Happy Jack

Some called my dad, “Happy Jack”.

And a happy fellow he was.

But he wasn’t quite like the other dads on the block.

Putting a hammer or fishing pole in his hands would surely put you at risk.

Dad’s passions ran more towards community, family, and friends.

Always a people person even though I knew he was a little shy.

Dad’s jobs in advertising and public relations gave him unique opportunities that his kids thought were pretty cool.

Like organizing ping pong drops by helicopters at shopping malls for promotion purposes. Each little ball caught by eager tiny hands below would win the toy or book neatly stamped on it.

And dad’s volunteer work in the community gave us the chance to meet personalities with names we’d only heard about on radio or TV.

Like politicians and actors who came to town to appear in festivals and ride in parades. I was taught early to play hostess to my favorite childhood stars like Captain Kangaroo when Dad was busy.

The Captain, played by Bob Keeshan, was on network television in the ’50s to the early ’90s.

Looking back, it’s no surprise that the we spent so much of our time together with other people.

Like visiting with my piano playing grandmother, staff, and the other residents in the memory unit of her care facility every Saturday morning.

He’d charm each and every one.

And also those sweet ladies generously giving out free samples to us at the grocery store afterwards.

He’d bring smiles to their faces, too.

Mom always seemed to wonder what took us so long.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Dad this week, ever since driving by Grandma’s old care facility on my way to an art class.

And again when I met up with two pleasant Wisconsin restauranteurs giving free samples at the same grocery store where I used to shop with Dad every week.

On their sample menu were wild Swedish lingonberries on pancakes.

My dad sure loved his ritual of weekend pancakes.

And his loving Scandinavian wife.

One of the restauranteurs went on to tell me their restaurant keeps goats on the grass roof in the summer to graze and amaze visitors. And they have for years.

The restaurant even has a goat cam and the lucky animals enjoy a summer parade.
http://fox11online.com/news/local/lakeshore/sister-bay-goat-parade-celebrates-area-tradition

Now those are the kind of promotions Dad would have adored.

I bought myself one big jar of those wild berries.

So this Father’s Day in honor of both my folks, and their kids (who are now old goats themselves), I’ll be enjoying delicious lingonberries on pancakes.

And this goat ‘Wacky Jackie’, Happy Jack’s namesake, will surely be promoting smiles to the heavens with every last bite.

Simple gifts, and some so grand

With the gift of a breeze that’s got my back, I pick up my pace in warm sunshine.

I’m out for early for a walk, a nearby lake my destination.

To the serenade of robins, I feel light on my feet as I jog past bee friendly yards and a bird friendly coffee shop.

I fumble for any loose change in my pockets.

I’m on a budget, but I know one cup of of dark roast won’t burn too big of a hole.

I’ve grown to love exploring my new neighborhood on Sundays after downsizing last fall to a new place.

Today I’m searching for any simple gifts I might find.

Feeling optimistic, I open the first little free library I encounter across from the lake.

Inside, planted next to an old copy of The New Yorker, I see neatly labeled packages of seeds for pole beans.

I grab one for a small raised bed I’ve been preparing and put it in my back pack.

One block further west, I encounter five more free libraries all proudly standing in front of the local hardware store.

I gravitate to one painted lilac and pull out a book on Alzheimer’s.

But I pass.

I know more than I’d like after a decade of caregiving.

I try again.

This time I find a children’s book on art and another on ants inside.

Perfect for my granddaughter and little grandson I think.

I’m embarrassed by my riches as I’ve left nothing in return. Yet I smile as I think back to last fall when I gave away so much as I moved.

But did I really?

After my walk, I return home to my small cottage to place screens in the windows of my tiny porch.

At 895 square feet, some may consider my cottage to be a closet, but I find it a castle.

I soon feel the breeze again, dancing now with the white curtains teasing my shoulders as I sit on the little love seat on my porch to relax.

I’m more than content as I survey the space before me.

I’ve been longing for a sweet little porch, just like my grandmother’s, since I was six years old.

And now that I’m a grandma myself, I finally have one to call my very own.

What a gift it is, though not simple at all.

I’m calling this one mighty grand.

From Blue to Pink

I’ve been missing my Mom.

Every tax season brings gentle reminders of Aprils past when I’d take time off work to call banks and insurance companies to reissue Mom’s tax forms.

In her final years, Mom would often lose, toss, or neatly fold her 1099s into empty containers of Pringles chips.

Dementia was eating away at her brain.

Still we’d persevere.

I’d put Mom on the desk phone in the family room next to her brightly colored Swedish horse collection.

And I’d be on the kitchen wall phone with an extra long cord, so I could prompt Mom as the phone reps for the firms would answer.

But she was much quicker on the draw.

And sweeter.

She’d be peppering them with questions from the first hello.

“Now, where do you live, and how’s your weather out there today?”

“That’s nice, say, what’s your name again?”

