As though she thinks maybe I can’t see her… I’m reminded of a childhood memory, one of my earliest. Our family traveled through the Smoky Mountains on our way to visit my father’s parents in west Tennessee. It was the only time I met my paternal grandfather and I don’t remember that, I was barely more than two. I’ve seen pictures of me by the pigpen at Unc’s farm so I think that I remember that but I’m not sure. What I know I remember is this:
It’s a dim memory, but once was brighter. My brothers and I are playing Hide and Seek in the woods. I’ve hidden all that I’m aware of, my head and shoulders, behind a big stump in some bushes. Robin, who is not It and is four years older and far wiser, creeps up beside me and whispers, Remember, Rita, just because you can’t see us doesn’t mean we can’t see you. You have to hide all of you. All of you! It is my first awareness of all of me, a radical comprehension. It is the first kindness I recall from anyone in particular. I’m grateful for this memory of Hide and Seek, and the other early memories I retain. I don’t think of them often, but I appreciate the perspective when I do.
I’ve been feeling a little melancholy the past few days, despite so much to be grateful for. Been practicing turning my attention to what I want it to be on rather than the grumpy thoughts that are trying to claim it, and it’s working. Sometimes it’s an uphill slog, though. Mindfulness isn’t easy, but at least it helps make the mental afflictions less frequent, less intense, and less duration. Each challenge is an opportunity to practice, and practice eventually makes perfect, or close enough.
One thing I’m really thankful for is to have become reacquainted with an old college friend. For some years, I had been under the mistaken impression that he’d died, and was thrilled to stumble on his name when I was searching for another old friend. We’ve been emailing questions, answers, reminiscences… and he sent me this picture of us in his dorm room. I do remember this, but I do not remember how he or we exploded his beanbag chair. It was a great lesson for me in making the best of a bad situation, which I think became his mantra for life. I’m grateful for having this joyful image, and I’m more grateful for finding him alive and well.
I’m grateful today for sunshine! The past two days have been gloriously springlike. Now that I’ve stopped the ice melting into the mudroom, it was time for me to get stuck in the driveway. We didn’t even have much snow, just ferocious wind for a whole day, and forty acres of snow blew over the banks and across my driveway.
I should have backed up the second I saw drifts, but it didn’t look too bad so I tried to punch through. A short way up I realized I’d never make it to the top, so I backed carefully down. But not carefully enough. Once the drifts gave out I was moving too fast and slid into a plowed bank. I left it and walked home for lunch. I’m grateful that it only took a text to a neighbor to get the drifts plowed–I figured once the drive was passable I could dig myself out and forge ahead.
He wasn’t able to plow til evening, and I was happy to wait til this morning to dig out. I was grateful to have the right tools for the job again. But sometimes even the right tools aren’t enough. An hour’s work with shovels, cardboard, and kitty litter, and I was a few inches deeper into the snowbank. I’m grateful for neighbors with tractors, trucks, and chains, and know someone will pull the car out eventually. Maybe tomorrow! I’m grateful for patience and good cheer.
I’m grateful for YouTube where I found a great hack for scanning old slides, which I took some time to do today. I simply held each slide up to the bright white screen of my laptop and took a picture with my phone. Not perfect, but not bad, considering they’re sixty years old or so. I’m grateful for the memories conjured by these old slides, and feelings of tenderness for my family.
Above, the little children are in Italy, I’m pretty sure, and below I think we’re in Holland, because that was my mother’s note on the envelope: slides – Holland, etc.
Full circle back to snow, here I am with mommy and likely my first snow. Who’d ever have imagined this little tyke would grow up to rely on snow so directly, deal with it so intimately, and be so sanguine about leaving her car stuck in it for days. I’m grateful for the practice that allows me to hold with equanimity and love all the feelings I’m having today.
I’m also having some feelings about Covid, which are clarified by this excerpt from Eric Topol’s newsletter today:
“First, we sit at a very high baseline of daily Covid hospitalizations and deaths in the United States, over 25,000 and about 400, respectively. This is far beyond (double) where we were in June 2021, pre-Delta, when we got down to close to 10,000 hospitalizations and ~200 deaths per day. There’s still circulating virus (currently XBB.1.5) getting people infected and some of the folks of advanced age and immunocompromised are the ones chiefly winding up with severe Covid. The virus is finding the vulnerable people more easily since their guard is let down, abandoning high-quality masks and other mitigations, and the low rate of keeping up with boosters in the last 6 months (the age 65+ rate is 40%). There are about 15% of Americans (more than what many people think or have been led to believe), based on all the serologic data available, who never had Covid and are relying on their vaccines/boosters to avoid their first infection. Reinfections among the 85% with prior Covid are not uncommon and not necessarily benign. No less, the pervasive attitude is the pandemic is over, life goes on. That’s helping the virus find new or repeat hosts.”
The Colonel drilled into me the importance of the right tool for the job. It’s a refrain I hear often in my head when I’m working in the garden or the kitchen. Because I was raised in a throwaway culture, though, it’s taken me awhile to learn the importance of regular and proper maintenance. I’ve re-oiled the cutting boards a few times since sanding them. I was thinking I should invest in a new big cutting board and really take care of it from the beginning, sanding it and the others regularly, but I hadn’t gotten around to it when Cousin Melinda offered to send me one for Christmas.
And she did! I’m grateful for this new cutting board, and will tend it well for many years. Melinda lives in Kentucky, not far from Berea College, the first integrated, co-ed college in the south, with a remarkable zero tuition, work-study program that includes student crafts industries like high-quality brooms and… cutting boards. I’m grateful that I got to visit Berea one year when I stopped at Melinda’s house for a few days on a cross-country trip. I’m grateful for the student who made this cutting board, for the teachers who taught him or her, for the trees that gave up the wood…. In gratitude practice, you eventually figure out that everything is interdependent.
Though we didn’t grow up together, Melinda and I connected a few meaningful times in our younger years, and then about sixteen years ago we reconnected for good and for real. I couldn’t be more grateful to be family with my wonderful cousin, who comforted me after my mom died with the promise that she’ll remember that I love peanut soup. She’s probably forgotten that by now; just this morning we talked at length about our fading memories, how we can remember some things that happened but not when. I asked her when it was that I had stopped by her Kentucky home that first time. I had to look it up, and she had to ask her husband.
I was driving back to DC in the fall of 2003 when my dad mentioned that his niece lived near where I had stopped for the night at a hotel. “You should call her,” he said, so I did. I think I left a message. Six months later I was making the same drive east, with two dogs, a tortoise, a snake, and a carful of possessions as I moved back to help my mother through her last months with PSP. Melinda and her husband welcomed me and my menagerie with open arms, and since then we’ve been fortunate enough to visit here or there about once a year. Until this year, of course.
I’m grateful for the long, easy conversations we share by phone at random times, for her wisdom, medical knowledge, and wicked sense of humor. I’m grateful that through her, I was able to connect with her brothers and their families a little bit, and her dear father who will be 98 in February. Her mother and my father were siblings, and died a couple of years apart some time ago. I’m grateful to be able to explore family history with her in our conversations, comparing our sibling parents and their upbringing, to gain insight into who I was growing up and who I am today. I’m grateful that she’s game for any adventure I dream up while she’s visiting here, and that she’s eager to share her life in Kentucky with me. I’m grateful that even though my other mothers are gone, I still have Cousin Melinda to love me.