Family Crosses

This piece originally ran here on May 30, 2022. I can think of no better way to observe Memorial Day than with this look back.

Twelve years ago, my parents noticed that many of the older graves in our family cemetery no longer receive flowers for Memorial Day or at any other time of year. Even the ones that traditionally had been decorated every year no longer received visitors. I imagine that those who traditionally cared for them were people like my grandparents who have passed.

My dad commented on how lonely some of the graves seemed. Forgotten, he said. These aren’t just stone slabs in the ground. He pointed out that each grave represents someone’s parent, sibling, child, friend. Each grave represents someone who walked this earth, breathed air, lived and died. To someone at some time, every person buried in that cemetery was the most important person in the world.

My folks had this conversation the day before Memorial Day 2010. The two sprang into action — my dad heading to the garage and my mom to the dollar store. Dad constructed simple wooden crosses using lumber he had on hand. My mom purchased inexpensive silk flowers to attach to each cross. And by the following day, they had enough wooden crosses adorned with flowers to place at every grave in Garrett Cemetery where some of my immediate family is buried. 

By the following year, they had painted all those crosses white, echoing the simplicity of the famous white crosses in Arlington.

Sadly, we lost another one of our own this year. My aunt Maryann left this world in August, joining her parents, husband and child in the little cemetery down the road from my home. My dad went back to the garage to assemble another white cross.

Thirty-five souls rest in that cemetery and thirty-five white crosses have been lovingly placed by my parents again this year. 

They are modest people and don’t do it for the attention. It is a simple act but one with great impact. It is a moving sight, these white crosses. My mother insists that if every person who takes flowers to a grave would take an extra bouquet for someone who doesn’t receive visitors, the world would be a better place. I think she is right.

I wish I knew more of the stories behind the headstones but I do know some. My grandma’s brother died of influenza, just a toddler in 1922. My aunt and uncle — two of my favorite humans ever — each died young, leaving behind a hole in our family like none other.

My great-great-uncle Hobart Garrett was a farmer who died an old bachelor. There is an empty space next to him that I presume was for a wife who he never met living out here in the country. Hobart’s sister was a school teacher who had no kids of her own and who seemed to not really like kids. I have a small hand bell she used at the school as well as a handful of postcards, textbooks and even a purse that belonged to her. 

All 35 were people just like you and me. All of them had a story to tell. Even if we don’t remember their stories, it’s nice to honor their memories. 

My parents seem to think that no one else notices their crosses but I notice and I’m glad they do it. 

If you’re out and about decorating graves this Memorial Day, perhaps consider taking extra flowers for a neglected grave or at least take a moment to brush the grass clippings off some headstones. Small gestures such as these may not change the world but you never know who is watching and besides, you’ll know that you did something nice for someone who can offer nothing in return.

Vintage SABA Radio

I gained a treasure this weekend. My folks found this SABA Wildbad radio for me at a yard sale. For free.

My vintage radio collection isn’t huge but I have several pieces, picked up as bargains along the way but none of them were free and none are German.

There’s not a lot available on the internet but I did figure out that it’s a fifties era model and that the company began by making watches in the Black Forest in 1835. The founder’s grandson moved the company to Villingen in 1918 to begin making headphones and radio components. By 1931, they were producing radio units with loudspeakers. This model has three loudspeakers.

They also were the first to develop automatic fine tuning in all bandwidths and, in the sixties, they had a short stint as a record label. Today they are known for televisions, home security systems and home appliances.

Too bad I don’t read German. I did figure out that the Ein-Aus button is On-Off!

This weekend has been busy so there’s been little time to research it but, if nothing else, it’s a great conversation piece. So I plan to clean it up a bit and give it a creative place to live. Someday I’ll circle back around to researching it.

Anyone have experience with mid-century German electronics?

Whole 30 And Thyroid Health

When you’re diagnosed with a thyroid problem, there aren’t many reputable resources to explain exactly how to eat to support this ailing gland.

I have read a lot about what you can’t eat and that tends to be discouraging. Gluten and sugar are not your friend with hypothyroidism and there are lots of inflammatory foods to be avoided as well.

Unfortunately, the American diet is built around gluten and sugar.

I discovered something called the Whole 30 several years ago and decided to revisit this eating plan as it aligns well with thyroid needs. Essentially, it’s a 30 day eating plan that eliminates foods that are traditionally inflammatory and many that commonly cause digestive issues.

That means you can’t have any kind of grains, dairy or sweeteners so there’s no rice, quinoa, corn, yogurt or most processed foods. Fast food is almost completely off the table as is the Diet Coke that I so often turn to in times of exhaustion.

You’re meant to eat meals of vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats. There’s no measuring or counting calories. No one cares how many carbs are in a banana. You just eat whole foods and you eat till you’re full. If you’re hungry on the Whole 30 you’re doing it wrong.

I actually finished day 30 earlier this week and intend to keep going for a while longer.

So, how did it go?

I feel amazing.

The first couple of weeks were rough but life suddenly became wonderful when I hit my stride.

For the first time in a couple of years I have zero pain in my body. My joints and muscles feel great. Getting out of bed is no longer a crisis. The fluid in my ears is gone. The weight gain has stalled and the brain fog is still there but not nearly so bad.

Since last Friday, I have accomplished a bunch of yard work, some stuff inside, run errands, hiked and have been busy at work. A year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do even a fraction of this stuff.

It feels like a miracle.

I know that nutrition is important to the human body but my entire life feels transformed. After thirty days, you’re supposed to start reintroducing foods to see how your body responds but I don’t feel ready. So I’m going on for a couple more weeks before deciding what happens next.

There’s some soul searching to do.

Truth is, eating Whole 30 at home is easy if you know how to cook. Eating in public is hard. Try going to a family reunion, a work lunch or a fast food restaurant and find food that meets the rules. I have made a meal out of deviled eggs with the filling scraped out and plain veggies without dip. The only fast food option has been a Wendy’s baked potato and a plain salad. Even sit down restaurants are hard to navigate.

So I pack food as much as possible but trouble begins when that’s not an option. Luckily, going hungry for a day seems like a fair swap for a life without muscle pain.

So, the question on the table is what am I willing to live with? What can I live without? Is dessert worth the foot pain tomorrow morning?

I am inclined to say that I’ll continue with Whole 30 at home. In public, I can just do my best. At lunch with coworkers I can have the cauliflower crust pizza but not worry about the sugar in the pizza sauce. All those great mom and pop diners are still within reach if I know the fish and chips are a treat but that I’ll be back to baked fish and steamed veggies tomorrow.

Food can be medicine or it can be poison. Some foods will help support my thyroid and move me forward while others will send me backward. I need to think of foods in this way. How do I want to feel tomorrow?

That’s the question.

A Bumper Crop

If anyone out there is in the market for poison ivy, honeysuckle or a nameless ground covering vine that will ruin your life, I have a bumper crop of them all growing right here in my yard.

After years of outright neglect, I woke up one day earlier this month and decided that I would finally transform my beds of invasive plants and weeds into something that can actually hold flowers.

So far, I’m about thirteen hours in and still going strong. I’m basically digging out everything and setting aside the plants I want to keep for easier access to the junk. Once a section is cleared, I go back to replant the things that stay. So it’s literally a few feet forward and a couple of feet backward.

The above pictured yard cart has been tamped down and piled high so many times, I lost track of the loads of debris carried off so far.

Surprisingly, I haven’t run out of steam or interest. It seems that this kind of physical labor has been good for my mind since all that digging, raking and tugging is good for working out aggression.

So, I come in filthy, tired and sore, popping a Tylenol on the way to the shower every evening. Plus, I have a sense of accomplishment as I fall into bed. That’s kind of neat too.

There’s something about ending your day covered in dirt to make you feel accomplished and better connected to the earth.