Smile, You Are in Someone’s Memoir

Life is a series of billions of snapshots, many of which are pictures of you, doing millions of things, even smiling, talking, eating, walking, and many of them are bits of memory matter in the memoires of the people you touch. Just when you are convinced that nobody sees you, that nobody is paying attention, that you are invisible to the world, someone recalls a memory of you that you were unaware you were making.

Today after church, I had the opportunity to greet the pastor who served there many years ago. I remember him fondly. I recall one particular Christmas Eve, when after the service, as we were waiting for something or other, and this pastor had finished saying goodnight to everybody, he walked over to me and gave me a hug. We hadn’t been talking. I hadn’t expressed a need for a hug, but he must have SEEN SADNESS IN MY FACE, AND JUST briefly FOLDED HIS ARMS AROUND ME. That was it. That was my snapshot of a memory of him.

He probably does not remember that moment at all. What he does remember about me is the sound of my first Seeing Eye ® dog, Mindy, as she settled under the pew, and her collar chinked on the tile floor. Not only did he reminisce about that, but he also remembered her name. I was completely unaware of that little tinkling sound that signaled, to everyone but me, that my dog had lain down and had rested her beautiful golden head on the cool tile floor.

What I learned today was that no matter how insignificant you think you are, or, for that matter, how important you think you are, there will be snapshots clicking from any number of memory cameras, When you least expect it. It could be a gesture, an expression, or even an action that has nothing to do with anyone else, that could be recorded and brought out later to remind that person of you.

remember that old show, Candid Camera? And the catch phrase that everybody went around saying, “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera?” Aside from iPhones capturing every little movement, significant or not, there are memory shots that as of today, I vow to try to make ones that I will not be embarrassed about when they become a reminiscence of me. Can I never frown? Never say a harsh word? Never be impatient with someone? No. I can only hope that those memories will be immediately deleted to make room for the ones that will bring a smile, like the image of a guide dog sleeping in church. .

Music, The Best Medicine

My mother sits in a wheelchair, propped up with cushions and blankets. What used to be a smiling face is devoid of emotion or recognition of her surroundings. I have come for a brief visit, long enough to hold her hand and tell her I love her. Maybe I would say a few other things, but I wouldn’t expect a response or any kind of interaction, because she is now unable to communicate. Because I can’t see her face or read her expression, I know it’s not going to be an easy visit. Then the music therapist arrives with her portable keyboard, and relief washes over me like a summer rain. The last time she visited my mother, Mom could interact to some degree. She even poked around a little on the keyboard, and the music therapist played the melody along with Mom and graciously called it a duet. Mother beamed with the pleasure of being in the company of another musician, someone who spoke her language. She was the happiest I had seen her in months. But not so, this day. The therapist unpacks her keyboard and sets it up so she can see the music and Mother’s face at the same time. She plays the first song and sings with her lovely melodic voice. No reaction. Undaunted, she sings another, and I try to sing along, but almost immediately, I choke up, because music has that effect on me when I am consumed with grief or joy. My heart aches, because Mother can’t play the piano anymore or sing or even hum along. Seeing that Mother needs a little more encouragement to be engaged, the therapist suggests I sit closer and hold Mother’s hands. Somehow, during the next song, I tell myself to pull myself together and sing to Mom. She can’t sing, so I’ll have to sing for both of us. I request a song that I know Mom likes and that I know the words to, “Ain’t She Sweet.” It’s an old standard, and it’s a little peppier. I belt it out for all I’m worth, and I’m praying that I’m getting through. Then we end with a few hymns. One of Mom’s favorites, and mine too, is “In the Garden,” but I only know the first verse. But I do know a little harmony for that one, so the therapist continues to play the second verse. Hearing that I don’t know the words, she feeds them to me before each line, so it sounds like I know the whole song. I’d never sung all the verses, and I have to tell you that the experience was at least as healing for me as for my mother, if not more.

