STARLIGHT, STAR BRIGHT

      The noted astronomer began harmlessly enough.  Proudly, he held up a steaming, baked potato in front of us.  It symbolized a white, dwarf star, gazillions of miles away from our uncomfortable, folding chairs.  By calculating the rate at which the potato, and thus the star, cooled, science could assess the age of our galaxy.  When he excitedly announced that our good, old, planet earth has been around for at least 13 ½ billion years, ‘Yippee’ did not come to mind.  Black holes did. 

     As the others lined up to gaze at M-13 through the telescope, I lost my zeal.  I kept imagining all the billions of people who weren’t here anymore.  They were now like those faraway stars:  infinitely, irrevocably untouchable.  With all the eons of TIME out there, we’re stuck in ridiculously short ‘time shares,’ one breath away from being obsolete.  ‘Is it possible to feel any smaller?’ I wondered.

     Yup.  “Stars don’t die all at once.  The larger, densely packed, intense ones die the fastest.”  (I’m thinking James Dean).  “The smaller, less dense, more demure ones last longest.” ( Betty White?)  Uh Oh.  According to my family, I’m as high-strung as a key on a kite in lightning.  My oldest said just last week, “Mom.  Why don’t you return to Disney and ask them to remove your animation chip?”  My time may be shorter than I thought.

     Now I’ve had stars in my eyes.  I’ve stepped on the stars in front of Grauman’s Chinese.  I’ve dated stars.  I‘ve stuck the glow-in-the-dark ones above my children’s cribs. But never have the stars seemed less appealing.  So, when the astronomer finished, I asked:  “Okay.  Now that we know how old the galaxy is, and that one day, billions of years from now, the universe will go dark and there will be no stars—what does this mean personally, for you, right now?’  “Um. . .Well. . .I guess. . . I. . . just don’t know the answer to that,” he said sadly. 

     But I do.  Tonight the Perseid meteor shower will be in full view and I will watch all those falling stars fall.  It will remind me that dying is pretty from a distance.  But mostly it will remind me of the nights Granny and I used to look up at those same stars and say:  “Starlight, star bright.  First star I see tonight.  Wish I may.  Wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.”  (Hudson’s memoir, “Kissing Tomatoes,” recounts the 13 years she lived with her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s).  http://www.helen-hudson.com.

JUST DRIVE

     I just handed my oldest the keys to the car and sent her out to the market.  For a brief moment, she just stood there and looked at me as if uncertain what I meant.  “Here’s the key,” I repeated.  “Just drive.”  I figure she’s had enough of me sitting in the passenger seat making her nervous.  She now has her license and it’s time for me to let go.  Ha!  Do we parents ever really let go?

        Okay.  So she’s been gone over an hour.  I’ve replayed the entire drive to and from back and forth in my mind several times.  But no amount of my worry will amount to a hill of beans when it comes to, ‘the other guy.’  If I add up all of the worrying I’ve done about everything over the last 40 years, it is quite clear that I have wasted months, maybe years, of precious time.  They should have been spent laughing, creating and exploring instead. 

        The really good decisions I’ve made in my life were mostly done on the spot out of a sense of responsibility, joy or love; like the day we moved Granny in with us.*  We didn’t work out a budget or decide how much time we would have to devote to her.  We just moved her in, Alzheimer’s and all.  In hindsight, it’s better that we didn’t know we’d have to add Depends to the shopping list, or that just bathing her might take an entire hour.  Love far outweighs anything on a balance sheet or a shopping list.

        And it was love that propelled me to send my daughter off an hour ago.  She will never spread her wings if I keep her tethered and I want her to fly.  She needs to feel that sense of full accountability when she is behind the wheel, to know there is nothing between her and the other guy but her own good judgment.  As a driver, she will have to make many ‘on the spot’ decisions.  If they’re done with responsibility, love and joy she will be okay.

        Oops.  Gotta run.  I hear the garage door opening.  My bird is returning to the nest; the same one I used to buckle into her pink, fluffy, car seat with her stuffed elephant.  My heart leaps with both joy and gratitude.  (*From, “Kissing Tomatoes,” by Helen Hudson.  http://www.helen-hudson.com).

P. S.  An hour after I posted this blog, I discovered that Wisconsin has launched a, “Just Drive,” campaign for teens.  It comes with its own yellow road sign and points out that while teens only account for 7% of all drivers, they cause 14% of all accidents.  How comforting.

HERE’S TO INDEPENDENCE!!

