Posts tagged community

Earth Day, 1969-2013

I remember the first Earth Day. I was in Junior High, in the downtown area of my city for the first time, my generations first step away from our neighborhood elementary schools. It was the year schools were integrated in my town. How excited we were, to be part of this first Earth Day, we were the “babies” of the “hippie” culture and were anxious to be considered part of the idea behind Earth Day-cleaning up the environment, getting back to home gardens and self-sustaining ideas. Of course at our age, our ideas were limited, as the concept of waste and growing up in a throw away society was our world.

We had just begun to think like adults, have our own ideas and concepts. This is one of the very first days I remember with my mind in an “adult” format. I will never forget it. In celebration of Earth Day, our art class went out and sat on a grassy bank in front of our school and were told to draw pictures of what downtown looked like. I am sure there were kids who were just glad to be outside, but for me, sitting on that hill drawing a picture my perception of the small city was eye-opening. I had lived there all my life, but for the first time, I REALLY looked at my city. I noticed the huge church next door with the domed roof, I looked out at the dogwood trees blooming on down the hill on our school grounds I looked back at the small chipped-rock playground where “recess” and P.E. were held.

Suddenly” my city” became more than simply “my neighborhood. There were still rows of 20’s era building lining the streets beyond the school. There were woods and grassy areas behind the area where the old brick school building set. A red brick wall divided our school grounds from the street below. s I took this all in, the world seemed like a much larger place for the first time in my 14 years of life. i noticed a possibly homeless man wandering the sidewalk beyond the school. His clothes were old and tattered and he appeared to be rather unaware of where he was or in what direction he was going. Having grown up a protected only child who spent her time shopping uptown with my mother, I had given little though to life outside my safe urban world. There were no real “malls” in my town, a few “shopping centers”. No drunks staggered down the streets where I lived. Being “Homeless” was something that happened “somewhere else”, not in my town.

We had a speaker on that first “Earth Day” that introduced us to the concepts of taking care of the world we lived in. In 1969, the world was beginning to seem much smaller and it was happening very quickly. I could not imagine, at that time, how quickly those changes would take place. There were three black and white channels on TV, huge, unsightly receptor antennas stood on top of our homes to bring them to us. Telephones had dials and curly cords. No one that I knew had a microwave, although, I imagine some of the “rich” kids” did. Most moms didn’t work unless they “had to” or at least until their kids were old enough to get off the bus and stay home alone until she got there. Now, letting even a 14 year-old come home to an empty house gives moms an uneasy feeling. I lived in a very innocent world.

There were many more Earth day celebrations in my future, all in an increasingly frightening, yet more aware world. We planted trees, cleaned up river banks, volunteered in homeless shelters. We became aware of the world around us. Sadly, the opening of the door to the fact that we MUST start taking care of our world, was the beginning of the end of the innocent world I grew up in. The old brick Junior High was torn down the next year. The hill was leveled, along with the woods and playground. An interstate now “by-passes” the tunnel through the mountain, which long separated my side of town just as the high bridge across the river separated us from the other side of town.

Integration was the rule and we were at its inception. The concept of Middle School replaced Junior High. There were several big race” riots in the remaining years old my secondary education. Surprisingly, I don’t remember having problems with people with different colored skin. I do, however, remember that though we went to “same” schools, we rarely did things with children who were of a different color form u, or from a different part of town. Earth Day songs played by John Denver Appeared. The whole concept of saving our world from pollution and saving our poor from deprivation became a project for various civic groups.

Earth Day, in 2013 is very different from the first Earth Day. The focus, has ironically returned to its roots, but it is now organized, with special events, a more modern focus. As I talk to my grandchildren, who are still young, and to my teen, who is the age I was at earth Days inception, their world is already a much bigger place. News spreads fast, violence is everywhere, most moms have to work, cable TV, cell phones, technology in general are a part of their world from the time of their birth.

Still, I feel something very important is missing from their more protected, more violent, more technological world. There is an expectation of “things”, there are less moms fixing dinner for the family as they talk about how their day went. The is a lack of innocence, a lack of closeness and dependence among each other in families that to me is simply sad. Everyone is in their room playing with their ipods, ipads, computer games or watching recorded programs from Cable TV. They are not together, not reading books to the little ones at bedtime, not growing up appreciating the bonds of family or the importance of relationships with real people.

I would like to see Earth Day become part of a new trend towards family, community, doing things because they are right or good, rather that to get extra credit in school or bragging rights at the office. I would love to spend a day, heck a lifetime with my children and grandchildren able to savor the simple things in life, like sitting on a hillside drawing pictures with a pencil and table. My daughter, now the mother of two, won a regional prize or a report with the topic, “We must learn to ‘baby’ “Mother Earth”.

Today, I feel a good topic would be, “We must learn that ‘family life’ exists beyond electronics”.


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The Grinch Who (almost) Stole Thanksgiving

12  The Grinch who Stole Thanksgiving

It is Thanksgiving day-again. I have come to hate the holidays (hell-a-days) as I have often been caught calling them.  I cook till my back is throbbing, my grown kids do too. We  rush in, eat an early lunch because, invariably, someone has to go to work, or there are other families that want to share the day with them.  Sometimes, married kids who have out of state in-laws will have” their turn” this year. My dad, widower, had another invitation, and I encouraged him to go.

The Grinch in me creeps in. My best friend of 35 years died of cancer on Thanksgiving Day 2004,  I lost my healthy teenaged son six years ago, I lost my health from the stress of his sudden loss, and still struggle with those limitations.  I lost my mom nearly two years ago. I have lost two cousins to cancer since late August. I have a long list of reasons to be the Thanksgiving Grinch.

Still, as everyone reminds me, I have a lot to be thankful for.  I have five other children, four grandchildren and two on the way. They all live nearby and I see them often. Despite my health problems and family issues, I am still able to cook, to keep up the family business, and to baby-sit my grandkids now and then. I am often caught  having  fun with my teenaged son and his friends. I am even caught laughing or smiling now and then.

As we rushed through the Thanksgiving meal today, and I was putting away food, my husband came in. He asked me if our next door neighbor, a widow, had gone to her daughters home for the day. As I filled smaller dishes with leftovers, I admitted that I didn’t know.  We take our neighbor her mail and paper every day and take her trash cans up and down on trash day. I rejuvenated the overgrown flower garden her husband used to care for so deeply, back in the summer.  We often sit and visit with her, just as our families have done for generations. She is like a second mother to me. We have been neighbors, more like family, for our whole lives.

As my husband and I talked, I quickly, I got on the phone and called her. After several rings, I imagined she was with her family. Then, she breathlessly answered the phone. I could imagine her struggling to the phone on her walker.

“Hi!” I greeted her.

She returned the greeting with a cheerful voice that made me smile.

“We were wondering if you had already had some Thanksgiving Dinner?” I asked.

“”No, I was just sitting here,” she replied sadly. “I’m alright, I have food.”

“ No Thanksgiving meal? Well, don’t eat anything!” I fussed, “We will be right over with a plate for you.”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that…” She started.  But I stopped her and said, “We will be right over.” and hung up the phone.

Her house is right next door to our house and I mean a matter of yards, not blocks.  Within five minutes, my daughter and I arrived at her door with four plates of food.,  ham, turkey, dressing gravy, rolls, vegetables, cranberry sauce and desserts. She was sitting on her walker-chair at her back door when we got there.

My daughter turned and grinned at me as we opened her screen door.

“Happy Thanksgiving”, my daughter said, as our neighbors eyes filled up with tears. (My eyes fighting tears as well.

She invited us in and we unloaded the plates of food on her counter.  She told us how her daughter was sick and they had made no plans for the day. We stayed and talked a few minutes, all of us fighting tears. Suddenly, I realized, we were laughing and smiling, telling each other what a blessing it was to have people who loved you.

After a few minutes, we left her to enjoy her food and returned to my house next door. When my husband, son and grandson found out she was spending the day alone, they too, went over and spent a little time with her.

I don’t think there was a dry eye in my house when they returned.  I looked around at the crowd of people, the driveway full of cars and realized something that I had never really thought about before.  Being thankful isn’t about what we have-it is about what we have that we can give to others.

I watched as my children packed up their kids and cars and half empty bowls of food and I thought of all the other people like my neighbor, who would, indeed, spend the holiday alone.  It is easy to bury ourselves in our own grief and stress. Within the sorrow, loneliness, anger and pain of the past few years of my life, I had forgotten how to appreciate what I still had.

The Grinch’s heart (my own) grew two sizes today. Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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