Saturday, May 7, 2016

Week 17 of 2016 - Moments in Life that Define You...56

I have a couple of "moments" that come to mind, both involving very special people in my dad and mom at the end of their worldly lives.  My dad, Harold, died on August 30, 1996, one day after his 68th birthday. Full of life, loving his occupation with small town retail stores and cherishing his faith, family and friends, Dad was the picture of health.  He died instantly of a massive heart attack on Friday of Labor Day weekend, as the town was already filling with visitors and family for the last holiday gathering of the summer.  The weather forecast was perfect, the parks full and there was excitement in the air.

 Everything came to a complete stop for the Smith family as we stumbled around in grief, trying to understand how our Dad could be gone.  Our two businesses, Harbor Beach Variety and The Corner Store were shuttered and marked with black ribbons and signs of explanation.  We would be closed until further notice.  As word spread quickly through our small lakeside community of Harbor Beach, Michigan, condolences, tears and stories of remembrance began immediately.  I just could not pull myself together that first day, until a family friend pulled into the driveway with her sister.  Judy had a flower shop in town next to our Variety Store, and Dad and Judy often worked together on projects, her family became special friends to Mom and Dad and it was not surprising that they were bringing us food gifts and words of love and reassurance.  I don't remember what I said, but I'm sure I was a total mess.  Her words of love to me are something I have never forgotten, have used numerous times since and were perfect for me at that time and still this year, which will be the 20th anniversary of Dad's death.  She simply said, "Please remember that you are not alone in this journey.  There is no way anyone on this Earth..never in all of time, not years before, not today and not in the future...can anyone live life without losing someone...many someones...that they love.  Please know that others love you, can help you through this and in time you will help others when they feel the way you feel today.  God's love through others will comfort and heal you."  It meant the world to me then and still does today.  I hope that Judy Sweet and her sister, Nancy Krueger know how much they helped me on the day my dear Dad passed from this life to the next.  I will never forget it.

My defining moment with my sweet Mom, Leah Smith, happened 11 years later.  Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in May of 2007, we Smith kids had our world rocked by another realization that life as we knew it was going to change.  My sister commented through her tears, "We are going to be orphans."  While I remembered what I always preached about not being alone in this part of life...everyone loses people that they love...I could not come to grips with the challenge that presented itself.  We needed to care for our dying mother with no experience...medically, emotionally, mentally, was going to be an on the job training of the most difficult kind.

Our days were immediately filled with all kinds of appointments, all of which were happening 2 hours away in a larger city hospital and clinic where we could receive the specialized care of a gynecological oncologist. The Corner Store, which my Mom and I ran, was put into the hands of our very competent staff and I went on auto-pilot most days...and nights.  Our three sons were concerned, not only for Grandma, but for me, their mom, who seemed to be losing her own life in grief and despair.  I'm not sure if the three boys consulted on a plan of action, but our oldest, Brad, then 34 years of age and with a family of his own,  made a call that would change my whole attitude forever.

"How's it going, Mom," he'd ask, knowing full well that I was a disaster.  He'd let me try to explain, ask another question and then hear me plead again..."Why, just why?  Why God?  Please....?"  So, finally, my wise son asked if I would just listen and think this through with him.  "Just hear me out, Mom.  If this isn't something you can work with and question what God's plan is, that means you are taking it into your own hands.  This also means that you get to decide how your mother will die...what will be her final journey into eternity.  What do you choose?"  I was stunned, and stammered out loud.."Well...uh...I can't do that!"  Brad continued, "Of course you do not want your Mom or my Grandma to have ovarian cancer.  You pick what she should have."  I continued to ponder his statement feeling totally frustrated and even angrier.  Finally, in desperation, I answered.  "I guess I'd have her go quickly...just like Dad did.  That was awful, but I don't think he suffered."  Brad replied, "Great. Perfect! pick the time, Mom.  When is this going to happen?"  I was speechless....for a long time.  My comment...finally...was, "Okay, Brad.  I understand.  This is God's timing and perfect plan, not mine or anyone else's.  I am not capable to handle what God does so well for us and with everlasting love."  I don't remember much else about the conversation after that.  I have remembered it with distinct clarity ever since, however.

My oldest son, reversing the roles and becoming the parent at age 34 to help his Mother get back on track with a beautiful "defining moment."  Love you, Brad!

