Sunday, December 15, 2013

Once Upon a Christmas...

Christmas is coming. The next in a line of a thousand or two, each its own package of memories.  Here's one of mine from the Christmas of  '88...

I had a dog back then. Her name was Dixie. She was just a regular, medium-sized dog, but she was mine, and I loved her. She loved me too, if dogs can love.

She mostly lay on the side porch, which was right outside the screen door off the dining room. When I sat at the top of the porch steps she would sit beside me. I would put my arm around her and we would survey the back yard. We went on long walks together. When I took care of customers at the feed store in the barn she would run out ahead, and pester the cat. But mostly she lay on the porch, like a dog should do. She was a good, good dog.

One morning in December she disappeared. She was just gone.
 She was not a wandering sort of dog. We lived down a long lane. There were no close neighbors. We were mystified.

We checked the road in front our house in case she had been hit.
 We checked the interstate beyond that ran parallel with our road. No Dixie.
We checked the traps that Mr. Charles had set at various places along the creek.
Jeff and I went to the SPCA and examined the long lines of barking dogs in hard, cold cubicles. There were dogs of every description there. Every description except Dixie's. I gave her's to the lady at the desk and she said they would keep their eyes open for her and call me if she came in.
I knew no other options. The only thing we could figure, as unlikely as it seemed, was that maybe a feed customer had stolen her. But we had no way of knowing. And who would want someone elses' hybrid dog?

I was heart broken. She had become a habit with me. Now when I stepped out onto the porch to scratch her behind the ears, she wasn't there. I took my walks alone. I cried myself to sleep at night. Tears pooled in my eyes throughout the day. I worried about her. I hoped she was being taken care of....if she was anywhere at all.

The days passed, as days mercifully do...Christmas was approaching. The warmth of Christmas activities crowded out the sadness.  On Christmas eve I fixed supper for us all, and we ate by candle light for fun. After supper my brothers and I  betook ourselves upstairs to our rooms to wrap gifts.  I opened my present from the Chief, who was then just the Chief-in-waiting....there was joy in life after all. There was.

Across the hall my brothers were having a robust round of craziness that spilled out onto the balcony outside my bedroom window, when suddenly Jeff came back in and hollered, "Dixie's out in the yard!"

I could not believe my ears. Dixie! I flew down the stairs and out the door and there she was! My dog! Coming across the lawn! She was limping and tired as if she had walked a long, long way, and she seemed a little scared and insecure, but otherwise she was fine. Oh, dear Dixie! She was back! It was more joy than I knew how to hold. More than I had dared to hope for. We gave her an enthusiastic welcome home party, and tended her every perceivable need, and then we left her to the silent night, to cuddle up on her porch in peace.
And I went and cuddled up in my bed.

And heaven and nature sang.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Vow is, After All, a Vow

I have been thinking of something now for several months, and it may not be profound, but not every thought-line has to be, I think, to be worthy of itself, and I think I am going to drum it out, in what will likely be a trailing, meandering tune...

It was birthed in this fashion:

I was sitting next to The Chief  in church one Sunday morning. One of the littler natives was leafing through his Bible in search of some scrap of paper to draw on. He found a piece that was blank on one side and looked up for permission to use it. The Chief shook his head faintly but intensely. My eyes fell to the piece of paper he held, and my heart leaped a little, as it always does when I run across it.

I knew what it said. I had printed the words myself and given them to him to memorize decades before. He memorized them well, and quoted them to me one summer morning while I listened with all my trusting, believing heart. This is what they said:

"I Kent Lamar Strite, in the presence of God and these witnesses, take you, Rhonda Jean Hobbs, to be my wedded wife.
I will love and cherish you, provide and care for you in health and sickness, in prosperity and adversity.
I will exercise patience, kindness and forbearance toward you, and live with you in peace as becometh a faithful Christian husband.
Forsaking all others, I will keep myself only unto you as long as we both shall live." 

He has kept that piece of paper in his Bible ever since.

At home, after that incident at church I thought to myself how exceeding glad I am that I never have to worry about him leaving me. The culture in which we both grew up firmly embraces the belief that divorce is wrong, and if you vow to keep yourself only unto somebody, you are in it for forever. Till you die. Or the other dies. Period.

Vows are for the keeping. It is better not to vow than to vow and not pay. The Bible says that.

We pride ourselves in our staunchness in this regard and look with dismay at the havoc and heartache that the breaking of marriage vows has wrought in our splintered society. We do not go there. We wouldn't even consider it. Vows are vows.

The marriage relationship is a type of Christ and His beloved Bride, the Church, after all. We know our Groom will never abandon His Bride. If we abandon ours, we tamper with that beautiful type.

I was thinking of this as I sorted laundry into piles then, on Monday morning, as there is nothing about doing laundry that would lay claim to any particular mental exertion, and I thought how occasionally we hear protests from people who point out how this belief  at times results in couples being stuck in cold, sad, relationships, just because they vowed to stay together forever, and believe they must keep their vows.

But the fact of the matter is, if we believe in vow keeping as we say we do, we will never be there. Because we vowed more than just to be faithful to each other forever. A lot more.

We also vowed to be patient and kind and forbearing. We vowed to cherish. In health and sickness. In prosperity and adversity.

He promised to provide and care for me. I promised to honor and obey him.

We promised to live with each other in peace.

And peace, though we may be told otherwise on the political front now and then, is not simply the absence of war. It is not a stoic tolerating of one another in taut silence. Peace in a relationship is a palpable warmth and benevolence that underlies our every interaction...even arguments. It's true! You can argue in perfect peace if love and respect and fondness make up the underpinnings of your mutual regard!

I recall after our wedding that The Chief's Aunt Miriam waylaid me and said how much she enjoyed watching my face while he said his vows to me. "I especially liked how you broke into a smile when he said he would live with you in peace." she said.

I still smile to think of it.

I have broken my vows more than once. And he has too. Not because we didn't mean it when we vowed it, but because we are humans...and sometimes the other person is just plain maddening!!


Alright, that's no excuse. And our failures fracture the type of Christ and His bride, the Church, just as surely as divorce does, to anyone who chances to observe it. Our spouse, first and foremost, and our children, and everyone else who senses that we are not exactly as enamored with one another as we once were.

That's why "I'm sorry's" were invented. And repentance.

I am truly grateful and humbled at how The Chief has taken seriously the entirety of his vows... patience and forgiveness, and cherishing, and forbearance, and providing...all of it.

Soon after we were engaged, we were sitting around the table with some of my siblings and my beloved and caring sister said to him, "I might as well tell you right now, Kent...she's sick all the time!"

He did not bat an eyelash, literally or figuratively, either at the time or in the subsequent years.
Better love hath no man than this, than a man who loves a wife who's "sick all the time."

The Chief makes it look easy. I love him for that. I love him for a million things. And when I realize I am not loving him as I ought, I say I'm sorry. He does the same. And we start over,  he and I.

That's the natural and delightful culmination of mutual devotion to the vows we made.

It IS very sad to see the societal landscape littered with the fragments of broken marriage vows, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that those fragments result only from divorcing and remarrying. They also result from impatience and anger. From snide remarks and disrespect and the silent treatment. From presuming on the other. From not pulling our share of the work load....

So let's be friends with the spouses we have chosen. Let's be kind. Let's deluge our marriages with the best of our energies. And whenever necessary, let's forgive.

For Jesus' sake. For our own sakes. For the sake of  the society at which we are wont to sadly shake our heads.

Because vows are, after all, vows.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Psychonatomy of a Hospital Gown

I’ve been sick.

