Tag Archives: Family

Family Reunion 2015

Summer is a time for picnics and family reunions. On a recent mid-July Saturday, our family gathered at the home of our daughter in southeast Iowa for day 1 of our weekend reunion. It is a big family. Mom and Dad, no longer with us, raised nine children. They took us to reunions when we were kids. We felt their influence this time. Here is the family portrait, over 80 of us, except for one or two taking pictures who are not quite considered ‘family’ yet.

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Preparations were monumental. There was plenty of delicious food brought by many. Two men worked furiously in heat and smoke to grill the burgers, hot dogs, and brats. Kids of all ages were running around having a great time playing. The weather was sunny and bright after an early threat of rain that did not materialize.

Some came from the midwest, while others traveled from Maine, South Carolina, Washington, Arizona, and Louisiana. A good time was had by all.

The location for day 2 of our reunion was about an hour farther southeast in western Illinois. My brother lives in a small town with a park across the street from his house. He reserved the pavilion for us. Early that morning a very slow moving rainstorm dumped over 3″ of rain on the town in about an hour and flooded the park and street. Fortunately, the firehouse next door was available. Two trucks were moved out and parked in the driveway. We set up our reunion party in the firehouse. Food was in the back room. Tables and seating were in the truck bays.

The weather cleared out. The rain stopped. Water drained away. Kids headed for the park to play. We posed for group pictures of families in front of the big red fire truck. There were almost as many in attendance as the day before.

Earlier Sunday morning, mass was said at the small country church where my folks attended all their lives. It was founded by great-grandparents on my mother’s side. After mass, a graveside blessing was offered for those who could attend. Mom and Dad would have loved this weekend party.

Noxious Weeds Where Love Should Grow

Some people have weeds growing in their hearts, noxious weeds like hate, anger, resentment, disrespect, greed, and self-righteousness. They have let these invaders flourish too long, crowding out love, humility, respect, and kindness.

Yesterday was one more day that showed us the best and worst of people. The best and worst of family, even. Early yesterday a close family member called Jim and me, excitedly telling us of the Supreme Court ruling on legality of same-sex marriage. In a happy glow we enjoyed Facebook posts of our friends celebrating for much of the day. For me, it was expected that my friends would approve of the ruling or be silent. I have a very short friends list on purpose.

Not everyone was so fortunate to bask in that happiness on Facebook. Another family member was deeply hurt seeing some comments from a nephew. The nephew is one of those whose heart is weedy, full of poison. That nephew’s weeds, in fact, have acted as the catalyst for several major rifts in the family over the last few years. My relationship with him broke last fall after I privately told him he was treating someone badly, that I thought he was a better person than that. Turns out he isn’t.

There is no means to breed hate and disrespect out of people. It is resistant even to culturing. That nephew has siblings who are loving and accepting, who don’t see it as their role in the world to point out everyone else’s “sins.”

Siblings. Why are some loving while others grow up with hate? Why do some choose to be respectful of the person, even if they disagree with the opinion, while others feel that it’s their right and duty to disagree in the most tactless or deliberately hurtful ways?

Those who are habitually disrespectful seem to take one of two defenses. Either you misinterpreted what they said, or they have the right to say it and if you’re hurt, it’s your fault. Either way, they are blameless in their own eyes. Defending yourself doesn’t teach them, as I found out with the woman who used to be my sister. After I defended myself against years of her disrespect, she shut me out of her life. While that has been a blessing, the amazing thing is that she sent Jim an email urging him to take me to a psychiatrist for my “paranoia disorder.” I guess standing up for myself was seen as paranoia by her. Weeds…

You can’t teach people things they don’t want to know. It doesn’t matter how reasoned your arguments are, or how correct your facts, or how lovingly you present yourself. People who are filled with negativity cling to that, and they are unmoved. The only ones who can pull the weeds and cultivate more love are the same ones whose hearts are weedy.

I’m tired of hate. I am tired of family discord. I am tired of weeds growing where love should grow. I’m tired of the regular upsets created by the toxins of particular family members. To the extent I can, I avoid them, but that doesn’t prevent a spillover effect.

For me, I choose to tend my garden. Where I can, I will cultivate an attitude of love. I choose love.

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The Daughter Files

The view on one daughter’s Facebook wall today…

Being a mother is like trying to juggle 15 balls at once. Flaming balls. While someone throws marbles at you. And you are on a unicycle blindfolded in a rainstorm. And there are 5 people talking to you all at once then getting mad because you didn’t answer and clearly didn’t listen. And they want to know if you were a superhero and could fly over hot lava would your cape catch on fire and who built the first yurt and how long would you live if you had no eyeballs. And the math. Sweet Jesus. The math. It all sounds like: if Tom has 7 oranges and Paul has 13 triangles, how long would it take Susie to travel West 3.5 miles if she is wearing a green shirt? Explain how you got your answer. And then when you get mad at them for a sassy comment they say “God wants you to calm down.” And how can you argue with that?!?! Then 5 minutes later they tell you you are the best mommy ever and they love you more than the whole wide universe to infinity and beyond. And your heart melts and you think…can I remember this moment forever? The way they smile at you like you have all the answers and how their sweet faces look when they sleep. And even though you have fallen asleep in every movie you have tried to watch for the last 10 years you realize how blessed and thankful you are to wake up and do it all over again. This crazy, loud, amazing life. I can’t get enough.

And this on other daughter’s wall another day…

I love when God decides to show off a little. When He subtly nudges me and reminds me that He is way ahead of me – and he has totally GOT this. I especially like it when this occurs at a time when I am not so self-absorbed that I miss it. Today was what I call a “Hindenburg Day”. It was a day when nothing went as expected – and there were casualties. It started off with me turning the dryer on WITH THE CAT IN IT, and ended with my son telling me I should try to be nicer tomorrow. I began counting down the hours ’till bedtime right after lunch, and I limped across the finish line tonight and fell into my bed feeling pretty much like an epic failure who is systematically destroying my children’s lives and futures – just by breathing. I spent a few minutes fantasizing about flying off alone to an unpopulated tropical island with a suitcase of books and a carry-on full of chocolate. Then I opened a book I’ve been reading and the VERY FIRST words I read were these

You are stronger than you know.
You are loved more than you realize.
You are part of a greater plan, and nothing can stop God’s purposes for you.
You’re going to be okay.
I promise. But more importantly: God promises.
Take heart, friend. Good things are ahead.

So, I guess…as my dear friend, Lemuel would say…”‘Nuff said.”

“I used to be real interesting…”

Screen Shot 2014-11-22 at 1.24.09 PMThe title is a status update I posted in Facebook a few days ago. Since you bothered to pop in to read (thank you, by the way!), perhaps you wonder what was so interesting about me before, or why I am not interesting anymore.

In truth, I’m just about as interesting in person as I ever was, but my online presence has changed. Facebook itself is part of that. Admit it, it is not a good venue for revealing interesting parts of oneself. Facebook asks the question, “What’s on your mind?” instead of “How are you?” But no one really wants to know either. Most people just don’t want to know what you really think, or how you really are. They’re more comfortable with funny video links, or songs, or shared inspirational posters.

Indeed, the most innocuous subjects or comments can create offense, so most people I know avoid even those. I’ve seen it hundreds of times. I’ve offended others with innocuous comments, myself! I’ve also seen bullying, threats, shaming, attempts to ruin reputations, petty fights… and I’ve seen all that between family members. So much for using Facebook as a forum to become closer. It certainly can work that way, but it does not always.

This kind of crap doesn’t really go away in my Facebook world, even though I’ve very deliberately kept my “friends” list very short. All it takes is someone looking to be offended who reads someone else’s thread, and off we go!

The easiest way to avoid that kind of drama is to stick with what people want: pictures of kitties and puppies and babies, recipes, links to videos, and the like. I censor myself more all the time. And in shifting in this direction, revealing less about how I think, I provide a very boring face to the Facebook world. I even bore myself.

In addition, over the last year or so, my focus for writing has shifted to Catbird Quilt Studio. My life is very simple, and I do spend much of my discretionary time on my quilts. This fact, also, may make me seem very narrow and dull.

In fact, however, I think about a lot of different things. I just don’t say much about most of it.

When Jim and I started this blog, it was to create a venue where we could talk about anything we wanted. We wanted no undue censorship, other than that we would provide through our own natural decency. The title of the blog is broad to include the broad range of subjects we study and think about. But recently neither of us has spent a lot of time focused on Our View.

Well, I have a few things to say. And though I won’t be the arbiter of whether I am, or just used to be, “interesting,” I look forward to expressing some parts of me that I’ve censored too much for too long.

 

 

Ancestors | Walking the Homeland

The main point of this post is how digital technology today allows us to take virtual trips to a vast number of places. It is almost like being there. But, being there in person is the truest way to experience the world. Travel for real if you are able.


My maternal ancestors include the Kelly and Huston lines from central Ireland. In June of 2011, Melanie and I went to Ireland for a vacation. We started in Dublin, then took the train to central Ireland to find my ancestral homeland. I wanted to see it with my own eyes and walk where they walked. We spent the night in Athlone. Next day, the train took us to Galway where we stayed for six more. What a wonderful place.

The Kelly and Huston families lived where the counties Meath and Westmeath border just north of Delvin. My great-grandmother was born there in 1838. She, her eight sisters, and her parents all came to America. A relative showed me a link to deed maps of the mid-1800s for that area. We found two parcels of land which her family apparently owned and farmed. This map marks close to the two parcels.

We rode the train from Dublin to Mullingar. There, were spoke with a cabbie, Mick. We asked him if he would take us out of town just northeast of Delvin. He made a call to his boss and then said he would be happy to do it. Mick was a local and knew the area well. He enjoyed the chance to get out of town for a change. He talked a lot and told some good stories.

I want to see more.

Lines | Connecting Past to Future

My daughters joined me to visit teaching colleagues on July 2, 1979. They had some sparklers in preparation for the July 4th celebrations. Of course, the girls wanted to play with them. It was getting dark as evening neared. The camera needed a longer shutter speed of a half second or more. The pictures turned out much better than I expected. Sparks flew and burst into small branches before dying out. What fun we had.

In 1985, the Chicago Tribune Magazine ran a photo contest. People were invited to submit photographs with the theme ‘Lines‘. These two pictures came to mind from six years before. I submitted this top photograph in the color category. In October I got a big envelope in the mail from the Tribune with a framed certificate inside. I won second place and $250.

Fast forward to today. These beautiful daughters have children of their own. Some are the same ages as in these photographs. Much has changed in our lives. A few things are the same. I hope they will be able to look back a generation or more and see some of the lines that connect their past to what came about later. I hope they will be lines full of happiness and not much sadness.

For Better | For Worse

by Jim and Melanie

They were married in August 1933. This picture shows them at a family Christmas potluck dinner in 1999, well into their 67th year since exchanging their vows. A week later, Mom drove the eighteen miles alone to go to mass on New Year’s Eve at the country church they always attended. Dad wasn’t feeling well enough to go.

Some at church noticed how strange it was that Mom didn’t take communion during mass. On her way home, she made a wrong turn into a driveway and got the car stuck at the edge. A farmer stopped and helped get her going again. Several miles closer to home, she turned into a farm lot with a large white building that looked vaguely like their garage at home. She opened the door of the car and starting walking down the road in the ditch. Someone saw the car with lights on and door open and alerted authorities. They soon arrived and found her. She was taken to the hospital 75 miles away. Diagnosis was a stroke. She never went home again.

See The Stroke of Midnight for more about Mom and about stroke symptoms and risks.

And more of their story…

The Stroke of Midnight

Stroke. Disoriented at church. Stroke. Lost on the way home. Stroke. “Will this happen to me again?”

December 31, 1999. The world held its breath, watching whether global computer systems would crash due to the 4-digit year problem. Meanwhile, my mother-in-law was transported from her small county hospital to a larger medical center. The computers were fine. She was not. She’d had a stroke, also known as a Cerebral Vascular Accident, or CVA.

At age 87, she insisted she would go to New Year’s Eve mass at the same church she’d attended all her life. My father-in-law wasn’t feeling well enough to go, but well enough that she could leave him alone at home for a couple hours. Later we heard from others that she hadn’t taken communion at church. It was a noticeable omission.

She headed for home afterward. She was a good driver, and I never felt unsafe when she drove. But she got lost traveling the same route she’d driven for more than 20 years, since they’d moved into town. Stopping in front of a shed on the dark country road, she tried to get in, but it was locked. Confused, she set out along the edge of the cornfield in the cold night air. It was not frigid. There was no snow. We do not take this for granted in the Midwest, this time of year.

In a rural area, people notice the out-of-place, and someone noticed her car parked where no car should be parked. Dispatch to the county sheriff, license plate number reported, was overheard on scanner by one of her sons. A grandson was called by someone else. Forces were activated; she was found.

We were able to see her the next day as she spoke with a doctor. She asked, “Will this happen to me again?” The doctor told her there was no way to predict it, but the fact she was lucid enough to ask the question was encouraging. His prognosis for her recovery was optimistic.

Discharged to the nursing home back in her own county, she recovered substantially as the doctor predicted. There were a lot of problems, though, including physical and mental ones. She recognized family and friends, remembering events from long ago, though not recent ones. The brain attack had left her with aphasia, the inability to fully understand or express speech. Conversations with family members went on, but the aphasia always made us wonder if she understood more than she could convey. Her physical needs were too complex to care for her in her own little house. She never lived there again.

February 2000

At the time the photo above was taken, she and her husband had been married more than 66 years. She was well enough in the spring to enjoy the wedding shower for a beloved granddaughter, hosted in the family room at the nursing home. But over the next five years, we lost her, pieces at a time. While at first she had good facial recognition, it wasn’t long before she only could say my name if someone else said it first. That made me a little sad, but I was heartened that she always knew my son’s name, always until the last time she called it, mistaking him for one of her own sons.

In May of 2005, her body gave in to its ongoing deterioration, and at age 93, she died. We miss her still, this remarkable woman who bore and reared nine healthy, fully functional children, who enjoyed without reservation all 21 of her grandchildren and many great-grandchildren, who accepted me into her family readily and lovingly. We miss her still.

