A collection of distilled sarcastic wisdom, numerous photographs, discussions of books and stuff to learn and more stuff to think about from a retired economics professor turned blogger and photographer.
When Velna and I got married on December 18 1952, my Dad made this special inlaid marquetry tray for our wedding present. Over the past 63 years, this beautiful tray has become a treasured gift that has become even more appreciated with the passing of years. My parents had little money and could not afford a purchased wedding present. Instead, my Dad spent hours crafting this tray of inlaid wood, using a scroll saw to cut the intricate pattern of the trees and Teton Mountains. Note how tightly the pieces fit, how careful and painstaking my Dad's work. The tray has always occupied a place of honor in our home. In the photo below, the tray rested on the back of our living room couch when we went to Ann Arbor Michigan to attend school in the 1950s where we lived in the student apartments on North Campus. Ron and Russell are sitting on the couch. Now the tray sits on the molding over the doorway to the deck, where I look directly at it throughout the day, reminding me of my marriage and of the incredible gift of talent and love that my Dad gave to forever grace our wedding anniversaries and to permanently remind me of the great gift of inlaid marquetry artistry that he possessed and shared so generously. The 89 cent ceramic flamingos that someone so generously gave us for our wedding present 63 years ago have long vanished, but I wonder how many wedding presents any of us still have and cherish after so many years.
To save me from my lonely Christmas Eve, Ron, Lani, and Melanie came with delicious soup, cornbread, and peppermint fudge, besides bearing Christmas presents. Here is one of the presents:
As you can plainly see, Santa is definitely a Cougar fan. A Ute even tweeted that he feared Ty Detmer coming to coach the offensive line for the Cougars. How great a Christmas present is that?
And then, for the first time in many, many years I retrieved my big black heirloom bible and read the Christmas story from the book of Luke. Dear children, do you remember how we did this every Christmas eve for many years? So many memories, so many treasures.
What promised to be a sad and lonely Christmas eve turned out to be a cherished time spent with some of my family. I remembered so many wonderful Christmases past when I read from the book of Luke before sending the anxious children off to bed. And then they all grew up and left me alone with Velna. Yet Christmas eve was always something special, something with an aura of love and warmth and spiritual richness that made the evening and the following day a time to cherish and remember all of our days. Merry Christmas to everyone, and may you find many new ways tomorrow to share your love and generosity and kindness to brighten as many lives as possible. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
As I have grown older, I have become more aware of the importance of little words, small offerings of concern, interest, encouragement, and kindness. I am not able to leave my home as often as I would like since I no longer drive, but when I do leave, I find myself more interested in the people I meet and in the possibility of saying something that may encourage or cheer them for a moment. Yesterday when I went to the grocery store, I saw a familiar woman monitoring the self-checkout area of the store and I told her, "I'm glad to see you are still here looking after things." She brightened and said, "Well, I just wish I wasn't here near the front door where all the cold air comes in." So I said, "Anyway, I'm always glad to see you here," so she brightened with a smile, and said, "Thank you." The young checker lady at my checkout counter spoke to me, which I couldn't hear minus my hearing aids, so I told her, "I couldn't hear you but I could see your smile." Then I told her, as she continued her smile, "You obviously like your job," and she replied, "I especially like it when I meet cheerful people like you are." I don't know that either of these brief exchanges of words meant anything to these two people, but I like to think that, perhaps, they may remember them when their workday is over and that I might have added just a brief moment of respite from the usual continual lines of people moving through the store acting like they have no idea what to say or how to be encouraging, just ring up my stuff and get me out of here, and then out the door. Checkers and baggers and shelf stockers are people too. They all have their problems and they work long hours on their feet and go home tired and have children to look after and houses to clean and bills to pay just the same as everyone. A kind word may help them through their day.
In ordinary years for the past 63 years, our Christmas tree would be surrounded with gifts. In the years with children at home, the piles of toys and gifts took hours to shop for and wrap and prepare for excited children on Christmas morning. Then when our nest was empty, and Velna and I were alone, we each did our best to find something for the other. When we could still go to the stores, we wandered the aisles looking for something special, each for the other. Then came the next chapter when we could no longer go to the stores and we shopped on the computer, trying our best to find something memorable, something special. Now, on this day before Christmas, I have one tangible gift waiting for me to open, a gift from one of my granddaughters. And yet, I have received so many gifts that did not need to be wrapped and put under the tree. So many presents have come my way, so many acts of kindness and consolation and caring, so many gifts of time and help. So instead of the floor around my tree seeming empty, I see instead a rich outpouring of gifts of priceless value, of lasting importance, gifts and blessings of tender mercies and thoughtful and caring givers.
Most of all during this Christmas, I am thankful for the gift my wife Velna gave me as she spent nearly 63 Christmases with me and all of the years in between. Now she has given me the special gift of grief and tears as I mourn her absence during this lonely Christmas vigil. However, I think I have come to understand that grief and tears are a special blessing because the deep and lasting feelings lead to a new gift of the understanding of life and eternal marriage, of the enormous and indescribable blessings of a lifetime of sharing and work and just getting by and the joy of children and new and exciting experiences and overcoming challenges and surviving health problems and finding the strength and courage to persevere through the ultimate challenges that life has to give us. I never thought I would understand grief in this way until this morning when I waited from 5:00 a.m. until 7:45 when the day finally broke from the solemnity and starkness of the dark to the hope and light of another day. I thought about grief, I prayed about my loss, and I watched the light break through the dark clouds, and a new understanding descended on my mind, an understanding that all of the hopes, all of the days and years of life together, are not lost, that every indelible memory that leads to tears and laughter, every shred of faith and every recognition of something wonderful and beautiful, is emerging in a new light as the day brightens and I wonder again how I am going to get through this special day without Velna.
And also, I have the rich outpouring of the gifts of time and work and caring from my children. I have neighbors who bring me cartons of soup and loaves of freshly baked bread and plates of cookies and cinnamon rolls and who ask if I need some company, if they can come in and sit and talk to me for a few minutes and keep me company and see if I need anything and if they can go to the store to get me something or if they can roll out my garbage can and roll it back up the driveway or if I need them to get my mail or if I need some company to just call them day or night and then they tell me that they love me and they miss Velna and that the pain will take a long time to go away but that I will heal and that I will be better in the coming days and then I feel safe and secure and loved and blessed with the richest of gifts of kindness and compassion and I remember the dear lady who brought me soup and I felt how wet her hair was as I gave her a hug as she had walked through the storm to bring it to me.
And I think of the gifts from my children who have looked after me and helped me with legal and financial details and helped me unravel complex bill paying problems and arranged for the final services for Velna and saw to it that I had a new suit to wear and who did so much work to help me sell the St. George winter home and haul all of the furnishings up north and handle so many details with the realtor and who put up my Christmas tree and decorations which I told them I didn't want but was told I would have them anyway and who take me to the store and call me to check on me and shower me with love and kindness and send me flowers to brighten my home and raise my spirits. My siblings and Velna's sisters have gone out of their way to provide continual support and loving and compassionate words.
So you can see that my tree is endowed with an enormous pile of gifts that are gifts of the heart, gifts of sharing, gifts of compassion, and gifts of hope. And with this rich outpouring, my Christmas is more wonderful than I ever thought possible. Instead of material gifts, I have the indelible gifts of memory and love and the beginnings of new strength to move my life forward in the face of loneliness and loss. And for all of these wonderful gifts, I thank everyone from the bottom of my heart. May you each continue to make gifts like these beautiful gifts the most important part of your gift giving throughout the rest of your lives. And now I need another box of Kleenex.