Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Gratitude Given and Received

A sense of heightening holiday time prevails as we fill our pantries with the good food to make ready for the Thanksgiving Day table.

The venerable November event inaugurates the season of parties, gatherings and homecomings. It flips the switch on the light that shines cheerfully through the dark period of the year.

A recent email from a friend catches the anticipation and planning in our homes this busy week. 

With mention that she’s hosting her family’s Thanksgiving dinner she concluded by saying she’d concentrate on the food and it will all work out.

It was the last line in her note that widened my smile. She said she best get back to work to get it done. Succinctly she identified the process for successful hosting – food and thoughtful preparation. 

My thoughts will be with her as she and her husband seat their large group at table.

This Thanksgiving, for most of us, we’re in a different place than a year ago. 

This relocation generally doesn’t have to do with another setting. We may very well be tucking our legs under the holiday tablecloth at the same house as before. The surroundings in many cases aren’t changed – but we are.

Life circumstances are good at putting us in a different place. For each of us the preceding twelve months have brought a mix of experiences.

Most of us have known something of joy and gain and loss and pain. We've secured employment and been downsized in careers.

We’ve acquired homes or other possessions. We’ve suffered foreclosures or lost ground in other ways as through diminished health.

Relationships for some have wonderfully begun. Don’t count on fairy tale endings when people are involved. Cessation of romance, trust or any other involvement of the heart is the wound many carry this year.

Great numbers had dreams realized. Never liking to be left out of the equation, disappointment  has a universal tendency to pop up. It introduces discouragement by taking down a hope or raising an obstacle.  

Ah yes, we sit in a different place than at this time last year.

Thanksgiving Day, wisely set aside by our government, should wisely be used by us in return. 

More than the surfeit of food, more than the gorge of Christmas shopping which begins immediately, the day is well used to give thanks for the gift of life we share with others.

Giving thanks for what is in our lives includes time enjoyed and which utilizes the best in us. It takes in good moments of every kind that make more of our days. 

It can be gratitude for someone who has touched some aspect of us. Some of those remembered are with us, some no longer so.

 A year can deal harshly. In these hard situations support generously supplied, or wisdom or patience that gets one through, is the thanksgiving to give concentration to.

Life, as I’ve come to grasp it, isn’t to be understood but to be lived. Giving thanks in all conditions is wired to the entire spectrum of who we are – no matter who we are, where we are or at whose Thanksgiving table we gather.

Thanksgiving Day, by its very reason of creation, calls to the importance of taking time for purposeful consideration.

The day was established as a day of thanksgiving and prayer by our first president George Washington, made a national holiday by 16th president Abraham Lincoln, and the date later set by Congress as the fourth Thursday of November. 

It upholds an important tenet that precedes the founding of our country. It can be traced to the Pilgrims more than a century earlier.

These English colonizers, driven by zeal for God, and perhaps impractical in their idea of how they were to survive on remote rocky shores, hung on. 

With the help of American native neighbors they made a home where they could in faith and future abide. This is what was celebrated at that first Thanksgiving. 

Faith in the present, which in part draws from the past, hope in the future and gratitude given and received continues to be our Thanksgiving today.

Ro Giencke

November 26, 2013

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Too Hot to Sleep

November has put a heavy gray lid over us. Days are short and brisk. 

It can get dreary as the routine of gray cloud cover goes on. Short days robbed of daylight by the prevailing gloom begin to be felt.

In Minnesota November is often not a lovely month. 

Thanksgiving helps to redeem it. Pumpkin pie, turkey and dressing, and family and friends gathered, are a great antidote to days edging in. 

For lots of us, as well, anticipation and preparations for the holidays pulsate with stronger energy the darker the days get.

It’s this seasonal mix – dreariness of weather and the homecoming thoughts many of us hold to – that makes November a time to think about dear ones gone, absent from us on earth.

It’s well-spent time to occasionally bring to mind those who’ve left their mark on us, often in lasting ways. 

Perhaps it was this that made my sister think of an old neighbor. She wondered if I knew the year this dear friend of ours passed away.

I did some checking to see if I could find the answer for her. It wakened my curiosity. I wanted to know too. 

This sweet farm woman passed away so long ago. But some folks, while you don’t always have them in mind, you never forget.

The year of her passing was found and the question  solved. But the search kicked off for me vivid memories of pleasant visits with this elderly neighbor when I was a girl.

I liked to walk up her steep hill to sit and chat awhile. They're remembered entirely as forenoon visits.

She often was making bread, or waiting while it set to raise, or was at some stage in baking (cookies and desserts were a given in a farm kitchen in those days) when I called on her.

We sat in her living room. The room had a door which entered from the outside. This was the door used by me.

