Unexpected Blessings ~ Part II

OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND

There have been many times in my life when my default mode has been “Out of sight, out of mind.”

When I transferred from public school to boarding school the beginning of 7th grade, it didn’t occur to me to let any of my classmates know, except my best friend Pete, who was two years ahead of me in school.

When I moved to take my first appointment as a pastor, moving from just three miles above the Maryland Line, to just about 25 minutes below the New York border, our immediate family knew about our move, and I had changed our address with the post office and other such places.

It it had not occurred to me to send my contact information to family who had become emotionally distant. In both sides of my family, there are levels or generations of cousins. The only cousin I had been close to as a teen, I had not seen or heard from in years. Even though we had some good memories of our youth and teen age years, the contacts seemed to fade into thin air.

Picture of a boy and a girl leaning against opposite sides of a tree,      
 with white cottages in the background.
My cousin Phil, and me.

As far as I know, there were no Marcellino family reunions. In my mother’s side of the family, reunions were weddings, funerals or religious celebrations involving one of the nuns or priests in the family.

Even in my husband’s family, the impetus to gather in reunions seemed to die off with the oldest generation and their children. Each year, the annual reunions were attended by fewer people and lasted fewer hours.

I did not send my address to a high school reunion committee, because I was not in touch with any classmates. It may have been difficult for them to keep up with my/our moves anyway. It is no wonder that they assumed that I was no longer among the living.

All of which to say, when I found out I could return to my hometown, Onset, Massachusetts for an entire week, it was without any expectation of visits, except for visits to the beach, visits to the canal, visits to the site of my former homes.

I was grateful for this opportunity and wanted to make the most of every minute. When we had visited in 2018, I had gotten a hotel about 25 minutes out of town. This time, I wanted to be much closer.

The trip felt like an extravagant gesture to begin with, I wanted to be cautious on the dollar side. I was willing to stay in a hotel, although there were a few reasons why I preferred some place with a kitchen.

I did want to eat out, preferably a few seafood dinners. But that also meant doing breakfast and lunch on the cheap and not fast food. Once the possibility of spending a week in Onset looked like it could happen, I began to search for a place to stay.

The U.V. Apartments
The former Union Villa, now The U.V.

I had been offered a beach house at an amazingly generous rate; but it was twice as much as my conscience would allow. Then a friend suggested that I try Airbnb, and that proved to be my best bet. It was the perfect combination of price and proximity.

I suppose that was my first unexpected blessing, finding the right place at the right price for the time I needed.

FAMILY QUESTIONS

Once I had finally settled on a place to stay and had reservations, I could turn my attention to preparing in earnest for this adventure. My dad had never talked very much about his family. I knew some details.

As I was getting ready for the trip, I realized that I did not know or remember what my father’s birth order was, or when and where my grandparents had met and married.

Picture of a tall man with a hat, a short woman and another man (my grandparents and my dad)
My grandparents, (Anibal, Mary) and my dad, July 1942

My grandmother was born and raised in Lisbon, Portugal and came to the United States sometime in the late 1800’s, or not later than 1901. It would have been interesting to hear the story from her, what it was like to travel alone on a boat from Lisbon, Portugal to Fall River, Massachusetts. But I never asked, and not unlike my father, she did not talk about it.

Now and then she would talk about “the Old Country.” But not about herself or her life.

So, I called my brother to ask these questions. He is very knowledgeable about family stories, because he has done the research. He had really invested time and probably funds, in Ancestry.com and other searches.

But when he would talk about these things, I tried to listen attentively, but I confess my eyes glazed over now and then. I feel awful saying that, but it is true.

He would talk about people I had never heard of; John, Jake, some relatives I knew about and remembered, others, not so much. This time, when I called, he said, ‘You should really talk to your cousin Gina. She lives in Mashpee, on the Cape!

My response was articulate. I think I said, “My what, who, where?” “Cousin Gina, Uncle John’s granddaughter.” he replied. “Uncle who?” was the best I could muster.

I wanted to reach out, and I did, but it took me a while to figure out how? I could not figure out how I could tell them that I did not know their Grandfather, or their father existed. It felt rude! Simply put, Uncle John died before I was born, and with a father who did not tell stories about his family or life, I had no idea.

COUSINS

They were not offended, and were as happy as I was to discover new family. When I gave them my travel dates, we made plans to meet.

As it turned out, they were also in touch with other granddaughters of some of my dad’s sisters. Just before arriving in Onset, when we had set our meeting place, they told me another cousin would be joining us.

The more, the merrier. More people I did not know existed! Although I had vague recollections of their grandmothers. Then one of the “new” to me cousins was bringing her sister, and they were in touch with other cousins from another aunt.

Our gathering, which I described in another post, was a long leisurely lunch, that spilled over into an amazing day. We walked all over the cemetery where my parents and grandparents (their great-grandparents) were buried, searching for their graves.

I took them to see the site where our grandparents’/great-grandparents’ home was and the two homes where I grew up. We hugged, laughed, cried. I cried a lot. There is a Bible quote from Jeremiah about mourning, “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears! (Jeremiah 9:1). That day, that was me. The tears came unbidden, but so did the joy.

Picture of some cottages on a sunny day.
Renovated Cottages, Photo Courtesy of Angela Shwom

In the company of my cousins, I felt a balm for my soul, that filled in the empty places that I hadn’t realized were there. I had family of my own. This was a blessing I could not have anticipated.

Although my in-laws (both sets) had been welcoming enough, after my mother died, I felt like an orphan. I felt as though I did not have family, beyond my children and husband, and of course my brother. In that one day, in the presence of these women who had been strangers, but were at once family, I felt like something had been restored.

CLASSMATES
Just before leaving town from our 2 day visit in 2018, I came across the contact information for a high school classmate. We talked for a long time. She told me that our 50th class reunion was scheduled for 10 days later.

I was tempted to get home to Pennsylvania, and turn around and go back, but really, that was a first conversation with her in 10 years. With no contact with anyone else in the class in almost 50 years, it would not have been totally genuine on my part. I had only been part of this class for the last two years.

Nevertheless, she put me in touch with other classmates, through Facebook and I was added to the Class of 1968 Facebook page. I learned a lot about the class members in the year that followed through personal and group Facebook posts and interactions.

I found them to be caring, compassionate and to have a deep love for their communities, including the beaches and the canal. Perhaps because a group put so much planning an effort into the 50th reunion, or maybe they already had it, they displayed a deep appreciation for the gift of life and for each other.

The following year, when they found out I was going to be in town, one of my classmates took the lead in planning a get together, because I was going to be there. Now, I believe the sincerity of that plan and was both excited and honored. But I also think, this is a group that enjoys getting together.

I went to the dinner without great expectations, hoping for some good seafood and some pleasant conversation. But I came away with more than that. I came away with a sense of renewed friendship, a surprising new friendship, a feeling of belonging, or acceptance, and the hope of more visits and continued contact.

There were other opportunities that week for some one-on-one, in person visits. I had plenty of time to walk on the beach, to write and reflect. But if I say more, this post will become a book. Everything about this trip home was more than I could have asked for, or imagined. Perhaps hoped for, but filled with unexpected blessings and grace.

Every day, when I am smart enough to pray, I thank God for the family and friends who nurture and enrich my life. I thank God too, for cousins, and classmates, and the time to simply be.

I am just a vintage chic on a journey of discovery and I am

Not holding back the tide.

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Unexpected Blessings ~ Part I

More Than I Could Have Wished For

In the Spring of 2018, months before my retirement, I accepted an invitation to travel from my home in Pennsylvania to Maine, to perform a wedding for the relative of two of my parishioners. I would have done the wedding anyway, was honored to be invited, and had no problem traveling to Maine to do it; I would be retired after all, and had lots of time.

There was an extra added benefit to me personally. When I studied the geography, I realized that my home town was only a four hour drive south from the site of the wedding. I had not been home since my mother’s burial in 1994.

I would do the wedding; but I was going home too. It is not that I had not tried to go home before, just that life always seemed to interfere. I did not anticipate visiting anyone. I just wanted to go and take some pictures walk on the beach and look for seashells and say good-bye.

picture of a woman, young boy and girl in front of a white house, no porch.
Mom, my brother in me in front of the house, about 1953?

