Barbie, Midge, Robin and Me

The father of my best friend Robin owned a tool business franchise which provided two young girls with opportunities to fill bins in his wonderful red truck, to bake cookies he could share with customers, and access to dozens of interesting empty boxes.

Robin attended 95thStreet School and I went to parochial school, but we had matching pencil boxes in our desks. Most kids found a source for cigar boxes, but we had decorated paper boxes not needed in his truck into unique containers with compartments for pencils, color pencils, scissors and such. We didn’t know each other’s school friends, but we shared something deeper: hours of playing with Barbie, Midge, Skipper and Ken in wonderful houses, stores, airplanes and schools constructed out of even more empty boxes.

When the weather was cold, Robin’s basement became a town for an afternoon of play. Her Barbie had a flight attendant outfit, mine had a tailored suit. We shared a plastic pseudo-Barbie car that took one to the airport and the other to an imaginary office. Neither of us knew anyone who worked in an office or flew on planes so eventually the story turned back to all the dolls sitting at little box desks with one Barbie, attired in a skirt and sweater, called teacher.

Robin had an older sister and we both had moms so we knew real women weren’t built like our Barbie crew, but we didn’t know flight attendants, nurses, doctors, brides, or girls who wore wonderful ballgowns. Our parents didn’t buy us Barbie’s plastic house or bedroom furniture, but Robin’s dad shared tape and scissors and boxes to build furniture and a variety of workshop towels to make blankets. We stood next to him in his wood working shop as he made small frames and blocks that could extend our Barbie furniture building. We learned how to sand.

Our Barbie phase lasted less than a year, a simple time when we creatively explored, built and did what kids are supposed to do. Parents helped feed our play then stepped back. And we did okay. And I wish I could say thanks to Robin’s father and all the other parents who stepped out over the years with camping trips or garden planting or an evening at the opera to expand the world beyond the girl toys of Barbie and her crew. And those who do that today as  they parent another generation of kids.

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Seen and Heard

Recently, I was reminded that seemingly small moments can have a lasting impact. My mother-in-law told me about her visit with a local librarian. They got to know each other, and now the librarian chooses books for her as part of a library outreach program for people who don’t drive. Although the librarian came only once, her visit meant a lot to my mother-in-law.

Every now and again, acquaintances tell me about a time when something I said or did came at exactly the right time. Often, I’m surprised because I don’t remember the moment and wasn’t aware that I’d had any special impact. With that in mind, I try to be gracious when someone I don’t know well wants to talk. Maybe they need to be heard.

I love good tomatoes and there’s one vendor I look for at the St. Paul Farmer’s Market, because his tomatoes are consistently good. We have a nodding acquaintance—we know each other’s faces, but not each other’s names.

The last time I saw him, he asked me if I liked the Tennessee Ernie Ford song that the market’s musical entertainer had just played. I agreed that it was a good oldie and recalled that a neighbor friend’s mother used to play it on the stereo.

Then the tomato vendor told me he loves to sing, and he sang a little of the song in a surprisingly rich bass. I complimented him, and he explained that when he was young, a voice teacher taught him to breathe properly. Now he shows the guys in his church choir how to breathe so they won’t strain their voices when they try to sing bass.

As I walked away, I realized that after our longer-than-expected conversation, I had a fuller sense of him as a person. I don’t know if the conversation meant anything to him or not. Maybe he needed to be seen, wanted someone to know that tomato farming was just one dimension of his life. Or maybe he was just bored and feeling chatty.

Either way, I’m glad I listened. There’s a gift to me in that.

Time Runs Out

July 7, 2018: I called a friend  to talk about a common interest. His voice was quiet when he answered and I checked if this was a good time to visit or if he was with a client.

“I can’t talk well anymore,” he said. “I don’t have long to live.”

We hadn’t seen each other for a couple of months when he had shared with us that he experienced a couple of mysterious health incidents during the early winter that had left him feeling unlike himself. In late spring he was still trying to keep the situation under wraps from his employer which was difficult because his work is up front with clients during the design phase of projects. We were concerned, but assumed he would get stronger.

But he didn’t, and he won’t. His wife took over the phone conversation. Our friend was diagnosed quite recently with untreatable brain cancer and it is taking him quickly. She said they are limiting visitors to family. He wanted the phone back and told me that our friendship had meant a lot to him. We had a garbled last few sentences.

That’s the end.

We were supposed to talk about his writing project and a fundraiser for a nonprofit. And he’d tell a few good stories about his grandkids, kayak fishing, his wife’s garden and when he planned to retire.

Life goes on. His family is keeping vigil and we are cleaning the garage, going to the post office, talking about August and September plans. On any day someone is dying and someone is having the best day of their lives. No matter how many friends or family members we lose, the loss is always new because it has a different name.

 

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In memory of Joe who passed away July 28.  And Skye’s husband who also died in July. With warm thoughts for my first publisher who has begun hospice care. You will not be forgotten.

Enlarging My Circle

cactus-flower-2For years, my husband and sons visited relatives in Green Valley, a retirement community in Arizona. I loved seeing our family and experiencing spring in the desert. But I disliked the way some of the residents had become intolerant of young people and as prickly as the blooming cactus that surrounded us. I vowed that wouldn’t be me. While I was still working for pay, I didn’t have to think about how to make good on that promise. I had friends of all ages among my coworkers. Now that I’m retired, I want to be more intentional about connecting with younger people (younger than a Baby Boomer, that is).

Though older, I’ll be the seeker, not the sage.

I’ve learned so much from my sons, so I want to go further and invite more people of other generations into my life. I hope to learn from people who are at different stages of life from mine and understand how they see the world, what their challenges, reactions, and solutions are. To know what they know. To welcome their insights and wisdom.

Making connections is part of my personal style.

Networking is one way people connect with strangers and make friends of acquaintances. While I was a freelance writer, I networked for professional reasons. Often the connections I had with clients and colleagues sparked friendships that have lasted 5, 10, or 20 years.

My plan is more of an outlook than a highly systematic effort.

My current idea isn’t exactly “networking,” which implies a career emphasis. Instead, I hope to continue to do what I have always done—make and keep friends. The part that requires more focus is putting myself in settings where I will meet new people of all ages. Then, if we like the same things and have common interests, friendships will have the chance to blossom.

For example, a young woman I know manages communications for a nonprofit. We met when I started volunteering there, and since then, we have become friendly.

I recently reconnected with a younger writer who’s a friend’s daughter. The daughter is traveling in Europe and writing about her experiences. One of her blogs reminded me how I felt while traveling alone in Europe in my later 20’s, so I sent her a note. Currently, we are acquaintances, but I’m open to getting to know her better.

One of the women who styles my hair is at least 20 years younger than I am, but we have discovered that we have similar taste in movies and politics. Recently, her family experienced a crisis, and it was comforting to her to see that I really understood her reactions—our temperaments are similar too.

I value my longstanding friendships with people my age, but I hope to enlarge the circle to include friends of all ages.

Enduring Friendships

Enduring Friendships

web-natcheztrl-e1450370163848124 years ago, I was biking alone on a Klobuchar bicycle trip. Beginning in 1974, Jim Klobuchar, the former Star Tribune columnist led annual, weeklong Jaunt With Jim rides throughout the state of Minnesota. It was 1992, and I often was in the habit of doing something new. I picked adventures even though I wouldn’t know anyone. I often felt as if I was making up for my lost childhood, teenage-hood, and early adulthood. In my twenties and thirties, I was ready to tear up the world. Do what I want. If an adventure piqued my interest, I’d ask myself, “Will I regret it if I don’t do it?” If the answer was yes, I was on to my next adventure.

I met the two men in an abandoned town on a Sunday afternoon. It was a picture out of an old western movie. Two men riding into a dusty quiet town on their bikes, while the damsel was sitting on bench eating lunch.

I overheard them lamenting about the lack of . . . anything. They were hungry.

“I have food,” I said. I always had food. It didn’t matter where I was going, I was sure to have food. When you are one of twelve children, you pack a lunch. “I’ll share what I have,” I added.

Out came the trail mix, the crackers, and the sausage. I even had dessert.

Galen told me he was a school teacher. I would meet Bonnie, another of his school teacher friends later in the ride.

Galen and Bonnie invited me to bike the Natchez Trace, a historic forest trail which extends from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. I met George on that trip. Together we biked in Glacier National Park and the historic Sun Road. That was Jody’s first trip with us.

Last year, Jody and I went to George’s funeral. He was 86 years old.

Klobuchar said, “Friendships developed that are still alive. That’s really my biggest satisfaction — bringing people together and sharing the road together.”

Gary Lund

Gary Lund

Gary Lund and I are very much in that category. 24 years later, we continue to email almost daily. He remembers our first meeting, saying it was the most miserable bike riding day of his life. It was a ride from Litchfield to Montevideo. Rainy, cold, and wet. He noticed me at the lunch break in Wilmar where we were both freezing, trying to figure out how to dry off and warm up.

Later that day he would see me in the ditch with a flat tire. He asked if I wanted help. I quickly tossed him my tube. We were together off and on for the rest of that week. When I wasn’t with him, I was with Bonnie and Galen, stopping in cafés and waiting out the rainstorms.

Gary was a front of the pack guy. I was grateful for his friendship. He was there to patch me up when I took a spill. Then he took a spill and I patched him up. We laughed lots. Talked lots. Never about politics or religion. There was no need. Our friendship wasn’t based on that. It was based on sharing food with people who were hungry. It was based on sharing our lives although they were different.

My life is fuller because of these people. I’m grateful our friendship has endured time and differences.

I imagine that they are reading my WordSisters column now. Thank you, friends.