Celebrating Summer

Early in June,  a dear friend invited me to her home to celebrate the awarding of tenure to a mutual dear friend of ours.  It seemed so good to be there among some of the great people who teach in the education department at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) as we joined together to toast a friend and colleague whose hard work and dedication was rewarded with tenure.  In many ways, it was a simple coming together of people I admire greatly, but it also seemed to mark an occasion when I finally felt like I was again doing the things I had always done before my daughter's death last spring.  I even remarked to my dear friend who was hosting the party that I felt as if I were coming out of a long winter and finally walking into summer for the first time in over a year.

I'll never forget the feeling I had as I stood among these friends, serving myself a bit of food.  It was an impression of feeling like myself again.  I remember saying to myself, "This feels like summer.  This feels like the life I once knew."

Sometimes, we take for granted simple get-togethers where someone hosts a barbecue and others attend to share food, drinks, good conversation and friendship.  This year, I was struck by how I had just gone through the motions of attending social functions last year.  I had attended a few social events, but I had not really been free enough in my emotions to be there completely.  I appreciated being included.  I appreciated being remembered.  I just couldn't fully participate in a sustained conversation while I was at a social affair.  My usual sociable self was greatly muted.  My friend's tenure celebration party marked a new step for me in my journey toward healing.

Despite my feeling that I was ready to step into summer's activities, initially early this summer, I had wanted to be away from home for the 4th of July.  I just didn't want to be reminded that I was going to have to go through yet another holiday.  I didn't want to have to wait to see if we had an invitation to a party.  I didn't want to go sit at a fireworks display and remember that much of my way of viewing life had had been irrevocably altered by my daughter's death.  I just wanted to get away and go someplace that was new and different.

In the end, my husband and I did not make plans to get out of town for the 4th.  There just seemed to be too many complications on too many fronts to leave town for a few days and escape into the mountains of Colorado for solitude.  We stayed home and threw ourselves into working on the yard and getting things done at home.

Last week, I called my cousin and asked if she and her daughter who was in town from Arizona would like to celebrate the 4th with us.  There was a fireworks ban in Colorado Springs, so my cousin's grandchildren were not going to be able to see a display.  In fact, because it is so hot in Arizona, they had never seen a fireworks display except at a baseball game.  They were happy to come down and join us.

Jim and I got our game plan going and put together a meal for our guests.  We even fired up the old barbecue grill.  We realized it had been at least two years since we had turned on the grill.  We also realized we had not gone to a fireworks display for at least two years.  Jim had a hip replaced during the summer of 2009 and was recovering over the 4th.  Last year, we watch various displays in the distance from our back porch since I just wasn't up for being in a crowd watching fireworks.

Again, simple things have great meaning.  I made a big potato salad yesterday.  I cried as I cut up the potatoes because I remembered the last time I had made potato salad had been Easter of 2010.  Julie had come to my side, draped her arm on my shoulder and said, "Hi Momacita.  What do you want me to do to help?"   That weekend would be the last time I saw her alive.

Despite a few sad memories, it was good to prepare food for a gathering in my home again.  It was good to look forward to having my cousin and her daughter and grandchildren coming to join us in celebrating a holiday.  It was good to fire up the grill and cook some hamburgers and hot dogs again.

After eating way too much food, we headed out to Pueblo's Riverwalk to listen to the Pueblo Sympathy Orchestra play a mix of Broadway hits and patriotic music.  It was good to see the beautiful display of fireworks light up the sky.  It was good to be a part of celebrating summer and the simple things of life again.

My cousin and her daughter and grandchildren

My cousin and I
with her grandchildren

A Cousin Is A Ready Made Friend for Life

"A cousin is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost."
Author: Marion C. Garretty

I spent most of the late morning today on the phone with my cousin Donna.  We hadn't had a long conversation for several months.  She'd been out of state, and I'd been working.  There hasn't been time for lunch or a long chat.  We had a lot to catch up on, and so we did.  I am so reminded of the quote above whenever we are together.  She truly is a little bit of my childhood that can never be lost.

Donna, my cousin who is and was my ready made friend for life,was born in the same hospital, the old Bethel Hospital in Colorado Springs, just days after I was.  She says that her mother took over the same room my mother had just vacated to take me home when she was born.  Our earliest days were spent together.  We learned to walk, to talk, to ride bikes, to fix our hair, to cook, to do just about everything together.  I barely have a childhood memory that does not have her in it.  Most early photos of me include her in the photo.

We lived within a few blocks from each other.  Our church, our school, our grandmother, the grocery store and the drugstore were all located in that four block sphere of our early existence.

