A Year of gifts
SOMETIMES THE ROADBLOCKS, SETBACKS, AND HEARTBREAKS OF LIFE TURN OUT TO BE THE GREATEST GIFTS OF ALL . . .
I read somewhere once that to survive, we humans need to change, just like the seasons. This is a powerful and accurate analogy, but when change happens too fast, sometimes all at once, it can weigh us down and make us feel overwhelmed.
Here, in North Dakota, we enjoy four distinct seasons, although the beauty of both fall and spring can feel too short. October often brings beautiful weather, but the past few days have been nothing short of ridiculous around here. I think Mother Nature might have gotten her months mixed up.
Normally, the days can still be warm, evenings cool, and the landscape can be vivid with color. On Wednesday, I took a walk in the park near my office and enjoyed our typical autumn splendor. Leaves on some of the trees were changing, offering warm golds and bright reds and oranges, providing a striking contrast to the green leaves remaining on other trees. The grass was a brilliant green yet, given how wet it’s been, the sky was a vivid blue, and some hearty flowers were still blooming.
Few leaves had fallen from the trees yet. A man was mowing the grass, and squirrels were scampering everywhere. I mean everywhere. One skipped right across the walking path in front of me, and when I looked around for more, I counted at least ten squirrels within thirty feet of where I walked, all digging and scurrying around, as if preparing. They didn’t need to hear the weather forecast to know change was in the air.
Tuesday was a balmy 70 degrees. It felt like summer. Wednesday, when I walked, was still a very pleasant, “fallish” day with a high of 66 degrees. But those squirrels were smart to prepare. By Thursday, the high was only 37 degrees, and predicted rain had arrived. We’ve had too much moisture lately. The ground is saturated. The river behind our house is well out of its banks (thank goodness for permanent dike protection), and the ditches in front are full of water. As the temperature continued its downward slide, rain turned first to ice, and then to snow. Overnight, winter arrived.
Three different seasons over three days: summer, fall, and winter.
I was home alone this weekend, enjoying lots of quality writing time. Most of it has been spent preparing my new holiday novel for publication, and the irony of an early snowstorm raging outside isn’t lost on me.
But there was a problem. Guess what happens when heavy, wet snow falls, and the leaves and bushes still have all their leaves? You guessed it. Those leaves catch the ice and snow, and the weight of it all creates tremendous stress. I hated the thought of broken limbs and damaged trees.
I decided to give Mother Nature a hand. Even she can be unprepared for change sometimes. Out I went, into the early evening dusk with my handy broom. When I think of fall, I think of cozy sweaters and cute boots. My reality was more like a dorky stocking hat, an old raincoat, and my trusty, baby blue water boots. There was nothing cute about my ensemble, and I know I looked slightly ridiculous, using my broom to knock as much of the weight off the trees and bushes as I could. All was quiet, except for the constant whoosh of the wind and the faintest of sounds made by the icy snow. I’m only 5’2” so higher limbs were out of luck, but I gave it my best shot.
It helped, but more snow fell overnight. When I looked out in the morning, I was worried I hadn’t been able to do enough to prevent damage. I was determined to do what I could, so out I went again with my trusty broom, not knowing how soon the temperature would rise above freezing again.
The picture on the left was taken Friday evening, the one on the right Saturday morning (same tree):
I couldn’t help but think, as I tried to remove as much of the heavy snow as I could, how this storm so closely mirrored life. When we have to endure too much change, too quickly, it can all feel overwhelming. We can feel weighed down by a sense of hopelessness. When this happens, we need to ask for help. There are people out there that can help with our burdens. Maybe it’s a family member who can help us out with childcare or taking care of an aging parent. Many people experience this overlapping of seasons. Or you may be experiencing lots of change in other parts of your life.
As I knocked the heavy snow from leaves and limbs, it was as if the trees sighed in relief, their branches lifting toward the sky when released from their burdens. While there was plenty I couldn’t reach with my broom, often the limbs closest to the ground bore the most weight. I had plenty of plops of snow hit me square in my face, and I hoped no one was watching, but I was able to make a difference.
The crack of splintering wood did vibrate through the air as I was beating off the snow. A tree down the street wasn’t able to withstand the weight.
The lilac bushes were easier to deal with, and quickly sprung back up.
Change is inevitable, and we should prepare for the unknown as best we can, but sometimes even the best planning won’t be enough. Usually, trees lose their leaves before the first heavy snowfall, and the precipitation falls harmlessly to the ground. But when things don’t happen in the expected order or too much happens at once, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.
And we have to trust that things will work out. The storm provided me with one more example of this.
A large tree did fall over in our backyard, unable to withstand the force of the wind and ice. But here’s the thing. We suspected the tree was rotten inside, and it needed to come out. The plan was to cut it down once the ground was frozen, carefully lowering it so it wouldn’t damage surrounding trees or structures. But without any human intervention at all, the storm laid that dead tree over perfectly, sending it backward, toward the river instead of the house, and it fell straight back, sparing the surrounding trees from any damage. I never even heard it fall (so I still don’t know the answer to the age-old question: if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it even make a sound?)
All that’s left is cutting up the wood and hauling it away (I won’t be doing that on my own!)
I do love the month of October. It is a month where we often have a foot in two different seasons, a transition month. It mirrors life, where things are constantly changing. We navigate change best when we prepare for it as much as we can, don’t fight the process, and either ask for or provide help to others as needed.
And since we are only a couple of weeks from Halloween, I couldn’t help but think of my favorite t-shirt I like to wear on the 31st of every October, while I was using my broom to beat the heavy snow off the trees and bushes outside. I guess my broom has many uses!
October comes with a ghost of change in the air. Watch for it, and stay warm. Kim
I was lucky to grow up in a small town with my grandparents close by. One set lived on a farm outside the city limits, the others lived near my grade school. I’d often walk there after class, and enjoy Grandma’s sugar cookies and a card game while waiting for my parents to pick me up.
My grandparents were an integral part of our lives, and we never celebrated a holiday without them. I remember plenty of home-cooked meals, afternoons spent visiting on the front porch and even one disastrous rollover on a three-wheeler with my big cousin. Luckily we were climbing sand dunes at the gravel pit my grandfather operated. If we’d been on any other surface, that accident could have been life-altering!
My grandparents are all gone now, and honestly, I most often reflect on times spent with my grandmothers. They were strong, loving women, and I know I owe much of my dedication to family to the examples they set while I was growing up. But my grandfathers played important roles as well.
Dad’s father died when I was in the third grade, so my memories of him are limited. I remember the awful phone call when he passed and attending his funeral. I suspect it was my first and I’ve never forgotten it. Mom’s father was part of my life for many more years. Grandpa Les lived long enough to meet our son. I only wish they’d had more than a few years together.
Last week, I decided to set out a few fall decorations around the house, something I hadn’t bothered to do over the past few years. As I dug through the tub of decorations, my hand fell upon a frame. My breath caught as I turned it over, and my eyes read my grandfather’s poem. How could I have forgotten about this?
I’d never known Grandpa to be a writer. An avid golfer, yes, but never a writer. It wasn’t until years after he was gone and Mom gave us framed copies of a poem he’d written that I realized there were facets to the man I’d never known. I guess I’m not the only writer in the family!
All nature is arranged in gayest tint
Of yellow, red, and golden brown. O’er all,
A sky of light, clear blue which tells of fall
Approaching near, with wintry blasts of flint.
The parks, the trees, now yield their summer bloom
To more sedate and somber hues of gold.
The air, so clean and crisp, has told and told
Its tale of autumn and summer’s doom;
Is it for us to challenge nature’s change,
To wonder why it must be so? Or is
It in the hands of Someone more supreme
To make the world seem lovely, wild and strange?
We know that in the winter we will miss
The tranquil beauty of that autumn scene.
Can you picture a crisp autumn day, feel the tease of a soft breeze on your face, and smell the leaves as you read my grandfather’s words? I wish I knew when he wrote this. Was he a young man, perhaps in school, or sitting on the very same front porch that would become the setting for so many of my memories? I’ll never know for sure.
I placed Grandpa’s poem in the front bay window, then turned to set a ceramic pumpkin on the hope chest behind me. My mind flooded with the story behind this very special piece of furniture. Here again was another reminder of Grandpa.
Grandpa Les gave this hope chest to my grandmother as a gift. I think Grandma told me he gave it to her for her high school graduation, and if I'm remembering it right, nearly one hundred years have passed since Grandma graduated. By the time I discovered this chest, it had been relegated to their basement, cast-off and nearly forgotten.
So how did it end up in my living room?
Labor Day weekend festivities for our family always include an annual golf tournament back in our hometown. One year, when I was in college, I ran over to my grandparent’s house to see Grandma. Most everyone else was at the course, either playing or watching golf, but I don’t ever remember Grandma going out there. I couldn’t find her that day when I stopped by (I think she’d gone to visit a neighbor). I checked all over the house for her, even going down to the basement. I can still picture that crumbly old basement. One had to be careful on the stairs, and it had a smell all its own.
That particular day, for some reason, I noticed an old chest in the corner. I’d never paid any attention to it in the past, although it had probably been down there since before I was born. I was living in an apartment at the time, and likely looking to furnish it. The old chest was dark in color, nearly black, and the beautiful carvings on the front were barely discernible. But I suspected it had been beautiful before age had taken its toll.
Did I dare ask Grandma or Grandpa if I could have the chest? I was excited at the prospect of trying to refinish it but nervous to ask. I still remember Grandma’s shocked face when I asked her later that evening. She couldn’t understand why in the world I wanted that old piece of junk. But with her blessing, my then-boyfriend (now husband) helped me wrestle it out of that old basement and take it over to his mom’s house where we’d undertake our first-ever refinishing job.
This is one piece of furniture I plan to keep forever. My grandfather could never have guessed where it would end up a century after he gave it to his young girlfriend.
The hope chest is more than just a pretty piece, sitting in our living room. It contains countless treasures from my first fifty years on this earth. There are also items I saved while cleaning out my grandparent's things when they transitioned out of their homes. I need only to open the top to see a dizzying array of history.
There is no order to the jumble of precious items in my hope chest. The items listed above are only the top couple of layers. I know more treasures lie beneath, like my own wedding dress as well as my mother’s. Some day, I’ll sit down and go through it all again, perhaps with my own kids. Sometimes touching special objects gives us the power to remember things long forgotten, and remember those that have come before us, without whom we wouldn’t exist. I’m hoping the cassette tape of a grade school interview I did of my Grandpa Les is in there somewhere.
Often we look around and despair over the clutter and junk that accumulates as we live our lives. We toss, we recycle, and we donate, all in an effort to keep peace and harmony in our own homes. But I encourage you to keep the most precious of items, corral them in one special place, and give yourself the gift of memories.
We all have a history. Don’t be too quick to throw it all away. I’m so thankful Grandma’s hope chest never ended up in a pile on the curb during clean-up week. What a waste that would have been! Kim
Hello everyone and welcome to my blog! My name is Kimberly Diede and I'm a self-published fiction author and family girl. When time permits, I am happiest with a great cup of coffee in one hand and a book in the other. I love to alternate between reading and writing. Winters here can be long, dark and cold. Summers are unpredictable, lovely and always too short. Every season of the year, as in every season of life, is a gift. Let's celebrate it together!