When is a bowl not a bowl?

In 1987, I had major surgery. It was a scheduled surgery, at least. I had trouble finding the food in the hospital at all tolerable, so after surgery, I ate next to nothing. A nutritionist nurse came to see me on my third full day after surgery because failure to consume food was the only thing keeping me from discharge. I finally asked if they could bring me a boiled hot dog (not my favorite way to cook a hot dog, but pretty difficult to mess up) and I ate it when it arrived.

I was released from the hospital within 2 hours. I had to have weekly follow-ups with the surgeon for 6 weeks, and after 48 hours, I could shower. I was bandaged pretty well, and supposed to change the bandages no more than 3 days between. Well, lucky me got multiple infections across the surgery site (remember, this was 1987 and there weren’t the breakthroughs of today’s technology, so we’re talking a major incision). At one point, the surgery site looked so bad to me that I couldn’t stand to look at it long enough to change the bandages. Fortunately, I had friends who rode with the local fire company ambulance and several of them helped me. I also ended up going to the surgeon’s office twice weekly, so I didn’t have to deal with it much on my own.

Six months later – yes, six months, half a year – I was finally released from care. It took me several years until I could finally accept the scars that were now a permanent part of my body, made worse because the infections I had ate away at my skin. It’s not a pretty sight, but it is what it is.

What does that have to do with a ceramic bowl, you wonder??? During my stay in the hospital, I received a flower arrangement from a truly dear friend. My husband brought me nothing, friends sent nothing – not even a get-well card, and even the company I worked for sent nothing. In that regard, the flower arrangement became even more significant. Once the flowers had died, the bowl was washed thoroughly and put in the cupboard with other bowls.

That bowl has traveled with me through 6 moves since I’ve had it. There isn’t a time when I take it out of the cupboard that I don’t remember from where – and whom – it came. The person, already a dear person and good friend when I received those flowers, continued to be a strong and active person in my life until passing away.

I remember, when I lived with a roommate before moving here, that I’d sometimes see the bowl in the sink, having been used by said roommate, and always having a fleeting thought of relief that it hadn’t been broken. Don’t get me wrong – it was an oft-used bowl, but my roommate wasn’t the most careful people I know. I’d think sometimes about how I’d react if it were accidentally broken by the roommate, and every time I’d think about it, I’d feel some sense of anger, not because a bowl was broken, but because that bowl had been broken.

Sure, there was a chance it would be ME who would actually break it, and yes, I’d have been angry at myself about it as well. But even now (more than 5 years after my move), how quickly I can feel the anger rise inside me when I visualize this person breaking that bowl.

I’m continuing on this project of sorting through pictures, and recently came upon a photograph of the floral arrangement in the bowl as it was when I received it. I’m certain that’s what sparked all of the feelings I’m having about it now. I didn’t keep the picture, didn’t even scan it. The same is true of quite a few photos I came across that would have no significance to anyone other than me. Besides, I still have the bowl; in fact, I used it yesterday.

My title for this post might be misleading, since it is a bowl and it will always be a bowl. But it’s a significant treasure to me more than just its usefulness. And, because it has a usefulness and is, indeed, used regularly, it isn’t something I feel obligated to give away in a donations box as I try to simplify my life because it has no purpose. In fact, it might be the first thing I’ve come upon that has a usefulness, not just a meaningful significance! So, sorry, brother dearest, it’s staying with me!

Random and Circuitous

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been seriously limiting my time on the computer. The reasons are many. The first and primary one is that I live in a 200+ year old house divided into apartments, and so window air-conditioning units are my only relief on hot and humid days. My living room and bedroom each have a unit, but the spare bedroom (where my desk is) and kitchen, both of which are towards the back of the apartment, do not. It doesn’t take long, no matter that it cools down at night, for this area of the apartment to get warm. So, early mornings are the time I spend here, except for an occasional check-in for emails.

Another reason is that I’d subconsciously become aware of using the computer as an ‘escape’ from what life is these days in terms of the ongoing pandemic and political rhetoric. It’s become an alternative to what little social life I used to have.

Anyhow, I’ve chosen to make an effort to get back to reading, a hobby I’ve always enjoyed. In the past three weeks, I’ve read my way through nine books, and I’m enjoying getting back into it. I admit, I read for escape as well, but it’s a more enjoyable adventure because each book has different characters and a different storyline. I’m also a little excited to see my TBR (to be read) pile of books become an almost manageable amount again. For me, ‘almost manageable’ means that, at this rate, I can empty the pile in a year’s time!

Because I still become physically fatigued late afternoon, and there’s nothing on TV I care to watch, I also spend some time just sitting comfortably with my eyes closed and letting my mind wander. And boy, has it been all over the place recently!

Most of my mind wanderings travel in rather obscure paths, starting in one place and ending up in a place that only makes sense to its internal directions. I’ve thought mostly about people – people from my past – like ex-colleagues and friends I’ve moved past from. It sometimes gives me pause to think about people who were so important in my life at one time and who I would have no clue how to find these days anymore. I was telling my BFF recently that I’ve been a maid-of-honor in two weddings, and for the life of me, I have no clue where either of those people are.

My mind has also delved back into previous work environments and colleagues who became friends, some who remained simply great colleagues. It is meeting up again with those great colleagues, however, which also brings me angst. For all of those years of wearing my mask, of portraying only who I thought I should be in any given situation, I wonder how many of them would be surprised (and possibly horror-stricken) of who I am today. I’ve mellowed in a lot of ways, but I’ve also become more clearly tunnel-visioned in ways as well. I’m more accepting and less judgmental in so many ways, but my tolerance for words and actions that are a waste of breath and energy has lessened significantly as well.

I actually enjoy my mind’s wanderings these days, as they tend to travel to specific people, places and events which, however lightly, have left a mark on me. I often think about my weekends of camping and the comradery that was among the group of us who had permanent sites and rarely missed a weekend. I think about vacations that I remember from childhood, and about people who were friends of my parents whom I also adored dearly. Someone recently posted a photo on social media of a 5-gallon bucket of green beans harvested from their garden, and that made me remember sitting with my grandma on her back porch cleaning green beans from her garden. That led to thinking about how our meals when produce was available were centered around that produce. Corn-on-the-cob wasn’t a side dish – it was a meal! Green beans with a few potatoes and a small piece of ham were a meal for several days! Cherry puddin’, which was actually a cake, in a bowl with milk and sugar was a meal! Ah, I miss those!

No matter how often I go back to childhood memories, I cannot, for the life of me, imagine how we managed without air-conditioning! I know we did, at least for the first 10 years of my life, but I can’t picture me as a little girl being okay with being so sweaty! And yet, as I think about it now, I can still recall being bundled up in a dress with pants underneath (removed with our coats and other outerwear, trudging to elementary school when it was cold out. Why one and not the other?

I sometimes think, more sadly though, of the various men in my life, and do sometimes wonder what’s become of them. It’s funny to me that, when I think about them, I have to consciously force myself to remember that they, too, have aged over these years. I wonder what they might think of me now, through all of the introspection and self-growth I’ve been through, and wonder if they’d like me more or less than they liked me way back when. That’s a struggle for me at times – although far from being pretty, I had my share of boyfriends (later to become male friends when boy sounded too childish) and I know in my heart that the reason the majority of those relationships didn’t stand the test of time is because I sabatoged them (story for another time, perhaps). This is yet another thought that rambles through my head some evenings.

Ironically, happy or sad, I’m glad I’m revisiting these memories. No, I don’t see a bright light ahead and my life is passing before me. It’s more about noticing how many wonderful people, places and events gave me those memories, and cherishing them anew and perhaps in different ways.

Do you ever let your mind go back and feast on this type of memory?

Old Songs, Old Memories

I grew up in a musical family. This was largely because of my mom, who graduated from college with a major in music and a minor in elementary education. While she did finally get a full degree in elementary education, her first job after college graduation was teaching music at the elementary school level.

We children were “strongly encouraged” to follow her path of music appreciation. I remember all the way back to being in 3rd grade chorus in school, and sang with the school choirs through my time at college. I also sang in the church’s youth – and later – adult choirs. Of course, my mother was the organist and choir director!

My older brother learned to play trumpet. I chose the piano (like mother, like daughter). My younger brother started on the drums and later also took up the guitar. Dad? Well, he was awesome at playing the record player (long before the word ‘stereo’ was anything!)!

When high school came, I needed to figure out a way to get my very strict mother to let me attend our school’s football games (did I mention that she was very strict?) We were always permitted to be in an extra-curricular activities that included music, so…. I conned my way into the band! Unfortunately, I couldn’t just be in marching band (where I played a xylophone) but also had to be in concert band, so a French horn is what our band director decided I would learn. Let me just say these two things…. #1, our band director was an alcoholic who was never without a peppermint Lifesaver in his mouth and, #2) other than at lessons with him, I only pretended to play my French horn. That’s right – nary a note did I actually toot during any of our concert band activities!

From that, I suspect that you can understand why music has always been an important part of my life. I remember family time in front of the TV watching “The Lawrence Welk Show” and following Mitch Miller’s bouncing ball and singing along. There were old records my parents sometimes played, then the easy listening I enjoyed in the 70s and 80s and early 90s, and then a gradual switch over to being a country music fan as I am today. I never cared for hard rock and roll, can handle about a minute of rap before visibly cringing, but if you play any of the songs I either grew up with (40s and 50s) or the ones from my earlier adulthood, there’s a good chance, if I liked the song, I know most, if not all, of the lyrics.

Of lyrical songs, I like the ones that tell stories – especially if the lyrics are a bit melancholy. Not to say that I can’t, and won’t, belt out all of the words to “Friends in Low Places” or “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”; not to say I won’t sing along to the classic “Stairway to Heaven” or “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. But the more in-depth the story told by the lyrics is, sharing pain as well as joy, well, those are the songs I adore.

I remember dubbing cassette tapes and later, learning how to create CDs on my computer from downloaded wav formats. Of that effort, two CDs remain – one is TSO’s Christmas and the other just a mix of favorite songs that I related to. From time to time, I go through my collection of CDs and narrow them down even more… I’m down to about 50 now. And we won’t talk about my rather large vinyl collection, which includes records that belonged to my parents.

Now, except at Christmas, the only time I listen to any records or CDs is from my CD player in my car when I’m on a road trip. The changer holds 6 CDs, and I change out 4 of them about 3 times a year. Woody Bradshaw (a one-hit wonder and soap opera star I had the pleasure of hosting at my hotel) and The Best of the Doobie Brothers never leave the changer. During my recent change-0ver, I added the homemade CD of mixed songs (also a Kenny Rogers CD, a Broadway show tunes CD, a CD of Linda Eder).

So recently, on my last road trip to see my brother, I’m listening to these CDs. They aren’t programmed into the slots in a particular order, but the homemade one came on when I was about half-way there. I hadn’t heard these songs in some time – still knew all the words, of course! – and I’d forgotten how many of them I chose to record because there were specific memories attached to them. And maybe because I hadn’t listened to them for so long, I’d forgotten their power of evoking those memories. But they came at me like hurricane winds.

I’m sure that anyone looking at me from other lanes or perhaps in their rearview mirror wondered a little about the crazy lady apparently singing at the top of her lungs and banging on the steering wheel at certain words in certain songs. I was alive and reliving every meaning behind every phrase, but I’m sure I appeared demented.

You know what? I don’t care! It felt good to travel back to visit the times, places and people who inspired me to like those songs. I felt younger as those memories flashed by me, taking me back to those relevant times in my younger life. I reveled in the power of the lyrics as they told a story much like my own at one time in my life. And it also gave me a chance to see how I endured and survived the pain and trauma that some of those times represented.

I’m sure all of us with any appreciation of music have some “old songs” that we relate to because they represent our story in some way. I’m glad I’ve kept this CD. I think it might become the third CD with a permanent place in my CD changer. For all of the emotion and passion listening to it brings, it also serves to remind me that those times were necessary to mold me into who I am today – older, wiser and still able to belt out a tune with all of the lyrics!