Sunday Morning~ Feeling Loved

There have been many Sundays of Thanksgiving weekend when I’ve basked in the glow of a good meal, good conversation, and the absence of family fights and co-dependent smiles obscuring gritted teeth. Then there were those when I’ve been glad it’s all over. I’ve obsessed over the arguments, the drunken insults and crying jags, the overcooked pecan rolls, the revisited childhood traumas, the temperature of the house, and my perfect-holiday fantasy spiraling into the toilet. I’d go to church and pray to forget it all and have selective memory repaint the face into a smiling one.

Okay, okay, I take responsibility for having an ideal that is hard to live up to. I like the breakfast to be just filling enough so that we don’t need lunch but aren’t so hungry that the pre-dinner drinks allow us to appreciate the meal, not struggle to remember it. I like the morning walk to be scenic, strenuous but not too strenuous, and timed so that the turkey is filling the house with it’s scent upon return. I want the meal to be organic, home grown, perfectly presented, and hot.  I want the blessing to be profound, eloquent, poetic, and brief. I want the conversation to be witty, intelligent, insightful, and respectful. I want it to linger on through dessert and coffee. I want to watch glowing faces in the firelight. I want to feel loved. Is all that too much to ask? Well, yes. It often was. As I was often reminded. I then blamed myself for expecting too much. Stupid fantasies.

I’ve thought about describing my life to others, which, one has to do a lot when one travels. It’s interesting to describe day to day activities that we take for granted and do without thinking. Being in a new relationship requires this as well. It makes me think about what I choose to do during a day, and whether it is really necessary or meaningful. When explaining your every move, you want your activities to seem important and have worth.

Same goes for holidays.

We had dear friends from England here with us this year. I’ve spent many hours with them over the past four decades, on one continent or the other and I’ve often described Thanksgiving as my favorite holiday. I painted such a rosy picture (the fantasy one) that they wanted to experience it. This was the chosen year and it became one of those events, that having grown up with, we looked at in new light. Try explaining this holiday and all it’s associations including what time the meal is served. Try justifying friends flying across the ocean to partake in this feast. It takes on new meaning. A deeper one. How do we exude the feeling of gratefulness and how have we expressed it in the past? When we tell stories of past Thanksgivings where relatives made a scene, or someone dropped the turkey, or we were so hungover we couldn’t eat, we look at each other with questioning glances. So, yeah, why do we like this holiday so much? What does (or should) it symbolize? Why these three pies? Does everyone eat the same thing? Always? Why Thursday? Why isn’t Friday a holiday as well?

I thought there might be terrific pressure to make it perfect, knowing I would only be putting that on myself. After all, they had no idea what it was going to be like. But they were flying from London for God’s sake! This had to be good!! Oh, and the full moon was happening! Were the crazies going to come out in everyone? (At least I didn’t have to worry about everyone going into labor as the meal was being served.)

Enter my granddaughter. Two years of excruciating cuteness. Loving, accepting, entertaining, hugging, dancing, cuteness. She calms me. She lit up this house while the rest of us fell into a five day choreographed celebration of our land, our harvest, our love for each other, and all our blessings. We laughed more (and harder) than I can remember. We told stories of where we came from and who we became. We cleared out my woods for a fantastic bonfire. We hiked. We ate. We drank. We accepted each other’s quirks.  We loved each other. We glowed in the firelight. We hoped the house did not ignite.

We felt loved. I felt loved. It was a good one.


Sunday Morning~Family Holiday

It’s the time of year when I either write about my mother, who would have been 95 tomorrow, or the turkeys, who give themselves to us the Sunday before Thanksgiving. That would be today.

It was five years ago when I decided that if I were going to eat meat I needed to be closer to it. Having always felt like I was born in the wrong century, I wanted to take the homesteading gig one step further. I have a big vegetable garden and chickens for eggs, but wanted to be able to raise and butcher my own meat. Turkeys seemed to be a good place to start. Their growing season was short, they don’t take much room, and I knew others who had done it without much fuss. And, a fresh, organically-raised turkey was expensive to buy.  This seemed the perfect place to start.

I can easily nourish myself without animal protein, but I don’t want to.  I like eating meat. I feel better when I eat meat and don’t feel badly about that, but I do feel badly about how our meat is raised, butchered, consumed, and wasted in this country.  If everyone had to raise and butcher their own meat, how little would be squandered! We’d appreciate and honor it more. We’d be healthier. We’d eat less of it. I’ve learned I am not going to have the room to do a pig or cow here, so that idea has gone by the wayside, but turkeys, I can do. And growing from the mound under their shelter, next year’s pumpkins will appreciate them too.  It’s satisfying.

The holiday will be different this year. The kids have lives that don’t allow enough days off to make the trip. The family who gathers here this year will be mostly a family of friends.

When my marriage ended thirteen years ago, I thought I’d die before I could get through the holidays. My whole notion of family had been destroyed and I was having a hard time letting go of it. After having to face the fact I would have to check the D box under marital status on applications, I couldn’t bear the thought of my intact family existing no more. That Wednesday evening joy I felt when everyone made it home safely and we were all together again was one of the hardest things for me to let go. I felt like there would always be a gaping hole there and sadness funneling through it.

During that time of grief, my friend Carl took me away to his summer place for a couple of days.  He patiently listened to me cry. He had invited some neighbors over to dinner, one of whom, a historian, had written a book called A World of Their Own Making: Myth, Ritual, and the Quest for Family Values. Carl let me borrow that book and it has forever changed the way I look at holidays and family. That invitation and dinner reinforced my belief, that if I’m open to it, whatever I’ve truly needed has come to me.

I learned that “family” as we know it, is a recent notion. I realized how much of my grief was related to our society’s reinforcement of a limited concept. My family was only taking on a new form. It still existed. It was filled with friends as well as relatives. It still was rich and wonderful, if I could let it be so.

My dear friends from England have traveled across the pond to spend Thanksgiving with us. When planning the trip, they said they always wanted to experience an American Thanksgiving, a holiday they don’t have. I got a little nervous about the pressure to make this fabulous. I told them, “You realize the holiday is just a meal, right? Before you buy your tickets?” Yes, they knew that, but hearing me talk for years about how much I love this holiday they wanted to experience it.

So we’ll have a table filled with food grown close to that table, and chairs filled with the new concept of family. Practicing gratitude. Thankful.

Sunday Morning~Holding Hands

It’s another Sunday morning when I feel I need to write about the latest violence. The new roof going on this week, the windows to be washed, the lingering autumn, the debts to be settled, all seem insignificant and petty. A week ago my decaying roof was not petty; it was an emergency. Different perception these last few days.

Yesterday was the memorial service for a friend, John, who was taken suddenly and shockingly. A simple medical procedure, turned ravaging infection, turned goodbye. Though he left us several weeks ago, i’m still having a hard time believing he’s gone. His spirit was that big. His heart and generosity and insight penetrated deep. He lived only two days after the infection set in. I can see him still, sitting on the porch, book in hand, soft smile, gentle wave, as he reaches down to pat his dog.

In a writing workshop, we wrote about hands. I thought about John’s hands, patting his dog, turning the pages, waving slightly, warmly embracing, firmly shaking. He was a writer, a thinker, a facilitator, a healer. He emulated kindness and exuded goodness. His warmth could be felt from a distance. I wondered what I really knew about his hands. Where had they been? What pain and injuries had they seen? What healing touch had they received, then turned to give to others?

What a unique tool we have in our hands. What an extension of our hearts. In May when I drove most of the night to get to my conference, I slipped into the bed I was sharing with a friend.  I tried to be silent so as not to disturb. I curled into a ball facing the wall and her hand reached over and patted me twice on the shoulder. It said, “We’re glad you made it. Glad you’re safe. We care.” Two pats with a caring hand and I could relax into the warmth of friendship. Powerful tools.

At mass this morning I watched as people folded their hands in prayer, held them out to each other in a sign of peace, stroked the cheek of a child. Loving hands from loving hearts. And I thought about hands that can decapitate, pull a trigger, throw a bomb. What must those hearts be made of? What pain and suffering have they endured to enable those hands in that regard? And the hands that reach in to help the wounded, carry them to safety, grasp at life–––what hearts do those come from?  What courage in those hearts?

The wife and daughter sit aside the bed, holding the hands that loved them. Their hearts break as the life slips away. They are grateful to be there, for those hands to hold.

Our hands constantly remind us of our humanity. We expose them to the world, acceptable in every culture. The roofer has scars from nails and hammers. The masseuse’s hands are strong and sure, their skin soft from oil. The writer’s hands know many stories that escape one by one, across a page or screen.

On that fateful train trip last April, this kind stranger asked what I missed most about being married. I answered with three things. One was dancing. The second was holding hands.  To me, holding hands is the most loving of connections. We hold our children’s hands to keep them safe, and our lover’s hands to keep them close. Our hearts connect and we feel secure.

Sunday Morning~Getting older

It was five years ago today that my mother died. Five years ago we spent this day peacefully sitting by her bedside saying goodbye. This is a regular occurrence with my friends these days, losing parents. We are the older generation now, and it feels weird.

