Have you ever found yourself thinking more than you should probably think? There is an official term for that – they call it ‘over-thinking.’
I bet most of us could say we have been doing a lot of thinking lately – our minds are cluttered with stuff that isn’t fun.
It may be that we all share the same type of coping measures when we find we have been over-thinking – we look for ways to get it stopped. We search for solutions. Sometimes just going somewhere helps us change the channel in our heads and is good for us emotionally.
All of us have unique on-the-mind problems – and mine went into over-drive a year ago when mom passed away. My brothers and sisters and I became the natural caregivers of our youngest brother Steven. She left us with him, and she left us with a house we gladly take care of. She left us with scrapbooks, and newspaper articles, and film negatives, our grade cards, our uncles’ grade cards, our health records, our grade-school artwork, our high school musical programs, greeting cards, and more.
The funny thing is – she knew she had a lot of things in storage, but she would not have been able to tell us that we were going to find film negatives that would develop into photos we have never seen. She forgot about them. They were in many different boxes in many different areas of storage. If she were here to look through the photos with us – she would be equally amazed.
I was recently looking through the new images – and so many of the photos included pictures of my uncles from both sides of the family. And when I came across yet another photo of my uncle Clair with Jayne when she was just a toddler – I thought to myself ‘he was always there.’
He was ‘there’ the night two of my sisters called the fire department when there was no fire. He was ‘there’ when we visited his house on Sundays. He was a beekeeper and a gardener and a dad and an uncle.
My aunts and uncles’ names can be found in my mom’s diaries as she, of course, wrote about life with her brother and sister. After she met Vern, her journaling started to include things about his side of the family.
Today it really is a convenient thing to send a text or a real-time photo. Notes of congratulations or a birthday greeting can be sent rather quickly.
While texting is a wonderful thing – I can’t help but think the good thoughts and well-wishes we send through our phones will surely be lost in the digital world.
Decades ago – they sent greeting cards that often included little notes, and I found letters and cards that were sent to my parents at the time of my birth – and honestly, there is no better treasure to find – it was the best little gift imaginable.
If I were to ask myself if I took my relationship with my large family for granted – my answer would be yes I did.
Did I know what I had? No – I did not. It was safe to say I loved going to my cousins’ homes on Sundays or staying overnight. But I thought that was just a normal thing.
After all – everyone in the world has lots of aunts and uncles. And everyone has lots of great aunts and great uncles. In my mind – aunts and uncles were somewhat old. But great aunts and uncles – those people were the really old ones.
I became an aunt in 1976. It was a wonderful thing – having reached the status of ‘aunt- hood.’ And I became a great aunt quite a number of years ago – but I try to not ‘over-think’ on the subject of oldness.
When I was a child – it wasn’t unusual to look outside and see a car had pulled into the driveway, and I would be able to find any given uncle of mine outside with my dad. Lots of people stopped to see my Dad. He knew how to do things and had a garage full of tools he put to good use. Dad would lend his tools out if needed.
My dad’s uncle Arthur Upp often stopped at our house to see dad – and of course in my mind – he was one of the old ones. He often had a hat on his head. Pants were with suspenders. He smiled a lot. I realize now he was having fun watching the kids while he was talking with Dad.
My older siblings tell me Uncle Art and Dad loved to spend time together – they had a lot in common and both of them knew how to repair or build things. My brother Don remembers a lot of joking between the two. Apparently my dad would tease Uncle Art by letting him know he didn’t know as much as dad knew. And it would cause laughter between the two and anyone who was within earshot of their conversation.
All of my siblings – and a few cousins – described Uncle Art as a jolly person. A bit of a raspy, gentle voice. Showed up at supper-time. Never ate supper with us – just spent time in the dining room while all the kids were sitting around the table. There were no extra chairs – so Uncle Art stood at the doorway and enjoyed the conversation. Our supper hour was 6 pm – so he probably told us he had already had supper at home with Aunt Mabel – and he just made himself at home.
Steven’s middle name is Arthur – and of course he is named after Uncle Art.
