Gran's Apple Butter Blog

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 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 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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