Posts tagged ‘nurturing relationships’

An Ode to J.R.

Rest assured; this is not a declaration of diehard devotion to a certain Texas-based, primetime soap opera, although my J.R. did spend a decade in the Dallas area and all three of my stepchildren still call that region home. 

No, the focus of my devotion is the husband with whom I recently celebrated a 25th wedding anniversary – an occasion that inspires poeticizing like none other.  (Also a stark reminder of how quickly time scoots by, and how precious is each month, week, day, and hour, to be wrung limp with an appreciative squeeze.) 

As for the object of my reflections:  I am an impatient sort.  Because of my personal history, I have expectations that aren’t always realistic or fair.  And I often project my own urgency onto those around me – whether they be ditzy drivers or my own dear, less manic spouse.  My 25th smacked me right in the kisser with a minute-by-minute awareness of just how much I have to stop and give thanks for, and to cherish.  I will, of course, elucidate. 

First of all, I am blessed with a life-mate who pays attention to the right small things.  He may ignore, guy-like, the fact that I haven’t dusted in weeks, but listen intently as I ramble on about the specific kind of tank-top I’ve been searching for, and then show up a few days later, having hunted down the perfect match for my description.  Six perfect matches, in fact.   

He might wait patiently, reading in the car, as I make multiple frantic stops trying to accommodate the demands of an allergy-elimination diet, then later spend his entire lunch hour driving to the one health food store that carries Rice Dream dairy-free frozen dessert, to replenish my supply.  He can seem not to be fully tuned in while I describe in tiresome detail what I am looking for in a watch, and then surprise me with the ideal model at the next appropriate special occasion, i.e., Happy Friday! 

The man, and this will never cease to impress me, will patiently troll the clothing racks looking for items he thinks I might like while I’m locked in a dressing room, slogging through the tedious process of Trying On Clothes.  Many of my favorite wardrobe additions resulted from his keen-eyed efforts.  All this without any of the melodramatic self-importance that motivates reality show fashion experts. 

Also, while I am an animal lover, my husband is an animal liker.  Having said this, my guy welcomed both of the feisty felines I brought into our marriage, supported me through related bereavements, and once back-tracked several blocks in the family vehicle because I saw a confused-looking kitty wandering around a commercial area and wanted to try to rescue it. 

At that point, I was not surprised at his capacity for indulgence.  After all, hadn’t he once piled into the same vehicle with me to rush to Wal-Mart and buy a cage and seed for the injured bird that had bounced off our front window and landed in the flower bed, only to discover on our return home that the stunned critter had recovered and flown away?  U-turn back to Wal-Mart to return the emergency items.  Again, no drama, no recriminations, just a patient tending to the needs of the situation.  My needs.

 And when I felt compelled to take in a pup who was facing her third home placement at the age of two because her ultra-distracted owners were moving, he resisted initially – for practical reasons.  Three years later, he is almost as delighted as she when he gets home from work and she threatens to turn herself inside-out in a joyful welcoming ritual of leaps and back flips.  Scene two, she is flopped  in his lap, eyes rolled back in her head, sopping up tummy-rubs like a thirsty sponge, and he is chuckling and murmuring softly as his blood pressure rolls back about 20 points.  The tranquilizer manufacturers will be out of business if a photo of this ever goes viral. 

My sweetie and I are very much aligned in all the important areas.  On some smaller issues, there is an occasional Venus/Mars split.  And then there is the day-to-day stuff.  I am pretty fanatical about conserving things, while my honey takes a more common sense approach.  Still, when he is finished with a shaker of body powder, a bottle of liquid soap, a tube of toothpaste, or a jar of mustard, he will open another, but leave the carcass behind for me to shake, scrape, dig, squeeze, or swoosh the very last drop or tittle from, knowing that it satisfies something within me to use the last drib and drab of anything. 

Then there was that phase I went through where I was reassessing how much toilet tissue I was reeling off the roll, and would sometimes lay the extra, unused squares back on the dispenser for later use.  Lesser men might have used this as material for ridicule.  My J.R. used it as material for bathroom art, creating a soft-sculpture Cottonelle gallery. 

It started out simply, with a four-inch paper doll, but soon I was finding a three-dimensional, if monochrome, humanoid; an elaborate sail boat; and even a palm tree – complete with fringed foliage.  You have to laugh at a situation in which more paper gets wasted with each escalating “retort” than was ever saved by means of my obsessive little fetish. 

