Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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A Gem in My Mom’s Handwriting

I found a blue spiral-bound copy of The Bride’s Notebook yesterday while emptying and sorting drawers. It has pages and pages of notes and names in my mom’s handwriting, dating from the months before her wedding in December 1951. Using my clever math skills, I realized it was almost 70 years old. Yikes!

Some things never change. This little book includes sections for everything the 1950’s bride needed to keep track of – wedding details, etiquette, wedding invitations and announcements, gifts, clothes, and room-by-room things you want for your new home. Not sure if brides registered at department stores then, but this at least told me what Mom thought she needed. [UPDATE: Apparently bridal registry started in 1924 at Marshall Fields. The stores listed in Mom’s book (Bamberger, Kresge, Hahnes) are no longer around under those names if at all.]

Most interesting to me were the list of wedding guests, in alphabetical order and with my mom’s perfect handwriting. Entries included full names and addresses, as well as checks and X’s to indicate who had accepted. My grandfather had many business associates who were included on a similar list for wedding announcements. Reading the names was a walk down memory lane: I remembered many of the people, either from my childhood or because my mom or grandfather talked about them.

And of course there were family members that I never heard of for years but now recognize: my great-grandmother’s sister Belle and her children; Grandma’s brother Leighton; my grandfather’s many Heginbotham and McCormick cousins. On my dad’s side were the Dails and the Keels. Funny, it never occurred to me that my grandfather Myers’ sister would have been invited but yes, of course. She didn’t come, but she was invited.

Then there was the meticulous list of wedding gifts. Silver trays and candlesticks were big that year. So were tablespoons and place settings in their Old Master silver pattern, and money. Because I was curious, I looked up the values today – a $10 gift in 1951 would be $99 now. Some of the gifts recorded looked more like items a bride would get today at a shower: electric broiler, waste basket, vases, clock, lamp, ash tray. My mom’s sister gave her a set of 12 towels, hand towels, and washcloths, which made me wonder what Mom gave her for her wedding 3 months earlier in the same church, the same dress, with a lot of duplication on the guest list.

But really what got me were the names and Mom’s beautiful handwriting. I remembered so many of the people. Minnie Mae Gautier in Wisconsin sent a bone carving set that I passed on to my brother after my dad died. I always loved her name. She was a private secretary in 1930 when she was a boarder in my grandfather’s home during the Depression. Mom remembered her and obviously she remained on good terms with the family after she moved back home.

Also the Coughlins who lived in Flushing, NY, where Dan was a policeman. They rented the “little house” in Manasquan for years. I never asked or knew how they knew my grandparents, but they were always part of our summers at the shore. Mr. Margolis from Williamston, who ran a men’s clothing store and made Daddy a loan to buy the engagement ring. Roy Ackley and his wife in Orange, NJ, who worked with my father and grandfather and was actually the one to introduce me to genealogy in 1970. Aunt Belle Glidden in Ormond Beach, FL, which is a new piece of genealogy information for me. Grace Kellner, my grandfather’s secretary for years (and how on earth do I remember that??).

Remembering these people made me smile and remember my parents and grandparents, too. And as long as I remember them, they still live a little longer.


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Dividing up treasures

Half of the silver

My mother, sister-in-law, and I all chose the same Towle Old Master silver pattern. I never married but didn’t let that stop me getting pretty things. We grew up using the silver every night for dinner, not saving it up for only special occasions, and I wanted to be able to do that in my own home. My mom bought me some place settings from estate sales, I bought some, and my grandmother would sometimes give me a teaspoon or fork for my birthday.

I gave 4 of my place settings to my oldest nephew when he got married, but have rarely used any since moving to Texas. I added mine to my mom’s set carefully wrapped up in anti-tarnish cloth when I moved here, but it’s not doing anyone any good just sitting in a drawer. So as part of my house transition, I decided it was time to pass it on to the next generation. Not being a fool, I checked with my brother and sister-in-law to be sure what I wanted to do was equitable.

Today I spread all the pieces out on the dining table and started dividing them up. There were actually almost 16 of everything, which was more than I’d realized. Each of my nieces will get 8 place settings. But then there were the odd things that I never had in my set (spoons for iced tea and soup, little individual butter knives, pickle forks, etc.) and larger serving pieces that were a combo of Old Master pattern (large spoons and fork, pie server, gravy ladle) and miscellaneous pieces that I’d inherited from my grandmother and great-grandmother. I randomly divided these between the two piles.

Most of me is happy that the new generation will have and use these, and hopefully will think of us when they do. But part of me wants to cry to part with these pretty silver things that I never use but know where they came from and (mostly) what they’re for, including the tomato server and sugar sifter. I just love them. But it’s not fair to them to be wrapped in a drawer and ignored. So I will polish them up, wrap them carefully in anti-tarnish cloth, and pack up to give for holiday celebrating – and hope that the pretty things don’t get mangled in a disposal. But if they do, well, my mom did that as well. It’s just stuff, even if it’s shiny.

