Traveling Back in Time

 

I am many miles away and passing through memories. As I cross a park on my way to a meeting, a four-year-old boy insists on pushing his brother’s stroller. I stopped to let him pass. With determination, he advances up the hill, unaware his mother’s hand is on the top handle, helping him along. His red hair and smile throw me back 17 years.

There is a small twinge in my chest and a tightening in my throat. When my last child moved out, I went through a mourning period. I missed the day-to-day contact; the connection that made me feel whole. I admire their independence. I’m proud of their choices and goals. Nevertheless, I am lost after losing my once full-time position in their lives.

Our nightly talks are gone and I am lost between “I need you,” and “I’m fine. I’ve got this.”

As I walk through the square, I am, once again, stepping over Hot Wheels and Tonka trucks, and searching for binkies and favorite blankies. I walk up the path; I am reminded of weekend hikes and camping. I stand in front of the building and the water fountain reminds me of fishing trips and little boys laughing as they swim in cool, mountain lakes.

As if the universe and God are listening, I receive a text from my son.

“Mom, you have to read this short story in The New Yorker! It’s intense.”

Once, again, I am lifted and all is right in my world.

 

 

 

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What Moves Us to March

 

There’s a thrift store in Brooklyn that specializes in used wedding dresses. A person might wonder why a bride would want a used dress. After all, it does seem to be a bad omen to wear a dress from a possible failed marriage, but these white gowns are symbolic. They are collected for the Wedding Dress March Against Domestic Violence. Every year across the nation women march in white wedding gowns for awareness. They march in memory of Gladys Ricart, who was shot to death on her wedding day by her abusive ex-boyfriend, and for all women who are victims of domestic violence.

Protests and marches have been a pillar for citizens all over the world seeking justice, awareness, and equality. In America, the Boston Tea Party could be viewed as the first march. In December 1773, protesters marched into the Boston Harbor, boarded the cargo ships from East India and dumped around 46 tons of tea into the water. The issue wasn’t all about the taxation from the British Empire. It was the colonist’s lack of representation in the British Parliament. Their cries reverberated all over the world and caused the movement that would gain the United States independence from England.

The Women’s Right Movement, formally organized in 1848, is still going strong today.  “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” It wasn’t until 1920 women received the right to vote. It may seem archaic to the modern women of today, but imagine walking up to the voting booth and having men spit on you and call you names.

The Labor movement sparked protests that divided America. Unions were formed and not everyone was in favor of the unions. It did, however, create a minimum wage and a 40-hour workweek.

 

Crowds gather in front of the Washington Monument during the “March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom” in 1963.

The most notorious movement is the Civil Rights Movement. Its mission, equal rights for African Americans and the end of segregation. On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial, in front of a quarter of a million people and gave his “I have a dream” speech. Their actions led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, affirmative action, and other legislation to ensure equality.

 

There have been anti-war movements. The Anti-Vietnam protests on campuses across the nation grew after the Kent State shootings, where four students were killed by the National Guard, There are environmental movements, movements and protests against Wall Street, Anti-nuclear protests, the LGBT equal rights march. Gandhi’s Salt March against Britain moved India toward independence. The pro-democracy protest in Beijing Tiananmen Square ended in a massacre caused by the Chinese government.

Why do people risk their livelihoods and their lives by marching and protesting? Political protest is on the rise and it does not appear to be losing ground. Something inside a person moves or impels him or her to action. It can be for gratification, a movement leads toward change. People march to express their beliefs whether it is for religious beliefs or personal feelings such as a way to express their pain or anger. There are those who march to improve conditions such as the movement toward a safer environment. We may march and protest because we empathize with others. We march against social systems that violate or break existing laws and rules. These laws and rules were fought for by generations past. Grievances from deprivation, frustration or perceived injustice propel us to act and form an alliance with others.

If you are to ask someone who took to the streets in a wedding dress or a pink “pussy” hat, or someone who stood in front of a military tank, or marched with his fellow man or woman into a world of racism and bigotry, if they would do it again, despite the social damnation or disapproval, they will tell you, “Yes!”