I reasoned that a good set of pictures that were current, along with my old 1950’s black and white photos would be all I could need. Then, I would close that door and live out my life.

Plans Changed

About six weeks before my actual retirement date, I accepted a part time appointment (approximately 30 hours a week) serving two churches. So now, my open ended vacation had to change to just 2 days in town. Well, I thought, it would be enough.

To say that I was unprepared for the emotional impact of being at home, for only the 2nd time since 1973, is an understatement. It wasn’t a bad thing, but I was caught off guard. The sights, sounds and smells of the beach, even on a chilly fall day seemed to be attached to something that was almost ethereal.

As we drove around town, visiting and re-visiting the sites of my first home, the home of my childhood, and the Union Villa, the home of my youth, walked on the pier and the beach, I knew that two days, and partial days at that, were not enough. I had to come back.

I needed more time. More time to reminisce, more time to drink in the views, to smell the salt air, and to search, though for what, I was not quite sure.

At every site we visited, standing across the street from the Union Villa, which had been transformed, standing on the street looking at the cottages my parents had built, trying to take in and discern all the changes and wondering if I had the nerve to ignore the sign that said “Private Property.” (I did not). Still, every place we stopped, the word “Write” burned in my heart, and lodged in my throat like a huge lump.

I wanted to write, about home and growing up in Onset in the 1950’s and 60’s, but I was afraid. I had written some of the stories briefly in creative writing classes in college (my minor). I have told some of the stories in sermons and other venues, but to actually write and publish them in some form?

Have I told you that I suffer from Procrastination? Perhaps suffer isn’t the correct word, pretty sure that I have perfected it! And along with the procrastination came a finely honed case of the “What if’s?” Throw in fear of rejection, and a case of writer’s block, and you have the perfect combination of wishing, but not doing.

However, none of those roadblocks, were as strong as the persistent call to write, as I walked on the beach, drove around my old stomping grounds and simply breathed in the bittersweet air of memory.

close up picture of a old fashioned typewriter, with words on the page,' to blog...or not to blog
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

I came out the other end of this journey, promising myself to return, if at all possible, and to start writing with both devotion and discipline.

I have a simple poster on my wall that I printed when I was working on my doctor of ministry thesis; it reads, ‘Write Something Every Day!” But even working on my thesis, that did not quite work, and after my thesis was complete, I could ignore it for weeks on end.

The first surprise or blessing

The pictures that I had gone to take, to either frame or to file, were the first surprise. I had expected the pictures to be what pictures generally are, one dimensional pieces of paper, or one dimensional digital formats.

Rather than being just a piece of memory cut off from the moorings of the past, each picture proved to be laden with memory and meaning. I felt as though I were a participant in a motion picture special effects experiment, transported from the present into the vivid past, while the present seemed to be enveloped in a distant fog.

If I were to show you a picture of my daughter and her family, you might look, nod politely and say something like, “Very nice” “Pretty young woman,” “Cute kids.” “Nice looking dad.” Such polite responses would be appropriate, you have no history or relationship with the people in the photograph. It might as well be a nineteenth century Tin Type picture.

picture of a mother and infant
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels (not my real family)

When I look at the same picture, voices and memories converge. I remember how much my daughter loved shock value, even at six years old. I remember the three separate times in as many years that she brought home stray dogs, and how much she still loves animals today. You have a polite connection with my family picture, I have emotional attachment.

It was the same with the pictures I took. They spoke! They welcomed me to a different reality in which I might find that crucial thing that I had left behind when I moved away for the first time in 1970. And they beckoned me back.

Hoping to return

My hope, which I was able to achieve, was to have a full week in my hometown, plus travel time. It was not about visiting family, I had no attachments near town that I knew of, and no contact with any of my father’s family, since his funeral and my mother’s. If she received Christmas cards from them, she did not say. There were no lingering phone conversations or eagerly made plans between my mother and my dad’s family.

I had not had any contact with most of my classmates since 1969, with one exception. And while we were close friends in 11th and 12th grade, our contact through the years had been sporadic at best. We could always pick up where we left off, but that was it.

Panoramic view of Onset Beach, people in chairs, people walking on beach, boats in the water.
Courtesy of Onset Bay Association

It was okay though, my planned visit was all about place and being. I wanted to walk on the beach at any opportunity, search for sea shells, take pictures, simply be, and oh yes, write. That was it! It seemed like a full week to me. Of course, I planned to visit the cemetery where my parents are buried, but that was not the focal point of my trip. I hoped to spend some quality time by the Cape Cod Canal, which I had to skip in 2018. My absolute goal was to be, just be, and to write and to soak it all up, to drink it all in, to fill up memory banks and sensory banks and maybe eat some good seafood.

Who knew, that I had set my sights too low, and that there were more unexpected blessings to come?

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Last Call for Alcohol (Jack, Maggie and Alcohol)

One of my favorite childhood memories, in terms of my dad’s drinking, (yes I know how strange that may sound) was the sense of celebration when he got home. After the opening of the suitcases and the giving of presents was done and supper was started, he would go to the neighbors and invite them to “Stop in and have a drink with us, I just got home.” I remember going with him one time, young enough to be holding his hand and knocking on the same doors I would knock on a few years later to sell Girl Scout Cookies. Somehow it felt special to be part of the invitation crew.

Dad circa 1929

If there was any orientation or any preparation needed for living at the Union Villa, it was simply living at home. There would be people who cursed and used bad language at the bar. Dad was a sailor, check and check. There would be people drinking to excess and being drunk. Dad was a sailor, check and check. It was called ‘Celebrating.” In addition there were all the times I accompanied them making the rounds to the local bars, including the Glen Cove Hotel and the Union Villa and several other bars that are no longer in existence. Check and check again.

One thing that made this all bearable for me, especially after I was a teenager, was that I knew there were people who were mean drunks, I had witnessed it first hand, but not from him. Surprisingly, I never felt unsafe. Mom did all the driving, but she also drank. I marvel now, that there were no accidents (or tickets, as far as I know).

Jack and Maggie did not fight, and I am pretty sure she was never embarrassed by him either. There was one time that still makes me sad to think of it. We were out at a restaurant and there was some kind of local community meeting. They were attending the meeting after dinner, and he had already started to drink with dinner. Maybe he had already started before that. At some point during the meeting he got the microphone, but between the hiccups and slurred speech, it just wasn’t pretty. Somebody said (out loud) “get that microphone away from that drunk.” and Mom, was not embarrassed by him, but for him. I still wince to think about it.

Photo by Chris F from Pexels

I have talked about some of this in an earlier post and said that dad drank when he came home (celebration) and when it was time to leave (the goal of feeling “no pain”) and mom would say of those times that she “poured him” onto the train or plane. It was how they celebrated and how they coped. Yet, neither of them were inclined to sit alone and cry in their beer. Drinking was always a social event.

Dad “celebrated” when I graduated from High School, I was the first person in my immediate family to do so. I did not see him before graduation, but after the ceremony, it was clear he was celebrating. I wasn’t worried about any of my friends noticing, but in the picture that someone had taken of him, he was clearly “three sheets to the wind.”

It is not that I never got upset. I learned at an early age that you cannot reason with someone who has had too much to drink or have an intelligent conversation with them. We played a game of sorts when I was in high school. I was old enough to stay at home when they went out, this was in the winter when the bar was closed. I put two Alka Seltzer packets on my mom’s pillow and three on my dad’s. When they came home, they played along. Mom would say, ‘Michele, I’m drunk, hang up my coat, and Dad would say, “Michele, I’m drunk, hang up my jacket.” I coped too.

Photo courtesy of Lynda Ames

We had drop in company when the bar was closed, and it was often invited. I am pretty sure that the fellows who came to visit knew that the drinks were free, and the conversation, jokes and laughter would flow too. In addition, they were good paying customers during the season the bar was open, as well as people who were considered real family friends. The most frustrating thing that happened during that time was the time that one of the guests got so sloppy drunk that he fell into the Christmas tree, knocking it to the floor, hitting it hard enough that the oranges in the Christmas stocking were smashed. I was not happy, to say the least and while it could have ruined Christmas for me, I loved Christmas too much to give it up that easily.

