A Huge Loss

                  

What do you do when your eyes dim

and gray clouds cover the world

and you live to read and write and

admire the photos of your grandchildren?

What do you do with your time when

it hurts to read and the words dance

in crazy swirls that hop across the page

and you have stacks of books to read?

What do you do when you feel like

crying about all the lost joys that

you most recently discovered, knowing

that, in time, they will fade away?

What do you do when you want to write

but the words drown in a sea of gray

sinking to the bottom of a speckled pit

and fall out of your mind like dandruff?

What do you do when the world you used

to see disappears behind a distorting mist

that threatens to take away your freedom,

your driver’s license, your mobility?

What do you do when hope seems to have

abandoned you in your time of need and

when you are too young to fall apart and

there seems to be only a steeper fall ahead?

You cry, weep, moan and seek the company

of family and friends who will listen and

understand how truly great the loss is

and offer sympathy without comment.

You get down on your knees and pray

to the Lord of all, to the God of mercy,

and ask Him to give you a few more good

years of loving the printed page.

You think of all the good years that have

come and gone, all the places seen and

friends loved and family times shared,

and rejoice in the Lord’s blessings bestowed.

A Dream of Peace

              

I dreamt that I traversed the sands of time

to a place mysterious and sublime.

Where gigantic trees with branches stout,

safely nestled all feathered friends about,

providing shelter from many foe,

yet allowing freedom to come and go.

Silky soft leaves whose gentle caress

becalms restless souls, soothes with fine finesse

young and old alike; no bias here

where all live in peace for many a year.

Through the sands a winding river ran

giving sustenance to both beast and man.

Surprisingly blue with not a trace

of sinister longings upon its face.

It speaks of a sweet love; it calls to me,

“Step right in,” it says, “ and I’ll set you free

from all that ails; as well sin and pain.

You have nothing to lose, but much to gain.”

With tremulous step I slowly crept

into her warm, comforting arms.  I slept.

Or thought I did, for there soon appeared

hosts of angels. I panicked, afeared

of my demise. But to my surprise

they lifted me on high with joyous cries.

The night did end. My dream soon left.

The suffering world found me quite bereft

and yearning for that heavenly place

whose welcoming arms did me quick embrace.

One thing alone I brought home with me:

knowledge that all men could soar high and free

seeking truth, wisdom, righteousness, and grace.

making earth a truly heavenly place.

My Cat History

            Growing up we never had a cat. My mother was afraid of them. She truly believed that cats could suck the air from a sleeping child. Imagine the picture this put in my naive mind! A stealthy cat climbing the bars of a crib, sneaking up to the head of the child, staring at the face, looking for the best angle of attack, then slowly, ever so slowly lowered its head, mouth open, ready to steal the air from the hapless baby.

            It was not until I married my husband that I found out that this was one of those old wives’ tales.

            My family had a beagle from the time I was about eight until I was into high school. My husband’s family had always had a cat.

            When I saw the family cat, I tensed, expecting an attack. My husband noticed, asked and then laughed when I offered my reasoning.

            Once I knew the truth, I gradually taught myself that a cat could make a good pet. I was terrified of the claws, but then dogs bite. Equally dangerous.

            My husband had a friend up in Portland, Oregon. On a camping trip up north, we stayed with them. They had two Siamese cats. Elusive, yet curious. When one came close, I tried to pet it and immediately got clawed. The deep, blood-drawing type. For the rest of our visit, I cringed whenever those cats drew near. They knew I was afraid, and seemed to relish in torturing me.

            At that point I had no interest in having a cat.

            One time my women’s guild was having a bake sale to buy something for our pastor. I had made cupcakes. My oldest son, maybe four or five at the time, came with me. The women getting things ready were a bit discombobulated. A pesky reddish cat kept coming inside, begging for food. When my son saw her, he grabbed her, held her to his chest and begged to bring her home.

