Goodbye Doc

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Photo – Merritt Brown

I lost a very dear friend yesterday.  2016 has been a rough year.

I met Merritt (Doc) Brown 40 years ago almost to the day at Hallmark Institute of Photography.  We were the third class to go through the school with a class size of a little over 30 people.  At the time Hallmark was a different place than it grew into.  It wasn’t accredited, you couldn’t get financial aid, you had to really want to be there.  It was also the first place in my entire life that I felt like I belonged and one of those reasons was Doc.

I am sharing some things here that will probably not mean as much if you didn’t know him but somehow it feels like everyone knew him.  When we were in school I thought he was probably the worst photographer I had ever met – truly.  He understood the process – his vision, exposure and printing – not so much.   I never saw him in any commercial realm of photography (at least as it was at that time – we’re talking 1977) but he had such a passion for what he was doing.  We’d be given assignments and many critiques were cringe worthy.  He never gave up and graduated with the rest of us (although in a recent conversation we both confessed that neither of us knew how he got through).

Now I can’t speak to how Merritt was before the “Hallmark experience”.  I do know that our time in that place changed us all.  It made us understand the value of friendship and the importance of maintaining the relationships you have.

Merritt had more friends than anyone I ever knew.  He maintained them well.  With the advent of social media he really came into his own.  Through it we could see that his passion for photography had only grown through the years.  He shared his images and his sometimes twisted philosophy with so many of us.  Always quick with a smart remark or advice or simple observation I looked forward to his running commentary on my life.  It was always positive.

This past year we had conversed more than usual and more about life in general than photography specifically. We shared the experience of children lost and found, something rather unique in my circle of friends.  I’m glad it was with him because he always could be counted on for truth in any situation.  He could see things as they were and would tell it like it is.  Last week I visited him at home and the conversation was more poignant.   He wished he had more time with his children and grandchildren.  It killed him to know that he wasn’t going to be around to enjoy some of Manop’s cooking. Fishing, he hadn’t been fishing at all this year.  He had a habit of shooting daily, was limited to home but he still had images to share with his friends. Clouds, he could photograph the clouds and since that’s where he was going he wanted to share them.

He knew he was at the end, he knew some of it had to do with the choices he’d made in life but there were really no regrets.  It had been quite the ride.  So this kind, gentle, larger than life soul left this earth yesterday and we are all sitting here in disbelief.  For me it’s left quite a hole.

My daughter-in-law recently commented on how many friends I have.  I’d never really thought about it before.  I do.  I have circles of friends from different times in my life.  I’ve maintained the ones that are most important to me.  Until now I didn’t realize there’s a downside to all of this, you have to move through losing them.

Our friends make up who we are, some more significantly then others, they teach us how to be.  We try to surround ourselves with the people who make us our better selves.  That’s what Merritt did for me, he made me just a little bit better.

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.

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

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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.

Thanksgiving Reflection

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I woke up this morning to the silence of a house without power.  It wasn’t unexpected.  Around 5:00 I decided to get up and stoke the wood stove, try to get things together for coffee without a coffee maker.  As I walked down the stairs the lights came on, the furnace fired up and within minutes coffee was hot in my cup.  Ahh, little gifts.

The anticipation of this holiday always keeps me awake the night before.  It’s a throwback from childhood when family gathered at the house for food, fun and the Macy’s parade.  Most of these relatives I only saw once or twice a year.  I loved being surrounded by people who loved me, what child doesn’t?

While lying awake I considered all that I was thankful for, an exercise that I do fairly often.  It keeps things in perspective.  Albert Einstein once said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”  I try to look at everything as being a miracle.

The thing that continues to come into my head as both a miracle and something I am profoundly thankful for is my ongoing reunion with Scott.  It’s been difficult to wrap my head around having a son that is back in my life.  Left as an infant, returned as an adult.  Bone of my bone flesh of my flesh.  Someone who has been with me through most of my life’s journey in spirit yet I was the only one that knew it.

My daughters bringing him into the fold – slowly, cautiously at first then with open arms.  They speak of him with love and amazement at the similarities only relatives have.  My husband helping me work through the demons that have followed me from one lifetime to another.  My friends that continually point out what an amazing story this all is.  A miracle in many, many ways.

Look around you today, take notice of those miracles – those little gifts.  The beauty of the snow, the birds that grace our feeders, the fox tracks through the yard.  Look at the smiles on the faces of those you love. Treasure those messages from those unable to join you for the holiday.  Remember those that have gone before you that made the traditions you celebrate now.

