Stream of Consciousness Saturday

Stream of Consciousness Saturday — Cold Contrasts

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday, hosted by Linda G. Hill. The prompt this week is “contrast.”

Earlier this week, I was walking from the parking lot to my job, buffeted by strong winds that lowered the “real feel” to the single digits. I was cold, and miserable. However, it was my own fault that I was cold, since I didn’t take the time to cover my neck with my scarf, pull the hood of my coat securely over my head, or find my warm mittens. I had the wherewithal to be warm, but not the time, or so I thought.

In the midst of my misery and self-pity, I remembered a piece I am plotting set in the 14th century. The contrast between my ability to stay warm and that of my characters is stunning. In 14th century Paris, one had a thick woolen mantle, a cape-like article of clothing, that would protect one from the cold, and woolen gloves and stockings. There were no waterproof boots, no Goretex mittens, and no down parkas. If it were rainy or snowy, the wool would become wet, despite the high lanolin content of homespun wool, making one wet in addition to cold.

Things didn’t greatly improve inside. Fires only reach so far into a room, and lack thermostats to keep interior spaces at a comfortable minimum. Stone buildings retained a chill, even when covered with tapestries to fight drafts, and glass windows were not common in most dwellings. The “common” folk lived in small spaces with many family members sharing a bed, which had to be a welcome source of warmth on cold nights. It makes me slightly ashamed to rail against the builder who constructed a house in upstate New York in 1960 without insulation. My uninsulated house would be a haven of warmth to my characters, and I try to feel grateful for what I have, looking at the half full glass–really a full glass, if I think about it.

One doesn’t have to go all the way back to the 14th century to see a contrast in our ability to stay warm. My father told stories of finding snow inside the window of the bedroom he shared with his brother on the unheated third floor of the house his parents shared with his uncle and aunt. I loved to hear him talk about the mad dash down the stairs to the heated bathroom to thaw before breakfast in the warm kitchen. He didn’t have a winter coat, but a thick wool sweater that repelled most of the snow and some of the cold on his walk to school.

Today I am sitting in front of my fireplace, claiming the warmest spot like a cat, musing on how easy it is to complain about what one does not have rather than to appreciate what one does have. I want to take the more difficult path of being grateful for what I have–even an uninsulated house–rather than concentrating on what I don’t have. For me, gratitude is more about the people I have in my life than the things, but it is worth remembering that my life is better and easier than it was for many previous generations. My writing, set in previous centuries, is good practice for keeping that in mind.

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Musings

Gratitude for those far from me

Yesterday, I wrote a gratitude post, to which this is a companion.

My aunt was an early positive influence in my life, when so much around me was negativity and despair.  I still miss her, although she passed away over twenty years ago.  She was the salt of the earth, as some describe that sort of honest, grounded, but very giving person.  She helped to bring me out of my snobbishness about education, showing me that common sense and a good heart were often more important in navigating daily life. I thought of her as a grandmother, although in many ways, she was more a mother to me than my own mother. She taught me various kinds of needlework, wheedling the “fairy child” out of her hiding place to bask in her attention. I didn’t realize at the time, but she loved me, and in so doing, countered much of the negativity I felt about myself.

Although my mother still lives, she is absent from me. Her lifelong depression, which made her distant from me when I was small, has been subsumed into the raging bitterness that rules her now that she is in severe dementia.  I regret that I didn’t listen more to her lessons on gardening, botanical names, and the occasional herbal remedy she remembered from her grandmother.  That part of her brain, which she shared with me far too seldom when I was a child, is locked away.  It is there in the frail, wasted body burning with anger, only speaking when there are words formed as weapons to shred the last remaining positive memories I have of her, but I can no longer find the path to it.

Despite present reality, I treasure the knowledge I gained from my mother, the fragile bridge that she managed to forge with me through her depression to pass on something of value to her. When I was about four, she gave me my own small garden, where I insisted I plant a piece of rosebush accidentally torn from a wild rose.  My mother doubted that it would survive, but she helped me prepare the ground and watched me thrust the rosebush into the dirt, watering and watching. Despite the odds, that rosebush flourished, growing over ten feet up the side of a nearby tree, festooned with wild roses every summer. I feel a kinship with that rose, and I appreciate my mother letting me try, even while she was convinced I would fail.

Thanksgiving is a time to cherish those around us, but also to remember those who had an impact on us, in many ways making us who we are.  Who are you thankful for, and why?

Musings

Gratitude for unseen blessings

Thanksgiving is a time I try to express my gratitude for my family, friends, and life.  I was struck by Kristen Lamb’s gratitude post because she concentrates on the blessings revealed by inconveniences.  One example, among many, is to see the blessing in washing the dog blankets because she has a dog for a companion.

Once I learned how to look at several incidents this fall, I see they are unseen blessings. I am grateful for the post-surgical complication that landed me in the ICU, because I no longer take a day, or an hour, or even a minute, for granted.

I am grateful for only having the use of one hand, because I know that it is temporary, and it has made me far more mindful of the things that I do. I often write by hand, with a fountain pen in a notebook, enjoying the process of translating the words to the motion of my hand.

I am grateful for the inflated grocery bill, because my sons are home with us this fall, before going to college in the spring.  I treasure their stopping here on the cusp of their adulthood.

I am grateful for my husband who needs so much more “together” time than I do, because he thinks I am pretty cool, even though especially because I am nerdy.

I am grateful for my sister who cannot figure out the time difference with New York and calls in the middle of dinner, because she calls and cares.

I am grateful for my friends, who dig me out of my hermit self, and make me do things with them that I enjoy, but would never do alone.

I am grateful for my dog who digs up the yard, because she knows when I am sad or feeling ill, and will not leave my side.

Thank you to all of you.  I am grateful to know you, have you as friends and family, and spend time with you.

 

 

Renegade Reflections, ROW80

More Gratitude and ROW80

Siesta Key Elizabeth Anne Mitchell December White ChristmasI’ve included a very cute video of a puppy playing with his favorite toy below this post on gratitude, above  my ROW80 check-in.  I hope you enjoy!

After writing about some of my family in the last post, I wanted to express my gratitude to some other family members: my aunt, my brother, and my sister. I am very grateful that my aunt found time to spend with her niece, and that my brother and sister have endeavored to stay connected with me despite the centrifugal force that characterizes my family. My mother’s sister was nine years older than my mother, with no intervening children; my mother always looked upon her as a mother, and I saw her more as a grandmother.  A big believer in idle hands leading to devil’s work, my aunt taught me how to knit, crochet, embroider, and tat when I was very young.  She was teaching my oldest sister, but I hung around like a pest and learned as well. She came to see us every month or so; we were always glad to see her, because she knew all sorts of stories and could bake the best pies and cookies I’d ever had.Even though she always made me keep my hands busy with knitting or tatting while we talked, I looked forward to her visits.  I felt as though she could see me, when very few other grownups could.  She despaired when I became a perpetual student, often shaking her head at my explanations of why I studied all these things.  When I finally got married and settled down with my instant family, you would have thought she had been the matchmaker, she was so proud.  And when we added more children, she was ecstatic that I had given her more children to love.Two days before my youngest son was born, Aunt Ellene felt ill, describing it somewhat like indigestion, but worse.  The hospital gave her heartburn medication and sent her home.  Three hours later, she passed away from a massive heart attack.  My mother debated delaying her planned trip to help me with the new baby, but she came the day he came home from the hospital, missing her sister’s funeral, because that was what my aunt would have wanted. My son is nineteen now, and I still miss talking with Aunt Ellene over our knitting or embroidery.
My brother didn’t become a human being until I was 11 and he went to college.  He actually corresponded with me; when he was home on vacation, he still acted like a jerk sometimes, but that behavior diminished through the years.  He married into one of those huge families that gets together for birthdays and holidays and weddings; I have never asked him directly, but I suspect he felt the same kind of attraction/curiosity at the concept that I did when I first saw this unaccustomed behavior.  No matter, he threw himself into it wholeheartedly, leaving my father to shake his head in consternation at how he and his wife travel cross country to see their kids and grandkids.  I stand back in admiration.Last year, my brother was diagnosed with lung cancer, and had one lung removed.  I had not realized until that point how much I thought my siblings were immortal, nor how hard it would hit me.  He is still fighting, but it is a long path through the woods.  He cannot fly anymore, but he and his wife pack up the car and still travel hundreds of miles to see their families. I am so grateful that he has tried valiantly to establish the sort of relationship with me that his wife has with her siblings. I am thankful to them both for showing me that it could work when I was still young enough to do the same for my own family.

