a direct gaze connecting his brown eyes to my blue.

You like me a lot.

I was — for once — speechless. A confident, strong, thirty-eight-year-old woman – yet a twenty-three-year-old Tico rendered me unable to connect two articulate words together. 

You like me a lot.

I felt I’d landed the leading role in a silent remake of ‘How Stella Got Her Groove Back’I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

You like me a lot.

His words were cool water splashing my face, electricity shock-coursing through my veins. I was stunned. I’d never encountered a man so self-assured, so straightforward, so bold. Or so right. It was true. I liked him a lot.

Once I could breathe again, I managed a chuckle, looked into his eyes. Si,’ I mumbled — proving my continued inability to construct a sentence. Just as well. The instant the acknowledgment left my lips, Brian’s came to meet them. And meet them. And meet them. And meet them. His friends stopped dancing to watch. 

Thus began one of the greatest love affairs – & most unexpected learning lessons — of my life.

Five minutes after that incredible kiss, worry set in. Mi dios!  What was I THINKING?! A twenty-three-year-old?! Seriously — besides thatSure, Brian was exotic & smoldering & sexy & had a head of long, crazy-curly hair any supermodel would covet. But he was twenty-threeWhat — besides a sweet-hot tropical fling — could he bring into my life? He was twenty-threeWhat — besides how to speak Tico-slang — could he teach me? He was twenty-threeWhat — besides sweaty-steamy-beach-sex — could he do for me? Did I mention he was twenty-three?

Being so close to the equator, I can plead heat-induced dementia. Being on vacation, I can plead being-on-vacation. Being single & thirty-eight (& no dummy), I can plead sweaty-steamy-beach-sex. 

At the time, I probably did plead those things, & I’m sure What-Happens-In-Samara-Stays-In-Samara occurred to me more than once whilst considering the pros & cons of a romance with Brian.

But the real reason I said, ‘Si’, was because I felt a connection to him that surpassed sex –even the sweaty-steamy-beach variety. I felt a connection that circumvented language & cultural barriers. I felt a connection that magically transformed the fifteen years between us to mere seconds. I felt a connection I couldn’t explain. But he could.

The night we first kissed, walking home along a deserted stretch of beach, I asked, ‘Por que`?  Why me?’ I hadn’t yet made peace with a holiday dalliance, especially one involving a markedly younger man. Brian stopped walking, took my hands in his.  ‘You have big energy,’ he said. Well, I silently mused, THAT’S original!  I thought I’d heard every pick-up line in the book, but this one certainly takes the tortilla.

Instead of attempting to translate cynicism into Spanish, I opted for confusion. No entiendo.  I don’t know what you mean.’ ‘Big energy,’ he repeated.  ‘You have big energy. First I see you, I say my friends — I marry that woman.’

‘Marry?’ I squawked. ‘No.  No.  No marry.  No marry!’ Fear turned me into a wing-flapping parrot with very bad grammar‘You no mean marry!?  You no mean marry!?  No marry!  No marry!’ He grasped my hands again, attempted to calm me. ‘Marry.  Yes, marry.  I say marry.  No because you beautiful. No because sexy.  You have big energy.  Good vibration.  I see it.  Light around you.  My friends see.  I see.  Good energy.’

Even with Brian’s broken English, understanding began to blossom. I stopped squawking & started breathing again. He smiled, encircled me with his arms & said, ‘We have connection.’ I didn’t know what to say, but I knew what to feel. He was right.

There was an energetic connection between Brian & I that had little to do with sex or romance or wanting to wrap my fingers in his crazy-curly hair. We were old souls — & we’d recognized one another.  I’d felt it from the beginning, but hadn’t known how to convey it in words or whether he’d grasp the concept even if my Spanish were sufficient to do so.

But he was twenty-three. I couldn’t fathom what I’d get –besides sweaty-steamy-beach-sex –out of a relationship with a twenty-three-year-old. I fell for him nonetheless. How could I not? We genuinely liked one another, danced well together, talked easily & openly, laughed a lot.

One afternoon in bed, lying in the crook of his arm, I reminisced about the New Year’s Even he’d been so brazen as to declare, ‘You like me a lot.’ When I told him I couldn’t quite believe he’d had the huevos to say such a thing to me, he looked perplexed. I was fairly sure I’d used Tico-slang correctly. [Translated, ‘huevos’ literally means ‘eggs’, but Ticos use it more as a colorful description for ‘man-eggs’ -- if you get my drift.] But Brian appeared flummoxed. Between his broken English & my shattered Spanish, it took ten minutes to unravel the miscommunication. When we did, I laughed & screamed so hysterically, my landlord poked her head in the window to make sure I was OK. I was.We’d discovered, when Brian boldly said, ‘You like me a lot,’ he’d actually meant to say, ‘I like you a lot.’

Realizing his gaffe, he smiled shyly, said, ‘Lo siento.  I sorry. I no mean say that.  I mean say — I like you a lot.  Oh, man!’ Then he kissed my cheek murmuring, ‘Lo siento, lo siento, lo siento.’ I assured him there was nothing to be sorry for. He liked me a lot. I liked him a lot. We have connection.

The next day, after a first-ever surfing lesson (big waves, bigger wipeouts), we sat on the beach laughing at how terrified I’d been at the prospect of encountering sharks –which I was convinced wanted nothing more than to chew me to bits, JAWS-style. Truth to tell — I had no plans to become shark-bait on my vacaciones, & if I hadn’t trusted Brian & already seen firsthand what a gifted surfer he was, nothing could’ve lured me into the deep waters of the Pacific. But it was obvious the ocean was his home, & he was born to surf –perhaps even born to teach others how to surf?

As the idea erupted in my brain, the life coach in me shifted into high gear. I realized Brian could turn his passion for riding the waves into a lucrative way to earn a living. Genius! I shared my inspiration, described in detail how brilliant Brian would be to quit his job at Hotel Giada, start a surfing school, maybe ask his cousin to help run it. Thrilled for him, I thought of the money he’d make, the independence he’d have, the exhilaration of success at his young age.  I chattered on for two or three minutes before I realized – Brian wasn’t chattering back.

