just don't go thinking you deserve any of it (redux)

We ate pancakes, French toast and corn muffins at the start of maple sugar season this morning with our daughter and son-in-law at Ioka Valley Farms. Both the people and the place are sweet and I left filled and grateful. It always does my soul good to reconnect with these two: they are wise, gentle and creative beings who bring a bit of quiet goodness and humor into an all too crazy world. I love to listen to their stories and insights. I find myself nourished by the way they engage the people and land of Western Massachusetts. And I regularly leave their company returning thanks to God for the chance to be friends with my adult daughter and her beloved.

As our late brunch slathered in butter and maple syrup was devoured, we caught up on a recent visit shared with my Aunt Thelma. She is the only surviving sibling in my late mother's once vibrant clan of seven.  It was heart warming to hear some of the old stories my aunt recalls about our days in the early 60s when my Grandma Nick's 30+ grandchildren regularly played with one another each summer or during school vacations. It was equally fascinating to hear how some of the details from my other cousins lives have been conflated into those of my own experiences.  Apparently I survived a motorcycle accident in family legend. Winton noted wryly, "I think they confused you with Bob Dylan." (I have never driven or owned a bike.)  And I couldn't help laughing at the tales this visit with my Aunt dredged up from my own fuzzy memory, too.
This photo was taken in 1965 at the Mescall Family Reunion. By 1970, when my parents moved to Georgia and I left for college in Sheboygan, WI, it was rare to see these folks again. I remained close with my Aunt Donna, just a few years older than me, until her death in the late 90s. From time to time, I would reconnect with my other aunts too, mostly at funerals, but then our lives moved away from one another again. All have now gone home except Thelma. Through the ambiguous blessing of technology, Face Book has helped me renew connections with a few of my cousins in this picture after nearly 40 years. And Michal's work on the wider family's history put her in touch with other second cousins doing likewise.

After all the stories and food had been consumed, Winton took us into the sugar house to see how the liquid gold is created. He works with regional maple producers and Ioka Farm is the largest in the state of Massachusetts. The owner gave us a tour of their state of the art facility that turns the sap of over 22,000 trees into gallons of top grade maple syrup. If you are ever in the area, Ioka Valley Farm is well worth a trip. (check it out here: http://www.iokavalleyfarm.com /spring/sugar-house/)  As the temperatures plunged below zero and the wind in the Berkshires howled,we hugged one another good-bye for a spell (and received a new supply of old New Yorkers to read and then recycle) and headed back to our homes.

Over the years, Michal has quietly but insistently taught me something about the beauty of small
moments shared deeply. I wasn't always a good student, but she was persistent and now, I pray, I get it - or at least some of it. In John O'Donohue's gem of a book, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, he writes:

The subtle touches of beauty are what enable most people to survive... beauty is so quietly woven through our ordinary days that we hardly notice it. Everywhere there is tenderness, care and kindness, there is beauty... and when we experience beauty, we feel called. The Beautiful stirs passion and urgency in us and calls us forth from aloneness into the warmth and wonder of an eternal embrace. It unites us again with the neglected and forgotten grandeur of life. The call of beauty is not a cold call into the dark or the unknown; in some instinctive way we know that beauty is no stranger. We respond with joy to the call of beauty because in an instant it can awaken under the layers of the heart a forgotten brightness...(but) beauty does not linger, it only visits... it invites us into its rhythm, it calls us to feel, think and act Beautiful for a life without delight is only half a life. 

As this cold day comes to a colder close, I give thanks for the gift they shared with us today and cherish it as precious. Our visits always call me back to the insight Scott Cairns shared in his poem, "Imperative."

The thing to remember is how
tentative all of this really is.
You could wake up dead.

Or the woman you love
could decide you're ugly.
Maybe she'll finally give up
trying to ignore the way
you floss your teeth as you
watch television. All I'm saying
is that there are no sure things here.

I mean, you'll probably wake up alive,
and she'll probably keep putting off
any actual decision about your looks.
Could be she'll be glad your teeth
are so clean. The morning might be
full of all the love and kindness
you need. Just don't go thinking

you deserve any of it.

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