Gone Fishing

This photo was taken 10 years before she would become my mother. And about 22 before I would doubt she had any redeemable skills as a human being. Parents don’t know anything, they don’t get it, whatever “it” we happen to be going through. How could they possibly understand how complicated life is for us?

Clearly the woman child can bait her own fishing hook. By age 12 she could also ride a horse, tend to cows and chickens, play the piano and the harp and ignore her little brother like it was her job.

It’s so easy to forget the interior lives of our parents, that they were once young and impressionable and even capable. I’m quite sure at 12 I was reading Seventeen magazine and fueling my developing obsession with boys and the size of my burgeoning thighs. In all fairness though, I did have a Girl Scout sash full of badges for skills I had legitimately learned. And some I even remember, like tying a square knot and sewing on a button. Oh, yeah, and storytelling. That was an actual badge.

Many of the skills I earned badges for were taught to me by this young fisherwoman.

I have her journals, her recent ones – like from the last two decades of her life – and within the cloth-covered, unlined books there are snippets of a life lived before I was even a thought. One such gem gives a nod of gratitude to the difficult woman whom she would always call Mother, for her ingenuity and abiiity to make something from nothing. Stunning dresses from dry goods sacks, a meal from scraps and beauty from bits of nature and just the right placement of objects.

All that resourcefulness was necessary for a while, but after my grandmother married the man I knew to be my grandfather (who was actually my mother’s step-father), circumstances greatly improved for everyone. “Mother” was able to design dresses made from fine fabrics for an actual couture house and collect genuine antiques to put her decorating skills to work in the 18th Century farmhouse they purchased so my grandfather could try his hand at being a “gentleman farmer” on weekends.

Fifteen years after this photo was taken, I would spend long weekends on this farm – where my mother and her brother spent their school age years – with its rolling Pennsylvania hills, a hundred head of cattle and a single bull named Pat. The “farm” became a showplace for my grandmother’s talents, a touchstone for my mother and an idyllic summer refuge for this still only child and grandchild.

This farm was a main character in the story of my youth. I would be flogged by a goose, wear a chain of daisies in my hair and help my grandmother and mother sew in the sweltering hot attic in just our underwear.

But I was never taught to bait my own hook. I’d rather feed the fish than eat them. But mom? Turns out she could take pretty good care of herself.

Simpler Times


Day 2 – Social Media Restriction

Like all diets, day two feels easy and doable. We’re wired that way, to find accomplishment in the beginning to keep us focused and strong through the cravings. Sometimes it works.

I am noticing my tendencies, those mindless moments when I reach for my phone. There’s a gap between thoughts or shiny things and I feel the need to be doing something and apparently my phone has the answer.

My phone sleeps in the living room.

Even though I have to walk 20 paces or so to reach it, it happens to be on the way to the coffee pot and starving pets awaiting breakfast, so I  A U T O M A T I C A L Y  check it as I pass by.

I tell myself I’m checking the time. Maybe the weather. But there is clock on my stove bright as day within my line of sight and the weather is right outside my door.

What I’m actually doing is taking my popularity temperature. How many likes or comments did I get on Facebook, Instagram, WordPress? Any texts requiring immediate action only I can perform? Any missed phone calls from people desperate to talk to me?

This is what social media has done to me. This is what media does. Advertising and marketing creates a sense of lack to be filled by a product that will create a sense of worth.

Social media has created the disease and the drug. Like alcohol.

We live in a culture of urgency. If you text me and I don’t respond within minutes I am:

A. So rude.

B. Obviously too good for you

C. Clearly ignoring you (please see A)

This social media urgency is aiding and abetting all the stress we are already under. Much of which is self-inflicted.

When I was a kid (somewhere between the invention of television and the invention of the internet) there were actual phone numbers we could call for the time and the weather. “At the tone the time will be….” Yes, we did have watches and clocks then, but no one was connected to a satellite for the exact time. And the weather could be heard on local news three times a day, not 24/7. Television went off the air at midnight. There. Was. No. Cable.

How did we survive?

What about life before texting? Emailing? The era of the instant response?

Real conversations with emotions and facial expressions took place, well-thought out letters were written and mailed, and we visited people. We got in cars and drove to someone else’s house. Maybe even in another state.

We’ve reduced ourselves to 140 characters. We’ve lost patience with paragraphs containing more than two sentences and articles with more than 5 paragraphs of 2 sentences. Communication used to have a sort of elegance. But that left and took manners and civility with it.

At the risk of sounding like my grandparents: things were simpler in my day. There was an unappreciated clarity that came from running down the street to tell a neighbor or friend something. No context was necessary. Instead of 500 texts to make plans that may never happen, we went outside to see who else was outside. And then we played, or in later years, hung out.

I’m no longer apologizing for waxing nostalgic. It is exactly because of my age and the distance between my youth and today that I can have this perspective.

My grandparents had it. They sold their home in the suburbs of Harrisburg to purchase an 18th Century stone farmhouse, with acreage, a pond, a barn and a spring house. My grandfather raised cattle for a hobby and grandma planted a vegetable garden and collected antiques. He still worked as an engineer for the highway department and she continued to work as a dress designer. They responded to their longing for simpler times in a very real way. They physically removed themselves from convenience to reconnect to something more meaningful. Each other.

Is that what I’m doing? Is putting limitations on my social media usage, thereby my phone usage, akin to moving to the rolling hills of rural Pennsylvania? Perhaps.

Sounds pretty nice to me.