Halting my dream-scheme in midsentence, I asked, ‘Well, whatdya think?’ He kissed my cheek, seemed to struggle for words. I assumed the language barrier prevented him telling me what a ridiculously talented coach I was, that he was busy translating glowing words of praise from Spanish to English. I sat patiently, awaiting the accolades to come. He kissed my cheek again, smiled. 

Ani — your idea, I thank you,’ he began. ‘Is good idea.  Is bueno.  I thank you.’ He squeezed my hand, continued, ‘Is good idea.  Verdad.’ His eyes locked with mine, guileless. ‘But my work is be happy.  And I happy.

You coulda knocked me over with a palm frond. He went on, ‘I understand your country is good to success. Is bueno.  Is good for you.  But my work is be happy.’  He shrugged his shoulders, a light in his eyes. ‘I happy,’ he repeated, the smile on his face confirming his words.

It was true. He was. Even working long, hard hours as a waiter. Even catering to tourists who could afford to vacation in Costa Rica, but seemingly couldn’t afford to tip. Even going without the conveniences I took for granted –owning a car, an overstocked grocery, air conditioning. Even living with his mother, his father, his sisters, his brother — in a home with little privacy. On an occasion when I asked if he wouldn’t prefer to move out of the family casa — get his own place – he searched my face for answers, bewildered.  

Why I want leave my Mom?’ he inquired. ‘Um, maybe to have privacy, be on your own?’ I offered. ‘Oh, no, Ani — I love my Mom.  If leave my Mom, I no happy.  Nooo happy.  I happy with my Mom.’ I couldn’t argue with that. He was. I knew firsthand.

The morning after Brian & I first spent the night together at ‘my place’ – a rental casita located a few houses down from his own — he awoke early, jumped into the outdoor shower, crawled back into bed squeaky-clean, a half-grin on his face. 

‘Come, Ani.  No sleep.  We go.  We eat breakfast.’ Receiving no response, he reached under the sheets, threatened to tickle me if I didn’t get a move-on. I closed my eyes, mock-snored as loudly as I could, ‘Conk-shuuu.  Conk-shuuu. Cohhhnnnkkk-ssshhhuuuuu.’He wasn’t buying it. ‘Aaaaanniiiii,’ he coaxed, ‘is time awake!’ ‘Cohhhnnnkkk-ssshhhuuuuu.’

Trying a new tactic, he put his lips to mine, puncuating his words with kisses. ‘Aaaaanniiiii!’ KISS. ‘Is time,’ KISS. KISS. ‘Breakfast!’ KISS. ‘Cohhhnnnkkk-ssssshhhhhhuuuuuuuu,’ I replied against his lips.

Assessing the situation, he played the sympathy card, sighing, ‘I have hungry.  Think I die if I no eat, Ani. Think I die if I no eat, ahora!’I opened my eyes, made a funny face. Giggling, I said, ‘You look bueno to me!’ He whistled in exasperation, started grumbling in Spanish, faster than I could translate. 

One thing was apparent —  the way to a man’s heart really is through his stomach, even in Costa Rica. I laughed, told him I’d cook something muy delicioso as soon as I had energy sufficient to lift my head off the pillow. He rolled his eyes, said, ‘No, no, no.  My Mom cook! She want meet you.  We go.  Is late.  She wait.’

Suddenly I had no problem lifting my head off the pillow.  I bolted upright — speechless again — mouth agape. My heart danced a merengue, my mind twirled to the pumping beat: I’ve spent the night with a twenty-three-year-old, & his mother — who happens to be a mere six years my senior – wants to meet me & cook breakfast!? 

I found my voice. ‘Mi dios, tell me you’re kidding! Tell me you’re joking!  Tell me you’re not serious! Por favor, tell me your mother isn’t waiting to cook me breakfast?!’ I pleaded.

‘She wait y she cook. Pero no eat if we no go ahora,’ he said, pulling me into his arms.

‘Oh, God, Brian — I can’t walk into your family’s home the morning after we’ve had sex & expect your Mom to cook for me!  Are you loco?!’ He handed me my flip-flops.

I pulled the sheet over my head. ‘No way.  I’m not going.  I’m NOT going. She might try to poison me or something.’

‘No, no.  She no poison.  She no poison!  She cook with love!  Have big, love energy in eggs, gallo pinto.  You see.  She no cook bad energy except when she mad.  When she mad, I taste difference.  Taste muy malo. Last time she mad with Papi, I no eat nothing for two days!’ In spite of Brian’s disturbing attempt at reassurance, I got dressed, trudged the dirt road to his family casa, A Dead Senorita Walking.

 A howler monkey in the low branch of a mangrove screamed bloody-murder.  ‘You can say that again,’ I mumbled, feeling sick. Brian held my hand the entire way, had the grace not to mention how slick & sweaty it was. Smiling, oblivious to my dread, he walked into the house, pulling me along behind him. We entered the kitchen. There she was. This woman — quite nearly my contemporary — whose son was falling for me. My mind begged the question —  Oh, Blessed Maria, what have I done to deserve this?! But my heart already knew the answer – I’d slept with a twenty-three-year-old.

Brian kissed his mother on the cheek, lingered in a hug, gestured my way. He seemed so proud & happy. Dizzy with fear, I hung back in the corner, leaned against the stucco wall, bracing myself for the tirade to come. Silencio. I wondered if I’d comprehend whatever curses she’d hurl my way, thought I’d be lucky if I didn’t. I said a last-minute prayer. Oh, God — please protect me and forgive me for my sins.  Please let this Mother Hen spare me and let me go on living another day on Your Great Green Earth.  And if she does and if You do, I promise to never sleep with another twenty-three-year-old again!  And if I do, I promise not to show up at his mother’s house the next day for breakfast.  Ever.  Again. Amen. 

I resisted the urge to cross myself, took a step forward, resigned to my fate. With a rigid smile plastered on my face, I waited. She closed the distance between us in two steps, kissed my cheek, & took me into her arms.

‘Hola, Ani!’ she crooned.  ‘Mucho gusto.’ I’ve never felt so welcome. Or so relieved. The meal — rice & beans & eggs & plantains — was cooked with such Big Love, I tasted it. I understood why he never wanted to leave. I understood why he’d miss his Mami if he did. And I understood why he was so happy.

A week later, an illness hit Brian fast & hard. Feverish, swollen glands, aching all over, he was barely able to get out of bed. Afraid for him, I advised a visit to the doctor in a nearby village. He said he wanted to surf instead. I pushed him back into the pillows, covered him with the sheet, mopped his brow with a cool washcloth. I thought he was delirious.

Bri, you need a doctor.  This is serious,’ I warned.

‘No, no, no.  I need surf.  I need medicine.  Surf my medicine.  I go surf.’

Once again, I found myself speechless in the face of a young man whose wisdom defied his years.   I wanted to argue, force him to see things my way, coerce him into seeking a professional so he’d be healthy again. But since I’d underestimated him more than once, I held my tongue, decided to trust.  Maybe the love he felt for surfing would heal him? Weak but determined, he labored out of bed, got dressed, kissed me ‘adios’.  From a sore throat, he croaked, ‘Hasta luego!’ over his shoulder as he ambled down the dirt path to the beach.

Somehow I knew he’d be well in a few hours. While Brian went in search of surf-medicine, I curled up in a hammock, watched colorful parrots flitting from lime tree to mango, back to lime again. An iridescent blue butterfly fluttered onto my hand. I smiled, burrowing deeper into the hammock & into my reverie. I thought about all I’d learned in six weeks in Costa Rica, how I hoped to carry the lessons with me back home to the States. I thought about how a twenty-three-year-old taught me more than I ever dreamed possible. I thought about how love finds its way through words, through food, through cultures, through the joy of dancing & surfing & passion. And about how love found its way through two old souls born years & miles & countries apart. We have connection, I thought. And I happy.

That’s My Story,

ANI

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Long Ago: Community Entry #25

May we open ourselves to the gift of self-expression with empathy and courage.

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

Saving the Community/World by Angelika Bowerman

When I was a little girl growing up in Germany my mother taught each of us kids how precious life is.  We had a small apartment with a balcony and I remember my mom putting out small pieces of cheese and bread for the birds, especially in cold winter times. There were many times that we tried to nurse a sick or almost dead bird back to life but most of the time they died. This instilled in me a sense of wanting to preserve life and to do my part in preserving the environment around me. One of my favorite things to do is to hike in forests or walk a beach appreciating with all of my senses-seeing and hearing my beautiful surroundings.

Appreciating nature makes me an environmentalist of sorts but mostly with my heart. Mind you I help people in my day job but “saving the world” has been a heartfelt passion of mine and I want to find ways to contribute. What I do is I support a handful of agencies that do just that, they are working to save the world.  My favorite such agency is the Nature Conservancy.  I have been a member for several years and enjoy hearing about all the work I do through my measly contributions.  Over the years many articles have made me smile and I feel really good to be in support of such an awesome organization.  The article “The Missing Link” from the 2012 #4 magazine has especially inspired me and I wanted to share these feelings with others. I feel admiration for the vision of the projects, the human initiative and how this inspires me, the individual, to action.

My admiration is endless when I read how the project manager plans the project of protecting the California Connection so that this ecological corridor  will connect with vast ecosystems to the east, west, north and  south. I admire how he and his team actually see the whole picture of conservancy and sustainability of the land. Each time the Nature Conservancy buys a portion of land, they are making a difference not only locally but for our planet Earth and this is mind blowingly amazing to me. The collaboration that takes place by working with landowners, ranchers and conservation groups is short of making miracles happen in my eyes.

The  result of that this project shows Project director E.J. Remson and his team able to secure a corridor of 50 miles of the Tehachapi range in California for conservation and yet improve conditions for cattle operation. The conservationists not only saved this area from construction of more housing projects and development but with their efforts left behind a sustainable community that will leave the land much less abused and open to wildlife. It takes people that take their passion, their talents and their initiative to start a project from the bottom with an idea and spin it into the actual  possibilities.

The initiative of such individuals as E. J. Remson can actually change the way things have been done for a long time.  The cattle ranches in the area of Tehachapi  have been ranched for generations.  Typically cattle graze near a river for water and this area gets easily overgrazed.  The Conservancy helped build water towers across the range to have cattle graze more evenly throughout the land. This not only protects the Ranches but is a crucial wildlife corridor for migratory species.  These special projects inspire me do my part to preserve what I can.

My personal inspiration shows in my back yard; it is a natural sanctuary with tree trunks, berry bushes and big trees that many birds, butterflies and other critters enjoy. I share this little piece of heaven with others that can sit with me on my deck watching the birds around us.

I feel that I am making a difference in a minor but important and steady way.

So while I am not really “changing the world,” I can congratulate myself in doing my portion by supporting an agency that affects major change. I,on the other hand, will read about the awesome and inspiring projects that I support with my heart.

This article on saving the Tehachapi Corridor is in line with what I consider helping a community and saving the world, one project at a time. What started many years ago with my mother affecting her environment is now my firm belief that I must do what I can in my lifetime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Long Ago: Community Entry #24

 

I love how fences finally break down, and the human heart runs in the field, without boundaries. That's what writing feels like to me.

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

This lovely piece makes me want to grab every one of my mothers and fathers through the ages and say:  Thank you, Sonia Krivacic for this gem.  yrs. Laura

First day of High School, by Sonia Krivacic

An act of great humility is entrusting your child to another. Today, as I drive my daughter to High School for her first day I am filled with so many emotions, I reminisce about the first day I lay eyes on my beautiful daughter, I think of her birth-mother who entrusted me, with such humility, with this beautiful, intelligent, sensitive being. I wished she could see her daughter today dressed up in her High School uniform, all fussed upon by me (do those earrings comply with school code?), looking like the young lady she has become. And I thank her birth-mother again for giving me the gift of experiencing a child growing each day, for the gift of loving this precious child until my heart may burst. I thank, too, our community for having the structures in place to provide for its children.

