The Practice of Remembering

Shepherd tombston

 

 

pot of geraniums

There are so many things we forget: keys, passwords, New Year’s Resolutions, important dates like birthdays and anniversaries. We also forget to take medicine, get things at the store, pay bills, return calls or answer emails.  But there are some things we should always remember.

This Memorial Day, our daughter Molly and our grandchildren, Grace and Gannon, drove with me to Fort Scott for the weekend. We went to visit my mother, to take her fun foods, and to sing songs and read to her, hold her hand and talk to her until she fell asleep at night.  It was our way of making contact and thanking her.   Without her, none of us would be here.

People were scattered throughout the cemetery adorning other tombstones when we took fresh silk flower bouquets to my father’s gravesite. We removed the faded silks and greenery from the marble vases at each end of Dad’s headstone, and we put bright bouquets of spring flowers in their place.  As we paused for a few private words and thoughts, we left pennies lined up along the top as a reminder we’d been there.

Molly divided the extra flowers into four groups, one for each of us. We went our separate ways to find neglected tombstones—no newer than 1899—in need of care, attention, and kind words.  It was a serious, touching time, each of us showing respect for a stranger who had been forgotten.

old headstone

Author Tess Gerritson wrote: “Only the forgotten are truly dead.”

It’s also a lesson for remembering the living. Poet W.H. Auden wrote, “And none will hear the postman’s knock ~ Without the quickening of the heart ~ For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?”

When the four of us returned to my mother’s apartment, she was waking from a nap. We sat around her and told her about the flowers we’d taken to Dad’s grave, and how nice it all looked. She smiled, then asked, “What about my sister Wanda? She deserves flowers, too.” I explained that Wanda was in Tennessee (I didn’t say she was buried there) and I was certain her children visited her with flowers, too. Mom smiled and nodded.

Then we put fresh flowers in a vase and set it next to Mary Elizabeth—nicknamed Mary Ibbeth by her siblings—because she deserves flowers, too.  On Memorial Day special care must also be given to remind the living how much they are still appreciated.

vase of flowers

So her great-grandchildren will remember how much she loved and enjoyed them before the dementia, we show them pictures from years ago.

So her great-grandchildren will remember how much she loved and enjoyed them before the dementia, we show them pictures from years ago.

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for

What the BLEEP is going on?

Potty mouth?  Oh, no.

Potty mouth? Oh, no.

open-mouth scream

Charlie Brown scream

 

According to “The Real” talk show I recently viewed while in Kansas, several studies agree that cursing can actually be good for us because it shows passion.   And according to PSYCHOLOGY TODAY, although frequent, continual cursing shows lack of control or disrespect, occasional cursing provides pain relief, non-violent retribution, and health benefits that include increased circulation and elevated endorphins.

During the thirty years I taught high school English, writing, speech, debate and mock trial, I told students there were two kinds of language: controlled and appropriate speech for public use, and vernacular speech for non-public relaxed speech with friends. The rule of the classroom was that only the first kind of speech was to be used.

Now I have a confession. When I retired and began teaching adult writing workshops and writing groups, it didn’t take long for “Retirement Tourettes” to affect my language. I didn’t swear like a sailor, but if cursing shows passion, all I can say is that there has never been any question I’m passionate about teaching adult writers of articles, essays, short stories, and novels.

My husband Jim just shakes his head and sighs when he overhears some of the words I incorporate while working with writers. He is an active retired teacher and a calm, kind, careful Grandpa with our grandchildren. But ask either of them what he said when describing a cabin we once considered buying, and they’ll shout in chorus, “Shit Creek,” the name of the creek leading to the cabin. They don’t remember any of the other details of the place, but they still love to say, “Tell us again about ‘Shit Creek’, Grandpa.” It’s the only oh-oh word they’ve heard him use, and our entire family fights back laughter because it’s not a case of Potty Mouth, but of Real Estate, right?

