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May Musings by
(6 Stories)

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I accepted and adjusted just fine in the past seven weeks. I stayed in touch with pals, kept active with online exercise videos and organized closets, drawers and files.
Now…as a few restrictions are lifted in my state, it feels like another adjustment. Have you noticed how normal and comfortable staying home has become?

Yesterday I rode my bike to a friend’s house. We sat in her driveway, well apart…laughing and talking all afternoon. Today I went to Meijer’s garden entrance and bought a basket of flowers. Feels like I should say “yay me!”

Next week I want to try the early morning hours to get my groceries…no more ordering online. (They put things in your cart like black cherry ice cream. Or red wine. Or chocolate chip cookies…oh my! 🤨😉)

We can be safe and wise with our masks on and keeping 6-10 feet distance apart as we get what we need and get home. It feels hopeful. It’s not time yet to wander Target, nor gather at our favorite taverns, but days of browsing will return as will Girls’ Nights Out.

Sharing wine with friends via Zoom or FaceTime may soon move to driveways or large enough decks where spreading out will feel normal. Small steps and protecting others will get us there. And then we can applaud!


How We Met by
(6 Stories)

Prompted By Genealogy

/ Stories

My grandfather, mother and great grandmother Louise Stone Carswell holding me 1945. 

I grew up hearing colorful family stories about our English, Irish and Scottish roots. My grandmother would skim down the list of names and dates in an old bible and tell me what she’d heard about our ancestors. My dad’s parents had similar lists of birth, marriage and death dates on yellowed sheets of paper. Those stories and the days spent with grandma stayed with me.

Majoring in history and marriage to a reporter fueled more curiosity about myself and where I came from. As my kids did family tree projects in school through the 70s and 80s, I took on genealogy. I sent away for all those certificates as proof of when these relatives were born, married and died. Cost a few dollars here and there but I’d checked the facts. Those old, neatly handwritten dates were correct. Feeling pleased with myself, I decided to write it all down in narrative form.

Lists are boring. I wanted to bring it alive with the tales I recalled. Off I went to hear them once again from mom and dad. I wrote long paragraphs about personalities, locations and occupations and pretty much got the same details from my aunts and cousins too. I shared copies with everyone at family gatherings and that was that.

Fast forward a few decades and my grandkids began tackling family tree projects, Names and dates were all they really needed for those branches, but  oversharer that I am, I’m sure I made them listen to the interesting (boring 🙄s here) stories of their relatives. It wasn’t until my reminiscence writing class assignment that  they all ended up in a fun story. Grandma would be proud of me preserving this story of our family history:

Captain Alfred Stone left his ship on a cold autumn afternoon and hurried to a nearby Inn. As he quenched his thirst, his eyes never left the attractive scullery maid who sat in the corner peeling potatoes. Deciding she was the one, he walked over, sat on a potato sack and declared that he wouldn’t move until Susannah Coppick agreed to marry him.  It didn’t take her long according to her daughter; with his bright blue eyes and handsome beard, she immediately said yes! Living a mariner’s life back in mid-1800’s England, Alfred fathered ten children with his wife, Susannah Stone. The first six, seemingly just a year apart, were most likely a result of Alfred’s annual return home from the sea!

Thankfully, their oldest daughter Louise was inclined to write about their daily lives in her journals. She and her family moved to Sacketts Harbor, New York where her four youngest siblings were born.

As a young woman, it seemed Louise always needed new shoes. She flirted with the shoemaker’s son James, also a shoemaker, until he finally got the hint. Soon after, Louise and James Carswell married and eventually became my great-grandparents. My grandfather loved telling stories about his parents and I remember Louise from old photos. I was about 7 or 8 when she died, but I don’t recall if she always wore great shoes! They had two children: my Aunt Gladys and my grandfather James, the 8th James in successive generations of the Carswell family, who originally came from Scotland.

My grandma and grandpa met on a blind date at a masquerade party in 1918. Florence Radcliff and her girlfriend dressed as traditional Irish lasses. James played it safe, dressing in a tuxedo. Grandma was born in Ontario and had two older sisters, Marion and Dallas. Six weeks before she was born, her father Thomas was killed in a farm accident. Her uncle, a horse trainer and farmer who worked on the farm was like a father to Grandma and her sisters.  Eventually the family moved to Mt. Clemens, Michigan to find jobs and schooling, leaving the farm to Uncle Jack.

