"On the plains of Oklahoma, with a windshield sunset in your eyes like a watercolor painted sky, you'd think heavens doors have opened."
Fly Over States

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Songs of the Fathers

Back when I was working as a Guardian ad litem, I regularly dealt with divorced parents or parents who had never wed in the first place. More often than not, the children ended up living with the mother but that was primarily the decision of the parents more than the court.  Even in custody cases where the courts ruled in favor of the mother, it was usually because the mother had been the primary caregiver, by the choice of the parents, long before the case ever ended up in court.  Courts hate to rock the boat.
In my opinion, some of the the most painful custody cases involved parents who were both strongly engaged with their children, often sharing physical custody until one or the other married and moved away.  The friendliest, most respectful ex partners had their hearts shredded under those circumstances, and the one moving away was typically outwardly defensive while inwardly burning from guilt.
Usually, the mother was the parent who had married/remarried and was moving away, leaving a father who had done everything "right" in terms of fatherhood, but was still losing his children and his dreams of a long term relationship with them.  They thought of all the ballgames and scout meetings and holidays they'd miss.  All the dance recitals, all the parent teacher conferences, all the lost opportunities to teach their children their individual family traditions and values.  All the casual times with their child they wouldn't have.   They'd torture themselves with images of their beloved child turning to his or her stepdad, instead, or, even worse,  just being left with no father to guide them, at all.  If they'd done something selfish or cruel that ended the marriage, they thought of the price they (and their child) was paying  and what a fool they'd been   They'd think of relocating to the mother's new area to stay close to their children but that would feel so weird and bizarre.  And if they had built a different life, perhaps had a wife, good job, or other children in the original location, moving simply wasn't an option. 

My heart broke for these fathers.
My own parents divorced when I was two months old.  They lived in Houston, Texas, and my mother moved back to her parents 90 miles away.  For a number of years, my father religiously came to see us every weekend.  He never skipped a child support payment despite being hard pressed to afford that check.  He tried his level best to be at least as involved in our lives as fathers were in those days.  He was one of the "good" ones. 
There was some tension with my parents on his proper role.  Mom believed he should take the kids and entertain us for the weekend.  Be a PuttPutt dad.  She was convinced that he came, not to see his kids, but because he still carried a torch for her.  In contrast, he believed just being around as often as possible was the healthier route.

I agree with my father.  But I think my mom was right - he was still in love with her. 

Never having lived with a father, I took it in stride and didn't feel deprived.  Not really. 

Maybe some. 

Maybe a lot, depending on what was going on at the time. 

Mostly I tried not to think about it. 
When I was three years old, my mother moved two states away, effectively ending my father's weekly visits.  Back in those days, a single father had few legal rights and he didn't protest.  He remarried within a year and they spent their honeymoon visiting us in Alabama. 

My mother was bemused. 
We moved back to Texas after a year and my father, despite his marital obligations, did his best to regularly visit us and stay a part of our lives.  I adored my father but months would go by and I wouldn't even think of him.  He was not a part of my day to day mundane life.  Instead, he was an event, like the coming of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. 

I took him for granted which, I suppose, is better than fixating on the loss.
My mother remarried when I was four, then divorced within a year.  From time to time, my father would visit and because I was a child, I didn't even consider how difficult that must have been for him and how he had to juggle his obligations to do it.  As an adult, I look back and am humbled at the effort he continued to make to be a part of my life.  To be my dad.
When I was eleven, we moved to Oklahoma.  It was not until I was a young adult, in a moment of weakness, that my father bitterly told me that he first learned we were moving from a casual friend who mentioned it, assuming that my father must have already known.   Even as a young adult and parent, I wasn't really able to comprehend the level of horror and heartbreak he must have felt.  In essence, the people he loved the most were being taken from him and he not only had no say in the matter, he was considered to be so inconsequential that he wasn't consulted.
Children are remarkably resilient and able to adapt to situations that strike their parents as fundamentally wrong.  But it doesn't mean the parents don't suffer simply because their children are oblivious to their pain. 
Over the years, I visited my father a couple of times a year.  Sometimes once a year.  We fell into a life where this was normal and I believe my father eventually moved on to be more emotionally invested in his wife, new son and stepchildren.  For the most part, I didn't mind but my mother said of all the kids, I was the one who missed him the most and wanted him in my life. 