            I explained that she most likely belonged to a family living nearby, but if his father approved and if she was there in the morning when we went to Mass, he could have her. As soon as we parked, he ran to the small hall. The cat was there, still begging for food. He scooped her up and held her in his lap, me by his side, while my husband attended the service.

            She was named Cupcake Eater Connelly due to the bites of cupcake he fed her. Cuppie, as we called her, was a wonderful cat. She was not quite full grown, but not a kitten either. She adapted quickly to our house and our routine. We loved her and took good care of her. When she died, we were heartbroken.

            After Cuppie came a rescue that belonged to my daughter. She named her Calie because, guess what? She was a calico cat. Not too bright, but once we finally got her housebroken (and that really tried our patience), she was a loving cat. Calie was patient and kind. She loved my daughter and then, later when she had children, her daughter as well.

            Calie lived a good, long life. Once our daughter went off to college, Calie fell in love with my husband.

            For years after we were never without a cat. There was Josie, a tiny stray that walked out of my husband’s closet. She was a sweet, wonderful cat. Tigger was a feral cat our daughter brought home, saying it was a female. Nope. I hadn’t wanted a male, thinking they were aggressive. He was not.

            I adopted sister tuxedo cats. One ran away as soon as my husband left a door open. We saw her off and on, but she never returned to live with us. The other was a sweetie. She loved petting and had an awesome purr. Then she fell ill, kidney disease.

            Next came Cole, a kitten I fell in love with at an adoption event. He loved nothing more than sitting on a lap. The poor thing got very sick, very quickly.

            Immediately after Taffy joined our home. I changed his name to Tuffy, a more masculine sounding name. He was a bit standoffish until he got quite a bit older. Then he was a lap cat. Always on me or on my husband.

            Once he died, we decided no more cats. By now we were both older and didn’t want our kids to have to deal with a pet after we were either incapacitated or dead.

            I miss having a four-legged pet. I really want another cat, an older one as I don’t want to deal with clawed furniture and poop in closets.

            Someday, hopefully soon, I’ll find the right cat.

A Religious Awakening

Fifty years ago, my faith was in doubt.  Tired of hearing the hell and damnation homilies of the local parish priest, I tuned out every time he spoke.  I knew that I should have been listening, for I feared that I was one of the sinners that he condemned to everlasting fire, and that there was no hope for my salvation.

I did not “do” drugs, proffer myself to men, nor commit crimes against society.  I was, however, not a dutiful daughter who accepted her subservient status in a household that held women with little respect. My parents believed that my sole purpose in life was to work for them, as a household servant, and when those jobs were done to satisfaction, then and only then could I pursue an education.

I did not object to assisting with the care and operation of the house.  What angered me most was that my siblings were exempted from any and all responsibility, including cleaning up after themselves. 

A major part of the problem was that my parents were ultra-conservative and narrow in focus.  To them, the duty of an older daughter was to manage the house and to marry young.  By young, I mean by the age of fourteen.  I didn’t even date at that age, let alone have a serious boyfriend, and I hated housework, so I was a failure in their eyes.

It should be a surprise that I was so affected by what was said for the pulpit, for Sunday worship was not something that my parents faithfully practiced.  They went to church when they felt like it, when the weather was good, when there were no sporting events on television.  And when they did go to church, it was not at the nearest church, but rather one which held the shortest service.

When I left for college in the summer of 1969, I decided to act boldly: I would not go to church at all.  My resolve faded as soon as the first Sunday arrived.  Not wanting to anger God, fearful of blackening my soul any further, I found the Newman center on campus.  The atmosphere was one of welcome.  The music filled me with joy, literally erasing all my negative thoughts and feelings in one fell swoop.

As time passed, my attitude toward the church changed. I believed the good news that I heard over and over during those joy-filled services. I understood that God had not judged me and found me wonting.  Instead, I now knew, He was a loving God who cried when one of His souls lost the way.  He offered peace and salvation to all who believed.  He gave solace, when needed, in times of stress and anxiety.  He loved us, no matter what we might have done.

Several months into that first school year, the Neuman Club organized a retreat up in the nearby mountains.  I had never done anything this before, but it sounded exactly what I needed.

The camp was somewhere east of Los Angeles, a rustic setting nestled in a forest. From the time we arrived at the camp, I felt at peace. All of us hurried inside, anxious to claim a bunk in one of the dorm rooms.  There was no pushing, no domineering, no one person making others feel worthless.

Having never been camping, I was unprepared for the chilly nights and the crisp morning air.  My clothing was not substantial enough to keep me warm, especially when it snowed in the night, leaving about six inches on the forest floor. Nevertheless, thanks to the generosity of those who shared warm mittens and thick sweaters, I stayed warm.

Throughout that weekend, my heart sang.  It was as if a giant anvil had been removed. Like a newly feathered chick, I flopped my wings, and took off.  Faith came at me from every direction.  From the treetops came God’s blessed light.  From the ferns sprang His offerings of love.  From my fellow participants came God’s unconditional love.  From our times of prayer and reflection, came discovery of my love for the God who loved me back.

I smiled until my face literally hurt.  I laughed at the crazy antics of my roommates, and joined in the singing in front of the fireplace at night.  During prayer times, tears poured down my face, yet I did not have the words to explain why.  It was as if someone had reached inside, pulled out all the pain, and filled me with a wholesome goodness.

I do believe that God touched me that weekend.  Not with His hands, for I did not feel the slightest brush against my body. What I did experience was the enveloping of His arms, holding me and making me feel safe. He gave the gift of feeling both loved and lovable.  He made me feel important, and inspired me to continue to follow His way.

When the weekend drew to a close, it was with deep regret that I packed my things.  I hoped to hold on to all that I had experienced.

I would love to report that my life was permanently changed, but it was not.  When at home, I continued to feel inadequate.  Not one day passed without hearing what a huge disappointment I was.  There was nothing that I did that ever pleased my parents, and not once did they give me a single word of encouragement.

When I graduated from college, I moved back to the still stifling environment of my parents’ home.  Pulled down by the never-ending criticism of my unmarried state, my unemployment, and by the wasted years at college, I quickly fell into a state of despondency.  The local Mass situation had not changed, even if the pastors had.  One pastor continued to preach the same old fire and brimstone message about the blackening of our souls.  In another, the Mass was so short you could be in and out in less than forty minutes.

It was not until my husband and I moved into the parish that he had known as a teenager, that the glow returned.  I rediscovered the God who loved me, who sheltered me from the storms of life, and who walked with me every step of every day. 

It was, and continues to be, a community of caring individuals who come together to worship and to pray for each other in times of need.  While priests have come and gone, the overall feeling has not.  We are the parish, the ones who define the atmosphere that envelopes all who step through the doors.

I know that there is a loving God who helps us walk through life’s challenges. He has blessed my life in ways that I am still discovering. 

That is the story of my faith.

The Gift

there are days when I

yearn for silence

no revving of motors or

screeching of tires

no planes lowering their

landing gear

as they begin their descent

no loud rap music

vibrating my windows with

its repetitive bass beats

no leaf-blower roar

or vacuum-cleaner whine

the vile swearing of the

teens next door

never greeting my ears

the phone, mercifully,

does not ring

I revel in this precious

moment

a gift of stolen time

as if the world stopped its

persistent revolution

simply for my enjoyment

when those seconds tick away,

and the silence suddenly ends,

I feel as if I witnessed

a miracle

a rebirth

Reflecting

Friends have asked what I would do differently if I could go back in time. First of all, I would never want to relive my first twenty years of life.

My early years with my family were emotional bombshells. My dad’s explosive temper often resulted in physical punishments and humiliation. My mother preferred my siblings (yes, I am a middle child.) I had been overwhelmed and intimidated so thoroughly that I preferred to sit in a corner and hide.  

Elementary school amplified my feelings of inferiority as I was the dumbest kid in whatever class I was in: I couldn’t read and my teachers didn’t help.