Florence and James Carswell were married in 1921.  My mom, Donalda Louise, was the first born, followed a year later by a brother, the 9th James. Her second brother came along ten years later.

Mom and Betty Bickley were friends all through school. During their junior year, Betty dared Donna to ask her brother Billy to the Sadie Hawkins Dance. He said yes, and that night changed her life, mom would tell me, my sister and two brothers.  The guy who’d been pretty much in the background was now her boyfriend.

After graduation, she worked in sales at Mrs. Brown’s Dress Shop in downtown Detroit and my dad joined the Army Air Force to become a pilot. Gordon (nicknamed Billy) and Donna (shortened from Donalda) Bickley married in June, 1943. Stationed in San Antonio, Texas, my dad wrote letters to Mom every day. He proposed in one of these letters, which I now have framed. Written on United States Army Air Force stationary, he tells how much he loved her and wanted to share his life with her. He then signed ‘Love Bill’ and added a PS…’This is a proposal’….just in case she didn’t get it!

When he learned he’d be shipped out soon, he wired Mom via Western Union and said “Let’s get married now!”  She took the train to Texas with her friend Jean, bought a flirty little dress and got married in the local church. After six weeks together, he was sent overseas and Mom took the train home, went back to work and soon realized she’d be waiting for both Billy and me!

Naming me must have been family fun night! My paternal grandmother’s name was Fanny. She and Florence, my Mom’s mom, suggested combining their names into Fanny Flo! Luckily, Mom loved the name Joan Louise; keeping her middle name and her grandmother’s name going. Louise became my daughter and granddaughter’s middle names as well.

During my sophomore year of college, my dad lost his job and I had to stay out a semester. My grandfather paid the tuition for me to return in the spring but with the stipulation that I join campus activities and not be “tied to homework and boys.” I began working on the school newspaper. I covered both school and community events, but the editor, Jim Stommen, changed everything I wrote. He edited my colorful way with words and told me my feelings and opinions didn’t count and I didn’t like him one bit! “Facts, just the facts,” he’d say and correct my punctuation.

A year later I gathered a group of friends to celebrate my 21st birthday and he declined, saying he’d take a raincheck. Sure enough he called me a week later and asked me out on a date. I knew that night, as we talked over gin and tonics, that I’d marry him someday….Scrooge had become my Prince Charming.

We were married in August, 1966. Our two kids found great life partners as well. Our son ended up marrying his girlfriend’s best friend and our daughter met her guy through an online dating site. Somehow their stories handed down in the future won’t have the same ring as the tales that started in merry ol’ England!



Beginnings and Endings by
(6 Stories)

Prompted By Neighbors

/ Stories

Our Georgia home

I was a young wife and mom that wintery morning in 1973. My husband hustled our young son over to the neighbor lady before leading me to the car. As I trudged through the snow, I saw my boy in the window next door. His face pressed against the glass, he was waving his hand and blowing me kisses, but I knew he wondered why he was there. We’d told him about the new baby coming, but that morning was so quick and hurried and anxious…we just said something like “be back soon.”

Neighbors from my early years to my later they became a piece of my heart.

That picture of him in the window is forever in my heart. Annamae pulled back the curtains and grabbed a stool so he could look out. She probably hadn’t even had her coffee, was still in her robe, but she knew what a special moment it was. She’s in my heart too. A few years later my son started kindergarten and I returned to teaching. Most mornings my little girl peeked out that same window to wave bye to us. Both my kids were so lucky to have this sweet woman love and care for them in their formative years…how proud she’d be of them today.

We moved cross-country several times and always had nearby neighbors who enriched our lives. The art teacher across the street from our Kentucky home had two kids the same age as mine. He helped me start a Cub Scout troop for our two oldest boys.

In Massachusetts, the nearest neighbors welcomed us into their home with gin and tonics days after we moved in. Their son and mine became great buddies and their older girls became our babysitters. We learned how to be New Englanders from them. We’ve kept in touch all these years and I can’t wait to visit them again at their summer home up east in Isleboro, Maine.

A cozy cul-de-sac in the sunny state of Georgia gave us several neighbors who touched our lives and hearts. We were the older couple by then, but yardwork and pool duties pretty much kept things equal as we all helped each other. The kids across from our kitchen window played with our grandkids. The man directly across from us was the go-to guy for odd jobs, fixing things, and trimming shrubs when they became too high. The young woman next door helped the twins lose their fear of dogs as they played with her two Shelties. It became a cul-de-sac tradition to sit outside every Halloween to pass out treats. I loved those catching-up-with -everyone times as we gathered in folding chairs holding a drink in one hand and the goodie basket in the other!

