Sunday, December 1, 2019

When an address becomes a home

For a number of years the old signs on HWY 522
were removed. A few years ago private funding
enabled a new sign with the old slogan
to be erected in a downtown park.
When Jay and I got serious about simplifying our lives by moving from our home in Lake Forest Park  to a condominium, we were open to living just about anywhere in the northern part of Seattle or its suburbs. After a prolonged hunt for a place with all the amenities we wanted, we knew almost the minute we stepped inside the condo we ended up buying that it was right for us. Only one small drawback, we thought: it was in Bothell. And why did that bother us?

When we lived in Lake Forest Park, we'd travel through Bothell frequently. It has much-used Washington State Highway 522 running through it, so it's a necessary pass-through for a lot of destinations. Large signs used to greet drivers on both ends of the city limits: "WELCOME TO BOTHELL FOR A DAY OR A LIFETIME." You couldn't miss the signs; you couldn't avoid them; you simply had to read them as you sped through town. We used to laugh because we never spent any time in Bothell--it was just a place on the way to somewhere else. A day? What would you do for a whole day in Bothell? We used to launch our canoe on the Sammamish River in a Bothell park, but that was the only reason we ever stopped.

One of those Sunday mornings when Jay and I were on our way somewhere, one of the welcome signs had been roughed up by mischief-makers. We couldn't help ourselves and burst out in prolonged laughter. Instead of saying Welcome to Bothell, some smart-assed kid had sprayed out the BOT so the sign read, "WELCOME TO HELL FOR A DAY OR A LIFETIME." Even as we signed the mortgage papers several years later, Jay teased, "We're gonna do this, right? for a day or a lifetime?," adding, as he snickered, "and we hope it's not 'hell'."

Now, these nine years later, I realize I love living in Bothell. Why? Because with its population of 44,000, it's the just right size to be involved in as a citizen. There're plenty of ways an ordinary person can step up, help the city, and have a say in what's happening. In this era of feeling like we're being rolled over in so many ways, it's great to feel heard and seen as a citizen. I have friends in nearby cities who don't even know the name of their mayor, let alone recognize him if he were in the same grocery line. But by just occasionally attending city council meetings and participating in city feedback sessions, I recognize (and am recognized by) the city manager, council reps, and various members of city staff when I see them 'out and about.' It's empowering to feel visible and heard. I've had helpful conversations with city police and even sat down with the fire chief last year to help write a statement for a new fire station proposition in a voters' pamphlet.Yes,I try to be a good citizen, but my small gestures of help come back tenfold as a gift to me.

After telling the City Manager one afternoon in a community 'talk-back' session about a confusing left-turn lane by the library, it was fixed the next time I drove to the library! Thinking it was a happy coincidence, I mentioned it to her the next time I saw her. "Oh, Sara, we're so glad someone told us! We never would have known about it if you hadn't said something." And why am I writing about this today? Because Bothell made it on my 'gratitude list' this weekend--something I often overlook doing until our trusty Thanksgiving holiday brings it to my attention. Thank you, Bothell.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Seeds Cede a Memory

"Poor Persephone!" Whoever would think that to herself, as she dips into a breakfast treat? Maybe some old woman ruminating to herself at her kitchen table? Yes--that's exactly what I was thinking as I began eating this delicious bowl of fruit. 

In a rare moment, because I'm really bad at determining when a pomegranate is ripe, I decided to put one in my grocery cart. I was  delighted to find it juicy and tasty when I peeled it. Munching on the elusively flavored, crunchy, bitter-sweet seeds brought back a flood of memories from childhood about  Persephone whose ingestion of a mere six pomegranate seeds forever assured the barren growth period we call winter. 

Note the dried up pomegranate at the bottom
of the illustration in the 1930s edition
of Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales
When my father read aloud Nathaniel Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales to me in early grade school, the Greek myths  were told with Roman names for the gods and heroes. And the stories were definitely simplified and prettified. So Hawthorne's telling of the story involves Proserpina (aka Prosperpine) who's kidnapped into the underworld by its king, Pluto (Hades in Greek myth) because he yearns for a pretty, young companion. Of course, since the story was adapted for children, 
Hawthorne entirely skips what most of us know of the myth--that Hades kidnapped Persephone, raped her, and kept her imprisoned in his kingdom, the underworld, until she was rescued by her mother Demeter (aka Ceres in the Roman version) and the god, Mercury (aka Quicksilver in Rome).

But because she'd eaten a mere six pomegranate seeds, she'd be required to return yearly to Hades, and Demeter, goddess of the earth's fertility, would grieve until she returned. I loved this story as a child and considered Persephone truly amazing for holding out half a year before she ate the tiny seeds. 

A simplistic summary of a complex myth isn't my point, however. I'll digress enough to mention I was lucky enough to study Greek mythology in college and thereby learned the harsh version of this and many other stories that minced no words for misdeeds and demons. But I've never forgotten the my first exposure to the story as a child in the 1940s, hearing it from the perspective of what was OK for children to hear almost 100 years earlier when Hawthorne re-imagined it.

What's interesting to me is how seventy years after hearing the story, it came back to me with every crunchy pomegranate seed I ate from that bowl recently. This post is just a long way of saying that stories remain in our heads a long time--sometimes forever. So much of what we retain is connected to storytelling in some form or other. In fact, stories reign!   

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Good Grief, Friendship!

Five years ago in late October, I was just a couple of weeks into an eight-week grief support group affiliated with my husband's home-hospice provider. I'd enrolled in the support group at the suggestion of my one-and-only second cousin, Allene. I have to confess, I was dubious that I could find much consolation in sharing my grief with a group of strangers, but based on Allene's gentle urging, I tried it.

Looking back, I could not be more grateful. Those eight weeks of meeting with other people also suffering from the loss of a loved one, and facilitated by a social worker, were immensely helpful. Instead of putting on the 'stiff upper lip' that we imagine our family and friends want to see, we could "let it all hang out" with people we didn't know who, likewise, were members of 'the club no one wants to belong to," widowhood.

Good Grief, Potluck! meets regularly at the home
 of Evelyn (in pink). Also shown: April, Bill, Maureen,
Sallie, Sherri, Lorraine, Jerri. Missing: Lynnette and Mike.
The first session of eight weeks would eventually come to be called Grief 101 by its participants. Why? After moving through the eight week program of thoughtfully planned agendas, attendees had the option of moving into a continuation of support that met monthly (also facilitated by a social worker), but more loosely structured. Some Grief 101 attendees chose to go their separate ways; I chose to continue with the monthly group,.affectionately known as Grief 201.

That group of widows and widowers, most of whom had then been alone for six months to a year, had developed a real coherence. I immediately sensed their comfort with each other and basked in such collegial support . . . discovering how freeing it was not to have to explain loneliness, desolation, or anger. They'd also learned how laughter among grieving people can feel downright redemptive when commentary or a shared anecdote triggered giggles and guffaws  Not only can everyone in the room resonate with shared pain and tribulation, but we could share a burst of silliness--often on a topic an outsider might frown over. Grief 201 proved to be a lifeline that continued through my second year of widowhood.

But with any support endeavor, a time comes when participation doesn't feel as essential as it once did. Other interests and agendas begin to surge ahead of the need to share bereavement experiences. The individuals participating in Grief 201 collectively became emboldened by several years of support and with the blessings of our facilitating social worker, disbanded. Yet the friendships that had developed between us were deep and lasting. So, with the inspiration of humor and good will, the members of Grief 201 formed a potluck group affectionately known as Good Grief, Potluck!

Initially, the potluck group met frequently. Now we've morphed into getting together just a few times a year. There is still a lot of laughter and deep camaraderie. Several members have found new significant others, but there is still a thick rope that connects us, so we never have a problem finding topics to talk about over the yummy midday feast. Sometimes we might not even say the word 'death.' Other times, we dwell on it and the conversation churns up recollections of feelings and anecdotes. Whatever we talk about, shared experience is at the heart of it.

I will always be grateful to my cousin for her suggestion and the gratifying friendships formed on the basis of a devastating event. Good Grief, Potluck! might also be called, Good Grief, Friendship! 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Dashing through the rain

I generally don't look straight down when I'm walking to my car after a class for Active Older Adults at my local YMCA. I'm much more apt to be chatting with a fellow exerciser as we depart to continue our days engaged in myriad endeavors.

Yesterday, however, as I headed out, the skies darkened and opened up--a dramatic cloudburst drenched the parking lot. I held my jacket over my head in a feeble attempt to keep my glasses dry, and dashed through the parking lot trying to avoid the biggest puddles. Then what to my wondering eyes did I see . . .  

ONE PAPERCLIP. Who takes paperwork to the Y? Maybe some business person who had spent lunch hour exercising was sorting out a briefcase to cram for "the big meeting" after lunch. Or maybe someone interviewing for a volunteer coaching position is organizing her resume. 

ONE SOCK. How did it get there? Probably it was inside a shoe that was being hastily stuffed into a backpack. Or possibly it's a real runaway, not the kind that just hides out in the dryer.

ONE GRAPE.  Why just one on the tarmac? It's probable that it was part of the promised snack a mom offered to her child for being such a good girl/boy in the supervised play zone (while she worked out). As the single grape drops, the mom admonishes, "Leave it!," and there it sits.

