Friday, July 22, 2016

July, Then and Now

I've been blogging for over 10 years now. I rarely go back and read old posts, but lately I've had a desire to do so. Something about how my life seems to be subtly shifting, how those little children and those young parents we were seem so far away now.

I just read a post from 10 years ago when the kids, my brother, and my niece were visiting my parents in NY. Here's an excerpt:

But we enjoyed a relaxing day on the lake. The temperature has dropped a good 10 degrees or more. Sleeping is lovely, and we're all tremendously revived. This evening we resurrected an old Cummins family tradition: Literary Nights. We started this probably 20 years ago, when my brothers' girls were probably 4, 5, and 6. This is exclusively an extended-family event, held on special occasions when we were all together. For a successful Literary Night (and they always are), each person needs to bring a performance piece to share. This can be anything from a poem to a song to a joke to a story. The girls even used to put on skits in full costume. Although for the past 7 years, the whole extended family gets together on many occasions during the winter months, we haven't had a Literary Night in probably 10 years. Mom mentioned it yesterday, and we all thought it sounded like a great idea. (Well, Jesse didn't particularly think so, but he was a good sport about it.) Laurel was tremendously excited.

And so we gathered in the living room after supper. John started by playing his "Randy's Rainbow" song on his guitar. I read a couple of poems. Dad read a bunch of his stories and poems, and Esther told a ghost story. Laurel read a poem and Mom some scripture. Duncan attempted to sing "I am the Walrus." Dad told some more stories. Jesse listened. John wrapped it up with an hour's worth of singing old favorites. Daisy howled. I dragged a very reluctant Duncan and Laurel off to bed while Uncle John kept playing guitar. Laurel's prayer included a "Thank you that we got to do Literary Night!" It was a good day. [July 2006]

I'm so glad I blogged about that night. I have absolutely no recollection of it whatsoever. (Duncan sang "I Am the Walrus"??) I remember the Literary Nights from when my nieces were little, but this sweet night? Not a glimmer.

That's what I love most about blogging: that I've captured moments in writing that I can't seem to store in my memory.

So much has changed since that post 10 years ago. My parents moved from New York to down the road here in Tennessee about 7 years ago. My niece Esther, who has her own 8-year-old daughter now, has long since removed herself from our family. My kids—then just 5, nearly 9, and 13— are young adults now, or practically, in Duncan's case. My brother John is close to retirement age but just finished his PhD.

It was a lifetime ago.


Here's a slice of life tonight.

It was a quiet day around here. Hot—near 100—but quiet in our well-air-conditioned home.

Randy, who for the first time ever is taking the summer mostly off, was supposed to take his mother to a doctor's appointment, but she wasn't feeling well enough to go. Instead, he took Duncan and Laurel to the bank: Duncan to open his own bank account (finally), Laurel to order a chip card for her upcoming semester in Vienna. Later, Randy did the grocery shopping for us and for his mom. He's a good man, that Randy. I am blessed.

I threw out my back a couple of days ago, so I've been fairly couch-ridden. It's registration time in our support group, and I'm the membership coordinator, so I typically spend a few hours a day doing registrations and answering questions. All of that I can do from the couch. I did a little Bible journaling. It's something I've started doing this past year. I love the combination of art and worship, the chance to do a little painting and drawing. Laundry, dishes, a little cleaning. The usual.

Laurel was off work today. She's been a nanny/driver this summer and usually has to get to her job by 7 a.m. This week she was also assisting with a psychology seminar for high schoolers— three evenings this week plus working plus having a friend in town: she was ready for a day off. It's been a rough summer for her emotionally. She and her boyfriend of two years broke up at the beginning of it, and she is finding her footing again. I remember those times of redefinition, of trying to remember who you were before and wondering who you will become. It's a hard time, but I'm proud of the way she's kept moving. I know with absolute certainty that, as hard as this summer has been for her, amazing things are to come. At nearly 19, the world is all right there, ready to open up to her, and the pain she's feeling now is nothing like the joy that is coming. I've been there—oh, how I've been there.

She left late this afternoon to meet up with friends, and this weekend she's driving to Nashville with college friends to go to another college friend's wedding. And in just a little over a month, she heads to Vienna for the semester.

We didn't hear from Jesse today. He works on Fridays. He's a supervisor for USAir, and we don't usually see him Friday-Monday. He'll pop in on Tuesday or Wednesday to catch up, do his laundry, eat. He lives across town but is trying to sublet his apartment so he can move up to downtown Knoxville. He's planning to take the GREs and apply to graduate school in the fall. I hope he does, I really do.

Duncan has enjoyed a relaxing day at home. He's been to three camps this summer and had algebra 2 tutoring on the weeks he's not at camp. This was his first Friday without anything to do, and I think he loved it. He watched some Netflix, filled the birdfeeders, read, rode his bike, took a nap. Lazy summer day.

I visited Mom and Dad after their late afternoon naps. Mom has been struggling lately. At 89, she's been diagnosed with the onset of dementia. She's still pretty sharp, but when she's in pain, she tends to repeat herself a dozen times in an hour. She's suffering from what she calls neuritis in her face this week— a pain that is so severe she can hardly function at times. But still, she's up for a game of dominoes. I win.


In the evening, Randy and I sit on the swing and eat orange creamsicles. Later he and Duncan go to see the new Star Wars movie at our city's amphitheater. I imagine most of the city will be there, spread out on blankets on a hot summer night. I'd love to have gone, but the thought of two hours in a camp chair sounded impossible.

I go back to see Mom and Dad again when the guys leave for the movies. Duncan and Randy made chocolate pudding for Mom, so I take that to her. She's resting when I get there at 7:45 p.m. She's just put drops in her eyes— she has macular degeneration. She's blind in one eye and has gotten to the point where she really can't read anymore. For a woman who has read a book every couple of days for the past 30 years, this is a big deal.

She eats the pudding enthusiastically, as does Dad. We play a few hands of rummy. I win. "That must be your middle name," says my mother. My father tells me a dream he had last night. "Your grandmother and her neighbor, Lottie, were eating eggs at the breakfast table. Your mother and I came in and sat at the dinner table. Your grandmother had set the table with her best china, and she split the remaining egg in half for your mother and me. She was expecting us."

My father laughs at the dream. My mother says, "We had eggs last night! That's why he dreamed that."

I look at my father. Surely he must see the meaning in this dream: my grandmother, dead now for 30 years, put her best china out for them in expectation.

I don't say this to him, of course. I come home, and as I drive, I think about how sometimes I am afraid my life will stop when their lives stop. I think about my little nephews, ages 1 and 4, and how my brother —their Dad—is even more a member of the sandwich generation than I am.

I come home to a quiet house, putter around a little, and read about my July ten years ago. So much has changed—our lives our quieter for the most part, less physically exhausting and more emotionally exhausting—and yet our core is intact. Randy says he loves to go back and look at pictures of the kids on Facebook; I've found it difficult to do in the past few years because I just miss the kids being little. But I'm finding it easier to move into the next season lately, easier to look back at their little faces without feeling like I've lost something. I'm even OK with those little faces growing up and going into the world. They've turned into such lovely human beings.

We are who we are, Randy and me and all these people we've attached ourselves to. We've built this life together, and I wouldn't have it any other way.