The photo above was taken on our first Easter.  My mother and I are on the left side of the photo.  My brother is in the center.  My Aunt Katherine and my cousin Donna are on the right side.  The photo is taken in the front yard of my grandmother house.  Across the street (you can't see it) is the church where our parents were married and where we went to church.  Next to the church was the school where we attended just as our parents had done before us.

I remember many birthday parties, and family trips to the mountains together.  We picnicked  in the Garden of the Gods together, and scurried up the side of sandstone bluffs together on childhood picnics to Austin Bluffs.  We played for hours in the stream where we built dams when we went camping to our favorite camping spot in the Colorado Mountains.  We called this place, "The Green Spot."  Oh how we loved this idyllic spot where we slept under a beautiful canopy of a sky filled with millions of beautiful stars.  It was here where we tried to pick up the radio station KOMA 101 out of Oklahoma City from the car radio parked at our family camping spot when we were teenagers.

We spent endless summer days playing at our grandparents summer house in Victor, Colorado.  That was a magical place that fed our childhood play acting where we pretended to be pioneers.  All the cousins slept together in the back bedroom where we giggled ourselves to sleep at night.  Or, other times we would try to scare each other with ghost stories.

Other long summer afternoons were spent swinging on the front porch of her house watching the rain come down while we told stories or talked.  Other times, we would go to the library to check our beloved Little House on the Prairie books.  Or, we would play kick the can at night at my house.  Our summer night treats would be homemade root beer that my father would make.  He would bottle his root beer in old beer bottles.  We loved sitting on the front porch drinking from those bottles in hopes we would shock the neighbors!  Or, we would make ourselves wonderful root beer floats and decorate them with olives.  (Yuk!)  We even ate off the same cookie the day before she came down with the chicken pox.  For some reason, I didn't get sick.

When we were in junior high, we walked to school together.  Those were the days when girls wore bouffant skirts.  Our nylon net slips were starched in sugar water and layered under our full skirts.  We suffered for beauty's sake at school.  Those slips were scratchy!  Then, we'd slip them off and carry them home because we couldn't bear walking the long distance in those uncomfortable things.  Perhaps, we only did this once because when our mother's found out, we weren't allowed to do such a thing again.

We experimented with make up, drooled over Seventeen magazine's fashionable clothes, checked the top ten pop tunes every week, or watch American Bandstand together during our early teen years.  We wore our first formals together when we joined Rainbow Girls.

On the way home from junior high, there was a drugstore with an old-fashioned soda fountain.  We'd stop in there to buy a fountain made cherry coke on our home so we could ogle the handsome, soda jerk who had beautiful blue eyes as he prepared our drinks for us.  Later in life, my cousin took me to a pharmacy in town so I could see our childhood crush.  Now, a pharmacist, he was still working in a drug store, but I wondered what we had seen in him back then.

We went to kindergarten through ninth grade together.  We went to college together.  We married and both had five children.  In our early adult years we did not live near each other.  Nearly twenty-five years ago, I returned to Colorado Springs where she was still living.  She found me a house to live in just about a block from her house.  Our Uncle Charles was just a block away.  Our children went to school together.  Then she moved to Phoenix shortly after.

Now, we live near each other again.  We now do such things as talk about how to apply for medicare or adjust to retirement.  I guess you can say we've come full circle.  Only my mother and an aunt remain of the old guard.  All our aunts and uncles and grandparents are gone.  I think at this juncture in life,  we tend to treasure our cousins more than ever because they join us in keeping a part of our childhood alive.

Donna & Sally's First Family Christmas
Donna is held by my Aunt Katherine and her father Uncle Don is holding Aunt K.  My grandmother is is beside my mother who holds me.  My Uncle Charles, home on leave from being a paratrooper in WWII, is holding his wife Betty.  In front are my Aunt Carolyn and Aunt Phyllis.  Phyllis is holding my brother Rell.  My father, serving in the Army and my Uncle Bob serving in the Marines, were not home on leave when the photo was taken.

A few years ago we went to San Diego together for a week.  We had such fun.  I'm so glad we did that.  New memories were made.  Just the two of us were able to have some new adventures and recall the old ones.

Donna and Sally
San Diego
Donna, though technically a cousin, is not just a dear friend, she is like a sister to me.  She is now walking through the difficult task of helping to care for her daughter who is fighting a two-year long battle with melanoma.  She listens to me as I talk about my daughter's death and illness.  We are navigating difficult waters together.  We are in places we never could have imagined in our carefree childhoods, but I am grateful we forged those bonds long ago because they seem even more priceless than ever before as we get older.