Sunday, August 14, 2011

Swinging on the Memory Catcher

I don't think there's ever been a time in my life when I haven't had a porch swing or not dreamed of having one.  In Wisconsin, they sit empty for much of the year but when it's the season, ours earns its keep.

When I moved to Wisconsin, I had my first real porch.  It was my first home as a single mom with my three darling little bambinos and I wanted a swing in the worst way.  My dad, who has been my hero for my entire life, obliged.  He packed up his tools with all of his supplies and headed north for the weekend with my mom and my Uncle Doyle.  The front yard was soon a construction zone and the kids were right in the middle of it.  Before they left, the swing was hung and tested and the joy began.  I don't think it ever got painted while it lived on that porch but it sure was used.

It was a place where we could watch the world walk by or where I could sit and watch the kids sell lemonade or lettuce or whatever their great entrepreneurial idea was for the weekend. It was my morning coffee shop and my evening hideaway after the kids were finally tucked in to bed.  It was my head clearing place.  The kids and I shared laughter as well as sharing stories of the day while swinging back and forth.  They knew if I said "let's go outside" in a serious tone, it meant the porch swing would be the site of a "come to Jesus" meeting.   Ty used it for escape when he wanted to get away from the girls.  In his imagination, it became transportation to someplace else.  I remember walking out on to the porch one time and he quickly told me to get back inside or I would drown.  At that moment, the swing was his ship and he knew his mom couldn't swim.  Or perhaps he just wanted me to be out of his business, after all, I was a girl too - the poor guy was the odd man out.   I loved the porch swing regardless of how it was being used but my favorite time was when I shared it with someone I loved.  There's something calming about swinging and when you do it together, it creates a quieting rhythm between two people that seems to pull you together.

When we moved from that house, the porch swing was the last thing that needed to be loaded.  I was exhausted at the end of the move and that swing might as well have been an 500 pound gorilla because I just couldn't find the energy to take it down and load it.  I rationalized . . . the new house didn't have a place for it to hang and we had certainly gotten our use out of it.  In very poor judgment, I decided to leave it behind.  Big mistake!  You know how kids never remind you of the wonderful things you've done for them but if you make a mistake, it is never forgotten?  Practically every time we sat together on our new porch, the jabs would start.  "Didn't we used to have a porch swing?  Papaw worked for months on that porch swing.  Wouldn't it be nice if we could swing on our porch swing?  Oh yeah, MOM left it behind."

1986:  My dad building the porch swing while Ashli and Ty look on.  

Years later on one weekend morning during the summer, I got up before everyone else and went to the kitchen to make coffee.  As I was sitting at the kitchen table, counting the seconds until I could pour the coffee into my veins, I looked out the window and saw our porch swing sitting in the back yard.  Really?  As the family started to fill the kitchen one by one, no one seemed to have any idea of how the swing miraculously appeared.  The stories started . . ."Wow, that sure looks like our old porch swing mom.  Maybe the family over on Prospect started feeling guilty and dropped it off for us" or "Must have magically unhooked itself, sprouted swing wings and flown here - it missed us."  The true story didn't come out for some time.  Our daughter was out one night with some friends, complaining about the porch swing episode and no doubt using it as a perfect opportunity to roast her mother.  A light bulb went off in someones brain . . . let's go rescue it!  (Notice how I have very artfully used the word rescue rather than steal!)  I have to admit that I drove by the old house several times, saw it sitting there empty and was tempted to "rescue" it myself but of course I never had the nerve or a truck.  This is one of those moments as a mom when you are bound as a mother to chastise your kids for doing something wrong but you are secretly are thinking, "My kids rock!"  I quickly came to the realization that my kids had some wisdom about the porch swing that I had chosen to ignore.  It was more than a porch swing.  It was a memory catcher that had been handcrafted by my dad and my uncle and there wasn't a porch swing on the market that could have replaced it.  Sometimes kids have wisdom beyond their years.

The porch swing now hangs on the screened in porch of our new house.  It finally got the coat of paint that it deserved and it has comfy pillows that invite you to prop yourself up and relax.  It's still a place to talk, read, reflect and relax.  It's become a favorite place for our grandkids now.  A few summers ago, Logan and Lindsey were in a pirate phase and it became a pirate ship for the entire summer.  I never knew when I would come out and see Captain Jack standing on it, whipping his sword around while he tried to save Elizabeth from the sharks of the nasty waters below.

I'm in awe that such a simple thing has transcended time and three generations.  It's all the things it used to be.  I can swing on it and feel my heart rate drop down to the relax zone. And if I close my eyes and listen to the squeak of the back and forth motion, I can be immediately transported to Prospect Avenue where my kids are laughing and giggling and sometimes arguing.  With every swing back and forth, it's become a place to count the blessings of the years.  I can't sit in it without remembering the hands that made it . . . made with tender loving care by my dad and my precious uncle and rescued by the hands of an impulsive but determined teenage girl.  I guess that's what an heirloom is - something with magical memory catching super powers that can cause your heart to skip a beat.

Logan and BopBop reading this summer

Time for a morning snuggle Nonna.

Life doesn't get much better than a porch swing, pillows, and a summer morning.

The best kind of friend is the kind you can sit on a porch swing with, never say a word, 
then walk away feeling like it was the best conversation that you ever had. ~Unknown

Monday, August 8, 2011

Bittersweet Rain

Summer is almost over. July was so busy that it was gone in a blink so  I'm trying to hang on to every second of it that's left.