My mother was right.
But all that being said, notwithstanding the problems, my father was an enormous influence on my life, my heart and my soul.  Despite the difference in time and space, I "got" my father.  I understood how he went from "A" to "B."  I never had a clue how my Mother made decisions but my father's were crystal clear.  It was like our brain waves were on the same channel.   I understood, without effort, his values, his dreams, his disappointments, his triumphs and his joys.  Like all adults, he went through evolutions of how he viewed life and for some reason, no matter the stage, it made sense to me even when I wasn't at the same place in his life.  I am not sure he ever knew that but I hope he did.
My father always sang to us and until recently, I never heard a more beautiful voice.  He would sing songs along with the radio. He'd sing, "My Darling Clementine," "Patches,"  and "The Green Beret."  I told him, once, that he should have been a professor singer and he seemed taken aback but pleased. 

He taught me to bait a hook and shoot a rifle.  He told me about wildlife.  He told me tales that haunted him from his time in the Korean War.   He was simply the best at telling ghost stories.  When he drank he got maudlin but for the most part, he was about looking at the good in things and doing the best you can, no matter what.  In his younger years he was a hunter but as he aged, the idea of killing became abhorrent - for him, anyway.   He became a conservationist.  He loved his cat.   He was good friends with his bookie.  He kept a running list of things he wanted to ask God about when he got the chance. 
My father gave me hope that with age comes wisdom.  I watched him evolve and it seemed "right" to me.  He never became hardened and set in his ways.  On the contrary - as he aged he grew supple in his spirituality, more focused on the essence of what he believed god to be, and grew in kindness and tolerance. He was never "churchy," rather, he was a man on a spiritual journey and enjoying all the things he learned along the way.  I never saw his deepening spirituality as being hypocritical.  To me, it seemed as if his steps were being guided by something bigger than he was and, in small part, provided for my benefit.  I watched him face adversity with dignity and with growing spiritual strength and faith as he aged, faced financial ruin, interpersonal tragedy, and loss of his health.  My father demonstrated to me the ability to experience life with a sense of profound gratitude and an ability to seize upon the small things to bring joy. 

My father demonstrated, to me, the secret of happiness.
I wish I'd had the wisdom or foresight to tell him what he gift he'd given but I didn't.  His death came before I expected it and I was so comfortable with his relationship with his god that I didn't think it was any of my business to ask him for an introduction.  

Sometimes, when I think of my dad, I think he was born under an unfortunate star.  He always said he hoped he left the world a better place by virtue of being in it.  I think he did. 

So when I was a guardian ad litem dealing with a distraught young father, I used to tell them that although my father was not around all the time when I was growing up, I KNEW he was my father and I was connected to him as any daughter would be.  I knew so much would depend on how hard they tried to remain a part of their child's life but it seemed to offer them some comfort.  And it was honest.  It was simplistic, but honest.  There was no way I could tell them how complicated it all was.  All I could give them was the bottom line. 

My father used to sing to the kids.  He had a pleasant voice and I don't think of my father without thinking of him singing a song, usually with a beer in his hand, generally after drinking too much.  To this day, nothing makes me feel more safe, than that memory.  And I think that is what fathers are for.  In that, he succeeded.  And that is no small thing. 
It is a delight, to me, to listen to my own son singing to Grandson Charlie. 
I thought my father had a lovely voice but I KNOW my son's songs are from the angels.  When I hear my son sing to Charlie, I am taken back to my own father.  I think how he lives on in my heart, and am so grateful that my son, while he has had his share of heartache, was not born under an unlucky star.
 Happy Quilting, Penny, Evelyn and Pearl

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Wild Kingdom

Had a great walk out on our property, west of us.  We have 53 acres, half of which is now being farmed but the other half has a couple of small ponds on it and is left wild.  Everytime I go out and scout around, I see something that delights me.

