Beatrice, Your Love and Legacy Live On in Those You Loved

Saturday, May 9, 2020

This is the story of Beatrice Bullis, my maternal grandmother.  This story and tribute is written and shared today as a Mother's Day gift to her daughter, my mom.  I hope that in reliving these memories my mom will be reminded of the love her mother had for her and the family who came after her.
Beatrice was born in 1911 to Mary and Stephen who were both immigrants of Austria.  She was the second oldest of seven children, two girls and five boys.  The family first lived in Mineville where my great grandfather was sponsored as an immigrant to work in the mines, later living in the Adirondacks in and around Chestertown, NY and Friends Lake.  Her life after the Depression was not an easy one. Circumstances left her a single mom and she lived with her two daughters, her mother, father and brothers in Mechanicville, NY, at first in a home with no indoor plumbing.  Although she met the love of her life in the early 1930's, she didn't marry him until over 15 years later.  It was after then that Beatrice would find love, joy and passion in her life, passion that she would pass down to her offspring.
My grandmother was always an integral part of my life, even before my first memories of her.
This is her on the left, looking on with my other grandmother, Irene, on the right.  I used to refer to her as "Grammy Bea".  Grammy Bea adored me, and I don't say that to boast, it's just the truth.  It may have been because I was her only grandchild, but there wasn't a moment when I didn't feel cherished.  In fact the only time I saw her love anything more than me was when she met my firstborn.  
 I'm convinced my grandfather, Mike, was my grandmother's destiny and soulmate.  Like my husband, John, Gramps was a gentle and quiet soul.  I don't think I ever heard him raise his voice - ever - but when he was annoyed with Gram, he would say 'B...e...atrice' in an enunciated, stern, but calm voice.  Also like my husband, Gramps seemed to live to make his wife happy and he did so in a loving and non-boastful way, always catering to her passions in life.  I call them passions because Gram was passionate....about many, many things.  In fact, I don't think she felt mediocre or neutral about anything.  She loved life and everything it offered.  Gramps was at the top of her list.

Gram was a down-to-earth woman who wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty.  As a single mother she worked in factories and later at the G.E. plant, but she loved dresses.  She also loved a bargain.  My dad used to joke that if someone was giving away cow manure, she'd be first in line and while I'm not sure that's true, when she died she had a lifetime supply of brand new house dresses with the sales tags still attached to them in her attic that she'd purchased from the local dress factory.  In her defense, for most of her life, women wore dresses.  It wasn't until the 70's that women began wearing pants.

