cronechronicler

You don't know where you are going. You don't know how to get there. And you arrive just the same. Ghanaian saying

Journey to Israel 1974: Capernaum, Tel Aviv and Shalom

Our journey was almost over. After our night at the kibbutz we drove on to Capernaum where Peter the Disciple’s mother-in-law had lived. The place was remembered as the site where Jesus healed her of a fever. There wasn’t much to see. Our group wandered around the cool, tree-shaded area and talked among ourselves. Several women standing near me started discussing their concern that Christians had taken over the Star of David, sacred to Jewish faith, to use as a Christmas ornament to trim the top of Christmas trees. One of the women turned to me and asked if I had a Star of David on my Christmas tree. I replied that on top of my tree I placed a brown wooden angel wearing a red felt dress trimmed in green and gold rick-rack. We all had a good laugh together.

We arrived in Tel Aviv to spend a little time before we flew back home. The name Tel Aviv
translates “Hill of Springtime”. Sixty-five years before my journey the first houses were built there in the spring. The city is mostly modern. We stayed in the Shalom Tower Hotel, a skyscraper built on top of a gymnasium. The hotel had a swimming pool on the roof which we loved. I discovered my favorite Israeli street food, falafel – like hotdogs in America. From the roof of our hotel we could catch a glimpse of the Mediterranean. We couldn’t resist going to the beach for a swim. Once we got there we found out why nobody talks about taking a Mediterranean vacation in Israel. There were globs of tar on the sand and in the water that were a result of the cargo ships in the area.

Shalom.

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Journey to Israel 1974: Circle of Time

We left Bethlehem behind and drove toward Mt. Hermon and the Golan Heights. Occasionally a Phantom Jet flew overhead. And we saw flatbed trucks hauling rusted tanks away from the battle site of the Yom Kippur War. The road took us near the Sea Of Galilee, now called Lake Tiberius, where warm mineral springs offer relief to people with arthritis near places where Jesus healed the sick.

Our destination was the Banias Spring, the origin of a tributary of the Jordan River. There is a shrine at the spring inscribed to the Greek God Pan. I thought again of the long reach of history in this land. The spring flows from underground and begins its journey to join the Jordan river. Snow from Mt. Hermon melts into the stream. We sat beside the spring, took off our shoes and felt the pure cold water.

That night our lodging would be at Ayelet HaShahar, a Kibbutz in the Hula Valley. We met with the people and heard their story of the origin of the kibbutz. It was built around 1900 in the days of the Turks. It was the first real commune in Israel. Originally no one had personal possessions. There was a common laundry where they took their clothes to be washed with no expectation of getting the same garments in return. The children lived all together in a separate house, cared for by the community. Work to support the kibbutz was shared by everyone, even by the children. It was not a religious community. At the time we visited things were more individualized. People were allowed to work outside of the kibbutz and there was a vacation bonus for families. The meals continued to be communal. We shared their evening meal with them. We ate blintz which were long a favorite of mine. I discovered for the first time how much I like borsch and gefilte fish.

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Journey to Israel 1974: Bethlehem and an Olive Wood Factory

The land where Bethlehem sits has been occupied continually for five-thousand years. It was already old when Jesus was born there. The Church of the Nativity was one of the more unusual churches we saw. The Grotto believed to be the site of Jesus’ birth is found deep inside a Basilica whose entrance was a low, narrow door called the Gate of Humility, which was “originally created to keep out the Infidel horsemen”.( I’m not sure I remember this last part correctly.) Layers of history are encompassed in one small space. In Israel history is everywhere. And rocks. If only the rocks could tell their stories.

We traveled on to our next stop at a “factory” where souvenirs for tourists were carved by jigsaw. The raw material used was the wood of the olive trees that grew in abundance in Israel. There was another tour group visiting the factory so our bus parked outside for us to wait. The building was situated on a grassy spot in a farming area near Afula in the Jezreel Valley. And near our bus grew a grapefruit tree. My husband knew I loved grapefruit. He left the bus to pick one for me. The grapefruit was warm from the sun and easy to peel like an orange. The taste, sweet and tangy, was unlike grapefruit I bought in U.S. grocery stores. The juice was sublime. Nothing else I ate in Israel could compare with my sun-warmed, fresh-picked grapefruit.

Watching the jigsaw cut multiples of olive wood objects was fascinating. They were still making wooden covers for Bibles like the one my cousin brought me when she was in Israel years before. I have kept it in the drawer of a table that sat by my reading chair in the three places I’ve lived the past fifty years. At the factory I bought three camel figures carrying baskets across their hump to take home as souvenirs for my three sons. While I was writing this post I thought of the camels. I remembered that after my sons left home the camels had remained with me. I hunted around and found them in a red shoe box with a black lid labeled “Family Treasures”. Now they are on the window ledge of my writing room, another reminder of my journey to Israel.