For those who are called to action, the gratification, whether they succeed or not, far exceed the opinions and social rejections of their opposition. The women and men who find the courage to put their lives on the line for equality, freedom, civil rights, and to protect their land gain more than a resolution or an awareness, they gain strength and courage to protest and march another day.

There’s a euphoria, an exhilaration, in pushing oneself out of their safety zone. Protestors have said they felt a sense of elation and were inspired to march again if called to do so.

It isn’t only a justifiable belief such as freedom and equality, which moves and motivates humans to protest but a stimulant. One that creates a natural source of love, relief from grief, and a sense of belonging.

Protests and marches have brought about change and awareness. They have formed laws, created better communities, brought people together for a common cause and improved lives all over the world.

I can only imagine the energy in the atmosphere on the day Martin Luther King Jr. spoke. I can only imagine the pain felt by the women before me as they were kicked and beaten on their way to the voting booths. I can only imagine the jubilation of those who have protested, marched and won so I may still have the freedom to do the same.

 

Photos courtesy Martin Luther King Jr. March on Washington-NPR, Wedding Dress March- The Boston Globe, The Woman’s March on Washington Jan. 2017- Laurie Biggs Marshall @seelauriewrite

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Serendipity can be Found in a Book?

When authors write, they tend to write about life experiences. Their stories are in memoirs or nonfictional books, but some writers will place their true to life adventures or ordeals in fictional stories. As a reader, I pick up excerpts and quotes that resonate with me. It’s as if I’m in group therapy and I don’t feel as isolated with my burdens.

I don’t believe in coincidences. Everything that happens is purposeful. If I concentrate on a question, an answer is certain to show up. Sometimes the answer shows up from a friend knocking at the door or in her text message. Other times I’ve found the answer in a small paragraph or in one line of a book.

One morning I was struggling with the idea of traveling and leaving the comfort of my routine existence, which included my job. I wrote down the pros and cons of a nomadic life. The big question hung above my head when I went to pick up a friend for lunch. On her desk was “Women Who Run with the Wolves,” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. My friend had finished the book and offered it to me.  There my answer appeared.

“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories… water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.”

“Go out in the woods, go out. If you don’t go out in the woods nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.”

― Clarissa Pinkola EstésWomen Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

The fear of quitting my job, packing a bag and beginning a new journey vanished. I set a plan and within days, I was receiving calls from different resources with offers to help me.

Some people call it serendipity, signs from the universe, or messages from God. Some people turn to the Bible for answers. Others practice mindfulness and meditation. My answers come from books.

A book drops into my hands as if there’s an invisible string tied to it and the universe is in control. I imagine wheels and dials ticking in time, moving a pulley system. It waits until I’ve accumulated a list of unanswered questions or unresolved problems.

After working in healthcare for many years, I found myself asking, “Why are we keeping some of these people alive?” It’s a tough question. In my experience, staving off death is a risky business.

Medicine and science is amazing if used right. There are those moments when we cross the line of morals and ethics. All healthcare associates know when it is time to quit, but we can be burdened with family requests to keep going. We push the chemicals to keep the heart pumping and start the machine to keep the lungs expanding all the while knowing we’ve gone beyond the purpose of these miraculous inventions. We are no longer providing care to a better life, but prolonging death.

Those who believe in God and life after death will fight death too. I never understood this.

My question, the one that kept me going the wrong way on a one-way path, was burning me out. Could I continue to put these human beings through the inhumane procedures to keep them from dying?

Paul Kalanithi’s book, “When Breath Becomes Air” was given to me when I was deciding to give up on healthcare and work with the movement of Death with Dignity. In his book, I found a light.

“Our patients’ lives and identities may be in our hands, yet death always wins. Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”

“At those critical junctures, the question is not whether to live or die but what kind of life is worth living.”

My favorite passage, the one that kept me caring, was, “I had learned something, something not found in Hippocrates, Maimonides, or Osler: the physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.”

A book can be a life preserver. It can come to you with needed words to get you through grief. A book can make you laugh when you don’t feel as if there is any joy left. A paragraph or a sentence has changed my life many times. The answer, I have found, is in a book.

 

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I Cried when the Tree Fell Down

My scream, “No, No, No”, accelerated and echoed through the house. I’m certain my frantic call was heard all through the trees and d_mg_5498-2own the mountain. I imagined flocks of wild birds taking flight and herds of deer scrambling for the forest. My throat tightened as I let out another moan from deep within my chest. The Christmas tree had tipped and fallen.

Ornaments, garland and lights flew from the piney branches. My husband came running into the living room. He looked down at the festive mess and with a swift movement, dipped his hand in, grabbed the trunk, and had it upright within seconds.

“It’s okay. See?” His face was desperate, anticipating my meltdown.

It wasn’t okay, though. It was the final push before the earth began to tremble and crack underneath me. I was done. When I say done, it is a definitive moment in my life. I am notorious for being able to walk calmly through hell and still keep smiling.

At my feet were soggy presents, which I meticulously decorated, coordinating the wrapping, ribbons and bows.  My DIY artisanship, an idea I got from Pinterest, was melting. The water from the tree stand had poured over onto the gifts. I rushed to save them, tearing the paper and wet cardboard boxes.

For months, we had both been away, going in different directions for our jobs. I was grabbing minutes, at home, here and there to prepare for Christmas. I arrived late the night before, exhausted and worn. I awoke early, drove to the nursery, bought the perfect tree, dragged it into the garage, balanced it and set it into the stand, then dragged it into the house to decorate. It has been two years since we were all at home. We didn’t put up a tree in the last three years. There was no holding back. I was pulling out memories and decorations and making this a Christmas to remember. But, before Christmas could arrive, I was sobbing on my hands and knees with towels and a trash bag.

As I surrendered to the catastrophe, I realized my breakdown wasn’t about the tree. Sometimes, we create our own Rock of Gibraltar, a solid strong place that cannot be destroyed. We’re told to buck it up, put our big girl panties on, be strong, don’t let them see you fall. At some point throughout our lives, a tree has to fall. It reminds us we are human. We need to slow down and rest. We need to seek help and assistance. We need to care and love ourselves.

I live up to my zodiac sign by being a perfectionist. Perfection is overrated, though. My family and close friends would_mg_5497-2 be happy to see the crooked, broken tree with warped gifts as long as we were together. They would grab paper plates if I didn’t set the perfect table. Most important, they would gather around me and lift me up if I told them I, like the tree, was falling.

My husband salvaged the tree. To be honest, if he had not been home, the tree would be in the river serving the trout. Tears blurred my vision as I watched him gather the saved ornaments and garland. The packages were rewrapped and tied in a shining silver lining. For the next three weeks, the lopsided tree with its broken branches will remind me life isn’t perfect and neither am I.

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A Curiosity with the Honeybee

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     A pasture and a creek separated us from an enchanted forest of evergreens and tall pines. My allies and I would creep through the sage and wildflowers toward the river.  We had created an imaginary world as we wriggled our way toward a fallen tree, which crossed the creek. On the other side, the beasts and tarragons of the forest watched from a rocky perch. Our covert actions were too clever. We always made it into the woods undiscovered. There were a few fatalities over the years. One spring, we lost a comrade to the frigid water. He fled wet, cold and crying.

It was fall and I was nine years old. I had ventured out on my own. As I moved through a thicket of goldenrod, I heard the snoring of one of the dragons. The humming vibrated in the distance. Honeybees lifted from the blossoms as I made my way. Their bodies hovered in the air, weighted down by yellow dust. They would land, take off and move in the direction of the sleeping beast.

As I crept closer, I could see a large, dark cloud morphing into different shapes on the branches of an aspen tree.

“It’s amazing isn’t it?”

A woman in a white suite with a safari hat and netting around her face startled me.

“Are those bees?” I pointed at the cloud.

She smiled as she moved closer to the swarm.

“Those are honeybees.”

She grabbed branch cutters and moved in.

“You might want to stand back a bit. They normally don’t attack in a swarm, but you never know.”

I watched as she cut the branch down.  With a gentle hand, she carried the branch covered with bees toward a white box in the back of her pickup.

“What are you going to do with them?”

“Keep them. I’m a beekeeper.”_mg_5329-2

My fascination for the honeybee began, and for weeks, I read books on apiaries, beekeeping and the life of bees. I ordered my first beehive box and assembled it down by the river, near our imaginary giants.