     Today may be a celebration of our country’s independence, but fireworks on this night have always reminded me it’s Granny’s birthday.  She would have been 110 today.  I said “Good-bye” to her at 95 but the truth is she left me in body only.  Every hug, tear and piece of advice she ever gave me is still intact in my memory. 

      On this date in 1845, Thoreau moved to Walden and wrote the book which would define him.  He would remind us that man and nature are inextricably connected, so we must preserve it.  The same holds true of the invisible threads which bind us to each other.

      As I waved my youngest off to New York yesterday and reminded her to “drink plenty of water,” it was really Granny talking.  When I hugged my oldest at the gate en route to look at colleges in California and my tears began to fall, I remembered Granny doing the same when I left her.  My children are already navigating that long road that we all have walked— to independence.

      We repeat ourselves generation to generation.  We do it in different languages, under different skies and in different times but the pattern doesn’t change.  We’re born, make the same mistakes our parents did (or invent our own), have children, watch them grow as we age and then we die.  Some of us die fighting like those who won our independence.  Some of us have no fight at all.  Most of us lie somewhere in between.

      What all of us have is a teeny, tiny window of time to look out on the garden of Life.  “It will only be as beautiful as you make it,” Granny once said, “and it takes work.”   Someday, if my children remember me on my 110th birthday, I hope their gardens are as full of color and rich with possibilities as mine is.  I learned how to tend it from a woman born in 1900; the same one who also said, “Plant lots of seeds.  They won’t all take.”  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a memoir of the years before and after her grandmother’s descent into Alzheimer’s.   http://www.helen-hudson.com).

GETTING THERE JUST HAPPENS

     I pretty much have an answer for everything and even when I don’t, I pretty much come up with something.  Every now and then, though, I get thrown.  Today, I was at a loss for words not once but twice.  A gal in her 80’s asked me what it was like, “to feel that young,” as I swam past her in the water.  What the heck did she mean by that?  I certainly don’t feel ‘young’ in any sense of the word.  I scrambled for a suitable reply,  “Well, about the same way it felt for you when you were my age, I guess.”  Not a great answer, I know.

      Later, my 13 year–old asked me, “Is it scary getting old?”  “Nope,” I replied quite honestly.  “Looking in the mirror and SEEING that you’re old can be scary but getting there just happens.”  She thought about this a moment and then asked:  “Well, is it scary dying?”  “Um,” I replied scrambling for words.  “I’m not sure that I can answer that one quite yet.”   (http://www.helen-hudson.com

 

 

HOLD YOUR HORSES!!

     Before you read one, more word, I must warn you:  I am prejudiced towards old folks.  Just love ’em. Guess you could say I have a thing for crinkly, wrinkles and a shuffling step.  In fact, give me a sour codger over a surly teen ANY day of the week.  At least they’ve earned it.  Okay, so maybe they’re not the best drivers.  Maybe they do put on the left signal, then turn right—but I absolutely REFUSE TO HONK AT THEM!  

     Take today, for example.  I was driving my youngest to school, when I caught sight of an old Chrysler up ahead on the right, starting to inch past the STOP sign.  “They’re not pulling out in front of me,” I say mostly to myself.  Yup. I’m going 50 mph as a little old lady pulls smack into my lane going 15 mph and she is definitely NOT accelerating.  I pump the brakes.  Several seconds later and she’s barely climbed to 30 mph.  “Why didn’t you honk your horn at her?” my daughter queries.  “She’s old,” I reply.  “The noise would have just startled her more.  It’s safer to just brake.” 

     Not five minutes later, we are accelerating from a 4-way stop when a blonde in a Mercedes, rolls through the STOP sign and bolts in front of me.  I lay on the horn so hard and fast, my daughter fairly leaps from her seat.  I’m now on the blonde’s bumper, close enough to see that she’s texting!  “Gosh, Mom,” my daughter pipes up again.  “Why did you honk at HER?”  “Well, she didn’t stop at the STOP sign.  She pulled out in front of us without looking where she’s going because she’s texting..AND she’s young and quick and should know better!” 

     When Granny first taught me how to drive she kept a hawk eye on my speedometer.  If I went one millisecond over the speed limit, she calmly said, “Now, hold your horses dear.  We’re in no hurry.”  I thought she was referring to the horsepower of the engine but a woman born in 1900 means real horses.  Granny had once owned a stallion named Duke.  “He was 15 hands high and a powerful animal.  If not bridled and trained he could stampede right over you.”  So, the next time you’re tempted to honk at one of our silver-haired seniors, remember:  Hold Your Horses!  (http://www.helen-hudson.com.)

