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.

 

 

 

 

 

Attitude of Gratitude

Growing up Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. A time for adults and kids to gather around the table, enjoy each others company and eat well.

One of my favorite Thanksgiving memories is my Dad and his two brothers, Freddy and Bob cooking the Thanksgiving meal while the women visited and the kids played. Every few years they’d make the decree ‘this year the boys are cooking’. I still remember the smell of the turkey wafting from the kitchen filling the house with anticipation.

The last Thanksgiving the three brothers were together was 2000. I remember working with several cousins alongside Bob, Freddy and Norman. The location was a rented Masonic hall kitchen. In the main room approx. 50 family members gathered. Then living in Oregon, my daughter Katelyn  age 7 had travelled with me to spend this holiday with her east coast family. It was a special time to celebrate the ties that bind us one to the other. Stories were told, great food enjoyed, jokes cracked and board games played.

By the next Thanksgiving both Norman and Freddy had passed away. While that Thanksgiving was 17 years ago it remains one of my favorite memories.

 

Thanksgiving is an opportunity for memories to be made. The common element in each gathering large or small, is the choice to be grateful.

It has been said that the antidote to unhappiness in life is choosing to be grateful.

Science tells us that the regular practice of being grateful improves one’s health both physiologically and emotionally. Being grateful lowers your blood pressure and elicits dopamine, the pleasure sensor in one’s brain. When we choose to practice an attitude of gratitude we simply become happier.

Surely there’s a lot of pain and cause for worry in the world.  Yet, there’s also much to be grateful for.

Last night,  I participated in a Multifaith Thanksgiving worship service.  Our evening was a feast for the soul with wisdom gleaned from Jewish, Buddhist, Unitarian and Christian traditions.  We gave thanks for the gift of community and the love of our Creator.   Psalm 133 says it so well:

How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity.

Thanksgiving reminds us to pause, break bread with family, friends (longtime and new) and take a moment and say ‘thanks’. The 14th century monk and mystic, Meister Eckhart said: “If the only prayer we ever offer is thank you, that would be enough”.  To that I say ‘amen’.