Gran's Apple Butter Blog

February 21, 2012

Going Home, Excerpt: Love Letter to Gran (9I)

Filed under: Authentic self,Book Series,Books,Forgiveness,Front Porch Rambles,Going Home,Gran,Grandma,Love Letter to Gran — Mary Batson - FrontPorchRambles @ 6:11 pm

Chapter 9 ~ Love Letter to Gran

I know you will wander and I know you will roam, but please just remember you can always come home. – Bob Sima

Just as our story opened with Gran’s letter to Mikey, it ends with Mikey’s letter to Gran.

December 28, 2009

Dear Gran,

I found our manuscript not long after you were gone. It was almost complete. I just needed to smooth things over a bit, although it took me a year to be ready to do that. Mainly I wanted to add your story, to introduce you to all my friends. And I needed to read those pages a few more times myself, to finally grasp what we were talking about so long ago.

It’s all a birthing process, isn’t it? We’re all being born again, Gran, born into who we really are. I think I know what a caterpillar feels like now, fearful as it faces death, not realizing the light and life and joy waiting on the other side with that gorgeous set of wings.

Early on I realized this wasn’t just our story, Gran. It’s a beautiful tapestry of the wisdom of friends I’ve met all around the world. Their voices rise up, blending in my mind, a light shining in their eyes that reflected the flame in mind as they shared what their own grandmothers taught them. How precious to know we all feel this longing for home. What a bridge this offers in our disconnected world.

I finally get it: We’ll keep learning about this our entire lives, redefining and reshaping our relationships, our worlds, ourselves. It’s never too late to start, and we’ll finish right on time. Like the story cousin Wayne shared about his talk with Aunt Tishie not long before she went home. She told him that somewhere just past 70, she’d realized she was ready to let go of some things she’d held on to all her life – to open her heart and eyes to seeing things in a whole new way. She understood that until then she hadn’t been capable of making that choice. She called it evolution – she had evolved.

Just like Wayne remembers her, Gran, I remember you. I have so many wonderful memories. Heading for your house, that feeling of anticipation that grew with each mile, seeing the lights as we topped the hill. Arriving late, neighbors fast asleep, one light shining softly through the living room window: Gran waiting up, listening for the car. A quiet knock, and there you’d be at the door, hair set for the night, headscarf not quite covering the bobby-pinned curls around your forehead. I can hear the quiet rasp as the door opened into your world and the smell of Gran’s house would wrap us in a blanket of home even as we stood on the doorstep.

Fuzzy robe just right for hugs, Gran’s special PJs awaiting all, and a big pot of chili simmering on the stove, waiting for our arrival. Never too tired to eat, especially not your famous chili, we’d gather in the kitchen, munching crackers from the big pink tub and dousing our bowls with vinegar. Do you know how many years it took me to learn that not everyone puts vinegar in their chili?

Sooner or later I’d find myself falling asleep on a pallet in the living room floor, listening to the big clock tick from the kitchen wall, comforting hum as the refrigerator kicked on. Belly full, blankets warm, pillow soft, all the smells sifting through the house from the oven that never seemed to be turned off. Grandpa coming back in for one last drink of cold water. Then silence, darkness, sleep. Waking briefly to a soft glow from the kitchen and the sound of the oven door being carefully opened, tinfoil peeling back, stirrings and stirrings… then the light would go off, and a beautiful shadow in a long, pink robe would quietly drift back down the hallway. So many memories…

Looking back, I realize my childish anger that we didn’t finish our book so long ago was disturbingly similar to my emotions years later, Gran, when you took your final journey home. How could you have let me down like that? How thoughtless. At least that’s how I tried to convince myself I saw it. Somehow that made it easier. Once again I went through all the stages of grief, not in a nice, neat, straight line, but in a jagged, messy, confusing mass, one and then the other and then the other, until I finally arrived at acceptance and love – love for you, and love for me.

I didn’t deal well with your death, Gran, no better than I’d dealt with many other things in my life. I went through it all, fighting the truth: depression, eating too much, drinking too much, sleeping too much, medicating myself with every substance and activity and form of busy-ness I could find, staying in bad jobs and worse jobs, losing good friends, keeping bad ones, enduring traitors, finding my own treacherous streak, starting good relationships that quickly soured and then staying in them long after I knew better. And that’s just the short list.

One thing about it, I reinvented the wheel of emotional learning so many times, I should be a genius by now. I insisted on learning all my lessons the hard way, rather than learning from others’ mistakes. And here I thought my dad was the hard-headed one in the family. Gran, you knew I would go through all this. That I had to, before I could finish our book. And so it was. I know I still have a lot to learn, a lot to work on. But Gran, after all these years, I can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe there is a way.

