A Time of Thanks

Dusting never came natural to me. Mom tried teaching me the finer nuances of the activity, but I wasn’t a very adept student and continue to have difficulty with the skill to this day.

My paternal grandmother never liked dusting, either. I think my dusting aversion was acquired genetically, or at least that’s what I told my mother. I can remember writing out my name with a smiley face in the dust on Grandma Hattie’s end tables a number of times when I went up to Caroga Lake to visit her. The funny thing, though, I really didn’t care one way or another about her dusty furniture. I just remembered the blue enamel turkey roaster that she kept loaded with popcorn on her kitchen cupboard, and how you never went hungry in between meal times at Grandma’s house because you always had access to popcorn and butterscotch candies. A candy, mind you, that I learned to hate after choking on a piece, one afternoon when I was 7 years old. Guess I laughed and swallowed at the same time and got the stupid thing lodged in my throat. It stayed there for most of the day, despite numerous glasses of water and attempts to force it down by having me eat bread. To this day, I avoid butterscotch candies like the plague and find my throat contracting every time I see them on the store shelf.

Grandma Hattie wasn’t a wealthy woman, by any stretch of the imagination. She lived in a tiny home with one bedroom and a bathroom that was later converted into a bedroom to accommodate my older cousin, Kip. And when Kip grew up and moved out, we kids slept in it for sleep-overs and felt pretty darn special.

Yep. Had a cozy bed and warm, comfy blankets strewn all over the lumpy mattress, and I felt like a princess in that room with a toilet in it. Sounds a little weird to have a bedroom in a bathroom, but I haven’t really moved up in society all that much, lately. My bathroom is still a stone’s throw away from my bed. Only now-a-days, it’s called a master suite with an adjoining bathroom. And my old body is grateful for a bed that isn’t lumpy these days, but I miss the quiet and the calmness I felt in Grandma’s country home on those winter, Adirondack nights; nights when the snow quietly accumulated, and my sleep was momentarily interrupted by the clanging of the tire chains on the town’s snow plows, as they whizzed-by, scraping it from the packed roadway.

My Grandmother never dressed in the latest fashions, and certainly didn’t have the money to spend on things other than the bare essentials, but she certainly made me and my siblings feel loved and wanted. Every summer, she’d load up her old, beat-up baby buggy with the youngest of the brood, pack our lunches and make sure we each had a beach towel and a swim suit and off to the lake we’d head – big kids holding onto the hands of the little kids and some of us littler kids holding onto the side bars of the baby carriage – brothers, sisters, cousins, alike. And off we went with Grandma for an afternoon of swimming; an afternoon of being a kid.

I remember the smell of the freshly tarred road that we walked on and the laughter and teasing and how patient Grandma was as we peppered her with questions:

“Why’s the road stink so, Grandma?” I’d ask as we walked and our sneakers stuck to the road. “It’s sticky and stinks; not like our roads at home,” I continued. “Why are country roads stinky and rocky and city roads smooth?”

“It makes my feet hot, Grandma,” my cousin chimed in. “Can’t wait ‘till we get swimming, Grandma,” he’d add on. “Are we almost there, Grandma?”

She’d smile and nod and acknowledge each one of us, and down to the lake we’d waddle, baby carriage, kids and all. And today when our local freeways are jammed and the news is overwhelming, I think back on those moments and think back to those times; when the roadways were stinky and my sneakers were hot, and I smile with the warm memories of a less hectic time and remember my Grandmother and am thankful she cared.

Those were good days; days of innocence – days few in number – but days remembered and treasured.

May this season of thanks be one that is joyful, and may you be blessed with the memories of days past when your sneakers were sticky and your grandma was kind, and I’ll catch ya the next time, looking at life from my shoes.

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Language of Kindness

Our landscaper, Marcos, is a swell guy. In order to provide for his wife and twin girls, he commutes 4 to 5 hours a day from a more affordable area in the Bay Area of Northern Ca. to a more affluent community that can afford to pay him living wages. He gets up around 4 each morning, gets home around 7:30 or 8 at night, rain or shine, and never do I see this man in a foul mood.

Most of the time, I’m not home to see/hear him and his whiny leaf blower, but on those occasions that I am, I’ll venture outside of my rabbit hole and swap stories with him. Inevitably, he greets me with the largest of smiles and is always upbeat. Last week I hopped out to see him and he told me of a special award’s assembly he attended at his girl’s school and was so excited and so very proud – their teacher informed him that his girls are doing so well that they’re skipping first grade and going straight into second – what a proud moment for him; what a gift, unexpected.

This immigrant from Mexico, with little money for school, came to America to find freedom and a better life for himself; has twin-girls that are smart, has twin-girls that are talented. This landscaper by week and chef on weekend, has twin-girls that could eventually cure the most incurable of diseases or make a social contribution to the world to make our lives better someday, because their Popi was brave and their Popi was steadfast; in his journey of self, in his journey to freedom.

Never have I heard him complain. Never have I heard him say a bad word about anyone. He’s worked injured and sick and hungry and tired; and all through the pain and all through the fatigue, he’s had one solitary goal – one solitary prayer: let me be a good Popi to my girls, let me keep them safe and provide, and I’ll continue to work hard and I’ll continue to make do.

In between times, he takes English class at night school and makes sure he reads to his girls; they go sledding to Tahoe and cook meals together, too. I don’t know when the man sleeps and sometimes wonder how he makes do, but of this I am certain, of this I am sure: He is a man of integrity and a man I respect, and I’m proud to have met him and thankful that a wall didn’t keep him out of my life.

I don’t speak Spanish and he speaks little English, but his face and his hands speak a language we both understand – a language not taught in our schools – a dialect of kindness and a tolerance of mankind.

Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, the undocumented immigrant and repeated felon who accidentally shot 31-year-old Kate Steinle while she was walking with her father on a SF pier in July of 2015 has only two things in common with my Marcos – his Mexican birthplace and an accent.

I don’t know if Marcos crossed the border legally or illegally.  I do know that he is a loving father and husband and a kind person to most all.  And I know that building walls will not protect us or our children from unkindness or hurt. It will not promote understanding or forgiveness or further our cause.

The walls that we build – the walls of brick and mistrust – are walls that will fall, because they’re walls made of fear and fear will not stand.

Compassion or understanding or acceptance will not solidify. What we fear most will come true, and what is true is simply this: Ignorance is not blissful; it is hurtful and wrong, and ignorant people can only foster more hurt.

If we build walls, let them be walls to hold back water from rivers and seas, and let’s instead build a gateway – a gateway of acceptance and opportunity.

Let the gateway have laws and rigorously enforce them, but let’s make certain we build trust and promote kindness and well-being for all who enter and give; let’s make certain we’re fair and allow others in to share.

As we go forward into this future of uncertainties, may we take heart in knowing that we go forth as a nation built on liberty, equality, opportunity and diversity; and pray that our newly elected representatives take serious the positions they hold and honor their commitments to represent all……

In the meantime, be kind to each other and be kind to yourself, and I’ll catch ya next time, looking at life from my shoes.