Sunday, July 30, 2006

Cricket Song

Yesterday I heard it--the first cricket of August and it is still July.

The cricket sound is mournful. It reminds me of the end of summer, when school or routine looms large, and the days are once again waning towards the inevitable shortest day.

Crickets are good luck--in the fall we allow them to come in the house and let them stay with us. They sing for several months in odd, unexpected places. And then they go away again--perhaps they sing because they know they only have a short time before dying.

Peepers herald the end of spring and the warmer days ahead. Fireflies are the silent beacon of midsummer, although we don't seem to have them around much anymore--not as when I was a child when they glimmered across the suburban lawns of Ohio and hovered over the new mown farm fields in New Hampshire.

Crickets announce that fall is near. Somehow this year it seems too early for crickets.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Keep Steppin'

I get the "urban word of the day" emailed from the Urban Dictionary and recently "keep steppin" arrived in my in-box. Its timing was pitch perfect. The term is defined as, "to move on from something bad" or, as used in their sentence, "Yo homie, don't worry '‘bout her, keep steppin!" It has become my new mantra as it helped provide clarity to a recent event and will now be my reaction to things that bother.

In July we went to a large family reunion in the Midwest. As my husband likes to say, "we drove almost 1,300 hundred miles for dinner," because the next day we turned around and came home. No sooner had we arrived when we discovered that our daughter, left back home with a friend so she could work at her summer job, got into a car accident and totaled her car. Speed and a cell phone were the cause. Fortunately the car did its job, the airbags deployed, and she only suffered a broken wrist. It could have been much worse as she just missed a large pine tree and had she gone over on the other side of the road she would have been airborne and launched into a pile of granite rocks—and more trees. The car was totaled but it was just a car and we are grateful to it. Our daughter is fine and her wrist will heal. (And I should have insisted that she come to the reunion with us.)

But the "push out the door" happened because, before the reunion had even begun, we were snubbed by a certain relation. We were to discover that this person had been informed about something to do with the other side of my family, not directly their own—a faction of the one back in New England. Ironically, this simple gesture from a person not even involved, and for whom I've always held in the highest regard, brought closure for me on a difficult few years. We realized that our family issues had morphed into more than the sum of their parts and that we were powerless to change that. "Keep steppin!"

A week after the reunion I attended a writing workshop sponsored by the New Hampshire Writer's Project. Its topic—Writing about Family—was as timely as that relevant word-of-the-day in my in-box. I learned that when one writes "creative non-fiction", or a memoir, that it shouldn't be motivated by revenge or self-serving purposes. Not that I have such intentions but I can imagine that nasty little "R" word all too easily creeping in if not left checked in the cloak room.

Annie Dillard wrote that "while literature is an art, it is not a martial art: no place to defend yourself from an attack, real or imagined, and no place to launch an attack." Contentious family issues are a simmering broth of emotion, upset, envy, and misunderstanding. To place all the blame on one person or event would be wrong. In our case, the unresolved issues from several generations, marriages, and unspoken expectations or wants all fell down in our laps. Did we contribute to the dysfunction of what likely can not be resolved or overcome? Of course we did—but that does not make us solely responsible.

It is not an easy thing to learn: to write with objectivity, perhaps with humor, but also personal experience and insight. All families are nuts in their own way and we all share our joys, our sorrows, and our battle scars. Perhaps that is why non-fiction out sells fiction now: people are fascinated by real lives. Memoirs by ordinary people are the literary equivalent to the "reality" television genre.

So now I'll just try to "keep steppin" over and around the stuff of life that tends to get in the way of really living it. And one day maybe I'll write about it: not dwelling on the bad but the good, the best of what resonates: what is clear, what is muddy, what was and what might have been.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Our Friend Dot

Dot & Eli--Easter 2005

One of my best, most regular readers (that I know about!) is our dear friend Dot. I am writing about her today because she always reminds me when I haven't written something new. She reads every one of my blog entries and I think she checks daily. She is more in tune with it than I am sometimes. She keeps me honest and keeps me writing. So, today, and so I don't hear "Catherine, all I am reading lately is about Eleanor, Eleanor, Eleanor!" when I next see her, I am going to write about Dot.

Ironically, as I type this entry on a beautiful summer day with puffy white clouds wafting across the blue horizon, and with Dot's house in the corner of my eye through my office window (Dot lives across from us on Main Street), I have just received an email "ding". Incoming from Dot! She kindly wrote to thank us for some spaghetti dish we sent over yesterday. I've decided to do "Meals on Main Street" but from our own kitchen and without wheels. I make so much food that rather than have things rot in our refrigerator, I'll make an extra helping or two for Dot. Sometimes she can join us here, too, but she is a woman with a full life and a ready meal, taken out of her fridge or freezer when convenient, is just the thing for her. Dot, in her own way and without even needing to ask, will also keep me honest and inventive with my cooking that, frankly, could use a jump start. My kids might settle for Spaghetti O's or Annie's Shells & Cheese on a regular basis--an all too easy "out" in the game of "What's For Dinner, Mom?" but I would never think of sending those selections over to Dot.

How do we love Dot? Let me count the ways:

~ She has been like a mother to my husband for over 30 years when she and her dear husband Walt moved here in 1974
~ She has been like a grandmother to our three children
~ She makes a mean Martini (she is also a poster child for the ability to smoke and drink and how it can help longevity)
~ She makes a mean pile of Pennsylvania Dutch scrapple and the best corn meal mush (both suitable for slicing and frying)
~ She reads everything she can and volunteers her time at the town library
~ She sees and knows all from her kitchen window (and if you don't know about it, she'll tell you)
~ She lives in the cutest house in the village--just right for a Grandmother's House and it suits her well
~ She introduced us to two of our favorite people: Nancy and Barbara
~ She turns her lights off on Halloween so no one bothers her
~ She doesn't hesitate to speak her mind and she has a very sharp one
~ She is feisty and has a great sense of humor
~ She keeps my husband in line when I can't
~ She is exactly who I want to be when I grow up

We love Dot to pieces! So there, Dot: I've written another entry (well, my second since ELEANOR) and now YOU'VE been blogged! Like it or not! (Ok, well if you don't like anything, I'll take it out...)