The River Birch

The River Birch

Some years ago my husband planted trees all over our back yard in Spokane, WA, turning it into what I called a Zen garden. There was shade on hot summer days, beautiful snowy branches in the winter, and a magnificent fall to rival colorful leaves any other place on earth. One of my favorite things to do on cold winter mornings was to check out in the front yard for deer hoof prints in the snow.

A few years ago one Christmas Eve, daughter, husband and their little son, Asher, who was four at the time, were visiting. We decided we all needed a short walk in the snow after dinner. Asher spotted deer hoof prints in the driveway and insisted they were reindeer hooves from Santa’s sleigh. He was insistent on going back in the house so he could go quickly to bed, in the hopes that Santa would be back with his reindeer to leave toys, of course.

Even when I did not know how much I loved living in the Pacific Northwest, it continued to grow on me, especially the River Birch I loved so dearly. The peeling leaves of the trunk filled me with wonder every summer, as it grew more stately, sending long branches over the neighbor’s fences every fall.

After living in the Pacific NW for over 30 years, my grown son and daughter finally talked us into moving to GA to be closer to daughter and her family.  We moved in September after months of careful planning which included selling our house in January, a Georgia house hunting trip in April, signing papers on a new house in June, and moving in September. We told friends goodbye and climbed into the car with conviction in our hearts for the trek across the country from Washington State, land of the ever greens, to Georgia, land of the peaches.

I knew I’d miss lots about the Pacific Northwest, including the pristine rivers my husband kayaked, but I had no idea how much the magnificent river birch in our back yard meant to me until one day in Georgia when I stopped at a nearby shop where my Honda Civic was being repaired. The mechanic and I chatted briefly and he asked me where I was from. “Spokane, WA,” I told him. He had family there and asked, “What was your zip code there?” Without warning I burst into tears  – big, racking, sobbing tears. I could not speak other than to mumble through my tears, “I am sorry, I  am so sorry. ” He grabbed a box of Kleenex and shoved them towards me with a worried look on his face. When I could speak I said, “I didn’t know that asking what my zip code had been would trigger such tears.” Then I told him, through more tears, how much I loved my beautiful river birch in our yard in Spokane, and that I would never have another one like it. I told him I realized in that moment that I had been grieving that magnificent river birch, and felt almost as if I’d left a child behind.

My husband came into the shop as I was in the middle of my tears. He told me later he had no idea I had missed our river birch so much., then drove me to a beautiful plant nursery in a nearby Georgia town and bought us a new strong, stately river birch that is now in the center of our front yard. It will be full of leaves and glorious in no time at all, but it will never be the same. It will be a beautiful river birch, in Georgia, but it can never take the place of our beautiful tree in Spokane. One day it’ll all be OK, but it will never be the same. What I know now is that some memories will always die harder than others, and this is one of them!

When people ask why we moved to Georgia from Washington State, we tell them, “Daughter and grandson in Georgia.” This explains why we moved. But it can’t begin to explain what we left behind, and that is a deep, abiding love for the Pacific Northwest, with quail walking along the top of our fence in the back yard, robins nesting in the rose trellis outside my office window, and those rivers clean and clear to the very bottom. We feel blessed to have been part of the Pacific Northwest for as long as we were there.

We now have cardinals, mourning doves and blue birds at our feeder in the back yard here in Georgia, but not one quail has crossed our path, we have not seen one wild turkey, and ducks and geese, honking overhead and flying further south in the fall, are few and far between.

The weather here is basically warm all winter, compared to freezing temperatures in Spokane, yet I long for days when I could wrap up in my winter parka, furry mittens, hat and snow boots to trek down to the mailbox on the corner. Usually I’d spy quail or wild turkeys on the way. Always there was the sound of snow crunching underfoot. I miss the sounds of snow blowers in driveways, miss seeing men red in the face from plowing, and mail trucks that are late due to the latest large snowfall. I miss finding the first Johnny Jump Ups and Pansies in the Spring, and the first tulip bulbs poking their heads through the soil.  Even those deer hoof prints outside our dining room window make me misty eyed to remember.

