See to Your Siblings

“Be kind to your brothers and sisters,“ Mr. Spainhower advised my high school English class. “If you’re good to them, they’ll be part of your life for more years than your parents, spouses, or children.”

When younger—engaged in teasing, tattling, and fisticuffs with my six siblings—I would have scorned such an idea. Who’d want to be stuck with that throng of thugs forever?

I remember sluggishly pushing our vacuum down the hall and glaring at Carolyn, who ironed in the kitchen, popping nary a bead of sweat. She sneered back at me, took a sip of lemonade, turned up the radio, and sang along: “How much is that doggie in the window—arf! arf!”

Seemed more like a party than work to me.

Pushing the belching machine into the living room, I aimed for Barbara, who sat on the floor pairing freshly laundered socks. Concentrating on her task, she didn’t look up, increasing the chances I could inflict serious injury. But when Mom entered the room, I veered off course and listened as she collected Barbara’s work and praised her, “Look at the good job you’ve done; you’re getting to be a big help.”

What was I? An incompetent orphan on loan from the poor house?

No, I was an unhappy teenager concentrating on my grievances rather than the love, friendship, and fun I derived from my siblings.

Hundreds of miles now separate us, but we continue to talk on the telephone, visit one another, and get together every summer. Recently, I showed a friend a picture taken of us at one of our reunions. As I named each sibling, I thought about how she must see us: wrinkled, gray, stooped, balding, sagging, adorned with hearing aids and glasses, wearing comfortable shoes and roomy clothes.


Boys, L to R: Bob, JL, Lawrence, Blaine
Girls, L to R: Barbara, Carolyn, Janet

When I look at the photo, however, I remember us as we were when young: energy-filled, happy, and best friends. I see brothers and sisters who know me completely and love me still; siblings who have been kind to each other and have remained part of each other’s lives.

Sometimes in dreams I return to the childhood homes I shared with my brothers and sisters. We’re gathered in the kitchen: I feel the presence of our parents; I hear laughter; and I relax into the sense of belonging I feel when with my family.

Cherish your brothers and sisters.

Have some thoughts
about maintaining relationships with siblings?
Let me know.

Recap of Comments on A Reluctant Author
Janice confided she has long dreamed of doing her own artwork and now that she is, she feels wonderful and scared at the same time. I know the feeling.

Dawna wrote, “I put my talents/hobbies on the back burner to sit behind a keyboard each day, and every key I press tells me that I could be doing something more.” Dawna is talented, and I believe she will find her way to that something.

Mary plans to forward Aunt Beulah’s advice to someone who’s boldly stepped into a new position and is questioning her ability. I hope the recipient finds my words helpful.



Use It or Lose It

I awakened feeling anxious, and my unease increased as the morning trudged along. Finally, telling myself I could delay no longer, I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans, took a deep breath, and logged onto Facebook, determined to stay there until I figured it out how to use all its features or died with my fingers twitching on  the keyboard.



Technology scares me, but each time I learn another facet of it, I feel my brain flexing its muscles. “Well,” I told myself proudly after I found friends, sent messages, updated my status, inserted a photograph, and responded to others, “Maybe fossils can use Facebook.”

Even though I’ve made progress, I continue to distrust technology and assume I’m incapable of tackling anything new. Judging from the Plaxo hubbub, my hesitance might be genetic.

A few years ago, my siblings and I received email notification that my older brother, Bob, had invited the rest of us to join him on Plaxo, whatever that is. We all like Bob. We forgave him long ago for sneaking into the basement and eating all the fruit cocktail Mom bottled as a special treat. So we signed up.

When we received no further messages, we called one another, asking, “What is Plaxo, anyway? Sounds vaguely dental, doesn’t it? Is Bob losing it?” Finally, we went to the source. Blaine called Bob: “What the heck is Plaxo, and why did you want us on it?”

“Heck, Blainer, I don’t know. I didn’t join anything.”

Right. He lied about the fruit cocktail, too.

A few months later, I received an invitation to join Desktop Dating. The invitation came from my oldest brother, a 77-year-old, married, great-grandfather.

Evidently, my family isn’t equipped for the brave new world we’re being forced to enter. But I’ll keep plugging away at the confusing wold of online activity; and when I master a new skill, I’ll congratulate myself for giving my mind a workout.

Maybe it will reward me by sticking around for a while.

Have some thoughts
about ways to nourish your mind
or the importance of doing so?
I’d like to hear.

Comments about Do Some Good: an Uneven Journey
Only one comment last week, but it was a treasure, too good to be captured in a summary. To read Mercy’s response, scroll down and click on the title Do Some Good below this post, then when it is loaded, click on the apostrophe to the right of the title. It will be worth the effort.

Aunt Beulah’s Recommendations for Living Well

and some who modeled them for me

1. Nurture your body and mind
A California girl strode into my classroom and introduced herself as the teacher next door. Blonde and athletic, Barbara became my best friend and reacted with disbelief when she learned I didn’t exercise. “Not even speed walking? You don’t own a bike?” Within a year, I purchased running shoes and drove to an abandoned railroad grade outside of town. Knowing from Barbara that cardio conditioning requires continuous movement, I decided to run 30 minutes. New to pacing, I sprinted up the grade, then lurched up the grade, then vomited on the grade. But I didn’t quit.