I cast my mind back to my first day of High School and think of how different it was. In those days we seemed so much older and more self-sufficient. I made my own way to school (after packing my own cut lunch) with the only friend that came from my primary school, Petra. This lovely friend of mine, whom I spent many happy days with playing at school, sitting next to in class and sharing stories of what we would do in High School. My school was nothing like the Catholic girls school I’ve just entrusted my daughter to for the next six years. But I think community and society was different then too. We are so involved. We are ‘new millennium mothers’, wanting our stamp on the world… often living vicariously through our children.

In the 70’s our families were bigger, our houses smaller, the need was greater and the ‘real’ time available was much less. Now, we busy ourselves with activities revolving around our children: soccer, netball, physical culture, piano, folk dancing and the list goes on! Also, we are women of the post-feminist era so having a perceived ‘identity’ outside of the home is also considered a gift by those who went before us. We are educated and far better off. So we are busy, working, raising busy children and running a busy household.

What is the antidote to this? Have we gone too far? Is too much of our ‘identity’ contained in busy-ness for busy-ness sakes? My recent trip to Europe and Africa showed me a different story, one closer to that of our own community of the 60’s and 70’s, and strangely something moved within me.

In Europe, we stayed with family in Croatia, a young nation still finding its feet. After years of war and horror in the 90’s this beautiful country was finally on steadier ground. Like so many countries of its generation faced with demise of the USSR and communism, it had a great battle ahead. Not just for freedom and independence, this was just the beginning. But the necessity to establish a political system, a government, income for the nation, industry for the people, maintain some form of social security and importantly, international respect. Over a decade later, they are hit with the realities of the free market system: interest rate increases burdening families, the Eurozone crisis and their own internal political corruption. In many ways, this part of the world is entering its own ‘High School’ years.

How has the local community faced these challenges in this part of Eastern Europe? The consistent traits I saw were resilience and still some hope. No one had ‘everything’ they needed (perceived or otherwise) and yet they all managed. Each of the extended family members (aunts, uncles, cousins and so on) had something to offer the other. From vegetables or fruit from the farm, to loaning some small amount of money, to an offer of time so mothers could stay back at work and earn a little more to help pay some of the unforeseen debts. The country, a little like teenage children, seeing the realities of debt for the first time, the understanding of international economics and how these forces affect their everyday lives. Studies have shown that this model of community, where people still need each other, but do not lack basic necessities, function the best.

When I look back to my High School days, I realize my mother needed me to be resilient, for there were seven of us in our family home. My mother returned to work, not because she was fulfilling her life’s ambitions, but because our financial circumstances meant we needed the money. My mother would work all day in the home, and then leave me with the evening shift whilst she, my sister and brother-in-law cleaned the local school. Clearly this was not a decision of choice for my family. As a thirteen year old, I thought little of washing the evening dishes, settling my dad with his beer on the couch to rest after work, putting my three-year old brother to bed, bathing and feeding my beautiful five-week old niece and then some time in the late evening retreating to my room to do my homework.

It’s only when I look back now do I realize how different community and family life is. I look at my daughter and wonder how she would have coped with these circumstances. I then go deeper and look at the beautiful children I met in Africa. The gut-wrenching thousands of children I saw wandering the streets who may never have the chance of their first day of High School. I thought of the lucky ones I met who, through the support of so many good people, would be given the opportunity to graduate High School.

I recall with fondness a student named Goodwin I met at the orphanage I visited in Zambia. This young man, who had the great opportunity of studying business whom I connected with right away. We started up a conversation and it took me back to my days as an undergraduate business studies student at University. He was 17 or 18 years old and one of 11 children living with his brothers, sisters and cousins cared for by his generous aunt. Sadly, Goodwin had lost both of his parents. Although he was officially an orphan, he was fortunate to have his aunt to care for him, another act of great humility by both his mother and her already burdened sister. This amazing young man still made time once each week to come and help out at the orphanage in the special needs room where I was enjoying the company of the beautiful and inspiring children. The children smiling and laughing at me were cared for with such love, mainly by community volunteers. Many of whom doubled up on jobs like the tailor who was also the physiotherapist!

I watched as Goodwin played so naturally with the children like Edward who had cerebral palsy and Vanessa who could not walk. I said to Goodwin that it must have been difficult to find quiet space to study in a household of 13! He just smiled and said the evenings were difficult, using only candle-light to read. I immediately thought back to how blessed I felt to have both my parents alive and have my own space in our family home to study. How would I have coped in the cramped two room hut Goodwin shared with the 13 members of his extended family – with no electricity, running water or sanitation. Again, I thought of how resilient we can be as young people.

I think of Goodwin often and wonder how does his community think to the future when putting a meal on the plate is the focus on the day… where starvation is still common-place? I saw the strength of community everywhere: people volunteering time, offering bags of corn-meal, physical labour to build a school, a pig pen, a water pump. And how can I possibly reconcile this with my experience today – my daughter’s beautiful school dress, school community, morning tea lovingly prepared by the P&F, smiling parents (some misty eyes too) and the knowledge that my daughter had the opportunities for success and reaching her greatest potential in life?

It seems that exposing our children to circumstances where resilience plays a role is the key to building strong communities from one generation to the next. I’m glad to have been able to share morning tea with the other mums this morning; glad I had the opportunity to see my daughter as she walked away with her friends to start a new chapter in her life (blowing me a kiss goodbye); so overwhelmingly blessed to have been given the opportunity to be a mother by her other mother, whom I treasure in my heart every day. I’m also glad to have exposed my daughter to the beauty of sharing as a community in Croatia and especially glad to have met Goodwin and so many amazing people like him. I know the depth of my experiences will shape my family as I share my life stories with my daughter and grand-children.

I’ve realized that each generation has the opportunity for community of a unique kind. Each generation in each country will speak of its time ‘back when’. Sharing stories from one generation to the next are stories of the heart passed on as ‘books in breath’. I have realized just how difficult this is for us in our reality, as extended families are spread out across the country and the world. Unlike in Eastern Europe and Africa where families are close by and even living in the same house as a necessity to simply survive. In so many indigenous cultures throughout history, story telling by elders was such an important role of community life. So many riches can be found there.

