Immortalized

I don’t know the women who crocheted this lace doily and antimacassar, but I think I understand something about them.

A century ago, maybe she saw a doily pattern with a wheat motif in a magazine and made it on a lark—the same impulse that has led me to make a quilted pin cushion, add a mosaic to a small box, decorate a shirt with reverse embroidery, and so many other projects. I was curious about the process and making stuff is fun. Most of the time I’m only trying to please myself, so it doesn’t matter if my creative ventures are one-and-done. 

Whoever made the antimacassar might have been more invested. Perhaps she spent weeks one winter, creating the elaborate design, a piece she’d be proud of. She could have spread a towel across the back of a chair to keep off her husband’s macassar hair oil when he leaned back for a snooze. Instead, she made something pretty. I understand the impulse—if you’re going to see it every day, why not have something pleasing? Maybe detailed crochet was her art form, like pottery and quilting are mine. 

When I told a friend about a minor project to machine embroider some muslin towels, she said, “You’re so creative.” I balked, “There are so many people who are wildly creative and talented. I’m a dabbler.” She insisted, “Say yes. And thank you.” My friend is right about me, but sometimes it’s hard to own this urge. Easy to downplay or dismiss creativity that’s expressed everyday things. 

I squint into the future and imagine someone picking up a quilt or ceramic bowl I’ve made. She or he might find a different purpose for it—cut the quilt into placemats, hammer the bowl into bits for a mosaic, or some other project I can’t even imagine. If my things get repurposed, I won’t feel disrespected at all. They were fun to make. They pleased me. They don’t have to last or be cherished like museum pieces. Maybe like me, this future creator will wonder about the person who originated it.

In the pottery studio, when I spread the doily and antimacassar onto clay and transfer the lacy patterns with a rolling pin, I’ll admire the craftsmanship, patience, and skill needed to make them. Those women and their work will be acknowledged and celebrated in mine. Immortalized.

A dish I made with another doily

Preparing for Retirement

I took a hike today. Hiking is an activity I want to do after I retire on January 7, 2022. It occurred to me this week that I didn’t need to wait until then to research hiking groups. A simple Google search led me to a Twin Cities hiking meetup at Afton State Park on Sunday. 45 people had registered for the hike.

Crystel gave a hearty laugh when she scrolled my Facebook (she was home for the day from college). Twin Cities Bike Club, she chortled. I might do that when I retire, I said a bit defensively. Even though I have an electric bike I can still join, right? Doesn’t Crystel think that I pedal? Just because I put the bike on cruise on for an entire twenty-mile ride on my recent 63rd birthday?

Other activities I’m interested in are pre pre-beginner lessons in pickle ball. The few times I’ve tried the game I awoke my inner Frankenstein as I lurched for the ball. Most often I missed the ball entirely. I’ll also be pursuing writing, classes, reading, travel, and cross-country skiing.

I expected to be fully retired in January, but a recent job offer with minimal hours has altered my thinking. I’m excited about this new job opportunity.

I’ve also recognized an internal shift about the idea of being a grandparent. When the kids were in their teens, I preached, lectured, and cajoled safe sex. Topping it off with a trip to Planned Parenthood on a Christmas Eve. Though I feel the shift, I continue to want grandparenting to be years away. Jody and I were older parents to Juan and Crystel. We can be much older grandparents.

I’ve explored other meetup groups and added them to my profile: Twin Cities Indoor/Outdoor Sports, Minnesota Hardy Hikers, Outdoor Introverts, Outdoor & Snow Lovers, Cross Country Skiing, MN Sierra Club Outings and Intrepid, Fit & Social.

One group put my membership on hold. They required a photo to join. I had Jody snap one of me on our Sunday hike and uploaded it to their site. The administrator requested a new photo that showed my entire face with no sunglasses. She also mentioned that she couldn’t tell by my picture but wanted to give me a heads up that the members’ average age is just over 50. She didn’t want me to be surprised if I was a lot younger than that. I was still welcome to join but it was up to me.

I uploaded a new photo. I hope they can keep up with me.

Beyond Peshtigo

The Great Chicago Fire began October 8, 1871. More than 100,000 residents were left homeless and 300 lost their lives. Help flowed in nationally and internationally to rebuild the city.

North of Chicago, the largest and deadliest forest fire in United States history took place the same day in Peshtigo, Wisconsin. Over 1,200,000 acres (1,875 square miles) burned. The number of people killed can only be estimated because church and government records burned in the fire. Some of the 1,500 to 2,500 men, women and children would never be identified. The fires were so intense that some victims were totally incinerated. 

