Posted tagged ‘perfect fall day’

“We are a noisy and blessed little family”

November 4, 2014

Today is the perfect fall day, sunny with crispness in the air. It is 57˚but without any wind it seems warmer. I have no front lawn just a bed of mostly pine needles and some yellow leaves. Even the front steps have disappeared. Many of the oak leaves are hanging on but have turned brown. The sun slants a different way so the shadows have changed position. Fall is ending and moving slowly toward winter.

When I look in the mirror, I see a face with wrinkles, laugh lines my aunt used to call them. I see my hair far more grey than brown, but I like it that way. If I’m not wearing my glasses, I see a blur. I am getting older.

I keep thinking about the old aunts for that’s what we called them. They were my mother’s aunts. I’d see them at some family parties and most times had to identify myself as Margaret’s oldest. Nobody called my mother Margaret except for them and my father’s mother. To everyone else she was always Chickie. One old aunt played the piano and everyone would stand around and sing. That’s how I learned the words to so many songs. My family wasn’t shy about singing. I can still see them standing at the piano each with a glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other. My grandmother would sit in the comfiest chair and watch. She wasn’t a singer. My grandfather with drink in hand would be chatting with one person or another. My grandmother always kept an eye on him.

My mother’s family loved to party. Everyone lived close to one another so they all showed up for the festivities. I always felt lucky to be so close to my aunts and uncles, especially the old aunts.

“It is a rare and beautiful moment when you find love among people and in places that are so completely different from anything you’ve ever known.”

October 25, 2014

We have sun for the first time in days. The morning is chilly the way fall mornings are. The rain and the wind blew pine needles and leaves off the trees so the lawn, the driveway and the deck are covered. The leaves are yellow.

I hope my memories of Ghana and the Peace Corps don’t make you yawn. They appear here often because they are still so much a part of me, even after all these years, and much of what I think, love and respect came from those years. Living for a little more than two years in Africa is mind and soul expanding and that never disappears.

I think I was destined to be a Peace Corps volunteer. When I was eleven, I made a vow to travel. When I was in high school, I joined groups like SNCC believing we all had social responsibilities. In college, among other things, I picketed for the grape workers, marched against the war and tutored Spanish-speaking kids in English. The Peace Corps seemed a perfect fit.

I applied in the fall of my senior year in college. The application was multi-paged and took what seemed forever to finish. When it was sent to Washington, all my hopes and dreams were in many ways attached. The answer didn’t take long. In January the all important letter came inviting me to train to be a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, in Ghana. I sent my acceptance the very same day even though I had no idea where Ghana was. The worst part in the process would be next, telling my parents.

I called home.

My mother said little. My father said it all: no more money for school if I choose to go, Africans stink, and he forbade it. Okay, that last one gave me a chuckle. The phone call ended when I hung up on my father because of his anger. It would take a while but he did finally accept my choice.

I remember how nervous I was leaving home on the flight to Philadelphia to staging and then on to Ghana. I was twenty-one.

Training wasn’t easy. Coupled with homesickness, eating strange foods and suffering from a variety of ailments I sometimes had the urge to leave, but I didn’t. I chose to stay. During training, after our live-in, we had to make our way to the next training site by ourselves. That was when I started feeling like a Peace Corps volunteer. I was on a bus with mostly Ghanaians and traveling for hours to go south, and I got there with no problems. I ate food sold alongside the road, drank water from dubious sources and peed in a hole.

I thrived in Ghana. I came to love Ghanaians, sweet, warm people always willing to help. Teaching was difficult at first but then got easier as I learned to teach. If I needed to, I could travel anywhere by myself and often did to get to Accra, 16 hours from where I lived, to Togo, the country to the east of Ghana, and to what was then Upper Volta.

I was at ease in Ghana, confident in myself, and loved being there. My homesickness disappeared. I felt at home.

“I saw old Autumn in the misty morn Stand shadow less like silence, listening To silence.”

November 4, 2012

As fall days go, this one is just about perfect. The sun is sharply bright, the air is clear and it’s chilly, around 45˚ chilly, not quite coat weather yet. When I went to get the papers early this morning, I could smell fall. I could smell the fallen leaves and the crispness of the air. Someone had a fire going. I noticed the yellow maple leaves had fallen on the grass in a pattern drawn from a painter’s palette. I stood and took in my little bit more of my world then grabbed the papers and went inside to a house filled with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. My senses were in overdrive.

Gracie got loose this morning. We had just gotten back from breakfast and were on our way into the house when she pulled her head out of her collar and took off down the street. She did me the courtesy of looking back at me as she ran. I called her and was totally ignored. I took out my phone and called my friends, but no one was home. Then I saw my neighbor moving his car and asked him to call Gracie. She, of course, went right to him, gave him a hug and a bunch of kisses. He held on to a wiggly, happy Gracie until I could put her collar back on. Right now she is sleeping, resting from her exploits.

Sunday has a different feel about it than any other day of the week. Saturday was the day for errands so Sunday is a slow day, a day for taking time. On Sunday mornings, breakfast with my friend is a ritual for us. It is when we catch up with one another. Our breakfast is slow by intent and always has plenty of time for an extra cup of coffee. When I come home, I finish reading the papers. The crossword puzzle is saved for last, and I keep going back to it during the day until I finally give up. A nap is inevitable. Tonight my friends and I will play a few games, eat some appetizers as we play then we’ll watch The Amazing Race together.

I love traditions and rituals. They are connections over time, and they are to be cherished even in such simplicity as a morning breakfast or a game of cards.