So, whilst we look at ourselves and think what a blessed life we lead now, looking back I think of the gifts I was given. I was blessed with the gifts of a close family, a resilient spirit, faith and maturity through responsibility. I hope that one day, Goodwin too will be able to look back and tell his grand-children inspirational stories of his life. I hope he will be able to share with them on their first day of High School, about being one of 13 in a two room house, of studying for his business degree by candle-light. I imagine how these young adults may roll their eyes when hearing of his struggles, as we once did when our parents shared with us their childhood stories!

I know too that my daughter’s children and grandchildren will have different lives again. But my life’s experience has me believing generations passed and those to follow all hope for the same things: a loving family, opportunity for education, peace, resilience, understanding and a strong sense of community.

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Long Ago: Community Entry #23

From this nook in this little cabin in remote Montana...two characters lie on a beach in Mexico. That's what happens when you write a novel in winter...

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

This gem reminds us that home truly is wherever you are.  And family is a community that only you define.  Please enjoy! 

yrs.  Laura 

p.s.  June Haven writing retreat is now booking and filling fast…  Click here for more info.

Long Ago: Community by Pamela Hammonds

If people ask where I was born, I naturally say “Indiana.” But if the question is worded differently, if someone asks, “Where did you grow up?” I’m much more likely to say “Alabama.” This is the story of how I got there.

When I was 20 and a college junior, I said, “I do” to a grad student with more ambition than heart who convinced me that he was the best thing that ever happened to me. Over the next five years, we would move four times and land in a small town in Alabama. When he returned home from work one day and announced yet another job opportunity awaited him in a neighboring state, I had to make a decision. Should I continue to follow someone who doesn’t respect me any more than I do myself? Or stay. For me.

I made one trip out of state to house hunt and became physically ill on my drive home alone. As the house in Alabama went on the market, I summoned the courage to tell him I didn’t want to move again. Although I’ve put much of our short life together behind me, this I remember distinctly. He said: “I made a commitment to my career long before I made a commitment to you and will go with or without you.” Wisely, I said, “Then go.”

As the moving company labeled boxes with “his” and “hers,” I watched a brown cardboard barricade go up between us. With my golden retriever’s heavy head in my lap, I sat on the kitchen floor and wept—too proud to return to Indiana, too scared to stay, too unsure I would survive anywhere.

But I did stay. I found an apartment and a job in the office of the local shopping mall and settled into a life with my pup and uncharted independence. My new boss and his dog, who lived in the same complex, made sure my dog and I walked safely each evening and sometimes invited us over for pizza and a movie. Or just checked in to make sure we were all right.

He wasn’t the only one concerned about my welfare. Many of the mall tenants became dear friends as we worked closely together, preparing for holiday events, summer sales and fashion shows. A couple years later, I would purchase a new white dress and gold bands at that mall and marry that kind man—who happened to be my boss.

When we made the move from two apartments to one house, packing up all our worldly goods—and two dogs—those same friends who worked with us welcomed us into our new home with gifts and good wishes. The bank manager had become my substitute mother and taught me that when life gets hard, bear in mind that “this too shall pass.” Our two sons would call her Mimi, as did all her grandchildren.

We no longer live in small town Alabama. The two babies we had when we lived there are now in college. But my twenty-fifth through thirty-fifth years were spent there. I made a lot of mistakes and missteps, but when it mattered most, I made the right choices. I chose the father of my children in that town. I chose to surround myself with good people like Mimi and Granddaddy, Steve and Claudia, Joel and Elizabeth, Vicki and Tommy and many more people who became family. Who took a scarred and scared 25-year-old into their flock and made her life better.

I haven’t lived in Indiana for nearly thirty years, never returned to live close to my ‘real family.’ But I find that wherever I live—California, Illinois, Texas, Alabama—I’m surrounded by family. People who love me whom I love in return. People who love my children like their own. My people. My family.

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Long Ago: Community Entry #22

 

I am building community up in this neck of the woods in all sorts of places I'd never think to look at home...

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

Grandma’s Garden, by Susie Hartman

Grandma let us kids select a vegetable we wanted to grow.  Sweet Peas were always my first choice.  Grandma’s garden was planned and plotted through each long and cold Nebraska winter and would take up the better part of one fourth of our acre sized back yard.  Starting with seeds in little cups of dirt on our kitchen table, we would all cheer the sprouts as their life began, until six weeks later when Grandma placed them gently in their selected spots.  She would lovingly pat the dirt around each one, giving the little seedlings the support they would need to get through their young life and on to maturity.    There is a picture of her leaning on the handle of her hoe with a grin as broad as the straw hat on her head.  Standing in the midst of the life she nurtured must have given her a feeling of purpose.  

What memories we have of my Grandma and that garden.   My brother, sister and I would try to get up earlier than the others so we could be first to the garden to pick the juiciest strawberry or the fattest sweet pea.  Grandma would often pull a rhubarb stalk from the plant and sprinkle it with sugar for us all to take a bite of the bittersweet taste.   At the end of the summer would come harvest time.  Once there was an early freeze and our entire family was out in the cold picking every last tomatoe on the vine.  The smell of tomatoe plants, and of the hot cocoa made to warm us, always brings me back to that night.  Autumn also heralded in the canning of tomatoes, pumpkins and cucumbers.  Thanksgiving would be the grand inauguration of the garden’s fall harvest where we would have friends and family come from afar for Mom’ s prepared feast, packed with the wealth of vegetables lovingly grown in Grandma’s summer garden.

I suppose Grandma’s love of gardening was destined from her heritage. She was born in 1903 to German Immigrants, whose late 1800’s American dream landed them working on a farm in Iowa.   Great Grandpa would not allow Grandma to go to school so she never did learn to read.  This young farm girl named Josephine married a hard working farm boy and had five sons.  At the old age of 42, Grandma gave birth to Lucille Josephine, my mom.  Her unexpected daughter never left her side.   As soon as Grandma’s last son left home, my Grandfather also moved out.  This left Mom and Grandma  to care for each other.   Years later their interdependence on each other was sealed when Grandma went to chase a rogue cow, causing her to fall into a ditch where she broke her ankle.  The only doctor in the small town hospital was a drunk who did not provide her proper care.  There was no choice but to amputate her leg below the knee when the gangrene set in.   My mom was just seventeen, and Grandma’s sole/soul provider.

