Nostalgia

Today I received a Christmas card in the mail. Before I could even read the words, emotion choked me, and I became overwhelmed with tenderness as I contemplated the great love someone must have for me to be so efficient with their card-sending. However, on closer examination I discovered that the hallmark card was in fact from Hallmark, containing generic well wishes for the holiday season and a 20% off coupon. Although disappointing, the card provoked all manner of reminiscence within me, resulting in the following sequence of memories.

When I was seventeen years old, I had the opportunity to work as a nanny for my aunt and uncle and their seven children (“seven children,” spoken in Julie Andrews Sound of Music voice). Those months defined me more as a person than anything else I’ve ever done (sans falling in love or reading the Boxcar Children). I came to know who I was and who I wanted to be, and I count the time as my first grand adventure.

Anyway, while I was in Idaho I received a welcome amount of correspondence from my loved ones, and as I continue to acclimate to my Pittsburgh life, I have found renewed comfort from re-reading those words, particularly the words from my sweet family. My situation, though technically different, feels similar enough that I can almost hear the voices who spoke them originally as I read…

My sister Rebekah,then 14 years old, wrote the following:

December 20th, 2012

Dear Mary,

Merry Christmas! I just discovered that I am writing this letter upside-down, so if you want to see the True Beauty of this stationary, you will have to look at it from a different angle. I’m glad you’re excited to get my present; I think you will like it, but if you don’t; don’t tell me, okay?
On December 12th (last week’s Sunday) the Bagleys taught my Sunday school class, so we had a 5-10 minute lesson, and then we talked about family Christmas traditions. :S (squiggly face)
Oh Mary, I am very much looking forward to when you are home again and I can talk to you. I’m sorry if this makes you trunk-y–or can only missionaries be trunky? Oh well. I haven’t put any presents under the Christmas tree yet. I will probably later today–oh! I don’t think we have any tape left! I guess I will just have to wait a little longer. I don’t mind, but I think William will. Speaking of William, he made some really yummy chocolate chip cookies last night. They were probably as good as any I’ve ever made too.
We watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” last night. One of our favorite lines is, “Oh why don’t you stop annoying people.” I think I might already have told you that.
Merry Christmas, Mary, and a Happy New Year to you!

Love, love, love Rebekah Taylor, thine own sister.

Aw. It ain’t Hallmark, but it works for me.

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Beginning

Yesterday was my day off. I’ve been babysitting for a family from church, and now that I finally have a worthwhile (and fortunately enjoyable) occupation, I feel as if my life has a greater degree of meaning. In addition, having work means that the days I do not ‘toil’ have suddenly become infinitely more valuable. This discovery resulted in my re-arranging of our painfully tight kitchen, and in a thorough cleaning of our entire apartment. The space isn’t large, only 700 square feet, but during the last few months I’ve pushed through various phases of activity, resulting in my decided, and unabashed satisfaction of the fruits of yesterday.

I do not often delve into my own personal psyche on social media (flimsy jokes serve as my outlet at best, or perhaps the less obvious comment or ‘like’), but as I’ve come out of an honestly bleak and overwhelming period of time, I feel the desire to open myself more fully to the world at large.

Depression is such a heavy word. It weighs on my tongue like a cold, slippery stone. I hesitate to speak it, particularly in connection to myself, because I have seen firsthand what real depression looks like, and I know that my own experiences fall grossly short of the anguish the word communicates. And so, I opt for lighter verbiage: I’ve lately experienced a stint in melancholy (I know I just said that I wanted to be less flimsy about such things, but baby steps, baby steps). Since my husband and I moved to Pennsylvania, my life has turned upside-down. I have transitioned from being a fully-engaged and part-time employed college student to…neither.

It made zero sense for me to seek occupation immediately after the move. After all, within a month I would have to leave for a week to be in Utah for my brother’s wedding. Three weeks after that, I was off to Louisville, KY to tend my brother’s little boys while my sister-in-law prepared for the arrival of their little girl. Only one week after that I was due in Tuscon, AZ for another brother’s wedding, and that brought me to August. Also, in the middle of all this bustle, our second vehicle, my much-loved, quite dingy Ford Focus, resolved on expediting its journey into retirement. While still functional, we can no longer thoroughly rely on my vehicle to consistently move me from point a. to point b., a circumstance that has increased my feelings of helplessness and gloom.

In between each surge of activity, my life consisted of…nothing. All the things that I’d previously enjoyed seemed painfully pointless. I didn’t bake, because there were only two of us to eat whatever I made, plus I didn’t want to spend money we didn’t have on ingredients for things we wouldn’t eat. Reading, once my greatest indulgence, lost its savor, and everything I picked up appeared bland and uninteresting. In addition, Benjamin is a first-year resident. His time is not (and will likely never be) his own. He regularly leaves for work around 3:30 am, and his return is so unpredictable, ranging anytime between 7-9 in the evening, that I constantly felt isolated. My frequent absences meant that no one from church really knew me, and for the first time, I felt completely adrift.