Several years ago, when my children were 8, 9 and 10, they came home from a family visit with their grandparents and my former husband. One of the kids shocked me by saying, “Daddy said Grandpa Jack was an alcoholic.” It does take a lot to make me angry. I was on the phone fast and I was furious. It may, or may not, surprise you to know that I never even considered that as an option. Maybe it was all the euphemisms. It never occurred to me that all of that drinking was something other than normal. It was normal in our house.

I talked about this with my brother shortly after that, and again a few years later and he suggested, and we concluded that mom and dad were “functional alcoholics” and that seemed to fit. After all, in spite of everything else, they worked hard and dad did not drink during the busy season, and mom did not drink at all, not that I was aware of, when dad was drinking at the bar. In spite of this, I believe that my parents were fairly well respected in the community. They worked hard, they contributed to the community and the local economy. And, they were sociable!

Some might ask why would I tell this particular story, or include it in the collection? For one thing, because this too, was part of life at the Union Villa, life in a barroom in a beach town in the 1960’s. Maybe something in this story will help someone else. I write about my own experience. I cannot speak for anyone else in my family or my father’s or mother’s families either.

I do not write this with any intended disrespect or desire to tarnish my parents’ memory. It was what they did, and not all the time, it was not who they were. I loved my parents and love them still. I am glad, grateful that they were my parents.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I was a light social drinker in my 30’s. My husband still likes to tease me about the time I only had one glass of wine, but I kept refilling it and could not for the life of my touch my nose to my face without using my other hand to help. It was New Year’s and we were at home. Wine, cheese and crackers were our New Year’s tradition, until he became diabetic. I am not inclined to drink alone either, now our New Year’s tradition, when we remember is crackers, cheese and lights out before midnight.

When I was leaving home to assume my first appointment as pastor, my pastor told me that I would hurt my own witness if I drank at weddings, etc. Methodism is a dry denomination, (It’s in something called The Social Principles) although not all United Methodists know that. I haven’t had wine or anything else since, except for a few Anglican Communions in seminary. It is always a little startling if you are expecting grape juice, but get a warm feeling all the way down to your toes.

After I had been a pastor for a few years we were invited to a church family’s Christmas party. We walked in and I saw beer cans seemingly everywhere. Pretty sure I blushed. I thought I had not done a good job of teaching my own flock, but it was lovely of them to invite us and we had a good time and drank diet soda.

I know that alcohol can destroy lives and I don’t take that lightly. I often wondered why no one ever confronted me in my youth because all that alcohol my parents sold paid for much of what we had. For me personally, I think moderation may be more important than abstinence. I am much less comfortable around people who have been drinking than I was as a youth. There have been some special people in my life, both friends and parishioners who have worked very hard at their sobriety and I am proud of them.

Mom and Dad behind the bar at the Union Villa circa 1963

The waitress fishes in her apron pocket, pulls out a quarter and slips it into the coin slot in the juke box. I can almost hear the sound of the quarter as it slides into the coin box. She pushes the buttons, the machine retrieves the record and she sings along with Ray Charles, “I can’t stop loving you, it’s useless to try…” Dad grabs a bar towel, soaks it in the water and cleaning solution, wrings it damp and wipes off the bar in circles. He stops, looks at the remnants of the evening crowd and winks. He grabs the bell pull, gives it a tug and along with the ringing of the bell he cries out, “Last Call for Al-co-hol.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

{Song, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” written by Don Gibson, Produced by Sid Feller, release 1962}

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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Sheba’s Quiet Life

Things about Sheba that make me sad:

Sheba will be six years old on June 25th, at least according to her rescue records, and she will have been with us for a year and a half. I do not know a lot about dogs, just the dogs that we have had. Sometimes I wonder if she misses or missed her puppies. We know that when she was rescued she had recently given birth and was still recovering, but there were no puppies mentioned in the rescue and sixteen dogs were rescued. We do not know if that was her first litter or not, we do not know if it was a puppy mill or not. I just wonder sometimes if she misses them.

Although she lets Roger pet her, in fact she begs to be petted, she still leaves a room when he comes into it, will not eat if he is in the room, and backs up to me, or backs into my office if he approaches. We both share in walking her, she generally needs to be walked three times a day. I had shoulder surgery in early April and could not walk her and my husband did it every time, getting up early to get her out, and feeding her.

I think I have finally figured out that she will approach him when he is sitting whether at the table, at his computer or on the couch. It is when he is on his feet and moving, approaching her on foot or entering a room that she is most likely to run. He noticed that if he approaches her from either side, approaching from the right she is less likely to bolt than if he is approaching from her left. Vision? or Past experience?

Truthfully, I think that his caring for her totally while I was recovering from surgery helped her to be less wary of him, but it is still sad that despite a year and a half of a good and easy life, her past and past abuse seems to haunt her. There are occasions when she will seem afraid for no apparent reason, although I think that happens less often now.

She continues to be wary of strangers and although we need some opportunities to help her get socialized, the COVID-19 Quarantine has limited her opportunity to be exposed to our friends.

Things about Sheba that amaze me: Sheba gets “good girl” treats when we walk her and she has done what a good dog does. It is rare that she doesn’t cooperate on a walk. One thing that amazes me is how gently and carefully she takes the treats from our hands.

When we first got her, she did not seem to know what her nose was for, but now when she gets outside she seems to take great delight in sniffing every possible blade of grass. Every.

Despite her sad history, we learned last summer that Sheba likes, loves being outside. When my husband is working in the yard or the garage, she will hang out in the yard with him, on a tie out rope. She has a good length so she can move around, he makes sure she has water.

How can I possibly know that she loves being outside? She will get up when I approach and is happy to have me fuss over her a bit, but then she returns to her cozy spot in the grass. Even shaking her food dish so that she can hear the food move around in her dish, is not enough to entice her back inside the house. Perhaps that is good for my ego; there is something that she loves more than me!

She also loves being on the front porch and seems happy to watch people, dogs and cars come and go, or just suns herself.

Even though we have “invited her” she will not get on the couch or any other furniture. She is well spoiled with dog beds, but I think she could be really comfortable up there with us and curl up between us and get petted, or just snuggle. She does like close physical contact.

She does not bark! except in her sleep. It is cute and I appreciate it. We have neighbors with yappy, barky dogs who will bark at anything or anyone that moves. They have terrorized Sheba. She is bigger than they are but they scare her.

Picture  of Dog on her hind  legs, looking out the window.
Did something move out there?

All that being said, one day Sheba startled me and scared me a bit. She jumped up from her bed, ran to the other side of the room to the rear window and barked loudly, slamming into the window. I thought she was going through the window. She ran around the dining room panting, went from window to window and back again, barking and slamming into the window. There was a rabbit in her yard!

Things about Sheba that make me smile:

When we go upstairs at night for bed, she races ahead of me and then turns around on the landing to look at me. I think she looks at me with a “grandmother” kind of face and to make sure that I am actually following her, even though I am the one who started upstairs.

I take foolish, chances and take advantage of her stopping there to reach out and pet her face to face, while I am standing about 3 steps below her. That is fine as long as I don’t lose my balance, but it has become a nightly ritual.

She follows me or waits on me. When I am washing dishes, she will straddle the kitchen doorway until I am done. She will wait for me a discreet distance away when I am in the bathroom.

Perhaps like other dogs, or our other dogs, Sheba likes routine. She gets a dental treat at noon, supper at 5:00 p.m. and a rawhide treat at 7:30. Sometimes she seems to be able to tell time, other time it just seems like wishful thinking.

Picture of Sheba standing in front of me on the front porch. A large black and tan dog.
Waiting patiently

Odds and Ends

Please do not think that I never get annoyed at her, pastor, yes; saint, no. She can be very pushy and annoying when she wants something and can seem to put her entire weight into her face that she uses to push my hand. Since she gets walked three times a day, I really try to space it so it doesn’t turn into 4 times, unless the need seems great.

She is stubborn if she wants to go in one direction and not in another. She is very easily distracted, if she sees a person, or another dog, or hears a blade of grass rustle, she will forget why she was outside in the first place.

Did I say that she is afraid of small children? With the schools closed due to COVID-19, she was happy to walk around the whole perimeter of the school yard. But if kids are playing in the play ground, once she hears their voices, she will do a 180 and strain on the leash to go back the way we came.

I did say earlier that she can be annoying? Around 8:00 p.m. or a bit later, when I should have left my office and computer, she will come to get me. Pushing my hands away from the keyboard, as though she were a sheep dog and I were her sheep. She likes us all to be in the living room together in the evening, even though she will not join us on the couch. Annoying, but wise.

Misty, our Beagle adored my husband. She would often sit against him on the couch, throw her head back and look up at him and I wondered what that felt like. She never did that to me; but he was her Alpha male and I was “the other woman”.

picture of a beagle curled up at a man's feet. They are on a couch.
Misty

Sheba sits at my feet when we are on the couch and she will on occasion throw her head back and look up at me. I feel bad because she does not do that for Roger and so often ignores him. But that action, that act of adoration or something, whatever it means is quite lovely and humbling.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright © 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and msomervillesite.Wordpress.com – All rights reserved.

Let Us Be Part of the Solution

Feeling helpless in the face of the Pandemic Racial Tensions?

It is normal to feel helpless in the face of something as huge as both the Pandemic and the current atmosphere of Racial Tensions. Both are national in scope, and in some cases international.  Sometimes, if you can do even one thing, or more than one thing, it can help make a difference. You and I can help to make a difference right where we live.

The required disclaimer is, that I write as a white woman who is over the age of 55. I do not know what it feels like to be a black person. I only know what I see and hear in the news media and social media. The chances of my being stopped by a member of a police force for simply “driving while white,” is unlikely. That being said, I want to offer some suggestions that I think can help to make a difference.

The second disclaimer is that it is, not unlike the Commandments, it is difficult to phrase them all in positive language. Here goes:

black neon sign with white letters. Words, "Think about things Differently"
Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi from Pexels

Stop sharing negative posts on Social Media. Why? They are designed to stimulate animosity and limit communication and compassion. If you doubt that, pay careful attention to the photograph that accompanies the post, and the responses that it garners. The result is little better than an inflammatory tweet. It is like throwing gasoline on a fire.

There is a difference between protesting and rioting: I do not know anyone who thinks that rioting, looting and violence will solve anything, and those actions are upsetting. They also get in the way of our being able to hear the pain and anger of the protesters. Not all protesters are rioters and not all rioters are protesters.

Some people are taking advantage of the situation and are intentionally making things worse. Please do not let that stop you from hearing, learning, speaking up and acting in positive ways.

Do not engage the haters. They will not listen to you and you will be wasting your breath, and perhaps even making them happy because they succeeded in getting you riled up.

It is okay to “agree to disagree” with someone. It is okay to walk away from an unproductive conversation. I would go so far as to say it is healthy to do so, when you cannot come to an understanding or a meeting of the minds.

Don’t be dismissive. Have you ever shared a story of a deep, personal pain with someone only to have them dismiss your feelings, hurt or experience? Sometimes people say things like, “You think that is bad, wait until I tell you what happened to me!” I know that has happened to me; and I know that I have probably done it to others. It may be unintentional, of course, but it hurts nonetheless.

From an outsider’s perspective: When you look at the protests, riots and demonstrations and ask, ‘How is this helping the Floyd family?’ Try to understand that the initial response that sparked demonstrations was in response to the murder of Mr. George Floyd. It was for many people, the last straw, on top of many other last straws.

There is a significant list of similar deaths that have occurred in the last eight years. I see the demonstrations and protests as responses to a combination of all of that; the murder of George Floyd and many others. Say his name. Learn their names. They mattered. They were somebody’s son or somebody’s daughter.

Seek Understanding: Have you ever said in response to the statement, “Black Lives Matter” “All lives matter,” or “Blue lives matter” or something like that? The “Black Lives Matter” movement is in response to the large number of black people and black bodies that have been murdered or killed by police. It is it’s own statement and does not need to be edited by us. It is a statement that tells a story and deserves to be respected.

It does not mean that all police are bad or evil or murderous. But there are sufficient document cases where this has happened, and for the most part gone unpunished. The last time I checked, the role of “judge, jury and executioner” is not accorded to police at any level. I do realize there are circumstances when the taking of a life becomes necessary in the performance of their duties. Black Lives matter!

Taking a Knee at a football game: People I know, love and care about have been upset with this demonstration of protest in National Football games. I am sorry that I kept silent. I did not want to offend them.

Those I know who vocalized their frustration, and perhaps anger, saw this action as disrespecting the flag. I wish I had said, as often as necessary, that it was an act of silent protest in response to the frequent loss of black lives at the hands of unethical police practices. Protest is still a civil right. Football players taking a knee in protest on a national stage could have started a needed conversation. We just did not hear what they were trying to tell us.

“I am not a racist.” I do not know anyone who is racist. But there is a difference between not being racist and being anti-racist. The distinction may seem subtle to those of us who are not inclined to be activists.

In not being a racist, most of us would not think to do anything against a black person. But it is time to do something positive: Be an ally; educate yourself about the problems of racism, and racial injustice. I will include some resources at the bottom of this post and hope you will seek others on your own. Perhaps through your local library, your church or clergy person.

Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels

Make Friends with someone who does not look like you. This can be a challenge where I live and serve, because our communities are pretty white. Our churches are pretty white, too. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been quoted as saying that 11:00 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in the United States. Fifty plus years later, that hasn’t changed from what I can see. So, maybe it takes effort, but it should not be impossible.

Listen to someone’s story of racism. Do not interrupt, do not counter share, that is counter with your own ‘you think that is bad’ story. Just listen. Perhaps if more of us had listened things would not have gotten to this point.

I know that I am not always a good listener. I am such a talker, that I get in my own way. When we listen, we are supposed to be paying attention to the words that are being spoken and the feelings that are being shared, not listening for a place where we can jump in and talk. Just Listen.

Don’t just tweet, or post or make a poster. Resolve to do something positive to be part of the solution. These are all simple ways to overcome that feeling of helplessness and I believe we can make a difference. We can learn to know better and then do better.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Some resources worth exploring:

www.naacp.org

www.blacklivesmatter.com

http://www.raceamity.org

Timeless Advice from a (somewhat dated) Chick Flick

One of my favorite all time romantic comedies is You’ve Got Mail starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.* Even though the technology featured in the film is now dated, there are some timeless ideas and advice in the movie that have stuck with me through the years. Okay, I also have to add that it has stuck with me through the numerous times I have watched this movie.

picture of a manual typewriter with some stuck keys
Photo by Leah Kelley from Pexels

Near the end of the movie, just after a significant turning point, Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) visits Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) at her apartment. He says to her in a half-hearted attempt to apologize for putting her out of business, “It wasn’t personal,” he says “it was business!” She respond by saying, ‘Well, it was personal to me! It was personal to a lot of people. Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”

I wrote in a previous post about Friendships and types of friendships and pretty sure I just scratched the surface. It seems to be me that most relationships ought to be personal at some level. Long gone are the days when items like milk and bread were delivered to our doors. But mail is still delivered. And many of us still shop “in person” for groceries and other necessities. I am one of those fussy people who prefers to pick out my own food and clothing.

There was a period of time when my then favorite store stopped carrying women’s dress clothes in the store, but there were plenty of “misses” or “Women’s” size casual clothes available. I was told by a compassionate cashier that I could always order online and if an item didn’t fit, I could return it through the store. “Or,” she said lightly, “you could return the item by shipping.” I was crestfallen at best and slightly depressed. While I am not one to try to decide what someone is thinking without their saying so, it felt as if the store were saying to overweight women everywhere, ‘You can’t possibly need dress clothes, the sweats and jeans are…over there!”

Pcture of a woman ina store hanging clothes on rack
Photo by Ksenia Chernaya from Pexels

I pleaded my case with a couple of cashiers, fighting back the tears. It was an hour’s drive, to get there and to my way of thinking, picking out something to try on at the store, is more efficient than ordering online, waiting for the item to arrive to try on and then having to go through the work of returning the item. Much quicker to put it back on the rack in the store; without paying postage or shipping.

