We hear human interest stories all the time about people who can trace their passion directly back to childhood.
There are the altruists who give back by working tirelessly with their charity of choice. So often, their “WHY” is because as a child, they did without.
Frequently, we enjoy the culinary talents of men or women who became chefs because they have happy memories in the kitchen with a family member.
We read stories of millionaires who fiercely pursued improbable dreams because they grew up in poverty.
Many authors were inspired by books they read and loved as children.
Countless singers learned to love music as children in church.
The stories are endless. Our early memories are foundational; they play a role in the adults that we become. Like so many others, I am an educator; this is not a unique career choice, yet I have begun to wonder if I can trace my career back to childhood. I am starting with my grandmother because she is the person with me in my earliest memory.
My grandmother was born in 1878. I was born 70 years later in 1948. She was 73 and I was three years old when my child’s brain stored this first memory in 1951. In this memory, I re-enact my daily afternoon walk with my grandmother. As a young child, my life was tightly structured. My grandmother was a widow and lived with my mother, and me; we were living in a small, rural area in Pennsylvania while my father was overseas on a military deployment.
I loved my grandmother and she loved me. My mom struggled with parenthood and during those days, I was primarily raised by my grandmother. My grandmother was a gentle soul, nurturing by nature, forgiving, and kind. However, she met anything deemed “unladylike” with displeasure, and there was nothing I hated more than disappointing my grandmother. She grew up in the late 1800s with wealth and standards she referred to as a lady’s “comportment,” all of which seem very far-fetched in today’s world.
“What does ‘comportment’ even mean?” you ask. It is the way you conduct your life. In my three-year old life, it meant that my hair was brushed and styled each morning. Curls were painstakingly wound around my grandmother’s finger and I was expected to stand still for however long it took. I remember dressing in the morning in what she called a “day dress”. I didn’t have to take a nap, but we had quiet time after lunch each day. She would read, do needle work, darn socks, plan menus, or write letters.
In the afternoon, every single afternoon except Sunday, I walked hand in hand with my grandmother to the grocer’s general store. In our small country home there was no refrigerator; we had a root cellar for vegetables and an “ice box”. Now, an ice box is literally a box that held ice in order to keep foods cool. An ice man came to deliver blocks of ice every few days, the milk man delivered glass bottles of milk and cream to the porch, and grandmother and I went to the grocery to pick up food for the next day’s meals.
I remember her in the kitchen. She loved being in the kitchen and told me that she had learned her techniques from a cook employed by her family when she was a young girl. I can still remember the smell of her roast chicken, stew, and my favorite, pot roast. Though it was simple food, each evening we changed clothes and dressed for dinner. My grandmother, mother, and I sat around the dinner table. While at the table, I was expected to know which fork was for which course, to use my napkin, to sit still, and “Children were to be seen and not heard.” during the dinner hour.
After dinner, bath and bedtime stories were a favorite time. We did not have television or even a radio, so books were important. I still have some of the favorite books that I selected time and time again. How, I wonder, did that little girl sitting on grandmother’s lap become a teacher?
My grandmother’s hands taught me, protected me, held me. I see her hand holding mine, brushing my hair, ironing my dresses, darning my socks, stirring a pot of soup, steadying me as I got into the tub, tucking me in at night. Her hands were a constant in my early life. Teachers are nurturing by nature. When I think about my grandmother’s gentle hands, I can see a clear path to my life as a teacher. Yes, her hands played a pivotal role in forming my life; she taught me how to love a child.
My day, this 12-hour span of time, has been bracketed by death; both morning and afternoon brought news of a passing. This morning, I learned that one of my favorite statesmen, General Colin Powell, had died. This afternoon I learned that a young friend suddenly passed away. I have been feeling off-center all day as a result of these two events.
Colin Powell was 84 years old; he was often described as the most popular American general since World War II. General Powell was the first Black U. S. Secretary of State and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
My young friend was an immigrant. She was 22 years old and had lived in the United States since she was two years old. She was funny, out-spoken, and fearless.
These two people were so different.
One was male and the other female,
One was young and just starting to live, while the other had lived a full life,
One was a well-known and respected public servant and the other was struggling to earn enough money to pay for school,
One was African American and the other was Asian, and
One was well-known; flags will fly at half-staff for General Powell, while very few people beyond immediate family know of the passing of my young friend.
In spite of their differences, there were similarities. Both of them had family and friends who loved them. They both had more life to live and a desire to do so. They both learned, loved, laughed.
All of us have been forced to deal with loss during our lives. Yet, no matter how many times we are faced with a loss, it is never, ever easy. So, what can we take away from this? How can we grow through pain?
For me, these two losses have reminded me that in life I don’t get a dress rehearsal, and I am not guaranteed even one more moment. Death forces me to stop in my tracks. It makes me realize that in life, self-care is critical; it is the gift I can give myself everyday. Self-care is a way that I can make each day count by giving myself health, well-being, energy, and self-acceptance.
Death reminds us that, for all living beings, life is a series of fleeting moments. It is our responsibility to make each of those moments matter…so, for today and everyday, I wish you joy-filled moments and memories.
Stop a moment and think with me about a simple walking stick. A walking stick can be an elaborate wand of polished wood with a gold tip, a slim, carved body, and a lovely custom handle carved for comfort. Or, a walking stick can be a small limb picked up off the ground while on the trail. Either way, beautiful or plain, a walking stick is a utilitarian item that must serve its purpose.
When we grab onto a walking stick, it is because we need support, to find better balance on the path. A walking stick must stay right by our side, can’t judge the journey, and must silently lend confidence as we navigate rocky terrain.
We all need walking sticks in our lives; walking sticks are those people who are there for us when we need them. These are the people who lend a hand without question, who love us without condition, and support us without judgement.
There are times in each of our lives when we need to reach for a walking stick, so think about those people in your life who will steady you when you hit the rough patches that we inevitably face. Give yourself permission to reach for them when you need balance and support.
Now, look in the mirror. Whether you see plain or fancy, the other side of this coin is that we each must be willing to serve as a walking stick for those in our lives that we love.
So, may you always have the strength to be a walking stick when needed, and may you always find a walking stick within easy reach when you stumble on the path of life…
My father loved to cook. I remember him standing in the kitchen over a hot stove with a cold beer in hand. He spent many an evening pouring over his collection of cookbooks and foodie magazines looking for new recipes to try. And try them he would. Today my parents have passed away and I am living in their home and each time I walk out into the kitchen I can see him standing there chopping, dicing, or stirring. I miss him.
My father invited my son to join him in the kitchen. They stood side by side while performing culinary tricks and today that passion for cooking has been passed along to a new generation of chefs. I find great pleasure in watching him stand in his kitchen looking so much like my dad. Not only does he like to cook, but he’s very good at it!
One of the things I like to do occasionally is pull out one of my father’s recipes and recreate it. We all sit around enjoying the food and our precious memories. Here is one of his favorites. I made it recently, and it is just delicious. Here in Coastal Georgia we have access to wonderful wild caught local shrimp. Give it a try! Shrimp with Tequila Dipping Sauce Shrimp:
Lay 1-2 pounds of medium to large shrimp out on a roasting pan. Coat with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven at 350 degrees until the shrimp have just turned pink. Watch them carefully. If you overcook them, they get tough. Cool them and arrange them on a platter. You may peel them for your guests or leave them in the shell. If you peel them, leave them in the shell until just before you serve them so they won’t dry out.
1 large whole egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil (canola is good)
1 7 oz. jar of pimentos, drained
¼ cup tequila
¼ cup bottled chili sauce
1 dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 dash of bitters
1 dash of hot sauce
In your Vitamix, blender, or food processor with the steel blade, blend the egg and the extra egg yolk, mustard, vinegar, and salt. With motor running, add oil in a slow stream. It is important to pour slowly so the mixture emulsifies and thickens, almost like a mayonnaise. Add pimentos, tequila, chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce, bitters, and hot sauce. Blend until well combined. Chill until ready to serve.
Put the sauce in a bowl and top with a pretty sprig of parsley and a few lemon wedges. Surround the bowl of sauce with the shrimp. Your guests will love it!
I was looking at my FaceBook memories they share each day and it got me thinking about what it means in our lives to look ahead and look back. I found a jubilant post I shared out at about 11:45 p.m. on December 31, 2013. In it I shared pictures of highlights from the year. “Join me as I bid farewell to 2013 and eagerly welcome 2014. Each of you has enriched my life and I am so thankful to be sharing this time and space with you. Let’s take time to look back on the year past and reflect on what was…learn and grow from those experiences. Now let’s look ahead to all the adventures awaiting us. May 2014 be a wonderful year filled with friends, family, and fun!”
I was so happy that night sitting beside my husband of 43 years, sipping champagne, and toasting the new year. At midnight I called my sister and spoke with her and my mom just as we had done every year. I didn’t know at that moment that I would lose both my mother and my husband that year. Yet, in the space of 12 weeks, they were both gone. So, 2014 turned out to be a most difficult, sad, and challenging year.
None of us know what awaits us. Yes, we have control over much of what happens in our lives, but most pivotal events are orchestrated by God’s hand, not ours. I have always believed that not knowing protects us from fear and sadness. I suspect that if I had known what was in my future, I would have been frozen, awaiting the inevitable, rather than living a life filled with laughter and giggles.
Today I am in a new place. I miss my mother, but losing her has helped me realize that even though my child is an adult, I can continue to be the best mother possible. I miss my husband and will always hold him in my heart, but I have found joy again in a new and loving relationship. This relationship is stronger because of what I have been through. Tragedy forced me to examine who I am and how to move forward. I had to get tough – pump my own gas, eat alone at the sushi bar, overcome my fear of heights and climb the ladder to change the lightbulb, balance the checkbook, wander through the maze of Social Security…the list goes on. Today, the woman I bring to all my relationships is changed, more confident, more resilient, more balanced because of the struggle brought about by loss.
So, knowing what I know now, would I change the post from 2013? Come midnight on December 31, 2017, will I still look ahead with joyful anticipation? The answer is unequivocally YES! I will treasure each moment, each person, each relationship, each adventure.
I encourage you to stop for a moment and flip through the pages of your life. Look at your mental snapshots of the places, the family, the friends, even the pets who surround you. You and I, we are richly blessed!
This was written several years ago. Since it was written, my mom has passed away. However, the sentiments still hold true. I continue to struggle with how to go about downsizing my stuff without downsizing my dreams.
I have decided that disassembling a person’s life is one of the most emotionally taxing things I’ve had to do. This week I am in New Mexico helping my sister move my mother out of her home and into my sister’s home. My mother’s condo is filled with a myriad of items collected and loved over a lifetime of 94 years.
We have to do considerable downsizing in order to make this move. The two of us are sitting side by side, pulling items out one at a time and passing judgement – Goodwill – Garbage – Keep – knowing that each item we discard is something that she has loved enough to hold on to.
So, how do we decide? I don’t know. Is the tattered teddy bear a treasure or is it trash? Is it something that she loved and was comforted by as a child or is it something she picked up on QVC a few years ago that was made to look old?
As the Goodwill and Garbage piles grow, so does my sense of sadness. This is a metaphor for life. As we age, we do downsize our lives. My mom has moved from a 4000 square foot house to a 1000 square foot condo, and now to a 120 square foot room.
I realize that I have downsized too. When I was twenty, I had grand visions of how I would change the world. Today, I pray to make a difference in one child’s life. I have downsized my dreams. So I’m sitting here wondering if this is a mistake… if I should continue to dream big, or if I’m setting myself up for failure by trying to achieve 20 year old dreams with a 60 year old body.
I’ve cried this week. I’m not sure if I’m crying over my mom’s stuff, or if I’m crying for myself as I face my own personal downsizing. I suspect it is a bit of both. What I am comforted by is the fact that as the volume of my mother’s “stuff” is reduced, the love she has from those of us around her is not. There is no downsizing there, and so she is still a very lucky 94 year old.