Roots

I need to apologize to Osyth. A few weeks ago in her blog, Half-Baked in Paradise, she wrote about moving. Something about her words broke my heart. Maybe it was this:

My heart felt the leaden weight of sorrow because my safe-place, my home, my warm hug, my protective cloak, call it what you will has gone.

When she posted again, I didn’t even go read it. I couldn’t — I was still grieving over her move. Then she posted again, and I read it. In fact, she started re-blogging a series about her home, and the renovations there, and I binged. She’s posting day by day. Like a glutton, I looked the whole series up and read it, laughing — actually revelling with her — at the great adventure she has been on for some time. (Start here: Coup de Coeur: Part One)

Sorry, Osyth, for not waiting for you to repost them all. I’m just the kind of person who likes to read the end of the book before I read the middle.

Home is something so dear to me. One of my many started-and-discarded blogs had the tagline, “I love where I live.”  And I do. I love upstate New York.  I love Cooperstown. I love the four seasons, the Susquehanna River, Otsego Lake, the trees, the village streets, the country roads, the people, the cows, even the tourists. This is my home — and the thought of living elsewhere is almost unthinkable.

My father keeps asking me what brought me to Cooperstown.

“What do you mean?” I ask him.

“What made you come here?” he’ll say, as if that clarifies anything.

“Are you asking about why I first moved to Cooperstown?”

“Yes,” he replies.

“We moved here as a family in 1967,” I say. “You took a job at Bassett Hospital as the head of their General Services department.”

“Yes, that’s right,” he replies, every time, remembering, or acknowledging the plausibility of this story.

“I was a child,” I remind him, “your child. I didn’t have a choice.”

“Where did Bud come from?” my father asks, trying to piece together my family.

We’ve gone through this many times now. I know the questions that are coming, but it’s sad because he has lost a large chunk of my life.

“I took a year off from college and met Bud while I was working at Bassett,” I say.

He nods, but I’m not sure he remembers anything about this.

Long pauses punctuate our conversation.

“Where did you come from?” This question often comes next. It’s another one that needs clarification. I’m sure he’s not asking about the birds and the bees, so I name the army base where I was born.

“How long did you live there?”

My mom and the children she moved with all by herself

“Six weeks,” I tell him. “When I was a baby, Mom loaded me, Stewart, Donabeth, and Peter into a station wagon to join you in Fort Riley.”

Yes, I was 6 weeks old. My oldest brother was 5 years old, my sister not quite 4, and my middle brother only 21 months old. Whenever I asked my mother about my birth and first year of life, all she would say to me was, “That was a hard time.” I’ll bet it was. The legend of a super mom.

“I don’t remember any of that,” my father says, and, of course, he wouldn’t because he was busy working at his fledgling career as an army doctor.

Another long pause. I begin to focus on whatever it was I had been doing before this conversation began.

“So what made you come here?” my father will ask, and we’ll start the whole thing again.

“You did, Dad,” I tell him. “You did.”

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Coaching Imogene Herdman

Yesterday I made a girl cry.

The head coach told me, “You did the right thing.”

When I told the story to one of my sons, he said the same thing. “That was the right decision,” he said.

Still, I went to sleep thinking about her and woke up thinking about her.

Basically, I’m coaching Imogene Herdman. If you’ve never read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. The opening line in the book is, “The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world.” Imogene is all Herdman.

In fact, I’ll call my swimmer Imogene for this post.

She’s mean. A real bully. Lots of name-calling. Shoving. Swimming over top of other kids. Always late — when she shows up at all. Mouthy.

I’ve said to my co-coaches more than once, “I need to figure Imogene out. Where does the mean come from?”

A lot of kids these days are from broken homes and blended families, so I don’t want to assume that’s the root, but I think it plays a part. She’s been displaced by a baby half-brother in her home. She’s a hers, but he’s a theirs.

My group of swimmers is developmental. They’re mostly around 10 years old and still learning the strokes. We practice Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

On Tuesdays, however, I coach a different group, a higher level group, because their coach can’t make Tuesdays at all.

A few parents of swimmers from my group have asked about having their child practice on Tuesday with me. Piano lessons and other activities make it hard to make it to all the practices. I’ve answered that on a case-to-case basis.

Imogene showed up last Tuesday.

“Can I practice today to make up for some of my missed practices?” she asked.

I paused. “Can you be nice?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, looking up at me so hopefully.

“Can you listen and do what you’re told?” I asked. She often doesn’t.

“Uh-huh,” she said, and gave me a please-please-please smile.

“Okay, we’ll give it a try,” I said.

She made it about 40 minutes before she started pushing and swimming over top of other kids.

The next day, she didn’t come to practice. She went to the locker room, though, and told the other girls, “I’ve been moved up to another group.”

“Was Imogene moved up?” my saintly swimmers asked.

“No,” I told them.

She came Friday in full-on bully mode, skipped the meet on Saturday, and then at Monday’s practice told me that she was coming on Tuesday.

“No, Imogene,” I told her. “Coming on Tuesday is a conversation I need to have with your parents. You can’t just decide that you’re coming.”

But she came.

And I made her get out.

“We talked about this yesterday,” I said to her.

“I have a note from home,” she replied, but didn’t offer to show it to me.

“I’d like to have a conversation, not a note,” I told her.

She stared at the deck.

“My problem, Imogene, is this,” I continued. “You aren’t always nice to the other swimmers in your lane. You don’t do what I ask you to do. You skip practices. You skip meets.”

Tears filled her eyes.

“I can’t go to swim meets,” she said, her lower lip trembling. “I have a baby brother.”

“Can you ask some of your friends for rides to meets?” I suggested, but as soon as I said the words, I knew the answer. She doesn’t have many friends.

The tears rolled down her cheeks. I thought of Amanda Beard’s memoir, In the Water They Can’t See You Cry. On deck, standing in front of me, I could see the tears.

“Tuesday practices are a privilege for our group,” I said. “I need to talk with one of your parents.”

With that, she left.

And I felt like crying.

“You did the right thing,” the head coach said. “She can’t run the show. You feel badly because you’re kind.”

I didn’t feel kind.

I felt like I had kicked Imogene Herdman out of the Christmas Pageant. At the start of Advent.

For me, swim team has always been about a thousand different things other than swimming. Now it’s about a Christmas Pageant bully.

How do I reach Imogene?

Rough and Slippery Roads

Those who journey on level ground have no need to give one another their hands, whereas those who are on rough and slippery roads hold fast one to another… in order to walk securely and help one another in the many difficult places through which they have to pass.

St. France de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life

A helping hand while climbing the rocks at Whytecliff Park

God, in His mercy, blessed me with a number of people who offer me their hand in the difficult places.

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for each one of them.

 

Another Sunrise Post

Laurel and I left before the crack of dawn for a swim meet this morning.

As we came over the top of Murphy Hill, I caught my first glimpse of the eastern horizon.

“That’s going to be a beautiful sunrise,” I told her.

She started to laugh.

“Just you wait,” I said, assuming she was laughing at me gushing over another sunrise. “Some day 50 years from now, you’ll see a breath-taking sunrise, and you’ll think, Mom would have liked that.”

“What are you talking about?” she asked.

“You laughed,” I said.

“I thought you said, ‘That’s no surprise’,” she said, referring to the conversation we had been having before I was distracted by the crack of dawn breaking through the sky ahead of us.

We both laughed. I mis-hear a lot. This time is was someone else’s turn to hear incorrectly.

I handed Laurel my phone. “See if you can take a few pictures on the way,” I said.

And she did.

 

I know that beautiful sunrises are simply caused by light reflecting through particles in the atmosphere.

Still, it was a lovely way to start the day.

Every time we came around another curve or crested another hill, the view just got better.

It doesn’t happen often , but I’m so glad that some days are like that.

October Gratitude

On October 29, I am grateful for these — collected over the course of the month.

  1. Harvest time
  2. A few stalks left behind
  3. Airports
  4. A full-circle rainbow seen from above
  5. Tennessee sunrise
  6. A quiet place to stay
  7. That bald-headed guy resting his arm on the chair (below)
  8. The woman in the middle in the greenish shirt (above) (Her eyes always sparkle.)
  9. Dining with friends
  10. A new book
  11. An afternoon walking around a mall with a friend (sorry, no picture)
  12. The Dalek I saw there
  13. A bald eagle sighting
  14. A new job
  15. Chipmunks in the house (only the tail visible here)
  16. Mice trapped in an empty can and released into the wild
  17. Beautiful sunsets
  18. A girl to take the picture for me while I drive (rearview mirror)
  19. Late autumn colors
  20. The way the afternoon sun hits the hills
  21. Concentric spiky circles
  22. Apples
  23. Pears
  24. Hallmark movies
  25. Family humor
  26. A funny sign
  27. A visit from my grandson (the walker isn’t his)
  28. My father and my grandson playing together
  29. A military funeral (no photo, but a memory I’ll hold onto)

How has your October been?

 

Mr. Hanson

Image from ALLOTSEGO.com from Veteran’s day 2016 — Mr. Hanson on the right

I don’t think he was there the first time we visited the Methodist Church a few  years ago, but he was the second or third time we went back.

“Sally,” he said to me in his strong deep voice. I was flattered that he remembered me. It had been 40-some years since I sat in his 7th grade math class.

“Hi, Mr. Hanson,” I replied.

“You can call me Dick, you know,” he said, smiling. “You’re an adult now.”

“I don’t think I can,” I said to him.

Teachers, especially good ones, have a special status. When I hear kids today calling teachers by their first name, or, worse, just their last name, I cringe a little inside.

Sunday after Sunday he would engulf my hand in his while he greeted me. If I called him Mr. Hanson, he would give me a look and then say, “Dick, please,” so I took to calling him nothing.

“Good morning!” “Good to see you today!” “Merry Christmas!” I avoided the naming, and he allowed me to, until one Sunday, he said, “C’mon. You can say it.” He held my hand and waited.

I took a deep breath, and said, “Dick?” in the smallest of voices, and quickly followed it with “I don’t think I can.”

He looked at me a long time, then let go of my hand. “Okay,” he said, and he smiled at me but never mentioned the name thing again.

Mr. Hanson was one of those larger than life teachers. A former marine. Physically a big guy. A booming voice. A great smile.

I said something to another woman at church who had had him as a teacher. “I just can’t call him anything but Mr. Hanson,” I told her.

“I know,” she said, ” but let me tell you something about him. Do you remember when I was in the hospital?”

I did. When we were in school, she had been in a tobogganing accident that resulted in a broken neck, broken jaw, and months in the hospital. I spent many afternoons sitting in her room with her. Her jaw was wired shut. A device that resembled tongs attached to her skull and held her neck in traction via weights that hung down over the end of the bed.

“My mother was taking a mandatory First Aid class for teachers on Monday nights,” she said, “and she must have mentioned something about it to Mr. Hanson because he started showing up in my hospital room on Monday nights to visit. He never said anything to her about it, and it took me a long time to figure it out, but on the one night she couldn’t be with me, he came by.”

I wondered how many other Mr. Hanson stories are out there.

Therein is greatness.

Not doing big things that draw attention and bring accolades, but in doing the small things, unnoticed and unseen, but not unimportant.

Mr. Hanson died last week.

I’m sorry (not sorry) that I could never bring myself to call him Dick. I’ll miss his strong handshake, resonant voice, and warm smile. I’ll miss his presence.

Rest in peace, sir.