Back Door Friends

In the old neighborhood when I was growing up, we had back door friends.  The front door was more formal and used by those who didn’t know us well – solicitors, businessmen, and acquaintances.  But then there were back door friends – people who were close enough and comfortable enough to come to our back door.  Maybe it was a neighbor and the back door was simply closer to walk to from next door or through the unfenced back yards that we shared.  Maybe it was a close and familiar friend and both of you understood that the back door led to the kitchen, or hub, of a family.  Simply, if you knew each other well enough, the back door was an informal hello and a welcome interruption in the day.

Times have changed, but my husband and I have back door friends now.  They use the front door because of its convenience, but they are friends we know well and who know us well.  Friends who, when a gathering time is arranged, know they can walk in and knock afterwards.  It’s understood and comfortable and we all know they are welcome.   Some of our dear back door friends recently came to the front door, but not for their entry…for mine.

We have a great front porch.  It is shaded in the afternoon and a place to watch walkers and drivers pass by.  It is from the front porch that I could wave to or say hello to neighbors, be near Mr. Legs as he works on the yard, or wait on expected company.  But one thing separated me and my wheels from the front porch.

One six inch step.

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It was determined long ago that the four steps from the porch up to the door to the house were too difficult to ramp for safety and appearance.  (I use an electric lift in the garage to enter and exit the house.)  But only that one step separated me and my wheels from the front porch.  See it there?  I would look at that one step and try to wish it away.

I browsed the great online shopping mall for an answer, but nothing seemed workable or practical – nothing that would accommodate normal legged people, my scooter AND my heavy wheelchair.  I let the idea fizzle and fade and be forgotten.

I didn’t ask for help, but word leaked out.   Wheels in heads started turning to come up with a way for my wheels to get on the front porch.  And then the back door friends came to the front door with a mission in mind.  These are people with time consuming management or executive jobs who happen to also be very handy and creative.  These are people who take the time to care about others, and I’m fortunate to be one of their others.

Three evenings in a row, our back door friends showed up at the front door to think and work together.  They measured, examined and problem solved.  They built and sanded and perfected while they tilted their heads in concentration and they smiled as they worked together toward a goal.  I saw them first through the front window, then opened the door to watch.

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A friend took some pictures from outside.

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When they were done, they tested its strength for my heavy wheelchair by each test driving it themselves for my safety.

They created something to be proud of.  The transitions going on and off of it are the smoothest I’ve experienced.  It is the most comfortable ramp I have ever been on.  It is a custom built rollway, paved with love, and just for me.

I am grateful. Grateful for the friends.  Grateful for the gift.

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I can now sit perched on the porch.  I like and enjoy being able to be there again even more than I anticipated. I am scaling that ominous one step with the wonderful ramp our back door friends made for me to reach the front porch.

 

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Glenda’s Garden

Glenda and I have been friends since 7th grade when we shuffled textbooks and folders in school lockers next to each other. We also both played the flute in band, although Glenda always played better than I did.  Glenda is one of those genuine Midwestern gals that you like right away and keep liking.  She is also a gardener….and apparently a budding photographer.

Awhile back, Glenda posted pictures on Facebook of the flowers in her yard. They brightened my day and left such an impression on me that I found myself thinking of them into the evening and night.  Trying to describe them in my half sleep – half awake state led to a personal game of words and alliterations.  Following are Glenda’s pictures and my descriptions.

 

ggGlenda’s garden is a flowing fountain of fabulously flourishing fragrant flowers and a fantasy of foliage.

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It is a heavenly haven of horticultural hues.

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Her bright back yard of balanced buds and blooms bubbling and bursting upward beckons me to view more of her beautiful botanical bounty.

It is a venue of vibrancy, a wildlife wonderland.

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My deeply downcast mood defers to the delightful distraction of the dainty daisies where they were distributed as part of a  detailed design.

Appearing like a daytime fireworks display, this explosion of nature creates a paradise parade.

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g13In a lavish landscape of lilies, I notice the carefully cultivated contours clothed in clusters of color and likely covered by carefully crawling caterpillars.

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I am mindful that this is a marvelously maintained mountain of a mastered medley of miniature miracles; a tastefully tended terrain of textures.

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g4My eyes pour over a plethora of petals poised in position to pop into plump purple peaks perfectly performing for photographic pleasure or gathered posies.

