Ornaments of Life

I must admit, I love Christmas ornaments.   I know  just when my admiration, or maybe obsession, began.  Every year, on Christmas Eve we would have our family Christmas gathering.  Each year it would be at a different family members home. a tradition we still hold.  I think I was about 14 the year my dad’s cousin hosted the party. I can still remember walking inside the house.  My grandmother and her sister in the kitchen readying the various dishes, the younger cousins in the living room  eyeing the packages under the tree.  And there, off to the side- the tree itself.

I made sure I greeted everyone, but that tree, for some reason seemed to draw me back.   It was about 7 feet tall, lush and green.  I can still recall the  smell of  the pine scent mingled with the spiced cider from the kitchen;  see the lights as they twinkled, but all the ornaments that adorned that tree were what truly drew me in.  I don’t think I had ever seen so many ornaments on one tree.

There were  balls of various colors, snowflakes and santa’s and christmas tree ornaments. There were glass and crystal and ceramic ornaments.  The lights sparkled and twinkled as they bounced from ornament to ornament. The tree seemed to be alive and dancing in its corner of the room.  I think the sheer number of ornaments that graced the tree was what was so special.  I remember thinking, someday I would like a tree as beautiful as that.

I started collecting ornaments after that year. I would buy the annual Wedgwood, or Lenox ornaments.  One or two, ok  sometimes 3 or four , each year.   One year, the pen pal I had, in what was still East Germany, sent me ornaments for my tree.  Three dozen ornaments!  One box had a dozen red balls, one had a dozen pastel balls and the third had a dozen pine cone shapes in red green and gold.  I still use those special ornaments each year.

As the years have gone on, I have collected my ornaments, always thinking of that special tree. Each place we travel to, I try to find a representative ornament.  Every year, as we bring out the containers of Christmas decorations, and begin to adorn the tree, we smile as we recall where the particular ornament came from.  The Statue of Liberty from New York, The cable car from San Francisco, the Grand Canyon, Dirty Sally’s in Ten sleep Wyoming.  Decorating the tree becomes more than just placing the ornaments, it brings us together and reminds us of family times and all we have gone through.

Our tree isn’t quite as full as the one I recall in my youth, although I continue to add to the collection each year.   Maybe the tree isn’t completely full, but my life is, and those small ornaments remind me every year of all that we have, and what a joy my family is to me.

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Not The End

I remember sitting in class as a Sr in high school, pondering what it was going to be like after graduation.   Like many high school Sr’s, the thought of more school was less than appealing at that point. Obviously, however, the thought of a job other than fast food didn’t seem attainable without more school. I wasn’t like many others who had a deep desire to be a Dr or lawyer or engineer, in fact I wasn’t at all sure what I wanted be when I grew up.   I was pretty sure, at least right then, I didn’t want to go to college.

One rather ponderous morning,  an announcement  came on the public address system  about an opportunity for a class with ROP. Regional Occupational Program- basically instead of regular academic classes it is vocational training in a specific field, with the possible goal of a job after graduation.  One of my friends seemed interested in the presentation but didn’t want to go alone.  I figured the presentation sounded a bit more interesting than English class, so I went along.   Funny how those spur of the moment decisions can have big impacts.  By the end of the presentation I found myself enrolled in the class and, though I didn’t know it at the time, everything I could have asked for was in front of me.

The class for me?  Pacific Bell in the operator services dept.  I changed my academic schedule at school to accommodate this new class. It was off campus and that was a bit of a novelty back then, but I was excited for the change.   I made new friends and for the next several months I learned how to be an operator, how to apply for a job, what may be expected if I got that job.  I spent mornings in the class, and afternoons back at school.  Finally graduation came and I was ready to go.

One week  after graduation from High school I got a phone call from Pacific Bell. I had passed the entrance test, would I like a job? Ok, when do I start?  How about Monday?  Ok. sure, no problem.

The journey began.  I went to orientation, signed a multitude of papers and received my company I.D. badge.  I looked at that badge and noticed it expired after five years. I recall thinking that was a long time.  When I got my first paycheck, which I think was for about 183$ for that first week, I didn’t even have a bank account yet to cash it.  My friend Kyle said  “the grocery store will cash your check, let’s go”.

I was 17- no car or bank account but I had a job, and now a real paycheck.

Over the years I continued to work, even went back to school.  I had classes from the company and took advantage of opportunities that came my way.  I went from an operator to a staff associate to a maintenance administrator to a facility technician to a transport technician.

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I have worked holidays and overtime, and every schedule created in the company.   I have gone from entry-level to the top pay scale.  I have  seen work stoppages and mergers and downsizing and through it all my family has been there with their unwavering support.

Now, after 12,974 days, I have decided it is time to move on to another chapter in life,  called retirement.  I will truly miss the people I have had the pleasure to work with over the many years. I wont miss the early morning wake ups or the middle of the night call outs, and the stresses of making sure the work is all completed, and correct.  I hope I will be remembered as  someone who did a good job, and maybe somehow made a difference.

That one announcement in high school those many years ago, provided me with everything I have today.  My friends, family, vacations, a home.  So I say Thanks Ma Bell- it’s been a pleasure, but now I hang up my tools, on to the next adventure.

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My Mother’s Hands

I looked at my mothers hands the other day, and it struck me how much life I saw in them.  I marvel at those hands and recall all the strength and tenderness they have shown throughout the years.

When I was about 10 years old I had long hair, and I remember my mother brushing it into pony tails. She would quickly and softly brush it out and put the rubber bands in.  Also those summer days when I would come home from a day full of swimming and she would carefully untangle those same rubber bands, and brush out my now swimmers green hair.

Those summer evenings spent in the yard playing, watching as my mother would pull weeds out from among the patch of daisies that grew in the beds.  A tug here, a scrape there, the weed came out and the daisies bloomed.

Day after day my mother would fix our lunches for school. An assembly line of sandwiches, fruit and maybe a cookie, lovingly placed in a brown paper lunch bag for each of us.  Maybe not glamorous or our favorite, but always something good.

I remember, not long before my grandfather passed away, we were visiting and had tickets to a play. Because he was not well, he wasn’t going with us   I watched  as my mother took her father’s hands in hers, gently patted his hand as she spoke to him before we left for the evening.

It’s all those little things, the weeding of the garden the brushing of hair, the gentleness of holding her fathers hands in hers and countless other day-to-day activities.  Little things to be sure, but when I recall those moments in time I smile.  My mother’s hands- such strength, such life.

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Coast to Coast

My husband came to me about 7 years ago, with the idea of buying an RV to travel from California to Michigan. He shared his idea with me that it would be so fun and what a great way to travel with our boys, one of whom is Autistic. Being the practical/skeptical one, I’m sure I looked at him as though he just fell off his rocker. We talked, ( he talked, I listened, intrigued by his idea ) and came to an agreement that it could work.

For the next few weeks, my wonderful husband scoured the paper and on-line in search of just the right RV. Finding what he thought was a good deal, he would call and talk to the owner, sometimes go look at them. When one would pass the initial scrutiny, we would all go take a look. It seemed there was always something not quite right for us. Too small, too big, too old, the smell of the previous owners perfume that lingered everywhere. I was beginning to think we both had fallen off our rocker.
Finally an rv with low mileage in our price range came up. Although it wasn’t real big, it seemed to have enough room for us, it was clean, and didn’t smell of perfume.  We decided that would be the one.  We bought it, and our adventures began.
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WE spent the next 5 years creating memories none of us will forget.,  some better than others, but all so special.  We traveled from coast to coast, visited National parks and local sights. Watched baseball at it’s all American pastime best, and drove on through the snowy night to reach the family’s home for Christmas Eve.  Each trip a story in itself, in total a collective memory  that binds our family together.

I think there is something about traveling that draws us in, takes hold of part of our soul and feeds it deep down, like a much-needed drink of water on a hot summer day. Once that first sip is taken, it seems there is no quenching that thirst. The thirst for adventure, knowledge, change, excitement, something other than the ordinary day-to-day.

We sold our RV   2 years ago, and since then we have  struggled with not having it.  Yes it was old and broke down at times, seemingly even sitting still, but it was ours.  We cherish those times, so much so that we are planning to  replace the RV with a new one.   A new set of adventures await us and we are excited to see where the road will take us next.  Stay tuned,  you never know what fun we may have

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Sweet Lorraine

In a suburb of Detroit, on a street named Lorraine, a young couple bought a brand new home;  3 bedroom, 1 1/2 bath, full basement, large yard.   With their daughter and son, they moved in and started their daily life.  Nothing unusual about that, People do it all the time.  Happens every day to millions across the country. Every day someone moves to a new house, starts a new life.     That’s the thing, people do it all the time. The year was  1958.

Like any home, I imagine there were trials and tribulations within.  Young kids become teens, have their own ideas and their own dreams, soon become young adults.  As a parent, we raise our children to be good, honest, hardworking citizens, knowing that one day, they will fly from that nest on their own.  When they do venture out, that home is the connection, the comfort zone, the familiar.

Life changes and we move on, leaving one place for another.  Seeking either a new adventure, more space or less space.  Leaving the nest for the first time for some or downsizing for others.  That place we call home can have great meaning to us or be nothing more than a structure to live in.  Lorraine was a home,  a gathering place for family and friends, a constant.   So constant, that the couple lived nowhere else- ever.

The couple was my mother and father in law.  I joined the family in 1993, and was welcomed warmly from the beginning.  The first time we met, I was greeted with a hug  on the front porch of Lorraine. At the end of each visit  they would stand on that porch and wave goodbye as we left.  Every time, without fail, a constant.

Funny how some things NEVER change. Like the decor in that house.  In 20 years, and certainly before I showed up, it remained the same.  The same wallpaper in the kitchen, in the bath. The same perpetual christmas decor in the basement. A constant.

It’s hard when things change.  We lost my father in law in 2009 and mother in law in August of this year.   Years earlier, my mother in law had mentioned she kept money in different places. She wasn’t kidding. We found change and money nearly everywhere.  As we went through the house, it was not surprising to see all that was there.  I smiled  at the box that held  the wedding shower cards-from moms wedding in 1944. The various coin purses- filled with coins, in several drawers.  But the biggest smile for me was finding miniature candy bars and candies in nearly every coat pocket in the hall closet.  I never knew.

As we sat at the kitchen table that one last time,  I listened as the hall clock chimed, as the floor boards had that squeak when you walked down the hallway, how I could hear the others in the basement start a new game of pool.  Those familiar sounds, so constant throughout the years, that I will miss.

The contents of the house will be sold soon.  Gone will be the knick knacks, the dishes, the treasures that were their life.  Soon after, the house itself will be sold.  Gone will be the constant, the home the family knew.  The house is just a place, the home will live in our hearts forever, as will the sight of the two of them standing on the porch waving  as we pull away.

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