Week13 of 2016...Accidents and the Lessons Learned  I can't believe my sister would pick such a topic and then assign me such a task. What does she want....a volume?  or a Blog Post?  There are people that have accidents and then there are folks that are an accident waiting to happen most of the time.  I'm not that bad, but I've had my share and yes, there are lessons to be learned.  Isn't that how we learn?  Of course it is!  The only problem we have is when we repeat the accidents and don't learn on the first...or second...or third time.

Let's make a list...

A.  Food
B.  People
C.  Automobiles
D.  Others

Food was always a topic of discussion in the Smith Family...and the Semps are no different. we want to talk about the triple batch of cherry finger jello that Brad pulled out of the refrigerator to see if it was done.  NOPE, it wasn't...and my carpeted kitchen floor was never the same.
LESSON:  ALWAYS position a pan of liquid jello on a high shelf when you have little ones!

Have you ever spilled anything in your car?  Like a crockpot of Nacho Cheese or Goulash Soup? Wouldn't one think that after having a horrible mess like spilled cheese, I'd always put a crock pot in a box or suitable, stable spot?  NOPE...I do it several times before I figure it out.  The only way to clean cheese out of a van is to open both sliding doors on the van and take it to the carwash that has a hand nozzle to get in all the cracks and crevices.  And you know, we finally had to inject odor neutralizer with a syringe into the carpet.  Every time the van was warmed by the sun, it smelled like sour milk. LESSON:  ALWAYS put soupy or liquid foods in a box, please.

Ever seen a bottle of red pop dropped by a youngster explode and spin in circles with the spray coating the grocery store aisle with red, sticky pop?  LESSON:  Hopefully, the adult will put the pop in the cart from now on.

Raising three boys was a circus from time to time...well, most of the time.  Moms of all boys should understand going into the experience that there will be rough housing, wrestling, breakage and tears...usually in that order. It didn't matter who was chasing, but at one time or another, the chasee got hurt.  We had pressure bandages on huge goose eggs to the head, black eyes, broken nose, collarbones (yes, more than once), many bags of ice in washcloths, skinned knees, legs and arms. Did one incident teach me how to prevent the next....hmmm...probably not.  LESSON:  Some accidents just happen when you have kids no matter how you try and prevent them.

Automobiles and other machinery help us in daily life...accidents happen and the damage can be repaired or a cost.  My parents always said "better a thing to fix/replace, rather than a person!"  However, some of life's biggest and earliest lessons are with automobiles that do not belong to us...but are on loan from our parents.  Totaling our family station wagon at 17 was devastating to me, and my family's mode of transportation for a few weeks.  I swore I would never drive again, but my wise father said that my best therapy was to drive the car back home from the repair shop. One moment of not paying attention, resulted in rear end damage to the car ahead of me, pushing that car into the back of a brand new car being driven home from the sales lot....all on M53 with the Eastern Michigan Fair on my left and McDonalds on the right...witnesses all over the place gaping at the chain collision AND my folks green Ford station wagon was totaled because the frame was bent.  A ride home in a police car was the culmination of that days lesson.  Costly, but a very effective LESSON for life!  However...not the only accident I have had!

If you could ask my father, Harold, he'd have a couple of additional stories along with a huge grin and not then. One of the best ones involved the Harbor Beach Post Office which in years past had two postal boxes out for local mail and one for out of town mail. On a rainy day and not wanting to get out of Dad's famous big blue van, I pulled in just so, getting the oversized side mirror of the van, caught right between the two boxes. I could not get the van out, and so I went inside and explained to the Postmaster that I was stuck and would just pull away, likely pulling the mirror off, but in that attempt was not trying to damage " US Postal property."  That's exactly what happened.  Dad was not so understanding and made me drive him back to the Post Office and show him exactly how I could have accomplished such a thing.  LESSON:  While the design and engineering is horrible for the drive up box in Harbor Beach, (its on the wrong side of the road for the driver of a vehicle to use it) one should just get out of the vehicle and put the mail in the box in any kind of weather.

Did you ever roller blade?  If so, you know that just a pebble or a twig can cause you problems if you aren't paying attention while on roller blades.  I was very fortunate in all my years of roller skating and rollerblading to enjoy the exercise with relatively few accidents.  I wore protective gear, controlled my speed and was careful at corners and crosswalks.  However, one day I skated through fresh asphalt...or tried to.  It does not work and no amount of compensation can correct it.  I was down for the count.  LESSON:   Make sure the city hasn't repaired a water main break where you are messes up your skates, bruises your ego and maybe your derriere.

