Taking Time to Play

For the past ten years, I’ve spent Veteran’s Day hiking with my favorite living veteran, my cousin, Danny. He’s eleven years older than me, so when I was young and we had our big family gatherings at our Grandma Smith’s, we didn’t hang out. I thought of him like an older brother. Since I only had two sisters, I’d always wanted a brother, especially one who could pave the way for me and help me understand life from a male perspective.

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photo from Nov 2017

When I was a girl, I loved for Danny to stop by our house on his way to Grandma’s. He had a great sense of humor and teased his younger cousins. I loved hearing him talk about being stationed on the USS Cacapon docked in California and serving areas of the South Pacific.

For our Veteran’s Day treks, we go to Raven Rock State Park that’s just a few miles from where Grandma lived. We choose a trail and hike for a while, then stop along the path, lean against our walking sticks and ponder some new tidbit of discovery. These conversations have given me a greater understanding of my family history since Danny’s been around longer than me.

This year we had to postpone our hike for two weeks. During that time of delay, it seemed the list of things I needed to do for my part-time job, for Indie publishing my memoir, and to manage my new role of taking care of my grandson on Wednesdays and Fridays, increased. Before this year’s hike, I felt ambivalent about taking an entire day off when I had so much to do.

But I wasn’t ambivalent about the importance of those hikes in building my relationship with Danny.

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As I considered what I should do, it was as if that still small voice of God, my inner guide said to me, “Just go and enjoy the day.”

It’ll all work out, I told myself. Honor what you know is important.

It was sunny and cold last Tuesday morning when I drove down that country road to the park. We met at 10:15 and took a new trail, knowing that the hurricane in September probably damaged our more familiar path by the Cape Fear River that bordered the park. Since it wasn’t a holiday, there were few hikers. We passed the Superintendent who told us about the extensive damage to the walkways and stairs in the direction we were headed.

Changing our plan, we ended up hiking to an overlook with a spectacular view of the river, one we’d never been to in all our years of hiking. While we were standing there, two men who appeared to be in their thirties, joined us. They were cousins, too and when I said we had a yearly Veteran’s Day hike, one told us he’d served in the Army. When Danny said he’d served in the Navy in the late sixties and had been to many countries in the South Pacific, the other guy told us he was part Filipino. I listened as they shared experiences of towns they’d visted and foods they’d tried, new discoveries for me of Danny’s time in the service.

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Overlook of the Cape Fear River, Central North Carolina

On my yearly solo journeys, I pray each morning that God will “bless me and the people in my path.” Our conversation with those people in our path in that place of beauty, was a highlight of our walk.

We finished hiking and Danny pulled out his charcoal grill and the food he packed for our lunch. This is always nice for me, being taken care of for a while. All I do is bring a bag of carrots–that’s what he assigns me. I watched him stack the coals, squirt them with lighter fluid, and then fan the coals until they were ashen. Sitting near the grill there was just enough warmth to offset the chill of the breeze and the sun moving further behind the trees. We ate our grilled turkey keilbasa, cornbread, and heated sauerkraut and talked of memories of our favorite Christmas foods at Grandma’s.

Stuffed from our meal, because the grilled cornbread with cheese and poppy seeds was too hard for me to resist, I helped him pack his van then hugged my cousin goodbye. I drove back down that country road feeling satisfied that we’d made it to another Veteran’s Day hike, and thought we should go twice a year since we’re both getting older and once just doesn’t seem often enough.

Later, I listened to an Indie publishing podcast at The Creative Penn from an October show. An Irish author and creative coach, Orna Ross, shared a statement that touched a chord with me:

“The creative process completely relies on rest and play; it is not about endless work.”

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That’s right. I needed to spend the day with Danny to honor our relationship, but also to have a day of play. I’d been working hard and I was in danger of my life becoming unbalanced. I remembered my solo journey to Jekyll Island where I felt I’d been drawn to relearn to play. My life had become out of balance back then when I was fifty, and now I was dealing with the same issue at sixty-three: different factors but the same issue.

It seems I keep needing this reminder to balance my work and play. And now my seven-month-old grandson can give me lessons on Wednesdays and Fridays as he discovers the world through play, and bears witness to the benefits with his smile and cackles of laughter.

 

Resource:

https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2018/10/26/self-publishing-3-0-and-how-to-build-success-as-an-indie-author-with-orna-ross/

How about You?

How could you increase your time playing to balance your life?

What are things that you would like to do? Can you schedule those in the week and month ahead?

 

Celebrating a Life

Today I’m remembering a solo journey I took back in 2009 to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. My desire was to visit the place that had been significant for my mother. She and her  cousin, Yvonne traveled there by train when they were both nineteen to prepare for work in WWII as civil servants.

Throughout my childhood, Mama told stories of their adventures in Harrisburg. It was the first time those two farm girls had been outside of North Carolina. They returned to work at Pope Air Base, living on site and enjoying the lively community that included handsome soldiers. It was quite a change from rural Harnett County.

Before I left on my trip to Harrisburg, I took Mama to see Yvonne. At that time, they were both still living in their homes. We sat at Yvonne’s dining table and shared a meal of chicken and biscuits and I told them about my plan.

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Yvonne Gilchrist Casto (sitting) and Mama, Mary Smith Rosser

While Yvonne had more physical problems than Mama, Yvonne was mentally sharp. Mama was in the early phase of dementia and understood that I was going to Harrisburg, but had a hard time recalling the specifics of living there. I felt an urgency to go then because I wanted her to be able to enjoy some of what I discovered while she could still savor those memories with Yvonne.

“We lived on McClay street. I hope you can find the house where we rented a room from the Flutes,” Yvonne told me.

Later, she shared one of their familiar stories. She was a clever prankster and often seemed to be the ‘set-up’ person while Mama took the bait. They were a real duo.

When I arrived in Harrisburg, I took pictures along the path by the Susquehanna River, remembering what an impression it made on Mama that frigid January day when they arrived. Mama would often say, “That river was frozen solid.” It would have been a real contrast to their partially-frozen farm pond in central North Carolina, which she would have be warned to stay away from when she was a girl.

While I walked along the streets abutting McClay and visited the Capitol where they’d had their photo taken, I imagined Mama and Yvonne, nineteen years old, the young women in the photo coming to life.

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(L to R) Yvonne, their new friend, Mary Willis, and Mama, Mary Rosser at PA Capitol 1943

I tried but couldn’t find the training site. When I returned with my pictures, they listened in rapt attention as I told them what I saw and ways the city had changed since 1943.

Mama and Yvonne remained close over the years. We often said they were more like sisters and best friends than merely cousins.

How they loved each other’s company, able to finish each other’s stories from their time together as young women starting out in the world. After the war ended and they finished working at Pope Field, they went to Kansas City, Missouri to work for the airlines. While there, Yvonne met her husband, Bill and eventually moved with him to California.

Years later, we received the tragic news that Bill had been diagnosed with Huntington’s Chorea/Huntington’s Disease, a fatal genetic disorder (https://hdsa.org/what-is-hd/). He lost his job as a NASA contractor due to the  changes in his functioning caused by the break down of nerve cells in his brain. Yvonne and Bill, along with their six-year-old daughter, Kim moved back to North Carolina. Mama was heartbroken for Yvonne and was supportive of her through the eighteen years of Bill’s decline and eventual long-term care and then death. During that time, Yvonne was there for Mama when Daddy died suddenly from a heart attack.

As widows, they’d often visit each other and take trips to see friends and family that lived both nearby and faraway. They enjoyed each other’s company, often telling their stories from Harrisburg and Pope Field like a well-rehearsed tag team. We enjoyed watching them.

Eventually Yvonne’s diabetes and other physical problems, and Mama’s dementia led to both of them going to live in nursing centers. As long as they were able, we still tried to take them to see one another. When they were no longer able to visit, Yvonne would ask Kim about Mama, and Mama would smile when we’d tell her news of Yvonne. They were separated but we felt their spirits remained together.

Today I remember Yvonne because tomorrow I will attend her memorial service. She passed away last week in her nursing home thirty miles from Mama’s. Yvonne had just turned 95 on November 1st, catching up with her cousin who’d turned 95 in July.

For Mama and Yvonne, their strong cousin bond, shared adventures as young women, and support for one another, lasted a lifetime.

What a testament of  kinship, friendship, and loyalty pursurvering through the good and difficult times of life. What a priviledge to have learned from watching them.

Tomorrow we will celebrate Yvonne. Mama doesn’t know that her cousin is no longer living. She is spared from that grief by her dementia, so we daughters will go in Mama’s stead, supporting Kim, our cousin, as we honor the life of her incredible mother.

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How About You?

Have you ever made a journey to discover more about a person you loved?

What did you learn about that person?  What did you learn about yourself?

New Beginnings: Moving Beyond the Gap

In last week’s post, I left you sitting in The Gap, encouraging you to allow yourself to feel that anxiety that comes with uncertainty, finding a resting spot in that trough between Endings and New Beginnings (see Forced Endings: Struggling in The Gap)

New Beginnings is that last stage of Bill Bridges Map for Change where new relationships or the new job begins. But like the Endings and The Gap stages, it has emotional aspects including excitement, fear of failure, anxiety, a sense of accomplishment and/or celebration. But before I can move on to New Beginnings, I’m reminded of another type of Forced Ending that I didn’t include last week.

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Emerald Isle July ’18 Now Impacted by Florence

As I write this post from my home in central North Carolina, Hurricane Florence is spinning down on our coast, producing massive flooding and a predicted record-setting storm surge. It’s a slow-moving storm that takes its time delivering its blowMany people ‘Down East’ have moved to shelters, not knowing how their lives will be changed and what they will find when it’s safe to return home—whatever is left of home. We wait here in the Piedmont, knowing we’re in the hurricane’s path but unsure of how our lives will be impacted.

Natural disasters are another example of Forced Endings that we don’t choose. While they have nothing to do with problems in relationships, workplace politics, or other issues that may produce Forced Endings, they do leave people with the same types of emotions: shock, anger, disbelief, anxiety.

I have a friend from China, and some years ago she tragically lost her parents in a typhoon. What a huge impact that Forced Ending—the death of her parents, had on her life. She has spent years dealing with her grief and trying to figure out how to move from that Forced Ending, through The Gap, and to a New Beginning. While she will always miss her parents, and wish things had been different, she has found the strength to move forward. Her New Beginning is not what she expected as she studies in the States and prepares for her professional future. But it is life, and like those who will be changed by Hurricane Florence, eventually there will be a better day and a glimpse of a New Beginning.

When I was dealing with The Gap following my Chosen Ending of retirement from school nursing  (see Afraid of the Next Chapter)

I’d written in my journal the first day of the following academic year that it felt “empty” to not be going back. The following sentence read,

“but also feels like I’ve moved on and I’m full of wonder with how God is going to move in my life.”

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Emerald Isle July ’18 New Beginning of a Wedding

That is the glimpse of the New Beginning. Knowing that you have moved into that next phase, still uncertain but strengthened by hope, that wonder of how God is working in your life. Totally surprised by the place you’ve landed, you trust in the bigger picture, that you’ll succeed where your feet are now planted.

Whether we arrive at the New Beginning after a Chosen or Forced Ending, we can accept that change as a new start, a place that will challenge us and produce growth.

After I was fired and I muddled in The Gap for a season, I returned to a position in school nursing. At first, I thought it was like I was going backwards since I wasn’t moving to a higher position in clinical trials—as I’d assumed would be my career path. But after a while, I saw that I was a different person since my experience with that toxic job while going through breast cancer treatment. I was stronger and I valued being in a supportive work group. I was more bold and spontaneous with my students and staff. There was a greater freedom to just be myself.

My hope for you, is that whatever Ending you’ve experienced, whatever your Gap has been like, that you’ll arrive at your New Beginning and feel the strength you’ve developed in the process. Knowing that within you is what you need to navigate the new start and that all around you there is support for the challenges.

Now, sitting at my computer and looking out my windows, the wind is blowing harder and the rain has started to fall. I fear that we could lose power before my usual Saturday post. So, I’ll send this to you early and ask for your good thoughts and prayers for North Carolina and all the areas impacted by Hurricane Florence.

Peace and Blessings to Everyone.

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How About You? 

What New Beginning have you experienced?

What strengths emerged that surprised you?

How do you look back on the Ending and the Gap now that you’ve experienced a New Beginning?

 

Journeys to the Past

At this time of year, I feel a yearning to return to childhood.  I long to smell the cedar tree decorated with a string of large multi-colored lights and icicles; to taste the cherries in my aunt’s paper-thin cookies; to feel the rush of being in the basement of Rose’s Dime Store looking at my hoped-for toys.  The house in the picture reminds me of our two-story farmhouse and my view from my upstairs bedroom window.  The small sleigh transports me back to my journey to Vermont.

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When I took that trip a couple of summers ago,  I visited Shelburne Museum in the western part of the state.  I was fascinated by their display of sleighs.  Growing up in the South, and not a family who skied or took cold weather vacations, I’d never ridden in a sleigh.  Like the iconic images of Santa and his reindeer, as a child, I thought Currier and Ives winter scenes were like fairytales.  People didn’t ride in sleighs because you never had that much snow — at least not in central North Carolina.

Now, what strikes me about the sleigh in the picture, is that it’s not like Santa and his reindeer, magically ascending into the sky.  Instead, this one looks like an everyday sleigh that would have actually been used to move quickly through the snow.

In the museum, there were all kinds– those that were for formal events and those like workhorses.  The one that captured my attention was a school bus sleigh used to transport children from rural areas of Vermont in the late 1800s.  I could imagine it traveling down the narrow lanes I’d seen on my drive from White River Junction.  Those children were like me, riding home on a school bus.  How beautiful the countryside would be with a blanket of white, that makes the daytime stark and the nighttime mysterious.

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Like other journeys, I wished I could experience Vermont in seasons besides summer.  That would give me a fuller picture of what life was like in that part of the country.  It reminded me how my eyes had been opened on a journey to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.  There I saw a display of a horse-drawn mail carriage.  Inside, I was surprised to find a small pot-bellied stove.  My Granddaddy Smith had been a rural mail carrier in North Carolina in the early 1900s.  He would have needed that warmth in the frigid January days in remote areas of Chatham County.

This discovery from the past seemed to provide a small connection with my grandfather, who died before I was born.  Now I have another way to imagine him that is a gift from one of the places on my journeys.

Both my childhood Christmas memories and discoveries about the past made on my journeys, make me want to return to those times and places.  That’s a universal sadness we all feel.  I guess the best we can do is to travel there in our mind’s eye, savor that memory, and move forward to new places and moments of discovery.

How about you?

When are the times that you feel a yearning to go back?

What do you do with those feelings?