YOUR STORY BY RICH PASCHALL

Why It Is Important By Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


From time to time, I have had the opportunity to post a few small works of fiction.  They were just little stories that I hoped would make a point.  While they are no one’s story in particular, they all contain elements that are familiar to me.  I filled in the details with characters and descriptions that would make each a story.  If you read any of them these on past Sundays, I hope you found some enjoyment.  Now I would like to recommend to you a more important story.  It is one that only you can fill in the details, and it is imperative that you do it soon before the chance slips away.  That story is your story.

1930s Country-Road

How often have you wondered about the details of your ancestry?  How often did you wish to know more about your parents’ lives or your grandparents’ lives?  Where did they come from? How did they meet?  How did they fall in love?  What did they do before you were around?  Perhaps you have parents who were around at pivotal points in history.  What do they recall?  Did you wait until it was too late to ask these questions or is there still time?

It is not that my brother and I did not think to ask our parents about their earlier lives, we just did not get good answers.  Of course, we did not press them on anything, especially when we were young.  My mother lived through the Great Depression. The family was so poor that a wealthy relative offered to raise my mother. She feared my grandmother could not properly feed all her children (six, although one died as a child).  Apparently my grandfather was not a good provider.  Details of his bad habits are sketchy.  My mother was not given away and they struggled through the 1930s.  As for the war years, I have no idea.

My father was born into rural American farm life.  He joined the war effort (WWII) as soon as he was old enough.  Like many of our “greatest generation” he said little about it.  “What did you do in the war, dad?” we might ask.  “I learned to peel potatoes”, he would usually respond.  Even if that were true, it does not tell the story.  My father was a member of the army air corp. 509 Composite.  That is the group that was on Tinian Island.  There the secret mission of the group there was to drop the atom bomb on Japan.  Did my father know any of that?  Probably not as records indicate he was trained in first aid and medical support.  Remaining documents are a matter of contradiction.  Some of the record may have been untrue to cover what was the actual story.  We’ll never know.

Late in dad’s life it was futile to recover any details.  My brother tried to get some information and did a lot of research that allowed us to only confirm a few things.  We have medals, his discharge paper and the 509 Composite book with some pictures as the only definite facts.  The rest of the story was my father’s joke or dismissive answers.  Of course, we have heard that many who came back from the war, did not want to talk about it.  In my father’s later life we did attend some family reunions and travelled to the rural community where he was born.  My grandparents are buried there.  We learned some of his past, nothing about the war.

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I tell you all this to remind you that you may want to learn as much of your ancestry as you can.  It is part of your story.  You may have heard of ancestry.com or the PBS television series that traces the ancestry of famous people.  These have become popular because of our desires to know who we are and where we came from.  If your parents and grandparents are alive, ask them your questions now, before it is too late.

When my grandmother was still alive and in her 90’s, there was a picture taken with her holding her great-great grand-daughter with her daughter, grand-daughter and great grand-daughter behind her.  I wonder if there is a copy of that photo for the infant in the picture.  More importantly, can anyone recount the stories of those in the picture?  Save your priceless photos too.  There may be no telling how valuable these pictures will be to future generations.

What about the most important story of all?  That would be your story, of course.  You may not think it now, but your story may be important to the future.  Consider what your friends and offspring may wish to know.  Tell the stories as honestly as you can.  That does not mean you have to tell everything.  Some things are best if they are not passed along.  Tell the things the next generations will want to know about you, and who and what came before you as far as you know.  You will be honoring the future generations in this way.  What you wanted to know about your past may be what your offspring will want to know about you.  Toss the dirt out the window and do not be tempted to give “alternative facts.”

National Public Radio has featured stories from Story Corps.  Over 100,000 people have recorded their stories there, some more than once, years apart.  Some are absolutely moving accounts of where some people have been in their lives.  I heard one on the radio of an elderly couple who told their story on-line and then updated 10 years later before the husband’s death.  Then he recounted how he wrote love letters to his wife every day for over 40 years and their love had never died.  Did following generations know this?  They know it now.  Do not leave your story untold and unwritten.  It is your legacy.  It is the most important story you know.

IT REALLY DOES TAKE A VILLAGE by ELLIN CURLEY

There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. I think it also takes a village to get someone to the age of 100. I saw both of those concepts in action this past weekend when we went to Minnesota to celebrate the 100th birthday of my husband’s Aunt Helen.