But we go on, old school as we are. Making do. Living here to watch our grandson play Georgia hockey and soccer, to help my daughter with her busy schedule when needed, and so much more. I tell myself analytically that I need people around me, that the trees and birds I loved so much never actually talked to me, but on quiet mornings when alone, I know deep down that they did. They taught me a lot of things I needed to learn about living, learning, and blooming where I am planted.  Now, with any luck at all, my new river birch will teach me about letting go.

 

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Gardening Journal

Eighteen years ago I began a gardening journal. In it I was able to capture when flowers bloomed, when they didn’t, or when I found a robin’s nest at the top of our rose trellis. Some plants would thrive in our yard, others would shrivel and die. We managed to go on after their loss, and somehow my journal offered relief from the grief when we lost people we loved, as well. Without realizing it, my journal taught me resilience.

Sometimes I wrote with great flourish, noting when the bleeding hearts poked their heads through the soil, or when my husband planted the ash, the river birch or the blue spruce in the back yard. Sometimes the writing would lapse for months, sometimes years. I loved to read through it on rainy afternoons.

This September we moved to Georgia from Washington State to be closer to my daughter and grandson. I unpacked my gardening journal one afternoon in October, and wrote a short entry, then picked it up to reread today. It spoke to me of moving to a new house once again, with a yard as brown and dismal as the one in Spokane ten years ago. I was out of sorts then, with barely anything alive in the yard. But soon my husband planted trees and flowers that took my breath away.

And yet here we were again, facing an empty yard, or at least not knowing what might have been planted by the previous owners.  Certainly not enough to nourish our lagging spirits, even though we have planted one maple and two apple trees already, and my husband has engineered two amazing garden beds out back with raspberries, blueberries, asparagus, peas and radishes already planted, with warm weather vegetables on their way.

But the grass is brown. Trees are bare. Birds are not happy about it, either. And then an amazing  thing happened overnight. The weather warmed, it rained, daffodils popped up all over the place, iris shoots appeared, and the tall camellia by the back deck bloomed.

My husband brought home a 13 ft. river birch and by afternoon it was tall and stately in the middle of our front yard. He then took it upon himself to uproot three spirea plants from a front flower bed and planted them around  one corner of the garden beds in back. As if that weren’t enough, the next morning he was out with his shovel early, in a light misting rain, and had tackled the dismantling of a dozen large loropetalum bushes in the front yard, so massive I could not see a parked car in the driveway from the front door. Two of them are now planted behind the spirea in the back yard. He said he could move two a day. I suggested one a week. It’s a big job!

It  occurred to me this morning that I should note all of this in the garden journal I began so many years ago. There will be so much more to write about here with a tea olive taller than me, an ever-blooming gardenia, the camellia that just won’t quit, and several dead  and neglected plant stumps. As I think about it, I realize this journal is a reflection of my life. It has taught me many things about loss and letting go. Most importantly, it has taught me that a journal is personal and always speaks truth. The one thing I know in spades is that our journals never lie.

 

 

 

 

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Shadows

Early on New Year’s day I took this picture of the small blue pot of Ivy on the kitchen counter, next to the sink. Each morning as I fill the Keurig for a cup of coffee, I give a little water to the ivy. New Year’s morning I transplanted a sister piece of the small batch of ivy, which had been rooting in a clear glass vase on the window sill, a fitting thing to do on a New Year’s Morning, I thought. It took a while to root, as my Mother would have said, as the window faces north rather than a southern window on the other side of the house.

We’ve only been in this house four months, and the ivy I rooted on the window sill gave out abundant roots in the two months it had been sitting in the glass vase, under my daily watchful eye.  Rooting a small stem of a plant, the way my mother did, always fills me with wonder, being able to coax life out of a plant. When I was a child there was always a piece of greenery in a glass vase on a small table in our living room.  Even though this glass vase I use now was my mother’s, she used a different vase, a small cut glass pitcher I loved, but one that was broken years ago.