It's been a bittersweet summer.

The joys:  we had our oldest twin grandchildren here for a little over three weeks and our little cutie from Michigan here for the fourth of July.

The sadness: The summer started with the unexpected loss of my cousin after a cancer surgery. A little over a month later, one of my best friends lost her battle with cancer.  A few weeks later, I was blessed to visit with two college friends - one in the midst of chemotherapy and the other three years down the road from her diagnosis.

I've never had a year like this - it started a year ago in July with the death of my daughter's best friend's mother to cancer.  Throughout the year, I've watched the "C" word come into several other friends' lives and turn their worlds upside down.  When you add all of this up to ending the year by  losing two more people that I loved dearly to cancer and listening to two of my longtime girlfriends compare notes on losing beautiful heads of hair and having their energy zapped out of them, it's the perfect storm.   My emotional state can be has triggered by almost anything.  The tiniest little thing can tip my "on the verge of crying" to sobbing.  It seems that I've spent most of the summer walking around in overwhelming sadness which is not like me at all.  Yesterday the scale tipped to either a moment of sheer insanity or genius.

I spent most of the day on our morning porch - my favorite "room" in our house.  It's like a tree house and I feel like a little kid when I sit on it.  You are completely hidden from the world so you can take on the role of snoop or spy with the passersby whenever you fancy. Some little joys of our morning porch . . . 

  • Little snippets of cell phone conversations are almost always surprising - everything from political or work related complaints or jokes to more details about a romantic encounter with a boyfriend than I've ever wanted to hear - nothing new, we've all heard them.  
  • I love to play "who are they and what's their story."  We live near the university so there's usually a different group of people passing by every day as well as some regulars.  There is one man who passes by everyday around 6:30 AM and I can hear him from several houses away because he never lifts his feet up.  He shuffles past our house every morning and he really isn't old enough to "shuffle."  Hard for me to quash my mother instinct and not yell out "pick your feet up for goodness sake!"
  • For the past three days, we've been enjoying the flyovers of the Thunderbirds that were in the Milwaukee Air Show.  Poor Greg, practically every time he came outside observe the thundering roar, the show seemed to shift to the on-ground activities and he missed the planes. 
  • What a great place to watch squirrels and birds.  I saw a squirrel jump from one branch to the next one day and he missed and fell to the branch below his desired destination!  Who knew squirrels ever missed?  The funny part was that he actually looked around as if to see if he could safely hide his squirrel embarrassment, then he scurried off to a hiding place.   A less enjoyable moment,  for the first time in my life, a bird pooped on my head a few weeks ago - disgusting.

Well yesterday, the morning porch was the scene of my moment of "scale tipping" . . . After enjoying the sun for most of the day, the rain clouds rolled in. I started to pick everything up and go inside when it occurred to me that all my life, I've always run out of rainstorms or worked quickly to get my umbrella up.  I always wanted to walk through Central Park during a rain but I never did because I didn't want to continue down Fifth Avenue looking like a drowned subway rat.  This is not to say that I haven't been caught in the rain but I've never intentionally just let the rain pour down over me with no regard to how I would look afterwards . .  . until yesterday.  Sounds crazy.  The rain clouds rolled in and I just sat there and let myself get completely drenched.  And the tears flowed.

I think I had this overwhelming need to feel as alive as possible.  My friends who aren't with me anymore, are in my thoughts nearly all the time these days.  Sometimes I feel guilty because I'm still alive and well in this world and they aren't.  When I play with my grand children, I think about the grand children that my cousin will never get to hold, and I cry.  When I finish a new book, I immediately want to call my friend Sunny to tell her it will be in the mail to her tomorrow.  When I see Katie's posts on Facebook, I think about the things I know about her that her mother never got to know.  I seem to be walking around the world lately thinking about all the things I can do, that they can't and it tips the scale to a sadness that can't exist without tears.

I know this isn't a happy blog to read but sometimes I think it takes sadness to make us appreciate joy and to get us off of our butts.  When I sat in the rain yesterday, I was made so aware once again of what a gift everyday on this planet is and I'm embarrassed that it took me 57 years to just sit and enjoy a summer rain on the other side of the window glass.  My cousin Brent was a fisherman so I'm sure that he learned at a much younger age the joy of a gentle rain while sitting in a boat waiting for the fish to bite.  My friend Sunny was a life-long New Yorker so I have no doubt that she took that walk through Central Park in the rain more than once and enjoyed it thoroughly.  I've never met anyone who's name more appropriately fit them - Sunny had one of the sunniest personalities I've ever encountered.  I always wondered if it was just self-fulfilling prophecy or if her parents had one of those moments when they looked at their new baby and knew it was her name.  She absolutely embraced life at every turn to the point that when we had our last conversation, she didn't want to talk about her pain, she wanted to talk about books, the weather, and the joys of daily life.  

Yesterday, after I was completely and totally soaked, I ran dripping to the bathroom and took a hot bath.  I think it was the best bath I've ever had.  I miss my friends so much.  But I'm going to honor and remember them by soaking up every bit of life that I can - the rain and the sunshine.  

A rose must remain with the sun and the rain or its lovely promise won't come true.

And, it's time to do more than send sympathy cards....

The Ups and Downs of Battling Cancer

The Rare Chair Event - October 14, 2011

PS - Happy Birthday to my mom - a breast cancer survivor.