I feel so much younger than my mother when she was my age. I wonder what her perception was? To me, my mother always seemed old. She wasn’t athletic, or particularly physically active, though she had stamina and would rally for entertaining stints. That was a physical feat; I recognize now.  She’d had many back surgeries and was often in pain. She winced and sighed while walking up stairs. Yet, at church dances, she’d be out there cutting up the floor in high heels, having a good time. All the old people were. They were probably ten years younger than I am now.

Yesterday, I hosted the state meeting of nurse-midwives. We used to meet on Friday evenings, four times a year, somewhere in the middle of the state, usually Augusta. Maine is a big state, and we tried to keep everyone’s travel time down to three hours each way. That’s back when there were only ten of us; there are seventy now. Back then, many of us were in solo practice and we were professionally lonely. I’d leave my island around 3 p.m. and drive toward Augusta, collecting midwives along the way. We’d talk our brains out, not even noticing the drive and arrive with food and spend the next three hours in the company of strong, competent women, problem solving, planning, strategizing, and nurturing. We understood each other, had mutual goals, faced similar obstacles to our practice, and learned from each other.  That was twenty four years ago. Friday nights were the best time to meet, since we didn’t have office hours the next day and didn’t want to take a weekend day away from our families. We looked forward to those meetings as booster shots. We’d return home well after midnight.

Now, the Friday evening doesn’t work so well. Many don’t drive at night anymore. Our children are fledged, and Saturday mornings are a better time. We’re old…er. We’ve morphed and adapted, and gathered yesterday amid hugs, exclamations, stories, and frustrations pouring forth.  We shared food–– beautiful nurturing food. We attempted to have others join us via computer, trying to utilize technology to optimize attendance for those who couldn’t travel or leave their practice.  It didn’t work so well. We’ve got kinks to work out.

We sat in an irregular circle, accommodating the contours of the room. I wondered if the cat had been sleeping on all the chairs, and realized I hadn’t vacuumed everywhere. The late autumn sunlight drew my attention to cobwebs and window streaks and golden fluff. I hoped no one was allergic to cats, but let that go when I didn’t see anyone sneezing. The old group mingled with the young women there, students, eager to be involved. There were women I’d met with and worked with and pushed legislation with for the past 24 years. Our hair is grey. We are grandmothers. We’ve buried our parents and some of our colleagues. A few have retired.

We went around the room and each gave a report on what we’ve been up to. There were some disturbing events that transpired since we’d last met and we amended the agenda to discuss ways to be supportive. Legislative reports were given involving complicated issues affecting women in our state––difficult decisions about risks to women and risks to our practices. There were thoughtful discussions about ramifications of our recommendations, possible backlash from the medical establishment, and barriers to our practice. There were two students there who are considering midwifery for a career.  I wondered what they were thinking.  When they asked if they could attend the meeting, I wonder if they thought we’d be all touchy feely, talking about breastfeeding and water birth. I tried to gauge their expressions, boredom? shock? when the meeting sounded more like a legislative committee than a Mother Jones reunion.

I listened. I listened to these women who work so many hours, then give up their free time to work on these issues. They attend meetings at the capitol. They understand the legislative process and the medical and nursing boards. They know the nuances of getting a bill passed––who to engage, which dogs to let sleep. I watched a few knit, completely engrossed in their creative design, then contribute a profound and insightful comment about how to proceed. I love these women. I studied their faces. Everyone seemed so young to me. I thought, can it really be 24 years ago I first met them? Grey hair seemed youthful on everyone. They’re all so beautiful and wise. I thought of how differently I viewed my mother when she was this age. Were the same qualities there, I just couldn’t see them? Was I just a smarty pants know-it-all who didn’t fully appreciate what she had to give?

My life was so different from my mother’s. She couldn’t understand my need for adventure and travel. She worried about me. She hated that I went overseas to work. I know now that it was out of worry and concern for my safety, but at the time I saw it as being unsupportive.  It seemed I was always swimming upstream. I used to think I would love it if my kids went off and did this! Why was she always giving me grief about it?

At a book talk last week, an old friend was there who knew my mother. As I described the experience of working with traumatized women, this friend made a comment about how worried my mother was while I was gone that year.  I realized in that instant, that the book may never have happened without my mother.  The emails were my attempt at reassuring her that I was ok, but they turned into a story about a population the world does not know. Stories about mothers who’ve lost their children over and over again. They’ve lost their homes and husbands and sometimes their will to live. I felt like what I was offering them was so meager. I felt like my mother’s offering was meager still. All she had to do was let me go without complaining. I told her that was her contribution, just let me go. But I knew she was worried, and I promised to reassure her every week. In the end, her contribution was huge. She guided me to a path in life I’d never expected. I wish she were here to see her part in that journey.