Yet she and I never talked about plants or flowers, or our love of gardening. I find this strange because as a little girl I’d wake summer mornings and wander outside bare foot in my night gown, in Pensacola, Florida, looking for my mother. I usually found her sitting in the grass beside a flower bed, weeding before it got hot, she’d tell me.  Now, so many years later, I understand that sense of being one with the earth, of giving the flower beds whatever they need to grow and thrive. In a sense they needed her, as mine now need me, or my husband.  They need weeding. They don’t care who does it.

Knowing my mother, she would wake up the way I do now, wondering each morning if the ivy had any new leaves, or if the gardenias in the back yard had decided to bloom.  We had camellias that bloomed year round in our Pensacola yard, as they do here for us in our new Georgia yard. There are always rose-colored camellias or ivory colored gardenias to put in a vase. But it’s different with the ivy. The ivy brings back so many memories of my mother and her life. I know now that my mother thought of her gardens when she woke each morning, to push other problems aside. She would tend her gardens until the rest of the house woke up and life called out to her, reminding her of problems she could not resolve.

As for me, I wake up each morning now, as I am sure she did, ready to open the back door to the cool morning and sit down to weed a flower bed, trim pots of ivy, or dead head a few azalea bushes, thinking of my mother and the life she lived. I wonder each morning  if she was ever really happy. Did our family let her down? Or were her expectations unrealistic? My brother never had his own company; I never became a novelist. My father stayed, unhappily, but died early, leaving her alone the last fifty years of her life to manage the house, yard and my little brother after I’d married and moved. The only constants in her life were her flowers.

As I watched her each morning in the garden, it never once occurred to me if she might have been thinking of her mother the way I do now. It never occurred to me that she had ever read Whitman, remembering that he always had ‘large & melodious thoughts’ while walking under certain large trees. It seemed only a communion with nature when I read that line in college, a line I’ve never forgotten. Never once did I connect this love of nature to my mother, and yet here I am, thinking ‘large and melodious thoughts’ as I transplant a newly-rooted piece of ivy into the pot that already holds another piece I’d transplanted early on when we moved here. I touch the sparkling rocks I placed beside the ivy, rocks my husband brought back from one of his first kayaking mornings here in a nearby lake, and realize I am fortunate to still have my husband here, sharing our new yard in Georgia.

Recently I read a blog post by Julie Christine Johnson, with comments of each of the books she’d read this year. I, of course, am miserable at remembering details accurately (my friends will tell you this is nothing new) but she spoke of a book that mentioned a ‘third thing’ that seems necessary for anyone in a relationship to be truly happy.  There are always two things which unite a couple, of course – but to thrive and be truly happy about sharing lives together they need a third thing they can fall into and love together. For us it’s our yard – the trees, our garden and occasional flower beds, the way we make plans for them, tend them, plan their futures, the way couples plan for their children. Dinner table discussions between us revolve around fencing – to fence or not to fence, what to plant for a wind break around the back garden, which is being planned in a starkly open yard with no trees yet for company, at least none that give relief yet from wind or brutal sun.

And so it goes around here. The yard. Our first love together, especially for a second marriage. Of course I have my children, friends, writing, while he has his shop, tools, kayaking; we have each other, but the love of our shared lives centers around the yard, that third thing we love together. I realize my husband will care as much as I do if the ivy roots in the glass vase on the kitchen window sill and for that I am thankful. My mother never had a husband who cared about the things she cared about.  My bother never cared, either, nor her parents.  I never knew any of them to root small stems of plants on the window sill.  But she had me as excited about her plants as she was, yet we never talked about the ivy, gardenias, camellias, her dreams or her love of gardening.

