Monday, March 27, 2017

23. NOTE

It was warm. Folded into a little white “football” triangle, striped with the thin blue lines of notebook paper, soft with the warmth of being nested between the desk chair and her thigh. She passed it to me when the teacher wasn’t looking. Across the aisle, that eternal space the teacher walked down now and then. I was an obedient rebel child, which left me feeling pretty much lonely and awkward, like I wanted to belong but never did. Now that I am old I realize I was in good company, but then, I felt like a loner. So, when she reached across the ocean of the aisle and tapped my leg, and I looked at the note in her hand, I almost didn’t reach over to accept it. But I did take it, almost shaking in unbelief - because… because I was a Mormon girl in a NOT Mormon community. And I was a girl whose parents were separated, in a town where kids had both moms and dads at home. And I was an Idaho girl transplanted to a steel mill town, and I pronounced my O’s differently, and I couldn't get comfortable saying “younz”.  I had all sorts of not normal going on, and that …THAT made me strange. And people didn’t do normal things with strange girls. So, this meant one of two things...either she was strange, too. Or I was…what?... normal? Normal enough to have a note passed to me across the forbidden classroom aisle?
It was a normal kind of note. One that just said something like “what are you doing after school Tuesday?” or “Meet me in the Hall after third period” Really, I don’t even remember if it was elementary school or Middle School. I only remember that I felt, strangely…normal. At a time when I longed to feel normal. A time when I felt everything and anything but normal. I kept that note, and every subsequent note, in a box under my bed. Collected them like they were love letters, like they were telegrams, like they were certified mail.
What was written was of little consequence. The exchange was the gift.
Now days we tap our fingers on our phones or our computers and pass notes to each other. It still makes me feel special, kind of acceptable, if not normal. Normal isn’t so important for me anymore.
Speaking of notes - it seems fitting to me that the way we communicate through music is with notes. I sometimes feel, when I am playing and singing a song I have written, like I am passing a note; across the aisle, across the room, across the stage and through vibrating speakers. I scribble my ponderings on a piece of blue lined paper, fold it into my heart and stretch my hand out hoping someone is willing to take it. And when I sit in church and we are preparing for the sacred sacrament, we all add our names to the same note, sent heavenward, asking God to meet us at the altar when the song is done. We seal our names to the notes like a congregational petition, hoping he will reach across the aisle and take the offering from us, warm and honest and sincere. Little love notes to God.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

22. THE "S" WORD

Springtime on Old Clairton Road was heralded by the jubilant chorus of vibrant pink blossoms that burst from the branches of the large crab-apple tree in our front yard. The color was so stunning, and the branches so thickly packed with soft newborn petals that it became a source of pride for me; like I wanted to stand on the sidewalk outside our house and wave at passing cars, a sort of gracious princess-like acknowledgment to the general populace that we were humbly willing to share our aesthetic bounty. Springtime, however, was short lived and before we got our fill of the art-worthy spectacle, the blossoms had fallen in a soft pink blanket onto the grass under the tree, replaced by plain old average green leaves and annoying little inedible berries that stained our walkway in the autumn.
That old tree was made for little girls. Semi-awkward little girls like me, who eventually fell from its branches and broke their arms. But that’s another story.
It was in that tree that I let loose a string of the “s” word, aimed in a tenor of intense irritation at my brother, or sister, I don’t recall which; they were all irritating off and on. I, myself, was never irritating.
I remember exactly how it felt. I was super miffed at something someone was saying, like they were taunting me or something, or telling some sort of untruth. I can conjure up an image of myself up there in the woody play-land where we regularly climbed, my leg locked in the joint between branches, my flat chest leaning into another branch, yelling “No sir! No sir! NO SIR!”
Whomever-it-was kept taunting, pushing like an anxious thumb on the top end of a Bic pen - click, click, click - until finally, I just let loose. It came spurting out, and once it was released it sort of repeated and repeated and repeated getting louder with each repetition.
“I’m telling Mom!” came chiming back at me, to which I boldly responded, “Go AHEAD!”
And, as misfortune would have it, just at that very moment, our mother poked her head out the kitchen door on the side of the house. She had likely been listening from the kitchen window. I’ve been a mom and listened in on such conversations, curious to see what would come out in the truth part of the game of Truth or Dare between siblings. I think she stopped listening and took action when it came down to the “s” word…the word… which in reality is two words, which I never realized because I thought it was just one swear word. I was called into the house, taken into the bathroom and given the distinct opportunity to taste bar soap, an all too familiar occurrence in my young life.
But really, I was willing to taste it. I put my shoulders back, even with angry tears streaming down my face, because something in me insisted that the alternative words were not strong enough.
I mean, really, when you’re angry, because justice has been offended, “Be Quiet!” just isn’t strong enough, even if you’re yelling it. Though I knew I must face the consequence should I be caught by the powers that be, the situation demanded the use of stronger language. It was the kind of interchange where only the hard stuff would work…the forbidden words…

Forgive me Mom. I respect what you taught me, and I almost never use that term, though I must admit there has been a time or two in this current political cycle where the old “S” word has slipped from my tongue.  But somehow, I think, if you were here, you would understand.

Friday, March 24, 2017


While I love all things sparkly and colorful, there is a mysterious magic in the invisible that somehow makes me feel powerful. Not in any superhero sort of way, though that might be kind of fun to have the power to disappear on demand. In fact, come to think of it, it could be a form of grace to find that, at certain awkward moments in my social life, I could just instantly vanish without having to make any apologies or excuses.
The kind of invisible I am thinking of involves inanimate objects.
When I was eight or nine years old we had the great joy of being given free reign of the basement while mom was cooking dinner or preparing a church lesson. There was an accommodating set of banisters on the basement stairs, which became horses when needed. The stairs became covered wagons. And we had a chalkboard down there at one point, and our Barbie houses. And, kudos to Mom for this, she would let us keep large boxes, like appliance size, which were thoughtfully re purposed into massive word processor computers or seaworthy boats, depending on our mood and supplies. Also in our basement was a dry bar, which I suspect my non-churchy father would have liked to have stocked, but which our found-her-long-lost-faith mother filled with other stuff, like canning supplies and office supplies and sewing stuff. Once, when I was coloring on the Formica bar top, I noticed a few drops of Elmer’s glue, which had dried. I scraped them off with my fingernail and noticed they were hard; nice little dots of clear plastic. Wow! I decided to try an experiment. I sketched a little picture with colored pencil and laid it in the center of a canning lid. Then I poured Elmer’s Glue on top of it till it reached the little lip on the edge of the lid. Each day, for I don’t remember how many days, I checked on the progress, until the glue had dried and the picture at the bottom showed through the invisible “plastic”. I peeled it out of the lid and voila! I attached a safety pin to the back and had myself a pin. Not that I’d wear it anywhere, but I had one nonetheless. Next I took some embroidery floss and formed it into a geometric swirl, covered with glue. The mystery was in that the glue was white when wet, but it dried clear. I think somewhere down in my basement is that groovy swirly button I made. A little paint or food coloring mixed with the glue made lovely swirls for pendants and other bobbles. Poor Mom. She probably wondered what happened to her supply of glue.
I also have a thing for invisible fishing line. Not only for the magic of faking out fish to think that the worms I threaded on a hook at the end of the line were indigenous to the fishing hole, but for its versatility around the house. Years ago I created a Halloween decoration for our front porch, which included a Styrofoam wig head, a witches hat, a plastic mask, a black negligee’ bought at a garage sale (nope, Dave never saw it on me) and a nice long strand of ten pound invisible fishing line. I screwed a few eye hooks into the frame of our front door and front porch ceiling. I assembled the witch and threaded the invisible line through the Styrofoam head, then up through the witches hat. I then threaded the line through the eye hooks and attached the other end of the line to the top of our front door.
When Trick or Treaters rang the doorbell, the witch rose from a heap on the ground and swung forward on the invisible thread, scaring little costumed neighbors nearly out of their wits. It was a grand hit! My engineer-uncle Richard thought it so clever he suggested we should market it.
Later, when I was in charge of bulletin boards at Knowlton Elementary, I used the same theory to create animated bulletin boards in the school lobby. I used unfolded paper clips, embedded in the composition board ceilings to thread fishing line attached to the school doors. In the winter months I had little bent-kneed skiers connected to the line. They went up and down cotton-topped mountains constructed in 3D. The fun thing about using invisible wire in a school is there were multiple doors and could therefore be multiple lines going to multiple skiers. Kids could stand at the bulletin boards and watch the flow and motion as other kids opened doors. In the spring I created colorful pots, from which little flowers would rise when the doors were opened. And Kites that would fly up and down in the breeze of doors opening and closing. I tell ya, I had an awful lot more fun and fulfillment in that PTA job than when I was president. Serious fulfillment! I had to make sure I was there when school started, or when it let out. That’s where the joy was found! I would sort of have to make myself invisible, looking from the corner of my eyes at those delighted seven year-olds, trying to figure out how those flowers popped up and down.
Joy, joy joy!
I think I need to volunteer at the elementary school again. I’m getting stale.