Friday, November 25, 2011

Being Thankful is a Choice

Happy Thanksgiving to all. My pumpkin pies are made and the turkey is in the oven. My kids are here from Florida. I picked them up at the Indianapolis airport yesterday. That's all good and makes me happy. On the other hand, Mom, who is 92 years old, fell in the bathroom and hit her head on the door sill. As a result, she looks pitiful with a big black shiner. That's not so good.

And that's pretty much the way life is, isn't it? Whether you're in the mood for giving Thanks depends on which end of the spectrum you decide to concentrate on. Most of us have many things we can be grateful for but almost all of us have other things that worry, sadden or annoy us. The only decision we have to make is how thankful, or not, we decide to be.

My husband's grandmother always used to tell us - "oh, I've had a wonderful life!"

"You have?" I always thought, "it doesn't seem so wonderful to me."

Carrie was married in a time when husbands were the rulers of the households and so it was with her. My own husband told me that his Grandpa was a grouch and a hardass. He made all the decisions in the family and nobody, not his wife or children, dared question those decisions.

Carrie, of course, stayed home and took care of her three children. She never learned to drive. The family was relatively poor or at least they seemed poor from my vantage point now. When her husband died, he left the house to one of the daughters with the proviso that she always provide a home for her mother because he didn't believe Carrie was capable of handling her own affairs. So for her entire life, Carrie was under someone's thumb - a father, a husband, a daughter.

I asked her once if she'd ever had the urge to assert her independence and she looked at me like I was crazy. "Independence?" she said, "what would I have done with it if I'd had it?"

So what did she see that was so wonderful in her life?

Well, she told me how much she loved hanging clothes out on the clothesline. She said sometimes she just buried her nose in a damp shirt to drink in that satisfying fresh-washed smell. She loved hearing the sheets snapping in the breeze and the feel of the sun on her back. The little pants and dresses made her smile thinking of the children who wore them and Ed's work uniforms meant appreciating a man who worked hard every day to provide for his family.

Her idea of high excitement was taking the children to the (long gone) amusement park several miles out of town in the old Model A. The children would grow progressively more excited as the traffic got busier, the music from the midway grew louder and the Ferris Wheel came into view.  She said she'd always remember the shouts of barkers and the smell of cotton candy drifting in the air.

She lived in the same house almost her entire adult life (paid for because Ed didn't believe in credit) and so did her neighbors. The women who stayed home during the day were a community - coffee-klatching with one another in between cooking and cleaning and doing laundry.

Carrie didn't have a television until late in life and I don't think she ever read. I doubt if there was much time for reading anyway. Sometimes she listened to the radio while she sewed.

She loved watching the trains, drawn by huge steam engines, pull into the station and the aroma of the homemade bread she pulled out of the oven of the little old stove she was still using when I knew her. She took great pleasure from the trumpet vine erupting in flame across the back porch roof and the fragrance of the huge bouquets of  lilacs she brought to put in a vase on the kitchen table.  She looked forward to mass at St Bernard's Catholic Church every Sunday and to family reunions at the park in the summer.

Compared to today's women, Carrie seems to have lived a narrow, stunted life, un-realized and unfulfilled. That's my view but it wasn't hers. When I think of her now, I think of a woman who had decided to be thankful for what she had instead of bitter for what she didn't have. It is a lesson we all need to learn from time to time.