Evelyn at Ninety Nine

Aunty Evelyn has always been my refuge.  Growing up my family home was adjacent to that of my Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Freddy.  Their yard was an extension of ours providing a shared space where we cousins played.

For several summers during my boyhood,  I’d go on vacation with Evelyn and Freddy’s family to Newfound Lake, N.H.  There we created memories which have lasted a life time.  A favorite is of  hiking on a bluebird day, with my cousins Tom and Sandy,  to the top of Mount Cardigan.  We picked wild blueberries as we scrambled up and down that mountain.  We returned famished to Evelyn’s chicken dumplings.

Over the years I’d  remind Aunt Evelyn of this memory and ask if she’d make me a batch of her famous chicken dumplings.  Her response was always the same: “Kent, my dumplings can’t match the memory of you at age fourteen, having just climbed a mountain and digging in to those dumplings for the first time.”   She’s right.

Over the years Evelyn has provided me with a gift even greater than her chicken dumplings, the gift of unconditional love.  Evelyn (and Freddy) were always there for me.

They made a place for me in their home and in their hearts and for that I will always be grateful.   In recent years I’ve moved back, from Oregon to Massachusetts, less than a few hours from where I grew up.

On a regular basis I stop by to visit Aunt Evelyn.  The welcome is always the same: “Kent I’m so glad to see you.  Tell me about your daughters.  Tell me about Tricia.  I love you so much.”

We never lose the need to know we are loved.  Loved without conditions.

Aunty Evelyn has always offered me this gift.  This love was my refuge as a boy and remains mine to this day.

Garrison Keillor in his book, Lake Woebegone Days, writes: ‘The kindness we offer to a child is never forgotten.’  This is true.

Now at age ninety-nine Evelyn looks back on her long life.  She thinks of those no longer living:  her husband, her siblings, friends.  She’s grateful for her mother Anna, who taught her how to live with courage and a selfless spirit.   Evelyn chooses to look back with gratitude and a sense of wonder at how her life has unfolded.

And, she chooses to live in the present with a sense of gratitude too.  Grateful for the gift of her friends and especially her family.

Evelyn on her 99th birthday with her Great-granddaughter, Riley.

Recently the family gathered for her birthday.  A few days later a group of friends baked her a cake and presented her with flowers.

In keeping with who she is, Evelyn voiced surprise for all the kindness shown to her.  I replied: ‘Aunty Evelyn, your family and friends are simply responding to all the kindness you share with others.  You are  a gift to us.’

When I grow up, I want to be like my Aunt Evelyn.  I want to live my life loving those around me unconditionally.  I want to learn to focus not on what I’ve lost but on what I have.

I too want to offer kindness and accept with gratitude the kindness of others. I want to live with as much grace as Evelyn Wisz Harrop.

Thank you Aunty Evelyn.  You’re the best.

 

 

 

 

 

Smokey Bear Land

I grew up at the edge of a wetlands in suburban Rhode Island. This 100 acre wetlands became the playground for neighborhood children released from the prying eyes of parents. In that swamp the opportunities for entertainment were endless. In the summer we would catch frogs and turtles. In the winter we would skate on a pond and roast hot dogs over a fire.

All the kids knew this special place as ‘Smokey Bear Land’. There was no official designation, simply a name passed on by the children. It was a place to watch the wonders of nature unfold. I vividly remember coming across a family of Ruffed Grouse and running home as the mother grouse chased me from her brood. Another time my cousin and I found the dead body of a red fox and over the course of months we returned to watch the carcass decompose so that we could retrieve the bones and skull for a science project at school.

children in woods

In Smokey Bear Land (named for the mascot of the National Forest Service), we immersed ourselves in the cycles of nature. It was our playground and our teacher. In a time before laws protected such sensitive places we watched as homes gradually nibbled at the edges of the wetlands, from 100 acres to 50.

It has been a longtime since I was ten years old. But when I return to my old neighborhood I am glad that 50 acres remain. It is still a place where tadpoles hatch, birds nest and brook trout swim. Families still walk in the woods and are grateful that this wetlands continues to be a refuge, a home for neighbors who fly, swim, slither and walk.

On this Earth Day we know that such special places remain only because citizens like us demand and support legislation and zoning that protects. We know that all of life is interconnected and to be good stewards of our corner of the earth is a gift for the children today and for generations to come.