Sunday, October 30, 2011

Thanks - for memories

While visiting my family yesterday, I was able to relive some old (fond) memories and one of my daughters turned to me and said, "I thought it was horrible growing up here."


No, I explained to her.  There were some good memories - we hold onto those things with all our might.  

So this gratitude-walk is about the memories I have - things that sustained me in what seemed to be such a confusing and dark time in my life.  So, I am thankful for:

Growing up in the country.  Space to take long walks was one of the ways I coped with being misunderstood and/or criticized.  Being close to nature (sometimes too close - I'm sure the mosquitoes had twin engines!) was an escape for me, watching the clouds roll by, going for bike rides and feeling the breeze in my face. 

The church on the hill.  My mother was a Sunday School teacher and she had a key to the church because we only lived a hundred and fifty yards from it.  When I took piano lessons for a year or so, I would borrow the key to the church and tell Mom I was going up there to practice.  I'd go up there and would have the whole church to myself.  The place was acoustically perfect - no need for a sound system.  I played the old upright piano with the chipped "E" key for over an hour at a time, practicing my lessons and then playing what I wanted to play.  What a treat it was for me, a haven of rest and peace.  

The old guitar.  My brothers played guitar and each had his own.  When I was ten, I wanted to learn to play - and Dad handed me this old Harrington guitar with the strings about a quarter-inch off the frets.  "Learn on this," he said.  "If you still want to play after that, we'll see."  I near cried every time I played it, my fingers hurt so much.  But I learned.  And through an amazing sequence of events which I won't describe now, I inherited my brother's guitar (yes I still have it) and that instrument became my best buddy for many years.  When life just didn't make sense, I played my guitar and the confusing and conflicting voices in my mind would subside.  It introduced me to some friends of mine, as the song goes, and brightened up some days, and helped me make it through some lonely nights.  (thanks, John Denver, for those words.)  

The singing.  When we traveled in the car, we sang.  We sang hymns - or country songs from before the time when the electric steel guitar crucified country music.  The sound of our voices together in 4-part harmony is one of the consistently good memories I have.  When we sang, nobody was angry with anyone else.  Nobody was trying to "get" anyone.  True, sometimes we felt put-upon to sing on command when company would visit or when Dad tried out his new toy (a four-track reel-to-reel tape recorder).  But for the most part, singing was an oasis, a time of refreshing.  When was about 14, I figured out how to sing harmony - and from that point onward, my two brothers and I sang together, up until I moved away from home - and beyond. That time in my life was one that is full of many sweet memories - and now bittersweet because one of us is no longer here.

Christmas.  Every year Mom and I would trudge out (with the neighbours' permission) to find a fir tree to cut down and drag back over the snow to our house.  It would sit outside in the snowbank for a couple of days; then we would bring it in.  Mom and Dad would put on the garlands and the bulbs, and it was my job to put on the icicles.  One at a time, I was told.  And don't let Dad help - he throws them on.  The icicles were made of lead - not like today's flimsy ones. We re-used them every year.  And Mom and Dad made Christmas magical for us kids.  They would stay up late Christmas Eve wrapping presents to let us believe that Santa had come.  They saved up for months to get us the one thing we had wanted all year, whatever that was.  I remember one year all I wanted was one of those little toy dogs that bobs its head in the back window of a car.  And there it was.  No more than 5 inches long but it was there.  And there was always a box of chocolates (those big 5-pound Strand ones).  We'd serve them when the neighbours would come in and ask to see what we got, for everyone set up a display beneath the tree and got to show off their haul.  And nobody got to wear or use anything that wasn't in their stocking, until after December 31 was over.  The food - wow, that was amazing in itself.  All kinds of pies, cakes, cookies, not to mention Christmas dinner with all the trimmings.  Those were special times.  

Grandma's barn.  Another shelter from the judgmental eyes of adults.  Her husband - my mom's stepdad - had a couple of dogs which he took with him to work because he was a guard at a nearby fort (a tourist attraction actually), and one of the dogs was a female which had a litter of puppies once in a while.  She kept them in a special, sheltered spot in a deep pile of hay.  I remember going in there and calling out to her, and she would look up at me with those shining, proud-mommy eyes and give one of her puppies a lick as if to say, "These are my babies. Aren't they just precious?" She'd let me hold them, pet them, and put them back one at a time, and obviously loved to share those moments with me.  Her work-a-day job was forgotten. She was just a doting mom who loved her kids and who wasn't too proud or hung-up to show it. I could be having a really rotten day and something like that would turn it around for me.  

The rippled skating rink.  Our house was next to marsh-land all around.  In the winter, the marsh would freeze over and the wind was so strong that the water would freeze with little ripples every couple of feet. My cousins and I would go out there to skate on too-dull skates, and play some one-on-one hockey; we'd trip over the reeds, too. It was all part of the game. We even made a couple of reeds into goal-posts.  Some of my best memories were spent on that marsh, getting my feet ice-cold and coming in the house with my legs all red and prickly.  Then I'd change my clothes, and put on some warm pants and socks, and Mom would make some hot chocolate on the stove.  

Uncle Weldon.  This man was like a demi-god to me when I was growing up.  He is my mother's little brother ... and he thought (and probably still thinks) that the sun rose and set on us.  A bachelor all his life, he devoted his time and effort to making life easier for us - and for my parents.  I remember every Christmas he gave me a new pair of skates - beautiful white figure skates.  One time when I was about 13, he even took me to an indoor rink.  I was mesmerized as I watched him lean forward, lock his hands behind his back and glide around the ice effortlessly, and with a great deal of speed.  He drove me places my parents didn't have the time to take me to visit, and he drove me back afterward. To this day, whenever I see him, my heart leaps within me, even though now, he's about 78 or 79 years old.  What an amazing guy.  

The kiss.  It happened every day and it was always the best part of my day; I didn't know why at the time.  Dad would be ready to go to work and had left the kitchen.  He paused - only for a few seconds - at the door.  And suddenly she was there.  No matter where she'd been, it was like everything was suspended and she was suddenly at his side.  A quick two to three-second kiss, and he would be off to get in the car and go to work.  It happened every day without fail.  And it warmed something inside of me, touched a place in me that made me feel secure.  Like everything was as it should be. Because for that moment, it was.

Bumpity bump in Grampa's truck.  I remember riding in my grandfather's 1940-something truck, the one with absolutely no shocks - and come to think of it, no seatbelts -  jouncing along his lane over rocks and ruts - enjoying the sweet smell of pipe tobacco that permeated his plaid flannel shirt and green workpants, watching his lean, weathered face enjoying my company as he drove my mother and six-year-old me back home after a visit.  I'd time my words to the rhythm of the bouncing and say, "Here we go again, bumpity bump in Grampa's truck."  I didn't get to enjoy his company much longer than that; a tractor accident in that same long lane with the deep ditches took him from us much sooner than it should have.  But I am grateful for the memory of him liking it when I was with him. 

There might have been a lot about growing up the way I did that was not safe, not healthy.  But these things, these vignettes, will remain as among the most memorable.

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