I’m keeping a few things, though. I just couldn’t part with the silver sifter or the little sterling swords for appetizers or the baby set to give when the next baby is born. But most of it is divided up, hopefully fairly. Next decisions will involve silver and silverplate bowls and platters. I do not need two intricate silver breadtrays, Revere bowls, or the well-and-tree platter. I think the nephews are getting silver for Christmas, too.


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It’s Been a Year

Bill Myers, Emerald Bay, 2012

Daddy died a year ago tomorrow. I’ve been marking the days this month of where we were a year ago – not crying, not anguished, just aware. I’m remembering how difficult his last month of life was, with diminished mobility and speech, increased confusion, and his confounded stubbornness that he was getting up even though his legs couldn’t hold him, that he was going home even though I couldn’t care for him here.

He ended his life in one of “those places” that he swore up and down he would never be in. When we explained to him that’s where he was, and that if he didn’t like it, he should have seen the places we didn’t take him, he wrinkled his face, saying, “Pffffffffft.” They took good care of him there, though the sight of the mattress around the bed in case he fell out in the night really threw me.

Daddy asked me in a window of lucidness where his grandparents were buried, and what did his will say, and was it finalized. He wanted to know things were in order, and he told me that it had been a good life and that dying wasn’t a bad thing. He went downhill from there.

Holding Daddy’s hand

I’m grateful to Hospice. Whenever I see Hospice nurses in blue scrubs out and about, I want to run up and hug them and say “Thank you.” Sometimes I do, which they may find odd, but especially now I have excess emotion and they made such a difference. They spoke gently but with blunt honesty about what happens to the body when it starts to shut down, about how our perception of it was just that; his body was doing the business of dying. That meant it was hot, that breathing changed, that he probably wouldn’t talk much. But that he wasn’t in pain and would at some level hear us even when he couldn’t respond. I sang “Amazing Grace” and “You Are My Sunshine” to him, and was with him when he died.

Today I spent time with someone in my community who is facing the same situation with a parent who probably doesn’t have a lot of time left. Because of my experience with Daddy, I was able to talk about convening a care coordination meeting with the facility staff, and bringing Hospice in early to help the transition, because Hospice staff bring additional skilled eyes to evaluate and support both patient and family. We also talked about cremation, and what services a funeral home provides, and how obituaries get to the paper. Things to get in order BEFORE there is a death, because so much happens then that it’s hard to keep track of details.

Daddy gave me that present of understanding this end of life stage, and the ability to talk about it calmly and with compassion. I miss him every day, though I don’t miss having the house climate be too hot for me or the TV volume up so loud I can hear it anywhere in the house. He was a kind man who loved his family with all his heart. People here speak so fondly of him that it sometimes brings tears to hear about random acts of kindness done that made a difference. That’s a pretty good legacy.

I’m holding on to the image that was on the prayer chain when he died, that “Bill is driving around the golden streets of heaven in a golfcart with his beloved Peg.” That’s Daddy. I love you, Daddy. And I miss you.

Bill, Anne, and Tom Myers
T-Bar-C Ranch, 2012


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Happy Birthday, Mommy

Today would be my mom’s 88th birthday. She was born in Brooklyn, New York City, the youngest daughter of Marion Cooke and William Flanders, and grew up with her sister Jane Anne in Newark, New Jersey in the home where their father grew up. I don’t look like my mom but I inherited her organized mind and gift for languages and music.

Mommy was one smart cookie. She went to Montclair College High School, a demonstration school for the state teachers’ college, commuting by train for six years. At age 17 she took the train again, this time south to Duke University, a place she’d never seen and knowing no one in the state. She met my dad on a double date with other people and they never dated anyone else again. She left Duke after two years with a diamond ring on her finger and went to Katherine Gibbs School for a year for practical secretarial training.

Mom was very disciplined and organized; in Myers-Briggs terms, my guess is that she was ISTJ. She was a stay-at-home mom until we were in Kentucky and my dad’s job changed, but she was busy with Brownies and Girl Scouts, as a den mother for my brother, involved in church Circles, working with and eventually running the PTA. She cleaned house and did chores on a weekly schedule (Tuesdays were bathroom days) and she started taking piano lessons at age 31 because she always wanted to play better.

And Mom was always thin. It drove me crazy because I definitely was NOT thin, ever. She never made a recipe without making changes to lower fat and calorie content, and almost never offerered dessert unless we had company or it was a birthday. I hate zucchini because we ate so much of it, and will never eat cottage cheese because it was a diet food so I had to eat it all the time.

So our relationship was rocky, and Dad stayed out of the whole “you need to lose weight” thing because that was between mothers and daughters. I’ve seen pictures of myself back in those days, and really, I was pretty. But I never believed it of myself and I internalized some pretty negative things that I know now were not meant to harm but did so anyway. It’s hard to separate myself from those emotions and be objective.

I lived over 1500 miles away from my parents for almost my whole professional life, focusing on my career and my own world. Trips home involved scheduling time off which wasn’t always easy, and making plane reservations – and therefore NOT using that time for vacation. For years we combined that by me seeing them in Park City, Utah, where my parents went for the month of August.

