Water, Wind and Land: Metaphors for a Geophysicist (remembrance for Grandpa on his 98th birthday)

My grandfather was an amazing man.  A geophysicist, he was quiet, brilliant, circumspect, pragmatic, a lifelong learner in the fields of math and science and leader in oil exploration – and yet he was so faithfully loving and supportive of a creative like me, his oldest grandchild and just about his polar opposite in terms of interests and passions.

51t9ijqmntl-_sx314_bo1204203200_Grandpa was strong and silent like so many men of his age who served in WWII and saw things they could never describe and didn’t care to remember.  Tom Brokaw called them The Greatest Generation in his influential book of the same name; I just call myself lucky that this first lieutenant in the Air Force fell in love with my grandmother, a divorcé with a tiny daughter, and married her in 1942.

Ruth and Nancy 1941That tiny daughter was my Mom, and this gentle, studious man adopted her as his own, treating her the same as the other children he and Grandma went on to have. I didn’t know Grandpa wasn’t my Mom’s biological father / my biological grandfather for years, and when I found out, it didn’t matter in the least. We were his, and he was ours.

(photos with captions are excerpts from a slide show created by my Dad for my grandmother’s 90th birthday)

Tom Ruth Nancy Steven
Grandpa Grandma Nancy Lucy

A true explorer, Grandpa’s career in oil exploration took him all over the world; he was eventually VP of Geophysics for Superior Oil (now ExxonMobil).  His remarkable career was followed by adventures on the sea, as his retirement began with a 42-foot sailboat and trips that sometimes included lucky grandchildren like my brother and me.

The Sea Urchin

Steve on Sea Urchin
My brother on my grandparents’ sailboat, in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, in the mid-70s; this was an epic 7-day trip I will always remember

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The rigors of sailing gave way to land-based adventures as my grandparents mounted an RV in their 70s and traveled throughout the country, visiting national parks and family, arriving just in time for birthdays and births (including my son’s). Their retirement together was rich in experiences fueled by water, wind and land – and love of family.

Tom Ruth RV

Today would have been Grandpa’s 98th birthday. To honor and remember him, I’m sharing the poem I wrote for his funeral in 2002.

Water, Wind and Land: Metaphors for a Geophysicist (for Grandpa)

 

we are all archeologists now

sifting through our memories of you

sorting the bits and pieces we find

to put them back together

in what will become our lasting “mind pictures” of you

sometimes sifting and sorting alone

sometimes together with your other loves ones

turning our memory fragments this way and that

to see where they fit

and make a clearer picture

all of my finds in this archeological dig of grief

are geo-metaphors for a geophysicist:

~ water, wind and land ~

 

for you were not a man of words

you were a man of deeds

of facts

of maps

and plans

 

my dig finds full sails and stormy skies

radars and Lorans

dolphin fish and egrets’ cries

a wood-hulled boat, a lake cabin, a becalming

your thoughtful brown eyes

your “I love you’s” were spoken in geo-metaphor:

~ water, wind and land ~

“help me steer the boat, Kimmie”

“Stevie, let me show you how to tie a slip knot”

“Of course girls can shoot skeet!”

 

for you were not a man of words

you were a man of deeds

of facts

of maps

and plans

 

I dig deeper, contemplative, archeologist-turned sociologist

looking for meaning

and I find you are an underground river

strong, constant, clear and sure

your life’s waters carried bloodlines and love-lines

equally strong

lifelines guiding through shifting sands

~ water, wind and land ~

 

my finds are home-baked bread

and spectacular jams

a well-stocked RV

crossing ferries and dams

Grandma’s letters with your P.S:

“Math and science, math and science!”

recognized clearly – then and now –

as geo-metaphor love, all your best

~ water, wind and land ~

 

you were a man of deeds

of facts

of maps

and plans

~ water, wind and land ~

 

we dig and sort

together and apart

reconstructing geo-you

in the museums of our hearts

~ water, wind and land ~

 

 

love, kimmie

july 2002


Grandpa and me at my first wedding, way back in the 80s. Those pearls were borrowed from my grandmother, one of the many, many gifts he brought her from his world travels.  His finds, which included on the one end spears and art from Nigeria and on the other end, jewelry like these pearls and a gorgeous raw emerald, have been given to all of my cousins. I got the pearls.

Grandpa and Kim 1984

In his later years, Grandpa channeled his natural curiosity and scientific attention to detail into cooking, mostly bread-baking and jam-making.  He made the same recipes again and again, meticulously documenting small differences until he had them perfected.  Christmas stocking gifts in those years were highly coveted jars of his homemade jellies.  I treasure the memory of our long talks about cooking from those days. I also inherited some of his knives and big pots, which I consider to be heirlooms on par with the pearls.

Rest in peace, dear man, and bless you for teaching us about water, wind and land – and love.

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Copyright 2017, Glover Gardens Cookbook

My Brother’s Suicide: Out of the Darkness and Into the Light

steven-harvell-1423142466I have never said this in a public forum: my brother Steve’s untimely death four years ago was a suicide.

At first, we didn’t know. And then, we did.

But it wasn’t time to talk about it before. Our family and very close friends needed time to process, to grieve, to try to make sense out of something that we will never understand. Ever.

And quite frankly, there was no way to express the ragged, jagged, piercing and seemingly permanent heartbreak that we share. I’ve tried in this blog, believe me, although you didn’t know what you were reading. Some of my hurt-heart poems and writing are linked at the end of the post.

The adage says, “time heals all wounds,” but I wonder why the part about the scars was left out?

There is something true about the healing (accepting?) impact of time, though – it all looks different through the 4-years later lens. I can see past the horror, shock, pain and hopelessness, all the way back to the wonderment and love we once shared, the richness that my relationship with my brother brought to my life, and the Crayola-bright uniqueness that was Steve’s essence. His extremely wise choice in marriage brought me my “sister” and my nieces, a gift that is immeasurable and one of the reasons I believe in God.

My nieces have shared their stories through their participation in Out of the Darkness walks, and their courage is the reason I’m now ready to publicly share this painful story.

The other reason is that, like my nieces, I hope my voice can help impact even one life for the better. Please forgive the raggedness, the jaggedness of this poem, and share it with anyone you think might be suffering alone in the dark.

A Suicide Prevention Poem: Out of the Darkness and Into the Light

please hear my plea

if you are out there somewhere

in the dark

considering taking control of your life

by taking your life

please tell someone

just one person

let one person know

that you are at risk

in the dark

and sad

and feeling alone and desperate and unloved

please hear my plea

know that the people who have always loved you

still do

always will

know that your current situation

in the dark

doesn’t have to be

your permanent situation

there’s no death sentence for mistakes or regret

unless you pass it on yourself

please hear my plea

reach out to the light

please tell someone

just one person

let one person know

that you are at risk

in the dark

and sad

and feeling alone and desperate and unloved

you’ll never know

unless you reach out

that you can live in the light again

we’ll never know we can help

unless you tell someone

just one person

let one person know

we’ll never know

that we could have been

the light in your darkness

please hear my plea:

you matter to someone

he mattered to me


 

Other hurt-heart writings to wrestle with grief and embrace the remaining joy of brother-memories :

Copyright 2017, Glover Gardens Cookbook

Dad’s Pictures: Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my birthday. I’ve had a blessed life, rich with experience and wonderful people.

One of my blessings is a treasure trove of family history I have just inherited. My Dad died recently, and my Aunt-Mom gave me his computer to copy his pictures. Dad was a great family historian, and took loads of photos. The picture archive includes old ones from my childhood that Dad scanned, and I found some from my 6th birthday party. What a gift; too cool not to share with you to celebrate my birthday.


We played Blind Man’s Buff at that little party; that’s Mom below helping us to get started and get that blindfold on tight. I’m the short little girl in the plaid dress with the bow.

Family 6th Birthday 4

I remember my Dad building the patio cover and the little brick barbecue in our back yard. We lived in Burleson, Texas, and he was an account executive for Exxon. Mom was a registered nurse (RN) but was just about to quit working to be with us kids full-time. They were proud of that little backyard and really enjoyed giving parties like this one.

Family 6th birthday 5

We also played Pin the Tail on the Donkey, another game that requires a blindfold. Hmmmm….

Family 6th birthday 6

Mom was so beautiful; look at that smile.

Family 6th birthday 2

The thing I remember most about that 6th birthday party is Mom helping me get dressed. She said that the puffy sleeves on the little plaid dress (see below) were called “pork chop sleeves”. I thought that was really funny and decided to call them “steak sleeves” instead. My 6-year old wisecrack cracked her up. I’ve never since heard of pork chop sleeves (did she make it up?), but to me, they’d still be called steak sleeves. Fashionistas – are pork chop sleeves a thing?

Family 6th birthday

I have lived a full life to this point and am so grateful for all of the people in it; those who are still with me and those who have gone over the rainbow but left their permanent imprint. Happy birthday to me.

Copyright 2017, Glover Gardens Cookbook

Labor Day: Cherries and Empathy at the Beach

Labor Day weekend of 2000 was the last time I saw my Mom, so many years ago now.

She died just two weeks later, peacefully, in her sleep. She had been ill for so very long. She was only 60.

Harvell House - View
The view from the deck; the beach is about 200 years from their house

My family and my brother’s family joined Mom and Dad at their beach home in Gilchrist, Texas that last Labor Day weekend. With three small children between us, we balanced our time between going to the beach and hanging out in the sunroom with Mom and Dad, she in her wheelchair and unable to speak beyond a whisper because of “frozen” vocal cords, and he so grateful for the company. They both reveled in the noisy, joyful chaos of children. Dad grilled several different meats and served cocktails that weekend; Mom sat, surrounded by all of us, with a quiet and wistful smile.

Like always when our family we got together, the background music was the soundtrack from our childhood, an eclectic mix that included The Kingston Trio, Simon and Garfunkel, the soundtrack from Guys and Dolls, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Smothers Brothers and Manhattan Transfer.

It was a great time: comfort food, comfort music, comfort people.  All these years later, I have two really strong memories from that Labor Day Weekend, that final time my family of origin was all together: recollections of cherries and empathy.

Cherries

fullsizeoutput_1621We brought fresh cherries to share, a late-summer harvest probably shipped from somewhere in the Northwest to our local grocer. Mom hadn’t had cherries in years; the grocery stores on the Bolivar Peninsula stocked the basics but didn’t have fancy mustards, gourmet cheeses or produce from out of state. She loved those cherries. She ate them with joy, the dark red juice staining her lips and her thin, worn fingers.

Mom was so happy in those moments, maybe reliving a memory of her own, another special time studded with fresh cherries and loved ones. We put on the Smothers Brothers record (yes, an actual record!) to hear their song “Apples, Peaches and Cherries” – take a listen below; it is a really sweet tune. We might have sung along; I can’t remember now. But I will never, ever forget Mom’s face as she reveled in those cherries. It was an awesome feeling to bring her that simple pleasure.

Empathy

Getting ready for our final trek to swim and make sandcastles on Labor Day, we were four 30-something adults herding two toddlers and a 6-year old, making a lot of mess and noise. Mom and Dad didn’t mind at all.  We collected sunscreen and beach towels and water shoes and sippy cups (and probably beer) and set out to walk the 200 yards to the sandy beach.

Something made me turn back, telling the others I’d catch up. I ran up the stairs to give Mom a hug. She was in her wheelchair, in the sunroom, with an open book in her lap, but not reading. She was just staring out the window at our ragtag little group headed toward the beach, every child hand-in-hand with a parent.

Was she remembering the days when she was the parent holding the hands of unruly, eager children anxious to make sandcastles and dive headfirst into the waves? Or maybe just sad that she couldn’t go with us to body-surf and look for starfish and sand dollars? Mom loved the beach so much, and before becoming an invalid the last few years of her life, took a walk there almost every day.

I bent down to hug her, saying:

I know you still want to run and jump and play, Mom, and I’m so sorry you can’t.”

She gave a little sob, and squeezed my hand hard, her fingers still cherry-stained. She was so stoic through all of her illnesses, never indulging in self-pity, never complaining, never allowing anyone to feel sorry for her. If she could still talk, she would’ve shrugged and said, “I’m fine.” I only saw her cry once in the 38 years we had together. But on that last Labor Day, when I offered my clumsy empathy, she accepted it and allowed me to share her pain, just for a few beautiful moments, squeezing my hand while we both cried just a little. And then she motioned for me to go join the others, and I did, not looking back.

I knew she would watch me all the way to the water’s edge.

My “run and jump and play” comments weren’t quite the last words I said to Mom, but they are the ones I remember.  I’m so grateful for those few moments on our last day together, when she trusted me enough to let herself be vulnerable, and gave me a glimpse of the ache in her heart about the brokenness of her body.

Labor Day is About…

To me, Labor Day is about appreciating the meaningful and challenging work I have always been blessed with, and of course, barbecue. But since since 2000, it will always remind me of cherries and empathy, too.

The Real Nancy (1)
Mom, soon after we moved to the beach in 1974; she really, really loved it there.

Copyright 2017, Glover Gardens Cookbook

Two “First Day of School” Stories

Story #1: Feelin’ It!

There’s my brother and me on my first day of school in 1969 in the photo below. Don’t I look ecstatic? I was so jazzed about getting all dressed up to join other kids and learn stuff all day. I had those stylish white go-go boots, a polka-dot jacket and a fancy lunch box, and I was feelin’ it! (You know, that “look out world, here I come!” vibe.)

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Story #2: Let’s Bring Brufer!

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Mom and Steve, on a happier day

Steve had a less joyful start to his school career a few years later. He did not want to give up the one-on-one time with Mom he’d been enjoying since I started school, and despaired at the thought having to go to kindergarten – it must be some kind of punishment!  I can’t find any pictures of his first day (second child always gets ripped off in the photos dept!), but the images scream out so clearly in my head that I could almost project them on a screen.

Did I say SCREAM? On his first day of school, Steve screamed and screamed and wouldn’t even get into the car. You have no idea how strong and wiry a determined 5-year old can be when he violently objects to something.

My brother and I were very close, and I was, of course, the older, wiser, more experienced one who was used to taking care of him and translating his wants and needs. So I had the brilliant idea to bring along his favorite stuffed animal, a giant St. Bernard named “Brufer”.

Brufer

Older, yes.  Wiser, not so much.  And actually, dead wrong. My “Let’s bring Brufer, Mom!” idea was brilliant only until we got to school, when Steve realized he’d been duped: Brufer was just the bait to lure him into the car and couldn’t go into the classroom.

There was more screaming.

There might have been a scuffle.

Other parents might have stared, and judged.

I really do have empathy for my Mom when I look back on this story.

All’s well that ends well, as they say. Steve made an immediate impression on his teacher that day (!) and ended up being a favorite.  He was so cute!

Postlude

Image (2)Steve went over the rainbow in late 2013 and can’t challenge the accuracy of this story, but if anything, I’ve understated it. (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)  If Steve was still with us, I’d placate him with a gently used Brufer like the one pictured above from eBay, and give him guest-blogger status with an invitation to tell one of his favorite stories about me. I wonder what that story would be? I’ll have to wait for heaven to find out.

In the photo below, I’m sure I was just about to stop him from toppling headfirst over the railing. Or was I?

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Happy First Day of School to children and parents everywhere. And, if you want my advice, don’t take Brufer.

Copyright 2017, Glover Gardens Cookbook

NOTE: this post was created ahead of time and scheduled to go live on Monday, August 28, 2017, the intended first day of school for many districts in our area of Southeast Texas. The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which we are still experiencing (click here), has delayed the first day of school for several hundred thousand children as the water continues to rise in Houston and the surrounding areas. Here is a list of the over 70 Houston-area schools that will be closed on Monday, August 28 and beyond; some of them aren’t even predicting when they’ll be open again, just saying “closed until further notice”. Texas school closings extend far beyond Houston all up and down the Gulf Coast. Your thoughts and prayers for Texas families are appreciated.

Awesome Support After a Loss

When you lose someone you love, you go through changes that you cannot control. Some part of you goes away for a while, trying to process it.  Some other part tries to maintain the status quo, to “be strong”.  You hold some of yourself in reserve, just in case, because the world is not the same and you might need those reserves.  It doesn’t feel safe to be vulnerable in any way.  And while you tiptoe through this dichotomous-quicksand-complex bog of feeling and numbness, all of your people reach out to support you, each in their own way.

Some people say things you will always remember and hold dear.  After my brother died a few years ago, my cousin the minister said:UntitledIndeed.  That was just what I needed to hear that day.

A customer of my Dad’s who had become a friend (because that’s how my Dad did business; he was always a trusted friend and never a salesman), a man who I had never met, sent me a card after we lost my brother that said:

he waits for youI can’t express how meaningful those words are to me.

And now, after my father’s unexpected death, the people around me, the stars in my sphere of being, are reaching out in their own ways to support me and my family. It is a beautiful and overwhelming humbling experience.  So many kind and thoughtful gestures, so many meaningful words and messages of support, so many gifts and acts of kindness and service; too many to name.

But a couple I will highlight; this beautiful gift of wind chimes, personalized with my Dad’s name and dates of life.  He was a woodworker by hobby and made me several sets of wind chimes, so it was really special that my colleagues at work gave me this gift. I brought them to Little House in the Rockies, our tiny cabin, and every time I hear them I think of Dad. Click the short video to hear the chimes.

 

Another “gift” was the sharing of this video made by the son of a colleague. It is a lovely two-minute animation about the stages of grief, and is very comforting and peaceful.

More to come as this processing continues.

Copyright 2017, Glover Gardens Cookbook (except the Stages of Grief video)

memory-honey (another poem for Dad)

i’m a bee right now, landing on memory-flowers
maybe i can make them into honey
maybe that’s a way to share you

with those to come
those you never knew
those like me who want more

an endless jar of memory-honey
sitting on the pantry shelf of my heart

halcyon father-daughter days
golden and sweet
transformed into words

you were the essence of goodness and light
that’s why I want to share you

with those to come
those you never knew
those like me who want more

~ i’ll be making memory-honey for the rest of my days

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This is just another little poem from a grieving and grateful daughter – I’m sure there will be more as I process this new life in the world without him.  Thank you for reading it and allowing me to share my remarkable Dad. For more about him and the amazing childhood he and my mom made possible:

A bittersweet note here is that many of these posts include comments from my Dad.

Copyright 2017, Glover Gardens Cookbook