Horsing Around at a Family Reunion

While scanning, consolidating, labeling and ordering pictures on the computer, I was concentrating on recording history. I documented facts about my parents, grandparents and other ancestors. I had immersed myself in the past.

However, life requires us to step out of the time machine and live in the present. The joys and the sorrows of everyday life take time, energy and thought, so taking a break from my dive into family history to concentrate on the present was necessary. Through marriages, my own family has been adding to the family tree. And through the birth of new lives, Mr. Legs and I have become grandparents ourselves.

There are house projects, home maintenance, friendships to grow and family to love. Mr. Legs and I must also take care of ourselves. With multiple sclerosis, there is always some new symptom to recognize, problem solve and manage. With all these other things to do, some time has passed. There are questions that come up about my own childhood, questions about a DNA match or questions from a relative. As those things surface, I access my family tree software or explore my extensive picture files for answers. On more than one occasion, I have recognized the volume of what I have recorded and realize its value to me.

In a recent text exchange with a mutual old college friend about birthdays and our recent anniversary, my husband and I were surprised that our friend remembered being at our wedding and asked the following question:

“40 years, wow, that is great!  Didn’t you have a carriage, or some horse drawn mode of transportation at your wedding?”

My answer started with “There’s a story behind that horse drawn mode of transportation”, and I told him a family story I hadn’t thought about for awhile. There were, of course, photos to go with the story. After our email exchange, I added to what I had sent to our friend and put it on a document. I then filed it in my grandpa’s file and in our wedding file on our computer.  

And I decided to share it here….

My grandpa was an interesting man with diverse interests. When he was about 55 and I was elementary age, he owned a pony for a number of years. According to relatives, he acquired the pony in the trade of a machine. The pony, came with a cart and the pony and cart became a hobby others benefitted from. My sister and I and our cousins went to where the pony was stabled and were given rides in the cart.

We were invited to bring friends there for rides.

My grandpa even brought the pony to the front yard of our house and gave us rides there. When all the neighborhood kids saw what was happening and raced to our yard forming a line, he made sure all of them had a turn as well.

Grandpa and the pony eventually parted ways, but years later, when I was planning my wedding, my grandpa located that same pony out of state, arranged to borrow him, traveled to pick him up and bring him nearby, made a cover for the cart (bright for safety), and then on my wedding day he walked over a mile as he led that pony from the church to my family’s house.

He was 70 years old!! Now that I myself am older, I can imagine all of the logistics that went into such an endeavor and the energy it took; and I am able to appreciate even better what he did for me.

My grandpa and the pony and our family had a history together. The pony had been a source of fun for me as a child, provided by a loving grandfather. When we reunited after about 12 years, it makes sense, in a sense, maybe horse sense?, that it was a family reunion. We were all older and some hair (even the pony’s) had turned gray, but there was joy to be felt and love to be shared again. What a gift of childhood fun, wedding joy and lasting memories my grandpa gave me. Recounting the events was a jump back on the timeline that I enjoyed.

I’m amazed how photos repeat themselves. I noticed the similarity of two photos and put them together.

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Pretty in Pink

Humble and reserved, she rarely spoke about herself or expressed an opinion. She would answer some questions about her life, although guardedly. Often, she would shrug off questions she may have considered too personal.

I describe her personality to explain why some things were such a surprise discovery after she passed two years ago. She was sentimental and had strong emotional ties to her past. I knew how much she loved her parents and I heard many of the family stories shared by her siblings.

But that doll she held in a picture of her when she was a girl? It was a surprise that she still had it….wrapped lovingly in cellophane and carefully placed in a protective box.

The cute little girl dress she wore in some of the pictures? It was made by a favorite aunt and it was carefully folded and placed in a box with other special articles of clothing. Thankfully, the contents of the box were labeled when she moved. We would have never known what a pretty shade of pink it was if it had not been kept.

And the love letters she received from her future husband. during the Korean war? She had mentioned them only once.

It was a surprise to find those things because she had never or rarely talked about them, and discovering them was like finding buried treasures. They hold no monetary value, but they are part of the life story of the woman who bore and raised and loved the man I married and love. Each item is a story she had in her memory bank-holding more value than silver or gold or money in a bank.

My mother-in-law’s great-granddaughter happens to be about the same size as that pretty pink dress that Auntie made. Thankfully, I have daughters-in-law who are thoughtful and kind and one who didn’t mind putting an 80-year old dress on her daughter in her child’s great-grandmother’s pretty pink dress so her mother-in-law could take pictures of her mother-in-law’s childhood dress. Father-in-law also took pictures of his granddaughter in his mother’s dress. Between the two of us, there were a couple of pictures that worked to put alongside of the picture of the original owner of the dress. With a majority of males in the family, this was the first opportunity for a little girl to put on that dress.

Here is the generation photo.

I’m so glad that my mother-in-law had met her great-granddaughter. I’m grateful my son and his wife traveled seven hours so their grandmother could be introduced to their daughter and they could spend some time together.

Along with the little cupboard (read its story here), the pretty pink dress tells a story of family connection and love. Even though her treasured things were only discovered by us after her life here was over, I am grateful that special things were kept which help tell about her life. Like the many shades of color there are, love can be expressed in a variety of ways, like the gift of a handmade knit dress in the perfect pretty shade of pink.

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A Little Cupboard’s Big Life

Around 1936, when Jan was a little girl, a little play kitchen cupboard was made for her by her Uncle Eddie.

Jan grew up, got married and had sons. As far as the remaining family can remember, the little cupboard stayed with Jan’s parents, even moving with them when a quieter home was built outside the city. It remained with them until such time that their last move was made. When the little cupboard needed a new home, it was given to a family member to store; so it traveled again, to a different house.

Jan’s oldest son grew up, and married me. When our first child was little, I asked all of his grandparents and great grandparents to fill out a grandparent book of questions. One of the questions in the book was “What were your favorite games and toys?” Her answer is below:

“I guess I always took a doll to bed with me and I can remember enjoying paper dolls. My Uncle Eddie Kressel had made a little wooden cupboard and of course I had little dishes in it.”

At that time, we thought it was nice that she had a toy cupboard made by her uncle. We didn’t realize then that the little cupboard’s story wouldn’t end there.

About three years ago, the relatives that had been storing the little cupboard were sorting through their things. The cupboard was noticed and it was determined it needed a new home. It was remembered that the little cupboard had belonged to Jan, so a group text and picture were sent asking if any of our family wanted it. Others declined for different reasons. I replied that we would gladly take it. The little, but heavy, cupboard was eventually passed from one cousin to another and then made a big journey across three states to our house. The cupboard required some attention from years of both being used and not being used. Once here, the little cupboard, with all its charm, made its way onto our long project list.

Our little granddaughter recently reached the age of three, and we felt she was big enough to be introduced to her great-grandmother’s little cupboard; so the cupboard found its way to the top of our project list.

The little cupboard had a big makeover. It was washed, sanded and painted. There was a piece of glass missing on an upper cabinet door. Mr Legs found the piece of plexiglass he remembered we had and cut a piece to fit, then placed it perfectly in the empty space. He scraped paint off the other pieces of glass and cleaned and shined the cabinet knobs. The cabinet was also updated with under cabinet lighting. Full of original character, the old little cupboard was now like new.

We dug out the box of little play dishes and play food that we had kept from the years when our children were little. The dishes were arranged in the cupboard’s upper cabinets and the play food was put in baskets that fit nicely in the lower cabinets.

And then the day came when our granddaughter arrived for a visit. We had placed the little cupboard in the living room in anticipation. She walked in the front door, and her eyes grew big when they saw the little cupboard sitting there waiting for her. She went straight to it and began to explore.

