Turtle's Progress

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Sarah aka Princess Pigbear

Friday night I arrived in Colorado for a two week visit with Erin, Brent and Sarah. This is the third time since her birth that I have seen Sarah, and she burrows her way deeper into my heart each time. I watched in October as she worked her way into the world and as I observed Erin and Brent learning their way with her, I was swept back to the time when my own daughters were newborns. I remembered so little. Infants grow and learn and develop so quickly that it is hard to remember how they were at each stage in their lives.

From October to December she had grown, and was just starting to smile a bit. Her personality was starting to show through. When I arrived in February she was smiling all the time and just learning to hold on to a toy. Now, two and a half months later, she is rolling all over, sitting by herself, and grabbing toys offered to her. She recognizes her name and LOVES people. Anyone who gives her any small amount of attention will be greeted with a huge baby smile and sparkling eyes.

My daughter asks me often what she and her sister were like as babies. Did they have personalities like Sarah's. What were their schedules like? I can remember generally what life was like with a baby in the house, but the day-to-day things that I watch Erin deal with, I just don't remember. I have "baby books" that capture the milestones of first teeth coming through, their first words, first foods, etc. But it pains me to say that I'm not able to recall the specifics that I see Erin, Brent and Sarah living as they become a strong family unit.

I wish I had been a "journaler" back then. Maybe reading my own words about new motherhood and my babies changing and developing would bring those memories back to the surface. I wrote lots of letters during that time but, unfortunately, didn't have a "packrat" Aunt Betty who saved them all so I can't even read those to help me remember. I do know that motherhood has brought me great joy, and having adult children who are now having children of their own gives me a chance to be carried back to the times when my own were young.

Monday, April 24, 2006

DWS (Divorced Woman Syndrome)

My youngest daughter, Erin, first used the term "Divorced Woman Syndrome" or DWS when I began to come out of the shock brought about by my separation and divorce from her father. Just as we often see and hear about women who blossom in their widowhood, I seemed to do that after my divorce. Within months of signing the final papers, I was also an empty-nester. Erin was off to Auburn University where Meghan was in her second year, and I had the entire house to myself. I went to work everyday and became more interested and vested in my job. I began to make the house “mine” instead of “ours”, and to appreciate the amazing women who helped me get through this tough time in my life. My appearance changed for the better – glasses gave way to contacts, gray hair became “spiced tea” (according to the Natural Instincts box), weight came off without stringent dieting, and I began to like myself more than I ever had in the past.

My first big act of independence and trust in myself was driving nearly 2,500 miles cross country. My parents were selling their 1988 Honda Prelude. I needed a car and knew it would suit my needs perfectly. My sister agreed to drive from California back to Alabama with me. The plan was to swap-off driving – about one hour into Lori’s first shift she said “no way”. Interstate driving was putting her to sleep so I became the designated driver. We made our way to southern California, caught I-10 across Arizona and New Mexico, and picked-up I-20 just south of El Paso for the long haul across Texas. At the east side of Texas we stopped to see a dear friend (one of the amazing, mentioned above) who had recently moved there from Alabama. Two days later we began the last stretch across Louisiana, Mississippi, and into “Sweet Home”. Having been forewarned, I was careful to follow the speed limits in Louisiana. It was there I learned to “do as the long-haul truckers do”. The truckers stayed within reasonable speeds of the limits in Louisiana and Mississippi, but in Alabama they cut lose. Obviously knowing there was a shortage of state troopers at that time. My sister finally woke-up from her four day nap about the time we reached the Anniston city limits!

Over the next few years my social circle and activities expanded. A group of single women from work and I began going to plays together. I saw my first Broadway production, “Fiddler on the Roof”, and many good quality shows put on by our local community theater. A group of six or eight of us went to Birmingham to see Wynonna Judd and Michael Bolton together in concert. At other concerts, Huey Lewis rocked our world with a long harmonica solo, Aerosmith nearly rendered us deaf, Elton John played all of our old favorites, and Rod Stewart’s energy seemed to be endless. I went to student art and music shows at our local university, and “Business After Hours” sponsored monthly by the Chamber of Commerce. A good friend taught me the rudimentary skills of sailing during trips out on his boat. I started a book group which met monthly. Many trips were made to Auburn to visit my daughters.

My former husband’s sisters and I have continued to be close, and during this time they could not have been more supportive. We continued our newly established tradition of having a “Sister’s Weekend” during the month of each of our birthdays. Sometimes we took trips – a fun time in Helen, Georgia comes to mind with stops at the Cabbage Patch Doll Hospital, but most times we just met at my house and played. Went out to eat, talked, “Sweated” to Richard Simmons’ “Oldies”, talked, dyed our hair, talked, laid out by the pool, talked…. They may be my former sisters-in-law but they will NEVER be “former” family.

I discovered politics. For months I could be found every Wednesday afternoon on the corner of 11th Street and Quintard Avenue, across from the post office, holding my sign protesting the looming war on Iraq. A new group of like-minded friends emerged from these encounters. Despite our attempts to be “low key” with signs like “Support Our Troops, Pray for Peace” and “Let There Be Peace On Earth”, we still elicited hostile hand gestures and remarks from those driving by or stopping for the red light. My protest letters to the editor were published, and our pictures were often on the front pages of our local newspaper.

I believe that most women are social creatures and when our main social relationship is lost through divorce or death, we will eventually rise up and create new ones. Had I still been married I would not have experienced most of the things I’ve noted here. Not necessarily because my former husband would have stifled any attempts to do those things – I just would not have felt the need to do any of them. And what Joy I would have missed!

Oh, I also had a few dates, a couple of short-term relationships, met my current husband and threw myself a 50th birthday party – that will have to be another story!

Here I am pre-DWS in 1993, and post-DWS in 1998. What a difference 5 years can make! This one's for you Lori -- you said you wanted a good laugh!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

....To Grandmother's House We Go (part two)

My Grama D was my “city grama.” Until she moved in with my parents during the last years of her life, she lived in the neighborhoods surrounding the downtown area of my small hometown. Where going to my Grama Keith’s house was nearly always a social occasion with lots of extended family around, going to Grama D’s was usually a personal visit. I spent lots of time with just my grandmother in her home. “Spending the night with grama” was something I wanted to do at least one night of every weekend. During that time I usually had her undivided attention.

In one sitting she would make entire outfits of clothing for my dolls (oh how I wish I still had some of those). She always made special cinnamon toast (baked in the oven) and coffee for breakfast. I sat on the arm of her rocking chair and we would sing songs – her favorite was “I Dropped Dollie in the Dirt”. I can still hear her singing it. For my fifth Christmas, she and my grandfather, who died the next year, gave my brother and me child-sized maple rocking chairs. Mine still sits in my family room. I have actually passed it on to Meghan, and will get it to her soon so that our little Charlotte (due July 5th!) can have it for her room.

My Grama Keith never worked outside of the home that I know of, but my Grama D always did. Her husband died when she was in her mid-fifties and still had three young children to raise. To support them all she worked in the produce packing sheds that were plentiful in our little agricultural valley of the central coast of California. Her hands were gnarled with arthritis but she continued to stuff celery tightly into plastic bags. Even though I know that is probably done by machine now, every time I fight to open a bag of tightly packed celery, I think of how hard my Grama D worked for her family.

As I got older, my activities at her house changed. She was within walking distance of the downtown area and I was able to head to Main Street and wander through the stores alone. I often had lunch at the Woolworth’s (ham salad sandwich with chips, please), listened to records in the music shop next door, or walked slowly through the town square, past the bandstand and into the library; eventually carrying home a stack of books. I once remember bringing back a book of Khalil Gibran poetry and reading some of it to my grandmother. She listened intently and discussed its meaning with me.

Some additional random Grama D memories. The first word I remember learning to spell was her last name – Degraffenreid – 13 letters long! She taught me to play jacks and always beat me despite the arthritis in her hands. She loved to watch us skate – most Friday nights of my childhood were spent at the local skating rink traveling round and round, learning new tricks and showing them off to my grandmother’s delight. She loved to watch “Lawrence Welk” and “The Andy Williams Show” (oh those Osmond Brothers!). She hated me to wear black. It continues to be one of my favorite clothing colors and I wear it often, but when I do, I can still hear a little voice in the back of my mind chastising me.

The memories I have of both of my grandmothers are many and still very clear. Growing up in the same town with them was a joy and something I wish my own daughters had been able to experience with their grandmothers. I asked them recently what childhood memories they have of their grandmothers – playing “office” in the upstairs attic room of granny’s house, and riding “Big Wheels” up and down the driveway of their grama’s house, is what they told me. I’m sure they have many more. But unfortunately for them, those memories don’t include weekly visits with those who love them in the unconditional and accepting way that only a grandparent can.

I’m a grama myself now and I doubt that (beyond these first two years with Brody) I will ever live in the same town with my grandchildren. Our society is so mobile today that books have been written about grandparenting from afar. I received one for Christmas entitled Long Distance Grandma. I will work hard at having a loving, close and connected relationship with my grandchildren. I will visit often, call, write, email, and send packages. But I know deep in my heart that none of those things can possibly replace growing up with your grama right down the road teaching you how to brush your hair or play jacks on the sidewalk.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

....To Grandmother's House We Go (part one)

Throughout my childhood both of my grandmothers were still alive, and except for the two or three years when my family moved closer to where my dad worked, I lived in the same small California town where they lived. That was the norm back then. Most of my friend’s grandparents lived close by also. I never really appreciated or thought much about being in such close proximity to my grandmothers until I became a mother myself. Except for the four years the Navy stationed my family within 30 miles of my hometown, my daughters have always lived far from their grandparents and other extended family. They never had those spur-of-the-moment chances to “spend the night with grama” that I had growing up. And now my grandchildren, who live far from me, will also grow without that possibility.

My grandmothers were very different, though as a child, I thought they looked alike. Typical grama looks – overweight, stooped a little, with gray hair. Both wore glasses and had arthritis that worsened as I grew older. They knew each other and were friends but not close. For a time they had raised their children on the same street. They had a total of 11 children between them – all of different ages. My mom and dad were the proverbial “girl (boy) next door”. My sister, brothers and I became the main things that my grandmothers really had in common. They were our Grama D (maternal), and our Grama Keith (fraternal) and other than loving me and my siblings, as only grandparents can, they were very different.

Looking back I have realized that Grama Keith was my country grama (though I never thought of her in that way at the time). She and my grandfather lived in a small house on a “berry ranch” where he was a “hired hand” and did many of the chores around the place. Going there was a chance to spend lots of time outdoors. I remember climbing the BIG tree in their backyard, playing with grampa’s dog, Teddy, hiding in the barn, climbing the steep steps on the front porch that no one ever used, and smelling the honeysuckle. To this day the early spring smell of honeysuckle always takes me back to that front porch and my Grama Keith.

Being there was usually a social occasion. Often some of my many cousins would be there and we would have fun playing together. At dinner time with lots of cousins around there were never enough chairs at the table. We would end up sitting on grama’s old hope chest which held a treasure of her memories including her children and grandchildren’s school papers, pictures we had colored for her, and cards sent for special occasions. It was pulled up to the table as a bench. That hope chest now sits in my living room and is one of my favorite pieces of furniture. The crack in the lid caused by our sitting on it so long ago has been repaired, the wood sanded and refinished, but the memories are intact. My grandmother told me that it was tradition for a hope chest to be passed on to the first granddaughter – lucky me!

All socializing (not just eating) at my Grama Keith’s house was done at the dining room table. This is where she and grampa spent their time. The television there, and the wood-burning cook stove could easily keep this room and the kitchen warm. The rest of the house was closed off. Grama always had her “stuff” around her. Books, magazines, crossword puzzles, mail – all stacked on the table close to where she sat. I’ve inherited a bit of that trait as I store my similar “stuff” in a basket that I can easily carry into whichever room where I plan to spend time. I like it to be close to me just as Grama seemed to. The furniture in the entire house was stark and old, some was second hand. But I remember well the NEW brown upholstered furniture that suddenly appeared in the living room. I think it was my Uncle Jerry who purchased it for them (probably with wages from his first job). Despite the new furniture, the adult socializing continued to be at the dining room table. This was where Grama and Grampa seemed to be most comfortable.

But sometimes the grandkids got to spend time in the living room (only when weather or darkness kept us inside, of course)! In addition to the new furniture, I clearly remember a heavy library table, peddle foot sewing machine (grama tried to teach me how to use it but I never mastered pumping the pedal like she could) and a small bookcase holding a set of encyclopedias (as a child I thought this book shelf was so unusual because the shelves slanted up to more easily see the books). The one children’s book I remember was a well-worn Richard Scary that was falling apart and whose pictures we all enjoyed.

Some additional random Grama Keith memories. She encouraged me to brush my hair 100 strokes before going to bed. When she did this at bedtime I was amazed at the length of her beautiful gray hair as it came down from the bun where it was hidden during the day. She had a set of primary colored Pyrex nesting bowls that she used daily. She used some sort of purple medicine on her skin for impetigo. She always had wheat bread in her home. I was raised a 1950’s “Wonder Bread” kid and thought brown bread was so unusual (but it made great toast!). And speaking of bread…. She and I made potato bread from an OLD recipe one day. She tried to teach me how to knead the dough – I was an utter failure at this task at the time, but I can do it now and I always remember her instructions when I do decide to make any sort of bread. She was not religious but “believed in” nature. After Grampa’s funeral when we all gathered at her home, she tried to distract all of her grandchildren from our sadness by having us help her bake a cake. That is my clearest memory of my grandfather’s funeral – baking a cake with Grama.

As with all families, my dad and all of his siblings have different memories – both good and bad – of their mother. In the same way my memories probably differ from that of my cousins. But I think we would all agree that she was a strong woman who raised six children to the best of her ability during the Great Depression. Despite many ups and downs she stayed married to my grandfather for nearly 50 years until his death in 1974. She always lived on a limited income but until she died she always managed to send her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren a birthday card with a single dollar bill in the fold. She enjoyed writing and receiving letters and stayed in touch with many of us (including me) when we lived far from home. She loved us and we loved her in return.

(to be continued with my “City Grama”)

Here's the recipe Grama Keith and I tried to make so long ago. It is hand written and discolored, I will try to post a picture of it next week. I wouldn't recommend anyone try to make it! Grampa called our creations "bricks" instead of loaves.

Good Bread

At supper time soak 1 cake of yeast and boil 4 or 6 potatoes (according to size) in 1 qt of water. When done mash fine with water in which they were boiled, add 1 qt cold water, the soaked yeast, 1 table spoon full of salt and 2 table spoons of sugar. Set aside till next morning. In the morning the first thing put on the stove and stir constantly till lukewarm, then add flour for a stiff sponge. By the time breakfast is over and dishes washed this is ready to make stiff and knead 30 minutes. Let rise, punch down and make into loaves, let rise again and bake 1 hour. I use about six sives full of flour. Here's hoping you have luck.

My grandmother added this note when she gave me the recipe: This is a recipe that your great Aunt Maggie gave me. She was my oldest sister. Barbara's grandmother. She gave it to me when I had been married about 10 yrs.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Here's a picture of my mother-in-law, Mary Hood Wright, and her toddler Tommy. Taken for and sent to his father who was stationed in Korea. Circa 1957

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Of Packrats, Mothers-in-law, and the Lost Art of Letter Writing

February 8, 2013
I wrote this post nearly seven years ago but thought I would share it once again.  Since writing it I feel that letter writing in the put-pen-to-paper sense has become even more remote.

I'm linking up to
"Grandparents Say It Saturday" at


"The Grand Social" at

My husband and I met when we were both in our 40’s. I feel fortunate to have been born when my parents were both 19, as they are still living and well, and able to know the blessing Tom has been to me. My entire family has embraced my husband and it feels like he has been part of us for far longer than the seven years we have been together.

I have also come to know Tom’s parents over the years we have been together, but not in the traditional ways. We haven’t had dinner together or visited in each others homes. We haven’t laughed together at stories from Tom’s childhood. Tom was nine years old when his father died and 45 when his mother passed. They were both in their late thirties when he, their only child, was born. I met his mother once shortly after our relationship began. She was in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease and living in a nursing home in the small South Carolina town where she raised her son to become the man I fell in love with. He introduced me to her as he rubbed her back and shoulders; her eyes seemed to move a bit behind their closed lids when he told her that he loved me. I stepped outside and watched through the window as Tom and his son, Craig, spoke to her with love about their current lives and memories of their times with her. As they spoke, they held her hands, and stroked her face, and my love for them grew.

But that’s not the Mary Hood Wright I have come to know over the years. I have never heard her speak but I know her through her own words. You see, to my good fortune, the members of Mary’s family of origin, are packrats! And probably the worst of the lot is her youngest sister, Betty. Betty and her husband Harry had no children, and lived for over 40 years in the same one bedroom 600 square foot cottage in Pasadena, California. Harry died years ago, and Betty has recently also been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She made Tom the executor of her estate years earlier, and, with the help of his Michigan cousins, she has recently been moved to a nursing home. She continues to thrive physically – dancing everyday in the recreation room, and chatting endlessly with anyone who will sit with her for dinner. When any of her nieces and nephews are in the southern California area they always stop in for a visit. She is delighted to have the company though she has no idea who they are.

Betty lived in the smallest home but was the biggest packrat of the four Hood siblings! After moving her to the nursing home, it became Tom’s task to clean the cottage of its 40 year accumulation. The piles were endless – trash, Goodwill, keep, pass on to others in the family.  He spent over a week in California sorting and cleaning. Little did he know that hidden in amongst the piles of newspapers, bottles of cologne, and stacks of books, he would also find his parents, his grandparents, his cousins, and himself.

The Hoods were letter writers and Betty saved them all!! Tom has passed on to his cousins the letters that were written by their parents, and has carefully placed in sheet protectors the letters written by his own mother. They span nearly 50 years -- from the time she joined the WAACs in 1942 to the late 1980’s, shortly before the Alzheimer’s began to take its toll. Through these letters written to her sister, I have come to know my husband’s mother. Often the letters were written not just to Betty, but to her entire family, with carbon paper in between pages so she could send a copy to each. Some were typed, some were handwritten, all were filled with family news.

Reading these letters is like sitting down and having a cup of coffee with my mother-in-law. I’ve heard of her love for Tom’s father, Buddie, who was also in the Army. I’ve shared her delight in her baby and toddler, “Tommy”, born when she was 38, had been married over 8 years, and had nearly given up on ever having children. I’ve learned all about 1950’s Germany where she and Buddie were stationed for a time. I joined in the search as she and Buddie looked for a farm to live and work after retiring from the military. She told me of her anguish when Buddie died in 1964, leaving her the single parent of a 9 year old son, and the trials and tribulations of raising him. We laughed at some of the antics he pulled as a child – bicycle crashes, sneaking out at night, failing grades requiring summer school. I heard the pride in her words as she told me of his college graduation. She told me how much Craig looked like her “Tommy” when he was born. The letters Betty saved made it possible for me to know my husband’s mother. I have held the same pages she touched with her pen, and the envelopes she sealed closed with a quick brush of her tongue. I feel that some of her spirit is there in those pages and I cherish them.

Now we email and blog to stay connected but there is no physical connection – my hand never touches the page where you wrote the words. We stay in touch; we know what’s going on in each other’s lives. We anxiously wait for the sound of “You’ve Got Mail”, but we don’t smell the sweet aroma of a perfumed page, or see the signature of those we love. I’ve sent and received handwritten letters my entire life. But I wish I had been more of a “packrat”. I would love to still have the letters written and lovingly signed by my grandmothers and my favorite aunt, the letters my mother sent with family news when I lived at other sides of the world, and those exchanged with friends when we were far apart. I do the best I can now – I print out and save all special emails I receive but it’s not the same. Though the printed words are those of the people I care about, I know that the paper I hold in my hand never touched theirs.

Thank you Aunt Betty.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The House

I am in the midst of trying to sell my house. This is a bitter sweet time. I have lived here for fourteen years (longer than I have lived in any structure during my lifetime) and have experienced many life-changing events while residing in this house.

My first husband and I purchased it in 1992 with plans to spend the rest of our lives here. We had recently retired from 20 years in the Navy, and our children were in middle school. We put in a pool, got to know the neighborhood, joined a church, and settled in for the long term. Something we had never been able to do as a Navy family.

By 1994 my husband had moved out and after 23 years of marriage we were on our way to divorce. I hated this house through the separation and divorce. I cursed my ex everytime I mowed the lawn or cleaned the pool – things we had planned to do together when we purchased the house. But became a burden and a chore as I did them alone. In the evenings I sat in this house and cried; mourning the loss of my marriage and the future I had thought was waiting for us here. I hated the empty spaces left by the furniture he had moved to his apartment. There was a void in the house that could not be filled no matter how hard my daughters and I tried.

My sister told me during those days that “time heals” and someday I would be able to look back and hardly remember the agony I was feeling then. She was right. And just as time healed my heart, time also slowly re-established my appreciation for my house.

My daughters and I continued to celebrate holidays, California family came for extended visits, the girls’ high school graduations were celebrated, and I slowly began to fill the empty spaces with newly purchased furniture, and newly experienced memories. The voids began to disappear.

I developed a new appreciation for my house. I grew to love the yard work, and pool maintenance. I nurtured the shrubs, pruned the trees, planted impatiens, and looked forward to mowing the grass. The girls were both off to college and the house became my refuge. I looked forward to relaxing at the end of the workday and learned to enjoy being alone. I journaled, read, watched TV, listened to music of my choice, spent time on the computer, ate when and if I wanted to, and answered to no one. The house helped me become whole again, or maybe for the first time.

In 1999, after being alone in my house for nearly five years, I was ready to move on. I met my current husband in June of that year. Our relationship developed slowly and we were married in 2003. This house has been an integral part of our relationship. Shortly after we met, and as he was leaving town for a few days, Tom brought strawberries and bagels over for a romantic early morning breakfast on the porch (a memory I cherish). He climbed the roof to do the one maintenance chore I had not tackled – clearing the gutters of accumulated pine straw. Together we enjoyed the pool, cooked out on the grill, entertained friends, and got to know each other. All in the shade of this house.

For our first Christmas he had a friend make two Adirondack chairs for the large back porch. That was the beginning of turning the porch into an additional living area. The porch has developed over the years with additional furniture, wind chimes, bird feeders, mini-lights, and a sense of peace. It has become my sanctuary, and the favorite part of the house for most people who visit us here. Most of my best memories of this house happened on the porch. Tom and I had lunch with the minister who performed our marriage ceremony. My beloved nephew told me he was gay. The church youth group I sponsored met weekly out here. I threw a party in celebration of one daughter’s college graduation and the other’s engagement. Our family and friends gathered here the night before our wedding. My loyal 13 year old dog, Tanya, died in her bed on the porch, and my new puppy, Cali, learned to climb up and down the stairs. I slept outside serenaded by the whippoorwills. My book group met to discuss our latest read. My “Little Sister” did her homework and mastered new math formulas. My grandson plays and swings.

My memories of this house are many and varied. But now I must prepare to move on. While I lived here I made this house my home. When I sell it and leave it will no longer be so. It will become the house where I used to live. The place I lived when I divorced and remarried, when my daughters were married, and when my first three grandchildren were born. It will also be the place I remember fondly, and with appreciation, where I learned to be, know and love myself.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Here is a picture from my 2001 scrapbook. My dad and his brothers all turned out to help their sister and her husband celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Medical Stuff and Family

Today I have been doing the prep requirements for a colonoscopy procedure tomorrow morning. Finished the last dose of the phospho-soda, which was not nearly as bad as I had expected. Tom, Jennifer and Brody had pizza from Mellow Mushroom for dinner tonight and I can’t wait to have the leftovers for lunch tomorrow. This fasting stuff is no fun at all. But after the scare I had with the melanoma in March, this is probably a good follow-up just to make sure there is no cancer growing on the insides.

After going to the doctor and having the melanoma removed, my Uncle Jerry commented in an email that he was glad I didn’t have the “stupid Keith gene” that causes some of our relatives to not seek medical treatment when necessary. He was speaking of his older brother, my Uncle Chuck, who had failed a stress test a few months ago and had strong symptoms indicating heart problems. He refused to return to the doctor until he was forced to when he had a heart attack this past Friday and ended up in the hospital. Unfortunately, it was too late, and he died this morning.

My father was very upset when I spoke with him earlier today. This is the first of his family of six siblings to die, and I know it will be hard on all of them. I remember fondly the times spent at my grandparent’s home as a child when all of my uncles and aunts would be there arguing politics or making fun of each other. The love they shared was always obvious. Though they had all been born and raised in the same small California town, all but two had moved away, and they seldom spent much time together in recent years. My daughter Meghan’s wedding in July brought four of the six together for a celebration. Now the five remaining will gather to say good-bye to their middle brother.

I remember as a youth talking with my grandfather when the first of his many siblings died. I think it was my great Uncle Gabe. Grampa was very sad and spoke philosophically of how this was the beginning of the end of his generation of Keiths. This thought is probably much on the minds of my dad, my Aunt Mert, my Uncle Chester, my Uncle Jerry, and my Uncle Butch. Their brother, Chuck, who, with them, was also one of Chester and Almeda Keith’s children is gone, and with him a part of their shared history.

My Uncle Chuck is the first of either of my parents’ siblings to die. When it was great Uncle Gabe and I was a child, death seemed distant. It happened to people I didn’t really know; people who were old. My grandfather died when I was 19, and both of my grandmothers when I was an adult, but they were removed from me by two generations. Now, it’s my parent’s generation. Soon it will be mine.

Medical tests, treatment, and prescriptions will not prevent death but can certainly prolong and ease one’s life until the day comes. Some conditions can be cured, some can be prevented, some can be treated and managed. Not all of us will choose that course of action. At this point in my own life I plan to seek and use whatever medical treatment is necessary to keep myself healthy. Though, my Uncle Chuck was accused of having the “stupid Keith gene” perhaps he was making a choice. Maybe he didn’t want heroic measures and extensive treatment. Maybe it wasn’t stupidity at all but what he wanted. Not necessarily what his brothers or sister, who love and mourn him, would have wanted him to choose, but his choice, none the less. Though it may appear otherwise to those closest to him who will miss him terribly, I will think of my Uncle Chuck’s choice to decline medical treatment as his way of controlling his own life to the end.

RIP Charles Ivan Keith

Friday, April 07, 2006


Yes, I found my best friend in a Goodwill Store (sounds like it could be a CW song!) Our three year olds were in the same preschool class and while they were in school we would run errands and “thrift”. We saw each other often in the hallway waiting for the children to be let out but never really spoke. Until that one day… California had experienced a small earthquake while the kids were at school – just a small swaying, but I wondered how they had fared. As I was leaving the Goodwill to head over the school, Joyce walked in. We looked at each other, smiled, and one of us said, “You come here too?!” That was the beginning. Here is a recent picture of my buddy with her husband, Bill.

Perhaps the best way to explain what this friendship has meant to me through the years is to share the letter I sent as part of the 50th birthday tribute and celebration Bill organized for her.

Dear Joyce,

I have thought and thought since these sheets arrived from Bill and wondered how to put into words what you have meant to me since we met in the spring of 1984. I’m still not sure what direction this will take but have decided to just ramble on some about you and us and what it means to have a best friend…

You have meant more to me than any friend I have had before or since we met. In the beginning I can remember us trying to play “catch up” with our past lives. After all we were in our early 30’s then and had to share and tell about all of our previous years. Only by knowing where we had each been and what we had been through could we possibly understand where we were going or the turns our lives would take. And so in those early years, our children tolerated our many hours on the phone sharing every detail of our past lives. Little did we know that this phone time was preparation for our present friendship where distance now makes it necessary to carry on by phone.

And do I ever look forward to those phone calls. I love hearing your positive voice – there always seems to be a laugh in the sound of your words. Something I have come to love and appreciate about you – your sense of humor! I have often made the comment to others that you can make me laugh like no one I have ever known. I love your ability to see the silly in the every day things in life. I feel that my own sense of humor has become so much better just by being around you – I’m more able to laugh at myself and to find humor in just about any situation because of your influence. The gift of laughter is one you share without reserve and I love you for that!!

But you also have a serious side… a part of you that listens, and understands, and provides insight and advice. A part of you that I have depended on and sought out on many occasions over the past few years. You have listened and provided much needed solace and advice as I agonized over the end of my marriage, the uncertainty of dating, the fear of being alone, the longing for someone to love … and now you listen with obvious joy when I tell you about “my Tom” and the love we share. You have an uncanny ability to lovingly let me know what I need to know even when it’s not necessarily what I want to hear. You are a loving spirit who seeks only the best for those you care about.

And that brings me to another side of you that I love. Though you are not part of any organized religion, you are the most spiritual person I have ever met. You seem to know without a doubt that there is a bigger reality beyond this world and that sometimes those two worlds meet here on earth. What may be fate to some, you see as a spiritual plan. I certainly feel that way about our meeting. I think the Lord knew that I need you when we first met but that I would need you even more as the years went by. Our friendship was not an accident but a Divine plan. I have seen the strength of your spirit when your father died, and as you dealt with your mother’s emotional distance. Your spiritual strength has helped you overcome the agonizing physical pain in your body, the depressing emotional pain in your heart, and the fear created by a newly discovered learning disability. I admire that strength and use it as a model in my own life. Just as your sense of humor has increased my own; your spiritual love has made me a more spiritual and loving person.

And so, my dear friend, as you are about to reach that half century mark, I want you to see it not as the number of years since your birth but to reflect on the number of lives you have so lovingly touched. For I know that just as you have made my life so much better by being my friend, you have done the same by being in the lives of so many others. You have been a wonderful wife, lover and friend to your “B”, a loving and supportive mother to Paul, a caring a concerned neighbor to all who have been fortunate enough to live near you, a considerate and thoughtful daughter-in-law to Annie, a patient and kind teacher to your lucky students, a role model to your co-workers, an understanding daughter to your mother, a fun-loving sister to your brother, a warm and gracious hostess to all who have entered your home… and a best friend to me – lucky lucky me!!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Picture of Bargains

Here is a not very clear picture of the thrifting finds I described in the previous post.


When most people travel to a new area, one of the first things they want to know is the location of the mall or the main shopping area, and that is where they head. Finding the locations of museums, parks and historic areas are usually secondary, as we have become a society that prefers to acquire an item from a store rather than a memory from an activity. When young people who were volunteering to become “Bigs” in the Big Brother Big Sister program where I worked, were asked about their hobbies, the great majority said “shopping,” or “going to the mall”. So rather than being something done out of necessity to buy food, clothing, and other items of survival, shopping has become what some people do for fun.

Though I do enjoy visiting the local museums and other traditional landmarks of any new city I visit, I must confess, that I also seek out certain stores and shop for fun myself. Not the Old Navy, Bed Bath and Beyond, or Ann Taylor Loft, but the thrift stores! I’ll take a Goodwill over a Gap any day!

On a recent visit to Chicago, my husband and I walked through the downtown areas close to our hotel, through the theater district, and down the “Miracle Mile”. We walked past shoppers heavy with bags advertising where they had shopped. But I had no desire to go in any of these stores. We have AF, AE, Victoria’s Secret and Tommy Hilfiger stores within an hour’s drive of our house. Why go to Chicago and do what you can do at home? I longed to see the finds at the local Salvation Army Store or Goodwill, but knew the rents in the downtown Chicago area would be prohibitive and there was little chance of “thrifting” at a charitable enterprise in this area. A used book store with a fun array of children’s books, both fiction and non-fiction for adults, and well-organized and well-stocked was the closest we came to a thrift store, until…

Right there in the heart of Chicago, half a block from Borders, and across the street from the Hershey Store, was a gold mine -- a small hospital-affiliated second-hand store! Located on the bottom floor of what had once been an old brick three story home, it was full of treasures of the city. Clothes, glassware, furniture, fur stoles, china, CDs and shoes filled the shelves and racks. Items with history I would never know but had served their previous owner well. We browsed for a good hour, and found little to buy but were enriched by the experience.

For me, that is the draw of “thrifting” – never knowing just what you might find. Thrift stores are not the places to shop if you have a specific item in mind. One should enter a thrift with few expectations other than an openness to search the shelves and racks for the unknown. Thrift stores have served me well over the years. My teenage daughters were able to find the latest brand of blue jeans reasonably priced when we could not afford to pay retail. I found a beautiful formal to wear to a Navy Day Ball years ago. The mahogany end tables that still adorn my living room were purchased at least 20 years ago. We weren’t looking specifically for any of these items but we were lucky enough to find them!

So here is a tally of my latest finds. A ceramic vase with colors that match my décor (the bottom shows it was thrown by A.J. on 12/5/77), a leather purse with just the right number of pockets to meet my needs, a handled basket that holds my journal and current books perfectly, and the book 700 Sundays by Billy Crystal – hardcover and in perfect condition it will make a great gift. I wasn’t looking for any of these items but at less than $10 for all of them I couldn’t resist!

But probably the dearest thing I ever found in the Goodwill is my best friend, Joyce, ... that will have to be another entry.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

What to Name the Blog

So, my youngest daughter, who has discovered and immensely enjoyed the blogging experience for the past few months, says, “Mom, you should start a blog…it’s fun…you have lots to say…share what you’re reading, doing, journaling, planning…” I fought the idea for awhile, not really knowing what I would say and who would care …but here I am.

The title came to me a few years ago. I have collected turtles for over 30 years, inspired by a quote I first read back then, “Behold the turtle who only makes progress when she sticks out her neck.” Being a basically shy person, I tried to adopt that as my life’s motto. I haven’t always succeeded, but I have tried. Fast forward about 25 years…. I’m reading Spiritual Literacy, Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. In the section on finding the spirituality in “Places”, naming your home is suggested. I thought about it for a long time but never came up with a clear idea. A year or so later my husband, Tom, and I are walking along the beachfront of Mobile Bay in Point Clear, Alabama where all of the homes seem to have names. Again, I start thinking of a name and it finally comes to me. “Turtle’s Progress” is what I will name my next home, but in the meantime, it seems to be a fitting name for this blog.