Saturday, May 30, 2020

Seeds of Age by Liz Flaherty

I changed the bottle in my water cooler the other day and reflected a little grumpily that it won't be long before I'll have to start using three-gallon bottles instead of five-gallon ones because the weight and awkwardness are getting hard to handle.

I've been wearing the same necklace ever since the beginning of sheltering in place because neither Duane nor I can consistently manage to fasten or unfasten jewelry clasps.

When we watch Grace and Frankie, I nod my head the whole time--not just because it's funny but because even at its most unbelievable, it's shockingly accurate.

This morning I needed something from the shed. No, not that shed--the other one, which meant I had to look in both of them. I found the item I was looking for, used it, and went into the house to ask Duane to go out and latch the doors on the sheds because even though I got them open, I couldn't get them closed.

Walking is the only form of exercise I like, and I like to walk two miles; however, I'm tired enough after a mile and a half that I usually just do that. I might add that the mile and a half takes me as long as the two used to take. Or I might not. I might just say that I choose to take more than 20 minutes to walk a mile. What's the hurry, after all?

Our 49th anniversary was yesterday. We talked the night before about the things long-marrieds often talk about. (Actually, I did most of the talking--he nodded sometimes.) Would you do it again? Has it been worth it? What would you change? What if we'd done this instead? The truth is, any change at all--including the times of pain, sadness, and anger that create pock marks on any enduring relationship--would alter the path of our lives together. It might be straighter, but it might not be, too. It would make the climate of the marriage different and put us in a place we might like less instead of more. It's not a chance I'd be willing to take. He wouldn't, either.

All of these things are seeds planted by time. By age. Some of them were surprising--who knew I wouldn't be able to put my own necklace on? Some were expected--walking slower--but not expected already. Later, maybe, but not now.

But I've noticed...

That the water in the three-gallon bottles tastes and costs the same as the water in the five-gallon bottles.

That whatever necklace I have on has memories and love attached to it--doesn't matter what one I wear or for how long I wear it.

That the women who play Grace and Frankie make no pretense at not being the age they are, nor do the characters they play, and when I'm laughing I don't give any thought at all to how old they are.

People, even ones you aren't married to, will help you with things like door latches. Partly because they feel sorry for you because you're old, partly out of respect for said oldness, and partly because people are generally nice.

That when you walk slow, you see more wildlife and plant life. You smell the flowers. You hear the birds--although I have to admit I still don't usually know one from another.

That scar tissue, some of the fabric that holds 49-year marriages and other long friendships together, is strong stuff. Made to last if that's what both halves want to happen.

The seeds of age are hard-won and we earn them whether we want to or not. How and where we plant them and what we do with whatever grows from them...well, that's up to us.

Have a great week. Stay safe. Be nice to somebody.

Saturday, May 23, 2020


I was standing in the middle of my office, with the mess of office stuff on my left and the even bigger mess of sewing stuff on my right. The windows and door were open. The fifth episode of the second season of The West Wing was on television. The orioles were talking outside and our cat, Gabe, was just sitting there. He may have been a little cranky about the orioles, but he’s old and he’s a guy—maybe he was just cranky for general principles. I had coffee in my hand, fresh from the Keurig, sweetened and creamed to just the taste and color I liked. My husband wasn’t here, but he’d kissed me goodbye when he left. We’d laughed about something and we’d danced in the hallway in the house before I came out.

I laughed out loud, in here with no one to hear me, and I can see my smile in the screen of the computer even now. The orioles in the yard are even more orange than they usually are. Birdsong is sweeter and flowers gorgeouser.

And there, just for a couple of minutes in my morning, life was perfect.

Joe DeRozier
My friend Joe makes doughnuts. During the coronavirus quarantine, he’s been delivering pastries to surrounding towns on certain days of the week. One town in particular was happy for his deliveries since their own long-time bakery was closed. The other bakery has opened back up now, so Joe stopped delivering to that town. He didn’t have to. They didn’t ask him to. But he wasn’t interested in taking over someone else’s playground.

For a moment in time, there was perfection in the world of local small business.

I like color. I like birds. I like rabbits and squirrels and deer in the yard. This morning, the cardinals, orioles, goldfinches, and blue jays—not to mention what I think was a bluebird but I’m not positive—are all over the place. I can see the rabbits down where they live and the squirrels scaling the cottonwood. No deer today, which is fine.

The scene out my office window is perfect. Just now.
Terri Hall

My friend Terri gave me ten bags of fabric. Yes, ten. Since I already have…much fabric, I don’t need to get into those ten bags all at once. They’re sitting over there on the sewing side of the room. And it’s like having a Christmas tree in May. Each of those bags is a gift and I don’t know the contents. When I need something new, something uplifting, I open a bag. I make plans for the pieces of fabric in the bag. Masks, or one beautiful piece I’m going to be wearing as a summer top—if we ever actually get summer—or the center of a quilt block.

There is nothing except the fabric and the plans for it and who can be made happy by what is done with it. Happy’s good. Passing it on is even better. Opening that bag makes for several perfect moments.

There are drive-bys going on for high school graduates. This morning I watched a video of North Miami staff sending their students off for the summer with signs and waving. Dry eyes weren’t an option if you were watching.

It was perfection in a time of pain and loss.

As part of a lifestyle, a vocation, or an avocation, I think perfection is overrated—possibly because I’ve always known I had neither the patience or the necessary skills to achieve it. I’m a great fan of pretty good, good enough, and okay. If something was fun, productive, and no one was hurt, that’s as close to perfect as I need.

I remember a customer showing me a bubblegum card with a a young Mickey Mantle on it. I was so impressed because it was really old and it was…you know…Mickey Mantle. But he said it was worthless because it was so imperfect. The corners were crumpled and it was faded and it looked…old. All I could think was, Yeah, but it’s Mickey Mantle.

And yet. And yet I can still appreciate those moments of perfection. And talk about them, remember them, and be glad they happened. So, once again in my best Pollyanna Whittier voice, I’m asking you to look for the perfect, enjoy it, and store it up so that when 2020 is in the past, you will remember more than darkness. More than division. More than haters hating and people dying and high school seniors having to grow up at least a semester before their time.

I hope you’ll remember that while churches were silent, the people who attend them still worshiped. That while school buildings were closed, teachers (and parents!) still taught and students still learned. Don't forget bright orange birds, graduates not in the least lessened by not being able to march with their classmates to “Pomp and Circumstance,” and health care and other essential workers who stepped up Every Single Day of the quarantine. Remember always that in the midst of all that was bad, there were also moments of perfect in every day.

Have a great week. Stay safe. Be nice to somebody.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Moving forward... by Liz Flaherty #WindowOvertheSink

I think about retiring from writing. I talk about it. I muse to friends about it and look with no small amount of envy at people who are 20 years younger than I am. Not because I want to be 20 years younger--I like where I am--but because I'd like to keep writing for another 20 years. Not that 20 would be enough.

I had a houseful of kids for 200 years. My house was loud and messy and so full of angst it rolled over the edges of the windowsills and splashed into the flower beds. I was exhausted all the time, and so overwhelmed I didn't know what to do with myself, and such a failure in so many ways as a parent that I'm amazed my kids still talk to me. Somewhere deep in my heart, I couldn't wait for it to be over.

And then it was. Oh, my God, it was. They were all grown up. And I wasn't ready--I wasn't ready at all. I loved chaos! I loved angst! I wanted the noise back.

For 30 years, I worked for the USPS. There was not much middle ground there; when I didn't love my job, I hated it. The public was 95 percent wonderful and five percent the dregs of the earth, kind of like the job itself. A carrier bag of mail that wasn't supposed to weigh more than 35 pounds often did. Full-route pieces of mail that went out like clockwork every month suddenly didn't show up when mail count rolled around. Like any other workplace that has both laborors and managers, there were abject failures and glorious successes on both sides. When I retired, though, I suddenly wasn't sure I wanted to. I stood at the time clock for a full five minutes on my last day, not wanting to take that final step.

I have loved every day of retirement from that job. I don't in truth miss it, but I still remember how I felt that day.

Sometimes there are just too many endings, aren't there? Too many losses. Too many life changes that leave you stuttering-- "Wait, wait, I'm not ready."

What to do? Well, it's pretty easy. Of course, I had to write it all out before I got it.

The truth is, you're never going to be ready. But wait, there's more. With endings come beginnings. With loss comes memories. With life changes come new friends, new experiences, good times.

I thought for a long time that in order for my work to be credible, someone needed to be reading it. Someone needed to be paying me for it. Those are things I would always prefer, but credibility comes from within, doesn't it? Do I write better when I have an audience? Yeah, I think so. Do I write better if there's a paycheck attached? Not always. So, no, I won't retire until I can't operate a keyboard anymore.

You don't "get over" losing people, do you? I think it gets better, but the getting better takes effort. It doesn't mean you don't talk about the ones you loved or that you don't remember things. It doesn't even mean you remember only the good things. What it means is, if they had a place in your heart while they were living, they still have it.

Having an empty nest means your life is, for the most part, your own again, and it's up to you what you make of it. For us, live music, coffee shops, and writers' groups have been new and exciting beginnings, including the friends, experiences and good times I mentioned above.

