The birds aren’t singing as enthusiastically as they had two months ago, but they are still happily visiting the feeders and chirping away contentedly. A very small hummingbird – probably this year’s baby —- zips in for the sweet fluid and hesitates when he sees me sitting on the porch. The fireflies have begun lighting up the grassy parts of the back yard, especially on warm humid nights. The second cutting of hay is nearly done for local farmers. The garden is growing but not ready to harvest. Mid-July is a fine time for picnics, for just sitting outside in a shady spot and for thinking about many things —-“Cabbages and Kings………..”* — except that I’ve observed the weeds moved in and took over when I wasn’t looking, so there’s that to do. But still, there’s a somnolent feeling about mid-summer; a contented quiet; a magic that seems ready to go on forever.
Life is not all summer, though. One of the difficult adjustments to make as one gets older is the loss of strength and energy. With fibromyalgia, I experienced this loss at a younger age than I would have expected — or desired. My mother could outwalk me when she was in her early 80s and I in my 50s, so when I visibly slowed down in my 60s, I was annoyed — very annoyed —- still annoyed! But this bit of writing caught my attention and gave me a metaphoric slap on the back of the head —- Gibbs**-style.
“Can’t clean up the whole room?
Clean a corner of it.
Can’t do all the dishes? Do one dish!
Can’t get into the shower?
Wash your face.
Always look for the thing you CAN do
With the energy and focus you Do have.
Little wins pave the way for bigger wins.
1% beats 0%.” Dr. Glenn Doyle***
Sometimes, what we want our lives to be like, just isn’t! I can growl about what I can’t do —- or actually do what I can. I have friends who are able to do less than I can even, and while this doesn’t make me any happier, it does put things into perspective. So did a comment by Marc Middleton:**** “The key to aging well is to not mourn what is lost but to celebrate what remains.” I’m quite sure that must mean more parties!
As a kid and 4-H member, mid-July was county fair time. The Ontario County Fair was a big deal then; a party for lots of people. There was not only lots to see and do, with 4-Hers from the entire county, but it also was the free pass to the NYS Fair if a person was fortunate enough to be a Grand Champion in some exhibit. And there was the unique Fair smells; the aromatic potpourri of hot sausages, cotton candy, cinnamon apples, saw dust, and barns full of horses, cows, pigs, chickens and rabbits. It is good to watch a young exhibitor scrubbing his/her calf and fluffing its tail —- calmly endured by the calf who is as tame as a puppy. If the animal was a beef steer or lamb, there were often tears at sale time, but — economics is an important part of education. I only showed an animal once — a Berkshire pig that I’d fed and coddled. Obviously, I hadn’t spent enough time training this pig because once in the show ring with other pigs, it lost what few manners it may have had at home. With a cow, a showman has a halter and lead. With a pig, there is a cane to guide one’s pig in the direction you’d like him/her to go and an oddly-shaped, hand-held board to stuff between two warring animals and that is all. Not nearly as useful as a halter around the nose and neck! This is because pigs have no necks. After the pig experience, my Fair exhibits were sewing projects, baking and garden produce. I know that county fairs have suffered during COVID, along with concerts and many other crowd-gathering events. But truly, they were diminishing in attendance even before that, and I wonder why. I hope we haven’t become so sophisticated —- so blasé — so enchanted by glitz and expensive glamor that we do not know how to have fun together in our own communities.
As well as being over-grown with weeds, my garden is in its mid-summer slump. The day lilies are in bloom but the annuals haven’t blossomed yet. I’m waiting for the marigolds, nasturtiums and zinnias to burst into color. The roadsides are colorful, though. The brassy gold, slightly tarnished now, of the wild parsnip continues to stand tall along with white clouds of sweet clover, and the periwinkle chicory is sided by tall Queen Anne’s Lace. There’s a garden outside our car windows as we drive along. Of course, some limited people consider these roadside weed patches. But wild and untethered as the plants are, they help the pollinators, they hold the soil in place and I consider them a way to beautify the country. Those who experience breathing difficulties with pollen may not be so enthusiastic, because there are also allergens, but one could argue that there are both upsides and downsides to almost everything.