Near the top of her favorite things was food - eating it and cooking it.  In fact I can't remember a food Gram didn't like.  Like everything else in her life, Gram approached food with great enthusiasm.  Eating wasn't just a life-sustaining act, it was an 'experience' that actively involved all of the senses.  This may have come from living through the Depression when money was short and food was anything but plentiful.  My mom has told me stories of Gram making Gramps stop the car so she could get out and harvest edible mushroom from the woods....mushroom she could spot from a moving car.  I'm not sure if she had an enhanced sense of taste or smell, but something caused her to enjoy food more than anyone I knew.  Maybe that's why I still recall the smell of toast and eggs cooking in her basement, or the taste of that toast dipped in her coffee.  Whatever the reason, Gram lit up when cooking, eating and especially when she was able to share that with anyone, the more, the better.
  I think her passion for food rubbed off on me, but not so much her love of cooking.  She lived to feed the people she loved.  At the end of a holiday meal, the bowls and platters still nearly full, Gram would always exclaim, "nobody ate anything".  That was hardly the case.  The truth was that Gram cooked enough to feed 6 or 8 more guests had they ever dropped in.  Thanksgiving was never just a traditional turkey dinner, there was always also a ham, some pasta, two kinds of potatoes and vegetables.  Before dinner, we'd feast on roasted chestnuts hot out of the oven.  My grandfather, who had just come home from a morning of deer hunting, would shell the hot nuts for me and I always felt spoiled as I savored chestnut after warm chestnut. Naturally dessert was also a smorgasbord of delights.
Gram lived by the motto, if one was good, many are better.  That applied to dresses, house plants, gardens, and produce.  One of my favorite memories was taking Gram to Schoharie to the Carrot Barn and Shaul's in the fall where she'd (then already widowed) fill our trunk with heads of cabbage, tomatoes, squash - you name it, she bought it.  Always the enthusiasm and delight of a kid in a candy store!  
Gram and Gramps lived in a small Cape Cod home with two bedrooms, one bath, a dining room, living room, and small kitchen.  Knowing what you know now about Gram's passion for cooking, it's not hard to believe that a tiny, standard kitchen wouldn't do.  So, Gram and Gramps converted their full basement into a make-shift kitchen/sitting room.  It had everything Gram needed to carry out her meal prep and hosting - a chest freezer, a long bank of countertops, a refrigerator, stove, a cold cellar and a big kitchen table with plenty of room to add an extra table for holidays.  Holidays might include 8-12 people and all were welcome, as we've already established that Gram cooked for an army.  
This is the 'sitting room' side of the basement.  The refrigerator was later moved and a television took its place.  Of course when that happened, Gramp's chair was rotated to face the t.v.  Gramps (r), my dad (m) relaxing after the feast. You can see from the photo below, with empty chairs and full serving dishes, that no one went home hungry. This efficient space was the heart of the home, a place where people gathered, everyday meals were taken and memories were made.  It wasn't until Gramps had died that Gram eventually 'lived' upstairs.
As I got older it became tradition that after Thanksgiving dinner, my folks would go home and I would stay at Gram and Gramps for a night or two.  I really enjoyed that and sometimes on Friday I'd spend the day with my Aunt Helen (mom's sister) and Uncle Ray.  Aunt Helen had a ceramic studio in her basement so I'd get to clean the greenware for her.  Once I even slept over at their house, which was just around the corner from Gram and Gramps.  That only happened once though because I was afraid to sleep upstairs alone in the spare room and ended up sleeping on a cot in the living room instead.  I wasn't the bravest kid.  When I stayed with Gram and Gramps, I slept with Gram in her room.  She always slept with a heating pad and she snored, but she always let me snuggle with her.  One time when I stayed over in the summer, I woke up in the middle of the night with a really bad ear ache. Unable to console me, Gram had to call my folks to come to Rotterdam to get me.  As a grandmother myself, I can imagine Gram must have felt terrible to not be able to comfort me, let alone have to drag my folks out of bed to drive to Rotterdam in the middle of the night.  

Gram was pretty diverse in her hobbies.  She and my grandfather owned a camp on Lake Champlain and later had a trailer on the same campsite where we and my other grandparents spent summers. Gram loved fishing.....which is evident in this photo where she's relaxing in a dress, winter coat and silk scarf.
 Fortunately she cast fashion aside and switched to a warmer snowmobile suit, which by the looks didn't hinder her ability one bit.

For several years, until we moved to the lake year round, we and both sets of grandparents had trailers at the lake.  Gram and Gramps' trailer was on the right, my other grandparents in the middle and ours the tiny one on the left.  Eventually the middle one became ours.  Growing up having the whole family together was a special experience.
My Gram loved music.  She especially loved Englebert Humperdinck, Jerry Vale, Perry Como and even the country music of the early days.  In the early 1970's, she, my aunt and uncle and I had season's passes at the Colonie Coliseum and I'll never forget how she and my aunt swooned over the crooners we went to see.  Englebert really got their hearts racing.  I recently saw a him in concert on PBS and boy, the memories came rushing back and for a moment I felt I was reliving those times.