Yes, I couldn't help myself. I reached for my phone in the pouring down rain to snap these pictures. Yes, my glasses got wet, but in a weird way, these three items sum up why I like going to the Y: All ages, all reasons, and something for everyone.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Only three more weeks

I've written a lot over the years about how much I love the farmers market in Lake Forest Park. Just twelve minutes away on a Sunday morning, it's my chronic Sunday destination regardless of other activities I've scheduled. This year I've only missed two Sundays since it opened on Mothers' Day--both absences were days I was out of town.

Regular readers of this blog know my penchant for the typewriter poet, but I have lots of favorite vendors with always-dependable produce. Every week for years I've purchased fresh flowers from the same stand, rarely spending more than $10 and always being delighted. Now I'm just looking at some of the photos I've taken over the past few months, thinking about how much I'll miss having locally grown color on my coffee table when the market closes for the season on October 20--just three more weeks. There is nothing like the spectacular variety of bountiful nature, and a gifted grower to bring joy to this old woman. Yeah, I'll start buying color-spots from the grocery store, but it's not the same.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Does Art Imitate Life? Or vice versa?

Janitor by Duane Hanson
photo taken in 2019
One of my all-time favorite works of art owned by the Milwaukee  Art Museum is a lifelike sculpture called Janitor by Duane Hanson (1925-1996). Janitor was a favorite work of everyone in our family, especially our children. Acquired in 1973 by MAM, we always made sure we looked for the piece whenever we visited the museum during the fourteen years we lived in Wisconsin. 

The first glimpse of Janitor is startling. The sight of a museum (or any) employee standing around, obviously doing nothing, makes a person uncomfortable--or maybe even giggle. Does that man's boss know he's slacking off? Only when you get close do you realize this is an exceptionally realistic sculpture and not a real person. You also realize Janitor depicts a man who is not liking his day very much, most likely fatigued--maybe even depressed--wondering how long until he can punch-out on the time clock. Over the years we lived in the Milwaukee area, we had many visits to the museum and inevitably one of us would sidle up (as close as the guards would allow) to Janitor for doing nothing, or maybe pretend to be just as tired as he seems to be.

When Jay and I last visited Milwaukee together in 2013, a visit to the MAM was a priority for both of us because it has a fantastic collection of modern works, among them Kandinsky (one of Jay's favorites), my favorite 19th century angel painting (by Abbott Handerson Thayer), and an amazing collection of modern and German Expressionist works. When we saw Janitor, Jay couldn't resist; he imitated the statue's pose. I know I have more than one photo of Jay similarly imitating Janitor, but I could only easily locate this one.

 Janitor and Jay Glerum photo taken in 2013
Last week I visited Milwaukee alone--my first time since becoming a widow in 2014--and headed to the museum for an afternoon of luxuriating in front of some of my favorite artworks. When I rounded a corner at the museum, I had to cover my mouth so as not to sob aloud. There he was--Janitor--leaning against the wall. Of course, there was no way to know Jay would never be at this museum with me again when I took his photo in 2013, but the realization that Janitor was still holding up his wall, and Jay wasn't holding up anything anymore, nearly undid me for a few minutes. 
It's good we don't know when the last time for any activity is, or we'd be so frozen in our own angst. Maybe we'd feel exactly how Duane Hanson's Janitor looks. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Debt Retired; Legs Working

I pride myself in keeping my bills current. I'm generally successful in not to incurring ordinary expenses I can't pay off within thirty days. Imagine my horror when I discovered I'd been carrying a balance at the library for eight months! I've never clicked on the 'account' section of my check-out page online, but when I did I was shocked. I had owed a dime for eight months! Oh, how I love King County Library. No interest charges on my ten-cent debt! Where else does THAT happen!    
Today I walked to the library (it's a little less than a mile from my home) to return another book, which was due today, and put a dime in my pocket to pay it off.  However, that triumph dims in comparison to what happened on my journey there. As I crossed a main drag in Bothell--actually, a state highway with a well-marked pedestrian cross-walk and controlled by a WALK signal (with a robot intoning "WAIT . . . WAIT . . . WAIT" when there's a red light and WALK . . . WALK . . . WALK when the light changes)--I was almost struck by a car whose driver was turning left and apparently didn't realize the crosswalk was occupied. 

I didn't know I could move so fast until this experience today, and my heart pounded the rest of the way to the library. I try to find things to be grateful for every day instead of feeling sorry for myself (it's way to easy for me to fall into a daily pity pot), but today's gratitude becomes GRATITUDE for legs that moved fast enough to get out of the way of the turning car. Amen.