Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Wishes Fulfilled: Repairing and Expanding the Tapestry We Call Life

Many times over the past few years, my niece, Rebecca, and I have lamented the fact that our already small family has shrunk even more.     We discuss this because when we have a "family gathering" we literally can rent one house with maybe 5 or 6 bedrooms and that seems to be enough to contain our immediate (non-extended) family.     As people close to us have died, we are reminded once again that  "we're all we've got".      Rebecca and I have said that so much to each other it has almost become a joke.

And yet there is some sad irony in that because we do have a few extended family members that are "out there" somewhere scattered across the country.    I have an inkling where to find some of them but others are well beyond the scope of my limited sleuthing abilities.     Over the years we've had contact with a few cousins from my mother's side of the family and one very short lived contact with a cousin from my dad's side.    Beyond that, I didn't have a clue where to look for anyone else whose name I could bring up.   Then out of the blue someone found ME.    

As some of you know, I have a kind of love-hate relationship with Facebook.    On the one hand it provides almost immediate (and sometimes REAL TIME) access to things my grandchildren are doing.   Comments with my daughter-in-law regarding "what's for dinner" bounce back and forth across cyberspace in the blink of an eye.   That's the part that is fun and makes me go back to FB several times a day.     The not so nice side of FB is that the site can and does do weird things occasionally like completely change the look of the  page that allegedly is "yours".    They also apparently can gather lots of random bits and pieces about your life that they can do with as they please.     And furthermore, if you're not careful with your settings, you can put yourself out on the internet for lots and lots of unwelcome attention.     So while my love affair is sometimes tepid, I have entered this relationship with a degree of caution.  

So having said that, Facebook is also the great connector of people from our past.     The long and difficult task of digging up people who were classmates, room mates, co-workers, fraternity brothers, neighbors, former ministers and yes, even family members has become much less of a chore.     One can literally type in a name and voila!    You will be pleasantly surprised to get a long list of people by that name.    If you're lucky, you might get a location to go with that name.    And with all the stars lined up, you might get a way to contact that person to see if they are, indeed, the person you are seeking.   

Imagine my surprise when a couple of weeks ago I happened to catch (almost out of the corner of my eye) a message on my FB page that said someone had sent me a message.    The name was instantly recognizable as one of my cousins on my dad's side of the family.     I quickly clicked on the link and to my amazement, she was reaching out to me and was  interested in re-establishing our connection as relatives.     I responded to her request with surprise and delight at this turn of events because suddenly, with no effort on my part, those wispy bonds of connection became a little bit firmer and visible.

We exchanged a flurry of messages back and forth and finally got each other's email address and we have been exchanging family stories, legend and lore, history and chronicles of our lives from when we last were even in the same room together.     So much time has passed and we each have almost a lifetime of events to exchange.    The last time we had a conversation, her son was a baby, my son was  in early grade school.     She has moved numerous times, as I have, too.     Her life has had drama and complications.   Mine has, as well.   There has been much joy for each of us, along with the sorrow and tragedy.   Like all lives, we've had a mix of bitter and sweet.     And we have only begun to do the catching up that we want to do. 

Why am I writing about this today?    The reason is partly because the reconnection with Cindy is a wish fulfilled for me.   I have thought long and hard about the lack of information to my family history.     Rebecca and I have discussed this endlessly about how the people who could answer so many questions we have are now gone.   We have found bits and pieces of our past but have had no one who could fill in a few details.     Having Cindy's information and perspective on what she remembers is like opening up a diary and finding out what a key family member thought.    She is privy to knowledge passed on to her by her father and her personal experiences with our grandmother and aunt.    The good news she is willing to share what she remembers.

She also has photographs of family members that I have wished a thousand times I had and could not find to save my life.    She told me yesterday that she is sending an album and some loose pictures to me that will be in here in a day or two.   To me, photographs are like a window back in time and I can hardly wait to see what I find.     One of the tasks is to try to identify who some of the people are in the pictures.    A bigger goal, one that I have already started envisioning, is a photobook with some of the pictures combined with some of the ones I have and stories that go along with the photographs.    Cindy and I have exchanged some of the family stories and we both have said that there are more.  I want some of them preserved for my grandchildren and for hers.     

