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The Lesson of the Pear Trees

23 Sep

Years passed at Heathfield, happy years for the most part. My love for the house and everything in it grew a pace. The land and the trees and the bountiful flowering bushes, lilac and snowball and Japonica. I adored the place. That first summer I would walk around it just saying silently “This is OURS, this is MINE.” It was a dream come true. Why had I delayed moving to the country so long?
I had been afraid. Afraid of change and the unknown and having to make a whole new life for ourselves. But the very things I had been afraid of became the best things. The whole new way of life was miraculous. And we all grew and changed and became better people because of it. Because of Heathfield we had a wonderful life of healthy, fun and frolic. We raised dogs and horses and cattle and chickens and pigs and even tried quail (disaster) and bunnies and I am sure I have left some animals off the list, by accident.
Time passed, our son Charley Jr and daughters Helen and Lilla grew and more were born. Robert and then Murdoch added to our young family. We entertained a great deal. Often we had parties on the terrace overlooking the yard where a pair of pear trees dominated the view. They were charming with their wide branches and tall for fruit trees. Gorgeous in springtime covered in white blossoms, magnificent in summer laden with pears, presaging winter as their leaves changed early in the fall. And in deep winter standing naked and proud of their shape, they were the first thing the eye beheld when looking south. I loved those trees.
And then disaster struck. One morning when I looked out of the window towards the south a horrible sight greeted me. One of the pear trees lay in pieces on the ground. When I say pieces I really mean pieces. It looked as if a china figure had crashed and broken into sections which were lying on the ground. I was so sad. It was heartbreaking to see the remains of that tree. And the other one looked forlorn and alone. Charley called a tree company and they came out to look at it and they brought horrifying news. We must cut down the mate to the fallen tree. We had no choice. It was dead and brittle just like the downed tree. No telling when it, too could fall. It might happen while children were playing in the yard. The situation brought a real danger to our family and needed to be addressed immediately. So we cut her down.
I cried. And I mourned those pear trees. When ever I looked into the yard in that direction, I saw only the gap where there had once been trees.

My eyes saw no further. It was as if there were a screen between me and the further fields. And so things remained all the rest of that year. Over and over I mourned the trees. I spoke of them often. It ruined my pleasure in that yard to see the empty place where they had been.
The following spring I gave a luncheon for the Mount Vernon Chapter of the DAR, at Heathfield. I wanted to please my mother in law. And I was pretty good at throwing these parties for a whole lot of people. I did not hesitate. The day was fine. Not too hot nor was it cold. There were about 60 ladies and I had tables placed all around two sides of the house for them to sit down and eat their lunch. I believe we served them quiche and a salad and then when it came to desert I realized that the pies I had bought were frozen. They needed to cook for nearly an hour in order to be ready. it was a terrible mistake. We heated the ovens extra high and tried to speed it up other ways.
In the meantime I was outdoors trying to distract the ladies from the fact that the desert was so late. I was speaking to a couple of ladies as we gazed out, toward the south. We were looking at the yard where the pear trees used to stand.
“I am so sorry you cannot see the pear trees which once stood there,” I said. “They were so pretty and big and bloomed so wonderfully in the spring.”
And the lady said “Oh that would have been terrible. They must have spoiled your view. You would not have been able to see this lovely vista!”
And when she said that, it was as if scales were removed from my eyes. Suddenly I saw the view. The gorgeous view that had opened up immediately when the pear trees were down. A magnificent view had been there all the time, and I never noticed it. I was too busy mourning the trees that were gone. Focused on lack, I failed to see the abundance which was squarely in my view.
But once I saw it, I could not UN-see it. I was grateful. And I marveled at the human brain and how it can deceive us. All that time I spent missing something that had run its course. Those trees were old. Their time was past. And furthermore, we had acquired the land on the other side of the stone wall. It belonged to us now. And we were able to care for it and mow it and keep it trimmed to some extent while still allowing cover for the little animals which lived in thickets around the fence lines.
What I saw now was spectacular. The long view, the vista, the undulating land disappearing in the distant wood and succeeding fields carried the eye on and on. Everyone could see it, but me. I have rarely been so blindsided by something that was right in front of my face. The lesson has stayed with me. I often speak of the Lesson of the Pear Trees. I have told the story hundreds of times and gained a bit more self knowledge each time. I am so grateful to those trees for teaching me.
It is one of the most important lessons one can learn. And for some reason it seems to be a common problem. People focus on something or someone who is gone, and fail to see that a better thing or person is right in front of their nose. Why is this a pattern?
I am not sure why. It is almost universal. But I preach this over and over. Don’t overlook something wonderful because you are busy looking for something that is no longer there.
There are so many properties, so many dogs, so many choices of people who could be a mate. The possibilities are endless. But you must take the trouble to look. And sometimes that is not easy. Everyone gets tired of beating their heads against a stone wall. People lie to themselves, often. The most important thing is to know what you want, and why you want it.
I wanted the Pear trees because they had always been there. As soon as they were gone I began focusing on lack. it colored everything I looked at. It even colored my thinking about Heathfield for a time. And yet there was NO LACK. Actually there was a better view than we had ever had, and besides that, the entire yard south of the house now opened up for football and tag and what ever games the children wished to play. And when we had our 20th Wedding Anniversary Dance we were able to place the tent without worrying about those trees being in the way , the way they were for our 10th Anniversary party.
Occasionally I have discovered other situations like this, that I would never have noticed it if were not for the Lesson of the Pear Trees…

That sadness which was real, but unrealistic, taught me. I longed for something whose time was over, and almost missed something whose time had come. And there is where the lesson lies.

