Anniversary Gift

This week my husband and I marked our 18th wedding anniversary. The hubbster gave me a thoughtful and well-written card (he’s a fabulous writer), and I gave him my annual poem written for the occasion and enclosed in a less thoughtful and well-written card. But, hey, he got a poem, so I’m off the hook for the card, right?

My poem this year, no surprise, arose out of my research on the ancestors. Turns out that in Swedish, the word for married is GIFT! (Not at all pronounced as it is in English, but when reading the word on my geneology, it tripped me up each time.) Anyway, the poem is about the ancestors who were gift in the past and the choices they made to be with one another, to make a life together, and in some cases to leave their life in search of a better future in a new land. Thank God they were so brave and strong!

So yesterday I gave my partner his poem even though Tuesday was actually our anniversary. But he is taking classes (in addition to working full time) and had to finish up final exams and all that this week, so we postponed our official anniversary card exchange, etc., until Saturday. On Tuesday, though, we did manage to watch some of our wedding video with our ten-year-old son, who had never seen it.

Wow! First of all, we were SOOOO young! I mean, compared to now. We got married when we had both just turned 26, which is young, sort of, though not really that young to get married, I think. But looking at us! Oh, my, we were so goofy.

Then my attention was grabbed by grandma and grandpa, who were all over that video. My heart skipped a beat when I first saw them. I had no idea that I had them on tape. What a joy to see them once more! Grandpa was so funny. He just didn’t understand what the video camera was. Every time my step-sister pointed it at him, he’d say, “Take it. Take it, Michelle!!” He was waiting for the flash of a still camera. They just couldn’t get across to him that they were filming moving pictures. 🙂 All the while there was Grandma, serene as ever, gracious and loving, never once cracking a smile at her husband’s expense. They were married over fifty years.

And last night, after all of this thinking about the anniversary, the wedding, my grandmother, I dreamt one of those beautiful and rare dreams when Grandma came to visit me in my sleep. She and I were walking around together before my wedding. I was marveling how well she was managing to walk. Of course, she used to walk all the time (duh!), but she had many years with a walker and then was bed-ridden in the final years of her very long life. Those later years had taken over, it seemed, in my memory of her. But here she was walking with me, arm in arm, around the hall where I was married. We were laughing and talking, and I was so happy. As happy as I was that day.

And I was very happy that day. I recall with crystal clarity that I felt complete assurance that I was doing exactly the right thing in marrying this man. I KNEW that it was right. I still think that today. Not that everything is always rosy. But I knew going in that life (and marriage) aren’t like that. No, I knew, though, that here was a guy to be tied to for life. A guy I could trust and enjoy and who would work beside me to build a good life together.

A lovely gift.

Welcome Back: On Loving Our Diverse and Complicated Country

The audience sat hushed in the oldest church in Lowell this morning. Even the baby near the back who had been fussing for most of the concert was silent. Then the familiar strains began of our national anthem. It was the final song of an hour-long concert. As I looked at the faces of the children, playing in this summer orchestra program for kids in our relatively impoverished and highly diverse city, I saw the face of America. Maybe more accurately, I saw the face of the world. Children of immigrants all, they played their instruments with concentration, skill, and joy. And I cried.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not really patriotic. I believe that patriotism is a dangerous stance. I fear it causes more harm than good most times. But this morning in that 184-year-old church, I wept. I felt so proud to belong to a country that has welcomed immigrants from every continent in every century since our founding, a place where my ancestors were welcomed when they risked all to leave Norway, Sweden, Ireland, England, Italy, and who knows where else.

Is there anti-immigrant sentiment in the US these days? You bet there is. Is there racism and discrimination? Quite obviously so. Still…there is a man running for president whose father was African. Obama is a first generation American, the son of an immigrant and he could end up holding our highest public office. Our country may have have it’s problems (no argument there), but we are in many ways still a welcoming place for newcomers — at least we ahve that intention and potential.

Like in my city, for instance. We face a lot of challenges here in this historic mill town. From its inception, though, Lowell has always welcomed immigrants. While it’s true that these newcomers generally live in the most degraded part of town when they first come, they often begin to improve their lot well within one person’s lifetime, if not sooner. As each new wave of immigrants has swept into the city — Irish, French Canadian, Russian, Greek, Southeast Asian (especially Cambodian), West African, Caribbean Latino, etc. — they have worked hard and moved out of “the acre” to make room for the next group of arrivals.

And there were these immigrants’ children and children’s children at the concert today, my son among them. Just having returned from Scandinavia and having spent the last three weeks thinking constantly about my immigrant ancestors, I heard and saw the concert with this filter in place.

So I made it home fine from my trip to Scandinavia. Our journey the last day was long and extended even longer due to a violent nor’easter storm in Boston that closed Logan airport. We finally arrived two hours late. At the immigration counter, we waited an especially long time. In our line before us, there was a family that looked to be Indian or Pakistani. The US government let these good folks enter our country, though not without a lot of checking and double checking and triple checking and quadruple checking. But after all that, the officer said, “Welcome to the United States.”

“What was your business in Sweden and Norway?” he asked me when I went up to the window after the family walked away to baggage claim.

I was there doing research for a book about my immigrant ancestors.

“Really?”

Yup. It was a great trip. Gotta lot accomplished.

“Okay. Welcome back.”

Welcome. Yes….

I get frustrated with the erosions of civil liberties and basic civil rights happening these days in the US. I am infuriated that we went to war in Iraq — a senseless and brutal act. I see so much that is broken or damaged in this country, so much work to do that it is overwhelming at times. But I also know that our diverse and complicated country has held and continues to hold out a beautiful promise to millions of people. They are welcome. Let us live up to that promise.

Another Grandma Dream: Saving the Pictures

Last night Grandma’s house in California was in imminent danger of burning down. In my dream that is. I was there helping to save everything important in the house. My newish neighbor (here in Massachusetts) was sitting with Grandma, comforting her. He is a minister of the more traditional variety and has a soothing and calm manner — thus he appeared in dream, I guess.

I moved from room to room in Grandma’s house looking for what mattered. Over and over again I chose photos: big and bulky framed photos, loose photos, photo albums. I quickly found these hard to carry, so I looked for bags to hold them: old purses, shopping bags, luggage, etc.

Every once in a while, I paused and looked at an item and thought, this is special. Hokey but special. Wall plaques with sentimental sayings — but SOOOO Grandma.

From the front of the house, as I moved towards the back and then the upstairs, I heard Grandma and my neighbor. Organ music began to drift through the house, a plaintive and old fashioned tune. It sounded like funeral music but was somehow peaceful. I thought, Grandma is comforting herself with music. She was playing the organ in the dream, though she rarely played her organ and didn’t really know much about music in real life — certainly not enough to play that well. But she did have an organ in what she called the “music room” of the house.

When I got into the dining room, I had a flashback to my early childhood, well before my folks divorced. I remembered visiting Grandma and Grandpa’s house before they built the addition that turned their kitchen into a formal dining room and their patio into a kitchen/family room. I must have been about five? This really happened, but it was strange how I was remembering this lost detail while in a dream. I was thinking at that point about how much had happened in that house.

The thing that bugs me about the dream is how I didn’t even bother trying to help Grandma herself. She was alive in the dream, but I basically ignored her. Or more accurately, I took her presence for granted. It was the pictures I had to save. They were the thing that would be lost. Grandma was safe and comfortable, talking to my minister neighbor. We would have plenty of time to get out safely — the neighborhood was being evacuated soon but not yet. There was time to gather the things we wanted to save.

I wonder what all this means….

Dreaming of Grandma’s Teeth

I know I dreamt about Grandma last night. I awoke with the unmistakable feeling of her presence. But I can’t remember a thing about the dream. I hate that.

I mean, what’s the point of getting to see her if I can’t remember when I wake up? Ah, but it’s not as if I don’t have memories swirling about me during waking hours.

Perhaps…I saw her in my dream in her overstuffed recliner in the family room, and we rehashed our conversation about teeth. Once upon a time (for real), before I left town to head north for graduate school, we DID have such a conversation. It was then that I learned that she had not been to a dentist in quite some time. Hers had died, and she never replaced him.

I had a pretty good experience with my dentist at the time. I think the conversation might even have started because I had been to see him prior to my imminent departure. In any case, I suggested that Grandma go see him. “He’s very gentle and professional, Grandma. I’m sure he’ll do a great job for you!”

