Dear Mrs. Sperry: A letter to my past

Yesterday’s gratitude challenge was to write a letter to someone who has positively impacted your life. I figured I’d better put my pen where my post was, and started writing.

Dear Mrs. Sperry,

I paused. I hadn’t seen this woman since I was 17 years old. She, at the time, had been 82. She sent my parents a card very Christmas since we moved away from our neighborhood in Phoenix in 1989. She and her husband, Bill, had been our next door neighbors, our pseudo grandparents in my early years. We have countless family videos of me at age three, curly blonde ponytail sticking out, and Mrs. Sperry smiling in the background. In her mind, I was probably still a toddler with a squeaky little voice.

So I didn’t write much about the me of today; I wrote about the me she knew. I told her that every year at Christmas I still put out the little Santa doll she gave me, and that I still remembered her inviting us over to pick oranges from her backyard grove. I thanked her for staying in touch with my family for all these years and for keeping us in the loop on the old neighborhood. I told her I was sorry to hear Bill had passed away, but that I hoped her son was doing well and still lived nearby. I thanked her for the memories.

Putting the envelope in the mailbox, I said a silent prayer that she would receive it. It took me too long to realize a letter is always a welcome surprise, that I did have something worth writing to an old friend. So to all my friends, watch out. Your mailboxes are about to be flooded with letters from me, because I’m so very grateful for each and every one of you.

Who else has completed this week’s gratitude challenge? I’d love to hear all about your experience.

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It’s your turn: Time to share that gratitude!

In the past three weeks, I’ve been sharing a lot with you, my readers. Today, I’d like to hold back my furiously typing hands and hear what you have to say. After all, the point of this blog isn’t just to see how happy gratitude makes me–it’s to see if we can all get a little more happy in our lives. So here’s your chance: tell me why you’re grateful! Maybe together we can inspire a little more gratitude.

Green with gratitude

There’s a wall in our apartment that I’m especially fond of. It’s an accent wall, painted olive green, contrasting the cream color of the surrounding walls. It’s a nice color, but what I love about it is hidden between the paint strokes. If you look closely, you’ll see a story of a couple coming together as a team.

It took my husband and I five months after moving in together to paint the wall. I had wanted to add a splash of color since day one, but my husband-then-boyfriend balked at the idea. Living together was one thing. Decorating a home together? Um, no thanks. It became the source of many arguments and more than once made me question our relationship. Silly, I know. But in my mind, I kept thinking, If we can’t even choose a paint color, how are we ever going to plan a wedding?

Enter his friends and some mojitos. We had a handful of the guys over for dinner and drinks one night and I managed to get everyone just buzzed enough to agree that that wall needed to be painted. Luckily, one of the friends there was the manager of the paint store just down the street. We all ran down there, mixed a can of paint, and lugged it back up to the apartment. By this time it was nearing midnight and we’d all had a bit to drink. In other words, we were about to have a painting party. To this day, I find new paint spots on the ceiling and wood floors.

The transformation in progress.

      The transformation in progress.

 

The end result

The end result

Somehow, I don’t mind those little reminders in the form of smudges and splatters. It wasn’t moving in together that was really our first big step as a couple. Moving in together was a smart financial decision, since we no longer saw the point in paying two rents. No, our first big step was made that night when, finally, with the help and support of some friends, we chose a paint color. It might not seem as important as getting our dog together, our very romantic proposal, or getting married, but it at least laid the groundwork for those things to happen. Painting the wall was our way of saying this was our home, together, and that it was a home worth decorating.

So every evening when I settle down to write, I look at that wall and give it a little salute of gratitude. Cheers, my friend.

Gratitude: The bitter little pill

There are times when gratitude is hard to swallow. For me, I usually find those times to be immediately after someone says, “But think of all the good times you had.” This usually comes after a breakup or after a death. After a breakup, my response is, “Well apparently those good times weren’t as great as I thought they were.” After a death, my response is, “My point exactly. I want more of those good times with that person.”

Precisely six years ago, I was curled up in my apartment in Spain, where I was studying for a year. I was feeling a touch of homesickness, so I got on facebook to see what my friends back in Montana were doing. Their status updates became a blur: “…we’ll miss you, buddy…” “…avalanche…” “…thinking of all the good times…” My hands shaking, I grabbed the phone and started dialing. 

