Wednesday’s Nonfiction: An Anonymous Life is Still a Life

Lawrence Wilburn Guenther and Edna Kelly, 50th Anniversary, 1983

What has ever happened to living a quiet life and finding that meaningful? There is such a garish trumpeting about people and events, about what is deemed commendable or abominable and it often drags lives into the grit of the fray, the spotlight of adoration or scrutiny. Conversations are necessary when they make a meaningful impact but the loud voices that promote fame–or infamy–stop me cold. Why this being splashed all over news outlets as if meant to be so vital to us all? How did it happen that people–even youths–crave fame enough that they will go to any lengths to get it? And who said that a visibly higher socioeconomic status equals lasting happiness? All this talk and focus on being a “Somebody” in the world has me cogitating about the value of ordinary human lives. Because there are far more of us out here than the other sort.

Some history is useful as in a far more innocuous way, I once knew the heat of a spotlight’s beam. I did not grow up feeling strictly anonymous, another face in the crowd, invisible, untraceable. Instead, I was easy to spot, quick to name. I was so used to being introduced as “Lawrence Guenther’s daughter” that much of my childish and youthful identity sprang from this shorthand reference. In fact, seldom did anyone need to say that much; my last name covered it. And, I imagine, my large blue eyes–a family trait many of us shared. Not that it was a bad thing, this quick naming. My father never robbed a bank or stole a car or drunkenly crashed one or worse. He was an upstanding citizen, I have to admit. But it felt like a bit of a burden more often than I cared to say.

I knew nothing of how public a man he was until my early teens; he was often surrounded by students and adults wherever we went. He was not overtly gregarious but had a gentlemanly, winning manner. He was sincere and he was smart; there were far worse things than being the youngest child of such a person. My father’s warm smile and expressive bright eyes had magnetic properties, it seemed.

In a town where the name “Dow” defined everything, being known by any other last name was something of note. Herbert H. Dow was a chemical industrialist who founded my hometown’s Dow Chemical, an international company. His son, Alden B. Dow, was a well-known architect. My dad was not famous but he did enjoy a fine reputation across the state and perhaps beyond for his work. Lawrence Guenther was Midland’s public schools’ music administrator, and a teacher, musician and a conductor of an impressive Midland Symphony Orchestra. This may not seem newsworthy at first glance. Yet this town that was marked by pristine, manicured lawns and graceful homes, a top state school system, international scientists, and a plethora of variously gifted students–well, that meant a little something.

Our about 28,000 (when I was ten; it is now 47,000) people greatly valued arts and sciences, so music programs were high on the list for financial and community support. Classes started when students tested well for musical ability. They began in fourth grade–unless their parents had already sent them to private music lessons, which many had (we already had one built in). Dad was an innovative music programmer and teacher with indefatigable passion for his calling. He advocated for the fine arts tirelessly as well as performed and encouraged, with strict expectations, thus exacting from students their best work.

So it came to be that he was well appreciated. And the family name was synonymous with music. My mother, I might add, was a respected elementary school teacher among other things–a substitute teacher after I was born. Plus, a great hostess and supporter of his career. And she was the more innately extroverted. She was not that musically inclined though her voice was a pleasing alto. My four siblings and I were, so we studied hard, practiced our instruments. This led to endless recitals, orchestral performances, church musical events, musical theater, classical competitions, small chamber groups–and small pop groups for me (not as a cellist for once, but a vocalist–what pleasure tat gave after classical music day in and out).

This did not bode well for lasting anonymity in that city and beyond–in music camps, workshops, state competitions. The better I performed, the more it felt as if I was becoming a more public person, too, not only a reflection of our father’s presence and influence. I adored all the arts so participated with enthusiasm. I especially embraced the actual performance part and duly appreciated applause–but preferred to run off right after performances. It was embarrassing to say “thank you” when complimented; I was doing what I was supposed to do, trained to do, enjoyed doing. But I also worried that I might not achieve the best performance each time I walked onto the stage. It would remain a joy to perform but also a relief to exit stages. The problem with having attention drawn to you is that people start to have expectations, bigger ones as time goes by. The problem is then you must please others and smile on and on when you want to take off the finery and walk into a silent, fathomless, starry night.