Our little granddaughter used her big imagination while she played with the little cupboard for hours. She served the rest of us many meals, being careful not to leave anyone out.

Reviving the little cupboard for Jan’s great granddaughter felt like a big event. Little outfits were ordered for the occasion and pictures were taken of our little chef and her littler brother.

Spanning 86 years and four generations, the little cupboard that Jan’s Uncle Eddie made for her is a symbol of love and a piece of our family’s history. I believe that Jan, who passed away two years ago, would have smiled to know that her great granddaughter is playing with her little cupboard. It will also be ready for the rest of her great grandchildren to play with when they come to visit. With its multiple moves through many years, and the different people and places it has seen, Jan’s little cupboard has lived a big life.

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An Arm or a Leg

Experiencing the death of a spouse, child, parent or other loved one can be excruciatingly painful. When a loved one dies, it can feel like a piece of you is missing. You hear people say that losing someone they love is like losing an arm or a leg. In other words, it’s as bad as if they had lost a limb, a part of themselves. I have lost people I loved. It was difficult, and painful.

I have also lost the use of parts of me. That was and is a loss that hugely impacts my life. These body parts of mine are part of my everyday life and have been loved. People and things become more dear to you the longer you’ve had them in your life, and I had had my legs all my life. Since I lost the use of my legs, I miss them and long for them every day. The memories of things we did together are endless. We walked, travelled, hiked, and explored. We climbed castle walls and walked through catacombs. We waded in the waters of the ocean and worked the pedals to fly an airplane. We walked my babies in the middle of the night and ran to catch my toddlers during the day. My legs took me up and down stairs, into any building, and inside of normal vehicles. Without the use of my legs, I mourned the freedom of walking out the door of my home, of driving a car, of being able to do many things I loved. My legs didn’t die suddenly, it was a gradual withering away of use, similar to watching a person slowly die of cancer or old age. The transition to life without them was overwhelming at times.

When a loved one dies, it is life changing and requires adjustment from the way life used to be. It feels you cannot do the same activities that you’ve always enjoyed. Although it’s never the same, in time you do resume your life. It is possible. The loss of my legs prevents me from ever participating in some of the same activities again.

I understand the parallel people refer to when saying that losing a loved one is like losing a limb. For me, losing a limb, or two, was a terrible time of required grieving. I believe that the grief in that loss is as real and as debilitating as the death of another person. The loss cannot be forgotten, not with circumstance or time. Others may not understand.

As a group of us sat around a table, a young man was telling us about a friend who had lost a loved one and the impact that the loss was having on him. I shared that I know and understand the necessary process of grief after any loss and I referred to my own experience with grief after losing others and as I watched pieces of myself die. A set of eyes looked at me, half confused and half angry, and with criticism in his voice he declared ”It’s not the same thing!”, inferring that losing parts of myself was not as devastating a loss as losing a loved one. Then everyone else at the table walked away….WALKED AWAY, because I made a comparison that, in their opinion, did not compare at all. My intention was to help them understand the friend who was going through the process of grief. My experience and opinion were discounted by those at the table. The lack of willingness from others to hear, understand and learn from my experience was a form of rejection, and it compounded the difficult adjustment I was facing.

The young man was right. Losing two legs is not the same as the death of a person who is special to you. The losses are different, but grieving is required for both. Circumstances vary, and it may be different for each individual.

People say that losing a loved one is as difficult as losing an arm or a leg. I say losing an arm or a leg is as difficult as losing a loved one.

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Texas Birdhouses

We lived in Texas for four years, a long time for a military family. The nice neighborhood we lived in had a lot of military families, so neighbors came and left often. I believed an exception to the transient lifestyle was the older couple who lived next door. They were good people and good neighbors. We exchanged pleasantries and occasionally had longer conversations. After we had lived there for about a year, we were sad to see a “For Sale” sign go up in front of their house.

