Routines old and new

A shady and inviting path through the woods.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Things have changed in my getting-ready-for-school routine. I’m not getting ready. I retired from teaching after spending most of my adult life in education.

I always wanted to be a teacher. I organized my dolls in neat rows, lecturing them on the ABCs and simple math. I occasionally corralled my little brothers, passing out pencils and lined paper, and practiced delivering directions to this lively, distracted crew.

I loved reading. History. Spelling Bees. The smell of crayons. Sharpened pencils.

I loved new sets of books. My teachers. A bumpy school bus ride.

My grandmothers were teachers. My mother was a certified teacher. I always traveled the teacher-in-training path.

From the time I was five years old, I have been going to school, getting children ready for school, or working in a school. Most of my educator friends have, too.

The whole cycle of our activities, family plans, and routines have revolved around the rhythm of the school calendar year. For the most part, it has been predictable and enjoyable. And then I loved teaching. I can’t imagine a more rewarding and challenging career.

So this retirement routine is all different. It is a frontier full of discovery for me. I know that change and adapting to it is a part of life. And it involves some recognition and acceptance of getting older. When did this happen?

My already-retired friends assure me I will love it — that I will look forward to and enjoy every day.

Many retired people I know say they don’t know how they ever had time to work. They volunteer. They join service organizations. They exercise. They create book clubs. They become more active in church. They travel more.

Some claim they don’t even keep track of the days of the week. That’s hard to imagine.

There are things I am looking forward to:

Driving north mid-week to enjoy October colors in Michigan.

Grocery shopping on Wednesdays and taking advantage of a senior discount.

Heading south to a warm, sandy beach in late January.

Attending a grandchild’s school program or chaperoning a field trip without scheduling a day off and creating sub-plans.

But there are also things I will miss:

I will miss my co-workers and our daily interactions and support for one-another.

I will miss the schedule. Each fall, greeting a classroom full of nervous teenagers. Getting to know them and planning for their instruction. Reading their writing and being a part of their lives.

I felt like my efforts were never enough. There was always more to be done. And then I often worried about them. I won’t miss that.

So I’m following a different path, writing a new chapter, and adjusting to a life without setting an alarm clock. I am having an extra cup of coffee in the morning, reading and actually finishing books, and scheduling more time with family and friends.

Yes, I think I will enjoy this new routine.

It’s a Fine Life.

Grand openings

The grand opening of a brand new day. Photo by Leeanne Seaver.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

I recently returned from a week in Ontario, a time of rest and renewal at our family retreat on the northern shore of Lake Superior.

I look forward to our days there all year long. We travel north, cross the Mackinac Bridge, skip across the Upper Peninsula, hold our breath at the border, and then wind our way along the rocky Lake Superior coastline to our cabin. It takes most of a day, and when we finally leave the confines of the car and stretch towards the pines, it’s like we’ve left our worries behind.

It is rustic, but not too rustic, as we do have indoor plumbing and electricity — but it’s rustic enough that I have no cell service, that the nearest shopping center is an hour away, that our favorite entertainment is gathering around a fire and watching the stars appear in the clear Canadian sky.

Here, we have no garbage service. Cottage owners cart their weekly refuse to an area landfill, a twenty-minute-drive from our camp. Yes, it’s a bit inconvenient, and out of a sense of duty, I take the dump trip with my mother, a woman who has never met a stranger.

She loves conversation and is actually looking forward to this journey to the dump saying, “I need to see if my buddy is still working there.”

“You have a buddy there?”

“Well, yes, I talk to him every year.”

Of course she does.

She has a “buddy” at every stop we might make — the gas station, the camp store, the lodge where she buys her fishing license. This is no surprise, especially since she has spent time up here every summer of her life.

So we roll the windows down, and my mother and I, along with her dog and two extra-large leaf bags of garbage begin our trek.

On our way we pass a tiny roadside restaurant — open but neglected. Its surrounding yard and even edges of the parking lot are decorated with several cast-off lawn mowers, a couple old grills, and numerous rusty and broken lawn chairs. The place has been on this road a long time. A decade ago, it held some promise, but no more.

I can’t imagine opening the tattered screen door and entering the establishment.

Across the faded cedar siding of the low building is a banner that reads, “Grand Opening.”

My mom says, “I heard that Grand Opening was long time ago.”

“Well, maybe they have lots of Grand Openings?” I reply.

We discuss this and conclude “Maybe every day is a Grand Opening?” And we smile.

Isn’t that how we want to greet each day? To embrace people we love? To treat those we encounter along the way?

We repeat the phrase several times as we pull into the dump. I climb out and grab the garbage as my mom talks to the attendant — her buddy — and he smiles, remembering her from the year before.

Yes, every day is a Grand Opening.

My new mantra.

It’s a Fine Life.

It takes a village

The Main Street of our childhood. Photo courtesy of Vicksburg Historical Society.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

It takes a village: I know it’s an overused phrase, but it sure is true. And never is it more apparent than as our graduates receive their high school diplomas. Each senior represents the hopes and dreams—and sometimes desperate prayers—of family, friends, and teachers.

Some students are skilled navigators, easily sailing through their teenage years, but some of them lose direction, flounder and capsize. And sometimes, adults in their lives catch them, turn them upright, and steer them back on course.

All those efforts can be exhausting, and sometimes it’s an all-hands-on-deck community effort.

There is a sense of security in our small towns, something we too often dismiss.

When we were growing up, there was a collective of care, and my friends and I were oblivious to this safety net as we worked our way through school. Our village was thriving in the 1970s, and many of my classmates’ parents owned or worked in the many downtown businesses. There were numerous watchful eyes on us and our occasional risky adventures. None of us thought about it. These dear folks knew our names—most importantly, knew our parents and how to reach them—and they pulled and guided us through our most vulnerable years with invisible strings of care.

Mr. Batek surveyed Main Street from the hardware store; Mrs. Royal showed never-ending-patience at Hill’s Pharmacy; Mrs. Jensen styled our hair at the Beauty Fountain; Mr. and Mrs. Fleming commanded our attention at Lakeshore Lanes; Fred Hiemstra assisted us at his service station; and Otto and Nancy Decker kept a bird’s-eye-view of our comings and goings from their second-story-perch at the ambulance service. I’m sure I’ve forgotten others because there were so many of our parents around the village. This list doesn’t include teachers and support staff or medical personnel in offices around town, and these are parents from just our graduating class of 1977!

We took this familiarity for granted—we never thought about – but our small town’s attention was there, and it helped.

While there were many shuttered storefronts during our children’s teenage years, our kids still received the watchful eyes of their elders. There were parents who kept them in sight as they rode bikes and played back and forth at our neighbors’ homes. As in my childhood, these moms and dads helped steer some wayward attitudes and behaviors. They bandaged knees. They quietly monitored.

And the surveillance continued once they started driving. Our daughter tells of our sister-in-law simply pointing at her older sister who was driving too quickly through town. No call was necessary. Behavior corrected.

I sense a recommitment and recognition of the importance of this sense of community—an appreciation of familiarity and the importance of long-term relationships in our lives.

Special events are returning, stores and services are opening and re-opening, and there is a renewed interest in supporting local. We are taking more care and pride in the villages we call home.

And as in generations before, families and friends watch and applaud our graduates with our pride and love for them tied firmly to our hearts.

It’s a Fine Life.