Middle school added new torments. Previously I had attended Catholic schools, but now I was in the public school. Because of the size differential, it was easier for me to hide. Except from the Home Ec teacher who must have seen something in my demeanor that triggered all her alarms.  After a rather awful day at home the evening before, I was still suffering when I entered her class. She called me aside and asked if everything was okay at home. I lied. After that she never asked again even though I wished she had.

High school was more of the same socially, but by now my talent for math and learning languages had begun to shine. I joined the basketball team, and although I wasn’t the best player, it allowed me to stay late after school and travel to away games, thereby reducing the amount of time I could be abused at home.

My first year of college my parents made me attend the local community college. The highlight of that year was learning that my Spanish skills were beyond the course offerings! I beamed with pride. But, because it was a commuter college and I was still terribly shy, I made no friends.

My euphoria regarding Spanish didn’t last long because I struggled so badly in my English class that I had to drop it. Back to feeling stupid.

My next three years at USC were a mixed bag. I developed friends who were like me. Somehow, we found each other in the cafeteria. None of us were in the popular group, which might have been what united us.  While we never did anything together outside of school, at least it was a safe place to eat.

Unfortunately, I just have been sending out “I want you” vibes because several of the guys hit on me. One was a prince in whatever country he hailed from. He handed me a multipage love letter detailing how well he would treat me and what my life would be in his country. First of all, I liked him as a friend. Secondly, I knew how women were restricted in his country and wanted no part of that. He accepted my refusal with grace.

Another young man, Jorge, wooed me by asking a lot of questions about what I thought about this and that. He took me out to lunch and occasionally to a movie. I liked him because he was soft-spoken and gentle.

A break came up and he had nowhere to go. I invited him home with me.

My parents were not welcoming. First of all, I failed to tell them he was Hispanic. When they learned his name, saw the gorgeous hue of his skin and heard his charming accent, it was over. They were polite, but not welcoming.

Jorge ceased being my boyfriend after that. I couldn’t blame him: he understood that my parents were prejudiced.

My next boyfriend was a hippie, like I had become. He was easy to be with, had a car, and enjoyed camping as much as I did. I figured we would get married. And then he transferred to a college in Minnesota. During winter break I flew out to see him.

His family there were warm and welcoming. They drove us around to see many of the lakes and treated us to a tasty meal. They laughed easily and seemed comfortable in their own skins.

I pictured myself as part of that family and it felt right.

And then John told a group of his grad school friends that what he liked about me was that I never had an opinion. To his credit, I did keep my opinions to myself, but it didn’t mean that I was a blank slate! That was the end of that relationship.

When college ended, I had no choice but to return home, back to being bullied emotionally and physically. It took me a while to find a job. The most embarrassing interview was when I found out that the phone company was hiring. My mother insisted on driving me, then went in and applied for the same job! She got hired, but I did not.

The best choice I made was taking the test that could lead to a job with the federal government. Imagine my surprise when it led to a job, a good job with benefits. My first post was in SF, a city with huge hills and limited parking. I was a field agent, so I traveled all over the city, up and down those hills, going in and out of businesses and homes.

It wasn’t the kind of working environment where you made friends. People came in, worked, went home. I transferred to the Oakland office which was much the same. I was given the cases the furthest from the office, so I drove all over the area. That was the best part of the job.

I did meet someone. A very pleasant man asked me out. We got along quite well. We even went skiing and few times. It was going smoothly until he invited me to his apartment. That’s where I discovered that he was married with children, but currently on a trial separation. He had virtually no furniture: only a mattress on the floor. I broke up with him shortly thereafter.

My next posting was back to SF, then to San Mateo. I loved the people at the new detail. They were kind and helpful. They welcomed me into their “family” and truly cared about my welfare. It’s also where I met my future husband.

My coworkers encouraged me to speak up. They listened to my opinions and, in time, asked me to consult on cases.

It was thanks to them and to my future husband that I developed a voice.

Being Considered

            Until recently, I’d never given much thought to how many times those words pop up.