There is one more reason for writing about this that I want to state clearly and plainly to Cindy and others who read this.      Having a connection back to my past has helped fill a kind of empty place in my heart.     It was not anything that I acknowledged but since reconnecting with Cindy, I have noticed that the feeling has receded just a little.     It was a feeling akin to loneliness and perhaps sadness that exists when the usual things that are found there are in such short supply.  

Our lives are like a tapestry woven together with many connections and events across time.    When you rediscover a thread that was there and then dropped out, it helps repair that tapestry to be stronger and, yes, prettier, when that thread is rewoven back into the whole of the piece.    I truly want to thank Cindy for making the effort to find me and other family members.     That empty spot in my heart has shrunk a little bit or more accurately has started to fill in with the knowledge that some  of my extended family connections that I thought were gone really are alive and well.     It feels good to know that we have a slightly bigger family than we did a few weeks ago and that together we're still here for each other, still able to recall the names and the faces of those who went before us.     It makes me feel good to know this and I hope it did the same for her!  

Happy Trails,


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Listen Up, People! Fall Is Coming!

Alright, I know by the calendar, we're still several more weeks away from the official arrival of fall.  And where I live, even if the calendar says so, doesn't MAKE it so!   So how, you might ask, how can I be so sure that fall really is  a comin'.     

Well, yesterday when Larry brought in the mail, he brought with him proof positive that Fall 2012 is right around the corner.     He casually tossed the pile of mail in my chair, but I knew as soon as I scanned that pile that it was true.   There amongst the pamphlets from Holland America tempting me with another cruise, the newsletter from our local Food Bank, a free offer from American Express for an appointment book and desk set was all the proof I needed to set my heart aflutter!    Yes, it was the Early Fall 2012 Edition of the Blair catalog!   

I was so thrilled to have this wonderful piece of news come tumbling out of my mail box, that I set it aside temporarily until I could really examine it's pages, gaze upon the turtlenecks, corduroy pants, fleece jackets and demi-boots offered for sale. And with FREE SHIPPING yet! Pinch me, I'm dreaming!  You see, nothing announces the arrival of fall to me like the fall fashions that immediately transports us out of the tee shirts and shorts of summer, the neon and pastel shades better suited to 99 degree days and straight into the bluer skies and crisper air that is only experienced in the fall.  

When people are asked what their favorite season is, invariably, they will tell you it is either the spring or the fall.   Oh, I guess there are probably a few die-hards out there who actually LIKE the summer or prefer the winter.    But do we look for signs of either of these seasons?   Not really.    The ones we look for, hope for and long for are spring and fall.    We look eagerly for the first robins of spring.   Those first few shoots of green or dandelions in the lawn.    And for fall, well, we eagerly anticipate the first cool days, the smell of burning oak or hickory and yes, even something so simple, and yet predictive, as a catalog in the mail box.    

I ask myself why do I love the fall so much?    By rights I could really not like it.    For it was on a bright, crisp fall day in November 1967, one day after my 18th birthday that we buried my father.    I still remember the dress I wore that day, the surreal way everything felt and looked.   I actually thought for a minute that day that time stood still and that we'd be standing in that cemetery forever right there with him.     I never imagined that my life and the life of  my family would move on to have the experiences both good and bad that would come our way.   

And so I look up today and realize how much time has passed by, how far away that place is where he is buried, both in miles and in memory.    It is that knowledge why I love the fall so much.     It reminds me of the passage of time, the never ending flow to life.     Time, as they say, marches on.    The fall urges me to reflect, to recount the good times, as well as the bad.   It calls me to account with what I've done with my life because the chapter I am in is about to close and another will begin shortly.    

More important, however, than just reflecting and reminiscing, I think the fall is our opportunity to renew our commitment to life.   It is our chance, one last chance before this year is done, to realign our priorities and try one more time to get things right.    Life is a struggle for every one of us.    None of us has the answer to every question and what I find that works for me may not be right for someone else. I guess the important thing to remember is that it is our journey that matters, our attempts to figure out the big questions that should be guide posts.     When I anticipate the arrival of fall, I look with eagerness to the opportunity to make closing arguments for this chapter, while jotting down the opening remarks for the next one to follow.

I hope you find the time this fall to reflect on your year and the things you've done to make your story count.     If you find that somehow, you just didn't quite make it go the way you intended, that is the beauty of the fall.  It's the time to plan, to think, to dream.    

I have a bag of mulling spices ready to make a steaming mug of cider, my order to that catalog will be on its way soon.     I'm watching for those first hints of turning leaves and the smell of wood burning in a fireplace.    And soon, very soon, I'll be pondering what it means to be alive and living in such interesting and amazing times.    I'll be examining my life and figuring out what comes next.    Hope you get to do the same!

Happy Fall (It's coming.   It really is.)


Monday, September 3, 2012

Working for a Living: A long tradition of labor

When I was a little girl and we would go to Memphis to see my grandparents, I couldn't help but notice a heavy, metal doorstop in my paternal grandmother's home.    It was shaped like a sailing ship, painted bright gold.  The story I was always told about it was that it was made by my grandfather because his occupation was iron molder.    

I never knew my paternal grandfather, William M. Treadway,  and just heard stories about "Pop" from my own father and Uncle Bill about their dad.   He was a hard drinking, hard working man from all the accounts I ever heard.    One of the more memorable stories my Grandmother told me was that when she was only 15 years old, Pop and one of his working buddies passed by her house, saw her sitting on the front porch  and declared then and there that he was going to marry her some day.    Never mind the fact that they had never even met formally.    And yes, they did marry---eloped a short time after that.   
Lura Grey Treadway, GrannyT.  2nd from Left, Top Row
Annie Gorley Treadway, Pop's Mother, 2nd from Right, Top Row
William Gorley Treadway "Pop"  Far Right, Bottom Row
Watermelon Time 1904

For a while Pop worked on the railroad out west and Granny worked as a cook for Pop and his fellow workers.     They tried to homestead in Colorado but eventually that was a dream they abandoned to return to Memphis.      Pop was employed as an iron molder and from all the stories I've been told about him he was a hard worker until his untimely death at age fifty-six  in 1941.  
Since I never knew him except in some really old, faded photographs and family legend and lore, I can only imagine what he was like and what his hard working hands must have looked like.   Given the nature of his work, I see large, calloused hands, dirt embedded in his fingers that no amount of scrubbing could ever completely remove.    He wore a working man's clothing, probably dungarees and a heavy shirt of some kind to help protect against the hot cinders that were probably part of his every day work place.    Heavy lines marked his face from constant exposure to heat and fumes from the work he did.    He worked long before there was such a thing as OSHA or EPA and workmen in those days were frequently exposed to hazards that would surely be outlawed today for their protection.   
And as I sat thinking about him on this Labor Day 2012, it made me think of all the other people in my family who worked hard, labored in difficult, sometimes dangerous jobs.    A few were able to benefit from higher education and went into fields like education and became teachers, nurses and worked in management, like my father did.   My maternal grandfather worked for the phone company stringing telephone line that came to a spectacular end when he was electrocuted, thrown from the pole and spent 180 days in a hospital recovering from injuries to nearly every bone in his body.    He later worked for the Memphis Police Department in dispatch.     My grandmother's brother,  C. W.  "Red" Gardner was in the military through several wars and eventually worked for the Memphis Fire Department.    My Uncle Charlie worked for the Illinois Central Rail Road, starting out at age 15 and eventually becoming an engineer on the IC line.  My mother fulfilled a life long dream of becoming a nurse by returning to school and was a Registered Nurse.   Her last position was with the Veteran's Adminstration caring for aged veterans who needed a caring heart and kind word in their final years.   They, too, provided a different kind of labor for our nation, but one that is much appreciated and lauded on other holidays throughout our year.    
Granny Treadway was widowed in 1941 and had to supplement her income, but with no education or training, she did the only thing she really knew how to do.  She went to work for a department store in Memphis doing alterations.   Her daughter, Blanche, worked for S.C. Toof and Company, commercial printers.   I can still remember her hands that were permanently stained with black printer's ink and the finger cot she wore on one finger to help when she thumbed through stacks of papers.     One brother worked for the newspaper, the Press-Scimitar in Memphis, as a proof reader and another worked in Washington DC for the Congressional Record in the printing division.    A younger brother went into Musical Ministry and served many churches through out his career.    

And so it is that I look back at a long line of hard working men and women who worked at a time when there were few laws protecting them from injury and getting a good wage was fraught with difficulties, too.     Some of these people were union members, others were not.    Without question, all were people who knew the meaning of work and didn't shy away from hard labor.    They helped build this country we live in today and I look with pride back on their contribution whether it was working in hot, dirty jobs , walking up and down the corridors of a hospital or crusading for higher wages and better benefits for the working people across the United States.   