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An Unpicturesque American Childhood

When I think of my childhood I remember words and objects in the house that was home to me for my first ten years. I remember the word “Taylor Tot” though I no longer know what it refers to. I Googled the word and sure enough my stroller was a Taylor Tot. I think it is amazing that the word has remained lodged in my mind all these years. My mother wrote in the Baby Book she kept to chart my growth that one of my first spoken words was “book”. My attachment to words began at an early age. I remember the bookcase at the end of the hall that contained my comic book collection (called funny books in those days). I had three years worth of “Loony Tunes and Merry Melodies” which I eventually sold to a boy across the street for $3, a small fortune to me. I remember my copy of Kipling’s Just So Stories my dad gave me when I was three. I remember the old radio that sat on a low shelf by a window in the living room. I listened to “The Lone Ranger” around supper time every night and to “Let’s Pretend” on Saturday mornings.

I remember the ironing board in the kitchen. It was stored in a closet of its own and was pulled down like a folding bed when my mother wanted to iron. I remember the round washing machine, a tub on wheels, that connected by hose to the hot and cold water faucets of the kitchen sink. I think the brand was ABC but didn’t Google that. There was another round tub with a wringer to squeeze the clothes as dry as possible before they were hung on the clothesline in the backyard. I remember the box of Milk Bone Dog Biscuits in the kitchen pantry closet on a shelf I could reach if I stood on a little step stool. I often sneaked one for a snack. I Googled “Milk Bone” and the brand is still in existence. When my siblings and I gathered six decades later to find our old house it was still there. The funny ironing board was just the same, as were other things we collectively remembered. Coming home to 1933 Lexington Avenue was a magical moment.

The scent I remember most from my childhood was the strong, head-clearing smell of Vicks Vaporub. I had serious asthma attacks years before there were inhalers. My mother rubbed my chest with Vicks and hung a flannel square from a ribbon around my neck that covered my chest to prolong the effects of the Vicks. She melted Vicks in a metal measuring cup for me to sniff the fumes. Both were intended to break up congestion. I reeked of Vicks Vaporub but remember the smell with thanksgiving because of the relief it brought me.

My favorite food memory was eating watermelon. My mother put me, along with my sisters, in the bathtub wearing only my underpants so the juices could dribble off my chin without getting on my pinafore. I also remember my mother’s sewing machine and watching her make wonderful dresses for my sisters and me. When she died my sisters said I should have the sewing machine since they both had one. I liked the idea of sewing but gave my mother’s old Singer sewing machine to my son who enjoyed sewing billowy pants like those worn by men in Middle Eastern countries.

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Writing 101 – Reflections

Viva change! I chose my writing name in the midst of a season of life changes which afforded no end of inspiration and material for my posts. I would not have thought my stats had anything to contribute to the heart of my blog. I checked them out and discovered an objective view of exactly what I have been writing about. Touche!

Riches of aging, memoir, changing seasons, creative aging are the categories my readers like best. The most clicked tag is poetry. No surprises there. My stats reflect what flows from my muse. Being fallow is another chosen category high on my stats that gets to the root of my creative force.

“Once upon a time” as stories begin, I sat beside a brown fallow field. I was on the cusp of receiving Social Security when I spent a week in a resort by the Pacific Ocean in Carlsbad CA. My room had a balcony that overlooked a huge field where thousands of tulip bulbs bloom every Spring. It must have been a glorious sight but this was June and all I could see was acres of dirt. There were a few workers digging up the last of the tulip stems and bulbs in preparation for next season’s planting.

The fallow field called to me as a spiritual sister. I felt the energy of change – the life force unseen but pulsing. I knew this well within myself. Though I was entering a new phase of life and appeared as one aging, I deeply affirmed the possibility of wonders still ahead. I contemplated the field rich with everything necessary for life as it lay there doing nothing. It was nice to be entering my own fallow season where my creative gifts can bloom in good time.

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Writing 101 – Sibling Snapshots

Among my huge accumulation of family photos there are some snapshots that are so vivid in my mind I don’t need to look at the actual picture to remember them. Some of my favorites are of my two sisters, my brother and me.

There is a black and white photo of the time my parents took me and my sisters to Galveston, Texas to the beach. All three of us sisters were born in the span of three and a half years. Our little brother arrived five years after my youngest sister. I am the oldest. The black and white photo shows us sitting on the sand just above the water line. We have constructed a sand castle by dribbling fistfuls of sand like cake icing until it is shaped like an up-side-down cone. The slowly incoming tide has filled the moat we dug around the bottom of our castle with water. Our mother sits and watches while we crawl around adding finishing touches to our creation. I remember our wool bathing suits that were scratchy when they were dry. We were wet so that was no problem. Our little brother is not in the picture because he was not born yet.

