Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Good Neighbor Day 2014

You don't need a special day to be a good neighbor, or to celebrate motherhood or fatherhood or grandparents. Today, just happens to be "Good Neighbor Day", and it's usually a "get a free flower at your local florist and give it to someone" day.

Well, as you know, my friend Kathy and I started a little venture called Front Porch Nation recently. Our goal is to help change the world for the good, one front porch at a time. And our philosophy is pretty simple: your neighborhood starts on your front porch (or stoop, or the place out front where you sit or swing and make yourself available to those around you).

I wrote about what I did today and am posting it here:
By Erica Robinson, Porchista
For the Front Porch Nation, every day holds the potential to be a “good neighbor day.”
It’s part of why we get out on our front porches and be a part of our neighborhood, our closest part of the world at large.
Today, I sat on my front porch with my middle child as she excitedly waited for her friend to walk down from her home, so that they could walk to school together.
Later, I rustled up my youngest son and we headed over to a neighborhood that I had visited last week. There, tucked away in a larger subdivision, was this charming cul-de-sac.
As I admired it last week, and took pictures, it took me a few minutes to place why I liked it so much.
For one thing, the inherent shape of their half circle made all the homes face each other in a gracious, gently curving manner. But more than that, it was the love of their front porch that each one of these neighbors possessed that struck me the most.
Marsha and her puppies
Marsha and her puppies
Each carried its own style, or personality. And the happy positive of that uniqueness was you wanted to stop and visit each house.
So, I drove back this morning, with a potted blooming plant to leave with one of those neighbors, and lo and behold, one of them was sitting on her front porch!
Marsha and her hummingbird feeder. Marsha is called a "porch monkey" by her family because she spends so much time out there. We can see why she does.
Marsha and her hummingbird feeder. Marsha is called a “porch monkey” by her family because she spends so much time out there. We can see why she does.
Marsha and her two puppies (seen right and at top) spend a lot of time out on their front porch. So much time, in fact, that Marsha’s family nickname for her is “the porch monkey.”
This morning, tiny hummingbirds flew excitedly about Marsha’s feeders and plantings.
Cheerily, I offered her my gift of flowers and wished her a happy “good neighbor day” and I thanked her for her lovely porch and for being out on it.
You see, our neighbor doesn’t have to only be the person to our immediate left or right. It can be anyone.
Here are more porches in Marsha’s lovely cup-de-sac.
Marsha's cul-de-sac
Marsha's cul-de-sac porch

Marsha's cul-de-sac porch

Marsha's cul-de-sac porch

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Family History: a lesson in perserverance

F.O. Havener of Bangor, Maine, circa 1860
one of my forebearers
Over the weekend, I had the chance to read through one of the journal's of my great, great, great-grandfather, F. O. Havener. Like so many folks, he started the journal on his birthday. This one started on his 30th birthday, on the eve of the Civil War.
He was a merchant, a trader, who owned a small merchantile shop in Bangor, Maine. In it he talks about the ships that come in and the ships that sink in storms. Ships holding his cousins and uncles and friends. He has a brother who travels extensively to London and Hong Kong. He talks of his success in trading horses, and the unfortunate buying of a cow for $5 that dies that very night. Of a suspected murder and a boy who dies of hydrophobia (rabies). He speaks of politics, both local and national, church doings, and his brother-in-law George Russ of Rockland who, once civil war breaks out, was in the 4th Regiment. 

More than anything though, he records the days in terms of weather and trade.
"Lowery (blustery) and trade dull".
He seemed constantly, mildly depressed, yet he refuses to despair or give up.
He tells a brief bit about his adventures at the age of 19, when, in 1849, he set off from Maine to California to join the Gold Rush and make his fortune. He struggled there for four years and came back empty handed and in very poor health. It seems he never fully regained his strength, for he mentions several long periods of illness. At 30, he has a wife and two children and "a few sticks of furniture".

Yet, at least on paper, he doesn't seem to find his lot a dismal one. And, despite the daily litany of "trade dull" or "trade very dull", he periodically makes a rather large investment and within that same day sells nearly all of what he purchased for a tidy profit. He took risks, such a sending cargo down South (before the war breaks out), only to find his tons of potatoes rotting on him before reaching New Orleans or another shipment to England, only to lose it all with the ship went down and the captain (an uncle) having failed to procure insurance on the cargo. He lends food to his neighbors, knowing they will not pay him back, and simply marks it as "bad debt" without naming the names of those to whom he lent. 

The journal spans a course of three years, with nearly daily entries for a period of months, followed by lengthy gaps (illness?). At the end of the first year, he was tremendously happy to have made the purchase of a home off Main Street on Waldo Avenue for $800 w/terms. This home he referred to as "the Veazie house". For it had belonged to a former ship captain, Wm Veazie. He several times mentioned his pleasure in having a home. My great-great grandfather, his namesake, is born during the time of this journal. The one who later built Roxmont

And it ends, on Tuesday, May 31, 1864 "Pleasant all day  wind N west war news unimportant   Gold 192  Cotton 1.08 a lb  am better than I was yesterday  trade rather dull"

I really like this ancestor for his courage. For him writing a bit of his life that I could read and discover more about him and the world he lived in; however monotonous those days seemed to be in their running together.
Grateful for his not giving up or falling into melancholy, despite all the hardships he endured.
Happy for the joy he found in his family and the home he provided for them.
He died at age 37. It sounds so young.
And here again, I see that "family legend" is not fact: he was not a shipbuilder, nor a larger-than-life robust man. I realize, too, that my very life, and that of my kinfolk, depended on someone long ago not giving up. 
Someone who kept trying. Who was steadfast. Who, though the successes did not equal the failures or "dull days", he didn't give up on life. Thankfully, the successes sprinkled here and there were, simply, enough.
Fail, learn, and try again. And again.
Don't give up.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The questions that can never be answered

How can our friend be gone?
To leave so abruptly, of his own choice?
To leave without saying goodbye?
There is no making sense of it, and I am but a stranger.
Yet, I loved him.
Like some favorite uncle, I looked forward to seeing him at any opportunity.
Time would pass, but I would think nothing of it, for he was a consistent part of my life.
He was funny.
He was deep.
He made me think.
He succeeded.
He failed.
He didn't give up. Until the other day.
There is no getting past the lump in my throat, nor the sadness in my heart.
You were my friend, Robin.
And you leaving in the manner you chose, leaves me, and the rest of the world, feeling like we failed you.
Forgive me.
Forgive us.
How do we forgive ourselves? Our friend suffered so greatly and we did not see it?
What could we have done or said to make you change your mind?
Change your mind and stay a little longer with us?

Source of photo: the Guardian
And this, if you are in a dark place, know that we are here for you. You are not alone.