These past few days I’ve visited my mother more times than I usually do in a month. That’s a shame I know but there are reasons for this. Being there makes me think back on my childhood and sometimes it’s a little uncomfortable but still there’s the feeling of being at home you only get when with your mother or father. We talk, or I should say she talks mostly and I listen. I realize too that she’s lonely and wants people to talk to so when she gets a chance she likes to really let herself be heard.
As I get older though I understand with maturity comes the ability to be able to look past certain characteristics in a person and focus on what they mean to you. Of course there are some characteristics that you should never be alright with or pretend to be alright with but when it comes to family it’s worth making that effort to see past some things. She’s my mother, the only mother I will ever have and in her health I wonder how long I will be able to sit with her. She told me today she loves when I come over but I already know that and I was happy to be there. While I was visiting she made a call to a friend, I swear she makes so many calls, and mentioned to the person that I was over and how much she loves it when I came over. I smiled but still felt sad that I allow so much time to pass between visits.
I fell asleep on the couch for a little while as she watched some totally inappropriate talk show, you know the kind, while making phone calls. Laying there I felt comfortable having that feeling you get when you go home. I miss that feeling but I won’t miss it for long as I plan to spend more time with my mother. The differences won’t mean anything and I will forget them allowing myself to enjoy being around her. I think that’s something we both deserve but I know too it won’t always be easy. That alright she’s my mother. I’d like to spend that time with dad too.
Summer has always been my favorite time of year, winter my least. Over the past few years though I’ve come to appreciate different times of the year like Fall. The changing leaves and cool weather make for nice hikes.
My dad had a great collection of 8 track tapes in his AMC Pacer we played while heading north on our summer trips to the Traverse City area. We would cycle between The Guess Who, Bobby Vinton, ABBA and a few others. I remember particular songs on each and could sing along with them even today and I do when I hear them. Memories of our trips go hand in hand with the music we listened to. I was into other current music as a kid but I loved the songs my dad played. I lived with my mom but spent a lot of time with my dad so I was exposed to different types of music on both sides while growing up, everything from R&B to Mariachi. When I was at home my mother’s boyfriend listened to all R&B music. We had Stevie Wonder, Gap Band, Earth Wind & Fire and plenty more. Of all the genres I was exposed to it’s R&B that has stuck with me the most so my iPod is full of those artists I remembered.
My wife listens to different music and having more of a current taste in artists our iTunes playlists have always been very different. While I know what I like I do have plenty of songs from her pick on my iPod too so once in a while I will listen to her playlist to see if anything catches my ear. I’ve become my father over the years in that I like music I can relate to most and tend to turn my thumb down to current music even when I have not given current music a chance. Over the weekend I re-connected with an old friend who is the last person I would think to be into current bands but he was naming them off and my wife knew who he was talking about. I thought, “damn I’m out of touch.”
While listening to my wife’s list I might hear something that I like and make note of it so I can explore that group some more. Currently she introduced me to iTunes radio and we both have stations we like programmed in. That makes it easier for me to switch between stations and as an attempt to broaden my horizons I will cycle to one of her stations sometimes. I’ve really found that some of the newer music is quite good so I made a few stations on my own modeled after M83, Imagine Dragons and Metric. The more I listen to these stations the more I like them but I don’t know what songs are new and which ones are five or more years ago. I still go back to my old school music but I often times find myself going a whole day only listening to one of those three stations with newer music. I’m happy to say that I am broadening my horizons.
Yesterday I visited my dad, aunt and uncle at grandmas house in Jackson. My grandmother passed away three years ago but I’ve always called that house “grandma’s house” and that’s what it will always be no matter who lives there or the fact that she’s gone now. When I say it in front of family they don’t think twice about it either so I believe they see it as her house still too. When I do visit, my mind is always flooded with memories of the past which is not surprising because I tend to do that in any place where I have some memories. I can sit anywhere in the house and picture it so many years ago being a home full of people when the place was so alive almost like a small city. There were uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers and sisters at times distant relatives and even friends that were considered family. The home has six bedrooms and at one time they were each occupied with people. Those were great times.
Before going to visit I called my dad and told him my brother and I were going to grandmas to visit and asked if he would come over too. I also told him I wanted a picture of grandma to copy and take back home. When we arrived my aunt already had the pictures out in the dining room and there were a lot of them too . A huge plastic bin and canvas bag full of albums, sleeves of photos were sitting on the floor near the table. As I started to look at them I thought it could easily take two days to look at each one but we all just kept going. There were photos I’d never seen and even newspaper clippings in some. My grandma was great at saving memories like that and she even kept report cards of her kids when they graduated some grades and high school. When I would look at an image I didn’t recognize my dad or aunt would tell me the story of that image and telling me about the person. We started at 1:00 and ended after 10:00. It was great to be there with family talking and that’s something I will do more of I promised myself.
My father told me a story about my grandmother that I had not heard. She grew up in Mexico, I knew that, but at a very young age her mother passed away so she went to live with a family member. At the young age of 14 she married and started her own family doing whatever she could to take care of the kids. I guess back then it wasn’t uncommon for girls to marry at a young age in Mexico. Life was hard for her as she did what she could to feed her kids even walking each day to the mill to have corn ground into flour. Her kids were her priority and that never changed. She raised her kids but really she never stopped raising kids up until she left us. My grandma was like a mother to everyone and over the years each new generation would spend time with her eating her great cooking and being treated like they are her own child. She was great at that.
When she got sick it I didn’t want to face it. To me she was grandma and would always be there over the years never getting any older, just doing the same thing and telling me stories. I miss her cooking, kind eyes and warm heart. Recently I’ve been thinking more about her and I wish she were here right now. She would listen to me talk, offer advice and with her kind eyes I would feel like everything was going to be alright. I can picture us sitting at the kitchen table talking and can almost hear hear her say “hijo don’t worry.” I still remember her voice.
Yesterday I took a walk along the trails of the Ann Arbor Matthaei Botanical Gardens. There was a time when I would visit the trails at least once every two weeks taking along my camera and exploring. I’ve always felt drawn to the outdoors and the gardens have been a favorite place of mine over the years.
My first visit was around 1995 when I first married and wanted to share experiences with the outdoors with my wife like camping, fishing and nature trails. As a kid I camped for a few days each summer and enjoyed it so as I always try to do I wanted her to enjoy it too. I always expect people to enjoy the things not as I did when I was a kid. While I don’t remember how I found out about the botanical gardens I do remember we used to drive around sometimes looking for yard sales or on my quest to find a better fishing spot/nature trail. On our first visit we stuck to the outskirts of the trails picking a spot under a thicket of Redbud trees forming a canopy and perfect spot to sit and talk for a bi ; secluded enough and peaceful . We brought along a wicker basket we got at a yard sale complete with little red and white checked napkins and containers which we filled with treats like cheese, sausage, sweets and something to drink though I don’t remember what. Placing the blanket on the ground we sat for a while enjoying nature, our goodies and chatting. That memory has always come to mind over the years when I visit the gardens and one of the stories I’ve told the kids over and over again. It always made me smile to think about it. On that first visit we didn’t venture into the trails very far but eventually we would come back explore more.
When we came back we walked along the trails following the colored arrows for a while then we took a few turns off the trail we were on, I always do that even now thinking I might find something I hadn’t seen before. There are blue, yellow and I believe orange trails to follow each marked periodically with a post and arrow indicating what trail you are on. These days they have maps in some areas to show you the layout and where you are on the map making it easier to find you way around or out. The trails cross over each other in some spots so you can take the yellow trail then turn on the blue trail depending on where you want to go. I actually used one of those yesterday to find a spot I like. We ended up at the far end of the blue trail that opens up to a large pond and trail that follows around it. The trees were in full bloom and it seemed like the woods didn’t have an end making you feel like you are miles into a forest. You could see into the woods at some areas but for the most part it was dense and impassible. By the time we reached the pond I believe we were somewhat lost not really having a good idea how to get to the exit/entrance where our car was parked. Eventually we would make it back to a wooden bridge on the yellow trail where we stopped for a while and sat. Sitting on the bridge I pulled out a cassette tape recorder to record the sounds of the running water, sounds of nature and a few words we spoke. I don’t know why I did that but it seemed like the thing to do at the time. Years later I found that tape and listened to it on the same little recorder. Our voices sounded so young like a couple of kids which I guess we were. I think I still have that tape tucked away in a box somewhere but I’m not sure if I recorded over it with something else during out “techno music” years. Walking towards the exit it was dark and we ended up going the wrong way until we came to a small fence on the side of the road leading back to the parking area. Instead of trying to find the way out we jumped the fence and walked back to the car which seemed to take forever. By this time the gate was closed and locked but luckily there was enough of a gap between the poles and entrance sign that I was able to drive between them in our little car. It felt safe to finally be in the car.
Eventually the trips would come less because of work and things that take more time and effort in life. Still at times I found myself going alone to explore the trails looking for new places and thinking back on our adventures. Then kids came and I when they were old enough I was happy to introduce them to the gardens hoping they would enjoy it as much I as have. We would walk the same trails and like I always do I’d tell them about how their mother and I walked this same trail or sat in that same bench. I’m always doing that and I know my kids think, “dad we heard that one already.” Thinking back over the years and telling them about it has always made me happy though. I guess they listen just because I’m dad and well that’s what a dad does.
An evasive species of insects invaded our area years ago and attacked trees like the Ash tree which is a common tree here. As a result the gardens started to take on a different look and I would visit then leave feeling sad at the way things were changing. I still had the memories of how it looked years ago but now so many of the large trees were dead, cut down or leaning against the few healthy threes remaining. I was also afraid to take my kids there as often because I would always picture a large limb falling on one of them. Because of this I stopped visiting for a long time.
A couple years ago I started to visit the gardens again on regular basis, though not as often as I used to, and was happy to see efforts being made at planting new trees and protecting the area. When I visited yesterday I looked like I’d remembered it years ago with healthy tree’s, thick vegetation and an abundance of wild life. I even saw a fox running in a field. Trees take years to grow large so I know it’s not like the forest just came to life in a matter of a few years so these large trees were there the whole time but I just saw the dead trees and lost focus on what was alive. My trip yesterday was really one of the best trips I’d taken there in years. I stopped along the way at the wooden bridge my wife and I sat on and remembered the way we got lost, held hands while walking out because she was a little nervous and I admit I was too. I found myself at the far and of the trail sitting on the bench looking over the pond. The far end of the blue trail is a quiet place and rarely do you see another person that deep into the walk. It’s my favorite place to sit.
As I always do I thought about my life and the years gone by. There were moments of sadness but I smiled too. I’m lucky to have had the time there with my family and I also know that while things are changing I can still spend time there with my kids. I am looking forward to another visit to the botanical gardens with them. Who knows what new memories I might build there over the coming years.
Not long ago I was what you might consider somewhat restricted in who I allowed myself to spend time with or commit energy to. Being selfish with my time was what I was doing. During that time I had little desire to make friendships work even when people would reach out to me. My excuse was I’m just too damn busy and honestly I don’t have the desire. There’s the kids, work and the family life that I needed to focus on. I guess those were somewhat legit excuses but I think too that I felt a real lack of ambition to nurture friendship. Over time I started to realize though that it’s not good to lose sight of what friends are, how much value they can add to our life. But I did lose sight of that years ago for reasons I won’t go into detail about here.
Eventually I decided that I needed to reach out some even if just a little and even if I didn’t want to. It was hard at first felling strained and awkward. Honestly sometimes I felt like, “I really don’t want to be here right now” so I would flip flop on it for a while pulling away and reaching out again. But I knew that I needed to keep testing the water while changing my way of thinking too and as I tested the waters more, made a change in my mind, I started to appreciate time with a friend or friends. It felt less strained over time too and eventually I would look forward to getting together. Now I have people in my life that I know I can depend on and I consider great friends. There are still times when I pull back a little but it’s not in a way that prevents me from having those friendships it’s just that I lose focus once in a while.
A few years ago is when I started to work on growing those friendships. At the time I didn’t know it but that effort would one day become a game changer; I’d come to depend on those friendships more than I could imagine . Having friends to talk to and that really listen to you. Not just listen because they feel like they have to but listen and offer support in a way that makes me think they really do give a shit. I like that. When you have friends close enough that you could tell them anything and they even share your sorrow for a moment, it’s hard to put into words how much that means to me. If I had not forced myself to allow it to happen I don’t know what I would do right now.