Being sick gives you opportunity to ponder things you might not otherwise ponder properly.  It gives you valuable perspective concerning the things that matter and the things that don’t.

Things like the incredible value of family and friends, the fragility of life, how entirely optional you are to the world, the abundant mercy of God.  And hospital gowns.

Yes, hospital gowns.

The hospital gown was created primarily as a psychological weapon. 

There are multiple clues that would indicate this.

Half the population would be loath to be clad in a gown of any kind, even alone inside a room with no windows and no doors.  But they make everybody wear one in a room where a rotation of complete strangers of every gender pops in at irregular, unannounced points of time,  all day and all night. That is one valuable clue.

In the second place, the hospital gown in no way resembles any other sort of gown you may ever encounter.

It is a colorless, shapeless,  thinnish piece of cotton with strings attached at strategic intervals. You would never mistake it for a garment under normal circumstances.  A tent fly, maybe, but not a garment. This is another valuable clue.

 In spite of this, they are very cheerful when they talk to you about getting into it, and they want you in it as soon as possible.

I had no more been wheeled into a little room, when a little lady came in with a stack of stuff and a hospital gown.

“It opens in the back.” She said, helpfully.  “I’ll get you a bag to put your clothes in.” and disappeared.

The Chief settled into a chair, and I sat down on the edge of the bed.

The lady reappeared, “Oh!“ she said, “you haven’t changed yet!”
“ I thought you were getting me a bag for my clothes” I said.
“Oh yes!  I forgot” she disappeared again, and returned directly with a bag.

They want you in the hospital gown.

She disappeared again.
This hospital gown had three strings, two at the top and one roughly halfway down.  The two at the top tied to each other and I did so.
 This left the mysterious third string. “What am I supposed to do with this one?” I asked the Chief.
“I think you’re supposed to hold it.” he said.

 He packed my precious clothes carefully into the bag and packed them neatly away with my dignity onto the shelf of the microscopic closet.

I got into bed and pulled the covers up. They had me where they wanted me.

The Chief had to go. He had already devoted the lion’s share of his day to chauffeuring me hither and thither and sitting with me through tests and examinations. He had put his work on hold to make it happen, and I was set for the duration.  The door closed behind him and I was alone.

But only for a minute.  In his wake there appeared a perky blonde nurse with a handful of vials and a needle.  I lay there meekly.  

You see, this is the strategy.  A person walks into the hospital. They are somebody. They may be the manager at the local Ford dealership, a stubborn old farmer with a well-run farm, an adored wife with alert, clean children who never pick their noses, the baddest  Crypt on the street….but in a hospital gown  that opens in the back, and a string you’re not sure what to do with and your back against the bed, you are a harmless nobody.

It’s genius on their part, really.

She pulled out my arm and started looking at it. She tapped it. She stroked it.  She snapped it with her forefinger here and there. “You have no veins.” She said.

Everyone to this point in my life had always told me I had great veins. “Oh! You have great veins!” they would say, and poke a needle in and blood would gush in enthusiastically. Whatever else I might not have had, I had good veins.

 Now I had no veins.  I had to admit, I couldn’t see much in the way of veins myself. She took a long, long time looking for a vein, first on one arm and then the other.  She finally decided where she was going to put her needle.  She pushed it tentatively in. Nothing happened. No blood appeared.  She pushed it in a little further. Nothing.  She moved it to the left, and wormed it around

She talked the whole time, cheerfully, but she was nervous.  “Your vein just wants to roll.” She said. She called for back-up. Now I had a team. The new nurse seemed quite experienced. She had that air about her. But she couldn’t find a vein either. They abandoned their first attempt. I forget how many times they poked me but they finally got blood in the back of my left hand.

They drew blood and got the IV thingie started, and then they went out.

And I lay there happy as a lamb.  Actually, I just wanted to sleep.  So I pulled up my covers and drifted off.  In they came again with an IV pole;  they picked up my hand. The IV thingie had come out of my hand.
They had to start over. I didn’t even care.  I hate IV thingies in the back of my hand.  Anywhere but there.

This is how you are in a hospital gown.

A nurse came in, and started hanging bags from the IV pole. “Do you want pain medicine?”, she asked. She mentioned some heavy-duty pain killer I could have dripping in my veins if I wished.

“No.” I said. I’m alright.

She laughed. “I knew you wouldn’t take any.” She said.  It doesn’t take long at all to figure out who’ll have to have pain medicine and who won’t.  I knew when we were trying to put in your IV which kind you were.”

She said it fondly. They might have had me where they wanted me, but I was getting them where I wanted them too. On my side.

So I lay there for a couple days, biding my time.  As near as I could see there was no reason at all for me to be in that hospital gown.  None.  My own clothes and dignity were still deposited neatly on that closet shelf.  I wanted them back.

One morning, I pushed the button to call the nurse.  “May I help you?” her voice crackled from the nurse’s station.

“May I get into my own clothes when I get out of the shower?” I asked. 

“Sure!” she answered brightly.

I was inordinately happy. I was my own person again.

I stayed in my own clothes for the duration.  The Chief brought more clothes from home, and bought me clothes when they pumped me so full of fluid that my own no longer fit.
But at least it wasn’t a hospital gown!

Once again, being sick provides you with valuable perspective concerning the things that matter and the things that don’t. If you have your clothes, you have what matters.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Which Bag are You Toting?

Have you ever thought of what a mixed bag Life is? And how the mental list you keep closest track of, dictates whether the bag you tote feels perky and light, like your favorite purse at the outset of a shoe-shopping expedition, or more like a tramp's satchel, saturated by rain, and emitting odors which cannot be uttered?

If you haven't, you should. Because it's an interesting thought. And interesting thoughts are not as plentiful as they should be.

Take any given day. Anybody's.  Add it all up... and there is probably a pretty equal amount of good and bad....some days equaller than others.

Today, for example. (I'll take mine because I don't know about your's.)
But I was pondering what an excellent, excellent day it was, when the pain from My Tooth interrupted my train of thought.

This interruption inspired the thoughts I am getting ready to think, and some I have already thought, the sum of which will make up this blog, which will, I hope, be short. Because it is late. And last night was later.

Here is a list of bad things...

~ I could hardly wake up this morning. I could not sleep last night till the wee hours and felt like a wrung-out dishrag when it was time to get up.

~ There was mold on the skim of coffee in the coffee pot. This signifies a number of very bad things. You are smart enough to figure them out.

~ I was in no shape to deal with mold. I had instant, instead. It wasn't very good. I fixed another for the Chief. It was worse.

~ I left my Bible and quarterly at church. I forgot it again, when we were there this afternoon.

~ We went to sing for a man who was on his death-bed, or death couch, in this case. We sang a song we had sung at Mother's funeral. I cried the whole way through in front of complete strangers. I had no tissues, so I had to whisk "it" away as best I could. I wiped "it" on the belt of Becky's dress. Gross.

~ The Tooth.
    If you ever had A Tooth you know what I mean. It will either have to stay or go. Either option is awful.      
~ I lost the game of Settlers of Catan. Again.

~ The tea in our fridge tastes like furniture polish.

~ I started washing dishes this evening, and stopped partway through. The gray water is still in the sink. I hate this, but not enough to get up and finish them. The character flaws this illustrates are not pretty.

Where do I stop? I could keep going for some time...but let's not.

Here is the list of good things...

~ I found hairballs to match Becky's dress this morning without having to look much or untangle anything from anything else.

~ I got to teach my Sunday School Littles and they were all so much fun, and they actually helped sing this morning instead of just looking at me.