Gram also loved travelling and shared that passion with me and my mom many times over the years.  When I was ten, my grandparents took me on a two week vacation to Florida.  Now this vacation isn't like Florida vacations of today.  My grandfather drove us in his Buick, without air July for three days...all... the... Florida!  You can imagine how hot that was....Florida in July....without AC.  Our first night we spent in Silver Springs, Maryland.  We called my folks to check in (using the motel phone).  I talked to my mom and dad and was doing great until my mom mentioned our pet beagle, Duke. Well, that set off the waterworks and homesickness and for a few brief moments my grandparents thought they were going to have to drive me back to NY.  Luckily I made it through the night and woke up ready for a fresh start on our journey and my mom knew not to mention Duke on any subsequent calls.  One memory from that trip was a pit stop at a gas station along the way, somewhere close to Florida.  Gram and I went to the ladies room and I used the toilet first.  While I washed my hands, Gram took her turn on the porcelain bowl.  As I turned off the water, there peering out at me from the overflow hole in the sink was a little head and two little eyes.  Surprised and scared, 'there's a snake in the sink', I hollered.  Well my Gram leapt off the toilet, pulled herself together, grabbed my arm and exited the restroom in a hurry.  As we got outside, we noticed the blacktop was covered with little lizards.  Gram wasn't any fonder of lizards than she was of snakes so we quickly made our way back to the safety of our hot car.
We had a lovely trip as they showed me the beauty of Spanish moss hanging from the trees, Cypress Gardens, Sea World and so much more.  My gram loved the ocean but was terrified of the undertow.  I swear she held me with a death grip so I wouldn't drown.  In later years, Gram and Gramps also took mom and me to Hampton Beach.  
When I was 20 my grandparents took me to Hawaii.  I'd never even been on a plane before and my first time would be a ten hour flight.  Luckily I loved flying and naturally I loved Hawaii - Pearl Harbor, the pineapple fields, a luau, Don Ho, the volcanoes, coconut syrup on pancakes!  My grandmother had another passion in life - flowers - every flower, tree, shrub.  She never met a flower she didn't love and there was no such thing as 'enough' flowers or too many gardens.  You can imagine her excitement in tropical Hawaii with all the beautiful tropical plants everywhere.  Sometimes it was just too much excitement for a woman to endure.  On one of our island visits, we toured a huge greenhouse of tropical plants.  Gram ooh'd and aah'd as we walked up aisle after aisle of green beauties.  Gram was like a kid in a candy shop and could not resist pinching off small cuttings of some of the plants and stuffing them into her pockets.  Thankfully she made it through customs and wasn't caught.  My mom and I inherited the flower bug but unlike Gram, we are able to keep our passion legal. Here is an offspring from her own garden and a rose bush cutting, both that now reside in my garden:

 Gram and Gramps returned to Hawaii again with my mom.  That time Gramps was mugged in a restroom by a couple of active duty Marines.  It was after that trip that Gramps was diagnosed with leukemia.  He died in October of 1977 and never got to meet the man I married, a man so much like him, a man I know he would have adored.

 Gram lived another 12 years after Gramps died.  During those years and some years before that, Gram struggled with health issues related to her brain that required a few surgeries.  She eventually died of brain cancer in 1989.  Luckily she lived long enough to enjoy being a Great Grandmother for nine years, something I know brought her great joy as well as great pain.  As a woman who expressed her love with food, it was especially hard on her when Katie was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 10 months of age.  I saw the heartbreak in her eyes every time she witnessed a finger stick or shot and she said, and I believed, that she'd take Katie's diabetes if she could.  It pained her so to have to refrain from feeding her like she enjoyed feeding those she loved and to see such a little girl have to endure daily finger sticks and shots.

One never forgets a grandmother, especially one who has been such a presence and role model.  Gram's life didn't begin without its hardships and heartaches but she didn't let that stop her from working hard to achieve happiness.  What I'll always remember is her smile, her unbridled enthusiasm and passion, the way she embraced adventure and her unharnessed expression of love, especially towards me and John whom she adored, and my girls.  When I get excited about a meal, or come home with a trunkful of flowers, when I listen to the roar of the ocean or want to squeeze the grandchildren, I'm reminded of how much I am like her and how lucky I am that she gave so much of herself.  She was an inspiration and her legacy will live on in me.  I can only strive to embrace life with as much fervor as she did.  Wishing you a Happy Mother's Day in heaven Gram!

In case you're wondering why I'm not writing about my mom today, it's because I already have. To read that story,  My Hero, My Bestie, My Role Model, My Mom

Letting Go of the Darkness to Embrace the Light

Tuesday, April 21, 2020
What's the old saying?  "A bad day fishing is better than a good day working".  One bad day doesn't mean you have a bad life. There's probably many more but you get the idea, don't write off something big just because something small goes wrong.  I'm not a gambler but I know plenty of folks who go to a casino again and again, even after having a losing day - or many.  Sports fans don't give up on their favorite team because they're having a losing streak.  Yet some days it feels to me as though that loyalty, that ability to overlook the bad in order to appreciate the good doesn't apply to people.  As a society, especially during this pandemic, it feels everyone is ready to throw in the towel, sling mud and jump on the bandwagon of hate.