And she did go to him some months later. He complemented her on her fine teeth (she was in her 80s at the time and still had her own set of pearly whites). She replied, I’m sure, with the proud announcement of her Scandinavian heritage as the source of her strong teeth. Turns out she did need a bit of work, though. Her gums had receded and there were a few cavities. But he spaced treatment out over the course of a year and treated her with kid gloves. And she kept those teeth to her dying day. There they lay in her casket.

Wow. That sounds morbid.

It’s just that I was thinking about this blog and how I write about so many random things lately and not Grandma. Not her book. But then, life goes on. I have had life happening to me for months now! In any case, I was thinking before bed last night about my last post on my dental work and thinking, “This has absolutely no relation to Grandma.” And then, poof, up popped the image of Grandma in her chair and my dentist recommendation. So I’m thinking maybe I was dreaming about Grandma’s teeth…?

I don’t know. One thing’s for sure. All roads do seem to lead back to Grandma.

Grief Surfaces Once More

Just when I was good and distracted by my recent trip to Peru, wham! I wake up crying yesterday morning. How could Grandma be gone? In my dream it was inconceivable and yet so devastatingly true that she is dead that I broke down.

And yet, how can this level of intensity still be there after more than a year and a half? How can the loss still feel so fresh? Why does this passionate grief come back at certain times and not others? Grief is capricious.

It’s been a long time since I dreamt of Grandma. In this dream she was alive for part of the dream, riding in the back of a car that I was driving. My mom was in the car, too, and I was lost (literally). I was asking them to give me directions because I don’t know downtown Sacramento, CA. “This is your town,” I said to them both. But they didn’t tell me where to drive. I couldn’t see the face of either of them. I didn’t know where to go, so I kept on driving.

Later in the dream, Grandma was dead, and I was at her house. I just kept crying and hlding back screams. I was so angry. It was at this point that I realized that I was dreaming while I dreamt (you know that feeling), and I remember telling myself, go ahead and cry. So I did, and then I woke up.

The part that is hardest about the dream is that I never saw Grandma. She was there but unresponding — so not like her. I was angry, I think, because of this anomally. Where is she, I kept asking. Why won’t she speak?

Such things have a way of unsettling ones day.

Dreaming of the Dead: Not as Morbid or New-Age as it Seems…

I have dreamt of my grandmother only twice since her death 15 months ago. This fact surprises me. I thought I would see her frequently in the night, as I am a very active dreamer (yes, and sleep talker and walker, too). Before I began dreaming of her, though, I heard from my grandfather, who has been dead since 1997.

Grandpa dream: He was sitting in their house to the left of the fireplace in the spot where he ALWAYS sat. He looked right at me and said, “No sense in cryin’ about it!” I knew what he meant. She’s dead. You can’t change it.

Grandma dream #1: Within a short time after her death, Grandma was featured prominently in a dream. It was SO lifelike that I felt as if I had really seen and touched her. In the dream she was teaching me how to pronounce some Norwegian word that she wanted me to use in her book. I was having trouble at first, but she helped me get it right. Then she said something like, “You’ll be okay. You’ve got the hang of it.” I gave her a big hug, and she was warm and soft and fully present. I woke up and felt SO disappointed to be awake. NOT that I felt disappointed to learn that I was actually dreaming. It was as if I knew I was dreaming at the time but it was so wonderful that I didn’t want to wake up.

Grandma dream #2: Last night Grandma was in my dream, and it was no big deal. She was just there. It wasn’t as if she figured prominently or I had a big reaction or anything. She was just a part of a dream. I remember thinking while still dreaming that this was interesting having her there without it being a big deal, and I began to think about the meaning of the dream while dreaming it. Then I had this overwhelming feeling of happiness. I can use my dream time to work through important issues, I remember thinking. Now this is a “No, duh” thing to say if you are awake, but in my dream it felt like a true revelation. And all night I kept waking up after each dream feeling so good. This is a distinct switch for me because sometimes I have very bad nightmares and wake up yelling and stuff. For about three years or so, six nights out of seven, I woke up about 45 minutes after falling asleep with a sort of panic attack. So this new thing of waking up feeling that dreams could be my friend, my allies, my helpers…this was a real switch for me.

No, I do not remember my specific insights from last night, but I awoke feeling pretty good, despite the frequent interruptions to my sleeep. I still feel a bit of the excitement of the possibility that dreams can be a help and not something to dread. I wonder what brought about this change? I wonder if it will last? Is there something I can do purposefully to continue down this path?