Grandma lived with us during our growing-up years.  She was not the soft and padded greeting card type of Grandma most kids had in those old television shows.  She was more weathered and wiry, with bent crippled fingers and a crooked nose from a sledding accident as a kid.  She smoked cigarettes, and of course, had her fake wooden leg.   Mom and Grandma made an agreement.  Grandma would watch us kids while Mom and Dad worked, but she refused to cook.   In spite of her wooden leg, we saw Grandma hang every load of our seven member family’s laundry out on the clothesline, police four young children, and tend to her garden daily.

Grandma was good to us in her rough way and we kids loved her deeply.  She was the kind of grandma who would sneak the dreaded unwanted food off our plates and onto hers so that we could be excused from the table.   I remember her fondly as she rocked the baby in her arms, singing, terribly off key, “He’s got the Whole World in His hands.”  This while hitting the side of her black and white TV to make it stop running while watching World Wide Wrestling.   It was Grandma we would go to for comfort and a band aid when hurt or sad.  It was Grandma’s bed we would go to when we were scared in the night.   It was Grandma who tended to, and nurtured us, as we grew into young adulthood.

The end of Grandma’s season came after we moved to California.  The yard was too little for a garden, and Grandma had a stroke.  Now it was our turn to take care of her, and we tried, until we could no longer care for her properly.  Our hearts broke as she cried like a young child that first week in the convalescent home.  She died when I was 17.

In the years after Grandma died, I attempted on a few occasions to plant sweet peas.  Once it was in a very small spot near the patio of the condo I rented while in college.  It was during this event that I fell in love with my husband.  He surprised me by bringing a watering can, a little spade, stakes, string and seeds so that I could attempt this endeavor.   I guess you could say more than peas sprouted from that garden.  I harvested and shared a good number of sweet peas one day that summer, with my sister Cindy, who was visiting me.  We cherished each pea as it came from the freshly picked pod, and recalled sweet memories of the garden and the grandma we held so dear.

Now I am raising girls at the young age of 40 something.  We also have attempted to grow sweet peas, some green beans and even carrots, in a container garden with some success.  My girls have heard many stories about their Great Grandma’s garden and how much I loved her and sweet peas still.  Luckily we have been blessed by dear friends who “live off the grid” and have a healthy working garden in order to sustain the family in their remote location.  It has become a tradition each summer that we drive out to their house and spend the day working in the garden, picking all the wonderful vegetables we desire.  The girls collect eggs from the chickens and we all spend time in my friend’s kitchen cooking a wonderful, garden fresh dinner.  We leave with the gifts of fresh veggies, full stomachs and good friendship.   As I leave, I am also brought back in time to be reminded of a Grandma I loved, and the garden she grew.

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Long Ago: Community Entry #21

Winter holds the space for the return of abundance. Maybe that's how the muse works.

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

Amazing the power of love in a created thing.  Thank you, Kristen Thaxter for reminding us.  yrs.  Laura

Not Alone, by Kristen Thaxter

It was a simple request.  “Will you make one for the baby I will have someday?”

My grandma had set out to crochet an afghan for each of her grandchildren.   She made them for us in age order, and as time went on, her fingers were not cooperating so well any more.  In her 40’s, her right leg began dragging and she walked with a limp.  First she used a cane, then a walker, and finally a wheelchair as the right side of her body became increasingly paralyzed.

I lived with my grandparents my final two summers of high school.  That last summer, Grandma still had use of her right hand.  After she finished the last grandchild’s blanket, I had a special favor to ask:  would you make a blanket for the baby I will have someday?”  It was something special, just for me, the promise of a dream come true.    I chose a white yarn, soft and fuzzy, and she created a crib sized blanket out of it.  It was her last creation.  I treasured that blanket, and put it away for my someday.

There were some hitches along the way to someday.  I married in my early 20’s, and postponed having children while I went to graduate school.  I was eager to get the baby making machine going as soon as I graduated, but biology had a different idea.   Finally, with assistance from the modern miracle of fertility inducing drugs, I got pregnant, and with great joy, realized the dream of becoming a mother.

But the blanket remained in its safe, sealed Rubbermaid box in the garage.  I didn’t even consider using it at the time.  It was too “special” and I didn’t want to ruin it.  I find that I save things like that.  Things that I especially love, and am afraid to use up.  I save them, and treasure them, and never fully experience them.

Three years later, after the birth of my second child, the “just so” nature of my life had unraveled significantly, and I had begun to develop an appreciation for living in the present and inhabiting the life that I had.  A little less scripted and a little more real, kind of the like the Velveteen Rabbit.  One day, a daring though crossed my mind:   “What if, just what if, I got out grandma’s baby blanket, and (gasp), used it?”  In what seemed like a bold move (it’s funny to me now, how my definition of bold had changed), I took the blanket out of the box, washed it, and laid it over my baby.

My grandma was long gone before either baby was born.  Her gift of the blanket had always been meaningful to me, but in the time between its creation and its use, I learned more about my grandma’s life, and had life experiences of my own that created in me an emotional connection to her.   She had been a passionate and vivacious young woman.  My grandpa had told me the story once of the first time she had caught his eye, a young woman on the back of a horse, blue eyes flashing, brown braids trailing behind her, flying across the Nebraska prairie.  It was a dream he felt he must catch.

Another memory stands out – I was sitting in the funeral home, holding space with what was left of her, not yet ready to say my last goodbye.   As I sat there, some of her old friends came by for a visit.  I sat there on the sofa, quietly listening as they talked among themselves, recalling stories of her younger days, days I had never been privy to.  “Remember hearing Annie laugh?” one said.  “Oh, yes.  You could always tell where Annie was; you could follow the sound of her laughter and find her.”  I had never known that side of my grandma.  It made my heart very happy to know that she had joyful years as well.

Over time, life had taken its toll on her.  Yes, there had been the pain of her gradual physical decline, and the fear associated with it.  Doctors had not been able to diagnose her ailment while she was alive.  It was not until after her death that an autopsy finally gave it a name:  multiple sclerosis.

There was also the pain of a very difficult marriage.  Family secrets are strong, and I only have bits and pieces.   After she died, I learned that my grandpa had experienced what was called a nervous breakdown, when my mom was 12 and her sisters were teenagers.  They lived in a tight knit Mennonite farming community and I have only heard the story once.   To this day, I do not know the details; 50 years later, it must still be painful to discuss.  All I know is that one day, the men in the white coats literally came and took my grandpa away.

Again, my information is sketchy, but I gather that he was gone for the better part of two years.   My grandma was left to raise four extremely headstrong teenage girls on her own.   I cannot imagine the shame, in a small, religious, farming community in the late 1950’s, of having a husband and father in a mental institution.  My aunt, one day, in a tiny glimpse of that era, remembered my grandma, crying at the kitchen sink.  My mom recalled that periodically, Grandpa would be allowed home for visits, without her knowledge that he would be coming home.  She just remembers him appearing there, quiet, dazed, possibly drugged, possibly the recipient of electric shock, sitting in his easy chair in the living room.  It had to be terrifying.

Life brought unexpected challenges to my life and marriage as well.  Suffice it to say that I experienced my own version of fear and shame, and secrecy.  I cried many a day at my own kitchen sink.   It was during that time that I began to feel an exquisite tenderness for my grandma, for what I perceive to be our shared experience of living in a painful marriage, our communion of disappointment, shame and sorrow.  It’s a community I did not care to be a member of, but was not able to avoid.  Being a member simply meant I did not bear it in solitude.   I learned that we do not always get to choose which communities life initiates us into. Our mere presence in them, however, is a declaration that we are not alone.

“Thnuggo me” she said as she climbed onto my lap with her blankey.  It was a familiar command from my lisping toddler.  I would be happy to snuggle her; she had been a squirmy baby, the kind that could leave you sweaty and exhausted after trying to keep her still through a Sunday sermon.   After all, what’s better in life than a little one after a bath, wet hair combed back, fresh diaper on, blankey bunched in her arms,  sucking her fingers and pulling them out just enough to utter the welcome demand “thnuggo me.”

She’s a teenager now, and thankfully still likes a good snuggle.  The girl still loves her blankey, though there is not much left of it.  It’s been well loved, that blankey, a fixture in her life.  When she was a baby, she would suck the first two fingers of one hand backward, and with the other hand, push her blankey toward her nostrils, as if she wanted to inhale it.  As a preschooler, you could often find her crashed on the couch for a nap, cuddling the blankey.   When she began school and had her first sleepovers, it was a serious decision whether to take the blankey or leave it behind.  She was 9 when her dad and I separated, and for the past few years, her blankey has made the trip with her from my house to his and back every other week, a silent partner in her own unplanned community.

The demise of the blankey has been an intermittent conversation for years.   It is quite literally falling apart.  It’s not unusual for her to approach me even now, with a scrap in her hand that has fallen off, a silent plea in her eyes “I want it to last forever”.  Without a word, she leans into me and I hug her close, just like the blanket she has leaned into all these years.  

I wish Grandma could have known what a difference that blanket has made in the life of her granddaughter.   How the work of her hands has brought comfort and solace.  Without ever meeting each other, she has mattered to my Paige, and provided her a feeling of belonging to a family, a community.

Thank you Grandma; you have done the same for me.

 

 

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Filed under Blog series-- Long Ago: Community, My Posts

Long Ago: Community Entry #20

 

Such comfort from a front stoop in the snowy woods...

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

Community of Small Things, by Renee Lux

When my daughter was still young enough to need naps, I would wake her every afternoon by cracking open her bedroom window. From the playground across the street we could hear the sound of children playing, the dull “thunk” of a basketball and the rhythmic squeak of rusty swings. I would whisper in her ear, “Wake up. Your friends are waiting for you,” and a smile would break out across her sleepy face.

For two years, we lived in a neighborhood of multi-family homes, perched at the top of a steep hill just a few T-stops west of Boston.  The playground and dog park was geographically and socially at the center of our community. Everyday at 10 and 3 my daughter would meet up with a posse of one year-olds on the playground. Together they learned to walk in the sandbox, toilet trained in the bushes and shared birthdays at the picnic table, while we mothers and nannies would gratefully share adult conversation.

In this community, the hours of the day were marked by the comings and goings of our neighbors. Breakfast was punctuated by the sound of a Harley roaring to life. “Anthony’s daddy is going to work!” my daughter would announce.

In the evening, a neighbor who faced the park would begin practicing on her baby grand piano, and everyone knew it was time to head home for dinner.

In summer, dog owners would return with beer and wine to watch the dogs roughhouse in the grass while the kids; some in their pajamas, took one last ride on the swings before sunset.

Here we had a community on our doorstep. Friendly faces and daily contact lay just on the other side of our own front door.  So, it broke our hearts to move on – on to a new town, a better job and a better opportunity.

In our new neighborhood every home has a playground in the backyard. Every other home has a swimming pool, and every third house has an automatic gate and a tall boxwood hedge for privacy. The nearest public playground is usually empty and there are no sidewalks for trick-or-treaters or dog walkers.

For a long time, I only had acquaintances in this town. My network was a sampling of women who made small talk from behind their sunglasses and brushed cheeks with me at school socials.

One day, out of nowhere, a mom who I had known for less than a year invited me to join her and some girlfriends on trip to Miami to celebrate her 40th. I remember thinking that this was a bizarre invitation from someone I barely knew. I politely declined and told my husband, “I don’t think I’m ready for that level of commitment.”

I sailed along without commitment or community, until one day, out of habit, a neighbor asked about my husband. As it turns out, he had just been laid off- a situation that was so new and traumatic that I wasn’t able to simply respond, “He’s fine.”

My answer was a rambling recitation of office politics and back-story delivered with subtle tones of shame. When I was done, my neighbor removed her sunglasses and looking at me with warm green eyes said, “I know how brutal it can be. My husband lost three jobs in three years.”

