Forty-nine years ago today, I married my best friend. He and I were, and still are, kindred spirits. Both of us felt that kinship when we first met, but we also had proof sitting on our respective book shelves. Each of us owned a very old book from the same set of books….one on his shelf and a matching volume on mine. His was Pride and Prejudice (Reader, need I say more?), and mine was Silas Marner. For that reason, and of course many others, we decided WE were meant to be.
I am missing my Mom today…it’s her birthday and she would have been 99 years old! We lost her just three weeks ago, so celebrating her birthday today is a mixture of sadness and joy–she lived life to the fullest and left us with so many joyful memories!
After my Father passed away twenty-four years ago, I started a list of “Would Haves” because there were so many times when my brothers and I would say, “He would have loved this…or that.” I haven’t started a similar list for my Mother yet, but I will need to soon because there are already things happening that she would have liked! One thing for sure that will be on that list is the upcoming September release of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new book, Leadership in Turbulent Times. That one would have been number one on her TBR list!
Happy birthday to my beautiful Mom, my special friend. I miss you!
The two photos above show how my Mom prepared for book club discussions. I brought these two books home with me after she passed away three weeks ago, and I will never move the colored tabs she put there because they are such a delight to see! This is the way she always prepared for her book club, whether the one she lead at the Mt. Olympus Senior Center for 14 years, or for the local library book club that came once a month to her assisted living facility. She loved to read and talk about books, and she prepared well for the group discussions often reading the book twice, always marking the important points she wanted to remember.
My reading reflections for July are about my mother, since I spent three weeks of July with her at the end of her life. I am home now, tying up lose ends, returning slowly to routines, and trying to get used to life without her. But despite my sadness, there is also so much to comfort me — loving family and friends, many many happy memories, and an overwhelming pride in her for how she handled her life, especially life after my father passed 24 years ago, and especially again at the end. She showed great courage and dignity throughout it all, and I’m so proud to be her daughter.
The photo above is a list of the books she read in 2018. She read and listened to 10 books (including volumes 1-4 of the Harry Potter series) and was also in the middle of three other books when she fell ill: she was listening to the audiobook of Shanghai Girls, and reading the Kindle version of Dreams of Joy, both books by Lisa See, an author she loved; and she was in the middle of the Whitmore Library Book Club choice for July, a title I don’t remember now. At almost 99 years old, she was an avid reader to the end!
While we spent the last three weeks with my mother, our daughter watered our gardens and kept everything alive despite the 90-100 degree temperatures. It was a huge job, but we were delighted upon our return home to find our butterfly garden in full bloom and full of bees and butterflies!
I want to share with you a poster I saw and just loved at Red Butte Garden, in Salt Lake City, where we have my father’s memorial bench, and where we will soon hold my mother’s Celebration of Life and add a plaque to the bench in memory of her.
What to do with that hour each day that was set aside for wonderful long phones conversations with my Mom? I’ve decided that for the next little while I will take that same hour (mid-afternoon) and call it my reading hour. Seems so right to fill that emptiness with books in memory of my loving Reading Buddy. She’d like that, I’m sure. And so will I!!
When I started this blog in 2007, I dedicated it to my father “who would have loved this new way of communicating,” but wrote my posts with my mother in mind as my primary audience. Both my parents were avid readers, especially of history, and they instilled in me a deep love of reading. They supported my book obsessions from very early on — we made weekly trips to the library; my father would buy me a new book when I finished another book in a series; gifts were almost always books; and there was always book talk happening in our household.
I was living 800 miles away when my father passed away twenty-four years ago, so it was at that time that my mother and I began to talk with each other on the phone every day. Our talks became our afternoon ritual, and over the years and despite the distance, our relationship grew closer and closer. Yes, we talked about the daily happenings of our lives, but we also shared long conversations about the books we were reading or had heard about. I called her my “reading buddy.”
So as my blog became an important part of my life, my mother joined in with me to write posts and share what she was reading. The blog became another way to communicate with each other about our shared love of reading.
Six days ago, my mother passed away. She was three weeks short of her 99th birthday and had lived a full and wonderful life. Her decline was swift and timed almost to perfection — my family had gathered together for our yearly reunion. She was thrilled that we were all together again, and we filled the first few days with our lively conversations and good food. When she became ill suddenly, we all took turns staying with her at night, and we worked together to make her as comfortable as possible during the day. She didn’t linger, and although none of us was with her at the moment of her death, she knew that she was surrounded by loving family.
My husband and I drove back home yesterday, and brought with us some of her books, paintings, and special treasures to remember her. All afternoon, I kept having these habit-urges to pick up the phone and call her to let her know we were home safe, to tell her what book arrived in the mail while we were gone. It’s going to be so different without her.
But, I know that I have been the most fortunate person on the planet to have such a loving mother/friend/reading buddy. And there are so many fun and wonderful memories to keep her alive in my heart, forever.
She loved the book blogging community, visited many of your blogs, and knew many of you by your first name. So as you write your posts and share your love of reading with all of us, please remember for a moment that you touch hearts in ways you might not be aware of…that your passion for reading brings joy to young and old…and that sharing a book is an act of love.
In the last few weeks, we’ve spent quite a bit of time with our 11-year-old grandson. Those hours spent with him are precious times! On the days that we have him all day long, we have a fun routine. We start the day at the breakfast table making a list of all the things we want to do during the day, including what we’ll have for lunch and dinner, errands and tasks. Time outdoors is included as well as the indoor games and activities. We revisit the list at the end of the day and mark off the things we’ve actually done. It’s a fun way to realize that there are endless things we can do and never get bored while spending the day (or days) with grandparents!
One thing that is always on the list is some time for one of his favorite computer games, Minecraft. Last year, he showed me how to start a game myself, and I was hooked! He showed great patience in helping me learn how to build things and navigate the environment. He showed me that I could choose a “peaceful” game without monsters attacking me and blowing up my buildings, and that I also had a choice of “survival” or “creative” modes. In survival mode, I have to find all my own supplies and materials. In creative mode, they are already there for me. I find this game fun and relaxing and play it quite often, building houses, villages, and cities, and exploring many different biomes.
But now there is a computer version in the house that can be hooked to the TV and is controlled by a joystick. Although I do well on the touchscreen version of the game on my iPad, this old grandma has a great deal of trouble with using a joystick to navigate the computer version! Grandson has once again shown great patience in trying to help me learn how to use it because he would dearly love to play a two-person version of the game. If I could just manage to work that joystick really well, we could build things together in one game! But the manual dexterity skills that seem to come so naturally to young people these days are very difficult for me to manage, so I mostly end up watching him create his Minecraft worlds. I’m practicing my joystick skills, but it’s slow learning for me.
This sweet Grandboy hasn’t given up on me. He enjoys visiting my current game on my iPad, and likes to add his own touches to what I have been building. And he continues to educate me about the endless possibilities of this amazing game. He’s a wonderful teacher! This week, he loaned me three books to read on the subject (knowing I love to learn by reading). I know I am loved when he loans me his hardback Minecraft books!
During my teaching years, I kept a folder for special cards and notes that were given to me. I also wrote down some of the stories that I felt needed to be saved and tucked them into that folder, too. Since reading the little book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, I’ve started going through drawers, files, boxes. This afternoon, for the first time in years, I looked through my special teaching folder. I found this little story, a real treasure, that I wrote from my first year of teaching 6th grade. As I read it, I can still see these two boys in my memory. I am reminded once again that the truth of teaching is not about testing, and only somewhat about curriculum. It’s about LIFE.
I loved my days and years spent with young people! I learned so much from them about love and friendship, strength and resilience, courage and growth…and about how to appreciate each day for the many gifts of love one receives from others, young or old.
Donny and Nick were inseparable. They’d been friends since kindergarten, and they moved alike, talked alike, and thought alike. Like two young playful puppies, they were constantly jostling and wrestling each other. They couldn’t stand in a line together without a little shoving or shoulder bumping or tousling of the other’s hair.
Once, when Nick went on a family trip for a week, Donny walked around the classroom with a totally lost look on his face. “What are you going to do without your best buddy this week?” I asked him. “I dunno,” he replied with a shrug and a look on his face that showed the loneliness inside.
Yesterday, Donny didn’t come to school. Today I got a message over the intercom from the office saying simply, “Donny moved this weekend. He’ll be in to pick up his things today.” I looked at Nick in surprise and asked him if he knew anything about this. He didn’t.
Donny came in and cleared out his desk just before lunch. His mother told us quietly where he was moving. “We’ve moved in with friends,” she said with tears in her eyes. Donny said his quiet goodbyes to Nick, and the class. Then he was gone.
The class worked somberly, silently, asking no questions. A little while later Nick quietly came up to my desk and said, “Mrs. Rice, can I move into Donny’s desk?”
When my grandmother died, we found that she had prepared well for the distribution of her belongings. On the bottom or on the back of her most important items, we found a small strip of masking tape with a family member’s name on it. We’ve remembered that over the years with humor and affection, and appreciation. Many years after her death, I turned over one of two kitchen chairs she had given me, and felt a rush of warmth and remembering when I saw the slightly curled piece of masking tape with my name on it.
Much like the planning ahead my grandmother did at the end of her life, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, by Margareta Magnusson, is a book chock full of ideas on getting rid of the clutter in our lives. It is a book that would be helpful to read at any age! Her ideas are very practical and encouraging, and she addresses many of the roadblocks we run into when we are trying find the courage to let things go that we have spent a lifetime collecting.
“Sometimes you just have to give cherished things away with the hope that they end up with someone who will create new memories of their own.”
I will be putting many of her suggestions into gear immediately because I’m already in the purging mode this January. When I spend more time indoors, out of the cold weather, I realize how much stuff we have that we really don’t need anymore. And we are getting on in years, as well, and I definitely don’t want my children to have to deal with all our stuff. It’s really an act of kindness and love to go through the process of letting go of the clutter now instead of leaving it for them to deal with after we are gone.
My Mom, who is 98 years old, is also reading this book and we are talking about the ideas and the process from both our perspectives. It’s a wonderful ongoing conversation right now, and an important one.