When I crested the hill by the pond, about ten GIANT bullfrogs leaped into the water:
I kid you not, they had to be 10 - 14 inches in length with heads the size of softballs.

I found a couple of empty turtle shells:
And one full one:
Bunch of flowers:

 Love our dynamic Oklahoma sky:

 Dead stuff:
At least a zillion grasshoppers, most of whom appeared to be making out with their sweethearts:
These rascals snuck up on me while I was listening to try to locate a woodpecker I heard pecking.  I felt something looking at me, turned, and there they were.  
Funny, before we moved to Virginia, I thought the deer in Oklahoma were tiny in comparison.  I guess it is because I didn't live on this side of town where there are larger grazing areas.  The west side of town in closer to the plains/ranchland and I grew up in the CrossTimbers - primarily scrub oaks on the East side.   These boys are every bit as big as what I saw back east - maybe bigger.

Someday, maybe I will be able to take Grandson out to explore - hope so!

Too much to do, today, to blog further.

Happy Quilting, Penny, Evelyn and Pearl

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Crone at the Airport

It has been awhile since I posted.  I finished quilting Katie and Chris' wedding quilt but it still needs a binding:

 I'm pleased with it:

I've had a busy August and just got back from a lovely visit with some of my kids (and Charlie!).  While I got a ton of excellent photos of the Grandson, in deference to my kids' wishes, I am not planning to post them, here.  I have some on my Facebook page and friends on FB can see them. 

Had a great time!  I flew in on a Friday and spent the afternoon with one of my daughters and Charlie.  We took a walk along the West side of Manhattan towards Downtown and back.  It was so beautiful.  New York has lovely parks and tries to create green areas for its residents.  Big cities are not my cup of tea but I confess a certain fondness and deep respect for the gritty Big Apple.
Martin, the Granddog:
On Saturday, we drove about an hour or so north of the City to Storm King, a large park with outdoor sculptures that was soul soothing and peaceful.  I don't do well to be away from grass and sky for any length of time and this outing was a sheer delight:
People who aren't from the area see New York City as all tall buildings but it has gorgeous countryside a stone's throw away. 
I especially loved the rock wall that meandered around the park at Storm King:
As I oohed and ahhed over the flowers and hills and trees, I think it hit me for the first time that not everyone is hard wired to have such a visceral reaction to Nature.  I mean, I know that plenty of people are less moved by bugs and blossoms than others but I always thought it was more a matter of degree or preference.  After seeing my daughter's eyes glaze over at my enthusiastic comments and observations, it finally dawned on me that she simply wasn't experiencing the same things I was.  Huh.  Who knew???  (probably everybody but me :) ). 

I think back to the days before I began quilting and think it is like that.  I'd see a piece of fabric and would think, "blue material," or "cute dress."  At a certain point, as my brain opened up to it, my depth of response deepened and that "blue material" triggered a completely different response.  I would see so many details that I would really see it for what it is - the many colors involved to make up the main focus; the weight of the fabric; the types of stitches; textures, blah, blah, blah.  Before, my brain registered the barest bit of information needed to identify it.  Over time, not only did I recognize "blue material," I began to experience pure pleasure as my brain lit up to process different kinds of information. 

Same with nature, I suppose.  When I was younger, even though I have always loved the outdoors, I would look at something and think, "tree," or perhaps, "pretty tree." For many people, that's it.  Identify it and move on.  Maybe it is the result of growing up roaming the countryside or just being inclined that way but I no longer just see "tree."  I see:  Narrow trunk with dark, deep bark where insects hide out. Oak shaped leaves that look a little distressed near the top so it is probably late summer.  The grass beneath the tree is lush so the roots are probably deep.  I wonder when a given tree - if deciduous - will start to drop its leaves and how that will affect the wildlife currently depending on it in its present stage.  I notice the dirt and if it is reddish or black, foamy or clay based.  You get the picture. 