I was caught completely off guard. Suddenly I realized that this woman wasn’t an acquaintance, she was a friend!

My neighbor extended me a lifeline, so I took hold and asked her how she coped and how she cared for her family. She was honest and forthcoming and during our extended unemployment she was part of my support system. I tested the waters in other relationships and found there too were lifelines just waiting for me.

Today, that woman whose 40th birthday I missed, is my best friend and we have pulled each other through all sorts of intimate tragedies and victories. Sometimes I look at her and think back to that invitation, that fearless act of friendship that she extended to me and I wonder, “How did she know?”

I have learned to extend lifelines of my own and in return I have the satisfaction of knowing that I am part of what nourishes the community that supports me. I stopped at a friend’s house today and gave her a break from her two flu-stricken daughters. She gave me a Tupperware of homemade soup for lunch and I will return it this evening with something for her dinner. I am the emergency contact for half a dozen families at school, and they are mine. I am the back-up nanny for a full-time working mom. I am part of a neighborhood carpool. My garbage collector’s name is Julio and he has two young daughters. My mailman, Yves is from Haiti. Once again, friendly faces and daily contact lies just on the other side of my front door.

While it may not have the Norman Rockwell patina of our Boston neighborhood, my new community revealed that it too has depth and strength. What I have today is not built on something arbitrary like the proximity of a park; it is built on daily acts of faith and friendship, small things that are within everyone’s reach.

 

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Filed under Blog series-- Long Ago: Community, My Posts

Long Ago: Community Entry #19

 

Purple mountain majesty. Night walks. Many pages now.

 

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

Loving the mountains as I do, and being a transplant as well, this piece spoke majesty to me.  Thank you, Elsbeth Chambers and fellow Montanan!  yrs. Laura

The Mountains, by Elspeth Chambers

“The mountains! The mountains! We greet them with a song!” So goes an old college song, the college that my husband attended in fact. But it wasn’t until I wrote my first attempt at this essay that I came to realize how mountains run through my life like the proverbial silken thread.

In the summer of 1930, shortly before his 17th birthday, my father arrived in Alberta and began a love affair with the Rocky Mountains. He had been born in a country vicarage in England, the fifth of six children, and arrived in Canada with a group of boys all eager to experience the openness and opportunity of life on the Canadian prairie. Maybe an older brother’s departure less than a year earlier to work on a rubber plantation in Malaya had inspired him to travel west, I do not know. My father wanted to farm – in one of his early diaries he had written “I think I shall be a farmer when I grow up” – and went to work for a farmer in southern Alberta. But life took one of those unexpected turns, and after realizing that the life of a farmer was, after all, not for him, he crossed the Rockies to attend university in Vancouver, and later became ordained, like his father, grandfather, and many great grandfathers before him. For the next decade he crisscrossed the Rockies as he ministered to parishioners in Alberta and British Columbia during the difficult times of the Depression and World War II.

After the War my father traveled back to England to visit his family, who had miraculously all survived, including the brother in Malaya who had spent the war incarcerated by the Japanese. In those post-war days of shortages and rationing my father had to wait several months for a passage back to Canada, and took the offer of temporary assistant to a clergyman friend in southwest London. On one of his first Sundays there a beautiful young woman caught his eye, and once again life took one of those unexpected turns. Within a year they were married, and my grandparents begged them to stay in England a while longer. This was before the days of mass air travel, when crossing the Atlantic was done by sea, and the thought of their daughter living and raising their grandchildren half way round the world was more than they could bear.

So my father took a parish in England, and I too was born in a country vicarage. A quarter of a century would elapse before my father took my mother to see his beloved Rocky Mountains, but he returned to them often in his dreams, and my brother and I were raised on romantic stories of his life there. His stories, visits from my uncle, now coffee farming in Kenya, and pen-pal correspondence with a cousin whose mother had followed my father to Canada, inspired in me a wanderlust, and I knew that when I grew up I wanted to travel and see the world. I found a career that would take me to far-away places, and I can still remember, as I traveled to my first post, flying by the Himalayas at dawn, and looking carefully at all the rosy peaks so I knew I would have seen Mt Everest, even if I wasn’t sure which peak it was! A year or two later I found myself based in the foothills of the Himalayas. Each summer groups of climbers would appear and set off to conquer some of the world’s tallest mountains. I met and got to know men who had climbed Mt. Everest, and listened to their tales.

Eventually my career brought me to the United States, and here life began to repeat itself, for a few months after I started attending a church in Washington, D.C., a good-looking man caught my eye. A few months later he took me to his college town, and, standing on a New England mountaintop, asked me to marry him. (My brother also proposed to his wife on top of a mountain, though that was in Switzerland.) Unlike my grandparents so many years before, my parents were accustomed to transatlantic air travel and were more than happy to take advantage of having a reason to fly across the “pond”. Visits to Washington D.C. were invariably combined with tours of the western United States and, of course, the Canadian Rockies.

With the new millennium came our family’s decision to leave Washington D.C. We considered several places in different parts of the country, but Montana tugged at us. My husband had spent summers at a summer camp in the Bitterroots, a Rocky Mountain range in southwest Montana. Like so many before us, we liked the idea of the openness and opportunity provided by Big Sky country; we sold our house, bundled the children into that modern day version of the covered wagon, the minivan, and headed west. We made a ceremonial visit to the Gateway Arch in St Louis, and followed routes taken by the early pioneers. We built a house in a valley in northwestern Montana, 300 feet above the valley floor. From our deck, on a clear day, we can see mountains for a hundred miles.

Sadly, by the time we moved here, my father was too frail to travel to visit us (my mother had died a few years earlier) although he still returned to the Rockies in his dreams. But he was happy to know that his daughter was living and raising his grandchildren in his beloved Rocky Mountains, and he loved to see my photographs and hear me describe the mountains to him in our Sunday telephone conversations. I think we both felt that in some way I had completed the circle and, half a century after he left Canada, I had come home for him.

“The mountains! The mountains! We greet them with a song”

 

 

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Filed under Blog series-- Long Ago: Community, My Posts