Another Legacy

I read an essay on Slate: a touching tribute to the author's influential teacher. It reminded me of some of the teachers who made a positive difference in my life.

Mr. Marr, who taught high school English and Psychology, was an important teacher in my life.
Mr. and Mrs Black, a married couple who taught in neighboring junior high classrooms, were also influential.
Mrs. Vest, my first-grade teacher was wonderful, too.

But of all the fine teachers I had during my school years, I most remember Mrs. Waas. She taught high school English in Woodland Park, Colorado and I had her classes for my freshman and sophomore years. She took a socially-awkward, skinny and decidedly unblossomed girl and said the magic words that would change a life: "This is really good."

Even though teachers all through the years had given me high marks in my language classes, even though I was a strong speller and did well with reading comprehension, etc., it was Mrs. Waas and her constant approval and encouragement that tipped the scale.

I knew I could spell. Grammar was easy. Mrs. Waas read my compositions and was the first one in my life to tell me that I really had something to say. From my short stories and poems to my book reports, she engaged a wordy girl and her thoughts. She made insightful comments, argued a point with me, helped me write with more clarity and treated my words with respect. I can not stress that last point enough: she treated my words with respect!

We may never know the impact we have on other people's lives. Some teachers may hear from a student from time to time, but they never really know. It was about 37 years ago that I sat in her class for the first time, and was changed forever. There is great power in our words, and her words of approbation, words written in red pen and often punctuated with exclamation points (Interesting! Good point! Well said!) made an awkward, unsure girl become aware of her own ability and passion.

What can you say to someone today, to uplift them in that way?

What can I? I think I will look around for something to say. For words are power.


Look Again

A couple of things have come up lately that have made me stop and take a hard look at myself.

Yesterday, my friend mentioned something about being intimidated by some people.

I pooh-poohed her at the time, thinking, "Oh, how could you feel intimidated by anyone? You're so awesome!". But then I thought about it some more. A lot, really.

Here is this beautiful, funny, talented, intelligent and accomplished women and SHE feels intimidated by other people. What she said struck a familiar note, and reminded me of a saying that Grandma had about a mirror and a magnifying glass.

Another friend has been struggling with self-doubt, too. She has looked full in the face of her own complexity and found herself reeling. All of the things that I think make her amazing, make her feel uncomfortable with herself and different. 

Huh. I often feel intimidated and oh-so-very different. Here I am, 50 years old, and incredibly contented in my life. My husband is my hero and my heartthrob every day, even 30 years into the deal. I'm healthy, happy and fairly successful. I don't have a college degree, and I took a ten-year hiatus from the working world to raise my sons. Even with the late start and the (then) skimpy resume, I managed to rise to a level I am comfortable with and respected for.

Our sons have grown to become honorable and healthy young men. My dog is well-behaved and my garden grows just fine. WHY would I ever feel intimidated by others? Inspired? Yes! Intrigued? Absolutely. Interested? Sure! But why should I go through my life feeling like I'm actually a bit of a fraud?

The mirror doesn't have an answer to that question, but I think it's a sign of personal growth to ask the question at all.


A Legacy

I was a lucky child in many ways, not least of which was that my Holland Grandma lived with us for much of the time. She was wise and patient, witty and insightful and a wonderful grandma in every way.

She loved the fragrance of onions sauteing in butter and would usually come into the kitchen, just to smell, if Mom was cooking them. If Grandma was feeling a little "off her feed", the smell of those onions would kick start her appetite almost every time.

Grandma got her own apartment 40 years ago, and has been gone for almost 20 years, now. But every time I have onions cooking in a skillet, I think of her and smile. (I love the way they smell, too).

You just never know what people are going to remember about you when you're gone. I doubt she thought of a love for onions as some kind of legacy. What she really handed down to me was to remember to appreciate those little moments in every day.

When my husband leaves for work in the morning, I bury my face in his chest and enjoy just breathing him in for a moment, before we part for the day. If a song I really like comes on the radio, I pay attention. I appreciate the way my dog jumps up to see me. She kind of stands on her hind legs and gently places her front paws on my ribs. I've never seen a gentle-jumping dog before her. I take a moment to notice the pink and orange of the western horizon at day's end.

And when I am cooking onions in butter, it's a pleasant moment worthy of notice. I thank my Grandma for teaching me that lesson.


Wine to Try - Frusion Juicy Orange

It had to happen sooner or later. 

I'm sorry to tell you that this one is, in my opinion, a White Elephant wine. But let me tell you about it, because maybe it's a wine you would like.

It is Frusion Juicy Orange. Sounds delicious, don't you think? Yeah, that's what I thought, too. Maybe if I liked orange marmalade, I might like Frusion, too. Unfortunately, this one had too much of an orange peel flavor, with that bitter edge to it that makes marmalade unpalatable to me.

If you like grapefruit and marmalade and those slightly bitter citrus flavors, you might really enjoy this. It might be nice to make a wine-based Orange Dream drink: vanilla ice cream in an icy cold glass of this might be very summery and good.