Dinner at DeCarlos

22 Apr

A very experienced writer friend told me to set deadlines. And that is something I often leave out when I am writing. I do the work, but let it sit, sometimes for weeks, or worse. I think I could come back to it later and make it better. It could always be better. Who would have thought that I would turn out to be a perfectionist? I am so casual and easygoing about most things, never focusing on making things perfect around my house. That is partially because there are so many things wrong. If I tried to make things perfect, it would be an endless project.

I live with my one-hundred-year-old mother in her house in Washington, D.C., a house which I believe was built in approximately 1924. There is a great deal of upkeep. For instance, there are rotting window sills, falling trees, deer eating the roses, cracks in the pavement of the driveway, and peeling paint in out- of- the- way places. Everything can be fixed, except for the deer eating the roses. They are permanent. It is illegal to shoot them. Nothing scares them. Someday, this house will be bought by some very special person wanting a large piece of property in the city. Perhaps a big company, or an embassy, or an investment group will buy it. They can decide what to do.

In the meantime, I entertain my mother at meals and by bringing in friends and taking her out to eat at clubs or restaurants. She has a good life, but she is forgetful, now. She loves the fun of getting dressed up every day as if she were going somewhere very fancy. She always wears pastel colors and her jewelry matches her clothes. Often, she wears little fingerless gloves because she is so easily chilled, especially her fingers, toes, and her nose. (She even has a couple of nose warmers knit from pretty, colored yarn). These also match her outfit. She always carries a matching purse and a Pashmina of the same shade.

She often changes her clothes again before going out to dinner. She will wear a completely different color scheme if she does that. For instance, if she has been in what we call “lipstick pink” (a bright fuchsia), she will change into something turquoise or perhaps chartreuse. Never does she ever wear black or gray or beige or brown. She glows with color. And her blond hair surrounds her pretty face like a halo. In a dark restaurant, she stands out. To prove my point, here is a little story about what happened at the end of the week.

Last Friday, my mother and I went out to dinner with two of my children to a local restaurant, DeCarlo’s on Yuma Street in Washington. We sat at a table for four

and enjoyed the companionship and the delicious food. The couple who had been having a meal at the table next to us got up to leave. The man came over to our table and said, looking directly at my mother, “You are so pretty. You are just beautiful. I have been watching you, and I just wanted to tell you before I left how amazing you look.”

Mother blossomed under his words. She did not know him, but she blushed and smiled broadly and basically flirted with him with her eyes. He blew her some kisses and left with his patient wife.

My children and I laughed uproariously at the fact that the man had singled out my one- hundred- year- old Mother. But, it was not the first time that has happened. As my daughter said, “Gramma is a ‘guy magnet.’”And she is. Men have always been drawn to her for her beauty and her sunny nature. She is sweet- tempered and it shows in her face. It was very thoughtful of that man to express his admiration for her. There are almost no contemporaries left to flatter her. She misses having a real beau and being complimented. And yet, she is still getting paid compliments that most women never receive. She is a lucky lady and so are we to have been able to witness that.

Writers, mostly all, are scared to write. At least all the writers I know seem to be. I am no different. But I promised myself that I would post something on my blog today. So, I am taking a leap of faith and doing it. I hope you enjoyed reading about my mother and her adventures at the age of one hundred.

©Bonnie B. Matheson 2018

One of the scariest and best things I have ever done.

22 Dec

“Oh my! No time to pour my heart out. It overflows already as I go through the leftover possessions, photos, files, clothes, and everything in every drawer of my large house. I am leaving.
It is wrenching, but worth it. A new life beckons even though I will be living in my mother’s house and not my own. Even though I have no paying job at the moment. Still, I am elated with the innumerable opportunities available to me!”

I wrote these words in the midst of my move and you can hear the anguish and tension along with the hopeful quality which made it possible to do this with so little forethought.

And the results have been positive beyond belief. First of all I am happy. I am happy in my newly painted, robin’s egg blue room. Some of my favorite small things have found a resting place here. My vermeil dresser set which belonged to my grandmother Lilla Youngblood Buchanan sits atop the dresser. Along with many of my clothes, this piece of furniture holds my necessary accessories such as gloves, and headbands, jeweled hair clips and small scarves and sachets and some simple jewelry and broken treasures not yet repaired. There is a photograph of the pear trees at Heathfield before they came down. I will share that story at a future date. A great lesson which I remember every time I look at that photo. There is a cup, hard-painted by Jules Fritz who used to be the gardener here when I was a little girl. It has my name and his and the date Xmas 1949. This is one of my most cherished possessions.

Several favorite lamps illuminate the space with various amounts of wattage. Sometimes I write with only romantic low lighting surrounding me. Other times I use the brightest setting to distinguish one set of black trousers from another, ditto black turtle necks. Light comes in very handy in those instances.

People who wear a great deal of black will understand.

 

Mostly this room is a happy place where I play my own music. I sit with and cuddle my long haired, black and tan dachshund Magnus. We both enjoy this. Sometimes I open the doors to my balcony and let Magnus go outside and sun himself while I read or write. He lets me know if anyone approaches the house. I have plenty of free time here in my upper story lair at the opposite end of the house from my mothers room.

If you must caretake for an older parent, be sure you have an area in which to retreat and gather new energy. Rebooting, I call it. And just as it helps your phone or computer, it will help you, too.

These days I take time for myself and I meditate. Meditation has changed my life. It has changed me. The idea is to never skip a day. And it is rare that I do. Even a few minutes can make a huge difference in my day. In fact, I am going to go find a quiet spot in which to meditate right now.

December 21st 2017