Today is Labor Day.  It has become a day to drag out the bar-b-que grill and ice down some drinks, make potato salad and relax on the patio.   It is often a day off for those who are employed in all the various occupations that it takes to make our country function.  Let us not forget that it is our kinfolk that built the workforce of yesteryear and the workers of today who build the cars, deliver the mail, teach the young, care for the sick and pave our roads.  It will be the generation growing up now that will move this country on  through the 21st century and into the next.  

We owe our gratitude to those who came before us and made it possible for many of us to have a better standard of living and hope for a better life style.   While you're grilling those burgers and eating that potato salad, please take a few moments to remember your heritage and the people who brought us  this far and thank the ones who are going to take us forward for many more years. 

Happy Labor Day 2012!   (A proud American tradition since 1882)

Happy Trails,


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Music: Can You Name That Tune in Three Notes?

Ok, I admit it.    I am sentimental and sometimes cry about stuff for no good reason.    Or at least one that is not obvious to me right off the bat.    So the other night when I was reading one of the blogs I follow, I saw a link to a song from my past.    It was Arlo Guthrie singing " The City of New Orleans".    Someone else had commented that when they went to the link and watched it they cried.   And I thought, "Yea, I bet you did."   Then I clicked on the link and was barely into the Youtube video when I found myself singing along and crying like I was two years old.   

Yep, it happened to me, too.   And that made me start thinking and you know what a dangerous thing that can be.   Oh, but I kid about that, because actually I am a big advocate of thinking.   It can lead you in directions you never knew you'd go, but hey, it IS what is supposed to separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom, right?  (Although I have seen and read some things lately that are making me begin to wonder and doubt the common wisdom on THAT.    But that's for another blog post, not this one.)    

So as I was sitting there singing and crying, it occurred to me that music is such a powerful force in our lives and that if there is something universal in this world, it is the power of music to touch us, inspire us and maybe even make us better human beings.    Well, I might be hoping for too much on that last thing, but for sure, music does touch us and activates parts of our brain that maybe we aren't even aware we have.     Back before I retired, I used to read a lot of stuff regarding the brain since it directly applied to my line of work.   And if there is anything that came out of all that reading, it is that there is so much more to learn about our brain.....we've only begun to scratch the surface of what there is to know about it.   It truly is a vast frontier of the unexplored, but hopefully knowable, essence of what makes us human.   

As I read and began to have a greater appreciation for our brain,  it became very clear to me that there are forces around us that make us act and think in certain ways.   And one of those is music.     The very act of listening to a familiar song can evoke such powerful memories or feelings that one could almost burst with sheer joy or sob uncontrollably for being reminded of something bygone and faded into the mists of time.     Likewise, the act of creating or playing music can be such a healing and life changing thing that the urge to do this often starts at a very early age.    

I can't help but think of my oldest grandson, Gavin.    When he was a wee tike, who had to have help to get up on the piano bench, he would sit up there, bouncing up and down, moving his hands up and down the keys, pretending to be playing the piano.    He had a certain movement in his shoulders that indicated he had a clear vision of how one moves when performing at the piano.    We often laughed at his cute attempts to play the piano, little realizing that in a few short years, he would keep that desire to make music alive by taking, first, guitar lessons and then moving on
to learn how to play the piano.  Today he is a budding performer who entertains us at family gatherings,   inspires people at his church and like most teenagers, has dreams of taking his skills to the professional stage some day.   I hope he succeeds because making music is so important to him and I know one of his greatest desires is to share his gifts and talents by writing and performing music.   

Another story about the power of music was related to me by Larry.    A few years ago he volunteered with a group of people who went to nursing homes and facilities who care for severely disabled adults.    Many of these people live a life that most of us could never imagine.     And we're pretty good at hiding these people, not because we're cruel or indifferent to their plight, but because it is painful and difficult to see the hand that they were dealt and not wonder if life has some unexpected surprises for us, too.    So this group of volunteers would try to overcome their own reluctance to see a side to life that some would avoid to try to bring a little joy and fun into the lives of the people who lived in the home.       Many were wheelchair bound with ailments that rendered them incapable of walking.    Some had brains that were horrendously malformed so that there was little or no hope of anything close to normal functioning.     Some were just really old and dementia had taken its toll on their minds.      A sad group of life's survivors to be sure.    

