All posts tagged family
Posted by Garrie Madison Stoutimore on January 7, 2013
It is December, and is time to wrap the gifts I’ve carefully selected for my children. A few evenings ago, I rummaged through the attic in search of paper and ribbon and came across a box marked “Sentimental Stuff.” Inside is a music box with a dancing clown.
In the late summer of 1982, I window shopped at Johnson’s Bookstore in Springfield, Massachusetts with my husband, Paul. Johnson’s was an amazing store with rooms upon rooms of books, toys and art supplies. We browsed for hours, leafing through pages, and dreaming of giving the beautiful dolls, books and teddy bears to our unborn child. On a shelf were small shadow boxes containing jointed paper clowns that danced when the music box on the back was wound. I was immediately taken by them, but I knew my practical farm-raised husband would not recognize the value in such frivolity. Besides, in those lean years, our pennies were carefully counted and reserved for bare necessities, so after a few moments of watching the paper clown dance, I turned and left the store.
That December as the holidays approached, we struggled to pay for food and oil. We kept our heat only high enough to keep our pipes from freezing, and heated water on the stove for dishes and bathing. Our finances were grave, but our mood was bright. It was Christmas, after all- the celebration of our Savior’s birth. Christ was born into poverty with the sole purpose of dying for all mankind. And yet, there was no bitterness in His birth. The heavens rejoiced, and so would we. We decorated a small tree and settled in front of the fireplace to discuss our gift giving budget.
After a long conversation, we settled on rules for our yuletide celebration. We would each have ten dollars to spend on each other. There would be no cheating, no borrowing, no allowing anyone else foot the bill. Everything under the tree would have to be something we made ourselves, or bought within the ten-dollar budget.
During the following weeks, I stretched my sweater over my growing belly and concentrated on knitting wool scraps into mittens for my husband. I used my ten dollars on wool socks, a flannel shirt, and Christmas goodies to fill Paul’s stocking. A few days before Christmas, I finally finished the mittens. They were pieced together in stripes- tan, rust and brown, all from yarn left over from my mother’s past projects, but the stitches were tight and they promised to keep his hands warm when he shoveled our long driveway on snowy mornings. I carefully wrapped them, hoping they would fit his hands, and wondering if he would like them.
Christmas morning dawned and we feasted on eggs, homemade muffins, and coffee. We prayed our thanks to God for the amazing gift of His son and sat at the foot of the tree to open gifts. Paul was pleased with his. The shirt and socks fit and he promised me that he loved the mittens and would wear them often. Then he handed me a small box.
My eyes filled with tears. “You cheated!” I accused, knowing the music boxes cost far more than our budget had allowed.
“No- really,” he protested. I kept looking and looking but I couldn’t find anything I liked that I could afford. I went into Johnson’s and this was the only one left. It was stuck in a corner and was a bit dusty. There wasn’t a price tag on it, so I asked. The clerk couldn’t find a price, so he offered to sell it to me for ten dollars.”
“I saw how much you loved it last summer,” he said softly. “I wanted to get it then, but I couldn’t afford it.”
My eyes filled with tears and I hugged him as tightly as my swollen belly would allow. We placed the clown on a shelf where it served as a reminder that young love can overcome the tightest budgets and the toughest obstacles.
Somewhere in the years that followed the music box stopped working. Perhaps it was wound too tightly, or maybe its Christmas magic just ran out. But the clown stopped dancing, and the music stopped playing, and eventually the marriage ended.
But in December, there is no room for bitterness. Although we are no longer a couple, I still remember that Christmas with great fondness. Even though we cannot live as husband and wife now, the love we shared on that day, and for many more was real and true.
I carefully put the clown back in its box and closed the lid. Then, taking a deep breath, I grabbed a roll of paper, turned out the light and shut the door to the attic.
