Thursday, August 27, 2015

Saving the irreplaceable

Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to the news by now knows that my native state is burning. We have over 500,000 acres on fire in Washington alone and a million in the northwest, not to mention Canada, California, and Montana. The smoke has not cleared at all this week and is likely to get worse when the dust kicks up tomorrow as predicted. My pastures are cooked, the woods around my house are tinder, and I live in daily dread of a flicked cigarette taking everything I own.

So, my camper is still on the truck, currently hooked to my horse trailer, and I have uploaded the irreplaceable things as well as the legal documents required to re-establish identity and satisfy various government agencies, etc. That includes photo albums, because, yes, it is ever so difficult to replace 100-year-old pictures of dead people.

My parents as happy young newlyweds
In the general roundup of family mementos, I rediscovered my mother's diaries. She kept them faithfully, every day, for the first ten years my parents were married, then abruptly abandoned them one day a couple of months after her mother died and never made another entry. They are filled with the minutiae of a young housewife's everyday life in the 1950s, compounded by the difficulties of just starting out with no money, building their own house (literally, Dad built it with his own hands), cranky well pumps, crankier clunker cars quitting and getting stuck in our long, unimproved driveway at home, and a million daily difficulties. Chasing calves figures highly. She mentions many times that they slept in on weekends "as late as the kids would let us." Mea culpa!

What strikes me most, though, is how close and supportive my parents' combined families were. There are a million mentions of Dad's mother coming out from town to clean and help with us kids over the years, of her father and mine working together to fix machinery, harvest peas and wheat, doctor calves, and generally pitch in when needed at both places. This was especially apparent in the weeks following the birth of us four kids, when the various grandparents were very much in evidence helping out by babysitting my older siblings, cleaning, cooking, etc. Plus, the close-knit community of friends and neighbors is very much in evidence, ready to help out and be helped in turn. How I wish our modern communities were that connected.

It is odd to know that your mother did her usual chores on the day you were born, sauntered leisurely to the hospital at 10 p.m. and delivered at 11:40, interesting to be rated "a very good baby", and to know that though named Susan after a large host of relatives on both sides, I was Sue to my mother from day one. And I am humbled that not once in all those tough years did she complain. Only once does pain come through, in the truncated entries after her mother's death, and in one quiet "Didn't DO (underlined) anything" on a particular day a month into the grieving process. In a life filled with a busy round of caring for kids, helping my dad on the farm, ferrying kids to school, stopping in for coffee with neighbors on the way home, ironing, vacuuming, canning, weeding the vegetable garden, washing clothes, tending house, etc.--this was a cry from the heart, a mark of depression so profound she could not bestir herself to get anything done and felt guilty enough about it to mark it in her diary. The next day she persevered, carrying on because all that stuff still needed to get done no matter how she felt.

I have always adored and admired my parents and I wish they were still here to tell them so. Mom, I miss you, and admire you even more now. You weren't just a housewife. You were the rock of our family's existence, and nothing ever broke you. Yours was, all in all, a life well lived. Thank you.

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