A DAY FOR MOTHERS–A LIFETIME OF MOTHERING

     There is a mother on our back porch; a common, house finch.  For days, I watched her build her bowl-shaped nest on the 5″ by 5″ column ledge that supports the awning.  Trip after trip of gathering sticks never seemed to wear her out.  She flew her missions until that nest was as perfectly round and centered on the precipice as if it had been pre-drawn by a protractor. 

     The waiting began.  Sometimes, I would look up, see her eyes closed and imagine she was laying her eggs.  For weeks she sat, even through the deluge of tornadoes, rain and floods which shook Nashville to the core.  Undeterred, she merely preened her feathers and waited.  I grew tired of waiting and forgot all about her until the day I heard chirrupy peeps and looked up.  Three, tiny heads, just barely above the lip of her nest were open-beaked and squawking.  In she swooped with worms from the wet ground and they fought for her delicacies. 

     Many days have passed and those heads now tower over a space too small for their size.  The nest is no longer neat or centered, but has shifted several inches to the right and looks shabby.  The right side is bent down low from the weight of that mother patiently standing to nourish each open mouth.  Displaced twigs and debris have fallen to the ground underneath.  Feathers and dung are splashed and stuck to the sides.  There is nowhere for them to go but out now.

     I was 40 my first Mother’s Day & until then, my life had been all about me.  So thoroughly thoughtless and self-centered was I, that years earlier I said something to my cousin which still haunts me.  She had recently given birth to her first child and we were to meet for an afternoon coffee.  She phoned at 2 PM to say she could not make it.  “The baby was up all night with colic…has a diaper rash..exhausted …just now headed to the shower.”  My reply?  “It’s two o’clock in the afternoon.  You’re just NOW taking a shower?  What do you DO all day?” 

     She is an empty-nester now.  Her three daughters are grown and gone into lives of their own.  Mine will soon follow.  And Anna Jarvis, who 100 years ago began “Mother’s Day” as a tribute to her own mother is gone, too.  She  was bereft at the commercialization that her special day ultimately became:  “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”  Had she ever had children of her own, they would have been as proud of her as I was of the grandmother who raised me.  (Hudson is the author of ,”Kissing Tomatoes,” a memoir of 40 years with her grandmother.  http://www.helen-hudson.com). 

NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT

     I first dragged my girls to play piano at nursing homes when they were in middle school.  I wanted them to see firsthand what it’s like to get old–really old.  I also wanted them to know what happens to you if you can’t take care of yourself any longer:  Strangers do it.  Enough said.  At first, my oldest was intimidated by the bizarre behavior of those whose wits had failed.  While she played, one woman  kept yelling at her to, “Get out of my house.”  My youngest went squeamish at the smells and sights. 

     While those experiences had a sobering effect on them, it didn’t last long and that’s probably a good thing.  Why dwell on ones demise before one reaches the brink of all possibility?  As teenagers now, their lives are mostly all ahead of them.  They are navigating those chapters after, “The Preface.”  For those in the homes where they played Chopin and Bach, life is mostly all behind in the chapters before, “The End.”  

     What most of us seem to forget, though, is that ALL of Life’s chapters carry equal importance.  What good is the Introduction without the Epilogue?  How can you understand Chapter 27 if you haven’t read chapter 8?  The finest part of our stories ultimately comes at the Conclusion; that transfixing moment where all the tribulations and triumphs that made us human culminate.  Who were we?  How did we navigate our birthrights?  Ultimately, what did we offer this world where we make such a very, brief presence?  

     I cherished my children from the moment I knew they were forming inside of me.  My husband and I marveled over their first words, held our breaths at their first steps, dried their tears and held them close.  Someday, though, someone else will hear their last words, watch their final steps and hopefully, hold them very, very close.  We will likely not even be here when our girls reach the very age we are now.  I have done the math.  So, I have to hope that the world they are aging into will one day embrace the wrinkles, the mottled skin, and the dementias.  For it does not now and the gap between our young and old is very wide indeed.

     How to bridge it?  Take the kids to Grandpa’s.  So what if he is cantankerous and crotchety.  All the better.  Let them see how they don’t want to grow up.  Pay your kids to rake the leaves off, “Old Aunt Becky’s” porch.  Better yet, if your own parents are beginning to lose their grip, move them in with you.  Even in the moderate stages of Alzheimer’s many are finding it both cheaper and more rewarding than a nursing home.  At the very least, you’ve offered the example to your children.  There’s really no time like the present.  (Helen Hudson cared for her grandmother for 13 years when she had Alzheimer’s.  “Kissing Tomatoes,” is her story of those years).  http://www.helen-hudson.com