Monday, June 29, 2009

The Room Upstairs

My two precious grandchildren were visiting Saturday, and if you want a taste of the simple life, just sit and observe a 6-year-old and 3-year-old. For some reason, ours have a fascination with our attic.

We have one of those attics that I grew up with (except it’s completely floored), with the retractable stairs in the hall ceiling. Charlotte, the little one, has always been willing to do anything physically challenging, so she has always climbed right up and climbed back down without a hitch. Caroline, the older one, could read at an insanely early age but has always been wary of the physical realm, so it took her a couple of years to get comfortable with climbing up and down.

At any rate, now they are two attic fans (no pun intended!) and can’t understand why most of the year, they can’t climb up and stay up there for an hour or so. In the summer, it’s too hot, and in the winter, it’s too cold. They had luck this week, though, because Maine has been experiencing unseasonably cool and rainy weather, and the temperature was perfect for some attic visiting. One by one they climbed up. Before long, they decided to make their own “room.” This entailed scouring the corners of the attic in search of things they wanted in their “room.” I had to nix Charlotte’s idea of “wallpapering the walls” with rolls of my Christmas wrapping paper, but other than that, I pretty much let them have their way. They took the wrapping paper roll and put a lampshade on it to make it a lamp. They took a stool, a kid’s rocker, and a booster chair to sit on. I got tickled when half the things they found, they asked me, “Grammy, what is this?” Of course, it didn’t matter what it was intended for; they wanted it in their “room.” They had it all - shoe racks, teapots, pieces of ribbon, sewing kit, dish strainer, suitcase, miscellaneous books - quite a collection. When they finished (the only way they decided they were finished is the fact that their parents called them down to get into their pajamas and leave), I had them pose in their “room” and took a picture of their smiling, proud faces.

That’s really the essence of simplicity - you don’t waste time wishing you had more things or different things - you just work with what you’ve got. You find the valuable things in unlikely places and find creative ways to use them. I, of course, spent part of the time wondering if I should put everything back or leave everything for their next visit, and the rest of the time trying to keep them from falling down the stairs as they searched for treasures. When Caroline asked if I could keep the “room” intact for a while, I promised I’d try, and that elicited, “Grammy, you’re the best Grammy in the whole world!” and a big hug from both girls. It was then I realized that all three of us had indeed found our treasures.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lights, camera, action!

The film is grainy and sometimes jumpy, frequently with artifact of dust, etc., crossing the screen, but the picture are priceless. They are silent home movies taken of my sister and me when we were growing up. Daddy not only took movies of the family; he also took movies of people at our church. He’d finish a roll, get his movies developed, come home with small reels, set the projector on the dining room table aimed at a white wall, and we’d get to see for the first time what he took. We’d laugh or be embarrassed as the case may be, then he’d spend some time with his little splicer machine, cutting from one reel and splicing it onto its appropriate big reel. He always liked to keep family movies separate from church movies, so “I won’t bore the church with family pictures or the family with church pictures.” This means we have wonderful documentation not only of our family but of our church from about 1957 until Daddy died in 1980.

We still have the original reels, but we transferred it all to several VHS tapes, and now will gradually shift to DVDs, trying to keep the movies current and viewable.

We have separate reel-to-reel audio tapes, of course. Daddy would sit us down after every vacation trip and we went over for posterity everything we did and saw on the trip. But we have no actual video with me or my sister talking when we were young.

Today, of course, kids are recorded for posterity from before they are born - starting with ultrasound, labor, birth, and going on from there. Almost every moment of their lives is documented, especially the highlights: Birthdays, holidays, learning to walk and talk, first day of school, learning to ride a bike, acting in plays, graduations, weddings - it’s all there with sound and pictures. Of course, to these kids, such as Caroline and Charlotte, this is something they will be used to. Even now, Rachel occasionally slips in a DVD of the girls when they were toddlers and the girls have fun watching themselves. She also makes a DVD of the highlights of each girl’s year on her birthday.