Posted by Garrie Madison Stoutimore on December 7, 2012
This morning I woke to find the season’s first blanket of snow on the ground outside my window. I had anticipated the storm and even prepared for it. Indeed, just yesterday I climbed the stairs to the attic in search of my snow brush and a shovel, and smiled at the irony of finding them next to my beach chairs and umbrella.
As I pushed the wet heavy snow from my car windshield, I realized that my heart still quickens when the first snow of winter falls from the night sky, glistening in the street lights and covering the black pavement like baby powder. I still think that the first snow has some magical qualities. And as I do every year, I remembered the day I snuck snow into Elizabeth’s hospital room.
She was eight years old, painfully thin, with sunken cheeks and huge eyes. For years, her symptoms had baffled her doctors. We knew something was wrong. We just did not know its name, and without a name, nobody knew how to treat her. Finally, her symptoms became so invasive that her doctor admitted her to the medical center for a week of testing.
I knew the testing would be difficult. She would have an IV and an A line inserted. She would have blood tests every hour or so. We would recount her story to multiple medical students, doctors and nurses. She would be allowed not food or drink for thirty-six hours, or until her blood sugar made a drastic drop. She would be exhausted and hungry and nauseated. And she would not understand.
The first several hours after her admission went quickly. The staff at the medical center gave great pediatric care, and made my daughter as comfortable as possible. But as the hours passed and she was moved into the PICU-Pediatric Intensive Care Unit- she grew hungry and irritable. Not wanting to leave her, I waited until early evening when she drifted into an uneasy sleep before sneaking off to the hospital cafeteria for a quick bowl of soup. On the way back to the PICU I heard someone mention that it was supposed to snow.
When I reached Elizabeth, she was awake. “Where were you?” she asked. “Why did you leave me? I’m hungry. Can’t you get me something to eat?” Her big eyes filled with tears that rolled down her pale cheeks and splashed on her bed sheets. I gathered her in my arms, wrapped her in her favorite blanket and walked through the PICU, softly singing to her until she fell asleep. I sat by her bed until dawn broke. As the sky turned from black to gray to white, I realized the snow had fallen, just as predicted.
When Elizabeth woke, she was listless and quiet. She lay in her bed and stared at the wall, too nauseated to watch television or play. She didn’t want me to read to her. She didn’t want to play with “Diarrhea Doggie”- the stuffed puppy named by an intern to make her giggle in naughty glee. She didn’t want her back rubbed. And when I told her I was going to leave the PICU for a short time, she didn’t protest. She just lay in silent resignation.
I hurried to the cafeteria for breakfast, but found I was only able to swallow half a cup of coffee. I felt alone, and bewildered and ineffective at making things right for my precious little girl. Tears burned at my eyes, and I knew it was only a matter of moments before they would spill down my face betraying my silent worry. Needing a place to collect myself, I made a beeline for the parking lot and sat shivering and sobbing in my freezing car. I cried and prayed and then cried some more. Finally, I dried my eyes, and looked at myself in the rear view mirror. I looked almost as bad as Elizabeth. My eyes were sunken and red rimmed from tears and lack of sleep. My hair was messy and my clothes were wrinkled. I clearly needed something to lift my spirits and more importantly, lift Elizabeth’s.
Getting out of the car, I absently dragged my hand across the window and realized how sticky the snow was. “Great for snowmen,” I thought, and wondered if Abby and Gabe were playing in the white stuff on their way to the bus. Snow brings out the fun in all of us- especially the first snow of winter.
And then I had a thought. I hurriedly packed together a large snowball and placed it in my jacket pocket. Then I went straight to the PICU. Elizabeth was still awake, her eyes staring ahead, looking at everything, looking at nothing.
“I have a present for you!” I exclaimed, and she turned my way. I carefully drew the snowball from my pocket, not sure how the nearby nurses would react if they noticed.
Elizabeth’s eyes widened and a smile came to her lips. “A snowball? Here?”
“All for you. It’s the first snow of winter- magic snow!”