            For many of us, it began when we were quite young. “Being considered” to acceptance into a private elementary school. In some religions, you are “considered” for participation in Holy Sacraments.

            You’re “considered” when applying for a scholarship, job or internship. Same when trying to get your first credit card as well as when purchasing a car or home.

            Admittance into the college of your choice requires a waiting period while you are “being considered”.

            Over and over throughout life we sit around, waiting impatiently, as our merits are being weighed. Are we smart enough, talented enough, skilled enough? Even though physical appearance is not supposed to be a defining characteristic, it is if your skin color isn’t right or you weigh too much or aren’t “manly” or “womanly” enough for whatever image the college/job/internship wants to project.

            At my age I thought I was well past “being considered”. I’m a retired wife, mother and grandmother. I’m not trying to join any clubs or organizations. I have my routines that are familiar and comfortable. I’m not looking for adventure. I just want to be accepted as a write.

            This week I received a welcome email from a literary magazine that I’d been longing for. A story I’d submitted was “being considered” for publication, contingent on my making the recommended edits.

            Of course, I made the changes and resubmitted the story, knowing full well that it will still fall into the category of “being considered”.

            Ever since I began sending out stories, I’ve sat, with baiting breath, hoping to “be considered”. It’s what every writer dreams of. Knowing that someone, somewhere, sees value in what you’ve written and wants to include it in some type of publication.

            So, I won’t complain about “being considered”. Instead I will count my blessings as I wait, with fingers crossed, for the next word.

My Love of Music

            I bought my first radio when I was in Middle School. It had taken a long time to save up the money as my allowance was only twenty-five cents a week, ten of which had to go to the church.

            When my brother discovered Grit magazine, a weekly newspaper, I was able to earn more money. We went door-to-door trying to get subscribers. When the papers were dropped off at our house, we loaded them up in the baskets of our bicycles and road all over the rural town of Beavercreek, Ohio making deliveries.

            That simple job allowed me to finally buy that radio. I listened to popular music and fell in love with Ricky Nelson, Glen Campbell and the Shirelles. I memorized the lyrics and when no one was around, sang along.

            Music became my refuge. It took me away from my dysfunctional family’s woes. I felt the singers’ highs and lows. Their heartaches and joys.

            When my family went on picnics, that radio came with me. I didn’t have headphones, so I could only listen when I had permission.

            When my dad bought a record player, I used my earned money to purchase 45s and 78s. I didn’t have a lot of records, but those I did have brought me great joy.

            I attended a Catholic School until the end of seventh grade. A boy, whose name I don’t recall, invited me to a dance at a neighboring Catholic school. This was my first experience with a live band. While they were just a little older than me, and to me recall, not that good, I was enthralled. And I wanted to sing.

            That boy took me to dance after dance. Some were pretty miserable affairs with maybe ten people in attendance. Others had disco balls and flashing lights with great food. It made no difference to me: I had a wonderful time.

            The next year I transferred to the public school and never saw that boy again. For some reason I was enrolled in choir. I had never sung in public except for the Gregorian chant at church. Imagine my terror when the teacher demanded that we stand up, one-by-one, and sing the National Anthem.

            I knew I couldn’t do it, but I practiced in my bedroom. I was convinced that I was off-key and my voice cracked whenever I came to a high note.

            When my turn came, I froze. My butt refused to come off my chair. I trembled so badly that I don’t think my legs would have held up my weight. (I had a lot of weight!) The teacher called on me. My eyes filled with tears and my body refused to stand.

            The teacher smiled, encouraged me to try, then moved on to the next student. She never did make me sing in front of the class. She did figure out that I was an alto, however, by standing near me during class.

            By now I had fallen in love with a variety of popular singers, including the Everly Brothers, Roger Miller, and The Temptations. I bought the teen magazines that featured stories about the artists and included the lyrics to all the top hits.

To my joy, I discovered fan clubs! With a simple letter I could request autographed photos! I sent off letter after letter and when the photos arrived, I taped them to my bedroom wall. All my favorites were there, and since I had the lyrics, I could sing with them, never missing a word.