Lately, the news has covered the plight of the honeybees in the world. A few weeks ago, 7 species of yellow faced bees, all native to Hawaii, were placed on the endangered species list for the first time.

I met up with beekeeper, Brad Keck, President of the Northwest Arkansas Beekeepers association, at his apiary.

“Honeybees are not indigenous to North America,” he said. “Early settlers brought the European Honeybee over on their voyage to America.”

I try to imagine being a beekeeper on a large ship. Where do you run if you anger them?

Mr. Keck explained the demise of the honeybees is also caused by the lack of food.

“The increase in human development has decreased the plant life. The amount of vegetation, mainly the wildflower pollen, used by the bees has diminished, causing the bees to starve.”

An average hive needs 40 to 60 pounds of honey to survive the winter months. Most important to humans, as most people know, is honeybees are our pollinators. Without them, we lose the production of fruits, nuts, vegetables, spices and most important, coffee beans. Imagine a world without coffee. I could survive without coffee, maybe. Imagine a world without apples, peaches, oranges, berries and lemons. In addition…, all you guacamole lovers, you can forget your avocados.

Mr. Keck stated planting more wildflowers, clover, Anise Hyssop, Korean Evodia trees, Vitex trees in idle pastures or fields and yards would service the honeybees through the spring and summer months. Fall Sumac, lavender, sage and goldenrod help in the fall for the honeybee’s winter production.

“Unique among all God’s creatures, only the honeybee improves the environment and preys not on any other species.”
~ Royden Brown 

     Many European cultures refer to bees as God’s messenger. In the spring as you drive by the orchards or the fields of berries you might see white boxes placed among the trees and plants. These white boxes are migratory boxes. Beekeepers stack them on flatbed trailers and lend them to farmers to help in the pollination of the fruit blossoms.

     “Liquid Gold” is a name given to honey. After learning more about beekeeping from Brad, I realize the term is from the making of mead or “honey wine”. Brad began beekeeping after learning how to make beer and wine.  He found out how much honey it took to make mead and decided to become a beekeeper to produce his own honey. Mead goes as far back as the Roman Empire and Greek gods in mythology.

There is noted archives dated 7000 B.C., which suggests mead fermentation out ages beer and wine. Vikings, Mayans, and Egyptians enjoyed the sweet beverage.

In the fictional world, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, mead is referenced as Meduseld (Mead hall in old English). It was the great “golden” hall built in Rohan. It served as the house for the king.

The field of goldenrod behind my childhood home is gone, along with my honeybees and my dragons. It has been replaced by a subdivision. I still plant wildflowers and lavender wherever I go.

There are beekeeping classes given in each state by their extension offices and by state beekeepers associations. Brad Keck can be reached at Sonora Honey Farm in Springdale Arkansas. www.sonorahoneyfarm.com

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Casting Votes

Casting Votes

When children reach different milestones in their lives, we praise and memorialize their first achievements. We record their first laugh, their first word and their first steps. For 18 years, we follow them around with a camera, documenting all their triumphs and conquests. These chronicles of life events slow down after high school or college graduations.

During this presidential election year, I realized, my two youngest sons were going to vote for the first time. This is an important first. “A man without a vote is a man without protection.” ~President Lyndon Johnson.

Through all the chaos and rhetoric, I was concerned if my sons were well informed. At the ages of 18 and 21, I was curious if they were watching, listening and checking facts. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”

“I feel like I’ve been cheated out of an actual election.” The oldest said. “Media giants are calling out extremists, dividing the country. Pitting the nation against each other and sectioning off America doesn’t make for a respectful election.”

I sat and wondered about this. I thought back to past elections. Was it different? Had our candidates lost their platforms by showing the worst of the worst? We don’t appear to be focusing on the important things. Is there a decline in respect?

“It’s up to us, more than ever, to change the system, to better reflect the way the people of this country feel and what they want,” he concluded.

There was a sense of disgust and fear in his words. With that frustration, though, there was also an allegiance and an eagerness to create change.

My youngest son’s view wasn’t much different. He too stated his view on the media.