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g10The yard is a relaxing refuge where one can roam through radiance, while a rustic relic reaches out from the past.   The site summons you to stroll or sit among the shades of scented scenery.

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I’ve noticed that many of the pleasures I enjoy now, like these blooms, are rooted in my past.  When I was a girl, my mother would take my sister and me to visit Mrs. Swenson, her older friend down the street who had gorgeous gardens.  With delight, we would smell and touch the flowers tended by the daintiest of ladies.  A true artist, her perfectly decorated house filled with her paintings was as skillfully pieced together as her gardens. When she spoke to my sister and me, she naturally bent to our level and her words were laced with warmth as she called us sweetie and honey in a melodic voice.  She was a joyful woman in a happy place.

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Friends and flowers mixed together create a bouquet of blessings.  Thank you, Glenda, for sharing your garden through pictures, it brought back old memories and created new pleasures.

 

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Grandparents – Then and Later

Two people make a commitment to build a life together and stay together, overcoming challenges as they come.  Four different long-lasting marriages.  Eight people who didn’t give up.  Many descendants who benefit from their example.

Each year of marriage, each anniversary, can be celebrated for the success that it is, for the selflessness and compromise and sacrifice it requires.  Long marriages can be celebrated in big ways.  I thank God for grandparents who made our parents together, stayed together and were examples for us.

Here they are at the beginnings of their lives together and toward the end of them.  Paired together in a grouping for our family – first shown in black and white and then in color where available.

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A  long marriage is a great legacy to leave your descendants.

 

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About Those Photos…

If you have looked at the age progression photos I’ve put together and shared here over the last weeks, you have seen men and women physically transform through pictures as they age.  For me, and others who knew them personally, the changing faces represent so much more.

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I  knew these grandparents when they were older.  In the busyness of life and the naivety and self-absorption of youth, I failed to even consider that they had lives before I knew them.  Having the pictures we do, and having time to study them and consider what their lives were like before my memories began, has been a reflective journey.  I have not lived beside them, but I have seen glimpses of their lives before my time.  Although in some cases there are links – generations between us – I am left with questions.  Many questions, and only some answers.

Some questions I ask and wonder about when I look at most of the names on my family tree and the pictures on my computer files…what were those people like? Had I lived life alongside of them, would we have been friends?  If s/he were my neighbor, would I have wanted to sit on the porch with him or her?  What did a day in their life look like?  Often, I find myself fascinated by the generational times they lived in and how their lives were different from mine.  How did the time they lived in affect their lives and how did their lives impact those around them?  Do we share similar physical characteristics or facial features, hair or eye color?  Are there genetic strengths or susceptibilities I might want to be aware of?

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And then there are personalities to wonder about.  There are remnants of some of their lives – letters, a poem that was held dear and kept, a dress, a family story (flattering or otherwise) – but those are only a peek.  If someone kept an item a person had, does that say something about the person who owned it or something about the person who saved it?  One can only guess.

I do know the people closest to me in my family tree.  What I write may or may not be kept or shared, but I have the time and ability to put words together, so I do.  These people you’ve seen pictures of are my family, my grandparents.  Seeing them as a baby, a child, a young adult, at middle age and on into what we call elderly all in one glimpse is a bit mind numbing.  Our lives go by quickly.  We’re born, we marry, we die.  And what’s left of us are those dates.  We are more than dates, though.  We impact each other on a day-to-day basis and through generations.  I write about the impact family members have had on me.  I write about how their words and their actions played a part in making me who I am.  I write as a tribute to their good lives.  If you knew them too, I hope you find yourself nodding as you relive your own memories of them.  If you didn’t know them, I hope you have a similar memory of someone like them and you find yourself smiling.

Thank you for looking at the pictures of my grandparents.  Thank you for meeting them.  Thank you for reading about them in my other posts.

Consider their lives and how quickly they passed. Like scrolling through a file of pictures on the computer, seeing the age progression photos shows how time, and a life, go flashing by.  Consider your own life.  Let’s use the time we have to impact others in such a way that when they see our faces transforming through the years, they remember us fondly and wish we had been here longer.

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Moving Through Time – “Take 4”

I have put together age progression photos of three sets of our grandparents.  Click here, here and here to see them.

Creating age progression photos of our fourth set of grandparents presented more of a challenge.

I have no pictures of my grandmother as a child, but she lived until the age of 90.  Here is Dora, in some color, and then black and white:

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I do have childhood pictures of my grandfather, but he died at age 57, so pictures stop before then.

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I have about the  same number of good pictures of them to work with, but they don’t align in age.  Still, it was nice to put them together.

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It does make more sense when the pictures are aligned in age.

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Here are Pete and Dora together.

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This shows all of the pictures in one grouping.

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Here it is framed, in black and white.

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Thanks for looking!

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Moving Through Time – Grand Procession of Granny and Gramps

This is the third set of our grandparents that I have had the privilege of knowing and displaying pictures of.  Granny and Gramps lived long lives and we are fortunate to have pictures from every stage.

Gramps is shown here.

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And here is Granny.

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Gramps and Granny together…

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Then, photos of them as a couple.

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Putting them all together looks like this.

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Framing it adds a nice touch.

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I’m thankful to have known them.  Grandparents are a gift.

Here is the grouping in black and white.  Which do you think presents the changes better?

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Moving Through Time – More Grand People

Last week, I shared age progression photos of a set of loved grandparents (click here to view that post).  Today, I’ll do the same with another loved pair of grand people.

I’m thankful there were enough pictures to have fun with.  I left these in their original color.  May I present to you, L.L. and El…..

Here is beloved Eleanor, also known as “El”.

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And her husband “L. L.”

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Together they are L.L. and El.

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Coupled…

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All connected…

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And framed…

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Doing this was time spent watching time pass.

 

NOTE:  This was my initial sequence of Eleanor.

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You may notice that I had a little problem here.  It appears her grandson, my husband, inadvertently photobombed my sequence.  Grandchildren occupy a special place, but that place is not in my sequence; so darling little grandson had to go.  After much additional time trying to match color, I was able to cover him only for the purpose of this artwork.  Not perfect, but maybe better than a baby bomb.

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Moving Through Time – Grand People

Thanks to the  generosity of others, we are fortunate to have a great number and variety of pictures of our relatives and ancestors.  Over the past few years, I have used Photoshop to crop and adjust the lighting of pictures.  Paint offers an option to rotate/change direction of some images so they all face the same direction.  Using a Word document as a playground, picture size can be adjusted to make them uniform.  The snipping tool takes them from the Word document to being a photo again.  It’s a lot of back and forth, and time consuming, but I enjoy the end result.

On one side of the family, I noticed that there are pictures of both grandparents around the same ages. I played with the pictures of Grandpa, putting them in sequence and ended up with this age progression…

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Then on to Grandma’s pictures, which resulted in this…

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I put Grandma and Grandpa together to generally match them in age.

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It’s fun that there are also pictures of them together through the years…

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Putting the three rows together forms a sort of history collage of their lives.

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And then back to Photoshop to frame it.

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And that is how an entire morning ends up behind me.

 

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St. Patrick’s Day Trip to the Past

On St. Patrick’s Day, there are plenty of images of leprechauns, pots of gold and shamrocks.  Shamrocks look a lot like clover, and the image of clover brings a warm memory to mind.

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When my sister and I were kids, we often went to Uncle Everett’s house with our mom. Uncle Everett’s wife, Freda, had died of a heart attack and he was left to live alone there. My Mom and her Aunt Freda had been very close for all of my mom’s life. Uncle Everett had become family too.  When Freda died, my mom was there for him in every way she could be. He didn’t live far from us and we went there regularly to clean the house.  We must have done that for years because I have solid memories of shaking bright purple bathroom rugs and making the bed up with freshly laundered sheets. Mom even saw to special touches, like making the bed just the way Aunt Freda used to. She would lay the pillows flat on the bed and then give them a forceful karate-like chop horizontally down the middle.  When folded over, they had a rounded shape and when covered with the bedspread and tucked just right, it presented a very finished look to the bed.

I write that “we” did these things, but in reality I was likely not as much help as I like to think I was.  Rather, I was present there and observed what love looks like as I watched my Mom care for her uncle while they both adjusted to life without Freda.

During our visits there in the spring and summer months, we would admire Uncle Everett’s flourishing flowers.  There were comments about the color, size and shape of the many beautiful species growing in the yard.  My least favorite, though, was the prickly pear cactus near the back door. They sported beautiful exotic-looking flowers for a while each season, but the rest of the year they just posed a hazard for clumsy footing and I never understood their placement there.

