The 70273 Project

with a side of Jeanne Hewell-Chambers

Tag: relationships (page 1 of 7)

A Grandmother by Any Other Name

LettersToMyGrandchildJournalBookOne

Today, in plain sight of the demanding to do list, I shove everything aside and sit writing letters to my unborn grandchild in a beautiful journal my friend Tari bought for me when I took it off the shelf and told her of my plan. I won’t know this grandchild like I wish I would, you see, and she or he won’t know me, either. Geographical distance separates us – undoubtedly not as much geography as lies between some of my friends and their grandchildren – but today I take no solace in comparisons, and the scolding voice that admonishes me I ought to be ashamed of myself for such frivolity in light of all that needs to be done and warns me with a wagging finger that such honesty could bring consequential riffs in an already extensive geographical divide, is asked in no uncertain terms to go hurl itself off the top of the waterfall.

Today my heart breaks into a thousand shards at the thought of it all, and that is just the way it is.

I pen these letters in what most surely will be Book One in hopes that One Day, when the child is old enough to think his own thoughts and wise enough to ask her own questions, she/he will take this book to a quiet spot – perhaps on a boulder in the middle of a particular waterfall – and get to know me more deeply and will feel my caring, love, and unwavering support, maybe even glean some wisdom, in my inked words.

The time draws near when I need to assume my grandmotherly moniker. Now “Grandmother” is a fine name – and I count myself lucky to have known some mighty fine women who went by that name. But me, I long for something different. Am I being difficult? Is it because my mother, who honored her promise to her mother-in-law to name her firstborn after the mother-in-law’s son who was killed as a teenager, chose to spell “Gene” (my uncle’s name), J-e-a-n-n-e? Is it because I’m a writer? Do I put too much stock into names? Maybe, and I don’t give a rat’s ass why, I only know that I want special names for us.

Kaitaiki

My friend Jane Cunningham, who hails from New Zealand, sent me the most beautiful scarf made of yak wool, and it came to me in a mailer bearing the word “Kaitiaki”, the Maori word for protector or guardian.  “Tiaki”, the mailer explains, means “care.” I’ve kept the envelope for I don’t know how many months because that word spoke to me, and though my Southern tongue will most definitely mangle the pronunciation, it’s a word that tapped its foot and cleared its throat by way of saying “Heed.”  Might this be The Name?

Maybe I spend time on this because it is the one thing I have some say over. A child’s personal history begins with the memories and stories of their grandparents. This child will not know independence and grow wings by walking to see me the way my young children walked to see their grandparents. And this child may not sit at the table with the roots of multi-generations telling stories and kidding each other,  or have a treasure trove of stories about great great aunts who hid cheeseballs in pecan trees, or great granddaddies who saw a teddybear advertised in the Western Auto weekly flyer and insisted on going right then to buy one with his great grandchild, or know what it’s like to ride on a tractor for hours on end with his granddaddy, or go see her grandmother after school and be paraded around the office as the obvious apple of her grandmother’s eye, or have any other number of opportunities to give him or her paternal roots that run so deep . . . but she or he will have a book of letters, and we will share special names.

We Never Had a Problem Sharing

MaryChambers2

When I met her, she was on her hands and knees planting tulip bulbs around the patio in the backyard while Pepper, the Corgi, made laps around the base of the biggest pine tree in the yard in an apparent effort to build a moat or dig the tree up. We’re not sure which.

I met her 43 years ago, long before I got the memo saying Mothers of the Groom were to wear beige and keep. their. mouths. shut. Not knowing any better, I invited her to join my mother and me and go shopping for my wedding dress, among other things.

We took sewing classes together. We cooked together. We had long talks.

She put mustard on grilled cheese sandwiches.
Ask me how I found out.

MaryChambersWeddingAnnouncement

She was beautiful in the way young women were beautiful in the 1940s. Mr. Chambers told me that had it not been for the war, he probably wouldn’t have married her. “Well, you would have been a damn fool,” I assured him.

They were married on October 2, 1942 by an Army Chaplain in Hobe Sound, Florida. The bride wore a brownish dress with a matching hat that had a veil that tickled her nose. How do I know? I asked her.

AllDressedUpOnCruiseShip

When I asked her about the most adventurous thing that happened to her while traveling, she didn’t tell me about dressing up and winning the prize for her obviously convincing portrayal of a drunken hag on the cruise ship, she told me about how she played gin rummy with a sergeant all the way down to Bermuda where her new husband was stationed in World War II. Her first job as a married woman was as a court martial secretary, and who was there on her first day on the job but the sergeant she’d played so many hands of gin rummy with. “He was a bigamist,” she told me. “He had THREE wives.”

She could be funny – like the time she sent me a pair of clear plastic salad tongs for Christmas with a note that said “Try these with spaghetti.” Sometimes – when I disappointed her, for example – she wasn’t particularly funny.

“How’d you get along with your mother?” I once asked her.
“OK,” was all she said.
“How’d you get along with your daddy?”
“GREAT!”

After a morning of taking her mother to the doctor or to get groceries or just out for lunch, Mrs. C would call me: “Hello?” I’d answer, not knowing who was on the other end of the line because those were the days before caller i.d. (or even answering machines, for that matter).

“If I EVER get like my mother,” she’d say skipping the greeting and going straight to the point, “kick me.”

(Too many times to count, I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying “Bend over” cause let me tell you: she was the spittin’ image of her mother, though she fancied herself to be just like the daddy she adored.)

The first house we bought was right down the road from them, and because she liked to drop by during the day to take her friends on a tour (she liked what we did with the place, and she specially liked that I made the macrame headboard just like the one in the picture she tore out of a magazine for me) or to drop off two pies (a cherry pie for me and a strawberry pie for The Engineer – we could eat them back then without consequence), we gave her her own key to the place. She sewed the curtains for the front window . . . and she never quite forgave me for agreeing to leave them when we sold the house. I wish I had them right about now – I really do – but the buyers wanted the curtains, and we were young with many curtains yet to come, so those curtains stayed with the house.

MaryPlaysGolf

Years later, we bought a house in a new subdivision, and while the in-laws were out having a look, they spied a house one street over that captured their interest. Because they had long lived on the same street and because they lived in a beautiful house, she invited me to lunch to ask what I thought about them buying that house and moving there. Without a moment’s hesitation, I told her to buy it, and when she asked me why, I told her it was on a golf course, and I knew – I just knew – she’d enjoy playing golf.

MaryChambersHoldsNewbornAlison

They did move, and she did learn to play and enjoy golf, and as a bonus that I never even considered, when Alison was born, Mrs. C. was right around the corner and ready to help. I don’t know what on earth I would’ve done without her. I really don’t.

When we were first married, I watched Mrs. C. closely, and not just because watching people closely is my favorite kind of entertainment. I watched to see how she related to Nancy and Mr. C. and her boys. I watched their family communication model, the family dynamics. I took in how they related to each other. She taught me a lot without knowing it. A lot, I tell you.

I wish she’d never started smoking, but if that is too much to ask, I wish she’d been able to stop smoking. I have things I long to ask her, you know. Things I long to talk about. Things I long to apologize for. Mostly I want to thank her (again) for raising the man I married.

MaryChambers1

Today is not just Groundhog Day, it’s Mary Chambers’ – my mother-in-love’s – birthday.

The “Re” Nobody Tells You About

Out1

I married a man
who developed a strong, solid good
reputation in his career field
for being a man
of integrity,
a man who keeps his word,
a man who is patient
a man who understands that
everybody at the table needs to make money.

I married a man
who, despite building an impressive career,
never missed a soccer game
or a stage performance
or a parents’ night.

I married a man
who enjoys cooking
(and not just on the grill)
and grocery shopping
(except during The Season)
and tending a garden
(when the crows leave him enough to tend).

I married a man
who literally swept me into his arms
and carried me out of the church
because the car that hit me six weeks before
broke my knee.
A man continues to
sweep me off my feet
in ways large
and small.

In in the past 41 years,
I’ve married this man many times over,
only once
when we stood in front of a group of people,
repeating the words of a preacher I never particularly liked.
Every other time
the vows have been quiet, private vows
of laughter
of hand-holding
of listening
of sharing a look
of sharing the look
of being quiet
of staying.
Because in 41 years of togetherness,
you learn that
marriage is a series of re-marriages.

JeanneAndyPreWeddingResized

The Engineer and The Artist: Protection

DahliaFlirts

“Where do you get gas masks?” I ask Him this morning as we eat breakfast, him reading stories on his iPad and me with my pencil and paper. “Haven’t quite finished my list yet, but looks like I need about forty-four or so. Do you think they offer quantity discounts?”

“What in the sam hill do you want with gas masks?” he asks.

And here I thought this was a relatively easy question. “I think the reason for gas masks is pretty obvious,” I tell him. “I just need to know: where do I go to get some?”

“I don’t know,” he shrugs. “Maybe an Army/Navy store.”

“I don’t want leftovers from World War II, and I don’t want any that have little pinholes in ’em. Don’t want any seconds or military rejects. I just want some good, tight, operational gas masks that I can give out to the people I love. I tell you what: this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, making this list. I mean, what about That Hussy in-law. Now that she and her mama are both out of jail, they’ve made up on account of how they have something in common, so I figure I have to get her a gas mask cause she’s an in-law (maybe I could get her one with a few pinholes, though, now that I think about it), but does that mean I have to get one for her mother, too, so she (the Daughter) won’t worry the stew out of us? Mean and Stupid are a bad mix, and I frankly don’t want to be known as The Woman Who Preserved That Tramp And Her Daughter The Hussy for all posterity. Anyway, I’d like ’em to fold up real small so they’re easy to carry around – the gas masks, I mean, not the Hussy and Her Mother – and it sure would be nice if they came in cute little bags. Oh, and they need to come with a warranty, too, of course.”

Right about then is when he remembers he has some hammering to do outside.

[ :: ]

Jeanne Hewell-Chambers can remember when he stopped for breakfast on his way into work, and she didn’t eat breakfast at all.

Let’s Talk Eyeball to Eyeball, part 1

Web

Now listen, let’s cut right to the chase: difficult people are one thing, stupid people are one thing, but abusive, controlling, manipulative people are quite another, and you need only stay in relationship with them long enough to be able to get out safely.

Period.

You deserve better.

Period.

You’ve heard the old saying “You made your bed and now you have to lay in it?”

Forget it. Forget you ever heard it. Erase it. Obliterate it.

Think you have to be miserable and in danger because you are obligated to live with the consequences of your choices?

Bunk.

Sometimes you can get so settled in a relationship, so comfortable with its predictable dynamics that you can’t see it clearly. You get lost in the familiarity, losing sight of the harm that’s being perpetrated on you and your partner. (But I don’t care about your partner right now, I care about YOU.)

Let’s be real clear about this:

Healthy love doesn’t manipulate, control, isolate, or harm another. Healthy love doesn’t issue ultimatums or demand you buy them things in return for their affection. Healthy love can’t be bought or sold. Healthy love doesn’t isolate you from friends sand family. Healthy love doesn’t pummel you incessantly with junky words designed to keep you down and them up. Healthy love doesn’t want you to be a slave or a doormat or a punching bag.

People, listen to me.

Healthy love wants you to shine. Healthy love brings out the best in you and the best in them. Healthy love makes you walk differently, with the grace of someone who is cherished and supported and loved through and through.

If your partner professes to be jealous of your friends, envious of the attention you give your family, if your partner demands that you forsake your friends and family spending time only with their friends and family, do not confuse this for love. This is not jealousy and this is not ardent love, my friends, this is controlling, isolating behavior, a tool in the abuser’s arsenal. Bullies are sniveling cowards, really. Knowing that other people just might see them more clearly than you, well, they want none of that.

Recognize it for the controlling, manipulative, isolating behavior it is.

If your partner tells you lies about your family and lies about your friends, see this for what it is: deceit. an erosion of trust. And really, if you don’t have trust as the foundation of a relationship, what kind of relationship do you have? Said another way, without trust, do you really have a relationship?

Trust is everything.

If your partner gets what they want by plying you with affection or pitching hissy fits and allowing you to makeup with them by buying them what they want, taking them where they want to go, doing for them what they wanted you to do in the first place, see this for what it is: immaturity and manipulation.

You are not a game piece they move to win the game.

If you earn money and your partner demands that you turn it over to them then refuses to share it with you – say it with me: this is controlling behavior and is not to be tolerated. I don’t care how you feel about capitalism, you need to have your own money.

Period.

If, after pitching a hissy fit, your partner says anything akin to “If you hadn’t done or said so-and-so, I wouldn’t have had to get mad, hit you, pitch such a fit (insert your behavior of choice),” see this for what it is: shifting the blame and trying to make you responsible for their unacceptable behavior. Unacceptable.

If your partner does any or all of these things, see it for what it is: thuggish, bullying behavior – abuse. Abuse doesn’t just mean physical contact, people. Abuse can leave bruises that are never visible to the naked eye. Bruises that can be healed, though it might take a few eons or so.

If your partner scares you,
If your partner tries in any way to make and keep you small,
If your partner blames you for their bad behavior
LEAVE.
Exit the relationship.
This is not a healthy relationship, and this is not healthy love.

You never did anything to deserve this. Ever. You may not be able to see it right now under all the years of words and deeds to the contrary, but you ARE worthy and you ARE lovable and you DESERVE to be with someone who cherishes you.

If you’re in an abusive relationship, you can’t be stupid about your leaving. You have to be safe and consider the safety of yourself and your family, but that doesn’t lock you into staying in an unhealthy relationship for the rest of your life. Shake your body like a dog fresh out of the bathtub. Do it again. And one more time. Scream YES as loud as you can (even if it has to be on the inside). Now square your shoulders, exhale, and start planning. I know it’s not as easy as me writing these words. Of course it isn’t. Your exit might be quick and easy or it might be a long, arduous journey. Either way, you will get tired – changing the way you see yourself is invigorating, trying, challenging, exhausting, and liberating. It takes practice to see yourself in a new way, it takes patience to let your bones convince yourself that you are worthy. But it’s doable. And we are here cheering you on. We want you to succeed. We want you to see yourself the way we see you. The world needs you to live into your own bigness, and you cannot do that while under the thumb and under the control of a monster.

tender

DSC01536

my grandmother
was smart in ways
they don’t teach you in school.
she knew things like
red rock ginger ale
is the best thing
on earth
for a stomach
that’s acting up,
and she knew
that the second day
after any injury
is when you experience
the worst pain.
after that,
the hurt begins
to subside.

women can be
so supportive of each other
and
women can be
so hurtful to each other.

today,
the second day after,
i lay my tender bruises
on the altar,
amid all the old junk
that rises
and the familiar patterns
that beckon,
and i grieve.

More about 365 Altars

the way we were . . . are

Reunion2

i am honored to have been the entertainment for my high school class reunion last saturday night. now, almost a week later, i’m still enjoying the afterglow. there’s something downright magical about standing before your true peers, leading them on a trek down memory lane – a trek you know from the outset won’t be finished that night. i’ve got enough stuff and enough stories to last at least two more treks, a.k.a. reunions. there’s simply never enough time, is there?

my mother had her class reunion that same day – class of 1945. they get together every october – every single october. their love and support for each other is strong. maybe they cleared the path for us. maybe they set the stage, the example.

Reunion1

a surprisingly large number of us went through all 12 years of school together – that’s really something, isn’t it? we knew each other’s parents and fought with each other’s siblings like they were our own. though we knew there was a mother round every corner making it downright impossible to get away with anything, we still tried. occasionally. the entire village raised us, and i don’t remember one parent ever turning on another with that how-dare-you attitude. they simply thanked each other for caring enough, then resumed the badminton game.

such a satisfying sense of groundedness to be with people you bore witness to and who bore witness to you throughout years of major evolutionary and developmental changes. people who you spent 6-7 hours a day with in class, then several more hours in after school activities, then church and other community events. spending the nights together, partying, talking on the phone. learning, knowing, realizing, grappling, struggling, celebrating together. it was fun to reconnect. to remember. to leave the years and any unpleasant memories far, far away from this gathering. to laugh nostalgically. to note countless times we’ve amazed and astounded ourselves and each other.

only one person asked me the dreaded question “what do you do?” maybe it’s cause nobody’s interested, but i prefer to attribute it to a deeper level of togetherness and acceptance that connects us. a knowing that what we do isn’t who we are, and who we are is what’s most important. there is space in our togetherness. there is love in our togetherness. the kind of space that just happens. the kind of love you can’t buy.

Reunion3

so many ways

All things are symbolic by their very nature
and all talk of something beyond themselves.
~Thomas Merton

There are

Riviera1

so many ways

Sangria1

to see

Sangria8

a dahlia,

Sangria10

each of them

Sangria11

beautiful

Sangria14

in their own

Sangria15

unique

Sangria

way

Sangria16

if you ask me.

Sangria21

and i can’t help

Sangria24

but wonder

Sangria20

how different things would be if

Sangria3

we could see

Sangria18

people

Sangria7

as dahlias.

he has a good heart

blessings

it is his fourth
battery of tests
in less than a year,
there is no comfort in that.

they do not make eye contact
when we check in,
there is no comfort in that.

we are directed to go
across the hall
to sit and wait
in the waiting room
with taupe walls
and taupe baseboards
and taupe carpet.
with signs taped
to the wall
ordering us
to turn off cell phones
and demanding that we
ring the bell
only once.
there is no comfort in that.

we were not told
before our arrival
about all of the tests
to be run today.
that is not good
to hear,
but maybe,
just maybe,
not knowing
prevented much
anticipatory stress.

other patients
come and go
without so much as a
grunt about why he
is Back There
for hours
and hours.
there is no comfort in that.

finally the tests are done
and we are directed
to go to another waiting room.
this one as cold
as the other was
stuffy.
we wait
and we wait
and we wait,
more than
one-and-a-half hours
after the
appointment time
we’d agreed on
some eight months ago,
we wait.
there is no comfort in that.

eventually
we are escorted to
a taupe
exam room,
adorned with
a poster of a sailboat
in a cheap frame.
where the assistant
looks over his records
and seems quite
surprised
to hear that
his medications
changed over
six months ago.
there is no comfort in that.

finally
we are told
that he passed
all the tests –
every single one of them –
with flying colors.
blood pressure: excellent.
blood flow: excellent.
overall circulatory system: excellent.
and there’s great, huge,
tremendous
comfort in that.

remembered lightness

Thetwoofthem

there are things i want to write,
but i distract myself
with the to do lists,
with productivity,
with letting worthiness
be defined by accomplishment.
i do that rather than
come here and write
because i don’t have
an outline,
no rough draft
i don’t know the ending.
i can’t write a neat, tidy
essay that would net me an A+.

i no longer want to be the
girl who is defined
by how she theels
others see and interpret
her –
i don’t.

is that possible?

///

when i ask that she not put
certain things on facebook,
is that protecting her?
yes.
in a way.
and yet when i soften my eyes
on the word “protection”
the “yes” doesn’t come
as quickly
and as surely.

people will respond
to our words
as they will respond to
our words,
be they on facebook,
on a blog,
in a book,
or over a cup of
hot chocolate.

they will respond
through a filter
of their experience.
they will respond
via a mirror
of what they are
dealing with
in their own
life
at the moment.

does that diminish me?
does that define me?

///

if i own my own life,
and if i allow you to own yours,
isn’t that a gift
to both of us?

///

i look at the pictures of
kipp’s girlfriend.
i look at the pictures i snapped
that day in july
of the two of them
trekking up the falls
laughing
looking
touching.
i look at the pictures
and my body
remembers
what it was feeling
as i snapped those photos,
and
the question remains:
can i rip off the bolts
and kick the slats out of the
shutters?
can i release my heart
to romp freely in the lightness as it once did?
can i simply love her
without concern for
if i’ll ever see her again
or
if she’ll remain in kipp’s future
or
if she’ll love me in return?
can i just love her
because
i instantly love her?

she has a beautiful smile,
a long, beautiful neck
that scarves
fight over.
she is generous
and quick
with her laugh
and her smile.
she’s intelligent
in so many
important ways
that don’t have
anything at all to do
with her master’s degree.

can i love her without
crafting words
to explain
and justify?

///

when i defend myself,
is that protection-with-a-capital-p?
or am i not
once again
more concerned with
how another
will see me
more than i’m
concerned
with owning my own life?
doesn’t defending myself
make (and keep) me small?
and when i make (and keep) myself small,
doesn’t that make (and keep)
everybody else
and the world in general
small?

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