It took four tries before anyone picked up. “Whitney?” I said. “Whitney, what happened? Why is everyone posting all this stuff?” My best friend then proceeded to tell me there had been an avalanche and one of our friends had been killed in it. Avalanches had never worried me too much, despite the fact the majority of my friends were serious backcountry skiers. We were 21 years old, and therefore invincible. So one of them dying in an avalanche just didn’t compute. All I knew was that I needed to be home right then.

I called my parents and they helped me book a flight for the next morning. I called my three other friends from home who were also studying abroad, and let them know my plans, in case they could catch a flight with me. Already emotionally exhausted, I managed to pack the necessities and pass out for a couple of hours before catching the earliest bus to Madrid the next morning.

Twenty-four hours later, my parents were picking me up from the Salt Lake City airport. Two of my friends drove to my parents’ house in Idaho the next morning and the three of us made our way back to Montana. During the long drive, they filled me in on the conditions that caused the avalanche, when the memorial service was going to be, and how everyone else was handling it. 

“He asked me to go get a coffee with him right before I left for Spain,” I blurted out. “I said I had to work, which I did, but still. I should have made time.”

“All you can do is make time the next time someone wants to catch up,” my friend responded.

And so I have. Over the past six years, I’ve done my best to stay in touch with friends who are living all over the world and make extra time for those who still live in my town. It’s an important lesson to have learned, but not one I’m grateful for learning in the way that I did. 

So yes, sometimes gratitude is a bitter little pill, full of “It’s better to have love and lost than never to have loved at all” and “Be grateful for all the good times you shared.” So I try, as my friends do, to be grateful for the times we got to share with him, and to be grateful for each other. 

In the end, it’s only our perspective we can control. I’m trying to have one that’s heavy on the gratitude and light on the bitterness.

Journeying through the great known

I love new experiences. Drop me in the middle of some unknown city and within minutes I’ll have made it my mission to find a new friend to show me the sights. That being said, every now and then it’s nice to revel in the known. Which brings me to the theme of today’s post: I am grateful for those places and people who have known you so long they’ve become a part of you.

Every winter, my family vacationed at a particular state park in Idaho. It has beautiful old cabins and miles and miles of nordic ski trails. It became a tradition to head up with family friends for at least one long weekend each year, and I’ve done my best to continue fostering a connection with that place since I’ve moved away from my home state. So my husband and I called up my best friend from growing up, and asked if she and her husband would like to meet us for a ski day at the park. They accepted and our plans were launched.

We got up early, packed a lunch, drove through the winding canyon to the park, and had our skis on by 11am. That harrowing drive always stresses me out, so the fresh air and bright sunshine were a welcome reprieve from the car. Here is the view that greeted us moments into our ski:

River

Starting to see the appeal of this place? As we skied along, two things struck me: 1. that my best friend skiing next to me probably knew my better than my parents, and perhaps better than my husband, and that that was okay, and 2. that this place might know me the best of all. I looked around and memory after memory came back. There was the cabin we’d stayed in one weekend when the snow was so high we could slide from the roof down to a cushiony pile of powder. And there was the spot my brother and I, in a rare fit of camaraderie, built the most epic snow cave this place and ever seen. And here we were on the longest ski trail in the park, the same ski trail I used to whine my way through whenever my parents took us on the long trek. I probably would not have guessed that 15 years later I would be using a vacation day just to make the trek without anyone forcing me to.

After a couple hours of skiing, we stopped for lunch. They had brought a couple bottles of wine, so we plopped down and had a picnic in the snow. We swapped stories of past ski trips and of ridiculous mistakes we had made in junior high. We laughed when one of us would make a misstep and sink thigh-deep into the snow. As we sat there reminiscing, I couldn’t help but take note that the next time we were all here, we would add this trip to the stories we had to tell about this place. And that made me pretty grateful.

And now it’s your turn: What stories do you have from your favorite places? What is it about those places that is so meaningful?

And just for fun, here’s the wine we drank–it’s made by Cliff Bar!

Cliff Bar