“I always feel as if I have to fact check everything myself. The media doesn’t always get it right,” he said. “Advanced technology has made it easy for false claims by the media. If you don’t look closely to who’s posting the article you can be deceived.”

He presented a page to me showing a large W at the top and the word “Post” under it.

“You would assume this was published by the Washington Post, but if you scroll down and read the tiny, grey print, its states Washton Post. Your mind believes it just read a credible or at least somewhat credible newspaper.”

After reading the article, I found numerous false accusations on one of the candidates.

“I go to the historians and check archives from reliable resources. You really have to do your homework. I call it dime store journalism.” He smiles.

I asked him if he watched the first debate.

“Yes, it was crazy. There was so much confusion in their words. They seem to babble on and on without really saying anything. I don’t want to waste my vote. I ‘m new at this and I want to do what’s best for the country.”

I recalled my own life at eighteen. I was worried about my grades and if I was going to fit into college life. I don’t remember being concerned with politics.

“I don’t like the way the country is being divided,” he said. “People are getting angry at each other because they have different beliefs or ideas. Really, why would you be mad and hateful toward someone who thinks differently? It’s not like we’ve never had an election before. Or, has it always been like this?”

It isn’t important to me to know whom they are voting for. I didn’t ask. It is vital they vote. One of my favorite quotes is by David Foster Wallace who was an influential writer and essayist. He was also a professor of English and creative writing.

“If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are ivoten effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.”

You live in a democracy. Voting is one of your most precious American rights. Go Vote.

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We Started a Fire and Freed the Dragons

Eight teenage girls sat in front of me. With their arms crossed over their chests and their hands clenched, they stared into the space between the door and them. Each one unique, but they shared one common story. They came from violent homes. As I stood there looking like a time traveler from the 60’s, I thought back to the weeks before my arrival.
Persistent friends persuaded me I could help with the young girls. These women, who had been victimized, were gathering for a healing retreat and there were more participants than there were volunteers.
“You’ve done this before. You’ll be great,” the committee said.
“They’re teenagers,” I said. “It’s different.”
“Not really. Same issues, same goals.”
“They’re teenagers,” I said.
“You were a teenager once.” The committee leader was smiling.
“A hundred years ago,” I said. “I just don’t think I can give them what they need.”
“That’s nonsense. You’ll be fine.”
I spent the following weeks in a panic. What do I know about teenage girls and what could I possibly do to help? I climbed into my attic to find old photo albums. I thought it would refresh my memory. I spent hours staring at pictures of me as a teen. I realized my teenage years might look like the dark ages to today’s young women. I was giving up before I even started.
There was one large, white box with high school memorabilia. Inside was a stack of journals, scrapbooks, a blue letter jacket and scraps of poster boards. The boards were plastered with cutouts from magazines. The collage of pictures and words were a compilation of my visions. They were my vision boards.
A vision board is an empowering tool used to help clarify and maintain focus on a future goal. The images represent whatever a person wants to become, do or have in their life.
The vision board in my box was from the summer after high school graduation. The words “Count your blessings”, “Your opinion matters”     “Stay positive” and “Peace” was glued under images of sunsets and mountains. Nothing had changed. My goals from my childhood were still with me.
I rushed through the aisle at the grocery store, grabbing every magazine I thought young girls would be reading today. I even purchased a few I thought I could use. I packed scissors, glue and large sheets of cardboard.
After scattering everything onto the table, the girls began to skim through the magazines. It was a catastrophe. Tension and dismay settled on their faces. Long sighs and dazed looks overcame them.
“Do you have anything different?” A girl, with turquoise hair and a small, post in her nose turned to me. Her words were polite and soft.   “These are kind of like the dragons.”
I picked up a few of the fashion magazines and looked through them. Taunting, expensive beauty products and clothing advertisements filled page after page. Instead of articles to empower young women, I saw articles on how to look seimg_20160913_124630191xy and pictures of thin women with large amounts of makeup. I had failed.
“I am so sorry,” I said. “These are horrible.”
I grabbed my bag, hoping to find something less demanding of our beauty skills. My body temperature was rising and I could feel a warm sweat forming on my skin.
Frustrated and disappointed in myself, I placed a sociology and a medical journal on the table, along with Mother Earth Living, Life:beautiful, Home Decor and Urban Gardner.
“We don’t have to do this,” I said.
They began to look through the journals and magazines on health, wellness and organic gardening. Soon they were cutting, pasting and talking.
The girl with the turquoise hair asked me why I had a magazine about sheep farming.
“I wanted to learn about the different kinds of sheep and their wool. I thought it would be neat to have some, someday.”
“Cool,” she said.
Before she walked away, I asked her what she meant about the dragons.
“Its society and all those people who try to make you into something you’re not, or make you buy something you really can’t afford or you really don’t want.”
It made sense to me.
When we were done with our vision boards, we gathered up the dragons. All the fashion magazines were placed in a fire pit outside. We sat down and watched the pages burn.

