Small Pleasures, Part 3

This is a topic I’ve used before, and undoubtedly I’ll recommend some of the same small pleasures.  But it was on my mind after this week.  We had several dreary days of rain and DSCN0162cold.  I was averaging two and a half hours per day driving in traffic for my commute.  And now that Daylight Savings Time is over, I come home in the dark every day.

I find the change depressing.  So I started making a mental note of anything that lifted the grey fog a bit.  Here are a few small things that are a pleasure.

  1. The color of the last remaining leaves is especially brilliant this year.  The orange and yellow leaves are gone now, but the deep red ones are still here.
  2. Observed in traffic on the Long Island Expressway:  A Maine license tag with a lobster on it.  Gotta love it!
  3. Going to the last weekend of the Great Jack o’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor, even though it was quite cold.  It gets more spectacular every year, and the sound effects really add to the spookiness.
  4. The smell of clean sheets.
  5. My favorite sweater, an Esprit (yes!) which I bought more than 20 years ago and refuse to give up.  It’s warmer than anything else and has the coolest ethnic pattern.
  6. The new pair of ankle booties I bought at DSW.  Okay, I don’t look like the young’uns do, but they are pretty cute.  A girl and her shoes are not to be trifled with.
  7.  The word, “gallivant,” as in “gallivanting around.”  Used by my mother as a term of disparagement sometimes, and others as a description.  It means “running around from one place to another in the pursuit of pleasure.”  Sounds like fun to me!
  8. Being told that something I did was “excellent.”  No, it was not at my job, I’m sorry to say!
  9. Waking up in the night with a weight on my head, and realizing it’s the cat resting his chin on my head, and purring.
  10. Leftover food from any good restaurant for dinner the next day.  No or less cooking, and something good that I wouldn’t ordinarily have!

If you have some small pleasures of your own, feel free to share!

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Looking Forward, Looking Back

Today is my birthday.  My friends gave a surprise birthday party for me, something I’ve never had before!  It was so much fun and truly a surprise.  My sisters have another celebration waiting for me, which will happen next weekend.  And I’m going out with friends tonight, so the party keeps going.

I’ve been thinking about this birthday because it’s older than I ever thought I would be, in my smug youth, and because I realized I’m not much younger than my mother was in thisMother and Me Daytona 1981 picture.  I thought she was so old then!  And now it seems just another stage to me.

I think the big difference may be health.  Mother had a couple of heart attacks which were not diagnosed at the time, and when this photo was taken she was in the early stages of heart failure.  We didn’t know, of course.  I had driven to Tennessee from Atlanta to get her, and we drove down to St. Augustine and Daytona Beach.  Mother had never been to Florida and never seen the ocean.  This was after Labor Day, in early September, 1981, so the summer crowds were gone, and she enjoyed sitting on the beach at Daytona talking to “snowbirds” who were around her age.

I took her to Sea World, and she could barely walk from one show or exhibit to the next.  She was exhausted all the time.  When I got her back home, I called one of my sisters and said, “Something’s wrong with Mother.”  Glenda took her to a different doctor, and the damage was diagnosed.  I’ve been conscious of how heart disease affects women, particularly women in my family, ever since.  Heaven knows I don’t do as much as I could to stay healthy, but I do try.  And I think I’ve had much better medical care than she did.

Another difference from my mother is purely cosmetic–thanks to every colorist I’ve gone to for years, my gray goes away!  I have to keep working, and I want to keep working, so I can’t afford to go gray.  Sad, but true.

Mother thought of herself as “old” from a relatively young age.  I remember her telling me she was old when I was about 12, so she would have been 50!  Standards were different in her day.

I do think we all pursue continued youth too hard sometimes in this day and age.  Things do change, we do slow down a bit, we do get tired more easily.  But we don’t have to stop.  As long as our health holds up, my friends are active and interested and still engaged with the world.  I plan to be, too.

 

Squirrels As an Economic Model

I was reflecting on the fact that I haven’t won the lottery yet, and thinking about my retirement savings strategy.  Everything was rosy when I was making six figures, but recent years have been very challenging to say the least.  My more affluent friends are not Sciurus_carolinensis[1]too worried; my less affluent friends are as worried as I am.  We joke about living under the bridge in a box, or moving to some backwater where rents are cheap, but it’s really not funny.

As I often do when I’m thinking of something unpleasant or looking for a solution to a problem, my mind went back to ancient stories.  Aesop’s fable, “The Grasshopper and the Ant,” came to mind as a model for savings.  But who wants to drudge like a poor ant all day, just for the safety of an ant’s nest?  And what about the queen, sitting up there and being waited on hand and foot?  The grasshopper’s life looks much more attractive.  But he will die when the winter comes.  The ant won’t take him in.

Then I thought of another model.  What about squirrels?  Sure, they are squirrelly, and they can be terribly destructive if they get in your attic and go to work on nest-building.  But they wear fur coats, and they play a lot.  They always seem to be having a good time.  And they put away a lot of food for the cold months.  They seem to have a nice balance of work and play.

So the squirrel is my new model.  I have the “play” part down.  Now if I can just find some more nuts to stow away!

My Last Aunt

My father was born in 1913, toward the middle of a family of 10 children.  Mother was born in 1916, in the middle of a family of five children.  I am the youngest in my family of

Aunt Agnes at 90
Aunt Agnes at 90

five, 19 years younger than my oldest sister. So I grew up with a multitude of aunts and uncles, first cousins, second cousins, and even a couple of great-aunts in addition to my grandfather, when I was small.

I only have one aunt left out of all that multitude–27 aunts and uncles by blood or marriage when I was born (one had died young), and just one surviving now.  Aunt Agnes is 90 years old, born in 1924, Daddy’s youngest sister and 11 years younger than he was.

My sister Sherrie and I went to see her a few weeks ago when I made a quick visit back to Tennessee.  Aunt Agnes is still living on her own at her insistence, and with the assistance of her two children who take turns visiting every day and checking on her.  They wanted to get someone to live with her, but Aunt Agnes wouldn’t agree to it.  They had to take her car keys away a few years ago after she had a wreck and narrowly avoided a really bad accident.  She had a stroke a few months ago and recovered well, but she is unsteady on her feet now and has trouble with her short-term memory.

Aunt Agnes has always been a curious combination of unconventional and conventional.  She stayed in a painful marriage until her husband died, probably because divorce was shameful to her and her family.  Yet she worked at Fort Campbell as a civilian employee for many years, raising her family as a working mom.  Not a common thing in the ’50s and ’60s, even in the ’70s!  She’s always been devoted to her church and is a firm believer, but never to my knowledge cast aspersions at people in her family (like me, and some others I could name) who did not always live the way good Southern Baptists are supposed to live.  With her, family comes first, and her fondness for a relative goes a long way, even with a wayward niece like me.

Since the stroke she’s lost her appetite and has become quite thin and frail.  While Sherrie and I were there, Sherrie asked her if she wanted to have lunch.  Aunt Agnes had forgotten it was lunchtime.  She mentioned how she missed going to Captain D’s after church on Sunday, so I went through the drive-through and brought back that nasty, salty, fried fish for us all.  She ate maybe three bites.

I was surprised to get a card from her this week–I wasn’t sure if the stroke had affected her ability to write.  Inside was a perfectly clear and coherent note, and a $20 bill to pay for the lunch.  “Do not send the money back,” she wrote, and underlined it.  In her mind I’m still little Connie.  She’s the last one to remember me that way.

 

The Wind in the Trees

A few weeks ago I went back to Tennessee to visit my sister.  She lives with her husband on a 400-acre farm about an hour from Nashville, in a two-story house which his great-great-iPhone Photos 028great (maybe more) grandparents on his mother’s side built somewhere in the 1800’s.  It’s been modernized considerably, but it still has painted brick walls and a large front porch with posts.  The windows are tall and narrow, as was the fashion back then.  I suppose the cost of glass had something to do with that, too.

When you’re inside the house, you could be in a suburb anywhere.  With air conditioners, ceiling fans, a dishwasher, a media room with recliners, satellite TV and internet, and cellphones, you’d never know you were in the country.   But sitting on the front porch brought it home to me.

The porch is wide and long, with comfortable furniture and hanging plants.  The yard and porch are shaded by several ancient trees, oaks and pecans.  The gravel driveway winds under the trees to the road, less than a quarter-mile away.  The distance is far enough that I couldn’t hear the sound of traffic, and there didn’t seem to be much other than the occasional tractor or farm truck.  My brother-in-law’s tractor shed is in a field next to the yard, but the fields they farm are across the road, so there was no sound of tractors or mechanical work.

Sitting on the front porch with my sister, feeling the breeze, the only sound was the rustle of summer leaves, green and supple.  We watched a rabbit hop slowly across the yard from one covered spot to another, wary of hawks or a neighbor dog.  A bobwhite called from the field. Later in the day I walked to the fence on one side and spotted a snake in the grass, curving its shiny black body to move swiftly in a straight line, intent on some mission under one of the oak trees.

Hearing the wind in the trees took me back to evenings on Aunt Lou and Uncle Floyd’s porch, listening to them talk with Mother and Daddy and tell stories.  That porch was on a wood-plank dogtrot house, not at all like my brother-in-law’s family mansion.  But the smell of cut grass, the birds calling and the wind in the trees will always take me back to childhood.

 

For Mother’s Day

My mother died almost 10 years ago, at a pretty advanced age given her state of health.  I always miss her, I always will.  Here’s a list of things I would (or wouldn’t) do if I could

Fronie Bowers Jones
Fronie Bowers Jones

have just a few hours with her again.

I would listen to her and not lose my temper, sniff or complain.  Even when she narrates everything she’s doing as she’s doing it, or comments on every single thing or person we pass in the car!

I would hug her more often.

I would bring her little luxuries more often than I did.  I tried to bring small presents, especially jewelry, whenever I traveled somewhere exotic or new, and she loved that.

I wouldn’t tell her that I hated salmon croquettes.  They were her favorite, so she thought they had to be mine as well.

I would believe her advice and act on it.  Well, maybe not.

I would break that bushel of green beans she promised to Aunt Eunice and only grumble once.

I would understand why she spoiled my brother, and why she never stopped trying to change me into a different person from the one I am.

I would kiss her soft, old, wrinkled cheek.  That would be best of all.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there, and to all of us who ever had one!

 

 

The “Go Home” Button

I’m now doing a commute by car to Long Island, an hour or more each way depending on traffic.  There are a number of alternate routes, some more obscure than others.  I was aware of a few of them but I’ve learned a great deal in the past few months from the Traffic

Chico and me on the farm
Chico and me on the farm

Alert function on my GPS.  It’s nothing fancy, a refurbished Garmin Nuvi, but I’ve learned to listen when it yells, “Severe traffic ahead!  Recalculating!”

It has taken me on scenic tours of parts of the Bronx to avoid traffic jams, some a lovely surprise like Pelham Bay Park or the Moshulu Parkway, which winds around in back of the Bronx Zoo, and others where I wished I had an armed guard riding shotgun with me.  It sent me through Queens in a snowstorm, winding through a few ethnic neighborhoods and then ending on the LIE (Long Island Expressway, for my non-New-York readers.)  I found out later it avoided  a car fire on the Cross Island Expressway.

All in all, it’s a learning experience, if an exhausing one sometimes.  My favorite function of all is the button on screen labeled “Go Home.”  Wherever I may be, I can touch Go Home and the satellite will guide me, around traffic and obstacles, the fastest way home that it sees.

On these long drives I get into a contemplative mood (unless someone cuts me off) and I have started wishing for a “Go Home” button in my life.  Sort of like Dorothy clicking her heels in the “Wizard of Oz,” but I’d like to be able to go through time and space to places, times and sometimes people when I felt safe and loved, or pleased and happy, or just content, and revisit them again.

I guess that’s a function memory serves.  But I would like to see Mother frying chicken, walk with Daddy to the tobacco barn, my dog trailing behind and startling birds or rabbits, or listen to my uncle Jesse (known as Fatty because he was so thin as a boy) playing guitar and singing old songs.  I’d like to eat my first meal in Paris, in a faded bistro with a fat old German shepherd eyeing my dessert.  I’d like to be back at Bear Lake in the summer on the pontoon boat with the cooling breeze of the boat’s motion.  I’d like to be there.

Until someone invents a time machine I’ll have to keep working with memory, and trying to add more to that vault of good feelings, and trying to forget the bad ones.  Peace out, and have a good week.