The door was open to the outdoors in the summer. It made the visiting both informal (green nature and birdsong on the other side of the door screen) and cozy.

I had a seat by the door. She took the easy chair. I don't recall she took her apron off but she may have. Like the flowers outside she lovingly tended, her apron was such a part of her.

Sometimes her husband, every bit as liked by my sister and me as the friend I came to see, joined us from work he was doing outside. 

My visit gave them a chance to "sit a spell." It was a break from tasks which began at early rising. Their work day (as farmers with a dairy herd) revolved around their cows. Milking time took precedence over everything.

We were a companionable trio. Possibly in some way - as I look at it now - the couple were surrogate grandparents for me. Mine lived far away.

Even then, probably, I was something of a historian. The stories my friend told of earlier times were interesting to me.

Her early life which she touched on, perhaps in response to questions from me, have all been forgotten. All but this one about to be shared. 

Why it remains, while the others have faded, is one of the mysteries of memory.

Perhaps it's because it was a story of another summertime – the summertime when she was a girl like me. 

She lived in Iowa then. It was hot Iowa in the summer. Humid nights when temperatures stayed up were common. 

It was before rural electrification. Electric fans to cool a closed-in room weren't an option.You put up with your misery as best you could.

She said on those unbearable nights she slept below the opened window. It was cooler on the floor than in bed. 

On the floor there came across her an occasional stir of air. It was moving air which can be such relief on a beastly hot Midwest night.

Mattresses may have been moved off the beds for more comfortable sleeping. The details elude me now. 

All I remember is how wide eyed I listened picturing my elderly friend brought to the necessity of catching a breath of air below the window sill.

That story illuminated her background as stories of a personal nature can do. 

It’s my connecting point with her and always will be. At ten or so I could image it vividly. It made her past so real.

Ro Giencke

November 17, 2013


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Beneath the Cottonwood Trees at the River

How good it is to have a line of light at the horizon again as we get up. 

It's like shaking off hibernation to have the earlier sunrise. Hugely appreciated is the setback of our clocks to central standard time.

In time it will be back to dark at 8 AM as days shorten. In the surfeit of the holiday season the late arrival of sunrise doesn't seem as big a deal as now in the industry and energy of fall. So for our newly returned light I am grateful.

Snow comes in later today with totals of 1-4." Weekend temperatures being mild, and foliage remaining surprisingly vivid, we took a drive down the Mississippi River where color is hanging on even better than here. 

The orange, red and brown patchwork  of the wooded bluffs, and the bright yellow leaves of the birch trees in Frontenac State Park above Lake Pepin, made us glad we fit in the color tour which otherwise eluded us as we got busy with October things.

The river road was a coincidental but appropriate prelude to the next thing enjoyed. We had a chance to hear Garrison Keillor. It was at a book signing. 

His new book O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound brought out an appreciative fan base which included us.

Keillor is famously known for A Prairie Home Companion and his Lake Wobegon monologues but it's geographical connection in particular that draws me to his works.

He grew up near the Mississippi River not so far from where our kids were raised. Their play was, in many ways, not very different from his time of youth. 

Although his fields had given way to rows of suburban homes, in which we came as young families to have our piece of land as part of the American dream, the river which marks the eastern boundaries was unchanging. 

The river put something of its timeless quality into the neighborhoods - and I like to think, into the children who grew up there.

Keillor sometimes in those years wrote articles for our big city paper. His pieces may have been on the Opinion page. This I recall less than the interest with which I seized upon any column with his byline.

My favorite articles were his writings about his boyhood in Brooklyn Park. It was essentially country then. 

He biked past cornfields, whiled away hours roaming and exploring and spent extensive time in thought under the big cottonwoods on the banks of the river. 

At the book signing we learned more of his early days. It was a time when a boy could go up in the Foshay Tower, the tallest building in the Twin Cities, and from the top see the countryside that lay about. 

From Hopkins to the west, to the truck farms and potato farms of his area to the north, the city had not yet engulfed the rural.

As a young person (perhaps to earn money for college - he didn't specify) he worked on those farms. He came to know the ache in the small of the back that comes with labor on a potato farm.

Keillor is funny. That's no surprise. It's how clever spills from him that gives him his genius. Clearly it's as natural to him to be quietly humorous as it is to breathe. 

He talks of walks to the school bus in those far off days when the winter elements conditioned you. 

He refers to blizzards in which you couldn't see your hands in front of you. He held up his hands commenting their distance to his face was even closer when he was small.

He tells of school never being canceled. He says this is why Minnesotans are good spellers. 

With school never closing due to weather (his school was Anoka), every lesson plan was carried out, including the emphasis on making excellent spellers out of us.

It was a most enjoyed presentation. Even got my picture with him!

Ro Giencke
November 5, 2013