*Crusty old broads!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Saying Farewell to a Great Lady, Bernice Harris Morris

In March 11, 2011 Melody Morris Larsen, oldest daughter of Bernice Harris Morris posted the following, "I will forever cherish the hour spent last night with my brother and sisters, singing favorite family songs to our beautiful mother. Though her eyes were closed most of the time, the occasional squeeze of her hand and faint smile on her lips let us know she was enjoying these precious moments together. "Where is Heaven? Is is very far?...When you're with the ones you love it's right where you are."

On Thursday she wrote, "Angel Mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and friend, Bee Morris left this earth life this morning to join loved ones beyond the veil. She will be dearly missed, but her heritage will live on in the many acts of service and love she selflessly performed. There was a great feeling of peace and rejoicing that lingered after her passing."

On hearing of her passing my oldest daughter Meridith Anderson Watson published the following message, "My great-aunt Bee passed away today. She was a surrogate grandma to be when I was young because my own grandparents lived so far away. She was a bright, cheerful, happy woman who always welcomed us into her home. I remember fantastic gingerbread houses, singing, and a house of miniatures in a magical attic room. She will be dearly missed."

In her personal papers, Aunt Bee requested that Keri Anderson Hughes, my youngest daughter now residing in Atlanta, sing at her funeral. Because of distance, advanced pregnancy and 3 small children at home, Keri was not able to make the trip. She was distraught over missing the opportunity to pay active tribute to someone she admired and loved so much. She delighted in listening to Bee sing with her sisters, Dola Harris Hofeling(my mother) and Delsa Harris Asay (the youngest of the trio of sisters).

In a 2009 letter to Bee, Keri wrote, " It was wonderful to spend some time with you when we were visiting Utah this summer. I am always amazed at how you seem lit up from the inside all the time. It was so generous of you to pay for lunch for all of us! I've been thinking a lot about you lately and I want you to know what an important part of my life you have been. My memories of time with you are always of warmth and comfort and love. The times when we would get together with the Great Aunts and all the cousins and sit and sing are some of my most treasure memories. I loved to sit and listen to Delsa on her concertina and John play his guitar and everyone sing together, You Can't Get to Heaven on Roller Skates and How Great Thou Art.

From as early as I can remember, I recognized you as the kind of woman I wanted to be. A 'gracious lady' are the word that always come to mind when I think of you--so gentle and loving, full of goodness and humor and light. I know you've meant so much to my mother and I thank you for blessing her life and always giving her so much acceptance and love. I've watched your family and your children and the closeness they share and the goodness that literally radiated out of all of them and that is the kind of family that I am working to create every day. Thank you for being such a wonderful example.

I can't find enough words to communicate what you mean to me and the difference it has made in my life having you in it. I wonder if you are surprised to know that you've had such an impact on your great-niece, and I wish I could really explain it--all I can think to say is that you have made me wasn't to be better, you have inspired me, you have been a source of comfort and hope when things in our family have been very difficult. Even though I didn't see you often, I always knew that you loved me and that I would be welcome any time. And that has meant more that I could ever say.

I'm thinking of you and praying for you. I love you,. I love you, I love you."

Everyone I know who knew my Aunt Bee found her equally memorable. Was it the things she could do? Her fabulously delicious meal (we always said left overs from her fridge were better than many a carefully prepared meal we'd had)? Her story telling? Singing? Homemaking skills? Sewing? The paintings she did in the early years of her marriage? The way she cared for an aging mother-in-law? Or cared for her aging and ill parents? Her faith? Her love of family and her pioneer heritage? The service she rendered to friends and families alike? Her ability to make and keep friends? The way she raised her children to be honorable, loving, and productive adults? Tending grandchildren and great-grandchildren with delight? Yodeling (how we loved it)?

It was all of those thing. But it was also something more. It was her delight in loving. She loved whole-heartedly and happily. And that love and delight and happiness and joy graced everyone who came in contact with her. I remember discussing the Morris and Asay clans with one of my children after attending a huge family gathering in the back yard of her son John Morris's home on Claybourne. We were reading the galleys of Fannie's Dream, a book written by Bee's daugher Caralyn Buehner and illustrated by her husband Mark Buehner. People were playing games, sharing food, laughing, hugging, and singing. My child said,"I know what it is. They love each other and they know how to be happy."