I never took a music class in high school. I thought about it, but my focus was on getting into a university with a full scholarship. My courses were tough: lots of math and science. Spanish and Social Studies. No fun electives.

Another problem was that my younger sister had grown older and controlled what happened in our shared bedroom. It seemed as if every time I turned on my radio, she appeared and demanded that I turn it off. If I didn’t, she whined to my mother who’d then threaten to smash the radio if I didn’t comply.

My developing love of music stalled.

When I enrolled at USC sophomore year, I took my radio and a record player I’d bought with me. By then I had a fairly extensive collection of records which I played whenever my roommate wasn’t around.

My parents thought that having music on distracted me from my studies, but it was the opposite. Music calmed me. It soothed my fears. Playing favorite songs quietly in the background gave me the energy to put in long hours.

Although I thought about taking a Music Class, once again, just like in high school, it didn’t fit into my major’s requirements.

I dated a guy for a short time who loved music as much as I did. He took me to concerts at UCLA. We rode in his VW Bug with the radio blaring, screaming out the lyrics. He took me to used record shops where, with very little money, I bought tons of records. Thanks to him my collection grew.

He never took me to a school dance, though. When posters advertised a dance in my residence hall, I decided to go. Alone. It was hard for me to do this. I was still overweight and saw myself as ugly. I figured that even if no one asked me to dance, I could enjoy the music.

The cafeteria was transformed into a disco ball. Someone had hung up decorations all along the walls and streamers hung from the ceiling. I was amazed but also thrilled. The one thing I hadn’t planned on was the huge number of students who would come. The place was packed.

I grabbed some snacks. Listened to the music. Wanted to dance. But I was ignored. When OJ Simpson and his gang of football players came, I snuck out. I knew that this was not my crowd.

On campus was a Neumann Center that held Mass on Sundays. I had never heard guitars and drums at church before. There was something about the folk-style that called to me and before I knew it, I was singing. In public.

It wasn’t until many years later, when I my kids were away at college that I bolstered myself up and joined the church choir. I didn’t know how to read music, but one of the singers, Patty deRidder, who was also the First-Grade teacher at the Catholic school, taught me. She told me I had a beautiful singing voice and encouraged me to solo.

I never would have taken that leap on my own. However, one Sunday no other singers came to mass. That meant I had no choice. Oh, was I terrified! But I did it.

Next thing, I was a regular soloist. Sunday after Sunday I stood at the ambo and lead the congregation in the psalm.

I remember one time when I’d rehearsed the psalm at home, over and over until I knew it quite well. When it’s time, I climb the steps to the ambo. The pianist begins playing and I freeze. She played something different! I know that my eyes got huge as I stood there in shock.

I shook it off, then sang the psalm I’d rehearsed, forcing the pianist to adapt.

Over the years my taste in music has expanded. I love country, but I also love Christian and some contemporary pop. I am not a fan of classical unless one of my grandkids is playing it. And I definitely never thought I’d like rap until I saw the musical Hamilton.

Looking back, I can see the important role that music had played in my life. It calmed me when times were tough. It brought solace when I was down. It lifted me up when my spirits were sagging. Most importantly, it showed me that I could sing. That my voice was strong enough, sure enough that I could stand before my congregation and lead them in song.

I don’t listen to as much music now as I did in my younger years, but it’s always there in my mind, in my heart.

The journey to get here was long and at times challenging. I am grateful to the boy who took me to dances. To the teacher who saw how terrified I was. To the choir member who encouraged me. To all the various choir directors I worked with over the years who saw in me what I still struggle to see: that I could bring joy to others through my voice.

My Many Gifts

            This first gift that I recall receiving from my dad was a beat-up lunch box. I was around four years of age, old enough to know that owning a lunch box meant going somewhere. My dad carried one every day to work. The kids who walked past our project house also carried them to and from school.

            I didn’t know what school was, but I knew that I wanted to go there. I yearned to join the stream of laughing, happy kids, imagining that simply being with them would bestow upon me the happiness that they casually enjoyed.