I love to make plans. I’m always writing lists, making goals, and seeking improvements in my daily life, but for this period of four months I became quite devoid of motivation and meaning. I even began to wonder if I had somehow contracted agoraphobia, because the thought of leaving the house gave me anxiety. My poor husband, overworked and eternally on-call, did his best to brighten my hours, though the time we shared was severely limited. Regardless of his love and support, my funk persisted until early October.

In addition to my being new to the ward, the beginning of the school year resulted in a notable influx of students and their families. Among these was one family in particular. The husband was just beginning his Physicians Assistant program, and his wife a former nurse, was a full-time mother for their twin boys. One brisk morning, I received a phone call from a member of the Relief Society presidency, asking for my help. Georgia, the wife, had fallen, resulting in a minor injury to her right arm. She could no longer carry her twin boys, and needed someone to come over right away to help with the everyday routine of feeding, diapering, etc,. I didn’t even think before saying yes, and I shifted into overdrive. The call reminded me of my Woodscreek days–being called on short notice was a common occurrence, and any excuse to be on the campus attracted me, because being with kids is fun.

I quickly made myself presentable, collected a bag of necessities, let the dog out and grabbed my keys–overcoming my fear of driving in  Pittsburgh traffic was suddenly easy, because I finally had a reason. My arrival was timely, and the hours elapsed all too soon. It was as if I’d been living a life of grays and browns, and suddenly life had texture again. Food tasted better, the air smelled cleaner, and my smile became comfortable again. Having motivation to be more than a couch potato truly saved me from myself.

Joe and Pat

I’ve been intending to blog about so many things lately…Halloween traditions, my human-nature epiphany about Gilmore Girls, the perils of newlywed laundry, etc, etc,., but on this brisk, autumn afternoon, my thoughts are occupied by my adorable neighbors, Joe and Pat.

My initial (and carefully hidden until today) response to our immediate neighborhood can be succinctly expressed in two words: chilled foreboding. The blustery, hair-askew elderly gentleman, who collects stray cats (his current tally being seven), the unmistakable Steelers fan whose potentially-lecherous waving urged me to purchase my first canister of pepperspray, and the unforgettable Jim, whose refusal to over-indulge in exercise resulted in his crafty invention of the leash-held lawnmower (mow your lawn from the comfort of your own porch with this handy invention)–each petrified me. While outwardly friendly, I feared, thanks to my incessantly overactive imagination, that my neighbors were capable of fantastic acts of violence. Fortunately however, the last five months have done much to dissolve my unease, to the point that I am contentedly blogging about my favorite of the bunch.

Joe and Pat are (presumably) in their late 70s or early 80s, and since relocating my desk to the extra-sunny-window of our living room, I have been afforded a view of their daily existence. I’m concerned that my impressions of the two may come across as creepy, but I assert that if the two weren’t so darn adorable I’d have nothing to remark on or notice, and I contend that my observations stem from true admiration for their easily apparent enjoyment of life as opposed to a more shady motivation.

Joe, a 6″4, nobly-balding veteran, feeds the birds every day at 12:30. He carefully scatters finely ground bread crumbs, and thriftily saves the bag for the next days ritual feeding. Prior to this, Pat, with her hair immaculately coifed and her nylons in place, steps outside with their aged German Shepherd, Schultz (Schultz the 7th to be precise–they having always had a single German Shepherd, whom they have always named Schultz, regardless of gender) and the two then proceed to play fetch. I cannot communicate how darling this daily scene is to my soul. Pat, at 4″11, white-haired and elegant, throwing a lime-green tennis ball against the side of their brick abode, combined with the aged, white-whiskered Schultz, bravely hobbling after said ball (in spite of his painfully apparent hip displaysia) creates a tender picture. I hope to find myself equally active and girlish when I reach my winter years, and I wish that my own furry friends will resist the inescapable assault of time, and continue to frolic with me wherever we may be.

In addition to their individual quirks, Joe and Pat are exquisitely sweet with one another. Thanks to their height difference, each time Joe opens the door for Pat, she easily ducks under his extended arm, and smiles right into his face before entering said door. They give me heart cavities–they are so stinkin’ cute.

Surveying Pat and Joe results in an ever-shifitng array of mixed emotions. I contemplate my ageless mother, and my parents as a couple, who still tenderly walk hand-in-hand around the neighborhood every Sunday. I envision the brimming future with my dearest Benjamin, and I reflect on what my own children will surmise about me…Seeing Pat and Joe is a bit like peeking into the future, because it makes me mull over just what kind of daily life I should like to be living in fifty years time…

There you have it: Joe and Pat. And Schultz.