Mom in Germany

Dear Mom,

One of the best legacies a mother can leave are stories. Even though I lost you physically in 2006 I can hear your voice today. You left a record in the albums you made for us. I wonder if you know how much that means to us now?

One of my favorite stories was of your trip to Germany in April of 1962. You flew to Germany to attend the North Atlantic Girl Scout Conference as one of the Girl Scout Leaders. You had encouraged us to be in Girl Scouts and as always was you were very involved in everything we did.

I love the story of this trip because it tells me so much about you as a person, not just as my mom. You visited Berchtesgaden…the photo (Mom is in the center with the sweater) shows you holding hands with the other Girl Scout Leaders there. Mom looks calm and dignified. The lady behind her, Lord who knows what’s going on there.

Mom in center I know now that you stayed at the Hotel General Walker, which as I understand it was originally a hotel built to house Nazi dignitaries and after being heavily damaged during WWII was rebuilt as one of Europe’s finest luxury hotels, with a breathtaking view of the Bavarian countryside and the Alps. I have the menu of your lunches there and your itinerary.

180512_0001But your words tell the story best. Talking about the crystal clear alpine streams in the villages you said…..

“In this stream I saw my first black completely round pebbles so smooth they were almost like marbles. This was the first time I had seen mountains and by the end of the day I had a crick in my neck trying not to miss any of them. It was in this village that we (her roomie) bought a bottle of German Beer, a loaf of black bread and a roll of German sausage. We set the beer in the snow on our window sill to cool and when the meeting was over we came back and had a midnight snack; with the windows open, snow on the ground and the moon lighting the mountains and the sounds of cowbells echoing from high on the mountain.”

You were 30 years old. I love the idea of you drinking German beer and watching the moon on the mountains. The poetry in your words reminds me how much you loved to travel and see new places, which is great since you were an Air Force wife. This must have been an exciting trip for a Texas girl from the small town of Jacksboro because you went by yourself. I wonder now how you talked Dad into that. My sister and I, nine and six years old respectively, stayed back in Texas with my Dad. I remember you saying that we told you,” We always got dessert when Dad cooked dinner when you were gone.” I’m sure Dad was just trying to bribe good behavior out of us.

You brought us back a box of the different salts mined in Berchtesgaden, which the pamphlet describes as their most important industry. You told us how you had donned miner’s clothes and sat on wooden rails and slid down through the mine. When you ran your fingers on the walls you could taste the salt. I remember the box of salts, different colored one-inch cubes. I secretly licked each one when you were not looking to see if they tasted differently.

I wish I had been with you as an adult on that trip. I smile every time I think of you whistling through the salt mine licking the salt off your fingertips. I bet you yodeled at the mountains too.

Thank you for telling us the story. It also explains why you loved the movie Heidi so much.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom.

p.s.  After I posted this my very intelligent sister told me that 1962 was one of the three years we were stationed in England, which of course makes much more sense that my mom got to go to Germany because she was so close. Well my bad. Math is not my strong suit. 🙂

 

 

 

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Dear Doctor

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We are visiting our family doctor for the last time today. He is retiring at the end of this month and gosh we will miss him. Dr. James Newton has been our family doctor for years.

Finding a new family doctor is a gradual and delicate process. Sort of like having your mom pull your loose tooth as a child. You know you can handle it, but you know it’s going to hurt. When our last doctor moved away, we had been to three new doctors trying to find a good fit. So when a teaching  friend recommended Dr. Newton I went in with high hopes and a cautious nature. I knew he was probably for us the first time I saw his waiting rooms. He has a fish-themed examination room, a children’s examination room and a hunting-themed examination room. That might sound a little strange, but have you ever had to sit waiting for the doctor in a sterile, picture-less examination room? Or worse, one full of those medical charts, most of which made me believe immediately that I definitely have one or more of the dreaded diseases shown in glorious detail. In Dr. Newton’s office I could look at stuffed fish or birds or hunting cartoons given to him by patients. Or if I was in the children’s room, I could gaze at a large hand-painted mural of trees and small forest creatures. In most rooms in his office there were pictures of our doctor with various large fish or animals, family and friends, smiling and happy.  Whatever your opinions about fishing and hunting I liked seeing my doctor happy. It kept my blood pressure down.