Not being ready doesn't stop things from happening. Life doesn't go on hold until you're ready to start living it again. It stops briefly, breathlessly, and waits for you to catch up. Do that. Don't let it go on without you.

Have a great week. Stay safe. Be nice to somebody.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

If you can't say something nice... #WindowOvertheSink

I don’t really mind the social distancing of these strange days. I don’t mind wearing a mask when I’m going to be among others. My hair and my nails…well, they don’t look very good, and I’ll be glad to see Denee and Julie again, but they don’t actually bother me, either. I can wait until the end of the getting back to business line because no one I know bases their opinion of me on my hair and nails. Or, if they do, they probably aren’t people I need in my life. I am—sigh—of a certain age, and caution just makes sense to me. It’s not—let me say that again, NOT—the same as fear.

We haven’t run out of toilet paper. I haven’t even fought with anyone in the personal-needs aisle of a grocery store over the last four-pack, although one day I did indeed buy the last four-pack. I’m growing used to using whatever brand of facial tissue I can find, because the spots where Kleenex and Puffs live are always empty. I miss them, the Puffs and Kleenex and the Charmin toilet paper, but I miss having smooth skin, too, and I’ve learned to be perfectly happy without it.

Like that skin, I kind of doubt that life as we knew it will ever return completely. Just as every other catastrophe has affected us, so will this one. I don’t know, sadly enough, if we will learn from it or not. We aren’t even able to get the basics down. Love your neighbor. Do no harm. Tell the truth. Live and let live.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. I’m going to slip something right in here that I wrote for a blog post somewhere else. You won’t even see the seams—promise!

“Being a mom has made me so tired. And so happy.” – Tina Fey

I’ve never been able to settle Mother’s Day down into that one Sunday of the year. Make no mistake, I like hearing from my kids on the actual day. If I’ve heard from all of them by day’s end, it makes the sunset of that day all the better and brighter and…I don’t know, calmer. (Which is decidedly odd, because I don’t recall ever having a calm day while they were growing up.)

The truth of the matter, though, is that most of my Mother’s Days haven’t been on the second Sunday in May. No, it’s been more like this.

Y  The days they were born. I don’t need to explain that one, do I?
Y  The days they graduated.
Y  The evenings they sat on the porch with me and watched sunsets.
Y  The mornings my sons crawled out of bed and helped me get my car unstuck from the snow so that I could go to work.
Y  The day after my mother’s passing when I told my mother-in-law that I no longer had anyone who would love me no matter what. And my mother-in-law said, “You still have me.”
Y  The day my daughter, daughters-in-law, granddaughters, and I lay on a bed in a vacation rental and laughed and talked.
Y  The days lately when my daughter has gone to the grocery store for me because, as her brother says, her dad and I are in the “high risk” group.
Y  The blissful days that have made me a grandmother seven times.
Y  Every day. Every day you’re a mom, no matter who it’s to—giving birth doesn’t have a lot to do with it—you have somebody to love who loves you back. Even on the days you don’t like each other.

I’ve reached the time when I am the matriarch (although I’m not at all crazy about that word) on our particular branch of the family tree. I still miss my mom and mother-in-law, but am so glad that I had them. They were glad to have had me, too, and that’s a nice thing to know.

Not every second Sunday in May has been a happy day, just as every day as a mother hasn’t been a happy one—I had three teenagers at one time; of course they weren’t all good days! But when I look back and count up my fortunately few regrets, being a mom is never on the list.

Wishing you a Happy Mother’s Day. All of them.

There, didn’t see a thing, did you? My life is so much better with cut-and-paste in it! I’ve thought so much about my mom lately. I cut lilacs at the farm where I grew up—they were always her favorites. And mine. I’ve thought of my mother-in-law and how much I miss her. I’m so grateful to have had them both.

And my mind keeps going back to those basics. Love your neighbor. Do no harm. Tell the truth. Live and let live. And another one, said by Thumper’s mom, If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. These are things all mothers—including rabbit ones, apparently—have been saying all along. They’re as right now as they ever were.

As we go through this time and come out on the other side of it, we need to remember those things. We need to relearn how to listen, how to embrace and mean it, and how not to do harm. We can do without Charmin, Kleenex, Puffs, and smooth skin--we can't do without kindness and all that goes with it.

Have a great week. Be safe. Be nice to somebody.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Sixth Try #WindowOvertheSink

I’ve discovered that even when I try to write about something that has nothing to do with the COVID-19 virus, or quarantine, or social distancing, it doesn’t work very well. The crisis and all its accouterments are the elephant in every room. So I thought I’d just go ahead and wallow in it, write about it, talk about who and what I miss. About worrying. About fear. I’ve now started this paragraph five times. I’ve spent a lot of time wandering around thinking I should be doing something productive, so maybe that’s what this is. More likely, though, it’s just the sixth try at a column.

