I Remember

The numbers next to the personal reflections correspond to the numbers in the writings further down the page. If there is a skip in the numbering, it just means there wasn’t a personal reflection accompanying the writing.

Personal reflections on the process of completing this exercise.

1.  I became totally lost in my memories.  I was living in the past remembering my childhood and what effect the activities of that time had on me.  The time passed by so quickly I didn’t realize I was only supposed to write for ten minutes.  I’m still thinking of those memories.

3. The challenge for me is that as I do this activity so many thoughts flood my mind that even considering getting them down seems overwhelming. I did like the way I divided up my life although I might change a little of the timing.  I liked it because I could write a little about a specific time and then I could go back again and again adding to each section each time.  I am working on writing a book and will definitely consider using the method as I add piece-by-piece to each chapter of my book.

4. Writing on a blank sheet of paper was freeing for me – helping me start wherever I needed to, listening from within rather than just my brain following some outline.  I recognized the technique as similar to The Artist’s Way daily pages – it worked well for this for me.  Also, you had provided some prompts through the examples in Exercise #1 which helped to prime the pump.

6. I am not sure I did this assignment the way it was supposed to be done. Started 9:06. It is now 9:25 and there does not seem to be much content above but I did not edit and tweak;  I just sat here and was filled with emotion remembering my past.

7.  Forty minutes – Thank you.  I have been wanting to write this for a long time.


1. I remember playing with my sisters in the yard of the big house we lived in Schuyler County, IL.  I know we didn’t have much money and my Dad farmed the rented acreage with horses pulling the machinery.  I definitely remember the day Dad came home from town and said the bank had closed.

I remember my first day of school and how I loved having my own books, especially the Reader.  I was so happy to learn to read and value that gift to this day.  One of the stories I liked most was about Tabby the Cat and her family of kittens.

Most of all I remember the night our home burned to the ground.  I can recall having fried potatoes for supper and how hot my seat at the table was as I was closest to the cook stove that was putting out the heat.  I can still see the flames as neighbors arrived on the scene to help retrieve whatever could be carried from the burning building.  I had to go back in and get my Reader and also a new red and gray stocking cap with matching scarf which my Dad had bought for me that day.  They were both on a stand table in the middle room and I knew I could get them.  However, some stranger always grabbed me by the tail of my flannel nightgown and pulled me back with instructions to stay right by my sisters and my Mother who was holding my three week old baby brother.  I remember the next day the story of someone who had come to move the saved furniture saying, “Let’s see what record is on this Victrola (a prized possession that furnished our listening entertainment.”)  He cranked it up, put the needle on the record and the strains of “Home, Sweet Home” echoed across the surrounding air waves.

I can recall that we moved to another farm the following spring and I started to school in a new school.  I loved my teacher and all the classes.  The setting was a one room building where all eight grades were taught.  I listened to the classes of the upper grades and learned as much as I could.

I remember my first three years of high school I lived with an elderly lady whose home was just across the street from the school.  I did household errands for her for my room and board.  We lived seven miles out in the country and there were no buses at that time.

2. I remember a frozen, desert wind so dry it would parch your throat and hurt your chest when you ran. Chapped, peeling lips and wind-burned, ruddy cheeks were the payment for outside play. The horses’ tails were full of static electricity and the hairs flew out in all directions like a worn-out straw broom. Their thick, winter coats, like Teddy Bear fur, were heavy and replaced the shiny, sleek hides of summer. But the cold was thrilling, and even old, swaybacked horses had a buck in them on a frosty day. Heavy, low hanging stratus clouds warned a coming snow, never heavy, but always enough for one snowman — if you were careful and used all that covered the now-beige front lawn. Tomorrow it would melt and then freeze on the roads and make the sand crusty and crunchy. But today it’s forthcoming, and anticipating the first flakes to drift past the bedroom window created as much excitement as listening for sleigh bells on Christmas morning.

3. As I think back on my life I divide it into chapters.  Chapter 1 is before starting school.  Chapter 2 is about elementary school until 5th grade.  Chapter 3 contains 6th grade – 8th grade.  Chapter 4 is high school.  Chapter 5 is early marriage through the birth of my daughter.  Chapter 6 is my married and working life.  Chapter 7 is about my retirement.