~ I remembered to take my little notebook to church to take notes. This is the ultimate virtue, to take notes during the sermon, but I never, ever remember to take paper. Ever. This morning I did.

~ The sermon was really, really good! And thanks to the note-taking, I still remember what it was about.

~ We had a carry-in dinner at church. There was lots of great meat, fresh garden things, and dessert. Everything I had was prime.

~ It was fun sitting and connecting with the dear church ladies.

~ I remembered to take everything to church I wished to take and give them to the people I needed to give them to. (This is huge.)

~ The Chief and his boys tonight, in animated conversation about mutual interests. It's a beautiful thing.

~ Becky had no idea I wiped that stuff on her belt. She thought I was just putting my arm around her, maybe. She put her arm around me, too.

I had planned to compile an exhaustive list on both accounts but I am realizing about now that this will get ridiculously long, barring a change of plans, so I will stop...

A facebook friend of mine posted this today:
"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." ~A. Nin.
This is extra true. And it largely dictates the quality of your life.

Today, I toted the fun purse. Not on purpose, it's just the one I discovered I had. But, tomorrow when I blear my way to the kitchen and see the hag reflected in that gray water, the one who stayed up past midnight typing with her fore-fingers, I can pretty much tell you which bag will be slung over her shoulder.
And I can tell you something else. It is possible for her to switch out bags, if she discovers she grabbed the tramp's satchel.

When you start talking about yourself in second person, it's time to call it a day.

Good night, all.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Portrait of a Knight in Armor.

~*~Tomorrow, the Chief and I will have been married 23 years. He loves when I post blog entries. This post is dedicated to him. He has put more happy in my ever after than my best dreams ever conjured.~*~

I had put in a long day.
That's my excuse. I need one, and that's the best I can do.

But the Chief and I were in our bedroom, doing what we normally do when he gets home from work. Debriefing, you could call it... He tells me what he learned that day and what all his day consisted of, and I tell him what I learned, and what I did.

It's how we merge when we've been navigating separate highways.

His day is usually more interesting than mine. And he's better at telling it, and I love a good story, so this is probably my favorite part of the day, followed closely by the part of the day where the coffee maker just quit dripping enough that I can pour myself a cup of coffee before another drip drips, and the part of the day where I am pulling back the sheets at night and getting ready to slide between them.

(Diagram that sentence.)

Anyway, I was telling him about my day. He had already told me about his, and I was suddenly frozen by a thought.

"Honey..." I said. And I could not help it, tears just bled through my eyes like water seeping through a basement wall, brimming at the threshold, but not overflowing. "There is a huge spider on the wall behind the freezer. It's the biggest spider I ever saw."

"Bigger than that other biggest spider?" he asked.

"Well, almost as big." I said. "Maybe not quite as big around, but his legs are thicker and furrier, and his body is bigger. He is just gigantic."

"I see." he said soberly.

"Well... I can't go out to my shed now." The Chief was not grasping the magnitude of this. "And I have all these blueberries sitting in boxes that I need to put in the freezer. And I need to go through my freezer and organize it before there's room to put them, because the freezer's smack full."

The enormity of the situation was dawning on me even as I spoke.

I had handled the situation stoically at the time. I had opened my shed door. Taken one step in. Seen the spider. Taken one step out. Shut the shed door.

I didn't so much as shudder till I got back to the wig-wam. That's the truth.

At the wig-wam I had pondered phobias. "They can't rule you if you don't let them." I thought to myself. "I will not think about it. That's all." And I didn't much. In spite of all the blueberries stacked there, needing to be put in the freezer.

But that was half a day ago. I had been strong too long, and felt powerless to even resist. I started to cry. This is called post-traumatic stress disorder, I think. Definitely a disorder of some variety.

"There are probably gobs of them!" I continued, "I saw the skeleton of another huge one hanging out there a long time ago. They're probably out there multiplying and multiplying."

The Chief regarded me thoughtfully. "Sooo...Do I need to get one of those foggers?" he asked.

"Yes!" I hadn't been able to think of a single solution the entire time I hadn't been thinking about it!

The only thing I could think of was that it was going to be impossible to kill him, because, of course, he wasn't going to be sitting there at the same place on the wall  behind the freezer waiting patiently for the Chief to get there to kill him. These are not the kinds of spiders who build webs and stay in them. These are the ambushing kind.

He would just be out there. Forever. Him and his descendants. The Spiders of Gath. And I could no more  go out to my shed without facing the giants. I had hardly considered that there might be a solution!

Hope shown through my tears.  

"Yes!! A heavy duty fogger!" I said.
And then I had to cry some more, out of sheer relief...and to wash all the emotion out in order to get back to normal. You know.

The Chief regarded me some more, smiling a little. A gentle, amused smile.

And then he put back his head and laughed. And roared. He held his stomach and leaned back and just died laughing. He staggered a little...and laughed some more. He may have cried some tears of his own variety.

I knew it would come to that. At some point it would come to that. Because I know him. And he knows me. And that's just how it is.


Friday, June 21, 2013

The True Citizen

I love a small town newspaper. Love love love.

We have a local small town newspaper. We don't subscribe to it, because technically, we don't quite live in this town, but we pick it up occasionally. I picked one up yesterday.

The True Citizen. $1. It's a steal.

Last night, while the Chief caught up on on-line news. I sat cross-legged on our bed and read The True Citizen.

After some time had passed he said, "You must be finding more to read in there than I did."
What was that suppose to mean? I have no idea.

I can find more to read in a small town newspaper than in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Any day.

Take the first page, for instance. You are not going to see Lee Boy's Barbecue featured on the front page of The AJC. You will not see a picture of "Pa" Richards leaning in over his grill testing that smoking meat with his fork, and another of Donna behind the counter.

You can smell the aroma of those ribs wafting right off the page almost. That's worth .50 right there.
Roy F. Chalker Jr. wrote the article. He's been to Lee Boy's three times in the last few weeks since he discovered it, and every last time he's been there, Sam Cummings, the mayor of Midville has been there too.

He asked the mayor if he eats every meal there.
The mayor said "No, just twice on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and once on Sunday."

This is news you can use. This is what news was made to be. I want to go to Lee Boy's now.

Also on the front page: Tyleasha (a teenager) stabbed her boyfriend, Jimmy in the neck with a filet knife. They've been living together on North Hill Street for three months. I guess it's not working out so well for Tyleasha and Jimmy. Jimmy's 32. He should have known better.

The lights went out for hundreds of residents of Burke County Monday night when a line of severe thunderstorms moved across the area. I know about that. That was the night the Chief thought we might as well be driving in it as sitting in it, and we drove by faith and not by sight.

And there's a tribute to Denzell "Snake" Warthen, a remarkable strong safety who met an untimely death when he went to sleep while he was driving. The title suggests a scholarship fund is being started in his honor but the article ends mid-sentence. There's no sign of it on page 2 or 3. Maybe it's continued somewhere...but who knows?
I don't search for it...

On page two are the pictures of the winners of the Annual Frog Jumping Contest held at the library.
 Sam Kyzer's frog "Jumpy" and Kayla Tinley's frog "Lizzie" won the contest.
Congratulations to "Jumpy" And "Lizzie" and their owners!
 This is life.

Also on page two: "Mad Anthony's Big Boom is on!" The people responsible to do it are raising money for the fireworks show on July the 3rd. I don't know who Mad Anthony is.
I should, maybe, but I don't.

We also learn how many people have died on account of the heat between 1979 and 2003. More than 8,000. How did they decide to reports statistics for this particular time-frame? I do not know. And where  did these untimely deaths occur exactly? In Burke county? South Africa? The whole world over? This might not be funny to the Chief but it leaves me giggling...