I'm not saying I am Mother Nature or anything like that but being out in the country deluges my brain with all types of sensory information that - I dunno - perhaps just releases endorphins or something to make me happy.  It might explain why I love the Prairie - it is simply teeming with life, close up where you can see it and think about it.  That makes me happy but it isn't for everyone.  


For that matter, I find as I get older, my brain is changing to where I spend much more time thinking about most things at a deeper level than I did when I was younger and so busy.  By that, I simply mean that I think more in terms of, "how does this work?" or "how is this tree differ from that tree?" rather than like in my earlier years where I mainly used the part of my brain that identified objects or concepts that were in my environment or useful to me.  I asked plenty of "why" questions when I was younger, don't get me wrong - but anymore, it feels less like an alien gathering information to make sense of my surroundings, and more like stepping into a tree or a bug or a flower and pondering what it is like to experience life from that perspective.  If that makes any sense.  I suppose it is just a feeling of being connected to nature beyond a fleeting sense of  "Oh,  that's pretty," or limited to the extent I need to survive or what is otherwise useful.

Perhaps in my next life I will come back as a bug and this is just preparation.  :)

I got home early Tuesday morning.  I was supposed to get back Monday night but weather wrecked havoc at the airport.  For several hours, there was standing room only.  I noticed an elderly, troll like old battle ax with tight narrow lips and helmet hair sitting in a prime seat.  She was adjacent to three empty seats that had a wheelchair and cane in front of them.  After observing for about thirty minutes that no one was sitting in them, I walked over and asked her if all the seats were taken.

"YES," she snapped, with a voice like a whip. 
A real sweet personality, let me tell ya. 

I didn't argue.

Selfish Old Goat.

I continued to watch and after a bit, a large, happy faced woman in a canary yellow outfit started coming over to see her every few minutes, cheerfully trying to make conversation while the old woman just glowered at her.  After about an hour of standing there, it was abundantly clear that no one was sitting in those seats so being a bit contrary, I walked over and stood in front of them, two seats down from the old geezette with my back to her.  I was thinking that the rude and uncivilized young people we see in the flash mobs have NOTHING on her.  Eventually, I just gave up and sat down on the floor - in front of the wheelchair. 

The old woman was waiting on a flight to Louisville and people started lining up to board.  The Canary Lady came back and I started to scramble to my feet to get out of her way, apologizing for being in front of the wheelchair.

"Oh no, no," sez the lemon.  "First come, first serve - why don't you sit down in the seat.  I am so sorry we blocked you."

The battle Ax looked properly embarrassed but I didn't say anything.  Part of it was good manners and part of it was that she was kind of scary looking. 

I sat down in the chair right next to her.  It was sort of like being sent to the Principal's office while you're still feeling defiant. 

At that point, her flight was delayed by weather so there we sat for the next couple of hours, side by side. 

The yellow lady darted by from time to time making cheery conversation.  When she'd leave, the old woman tended to roll her eyes at her behind her back.  At one point, she gave a long sigh and I glanced over at her.  She looked so weary - and how could she not be?  She had to be 85 if she was a day and airports are hard on anyone. 

"Going home?" I asked her.

Long pause. 

Then the old woman raised her head and looked at me, shrugged her shoulders and said, bitterly, "I'm going back to an Assisted Living Center."  Then she looked away but not before I saw angry eyes fill with tears. 

"Awww," sez I.

After a moment I asked, gently, "Are you from New York?"  

Another long pause. 

"Sixty years," she finally answered, just as gently.  Then she turned to look at me.  "I raised my family here - four children.  Well, actually, with the costs of private schools, we moved to the suburbs for a lot of it.  But sixty years.  And I loved every second of it.  I miss it so much..."

