Day #360: My Grandmother

I am grateful to my grandmother for giving me a loving home, showing me how to do so many practical things, playing games with me, teaching me to crochet and embroider, and giving me an example of a hostess who shows caring and love in a myriad of ways. She was funny and playful. And she spent hours making clothes for my Barbie doll. It is a gift I will cherish always to have had a grandmother like her.

grandmother

Day #337: Cemeteries

Until my mother died, cemeteries were places I thought of distantly, even when we attended a graveside service. A part of my brain wept and a part refused to acknowledge where we were. When Mom died so suddenly, we sort of knew that she would be buried next to my father in her hometown. Even then, there were discoveries to be made. Apparently there was a plot reserved for me and my husband as well. Now my brain paid attention. The end of my life stared back at me in a way it hadn’t before. We looked around at that community of souls with an understanding of inevitability. I am grateful to have a resting place. The cemetery is on a beautiful hillside, far above the town, with a forest of evergreens providing shade and majesty. The cemetery is distinguished by a four-foot neon football helmet, honoring the long-time football coach, not far away from my family’s plot. So it goes.

Glenwood Hills Cemetery

Day #180: Neighborhoods

Driving in the car always reminds me how many neighborhoods there are throughout our state, our country, our globe, and how vital each one is to the health of our planet. We want all of these communities to thrive because their contributions to our well-being are essential. When visiting, we encourage conversations about what’s important to them, their pride of place, their families … and we reaffirm how much we care about each other. Strangers? Not for long.

Neighborhood get-together

Day #129: Lisa See

I eagerly anticipate each of Lisa See‘s new books because she’s a compelling writer and she fearlessly explores a history which is her own, but unfamiliar. From the very first, with On Gold Mountain: The One Hundred Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family in 1995, to her most recent, The Island of Sea Women, I am grateful for her books because they open my eyes and my heart. (She’s also very good at getting the word out and building a community of readers.) 

Lisa See

Day #109: Dish Towels

Yesterday, Steve and I sat down with our newly washed collection of dish towels, deciding it was time to cull those that are too thin to be effective after decades of use. We don’t use a dishwasher, so our dish towels are crucial kitchen equipment, as they were for generations before us. The aspect for which I’m grateful is that so many women chose to display their embroidery talents by telling stories with these towels, thereby turning them into art. We have towels stitched by my mother, my grandmother, and two aunts. Each time we use them, we feel that connection. Quite often, the stories they tell are funny: vegetable musicians, naughty kittens, and Mother Goose, as well as a set that depicts dishes in the colors of the pottery Steve and I collected when we were first married. Those that we set aside because they no longer have a practical use will become part of a fabric art project I have in mind … their stories will stay with us.

Dish towels as storytelling art

Day #63: Photos and Memories

Stuff. What to do with stuff? Marie Kondo encourages us to consider what sparks joy and remove everything else from our lives. I read books about organization like my life depends on it. Maybe it does. Steve and I are doing our best to live without buying “stuff” so it makes each choice about what to get rid of difficult on many levels. Will we need it again? I have the hardest time with “I remember my grandmother using this slotted thimble when she crocheted” and “here is an unfinished quilt my grandmother started” and “these are the favors I designed for our 2000 family reunion.” The sentimental “stuff.” Our connections to history.

I am grateful for the advice to take a photo of the item in question. Hanging on to that stuff is about the memories. Looking at a photo evokes the same memories, even the smells, textures, and sounds.

child's rocking chair

A number of years ago, a cousin to whom my mother had lent my childhood rocking chair gave it back to my mom. Her kids were grown. Mom hung on to it. When we packed up her house, I couldn’t bear to part with that chair. I spent many happy hours in it reading books. But it really wanted a young person to sit in it, rocking and reading, so we gave it to a grandma who was happy to share it with her grandson. We took a photo before sending it on its way and it DOES make me happy to look at that photo now and then. Memories don’t have to take up physical space.

Day #51: Family History

I am grateful for having a deep connection to history … it’s a family tradition.

My grandmother subscribed to hometown newspapers in two states. She cut out tidbits about family and friends and pasted them with rubber cement into used ledger books and scrapbooks.

When conversation ensued on Sundays after dinner, with the day’s visitors, it was often about family history. I grew up observing the oral tradition of storytelling to keep history alive.

My mother picked up the responsibility for family history by updating a thick book with the births and deaths of my grandmother’s and grandfather’s families (they were related). My mother had 36 aunts and uncles.

Then she began to dig farther back. She subscribed to genealogy magazines, visited the Minnesota Historical Society, joined a German research group, and wrote many letters. She published a family newsletter in her own mission to keep history alive.

Imagine how pleased she was to learn that her great-grandfather’s house had been moved from its site to Old World Wisconsin in Eagle, Wisconsin. He constructed houses for a living and reportedly left Germany when the Navy conscripted all the available wood in his area. In America, he built Fachwerk houses and his own home was constructed as a model. He marked all the housing materials with Roman numerals to show how the home went together, a boon to those reconstructing the house.

We held a family reunion at Old World Wisconsin nineteen years ago. Family young and old were able to tour the house and realize they were part of a long line of interesting people, people who had hopes and dreams, who laughed and cried, who maintained lives that made our own existence possible.

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” — Rudyard Kipling

Day #25: Memories

I am grateful for my memories. I’ve gone through two periods of limited access to memory, once after a difficult and long surgery and the other while grieving my mother. There is a comfort in clarity, remembering details and names and songs and smells and colors. The trivia in which I’ve always reveled? Not as important as memories. In my mother’s last years, she could remember her childhood but she could remember nothing of mine (my childhood was a very stressful time for her). These experiences have given me empathy for the many, many people who no longer have connections to their memories. Their families are bereft. They deserve a lot of help and understanding throughout the year but especially during times when families traditionally gather. Sending my love.

Vicki and mom