(Reblogging from 2012. Today would be Alice’s 61st birthday, but she will be forever 20 years old.)
Blue eyes. That was one thing that made her unique among 4 sisters. She had our father’s eyes. She was the shortest among us; I believe I grew to have at least a half an inch over her. But that took a while. Since she was 3 years older, I trailed behind her most of my life. I definitely didn’t mind following in her footsteps. I adored her. She was the sweet sister, the kind one, the one who loved children and animals and had friends. She somehow spanned the gap between being a nerd and being popular. Not that she wasn’t picked on early in grade school. We all were, and she was very sensitive to it. When she was 10, she ran away from a boy who was chasing her down the sidewalk. He caught up to her and managed to grab the back of her coat hood. He yanked her down hard, and she fell backwards onto the sidewalk, hitting her head and fracturing her skull. The boy was sent to military school, and Alice recovered amid cards and gifts and angels surrounding her bed.
She started dating first among us, though she wasn’t the oldest. I wanted to learn how this “boyfriend” business worked, so I watched her very closely, sometimes through the living room drapery while she was on the porch kissing her date goodnight. She modeled how to be affectionate in the midst of a distinctly cerebral family, shy about demonstrating emotion. She gave me my first pet name: Golden Girl or Goldie, and then the one that stuck in my family, PG or sometimes Peej. By the time I was 16, we were very close friends as well as sisters. She invited me to spend Spring Break with her at college, and enjoyed “showing me off”. She told me that the boys were noticing me and that she’d need to protect me. I was thrilled!
We spent that summer at home together in California. I introduced her to my new boyfriend, who eventually became my husband. She begged our parents to allow me to be her passenger on a road trip back to campus at the end of the summer. She had just bought a car, and although I couldn’t drive, I could keep her company, sing with her along the way, and be her companion. The road trip was a travel adventure flavored with freedom, sisterly love, and the sense of confidence and brand new responsibility. We flopped the first night in a fleabag motel in the same bed. She woke earlier than I and told me as I roused and stretched how sweet I looked cuddling the stuffed bunny my boyfriend had bought me. Then we stayed with her friends in Colorado. Our next day’s journey was to go through the heartland of the country and hopefully, if we made good time, get to Chicago for the night. We never made it.
Nebraska is flat and boring. We’d been driving for 6 hours. I was reclined and dozing when we began to drift off the fast lane, going 80 mph. Alice over-corrected, and we flipped. She had disconnected her shoulder strap, and flopped around, hitting her head on pavement through the open window. Her fragile, gentle head, with two blue eyes. She was dead by the time we came to rest in the ditch.
Life is an experience, a journey of unexpected and unimagined happening, a verb in motion, not a noun. Alice was in motion, at 20, and may be even now…somewhere, in some form. I still taste her sweetness floating near me from time to time.
I am so happy to join my blogger friend Sue (Mac’s Girl) in her photo challenge! We share the experience of living in the Chicagoland area and became WordPress colleagues several years ago. We have visited many of the same nature areas and museums.
For this challenge, Sue invites photos of pastimes or hobbies.
Yes, I collected stamps for a while as a child. I was a Girl Scout and learned skills like embroidery and knitting. I never spent a lot of time doing crafts (I generally don’t have the patience), but when I worked as a costumed interpreter at Old World Wisconsin, crafting was part of the job. It helped pass the time between guest visits, and it helped create artifact replicas that could be used by that living history museum.
Back in the 19th century, spinning and weaving and sewing wouldn’t really be pastimes or crafts, they would be necessary activities.
Home economics has changed dramatically with technology, but these basic skills represent sustainable living, in my view, and I’d be glad to see them passed down for future generations.
My favorite pastime, however, is jigsaw puzzling. My grandmother owned several Pastime Puzzles, the kind made of wood and intricately designed. They contained iconic shapes like apples and hats and wheelbarrows and hearts along with curly “gazintas” – the piece that “goes in ta” the others.
Growing up, my family would work together on these beautiful puzzles while a fire roared in the fireplace, staving off the winter chill and the Christmas vacation boredom.
I later discovered that this passion for puzzling could become a cottage industry. When I was a partner in Scholar & Poet Books, we bought over 300 cardboard jigsaw puzzles at a church rummage sale, put them together to ensure that they weren’t missing pieces, photographed them, and sold them on our e-Bay store.
I couldn’t begin to calculate the number of hours we spent together talking and assembling these puzzles, sometimes late into the night. Our biggest one was 3000 pieces. We developed a kind of system that played to our strengths. Steve was the “sky expert”. He was adept at matching shape and didn’t mind that all the pieces were the same color. I was the “detail expert”. I looked at what was visible on the piece and how the colors and objects made up the whole picture. I was also the “sorter”. I would pour out a few handfuls of pieces into a shallow box lid and find the edge pieces. I would use 8″x10″ box lids and stack them so that they didn’t take up too much room on the dining room table while still displaying the pieces in a single layer. Once the framed edge was in place, we’d fill in the rest, consolidating box lids as they emptied out. Eventually, we’d get down to sorting the almost indistinguishable ones by shape – the two-knobbed, the 3-knobbed, etc. We made up names for the standard shapes like H-pieces and “spadey-feet”. We didn’t come across very many with “gazintas” unless they were puzzles of a certain vintage.
During these hours of sorting and assembling, we would talk over all sorts of subjects and ideas. Often, we’d listen to music together as well. We don’t own a TV, so this was our evening and weekend entertainment, especially when the Wisconsin weather was dreary or harsh. I imagine that pastimes were developed just to create such intimate time in a household. I hope that one grace that emerges from these quarantine times is that more people leave screens behind and develop the ability to spend quality time creating something intimate and sustaining, face to face.
For this week’s Lens-Artists’ challenge, Patti schools us on cropping images. This is a challenge of technique, and she suggests that cropping can be used to:
1. Simplify the shot by getting rid of distractions.
2. Improve the shot by focusing on the best part of the composition.
3. Change the meaning of the image by emphasizing certain aspects.
4. Create an abstract.
My first reaction to this challenge was a sort of disappointment. So many of the recent challenge themes have been very emotional: Home…Distance…Going Back. Creating those posts was therapeutic for me. How do I take this technique and use it to allow myself the emotional therapy I need this morning? (And yes, I need emotionally therapeutic activity this morning!!)
So, that’s a challenge.
Here’s a photo I took in November when I was out on a solo walk at a wildlife refuge nearby:What was I feeling that afternoon as I strolled through the refuge, alone with my thoughts?
I remember that I was looking for the familiar solace of a natural view, something focused on the journey forward, with hope in the distance. I also remember that I was feeling quite alone. Then again, in creating this composition, it might make all the difference just to pay attention to the present situation, to the path I am walking right now, and take the next few steps in full awareness of where I am. Perhaps what I really meant to convey in this photograph all along was the complete picture: the backstory, the now, and the not-yet. They all exist simultaneously.
I find this a very interesting exercise…but not the most compelling image.
Maybe this one?
“A normal lake is knowable. A Great Lake can hold all the mysteries of an ocean, and then some.”
“A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.” ― Henry David Thoreau
“A lake carries you into recesses of feeling otherwise impenetrable.” ― William Wordsworth