Looking Forward, Looking Back

Mother and Daddy at home on the farm
Mother and Daddy at home on the farm

I always get contemplative at this time of year.  I think we all go into the new year hoping for the best, making resolutions, looking for better days.  Most of us think, “If I could lose 20 pounds, my life would change for the better,” or “If I got a new job, everything would be great!”  We look back as well.  Remembering the bad times and the good, progress made or lost–I think of that Bruce Springsteen line, “One step forward, two steps back.”

A lot of us have had to face a new reality during the years of the Great Recession and afterward.  The old life is not coming back.  That job, that money, that ease of living, will not be ours again.  It’s the new normal, and unpleasant as it may be, we have to adjust.

Like most people in their 50s, I didn’t expect this.  But when I remember my parents, I see that it happened to them as well, for different reasons.

Daddy worked for several years for a government contractor driving ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) into the tunnels where they were stored after the warheads were assembled.  Yes, that’s really what my dad did for a living!  But when the Vietnam War came about, gradually the cold war lost emphasis, government spending for nuclear “defense” was cut–and Daddy was laid off.  His life was never the same.

He was reduced to doing hard physical labor, unloading trucks and carrying meat in to the commissary freezers at Ft. Campbell, KY when he was in his late 50s.  He had a heart attack and couldn’t do that job any more, so he drove a school bus.  All the while he was farming our small farm.  He died of his second heart attack not long after I graduated from college.

The good news in all this was, he loved the farm and was never happier than when he was feeding the cows or driving the tractor.  We managed to keep our house and the farm despite mortgages, and when Daddy died there was property to sell so Mother had something to live on.  It was never carefree or easy, but we had family and friends and fun.

So when I feel like whining I try to remember that this is a new cycle and I’ve been given a second chance to keep going, to make this life work.  And hopefully to have some fun along the way!

Happy New School Year

Photo from Flickr
Photo from Flickr

The start of the school year always feels like the beginning of a new year to me, even though it’s been many years since I boarded that school bus or headed off to college.  September is a time of reflection and remembering as autumn moves in and summer dissolves like the early morning mists.  But there’s still the hope that it’s not too late to plot a new course, try something new, find a better way to go forward.

As a small child in the South, the weather was still punishingly hot when we started school in August, and schools were not air-conditioned.  My main concern then was school clothes.  Girls were not allowed to wear pants (can you imagine?) so we wore “dark cotton” dresses, usually plaids in fall colors but made of cotton so we weren’t too hot.  School supplies involved having the correct pencils, tablets and crayons so you could carry out your assigned tasks.   No computers, book bags or backpacks!

Elementary school was both a delight and a punishment to me.  I never fit in from the very beginning because I had learned to read, write and do basic math at home, so I arrived in first grade ready for second grade.  My mother was adamant that the school should not make me skip a grade because I was small, shy and among the youngest in the class.  So for the first three years of elementary school I sat in the back of the class and did my own work for the next grade, only joining the rest for art, music, phys ed and math.  I never really felt like part of the group, even in later years when I was “tracked in” and joined the rest of the class.

But I learned. I made friends, I got along, I kept working to learn new things and do better.  I wanted to make my parents proud, and I wanted a college scholarship.  All those things came true, and I am grateful.  This was the foundation of the life I’ve had since then.

At this point in my life back-to-school just marks the end of summer.  But it still feels like a time of possibilities and new plans.  Here’s to the new year:  It’s never too late to learn and grow.  My wish for us all is health, prosperity and curiosity!