“Oh my, so you’re Swedish then. I bet I know your cousin! ”

It didn’t matter if the phone rep was Irish, Israeli, or Indian.

Everybody was Swedish in her new world of memory loss.

After each prolonged phone call, we’d celebrate with a toast to strong coffee and Swedish Ginger cookies.

These chilly April days I’m making phone calls for my own missing tax forms.

Did I lose or toss them like Mom used to do?

Or could the issue relate to a recent move?

Glancing at Mom’s Swedish horses this morning living now in my family room, I craved a ginger cookie.

And a chance to see Mom’s smile again.

I decided to take a break and drive to a hot new restaurant nearby. It’s a bit pricey at night, but I was hoping a ten and the change in my pocket would more than cover breakfast.

The cuisine is Scandinavian, but as I walked in the new age Swedish music and contemporary design said “this is not your Mother’s Sweden”.

I grabbed a table anyway, as filtered sun through the front window warmed me from the cold and damp beyond.

Then I peeked at the menu and grinned.

I heard Mom in the printed words before me: herring, lingonberries, pickled beets.

Though I opted for Swedish pancakes.

I was in heaven with the first bite tasting the warm juniper, honey, and oranges inside.

As I poured myself more coffee from the shiny glass decanter, something caught my eye outside the window.

I looked up to see iridescent bubbles of blue, pink, and gold catching a breeze and rising higher and higher.

Finally, melting into the clouds.

It appeared the source was a bubble machine nestled behind an oversized teddy bear in front of the toy store across the street.

I lingered longer at the sight, watching the bubbles dance away.

And so did the children and their mothers strolling by.

Mom, too, would have loved the display I thought to myself.

As would my grandsons.

After paying the bill, I crossed the street to buy some of the colored magic potion.

“Oh, we only use the clear bubbles here in our machine,” I was confidently told by the clerk.

Baffled, I walked out of the store.

I looked up at the sky one more time.

“The clerk is right, the bubbles are clear,” I mumbled softly.

Still, I was sure they weren’t when I looked out of the restaurant window.

I smiled as I slowly walked back to my car to continue working on my taxes.

And just for a moment I felt someone watching, and smiling over me.

 

Simple Needs, Simple Gifts

While grabbing the mail a few weeks back, I noticed one oversized envelope with a stamped New York return address.

“5th Avenue” it read. It was sent from a suite in in the Empire State Building.

Yet my Minnesota address was handwritten.

I smiled for a minute, thinking of the many trips I made to the city when I was young.

I thought fondly of one employer who’d put me up in a particularly posh room at the UN Plaza, overlooking the Chrysler Building.

I remember sitting cross legged on my oversized bed at 3:00 a.m. gazing up at that skyscraper shining brighter than the stars overhead.

I was so overwhelmed with the beauty of it all.

But I never quite made it to the Empire State Building.

Was this some kind of a fancy invitation now, I wondered?

Well, sort of.

Inside the envelope was an offer to select a gift to thank me for my many years of service from a more recent employer. They provided me a with a password to use on an internet site.

I retired back in the fall.

The selections they presented me with were dazzling though I couldn’t find any new car batteries or gift cards for dog food included.

Instead I saw regal looking clocks with chimes, delicate diamond bracelets, circular saws, and 24 piece flatware sets.

Nice merchandise indeed, but I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that more than 90 percent of possessions I owned when I retired are no longer around.

In order to downsize to an 800 square foot cottage that same month, I needed to pare down quickly. And I was also in the process of paring down to a 30 hour work week with a non-profit.

It’s pretty clear my lifestyle’s changed.

And I have as well, I was thinking as I took a second look at each of the possibilities before me.

I quickly rejected the handsome clocks. My time on earth is too short to sit and watch each minute tick by.

And diamond bracelets aren’t a must for my current wardrobe of three pairs of faded jeans, two sweatshirts, and a salt stained winter parka.

I then consulted my neighbor who advised me that deciphering the detailed instructions for a circular saw would clearly have me running in circles.

And once my late husband was diagnosed with dementia, I threw all formal dining out the window and became a permanent fan of plastic knives and forks.

I finally decided to set the big envelope aside for a while.

Instead, I stopped over at the local thrift store to take a look at a small rocking chair for $4.00.

I’ve downsized so much I don’t have chairs anymore for my grandkids to sit in when they stop by.

I found walking through the shop was like walking through my own personal history museum, as I’d donated so many items there.

To my left I saw my husband’s colorful collection of silk ties, neatly displayed next to several of his crisp blue checked shirts.

To my right were lovingly crafted pottery pieces that used to sit on our coffee table.

And in front of me was a display of our old crystal pieces.

There stood my tall Tiffany candlesticks, our beautifully etched bowls, and all my elegant vases.

I saw my favorite vase where I once displayed the yellow roses I received each anniversary.

I became a little melancholy.

But only briefly.

I know all the goods I donated will find the homes they deserve.

And I’m helping out a worthy local charity that does a great job of helping clients find food, housing, and jobs.