She took the snowball and held it in her hand for a few moments. It began to drip on her covers and she placed it in the plastic water cup by her bed. She grinned at me and laid back, her now sparkling eyes still on the melting snowball. She watched it until it was nothing more than a small puddle in the bottom of the cup. And although the following hours were difficult and long, the spark in my daughter’s eye remained. She managed to endure the rest of the testing, and subsequently received a diagnosis and a treatment plan. And a few days later, I took her home, where she grew from a spirited skinny little girl to a spirited willowy young woman.
This morning, I walked into work and heard people muttering about the mess they had to drive in, the slop on their sidewalks, the coating on their cars. They complain. They gripe. And while they grumble, I smile, because I will always welcome the first magical snow of winter.
Posted by Garrie Madison Stoutimore on November 8, 2012
Posted by Garrie Madison Stoutimore on October 30, 2012
It’s only late October and I’m already in full Christmas-preparedness mode. I’ve dusted off my sewing machine and started the search for special gifts for special loved ones. Whenever I spy something unusual and special- the kind of thing that I know one of my children would love- I hear tiny ensembles play Jingle Bells in my head. If the gift sings to me, I know it is a keeper. If not, I leave it behind.
Today I snagged a one-of-a-kind catch that makes me so excited that I can barely keep it a secret until the yule log blazes. Scoring such an item got me thinking of my family’s favorite things, and thinking of those things led me to think of my favorite things. Most of these are not items that can be wrapped in colored paper or stuffed into a stocking, but at my age, there isn’t a bunch of “stuff” I want or need anyway. However, if you want to join me in a little mental vacation, smile through the following list with me. And then, make one of your own.
Twenty Favorite Things
- The smell of percale sheets that have been dried outside on a cold blustery day.
- Drinking my first cup of morning coffee under the covers while I watch the morning news and check my email.
- The sound of my children laughing when they don’t know I am listening.
- Turning up the car radio so it’s one decibel below the point of breaking glass.
- Watching someone I love open a gift I made especially for them.
- A long hot shower on a frigid January morning.
- Dinner with as many family and friends as can be crowded around one table.
- Toasted homemade bread slathered with melting butter.
- An August breeze that smells of newly mown hay.
- Catching a wave in the Atlantic Ocean and riding it all the way to shore.
- Finishing an entire crossword puzzle without cheating.
- Dinner and a margarita on a sunny deck after work.
- A ninety minute massage by a therapist who doesn’t want to chatter and ask questions.
- The memory of my parents laughing at Johnny Carson while I lay in my bed.
- Kissing the head of my newborn baby.
- Trying on a pair of pants and finding that they are too loose.
- Comfortable shoes.
- Standing next to my brothers, or anyone else who towers over me, so for once in my life I do not feel like a giraffe.
- Hitting a harmony so the notes hang in the air as if they are crystalized.
- Knowing that I get to live another day to enjoy numbers 1-19.
Posted by Garrie Madison Stoutimore on October 24, 2012
Most work days, I carry my lunch to work. It’s less expensive than eating out, and I am more apt to limit my meal to something more healthful and less calorie laden. More often than not, I pack a salad and fruit into re-useable plastic containers and carry them to work in a fabric tote bag. The bag was a gift from a coworker- a little calico sack that is just the right size, and can be washed when something leaks.
This morning while slicing cucumbers into my salad, I thought about how I used to pack lunches when my children were in school. Much the same as when I was a child, my kids were not fond of the food from the school cafeteria, and it did not make sense to pay for lunches they would not eat. Besides, one of the thrills of beginning each new school year was the rite of choosing a lunch box.
I recently read an article that lunchboxes are becoming a thing of the past. This made me sad, since some of my fondest memories of school were examining my classmates’ lunchboxes. My best friend had one that was decorated to look like a barn. I coveted that lunchbox, with its matching thermos that looked like a silo and fit inside the domed lid. Other children had boxes with Woody Woodpecker, Superman, and Mickey Mouse. One even had a box that looked (be still my heart) like a real T.V. set. We who had “cold lunches” could begin eating immediately, instead of standing in line for our trays to be filled with the cafeteria fare that smelled the same every day, no matter what it was.