Uncle Art was an intelligent guy – or so I am told by anyone who remembers him. He graduated from Ohio Northern University with an engineering degree. And I remember thinking – you mean they had college way back then? How long have universities been around?
Every so often – I see the quote “no matter how you feel – get up, dress up, and show up for life.”
But it is a bit on the tricky side – showing up for moments in our life when our moments are being cancelled.
I recently heard myself say I would like to go back to everyday stress – grieving the loss of your mother, taking care of your Down syndrome brother, settling an estate, and you know – all those little things in life. Because what is happening now is beyond stressful.
All of us are ready to get back to living. That means putting your foot on the accelerator and going places. Seeing things. Doing things. Studying – which gives us confidence we are to talk and to breathe and to eat with others. Unrestricted. Just like God designed – to keep us healthy.
May we go back to the days when we didn’t look forward to going to the musical or the dance recital or the 50th wedding anniversary party or the ballgame. But we went. We were there. And after we went – we found ourselves feeling good about the experience. We were present. We showed up.
There will never be a high school musical production like the one you just saw. The teenagers grow up and move away – and we find the printed program years later – with a bit of a bio about those on stage. And we can wonder where they are now. What became of them? Are they still singing the songs they had to memorize? Are they still playing an instrument? Do they look back at the production with fondness?
My uncle Clair had been a prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany during WWII. At the age of 19 – he was a prisoner. Think about that. Many of us know men who went through so much trauma they would not share their experiences with others after they came home.
We can wonder – what kind of food did they feed them? They were not even imprisoned in the country they grew up in. Did the men dream of food from their childhood? Did they know what they were going to eat if they ever made it home? Were they allowed to rest or exercise or read a book?
Did they awaken in the morning in a bed – or did they really have to survive in a crawl space of a building? Did they need a few seconds after they opened their eyes to realize they were physically in Germany? In a prison. Not at home with their family. Not at home taking care of their bee hives. Not allowed to walk outside and do what a free person simply needs or wants to do with their day.
Unlike high school productions, war leaves no fondness to look back on when you are literally just trying to survive. They were men – but I bet they cried at night – more than a few times. They probably became men who prayed.
As the saying goes – once you see it – you cannot un-see it. Once you hear it, you cannot un-hear it.
The men who had been through a great amount of trauma were simply protecting us by not discussing it when they came home – and many of them told us they had their own messed-up ways of dealing with what they had been through. They carry their traumas with them their entire life.
And once we read something, we cannot un-read it – so I have hesitated to read more about any prisoner of war experiences – some of which are detailed in the book Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.
In Vonnegut’s novel, the character survives the firebombing of Dresden, Germany. Vonnegut himself lived through this experience as an American serviceman. And so too – Uncle Clair was a prisoner of war in Dresden at the same prison.
I have a lot of uncles – and they were present in my life. They were a generation of men who never had a cell phone in their hand – but would be as amazed as we are with everything a phone can do these days.
In my parents’ estate are two owner’s manuals for cameras – the Duraflex II and IV models. We still have the Duraflex II camera – and we found there is a roll of film in it. So it could be a roll of empty film or there may be a few images that will let us know what was going on back then – when my Dad used the camera for the last time in the 1960s.
Inheriting a nice amount of money from our loved ones can be seen as a blessing – but finding an estate full of historical documents and photos and letters from your aunts and neighbors and friends is truly priceless and a reminder of what just may be the important things in life.
Being ‘there’ – that must be what life is all about.
You cannot add any more time to your life – so you may as well add more life to your time.
When you look around and realize you are the old one at the family reunion – it may mean you have the word ‘great’ in front of your name – maybe even ‘great-great’ – but great is a wonderful title indeed.
The oldest in the room are those who have witnessed the most sunsets and shared the most laughs and read the most bedtime stories and enjoyed a few musical performances.
When we are a child – we do not know that our play and our talk and our laughter are gifts to the old people. But as we grow into our ‘oldness’ we figure it out – and we know a child’s love for life may just rub off a bit as we give them our time and our attention and our love.
And that part about get up, dress up, and show up – we really don’t need to dress up – just show up in your bib-overalls or suspenders and cap, in the driveway, and stand around and smile a lot.