When I was growing up, in the before times, (before COVID, the internet, cell phones, cable) summertime was merely one long effort to stay cool, get a tan and read one secondhand novel after another on my Grandmother’s back porch, in front of an industrial strength fan in the window, that sounded a bit like an airplane engine taking off. It could freeze the summertime sweat on you in all of about two seconds and make you wanna cuddle up in the blanket thrown on the sofa back.
This was the perfect locale to inhale the novels I gravitated towards. They were meaty and filled with historical drama, a stark contrast to my boring life- – – Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind, Exodus by Leon Uris, Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms, mixed with lighter stuff, like Betty Smith’s Joy In The Morning, or any of a number of Victoria Holt romances. This, and listening to secondhand records—Frank Sinatra’s crooning, Sarah Vaughan’s note-bending, the soundtracks to West Side Story and Oklahoma (which I memorised and tried to sing all the parts to), filled my days with some modicum of contentment. Whether it was our poverty, or the desire to keep us occupied, that’s where my Mother’s love of junking started.
You see, my legal secretary Mom (who was divorced since I was a toddler) struggled financially to raise us four kids on her own. There wasn’t much excess income, if at all. She wasn’t fond of complainers and the worst thing you could say to her was, “Mom, I’m bored.” Some wisdom in her knew that if we stayed busy, we wouldn’t think about the inherent sadness of our childhood, or the struggles we were facing. So, we became junkers, among other things…
Thus, we’d spend her day off combing through Goodwill and Salvation Army, looking for antiques, Crystal glassware, China, clothes. Just cause we were broke didn’t mean we couldn’t have nice things!!! The hunt filled us with excitement and taught us Esprit de Corps. And as a reward, she’d give us spare change from her pocketbook, tell us to go look for something we wanted, but not to touch the toys, because those might have belonged to children who died from some infection. What was left over were books and records, which you could pick up from anywhere from a nickel to twenty-five cents. These books and records became our friends, our companions in a sad childhood and helped to get us through those tough times.
Maybe this is why every Summer, since my daughter was small, we have had a tradition of spending the first weeks of Summer combing bookstore shelves, or ordering books on-line. And….when my daughter was in a recent funk, which could have something to do with the extraction of four wisdom teeth on the first day of vacation (she said she wanted to just get it over with early on Summer break), I led her to the vinyl aisle at Target to discover the joy of records.
Yes, real records, big and needle-drop, static-y starting records. We bought Prince, the Beach Boys, Rod Stewart’s “Greatest Hits”, Frank Sinatra’s “Nothing But The Best.” While she is enjoying exploring the oldies, she just asked me if she could buy albums from two contemporary singer- songwriters named Eden and James Vincent McMorrow, both from Ireland, indicating my obsession with my Irish roots, has been successfully passed onto my Chinese daughter. Score one for Mommy!
Channeling my mother’s methods did not stop with books and music though. In an effort to keep my daughter busy, learning, growing, feeling accomplished, we also bought yarn to learn to crochet and a cross stitch picture/kit.
You see, she really wants to move to the mainland, is largely over Hawaii life, except for the love of her High School and friends and is hankering for cold weather again. It’s unsurprising, since she spent half her life in Northern Virginia and remembers well fireplaces and sweaters, playing in the snow, cocoa and flannel pj’s. Plus, she has a fondness for jackets that borders on obsession….So, I struggled last night trying to remember how to double crochet (thanks YouTube for the able assistance). She started making an Afghan blanket for herself, which may well take her the two years to finish(!) until we return to the mainland. It’s a way to mark the time, be productive and have something to show for the two years she is waiting for our return. It’s also a reassurance that she’ll get that cold climate she is longing for and that waiting can be a beautiful thing, if time is spent in the throes of productivity.
So, music, books, handiwork (as my Mom used to call anything that fell under the category of needle and thread) are all excellent ways to spend a Summer and have something to show for it. But, I would be remiss in not mentioning Mom’s favorite pastime – cooking. I’ve tried to pass on the basics through the years, so my daughter wouldn’t have to live on ramen in college- – though that remains one of her favorite things to eat- – in fact, at this moment, she is sitting on the living room floor eating uncooked ramen from the bag. (That can’t be healthy!) During these high school years, I’ve felt an urgency to make her more independent, help her learn how to put together some good eats for pennies. I guess it’s a way to insure, if something happens to me, if we were to lose everything, if she were down on her luck, she wouldn’t starve and, even more so, understand the blessings and benefits of sharing a repast with family and friends.
And so, this morning, even though I’ve been on fairly strick keto for six months, we made this for breakfast. I do NOT regret one moment, or one bite. It was bliss. It was near nirvana and, while I’m right back on keto this afternoon, I know we made a memory today.
That’s sorta-kinda what all kids really want anyway. Knowing you are there, that you love and care for them, that you want to make them happy in unhappy times (like COVID), that you have skills to pass on, like how to make something from close to nothing, or on the cheap, that it doesn’t take tons of money to be happy, that we can mark the waiting times in life, doing something productive and making memories together.
These small lessons are the Serenity Prayer come to life. Do they change everything? Do they eliminate all of life’s moments of sadness, or necessary waiting? Of course not. But they empower the reader, the cook, the listener, the doer in the moment to make joy happen, at least for today anyway.
Teaching the doer to:
I love this. Because pain and sadness are inevitable in every life. Focusing on what you can do, the things you can change, even if it is only your mindset, your attitude, is EVERYTHING. All I know is this child of mine’s resiliency meter has gone way up, with just a few small changes, and lessons remembered, lessons passed down from my Mother have been key to that change.
Now….time to build her Mama’s resiliency. On to a day of cleaning, organising, practicing gratitude and gardening….can’t wait for these beefsteak tomatoes to finish growing! Next stop on the road to resiliency is teaching my child the joys of summertime tomato sandwiches!
May you find yourself in a place of gratitude today, in the company of those you love and have the good sense to do something useful with yourself! Amen!
Mrs. Sassy Pants