Category Archives: Exploring My World

The Family Storyteller: Before It’s Too Late

WE ARE EXPERIENCING A TEMPORARY cold front in the South, prompting memories of the magical snowy days of my youth in Indiana and West Virginia (although we are not expecting snow in Charlotte NC).
winter

AS THE HOLIDAYS DRAW NEARER, my thoughts drift to family members who are no longer with us for gatherings of the clan as in past Thanksgivings and Christmases. When I was a young adult, I gave little thought to the temporal aspect of life, as if we would all be here together for years to come – holidays at grandmother’s house – then mother’s house – and then – the gathering was at my house. As we come together, we celebrate, eat and share family stories – usually funny or touching ones -and we laugh and bond as a family.

I WAS FORTUNATE that Mom was a born storyteller with an exceptional memory. She shared much of her growing up and my siblings and I learned about not only our family roots, but the townspeople and the issues of life in the generations before us. What a treasure!

NOW, AS AN OLDER ADULT, my interest in family history is piqued even more, likely because I am a little closer to the end of my journey (not for many years yet, I hope) – and maybe too because I value the importance of connecting the generations. There are lessons to be learned, even from unproductive decisions made by someone in the past. In Mom’s last years, I made a greater effort to ask questions and write notes on history she shared. Although – now that she is no longer here, there are so many things that I wish I had asked her.

AS THANKSGIVING APPROACHES, and we become engaged in the hustle and bustle of holiday activities, it may be prudent to take time-out to invite…. to question… and to listen to the older adults of our families, to learn where we came from, and our ancestors journeys along the way.

WHEN I TAUGHT A UNIVERSITY GRADUATE COURSE in life span development, I frequently gave an assignment for the students to complete over the holidays. They were asked to interview the oldest member of their family, or the oldest family storyteller (not all folks have the gift of remembrance). To prepare for this interview, they were to prepare a timeline. They wrote the years of the family member’s life and beside the years, wrote major events that were occurring (war, disease epidemics, new inventions, politics, etc)… Then they could begin at the earliest memories and ask how these events influenced the family (e.g., you were 14 when the polio epidemic was at its worst. What do you remember about it?).

THANKSGIVING AND CHRISTMAS are family holidays, and various things stimulate recall of holidays past. I remember with deep affection, family and close friends that are no longer here to share this holiday season with us. I am grateful we traveled together for a time. My life is richer for knowing them. As I reflected recently on the blessings of our family (and a few close friends), I wrote two poems to try to capture a few of my thoughts.

Someone Left the Window Open

Someone left the window open and they are slipping through,
One by one – and two by two.
Drum majors of a parade,
loving grandparents marched on
leaving us behind
to find a way to make our lives rewind.

Uncle Don, who drove me everywhere
looking for little pink pigs –
like ones in my storybook;

Betty Davis, a dear childhood friend,
named for a movie star,
who survived polio to be felled
by its re-awakening in later years;

Uncle William who lived a formal life
as a Presbyterian pastor,
till he retired in Asheville
and put away his suits for denims and blue grass;

Aunt Erm, Dietition for Cumberland College,
who oved the game Sorry and
made memories with her fruitcakes and jam cakes;

Aunt Verna, who loved books and learning,
and cared for her community in New Bern
as county public health physician;

Aunt Maggie, who liked brandy alexanders’s,
managed her own business in Charleston and
parachuted from a plane in her 80’s;

Aunt Shirley, who enjoyed taking care of her home
and sang country songs
while she washed the dishes;

Aunt Fanella, twin sister of my father,
who kept the family connected
and her faith strong;

Dottie, my 6 foot tall college roommate,
who had a big heart, a hearty laugh,
and was a wonderful nurse;

Sweet Alice, my university officemate,
loyal to her friends,
who found love in late life;

Mother-in-law Nora, loving mother and grandmother,
and beloved teacher
who taught first grade for 52 years.

Brother-in-law Don,
who went at life in a run,
and took good care of my sister;

Dad, a talented man
who loved big band music, dancing-
and all competitive games;

Mom, who loved her family
and her home in Madison –
lived to 91 – still interested
in politics and new experiences.

Someone left the window open,
and we keep slipping through.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

The Family Storyteller

Our family storyteller knows.
Stories – old and true:
hardships overcome,
milestones reached,
loves that endured,
passions unrequited,
adventures undertaken,
family secrets held,
laugh-out-loud episodes,
family builders, dreamers
and schemers known,
lessons learned,
worth of our land revealed,
challenges met,
history witnessed,
heritage passed on.
We thought
there was time.
To listen.
Too late.
Our legacy lost.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

AS WE GATHER FOR THE COMING HOLIDAYS, may we have the foresight to engage our own FAMILY STORYTELLERS to enlighten our lives.

Advertisements

Come Walk With Me in November

COME WITH ME on a two mile walk on the Greenway – and on a short cut back home.

CIMG1082
Entrance to Greenway
CIMG1083

WE GREET SEVERAL WALKERS, although it’s early for the late afternoon walkers. Everyone we pass waves and smiles, and some stop to chat briefly – such is the way in the South. We meet so many interesting folks this way.

CIMG1084
CIMG1098
CIMG1086

CIMG1089

THE LEAVES RUSTLE like twisting saran wrap and we leave the path to walk among them. My husband says it reminds him of childhood memories of Rice Krispies – snap, crackle, pop.

CIMG1092

WE PASS SEVERAL PEOPLE on bicycles. We decide to bring our bicycles next time for a real workout.

CIMG1094

WE EXIT THE GREENWAY to our shortcut street back home (This leg of the greenway continues on for 15 miles.)

CIMG1106

WE MEET A COLLEGE STUDENT walking her new puppy. The dog’s name is Tansy and is a rescue dog from one of the Native American reservations out West. I remember reading about the great need to adopt dogs since the economy has been struggling. Many families in America and Europe have been forced to give up their pet animals (dogs, and even horses) because they could no longer afford to feed them.

WE NOTE THAT THE COLOR OF THE DOG’S FUR appears to match exactly the beautiful red hair of his mistress. We comment about it and she laughs – “I know,” she says. (Sorry, she didn’t want her picture taken.)

CIMG1109
CIMG1111

AS WE APPROACH THESE TREES, they remind me of candles lit from within and burning bright – or multi-color pom poms at a football game. I don’t know what kind of trees they are, but I call them candle trees when we see them on our walk.

CIMG1118

A LONELY SCARECROW left over from Halloween keeps vigil over his family’s house.

CIMG1124
Almost back home.
CIMG1125

HOME AGAIN, I work on menus for Thanksgiving – as I enjoy a slice of pumpkin bread and hot tea.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

WHAT COULD BE A BETTER TIME-OUT THAN A WALK? DO YOU AGREE?

Trees Are Approaching Peak Colors and Jam Cake is for Dinner

CIMG0644
NATURE’S FALL EXTRAVAGANZA of Colors is on full display as we leave the mountains this week for the city. In every direction, I see a such a powerful vista that I concentrate on the views, trying to memorize the “now showing” moving pictures to recall during the coming Winter.

NC Mountains -Photo by SMB
NC Mountains -Photo by SMB

CIMG0499
NC Mountains Photo by SMB
IN LATE OCTOBER,changing light signals fauna and flora to orchestrate a final fling,
before rest and rejuvenation. Bright Fall skies light up the mountains
in an annual display, using all the best colors in the crayon box – copper, golden, nehi orange,
burgundy, scarlet and cinnamon.
Last Rays of Sunset on Black Mountains
Last Rays of Sunset on Black Mountains photo by SMB

EARTHY FALL COLORS ARE AT PEAK at 3,000-4,000 elevations bringing parades of tourists to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

CIMG0463
THE YANCY TIMES reports bears preparing for hibernation are actively foraging
closer to homesteads, as the 2013 rains in the North Carolina mountains reduced the acorn crop
in higher elevations. We hide the bird feed and feed the dog indoors.

CIMG0498
Photo by SMB

THE WILD TURKEYS are marching again. I edged too close taking this picture in the yard. A second after it was taken, the tom turkey jumped on the hood of the car, fluffed out his feathers and screeched in such an unexpected and aggressive display, that I jumped back in fright.

CIMG1022

WE PASS THE OLD HOMESTEAD of the Honeycutt family as we reach the bottom of our mountain on the way to town. Descendents have built homes near this hollow. The old house is boarded up, sitting nestled in the crook of the hollow at the foot of the mountain. The old house is silent now, but the yard is well maintained by the family.

CIMG0562

Old Honeycutt House, Burnsville, NC Photo by SMB

THE WIND CIRCLES, blowing leaves from the trees,and they drift to the ground in heaps. We walk hand in hand, rustling the leaves beneath our feet like a taffeta skirt.

CIMG0544

I MAKE A LIMONCELLO STRAWBERRY JAM CAKE for dinner, an easy dessert and one of my family’s favorites. My Mother made hundreds of jelly rolls for us when we were growing up – and we loved them for dinner, snacks and breakfast. This is an adapted version of her jelly roll that I can put together faster when time is limited. Today I used a yellow cake mix. I followed the box directions, but substituted 1/4 cup limoncello liquour for part of the required liquid and orange juice for the rest, and added 1/4 cup sour cream. I made two layers, put them together with strawberry jam and dusted the top with powdered sugar. This is good to eat as is, but today, I added a dollop of lemon curd (from a jar) mixed with 1 tsp of limoncello and topped with strawberries.

Photo by SMB
Photo by SMB

I CUT A PIECE TO ENJOY in my chair overlooking the woods and light the fire.

CIMG0577

WHAT DO YOU LOVE about Fall?

Take a Mountain Retreat to a Literary Festival

ARE YOU INSPIRED BY BREATHTAKING SCENERY? Do you like books? Do you enjoy conversations on intellectually stimulating topics? Do you need a vacation? If the answer is yes, and you are in the regional vicinity of the North Carolina mountains, I have a splendid suggestion: make plans to attend this year’s Carolina Mountain Literary Festival. Or plan long range for next year’s – it’s usually in September.

THE 2013 ANNUAL CAROLINA MOUNTAIN LITERARY FESTIVAL is scheduled for September 12-14. Now in its 8th year, the festival is held in the mountain town of Burnsville, North Carolina. Burnsville is a small town nestled in the beautiful NC mountains, near Mt. Mitchell – the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi, near the Blue Ridge Parkway, 30 minutes from Asheville, NC and 2 hours from Charlotte, NC. The town is charming, organized around a town square that hosts many festivals and community events throughout the year. The largest is the Mt. Mitchell Festival held the first weekend in August every year.

THIS YEAR, ELIZABETH KOSTOVA is the keynote speaker at the banquet on Saturday evening at the conclusion of the Thursday-Saturday event. Kostova is author if the bestseller “The Historian” and her new novel, “The Swan Thieves”. Over 40 authors are scheduled for the conference this year. This literary festival has the flavor of the mountains – easy paced, nourishing, engaging – focused only on authors and readers who love books in common – with time to chat, question, learn and share in small groups.

MULTIPLE SESSIONS ARE HELD in various venues throughout the town. Walking a few steps, or a block, in the warm September air, with views of the mountains always in sight, is part of the magic. Some sessions are held in the new town hall; or upstairs at the JAVA CafĂ©; or the historic brick library, lovingly restored from an old high school; or Mary Jane’s bakery and cafe with organic foods, fresh baked bread and live music at noon; or the tea lounge over the sisters shop where they create lovely stationery with the paper they create.

ARTISTIC DIVERSITY REINS AT THE FESTIVAL – authors of fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, and writers of songs, plays and poetry are here. I have been to six of the festivals and have enjoyed each one – always learning something. When my sister attends with me, we choose one session that we know nothing about, so we are stimulated to learn something new – and it has always been rewarding.

SO, I AM HAPPY TO BE HERE in this special place, with time to spend with others talking about stories and books – for the whole weekend! There are dozens of small literary festivals in the country that do not get national advertising attention. Most small ones are held in out of the way amazing places. I recommend seeking them out and planning a visit in the coming year. You will be rewarded in unexpected ways.

IT IS THE END OF SUMMER, but the leaves are just starting to drift to the ground. I will share some pictures of this beautiful place – in Burnsville, North Carolina.

Website at cmlitfest.org

The Unexpected Things We Learn in School!

CIMG0729

Photo of (1950’s) painting of “Bishop Bhend School”,
a one-room school in Kentucky, by Nora Young Bishop,
beloved first grade teacher, who taught school for 52 years.

BACK TO SCHOOL SALES ARE IN FULL SWING. As a child, I looked forward to the beginning of a new school year – new shoes and treasured school supplies – 64 crayons with sharp points, new pencils in a colorful pencil box, a sharpener and tablets. I packed and re-packed my book bag many times. The required supplies for children today are well beyond the simple supplies we had to bring.

I HAD MIXED FEELINGS when I escorted my own children to the first day of school. They seemed so young, yet grown up somehow, and I knew they were beginning a transforming adventure – as was I.

WHEN I WAS IN FIRST GRADE, I walked six blocks, with a neighbor in sixth grade, to Robbins School in Charleston, WVa. Mother assured me there would be lots of books and I was eager to find out. Unfortunately, my first grade teacher was not a candidate for teacher of the year. I told mother one day, “Miss Brown must not have any kids because she doesn’t know how to talk to them.” MAYBE NOT ALL ADULTS LIKE CHILDREN. I must have learned to get along with her, As it didn’t dim my enthusiasm for school.

IN THIRD GRADE, my school gave extra attention to music education. We performed skits and sang “Turkey in the Straw”, and I learned the stories behind classical music. I LEARNED TO APPRECIATE THE VARIETY IN MUSIC.

THIS WAS THE FIRST TIME POVERTY AND NEGLECT HAD A FAMILIAR FACE. I noticed that Maryelle, who sat qcross the aisle from me, was trying to use a stub of a pencil, with no eraser, so I gave her one of my new pencils. She smiled at me with a happy smile, as if I had given her something really big. Maryelle wore the same soiled dress every day – brown with three rows of white rickrack on the bodice. One of her brown shoes had a broken strap. Her hair was cut short in a choppy cut and it looked uncombed. Her arms were encrusted with dirt. I had never seen anyone so dirty and I was uncomfortable touching her, although I tried not to show it. She didn’t get a star when the dentist came to school for preventive dental exams.

IN FOURTH GRADE, I entered another school that scheduled TWO lengthy recesses every day. Whoa! We loved it. My skills in jump roping, tumbling, jacks and running relay games improved that year. The principal taught us to do the back flip. Most important, in free play at recess, I LEARNED ABOUT COMPETING AND COORPERATING with classmates who had different personalities and physical abilities.

WE MOVED TO A SMALL TOWN in WVa when I was in the sixth grade. The principal, Miss Berry, was the teacher. some OF her teaching methods would not pass muster today, as she liked to take the line of least resistance. We had spelling bees several times a week and I was thankfully, able to stand up for several rounds. I felt embarrassed for Billy and Joanne who missed most every word, and usually had to sit down first – ducking their heads as they made their way to their seats. A LIFE LESSON IN WINNING AND LOSING.

SHE READ TO US EVERY DAY – wonderful stories like “Treasure island”, “The Hardy Boys” and “Nancy Drew”. She seemed to enjoy them as much as we did. While she read, she had one of her favorite girls to rub her back. I noticed her dandruff and was glad I wasn’t one of her favorites. She also sent a favorite girl to her house on Thursdays to change the sheets of her boarders. She couldn’t get away with that today. MAYBE IT’s GOOD NOT TO BE TEACHER’S PET.

ONE DAY, MISS BERRY DECIDED we needed a fund raising project for the school. She had the cooks make enormous amounts of vegetable soup and fill dozens of mason jars. We were let out of school early for one week to try to sell the soup door to door. We pulled the heavy jars in a wagon – the jars sloshing as we went. I often came home with soup running down my arms. I only sold two jars – one to mom (who poured it out). SO MUCH FOR MAKING SELLING A CAREER.

Miss Berry assigned us reading and math story problems while she read to herself. We also had 8-10 hours a week to read books of our choosing. That was OK with me – and I FELL IN LOVE WITH BOOKS OF ADVENTURE AND MYSTERY THAT YEAR.

SHE FREQUENTLY LED US IN SINGING and she had a loud and lusty style. During the Christmas season we sang carols. I especially remember “Joy to the World”. She had a large bust and when she sang, “and heaven and nature sing”, she raised her shoulders up and down in a bouncing fashion with her chest moving in rhythm to the music. My sister was in her class three years later. All we have to do to break down in peals of laughter is to sing the even refrain,”and heaven and nature sing”, and raise our shoulders up and down. SO MANY FUNNY MEMORIES TO SAVOR.

SOME SCHOOL EXPERIENCES MAKE ME SMILE NOW – some contributed to my awakening to the world around me, while others tested my abilities. The most difficult aspect of my early school years involved our family’s frequent moves, requiring adjustment to new schools and classmates. I attended new schools in first grade – then third, fourth, sixth and seventh grades. When I was in tenth grade, we moved once again to Madison, Indiana for my dad’s work, where my parents lived for over 50 years. My younger siblings experienced fewer moves – my brother attended school for all 12 years in one school system.

FREQUENT MOVES TO NEW SCHOOLS during my elementary school years may have influenced my early shyness in new situations – and to be honest, I sometimes still feel a small buzz of uncertainty inside, when entering a new environment with a new group. The feeling is similar to the feeling that put me on alert as a child going to a new school. As an adult, I know now that this feeling of angst will pass quickly, as soon as I engage in the new situation.

ALTHOUGH I FREQUENTLY CHANGED SCHOOLS in my early years of education, I was blessed with a stable family life that surely facilitated my confidence in adapting to change. These early experiences of frequent change and adaptation may have enabled me to learn useful life lessons – how to check out new settings and individuals – and feel comfortable in a variety of environments and with diverse individuals and groups.

Did you learn an important lesson outside the formal course syllabus in your early years of school?

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

Some Days I Want to Run

CIMG0415 - Copy
“Possibilities” Photo by SMB

RETIREMENT BRINGS OPPORTUNITIES to chart a new life course and to set a new path – and I am loving this time of life to do just that. I have never had so much time at my command for what I really want to do – blocks of time, not just snippets. On occasion, however, I get so excited about possibilities and new challenges that interest me, that I am overwhelmed.

IT HELPS TO SIT DOWN AND GET ORGANIZED by making specific lists – setting priorities for what I am going to do today, this week or month – or even this year. Tackling my desires in this way presents reality to me, as there are only so many hours in any one day or week. More important, it turns maybes into goals. I have always used list-making as a way of focusing my priorities into action plans. As a wife, mother and career woman, and later a caregiver for my parents, I juggled multiple responsibilities. Staying organized was the secret to helping me to give attention where it was needed and to move forward to achieve goals.

SURPRISE – CREATING SOME ORGANIZATION IN MY LIFE TRANSITION POST-RETIREMENT is still a useful strategy. There is no more rewarding feeling of satisfaction and pride then accomplishing something we really want to do. On days when I feel I have so much I want to do and so little time to do it all, I remind myself to focus on the blessings of my life and the journey of adventure I am on.

I SHARED MY THOUGHTS WITH SOME OF MY WOMEN FRIENDS and learned we had a common perception. We agreed that this stage of life ushers in:

(1) A TIME OF VAST NEW POSSIBILITIES for our lives (including a few loose ends we want to address), and
(2) A GROWING AWARENESS OF FINITE TIME AVAILABLE.

This is vastly different from the age of early adulthood when we perceived unlimited possibilities – and all the time in the world to accomplish them.

In reflecting on our discussion, I wrote a poem, with tongue in cheek, to express the perception of fleeting time that occurs to women over 50 from time to time – and some of the varied items on our “want to do” list.

I WANT TO RUN

I just want to run.
Full out.
Life is shorter
in the afternoon of my life.
I know it well now – Still,
so much I want to do:
explore the small towns of Ireland,
master the flute,
make a quilt,
organize family pictures on CD’s,
simplify my life,
reconnect with an old friend,
search out my ancestors,
write our family’s story for my children,
publish a book of my poems,
take a class in seafood cuisine,
keep a blog, commune with nature,
improve my piano playing,
learn to play chess,
launch a new career,
plant a rose garden,
learn to meditate,
watch the Fall
arrive in inches.
I need to run faster,
reach farther, focus,
organize, hurry, scurry.
Lord, there is so much more
to do on my fleeting path,
I want to run sometimes –
but – don’t let me run so fast,
I miss what’s on the way.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013