Sunday Morning~ Cranberry Solitude

I spent five hours in my kayak yesterday, paddling down Northeast Creek in the gorgeous fall sunlight. It was high tide and calm, and the water was smooth and glassy. I was out to forage. Having been away so much of the growing season, my neglected garden did it’s best to provide for the winter, but there was need to call in reinforcements. The blueberries, my sweetheart and I picked this summer, were safely tucked into the freezer for future culinary color and sustenance, but the cranberries were calling.

I ponder this urge to forage. My siblings have it, too.  I’m convinced it’s from our Micmac ancestry and I embrace it. I love seeing it in my children. True, there were required hours of picking and preserving when they were growing up, and despite the grumbling at the time, I’d like to think those are happy memories for them.  Matt says, “Whatever helps you sleep at night, mum.” But hey! It was hard to raise kids with an appreciation of what our nourishing earth provides amidst the gluttony and excess! We had to have enforced harvests! How else were we to dominate?!  But this week he called to proudly tell me he was making a meal consisting of everything he had grown, so I know he really appreciates those Sunday morning blueberry outings. It’s in there somewhere.

There are a few theories floating around out there about the upcoming winter. No one has ever seen this many berries or fruits on trees.  My apple tree even produced this year! That’s a first. Supposedly the squirrels are putting away record amounts of nuts and the weather predictions are dire. Well, if the cranberry crop is any prediction, we’d better be ready to get buried.

So yesterday morning, with bright sun, nothing on the calendar, and three big containers tucked into corners of the kayak, I set off down the creek. I’d done a scouting mission the week before and found some good spots. The high tide was perfect and the floating berries were yelling “Over here! Come get me!”  Big red dots bobbing and floating near the tall grass that hides the sprawling plants beneath the water. A swipe with the paddle and hundreds more came to the surface. The water was cold and my shirt sleeves got wet but I couldn’t stop myself. I couldn’t leave until the buckets were full. I had a lot of time to think. I didn’t want to stop, so didn’t. I thought about not having to explain to anyone, negotiate, or cut short my activity because I’ve got some obligation to attend to. I’ve daydreamed about days like that. Doing exactly what I want without explanation. I thought a lot about the future. I wonder how it will be to incorporate someone else into my life?  Will that freedom get consumed? Divided? Explained away? Have I been single too long? I thought how he would have loved being there. I recalled with glee his excitement about the blueberries. He never complained about how hard they are to pick. We simply talked and picked and marveled at the abundance. Smiling. Happy.

I thought about satisfying careers and what that might be in the years to come. I’ve never not known the next step. It’s unfamiliar and uncomfortable. I thought about teaching nutrition and how often I was asked the question about how much of this or that to eat. How to lose weight and keep it off? As I picked I thought, if everyone had to spend this much time collecting their food for the winter, no one would be overweight. I’ve told women to imagine they had to collect maple sap and boil it down into syrup themselves, and then imagine it’s the only syrup or sweet substance they had for the whole year. Then hold that image in your mind when considering how much to pour on your pancakes. That answer doesn’t satisfy everyone. Neither does a cupful of syrup. Maybe I should consider a different career.

I’m overwhelmed with frustration and grief at how far we’ve strayed from our food source.  And then I’m overwhelmed with gratitude that I live where I can kayak to a wild setting, with a blue heron looking on (do they eat these berries?) and Canadian geese stopping to rest on their way south. I was startled by what, an otter? Something smooth and sleek poked it’s head up and did a graceful dive, showing off it’s slick butt as it disappeared beneath the surface, evoking another sweet memory. Mole and Rat and their escapades fill my mind and I was back to the cozy days of cuddles with kids reading aloud for hours on end.

Look here! If you’ve really nothing else on hand this morning, supposing we drop down the river together, and have a long day of it?

I thought of our young family listening to that story, ready for bed, piled up on the couch together.  I don’t know how to assimilate all the places my mind wandered yesterday. I let it flow, grateful again for the time and space, trying not to corral the thoughts, just let them bob and float.

I heard a TED talk about happiness. Someone analyzed what happens in the brain when someone is experiencing happiness. He said that people are most happy when they are completely absorbed in an activity. Those cranberries made me happy. Cleaning and cooking them made me happy. Scraping the bits from the kettle and savoring the flavor made me happy.

Just a thought.

Vaccinium macrocarpon