For me, the fuss became more trying than emboldening. It never occurred to my father that I was not as accepting as was he of this side effect of doing well. He was fairly ambitious and dedicated, yet marked by a humble nature, and so seemed to take in stride being so visible (despite displaying a vastly more introspective nature at home–no doubt he needed major “down” time). And he had no doubt his children could, would and should excel. He was a faithful believer in God and hard work and so believed that a talent must be honed, and that to waste it was akin to committing a sin. I know he meant well enough, yet that alone provided a penchant for a perfectionism that has dogged me all of my life. But it did not produce a stellar career nor a craving for fame. I excelled at enough, but at some cost. I wanted to a place to create–and found it mainly at a renowned arts camps where there were many such youth as myself.

Still, the thought of being well known–of being recognized as I walked down the street or shared a coffee and occasional forbidden smoke with a friend at a cafe–became less and less appealing. I needed more emotional space. For one thing, I was a young person with secrets due to childhood sexual abuse unknown to my family, and I planned on keeping it that way.

But I was also a dreamer. That state of being requires solitary time to develop and nurture ideas, to embrace with intention each act of creating, to seek an abandonment coupled with unwavering focus. As much as I liked dating as a teen, I was often loathe to leave a new poem or song, a dance or art project–to vacate my busy mind–to meet someone at the front door. My major fantasy by age 12 was to become a well-published, well-read writer (or singer) but to remain primarily anonymous amid any success. It  seemed a more comfortable and natural fate. Did I imagine being interviewed? On the phone, perhaps, once or twice. Did I want pictures of me circulating? I didn’t expect that would be to my advantage. Then more people would recognize me and I would have to duck into bushes.

How different these times are–our personal data quickly accessible. I am at moments startled to see my own image despite having gone along with the trends. But I wonder: how much does that add to my life or anyone else’s? I think very little, even at best. My writing–I do hope that matters some, but the fact is, I will still writing. No fancy byline or authorship would lessen the muse calling and my need to create with language. Or maybe it would. Now I have freedom.

Despite an avid interest in others, enjoying meeting new folks and entertaining from time to time, I embrace solitude, still. More than mingling face-to-face with people, generally. I feel satiated in most ways while burrowing into my writing space or reading chair, engaging with an activity even with spouse nearby. We have our own routines and rhythm, like all older married couples. And I have noted before that I seldom mind when he has long business trips. I do what I do still at 68 because I am daily motivated to create, to gather new information or try out new ideas, to pray and meditate, to take care of myself and, I hope, others. There is no applause as I complete a task or challenge. There is a gentle sense of self-fulfillment. And I can guarantee you that I have labored hard for this peace of mind that anchors my living even–or most–in more arduous times.

Yet, sometimes all this almost–if not quite–makes me nostalgic for the sort of  intense in-person contact after a performance, or after poetry readings that were part of my life once. Or even the career I undertook of counseling broken people. The field of mental health and addictions treatment even in a city like Portland is small enough that others in counselling know who you are soon. One’s reputation, for good or ill, precedes one. I was as known then as I would ever be as an adult, and I was satisfied with that. It was not the yawning ego but the work that mattered so dearly to me. Just like youthful performing, itself, mattered most–the reaching and connecting to others via music. As a clinician it was listening with an open heart and being steady n the face of crises, offering solace and new skill sets.  It is not about winning accolades or making big money–heaven forbid–but simplest caring.

It all–this anonymous v. public business–comes down to what I believe about God. If there is any light within me it can be shared, and by sharing it, that persistent light is freed like ripples in a clinic, on a stage, in a neighborhood, even perhaps the world as it is passed person to person. Creative work and any useful human-focused work are spiritual conduits, each a way to enable the blossoming best in everything, everyone: to bring forth the regenerative energy of miraculous, abundant life. We are given souls to greet one another as allies and helpmates. Minds to share constructive problem solving. And bodies to celebrate genius of a cosmos mimicked in our cellular make up.

This expansive yet essential anonymity has been the formative factor of my life, after all–not being publicly known by many, at all. I did not end up living the life my father expected of his offspring.  Family members became expert in their fields (including music), some of their names quite known. It is true that I had dreams of “making good” in the music business as a singer, and also as a writer, but my life trajectory took another route after marriage in 1971. It became more isolated and a quieter life made of more mundane events than overtly extraordinary–or so those judging types out there might state. I redesigned my criteria for a life of success. And I have experienced amazing people, beheld more than a few wonders.

I was relieved at a crucial level within to be no longer only “a Guenther” but to incrementally become myself on my own terms, and with a husband here and there. Even if all that fell short at times, I began to claim my life fully as mine. I devised it, I tested it, I rebuilt it and God redeemed it many times with an effortless love. I found that, in the end, what matters is what happens during unnoticed years of countless small actions undertaken, and with the ones I get to love, and any goals I can bring to fruition, whether or not others admire them. There are those who won’t know what matters to me as I attempt to manage a few true and valiant things while I have the breath; they are, after all, busy with their own industrious lives–I could reach out to them, too. But many more may not deign to care about my talents and deficits beyond my quick actions or chatter, as I am not “important or accomplished” enough to discover at a deeper level. To them, I have failed to win the awards or money games–while I keep mining the subtler riches of what I have, will yet discover.

I have learned that the most important acclaim comes from inside. And as long as I recognize my basic (if flawed) integrity which upholds a reasonable self worth, I am alright. Just important enough to those who care. No accolades are necessary. This anonymous life is still a life. I am pleased to be working on it and relishing it, day by day. And surprisingly, I suspect that would be alright with my parents, too.

 

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Properties of Light

Photos by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

Winter Solstice, when the Northern Hemisphere experiences the shortest amount of daylight, is upon us in two days. Oregon will get about 8.5-9 hours of daylight–and it is all because the Earth spins on a tilted axis.(The Southern Hemisphere will enjoy the longest day of their year.) It is an event that means a great deal to some. For me it signals the first day of winter; it is then we experience peak darkness, as well. This has triggered more thoughts on light and dark and what they mean to me. I consider natural factors that can  or do generate a greater synthesis and balance of all life. As the shortest day comes into the fore and rain has begun to be a constant soundtrack in life here, the matter of light seems all the more magnetic.

Properties of light draw my mind and spirit as well as my eyes. I have an animal and aesthetic sense that my vision readily notes. All creatures are responsive to light’s many effects. Panoramas as well as details pique my interest–and my human eyes, of course, require a greater degree of light to better observe. (Though a sighted person I am a bit familiar with less sight via myopia; I wear contacts or glasses.) A propensity for types of light aids me as a creative person. I sense and watch life unfold early morning until night (with/without camera) and muse over its command, its variability. If I awaken at odd times at night I consider the possibility of light, then remove sleeping mask so consciousness awakens more. I wear the mask because light is so far reaching and vigorous it is as if its vibratory energy charges me–then I stay awake. I have a warm spot for darkness, as well–another aspect of the world of light, since it is absence of light to one degree or another. However, on earth we are unlikely to experience it in totality. At least, physically.

How does a supremacy of light alter thinking and deeper being? The physics of light relate to mental and spiritual well being. We all know someone who experiences Seasonal Affective Disorder, for example, and seek help via artificial light that mimics what is natural. Or know how hanging out in shadowy space a long while can motivate a move into natural light to perk up, feel clearer. Or when people who’ve suffered and felt lost and then undergone a serious change of direction–and share how they’ve exited darkness and emerged into light. We equate clarified understanding with light, as well as improved general wellness: we “feel clear headed, feel lighter.” Those who literally live in deep darkness long periods have negative effects like blindness and bone and muscle weakness. They don’t fare well emotionally, especially if alone. Humans are built to experience and utilize light.

If I was a scientist, I could explain with confidence exactly what/how/why the eye sees, but at best I can refer to what is generally noted. It all is connected to the properties of light. The primary ones include speed (at 300,000 kilometers per second; it holds the universal title for prowess). There is reflection, which photons provide while bouncing off mass/other particles. The color property…rudimentarily, it appears the more light, the more color–or at least, better perception of it. Visible wavelengths of light vary; we view different colors due to this. And surfaces make a difference; some absorb more light than others. Consider the smooth surfaces of quiet water, or shiny metals or glass. One may be momentarily blinded, or taken aback by an often lovely phenomenon. When it is due to the sun’s shining upon all, it seems a true magic act.

I could keep on in this vein, as the natural realms are so interesting. Such as regarding the several sorts of light–nature’s scattered or focused light, unnatural kinds such as ambient or spotlight or mood lighting. Nature provides us with abundance of light properties even via its creatures. Bio-luminescence: the light of fireflies, jellyfish and more fishes, and some fungi to name a few.

In Michigan, one of the great delights was watching lively fireflies woo potential mates with light (a chemical reaction in lower abdomen) from June through August. I sat there for hours when not chasing them with my Mason jar, trying to briefly capture one or two. In Mendocino, California, my sister and I once strolled along a beach admiring the night skies when along water’s edge the sand glowed in blues and greens. My feet sank into the glowing sand and I was left agape. It felt it another sure sign of a Divinity that created this planet. The awe of sharing a realm with  bio-luminescent phytoplankton stayed with me. I thought what we have in common, plankton and humans: each is full of complex energy of light, reflective of Divine illumination, contributors to the earth’s grand diversity.

And we can see light moving and beaming in people–especially when they are happy or living in their potential, as though brain and soul maximize those qualities.  We see see it gleam in the wise or those who greatly love. We are drawn closer.

And think how gifted humans are –we have part of God operating within our cellular structure since we are made of the same as stars (which ultimately emit starlight fro far away). We can aspire to remarkable things thanks to a well of inspiration we each possess if we are attentive. We have developed expansive knowledge each century; we can reach for past wisdom to gain more revelation. We have within our innermost selves tools to rebuild what is in disrepair, to create out of what has been diminished. Beauty and strength reawaken from devastation due to our inclination, our vision, our efforts.

I am not a real gardener but I can see a metaphor for my life as I consider our African violet plant. It sits on our coffee table, generally. It began to fade although I was watering it, tending to it carefully, picking off parts that looked unhealthy. Leaves began to wilt and decay, as if I had fussed over it too much, so I backed off watering and didn’t often touch. That helped but then I got busy with other things and the dirt got overly dry, even cracked, and tiny blossoms withered before opening in full. I moved it to a windowsill as sunshine grew warmer and away when it was cooled by lowering temperatures or gray skies. I wanted so much to keep this plant healthy. My husband cared, too, as it reminded him of his beloved grandmother who kept them in a bay window. I loved her, as well, and understood.

The one thing that is clear was that the entire plant has reached in earnest for any light. No big surprise, you think; that is its nature. Still, to see that. It was like looking at a lovely ballerina stretch, point her fingertips to sky. However, it soon appeared lopsided as delicate stems and leaves lifted and leaned toward the wide window–straining for ever more sunshine as summer ended. or so I thought, so I kept moving it here and there to see what was useful. I suggested to it that it hang in there, be its beautiful self despite my ignorance. It remained lopsided now despite changing its position. But blossoms bloomed, each a velvety rich purple. It gives us a small happiness. I am more at ease about its care now. This plant and I are learning how things work together, it seems. I give it the benefit of the doubt, let it grow its own way; I will not neglect it or push it too hard again.

The African violet challenge reminds me of how my spiritual life continues to grow and change. I have to be careful but not too careful that growth is squelched by my circumventing, over-attentive intensity. I need to better allow God to nudge and direct me, internally and externally, as I live day into night. And let others in my life give me more clues. I do trust that despite my anxieties and failures and wounds, there remains the ubiquitous constancy of God. That is, Divinity, Divine Love, Creator, Maker of All, Healer, Great Spirit, Perfect Mind. Yes–here it is–the Everlasting Light.

The more I learn about nature and basic physics, the more I realize God’s presence. I tend to experience little separation between Divinity and life in the here or beyond. As above, so below, as the old maxim goes. That is, unless I put a division between us like a fortress wall. Which I have done–due to weariness or cynicism bought on by heartbreak or substance abuse or assortments of pain that took me to a hard limit. This impulse to turn away from Light has occurred despite never disbelieving in an essential holiness of life and wholeness. I cover my mind and spirit with perseveration or distractions of no merit and the light cannot easily get in. I can become petty and sour, critical of small things and angry over others of negligible value in the big picture. And I too often defend and justify and rationalize my character weaknesses. This, rather than face myself in the revealing truth, the certain cure of facing the light.

The increased lack of natural illumination as night falls has its layers of meaning, its wonders. An urban lifestyle makes moonlight and starlight far less easy to access. I value the darkness I experience, though, and shadows that transform all with gradations of light until the curtain of darkness sweeps across my view. They each inform and comfort me, and if I had my way I’d stay awake more of the night. But the animal I am has a need of rest and so I turn out my bedside lamp and close the shutters and put on my sleep mask to finally slumber. Often at dawn I awaken despite desire to sleep more. There comes fresh light slinking and glinting, delving past eyelids. I lean toward the window at last without the eye covering and behold the day breaking open. I am thrilled that I be able to awaken, get up to stand firm, to begin play and work.

As Christmas nears, I meditate more profoundly on the Light that Jesus talked about: the warmth of a burning, shining light of Love. An embracing, unconditional love to claim, to grant ourselves as well as to others. To receive from and return to God who made us via miracles of science and metaphysical genius. This is the true Light I seek each day– as long as I am willing to be more like an African violet, free to accept the power it gives, to benefit from yet give something back, to allow any inherent splendor to come to fruition. Transformation happens one we say yes. We are made to be charitable, intelligent creators and givers; we have the power to effect change that helps rather than hinders. Let’s not mistake glitter of this season nor glossy affectations or promises of temporary gain as signs of a loving kindness that sticks. It’s not what we need here and now, and not for the wailing bowl of this scooped out, injured earth. We each can do better by taking a risk to reveal who we are, and be open to little miracles. To see what might happen that can work better–work well.

As the darkness takes its turn in lieu of sunlight, as shadow slips over hands and face, I ask myself again: how much better can love be reflected towards those I know, and those whom I know little, and those whom I have not yet met? What generous properties of light can I somehow put into practice? That is my renewed task and privilege, a labor of care, working with manifestations that share one potent design.

Step forward into the light. Bring to each other your gifts. Let charity flow.

 

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Readers and fellow bloggers,

I thank you for showing up to read my writing and to share thoughts at times. I’m grateful to be writing WordPress posts since December 2010! That is 681 prose posts. And that does not include the now-closed Poetry for the Living and Visionary Views blogs I posted for over a few years, as well. It has been great fun, and excellent for honing skills, as well. It’s always surprising to me when I note that I have well over 15,000 followers, and I am deeply appreciative.

I hope for your well being and for many moments of grace to manifest in your lives, however you celebrate these holidays. For peace and for kindness, first and last.

I have one more post this Friday–then I will join you all again in 2019 as we continue to create and share in this community of folks.

To those of Christian faith as well as you who like to  celebrate this time: from my home to yours–have a Merry Christmas!

Warm regards, Cynthia

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“God did not create evil. Just as darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of God.” –Albert Einstein

 

 36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  (Holy Bible, Matthew 22:36-39)

 

Friday’s Quick Pick: Farewell to Heart Concerns (for now!) and Beck’s Tree Farm

 

Well, I came through the heart angiogram just fine and am about back on my feet, after a fine conclusion: the third stent implant is not needed! Now I happily turn my attention to the Season’s preparations once more and must think about where we will get our fresh tree this year.

Beck’s Tree Farm was visited over the years as it was our favorite place to get a tree. It was bought later in life by a charming and friendly couple who finally retired from the business; now new owners apparently have other plans. We quite enjoyed the woolly sheep, our endless walks across muddy fields to discover the very best tree which we (or, if our son wasn’t there, a helper) cut down. Such panoramic views were beheld, including glimpses of Mt. Hood. The air was crisp and sweet. It was fun, felt magical to us.

Here are a few pictures from 2013 and 2015 of the annual trip out there with our son, Joshua and his children, Asher and Avery. Happy memories, indeed! (Now Asher is 13; Avery is 16, soon to graduate early from high school.) You will note Joshua is wearing a more  typical Northwest attire even in winter: shorts (if at all possible) with a heavy fleece-lined flannel and sneakers (or hiking shoes). Of course, the Santa hat is required for these Christmas forays!

No matter where we discover our next and best piney tree, then decorate and light it  up, it will be more good times shared. I can’t imagine anything better. Though I may have a less than perfect heart, it is beating strong and true, overflowing with love for my family and friends as we gather around table and tree.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Saving Graces of Community Centers

I am not a fan of blatant sentimentality, a saccharine nostalgia that paints a pastel-shaded Technicolor picture of a glorious world impervious to danger and distress. We all know it isn’t so. Behind glossiest scenes, troublesome things happen sooner or later, in keeping with imperfect human living.

But be that as it may, to this day I enjoy warm and cheery memories of my hometown’s community center. And I generally believe they are warranted. I enjoyed top-notch youthful experiences within the red brick walls of Midland Community Center.

I began thinking of this after this place came up as a topic on a Facebook page to which I belong. There one can share pictures, information and minor social connection for Midland, Michigan’s  current and former residents. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to engage in sharing thoughts there, as I have not been there for anything other than my parents’ funerals in 17 years. Before that, a scant few times most years, then none at all for decades. This was due to circumstance as well as by design. I was not loath to leave mid-Michigan and that small city. My life needed landscapes beyond the flat, open vista, one contoured for months by about 6 months of intense winters; a more diverse population; and different opportunities. Still, I enjoy the tidbits both historical and social that I read from my home in Oregon. One of the most interesting has been the ongoing exchange of warm memories like mine of the city’s community center–by perhaps thousands of people.

A little history first: the first community center set up there was started in 1919, Wikipedia states, “in conjunction with the very first bowling alley in Midland.” Soon other sporting activities were added as more people came. In 1955–I was 5 and had lived in Midland 3 years–Dow Chemical Company covered the $1.5 million cost of a new and modernized center and site. That makes sense as the multinational Dow Chemical and Dow Corning were and remain headquartered in the city. The center has grown, having been enlarged several times. “In 2005, MCC recorded 900,000 member visits….equivalent to 2,465 persons participating every day or the year.” (In 1960 when I was 10, Midland’s population was about 27,000; in 2017, it was 41,000.)

I am not surprised; I popped in often during the ’50s and 60s. I can’t recall what it cost to use the facilities but it was minimal, affordable for most folks. Yearly memberships were available and likely my family had one, as all five of us kids loved to be active. It yet provides activities every season, nearly every day you might want to drop in or regularly participate in a series of classes or a special event. That has been important in a place where freezing temperatures can last for months. Parents, children and single adults have all enjoyed the options, and what was once a good sized two-story building on a large corner lot now takes up a 12-acre site. I can barely imagine such changes.

So what did I most appreciate about it? Having so many choices was one. There was a huge swimming pool with even a high dive board which I thrilled to climb up, then plunge from; swimming was one of my all-time beloved pastime for years, indoors or outdoors. There were also basketball, volleyball, badminton, the last two being favorite games for me. There was a billiards room (I worked on that with my brother) and one with ping-pong (table tennis) tables ( which I loved) and a fitness room. I took a preschool rhythmics class where I wore soft suede slipper-like shoes that felt wonderful and danced all about (I still do recall it) and then beginning ballet classes, plus a few art classes. There was also gymnastics, martial arts, fencing, yoga. I read there are music lessons offered but if they were offered back then, I studied music elsewhere. Along with the rest of several teen casts I rehearsed musical theater shows there for summertime productions.

As I recall, there were also workshops for health, product presentations, lectures, small music group rehearsals, art shows, holiday bazaars, community group and church gatherings. Rooms were likely rented cheaply, if they cost anything.

Grade school kids attended outdoor summer day camps sponsored by the MCC and greater city parks and recreation department. Rainy days we would do fun activities in the center, as well. I spent a few early years in Barstow Woods with other campers and our counselors, soaking up nature’s wondrous ways, playing games, singing songs, and in Central Park right by the center) I learned to swim better in the outdoor pool. These summer camps served a couple of my children, too, when they visited my parents

And there were the Saturday afternoon dances in the gym starting when I was 13. What had reeked of sweat during regular hours was transformed into a low-lit, music-filled space. I spruced myself up a tad, met up with friends. We chattered among ourselves tried to look cool,  in sync with the scene yet disinterested. In awhile we gravitated to the dance floor with each other, did the Twist, the Monkey and all the other crazy dances we knew. The music was emboldening as we responded to blaring rock ‘n roll records. In time, some of the guys would move closer to the clusters of girls and, at some point, one then another and another would ask someone to dance a slow dance or another fast and furious one. Reputations could be cemented there or dismantled so we had to watch ourselves. But it was a pleasure to move to the beats and practice wooing a boy from the protection of our groups that made the afternoon an adventure. It was an introduction to the new world of early teen-hood.

The community center made a significant difference in other ways. I could get away from my house and the life lived there. Away from constant classical music, which I adored but my mind and heart were sometimes over-full. Away from the bungalow were stuffed with not only my siblings, parents and our friends, but students of my musician/ teacher father’s. And sometimes customers who came for my mother’s part-time seamstress and milliner creations (who also taught elementary school). The doorbell and phone were always ringing. Even though I knew nothing different and could concentrate well amid the controlled if cacophonous chaos, I yearned for private space and coveted quietness. Too, I just liked other sounds, scenes and kids who played games or learned new things with me. It was about a 4 block walk from our house to MCC and since the streets were safe, overall, I was free to ride my bike or walk alone there and back by the time I was 9 or 10. It was a good bet, however, that my friends might be going there, as well so we could meet up and head out.

I didn’t just learn to play indoor sports better, swim or dance better. Education for the young occurs in subtler forms socially. All socioeconomic and cultural groups were represented. I might not be good friends with Wally or Leslie at school but there we’d swim with each other, share a good game of volleyball or table tennis. It was far more egalitarian than most places. And I could better blend in with a number of groups and even just goof around. Not be My Father’s Daughter (a public man in several capacities) with high expectations to meet. I could also compete and work hard to win without hard feelings if my opponent or I lost–and the rules of fair gamesmanship counted. It all held more friendly neutrality than if we played in a school setting. And if there was ever a rousing argument, it was settled soon by the staff; fights were extremely rare in the MCC and those too boisterous were ushered out with warnings. Those who came wanted this to be a respite, a fun time, a place of peaceful and congenial interactions. I think not even swearing was tolerated. Clear respect for one another was, and likely remains, key.

I remember window seats. I don’t think there were cushions on them by the big wide windows but they were brick seats, nonetheless, where many could rest or wait for rides home, perhaps. There was an area beyond the front desk, a large rectangular room used for family get-togethers, meetings, catered dinners and other events. But often it was empty and still. I would take my notebook, sit with legs pulled up and write in my notebook on top of my knees, staring out the huge window now and then as I cogitated, dreamed, observed, recorded. I liked watching the weather change beyond fingertips pressed on glass: dramatic thunderstorms, blurring mini-blizzards, autumnal palettes, spring’s delights. I liked to see the people coming and going, teens walking arm in arm or parents with fussy children or an adult rushing in for a relaxing break before heading home again.

The community center was a central meeting ground of my town with its mix-and match events and numbers and kinds of people and multiple experiences on any given day or night.

An environment that is safe is important for any child or youth. It was crucial for me because I did not always feel safe, spending a fair amount of time trying to avoid, and too often failing, a (non-blood) pedophile during some earlier years. At MCC there were responsible, trustworthy adults with name tags and there were enough that every area was nicely covered. If someone got hurt, there were people to help. And the other youths were mostly those I genuinely enjoyed seeing, yet could easily avoid if I chose–the place was big and choices many. I could breathe easy, never felt lost or bored. Surely this is true of the other children that attended on a week-end afternoon or for after-school hours of fun. It was a haven for any and all as well as recreational center.

I never worked there but at least one sister and brother did. By the time I was of age to do so, other things were starting to hold my attention and I spent less time at MCC. But it helped inform who I was becoming, provided healthy pleasures, a sense of security and  instruction across a few disciplines.

I have been to a community center here and there since then. Some have been good, some are not very welcoming or useful. But all are working to bring together a variety of people–for improvement of health and welfare, to strengthen communal spirit and encourage personal growth. People coming together: so needed more and more. And saving graces, all, amid the often empty hustle-bustle, the multiple hazards of the world. For my old hometown of Midland, Michigan’s enriching community center I remain grateful, hold close rewarding hours of those times. I was fortunate to engage in opportunities for play and learning all at once.

Now I need to more often avail myself of similar community offerings in my current city–and I encourage others to do the same. Check it out. I wish you a happy volleyball or basket ball game, or swan dive off that goose bump-inspiring high board–make a big splash!

Saturday’s Words & Photos: Life and Hoyt Arboretum

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Photos, Cynthia Guenther Richardson 2018

Blue sky and sunshine gleam at me, the autumn colors becoming richer day by day. I am looking out my open balcony doors; the October air lately has been soft and inviting. How fortunate I feel to enjoy such a lesisurely afternoon.

And yet, it has been a challenging week, first dealing with a second knee injury that occurred a week ago on another nature walk. Ah, the importance of strong healthy knees! A greater worry is my one remaining sister being in hospital with heart issues (family health legacy, unfortunately). The past couple days I have been sedentary –a big challenge for me–and very concerned for my sis Allanya. One by one, each of us surviving siblings deal with ongoing heart health matters.

I wasn’t going to post today. Then I recalled a slew of pictures from another recent woodsy foray (not the hike during which I tripped on a piece of hidden rebar sticking up from muddy creek-side earth…a shock out in the woods). Yes!– I can relive the happiness of hiking even as I rest and ice my swollen knee. And take even more good will to my sister, bedside.

The Hoyt Arboretum, on a high ridge of the west hills of Portland, OR., was established in 1928 as a way to conserve endangered tree species. Within the 189 acres are over 6000 specimens of trees and 2300 species, of which 63 are considered endangered or vulnerable. There is a huge collection of conifers, magnolias, deciduous trees…far more than I can note here, and other plants including bamboo. There is also an Herbarium, a natural sciences collection museum for scientists with many samples of plants.

There are 12 miles of hiking trails within a a place of serenity and many wonders. Please enjoy part of our 7 mile hike undertaken one partly sunny/partly rainy afternoon!

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