Today I went back again to view the gift website of my old employer.

And this time I saw something new that had been added.

The gift was described as a ‘creative vision’.

An ‘evolution’ of sorts.

One encased with color ‘creating a dramatic presence’.

The words made me think of what I want for this late chapter of a life.

I quickly hit the ‘send’ button.

An aqua infused crystal vase will be coming my way in 10 days.

It’s a simple gift really, yet shining with light.

And it will bring back color to a landscape once cloudy as it frames the yellow roses I’ll be growing in my new little garden.

What more could I possibly want?

What more could I possibly need?

Not one single thing.

Who you calling Grandma?

I was dozing off in my little house at noon the other day to the lullaby of a train whistle.

The tracks sit just a block and a half away.

When I awoke later, I smiled thinking my Grandma used to do the same thing in her own little white house that rested by the rails eighty miles west of here.

Grandma’s home was directly across the street from the elementary school where she worked as a teacher. I loved playing school while helping Grandma set up her classroom each August for the returning students.

Sharpening yellow No. 2 pencils was my job.

I’ve working now with elementary school kids, too.

Just like Grandma.

And I still love No. 2 pencils.

Grandma’s sweet little house sat two blocks south from the town library where we’d always check out as many hardcover books as we could carry.

My library today is the same short distance from my little white house and I’m still known to take more than a few great reads back home.

Traveling the sidewalks back to my place tonight with my latest bound ‘treasures’, I couldn’t help but think my own home looks just like Grandma’s little white house.

I wondered have I become my grandmother?

Could be.

I am a grandma after all.

Yet I do know for one thing for sure.

Grandma never rocked and rolled down in her basement.

Pathways to sunshine

I have taken the act of being overwhelmed to a new art.

I refined my skill after my husband passed away a year ago. Though he’d been ill for sometime, the end came abruptly.

With his death it seems so many decisions need to be made in such little time.

And I’m not getting any younger.

Though a few decisions still remain relatively easy for me, like yesterday’s purchase of new GAP jeans, Anne Taylor pants and a faux leopard jacket from the thrift store for $9.00.

I’ll even call decisions related to retail therapy fun.

Particularly on a gray winter’s day.

But on my way back home I thought I better get serious and stop at an Open House for a rambler that’s up for sale.

I know I’ll be downsizing soon and I’m studying up on the real estate market.

Renting, which once sounded like an option, may actually be more expensive than buying a tiny piece of property that I can maintain.

So I skated down the icy driveway towards the vacant house for sale behind an elderly gentlemen who’d also stopped by. The man’s probably looking for a starter home for his grandson or granddaughter, I thought.

Greeted by a jolly realtor, we both looked around the cheerful rooms in the small home.

“I’d sure love that fenced yard for my dogs,” I commented, to keep the conversation moving. Though I was more interested in learning what the selling price was for the house, as I own a rambler as well.

I noticed my new gentleman friend was hunched over, but sporting a slight tan. Though he looked tired.

Like me, this man also lived nearby.

“I will be selling soon, and I’m trying to decide it I need to makes cosmetic upgrades,” he said.

“Not to worry in this market,” advised the realtor.

“We built a beautiful porch on our house just before my wife died. She’d wanted us to spend our final years together in the home,” the man added, his face now expressionless.

My heart sank.

I wanted to give the fellow a big hug. Or at least buy him a steaming cup of coffee.

But then he added, “It’s ok though. I’m going to Florida!”

I detected a smile and a sparkle in his blue eyes.

I knew he would be just fine after all.

And I suppose I will be, too.

We both left the house and returned to the bitter cold to walk to our cars.

But I looked up and saw the sun was now shining brightly.

On both of us.

Gentle souls

Today my Facebook news feed gifted me a joking reference to two elderly women and senility.

Maybe call it holiday humor.

But I call it cruel.

I admit I’m overly sensitive after a decade of care taking for my late parents and husband afflicted with Alzheimer’s and dementias.

But there’s nothing funny about a grandma asking her grandkids on Christmas Eve, “So who are you?”

Or discovering one morning your spouse can no longer speak full sentences.

But I may have been bothered most by the post’s unkind reference to aging women.

Feeling a bit old myself this morning, I couldn’t help but think don’t mature women deserve better?

What ever happened to respect and dignity, anyway?

I spent yesterday visiting two gentle souls in different locations, each nearly ninety years young.

Both of these women are bright, full of life and ever so wise.

And they’re also gorgeous.

The women reminded me of another elegant lady I knew who passed away earlier this year at 96. An accomplished author, she kept researching and writing well into her 90s, publishing her last book at 92.

All three women have taught me much. And yesterday the two I visited with shared some invaluable lessons.

First, just because you’re older, you’re still vibrant and very much alive. You can offer wisdom and perspective the young never can.

Second, should memory become impaired in one’s final years, gifts of love and warmth will still shine through.

I’m thinking these gifts will be more than enough to top off my stocking come Christmas morning.