It didn’t take long for the house to sell, and the older couple was preparing to move. I saw the man outside one day and he seemed to be deep in thought. He told me that he had made bird houses, one for each of his grandchildren, labeled them with their names, and placed them on the posts of their privacy fence in their backyard. When the kids visited, they would run out to check their birdhouses for activity. The grandkids, he said, were asking about their birdhouses and wanted to know what would happen to them when their grandparents moved.

The grandfather felt, in good conscience, that they should stay with the house. After all, he reasoned, they were affixed to the property; and according to real estate contracts, such things should stay with the property for the next owners. He was also concerned about disturbing any nests that birds may still be using or might return to. He was conflicted between what he reasoned was legally right and what his heart wanted to do.

I don’t recall if he asked what I thought, or if I simply offered my opinion; but there was no question in my mind, no question at all, that they should take the birdhouses with them. If the new owners wanted birdhouses, they could easily buy some new ones. They could place new birdhouses wherever they wanted to, but his grandkids’ birdhouses were irreplaceable for his family and should go with them to be enjoyed for many more years. I was glad when I saw that the birdhouses had moved with the older couple.

That conversation took place in 1996. Some of the details are fuzzy, but I still remember it. Twenty-six years later, I have two of my own grandchildren, and there are more to come…..so I bought some birdhouses.

We will label them with our grandchildren’s names and we will place them on the posts of our privacy fence in our backyard. And when the time comes for us to move, there will be no question, no question at all, that we will take them with us.

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Goodbye, Hello

I have a friend whose body is stricken with a condition other than MS, but her struggles are similar to mine.  She made a comment once about how she and I both “must repeatedly say goodbye to body parts”. Her wording explained so simply, yet so profoundly, the necessity of grieving losses.  As our physical abilities decrease, our choices become more limited. We know that that’s the way it is with a progressive illness.

One of the things I used to enjoy doing was cooking.  Cooking is, in a way, creating, and it improves with experience; so it’s both an art and a talent.  Being a stay-at-home mom for many years, I had certainly invested a lot of time in preparing meals.  Now, with MS having taken away many of my abilities, tasks such as cooking have transferred to others.  As duties were being shifted, and still today, I was and am challenged with explaining in words, both simple and complicated tasks that had become second nature to me.  It’s usually easier to do a task ourselves than to explain how to do it to someone else. Translating actions into words can be a challenge, especially actions that have been so repetitive and routine that they were done without even thinking.  Describing actions, when the task cannot be demonstrated, stretches my patience.

When my eyesight and other abilities were changing, I decided to type and print my favorite recipes and put them in document protectors inside of a binder. The sheets can be taken out and put on the counter or hung from a cupboard pull.  As I used them, I made notes to indicate how I personalized the ingredients and/or instructions.

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The recipes are also in a file on my computer called “Kerri’s Cookbook”. Because of that, they can be changed or shared easily.

Mr. Legs and I plan meals together now. We use many of the same recipes I used when cooking by myself. Having them quickly available, and easy to read with notes, has been helpful. He has adjusted them to his liking, added his notes and made them his own. He finds healthier ingredients and has a special knack for presentation. It’s easy to give my compliments to the chef here.

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I am grateful for the many years I could carry out tasks. And now, after I have said goodbye to some body parts and abilities, I have said hello to the new cook in the house and am grateful that Mr. Legs is so capable and willing to complete many tasks for us.

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Additions and Subtractions

Inventions through the years have changed the way people live, but none as dramatic in my lifetime and for me as the internet.  The internet has added great access to information and the speed at which it is available.  What used to take hours or days to gain knowledge through physical visits to the library and scouring through books can now be found by tapping a few simple keyboard buttons in your own home.

In houses around the country and in libraries everywhere, encyclopedias used to be lined up or stacked on bookshelves.   Each book in the set was designated for one letter or more of the alphabet, and the books explained/described almost anything you were curious about.  

My family had a set prominently displayed and available for homework assignments or to simply satisfy a curiosity to learn more about anything.