And one more, not of my doing...some of you reading our blog posts know of my sister's love of nature, animals and such.  Susie had quietly collected a full coffee can of tree toads..(tiny little toads about as big as your little fingernail) one Sunday, while we were visiting Grandma and Grandpa Smith.  Our Sundays usually included a car ride and maybe stopping to visit other relatives.  With a two door sedan packed with 4 girls, Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, the entire back seat was packed with the "women."  Susie's toad collection in the covered coffee can was on the floor of the car, but only a mile into the ride, Grandma Smith, promptly took the top off to see what was in the can.  Before Susie could even respond, the back seat was filled with dozens..maybe hundreds of little toads hopping everywhere. With squeals, giggling and maybe a few tears from Susie,  Dad stopped the car and he and his Dad had a great laugh from the front seat, while Susie tried to gather as many as she could and put them back in the can.  LESSON:  In our family, make sure you carefully open a container that Susie has had in her possession..or don't touch it in the first place.

So...our life lessons are many...difficult, easy, sad, happy...but all are a part of the learning process. May you never stop learning and be blessed with an abundance of laughter with your lessons!

Week 18 of 2016 - Collaboration Between Siblings....

When my sister Jan and I talked about blogging, I enthusiastically agreed we need to document the stories of our life to keep for our grandchildren and even great grandchildren.  I guess I didn't think about how much "I" would learn.  As the oldest, I assumed I had a good grasp on know, "looking at it from the eldest point of view" and "being around longer than all the others..."  WELL, there is much to be learned, while I still have the opportunity.  Jan's account of collaboration in this weeks blog was very much NEW NEWS to me.

I collaborated with my two younger sisters very effectively, but most often it was to my benefit, if you know what I mean.  I organized chores on the weekends to make sure it was all accomplished and sometimes there were a few bribes.  Yes, I did my share, but I made sure they were on task and completed as I wanted it. I'd get one of the girls helping me and then convinced the other to do something for both of us.  Collaboration?  Or control?  Clothes were also a topic.  With three girls, if we shared we had that many more outfits.  Working with Sue, then Jan would fall in line with it, too.

Neighborhood games?  I was the oldest...a position of control then...(now they never let me FORGET it).  In our growing up years, we had a small neighborhood of maybe 15 homes involving 50 kids of all ages.  Days and summer evenings were filled with games of all kinds but I wanted to be run with the older kids and be selected for the boys baseball and kickball teams.  If Sue would hold back with Jan and keep her happy, I was free to play to my hearts content.  Sometimes, magic had to be performed to convince them they didn't have to tag after big sister or keep up with her.

This is all well and normal for families of our 1950-60s era...except when it came back to haunt me on a beautiful, summer day.  Sister Sue was a huge animal lover...of all kinds of creatures. She's always loved furry pets, even big furry animals, like cows.  I remember the day our Mom looked out the window to see cows loose in the field next to our house and no one other than daughter/sister Sue herding them up with a big stick.  She couldn't have been very old, could have easily been stepped on or trampled, but she had them on the move.  We were at a pig farm one day with my dad...another good story for another time....I was scared to death.  Not Sue...she'd been right out there with them if Dad would have let her.  She also liked bugs, rodents and reptiles.  That's where I draw the line..especially, the slithery kind.

 The story goes that she...and now I find out Jan was involved...gathered up the s kind and kept them in an old mailbox, which had been sitting on the seat of our homemade sandbox.  We used to play there and use the mailbox as an oven for mudpies, a refrigerator for sand "sundaes" or just a cupboard for our sand toys.  One day, she decided to trick her big sister and surprise her with the new collection she had gathered.  I was sent to get something out of the mailbox and when I opened the door, dozens of  the creatures poured out and went in all directions.  Now, one can only imagine with that many in one rural road mailbox, how quickly they would try to escape.  ONE S was bad enough for me...let alone a couple of dozen s's.   I was one terrified older sister...flying to the house calling for retribution on those horrible sisters.  I really can't remember what Mom thought, or what she told Dad when he got home from work.  WHAT I CAN TELL YOU...still to this day, I have a fear of s... that I probably need professional help for.  I have also "collaborated" with my baby sister, Sharon. She has the same fear. I have always blamed Sue for my issues...I had no idea that Jan AND Sue were involved with that "collaboration" that affects me to this day.   Hmmmm...I just wonder what else is out there that I never knew about our growing up years.  Probably plenty to be discovered through the Smith Family be continued and I hope you are enjoying our chatter!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Week 18 of 2016 - Collaboration Between Siblings

There is this really awesome benefit to having a lot of siblings.  The first and foremost, there was always someone to play with.  In Romeo, we lived in a small neighborhood full of young families with small kids so there were many playmates.....Everyday was a play day... Times were different.
My sister Sue and I were very close!  

