Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Stuff and nonsense

The appraisers on Antiques Roadshow always confuse me. Why do they insist on putting a value on items they label “irreplaceable”? What’s the point? There’s no way an insurance policy can make a person “whole” for a lost family heirloom. I’ll never again hold the desktop wooden cross my grandfather carved and shaped and assembled with his own hands, just for me. No amount of money can replace the feelings that evoked, the love it represented.

I’ve volunteered for several years at the Museum at the Friends Home in Waynesville, a fascinating local history museum brought together by a group of dedicated volunteers determined to preserve their community’s heritage. Yet I’ve watched members giving private tours who can’t resist pointing out the monetary value of the artifacts on display in the 1910 Quaker boarding home which houses the Museum collection, from the Stickley bookcase to the nine-foot Black Forest grandfather clock. Why does that matter? If all those items were destroyed tomorrow, no insurance settlement could restock the Museum and the oral histories they’ve collected would end up on a dusty library shelf. Those things are important because of the stories, the lives, the people they represent, not the dollars. Am I truly alone in that perspective?

Over the years I’ve watched in dismay as friends become emotionally distraught over family squabbles about “stuff” when a matriarch or patriarch dies. At a time when they should be coming together to remember and celebrate their lost loved one, they fuss about who gets Grandma’s china, or Dad’s coin collection, or Mom’s jewelry. Those scenes reinforce my satisfaction that our family has little in the way of material possessions.

Grandpa’s handmade cross was lost in a fire several years ago, but I still have his cheap drugstore pocket watch. He always carried one, and there’s an old black and white photograph of four-year-old me holding his watch to my ear, fascinated by the sound. From my grandmother, I have a serving spoon, probably acquired through redemption of her carefully collected Betty Crocker coupons. It’s stamped (not engraved, I’m sure) with an ‘L,’ and each time I have to explain to a guest why that is, when our last name begins with ‘P,’ I have the opportunity to share her life. Priceless.

Last year, when hubby and I bought our first (and last?!) home, Mom announced, “Now you can have the washstand.” I wasn’t expecting it, had no designs on owning it. It belonged to my great-grandmother, whom I barely remember, and possibly to her mother. We’re not sure. It’s rough, and beat up from years of loving use. Antiques Roadshow would scoff at it. Their loss.

Before Nana (my father’s mother) died, she asked me if I would like her family ring. My aunts looked at me oddly when I laid claim to it, but no one argued. It’s a gaudy thing, I rarely wear it and then only on my pinkie. Her fingers were much smaller than mine. But each stone represents a grandchild, a family member. More stories to share and to treasure. I don’t need to know a monetary value.

But these items are all just things. If any of my family asked for them, I would hand them over, no questions asked. Because it’s the people who matter, living or dead, not the stuff. And no one can take my memories.

My fear of losing those is a subject for another day.

See another take on “stuff” at

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Giving back

Sunday afternoon hubby and I joined a good-sized crowd from the Yellow Springs community to celebrate Earth Day at the Glen Helen Raptor Center by witnessing the release of a rehabilitated red-tailed hawk. This beautiful bird was injured in Mercer County last August and nursed back to health by the dedicated staff of the Raptor Center.

The Center houses an assortment of raptors including a variety of owls, American kestrels, a bald eagle, several hawks, Peregrine falcons, and a vulture or two. All of the birds were injured in some way and many are unable to be returned to the wild due to the extent of the damage they suffered. Those who must be kept confined are well cared for in large runs which give them room to fly, and housed with a mate whenever possible. Sunday’s release was an educational and inspirational event I won’t soon forget. I learned the Great Horned Owl, barely two feet tall but almost as big around, weighs less than four pounds – astonishing! One of the birds has been mourning the loss of his mate for several months and is only now, very grudgingly, accepting a new female in his life. The eagle which has been at the Center for many years is thirty-six years old, testament to the excellent care they provide to these magnificent creatures.

Man continually destroys nature, but efforts such as those put forth by the Raptor Center fight the mindless insensitivity that is so prevalent, one bird at a time. In this season of celebrating the renewal of life, of welcoming spring, witnessing the return of this beautiful creature to its natural habitat was a spiritual moment far surpassing any organized church service constrained by four walls. Nature truly is my cathedral, and I was honored and humbled to be a part of Sunday’s ceremony.

Center Director Betty Ross

As Center director Betty Ross raised the rehabbed hawk for release, she recited their traditional words of farewell taken from a song, “Wild Again,” written for the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association by Douglas Wood:
With our brothers and sisters, we all share one world,
and there's one common spirit within.
It's the wild things that help us survive on this earth,
without them we couldn't begin.
So, once in awhile we've a chance to give back, just a little from all that we take,
And a wild one returned to the circle of life is a part of the world that we make.

She ended with: “We don't know what will happen to the bird, but it is getting a second chance, and we wish it well.”

What more could I wish for myself, or for you?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I realized after posting this I violated the cardinal rule of good writing…let a piece sit for a least a few minutes before setting it free. A few clarifications were called for. My apologies!

Not all who wander are lost

Tracy Clark-Flory’s April 11th piece on, “In Defense of Wandering Eyes,” has garnered a bit of attention in the blogosphere. I ignored the headline for a day or two before giving in and reading the original post and the author’s follow-up. It resonated in particular because of an occurrence last Saturday. While I was out of town for a day-long writers conference (kudos to Mad Anthony!), my husband had coffee with a strange woman.

Strange to me, that is. The friend of a mutual friend who subsequently friended my hubby on Facebook – not sure how or why, and the whole ‘friend’ as a verb still bothers me – she hasn’t extended the same invitation to me. I was taken aback, but only for a moment, when his text informed me of the impending meeting (no, I won’t call it a ‘date’). It was more at her temerity in extending the invitation than in that he accepted. On the other hand, our mutual friend was floored. I could see the wheels turning. What have I done? She hasn’t known us long enough to fully grasp hubby’s personality.

He’s what is generally referred to as a flirt. I prefer to think of it as friendly; ‘flirt’ carries the vague expectation of romantic involvement, and that’s not what he’s after. Hubby is simply the consummate people-person. He’s open, and attentive, and always willing to listen. Those commodities, no strings attached and accompanied by a ready smile, are all too rare these days. It makes him very popular, especially with the ladies. I tease him regularly about his ‘harem’ of admirers. Listen up, men!

In the interest of full disclosure, his openness is what brought us together in what I readily label a full-court flirt from our high school days. If he hadn’t winked at me on the bus one morning, started a conversation, saved me a seat when he boarded before I did, my life would have been very different. I relive those days in more detail in an essay included in the next Reflections from Women collection due out next month.

That was thirty-seven years ago, and while I admit I haven’t always been as secure in our relationship as I am now, I’m one of those women Clark-Flory refers to who point out interesting sights to him when we’re out together, whether it be an overly plunging neckline or delicately patterned hose on a finely-turned leg. His glances are appreciative, not lecherous ogling, and he’s considerate enough not to do a full head swivel when I’m with him. But I can tell. It’s like any other art, be it painting, movies, or a good book. I know what he likes; why not allow him to enjoy it? He’s married, not dead.

And I know where he sleeps at night.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

A voice in the wilderness

I’ve been fairly successful sticking to my resolution of avoiding political topics, but yesterday’s headline, mixed in with the stalled federal budget and state-level assaults on line workers, is more than I can take. An anticipated one billion dollars is being raised to re-elect the President. How much more will be spent by his opponents?

The number of corporations and special interest groups who buy their way into political influence is staggering, and growing daily. How much more abuse can the crumbling middle class take before rising up in true protest, not just sign-carrying at the state house? Taxation without representation led to revolution more than two hundred years ago by the forefathers now held up as exemplars by those who would tear down the rights they fought to uphold. I fear for our country, more now than at any time I can recall.

And before the criticism rolls in, I’m not defending any political party; they’re all motivated by greed and self-interest. I see very little evidence of the civic-minded public official working for the good of the community rather than to solidify a personal power base and gain re-election.

More and more I withdraw from the media. I’ve already sworn off television news programs. They’re all so biased and one-sided, focused on meaningless sound bites and scandal instead of real news, as to be completely useless. I scan a number of websites for news headlines, trying to stay informed about the global community, but even that is getting to be too much to bear. The insanity is spreading, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

As I’ve said before, all I can do is concentrate on my own corner of the world – my family, my friends, my community – and do the best I can to make that corner a little better. Fiddling while Rome burns? Maybe, but democratic, non-violent options have been removed from reality by the almighty dollar.

One billion dollars on one election...seriously?!