Or maybe I'm just trying to justify the fact that I really didn't care for this one at all. But don't worry, I'm not going to re-gift it, because quite a few of us tasted it. I don't believe anyone particularly liked it. 

Sorry, Frusion. Do you make this in a strawberry version, because your Juicy Orange is a total White Elephant.

My disclaimer:
Bear in mind that no one connected with any of the wineries I might mention here knows who I am. Of course, if they appreciate what I have to say and want to forward along cases of wine, I won't mind. I won't hold my breath, waiting for that day, either. :-)

My rating system:
Sip: a nice wine, goes deliciously with (or IN) food. I enjoyed it.
Guzzle: my idea of a nice sociable wine. The kind of thing I am happy to drink out of cheap plastic cups, sitting around the campfire, or out of a cool stemless glass while enjoying the company of someone I care about.
White Elephant: it isn't like drinking kerosene, exactly, but does not suit my taste. I'll pass it along to someone who might like it. This rating will mean more to you if you agree with my Sip and Guzzle ratings!
Drain-O: this stuff could hurt someone, so I'll send it to the wastewater treatment plant, via the kitchen drain. Maybe it will disinfect the p-trap, while it's in there

The Little Things

It's surprising, really, how much little things can matter. A good example is one teachers use to stress the importance of punctuation--the difference between these two sentences:
Let's eat Grandma!
Let's eat, Grandma!

The comma is just a tiny little spot of ink (or pixels!) but it changes the sentence dramatically.

Many years ago, some of the relatives were together for Thanksgiving and we were playing Pictionary. My teammate was drawing a man in striped clothing, and I was guessing words like "convict, prisoner, criminal, inmate".

The right word was "umpire". The direction of the stripes made all the difference.

And then one day I answered the phone at the insurance agency where I worked. The man on the other line had a fairly strong accent, and he asked if he could "Make an appointment to have a look at Debbie."

"Pardon me, sir? Have a look at Debbie?"

"Yes. I need to look at Debbie."

In the background someone said something and he returned to the phone, "I need to see Debbie."

OH! Well. That sounded much less creepy, even though having a look and seeing are practically the same idea.

How easy it is to miscommunicate what we really intend, all because of a stripe, a comma, or simple semantics.


Words Won't Do

Just before Christmas, my most precious, favorite Auntie passed away. She had a long life that was punctuated with struggles but underscored with great love. She was a shining example of a life lived with hands to work and heart to God.

Her memorial service was held last weekend, and as is customary, the officiant opened a time for anyone there who wished to share a memory or make a statement. And, as is usual, I could not find words. Not that I would have been able to speak them if they had come to me in that moment. When I'm emotional, I squeak instead of speak. So much for my career as a great orator. :-)

No, for me the words come when I place my hands on the home row. (That's the keyboard, for those of you who never had "touch typing" in school.) The feelings are there, of course, whether I write them out or not. But to give voice to those feelings requires the physical act of writing. So I would like to say a few words about a kind woman who meant so very much to me.

She was a master of The Brave Face. People who didn't know her well might never know that she struggled with terrible pain. She never complained about it, but if you asked her how she was and all you got was an "I'm good", you knew it was a bad, bad day. She was fiercely protective of her own privacy and that was part of it, but mostly she never complained because she felt her problems were her own and not something to trouble others with. Yes, Facebook would not have comprehended her.

She was a true Christian, with the heart of a giver. I can honestly say that she would gladly give her last dollar or her last worldly possession to someone who she felt needed it more than she did. She demonstrated that spirit every day of her life until she could no longer lift herself from her bed.

She was the family communicator. She was the one who remembered birthdays, who wrote cards and letters to family far and wide. She never spelled my name right, but her way of spelling it became her own pet name for me, and I treasured it.

She believed in the power of prayer. Anyone facing a struggle could count on Auntie's prayers.

She was all of those wonderful things, but she was even more to me.

She was the one who always, always expressed confidence in me. She always made me feel like she believed in my decisions, that my priorities were well-placed and that I was on the right track in my life.

She was the one who listened to the endless yammering of a talkative girl child, and somehow appeared to actually listen, which we know she wasn't, really.

She was the one who told me I should write. She was the one who told me that my stories had voice and that others would want to read them.

She was the one who saw my sweet hubs, all those years ago, and instantly saw what a gentle soul he his. She loved him immediately and always said we were a wonderful couple.

Many years ago, when Auntie was visiting us, she paid me the highest of compliments about my New York cheesecake. She took a bite, and closed her eyes in blissful repose and said, "Het is alsof een engel geplast op je tong" (thank you online translation site). Which in Dutch means "It's like an angel peed on your tongue". High praise, that.

She was patient, tolerant of other people's foibles and flaws.

She has gone, now, to join her own sweet husband, our beloved Uncle Henk. At last she sits at the table again with her husband, parents, her older brother, my father (whom she cherished as if her were her true brother) and all those many treasured loved ones who went before her, and feasts on the final fruits of her many labors. And I pray that the cheesecake tastes like an angel peed on her tongue.

What I See--Alita

Oh, Alita! What can I say? We've known eachother for so many years! Alita and I became acquainted first because our husbands worked to...