My sweet Grandmother celebrated her 90th birthday today. Yes, I know her birthday is later in the week, but she did celebrate today with a gorgeous party hosted by her family. Unfortunately, we were unable to attend, but my darling mother was kind enough to print a list of 90 things that we love about her. I’ve condensed it here, because I wish to pay tribute to this ordinary remarkable woman. Herewith:
- She loves God, her family, and her neighbor. In that order.
- She exemplified faithfulness in marriage.
- She is genuinely hospitable, on a daily basis and on a committed basis, having cared for her elderly mother and her in-laws in their final years, and sharing her home with various family members during in-between life stages.
- Her children and their spouses and offspring, collectively. They are a great bunch of folks and I am so proud to call them family.
- She is a really good cook and she makes the best rice dressing in the world.
- She makes good strong coffee, and her coffee pot is never empty. Her sink, miraculously, always is.
- She still keeps our school, graduation, and wedding pictures on her wall and she remembers our birthdays and anniversaries.
- She has a merry heart, but even when she isn’t happy or well, she is nevertheless determinedly cheerful.
- She refuses to say unkind things about anyone.
- She has loved me for as long as she has known me.
Celery blossoms, 2013
My people grow things. My sweet Memaw’s garden was about an acre and my Granddaddy plowed it with his tractor. He also grew feed and hay for the cattle on his dairy farm, and for the horses he used to work his cattle. Their garden produced so many vegetables that they were able to share with their neighbors and kinfolk and still eat canned goods from it years after they were unable to work therein. My Poppa had a garden from which they ate and preserved homegrown tomatoes in every imaginable fashion. He also grew lots of onions and new potatoes. Have you ever had new potatoes cooked with green beans and flavored with a little bit of bacon? No? You’ve missed a treat. My parents have a productive garden, and when my darling Mother pulls weeds, she hand feeds them to her chickens, which are cooped right next to the garden.
I must confess that I missed out on the gardening wisdom of my grandparents and in fact did not help them out much at all. Such assistance as I gave was grudging. I truly regret this, because I will never get that time or that opportunity back. It is much more difficult to learn practical things from books than it is from enthusiastic practitioners. Also, I can’t help but think that I should have loved them enough to want to work alongside them, even in the heat of the Texas summers. I know they loved me dearly, and probably forgave me even then, but …
Despite this transgression on my part, I nevertheless have grown to appreciate that which I can grow. And if you are considering putting in a garden of any size, even a container garden on your patio or a herb garden on your windowsill, and you’re leaning against the idea, please take the following into consideration:
- Gardening books and seed catalogs are awesome!
- It doesn’t get much more local than your back yard.
- Gardening is great exercise, but it isn’t boring. Plus, with some tasks, you can see results in hours, unlike when you work out at a gym doing mind-numbing cardio.
- Free vitamin D, in a package that your body was created to absorb.
- Free farmer tan!
- Ripe fresh vegetables! Succulent fresh fruit! Fragrant fresh herbs!
- It gives you an opportunity to share food and conversation with your friends and neighbors.
- Although the setup costs can be a little expensive, it can help you save lots of money on groceries.
- It gives you the opportunity to meet other people who grow stuff and do things with their hands (there’s a lot of overlap in those two groups of people).
- And, as the great Guy Clark wrote, “Only two things that money can’t buy and that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.“
To be honest, I come from a family with a strong tradition of imperfection. Wonderful, funny, kind, responsible, wise, dear people who are absolutely imperfect. Much like me. Much like you. The thing about my people is, we’re pretty much doers. We accomplish a lot. We work, have pets, we cook, we read, we scrapbook, we garden, we fish, we can, we knit, we camp, we homeschool. I’m not sure that any of us do all of these things, but most of us do a lot of them. Our homes reflect our busy, interesting lives. They also tend to reflect the fact that none of us keeps a maid on staff. However, that has never prevented my darling mother or my sweet grandmothers, my lovely aunts, and, I presume, my wonderful cousins, from opening their homes, apartments, and dorm rooms to friends and family, whether for a cry and a cup of tea, or for takeout tacos, or a full-blown meal, with dessert. I aspire to that kind of hospitality. And here’s what I’m doing to reach that goal:
I’m making sure that I never leave the house unless it is perfectly spotless.
I have a standing order for delicious organic, gluten-free, sugar-free, low-sodium snacks and never let my pantry run low on any of these items.
I’m taking gourmet cooking classes to impress my guests with insouciant interpretations of peasant food.
I’m buying all new furniture.
I’m redecorating the guest bedroom.
I’m getting a T-1 line so that I will have incredibly fast and virtually unlimited internet access and streaming at all times.
I’m instructing my butler to offer freshly squeezed lemonade to anyone who drops by.
Wait. Sorry. That must be the list from my other life.
Here’s what I’m really doing:
- I’m accepting imperfection.
- I’m inviting people over at specific dates and times.
- I’m giving my address and phone number to friends and to people who I want to be friends with.
- I’m telling people that if they give me 10 minutes notice, and I am there and not on my way out the door, that they are welcome to come over. And that I really mean it.
- I’m telling people that I will be honest about whether their visit is convenient, so they won’t have to worry about whether or not they are inconveniencing me.
- I’m going to keep an empty laundry basket available for those times when I just need to sweep everything off the couch and the coffee table to make the living room look semi-presentable.
- I’m going to burn my lovely candles for ambient lighting and to at least partially disguise the occasional reminders that we own two gorgeous cats.
- I’m going to keep some snacks handy, and some coffee and tea, with a variety of sweeteners.
- I’m going to look at my craft room and try to come up with projects to do with people when they are here.
- I’m going to let them catch me in the act of loading the dishwasher and starting a load of laundry.
- I’m hoping that my home will be a hospitable one.
Although I come from a family of readers, I was not exposed to C.S. Lewis until I was 18, when my dear friend Melita convinced me to read The Chronicles of Narnia, which I read with alacrity. The first year we were friends, she gave me her marked-up copy of Surprised by Joy for Christmas. I would have never visited Narnia on my own, but I embrace her as my country of dual citizenship. So as a card-carrying member of the Narnian Chamber of Commerce, I invite you to visit Narnia and meet her creator.
- Puddleglum – a more non-heroic hero is almost unimaginable
- Lucy – One of the original bravest girls in literature
- Aslan – If you don’t already know why, please, please, please read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
- Because he first articulated the concept of the “true myth”.
- Surprised by Joy
- If not a prophet, he was at least prescient. Except for the fantasy bits about Merlin and the other supernatural humans, which a reasonable person will understand to be a plot device, he depicts society as it is today. Names aren’t given; exact counterparts don’t exist; however, the methods of N.I.C.E. are the methods of ostensibly benevolent totalitarians the world over.
- “There is no other stream.”
- “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
- “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.”
- I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
I went to my dear friend Alexandra’s birthday party last night, along with about 20 other lovely, fascinating people. After a delicious seafood dinner, we posed outside the restaurant for photos. Because I’m short and I never wear heels, I got shoved to the front. I was a little traumatized at first, because, although I’m not altogether hideous, I am rather large, especially in comparison with 20-somethings who are genetically gifted and exercise on the regular. But I had an epiphany. These people like me for who I am and treat me with kindness and respect and interest. If they judge me based on my appearance, they have the good manners not to even hint at their disgust. And I realized that the people who do judge me harshly based on my appearance are not worthy of a square inch of my headspace. So I stood up straight and brave and I smiled. And I’m so glad I did. I looked awesome. So. Ten reasons to stay in the picture.
- To prove that you are not a vampire.
- If you are worried about privacy, you might as well give that up. There are security cameras everywhere, monitored drones that can detect your brand of shoe from 5 miles up, and easily influenced, poorly paid workers who can tell interested parties where you are sitting and what you have to eat every Tuesday.
- To be part of a memento, whether it belongs to you or to someone you love, of a special time you spent together.
- To be able to look at your physical self, at least somewhat objectively.
- To remember the night you wore your Grandmother’s brooch and talked about great books with a complete stranger and new friend.
- So that somebody can make a slideshow of your life and have pictures to put around your coffin (hopefully at a much later date).
- You might need an electronically dated and located photo as an alibi.
- Because if you worry about every idiot who presumes to judge you based on your appearance, you have far more to worry about than your appearance.
- Because in 3 months you want to be able to show your stylist how you want your hair to look again.
- Because you should never think scornfully of one who is fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, regardless of who they are, even if they are you.
Photo courtesy The Idyllic Life