Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Gift That Keeps Giving: The Human Touch


Today I spent a couple of hours with my aunt.  She is a spry eighty-eight in a time of transition. For a year now she's been living with my cousin and her family. It is different for my aunt to adjust to this new season in her life. It's sort of like she is going through a grieving process, the giving up of full independence and one's own home. Missing what she used to have. It takes time. It's so good to see her smile, to laugh over the dog or the lazy cats who love her and the attention they receive. I like to go visit her. It cheers up both of us. Our talks flow so easily. And, it makes me remember. Long ago there was something my aunt gave me that was a gift to me, not a physical gift, but of another kind. I want to tell you about what she gave to me. It isn't what you would expect.

A little background first. My family was a hard working farm family. It was also Christian in word and deed. My parents were good to their children. They taught us much, gave us music, gave us roots, and later, they gave us wings to fly our own course. It was a   good home life, not a home with a lot of personal dialogue or drama. Our home was calm and peaceful. That was the gift my parents gave to me. We didn't do a lot of socializing. A fairly normal life style for country folk. The church was the center for activity. Time with the extended family was a treat and frequent too. We were a close unit. Friday nights most of us would gather at my grandparents to talk, play the piano, play Rook, Hearts, Down the Ricer (Countdown) or Penuchle, watch TV, and have some ice cream. We'd watch movies shown on an old projector, some were of family or trips my grandpa had taken, others were old silent movies of Laurel and Hardy from that era. They were hilarious. Summers were family time.

My aunt's family lived in the southern part of California, we were in the northern part, a five hundred mile difference. My cousins would come up for the holidays and summer, living with my grandparents and working their walnut farm. So that meant we could go camping together. Lots of waterskiing, we got pretty good at it too. I loved to slalom ski. My brother's favorite was the #Maharajah waterski. It was the best ski we had. I could even lean to the side pulling hard on the line before cutting in across the wake the boat had just made, making a decent spray. Skiing was great. For kicks we'd pull three or more behind my uncle's boat and go around the lake until one of took a spill. It was grand. The #waterskiing trips to local reservoirs and lakes were great fun for the eight of us kids. My aunt seemed to love all of it. She'd bring the fixings for s'mores and roasting marshmallows. Sometimes she would squirrel away candy bars until the last day and then break them out. She knew what kids liked! Camping  with the cousins was a nice reprieve from the daily grind of farm work. I've always been glad Dad and Mom included it as part of our summer activities.

My Aunt L. would talk with us. We'd be sitting in a folding chair or at the picnic table and she'd come over and strike up a conversation. She would ask me about school (she was a teacher), the games my teacher had the class  play for P. E., and general questions about my activities that showed an interest in me. She would talk to each of us in one-on-one conversations. It felt so special to talk with her. It was rare for an adult to single me out because I was quiet and would never initiate a conversation. Most didn't do that kind of thing with me. I was too quiet, unnoticed. I remember thinking to myself as a teenager, if I ever have kids I want to talk with them like Aunt L. talks with me. And I have done so, an intentional process.

This morning my Aunt L. and I reminisced some abut the days gone by. We talked about family recipes like pan hause, souse, pap (brown sugar pudding), Busy Day cake, recipes my grandmother would make. Even a meat sauce I remember my grandmother making to put on pancakes. Good old German recipes. Talking with her today was much like when I was a young girl. It made me feel loved, liked, and wanted. She's still curious about what I've been up to. So I tell her about my latest writing ventures and my speaking engagements. She's all ears, interested, and validating. She 's still giving me a gift when we are together. She's the gift in the ways she shows an interest in me. 

What a gift she has given to me over the years. Just by listening and asking me questions,
she shows an interest in my life. It is something to treasure. I always will. I am glad I had her for an example when I was raising my children. There were times it was time consuming to talk and listen, especially the years I worked full-time, yet I've never regretted it. Some things will fly on by, and you miss your chance if you don't seize the day. Do it. Listen, care, reach out and touch. It can make a huge difference in your child's, niece's or nephew's, grand child's, or someone else's life.

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