I never thought much about reminiscences of older family members, and in fact often found them tedious. As a kid and young adult, it seemed like boring history. Anyway, I was more interested in my story than in theirs. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that their story is my story. I wish I had written a family memoir, with all the collected stories of grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles. They are all dead now, and I’m the repository of what little history remains. I have a few snippets and they fascinate me at this point in my life. I see the importance of a family legacy of values and character, and I appreciate the courage of many of my ancestors. My maternal grandmother’s family came here from Czechoslovakia before her birth in 1914, not speaking English and with only the clothes on their backs but believing in the promise of America. My paternal grandfather lost a family business and his wife at the start of the Depression. He went back to the family farm with his five children and eked out a living somehow. My dad recalled severe poverty but also always recounted with pride that his father turned away the social worker who offered to place some of the children with people who could provide better.
Before his death, I coaxed some more stories from my dad, and they were great! Some inspiring and some just funny, such as the time he punched his high school football coach in the nose and got away with it because his sister worked in the principal’s office. His mother was a teacher and her love of reading and emphasis on education had a profound impact on my dad, even though she died when he was five. Because she had imparted those values to his older siblings, two of his brothers became schoolteachers and his favorite brother Bill persuaded my dad to go to college after he got out of the army at age 20. Dad also told me about the time my very naïve and straitlaced mother got drunk on punch at a dean’s reception. He said he got her outside just in time for her to throw up in the dean’s shrubs. We shared a good laugh about that one!
I had to get to this point in my life to realize that my ancestors were real people with real life stories, people I would have liked to have known. I wish I had written that book so that when my kids are old enough to reach this realization, they would have a book of family memories.
It was pretty much the same way I came to have my ears pierced.
We had promised Karla she could have her ears pierced on her 13th Birthday. Forty years ago ear piercing wasn't quite as popular as it is now. Of course, I was hoping she would forget
about it! When the time came, she hadn't forgotten. An appointment was made with our beautician friend for the big event. We arrive at the appointed time, Karla is excited, all is well
as Karla sits in the beautician's chair and gets her ears marked. Then as the gun comes into place, Karla leaps out of the chair and says "You go first Mom". So I did.
Karla and Fredrick are both working from home. Their office is as official as it can be, with the addition of 3 small dogs and a great comfy couch. But she feels there is something missing in her life. so she buys a bowl for a Beta fish, which becomes a tank for the Beta and some Neons.
Then she starts talking about having some Finches, just because they are fun and relaxing to watch. They don't need people; they entertain themselves and chirp a lot.
So on a Sunday outing we go visit a bird store. Parakeets, Canaries, Love Birds, Finches and Cockatiels chirping away and ready for new homes.
We talked about my mother having a cockatiel after she retired. Mom had developed CHF so her activities were restricted and her bird, Lollipop, was great company for her. She taught it to talk and spent lots of time with it.
As we walked around the bird store and talked about Mom and Lollipon, Karla had another brainstorm!
"Happy Mother's Day, Mom. You get a baby cockatiel!" So Bird & I started getting acquainted right then. He was about 4 weeks old and really not too cute.
I had found a picture of myself, my sister and neighbor kids, Wilma & Buba not too long before. Buba was my buddy. We were the same age and ran the neighborhood together playing all hours of the day. So my new buddy had to be Buba also.
We are making headway with forging a bond and having fun together. I hope he learns to say his name!
One of the fun things about living close to my daughter is getting to spend lots of time together. And when you have lots of time, you get to share
memories that don't have a chance to surface during short visits.
Like the other day we got to talking about "Cats We Have Known".
There was Isiah, Karla's best buddy for many years. His mother was a registered Persian, beautiful gray and white. His father was a traveling salesman who snuck
in under cover of darkness. So Isiah had lush fur and a lovely temperament. He slept with Karla and heard all of her secrets, listened to problems and loved her
There was Turtle Cat, a tri-color that wasn't really a calico. Her main talent was dropping kittens, often. She lived under the back steps and was a free spirit.
Gilligan earned his name at our first sight of him. He was falling past the dining room window, a blur of white and orange fur, coming from a tree top by the second story of our house. We don't remember him becoming any more graceful as time went on!