Page three. The swimming pool at Magnolia Springs is now open. This should help forestall heat-related deaths. (worth another .25, surely)

On page four there's a picture of Mr. and Mrs. Delaigle. They have been married for 65 years. They still look really happy. They are going to spend 3 days on Jekyll Island celebrating.

Page five is the opinion page. The editor (Roy F Chalker Jr.) talks some more about barbecue. Good man.

Don Lively talks about the voices in his head. The Quiet Voice and The Loud Voice. He explains about what they tell him in various circumstances: on the dance floor and during church, and on Saturdays when he should be doing lawn work.

(He's Baptist, so there is nothing that doesn't fit in that picture.)

Alongside the obituaries on page six, F. Leslie Jenkins Jr. wrote an entire column around this sentence "Don't do anything you can't do on a bicycle." You never thought of it, I bet, the virtues of limiting yourself in this way. Or the doability of writing a column on this. I bet it never once crossed the minds of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution people.

 Church News and Announcements are on page 7, as well as a devotional and the local businesses who sponsor the page. This takes up the entire page. There are a lot of churches.

On the flip side of the page is a line-up of  the mugs of people who were booked into the Burke County Jail last week. They should have gone to church.

Also on  page eight:
A man on Keysville Rd wants to know who's been growing marijuana in the woods behind his house. 125 plants. I bet he does.

The story about "Snake" is continued on page 9, I see.

On page ten it says about the High School Field getting a facelift, if plans hold.
And there's a picture of a bunch of darling children who attended the tennis clinic "earlier this summer", holding their rackets high.

There's also a picture of "Gabi". He's the featured pet of the week. His parent is Jessi Chandler. I'm not sure how that works.

On the back two pages are the classifieds.
Auctions you can attend. Houses and lands you can buy....If you don't live in a small town, I highly recommend you look into moving.

Here's some land for you: 56 to 142 acres in North Burke County: Old fields, wooded, county road frontage $1200-1500 an acre.

There are no personals. In a small town, people know people.
Love's Wedding Chapel will marry you, no blood test, no waiting. How neat is that??

And if you need someone to sit with Me-ma while you're at the ceremony, Ethelene Young will do it. She gives her number. It couldn't be handier. She doesn't mention references, but have you ever known an Ethelene who wasn't completely trustworthy? Me either.
That's worth at least a dollar all by itself, having Me-ma looked after by Ms. Ethelene while the wedding is going on.

The Chief can have his Drudge. And you can have your AJC.
Give me The True Citizen every time.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Carry Me Back to Old Virginny...And Home Again. In One Piece, Please.

Families, in spite of the occasional incident that might suggest otherwise, were a good invention.

We got together with my side of the matter this past weekend. My sister and brother and their good spouses opened their homes and barns, tents and campers, to host the rest of us, 37 in all, in the Valley we love.
The ones in heaven would have made it 40.

Our freshest loss being Mother, of course.

It was the first time we had a family get-together since she's been gone and it felt a bit like a wheel without an axle...but the wheel still rolled in the same direction it had gone before. Good times; they rolled again, with only a trace of a wobble, which occurred, now and then, if I thought more than a minute about the axle being gone.

But I often looked around at my siblings and the abundance of nieces and nephews, and felt wealthy beyond measure.

 The weather was perfect. This was Providential benevolence for sure since we were up-close and personal with it much of the time due to the limitations of the available facilities.
The best stuff happens out of doors, at any rate. Corn hole, horse shoes, hiking, and trampoline parties, easy conversations in the fire-glow under the night sky...

There is a marvelous old house down the road from where we stayed that I adore and long to tour. My sister's family knows the owner, my nephew works for the lady. My brother-in-law investigated the possibility of us touring it. It did not work out; they were hosting a birthday party there or something, (no one lives in it) but the lady said we were welcome to come tour her own home, which is even older, the second oldest home in Port Republic. Saturated in history. We thought it might be a bit overwhelming if the whole tribe showed up on her doorstep so we didn't all go, but the ones of us who did were treated to a colorful trip back in time by the very educated and gracious lady of the house. New construction cannot hold a candle to the glories of an old home. Selah.
In three years they are going to host the house's 200 birthday party.

"Will your family get together another year? Come back again!" she said, "I'll show you through the other house!" She couldn't have enjoyed showing us through it as much as we enjoyed going through it, but it may  have been close. The older I get, the more fascinating history is to me. Probably because I'm not being tested on it and don't have to remember any dates for fear of failing.

Nita planned  a scavenger hunt....we all got prizes no matter how slow we found the stuff. In fact, the ones who sat on lawn chairs and watched, got prizes.  I'm not quite sure how that worked there. I'm trusting it was all above board.

When it got dark we funneled into the house with games and conversation spilling onto porches and decks.
When the stars came out, Kelvin set up his amazing telescope and we lined up and took turns looking at Saturn and the ring around it...and the moon...It was just breathtaking!!

Saturday night, we invited our two aunts and uncle to join us for supper at Jeff's barn. It was so good to touch base with them a little. Later we were joined by a gaggle of friends for what has become the traditional hoe-down. The talent rests heavily on the male side of our family in this department, but it creates a lot of fun and memories for us all.

I am realizing that I'm not relaying this stuff in the order it happened. Does it matter?
How could it matter??
I am not going to try to fix it. It happened. Somehow.

And I won't tell you about how half of us went and worshiped by the magnificent Shenendoah River and half of us worshiped elsewhere, and we both were very blessed by our respective worship services. That would take too long and I am trying to get to part about the ride home anyway...

The point of this blog is the the ride home.

Fast-forward to Monday morning. Ready to go home. Or ready to be ready at any rate.
But not actually ready.

Getting ready, when your tribe stayed on two pieces of real estate. (Why is it called real estate, by the way? Is that opposed to unreal estate?) and has two vehicles to pack and maintain is a bit interesting. The first interesting part is finding all your stuff.

The boys arrived from the other piece of real estate first thing, pretty much, which was good, because they were going to be eating on this piece. We were hoping to leave about 9 AM. It seemed doable.

We got our things together. Stuffed our dirty clothes in bags. Repacked suitcases incorporating the purchases we had made during our several shopping excursions. We cleaned out and wiped out the cooler, tried to minimize the carnage in our wake, so our hosts would let us back in next year, and other various and sundries.

"Has anyone seen my wallet and phone?" asked Dustin at one point. "I looked at the barn but I couldn't find it."
Vague waves of despair started lapping at my shores. He'd been about four different places. Not counting vehicles. He'd taken a shower in the dairy barn, been in Jeff's house, slept in Jeff's barn/shop, been here at Jon's.... We started hunting. And hunting. And he found it. My shores had eroded significantly by then on account of my melancholy expectations alone. I was genuinely surprised. I think I had given up before we even started.

"Should we stop at Sharp Shopper on our way out?" I asked The Chief.
"I thought maybe we would." he replied.
 We love Sharp Shopper and there are no Sharp Shoppers anywhere around the wig-wam, so we stock up on bargains when we have a chance.

Then it was time for hugs, and good-byes, and happy synopses of our fantastic weekend expressed. More swiftly written here than carried out.

The division of natives and cars was made. The car the Chief and I were navigating was not the car of choice. It's a little beater car. Basic. Stick shift. The rear dash is torn up; the previous owner had dogs. They tore it to smithereens. It's not classy.

So the natives who had endured on the way up saw to it they were not the ones to endure on the way back.
I like this car myself. It's fun to drive. It has pep. It has personality.