To those of us in families who were struggling to define much less live those principles, that afternoon was a revelation. And that, Dear Precious Aunt Bee, was your gift to us--a living example of how to love and be happy. What more could any of us ask of those we love?

So farewell to the last of the great Harris women. We miss and honor them. May they be wandering the Clear View Farm in heaven and yodeling as they go!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hats Off to Men of Integrity

James Wayne Anderson
One of the Good Guys

A few weeks ago my good friend, Pat, and I lingered over breakfast at Mimi's. Conversation had drifted from the state of our families to the state of the union and the most recent political scandal. I mentioned recently having gone over a scrapbook of letters to my grandfather, David Leland Harris, who had served in the State Legislature and State Senate of Wyoming from 1950 to 1960. One after another they expressed appreciation for my grandfather's courtesy, ability, and integrity.

According to those letters he was a man with the skill, expertness, and willingness to do what needed to be done. He was a man of courtesy who used words with care. And he was counted as a man who would do what he said he would do, a man who dealt with others on the basis of sound moral principles, honesty, and sincerity.

Those are very fine and in the today's world rare accolades--at least according to media, movies, and popular literature. But when I showed my grandsons, Isaac and Josh, Grandpa Leland's scrapbook and asked them if they knew any men of integrity, Josh promptly said, "The prophet." When I asked if they could think of someone closer in their lives who was a "good man", without hesitation they both said their dad (Reed Watson). Then I asked them who they knew who always did what he said he would do and they said, "Grandpa!"

They were right. Grandpa Jim is a man dedicated to meeting his obligation at work, keeping his word to his family, honoring his callings in the Church and his priesthood, and especially honoring his temple covenants. He's one of the good guys. I have seen him struggle in circumstances where backing out or doing less than he has committed doing would be the easier way, but he always shakes his head, tightens his jaw and says, "Nope, I have to be there. I said I would."

I am a lucky woman to be married to a man with those character strengths. I am even luckier to have raised two fine sons, Daniel Wayne Anderson and Nicholas James Anderson, who share their father's dedication to honor and integrity, to doing what they say they will do, and being available to their families. I have two sons-in-law as well, Reed Watson and Edward Hughes, who are men their sons can look up to as examples of what good men should be.

Hats off to all of you. We love and honor you. We are grateful to have you in our lives!

Good men. Men of honor and honesty. Men to looking up to. They may not be newsprint worthy or meat for the media but they are due praise and appreciation. So who are the good men in your lives? This Father's Day look for them--men who are fathers of integrity, and men and boys who have that potential, and let them know they are loved and honored for who they are and who they may become.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Remember Me

Memorial Day, 2010

As child visiting my grandmother, Winiferd Bell Porter Harris, at her home in on the Clearview Farm, Lovell, Wyoming, I was often regaled ancestral stories of the Mormon pioneers. Those stories were filled with faithfulness, strength, and endurance. They were also filled with a poignant sense of loss most especially when it came to the stories of leaving the dead behind in the unmarked graves. Grandmother would read the the story of a Porter ancestor who as a child was too soon called upon to be mother to her siblings and how she must have felt as she left the site of her mother's burial, knowing that that place would be lost forever in memory. There would be no head stone to declare the sacred spot. No place to lay flowers in honor or remembrance. No moments of quiet conversation as though the dear one were close by because she stood where the last remains lay. There was only the dry, and the wind, and the sun, and the hard march to the valley ahead.

The thought of unmarked or untended graves seemed to bother my grandmother a great deal. On one occasion she took me to see an abandoned cemetery not far from the farm. It was a small square plot of land filled with sun bleached weeds blown into a tight hedge against a wavering fence. The graves seemed to me to be oddly crowded together in a place where there were vast reaches of empty space. I imagined the coffins had been snuggled together for comfort. Or perhaps is was out of unknown necessity that they lay tucked close to one another. I never knew for certain. But I do know that Grandma Winnie was deeply saddened by the fact they remained untended and unclaimed by others who might have remembered who the dead were and what they had stood for.

