Tiny Conversations – Does he miss me?

Some years ago, when Aly, the eldest of my grandkids was about two and a half years old, on a video call she asked me about her grandpa.

Aly – Dadi, do I have a grandpa?

“Yes, you do?”

Aly – Where is he then?

“He’s not here now,” I said, wondering if she had already learned that he had died long ago.

Aly – I know, she said, with wisdom beyond her years shining from her eyes.

“So you know he isn’t here with us, and you know why, yes?”

Aly – Yes, he is in heaven.

“Yes, sweetie. Your grandpa is in heaven.” I was relieved.

Aly – Does he know about me?

“I’m sure he does.”

Aly – Can he see me?

“I believe he can whenever he peeks through the clouds.”

Aly – (Beaming a bright smile) Does he love me?

“Oh, my dear, you cannot imagine how much he loves you. He adores you.”

Aly – (She’s glowing by now) Dadi, does he miss me?

I choked on my words as tears threatened to spill out and said, “Trust me sweetie, he misses you very, very much.”

Her little heart found a lot of comfort in that assurance. She flashed her angelic smile and settled into the couch more comfortably, content in the knowledge that her grandpa knew about her; loved her; missed her.

Sometimes it’s so much better to sugarcoat a bitter pill.

PS: Down the road, in the present time, she’s eleven and asked me about him and wanted me to tell her how he died, how I felt, and how her father and his brother took it.

This time, I didn’t sugarcoat the pill. She was ready to hear about pain and loss.

To My Father…

They say that daughters are always daddy’s darlings. It wouldn’t be right to make such a broad generalization, though, because we know that, that isn’t always the way it is. Not to go off on a tangent pursuing that subject, I’ll just say, I was definitely Daddy’s pet. It’s been a hundred years since he died…allow me the hyperbole…I’m really missing him as I always do but especially on Father’s Day.

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In our day, way back in the 60s – 80’s, in my country, we never observed ‘Father’s Day’ or any of these now popularized and commercialized “Days.” So there was only his Birthday which was, in a way, Father’s Day for us. Now Daddy never made much of his birthday, he wouldn’t invite friends over or want much of a fuss. He wasn’t given to showing emotions. He was the stiff upper lip kind of man for most of his life. I only saw a chink in his armor a year or so before he died.

No, no, I’m not going to say he began hugging his kids or gave in to tears or anything like that. He just allowed himself to speak with more emotion; show regret, sadness, longing not only in his voice but in his eyes as well. These were the emotions he never permitted himself to show earlier…for the greater part of his life.

He had a commanding personality. “Tall, dark, and handsome” in his youth, he retained his handsomeness even with his shock of thick, white, wavy hair through to his early ’80s, when he passed away.

As a boy and through his youth, he had a fiery temper which could become volatile, depending on who did what or what was said or done or not said and not done, but that had simmered down to resignation with the growing years.

He was a man of contrasts.

He also had a happy disposition. He enjoyed a good joke and was a great storyteller. He could add humor to his tales without effort or addition, solely by altering his tone and bringing in nuances that made it funny. He loved to recite poetry, write couplets (in Farsi/Urdu).

He had a good singing voice but rarely sang. He used to play the harmonium and sing when the mood took over. He loved to play the ‘tabla’ on the table or any surface that provided a firm base when he heard some good songs or music.

He loved taking us on picnics. His picnics could also mean driving miles out of our city to some picturesque spot in another town or city. We’ve been on some ‘picnics’ to Agra from Delhi. Our picnic spot: in the gardens of the Taj! And at that time in the 60s, the roads weren’t as they might be today! It was a whole day program. We’d get back at night! Otherwise, we’d be picnicking at the numerous spots in Delhi. In later years, we’d be joining him on fishing-picnics! He and my brother would be fishing and we’d have a great time with our picnic by a river.

He was passionate about learning, teaching, preaching the Bible. He was an excellent orator and it was a pleasure to hear him preach at conventions or in the church. 

He had a flamboyant disregard for conventional things; social courtesies, customs, and such. But he was strict about table manners. It goes without saying, I, the youngest would invariably be checked for reaching across the next person’s plate for a dish or something.

“Ask for the dish to be given to you or ask Mummy to serve you.”  I’d quickly comply.

But then, I’d go again with – “Give me the dish of (whatever).” There’d be a super quick, gentle reprimand.

Please, pass me the dish of (whatever).”

I’d do as told. Take the dish, happy to finally be able to get food on my plate. But that joy and hunger would be put on hold for another minute!

“Thank you!”

“Oh, I forgot!” I’d say a quick ‘thank you’ and finally dig in. 

But that wasn’t my only ‘bad table manners’. It constituted much more… ‘don’t put your elbows on the table,’ ‘don’t talk with your mouth full,’ ‘don’t battle with your fork and spoon (or knife). Cut down the clatter!’ ‘don’t swing your legs under the table’ (this one was really bad because I’d be totally oblivious that I was either kicking someone’s knees on the other side or at the least, brushing them with my feet.

That paragraph may sound as if I had a bad time at the table… on the contrary, I had a great time at family meals. These corrections were taken well. I knew I was overlooking the rules. But I was so focussed on enjoying my food and sitting and talking, around the table, with the family, (sobremesa), I hopped-skipped-and-jumped over all the etiquette that was expected at the table.

Even today, when I look back, I love the memories. I also am glad someone took the pains to teach me. Day after day, very patiently, Daddy would check me gently about something I said or something I did that could have been done differently and properly. Most of these would be on how to respond to Mummy’s disciplinary actions! He’d repeat the same things, kindly and softly, to remind me. He knew me very well and he understood that I wasn’t flouting the rules in defiance or rebellion. He also knew that his gentle correction would imprint on my young mind lessons for life. He remained my guide, mentor, and confidante, even when I was a mom myself.

He wasn’t known to write letters to anyone unless necessary. But, I received his letters quite often when I married and moved to another state. I would be thrilled to see his almost illegible (but neat) handwriting on the familiar inland letter he used when he wrote letters. Mummy would use letter paper and envelopes!

There’s so much I’ve profited by having such a father. I would have failed miserably in the biggest test of strength and courage I faced in my life if I didn’t have his teaching to fall back on. I fell many times, but each time his words, lessons would pick me up, give me strength, build up my flagging faith in God, and set me on my way. His counsel to “trust in the Lord, and don’t despair, he is a Friend so true, no matter what your troubles are Jesus will see you through,” has brought me thus far safe and sound. I am blessed to have had him as my ‘Daddy!’

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On this Father’s Day, I celebrate my guide, my mentor, my strength… Daddy, you were the best dad, and I thank God you were mine!

 

 

Nanaji and the Dirty Fellas

A baby has a way of making a man out of his father and a boy out of his grandfather. ~Angie Papadakis

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We have specific names for our relatives, to make it clear how they’re related to each other and from which side of the family they belong. For instance, paternal grandparents are Dada (grandfather) and Dadi (grandmother). So the moment a child refers to someone as Dada or Dadi, everyone knows it’s the son’s child. And if Nana (grandpa) or Nani (grandma) are used, everyone knows it is the daughter’s child.

The same goes for other relations. They are easily recognized as paternal or maternal relatives by the terms used to address them. There is no confusion about any relationship, unlike the common terms uncle and aunt or grandma, grandpa, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, etc. Each of these relatives is referred to by different names that make it clear how they are related to you.

To come back to my father and a few memories of our kids’ interactions with him. When he became a Nana, my kids and my sister’s kids called him Nanaji. The ‘ji’ is suffixed as a sign of respect for elders. As a father, he was a strict disciplinarian and had grown more reserved with the passing years. Everyone was still in awe of this man, who though mellowed with age, yet held a commanding demeanor, and a sarcastic sense of humor. 

My two boys learned to talk rather early, so their interaction with Nanaji began early too. By this time, Daddy had already transitioned to the grandparent level courtesy my elder sister’s son.

Daddy would use all his sarcastic humor on the kids, who just loved it! They were quick to retort and he would have his laugh. They often got into little ‘kiddie’ fights with him, and when we’d hear, “Dirty fella, I’m not talking to you,” we knew we would witness a wonderful, funny incident soon.

The First Grandson: Forgive and forget

One day, Daddy had a falling out with my elder sister’s son Hemant (pet name – Chiku). Chiku was three and a half then.

“Go away, I’m not talking to you, dirty fella!” says Nanaji to the scowling boy. 

Both walk off in a huff to their rooms; the grey-haired one hiding a broad grin and the younger one certainly miffed.

A few minutes later, a chubby face peeked into Nanaji’s room. He was ignored. The second and third attempts to reconcile were also met with a royal ignore! The fourth time, he came with a bunch of grapes as a peace offering. Nanaji refused to accept it, closed his eyes, and appeared to have fallen asleep.

Chiku stood and stared at him for a while. Then he decided it was too much. Enough is enough! He plucked two grapes off the bunch. Kept the bowl on the bedside table. Daddy was observing all this through his eyes that were closed to slits. He did not expect Chiku’s next move and thought the little guy had decided to eat the grapes himself. But his grandson had other plans. Before Nanaji could say, “dirty fella,” he deftly stuffed them into Nanaji’s nostrils and scampered out like a grinning monkey!

Thankfully, the grapes weren’t far in and he could snort them out easily! Then, he was in splits. He laughed so much. I can’t say what the dirty fella had expected, but I’m sure he hadn’t seen this coming. He crept back, confirmed it was a truce, and stepped into the room.

A while later, we saw them sitting together and eating the rest of the grapes.

The Second Grandson: Dirty is not good

Daddy would sit in the back verandah or in the back lawn and write when the weather was cooler in summer or warmer and sunny in winter. On one such day, Nanaji had an encounter with another three-and-a-half-year-old Ranjit (pet name Tintin), the elder son of yours truly.

Nanaji was immersed in his study and writing while Tintin played with his toys. Nanaji had an old, in fact very old, Bible which he loved, and in which he had written many notes on pages specially inserted into the binding. It had a thick, hard leather cover that was faded, well-worn for use, and cracked in places. It was open and lying face down on a table beside him.

Tintin sauntered over and looked at it. Apparently, he didn’t like the look of it. He screwed up his face and asked what book it was. Nanaji answered him without interrupting his work or looking up. A few moments later, he needed to refer to something in the Book, and well, it wasn’t on the table! he looked around and what do you think he saw?

“You dirty fella, what are you doing?” he exclaimed and jumped out of his chair to rescue his precious Bible from a washing.

Tintin had carried off the heavy, thick Bible and dunked it into a tub full of water, that was kept for two small tortoises Nanaji had bought for him. He was just getting into the washing part when it was retrieved.

“What are you doing, you dirty fella? Why did you put it in the water?”

“It was dirty so I was washing it,” replied the “dirty fella” blissfully unaware of the damage he could have caused.

Nanaji found the explanation quite plausible, and though he was worried about the Bible, he couldn’t stop laughing.

Once again, this little escapade didn’t cause major damage. Except for some notes pages getting smudged with ink (he used fountain pens which had to be refilled with ink poured out from a bottle!), so a wet page meant the ink would smudge. And, of course, a loss of Daddy’s personal notes. Apart from this, the Bible was not irretrievably damaged. We just needed to dry it out. This took a long time given the volume of pages! Thankfully, we had a few sunny days!

This was one time when the grandson antics got me a bit worried. I knew how much that antique Bible meant to Daddy. Besides its worthiness in its antiquity, it had been his companion and guide for many years. I thought that this time, the ‘dirty fella’ and his mom would have to bear the brunt of some annoyance if not anger!

I shouldn’t have worried and trusted the Daddy I’ve known since I was a girl. 

Though some note pages and notes had gone, Daddy didn’t worry much about that. He could rewrite them. But after drying out, a few of the pages were a bit crinkled like an unironed shirt and the cover looked more thumped and weary than it did before!

The third Grandson: A Lesson in Etiquette

Nanaji got a lesson in etiquette and right practice from yet another of his dirty fellas when he came on a holiday to Rajasthan. This time, it was Vineet (pet name Viny), not quite three yet. He is my younger son.

The days passed off fast, and Nanaji and the boys had a rollicking time. Then, it was time to leave. Our little one was over-eager to help. He tried to push and tug bags to a waiting taxi. Everyone was mightily impressed by the offer of help, as all the bags were too big and too heavy for him to even budge a centimeter.

Yet, he was lending the proverbial helping hand. He’d place his little hand on a bag being carried or rolled out! He hung around Nanaji, who once again saw through all the show, and was waiting to get his last laugh before leaving.

All the bags were stowed in the trunk. Mum was in the taxi and it was time to say the G’byes. Nanaji got into the taxi, but he didn’t close the door. Instead, he kept making small talk with his “dirty fellas.” We tried to hurry him but he kept stalling. Finally, what he was waiting for happened. Afraid that it would be too late, Viny took the initiative to inform his Nanaji about Rajasthani customs.

“Nanaji,” he said seriously, “jab koi jaata hai na, woh kuch de kar jaata hai.” (Trans: Nanaji, when someone leaves, he gives something and goes.)

Nanaji was thrilled. He got his laughs. He dug into his pockets and handed both the boys some money. It was customary, in those days, for elderly relatives to give the kids some money before they left. Needless to describe the glee with which the cash was handed over to mother dear (me!) as Viny rattled off all that he would buy with it, including a car.

I didn’t spoil his joy by telling him that he would fall a bit short of cash for a car!

Just for the record, he was thinking of buying a real-life size car… LOL

So #grateful for the memories.

“Love is the greatest gift that one generation can leave another.”~Richard Garnett

 

 

 

A Modern Day Sir Raleigh

It was in Viña del Mar that my love for gazing out of the window; an entire wall of big windows became a regular routine. The windows faced a tree-lined street and situated at the corner of crossroads, on the second floor, provided a vantage point to look down on people and things happening on a street that was not a crowded one. My advantage – I watched unobserved. The heavily leafed trees screened me! 

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I watched people; how they walked; how they conversed as a couple or in a group. I noticed their expressions. And at times, I just gazed at a world moving on the sidewalks and on the road. Everyone was going somewhere while I sat and watched. Even the everyday, mundane activities of strangers interested me. And then, one day, I saw something that was sweet, heartwarming, and totally unexpected. This was as unexpected as the time I saw the woman on the street at night. You can read about it here: A Midnight Watch in Viña del Mar

Let me start at the very beginning. The much needed and awaited rain was welcome in all ways but one; it played villain to my daily walks. With water-logged streets even with a medium shower, it was not appealing to take a walk. So I’d spend some pleasant hours sitting by my bedroom window, intermittently burying my head in a book or gazing at the streets below.

There’s always something or the other that catches my attention and that day too, I witnessed, what to me was a combination of everything that spelled romantic. It was cute, sweet, chivalrous; unimaginable, sort of adventurous, and daring in a way…well, given the drizzle, cold winds, dark sky…all these combined to make for a great Bollywood song setting! There, I said it at the risk of sounding dotty!

Our apartment was at the corner. So where I stood at the window, I was above one of the zebra crossings. The corners, where the four roads joined, would get flooded during a heavy shower. As I sat gazing emptily into space, a movement in the periphery of my eye caught my attention.

A girl, maybe seventeen or eighteen, slender build, was contemplating crossing the ‘Red Sea’ in a rather comical manner. Clutching her open umbrella, she would stretch out her leg and attempt to leap across, except, she never made it because she never thrust herself forward. She kept hopping in place. Each time she made up her mind to jump, she’d lose confidence and abort, ending up doing a jig. Then I realized there was another spectator to this unintended pantomime.

A youth, possibly in his twenties, was across the street on the Norte side and was so amused by what was going on, he had forgotten to cross over, to the side the girl was on, which is where he was headed. I guess he was as intrigued as I was, and also keen to know how she would finally cross. Both of us watched her; I from my perch on the second level, and he right across from her. But she was oblivious to everything.

Finally, she decided that her open umbrella was hampering her long jump over the muddy water, and she closed it. If it meant getting wet, so be it, is what I presumed she thought. Contrary to her belief, however, it lowered her confidence even more. Now, she hesitated to even stretch out her leg and hop. That’s when I saw the young man make a snap decision. He splashed his way across the street and was by her side in the blink of an eye. She reared back surprised.

There was a brief conversation. She seemed not to like something and gave a negative nod. He was convincing apparently because a minute later, she took hold of her umbrella from the middle and the next thing I knew, she was riding piggyback with her arms wrapped around the youngster’s shoulders. He sploshed his way through the muddied water with his precious load and deposited her safely, relatively dry shoes and all, on the other side. Then, he happily made his way back to the corner where he’d picked her up and carried on, on his way. 

I saw a Bollywood in that. I saw a hero and a heroine… two strangers at a crossroad… will they meet again? If not would she relate this to her children and grandchildren? Would he? Obviously, this wasn’t something they had done or would do normally! Was fate at play here?

“Oh, it’s the rain,” I mumbled to myself. I find rain romantic and its pitter-patter calls out to me! So here I was drawing pictures and stories about two people who were blissfully unaware that they were being woven into a typical Bollywood film. Can you blame me for being silly?!

I belong to another generation, and century, and it was so cute and sweet, and romantic. It warmed the cockles of this woman’s heart as she sat in her seat by the window on a cold, rainy day.

 

 

 

Happily, Everafter is a Choice

“Tell your children some good family stories, and you’ll be remembered for generations. Be the story, and you will live forever.”~Joy Clarkson

I trawled through my memories for stories, incidents, and anecdotes I could add to my collection of ‘paans’ and ‘giloris’ (tidbits) for my ‘#khaandaan ka paandaan, (the family cache of differently flavored ‘paans’), and as I did, I wondered about my need to recount little snippets and snapshots of our family life. I believe it is very important to know, if not all, then, most of the people (nuts too!) of one’s family tree.

But what’s more important to know is how they lived, and what ingredients were stirred into their lives that produced characters and lives so varied and diverse that one wouldn’t even know they were related if the family tree didn’t join them. It also helps to know which ancestor to blame for all the quirks you have!

I enjoyed listening to the yarns about my parents and older siblings. I also learned a few things; some ‘what to do’ things and some ‘what not to do’, and a bit of ‘left to do’ stuff. So was this the reason why I was going down the tunnel to the past? I mulled a while, and the outcome was the quote which opens this chapter!

Once again, I go back to where my story starts, with my mother and father.

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The Royal Indian Navy and the WRINS

“A great #marriage is not when the ‘perfect couple’ come together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.”~Dave Meurer

Daddy decided to join the Navy as a sailor to fight the war – WWII. He was only seventeen when he made this momentous decision, but more on that later. The British were ruling India so the Naval Force in India was called the Royal Indian Navy. The women’s division was known as the Women’s Royal Indian Navy Services, and the recruits to this wing were referred to as WRINS.

Having earned his commission in the UK, Daddy returned to India. He was in the signals division, posted at Bombay, now known as Mumbai. He bossed over some WRINS who were stenographers and made up his department. My story revolves around only this group in his office because it is important to the development of this narrative.

Daddy was a youth from rural Punjab, with an excellent physique and handsome face. Tall and dark, he fitted the bill to be a Barbara Cartland hero… “tall, dark, and handsome.” Needless to say, he was much sought after by women, including those in his office. He was quite aware of the effect he had on them and enjoyed the attention they lavished on him. The drawer of his table would be filled with chocolates; just one of the bribes to ensure they didn’t get a rough day at work! Daddy was a strict disciplinarian and low on patience if things didn’t go accordingly.

No matter how many times I heard this story, I never failed to marvel at the stupidity of these WRINS. Why on earth were they giving Daddy chocolates! They should have been receiving them from him!

“Ab woh laakar rakhte the meri drawer mein, toh main kha leta tha. Unko bola thodi na tha ki mujhe chocolate achchi lagti hai” (“They’d bring them and put them in my drawer, and I’d eat them. I never told them that I liked chocolates.), he would laugh off my childish contempt. I guess these WRINS knew the ‘mellowing’ quality of chocolate!

“Of course, you used to ask them to get you chocolates. And when they wouldn’t, you’d get angry.” Mummy was quick to correct him. The jealousy apparently still lurked within.

Daddy would refute that with a silent nod of his head.

This was the cue for someone to ask if everyone, without exception, gave in to this extortion. And I promptly did!

“Oh no, everyone wouldn’t. There was this small Burmese who refused to comply,” he’d say, his eyes twinkling.

We’d all turn to look at Mummy who’d be blushing and smiling shyly; another cue for more questions, and I’d shoot them.

“Why didn’t you bring chocolates?”

“Did you get a rough day at work”

“Didn’t you like Daddy?”

How many girlfriends did he have?

“Were you jealous?”

Whenever these #conversations took place, I sought the same information in different ways;  but the answers were always the same as was the accompanying bashfulness. Despite the well-worn, oft-told anecdotes, the interest remained fresh on both sides of the table; just as Mum and Dad retained the #timeless #joy of their courtship even though they had been married for donkey’s years.

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I listened and marveled, at the love that had bound these two very different people, with renewed interest. For every wrinkle, every gray hair that got added, with the passing of time, made it more amazing that the story could still evoke the same feelings which #youthful #romance had embedded in their hearts forever.

“Love me when I least deserve it because that’s when I really need it.” `Swedish Proverb

I’m not even remotely suggesting their life was Utopian bliss for them. They had their squabbles and bitter fights. As I mentioned earlier, they were poles apart in all things. And that’s what makes it unbelievable. Daddy doted on Mummy even though she drove him mad at times… most times. And she remained forever jealous and possessive of him till she died.

Theirs might not be an ideal love story as love stories go, but it had all the ingredients of which legendary romances are made. Boss and steno; rich-poor divide; North-South chasm; urban-rural culture chasm; language barriers (with in-laws), whirlwind courtship, parental objection, elopement, alienation; they went through it all and survived the tests! Taken in the time that they did all this, it is commendable. I’m talking about a long time back. They married in July 1947, in a small, conservative town in Punjab!

“Love is a verb. Love – the feeling – is the fruit of love the verb or our loving actions. So love her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her.”~Stephen R. Covey

I still smile when I picture Daddy teasing Mum, obviously savoring those long-gone moments. He’d look lovingly at Mummy who’d be as shy as a new bride as she smiled and glanced at him with apparent adulation. Yes, they sure had something special between them.

 

Glossary: 

Paans and Giloris: Paan is betel leaf with supari (areca nut) and other things added to it. Chewing paan is an age-old practice deeply rooted in India. A Gilori is also a paan, but smaller in size.

Khaandan: Family. Earlier it meant the whole extended family… a joint family… grandparents, mom-dad, including boys of the family (brothers) and their families.

Paandaan: A container that had the betel leaves and all the other things that would go into a paan. These were usually ornate; they could even be in silver and decorated beautifully. Families that chewed paan (especially the women) habitually kept these paandaans. They were usually found in the homes of affluent families.

 

 

 

 

Doodling

“Do you have hands? Excellent. That’s a good start. Can you hold a pencil? Great. If you have a sketchbook, open it and start by making a line, a mark, wherever. Doodle.”~Chris Riddell

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“Why do you carry such a big handbag when you go for a walk?” said my son rather disapprovingly.

“Why? What’s wrong if I do?” I countered, a bit surprised.

“Just saying,” he replied shrugging his shoulders and raising his eyebrows.

“I carry some things with me when I go for a walk. I need a roomy bag to accommodate them” was my matter-of-fact answer.

My bag gets a bit heavier when I take along one or two of my #granddaughters with me. Added to my diary/journal, pen, iPad, and other knick-knacks, I also carry a game or two that we play: Spot It! and Caterpillar, and loose notepapers and pencils (even a few color pencils) because I make up writing games with the elder one, Aly. Our walks usually have a break at Tim Hortons. I love the place and can while away hours writing or reading if I’m alone and not having #funwiththekids.

“A part of my design and inspiration ethos is that I carry around a leather notebook and I sketch in it, doodle in it, write notes in it, and I put pictures in it.”~John Varvatos

One of the activities Aly loves is #doodling. At times, unintentionally, it becomes specific and more about designing. I set the timer to 1 minute and 15 seconds, and one of us chooses a word and we start doodling to make the word an attractive design. She’s nine and very good with her drawing and imagination.

Here are some of the ones we’ve done. All were done within the time limit and some even before the timer alarm went off. After comparing and complimenting each other, we shaded in some undone areas, but there was no addition or subtraction to the basic drawing.

She’s really amazing. Considering she had no time to think up something and she completed each one in time, she certainly has talent. I’m not saying that because she’s my granddaughter! See for yourself, I’ve added names so you can tell Alyssa’s from mine.

“It just comes out of my subconscious. If you asked me to draw you a doodle, I couldn’t do it.”~Lois Frankel

 WIN

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LOVE

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VIBES

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CHILL

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 KIDS

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 HOPE

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 CARE

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This one wasn’t a part of our timed #challenges, although we did them just as quickly as we did the others. This was done recently after we finished many different forms of word games and were relaxing with ‘doodh chai’ (extra milky tea) for her and a regular tea for me. Oatmeal raisin cookies boosted our energy 🙂

“I love jotting down ideas for my blog, so I doodle or take notes of all kinds of stuff that inspires me: the people I meet, boutiques I visit, a florist that just gave me a great idea for an interior design project, things like that.”~Maria Sharapova

 

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Stolen Verses

I’ve taken the liberty to write about my parents; some of the stories they told us. I remember them because I love a good story and if it’s about someone I know… I seldom forget them. This one was retold many a time by my mother, in bits and pieces, because I’d ask many questions and she’d give me answers that made the story clearer to my young mind.

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Mummy at eighteen, a stenographer in the Navy, in Bombay (now known as Mumbai)

 

My parents were poles apart and had different ways of remembering their courtship. It brings the much-quoted line: ‘men are from Mars and women are from Venus’ into sharp focus.

Daddy’s way was to tease; humorous, sweet and loving. Mummy’s retelling would be a sharp contrast.

She would recall all the old squabbles, grouses, and peeves, and then she would pout. I imagine the same way she must have done a long time back! One of her major discontents emerged from an incident involving her book of poems.

According to both of them, he got a lot of chocolates (which he liked so much) in his desk drawer from some girls working under him. It was more to placate him I guess; he was a stickler for perfection and discipline than any sort of romantic overture. However, as I told you, she thought otherwise! It did his ego good so he let it pass.

The only one who didn’t bribe him with chocolates or any kind of attention was Peggy D’sylva. But one day she “lent” him her book of poems. She loved to write poetry. That was the only thing she slipped into his draw because he’d “asked to read” it. This was her account. Daddy said he did no such thing! I’ll digress here to give you some background to the story and how they were together in an office.

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Daddy with his elder brother at Chatham

In 1945, Daddy got commissioned and was transferred from HMIS Llanstephen Castle to join Bombay as CCO (Commissioned Communications Officer). They called him Jimmy. This is where he met Peggy, a stenographer in the Navy. Women working in the Navy in those days were called WRINS (Women’s Royal Indian Navy Service).

When all Jimmy’s efforts to break the ice failed, he gave up and left Peggy to her own world which, in the office, was a small New Testament.

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The WRINS. The red arrow marks Mummy

Every minute of spare time would see the little book in her hands. She would devour every line and word. She was on her way to “being saved”, as they say. However, Peggy outside the office was another person! Anyway, this quite impressed Jimmy and he noted her “good character” even though her “holy” act didn’t appeal to his macho image.

In the meantime, a particular Ms. Cutting made her move and caught Jimmy’s fancy. Although Peggy wouldn’t admit it, Ms. Cutting had ignited a spark of jealousy and Peggy decided to show another side of herself to the boss.

One morning, Jimmy was surprised to find a diary in his desk drawer. It was Peggy’s offering to him. He was taken by surprise and as he read the beautiful verses she had penned, he was impressed.

There was an assortment of poems. Some funny, some serious and deep, many sad or pining and some light, happy ones with tones of romance. Peggy had given her heart and soul in that book of poems. If she thought she had executed a coup, she was mistaken. Ms. Cutting had the boss’ total attention.

Jimmy thanked Peggy for allowing him to read it and returned it to her with a word of praise for her talent.

Peggy was fuming. Country bumpkin, she thought to herself. Then, she decided to put it back on his desk hoping the message would be clearer this time.

The next day, she was in early and the book was lying on his desk instead of in the drawer. She waited impatiently for Jimmy but he didn’t come in. Finally, she couldn’t stand the waiting and got up in a huff, walked across the room intending to take back her precious book. Before she reached the desk, Jimmy and Ms. Cutting walked in.

“Good Morning, Peggy,” said Jimmy and sat at his desk. “Did you want something?”

“Yes, Sir… N…No Sir,” Peggy stuttered. Just as she turned to leave, Ms. Cutting picked up the diary and flipped the pages.

“You write poetry too? How wonderful! I love poetry and I’m sure you’ve written this for me, Jimmy. This is for me, right? This is the surprise you wanted to give me, isn’t it?”

Jimmy looked at Peggy. They stared at each other and the silence was ominous. Ms. Cutting also glared at Peggy.

Then the silence was shattered as Jimmy said, “Yes, of course, this is what I wanted to show you but it’s not…” Jimmy hesitated a moment then added, “it’s not yet typed out. I just wanted you to read it that’s all.”

“It’s beautiful as it is in its original form. Thank you so much for the gift, Jimmy. I’ll treasure it always.” Ms. Cutting took the book with her as she walked out the door. That left Jimmy alone with Peggy, to sort out the mess.

“Look, I didn’t want to give it to her. I brought her here to show her your book. Why did you have to put it on my table, right now? I just wanted her to read your verses. You write so well, Peggy.” He could have been telling it to the walls.

Peggy did not wait to hear the whole explanation. She was already back to work with deaf ears!

The rest, as they say, is history.

Jimmy took it upon himself to make up for his cowardice and “cheapness” in gaining brownie points from stolen verses. He even joined the Christian group Peggy had recently joined. As a result, he even got “saved!”

Before long, Ms. Cutting was out but not forgotten because Peggy was in and she never let Jimmy forget her or the stolen verses!

This incident became a funny story (in a sweet way) for me, but for Mummy, it wasn’t funny. She never accepted Daddy’s explanation for what transpired that day back in 1945-46. Her argument being…

“You didn’t take the book back from her. You were more concerned about how she would feel. Why should I believe you?” she’d pout.

Playing Devil’s advocate I’d side with her telling Daddy that he was mean.

“I’m here so where’s the lie?” he would counter.

I’d nod my head wisely with a smile plastered across my face and ask Mummy what was her problem. She’d pretend to be annoyed but the laughter bubbling inside would break through.

Yes, women are from Venus… they’re love personified with all the add-ons… jealousy, possessiveness, martyrdom, and phenomenal memories included! They never forget and don’t let you forget either.

This excerpt sits well on their story except for the “clumsy, balding fellow” bit!

“I squeezed her hand and said nothing. I knew little about Keats or his poetry, but I thought it possible that in his hopeless situation he would not have wanted to write precisely because he loved her so much. Lately, I’d had the idea that Clarissa’s interest in these hypothetical letters had something to do with our own situation, and with her conviction that love that did not find its expression in a letter was not perfect. In the months after we’d met, and before we’d bought the apartment, she had written me some beauties, passionately abstract in the ways our love was different from and superior to any that had ever existed. Perhaps that’s the essence of a love letter, to celebrate the unique. I had tried to match her, but all that sincerity would permit me were the facts, and they seemed miraculous enough to me: a beautiful woman loved and wanted to be loved by a large, clumsy, balding fellow who could hardly believe his luck.”

― Ian McEwan, Enduring Love

 

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Siblings – Friends we can’t get rid of!

“No one knows better than a sister how we grew up…she’s your mirror shining back at you…she is your witness, who sees you at your worst and best and loves you anyway. She is your partner in crime, your midnight companion, someone who knows when you are smiling, even in the dark. She is your teacher, your defense attorney, your personal press agent, even your shrink. Some days, she’s the reason you wish you were the only child! Do you have a sister? If you do, you’ll know what I mean.”Barbara Alpert

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We were four siblings. Three sisters and a brother. I was the fourth and the youngest for the first ten years of my life. I enjoyed being the youngest… my father’s pet and my mother’s unruly filly. But life had something better in store – a younger sibling! 

The announcement that I was going to get another brother thrilled me no end. My elder brother was my friend and partner in crime. I enjoyed playing with the boys more than the girls who I found to be “sissies” and forever crying, throwing tantrums, and more interested in who was wearing what and only liked playing ‘house, house’. {That’s a true confession of a 6 yr old!)

I wanted to play ‘Cowboys & Red Indians’, ‘Robbers & Police’, gymnastics and rougher sports and games than most girls my age cared to play. So, another brother was more than welcome.

What I didn’t realize was that a ten-year age difference wouldn’t work out as I had envisaged…our interests would be worlds apart by the time he grew up!

I never got to develop a really close relationship with my sisters. They went to boarding school when I was five or six. We’d meet only when they came home for their annual holidays. I would be in awe of them.

The eldest was seven years older than me and the other was my senior by five. When they passed out of school, they left home to pursue whatever professional training/jobs they had applied for in the city. We were living in the country then. My elder brother remained my pal-at-home a few more years and left too.

The younger one was too young to take his place. A three-year-old isn’t much company for a thirteen-year-old! I grew up through my teenage years of schooling, practically, as an only child. And because the school was very far from home, I didn’t have friends to hang out with on the weekends or holidays.

Books became my friends and I became an avid reader. Thanks to my elder sisters’ fondness for reading, there was never a dearth of books. They kept a steady supply. And thanks to an American friend in the American Peace Corps, and stationed in our town, we had more than enough books of all genres.

I traveled with my book friends and experienced different cultures and traditions; their emotions, their actions, reactions, responses and values as I lived with them. This worked against me as my schoolmates couldn’t relate to the books I read and so I couldn’t discuss them either. It created a chasm.

The distances were constant between us siblings. Rarely were we all together, and even then, it was never for long. But, whenever we got together, we would pick up from where we left off as if we had never left… never been absent from home.

We’d talk one to the dozen, laugh our guts out – almost literally – because we’d be doubled up in laughter, our arms folded across our bellies, tears flooding our eyes!

With the years passing on, we got married and home meant another place.

I and my eldest sister lived in regions far from the rest and each other as well. The youngest who joined the Army moved from the north in the Himalayas to the southern lush green regions and the western arid zone… what I’m saying is, we hardly met.

Those were not the days of internet and wi-fi; no mobile phones, no face time, no emails and chats. The occasional snail mail and cards made their slow way to keep everyone updated. Though, by the time people were updated, the information was already outdated.

Yet, when we gathered at one place to attend a wedding or a funeral… or I’d make an annual trip with the hubby and kids in tow to meet the family, it would always be like we met just some days ago! It was always comfortable, always fun. We’d be howling with laughter at the silliest things, we’d be singing the same old songs… and we gossiped about the same old people. We bonded like only siblings can.

At the time of writing this, we’re in the same situation of vast distances between us… in miles. I’m the farthest from my siblings, yet, when I think about it, it is just the oceans, seas, and continents that separate us.

Although I value physical nearness (nothing can replace that; no internet – Whatsapp, Facetime either), but I am also grateful for all of these modern technologies that bridge the gap. I’ve been in places, in another country, without leaving my chair! 

I have driven through the streets in Canada with my son as I sat comfortably in my room in South America! I’ve been a part of a baptism service for my grandchildren (virtually), making the vows I had to make… as if I were there in the Canadian church myself. Facetime is the closest to personal and physical nearness.

But, it is not these hi-tech facilities that keep me close to my family.

The bonds of birth and a shared childhood; same roots, same family ties, many shared experiences… survive over and beyond the distances.

Is it because we are siblings born of the same parents? No, what keeps siblings together is a relationship. And like all relationships, it takes a lot of working at, to grow strong. It takes a lot of love, forgiveness; patience and tolerance, understanding and respect for siblings to grow as sisters and brothers. This is best explained by Maya Angelou in this short quote: 

“I don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters and brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them the mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at.” –Maya Angelou

Yes, siblings – sisters and brothers, as defined by Maya Angelou, are the friends we not only “can’t get rid of” but whom we never want to get rid of.

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Between Christmas and New Year

The shopping frenzy to get the best gifts, the hottest deals at Christmas is over and done with. All the gift wrapping you were so careful with lies torn and scattered as eager little hands {and big ones too!} try to get to their presents as fast as they can. Christmas parties are over. And there’s a vacuum. I find myself in limbo… neither here nor there!

The build-up of excitement, anxiety, happiness, worry, the joy and the mad race to meet deadlines before Christmas is a heady cocktail of mixed emotions. Past Boxing Day, I feel empty. There’s been too much in the past couple of weeks and now I’m deflated… like a burst balloon.  But the inner joy remains because that’s what Christmas season does and sad that it’s over and I have too much of time on my hands and nothing much to do.

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The cooking, parties, shopping, church events are over for the year. And as I await the New Year, I’m lost in memories of past Christmases. It’s a strange feeling in the time between Christmas and New Year.

Lost! That’s how I am.

I don’t notice what day it is and I don’t care.

I don’t know what to do and I don’t care to ‘DO’ much. In the hustle and bustle that preceded D-day, I hadn’t much time to dwell on reminisces. But in this time between, the memories come flowing in – as waves upon waves – and I’m submerged.

As I walk down memory lane I’m not aware of who I am…

… a girl at home with mummy and Daddy. A teenager in love. Young mom with a baby. Alone with my world turned upside down; a single mom trying to make ends meet. A grandmom… here, there, and everywhere, I zip through decades, gathering the joy of Christmases past like bright, shiny tinsel balls to hang on my Christmas tree.

I love Christmas and I keep it in my heart through the year but I’m always lost in the time between Christmas and New Year! That’s how it is…and I love this too. My memories are so beautiful. Old photographs revive happy moments. The nostalgia might make me lose myself in the present moment but I get back refreshed as if I’ve just holidayed in some exotic Caribbean island.

But I’m between this and that until then!

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Daring To Be Vulnerable

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness we will we discover the infinite power of our light.” -Dr. Brene Brown

The best things; people and places, friendships and companionships never lasted long – at least not as long as I’d want it to. ‘Goodbye’ seemed to come around too soon. But I was young – a little girl- and the exuberance and expectations of youthfulness;  the hope of new and more exciting experiences helped to blunt the pain of loss and too many changes.

As the years rolled by and friendships began to mean more – there were stronger bonds of closeness and dependability – moving away became harder. We were not in an era of such high technology as we are in today.

One wrote letters, snail-mail, and soon the frequency of writing and receiving mail would peter out and finally die. Old friends became a vague memory as new ones took their place. But this transition was not as easy or smooth as I consciously thought it was. Somewhere at the sub-conscious level I was taking it harder and reacting to it in a very wrong way. To avoid the pain I was slowly developing a shell of protection. I didn’t want to be hurt anymore. So I would never give a hundred percent of myself to any relationship.

I liked my friends, and I made friends easily but there was always something lacking because I did not get too close to anyone. I was guarded in my relationships, not open. This distance I maintained distanced them from me. They took it personally and our friendships, though warm, never developed into life-long ties.

While I felt bad about it, I also felt better because our constant moving from place to place didn’t affect me emotionally the way it did earlier. I wasn’t breaking down inside anymore. My heart and my mind were intact; I was not vulnerable anymore. I was slowly becoming distant – ‘arm’s length’ is how I’d say it: ‘Keep at arm’s length’. I don’t know when or how I built these walls around me but walls were surely rising and imprisoning my soul.

Saying bye to someone you love is painful. Especially when you know you aren’t going to see them anytime soon or probably never meet them again because chances are, you’re not going to return to that place again.

The first pangs of farewell pains that I experienced were when my two elder sisters left for boarding school. I must have been six yrs old and it was terrible. I can still recall how it hurt so much, even though they would be away for less than a year, coming back for their long holidays every summer. I’d dam the tears that welled up as soon as the railway station came into sight. Then I’d let the floodgates down and let them flow and flow long after the byes were said and the train had chugged out of the station. Long after we were home and I was in my room. The emptiness would seep into me and I’d sit on the floor, take out my tea set and dolls and bawl my heart out. I still remember that! And this was how it was in the following years; I’d hurt so bad with every departure!

I also remember that as the years went by and both of them had finished with school, yet, they were never at home. They’d come for a short break and go back to wherever they were at the time. But what had changed was: I no longer felt the wracking pain of my childhood. Not that I was so grown-up but because I had learned to “put a stone on my heart” as the saying goes. We were brought up to keep our emotions in check. A stiff upper lip. So no matter how much my heart ached, I held my head high and went about living life as usual. If I needed to vent, I stuck my head in a closet and cried or buried myself under the covers and wept copiously on the welcoming foam of a pillow or then, took out my journal and wrote, wrote, wrote until I couldn’t see the page through my tears. I had learned this by the time I turned ten!

I had learned this lesson so well that when I said the most painful farewell I would ever say in all my life, I was still holding back – still pulling on the reins to keep a check on myself. I wanted to scream, shout, bang my fists, grieve, but all I did was shed a few tears, in fits and starts, and try to maintain a calm and cold exterior. The biggest love of my life had gone forever! An unexpected, shocking departure from life and those who loved him so well. A life truncated in its prime.  Yes, my husband had died of three successive, massive heart attacks in his thirty-ninth year, and I couldn’t let my guard down. I had to maintain a show of strength – emotional strength.

I thought it helped in keeping me from crumbling; from losing my sanity. I was so focused on being strong; on not making a public display of my inner-most feelings, not letting my young sons see me weak and devastated that I didn’t dwell on my personal loss. In hindsight, however, that was bad for me. I suffered the agony for years. For years I remained angry with my husband for dying and leaving me alone. For years I rolled up into a fetal position and wet my pillow with muffled sobs; so great was the pain.

The worst was, we had not said our final goodbyes! He died on one of his tours. He came back cold and dead. The best was when he was leaving home, although we had said our casual bye-byes, he turned back and with a rare, broad grin waved a bye to me again. I almost missed it because he never did that ever before. Once he was out of the gate he’d just drive away, our ‘see you’ being said. It took me by surprise and I did wonder for a second, ‘what was that?!’ But it made me happy and I saved the moment. This image came to my rescue every time I felt desolate because it was his ‘final farewell’. And what a memory it was!

This image brought relief because it became ‘our’ final farewell. Down deep I still ached because I knew I’d never see him again, but whenever I thought of him, this last image spoke volumes to me; it still does. The pain will never go but I have accepted it and it has become bearable.

I thought I had dealt with my unexpressed anguish and loss very well. Unknown to me it had a negative fall-out that carved out a new me. I became scared of loving anyone too much. I was afraid if I showed too much of love, or clung to anyone they would leave and I didn’t want to be hurt so bad again. I refused to love with all my love. I was afraid to show too much love towards my kids too.

The years went by and there were many farewells to friends and family as we moved from one place to another. It wasn’t a good experience but I no longer hurt so much… I missed my friends and family but it didn’t pain me as it would have before. Then along came a little bundle of golden fur. She was called Heidi.

Heidi was a golden retriever pup just a month old and she stole our hearts. Something inside me began to melt. The walls began to crumble and slowly I allowed myself to bring someone close to me. So close that she became my companion and confidante. She was not a dog for me, she was a person, my friend. I became defenseless; vulnerable and experienced so much of love from her.

She understood me when I spoke and even when I was quiet. She knew my silences, she felt my every feeling and responded to it. If she saw me with my face in my hands, she’d be there sitting in front of me moving my hands from my face and trying to get on my lap. She knew even if I was crying quietly. She’d come to my side and cuddle and lick my tears. She was the one who brought me out of the abyss of anger, self-pity, and the victim mentality. I was reluctant to get out of there. Heidi won this round. Letting go of my anger against David for dying and leaving me bereft was a life-saver for me.

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Heidi did indeed bring a ray of sunshine and literal warmth with her soft, furry body. And then when she had become my sturdy pillar of strength and emotional support she got cancer and died! That she had to be put down didn’t help the situation. I was devastated and, even now, when I think about her leaving the house on her way to her own ‘execution’ I am moved to tears. She went away trusting us – Moreso me. I hugged her and kissed her and let her go. I was against it but that doesn’t count, I acquiesced ultimately.

I was back to square one. The old me was doing a victory dance and whispering maliciously: ‘I told you so, I told you so’!

This was when God responded to my desperate cry for help. It’s not that He wasn’t on call before. I would pray and have my daily chats with Him. He’s been my BFF for a long, long time. But I used Him as my sounding board. And one who rendered help and protection when I needed it. I rejected the solutions He offered to my problems and stubbornly clung to my shadows, my walls, and wallowed in my misery: my fears, insecurity, and anger.

This time, however, I listened to Him instead of Him listening to me. It was the beginning of my new walk with God. The beginning of a new understanding. The understanding that to experience the wholeness of loving and being loved, I had to keep myself vulnerable. I had to let down all barriers and love wholeheartedly and even allow myself to be heartbroken, if at all that happened.

That’s what I had done with David, that’s what I had done with Heidi, that’s what I did with my kids – I had let down all barriers and let myself be open to giving and receiving love. I was vulnerable; I got hurt, let down, disappointed and sometimes desperate and frustrated but I always overcame and bounced back. These were the closest of bonds and I knew I could rely on love to set me free from my self-imposed imprisonment.

I had known love and the unique friendship David and I shared in our marriage.  I made beautiful memories to sustain me when I needed love the most and it wasn’t there. Maybe no one was there but the memories of happy times, good times, loving and caring times were always on hand to pull me out of the doldrums. I am grateful for these everlasting moments. Now it was time to come out of my shell. So, I let myself be open to the possibility of being hurt once again and in return, I strengthened my existing friendships, made new friends, and began liking the person I was becoming.

That’s what I relearned… to break down the walls and let love flow.

“To share your weakness is  – to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” -Criss Jami

It was the best thing I had done in my life: open myself to love and be loved. Love taught me it was okay to grieve for my loss; it didn’t make me weak, on the contrary, it made me normal and helped in the recovery process which in turn made me stronger.

I grew in my closeness to God and understood His love in a new light. In my walk with Him, I realized that I have good reason to make close ties even if it meant being hurt or that the ties would be eventually broken. We will all meet again in the sweet by and by. The fear of separation or loss must not keep us from feeling the great love that God has placed in our hearts and from sharing that with our family, friends, neighbors, so we might shine for Him.

Being vulnerable has brought more love into my life. I have grown stronger with the walls down and the protective shell removed. It has made my friendships worthwhile and long-lasting. I have learned that it is in giving love wholeheartedly that we receive more back. My best memories are of the times when I had opened my heart, unreservedly, unabashed, unafraid; the times when I received so much of love and care.

Love {and the vulnerability it brings} taught me forgiveness, tolerance, kindness, patience, self-control, understanding, humbleness, caring, sharing, resilience, thoughtfulness, and gratitude. It also kept me grounded. How poor was I when I kept my heart in a tower, safe and unbroken! How rich I am with a wealth of love and old friendships that have endured time and hardships and new ones that have enriched me no end and a family – sons, daughters-in-law and the most beautiful grandkids – love brings it all together!

“With each passage of human growth, we must shed a protective structure {like a crustacean}. We are left exposed and vulnerable – but also yeasty and embryonic again, capable of stretching in ways we hadn’t known before.” -Gail Sheehy

 

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