But entertaining examination rooms is not what made him a good doctor. Dr. Newton  listened to us. He listened. He did not lecture, he talked to us. He knew us as people. He talked music with my band director husband, Dr. Newton’s father-in-law being a great music director at Texas Tech University. Who else knows that your doctor has a broken drum stick from Ed Shaughnessy?  He recommended a great nursing home when my mother-in-law needed  one. In-between those talks he kept track of our common ailments with a sense of humor, a soft-spoken and direct bedside manner and the common sense not to prescribe a pill for every ache and pain. As he said , “Sometimes, a pill is not what is needed. Let your body do it’s work.” He had patience for our opinions about the cost of medicine and the deplorable state of the medical insurance industry in this country. And it is that last sad fact that has forced a new search for a family doctor upon us again.

But now, for Dr. Newton, we wish him a rewarding retirement, free from computer work  and strangling bureaucratic regulations and happy in the knowledge that he served his patients well.  And as our Doctor and our friend told us yesterday, “We’ll see you around town!”

What Does Art Mean?

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#mwisdthankful

Today, Friday November 10th, I am thankful for the experiences my students give me.

As an elementary school art teacher, I get asked a lot about the meaning of art. What does this abstract art mean? What is the purpose of my child taking art? What did the artist mean when he or she painted that? My reply is,” What does it say to you?”

You want to know what art means?

Today it means a tall, timid shell of a girl, with wispy hair, standing at my desk with a paper card in her hand. “Today is my birthday.” she said quietly, not seeking the ranting Happy Birthday song that usually follows that news into a classroom. “Well, Happy Birthday!” I say, “Are you doing anything special?”

“I don’t know.” she says, eyes darting away from my face. I sense I’ve said the wrong thing. “But my Dad made me this.” She is holding out the card. “You want to see?” “Sure.” The card shows a princess in a Disney–style gown; a scroll proclaiming “Happy Birthday Princess” in elaborately hand-drawn tattoo letters. The card is a much folded piece of white paper, the image beautifully drawn in delicate pencil.

“My Dad is in prison. He made me this for my birthday.” Her eyes search my face for any sign of disapproval. I mentally bless this father who loves his child.

What does this art mean?

When I look at this card I imagine time melts away for the artist as he works and the air takes on that super-charged feel at the edge of a storm. That moment when the summer air is replaced with the cool rush edge of the weather and the first round, fat drops splatter your face. This art says all things are possible. It says “Child, you are loved in this world.” It says, Child, wait and see and don’t lose hope. Ever.”

“Tell your Dad I think this is wonderful and he is very talented.” She smiles at the father that is miles away, but here in the room as she folds the card carefully into her pocket.

That is what art means for me and for this child today.

Day 2

Love, love the first week of school. Everything’s new, kids are fresh and every day is an event.

Best new student comment: “Mrs. Strandberg I’m having a little trouble with finding everything and understanding what to do.”  I said “It’s ok, you’re new to Travis, you’ll get the hang of it and I help you.” He said “No you don’t understand, I’m from F-L-O-R-I-D-A.” You can’t make this stuff up. I told him it would be O-K.

Best Teacher Save of the Day: When I came in from recess which was 94 dgrees and 98% humidity I ALMOST wiped my face with a Clorox wipe instead of a face wipe. ALMOST.

Today

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There seems to be no end to the trouble in my teacup this day. A cherished family member is seriously weakened. A beloved pet is sick. Several friends have ones that are struggling either with their health or in their heart. A long term goal keeps slipping out of my husband’s reach. He has worked so hard and is so tired from this struggle. But he is strong and will see it through.