There’s another picture in my heart from the night my husband died. Home from the hospital, I sent my daughter and son-in-law home, i just wanted to be alone. It was late…past midnight late. Juli, the Shelties’ mom, asked if I needed anything. Wine, can I borrow a glass of wine? I texted back. Three minutes later she was at my door, a bottle and two glasses In her hands. She stayed, we drank, I talked, she listened. I wasn’t ready to share with my family or girlfriends that night. But Julianna, my next door neighbor…she was just right for me In those first hours of aloneness. I’ll always be grateful to her for being there. Two months later, she brought her chair over next to mine on Halloween night so I wouldn’t have to face trick-or-treaters on my own. I want to have such grace and kindness to pay it forward someday. How lucky we are for those in the background and on the sidelines of our lives.


Starting Again This Far Along by
(6 Stories)

Prompted By New Beginnings

/ Stories

Norman Vincent Peale wrote about dealing with life’s troubles. In an old piece I came across, he suggests we may unknowingly like our trouble”a convenient alibi for failings and shortcomings.”  In my case, I blamed my writer’s block on grief and melancholy…I’d done enough sad themes about becoming a widow and poor me!  But what really held me back was my fear of sharing that I was happy again. I was trying to begin a new life. “The spirit of man enables him to surmount his sorrows.” Peale stated, telling me it was okay.

I hope they realize how much I need them too, how they saved my soul and gave me the courage to begin again.

I focused on moving forward; learning to live on my own while keeping my husband’s light burning. I still deal with grief and loneliness at times. I feel the pain all over again when friends lose a spouse. The heaviness holds me down sometimes and it wears me out trying to push it away. But I am grateful for each day that I’m here and healthy. I can make decisions now. I can laugh and have fun and enjoy things even though I lost a part of myself. Underneath the sadness is hope, and hope begets curiosity and strength.

It’s strange feeling content and steady, but lost and wobbly at the same time. Does it ever go away? Should it? I like this kind of vulnerability. It keeps me balanced: two steps forward selling my house, traveling, thinking about another man; and then one step back with memories and tears and longing for my husband’s touch. It works in perfect rhythm most days, until I trip and step back too many times. Just like on Dancing with the Stars….I have to stop whining and try again the choreography of life’s never-ending starts.

All my life I had beginnings, but the path was laid before me pretty much. College, dorm life and degrees came with plans and I conquered them all. Marriage was the best beginning because it came with a partner! Together we figured it out through 47 years of living, raising kids, cross country moves, new jobs, homes….loving and learning and laughing all the way. We welcomed grandparenting with open arms; left alone with the first newborn, we stared at each other in awe. How did we get here? Are we ready, willing and able? We learned to tag team and face this new beginning hand-in-hand; another granddaughter, then a grandson!  By the time the twins arrived, we were having the time of our lives! We loved each other even more….not because we’d been so beautifully rewarded for raising two kids, but because we’d reached old age while we were still young and fun and on board with a fast-changing world.

There was even a plan for death. Funeral arrangements and wills and bundles of red tape are all explained in solemn binders. People magically appeared to take my hand and guide my way. But then it’s over. It’s done. And days and weeks turned into months and seasons and I floated along automatically; not quite here, but functioning. Time went by, but I was still at the beginning.

There are no rules for widowhood. No right or wrong for dining or traveling or living alone; no plan for finding friendship, companionship. Yes, there are websites and what we used to call mixers, but that’s not my style. Seventy, senior and single seeks comfortable and understanding–another wounded soul on this same journey wondering what the hell do we do now.

Our grandkids miss Grandpa too, so I’m his cheerleader now!  I’m the go-to grandparent for fun and games, sleepovers, skating, shopping. I hope they realize how much I need them too, how they’ve saved my soul and given me the courage to begin from scratch.

Should I stay or should I go was the question. I wanted a fresh place, a new environment and an old village if you will. I’m blessed to have many villages and tribes of pals who welcomed me with open arms. I knew staying there was not for me…I wanted to go and do and be! My fab five are growing up now. They had some heavy lifting, figuratively and literally, in helping me prepare to sell. Not one of them said “don’t go, grandma, we’ll miss you”…they couldn’t wait to visit wherever I landed.