We were ready to go when Scott came over from the preferred car. "Why don't y'all go ahead over to Sharp Shopper." he said. "I have a tire that's kinda flat."
Something else was wrong too, I think. I forget what. They were running diagnostics on it to see what the issue might be.

It seemed like a good plan. Off we went. We were nearly done with our shopping when the Preferred carload showed up. And they wanted to look around too. And buy a few things. One of them had gone into the Goodwill store next door. So much for leaving at 9 oclock. Nine oclock was now but a pleasant, but distant, memory.

We retrieved all the shoppers and headed for the gas station. We needed gas. And ice to chill our newly acquired purchases. We selected a gas station, and pulled in. Only to see all the handles were covered with bags. They were out of gas. We selected another gas station. This one had gas. But no ice. We got gas. Then we went back to the first station and got ice. Filled the cooler. Got in and were on our way. The Beater followed by The Preferred.

We could have driven straight across from the gas station and gotten on the interstate, but somehow, the Chief and I were both thinking we had to go up the road a piece. So we did. Which, of course meant we had to backtrack when we figured out we were wrong. The Beater, followed by The Preferred.

And we were finally on our way. About 11:30.
 But the sun was bright! The carpet was damp, but the sun was bright. I forgot to tell you about the carpet. When the A/C was on, the carpet got wet. Gradually. The front first, and then the back.

We sped along without incident for awhile, till we stopped for lunch. Becky decided she wanted to ride with the Chief and I in The Beater. She trundled from The Preferred to The Beater, with her pillow and her stuff.  This made everyone happy. With reconfigured passenger loads we pressed on.

And all was well, till they attempted to put all the traffic into one lane. And then it slowed to a sluggish crawl, as all of us in the right lane had to try to find places in the already congested left lane. There was a car or two between The Beater and the Preferred, and we suddenly started hearing someone laying on the horn...over and over again.. It continued awhile, and then we saw The Preferred pull off on the shoulder of the road and stop. The horn-blowing car blasted past it. Another car or two scattered from its path. Then it was behind us. It flashed its high beams repeatedly and lay on the horn some more. We pulled off the road too...there was no place to merge in the other lane. It charged passed us and on up the road at idiotic speed and ducked into a spot in the left lane, and then the driver put his left hand out the window and gave it a mighty PoW! with his right fist. He was enraged at how long it was taking people to merge, apparently. 

We checked on the passengers of The Preferred. They were alright. We resumed our trip. But we were crawling. For mile upon mile we crawled single file up the mountain. There was one perk. We got to look down over that vast valley to our hearts content for once. It always goes by so fast. At a place near the top they were pulling cables up the steep mountainside.  That was what was slowing us down... Once we passed it, the traffic thinned again and off we went again.

The floor was getting wetter. Sopping really.

We stopped for gas again, at the cheapest place we knew. It was also the cheapest place everyone else knew. It took forever to get gas. The Preferred gave up on it and went somewhere else for gas. We knew not where. So when we were done pumping ours we had to find The Preferred.  They were behind us somewhere. They said they would catch up. So we went down the road slowish for awhile...

Quite awhile.  They finally caught up and we were on our way again.

I dozed off and on a little till I noticed The Chief  starting to draw in deep breathes, hold them awhile,  and then let them out in a deep long sigh. When he does this, it means he's getting sleepy.
"Are you getting sleepy?" I said.
"Yes." he said.
I told him how I knew he was."You always do that" I said.
He had no idea."You think you have me figured out, don't you?" he said.

The next time we stopped I took over the wheel.
I like to drive. Usually. Especially a stick shift with a bit of pep.

Traffic was heavy and it had started raining. I am not quite as fond of driving in the rain. The windshield on The Beater is a bit scratched, and my eyes are not as good as they once were. Too many taillights and reflections and raindrops leave me feeling slightly on edge.

I put in the clutch and put it in gear and off we went, but when I put on the brake before pulling onto the road, my breathe caught a bit. I had to push the brake pedal way down before it started slowing. This was my car. I was used to driving it and this was not normal. Or was it? Had I just forgotten? It did stop, after all. At any rate, whatever the reason, when I needed to brake thereafter, I was always a bit unprepared for how far I needed to push down the pedal before it started braking. Was I just imagining, or was there really something wrong with the brakes?? We were approaching Charlotte. It was rush hour. It was raining.  Once a car ducked in front of me and I put the pedal altogether to the floor before it slowed. My stomach resembled a Celtic knot.

I had  voiced my suspicions before. I voiced them again in more affirmative language
"There is something wrong with the brakes. Do you think it might be low on brake fluid?"
"It's possible." replied Chief-I'm-Just-Not-Worried-About-It, calmly.

I kept my eyes riveted, my hand on the gearshift, my left foot poised above clutch, and did my best to keep a healthy distance between me and the car in front of me. But it was rush hour in Charlotte. You can try to keep five car-lengths between you and the person in front of you all you want but you can count on five cars being determined to fill the space. It looks like wasted road to them, I think.

The native in the back on the passenger side splashed in the growing pool at his feet to make a point about how unPreferred his position was.

I glanced at Chief-I'm-Just-Not-Worried-About-It to see if my driving and the perils that abounded on every hand were putting him on edge. He was sleeping.

There was no time to worry about him not worrying. I prayed intermittently asking God for His protection, and on we went with the mass of traffic. It felt like racing to me. Around the curves, first this way and then that way. Charlotte stretched longer than it ever had before. The rain fell. I had almost no brakes. The Chief dozed. Like Jesus in the bottom of that ship on the raging sea.

"He trusts my driving." I thought smugly. It was the happiest thought I had had in awhile and I enjoyed it thoroughly, in spite of the fact that death pretty much sprawled all over the doorstep.

Finally the traffic began to thin a little. Maybe we were through Charlotte???? Maybe! I hadn't seen the first building, but we had driven 50 miles in Charlotte alone, it felt like, and that is not an exaggeration.

It was true! We were through!

The Chief roused from his slumbering and helped me figure out a good exit to take. We pulled into a gas station. Rain started dumping in earnest. He pumped gas and then checked the brake fluid.

"Is it low?" I asked.
"Yeah, it looks low. It's kinda hard to tell." he replied. He went in and bought a bottle of brake fluid and poured it in the little break-fluid compartment. I crawled out of the driver's seat and ran around to the passenger side.

We had made it. Alive. No one but me was even surprised.

The rest of our trip was rather uneventful till we got to Augusta. The rain stopped at some point and the sky cleared. The native in the seat behind me splashed now and then, for effect, but he wasn't treading water yet, so it was all good. Becky effervesced continuously in the seat behind the Chief, a bundle of cheerful buoyancy. Almost too buoyant. He threatened now and then to put her in the trunk, but she only giggled. Her floor was dry.

As we approached Augusta we decided it would make sense to stop and pick up something to eat. The trip had taken much longer than usual, by the time we got home it would be time to tuck the littles into bed.

We decided on tacos. As we were deciding on tacos, a boiling bank of blackness was rising before us. Broad and increasingly high. We were getting ready to enter a storm. We left the interstate and headed for Taco Bell just down the street. The Preferred on our heels. The Storm was nearly upon us. I did NOT feel like unloading all the natives. I just wanted to be HOME. Let it storm then, if it wanted. The Chief went over and told the natives in The Preferred that they might as well head for home as fast as they could and we'd bring food. So off they went, and he dashed inside, while Becky and Dustin and I waited.

The wind hit with serious intention.
Becky was losing a bit of effervescence.
"I don't like storms. I want to be home." she said plaintively.