Sometimes when I look at this blue pot of ivy on the window sill, I am filled with both love and sadness for my mother and for myself, on many levels.  I see different shadows when I look at it, depending on the light from the window. I see shadows that remind me of a past and a sadness that still lives in my heart.  I also see sunlight slanted towards the window, reaching for the light, and realize that we all have a choice as to how we will view our lives – dwelling on the shadows or seeking the light, wherever it leads us. I am sad for my mother’s life. It was not a happy one, and for years I asked myself what more I could have done for her. But now I know it was her choice to dwell on the shadows. I do not want to make that same mistake. Each morning I say a prayer for her soul to rest in peace and to know how deeply she was loved. Then I check the glass vase and rejoice at the light it casts into our lives now. I hope I can always have a plant rooting there, on the window sill, beside the sparking rocks in that sweet blue pot. It tells me all I need to know about life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hope Springs Eternal

Frankly, I have no idea where this phrase comes from ~ Hope Springs Eternal ~ but it sure fits the bill for my husband and me these days. We just sold our house (in 6 days and to the first couple who looked at the home we’d labored over for the past 10 ½ years).

We are planning a move to GA from WA State.  From the land of the evergreens and the  Pacific Ocean, the snows and wildlife, to the hot, sandy climate of Georgia.   But you see, that is where my daughter lives with her husband and child. Moving closer to my daughter and grandson, and away from son, daughter-in-law and two grown granddaughters, both graduating from WSU, is the name of the game now. Both of my grown children (Allison and Phil) want my husband and me closer to Allison, near Athens, GA where the UGA is located, and where her husband works.

And so it is that we are now living in a two bedroom, two bath apartment, after giving up the five bedroom home with three gas fireplaces and a three-car garage.  My husband is not through kayaking in the Pacific NW yet, he says, and also wants to work here until at least the end of October, which is how we have found ourselves pulled from the raging river of transition and deposited here in the same city, in this small apartment.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s wonderful. Small but wonderful. So little cleaning needed. My days of solid housework hopefully gone forever. His days of brutal yard work, gone in a flash. Tools, yard things, patio table and chairs and so much more (including two expensive kayaks and nine boxes of china), are all stored in the garage that came with the apartment. Our cars are braving the elements outside, which so far has been a tiny amount of snow and now rain. Just rain and more rain, which we will have in GA, too.

But for now we have many things in wrong places, like the picture of our china cabinet at the top of this article. Instead of seeing my mother’s sweet floral china patterns in the glass doors, we see boxes of of Oatmeal, Grape Nuts, corn starch, baking soda and unsweetened chocolate; cans of green beans, red kidney beans, garbanzos, applesauce; and packages of egg noodles, Jello and spaghetti. In the open area, where my mother’s silver service used to sit, we have the cookie jar, nuts, and baking canisters.

I tell friends the baking supplies like pecans, walnuts and cran-raisins are in the drawer, while the booze sits in the underneath section, with an occasional tall vase or pitcher. Things in wrong places. That’s the only way to think of it. For some reason it doesn’t seem funny for me to be searching inside the china cabinet for Cream of Mushroom soup for a crock pot meal, but it does strike my funny bone to see my husband making his way around the dining room table in the small eating space, carrying his cereal bowl with him, and opening the door to the china cabinet for his morning cereal.

As I go about business here these final days, I realize I had visions, at first,  of feeling blessed to be able to visit the same stores we have for the last twenty-something years ~ Albertson’s, just six minutes away from us, and Walgreens, the PO, cleaners, Starbucks and the Rocket Bakery for coffee and chats with friends.  Instead, I find I am getting tired of once favorite places, ready to leave, get the show on the road, move on, move out, move to GA and begin to find our new ways there. New friends, new shops, new routes to and from town and back.

I am eager to look in a drawer in the kitchen to find silverware, gleaming and ready for us to use, instead of the large round glass container in which our silverware now resides. Drawers here are too narrow for the draw dividers in our house.  But it is all working.  Sort of. I told hubby yesterday as he left for work, “I love this apartment and could live here forever, alone, but I could not live here very long at all with another person, including you.”  I think he probably feels the same way. He just nodded.

