All kids love to sing, and I was no exception. My dad sang around the house all the time, usually silly songs. He had a great voice and it was fun to sing along. I also sang in the church choir from a young age. It must have been multi generational because I remember standing by adults. I loved the old church hymns and they sounded wonderful echoing in the high ceilings of the old fashioned Episcopal church.
In middle school and high school I sang in the school choir but I had a problem when they divided us into sections and I was an alto. I couldn't for the life of me "hear" the alto part in my head so I couldn't sing it. I always veered toward the melody. My singing career ended in 12th grade when Marcia V., the snotty daughter of a music professor, whispered to me as we prepared to sing that I should just open my mouth but not let any sound come out.
I also took piano lessons beginning in kindergarten and I loved playing. I wasn't a natural but with a lot of practice I could do pretty well. As a moody teenager I loved melancholy composers like Tchaikovsky. Sadly, after I went off to college I didn't have access to a piano. I'd like to start playing again. My hands have been too crippled in recent years but they are fixed now and I'm just about ready to start. That's really exciting! I wonder how much I'll remember after 50 years but I don't mind starting with scales if I need to.
I've been thinking a lot about my sister Karen lately. The past year and a half has been so busy, I'm not sure I've fully grieved her death. In a chapter devoted to her in my memoir (which I'm furiously revising now), I mention her love of music and her extensive record collection. She was a huge fan of Peter, Paul, and Mary, the Kingston Trio, Joan Baez and other folk artists and protest music of the 1960s. I can still hear some of those albums being played--with a great deal of static--on our old Recordio radio and record player/recorder. The sound was awful, but in those days it was as good as it got. When I was fifteen, I finally got a high-tech turntable that dropped records from the stack one by one, but Karen had married and moved away by then.
Karen's love of music began when she volunteered for the backstage crew in her high school production of Bye Bye Birdie. She was hooked!! The rest of her life was filled with music of the 50s, and 60s, along with country favorites, and Broadway or movie soundtracks--she had eclectic tastes. She particularly loved The Sound of Music and Doctor Zhivago; I suspect she'd seen each of them 40 or 50 times before she died. She'd announce now and then she was watching a movie marathon on TV, like West Side Story, one showing after the other all weekend. (I admit this is one of my favorites too--"Somewhere" is magnificent!) She traveled to a nearby theater for live musical performances as often as she could.
Probably Karen's favorite artist, though, was Bob Dylan. It seems a bit of an odd choice for her, considering her earlier favorites, but there you have it. The last time I spoke to her, she had Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" blaring in the background, and she remarked how much she loved the iconic Dylan tune; she could really belt it out. I won't ever be able to hear that song again without tears in my eyes.
My husband would say I have no music in my life and my reply is that most of the music in my life is the hymns of the church. I have spent so much time in church, beginning from the moment of my birth on an Easter Sunday when my dad was supposed to be at church to the present. As a teenager, I did listen to pop music and the Hit Parade on TV, but there was not music played in my house growing up. There was no prohibition, it just didn't happen. That might have been because my family didn't have a stereo or spend money on records. It was quiet at home and that is what I got used to.
For me, Sunday may bring a favorite hymn or a new one for me to sing and to enjoy. I did sing in choir as a youth and teenager, but small churches in rural America or small towns don't have much in the way of choir. Instead, I find the music in my head repeating the words and singing silently from a hymn from the past Sunday in many cases. If nothing grabs me on a particular Sunday, it might continue to be one from the week before. During Lent this year it was from the Marty Haugen Vespers, “Let My Prayers Rise Like Incense Before You.” I don't feel like I have no music. It is just music that I relate to and am connected with.
Music has been the language of my life. I learned to sing in church, sitting next to my dad who sang a beautiful bass part, my sister who sang alto, and I’d chime in the soprano. At home my earliest toys were pots and pans that I drummed and banged along with my dad’s LP records. I was raised on classical music, and asked to name the pieces that were being played on the classical radio station. The other music was jazz, because my dad played organ in jazz bands. In 5th grade I began to play the trombone, and my favorite piece has always been "Stars and Stripes Forever," written by John Philip Sousa. My dad played in John P. Sousa II’s jazz band in the 40’s.
In the late 60’s I became enamored with folk music, and taught myself to play the guitar on an S and H Green Stamps guitar, until I was able to purchase one on my own. That guitar, and that music carried me through the trials and tribulations of motherhood. Whenever we had a problem, I’d take it out, tell all to come in the living room, and we all sat and sang Joan Baez, Pete Seeger and John Denver songs. It always calmed the wild beasts.
I led many church youth groups, and some adult, with that guitar and the church’s version of folk music. I used it to conduct dozens of religious and social work retreats. I used it to sing and play my son’s beautiful bluegrass vespers and worship services. I used it to sing the blues when I couldn’t do anything else. Music has been the language of my life.
And now my husband plays the tape of Carlos Nakai’s beautiful native Indian flute music to gently wake me in the morning. When I am preparing breakfast I say.” Hey, Google, play Morning Has Broken,” and I get this wonderful energy from the song about the new day. And later in the day when I need a pick-up, I say, “Hey Google, play “Over the Rainbow,” and I get that wonderful version by the Hawaiian that makes me want to sing.
I often say that I wish I had learned another language. Now I realize that I did. I have a song for almost everything I do, and I sing it in my head. Sometimes it’s hard to erase it, but music brings me to another world beside the dreary world of reality. It takes me to 17th century Europe, to New Orleans, to the Newport Folk Festival, and it calms my weary soul.
Our grandsons (14 and 11) were here for a week and just left this afternoon. We're exhausted! I understand now why God (usually) gives young couples children--we don't have the energy we used to. And I sympathize with grandparents who are raising grandchildren. We prepared for weeks--months really--for this visit that was supposed to happen in April but got postponed because of the pandemic quarantine. We were a little nervous about their traveling by plane even now, but we know their family has been very careful so far, just as we've been. Their summer is ending, and they begin school again next week, so this was the best and last opportunity of the year.
We played air hockey in the garage, with fan going and garage door open to allow for ventilation and welcomed cousins to come play--socially distanced and/or masked, of course. They had a ball! We were fortunate to be able to also spend two mornings at Lake Travis, kayaking and tubing at a pretty deserted private neighborhood park, courtesy of my brother and sister-in-law. We visited the mostly empty pool in our neighborhood several times, shot paintballs at targets with slingshots, played Cornhole with a borrowed set from friends (Tim and I were skunked by the grandkids!). We cooked and ate--A LOT! The boys and Tim designed and created some laser-cut projects on the laser printer, and we played games and watched movies. Whew! A lot for one week.
I'm so glad we got to see them and that they had a chance to spend time with extended family, too. It's quiet around here now. Bella's relieved she can now sleep in her preferred spot. I'm relieved to be able to heat up leftovers instead of cooking a big meal (those boys can eat!!). But...it's quiet here.
I miss them already.
When I was in high school, I traveled from southeastern Kansas to the YMCA of the Rockies near Estes Park, Colorado for a district youth conference. I instantly felt like I was in the most beautiful place on earth. The camp is surrounded by majestic mountains, and the aspen leaves rustle in the wind. Whoever I married, we were going to honeymoon there! It was a good thing that the lodging was cheap, because Bruce and I were poor college students when we married. Being the dumb Kansans that we were, it did not dawn on us that it could be very cold and snowy in the mountains at the end of May, but we were very fortunate that it was mild that year.
A number of years later, we took our two sons to the camp for a week. It’s a wonderful family place and they loved hiking the trails and climbing the rocks. My brother and his family, along with my mother, accompanied us on our next vacation back to Colorado. We all stayed in one cabin and had a wonderful time, so it became our tradition to return every other year as a family. We have always been close, but those trips gave us special memories and caused us to form even tighter bonds.
As the kids moved away, the older adults continued to vacation there, even if it wasn’t quite as often. Almost six years ago, when my husband was in the hospital dying, I had to make final plans. I had always said that I wanted my ashes to go to the Y camp and be spread up on the Summit where we stayed in various cabins throughout the years. Since he had never been as comfortable talking about death, or expressed specific wishes, I decided that we would do the same with his ashes, and then we could be there together forever. Unknown to me, the camp had built a columbarium, so his ashes are there, and eventually, mine will join his in the same niche. I’m quite certain that he approves of my decision and the knowledge that our relationship will eventually come full circle, makes me smile.
I've been thinking about other career choices I might have followed. In all the testing I have done my manual dexterity has shown me to be well fitted for assembly line work. What a hoot! What testing does not show is that I would soon throw a huge monkey wrench into the line due to Boredom.
I like learning new things but after the first 10, I'd be done. But I did learn to operate a printing press, and worked for a year or more at a Life Insurance company printing policies and envelopes and other letterhead.
Then I thought I'd like to be a Nurse. Bedpans don't scare me, and every job has its bedpan by another name. But the Math and Science put me back in touch with reality quickly. Also, I really don't want to be responsible for saving someone's life. I've taken years of CPR training and my plan is to say "Hang on, I'm calling 911".
Also, having been a mom and juggling all the parts of life, I thought a Concierge would be right up my alley. Desk in the lobby of a big hotel, finding what everyone wants/needs, building a network of resources to get things done. Being the go-to person who is in the "know" about everything would be very satisfying. And, as a parent, haven't we all felt like one?
While working at Children's Medical Center in Tulsa during the 90's, I was introduced to Occupational Therapy. It combined all my skill sets: Teaching patients how to rebuild manual skills after a stroke, teaching and assisting with bed baths and showers, teaching dressing skills and ADLs. Also, motivating, listening and showing empathy are a huge part of OT. I became an OTA through Tulsa Community College and it changed my life.
But being Gypsy Rose Lee would have been a hoot!!
This morning when I was doing my reading, which I try to do every morning, I started a different devotional book. It is a gift from a friend and is her book of devotions. It made me think about my friend Esther who wrote it and gave it to me. Esther was very much a person of peace, both inside and outside. She began life as a Quaker and it seemed that the peace and calm learned there continued to be present throughout her life.
She was the mother of five children and when she was pregnant with her second child, she took thalidomide. The medication gave her and her husband a child with developmental disabilities. They placed John at Hissom as that was the best Oklahoma had to offer at the time. Despite the state seeking to distance residents from families, that didn't happen in this case. She and her family continued to interact with John and be present for him. When the Hissom lawsuit happened, they were not one of the suing families, but very much involved. It was in this fight that I got to know Esther better. She and I and some others started a group called Friends of Hissom. Our goal was to provide a family that would interact with and provide social support for residents when they left Hissom and while they were waiting to transition into new homes in the community.
Esther worked tirelessly at this and also continued to work to find the best place for her son. I don't remember the number of families that were involved, but it did work and we were actually recognized for our organization by an award from JC Penneys. I really hadn't thought about this in quite a while. Esther was an inspiration to me and so capable of getting others to join and volunteer. At one point, she was the volunteer coordinator for First Lutheran Church. What I remember most about Esther was her calm, abiding faith and her unwavering kindness to all. I still miss her. She lived her faith out in her whole life.
Because of some neck issues I’ve been unable to read much recently. After I finish my few chores, there’s not much to do except watch television. It’s been a mix of fluff and more serious subjects. One show that I originally classified as fluff is “Queer Eye.” This is a second iteration of a show from several years back (“Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”), involving a group of five gay men who spend a week with someone helping them straighten out their lives. I’ve become more and more fascinated with this show because I see what a catalyst for change love and kindness can be.
If you don’t know, the five guys are experts in their own right in various fields. Tan is a fashion specialist, Jonathan is a hair and grooming specialist, Bobby is an interior designer, Antoni is a chef, and Karamo is a counselor. They are clearly very good friends, and their chemistry is part of what makes the show fun. They are mostly in stable long-term relationships in their private lives, so there’s no sexual chemistry apparent, but there is a lot of affection and good-natured teasing. It’s so refreshing to see gay men being friends! What the five men share is a passion for helping others who are “stuck” in their lives for whatever reason. The subject may be male or female, gay or straight, any age. What these subjects have in common is that they are overwhelmed with their lives and not coping, let alone moving forward. Messy homes and little attention to appearance are common. Low self-esteem is almost universal. They have given up on pursuing important goals. When first introduced to many of these people, my first reaction is to judge (“For goodness sake, get off the couch and wash your dishes!”). That’s not how the Fab Five respond.
All that to set the stage. Another makeover show, right? But here’s the fascinating part. These guys are fantastic at listening and understanding someone else’s pain. It’s an intensive week, and a lot gets done in terms of makeover kinds of things. But that’s not the important part. There are many conversations, often seemingly casual or occurring in the context of some other activity, such as a haircut. These five guys have a genius for listening deeply and identifying what has gone wrong for these people. The subjects always report a sense of being not only understood, but valued. Valued! When there is often little outwardly lovable about them. The guys listen, understand, challenge, support, and love. They give lots of hugs. They are unfailingly kind and they celebrate every gain. They somehow help people understand that they have within them what they need to move forward, and they give them the courage to do it.
This is what community ought to mean. This is especially what Christian community should mean. Genuine acceptance, kindness, encouragement. Investing deeply in others, especially when they have lost the will to invest in themselves. Listening. Being authentic enough to say and believe that we are all in this together and we have to help each other through.
I stole something today. The pandemic made me do it. It’s not something I’m proud of. Here’s what happened:
My husband wanted to send bagels to his place of work, to thank them for helping him with his telemedicine. I looked up Panera on the computer and found out that they only delivered if the meal was $50 or more, and we just wanted to send a pack of bagels and 2 cream cheeses.
So I decided that I would order the bagels and pick them up in the drive thru the next morning. So far so good. They brought me out the big box of bagels and cream cheeses, and I headed over to Ed’s work, where I would wear my n95 mask and plastic gloves to deliver the package. But they smelled so good in the car, and I hadn’t been to Panera (or any restaurant) for 6 1/2 months.
I eyed the box, and then gently opened it to examine the bagels. I knew it contained not a dozen, but a baker’s dozen (13), and I also knew that there were fewer than 12 employees at the office. So I stole one. Not just any one, but a sticky, sweet cinnamony one, and I set it down on a paper napkin in the car before I delivered the bagels to the office.
Turns out, they didn’t care. They were really happy to get the ones I brought. And as for me, well that sweet sticky cinnamony delicacy was a wonderful treat, and I deserved it!