I grew up at a time when the phrase, "Children are to be seen and not heard" was popular.  I was also taught, "if you have nothing good to say, don't say anything".  It was also widely accepted that people didn't talk religion, finances or politics.  Social media has pretty much thrown all those rules of etiquette out the proverbial window.  That has never been the case more than right now, during the Covid-19 pandemic.  Everyone is scared, angry, frustrated and helpless; everyone looking for someone to blame.  Emotions are high and they're unleashed in every direction, especially on social media.  What used to be an escape from day-to-day reality is now a dumping ground for spewing personal feelings and the typical, nonsensical funny memes and family photos have been replaced by politically driven rants.
Don't get me wrong, I get it.  I'm upset I can't spend time with family, can't pick out my own groceries, can't visit my mom.  I'm upset for my grandchildren who are missing school, their friends, their extracurricular activities, dance recitals, etc... I'm worried for my son-in-laws who are both on temporary furloughs, and my daughter whose work load has drastically reduced.  Still, we are all financially sound and healthy but even so, this pandemic is the elephant in the room that is squashing life as we all know and love it.   I get the emotional response, but what I don't get is how we have gotten to this place in history where we all feel free to spew hate and anger towards everyone and anyone on social media.  I've seen friends who I've come to know as mild-mannered, gentle natured, kind individuals spouting the most vile and angry comments - towards anyone, about anyone, anytime.  America has taken its constitutional right to free speech to a level that would make my ancestors ashamed and sad.  There was a time, a time not so very long ago, when we would hold back our personal beliefs and opinions so as not to hurt or insult people we respected.  We might have disagreed or disliked their political views but most of us would never have outwardly opposed them in the way that is done today. Today Americans believe it is not just their 'right' to an opinion, but it is their duty to share that opinion, and many times that sharing is done in a mean, disrespectful manner. Have you read the comments on Facebook posts lately?  People aren't neutral or even tempered in their comments, they're emotionally charged in one direction or another, quick to add their unedited, unrestrained two cents, unashamed or concerned what others might think.  People are polarized in their beliefs and everyone's feels compelled to voice their opinion.  It's like people are powerless over the urge to fight.
I have never been a 'politically minded' individual, nor am I today but I have to admit that I have been much more in tune with politics during this administration than most others.  I'm not sure what has brought us to this current attitude about freedom of speech, but I can't help but believe that having a President of the United States that routinely ridicules and mocks politicians, media, professionals and others isn't part of the blame.  Call me old school, but I was raised in a time when a president was a person of integrity and dignity, someone to look up to.  Regardless of how good or how bad President Trump is or how much he has helped or not helped this country, my opinion is that he sets a very poor example for the American people.  What comes from that childish, disrespectful behavior results in a difficulty to see the truth through the b.s. and I think to a degree makes it hard, if not impossible, to focus on much of anything else.  At least for only child among adults as a kid from a parochial school where nuns made you fear overstepping in any slight's hard to overlook the snarky, rudeness enough to see a leader behind the persona. For a moment consider this.....if our kids or grandkids spoke to us or their peers the way he does, they'd be reprimanded - at least in my day.  Yet this man routinely, almost daily, insults and ridicules anyone who disagrees with him.  I know it isn't just about him, it's probably been a long time coming, this loss of respect for others in society.  I also know my grandparents would be so ashamed and angered at the state of the world today.
Not only are people exercising their freedom of speech, everyone has become so judgmental, so unforgiving.  This has come to my attention recently when watching everyone's various reactions to Governor Cuomo.  Even in the middle of a global crisis, many New Yorkers are so focused on what they dislike about Cuomo that they automatically discard his efforts to manage a pandemic.  No matter what people do, it's never enough to erase the past, deserve some grace or elicit forgiveness.  Again, it's that almighty right to our opinion, no matter what the expense.  Maybe I'm naive, maybe I'm not judgmental enough, maybe I'm just too easy going, but I don't have the energy or instinct to allow so much anger and hate to live inside me.  I feel calmer and happier when I look for the good in people, when I am able to extend grace and forgiveness and release the pain.  I'd want people to do that for me so how can I not do that for them?  Let's face it, we all are a mixed bag of good and bad.  But aren't we lucky our bad days aren't the subject of the media, aren't written for the world to judge, aren't held against us for decades.  Shouldn't people be judged by their best days and not their worst days?  If not, what incentive do prisoners have to rehabilitate?  What incentive do children have to improve their behavior?  What incentive does anyone have to make their future different if all we see and judge is their past?
If God didn't give us second chances, where would we be?  We'd be burning in the fires of hell.  I'm grateful for the people at the front lines, the doctors and nurses, the police and fireman, all of the essential workers.  They are the bright light in this dark time, they are my saving grace and reminder that despite all the anger and hate that is so visible in the world, there is still good, still people who live to spread love and positive outcomes, people who feel compelled to do good.  There is so much good, so many heroes getting us through this crisis.  Thank God Facebook has settings that allow us to unfollow or snooze because right now what I need is joy and love and encouragement and peace.  And I think I'm not alone in that.  Let's focus on people's best days, not their worst days and let's give others the grace we need ourselves.  Let's keep our anger to ourselves and let's go back to the days when if we don't have something positive to contribute, we refrain from fueling the fire.  Let's pull people up instead of pushing them down.  Let's be a positive example to each other and let's do it for our future generations.  Let's do it now!

