Thursday, June 23, 2005

A Daily Life

I've been feeling a little melancholy this week. I've been thinking a lot about my grandpa and feeling his absence. I wish I could call and say hello...hear him say that he's "fit as a fiddle". I am wishing I could have seen him one last time. Maybe this melancholy is because of Father's Day, when I would have called him, when I pause to be thankful for the men who provided stability and assurance in my life. Maybe it's just the permanence of his absence settling on me that is making me feel a little misty. Or maybe it's my choice of reading material.

After my grandpa died, we moved Grams into a smaller apartment. When we were cleaning the old apartment my mom came across a stack of books, piled in a closet. "OH MY!," she exclaimed. "Mom's journals!" The pile of books with Year Book proclaimed in gold lettering on each dated mostly from the late 60s and 70s. This was a revelation to me; I had not known that for most of her adult life my grandma kept these diaries. All those years, seeing them so frequently, spending countless nights at their house...yet I had never seen these numerous leather-bound books before.

It has been interesting reading.

She wrote very dispassionately. These diaries are not a compilation of her thoughts, dreams or heart-aches. She wrote, instead, of her day. Every day. For years. The activities of the family members; what chores or activities she performed each day; where she walked; who she wrote letters to or received letters from; who visited. The picture that emerged of my grandma's life is drawn in bold lines, a black and white sketch, the color and depth of emotions are not brushed into the portrait.

She did write of her worries -occasionally- usually involving one of her children. Dean seems to be working too hard, making himself sick; Roger is having problems at school; Judy is having tremendous headaches. These statements seemed to be written out of helplessness to do much, and my grandma didn't like being helpless.

Her own activities were recorded. She baked bread three times a week for 50 years. Never learning to drive, she walked everywhere she needed to go - and often bummed rides home. "Walked to the library, got a ride home from Flossie." Everything she needed was in reach. She could walk uptown and have breakfast, buy a shirt, shop for a washing machine, stop at the grocery store on the way home. The small town had all she needed. Her journals portray a way of life that -in just a few short decades - has largely slipped away. Now we drive everywhere, Main Street no longer has a department store or appliance store and precious few places for dining and gathering, either. It seems that life was spent, rather than consumed. And she seemed content.

My grandpa worked two jobs with an occasional third job, too. He worked hard. But so did my grandma. She scrubbed, cooked, ironed piles of clothes - her own family's and others'- and washed using her old wringer washing machine, then hung the clothes outside to dry. She took us grandkids to give my mom a break. She baked cookies or pies or cakes, every day. She mended clothes. She played with us grandkids. She allowed herself an indulgence - after lunch she sat down and watched her "program". Every day. For years.

Her greatest joys were found in the simplest pleasures - a picnic, a phone call or card received in the mail, a card game with friends, a visit to family members on a farm, a snowball fight. She loved a country drive and a stop for ice cream on the way home.

The most striking thing that emerged as I read several years' worth of her daily activities was the fact that she did something for someone else every single day of her life. Baking bread, making meals, cleaning a house, writing letters. Cleaning the church linen, visiting invalid nuns, helping at the nursing home. Every day. For years. She took meals to one family daily for more than six months. She looked in on another elderly lady and visited with her, cleaned her house, weeded her flower beds.
She cared for an elderly and senile aunt who became nasty and spiteful toward my grandma, yet Grams continued and wrote that "Aunt Elsie didn't know what she was doing." Grams recognized the needs of the person behind the facade. It upset her, yet she gave her all. She was involved in her community and in her church. She cared for the people around her. It was a part of her day. Every day. For years.

Her fulfillment came from helping others and caring for her family. Every day. She spent her energies, she invested herself. She cared.
She had a servant's heart. She did all these things despite regular pain and fatigue. She often wrote that her "hip hurt something awful", yet she cooked and delivered meals. She frequently said she was "so tired", yet she scrubbed the floors and organzined meetings for the Altar Society.

These are the things my grandma recorded - daily life, as it was. I'm glad she did. I see her now, at nearly 95 being cared for, her investments yielding a return. Yet I wonder if she looks around and wishes she were helping rather than being helped. It was, after all, her way of life. Every day. For years.

copyright 205 Valerie Schneider

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Critter Update

Because several people have inquired after the wildlife, I want to reassure you that - to our surprise - they have continued to visit. The baby quail are growing very quickly and seem unimpressed and nonplussed by the racket and earth-shaking going on next door. Yesterday morning they came despite the huge front-end loader. The mama seemed a bit nervous and kept a vigilant eye, but the chicks hopped happily about eating ants. We were able to witness their flight lessons. Mama flew up onto the wooden frame surrounding the compost and bid her birdies to follow. She half-flew/half-jumped and the chicks followed, some more reluctantly than others.

Quail chicks in the garden. Yes, I know they're hard to see with the gray stone.

The bunnies, too, are still habitually hopping by to see us (or rather, for us to see them). We actually seem to have more bunnies than before and we think that their habitat was destroyed when the sage was torn out next door. Suddenly instead of just three, we've been seeing five, and there seems to be a bit of a territorial issue going on. One will be at the water dish or munching carrot trimmings when another will hop down the path. The first one jumps, slicks back his ears, and chases the intruder off. Then another one comes and scares of the first bunny. We have been amused and entertained by them.

So yes, the critters continue to be as amusing as ever. And the construction next door continues to be as loud and obnoxious as ever. But that's another story.

Rabbit reposing on the pathway, with another bunny in the background.

Chicks and mama quail, with a bunny at the water dish (darn that gray stone!)

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Backyard Wildlife

A scene has been playing out daily this past week as I awake and go into the kitchen for my morning coffee. I peek out the window and see a bevy of infant quail in my garden, their mama hovering over them. The little aviary fluff-balls squeak and hop around merrily, digging their little beaks into the sand to find their buggy breakfast. There are thirteen of them. The sole adult female stands guard on the gate, then hops down into the garden for a bite or two herself. When the babies have satisfied their hunger, they scurry out the rabbit fence into the sagebrush. The mama bird, however, is quick to forget that she has wings and, in a panic, runs along the fence, pecking at the grating, throwing herself against it, trying to exit in the manner her little flock did. Eventually she remembers her flight capabilities and makes a hop over the barrier to her waiting chicks.

In addition to the adorable avians, we have a few cute cottontail rabbits who routinely visit, looking for scraps from the garden and to drink from the water dish we've put out to attract such creatures. One of these, also, is a baby bunny and hops around in circles between the water dish and the carrot scraps, as if undecided which he wants first. Once the carrots win over, he nibbles nimbly away at the stalk and orange flesh, lifting his head to look around from time to time, skiddish to any sound that will cause him to high-tail it into the brush.

We also have a fair share of roadrunners -our state bird- coming to torment Winston, the birds seemingly knowing that he is too old and unable to jump very high to pursue them, they perch on the courtyard wall and cause him to emit his "kitty chatter" and slump down in a pounce position, which never changes into an actual pounce. The roadrunner are as large as him, in any case, and he probably wouldn't have pounced even in his younger days.

These backyard wildlife viewings have suddenly, we fear, been eliminated due to a new, more beastly invasion: construction on the lot next door. We've known that a house would be built there, and we've been fortunate that in our nine years of residence in Corrales we've not had this ordeal sooner. It began with a large well-drilling truck churning up a racket on Tuesday. Wednesday brought a huge front-end loader which was noisily used to begin digging a gigantic hole, the purpose of which we can't imagine. Basements are practically non-existant in New Mexico, as are crawl spaces. No other builders in our area (that we've seen, and lots of homes have gone up since we've moved here) dig out large expanses such as this. Last night the noise blessedly stopped at about 5:20 p.m. so we started dinner and set the table outside. The moment - honestly, the very instant- I brought out the food, a worker returned to the big water truck, started up the rumbling diesel engine and proceeded to wet down the big pile of dirt. This morning, instead of the usual chirps and calls of the birds to awaken us, the whining drone of the front-end loader began at 6:40 a.m. Thank you so much.

This wouldn't be so bad (though I do dislike mechanical wake-up calls before 7:30 a.m.) were it not for the manner in which it all started. The builder staked out the lot about two weeks ago, and we winced. The stakes, indicating the position of the gigantic home to be built, also indicated that our view would be decimated. We were, naturally, disheartened and displeased. Knowing that the subdivision has covenants in place and that plans have to be submitted to an architectural committee for review, though, we waited, hoping. One of the three committee members came out to the lot with the plans and surveyed. He walked all over, from stake to stake, while consulting the builder's plans. He recommended moving the structure 20 feet south, which he said would not impact their views at all because of window orientation, but would help our views quite a bit. The builder informed him that the buyers refused. They wanted the view they wanted, and that was it. They hadn't even considered that a home was already in place behind them. Or they just didn't care. Back and forth we went with the poor committee member - a neighbor - in the middle. It looked as if the only way to preserve any semblance of a view would be to obtain an injunction and then sue. Not something we wanted to do for many reasons, including cost. Eventually the builder convinced the buyer to move the structure 10 feet south. Oh, thank you generous buyers, I say tongue-firmly-in-cheek. We're not unrealistic, we knew our view wouldn't be what it has been for nine years and that it would be partially obstructed. But the audacity to plop their monstrosity directly in front of every single one of our windows irked me tremendously. We are so looking forward to living next to these affable, neighborly people.

Our friends and family have been offering helpful advice:
"Get yourself a nice, noisy rooster."
"Put in a pig pen right on the lot line and upwind. I think Bryan would make a good pig farmer!"
"Ask the neighbors on the other side of them to erect a very high fence."
"Invite your electric guitar-playing brother for a loud visit."

All tempting suggestions.

We are anticipating five to six months of construction noise. In the meantime, we wonder what will become of our fluff-ball quail babies and bunny visitors. We rather enjoyed our backyard wildlife. I hope they're smart enough to scurry around to the front yard, where there are no gaping holes or noisy mechanical things devouring their habitat. If not, it may be rather lonely out here on the mesa. They sure have been better, friendlier neighbors than the ones moving in.

copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider