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Welcoming Life

June 2013

Walking

This past weekend, I was visiting dear friends--one couple who rent the same cottage every summer and another friend who owns a home down the street.Both cottage and home face a gorgeous sandy beach. Sandy beach in Maine on the ocean is somewhat of an oxymoron, since Maine is known for its granite rocks at the edge of the water. 

I like to take long walks on this beach. I pick and choose carefully the places where I walk, because I find walking meditative. I know most regard walking as good for his or her health--but while I acknowledge how good it is--that's not my primary purpose.

Although, when I was on my solo sojourn in Canada in late November eleven years ago escaping the first holidays without Larry, I discovered I hadn't packed enough warm clothes. I found a shop in Magog in Quebec. When I walked in the store, I saw snowboards, skis, and sleds hanging on the wall and all the staff looked as if they had just climbed Mt. Everest-and were ready to climb again at a moment's notice. A very fit young woman greeted me enthusiastically and asked how she might help me and what was my sport. I thought for a moment, realizing that none of the gear which surrounded me represented my sport so I answered "walking, walking is my sport, and my legs are freezing." Undaunted, she found me two pair of ski pants that I still pull out every winter when "freezing walking" is required.

While walking was my sport that day, it is for me a contemplative exercise. This past weekend I must have walked that beach for over an hour or more. I didn't time myself, nor do I have a notion of how many miles I walked. I do know that my head was flooded with good thoughts. I was thankful that for over thirty years, I was still able to come and visit the friends who used to welcome both Larry and me with  open arms and now just me. I thought about how the sound of the  waves lapping at the shore inexorably soothed me. I looked at the children digging in the sand or screeching with joy in the water and thanked my lucky stars for my three grandchildren and the enormous joy they bring to me--even just the thought of them. I looked at families--parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, sisters and brothers and said a silent prayer for my family.

The image of the footprint in the sand is not mine. It looked more like Larry's to me when I took the photograph. Because he was surely walking with me.

Divorce

Divorce. It is an ugly word. An experience to be avoided if at all possible. But some times life happens, and divorce happens. It happened to me and my family. I write in Above and Beyond Wellfleet, that when it does "a certain innocence is lost forever."

My first husband and I did divorce right. When the dust settled, we realized that the best way to honor our dissolved marriage was to mutually love our children with all our hearts. And we've done just that.

In bringing up our two children, we never divided and conquered. We worked hard to keep our families whole and not broken.

We even added new richness to our lives. Step mothers and fathers became friends, and a new half sister was added to our family. What could have been forever sad, turned into a situation where my children have received more love versus less. 

Let me be clear, I am not advocating divorce as an answer to difficult problems. I pray that those I love and care for never have to experience the heartbreaking experience. I am writing this because like grief, the subject all too often is avoided. Discussions about what happened and why, who is related to whom are suspended somewhere in a forbidden ether, and worst of all is if the anger  grows stronger and wounds the innocent.

If the worst does happen, fairness demands  putting away personal feelings as soon as possible and focusing on the health and well being of the innocent people affected--usually the children.

I spent the last weekend with my good college friend, Carol. She was in my wedding, and as a gift I gave my bridesmaids a crystal vase (the one in this photograph). The engraving on the silver base is the date of my wedding--June 17, 1967. The pottery plate in front of the vase is a collection of heart shaped stones and shells that Carol collects. I was struck by the message each conveyed.

I will not be celebrating a wedding anniversary today, but I will be celebrating the creation of two wonderful children, who grew up loving their mother and father. There is no greater legacy.

Brothers

My brothers, John and Deane were nine and thirteen when I was born. They welcomed me into their lives, when they could have viewed my arrival as a competitor for parental attention. They did just what this photograph shows, they held me close and through the years have held me up.

I wrote in Above and Beyond Wellfleet that our family was complicated, but close. Sometimes, I think because we had complicated family relationships, we concentrated on what was important--respecting, supporting and learning to understand one another.

Because of our age differences, we did not fight over toys--well, I didn't--I think it was a different story between the boys when they were younger. Instead, they taught me how to throw a football (at age 5) and how to drive a car (at 16). 

As adults, we've held vigils together for our mother and father. Being together with them as they faded from our lives. We've consoled each other when our family losses have been almost too much to  bear.

Now, we watch each other as we age, feeling a new and close camaraderie.

Last week, I spoke about my memoir at a  luncheon arranged by my brother, Deane, along with his wife, Gudrun. I was so honored that he had such faith in me. Each person in the group seemed to have suffered some kind of loss, and the experience touched me deeply. I will remember the words spoken to me forever.

The most important memory will be looking out at the audience and seeing my big brothers and their wives (Gudrun and Claire). Keeping families together, loving each other is not easy, under the best of circumstances. I couldn't help feeling that our parents were witnessing this moment, and patting each other on the back saying "job well done." I tend to do that--imagine my parents talking to each other in heaven, and watching over us.

After the luncheon, we shared an evening together. We toasted each other, we sang the old songs--ones my brothers taught me. That is also part of our heritage, even with the span of years separating us. We all like to sing--I remember the words, my brothers have good voices. 

I usually choose a category for each blog post--it's a toss up on this one--"family" or "gratitude". I will choose "family", knowing that I am filled with gratitude.

Time Flies

The buttercups are back.They weren't in bloom last week, but within a day, because of the warm weather, yellow clumps appeared in glorious profusion. Seeing them was reassuring, but I was also startled at how quickly they came "to life" as  did the Lady Slippers in the woods--which also blossomed.No where is the passage of time more evident than at our family's cottage in Maine. This will be my 67th year in greeting the buttercups and Lady Slippers, their sight this year, while welcome, also started me thinking about how fast "time flies." I got a clutch in my throat when I thought about holding a buttercup under my children's chin playing a silly game which is if you see a yellow reflection, the person likes butter. Wasn't it just yesterday that I held that buttercup under a toddler's chin, breaking into giggles. My reverie continued when the refrain from Fiddler on the Roof came into my head  "is this the little child I carried,  is this the little boy at play?"
I have a double dose of living those words, adding my grandchildren to the refrain. , All three grandchildren are "little boys." All three have this cottage deeply imbedded in their memories--their ages range from 15-5, and all three have seen the buttercups blossom here. My mind continues to wander as to how quickly each year hurtles to the next. How fast a small child can become a doting and loving parent, nurturing her and his own family. How did my fifteen-year old grandson suddenly become six inches taller than I am, or my eleven-year old grandson start to write his own book, or my soon -to-be six year old grandson earn a medal in a "kids marathon?"
I try not to ask myself "where does the time go?" I try not to become melancholy, or wish I could put some experiences in slow motion--just to be able to savor the moment a little longer. Poetry and song lyrics have always affected me, and I remember a song by the late Jim Croce "If I could save time in a bottle." But I don't want to do that, because I know I would then miss the next delectable feast of family conversations around the dinner table or the cherished reading of bedtime stories.
Time must fly; we cannot harness it. We can, however, keep our memories by having  our minds "wink them into permanence." That poetic phrase was written in poem which my college English Professor wrote to me as a graduation gift, June 4th, 1967. She taught me to write, and now I realize she taught me much about appreciating life.
Instead of wanting to grab hold of a memory in the making a little bit longer, I will "wink it into permanence," and eagerly await the gift of making another.
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