Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Family

Four Sisters in Waiting

This is one of my favorite old photos. There aren’t many that have the four of us looking so spiffy! I think we were at a summer conference in North Carolina. If so, this was 1954. I was 11 1/2; Sister #2 was 9; Sister #3 (Diane) was 5; and Sister #4 was 1 1/2 years old.

Judging by our outfits, this was probably taken on a Sunday morning. White socks, shiny shoes, clean dresses, and curled hair. Obediently looking into the camera whether we wanted to or not. We were the daughters of a preacher. Surely life was a piece of cake. Not.

Even so, I love this photo, and am grateful for every opportunity I’ve had to spend time with my sisters. Especially since the late 1990s. They’ve been mirrors for me–telling me more about myself and about themselves and our parents than I remembered.

As some already know, Diane died of ALS in 2006. So now we’re down to three. Even though we don’t always see eye to eye, I find great solace in connecting with them, mostly via the phone.

Back to the photo. If I’m correct, this was the year I played afternoon babysitter to Sister #4. Each day, immediately after lunch in the large conference dining hall, Mom (known as Mother back then) took a much-needed nap and left Sister #4 in my care.

To my great chagrin, more than one conference attendee assumed I was my sister’s mother. I don’t think Sister #4 was keen on the optics, either. I was distressed. How was I going to meet good-looking young men if I had to play momma to my sister?!

One other memory. Sister #4 loved nothing better than lively music to which she could dance. Informally, of course, since dancing itself was a Huge No-No in our family and church.

At this conference, all guests stood at their assigned tables for a hymn or two and a prayer before sitting down to eat. Sister #4 was in a high chair, and broke out into a little sitting jig every time we sang a hymn! I’ll never forget a grumpy old man telling my father he’d better keep his eye on this little girl because she was going to be big trouble!

Little did he know that this docile, obedient Sister #1 was going to be big trouble, too. It takes guts to become a Disobedient Daughter of Eve. A lesson I didn’t learn until I was an adult. Which is why I began this blog in the first place, and why I keep writing. Not to sort things out, but to document what my big trouble looked like, and what it took to break decades of destructive Good Girl habits and beliefs.

Thanks for the visit!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 July 2019
Photo taken by JERenich, Summer 1954

Bittersweet

A passage from one of Mary Oliver’s poems came to mind Wednesday evening as I wrote in my journal. On Tuesday we heard our two granddaughters speak to gathered friends and family for half an hour each. They talked about their lives, their dreams, and their experiences in school and on trips here and abroad. Each is sensitive, observant, articulate, and determined to follow her dreams.

Here’s what I wrote in my journal. The passage from Mary Oliver’s poem follows.

It’s all so bittersweet – watching our children and grandchildren grow up – time taken from my life as their lives expand outward – and mine exhales, drawing energy inward – already dying. Maybe becoming elderly is about becoming expendable – moving over or moving on to make room for the next generations.

Mary Oliver says it well – most of our ‘lives’ we’re not even here – the great before and the ageless after of a flash in the darkness.

Tonight I’m weary, and my heart is letting me know it’s running out of steam. Yes, it’s late in the day. It’s also late in my life. Teach me to number my days. To love life, and relinquish what I can no longer carry.

I wonder how my highly sensitive self is figuring into my health as I age? I feel more reflective, and content to do nothing in particular except feel my feelings and rest my body and mind.

It was difficult to watch one granddaughter’s highly sensitive self yesterday as she spoke. I wanted to hug her and tell her how wonderful it is to have this awkward gift.

Here are the closing stanzas from Mary Oliver’s poem, “Hummingbird Pauses at the Trumpet Vine.” She’s urging us to pause and Look! Our time on this earth is short. Pay attention Now! to the hummingbird, the roses, the lilies floating in the black ponds….

Look! for most of the world
is waiting
or remembering—
most of the world is time

when we’re not here,
not born yet, or died—
a slow fire
under the earth with all

our dumb wild blind cousins
who also
can’t even remember anymore
their own happiness—

Look! and then we will be
like the pale cool
stones, that last almost
forever.

© Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Vol. One, pp 56-57
Published by Beacon Press (1992)

Tomorrow is commencement day. I’m getting ready by chilling out, breathing deeply, and taking in this beautiful weather before it disappears.

Happy Friday, and thanks for visiting!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 June 2019
Photo found at georgiawildlife.com

Overweight and unhappy

14 July 1958, Newton, Kansas. Grandpa and Grandma Renich, front row center with three daughters and a Great Aunt; my father in the middle on second row 

Overweight and unhappy
His bulk filled the back side
Of the old round kitchen table

Hour after hour he sat
A lonely figure staring silently
Or issuing ultimatums
Bushy eyebrows drawn together
Nowhere to go and little to offer
But weary leftovers
Of a grueling life plus
The occasional snarl
At young grandchildren

A memory from the early 1950s. I’m 7 years old. I’m in the kitchen of my paternal grandparents’ home in the Midwest. My parents dropped me off with Sister #2 while they drove with baby Sister #3 (Diane) to a conference in Philadelphia. When they returned, we continued our cross-country move from Los Angeles, California to Savannah, Georgia.

I’ll never forget how intimidated I felt around Grandpa Renich. He was given to frowning a lot and smiling seldom. He also took seriously his duty of administering punishment as needed, which he did at least once to Sister #2. I was happy I wasn’t going to live nearby.

Last night I watched a report on the growing rate of suicide among elderly men and women. For an alarming number, the feeling of being a leftover–old, forgotten and stale–becomes the dominant theme. Many also deal with debilitating chronic pain, loss of bodily functions, and illness. For some, this is worse than death itself. And so they opt to exit instead of waiting around for the inevitable.

My paternal grandfather wasn’t happy, and he didn’t take his life. Had he chosen to do so, I think I would understand now what I couldn’t understand back then.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 April 2019
First Renich Family Reunion Photo taken in Newton, Kansas

On listening to my father

My father’s shame, like mine, went back to his childhood. He endured family hardships as one child of many. These included things like carrying lard sandwiches to school and being ashamed to let classmates see him eating them; wearing winter ‘shoes’ made from pieces of old rubber and ropes; and living in fear of being shamed and beaten by his father.

Childhood shame became envy. One opportunity after another slipped through his fingers. He was a proud man, filled with deep-seated resentments. Then there were dreams he couldn’t give up even though they weren’t going to happen. On top of this, the older I became, the more difficult it was for him to celebrate my accomplishments.

In this slightly revised poem I’m inviting him to join me. I first wrote it about a poor woman in a portrait. I recognized myself in her. I know what it’s like to live with shame that feeds envy. I can’t change what happened between my father and me; I can, however, change the way my heart sees him today. I can also listen to him now in ways he couldn’t listen to me. Perhaps I might even weep with him.

Suffering from Obsessive Envy

I know this proud man
The look in his eyes
The slightly raised brow
The unsmiling mouth.

Heavy with envy,
His eyes keep sharp watch
Marking my own good fortune
As were it his loss.

Am I not entitled?
Do I not slave harder?
How dare she be happy
At my poor expense.

Dear father, I know you.
You cower in my heart;
Your anger, your silence,
Your pride, your fierce want.

Look at me if you dare
Look me straight in the eye
Describe your resentments,
The dreams you saw die.

Weep long if you must
For the life you have led;
Sit here on this bench
Let me wipe your tears dry.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 February 2019

My mother’s spirit

My mother’s spirit
Came calling last night
I saw her footprints
In this morning’s snow
Precise and measured
She passed quietly
Beneath my window
Step by small-hooved step
Down the driveway
Before crossing over
Into the woods beyond
Our house asleep
And dreaming

I think they were the prints of a red fox–which reminded me of my mother’s bright red coat. She would have loved the brilliant rainbow umbrella, and the fashionable leggings and boots.

The tracks down our driveway this morning told me I’m not alone. Neither are my three sisters, each of us with our own mother-daughter relationship to ponder. Mother Eileen died in mid-February 1999, twenty years ago, seven years before our sister Diane died of ALS in mid-February 2006.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 February 2019
Photo found at fiftiness.com

A Fond Farewell to 2018

Dear Friends,

The last two months I’ve been barely alive on my blog. That’s partly because D and I have gallivanted with family members almost nonstop.

In November we enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with our son, his wife and their three children. It was our last family meal in their big old house plus barn and meadow. We were surrounded by boxes waiting to be moved to their new house (minus barn and meadow). Not in the middle of nowhere, but in the middle of everything—with no big yard or outdoor animals to keep up.

Then we were off to Portland, Oregon for ten wonderful days with our daughter and her husband. It was our first visit to Oregon in over two years. I posted photos here. We did nothing but rest, talk, and eat good food plus some of the other stuff. Fabulous!

Then just before Christmas we spent Sunday in western Pennsylvania with David’s sister, her husband, two adult children, their spouses, a couple of grandchildren, and our son. Lots of good food, lively conversation and catching up with relatives we don’t often see.

Finally, back to our son and daughter-in-law’s new house on Christmas day with their three children, their second set of grandparents, two big dogs and two small cats. There were still boxes to be emptied, and everyone was feeling his/her way along. Nonetheless, they were excited about their new neighborhood and neighbors.

In addition, I talked on the phone with my two surviving sisters, and thought a lot about our sister Diane, and our Mother. I still tear up and grieve their lives and deaths. Both were in their last months during and after Christmas. I’m grateful for the opportunity to visit with them before they died. Mom in 1999; Diane in 2006.

Yet the bottom line isn’t morose. I’m more upbeat and less anxious now than I’ve been for the last few years. Hopeful about many things, but chiefly about my health and well-being, no matter what happens next.

For now, I’m grateful for the opportunity to write from my heart, and belong to the WordPress community. Thank you for all your visits, likes (or not), and comments.

Though things look bleak at the top (speaking of politics), it seems the best place to live is at the bottom. With love and acceptance, without malice, reflecting the light that entered our world at Christmas – one small flame at a time.

Happy New Year to you and yours!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 December 2018
Photo found at fpctyler.com

Winter Garden Photos from Portland

That lovely tub above is the secret sauce for Sherry and Scott’s backyard garden. It’s a worm hatchery. Not the little bucket at the front, but the great big tub. It’s teeming with hungry worms, scraps of food, paper, and anything else worms love to eat. Worm juice collected in the small bucket gets distributed as needed. Right now this is the only worm hatchery needed for the garden. The other two are now elegant planters for japonica and other outdoor plants.

Just beside the worm house are piles of firewood neatly stacked, ready for winter.

Back in the garden, Sherry and Scott are giving me the grand tour while D takes photos. It was bitter cold that day, with a fierce wind from the northwest. The bat boxes are new since we were last there.

So while we’re at it, here’s another garden-friendly house for insects that love to catch garden pests. It’s an old bird house renovated for insects using pieces of bamboo.

At the far end of the garden, under a row of trees and near the side street there’s a virtual habitat for small animals. Not just for winter cover and spring nests, but for food served up 24/7. It’s long, lovely, and barely visible from the street. Those are old apples, discarded bamboo and other ‘throw-away’ stuff in the photo below.

Beginning with the garden gate below, here are three favorites from around the back yard.

The mini-meadow below is in the back yard. It includes a bird house, plus meadow-plants that produce lots of pollen and seeds–to attract birds, bees and butterflies. Even though it’s winter, they’re still loaded with seeds.

And one more–just because I like it! This little oriental-style lantern sits on the ground just below the back porch.

Thanks again for stopping by. In some ways, it feels as though I’ve already had Christmas. Seeing Sherry and Scott is always a big deal. And yes, absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder. So right now I’m channeling all that fondness into thoughts about our next trip to Portland! And visits with other friends and family members to celebrate Christmas and the gift we are to each other.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 December 2018
Photos taken by DAFraser, December 2018

Farewell to Portland | Photos

Alas! All good things….and all that. Except for the photos, thanks to D. The holly tree above is from our daughter and her husband’s yard. We got home about midnight Saturday, and I’ve been jet-lagging until today. The weather was colder than toot, with pretty stiff wind most days.

No wandering in the arboretum, hikes through the forest, visits to the rose garden or day-trips into the Oregon wilderness. Instead, we relaxed, ate good food, listened to great music, and drank juice concoctions featuring fresh-picked kale and other healthy stuff like fresh ginger and apples. Below is a photo of kale that hasn’t stopped giving.

Just outside the kitchen sink window we could see a couple of bird feeders, including a hummingbird feeder. Here’s a tiny female Anna’s Hummingbird that hangs around every day, fending off all hummingbird intruders.

Our daughter and her husband have a screen-printing business, Olympic Screen Printing. I love this photo of some of her husband’s paint cans. A large, bright, cheery set of colors with which he works his magic. Click here to see examples of t-shirts they’ve printed over the years.

Below is a small pond designed and built by our son-in-law several years ago. It’s now fully functional, with its own ecosystem of water plants and water-loving insects and animals. In the second photo note the thin layer of ice on part of the surface. Another of D’s special impressionist water photos!

You might be wondering about the bamboo? They planted it several years ago when a construction crew came in and began putting up big-box housing with tiny back yards. Imagine going from a beautiful field around one house, to rows and rows of look-alike houses. The bamboo is now beginning to do its job–providing privacy as well as beauty.

Finally, here’s a look at one of their dozens of Japonica shrubs. Also planted a while back, up against the house and along some of the fencing.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to see so many of their plans and hard work now paying off. And yes, it was very hard to leave and come back home.

Smudge, of course, wasn’t exactly thrilled to see us come barging into the house in the middle of the night. After several days of scolding us for abandoning him, he seems to have calmed down. Actually, our son looked in on him faithfully and sent photos to reassure us that all was well.

Cheers,
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 December 2018
Portland photos taken by DAFraser, December 2018; Photos of Smudge taken by SEFraser, December 2018

Packing the easy way

Dear Friends,

No, I haven’t disappeared from the universe. I’m just deep into packing for a trip to visit our daughter and her husband. Sherry took the photo above. The magnolia came from a tree in their yard.

Here’s my old normal way of getting ready for a trip:

  • Update my trip checklist so I don’t get all frazzled
  • Start panicking about getting everything done before we leave
  • Keep doing whatever I normally do
  • Reassure myself that the checklist is really half the work
  • Stay up most of the night before the trip — frazzled
  • Sleep several hours and then get up in panic mode
  • Stuff the last thing in at the last moment
  • Holler for D to sit on the suitcase and help get it closed
  • Leave the house frantic about what I might have forgotten to do or pack

No, I am not one of those frequent travelers who always has a small, compact carry-on and a plan for minimal packing. There are reasons, of course, for my lack of this gift, but I won’t bore you with the details.

So my new normal (assuming I have other opportunities for travel) kicked in the day after my birthday. So far, so good, even though it’s taking a lot of discipline to stay away from my computer and you!

The upside is that I’m not yet freaking out, and might even make it to the front door with time to spare.

I’m taking my laptop (of course!), and won’t make any promises about posting while we’re away. However, photos might be fun to put up. So we’ll see what happens.

Thanksgiving was bitter-sweet for us. We had dinner with our son, daughter-in-law, granddaughters and grandson. Plus their two big dogs and two small cats. They’re planning to move in the coming year. Not sure when, but it was our last Thanksgiving dinner in the old house they moved into shortly after the girls were born.

Thank you for your many good wishes and notes about my birthday. We had a quiet day at home. Neither of us is what you’d call a party animal. Instead, we love quiet days at home, which this time included playing the piano and going for a walk. Plus reading pertinent and impertinent birthday cards. Actually, more than one of them gave me happy tears.

Cheers!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 November 2018
Photo taken by Sherry Fraser Seckington, June 2015

My Mother’s Depression

My mother’s depression
Is not my depression

It doesn’t belong to me
Nor did I invite it in to stay
Yet it lives in me now and again
A link to this woman who bore me

Deftly intertwined it moves
As though it were mine
A weight I bear unbidden
My lot in this half-life

What would it be like
To let it go as an alien?
To visit without falling into the pit?
To understand it from her point of view?

I’ve been turning things like this over in my mind and heart for the last week. The insight isn’t mine. It’s a gift from a friend who has walked with me for several decades.

‘My’ depression isn’t mine. Yes, it’s real and present. Yet it was and still is my mother’s deep depression, fed by my father’s behavior toward her and toward me.  The sad price of being a gifted white woman in post-depression (ironic) and post-World War II life in the USA.

Held back, kept in check, insanely busy with housework and babies, submissive preacher’s wife, versatile church musician without a pay check, resourceful volunteer ever ready to help others in return for nothing, cheery and even-tempered, industrious and persistent, she held it all together in her bent and broken body.

Uncomplaining, weary, in pain 24/7 and depressed. Sometimes crying herself to sleep. Other times waking with horrifying cramps.

My heart goes out to her today in ways it couldn’t years ago.

Yet I can’t accept her depression as my depression. It isn’t mine. This one insight invites me to stay connected to her reality without making it my reality. I can only breathe my air, not hers.

These days it seems ever more acceptable to trash women of all colors and make them into problems they are not. In response, I want to do justice to the woman my mother was while showing mercy to her as the woman she could not be or become.

She was not the problem then, just as I am not the problem now.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 November 2018
Book cover photo found at bookdepository.com

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