A Thanksgiving Story

I had a great friend named Shirley.

Shirley was married to my Dad’s cousin Carl. My parents and Shirley and Carl were not really close when I was a kid. Both my parents are from very large families. They saw the majority of their brothers and sisters (combined total close to 20) and cousins (too many for me to count) quite often, but many other relatives were spoken of, but seldom seen. Shirley and Carl fell into that category.

In 1988 when my then husband, two boys and I moved to the sleepy town of Cape Coral, Florida my Dad kept encouraging me to call Carl and Shirley, who lived nearby. My Dad is the kind of fellow, who is always trying to connect family and friends, whether or not the folks involved are interested. (It is a trait I now realize we share!)

At the time, I did not want to call them, they were my parents’ age and I assumed we would have little in common, and since my Dad hadn’t kept in close touch, I thought they would perceive it as odd, or even worse – invasive to hear from a “long lost” relative. So, I ignored my Dad’s consistent, long-distance reminders until he phoned one day and told me he had called them and told them we lived in the same town. I felt I could no longer hide, and I soon found myself reluctantly dialing away.

A gravely voiced Shirley responded in a very off-putting manner upon hearing who I was and why I was calling. My heart sank, my cheeks reddened, and my blood began to boil as I faced the fact that I had once again sucked into one of my Dad’s “great” ideas. I don’t remember anything of our first conversation, other than Shirley’s cigarette-infused voice and very weak promises on both our parts to get together in the future. Duty done, I moved on. (I know I have mentioned Shirley’s  voice twice, but it was quite memorable and truly a part o who she was.)

To this day, I do not know who made the next overture, but thankfully one of us did, and that gesture led to a warm, wonderful, and loving relationship with two of the finest, most caring, and interesting folks I have ever met. (Thank you, Dad.) When Shirley loved you, she did so fiercely; when Carl cared, you felt it in every vein of your body.

Over the next few years, we combined families, holidays, and celebrations of all sorts.  We began a Christmas Eve tradition when we invited them to our home along with our dear friends Nellie and John, who had earlier and easily become honorary grandparents to our two boys and great mentors and dear friends to us. The two couples hit-it off immediately and became fast friends. Nellie and Shirley bonded in a way that survived the passing of husbands, distance and Alzheimer’s, and spent years enjoying good coffee, wine, confidences and conversation.

We also got to know Shirley and Carl’s great sons, (my cousins)-in-laws, and grandchildren and my parents reconnected when they visited us and later through calls and letters.

One of my favorite memories of Shirley is her absolute and steadfast belief in Santa Claus. This tough-talking, hard-hitting journalist never relinquished the particular delight her belief brought her. She demonstrated that belief to us by hiding our sons’ Christmas presents at their home for years – including bikes and twin water beds! Shirley would call around Thanksgiving to let me know they had the space and the desire to house whatever Santa might be bringing that year.

You always felt that being Shirley’s friend was an honor, a privilege of sorts. She did not seem to embrace many people – but cared deeply and stood by those she did, making each feel special and valued. She was never shy about voicing her opinions, which was great because her intelligence and insight were woven within, and she never tired of disagreeing with you about yours. The best thing about Shirley was you always knew who she was and what she stood for. If you liked her fine, if not, well fine, too, and could you please just move along.

One of Shirley’s pet peeves was people in her kitchen while she was entertaining, I learned to stay out! One of her favorite words was “lovely”, as in “Oh Pat, that is lovely.” She used it to describe ideas, beliefs, food, friends, and furniture.  And again, you knew she meant it.  She loved buttery Chardonnay, shrimp, and bagel chips.

In 2009, my dear friend Nellie and I visited Shirley in Columbus in the nursing home where she was spending her days after realizing the onset of Alzheimer’s was limiting her lifestyle options. The disease was slowly robbing her of her beloved memories, but not her spirit. Ten minutes after seeing Nellie, she was sneaking cigarettes, sipping wine, and telling us her thoughts and delighting in memories we shared that were hazy, but still present for her.

We were planning a return trip to see Shirley this summer, but oh, so sadly she died three weeks shy of our planned visit. She knew we were coming though, and although it was a small thing, that knowledge has always made me feel better.

So why am I telling you this now?

Because I love stories, and yesterday, my sweet and wonderful friend Marci sent me a photo of her Thanksgiving table in-progress and in the center was the tall hand-blown gold glass vase that Shirley had given to me years before when she was preparing to leave Florida, after Carl’s death, and move back to Ohio. I had passed on the vase to Marci, the color and size had been perfectly matched for Marci’s fireplace at the time.

And, now through a series of serendipitous events, the vase was the centerpiece of Marci’s Thanksgiving table in the town Shirley was born, raised her sons, and loved – Rocky River, Ohio. Marci and her family moved to Rocky River just over a year ago. When I saw the photo, I realized that, in a way, Shirley would once again be in the town she loved for one more Thanksgiving dinner.