Gigantic drops suddenly splatted on the windows. And then it POURED. The wind was blowing with fierce force. Water started dripping in the tops of the windows. Becky whimpered. We were parked near the door, and I tried to watch for the Chief but the rain was coming down in layered swirling sheets, and I couldn't see the door even though it was close at home.. All of a sudden, he was there. And inside. Soaked to the bone. 

It was a tremendous storm!  You could scarcely see more than a dozen feet.

"Do you think it's safe to try to drive when it's like this?" I asked.
"It's just as bad of a storm if we're sitting still." replied Chief-I'm-Just-Not-Worried-About-It. And off we went.

And for a little it was just amazing. The rain! The wind! How so much of both of them filled the same spot I have no idea. But it wasn't but a mile or so till it subsided some, and then some more, and by the time we made it to the wig-wam it was raining only gently. The Preferred had arrived safely as well. The lights  were on. We were home.

And I, at least, was glad.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

One Thing I learned....Make That Two...

Thursday I was in to get Todd's broken glasses replaced. The eyeglass place I use is pretty much stocked with impossibly thin and darling babes. One of them in particular  is especially cute, and also genuinely sweet. I thought about it the last time I was in there. I thought about it again this time because she is!... just terribly pretty and nice too. Helpful and friendly.

But while I was standing there waiting, she and some of her co-workers were having an ongoing conversation: A customer who had  left the store a little earlier had asked her if something had bitten her on the face. She had a little cluster of acne on one cheek, that to me looked like nothing but acne,  but apparently some caring customer with the wrong eye prescription or something, had expressed concern.

And she was beyond distressed!

"I KNOW I have terrible acne!" she said, "I don't need to have it pointed it out to me!!"
The other employees were commiserating.
She held out her hands to show them she was so upset her hands were trembling. She talked about how much make-up she was going to have to wear from there on out (even though she had it on there thick already)...On and on...and on some more. One of the customers heard and empathized and gave their horror stories from bygone days...they all agreed the person who asked her the question was unbelievably rude. She managed to say all this and still be endearing, which is an almost impossible fete. If anybody else had tried it it would have been nauseating.

I didn't say anything, but I felt incredible sympathy for her, (a little for the dear departed customer, too) and disdain for a system that holds bodily perfection on a pedestal so high that to fall from it will crush you.

I wished somehow she could know that her sweet personality and charm altogether overwhelmed that bit of acne on her cheek.

I also thought about the almost constant presence of acne on my face, since I was a teen, which was a very long time ago...with no make-up to camouflage its presence. Sometimes it bothers me...but seldom. It bothers me mostly when people make it a point of conversation. And they do, occasionally. They mean well. But it means they're thinking about it, and if other people are thinking about it and let you know they're thinking about it, it's easy to feel self-conscious.

But I won't  let it bother me anymore. I refuse. I learned in 15 minutes how sad and pathetic it is to invest anxiety in your looks when your spirit and disposition totally eclipse your appearance, if you let them....if you yourself refuse to assign yourself worth based on the veneer that covers the true you: your heart and soul.

I learned the comments only have power over you if you choose to own them.

And I learned something else. Never ask a girl if something bit her on the face.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Light in the Window

We had an excellent sermon on The Prodigal Son this morning. And my mind kept going when the sermon stopped...

The Prodigal Son wanted to leave his father and asked for his inheritance. The father gave it to him, and let him go.
And he had a great time! For awhile. For awhile he lived well, and no doubt had a lot more fun than his father ever let him have!
But then the inheritance dwindled, and disappeared. He was bankrupt and starving and increasingly desperate. Dirty; disgusting.

And I thought how analogous it is of a spiritual prodigal. The virtues he develops as a child of God seeking to obey and do his Father's will, and the blessings that flow from those virtues are rich and abundant...and if he chooses to leave the Father and take his own way, that inheritance will go with him. And serve him well! Very well!

For awhile.Years, perhaps.

But apart from the Father it will dwindle...and disappear...till he is bankrupt spiritually, emotionally, and often physically and mentally as well...

We all have prodigal tendencies, I think. I know I do. Some of you have taken to the road, and the journey is losing its enchantment the farther you travel it.

But like Tom Bodett for Motel 6, our Heavenly Father has left the light on for ya.
Unlike Tom, He is also pacing the floor and watching the road.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Terror on the Homefront

Childhood is not for the faint of heart...

This is an old facebook status that took on a life of its own. I'm transferring it to here for safekeeping. Because who knows?...Ahem...maybe I'll abandon facebook sometime!!
It was written Friday, August 26, 2011 
A garden spider has taken up residence outside our back door. It is clearly a direct descendant of another garden spider; one I will never forget....

I was about 5, I guess, the summer The Spider spun her web between the propane tank and the white concrete wall of our house outside our back porch in NC. I had a phobia of spiders that had no roots in reason and extended to my worst nightmares at night.

We often ran through the space between the gas tank and the house when we were playing, but The Spider brought that to an abrupt halt. I shuddered at the sight of her, even at the THOUGHT of her, and she introduced a level of horror to my life that was quite unmeasurable.

One day Jeff and I were having a water fight. I had a glass Pepsi bottle filled with water, and Jeff was chasing me. In my preoccupation with escaping him I went streaking through that garden spider and her huge web without thinking.

I knew instantly what I had done, but it was too late!!! I streaked PANICKED and SCREAMING!SCREAMING!!SCREAMING!SCREAMING!!!SCREAMING!!!! up the steps, across the porch, through the screen door and into the living room, hurled my bottle to the floor where the water blub-blubbed out onto the braided rug, and stood like a demon-possessed water-soaked screaming machine, paralyzed by horror!!!

And so there I was, in Mother's living room. She came flying to my aid, but had not the merest hint as to what my problem was, and there was no way I could afford to quit screaming long enough to tell her!!!!!!

I don't know how she figured it out. Maybe I did manage to convey it somehow... maybe Jeff told her. At any rate, she commenced to calming me down in her unruffled, reliable fashion. She had, and still has, a remarkable talent for imparting sympathy and compassion without validating ones' fears. She cleaned the web off me, and I think I remember her showing me the dead spider, and taking its shriveled carcass out on a flyswatter.

She told me that the spider was probably just as afraid of me as I was of her.

But I am here to tell you, there is NO WAY that that was the truth!!!! No way. There wasn't enough space in a million spiders to hold the fear that was in my heart that day.

I'm still irrationally afraid of spiders. But I believe in facing your fears, and through the years I have gradually conquered it. Small spiders no longer scare me. Medium-sized spiders, I can swat with suave confidence.

But ......I'd just as soon the spider by my back door wasn't there.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


He came flying around the corner the other day and said, "Did you see that picture of Pooh, Mom? Do you like it?"
"Yes, I like it!" I said. "I like it a lot!"
Todd had taken a picture of Pooh and made it our computer wallpaper.
 And then I had epiphany  of sorts. "Would you like if we'd get it framed?"

You could see the wheels of his mind start turning, "How could you frame it?" He asked.
"We'd get it printed at Walmart, and buy a frame for it. You could keep it on your dresser."
"Oh yes! Yes! YES!!" Wild excitement spurted out all over him.
And off he went, leaving in his wake his mom drifting down a silent brook of the day when Pooh first entered his life.

Todd was due on August the 10th. I remember that date because I had to repeat it so often to little Regan. She could not WAIT for him to be born. I couldn't either. It had been awhile since we had a baby in the house. Frankly, I preferred motherhood to pregnancy a thousand times over, and this pregnancy had had its share of scares and bed rest and hospital visits. It had been a long nine months.

