This evening I learned that a dear old friend passed away. Though I had not been in touch with her in many years, I thought of her often. I heard her words of wisdom, her laughter, saw her magnanimous smile accentuated by the deep lines and creases that come with age. But most of all her sparkling blue eyes that were alive with love, compassion, and a bit of mischief. Gwen was a beacon of light in a world that can so often be frighteningly dark. Gwen entered my life during a profoundly desperate time. She lifted me up, guided me, gave me hope, and helped me believe in myself, and my future.
I met Gwen purely by accident in my mid thirties. During a time when most of my friends had found successful careers, marriages, and had started families, I was still struggling. Nothing I tried was working. I had given up my dream of working as a park ranger, had failed miserably at two love relationships, and was working in the Detroit area at a low paying dead end job. To top it off, I had sustained a painful and debilitating upper body injury that left me unable to work for over a year. All the money I had saved had been spent on medical bills, and I could no longer afford to keep my apartment. Thankfully, my friend Mimi allowed me to stay with her until I could get my feet back on the ground.
Recovering from my injury was a slow and painful process. The only thing that eased the pain was massage and acupuncture. One day while I was getting a massage my therapist suggested that I get counseling for grief and loss. Having little money and little faith in therapy I quickly rejected her suggestion. However, she convinced me that I should join a group that met one weekend every other month. It would cost $50 and a dish to pass. Feeling I had little left to lose, I signed up for an upcoming workshop.
A few weeks later, armed with black bean and corn salad, I nervously entered the first of many meetings to come. At first glance I found the group of thirty strangers to be quite an odd lot, and not particularly friendly. There were men and woman of all ages and vocations. Some dressed in hippy garb, others in jeans and t-shirts, and yet others in their Sunday best. They came from many different religious backgrounds and had varied spiritual beliefs and practices. What I found on second glance was a group of folks that no matter their background had stumbled upon some adversity that had challenged them to look deeply within themselves. With Gwen’s guidance, they were able to explore and gain greater insight and strength. And finally, I found a loving, kind, compassionate group that accepted, and loved me.
Gwen took this odd group, disassembled our differences, and exposed our sameness. With each tale of hardship the group listened to one another, wept, and prayed for one another. In doing so, we were all on some level healed. We also, sang, meditated, created ceremonies, pledged in the Native American Tradition to Air, Water, Earth, or Fire. We created prayer sticks and explored the emotions relevant to each of the four elements. We opened our minds, bodies, and spirits to gain greater insights to ourselves and each other. Gwen guided us graciously through each process. Sometimes with gentle encouraging words of wisdom, and at other times, quick to call one on their misconceptions (otherwise known hog wash or b.s.).
I went to the workshops for several years. During that time I not only grew stronger mentally and physically, but also met the woman that made my career in dentistry possible. I literally went from the depths of despair to having most of my dreams come true, and from believing there was no hope to knowing that there is always hope. I have never had the words to thank Gwen for all she gave me. Thank you just seems too small and insignificant. But as I look heavenward all I can say is this: Gwen from the deepest and most sincere part of my heart and soul, thank you.
Gwen was 88 when she passed away. She was a wife, mother, grandmother, poet, and artist. She was also a teacher, mentor, and healer to countless numbers of people. During her workshops Gwen would occasionally speak of her transition. She was unafraid, as she did not believe in a true death, only a changing of one form to another. She spoke of this transition with joy and looked forward to continuing her journey on the other side. She would not want us to be sad, but to remember and to carry on, to live in love, with integrity, and to help one another when possible.
Please consider viewing Gail’s photography at: http://www.lakehousephoto.com/
© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
All these memories! Where are they coming from? Just one note from an old country song or Sunday school hymn can evoke vivid imagery from my childhood. Sights, sounds, smells, and voices rush back as clear as the day they occurred. Perhaps I am just of an age when this phenomenon occurs. Perhaps it is simply because I have been working in the same vegetable garden that my folks started in 1963. Or perhaps the memories live in the ground and are released as I part the soil to plant seeds. The memories come in clusters quite rapidly and then into individual events.