Music is the expression of our hearts and souls. It is an international and Omni generational language. We sing lullabies to our babies; we sing camp songs around the fire; we sing love songs as we snuggle on the dance floor; we sing the blues; we sing patriotic songs to express our gratitude to our soldiers and veterans; and we sing hymns to our weary parents. Even though my mother doesn’t make a sound, I know that in her mind, she is singing with me. She and I have just spent an hour together in a more intimate way than we ever could with words. Her love of music is one of her legacies to me.

It’s a legacy I cherish and hope to pass along.

Goldylocks Goes on a Bike Ride

When you shop for furniture, do you go for comfort or style? Function or fun? I haven’t shopped for furniture in 15 years. My daughter Kara was enlisted for the task of driving me from store to store to store to find a sleeper sofa for my family room. It had to not only be comfy, but not so deep that I couldn’t touch the floor with my feet when not reclining. This doesn’t sound like a hard thing to find, unless you’re 5: 2’. That’s the height I was back then. Now, 15 years later, I’ve decided to update my living room. It all started when Cisco, my previous guide dog,

Munched on the couch cushions. I was going to wait until I was sure Dora wasn’t going to be destructive, but as I looked around the room, I realized that everything in it was about 30 years old. It was high time to bite the bullet and go shopping. So far, I’ve been to 9 stores, counting second trips to some of them, with 3 different willing and helpful friends. It’s amusing to me that when I settle on one sofa that my shopping partner likes and that seems reasonably comfortable, and then I drag another helper back to that store, the couch I liked before is awful. I find myself saying, “What did I see in this couch?” Then 1 helper likes a solid color and another one likes a print. A friend said today, “When I see something I like, I just go with that. I don’t worry about what fashion dictates.” I don’t have that luxury. I do have the luxury of having kind friends. I can only go on what fits my short little body. I’m a little woman with a little room in a little house. I find myself plopping into chair after chair, sofa after sofa, like a grownup Goldilocks. Only none of them is too big, and only 1 couch and 1 recliner are just right—I think. I need to recruit yet another helper to go back to that last store and be certain I’ve made the right decision. It’s a huge investment for me, considering the whole room is getting a make-over. I’m hoping this will be a tangible step in giving my life a makeover.

Yesterday, I got a vacation from the stress of dealing with the decline of my mother’s health and the pending enormous purchases, by going for a bike ride with 5 of my favorite cycling buddies from my bike club. It was a glorious summer day, with sunshine, light breezes, and low humidity. I mean they don’t come any nicer than that. And the way I like to spend a day like that is on the back of a tandem bike. I just pedaled all my cares away as we traveled over back roads to a little town with a popular lunch stop for locals and fellow cyclists. With helmet hair and sun screened faces, we enjoyed our lunch outside. I can’t remember a day I’ve been happier. Maybe it was the contrast; maybe it was the fabulous weather; maybe it was the great exercise; maybe it was that I had no back pain; or maybe it was being with friends my age. They all have life issues, just like me, but we left them behind for a few hours. It was good to sit on a bike seat and let Goldilocks continue my search for the perfect sofa another day.

Play Ball

030My Seeing Eye ® dog, Dora, is panting at about 10 pants per second, not because of the hour long walk we just took, or the hot weather, but we just played a round of ball in the back yard. It goes like this. I sit on a lawn chair, but I don’t get too comfy. Dora drops the ball into my lap. She lets go of reluctantly, but she knows if it’s going to go anywhere, she’s going to have to give it up. “Drop it,” I say, and she finally does. I stand up and throw it as hard as I can, but it doesn’t go very far, because I throw like a girl, and my back acts like an old woman. But Dora doesn’t care. She races after it and often catches it before the first bounce. Unlike any other dog I’ve had, she then rushes back to me, slamming into my knees, as if she’s going too fast to stop, like sliding into home plate. Then I coax her to drop it into my lap again, pick up the slimy thing again, stand up and pitch it into the back yard. Each time, she barrels into me with the fervor of a 9-year-old making his first home run. We do this routine about 50 times before she begins to slow down. It’s amazing to me that this creature who acts like her very life depends on getting that ball back to me in record time is the same creature who guides me safely across the street. But everybody needs a break from the seriousness of life. Even the President of the United States gets wrapped up in a soccer game. What is it about a man and a ball or a dog and a ball? I know, I know, girls like ball games too. But aside from wiffle ball, when I was a kid, I’ve never been very excited about team sports. Skating, skiing, cycling, and hiking have always been more to my liking. But I have to say that playing ball with Dora brings me a whole lot of joy. When I fasten the jingle bell onto her collar, so I can hear where she is in the back yard, and I say, “Want to play outside?” she gets so excited, she can hardly contain herself. It’s not the ball itself. It’s not watching Dora run free. It’s the interaction between us that’s just for fun.

Wiffle Ball

It was the summer of 1957. My mother had just learned to drive and had bought her first car, a brand new yellow convertible with a white top. I had enough vision to play endless hours of 4 square with my girlfriend next door. I was just beginning to study dance with Jack Louiso, a well known and respected teacher. Life was pretty good in 1957, for lots of reasons.

When I read a column in the paper the other day, I was immediately transported to the back yard of our neighbors, in that year. I was thrilled to learn that kids still play wiffle ball. Here’s the pitch that sent me sailing back.

Michael Arace commentary: Wiffle ball tournament held in yards of dreams. By Michael Arace The Columbus Dispatch “Fifty-one lawn chairs and home plate were planted on the Hayden family’s front yard on Sherwood Avenue in Bexley yesterday. The odd chair was for the umpire. The field stretched over the Plank family driveway and expanded across the Planks’ front lawn.”

We didn’t have an umpire, and we didn’t have spectators. Every evening, after supper, we straggled into the back yard of the Wepplers, who lived 2 doors down. We didn’t go to the front door. We just went around the side of the house and waited for Mrs. Weppler to come out and start the game. She was the pitcher, and another mother was the catcher. There were about 6 of us regular players of various ages and abilities. Whenever I came to bat, Mrs. Wepller would give me a verbal heads up, knowing that I couldn’t see the ball very well, so she would say, “Here it comes Mary. Ready, swing.” Sometimes, I actually made contact with the ball, enough that it got into my blood. It helped that dusk was the time of day when my vision was somewhat functional. I liked wiffle ball, because I could see it, especially when the sun went down, and it didn’t hurt if I missed the catch and it hit me. Well, it might sting a little, but not like a real baseball.

One evening, when I walked down to the Wepplers’, the back yard was empty. It was a Friday night, and it was early in the summer, and I had just fallen in love with the game. I was afraid that something was wrong. I went to the front door and rang the doorbell. Mrs. Weppler appeared and kindly told me that she didn’t play on Friday nights. “It’s our night to imbibe,” she explained. I had to run home and ask my mom what “imbibe” meant. It struck me funny that she chose that word to explain why she wasn’t available to play on Friday nights. But every other evening, she was out there for us. Our parents didn’t line up in lawn chairs, and Mrs. Weppler probably made up the rules along the way, according to which kids showed up, but it’s a summertime memory I treasure.

Today’s blind children can play “beep ball,” with a specially designed ball that has an electronic beeper inside. The rules are a little different from regular baseball, but it allows blind children, and adults too, the opportunity to enjoy the Great American pastime. Thank you Mrs. Weppler, wherever you are.

Passengers on a Train

When I met a woman at church last Sunday who is close to my age, we immediately found a common bond. Isn’t it funny how women can get right into a sharing of what is really important to them?

This woman, whom I shall call Phyllis, had just moved to Columbus, after living for 60 years in a smaller town in Ohio. Why? To be close to her grandchildren of course. “Was it hard to leave all your friends and connections?” I asked her, because I have been considering doing that myself.

