The Butterfly Lady

This past Saturday morning I was packing away Thanksgiving decorations and bringing out the Christmas trimmings when my phone rang.  It was my sister Jeanne calling to tell me that our sister, Suzi, had died that morning.  It was unexpected and left us both stunned.

Me, Suzi and Jeanne – 1985.

Ours is a fractured family and I hadn’t seen Suzi in over 15 years.  We had sporadic contact at best, not truly part of each other lives, so I was taken aback by how sad I felt.  After the initial shock wore off a bit, my mind was able to drift to better times and those memories made me smile.  I thought about her letting me dress up in her prom formals and spritzing me with cologne. I thought about her coming home from school, turning on American Bandstand and dancing.  And I thought about my mother’s excitement when Suzi won a regional oratorical contest during high school.  My mother, who never showed much happy excitement, was jumping up and down screaming “That’s my girl, that’s my girl!” Suzi was ten years older than me and I saw her through adoring little-sister eyes.  Despite our differences as adults, she was a special part of my childhood.  

When I started high school, we were living on the same block.  But before I graduated, she moved out-of-state with her husband and three sons and we never lived in the same state again.  That marriage ultimately ended in divorce.  She went on to marry twice more, both ending in divorce. She experienced more than her share of tragedy, losing two of her three sons. And while she sometimes floundered in her overwhelming heartache, she somehow managed to get on with life.

For over the past decade, Suzi had been living in Texas where she made a life for herself.  She developed an intense interest in monarch butterflies, planting gardens for them and following their migration, earning the nickname The Butterfly Lady.  She made wonderful friends and did some traveling with them.  And she died surrounded by love, with her daughter-in-law and her best friend at her side.  Her friend held the phone up to her ear so her son, Todd, could say goodbye. 

The loss of a sibling leaves a hole in your life whether you had a close relationship or were estranged.  Suzi’s death means the loss of years and all the life events that mark that time which can never be recovered.  I will remember Suzi through my little sister lens, wonderful memories that were never lost.

C’est la vie.

And what a time it was…

Thanksgiving came to be my favorite holiday when my sons were in college.  Their arrival home on Wednesday would fill our home with renewed life.  We would feast on chicken enchiladas and decorate turkey cookies.  On Saturday, we would put up the Christmas tree together and Mr. Smith and I would try to persuade our sons to watch It’s a Wonderful Life with us.  We were never successful.  

My friend, LouAnne, turned us on to turkey cookies. The Smiths have devoured dozens and dozens.
My three sons.

Many Thanksgivings were spent with family, some with friends and one was spent just Mr. Smith and me.  Our first year out east, we spent the holiday on our own in the love nest 1.0.  Then on Friday morning, we hit the road for NYC and Mr. Smith made one of my childhood dreams come true when he took me to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular.

It was amazing!
Uncle Pete and Adam.
Hannah and Elliot. Everybody always wanted to sit by Elliot. I bet Rachel is on his other side.

It’s hard to recall all of the Thanksgivings over the past years.  However, the last two seem to accentuate the persistent drumbeat of time.  Last year we were with my mother-in-law in Cass City, Michigan.  We made dinner for her and her dear friend Mimi and Mimi’s husband, Dave.  There was much talk of Thanksgivings past and of course, Pat had many memories of the family over the years. 

Thanksgiving circa 1960.

Pat has since passed away so for the second time in three years, we shared Thanksgiving with our youngest son Adam, his wife Hsin Yi and their beautiful daughter, Eleanor Patricia.  Eleanor filled our apartment with giggles, energy and joy.

Helping make the whipped cream for the pumpkin pie!

It is sobering to reflect on all that has transpired from our early childhood through today and it is with a sense of wonderment that we look to the future.  By the time Eleanor is 18, we will (with any luck) be in our 80s.  I hope we are still making memories.

Long ago…it must be… I have a photograph Preserve your memories They’re all that’s left you.

Paul Simon, Bookends

C’est la vie.

And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be, are full of trees and changing leaves. Virginia Woolf

We’re hosting our youngest son and his family for Thanksgiving tomorrow.  This is Eleanor’s third Thanksgiving and we will have spent two of them with her.  Today I’m baking pies, making a centerpiece for the table and thinking about Thanksgivings past.

Mr. Smith and I married in August of 1978.  Somehow three months later (I believe his sister Patrice was the instigator), we ended up with the “privilege” of hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the Smith clan and my sister Jeanne and her family.

I had never made a turkey, I was a less than stellar cook, and we had a kitchen the size of a small closet.  But with the hubris of youth, we said we’d be delighted.  The menu was planned, the shopping lists made, and I requested the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off work. Although I accepted all offers to bring a dish, there was much to be done. Intimidated by my always seemingly perfect mother-in-law, I thought everything had to be from scratch. I practiced making yeast rolls and tried out different cranberry relish recipes. We ordered a large turkey, borrowed some tables and chairs and cleaned our apartment top to bottom.

