Sunday, July 28, 2013

Wisdom


Wisdom, like stories, is all around us. Everyone has a story to tell and everyone has advice to give. In fact most of the self help and professional development books which now fill book store shelves are written with story and personal narrative in order to grab the attention of the reader. But is their advice anything new? I think not. And after a recent discovery of a journal entry written by my newly- wed grandmother in 1928, I now have proof that those shelves contain very little new information.

So I’ll let you decide if the wisdom of 1928 still holds true. In her own words – please remember that in 1928 people wrote sentences, paragraphs and complete thoughts, they did not text, tweet or post status updates.

“If I were given fifty thousand dollars to use in any way in which I might see fit, but with the thorough understanding that it would be my only resource and that I need not expect any other aid in any way, shape or manner, I would, of course, use great care in the way in which I invested and distributed its use. I would consider and endeavor to estimate the probable length of time over which that sum must tide me. I would weigh carefully all methods of its use to ascertain whereby I would receive the greatest good and happiness from it. I would try, at least, to map out a course for its use or disposal and make a terrific effort to follow that course rather than let it dribble away, hit or miss.

But I have not been given fifty thousand dollars, or even fifty cents. But I have been given that which many, myself included, would value greatly in excess of any amount of dollars and cents. Namely: good health, the true love of an honest man, a whole family who truly loves me, a comfortable though not luxurious home, freedom from debt, a steady though modest income and the privilege of investing these gifts to the best or worst of my ability.

It is my aim to invest them so that they will pay the largest possible dividends to us all. I want to make the donors of these gifts glad and proud that they bestowed them upon me. They must pay increasing dividends in comfort and happiness to me and all those surrounding me. I am bound to be responsible for our welfare and independence for an indefinite period of time. I would even like to leave to those who survive me a bit of an inheritance. Perhaps a bit of wisdom purchased with experience, a philosophy containing much of faith in god, an understanding of the true value of the things that go to make up true and lasting happiness, a belief that I have been successful and that they too, can be successful even though their material resources are no greater than mine. If I keep intact the principle of these gifts and live happily and comfortably from the dividends they yield, who can say that I have not been successful or that the world is not better for my having been here?

First, then, I must consider health for on it the very existence of the other gifts depend. If I am well and strong, I have a better chance of being happy, and if I am happy I will radiate happiness to those I love and to all those with whom I come in contact. I will have the energy necessary to keep our home attractive. I will have an active mind capable of managing the small income economically and possibly be able to add to it occasionally. Health will certainly help to keep us out of debt. In a word, health for all of us is one of our greatest assets.

Next, but to me not less important, is to keep the love of this honest man and to continue loving him as I do now. Time must not dull the joy of it. For I do not want a lukewarm affection or just a dutiful but indifferent loyalty. Our love for each other must become deeper and stronger, more and more companiable. Quieter, probably, but just as keen and beautiful. I must remember the unimportance of the little things that are apt to annoy me and also remember that I have just as many little irritating ways about me that will be just as hard for him to stand as he has that may be hard for me. I must keep in mind that in all the big, really important things he is my ideal of true manhood and the man whom I chose to love, cherish and make happy for my whole lifetime. I am going to try not to infringe too much upon his own personal liberty, make him feel like my willing companion rather than like an unwilling prisoner. I am going to give him credit for having just as much common sense as I flatter myself into believing that I have. I shall give him enough attention, but not too much. I want to keep unnecessary worries away from  him, make him comfortable, proud of himself, his family, his home; make all his burdens as light as possible without depriving him of his share of the responsibility. I don’t want to make a mollycoddle of him by trying to be good to him, for he has excellent ability and I want to give him plenty of opportunity for exercising it. I want always to be attractive to him and not slump down into a mere housekeeper. I want to be that ,and a sweetheart and companion combined. I want to interest him and have him value my opinions. We must progress together along the same road, not on widely separated ones as so many do. We must accomplish much together.

And with those others whom I love and who love me I must use just as much thought and tact. For this gift is also very essential to happiness for us all. With our dear mothers especially we must exercise much care, patience and wisdom. To them we must remember that we are still children, and they like to feel that we still need them and surely we do. They have accumulated much wisdom which will, if we let it, avail us a great deal. We think ourselves very wise and efficient, but we have much to learn and if we learn willingly from them it will be a source of great satisfaction to them. They will still think themselves necessary to us and will then be contented and happy. We must also let them have just enough work to keep them occupied for no one is happy idle.

Then there is the dear home that I have put so much into and love so much. One of the hardest things for me to do will be not to put too much of my time and money into it. It is sort of a hobby with me and I glory in it. I could very easily put too great a proportion of my resources into its making and neglect other things entitled to their full share of my time and thought. I must not forget my other gifts to lavish upon this one.

