Giving Thanks

 

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I watched American Experience on PBS last night – The Pilgrims.  I must confess that it was pretty dry and I had a tough time staying awake through the whole thing but it was enlightening in a couple of ways.

When the pilgrims came to America on the Mayflower they did so as refugees really.  They had been persecuted by the English because they refused to give up their belief system and be members of the Anglican church.  At the time you risked fines, jail or death if you were not a member of the Church of England.  In order to be able to practice freely they made a number of attempts to leave England as a group.  They finally escaped to Holland and spent 10 years worshiping in their homes.  They didn’t speak Dutch and the only jobs they had were menial in the textile and clothing industry.  They had nothing really.

What they did have was their community.  While in Holland they realized the culture of that country was not in line with their strict beliefs and worried about their children growing up in a land of loose moral character.  They wanted to create a community where they could grow in their beliefs without the influence of outsiders.   Living in a bubble of their own making they were truly naive about the ways of the world around them and taken advantage of by people at every turn trying to make their way across the Atlantic.  They left England very late in the year and arrived in New England on November 11, 1620.  Think about that – it’s now November 23 and it is cold.  They had just spent 66 days on a cramped boat and landed in wilderness.  No shelter, no food, nothing.  They survived but in greatly diminished numbers.

I feel many immigration stories are the same.  There is always some extreme reason to leave your home.  People don’t want to leave where they have lived, worked and played their entire lives unless they feel they have no other choice.  I think they also have the conviction that where they plan to go will be better.  Bill’s family left Lebanon in 1908 to come to America to build a better life and I would assume to escape political and religious turmoil.  How scary is it to use every last penny you have to get to a place where you don’t speak the language, don’t have a job or a place to live and you know no one?  I will tell you that the hardships they endured were incredible and probably not at all what they expected.  They had each other and their children and did what they had to do to survive with the conviction that this would be better at some point.

I wonder how far into their journeys did they wake up and think “what was I thinking?” or begin to lose sight of the reason for leaving home and country to begin with.  I don’t think we can really know the hardships they were living but I wonder if they thought the hardships they came into it were worth it.  There was no going back for them.

What they all had when they came here was community.  They had their friends, families or at the very least like-minded people with a similar plan in mind.  Today I can look at all of their situations and wonder how bad would it have to get for me to leave?  I realize even in the chaos and idiocy that has embroiled the country I have been in for the past 60 years I live a good life.  I have a home, heat and food on the table.  I have wonderful family and friends.  I am able to talk about anything I want – race, religion, politics – without fear of imprisonment.  I can make my own choices, go where I want, do what I want to do.  This past year has been a rough one on many levels.  The news is always sensational and instills fear in the hearts of anyone who listens but if you step back you have to realize that how your life is today is no different from what it was a month ago.  Fear is something that can take over your life and prevent you from living at all.

We all need to count our blessings.  Seems trite but without reflection and gratitude we can end up living a miserable existence surrounded by the things that have come to us through the true misery of others.  Look at what you’ve got, think of the life that you have and work on making that little piece of your world better.  Being able to do so is something to truly be thankful for.

 

 

 

Learning New Things About Old Things

160722 Chester Photobomb

This morning I was doing some photography for a book that Peggy is writing on wool.  It’s been a long time since I’ve taken photographs for someone else, let alone tabletop items.  It was stressful and wonderful at the same time.  She also wanted a photo of my wool wheel in a specific place.  As you can see I had more than one obstacle to deal with.  He is a master of photo bomb.  I had to physically remove him from the area.

Along with the photographs I took was one I had to scan.

Charlton Woolen Weave Room

This is a photograph of the weave room at Charlton Woolens probably taken in the mid to late 1930’s.  My grandfather’s toolbox is one of many in the photograph.  This photo was one of the many reasons I wanted to experience the Crompton and Knowles power looms. In doing so this photograph is so much richer.  I now have an understanding of what was happening in this room, where the weavers stood, the noise.  I look at this photo and think about how you must have felt the vibrations in your feet and gone home with your ears ringing.  I have a better idea of the kind of job a loom mechanic had.

