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Welcoming Life

May 2013


Tucked in among the tangle of weeds and granite stones are clumps of Forget-Me-Nots which appear every spring in five or six places around our family's  turn-of -the century cottage in Maine. Like the Lady Slippers in the woods, these little blue flowers bloom each year, acting as reminders that even under harsh conditions, beauty can survive.
Henry David Thoreau described the Forget-Me-Not this way "It is more beautiful for being small and unpretending."
The phrase perfectly describes the natural beauty that delights the eye here; there are no formal gardens, no sculpted trees or trimmed hedges. There is a relatively new (ten years is considered "new" here) stone wall, which was built in honor of my parents. The family with whom we share the cottage the other half of the summer planted a variety of day lilies in back of the stone wall. There is a row of Rosa Rugosa by the side of the cottage which blooms mid summer and whose branches are bent by the prevailing winds from the ocean. As the spring and summer seasons progress--Buttercups and red and yellow  Wild Paintbrush begin to dot the grass.Tiger Lilies bloom in front of small fence to the side of the cottage and Blue Flag Iris  bloom beside a circle of stones that marks the place where my grandmother planted her garden. My grandmother came to this cottage for over fifty years; she came in late May and left in late October. We have photographs of the garden she created and tended, but the next generations were/are not here long enough to care for a garden, so we depend on the beauty provided by the wild flowers and hardy perennials.
They are survivors. They carry a welcome message. They say "Forget-Me-Not."

Maine cottage

In a few days, the yearly process of "opening" our family's cottage will begin. I wrote in Above and Beyond Wellfleet about how my grandmother after the untimely death of her husband secured this cottage for future generations. My grandchildren are the sixth generation to spend part of their summers in this grand place.

The memories that have been captured in this cottage are priceless. Babies have been washed in hundred-year old small tin tubs, children have splashed in the "favorite puddle" using half mussel shells as boats, lobster picnics have been enjoyed on the hard-granite rocks in front of the cottage--sometimes with a lapping incoming tide ready to wash away a few remnants so that we could delight in welcoming crabs who joined us for the feast. 

For over one hundred years, this cottage, brilliantly designed and built by my great grandfather has brought countless hours of joy to my family. It is our touchstone with the past and the future. Much about it has not changed, and there is the temptation to hang on to that timeless continuity. It is seductive in an ever-changing world to grip tightly to those things that can be latched onto and act as reminders that "some things never change." 

Our family has learned, though, that some things must change about this cottage to keep it standing for future generations. While we might want to hold on to the old stove that my great grandfather invented--it had to go. Years ago, my mother who was unable to climb in and out of the old claw bathtub removed it and installed a shower. 

Those reading about those changes might think--"what's the big deal?" But when you are dealing with a family-shared cottage that has welcomed six generations--pretty much any change is a big deal. I use to be the "gripper". I used to resist the changes. I excused myself, because when I gripped the hardest was after my husband died, and I couldn't fathom anything in my life that had given me a sense of constancy changing.

I've learned a hard lesson. I am a convert to accepting change as a way of moving on to accepting what is most important. Which in the case of this cottage is that it remain standing in good shape so that the seventh generation and beyond will make their own memories.

I hope that the lady slippers that appear every year in late spring on the side of the wooded path will always be there. I will look for them first thing when I get out of my car this weekend. But, they may not have made it through the winter--even though they have for decades. I will be sad if they are not there, but the memory will prompt my acceptance of cherishing the joy of the past and relishing the thought of future happiness.

Why I write

It happened again! I was writing and eating at the same time while having lunch at a restaurant in Madison, CT. I was visiting my family for the weekend and took a side trip to drop off my book for review at R.J. Julia Booksellers.

I shared in Above and Beyond Wellflleet that my "black book", my journal,  is my constant companion--especially when I am eating in a restaurant alone (the image accompanying this blog was taken at my favorite Quebec City restaurant, Cafe San-Malo). I have often been confused as a food critic, and it happened again. As my server brought me my coffee, he asked if I was from Zagat's? I smiled and said "no, but the lunch and service were great."

What I write about is best described in the words of Joan Dideon who said "I write entirely to find out what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear." Her words are spot on for me. I write about what I feel and what I observe. I speak my mind to my journal; I never fear that as the words tumble out of my head onto paper that I will have offended. My journal musings are not about fact or keeping historical records. I am not a diarist for others to check what the weather was on a 
certain day or reporting current events. What I write, I keep for awhile. Some of what I've written 
helps me to sift through my emotions. Some of what I've written provides a magnifying glass by which I can see what minor things happening in my life, may actually be major. My words give me perspective. Some of what I've written is fodder for essays, blogs or the next book. Lots of what I've written will eventually be thrown away--by me.

Stephen King offered this wisdom in his book On Writing-- "writing is refined thinking." That's why I write. The process does give me the opportunity to ask myself what's on my mind. I'm often surprised by "what's on my mind." Perhaps writers (for that is what I am) must explore life through putting experiences and feelings into words. For this writer, most are not epic experiences. Writing about recovering from the death of my husband was epic. It took me ten years to distill my thoughts and then share my thoughts in my book Above and Beyond Wellfleet.

Right now, I am writing these words in the morning sunshine on my little front patio "nest." Every once in awhile I look up and observe a big, fat bumble bee enjoying a small flowering willow about ten feet away. The sun is peeking in and out of fluffy clouds and the air is a bit chilly, and my heart is glad. Is that epic? Yes!

Mother's Day

When I started writing the stories for Above and Beyond Wellfleet, I didn't realize that I was going to devote a chapter to my parents. The book is about recovering from the death of my husband, and as I wrote I realized that most of my strength came from the two people who taught me what courage and overcoming adversity were all about--my mother and father.

On Sunday, we will celebrate Mother's Day. Some feel that such holidays were created as a way to sell cards and flowers; I prefer to avoid such cynicism.

There aren't enough words for me to write which would adequately honor my mother. This photograph tells the story. Her hand always held me up--even when I could no longer physically feel it. Her touch was always gentle, but her strength was legendary. Yes, legendary. She faced a near-death battle with cancer and never, ever lost her smile or will to survive. She faithfully followed my father wherever the chance for earning a proper livelihood took our family (while I say she followed, she actually led the way). She brought her elderly parents into our small home when I was a teenager to care for them for almost ten years--until they each passed away--each never seeing the inside of a nursing home. 

There are more words, and I will write them, but for today, I will honor this brave woman with all my heart- as well as saying a special prayer for her this Sunday.

I have two other very wonderful mothers for which to be grateful--my daughter and my daughter-in-law. I watch them in awe as they nurture my grandsons. They always, always put their families first. They manage to do that while becoming each day more beautiful, strong women.

Yes, I am big fan of pausing to honor those people who make and have made my life so complete.

Happy Mother's Day.

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