First Thanksgivings

Everybody has a favorite thanksgiving memory. I have 2. Last year about this time, I wrote about my Singles thanksgiving, which was one of my favorites, because it was such fun. But the most meaningful one was the first one my husband and I shared as newly-weds.

He was stationed in Charleston, SC, in the Navy, and we lived in a darling one-bedroom garage apartment. Imagine your 2-car garage, and then imagine that as the size of an entire apartment. Yes, it was teeny. My husband, Mike, was friends with a Chief Petty Officer, Chief Andrews. I dont remember his first name, because Mike always just called him Chief Andrews. He and his wife had invited us to their home many times, and they were like an older brother and sister to us. We decided to invite the Andrews over to our apartment for thanksgiving dinner. We had to set a card table up in the living room, because the kitchen table was in service as a countertop for all the food preparations, as counter space was practically non existent. The card table was probably provided by the Andrews. After dinner, the men watched a football game on our tiny TV. In later years, wed recall that day with gratitude to the Andrews. Mrs. Andrews most probably could have turned out a much better meal, and Chief Andrews could have been watching the games on his big color TV in the comfort of his own home, but they honored us by squeezing into a tiny apartment and sharing this young couples first thanksgiving together.

Speaking of first thanksgivings, my daughter Kara and I share a laugh about her first one with her husband Scott. They had just been married 1 week, and they lived near me at the time, so they joined me and the man I was dating. Kara and I shared the cooking. She insisted on cooking 10 pounds of potatoes for mashing. 10 pounds! I exclaimed. thats going to be way too much. There are only 4 of us. But Scott really loves mashed potatoes, she argued. So, we cooked and mashed 10 pounds of potatoes. Of course, we had worlds leftover, even after Scott had his fill. I especially liked this Thanksgiving meal, because it lasted for about 2 hours. One of my biggest complaints about thanksgiving is that we spend hours preparing for it, and then its consumed in a matter of minutes. But on this day, wed have our first course, pumpkin soup I think it was, and then wed go open a few wedding presents. Then wed go back to the table and have the salad. Then open some more gifts. And so it went, filling the afternoon with delicious food that was savored and appreciated and opening wedding gifts, slowly and with the attention they deserved. For me, thanksgiving is not about the food. Its about the memories that are made.

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Spry

Have you ever asked someone for an opinion about something you own or some aspect of your appearance or personality, and the response is not quite flattering? Maybe interesting, or unusual, or striking, or unique, but its not really a compliment?

Yesterday, someone thought she was paying me a compliment by saying I was agile and spry. Spry! Thats a word you use for an old person who has a bounce in her step or who doesnt groan with pain each time she moves. When I hear the word spry, I have a picture in my mind of an 80-year-old white-haired little old lady in tennis shoes. Im sure this woman didnt mean to insult me, but that word landed on my vanity with a thud. Spry belongs in the same sentence with Granny, another moniker Im thankful not to have been cursed with. Grandma is bad enough. If you think Im not accepting my age, you would be right. I have always had difficulty accepting my blindness, and thats 1 reason I strive to knock it aside when Im on my way to accomplishing a task or a goal. Now here I am, nearing the end of my 60s, and denying the consequences. I refuse to be the stereotypical senior citizen, but actually, todays stereotype is much different from the picture of an older person that was my youthful perception. These days, grannies are running races, swimming laps, cycling for hours, roller blading, skiing, and engaging in any number of active pursuits that used to be reserved for the young. And were not spry! I now have a new description of myself that innocent well-meaning people offend me with. I am not amazing, and Im not spry.

Making New Friends at 98

Heres an unfunny riddle. When is the beginning of a conversation also the end? When it happens between 2 residents of an assisted living home. My almost 98-year-old mother tries so valiantly to strike up a conversation with fellow residents, but her efforts are usually futile. Its very sad to witness. After saying her name and asking for the other persons name, the thread of the conversation dies away. Neither one can think of anything else to say. Where did you live before you came here? might be met with a blank stare. And How long have you lived here? doesnt work either, because neither one can remember. Then theres the issue of hearing loss. My name is Gina, shell say, and you are? The other woman says What? Mother repeats her question. Then the other lady says her name, but my mother cant hear what the other woman says.

On Mondays, I have lunch with my mother and her table mates. I make conversation. I mean that literally. I try to engage them in reminiscing. Then I talk about what I did that morning and my plans for the rest of the day and maybe something about what I heard on the news. If theyve heard what I said, they might make some kind of reply, like Oh really? and then there might be long periods of silence, while I try to think of something else to entertain them with. They like it when I come for lunch, because then there is something to talk about at the table besides they never put salt in anything, or Spinach again? I like to go on Mondays, because thats when a volunteer named Sandy conducts a little discussion group after lunch. She reads a paragraph or 2 from an inspirational book and then tries to engage the little group of women in conversation. Its mostly Sandy doing the talking, but on a good day, the ladies will participate with comments of their own. I love the way Sandy turns this session into a conversation, and Ive patterned the Red Hat meetings after her style. You might say its an orchestrated exchange of thoughts and ideas. For instance, Sandy might begin with something like, Do you ever get annoyed with somebody when they arent friendly to you? I do. Like the other day, I. At the Red Hat meeting a few weeks ago, I told them about my hiking trip in NH, and then I encouraged them to talk about their favorite vacations when they were young. Like the conductor of an orchestra, I point to the various players and cue them in, urging them to express the music in turn. Years ago, I might have said to any one of them, I went hiking with 9 other women last week. We had a wonderful time. And they might have joined in saying, Oh, I know how it is when you have really close women friends who like to do the same things you do. And so off wed go in sharing our experiences. But now, with dementia muddling their ability to continue a line of thought, a third party needs to step in and help toss the ball back and forth. Its an odd place to be, facilitating a casual dialog.

Today, the woman who recently moved into the apartment next door to my mothers stopped by to say hello. With my mothers permission, I invited her in to sit down and get acquainted. When I was a shy little girl with no friends, my mother probably invited the little girl next door to come in and play. Now here we are, with roles reversed, in yet another way. Mom, ever the hostess, is now planning ways she can make this woman feel welcome. Shes going to invite her to go with her to this Fridays Happy Hour. A new best friend? Maybe, if they can remember each others names.

Extemporaneous Writing

Ready? Go. 5 members of the writers group from The Transitions Network, held pens above their papers, facing the challenge of writing for 10 minutes on a subject they each had drawn from a hat. As the 6th and newest member, I held my Braille & Speak in my lap and switched it on as the others put pens to paper. Among the topics in the hat were your favorite room, a childhood memory, autumn leaves, a 6 word history, and baby steps. The 1 I drew was serenity. This was just like table topics in toastmasters, where youre given a topic and asked to talk extemporaneously about it for 2 minutes. The keys on my note-taking device clicked softly as pens moved across papers, in response to bursts of creativity. In writing circles, its called a prompt. I knew only 1 woman at the table, my friend Anna, from toastmasters, but by the end of the evening, after hearing them read their stories in turn, and after much conversation about everything from books and movies to mental health to home decorating, I felt I had 5 new friends.

For me, keeping up with this blog is a prompt in itself, so as I prepared to write, I treated the assignment as if I needed something to post. Then I decided I would do just that. Heres what I wrote.

When you seek serenity, where do you go? To the beach? To the top of a mountain? To a babbling brook? To a symphony?

I want to escape from all the artificial noises in my life, the jangling of raucous cell phones, the clutter of voices piling on top of each other, the angry words of hateful people, the news of even more violence. I want to be in a place where I can hear God. I want to feel His warmth and understand where I am in His creation. I need to find a place where I can see clearly, hear only what is important, feel what makes me whole, know what is truth. I want to sing with purity and dance with wings of joy. But where on earth can I find this serenity? Ive been to the beach. Ive been to a mountain top. Ive been to a babbling brook, and a symphony. To find serenity, I must look within my soul.

Beep

Whats that beep for? I asked my friend who was driving. Thats because I was going over the speed limit. Just then, his phone emitted a brief trill. Does that mean you have mail? It meant that his brother had just sent him a text. I began to list in my mind all the electronic sounds in our lives that remind us of things our brains no longer have to do. Fasten your seat belt. One of the doors in your car is ajar. Youre getting low on fuel. Someone is sending a text for you on your phone. Heres where you left your phone. Youve just turned up the heat. Heres where you left your car. Yes, your car door is now locked. Your coffee in the microwave is now hot. Your alarm system is now engaged. Your refrigerator door was not closed all the way. Your heart rate is too high. The cake is ready to come out of the oven. The bread machine has finished the rising cycle. Your smoke detector needs a new battery.

Youd think that all these beeps would be enough reminders, but there are a few more beeps I could use. Where did I leave my Braille & speak? What did I do with my keys? Is there a light on in the living room? Is the dishwasher still on? Did I leave a burner on? Is there a person approaching me on the street? Is my shoe about to be untied? Another kind of warning beep could come when Im thinking about ordering fries, when Im thinking negative thoughts, when Im about to say something inappropriate or hurtful, when Ive forgotten to be thankful, or when Ive decided to put off an unpleasant task. But then my life would be nothing but a series of beeps all day long. Maybe there could be a chime where a reward is in order, like when I eat something healthful, when Im kind, when Ive taken out the garbage on a cold rainy night, when I remember exactly where I left my phone, my keys, my talking book player. What a noisy life that would be. If each reminder or award had a different tone, there might be music all day. And it would be up to me to determine the tune.