One of our granddaughters enjoys debating and I hope she will find a debating team in her new school where she can put that agile mind to work. I don’t enjoy it all that much, though I’ve participated in one or two debates. However, I’ve noticed that there are people who not only do not debate, they close in upon themselves if their opinions are questioned. They don’t want to defend or even discuss their views nor do they wish to hear anything that opposes them. These people tend to make pronouncements and want immediate affirmation. I have three friends of that ilk — good and caring people who I like immensely—– but, whose thinking is so structured that they simply can’t believe everyone doesn’t agree with how they see the world. It probably feels like a safer way to exist, for there is comfort in being absolutely sure about everything. But there’s little adventure and little growth in such rigidity. I think this attitude must come from an innate fear of being wrong. One of our professors in college, who was well-acquainted with both Kerm and me because she (“Scotty”) was an advisor to the Cornell Recreation Team of which we were a part, was absolutely sure that we were making a grave error in getting married. She mistakenly thought that our lively discussions indicated major disagreements. She mentioned this to us a time or two. Obviously, she was wrong and her vision of marriage a bit skewed; we’ve managed to survive our differences in opinion and stay together for nearly 60 years. This is because our disagreements were and are generally not about basic principles but more about how one goes about implementing the principles we have in common.
One principle that we hold in common is the importance of family. In two weeks, my clan will have a gathering for a summer picnic. People may be coming from California, Massachusetts, Virginia, Connecticut, NYC, and around central NYS. We older ones all grew up more or less together, in the Rochester area. And whether our surnames are now Smith, Bossard, Landry, Romeiser, Buda or Ross, we all either emanate from or married into, the Wiley clan; beginning with Leo and Marguerite Wiley. As adults, we’ve scattered ourselves to the wind; we have grown in different directions and are the holders of many and varied spiritual philosophies and political leanings. But more important than any of these is that the original perpetrators of this sprawling family expected us to stay connected. When help is needed, those who are able respond. A few of us make sure, when there is distress or joy, that we pass the news on to the rest. A friend once commiserated with the host of this coming family reunion: “Why do you do this? Isn’t it deadly boring?” The host simply said” “Well, we happen to like each other.” And we do! One thing I do to help maintain the connections is to send out a family quiz each summer before the party. “Who is 1/4 on her way to being an MD? Who bought the same unpleasant pastry twice while in Iceland? Who just graduated from kindergarten?” We may not remember all these things about our relatives further than that day, but it gives us a glimpse into the lives of our kin for a moment or two.
The lovely weather that so encourages summer parties, seems endless now, but later will appear to have flown by in a moment or two. I feel as though I should be harvesting summer senses, as we do tomatoes, for a time of cold breezes and icy paths. I found this little poem that speaks to our good months of plenty: “First April, she with mellow showers opens the way for early flowers; then after her comes smiling May, in more rich and sweet array; next enters June, and brings us more gems than those two, that went before; then, lastly July comes, and she more wealth brings than all those three.” ***** Enjoy the continuing magic of summer.
Carol Bossard writes from her home in Spencer.
*”…of cabbages and kings” is taken from a 1904 collection of interlinked short stories by O. Henry. He, in turn, took the title from Lewis Carroll’s poem, “The Walrus and the Carpenter” from “Alice’s Through the Looking Glass”.
**Gibbs-style refers to the well-known call to attention administered by Jethro Gibbs of NCIS.
***Dr. Glenn Doyle —- Plastic surgeon in Raleigh, NC — obviously a sensible advisor.
****Marc Middleton of NW Facets —American television journalist, author and media entrepreneur who is the CEO of Growing Bolder — a wellness and health business.
Robert Herrick—— “July: the Succession of the Four Sweet Months.” Robert Herrick was an English lyric poet and Anglican cleric (which I find amusing considering some of his poetry!) He was baptized 1591 and died 1574.