Sunday, April 29, 2007

Visiting Grandma & Grandpa Beach

Last summer, my grandmother passed away. We buried her on my mother's birthday. It was a tough time, but I think I handled the transition pretty well.

My grandmother had memory problems...I don't know if she technically had Alzheimer's or if it was just considered dementia, but either way she didn't know who I was anymore. My sister used to care for her when she started having trouble remembering things (several years after my grandfather passed away). It was at that time, that I started grieving her loss.

I was living in North Carolina and my sister & her family had moved into the finished basement of my grandparents farmhouse in Virginia to help care for my grandmother. I would periodically come up to visit, and each time I came I noticed she was mentally slipping away and it was so hard to watch.

My sister amazed me with her capacity for compassion. I don't think I could have ever done what she did for our grandmother. She was a saint, if you ask me.

Well, when the time came that my grandmother no longer knew who I was at all, I really suffered an emotional loss. This was the woman who taught me how to play the piano, do counted cross stitch and play solitaire (the old fashioned way, with a real deck of cards). She used to make my favorite meal, Chicken 'n' Dumplings whenever I and my family would come down for a visit while I was growing up. And she was always so kind...truly a kind person.

Anyway, this "loss" happened several years ago...before I met my husband. So when she passed away last year, I really was "okay" at that point. I was just happy she was in a better place.

The day after her passing I wrote an entry in my journal about what I recalled in visiting Grandma and Grandpa Beach. Those visits still remain fresh in my mind, since I and my husband purchased the farmhouse they built and lived in for decades and we are presently raising our family there now. I can still sometimes smell the bacon cooking (which we don't even eat pork anymore) as I ascend the basement stairs.

Remembering is a good thing. I hope you can cherish your memories...I know I do. Feel free to share any special memories of your grandparents below. It will feel good to recall the good stuff. ;)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Sitting in the Barber Shop

Yesterday I took my oldest son (10 years old) in to get his hair cut, which was something I was dreading since I had an eighteen month old and a three month old in tow. Luckily I was able to leave the older of the two babies with my husband for this outing. I was in for a slightly different experience than expected.

The baby was sleeping quietly and there were two people ahead of old man sitting in the barber's chair and a young man sitting in the waiting area. A TV was on in the corner and my favorite daytime show was just coming on (second to Oprah)...Dr. Phil. Today's episode was about giving your mate a looked interesting since the subject was the husband getting the makeover.

Just then the white-haired man got up from the barber's chair and had a friendly exchange with the young man who followed. Evidently the old man had played ball with the young man's grandfather years ago. Niceties were exchanged. As the old man headed for the door, he turned in my direction and proceeded to join me seated in the waiting area. I'm not exactly sure how the conversation got started, but needless to say, I was not going to catch Dr. Phil that day.

The man commented on my baby and proceeded to share about the birth of his second child. The subject surfaced that he played baseball in his youth and that piqued my son's interest, since he's a pitcher in the local little league program. The man invited us to come visit sometime and he'd give us a few pitching pointers...he went on to give directions to his house.

Just then another elderly gentleman came in. The first asked how the other was doing and a little flurry of activity went on as the younger man left his barber chair and I ushered my son in to his place. When I went back to my chair, I was swept up in the old men's nostalgic conversations.

One shared about his brush with death years back when he had a heart attack and ended up in intensive care. The other followed with his deathbed experience resulting from an asthmatic condition that led him into the ICU. Yet both sat happily there exchanging their stories, grateful for every breath they took. It was refreshing to watch...two men in their golden years telling true life tales from their past.

The second man went on to discuss an experience of his in the Korean war and afterwards it was like something was lit inside of him. He mentioned how good it felt to retell that story...

By then my son was done with his haircut, so I grabbed my baby, paid the barber and said my goodbyes to the elderly folk. The white haired ballplayer re-extended the offer for us to visit as we exited the shop. Outside I turned to my son and said, "I don't know if he meant it, about us coming for a visit or if he was just being sociable." Maybe he did mean it. Maybe a chance to mingle with a new friend and share a bit from his past is what the fellow needed. Maybe that's why he spends his time sitting in the barber shop...telling stories.

You know, I just might pay him a visit this summer (and bring along a tape recorder). After all, I love hearing stories from the past.

