One of the essays in my memoir, My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Finding the Sacred in Everyday (and some very strange) Places recalls a childhood game we played in the midst of one Florida summer. My siblings, friends and I gathered each night in the South Florida heat, shut our eyes tight and spun in circles. One person sat out the game, perched on the wall, keeping watch over us. We took turns climbing up onto the wall, assuming the role of watcher. When up on the wall we kept our eyes open, ready to alert anyone wandering near the street or too close to the wall.
I recently found a picture of my younger brother sitting on that wall, with my younger sister standing next to him. Sometimes a photo can make the difference in understanding a story…or not. Here’s the essay, just one of many included in the book. Enjoy.
The basic premise of the game, that summer of 1965 in South Florida, was for all of us to shut our eyes and turn around in circles in our front yard. Our goal was to keep spinning till we grew dizzy. A designated “watcher” sat on the five-foot-high brick wall that jutted a few feet out into my parents’ yard. The watcher’s job was to keep their eyes open and warn spinning children if they drew too close to the wall, or ventured near the street.
Years ago I was living in a house with constant construction upheaval. The house was a “fixer-upper” and when we moved in I had little idea what that would mean. The tasks required to make the house stable and functional were endless. Clearing the mess and dust felt overwhelming so most cleaning was left undone. It was only when the marriage ended and construction ceased that I felt in my bones how hard it had been to live with constant upheaval.
The loss of emotional and financial stability pushed me to find new ways of being. Having been a stay-at-home mom for a number of years, I needed to learn to support my family financially. I turned to cleaning other’s homes and soon put to work in my own house the lessons I was learning. Removing dirt, dust, and grime became a way to care for myself and my family, creating a sense of order in a life unsettled by divorce.
Much has changed in my life in the ensuing years but the house and its failings remain a constant. A recently initiated, essential project is almost complete and will help keep our tiny cottage from sagging any more than it already does. The noise, shaking, and hammering are nearly finished.
With the end in sight I can see the layers of mess for what they are—signs of caring and hope–investments in caring for our family. I pulled out the feather duster and began clearing out the tufts of dust-covered cobwebs clinging to corners near the ceiling and stairway. My damp mop shifted bits of debris from the floor along with the grit that had been tracked inside during the messiest periods of the project. Our kittens found the damp mop to be a delightful diversion. Their attentiveness and sense of play “helped” me every step of the way.
I carefully removed pictures of grands from the front of the fridge so I could wipe sticky fingerprints off what had recently been shiny stainless steel. Once polished and dried, the grands and other assorted fridge decorations returned to their rightful places.
The bathroom came next. When my kids were young I cleaned multiple bathrooms (and the rest of each house) weekly to pay our bills. I often said only half-joking, “When you have cleaned ten bathrooms, what’s one more?”
Now living with a body altered by illness, this day one bathroom was enough. After it was cleaner (never totally clean—there is always more), I rested and reflected on a time when I was able to physically do much more. The work in years past, imposing order on disorder, was a source of sanity in trying times.
These days I find stability in a remade family. Necessary construction is undertaken in mostly small doses, and we make time for breaks, for changes of scenery.
As yet one more project nears completion, I try to see putting our house back in order as a way of expressing care. Caring for our family, caring for ourselves, and making peace with the state of our cottage as it is. Yes, after all these years, the house is still a work in progress. The tasks are never done, but a respite, a time to allow everything to hold still is in sight.
I once told a young girl that the act of dusting is actually a way of hugging your house. She looked skeptical but followed my lead and got to work with me. When I pass on so-called words of wisdom I am mostly reminding myself about lessons learned long ago in another life. And so I set out once more to hug our small, still-in-progress cottage that has protected me and my family from the cold for oh, these many years.
She has written for numerous local, regional, and national publications over the past 20+ years, has helped many families save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress.
While out walking, do you find yourself thinking about things that have absolutely nothing to do with your surroundings? I know I do. Pairs of walkers passing by chat about all sorts of things—family, friends, work, etc. Other solitary walkers stride along, their thoughts unknown to passersby.
