The Little Sister

I cannot choose but think upon the time
When our two lives grew like two buds that kiss
At lightest thrill from the bee’s swinging chime,
Because the one so near the other is.
—George Eliot from “Brother and Sister”

George Eliots’ poem, “Brother and Sister” touches a place deep in my heart.  Like Eliot, I am a younger sister.  My sister Carol and I were nearly inseparable in our childhood.  In fact, my memory sometimes confuses what happened to her with what happened to me.  I remember that one time my mom left a little red pill on the shelf above the sink, and thinking it was a piece of candy I climbed up on the counter and ate it.  My sister Carol has the same memory, only she remembers she was the one who climbed up and ate it. One of us got in big trouble over that one. Eventually my mom settled the debate when she verified that it was in fact Carol who did it. And this makes sense to me because I was often the watcher while she was the doer.

I have very few childhood memories of which Carol is not an integral part.

People many times thought we were twins as we were only a year apart in age.  My mother often dressed us alike and I was near in size to Carol.  But I never felt I was her equal; she was the older and the wiser one

I held him wise, and when [she] talked to me
Of snakes and birds, and which God loved the best,
I thought [her] knowledge marked the boundary
Where men grew blind though angels knew the rest.
If [she] said “Hush!” I tried to hold my breath;
Whenever [she] said “Come!” I stepped in faith. . .

We lived in a childhood paradise in our humble single-story three bedroom home on the very outskirts of Piqua, Ohio.  We had two cherry trees in the back yard, a swing set, a sandbox made from an old large rubber tractor tire, and a wonderful lilac bush.  We spent long and lazy days in the trees, or in the sand, or on our bikes.  Sometimes we would skate on the sidewalk with metal skates that fit over our shoes and came with a key.  I can still remember the fierce vibrating sensation as we rolled down the rough concrete sidewalk on the little metal wheels of our skates.

One day Carol wanted to make paint.  She had the brilliant idea that if we crushed small colorful pebbles into a fine powder and added water we could use it to paint pictures.  We collected our pebbles and each found a larger stone to use as a grinding or crushing tool and set about our business on the concrete patio beside our kitchen door.  When we finally produced enough crushed rock to mix with water and paint with we ended up with only wet paper covered with tiny rock specks.  We were lucky we didn’t put our eyes out with flying rock chips.

In retrospect I guess Carol wasn’t as wise as I thought she was at the time. But my memories of those days by her side are precious to me.  I can recall them and feel again as I did then; I can almost smell the fresh cool air and hear the birds that used to sing as we’d play outside in the early morning hours.

Long years have left their writing on my brow,
But yet the freshness and the dew-fed beam
Of those young mornings are about me now,
When we two wandered toward the far-off stream . . .

[Her] sorrow was my sorrow, and [her] joy
Sent little leaps and laughs through all my frame. . .

School parted us; we never found again
That childish world where our two spirits mingled. . .

But were another childhood-world my share,
I would be born a little sister there.


Swinging with my two "big sisters" — Carol on the left and Kathy in the middle. 1960.

Photo by Jerry A. Smith

Copyright © 2011 by Christine M. Grote

 

An excerpt from a paper written September 2004 for the course Survey of Women Writers at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Work Cited: Eliot, George.  “Brother and Sister.”  The Norton Anthology: Literature by Women. Eds. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar.  New York: Norton, 1996. 831-835. Pronouns in brackets replace the masculine ones Eliot wrote about her brother.

I saw three geese come gliding in

I saw three geese today. They were moving forward and descending rapidly across the road I was traveling. Their wings were quivering in an effort to slow down to land, I assumed. And they maintained a perfect mini-v formation throughout their subtle turns and dives. Amazing. I’m sure they weren’t using radios or sonar  or whatever modern technology the Thunderbirds or other fascinating military performance flying squads use to stay in sync. How do they do it? (I’ll likely be corrected on the sonar comment—I’m guessing they probably do use some kind of sonar.)

Geese fly in a V because it is easier for every one except the lead goose, who has to break the wind. The geese take turns in the more strenuous lead position. It is a well-coordinated group effort. If you want more details, you can read a few here. http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/geese.html

I have also read on more than one occasion (although I can’t place my fingers on a valid source to back it up in the amount of time I feel warrants the effort) that if a goose is injured or falls sick, two other geese drop out of the formation and stay with it until it is either dead or recovered and able to rejoin the group. A “no man left behind” code. A lovely thought.

Have you ever been left behind in a group? A rock in your shoe has to be dealt with? You stubbed your toe and now have a limp? You watch everyone rush on ahead and hope you won’t fall too far behind? You had to stay home alone with the flu when everyone else went out to dinner? Did that ever happen to you? Well, it wouldn’t have if you were a goose. I’m just saying.

If you are paying close attention you might notice that these are actually ducks and not geese. I did not have my camera handy. Big surpise there. I thought this would be the next best thing. And anyway, I like this picture.

Rule #1 on writing — do it

So far I’m doing a better job of creating categories than writing posts. But today’s post makes five for five on this post-a-day 2011 challenge I signed up for when I started my blog.  No, I couldn’t just sign up for the blog; dabble around for a few days; put up a post; wait about a week; try again.

When you go swimming do you like to gradually get used to the water? First you feel the temperature with your toe. Then you descend the first step, then another until you slowly make it to the bottom where you stand a while shivering and using your hands to splash water over your arms. Then  finally, you either decide to go all the way under, or you turn and retreat.

Or do you like to jump right in?

I’m jumping in.

It’s interesting to note, although somewhat redundant and therefore boring to read, that many if not most or even all writers struggle with the sitting-down-to-put-words-on-the-page part of writing. The single most often repeated advice on writing that I’ve read is, “Sit your butt down in front of your typewriter and stay there. Every day.” (I know typewriters are a thing of the past, but don’t you agree that the idea of one adds a bit of nostalgia and romance to the vision. I mean, let’s face it, I could sit in front of my computer and do any number of things including play Bejeweled or Spider Solitaire and it wouldn’t do a thing to advance my writing ability or projects.)

The other piece of advice that I find somewhat mystical and therefore compelling is “Just show up at the keyboard and then get out of the way.” I mean, really? How can I write without thinking about what I am going to write?

But here’s the thing that convinces me the most about the credibility of this advice: some of the best sentences, paragraphs, stories I’ve written have shown up in my head when I wake up in the morning, or occasionally in the middle of the night. They aren’t anything I’ve necessarily intended to write, or contemplated how to word. Just bam. There they are in my head in the morning. I’m always amazed when this happens. It’s like when I’m sleeping my brain says, “Finally, she’s out of the way and I can get to work here.”

That’s it. Surely you can’t expect brilliance everyday. Think of it as gold mining. You have to throw away an awful lot of gravel.

 

Midlife crisis ­— or bloom where you’re transplanted

If I live to the age of 90, optimistic but not unheard of, I have already passed my midlife, or halfway point of 45, by at least eight and soon to be nine years. Whatever turbulence the infamous transition through midlife was going to cause should be behind me and I should be cruising in a slow-paced, self-accepting, creative, contented and fulfilled life.

But if I don’t start calculating my midlife point until I reached adulthood, which to make the numbers simple we’ll say is at the age of 20, and if I live to be 90, I am right smack in the middle of my midlife.

I know the math can be challenging, but feel free to use a pencil and paper, or you can just trust me.

Since I’m not feeling settled-down, contented and fulfilled, I did a google search.

Don’t you just love the internet? In days gone by to obtain this information I would have had to wrap my muffler around my neck, pull on my snow boots and trudge, shivering out to the car to drive to a library, periodically swiping the fogged up windshield with a Taco Bell napkin I located on the floor of the passenger seat until the snail-paced heater and defroster kicked into gear.  At the library I would have to stand in a puddle of dirty water as the gray snow sludge melted from my boots, and search through the card catalog file, which might take quite a while depending how clever I was at searching for the right words and whether I could read the worn-off labels on the little wooden drawers or not. (I have to admit; there was something charming about those wooden chests full of little labeled wooden drawers.) Does anybody know what I am rambling on about?

Back to the point. Sitting in the warmth and comfort of my study, watching the light snowfall drift down outside the window, my internet search for midlife crisis led me to some interesting information about not only midlife (http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/guide/midlife-crisis-opportunity) but also human development which I am sharing, in part, with you below.

“Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development is one of the best-known theories of personality in psychology. Much like Sigmund Freud, Erikson believed that personality develops in a series of stages.” http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/a/psychosocial.htm

The following are excerpts from Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages Summary Chart found here: http://psychology.about.com/library/bl_psychosocial_summary.htm

“Infancy (birth to 18 months): . . .Children develop a sense of trust when caregivers provide reliability, care, and affection. A lack of this will lead to mistrust.

Early Childhood (2 to 3 years): . . . Children need to develop a sense of personal control over physical skills and a sense of independence. Success leads to feelings of autonomy, failure results in feelings of shame and doubt.

Preschool (3 to 5 years): . . . Children need to begin asserting control and power over the environment. Success in this stage leads to a sense of purpose. Children who try to exert too much power experience disapproval, resulting in a sense of guilt.

School Age (6 to 11 years): . . .Children need to cope with new social and academic demands. Success leads to a sense of competence, while failure results in feelings of inferiority.

Adolescence (12 to 18 years): . . .Teens need to develop a sense of self and personal identity. Success leads to an ability to stay true to yourself, while failure leads to role confusion and a weak sense of self.

Yound Adulthood (19 to 40 years): . . .Young adults need to form intimate, loving relationships with other people. Success leads to strong relationships, while failure results in loneliness and isolation.

Middle Adulthood (40 to 65 years): . . .Adults need to create or nurture things that will outlast them, often by having children or creating a positive change that benefits other people. Success leads to feelings of usefulness and accomplishment, while failure results in shallow involvement in the world.

Maturity (65 to death) . . .Older adults need to look back on life and feel a sense of fulfillment. Success at this stage leads to feelings of wisdom, while failure results in regret, bitterness, and despair.”

Whatever stage of life you find yourself in, I wish you success.

Bushes growing through the red rock of Sedona Arizona - 2002


Fiddles, radio broadcasts, signing-off and I-pads

I know it sounds cliché, but I’ve got to get it off my chest. I miss the good old days.

Were people really kinder when times were slower, or is my aging memory fading the harsh colors of reality into softer, gentler images?

Here’s my point, which I think may be undeniable; people had more time for and with each other before the barrage of 24-hour newscasts, sportscasts, movie channels and reality television. People had more silence and fewer disruptions before the cell phones became the most necessary item to carry with you at all times with their jingling or sometimes jarring tunes announcing an undoubtedly urgent call, or a beep or buzz announcing a new text message of vital importance.

My grandmother’s family and a few friends seeking diversions, used to gather around the piano in the parlor. Grandma played the ivory keys while her father and brother coaxed lively tunes from their fiddles. They weren’t professional musicians, just farmers. Camaraderie, laugher, and shared endeavor could all be regularly found in that small parlor of an evening.

My parents used to gather with their respective families around the family radio for the broadcast of Only the Shadow Knows, or another favorite radio show. Intent listening, respectful silence and vivid imagination were all required in that living room of an afternoon.

We always had a television as far as I can remember. It was a big bulky thing that made an awful buzzing noise when my parents turned it on. The screen lit up with random horizontal lines struggling to form themselves into a coherent image.  It turned off in the same fashion—static noise and lines ending with a final pop. We received three major networks all of which signed off sometime in the evening. When something monumental was happening in the world, you waited until the evening newscast with Walter Cronkite to hear about it.

There was no popping in a DVD of Jungle Book to entertain a sick and sleepless child in the wee hours of the morning. What did our grandmothers do with their sick children in the middle of the night? Did you ever wonder about that?

Human interaction, I suppose.

I do believe people were different when things were different. But not always and only for the best. I don’t have to attempt to list for you all the things that are better now because of modern technology.

I just think we make a mistake if we assume that nothing was lost.

Even so, I for one am not now, and likely never will be, willing to part with my laptop and I-pad.

We march on.

 

Circa 1917—Katherine Roecker Adams holding my grandmother Anna behind Raymond, Harold, and Florence beside Harrison Myron Adams and two horses.

 

Copyright © 2011 by Christine M. Grote

Missed opportunities— or the red fox eludes digital capture

Mark was diligently chopping celery for our crock pot stew and I was loafing around the kitchen, looking out the window, when I saw a beautiful red animal running though the monochromatic snow-covered woods at the foot of the hill behind our house.

“That’s a red fox,” I said.

Not that I was an expert on such matters. In fact I’d never seen a red fox before in my 53 years. But you would have said the same. If you see a red fox, you know it.

Mark joined me at the window and as I was unwilling to turn my back on the bushy-tailed, pointy-nosed, red-furred or haired (not an expert, remember?) animal leisurely jogging through the woods, over the creek and across our back yard, and was equally unable to convince Mark to do the same, and as my camera was not close at hand, the event went unrecorded. Sadly.

When I recounted the incident to my sister Carol, she said, “Why don’t you look up the significance of a red fox sighting online? Try a native american site.”

I googled it. Here’s a brief run-down.

Foxes are symbolic of camouflage and shape shifting, cunning, wildness and diplomacy.

A fox sighting is a warning to keep one’s counsel. a guide into the Faerie Realm, a signal from the spirits of the deceased, a good luck omen.

A sighting of multiple foxes is bad luck.

The meaning of the sighting depends upon what is going on in your life and in your head at the moment the fox was sighted.

As my mind was fairly well blank to the best of my recollection, I’m really not sure what it meant, except that it was a beautiful moment and in the future I will keep my camera on a kitchen shelf within easy reach.

Snowy woods sans red fox

The above information regarding fox sightings came from the following websites which offer further clarification on the matter and make for interesting reading.

A new start with clean house

I’m not entirely certain I can bear up to the pressure of a first post. What to say? How much?

Here’s something important: I promise to keep my posts short. Those of you who know me well will realize how short-lived this promise will be.

Otherwise, I suppose the sky’s the limit. Random thoughts. See above.

I’m going to just pretend I have readers. Mom are you out there?

That’s pretty short.

Oh. And here’s Arthur. The wild white dog eating snow.