            Unfortunately, that old lunch box did not grant me admission to school, but it did give me a place to store my treasures that I didn’t want my brother to steal.

            When I was in second grade, I attended a Catholic elementary school. That’s the year that I made my First Holy Communion. I had to wear a white dress, veil, gloves and shoes. Because we had little money, my mother bought the cheapest ones she could find, which turned out to be horribly uncomfortable. There was no money left over for the white prayer book and rosary that I was also required to have. Without them, the nuns were not going to let me participate. Imagine my surprise when an aunt delivered the items!

            Over the next several years I was given an old bicycle, clamp-on roller skates and a small transistor radio. The bike and skates gave me freedom. I explore my neighborhood, escaping the never-ending tension inside the house. The radio gave me music.

            Before the radio, I was only able to listen to whatever my dad chose whether in the car or at home. With my own radio, I could choose music that made me feel happy, that lifted my spirits. Not because it was different, but because it was mine.

            When my brother graduated from the Catholic elementary, my parents enrolled me in the public middle school. I had no appropriate clothes to wear. An aunt who dressed in very nice clothes, gave me a stack of things she no longer wanted. Everything was lined. Everything felt rich to the touch. The only problem was that she was pencil-thin and I was round.

            My mom was an excellent seamstress, so she took apart every article, ironed the fabric, then using patterns, cut and created matching skirts and vests for me. When I went to school, I felt proud. Until I noticed that no one wore vests!

            That aunt delivered a new selection of clothes every few months, until we moved to California.   

            I don’t recall any gifts received throughout the rest of my high school and college years. I’m sure there were albums and clothes. Shoes and bobby pins. Slips and nightgowns, but nothing of lasting substance.

            The best gifts that I ever received arrived in my twenties, when my husband proposed and then we had three wonderful children. Those are my most precious gifts, the most wonderful things that ever came my way.

            Even today, after forty-seven years of marriage, I still cherish the wonders that are mine. Every day I am grateful that my husband chose me, that he loves me and treats me with respect that I had never felt before.

            He encourages me to try new things, to explore on my own different interests, and to go off on trips where I meet new people and learn new things.

            My children, now grown, also blessed me with the gift of their chosen life partners. I have two amazing daughters-in-law and one son-in-law who is equally wonderful. I couldn’t have received more thoughtful gifts!

            Add to that, seven grandchildren who are unique, intelligent, talented and loving. They all bring me great joy.

            Growing up I seldom had someone I could call friend. I was a shy, withdrawn and often sullen child. I wanted friends, but didn’t know how to get them.

            Every now and then someone would approach me and invite me to be with them. I loved those times! But because my family moved often, once we were gone, those friends were lost.

            You don’t realize what a gift friendship is until you have it. I am blessed to have a wide variety of friends now. Some are writers, some hikers, some swimmers. Some like movies and going out for lunch. Some like talking about books.

            I consider all of them gifts, even those that I smile at when I see them at the gym. When one of them smiles at me, it reminds me how truly blessed I am.

            I have received many gifts throughout my life and am lucky to still have quite a few in my life.

Good Intentions

            How many times, growing up, did I tell myself to keep my mouth shut, stay away from my siblings and hide in my bedroom? Not enough, for almost daily I got myself in trouble for responding to the hurtful words flung by my siblings with ones of my own.  If my sister announced that she hated me, I hated her worse. When she threw her dirty clothes on my side of the room, I’d bury them under her bed. If she refused to do chores, I’d report her. Promptly.

            Our dislike of one another was fomented by my mother. From the time my sister was born, my mother set us apart. My brother’s position in my mother’s eyes was well solidified by that time. Because my brother was smart and not athletic, he garnered my dad’s disapproval for anything and everything he did. My mother became my brother’s champion and protector.

Perhaps she felt that I didn’t need her protection and championing, or maybe she had determined that I was a hopeless cause at an early age., but she never, ever spoke up for me. In fact, when my dad returned from work, my mother would recite a list of my faults deserving of punishment and then command that he shake me or beat me until she was satisfied.