When I get outside my thoughts often stray to unsettling situations. Somehow the quiet, the beauty all around me opens a door to places I tend to avoid thinking about. However, I also have had instances when these times of quiet help me make sense of confounding situations.
If you will, take a walk with me as I write. My intent is that in hearing a little of my own story it might help you make sense of something in your own life.
In my growing up years I felt keenly the absence of my grampy, my dad’s father, Glen Kuhl, who had died before I was born. This sense of loss may have been reinforced by my mother, who never stopped mourning the loss of this man who had been as a father to her.
Well-intentioned people offer varied strategies intended to short-circuit the difficult process of “letting go,” whether it be of worries, pain, hurt, relationships, the past in general, or even prolonged grieving. The list of life challenges is endless, and suggestions for how to cope are endless too, yet have been useless in my own experience. I have learned that letting go is something that happens on its own time schedule, not because of trying harder.
Our family has a story that has been passed down through the generations. The tale, in My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Finding the Sacred in Everyday (and some very strange) Places, describes an encounter my grandfather had with a farmer in Quebec. The farmer had a chicken coop. My grandfather visited the farm, and realized that one side of the chicken coop was constructed from a cherrywood table. As you might expect, the table was in rough shape, sharing company with a number of chickens.
We stopped at the area of the Royal Gorge, near Canon City, CO and spent several days there. Lucky for us, a beautifully maintained rail trail wends its way right through the town of Canon City, right next to the Arkansas River. The river flows directly through the town after making its way through the Royal Gorge.
I had meant to clean my dusty needlepoint doorstop and finally got around to pulling out the lint remover, which allowed the intricate needlework to be on display once more on our small doorstop. (I have a very uneven house–doorstops are essential or the door won’t stay open!) Once I started handling the doorstop to clean it, I wondered if there might be any initials on it. I knew the doorstop had come from my grandmother Marjorie’s (my namesake) house, and was brought to my parent’s house after my grandmother’s death, then moved to my house after my grandmother’s death. Once all dusted off, I looked closely, but found no initials.
Whenever I meet someone new, perhaps meeting them to write an article about something they have done, I like to understand their backstory. How did they get to where they are today? What are the choices they have made, or the events, the influences that pushed, pulled or drew them in the direction they now find themselves in?
Over the years I have referred to various parts of my own backstory. There’s a reason I only take Easy Walks. This article, an interview with the “Brenda After Sixty” website, offers a clear summary of my backstory, including important events that influenced who I am, and choices I have made along the way.
Marjorie, how did you get the idea to publish your Easy Walks books?
I have written for local newspapers for the past 20+ years. Ten years ago I wrote a short series of articles on local places to walk, which my editor titled “Naturally New England.” After publication, I had a sense the information was of continuing value so I created a blog on my writing website, MarjorieTurner.com for “Local Walks.” Pretty soon people found their way to my blog, and the most common search term was “where is Joe’s Rock?” (It’s in Wrentham, MA and offers a nice view).
After about the 500th “hit” on my website, I recognized a need, researched available sources, (found none) and realized I could fill this void. This was 2013. What began as idea for a newspaper column has grown into the “Easy Walks” brand because of the multiple Easy Walks in Massachusetts books I have written. The first three are trail guides to over 130 trails in 37 contiguous towns in south central Massachusetts. The latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are, offers a broad overview of methods I used to find these (and other trails in our travels throughout the country), strategies that others can put to use, and basic “outdoor” tips for how to dress to keep warm, stay safe on the trail, find walking partners, and more.
Why Do You Focus on Easy Walks?
Well, I only take Easy Walks. Twenty-seven years ago I found myself unable to even walk across a room. Surgery to save my life left my right size paralyzed. To read more, here’s the entire article—Brenda after Sixty Easy Walks article
I have a confession–I am not walking outside much right now. The pandemic has worn me down, shredded my sense of connection with others, and made me reluctant to leave the supposed safety of the walls of my home. Getting outside alone has felt more difficult than in the past. How much easier to simply move back and forth from upstairs to back down, from the living room to the kitchen then back again (we have a very small house).