Cuts, Scrapes and Bruises

Today has been spectacular. You would think it was a spring day, not a winter’s day. The sky is a solid beautiful blue, with small lazy clouds floating across, mingling with the fluffy contrails. I am sitting outside as I write this, enjoying the mellow temperatures and the golden light of late afternoon. A bee buzzes above my head; is that normal for the middle of winter? Who’s to say what’s normal and what’s not anymore with this crazy weather!

When I went for a short walk before sitting down to write this, I walked past the little forest behind our building. All those dry leaves covering the ground remind me of a book I loved when I was a kid. It was set in Wales and intertwined the lives of modern day boy and a bard of ancient myths. When the author described scenes in the forest, that is how I imagined it. Dry leaves scattered everywhere, broken branches on the forest floor, and meandering creeks leaving serpentine trails. How wondrous a combination a good book and the imagination can be.

Our forest is partly in shambles due to earlier weather transgressions, with large branches and entire trees lying across the ground. I don’t mind; I quite like it actually. It gives the forest more character. Seeing those fallen trees, the trunks making fabulous bridges, I wish I was a child again. I would be climbing all over them if I was still a little girl. I was forever scrambling over rocks, dangling from trees, and constantly getting cuts, scrapes and bruises. It was wonderful. We would make up stories and tales; we would fight to protect the fortress or run away to escape the evil wizard (or king, or whatever they were!). We would build homes, walls, our fortress. We collected sticks, rocks, moss, flowers…Whatever we needed to construct and embellish the fort. It was better than wonderful. Do kids still do that nowadays? I haven’t seen any playing in the forest…

I could go do that now and pretend to be a kid again, but pretending just isn’t the same as the real thing. The mind doesn’t work the same as an adult. Imagination isn’t as real or as sharp; we’re too self-conscious and anchored in reality. The carefree attitude we had is gone; we’re too cautious and careful. But we don’t have to be like that, just because we’ve ‘grown-up’. We shouldn’t lose our sense of wonder, our imagination and our capacity to play, just because we’re adults.

I still get giddy and excited when I see snowflakes falling from the sky. I love a good snowball fight, making snow angels, letting myself fall in the snow, or just eating freshly fallen snow. One of my favorite things to do at the beach is build a sandcastle – a long standing family tradition. It doesn’t matter how old we get, my brother and I will always have splashing fights in the pool. I love those moments.

Maybe I should go climb those trees. Even if I just sit there on the trunk and imagine the stories I could play out, that’s already something. I should grab my husband and have him climb with me and sit beside me. Maybe those will be our weekend plans – to just be kids again.

Solitaire, Stamps and Singing

The holiday season is one filled with laughter, joy, family gatherings, the wrapping (and unwrapping!) of christmas gifts, traditions, chestnuts and so much more. This festive time, however, is also one of thoughts and memories. Memories of being a kid and christmas being so magical; waking up christmas morning to see beautiful gifts sitting under the glowing tree. Memories of childhood traditions – some which remain, and some which may fade away as we get older and live further apart, but which are never forgotten. Memories of those who were with us for past christmases, but who are unfortunately no longer around. When those memories stir, I always think of my grandpa.

My grandpa passed away just over 17 years ago, so although I knew him as a child, I unfortunately never had the chance to know him as an adult. I would have loved that. Having the chance to know both of my grandmothers as an adult is incredible. When you’re a kid, grandparents are warmth, love, promises of having a wonderful time, but they’re just grandparents. I think the same can be said about parents. When you’re a kid, that’s all they are; but when you become an adult, you also want to know them for the individual people they are. You want to hear their stories, learn from them, sit in awe as you hear what they lived through. They’re not just loving arms, always available candy or warm soup; they’re amazing people, who have been through more than we could ever imagine. I wish I’d had the chance to know my grandpa like that. And I know I’m luckier than others, even than my own brother. My grandpa passed away about 2 weeks after my brother was born, so they never knew each other. But I know my grandpa watches over all of us, and I believe the he keeps a special eye on my brother. I know he’ll always make sure we’re alright.

Even though I only knew my grandpa as a child, and it’s been a long time, there are some memories that will never fade away. His twinkling eyes, always laughing at some unspoken joke. The kindness that you could see in those eyes, even when we were getting in trouble.

He always had a smile ready, even when he was pretending to scold us. Sometimes he wasn’t pretending, but he never stayed angry with us for long, and would be slightly more indulgent with us after.

The way he was always singing or humming. While he worked, in the shower, while getting ready for lunch…it didn’t matter where he was or what he was doing, you could always hear him carrying a tune. I always loved that about him.

He would always have a fruit after a meal. Always. A pear, an orange…He used to love oranges. My grandma and my mom hate them. But my sister, brother and I love them; I always love finding something we share with him.

He had an amazing stamp collection. So many different styles, sizes and images. Some were so old, almost vintage, and I loved watching him while he worked. He had special glasses that were magnifying, and a special liquid to put the stamps in. I was never sure what that liquid did – I’m not sure if I asked him and I’ve now forgotten, or if somehow I strangely never thought of asking. He would hold them with tweezers while dipping them in that liquid, and then hang them so they would dry. He helped us start our own stamp collections. Sadly, they didn’t continue for very long after he was gone, but we still have them. I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of those.

Something he loved to do was play solitaire on his bed. He would stretch out on his side, leaning against his arm and he’d set the cards up in front of him. That’s how I learned to play solitaire. I loved watching him play. I’d either settle on the bed next to him or on the floor beside the bed and I would watch. At first I just looked at what he did, at how he moved the cards, without saying anything. As time went on and I learned the game, I would sometimes point out a move he could do. He would playfully slap my hand away, give me a pseudo-stern stare, and then slowly make the move I’d suggested, looking at me out of the corner of his eyes. He didn’t have to say a word, his twinkling, laughing eyes said it all. I still play solitaire to this day. I know we can play it on the computer, on our phones, and on every possible technological platform, and I have done that, but nothing beats playing it with real cards. I always think of my grandpa when I play solitaire. Those quiet moments with him were very special to me, and they’ll forever be engraved in my heart.

I mentioned in an earlier post that when we were kids, living in Wisconsin, we used to drive up to Montreal every christmas, where my grandparents lived. My grandpa was still alive for all those christmases, so he was always there for the first memories I have of christmas. I don’t just think of him at christmas-time; he’ll also pop into my mind at unexpected moments sometimes. Those are the moments that catch me off-guard, that make me suddenly miss him, that sometimes almost bring me to tears with memories of him…

Maybe that’s when he’s looking down on me and letting me know that he’s still around.

Pine Needle Crowns and Piles of Leaves

Moving back to the States after last living here as a kid (I left when I was 8 years old) has been an interesting and enlightening experience. I’ve been back here since then, but only to visit, and trust me when I say that visiting has NOTHING to do with actually living somewhere. In some ways I feel like my life as a TCK has been one big anthropological expedition. Hm, come to think of it, I’m sure that TCKs would make great anthropologists, but maybe I’ll cover that some other time. Being back in the U.S. as an adult has opened my eyes in a lot of ways, and has obviously led me to make a lot of comparisons with other countries I’ve lived in, especially France, as it’s the only other country I lived in as an adult. Some of those comparisons are positive and others, not so much. But moving back here has also conjured up a lot of childhood memories from when we lived in the States.

When we lived in Wisconsin as little girls, fall meant piles of leaves all over the yard. Those leaves meant a lot of hard work for dad, and a lot of fun games for me and my sister! He would rake up the leaves all over the yard and make different piles to make them easier to pick up. But before they could be picked up, we loved to let ourselves fall into the piles and just watch the leaves fly up around us. To be fair, I believe we did help him put the leaves in the bags later (I hope!), but until they went in those bags, they were a joy to play in! Another favorite of ours with the autumn leaves was to look for the most beautifully colored leaves lying on the ground. We would scour the back and the front yard, looking for the reddest or most golden leaves. And every once in a while we would fall upon a real treasure: a transparent leaf. I remember we loved those, they were something special and rare. Those leaves were the ones we would press in books to dry them so we could admire their beauty whenever we wanted.

We were lucky to have a big yard, with lots of space to run around with our dog, and a swing-set to play on endlessly, but one of our favorite places in the yard was our hidden pine tree ‘cove’. To get into our secret lair, we had to crawl or crouch under some of the low-hanging branches, but once inside we were surrounded by 2 very large and beautiful pine trees. We would sit on the carpet of dried, golden pine needles and make all sorts of stories in our heads (and out loud!). While we were sitting there, lost in our own little world, we would make crowns and even bracelets out of the fresh green pine needles. It was delicate work and a talent acquired with practice, but we were diligent crafts-girls. Those crowns would adorn our heads, and those of our parents. Our lovely and patient dog might have had one too, if we could get him to sit still long enough. He was a patient and kind dog, but not stupid enough to let us put one of those on his head! How we loved those pine trees, complices to our princess-like fantasies, secret-keepers to our hidden world.

Now in Connecticut, there are a lot of those same pine trees around as well as those glorious autumn leaves, and oh, the memories they bring back to me. The smell, the sight, those golden pine needles carpeting the floor, those beautiful pine trees, green even in the weary whiteness of winter. And those autumn trees, glowing brighter every day, slowly covering the ground in stunning shades of red, gold, orange and yellow. How I long to be a little girl again sometimes, if only for a little while. To throw myself in those colorful piles of leaves, to crouch once more under the low-lying branches of our pine trees and to make pine needle crowns while imagining stories of princesses, evil wizards and knights in shining armor.

Third culture kid, relishing the ‘kid’ part, signing off.

Books: A Love Story

One of my favorite things to do after moving into a new home is to open my boxes and find all those little nothings that are everything to me. It’s like opening a treasure chest filled with precious gold and gems; except that, to me,  it’s filled with even more priceless items. The boxes are filled with memories, with laughter, with barbie games played as little girls with my sister, with stuffed animals that dad would always make fun of how many I had, and yet he would buy me the next one…and those boxes were always filled with books. Books and books and books. Those were probably my favorite boxes to open.  Holding my books again brought me comfort, joy, and that capacity to be lost in another world. Those boxes would take me the longest to empty, as I would start to read the books again as I unpacked. I’d read my favorite passages, or even the entire book (not the most practical way to unpack!), and I would start to feel more at home. I loved the smell of my books, the sound of the pages turning, the creases in my favorite books, that were read over and over…I loved the pages that were crinkly from being turned time and time again.

In a world where kindles, ipads and other technology is taking over books, I feel a profound sadness at such a loss. As practical as these items may be, as many books as you can carry with just one thin screen, I could never convert to that. I love every aspect of reading an actual book. The smell, the sight, the sounds…I love to buy a new book, but probably my favorite books are the old ones. The ones I’ve owned the longest, the ones with the greatest number of creases in the binding; the ones that were gifts that I read over and over. The ones that contain memories: my dad leaving on a business trip the morning of my birthday, but waking me up to say happy birthday and to put the next book of one of my favorite series on my night table; the ones that were my parents’ before me – like half of my Chronicles of Narnia, which I devoured long before the movies were even an idea; like our Harry Potter books, that the whole family read and fought over who would get to read the next one first; like when we were little kids, cozy in bed and waiting for that wonderful moment when mom would come read one of our favorite books with us (we always were the best little monkeys in the world!). All those memories and more.

It’s because of all those memories that one of the hardest things for me to do is to throw away a book I love. But sometimes there comes a time when it must go – when there is no more space to store it and it is no longer being read…but no matter how much time it’s been since I’ve read it, it is still a heartbreaking thing to throw away a book that was part of my childhood, part of my teenage years. If I had eternal space I would probably keep all those books that meant something to me at some point in my life. Books hold so much more than words and stories.

Books have been passed down in our family, from my sister and I to our brother – Enid Blyton mysteries that I would go hunting for in used book stores, that I would jump for joy for when mom pulled one out from behind her back as a surprise gift; Ken Follet’s and the like that I would watch my dad read when I was young and wonder how he could read such a big and complex book – I understood how and devoured those too.

My favorite part about reading a book is just getting lost in it completely. Being transported into the book, oblivious to your surroundings and to the time passing by. I love being completely enraptured by a book, pulled into the story, drawn to the characters. It’s a beautiful love story for the duration of the book, and then at the end it is a bittersweet return to reality. The fulfillment of reaching the end of the journey, but the sorrow that the journey had to come to an end.

And so ends our journey today. I couldn’t help but share my outpouring of love for books, brought on by seeing countless ads for new platforms to read books on, and my sorrow at what that means for books and bookstores, which are some of my favorite places. As I said earlier – books hold so much more than words or stories; if we reduce them to just that, then we take away the heart and soul of what they truly are.