One of my sisters is four years older than I am; reportedly she told my father that I was not the fun kind of baby doll, and would he please take me back.  No luck, sorry!  After this bumpy start, my sister and I started to bond her senior year in high school.  I stopped being the “faery child” who did not seem connected to the world, and started being able to see her.  During her college years, we shared hopes and dreams, despite long periods where one or the other of us would pull away to nurse our wounds in private–she, an abusive marriage; me, an early failed marriage, the abyss of graduate school.  Even now, she calls me regularly; I promise to call her, and forget (I am a very bad sister).  She and I are so different in so many of our world views, but we get each other, especially given our shared history.  I am grateful that she continues to knock on my door and pull me out of my little world now and again.

ROW80 Check-in:
While there is still a lot going on behind the curtain, I haven’t much to offer.  I am uploading hundreds of photographs from the past several years, creating a pool to use in my blog from those and others that are not copyrighted or restricted.  I am slowly shoehorning three blogs into one, and endeavoring to find my voice and my niche.  The hardest part so far is to find what might be most interesting about my odd pockets of knowledge or interests.
The day job is heading into high gear, the rush before the holidays. I’m facing longer and longer days, but enjoy most of the work.  I feel the tidal pull to get back to writing, which is only slightly sated by doing the day job writing.  Soon!
If you can take a break from NaNo or your other projects, please go encourage some of the ROW80 folks here.
Renegade Reflections, ROW80

Gratitude

Fall colors, pear tree,
source: E. K. Carmel, from WANA commons

My ROW80 check-in is  at the bottom of this post, if you want only to look at that.

Shan Jeniah, a writer I have met through ROW80 is participating in Thankvember.  While I haven’t signed up, I have been thinking about gratitude. Going through some of my posts while combining my various blogs into one, I found this one still rang true.

The holiday season that ends the calendar year often focuses on family.  Many of the bloggers I read have recently posted about family and family celebrations during the holiday season.  I, too, am very grateful for my family, but I have very few traditions to draw upon.

My parents both had such Dickensian childhoods, it is nearly unbelievable that they grew up in the 20th century.  My father was supposed to be the daughter that arrived two years after his birth.  A fourth son, he was seen as completely superfluous.  My mother was the youngest daughter in her family; in the Southern tradition I thought went away by the end of the 19th century, she was marked to stay with her parents and care for them until their death.  To that end, she was taught early how to run the household, standing on an orange crate to cook and wash dishes at four years old.

My mother and father met on a blind date and married within a year.  Because my father was an Irish Catholic from Massachusetts and my mother a Southern Baptist from Georgia, both of their families summarily disowned them.  My mother’s family went so far as to obliterate her name from the family Bible.  Eventually, some members of both families had some contact with our family, but for most of them, it was limited in both time and warmth. It left a legacy of a real lack of warmth among my own siblings, which is something I realized only in contrast with other families.

Also, my parents seem to have very little tradition to call upon. My father has resisted all my questions about holiday family traditions; my mother has been only slightly more informative, saying that she often got nothing but an orange for Christmas. Because my mother then spun into her “you ungrateful children” speech at that point, I never asked for more details.  Given these deficits, my parents tried to give us children the American dream holidays.  We rarely had a turkey for Thanksgiving, due to the cost, but my father did relax that day.  Christmas Day was a bigger deal, with  presents under the tree for the four children.  I did notice we never had any other family around, like all my schoolmates did.

Due to this upbringing, I really didn’t bring any holiday traditions to my married life; in my first marriage, I played along with traditions I didn’t feel inside.  When I married my second husband, we worked to create traditions together, melding his traditions with my dream holidays. We went through the common tug-of-war between the families, whom to visit when, whom to eat with, whom to stay with if we had travelled.  The situation was complicated by my daughters having their own traditions, as well as another set of grandparents, aunts, and uncles to visit. Thankfully, it got much easier as the girls became older and made their own decisions about the scheduling, rather than being pulled so many different directions.  Even when they spent less time with us, I felt better knowing they were making the decisions.

Perhaps because of my background, family is very important to me.  I don’t tell them often enough how important they are to me.  Some of that reticence is due to my teenage sons, who flee emotion as if it were hydrofluoric acid, but sometimes I take all of them for granted.

I am grateful for my sons, who defied all medical opinion to exist, appearing after three doctors had told me I could not have children.  They helped me learn how to be a mother to alien creatures, who didn’t act at all like their sisters. Furthermore, I had met my daughters when they were 5 and 3, so 0-3 was uncharted territory.  My sons laid to rest any nature versus nurture discussions I had in my mind; their drive and fearlessness taught me how to take risks, while making my face pale with fear.

