coming out of my shell

coming out of my shell

Friday, July 24, 2015

Mourning

We have acclimated to the climate and, except for the steamiest of hot summer days, we do not turn on our air conditioning until mid-morning.  That means we still keep the sliding glass door to the lanai open in the early morning hours.  Our cat, Buddy, appreciates this.  He hunts lizards in the pool area and likes coming and going as he pleases.   

I am not a big fan of air-conditioning, but it is essential here.  I cannot imagine what life in Florida (or anywhere in the Deep South) was like before air-conditioning.  Still, we both like to put off turning it on until the sweat is dripping down the back of our necks.  Like everyone else in Florida I bitch about the heat; however, I would rather live through a Central Florida summer than an Upstate New York winter.  No contest.  I like the heat, and the humidity makes my hair curly. If only I had lived here in the late 1960's during my Janis Joplin hair phase.


I am slowly coming out of a deep funk that started when my mother died earlier this year.  I am surprised at how hard this has hit me because I thought I was ready for her death.  It is so confusing, this grief thing.  I have lived through the deaths of my father and two brothers.  As Amy Shumer's boss says in Trainwreck, this is not my first rodeo.  I wonder if it is hitting me harder this time because I am retired and I actually have time to grieve this loss? 

The past few weeks I have noticed a change for the better.  About damn time, too!  I am becoming more aware of myself and the world around me each morning.  I take this as a good sign.  I do not know about you, but I can usually predict my mood for any given day by how I experience morning. 


Early mornings in Central Florida are almost always stunning.  The sky is blue, the sun is shining, and there is lush green foliage everywhere.  The first 8 months we lived in this house I woke up every single morning thinking, "Another day in paradise!"  Then Mom died and I did not notice much of anything.  

The worst part is I have not been aware of what was happening to me.  Grief sneaks up on a person like the proverbial thief in the night.  I am reminded of a big cat when she is on the hunt.  She approaches soundlessly, quietly; the prey rarely knows she is coming.  In an instant she pounces and tears into the neck with her killing teeth. Clamping on with that unforgiving death grip, she shakes that poor critter till it dies from a broken neck. The only difference is that Grief goes for the heart.  Grief has taken me like that.  She shook me like an alcoholic housewife shakes her first martini of the day. If you have experienced grief
OR if you are (or know) an alcoholic you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Not surprisingly I have spent this fallow period longing for the past, yearning for a whole shitload of things I have lost along the way.  You know - my amazing flower gardens up North, living in a progressive and liberal college town,
my black-handled scissors, and a time when I still had a mother.  This really has to change.  I want to move on.  One can effectively deal with the present and make necessary changes that will affect the future; but the past is just that. Those things are GONE.  Except for the black-handled scissors, I think they are someplace in this house.  But anyway, here's the deal: Living in the past involves very little actual living.

All I have done for 5 long months is complain.  I cry, I lose my temper, I behave badly.  I am not trying to be this awful person - at some point I simply lost control.  Please do not misunderstand my complaints about grief; I think grief work is important.  It has meaning.  A person needs to go through it, needs to feel their emotions, blobbity, blah, blah, blah.  I am just so *^!%# tired of it.  Enough!  I am ready to be done with mourning.  I wonder if I can pull that off, change myself just by wanting it?  What are the practical limits of desire?


This morning I stayed in bed long after waking up, a guilty retiree pleasure.  I eventually got up and walked into the living room.  The sliding glass door was open to the world.  As luck would have it, I noticed the blue sky, the pool, and the palm trees out back.  I can assure you I was not looking for them, I just turned my head and there they were.  I immediately thought "Wow, another day in paradise!"  I felt good and I wanted more.

My handsome husband is an early riser and he always makes the coffee before I get up.  This is yet another reason why I love that man.  I poured myself a cuppa joe and thought how great it was to have the morning to myself.  I went into my home office (aka N's playroom) and turned on the computer where I sat down to check email and, perhaps, to write.

