Out of the Closet

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His side of the closet

His side of the closet

Here is the post I had planned for January 7. I think I’m ready for it now:

One of the things I love most about my house is the huge closet in the master bedroom. It is about ten feet by fourteen feet and lined with rods on the sides and down the middle. I thought when we bought the house thirty years ago that we would never fill that closet.

But, of course, we have.

Or rather, I have.

We have scrupulously divided the closet in half. My husband’s side is neat and orderly. Mine is crammed full of overstuffed hanging bags to protect seldom worn clothing, sewing projects I’ll never complete, and an old doll bed of my daughter’s I can’t bear to give away.

When my now-adult daughter was home for Christmas last month, I made her go through my closet with me. She had made me hunt for a couch for her new house earlier in December, and I thought it was only fair that she should have to participate in a similarly dreadful project with me.

My side of the closet (AFTER)

My side of the closet (AFTER)

Besides, she often ridicules my lack of fashion sense. Let her have some input into what I kept.

We started with my professional clothes. I’ve been retired for eight years now, and some of the pieces had been around for several years before I retired. I wanted my daughter—now a professional woman herself—to tell me what would still work on the odd occasions when I need to look like a lawyer.

“No,” she said when she looked at the first pants suit I pulled out. “No,” on the second. “No, and no, and no.” In the end, she let me keep one suit.

We dug further back in the closet. “I borrowed this blouse when I was in the fifth grade,” she said. “No.”

On a black dress: “This was part of my Halloween costume one year. No.”

The pile of skirts and jackets and pants and dresses to be given to charity grew.

“My God, Mother,” she exclaimed about one dress she recognized. “This is from the eighties. My childhood is flashing before my eyes.”

“But it’s in good condition,” I protested. “Can’t I keep it?”

“No.”

The vest I rescued

The vest I rescued

I pulled out a vest, which was a gift about fifteen years ago. I wore it to a Christmas party this year.

“No.”

“But my friends at the Christmas party liked it. They told me to keep it.”

“No.”

“I’m keeping it anyway.” I still have some parental authority.

She shrugged and pulled out the next item, a striped shirtwaist. “This dress is so old it’s coming back into style—”

“Then I should keep it?”

“—but not for you.”

I never knew there was a double standard on who can wear retro, but apparently there is. If you wore it the first time around, it’s a fashion faux pas to wear it when the styles recycle.

We moved on to my dressy clothes. I only attend one or two formal events a year, so I had built up a collection of once or twice worn garments. My favorite was a lovely velvet and silk taffeta dress, complete with petticoat, that made me feel beautiful on the one occasion I wore it to a fancy dinner. I knew it was going before she said anything, because it no longer fit, even if my daughter liked it.

“No,” she said, with only a swift glance. My Cinderella gown didn’t even make it out of its plastic bag.

In less than an hour, we had seven 39-gallon trash bags full of clothes, most still in excellent condition. I itemized them all and took them off to a local thrift shop, the ReSale Shop run by the Assistance League of Kansas City. I’m on the Advisory Board of the Assistance League, and I wanted that worthwhile nonprofit organization to have the items my daughter rejected. Surely there is someone in the metropolitan area whose daughter is not as cruel as mine who might benefit from these seldom-worn items.

Now, I just have to psych myself up to organize the few clothes my daughter let me keep in my closet.

And go buy a pair of black pants. Can you believe it? In my whole closet there was not one pair of black slacks of which my daughter approved.

When have you had a hard time giving something away?

P.S. Did you know that January is “Get Organized” Month? As I mentioned on January 14, the whole concept of organization is beyond me this year.

A Lesson About Wonder from Myself at Seventeen

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Wonder valedictory speechI was a valedictorian in my high school class. There were six of us with 4.0 averages (no extra points in that era for A+s or Honors or AP classes). Because there were so many of us, we were each given three minutes to speak at our graduation ceremony. We each chose one emotion to speak about, and I chose “Wonder.” (The single salutatorian got a whole fifteen minutes to himself.)

I thought my speech was long gone. I can remember practicing it alone in my room, over and over, and could remember a few phrases even now, more than forty years later. I can remember giving it on graduation night, looking out at friendly faces in the crowd and feeling the exuberance of the moment. At one point there had been a cassette tape of one of my practice sessions, but I hadn’t seen it in years, and I thought the text of the speech was lost.

