Piece By Piece

Last Monday, I went to Hobby Lobby with a list in hand.  As I walked from the parking lot to the store, there was a young mother walking in front of me with a little boy who was probably three or four years old.  He was crying and she had him by the hand and was pulling him along with her.  He was not happy and judging by her body language, neither was she.

Some days it’s really difficult to be a parent.  I know that.  When my three children were small and my days were an endless cycle of holding, feeding, dressing, bathing, homework and laundry, I felt like I would be exhausted forever.  I suspect many parents have felt that way at one time or another.

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I felt badly for the young mother and for the child.  I wanted her to stop and hug and comfort him.  From experience, I know that our words and actions toward our children have such an important impact on them.

On Wednesday, I watched a movie on Netflix called “Ragamuffin.”  It’s based on the life of Rich Mullins, a Christian singer/songwriter who grew up on a tree farm in my home state of Indiana.  Rich spent his entire life struggling with insecurity and brokenness that was a result of growing up with a father who couldn’t or wouldn’t show him love.  His father was very hard on him and his father’s words haunted Rich throughout his life even though he was an incredibly gifted musician.

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I thought about Rich Mullins and his story all day yesterday while I worked at the pharmacy, then last night, I watched American Idol.  It’s the 15th and final season and Kelly Clarkson, the very first American Idol, sang on the show.

She sang a song from her latest album that she wrote with Gregory Kurstin about her father leaving when she was just six years old.  In the song called “Piece By Piece” she says that seeing the kind of father her husband is to their own daughter has helped to restore her faith in men and in fathers.

“Piece by piece, he restored my faith

 That a man can be kind and a father should be great”

~from  the song, Piece By Piece

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All of this has made me reflect on the important privilege of parenting this week.  I wish I could tell the mother from Hobby Lobby what an important role she is playing in her young son’s life.  I wish I could tell her how quickly those busiest parenting years are over.

We care for, worry about, and love them for years and then one day, they are all grown up and gone and our houses are quiet.  No one needs their noses wiped or their shoes tied or want to sit on our laps anymore.  There’s no one asking for help with homework or for gas money or for advice in choosing a college.

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And we miss it.  We miss the little hands in ours and the sweet faces of the children who called us “mama” or “daddy” and trusted us completely.  We miss the teenagers who surprised us with a hug or a long chat or a “thank you” for something we did so very willingly out of love for them.

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I wish I could tell that young mother to savor this time with her child and to make every moment count. Because one day, she will think back on the days when he was growing up and she will wish she could do it all again, piece by piece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Cleanup

There’s an old saying that “Hindsight is 20/20” and the older I get, the more I believe this to be true.  It’s amazing how much our point of view changes as we get older and have the benefit of many life experiences to draw upon.

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Over the weekend, it was around 70o and we trimmed some trees in our backyard.  In Texas, it’s recommended that people do their tree trimming by early February before the weather warms and the new growth begins.

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Working outside doing the trimming and yard cleanup made me think of other times from 15 – 20 years ago when my extended family would come together to do the annual spring cleanup at my grandmother’s small farm.

She was a widow by that time and in her late seventies and early eighties.  Usually at Easter, family members would set a date in the middle of May when it would (hopefully) be warm enough in Indiana to meet at grandma’s house to get the yard work done.

I lived an hour away so it was a day I always looked forward to because I would get to spend time with cousins and aunts and uncles that I didn’t get to see very often.  Everyone brought food potluck style, so we could eat after we completed the work.

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Coffee mugs in hand, we would gather mid-morning with our rakes and brooms and saws and paintbrushes and shovels.  Dressed in layers that could be peeled off as the day warmed, we stood in a circle in the back yard as one of my cousins read the list of all that needed to be done.  A stray chicken might make its head-bobbing walk over our way to see what we were doing.  Soon, tasks would be claimed and divided and off we would scatter like a busy colony of ants.