I remember when the VHS camera first came out. I asked Daddy if he was going to get one, and he said he’d just leave the "new stuff" to us. We got our first VHS camera in 1990, so our kids don’t have the “new stuff” documentation of their lives until they were about 7 and 12 years old.

Now technology has changed dramatically. There are no more reel-to-reels, no more tapes. In the new world, there are digital camcorders, digital cameras (even phones that take pictures!), DVDs, Blu-ray, and whatever else comes next (Matt thinks it will not be a “thing” at all, it will all be digital downloads) to both record and view our lives. Not only can we record the movies and photographs, we can edit them with a click of a mouse and even send them to friends and family digitally immediately. How I wish we had had this technology when my sister and I were growing up - to be able to see ourselves, of course, but to also have the ability to see our parents through the years.

Life was slower then. It had to be, because everything took longer. Daddy had to find a dark room to even take his film out of the movie camera or the film would be ruined. He then had to take it to a store to get developed, then had to pick it up a week or so later, decide how he wanted to edit it, and find time to sit down in the evening with his splicer in order to get the job done. Even viewing the movies took time. Fellow baby boomers can relate to the memories, I’m sure: Getting the screen out of the closet and setting it up. Finding something sturdy to set the projector on, making sure the projector was at the optimal distance from the screen. Getting the appropriate reel, threading the projector, turning the lights in the room out. Then sitting back and watching the silent show. The only good thing about its being silent is that anybody could talk aloud during the movie, laugh, cry, whatever, and no one says “Shhh...” The required darkness of the room came in handy when our faces turned beet red with personal embarrassment. There is a Family #2 reel in which my sister's pajama pants slid down as she was running from the room when she was a very little girl. It's infamous now, of course.

The documentation from those reels is all the product of our father, who scrimped and saved on other things so he could afford the expense. I can still see the flickering light and hear the loud whirring of the projector. Daddy didn’t realize it, but he made double memories for us - once when he took the movies, and again when we viewed them. They continue to bring us pleasure. I think he would be so proud today that we still cherish them and are still trying to update them in a form for future generations to enjoy.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Memories, anyone?

Good Housekeeping magazine’s July edition has an article called “The Price of Happiness.” The author, Brett Graff, says there are three ways to “get the most bliss for your buck.” The first suggestion is “Load up your memory bank.”

Of course, the article does mention that memories are not always free; for instance, a ski trip creates great memories, but you have to have skis first, and they will be expensive to purchase.

We found ourselves in this predicament this spring. We needed a new couch. We haven’t had a couch since we gave away ours to Rachel when she got married six years ago. Not only did we want a couch to cuddle on while we watch TV on the weekends, but we needed a sleeper sofa because in our little ranch we have no guest room and no extra beds. While our previous 3-story Victorian gave us enough room to open up a hotel, now we don’t even have an inflatable bed.

What does this have to do with memories? We are ready for 6-year-old Caroline to spend the night with us for the first time by herself, and the poor girl needs a place to sleep, right? Hence the couch. Trying to simplify, Ed and I thought long and hard about spending so much money on a couch. Was this a necessary expense, or were we just trying to rationalize a new purchase? We weren’t trying to replace a perfectly good old couch; we didn’t have one at all. We really were tired of spending the evening in two separate chairs, and we really wanted to make memories with Caroline. The justification outweighed the concerns, so we took the plunge.