Ah yes; the everyday stuff.  My guy always walks on the traffic side of me when we take a stroll, insistently offers his jacket even when I’ve rejected his pre-walk suggestion that I might want to wear one myself, and will get up from a restaurant table to drive blocks down the road, seeking out a menu I find more appealing. 

After two-and-a-half decades, you’d think we’d know all there is to know about one another, but just a few weeks ago I learned that the reason he always insists on going with me to run errands is, “Because I would never forgive myself if I was here and available to take you but didn’t, and something happened to you when you were out.”  Talk about a silver anniversary present to remember. 

Forever interesting, my multi-faceted husband continues to present sides of his quiet self that I’ve not yet become acquainted with, like the side that will spend huge chunks of energy helping out a neighbor with household challenges or polishing his Spanish to better communicate with our new friends down the block. And who knew he would become a fan of Bollywood cinema at this stage in life, and through that budding interest discover some true gems of touching, values-based entertainment that we can enjoy watching together – our own unique in-house date nights, no makeup required.  

What is no surprise is that he allows himself to be used by God in so many ways, as when the Lord led me-of-lapsed-faith to this decent, forgiving believer, and changed my life forever – and forever. 

I sometimes call this life-mate of mine Hank, because the night we re-met at a high school reunion, I spilled sparkling water on my lap, and he whipped out a real cloth handkerchief for me to use in the cleanup; he calls me Hanes because he rather liked the look of my gams.  And no matter how time ravages our once-youthful bodies, that chivalry will always be a part of Hank.  It is his core.   

And generosity is his heart.  Cars, computers, an unexpected check; re-gifting all of his birthday cash to help out a struggling co-worker.  This man of modest means has, without a second thought, carried on his parents’ legacy of giving to others whose need is greater, and we are both the richer for his servant’s spirit. 

I have a friend who has said of her husband, “He lets me be me.”  I am similarly blessed, although the balance dips to his side in our male/female dance of life:  He is much more likely to let my quirks go uncommented upon than I am to allow his.  I really must work on that. 

Alas, 25 years later I am still learning to be the wife God meant for me to be.  Meanwhile, I recently came across the following crossword puzzle clue:  Name which translates to “gift.”  Answer:  Isador. 

J.R.  He is not perfect, of course; that would be intolerable for both of us.  But he is my Isador, and that is definitely something to celebrate.

June 7, 2012 at 5:29 pm 3 comments

A Legacy of Endurance

 “I’m here; the party can begin!”  So declares Erma Florentine Reiss, arriving at a large gathering of friends and relatives in 1999.  And indeed, she lights up the room with her entrance.  At 82 – with a beautiful head of curly white locks, a smile like sunshine, and the bouncing gait of a much younger woman – she has already been widowed three times and raised seven children to healthy, productive adulthood.  Some people wear hardship like a dented suit of armor, but not Erma.   

Born the first of five children to Paul and Lydia Engel in 1917, Erma and her siblings grew up in rural Minnesota during hardscrabble times.  The Great Depression overlapped drought conditions, only to be followed by World War II with its scarcities and the rationing of essential goods. 

“Love and sharing saw us through those difficult years,” writes Erma in a recounting of her family history.  There were extended family get-togethers for birthdays and special occasions, with homemade ice cream made with ice chipped from the family farm’s stock tanks in the winter months.  Visitors brought cakes and cookies, but no gifts were exchanged.  “We [children] didn’t know we were poor.  We were happy and healthy, as our Heavenly Father led us.” 

Much of that health and happiness derived from mother Lydia’s example of taking delight in helping others and in making the most of what you have.  At age ten, Erma would read bible passages to her grandmother, who suffered from cataract blindness, and watch and learn as her mother sewed children’s clothing and household linens from colorful cotton feed sacks.  “Sugar came in smaller white sacks.  They were softer and more absorbent and were saved to use as ‘Sunday dish towels,’ and to make petticoats and bloomers for the girls.” 

In that home, Erma learns that the basic, forthright offerings of time, grace, and talents are the true   acts of giving.  “All her life, my mother was quietly useful, gentle, and friendly.  She gave us all the simple pleasures to remember forever.”  Simple pleasures like perfecting the role of hostess with only the barest necessities at hand; giving parties for neighborhood children in an era when no one else did this; always having time for a game of checkers with her children; making mittens, doilies, and braided rugs for those in need; and filling long winter evenings with piano playing and singing. 