Many years later when I was a young mother, my grandparents came to Salt Lake City to live out their final chapters of their lives. At the time of my grandfather's death, my grandmother asked me if I would promise to look after her grave after she died. I didn't understand the request. After all, Wastach Lawn, the place where she planned to be buried next to my grandfather was a well established and beautifully maintained cemetery. Nevertheless, I gave my word.
As the years have passed I have kept that promise, watching over the maintenance on the graves of my grandparents, then later my parents, and other family members interred close by. Were the headstones secure, the sod kept in abeyance, the leaves swept away? Each time I stopped I took a moment of silence to remember. A small thing for the lives lived, but there it was.

This year, while visiting my son, Dan, and his family in Vegas, we were invited to participate in my daughter-in-law's family's Memorial Day tradition. We crossed the valley back forth in caravan--aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and great aunts and uncles, visiting the graves of three sets of family members. At each site, pictures of the departed were shared as well as wonderful stories of the lives lived. Each story was a timely reminder of how we are connected in a never ending chain by the choices we make and those made by our ancestors. What a wonderful tradition. Hats off the the whole Gibson clan for their faithfulness.

Although the idea had occurred to me before, it came home to me more profoundly than ever as we stood in the Lone Mountain cemetery this past Monday, that what my grandmother had been asking for was not maintenance of a grave site, but remembrance of a life.

So here's to you, Grandmother dear. I salute you as a woman who loved whole heartedly--her family, her faith, her home. I salute you as a woman who loved learning and beauty and sought one and created the other where ever she dwelt. I salute you as a woman of incredible strength. I know barely a handful of women who could live through one day of your life as recorded in your journal, much less wake up the next morning and start again.

I remember you, Grandma. I remember the marcel waves in your hair, the sturdy heeled tie shoes you wore with your every-day dresses, your aprons, your wide-brimmed straw tied down straw hat that kept the sun off of your face when you gardened. I remember the smell of your home made bread, the smell of the wheat you roasted before you hand ground it into cereal you cooked for Grandpa Leland, and the smell of your powder when you bent down to give me a hug.

I remember your hands--how lovely I thought they had become written on by age and experience and how sad I was to discover when you passed away that you had asked to have a nosegay to cover them in the casket because you thought them ugly. I remember you, Winiferd Bell Porter Harris, and I promise not only to tend your grave site, but your memory as well.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Kiddies and the Dark Side

During a recent visit to our family in Atlanta we adventured down town to the historic Fox Theater to attend the Broadway road production of an all time favorite, Mary Poppins. We were primed with the history of the former Yaarab Temple Shrine Mosque--now the Fox Theater complete with fantastic Arabian fantasy colors and architectural features. And pumped up by a recent viewing of the well-loved original movie. Dressed in our go to meetin' duds not even the bumper to bumper traffic could dampen our enthusiasm.

Downtown Atlanta is an adventure in itself, as is ogling all the features of the Fox. There were destination bathrooms, fantasmagorical cut work and painting on the walls, and the illusion of drifting clouds and sparkling stars on the ceiling. Oohing and aahing kept us occupied until the orchestra stuck its opening chord. Wow! What a wonderful and flawless accompaniment to what was going on on the stage.

And that was a lot--a lot of voices and color and dancing and moving sets...all superbly done. Favorites among the production numbers were the vastly entertaining and uniquely choreographed (a la The Village People's YMCA) rendition of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and an innovative and visually delicious version of Step in Time. Then there were the special effects. We all clapped and cheered when Mary slid magically up the banister. Who wouldn't be thrilled when at the end of the musical Mary Poppins lifted off with her umbrella aloft and toes pointed stiffly east and west to float over the audience and rise above the balcony.

The characterizations of our favorites, Mary Popping, Bert, the Banks children, and the Bird Woman, were "spit-spot" on. Even though we had been warned in the program that the musical had been updated and included ideas from the other Mary Popping books (did you know there were more?) we were unprepared for the new Mrs. Banks. Instead of marching shoulder to shoulder with her sister suffragettes, she wrings her hands and bewails the problems of not fitting in. She's supposed to be a former actress who quit the stage to marry "up". Maybe that's why she was condemned to sing the uninteresting song Being Mrs. Banks--twice.

Another new song equally out of sinc with the flavor of the movie was Playing the Game. In the dark uncomfortable dream sequence mistreated toys come to giant-sized life to confront the Banks children. Even if the scene was a nod to other Mary Poppins stories I thought the music too different in style and tone to fit comfortably with the original songs. Frankly it smacked too much of Tevye's Dream from Fiddler on the Roof. Every time the children's beds spun around I expected the butcher's wife, Fruma Sarah, to come swooping in from the wings. During that song I noticed more than one small child scoot closer to their parents.