I’m always amazed at just how long research takes when it comes to history if you want to understand the whole story.  Genealogy gives you the names and dates of the people – the who, what and where kind of thing.  The photographs, when you can find them, begin to fill out the story.  Then there is the living history.  This is far more elusive but when you find it you can put yourself in your ancestors shoes with a little bit of imagination.

Social history is what makes studying the past come alive.  It’s where you begin to understand a little about the way people thought about their world and made their life decisions.  Public records give you clues into things.  You begin with the big stuff – politics and religion and work your way down to minutia.  Things like what were they wearing and how did it affect how they moved and did their work.  You look at how men and women treated each other, how economics made or broke their lives.

I think there’s been an injustice served on the American people in not teaching our history in a way that is accessible to everyone.  I think a lot of the turmoil that we see is a lack of understanding of what has gone on before.  I feel like people are making up things as they go along in a way that is only self-serving. Their knowledge is so narrow.  Maybe because social media has taken over our lives and rather than read a book we read twitter every morning.  I think the idea of knowing our history has been lost.  It’s too bad because some of the greatest stories ever told are true.

I plug along learning new things about old things everyday.  I’ll continue to put myself into situations where I can understand what was going on or the work involved.  One year I dug my garden plot completely by hand so I could feel what kind of work went into putting in a kitchen garden for the women of 1840.  It’s one thing to read about it, quite another to do it.

The real goal is putting the family history into words with understanding.  Not just any story, a story that makes these people human. One that makes you understand that the world could be just as scary a place to them as it sometimes is to us.  History repeats itself, over and over, but unless you know something about it you don’t recognize it when it happens.

 

 

Interred

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After what seemed like endless delays, or problems, we finally got my father into the ground yesterday afternoon.  The North Cemetery is plagued with insects – this time of year black flies but instead it rained.  I had the yard fogger with me and the bug spray in my pocket just in case.

I’ve gone to many, many funerals.  Leading up to this I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to people that they are for the living.  I always go to show my support to people I care about in a time of great sadness.  Until yesterday I probably never truly realized what an impact the simple act of showing up can have.

This was one of those life flashing before your eyes moments. My best of friends were all there, from kindergarten until now.  People that have all held a significant piece of my life, people I truly love.

The service was rendered beautifully by a minister I’ve known since my early teens, one who I consider a good friend as well.

The military honor guard did their part in sending Dad off the way he wanted.  Taps being played was the only real request Dad had.  The flag was presented to my by a man who had worked with him at Westover.

It’s interesting the variation in rituals there are from place to place.  In more urban areas after a funeral everyone goes to a public place for food and drink.  Up here everyone goes to a family members home.  When I arrived a good friend immediately said what do you need to have done and she and her husband set out he food.  People arrived, helped themselves to food set out or found what they needed in the fridge.  That’s when you know you have people comfortable in your home – they help themselves.

From arrival to the last person leaving the rest is a blur – as I knew it would be recalling the same situation when my mother died 17 years ago.  These are the things you don’t forget.

All in all I did right by my father through the whole mess and the bonus was yesterday felt like a huge community group hug.  Thank you all.

Review 2015

Every year I post a year in review that is largely visual in nature.  It seems that this year may prove to be different.  There have been so many profound changes that the photographs would only just scratch the surface.  I’ll throw a few in for good measure though, I can’t resist.

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After living with my father for a year and a half I put him back into assisted living.  It was a huge learning curve for me – but I learned that I cannot live with negativity day in and day out.  Living under a black cloud only drags you into that black abyss and it becomes more and more difficult to climb your way out.  In my heart I know it was the right thing to do for everyone involved yet on some level it feels like failure.  I’m working on getting over that in ways that feed my soul.

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Living here helped me maintain my sanity.  The close proximity to nature was a balm many times during each and every day.  Being able to see magnificent sunrises so many mornings began my days in a positive way.  It was a summer of rainbows – every day it seemed .  Hiking trails at the park, new trails in old familiar places brought discovery and appreciation anew.  Let’s face it, it’s quiet here, it smells good and nobody bugs you.  What more could the introvert in me want?