To me this is a sign that a month of this has already been enough, even though we do have everything we need right at our fingertips. We just do not have the ‘other stuff’ we packed up to find eight months later when we finally get to GA.  I miss my large ironing board, hanging on a hook in our laundry room at the house, although it is standing up in the storage closet off the small balcony of this apartment. A friend suggested I give that away. “You don’t need an ironing board anymore.” What?  Stop that. Nobody is taking my ironing board away from me.”

I have brought my gardening shoes, the trowel, even my new gardening gloves, and why? I have only one pot to tend in front of the apartment. No strawberry patch to weed. No blue flowering vinca to weed, no clematis to trim. If I want to see the tulips we planted in our yard I’ll just have to drive by the house one day to see if all of the tulips survived our oh-so-cold-winter this year. They seemed like my children for years. I put them to bed in the fall and waited for them to wake up in the Spring, refreshed, ready for their time in the sun.

Again, things in wrong places. My tulip’s are in another woman’s garden. The rose bush we planted for my mother after she died has been left there to adorn someone else’s yard, to offer solace from the patio to these new homeowners, as it did me for several years. We’ll have to find a good spot for a new rose in Georgia, hopefully a pink one, my mother’s favorite color.

So many things in wrong places, including me. But again ~ Hope Springs Eternal. I can already see myself under a warm Georgia sun, slipping into my old gardening shoes, pulling on my new gardening gloves, picking up the trowel and planting a new rose bush for my mother, and then planting a new Cecile Brunner climbing rose on the trellis.

Did I say trellis? What trellis?  Will there be one?  We’ll just have to make sure of that, won’t we?  My trellis, where three robin families have had nests in the last four years, now lives in someone else’s yard in WA State, not in GA where we’ll be moving.  A trellis is not something you move, or our ten year old red sugar maple out front, or the ash and the river birch in the back yard. I am missing the trees. Givers of life, always. Givers of creative thoughts and ideas. Givers of everything I want in a new home in Georgia, including shade for the quail I hope we find in our new yard there.

I can see now that I must monitor everything that goes into the moving van for Georgia, to make sure my husband’s yard tools are included, along with the various metal sculptures ~ angels and flowers ~ and his spades, hoe, rakes, and shovels.  Yes. We will have a tree-planting marathon once we relocate.  Then I think it will feel like home to me, no matter how far it is to the grocery store, Walgreens, PO or even Starbucks.

Every time I am fed up with a shopping center, unexpected traffic, or a particular store here, I think I am tossing that place out of my life and filing that hole with a sense of hope for the new places in GA that we will love every bit as much. I think this is the way it’s supposed to work! I so hope it’s true that hope does spring eternal. I’ve got a lot riding on that!

 

 

 

 

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Footprints

Pensacola beach, early morning

FOOTPRINTS

It’s amazing to me how one single letter can change the meaning of a word, or evoke completely different memories from one person to another. By adding the ‘S’ onto Ocean Blue, it becomes Ocean Blues (a color of a paint chip used as a writing class prompt this morning).  Adding the S gave the color number such a different meaning – 50 Shades of Blue comes to mind, or many shades of personal blues.

For me, the picture forming in my mind as I write this is a memory of walking along the wet, sandy and firm beach at the water’s edge by the Gulf of Mexico in Pensacola, one overcast day with my High School friend June, long after we’d both married and had kids. I snapped a quick picture of the beach at the water’s edge and managed to capture a picture of my own footprints in the sand.

When I returned home from my short Florida vacation and had the photos developed (before we all had digital cameras) I realized the footprints in the picture were mine. At age 30-something, after marriage, moving away and having two children of my own, these were the very same footprints I’d left years before as a teen, and would remain the same footprints I’d left that afternoon. In fact, these would be the same indentions I’d leave in this very sand, no matter how long I lived.

Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel titled You Can’t Go Home Again (which actually spoke to the illusion of prosperity and the unfair passing of time), and I understand what he meant, but there is something special knowing my footprints are still there, washed by the foam at the water’s edge like a seashell.