I carried a red plaid lunchbox made of aluminum that had been my older sister’s. In those days, thermoses were made of glass, housed in aluminum. The unlucky child who clumsily dropped his lunch box was sure when opening a thermos at lunch time, to find its contents riddled with shards of glass. The matching thermos for my lunchbox had broken long before it was handed down to me, but for less than a nickel, I would buy a glass bottle of milk, shake it to make sure the cream and milk were mixed and carefully pull the cardboard stopper. Older boys in the cafeteria drank from the bottle, but I would insert a straw and sip, watching through the glass as the level of creamy white slowly declined. I rarely finished before I was full.
My lunch usually consisted of a sandwich, cookie and fruit. My mother made our bread and cookies from scratch and wrapped them in waxed paper. I envied those kids who had sandwiches of Wonder Bread, that “built strong bodies 12 ways” and Hostess Twinkies with their lovely cream centers and came in packages of twos. Now, when I think of how my mother baked every day to keep her growing brood in oatmeal raisin cookies, I wonder how I could have been so keen to trade for something from a store.
My mother would make a grocery list on the back of a used envelope. I would watch, hoping to see something like Drakes Cakes or Funny Bones on the list. They never were. “Couldn’t you at least buy those little wax paper bags instead of flat sheets of Cut-Rite?” I begged. It would be years before I understood the economics of feeing a family of ten. A generation later, my children begged me to buy sandwich size zip-lock bags instead of the less expensive bags that folded to close. Some things never really change.
When my own children started school, I enthusiastically took them shopping for lunch boxes. Aluminum had been replaced by plastic, but the decorations were still enticing. They lingered before the display, carefully choosing what would carry their lunches- sandwiches on wheat bread, fruit, and homemade oatmeal cookies. One year, her father naively let Abby choose a “90210” lunchbox- practically scandalous, since she was not allowed to watch the program on television. I let her keep it, sure that she gained several popularity points in the fourth grade because of the coolness of that lunchbox.
At our house, old lunch boxes were used to house small toys, like crayons, doll shoes, and little green army men. They lined the bottom shelf of the bookcase where we kept toys and the kids identified the contents by the character on the front; Barbie held crayons, Spider Man held Matchbox cars, and so on. They made the perfect container-easy to identify and easy to carry.
In my attic is a trunk filled with well-loved dolls, stuffed animals and small toys, and in it there are two old lunchboxes. One contains a small brush, comb and assorted empty makeup containers, and the other, an empty travel sized shave cream, disposable razor (blade removed) and an empty bottle of after shave. I made these kits for the kids for Christmas gifts when they were little and our wallets were thin. They provided years of entertainment, and I saved them in hopes that someday I will have grandchildren who will enjoy them as well.
By the time my kids reached junior high, they had transitioned from lunchboxes to brown paper bags, and my days of shopping for lunchboxes ended. If the article I read is correct, my yet-unheard-of grandchildren might never know the joy of walking store aisles the week before school starts in search of that perfect lunchbox. Of course, I could start a vintage collection…
What was your favorite way to carry your lunch to school?
Posted by Garrie Madison Stoutimore on September 11, 2012
When I was twenty-four years old, I joined VISTA. I was a child of the 60s and enthusiastically gulped JFK’s Ask-not-what-your-country-can-do-for-you-ask-what-you-can-do-for-your-country-Kool-Aid. Initially, I wanted to join the Peace Corps, but after talking to the recruiter, settled on Volunteers In Service To America- VISTA.
In 1978, VISTAs worked for $340 a month plus food stamps. From this budget, volunteers were expected to pay for their own housing, transportation, medication and personal items. It was not high living, but I had grown up pinching pennies so I was confident that I would be able to manage.
Once I signed up, I eagerly awaited my first “project”- a description of an assignment at a specific location that I could either accept or decline. I had requested an assignment in the Pacific Northwest and was particularly interested in Alaska, since I had never seen that part of the country. To my surprise, the first project sent to me was in East Harlem, New York City- not exactly the Pacific Northwest.
I declined that project and the next, but finally was offered a position in Boise, Idaho. I accepted and several months later, flew across the country for a week of pre-service orientation in Seattle, Washington, followed by a train ride to Boise.
I arrived at midnight and was picked up at the station by a fellow VISTA named Ann, who was supposed to provide housing for me for the next week or two, while I found suitable housing. She led me to a guest room, where I fell into an uneasy sleep, excited about what the next day would hold.
In the morning, Ann hesitantly told me that her husband had decided he did not want me to stay with them and I needed to leave immediately. I was crushed. He hadn’t even met me. I was three thousand miles from home with nothing but a suitcase and a guitar, and I didn’t know a soul. I had less than a hundred dollars in my wallet. There were no computers, and no cell phones. I had no car, and no way to get home. I was stranded. I felt lost. And abandoned. And very alone.
I did what any calm, confident young woman would do in the same circumstances. I locked myself in the guest room and cried. I wished I had never signed up for VISTA. I wished I was still living at 30 Green Street. I wanted to be where I jockeyed with my siblings for time in the bathroom. I wanted to hear my father’s smoker’s cough announce his arrival home at the end of a work day. I wanted to trip over our dog, Greta, who had a habit of lying in front of the porch entry. I wanted to smell coffee brewing in the kitchen. I wanted my own pillow. But mostly, I wanted my mother. I wanted to search her soft gray eyes for answers. I wanted to feel her strong arms around my shoulders, and hear her reassuring laugh.
But my mother was not there with me. The reality of this brought a fresh stream of tears. They rolled down my cheeks and spattered on my jeans. They turned my eyes red and my face splotchy, and brought sobs so deep that I had to muffle them in a pillow so Ann would not hear.
Finally, the sobs subsided. I sat on the bed and wondered what my mother would say and in the emptiness of Ann’s guest room, I could almost hear her voice.
“C’mon Boo, dry your eyes. Figure it out.”
And that’s what I did. I dried my eyes. I picked up my suitcase and guitar, left Ann’s house and wandered through Boise’s residential areas until I came across a big white house with a sign in the window that said “Room for rent.”
I straightened my shoulders, took a deep breath, and knocked on the door, and a half hour later was settled in a small room with pink walls and a tiny three-quarter en-suite bath which was to be my home for the next several months.
It is now 2012. In the years since those first days as a VISTA, there have been many storms, and many times I have felt uncertain. Often I have wished I were back in the old house on 30 Green Street. I have longed to hear my father’s cough. I’ve wished to step over Greta lying on the front porch, and I have ached to look into my mother’s soft gray eyes, or feel her strong arms around my shoulders. But in those times when my steps are unsure, when I feel abandoned and alone, I remember that I was once that skinny twenty-four-year-old who was three thousand miles from home and heard her mother’s voice say,
“C’mon Boo, dry your eyes. Figure it out.”
And I do.
Posted by Garrie Madison Stoutimore on August 6, 2012
It is a beautiful beach day. I rise early, pack a lunch and drive to the coast, where I settle in my beach chair, wiggle my toes in the warming sand, and sip iced coffee. I watch as families populated the beach, carefully choosing the best spot for their blankets, unpacking kites and plastic pails, handing out drinks and snacks, just as I had done when my children were little.
As I sit in my faded canvas chair, I marvel at how the beach changes day-to-day, and yet in many ways, it remains the same. The beach has been a favorite spot for my family for four generations, and I suspect, will be continue to be long after my bones have returned to the sea. My grandmother sat in this very sand, clad in a heavy swim costume, her hair caught up in a crisp cotton cap to protect it from the salt air. My mother, barely a teenager, mugged for a camera on this beach in her two piece swimsuit, and a generation later, wearing my first bikini, I rode waves with my father in the same briny sea. And it was only yesterday- or was it years ago – that I dressed my children in fluorescent swimwear so I could see them as they ran to the rocks on Straws Point to search for star fish and periwinkles.