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Aunt Helen is the matriarch of a big, happy, close-knit multi-generational family. We stayed with one of her two daughters, Barbara, who has two daughters of her own in addition to two sons-in-law and five grandchildren. All live close, or relatively close, to one another and are all integral parts of each others’ lives.

Barbara’s daughters never need babysitters. Their kids range from 2 to 13. Either their sister, or parents will take the kids for the day, overnight, or for a week – whatever is needed. Aunts, cousins, and grandparents go to the meets, games, plays, you name it, for all the children. The three generations have regular dinners and often spend weekends together. They travel together. Sometimes, it’s just the two sisters and their kids. Sometimes it includes grandparents. All eleven of them are going to Disney World together for a week in March.

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And everyone visits Helen in her nursing home. She was in independent living nearby till she was 95. Then she lived with Barbara for three years until Barb couldn’t care for her Mom at home anymore. Throughout, Helen participated in most family gatherings and events, so she has been able to be a huge part of her grandchildren’s lives and a big, though more passive part of her great-grandkids’ lives too. It was only a few years ago that Helen lost her mobility and moved into a nursing home. Also nearby.

As an only child of only children, I was in total awe watching all this intergenerational interaction. Everyone is comfortable with and knows everything about everyone else. There is bountiful camaraderie. Jokes, shared memories and teasing as well as support and love all around. Not that there aren’t tensions and disagreements, but overall, the warmth and affection is palpable. Everyone feels important in their little galaxy.

This is wonderful for children and their developing egos and personalities. It’s also essential to give an elderly person connections and purpose to their more limited lives. Studies show that that is something that most people who live to be 100 have in common, along with great genes!

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Aunt Helen was overwhelmed when her daughters threw her a large 100th birthday party. The whole family was there – both her girls and all of their children and grandchildren as well as three beloved nephews who traveled very long distances to be there. (I’m the wife of one of the nephews who Helen refers to as ‘the kids’ – they are all in their mid 60’s to 70’s.)

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We are pack animals. Through most of history, we have lived in cohesive groups – extended families, clans, villages, small towns. Everyone knew everyone else and was there for each other, for better or worse. Today we have splintered off into self-contained units. The nuclear family is the norm – Mom, Dad and 2.5 children. After this weekend, I’m not sure that scenario is optimum for anyone.

A long time ago, one of her grandchildren told Helen she had to live to be 100. Since then, that has been her stated goal in life. A few days before her birthday, Helen told Barbara that she thinks she needs a new goal. Barbara asked if she wanted to make 101 her new goal. Helen replied, “No. I think I’ll make it 105!’

With the love and support of her own personal ‘village’, I bet she makes it!

Check out: A VERY HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY, AUNT HELEN – BY TOM CURLEY for more of the story!

YESTERDAY IS ANOTHER COUNTRY – GARRY ARMSTRONG

“Yesterday is another country, all borders are closed.”

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It was a wonderful piece of dialogue from “MidSomer Murders.” In the episode, Chief Inspector Barnaby is questioning a murder suspect about his whereabouts the previous day. The suspect tries to dodge the questions with thinly veiled irony. “Yesterday, Chief Inspector, is another country. All borders are closed.” Barnaby ultimately opens the borders and nails the suspect. Still, I liked the perp’s style.

As we begin the new year, many folks around the world are thinking about the events of the past 12 months. Here, in the United States, many of us think of 2016 as another country with all borders closed. We don’t want to recall the epic long Presidential campaign and its result. We’ll have to open those borders in less than three weeks with the swearing-in of the new President.

Reality bites and this time, it has fangs and claws.

Our yesterdays are always subject to border closings, depending on how we remember them. I often write about legendary people I’ve met in my professional life. Those are pleasant stories to recount.

There are parts of my past I choose not to share. Those borders have remained closed. Rich Paschall, a fellow blogger on Serendipity, wrote a touching piece about heroes and icons we lost last year.  It jogged my mind to return to this piece that I began writing last week. Thanks, Rich!

A lot of the borders to yesterday are closed because we don’t want to revive the memories. I certainly don’t. They aren’t happy memories. They make me sad. I’ve never been good at handling emotions.

Someone recently wrote a Facebook piece about the pain of seeing a loved one pass away, deep in dementia.  Quickly,  I tried to blot out the images of Mom, whose last years were diminished by dementia. No luck. I could clearly see the woman who used to be Mom.  Strike that.  That’s what I was thinking in the moment, especially during the final months of her life. She was still Mom but she didn’t know me.