The view from my office window caught my eye.  I used to look out and observe my neighbors' comings and goings.  THAT was a waste of time! Consequently, I moved my computer screen and now it blocks the lower part of the window.  I no longer see my neighbor's houses.  Now I pretend I live in the woods.  I see blue sky, two large sycamores, a part of the neighbor's live oak, and the top of our screamin' pink crepe myrtle.  It looks like this:

Grief is a common ailment.  I have friends who are also mourning the loss of a loved one right now. For some the worst will last a few months, for others it might last a year or even more. Grief is not a one-size-fits-all emotion.  I do not believe the feeling of loss ever completely goes away, but at some point we find a way to rebuild our lives without the people we loved and lost.  This is what we do.  There is no shame in being human.  There is no shame in feeling pain or in feeling loss.  It is perfectly okay to ask for help.  These are the lessons Grief is teaching me.  If I learn my lessons well maybe She will leave me alone.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Hijinks


Our 3-year old grandson, N, thinks he is the boss of us.  He is a quirky, funny little person, a bundle of bedevilment and raw, wild energy.  He is also a fledgling megalomaniac.  We often babysit for him while our daughter M runs our amazing granddaughter E all over the county to take singing, dancing, and acting classes, or to participate in plays.  Or at least that is what M says she is doing.  For all I know she is at home taking a nap, the babysitting angle simply a desperate ruse to get away from him for a few quiet hours. I would not blame her.  Babysitting for him is exciting on both a psychological and historical level, because what we may actually be observing are his very first attempts at world domination.

Upon arrival, he insists that we run through an entire routine of activities every damn time.  First we play tag, hide-and-go-seek, computer games, cars, and Lego-type assemblage stuff.  He enjoys the occasional tea party.  He pours. 

Sometimes we go into Grandpa T’s music room and then the three of us have a band.  He likes Grandpa to turn on the microphone so he can yell “One, Two….One, Two, Three, GOOOOO!”  Then we all play musical instruments badly and yell loudly.  I like to play the Conga.  Unfortunately, my Conga playing gets on N's nerves so he usually assigns me a different instrument to play, and dontcha know he tells me exactly how to play it, too.


He maintains a fort in our bedroom.  For most of the past year it was simply a quilt over a tubular quilting frame.  Unfortunately he figured out how to disassemble it, which quickly became part of the “routine” so we had to take it down.   It is too complicated to put back together all the time. Instead, we bought a fabric and post, castle-like structure at Ikea and now it takes up a good part of our bedroom.   Spoiler alert: the castle fort is his usual hiding place when we play hide-and-go-seek.


During the hot 6 months of the year we swim in the pool and there are swimming routines as well.  Once again this includes playing tag and hide-and-go-seek, but this time in the water amongst blow-up alligators and large round tubes.  He will hang on to the skirt of my bathing suit (yeah, I’m one of those women) and insist Grandpa hangs on to his (N’s) foot and then it is my job, no, it is my sacred duty to drag them all around the pool. Afterwards we bring out the water guns and he and I gang up on Grandpa.  In spite of our superior numbers, Grandpa usually wins.    

After an hour of swim play we try to coax him out of the pool.  It is helpful that there is a rainy season in Central Florida because we get short storms most afternoons.  He is well motivated to get out of the pool if he hears thunder.  Otherwise, it is a bit challenging to get him out of the water and into the house.  When we manage to get him inside he sits in front of the TV watching animated shows while eating the same exact food every time.  I have tried to trick him into eating different foods, but he notices right away.

After he eats and his “show” has ended, we have to argue with him (every time) to get him ready to drive home.  He simply will not go quietly into the night.  He cries and acts as if we have rejected him.  The guilt!  We really must take him home at that point because 1. All three of us are exhausted, and 2. He is now as mean as a snake.  If we are lucky we can get him to leave the house and head towards the car without further dramatics. Sometimes I just pick him up and carry him out, but then he screams bloody murder and flails his chubby little arms and legs right and left.  It is embarrassing once I realize the neighbors are staring at us. 

Of course, if we are not ready to leave he will bust out of the house and we have to chase him down before he runs into the street.  He knows how to unlock the door.  I am telling you, there is no stopping this kid.  


When we get outside he will inevitably break loose and run around the car, making us chase and catch him before getting him into the car and on his car seat.  He runs really fast, too - the little stinker.  That annoys Grandpa, who is usually on his last nerve by then.  You simply cannot imagine the sense of relief T and I feel when we hear that seat belt click shut, effectively locking him in place.  All three of us are usually screaming and fighting with each other as T backs the car down the driveway, and that is probably why none of the neighbors talk to us. 