My Cursing Tourettes is not my go-to choice, and in my opinion grafitti is definitely unacceptable, but here are some additional thoughts for you to consider:

“Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.” ~Mark Twain

“’Twas but my tongue, ‘twas not my soul that swore.” ~Euripides

“Censorship feeds the dirty mind more than the four-letter word itself.” ~Dick Cavett

“Shocking writing is like murder: the questions the jury must decide are the questions of motive and intent.” ~E.B. White

“Think with the wise, but talk with the vulgar.” ~Greek Proverb

“It is an immense loss to have all the robust and sustaining expletives refined away…At moments of trial, refinement is a feeble reed to lean upon.” ~Alice James

"My mistake, Momma.  I mean to say 'hoot, hoot' ...not 'Hooters."

“My mistake, Momma. I mean to say ‘hoot, hoot’ …not ‘Hooters.”

 

 

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, life questions, teaching

THE WONDERS OF A #2 PENCIL

December, 1917, Uncle Sam eats Cream of Wheat ~ picture by Grace Shipley

Uncle Sam eats Cream of Wheat ~ picture drawn by Grace Shipley for the contest

 

 

 

Grace, 1917

 

In December of 1917, Grace Shipley opened her art book of 10×12” drawing paper and sharpened her pencil with a pocket knife. She took out a special gum eraser she kept in the pencil box because when she corrected mistakes she didn’t want smudges.

Grace had learned of a Cream of Wheat contest for art entries that would inspire frugal good eating during WWI. According to her sister Myrtle, all their brown paper sacks become practice scraps as Grace sketched one idea after another, smiling and humming as she put pencil to paper before breakfast, in between chores, and until she went to bed at night.

She titled her picture “Preparedness,” and it was one of the winners. The prize was a year’s supply of Cream of Wheat, though no one remembers now exactly how many boxes that was. Grace was featured in the local newspaper, followed by congratulation notes from friends and strangers, and she was a guest at a women’s art luncheon. As the story goes, she used the back of her program to doodle a drawing of the speaker’s fancy hat.

What is it about putting pencil to paper, crayons to coloring books, or chalk to sidewalks that helps us hum, smile, and live outside ourselves? I never knew my grandmother, Grace Shipley Shepherd, who died of meningitis when my father was very young, but I know from others—and I’ve often felt it myself—that putting pencil to paper, to draw or to write, is a gift for and from the heart.

mind's eye & pencil

Canadian artist Robert Genn wrote that “A drawing a day keeps the cobwebs away.”   Just for fun, and to clarify your thinking and sharpen hand-eye coordination, try this exercise in “blind contour drawing.”

Place the point of your pencil on a blank paper. Look intently at some simple object beyond the paper, and without once lifting your pencil or looking down at your work, re-create the image. This will help you stay focused on the present moment, and while you discipline yourself to ignore your progress, you will also learn to release expectations . Mindfulness groups refer to this as “Zen drawing.”

Enjoy this activity.  Shake your head and loosen the cobwebs. Use a crayon or a marker if it will make you feel more like a playful child. And it’s okay if you smile and hum as you draw.

Grace (right, age 6) with her sisters.

Grace (right, age 6) with her sisters.

 

Grace's great-great-granddaughter at age 6, learning to play softball.  But she loves to draw, too.

Grace’s great-great-granddaughter, Grace Elizabeth, age 6, learning to play softball. But she loves to draw, too.

 

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Filed under art, art projects, Contest winners, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations

Back To The Future

Mom as a junior in hs

 

Mom at hs grad

dad at hs grad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the movie BACK TO THE FUTURE, time travel transports the main character back to his parents’ teen lives, so of course they don’t recognize him as the son they will some day have.

I’ve seen many pictures of my parents—as infants, toddlers, young children going to school—and then there’s a gap followed by their pictures as a couple, then as parents of their own children as infants, toddlers, young children, teens and adults.

Recently I found several old photos in a folder stuck at the back of a drawer in my mother’s apartment. I’d never seen these pictures of my parents as teens, and based on the serious, hard working stories I’d heard about them, these pictures were a surprise. In these official class pictures, they have a cocky kind of rebelliousness. For instance, in the picture of Mom as a high school sophomore, she and her front-row classmates (except for one grinning, mischievous boy who looks like he’s going to set off firecrackers) are all posed with crossed arms. And look at the frown she gives the camera. THAT was my sweet, happy mom?

And then in the formal group portrait of both Mom and Dad as part of the Plattsburg (MO) High School Graduating Class of 1936—formally wearing caps and gowns and posed in front of the school—look at the jaunty, defiant angle of their caps!  I noticed this immediately because on the morning of my own high school graduation, my dad very seriously straightened the cap and told me to wear it properly.

