May 21, 2009

Preparing for Memorial Day weekend

When I was younger, I never gave a thought about taking care of family gravesites. I just knew that every Memorial Day, we would go to the parade in our home town and it always ended up at Oakwood Cemetery. Each of us kids took our turns marching as Brownies or Cub Scouts, carrying flowers to dutifully lay on the graves. There was always a military ceremony too, and we stood in silent awe as flags waved in the breeze and we listened to the lone bugle playing Taps. My parents would never miss it, so we didn't either.

The tradition continued with my own little family, though in another small town. We would find a place to park our lawn chairs somewhere around the historic Circle, and watch the annual parade. The kids loved catching candy the clowns threw out to the crowds. Sometimes we would follow the parade to the cemetery; other times we would end up at the pancake breakfast at the Middle School.

Fast-forwarding, my husband and I now both have our fathers buried at Oakwood. I have more than a dozen relatives on both sides also there. My parents and a couple aunts always took care of the family graves, but beginning this year, a change has begun. A couple weeks ago, several cousins went over and did the initial spring clean up, raking up the winter debris and pulling out old shrubs, etc. We've decided its time for the "younger" generation to take the job over, and hope to make this an annual event.

The other day, I went over with my mom and an aunt, and we dug miniature flower beds and planted annuals on 14 family graves. This one is my dad's brother, Anthony, who was only 21 when he died from diabetes back in 1942.

In the past, I'd never been able to find my great-grandfather's grave because it was covered with a huge overgrowth of hosta. I'm so glad I know where it is now, and that it is cleaned up. He and my great-grandmother immigrated from Sicily and their first child was my dear grandmother Josephine, who was born in 1900. They came over in 1906.

It was nice to have my Aunt Mary Ann along yesterday, because she knew where all the graves were located. I think I have them firmly placed in my mind now too. She also had some stories to tell. One of them was about her other brother, Jacob, who was only 15 when he died back in 1935. She thinks he had an abscessed tooth that got infected. Those were rough years for my grandparents, losing two of their eight children within seven years. It was the middle of the Great Depression, and I'm sure they just had no money for medical care. My grandpa, the sole breadwinner, contracted TB during those years also, and was isolated in a sanitarium for some time.

This is Jacob's headstone. Notice there are actually two of them. The one in the back was handmade of cement by my grandpa, and Aunt Mary Ann said he put it in a wagon and dragged it to the cemetery. What a sorrowful journey that must have been. The stone in the front was placed there sometime later. My aunt said the home made one always had an American flag on the pole. These Italian immigrants were poor, but were very proud to be naturalized Americans.

My father and his five surviving siblings all grew up and had families of their own. It would take some time for me to count all my cousins. As I've said before, we have a reunion every two years and consider ourselves a very close family, especially by today's standards.

It's hard to believe that of the six Sicilians (as we fondly refer to them, which seems odd since they were the 1st generation Americans of the family!) two have now passed on. My dad (84) and my Aunt Jo (90) both died in '08.

This Memorial Day seems very special because my dad's (and mom's) headstone was just installed at Oakwood this past week. This was a huge sacrificial gift from my mother to us. My dad would be so proud of it:

My dad loved lighthouses, and painted many of them. The one on his headstone is of Marblehead on Lake Erie, where he and mom liked to visit. My dad was a member of "The Greatest Generation" and proudly served his country in Europe during WWII.

Here I am with my mom as we see the headstone for the first time. It's really hard not having dad with us anymore, but going to the cemetery and lovingly caring for the family graves on a beautiful sunny day gave me a great sense of satisfaction and purpose. It also reminded me that the cemetery is really not the final resting place of our loved ones who have died in Christ Jesus. Christianity has taught from the beginning, and we believe, that the souls of our loved ones are safely with Him, and their bodies lie in the graves as they await their resurrection. What a glorious hope and peace this affords! Until that day, we will remember them and their lives, especially on Memorial Day.

May 19, 2009

Home Sweet Home?

This is the cute little house my husband grew up in. It looks pretty much the same except that it used to be red. His parents bought it for $6000 on a land contract when they were in their 20's, and they lived there for 40 years. It had a coal furnace when they moved there. They did a lot of work on the house over the years, adding a couple rooms, a garage, etc. And they did the work themselves, one cement block at a time. My father-in-law was the type who could fix anything, and was especially good at planning things out in his mind and then going out and purchasing exactly the amount of anything that was needed, with no waste. My mother-in-law was (and still is) a meticulous housekeeper of Scandanavian stock, and I think she really believes that cleanliness is next to godliness ("you can't get corners clean with a mop").

The house is situated in an older section of our home town, and in fact, my grandmother's house was right next door, and when I was young I used to take a taxi to visit her, and my husband and I played together as children. Through high school and even college, the house was a landing place for my husband and his friends. I was there myself many times during those years, and I can personally attest to the love and care this house was given.

When my in-laws eventually moved to a larger home in the suburbs after they took early retirement, I remember my mother-in-law making a comment to the effect that while they loved their new house, it would never hold the memories of the old one. I think I know exactly what she means, as we also moved from the house where we did so much work and the place where we raised our children, at least through their earlier years. The house where we struggled to make the payments, and gave the best of our youthful energy to fix up, and where we brought our babies home.
That's why it was so difficult for my husband the other day, when we took a ride by the old house, and saw these signs posted on the door:

"This building cannot be used for human habitation". What shocking words! This "building" where so many memories were made over many years. This home that was so loved and cared for. This place that was once occupied by a family who loved and respected each other, now seized by authorities and its newer occupants probably in jail somewhere for illegal drug manufacturing activity.

When my husband called his mother to tell her what we had discovered, to our surprise, she already knew about it. But she never told us. Interesting. Has she just "moved on" so much in her life that it didn't bother her? Or is it just too painful to feel the blow of the impact of memories? I don't know. But I know my husband was very much affected. He is sad. He lived in the house all through college and even came back for a short time after he did four years in the Navy, right up until the time we were married. So that little house truly was "home sweet home" to him.

We are wondering now what will happen to it. Will it be razed? Will it just disappear from the landscape? Will the memory of it and of all the years spent there be left only there, in memory? Actually, that's not a bad thing. Memories can be such a blessing, for those fortunate enough to live out their lives with memory intact. Because it's not really the house that is held so dear, but the people and the lives lived there that really matters.

May 17, 2009

My "grand" Mother's Day Week - Day Six

Never a dull moment with the Stagers.

The South Carolina bunch was going to be leaving on Tuesday after Mother's Day, and I have wanted to get a professional photo of the four grandkids ever since we made a disastrous attempt at doing it ourselves last Christmas!

Now you may laugh about this but only after you truly give thanks to the Lord that we didn't have a very serious or tragic event happen that day.

I got a brainstorm that it would be a great idea to take the four grandchildren up to a photo studio at the mall that morning before Andy & family had to hit the road. Seemed like 3 adults to 4 kids, 2 in strollers, was a safe enough ratio to pull it off. There's a nice little play area too where the kids could romp a bit.

Well, after the photo op and before the pictures were ready, I had to leave them to go to a doctor's appt. On my way back to meet them again at the mall I thought it strange Ellie and Joanna weren't answering their cell phones.

Once inside the food court we met up and I saw Elylah and Ellie both had totally different outfits on. Ellie looked like she'd just seen a ghost. Come to find out that while Joanna was picking out some pictures, Ellie took Deacon, Elylah, and Owen (in the stoller) over to the fountain in the middle of the mall, as I had provided pennies for them to throw in. Elylah and I have done this on many occasions.

Apparently Elylah leaned just a bit too far over the edge, and you guessed it, she went into the water, head first. She was totally submerged (her words: "I was floating away"). Ellie instinctively jumped into the water to rescue her and she said Elylah really was floating away. She had to grab her by the leg to get her out. In the process her cell phone and camera were destroyed as she had them on her arm. She said there was no time to even lay them down, or even think about it!

Elylah was shaken up but later fine, mostly upset that one of her shoes was lost in the water. (The mall called, they've retrieved it). Joanna felt bad for Ellie, but was mostly numb. Ellie was pretty much a basket case, feeling responsible for it happening. Every parent knows that feeling of those "close calls" and the "what ifs". With little ones things can just happen so fast. It's a miracle that somehow Elylah didn't appear to even have swallowed any water...she didn't even cough or anything when she got out, just cried of course. Ellie was totally soaked and ran into a store and said "I need a top and pants, QUICK!"

The kids resumed playing in the food court play area while the two moms and I sat and basically could not believe what had just happened.

And thus ends my account of my "grand" Mother's Day week and my endless photo-bragging about the precious little people in my life. Thanks for bearing with me!

p.s. The professional photos turned out great!

another p.s. Ellie put her cell phone in a bag of rice and after it dried out, it is working again! Her camera is in the hospital...we'll see what happens

May 16, 2009

My "grand" Mother's Day Week - Day Five

On Monday morning we decided we wanted to get out and do something special for the kids. Andy's and Ellie's friend and her two children met us at the local city zoo and we had a great time there. Elylah finally had two little girls to play with...

And Ethan got a free ride from Aunt Ellie!

All we had to do was point a camera at Owen and he smiled!

Deacon and Olivia liked the penguins...

Can't remember what this animal's name is?

When Deacon got chilly, he had to wear Elylah's pink jacket, much to Andy's groans...

There was a really neat indoor area that boasted a giant turtle, lots of jelly fish, and this star fish display...

as well as a play area where kids could literally climb the wall!

Deacon: "humm, I THINK I can!" ...

Yes he can!

Here the children see themselves on TV...

At last we came upon a small outdoor playground area where the kids could run around and let off some energy!

Not sure how eating popcorn produced these faces?

There is a beautiful, new area of the zoo which features a butterfly garden and teaches children how a caterpiller transforms into a lovely butterfly...

These water fountains will help cool things off in the heat of summer...

(Elylah claps as Olivia takes a bow!)

I thought it was great that she took time to smell the flowers without any prompting!

A little skinned up knee doesn't keep Deacon from riding the caterpiller!

Owen takes it all in, but his eyes are starting to get droopy...

Andy may not be able to get up...

and Ethan is definitely done...

Guess its time to end our happy day at the zoo. I was thinking maybe we had so much fun because we all belong there?

May 15, 2009

My "grand" Mother's Day Week - Day Four

HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY! The big day arrived and I was feeling so much better! We started the day by going to church (

Andy has become a true southern gentleman since moving to the South, and wears his distinctive bow ties. At least they are "distinctive" up here in the North! ("Is that your son from South Carolina over there, the one with the bow tie?")

Deacon is checking out the murals in the nursery area...

It was one of those glorious sunny and mildly warm days that you wish could last all year long. After church, the guys got busy fixing our lunch.

and minding the kids...

while more family and our friends, the Meybaums, arrived...

And all I had to do was sit around and enjoy them!

Everyone is still laughing about my comment when I sat down to eat the yummy grilled burger & corn on the cob: "so this is what it's like to be a sit down to eat, and food suddenly appears!"

I can't believe I've been a mother for going on 30 years! Seated is Great-Grandma Stager, who has been a mother for 61 years, Ellie & Joanna each for over 3 years, and standing in front of the bookcase is our dear friend, Jennifer, who has been a mother for 5 years now!

In addition to a wonderful "day off" and a fabulous cookout, I received these gifts: A book from Andy, handprints of two of the kids embroidered by Ellie, fruit of the vine from a local winery, as well as the hand made necklace & earrings (by my niece, Sarah), compliments of Sam & Joanna.
This very special dandelion bouquet came from Elylah!

Later in the day, we all visited my mom at her condo...

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!
My special mom has six children (and one in heaven), twelve grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren (and expecting the 8th any day now!)
I'll not forget this Mother's Day anytime soon! Honestly, I think it may have been the nicest I've ever celebrated. Wonder why that is? Maybe I've finally come to realize what a gift each day is in it's own merits, and deserves to be cherished. But most of all, it's the LOVE that encircled the whole day! Thank you, each and every one of you, for making this day so memorable and special for me. My heart is overflowing with pride and gratitude! Thank you especially for the gift of your time spent with me. I hope you know how much I've loved being your daughter, mom, and grandma. I've had the best job that was ever created, and I'm not at all ready to retire!

Tomorrow: a fun day at the zoo!