After graduating from the high school department of Dr. Martin Luther College in 1935, Erma moves to Larsen, Wisconsin, as a woman’s home companion for the disabled wife of the Reverend Weyland.  (more…)

May 9, 2012 at 9:47 pm 1 comment

Spaghetti Night at Grandma’s

It’s 52 miles between the small dairy farm outside of Luck, Wisconsin, where Irma Skow DeGidio grew up, and the Minneapolis suburb where she and husband Nick settled to raise their family. But frequent trips home to make huge batches of Christmas stew or to help out during the summer canning season have kept her rural connections robust over the years. 

With their five daughters mostly grown and starting families of their own, she and Nick relocated to Coon Rapids, Minnesota, and Irma decided it was time to weave a few more country customs into the fabric of their suburban life. Twenty-eight years later, Spaghetti Night at Grandma’s is still the sturdy thread that draws her extended clan together on a regular basis. Summer or winter, sunshine or sleet, up to 40 people gather in Irma’s immaculate garage or basement once a week to share the latest family news and swap vacation stories or ideas for recreation or dining out or home maintenance.   

“Keeping in touch is so important,” Irma explains. “The grandchildren learn so much from spending time with family, and open doors invite people to bring their concerns to those who love them.” She shares this sage advice by example; her collection of family recipes upon request; and the gift of these warm mini-reunions with friends, neighbors, and out-of-town visitors as well as in-town relatives. 

That universe of in-town relatives seems to be an ever-expanding one, with the current count at 13 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren, most of whom show up for spaghetti night at least a percentage of the time, “Along with a few of the teenagers’ boyfriends and girlfriends,” Irma adds. That calls for buckets of pasta and all the trimmings, and of course a selection of Grandma’s homemade desserts. 

How does this soon-to-be-85-year-old, who takes two blood pressure medications and suffers from arthritis and peripheral edema, manage this weekly feat? She simply does what come naturally, building on her own country traditions to preserve the true meaning of “family values.”  (more…)

January 12, 2011 at 5:15 pm 2 comments

Blissed and Blessed: Advice for the Newly Married

    I am either one of your best sources of marital advice or one of your worst. My emotionally chaotic early personal history suggests the latter, including as it did several mismatched spouses and little evidence that I was capable of learning from my own mistakes. But when God finally got exasperated enough to take me by the shoulders and march me in the direction of an eminently suitable former classmate at our 20 year high school reunion, it was the first wave in a sea change that swept through every element of my existence. It was also the first phase in a long-term relationship that last May marked its 23rd wedding anniversary. 

Having finally discovered what a blessing married life can be, you’d think I’d be a fount of profundity on the subject. Yet at my nephew’s wedding reception a few days ago, I told his bride how moved I was by the loving looks the couple shared during the ceremony, and she replied, “I just hope we’re still looking at each other like that years from now.” My response? “From what I’ve seen today, I’m imagine you will be.” 

How insipid! I might as well have said, “Well, based on appearances, your chances are pretty good.” What I should have had the presence of mind to say was, “That’s not up to chance, it’s up to you.” 

Settled into my easy chair later that evening, I indulged further in the luxury of hindsight and a few gems tumbled out of the treasure chest of experience.  I’ve gathered them here in an imaginary “wish I’d said” monologue, because it truly is all about making choices and setting priorities. “Loving” is itself a choice, not a fluttery feeling in your stomach. It’s a decision you make – and then remake every day of your lives together.  (more…)

September 21, 2010 at 10:45 pm Leave a comment

Stuff My Dad Told Me

   Note: September 6th marks both the Labor Day holiday and what would have been my father’s 90th birthday. I dedicate this posting to his memory.

There I am, a fifty-something woman, sitting in my eighty-something father’s living room, as we commiserate about our mutual hot flashes. Mine arise from mid-life changes and his from hormone therapy for elevated PSA levels, but this is still not a scenario I would have ever predicted in decades past. I wasn’t, in my very early years, much inclined to imagine scenarios of any kind. I did, however, ask a lot of questions.

As a highly inquisitive kid, I had been born into the right family. My father was a well-read, well-educated guy with experience in many areas of work and life, always able and willing to help me come up with answers to that endless flow of queries. 

In the late 1980s, I started a Father’s day tradition of recounting remembered paternal homilies from my youth. Dad claimed no recollection of having shared many of these bits of advice. Funny; they stuck in my mind like bubble gum to the underside of a schoolroom desk.

Following is a small, paraphrased sampling of those “sticky” bits of wisdom, on subjects ranging from grammar to etiquette to mental hygiene.  (more…)

September 6, 2010 at 6:15 pm 1 comment

Tough-Love Letters to a Troubled Teen – III

    Dear Maisie, 

I haven’t heard from anybody down there since you got invited to spend a long weekend with the local authorities, so I find myself piecing together a mental image of what your days might be like during this separation from home. It grieves me to picture you in that unfamiliar, institutional place, but perhaps you have been granted some precious time to think through your past and your present and your future. 

I feel helpless right now. Sort of like when Uncle J. has a severe insulin reaction and all I can do is flutter about and offer orange juice and stroke his neck and provide a cool, damp cloth for his brow. Except I can’t even do that much for you.  And at least with his temporary hypoglycemia, I can watch as he slowly returns to me and that glazed, distant stare begins to refocus, his words gradually starting to come together in full sentences and his mind re-engaging with the world around him. 

With you, I have no idea whether anything I do or say helps – or hurts; no gauge for whether my caring and worrying mean anything in the midst of the turmoil that swirls around you in the form of legal repercussions and family estrangement; no direct contact to allow me a sense of the disorientation you must feel, being wrenched from your daily routine and the cozy nest of your own neighborhood and circle of friends. 

I can only keep writing these weekly letters, as I have for the past few years, since long before you misstepped your way onto the “Down” escalator of self-defeating behaviors, and pray that something will click, and you’ll soon find your way back to us. 

For I believe with all of my heart that you are not a lost soul who has chosen doom for yourself. What nonsense! When all the possibilities of a sunny and contented future lie within such a short reach, why would you? Nothing can be so overwhelming that you and God and your many loving supporters together can’t handle it. 

My prayer and my urgent yearning is that you will release yourself from the drama and the heartache now, rather than later, and choose without delay for tomorrow to be your next bright day.  

                          Love you and miss you always, 

                                             Aunt Suz


September 1, 2010 at 3:54 pm 1 comment

Tough-Love Letters to a Troubled Teen – II

   Dear Maisie,

I am listening to the drone of a lawn mower outside my study window as I sit down to write to you this week. The sound reminds me of how life is made up of so many seemingly insignificant events – small tasks or daily routines – that we don’t give much thought to. Yet when you add them all up at the end of a year, they form the patchwork quilt, the running narrative composition, of our lives on earth: each little effort as we work toward a goal or create a pleasant experience for someone else; every opportunity to use our gifts for scholarship or art or craftsmanship, or for working the soil to produce good things. 

That’s just me feeling philosophical today, but I have often had to remind myself that sending a note to a discouraged friend or baking cookies for a sick neighbor or taking someone to the store or a doctor’s appointment are not time-devouring side trips off the path that carries us toward the really important things, the Big Stuff that we hope to accomplish. They are more accurately the atomic particles that give forward momentum to our existence.  

And then the Big Stuff becomes the road markers that we aim for as we are being propelled along by these humdrum, everyday duties.  

When I was in high school, I coasted; couldn’t see the point of any of it; deprived myself of the joys of accomplishment. I didn’t know how to dig inside myself for a purpose. Heck, I didn’t even know who I was, so ready was I to let others define that for me. How ever was I supposed to know what to do with me?  

I’m still not always sure to this day how to define myself, or whether I want to fully accept the “Who” I have grown into, but when I keep plugging away and let the Lord direct my steps, then my days start to fill up with meaning. And if nothing else, I can tell my own story as a cautionary tale, and share the sweet sustenance of stories about people who inspire us to endure with grace. Serving others is always better than trying to please them. 

Some day I will write about you. It will be an account of struggle and triumph; it will have a happy ending, bursting with encouragement for those who read it. And it will be the story of a young life redeemed, with God’s help and your own “everyday” efforts. 

I love you…

                                           Aunt Suz

August 27, 2010 at 3:28 pm Leave a comment

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