Indeed, the houses that line the beach have changed over the years. When my mother was young, only a few tiny cottages dotted the horizon, but by the time I was a teenager, the houses were bigger and closer together. When we vacationed at the beach I would wade in the water and look at those houses in awe. They were summer homes- rambling white buildings that housed extended families who slammed in and out the screen doors and set up volley ball nets during low tide. I dreamed of living in such a home- to be able to run from the foaming sea to a hot shower without shivering under a wet towel for the third of a mile walk to my grandparent’s cottage on Cable Road.
Most of the summer homes are gone now, and in their places are large year-round structures of concrete and stone, with tinted picture windows and outdoor showers with hot water to keep their hardwood floors from getting sandy. And instead of walking a third of a mile to my grandparents’ cottage, I drive forty miles to spend a day listening to the song that is sung to me only by the sea.
And yet, with all the changes, so much is the same. Children are warned to not go in past their waists. Fathers lift their toddlers high in the air and quickly dunk them in an exciting game of tag with the waves. Mothers wipe sand and sunscreen from their children’s eyes, and soothe them with cookies and a sip of lemonade. Seagulls cry to each other while swooping from the skies in search of forgotten sandwiches and chips.
It is the same gray sand that burns the soles of my feet at noon, and cools when the sun begins to sink below the trees to the west. It is the same barnacled rocks that scrape the toes and knees of those who hover too close to their edges. It is the same cold Atlantic water where my grandmother waded. The same frothing breakers that crashed over my mother as she floated parallel to the shore. The same freezing surf that lifts me and rushes me headlong to the shore until my lungs burn for air. It is the same in and out, sometimes green, sometimes blue, crash and ebb.
A couple of hours after I arrive at the beach, I heard a familiar voice from behind me and turn to see my son, Gabe, slipping off his sneakers. Minutes later, we are side by side in the water. I watch his lanky frame disappear in the churning froth, only to reappear several yards away. He rides waves like his mother. Like his grandfather. He loves the beach like his grandmother and great-grandmother. And although he is a different man on a different day, from a different generation, he is much the same as they were. I feel the warmth of the sun on my shoulders and I can’t help but think they are smiling down on him.
Posted by Garrie Madison Stoutimore on July 17, 2012
Last Sunday was Mother’s Day. My mother was never a huge fan of the holiday. She said that she had children because she wanted them and didn’t need a holiday to honor her for that decision. Still, whenever Mother’s Day comes along, I think of her soft gray eyes and hearty laugh and wish for a way to celebrate her impact on my life. She taught me many things; here are a few.
Ten Things my Mother Taught Me
1. Don’t do anything half-assed. This colorful phrase was one of the few instances when Mom used cuss words. I’m not sure where the phrase originated, but I knew it meant slopping something together without taking the proper steps to do it right. Mom detested doing a half-assed job of anything and did not tolerate it from her children. We were taught to make beds with square corners. We were taught to press the seams open when sewing. We were taught to prime before painting.
When I was eight years old, it was often my job to dry the dishes after dinner. One evening after dinner, there seemed to be an unusually number of dishes draining in our big two-sided sink. My brothers and sisters were playing, my parents watching the evening news, and I was left alone to dry and stack. I finished the glasses and plates, but the pile of cutlery seemed enormous. Instead of meticulously drying each utensil, I decided it would dry on its own and proceeded to dump the whole lot into the deep drawer were the silverware was kept. I smugly closed the drawer and ran to the back yard to play kickball with my siblings. Ten minutes later, my mother called me to the kitchen.
“What is this?” she asked, pointing to the dripping drawer.
“Um…er…” clearly I had no answer.
