Friday, October 1, 2021

RACE to the END

I recently came across this personal essay written twenty-five years ago (I have about two hundred essays that need to be re-read, then tossed or kept in a "keeper" folder). I enjoyed it, and hope you will too. And now my readers can easily appreciate how much I need to get rid of before I move to a smaller place, including the written word by yours truly.  sg


In our guestroom hangs a photograph that astonishes me every time I stop to look at it—sepia-tinted grandparents in their sepia-tinted living room in the late thirties: Grandfather is sitting on the chair that today takes up a corner in our living room; Grandmother is standing by the same fireplace-bench by our dining room wall; tiny candlesticks decorate the mantel—the same candlesticks that now sit on my desk. Come to think of it, the desk was my grandfather’s, too.

There’s no getting out from under the mass of things I inherited. We still use old-fashioned lace-edged linens on our bureaus, a phenomenon that my husband comments about whenever I change them twice a year for a freshly laundered-and-ironed set. “Can you even get dresser scarves any more?”

“I doubt it—if they’re new, anyway. Only in a vintage or antique store.”

The napkins we use for celebratory dinners are almost as big as pillowcases. They were handmade from damask, given as wedding gifts seventy years ago to my mother. At Thanksgiving I iron what I need, but that is the only time I use them in an entire calendar year. For fifty-one weeks they hibernate in my ironing bag, waiting for their moment in the world—like the patients in the movie, Awakenings, who come to life on drugs. These are old geezer napkins—yellowed from time and frayed around the edges, and getting thin, too.

Sometimes I playfully think of my hand-me-downs as elderly in-laws. Although I didn’t know them originally, they have ingratiated themselves over the years as they live under my roof and abide by my rules.

Sometimes I am tickled to be part of this ancestral chain of merchandise. With pride I dig out the silver candelabra, hoist down the porcelain cups, and unwrap the soup tureen. I boast about my heirloom dining-room table handmade for the family two hundred years ago, and point out with pride my cherished console table belonging to a great-grandmother. I can tick off stories about family stuff in every room—couch, chairs, paintings, figurines—each with a family connection.

Other times I feel sorry for myself. How in the hell did I get saddled with so many hand-me-downs? Wouldn’t it be fun to throw everything away and buy all new items? How thrilling it would be to go on an Ikea spree, or even one at Target. Cheap, bright, maybe poorly made—but new! Not to use anyone else’s anything! My grown kids have all furnished their homes with things they have selected. How liberated they seem. Would I even know how to shop for furniture?

Just like us oldsters who require more maintenance work on our teeth and bodies now than when we were young, caring for antiques can add responsibility to our lives, too. I was shocked recently to see the trouble my sister takes with her heirloom sterling flatware. She literally washes and dries each individual fork tine and lets the forks sit out on her counter for twenty-four hours so they are thoroughly and completely dry. I refuse to pamper my possessions. I wash, dry and toss my flatware back into its silver-clothed wooden box and slam the lid down until the next time I scrounge for what I need. I polish it rarely.

Maybe I’m careless with my things to show them who has the upper hand. I have to admit that a part of me is secretly happy when I see things wearing out. A pillowcase springs a hole. Do I try to mend it? No! Just because my grandmother hemstitched it is no reason to be sad. Instead, I rip it up to make new dust cloths, congratulating myself for not being nostalgic. As the backing of my oriental rug appears with wear (giving the appearance of lint flecks needing to be vacuumed), I get out an array of deep rose, purple, and green magic markers and color in the threadbare places. Sure, my rug is valuable, but I am so sick of it! I have never lived in a house where it wasn’t lurking in one of the rooms. I fantasize sometimes how much fun it would be to roll it up and push it down my hillside driveway, then watch it roll away like the runaway gingerbread man. Only I wouldn’t chase it.

My husband loves to remind me that “Nothing lasts forever.” There’s a positive side effect of attrition through moldering. I will probably never need new things, but at least, eventually, I will have fewer things to care for. And, if there’s any justice at all, my aging household goods will wear out just about the time that I do. I hope my kids can just take the furniture to the second-hand-store and never look back . . . except for the dining room table, the hand carved chairs, the linens woven by appointment to the queen, the old tiffany forks, the . . . 


Monday, September 20, 2021

The advantage of being old

Not every day does a big tree come crashing down just two feet outside the fence that rims our community, although a number of years ago a tree fell and broke through our fence. That was high drama . . . with a lot of repairs, to boot. 

But yesterday the tree pictured fell outside our fence across a regional trail, creating--in the words of a neighbor friend--the newest 'bridge' in town in less than one minute. Rainfall (after a prolonged drought) and a little gusty wind was all it took for the tree to break off and topple across King County's highly used Burke-Gilman Trail. 

The good news? No one was underneath; no one was hurt. Within hours, the obstructing branches were removed by the City to reopen the trail, but within hours of that activity, a small segment of the 18 mile-long trail was closed to be safe. 

Today, when I opened our gate to go for my daily trail walk (in the opposite direction), a white haired walker had stopped to stare at the barricades. "That tree is not goin' anywhere," he said, as he nodded at me. "It's not gonna fall in our lifetimes. It's stuck there! Maybe if we were kindergartners," and here he stopped to chuckle, "but not anytime soon!" I had to smile at his comment. Yes, there are advantages to being old; we probably can walk under it without any fear. But I noticed he stopped short of the tree and turned around to the junction of the Sammamish River Trail to continue his walk. 

