Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Great-Grandma Hattie’s Diary

My dad has an old metal toolbox, inside which lies my great-grandpa Royal Levant Eaton’s wallet, a true leather billfold. Inside that wallet, I found a small scrap of paper folded up. It was a page from “Our America Engagement Calendar for 1956”. On the other side of it was a brief holiday journal written out in green ink by my great-grandma Hattie Eva Smith.
By the end of 1956, Hattie had been widowed for twenty-five years. My great-grandpa Roy was a prison guard. His son, my grandpa Mark, was sixteen years old was his father was injured during a prison riot and later died. Hattie was left with three children- Helen, Dorothy, and Mark- and had to get a job. She went to school for nursing.
In the journal bit she tucked away, it was Christmas time for her and it is Christmas time again. I corrected her major spelling and grammar errors, but otherwise, I’d like you to meet my great-grandma Hattie, in her own words. She mentions her daughter Helen, who shared an apartment with her. It’s worth noting that Helen was rescued by her brother and his brother-in-law from an extremely abusive relationship. 

December, Sunday 25: Snow all gone and it is Christmas day. Went to Mark’s for the day. Had a good time. Phil’s so cute (that’s my dad!). They sure had a nice Christmas, so glad. They deserve it. Robert and Laura were there for dinner. Mr. and Mrs. Rauson [Ransom, Mark's boss] came in to call.

December, Monday 26: Dorothy came after us and we went down there and had a lovely time. Jack sure had a good time. I know I did. Helen did too and looked better in a short while after we got there.

December, Tuesday 27: Cold day. Helen went to library. Very quiet here. Looked over my xmas presents. Read. Took a nap. Washed a few clothes. They are like boards they froze so stiff. A bit tired today. So much excitement!

December, Wednesday 28: Lovely day. Dorothy came for a little while. Bertha wanted time to go to the movies. We went to Bob’s for evening and had a good time. They sure had a big Christmas. Wish I could do for mine

December, Thursday 29: Went to the movies to see Heidi also Vanishing American. Helen was mad when she found out Bertha paid for it. She wasn’t too nice about it but so it goes. She is so sore at life.

December, Friday 30: Cold. A snow squall this morning. My check came this morning. Will pay the rent 46.00 tonight. Church $10. Also $8 for Miss Schafer for underclothes; slips. Helen’s so depressed over (?)el(?)(?).

December, Saturday 31: This is the end of the year. Hope next year will not be so hard. Have done the best I could. What more can anyone do? Good bye, old year. We hope for better times.

            At this year comes to an end, I feel a kinship with this woman I have never met. After I read the small diary to my father, he talked fondly of her and described the layout of her small apartment to me. I live in my own fading apartment and have spent a year barely getting by, trying to focus on the joy that we are still getting by.
In difficult times, the love of the people in my life is my sunshine. I wonder if it was the same for Grandma Hattie. Because in that respect I am fully blessed. So I’ll borrow her words, her silent prayer, as I greet 2015. This prayer is for me, for my family, and for the world around me.

“Good bye, old year. We hope for better times.”

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Talking Tradition on Christmas Eve

I alternately titled this post “Love and Magic”, but I thought that might be too abstract. Or too simplistic. I’ve been thinking a lot about traditions this season. The ones I have are the ones I grew up with and I realized how strongly my personal traditions were dictated by my childhood. Can I call it a tradition then?
Somewhere in my head, tradition means something done because it has always been so, passed down through generations. But in my heart tradition means something done because of an emotional connection/response to it that it bears repetition. Or something like that.
I think something can be both a tradition and an adaptation of the original. I don’t have children, so I couldn’t do Christmas exactly the way we had or it would be less meaningful. What my parents did was to serve us a feeling of wonder and joy. I hold onto the essence of that tradition.
When I was a child, we opened up our stockings while we waited for my Grandpa to arrive. He was always there when we opened our presents. While the coffee brewed and the cinnamon buns baked in the oven, we would eat the orange from our stockings. The coffee was for my grandpa. The cinnamon buns were an annual treat.
It was years before I realized that my Grandpa got up every Christmas early in the morning with my Grandma, who always worked the morning shift at the hospital, so other nurses with children could be home with them. They’d have their Christmas morning together before she left, before dawn. Thank goodness Santa had already been there, I thought when I was little. My Grandpa would spend a quiet morning until we called him.
It was never more than eight or ten minutes before he arrived. Which is forever to children on Christmas morning. We would jump when he walked in the door, never wanting to give him a chance to take his coat off. My parents would chide us but he understood. Grandparents always understand.
I envy him that stillness he enjoyed, now too old to ignore the fast-paced world around me. So part of my adult tradition has become that we open our stockings first, slowly, to prolong the morning. We bake cinnamon rolls while we eat oranges. And before we get around to exchanging presents, we leave a sweet roll and a cup of coffee on the table near us. It’s been a decade since he passed, but my Grandpa has never missed a Christmas.
Traditions become habit and sometimes, they get lost in translation, though the heart of them remains. It stirs my creative juices and I can see an alternate future in my mind. If I had children, and they passed down the traditions I shared with them, how might that evolve? How might descendants who come after us, who could not know us, adapt such a small gesture?

Raya carried the heavy tray from the kitchen into the living room where her family waited. Her hands were sweaty but she pressed the metal against her belly for support. It was the first time her mother was allowing one of the kids to perform the ceremony. Her sister Krina said it was bad luck to even stutter or trip over a word, and Raya’s tongue was often slow. She didn’t need more bad luck. The young girl’s bare feet padded quickly across the floor and she held her breath as she set the heavy tray down.
Her family waited in the dark room around a small tree aglow with brightly colored lights and hung with small paper ornaments covered in wishes. They wrote out wishes for everyone in their family each year. Raya had spent time on her wish for her younger brother Bitt, who currently fidgeted, looking longingly at the tree.
He had dark features, like her mom and her dad, and her two sisters. Only Raya bore the pasty skin offshoot of some distant relative, freckles dappling her nose and cheeks. Their family photos were humorous.
She reached up for the shelf above the tree, where an old ceramic mug sat. Its handle had been glued back on a few different times over the years. It was the cup her mother had grown up using, cool against her skin.
She lifted a steaming pot from the tray and poured the rich brew into the cup. She held her hand steady. One seamless pour. Not a drop wasted. She raised the cup up and set it on the shelf beside faded ancestor photos.
Raya took in a deep breath once the cup was out of her hands. She bowed to the shelf and the offering, before walking to the door. She opened it out onto the street. “We invite the grandfathers and grandmothers. We are because they were. Be welcome. Be warm.”
Her family echoed. “Be warm. Be welcome.”
Winter winds swept into the house and Raya shivered. As she closed the door, the other children ran to the tree, where a present waited for each of them. Raya ran to join them but her mother caught her by the hand, pulling her into a hug.
“That was beautiful, my darling,” her mother smiled. “Happy Solstice.”

I see love in that. We may not have known our great-great- or great-grandparents but, in some way, we do. Our grandparents raised our parents and our parents raised us. Other hands and hearts raised our grandparents. We know them in the traditions that have been passed down, the ones that have meant enough to be carried on. Whether we know the stories or not, their origins are in love.
Magic, wonder, and love are the legacy left in the wake of meaningful traditions. Whatever you practice, whatever you believe, whatever you celebrate at this time of year, that holds true. As your family gathers together this holiday, be sure to share the stories associated with them.

Many blessings to you and yours.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

From Samhain to Solstice

Spirit energy is thick in the days between Samhain and the Winter Solstice. I refer to it as the Fallow Time, when things are stilling and resting and the restless spirit lies just beyond the next breath. Spirit world isn’t something that opens to us one night a year. It’s always there. Only sometimes we don’t see it and sometimes we do.
It doesn’t surprise me that Dickens found himself inspired to write a story about ghosts haunting a miserly man at the holidays. I feel them more strongly at Solstice than at Samhain. I know I’m not alone.
Every year, I write out holiday cards to friends who celebrate Christmas, Yule, Solstice, Hanukkah, and some who don’t celebrate anything in particular, but the joy and humanity of the season. They are living ghosts, mostly people I do not see often or haven’t seen in the decade since my move. The cards are my way of reaching out to those who are important to where I have been and who I have become. It’s my way of telling them I still carry them in my heart.
While I fill out the holiday cards I reflect on those who are in my web and the changes in their lives since last year. Three of my beloved families are celebrating their first holiday with a new child. So much love! I have five changes of address this year of people who settled into their own homes for the first time. So much joy!
And where there is light, there is always shadow. I discovered a family friend had passed when his name was left off a card I received. I had known he was sick, but didn’t realize he was gone. Blessing or not, I will hold that sadness gently this holiday.
As I filled out a card to my Grandma, there was a bittersweet moment where I left my Grandpa’s name off, and I paused. He passed this last spring. I remember how frail and bird-like my Grandma seemed when I saw her in July and my heart is heavy for her and how she will experience the holidays this year.
I feel the memories of every holiday that has happened in my life overlaid in song, as if the ghostly echoes of each one plays out overtop the other... knocking on the table during scat with Grandparents after family dinner... singing carols for other Grandparents’ drunk friends... driving around to look at holiday lights... the reveal of the Christmas tree in the morning, like a flip book, as year after year unveils...
It is happening to me and it has already happened. Is that not the definition of a ghost? A spectre that you see, that cannot be because it has already been? I am everything I was and who I was is why I am who I am.
Only I am no bitter miser. I see Scrooge’s Marley visitation and I raise him the Christmas orange that vividly puts flesh on the ghostly spirit of my Grandpa Dick’s. Each Christmas morning, we would be peeling and eating them when he arrived, waiting for him so we could open our presents. A ghost brought to life with bits of my memory and a gallon of love left behind. I think of all the years as I crochet at my desk, feeling the familiar weight of a cat on my lap who cannot be there because she has been dead for four years.
At this time of year, and always, I accept what I experience as true because what else can I do? I allow my thoughts to drift to those who are no longer with me because at the holidays it’s easier for me to remember the joy of the lives that touched mine over the sorrow of their absence. So I truly cherish it. The sound of my Grandpa’s chuckle and my Grandma’s giggle warm my heart and I bid them to sit in my kitchen, in my home.
Come Yule, I will leave a glass of spiced wine for my friend who passed, an annual gift he loved. And on Christmas morning I will leave out a cinnamon bun and a cup of coffee for my Grandpa. I will take the sadness I feel for those I wish were alive still and transform the sorrow into love, for the only true answer to sorrow is love.

I mean, what if everyone fed their love into the holiday season this year? What if everyone in the world shared love and joy and good will to all men?  I will sit with the spirits and pray for peace and I will gift the world my love and joy, in honor of those who can no longer do so.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Christmas Rite of Passage

When we connect in to wonder, nature, and the living breathing web we are a part of, we see the moments in our life’s journey that were separated by rites of passages marking our progression and evolution. Some of them are large and some of them are small. And some of them pass with no notice or marking at all.

The passing of a box.

There was a year, after high school, after college, when I moved into a new apartment with my partner. There had been two graduations and a wedding, but there was still a part of me that didn’t feel grown up at all. Until my mom gave me a box of ornaments at Thanksgiving.

There wasn’t a ceremony. On one hand, it was a box of my own belongings. All my life, I had received gifts of ornaments by my parents and grandparents. And to be honest, I had forgotten about some of them. But my mom took a moment and gave me that look moms give where you understand that it’s a “moment” and you should be present and paying attention to it. She and my dad had sorted through the ornaments, setting aside a box for each of us.

It wasn’t a ceremony. It was the passing of a box. And it altered me.

My partner and I shared our first Christmas together that year, my first holiday tree without my family. Except that it wasn’t. Because I was bringing my family and our traditions into the day. And because I was starting new traditions with my new family member.

It wasn’t an ending. It was a cleaving. The ornaments had been part of the whole tree that my family dressed together. And now I was taking that energy and adding it to a new tree, starting our own little tribe.

The passing of a box.

It was overwhelming for me, hanging my old ornaments on a new tree in a new home. I shared the stories of where each ornament came from and what stage of my life I was in then. I have a small pile of ornaments gifted to me by my grandparents. Some have been broken and lost through the years but they are all the more meaningful now because both of my grandparents are gone. And every Christmas that comes is another one without them.

The passing of a box.

I think about that now. I have thought about that every year, making ornaments for my nieces and nephew that may someday adorn their grown up trees. At the holidays we decorate green branches with these small talismans. How do you connect to the items you hang? Do you know their origin stories? Do you know the tale they tell of your life?

And now my tree stands, decorated with ornaments from my adult life, my childhood, from my parents’ life shared with me, and from my grandparents’ life together, passed down after their deaths. My tree is an altar of the joy collected during every holiday I have celebrated, with many more to come.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Gratitude Jar

My friends and I share a common form of gratitude mindfulness, though we practice it in various ways. It’s easy to find gratitude at the holidays when our family is gathered together and we are visibly reminded of our blessings. It is often harder to feel those gratitudes the other ten months of the year.
My family and I do something for Yule, which could just as easily be done for Thanksgiving. It involves just a tiny bit of preparation, which we start around now. We make ourselves a gratitude jar.
You’ll need a jar or a canister of some kind. Tie a ribbon around it. Cover it with a collage of magazine pictures that make you think of gratitude or joy. Put it somewhere visible, but out of the way. Better yet, stick a sign on your fridge with the word gratitude on it as a reminder. Preparation is done!
Then, throughout the year, it becomes an exercise in mindfulness. I try to do one every week, one thing that I am grateful for, one thing that that made me smile, that made my life easier, that made my view of the world brighter. I have found that the true trick is not to put “family” or “work”. Instead, try to put into words what it is about those things you are grateful for, like: “I am grateful for a partner who makes me dinner when I am fighting a deadline” and “I am grateful for the editor who accepted my story.”
And watch for what I call back-handed gratitudes. They fool a lot of people into thinking they’re being grateful. You might think this sounds honest: “I’m glad my husband finally did the dishes without me having to ask him to.” And it is honest. But it’s a gratitude that hinges on an underlying unhappiness. Try not to qualify them. A better way to think of it would be: “I’m grateful my husband did the dishes tonight.”
In gratitude work, the way you say it highlights how you feel it. Gratitude comes from your center. Experiencing gratitude will change the way you see and verbalize the blessings in your life. The way you learn to convey the gratitude you feel will help you experience more gratitude in your life.
Get your whole household in on it. Write down the people you are grateful for as they help you or lift your spirits. Write a gratitude for the neighbor who helps you jump your car when your battery dies. Write one for plants gifted to you in the spring, just when you thought you weren’t going to be able to budget it in. For the day you sat so quietly in the woods that a bird landed on your head. Write down moments you have that fill your heart with joy and wonder.
And then, next holiday season, between November and January, take turns reading them out loud, a few at a time. Fill the season with reminders of your blessings.

Or, save them. And on a dark and bleak day, when you’ve hit your wall and don’t think you can survive another day of it (we all have them), pull one out and let it be a light for your soul. Let it be a reminder to you of the bright days, a reminder that the hopeful days, like the sun, return.
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