Friendship

The Challenge of Being Mentally Fabulous

My friend Betty and I were walking and taking in the art at New York’s MoMA a few weeks ago.  As I was turning into a new room, I saw Broadway Boogie Woogie: Piet Mondrian’s 1942-43 commentary on New York City at the time.  I was 17 when I first saw it 50 years ago.  And I was reminded of how seeing it then was a break through for me in understanding the connection between modern art – which was new to me at 17 – and other aspects of history, culture and personal expression.

Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie

We spent the bulk of our time seeing a major Robert Rauschenberg exhibit.  Who knew he was a collaboration maestro and loved working with others including many engineers? Here’s his Mud Muse (below), an example of that collaboration.  Trust me, it was much more exciting and powerful in person.  There was even a warning that one could get splashed with the mud.  I saw it as a metaphor and support for my current extensively collaborative work on QwikCoach.

Being fabulous is all about creating a fabulous life: one that works just perfectly for oneself, and feeds our soul and heart.  It is balanced between meeting our own needs, and contributing to others.  Most of us understand and work to keep things in that balance.

We also exercise and continue to care about our looks, spending money on smart-looking, sophisticated clothes, lotions and potions.  We have learned how to look great a long time ago when everyone was required every day to look presentable – and so we are good at continuing those routines, even as they have gotten twice as long to look half as good.  We also seem to have grasped the critical part work plays – and we are combining working and volunteering in multiple ways that keeps us more than busy.

But one thing we don’t seem to have sufficiently conquered in our lives is the challenge of putting our mental growth and emotional well being front and center on a regular basis.  We often struggle with saying no to our supposed obligations, skip opportunities to learn something new and different, and push off growing spiritually and emotionally.  Some of that has to do with having too much mental clutter.  Our urge to be and do good is admirable, but we tend to get caught up in others’ stories and lives. Our divorced daughter, our addicted nephew, our former or current colleagues, our partners, our grandchildren or very elderly parents, and connections from church or community activities all have needs that we seem intent on fixing, supporting, and/or paying for.  We just haven’t managed to work on our mental health (which includes growth) and happiness everyday in the same way we juggle other daily challenges.

These last weeks have found me loading up on self-care and mental health activities.  Likely because I have recently come out of a depression and more aware I need to get serious about my happiness, and because I am only temporarily on the east coast where I have more friends than time.  Everyday I find myself aware of how important it is to stay calm and centered, to challenge my thinking, to be open to new things and be protective and proactive about my emotional well being.

Noreen and I grabbed coffee last week as we both realized that we hadn’t quite had enough time together and needed more female bonding and mutual support.  It was after dinner with our husbands that we looked at each other and knew we weren’t finished talking and needed some one on one time.  We made it happen the next morning with a little adjusting of our schedules.  And discussed, among other things, the challenge of working consistently on our mental and emotional well-being.  It just seems that this is becoming more important as other things such as external success continue to diminish their allure.

Interesting to me that in all those pressured years of career and balancing work and personal life I knew I was strong and could handle anything thrown my way.  I misjudged my sixties thinking that it would be easier as long as I held onto my health and appearance.  What I didn’t know and now do is that the mental and emotional challenges of aging and being part of cohort all of whom are aging, requires more not less strength and resilience than what was required years ago. And in order to keep that mental strength, and calm center, we need to make conscious choices of how we spend our time, and how we nurture ourselves.

I thought looking and feeling good was tough – it now appears our mental health and emotional well-being takes more effort too.  Damn this is getting hard.  In our fabulous hearts we knew that – didn’t we?

Patty

 

How I Recovered From My Scary Depression

My granddaughter Reagan told her parents after a March visit that “Grandma slept all the time”.  Despite taking a yoga class to get me settled into a Zen state, I ran right into a roadside I couldn’t “see” because I was so rattled. Sad, blue and feeling panicky about another tough thing happening from the moment I got up, till bedtime when I dreaded going to sleep knowing I would wake up ruminating about some unknown, but certain, imminent tragedy.  Somehow, a variety of big, and many little, events had tipped me from a “little off” and sad at year end, to depression by late January.

It was frightening, and something I cannot remember experiencing before.  By April I was determined to work like hell to crawl out of it and get back to being my neurotic, but basically very happy, self.  I swore never again would I let myself get in such a dark, disturbing place.  And yes, of course I got “professional help”.  My shrink is not only great, he is funny and comforting.  And he reminds me when I forget that ultimately, much of being better is committing to being better, and taking responsibility to change what is not working for what will.

Am feeling pretty good, if not great, today – and it is mid June.  What happened to lift me back up?  The truth is that since I made that firm decision to heal, multiple decisions, events and pieces of support have all helped to clear my head.  And, like many things in life, luck played a part too.

Mid May we left Tucson for our travelling time.  We live in Tucson, Arizona, but come May when it starts to get uncomfortably hot for us, we travel to other places till about mid October when the weather again suits us back home.  We came to New York in May and rented an apartment not far from our daughter and her family in Westchester County.  The change of scene has been a big part of lightening my mood.  We have already taken a couple of mini trips to further mix up our schedule and get away from depression triggers associated with my home in Tucson, which is where I was when the deep blues hit.  It will be fine to go back come October even if I don’t spend money on a deep spiritual healing of the space.

I have also taken the strategy one of my dear friends taught me: being one with something tangible in a room or place – just keeping my mind quiet and focused on a chosen item for a few minutes is very useful.  I am calling it “the tree is me” strategy – pointing mindfully to a tree ahead while walking and just “urging” myself to stay “with the tree” rather than letting my mind ruminate and repeat endless loops of negative nonsense.

And then, there are my many wonderful friends like Betty who called me everyday once I told her what was going on. Cathy P. wrote me emails and tailored my workouts to include pep talks. There was Janice who held a spiritual session where she worked on me breaking bonds with a sad and dangerous habit I had fallen into.  Donna had me over for dinner and listened when I was pretty awful company. Cathy B. set up a date to meet and go to a spirituality center for a special meditation. Pat told me about her journaling effort during one of her depressions and suggested I try it.  And the list went on from there of friends who I mentioned my sadness to who just turned around and offered love and help.

Another really big help was my 50th high school reunion.  I’d been part of the planning process so I was very much excited and invested in the activities.  Seeing, and more importantly, sharing with women who I had shared my adolescence with was amazing therapy.  We weren’t older versions of ourselves – we were new selves that were developed by our history, the lives we have lived, the choices we have made, and the way we have connected and loved ourselves.  The biggest way to know how people REALLY were faring in life, was to listen and watch for how happy they were with who they turned out to be.

Not everyone or even most anyone has the luxury of having the level of support and caring that I do.  Friends were my priority always (in many ways equal or more than family which I am also close to). Their multiple ways and approaches to helping me, coupled with our ability to create changes of scene, proved the golden recipe for dealing with my depression. I want to end with a quote another friend sent me that summarized the heart of much of the wisdom so many shared.

“There are only two days a year that nothing can be done.  One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is he right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.” –  Dalai Lama

Patty

It would be great to be able to talk to Mom again on Mother’s Day

This will be the 13th Mother’s Day that I haven’t been able to talk to my Mom or send her cards, flowers, nightgowns, or candy. Emphysema took her just after Mother’s Day, 2006.

At 66, there are many things I’d like to talk with her about, including the challenges of growing older.

During that discussion, I would have to admit that I didn’t fully “get it” when she was in her 60’s and 70’d and told me about the aches and pains (and indignities) of aging.

I definitely get it now, I would tell her.

I think she would laugh.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

Cathy

Mom and me, 2005

Reinventing Valentine’s Day When You’re Over 60

I fondly remember those incredibly sweet, but cheap, paper Valentine’s Day cards from grade school.  I think our parents bought a box of these for less than $1.00 or $2.00 and we used 5 or 10 to send “valentine requests” to classmates.  The card was heart-shaped and said on one side “will you be my valentine?” and on the other side there was room for the person’s name you wanted to be your valentine and your own name. Simple, easy and an interesting day in grade school wondering why Susan or Mary Anne didn’t send you a card but Alice and Henry did.  That is my entire memory of Valentine’s Day before adulthood.

In my 20s and 30s, there was some sense of wishing for a lovely gift from my guy of the time.  But it never was a big thing to me.  It seemed contrived.  And it also seemed, back in the day when money was SO tight, a bit of a waste of money.