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Living in a Small House may have caused my Spending Spree

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For years, I’ve been lessening the amount of ‘stuff’ I was carrying with me. Those things, which didn’t serve a purpose, were packed up and donated to thrift shops and different charities. After all, less meant more. Less stuff to care for meant more time to do the things I loved. Less clutter led to less stress. The less there was the more freedom I would have, freedom from worry, guilt and depression. This also meant I was spending less. I was no longer trapped in consumerism, the concept that an ever-expanding consumption of goods is advantageous to the economy.

After clearing out closets and emptying cupboards, I moved up to the attic. I pulled down the stacks of blue Rubbermaid containers, filled with those items I swore I would need someday, but never did. I went through old holiday decorations, years of trend-setting decor and clothing, children’s toys, books and out-dated electronics. I tossed everything that had no value, keeping only a small container of sentimental objects. My home became a minimalist’s haven. All the excess was out. I was now ready for happiness and freedom.

My next step was to live in a small house, possibly a ‘tiny house’. The opportunity came and I rented a small cottage. I took only the things I needed. I packed a minimal amount of clothes, personal hygiene products, a few dishes and my laptop. I was on my way to reclaiming my time, growth and discovery and experiencing real joy. My cottage was a one-room house with a bathroom and small storage closet. My bedroom, kitchen and living area were all in one space. It was charming and inviting, for a while.

Living alone, I made the space my own. It was clutter free, easy to clean and economically cheap. I spent the first week exploring my surroundings, intrigued by the serenity and simplicity. I cleared out my mind and began to write. At least, I tried to write. My creative thoughts appeared blocked. Something was missing and I couldn’t figure out what it was. I went on long walks in the woods, taking my camera to photograph the wildlife and flowers. I thought taking pictures would open the gates, but the words needed to finish my novel were not coming forth. I was blocked.

I drove to new places and nearby towns. I stopped and sat on porches talking to strangers, drank coffee in various shops and started to browse the antique stores, different markets and boutiques. In one of the antique shops, I found a teapot that reminded me of the one my great aunt had when I was a child. I bought it. As soon as I got back to my cottage, I put it on the windowsill in front of my laptop. The white, porcelain pot brought forth happy memories. This small object gave me joy and I began to write. I began to create. I wrote about afternoon tea with my aunt and her teapots.

A few days later, I discovered another town near the Mississippi river. I sat down on a bench, watching the boats and barges push through the water. An older gentleman, who was fishing off a pier, walked up to me and told me about his life working on the river. He was retired and owned a nursery in town. Nurseries, flowers, the smell of potting soil and clay pots, oh how I’ve missed my greenhouse. I bought three plants, a bag of dirt and some planters. I couldn’t wait to get back and place my garden in the window next to my teapot. That night I wrote about the old man on the river.

After two months, I packed up my necessities including a few new objects, and left my cottage for home. When I looked at my clean bare walls and empty corners, I realized I needed a few ‘things’ in my life to give me joy. It wasn’t about consumption or breaking the rules of being a minimalist, but about the simple pleasures, which arouse memories and awaken my soul. The ‘stuff’ I collected from my travels and the small things that serve me well can be boxed up by my children and taken to the thrift store when I’m gone. For now, the old Royal typewriter, which could also serve as a great boat anchor, will remain in my office to remind me I am a writer.

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Myrtle’s Place

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I was driving down the road, looked down, and saw my mother’s hands resting on the steering wheel. I thought, when did this happen? The age spots forming on my skin and the thin lines on my face are reminders we all grow old. I don’t dwell on these things, but I’ve been thinking about my aging mother. We’ve discussed plans and although the possibility of a nursing home in the distant future was mentioned, I thought there had to be other alternatives. Then, I met Myrtle and Bobby Kilcrease and discovered there are other options for our aging population.
They own a charming, country house in a wooded area and for 24 years, many elderly folks called it home.
Myrtle quit her job in 1989 after ten years as an administrator for a nursing home. She opened up her house to residents who were unable to live alone and safely care for themselves. Some of the residents didn’t have family left or their distant relatives lived many miles away. Unfortunately, others had been forgotten.
A person didn’t come to Myrtle’s to age gracefully and twiddle away the hours. Myrtle wouldn’t allow it. There were festivals, gatherings, traveling, outings, and many days of planting and gardening.
The wooded area surrounding Bobby and Myrtle’s house was the perfect setting for haunted path during Halloween. Ghosts and goblins from all over took part in the festivities. At Christmas time, a large dinner was served for the residents and their families. It took days to decorate the house and prepare the meal for the large gathering. Every Valentine’s Day, Myrtle invited the group’s classmates from the 1940’s. They would pass out valentine cards and tell stories of a time when courting and meeting the parents was a requirement before dating.
The best part of living at Myrtle’s was the trips. Myrtle said, on some evenings she would drive the residents around in a van. They would take the dirt roads, past old homesteads and through small towns. There was always talk of days gone by. Her favorite outing was when she would drive everyone on a five-hour trip to Eureka Springs Arkansas. They rented a house and visited the Passion Play.
“The residents looked forward to that trip every year,” she said. “I loved doing it.”
The large closed in porch on the back of the house was the sitting room. The windows lined the walls, filling the room with warmth and light. The residents would watch the deer grazing in the trees and hummingbirds zipping in around the feeders. Everyone gathered there to play cards and games, or watch movies. Tomatoes from the garden sat on the ledge, near the light, to ripen. Near the row of windows was a long dining table for meals. All the meals were homemade by Myrtle, except the breakfast. Breakfast was Bobby’s job. He states he got good at biscuits and gravy.
In one room, Myrtle set up a beauty salon. Every week the women had their hair done and the men were well groomed. Myrtle always made sure the ladies had their makeup on and their nails manicured and painted.
“They were southern ladies and accustomed to looking nice. I didn’t want to take that away from them.”
When I asked her how she did it, she told me the first four years she and Bobby managed it alone, but later she hired CNAs to come in and help.
“Everyone got a bath every day. They were up and moved around. Most of my residents were able to get about, but sometimes you had to encourage them.”
People compliment Myrtle for her hard work, but she doesn’t see it as hard.
“I was just following the path that God put me on. I never felt like it was hard work. I loved doing it. It was better than sending them to a nursing home.”
Myrtle recalls a time when the Union came into the nursing home where she was working.
“Things started to go bad. We couldn’t keep staff. Patients weren’t getting the care they needed and I saw them wasting away. They were over medicated and sat like zombies in their wheelchairs,” she recalled. “Growing old shouldn’t be like that.”
Myrtle talks about her first resident. She was an 87-year-old woman who drove her Oldsmobile into the yard and looked around. She moved in immediately. Later the same year the woman’s sister came and just as they did when they were young, the two shared a room. Myrtle’s place could accommodate ten residents. Over the 24 years she was open she cared for 60 elderly people. One of her “ladies” resided with her for eight years. She was 101 years old when she died.
“I learned a lot about Hospice care when the end came for some of my residents. I realized dying could be peaceful.”
Myrtle stopped taking in residents in 2013 when she was diagnosed with cancer.
“I was getting too tired and couldn’t care for them while I was going through chemotherapy. I needed to take care of myself for a while. It was a hard decision to make.”
This hasn’t stopped her. Myrtle is open to part-time visitors as a respite home. When families are going on vacation, they bring their loved one to Myrtle’s home. A place where they know their family member is cared for and loved.

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