The day before Thanksgiving started with a little panic when I discovered the turkey was too big to fit in our miniscule apartment-sized oven.  Commence the scrambling to find a roaster to cook the turkey.  This was actually serendipitous because it freed up our oven for baking the rest of the dinner. Figuring out how everything was going to fit in that tiny oven wasn’t something that made it on to my to-do list.  That Wednesday, just like today, I baked pies, cut up the bread for stuffing, and worried about getting everything done at the same time!

Thanksgiving morning, I was up early chopping and mixing, getting everything ready for the oven and crossing my fingers that the roaster wouldn’t die on me.  Guest arrived, wine was poured, and dinner was served more or less on time.  

It was a convivial afternoon and no one left hungry.  By the time everyone was gone, I was exhausted and had no interest in going back into the kitchen.  In a move I’m not sure I could pull off today, Mr. Smith and I went to bed and left the mess.  This was the first of many times Mr. Smith’s odd sleep schedule came in handy.  When I got up the next morning the dishes were all washed and the kitchen was spotless thanks to my own personal thanksgiving elf!

We have now shared 41 Thanksgivings, some as hosts, some as guests.  Sometimes a small group, sometimes lots of family and friends.  The recipes have changed a bit over the years, there’s no longer any cream of mushroom soup on my green bean casserole.  But there is always pumpkin pie.  And Mr. Smith always helps with the dishes. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

C’est la vie.

The real Santa…

When my sister Jeanne read this past Sunday’s post, she remembered her days of pouring through the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog with her siblings long before I was born. She also remembered the first Christmas with the man who became her real dad. Here are her musings…

Christmas before my Dad….

            Prior to my mother’s marriage to Stormy’s father, our holidays were quite different.  Our household consisted of a single mom and five wild kids.  Mom worked days as a bookkeeper or waitress and evenings at a local tavern to support us.  She was an extremely proud and independent person refusing government help so Santa gifts were simple but often supplemented by our wonderfully generous Salvation Army and the local firemen, who refurbished second hand toys which were then dropped at houses late December 24th.   We didn’t really feel deprived because we lived in a post- war housing project for veterans and everyone was in the same boat. 

However, in early 1950’s Mr Ferguson came into our lives.  He was a tall quiet gentleman who met our petite raven-haired mom at his favorite bar where she pulled his pints and chatted up the regulars.  Dad had never been married and his partial deafness meant he often kept to himself but amazingly he was not put off by her rowdy brood.   Instead he arrived that first cold snowy Christmas morning with his arms piled high with brightly wrapped boxes each tied with colorful bows. We were stunned.

This long time bachelor had purchased games, dolls, ping pong pump guns, books, drawing supplies etc. wonderful fancy new toys.  But best of all Mr Ferguson not only laid on the floor to play games with us but later laughing chased my brothers around the house shooting each other with ping pong balls.  This sweet giant man become one of the kids, so later when a pin pong ball landed in the middle of one of mom’s homemade pumpkin pies we squealed with delight when the culprit was dad. 

What a wonderful first Christmas with Mr Ferguson.  And subsequent holidays were also fun, gift and memory filled.  When Mom would chide him for buying too many gifts, dad would respond with, “money is to spend to make folks happy”.  Dad had been an orphan and family was special for him.  He proved to be the best Santa five raggedy kids could hope for.  And we loved him. 

Wednesday’s child is full of woe…

I’ve always loved this little poem. I remember learning it from my older siblings and feeling quite clever when I could recite it on my own. Today this Wednesday’s child is full of woe. Mr. Smith and I arrived back in Wilkes Barre late afternoon on Monday. I had woken up with a sore throat that morning but decided it would be gone when I woke up on Tuesday. I had many projects I wanted to tackle and I’m lousy at taking time out to be sick. Unfortunately, my sore throat won and I woke up Tuesday feeling quite miserable. Not bad enough to justify staying in bed, but not feeling like hitting the gym and conquering the world. So I napped a little, made a pot of soup, and finished addressing my Christmas cards.

I did also make it down to the mailroom for the mail. While there were only four catalogs in my mailbox yesterday, it’s clear that the Christmas shopping season is in full gear. Check out my blog on Sunday for my musings on Christmas shopping for my grandkids.

C’est la vie.

A story of change…

In addition to trying to cut back on my consumer consumption in general, I’ve tried to cut back on the number of magazines I subscribe to, but it feels like every other day there’s another magazine stuffed into my mailbox.  Either a grandchild is selling subscriptions as a fund raiser or my sister sends me her “gift” subscription and before you know it, the issues are piling up.  Sometimes I feel guilty because I feel like there’s never enough time to read them all and they end up getting neglected.