My sister was born while my mother was in the midst of a deep depression. Since she was unable to care for the infant, I had to do it. As a “unloved” seven-year-old, I resented being in that position.

When my sister developed petit mal seizures, my sister now became my mother’s primary focus. Mother still protected my brother from our father’s ire and disappointment, but my sister was elevated to princess status. She not only could do no wrong, she only declared it. She’d set up false situations and then report to our mom that I had kicked her, slapped her, beaten her. After a while, I decided that if I was going to be accused of something I hadn’t done, then I might as well do it.

It was no wonder that we had no relationship to speak of.

            When I was off in college my brother was one year ahead of me at the same college. My sister was now in middle school, getting herself suspended for dealing drugs on campus and other illegal activities. While brilliant, she refused to complete work or turn in what she had finished. Where I would have been beaten for failing classes, my mother excused it due to seizures and other such illnesses that I could not see or understand.

            However, one summer I thought that if I made an effort, I could turn dislike into an amicable relationship. I took my sister for long drives in the country. We’d eat picnic lunches in the back of the car while watching water birds play. I’d take her to movies and out to lunch. Sometimes to the mall where I’d use my limited resources to buy her an article of clothing that wasn’t revealing.

            My intentions were good, but changed nothing. Our relationship is still rocky to this day.

            We grew up poor. My mother was an excellent seamstress and sewed much of my clothes. Her choice of styles was old-fashioned and conservative. I appreciated the skirts and matching vests that she made me, but no one else in the mid-1960s wore such things. I was not a popular kid, and my clothes solidified that status.

            We moved to California at the end of my freshman year. I saw the move as a fresh start in a new school. I knew I’d never be one of the popular kids, but I hoped I could at least have a friend or two. My problems followed me. I didn’t dress like anyone else. My saving grace was that I was an excellent student. My teachers generally liked me, if they even knew I was in the room.

            After the end of sophomore year, my parents bought a house up the hill and across a major highway. It was in a different school district so I had to switch schools. I cried every day on the bus to and fro. Meanwhile my mother was trying to convince the old district that only they could meet my academic needs. I’m willing to bet that she also told them I was severely depressed. I was. But if she hadn’t done that, I would have adapted.

            The new high school wasn’t as academically challenging, the classes were smaller and the campus newer. Because I had enrolled late, I didn’t get the same classes I would have had at the other school, but the ones I did have were all acceptable for college.

            My mom’s intentions were good. She was trying to help me, something that I appreciated deeply.

            The thing is good intentions aren’t always what we need.

            My sister didn’t benefit from my good intentions. In fact, thirty years later she regaled me with how horrible I had treated her and how boring I had been. What I had seen as a chance to pull her away from drugs and the lifestyle she had chosen, she saw as an attempt to remake her into a little me. And no way did she want to be me.

            When my mother paid attention to my distress and chose to act, her intentions were good. She saw herself helping her shy, recluse of a daughter. The homely one, the lonely one.  By getting the transfer to the old school, perhaps she hoped that I would be so indebted to her that I would be forever in her grasp.

            What I learned early on was that good intentions don’t always bring about the results that the doer hopes will happen. I might hold a door open for someone who glowers at me for thinking they needed help. Perhaps I’d go out of my way to help a student who spurned any efforts at assistance and encouragement.

            Despite those early disappointments, I still believe in exercising good intentions whenever an opportunity arises. I’ve paid someone’s bridge toll knowing that they’d never do the same for me. I’ve let go of a garment that I wanted but knew the other person also wanted, hoping that they’d love it more than I did.

            When driving and someone is trying to merge, I wave them in with the understanding that when I needed to switch lanes, no one will return the favor.

            Imagine a life without good intentions. The sun won’t shine as brightly, the sky won’t be as blue and there will be far fewer smiles.

            This is why good intentions are necessary. They bring joy. Smiles. Laughter. A lighthearted wave. Good feelings all around.