Tag Archives: Family

June 17 – The Subversive Needle

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Once upon a time (and not so long ago), I spent my summer vacations with my Aunt Betty. She was a non-traditional, career-minded, single woman in the ’50s who each morning ventured off to work at the nearby Western Union office.

“Don’t go outside until I get home,” she emphatically said, leaving me alone to while away the hours as best I could. She didn’t own a television so I occupied myself reading her books and magazines, playing her 33 1/3 rpm records, and listening to such greats as Glen Miller, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Perry Como.

“You’re wearing out my records,” she told me one day. You need something else to do.”

Off we went to the local five and dime store where she purchased a set of seven bleached feed sack towels, skeins of colored embroidery thread, embroidery needles, and a package of hot iron transfers. We returned to her tiny crackerbox house, where we cut out the transfers and positioned them on the feed sack towels. Using her steam iron we pressed the transfer for 30 seconds until it magically appeared on the fabric.

“Wah-lah!” she exclaimed. “Now you can embroider while I’m at work.”

And so I did, lost in choosing the color of thread, embroidering the design, and making the pattern come alive. During my time with her, I created seven towels–one for each day of the week that represented the agreed upon prescribed daily duties for women of the time. Monday: Wash Day; Tuesday: Ironing Day; Wednesday: Sewing and Mending Day; Thursday: Go to Market Day; Friday: Clean House Day; Saturday: Baking Day; Sunday: Day of Rest (or church attendance).

I loved embroidering from the start, for it not only allowed me to occupy my mind and fill the time, but it also allowed me to express my creativity. I still have many of the pieces I completed that summer and the summers afterward.  When I look at them and think back to those summers spent at my aunt’s house, I realize that embroidering also taught me how to be a feminist.

What?” you say. “How could embroidering, a seemingly negative symbol of traditional femininity, sweetness, passivity, and obedience, provide the skills and qualities necessary for a feminist?”

Femininity and sweetness are part of a woman’s strength, but passivity and obedience are the very opposite qualities necessary to make a sustained effort in any type of needlework. What’s required is a host of physical and mental skills; fine aesthetic judgment in color, texture, and composition; disobedience of convention; creative expression; assertive individuality (in design and application); as well as patience and determination.

I doubt my aunt knew just how subversive the embroidery needle, hoop, and threads could be. With them, she inadvertently created in me a mindset that would serve me as I grew into womanhood and became an ardent feminist. I am grateful for her and for all I learned while using a simple embroidery hoop, a needle, and skeins of colorful threads.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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May 13 – That “Baby Stuff”

by Kalí Rourke

The day had arrived that every Mom inevitably faces.

All summer long, we had been swimming in the neighborhood pool nearly every day and I just dumped both of my little girls in the shower with me to get the chlorine out of their hair and mine.

Inevitably, my older daughter (about 7 at the time) noticed the differences in our bodies and asked about them.

I was prepared. I didn’t whip out an anatomically correct flip chart or flash cards, or anything like that, (after all, we were in the shower) but I answered her questions in medical terms with no cutesy nicknames for any body parts.  She took this in and finally cocked her curly blonde head to the side and said, “Where do babies come from?”

Wham! Drop the mic because there it was.

Now, was delivering a “birds and bees” monologue in my birthday suit my dream situation? Not so much. But, I had made a point of being direct and truthful with our daughters whenever they asked the hard questions and saw no reason to change that strategy, so we dove into that “baby stuff.”

As I dried them off and sent my younger daughter to get dressed, my older daughter and I sat in matching towels on the edge of the tub and I explained reproduction to her in fairly clinical terms. She listened in attentive silence, her big blue eyes widening every once in a while.

Finally, she asked, “Do you have to?”

“Do you have to have a baby? No, of course not! That is a big commitment that people who love each other very much decide together and you never HAVE to have babies,” I said, assuming that her concern was similar to the concerns I had even in adulthood.

Nope. That wasn’t it at all.

“No, Mom!” She shook her head emphatically. “I mean, do you have to do that sex stuff. It sounds gross and I would just rather have them put me to sleep and wake up with a baby!”

Ahh…I couldn’t help it. I giggled helplessly and finally gasped out, “Well, sweetie, you may change your mind about that someday, but it isn’t anything to worry about right now.”

She tossed her curls and danced off to her room to get dressed and spent the rest of her blissful summer day playing with her beloved plastic horses. I sat there alone with so much love in my heart for the funny, smart and sassy woman she was becoming.

Happy Mother’s Day to you all, whether you are celebrating being a Mom or having a Mom!

Kalí Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, and active volunteer. She is a Seedling Mentor and a champion for children’s literacy with BookSpring. Kalí is a philanthropist with Impact Austin and serves as a Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance.

She blogs at Kalí’s Musings and at A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.

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April 8 – The Old Growth Forest

by Sara Etgen-BakerI often sat next to Father on an old tree stump surrounded by ancient trees listening to him tell fairy tales about trees; tales of trees with human faces, tales of trees that talked, and tales of trees that sometimes walked. The old growth forest surrounded us, alive with hidden secrets. The trees rose upward forever, and the canopy above us was distant, like clouds of green. With my arms outstretched, I knew I’d never be able to reach even a fraction of the way around the trees’ gnarly bark trunks.

I often return to the old growth forest; it is the place where I go for rest and for serenity that flows like cool river waters. The path snakes around the ancient trees; and I step carefully over the roots that knot the pathway, watching the freshly fallen rain seep into the soil, struck by a wish to melt in with it; not to die but to live forever amongst these ancient beings who cast the shadow in which I stand.

The old growth forest doesn’t care for seconds or minutes, even hours are inconsequential. The smallest measure of time here is the cycle of daylight and darkness. The forest is more in tune with the seasons; rebirth brought by the warmth of spring; darkened foliage from summer’s warm kiss; tumbling leaves foretelling fall’s arrival, and then the keen bite of winter.

Here in the old growth forest so little can happen in the time it took me to change from a child into a woman. Perhaps that’s why I love being here. It stabilizes the rapidity of my thoughts and grounds me in a place where the ticking of clocks is disregarded. There is a sacredness here that transcends my everyday concerns, casting them into the timelessness of the forest. Under these boughs, I feel the breath of the Universe and hear the beauty of Its creations.

I’ve trodden along these forest paths so often that my soles are worn thin. But I don’t tire of this old growth forest, for I’m always at home here.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

April 1 – Awe, Color, and Magic

by Sara Etgen-BakerMy first television set was a 21-inch black and white Philco console television that Santa delivered on Christmas day, 1956. It carried only four black and white channels; ABC, NBC, CBS, and local KERA. Well, five channels if you counted the test pattern.

Unlike today, the broadcast day had a beginning and an end. It started at about 6 a.m. with the national anthem followed with a “daily devotional” then “The Today Show.” Midday consisted of game shows and soap operas. Kiddie shows filled late afternoons and Saturday mornings. Network news came on at 6 p.m. Then came prime time programming. At 10 p.m. local newscasts aired followed by “The Tonight Show.” Then the broadcast day ended with an announcer bidding us “good night.” “The Star-Spangled Banner” played; then there was static until the test pattern appeared on our screens about 6 a.m.

The television signal itself was delivered to the television through a flat, two-pronged brown wire that was connected to screws at the back of the set and then strung through a small hole cut in the window frame to a large multi-pronged aluminum antenna that was mounted on the rooftop. Theoretically, once the antenna was in place, it didn’t have to be moved again. But that wasn’t always the case! Ofttimes Father climbed onto the rooftop and turned the antenna until the picture improved.

I certainly didn’t understand how that archaic brown wire and antenna worked, but watching television was nothing short of a miracle for me and for those of us who, prior to television’s popularity, only used radio and records for entertainment. You might think that life with a mere 21-inch black and white TV and only four channels would be bland and colorless, but I remember it as being colorful and magical. Whenever I turned the television dial, I stared at the screen in awe wondering, Who might appear on the screen? Where would I go? What mystery might I solve?

Television has come a long way since its infancy. Today, broadcasting is continuous, running non-stop with over 200+ channels and an endless stream of programs and choices. Television sets themselves have progressed from black and white to color. Yet my life seems to have digressed from color to black and white, having lost my faculty for awe, mystery, and color. Why? Perhaps, I’m so mesmerized by the technology that sits in my living room and addicted to the programming choices offered me, that I’ve been anesthetized.

One day I stopped mindlessly flipping through the channels, choosing instead to walk through a nearby woods. I meandered along the path, stepping carefully over tree roots that knotted the pathway. I lifted my head, letting the warm, amber rays of sunlight dance across my face.  I saw small patches of clear blue sky peering through the weathered trees that rose out of the earth. I picked a red berry from a bush and popped it in my mouth, tasting its sweet and tangy taste. Awe, color, and magic re-discovered!

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

March 25 – Mortality Musings

by Kalí Rourke

Mom Rourke was declining at 92 years old. The scalpel sharp intellect and memory we had enjoyed for years was slowly but inevitably eroding, and for a while, Mom railed in anger and frustration at her loss of control.

We learned so much as my husband’s older sister cared for Mom during this hard and challenging time, and it changed our view of aging forever.

Traveling along her journey, we discovered this fascinating book that I highly recommend, no matter what stage of life you are in. “Being Mortal,” by Dr. Atul Gawande, opened my eyes and my mind to the realities of aging and dying in America.

Dr. Gawande tells a series of important stories that illustrate how mortality has changed in our country just as aging has. We rarely die “at home” any longer and more often our last moments of life are in the hands of professional medical personnel and in the grip of the “machinery of last resort;” treatments that can leave us feeling cold, isolated and perhaps a bit like a cyborg.

Consider reading the book and having conversations with your family that may be hard.

Don’t wait until death is in the next room, tying tongues with fear, guilt or sorrow. Open that door now so that it is more possible to open it again when the time arrives to put into action the preferences and directives you only talked about before.

There are critical questions that should be at the forefront of all aging or end of life conversations: “What is important to you? What is most important to try to keep in your life until the end? What is most important to try to include or avoid in your death?” We were grateful we were able to ask these questions of Mom Rourke before it was too late. They were not huge requests and were very achievable!

You may think you know how your loved ones would answer, but often we don’t unless we ask. They may surprise us! Listen to them and ask again as the terrain of aging changes them. Don’t wait until senility sets in and confusion or memory loss make it difficult to express what is most important to them. If you wait too long, you may miss your chance.

Dr. Gawande has changed how I look at aging, terminal illness, hospice care, and most importantly, death. It takes conversations to facilitate a “good death” for your loved ones rather than to say goodbye with regret or guilt over a “bad death.”

America doesn’t like to talk about mortality, and you and I are the only ones who can change that, so consider doing it. Think of it as the first step down a road we build together that leads to people who are as in control of their aging and deaths as possible.

My husband and I are both now thinking about how aging and death can be made better for everyone. Stay tuned.

Kalí Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, and active volunteer. She is a Seedling Mentor and a champion for children’s literacy with BookSpring. Kalí works in philanthropy and as a Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance.

She blogs at Kalí’s Musings where a longer version of this post appears, and at A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.

March 10 – Truth Be Told

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Barbie Doll

I frequently watched Mickey Mouse Club and imagined dancing on stage alongside Annette Funicello and growing up to become a beautiful star like her – that was until I saw my first Barbie commercial. From that moment on, Barbie became the girl whom I wanted to emulate. She had it all; a shapely figure, beautiful clothes, independence, AND a Dream House.

“Barbie, beautiful Barbie,” I sang along during the commercial, “…
Someday I’m gonna be exactly like you.”

I became consumed with having my own Barbie and her Dream House, often pleading my case with Mother.  “Mom, Barbie’s amazing! She’s beautiful, independent, and even has her own house. May I have her, please?”

“No!” Mother said firmly. “Barbie’s too expensive. ”

“But, Mom…”

“No buts! There’ll be no more discussion.”Barbie Dream House

Pressing the issue any further with Mother was futile; yet, I couldn’t get Barbie out of my head! My best course of action was saving my allowance to buy Barbie. Barbie was expensive, though. She cost $5, and her Dream House cost an additional $8; a lot of money for a girl who received only a nickel allowance each week. Saving my meager allowance took too long, and I grew impatient. What would Barbie do? I asked myself. She’d raise some money, of course! I set out to raise the $13 I needed to buy Barbie and her dream house.

The only skill I had was ironing clothes. So, I ironed clothes for the neighborhood women, ironing their blouses for a nickel; pants for a dime; and dresses for a quarter. I liked ironing clothes in their living rooms and watching Soaps with them, but the novelty of my entrepreneurial enterprise quickly wore off. Ironing clothes became a painstaking way of earning cash.

One day a neighbor lady handed me a dime, “Love, go buy me a soda. And here are two empty bottles to return. You may keep the 4 cents you get for them.”  I scurried down the street, ecstatic in discovering an additional source of income. I scrounged the neighborhood for empty pop bottles and redeemed them for cash, getting 2 cents for each 6.5-ounce soda bottle and 5 cents for each empty quart bottle. Weekdays I earned roughly 50 cents in returned bottles.

Piggy BankWeekends were more fruitful, and I typically netted $1-$2 by collecting and redeeming pop bottles tossed onto the ground at the nearby park. I deposited those coins into my piggy bank along with my ironing money. When I had $13, I purchased Barbie and her Dream House and took them home

Truth be told I didn’t enjoy playing with Barbie and her Dream House as much as I’d imagined. I actually got more pleasure from ironing clothes; collecting and redeeming pop bottles and saving money. Still, Barbie influenced me. She was my 12-inch life coach who unwittingly taught me to embrace my desires; to set a goal based on those desires; to work towards accomplishing that goal, and to relish achieving it.

Author Age 10

The Author at Age 10

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

March 4 – How to Stay Married for Thirty-Four Years

by Cheryl Suchors
Actions that may have been unrelated at the time paved the way for my ongoing commitment. Here they are, in case you care to try some and avoid the others.

1.      Get a pet. Nearing thirty and single, I got a cat. I named the cat Escuela because I figured that kitty would school me in commitment.
2.      Beware big risk. I met a guy and moved to Washington, DC to be with him. We bought a house. He changed the kitty litter. After three weeks in our new home, he moved out. Enter one of the worst periods of my life.
3.      Find a good therapist. Have I mentioned therapy? I recommend it.
4.      Give up on passive men, no matter how enticing. After the above debacle, a man sat next to me on a train. We didn’t stop talking until the ride ended hours later. But in the cab line, he still hadn’t asked for my number. I decided if he didn’t pursue the surprising opportunity of “us,” he was too passive. I waited. He asked.
5.      Have a full life before marriage. I was thirty-two when I met the guy on the train. Thirty-four when we married. I had a career, travel adventures, a condo, pet companions, and good friends. I’d had a number of heartbreaks and each one taught me a lesson I tried not to repeat. (See 2, 3, 4 above.)
6.      Allow for ambivalence. We dated for a year before I moved to Boston for a job. He’d follow in a year. Meantime, we discussed the M-word. I was utterly ready. Until he proposed, and I panicked. I told him I needed some time. Apparently, I’d squelched my ambivalence. So I took the time to be terrified, to sit with my fear.
7.      Find a partner as smart as you. Maybe smarter. His mind entertains and engages me still. This is important because bodies, well, they age.
8.      Listen when you know he’s right even if you don’t like what he says. When we brought our infant daughter home, he offered to give her a bath. She looked so tiny in his hands. I hovered, making suggestions, worried he’d break her. He told me either I could act like I always knew better and be solely responsible for our child or I could let him do his best, learning as he went. I went off to bite my knuckles in another room. He’s been a really good father.
9.      Tell him what you’re afraid to bring up. Like that time I found myself way too attracted to a co-worker. My husband and I discussed it pretty thoroughly. That put a boundary around the co-worker, one I couldn’t cross.
10.     Re-up. Each anniversary, we pull out the wedding ceremony we wrote. We laugh at our naiveté. But the vows never fail to move us. We sign up, not for forever because that freaks me out, but for fifty years. My brain can encompass fifty years.

Cheryl Suchors is the author of 48 PEAKS: Hiking and Healing in the White Mountains, an inspiring memoir of adventure, endurance, and heartache published in September 2018 by She Writes Press. Suchors lives in Massachusetts with her husband and a plethora of plants. Their grown daughter, to come full-circle, lives in Washington, DC. Cheryl blogs at http://cherylsuchors.com.