Monday, February 17, 2014

Traditions I Ignore

Two traditions I dislike attending: funerals and marriages.  They are cookie-cutter ceremonies. The worst part of funerals is listening to a minister who probably has more attendees standing in the hot sun or hovering together to keep warm or huddling under the tent or personal umbrellas. No matter the raw circumstances the attendees face, the minister sees the group, and decides to preach the sermon of his life. Not only has he already said enough inside the church or home, but also he feels he has to continue under the tent as we look at a box hovering above an abyss.

How can one be sympathetic/empathetic for the family of a lost one when tradition overshadows the life of the deceased? If you think about the whole situation, more emphasis is given to a few remarks given by friends and family (some truly informative and funny) a few sad hymns, and then marching out of the sanctuary, getting into your car and forming a line to the cemetery. The bill for the casket and funeral that comes later in the mail takes the family's breath away. Or a quickly written check that could feed a few homeless men is given with smiles.

Or, if there are cremains or a closed casket, guests are ushered into a community room to feast on something simple like coffee or punch and a brownie. Someone later remarks on the frugality of such simple fare. If the group is large, you walk into a room filled with six or more tables laden with food that easily will feed more than the thousands Jesus did when he broke a loaf of bread.

And feast the attendees do. You'd think they skipped a meal and planned to save buying lunch or dinner.They load their small plates overflowing. Try eating from a small paper plate lying in one hand, drinking punch or wine with the other that also holds a fork or a large chip and you're bound to have a few disasters. These attendees go home talking about the variety of food -- the deceased is given a "poor soul" remark on the way home.

Marriage ceremonies are similar. Why does nearly every woman want the "dress of her dreams" that cost Daddy a bundle, plus all the ornamentation that goes with the ceremony and the entertainment and food that a family feels it must display for the attendees to prove their financial status.

You know families like this. Have a funeral or a wedding the way others have in order to "keep up with the Joneses" or to prove something deeper. I admire the couple you read about in the paper who had a simple wedding whose family and friends know the couple is as married as another couple who left the country club an hour before. I understand  personal weddings and funerals are being introduced these days. Hurrah!

I'm sick of the television series "Say Yes to the Dress". To pay thousands of dollars for the "perfect" dress worn once  that  previously the act of choosing caused tears and anger among family members who supposedly were to support the bride-to-be, then the bride has to choose all the ornaments and food and china and crystal and flowers, etc. Marriage takes four people and a minister.
Then there is the process of burying a loved one in the finest mahogany casket lined in satin that sets the families back thousands of dollars they may have to take out a bank loan to repay--all the time knowing that time under dirt will disintegrate the box and its contents. How this reveals a lack of sense, a refusal to think outside the box in order to avoid ridicule and stress figuring which casket will honor a dead person who doesn't care one flip what he's put away in. Or the choice was made by the funeral home who pressured the family to "remember your loved one in the finest way."

Rarely do I attend a funeral and if I am hungry I'll attend a wedding. Otherwise, I'll stay at home and write a proper note.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

A Few Weeks Have Passed

since I ranted and raved about celebrating holidays. Regardless of how I felt, the celebration continued. I'm not one to avoid celebrating the time to remember why this is set aside, but the pressure of a lot of activity in the house at my advancing age is a bit much.

Thank you for the comment "dkzody" for agreeing with me.  You mentioning "curmudgeon" gave me a moment to reflect. I always associated that term with professors who couldn't keep up with their students. However, I did feel it a proper description for me.

I have a lot of projects in the works as a writer. I'm editing manuscripts of two friends, attempting to write stories about my past experiences, and a short account about my maternal grandmother whom I knew a short time. Perhaps the need to do that pushed me over the edge. I'm one of those people who has to be busy, knows when its time to stop and read a good book, work Scrabble on Kindle, or see the latest movie. I'm like my dad. I declared he'd die behind the lawn mower one summer day. He didn't. I figure I'll pass away in front of the computer trying to finish something.

I don't make resolutions any more. I make "reminders". They are usually posted on the wall near the computer and stay there until the stickiness disappears. A quick check to see if I've accomplished something mentioned and then into the trash can.

Another project in the works is a blog of my family stories. My free library class in "Mining your Memories--Writing Family Stories" has gone well. I've a notebook full of experiences of the past and present that my adult kids (tell me there's a better term) might take a minute to read. Also it is a means of letting my class know that although I'm not a perfect writer, I'm recording in the most interesting way the funny and the serious of my years on earth. I'm anxious for everyone to write stories, not so much from beginning to present, but little experiences of several lines to several pages to leave for your descendants. Progress has already warned us that what we do, say, believe, enjoy, hate will change drastically in the next 20 years and we should record stories for someone in our family to enjoy.