When my mother got pregnant with Matt, it became obvious that our small house was bursting at the seams.  So my Dad, planned an addition which would add a large family room, increase the size of the one bedroom that all four of the "girls" were in and give him the garage he always wanted. No more digging out the car so you could go to work in the winter or scrapping frost or ice off the windshield.

So he got the plans going and before we knew it we were breaking ground for the footings.  The day they dug the footings, my sister Sue and I rescued a salamander which the crew dug up in the process. We named it and put it in a cage and were bound and determined that we were going to keep it. I believe it was that day that we decided that cold blooded creatures were not so bad after all. That evening, Dad convinced us that we should let our new pet go after he asked us, "What will you feed Sandy( the salamander's new name)?" Of course we did not know. "You don't want it to die do you? You would have to feed it .... and your mom will never let it come in the house.  It will freeze in that cage outside...." his list of reason why we should not keep it grew.  He convinced us that it was OK for us to have played with him all day but now it was time to let it go.  So very reluctantly we did. I am sure that "Sandy" was happy to be free once again after being played with all day!

I can not remember if the footings  and concrete slab were pour in the fall of 1963 and the building was set to start in the spring or if they poured the cement early in the spring and then we had a snow storm...but in either case...Here is the tiny house on Fritz drive ..... footings poured, slab in, 2x4 delivered, rafters....

Snow to hamper progress...

The garage and the family room going up...

The next spring and summer, Sue and I, along with many of the boys in the neighborhood, discovered a swampy woods to the east of our neighborhood to play in.  We found the swamp had a very large population of cold blooded reptiles which we decided would make great pets.  So we started to adopt them.  The boys in the neighborhood made catching them look really easy so we gave it a go.  After all, if you are playing with need to learn how to do what they do and you can not act like a girl!   At first we tried stepping on them just behind their head... before we tried picking them up... Occasionally it worked but most times they slithered quickly away. Then the boys showed us how to use a forked stick to catch them and then it got really interesting and much more successful! 

At first we brought our new pets home one at a time...One in her pocket and one in mine!   The next time we went to the swamp, we took a brown lunch paper bag.  Then a brown grocery bag... Then it was a shoe box.....All the while we are filling old hamster cages, old aquariums, boxes and old mailboxes... I don't remember whether we clued mom in on our new rescue mission or not.  They were outdoors not in the garage.. Often in the morning we would go to see how our pets were doing and they would have all escaped...but we had become really good reptile hunters so we would head back to the swamp and do it all over again. 

One day we decided to put some of our newest pets in our mailbox for the mailman to find.  As you can well imaging we did not think this thru very well....Then we got this hair brained idea to have Pam go check to see if the mail had come.......Oh now that was a truly bad move.  To this day she is traumatized by this event.

She went flying into the house screaming and in seconds flat Mom came flying out the door.  "Janet Lou and Susan Lynn, get in this house!"  she yelled.  Funny how you always knew you were in big  trouble when Mom and Dad used your whole name when they called you! We could feel it...It was going to be bad. " Go to your room and stay there!" she commanded.  "Just wait til I tell your father about this!" she scolded.  This was the first times that I remember Mom saying,  "Just wait for your Dad to get home..."

Well, we went to our room and waited... and waited and commiserated as we awaited our fate....Before long I am telling Sue ..."it's your fault cause it was your idea."  She said, " well you thought it was a good idea too..."   The truth is both of us knew better....We knew not everyone in the neighborhood liked garter snakes like we did. 

Dad finally came home.  We stood in front of him and neither one of us ratted the other out.  We both equally took the blame and the punishment for our little stunt.  Go tell your sister you are sorry and you better mean it!  We were instructed to go let out all of our pets and never bring one home again.  Ever! 

It is my belief that this is the first time, that we learned what being a sibling was all about...I could have blamed her for it but I didn't, she could have blamed me for it but she didn't... There would be  times as we became teenagers that one of us did something we probably should not have and thought that it would slide by and no one would be the wiser...Dent or scratch in the paint of the car...taking the car when you were not suppose to....going someplace that was off limits when you were suppose to be at your friends house....I am sure that you all have little infractions from when you were  a teenager too....  Times that we could have blamed each other for or someone else but...we never did.  Dad would line us up  and say who did this?  And we would not rat on each other...We all got punished...  The innocent ones were not very happy with the guilty party but that was a good system of checks and balances.  It did not happen often but when it did we stood by each other.

We have many story of sibling collaboration to share so until the next time.....