Everything is a miracle.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Winding Into Winter

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The temperature was at freezing this morning.  I lit the stove using last nights coals and made my coffee.  The morning temperatures have been in the mid forties for the past few weeks but I start the stove every morning to take the chill off.  I love the cheeriness of that fire when I walk into the kitchen.

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity as it always is when winter approaches.  Most of the wood is in, the fall cleaning is finished.  Things are moved around (like sleeping areas) to be the most comfortable for the winter.  We do not have heat on the second floor of the house so the electric blankets went onto the beds.

Everything left was dug out of the garden, a bumper crop of carrots this year both Danvers and Atomic Reds.  The Atomic Reds were one of this years experiments and I would plant them again.  I was disappointed that they don’t stay red when they are cooked much like those purple beans.

The month of October was also a time of connecting with friends, both old and new.  A very dear friend of mine stopped in to visit me while on a trip here from New Mexico.  I haven’t seen her since 1995 yet we picked up as though we’d seen each other a month ago.  It was wonderful reminder of how dear my old friends are.

Our 2nd Annual Harvest Party was a success other than the weather, but all that really did was keep us in the house.  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon – eating great food with great friends and family.  This event is always an interesting mix of old and new acquaintances.  It’s always fun to rehash the day with newcomers who are trying to learn who the players in my life are.

Then there are the newest “friends”.  My cyber community has evolved into the most interesting ways in the past few months.  I have become acquainted with a few like-minded people who are working towards some self-sufficiency.  They are craftsmen, farmers, artists, renovators.  They have similar interests and through our frequent posts we get to know a little about each other.  This has offered me an opportunity to learn a lot about some of my interests.  They are generous in conversation, answering questions I might have about weaving, gardening or livestock.  The readers of this blog offer words of wisdom in situations I write about.  It’s a little  support system.

The changes in the past few months have been interesting and not always as expected.  Rowe is an isolated area and you have to work harder at being social.  I’m not always able to leave and the ability to converse over the web has in some respects kept me sane.  It keeps me connected with my kids, spouse and friends – old and new.

As we wind into winter, a time when serious arts and crafting come into full swing I’ll continue to share interesting tidbits of what is happening here and welcome the interaction of those who read it.  I’m looking forward to the down time.  Having the quiet and solitude always turns my mind towards creativity – I’m always thinking, planning.  There just is never the time during the warmer months for sitting at the loom or hooking a rug.  Winter will offer a respite from the yard work and gardening, it will allow me to recharge and dream about spring.  By the time it arrives I’ll be ready.

Reunion

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We spent the greater part of yesterday at a high school reunion.  This one was a little different, the first 10 classes of Mohawk Trail Regional High School gathered at the Charlemont Fairgrounds for a festival of sorts.  It felt like a small fair with the food vendors and class tents.  Bands played from the past all day long, whisking us back to youth with the power only music has on one’s memory.  There were activities, group photos, reminiscing along with a table of yearbooks and photographs that did and didn’t make the cut back in the day (how those survived 35+ years is beyond me).

This is the kind of thing that reminds you how close our communities are.  As I have said in the past, each town that sent kids to this regional school was a small town.  My class from Rowe consisted of four people (including me).  In school you make your lifetime friends I believe but for those of us that grew up in such small communities our town friends become our family.  Having the reunion encompass so many years, with my class right in the middle allowed us to not only visit with our classmates but reconnect with people we wouldn’t have otherwise.

In this age of social media we are fortunate to be able to stay connected with some of our favorite people with a touch of a few buttons.  It is an amazing world.  When I arrived at the reunion it was good to see so many of the people I talk to so often, it felt comfortable.  Then there were a few of those OMG moments. Those occurred when I recognized someone I never thought I would see at an event like this.

Good moments, moments of recognition, hugs, warmth, familiarity.  These were moments spent with the people I have known since I was 5 years old. Moments talking about age, family, life.  It was a time, however brief, when I felt like I was surrounded by the best parts of my family.  These are the people who know you so very well.  The interesting thing is that many of them I have not seen in a decade.  It’s the situation you find yourself in where you just pick up where you left off.

I read somewhere a long time ago that people who know each other from their youth always see each other as they were when they were young.  A trick of the mind.  So all of that graying hair, weight gain or loss, baldness falls away as the conversation begins – you are really seeing their soul in some respect, their essence. You see them as you know them and always have.

For me, that’s the amazing thing about these reunions.  While part of it always serves to remind me how quickly time passes I am quickly reminded that even with the passage of time we all are essentially still teenagers in our minds.