March, the reflective month. When we were building on our place 25 years ago now, March was always a difficult month. I called it “Murphy’s March” in honor of the old adage about Murphy’s Law being when things can’t get any worse, they do and other depressing thoughts like that. March portended floods and escaped cows and broken machinery and high winds…you get the picture.
But I’m looking with optimism on March these days, a sign that people can change how they feel. After all, February turned out to be a pretty good month and it rubs off onto March.
Our Beachside Writers workshop I get to teach with my mentor Bob Welch was a great success and I left encouraged by listening to people read pieces they’d written from their hearts, trusting that their own voices would emerge for having committed to their stories. We shared lots of laughter and even a birthday cake for a participant and me who shared the same birthday. I told everyone that my birthday was Saturday but apparently, it was Friday! How can one mess up like that?
We celebrated Oregon’s birthday (February 14) with friends from Santa Fe, Evertt, Salem, North Bend, WA and the surrounding area of Aurora with too little time (after a great signing event to support the museum there) at the Bed and Breakfast chattering about life and relationships and balance.
Aurora quilters have completed the quilt top for the replica of Emma’s quilt and the drawing will be in late March – something to look forward to! You can still sign up to win Emma’s quilt by going to http://www.waterbrookpress.com/ and clicking on contests. It’s beautiful!
The Oregon Cultural Heritage lecture series the next week introduced us to new people and allowed a fine dinner with writer friends Molly Gloss and Shannon Applegate, both strong women and superb writers. A gathering the next day at Capital Manor in Salem brought in close to 500 people to hear about Aurora and Jerry and I followed it with a tour of a tree farm outside of Salem owned by Mike and Marea Stone. They’ve been faithful readers of my work and welcomed faces in crowds throughout the years so it was a delight to at last see their family business and share how blessed they are in having good work that engages the entire family.
Then we headed on to our friends in Eugene where Carol has agreed to help with my event coordination (so I stop losing things or double booking J) Then on to the coast and the workshop and a day extra to simply unwind, the gift of another reader at a condo on the coast.
While we were gone, it rained on the ranch and was shrouded in fog for most of the week Matt and Melissa looked after things. We drove home Monday in a pouring rain and the road was a mud-slicked roller coaster. But Tuesday morning, the day the IRS agent and our accountant were due down the road, it was beautiful! Sunny and still. By the time our guests planned to arrive the road had dried out enough they could come down in a four wheel drive vehicle and we didn’t have to come up and pick them up with the six wheeler. (It rained again the next day and is raining now, too, the patter on the rooftop like soft drumming). They picked the perfect day.
As far as we know, the IRS interview went well. The agent was pleasant and asked lots of questions required of the statistical audit and since we had nothing to hide it was easy to give the answers. Still, I was glad when it was over and will be even more glad when the report is in and we discover whether there were glitches or not in our return. Our accountant has been our accountant for over 34 years. He’s practically a member of the family! I remember asking a small business woman before Jerry and I were married, if she could recommend an honest, smart and state-of-the art accountant. She did and he’s still our guy. He drove the agent down who noted he was glad he wasn’t driving and was on the inside so not so close to the edge. I didn’t point out to him that going out, he’d be closer to the cliff-side edge…no sense increasing anxiety, right?
So now it’s March. And these will be short words of encouragement as I’m hoping to finish the second book in my Portrait of a Heart Series this week. I like to have a couple of weeks to let it sit before I look at it one last time then send it to the editor. It’s due April 1. I woke up at 1:30 AM hoping to go back to sleep but by 3:00 it was apparent I wouldn’t. Prayers said, I got up, wrote a letter to our accountant to finish the 2008 taxes. I’ll finish this then go to work. I hope you’ll understand.
In my musings though, about March, I was reminded that this is the month of the anniversary of both of my parents’ deaths though three years apart. I thought of my dad yesterday when a man at the gas station stood waiting in the rain. His stance, hands on hips; his size, a big man; his hat; all reminded me of my father. My mom’s been on my mind a lot too as I’ve listened to a friend who looks after her mom deal with hospitalizations, changes in medications, that phone call that comes when one least expects it and yet her ear waits for it everyday, wondering what might be happening and how the schedule of her day will change by tending to her mom.
A friend I spoke with in Wisconsin reminded me that we never stop thinking of those we’ve loved; little things just keep catching us. David James Duncan writes about “river teeth” he calls them, the braches of fallen trees in a river that catch things and hold them and are there long after other parts of the tree have been washed away. When I think of how my dad stood or the way he loved his cats or wish my mom could have met Bo (she was the dog person; my dad the cat guy); or wonder if one of dad’s cats ever slept on the back of mom’s dog the way our PB (short for Purr Ball) sleeps on Bo, I think of those as river teeth. They’d good places to begin writing from, too, even if you’re not “a writer.”
I thought of my parents, too as my friend Kay told me of a class she’d taken to make garden stones. A woman in Warm Springs made us six or seven stones and I had one made for mom and dad that they had in their apartment and then marked their gravesites until we got the stone set. Now they’re part of the garden stones that line the front of our house below the river deck. Brought back fond thoughts of Warm Springs and my parents.
It’s also possible that my thoughts have ranged to my parents in part because I’m writing about my grandmother, living with her daily, wondering what she might have thought or speculate about the events I document through census information or gather through family stories. There’s some evidence now that we transfer more than just physical properties in our DNA but emotional properties as well. Perhaps that’s from the changes our brains actually undergo as we live – and they keep changing especially if we keep active, eat well, don’t abuse ourselves and stay connected to the world around us. So I wonder what of her life choices might have changed her brain and what of that might she have passed on to my mother? Or my father’s mother to him and thus to me?
I’d like to think one quality is a love of music. My grandmother played the piano and I have tapes of her playing when she was in her 80s and then while in her 90s. You can hear the changes: a little slower, more hesitation but just the same, she played from memory or “by ear” and it was obviously something she dearly loved. My aunt said my grandfather gave her a piano for a wedding present. I have some of her sheet music so she must have also learned to read music. A woman this weekend wrote of how her life was blessed by a woman who gave her music lessons many years before. Pretty powerful, music.
My dad and mom both had pretty good singing voices and while neither played any instruments, they always had tapes of music they loved playing in their truck when they traveled or at home. The last thing my mom heard before she died was the song “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,” an orchestral rendition. They supported my own love of music giving me piano lessons I started around five and then allowing me to convert to the flute when I was twelve. We have a piano downstairs but it holds pictures and hasn’t been opened in probably 15 years! Music still transports me almost as quickly as poetry can taking me to places in the heart and soul I sometimes resist knowing; I’m swept away yet always grateful for the journey.
She loved art too. My aunt, my mom’s baby sister, has a degree in art from Hamlin University (where my nephew graduated in criminal justice studies last May. He’s hoping to get hired by the St. Paul police so keep him in your prayers! My brother’s other son is auditioning for his umpteenth play – musicals, too – while working on a bachelor of fine arts. Remember him too! ) My mom could draw quite well though she didn’t do it much…too busy raising kids, helping my dad on the farm and then working full time as a nurse. But she loved beauty in the natural world, waterfalls, gardens, the bluffs and the sea. My grandmother was a photographer – I’m not; but I do love beauty and the various ways that art captures the essence of creation, relationship, spirit. (I find photographs to be amazing portrayals of relationships and highly recommend a book called “PhotoTherapy” for help in getting unstuck in one’s life so maybe her love of photographs has come to me in other ways.)
Both my mother and grandmother had a kind of determination to make things work despite challenges and to find the goodness even in life’s trials. My mom was born with a crossed eye and when they did the surgery at age three, there were problems and she lost her sight in that eye. Yet she went on to nursing school and she could always see well enough to tell me to pick up my room! Both women could set aside personal frustrations for the greater good. They could refocus when things got tough and draw on a reserve of quiet faith to sustain them.
They were both committed to service, to family, to caring for others. (I remember that even as a kindergarten child I would ask for an extra nickel on “mission Sunday” the fourth Sunday of every month. That passion for mission came from somewhere!) In later years when I helped pay my parents’ bills I marveled at how many charities received small checks from them each month even on fixed incomes. My mom said they always had enough when they gave some away each month. I like to think those qualities are in my DNA; at least I look for them there.
Both my grandmother and mother had their mystery, too: unanswered questions that all the census records, audio tapes of family interviews, newspaper stories, family histories, can’t explain. I tell myself that one of the gifts of the writing life is the chance to keep going deeper into who I am based on where I came from. It’s what I encouraged the students last weekend to keep considering whether they get published or not, that to write, to have the focus and interest to tell our own stories, is a gift we give ourselves. It’s a privilege. Just as it is for me to write these words of encouragement hoping someone reads them. But even if no one does, I’ve had the honor of spending a few minutes of my life remembering two women (and a few others) who gave me life and gave me the tools for living well if I would choose to do it.
Now it’s time to return to 1913. A Flickering Light, book one, will be out April 14th. It has a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly and got 4.5 stars (out of 5) from Romantic Times. What I’m most pleased about is that the reviewers are saying the characters are fully developed, that there are no bad guys, just people dealing with the messiness of life and we can feel for them and care about them. My wish to honor who my grandmother's life is being reflected in the reviews and that’s encouraging. Now on to book two so I can find out the rest of the story! It’s going to be a great March! I hope you feel that too -- and this may be the time for a river tooth exploration of you own...what memory of your family pops up; time to write about it even if you aren't a writer.