Tuesday, December 21, 2010

One Year Later

For the past two weeks or so I have been contemplating what I would write today, on the one year anniversary of my Dad's death.  I have been busying myself with trying to not dwell on it, but it's always there in the back of my mind "the day is coming, the day is coming".   While I felt that I really needed to make a tribute, a heartfelt documentation of my feelings, the words just weren't coming. 

There are many reasons why this day is so difficult.  Christmas is just a few days away, a time of celebration and new life. Yet, today I just don't feel it.   I keep going back to that morning last year and trying to understand why the weather didn't cooperate, why I didn't try harder, why he didn't hold on.   I couldn't be there with him.  Knowing my Dad, he probably wanted it just that way.

Today I re post a portion of what I wrote on the first Father's Day I spent without him.  Good memories and a lifetime filled with love.  

This week has seemed particularly hard for me, our "first" Father's Day without my father is upon us and Monday will be the six-month anniversary of his death. I've been very emotional during the last few days, and the slightest thing brings him to mind.. today it was strawberries, so fragrant and reminiscent of summer... as a child my parents would take us to a local orchard to pick them, I think more ended up in our tummies than in our basket, it's a vivid memory of Dad and caused me to break down right in the produce section of our store. While I started the day a bit weepy, this brought me truly to tears and I barely got through checking out.

Tonight I got to thinking about other memories of him and trying to recall things of my childhood that stood out in my mind. While I of course don't remember much before the age of five or so, I have a few very clear memories of what seem to be very early years.

When I was about four or five I can clearly remember going to a local school carnival while we were visiting family in Massachusetts. While I don't actually recall much about the actual carnival, I do remember Dad leading me through some tall bushes to get in. The school was next door to my grandparents home, the bushes were probably just on the property line, but it felt like an adventure in my youngster mind. Dad would spend $100 on a carnival game to win me a $2 stuffed animal, by the time I was in my teens I had hundreds of them filling my room. I still have a few, I wish I still had them all.

Another early memory of Dad was the building where he worked. My Dad was a Maintenance Manager for a large builder. We lived in a planned community, made up of several mini communities, all of which had their own maintenance department and swimming pool. My Dad worked in an office at the bottom of a high-rise building in our neighborhood. Whenever I was at the office with him I would sneak off and get a ride in the elevator. Problem was that I didn't know how to return to his floor - I must have been pretty young at this point. I would get off the elevator, take in the sights from that floor and then begin to cry and yell for him. I can still hear his voice coming from the upcoming elevator "I'm coming Cindy". He must have had to stop on every floor until he found me.

I could never mention memories of Dad and not mention the music. My Dad was a wonderful musician. He loved country music and could play any instrument that had strings, the harmonica and the piano or keyboard. He had a studio of sorts in our basement where he recorded and on the weekends family and friends would get together and play music, sing and dance together till they couldn't sing anymore... us kids would usually be long sleeping by then, but I can still remember falling to sleep to the sounds of electric guitars, tambourines, and that drum machine that my brother and I loved to play with. When Dad was playing I would stand by, waiting for his instruction on which song to pull out of his book next. He had a black 3-ring binder full of song lyrics... no music, just the lyrics. He could play any song but didn't read music. The sounds of his picking still course through my mind on occasion, and I find myself humming a tune that I've not heard for 20 years.

Since my Mom didn't drive when I was young, Dad was the only driver in our family - another of my earliest memories is visiting the local gas station and always getting a Moon Pie and a Yoohoo drink (when Yoohoo was still in a little glass bottle, not a juice box). Yes, I sat on the front seat of our big gold Pontiac with it's huge doors and vinyl interior... I loved that car and Dad loved Moon Pies.   When Mom had to go to the grocery store we would sit in the parking lot and wait for what seemed like hours - after some time he would begin mumbling "come on Barbara" about every 10 minutes.

Once when I was about 8 Dad was helping me fly a kite behind our house. The wind was great that day and the kite kept going up and up and up.... I had no idea that the string would come right off it's spool at the end and the kite would actually fly away... I also had no idea that my Dad could run that fast. Yes, he caught it. My Dad was my hero.

We had a few ponds in that neighborhood, they were right behind our house and in the winter Dad would always be the one to go check the ice to make sure it was safe for all of us kids.