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Mr. Legs’ family also owned a set. Theirs was a gift from a grandfather who sold them. The photo below shows him with his display at a local fair.

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Those heavy books, along with a plethora of other paper, are no longer needed because they have been replaced by machines and screens that deliver information instantly before our eyes.  All that is needed is a light touch of a fingertip or a verbal question, and a list of resources rushes to your disposal. The convenience afforded to us now is almost surreal when someone my age or older considers the changes that have taken place. JoAnne Simon aptly says “Our information source has gone from World Books to a world box.”

Generations before the internet could never have imagined how easily and quickly it would be to access information today; and generations after this may find it difficult to imagine the steps that used to be necessary to achieve results even close to that of using the internet. Only those of us who have experienced life both before and after the internet and the changes it brought can fully grasp its impact on our daily lives.

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We must be discriminatory about sources, and we must also be aware of and on our guard for scamming, cat fishing, cyber bullying and more; but we can enjoy the conveniences of the technology we have with information instantly available and even premade pictures to express emotion. We’ve gained so much in the realm of knowledge availability and time saved, but we have lost things too.

Our libraries are quieter.  Shopping online alone is replacing trips to the store with family and friends. Social media is everywhere but our in-person social networks seem smaller and our personal conversations seem fewer.  We now send texts to schedule phone conversations.  Convenience seems preferred over personal interaction. Email has been replacing handwritten letters. In fact, the printed word has mostly overtaken handwriting in general. Everything is faster and more convenient, but is it better?

We, as a human race, may (even if unknowingly) miss the things that are being replaced.  I, personally, am missing handwriting the most.

As a face represents a person, handwriting is a visual representation of the personality that drew the strokes. Unique to each of us in size, shape and style, handwriting with its curves and loops is a symbol of the person who wrote it. I think back to the many times that written communication arrived in the daily mail. The immediate recognition of penmanship on an envelope created excitement. When email arrives, I recognize the name, but there is no personality in the printed letters – no jump to a facial image because of the custom strokes on paper, just letters of the alphabet. A typed word and a handwritten word convey the same thinking, but there is more substance, more meaning, to them when a pen in hand reflects personality.

Some people still send thoughts the old-fashioned way, and I appreciate the extra time they take to hand write a message, address an envelope, affix a stamp on it, and physically send it off.

I have kept special letters sent to me. When my eyes see my name on the envelope and my hand holds them, I identify the sender by their unique style of writing, which is shown in the slant of each stroke, and I sense the connection of relationship. Letters from those now physically gone are a material memory that stirs emotion. My email inbox’s typed letters, even with emoji’s, is not and never will be the same.  Emails, texts, and documents, they are all “digits that eventually disappear in cyber dust”, says Mr. Legs.

With the advancement of technology, it seems the art of cursive may eventually fade away completely. That thought brings about many unanswered questions. What would our signatures look like then? With no physical piece of paper in envelopes to touch, will there be love letters to keep and cherish? Will graphology/graphanalysis still play a part in solving crimes?

I appreciate my computer, my “world box”, and all of its conveniences; but I do miss the special connections of yesterday’s handwriting.

For those at an age to remember, is there anything you miss from your pre-internet days?

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Hotel Review-HOMEWOOD SUITES, KC AIRPORT

In March of 2021, we stayed at the Homewood Suites in Kansas City. The suite had a living area (similar to the picture below) that was a great setup for having a meal together with family who met us there.

The bedroom was lovely. The motorized draperies were a fun surprise.

The space between the end of the bed and the dresser was rather narrow, allowing my wheelchair to barely get by, and making turning around a challenge, but it did work.

The bathroom sink area had a large counter. The front seemed low, but the sink was reachable and the large mirror was practical.

The shower configuration of flip-up bench, controls, nozzle, sprayer, soap dish and grab bars was very user friendly for both able and disabled guests.

The grab bars at the toilet were generous and well placed.