Then when I was going through my father’s papers last week I found a copy. Because the topic was “wonder”, he used to tease me about it being the “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” speech. But it must have meant something to him, because he kept it.

Here it is (I’ve corrected a few typos):

Wonder, by Theresa Claudson

Do you ever look at the sky and realize that you are looking at infinity? Beyond the clouds there is a sun 93 million miles away, and beyond the sun there are stars billions of miles further. Beyond the stars there is . . . who knows? The immensity of the universe is more than we can imagine. Any attempt at realizing the gigantic cosmos that surrounds us brings to our minds bafflement, incomprehension, fear; and yet there is also a sense of exhilaration, excitement, and amazement. In short, the emotion we feel when confronted with our own insignificance can only be described as wonder.

I call it wonder because, while there is certainly fear at the recognition of our infinitesimal part in the universe, and bewilderment at the realization that we will never understand all that surrounds us, there is also amazement that we are here at all, and joy at the perfection and order which bring beauty to all of nature. From the solar system to the atom, our world is arranged in a more complex symmetry than man could ever imagine. Clouds, trees, flowers, each one has an individual beauty which harmonizes perfectly with its surroundings. Have you ever seen a part of nature which was ugly? Nature and ugliness are utterly opposed.

But nature is not all that is wonderful. The workings of the human mind are also amazing. An artist or a musician, through thoughts imagined in his soul, can create beauty and emotions universal to all men. Who can look at Michelangelo’s David and not feel the strength and vigor present, or listen to Chopin and not feel his sadness?

There is, however, something still more beautiful, more wonderful than the creations of the human mind. And this is the existence of life itself. That a mere lump of protoplasm can breathe, move, and think; in short, that it can live is the most supreme miracle in the universe. Too few of us realize what a wonderful thing life is. We try to explain the workings of the body, the mind, and even of the universe. While there is nothing wrong with this knowledge in itself, things tend to become blasé after they are explained. Instead, we should accept the miracle of life and the beauty of nature as our ancestors did thousands of years ago. Let us not allow modern sophistication to make us lose the sense of wonder we once had. Let us remember, nature is beautiful, and life is wonderful.

Myself at almost sixty might not agree with every word in the speech, but last week I needed to hear these words from my youthful self about life and joy and wonder as I confronted the detritus of death. And I still agree with most of the sentiments expressed in the speech.

What in your life makes you feel wonder?

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Social Media in Times of Stress

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Before my father passed away on January 5, I had scheduled some posts on my Facebook author page about Clean Off Your Desk Day on January 12, and today’s Organize Your Home Day. I forgot about these posts in the middle of much bigger worries.

My desk

So in addition to my emotional posts from this blog this week and last about my father’s death, my Facebook Page readers can see two posts on these amusing non-events. (Well, they’re typically non-events in my life. I have already confessed that I am a pack rat who files on the floor. But I’ve worked in groups that take Clean Off Your Desk Day quite seriously.)

My attempt to schedule my humor now seems quite inappropriate.

Ironically, however, this year these “national days” are not non-events for me. I am spending time this week tearing my father’s office apart, trying to organize his records into what I need now, what I’ll need soon, and what I will probably never need. Clean off the desk? Not for awhile.

And I lie awake nights dreading the soon-to-come dismantling of my parents’ house, which I’ll need to do with the help of my brother and sister and the rest of the family. We will have to decide what to keep and what to toss from a fifty-nine year marriage. Organize the home? This year we are emptying it.

I write all this to show that one aspect of the Bad and the Ugly of social media is that items posted in advance may later seem inappropriate. Automation of posts and tweets is helpful in moderation, but the writer must always remain aware of what is about to be posted, as I have discovered this week. It may turn out the scheduled posts do not describe life as it develops. Life doesn’t always roll along as we plan.

But I have also experienced the Good of social media this week—the connections that can develop across distances and in short times. My heart has been warmed by readers both on this blog and on Facebook who have expressed their compassion for my family and me. Most of the people who have commented are people I know personally, but some are people I’ve met only through social media. Good people. Friends, even. And it is a comfort to know that so many people care.

On balance, are our lives better or worse because of social media?

Stories: Past, Present, and Future

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A week ago when I posted, my father was alive. He was a regular reader of my blog, and often called or emailed me when I posted about family issues. He didn’t call me to comment on last Monday’s post about my grandparents’ house. But he did email me on Monday about one of his financial advisors filling out a form incorrectly, and he gave me a management lesson: “PLAN, IMPLEMENT and FOLLOW UP” he wrote.

That night he died.

This past week has been such a mix of analytical and emotional activities, of planning and of mourning. And my siblings and I have barely started. Funeral. Legal. Financial. House. It’s hard to cope with death. The details are overwhelming.

The planning helps to distract from the emotions, then suddenly one of us is in tears.

And yet there have been some good times, too. Getting to know my nieces better. A Seahawks playoff game with my siblings and their families. An afternoon with my daughter and her dog.

Telling stories.

Always there are stories.

My sister told me that my dad never liked sauerkraut, not after he ate a whole jar of his grandmother’s homemade stuff when he was a kid and got terribly sick. I’d never heard that story before. But then, I never made him German food like my sister did.

I told my sister the story of my dad being angry about his parents’ moving from Pasadena, California, to Klamath Falls, Oregon, when he was about thirteen. He’d had a wonderful childhood in idyllic Southern California, free to wander the entire Los Angeles area by bus. In Oregon, he was an urban transplant in a lumberjack town. Only his studious girlfriend (later my mother) and his Latin teacher saved him from becoming a hoodlum, he told me once.

But now, the stories we know are what we know. There is no one left in the generation before us to tell us more stories.

We will have to remember what we’ve been told and pass the tales along. And go make our own stories to pass on as well.

What stories do you want your descendants to know about you? Write them down. You never know when it will be too late.

Change in Plans—In This Blog as in Life

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I had a humorous post lined up for today, but I learned Monday night that my father had passed away suddenly. You may remember that my mother died on July 4. He had missed her terribly for the last six months. He told me after Christmas that it was the first Christmas in sixty-six years they had not spent together—the first Christmas since they were fifteen.

Now they are together again.

So humor isn’t at the top of my list today, and I’ve had to come up with something else to say. But it is too early. Too soon. It will take me awhile to come to terms with his death. We had grown very close in the past several years.

In the meantime, as I process his passing, I am traveling to be with my brother and sister, making lists and more lists of things to do and people to contact. Death has once again caused me to be central planning mode. Together we will get through our loss, and perhaps find strength and compassion from it.

Here are a few of my favorite posts about my father:

Thomas Claudson, rest in peace.

Tom Claudson picture

My father, Thomas Claudson

 

A Fireplace and a Chair Across Two Generations

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My mother and her brother, Christmas 1937

My mother and her brother, Christmas 1937

Please forgive me for posting another Christmas snapshot, even though we are now in a new year. This is a photograph of my mother and her older brother from 1937. It’s a happier picture than another one I posted of these two siblings, and it brought back many memories for me, even though it was taken about two decades before I was born.

This photograph was taken just after my mother and her family moved into a new home in Klamath Falls, Oregon—a home that my grandparents occupied until about 1962. My mother lived in the house from when she was four until she married at age 22.

Some of my earliest memories are of visiting my grandparents in this house, and I continued to visit them there until I was about six and my grandparents retired to Pacific Grove, California. In fact, my mother, brother and I even lived with my grandparents for three months in 1957-58, when I was not much younger than my mother is in this picture and my father was in graduate school. I vaguely remember living with my grandparents, though I knew we didn’t really live there—I knew my real home was in Richland, Washington.

I spent several Christmases in this house with a Christmas tree in exactly the same location by the fireplace. (For another picture of my mother taken beside the fireplace and Christmas tree, see here.) My mother is holding a doll baby and some other toy in the picture posted above. I received a new doll baby each year I had a Christmas in this house.

And I remember a chair in the corner under the window, exactly where it is in this photograph. I doubt it was the same chair in the late 1950s as in this picture from 1937, but it’s possible it was.

It was my grandfather’s chair. I don’t remember anyone other than my grandfather ever sitting in that chair, even when he wasn’t home.