The opening visuals of the productions were another unpleasant surprise and more suited to film noire than a children's musical. The park in which many scenes take place is surround by gray and black line representations of leafless trees that created a brooding and foreboding atmosphere.

Admittedly there are dark element in most children's stories--look at the murder and mayhem in The Lion King. But come on folks, this is Mary Poppins! We're talking A Spoon Full of Sugar. I so missed the laughing on the ceiling part of the movie. The musical could have used a little leavening.

As much as I loved the bright colorful scenes that were included and the over-all excellence of the performance, I don't think I would pay to see this again. In their effort to up date the musical version it felt as though the producers forgot the purpose of the original movie, light hearted and fun entertainment. If your little ones love Mary Poppins and you have the opportunity to take them to the musical, check out the new numbers online and talk about the changes with your children. Going prepared will undoubtedly increase you enjoyment of the outing and help avoid the disappointment we experienced.

On a related topic, Saturday my husband and I saw Ironman 2, a movie with a well-deserved PG13 rating. It was a fun testosterone romp filled with the usual wham bam shazam comic book action including one huge mechanical battle scene. My husband liked it. I'll like it better seen a second time on my small TV screen with the sound turned way down while I'm doing something else like folding laundry. It's a good kind of movie for that.

What is wasn't a good kind of movie for was the little boy, preschool or first grade age, who sat behind us with, I guessed, his father. The child was clearly upset by the action, saying it was scary and repeatedly asking, "Can we go home, now?" The "father" resorted to the no-it's-not response or demanding, "Why?" At the end of the movie, the boy was curled in his chair and his father, now two seats away, totally engrossed in the final battle scene.

Parents who think movies that are scary enough to make their children want to go home are not going to effect them in some way are kidding themselves. Movies like that are the things night terrors are made of. I know what I'm talking about.

In the 50s I often attending the drive-in double feature movie with my family. At 5 years of age I usually managed to stay awake through most of the family friendly first feature. By the time the more adult fare started I would be tucked away in the blanket padded wide rear window of the old Oldsmobile. Of course my position would always be facing away from the screen in case I woke up. The evening in question, and one I remember in minute detail 55 years after the fact, the main feature was Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. It was supposed to be funny but to an imaginative 5 year old with 1950s sensibilities, the stomp and drag scraping of the mummy's walk to too scary to handle. I retired willingly to my nest in the back window.

I must have fallen asleep because I recall being abruptly awakening by a terrifying scream. The second feature had begun. It was based on the premise of a young rebellious girl being sent to a private reform school run by ghouls who maintained their youth by draining the blood of students in a claw footed bathtub then drinking it. When the girls were discovered to be missing the villains claimed they ran away. It was awful. My eyes were glued to the screen for every minute of it. I didn't dare look out the windows. Who knew what might be lurking in the dark. To this day I remember entire segments of that movie in vivid detail. It haunted my dreams for years.

The dark changes to Mary Poppins caught us unprepared. Luckily the children with us seemed to take it all in stride. I believe completely that my daughter would have walked out of the theater if they had indicated otherwise. On the other hand the father in question had ample warning about Ironman 2. Any movie rated PG13 for violence is not fitting for a small child especially a small child who makes his fears readily known. It's time for all adults to step forward and more carefully vet the entertainment of our little ones.

That brings me to the question that precipitated this entire blog. Knowing how frightened that little boy was, should I have intervened on his behalf? Would you have done so? I'd like to know.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Dirt and Resistance

What can I say? I like the color of it, the smell of it, the look of it newly tilled in the fields, and the feel of well composted friable soil as it dribbles through my fingers. I like to dig in it, draw in it, water and mulch it. But most of all I like to grow stuff in it, stuff to smell, stuff to eat, stuff to cut and put in vases, stuff for remembrance, and stuff to gladden the heart when you rest among it.

What I don't like about dirt, is what happens to it when it's neglected. Like my poor veggie garden above, with last years left over turnips, dill, and onion going to seed and the dreaded orchard grass taking over the front beds. The walk ways are a disaster and weed seeds that never should have been allowed to ripen are germinating everywhere--only a fine stand of early lovage and a small patch of winter savory are worth saving.