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Our grandmother would be there too, expressing her thanks, giving hugs, and offering coffee or water to all of us.  At the time, I thought of it not only as a day to help grandma get some work done on her farm, but also as something fun to do and an opportunity  to spend time with my extended family.

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The work we did varied depending on what needed to be done.  Some years, we painted the black trim on grandma’s white farmhouse and cut down any dead trees on her property.  Most years, we raked out her flower beds and planted annuals to go with the many perennial flowers she had, trimmed trees and bushes, roto-tilled the vegetable garden for spring planting, mended fences, and did any other necessary repairs.  By afternoon, we would have a large pile of leaves and brush in the lane that led to the back pasture.  (Yes, the same lane that inspired the name of this blog!)

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When the cleanup was done, we would make our way inside to wash up and have dinner.  Cold, tired, and hungry from a day’s work in the fresh air, we were ready to sit and rest with a plate of food.

Toward evening, metal lawn chairs would be pulled up around the bonfire and someone would produce a bag of marshmallows.  We would sit together and enjoy the warmth of the fire and catch up on the events in everyone’s lives.

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... bonfire on the 1750 homestead of Amos Green on Carolina Back Road near

There was always a radio tuned to country music…and singing, jokes, and story-telling.  A popular story topic was the various pranks grandma and had played on family members throughout the years.  The horseshoe pits were close by and it wouldn’t be long before steel would be hitting steel and grandma would prove once again why she was the undisputed horseshoe champion in the family!

Horseshoes and Volleyball

I can only imagine how overwhelming that work must have seemed to an older woman alone and how grateful my grandmother must have felt to have a family who would come and get it all done.

But those days were about much more than a spring cleanup at grandma’s house.  The cleanup was merely the task at hand which brought us all together.  Those times were about forging bonds and connections with family members and making memories of time spent together that we will each carry with us throughout our lives.

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We don’t get to choose the families we are born into.  How fortunate I am to be a part of such a caring and devoted group.  It’s too bad that most of them still live in Indiana.   We could use some help with this February yard work!

 

Secret Messages

When my children were growing up, our family had a tradition where we made homemade cards for one another every year for Valentine’s Day.  I’ve kept all the Valentines my children made for me and it always brings a smile to my face when I come across them in my special memento box.

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We don’t make homemade Valentines anymore but I still enjoy buying and sending them to my children every year to mark this fun, love holiday.  As I was addressing the envelopes the other day, I remembered an article I once read about an old tradition from the Victorian Era of sending secret messages via placement of stamps on envelopes.

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The Victorian Era is generally defined as the years from 1837 -1901 when Victoria was queen of England.  During her reign, the focus in British culture was on highly modest, moralistic and proper language and behavior.   Because of the influence of Britain, attitudes and customs in American culture (and cultures of other countries such as France) were very similar during this time.

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It was considered poor manners and bad form for a woman to talk with a man, dance with a man, or have any contact with him unless they had been formally introduced.  Today, we might friend someone on Facebook if we are interested in them or sit next to them in class or church, or even ask them out.  However, because of the strict rules of etiquette during the Victorian years, people developed special, secret languages using everyday items.

Common objects such as flowers, handheld fans, handkerchiefs, and postage stamps were all used to convey subtle and even secret messages.  The color and kind of flower sent to a person had symbolic meaning.  For instance, we all know that red roses symbolize true love, but there are more than 650 other different flower meanings in the Language of Flowers that was developed during this time in history.

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You might think this is an antiquated practice, yet as recently as 2011, Kate Middleton’s flowers in her wedding bouquet when she married Prince William were chosen for their symbolic meaning.

Lily-of-the-valley – Return to happiness

Sweet William – Gallantry

Hyacinth – Constancy of love

Ivy – Fidelity, marriage, wedded love and friendship

Myrtle – Emblem of marriage and love

Another way secret messages were sent during the Victorian Era (and still today) is by the placement of a postage stamp on a postcard or envelope.  In a time when mail was read and censored by concerned parents, Victorian-age lovers found creative ways to send secret messages to one another using stamps.