One day as I walked home from visiting a neighbor down the block, a tiny black and white kitten started following me. Very tiny, very young and very determined to have a home with us. I took him home, scrambled him an egg and named him Bandit. His black and white gave him a mask and white lower face and chest. He grew up to be a lovely fluffy cat, well, he would have been lovely but he just never learned the fine at of grooming all that beautiful long fur. He was a good pet for many years.
Others came and went over the years; those are the ones that stuck in our memories.
Of course there were other animals too. The best dog was a Sheltie named Christy. Shetland Sheep dogs are smart, great pets, obedient by nature and spoiled me for living with Terriers.
The dining room was home to a Guinea pig, living in a wash tub for several years. Christy, the dog would visit with him touching noses to be sure all was well. And sometimes a cat would nap in his straw.
Then there was the Mouse Summer. A couple of days before Ray and Karla were to visit the Grandparents in Florida, Ray and a buddy went to the local 5 & 10 store and came home with 2 pregant white mice.
Of course, the other mom wasn't having those nasty creatures in her house. They landed in Ray's room in an old aquarium with a screen on top. The mice both had their babies, and the boys promised a couple to another neighborhood kid. Exit Ray and Karla to Florida. A few days later the kid comes for her mice and I sent her upstairs to pick out the ones she wanted.
"Where's My Mouse?" she yelled! I was confused; supposed to be in the tank. "No, Gilligan is sitting in the tank and there are no mice". So that was the end of that story.
We were blessed to live in a small town where our kids could play outside and have neighborhood friends to hang out with. There was even aa creek/ditch where they could catch crawdads and tadpoles.
Fun times to remember together.
Life changed after Erik died and we began going to another church. There I met Esther Endres who befriended me and showed me many things. Esther had many things that had been challenging in her life, but it did not keep her from giving back in so many ways. She had been volunteer coordinator at First Lutheran for a period of time. When I first knew her, she had stepped down from that position, but was still heavily involved in volunteering and getting others to volunteer. I believe I met Esther through a mutual acquaintance who was linked to the closing of Hissom with residents from there transitioning into the community. I had volunteered there and Esther had had a child there at one time. There were other people at First Lutheran who had had children there or who had some connection or just an interest. Esther, with a bit of help from me, put together a committee of volunteers. Sometimes we went to Hissom as a group and familiarized ourselves with some of the residents there. Our aim was to become friends with those who had no family connections any more. Some of the time at Hissom, families were strongly encouraged to leave a family member and not come back for quite a while so the new resident could make a “good” transition. That really meant that many people had no family connection.
Esther was such a good leader and knew how to get others to follow. She was definitely involved, but did not do all the work. I was reminded of this on a Zoom meeting this week with ACTION when a leader from Houston said that your job as a leader is to get others to follow and become leaders as well, not to do the work yourself. Esther was a great example of that. The staff at Hissom were cooperative with our endeavor and thanks to Esther's long connections in the community, our group was even recognized by J.C. Penney and received a Golden Rule Award. We all tried to stay in touch with the person we were matched with once they left Hissom, but that wasn't always possible because of the change in staff at the various locations they went to. I am ever grateful to Esther for friendship, wisdom and guidance.
I don’t know if any of you try to give meaning to your dreams, but it’s something I’ve done for a long time. They tell me what I’m really concerned about, or scared of, or what is troubling in my life. I’ve figured out my own symbols. This week, however was a little different.
On Thursday morning I awoke at 6:30 with the sun, and knew I could go back to sleep for an hour, which I did. Times like that are usually rich in dreams. That morning I dreamed that a doll fell in front of me, it’s head broke off and started bleeding profusely, and I screamed (not out loud.) One minute later a large beautiful black and blue butterfly flew in front of me, flew around the sky, and then flew upward and out of sight.
I immediately got up and told Ed that I was sure that Gil Dahl had died, and I explained the dream. Ten minutes later Catherine Dahl (Gil’s daughter) messaged me that he had died that night.
