In The Middle of My Mess
For weeks I’ve been apologizing to everyone who comes over for the MESS in the middle of my living room floor. I’ve been navigating my way around 54 years worth of pictures and other treasures spread out all over the floor as I go through each memory. It’s been an ongoing project, and not something I wanted to rush through. Some days I’ve gone through only ten photos, stopping to call someone and say hello who I’ve not talked with in years. Other photos I’ve taken snapshots of and sent to friends or family, and shared another good laugh with. Still others I’ve sat back and shed some private tears over, remembering some of life’s hurts. Each of the photos captured a nugget of wisdom that perhaps 54 years later would remind me of things that are good, and worth remembering – even if they brought me to tears. A box of wisdom, for sure.
A few of those memories, and a couple of nuggets of wisdom I figured were worth sharing though, so here’s my attempt at that……
I’m not quite sure why the square footage need in our houses has gotten so big. I grew up in an 800 square foot house with one bathroom. There were five of us. We were happy. We didn’t take extravagant vacations or own a lot of toys. Neither did our parents. Our vacations always, always, always included family.
My favorite summer memories were watching fireflies in Nova Scotia over St. Joseph’s Lake, exploring behind Aunt Jean’s house with my cousins, and sitting on the porch when it rained. My childhood neighborhood friends, my brother and sister and I would wait for the lightening, jump off the porch and try to run as fast as we could to the street and back onto the porch before the thunder struck. Sometimes we played in the garage and made up skits that we would perform for all of our neighborhood parents in the evenings. Recently walking into the garage at my son’s new house I remembered the smell of that old garage. I’d forgotten about that. I stood there as memories, good ones, came flooding back with that old familiar smell. We charged a nickel for those skits and spent our earnings on the ice cream truck. I always got the 10 cent coconut bar. We climbed trees and sold lemonade and rode our bikes with no helmets, drank straight from hoses…. and LIVED! The smell of peanut butter cookies coming from the kitchen in the middle of a summer day, or Mum yelling at us to “Be quiet!” as she tried to hear and count the “pops” of the jars of pickles or peaches she was canning was a yearly summertime memory. Playing tag in the backyard and running in and out of the sheets hanging on the clothesline. Spending hours walking the new baby next door around the block in a good old-fashioned buggy.
I also found pictures of myself as a golf caddy. I think I was about 14? I was gone all day long, sat and waited on a hill for my turn to go out and carry clubs on my back for 18 holes, and at the end of the day made $6. Half of that my Mum and Dad made me save. I thought they were so mean! If there’s an ounce of entitlement attitude in me now – it certainly did not come from them. Dad worked often seven days a week until his mid 70’s, often sick, and often limping with a bad foot. He scrubbed floors and cut grass and changed our oil and filled our tanks so that we could study or go to our little jobs. Mum made our lunches, sewed many of our clothes, drove us to school, and made sure we had all that we needed. A good work ethic came from them both. There wasn’t an ounce of laziness in either of them, and they wouldn’t have tolerated laziness in any of us. They didn’t do anything for us that we were perfectly capable of doing ourselves. They were preparing us to be independent. They did well.
We took fun trips to see Uncle Ed & Aunt Iris “out to the farm.” Aunt Iris died just a couple of days ago, and I got the call in the middle of going through my “mess” on the floor. Her obituary was another reminder of what really matters. Among a few things, her daughter’s name was written there. My daughter was named after her daughter – the loss of our daughters a heartache we shared and often talked about together when we were alone. And on my wall hangs the plaque Aunt Iris gave me that reads, “The most beautiful things in the world are not seen or touched. They are felt with the heart.” I can’t help now but to remember all of my childhood memories that involve her. That plaque speaks truth. Aunt Iris was wise.
Ground up pickle and bologna sandwiches on white bread with Miracle Whip. Sweet pickles, not dill. That’s how Aunt Iris made them. My FAVORITE. Waiting for cousins Tom and Steve to come back from the “local” Mcdonald’s with orange pop seemed like hours when I was little. Running out to the train tracks, putting pennies on the tracks, and fetching them later when they were flattened by the train. Chasing kittens in the barn. Riding the pony with my cousins. The smell of the barn. Setting off rockets and chasing them through the field. (Even breaking my arm when I fell off the barn door is one of my favorite memories)! Swinging from the branches on the gigantic willow tree for hours on end. The last trip to the bathroom before leaving for the long drive home, and looking out the little bathroom window at the farm and the barn, and thinking about how much FUN this place was! Dad shaking his keys trying to get Mum to stop talking so we could hit the road before dark. The sound our big blue Oldsmobile would make as Dad pulled out of the driveway made of white rocks onto Range Road, and waving to our cousins until we couldn’t see them anymore.
As I closed the box, I imagined (and hoped) a day would come when my sons, and their wives and children perhaps, would go through and get not only a glimpse into my life, but be able to sit back and realize what simple things bring the most joy. And I hope they too, have a box full with decades of memories. I even found a hand-written letter from my Dad in 1988 that had a $20 bill he slipped in to fill my gas tank, a letter my sister had written my kids 20 years ago that I promised to keep (and did!), and the last letter a friend had written to me before she passed away in 1987.
It’s been a good few weeks sitting on the floor in the middle of my “mess.” So if you were one of my friends who happened to come by, and I apologized to you for it – I now apologize for apologizing. Sometimes, in the middle of life’s biggest “messes” is where God speaks to us the loudest. Like my mom listening for her canning jars to pop – sometimes we just need to silence everything else around us in order to hear Him.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8