Stroke. It can kill quickly or slowly. For the lucky ones, it is a temporary set-back. “Luck” often requires speed in diagnosis and treatment. We all need to know the signs of stroke and what to do if we suspect it.

To identify possible stroke in someone else, use the F.A.S.T. acronym.

Face: Ask the person to smile. Check to see if one side of the face droops.
Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. See if one arm drifts downwards.
Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Check to see if the words are slurred and the sentence is repeated correctly.
Time: If the person exhibits any of these symptoms, time is essential. It is important to get to the hospital as quickly as possible. Call 9-1-1. Act FAST.

How can we prevent stroke? The National Institutes of Health provides stroke information that includes risk factors. These include
High blood pressure or hypertension
Cigarette smoking
Heart disease
Warning signs or history of TIA or stroke
Diabetes
Cholesterol imbalance
Physical inactivity or obesity

See your doctor for assessment of your risk.

A stroke is also known as a Cerebral Vascular Accident, but it is rarely an accident. The underlying conditions that contribute to risk may be present for years before a stroke. Know your risks and manage them where you can. Know the symptoms to help those around you, as well as yourself. Speed in diagnosis and treatment during or immediately after a stroke is essential.

Who is that guy?

He was handsome, with round blue eyes and dark thick lashes, his ready smile showing off his straight teeth. Time after time I saw him in the cafeteria line, and I was curious about his presence with college-aged students, his age outside the norm. He was dressed too casually to be faculty or staff, but my limited imagination didn’t help me answer the question: who is that guy?

All of nineteen, I was still a kid that summer. I was unmotivated and adrift, in college with no purpose, not in danger of going under, but riding the surface, swept by currents I couldn’t master. Summer school and the university job I held were just a means to bide my time, until what, I didn’t know.

The cafeteria was a broad expanse, pale linoleum floor underneath, long rows of tables end to end. Finding friends and acquaintances in the room was easier than one might think, as there was little to impede the view from one side of the big room to the other.

At lunch one early July day I found and sat with my friend Dan, one of the resident assistants in the dorm attached to the dining hall. “Who is that guy?” I asked, gesturing to the man twenty feet away from me. Dan looked that way.

“Don’t you know Jim?”

I shook my head. “Who is he?” I repeated.

“He’s on my floor,” he said to me, before hollering down the table, “Hey Jim!” Jim turned our way. “Hey Jim, have you met Melanie?”

Jim shook his head and smiled at me, waving hello.

A high school science teacher, Jim was in the first summer of a three-year masters program and was living on campus, the cheapest and most convenient housing for students like him. His real home was an apartment more than three hours away.

We got acquainted quickly after that, falling in love faster than good sense dictated. We ate pizza and drank beer and necked in the garden next to the biology building. We watched the Perseids meteor shower and walked around the pond, camped in the state park, rolled hedge apples. We listened to Bob Seger and James Taylor and dreamed of the day we could be together every day, not just five days a week for another five weeks.

I told my mother I’d fallen in love, something I expect she’d heard before. I told her about the two pretty little girls, ten and eight years old, and she told me it was foolish to get involved. It wasn’t the only bad advice she ever gave me.

Today we celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary. Recently someone asked how much of that had been happy. The question dumbfounded me. “Almost all of it,” I said.

I’ve heard other people answer that question other ways. Despite our age difference, despite the fact we weren’t an obvious couple, despite our differing interests, we have the important things in common. Our values are similar, our sense of humor is similar, we appreciate the same activities, the same aesthetics. He could always make me laugh. So yes, almost all of it has been happy.

We still eat pizza and drink beer and neck in the garden, walk around the pond, watch for meteors, and roll hedge apples. We listen to more blues and jazz now than pop and rock. We still love our pretty little girls, with children of their own, and our son and his fiancee.

Today we celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary. What would have happened if I hadn’t asked Dan, “Who is that guy?” What would have happened if we hadn’t been so foolish, he to get involved with a nineteen-year-old girl, me to get involved with a man who already had two children?

Today we celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary. I love you, Jim. I’m ready for 32 more.

My Youngest Brother is Gay

How I See It

I was raised in a large family on this farm in the mid-west. It was a great place to grow up with two older brothers, four older sisters, and two younger brothers. There is a twenty year spread in our ages. Dad worked the farm. Mom worked the house and us kids. We were raised to be true to the Catholic church. Eat no meat on Friday, regular confession, fast before church, take regular communion, receive all the sacraments at the proper time. Those were the rules we followed without question. We were smart and happy most of the time. We did well in school and never gave our parents undue grief. Almost never.

We lived a variety of life experiences. Some of us completed college. Some never went. Eight are legally married. Seven have children. Seven are politically conservative. Six are practicing Catholics. One is a fundamentalist christian and…

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