Sitting at my table in Denver, Colorado that afternoon, looking through vacation pictures, it seemed as if my footprints still lived there quietly at the beach I loved so much, and still do. The illusion of prosperity and the unfair passing of time (themes from Wolfe’s novel) circulated through in my mind.

But as for me, philosophical questions put aside, I know without a doubt  that you can take a girl away from the beach, but you can’t take the beach away from the girl. There are seashells forever in my heart, and my footprints still live on in the sands at Pensacola beach. And I have the photo to prove it.

The photo with this post is one of early-morning Pensacola Beach sand, taken in June 2012, and is not the photo I remembered with my footprints so clearly visible. That photo is tucked away in a photo box from long ago. One of these days I’ll open up that box and find that one stunning photo, so full of memories. I might even frame it.

After all, my footprints live on in this picture, as much as they live on with the seashells and waves of the Gulf Coast.  To me this speaks strongly of belonging.

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Bucket List

Fall 2012 - October Ash with holly

Bucket List – For August 2, 2016

After seeing the movie Bucket List, I made a short list of my own.

  • First, a whale watching excursion from Seattle or Whidbey Island.
  • Then a night in Dayton, WA’s historic hotel and dinner in Dayton’s 4-star French restaurant.
  • Next, a trip to New England to see colorful fall leaves.
  • Finally, a trip to Hawaii.

As for whale watching, I penciled in nice but not necessary. For years as a teen I watched porpoises play in the Gulf of Mexico most Sunday afternoons. That pretty much satisfies whale watching for me.

The Dayton, WA hotel and French restaurant also falls into nice but not necessary. I spent several weeks in Europe some years ago with my daughter. We ate in Paris restaurants, rode a train from London’s Paddington Station to Stratford-on- Avon, and sat on the bench where William courted Anne Hatthaway in her family’s cottage. On our return to London, a cow died on the RR tracks, causing a two hour delay waiting for large equipment that could move the cow off the tracks. That could even happen in Spokane.

My husband claims the Fall leaves in New England can’t equal the falls in NE Iowa where he’s from. A fall trip there might be in our future, but not this year. I’ve booked a late October trip for myself to Athens, GA ~ not Greece.  Daughter Allison is an aerialist with the Canopy Studio’s Fall Trapeze show.  I’ll be there just in time for Georgia’s fall display of leaves, which gave me such comfort last October. My little brother was in a Gainesville, GA hospital, northeast of Atlanta, and not far from where my daughter lives. He was dying of cancer. The vibrant leaves around my hotel reminded me every sad day that life goes on.

And Hawaii, the last item on my list, again nice but not necessary. I think of spending so many Sunday afternoons at the beach as a teen, ruining my skin with too much sun. I realize that if I do make it to Hawaii at my age, I’ll be covered up like a bee keeper.  Not much fun in that.

The only Bucket List I have now is much more local:

More summers to watch quail families in our back yard. More falls listening to geese honking overhead as they fly south. More winter drives to Coeur d’Alene with my husband to see eagles in tall trees around Wolf Bay. More springs with robins building nests in our climbing rose trellis.

It’s clear to me now that what I most want on my Bucket List is more time for things I love in my own small world, no matter how small my world seems to anyone with bigger dreams. I guess that means that I only have one thing on my bucket list now:  More time!

 

 

 

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Pictures

Pictures

My family pictures are in a lovely box, on the bottom shelf of a bookcase in my office.  I might add, in the closet, out of sight, out of mind, yet never long enough to become dusty. Some afternoons if the rain is just right – drizzling with no wind, I will sit on the porch and look through these photos.

Other days I might take the box to the living room sofa. Usually one or two are culled. A good many went into the family history albums I put together for my children for Christmas two years ago, shortly after my mother died at 95 ½. It was time to put old ghosts to bed.

This started with our Family Ancestry, then moved to Wedding Photos of my children’s dad and myself, then My Early Years, and The Children, then Later Years (with my grand kids and second husband), then The Next Generation (my children and a bit of genealogy of their spouses as well – in case any of my grand kids want to do more ancestry research.) After this I included a section for The Grandchildren, and finally, Some of my Writing – a copy of several short stories that have been published, some poetry I’ve written, and favorite blog posts,  with a big picture of sunflowers.

