all of the selves we Have ever been
It is day 302 of the pandemic.
And it is pouring rain.
What am I going to do with myself all day?
Something happens to my mind on days like this. It feels like the apocalypse has occurred and there is no one left but me. These are the kinds of ideas that enter my mind on days like this:
Whittle an oar out of the coffee table.
Eat until I run out of food.
Reply to all of the text messages received from voting organizations.
Read my insurance policies that are up for renewal.
Reply to all of the happy birthday messages I received back in March from my dentist, gynecologist, and favorite retailers.
Sharpen all of my pencils.
Sort the paper clips by size.
Organize my canned goods alphabetically.
Engage in consumer advocacy by spot-checking Kimberly-Clark. Are there really 110 tissues
in my Kleenex box? Is each 3-ply?
Of all of these ideas, the only one that really appeals to me is to whittle an oar out of the coffee table. Of course, that is the most dangerous and costly choice. Why is that always the case? Dangerous and costly—the definition of sex appeal.
Perhaps I can do this cheaply. I do have that multi-purpose tomato knife that I have used to saw through giant pork butts, but my inner police sergeant screams at me: “Drop the knife.” And I do. I go to my fallback position: laundry. There is always something to wash. I gather and sort. I even add a few clean items to the basket just to get my money’s worth in the laundry room. I pass the day washing, drying, fluffing, folding, and hanging. The familiar ritual is therapeutic. I feel productive. I enjoy the warmth of the clothes as I pull them from the dryer. I inhale the fresh scent of the fabric softener. Yes, there will be a tomorrow!
But back inside my apartment, I still have my eye on the coffee table!
I am developing a bad attitude about apples.
It started with oranges.
Have you tried to peel an orange lately? Even utilizing a bona fide citrus peeler, the task is hopeless. It would be easier to remove my own gall bladder. All it takes is a Q-tip and a quick swab of my cheek to get all the way down to the roots of my family tree and come back up with the names of my Cro-Magnon ancestors. How can it be this hard to get down to the flesh of an orange?
Why couldn’t the Garden of Eden have been in Florida? If the snake had offered Eve an orange instead of an apple, we’d still be lying on the beach sporting perfect figures. Dirty laundry never would have been invented.
Like Eve, all of this talk of fruit arouses my curiosity. I find myself being seduced by the snakes on the modern tree of knowledge, the internet. I type in the question, “how to peel an orange.” The tree of knowledge answers with 68,200,000 results. I am suddenly aware that I must be the only person in the world who does not know how to peel an orange. I am ashamed.
I click on the first entry, 68,199,999 to go, and I discover that oranges originated in Southern China. OMG! Does the President know about this? Upon further reading, I learn the orange is not a wild fruit meaning it does not occur naturally—someone tinkered with the DNA…Call Mike Pompeo!
I set aside my national security concerns for a moment while I gather intel that will help me blow the cover off my citrus. Basic structure: First, there is the rind. Well, everyone can see that. What I did not know is that the rind can be used to repel slugs from the garden. Hmm. Should I be acting on that knowledge?
Beneath the rind is an inner rind called a pericarp or albedo. Sounds to me like early forms of the words for privates and libido. Apparently, Adam and Eve got bold and frisky after tasting the apple, and they bit into the rind of an orange. The rest is human history.
There is a third layer described as threadlike white pith. At last! There is a name for that stuff that fuses to my fingers and sticks to my teeth! But not a word concerning what I can do about it. I guess I will just have to learn to live with it.
Rounding the corner, I find that under all of those layers is the edible portion, the orange segments or carpel. And that explains the tingling and numbness in my thumb and index finger since I tried wrestling the peel from that orange. I think I have carpel-tunnel syndrome…the fruit-induced version. No more thumbs up for me.
With my knowledge accumulating, I click on the second entry and learn that Christopher Columbus brought oranges to the New World in 1493. I groan. Isn’t that guy in enough trouble?
Two clicks and I am quickly overwhelmed by information—all of it anxiety-provoking, and none of it helpful. My mother was right, “A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” You would think a mom might also have mentioned that we shouldn’t trust the advice of snakes. We can’t even trust the wholesome Osmond Brothers. One bad apple can spoil the whole darn bunch.
So much for the fruit of the tree of knowledge. We’ve all paid a heavy price since the first couple took a bite out of the big apple. I think we should appeal our life sentence of pain and hard labor. Knowledge may be plentiful. It may be beautiful. It might even be terrific, but it doesn’t seem to be doing us much good.
There is a new post below: All Thumbs.
In addition, I invite you to visit the beautiful pages of Grown & Flown, a parenting website on which I have a new piece: Thank Heaven for Grace!
As always, your companionship and support on this journey are a pleasure and a comfort.
“A thundering velvet hand...”
“A gentle means of sculpting souls”
Those are the words that Dan Fogelberg used to describe his father, a school band director. After the song,
Leader of the Band, became a hit, Fogelberg said in an interview that if he had written only one song, Leader of the Band would be it. His father was surely someone remarkable and loved.
Another singer-songwriter, Bill Withers, wrote and sang about the hands of his maternal grandmother, Lula Galloway, with whom Withers attended church on Sunday mornings. Lula used those gnarled hands to clap and sing in church and to protect and nurture her grandson. Withers wrote “Grandma's hands picked me up each time I fell…If I get to heaven I’ll look for Grandma’s hands.”
We are each born with our lives in someone else’s hands. Throughout life, we rely on safe hands. Kind hands. Gentle hands. We remember the helping hands.
In our family, we are all thumbs.
When my son Sam was a toddler, we had a bedtime routine. I would lie down beside him for a few minutes as he settled into sleep. Sam would wrap his chubby little hand around my thumb, and I would sing as he fell asleep. At bedtime one busy evening, I was unable to stop what I was doing in order to get Sam to bed. My daughter Emily, Sam’s sweet and earnest big sister by three years, said, “I’ll lay down with you, Sam. You can hold my thumb.”
Sam shook his head. “No, Em-a-wee. I need a BIG fum.”
I understand. I had a big “fum” when I was a child. That big thumb was attached to the right hand of my Uncle John. He was not a band leader, but Uncle John did have one of those thundering velvet hands. He was a gentle soul and a giant in my life story. He deserves his own song. Uncle John made it his mission to shape the souls of a huge tribe of nieces and nephews in addition to those of his own five children.
I don’t know how it began or why, but whenever Uncle John came into our presence, he extended his hand, “Touch thumbs,” he would say, and our little fums shot up, and we made contact. It was a safe and convenient display of affection, especially when Uncle John was in the driver’s seat transporting a station wagon full of squirming children to the swimming pool or the custard stand. Before he started the engine, Uncle John would turn to face us, extend his right hand, thumb up, and each of us would jockey to reach him and touch our thumb to his. The journey did not begin until each of us had made contact. Towel? Check. Sunscreen? Check. Seen and loved? Check. Check.
Sometimes on a Sunday morning, Uncle John would slide into the church pew next to me. He might reach out his thumb or wrap his hand around mine. Once in a while his hand would slip a silver or gold bracelet into my pocket. Often when we parted, Uncle John would slip a twenty dollar bill into the palm of each of the gathered nieces and nephews. He continued the tradition long after we all became working adults.
Nothing escaped Uncle John’s view, but he never used those hands to “stir the pot,” an amazing accomplishment in a large and highly emotional extended family with enough teenagers for plenty of trouble.
Touching thumbs was an act that never got old or lost its power.
When my daughter Emily was born, a C-section turned to near-disaster with a life-threatening hemorrhage. After a touch-and-go stay in the intensive care unit, I was sent to a regular room on the obstetrics unit. Just settled in my bed still surrounded by IV poles, so full of fluid I could not blink my eyes or bend my knees, I turned my head to the left, and there was my Uncle John and his wife Aunt Janet. Upon seeing them, I began to weep. All of the terror and exhaustion of the past few days came bursting out of me. They came to the bedside. Uncle John’s jaw was tense, his lips tight and twitching at the right corner as he blinked away his own tears. He reached for my left hand and touched my thumb with his. We were frozen in a moment of terrifying what-could-have-been and then relief. The healing power of big fums!
Many years later, I would stand in an intensive care unit alongside the bed of my cousin Marcia, Uncle John’s baby girl. A heart catheterization turned disaster. Marcia did not open her eyes. As the ICU nurse sorted the tubes and monitored the equipment, I wanted the nurse to know that this woman, our Marcia, was someone special. I told the nurse about Marcia’s life and accomplishments, and then I touched Marcia’s left thumb with mine. By morning, Marcia was gone.
When it is my turn, and I get to heaven, I’ll look for those hands.
I will know them by their thumbs.
There is a new post below: Back to Wishing
For those of you who follow on Medium.com, there is also a new post at:
It is a humorous piece about my history with recliner chairs.
Thank you all for your support!
“Don’t wish your life away.”
You might recall that was one of my mother’s famous sayings.
I caused her to utter those words often due to my incessant wishing: “I wish it was summer.” “I wish school would start.” “I wish the school year was over.” “I wish it was Friday.” “I wish it was Christmas.” “I wish I was in high school.” “I wish I was in college.” “I wish I had my own apartment.” I wish…I wish…I wish…
Weary of what I had, and tired of waiting, I was always eager for what was to come.
I have to admit, despite my mother’s repeated advice, I continue trying to speed things up by wishing, particularly now. Dare I say it? I wish this pandemic was over. I know that I am not the only one, but it doesn’t seem to matter that billions of people are making the same wish. The pandemic is on its own schedule just like the school year and the seasons of my childhood.
My mom isn’t here to say, “Don’t wish your life away.” Today, people don’t use that expression. Instead, they say, “Be present,” or “Live in the moment.” So, I will try.
I review the recent months of sheltering in place and social distancing. To my surprise, many of my other wishes have been granted.
I’ve made peace with my thinning, greying hair. That scraggly, striped COVID style gave me perspective. Months of staying home and saving time on hair care has made me a freer woman. I’ve also grown comfortable leaving the house without make-up. I may continue wearing a mask even when it is no longer mandated!
After years filled with hectic days and regret at losing touch with old friends, I now speak to them at least once a week, sometimes daily! We never run out of things to talk about, not even in a pandemic.
I’ve read more books, and not just nonfiction to keep up with my professional work. I enjoy novels, and discussions about novels, and trading novels the way I once shared Nancy Drew books with my girlfriends.
For the first time since childhood, I’ve slept in a time or two. And, like a princess, I eat my breakfast in bed every morning. When I was a child, I had to be sick to enjoy such a pleasure. Now, I am completely healthy and in no hurry.
I’ve prayed more, and my prayers have been answered. All my needs have been met. I have learned to live on less because I have needed less. And I am grateful.
I’ve walked more and spent more time admiring nature. When I walk, my mind is free. I am not thinking about the paperwork that needs to be turned in by midnight or the dinner in the crockpot. I listen to the call of the birds and notice the beautiful leaves that look like a ring of candy corn around the edges of the parking lot.
I now recognize my neighbors, even the new ones, and we speak when we pass. I see children playing outdoors again and zipping past me on their bicycles.
I treasure every phone call, every piece of snail mail, every email, and every text message. I am even happy to hear from Big Lots and Bob Evans Restaurant.
I have fallen in love with our national treasure, PBS, and I have been enlightened in unexpected ways by the beautiful storytelling, lively music, and insightful reporting.
Via email, I trade links to favorite songs with a new friend who lives far away. It is better than trading baseball cards or stock market tips! Once again, music fills me up the way it did when I was a teenager and music was food.
My mother said, “Don’t wish your life away.” She also said, “Be careful what you wish for,” suggesting that wishing is complicated and potentially dangerous.
Well, Mom, I have finished high school and college, and I did get my own apartment. That all worked out.
I have lived to see my children finish high school and college. They now live in their own apartments. Despite a pandemic, many other wishes have been granted. So far, the odds have been in my favor.
Dare I make another wish?
When everyone you love leaves the building, is it still Home?
I experience uneasiness when my adult children visit the house and then leave. I become keenly aware of my aloneness. I feel restless and conspicuous, a stranger in my own dwelling. I am like the lone diner holding a big table in a busy restaurant. Self-conscious and out-of-place, my mind obsesses: Everyone’s late. Will anyone come? Have they forgotten? Has something terrible happened? Should I call? How long do I wait? Should I stay? Should I go? Do I order? What if they never come?
After a day or two, I fall back into the rhythms of my daily life, but it starts all over again the next time the children visit and say goodbye.
The writer Thomas Wolfe wrote You Can’t Go Home Again. Well, you can go home, but maybe you shouldn’t, at least not when the house is no longer occupied by people you love.
A few years ago, I visited a friend in Pittsburgh. I had not been back to my childhood hometown for more than 20 years. I had not seen the family house in more than 30 years. My dear friend who understands these things offered to drive me past the home where I spent most of my childhood. I still remembered the address, and was able to navigate our way to the neighborhood even though I could not recall the name of every street we traversed to get there.
We pulled up alongside the old two-story house. It looked small and dingy. Was the yard always that tiny? How could that patch of grass have hatched so many games and adventures? How did we have room for baseball, hide-n-seek, running through the sprinkler, and chasing lightning bugs? The stocky, bright green pine trees my father planted along the driveway were now giants but they looked dark, scraggly, out-of-place, and menacing. A strong wind might bring them crashing down on the house.
I wondered, “Who lives here now?” Does the old house seem so weary to them? Or is it a “new” home to someone? Are children inside fighting over the remote and laying claim to the couch? Is there still a chain lock on the basement door that someone checks as they close up for the night? Who is sleeping in “my” room? Does wallpaper still cover the place where my feet went through the wall after I fell down the wooden steps in my stockinged feet? Is there a dad listening to talk radio in the basement workshop? Are a couple of boys out in the backyard building rocket ships out of cardboard wardrobe boxes?
We sat in the car for a few minutes. No signs of life emerged in or around the house. It was a corpse, and I felt bereft. Seeing my former home so changed seemed to be sucking the life out of me. It was time to get out of there. I can’t go back again.
I should have known better, but when I visited my cousin Marcia at her home in Cadiz she asked me if I wanted to take a drive to Adena, the family home of my mother and our maternal grandparents. It was the most magical place of my entire childhood, maybe my entire life. I had not been back for a very long time. “Let’s go,” I said.
We drove down the main street past the old office of my uncles’ coal company. Further down the street on opposite sides, the house of my Aunt Addie was inhabited by a new family I did not know. Across the street, my Uncle T’s house had gone through several transformations. It had been a doctor’s office and then a residence to someone new. Neither house was as grand as I remembered. No light or life beckoned me to enter the front door or run around back to the playhouse or the basketball court.
The real heartbreak was yet ahead. We turned onto Hanna Avenue, the yellow-brick-road of my childhood. It led to the family grocery store and to my grandmother’s house. Where there had once been a door that squeaked open and slammed shut hundreds of times a day, an empty lot greeted me. The store had been torn down years before after being used for a training exercise by the fire department. The grand, old house was standing, but barely. It leaned toward the street looking flimsy. After the passing of my grandmother and my aunts, the house was sold to a woman who planned to establish a home for elderly folks in need of care. The plan did not come to fruition, and the bank now owned the home with plans to demolish it. I longed to enter one more time, to walk the long hallway, sit down in the bright yellow kitchen, to take some kielbasa from the skillet on the stove.
But the lights were out. Not just in the house, but in my eyes. I blinked. Stared. Blinked and opened my eyes wider. Nothing. Something changed in my heart. I felt robbed. It was like being part of a black-and-white pencil sketch instead of a colorful, three-dimensional world. There was no background. No sound. Everything was vague and disappearing. The past was being erased. There is no Home to go back to.
I think of Homer’s epic tale, The Odyssey, the story of Odysseus’s journey home after the Trojan War. It took Odysseus ten years, of wandering and being tested. For seven of those years, he was in captivity, mourning and dreaming of home.
We are in the midst of a pandemic. First, it was characterized as a battle, then a storm. Perhaps, for most of us, it is the epic journey of our lives. We dream of Home—not just the shelter where we hang up our coats and lay down our heads for the night, but the place where we visit and entertain, where we freely embrace our loved ones and watch the children and grandchildren grow up. It is the place where we share hugs, kisses, and joy not germs. This holiday season, we are all dreaming of Home.
I have safe shelter, but that alone is not Home. I am reminded of the definition of Home every time my children visit and say goodbye. Wherever they are, that’s my Home.