I struggled during those final visits. In  part, I struggled because I felt guilty I couldn’t come to see Mom more often. It was a four (or more) hour drive from Massachusetts to Long Island. During the drives, my mind would fill with images of a younger Mom. I could hear her laugh and see her smile. I remembered the things we did together over the years. In my mind, I saw her wedding pictures — Mom and Dad in the prime of their lives.

By then, Dad had already been gone for five years, yet I hadn’t been able to cry for him. Now Mom was slipping away. In what turned out to be my last visit, I tried my best to reach through the dementia, to reclaim a few moments with Mom.  I failed. A few weeks later, in the middle of sub teaching a high school class, the principal and Marilyn entered the classroom. I instantly knew Mom was gone.

I was the main eulogist at Mom’s funeral. I’m a wordsmith. I could see people crying and smiling as I recalled my mother’s life. My stomach was tight, but I couldn’t cry. Not a tear.

I’ve talked to Marilyn about the grieving process. She understands, but it still troubles me. I’m such a sucker for sentimental old movies, but real life is something else, something I didn’t want to share.

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I’ve tried to shoebox the frailty of life. Keep the anxiety behind one of those closed borders. Marilyn will be 70 in March. I’ll be 75 in April. We have lots of health issues.

We try to enjoy each other and our life together. We feed off each other. Today, the borders are open.

OUTLIVING THE BITCHES

One Sunday in church, Pastor’s sermon was about forgiveness. He asked everyone in the church to stand up, then he asked those who had any enemies to sit down. Everyone sat down but one very old woman.

“You have no enemies at all?” asked Pastor.

“Not a single one,” she answered, nodding her agreement.

“Please, come up here and tell everyone how you reached such a great age without having any enemies,” said Pastor. A deacon accompanied the elderly woman to the pulpit and everyone in church applauded as she slowly made her way up the steps. Pastor adjusted the microphone.

“You must have done a lot of forgiving,” said Pastor. “Please, tell us your secret.”

The old lady smiled beatifically.

“I outlived the bitches,” she said.


Photo: Garry Armstrong

Photo: Garry Armstrong

That’s how I’m beginning to feel. Many, if not most of the people who done me wrong and about whom I used to obsess are gone. I’m not that old — not quite 70 — but as you age, you lose people. The ones with bad hearts, the heavy drinkers. The smokers. The ones who never learned to let go of anger. The strange ones who kept playing hockey with life, but refused to wear a helmet.

Chickens come home to roost. Crazy drivers meet their maker on a dark highway. Cancer, heart attacks, and other diseases weed out others. The older generation passes away, one funeral at a time.

The biggest baddest villain of my life was my father. I stopped talking to him long before he died. I wrote about his death before it occurred. Most people who got to know me in recent years and read my book assumed he was dead. He wasn’t dead — not physically — but he was dead to me. By the time he died for real, it no longer mattered. Other stuff, time rendered unimportant. When I look around, few of the people with whom I had a beef are still here. Time has made the rest irrelevant.

Forgiveness is not about repairing relationships so you can be friends again. It’s letting go of anger and grudges. It’s about passing the heavy stuff to your “higher power,” whatever that means to you. Acknowledging you can’t fix everything and realizing it’s not your job to fix it.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Shit happens. Some of it — unfair and unforgivable — happens to you. You can make it the center of your world and spend your life brooding and obsessing over it. Or, you can decide you won’t be defined by the worst stuff that has happened to you or the worst stuff you’ve done.

I know people who had wonderful careers who lost their jobs and promptly declared themselves failures. As if that one really bad thing — getting fired or let go — negated everything. I know men and women who were abused as children who are still defining themselves as victims 50 or more years later.

If you like yourself, you can find a way to be happy no matter what life throws at you. It’s that simple — and that difficult. When you start forgiving, forgive yourself first. For the mistakes you made. For the bad choices, the stupid decisions, the asshole(s) you married, almost married, allowed to mess with your head. The jobs you screwed up, shouldn’t have taken, should have taken (but didn’t). The opportunities you blew. The people who stabbed you in the back (you should have seen them coming). The times you were totally wrong and didn’t apologize. Your failures as a parent, the novels you didn’t finish or never started. All the “shoulda coulda woulda” you’ve accumulated.

If you throw that garbage out, you won’t eliminate all your problems. The money you don’t have won’t suddenly appear. Youth and health won’t return. But you won’t have to haul your past into the future. You can enjoy what you do have without obsessing over what you missed or lost.

The sooner you do it, the better. I wasted a lot of years hauling rubbish. Doing it sooner is better. Then, with a little luck, you’ll outlive the bitches.