She pulled the huge drawer from the wall and dumped all of its contents into the sink. Filling the sink with hot, soapy water, she instructed me to wash all the silverware, dry it and put it away properly. Every time I am tempted to take a short cut I remember how it took me three times as long to finish my chores than it would if I had done them right the first time. Half-assed I will never be.
2. Kids do stupid things and they do not know why. The spring of my sixth year, I was to have my First Holy Communion. My mother was an ambitious seamstress and she bought snowy white fabric and yards of tulle to make my dress and veil. I do not remember the act, but apparently I thought I could help, and while the unsewn pieces of fabric were lying on the dining room table, I took my mother’s fabric shears and sliced the skirt down the middle. I do not remember being punished for this, nor do I remember hearing my mother chastising me, and at my First Communion, the dress was flawless.
I should have never been entrusted with scissors again, but in second grade I decided that the best way to deal with the tuft of hair that kept falling from my hairband was to cut it. I took the tuft in hand and with a pair of fingernail scissors from the bathroom, lopped it off at the scalp. To my horror, the hair that was left stuck out straight, like the top of a crew cut. My mother dried my tears, and taking a razor, gave me a pixie cut that hid the shorn spot on my forehead until it grew out.
3. Forgive one another. God did it, so should we. Enough said.
4. How to squirt water with your hands. One of my favorite memories is watching my mother teach my children how to cup their hands together and squirt water through the little opening where their thumbs met. They took such glee in squirting the brine of the Atlantic into her face and she took such glee in watching them do so.
5. Off color songs. Actually, it is one song. My mother’s family was not prim and proper, but they were classy, and rarely spoke in ways that were not appropriate for all audiences. But for some reason, my grandfather taught her this song when she was a child; “I love to go swimming with long legged women and swim between their legs.” She loved my shocked expression when she sang it to me, and I daresay I have repeated it to my children, relishing their wide eyes and gaping mouthed reactions.
6. Stand straight, shoulders back. Mom was a large woman- tall and big boned. She embraced her height and admonished us to do the same. When the circumstances of her life threatened to bow her head in humiliation and send her scurrying for secluded refuge, she pulled herself up to her full height and greeted the world full-face and smiling.
7. Just because something isn’t easy, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. When she was in college, my mother was terrible at mathematics. She nearly failed a required class and out of kindness and her promise to never teach math, her professor passed her. Several years later, she taught seventh and eighth grade math and she was a favorite teacher of many kids who struggled with the subject, probably because she taught in a way they could understand, and with the kindness and empathy only learned by one who had been there.
8. Put it to music. Whenever there was a chore to be done or a lesson to be learned, it was much more pleasant when set to music. At Mom’s instruction, we memorized times table, the books of the Bible, and spelling lessons by putting them to rhythm and music. Dishes were washed while signing Girl Scout camp songs. We dusted and polished furniture while listening to La bohème and Aida. Music made every task more fun, every challenge more easily met.
9. People aren’t here to live up to our expectations. Mom taught me a lot about acceptance. This did not always come easily to her- she worked at accepting people, and as she aged, she became more tolerant and less judgmental. She looked past dirty faces, foul language and bad attitudes and recognized the beauty inside. Social stature, wealth, notoriety and education did not change people’s worth. People did not need to change for her to love them. But often, because she loved them, they changed.
10. Love is always the answer. I learned from my mother that love is a verb that functions much like a muscle; put it to work and it becomes bigger and stronger. Fail to exercise it, and it becomes weak and ineffective. The harder it is to love, the better at loving we become.
In the last few hours of my mother’s life, I sat with her in a small room in the Hospice House. All the things of this life had faded away. Nothing mattered- not her education, not her possessions, not the pets she raised, or even the children she reared. In those final moments, when she hovered in that place between life and death, I watched her struggle to raise her arms up to God. Her last act was an attempt to embrace Him. To love Him.
Posted by Garrie Madison Stoutimore on May 14, 2012