Open Water

Lakewood NY, Chautauqua Lake, Lake, Gazebo, Springtime, Open Water, Lakewood Beach

It happens every year.

This time I was away visiting my daughter in Kentucky, but I knew it was coming. The surface looked a little grayer each day and every time the wind blew you could feel it in the air. It was just a matter of time before it happened. On Friday Jim sent me a text message…

The ice is off the lake!

To someone who lives in a northern lakeside community, this is a big thing indeed! We all look forward to it with increasing excitement as time passes. The locals hold a contest to guess exactly what day it will happen. They even have a Facebook page to promote the event as a fundraiser for the local Lake Association. A well-known shop in one little town has a long list of painted numbers representing the exact date that it happened each year – some years more than once, when the weather was mild.

The lightness and hope that most of us feel is very real, almost palpable, as the news spreads. The sparkling water brings with it the promise of boat rides and sunsets, bare feet and great blue heron sightings, screen doors and dewy grass.

I remember the first time that I actually experienced the physical sensation of exhilaration that the open water gave me. I was about 16 or 17 and driving alone in my father’s car. The day was sunny and a little warmer, but it still had a sharp bite if you stood in the shade. I had the window down , and the wind was blowing my hair around, making it hard to concentrate.  When I came up over the hill on the main road that loops the lake the glare nearly blinded me. As I crested the rise and looked to my left I saw the sparkling waves. The energy that came from deep within me could be described as nothing less than freedom. Sweet summer release that was getting closer and closer. At that age it was less about the weather and more about daily life. It meant that the stress and worry of schoolwork and classes would soon be over and then the fun would begin!

Now it is more about longer days and not having to fight the snow and ice at every turn. No more worry about the forecast when making plans or thinking about loved ones who live alone and have to contend with the elements by themselves. Winter in this area is hard and the older we get the more difficult it seems to become. Thoughts of escaping to a warmer climate come more frequently as each season passes.

Soon we will all be complaining that “they” have returned. The ones who don’t belong here, the summer visitors. The roads will be busy with cars that have out-of-state license plates, and the traffic will be annoyingly slow. They will change the speed limit on the road that loops the lake and everyone will grumble that it takes too long to get from one place to another. Someone will proclaim that it is ‘too damned hot’. The long, cold winter will be forgotten to the demands of the busy tourist season.

This year as I look out my window at the little sliver of blue/gray water that is visible from my morning “spot” up here on the hill I am going to try to savor this hopeful feeling without the distraction of the bothersome things that springtime brings….the changeable temperatures that make it hard to know what to wear, the unexpected cold rain storms that come up quickly and take us by surprise when we left our jackets at home, the mud and the loose gravel and the black flies….the relief that we feel as we welcome the release from winter’s grip does not last long.

Before you know it we will be looking at the falling leaves, so for now I am going to think of this with sweet anticipation. Summers up here on the hill sure are spectacular…even if they are too short!

Summertime, relaxing, feet, coffee, cup, Squirrel Hill, lawn, hill, Chautauqua Lake

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And they said it wouldn’t last

newlyweds, wedding, buggy, surry with a fringe on top, just married, just hitched, bride, groomIn 1982 I was 21 years old.  I had not ever seen the ocean or traveled on an airplane.  I had never lived more than 10 miles from my parents’ house.

Since then there have been:

3 children

2 apartments

1 house

15 jobs

11 vehicles

3 dogs

3 cats

1.5 grandchildren

18 trips to Mexico

On September 11, 1982 it was hot and humid. I wore a long-sleeved high-necked dress (not to mention a corset and stockings!) to that little church in Chautauqua, NY. In front of all of our friends and family I married my best friend. The very next day you took me to see the ocean for the first time in a borrowed car using a AAA Trip-tick for directions. I remember being terrified as we walked along the sand and I held fast to the bag that held every dollar we had.

That was only the beginning.

We have lived here on the hill for most of the years since then, and it has been a wild ride at times. We have experienced births and deaths, new jobs and unemployment, graduations, funerals and weddings. We have weathered the tough winters and enjoyed the sunrises over the lake each morning. We have watched each of our daughters leave this place, one by one. I still live less than 10 miles away from my childhood home, but we have traveled the world together.

I wouldn’t trade one minute of the laughter or the tears that we have shared for anything.

Thank you, Jim, for filling the past 32 years of my life with love and care. God has blessed me far more than I ever deserved by bringing us together.

I am amazed at how far we have come.

Love you, Willy.

“Lil”Feet, sand, Mexico, Beer, Beach

Coming Clean

I have a confession to make.

I do not own a dishwasher.

I guess that this is not very common these days, but to me it is normal.  In all of my adult life I have only had one (secondhand, portable) dishwasher. It was messy and sprayed water all over the kitchen. It was cumbersome and loud.  I used its butcher block top for extra counter space for a while and stored my Tupperware cake keeper in it, but I think I used it less than a dozen times.

A conversation that I had recently with an acquaintance went something like this:

She “I could not LIVE without a dishwasher.”

Me “Never really wanted one.”

She (horrified gasp) “That is unimaginable!”

By the tone of her reaction you would have thought that I had said that I preferred an outhouse to indoor plumbing! It is true, though.  In my 30+ years up here on the hill I have wanted many things…a hot tub, a sidewalk, even a bathtub for a time (but that’s another story), but a dishwasher is not one of them.

Another friend whose own dishwasher broke down right before the Thanksgiving holiday one year told me that she couldn’t possibly host the festivities without one.  To her the dishwasher was as important as the oven itself!

Don’t get me wrong – when I was a teenager and washing the dishes was a chore that had to be accomplished before I could slip away to be with friends, I hated the job.  I would do anything to get out of it, including trickery and deceit. I would make promises to my siblings that I never intended to keep so that they would relieve me of the job, and I was quite often successful.

When my own children were growing up washing the dishes and folding the clothes were the two main chores that they had to do each day. They will tell you that if I came home to a sink full of dirty dishes there would be much commotion. It is true that when I was exhausted from a long day at the office and needed the sink for meal preparation, I did not relish the task.

The kitchen sink is the heart of our home. Each member of our family has spent a significant amount of time in front of it.  We’ve bathed our children (and now our grandchild) there, pulled up chairs so that they could help us and taught them to do it on their own.  Thousands of basins of soapy water have been drawn there. My memories contain hours of telephone conversations had while scrubbing and rinsing and drying, watching the seasons pass by through the windows that are situated just above it. Gossip was shared, tears were shed, good news was revealed and bad news received – if only those walls could talk! Long conversations had while cleaning up after large family gatherings – holidays, reunions, graduation parties and even a rehearsal dinner brought friends and family members together long after the meals were finished and the table was cleared.

I remember my mother standing at my sink washing the dishes, even as her health began to fail.  She would bend from the waist, leaning on her elbows as she cleaned each plate and glass and pot.  She taught my sister and me that it was rude to leave someone’s kitchen without offering to help with the dishes, and I know that both of us feel the same way to this day. Sometimes when I am at the sink by myself I catch myself standing the same way she did as my back begins to ache from a long day of preparation and celebration. I smile to myself remembering how important this task was to her.

I would love to have my big country kitchen remodeled. I have thought many times about how I would arrange things, and what kind of cupboards and flooring I might have.  I have added marble counter tops, farmhouse sinks and tile floor coverings to my Pinterest boards, dreaming of how beautiful it might be.  The one thing that I never make room for in my imagination, though, is the dishwasher.  To me it is just unnecessary.

Think of all of those missed opportunities for memory making….

“Unimaginable!”sink, kitchen sink, country kitchen, dishes, doing dishes, chores

My Mother’s Voice

I don’t really like to talk on the phone anymore.

There was a time when I would spend hours with it crooked between my shoulder and my ear. I could do almost anything that way….fold clothes, make beds, clean out the refrigerator…having a telephone conversation didn’t slow me down. When they were little, I think that my children may have actually thought it was a piece of my anatomy.

I still reach for it every time I do the dishes. Our main house phone hangs on the wall right there within an arms distance. It always seemed to make this tedious chore go faster, and it was usually the best possible time – after dinner, when everyone was settled into their before-bed routine.

I rarely make calls any more. The reason for that is that the person who I always called is no longer there to answer.

I miss my Mom.

I talked to my Mom on the phone nearly every day for years, even though she only lived a few miles up the road. I called her for recipes and advice about how to discipline my kids. I called to complain about my terrible day or (honestly) to gossip about people that we both knew.

My mother was a young mother and I often think we grew up together, more like friends than mother and daughter. She had a million friends, and always knew what was going on in our small town.  I could count on her to know the family of the boy who my daughter was dating or the name of a seamstress to hem a recital dress.

As my children grew older and busier sometimes the main contact that I had with my Mom for a few weeks was only over the phone.  She didn’t like this and would often complain that I was too busy.  I felt terribly guilty and we would even argue about it from time to time, but we still always managed to talk nearly every day.

The last time I really remember hearing my Mother’s voice was in a message that she left on my machine.  “Well, hello!! It’s just your Mother”. Her tone was self-depreciating as always, like her call was unimportant to me. I remember feeling guilty and thinking that I had better call her back as soon as I could.

A few days after she died I was all alone in the house and I had that urge to pick up the phone and I remembered the message.  I ran to the kitchen and pressed the button, but it was gone. We had never replaced the battery on the machine and the power had gone off recently. I cried for quite a while when I realized that I wouldn’t hear her voice again.

But I do.

When I play with my granddaughter her voice comes out. She sounds happy and silly and goofy and her laughter rings out. When one of my daughters asks how to cook a roast or what to use to remove a stain out of a good white blouse she answers them with patience and humor.  When my sister calls me in the evening frustrated at the trials of raising a five-year-old she is there offering support, love and understanding – if not answers.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  I know that I can’t call you today, but I know that if I could you would be there for me like always. Thank you for all of the wisdom that you shared with me over those many hours on the telephone. I know sometimes it felt like a phone call wasn’t enough, but I appreciate every conversation that we had. ❤Mother, Daughter, family, Motherly love, Mother's Day

 

My least favorite holiday

I have to admit that I woke up this morning feeling a bit sorry for myself. Eating, cooking, family drama….Thanksgiving has the makings for a stress-filled day. One that I usually face with a considerable amount of trepidation.

I had worked myself up to a pretty good level of self-pity.  This year felt different. Two of our children (and a granddaughter and a son-in-law) would not be home. Two of our parents (my Mom and his Dad) are no longer here to share the holiday with us. My father has a different living situation this year and it has caused us quite a bit of family strife. I had even written a blog post yesterday to be posted this morning about the reasons that I dislike the holiday (hence the title, previously written).

Then I got a call from a friend’s husband letting me know that her mother had died last night. I haven’t been a very good friend lately – I have been too tied up in my own misery to pay much attention to anyone else’s distress. I only learned that her Mom was gravely ill a few nights ago because I had been so out of touch.  I didn’t know what to do to help, so I offered my prayers. It didn’t feel like enough, but it was all that I had.

The phone call made me think. I have been spending way too much time thinking about how I feel and not enough about everyone else in my life. So many people have it so much worse that I do at this moment. I felt selfish and petty. If I were TRULY thankful I should have realized how lucky I am to be able to celebrate the holiday at all. A lifetime of Thanksgivings had set me up with a certain expectation of what the day should bring, but I was looking at them with the wrong focus.

Tonight I took a look back at the photos that I have stored on my computer of past Thanksgivings that we have shared with our family up here on the Hill. Yes, there has been a good amount of stress and drama during our past 30+ years here, but there has also been much laughter and happiness. Looking in to the faces of the people in the pictures I saw what I should have been seeing all along.  We are, indeed, truly blessed to have what we have here in the place where my husband has spent over 50 Thanksgivings. A lot of living has happened here on the Hill.

I am thankful to have been a part of it.

All Tucked In

The whole family came home over the holiday weekend.  Each of our daughters, along with their  significant others (and Fee, of course), were here from Wednesday through Sunday afternoon.

It was a busy time – full of laughter and sarcastic banter, arguments and tears – the usual for our family. During our daughters’ teenage years because there were so many women living here the joke was that this was the “house of hormones”. Now that the girls have brought home boyfriends and a husband, the female/male ratio has evened, but the emotions remain.  There will always be squabbles and disagreements, but we also have our fair share of fun and hilarity. Our times together are precious and few and the conflicts fade away to be replaced by wonderful  memories and only a few battle scars.

When everyone is here there is always a flurry of activity.  People spill from one living space to the next. Conversations are shouted room to room, and in the summer from room to porch to deck. Snacks and drinks abound and the dogs are thrilled by the attention and opportunity to beg at all hours. By around 9 or 9:30 PM when everyone has usually retired to the living room to watch movies  or play games I normally  begin to flag. Quite often I  excuse myself to the solitude of my own room to sleep while they all have a good two to three hours of merriment left to make.

I am a bit of a night wanderer. I have always been one, but middle-age (and a glass or two of wine) seem to wake me most nights around 3 am or so. It is this time, when everyone is unconscious and dreaming, that I feel the most peaceful and content. It is such a comfort to know  that everything I hold dear is here on the Hill, safe and sound, tucked in for the night.  I love to walk the upstairs hallway and feel the even hum of all of them breathing  and turning in their sleep.

moonlight shining through a bedroom window
Click for Image Credit

I will often sit in the darkness of the living room, surrounded by their things (they have so MANY THINGS) and remember nights when they were all small. During those early years I would be awake with a fussy baby, or a six-year-old terrified by a nightmare.  I spent many a dark night worrying about things….their grades, their boyfriends, their college scholarship applications…back then the early hours of the morning felt like a lonely time when nobody else in the world was awake but me.

Now when they are all here those wakeful moments in the middle of the night help me to realize how very lucky that I am.  I am fortunate that my children are relatively happy and healthy, living fulfilling lives on their own, away from us. I am grateful that they choose to come back to visit us as often as they do, bringing others along with them to spend time here on the Hill.  Their joyful returns to their childhood home – the home that their father grew up in, help me to appreciate the place a little more. I love to hear the stories of their memories here and now to have them share it with the ones that they love as well.

It will be some time before we are all together again. While I wait for that  occasion I will remember the feeling of contentment that I had while I listened to the quiet of the house as they slept. All together, here on the Hill.

Dear Fee

Smiling baby in orange polka=dot skirt
Photo credit http://www.francescadb.com/

I am starting to get excited.

Do you want to know why? Exactly one month from today you are coming to see Poppa and me at our house here on the Hill!

You have already been here two times before, but this time I think it is going to be a little different. First of all…now that you are a bit older, I think that your Mama and Daddy will actually let you spend some time here with Poppa and I ALONE. (I think that by now an evening away probably sounds pretty good to them!)  That should be fun…and maybe a little bit scary (for me and Poppa :))  You see, we haven’t had a toddler around the house for a while. I am looking around the place every day now for trouble that you might get into.  Not on purpose, of course, but I am a bit of a worry-wart, so I want to make sure there is nothing around that can hurt you.

Also – we need to have some fun things for you to do here.  When we chat in the mornings you are very busy, so I know that we will need things to entertain you. I am hoping we can spend some time outside and use the pool that we bought you when you were here last summer. We will need to get a new ball and maybe a riding toy so that you can play out in the yard.  I am sure that Max and Moe will enjoy that, too – we will just have to keep them from popping the ball!

We want to take you to the park so that you can swim in the lake and maybe to Midway Park, where we can ride the train and the carousel.   Your Mama went there when she was little with her Grandparents. Of course we will go to the Parade up town on the 4th of July.  Village of Mayville Fourth of July FireworksIt will be fun to spend an American holiday with you (Don’t listen to your Daddy when he calls it “the day of Colonial aggression”, I know that he secretly enjoys it just as much as the rest of us!)  Maybe your parents will let you stay up late that night to watch the fireworks, too.  We will roast marshmallows out back and I am sure you will roll down the hill a time or two.

I have a pretty good feeling that right about now is when this grandparent/grandchild thing starts to get fun.  I am hoping that our morning Skype dates have made us familiar enough to you that you feel comfortable here.  I just can’t wait to hug and squeeze and tickle you. I am sure that this is just the beginning of many wonderful years of memories for us.Happy smiling baby in stroller

It’s going to be a long month of waiting…

See you soon!

Love and kisses,

Gram ❤