alskuefhaih
asoiefh

Monday, November 29, 2010

Giving thanks for the greatest days of our lives

-
-

     Thanksgiving weekend we wound through towns with names from my childhood on the road to the old family cottage – Betsie, Beulah, Benzie, Mesick -- on our drive north to “the Cape Cod of the Midwest": northwest Michigan. The childhood cottage was the lake place my great grandfather and great-uncle built, of the hoity toities from Chicago, the ones with money who I was sure I should have been born among. Had there been some mistake? I was the youngest of the born-again Baptist minister’s family, all ten of us. We must have been a visual diversion when descending upon the Congregational Assembly at Crystal Lake just a mile from Lake Michigan, tumbling out of the old fifties Woody wagon, carrying brown paper bags from the trailer bursting with clothes and groceries, then changing into hand-me-down cotton bathing suits and running to the beach. How I loved the smell of fusty leaves around the white painted porch and its slamming wood screen door, then the hot asphalt road I skimmed across barefoot to the fine white sand edging the lapis blue lake, and at last digging my fingers down beneath hot sand to cool clay, clawing it into my fist, then sculpting bowls to be lined up to dry in the sun in preparation for some imagined feast.

     So when we drove up this Thanksgiving weekend to a lake inn down the road from that old glory of a place, with foot-thick birches and old wooden porches, I was five again, smelling lake water lapping the firm white beach. I was walking the lane through deep oak woods and a tunnel of white cottages to Lake Michigan where we’d watch the sun set. Back at the cottage before bed, with sore sunburned skin, I’d sit on my fifteen-year-old sister’s lap during family devotions in warm lamp light and learn to read by following her fingertip guiding my eyes over the black print on thin Bible paper in passages Dad picked. We ten sat in wicker sofas and chairs around the unlit fireplace, my long-legged sisters and brothers shifting and rearranging the cushions, while they imagined the other cottage teenagers dancing at the rec hall.

     This year’s Thanksgiving weekend was an anniversary ball to celebrate my nephew’s wedding to a brilliant woman who survived breast cancer last year. In a little black dress and heels I sat on the edge of the dance floor watching two dozen kids dance with abandon. Others joined me sitting there between dances, observing the Bacchanalia of movement, sweat and wildness of the three-to-twenty-year-olds. We reminisced back to our own quiet and sober wedding celebrations, utterly devoid of wine, song or dance in the basements of Baptist churches. How far we’ve come, we said, how free we are now, sculpting memories of dance and lining them up like clay vessels to be filled with the wine of wedding after wedding, then dashing them to pieces in the fireplace with joyful abandon, until the next wild-heart celebration.

     Just then four-year-old Greta hoofed by yelling, “This is the greatest day of my life . . .” above the speakers blaring Cake’s “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” as her cousins pulled her back into their line dance.





-
-

44 comments:

Peter said...

So you didn't join on the dance floor? You should compensate for all the dancing you didn't do when you were younger. It's never too late! I must admit that I haven't done it since some years now; last time the DJ made a (kind) remark on the old man on the floor.
(I guess you didn't go bathing this time?)

Kamana said...

what pretty clothes and what pretty children :)

deb said...

I'm sitting here staring at the com box.

Sometimes there isn't something to add .

I will return and write something no doubt.

For now, thank you for this. For this morning's piece of wonderful writing, a part of your story.

A way to understand all of our stories.

And the immediate sense of joy. Joy.

Glad you had this , Ruth. Very much so.

kenju said...

A wonderful memory and nicely told! I can just see a child saying that. One of my grandsons said the same thing when he was taken to a NY Yankees game several years ago.

Bonnie said...

Heart-warming memories of days past, as you sit amidst little ones who will recount this moment as 'the greatest day of their life'.

Such a delight to watch children in their exuberance and unselfconscious (is there such a word?) wild abandon. Such a shame that we are socialized into restricting and restraining such organic expressions of joy.

who said...

This is an awesome story Ruthi! Is there anything better then witnessing events where families are among family members and free to entertain every wild feral desire with no worry or need to feel wrong or requirements to restrain emotions?

its times like these when each individuals life's story of complete circle is instantly revealed and on display. When a heart is in a feral state it's history is shown in its present state and when a heart needs help from the family to heal this is when it can be most easily seen.

life's damaged by past events from wrongs done to them will show because only a heart that has been through hell will inflict or deliver that pain to another when allowed to be feral with no restraint.

Isn't it the best feeling when you witness the warm joyous love that a feral state reveals in the people you care about and you know they haven't been exposed to the actions of this world dealt by areas where there is an absence of love or flawed understandings of it.

when you see that your families hearts have either healed or not been shattered by the malice of another damaged heart and soul.

Ginnie said...

Ohhhh, Ruth. I hoped against hope there'd be something here about this celebration. THANK YOU. I so much wanted and needed to be there. This will have to do for now. Is that Aden and Clara, by chance, behind these girls? Oh-Oh-Oh. They really are growing up and with such abandon, yes. Thank you. Thank you.

Shari Sunday said...