I prefer the personal contact. I always engage cashiers in the briefest of conversations, in the hope that I can add something to their day, a moment of pleasantness or even compassion. If you want or need a cynical reason for a personal contact with a cashier, it helps to keep their attention on me and my money or credit card while the transaction is taking place. Rather than them talking with another associate, while ringing up my purchase. I think the personal contact is crucial.

The isolation and social distancing imposed by the COVID-19 virus have made this that much more important to me, and I think, to others. In small towns people tend to wave at each other, even strangers. Sitting on your porch and someone drives by, wave. Walking down the street and someone drives by, wave. And don’t forget to smile.

picture of a woman in a store paying with a credit card
BUt most important is the smile on the cashier
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Does it matter if you smile if you are wearing a mask? No one can see your smile! I recently arrived at a meeting a few minutes early, with the intent of checking my hair and putting on some lipstick. I do not wear much make-up. I realized when I saw someone else who had arrived for the meeting already had their mask on and then I realized that the lipstick was superfluous, but smiling is not. I am pretty sure when we smile, it exercises all of our face muscles and shows around our eyes. Life is tough and has recently gotten tougher. Soften it with a smile.

Beyond that, part of my concern is that fear of the virus and the potential spread and the need for social distancing, has made limited personal contact an imperative. I think, not to sound alarmist, that we are in danger of losing something vital in our society. It has been weeks, months since this all began and there are some things that will not go back to the way they were; in person connectivity should not be one of them. “Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”

PLAN B for “Brave

Earlier in the story, after an unsuccessful protest and media campaign fails to turn her business around, Kathleen makes the dreaded decision. She shares this with her mother’s friend Bertie and when she tells her she has decided to sell the store, Bertie tells her it’s a brave thing to do. “You are daring to imagine that you can have a different life.”

picture of suggestions pinned to a bulletin board
Photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels

What happens if your heart is set on a goal that cannot happen? So many factors apply, aptitude, talent, education, but also job market, economy, etc. I got my college degree at 49 years old in 1999. I was already a pastor and headed to seminary. I settled for a liberal arts degree, for reasons that don’t matter here. But I had two academic loves in college; History and English. I had significant credits and course work in those subject areas and it was tempting to either do a dual major or shift from liberal studies to major in one of them. I did not want to teach and I was eager to finish college and get to seminary. But there was also a joke making the rounds at the time: “What did the History major ask the English major?” The answer was, “Do you want fries with that?”

As a much younger person, I started out at nursing school, right after high school. From the time I was ten years old I wanted to be a nurse. I read every youth nursing series that was popular at the time (Cherry Ames, Kathy Martin, etc) and I had been a ten year old surgery patient. It didn’t take more than a few months in nursing school to realize that I did not have the maturity or other necessary attributes.

In Kathleen Kelley’s case, closing the store gave her the opportunity to consider what else she might do with her life. One can have a retirement Plan B, or a career Plan B. It may be good to have a few additional letters in your option basket.

Retirement Plan B

There are some ways I/we did not do a great job of retirement planning. What younger person can think ahead to financial needs 40 years in the future? But I did begin in my last year of full time ministry to begin to prepare, especially prepare myself emotionally; I had watched some friends really struggle with retirement. The planning I did was partly financial (we bought a house) but it was mostly spiritual and emotional. To paraphrase a song from another movie (White Christmas)** “What do you do with a pastor, when she stops being a pastor?” That took a lot of soul searching.

Of the pastors that I know who have served over 30+ years and many longer, many seem content to stop and go onto life fulfilling retirement goals. I had only been a pastor for 22 years and I wasn’t ready to stop, just cut my hours back. The full-time expectation for United Methodist Pastors is 55-65 hours a week (emergencies included) and the closer I got to 65 years old, the more I knew in my bones that I no longer had the energy for full-time ministry. (Slight disclaimer here, this picture was taken at my retirement party and while I may look really tired, I had been crying – a lot!)

Picture of myself and Roger at my retirement party. Interesting, not sure why the dates is wrong in the picture!
Retirement Celebration 6/23/18 ~ Photo by Jean Barber

But I only took 6 weeks off and have been serving part time (about 30 hours a week) for two years. It is not unusual for our pastors to go back to work part time, and it fulfills a need, both for pastors and churches. I am not ready to stop yet, but I am finally at a point in life, when I can imagine something different. I am hoping for another full year. But I know it is getting near time to be brave. Time to develop a Plan B. Time to imagine a different life.

There is one other thing. When I first entered the work-force, the average person expected to retire from the same company they began working at, or at least the same occupation. So where a person my age may have begun a career with that expectation, I think people entering the work force now have different expectations and perhaps begin working with several different letter options in their baskets.

What about you? Have you ever had to rely on your Plan B? or Plan C? Or are there other timeless movie quotes that have become a part of your life?

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

* You’ve Got Mail. Director: Nora Ephron. Performers: Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks, Jean Stapleton, Greg Kinnear. Laura Shuler Donner Productions. 1998.

** Song “What Do You Do With a General?” Bryan Darcy, Irving Berlin in White Christmas. Director: Michael Curtiz. Performers: Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen. Paramount Pictures. 1954.

A Sideways Look at Life in Lockdown

I feel compelled to begin with something of a disclaimer. I realize the weight of the pandemic that has caused much of the world to grind to a screeching halt and retreat into a science-fiction-like version of society.

I am embarrassed to say that all this, our time in lockdown, has snuck up on me. Like many, I saw it coming on the news and watched with the wariness that one watches weather forecasts of massive amounts of snow, or none, if the cold front moves in exactly the right way; or a hurricane, unless it moves out to sea. (Or some other natural disaster.) We try to prepare, stock up and pray or whatever one does to get ready for an unwanted event. I am often struck by the messages that people write on the plywood they use to board up their windows in preparation for a hurricane. Go ahead and write, tell the weather where to go and what to do, but please do evacuate when that is called for; do not however, expect plywood or painted words to keep you safe.

Picture of a lighting strike at night, dark sky, black water
Photo by Philippe Donn from Pexels

Just so, I thought the news media was fear mongering and maybe they were doing just that. I do not think we need a steady diet of stirred up emotion, “Just the facts ma’am.” Then our Bishop urged us to close our churches for two weeks in March in an effort to “Do no harm” in the face of the growing pandemic. “Do no harm” is not only an important part of the Hippocratic Oath that Doctors take, but an oath that others take as well.

I thought, and perhaps others did as well, “I will do as I am asked, but I can’t wait until we get back to church and we will…celebrate, and have a party, and have a dish to pass dinner, and a hymn sing, and hug each other…” Then schools were closed for two weeks, and then the “Stay at Home” orders came rolling in, like storm clouds moving rapidly from one region to another. Now school was closed (In Pennsylvania) for the remainder of the school year, and our stay at home order was in place for 30 days and there was no going to church. But there could be church. Online.

I have often joked that I am ‘a-technical’, and so when I assumed the appointment to serve two churches in retirement and learned that it would be my job to prepare the power point each week for the smaller of the two churches, I was indeed stressed. I was glad to be serving a church where power point was expected, but in my recent years in ministry, I was able to expect someone else to do it. Someone who considered it a breeze, a snap, a walk in the park, a piece of cake!

picture of a slice of cake, chocolate, thick chocolate or peanut butter icing and blue berry tooping
Photo by Abhinav Goswami from Pexels

Yes, that piece of cake, comfort food with icing. That was what I wanted. I did not know for instance, how to locate lyrics online, copy and paste and make them fit the power point screen. Tasks that more technically minded people take for granted. You may be surprised to know that it takes longer to type hymn lyrics if you sing them when you type them! Trying to hold open a 2″ thick hymnal so you can see to type the words without the weight of the other pages flopping back down takes coordination and determination.

It took a while and even that “copy and paste” thing is not as user friendly as I would like, but it did help me prepare for bigger things. Now, to record a modified service on “You-Tube” and upload, download, reload, I am never quite sure which load it is. Figuring out which computer is the best option, my desk top or lap top, what room in the house has the best connectivity, and then the big shock. While recording on You-Tube is pretty straight forward, other options were more attractive. It took me at least 4 weeks to figure out that as a-technical as I am, I could learn to edit the mistakes out of the video. But that was more easily done in a different format.

Picture of a young woman in front of  a computer, looking like has a headache or is thinking.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The big shock was recording in a different format and then loading it onto You Tube or another option takes H-O-U-R-S. Meanwhile my stress level is increasing and all I can think of is Sugar, give me Sugar. Chocolate Chips, in cookie form or just poured into my hand. Skip the Jack Daniels, you can have a beer. Just give me sweets! Many of my blogging friends who are into healthy eating are probably cringing or at least nodding sympathetically and thinking, “Ah, Michele, this is why we are stressing health eating in lockdown.”

Then came the Sunday, as I was trying to learn the intricasies of getting a recorded service loaded so I could email the link to those who were not on Facebook and did not yet realize that this other different format was still not going to load in the 10 minutes I had allotted. Instead of a 10:30 a.m. service, some of the flock had checked out other online opportunities, while I sheepishly was unable to load my service until 3:30 p.m.

It has been a process made better by two younger, patient, technically savvy colleague/friends who were able to walk me step by step through the process to some success and talk me off the ledge of chocolate chip cookie overload. Did I say I stress eat?

Picture of a half dozen chocolate chip cookies, lots of chips on a board
Photo by Brigitte Tohm from Pexels

This has been a large part of my ministry-life in lockdown. Don’t misunderstand, I am grateful that I have been able to do this and other things to help the churches I serve stay connected and have some meaningful contact with their own church. Let me just add two words: Learning Curve.

I fully understand the seriousness of the situation we have been in and are not out of yet. While I am in a confessional vein though, I confess to savoring the time to simply be home. I was unable to stay put the first few weeks because of impending surgery, physical therapy appointments, pre-op appointments, and the like. So it has only been the last four weeks that I have been able to just savor being at home, except for needed food runs. This has been permission giving, and it helps me look ahead to a time when I will no longer be partly retired and see the possibilities. My husband and I live a quiet, simple life which I relish, when I am smart enough to stay home (ministry is generally not done long distance or only online).

Being at home more, has given me an opportunity to write or to be more intentional and dedicated in writing and reading. While often my “reading’ is actually listening to audio books while I drive to classes, meetings, services and other gatherings, I have been able to hold my Kindle or an actual book in my hands and read it.

Picture of our dog, Sheba, a tall, lean mixed breed, black and tan dog.
Sheba, checking things out

I was going to say something about healthy eating in quarantine, but that “Cat is out of the bag.” I will say, that I am not totally ignoring the advice of blogging friends and have been working at healthier eating, in the hopes that something is better than nothing and while I am not the least bit athletic, our dog Sheba, has to be walked three times a day and that is generally good for a significant amount of steps on my Fitbit.

Sheltering in place at home without going anywhere but the store, has been mostly good. I have not turned into a hermit and there have been a few days when I have been weepy for no apparent reason. Between writing, emails and phone calls I have had lots of social contact, though I miss hugs from friends. I have not accomplished some of the things that I had hoped to do. I haven’t given up on them, just have not gotten to them yet.

Picture of an "oen "ign
Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

As of this writing, I have no clue when we will be able to fully re-open churches. I am quite sure no one in my area does either. We want everyone to be safe. I want, for myself and my flock at least, if not our culture in general, to think more deeply about needed changes. Speaking for myself, I have not gotten all the way there yet. I thought I would have a few other projects done by now and I expected to be making loads of homemade bread, but then came shoulder surgery. What am I hoping to gain from what remains of this ‘lock-down time?’

I would like to gain some mastery of the technical tools I need to use in this season, and thereby reduce my stress level and increase my efficiency. I want to laugh more; I want to stay home more (while still earning my keep at church) and I want to bake that bread. Okay, and maybe some chocolate chip-peanut butter-oatmeal cookies too! Perhaps most of all, I hope to reason my way through needed changes before life in lockdown is history and I unconsciously go back to the way things were.

What about you? I would love to hear from you. What has been your biggest learning or gain from this time? Have you been able to use it to your advantage? What do you hope will change, or do you hope everything will change back, as though it had been a bad dream?

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

On Friendships

I am thinking about two different themes in this post. How do you, or does one, determine if a person is a friend? And then I also wonder, how do we help our children and young people determine or distinguish about types of friends?

And here is another question, can the category of BFF (Best Friends Forever) be determined in the first months of friendship, or is it something one can determine, only after years of solid history, looking back from the other end of time? Being someone’s BFF can be a lot of pressure.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

The best compliment anyone every gave me as a friend, came many years ago, more years than I want to count. They said that I was very accepting as a friend; that I did not judge them, but accepted them as they were. I liked hearing that, and tried to be that person to the best of my ability. My ability has not always lived up to the ideal described by my friend (what was his name?) so many years ago. See what I mean? I can be very “out of sight, out of mind.”

In addition to that, I procrastinate, and live with the “shoulds.” I should give “so and so a call,” but maybe later. Later, turns into much later until I am embarrassed. As I recently said to a friend of over 40 years, “Well, the phone does work both ways.” I really wish I hadn’t said that. It was immature and even if it is a truth, it does not excuse my failure to call a good friend with whom I have a long term shared history.

Oddly enough, Facebook has helped me to see the need to think about different types of friendly relationships. I think Facebook’s categories are useful, (Friend, Close Friend, Acquaintance and Unfriend), but I also think that is a starting place. To them I would add the following:

FRIENDS FOR A SEASON: I met Gloria in Spanish class at the then, Pensacola Junior College, when I was a lonely and confused Navy wife in Pensacola, Florida. She was also a Navy wife and our husbands were not in Pensacola. She taught me so much, made me laugh and cry. She was Lutheran and I was Catholic and we went to church with each other and bemoaned not being able to take communion in each other’s churches. We spent some real quality time together, but lost touch after I moved way. I am still grateful for her and miss her, but it was a relationship for a season.

Photo by Tobi from Pexels

WORK FRIENDS (Colleagues) I am an itinerant pastor, which means I go where the Bishop sends me for as long as I am sent. It is part of my ordination vows, and something I knew going into the process. I live and serve in a defined geographic area (Central Pennsylvania ~ from the Maryland Line to the New York border). It is not unusual for our moves to create a crisscross pattern, like a team building exercise where a group tosses a ball of yarn back and forth, creating an acrylic web. In the process, I have had some colleagues that fit all of Facebooks’ criteria, but that has also made me think of other criteria as well.

CONFIDANTS That is not a noun I use very often, but, ask yourself this question. Out of all the people you connect with in your life, especially if you are the gregarious, extrovert type of person, how many of them do you trust with your most personal thoughts, experiences, hopes and dreams? As far as I know I have never been burned in this area, but I know people who have been very hurt by a failure to be trustworthy.

I think for many of us at least this is, and probably should be, a very small number, compared to all of the other people who we relate to in various capacities. Twice in twenty years, I responded to a colleague’s question by saying, ‘We do not know each other well enough for you to ask that, or for me to answer.”

I read somewhere that there is a limit to the number of sustainable friendships a person can manage. That makes sense to me. While one can have a lot of acquaintances (should they be forgotten?) close friendships require an investment of time and the development of history. I am not talking about those relationships that are sometimes, truthfully or callously referred to as “high maintenance.”

PROFESSIONAL FRIENDS (Mentors, mentees and others.) Not splitting hairs, but I see this category as a little different than work friends. When I was going through my process toward ordination, I had several very good mentors. At the time we worked together they seemed like friends, and I suppose they were. But our friendship and relationship had time and content boundaries. When that stage was over, and it was a relationship that was assigned by our supervisor (District Superintendent), it was time to move on to the next phase and the next mentor.