My mother with her father

My mother with her father

Every evening he came home from work, sat in the chair with his cocktail, and watched the evening news. Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. And nothing happened until this ritual was over. Grandchildren were not supposed to interrupt.

Once in a while I got to sit on his lap in this chair, but it wasn’t a frequent occurrence. And it never happened while he was sipping his drink and watching the news.

I wonder if my mother ever got to sit on his lap during the evening news. Based on her stories from her childhood, I doubt it. But there is another picture of her as a baby in her father’s arms.

What do you remember about your grandparents’ houses?

Thank You, and Happy Holidays to All!

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MP900446397As 2014 draws to a close, I want to thank all my readers for their support this year and to wish you all a Happy New Year. I won’t post on this blog again until January 5, 2015.

In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite Christmas posts from prior years:

Super-Jesus and the Season of Mystery

To Grandmother’s House We Go

My Daughter and the Bobbie Vehwahwee

Playing Santa with Grandpa and Barbie  (spoiler alert)
 
Christmas Traditions in the Late 1840s

 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! And thank you again.

President Polk Acknowledges California Gold Discovery Ten Months After It Occurred

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President James Polk

President James Polk

It wasn’t until December 1848 that President James Polk acknowledged that gold had been found in California. President Polk was a strong supporter of western expansion. He had worked to acquire Oregon south of the 49th parallel for the United States in 1846. The Mexican-American War which President Polk supported left the U.S. in possession of California. However, he was skeptical when he first heard about the gold find at Sutter’s Mill.

What finally convinced President Polk was a box of gold dust he received along with Colonel Mason’s report from California. After seeing the gold, he publicized the discovery in a speech to Congress on December 5, 1848. He stated:

It was known that mines of the precious metals existed to a considerable extent in California at the time of its acquisition. Recent discoveries render it probable that these mines are more extensive and valuable than was anticipated. The accounts of the abundance of gold in that territory are of such an extraordinary character as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated by the authentic reports of officers in the public service who have visited the mineral district and derived the facts which they detail from personal observation. Reluctant to credit the reports in general circulation as to the quantity of gold, the officer commanding our forces in California visited the mineral district in July last for the purpose of obtaining accurate information on the subject. His report to the War Department of the result of his examination and the facts obtained on the spot is herewith laid before Congress. When he visited the country there were about 4,000 persons engaged in collecting gold. There is every reason to believe that the number of persons so employed has since been augmented. The explorations already made warrant the belief that the supply is very large and that gold is found at various places in an extensive district of country.

. . . .

“The effects produced by the discovery of these rich mineral deposits and the success which has attended the labors of those who have resorted to them have produced a surprising change in the state of affairs in California. Labor commands a most exorbitant price, and all other pursuits but that of searching for the precious metals are abandoned. Nearly the whole of the male population of the country have gone to the gold districts. Ships arriving on the coast are deserted by their crews and their voyages suspended for want of sailors. . . .

“This abundance of gold and the all-engrossing pursuit of it have already caused in California an unprecedented rise in the price of all the necessaries of life.

“That we may the more speedily and fully avail ourselves of the undeveloped wealth of these mines, it is deemed of vast importance that a branch of the Mint of the United States be authorized to be established at your present session in California.

For the full text of his remarks, see here.

President Polk’s speech marked the official beginning of the California Gold Rush. The gold dust he had been given was put on display in Washington, D.C., and was valued at over $3,000—a lot of money for that era.

After the President put his imprimatur on the California gold, the Forty-Niners began to race west. But the Forty-Niners were late to the party.

As my posts this year have shown, the discovery of gold in the Sierra Nevada mountains was the worst kept secret in the U.S. in 1848. Throughout that year, men flocked to California as soon as they learned of the gold. When President Polk finally acknowledged the gold finds, most of the world had already heard of it. By the end of 1848, thousands were already seeking their fortunes.

Here were some other Gold Rush-related developments that occurred in December 1848:

  • In Oregon, so many elected representatives to the Provisional Legislature had left for California that the legislature was not able to hold its scheduled session in December 1848.
  • The smarter men were finding that more money could be made by supplying the gold diggers than from mining itself. In fact, by December 1848, Johann Sutter and John Marshall were selling their interest in the gold mines around Coloma.
  • The first steamship left New York City for California that month. The U.S. Mail Steamship Company had been granted the U.S. Mail contract for California, and dispatched a paddle steamer to California. The S.S. Falcon reached New Orleans early in 1849 and found hundreds of men waiting for passage.

