We pulled off the highway in western Montana, on our way to Glacier. I had seen some promising signs of fresh cherries and peaches along the side of the road and directions to this town with a name I don’t remember. I expected a fruit stand – but the only promising place was a general store/antique store at the end of the road in the opposite direction. We appeared to be the only ones in town, although they seemed to believe there would be more by the looks of the flags and the for sale sign.
I kept thinking I was missing something but this is all there was, because the mountain raising up precluded any side streets. Just the highway, the mountain, and two people trying to sell something.
When I entered the store, a bell clanged loudly to announce my arrival and a woman appeared. No, she didn’t have any fresh cherries but she had fresh, pitted, frozen cherries.
“No, thank you.” It was a dark place, like the mountains and time had shut out all light entering. There was the usual merchandise a small general store would have – one or two containers of one choice of a wide variety of packaged food and toiletries. A few hardware items and some postcards. And interspersed were antiques and second-hand articles, seemingly placed where they would fit more than according to any grand plan.
I wish I hadn’t had cherries as my only goal. I wish I hadn’t been tired from hearing train horns blaring 50 yards from my bedroom for the past 4 nights. I wish we hadn’t felt the pull of having to be somewhere down the road that night and the bigger pull of starting towards home. I wish Jim hadn’t felt the misery of having a new cold set in.
I wish I would have chatted with the woman who came from somewhere in the back to help us. I wish I would have asked her questions that, even now, I can’t seem to formulate. I would have liked to know about her and the town and the other people who must live there, somewhere along the only street through town. But this is the knowledge that is gained from staying around a while, caring enough to put off doing what was already in the plans. You learn these stories by building trust that only comes from making a commitment.
The temperature had dropped and I decide to sit on my purple porch swing to finish hand-sewing the last edge of binding on the quilt I’m making for the young woman who became my granddaughter four years ago when my son married her mother. Maggie is an artists so I had her pick a pattern from a couple of books of contemporary quilts. I am excited about getting it to her because I think she will love it. The name of this pattern is ‘Birds Migrating’ and it is from the book is “Quick & Easy Quilts” by Lynne Goldsworthy.
This morning I sit long-wise on the swing and the motion of my body with each stitch (or the slight breeze making a loop through the porch) keeps the swing gently swaying. My sewing is smooth and efficient from decades of hand sewing, automatic – so I have extra brain cells for thinking.
Today my thoughts are about the quilt my cousin gave me. She found it in a closet she was cleaning and she didn’t want it – she thought it was Grandma’s quilt (passed down through her mother) and she knows that Grandma and I had a very close bond during our shared lifetimes. I smile a bit as I think of the symmetry of my motions and Grandma’s as we both work on our quilts, with over 75 years dividing us. I wish that we could sit on a summer’s day and talk and sew and talk and be together. I think she would enjoy the new techniques of rotary cutting and chain piecing. She would marvel at modern sewing machines as she never owned an electric one. And I would ask her all the questions that I have now that I am older, about the same age as she was when she died.
I have some questions about the quilt – ones I don’t want to ask because I want it to be Grandma’s quilt. On three or four places there is a name stamped with a rubber stamp and the little letters seem to read “Taylor”, the name of my grandfather’s mother’s second husband. She died in 1939 at the age of 90, five years before I was born. I I remember family members talking about her was alive when I was very young but I don’t remember being around her; I only know her from what I overheard the grown ups say about her.
My grandfather was a very impatient, surly sort of guy, not the kind of guy a person would want to cuddle up to, or even hug. But he showed a caring for me by doing things for me or with me. When I was small, he let me ride on the tractor when he cultivated his fields and I helped him plant and harvest potatoes in the muck. He also allowed me to learn to drive on his Cub tractor – big stuff for a thirteen year old. I remember being around him in the summer when we were outdoors doing stuff, but I sat on Grandma’s lap and cuddled into her ample body as she quietly rocked me as the blown glass in the front door made the telephone pole do funny things.
The word was that Grandpa’s mother was a difficult person that people didn’t enjoy interacting with. I’ve never thought much about my lineage coming through my grandpa and his parents. I came through Grandma and her mother Grandma Carry, who lived behind them and died when I was 6.
I’m struggling to get my mind around the fact that something of importance, be it a quilt or a part of who I am as a person, may have also come through that side of my father’s family. It feels strange to me that I struggle because I also treasure the parts of me that come from my mother’s mother and her sisters. I was around my mother’s father but I know very little about him because he only spoke Polish and I don’t remember him ever trying to interact with me. I find it strange that there are people that I have included as parts of my identity and those that I have excluded.
I’m shifting, though. Grandma will always be the central character in my life story but just as I have added important characters throughout the years, I can also go back and redefine the way people from the past fit in. In my world and my story I am in charge of most of what goes on and always how I respond.
Maybe this is a lesson for all of us. Inclusion and exclusion is not cast in steel and rock. We can become more open to people who are different. We can embrace those that other’s have told us are bad. And just maybe these new people, or new understanding of who they are and how they fit into our lives, may bring us increased meaning and joy. I am growing to love my new quilt and want to know more about the woman who pieced together each half-triangle square by hand, with tiny stitches.
This sculpture by Gary Lee Price was a part of last year’s special sculpture display at the Naples Botanical Garden and I was so excited to see it is still on display. I made several attempts to photograph its spirit last year – but deleted most of the photos. On this visit, clouds blew in as I was finishing my photography walk-about so I had ideal conditions for another try. All my previous attempts on sunny days (Florida isn’t named the Sunshine State by accident) resulted in too many highlights that Lightroom couldn’t correct enough.
With the currant administration’s nasty rhetoric about how dangerous immigrants are, especially those seeking asylum, this sculpture holds special meaning for me. See that spot on the bottom left where I joined in the circle – leaving enough space for you to join me.
This sculpture touches my soul and represents so many of the values I have chosen to believe in and build my life upon.
I remember when I first experienced someone who was poor face-to-face instead of just hearing about “the poor.” I was in second grade and we were instructed to get in a circle and hold hands. The girl that was next to me, the one I would need to hold hands with, was someone who I had been only vaguely aware of – she was always on the fringes of our class. This wasn’t a “hoity-toity” private school, just a neighborhood school in a working class neighborhood but she was different somehow, maybe her clothes were a little more warn than everyone else’s or her hair never looked clean. I had to take her hand and somewhere within me I was uncomfortable even though I had never thought about her nor understood why she seemed different. Then I took her hand. Her hand was uncomfortable in my hand and I felt repulsion. Her hand was horribly dry and crusty. And in that instant I knew very deeply in my mind and heart what poor was. Poor is being different, poor is being on the margins because poor is not having enough basic needs to be able to put a decent hand forward. Poor is suffering. That was almost 70 years ago and today I am weeping because of her exclusion from our class and because she probably never had access to the simple rights and privileges I would experience.
“I hope I can assist the world in visualizing a place where fences and boundaries, both real and imagined, are non-existent; a place where bias and prejudice are long forgotten; and finally, a place where acts of kindness, mutual respect, and love are everyday happenings.” – Gary Lee Price (obtained from his website)
I believe that this statement comes from Price’s very soul because it would be impossible to sculpt these figures to depict his message, his goal, without believing in it with all of his mind and heart. His written beliefs shine so brightly through this sculpture that they have lit my soul.
The artist has maintained the integrity of each animal’s body but in fantasy has illuminated each creatures’ personality. The penguin has a crown and the elephant has a necklace. The fantasy within the sculpture is the depiction of human experience in these animals joined together, this circle of friends. It expresses joy and laughter and movement, the love and respect within relationship, the display of inclusion in spite of differences.
I think I almost captured the energy this sculpture emits – the movement that can be felt. I think that when we are in troubled times, like the people of all nations and continents are currently experiencing, it is difficult to see how we will work our way out to better times. We can become de-moralized, feel helpless and incapable of making our world a better place. But we can do it, you and I.
We can embrace and shake the dry, cracked and dirty hand of a person we meet and offer some help while respecting the dignity of the person-hood we see in their eyes. Maybe instead of looking at and seeing difference in skin color, hair texture, or clothing styles we can share a space with them, looking for ways to work together, respecting all contributions. Maybe instead of hearing and being frustrated with a difficult to understand accent, we can work to find ways to listen to what is being communicated so we can find commonalities and relationship for a better outcome for all. We can admire them for being smart enough to be bilingual.
Most important, we in the U.S. can be thinking about the election coming up in less than two years. We need to get beyond the noise of empty promises and lies to understanding the candidate’s values. Do they recognize income inequality and have ideas about how to bring about wages that allow all people who work to be able to support their families without living below the poverty line? What do candidates believe are human rights – adequate education to give all people skills to earn a living and critical thinking ability to participate in our democratic system, basic health care for everyone, adequate housing, healthy food, access to infrastructure? Do they believe children should be protected and taken care of – even Black or Jewish or Muslim or Hispanic? Do they embrace “other” and “different” so that social values can continue to change to make room for people who aren’t just like us? What do they believe about our place in the world? Do they believe we should fight only for our interests or do they believe all people should have a share of the world’s resources? Does the candidate recognize the complexity of international relationships and articulate a way of relating to foreign leaders that is respectful of our rights and the rights of the people of foreign countries?
Different does not mean the same as bad, illegal, immoral, or dangerous. My challenge for the coming year is to find ways to respect different while fighting against actions that are really bad, illegal, immoral and dangerous. I need to clarify my values and work to understand whether proposed national policy is consistent with what I believe. I need to continue working to do what I can to make life better for those individual who have been denied basic needs because of their differences and political greed. And of course there is room for you to join me in creating millions of concentric and overlapping Circle(s) of Friends.
We frequently laugh with our friends, Lynn and Gary, because every time they talk about somewhere they went or something they did, they disagree about details. We laugh that they went on different vacations together. Maybe we laugh because Jim and I see ourselves in the mirror they are holding up.
We have always been very close, enjoying doing things together. Someone in our past complained that we were too close, we spent too much time together. Fifty-nine years doesn’t feel like too much togetherness because now we fear that we don’t have enough years left. Its not that we have big goals like starting a new family or building new careers. No, we just hope we have a few more years for camping in the Upper Peninsula, working in the flower beds on warm Spring days, eating eggs and pecan pancakes at the counter at Blueberries, and running over to the grocery for some milk and carrots. We want more time for laughing with family and friends, or talking, just the two of us.
I’ve noticed that our conversations, as we are doing and going, are lit by little jolts of memory, flashbacks to earlier experiences. Flashbacks of things our children said or did, vacations we took, people we knew during all those growing-up-together years, things we both remember, usually. What differs are the details. He remembers my father telling about Grandpa building his house and I remember being in my parent’s kitchen. He remembers changing the flat tire on the trailer and I remember fixing peanut butter sandwiches and grapes for the kids to eat while sitting on the grass along the side of the road. Maybe when the pieces of our differing memories are put together, they create an accurate picture. Maybe they make up an interesting fairy tale.
Who cares. What I treasure is the joy I experience as new days together with Jim and new observations we share with each other are enriched by the intertwining of memories of the different lives we lived together.
We heard them arrive the night before, well after dark when backing into an unfamiliar and dark campsite is always difficult. I heard the patches of conversation waif under our open window, like a summer breeze that may develop into a storm. It brought a smile as I remembered the hundreds of times I would have to take a deep breath and do a walk about in a tight circle to cool myself. I was curious about what our new neighbors looked like, what kind of lodging they brought with them; as if these two pieces of data would tell me their whole story.
I was sitting at the table by the window the next morning, with laptop open, mostly minding my own business or maybe engrossed in the photos of the previous day. They were getting their breakfast supplies, moving in and out of the door of their one-room bedroom/kitchen, just a few feet away. I heard words about the size of bowls and amount of cereal and sharing blueberries, a male voice with an edge but not escalating. I didn’t hear the female voice even though they seemed to be having a conversation. Then they sat down, eating their cereal, talking quietly.
Have they been married a very long time, or are they newly-weds on their first trip together? I’m not sure I would want to start a new relationship traveling in close quarters – we appreciate the fact that we have 50+ years of working together and knowing how to create some friendly distance while spending up to 5 weeks in something less than 150 square feet. We know how to schedule our individual morning routines around the other’s routine in spaces that the law of physics states can’t be occupied by both. We aren’t quite so good at negotiating nocturnal difference. I like quiet time writing or reading or working puzzles – alone time at the dinette. He likes quiet time in bed with lights off and eyes shut, asleep with me next to him. But most important, we have learned how to laugh about how my hand signals point him in two different directions as he is backing up. And we have decided to pay a little more to have pull-through sites.
While I cooked oatmeal I wondered if they are happy, do they trust each other to be there when the going gets bumpy, do they work equally hard to meet each other’s needs. As I poured the coffee and JB pulled on his tee shirt I looked out the window and they were gone. JB washed up the dishes, and I sat looking at the empty picnic table, thinking about how wonderful marriage can be and how difficult it is making it work.