Once we are on our way we must play the same children songs on the car stereo while we drive him home.  He lives a really long 12 minutes away from us.  He won't allow us to play the entire CD, only the handful of songs he calls his "silly songs."  Often he makes us replay one particular "silly song" over and over for the entire drive.  T really likes that part, I can tell.


Of course, he can also be sweet, polite, loving, kindhearted, and affectionate, but that does not make for an interesting post. 


Let kids be kids, you know what I mean?  Soon enough they will be subjected daily, hourly, by the minute to nearly constant judgment and restraint.  It sucks to be a grown up. 

You know, I can actually feel people judging me right now for spoiling this kid.  Luckily I am old enough not to give a shit.  I figure my job as Grandma is to love him and give him a safe place to be his stinkin’ glorious 3-year old self. 


N likes to yell, pretend to burp, laugh, tell silly jokes that make no sense, joyously run from authority, and eat chicken sticks.  He is also the last grandchild I will ever have.  I adore him and I love his little hijinks, just like I did with his older sister when she was 3-years old.  I think a joyous childhood can help one endure what life has in store for grown ups. 

In fact, I think it is just as important for a child to learn to be a stinker as it is for them to learn their ABC’s. 
OK, I am starting to feel the judgment again.  My fingers are in my ears and I am singing our favorite "silly song" at the top of my lungs.  There, it is gone. 

I can hardly wait until he comes over again.  And yes, he is much better behaved and well mannered when he is around his parents and his other grandparents.  I am not sure why.  

Thursday, July 9, 2015

4th of July


I meant to write a funny post.  Then I got sick last Friday just before the long 4th of July weekend.  While convalescing I read a lot of books, one of which took place during the Revolutionary War.  That put me in a 4th of July frame of mind.

My mind wandered a
s we drove through Tennessee and Kentucky last month on vacation.  I thought of my direct paternal ancestors who arrived in Virginia in 1714 as indentured servants.  They later migrated from Fauquier County in the Virginia Piedmont down to Rowan County, North Carolina and then to Grayson County, Virginia in the 1790’s before moving on to Southeastern Kentucky in 1807.  I tried to imagine the land as they might have seen it. I wondered why they moved so often?  I wondered what my female ancestors were thinking as they left family they would likely never see again?  I wondered how long it took those strangers to feel like they belonged somewhere?

I guess I share their wanderlust.  I am also reminded that, although I identify as a Northerner, I have a long and storied Southern heritage.  My father’s people did not move to Northern Indiana until 1925, and then only because the Southeastern Kentucky farmland was used up, making it hard to continue to support a family farm. Along with a number of their friends and family, my grandparents headed north to work in the automobile factories soon after they were married.  They may have found work, but they did not find a lot of respect.  All too often Southerners are deemed stupid by Northerners, and if they are rural Southerners, well - they are called hillbillies.  That's a bad word, by the way.  Nobody likes to be called that.  Please don't use it.

Harriette Simpson Arnow
, the Kentucky-born author of The Dollmaker, was a distant cousin of mine (to say the least).  Our closest kinship is through her paternal grandmother wherein we are
2nd cousins, 3 time removed via the Shearer family. Her grandmother, Louise Shearer, and my 3rd great-grandmother, Margaret Ann Shearer, were sisters.  I just happen to have a picture of the two of them with their other sister, Rebecca.  My 3rd great-grandma (Margaret Ann Shearer Huffaker) is in the middle and Harriette's grandma (Louise Shearer Simpson) is at the right.  They look kind of stern, don't they?
It turns out I am also Harriette's 4th cousin, 2 times removed through her maternal Foster line.

And finally, I wonder if she is also related to me
through a man named Reuben Simpson on her father's side?  There were unrelated Simpson families in Wayne County back then, so I am not sure.  The problem with proving these old families is that the U.S. Federal Census did not start listing all the names and ages of people at a residence until 1850. 

Like I said, no hillbilly jokes.  These particular families were educated, upstanding, and separate families.  Please don't challenge me to prove it, because I can and it would bore you to tears.  I have a 22,000 member family tree and I know how to use it.