Being very knowledgeable in building, plumbing and all things in construction, Dad was a great builder of forts. This was especially true when he and Mom purchased a new washer and dryer.. who knew that a couple of cardboard boxes could be assembled together to look like a castle and last for months in our basement? My Dad could build anything and fix anything, and he did all his life.

I remember weekends at a campground, being a free spirit in the woods, playing and having a great time... and long hours at the causeway fishing into the wee hours of the morning just because we could (and he couldn't help it :-) Later there would be a boat and long sunny days on the water, and a stop at a local country store for a souvenir, some candy and a soda. I had a wonderful childhood. We spent most all summer weekends at that spot, which is where my Dad loved to be and where he and my Mom eventually bought a home.

My Dad taught me how to shoot. Yes, guns; .22, .357, rifles, handguns.. you name it, he showed me how to shoot it. While I've not even held a weapon in years, I began shooting at about the age of 10 and absolutely loved it.

When I was about 13 years old I tried to pierce my ears - yes, all by myself. I thought Dad would pass out when I walked down the stairs with a needle in my earlobe, asking him if he could push it through the rest of the way - I just couldn't get a good grip. Dad patiently led me to the powder room, helped me hold ice on and finished piercing it, then he did the other one.   I think of him every time I fiddle with my earrings.

In my late teens Dad took me to buy my first car (a pickup truck), took me to my first football game (Redskins).   19 years ago on Father's Day I told my Dad that I was expecting his first Grandchild.  Last year I didn't make it down to see him on Father's Day, although something told me that I really should. Now, a year later I'm left with a bit of guilt over that, but his memory and his love surround me everyday and the memories of my childhood will always remain with me. My Dad was a great person. He was always fair and caring, liked to have fun, and certainly a pushover when it came to his kids and his grandchildren.

During the last 15 years my memories of Dad include fishing, trips on the boat and the adventures at his home on the Bay. My gosh how he loved that place. He would take that boat out and fish all day and not catch one thing... he didn't even care and would go out and do it all again the next day if he could find a willing passenger. We would sit on the wall in front of their place until the wee hours of the morning, talking, fishing and just enjoying each others' company. One night after all had gone inside, he and I were there together at about 2am. Nothing much was biting and we were just enjoying the night when it started to rain. After a few moments and drip drops I turned to him and said "Dad, it's raining", to which he said "It's just a passing shower"... and there we sat, in the middle of the night in the rain.. just for the fish.

When I was a young adult, every year Dad and I went together to the local mall for a Cinnabon, Mocha Latte and Christmas shopping.  It was a day to find gifts for my Mom.   Dad absolutely loved Christmas and loved giving gifts, but he hated shopping... the Cinnabons made it all worth while.  In the car we would listen to Charlotte Church belt out a wonderful Christmas tune and we really enjoyed our day together. Silent Night is a song that I can hardly listen to now, bringing me almost to the point of sobbing.  Looking back, I imagine that Christmas was a lot of work for Mom, since I'm sure that Dad didn't do any of it without the Cinnabons. I do know that on Christmas Eve the two of them would make drinks and close themselves in their bedroom, only emerging when a supply was needed or to get drink refills. They would wrap presents together until the early morning hours. Christmas at our house was magical.

My Mom wrote a Christmas tribute to him a few days ago that I will post here:
Christmas will never lose its glow and excitement for me…  I know I’ll get that same warm feeling each time I see the decorations in the stores, the tug on my heart at the grand children’s excitement of visiting Santa, or unwrapping all the familiar and much cherished decorations that we collected in our forty some years together.
The many Christmas Eves wrapping presents, having a drink and listing to Christmas Carols, we loved those moments together. This year listening to Christmas carols, well it’s hard... they always did make me melancholy and weepy.  All these memories I have of past Christmases shared with family and friends.
Christmas will never lose its glow and excitement for me…but this year it comes with a deep loneliness because your not here to share it with us.
Merry Christmas Don, I love you and miss you.

This won't be our first Christmas without Dad, but somehow it certainly feels like it.  I love you and miss you much Daddy, you're always in my heart.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Military Monday - Home on Leave

Today, in honor of my Dad who we lost one year ago tomorrow, I post this photo of him for Military Monday.   

This picture was taken in May of 1957 while he was home on leave from the Marines.  He is standing in the drug store where his mother worked.  

Donald F. Keener b. 08/26/1938 d. 12/21/2009

Miss you every day Daddy! 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: Dec 9 - Grab Bag

Today's post in the Calendar of Christmas Memories is the author's choice.  
I've missed a few days of posting in this series so I'd like to go back a visit those (and possibly re-visit others).   

On Dec 1 we were tasked with writing about the Christmas Tree.  While I don't recall my grandparents trees directly, I have found several photos of my paternal grandmother's (Edna Keener) home during Christmas and the tree was different in every one, so obviously real.     In my home growing up we had a fake tree from the time I was very young.  Now I have to talk about the tinsel -  we "hung" the tinsel - using a few strands on every branch.  Yes, it was a very tedious process, but the tree was not covered with it and it was beautiful.    So I ask, is tinsel meant to be tossed "at" or carefully placed so it hangs gently on the branches, appearing to be ice?

While we're on the subject of Grandma..   why did she hang paper bells around?  The large one in this photo appears to be more of a wedding decoration. 

Obviously Grandma was pretty popular - receiving MANY Christmas cards which she hung all around the fireplace (top photo) and even on the windows (photo above). 

I have traditionally had only one tree in my home, my parents only had one tree in their home.  My sister-in-law had 4 trees in her home last year - each a different theme, in different areas of the house and some even a different color (one was white for instance).   This year, since my 'little' children are a bit bigger and much better about fiddling around with the Christmas tree, I decided that I wanted to put another in my home's foyer with some other decorations.   Not having the budget to purchase a 10' narrow tree, I opted to buy a 5' and decorate it with simple red and gold, much like the decorations I have on my mantle.  This added a bit more holiday to that area of the house whereas most is in the family room and kitchen area.

One day this week we wrote about ornaments.  Today while reading blog posts of other writers I came across many stories of Christmases past and I also thought of some old friends, which brought to mind an ornament that I received from a co-worker and his wife many years ago.   Ornaments are odd things in the way they make you recall - for some reason, you really never forget that person, even if you don't see them for 15 years.   So to Sheri and Anthony - while you many not have realized it at the time, you were an inspiration to me back then in the way that you lived your lives, and even now when I read your blog.  Thanks for sharing with me and being the people you are!   Have a Blessed Holiday!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: Dec 8 - Christmas Cookies

Nothing makes me happier than giving tins of Christmas cookies to friends and neighbors.   Having four girls in the family, there's always a helper around when it's time to spend a day baking cookies, sprinkling the sugar, placing the little decors around or taste testing.   Neither of my Grandmothers were big on making Christmas cookies.   I have my paternal grandmother's cookbooks - most recipes are for dinner meals and how to cook on a budget.  But, my Mom?  She was all about making Christmas cookies and decorating them with little intricate decorations. 

While I don't have any photos of them unfortunately, some I can clearly remember.  Mostly she made cookie cutter cookies - carefully assembling holly leaves with green icing and little red balls,  wreaths with silver balls and little red bows,   She also made angels and I think her favorites were the stained glass cookies.   Mom also made miniature pecan tarts that were absolutely wonderful.  Itty-bitty crusts filled with yummy sticky goodness!  One of my favorite cookies that she made was her cranberry cookies which were always a staple this time of year.

With my own children we've made many different things over the years.  Our favorites are Russian Tea Cakes, and little decorated spritz butter cookies made from a cookie press (pictured above) - how did I ever live without that?    While they're not an intricate cookie-cutter cookie, they're yummy, easy to decorate, easy to make and come in large batches so you can make multiple designs in one batch.    We also enjoy making fudge, mint bark candy, little minty snowmen (pictured here), peanut butter buck-eyes, peanut butter cookies, and lots of different breads (banana, cranberry and pumpkin).  We make lots and lots of this stuff and then pack up tins or plates to share with neighbors, friends, teachers, bus drivers and the milk man.  

I'm sure that all of these holiday goodies will be remembered by my own kids, but most of all the memories of cold days spent in the kitchen together making them.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday - The Trees Are Winning

Last week I posted about a visit to Grafton, Taylor, West Virginia.  While there I visited the cemetery of my ancestors, the Keener Cemetery.

I noted that it was located in the woods and while it's very serene and a beautiful place, it's also evident that the trees are taking over and many of the headstones are damaged and almost illegible at this point. 

These two stones (one in the foreground and the other on the opposite side of the tree) belong to my 4th Great Grandparents, George and Margaret (Miller) Keener.   Obviously buried side-by-side, the tree has grown up between them and in time has broken both of their stones off. 

Margaret Miller Keener b. 1792, d. 18 Apr 1860
George Keener b. 1772, d. 22 May 1863

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: Dec 4 - Christmas Cards

Christmas cards are wonderful things.  I love finding a pile of them in my mailbox usually beginning during the early weeks of December.  We hang ours on a pantry door in the kitchen, enjoying them through the month and adding to them everytime another greeting comes in the mail.    In my parents home we did a similar thing, there was a louvered door in their kitchen and the cards easily slipped through it, overlapping each other and filling the door throughout the season.

Now that I have my own family, I do send cards every year to close friends and family.  My Mom always sent cards - when I was old enough to help I seem to remember hundreds of them - possibly I just didn't want to help and the task seemed endless :)    My own family now sends about 50-60 cards a year.

What do you do with them when Christmas is over?   I'm sure that there are some who pack them away every year and others who simply keep any photos sent and drop the cards in the trash.  Thankfully, my great-grandmother Margaret McCann Bellew did not do this and kept some very special Christmas greetings sent from her husband John Bellew while they were apart - she in England with two children and her husband here in the US building their new life.

While all of these cards are not what we see today in typical Christmas design, they are beautiful and contained hand-written notes of Christmas greetings from her husband and a son that went ahead with him to the US.

I was unable to scan these cards - they are not made of paper, but rather the fronts are some type of plastic material that is very fragile at this point, so I photographed them some time ago, and they have been put away for safe keeping.  The embroidered one in the back appears to have more of a Christmas design and the greeting inside is as follows:

From Your Loving Husband and Son Willie
To Wife and Children
25th Dec 1923

Having finally joined he husband in the US, Margaret had the terrible misfortune of leaving one of her sons (John) in England.  This must have torn at her heart for her entire life.   When he was older, he sent Christmas greetings from England to his parents:

After seeing these cards in Margaret's things, I knew that she loved them and I will hang onto them and preserve them as best I can for future generations. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: Dec 3 - Tree Ornaments

Christmas is a magical time - excitement, anticipation and many enjoyed festivities go along with the season, making it a wonderful time to share with family.  Nothing gets that excitement started like decorating the house and putting up the tree.    I remember as a child growing up, after the Thanksgiving turkey was put to leftovers and the pumpkin pie was gone, it was time to decorate for Christmas! 

The tree trimming was my primarily Mom's job, but we all enjoyed looking through the ornaments, straightening the branches of our tree and helping to hang them all.   In our family every child got a new ornament every year.  My parents carefully put our names and the year on the ornament somewhere.   In those earlier years our tree didn't really have a "theme" but was more of what I would call a children's tree.   After all, Christmas was all about the children.   There were a few sets of glass ornaments that my parents had purchased over the years and we always hung those as well.  Over time, there were less and less of them, as various ones got broken.   I have two or three such ornaments from those glass bobbles that belonged to my parents when they first started their lives together.  These are among my most cherished ornaments and I put them on my tree every year.

On the first Christmas after moving from my parents home Mom pulled all of my ornaments from her boxes and gave them to me - giving me a collection of ornaments to start decorating my own tree.   

This Santa is plastic, covered with thin felt and is from 1974 and the Pooh below is from 1978.  My children give me a hard time about these every year - "Here Mom, it's that old Santa"

When my paternal Grandmother passed away in 1995 I received very few of her Christmas decorations.  But among them was this ornament which I have carefully put on my tree every year ever since.   I haven't any idea where she got it and I had never seen anything like it but it too is one of my most cherished.

Every year my ornaments get a little older and every year we add new ornaments to our tree for each of our children.  My Mom still gives me (and my kids) a new ornament every year.   When they grow up I hope that they enjoy taking them out every year, remembering the times we had trimming our tree and adding to their collections for their own children, keeping the family tradition alive.