Have you read Viola Brady's memoir, Down Memory Lane? I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Dinner with Dad

Last week I went over to my Dad's for burgers on the grill. My Mom had to work and my oldest son had a friend sleeping over, so I left my husband with our two oldest children and I took my youngest (three months old) with me over to my Dad's. We sat out on the back porch and talked about various subjects. Remembering episodes from the past. Ideas for the future. Thoughts and concerns of the present. It was very enjoyable. And much needed...for the both of us, I imagine.

I have a pretty special relationship with my dad. I'm the oldest of three girls and probably the closest to him. We've worked together in the business world off and on for many years, so we share that in common. Also several years ago, he converted to Catholicism after being raised up and raising all of us in the Protestant Church. His concerns that led to his conversion are similar to mine so we share in that as well. And he enjoys writing. Maybe not in the same capacity as I do, but nonetheless we both enjoy communicating our thoughts that way.

When I was still living at home, we used to walk around the block in the evenings and we'd talk...more like, I talked while he huffed and puffed. I'd ride with him to business functions and we'd listen to motivational speakers on tape together and discuss our dreams and desires. We'd go out to eat a lot (since I can handle having chinese food almost as often as he does without getting sick of it) and again, we'd talk.

You see, my Dad's generally a thinker (and I'm a talker)...but I know the subjects he feels passionate about. And he knows mine. And usually, we can go on and on about them with one another for hours. Sometimes we do.

Lately I've been so swamped with projects, that I'm lucky to find time to sleep, let alone time to sit and relax outside of the stresses of my home. But this evening's interlude was a welcome interruption. Something I hope to repeat a little more often.

Do you have a family member or friend with whom you can share your common passions? Make a point to meet up with them this week...whether it be in person, over the phone or via email and discuss some of them. Sure, you're busy...we all are, but you too, will find connections like that to be welcome interruptions as well...I promise.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A Matter of Time

Why haven't you started your memoirs yet?

In a recent poll at MBM the number one answer for not doing so was "time". That doesn't really surprise me. After all, there seems to always be places to go, people to see, and things to do. How can we possibly add one more thing to our plate. I understand, I'm in the same boat myself.

What prompted me to start my memoirs was the desire to write. I enjoy writing. I know not everyone does, but I do. I had always wanted to write a book. So several years ago I set out to accomplish that task...attempting fiction first. That was a flop...I couldn't seem to tell a story without sounding so fake. So then I got the brilliant idea of writing fiction based on my life. That went better but still I didn't enjoy it stories always seemed so cold. Then, I started thinking why must I limit myself to fiction, why not write fact? So that's what started me down my memoir lane.

What prompted me to start Memoirs By: Me is a whole other story.

Aunt Doris. She was the oldest of three and the only in her family who never married nor had children. But, she would tell stories about her family growing up. I especially loved to hear the ones that specifically included me, naturally. She had also done some research on her parents' ancestry, but I wasn't "into that" at the time. Now I wish I was.

A little over three years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and it was in the latter stages. She began chemotherapy treatment right away. That summer I made a point to come back east to spend more time with her (I was living in Oklahoma at the time). I saw her on just a few occasions and since the chemo was really hard on her (as I'm sure it is with all who undergo such extreme treatment), our visits were kept short and low-key. When the summer ended, I went back home with every intention of calling her to "interview" her to have her tell me those stories again...this time I wanted to record them.

But I didn't. Do you know why? Time. I didn't have the time. I had just started a new job, my son had gone back to school, I joined the Cub Scouts acting as a den mother to a group of first graders, and my house was going through major renovations. I was lucky to get dinner on the table and produce clean laundry each week, let alone have time to make long distance phone calls.

Then it happened...I received a call from my mother saying my Aunt Doris was fading fast. My first thought was "I have to come out there," but my mother said she wouldn't recognize me if I did. What? I knew she was weak and sick most of the time, but wouldn't recognize me? Then, it hit me...the stories...all those stories I wanted to capture from her life. They were all gone. She was still with us, but her memory was stripped away. How would her life be remembered?

She died shortly thereafter. All I have are a few momentos from her (letters and cards I kept over the years), but that's it. I can't remember all the stories she told, and now they're lost. Oh, how I cried. And still do on occasion. I loved her. I miss her.

It's all a matter of time. We can use it as an excuse to not start our memoirs...or we can use it as a reason to start. This was my reason to start my mission: telling you that your memories matter. Capture them now, while you can. I'll help you in any way I can. Don't let "time" be your excuse...let it be your reason to start. Go ahead and call your Aunt Doris or Sue-Sue or Donna (or whatever her name is) and strike up a conversation, revel in the past awhile, and then write it down. You'll be glad you did.