A highlight from chapter one is remembering playing in a field down the street from our home in Youngstown, Ohio.  We lived in the upper floor of a house and there was an open field at the end of our street.  I was able to go there and play by myself.

When I was in elementary school in Cleveland I loved to ride my bike all around the neighborhood.  I had me first kiss behind my garage.  I walked to the shopping center with my grandmother and caught fireflies.  I shared a room with my brother.

We moved to Denver the summer before sixth grade and the transition to a new school was not always easy.  During the sixth grade summer my social life took when I went to a party with my cousin Robyn.  It was a major boy-girl party and introduced me to a lot of new friends.

When I was in high school is when my memories are most limited.  I got my own car and did have a few friends.  I belonged to a high school fraternity which was pretty cool for the times.  I remember school dances and did have a few girlfriends.  I met Mary the summer after graduation.

I enter the National Guard in 1969 after about one year of marriage.  I came home from basic training two weeks after Merideth was born.  Mary and I started out in small houses, one on the west side and one in the DU areas.  It was a good time of life.

I have had a terrific marriage with many ups and downs.  We did have some very challenging times both personal and financial and got through them together.  I worked in retail and sales management, construction, and finally as a teacher.

I have been retired for ten years.

4. I grew up all over the place, living in Wyoming, California, Afghanistan, and Nigeria and traveling in many additional countries.  Then, in my twenties, I moved 32 times within the U. S., Mexico, and Puerto Rico.  I had the great good fortune to see that people all over the world and all over my own country, while perhaps different in their specific cultural, political, and/or religious practices, were like me/us in most ways – we all cared for our friends, loved our families, nurtured our children, contributed to our communities, taught each other, learned from each other, had hardships, felt our losses deeply, celebrated our joys, and did our best (however we defined that) in living our lives.   Seeing these similarities, creating bonds of respect, supporting others to love themselves (and, oh yes, myself, as well…J) — these are deep values of mine and have the ability to bring me to tears instantly.

With all the moving, it’s no wonder that much of my work life centered around the change process – at the individual level through supporting addiction and codependency recovery, at the relational/family level through mediation, at the systems level through organization development, and at the community, national, and international levels through substance abuse and violence prevention, community development/organizing, and social justice efforts.  They say that we teach or do what we need to learn ourselves, and this has certainly been true for me – dealing with change has been a constant in my life, and creating a sense of connection and community wherever I am is a deep value and practice for me.

I’ve always loved Judith Vorst’s phrase “necessary losses.”  When I think back over my life, I see many losses I have grieved, and I think it is those experiences that have shaped me in profound ways.  (Kahlil Gibran:  our grief carves out the vessel which holds our joy.)

When I was a teenager, a couple of friends of mine and I were talking about what we feared most happening in our (future) lives.  When I look back, I see that all three of my named fears came to pass in my life.  What I also see is that I not only survived, but that I found reserves of strength I didn’t know for sure I had.  I came out the other side better, wiser, more compassionate, less harsh on myself, more understanding, deeper, having a more real view of myself.

So, I can see in these ways, and countless others, that most of my most powerful learnings have been a result of challenges I have faced in my life.

A Wouten quote I have had above my desk for decades (though I recently could not find the exact source) now graces the back of my retirement card:  “…the best uses of time are to express and receive love without hesitation, to tell the absolute truth, to ride the full waves of emotions, and to serve the world.”  This is a pretty darned good, succinct legacy statement

My Mom always used to say, “Love Rules!”  The older I get, the more sure I am that she is right.

Ho’oponopono (sp?): I’m sorry, please forgive, thank you, I love you

5. I remember when the days from Thanksgiving to Christmas seemed to be endless. I would mark them off on a calendar I made on my school notebook paper. My father would insist that we not put up a Christmas tree until one week before Christmas. Sometimes we’d cut down our own. Trekking through the Wyoming snow until we found just the right one. Other times we’d go to the American Legion tree lot where the trees were standing in little wooden stands. Regardless of where we got it, it was a big decision. We’d walk around several trees until we found just the right one. My little sister and I got a voice but it was our parents who had the last word. Most of our decorations were home made. We made strands of popcorn and cranberries, chains out of colored construction paper. Mother would bake cookies we could decorate and hang as well. There were colored lights and one year mother bought a strand of lights that looked  like candles. They had bubbles that went up and down when they got warm. It was a kind of magic just to watch them. My sister and I always made a star out of cardboard. We’d cover it with tin foil and watch with delight as our father reached up and put it on the very tip of the tree.

