As I unwrapped my Christmas ornaments, memories inundated my mind. The yellow taxi cab with a Christmas tree strapped on the top of it was from a visit to my brother-in-law who lives in New York City and the delicate gold metal cutout of a ship from a visit to the same brother-in-law when he lived in Boston. The fragile white starfish prompts scenes of our fabulous family beach vacation to Gulf Shores.
Perhaps the most meaningful are the personal ornaments I received as gifts. My kids created several as they were growing up and thankfully their teachers included their pictures on some of them. Each passing year these become increasingly valuable.
My profession as a teacher lends itself to receiving Christmas ornaments as gifts. However, I don’t believe they are as popular as they used to be. My favorites are the ones with a handwritten name. If it was on a card, I usually attach to the ornament. Tonight, I unpacked this one:
The back is best, though. I had only been teaching for two and a half years when I received this. How I wish I could time travel and reteach those students! And yet, she said I was a great teacher. Maybe she was told to write that, I don’t know, but I do know it has been a treasured part of my Christmas tree ever since.
This Christmas, perhaps instead of giving things, you could give some words. Positive words. Kind words. Encouraging words. Words of gratitude and words of love. Most of all, true words. You don’t know how long someone will keep that card or note. Don’t flatter or exaggerate, just honestly write. It might be the most treasured gift you can give.
These were a couple of common phrases I remember my great-grandmother, who I called Grandma Scanlon, repeating often. Some readers may recall she was the first to label me a ragamuffin that I wrote about here.
Memory is a complex neurological topic, yet simple enough that we all experience them. Errors in memory are equally complex and scientists spend their careers researching and studying them. An article I found in Psychology Today by Daniel Schacter informs us that there are at least seven errors in memory, which he divides into two categories: Sins of omission (meaning we fail to remember) and sins of commission (meaning we remember, but it is either incorrect or unwanted). We all do some form of both types.
I’d like to share some memories of my great-grandmother and how she remembered some things.
As the above phrases indicate, Blanche Fitch Scanlon was spirited. Fiercely independent, she was a petite woman who was slightly stooped over due to osteoporosis that had already taken its toll by the time I remember her. I loved her extremely neat and clean house. She would always have butterscotch candies, Pepsis and usually ice cream on hand. Her black Lhasa Apso dog, Rachel, was her best friend and oftentimes got better treatment than anyone else around. She loved word searches.
My memories of Grandma Scanlon are numerous and varied. Once, my sister and I were staying the weekend and after a full day of playing outside during the summer, she wanted me to take a bath. I was at the age I had an aversion to water (probably between seven and eight), so when I refused, Grandma got a yardstick and I started running . . . outside! I can only imagine what passersbys thought that late summer evening as my 70-something yardstick-waving grandma chased me around the evergreen bushes in her front yard.
When I spent the night I had my own room and unlike home, I was allowed to read as late as I wanted to in bed. She even supplied me with her old True Story magazines, in retrospect, were probably too mature for me at the time.
As a young adult, Grandma Scanlon would often invite me over for lunch when I got my first “real” job as an appraisal typist near her home. Later, after I moved to Tennessee, she and I wrote letters to each other, some of which I kept, making her memory a little bit sweeter.
Sweet wasn’t a word often associated with Grandma Scanlon though. Bitter, maybe. I heard her say many a biting word to her daughter (my Grandma Ennis) and others. Grandma Scanlon had no filter on her mouth. I guess when you live well into your nineties on your own, you lose your inhibitions. She had survived the death of her husband (1970), her son, her father (both 1971) and her daughter (1973) in a span of three years. I never realized that until recently and only because my mom gave me of a book of hers.
Titled “Dates to be Remembered”, this small notebook was a calendar without a year. Its light blue front and back cover are long gone, but evidenced by the spine that remains in the spiral. “A permanent and practical record of important dates” is printed on the front cover. It is filled with my grandma’s handwriting and records birthdays, anniversaries, deaths and divorces, typical of a date book.
It is more than that though. It is somewhat of a journal and definitely a window into her true self. It covers a little over three decades and uncovers what Grandma Scanlon survived, like those four deaths in three years, and what was important enough to her to remember.
Here are just a few examples:
“I had my ears pierced by D. Mathew” (January 1967)
“I miss Jo [daughter] so much. Nancy + Chris were over. The weekends hurt the most of all. We always went places.” (February 1973)
“Got my taxes made out at H + R Block for 1973 have to pay Federal $26. State $30.84. Will pay it first of April” (February 15, 1974)
“Bought 1967 Falcon. pd. $1,300. 14,330 miles when got. Bought in 1970” (March 7, 1970)
“Donna + Tom married 7:30 o’clock. Mom + Dad came for wedding” (June 14, 1968)
“Married July 2nd, 1924” and written directly underneath in another color of ink:
“Married 46 yrs when Joe [husband] died”
“spent 4 days at Ind. Beach at C + Bill’s cottage” (August 2, 1965)
“President Nixon resigned. Tricky Dick as Jo would say.” (August 9, 1974)
“Linda + Gene had a baby girl, Tuesday – name Sheryl Lynne 7 lb. 13 oz.” (September 26, 1972)
“Tattoo being removed” (October 1967)
As a journal-er myself, I find these tidbits so interesting. I love how this date book keeps it concise and all together through the years. My journals are in different books scattered throughout my office and bedroom. One of the many reasons I write is to record events in my life, as well as my thoughts about them. I’ve been known to get nostalgic and read my own journals. I find it quite amusing that many things, probably the majority of things I wrote about, I don’t remember.
I’m sure there are many reasons for that, but primarily being the day-to-day life I live (and you live) is filled with trivial things disguised as significant things. Grandma got one thing right: She didn’t care to recall the minor, only the major.
I try to do the same in my own life. Not with my journal though. C’mon, that stuff is going to be funny one day!
I want to focus on the major things in my life and let the minor remain in the background, adding color, but not overpowering the senses.