Many of the Peshtigo fire victims were immigrant farmers and small-town dwellers. Belgian and German settlers bought acres of cheap land to farm only to discover thick forests covered the area. Along with the railroads and timber industry, farmers slashed through the trees and left much wood on the ground. It was not unusual to see several small fires burning. Even ships in Green Bay and Lake Michigan experienced visibility problems from smoke. In 1871 drought dried fields and wood waste. October 8 a cold front moved in and whipped flames from many small fires into a giant firestorm with temperatures of about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

People who hid in their wells or storm cellars died. People who tried to outrun the flames in their wagons or buggies died. Some burned, some suffocated. Others drowned while seeking refuge in rivers or ponds. The flames formed a tornado of fire that tossed buildings into the air. Peshtigo was burned to the ground with only two buildings remaining. Fires burned on both side of Green Bay touching Marinette and stopping short of Sturgeon Bay.

The Belgian Heritage Center remembers the fire each October and the dramatic impact it had on its community. Thick wooded lands were transformed into barren acres. Wooden farmhouses were replaced by red brick buildings. Roadside chapels stood near many homes. 

My Belgian ancestors lived in the Peshtigo fire area. This year I find a strange comfort in the reality that awful fires are not a modern experience but have devastated parts of our country before. Instead of seeing our current wildfires as one more sign that we are heading toward doom, history is reminding me that there can be more living on the other side of disaster. Learning from the disaster to make the rebuilding smarter is the challenge.

Roadblock

A screeching, beeping monster clawed a mountain of dirt from my front yard, pirouetting in a repetitive mechanical dance.

In a surprising moment of consideration, the monster’s keepers preserved my ratty, overgrown boulevard garden, which fringed the gaping hole where sidewalk used to be. As if that garden is worth the care they gave it! They didn’t know I’d gladly be rid of the hosta and daylilies.

Workers in neon green coveralls appeared waist deep in the front yard. Urban prairie dogs. Do they like standing in holes, dirty and damp? Being where the rest of us don’t go? Searching for a pipe—hidden—but not exactly a treasure. 

Weeks later, cars still charge up to the roadblock in disbelief, apparently thinking, You can’t stop me, I’ll get through. Some seem to contemplate launching à la Thelma and Louise over the one-foot precipice into the scraped dirt and escaping, only to accept reality, veer into a nearby parking lot, and cut through the alley. Back on their way.

That’s how this summer, or really this whole year, has felt because of COVID. We’ve hurried toward the life we wanted, only to see—again—not here, not now. Go around, adapt, try again.

At night it’s peaceful. No clattering buses driving by. No thumping bass from passing cars or snatches of song from cyclists.

Silent orange hazard lights blink like fireflies.

Ditch and Run

I didn’t think dropping Crystel off at college would be hard. I’m really good at ditch and run.

Often Jody will say to the person that she’s talking to at a party, “Oh, I guess we are going now,” after I’ve tapped her shoulder on my way to the car. There’s no stop in me. I’m done now, my whole body is saying. When Jody wants to socialize at an event, we drive separately. Later, after a party, I’ve had people tell me, “We didn’t see you leave. You were just gone.”

I couldn’t tap into my own experience of being dropped off at college. I’m not even sure who drove me to my dorm in Menomonie, Wisconsin from Ellsworth. What I do recall is a few weeks later my mother telling me not to come home anymore. There wasn’t any room for me. I no longer lived there.

Crystel was able to move in early at the University of Minnesota because of her involvement with Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence (MCAE). I helped her pack the van. A refrigerator, clothes, plants, hangers, and more plants. At the dorm it was my job to hang her clothes in a certain direction on the hanger. Jody made her bed. Two hours later, I had only finished one suitcase. She had that many shirts! I couldn’t believe that I would patiently undertake this miniscule tedious task. I mentioned that. We had just enough time to drive to Target for more hangers and a few items before joining MCAE for their parent and family kickoff event.

I accompanied Crystel into the large banquet hall. Jody was waiting in the car for my help to locate parking. I asked Crystel if she was okay for me to leave her. Above her mask I could see her stricken eyes. I hurried to the car to ask Jody to find parking herself. 

The banquet hall filled up. Dinner was served. Speeches started. I looked over at Crystel. Shook my head at each possibility that came to mind. There would be no ditch and run. She needed her moms.

I cried when we got home. I was already missing her. In the following days, I realized that for her, going to college is a step towards an independent life. I’ve texted and talked with her frequently. She’s getting settled. Meeting new friends and old. Involving herself in activities. Studying. My heart is with her. Hers with me. Where we intersect is home. There’s always room.