6. About being judgmental – having a sense of self-confidence is critical; you have to love yourself before you can truly love others and not feel jealous; you have to be comfortable with who you are and forgive yourself for the mistakes you make and then you can forgive others and be less critical and judgmental.

Spirit taking flight but still there with you – I feel the presence of my mom, my dad and my grandfather sometimes, as if I can talk to them; I feel that I will always be there for my kids long after I die and even though they are very independent

You are my best accomplishment – I am very very grateful and humbled that my kids think I was a great mom; they are my greatest joy in life; I am so very proud of them as individuals, as parents, as spouses. The bond between me and my children is like no other; I would not like to say this in front of my husband as I think it would make him jealous.

Carry on the spirit and the twinkle in his eye – my father was a story teller; he could tell a joke that took 15 minutes and captivate the audience; he had a marvelous sense of humor which is still present in most of his 11 children; I am so grateful that my parents were sincere, honest and loving; I was one of 11 kids but I feel each of us was treated uniquely, and each of us was loved. It is that caring, loving, nurturing support that helped me be independent and comfortable in my own skin. I remember telling my mom on her death bed that if I could be half the mom that she was, I would feel proud.

second shot at session 2

I remember feeling great when I figured out how to get out of a playpen and felling really horrible when someone picked me up and put me right back in – that seemed so unfair. I remember living in Queens and not liking it because I was not allowed to go out by myself. I was so glad when we moved to Port Washington. I had just turned five.

The moving van was in the driveway and my mother said “why don’t you go find some new friends who live on this block”. I could not believe I was allowed out by myself in a new neighborhood. I felt like I just grew wings.

We were brought up Catholic so going to public school was not an option. I started off in first grade at the age of five. I remember the first day at school, going out in the playground for recess – except I thought it was the end of the day and I nearly started crying because I did not see my mother in her car coming to get me.

I tend to do things in sequential order so I have no idea how far I can get in 10 minutes. This is an experiment I don’t understand. Writing on a blank piece of paper is fine but I am still not sure what the assignment is.

Elementary school was ok. I was a good student although I was not crazy about the nuns. They were too rigid and everything had to be done one way. They made us memorize everything. I know now that I would have gotten a much better education in the public schools. My older brother was often sitting in the hall, having been kicked out of class.

My best friend was Judy L’Hommedieu. her mom was living with a female partner after her husband died but that had no meaning to me back then in the 1950’s. Judy was my very best friend. Judy went to the public school but as soon as we both got home, we played together. We loved to do outdoor things like ride bikes, climb trees, built tree huts, etc. I used to leave a pair of pants at her house so I could change from my  dress that I had to wear on Sundays. We lost touch when I got a divorce. Judy was mad at me for that. I never understood but thought maybe she was threatened by it and that it might happen to her too.

7. I Remember

Background: This past week has been one with two funerals – the first of a 91 year old woman for whom I had written a business and family oral history and the second of an extraordinary, vibrant, young man of 49 who died of a heart attack while jogging. There was a literary tour by Letty Cottin Pogrebin for her book “How to be a Friend to a Friend who’s Sick.” The lecture by Pogrebin raised the issues of how you become a compassionate, caring and supportive friend during illness and death. It brought me back to a time in my life when my mother was ill with cancer, dying and living in my home with me, my husband, and our four children – a son of 6 and three daughters 8, 13  and 16.

I remember. It was Thanksgiving Day 1987. We were all out raking the leaves waiting for the turkey to be done. It was to be a small Thanksgiving – only the six of us. My mother who was 86, had become frail and forgetful, so rather than take the bus to our house she stayed in Providence to have dinner with my cousins. The phone rang. It was a nurse from the assisted living facility. Mother had fallen in the bathroom and broken her hip. She was transferred to the hospital and to be operated on. That was the beginning of the end. Her hip healed but she never regained her spark or her memory. At the rehabilitation center, they discovered that her breast cancer had metastasized to the skin on her back and her face in horrible, itchy, pimples that broke into open sores. She was not going to be able to return to  the assisted living residence.