I know there are far worse problems and broken dreams than those little eddies in my teacup. So I am sitting looking at the stars tonight and remembering what a tiny blip in the vastness of time this day has been and it will soon be past. And that peace is my strength and understanding is a blessing that always comes through time.

 

Imaginary/The Daily Post

linoleum

She had that look about her. A rough life. A face like an old linoleum kitchen floor that had two layers. One layer cracked and pulled back at the edges to reveal the original faded colors. Her face had layers of covered up pain, smoke-filled, hungry and resigned.

 

publicdomain Pixabay

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Hitchcock and Rosemary

Rosemary_bushA scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds. “This tilling of the soil can become compulsive, you know.” Suzanne Pleshette’s dirt-smudged face and sultry voice sticks in my mind as I wander the aisles of the local garden center, accompanied by a multitude of sparrows chirping in the metal rafters overhead.  Mental headline reads, “Woman Pecked to Death by Sparrows at Local Home Depot.” I smile up at them thinking “Not enough of them for an attack and they don’t look like the angry crows in the movie.” Not yet anyway.

I love shopping for plants. How can you miss the slow joy of wandering through a humid wonderland filled with flats of colors and scents, envisioning the English garden soon to appear in your back yard? How can you hurry through that experience? I see ample evidence of how all around me. The cloyingly sweet perfume of the frantic gardener next to me slaps my nose as she piles her plants onto a wobbly orange flatbed. I move over an aisle to get away from her. She clops past me all red lipstick and ridiculous spiky heels. Rushing her treasures to the check-out.

I take my time to breathe in the surroundings; the smell of fertilizer,wet potting soil, spicy tomato plants. I had made a list of plants I wanted the day before, which I know I will never stick to because plants I have never seen will call me and end up in my cart. I’m what you call an accidental gardener; I accidentally get a plant in the right spot in my garden and it grows. I love to grow things from seed, and currently Alyssum, Zinnias, Dianthus and Cosmos are the tiny seedlings making their presence known in my back berm. It’s cheaper to plant from seed and you get to know the plant foliage as it develops I reason. But today, while my sweet husband is looking at chain saws and weed eaters, he has turned me loose in the garden center to buy bedding plants. Heaven.

I’m practically mowed down by a plant vendor with a sweaty red face pushing a six-tier cart of tender young plants ready to be pushed onto the shelving. ” What the hell are you doing?” she says to the pimply faced worker she spots ahead, who is evidently not moving fast enough for her. “Get that stuff on the tables!” Sigh. I move over another aisle.

I think about my grandfather now, who was a real gardener, he kept greenhouses, widow ladies’ yards and knew plants. He had a true green thumb. I have red Begonias in my cart in his honor, he loved them. The riotous colors of the Moss Roses are for him too. The Spanish Lavender I chose is for my husband, who had never seen that variety until a landscaping company put one in our yard seventeen years ago. Now that I think about it, most of the plants I plant are about other people. Zinnias for my grandmother, the Cosmos, Larkspurs, Moonflowers and Morning glories are for my mother, who loved wildflowers, the Petunias, Dianthus, and Alyssum are for the characters from a book called “The Uninvited”, where a ghostly presence was heralded by floral scents.

I plant for animals too. Salvia and Cardinal vine for the hummingbirds. Sunflowers for the woodpeckers, mockingbirds, chickadees and titmice that populate our Texas yard. The Fountain Grass I choose because our kittens used to love playing hide and seek in the soft mounds of grass, leaping out to roll and tumble down onto our back patio. We no longer have the kittens, but just seeing this grass makes me smile inwardly.

And what new treasure did I find, just for me? A beautiful blue Lobelia. A feathery Yarrow plant and some Mexican Heather. New plants I’ve never planted.

And one old favorite, a Rosemary plant, for remembrance.

CC Image by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos