Not bad for a fat girl


Happy Birthday, Oma Hilde

So I’ve noticed that people on Facebook often wish a happy birthday to someone who is no longer alive. I understand thinking about people on their birthdays, but I’m not sure how I feel about the whole social media thing.

static1.squarespace.jpgHere’s the thing. Today is my grandmother’s birthday. She’s been gone a long time. Since my college-age son was a baby. I miss her.

She was the grandmother who kept me overnight when my parents had a big event or went on a trip. She was the grandmother who taught me to wash windows with vinegar and water and to dry them with newspaper. She was the grandmother who made the best potato salad in the world and let me drink Teem out of the bottle on the porch on hot summer nights. She was the one who walked me to the theater to see Cinderella when I was a little girl and she was the one who took me on the city bus to visit one of her old friends.

0034000170380_A1L1_ItemMaster_type_large.jpgNearly every day, she walked up and down the busy street that her street adjoined, visiting at the dry cleaners, the market, the bank, everywhere. She knew everyone and they knew her. She smiled and she laughed and she liked a good joke. She watched As the World Turns and professional wrestling. She didn’t swim, but on a hot day she liked to put her feet in the pool. She brought me giant Hershey bars when she came to visit, and she told me to keep them in my room and not share them.

Once, when I was ten, my parents went on a trip. My brother stayed with my other grandmother and I stayed with Oma Hilde. It was over Valentine’s Day, so she decided we should make a cake. She had a heart shaped pan we used, and we made a pink cake with chocolate frosting. I think it’s the best cake I’ve ever had.

I had a doll carriage at her house. Who knows where it came from, likely a yard sale, but it was wonderful. I also had a closet full of other toys there, all of mysterious origin, but that’s what made them so appealing. I was her only granddaughter for a long time, and the only one who ever lived in the same city. Those toys were for me, and me alone.

When I was home from college we would get together and run errands, then go to “Hi Ho Silvers” for lunch. She loved the hush puppies, even though she knew she wasn’t supposed to eat food like that.

Right after I graduated she took me on a trip to Germany, sponsored by the city from which she and my grandfather and my mother fled during the Nazi regime. They invited a whole bunch of “their” Jews back, a gesture to make amends I suppose. She was a wonderful travel companion. She was happy to make new acquaintances, and she was delighted to be back in her home country.

We took a side trip to the tiny village of her birth, and I learned so much about her. She rang the doorbell of her childhood home. We were invited in for tea. We stayed overnight with the Mayor’s parents (who lived right next door to the mayor and his family). She took me to the site of the community bakery, where my grandfather proposed to her. We visited family graves. We took a boat ride down the Rhine River, and she sang the Lorelei, a traditional song that Germans sing when they get to a particular point on the river. We drank beer in a beerhall.

This grandmother learned to write checks only after my grandfather died. She bought the high-end washer and dryer in her eighties, because she wanted them to last. She oversaw a bathroom installation project, too, because climbing the stairs got too hard to do every time she needed to use the toilet. She didn’t bat an eye when I destroyed the side view mirror of her car. “It can be fixed,” she said. She called my son a prince. She meant it.

As an adult, it was my grandmother I would call for sympathy. My mother is a fixer, so calling her with a toothache or a rotten neighbor or a work hassle always turns into an investigation. What brought it about? What have you tried? What else are you going to do? You get the idea. My grandmother, on the other hand, was a listener. She would let me talk and then reassure me that whatever I was doing was most probably the exact right thing to do, and that the situation was sure to resolve itself. I always felt better after I talked to her. I didn’t talk to her nearly enough, though. I regret that.

crayon.jpgI suppose if my Oma had a Facebook page (although she wouldn’t) I might stop by and visit it today. And I might just leave her a message. It would say, “Happy Birthday, Oma. I miss you, and I love you, and I always will.”


Daily Passion Prompt 16: Giving It Away for Free


If you had to choose one thing that you’d do for free for the rest of your life, what would it be?

64chev51201-5I don’t quite “get” it. What one thing would I do for free for the rest of my life? I realize where this prompt is trying to lead me. I’m supposed to say something along these lines, “Well, I love cars and have always tinkered with them, so I would work on cars for free for the rest of my life.” Where I get fuzzy is the whole question of whether I would be doing this thing, whatever it is, for myself or for others. For example, would I be restoring a ’64 Corvette for myself, or giving all of my friends and neighbors free oils changes?

Now don’t get all indignant on me. “It shouldn’t matter,” I hear you say. But really, it does. When we’re talking about the things we would do for free, I think we need to make this distinction. We do things for ourselves for free all the time. I enjoy quilting. I don’t get paid to make quilts for myself, whether to give them as gifts or contribute them to charity, or even keep them to snuggle with on the couch. I have made quilts for clients, though, and for those I was compensated. Do I feel badly about that? No, I do not. There is a great deal of time, effort, and expense that goes into making a quilt. I enjoy it and am glad to do it, but I would not make quilts for others for free for the rest of my life, at least not unless it was on my terms.

As I said earlier, I make charity quilts. I do them at my pace, with nobody telling me how to do it. I don’t have an inspection at the end and I don’t have to make sure that I keep a customer satisfied. Do I plan on continuing this activity? Certainly, as long as I continue to gain satisfaction from the process. If that changes, I will give myself permission to stop doing it.

Sometimes giving of ourselves too freely devalues what we have to offer. There are many things I do for free that I will continue to do for free, but I feel like the spirit of the question has more to do with what I would do for free for the benefit of others. This distinction doesn’t come from a place of greed. It’s an important distinction, because the car enthusiast, while they love working on cars, has the right to be compensated for their time, experience, and craftsmanship.

Child__s_Landscape_by_MelodyLove66That being said, I believe I will always teach for free in some capacity. Yes, I’m a professional teacher. I do get compensated for teaching (as I should, and no, I’m not overcompensated, just in case you were wondering). Natural Born Teachers (NBT’s, read more about them here) start teaching early in life, and really don’t ever stop teaching, even after retirement. In fact just yesterday, one of my retired colleagues, an NBT, came to school to work with kids, for free, on an art lesson. She came, she taught, she left. No lesson plans to turn in, no meetings, no irate parents, no observations or evaluations, no assessments, no discipline challenges, no report card grades, no sweat. To any full time teacher, that arrangement sounds like heaven. We teach because we love teaching, but it’s a hard job.

My colleague is still teaching. She comes to school on her terms, teaches what she loves, and then calls it a day. She is looking forward to hopefully becoming a grandmother, someday in the not too distant future. She will be that grandmother who reads endless stories with her grandchildren. She will lead them on nature walks and they will examine ant trails. She will sit them at the kitchen table and mix paints with them. She will bake cookies with them and talk about how the various measurements relate to one another. I will do all those things too, someday. Once a teacher, always a teacher.