Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Memories

Our 9/11/1965 Wedding Anniversary

Saturday, 9/11/2021, is our 56th wedding anniversary. Tomorrow we’re taking off for Longwood Gardens to celebrate. Most of the news will be focused on what happened 20 years ago, and the way our nation has changed since then.

So what about 56 years of marriage? When D and I married in 1965, we inherited challenges we didn’t see coming. For my part, I thought all my problems, if I had any, would magically fade away. Instead, it took years to recognize how handicapped I was on our wedding day. Here’s a look at some of what it took for me to address habits and assumptions I brought into our marriage.

  • Admitting I needed help with depression, and connecting with trustworthy people such as Al-Anon friends and my psychotherapist, beginning in my mid to late 40s
  • Telling D things I didn’t want to talk about because I felt embarrassment, shame or humiliation
  • Listening to D without jumping in to have my say before he finishes what he has to say
  • Overcoming my fear of being female in a male-dominated world–without making D the enemy
  • Talking about painful mistakes and starting over with small steps, one at a time
  • Learning to accept and live with health issues I didn’t see coming
  • Letting D sometimes do things I’ve usually done for myself, but don’t now have energy to accomplish
  • Accepting less than perfection in housecleaning and keeping to a schedule
  • Taking time to get away from our house via walks in the neighborhood, visits to Longwood Gardens, church as we’re able, and back yard conversations with neighbors
  • Spending time together each evening with Smudge snoozing on our laps

Today my bottom line is still the same as ever: Marriage takes hard work and willingness to die. Not physical death, but dying to my dreams for us, my way of seeing D’s world, my brilliant ideas….and finding there’s hope in creatively rethinking together our daily or long-term challenges. Especially now, 20 years after the 9/11 attack, and just 2 years into Covid nightmares, weather-related upheavals, and a breakdown of goodwill.

Thanks for your visit today! Each moment of today is a precious opportunity to reach out to those we love.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 September 2021
Photo of two lovely couples taken 11 September 1965 in the church basement following our double wedding ceremony in Savannah, Georgia. Sister #2 is on the left with her husband (now deceased).

I go down to the shore | Mary Oliver

Vernon River and Marshland, Georgia, USA

This short poem by Mary Oliver has been haunting me for over a week. My comments follow.

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall—
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings, p. 1
© 2012 by NW Orchard, LLC
First published by Penguin Press 2012

Compact. To the point. No nonsense. Nothing but truth.

That’s how I want to be. Not just in my writing, but in my ability to ‘hear’ what the sea and the sky, trees and birds, clouds and thunder are saying with their busy, if not always lovely work.

The last few months have offered several opportunities to say with Mary, “Oh, I am miserable.” Or better, “Growing older is much more daunting than I dreamed it would be.” Right now I’m inundated with forms to fill out for an appointment with a new doctor next week.

It would be nice to have a shore close by, with the sea “rolling in or moving out.” Or even the Vernon River of my childhood with its 24-hour cycle of ebb and flow.

On the other hand, every morning when I go down to our kitchen I’m greeted by birds, squirrels, chipmunks, flowering shrubs, trees, clouds, wind, rain or sunshine — all with work to do. Whether I feel like working or not. Whether I’m happy or not. Whether the sun is shining or not.

Thanks for stopping by today. And dare I say, in my lovely seashore voice, of course: “Excuse me, I have work to do.”

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 September 2021
Photo of the Vernon River and Marshland found at ogeecheeriverkeeper.org

What makes your heart sing?

On the edge of sanity
my heart skips a beat
uncertain whether to
laugh or cry or fade out
of sight without so much
as a farewell or a hug

Looking around I wonder
why I’m still here after
a lifetime of trying to prove
I’m not a failure or a witch
wanting to poison anyone
intent on taking me down

I no longer believe old lies
about the meaning of life
and who gets to decide
who or what is worthwhile
as too many of us lurch along
drunk with our own goodness

All my life I’ve held tightly to this mantra: “Whatever you do, Elouise, do it well and do it with all your heart, mind and body.”

Rarely did anyone ask me what I wanted to do, what I most enjoyed about life, or what dreams I might have for myself. To attend to what I loved was often seen as selfish.

Instead, the mantra was always about responsibility, showing up, and persevering until the job was done. It seemed sensible, sane, and part of what I could offer, even after retirement.

This past week, in conversation with a longtime friend, I finally got it straight. At this age, I am NOT responsible for most, if not all the things (files and academic records) I thought I needed to hang onto. It’s time to let them go, with thanks to shredders.

Besides life with D and my volunteer work, I love playing the piano, writing, reading, watching birds in the back yard, and looking through old cards, notes and pictures from long ago.

Praying for this tired old world, and opportunities to reach out as I’m able. Plus commitment to things I love. They aren’t distractions from the real work. They’re the main agenda.

What makes your heart sing? Thanks for stopping by!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 August 2021
Tufted Titmouse photo found at thebirdnature.com

Facing an end-of-life avalanche

For friends and strangers
Or any human being
Facing an end-of-life avalanche –
One step at a time
Seems far too small and
Way too late

The uneven beauty of years
Rises from ashes to haunt
And perplex mind and soul
Searching for nothing more
Than rest from this accumulation
Of daily toil interrupted by
Reminders of the past
With its strange stew
Of brilliance and horror

Sorting through outdated files
I follow my cautious steps
Through mine fields and
Unexpected mountain tops
That fail to convey the full
Truth of any moment
Heavy with the perplexities
Of life and friendship as well as
Camouflaged frenemies
Waiting in the wings for
My demise or my glory

How mixed up we all are
On this planet of painful turmoil
And disappointments stirred
Into a pot of sometimes rancid
Stew or on that rare occasion
A table set with the finest
Wine known to human beings
Huddled in our offices hoping
For a visit from glory without
Death and without regret

For friends and strangers
Or any human being
Facing an end-of-life avalanche –
One step at a time
Seems far too small and
Way too late

A few weeks ago D and I began tackling the most difficult sorting-out project of our lives. It’s one thing to move into a house and get things in order.

Now, however, we’re immersed in divesting ourselves of collections of various kinds. We’ve stored them away fairly neatly for nearly 40 years. Think of academic files, picture files, books, CDs, and items from parents and other family members no longer with us. What I don’t understand is why, though we’ve already given away thousands of books, it feels as though we haven’t even scratched the surface.

Then there are academic files going back to college, seminary, university, teaching and administration years. I’m getting better at letting things go. Still, I can’t help feeling sad, especially when I come across notes from friends with whom I once studied or worked.

Thanks for stopping by!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 August 2021
Image found at journeytowardsimple.com

Birdsong and Neighbors

Troubled in spirit
Torn between past joys
And today’s necessities
I set out on a walk
Alone and anxious
About many things

Unhinged and disconnected
From realities beyond my control
I wonder what will become
Of us in this world of sorrow
Quickly descending into
A mammoth muddle

The sound of my feet hitting
The pavement reminds me
To take one step at a time
Not tomorrow but today
While I’m alive and reasonably sane
Before this life comes to an end

I hear her voice before I see her
My neighbor a few doors down
Followed by a honk and a wave
From my next-door neighbor
Just getting home after night shift
At a city hospital filled with pain

The birds are singing out their
Morning chorus wake-up calls
From tops of trees and thick
Shrubs lining the road home
Past the church cemetery and
The weeping beech hanging low

How are you feeling today? I’m feeling swamped and somewhat trapped by files, piles, books, letters and cards I conveniently tucked away for later.

Problem #1: Later is Now.

Problem #2: Even though I’ve divested myself of more files and piles than I can remember, they now seem to have had babies while I wasn’t looking. I am not prepared for this.

Problem #3: How will I maintain my sanity and good nature in the middle of all this muddle?

No, I’m not in despair. I do, however, sometimes fancy an early morning walk, along with time to play the piano when my heart says “Play!” The alternative is not an option.

Praying for courage to do what I can each day, and let the rest go. Life is short.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 August 2021
Photo found at treehugger.com

Summer 2021 Update for My Friends

Dear Friends,

I’m taking several days off from regular posting. Weariness has caught up with me, and I’m grateful to be seeing my integrative doctor tomorrow. Nothing horrible, though the nagging reality of diminishing energy is no fun. Especially in this Summer’s heat.

Yesterday D and I spent time visiting with a neighbor and one of his friends. We sat outside on the patio next to his lovely garden and had a lively conversation. It made me realize once again how fragile life is, and how much each connection and communication matters.

As for the work I need to do, it’s almost all in my office, crying out for attention. I’ve already gone through quite a bit, sometimes tearing up as I read old notes from family members, students, colleagues and friends. A few days ago I uncovered yet another neatly organized box of letters and photos. I’m astonished at how much I’ve kept and almost forgotten.

So now it’s down to what I’ll keep, what I’ll get rid of, and what our children and grandchildren might want to see or have.

From another perspective, it’s down to how many times I’m going to pause to rejoice, lament, or read. Though I don’t tend to cling to the past, it seems I’ve let it cling to me. Perhaps because I knew I wouldn’t adequately appreciate it until now.

On a lighter note, we’re watching a brave patch of sunflowers growing in our back yard. Remnants left behind from the large bird feeder we put out this past winter. Yesterday I saw the first bits of yellow petals beginning to unfold. It looks like we might have 7 flowers in all, thanks to the kindness of winter birds dropping sunflower seeds (among other things) in the snow! According to the chart above and their current height, I think they’re Giant Singles (about 5 feet high).

Cheers and prayers for all of us as we make our way through this rapidly changing world.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 July 2021
Photo found at thegardeningcook.com

Chart found at pinterest.com

On My Mother’s Table | Memories

Photo taken in 1948, before Mother came down with polio in 1949
Ruth, Elouise, Dad, Mother, and Grandpa Gury

I’m reposting this in honor of my mother, Eileen Gury Renich, born 12 July 1921.
I often wonder what she would have been like without polio or the pain of her childhood.
It colored everything that happened in my life.

A graceful old table
With fold-down wings
On each side and
Beautiful scrolling
Along the edges
Sits there in the kitchen
Small and old with just enough
Room to turn around

A small pantry hides beneath
stairs to the second floor
A window looks out
Above the small porcelain sink
With ridged sideboard

A small walk-through kitchen
With four doors
Impossible to miss stands
Ready and quick to reach

There on the table they sit
In their permanent space
Neatly arranged on a medium-size
Round tray never messy always tidy
Kept just next to the short wall
Out of the way not in your face
Part of the scenery
Normal things needed daily in
My Mother’s kitchen

Salt and pepper
A sugar bowl and bottle of creamer
Instant coffee and paper napkins
Or were they paper towels
I’m not quite sure
Vitamins and minerals
Aspirin and toothpicks
Small round Rx bottles neatly arranged
At least a dozen sometimes more
Coming and going as needed
New and old as prescribed
One on top of the other
For the latest pain or muscle discomfort
Carefully labeled and marked with her name
Mother’s name only not anyone else’s
Her cafeteria of pain-killers and relaxants
Old friends from polio days plus
New friends added to her
Growing collection of pills or
Were they drugs from
Multiple doctors with multiple solutions

A potent mix of ingredients
For multiple ailments in multiple periods
Of her pain-ridden sleep-deprived life
Sit neatly on the table
Ready at a moment’s notice
Would you please bring me
My phenobarbital and a cup of coffee?
Caffeine and barby doll her friends for life
But at what cost?
Drugs free from a friend’s prescription shop
But at what cost?

* * *

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 July 2015, edited and reposted 12 July 2021,
the anniversary of my Mother’s birth (12 July 1921 – 17 Feb. 1999)

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 July 2021
Tourist photo taken in 1948

Something about fireworks

Coming up for air
My eardrums breathe
A sigh of relief

Something about fireworks
Doesn’t sit well with
my wondering soul

Why this grand
Display of pseudo-bombs
Bursting in air?

Sound-echoes of death
To enemies and the weak
Linger in putrid air

Turning the corner
I make my way home
In deepening shadows

It was fun when I was a child in the 1940s and 50s. Nothing more dangerous than fire crackers and sparklers. Usually purchased from a temporary ‘store’ on the side of the road, and enjoyed in our back yard.

I also remember growing anxiety about safety, and the fight within each state over whether to allow unlicensed firework stands to set up temporary operations. Usually this happened around New Year’s Eve, and July 4. If you couldn’t purchase fireworks legally, you could cross over into the next friendly state and find more than enough to go around.

Only when D and I moved to Pasadena, California in the early 1970s did we see a proper July 4 fireworks display. It was in the Rose Bowl. The best seat in the house wasn’t in the stands. It was up high on a ridge overlooking the Bowl. More than enough to awe any child or adult.

Given the current state of our disunion, however, I find the sound of huge fireworks displays disturbing. I can’t help thinking about guns fired too frequently every night of the year, and the trauma this creates.

I also can’t help noticing the bravado that sometimes emerges from adults and young people when engaged in these activities. Is this entertainment, or a way of signifying who we think we are or should become?

I don’t lose sleep about this. Nonetheless, I wonder about the impact and imprint of what feels more and more like a troubling display of misplaced or misdirected patriotism.

Praying your week brings joy and opportunities to connect with family and neighbors.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 July 2021
1940s and 50s Fireworks Stand photo found at pinterest.com

Glory Falls | Maya Angelou

Here we are, near the eve of July 4. Though it’s a day to be proud of our nation, so much has gone so wrong. My comments follow Maya Angelou’s poem.

Glory falls around us
as we sob
a dirge of
desolation on the Cross
and hatred is the ballast of
the rock
      which lies upon our necks
      and underfoot.
We have woven
      robes of silk
      and clothed our nakedness
      with tapestry.
From crawling on this
      murky planet’s floor
      we soar beyond the
      birds and
      through the clouds
      and edge our way from hate
      and blind despair and
      bring honor
      to our brothers, and to our sisters cheer.
We grow despite the
      horror that we feed
      upon our own
      tomorrow.
We grow.

Maya Angelou, poet; found in Sterling’s Poetry for Young People series, page 47.
Published in 2013 by Sterling Children’s Books, New York, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Editorial material © 2007 by Edwin Graves Wilson; Illustrations © 2007 by Jerome Lagarrigue|

I’m reminded of John Stainer’s heart-rending chorus from The Crucifixion, with its invitation to pay attention to ‘the king of grief’ instead of simply passing by.

From the throne of his cross
the king of grief cries out to a world of unbelief,
‘Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by?’

It’s one thing to celebrate the insight, agony and beauty of Maya Angelou’s poem. It another to understand that most white people in the USA would prefer to walk on by and try to get on with their lives.

A few weeks ago a friend from seminary days recommended a new book. It’s helping me understand our current impasse here in the USA. It’s written by Drick Boyd, and is titled Disrupting Whiteness: Talking with White People about Racism.

The main point? It’s time for white people to start talking with each other about our individual and collective racism. What are our earliest memories about racism? What forms does racism take? When did we start assuming most white people are superior beings? How do we give up what feels ‘normal’ but is not? How can we support each other for the long haul?

As James Baldwin pointed out in The Fire Next Time (pp. 21-22):

White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this—which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never—the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.

Thanks for stopping by.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 July 2021
Photo of Maya Angelou found at usatoday.com
Book covers found at amazon.com

impressions of yesterday

1963 Aug Elouise Double Exposure flipped

A bit of nostalgia. We visited our son’s family yesterday for the first time since pre-Covid social distancing. This morning I couldn’t help thinking about this photo. It still makes me smile! Can you see D’s smiling face on my cheek? 

impressions of yesterday
captured by accident
a remarkable mistake
turned into a keepsake
hopes and dreams
yet to be realized
outer signs of internal graces
made strong through
the tempering heat
of life lived wide awake
in person and together
the beauty of two souls
bound together in one image

The photo was taken by a friend. We were at Tybee Island Beach near Savannah, Georgia. D had just taken the photo of me with the old roller rink in the background. He forgot to advance the film before our friend took a photo of us together. So we ended up with this dream-like double exposure.

The day was momentous. This was only minutes before D proposed to me as we walked down the beach. If it had been today, I might have proposed to him many months earlier. But that was then—August 1963, weeks before D left for the West Coast, and a year before I graduated from college. I was almost 20 years old.

Don’t miss the prices on the side of the pavilion. You can have a good laugh at how ‘cheap’ things were back then. The pavilion, with its roller rink, is long gone—doomed because of building code upgrades. A good thing, yet looking at this double exposure makes me long a bit for the good old days.

Impressions only? I don’t think so. Memories are dear, and now make up the majority of my lived world. They also capture reality—along with a healthy dose of nostalgia.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 May 2017, reposted 7 June 2021
Double exposure taken by DAF and a friend, Aug 1963

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