Taken on my fifth birthday there is a black and white snapshot of my sisters and me wearing identical dresses. I am holding a Story Book Doll, my favorite present. Our mother made the dresses for us from remnants from our grandfather’s shirt tailoring business. The dresses were a dusty blue with a square neckline framed by an eyelet ruffle embroidered with tiny rosebuds. Of course the photo doesn’t show the colors. Our little brother is not in the picture because he is not born yet.

Skip ahead to my college days. I have come home for spring break my Freshman year. The weather is warm and the azaleas are in bloom in the flower bed in front of our house. There is a picture taken with color film of the four of us siblings standing like stair steps in front of the azaleas. I remember my bright red sweater. We three sisters are wearing Bermuda shorts which have just come into fashion. We stand tall and smile for the camera. Our little brother looks like he wishes he were somewhere else.

Our mother died one Christmas morning when we sisters were in our thirties and our brother still in his twenties. The funeral was held in the small town where my mother was born and many family members and friends still lived. After the service we went to the cemetery where my grandparents were buried. My mother would join them. There is a picture of us four siblings standing by the gate of the wrought iron fence that enclosed the family plot. My coat is sky blue and one of my sisters has on a camel and black plaid coat. We look so young though we sisters are married with children. My brother’s first child is on the way. It was sad to think this child would not know our parents.

In the summer of 2014 the sister next to me in age invited me to visit her and her husband. She said we had better start getting together since we sisters were in our seventies. Our youngest sister who lives nearby drove over to spend one night. We never did stop talking. My brother-in-law decided he would start the grill and fix supper if he expected to have anything to eat. He’s a great cook. He took a picture of us sisters sitting on a low brick wall on the front porch. We look happy wrinkles and all. Our brother is not in the picture because we hadn’t thought to invite him.

In the summer of 2015 we sisters decided it was time our little brother, now seventy, should bring his wife and join the rest of us for a few days at my youngest sister’s house. He’s never been very inclined to go to the big family reunions of my mother’s family held every five years. He surprised us and agreed to have our first-ever siblings gathering – no children or grandchildren, just the four of us. It was amazing! Words cannot describe the joy of telling the same old stories and seeing them from our different perspectives. We shared good belly laughs. We cried as we remembered what it was like to lose our mother. My brother-in-law cried when he told us about when his first wife died of cancer. Tears have a way of creating family ties. After our mini-reunion was over my brother asked when the next one would be. He felt we should start sharing what aging is like for each of us and what we are learning from the experience. After we returned to our homes we realized that no one had thought to take a picture.

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Writing 101 – Open Letter to Ed

Dear Ed,

I’m sorry I missed celebrating your 100th birthday in June. Since I moved away I’ve thought of you often. I can picture the way you looked when I met you twenty years ago. You wore, as always, your white hair in a ponytail that matched your beard and your artistic spirit. You had a wonderful tweed jacket you often paired with a paisley turtleneck. I never told you that I had one just like it that I ordered from Lands’ End. I didn’t wear mine to church because we might have worn our matching t-necks on the same Sunday – not that it would have been a terrible faux pas. We always talked about the books we were currently reading. You introduced me to the ingenious spy novels of Alan Furst. Your annual Christmas creation of a calendar-photo gallery-arts review keep me up to date on the best new books, movies and plays. I marveled that you traveled to New York to see all of Wagner’s Ring Circle in one week. I remember that you stayed at the YMCA. By then you must have been in your 90’s and hadn’t slowed down much. Your first concession to aging was to get a Leki hiking staff which you never called a cane, but found helpful in walking. When I developed a knee problem I bought one just like yours. It lives in my coat closet for when I need it.

When you gave in a little to the encroachment of time I got to know you in a different way. For years you walked to church but the ten blocks was getting to be a bit too much for you. You could still drive but your old Toyota had engine problems which your son promised to fix but never got around to. I suspect this was easier for him than suggesting that you quit driving. My husband and I lived nearby so we began to give you a ride to church with us. You and I got to know each other as people gradually transitioning to “old age” though we certainly would not have confessed to it. You let me do little things for you, like carry your cup of coffee to a table when the congregation gathered for refreshments after worship. We became simply friends.

I miss you Ed. You taught me to enjoy the wonder of being alive. I always said I wanted to be like you when I became vintage-aged. I’m working on it.

Love and best wishes.