Mom and I took a trip to Austria and Switzerland together in 2001, leaving 10 days after 9/11. The whole idea of the two of us without a buffer for two weeks was a bit of a challenge but it was a chance to mend and see each other differently. It was a wonderful trip and I’m tremendously grateful now that we had that time, because Mom’s health went downhill not long afterwards.

She had COPD and her world shrank as her breathing became harder. She was hospitalized in 2007 with infection after an appendectomy (she self-diagnosed appendicitis by Googling symptoms), and her world was different after that. She was softer, quieter, more kind. Mommy knew her time was limited and drew on her strong faith. She died in 2014, three weeks after my niece’s wedding, when she had a chance to see all her family together and happy.


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Requiem for my parents

Saturday night I sang the Durufle Requiem in concert with about 80 other people plus orchestra. It’s gorgeous music and is based on chant motifs that move lyrically from voice part to voice part. I sang it once before in Boston with the Trinity Choir, which served me well with this new performance.

I realized on Friday, as I sang along for the eleventy millionth time to a recording, that I could let go of that and just sing it. It’s in my bones now and I barely need the score to know those weird notes to pull out of the air after 8 bars of time signature changes. Being able to just sing it freed me to feel it and realize that I was singing this Requiem for my parents.

Mom’s birthday is this week and Daddy’s was two weeks ago. Mom died in 2014 and Dad passed away last May. We had memorial services for both, of course, but their ashes have been sitting on the dressers at my house waiting to move to their final resting place at Cathedral in the Pines. Dad wanted Mom’s ashes nearby and since it was a comfort to him, that’s where they stayed. He would talk to her sometimes, as would I. Last spring he was finally ready to let her go so we bought the plaques for their “condos” as he and Mom termed their niches in the columbarium, but he passed away before we could actually inter the ashes. And it was too hot and logistically complicated to do it when Daddy died.

We are finally seeing them to their final rest next Friday, and my brother and I have cooked up a service from elements of the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Methodist traditions. I mostly just want them to be at rest and not in my closet (I moved them off the dresser when I got my baby kitties, since nothing is safe with them around). But I feel like I’m back in the limbo time between the death and the service. I want to get this done. I want it to be over, for them to be at rest. It’s the last thing I can do for them, other than just live my life well.

So keep them, keep us, in your prayers.

Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord;
And let light perpetual shine upon them.
May their souls, and the souls of all the departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

And from the Durufle Requiem:

IX. In Paradisum
In Paradisum deducant Angeli,
in tuo adventu suscipiant te Martyres
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.

Chorus Angelorum te suscipit
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere
aeternam habeas requiem.


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The Christmas Tree Letter

Christmas 1975 was the first year my parents shopped for a Christmas tree without us children. My brother and I were both away in college, one a freshman and one a senior, at different schools hundreds of miles apart from each other and from our parents in Dallas.  They were on their own.

We had tree standards – always tall, live trees that were fat and aromatic.  They sat outside in buckets of water until closer to Christmas to keep them fresh as long as possible, or at least so the trees didn’t drop needles everywhere before Christmas even arrived. Mom put on the lights (because Dad never got it right), and together we’d put on ornaments collected over the years, with the unbreakable ones at the bottom by custom rather than real necessity since the cat barely batted them anymore.

When we were little, we added strands of shiny tinsel. My brother and I liked to just throw it at the tree but Mom insisted we “place” the strands so they would be untangled and shiny.  Since we reused old tinsel the next year, that made more sense to do, but it wasn’t as much fun. Our “tree skirt” was an old white sheet wrapped around the bottom. By the time we were in Texas, though, we’d graduated to using strings of gold balls instead of garland or tinsel, and the tree sported a skirt made by my mom.

But the first step was finding a tree and 1975 they did it without us. Dad memorialized this activity in what has become known in the family as “The Christmas Tree Letter.” His handwriting was terrible and the letter was written in black felt tip pen on yellow legal pad, but it’s pure Dad. And on this, my first Christmas without him, it’s a precious memory.


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Cousins of the heart

We all have them, those people who are related to us not by blood but by love and shared memories. They are as much our relatives as those with shared DNA. 

Our related clans in 1951

My life was graced by a special tribe in New Jersey, two sets of sisters who shared their childhoods and stayed connected as young marrieds with small children. We children grew up sharing the beach at Manasquan and visits in between summers until both Flanders sisters moved too far away to come back for summer vacations.

Letters kept me connected to my godmother and I made a visit to London to visit Cousin Carol while in college. We sat around and shared endless cups of tea the same way our moms had sat for years over cups of coffee. As we grew older, we stayed in touch mostly through Christmas cards. But now with Facebook, I’m reconnected. I love seeing pictures of their children and grandchildren, of their travels, new homes, and worry over illness and sad times. 

The last of that senior generation is gone now  with the death of Uncle S this week, just a few months after my father’s death. We children who are no longer children are the senior generation now. Our children don’t know each other, the way we grew up knowing each other, but it’s important to me to not lose the connection I have to those far-away cousins of the heart.