May the coming days and months bring blessings/goodwill to all of you.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Bye, Bye Holidays

This year was hectic. Illness prevailed.  Gifts purchased with little thought. The “real looking” tree remained in its box.   And, to confess to all, there’s no desire to celebrate holidays. Two out of four weekends in the month of each year my family of husband, daughter and two sons, one grandson, a daughter-in-law, and a mother-in-law have eaten together or gathered in one room to visit. Now it’s time to celebrate “together” again. Wasn’t it last week we ate pasta together?

Can’t I have Christmas my way?  With Son 2 here this year, the evening  of the 24th begins the magic: sitting in front of fire drinking hot apple cider, nibbling cheese on fancy crackers, and snuggling with pets Ace, Deuce, and Scratch.  Laughing at the funny events of Christmases past. Reviewing old snapshots, laughing at the hair styles.  As the night wanes we’re relaxed. Then to bed to arising Christmas morning at our own time, teasing with the few gifts remaining under the tree, finishing off the cider, selecting a rum muffin, a boiled egg and returning to the fireplace. The afternoon is spent having friends and family share a glass or cup and catch up on each of our lives.

Son 1 and his family live nearby and have their customs.  We shared their customs for several years. Who can say which side of the family has better celebrations? They wish to include us gathering on Christmas Eve for a great meal, watching the grandson open his gifts early the next morning, having a light breakfast, leaving around noon to return to a family house a few hours later for a festive meal is eye-appealing and too much to digest.

How often we’ve reminded Son 1  with his family he has his customs, we have ours. He wants both but has to make a choice. How many other sons and daughters have wrestled with where to go on Christmas? I don’t want to be a part of that decision.

Blame this on age. Younger folks do not understand how aging begins to rob us of the ordinary. We must refocus on new conditions that we can handle.

Age has lessened the excitement of riding around the neighborhood looking at the holiday lighted decorations. Age has tired me of p & b sandwiches. Age has frozen my need to create a meal.  Age has eliminated the act of rising before six a.m.  Worst of all, age has interfered with my typing. My fingers like to wander to other keys than the ones I prefer to tap.

I didn’t know age would insist I nap more frequently, have an empty pantry of hostess delectibles,  take away my social life, suck energy from my body, or  allow me to ignore the messy living room that could never be on the cover of Architectual Digest. Traditions and obligations have become stressful with age.  How difficult  it is to maintain an outward appearance of enjoyment with a pain pulling here and there.

After 30 years of meeting work schedules, husband R and I want to live each day the way we choose: sleep late, eat when and what we enjoy, and wear our robes all day, if we so desire.

Friday, December 06, 2013

A Zoo in My Backyard

I recall when we spent summers in the Delaware Recreational area  how often we saw wild animals. Bears, coyote calls nightly, eagles, wild turkeys, and deer to name a few.  Becoming conscious of where we walked on the hillsides, guarding our garbage from bear intrusions, mysterious crunch-crunch outside our shed nights. . . all so mysterious to us town folk.

Since returning to our subdivision in Mississippi surrounded by loads of forested areas and a small bit of the historical Natchez Trace crossing our land, so far we had to watch out for alligators living in our lakes. Our house sits on a rise, away from the lake, so an alligator may have to be truly interested in meeting us to travel the distance.

We get emails occasionally about an animal showing up nearby. The latest came yesterday. It read something like this:" Those living on Mescalero, Kiowa, and Arapaho and Village Drive be careful that all pets must remain inside due to coyotes traveling in pairs seen on these streets. For them to be  traveling must mean they are hungry. Don't leave anything out and drive safely nights down these streets."

Lordy me! Those homes sitting near the lakes have had such trouble with the huge alligators until they were caught. Now we have coyotes. It isn't unusual that deer are seen on Village Drive, which is one of the entering and exits of the Village. My neighbor artist who often is up early likes to let me know how many deer have traipsed up our driveway. I informed him we give free breakfast if they'll eat and then leave.

We don't have to travel far to see a collection in a zoo. Visit our Village and you'll have fun finding them,


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Am I Getting Too Old?

I no longer feel excitement when holidays roll around. The need to give gifts to others whom I admire seem insignificant now. When the holiday arrives, whether Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, Valentine's Day or whatever, I think of it as another day. Another time to sit at home doing what I enjoy: reading, writing, watching a movie.

My daughter reminds me I've had my time with necessities and if I want to do nothing on those days I should feel no qualms. But I do. I feel I'm hurting someone's feelings if I don't accept a lunch or dinner invitation, or a gathering to watch popular football teams play.

What I dislike is the strain of conversation. So few I know like to speak about the latest book, a headline from the newspaper, or world affairs. No, they talk about their kids, gran'kids, next door neighbor, the latest Bunko group, or their latest surgery. Forced conversation with people who have nothing in common with me creates a tired brain. I check my watch  slyly. I give a nod to my husband that says "For goodness sake, let's get out of here!" I'd even play a game of Scrabble if offered rather than sit and listen to oohs and ahhs about the latest baby present.

Oh, I do remember those who aren't able to celebrate. I've friends who live too far away for me to spend time with. I'm not wooden headed about other people, it's the forced manner of celebrating the same way we've done for the last 50 years. Nothing surprises me much anymore.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

It's Nut Time Again

Fall is giving Mississippi a preview of coming events. Cool mornings and evenings, a welcome relief from the humid temperatures.

Received my first catalog from Sunnyland Farms in Georgia. Again I turn each page hungrily anxious for my first autumn taste of pecans.

We enjoy the ride to nearby Raymond, Mississippi to a retail pecan grove  bursting with ripe nuts. Human pickers and machines gather pecans, sort them and place them in large bins inside the store. Inside the small frame building, the nuts are divided into the types of pecans and displayed. First time I visited I recall how confused I was with the differences in pecans. Wasn't there just a good pecan?  

 Each variety has a distinct taste and chew. Luckily, you can take a sample, crack it, and try it for the kind of taste sensation you prefer. Some of the kinds I recall from my last visit were Stuart, Cape Fear, Desirable, Forkert, and Excel.  Every year a new type appears.  If you can go to a grove in your area, choosing your favorite pecan taste is an education in itself.

Just as most everything else in the food world, Indians ate pecans. The word is Algonquin meaning " hard to crack, needing a stone to open" Maybe those early ones were hard to crack, but today, some, like the paper-shell type, can be cracked in the hand.  I think of the hickory nuts Mother loved. She used a hammer, put the nut on the sidewalk or a large stone, and hit several times. The result was a constant picking out of the meat which didn't want to give up its warm bed. Too much work for the rest of the family who stuck with pecans.

We've always ordered pecans in the shell and had them cracked there at the store. There's such pleasure to sit in front of the television set with a bowl of cracked pecans in your lap, picking off the shell. The act of working for the meat is satisfying. You're not eating them too fast, tasting slowly with delight. Not the same satisfaction as reaching for a handful of  shelled meats sitting ready in its tin.  Try it.

One occasion we sent cousins in Virginia 10 lbs of pecans, cracked. When they received the package they were horrified that the package had been through some melee to have broken the pecans. They almost complained to UPS before they called to verify the condition.

We in the South say pee Kahn', not Pee' kans.   Check the dictionary.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Where Are the Writers?

I recently attended a local writing group. We met in a loud, crowded cafe at a table in the middle of incessant conversations and eating. Two of us wear hearing aids and the sun pouring through the windows blinded those of us facing them. Finally I saw the attendees and heard them speak after the lunch crowd had dispersed.

No order nor business was conducted. This was a "casual" meeting of writers. So what did I learn at that first meeting? One writer was working on a screenplay. He got to tell us where he got the notion to do so and that was his one minute of attention. A late comer H, an excited new writer joined us wearing the joy and excitement of having put together something of which he was proud. I glanced through his picture book with prose adjacent and knew he needed work to put depth into his prose, but on the whole he needed support. "Anyone, please look at this and tell me if I'm on the right track." No one took up the mantle of support. One visitor, who says he's an intellect without a Harvard education, isn't a writer. He calls himself a physicist who likes to tell everyone about his favorite subject. I call him a "tag-along." He gave a critique for the visitor that was out of the ballpark. In the first place, he didn't know what he was saying. Second, he kept trying to tell the newbie how to write it the way that was already written.

I left shortly thereafter, thinking an hour with this group wanting to stay connected with each other wasn't doing much in the surrounding din . I took away the plea of newbie, "Help me." Unfortunately, I left without his contact address. His cry is the same for many who need help with their writing. A writing group should have time to give help to the new writer who lives in his own small world and wants to expand. But how? Where?

So many people are writing nowadays who'll never get their work published on the mass market. They'll write and behave like they will, but everyone except themselves won't  see the shallowness of their work as others do. Someone once proclaimed "Everyone can write." That isn't a blanket that covers you with ideas and thoughts you hammer out on the computer or with the stub of a pencil. Everyone can write but not without guidance. We need a writing group to help fledgling writers.

 Everyone can write their stories for their loved ones. You simply begin to put your thoughts on paper. Even if you don't know the fine points of a good story, you allow your mind to open to experiences and stories locked in your head. Writing by hand, on typewriters or computers, anyone can write remembrances. No mass marketing, no hard copies, they produce nothing more than typed papers connected with a paper clip. These are the writers who'll achieve success in small ways because they have reachable goals.

That's my job nowadays. I push adults in a free library series to probe their memories and write sentences, paragraphs, or pages about their growing up. I insist they are writing the past for the future generations. I believe what I'm saying, and the teaching of such subject reinforces my belief. I've had wonderful stories come from numerous adults who are writing about their first loves, early childhood, marriage, divorce, parental relationship, career choices, war time and other eras of history. The group remembers the polio shots (as one participant wrote), first toy they ever owned, first time to eat margarine, ration books of WWII, first car they bought, and so on. There is no limit to what memory dictates as stories.

Somewhere near their writing space I've asked my students to print this sign and read it daily: