My mother told me long ago that I’d inherited “farmer” genes from my grandmother, her mother, who apparently could coax almost any plant to burst out of the dirt. She always grew African violets indoors. When she and my grandfather lived in a house with a yard, she grew a richly layered garden of flowers and vegetables. Whether or not it’s true that there’s a farmer gene in my family, I really don’t know. The fact is that I feel drawn to working in my garden whenever weather permits. Despite an occasional failure, for the most part I’ve had a lot of success growing perennials, trees and shrubs on my lot, some of which are now almost forty years old. The dense foliage I’ve planted provides a habitat for birds, small mammals and the pollinators whose survival is so threatened. I draw intense satisfaction from feeling that I’m still making a difference in this world, small though that it may be. For me, making a positive impact is important, especially as I age. I think ideas about retaining relevance are quite personal. For me, it’s staying connected to the issues of the times. Climate change is certainly one of those.
I spent most of July 2022 splitting my daylight hours between the garden and the pool. I always listen to music while I work, marveling at the Pandora algorithm, which tosses a mix of the familiar and the new through my headphones. Ironically, I’m aware that having almost five hundred favorites on three separate playlists is a bit excessive, but I guess excessive is how I roll when I really love anything, from people to songs.
During the pandemic, driving into the countryside, which is a scant ten minutes from my house, became a balm for soothing the occasional restlessness I felt at being confined. In July, that stir-crazy feeling had the unanticipated benefit of allowing me to take some great photos of beautiful skies and animals. I learned that despite being geographically limited, you can still find a sense of freedom in nature. Examples from my wandering include a late afternoon moon, a mourning dove perched on a fence post and a gorgeous sunset.
August brought spectacular blooms to the garden. The hot dry weather continued as did my incessant watering. The giant dinner plate hibiscus was as advertised and more, bigger than a person’s head. But there was more going on than flowers. My whole family trooped off to watch my son play basketball in a summer league. Watching him play was always a great pleasure for me and after many years, nothing had changed. My daughter’s best friend and work colleague, along with her family, were part of our Covid bubble, the survival trick that helped so many isolated families navigate the isolation. Basketball games with the all the kids was part of our socializing, along with rollicking dinners. Chosen family is one of life’s bonuses.
For the second year in a row, I had the thrill of watching monarch butterflies mate right in my garden. A sight like that brings a tiny ray of hope for the future. A bit sublime.
Not so sublime was the grinding death rattle of my 31 year old central air conditioning unit during blazing hot weather. After an attempt at a repair came the recognition that a five digit fix was at hand. Buying a new a/c unit, which of course necessitated a new furnace to handle the modern fixtures, was one of those unpleasant reminders that you can unexpectedly spend a lot of money without ever leaving your house. Hopefully that will be the last home maintenance disaster for awhile.
Toward the end of the month, my daughter and I headed up to Chicago to celebrate her birthday. My gift to her was attending the Immersive Monet experience, a fascinating presentation of animated paintings set to music. Whenever I make the drive up to the city, I always at least partially feel that I’m going home. I actually only spent ten years of my life as a city resident. But they were my growing-up years which left deep impressions on me. I don’t ever want to live in such a busy place again although I’m always glad to visit my favorite old haunts and restaurants. The incomparable skyline and the lake are quite simply the best.
August ended with me still recording time’s passing with photos of all the beautiful creatures who visit my yard. Another ongoing treat was the film project I started with my eldest grandson this past year. I get to be the person who offers up movie choices from the 1930’s forward to right now, to my still inexperienced but interested companion. Challenging him to watch “old school” black and white gems and quiet films, devoid of action heroes and deafening soundtracks, is fun for both of us. He’s making a list of his top ten films which is quite fluid as he sees more every week. I highly recommend sharing movies with kids. This project is good for both of us.
September began on a sad note. I received a call from my oldest friend Maurine, who told me that another one of our crowd, Pat, from way back in college, had been found dead in her home. Ironically, at the time she was caring for her sister, who was coping with the effects of Stage IV colon cancer and its treatment. A few years ago, Pat had survived a complex and delicate surgery on a large brain aneurysm. Her death was still shocking and unexpected, despite that prior history. Our circle of friends who’ve stayed connected for over 50 years were all stunned. Way back in 1972, I went to Europe with Pat and Maurine on a backpacking trip. We didn’t bring a camera and of course had no cell phones. I don’t have a single photo of just the two of us from any point in our life together. We weren’t as close in recent years as we’d been when we were younger, but we were in touch for most of our lives. When Michael died, she made sure she was present for his celebration of life. They’d been friends for years, too. Some time before he died, she’d invited him to speak with young teachers she was helping train in Chicago, an experience he really enjoyed. At one time back in the day, Maurine, along with Julie, Pat and I were a feminist foursome. Now Julie and Pat are dead, well before the average life expectancy for women in this country. A sad and sobering thought. I managed to write an obituary for Pat after gathering some current information about her life from more friends and colleagues, to supplement my knowledge. Someone established a website where that was posted, the least I could do for Pat. Oh, how the losses keep piling up.
If I learned anything from the unexpected deaths of the year, living as well as possible was probably the key takeaway, not exactly a new revelation but a reminder that life is short. I headed up to a great getaway spot in Wisconsin to enjoy a change of scenery, along with an indoor and outdoor pool, and even a bonus massage. My younger sister came with me. With my older sister’s death earlier this year, we’re now the only members left from our original family of six.
The garden was still thriving as the seasons shifted. My ever-evolving touchstone. Meanwhile my daughter hosted a baby shower for my son and daughter-in-law. That event drew family and friends we hadn’t seen in a long time. The warm weather allowed for open doors and outdoor time as we were endlessly mindful about the omnipresent Covid.
I’ve lived long enough to know that everything comes to an end. Endings can br really hard for me. I’m not sure if I was born with the tendency toward profound loyalty or if I developed it over time. What’s true is that once committed to someone or something, I have a deep-seated tendency to stay that way. And so it is with Roger Federer. I found his personal story both interesting and appealing. As a teenaged phenom, he was periodically temperamental and obnoxious on the tennis court. Identified as a potential number one player by his young coach Peter Carter, he struggled with self-control. After the untimely death of his 38 year old coach in a tragic car accident, he was powerfully motivated to alter his behavior. The flashes of his brilliance turned into a steady string of successes. Aside from his beautiful tennis style, his human grace was for me, the best part of his game. No more temper tantrums for him. After he began winning major tournaments in 2003, he established himself as a philanthropist, building schools in impoverished countries in Africa, and supporting charitable programs from food distribution to athletic clinics around the world. Married to the woman he met as a teenager with whom he now has two sets of twins, traveling the tennis circuit with his parents in tow, what wasn’t to love? After twenty years of enjoying watching Roger, whose presence got me through some tough times, he is gone. I cried when he played his last match. I’ll move on as I always have. But I doubt that I’ll ever love another athlete the way I love him. Isn’t life surprising?
When Michael and I were young and broke, we spent our days off work driving along backroads, exploring. We discovered a few wonderful small town festivals that we ultimately attended annually, drawn by delicious, inexpensive food, interesting craft displays, flea markets and music. After we had kids, we attempted to bring them with us to these events but they were never quite as interested as we were. Decades later, after Michael got cancer, during his remissions we rediscovered our old haunts and were happy to experience the same good times once again. Except for steeper prices, we felt lucky to attend.
I hadn’t been back to the Apple Pork Festival since 2016. Sometimes I get nervous about revisiting the sites of great times I shared with Michael. My kids convinced me to go again this past September. We had a great time. There’s nothing like a lemon shake-up and a funnel cake on a warm early fall afternoon.
October came along. My kids and I attended the Pride parade in our community. I think we all felt that the atmosphere at this event was the best we’d felt en masse in a long time. Virtually every age group and political stripe was represented in this festive gathering. I’m glad to live where I live.
My daughter-in-law and I went to the local apple orchard for cider, pumpkins, taffy apples and fresh apple cinnamon doughnuts. I cooked a big Yom Kippur dinner for the family, glad to note that despite being lazy about preparing food, I still can produce a memorable meal.
As the days of October passed, I soaked in the last of the summer flowers along with the straggling butterflies. Despite the flagging garden, I’ve always been a fan of the riot of brilliant colors which are the last hurrah of fall before winter dispenses with leaves for the next six months.
My old friends who had relocated to Canada in March returned for a visit in October. Seeing them was a great comfort to me, considering the losses of the past year. More than ever, I’m reminded to spend time with the people you love. “Make every minute count” is my motto.
October’s end brought the delight of the successful transfer from decades-old VHS tapes to a digital format, allowing me to extract still photos from the previously unseen videos. I got to see precious photos of my children from their early childhood, along with never-seen photos from my son’s appearance in the 2001 National Spelling Bee. Seeing new pictures of Michael and me was a fabulous bonus from this buried treasure.
November 3rd was my son’s 36th birthday. We gathered as a family to celebrate, this time joined by my daughter-in-law’s mother, who’d arrived to be close by for the arrival of the grandchild whose due date was November 5th. Late that birthday night my daughter-in-law went into labor. The baby miraculously made her appearance on the predicted due date, a rare event indeed. After the anxiety of waiting, everyone was thrilled to welcome a beautiful baby girl.
Two weeks later we grandmothers watched as our children planted a tree in honor of their new baby girl, a Dutch tradition which was appropriate as that is my daughter-in-law’s home country.
We celebrated Thanksgiving for the first time in three years with our extended family. We also hosted chosen family which made for a big crowd. The baby stayed home but was introduced to everyone in little doses.
I waited until after Thanksgiving to open the boxes containing my friend Fern’s journals, which through a remarkably circuitous route, had finally made their way into my hands, after 34 years of wishing they’d wind up with me. I had great trepidation about reading them, even though I had a pretty good idea what I’d find within them. Still, knowing what to expect, and actually reading all of it in chronological order, was a heart-wrenching task that I’d assigned myself. I took days going through them. I’m still not quite recovered from the emotional strain of sifting through all the memories, a combination of both the best and worst times of our shared lives. I don’t expect to ever feel exactly the same as I did before I read them.
Meanwhile, I was spending lots of time with my little granddaughter. Before her birth, I wasn’t exactly sure how I’d feel about her. I’ve always loved babies. But I spent so much love on Michael during his illness and dying that I wondered if I had any powerful emotion left for anyone new. I’d hoped that given how much I loved my son, that I’d be able to give of myself to his child. And thankfully, that’s happened. Helping the kids is my pleasure, but loving the baby is a wonderful extra at this point in my life.
In mid-December, I had a wonderful reunion with three old friends from college. One of them was the woman I’d worked with for over thirty years, a gift in my life. But I hadn’t seen one of them in almost fifty years. She was the person who for a college journalism class, took some fabulous black and white photos of Michael and me in the early months of our relationship. I am forever grateful for those. Another sad moment occurred in mid-December when I found out that another old friend of mine had died in August. I’d noticed her absence on the social media outlet that was our main form of communication. But I’d heard nothing about her being ill. These deaths are challenging, stimulating thoughts of more losses to come with each passing year. I’m struck by the idea that parts of my memory will be completely isolated within myself. Will the time come when no one is left who remembers what I remember? A strange thought to ponder.
Christmas was quiet. My daughter’s family was in Michigan with my son-in-law’s family while she, who was to join them, got trapped at home by bad weather. The rest of us left at home went to the movies, even the baby. We shared a classic dinner of Chinese food before moving on for the evening. Once again, we all gathered for New Year’s Eve dinner, including our bubble family. Later that night I watched the baby so my son and daughter-in-law could go party like grownups. But when the baby got fussy, they came home early and we wound up watching the traditional countdown together. I think it was the first time in years that I’ve paid attention to midnight.
So that’s 2022, a year that had a bit of everything from new life to a wedding and to too many deaths, with lots of small moments in between. Of course many more small happenings were left out of this recounting. I’m not sure I’ll write another chronological description like this again. But every so often, seeing what happened in order is an interesting way to freeze time before it slips away.