I thought the blending of past and present and the friendships the photo represented was touching and well, perfectly lovely. I thought you might, too.

May your Thanksgiving be lovely, your tables be laden with goodies, your chairs be filled with family and friends and your heart be warmed with memories.

Happy Thanksgiving.

PS If you would like to read more about Shirley click here. Little odd to be posting her obit, I agree, but her story and life are worth sharing. 

Macedonian Dream Weavers II

What happens when a man in a tiny rural Macedonian village wants to preserve his country’s past? 

Well, in the beginning everyone tells him he is crazy, asks what he wants with that “old junk”, or tells him no one will ever come to see it.

Lucky for us, Boris Tanevski ignored the naysayers and his passion and persistence prevailed.  Today Muzej Filip (Museum Phillip) is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon.

According to his third oldest daughter, Katrina, a college freshman, Boris began collecting bits and pieces of Macedonia’s history about twenty years ago. Somewhere along the line he added larger items like cars and motorcycles. (Finding cars as old as his in Macedonia that run and are in such great condition is unbelievable.)

Over time, Boris turned even his skeptical wife, three daughters and son into believers. (Boris doesn’t speak English, and my Macedonian is not good enough for all the questions I was asking so, Katrina kindly acted as our interpreter.) When his collection outgrew his home and garage, he expanded his plans and built a museum on his property to artfully display his unique collection! 

Because Boris did not give up on himself or his dreams, foreigners can slip into a world unknown to many of them for only 100MKD (about $2.20) and Macedonians can learn more about their past for 50MKD. 

After spending time in the museum, guests can relax in the Tanevski’s beautifully landscaped and traditionally decorated yard surrounded by more rural treasures while enjoying complimentary home-grown seasonal fruit with a glass of homemade rakjia or wine or a cup of  Turkish coffee.

Boris and his family offer the perfect combination of history and hospitality. When we called to check times, Boris decided that since he was going to be in Bitola, he would simply pick us up and drive us to their village of Krklino. How’s that for service? (They also called a cab for us when we reluctantly had to head back to town, at a cost of less than $3.50 for three of us.)

The total experience – priceless. 

A testament to Boris Tanevski!

 

The rest of it.

Antique Turkish Indoor Fire Pit. He had a number of these copper cookers.

Love this. Check out the keys.

 

So beautiful.

Boris and his family have carefully combined the artifacts into various settings, including a Turkish, a Jewish and ancient village rooms.

 

The Village Room

 

Tin and brass vessels in all shapes and sizes.

 

Katrina, and her Grandmother's traditional clothes.

 Check out the Muzej Filip web site, the intro is in English and offers more photos.

 And, don’t forget to dream big!

 

Patrice Koerper is a certified life coach and motivational speaker. She has created the life she really wants by combining coaching and speaking with travel and projects in Macedonia. From 2006-2009, Patrice lived in Macedonia as one of only 425 volunteers over the age of 50 serving worldwide in the United States Peace Corps.

In 2010 she returned to Macedonia with American guests for a special cultural tourism program she developed, “Experience Macedonian: Enjoy Europe as it used to be”. The “Experience Macedonian” posts reflect their travels.

Patrice is returning to Macedonia in 2011 for six weeks – September through October. She is offering her unique 2 to 4 weeks cultural tours to a small group of friendly, flexible, adventurous travelers. In 2012 Patrice is planning life coaching retreats in Macedonia and Greece. For more information on these exciting travel and life-changing opportunities, please email her at wishfulthinkingworks@gmail.com

I don’t know.

I am back in south Florida enjoying beautiful blue skies, warm temperatures and the cozy glow of being around family and old friends.

My two-month long stay in Macedonia, land of my Peace Corps service from 2006-2009, seems like “just” yesterday and also a distant memory. Being back in Macedonia felt exactly the same way, moments of complete awe at standing on the Balkan Peninsula were sandwiched with feelings that I had never left it.

I must admit, I love traveling in general. I find it relaxing and exciting all at the same time. It usually takes me about ten minutes to feel comfortable in a new place. The only discomfort I feel when traveling is during the luggage-weighing-in process – I am a serious over-packer – but when my luggage is gone, I bid my cares and worries goodbye, knowing that what happens next has little to do with me.

Will my luggage arrive?  I don’t know, and since there is nothing I can do to ensure that process, I let it go.

Will the plane arrive or take off on time?  If not, will I make my transfer?  I don’t know, and since there is nothing I can do to ensure that process, I let it go.

When I first started flying, I was terrified, now I just think, hmmmm is there anything I can do to ensure a safe flight?  Nope, so I let it go.

But for me, Macedonia is very hard to let go of. I had been happily readjusting to my life in the USA, my re-entry had been wonderful, and yet I knew I needed to return. (Re-entry sounds very spacecraft like, but is what Peace Corps calls your return. They even do workshops about what it will feel like and give us tips to prepare us to go back where we came from!  Odd? Yes, but more necessary than one might think.)

So why did I “need” to return to Macedonia? 

Because I left part of me there. Macedonia is to me what Taos, New Mexico was to Georgia O’Keeffe.  “As soon as I saw it that was my country, I had never seen anything like it before, but it fitted to me exactly.”  O’Keeffe, 1977, documentary

Odd analogy, yes. Who am I to compare myself to such an accomplished artist? I don’t know, so I will let it go.

O’Keeffe is quoted as having said, “I know I cannot paint a flower. I cannot paint the sun on the desert on a bright summer morning, but maybe in terms of paint color I can convey to you my experience of the flower or the experience that makes the flower of significance to me at that particular time.”

I realize that I may never be able to fully explain my feelings for Macedonia. I really am not sure why this little land-locked country seems home to me. Why when I walk the old and winding roads of the village of Dihovo, I feel like someone has stolen a piece of my heart and placed it gently between the stone houses? Why buying fruit and vegetables in the market seems like an epic and yet so simple and satisfying event?

I don’t know, so I let it go and just enjoy every minute while I am there.

But like O’Keeffe, I not only love the place that seems native to me, I somehow want to share that feeling and my experiences with others.

And, since I have no artistic skills –  I do not paint, or create great music, vocal sounds or really good photographs – I decided to simply share Macedonia first-hand, up-front and personal with others.  Miraculously that seemed to work.  Not only did my American guests understand some of my feelings, they too found it hard to leave and want to return having created rich and colorful experiences of their own.

I will be sharing more of our experiences, memories and photos with you later this week and next.

Until then, I would like to give a shout-out to all the Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), who are ending their service this and next month in Macedonia. Some of the MAK 13s have already headed home, others are packing to go, and still others are trying to schedule final “na gostis” (visits) with friends and host families. 

Seeing some of the PCVs during my visit and reading their comments on Facebook reminded me that the re-entry process can be both sad and wonderful, scary and exciting, especially when it occurs so close to the holiday season. Special thoughts go out to the extending PCVs, who are staying behind and watching as members of their groups head home. 

I mentioned the other day, that service to one’s country – in any fashion – is worth noting, and so I would like to acknowledge the efforts of all of the 200,000+ Returned PCVs and currently serving PCVS, who joined the Peace Corps and knowingly or unknowingly responded to John Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address directive to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country.” 

Peace Corps changes you, and in some small and personal way, PCVs change the world.  Check it out, in 2011 Peace Corps turns 50!

 

Patrice Koerper is a certified life coach and motivational speaker. She has created the life she really wants by combining coaching and speaking with travel and projects in Macedonia. From 2006-2009, Patrice lived in Macedonia as one of only 425 volunteers over the age of 50 serving worldwide in the United States Peace Corps.

In 2010 she returned to Macedonia with American guests for a special cultural tourism program she developed, “Experience Macedonian: Enjoy Europe as it used to be”. The “Experience Macedonian” posts reflect their travels.

Patrice is returning to Macedonia in 2011 for six weeks – September through October. She is offering her unique 2 to 4 weeks cultural tours to a small group of friendly, flexible, adventurous travelers. In 2012 Patrice is planning life coaching retreats in Macedonia and Greece. For more information on these exciting travel and life-changing opportunities, please email her at wishfulthinkingworks@gmail.com

Service to others

Today is Veteran’s Day, which originally began as Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1918.

Did you know that on the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day in 1918 a temporary armistice was signed bringing an end to the hostilities of World War I?

President Woodrow Wilson designated Nov. 11 as “Armistice Day”, which led Congress in 1938 to pass legislation to declare it a national holiday, and in 1954 for President Eisenhower to change the name to Veteran’s Day.

Oddly enough, my first reflections on the sacrifice and service of veteran’s developed when I was 12 or 13 years old and read the book “All Quiet on the Western Front”, which was written by a German soldier about his experiences in WWI.

I had tears running down my cheeks as I read Erich Maria Remarque’s words, and it hit home that if a German soldier could feel this way, most likely any soldier could.  It was  the first time I really understood that war was not just about conflicts and countries, but about people and courage. Remarque became an American naturalized citizen in 1947.

I remember wanting to ask my Dad, my uncles and every other man their age, who served in WWII, what it was like.  But, that was something people didn’t seem to talk about then, so I didn’t either.

When I turned 16 in 1969, and was confronted daily with news of Vietnam. I forgot about the perspective of Veteran’s and focused more on how I felt about war.

It took me years to sort-out my feelings about service in the military.

No matter where you stand on our involvement in conflicts and wars then and now, today is a good day to pause and reflect on how others feel.  In particular, those who – for whatever reason – find themselves in situations that test every facet of their being in the service to others.

I truly think service to others is worth honoring, and I am glad that we have set aside a day to do just that.

There were almost 200,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in May of this year (2010).  There are more than two million men and women enlisted in the armed forces and reserves. Most of us know someone or the family members of someone, who is currently serving or served in the past.

Find a way to let them know you are thinking of them today.

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