The Phone Call

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/writing-challenge-fifty

While folding towels I heard the phone ring.  Dad’s Saturday call, I thought.

But, no, just someone selling something I don’t need.

Returning to the towels, I buried my face in one, remembering.

It couldn’t be Dad.  How could I have forgotten?

The phone rings again. I don’t answer.

 

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The Ties That Bind

IMG_2727(The Daily Post prompt on May 30th, “Weaving the threads”, caught my interest as it suggested writing a post with three parts, unrelated, with a common thread. Here’s where it led me.)

I.
Sorting through generations of “stuff”, I added one of Grandma’s old workday aprons to my “keep” pile. Aprons were daily wear for both of my grandmothers, as were the dresses they protected. They had many practical aprons, dressy ones for holidays or serving company. My mom wore an apron once a week, serving roast while protecting her Sunday-best dress. My daughter occasionally wears one, because they’re cute as well as practical and seem to have comeback into popularity. It is my 60’s/70’s jean and t-shirt wearing generation that shunned using them. But I will keep Grandma’s apron along with the memory of her rolling out homemade noodles and pie crusts amidst a cloud of flour.

And because of a story I heard at a family reunion.

Some of my family lived in Kansas during the dust bowl years, enduring one difficulty after another. One summer a mini-plague of grasshoppers swarmed the area, eating what little garden they had managed to grow. As the story goes, my great-grandmother was hanging laundry on the clothesline when the cloud of grasshoppers arrived, quickly covering everything in the yard, including her. To quote the family history, “and the hoppers gobbled every green thing, including the green strings off the apron tied around grandma’s waist”. I love the picture that sentence paints, and the hard-working, apron-wearing women I remember.

II.
We spread Dad’s tie collection on the bed and each picked one to take home. He had worn a tie to work for over thirty years as a teacher/school counselor. We laughed at the variety of styles from super skinny to Bozo-wide. Some of the ugliest may have been gifts from us, seen as cool that particular Christmas or Father’s Day. It didn’t look like he had gotten rid of any of them over the years.

I picked one that looked like “Dad” to me. I’m not sure how the others made their choice, or if anyone kept the golf tie, or the hand-painted one from Hawaii. The one he was buried in had blue-gray stripes to match his gray jacket. It looked like him.

III.
They came to get me because she was crying. I was a third grader and my sister had just started Kindergarten. She was crying because she had wet her pants while someone else was in the only bathroom available. Embarrassed because she didn’t usually have accidents, she was afraid she’d be labeled a “baby” in her class. I was embarrassed because my sister had an accident (that baby) and because somehow the school had identified me with her! Plus she could really cry once she got going… I doubt I was much comfort to her while we waited together for Mom to come with dry clothes.

We managed to be a comfort to each other more often than an embarrassment as years went by. We live and work in the same community (by choice!) 800 miles from our childhood home. People here have only known us as adults and struggle to tell us apart. We both have worked with children and are often mistakenly greeted by the others’ name. Long tied to one another in this way, we just say hello and receive the hug from an unknown child on our sister’s behalf without correcting their mistake.

My Mother’s Hands

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My daughter’s hands are slim and smooth. They move with confidence as she quickly finds a recipe online and begins prepping the food. Twice lately they have reminded me so much of my own hands, moving in familiar gestures.

First, while chatting, she reached over to adjust my sink faucet to its “sweet spot” to stop the drip. She did this deftly and automatically, as I do several times a day, though she has not lived in this home for over ten years. A bit later I saw her gently touch the back of a friend’s shoulder with the little waving motion I also use to say a silent hello. Her hands, so like mine looked twenty years ago, moving like mine. But there are differences in our hands beyond those of age. Hers have talents mine have never possessed. Beautiful handwriting, a gift for calligraphy, speed in typing: in these ways her hands are more like my mother’s talented hands.

I tell them both this talent must skip a generation, offering my cramped handwriting and more hesitant typing skills as evidence. No one argues the point.

Mom used to try to teach me the push/pulls and ovals that she had loved to do in learning penmanship as a child. Mine never matched her samples. Writing by hand gave her joy, and giving others beautifully written notes was one of her few areas of pride. She still received compliments on her beautiful handwriting as she entered her eighties. Now she tells me “It won’t matter, you sign it for me” as we prepare cards for her to send friends or family. Another little pleasure diminished by Alzheimer’s.

Mom was an extraordinary caregiver when we were children, and as she cared for my step-dad through his fifteen years as a quadriplegic. Her hands were strong and confident, gentle and comforting, capable of any task. Her hands are hesitant now, fumbling as she buttons her shirt, brushes her hair, places flowers in a vase.

A secretary much of her adult life, mom typed with a speed and accuracy that I never mastered. In her day, mistakes on a typewriter were not easily corrected. Her skill was valued. We type so easily now,  deleting with a simple stroke of a key, the aid of spell check catching typos for us.

For Christmas, I found a typewriter picture frame, the picture appearing as paper coming out the top of the typewriter. I filled it with a black & white photo of mom at her desk on her first secretarial job after college. She is younger in that picture than my children are now. She keeps it facing her beside her bed. Good memories make the best gifts.

Unopened Presents

I thought of them again this Christmas, these two children who would be near fifty now.

More than forty years ago their family of five was returning home from Christmas shopping when they were struck by a drunk driver.  Of the five, only their mother and older sister survived, with great physical and emotional trauma. After years of recovery, healing, moving, building a new life states away, their broken family met ours.  My first child was born the same month that my father remarried, and I gained a step-mother and adult step-sister along with a daughter.  Strong women, all.

My daughter was followed the next year by our son, the first two grandchildren on my side of the family.  My step-mom’s story unfolded slowly as she talked about raising her three children as mine went through similar ages and stages.

Then she brought out the unopened presents.

We were spending our vacation visiting them, my children 4 and 5 years old playing with the few toys they had brought on the 800 mile trip.  The first box was a doll, the second a car.  Toys purchased for the son and daughter she had lost on that last shopping trip before a Christmas they never celebrated.  Boxes kept unopened all those years

Six more grandchildren followed my two, and all enjoyed the same toys when visiting Grandma and Grandpa.  A loving tribute to the children who never got to open them.

I still can’t tell the story of her opening those boxes without crying.  The lives lost at Sandy Hook so near the holidays reawakened this memory. But this is not a story of a personal loss to me, and I hesitated to write it.  Two things happened this week to change my mind.

First, the news has been full of the …celebration? as the children returned to school in Sandy Hook.  They are declaring a return to normalcy, only a few weeks after tragedy.  Tying a bow on the neatly wrapped package of news covering this awful event. That it is a necessary step, I agree.  But I don’t believe we return to normal after any tragedy.  We may create a new normal or come to accept that change is normal life.  And grieving is a long, long process.  We call such events life changing for a reason.

The second event was learning my nephew lost a friend in a car accident the morning of New Year’s eve.  They had a long distance relationship, and the news was delayed in reaching him.  He was wrapping a present to mail to her when he received the news.

These unopened presents, lives ended too soon.  Grief lives on for some throughout their lives.  We can honor their loss by remembering with them, allowing the grief and not putting such importance on returning to normal.

Most of us have never been there, anyway.