My vegetable garden is what happens when procrastination takes over. It's the perfect metaphor for letting everything else take precedence over tasks that are time sensitive (like putting down Preen in the walk ways and spraying the orchard grass). It is today's unhappy visual image of what the result can be when we talk ourselves out of doing the things we want to do the most for whatever bizarre reason.

Bad habit? Could be. Post knee surgery depression and recovery complication? Fibromyalgia? Valid--but nothing that couldn't be worked around. Getting dirty? Nah! Being sun burned and wind blown and deliciously grubby when the task is finished and then taking a long shower followed by a trip to Dairy Queen for a chocolate twist ice cream cone are all part of the rewards of gardening.
Then what?

I thinks it's a resistance developed from earliest memory of waking up every morning to a list of things to do and appearances to be kept (with huge emotional and physical price tags attached) designed especially for me by somebody else whose fixed expectations of what I should accomplish or who I should be had nothing to do with the person I was.

Even though now that the tasks are most often designed by me for me with specific and desirable pay offs I truly want, I resist. After all there are so many reasons not to engage...blogs to be written, phone calls to make, emails to answer,
snacks to be eaten--besides it's grey and windy out there and looks like rain.

I know, I'll set myself up for success. I'll by flats of expensive flowers and pots of over-sized veggies that will beg for my attention and insist I plant them before they wilt and die. I'll invite over friends for tea in the garden. Can't have tea in a messy garden. And I'll offer some the new folks in the neighborhood starts from my perennial bed. I'll set up my own round of expectations. There's nothing like company in the back yard to get me moving. Better yet, I'll sponsor a community group with the lofty goal of helping others get their gardens going and invite them over to help me!

Anyone interested?

Watch for garden photo updates coming this way.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Finding Your Tribe/Creating Your Community

Everybody wants to belong to a group, whether it's a tribe, a community, a flock, or a gaggle. Finding a place where we fit and feel at home seems to be the task of this century. It is reflected in the way we cluster around causes, grouping by ethnicity, religion, region, and even age. We're known by labels like seniors, baby boomers, the x-y-z generation, young adults or youth. We're urbanites, suburbanites, and a little bit or a lot country. We're fat or skinny, fit or not, the "biggest loser," or losers in general.

Unfortunately, just because we fit the label or slide into the slot doesn't mean we have automatically found our place under the sun any more than being born into a family means we are automatically wanted, loved, understood or honored.

Building your community requires more than gathering together a group of people with common characteristics and interests. It requires thought, effort, and a willingness to be responsible for your choices. A friend and therapist recommended the first place to start for a healthy community would be to reduce the number in your clan to only those who are equally invested in maintaining the existing relationships as you are. For example, do they take their turn planning, hosting, supporting, and making themselves available to others as they are able at least as much as you do. Not all the time, mind you--we all have peaks and valleys in our abilities to serve--but on an over all equal footing.

Second, seek out those with a predominately positive attitude, again taking into account the peaks and valleys in everyone's life and the need to vent in the valleys. Watch out for those who do more than report what is happening during the down times, who rehearse it over and over investing huge amounts of dark energy in the topic and actively recruiting others to join in.

Creating a community should be about inclusion not exclusion. Look for those with that attitude. Everyone has something to offer. Are you willing to look for it? Encourage and invite it? A community should be a living, vital, growing entity.

Have a purpose. It doesn't have to be a lofty esoteric purpose. Laughing together is a great purpose. Relaxation through fun and companionship with others is a laudable goal. But upping the anti to a greater purpose like doing good can be a fine thing. It can nourish and enrich your community. How about walking for MS or breast cancer, or gathering clothing for the homeless shelter or half way houses?

One community with the goals of supporting each other, having fun, and encouraging personal growth was established by Carroll Hofeling Morris of Green Valley, Arizona. Finding herself without the kind of supportive and eclectic community she desired, she placed a notice at the local community center advertising a gather of good women. Potluck and fresh ideas requested but not required. As a result of that one notice, once a month a varying group gathers at the Morris home for pot luck--usually vegetarian--good conversation, and some activity that encourages thought, teaches a skill, or increases enlightenment.

But most of all community can and should be about transformation. From loneliness to inclusion, from indifference to involvement, from living fearfully to knowing someone's got your back. Jack. What a great idea. I'm looking for community. How about you?