Your friend

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Writing 101 – Accra By Night

Coming in for landing in a strange city after dark adds intrigue I think. From above we saw the lights of Accra spread like a fabulous spider web. I knew that Ghana was bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and dreamily imagined a beach and moonlight reflected on the water. We touched down on the runway and taxied to the terminal where we went through customs. There we were met by representatives of our conference and given lodging assignments. So far I felt in familiar territory. No intrigue here. The adventurous part began when we were put in various taxis and shuttles that fanned out over the huge area of Accra to deposit us at the door of several small inns that were to be our housing for the week.

My friend and I were the only passengers in one taxi. This seemed odd – but the unusual was beginning to feel like the norm. We drove for a while on a paved road. The farther we got from the airport the fewer street lights there were. It was hard to tell whether we were in commercial or residential sections – or who knows what. It was inky dark. Finally we turned off onto a bumpy,dusty dirt road and drove some more. I was beginning to dread having come to Africa. Our taxi kept on toward our destination until at last in the distance we saw a rainbow sparkle of bright lights – to us like palm trees in an oasis. We had arrived. The name of our inn was Kumbaya.

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Summer at Aunt Mamie’s

The summer I was seven I was sent to stay with Aunt Mamie in a small town in Alabama. She lived in the house where she and my mother, along with five siblings, were born. I had severe asthma and the doctor thought it would build up my resistance to gain about ten pounds. My mother thought her sister’s fried chicken and beaten biscuits spread with butter churned from the milk of the cow across the street would accomplish that.

To me, a city child, that summer was magical. My education was profound. I learned important things like if the sun shone while it was raining it would rain at the same time the next day. A rainbow would have the same effect. With other uncles and aunts gathered on the wide screen porch of my aunt’s house I listened to a Joe Louis prize-fight on the radio. I didn’t learn until much later that most of America was glued to their radios that night, too. I learned how to make tiny scissors from two crossed straight-pins laid on the train track before the train whistled its way through town. I was initiated into the rhythm of Southern small-town life. I had almost forgotten how to live that way.

The cycle began with dinner in the middle of the day. We had chicken and biscuits along with vegetables from the garden and pie and ice cream for dessert, all accompanied by glasses of ice tea with mint, lemon and sugar. It’s no wonder that I did gain my ten pounds. After dinner it was nap time. I thought sleeping in the middle of the day was for babies and I resisted. Aunt Mamie read to me from the Raggedy Ann stories, identifying herself as the “Tired Old Horse” and me as the “Camel With the Wrinkly Knees”. When naps were over it was time for a bath and putting on freshly ironed clothes – a pinafore for me. Finally we got in the old maroon car and drove around the mile-square town to sit on other people’s front porches in rocking chairs and tell stories of what was going on at the moment or fifty years ago. I listened and received my most important lesson – to love and to tell stories of my own.

Mornings were a child’s dream. I got up early before anyone else was awake, put on yesterday’s pinafore and went outside to play in the sand box filled with cool sand from a nearby riverbank. The birds were up and sun beams were casting shadows of tree leaves barely moving in the morning breeze. I had the world to myself. Those mornings gave breath to my present life.

I was not thinking of the summer at Aunt Mamie’s when I was hunting for an apartment three summers ago. I had moved to be near family and wanted a small place of my own. As I looked out the window of this fourth-floor apartment I knew it was a space I could inhabit. The tall trees, the birds, the flowers on the garden patio below spoke to a well-remembered yet almost forgotten part of me. The arc of time had come full circle.

Written in response to Seeker Dungeon’s Prompt: What did you forget after growing up?

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Journey Into Africa 1994: Introducing the Human Characters

My travels in Kenya were characterized by an unexpected collection of people who gave the journey its unique flavor. Our tour group of seven, plus my former Pastor and his wife, was a revelation. I had figured there would be three couples and me. Instead I found myself one of a group of seven women. That was in 1994. Woman’s Lib as it was called back then was beginning to blossom. Maybe there were other female-only tour groups, but I wasn’t aware of any. This one occurred accidentally and I loved it!

Thomas, our guide, was the son of a Samburu hunter who taught him the ancient ways of tracking animals. He was overjoyed with the eight “mamas” he could show his beloved country to. We spent our nights in lodges located on several different game reserves, cocooned in mosquito nets to protect us from malaria. Before daylight and around four o’clock in the afternoon we went out on daily “game drives” in hopes of spotting animals in their habitats during their feeding times. Thomas drove us in a white diesel Toyota minivan with its top cut out so we could stand and get a 360 degree view. We were usually joined by several other groups staying at the lodge also riding in white Toyota open-topped minivans. When we saw  vans parked in a field near the road we knew there had to be animals somewhere. Guides called out to us what they had spotted and we joined the group. The animals were so accustomed to people in  minivans riding around every day they acted like we were just part of the scenery. There is a wonderful cartoon strip on Gary Larson’s Far Side picturing a couple of  minivans driving around and one animal saying to another one, “Convertible! Convertible!”

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