Of course,” she said. “It was very hard, but you make new friends, and it’s worth it, because your children and your grandchildren are more important than anybody.” Then in typical woman to woman warmth, she went on to say, “It’s like your life is a train. People get on and ride with you, and then they get off, and then new people get on, and so on.” It’s trite, but true. When you’ve lived as long as I have, that train ride has been a very long one, and while some of the passengers are with you for the whole trip, others come and go. I had very close friends when my husband was in the Navy, but my train has long departed that station. I had wonderful neighbors when my children were little, and I often wonder where their life trains have taken them, and then there are friends from parts of my life, like high school, who got off my train many years ago, and now they’ve hopped back on for more of the journey.I like this analogy. I’m having fun with it. I’m also finding that as I cirfculate in my community, I keep encountering friends and acquaintances that I knew in what I fondly call “a previous life.” It’s fun to go to a restaurant and run into someone I haven’t seen in 20 years. They’d gotten off my train, transferred to another line, and now here they are again. Or maybe, I was the one who took the transfer and am returning to wave as they continue on another train.

As I consider moving to another city, to be a more accessible part of my granddaughters’ lives, I have to consider what it will be like to wave goodbye to the many connections I have here. I will have to start all over again, building new relationships, finding new interests, and learning how to enjoy the next phase of my life. It’s rather exciting to think about and a little scary too. But don’t worry. I don’t even have my bags packed yet. I’m sure Phyllis did some hard thinking, just like I’m doing now. But look. She’s already hopped onto my train. It might just be until the next stop, but she’s got her grandchildren with her. She’s not just waving to them now and then. They’re sitting next to her, listening to her stories, learning from her experience, and enjoying the ride.

Big Sisters

My granddaughters, Brianna and Mika, recently experienced a huge change in their lives. At ages 10 and 12, respectively, they have both become a big sister to the newest member of their family, Bethany. When the news of her arrival was made a few months ago, neither girl was thrilled with the idea. After all, their routines would be completely turned upside down. All the baby clothes and equipment had been given away or sold at garage sales. The family was able to travel, unencumbered by car seats, diaper bags, pack and play, toys, special food, and fretful toddlers. They were now visiting museums, going on cruises, shopping for fun, and staying up late to watch movies in the media room, uninterrupted, except to refill their bowls of popcorn. Suddenly, all that would change.

No doubt, my brother Dick, now deceased, had those same feelings, at age 10, of resentment when my mother told him that he was getting a baby brother or sister. Back in those days, it was a surprise. He probably wondered what on earth he was going to do with a baby sister, and how was he going to put up with her? Of course I don’t remember the first few years of being a little sister, but from what my mother has told me since, he adored me. The feeling was mutual. There must have been times of torcher and humiliation. What 10-year-old boy could resist? But what I do remember are the times he was a hero to me. I admired how he could do such amazing things as jump up in a doorway and hang from the door frame with his hands, a trick that never failed to annoy my mother. One of my favorite memories is the time he and a buddy of his took me to the skating rink. I might have been 5, because I actually remember it. He and his friend each held my hands and pulled me around the rink. I was the little princess. Most probably what happened was that Dick wanted to go skating, and my mother told him that he had promised to watch me that afternoon, and if he wanted to go, he would have to take me. But they made the best of it. I have fond memories of walking to the corner drug store and sharing a Coke with him, one 7-ounce bottle, with 2 straws. When Dick was in the Air Force, he’d bring me little presents from wherever he was stationed. I treasured the little set of Air force wings he gave me. When he would come home on leave, he’d drive me to school in his beat-up convertible, and I felt like a big shot.

As I grew older, I remember being so proud of him when he’d drive to Indiana to bring us to a family thanksgiving dinner or to my mother’s 25th high school reunion, where Dick danced the waltz with first my mother, and then with me, much to my delight and my mother’s bursting pride.

Tragically, we lost him to a car crash when he was 29, and I was 19. I don’t think of him every single day but often enough to be sad and bitter for my loss, but grateful for the time I did have a big brother.

My message to my precious granddaughters is that you have an opportunity to be this baby’s role model, teacher of jump rope games, rules of jacks, colors that match, how to get your way with Dad, what Mom really likes for Mother’s Day, and what to say to that boy at church who keeps smiling at her. You have the luxury of observing how to be a parent, since you are old enough to understand, so when you are parents someday, you won’t be as bewildered as those of us who weren’t around babies when we were young. There are hundreds of reasons why having a little sister will be alternately a pain and a blessing, but in the end, the number of blessings will come out on top. Enjoy your status of Big Sister. It’s a gift.