Bill (my husband of 19 years) and I don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day and definitely skip going out to dinner.  But for a long time I have used Valentine’s Day as an excuse to send cards to my “girls” AKA grandnieces, granddaughters, and Goddaughter.  But that has slipped away too. 

This year so far has had its challenges – not just for me, but for a number of my friends and family members.  And it is the response I have gotten and given to my friends and family that has me seriously considering a “reinvention” of Valentines’ Day for FabulousOver60 women.  Why not use Valentine’s Day and it’s cards, notes and messages – and maybe even flowers or candy – to not ask anyone to be your valentine, but to thank them for being a real valentine to you in one or another way during the last year?

There’s Karen who stood by you after surgery, or Barbara who drove you around when you couldn’t drive yourself, or Kathy who listened while you cried over the death of a close friend or partner.  Of course George was there when your dog got sick and Linda and John who were very willing to take care of your house when you needed to visit your daughter.  And so it goes.  Maybe one of these people – or all of them not only deserve, but would love to get a valentine for being fabulous to you in your time of need.

The note on an inexpensive card like the ones of our youth can be short and simple.

“Linda – thanks for being there for me when Courtney was ill.  You are truly my valentine! Love, Patty”

If you are newly in love, or think you are, I say go for it and send Jan or Jim a card that asks to be h/h valentine!  Why not?  Of course given today’s totally inconsistent responses to any messaging it might be taken with offense, or treasured as the first piece of real (snail) mail that has been sent to this person since 2005.  Good luck with your experimentation.  Try not to be hurt or insulted if it goes awry.

Since this suggestion is a little late for this year, maybe a call might suffice – at any time during the month of February.  We are reinventing the holiday, so precision on the date no longer matters.

We are heart-touched all year long, and we touch others as well.  This is the essence of being Fabulous. We care, and in return many of us are cared for.  I would guess the only problem in this effort to reinvent Valentine’s Day is that you can’t think of anyone who really helped in any of your times of need.  In which case, you have bigger issues than Valentine’s Day.  Time to read all of the blog posts we have written since late 2012 when we started FabulousOver60.  There are tons of suggestions on how to be Fabulous that you most definitely need to consider. 

Oh and happy Valentine’s Day – most of you didn’t do anything BIG for Cathy or I, but you read our blog posts – and that is something that has truly touched our hearts.  Maybe just reading our blogs helped you have a softer heart and more tender touch with yourself and others.  That’s a real Valentine’s Day gift for any FabulousOver60 woman.

Patty

Lexie the Dog’s Blog: A New “Good Girl” Comes to My House

My name is Lexie. Or sometimes Lexie Girl.

Lexie, 8 years old

I have been with my mom and dad for a long time. We lived in a really warm place for awhile (it was called Florida) where I chased lizards and birds in my backyard and took long walks through the neighborhood searching for cats and squirrels.

Then they bought me a house in the mountains and I was really, really happy. I have lots of grass and trees and bushes, and I can run and run and run and chase squirrels and turkeys and growl when I smell bears.

They also bought me a Jeep so that I’m comfortable riding around town with them. I know every restaurant in Asheville that will let me hang out, and the people at the place called Home Depot like me a lot and give me treats. They tell my dad that I’m such a well-trained dog and that makes me very proud.

I like the good food my mom feeds me, even when she throws in oily stuff that she thinks is good for me, and I put up with a bath and a really loud hair dryer once a month. For some reason, mom and dad like my smells better after I come home from that place than when I roll over and over in all of the great smells in my backyard. I don’t understand that.

I’m a good girl. I know this because they tell me all the time. Dad calls me his girlfriend. Mom calls me her pretty baby. I wait politely for my dinner and I know how to sit, stay, lie down, leave it and hunt.  I know what “come” means, but I don’t like that word too much so I pretend I don’t hear it most of the time.

They tell me I’m a free-thinking dog. That sounds good to me.

They also tell me I’m the best dog ever and I know that I am.

That’s why I was not very happy when I came home from a short Jeep ride and there was another good girl in my mountain house. She was small, smelly and not very polite. She didn’t know how to sit, stay or anything. She couldn’t even go up and down the stairs. It was pretty funny watching her trying to figure out where she was and what she was supposed to do. Mom and dad called her good girl. I definitely didn’t like that.

I thought that she would be leaving, but she’s still here and it’s been many, many nights and days.