What next? I couldn’t think of putting her in a nursing home. With the support of my husband, we decided to have her move in with us. We would take care of her. It was a wonderful opportunity for us to teach our children through our actions – love, compassionate care, and respect for their grandmother as she aged and lost her hearing, eyesight, mobility and memory. It gave us the opportunity to discuss dying and death and the rituals of burial. In our mobile society where we all live and raise our children in communities far from family, these are rare situations.

We rented hospital furniture and turned the first floor study into her bedroom. The 16 year old daughter questioned how I could wash and bandage her bloody sores. That’s what you do when you have to do it. When Grandma couldn’t find the toilet, the six year old took her hand and led her from the dining room to the bathroom. She was very important to the 13 year old when she would sit and listen to her practice her flute. She sat with and encouraged the 8 year old when she did her homework. It was very difficult. My oldest daughter reminded me that was when I got bags under my eyes from being so tired and stressed.

Finally we could not keep her home anymore. The oncologist said that she needed more care than we could provide. The children stopped inviting their friends over. The six year old told me she frightened him. The house began to have the smell of illness.

Grandma was moved to an excellent nursing home a mile from our house.  We all went to visit frequently. Of course, the residents sitting in front of the nursing station were excited to see young people and made a fuss over them when we entered. We talked about how it felt to go to a nursing home.The six year old said to me that it made him sad to see all the old sick people but it made him feel good that he could make them happy.

It was fortunate that the children’s religious school was having a special religious service in the cemetery. It was called a genizah service when worn out prayer books and religious objects are buried in a plot in the cemetery. The ritual is the same as a regular funeral. The rabbi and ritual director led the children through a proper burial service explaining all of the traditions. One of them was shoveling the dirt into the hole to cover the books by placing the dirt on the back of the shovel so that it was a less efficient way to shovel and took longer to say goodbye. The eight year old’s class was invited. I also took the six year old as well.. I knew that it was not going to be too long before we visited a cemetery again.

Grandma passed away the end of May,  the day before the Jewish holiday of Shavout.  She stopped eating. The whole family discussed whether or not she should have a feeding tube. We all agreed that this was not the life that she would want to live. The older girls – 13 and 16 – who had remembered a vibrant grandma who dressed magnificently with designer hats and taught them to Charleston – “heel toe heel toe’ – her favorite dance – agreed. A few days later we got the call from the nursing home that she had passed away. When I got the call, I drove over. A little later, the 13 year old arrived at the nursing home. She had left the sitter with the younger children and biked from home. She told me that  when she got home from school, and I wasn’t there, she knew it had happened. Together at the nursing home, we sat with Grandma.

We had been planning for the funeral. My mother had given me a list of all the organizations she belonged to and asked me to write the eulogy since the new young rabbi did not know her and did not know of all the community activities that she had led for years. My husband and older children read it and edited it. The funeral director sent pictures of caskets.  The 13 year old quipped, “Only in our house would we come home to find pictures of caskets.” The six year old chose the one with “handles to make it easier to carry.”

We drove to Providence for the burial. Some of the relatives were upset that we had brought our children to the funeral. In this cemetery, they had developed a  burial practice of having the coffin at ground level for the service and putting it in the ground after the family and friends left. When the rabbi finished his words, I felt a tug at my jacket. It was my son. “This is not right, Mom. They are supposed to put Grandma in the ground and use a shovel to cover her with dirt.” So I spoke to the rabbi and told him that my son wanted the coffin to be placed in the ground and dirt shoveled. The rabbi responded, “Oh, your son wants a traditional burial.” I responded,“Yes.” As we stood and listen to the cranks lowering the straps holding the the coffin into the ground, the rabbi asked me “Where is your son?” And I pointed to my 6 year old.

Did we give Grandma the care she deserved? Did we teach any important values to our children?

I think so.