We were very pleased with our room there, especially the well-designed bathroom. We also appreciated the great breakfast there and will definitely stay there again.

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What Were the Odds?

As Christmas approaches, I am reminded of a story that my friend Jim shared with my son who was embarking on his own military journey.

It’s a war story, but a love story at the same time. One might think they wouldn’t go together, but when the darkness of war surrounds people, the light of love is magnified. Adding Christmastime to the story makes it magical.

Here is a picture of Jim’s story. It is typed below the picture for easier reading.

“As a member of the Army Armed Forces in the Pacific Theater of Operations – a Tank Battalion –  attached to New York’s famous and finest Infantry Division during WWII, I can honestly tell you that war is hell. There’s just no way getting away from that.

            But I can also truly add that following Japan’s dastardly air attack at Pearl Harbor – of which most of us didn’t even know of its location prior to the attack – we very clearly understood that there would be no choice as to whether or not we’d rapidly become involved in a counterattack. It took just a month or so short of five years, but no one even thought of getting back home until the war was won. Sure we wanted to get home, but until we defeated Hitler and his Allies including Japan, we knew we were in for the duration no matter how long it would take.

            As we hip-hopped across the Pacific, recapturing island after island – for our outfit it was Guam, Leyte and Manila in the Philippines, Hiroshima, just off of Okinawa and Okinawa itself – we knew our next battle would be the Japanese Island itself until President Truman, thank God, had the courage to order the atomic bombing of Japan itself. Sorry about those who felt it wasn’t necessary, but as far as I’m concerned, it saved millions of lives, mine included.

A very interesting miracle sideline is worth hearing at this point, with which I’m sure you will agree “When we arrived at Leyte – it was Thanksgiving Day – we came in under a Jap air attack until our faster air fighters coming in pairs, attacked their fighters, knocking them out of the sky, a beautiful sight to see, granting us free access onto the island. Shortly thereafter, we received a message from MacArthur congratulating us on our safe arrival and promising us we would not miss our Thanksgiving meal. He added that unfortunately one of the Jap bombs hit and sunk the lone cargo ship carrying our Christmas gifts, so we should prepare ourselves for this disappointment. Well disappointments are a part of fighting a war so we knew we’d live with it.

            True to his word we got our Thanksgiving dinner the day before Christmas and the next day our Christmas dinner. A week later on New Year’s Day night I, along with a buddy was assigned guard duty from midnight till 2 AM. It was a beautiful moonlight night and moonlit nights are like daylight in the Pacific, when in the distance I saw something white reflected by the moon’s light. Approaching it carefully my buddy warned me to be careful or it might be a buried hand grenade. But I said “No, it can’t be, because a hand grenade is black and this is white. Still I did approach it carefully, getting down on my knees with my arms outstretched as far as I could get them, I carefully dug under the item when up popped a very soggy brown papered box, out of which popped a very soggy wrapped Christmas box, out of which stuck this very white item reflected by the moonlight. Reaching for its top I lifted it from its Christmas box and in my hand I held a silver ID Bracelet, one side of which was engraved with my name and serial number, and the other side “With my love, HEW“, my wife’s initials, a term of endearment that I gave her because she did not like the name of Hazel.

            Call it what you like but I call it a miracle from God. What are the odds not only that I should be the one to find this box, but that the box should belong to me?

            And here’s the kicker. Three months later, now in Okinawa, I finally get a response from my wife acknowledging receipt of my letter explaining how I received my ID bracelet, to which she simply wrote “What happened to the cookies“?

            And that’s the way it is with my wife. She firmly believes that the less said keeps her out of trouble.”

Hazel and Jim Kistler

Jim’s writing can also be seen in several of my blog posts titled Treasured Traditions, starting here: https://climbingdownhill.wordpress.com/2015/01/13/a-treasured-tradition-part-1/

[NOTE: The story shown and quoted above is not my own, but expressly belongs to the Jim and Hazel Kistler family and is not to be copied without permission or proper credit given.]

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