The Gifts Of Summer

Is the aroma from my kitchen wending its way out?  Do you smell cinnamon—- chocolate—-orange?  This is cookie-baking week —- a variety of cookies for that family gathering I mentioned in the last essay.  Pineapple cookies, ginger cookies, chocolate cookies and some melt-in-your-mouth buttery nut cookies.  One thing I’ve noticed is that the cost of ingredients for cookies have risen a lot, and so desserts are actually as valuable as restaurants have been trying to make us believe all along.   But home-made cookies are definitely worth it.  Out of the kitchen and into the garden, tomatoes are beginning to ripen, which means that canning season will soon be upon us.  Hurray for the modern kitchen stove.  I can imagine just how hot a kitchen must have been with the old cook stoves that used wood or coal.  That is why many homes in Pennsylvania and further south, had “summer kitchens” where they could keep the heat of preserving out of the house.  Our home in central PA had a summer kitchen with an immense fireplace.  We didn’t use it for canning, but for the occasional party. The first stove I recall from my childhood was a kitchen stove with kerosene burners across the front, like little lanterns of isinglass. I think that didn’t last too long before an electric stove came to the kitchen.  I so appreciate my large gas burners and the stove’s capacity for more rapid heating for canning or baking, and less heat for the kitchen.

Another appliance that I —- sometimes —- appreciate, is the computer.  Emails are, of course a quick way to write a letter or even to decide committee business.  Thanks to a friend, I often get materials from the Jungian Society — followers of Carl Jung, the famous psychologist.  A recent article talked about how to make life meaningful.  I immediately thought — my life has been chock-full of meaning; how can one’s life not be so? Then I considered further about a person who has been trapped by circumstances in work for which they do not especially care, simply to earn money for living.  Or someone in a relationship that simply hasn’t worked out, but lingers on.  People in those situations often find release in heading to the nearest bar after work to ease the boredom/troubles of the day.  Often, they are not part of any social group or community that gives them inspiration and affirmation to know that life can be different. The daily grind/rut for people in such situations, seems to leave little chance for a whole, meaningful life—— although attitude makes a difference.  There is the old story of the two workers.  When asked what they were building, one replied that he was laying stone for a wall; the other said” I’m building a cathedral.”  Creativity and good attitude = Meaning in life.

Kerm and I were both fortunate in finding work to earn our bread and butter, work that we enjoyed doing.  Occasionally it was sheer serendipity.   After early years of working with kids, both as a professional and a volunteer, the coin flipped.  My college degree was not in gerontology, but that is where I ended up for nearly 20 years, and it was a good fit.  Kerm’s choice of careers was working with 4-H kids but he eventually administered the entire county Extension Service program.  We were part of an army of “human services” workers, careers that didn’t accumulate wealth but did amass rewards for mind and spirit. So, there has been meaning in how I spent my days – both at home and away from home.

Another plus in our lives, is our affiliation with a church.  With each move, we’ve chosen where to go, not necessarily based on denomination, but on how much Life and Spirit there is in the congregation. We’ve been with Presbyterians, Methodists, United Church of Christ and a community congregation made up of those three.  We’ve also attended Roman Catholic services and a Catholic charismatic fellowship, Lutheran services, Assembly of God services, a Unitarian service and Baptist services.  For years, one of our favorite groups has been “Faith At Work” (now known as “Lumunos”).  It was/is an interdenominational group offering relational spiritual growth. And for several years, we were part of a Marriage Encounter presenting team, working together with a Jewish couple, a Catholic couple and a clergy person. So — we’ve been on several of the main avenues and some of the side streets of spiritual possibilities. And we have learned that God is in every one of those places we’ve been. I expect God is also to be found in a Buddhist retreat and a Native American sweat lodge, among other locations. God goes where God wishes to go and much as we might like to confine God in our own golden boxes, God won’t be restrained. I mention all this background to explain that our spiritual lives and being in the fellowship of those also growing, are a large part of what makes us mostly happy in the midst of a world full of turmoil and, sometimes, personal crises.

Other choices have also made our lives exceptionally good — and very few of them have to do with our bank account. Enough financial security to live is a very good thing; I am not extolling poverty.  But the constant and growing need for more and more material things has not, thankfully, infected us too badly. We were fortunate to be born into families that valued education, hard and creative work, honesty and love, so that glamor, glitz and jet-setting just never seemed too desirable. Instead, we have friends who are amazing people, who have added depth, laughter, and a wider perspective to our being.   I like what Heather Aardmem said: “You can either live by design or live by default.”*  We can’t always control our situations, but we can choose the better of each path as it comes along if we know what we value in life.  This not-always-easy process of choosing may be what helps us to develop  courage for and have appreciation for each day we live.

One of my nephews, for whom I babysat when an infant, has a birthday today.  I don’t remember much about those days, so he must have been a pretty good kid. He is certainly a good adult. I think that with love and attention, most kids are good kids who then become good adults.  Too often, it is parents with false values and self-centered needs making thoughtless/misguided demands on their kids, who send kids veering in damaging directions. Of course, that is a generalization; there are other factors and parents are not always to blame.  I have liked working with kids — especially those often-obnoxious but honest and eager twelve, thirteen and fourteen-year-olds.  They are trying so hard to be adults but often still have the needs of a child. They are sometimes awkward and loud but they say what they think unless they’ve been habitually squelched.  I think we all need to pay attention to the young people to whom we have access. They need more smiles from us, more listening ears; they need to feel affection, value and acceptance of who they are coming from adults around them.

Yesterday and today, family members have been visiting from California and Connecticut.  It was an absolute joy to have time (though never enough) to catch up and just be together around the breakfast table.  When we all lived in the same vicinity, it was way easier and when I read about the families staying in the same communities for centuries, I’m a bit envious.  But we also bring something to each other simply because we don’t all live together; we bring the diversity of what we’ve learned about other people and places.  And any gifts we might have and what we know from our own genetics and our own family experiences has been shared in those places where we now live.

One time some of us in the family, were fantasizing about buying one of the Thousand Islands (I believe one was for sale at that time) for us all to live upon.  It wasn’t long before we were laughing uproariously.  We love each other; we even like each other but —- we don’t have the same social needs, spiritual visions or ways of living.  If we were all put on one island, we’d have at least three people building boats in which to escape……and they’d undoubtedly be arguing about how to build the best boat. I do miss sitting around the large dining table at my brother’s, visiting with family; some would be beading jewelry, some would be knitting, we’d all be drinking tea and laughing as we tell and retell stories.  I miss sitting with my mother at her kitchen table; the cookie box open, fragrant “Constant Comment” tea in the pot and a view of the wide lawn and gardens; frogs chunking in the pond below.  Life changes and losing those we love leaves us with a permanent “sad room” in our brains. But instead of lingering too long therein, it is both cheering and strengthening to just allow ourselves to be grateful for these good memories of the past and, recognize how they have led us to our now, for which we are also grateful.

We have come to the end of another golden summer month. August is only a few days away.  Soon we may be watching the Perseid meteor showers, finding our mornings a bit foggy and noting that the nights are just a tad cooler (hopefully!).  We’ll also see he sun setting a bit earlier. Life cycles go on as usual with summer heat and cleansing thunder showers.   Let’s be open to the gifts of each day — those “moments when the universal seems to wrap us around with friendliness.”**

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Carol writes from her home in Spencer. She may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net.   

*Heather Aardmene –Weigh loss coach and aspiring minimalist.

**WilliamJames —American philosopher, historian educator and psychologist.  He was the first American educator to offer a course in psychology.  1842-1910.