She wants to play with me, but I’m not having any of it. I stare off into the distance, I ignore her, and I look meaningfully at my mom and dad to let them know that their good girl Lexie is still their good girl, but that I’m not very happy with this other girl in my house. I’m still hoping they will take her away.

Kayla, 6 months old

They call her Kayla, but she either doesn’t like her name or doesn’t know it. She doesn’t seem very smart to me. She bites on rugs, she chases her tail and she steals my toys. I am trying not to get mad, but it’s difficult and I chased her and bit her once or twice. Mom and dad weren’t happy with me, but I didn’t bite her hard and she really deserved it.

Even though I’m not happy about it, I’ve tried to be helpful since mom and dad aren’t very good at teaching her things. For example, I taught her how to go up and down the stairs by showing her over and over and over again. She finally got it. But of course, she now runs up the stairs in front of me which is not very respectful. I have also tried to show her how to sit and stay, but so far, she only sits.

What I really don’t like is when she pees on the rugs and mom doesn’t yell at her. If I did that, I would be in big, big trouble. But Kayla just gets shooed outside and mom cleans the rugs. I don’t think that’s fair.

Unfortunately, it is starting to look like Kayla is going to stay with us in the mountains. Mom and dad are trying not to call her good girl since it makes me jealous. They are calling her good baby girl or good Kayla. They think that will fool me. Ha!

And, they are encouraging me to play with her. I’d still rather not do that, but at least I’m trying to be a good girl and not bite her anymore.

If she doesn’t leave soon, it looks like I’m going to have to be sharing my backyard, my Jeep and my mom and dad with her for a long time.

She cannot, however, play with my Lamb Chop toy. I have to draw the line somewhere.

And, I am still going to be the best dog ever. Mom and dad told me so.

Lexie

Cathy Green’s Labradoodle, guest blogger

 

When Meeting New Friends At This Age, “Memory” Matters!

My husband and I made a decision five years ago to leave Florida and retire to North Carolina.  Leaving friends was the hardest part of that decision. At 65 and 61 years of age respectively, we knew that we would have to be proactive about finding a new circle of friends in our new town.

As a couple, we like to golf, listen to live music, eat at great restaurants and go to (and host) parties. It was important to us to have some friends who enjoyed similar things.

At the five year mark (which we passed in October), we feel good that we have met a lot of interesting people and have developed a handful of special friends.

Initially, reaching out wasn’t easy. We knew only one person when we got to town – our real estate agent. It had been quite some time since we had needed to connect with new people.  It felt like we were starting to date after going through a divorce.

But, we were lucky in several ways: Our neighbors across the street were especially generous with their introductions to new people.  We joined a golf club and attended several events for newcomers where we met other newcomers to the area.  Our real estate agent invited us to a couple of events where we met other friends and clients of hers.   Ray re-connected with a grade school buddy who he hadn’t seen in 40 years and he and his wife have become friends.  We reached out and reconnected with a former business colleague who now lives in Asheville with her husband.  We contacted several people at the recommendation of other business colleagues and Florida friends.  Through these connections, we then met some of their friends and acquaintances.  It’s been fun and interesting.

It has also, at times, been challenging.

As we met people, we had to zero in on those that both Ray and I felt that we wanted to get to know better. Then we had to decide whether to ask them out to dinner, or to our home, or to a concert.

Once decided, we had to “put ourselves out there” and see if they were interested, as we were, in getting together.  Then, once connected, we had to learn things about them to continue to test our mutual compatibility.

Finally, most difficult of all, we had to remember what we learned!

Let me digress.  At this age, neither of us has a great memory.  More than ever, if I don’t write things down, they are likely to disappear off my radar screen. And Ray’s memory is at least as bad as mine.

So, that means that we can have a nice time with new potential friends, enjoy our discussions, decide we’d like to continue exploring the friendship and then promptly forget things we learned about them.

It’s happened more than once – and it happens the other way, too, since many of our potential friends have their own memory challenges.

Here’s an example: While our husbands talked about golf, one woman and I spent close to two hours over dinner talking about our work lives and the fact that neither of us had children but shared daughters and grandkids with our husbands. We also talked about pets and what we like about Asheville.  At our next dinner, about three months later, she asked what I did for a living, whether I had children, how long we’ve been in Asheville, and if we had pets.  Déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would have said!  I have to admit, I didn’t feel good on the receiving end of this exchange.

Since I’d rather not be perceived as a person who doesn’t listen or remember previous discussions, I am doing two things to help myself and Ray.

First, I hone in on four things to remember when I meet a new person or couple:

  1. What did they do in their careers? (Or what are they doing now for work?)
  2. How many children/ grandchildren do they have? (Separately or together)
  3. What do they enjoy doing for fun?
  4. Do they have a pet, and if so, what’s its name?

I think these are important issues to all of us baby-boomers and have found that using one or all of these pieces of information at the next encounter is appreciated – and often surprising. You remembered that?  People seem especially happy if you remember their pet’s name!

Second, I jot down these few tidbits of information in a notebook as soon as I can. Of course, I then have to remember to pull out the notebook before seeing the person/couple the next time!

I don’t think it’s easy to develop new friendships in later life. But, as one of the many baby-boomers who has decided to retire to another city and state, I have come to appreciate how  important it is to make the effort  – even when it’s uncomfortable or when it takes some extra work and memory tricks.

For me, developing new friendships has been a large part of my journey to feeling connected and happy in Asheville.  (Of course, finding the right hair stylist, nail tech and masseuse have ranked right up there too!)

Cathy Green

PS: Here’s an interesting article I found called 6 Ways Friendships Grow More Complicated As You Get Older”.

Don’t Forget To Write Thank You Notes For Your Holiday Gifts!

Here are four things that I believe are important about sending thank you notes. I hope you’ll agree!

  1. Do it SOON. Although sending notes is better late than never, there’s no time like NOW. The gift-giver probably spent more time picking out your gift than you spent opening it. So spend a few minutes right away writing a thank you note. This week would be a perfect time.
  2. Don’t use email, texts or voice mail messages. Sorry, these just don’t work for us fabulous women! If you’re a teenager, maybe it’s OK. But once you are an adult and are giving gifts to or receiving gifts from other adults, you’ll need to send a note in an envelope with a stamp! (I think teenagers should send handwritten notes to grandparents and other adults, too, but that’s another story.)
  3. Make your note personal and sincere. Tell the gift-giver why you like the gift and/or how you’re going to use it.
  4. Write a note even if you’ve thanked the gift-giver in person. It takes so little time and will generate such great feelings.

Family members and friends who gave me gifts this holiday season deserve a few minutes of my time, a card or piece of stationery, and a stamp. Don’t yours?

Cathy

Feelings of the Season

In the first few minutes of the movie La La Land, you are brought back to your own struggling youth and the intensity of feelings so as part of being in one’s 20s.  It was a rush – and the rest of the movie doesn’t disappoint, if you are as big-hearted and romantic as I know most of you are!

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land

In the middle of Manchester by the Sea, you groan as you feel a pain so intense you can’t remember feeling quite that awful for another human being that you don’t know personally.  While tough to watch in parts, I felt a gift from the director and actors of this intense film about personal struggle and the work of redemption.  You have to feel this movie in this season – puts any of your own agonies in perspective.

Casey Affleck

Walking through the supermarket door I saw the bell ringer and the Salvation Army kettle.  This is a tradition that doesn’t seem to be going the way of every other tradition.  I put in a bill, not just a few coins.  One can’t look at a Salvation Army kettle and not feel blessed – truly as our parents told us “there by the grace of God go we”.

An old friend sent another less than card/email with the note: “as part of my cutting back, you are getting this message – happy holiday”.  I totally get my friend’s decision not to send cards. But somehow I wish he didn’t say it was about him – maybe an email that said “thinking of you and hoping you and Bill are great, lots of love, Bob” would not have struck me as not as self-centered and missing the point of the season.  Feel generous this holiday (the world needs holiday fun more than ever) – no matter how you REALLY feel.  Give less with joy.

Someone sent me a quick email message apologizing for taking more than a week to respond to a birthday card we sent her for her December birthday.  It was SO sweet and thoughtful – late, even the New Year late with positive thought, is more than ok and feels great.

This year we are going to a totally different Christmas celebration — a special friend asked us to join her and some of her family and friends.  After spending most of the year traveling, and not going “home” for Christmas, this invitation touched my heart.  Nothing old or traditional, but filled with love, joy and for sure laughter.  That’s the ticket – something different, with or without family is perfectly wonderful this holiday season. Show deep appreciation for those invitations – even general invites to your neighborhood association, your synagogue, casual friend or church –  and feel honored to be asked anywhere.

Though not going overboard on tons of gifts, the few we are giving are being deeply appreciated… with feelings!  We sent Cathy (my partner here at Fabulous) and Ray’s Labradoodle some special treats and she sent me a text thanking me. Now, someone’s dog sending you a text REALLY feels great.  Maybe help your cat or dog send a good text – because I know someone loves that pet as much as you do and would feel so good getting a text from them for the holidays.  Yes, feel that silly, it is good for you.  Merry merry everyone!

A more clear pic of Cathy’s dog, Lexie:

 

Christmas Gift Buying: Did It Really Used To Be More Fun?

As I wandered around shopping for gifts today … online that is, not at the mall… I started to get nostalgic for the good old days when I would stroll purposefully from store to store looking for perfect gifts for my family and friends.

1

There were always some “special” gifts to shop for during those years.

When my mother was still living, for example, I would buy her several gifts from four or five stores.  One gift, at least, would be something she wouldn’t expect like a silky bathrobe, a new watch or a beautiful sweater that wasn’t in her budget.

Then there was my girlfriend Patty. She and I exchanged Christmas gifts for many years before deciding a few years ago that we had about everything we needed at this age and that we would only exchange birthday presents.  Before that, however, I was always trying to find the perfect gift for her at boutiques, or Saks or Nordstrom’s. It had to be different, it had to be classy and it had to be great.

(I can’t decide if the gift hunting for Patty or for my mom was hardest – it was probably a tie. Patty said she had the same issues buying gifts for me.)

In the early days of our starry-eyed romance, when we were struggling financially as we started a new company, gift-giving between me and my husband Ray was special. He loved to surprise me; I loved to surprise him. He once bought me a size small vest that could have fit me when I was 10 years old – maybe.  I liked the fact that he saw me as a small woman even though I’ve never been one.  And, I once proudly presented him with an expensive brown cashmere sweater, which he said he loved but never wore.  I now know brown is his least favorite color. We had so much fun shopping for one another that we would even take $20 on Christmas Eve day, ride together to the mall, go our separate ways for thirty minutes and shop for stocking stuffers. So romantic!

By the way, Ray and I have only had one rule over the years:  no more than 5 gifts.  He has always given me at least 8 gifts and I’ve always stuck to the rules (which tells you a lot about us).

Presents under our tree last year – almost all of them for me and Ray. Someone cheated. Hint: It wasn’t me.

Presents under our tree last year – almost all of them for me and Ray. Someone cheated. Hint: It wasn’t me.

And then there were Ray’s two daughters, their husbands and our five grandchildren who came into the picture in the 90’s and 00’s.  It was such fun to shop for all of them! Beautiful sweaters, blouses and jewelry for the girls or sometimes household items like serving platters that they wouldn’t buy for themselves as they started out in their new lives with husbands and babies.  There were also carefully chosen shirts and pullovers for the guys. And, we’d buy toys and more toys for the grandkids. (We still cringe about the time we bought one of the first life-sized dolls that could be “programmed” to talk. It was even able to say Happy Birthday to your grandchild on the correct day of the year. When our granddaughter woke up the day after Christmas and the doll said “Let’s play”, she got scared, said the doll was too bossy and refused to play with it again. Obviously, grandma and grandpa had gone overboard.)

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In my memory, I had a great time searching for all of these gifts, along with presents for my siblings, nieces and nephews, several employees and a few friends. I would go from store to store, smiling at little kids on Santa’s lap, enjoying the ringing of Salvation Army bells in the distance, being part of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas crowd, and inhaling chocolate, cinnamon and evergreen scents swirling in the air.

If I’m really honest about this whole gift buying thing, however, I spent a lot of time agonizing over finding the right gifts and even more time getting irritable as my feet started to hurt, as the shopping bags got heavier and heavier and as I stood in line behind people trying to use a $5.00 off coupon that expired two months ago.

And I’m not even going to talk about gift-wrapping, other than to say that Ray would conveniently find something else to do far from the house when I started getting out the paper, bows and scotch tape. No amount of Christmas music or scented candles ever got me in a good enough mood to wrap what seemed liked hundreds of gifts at the dining room table with an aching back.