I am grateful for my daughters, who accepted me as a second mom, and weathered my learning to walk the tightrope, and how to be that second mom. Recently, one of my sons-in-law paid me one of the best compliments I’ve gotten.  He told me that the way I accepted and loved my youngest daughter showed her how to love and accept his two children.  He said she might not have married him had she not grown up with me. It brought me to tears when he told me, and it does so now.

And I am grateful for my husband, who puts up with my weird mental glitch, where I point right and say left, especially annoying when giving directions in the car; follow the hand, not the voice, is the trick.  He accepts my ADD as well as my Irish temper; he glories in my nerdiness, and thinks I’m still as interesting as I was when he met me so very long ago.

To all of you, thank you for keeping me sane, human, and open to the people around me.

writing pencil composition book, L.E. Carmichael WANA commons
source: L. E. Carmichael, WANA commons

ROW80: Not much to report here,  I feel like a cop, saying “Move along, people, nothing to see here.”  While there is a lot going on beneath the surface, I have very little on the surface that reflects the changes. I am learning and working hard in the blogging class; I have managed to keep up my sponsor duties; I have written scads and scads of words on the academic article and procedural documents at the day job (woo-hoo!)

I will return to the novel and blogging by the end of the year.  For now, please go encourage someone in the ROW80 group.  They are a great bunch, and can be found here.

Renegade Reflections

Gratitude of a 21st century daughter

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with Matt Hofferth about how, while the 19th century has a lot of coolness to offer, it didn’t have things like antibiotics and electricity.  Soon afterwards, I realized that it was fitting that my last post on Lapidary Prose was on gratitude, since I am grateful for several things I take for granted.

I do not have to imagine the life of my grandmother or great-grandmother to appreciate the difference between the 19th and 21st centuries. My mother grew up in Appalachia, in circumstances that had not changed since the nineteenth century. She learned how to cook on a wood stove, splitting wood to replenish the woodpile, hauling water from the well.

My grandparents grew all their own food.  They raised chickens and cows for eggs, milk, and meat.  If they needed things they could not produce, my grandfather would barter his carpentry skills, or work to get the money for things beyond barter, such as postage stamps. My aunt taught my mother how to make dresses from flour sacks; the scraps were sewn into quilt tops. There were fireplaces for heat, and kerosene lamps for light to read and sew. Transportation was by mule; one of the funniest stories my mother ever told was of a first date conducted on mule back.

Although my mother did very well in school, graduating as valedictorian of her high school class, my grandparents did not believe that girls should go to college. At age fifteen, my mother was sent to Atlanta to get a job, sending money home to pay for her brothers’ college educations. Also, my grandparents expected that my mother, as the youngest daughter, would work as long as her brothers were in college, but would then return to take care of her parents for the rest of their lives. They were shocked and unhappy when she met my father and made other plans.

I am ashamed to admit that my teenage self was bored by her stories, uninterested in how her life had changed so thoroughly in her lifetime. When I was learning how to cook, it annoyed me that she could never just give me a number for the temperature, but always had to work her way through the vague description of warm, medium, or hot fire, only then settle on an approximate temperature.  She insisted on calling plants by their botanical names, telling me the medicinal uses and folklore of each. I thought she was hopelessly out of touch, frozen in an earlier time that had nothing to teach me.

Now that I am older, and no longer as focussed on myself, I remember my mother’s childhood with admiration for her grit.  At four years old, she was standing on an orange crate to cook dinner on a wood stove for her family.  At four, I was daydreaming and writing stories in my head.  I am grateful that I have water and fuel delivered into my home without my having to haul it there. I am grateful that I do not have to wring a chicken’s neck to cook my dinner of an evening, nor cut up flour sacks to make a dress. However, I am more grateful for my mother’s strength. Because my mother never went to college, she and my father made sure that their daughters never had any doubt they would go; it was an assumption made before I was born. My parents taught us to take care of each other as well as them, but never to the degree of sacrificing the youngest daughter, from which I, as the youngest daughter, have benefited. There are times when I feel sorry for myself as part of the “squeeze generation,” when I bemoan the independence of my frail and elderly parents, but it was that independence that fostered my own, and for that I am truly grateful.