Mother is in the kitchen, not yet thirty, listening to Tiger baseball cheering on Al Kaline and Willie Horton. The room is hot and humid and her skin glistens with sweat. There are tomatoes in the bushel baskets, on the stove being blanched, in the sink cooling, and some in jars. The house is filled with the smell of partially cooked tomatoes, the clinking sound of glass jars being bumped against one another, and the pop of canning lids as they seal. My arms itch from the juice that seeps from tomatoes as I remove the peels for mother.
Calvin and Kenny are in the upstairs hallway endlessly stacking and restacking wooden blocks into a pyramid. Only to propel the indestructible gray model car forward hoping each time for a bigger better more magnificent crash. They banter back and forth arguing over which crash was the best. I am the cheerleader and always root for Kenny because he is not my brother.
Jeannie, Joanie, Frankie, and I are sitting in the front yard on a warm summer day. The grass is cool but prickly on our outstretched legs. Our legs create a human fence to contain the new baby bunnies. We take turns holding each of the babies, nuzzling and petting their soft black and white fur. We giggle. We giggle because they are cute, and soft, and funny, and because they try to nibble the ends of our fingers. We giggle because we are delighted, because it is summer, and there are bunnies, and we have each other.
I am sitting in the old fiberglass canoe on the pond, fishing pole in hand. I am in the front and Dad in the back. I want to catch a fish, but I am distracted by the turtle that is swimming under the boat. “Keep still” my father cautions, “You will scare the fish.” So I sit still and watch the bobber. I like the yellow flowers on the lily pads and ask if we can take some to mom. “Keep still” my father cautions, “there is no talking in fishing, you will scare the fish.” I am five years old and I try to watch the bobber and I want to catch a fish. But my mind begins to wander, and I wonder how warm the water is and why we cannot go swimming in this lake. “Jerk!” my Dad hollers, and I do and he says “reel in” and I do and he smiles and calls me his little fisherman. He takes the fish off the hook, tosses it in the bucket with a splash, and recasts the line for me. I want to catch another fish and I try to watch the bobber, but I am distracted by the bird flying overhead.
All of these memories! Where are they coming from? I simply cannot say. No matter the catalyst, each is a precious gift to be unwrapped, savored, and considered again and again. I hear the laughter of children and the echo of boys being boys. I feel the special bond that is created between father and daughter spending quiet time together, and that of mother and daughter working side by side to complete a task. I have cherished these snippets from the movie of my life. It is with the sincerest gratitude that I say thank you Mom, Dad, Calvin, Kenny, Frankie, Jeanne, and Joni. Thank you for all of precious moments long past shared that have molded me into the person I am today.
For More of Gail’s Photos please consider: http://www.lakehousephoto.com/
© Gail Howarth and Blog.Lakehousecc.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and http://www.lakehousecc.com/blog/ with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
A friend of mine posted on Facebook, “Tell me something good. I am so tired of bad news and being sad.” My friend has faced so many challenges this year. First, she lost her mother, and then a few short months later, her father. There have also been other life crisis, some big, some small. The most recent occurred just a few days ago, ironically, on the anniversary of her mother’s passing. As she and her siblings prepared for their annual Labor Day camping trip, her sister had a serious heart attack. Fortunately, she was rushed to the hospital, treated, and is now recovering at home.
My friend has had enough! Though she has experienced much joy in the past year, it has been tempered by the pieces of the puzzle that are missing. Birthdays, weddings, camping trips with her family, and time spent with her grandson are often bittersweet. Grief is a heavy burden, and leaves one feeling so alone. It took courage for my friend to reach out beyond her sadness and ask: “Tell me something good.”
How many of us carry the burden of sadness or grief at least once in a while? How often do we suffer alone with our own personal pain? Haven’t we all wanted or needed to just hear something good! What is it that keeps us from asking sooner? How often do we finally reach the point of asking, only to learn how much our friends and family long to help?
And so it was for me. When my friend asked, I merely wanted to help. I searched my mind for something grand, stupendous, or so magnificent that it would surely lift her spirits. I pondered this for a long time, and was dumbfounded to realize that I could not recollect one huge great thing. What I found, though, were innumerable small things. Good for me is the first cup of tea in the morning, the purring of the cat when she is happy, the trill of the peepers in spring, and the symphony of crickets and grasshoppers in fall. It is the seemingly endless days of summer, when it feels like anything is possible. It is a beautiful sunrise, sunset, or a rainbow after a storm. It is a sweet memory from days long past, and time well spent with friends and family.
As I pondered what to share, I wondered if any of my seemingly insignificant “good things” would be enough to lift my friend’s spirit. I began to type, backspace, and type again: I took a great photo; I saw a flower so blue that my heart was filled with joy; The lady in front of me at McDonald’s bought my iced tea; Lydia the crane met me at my car when I got home from work; One of the people I trained today said something that touched my heart. The list went on and on. In the end, I posted that it was cool enough to have all the windows in the house open. It was not grand, magnificent, or stupendous, and honestly it felt a little silly.
A few days later I was having a tough day. Seemingly easy tasks became complex, roadblocks appeared every step of the way, and soon my entire day was consumed by utter nonsense. I was frustrated, angry, and feeling way out of control. In a rare moment, I posted my irritation on Facebook. The response from my friends was overwhelming and heartfelt. The gal that I worried so much about what “good thing” to post, responded by saying: “I wish I could write like you do, so I can return the favor you have done for me countless times by making me feel better with your words!!!“
Then in a great “aha” moment, it came to me! That one “good thing” is not about the words. It is not about big, or small, significant, or insignificant. It is about the meaning behind the words. It is simply and purely about the caring! It is about one friend reaching out to another. So if I may, this one time have a do over, I would like to say to all my friends and family that need to hear something good now, or in the coming days; I care. I am here for you. And, I hope your heart finds the peace it desires, and that you are soon able to experience the love, beauty, and joy that are ever present.
For more of Gail’s Photos please consider: http://www.lakehousephoto.com/
© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content
Today I republish this blog with a heavy heart. Yesterday, January 17, 2015, Mr. Bock went home to heaven. I will forever cherish my memories of the man and family that always had room for one more in their home.
This blog is dedicated to Mr. and Mrs. Bock, whom so graciously welcomed me into their home and hearts. A better childhood would be impossible to imagine. Thank you for being such a special part of it.
In a time before Walmart, small towns were a place where neighbors shopped at family owned businesses along a common main street. Walking was the primary method of transportation. As folks strolled from store to store, they took time to greet one another and to chat about the weather, the crops, the family, and other important matters of the day. What we would see as phenomenally inconvenient today, was simply the way of life in so many rural communities. The shopkeepers, shoppers, handshakes and claps on the back, smiles, laughter, and conversation along the way were the glue that held the community together. Tonight I fondly remember my hometown, of Friday nights spent with Mr. Bock, Jeanne, Joni and Frankie, and a time when life seemed so much easier.
Sometimes when I was a kid, if I was really lucky, mom would let me go to town with the Bock family on their Friday night adventure. I call it an adventure because it was completely opposite from a trip to town with mom. Mom was a no nonsense kind of shopper. She had a list, stuck to it, and efficiently moved from place to place. She did, occasionally, include a few fun stops, but my brother and I were given strict instructions not to dawdle, as she always had “better things to do” back home. The fun places included Nyson’s Hobby Shop for new Matchbox Cars, Hopkin’s Bakery for the best Long John’s ever made, or on very special occasions, J & J’s or Jane’s Restaurant, where we would sit on the vinyl covered stools at the counter, and I would order a hotdog.
The trek to town with the Bock’s was exhilarating! First, though, there was always a quick meal that only served to heighten my anticipation. It was difficult to sit still when my mind was consumed with thoughts of what we might do, who we might see, and what candy we would pick out with the quarter Mr. Bock gave each of us. Next, there was a rush to the car, where, most often, Jeanne and Frankie would argue over who would sit in the front seat. Joni and I were content to just get in the back seat so we could get to town more quickly. Once Mr. Bock picked the co-pilot, we were off! Most of the time the car was filled with laughter, but now and again, the argument over seating arrangements spilled over into a ‘did too, did not’ fight that siblings do so well.
Our first stop was Fremont Bank & Trust. Banks stayed open late on Friday nights back then, as there was no such thing as direct deposit, ATMs, or online banking. I loved Fremont Bank & Trust. It was so different from the Old State Bank of Fremont where my folks did their banking. It was an appropriately sized modern building with wood paneled walls and carpet on the floor. The Old State Bank of Fremont, on the other hand, was built in the early 1900’s. It was oversized, overdone, with multiple levels, constructed with brick, marble, and other stone tile. In my young mind it felt very cold and too shiny. It did feature a sucker jar that I did enjoy from time to time, but Fremont Bank & Trust offered so much more.
My fascination with Fremont Bank & Trust began at the door. Just inside, there was a rack of about twenty black umbrellas. If it was raining, you could borrow one, and return it the next time you were in town. They were the really nice kind of umbrellas, sturdily built and big. Even at ten years old, I could never believe people would return them. But each time I went to the bank, I counted, and sure enough, they were almost always all there.
The next, and very best thing about the bank, was the display that held travel brochures and maps. Each pamphlet featured color glossy photos of what was special about that state or destination. I was fascinated with Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and New Mexico. I could not get enough information about these states and would take as many brochures as I could without causing the adults to become upset. At home I would pour over the little booklets again and again and dream of someday visiting the land of peaches, palm trees, red rock, and mountains. Perhaps, even back then, I knew I would be a traveler one day.
Next, we would embark upon a leisurely stroll to Hartsema’s Newstand. Mr. Bock knew a lot of people and loved to visit, so the half block walk might take quite some time. I am not sure anymore what Mr. Bock did at the newsstand. Jeanne, Frankie, Joni and I were too busy looking at the latest 45s. Jeanne and Frankie were music experts and always knew what was cool. Joni was way cooler than me, but not quite as cool as her older brother and sister. Jeanne knew important things, such as, the Jackson Five was way better than the Osmond Family, and that Jermaine Jackson was definitely cuter than all of the Osmond’s combined. Frankie was never impressed with the lighter side of pop music and kept us informed of groups like Grand Funk Railroad, Led Zeplin, The Doors, and his very favorite artist, David Bowie. I bought my very first 45 while I was on one of our Friday night ventures. It was Melanie’s Brand New Key.
After the newsstand Mr. Bock would give us each a quarter and send us down the block to Ben Franklin’s 5 and Dime. Meanwhile, he would visit with Frank Morgan at Morgan’s Sport Shop. Ben Franklin’s was like the Grand Finale at a fireworks show. We would delightedly scurry up and down the aisles to find all of the new items and old favorites, always under the watchful eye of the tall gray haired woman who worked at the store. Ben Franklin’s had everything a kid could possibly want! There were toys, games, stuffed animals, comics, crafts, penny candy, and live turtles. As far as I know, everyone wanted a turtle, but no one ever got one.
What we did get, though, was candy, and lots of it. A quarter went a long way back then. My first choice was always Smarties. After that, I would weigh out all my options very carefully. This process could take quite some time! Did I want candy or gum? If it was gum, should it be Bazooka Bubble Gum or the gum that was shaped like a cigar? If it was candy, should it take a long time to eat like a Slo-Poke, or quick like a Pixi Stix? Should it have multiple pieces for sharing, or saving for later, like Lemon Heads, Red Hots or Candy Cigarettes; or just one individual piece of candy for now like a Jaw Breaker?
All too soon, Mr. Bock would reappear signaling that it was time to complete our purchases and head home. The trip home was much the same as the trip into town. Generally lots of sugar induced giggling, teasing, and occasionally a really good ‘did too, did not’ fight that might include pinching and hair pulling. Mr. Bock amazingly endured it all with good humor.
I am, and will be forever, grateful for those days, for Mr. and Mrs. Bock, Jeanne, Joni, and Frankie. Like most folks, I grew up, moved away, and seldom saw my childhood friends. But the bond that was created so long ago has never broken. Now that I have returned to the area, we have been able to get together to visit. It seems that very little has changed. Mr. and Mrs. Bock still live in the same house and are doing fairly well for their age, Frankie still loves music with an edge, Jeanne is still the coolest of us all, and Joni is still way cooler than me.
Note: Julie Bock was not mentioned in this blog as she was too young to participate on the Friday night adventure. She too was an integral part of my childhood. I will hold her and the entire Bock family, in a special place in my heart for all the days of my life.
Final Note: I have learned since I originally published that the name of the gray haired lady at Ben Franklin was Ruth Kuhn. I have also learned that she was a talented at making tatted lace and generously offered to teach her skill to others.
Mr Bock went to heaven on January 16, 2015.
To view more of Gail’s Photos please consider: http://www.lakehousephoto.com/
As always thanks to Carmel Steffen for her smart commas. Without her no one would ever know where to paws or pause. Hmm! Thank you Carmel!
© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.