Well, having strung you along to this sad place, I need to turn to what happened next.   And this is where a little miracle took place that should make you never doubt the power of music to transform a life, if only for a short while.     With their canned music and portable keyboard, Larry and that small group of singers began to sing a familiar hymn.     It doesn't matter what it was.   It could have been The Old Rugged Cross or Down by the Riverside.   No matter.   It's what happened when one little lady in particular heard the notes drift her way.     There she was on a type of gurney, sprawled backward, staring up at the ceiling, no recognition on her face or in her eyes that she even knew where she was or that there was even anyone else in that room with her.    And then.....all of sudden, she sat bolt upright and began smiling and swaying along to the music.    It was as if something reanimated her poor broken body and mind to awaken anew.     And the whole time they were singing the song that touched something in her time ravaged brain, she smiled and almost glowed with the sheer joy of hearing that familiar song that brought her back to this world again for a few minutes.   

I have often thought of this story when I hear a song on the radio or the music that takes us on a journey when we watch a movie.     Is there anyone who can listen to the soundtrack from the movie Jaws and not be instantly transported back to the time you first saw that film??   It's the music that  did it, not the images, although they are powerful, too.  Those first few strains of that ominous musical interlude were used to properly prepare us for what was coming next.    Who says music can't move you?  It can lift you out of despair, scare the heck out of you or take you soaring to new heights of inspiration.  Or even just take a sentimental journey back in time.  

Finally, one last personal story about the power of music and this one is my own.     Twenty two years ago I was engaged in one of the most serious battles of my life.    I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was about to embark on the treatment plan that took more than a year to complete and is probably the reason I am alive and sitting here today writing this blog.   My doctors had recommended a course of treatment that included surgery, followed by six weeks of radiation therapy and then ten months of chemotherapy.      It was a long and stressful event in my life, but one that forever changed me and helped make me into who I am today.    

As I was going to get chemo every week, I began a to see quite a few of my fellow travelers (aka Cancer Survivors) bringing boom boxes with them on the days they got their IV treatments.    A few who were more technologically advanced even had Walkmans.   Ipods were still many years away from being a reality back then.     And I read in journals and information for patients that listening to music was proving to be a great way to get through treatment and help deal with stress and uncertainty.    So I decided I would give it a whirl since treatments could be and often were times of difficulty for me.     

I had a few CDs since they were a rather new item at the time and I had cassette tapes.   My choices tended to go toward New Age music, but I was definitely not above listening to Huey Lewis and the News when the mood struck me.     I discovered right away that listening to the music had a very profound affect on my mood, my heartbeat and my stress level.   One particular artist, Andreas Vollenweider, was one I listened to time after time.   To this day, there is one track on one of his albums that I can hear and will instantly relax and begin to feel calm inside.      He plays harp and I have promised myself if I ever get the chance to hear him in person, I will go since I am pretty sure it will be a high point in my life.    As an aside about this, I wrote to him when I was in the middle of treatment to tell him how much his music meant to me and that I hoped he would continue to bring his gifts and talents to the world since I felt he was making a huge difference for so many people.    And if you can believe it, I got a handwritten reply from this man that I have still in an album.    I will never forget the kindness of this international star for writing to me, just an ordinary fan who took the time to write to him about the value and impact of his music on my life.    

So to tie all of this up in a neat package, I say to anyone who takes the time to read this, if you're searching for a way to find comfort or peace, music can be your friend.     If you want something to evoke powerful memories and maybe even inspiration, look to your musical library (or Youtube).    If you are trying to set a mood (think of Jaws!), music will do the trick.     And for goodness sake, if you are musically inclined, MAKE music for your own amusement and amazement.  Do it for any willing audience.   But just do it.     The power of music has been proven to us over and over and it is up to us to figure out ways to bring it into our lives for all the many paths we can explore using that power.   

P.S.  The track I was referring to that I so loved back then and still listen to is on an album called:
Andreas Vollenweider Trilogy.  The track is an extra one called "Pace Verde". The You Tube link is below and when I listened to it a few minutes ago...yep....I cried, but boy, was I relaxed!

<iframe width="420" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/CBjLj0EOAV4?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Happy Trails,