October 17, 2014

Serenity


Sometimes we need a fairy godmother to wave her wand over our lives. A wave of her wand and old cars are new, house repairs are done, yard work a thing of the past and sad feelings go away. Or I know my Christian friends would say we need Jesus and all that is needed is to pray to God for help. That is how I was raised, to believe that Jesus is the answer to all our problems. I know in my head that is true, but sometimes, what I observe doesn’t seem to be in my heart that prayers fix problems.

Either way, whether by fairy godmother or God, we need some relief from stress and worries that tend to be creeping into our lives. And since I’m certain a fairy godmother doesn’t exist, I must rely on my God who I know does exist. It is nothing earth shattering like catastrophe by nature or tragedy by death or any of a number of horrific circumstances we hear of unfortunate individuals living with these days that has me wishing on a star. No, it is simply change in life. Transition from a once active person both physically and mentally, to a slower person’s days interrupted by the occasional specialty doctor visit or even an ER visit while we deal with new aches and pains in our mortal bodies. Some of us don’t slow down with ease or grace. Accepting that our lives much change just because our bodies are aging is difficult. We enjoyed, and mostly took for granted, our abilities to simply go out in the backyard to pull weeds, bend down to pick up sticks or mop the floors, even doing our daily jobs is different now that we are older.

When we can’t do what we want because of physical or mental stress, it is a big deal particularly if we have not experienced that feeling of helplessness or illness before. Something others might not notice is that we are sad about this change. We long for the old days when we had more energy, could move easier, stay up long hours, sleep late on Saturdays, work around our house and go to work on Monday with the vitality we once had. Above all we miss being happy about our lives.

Retirement at 55 years old perhaps was too early for me to throw in the towel. I still substitute teach and give tests with our school district. I attempted other part time jobs, but none seemed to be a good fit for me. The jobs didn’t feel comfortable or like I was making a needed contribution that mattered. Substitute teaching and getting back into schools around familiar surroundings and things I know has felt like going home. Working with students, in my opinion, is making worthwhile contributions to society and it’s like riding a bike for me. The money would be better if I’d work more days, but then, where would the retirement come in? No, I am past dealing with children’s behavior issues or getting worked up because my stomach is not cooperating on an early morning before classes start. It’s just too much to deal with anymore, but still, I miss being part of the education team. The thing I particularly miss is the paycheck every month. So, to work a few days a week or in situations where there is little stress, suits my needs even if it doesn’t suit my bank account.

My husband has not retired yet, but switched jobs 2 years ago from a high school theater teacher to a community college theater instructor. He’s good at it, but I believe the change in institutions was more than he anticipated. There are new rules, policies and lessons to learn, more pressure to succeed. Hours rehearsing a play are long and tiring, plus preparing/teaching classes are a strain for the older person he is now. He strives to put forth his best efforts so students, audiences, and the college benefits from his work. That is a lot of responsibility to shoulder even for a person of his experience in this line of work.

This stage of our lives presents new challenges and expectations. I didn’t anticipate our bodies to groan so much as quickly in our early 60’s. I suppose that was na├»ve of me to think that we’d go along painlessly as we near the end of our second third of life. In my mind I have divided my life into thirds of 3 decades each. That would put us in the last decade of the second third of life. Does that seem morbid? Well, if it does, it’s fine because that is what I thought about as I turned 60 years old. If I live to be 90 years old, I have less than 30 years to live. Both of my parents and my older brother passed away by the time they were in their early 70's. If genetics play any part in my lifespan I may have less days to enjoy life on earth. Morbid to think about perhaps, but how am I going to handle this? Sadly, I thought that I’m running out of time to do something worthwhile with my life. What do I do? The best thing I've tried to combat the sad feelings was quite by accident. I began to notice others who are already well into the last third of their lives. Many people I’ve observed are well into their 80’s, approaching 90 with life still to live. Some are writers, others church teachers, some play instruments, sing, and paint or give example of living well simply by the way they treat others. What I love to see are elderly people smiling, laughing at children, and enjoying this day in their life.

Our lives can become melancholy as we age and we reminisce of days gone by whether we want to or not. Living in the past is not healthy, it can even be depressing as we continually mourn the passing of a life that once was. Change is inevitable and life is constantly evolving. In what form we live out that evolution is up to us. Make plans, do good to others, make sacrifices of some kind for the greater good, and helping other people might allow our minds to transition into the “twilight years” with a happier heart.

The Serenity Prayer
by theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr (1930’s or ‘40’s)
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.

August 28, 2014

Old Men and Grandfathers

A couple of elderly gents sitting on a park bench talking or relaxing in chairs outside of a gasoline station never fails to stir emotion in my heart. I’m not sure from where my feelings originate, but I suspect from my own sweet elderly grandfather. My dad’s father was a man I only saw about once or twice a year growing up. We lived in southeast Texas and the drive upstate to the Red River community of Ryan, OK was a full day’s journey. Memories of my Oklahoma grandparents are few because of that distance between our homes. In my mind, they only came to see us in Texas one time and photographs are the reason I know. I do not remember their visit. Thankfully, with the help of relatives and hard work by others working on the Ritchey genealogy, I know more facts about my grandfather than I could have remembered.

From a little girl’s viewpoint, Dad Ritchey, as my cousins and I called him, was an interesting, funny, quiet little old man with a gentle spirit. He was already an elderly white haired man when I was born in 1952. He was born John Renrick Ritchey on October 4, 1880 and passed away 89 years and 4 days later on October 8, 1969. I was 17 years old when he passed away and I did not attend his funeral. It was just too sad because Mama Ritchey, (Beulah Mae Crump Ritchey) my grandma, passed away just 5 months earlier that same year.

The John R. Ritchey family. The little blonde haired boy in the middle is my daddy.
Dad Ritchey’s short, roundish frame moved slowly across the florescent-lit den at the back of the house to his chair near the windows. I remember he would whistle softly through his pursed lips as he shuffled his feet across the floor. My grandfather could recite all the presidents of the United States in order from Washington to Eisenhower without missing a beat. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, he could also say their names in reverse order. It was only when my older brother showed expressed approval of our grandfather’s feat of memory that I realized my granddad had done something few others his age could. After that we often asked Dad Ritchey to demonstrate his knowledge of U. S. presidents. I fondly remember the grin on my daddy’s face listening to his dad show off for the grandkids.

Over the years what seems right to me about my Oklahoma grandparents in truth may not be too accurate. As kids, we were all over their house in Ryan playing hide and seek, pushing each other in the wheelbarrow, playing upstairs and on the cellar door in the backyard. I remember their house very well. My cousins and I loved playing in the attic bedroom. Walking up the stairs we had to pass the vent for the large attic fan. My brother tried to convince me a monster lived there and I'd quickly zip up the stairs passed the vent to avoid the monster's claws. The long, narrow upstairs bedroom had a sloped ceiling and a window at each end of the space. There were two twin beds, flowered wallpaper and a trunk of intrigue, if memory serves me right. I don’t remember ever opening the trunk and now I wish we had. What treasure we might have found! Many times my cousin and I played dolls upstairs and the dry, dusty Oklahoma breeze gently blew through the screens. As I lay in bed at night, I could hear the large 18-wheelers and cattle trucks traveling through Ryan on the main highway not far from their house. Behind the house was a cellar with a sloped metal door to play on. There were no cellars where I lived in Texas, so this thing was new, different and fun. The roof of the cellar was a concrete slab that was about a foot off the ground. I thought it was the perfect stage for many singing and acting performances. I loved to slide on the cellar door when it was closed and I still can hear Mama calling to me from inside to “stay off of that cellar!”  Going down inside of the musty smelling cellar was creepy, but I loved it. Mama Ritchey canned vegetables and fruit preserves from Dad Ritchey’s little garden, and stored the cans in the cool cellar. She served her canned beets one night at dinner. I’d never eaten beets before, but gave them a try when she insisted. Dad Ritchey ate peas on the wide blade of the table knives, which I always thought was an odd way to eat little peas. There are still certain food combinations I eat that remind me of meals at their house.

Mama and Dad Ritchey the way I remember them.
A funny story about Dad Ritchey happened when I was about 5 or 6 years old. He was asleep on the couch and I observed the slightest gray whisker stubble on his face. I had a strong curiosity about how the stubble would feel if I touched it. It was too much for me to resist and laying my little hand on his face, I rubbed his whiskers. As I thought he was asleep you can imagine how I jumped and screamed when Dad Ritchey raised up with an abrupt, “Brrr-uh!”  I laughed so hard and so did he. If my grandfather ever hugged me, I do not remember. It’s been too long and I was too young for that memory to have stayed with me. I think my grandfather was a humorous man, but had a serious side and chose just the right time to joke with us.

Once strong men like Dad Ritchey provided for their families during the roughest of times, and were hard workers of the earth, plowing out gardens, and building homes. Although, regrets are erroneous, it is unfortunate we didn’t live closer to my grandparents so I could have known them better. The memories I have may not be exact, but they are my memories. I’m blessed to have known Mama and Dad Ritchey and to know something of my ancestry.

May 2, 2014

Beach Days

The sun-drenched mornings of spring sang out announcements of approaching summer in suburbia. Cool breezes and bright sunlight reminds her of by-gone days spent at the beach watching sea gulls and pelicans flying effortlessly over the waves of ocean water. Visual memories of the random brown pelican spying its next meal in the murky bowl of sushi water suddenly dive bombing into the ocean and then emerging victoriously never ceased to amaze the girl. It was not for having spent numerous days at the beach that make her yearn for sandy beaches, but the happy memories of a child walking on the warm sands of the Gulf. So pleasantly memorable, she is sent on a vacation of time travel back to the slow, carefree days spent on a Gulf Coast beach in Texas.

As a child the start of summer occasionally brought weekends with her parents and brother at a beach house. Her dad repaired and painted a beach house for an elderly couple with an invalid son who would soon arrive from the city to spend the summer. The couple’s friend back in the city allowed the little girl and her family to enjoy her beach house next door while her dad worked. During the hot days her dad worked preparing the house for the elderly couple while the girl and her brother played in on the sandy beach. It was most fun when Dad took a break to join them in the water playing, laughing and feeling the grit between their toes on the hot sand. Late in the day as the sun set, shrimp boats sailed into sight. Sitting on the porch juicy watermelon trickled down the chins of the children and a game of spitting seeds would bring the day to an end.

Hot sticky days turned into hot sticky nights of sitting on the edge of a short bed, looking through window screens at the ocean waves. A full moon threw a spotlight on foaming white caps as they tumbled down on the sand. Listening to the waves crash in and out like a huge sea creature’s breathing was hypnotizing. Through the open windows, a humid Gulf Coast breeze blew across the open area of the room and the little girl felt sleep would never come. Although, with nothing more to do the next day except build sand castles, sleepily sit on the porch, soaking in the hot, lazy days of summer; it wouldn’t matter if she didn’t sleep tonight. Swoosh! Crash! In. Out. Swoosh! Crash! In. Out. Loud waves mingled in with the calls of sea gulls as they sailed above the swells of salt water. Trapped forever in my senses is the taste of salt on dry parched lips.