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Then there were weddings, lots of them.  My favorite was the marriage of my daughter – here.  Ten people, surrounded by my gardens in full bloom.  My favorite moment – the family humming Pachelbel’s Canon in D while Amanda and her father walked down the little makeshift aisle, thanks Cait for getting it rolling.  Although Amanda and Yusuf have been together for 9 years and we all knew this was coming it still felt like we were giving her away.  It was a line for me, both joyous and sad.

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As if all of this wasn’t enough November 11th was the birth of our first grandchild.  A boy who dear husband Bill never thought he was going to see (and now has big plans for).  Another shift in my life – from mother to grandmother.  I’m not sure how it affects other people but the generational shift has always been a profound one for me.  When Amanda was born it took me a while to wrap my head around going from daughter to mother, I’m still getting use to the idea of going from mom to grandma.  He is wonderful and I’m enjoying watching them grow into a loving family.

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All through this the constant has been craft.  The ability to make and do things with my hands is the thread.  It feeds me – no, it is a necessity. If I wasn’t able to create something, on a daily basis, I would have sunk into that deep, dark hole long ago.  It sustains me.  It seems odd to me in some ways to admit this.  I have been a crafter all of my life.  My modus operandi is to learn a new craft, work it to what I deem the best I am capable of (more of a plateau really) and move on to the next craft.  This year was all about weaving – again.  It was the realization that I’ve been searching my entire life for what my hands knew how to do.  Weaving has connected me to my past, to people I remember and loved the most.  It is something that will probably take the rest of my life to move towards perfection.  Meanwhile it calms me and helps me to reflect on daily life, meditation.  Something we all need and I daresay find in little things we do.  We just need to recognize it.

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The new year is promising in so many ways.  Growth is what it’s all about.  I’ll keep on sharing my skills and insights.  I’ll watch my family and friends embrace the changes in their lives and hold them all close because really, that’s what it’s all about.

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How Blessed We Are

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As I made my first cup of morning coffee today I considered all that I have to be thankful for.  A Thanksgiving day ritual for so many.

I put a couple of pieces of wood on the coals from last nights fire to take the chill out of the kitchen.  Thought of all of the time and work put into getting that wood in.  Thank you.

I pulled a beautiful, local, 20 pound bird from the refrigerator to bring it up to temperature and considered that it was walking this earth until just a few days ago. Thank you.

I turned on the water and washed my hands in its wonderful warmth.  Such a convenience taken for granted.  Thank you.

I will walk out to the garden and pull up the very last vegetable there this morning.  My rutabagas.  Tiny seeds placed in the earth 5 months ago turned into amazing purple and yellow orbs by earth and water, amazing when you think about it.  Thank you.

Potatoes that were dug two months ago will be peeled and cooked.  Carrots that were pulled and pickled will be chilled will be served.  Thank you.

The big table, made by the hands of a favorite friend will be moved into the middle of the room and set.  Thank you.

Guests will arrive bearing food they have put time into. The conversations and reminiscing will begin along with the laughter that always ensues. Thank you.

Thanksgiving is about the food, family and friends for me.  It’s one of those warm, fuzzy holidays and always has been.  This year looked like it would only be three of us eating a 20 pound turkey but evolved last week into a party of 10.  One of my favorite things to do it to cook for others.  It’s a gift of the heart and hands.

I am a fortunate person.  I live most of my time in an extraordinary place and know it.  I have a loving family and the most amazing husband who works harder than anyone I know to make all of this happen.  The newest member of our tribe was born two weeks ago and he will grow up surrounded by the love of so many.  The shift in generations has occurred and I can take up my mantle as grandma to help him know how blessed he is and how blessed we all are to have what we have.

Gifts of the Garden

150726 Amanda's Wedding

When we first started clearing the property here in Rowe the trees were encroaching on the buildings closest to the house.  The side field had been maintained but the pasture was all but lost.  Our girls were probably in their early teens.

I had been photographing weddings for years before my children were born and they were brought up knowing that the back yard wedding was their only option.  They would look at the backyard here and roll their eyes not being able to see the vision Bill and I had.  I would tell them that someday they would be married here and it would be beautiful.

This past Sunday my oldest married the love of her life in a very intimate ceremony in one of the gardens.  Their being married was something we believed would happen for over 8 years now but being cautious sorts they waited.  Amanda is one who hates to be the center of attention in any situation and they told me about 3 months ago that they were just going to city hall in Boston and getting married there.  The horror.

With much, much cajoling we convinced them to be married here with parents and siblings only.  That was almost too much for them really, the nerves were palpable on Sunday.   For what was to be one of the smallest weddings ever we did everything we could to make it a beautiful occasion and it certainly was.  From Amanda walking down the “aisle” with her father to the tune of her family humming Pachelbel’s Canon to eating al fresco in the field next to the garden it was as perfect a day as it could be for them.  It also allowed all of us to have a very intimate involvement in preparing for those vows to be said.

150716 Aerial view

Bill and I built a rustic arbor out of trees we cut across the field a couple of weeks before the ceremony and set it up at the beginning of a stone path.  It was a little wonky but fit the bill with our “rustic chic” theme. I ordered baby’s breath and lemon leaves from my niece’s flower shop to augment the flowers in my garden and picked some at my sister-in-law’s the day before.  They were a huge help in the quick planning of this.

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Draped and decorated.

Arbor Flowers

I tried to put flowers everywhere and took a lot of photographs.  Day lilies are so beautiful and fleeting and I knew once the sun set the flowers would be gone too.  Sort of temporary art.

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I had also picked some “weeds” along the power line and in the back forty.  Queen Anne’s Lace and Joe Pye Weed. Places were set with sprigs of herbs that smelled heavenly – pineapple sage, rosemary, lavender, thistle.

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A garden riot of flowers on the table.

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Lemon Raspberry cake made with garden fruit.  Molly Cantor made a cake stand just for the occasion.

Weddings are monumental occasions in people’s lives.  They represent a new chapter for those getting married but also for the parents of the bride and groom.  It doesn’t matter how long your child has been out of the house or how old they are when they marry.  As monumental as this ceremony is it’s just a fleeting moment.  In the span of a few hours my world shifted a little, in a wonderful, beautiful way.  I did what I could to make it a beautiful memory in a place where more memories will be made.

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Everything is now gone but the undecorated arbor and the flowers from the day.  They are taking their time in wilting away, a little gift in a way.  A reminder of an occasion but also of how much beauty is constantly around me that can be pulled together and shared.

 

 

 

 

A Fine Cup of Tea

Rhubarb

My life has become one of ritual – more of the slow motion type.  These rituals center around the garden and putting food by.  For years (and years) I have begun the canning season with rhubarb, always the first vegetable to make an appearance here.  I planted my own patch of rhubarb on the property about 5 years ago.  My mother always told me she couldn’t grow it here, she had tried for years.

Our real rhubarb ritual was to go to a friend’s house every spring and pick our fill there.  Their patches of rhubarb are magnificent.  This plant is showy and large.  The rhubarb at this house fills large swathes around the back yard of the house as well as over by their vegetable garden.  The woman with the gardens was also my mother’s best friend and I dare say picking rhubarb was an excuse to sit around a table with a cup of tea as well.

This ritual has gone on for more or less 55 years.  The family became part of who we are.  My mother passed away in 1989 but the ritual continued.  The rhubarb gave me an excuse to visit, hear the stories of my childhood, catch up with a family I felt was my own.

I would be greeted at the door with a paper bag and a paring knife.  Walking to the back yard I would pass a little flower garden where pansies were often planted.  Little smiling faces in the sun not bothered by a little frost, first blooms.  Once out back I would pull the stalks from the plants, cut the leaves and put them in a pile to mulch all the while remembering childhood sledding on the hill in the  back.  Recalling croquet games on the front lawn or swinging on the swing hung on the huge maple in the front yard.  Overnight stays with crazy family dinners including homemade bread and the best tollhouse cookies.  Laughter, always so much laughter and love beyond measure.

Once I had picked enough I would go into the house for that cuppa and chat.  What should have taken a few minutes often turned into hours but this is what it was all about.  Reminiscing and words of wisdom imparted across the kitchen table over a hot beverage.  Most of all it was a reminder of how much we all loved each other and our families.

The most difficult part of life I think now is the shifting of generations.  I am now of an age when all of our parents are leaving us.  This year I will not go to pick rhubarb.  The house is empty now and I am coming to terms with the fact that the matriarch is gone, left us a few days ago to join her beloved husband.  I picture cups of tea being served all around in that great reunion.  Walks around a warm, green verdant yard discussing kids and gardens.  That is my vision of heaven really.

The shift is also to my own patch of rhubarb here. On hearing of her death I went out and picked some rhubarb and baked a cake to be eaten with a nice cup of tea while I remember.  As I was in the garden I realized it wasn’t about rhubarb not growing on the property at all,  it was about the ritual of visiting.  Conscious or unconscious these women knew what they were doing.

The Spirit of a House

Fireplace Before

As the renovation project continues I’ve spent a lot of time on a ladder, paintbrush or putty knife in hand, thinking.

We moved into this house in 1967 when I was 11 years old.  We drove by this house every Sunday for years before because my mother lusted after it in a huge way.  Why, I do not know and never will.

On moving day we were allowed to pick out our bedrooms (although I have an idea they were already picked out for us).  The exception being the room I’m currently doing which is adjacent to the bathroom.  The master bedroom, also known as the creepiest room in the house.

I believe an old houses has a spirit that is palpable when you walk into it.  I think it’s part of the appeal to those of us who live and love these old places.  We can feel the lives that have been lived in them.  The house in Enfield is truly one of the happiest buildings I have ever been in.  Friends have commented on it and it’s the reason we fell in love with it.  Good things had happened in that place over it’s 176 year life.

The house on Fort Pelham Farm is not the same kind of place.  I felt it the minute I walked in 48 years ago.  It has some bad juju and we all know it, just ask my siblings.  I’ve done the genealogy of the place trying to figure out what could possibly have happened here that could give it such a sad vibe.  You know, it’s not just sad, it’s a little angry as well.  I’ve never found anything in particular and sometimes think it’s spirit comes from neglect or “improvements”done by people who knew not what they were doing or were just plain lazy.

Bill and I have done a lot to this place over the past few years.  In the back of my mind I’m hoping that renovating in a thoughtful way will help to disperse some of the bad vibes that have been felt here over the years.  The living room, with its 3 year project coming to a close was the scene of friends dancing on its expansive floor before furniture was returned.  Walls had been replaced, sanding, painting and general TLC had come to an end with a smudge stick of sage from the garden burned to exorcise the demons.  I truly believe the act of lovingly breathing new life into the building itself helped its spirit.  That and lots of laughter with family and friends.

Upstairs the woodwork has been painted, the plaster patched, the wallpaper begins to go up today.  Just painting has made the room feel lighter.  I think as we continue to improve the structure itself and bring in laughter and love the spirit of the place can change.  Once the garden is in full swing I will also be rolling a couple more sage smudge sticks because you never know.

Our Buddy

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There are dogs and then there are dogs.  Those of you that have ever been blessed with the company of a dog understand that throughout a lifetime some of them stand out.  Their personalities are a total fit and they form an unforgettable bond.  Buddy was just such a dog.  After 14 years of making us laugh almost every single day we had to say goodbye this past Saturday.  It was difficult yet not unexpected.

Buddy was our last family dog coming to us when my daughters were in junior high and high school.  He was part of all of their circles of friends and enough of a character to remain in their memories even though they hadn’t seen him for years.  He was the athlete, the clown and the sweetest animal I have ever known.  He moved through the transition of a family of 4 to one of just 2 adults.  He remained my youngest daughter’s best friend, she was his person. He was always part of coming home.

I’m in the same camp as Jon Katz when it comes to the end of our dogs lives.  I believe Buddy’s job was finished here and it was time for him to move on to the next.  We have dogs come into our lives with just what we need at the time.  They have a job.  They are the ones that get us through particular trials and contribute to the joys we have in our lives.  When their job is done they move on.  I like to think of Buddy’s spirit moving on to another family where he can entertain kids and adults with his antics and loved for the gentle spirit that he was.

We knew it was time on Friday and our vet came to the house Saturday afternoon.  Buddy hated going to the vet more than any animal I have known and we wanted to do right by him.  He died in Cait’s lap, his favorite spot for many, many years, giving us a peaceful closure so important to saying goodbye to someone you love.  He will truly be missed.