I thought I posted this morning. I guess it didn't take. That first picture is especially amazing. Your story was wonderful. I felt as though I was there experiencing it with you. What a beautiful and joyous occasion!

George said...

Sounds like you had a lovely and memory-laden Thanksgiving. You seem to have so much to be grateful for, not only in your present life, but in your past life. I just hope you had a chance to break loose from your Baptist heritage and join the wild dancing of the three-to-twenty year olds.

caroldiane said...

what a day to remember along with all those other wonderful days you remember - beautifully written, Ruth. Thanks for sharing the photos of those velvet clad girls! xo

California Girl said...

I like the way you juxtaposed your life then with your life now. So many changes...

I happened to read (and agree) about 2 of the 3 cities in the USA with the best weather: San Diego (lived there 3x--no place like it); Maui (anyplace on the island) and then they named Traverse City. I've never been there and I thought they were kidding. I mean, Michigan? What is it like?

Margaret Bednar said...

"If you can't make your mind up, we'll never get started.. "If you really love me, say yes, but if you don't dear, confess, and please don't tell me perhaps, perhaps, perhaps"...

How fun are those words and the horns! Love it. How could you possibly stay seated to that song? We love dancing - I just have to keep up with John - he is "Mr Swivel Hips"! Or sometimes I call him "FancyFeet". Nobody is looking at me when we are on the dance floor, all eyes are on him - so I don't mind that I'm not "Ginger Rogers". :)

Jean Spitzer said...

Or didn't, and enjoyed the scene?

Ruth said...

Peter! I can imagine that you are charming on the dance floor. Some men make all the women look good. I dance, usually at every wedding and occasion that calls for it, don't you worry. I love it. On this occasion I was quiet and observant, maybe my energy was low, but I delighted in the sight of these younger ones (and some older ones too) knocking around the floor. Nope, no swimming, as it was c-o-l-d.

Ruth said...

Kamana, aren't they? Thank you for agreeing with me. They are my great-nieces Audrey, Lydia and Greta. I adore them.

Ruth said...

Deb, thank you.

Some parts of our stories take nearly a lifetime to find the joy. I am an advocate of freedom, the kind these kids had at the party, because joy is always at hand. I enjoyed connecting my story with theirs.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Kenju, you know, that kind of pleasure is a delight to behold . . . and feel!

Ruth said...

Bonnie, yes. We don't dance enough, just to move and be exuberant and unselfconscious (it's definitely a word now). How interesting that as we get older, you can watch it year by year, the self consciousness increases. It was G.I. Gurdjieff who incorporated wild dance into spiritual practice, Osho too. It is good for the soul.

Ruth said...

Dusti, you nailed it. We know the histories of our family individuals, and when we care so much and go through the ups and downs together, then to be together on the dance floor, looking in each others eyes, it is really tremendous release! I love that word feral you used for it. Exactly. We really can be partly wild creatures. Something new surfaces.

Thank you, Dusti.

Ruth said...

Boots, reach out and take my hands, dance with me on the floor. I missed you. Yes, those are Aden and Clara, can you believe how grown up they are? In a couple years Lydia will be a young woman. Dancing helps them grow. Just think if we had danced like this.

But you did teach me to read ... didn't you?

Ruth said...

Shari, hello. Thank you for connecting with this, and with my story. Something really comes alive in me when I spend time with these kids, watching them get together time after time, especially since I had just one cousin, who lived far away and died young.

Ruth said...

George, my family life is very rich. Even in the history that I sometimes question and even bemoan, there is great love, humor and fulness. We could have grown apart as a family, but we have become closer and even more supportive of one another.

Normally I dance at these events, dragging Don out there with me, or gadding with my nieces, nephews, sisters, brothers. For some reason this time I didn't get out on the floor, but I didn't regret it. I think I danced through Lydia, Greta, Audrey, Aden and Clara.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Caroldiane. Aren't the girls quintessentially beautiful? Ahh, such lovely human children, I love them so much.

Ruth said...

California Girl, thank you.

My take on Traverse City being one of those cities with the best weather is: In summer, it can't be beat, nowhere in the country, even San Diego. In the winter, it's gorgeous, with winter sports close to the lake. Fall and spring are incredible, with trees full of color, and the water ten shades of turquoise. With the white sand beaches of the dunes, the finger peninsulas around Traverse City are a well loved part of our state.

Ruth said...

Margaret, I . . . could . . . not . . . sit . . . still through that song! I had not heard it before Saturday night, and I love it. My feet were busy, and I was dancing through my great nieces and nephews. I got sweaty just watching them. How beautiful that your John entertains with his swivel hips. There is something so great when a man can dance well, because it doesn't happen often. :) Don says women always look good on the dance floor, no matter how they move, but men rarely do. I think anyone who moves out there looks good, because . . . they're dancing!

Ruth said...

Jean, I didn't dance, but I loved every minute. Believe me, if I'd wanted to dance, I would have, and usually I do.

ds said...

Such beautiful children and what a beautiful way to celebrate your nephew's anniversary and his wife's courage! Love your lakeside memories--I can practically smell the pines.
And your Miss Greta reminds me of a small future CS twirling herself around & around & around at my cousin's wedding...
Sorry you didn't kick up your heels last weekend. Maybe next time. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps (great song!).

Oliag said...

What joyous stories...what joyous photos! When a child says “This is the greatest day of my life . . ." don't you just want to wrap it all up and save it forever for them?

It is interesting to read your comment about wild dance perhaps being good for the soul....I do believe that my children and husband are planning a wild dance party for my 60th birthday soon...wish you could join us!

Gwei Mui said...

What a wonderful and uplifting post. To see across the generations. Do you not dance or do you prefer the dances that are in your hear, mind and soul?

Ruth said...

Dear DS, don't you marvel at the sense of smell and how it conjures memories? There is a point in Michigan driving north when Don and I say, Now we are in the North, and the smell of pines is very much part of that feeling.

It's the best to watch our kids be lost in the bliss of dance. They don't care if they have the right moves, they just move.

I totally would have danced if I'd felt like it. I can't really explain why I didn't, but it wasn't from anything morose. :) Believe me, I was dancing inside with those kids!

Ruth said...

Hello, Oliag, my friend. Perhaps your grandkids will say "This is the greatest day of my life ..." at your 60th birthday dance. I would love to be there, and I would definitely dance. I will look for details and photos if you decide to share, otherwise I will imagine all of you and dance with you in my heart. 60 is my next milestone too, and you must tell me how it feels. Will it be the greatest day of your life? :)

Ruth said...

Dear Gwei Mui, I dance with my body as well as my heart, mind and soul, and I love it. But for some reason I did not have dancing feet at that party and preferred observing the others. Thank you for your kind words.

Susan said...

You know how I swoon when you talk about the cottage days of your youth! I live my younger days vicariously through yours. Oh, to have been one of your real sisters!

The children look so joyful in their dancing. I can't believe you didn't join them. I love that song. I've heard it before, but not by that band. It's an old one...Rosemary Clooney, maybe? Reminds me of 'Sway'.

Susan said...

It's Doris Day.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_fcG9GXeRw

Jeanie said...

What an extra special wedding, and how fun to just soak it all in.

I know what you mean -- I am five again, every time we turn in the road leading to the cottage -- passing by the family cottage where my mom grew up and I did till I was 10, still in and out the door every summer as cousins and the next generation took over. I'm so glad you had such a wonderful time -- much to be thankful for there!

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

This is such a beautiful blending of reminiscing on the past with thoughtful contemplation and appreciation of the present that the past has given us. It almost feels like nostalgia for the present moment. For some reason it brings to my mind the quote from Faulkner "The past is never dead. It's not even past". Your reflections on the celebration blur those false boundaries between past and present. Names, scents and voices from years ago come alive and join the youthful revelers. The line dance of time and memory becomes a circle and we all see and feel the fullness of our clay vessels. The last paragraph is wonderful, with Greta's happy exclamation, backed by the perhaps, perhpap, perhaps chorus before the cousins pull her back into their dance.

I am glad to see the exchange of comments with your sister ... this post even helps erase transoceanic distances and the separation you may have felt from her absence at this family affair.

Ruth said...

Susie! Wouldn't we have had a blast growing up together? My sisters were 10, 11 and 13 years older than I, so we didn't exactly play together. Well you're my sister-friend now. Thank you for that Doris Day version of "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps." I enjoyed listening at the office a while ago.

Ruth said...

Jeanie, that is remarkable to have a place your mom also grew up in. There is great value in long term family memories, I think.

Yes, the celebration was for more than just a wedding anniversary, that's for sure.

Ruth said...

Thank you so much, Lorenzo.

I think you captured the essence of the dance, maybe even the ongoing dance we participate in. We think we are in linear time, but cyclical time keeps calling us to this dance of no-time. I read the most beautiful essay by E.B. White called "Once More to the Lake" which coincided with this event and worked itself into this post. The narrator took his son back to the lake of his youth, and he keeps repeating the statement: There had been no years. I really love that.

You can read the essay here if you're inclined.

Ruth said...

Oh, and yes, as I type this, Bootsie is commenting on my Facebook photo album of the ball ... I know that pictures mean a lot to her, being away, especially on special occasions. I'm sure you must also feel this, Lorenzo, when holidays come that evoke memories spent with family and friends.

Friko said...

When you sit on the edge like you did here you see so much more than you would if you were part of the mad whirl.
I often wonder when it stopped, the wish to be part of the throng, the gaiety, the mad abandon. it is not just age, it is a kind of happy resignation.

How many of them there have been 'the happiest day of your life' and each one different.

I love your way of telling the story, there is memory, a little nostalgia, happiness and detachment.

♥ Kathy said...

That looks like it was so much fun Ruth & your memories are so sweet. I felt like I was there with you. I'm glad you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! *hugs*

Sandy said...

Well I sure enjoyed this post! Darling photos of the kids dancing.

Montag said...

I, too, was in Beulah land!