Freedom from debt I am sure may be classed a great asset in starting a new adventure. And if it’s humanly possible WE SHALL NOT HAVE DEBT. Thus shall we do much to preserve our youth, comfort and save much worry.

The modest income is also a blessing for we shall not on its abundance become selfish, over ambitious, extravagant. As it is comparatively steady, barring accident or ill health, we shall know upon how much we can depend and arrange our living scale accordingly.”

                                                                                -Esther Ferguson,  1928

I did not know my Grandma Esther. She died when I was very small. I know she was a storyteller and a painter, and now I know she was wise beyond her years. After reading her words to my son, I know her wisdom still speaks to the new generation born into our high tech world.

It makes me wonder, after my year of weekly blog posts, will a great-grandchild of mine someday read my words or hear my stories and find them relevant, wise and important to their generation?  Hmmm – that’s a thought to ponder.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Travels with Mom


The last time I checked Vermont was not located between Massachusetts and South Carolina. However, traveling with Mom this week I have discovered that according to her travel plans, or lack of plans, Vermont fits nicely between the two, with a few extra turns along the way.

And that is the way it is traveling with Mom. We sort of mapped out a route to my home in South Carolina from hers in Eastern Massachusetts, but have gone off course more times than I can count. I think that by the time we arrive in South Carolina I will have driven well over 1500 miles. Yikes! But along all those extra miles there have been stories . . . lots of stories.

I have heard stories of her childhood growing up in Springfield, stories of my great-grandmothers journey across the border into Vermont from Canada, stories of her 60 year love affair with my Dad, stories of their early years scraping by on a teacher’s salary of $2000.00 per year while raising four children and stories of friends along her journey of life. We even got to spend some time with an old friend along the way and ended up at the Guthrie Center in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

In the wise words of Arlo Guthrie, “You can get anything you want . . . “.  My Mom’s response, “I have all I could have ever asked or dreamed for.”  Her life stories reveal her character, for even in her struggles in life, she can say she’s gotten more than she ever hoped for. How many of us can say that? Perhaps more of us could if we measured our life by friends, family and stories rather than material possessions.

This evening I am writing my weekly blog entry from a cabin at Big Meadow on the Skyline Drive. In October of 1954 Mom and Dad came here on their honeymoon.  They did not have money for a cabin and were tent camping in the midst of a cold rainy week in Shenandoah National Park. In an effort to stay somewhat warm and dry they snuck into the lodge and used the dining room restroom facilities to change into warm dry pajamas and wring out their sleeping bags. They stayed in the lodge as long as possible and then headed back to their campsite and dashed into the tent between down pours. They listened to the rain all night on the roof of the tent.

Tonight Mom and I listen to the rain on the roof of the cabin as we sit by the fire. We ate dinner in the lodge and didn’t have to sneak into the facilities. I think my mom would rather be in a soaking wet tent with Dad by her side than warm and dry in a cabin and missing him. But she’s happy to be traveling again and revisiting the stories of her life. I am privileged to be here with her, hearing her stories and sharing her memories. Time is a precious thing, and for me, family and the stories we share are everything.

So driving over 1500 miles from Massachusetts to South Carolina via Vermont, is it worth it? Absolutely!


(c) 7-21-2012 Martha Reed Johnson

 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bridge of Flowers


The last time I took a road trip alone with my mother I was 14 years old. We boarded a bus in Boston and headed to Washington D.C. for an “Equal Rights Amendment” march at the Capital. While on the bus an older man began to take far too much interest in me and I was amazed at how quickly and efficiently my Mom handled the situation. I felt safe, she was in control.


My Mom is like that – she quietly and efficiently takes care of everything. The past several years she has been a wonderful caregiver for Dad helping him to remain at home living a full life right up to the end of his days. It occurred to me recently that had Mom passed before Dad, he never would have been able to stay home.  Mom did the work of an entire nursing home staff, and she did it with grace, love and humor.  At times it is hard for me to imagine Mom without Dad by her side, but that is where the cycle of life finds us today. Dad is gone and Mom remains.

She is still in control and is finding her way on a new path. Although grief is a constant companion, she looks forward to the next phase of her life. Traveling again was high on her list of things to do and so 35 years after our DC trip, Mom and I are on a road trip south again heading from Massachusetts to South Carolina.

I have spent every day of the past six weeks with Mom. A friend recently asked, “What do you and your Mom find to talk about and do all the time?” Another friend chimed in, “I could never spend that much time with my mother.” For me, time with Mom is easy. We talk, we laugh, we cry some, and we play games, read and share stories. Now we’re traveling.

As we pulled out of her driveway with the car all packed she turned to me and said with a twinkle in her eye, “We’re going far, far away!” Her excitement was contagious. In that moment I realized that perhaps all these years I’ve given my Dad far too much credit for being the adventurous leader of our traveling clan; Mom is every bit the adventurer that Dad was. What a pair they made. So now Mom and I are adventuring off together on a 10 day road trip.

We hadn’t gotten far when Mom exclaimed, “Turn off here – I’m going to make this day interesting.” I did and she did. We detoured to The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. What a sight!

As I walked across that beautiful old bridge with Mom it occurred to me that in our youth crazed culture we are quick to throw out the old and replace with the new.  We are a culture of consumers wanting only the newest and the best. But our world is full of old treasures – human and human-created. Why are we so eager to abandon the old? Why aren’t more old bridges turned into garden walkways, fishing peers, community gathering spots? Why aren’t our elders treasured, respected and heard? They have so much to say and we have so much to learn!

As we walked across the bridge we watched a man standing on a board paddling down the river. My mother observed, “That looks fun. I want to learn to do that when I get strong again.” She’s right. It did look like fun and Mom will get strong again. Being a caregiver takes its toll on the giver and I know she wouldn’t have done anything different.  But now it’s her time to live, explore, get strong and have some fun. I look forward to the journey and adventures with her.

Time with Mom is easy. I am blessed. Stay tuned . . .
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
(c) 7.14.2013 Martha Reed Johnson

Sunday, July 7, 2013

NO TALENT!


We all must overcome challenges and limitations, some of which have haunted us for years. Today I write my 49th blog post – each has been a challenge for me. I set a goal a year ago to begin writing my stories. My dad had set the challenge after my first CD was released when he asked me, “What’s your next goal?”

Writing is a challenge for me. As a girl I wrote all the time and still have my old journals tucked away. I sometimes bring them out and read them to the middle school girls I work with in my capacity as a school counselor.  They usually get a kick out of the fact that I was not much different from them – similar worries, fears and hang-ups.  But I essentially stopped writing after a college professor told me I had no talent for it until my Dad challenged me with, “What’s your next goal?” I decided I wanted to write again.

Each week as I write I hear those long ago spoken words of my freshman English professor, “no talent”.  I write anyway, drowning out her voice with that of my father’s, “What’s your next goal?”

Last week I had dinner in Portsmouth, NH with four college friends I had not seen in many, many years – other than on Facebook. We had a great night of laughs remembering some of our crazy Hood adventures (probably best not shared on a web blog) and sharing our current lives.
When I arrived back home my mom had been going through my dad’s desk and had found a letter I had written to them from college in February 1984. Curious as to why Dad had saved the letter, I read it right away. I was quite surprised by the letter and by my ability to “write to persuade”.  So here’s my letter from 1984:

Dearest Mommy and Daddy,

First let me say that I love you both very much and I know that you love me too and care about my welfare I would never ask you for anything if I thought you didn’t care. I guess I’ll get right to the point- I need money. I figure approximately $200.00 (or $100.00 each) ought to do fine for the semester.
Before you decide to disown me let me explain. You see my problem is I didn’t earn any money over Christmas to bring back with me. Last summer I earned money which helped me out with my financial woes last semester. This semester I have no savings account to draw from to buy such necessary items as soap, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, tampons, laundry detergent, contact solution and such. To add to my financial burden, I have (mistakenly) convinced Brad that it’s not terrible for me to pay for a movie once in awhile (mom I know you’re happy about that).

Of course, if you think it will build my character to live without the necessities of life (as listed above with the addition of change to do laundry), I’ll be glad to oblige and get kicked out of school for body odor in the most offensive degree, at least that’ll save you from next year’s tuition increase.

Finally, if you decide to disown me rather than send me money, could you first send me any spare quarters or dimes you find floating around my room so that I can do my laundry so I’ll have some noncrusty underwear for next week.

Signed,

‘Smelly & Spoiling in Maryland’ L

MJ

P.S.  Enclosed is a self addressed stamped envelope for either the check or the spare change.
 
In case you’re wondering, I did not get kicked out of college for offensive hygiene. I did get a second job shortly after this letter was written, and I still have friends willing to have dinner with me 30 years after college.   Perhaps if I had submitted this letter to my English professor she would have changed her mind her mind about me– or at least given me some spare change.

As I think back to the years I didn’t write, I regret that I let two little words, “No Talent”  haunt me and stifle my voice – my mistake. But for today, blogpost # 49 is up and I’m still writing (and thanks Dad for saving that letter)!
 
(c) 7.7.2013 Martha Reed Johnson