Me? I'm going to honor the barricade regardless of my age, but I'm going to smile every time I see the fallen tree.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Remembering Jay

Every year since my late husband died, I've done something special on his birthday to remember him. Some years I've walked along one of his favorite beaches, either the fresh water of Lake Washington or the salt water of Elliott Bay. Sometimes I've enjoyed a lunch or dinner at one of his favorite restaurants (either upscale and fast food), always ordering what I imagine he would order. (After our long marriage, I know well what particular items on the menu made the restaurant a favorite of his.) Finally, I try always to visit a nearby location the two of us walked to frequently.

This year I had a new idea to commemorate his birthday. I would drop coins as I walked. Why? Because for as long as I knew him, he never walked past even a penny without stooping to pick it up. No matter what parking lot, what sidewalk, what store--anywhere at all--if there was a coin on the ground, Jay would lean over to pick it up with a general quip about a found coin being a lucky one. 

On Monday, August 16, I counted out eighty-two cents (the age he would have been that day) in pennies and dimes and let my offspring know what I was planning. Several of them did the same where they live, making it especially celebratory. It still makes me happy to think a number of people might stop to pick up the coins and in so doing--albeit completely unaware--would be bowing down to the memory of Jay O. Glerum. 


Monday, August 9, 2021

Not the good old days, but . . .

I'm not one to wax eloquent about the 'good old days.' I believe we should appreciate our past but not worship at its feet. Move on and find the good in the now. That said, ahem . . . yup, I'm getting there . . . remember when a gas station offered premium perks if we filled our gas tanks at its specific location?

These square Corningware containers were all earned at a Seattle gas station--I can't remember if it was Atlantic Richfield, Mobilgas, or Standard Oil, but I do know we made a point of using a specific station in the late sixties because I wanted a free set of these versatile storage containers. And here I am almost sixty years later and I STILL have them, and they are none the worse for their constant wear. I've used them multiple times every week for decades and prefer them to any other containers for food storage. They withstand the freezer, the oven, and the microwave (which was still years away from being known about or available to the average person). I love these little dishes.

Nowadays, I'm embarrassed to be seen standing at a gas pump. I should be biking, walking, bussing or driving my electric car. At the very least--my car should be a hybrid. The days are long gone where I will be rewarded for buying a full tank of gas. But I will never forget proudly earning little square Corningware dishes as a result of consuming gasoline, and I'm happy I did.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Proof of Fairies?

Do you believe in fairies? I'm beginning to think I do. This morning I found this tiny ring outside my laundry room  door. It was not there yesterday (or the day before, or the day before that), and no one under the age of forty-seven has been in my house for at least ten days.

I tried to take photos that would put its tininess in perspective.  Of course, I could have set out a measuring tape, but that would have been too logical. How could I be logical when I looked down and saw this circle of 'rubies' just lying on the floor by a closed door inside my house?  I am imagining a fairy was passing through my home (would it have been tiptoeing or flying?) last night as I slept--maybe slipping past the screen on an open window (screens wouldn't prevent fairies from getting in, would they?) to my basement level garage where it is delightfully cool. I am utterly flummoxed regarding a rational answer. 

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Cottonwood Perspective

When the cottonwood trees bloom in my neighborhood, we joke that it looks like it's snowing. The fluff that transports its seeds is so lightweight it is blown everywhere and often accumulates along the sides of paths and roadways to look like pretend snow that a Hallmark movie director has ordered for a wintry effect. People complain. It gets into window screens and fans and clings to cobwebs on windows. It's tracked inside and can make your new black pants look like you live with a white cat. And it makes many people sneeze from their cottonwood allergies.   

Size of one seed
But deadly? I don't think most of us would think twice about answering that question in the negative. And yet, recently I saw something that made me think a lot about perspective and how it's so different, depending on who/what you are. Every trouble, every woe, every challenge is relative. As inconvenient as some people find cottonwood's bloom, or as beautiful as others believe it to be, everything depends on who, what, and where we are. 

When I saw a little bee crawl-hopping across the street, I did a double take. Bees fly! The aren't pedestrians on a street. I stopped to investigate. A single cottonwood seed with its fluffy conveyor had landed on the bee. Maybe it had been flying, maybe it was gathering nectar from a blossom on the nearby rhododendron . . . we'll never know. What was clear is that the seed had adhered to the bee's wing to make flying impossible. I watched the bee struggle, standing on its front feet and shaking its body, opening its wings while performing a little jump-ity jump step, trying to shake off the seed off. As much as I wanted to help, I knew there was no way I could keep my touch light enough to not injure it. I held up a leaf in front of it; it walked on, Then I carried the leaf and the bee to the closest garden and laid it under a shrub. At least it would not get run over.

How cottonwood could be deadly to a living creature was an aha moment. Yes, perspective is everything. So I can enjoy the sight of cottonwood blowing through the air (or be inconvenienced by it, but to another living creature it's potentially as dangerous as hiking down the middle of a highway would be for me.