Pastors are in a slightly different situation than other professionals, like doctors or counselors. For instance I have had many people say to me in recent years, “You are not just our pastor, you are our friend.” Pastors are, hopefully human, and we are expected to have good boundaries and we are expected to love the people we pastor. We are also expected to move on at the end of our time, and that makes the ‘pastor/friend’ category somewhat challenging.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

FRIENDS YOU LEAVE BEHIND:

Every move that I made as an appointed pastor, I cried the first two weeks in the new place, not because anyone was mean or unkind, but simply grieving the loss of the previous relationships. It was a little bit like housekeeping for the heart, making space in my heart for the new flock, meant setting aside the prior relationships. Not ceasing to love them but ceasing to relate to them for the most part. When I retired, I cried. A lot.

FRIENDS WHO ARE LIKE FAMILY: My brother whom I love, is only six years older than I, but I lived almost half my life in a place he never lived. We have seen each other through the toughest of times. I cherish our relationship. For most of our adult lives we have lived at opposite ends of the country. While that relationship is important to me, I am also very grateful for friends who are like family. Friends I did not grow up with or even know in the first half of my life. But they are a present and ongoing part of my life, work and daily experience. Every time I pray, I give thanks to God for family and friends who nurture and enrich my life.

BLOGGING FRIENDS: A new category! Strictly speaking I have only been blogging since just before Christmas, 2019, although I have been writing for years. I realize that it may seem premature to label the connections I have made with other bloggers as “friendships.” Yet, while these women and men are unknown to me personally, having read their thoughts and experiences and their having read some of my most personal and formational stories, provides an interesting sense of connection. I am grateful for their feedback on my writing and stories. Perhaps because writers need to be readers, and bloggers especially, need to read other bloggers, a new depth and richness has been added to my experience of writing and to my life.

PIVOTING TO AN EXTENSION OF FRIENDSHIP:

Even for all of the categories and types of friendship I have described, I have probably just scratched the surface and that is part of my argument against an early declaration of someone as a BFF. I am not, however, arguing against close friendships; I think that we need them. Further, I think that close, trusted friendships are part of our mental health and are genuinely good for society.

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

I do want to suggest before closing though, that the best qualities of friendship can be part of healing the world. We do not have to be friends with someone in order to treat them with respect, honor and kindness. We do not even have to agree with them politically, religiously or otherwise. When I shop, I try to engage the cashier in a brief conversation, ask about their day and how they are being treated during the busiest seasons. I admit to having favorite cashiers, but I never mistake those relationships for friendships. Just simple humanity. A simple opportunity to help make someone’s day better, because it can affect everything that follows.

CALLED TO KINDNESS: My friend Donna says that she sees herself as “Called to Kindness,” during this Pandemic especially. She says that it is not that she is trying to impose that on others, but it defines her understanding of who she is called to be, especially now. There was a movement a few years back, perhaps more than a few years, encouraging people to practice “Random Acts of Kindness” I think now, we need more than Random Acts, but Intentional and Frequent Acts of Kindness. It can make such a difference and it is not superficial. Kindness won’t cure illness or disease, but it undergirds compassion. It seems to me that kindness and compassion ought to be the middle names of a group of people known as humankind. Kindness fueled by compassion and simple respect can be part of healing the world. I.M.O.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Last Call for Alcohol (Jack, Maggie and Alcohol)

One of my favorite childhood memories, in terms of my dad’s drinking, (yes I know how strange that may sound) was the sense of celebration when he got home. After the opening of the suitcases and the giving of presents was done and supper was started, he would go to the neighbors and invite them to “Stop in and have a drink with us, I just got home.” I remember going with him one time, young enough to be holding his hand and knocking on the same doors I would knock on a few years later to sell Girl Scout Cookies. Somehow it felt special to be part of the invitation crew.

Dad circa 1929

If there was any orientation or any preparation needed for living at the Union Villa, it was simply living at home. There would be people who cursed and used bad language at the bar. Dad was a sailor, check and check. There would be people drinking to excess and being drunk. Dad was a sailor, check and check. It was called ‘Celebrating.” In addition there were all the times I accompanied them making the rounds to the local bars, including the Glen Cove Hotel and the Union Villa and several other bars that are no longer in existence. Check and check again.

One thing that made this all bearable for me, especially after I was a teenager, was that I knew there were people who were mean drunks, I had witnessed it first hand, but not from him. Surprisingly, I never felt unsafe. Mom did all the driving, but she also drank. I marvel now, that there were no accidents (or tickets, as far as I know).

Jack and Maggie did not fight, and I am pretty sure she was never embarrassed by him either. There was one time that still makes me sad to think of it. We were out at a restaurant and there was some kind of local community meeting. They were attending the meeting after dinner, and he had already started to drink with dinner. Maybe he had already started before that. At some point during the meeting he got the microphone, but between the hiccups and slurred speech, it just wasn’t pretty. Somebody said (out loud) “get that microphone away from that drunk.” and Mom, was not embarrassed by him, but for him. I still wince to think about it.

Photo by Chris F from Pexels

I have talked about some of this in an earlier post and said that dad drank when he came home (celebration) and when it was time to leave (the goal of feeling “no pain”) and mom would say of those times that she “poured him” onto the train or plane. It was how they celebrated and how they coped. Yet, neither of them were inclined to sit alone and cry in their beer. Drinking was always a social event.

Dad “celebrated” when I graduated from High School, I was the first person in my immediate family to do so. I did not see him before graduation, but after the ceremony, it was clear he was celebrating. I wasn’t worried about any of my friends noticing, but in the picture that someone had taken of him, he was clearly “three sheets to the wind.”

It is not that I never got upset. I learned at an early age that you cannot reason with someone who has had too much to drink or have an intelligent conversation with them. We played a game of sorts when I was in high school. I was old enough to stay at home when they went out, this was in the winter when the bar was closed. I put two Alka Seltzer packets on my mom’s pillow and three on my dad’s. When they came home, they played along. Mom would say, ‘Michele, I’m drunk, hang up my coat, and Dad would say, “Michele, I’m drunk, hang up my jacket.” I coped too.

Photo courtesy of Lynda Ames

We had drop in company when the bar was closed, and it was often invited. I am pretty sure that the fellows who came to visit knew that the drinks were free, and the conversation, jokes and laughter would flow too. In addition, they were good paying customers during the season the bar was open, as well as people who were considered real family friends. The most frustrating thing that happened during that time was the time that one of the guests got so sloppy drunk that he fell into the Christmas tree, knocking it to the floor, hitting it hard enough that the oranges in the Christmas stocking were smashed. I was not happy, to say the least and while it could have ruined Christmas for me, I loved Christmas too much to give it up that easily.

Several years ago, when my children were 8, 9 and 10, they came home from a family visit with their grandparents and my former husband. One of the kids shocked me by saying, “Daddy said Grandpa Jack was an alcoholic.” It does take a lot to make me angry. I was on the phone fast and I was furious. It may, or may not, surprise you to know that I never even considered that as an option. Maybe it was all the euphemisms. It never occurred to me that all of that drinking was something other than normal. It was normal in our house.

I talked about this with my brother shortly after that, and again a few years later and he suggested, and we concluded that mom and dad were “functional alcoholics” and that seemed to fit. After all, in spite of everything else, they worked hard and dad did not drink during the busy season, and mom did not drink at all, not that I was aware of, when dad was drinking at the bar. In spite of this, I believe that my parents were fairly well respected in the community. They worked hard, they contributed to the community and the local economy. And, they were sociable!

Some might ask why would I tell this particular story, or include it in the collection? For one thing, because this too, was part of life at the Union Villa, life in a barroom in a beach town in the 1960’s. Maybe something in this story will help someone else. I write about my own experience. I cannot speak for anyone else in my family or my father’s or mother’s families either.

I do not write this with any intended disrespect or desire to tarnish my parents’ memory. It was what they did, and not all the time, it was not who they were. I loved my parents and love them still. I am glad, grateful that they were my parents.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I was a light social drinker in my 30’s. My husband still likes to tease me about the time I only had one glass of wine, but I kept refilling it and could not for the life of my touch my nose to my face without using my other hand to help. It was New Year’s and we were at home. Wine, cheese and crackers were our New Year’s tradition, until he became diabetic. I am not inclined to drink alone either, now our New Year’s tradition, when we remember is crackers, cheese and lights out before midnight.