COMPLIMENTS … OR … WHAT?

It can be difficult to tell compliments from insults. You’d think it would be easy and obvious, but it isn’t.

As a child, my mother comforted me with her classic line. Somewhere in my head, I can still hear her. A lonely (probably weird) child, as a teenager, it took me a long time to find my social self. Mom could reassure me in her own special way: “There’s someone for everyone,” she told me. “Even you.”

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And then there was the clothing my mother made for me. It was gorgeous, fashionable. Far better quality than the other girls wore. The Mean Girls (those girls have been around forever and live everywhere) just said “Eww! Where did you get that ugly dress?” It wasn’t ugly. They were ugly. Nicer, kinder people (adults mostly) would say, “Your mother must have made that for you. It’s so … interesting.”

As a young woman, I put on a lot of weight. Before I got rid of that hundred and fifty pounds, there were some great lines from “friends” who knew just the right words to make me feel good: “You dress really nice for a fat girl.” “I don’t think of you as fat. You’re just Marilyn.”

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Later on, no longer fat, compliments have streamed in nonstop: “I thought you were a nun. Don’t you own anything that isn’t black?”

My all time favorite came from the woman who never got my first husband to the altar. Had he lived longer, she might have worn him down. She just needed another decade or two. She was baffled by my popularity with men. “I’m very nice to them,” I said. “I make them feel special and loved.” There was more to it than that, but this was what I was willing to share.

“I do that too,” she whined. (No, she didn’t.) “But,” she continued, getting ever more nasal, “How come they marry you?”

And finally, the clincher. After I published my book. “It was much better than I expected.” What were you expecting?

NO CRYING IN THE NEST

A woman, younger than me, has no children. So she asks: “What is empty nest syndrome?” The subtext is “why” because we all know the “what.”

I gave it a bit of thought. After all, my nest is empty except for two terriers and an adorable husband.

The empty nest is one in which the children have grown up and moved out. They have independent lives. These newly made adults have left the family nest and assumed the mantle of adult responsibility.  Isn’t that what we wanted all along?

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My mother’s life did not revolve around me, though I kept her pretty busy for a long time. She was a dutiful mother insofar as she did the right stuff. She fed us, though this was her least shining achievement. She clothed us … and to this day I wish I’d better appreciated the amazing clothing she made for me. I was just too young, awkward, and afraid someone might notice I was dressed “differently” from the others to see that this clothing was the finest I’d ever own. All other garments would subsequently pale in comparison.

She talked to me about adult things in an adult way. She gave me books, lots of books. Not the books my friends and schoolmates read, but grown-up stuff. Sometimes, I had to ask her what it meant because if anything, she overestimated my understanding of the larger world. When I was ready to go, she was proud of me for taking the leap.

It freed her to paint and sculpt and travel. To read, go to the theater, spend time with her sisters. Not cook and clean all the time. Make her own clothing instead of mine. She was glad my brother and I were independent and built lives of our own.

Mom1973PaintI doubt she suffered from any kind of empty nest issues.

Nor did I. Of course, mine kept coming back alone and then with the entire family so I could only yearn for an emptier nest. Having finally achieved it, do I miss the patter of little feet? The thunder of big ones?

Should I? Is there something wrong with enjoying the company of ones adult children more than little kids? I love having real conversations with grownups who look eerily like me. Even if we disagree, I’m delighted they have opinions. That they are part of a bigger world and standing on their own feet.

Maybe the difference is that so many women seem to prefers babies and little kids to adults. They don’t want the kids to become independent. They need to be needed. They need to nurture.

Children need nurturing, but they don’t need it all the time or forever. They shouldn’t, anyhow. After a certain point in time, their drive for separateness should overtake their nurturing needs. The drive to be independent should become primary. I have always thought it’s our obligation as parents to help them achieve that. We won’t be here forever. They will need to walk on without us.

An empty nest is one in which you don’t need to do a  load of laundry a day. A house in which the sink isn’t always full and you can park your car where you want it. A home where family dinners are a happy event when everyone is glad to see each other and has stuff to share.

Those extra rooms revert to your use, even if you use them as closets for all that stuff you seem to have collected. If you have a life of your own, interests of your own, there’s no such thing as an empty nest. It’s just the time when your kids grow up and all the work you did to raise them right pays off — for them and you.

Adult children are great. If you need to nurture, get pets. Adopt dogs and cats and ferrets and parrots. They will always need you.

If you did it right, your kids will always love you … but not always need you.