2. Indulge in laughter and small pleasures

Mr. Hall, the janitor at my elementary school, carried laughter and peppermints in the pockets of his bib overalls to share with students in need. Every day, he sprinkled sunshine among us; as a result, most of my class decided to be janitors when we grew up — so we could have as much fun as he did.

3. Cherish your loved ones and friends
As I explained in my first post, when Aunt Beulah hugged me tight and listened, she did more than stifle my sobs: she demonstrated her love for me in an understated way that bound me to her forever. And she never mentioned the mess I made of her apron front with my blubbering.

4. Do some good
My oldest brother played free-spirited games he created with his much younger siblings, and we adored him. That’s why we sat in the car and sobbed as he walked toward the exhaust-spewing bus that would start him on his long journey of service to his country in Korea, then to the many students he taught, followed by his more recent service to his church in China, Laos and South Africa. Now 80, he serves the dying as a hospice chaplain, and my experience tells me that he serves them with understanding and generosity.

5, Utilize your talents and skills
When I called my mother of 78 on a Sunday afternoon, we talked about the speech she had given in church that morning; and she described her latest project: a chest she refinished and painted with graceful red poppies. She planned to take  it on Monday to the artist’s co-op where she sold her crafts. A few days after our conversation, she died. I sat in my living room, surrounded by cherished items she made for me, and wept.

Parents at Hoover Dam

My parents in front of the dam Dad helped build.

6. Develop financial fitness
My dad worked in the depths of the Hoover Dam, the gold mines of California, and the iron-ore tunnels of Utah. At 35, fearing miner’s lung, he went to work at an iron mill in the fiery heat of a blast furnace. When laid-off or on strike, he took any job he could to prevent “going on the dole,” which he considered more demeaning than bucking bales in another man’s field or cleaning coops at a neighbor’s chicken farm. And always, he saved, avoided debt, and made double house payments whenever possible. Every time I buy something I want, rather than need, I sense him shaking his head in dismay.

Have some thoughts
about your role models for aging well?
I’d be interested.
Please comment.

Recap of last week’s comments
Janice wrote that retirement should be about pursuing any dreams you put on hold when younger; Jeannie wishes she had abandoned her dream of being taller by wearing 4-5 inch heels that eventually did her harm. Kathleen senses retirement looming, but admits she’s a grasshopper. Sue fretted about pursuing too many interests too briefly, even as she understood that her varied interests helped her teach well. Dawna was flooded by memories of her loved ones and thinks she should start planning now in order to age well.

As I read your comments, I appreciated the spirit and personality evident in each response. Thank you.

Old Age Is Not An Option

I know, I know, you find Aunt Beulah’s blog slightly amusing, but basically non-relevant. You’ll never be old, at least not old-old, and retirement is a concept as vague to you as Einstein’s theory of relativity.


Like many of you, my job consumed me. My life was career-centered and goal-oriented: another degree to earn, position to seek, skill to develop. I entertained the illusion that I would teach happily and well until I died a painless death, clutching my red pen, my head slowly sinking onto a pile of beautifully written student essays.

As a 1st-year teacher assuming eternal youth

As a 1st-year teacher assuming eternal youth

My classroom would be sealed and a placard hung: “Mrs. Janet Bohart Sheridan taught here; so use your quiet voices and spit out your gum.”

Now, six years into retirement, wondering when my skin began to resemble crepe paper, I’m glad I came to my senses in time to prepare financially and mentally for old age—a journey detailed in future posts.

When my father retired after forty-five years of blue-collar work in mines and steel plants, he tried to rearrange Mom’s cupboards, took up weaving hats for a miserable month, and mailed his offspring articles touting the consumption of large quantities of raw garlic.

Now there was a man ill equipped for retirement.

Fortunately, he rediscovered his enjoyment of reading, particularly Matt Helm novels. He started walking to the supermarket, post office, and bank rather than driving, and expanded his gardening repertoire—growing giant cabbages and purple potatoes. He also began driving his truck into the mountains to cut and haul firewood, which he split during the winter for all the “old folks” in town.

He was happy.

Take it from my dad and me: you will age as surely as your favorite team will eventually lose; and the more you think about what you want in retirement and take steps toward it now, the easier you’ll find the transition.

Have some thoughts
about retirement—
whether it’s forever away,
growing closer,
or your current status?
Leave a comment and make my day!

A Recap of Your Comments on Last Tuesday’s Blog
Evidently, sciatica hit a nerve. Deb expressed interest in easing her aches and pains by stretching, and thought rum and coke would enhance her efforts; Shelley noted that her posture, as she typed, was ramrod straight.

Mary remembered acting like me in high school: wearing flat shoes and slouching a bit so she wouldn’t be taller than the boys she liked. Fortunately, she self-corrected sooner.

Kathleen briefly contemplated giving up Diet Coke to improve her aging, but dropped the idea because without it she’d be even meaner.

Lucy and Noelle chose to ignore the suggested response and instead made connections between Aunt Beulah’s term “half-baked” and Colorado’s recent pot legislation. Jewels connected it to Jimmy Buffett. Ladies, ladies, ladies.

I hope to hear from more of you. Your comments are the reason I get up at 5:30AM to publish my posts—well, full disclosure: the smell of brewed coffee might get me out of bed even more than your responses.