When I was leaving home to assume my first appointment as pastor, my pastor told me that I would hurt my own witness if I drank at weddings, etc. Methodism is a dry denomination, (It’s in something called The Social Principles) although not all United Methodists know that. I haven’t had wine or anything else since, except for a few Anglican Communions in seminary. It is always a little startling if you are expecting grape juice, but get a warm feeling all the way down to your toes.

After I had been a pastor for a few years we were invited to a church family’s Christmas party. We walked in and I saw beer cans seemingly everywhere. Pretty sure I blushed. I thought I had not done a good job of teaching my own flock, but it was lovely of them to invite us and we had a good time and drank diet soda.

I know that alcohol can destroy lives and I don’t take that lightly. I often wondered why no one ever confronted me in my youth because all that alcohol my parents sold paid for much of what we had. For me personally, I think moderation may be more important than abstinence. I am much less comfortable around people who have been drinking than I was as a youth. There have been some special people in my life, both friends and parishioners who have worked very hard at their sobriety and I am proud of them.

Mom and Dad behind the bar at the Union Villa circa 1963

The waitress fishes in her apron pocket, pulls out a quarter and slips it into the coin slot in the juke box. I can almost hear the sound of the quarter as it slides into the coin box. She pushes the buttons, the machine retrieves the record and she sings along with Ray Charles, “I can’t stop loving you, it’s useless to try…” Dad grabs a bar towel, soaks it in the water and cleaning solution, wrings it damp and wipes off the bar in circles. He stops, looks at the remnants of the evening crowd and winks. He grabs the bell pull, gives it a tug and along with the ringing of the bell he cries out, “Last Call for Al-co-hol.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

{Song, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” written by Don Gibson, Produced by Sid Feller, release 1962}

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Birthday Blessings

I am a “Baby Boomer” and recently celebrated a significant birthday. Although I have not been greatly concerned about my age through the years (there are a few exceptions that follow), I admit I have been dreading this particular number. You can say, “It is just a number,” that is what my doctor said. I believed her for a while, but then it got the best of me. You can say, “You are as old as you feel.” But I have had arthritis since my mid-thirties. When I found out at the age of 40 that I needed to have hip surgery because my joint was in bad shape, the surgeon said I had the hip of an 80 year old woman. A friend told me to “give it back.” So, I don’t necessarily want to be as old as I feel somedays.

BIRTHDAYS OF MY YOUTH

My first birthday memory was sitting on the kitchen counter next to my mother, while she decorated my birthday cake. I was probably not more than 4. It had white satiny frosting and she used an aluminum cake decorating tube and used pink and blue frosting. I remember the colors. I would like to say definitely it was a blue border with pink flowers but that would be exaggerating the prowess of my memory.

swirly pink krose decorated birthday cake with three curly red and white candles and a bouquet of flowers
Photo by Jill Wellington from Pexels

We got to choose what we wanted for our birthday dinners, and I realize now, that was a lovely gesture on her part. She certainly did not grow up with birthday celebrations, when her father was wandering around and her mother was hiding from the bill collectors or the gas man.

I have a good friend who was born on July 4th and pretty sure no one ever asked her what she wanted for a birthday dinner, the menu was set by the entire culture, as if it were embedded into the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. In my husband’s family birthdays were an ordinary day, you did not get to choose the menu. My favorite birthday memory comes from the Union Villa. I do not remember if it happened more than once. But I do remember having a few friends over, sitting in the corner both with pizza, soda and birthday cake. Yum! And that was paying customer space.

Typical for her time, my mother did not reveal her age to many people, it was one of those things “a lady did not tell.” Truth be told she may have been sensitive about it, I am not sure. I remember turning around in the car and telling a woman my mom had given a ride to, “My mommy is 26 years old!” and considering mom was 40 when I was born, her passenger must have had a good laugh. A few years later mom started to color her hair, which she did until she was 82. I didn’t know how old my parents were until I was 9 years old. My dad was at sea and he sent a cable to my mom (1959) that said “Celebrating 49 today!”

TURNING 30

I am not sure I have my mother’s senstivity about age, except for two things. When I was approaching my 30th birthday, I did make a really big deal about it. I am sure it involved some whining and complaining on my part. I don’t remember the specifics, but my friends were extravagant, and took me to the National Theater in Washington D.C. to see “A Chorus Line.” I left myself a note on my desk calendar for the next day that said, “You don’t look a day over 29!” I whined and carried on a bit the next year, when I turned 31, and they gave me birthday cards.

picture of a calendar with writing at the bottom.
Photo by Bich Tran from Pexels

MY OWN GOOFY TRADITION

I am not sure how I started this, especially with my protests of not being sensitive or worrisome about my age, previous story excepted. Somewhere along the line, I began to celebrate or honor the day before my birthday as ‘the last day to be x years old’ and hanging on for dear life. It is something I have continued to do. But, not so much this year. This year, I have been distracted by the number. I envisioned myself as hanging on for dear life, not unlike a movie heroine, holding on to the railing of a cellar, while a tornado was passing by, trying valiantly not to get sucked into the whirlwind. And then, I gave up. About 3 months before my birthday I began to think as though it had already come and gone and I was already the dreaded age.

MOM in her 70’s

Mom in her 70’s was and is my hero. She finally started admitting her age, I think she realized that she did not look her age. And, it was a different time culturally; Mom was in her 70’s in the 1980’s. She continued to sew, and branched out in new areas. She made and wore her first slacks ever, making her first pantsuits, making blouses, and coats. She planned and organized parties for a group, covering all of the details and not getting (too) flustered. Location, menu, prizes and more. She did volunteer work and was always willing to pick up groceries for neighbors in need. She still drove to Massachusetts, from Baltimore, to visit friends and made a few trips to Washington State to visit my brother.

Mom,, not at 70! always young at heart.

She learned how to swim and started bowling all in her 70’s. I was a struggling single parent with three young children and she went overboard to help us. So much so, that I would be embarrassed to give details. In addition to all the other things she did to help, one day a week she picked up the kids after school, to help cut down on childcare expense. My kids loved her! And she had a wicked sense of humor. She was not a saint, but definitely pretty special.

One day, after I had remarried, she came to stay with the kids while my husband and I went out to a party. My youngest daughter, a sixth grader at the time, began telling mom jokes (dirty jokes) and mom wrote them down in shorthand. She was doubled over laughing and said she couldn’t wait to get home to share them with her friends!

FINDING THE BLESSING

I try to be a positive person and a grateful one. I try to regularly express gratitude to servers and cashiers, family and my friends. In my prayers I thank God every day for the family and friends who nurture and enrich my life and I try to be very detailed in listing out the many things for which I am grateful. I think it is a good practice. But something happened a few days before my birthday this year, that created a significant shift for me, in almost every way. I realized how fortunate I am because I “get to” be this age. Many people would have loved to have made it this far; there is no given or entitlement when it comes to age. And certainly many people wish their friends and loved ones had made it this far. My father was 60 when he died.

Realizing how fortunate I am, that I get to be this age, helped me shift the focus from my birthday, to my birth. The breath of life was breathed into me, the gift of life was given to me. It may strike some as being semantics, but I do not think so. Birthdays are about celebration, gifts, cards, parties and cakes; for those who are lucky anyway. But it seems to me that birth is about something deeper.

I had been afraid that turning 70 would turn me into something else. Someone old, something less than vital; a caricature of someone who no longer had value. Someone considered “elderly” by my community. Someone to need to have help, and not someone able to help. Someone whose day, maybe even hours are numbered. Perhaps it was even in a sense of reticence that I have gotten to the bottom of this post before admitting, I am 70, now. As of Saturday.

a picture of me, the author with my favorite sweater that says 'One Starry Night"
Photo by Donna Lynne Vaux
Me, about 3 years ago, a favorite picture

EMBRACE EVERY MOMENT

I still know that life is a gift and that tomorrow is not given and that anything can happen in the blink of an eye. I have lost loved ones to cancer and seen my husband through a battle with cancer. But I choose a deeper level of gratitude than I have yet lived. In the many birthday wishes I received from friends on Facebook, in addition to cards and phone calls, one phrase stands out. A friend wrote “Embrace Every Moment,” and I chose to do just that. In gratitude.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele