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Monday, August 30, 2010

Tribute to EEJW

Over the past weekend one of my favorite relatives-by-marriage passed away suddenly. I’ll miss her very much! I think it is odd that I never did mourn and grieve for my father the way I feel about other people who have died since then. Perhaps it is because I feel him nearby so often, and I almost hear his voice on the edge of my consciousness at times especially when I’m doing something that both he and I loved: genealogy. “Look in that direction,” he seems to be saying, and I follow the direction and find what I was looking for—or I find something else that I maybe should have been looking for all along.

This relative who passed away last Saturday morning was a great lady. She was the one who listened to my troubles when I was first married and trying to negotiate my way through the land mines of step-motherhood; she had raised her own six children and taken in a dozen or more others who for one reason or another needed surrogate parents or simply a place to crash for a period of time. She was used to being the go-to person who helped out people who were hurting.

It was more than simply her natural talent—she had trained as a nurse and had gone for advanced degrees later in her life, and she was always either dispensing medical or emotional advice of the wisest kind.

She was one of the most organized people I have ever met. She was one of those who did the major portion of work for the larger family reunions. No matter what committee you were put on, you could always ask her about your responsibility and she’d know what it was you were supposed to do and would have an idea on how you could accomplish it.

She was always ready for any occasion. Every Christmas we drove to the cemetery near her home to put flowers on the grave of my husband’s first son, and often we dropped in to see her and her husband (my husband’s cousin). No matter when we came, she would have something ready to give us as a Christmas present, even if it worked out that we had to go there two weeks ahead of Christmas or the week afterward.

I got to edit her husband’s life history, which he published for his posterity and any of the rest of us extended family who were interested. A lot of us were interested! She figured largely in the story, and what I learned of her impressed me more and more. I knew she was generous; I learned the bounds of her generosity extended farther than I could think. I knew she was smart; I learned she was wise beyond my imagination. I knew she had faith; I learned more of the rocklike quality of her faith.

The virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 has nothing on this queen among women.

“Good night, sweet [lady], and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

Friday, August 20, 2010

More Space Issues

Yesterday it rained cats and dogs around here for two hours or more. At one point it was raining so hard that I could barely see the trees one yard over from our back yard. I went around the basement, making sure no water was backing up into our window wells.

This morning we took our dog for a walk and came upon flood evidence. We traced the pattern of loose ground-cover bark lining one end of our street and followed it over the curb, through the grass, and across the upper driveway of a neighbor’s house. It continued through the gravel of their side yard, and then it sloped back down to the street again across the next yard. Across the street from that, we followed the line across the lower driveway of the house on the corner, and through a corner of their yard.

Several years ago we had a hard rainstorm similar to the one yesterday, only I think it was worse, because several of our neighbors’ homes were flooded in that same area where we saw the evidence today. At that time, experts were called in who determined that the culprit was partly the recent installation of speed bumps on our street. Suddenly rainwater was backing up along one of the speed bumps and not getting to flow into the storm drain. It flowed through yards and into basements instead. You don’t take the space away from flowing water on the street!

Civil engineers determined that the speed bumps had to be modified at the gutters, made lower. Of course, now drivers move to the edge of the street to cross this one especially, and today we were nearly run down by a driver determined not to go over the speed bump in the center of her lane, but to use the gutter instead, only that was where we were walking. She was mad at us! If only we had been on the sidewalk.

Alas, the sidewalk space right there is squeezed between a fence along its inner edge and low-growing branches of flowering plum trees on its outer edge—or I should say overhanging the entire space. You can’t walk, you have to stoop and go single file. We took to the street. The driver aimed at us and swerved at the last moment as we jumped under those blasted trees. Stupid driver. Stupid trees. Stupid civil engineers. We all want the same spaces.

Ah, the pleasures and hazards of a morning walk.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pet Peeves

Yesterday morning as we were walking our dog, a friend of mine drove by and stopped her car to say hello. We couldn’t have been speaking for a minute when a man in a pickup truck stopped to lecture us about blocking traffic. He had been driving past the other direction and not only did he have room to pass, but a third car passed us going our direction at the same time. I’m sure he was upset about suddenly having to move to the far side of his lane as the other car swung out around us, leaving us a lot of space. So my pet peeve? People who lecture other people. It isn’t that I haven’t wanted to do the same thing; I just don’t do it. What is the point? To relieve your feelings of being wronged, of course. Do you ever get the satisfaction of someone saying, “Oh, of course you’re right, I did a really stupid thing there and I really must pay you for it. Name the price of your understanding and forgiveness.” Ha ha.

Continuing with things on our walk that irritate me, I have to put people’s sprinkling systems as one. A lot of them seem to spray the sidewalk, almost as much if not more than the lawn or gardens they are supposed to be watering. Not only do they waste water, but my pet peeve is being forced out into the street unless I feel like getting soaked.

The sidewalk encroachment thing is one of my pet peeves. To start with, cities are taking more and more of our sidewalk. Do you remember when you were a kid and three of you could walk abreast down the sidewalk? Not anymore! Sidewalks are shrinking. You’re lucky if two of you can walk abreast, even kids, and if you have a large dog with you, it doesn’t work at all.

Then people let their vegetation grow all over the sidewalks, so you’re dodging tree limbs, being thwacked by large bushes, and stepping on vines and flowers. The really mean people plant rose bushes next to the sidewalk, and you get scratched if the people don’t keep them well trimmed back (to get scratched by my rose bushes, however, you have to step off the sidewalk into my front yard).

There was one yard on my walk—and I can’t avoid passing it no matter which route I take—where the tree limbs grew downward so low that nobody but a little kid could duck low enough to get by. You either had to walk on their lawn or out into the street. I kept threatening my walking companions that I was going to carry pruning shears one day. Then one day, a couple years after I started complaining, suddenly the trees were all pruned. On another corner, there was a vine that grew thick and stiff branches over a fence and out over the sidewalk, low enough that I couldn’t duck under it. I wanted to prune that one too, but it died. I did not poison it, but I was thankful.

Then when I am driving, I’m on the other side of the issue, because people who walk out in the street irritate me. I am not irritated if they stay by the side of the road, but they seem to like to walk down the middle of the street. Like those people and their dog yesterday who had the gall to stop in the middle of the street to talk to the driver of a car passing by! How could one not resist giving them a piece of one’s mind?!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Making Space

Continuing to ruminate about the space in my life, I have come to the conclusion that I really must do something about my materialistic nature. I have started by throwing away papers. No! Not original vital records! These are papers from my one-time career as a college English instructor, now many years in the past. I still have lesson plans, handouts (even dittos, all purple and smeary!), final papers written by my technical writing students if I thought the subject they had chosen was one I might want to pursue later on, grade books, and reams of notes.

I have all the materials I put away when I abandoned my PhD dissertation (having been kicked out of my program after I’d done everything but write the final paper, a long story for another day, or not)—it sits there ready for me to finish writing if I ever felt so moved. I will never feel so now, I’m positive! I have files of notes for books I once thought to have written, which I cannot imagine doing now. Out! Out! It’s all going in the recycle bin! I am keeping only some things that will help me if I should ever want to write my life story with details . . . a big IF!

Next, I’m going to attack the bric-a-brac I’ve collected over the years. I have collections of this, collections of that, tons of kitschy souvenirs from everywhere I’ve traveled, boxes of craft stuff, bags of yarn I *might* someday crochet into gifts for people who won’t even appreciate them. What am I ever going to do with it all? I can’t display more than I already have, or I’ll be in serious danger of creating those stacks of things that topple over on pack-rats and bury them until somebody wonders why the newspapers are stacking up and the mail hasn’t been collected. Ok, that’s not funny, but I’m being serious here. I don’t want my home full of junk. I don’t want to have to suddenly downsize. I want it to be easy to pick up and move to a little condo when we cannot take care of a house and yard anymore. Or on the other hand, easy to invite others to come live with me and take care of me in my old age!

After my birthday I was feeling rather ancient and needing to prepare for my doddering future. Maybe though, I have a little time left. Like several decades. To clean out my stuff and clear some space, I’m going to need every second.

Monday, August 9, 2010


We were having a conversation last week about space. Some of it comes out of this thing of being the sandwich generation and supporting the generations behind us and before us, and some of it comes out of reading in the newspaper a couple weeks ago that archives across the country are destroying their holdings to make room for new inventions. The article was shocking to me as a genealogist: I believe in the sanctity of original records! They say they are keeping “representative samples” and dumping the rest, the very idea of which makes me gasp with horror. What if my ancestors are not in the representative samples? I’m sure that’s what every single genealogist is asking. I hope at the very least that these archives have already had all their holdings microfilmed.

I’m worried about the space I need for my copies of the sources that prove my genealogical research. My husband and I have records all over the house. There are photographs in frames, photographs in file cabinets, photographs in binders, and stacks on bookshelves. We have certificates in frames, certificates in file folders, certificates in binders, and stacked on bookshelves. We have cases of cassette tapes with the voices of our relatives who have passed away. We have some transcribed. We have diaries in drawers and on shelves. We have family Bibles here and there. We have compiled family histories in various places around the house.

We have these dreams of getting them all gathered into one place in the house and organized. We keep identifying things we need in order to meet this goal. Another bookcase. Another file cabinet. Maybe we need a room dedicated to family history. Yikes.

The other side of the space issue comes up when we think about gathering our family history in one place. It is that we have room in our house and therefore we share our space with extended family members. Sometimes we have had one or another of my siblings living with us. We have taken in my husband’s sister when she had a long illness and couldn’t go right home from the convalescent hospital. Our children and parents have lived with us off and on for years. We really enjoy having our family members come and stay for a while and then go home again. That’s honestly the best-case scenario, considering that I’m basically selfish with my space.

However, then I start thinking about how things were in my or my husband’s families about a generation ago, when people ran into trouble, and the answer is that they took their relatives in and had them live with them. And people did not have the space to themselves that people today think they need. One of my best friends took me to her childhood home, a small house in an old neighborhood, and it had only one bathroom. My friend comes from a real “baby boomer” family of nine children, six girls and three boys. She greatly enjoyed explaining how all six sisters managed getting ready in the mornings with only one bathroom.

But it was done. We all seemed to share in those days. My siblings all shared rooms with each other, as did my husband’s siblings. Why does everybody think all children need their own rooms these days? Why were people, up until the recent economic downturn, all trying to buy gargantuan homes with not only separate bedrooms for everybody, but separate sitting rooms or, well, I can’t call them “family rooms” if they aren’t really for the family to be together, can I? Do we want family unity or what? I wonder if we need more space or less?

So space is the thing I wonder about today. Do I need more of it, or less? How do I share the space I have? How do I use it wisely?