And then she told me that none of her children stayed in New York.  I could see she was sad about that and even though I didn't mention it, I understood since my own kids also left home.  I remarked that usually children who do that are successful adults and she agreed.  One child is in Washington State, another in Florida, a third in new Jersey and, of course, a daughter in Louisville near her Assisted Living Center. 

We chatted for a bit and she explained that she'd come to visit relatives and the lady in yellow was her paid companion.  We talked about air travel, and things she'd done when she was young, and the weather and raising kids.   I could see she was very weary so I backed out of the conversation when I could to let her rest.  Eventually, she boarded the plane but after about thirty minutes, they took everyone off due to more delays.  She sat in her wheelchair next to me looking so old, tired and sad.  Maybe a little mean.

I imagine I didn't see her at her best and hope she isn't always like this.  Still, she became part of my memory of a lovely trip and I'm glad I got a chance to talk to her.  More importantly, I appreciated her sharing her passion for NYC - it made me think of how much my daughter loves it.  Even though I miss my girl, isn't it a lovely thing that she can live where her heart is?   

Happy Quilting, Penny, Evelyn and Pearl

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Girls in the Palace

Some years ago, there was a wave of ad campaigns pitting this or that commercial product with the message of, "Buy me because you are so special you deserve the best."  Loriel may be the most famous but someone must have done some research that said this was a winning notion and quite a few companies made this same sort of pitch to prospective consumers.  It worked.  You can still google "because you deserve it" and find out that apparently, we all deserve a variety of beauty products, jewelry, solid steel mouse pads, swimming pools (this is a common theme, nation wide), home cleaning services, vacations, spa treatments, blah, blah, blah.

I absolutely hated those ad campaigns.  HATED them.  A commercial would come on the television and I would positively sneer.
Clearly I had issues.   As far as I was concerned, it was a crass appeal to selfishness and vanity and I was embarrassed for women who immediately globbed on to this blatant manipulation of their basest impulses.

Oh, we can all be little princesses!
Yeech.  I didn't want to be a princess.  I wanted to be like those women in the thirties who were strong, independent, incredibly sexy and, well, WOMEN.  I saw those commercials as encouraging women to take our birthright of strength, wisdom and courage and exchange it for a pink, rhinestone tiera. 

Not opinionated, am I?

My mother once happily announced that she was moving to a luxury retirement community, "Because I deserve to be pampered."  My snotty comment that perhaps Mother Teresa deserved to be pampered but for some reason didn't feel the need made for a chilly week or two. 

I was a real snot, sometimes.  Still can be but I'm better.
Right about the same time as that ad campaign took root, there became popular the mantra that "you can't take care of other people if you don't take care of yourself."  I found that a bit more palatable as far as it goes but, just as companies no doubt predicted, the notion was promptly seized upon by people looking for an excuse to dump the kids for the weekend, go party, kick up their heels and run away from their responsibilities - now, guilt free.  Mind you, I don't think eveyone did that but I think the general notion was twisted to the point where many women would fall back on that mantra every time they wanted to do something that was going to put someone else out.  And that self centered, escapist attitude is a big part of our culture, these days.
Where I am going with that is that over time, I think I may "get" what might have really been going on in the original research that ended up being corrupted by mass marketing.   I think most women need (not deserve) a way to regularly recharge their batteries, nourish their souls and put on their battle gear to take on life.  I don't think that is an entitlement issue the way it ended up being advertised and which offended me to the soul.  It has nothing to do with our "worth" or what we "deserve."  I think it is simply the way we are hardwired.  And I think a "need" has a much greater claim to being a higher priority than something we merely "deserve" which flounders around with some sort of vague entitlement notion and doesn't answer the question of "why" we deserve anything.  By changing the emphasis, I give no ground.  In my opinion, making provisions to nurture your spirit is an essential mental and physical health issue.  People like me, who didn't always make provisions for that grounding make life harder on themselves and others than it needs to be.
It seems to me that most women regularly need a little space and a little time to look inward, reflect, contemplate and create.  Makeup, jewelry and the like are nice but not the kind of things needed to nourish our souls and bring balance.  The traditional way is through prayer and worship.  Prayer is still considered such a sacred thing that no one is going to interrupt someone communing with her god.  But you can do it in other ways - Yoga, a good run, art, music, baking (if you like that sort of thing), crafts, gardening - anything that sets you free, for just a little bit of time, from the worries of life to tend to the state of your heart and soul.   

I don't see anything wrong with a weekend with the girls for a break.  In fact, I think it positively contributes to our need to commune with our sisters.  And I don't see anything wrong with reading, surfing the net and watching television - all of which are pure forms of escapism.  However, I think a lot of people have confused taking a break from life (escapism) with taking time to look inward.  These are two completely separate things.   If you are like me (I adore reading), you are probably spending more time escaping your soul than you are nurturing it. 

In my opinion, escapism, overdone, hampers more than helps us achieve balance.   In fact, I think a woman who consistently throws herself into escapism instead of tending to her soul is running away from answers and health rather than towards them.  When life gets out of control, grim and hectic, sometimes just two or three days (or a lunch break) dedicated to genuine soul searching makes everything fall into place.
Neglecting our soul is a lot like being married to someone we work to avoid.  That isn't a happy marriage on either front.

My Wonderful has been in South America all week (don't even ask) and I've gotten a ton of stitching done.  I've been working on Katie's wedding quilt and had it all set up on the longarm but the phone doesn't reach out there too well.  While husband was traveling and could be expected to call, I stayed in the house and finished up Windy's quilt top.  I am making her a traditional looking picket fence quilt and she helped me pick out colors and style, which I really appreciated.  She wanted something light and airy and I got the feeling she was looking for a traditional, thirties colors type of quilt.  I finished the top two days ago.

 Evelyn is under the quilt top:

The fabrics are not traditional feedsack but I had some Moda strips that were pastel and had a soft, romantic feel to them: 
 Evelyn has music in her soul:

 I am excited to see how it will look once it is quilted. 
Yesterday, I knew I wouldn't be getting any phone calls from the Mister for several hours so I worked out in the barn on Katie's quilt.

I was making great progress when the machine head slipped and I sewed myself.  I felt the needle go through my fingernail through my finger although it didn't really hurt because it happened so fast.   When I dared look at it, thread was going through my finger.  Top thread on top (variegated) and bobbin thread coming out the bottom (blue).  I got most of the thread out and am going to get a tetanus booster this afternoon.  It isn't bothering me except the bandage makes it hard to type.  Fortunately, it is on my left hand and I am right handed.  With any luck, I will be able to finish quilting Kate's quilt, tomorrow.
It has been incredibly hot and I haven't left the property since dropping off Mr. Wonderful at the airport last Saturday.  The quiet around the house is soothing and I've enjoyed getting so much quilting done.  I've been doing a little cooking, a little house cleaning, sitting out on the patio in the early morning, watering the trees, clipping the errant weeds with hedge clippers (it is so dry, nothing but weeds grow), and rescuing toads from the hell hounds. 

Early this morning, we had clouds that made the sunlight at dawn filter through in amazing colors and patterns.  I noticed the sun is already moving back towards the south as it rises on the eastern horizon.  I enjoyed looking out over the land at the birds and a few horses you can see if you squint.  Although I've done nothing to "deserve it," as I sat there in my red cushioned patio chair with my cup of coffee (the one that says, World's Best Grandma that my kids gave me when they told me Charlie was on the way) and a fluffy white dog on either side of me, I felt like a queen. 

Not a princess - a queen.  And you don't want a pink rhinestone tiera for that. 
Happy Quilting, Penny, Evelyn and Pearl