Culling her collection of vintage treasures, my sister handed me a box of old bottles to see if I had a use for any of them. I immediately chose the Burma-Shave jar with its ribbed glass and navy blue lid. Burma Shave was a shaving cream company whose marketing campaign placed consecutive lines of rhyming advertising jingles along highways from the 1920s to the early 60s such as “Special Seats/Reserved in Hades/For Whiskered Gents/Who Scratch/The Ladies/Burma-Shave.”
Every year or so, a crew would change the signs, throwing the old boards on the ground. Because the Smith farm bordered the highway, my Grandpa Smith would pick up the discarded wood—still good lumber—to fix a shed or patch a broken window. My parents brought some of these signs to Colorado and now they hang in the Sunflower Room at Stonebridge. My sister had found the old Burma-Shave jar on the farm after my grandparents’ deaths. It seemed fitting to reunite it with the signs advertising the shaving cream that used to fill the jar.
After I picked out some medicinal vials for bottling the berry cordial we make each fall, I noticed a small bottle with a rubber stopper for a lid. When I lifted it out of the box, I gasped. Here was my Grandpa Smith’s mercurochrome bottle, the one he’d used to doctor our scrapes and cuts every summer. He’d patiently lift us up to sit on the kitchen counter, the better to “paint,” as he would say, our knees and elbows with the metallic orange-red tincture. Today mercurochrome is banned in the United States because it contains mercury but back then, we believed as much in its curative powers as we did in our grandpa’s doctoring skills.
Its label faded and torn, its rubber stopper hardened in the bottle’s glass neck, my grandfather’s mercurochrome bottle evoked another memory of childhood complaints. Mercurochrome wasn’t the only medicine in the farm’s kitchen cabinet. I remembered the smell of the medicine before I remembered its name: Listerine. Not the cool mint or citrus fresh flavors of today but the antiseptic scent of the original mouthwash my grandfather used to stop our mosquito bites from itching.
How we winced when that home remedy stung our arms and legs but it kept us from scratching the mosquito bites that plagued us those hot summer nights in the North Dakota countryside. Like mercurochrome, it worked, but even if it hadn’t, we wouldn’t have questioned our grandfather’s authority to use it. We trusted those moments of tender curing that affirmed a grandparent’s love.
I don’t follow my horoscope on a regular basis, but occasionally, I’ll read a particularly unconventional version in one of our local weekly newspapers. Last week’s summarized in trendy terms something I’ve been thinking about for a while. It started by defining a new type of mind/body practice that combines yoga, massage, and acrobatics (so already you see the Boulder theme) and then connected this idea to the Aries forecast: “I’d love to see you work on creating a comparable hybrid in the coming months, Aries—some practice or system or approach that would allow you to weave together your various specialties into a synergetic whole.”
The hipness of “synergy” aside, the idea of weaving parts of my life together is appealing to me because I’m always searching for balance in my busy life. In my yoga practice, I’m terrible at balance—positions like crane and tree and cactus are always hard for me. Maybe it’s just an inner ear problem, but I can’t help but interpret the difficulty of standing on one foot for long as a metaphor for my life.
Right now, balance is particularly challenging because of a wonderful change in my life to which I’m trying to adjust: our new grandchild arrived on July 8th to our awe and delight. Every moment I spend with him or talk about him or look at his pictures brings me joy.
Everyone with a grandchild has told me that grandparenting is different than parenting and now I know they’re right but it’s hard to put my finger on why. Somehow the passage of time is involved more in my sense of connection with a grandchild than it was with my own child—I sense of his life extending much beyond my own in ways I can’t even imagine and I’m trying not to be afraid for the future he might find. When I hold him, it’s easy to focus on the here and now and not worry about what’s next because each moment feels precious. That’s the word other grandparents exclaim to me over and over and now I know in a new way how much that word is true.
In the midst of this joy, I’m also happily bringing an important writing project to fruition—more on that in the coming months. I’m also spending more time on my photography (see an interview about this on photographer Martha Hughes’ blog, Dragonfly Photography, here). We picked the first eggplant for our farm shares last Saturday, the zucchini are over-running the barn (facilitating the need for more zucchini recipes), the garlic’s picked and waiting in trugs, and the farm season is almost half over with the bulk of the vegetables still to be harvested. Tomatoes slowed down in the 100 degree heat but the peppers will be on soon. The fall garden is progressing just fine and we’ve had time lately to spend celebrating the farm’s bounty with friends.
Is this” synergy”? Does the fact that I wake up happy each morning mean I’m weaving a “hybrid” life? Most days, I think I just about am. I don’t need a horoscope to predict that 2012 will continue to be a year my many “specialties” will coalesce in some new form of family, farm, friends, and creative efforts. Instead of worrying about how they’ll come together, I need to remember to be grateful for all the many experiences and relationships I have in my life and to follow what each brings, day after day.