It took a while to be sure of my decision to move. It came with a sense of peacefulness. “Peace means you are ready and doing the right thing,” my oldest granddaughter assured me. Each closet or shelf or drawer I opened was a peek into the past. The old woven basket I’ve kept filled with old photos was absolutely my life in a box!’Finding a place to relocate was not easy either. It felt like being blind and wide-eyed at the same time as I considered different states, different communities.

Besides peace and strength, I had faith in God’s plan and faith in myself. You too, will realize someday that you are stronger and ready for change, big or small. You’ll learn it’s okay to laugh while sadness floats inside; to tuck the past safely in your pocket, forget about ‘right’ rules and look ahead to something new.

“It’s hard to start again this far along”  the song written by Mary Gauthier goes. Brick by brick, the letting go, as you walk away from everything you know.” I can tell you this….beginnings also bring anticipation. Every new start I’ve made helped build the chapters of my life and now I’ve started another.


Selling and Saying Goodbye by
(6 Stories)

Prompted By Home

/ Stories

The sign went up today.
Eighteen years of life well-lived is for sale.
An empty-nest ranch on a quiet cul-de-sac grabbed us at the first drive-by.
Within the first year, our daughter graduated college and came to stay awhile.
A few months later, our son and his family moved in with our first grandchild.
Loving and living and laughing; we made it work.
In the blink of an eye, along came another baby girl and another son through marriage!
Our kids found their own homes; and it was just us again….
To build a garden wall, plant flower beds, design and construct a deck
Full time jobs didn’t keep us from babysitting, having sleepovers and spoiling our granddaughters.
Swim, bike ride, carnivals, fairs and Disneyworld…all through the eyes of children again.
We were having the time of our lives.Missteps and health hiccups finally caught up with us, but again we made it work.
Working from home in his wheelchair, then a walker and finally a cane….
Grandpa orchestrated and oversaw the house renovation project.
Wood floors, new appliances, added windows, French doors, Berber carpet.
As his health and mobility improved, we did a switcheroo…
He took over the household chores and I the yard work.
Great fun with our grandson running around most days!

Just when we thought it couldn’t be a more wonderful life,
The twins came along! Retirement quickly followed and now….
It truly was a Grandma and Grandpa house with double the stuff and double the fun!
Sandboxes and slides, swim gear and skateboards filled the garage.
Portable cribs in the kid’s room, games and books in the den and lap trays for those
Breakfast in Bed mornings with grandpa’s famous pancakes.

The sign went up today....For Sale

All five grandkids had pals in the neighborhood.
The twins lost their fear of dogs from the gentle shelties who lived next door.
The man across the street lent a hand for trimming too-high hedges.
Every Halloween, there we were; sitting out front. In costumes. With gin and tonics.
Catching up with neighbors while we passed out goodies was the highlight of fall.
Our yard-decorated front, back and side; had the most witches, scarecrows and ghosts
Thanks to Grandpa’s bargain shopping!

Same at Christmas time. Oh, how many freezing Decembers we took turns on the ladder,
Putting up colored lights and hanging wreaths;
Blinking Santas and snowmen, polar bears and a family of ducks. The after-holiday-clearance
Stuff was all right here in our beautiful yard. “The more the merrier the holiday,” he’d say.
And inside was no different.
Over the years we acquired quite a collection of musical decorations;
Imagine them all playing at once!

From the time they were little, the kiddos planted garden flowers and veggies every year.
We called them our Gardenyardigans. Carrots and strawberries were a favorite.
And the flowers; learning to cut and gather throughout the spring and summer is such joy.

We helped them hunt for bug and leaf specimens; and watched as they ran and shrieked
Catching fireflies on a warm June night.

With the stone wall and the oversized deck, there isn’t much lawn to play on…..but there’s a hill!
Great for coming down in winter snow; slippery fun running down into the summer sprinkler.

No Christmas decorations this past year. No sitting outside at Halloween.

The kids are busy with sports and clubs now and have all become great swimmers.

Sleepovers are in the big bed now, and it’s donuts for breakfast, not pancakes.

It’s become a Grandma-only house; not the same. Just not the same without him.

Both the inside and the outdoors have lost something; The other side of shared work, accomplishment, pride, enjoyment and love for this house.

A brand new place 18 years ago that became a lived-in home filled with happiness. Soon, the time to say goodbye will be here.