Last Wednesday afternoon found me sitting in my favorite reading spot taking some time out of my day and spending it with one of my many magazines.  And that magazine was the November issue of National Geographic, WOMEN, A Century of Change.  All contributing writers, photographers and artists are female.  The issue is chockful of photographs and interviews women from all walks of life and highlights the female voice throughout history. 

In reading the issue, I was particularly taken by a quote from Christine Amapour, chief international correspondent for CNN:

            The most important challenge is still being considered second-class citizens, and the most important thing for us is to get men on our side, period.  This has to be something that men help us with, it’s not a question of just swapping who’s dominant.  We’re not looking for female dominance, we’re looking for equality and to level the playing field – and we can’t do that without men’s buy-in as well.

Women have always made important contributions to our society, they just haven’t always been given the credit. Hedy Lamarr, Ada Lovelace, and Rosalind Franklin are just a few of the women who made brilliant discoveries only to have them stolen by greedy men who took all the credit, published them in journals, won prizes for them and earned millions of dollars from them! I’m hoping that my grandchildren growing up today with women visible as scientists, lawyers, doctors, Supreme Court justices, athletes and in every other walk of life, will have no doubt in their minds that men and women are equals and celebrate the accomplishments of ALL people.

National Geographic was started in 1888 by 33 men of science and letters who gathered in a wood-paneled club in Washington DC and voted it into existence.  There was not a single woman in the room.  Since its inception the magazine has had ten editors.  The current editor is Susan Goldberg.  Ms. Goldberg is the first woman editor and in her November Letter from the Editor promised to “…aim to bring more women’s lives into the light – and more women’s voices into the conversation…”

I’m hoping you get an afternoon to spend some time with this amazing issue.  And I’m hoping Ms. Goldberg keeps her promise.

C’est la vie.

Sundays with Stormy…

The calendar says it’s the first Sunday in November and as Mr. Smith and I drive I-80 across Pennsylvania and Ohio, the fall foliage agrees.  We’re on a mini-vacation which includes visits with all our grandchildren.  Mr. Smith is doing the vast majority of driving, so I am free to admire the fading fall colors and let my mind wander.  As well as thinking about some plans for the approaching holiday season, I reflected on the past couple of months and decided I wanted to provide a recap of my life in the not so fast lane!

Books

I just finished reading The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman.  It takes place in Nazi-occupied France between 1941 and 1944. Following the lives of three young women and their struggle to survive, the main theme for me was the strength of a mother’s love.  The book weaves history and myth. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like it since myth and folklore aren’t genres I normally gravitate towards.  Hoffman’s writing is so beautiful I was able to suspend my belief system and accept the premise of the story.  I believe it is well worth your time to read.

Next up for me is Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.   I read it many years ago with my book group back in Indiana and now I’ll be reading is with My Three Son’s Book Group.   It will be a fine read from my perch up in my nest, while watching for the first snowflakes to fall.

Movies

Recently on a dreary, rainy Sunday afternoon, Mr. Smith and I decided we needed to blow the stink off and get out of the apartment.  We grabbed our umbrellas and headed out to the movie theater to see Downton Abbey.  We had enjoyed the series and decided an afternoon our old friends Mr. Carson, Mrs. Hughes and all the others would be as comforting as a cup of tea and a biscuit.  While it had its moments, I agree with Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times, “Lacking the nutritious story lines of the past, the movie is mainly empty calories.”  My favorite scene is near the end and involves the Dowager Countess played by the marvelous Maggie Smith.  For those who haven’t seen the movie, I’ll leave it at that.

A couple of weeks later, Mr. Smith and I were faced with another rainy, gloomy Sunday afternoon.  But this time we were happy to stay in, pop some popcorn and watch On the Basis of Sex.  We’re a little behind on our movie watching as this movie came out last year but I’m so glad we’re catching up!  If you haven’t seen this yet, I highly recommend it.  The movie is based on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s early legal career and her fight against sex discrimination.  Her nephew, Daniel Stiepleman, wrote the script.  Some reviewers thought the movie didn’t do justice to Justice Ginsburg, but I thought it was fascinating to see her start her journey towards being the notorious RBG! By the way, RBG has seen the movie three times.  I might do that also.

My Best Friend

I thought you might enjoy a little update on my best friend!  Rest easy that we are still as close as ever.  Mr. Smith and I needed to deliver a tub of building blocks to our granddaughter Eleanor on our road trip.  With rain forecasted for the day we were going to leave, I wanted to get them loaded into the car the night before.  With Mr. Smith at work, I again called on my friend and she came through for me.  The tub was too heavy for me to lift, so I simply loaded the majority of blocks into a bag in the cart and then we were off to the elevator.  I think it’s time that I take my loyal friend out for a pedicure.

If you check back on Wednesday, I’ll tell you about my favorite November 2019 issue magazine!

C’est la vie.