But the 10th of August came and went, and no baby. Another week passed and another came. And finally, with some help from the doctor, Todd Asher was born, 12 days late. I remember us looking at him the first time... Todd in my arms; the Chief, who deserved a medal denoting supreme courage and endurance, as do most husbands of new mothers, to my right, hovering above us both. Todd was our fifth child and fourth son.

We couldn't have been happier.

The nurse whisked him away to be weighed and foot printed and brought his certificate with his little prints on it, to show us. His footprints were goofy, oddly smudged around his toes, and I kidded the nurse about her not getting his toe prints right. She laughed a little and made some comment about having had trouble with it.

That was a clue. I missed it.

They brought him back, weighed, and swaddled and ready to eat.
And they left us alone, the three of us. But, despite his apparent hunger, he seemed to have trouble sucking. Another nurse came to see if she could help, and in just a moment, with no word of explanation, she put her finger into his mouth, and then quietly took him from me and left the room.

That was another clue. But I wasn't looking for clues. I had just had a baby.

She brought him back to us again. I picked up his little hand  to adore its tininess. A couple of the fingers fell away from it at an odd angle. His pinkie finger had two fingernails, and upon investigation, seemed to be two fingers together. I showed it to The Chief. He had seen it earlier, and hadn't said anything.

That was a third clue. A couple questions rippled through my mind, but I felt no particular alarm.

Later, when we were settled into our room, the pediatrician came in and pulled up a chair. He was nice enough, but he wasn't our regular pediatrician, and we had no established relationship with him.

"Your little boy," he said, "was born with a few birth defects. Major minors I would call them."
 He launched into a run-down of the things he had been able to observe to that point. He was matter-of-fact, but not unkind. Todd's toes overlapped each other. His right hand had significant defects. He had a cleft in his soft palate...I forget if he mentioned other things then or not. I was unfazed. I loved the mothering job. If Todd took more mothering, I'd give it to him. Simple as that.

The most apparent defect at that point was that he was born with a cleft of the soft palate. This meant his mouth was open into his nasal cavity. He was unable to create suction, making nursing impossible. The nurse showed me how to feed him. I put his milk in a miniature cup and then holding him up-right on my knees, I held the little cup to his lips and he sip-sip-sipped it off, like a pro. Like he had known all along how to do this. I was disbelieving.

Later, they gave me a bottle nipple created especially for babies with cleft palates. He learned to strip the milk from it with his tongue. No suction necessary, but regulating the flow was tricky, and  it ran from his nose and half-drowned him over and over and over. Feeding him was a very long process. It nearly consumed my life. I was determined to keep from feeding him formula as long as possible, so he would have every possible benefit from my own milk. But determination cannot scale every mountain. I capitulated after about a month and a half and started feeding him formula, trying not so successfully to shrug off the guilt.

Thinking about it now, I still cry a little. Mom-guilt is a mantle the fingers of reason are unable to lift from your shoulders.

And we began seeing doctors. So many doctors. About This. About That. He needs this test. And that test. And these x-rays. And those therapists. And this specialist. And that procedure. He should be checked for possible syndromes. And this panel should have a look at him.

The endless labyrinth of halls that is MCG took on a familiarity we could never have envisioned. The security guards at the parking garage became common acquaintances. I learned to know the parking garage, how to extract myself from the predictable caterpillar of cars that crawled its way from floor to crowded floor, and snag the parking spots less apparent to the uninitiated.

Todd's plastic surgeon said doing cleft palate surgery was most successful and effective when done at approximately eight months old. I looked forward to that day, and dreaded it at the same time. It was his first major surgery.

We went through what would in later years become conventional routine. Pre-op. No eating after midnight. Keeping him occupied and entertained until they called us back. Trying to act, for his sake, like it was no biggie, like everything would be fine. We purposed to stay with him as long as we could and asked the doctor if we could go back to the operating room and stay with him till the anesthesia claimed him.

And then we walked, just the Chief and I, back to the waiting room alone, to wait. And wait. In a room full of other parents and grandparents trying to entertain and pacify other little children who hadn't eaten since midnight.

Finally the surgeon came out and told us surgery was complete and he was happy with how it went. They had sewn a string through his tongue he said, and it would be hanging out of his mouth. It was necessary should his airway begin to swell, we could pull his tongue out and free his breathing.

He left, and we waited some more.

And then the door opened, and a nurse called "Strite". We followed her back as she gave us a brief run-down of  his condition.

And there he was, one baby boy in a whole row of little people in varying stages of anesthesia's spell, separated by curtains.

I was unprepared for how pitiful he was. He was so small and awful in that ill-fitting hospital gown, with that string hanging out of his bloody mouth.  When he woke his eyes brimmed with unspoken confusion, fear, and anguish.

I hid my own anguish. Or tried.

Once he was properly awake they moved us all together into a recovery room. The Chief carrying the plastic drawstring bag probably, with Todd's own clothes. The nurse with the IV pole. Me, with Todd. That's how it usually worked.

The room was dim and pretty small. The obligatory shades of gray in every direction. Except for one spot. One big Spot of Gold with black eyes and nose and a bright red sweater.

It was Pooh. Waiting patiently for his boy to get there. There was a piece of paper there with him.  I can't remember the exact wording, but it said something like: This bear has been donated by...I think her name was Carolyn something, during a WBBQ fund drive for the patients at the MCG Children's Medical Center.

It was a tough couple days for Todd, and for the Chief and me. The only thing you can do for a baby that age is try to convey your love for them through the pain, and hope they understand that much at least...that you are there, and will not leave. That's all you have. It seems so inadequate.

All the while Pooh sat calmly in the corner of the vinyl couch, waiting.

And then it was time to go home, and we loaded him up with all the other things...the prescriptions, the instructions, the discharge papers, and this and that.

And off he went to his new home, with his new boy. There was no way we perceived how important a bear he was.

Todd quickly came to adore Pooh. He took him to bed with him faithfully every night....Pooh sat beside him where he played.
And they grew...Well, Todd grew...Pooh pretty much stayed the same. He dressed him in his own pants in the morning, (they were short pants on Todd, long pants on Pooh.)...and put him in pj's at night. Todd grew out of the pants, but Pooh didn't. He keeps a pair or two to this day, in case Pooh is in a pants-wearing mood.

They have had parties together. And gone to grandmother's house. And camping.
He talks for Pooh when Pooh can't find the words to speak... a little boy who for years struggled to find his own voice.

Sometimes Pooh needs a bath, at which point Todd keeps careful track of the washing machine and how soon he'll be out again. And then of course, he needs drying...and it takes so LONG for him to dry! But he's pretty and golden again then. Just like new! And his little sweater is so bright!

Todd and Pooh are ten years old now. Todd has changed a lot. Pooh, not so much.

Todd has been through multiple surgeries in those ten years. That cleft palate surgery was just one of many. But Pooh has been a constant in his life from that first one.

And often when I see them together, and think how much happiness Pooh has brought to Todd over the years, nearly his entire life....I think of Carolyn. And I wish she knew.

Pooh's picture has now been printed and laminated, and today, I hope to find a frame.
Red, I think, to match his sweater. Or perhaps black, to bring out the color of his eyes.

Thank you, Carolyn...wherever you are. Thank you so much.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

March, or whatever...

What do you do when you reeeally feel like writing but have nothing to write about??
We're about to see. Because that is the case.

My life has been like a handful of confetti for the last while, bits and pieces, flung...twirling, falling. The aftermath isn't especially tidy. Or noteworthy. Or sensible.

It's March now.

I wish for Spring one day. I wish for snow the next. Or even both the same instant. I think mostly I just wish for something besides sullen skies and drizmal. And coldness.

But I did plan The Garden of My Dreams. That was fun and not dependent at all on happy weather. You should see it, my dream garden.
I'd like to see it myself, actually. But I won't, I suppose.
The garden that comes to pass seldom bears overmuch resemblance to The Garden of my Dreams.

This takes none of the pleasure away from the dream, however. None.

The Chief ordered the seeds. He and a couple of the natives refurbished my little greenhouse. Last week I filled the first flats with potting soil and tucked in the first batch of seeds. Tomatoes and peppers of various varieties. Over 160 seeds in all. And some herbs.
A day or so later I planted more things, cone flowers, daisies, impatiens, coleus, caladium bulbs....more herbs...

A couple days later, eggplant, and okra and and I forget what all...and more herbs....

And the Chief said, "You planted the okra? We usually just plant that in the garden." Oh yes. I forgot.
I ran out of pots, so I bought more.

And planted more.

The Chief came home the next day and said, "Did you plant anything today?" And I said, "No, I ran out of pots again."

So now I am in the waiting stage. Waiting for more pots. But especially waiting for the first glad seedling sighting.

Truth be told there is nothing much gladder in the whole world than the first seedling sighting. Not for me. Every morning I take my rooster mug and fill it with steaming coffee and go check on my flats. I check the soil to see if it needs watering. And then I peer at the soil. And peer at the soil.

And peer at the soil.

This is more fun than you would believe. This is my absolute favorite hobby.

One day, I will see a miniature translucent palish arch emerging from the soil somewhere...out of all those hundreds of tiny pots. Because that's the first thing you see...and then that afternoon maybe, or the next day, one side of the arch will break free from the soil and there it will be! A little white stem topped by two baby leaves. A seedling!! And then there will be another one... and ten more...and dozens!!! It's entirely thrilling!

 I check them every morning, while I husp my coffee, and count them to see if there are more than last time. I look at them all carefully, note their progress, and try to discern if I'm killing them yet or not.
When I'm all through, I look at them one more time. And wish I had planted more so I would have more to look at.

Then I step out of the balmy earthiness of my little greenhouse, close the door behind me, and cradling my empty rooster mug, brace myself against the harsher realities of March.

So this is one fragment from the handful of confetti. And one, I believe, is enough.

Monday, January 28, 2013

I Took a Walk

I took, yesterday, in the interest of personal inventory reduction, a walk.

It shouldn't have felt as cold as it did, but there was no sun.  Twenty steps in I was huddled into myself and tucking in loose parts.

It's winter. I would say I don't like it, but that would mean spending 1/4 of my life not liking something, so I won't say that. Winter actually does have a couple redeeming qualities.

Snow, for instance, (which we rarely have). And ice for ice skating, (which we never have).

The other parts of winter I like are really not "liking winter" exactly, as much as enjoying the coping techniques.
Hot tea, for instance; Earl Grey in particular. Snuggling under covers in a chilly room. A Chief who cheerfully lets me put my freezing feet on him. Fire in the fireplace. (Not that we have one). Chili soup and corn bread.  Fuzzy socks. Long evenings for game-playing. And looking forward to spring.

Side virtues of dubious distinction, but virtues, none-the-less: I appreciate each one.

Outside, devoid of all these, I set out on my walk, under a canopy of naked, rattling branches, and a thin breeze cutting its way among the trees.

I pondered my crazy sister who lives farther north, who recently told me she LOVES winter! (I knew this before, she was just saying it again.)
They all do, she said. Her young son had slept the other night with his bedroom window open when it was 9 degrees outside. She made him keep his bedroom door shut she said, so the rest of the house wouldn't be 9 degrees.....(This judgement call of her's apparently redeeming her of all insanity. All I have to say is, "We report. You decide.")

But I thought of her and how she loves winter as I walked along, and contemplated the thought processes that would lead a person to love such a dark, cold, melancholy Thing. What was it like in her brain? I attempted to squeeze myself into it. It was an ill-fitting effort, and sizable parts of me dangled out the sides, but it was interesting to be sort of there.

I walked past the place where the resident coyote keeps appearing. I looked for him, but didn't see him. I turned the corner and headed up the hill. Smoke trailed on the breeze now and then, likely from someone's chimney. Someone with a fireplace.
A barred owl hooted from down near the creek. The forest floor was alive with pert squirrels who dashed noisily through crisp leaves and leaped to silent sentry positions against nearby tree trunks.

I got to the end of the lane and turned to walk down the hill. No cars. Geese gronk-gronk-gronked  off to my right. I watched as a trio of them flew above me and disappeared to the left over the swamp. Or is it a pond? It's a pond when it gets dammed up in front of the culvert that runs beneath the road, and empties on the far side. Sometimes there are beavers to dam it up. But sometimes there aren't. Right now, there aren't. Perhaps it gets a little local aid from surrounding humanity, I don't know. But it's nicest when it's a pond and right now it's a pond.
The sound of rushing water shut out the world. It was pleasant. The geese and the pond. Even on a cold gray day, it was all beautiful. It all fit, somehow. Maybe this was how it was to love winter.

I left the pond and walked up the hill. You burn more calories in cold weather. Another definite plus.
My phone rang. It was a friend. I walked along...or maybe sort of panted along...talking, walking, and burning extra calories thanks to the cold.

A car approached, the first I had seen. A little white car. I tried to flag it down. It blasted past, but then thought better of it and backed up. It's nice living on a road where you can back up without getting killed, and the only car that passes you has your husband in it.
I hopped in. It was nice and warm. I climbed out of my sister's brain and gave myself a good fluffing-up shake. It hadn't been altogether unpleasant there, perhaps sometime I would return. It was, at any rate, a reasonable survival technique.
 I think.
Unless winter makes you crazy without you really knowing.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

In Lieu of Anything Substantive....

The Chief is working today...the boys went off to play football...the littles went to watch...which leaves Reg and me....
...and she is occupying herself....

So I went to the kitchen. It was lonely and sleepish and wished someone would come cheer it up. "I could do that, I suppose." I thought to myself.

I got out the skillet and a roasted chicken carcass. It still had some valuable chicken on it. I carved it offa there and put it in the pan with a little oil. And a little garlic, and some fresh pepper, and some cumin....and fried it a little, and piled it on a plate.

The kitchen opened its eyes and blinked.

I got an onion from the bin and peeled it and sliced some of it and put it in the pan. I put a little more oil in it, stirring it now and then till it was about right. I put it on the plate with the chicken.

The kitchen stretched and twitched its whiskers.

I got out my little white mixing bowl. It's just a perfect little crockery mixing bowl...but pretty small. Small was just right. I put a handful of flour in it, sprinkled in a little salt, a mere pinch of baking powder and then took my bowl to the spigot and ran some warmish water into it, stirred it up, kneaded it a little bit and rolled out a nice thin tortilla. I put my tortilla in the pan with some more oil. Fried it on one side. Fried it on the other side, and piled my chicken and onions on top of it.

The kitchen stretched and sat on its haunches.

I got the hot sauce and blooped it all over the chicken and onions.
I got the lettuce and cut a pile of lettuce over it.
I opened the sour cream and added some and drizzled a little Vidalia Onion Honey Mustard dressing on it, (from Woodside Kitchen, which makes the best dressing).

The kitchen began to flick the tip of its tail back and forth, back and forth..

I shredded just a little cheddar over it and and attempted to close the tortilla over top of it. Pfft.
Okay, so now what?
I got it over to my plate. It took all my hands and several pancake turners and custom tortilla-transferring skills.
I took a bite.

The kitchen purred. And smiled. I saw it smile. I think.