Time for this ranch to welcome another family to live and laugh.

If I could wrap my arms around this house;

I’d thank it for letting us become grandparents, letting us grow old together,

And eventually, for giving me the strength in it’s soul to grow peace in mine; Giving us both hope for a new future.

A Nudge and a Hug From Grandma by
(6 Stories)

/ Stories

My life today is all about memories. I share them from the past and make them for the future. Growing up, my grandmother gave me the greatest gift of all…her undivided time and attention. She made it great fun to practice proper English, posture and penmanship. She treated me with respect and kindness and always told me how special I was. I lived with her until I was three years old, when my dad came home from the war. By then, Grandma and I had developed a strong bond. As I grew up, she’d always give me a nudge and a hug if I was ever in doubt. I cherish the attention and time Grandma Carswell gave me over the years and send it forward now with my own grandchildren. The oldest one gave me the nickname Gramcracker…this is our bond. 

From the moment I met her, I knew she’d be my person. That person who loves you unconditionally and becomes a part of your inner self. We both felt it when my son first placed her in my arms…it was in her eyes and mine, a spark, a connection of souls. For twenty years we’ve gravitated together every chance we can. Her parents quit their jobs, packed up and moved cross county when she was two months old so I could be a part of her life. They lived with grandpa and I for several months.

There she was on the floor scooting, crawling and pulling herself up when I got home from my classroom each day. When they moved into their first home, she’d sit on her stool in the doorway, watching for me to come up the driveway. She was my ever-present buddy at age three, wanting lots of grandma time when her little sister came along. She rode in the back of my car buckled in a pink car seat reciting rhymes and singing me songs that made my heart soar.

At age six, her family moved across the country again, but I took time during school breaks to visit my girl in California. It was paradise, her home and school were on the beach. Sand and sea were their way of life now, so we made it ours as well. Before long this bald, inquisitive baby girl who spoke in sentences at age one grew into a smart, confident young lady. At age twelve, she wanted to see snow, learn about Alaska, try dog sledding. Grandpa and I made it happen. Flying across the snow like a magic carpet, mushing the dogs through high drifts and freezing temperatures, my granddaughter and I laughed and squeezed hands knowing this was a memory-making moment.

As the years went by, we spent more time in our own beach house and guess who my playmate was! We rode bikes, learned to paddleboard and built sandcastles together. For ten years grandpa and I did this, making sure we celebrated birthdays, school events and holidays with both girls. Summers brought them back east to spend time at our house, swimming and playing with their cousins. The annual traditions included tea parties, colored pancakes, sprinkler fun, chasing fireflies and two bedtime stories: one from a book and one about their daddy’s childhood.

As they grew older, the girls took turns coming alone. My oldest came one summer with her learner’s permit…oh how we loved riding along as she learned to drive. She was a high school junior, but spending time with us was still a priority. She felt our bond even more when I shared stories about my own grandma taking me on bus trips, reading Little Women together and hanging clothes outside to dry in the summer.

Suddenly, this granddaughter was there when I needed her most. A month after grandpa died, she spent her fall break with me. She sat on the bed and listened. Asked how we had met. She held my hand and hugged me, knowing what to say and when to stay quiet. She was there a year later when I decided to sell the house. It was hard letting go of the Grandma and Grandpa House that also embraced four other grand kids. But she talked me through it, eventually saying ” it’ll be okay, I can tell you’re at peace with it.”

Her family’s move back to Michigan inspired me to return home too. Back to where my story began. I found a condo and soon this number one girl was my roommate. A college student now, she stayed with me to be closer to campus. Luckily, she took over the kitchen, a far better cook than me. She’s intelligent, creative and fearless…a Katniss warrior to this Pollyanna nana! Opposites in many ways, we mesh and muddle through as only best friends can. An art major, her painting of my blue beach cruiser with years of salty-air-rust forever captured on canvas hangs on the dining room wall. Most recently, she’s put her creative talents into writing and publishing two novels. I think back to the pride and delight my grandmother had when I left home for college, wondering if she felt the same hold-on, push-off tug that swirls inside of me.

I’m cherishing time with my girl, the young woman she has become. She’s moving again, back to California on her own. The countdown has begun. She’s eager to go and do and be. Go sweet girl, follow your dreams. Listen to your heart, feed your soul, chase the waves. My gift to you is a nudge and a hug.