I remember how you used to talk about innocence, how it was a wonderful thing when it was a true innocence based on experience. You knew I would lose my innocence as I grew older, just as you did, as my life seemed to prove everything I remembered wrong. But I feel like I’m on my way back to regaining this, this time the true innocence you chose to have, in spite of everything, because you knew what the full potential of each person, each situation, really was. You trusted, when there was no obvious reason to trust, because you knew what COULD be. You loved, when there was no obvious reason to love, because you knew what really WAS.

Thank you for setting this example, Gran. I’m trying to live up to it now, one baby step at a time, and I can feel you holding my hand. Thank you for teaching me about love, and hope, and faith, and trust. Thank you for teaching me not to give up on myself when everyone else did, when even I did. Thank you for not giving up on me, even when it looked like I’d given up on you. No, we’ll never get back those years, and letting go of that guilt is something I’m still working on. But you knew, Gran. You knew who I really was, who I really could be, and you taught me to look for that in others. I’m trying, Gran, I’m really trying.

Gran, it’s taken me years to figure out who I am and who I want to be when I grow up. I’m not sure I fully know now. As I’ve tried on different personalities along the way, I’ve managed to alienate a lot of people I care about. And like you predicted, I wasn’t sure how to go about mending those bridges, or if I should even try, because I knew some of those chasms were deep and wide – most times with good reason.

But Gran, you had one tidbit of wisdom I wouldn’t learn ’til further along – that people are often harder on themselves than on those around them. So while I spent years castigating myself for things I should or shouldn’t have done, once I started reaching out, to my amazement I’ve found that more often than not the person on the other side was already walking in my direction, holding out a hand in peace. Wow.

In many ways, Gran, finishing our story is more than just ‘finishing our story’ for me. It’s also a big long apology to all these people. I hope they can look at me a little differently now. Even if they can’t, at least I can look at myself differently, understanding a bit more about where I came from, and where I’m headed.

As I pen these last pages, I can’t help but feel sad. I know we have more books coming. I can feel their seeds stirring in my soul, just waiting for the sunshine and rain to help them grow. But this was our first, Gran, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. Maybe it’s silly, but I’m sitting here with a big lump in my throat. This book is so much more than just ink on paper. It’s my love letter to you, Gran, the one I never wrote before. Just like the love letters you used to write to me.

Maybe in a little way it’s also a love letter to myself, sending love in a circle, knowing that as I send it to you, it will come back to me. I realize that in saying goodbye to these pages, I’m also saying goodbye to you, the one I never got to say in real life. And I’m in no more of a rush to say it now than I was then. I don’t want to say it. Who knows, maybe I just won’t say it at all. Somehow, I think you’ll be good with that. I’m not ready to let you go just yet, Gran. Not yet. Someday. And that’s enough for now.

Gran, I forgot the book. I forgot a lot of things over the years, including most of what I knew about Home. But as I read our words, it all came back. I could feel the energy shift, the blocks moving as my tears melted them, and I could finally mourn, letting go of the one person who had meant more to me than anything in the world: Myself. At least, the me I thought I had become. As those tears fell, more followed – tears for you, tears for me, tears for others, great big sloppy drops across the pages for all the years and fears and feelings, expressed and not expressed. You’re right, Gran – you were right all along. But then, there was never really any doubt, was there?

I remember your do-over theory, Gran, that we get more than one chance to learn the things we need to in life. I hope you’re right. That’d be quite a relief, to know I didnt’ have to get it all perfect this time ’round. And if that’s right, I just wonder what you’re doing now, and what Big Adventure you’re planning next. I wonder if I’ll see you somewhere out there. And when I do, I wonder if I’ll look in your eyes and know you, seeing a fresh reflection of home. I think I will. Maybe I already have.

Thanks for everything, Gran. I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.



P.S. I think I’ve finally earned my whole name now, Gran, just like you said.


In Gran’s honor, it’s only fitting that we end this little story the same way she always ended hers, with the reminder that everything we had talked about was just our truth – hers, mine – and that it would serve me well to not accept anything she said “just because she said so.” Instead, she’d invite me to think about these things and drawn my own conclusions…


So there ya go, Gran. Did I do good?

And a whisper reaches my ear, the voice of Gran – or it is only my imagination?

“You did it, Mikey, you did it. Now can we all do it? Yes, we can.”


Thank you for sharing this time with us on Gran’s front porch. As darkness falls and the shadows lengthen, Mikey and Gran would like to offer one final question for you to think about as you fall asleep tonight…

Follow the Love {Bob Sima}

Have you ever asked yourself
Have you really sat down and asked yourself
What is it that makes my head and my heart collide
What am I gonna do when it comes down to choosing sides… choosing sides…

Have you ever asked yourself
Have you really sat down and asked yourself
What is it that makes my soul catch fire
What is it that I really believe inside?

Have you ever really listened to the little voice inside your head?
When it really comes down to it, you shouldn’t have to think about it
When it really comes down to it, just go with your heart
It’s easy to see where you’re going when you’re following the love…
Follow the love, follow the love, follow the love…

Have you ever doubted yourself
Have you ever just sat down and wept
What is it that makes my plans and my dreams collide
What am I gonna do when it comes down to choosing sides… choosing sides…

Have you ever really listened to the little voice inside your head?
When it really comes down to it, you shouldn’t have to think about it
When it really comes down to it, go with your heart
‘Cause it’s easy to see where you’re going when you’re following the love…
Follow the love, follow the love, follow the love…

Don’t change your mind, don’t change your mind, don’t change your mind, don’t change your mind


Gran’s final borrowed advice:

Then give to the world the best you have,
and the best will come back to you.
~ Madeline Bridges

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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February 14, 2012

Going Home, Excerpt: The Big Front Porch (8VIII)

Chapter 8 ~ The Big Front Porch

One home-coming Gran and I often discussed was death. No surprise, she had her own ideas about our final destination, and being Gran, once again, they were all about love. She used to say she reckoned that after death we probably go somewhere kind of like her front porch. You know, a happy place with loving faces and the feeling of being home again, like you’ve been there before. And maybe there will be your own Nanna or big brother or favorite uncle. Just sitting there, waiting like Gran in her rocker, big smile on her face, big hug in her arms, and that special hairspray smell only your grandma had.

When it’s time for this trip, you’ll know, Gran said. Lessons complete, pencils put away, lunchbox ready. The bell has rung, the little yellow bus is waiting outside. It’s time. This doesn’t mean that just for a moment you won’t wrap your feet around your chair legs and stubbornly hang on. After all, some of us like school. Then again, who’s to say we won’t be back tomorrow anyway? And what about third grade?

But for now, it’s time to go home, take a nice long nap and spoil your dinner. If you’re not partial to sweets, this might involve a fishing pole or a hammock and the world’s Best Book Ever. Whatever you need to feel like you again, ‘cause by the time we reach that final front porch, we’re just all in.

First things first: Milk’n’cookies. There will be plenty of time to do your homework. For now, just listen to the crickets sing you to sleep, waiting for sunrise when it all begins again.

The next morning, after you’ve had a good long rest, maybe you’ll head back to that front porch again, in a completely different state of mind, fresh and whole, chapter complete, remembering Who You Really Are and what you’re all about. You’ll be ready to look back at your day, your life, and to chat with some good friends about the whole thing.

You see, Gran thought our lives are kind of like projects, based on her dream, with tasks and milestones and objectives that all contribute to the whole. As any good project planner will tell you, the success of a project depends on having a good team behind you, pulling the same way on the rope. And sometimes the most valuable part of a project is the evaluation that comes at the end.  

So when you go Home that last time, Gran thought you’d have another project meeting, this time on that front porch, rockers circled ‘round, lemonade for all. The whole team would come in, including Grandma, Uncle Joe, and your kindergarten bus driver, and you’d all take a look at the master plan you designed so long ago. You’d look at how things went, and do some Serious Thinking.

How did it go? Did you break a new record? Find some new way of doing things that no one ever thought of before? Or did you slip up here or there? Miss a deadline? Forget some piece entirely? It’s all learning – or it can be. As long as you’re learning, Gran thought that was the important part. There’s nothing like personal experience to drive a lesson home, that’s for sure.

Once all the cookies and team members are gone (that’s usually closely related), when it’s just you and the Great Grandmother on the porch again, you can have a real heart to heart. You know, the kind you only have with your grandma. Maybe you’ll talk about what you wanted to accomplish, and She of the Greatest White Rocking Chair might ask if you were happy with what you’d learned, or if you’d like to give it another go ‘round, a do-over.

After your big talk is done and you’ve all but overdosed on cookies, maybe you’ll head to the backyard, looking for the tire swing or Snoopy the Beagle. Maybe you’ll just hang out on the steps for a while, passing the time, content to be close to Gran once again.

Maybe Gran was right with her ideas. Maybe she was totally off. But somehow the idea of a big front porch and a great white rocking chair really resonates with me. Or maybe it’s just ‘cause I miss Gran so much. Who knows.



One thing Gran said about that front porch: The whole do-over idea was quite different from what she’d been raised to believe. It stretched her mind a wee bit past her comfort zone, but she was kind of hopeful, as that would greatly ease the pressure of getting all her ducks in a row in just one go-round. She had a lot of ducks, she said, and some of them were pretty unruly and disinclined to cooperate.

Besides, even those who are sure about do-overs don’t agree on all the details, she said. She’d decided it didn’t matter if it was true or not, at least not to her. When it came down to it, Gran thought what mattered was whether this idea helped us understand more about ourselves and the lessons we’ve chosen. Any tool that helps with this is worth keeping polished and handy in our little tool boxes.

It’s like dreams, Gran said. Some people put a lot of stock in recalling their dreams, analyzing them, learning from them. Others say that’s just a bunch of unrelated hogwash, bits and pieces of memories and day-to-day life that come together in a Hungarian goulash, more likely a mishmash of one’s favorite sitcoms than anything meaningful.

Here again, Gran looked at dreams like any other tool, be it a screwdriver or a pair of pliers. She’d ask herself, was this useful? Was there anything she could get out of this, whether it was real or not? If so, her dream was helping her learn about herself and her life, maybe why things were the way they were, or why she did or didn’t do this or that, or even whether she should lay off the late night spaghetti binges.

As long as we were letting our imagination run free, why not follow and see where it goes? True to her mystery-loving roots, Gran’s imagination led her to the idea that perhaps our dreams are doorways into other worlds. What if, while our bodies sleep at night, we go visiting these other places, like channel surfing during commercial breaks? We might as well keep things entertaining, she said.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that Gran never quite bought the idea of living happily ever after. Sure, you’re home. That’s great – enjoy it! Stay a while, hang out, eat some fresh pickles and try the cornbread, but don’t start thinking this is It. Life doesn’t work that way. Have a nice visit, ‘cause soon it will be time to journey on to your next home, wherever that may be.

I know what you’re thinking: I just got here! It’s not that we don’t want you to stay (although that three-day rule for guests and fish might have some crossover application), but if you sit in one spot too long, you’ll get bored and probably develop bad breath.

Besides, Gran didn’t think we were meant to sit any one place indefinitely. Our legs are too long for that, she said, and even our bodies tell us this – too much sitting leads to stiff joints and wide margins. And no matter how great home is, sooner or later we’ll feel the need to remodel, or maybe just see the other side of the world.

When that day came, Gran said, it would be time to start looking at those 3 P’s again, and time to say “Aloha.” You know, that word that means both hello and goodbye and all kinds of other nice things? It’s perfect for this, because the same road that takes you in your front door may be the very first step on someone else’s big adventure.

That’s why Gran said to never try to make someone else take the same exit you’re on. It may not be their time or place, and we don’t want to make such an important decision for another person. It goes against free will, Gran said, and focusing too hard on someone else’s road is a good way to not notice we’re headed down the wrong one ourselves.

So for now, back to the road. The sunset is calling, and sunrise to follow, and I can see Gran, far up ahead, the tail lights of her little hot rod twinkling in the distance.

Aloha, Gran, sweet friend. Travel well.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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February 7, 2012

Going Home, Excerpt: On The Inside (8VII)

Chapter 8 ~ On The Inside

Of course, Gran’s home was close to spotless – she didn’t keep any dust bunnies around. Gran was the only person I knew who vacuumed every day of the week except Sundays, then walked around picking up specks of link no one else could see. She had grandma eyes. You know – ones that can spot a dirty fingernail a mile away. That comes in handy with dust bunnies.

Gran was smart enough to see her own weakness. She knew keeping her house so clean qualified as a rather large Glaring Error in her quest to step away from perfectionitis. She never encouraged me to sweep my house every day, and I think she was secretly proud that her daughter rebelled against this practice.

In spite of that personal weak spot, or perhaps because of it, Gran had a theory about immaculate houses. She felt pretty sure it simply wasn’t possible to keep a squeaky clean house in this ol’ world and be truly happy and healthy inside it. She’d come to realize that her extreme cleanliness, rather than being a straight shot on up to godliness, was actually more of a cover-up for things she couldn’t hide or hadn’t been ready to change – things she’d had to come to terms with.

True, her house was beautiful – it looked lovely. She was always ready for company, but that made it challenging to spend time indoors. Maybe that’s why we sat on the porch so much. You didn’t want to walk away from your book or plate or knitting or whatever else you might be doing – when you came back, it’d be gone.

After some digging Gran began to see what that house represented to her, and why she was keeping it so carefully, hoping to distract others – especially herself – from what was going on inside. For a long time, she’d thought that if she could keep the outside surfaces spotless, that might make the inside spotless too. Then one day she was reading about the pots of the Pharisees, how they were pretty on the outside in a way that only covered up the darkness within, [i] and it hit her that this sounded a lot like her own home.

It must have hit pretty hard, ‘cause for years to come, Gran’s house was never the same. It looked like a construction zone, and no frilly dust cover was big enough to hide that. She went to work on that house in a very different way, and the end result was a sight to behold, inside and out, the parts you could see and the ones you could only feel. A lot changed. Some of the changes were hard to live through, but she said it was totally worth it, and she only wished she’d started the whole process sooner.

She learned something from all this that she tried hard to teach me. Sometimes we look at others and compare our lives to theirs. We get to feeling sorry for ourselves, complaining that life is so hard, and why this and why that and “it’s not fair.” We look at our neighbor’s big house and perfect family and get a little green twinge inside, thinking, why can’t my life be like that? When this happens, Gran said, it would serve us well to remember her story, or even Tina and Stan’s – the homeless rich girl and the bridge-dwelling king.

Not being one to learn by example, I later found out for myself how right Gran was. The way things appear on the outside may be very different from how they are on the inside, and only those on the inside know what’s really going on. Sometimes the prettiest appearances are just facades, set on display for the world to see. We paint our own walls and don’t even realize we’re doing it.

It takes time – sometimes a long time – to ever see this. At least it did for me. In the process I learned not to look at others and wish my feet were in their shoes. I began to look with my heart as well as my eyes, which made all the difference in the world.

One thing about it, I’ve learned to look past a little dust in my house – the brick-and-mortar one, anyway. Who has time for it? Let’s keep things neat, and relatively clean, but hey – that dust is gonna be back in two or three days, tops. And I’m pretty sure I have more important things to do on the inside of these walls. Those few little dust bunnies lying around, they’ll be ok. I’ll take care of them before they get out of hand.

But for now, I’ll just give ‘em names and make sure they don’t go hungry, and we’ll be pals for a while. And I’m pretty good with that.

[i]Mark 7:1-23, KJV


© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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January 31, 2012

Going Home, Excerpt: Good Housekeeping (8VI)

Chapter 8 ~ Good Housekeeping

Housekeeping: Yup, that’s what I said. Weren’t expecting that one, were you? Neither was I, the first time Gran mentioned it. I didn’t think being at home meant resting on my laurels and eating bon-bons all day, did I?

Once we have a chance to relax for a bit, our next lesson is all about keeping house and homemaking. Even reflected homes need to be cared for, maintained, and occasionally spruced up. You don’t have to start making stained glass windows with dried-out nail polish chips (although Gran said that was a highly creative idea), but there are some valuable lessons to be learned here.

As we sat on the front steps one day, watching autumn leaves drop with the tranquility of winter’s first breath, Gran told me about the old idea of our body – our home – being a temple. This was new for me, ‘cause I felt more like a tom boy than an altar boy, so I just kept quiet and listened. How different might our lives be if we believed this, about all our homes – from our bodies and four walls to our communities, our families, our jobs? And what if we acted on this belief?

Gran said the word temple means a place where God lives. Sometimes that’s a tent in a desert, sometimes it’s a dome with golden towers on top, sometimes it’s a cave, sometimes a cathedral, and sometimes it’s the heart of a little girl, just like me.

I liked that idea, so I decided that since my body was this House of God, I’d better take very good care of it. I would respect it and love it, and ask others to do the same. Gran was pretty happy with that decision. She tried to hide it, but her eyes gave her away.

In fact, Gran thought this was so important she called me the week before she died to remind me to sweep my “house” at least once a week. Don’t forget the attic and the basement, she said, where the biggest dust balls build up, ‘cause they think we won’t notice ‘em in the darkness. Clearly, she wasn’t sure if I’d fully mastered the concept.

Only later did I begin to understand on how many levels this applied. It’s not just about protecting the carpet. You see, dust balls have a life of their own – we don’t have to carry them in. They’ll help themselves to an open door or come sifting through a window screen, then do their best to blend in to a corner. When we let stuff stack up in front of those corners or that dark, creepy place under the stairs, it gets harder and harder to see what’s underneath, what’s causing the whole mess.

Conversely, if we stay on top of things, our pet dust bunny may never turn into a wild, raging dust-demon. But then again, that’s just my theory…

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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January 24, 2012

Going Home, Excerpt: The Basics (8V)

Filed under: Book Series,Books,Calling home,Front Porch Rambles,Going Home,Gran,Grandma,Postcards — Mary Batson - FrontPorchRambles @ 9:35 am

Chapter 8 ~ The Basics

Once the welcome party is over and Gran’s had a chance to pinch our cheeks and remind us of our manners, what’s next?

In the interest of our recently awakened awareness, Gran recommended we call home. If we can’t call, write, and if we can’t write, send smoke signals. It’s just to let folks know we’re alive and well and not dead-in-a-ditch-somewhere (apparently that’s a distinct possibility, as often as I’ve heard about it).        

As the excitement wears off, we may discover we’re ready for a nice long nap. My big sister used to come home so exhausted she’d go to bed first thing and sleep half the next day. Gran said she needed rest in a place that felt safe and had a few less distractions. That was frustrating, ‘cause I wanted her to play with me, not sleep, but she was too tired and grouchy to play nice anyway. Besides, once she got that nap in, she was a ball of fire.

My friend Lynda called this “Resting in the Knowing,” which I thought sounded pretty amazing.[i] Gran said we’d sleep like we’ve never slept before once we reach that place.

After our nap we’d have time to grab a snack, visit old friends, and check out if anything new had happened on Main Street. It’s the little things we notice most. Like when the county paved the road to my childhood home. Visits were never the same after that, not without gravel crunching under the tires for that last mile. Sure, it made the drive faster and the house less dusty, but I still thought it was a poor call. We do hold onto things, don’t we?

If we want, we can send postcards next, Gran said, to let our friends know we’re doing well and thinking of them. There are all kinds of postcards, from the pretty-pictures-on-paper ones we send from the beach to the ways we reach out to loved ones, from phone calls to dreams – and that was long before we could text, email, and tweet our days away. Come to find out, Grandpa Harry’s visit – you remember, after he went home – came as no surprise at all to Gran. She thought that was just about as normal as picking strawberries come spring. 

Once we’ve settled in and gotten the little things out of the way, we can move on to bigger items. There’s one I bet you’ll never guess…

[i] Rest in the Knowing, by Lynda Allen, a poetic glimpse of darkness and light


© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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January 17, 2012

Going Home, Excerpt: Remember Your Manners (8IV)

Chapter 8 ~ Remember Your Manners

Although the specifics of good manners are debatable, Gran thought their observance in general is more important than we realize. Not just for the sake of knowing where our napkin goes, which maybe isn’t all that important in the big picture, but because of the patterns and processes and ways of being that develop based on these guidelines.

We become aware of how our actions affect others the same way we notice when we’re chewing with our mouths open. You know, that incredulous stare from the other side of the table, if our parents didn’t get that fully drilled in. How we do what we do shapes how people see us, whether we like it or not, and actions speak louder than words. After all, there’s more to body language than just how you shake hands.

Gran thought the most important reason for learning manners was that this taught sensitivity to others, like a beginner’s class in diplomacy. First and foremost: Pay attention. If you find yourself in a sticky situation, slow down. Hitting speed bumps at full throttle is never recommended.

No matter what, as one friend advised, just show up and be your best self, which may include planning a few defensive maneuvers and remembering that “a soft answer turns away wrath.”  Be respectful – of your differences, each other, and yourself. When in doubt, looking for ways you’re similar is a good place to start. And if you need time or space to process, take it. Everyone will be glad you did.

At the same time, if we’re acting from our center, we may not get as impatient or angry when others do things we find offensive. We’ll be more compassionate and understanding, and we’ll know when to share our needs, to give the other person a chance to meet those needs. If someone chooses not to do that, we have other options. We can s-t-r-e-t-c-h to let go of that need, we can accept their choice, we can take our company elsewhere, or we can stuff our frustration down inside until it reaches the DANGER HIGH EXPLOSIVES level. That, Gran said, is generally counter-productive.

Whatever we do, we want to remember that those who share our lives – especially our youngest companions – are watching us and learning from our choices, helpful and not so helpful. Gran thought that’s why artists often portray children with great big eyes and little bitty ears. They may not listen much, but they watch everything.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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January 10, 2012

Going Home, Excerpt: Visiting (8III)

Chapter 8 – Visiting

But wait! Before we get too far from that front door, Gran said we might want to slow down and remind ourselves of a few things so this could, indeed, be the Best Visit Ever. She had three very practical suggestions for visiting – whether it’s your grandma, your best friend, or the Reverend Lovejoy at the end of the street.

#1. Always bring a gift for the hostess, even if it’s just your smile and a big hug.
#2. Remember: All guests, no matter how nice, begin to stink after three days (like fish).[i]
#3. If it’s a potluck, don’t bring chips – or hummus – except maybe every third time. Mix it up a little.

This might also be a good time to brush up on house rules. These change, depending on the place.  Different homes have different rules, and what’s appropriate in one may be atrocious in another, so it’s a good idea to get this straight from the beginning.

As far as Gran could tell, all these rules were pretty much right. Just different. So if I wasn’t sure which fork to use, she said to look around and see what others were doing. It’s good manners not to act or think that my way is always right. According to Gran, this meant I couldn’t always do whatever I wanted. Well, I could, but like any choice, that would carry a consequence, and those consequences can be downright inspiring when it comes to decision-making.

Gran said these different rules are one reason our reflections of home can seem a little out of focus. In our one true home, it’s simple – it’s all about love, no question about it. But along the way, as we learn our lessons, there can be a bit more involved, and sometimes it seems like the love part gets lost in the shuffle.

That’s why Gran said we want to do our best to make sure others see a true reflection of home in us, and not one that’s smeared with dust or someone else’s fingerprints. When that happens, people may do things they don’t mean to do, or say things they don’t mean to say. Feelings get hurt and we act all angry so no one sees how sad we are inside. That hurts the other person, who starts acting angry back, and our poor little reflection gets more and more muddled ‘til it all but disappears.  

Gran said if I polish my mirror each day, and fix any cracks or tarnished spots, I’ll be a good reflector. And if everyone does this, we’ll all be good reflectors. Can you imagine how shiny the world would be then?

We polish our mirrors when we forgive others, and even when we forgive ourselves. The granddaddy of all cleaners, Gran said, comes with the practice of rewriting our stories about the people in our lives, writing these scripts big enough for each of us to grow into, like a new pair of shoes, letting go of our fears and judgments and creating something entirely new.

It’s like bringing your dirty laundry home. That’s fine and dandy, but you don’t have to walk in the front door wearing it. It’s also best not to leave it outside the bathroom door: Take that stroll to the laundry room. And if you start a load, it’s nice to ask if anyone else has some whites. And remember that it really isn’t in anyone else’s best interest to do this work for you, even though it may seem like it at the time. A good friend might help you with it, but remember, it’s still your dirty laundry.

[i] Thanks, Mama Rosi, for this tidbit of wisdom

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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January 3, 2012

Going Home, Excerpt: Welcome Home! (8II)

Chapter 8 ~ Welcome Home!

Once you’re sure you’re in the right place, what’s next? Per Gran, be ready to party! If you don’t have your happy hat on, better get it quick.

After all, you’ve come home to love, to yourself, to all the good things you can hardly imagine, they’re so great, and all the wonderful people you’ve ever known in your whole existence! There is nothing to fear, Gran said. In fact, we should toss that idea out the window right now, ‘cause it’s getting in her way and she’s ready to feel the looovvve. You ever tried to have a party and carry around a suitcase full of fear at the same time? Doesn’t work very well, does it?

So if any sneaky little pieces of fear managed to make it past all your inspections along the road, now is the time to leave them at the door. We don’t need ‘em anymore. Only room in here for me and my party hat.

The best part of any trip is the welcome home party, right? With balloons and streamers and cake and punch and a big “SURPRISE!” as you walk in the door. Oh, and look at all the beautiful leis. Aloha, sweet friend! It’s so good to see you. My heart has missed you.

Wow. How did all these people know I was coming? Someone must have called ahead… I wonder if Gran had anything to do with that.

Fair warning: You better be prepared for a few tears. These welcoming parties can be pretty emotional, ya know. And while your arrival is definitely something to celebrate, it comes with its own set of emotions to process, like everything else in life. Maybe we start with some sad tears as we say goodbye to the road behind and close the door. Then there are all the happy tears we cry next. You know, when you feel so good you can’t keep it all inside and it starts leaking out the corners of yours eyes.

Personally, I like those tears, and a few makeup stains never hurt anybody.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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December 27, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: One Note (8I)

Chapter 8 ~ You Have Reached Your Destination

No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow. ~ Lin Yutang

At the end of each journey, which is really just the beginning of another, we reach our destination. Depending on the trip, we may stay for a short visit or a long one – just hanging out. And, of course, bearing in mind that like Mikey’s favorite board game, arriving at Go! only means it’s time to begin again, this time with a few more houses and hotels of wisdom and hopefully a nice stash for those bad rolls of the dice. 

Even being at home has its lessons. But for now, let’s focus on your arrival. What does this look like? How does it feel? Gran said in the beginning this is all about coming home inside oneself, with one caveat: Until a person comes home inside, he’ll never be able to reach home anywhere else, ‘cause he’ll run into nothing but roadblocks along the way. He can try to skip ahead, but he may discover himself sliding down a ladder in the wrong direction, landing further back than where he started.

And yet, Gran said, we learn from those moves, so it’s all good.


One Note

First things first: How do you know you’ve arrived? Gran said we’ll feel this before we see it. We’ll feel it in our bones, an overwhelming sense of home. On our first journey, arriving home feels like we’re finally whole and complete. We’ve become one with all the voices inside, knowing that everything we do is guided by our center.

If we’re still not sure, we have a few clues to check – we brought ‘em along and didn’t even know we were doing it! Remember that address in your lunch box? Does it match? Check that photograph we tucked away with the help of Gran’s reminder marble. Anyone look familiar? What’s your heart saying? Yes, that heart with all those scars across it. Hearts always know. The sooner we accept that, the faster we’ll progress on the rest of our journeys.

Another clue we’re home appears when we look in the mirror and see our reflections more clearly than ever before. Maybe we’ll see a part of ourselves we’ve always dreamed about – there it is, in living color, bright as brass and glowing like spun gold.

For me, this coming home meant finding my muse again. My gift, which had a pen-and-ink-quality, died a long, slow death, culminating with the passing of Gran. Everything good ended then, or so it seemed. It took me a long time to find her again – to find myself, somewhere in between. For a while I didn’t even want to look. What was the point?

Knowing our time together was limited, Gran had left a few clues behind for me to follow when I was ready. She saw who I was a long time ago, and she looked deeply enough to know I had a tough road ahead. So she took it upon herself, Gran-style, to leave a few trail markers here and there along the way. Like the manuscript, or like the sheet I pull from my journal as I write, flipping it open to see a copy of my first paycheck. One hundred dollars, payable to ten-year-old Mikey for a story dated 1984. Gran had kept this tucked away, and years later she mailed it to me with a note scrawled inside: “Seems like you were always a step ahead of everyone else.” Did she have any idea how much that would mean to me? I think she did.

These clues could be helpful, but Gran’s favorite way of explaining how we’d know we were home came with a high-tech-deep-science flavor. She couldn’t resist it, she said – she’d run across the idea in one of her magazines, and as soon as she read that headline, the whole thing played out in her mind like a beautiful symphony. She could see it all, from beginning to end.

“Which symphony?” one visitor asked over apple butter and biscuits.

“The symphony of life,” came Gran’s reply.

Then she’d launched into what she’d read about this new string theory everyone was talking about. She’d simplified it, of course, so she could understand it a little better. Gran’s version of string theory basically said that the whole, entire universe, and maybe whatever is outside it, is like a huge symphony, and each thing in it is just another instrument in the orchestra – one more tuba, maybe a slide trombone or a French horn. Personally, I wanted to be the triangle.

But, Gran said, we don’t even get to be a whole instrument by ourselves – we aren’t that big! In fact, you and me, right here, right now, we’re just one tiny little vibration of one note, being played by one particular instrument, in one particular movement, of one particular song, in that whole, entire symphony.

How did this relate to knowing we were home?

Well, Gran said, we’d know we were home when the song sounded just right. We play better when we stop trying to be a whole, unique instrument and start looking for the little place where our note fits into the song playing around us.

We don’t have to try to be the whole symphony or five or six different instruments – it won’t work anyway. All we have to do, to fulfill our mission in life, our purpose for living here on this little ol’ planet, is to play our One Note as best we can, loud and true and strong, in that exact moment when we know it is our time.

Then, Gran said, we’d know we were home.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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December 19, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Stronger Shoulders (7XII)

Chapter 7 – Stronger Shoulders

Like everyone else, Gran had made some tough decisions along her journey, ones she’d just as soon have avoided. Eventually, each fork in the road we ignore reappears, no matter how many times we think we snuck past it undetected. Gran noticed that whenever she took the easy road, the one that seemed to lead downhill, before long she’d find herself right back at that same fork, or at least one that looked suspiciously like it.

She could keep going ‘round in circles – that was her favorite option for a while. After all, we get to pick our trail. We can drive uphill or down, on steep, rocky terrain or a smooth, dirt-packed road. But when we keep choosing the same leg at that fork, we grow tired of the slant of the hillside, and the ruts in the road grow deeper until just making it around that circle becomes an unbelievable struggle. When Gran reached the point she could no longer bear the idea of the same old road, she’d chosen the unknown.

Yes, that path led uphill. It also went through some long, dark tunnels that were almost more than she could bear. All the stale air in those tunnels must have messed up her odometer, Gran said, or at least her depth perception, ‘cause somehow she felt like each mile in that darkness took her much further than it measured in the light of day. That more than made up for the few times she’d thrown ‘er in reverse, ‘cause in her bones she could feel it – with each turn of those wheels, she was nearing home.

Now and then as Gran ascended this new road, she’d come around a corner to find the most beautiful view spread across the valley below. A chance to breathe and soak in the splendor: Just what she needed after that long, steep grade. She’d pull over and stretch her legs, maybe peel an orange or a chocolate or just relax for a bit.

Sometimes she’d sneak in a little hike, just for the fun of it. Over time she noticed her body was responding to all this exercise, legs and lungs growing strong, back and shoulders widening for the pack she always carried. She realized she could carry more, walk further, faster, climb steeper grades than ever before, without even getting winded. That’s how she knew she was growing.

She thought her mind had grown the most. She’d gotten a little wiser along the way. She’d learned to pack her bag well, leaving everything but necessities behind. The further she traveled, the less she needed. That toothbrush handle, why, that’s an extra three ounces… forget that!

She’d also learned how valuable the rules of the hiking road were: “If you can’t pack it out, don’t pack it in!” She’d learned to quit asking others to carry her pack for her, and to stop saying yes when others asked her to carry theirs. In the end this only exhausted her and weakened them, until she’d realized it was best to focus on her own journey, her own pack.

At first when others had asked Gran to carry their bags, eagerly eyeing her broad shoulders, she’d complied, feeling a little flattered. Even after she stopped that, she’d tried sharing what she’d learned on all those trails, but that never seemed to work well either, so she finally gave it up. She felt a little sad about that, but she knew it was highest good.

What she didn’t know, what I could see from a distance, was that several hikers were watching her, how she packed her bag, trimming weight here and there, heaviest stuff in the bottom for balance, light things on top, water bottle handy, and a rain cover over the outside. They were watching how she picked her trail, how she sighted her line of travel. And they began to do the same thing, at least when no one was looking. 

Gran just kept doing her thing, following her own path. When she had the chance for an overnighter, she’d build a fire, pitching her tent when rain threatened, gazing at the stars when it didn’t. In the morning she’d break camp quickly and methodically, minding her own business, unaware that eyes were following her movements, hands rolling and zipping to mirror her own.

Somewhere down the path she’d look up and smile, surprised to see a familiar face. She’d nod respectfully, then turn back to her trail as this new friend passed, moving quickly along his way, just like it was meant to be.

Every now and then Gran would strike out into virgin wilderness, to test new ideas, new equipment. It didn’t always go well, she was the first to admit. But again, as always: stronger shoulders, stronger back, stronger legs… and so it went.

Starting next week – Chapter 8: You Have Reached Your Destination!
© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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