Dear Fee,

I have decided that I have a love/hate relationship with airplanes.  I love them because they bring you to me, but I hate them because they take you away.

I also have a feeling that in just a few short hours you are going to be literally screaming your way across the Atlantic Ocean on your way home to see your Daddy…probably driving your Mama and Auntie Ky (not to mention a number of other passengers) straight around the bend!  I can’t say as I blame you – I hate that flight myself and have often felt like screaming for most of it as well.

We had such a lovely visit, though. It is not good at all that you had to come for such a sad occasion, but Poppa and I were very lucky to spend your first Thanksgiving with you and your Mama.  We were very sorry that your Daddy couldn’t come as well, but then it’s not really his holiday, is it?

You got to meet nearly all of our relatives on your Poppa’s side of the family, and you even got to spend a nice afternoon with your Great Grandma Jean.

You taught yourself a few things while you were with us, including how to pull yourself up on the sofa, and you learned how to play Pat-a-Cake.  You even met Santa for the very first time – although I don’t think you were really very impressed!

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Max and Moe will really miss having breakfast with you every morning.  They sure looked sad when you were leaving.  We will have to throw a couple of pieces of bananas on the floor for them once in a while in your honor!

I can’t wait to see you again this summer.  What a wonderful time we will have when you are able to run around outside and enjoy the hill in the sunshine.

I hope that you pay no mind to the awful people who will likely scowl and stare and make rude comments on the airplane.  They do not love you like I do!

Go easy on your Mama for the next few days.  She did a pretty good job taking care of you all by herself with only a little bit of help from us (and quite a bit from Auntie Ky on the plane).  She could use a rest!

I will talk to you very soon on the computer, and I will miss you every day until I see you again.

Love you very much,

Gram

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You love Poppa’s moustache!

Dear Fee,

Today I am sad but excited.

I am excited because you are coming to visit Squirrel Hill for the second time. I am also sad because the reason that you are coming here is to pay tribute to your Great-Grandpa Ray. I have decided, however, that I am going to treat your visit home like a gift from him.  He has allowed us all to be together for your first Thanksgiving, and that is a special thing!

You are now eight months old, and even though Poppa and I have met you two other times – when you were just a month and again this past summer when you were 5 months old – this time will be different because you have developed such a personality and we can interact so much more.  You will be eating turkey and stuffing and crawling about the place.  We hope that our Skype visits will help you to recognize us.  It is hard to be a Gram when you live so far away. It will be nice to have the chance to spoil you a bit and perhaps even to give your Momma a break. We are very lucky to be having this visit, because we were not counting on seeing you until next summer.

Over your lifetime I am sure you will hear many things about your Great Grandpa Ray.  He was the Grandpa extraordinaire; always quick with a song or a tune, I can hear him singing la la la la la to your Momma and your Aunts when they were little.  He loved dogs and music and bubbles and children in general. He was sunshine personified, a happy and loving presence to all of his children and grandchildren.  I believe that he was made to be Grandpa and we were so fortunate to have him as our very own.   You met him last summer and although you will not remember it, meeting you was very special to him indeed.  His face lit up every time he saw your pictures!

I just want to let you know how eager I am to be able to squeeze and cuddle you for the next several days. I can’t wait for you to explore this place on the hill – your family home. Your Poppa crawled around these floors when he was your age and it is pretty neat that he can watch you do the same in the place where his family has been all these years.

Thank you to your Great Grandpa for the many gifts he has given to us. I only hope that I can be half the Grandparent that he was!

See you soon!

Love,

Gram xxooImage

Opening Day

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Today is the opening day of deer season.

My father was not a hunter, so when I was growing up I didn’t realize what a big deal this is.  I went to a rural high school, and my friends often went hunting (even some girls!), and in neighboring Pennsylvania and a few border school districts, they even got the day off.  In my house there were no guns and no hunting tradition – at least until my brother hunted a few times when he was a teenager. But still, no rituals and none of the anticipation and excitement were felt there.

My husband has hunted all of his life, so to him this is THE biggest day of the year.  I believe that it is even bigger than Christmas!

The magazines start to appear around the house sometime mid-August. Pictures of large buck deer with huge “racks” of antlers glare out from the covers at me from the coffee table or the kitchen table where the mail collects – even from the top of the dryer in the bathroom (favored for reading because of the solitude?).

Loud blasts can be heard weeks –even months- ahead of the event, while our neighbors sight in their guns. (Although I cannot for the life of me understand why one needs to shoot repetitively for hours on end in the middle of the afternoon, weekend after weekend. To me it sounds as if they are in my back yard, it is so LOUD.  This not only disturbs my peace, but it makes my dogs crazy!).

Orange hats and vests are scavenged from the closets and cupboards and are found lying about the place. Full sets of camouflaged gear are hung from odd places – much like the random dog related items mentioned in my previous post. I often turn a corner and gasp as I see what appears to be a stranger lurking outside of my window, only to discover that his clothes are “airing out”.  (You know that deer can tell the difference between the scent of your closet and the great outdoors – thus the necessity of this practice).

And then it is almost time for it to begin.  We will be invited somewhere and have to decline.  A 7pm dinner is out of the question – what if he gets a deer at 5:15? He will have to field dress it, drag it out of the woods and take it to the processer…that could take several hours. Thanksgiving dinner is planned late in the afternoon so that the hunters have time in the woods before we eat.  He watches the weather forecast, wishing for snow (much to MY dismay) because a fresh coat of the white stuff will be good for tracking.

The night before is a ritual of laying things out and making sure it is all there: gun, camo clothing of varying thickness depending on the weather, hunter’s orange hat and vest, gloves, flashlight, rope and a snack for his pocket.  Last minute phone calls are exchanged with his cousins, or his father or his best friend about where and what time to meet.  An early bedtime and up at 4am, ready to go.

When we first bought the house up here on the hill opening day was always a big deal for the family.  Uncle and cousins would come down from Buffalo and they would all go into the woods together. They would arrive before dawn, clogging our driveway with cars and trucks. They would come stomping into the darkened kitchen to have a cup of coffee while the girls were still asleep upstairs, me dressed in my most attractive sweatpants and sweatshirt, with crusties in my eyes and pillow head. (My husbands family and friends have definitely seen me at my best!)

I would make a huge pot of chili and they would trail in at mid-day, laughing and bragging about the ones that they missed – comparing stories and planning the rest of the afternoon hunt. When they were very little our girls would hang back, watching timidly from the other room as the quiet of the day was broken by their loud camaraderie. Usually at least one of the hunters would get back to the house early with his catch and the others would follow along a bit later congratulating him on his successful first day before they would load it up and take it off to be processed. When they were older our children would snort disgustedly at the whole thing (how could they be so barbaric as to kill a cute little deer??), but they would always enjoy the venison that was used for their meals.  They often told me how much they disliked the ground beef that was cooked at their friends’ homes.

Over the past several years, the tradition has changed. The cousins now have their own sons to hunt with and tend to stay closer to their own homes, or they have moved far away and can’t be here for hunting season.  My husband’s uncle and father got older and lost their taste for the hunt.  For a few years the two of them would take their thermoses of coffee and sit under tree together, silent guns across their laps, reminiscing about past hunts and childhood memories.  As they aged into their eighties they sometimes didn’t even go out on opening day and have finally stopped hunting all together.

Jim still goes out, on his own or with a friend; hunting is a part of him, like his grey eyes, his clever sense of humor or his moustache.  Unfortunately, without a son to share it with, his old family tradition of the first day of the hunt has died.

This year will also be difficult because his Dad is not well. Ray is in a nursing home now, and because of his stroke and CHF he cannot communicate like he did before.  His speech has been all but silenced by the sickness and his ever present sparkle is fading.  Jim left the house today with a heavy heart, knowing that he won’t be able to share his experiences with his Dad like he used to.  He will tell Ray about it, I am sure, but the storytelling of the day will lack the same magic of other years.

There is one thing, however, that I know for sure.  The spirit of the hunt will always be there for my husband.  Whenever he enters the woods, I know that he will have his Dad with him in his heart.  It will always be special, because Ray instilled that sense of excitement and wonder in him when he was a small boy and shared it with him throughout his life. Jim’s favorite holiday will always be Opening Day.

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It’s the little things

I am most admittedly a spoiled brat. 

My husband is a great help around here…he does many things; he vacuums, a task that he took over almost completely when we introduced Labrador retrievers into our household.  This is something that I am most grateful for because I loathe vacuuming. I remember as a child when my mother ran the vacuum, she would grumble and complain that we children were messy and in the way of the chore. (Mind you, we were probably draped all over the furniture at the time, watching TV and sneaking snacks into the living room, which was against house rules) I always say that my negative childhood exposure to the chore gives me flashbacks! He doesn’t seem to mind it at all, as a matter of fact, I almost think he enjoys it.  I have no problem with that at all! He even does it when I am out of earshot, as even the sound of a running vacuum makes me tense. What a guy!

He also packs my lunch every day.  (I know, I know – I told you I was spoiled!) It is a ritual that both he and the dogs enjoy.  Each day when he makes me a salad to eat at my desk they get treats…bits of romaine lettuce or yellow peppers…they love them more than biscuits!

There are some things, however, that he does do that I swear are meant to drive me around the bend.  You know- the little things…like hanging odd items up and away from the dogs and forgetting about them.  I cannot tell you how many times I have gone out on the front porch of our house only to find a half chewed Frisbee hanging on a nail that was meant for a wreath or other decorative item, or an old dirty towel (used for cleaning dirty dog paws) hanging on the coat rack right by the entrance door.  I know that these things were originally put there only temporarily, but sometimes I swear he knows that it annoys me so he takes pleasure in leaving them there.  The coffee cup (or beer bottle, during summer mowing season) that is left on the window sill by the door – right there for anyone who visits to see!

Another one is putting garbage in the freezer.  I can’t tell you how many times I have come across a bag of food of questionable origin on the freezer shelf.  He tells me that this is to keep it from smelling up the place, but it still throws me to find chicken wing bones in a bag in there!

Then there is the habit of opening the center console in the car after we have started to drive down the road.  This bothers me because I then have to lean to the right so that he can rummage around – while still driving – looking for something that he keeps in there.  In the meantime, I am freaking out telling him to watch the road.  He will then find said item and use it (usually eye drops or chapstick) and leave the console open so that I still need to lean to the right. It’s maddening, but I think he secretly takes great joy in my distress.

It seems that these little things bother me much more now that the kids are gone.  The items that I pick up are more bothersome because the rest of the house is usually fairly tidy without all of the extra bodies around to pick up after. The freezer items are much more noticeable because the freezer is not overstuffed with leftovers and quick frozen pizzas like it used to be. I am more sensitive in the car because I am not engrossed in conversation with one of the girls about gossip or boys or other exciting things, or busy singing along with the radio at top volume.

But while I sit here complaining, I am starting to realize the trade-offs.  The extra cup of coffee that appears at my side as I sit here in the early morning, writing or paying the bills.  The napkin that is always included in the aforementioned lunch because I ALWAYS spill when I eat.  The bottle of wine that miraculously appears in the refrigerator after a horrible day at the office. 

Now that the kids are gone I notice that we are a bit more focused on each other. Our days are no longer a whirl of other people’s activities and schedules.  I have to admit that I enjoy being the center of attention when I walk in the house at the end of the day – after the dogs go out, that is.

I guess that while I have much more time to notice the things that bother me there is also much more time and attention coming my way as well. I like that! It IS the little things.

As long as I don’t find my shoes sitting high on the shelf in the back room because the dog wouldn’t leave them alone!

 

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Veteran’s Day

When my oldest daughter was about 3 or 4 years old,  we were at the grocery store one day and there was a man selling poppies for Veteran’s Day.  Of course she loved the bright red bloom and wanted one, so I bought it.

When we got into the car she asked “Mama, why was that man selling flowers”, so I explained that he was a Veteran and he was selling the poppies for Veteran’s day. This was of course followed by another question: “What is a veteran?”  I explained to her that a Veteran was someone who served our country, a soldier. I told her that her Grandpas were both Veterans, and in fact, her Grandpa Ray was in World War II. I told her that we were thankful to all of these soldiers who served their country and protected us and that we should be proud that we had Veteran’s in our own family.  We continued our conversation about Veterans and soldiers and wars for a bit, but moved on to other things.

The very next day we visited Grandpa Ray at his house and my daughter immediately asked him about being a soldier.  I was afraid that this might be a subject that my father-in-law, who was a Marine and had seen active duty in the war, might not want to discuss with a three year old child.  Ray has always been the “happy man” of the family, our children’s delightful, cheerful mentor and subjects that are unpleasant are usually met with a change of subject from him.

This was not the case at all though.  He took her into the other room and answered her questions and told her about some of his days as a soldier.  I don’t know what the conversation was, exactly, because they were out of earshot.  Ray has never talked much about his time in the service or what he experienced there.  The family respects his silence on the subject and does not ask for many details.  Grandpa and oldest grandchild talked for a bit and then joined Grandma and me in the kitchen for cookies or some other treat, as I recall.

The amazing thing to me is how that short conversation has stayed with her all these years.  She has remembered her Grandpa each Veteran’s day since then…first by making sure we always purchased a poppy and then, as she got older and moved to different cities by phone calls to wish him a Happy Veteran’s Day and thank him for his service. Each November 11 they have talked – without so much as a reminder from me. Birthdays and anniversaries have come and gone and sometimes I have had to send notes to say….”Don’t forget”, but no matter how far apart the two of them have been, they have never missed a single Veteran’s Day.

This year, Grandpa is unable to take her phone call.  He is recovering from a recent illness in a Rehab facility, and his speech isn’t what it once was.  She did remember, though,  and sent him a lovely bouquet of flowers – red, white and blue, thanking him once again for his service. They were delivered on Saturday, because this year the holiday falls on a Sunday and the florist does not deliver.   He smiled with pride when he got them, and I know he was remembering that conversation that the two of them had all those years ago. It made me proud to be his Daughter-in-Law and also proud to be her Mother.

Thank you to Ray and all of the other Veteran’s out there who have served us in so many ways.  We are proud of all of you!