The Dollmaker
was published in 1954.  It describes the hardships rural Kentucky hill people endured when moving from Wayne County, Kentucky to the industrial North during WWII.  In 1984 that book was made into an ABC TV movie starring Jane Fonda.  Fonda won an Emmy for her performance.  The Dollmaker is actually the third novel in a trilogy Arnow wrote about Southeastern Kentucky hill people.  The first was Mountain Path; the second book in the trilogy is Hunter’s Horn.  Joyce Carol Oates was a huge fan of Arnow's and I have often wondered if Oates' great novel, Them, was influenced by The Dollmaker.

The most recent common Simpson ancestor we "might" share is a North Carolina man named Reuben Simpson.  He was a Loyalist who fought on the wrong side of the Revolutionary War.  Apparently his father-in-law, Capt. William Sherrill, and his own brother, William Simpson, were on the right side.  Author and genealogist Nona Williams states:  


"When William learned that Reuben had joined the Tories at Ramsour's Mill, William rode his horse into the ground in a futile attempt to reach the battlefield in time to kill his brother."

If true, it was a failed attempt - Our Reuben enlisted, fought, and lived to tell the tale. 
I will admit I was not thrilled to find him in my family tree.  But as my brother, Big D, keeps telling anyone who will listen, "You can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family."

On second thought, he probably did not tell the tale very often.  Loyalists were hated by the general populace after the War and were often forced to leave the community.  In 1798, he traveled through the Cumberland Gap to Wayne County, Kentucky with his family to start over. 

Harriette Simpson Arnow published her novel about a Revolutionary War soldier in 1974.  Her protagonist was a Patriot and an Overmountain Man who was traveling through the Kentucky backwoods looking for his family after the Battle of King's Mountain in South Carolina.  The book is called The Kentucky Trace.  I quite liked it.


Cousin Harriette had a gift for understanding everyday life and people living in the late 18th century.  She was also interested in all sorts of obscure, obsolete practices, like how to make saltpeter in the backwoods in order to make gunpowder, or the logistics of loading a Kentucky Long Rifle during an Indian attack on a forted farm.  I have limited interest in these things, but certainly enough curiosity to keep me reading in awe of her extensive knowledge.  She also wrote two nonfiction books of social history about 18th century Kentucky and Tennessee; however, her personal opinions are dated and she romanticizes the Scotch Irish a bit too much for me.  I like her novels better.

My Southern ancestors fought on both sides in the Revolutionary War and they did the same in the Civil War. I cannot claim a moral purity or even a political consistency in my genealogy.  I wish I could.  I wish they were all heroes; however, the world does not work like that.  Some of my people were brave, some were kind, and some of them were mean-spirited jerks.  The only thing they all seem to have had in common is that none of them were rich.  Like so many other Old Settler families, my father’s line includes many interesting characters.


My direct, paternal 6th great grandfather, Jesse, is buried somewhere in Lawrence County, Indiana, just south of where the wedding we went to last month was held.  He has been on my mind ever since we were up there.  His wife (aka "Unknown") is the reason I took up genealogy years ago.  It bothers me that nobody knows her name.  I have been trying to find her for years.  Still looking. 

Old Jesse was a Revolutionary War Patriot who fought at the Battle of Yorktown and was present when the British General Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington. 

In 1807, his son Samuel left Grayson County, Virginia to go to Wayne County, Kentucky and marry his childhood sweetheart, Rutha Simpson.  Rutha was the daughter of the aforementioned North Carolina Loyalist, Reuben Simpson.  The night before Samuel left for Kentucky, old Jesse Rector made his son swear on a family bible that he would remain faithful to the United States.  I kind of love that story. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Happiness is a strange notion


We all tend to think of happiness as a permanent state of being, you know?  Of course it is not.  I don't know about you, but I change emotions about 300 times a day. Happiness is transient because life is complicated.

Take last week for example.  We left Central Florida early on Thursday, June 17th to drive to Bloomington, Indiana for a family wedding. I was happy and excited as we started off on a road trip that would take us through parts of Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky.  It was the first time T had been out of Central Florida since we moved down here from Upstate New York in March 2014.

We were feeling adventurous and got off the highway twice in search of Mom and Pop eating places along the way.  This is something we never would have done in our youth.  We always assumed travelling hippies would get their asses kicked in certain parts of the Deep South.

We stopped at a cafeteria-style local restaurant in Georgia, and an old-fashioned soda fountain and deli in Tennessee. The food was great.  I was ecstatic over our good fortune in finding authentic food with local flavor.  The quaint, small town Southern hospitality was both charming and welcoming.  That certainly made me happy.

I was delighted to experience the mountains of Northern Georgia and Southern Tennessee.   Who knew there was such wild beauty here?  I was happy to see mountains and hills covered with trees.  There are not any hills or mountains in Central Florida, but even if there were I am quite sure they would be covered with housing subdivisions. However, the sight of all that well-treed beauty also made me a little melancholy, homesick for NYS.


On Friday we drove up through beautiful Southern Indiana and saw wild daylilies blooming alongside the road.  The fields were filled with corn, and expansive hedgerows containing large shade trees separated the cornfields. Deciduous trees I could actually identify were everywhere. At that point I was alternating between happy and sad every 5 seconds or so.


We ran into family members before we even entered the hotel lobby.  I have a large, crazy extended family and about 2/3 of them would be at this wedding.  Seeing so many people I love, and feeling that they loved me back, was like a shot of adrenaline.  It made me very happy.  I was grounded by love.  I knew no fear, no trepidation.  I owned that place in that time.  I forgot I could do that, feel confident and safe.  I guess I have been a stranger too long.


At the hotel bar, T picked up the local paper to read while I happily socialized my heart out.  He saw the news.  Later he told me about the Charleston shootings.  In the midst of my great happiness and sense of belonging I immediately began to wonder if life was worth living.  To live in a world where a subhuman moron could randomly kill innocent people in a *&%#^! Church, well it was just too much, the horror of it all.  I was reminded of all the hateful, harmful isms and social phobias that exist in this world.  Reality was rearing its ugly, pointed little head.  Suddenly the world seemed strange and threatening.  I was so very far from happy at that moment.

The wedding activities provided a respite from anxiety.  My niece and her fiancé honored me by asking me to give a reading at the marriage ceremony.  They chose for me a lovely poem by John Kavanaugh called To Love is Not to Possess.  I am happy to report that I did not embarrass myself in the reading!  There was food, music, dancing, and a lot of alcohol flowing.  I found ways to escape the abyss.  I may have even sung (loudly) Piece of My Heart with my sister, ERB, towards the end of the night...  Photographs now exist that will surely haunt me well into my dotage, but I do not really care.  It was a great family wedding, a fun escape, and for that one night I was truly happy.

The next day we dragged our sorry butts out of the hotel, away from the bosom of our family and back into the cold, cruel world. Actually, it is a hot, cruel world we were returning to. We started the long journey home. Driving through the South no longer seemed the least bit charming.  We drove by more than one Confederate Flag. I no longer felt welcome stopping for lunch in small Southern towns.  I couldn’t help it. It was a visceral reaction to that hateful symbol. Instead, we ate at fast food joints just off the highway. The food was bad but I knew what to expect.  I was definitely not happy.

I am not sure why some otherwise decent people do not understand how wrong that flag is. I know many Southerners claim that flag represents their heritage and pride in being Southern. However, the Southern culture and heritage I most admired in my paternal grandparents is, in fact, entirely negated by what the Confederate flag represents.

To the rest of the country and the outside world it does not represent gracious hospitality, good manners, heartfelt religiosity or any of those arguably good stereotypes one might hold about the South.  That wretched flag is viewed by the world as a symbol of slavery and oppression. Seriously?  It does not get much worse than that.  When dealing with symbols you have to surrender to the reality of what the majority perceives it to mean instead of what you want it to be. 

There is also talk of that flag standing as a symbol for "States Rights." Should individual states be able to determine their own destiny as if they were sovereign nations?  Well, you know as well as I do that if that idea had been implemented by our Founding Fathers the Civil War would never have been fought.  Instead, there would probably still be States with slavery, States where gay people would be thrown in jail for sodomy, and States where women and people of color never got the right to vote.  Plus, the USA would not be a strong nation, and there is no way some of the states would have allowed our weakened country to step into WWII and rescue Europe from Hitler and Mussolini. I cringe to think what the world would be like today if we were just the States of America instead of the United States. 

We arrived back in Central Florida feeling pretty low. But then the Supreme Court stepped up in all its glory and reminded the world that we are a country that believes in equal rights for all and, well, I am feeling pretty darn happy about that right now.  I guess I better savor the moment because for every action there is a reaction, and happiness is both relative and fleeting.