The point of my monthly posts this year about the discovery of gold in California in 1848 has been to show how slowly news traveled across the continent in the mid-nineteenth century. From the late January discovery of the gold, it took until early December—over ten months—for the U.S. President to receive sufficient proof to be convinced of its veracity.

But, as is always true, people in the mid-nineteenth century did not wait for official acceptance of major developments. There were “early adopters” of the gold phenomenon, just as there are early adopters of new discoveries today.

When has it taken you a while to be convinced something was true?

True Christmas Story: A Visit from St. Nicholas

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My brother and me with Santa

In some families, Santa Claus comes to call ahead of Christmas Eve every year. Other families take their children to see St. Nicholas at the mall every year.

I only remember one time Santa came to see my brother and me, and one later visit to the mall to see him.

The evening Santa came to our house when I was three made a big impact on me. My brother and I had already had our baths and changed into our footed pajamas. Our mother was reading to us. I don’t recall what the book was, but it might have been “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Or it could have been any of the Christmas-related books our family owned.

A knock on the door.

One of my parents opened the front door to the house. That door led straight into the living room where we sat on the couch.

Guess who it was?

SANTA!

I was shocked. I didn’t know Santa made house calls in advance of the Big Night. But there he was! Fat and red and bearded, just like the books said.

I wasn’t scared of him, like my daughter was many years later when Santa came to see her.

But I was speechless. For a few minutes.

Then, when Santa asked if I’d been good, I nodded vigorously. Probably more vigorously than my conduct that year had warranted.

And when he asked me what I wanted, I had my wish list ready. Within a few minutes I was bouncing on the couch in my desire to tell him everything. I needed a quiet reminder from my mother that Santa hadn’t left his bounty yet, and he wouldn’t for a few more days.

Being a true believer in the “naughty or nice” theory, I settled down and delivered my requests with more decorum. I even helped my little brother remember what he wanted for Christmas.

Santa did leave me plenty of presents that year. And some for my brother, too.

Maybe next year I’ll write about our visit to the mall. I was a couple years older then, but I remember far less about it. The second time you talk to Santa makes far less of an impression than the first.

What do you remember about seeing Santa from your childhood?

Kindergarten Show and Tell

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My brother, about kindergarten age

My brother, about kindergarten age

My youngest sibling was in kindergarten the year I started college. When I came home from Middlebury College for Christmas my freshman year, this brother had a favor he wanted.

“Would you come to Show and Tell with me?” he asked.

“Okay,” I responded, somewhat surprised—why did I need to go with him to Show and Tell? “What are you taking for Show and Tell?”

“You!” he said. Maybe it was unusual for a kindergartener to have a sibling in college, but I didn’t think I was that much of an oddity.

I wasn’t sure what five- and six-year-olds would want to know about college, but I agreed. I could handle them, I thought—I’m a college student.

On the appointed day, I went to kindergarten. I had prepared a few remarks about living in a dorm and going to classes in buildings all over campus and studying really hard. Topics suitable for children still going to G-rated movies. And after a semester of Political Science with a professor who used the Socratic method of instruction, I figured I could field any questions a little kid could throw at me.

When I arrived at my brother’s classroom, I found I was not the only entertainment for their Show and Tell. Some child had brought a new toy, and the little girl who lived across the street from us had brought her Golden Retriever, Macdougall, on a leash manned by her father.

The kids all milled around the dog. “Ooh! He’s so soft!” they said of his fur. He wagged his tail and licked everyone. It was instant love on all sides.

When Show and Tell began, Macdougall went first. More tail wags and dog slobber. More oohs and aahs.

Then the toy.

Finally, my brother introduced me, and I gave my little spiel about college, while the kids looked bored or ogled the dog. “Does anyone have any questions?” I asked when I finished.

One little boy raised his hand.

“Yes?” I said.

“Can we pet the dog some more?” he asked.

So I yielded the floor to Macdougall and his owner for another round of adoration.

When have you been upstaged? How did you handle it?

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