I remember that when the kids were growing up, I was acutely aware that we were making memories. Even times I did not consciously realize I was making memories, I was still doing so. I laugh sometimes when I talk to the kids about their childhood memories, because some of the “staged” ones didn’t “take,” while instead they remember some oddball thing from the past. I’m the same way, of course. While I remember a great many experiences with my relatives, my first memory is of the person. I remember that my grandfather smelled of Listerine and chewing tobacco, that he had an infectious hearty laugh, played mean ragtime on the piano, and he always carried a cane which he would toss and catch in the air for fun. He always made sure we had a big store-bought Easter basket every year and a brand-name toy for Christmas. I remember Great Aunt Bessie, filling our little house with cigarette smoke early in the morning when she stayed with us for a week at a time, how she finally gave up smoking at an elderly age and went to hard candy instead, how she used to tell funny stories about her childhood pets, and her laugh was more of a snicker/chuckle with a half-smile but we could always tell she was really amused. She sent us homemade peanut brittle for Christmas. We knew our parents’ eccentricities that made them so lovable - Dad hated crabgrass, was always frustrated when he saw misspelled words on signs, and called bad drivers “Friend!..” because he knew otherwise he would be saying a derogatory word and he was not that kind of man. Mama accidentally killed our goldfish, let us keep a wild bird flying around the house for a while, let us use her real rubber jacks ball, hid our Easter eggs, and tucked banana peels in chair cushions and other sundry places, then forgot she had done so, and later they would show up in less-than-perfect condition at unexpected moments.

Buying things do make memories, experiences make memories, but it is the infusion of the human element that cements and seals them. Sometimes I wonder what our grandchildren will remember about us. Will they remember the “tree faces” nailed to three of our trees outside? Our attic? Babe? They will undoubtedly remember Ed’s pipe smoking and beard and almost-bald head, as well as his role as family cook. They will certainly remember me as the one who always had a camera, taught them some French, read them lots of books, and was someone who was willing to climb in their little tent in the basement and pretend there were big snakes all around us. The fact is that our whole being and interaction with kids is what makes memories. The good memories are not restricted only to holidays and birthdays; they are the everyday experiences of enjoying life with someone you love.

Our couch was delivered a couple of weeks ago - one more tool in the grandparent memory-making business!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Now what was I doing?...

I don’t have ADD. I really don’t. But some days it certainly seems that way.

I was going to blog a couple of hours ago, but when I sat down at the computer, I realized I needed to add another item to my list of “what to talk to the doctor about during my physical.” I pulled that list up on the screen and edited it. As I turned around, I realized that I had not hemmed my cropped pants I bought last week, and decided to go ahead and do that. I turned them inside out, and as I looked around for my measurement gauge, my eye caught the old newspaper article from the spelling bee that I blogged about last time, and I thought that really needed to go back up in the attic, so I put the pants down, picked up the article, and made my way to the dining room where we keep our pile of things that need to go up to the attic. As I placed the clipping in the pile, I noticed my cup of hot tea that I had made earlier in the morning and never drank, so I put it in the microwave on a minute to reheat, and while it was reheating, I saw the book that Sarah let me borrow on Sunday, and I thought what a good time it would be to read it, so I went over to the couch and put it there. Just then our dog Babe wanted to go out, and when I let her out the sliding glass doors, I realized what a pretty day it was, and how fun it would be to take my harp out in the backyard and play it outside. The big harp was too cumbersome, so I picked up the little harp, and, of course, a harp has to be tuned every time you play it, so I looked around for the tuning equipment. At first I accidentally picked up the lever adjuster for the big harp, but after looking some more, finally I found the one for the little harp. I sat the harp on the table and started tuning it, then realized the cup of hot tea was no longer hot because it had been sitting for a long time after I reheated it, so I started the microwave again, then came back to tuning my harp. Well, I needed some sheet music, so I rummaged around in my music drawers for the appropriate book, then took the harp and book outside to play.

It was indeed a gorgeous day. I played for a long time. And I am finally blogging. But my pants are still sitting there unhemmed, the book is still on the couch, and Lord help me, my cup of tea is still in the microwave. Sigh. The older I get, the less distraction my mind can handle, it seems. I’m afraid some things will never get done. But I can’t say I wasted the afternoon. Out in the cool breeze, the music surrounded me. (So did the ants, blackflies, and other assorted insects.) Hello, summer!