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Uncle Everett love to tinker. He was a machinist by trade and his garage was set up like a lab of sorts with a gazillion screws, nuts, bolts, and nails of different sizes and shapes. There were a number of outbuildings in the yard. They likely served as housing for animals years earlier, but at that point accommodated the overflow of things from the house and garage. The yard was large and easily accommodated those buildings while leaving plenty of extra space. On numerous occasions, my sister and I and our Great Uncle Everett would find ourselves sitting in the grass of that large backyard. The soil was rich there not only for grass to grow, but for beautiful extras like bright yellow dandelions and clusters of clover. Even back then, many thought of those as weeds, but to a child they were bouquets to make and fields of fun to romp and rest in.

We sat there in the grass and clover, often in quiet contentment and conversation.  Each time it was a game to see who would find a four-leaf clover first. We watched and copied his technique, slowly and gently brushing the palms of our hands over the top of the green growth, to see each detail of leaves and stems and bugs below.  There was never really a question who would spot one first, as Uncle Everett was a master at finding them. In no time at all he would pluck one and hold it up so we could examine it, deem it worthy, and proclaim him once more the winner. Sometimes the prized clover would be carefully placed in plastic wrap and taken home to be put in the pages of a heavy book to ensure it dried flat. I wonder how many of those clovers fell out of books years later and possibly held by unsuspecting new owners, not realizing the trophy that simple clover had been years earlier.

And that’s why seeing a picture of shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day makes me think of clover every time. It takes me back to a slower, simpler time in life when things like sitting in the grass was both calming and an adventure….when flowers were examined and marveled at…..when old men like Uncle Everett were champions to be cherished.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.   I hope something that you see or hear or taste or feel today brings back a special memory from your past.  Watch for them, there are triggers  everywhere that can transport you to a previous time.  Those times can be relived as often as you like. A free trip, if you will, to a happy place….maybe when you need it most.

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Lisa’s Question

I didn’t know her very well. We had mutual friends and we both had kids so we wound up in the same places occasionally. She was always friendly and easy to like.  She was pretty, but there was something more than that about her appearance.  There was a genuineness about her that could be seen in her eyes and it made her sparkle. Some people just look like that, like the love inside them is so strong that it bubbles up and out of them and right into the room.  God shined through Lisa.

One evening, we found ourselves seated next to each other in a school auditorium for a performance. It was about 2004 and I had begun to use a walker. She noticed.

We exchanged pleasantries. With words easily formed, she asked me why I needed the walker. I told her “I have MS”. Then, in perfectly comfortable conversation, she asked me a question nobody had ever asked me before, and nobody has asked me since.

“What’s it like to have MS?”

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Her question surprised me. Not because I was uncomfortable being asked, but because I honestly hadn’t thought about what it was like.  It was a pretty deep question to be asked by anyone, and especially by someone I didn’t know well.  I had to pause and think about it. And, after the pause, I was a little surprised by my answer.

“Isolating”. I said.

One word….isolating.  MS would prove to be much more than that as time went on, but the isolation it causes is still the most difficult thing I face.

In the middle of that crowded and noisy auditorium, she looked at me with understanding, with compassion but not pity, and she said “I bet it is”.

She had asked a bold question without making it sound bold, and she had validated my answer, all in a brief moment.

The lights dimmed and the show started. When it ended, we said goodbye and left with our families.

I didn’t see her much after that. Lisa had cancer…or cancer had Lisa. It was not surprising that a big chunk of our small community knew and loved Lisa. There was a fundraiser at the school with a large turnout where people did what they could to support the family. Everything possible was done to keep her alive, but science and/or money could not cure her.  Cancer has no mercy

Her husband and her five children grieve more than anyone of course, but she left a hole in the community when she died.

Lisa had a way of getting to the heart of a matter and talking about what was important without sounding awkward or making others feel awkward.  There just aren’t many people like her. People who speak words that climb over the superficial wall of conversation and ask questions that matter.  People who hand you their heart for a moment.  People whose impact on your life isn’t forgotten.

That day, I learned that, for me, MS feels isolating.  More importantly, I experienced the difference between most people and people like Lisa.  Whether you were a close friend or an acquaintance, Lisa cared about people and she demonstrated it by asking questions.  She was an example of how to love people with words.

I’m glad I knew Lisa.  May we all be more like her.

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