3

So, maybe I’m not that nostalgic. Online shopping is easy and fast. I can quickly scan a lot of options, I can use an auto-fill function to put in my address and credit card numbers, and I can even get things gift-wrapped and sent directly to my relatives and friends – with delivery tracking included.

4

These days, the teenage grandchildren want gift cards anyway.

Ray’s daughters, now in their 40’s,  have all the clothes and household items they need, so restaurant or entertainment gift cards purchased online seem to work well for them and their husbands.

5

Ray and I still buy gifts for each other, but let’s just say we give each other a lot of coaching and “hints” about what to buy, then act surprised on Christmas morning. By now, he knows the clothing brands I like, and I know his. I tell him every year that I’m allergic to wool. He tells me every year he doesn’t need underwear. We get gift receipts. We talk about how many gifts to exchange. He still doesn’t stick to the rules. We buy about half of our presents for each other online and watch carefully for the boxes being delivered to our door so that only the addressee opens them.

So, I’ve been asking myself. Do I really miss shopping malls? Santa? Salvation Army bell ringers? Mingling with busy shoppers in various states of good and bad cheer?

Not so much.

But what I do miss is coming home exhausted but satisfied after finding those few perfect gifts for the very special people in my life – gifts chosen with love and care and sore feet!

Cathy Green

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Thanksgiving in the 50’s at Grandma’s House

In my memory, Grandma’s house is really big. It sits on a hill in the West Price Hill section of Cincinnati with at least 20 concrete steps from the road up to the porch. The front door opens into a main living room, dining room, and kitchen, a steep staircase leads up to the bedrooms and bathroom, and an equally steep set of stairs descends to the basement and garage.

I now know that the house was actually small (less than 1200 square feet) and very narrow. But from the time I was born in 1950 until my mid-teens, somewhere between 15 and 30 family members gathered noisily at my Grandma and Grandpa Coyle’s house for Thanksgiving. Mom and Dad showed up with the first two grandchildren, me and my sister Christine, and then later with my little brother Tom. Mom’s four younger brothers were there with girlfriends, then wives, then an ever -expanding number of children … about 13 of them (added to our three) by the mid-60’s.  Did I mention we were Catholics?

I remember the smell of roasting turkeys (at least two of them) and the sound of silverware clattering as Grandma and the women prepared the stuffing, potatoes, green beans, corn, gravy, biscuits and desserts – all from scratch. I remember the loud voices of the men as they watched football on television, drank liquor and snacked on pretzels and potato chips.  As the years went by, the commotion of babies crying and young kids running up and down the stairs added to the chaos.

It always seemed to take way too long for Grandma to call us to her huge dining room table. Having smelled the food cooking and salivating for what seemed like hours and hours, we were ready to eat and hurried Grandma to finish the Thanksgiving prayer.

Once the food was passed around – the turkey piled high and everything else in large steaming bowls – the noise level went down considerably as we dug into the feast.  There was always plenty of food for everyone, and more than enough for leftovers later that night.

A “basic” turkey with stuffing. Nothing fancy from Grandma!

A “basic” turkey with stuffing. Nothing fancy from Grandma!

Grandma is the best cook in the world, I thought.

Actually, she wasn’t. Grandma only cooked “basic” food – food her mama taught her to make as she was growing up in what she called the “hills of Kentucky.”  Nothing fancy, not many spices, no decorative touches … just good, old-fashioned turkey, stuffing and “all the fixins.”   Simple but delicious.  And dessert? Her pumpkin and apple pies, made from scratch and bubbling hot as they came directly from the oven, made our mouths water. (Later in her life, she was the cook for the priests and nuns at Saint William Church, who got to appreciate them too.)

I have many images and memories of Thanksgiving at Grandma’s house, but five of them stand out from all the rest.

Story #1:   Little Cathy pees on the floor.   My dad loved to tell this one. Apparently, when I was about 2 ½ years old, in the middle of Thanksgiving food preparations, I didn’t get something I wanted. According to Dad, and other witnesses including my uncles, I got mad, stomped my foot, cried and peed on the dining room floor – deliberately.  I got swatted, Dad said and “…that’s when I knew she was going to be a pistol!”Story #2:   Uncle Jim, Whiskey, and a Toaster.  My uncle Jim, who never married, worked for GE, played softball in an adult league and lived with Grandma and Grandpa until his early death, was like a big kid. He didn’t watch football or hang out with his brothers and my dad. Instead, he played with his nieces and nephews. On Thanksgiving, he would sneak “cocktails” to us — 7 and 7’s, made with 7-Up and what probably amounted to less than a teaspoon of Seagram’s Seven whiskey. We went along with the game, giggling and promising not to tell our parents (who of course knew what he was doing).  I especially remember the year when one of us got up the nerve to ask Uncle Jim what happened to his right hand. We were fascinated by the fact that he was missing a couple of his fingers (from birth, we found out later). In a low conspiratorial voice, he told us that he stuck it in a toaster when he was a little boy.  We were horrified!  I don’t know about my cousins, but I never looked at a toaster in the same way from that day on.

Here’s my Uncle Jim playing a game with me and my sister

Here’s my Uncle Jim playing a game with me and my sister

Story #3:   Christine rushed to the ER.  My sister Christine, one year older than me, was mentally retarded (or mentally challenged, as it’s called these days). At seven years old, she always seemed to get herself into trouble. That year, with Mom, Grandma and the other women preparing food in the kitchen, Chris took a glass of juice outside on the concrete porch.  Somehow the glass broke and cut her hand. Blood was everywhere. She was screaming.   The cousins were screaming.  Grandma and Mom rushed out with kitchen towels to wrap up her hand as Dad scooped her up and drove her to the emergency room (911 wasn’t around in those days). He brought her home a couple of hours later with stitches in her hand and thumb and her arm in a sling. The glass had cut a tendon and muscle at the base of her lower thumb – a thumb she still can’t use to this day. Although we had Thanksgiving dinner, it was later than usual and a whole lot quieter.

Story #4:  The Sacred Heart of Jesus and my Great Grandmother Brinegar.  Grandma Coyle was a devout Catholic.  Hanging above the TV in her living room was a large framed picture of Jesus with long flowing hair, penetrating eyes and a glowing heart wrapped in thorns.  It is an iconic picture in the Catholic religion.

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As kids, it was hard to even think about being bad with that picture staring down at us. To make things worse, Grandma’s mother — Great Grandma Brinegar —  sometimes joined the family at Thanksgiving when she wasn’t at one of her other five children’s homes. She didn’t like little kids and would sit on the opposite side of the room dressed in a long skirt and old sweater, her braided hair hanging down her back and her hand gripping a walking cane. She would stare at us as if to say “Just try doing something wrong”.  Jesus on one side of the room and Great Grandma Brinegar on the other made the living room an uncomfortable place to play. The kitchen and dining room were off limits, we weren’t allowed upstairs and the basement was too scary. We would often head to the small backyard even in the coldest late November weather.
Story #5:    Grandpa the Gangster.   I grew up knowing what my dad and my uncles did for a living. But I never knew what my Grandpa Coyle did, even though I always suspected that it was something unusual. He was an introverted man, he seemed pre-occupied much of the time and he died young of emphysema after years of cigarette smoking. One Thanksgiving, when I was old enough to begin to understand, I overheard the men talking about Grandpa doing the books.  Unfortunately, that didn’t mean he was an accountant. He was, it turned out, a bookie.  I later learned that he would gather his “boys” around that same Thanksgiving table to figure the payout to winners and to dole out everyone’s cut of the action. My mom would rarely talk about it, but she once told my brother that a car’s tires squealed around the corner one day when she was a little girl and Grandpa “threw” her back into the house “just in case”.

Looks like I was already suspicious of my Grandpa Coyle!

Looks like I was already suspicious of my Grandpa Coyle!

All in all, my memories of Thanksgiving in the 50’s are great ones. I loved my Grandma Coyle and she seemed to “fancy” me (as she would have put it).  I loved the smells and the tastes of Thanksgiving food.   I loved leftovers. I loved watching my dad watch football on TV and joke around with my uncles. I loved seeing my mom and grandma working together in the kitchen.  I loved my Uncle Jim and the sneaky 7 and 7 drinks he gave me with that little splash of whiskey.
But mostly, I just loved the feeling of belonging to the family.  Even with my Gangsta Grandpa!

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Happy Thanksgiving!
Cathy Green

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