I debated about this for some time. Would I write a memoir for my kids? Or just make photo albums for each of them? One day the puzzle fell into place. I decided to do an album for each, with chosen categories for sections of our lives together, which allowed me to write a narrative ‘letter’ to my children about those chosen years. I feel certain this was as much for me as it was for them. It reminded me that any one day of our lives together mattered as much to me as any other day in  my life, even now.

The pictures themselves, the ones in the box, are pictures of family, friends, my children as babies, our lives at different times, houses where we lived with our Air Force moves, who went to school where, when they married and pictures of the grandchildren later.

There are also pictures of where we live now:  quail on a fence, wild turkeys by the mailbox in the winter, probably looking for food, and in summer the raspberries,  strawberries and rhubarb. There are flowers of all colors in our yards and others. One of my favorite old pictures is one of the tall camellias in my grandparent’s yard on Blount St. in Pensacola.  Truth be told, many of the more current photos are probably still on my camera. Amazing what technology does to us. I should have more printed up, but that might mean a larger photo box. Oh, dear.

It all comes down to closing the loop for me, to snapping the carabiner shut. We are ready to go to the next phase of the photo box. My children want my husband and me move to Georgia, closer to my daughter and family.  My husband and I bought our house here for our retirement home.  Future pictures may be of this house in Spokane, WA or in a different house in Athens, GA. Who knows?  If we move, I don’t I want a larger photo box. Thinking about things on a deeper level always creates chaos for me, the last thing I need.

For now, as I dig deeper into the photo box, I focus on yesterday – the pictures of my maternal grandmother, Mama Ellis.  I was named after her. I see her dark brown eyes, and then find a picture of her mother, Margaret Johnson before she married. I have her blue eyes and think perhaps this is where my blue eyes came from. I wonder how these women  lived with their young children. My mother and her sister, my Aunt Margie, were wearing old fashioned dresses made by my grandmother in pictures I have of them. They wore lace knee socks and white shoes, with perfectly neat and groomed hair and blue ribbons on their dresses. Their mother and her mother before her did all the things I do now without the dishwasher, inside laundry room, a car in the garage and the nearby grocery store. I can’t imagine getting a drink of water back then without it being a chore.

Trying to put myself into my great grandmother’s skin, the one with the clear blue eyes, I shudder to think she had 14 children. My grandmother, Ruth Ellis, was the 9th child born in this family. Their father, Woodson Peek, was a country doctor, probably why they were able to keep all but two of their children alive until adulthood.

The picture box is more than pictures. It’s my ancestry, my roots, and my children’s roots. It’s the cakes and pies and handed-down recipes I still have in the recipe box from my  mom, Mary Alice Ellis Parks.  It’s the picture of my maternal great grandparents in a horse and buggy, my grandfather Ellis’ first automobile. It’s the past, my past, that makes my future possible, and the futures of my children, their children and beyond. It makes me smile to know that my grandson’s middle name is Ellis.

Where I am from is the yellow corn fields of Larchwood, Iowa and the white sand beaches of Pensacola, Florida. My background includes South Carolina and Georgia, even Pennsylvania, I am told, and before that England, Ireland and Scotland. As are most of us, I am a mix of many people and families, in this and in other countries, as mixed up as the photos that cluster together in my photo box. This box lies safe and protected now, where I can look through it any time I want, to remember so many and so much. This sometimes happens in the middle of the night, if I can’t sleep.

When I close the lid on the box, my thoughts take a leap to the future. Who will take this box with them? Will it languish on another shelf until it becomes dusty and forgotten? Or will the photos be sorted into a smaller pile, one that can fit into a different box? That seems the logical thing to do, but which pictures will be saved?

Some things are not meant to be known, and we learn to be content to wonder. For now I know that all of the pictures I love are either in my children’s albums or in the box in my closet.  It is enough for me now to love every single picture in the box.

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