I knew Gil was very sick, so he was the first person I thought of when I figured out that my dream told me that someone died. Later I realized that the “doll” was “Dahl”. That’s how my symbolism often works, using words similar to the real thing. And of course, the butterfly is a universal symbol of transition, and flying upward is the symbol of going to heaven.
This is fascinating to me. I always got along with Gil, and I passed him almost daily on my bike rides in Forest Ridge, because he was always painting the fences around the community. We passed him one last time just last week. He was in the passenger seat of his daughter’s car, just coming home from Fellowship for his great grandson’s baptism. He smiled weakly and waved. Good bye Gil, I know you’re in a better place now.
When we moved to Texas two years ago, one of the first things we did was look for a church. It's how we've approached the move to a new community through many moves, over many years. Our church life has always formed the structure that determines how we live. Many of our friends come from our church community; much of our energy is utilized in church activities.
We were disappointed in our first efforts to find an ELCA congregation and eventually settled on the Presbyterian church we passed on the way to and from one of the churches we visited a couple of times. Something about the "aura" of Round Rock Presbyterian invited us in, where we found welcoming members and a pastor passionate about social justice and service to the community. The theology and worship customs were consistent with our faith. It felt just right. I joined the Mission Committee and jumped right in to service activities: Mobile Loaves & Fishes (making & distributing meals to homeless or disadvantaged in inner-city Austin), Habitat for Humanity build days, Blessing Box (food pantry) contributions, and volunteering to co-coordinate a partnership with an elementary school with a high percentage of Spanish-speaking, low-income, low-performing students. Despite the challenges of a Covid year, each of these activities has been rewarding.
Recently, I was asked to participate with a group from our church in a 12-week class led by The Church Lab of Austin in "Reimagining Service." The primary focus of the program is to teach congregations how to discover the actual needs of the surrounding community (as opposed to perceived needs) by asking people what they need and by doing research. Next, we'll focus on discovering the congregation's resources and abilities, and strategize the best ways to leverage them. It sounds very commonsense, but it isn't the way many church ministries originate. We may discover we're already doing what our community most needs, but find more effective ways to meet those needs. On the other hand, we may find that we're not providing much benefit to our community through current efforts and need to rethink what we do altogether. Either way, I'm all in. The elements of the class are right up my alley, and I can't wait to reimagine our service to the Round Rock area.
As I write this we are approaching the 100th Anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre and the 1 year Anniversary of the death of George Floyd. It will be quite a week in Tulsa with all the commemoration events. My question is, “Have we learned anything in the last 100 years or in the last year?” By the time this is published, will we have gone on with our lives and forgotten these events or will they spur us to action? Will we continue to build bridges or create obstacles?
My journey over the recent past has been to learn by reading and studying with others and then moving on to action. I want to do my part in combating racism and becoming a good ally or as one author says, a good ancestor. My favorite quote for this year, and the one I have challenged myself to remember, is from Cornel West and says, “Love is what justice looks like in public.” Jesus showed us the way to love others. He was compassionate and met people where they were. He spoke up on behalf of people that society would have ignored, deemed unworthy or unfit, or even condemned.
My challenge for myself is to stand with those who are ignored or whose voice isn't heard and their needs unmet. It is not for us to decide what others need, but to listen and heed what they need and then do what they tell us would be helpful to them. As Bishop Mike, says, we do not need to decide for them what they need, but listen and learn. He related a story about going to Central America, I think, with a mission team on several occasions. At one point a leader from that country asked him if he thought the people there couldn't paint as that was what the mission team did each time. That illustrates how we can decide what someone needs without actually asking them. To me the lesson is that the people affected need to lead and I need to follow. That is hard because I am used to having my privilege. It is perfectly illustrated for me by the quote on the bottom of Greg Robinson's email, “What you do for me without me, you do to me.” May we all love enough to ask and do, get out of the way, and be willing to make mistakes.
There have been many people in my life who appeared just when I needed them. Most have been women. I suppose I feel women provide a better example for who I should be than men, though men have taught me plenty. From Lois Bekkerus, in the small Lutheran church in Lake Charles I attended for 26 years, to my older sister Karen, to my stepmother Ruby (all now gone) I learned who I am as a child of God and as a woman and mother. Of course, there are a few lessons I've had to unlearn, but for the most part I'm thankful for all these women taught me. One of the mentors I treasure most, though, is my teaching mentor, Linda.
I didn't start teaching until I was 54 years old--practically ancient! I knew the subject areas well enough, but I really didn't know how to teach. Linda provided a calm, reassuring presence across the hall, always ready to listen and suggest ways to handle a situation. She suggested workshops I might find useful, and they were. She let me sit in on her classes, and she sometimes visited mine and gave helpful pointers. Always respectfully and with the best interests of my students' success in mind, a concern we shared.
I learned from my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Sims, who was strict but fair, that the teachers I admire most are both liked and respected by their students. Linda fit that mold perfectly. Students knew she wanted the best for them, but she made them earn their success, and added an encouraging nudge. When I was nominated for Teacher of the Year in 2010 (all of us were eventually--it was a small staff), Linda loaned me her submission materials from the year she'd been nominated so I'd have a model to work from. I told her at the time, as though I were joking: "You're who I want to be when I grow up." But I was serious. During the next ten or so years that I taught, I tried to emulate---and not very well---Linda's confident, compassionate style.
Linda and I are both retired now, and I no longer need to cry on her shoulder about my class's miserable performance on a quiz. "What did I do wrong? They didn't understand any of it!" I don't need her advice on helping a struggling student catch up, and I don't have to pick her brain about meeting the latest district-wide initiative for improving test scores. Instead, I simply cherish the friend who taught me who a teacher could be.
My daughter Sarah gave me a Skylight for Mother’s Day. I (or anyone else) can email pictures to it. It sits on my desk, about tablet size, shuffling through pictures in random order. It has brought back so many happy memories! It’s a wonderful reminder of how many good times we’ve had as a family.
Each year it seems someone new joins the family, by marriage or birth. The most recent was Quinn, born last September 15. She may be the last, as my daughters have declared themselves done with childbirth, and my son and his wife are pretty overwhelmed with two. We’ll see.
The family has had some great trips together over the years. Our last one was to California. We are all Harry Potter fans so we went to Harry Potter World in Los Angeles. It was great! Some of the best times we’ve had, either on a trip or at home, have been just hanging out and playing games. I remember lots of laughter during those times.
This picture, taken during a family trip to Las Vegas in 2016, brings back such wonderful memories. When I see how little the grandkids were and realize how much they’ve grown up since, I’m so glad that we went to the trouble and expense to make these experiences happen.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer. My friend Janet and I wrote stories in third grade that our teacher oohed and aahed over, making us feel talented. She called us the "Gold Dust Twins," because of the way our hair glinted golden in the sun. I loved Mrs. Sibley, and I loved to read, so it seemed natural that I'd someday write stories--or books.
Life has a habit of getting in the way of our plans, though. Instead of becoming a writer, I became a scientist like my Dad. While he was a chemist, I was a medical technologist (which includes a lot of chemistry). It was more than twenty years later, after my "dream job" in research ended because of a department closure when I picked up my writing dream again. I wrote two-and-a-half (very bad) novels and some pretty good personal essays. I realized I was a better nonfiction writer than the fiction writer I'd always thought I could be. However, it was clear after a few years of making a few hundred dollars a year that I'd never make a living at writing. I turned to teaching instead. It might seem an odd connection, but I think the reason I wanted to write was because I wanted to share information.
So now I'm about finished with a memoir, Mother of My Invention, which somehow completes the puzzle I've always tried to solve about how my mother's identity and mine intersect. and I realize it's the book I've always wanted to write--all my novel drafts flirted with the same story line. As a shy introvert, I haven't always felt I had a voice, and this book gives me one. I hope I have more personal essays in me, but at the least, I will have shared what I didn't feel I could earlier in my life. There's something about writing that helps in understanding what life is about, and I hope others might recognize truths there as well. The books I've enjoyed most are the ones that teach me about the world, about myself, and that I'm not alone.
To subscribe and receive notification of new posts, download a feed reader:
RSS Feed Reader then click the RSS Feed button above.