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Here are some symbolic meanings from the Language of Stamps:

Right side up – Business.

Upside down – I love you, my world is turned upside down without you, lovesick, or lonesome.

Sideways with top of stamp to the right – Love and kisses or friendship.

Sideways with top of stamp to the left – I promise not to leave you or when shall I see you.

Diagonal with top of stamp up and to the right – Will you marry me?

Diagonal with top of stamp up and to the left – Yes.

Diagonal with top of stamp down and to the right – No.

Diagonal with top of stamp down and to the left – My heart is yours.

Poemas del río Wang: The language of stamps

According to a New York Times article from August 15, 2005, sending messages via stamp placement on envelopes is still commonly practiced when mailing letters, especially to those in war zones, to those in less-developed countries, to those in prison, and sometimes, to those in the general population.

When I went to the post office this week to buy stamps and mail my Valentines, I asked if it is still permissible to send messages by stamp placement.  The woman at the window told me that not many people know about that anymore, but yes, it is fine to do.  Once I had the okay to do so, I turned the stamps upside down on the Valentines I was sending.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Our Memory Collection

Whenever my calendar turns from January to February, I chuckle to myself and yet my heart aches a bit because I think of my grandmother.  She died in November of 2001 but I still keep a stack of letters she wrote to me.  Many of her letters were from Februarys…lots of Februarys ranging from 1980 to 1998.

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My grandmother was an Indiana farm woman.  By February of each year, the new seed catalogs would start arriving in the mailbox and she would tire of the cold and snowy weather outside.

She would write letters to me about how she longed for springtime so she could begin planting her vegetable and flower gardens.  She would write about family events and experiences from the previous year and she would say, “We must add that to our memory collection.”

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With her on my mind this week, I pulled out the letters to read.  One is dated February of 1992 and she wrote to tell me how much she had enjoyed a letter I had written to her.  I would have been 31 years-old at the time and the mother of two little boys. Apparently, I had written to her about some of my fondest childhood memories from our time together.

I told her how much I enjoyed planting Zinnia seeds with her each spring.  We planted them in her front yard beside the county road she lived on to give her neighbors and those driving by her house something beautiful to see.

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I had also written about the times we worked together in her half acre vegetable garden.  One day, we pulled weeds together for hours, it seemed.  I told her I was so tired I couldn’t stand up straight or walk back to the farmhouse.  She had me get into the wheelbarrow and she pushed me all the way up to the house and deposited me on the back porch.  How we laughed that day about (the 10 year old) me being so tired from pulling weeds that I couldn’t walk!

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I had mentioned another time when we had picked an entire washtub full of green beans and when we found the longest one, we did a dance in honor of the biggest bean!

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Finally, I had written about seeing baby animals born with her, about helping her can tomatoes and pears, and about how I loved baking pies together with her.

Here’s what my grandmother wrote back to me:

“Well honey that was the sweetest letter I ever read.  It does a person good to remember the good old days.  Yes, those Zinnias sure were pretty out by the road.  My neighbor, Helen Moore, told me she looked out her window at those flowers all the time.  Sure wish I could do it again. Those days are all gone but certainly not forgotten.  Don’t you ever forget the wheelbarrow ride or the bean dance we did in the garden.  Such a beautiful time we had.  I really enjoyed my grandkids so much and still do, but can’t have any more bean dances or wheelbarrow rides.  Too bad.  All those times must go in our memory collection.  But we can still drink coffee and talk, and spring is just around the corner.”

I’m finishing up my new book this week and it’s dedicated to her…Pearl Ritchie Barrett Wood.  It’s a children’s book called “Which Came First” and it’s about an experience I had while gathering eggs on her farm.  I pulled it from my memory collection to share with others.  I think she would like the story.

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What kind of memory collection are you building with the children in your life?  I wonder if someday one of them will write to tell you how special their memories are of the time you spent with them.

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