I look at these pictures not just as the daughter of these two teens, but also as a high school teacher who for thirty years watched many of my students resort to the same antics just as the photographer clicked the group picture for each graduating class.

And actually, I’m not complaining. During this month of graduation ceremonies, I’m thrilled to finally have pictures of my parents’ graduation. I miss the stories that go with these pictures, the snippets of their lives that I could pass on to my grandchildren. But it’s enough to say, “These were your great-grandparents when they were only six or seven years older than you are now.  And you’re here because these two very real people fell in love, married and had a daughter who grew up and had her own baby, and that child grew up and had her own babies…the two of you.  It’s a long story, but it’s all part of who you are, and that makes it quite wonderful.”

My daughter, holding the portrait of Baby Grace, given to her daughter Grace and her son Gannon when they are 2 and 1.

My daughter, holding the portrait of Baby Grace, given to her daughter Grace (named for her great-great-grandmother Grace) on her 2nd birthday.

Baby Grace Shipley, my dad's mother. She died when my dad was not much older than she is in this picture.

Baby Grace Shipley, my dad’s mother. She died when my dad was not much older than she is in this picture.

My granddaughter Grace, age 2 1/2, posing with a lawn figure.

My granddaughter Grace, age 2 1/2, posing with a lawn figure.  There’s something so sweet about the two little girls named Grace, and how they pose for the camera.

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, friends, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, spending time with kids, Things to be thankful for

THE ICE INITIATIVE

Play Your Strong Suit

 

typewriter w: 4 hands

 

 

Picture this: the day after school lets out for the summer, a twelve-year-old daughter whines and complains she has nothing to do. The mother takes an envelope out of her purse. It’s filled with clippings from newspapers and magazines, and handwritten notes on scraps of papers. “Here it is,” she says, waving a piece of newsprint. “We’ll do this!”

The “this” is a contest looking for the best original Helpful Hint; the postmarked deadline is that very day, and the first prize is $50. She smoothes the rumpled newsprint on the kitchen table and says, “I’ll enter if you will.” And then as her daughter sits there moaning, the mother pours them glasses of tea and opens a tray of ice from the freezer. As she adds ice to the glasses, one cube falls onto the table.

The daughter looks at the cube and sighs. “I’ll try doing it, but only until that ice cube melts. And then I’ll quit and do something else.”

By the middle of the afternoon the ice cube has long been water on the table, and the girl and her mother are laughing and taking turns at the typewriter. The mother’s entry is about keeping an envelope full of contest opportunities so that whenever she needs something fun or different to try, the envelope holds the answer.

The daughter’s entry is called “Before The Ice Melts,” and it’s a simple timer. Before an ice cube melts, any boring, must-do responsibility or chore must be accomplished. Or if a babysitter wants to keep rowdy kids in line, all they have to do is sit at a table with an ice cube on a napkin in the center and do their homework or read a book or work on something without talking…but only until it melts.

The mother and daughter are both excited and telling jokes as they finish typing their entries (the daughter can only two-finger hunt-and-peck type, so it takes awhile), and then they fold their entries and put them in envelopes. They have twenty minutes to get to the post office, so while the daughter gets the stamps, the mother goes to get the entry information and address.

The rumpled square from the newspaper is gone! They search everywhere—the kitchen counters and drawers, under the table, in the typewriter room and even the bathroom—as the clock ticks.   The post office closes, and they still haven’t found it.

“Thanks, Mom,” the daughter thinks more than fifty years later, “for losing the address and ruining my chance to write the Great Ice Cube Initiative and become famous.”

But she smiles as she thinks this, wishing her wonderful, idea-rich mother had somehow sidestepped dementia and could laugh with her now as they watch ice cubes melt and talk about all the fun ideas they created together.

what deadline

ice cube on plate

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for, writing, writing exercises

A Word To Tackle: TOSKA

Even the outside of the Old Colorado City Library inspires you to read.

Even the outside of the Old Colorado City Library inspires you to read.

 

 

Local knitters keep the library trees colorful, creative and warm.

Local knitters keep the library trees colorful, creative and warm.

For Mother’s Day one year, I gave Mom a deck of cards for writers.  52 cards, not for playing poker or bridge or any card game, but for picking a writing prompt.  The idea was to “play your best hand” and write without stopping for fifteen minutes.

Mom laughed at the first prompt card she drew from the deck.  It said to write for fifteen minutes about where a lost child might be found.  “That’s too easy,” she said. “My first place to look for Marylin would be the library.”

I love libraries, especially very old, small libraries that smell of floor wax and have wide, tall windows and comfortable chairs scattered around the stacks of books. One of my favorite quotes about a library comes from Albert Einstein: “The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.”   I first saw this quote boldly printed on a map of the town of Chautauqua, New York.   The map was posted on the bulletin board of the Smith Memorial Library, and someone had used a marker to make an X where the library was: “You are here. Make the Most of It.”

Library bulletin boards are fascinating sources of information. Last week when I returned some library books, there were coupons for the nearby coffee shop, note cards with job opportunities, and contact numbers for poets looking to start a group. There was also one yellow card thumb-tacked to the board, with the word TOSKA printed in large letters.

Below the word TOSKA, in smaller printing was this message: “Among other things, Toska means melancholy, anguish, boredom, nostalgia, homesickness, sorrow, loneliness. If you know someone who suffers from one or more of these maladies, you can help heal them with a visit, a kind word, the touch of your hand on theirs as you listen to them talk about themselves and something they once treasured.”

I read this message again, almost feeling my mother’s presence.   If it weren’t for her dementia—and even though I doubted she had ever heard the word Toska—I knew she had helped many others by sitting beside them, holding their hands and listening.  Take that, Toska!       

Before the dementia, Grace and Gannon often enjoyed being read to by their great-grandmother.

Before the dementia, Grace and Gannon often enjoyed being read to by their great-grandmother.

Make the Most of itMG_5559

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, writing exercises

What A Woman’s Shoes Say About Her

high heels

 

cork heeled sandal

flats shoes

 

Several weeks ago, I drove from Colorado to Kansas to be with my mother while she was treated for pneumonia.   Mom remained in her apartment taking antibiotics, receiving nebulizer breathing treatments, and being cared for round the clock.   I was the non-essential personnel, the daughter who brought in favorite foods, encouraged her to drink more fluids, and read aloud all her favorite children’s poems and prayers at night before she went to sleep.

Staying busy is not the same thing as accomplishing important goals, but thanks to a local Kiwanis “shoes for everyone” program, I spent one day doing both.   Armed with lots of coffee to drink, damp and dry cloths to clean shoes that had sat unworn for years, and boxes and bags to fill, I tackled the main closet that had held my parents’ clothing and shoes since they moved into assisted living.

At the end of the day I had collected, cleaned and bagged sixteen pairs of dress shoes, summer sandals, pumps and flats that Mom would never wear again.  Each pair brought back memories of her active, busy, productive days before dementia claimed her life.

Imelda Marcos once haughtily proclaimed, “I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes. I had one thousand sixty.”  To which I would proudly now reply, “Well, my mother had a pair of dress shoes that would amaze even you, Imelda.”

In the back corner of Mom’s closet, behind a purse and under a pair of slippers, was a pair of brown leather, sling-back dress heels.  I didn’t remember her ever wearing these shoes, and when I studied them I realized something else, too.   They both were for the left foot!  The expression “two left feet” certainly never applied to my mother.

The writer in me said there had to be a great story in this somewhere, and I laughed at the possibilities: mystery? romance? suspense?

The daughter in me felt sad because the woman who was once an intelligent, happy, helpful, fun-loving woman, would have said, “Let’s figure this out together,” and we would have had a great time coming up with a story.   Now, because of dementia, she didn’t even know exactly who or where she was; shoes, clothing and jewelry no longer meant anything.

I took the two left shoes with me back to the hotel that night.   No great story ideas replaced the sad feelings, and the next morning I threw them away. Driving back to Mom’s apartment, I got a coffee for me and a warm Danish for her, hoping a little morning sweetness might make her smile. I   knew she would be resting in her recliner, wearing warm casual clothes, fluffy socks…and slippers instead of shoes.                                                                                            duck galosshes

bare feet

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, importance of doing good things, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, special quotations, writing, writing exercises