Posts Tagged ‘Bumpa’

Two More Sleeps

Dear Lyla,

Only two sleeps until Christmas Day. Your Great-Aunt Debbie arrived last night and your boy cousins are due in a few hours.  Already Aunt Debbie, Grandma and I have consumed several pots of coffee this morning and have reminisced several decades in the span of a few hours. We were decked out in bathrobes and grubby clothes, having laughs and pumping our veins with caffeine; this is the way Christmas break is supposed to be.  When you are surrounded by loved ones, good conversation, tasty food and enough coffee grounds in the pantry to last until New Year’s; you are rich beyond measure. Nothing under the tree this year will last longer or be more important than the memories you will make in the next few days. You will carry them with you forever. I will tell you a secret Little One, they do not fade over time. If anything, they are more vibrant and accessible as you age. Along with the memories will come a sense of comfort, purpose and belonging. Today as you, Daddy, Grandma and Aunt Debbie are out shopping and I wait for the boys, my mind drifts to the Christmases of my past. I realized that it has been 19 Christmases since your Bumpa went to heaven. While you would think my memories of my father may fade with time, the memories  I have of him at Christmastime are so fresh it takes me by surprise. Your Bumpa loved Christmas, everything about it. Hanging up lights and swearing a blue streak when  a bulb would go out, watching us put up the tree, listening to Grandma’s Elvis album (Blue Christmas I think), decorating cookies and the games. I remember the games most of all. We would play cards or board games until we could barely keep our eyes open. What I do not remember were the presents. Oh, there were plenty under the tree but I simply cannot recall what Santa brought us. I have a feeling this will be your legacy as well; memories that are rich and warm, recollections of all of the people both present and past that you will carry with you for many years to come. Only two more sleeps my most beloved child, but until then there is much coffee, conversations and card games to be had.

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lyla on trackDear Lyla,
One of the things that I love most about you is your unconditional acceptance of everyone you meet. It seems that you never meet a stranger and your heart is an ever-expanding space. Such unbridled acceptance comes with it a willingness to suspend your disbelief and embrace wild tales. Daddy finds your enthusiasm for a well-spun tale both delightful and disturbing; to this end he has tried to teach you the art of sarcasm and debate at a tender age. When I was young I too was more apt to believe someone than to question his or her motives; your Bumpa warned me that my gullibility would not end well. Unfortunately for me, your Bumpa was somewhat of a soothsayer in this regard. I would fall for the same line over and over again; always disappointed that things did not end differently. Sometimes my willingness to buy a story was based on fear. I recall one summer in particular when your Aunt Patti targeted my squeamishness for her own personal gain. She and I would always have chocolate milk at night in the table in front of the window, which Grandma Jo kept open to cool the living room down. When I wasn’t looking Patti would hit her knuckles (so I was told when I was older) on the underside of the table and declare, “A frog just jumped through the window and landed in your milk!” I would bring my gaze back to my glass, which would still be rippling from the hard knock to the wooden table. Horrified I refused to drink my milk. Patti would bate me and dare me to drink the frog-flavored concoction. In my resolution I would shove the glass at her demanding that she drink it if she was so brave; which she did, deliberately, slowly and dramatically. As you might have guessed, there was no amphibian to be found at the bottom of the glass. We repeated this one act play many times over the summer until at last Grandma Jo intervened on my behalf. Bumpa used to tease me about being gullible and warned me that it would some day be my downfall. In some ways Bumpa was right, I can be too trusting and ignore the ache in my gut that signals a warning. On the other hand, if we become too cynical we may lose our ability to show empathy to others. I choose not to live in a world where there aren’t second chances; I suppose the price for that is a level of vulnerability. My hope for you Little One is that you maintain your ability to accept others for who they are and that you have the wisdom to know when it is time to give someone an opportunity for redemption.  Keep that heart of yours open Little One; someone, somewhere will need it some day.

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me and lylaDear Lyla,

Spring break starts at the end of this week and my students can hardly contain their excitement; it has been a long winter and we both need a break from each other. Many of my students are going on service trips or vacationing somewhere warm. When I was an undergraduate spring break meant one thing, an opportunity to get in a 40 hour work week!  To me breaks were a time to replenish my savings account so that I could make my car payment and have spending money. I never regretted not taking a spring break because I didn’t know what I was missing and having a car was motivation enough for me to not mourn the opportunity. It wasn’t until I was almost at the end of my PhD that I was invited to go on spring break. Daddy and I were living in Columbia, MO while I went to Mizzou; a year or two before I graduated Bumpa realized just how close that was to a variety of civil war battlefields and Eureka Springs. Bumpa proposed that we spend my spring break together touring the Ozarks. I did not get to spend a lot of quality time by myself with Bumpa while growing up since he worked a great deal and most of our time together focused on work. While possessing wonderful qualities; patience with his children was not one that Bumpa could claim. It was not until I reached adulthood that he and I began to understand each other and so I was grateful for some quality time with my dad. We had a wonderful week as we were not rushed as our only constraint was how tired our bodies got before we called it a day. We spent hours at civil war battlefields and Bumpa was lucky enough to stumble upon a group of men reenacting a battle; I knew that we would not depart anytime soon.  After the reenactment Bumpa spent hours talking to the gentlemen, inspecting their weapons and discussing the authenticity of their clothing. While I have a healthy respect for history, this is not the period that intrigues me the most; however, dutifully I sat through these musings as it brought joy to my dad. We also spent time in Eureka Springs where we marveled at the statue of Christ, wondered at a tree decorated with running shoes and had the most delicious barbecue at the seediest joint I have ever been in to date. Bumpa and I stayed up late playing cards and talking politics. I learned more about my dad in that one week that I had my entire life prior to that trip. I discovered that he and I had similar passions and personality traits and that we were capable of communicating with love and respect. It has been fifteen years since Bumpa and I went on that trip together and the sights, sounds and smells that we encountered are as fresh as if we had traveled just yesterday. I treasure that time I had with my dad as our relationship had not always been as solid as I would have liked and in my younger days we often tread on rocky ground. Those days that I spent with Bumpa are even more precious as less than a year later he would go to heaven.  The lesson for both of us Little One is that sometimes you just need to take a break and hang out with the ones you love, work will always be waiting but we never know how long we will have each other. I look forward to all of the possibilities that lie ahead for you, Daddy and me; spring break here we come!

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gigi lylaDear Lyla,

We are dog people. We appreciate the stealthy mannerisms and general “guardian of the underworld” vibe that cats give off; but we are dog people. Specifically, we are lovers of Boston Terriers. If I had a quarter for every time I heard “hey your dog looks like he was chasing parked cars,” I would be comfortable; if I had a dollar for every time my dogs with the smashed in faces elicited squeals of delight from total strangers we could buy our own island. At your age you have already been owned by several Boston Terriers and by the time you are grown you will most likely be unable to look at any other breed with as much love and trust as you do the black and whites. What you already know is that dogs are fun to play with, they warm cold toes, they try to hog the blankets on the couch, they eat stray crayons and they are considered members of the family. What you will learn is that they become much more important as you grow older. In a few years, after you have gotten over the need to dress your dog up and she has gotten over the trauma, the two of you will become inseparable playmates. Your entrance into a room will inspire eagerness in her rather than an assessment of the fastest escape route. You will look forward to naps because she will be your snuggle buddy; she already loves to nap she is just waiting for you to get with the program. When you hit double digits it will more than likely be time to say goodbye to your beloved Gigi as she is already nine and starting to go white around her eyes and muzzle. You will miss her terribly but be consoled by the fact that Bumpa will have a playmate in heaven and all of her toys will no longer be missing their squeakers. At that time we will both plead with Daddy to let us get another Boston as no home should be without one, he will eventually acquiesce and we will again be owned by a short snouted pup with bat shaped ears and tuxedo like markings. When you are a teen you will tell all of your secrets to your furry confidant, you will shed tears and your best friend will lick your face like mad trying to make it stop. You will be comforted by your dog; she will give you a sense of belonging and purpose. Once you have left home and you embrace the world beyond Waverly you will measure others by their penchant for the canine. You will learn that while you can be friends with someone who doesn’t like dogs, something will always be just a bit off. You will decide that if your significant other cannot abide dogs in the house, you cannot abide your significant other. It is possible that you will make significant decisions in your life based on the ability to be owned by a dog; makes sense to me. We are dog people Little One; it is your destiny to be owned and loved by a dog and it is the one of the best gifts that Daddy and I could ever give to you beyond our own love and affection.

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Lyla ValentineDear Lyla,

This year was the first time you really got excited about Valentine’s Day. For you this holiday was on par with Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas; you even had a count down on your calendar. I believe that you were excited for a couple of reasons; because you really like holidays and because the idea of celebrating how much you love people was incredibly appealing to you. You have never been reserved with your affection or verbal declarations of your admiration and that is one of the things that I love about you. It was fun to watch you plan out what we would make for your school friends and it was a joy to observe you carefully select cards to send to family and close friends. I do not believe you expected any reciprocation, you were always focused on giving, another characteristic of yours that I adore. But receive you did; cards in brightly colored envelopes arrived in the mailed and you wiggled with anticipation as I slit the seals. On two occasions as you opened the cards grayish green paper floated out of them on to the floor; you had been sent money for your piggy bank! At this age you do not know the value of a dollar but you can count and you figured that you could buy presents for at least ten people with the money you had received (I love the fact that you are generous but college will be expensive so in your piggy they go). Seeing the money fall out of the envelope brought back a memory of both my Grandpa Henwood and your Bumpa.  Your Grandma Jo thought I forgot this memory, but I hadn’t. Not at all. I knew it would be the subject of my next letter to you. Bumpa admired your Great Grandpa Henwood a great deal and over the years he adopted some of the same mannerisms, phrases and habits that Great Grandpa Henwood had exhibited. One of those quirks often displayed was, upon receipt,  to shake a card and its accompanying envelope vigorously. The point of this exercise was to make sure that no monetary gesture of love from the sender had been carelessly overlooked in the card reading process. If greenbacks fell out there would be immediate squeals of delight followed by criticism of the paltry amount offered. If there was no monetary accompaniment you could hear “cheapskate” muttered not so subtly. Either of those responses was generally received by other adults in the room with laughter or lighthearted chastising. I didn’t understand until much later that the façade had a purpose. We were to feign belief that Bumpa and Great Grandpa Henwood were Scrooges and misers, grumpy old men that were prickly and not easily moved.  You may ask why we all played this game; it is a fair question. You see Little One, Great Grandpa and Bumpa were easily moved. Both had soft underbellies and it was easy to touch their hearts with the mildest of gestures. But in their own way they were each a bit shy and embarrassed by such attention; and so they turned to humor in order to participate in such social conventions as gift giving. If truth be told, your Daddy is a lot like Bumpa and Great Grandpa Henwood in that regard; but you already know that Daddy is a big softy who acts silly a lot of the time. (When you are older you will learn that these behaviors are called “defense mechanisms.”) For now Little One, enjoy every holiday that you can. Find any excuse to show those you care about how much you love them. Little One I want you to remember that when the grumpy guys in your life tease you it means you hit your mark and we both know you are a crack shot.

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Lyla with WingsDear Lyla,

Yesterday I learned that my Aunt Neda, Bumpa’s sister, went to Heaven. Although you two never met, she has already been an influential part of your upbringing. I adored my Aunt Neda when I was younger; I always got excited when she and her family were expected to visit us at the lake. We rarely got to visit with them since they lived in Grand Rapids, MI and the drive was a long one. When I was twelve Bumpa and Grandma Jo had planned a trip for just the two of them and Patti and I got to choose who we would spend some time with over the holidays; I chose to go stay with Aunt Neda, Uncle Gary and the boys in Michigan. I could barely contain my excitement, I was going to spend a whole week with one of my favorite people on the planet. That trip contained a lot of firsts; my first time flying alone and getting stuck in a snowstorm, my first time skiing (that is a story for a different letter) and the first time I ever really contemplated my own character. Meeting Neda and Gary at the airport is a memory that has not faded with time; Gary with his quiet smile reaching for my luggage and Neda’s strong, steady voice that carried with it an edge that assured you she said what she meant and meant what she said, “I see you survived the plane ride kiddo.” Her way of acknowledging the fear I must have felt while at the same time not allowing me to fall victim to it. I spent a lot of time alone with my aunt during that trip; she asked a lot of questions about my happiness. I thought it odd that she would ask such things but, in retrospect, I think she was just worried about how hard we worked on the resort and wanted to make sure I still was enjoying my youth. Neda is a lot like Bumpa, although the two of them would be the least likely to admit it aloud. I imagine them as children constantly butting heads; convinced that each of them were in the right. Their similarity is what in all likelihood drew me to covet my aunt’s attention; she was a straight shooter, like Bumpa, but she did it while hugging and with a great sense of humor. Little one you remind me of her a bit in your manner of approaching life’s stark realities. Upon hearing the news yesterday I was incredibly sad and you asked why, when informed you simply said “That’s ok Mommy, she’s in heaven; you will see her some day. I can meet her there too, we all die and then we go to heaven, so you see, it’s ok.” How your Great Aunt Neda would have appreciated that response. In my mind’s eye I can see her eyebrows raise, hear a “hmmm” from her lips and finally a “That’s about right kid” as a confirmation of the statement’s accuracy. You are more wise at five than I was at twelve, for on that trip to Michigan I did not yet grasp the concept that I could not control what life brings our way; but Neda tried to teach me that we can certainly control how we react to it. One morning I was very sullen, upset with how my hair looked; I had been given a perm against my will, I have curly hair, it was a disaster and on that day I could do nothing with it (quite tragic for an adolescent teen girl). Neda asked me what was wrong and I replied “nothing, nobody cares anyway.” Instead of cajoling and sweet talking me she simply called out “Pity party; table for one!” I was taken aback, she was not about to let me wallow in self pity and I didn’t quite know how to handle it, so I just stared at her.  I was informed that if I wasn’t willing to do something about it she wasn’t about to listen to me whine; so I asked her to take me to a beauty shop, which she did. To this day I use that phrase, with my students, with my close friends and with you; Neda was right, it is a pretty effective rhetorical tool. What a lifelong gift to receive, the ability for self reflection; to appreciate what you have rather than to commiserate about what you don’t. Your Great Aunt Neda was headstrong, loving, generous, faith filled, and wise. Although we have only exchanged cards at Christmas and the occasional letter over the last few years, I am saddened by the thought that she has only ever been a phone call away should I need her sage advice. So little one, just for today, to grieve for my Aunt Neda and conversations that are never to be,  I am going to throw myself a little pity party; table for one.

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Lyla GiggleDear Lyla,

It may seem that you spend an inordinate of your day in time-out: I suppose that to a five year old it might certainly appear that way. Although you lament quite dramatically that you must be truly bad as evidenced by your frequent trips to the time-out chair, I offer an alternate theory; mischievous behavior is hardwired into your DNA. Little one you are headstrong, stubborn and tenacious to be sure; but you come by those characteristics honestly. I remember when I was in my teens, after having just been admonished for doing something inappropriate, accusing my father of being incapable of relating to me since I had never  once in my life heard a story about any missteps that he had taken as a juvenile. In my angst ridden adolescent mind; my father came out of the womb already a sage old man incapable of misguided behavior. However, to my delight your Bumpa regaled me with a tale of his misdeeds as a youngster; to this day I believe it was the only way he knew how to articulate his humanness in a manner which I could comprehend. When Bumpa was a teenager he did not attend the local high school in his home town, he attended a boy’s agricultural school about an hour away in Morris, MN. All of the boys had chores during the week in addition to their studies as a working farm was an integral element to the school. Grandma Jo says that Bumpa had intended to study animal husbandry after high school (which is why he went to this boy’s school to begin with) but moved to the west coast to work on the natural gas pipeline after graduation instead. The school that Bumpa went to as a boy is now known as University of Minnesota Morris and it was during his senior year of high school that the inaugural freshman class of the university arrived on campus. Rules were more strict back then and being out past curfew or smoking in the men’s lavatory could earn the offender a variety of punishments; but none so dreaded as milker cleaning duty. Several heads of dairy cows were also residents of the campus and their milk was consumed by the students and made into various other products as a means of creating an income for the institution. Back then the elaborate systems used to milk the cows regularly had to be cleaned by hand; the task was long, arduous and reserved as punishment for the boys convicted of committing the most serious of infractions. To hear Bumpa tell it, he rarely got into trouble; as a matter of fact he was well respected by the instructors and the dairy foreman and enjoyed working in the barns. However during the last month of his senior year, he and his buddies decided they wanted to pull off a campus prank so legendary that folks would talk about it long after they had departed. One night Bumpa and his partners in crime led a cow from the milking stall to the front steps of the main class building and urged the cow to the top of the steps. It is important to note that, while cows can walk down hills and short steps, they are not inclined to do so. A bovine’s field of vision is such that walking down stairs is not something that a cow does eagerly or willingly. The next morning there was somewhat of an uproar outside the hall where the cow had patiently spent the night as it took several individuals and some quickly fashioned ramps to remove the animal from the porch and return her to the stall. Bumpa’s glory in having pulled off such a prank was short lived as one of his accomplices caved and confessed. Bumpa and the others were sentenced to cleaning milkers daily for the remainder of the semester; he and the others wore the punishment like a badge of honor, proof that they had pulled off the prank to end all pranks. It seems little one that in agriculture schools this particular brand of shenanigans is not rare; there are dozens of urban legends and myths about cows being led up stairs into strange places. To this day I am not quite sure if Bumpa’s story is fact or fiction. What I do know is the story was Bumpa’s way to express that, while he could not begin to understand the maelstrom of emotions that are the hallmark of female adolescence, he loved me enough to make me accountable for my actions. That is what a good parent does little one; they give you freedom to make mistakes, the character to atone for them and the wisdom to learn from experience.

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