I love the wildflowers on the Nickel Plate. Today it was little starry white things and even tinier yellow ones with the occasional bold and brassy dandelion pushing its way forward, saying, “Here I am, like it or not.” Today, while walking, I saw six people on bicycles. We kept our distance, nodded, smiled, and said, “Hi.”

I’ve baked this week, banana bread and cinnamon roll bread and Grands biscuits and Weight Watchers cheesecake. I’ve done laundry and dishes and cooked meals and gotten out of cooking a few others simply by making a phone call and picking up some really good stuff someone else prepared. Days that are never long enough suddenly are. I am never bored, but for the first time in my adulthood I understand how some people are.  

On my grandson’s birthday, the third grandchild’s birthday during the quarantine, we took money to him and handed it to him out the window of the car. There were no hugs involved, but everyone’s heart was, so it was okay.

Writing has been interesting. I’ve had some days when I’ve written more than I sometimes accomplish in a week. There have also been hiccups. There have been paragraphs and full pages written and discarded, written and discarded, written and…sometimes on the sixth time, it takes. The paper that has published the Window went on hiatus and I feel betrayed even though I wasn’t. I think that explains part of the wandering around, though. Part of the inability to complete things.

DeRozier’s Bakery has been delivering doughnuts all over the place. Most area restaurants are taking orders by phone and delivering to your car when you go to pick them up. Grocery stores have special hours especially for at-risk customers. More sewing machines than I’d have thought existed in the area have sewn masks steadily since the need for them first became known.

People are being heroes everywhere we turn. Healthcare workers. Retail associates. Postal workers. Other delivery personnel. Those who are sharing accurate information not colored by politics. Performers who are giving free concerts online from their living rooms, their kitchens, their showers. Teachers who left their classrooms without saying goodbye to their kids are still reading to them from Facebook, answering questions, working on e-learning. Going to meetings on Zoom. And meetings, and meetings, and meetings…

We all worry, but the worries are different for everyone. If a nurse has children at home, how scared is she or he of taking the virus home with them? Teachers can only do so much to educate without a classroom; they can’t be sure their kids are doing the work in their packets or eating regularly. Everything we buy off a shelf or receive by one delivery mode or another has been touched by human hands. Many human hands. Not everyone is careful. I worry because I’m afraid I’ll never be able to hug my grandkids again. I’m afraid my husband or I will get sick and we won’t get to be together.  

There are words and phrases being used a lot. Hoax. Living with fear. Social distancing. Masks. We’re all in it together. Good people. The usual people are trolling social media—telling less than the truth, calling names, denigrating others because they can. They’re stirring a pot that is already boiling over with floods of fear and loneliness and not giving a damn.

Connor Wilson at McClure's Orchard
We are brought to tears, some of us, by unexpected things. Vandals who stole and destroyed signs meant to honor seniors who’ve been robbed of the last so-much-fun months of high school. Virdie Montgomery, a principal who put 800 miles on his car so that he could visit each of his seniors. A picture of a grandson heeling in apple trees in a field. Knowing another grandboy hurt his foot. Music videos.

I’ve been looking for a way to finish this column, this endless sixth attempt that’s much more than a single paragraph. It’s hard because there aren’t any solutions yet.

But we will have church in the building this week, for the first time in a long time, maintaining our distance and dispensing with greeting time. Restaurants will be open at partial capacity soon. Salons are welcoming customers back slowly, one at a time. Be safe. At least as safe as you can, for the sakes of others if not for yourself. Wear a mask even if you don’t like them and don’t think they’ll help—they sure won’t hurt.

I remember a line from a book I read in junior high days. It was Sue Barton, Rural Nurse, and the town of Springdale, New Hampshire had suffered the effects of a terrible storm. (I think it was a hurricane, but you can’t quote me on that part.) Many of the town’s residents spent the night in a church, on high ground. When they got up in the morning, they looked down on the town and its partial ruin and up at the sky, and one of them said, in words like this but maybe not exactly, “It looks like it’s going to be a good day, folks.”

We’re going through quite the hurricane, aren’t we? Some days it feels as if the eye of it is coming straight toward us and we’re going to have to find a way to climb its wall to find safety again. Other days aren’t so bad. They’re times of doughnuts, wildflowers, grandkids’ birthdays, banana bread, and heroes. So many heroes. It’s days like that when we feel like we’ll be able to finish the paragraph and look around and say, “It looks like it’s going to be a good day, folks.”

Have a great week. Stay safe. Be nice to somebody.