Backyard Birds Ignoring Social Distancing Guidelines in the Season of Courtship

Wednesday, April 8, 2020
The humans on the planet may be practicing social distancing, but our feathered friends have their minds on courtship.  I've had plenty of time to bird watch from the comfort of my family room and trust me when I say my well-fed friends have provided plenty of much needed entertainment and distraction.  While the world and social media is filled with fear, frustration and political dissension, Mother Nature is focused on what matters and that, my friends, is love.  There's no shortage of courtship going on and I've captured a little of it here for you today.  I hope it reminds you of what's and everyday.

Sometimes when I'm shooting photos through an open window, through a small opening in a bird-blind my husband fashioned out of cardboard, it feels as though the birds are on to me and often strike a pose on my behalf.  See if you don't agree.....

Others just ignore me..

This is a magical time for birding and I'm lucky to have so many varieties visit my feeders year round.  Last year was the first year that I had the thrill of bluebirds and they spent the whole winter here but disappeared for summer and fall.  Out of 3 pair that stuck around all winter, I have one pair left. I've got fingers crossed that they might nest here.  Last year was also the first year I had Baltimore Orioles and I'm anxiously waiting their return.  If you love birds and want to see more, check out my blog Directory ( and scroll down to the Animal Friends category for many more bird posts. 
I hope today's post brought you a little distraction, and maybe a bit of joy and hope, during this period of isolation and worry.  I also hope you are staying in and staying well.  Thanks for stopping by and letting me share a little Life As I See It!  Come back soon!

Take a Break from Reality and Come Along on a Stroll on the Beach

Tuesday, March 31, 2020
We all have our places....places we go to escape the harsh realities of life.  I love a dirt road, far from civilization.  Some enjoy a walk in the woods, others retreat into a book.  Most of us can probably agree that there's one place we all find serenity in the sights and sounds, and that is walking along a beach with the roar of the waves, the gulls soaring overhead, our feet pressed into the sand.  I don't know about you, but after the past few weeks surrounded by the uncertainties, fears and challenges to our inner calm, I could use an escape to the ocean.   So today come along as I take you away. Come along as I take you on a sandy stroll along the beach.  Let your worries rest for a moment and imagine you're right in these photos.

Pause at each photo, and imagine yourself in the scene.  Breathe in the salty air and let your worries melt away.

Reality today is difficult.  Things feel different, challenging, unfair and frightening.  But the serenity in these images will return to our life and that is what we must hold on to.  This too shall pass.  Be safe, be strong and take care of you and yours.  Day by day, we will get through and one day we'll look back and wonder how we did it.  You are in my prayers and I hope you'll keep me in yours.  

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