Friday Night Football

If you know me, you know that the last thing Id want to do on a Friday night is to go to a high school football game. But once upon a time, in my years at sycamoreHigh School, the highlight of my week was to march and dance with The Flyerettes, the drill team for the Aviators. Unlike the costumes of todays cheerleaders and other entertainers, ours were green sweaters with short yellow corduroy skirts over tights, with green and yellow pompoms on our shoes. They certainly werent sexy by todays standards, but they were cuter than what the girls in the band had to wear. We wore long sleeved yellow leotards under the skirts and sweaters, but even so, there were some brutally cold nights. I didnt pay much attention to the game, except that each time our Aviators made a touch down, wed quickly assemble and do some sort of kick line thing to the fight song. Then at half time, wed do our routine along with the band. Although my vision was very poor, I managed to stay in line and kick at the same height that the other girls did, using what peripheral vision I had left.

One night, we had a routine that called for weaving our way through the band members, alternating with them and crisscrossing the field. This was a complicated routine for everybody, but for me, it could have been a nightmare, if it hadnt been for the kindness of my teammates. At the moment I was to take those strategic steps between 2 moving band members, the girl behind me would say something like Go. And once again, we had hidden my blindness from the fans.

A big part of the fun was going to away games on 2 busses, 1 for the band and 1 for the Flyerettes. Oh, I guess the football team and the cheerleaders were on another bus, but that wasnt part of my experience. The Flyerette bus was boring, because it was all girls, so the night I sneaked onto the band bus, I had hopes of sitting next to one of the guys. Sure enough, I got lucky and landed in a seat next to one of the drummers.I was thrilled! I might even be kissed on the way home, which would send me right into graduation into normal teenage behavior. But it was not to be. First, my best friend, Lynda, spotted me in the back of the bus with that boy and warned him that she would be watching us, as if she were my mother for Goodness sake. But any possibility of fooling around on the bus was squelched for sure, when the drill teams coach came bounding up onto the bus and called out, Is Mary Wilson on this bus? Im sure my cheeks were burning as I sheepishly made my way to the front and onto the bus where I belonged. So much for breaking out of my Little Miss Goody Two-Shoes mold.

I loved being a Flyerette. It was another way I could use my talent as a dancer. I had already been teaching tap and ballet in my basement, and I performed frequently with my dance studio. But the memory of dancing on the 50 yard line on a chilly Friday night under the lights comes to mind each time I take a walk on a Friday night and hear that exciting drum beat from the direction of the high school. I breathe deeply of the autumn air, and my heart goes out to those kids on the field, whether theyre kicking a ball or kicking their legs in the air.

The New 50

70 is the new 50 where my skiing and hiking and biking friends are concerned. 2 weeks ago, I was on my annual Hen Hike, with 9 other women close to my age. 4 were 70 or older, and most of the rest of us were in our 60s. Still, you would never know it, except for the grey hair. Each day, we laced up our hiking boots and strapped on our back packs and set out for the moderate hiking trails in the White Mountains. 5 of us are visually impaired, so we paired up with each of the 5 sighted guides, switching partners after lunch on the trail. That way, we got to catch up on the personal news in each others lives since last year. The distance we hiked each day depended on how rugged the trails were. On Monday, the first day, we began the ascent on Mt.Willard in NH, stepping over rocks and roots and stepping up onto huge rocks that were at least knee high. After about 50 of these step-ups, we stopped to rest and regroup. We had already crossed 2 streams by carefully and slowly stepping from 1 wobbly rock to another, with each step by a blind hiker carefully choreographed by her sighted guide to avoid a misstep resulting in a very wet boot. After about an hour of climbing, we encountered a man coming back down the trail, who congratulated us for our courage, but informed us we were not quite half way up. Since we thought descending would be even trickier than climbing, we decided to go back down and have lunch. In the afternoon, we chose a less challenging route around a gorgeous lake. The reflections of the trees were more vividly beautiful than the trees themselves, a fascinating phenomenon. The second day, it rained a little, but we all had rain gear, so off we went to a park in the middle of the town of Bethlehem. There, we took several trails, each featuring educational markers about the wildlife and the varieties of trees. It was like a school field trip, only more fun. In the afternoon that day, we walked through a Christmas tree farm and climbed a hill with a view of several mountains in the distance. There was a concrete structure with a raised line drawing of the outlines of the mountains, with their names, so we who could see knew what we were looking at, and we who couldnt see, could trace the drawing with a finger to get a better idea of the view. The 3rd day was an easy hike, because there was no climbing, but plenty of rocks and roots to negotiate. On this day, we put in the most miles, about 6, because about 2 miles were completely flat and free of obstacles. We enjoyed really striding out. On the 4th day, the lure of a nearby outlet village in N. Conway was too much of a temptation for 5 of us, so we spent the day hiking from 1 store to another. We stayed in a B&B and enjoyed gourmet meals each night. These gals dont camp. What is unique about this group of women is the constant cand-do attitude, the absence of gossip or complaints, and the eagerness to stay fit, enjoy the outdoors, conquer new challenges, and share a glass of wine at the end of a vigorous and invigorating day.

When I was 50, I never would have imagined that almost 20 years later, Id be even more fit and more active than I was then. I have my 70-something friends to thank for being my role models.