Wednesday, March 22, 2017

20. IN BETWEEN

Thanksgiving morning.
I wake from my sleep to the warm aroma of roasting turkey. It’s been cooking slow and low through the night, basting in its juices under a tent of foil. It’s easier to get up in the morning when the alarm is aromatic. I shuffle out to the kitchen and open the pantry door, selecting one of my aprons to wear atop my pajamas. I step through the kitchen door to check on the fruits of yesterday’s labors. A long folding table is set up in the garage, out there in the chilly air we call God’s fridge. One dozen pies are placed like a dot to dot on the plastic table top, created by a multi-generational crew of pseudo-pastry chefs in a Pig-Pen style cloud of flour dust yesterday in my kitchen. The crusts have relaxed sweetly around the apples and blueberries, and the trio of pumpkins are slightly weepy, with that sweet little crack in the middle where we had tested their readiness with a butter knife while they were still hot in the oven. Two empty shells await Kate’s annual chocolate and banana cream fillings. Their sweet flaky rims flutter in golden ripples around my deep hand thrown Bennion pottery pie plates.
Back in the warm kitchen I pull a handful of eggs from the fridge, and set the turkey neck and giblets in a pan of water on the top of the stove. I pull the blinds up from the kitchen windows and let the day stream in.
Two hours later Kate stands at the stovetop, stirring with the metal boinger as she slowly adds egg yolks mixed with cream to her basic cream pie recipe. The steady scraping of the bottom of the pan sounds like a jazz drummer on a well-worn cymbal. The crock pot exhales fragrant wisps from beneath its plastic lid; little buttery bubbles in aromatic stuffing releasing the scent of sage and thyme infused with turkey giblets, broken dried bread moistened with butter and broth, gathered together with celery and water chestnuts. Against the chopping and the stirring and the clanging is the rhythm of a Macy’s Parade marching band playing through television speakers. The kitchen door slaps behind a crew of grunt workers sent down from the East Wing (aka, my sister’s house, just to the east of us.) This year we will feast in the West Wing. The men-folk discuss table layout, counting the guest list on multiple hands. They shift the couches and chairs and coffee tables, drag-in other portable tables (we have a supply). One by one they fling the edges of fabric tablecloths up to the heavens, letting them float to the tabletops, then begin the setting process, adding a couple extra place settings in case someone new shows up. In a few hours we will look into the faces of the people we love most in this world. We will clasp hands and bow our heads and partake, and it will be simply beautiful. But the joy…the truest joy, is found in the in between; that place between waking and partaking. The motion, the conversation, the aromas. The softness of freshly baked rolls pulled from the oven. The laughter of little ones playing dress up or assembling toy train tracks, or gluing together paper chains scribbled with gratitudes. The chill of late fall sneaking in when the front door opens. The waft of warmth when the oven door is pulled down and the foil is removed from the turkey.

Big, memorable moments have their place. We hang our pretty photographs on our living room walls. Sweetly staged portraits, planned and executed to preserve a moment in time. Lovely reminders. But the truest treasures are in the snapshots, the ones we snap on a whim and save in a drawer, or a photo album, or our computers and hand-helds. 
I close my eyes and imagine gathering all my snapshots and stacking them in a pile. I imagine pinching a thick stack of captured moments in my left hand and placing my right thumb against the other side, letting the photos flicker through like the little animated booklets we got in Cracker Jacks boxes when I was little.

I’ve always been a project person. My days are patterned around the things I have to do, the responsible things like gigs or meetings or classes and such. Deadline driven things. And if there is no deadline, it seems I create projects, probably as a subconscious way to avoid bigger things that overwhelm me. Routine never did work too well for me. I swirl from one major or semi-major task to another. But lately it has been given to me, by the Giver of all personal revelation, that the product of my projects, while they may be satisfying to some degree, is not where the greatest treasure lies.
Instead I find it there, in the places where we do not wear make-up; where the windows are dusty from yesterday’s rain and the chandelier has a few lights that need to be replaced…where the kitchen floor is a grubby mess…or where the kids are asleep in the back seat on the long drive home…
There where the noise is deafening between someone screaming that they can’t find their shoes, the dog is barking, the baby is whining that he does NOT need a new diaper and the teenager ignores your request to change the baby’s diaper because the earphones are stuffed in her ears…
There in the achy silence of an undisturbed bed pillow, there the white noise of a television will not lull you to sleep in spite of utter exhaustion at having done nothing but grieve…where a gentle word from a knowing friend evokes a river of tears….
There, in the beautiful swirl of nothing notable, is the stuff of life. The stuff we will miss a thousand years from now. The place where joy and sorrow sit hand in hand, completely at ease with one another, like old, old friends on a familiar park bench. Beautiful, messy, divinely unremarkable in-betweens.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

19. SEVEN

Cori Hansen at seven years old: 
Favorite color – blue-green.
Favorite food – I don’t remember.
Favorite song – don’t remember either.
Favorite number – 7.
The number seven has always felt sacred to me. Maybe it’s because we had seven kids in our family. Maybe something about the seven days of creation resonates with me. 3 and 7 are my magic numbers. I think it’s perfectly fitting that they are both odd.

My friend Margaret, who teaches me life lessons while she teaches me how to sew every week, does seven push-ups every night. After her nightly prayers, while she is down there on her knees beside her bed, she just lays her body in the prone position, like a priest in prayer, and does her seven push-ups. Margaret is 92 years old.

I got curious about why seven is sort of my number, so I Googled it and here are a few things a Numerology site had to say about the number:
The number 7 is the seeker, the thinker, the searcher of Truth (notice the capital "T"). The 7 doesn't take anything at face value -- it is always trying to understand the underlying, hidden truths. The 7 know
s that nothing is exactly as it seems and that reality is often hidden behind illusions.

Well, OK, that works. Ask anyone in my family; everything is symbolic to me. There is deeper meaning in pretty much EVERYTHING! Usually, when I try to ponder the deeper meaning in everything, I end up dozing off, and I find the deeper meaning in deep slumber. No lie.

And then there’s this, from the Numerology site:
There is a dry, usually misunderstood sense of humor to the 7, yet he is unable to remember a single joke. He is not jovial and never superficial. He has excellent taste and a natural love and understanding of art. He dislikes and completely ignores fashion, and is attracted to eccentric, unpopular people. The popular "beautiful" but shallow people bore him to no end. He is not usually interested in politics but has a strong sense of justice. 
I do love a good joke, and particularly admire the dry wit that comes out in conversation with intelligent and creative people. And that part about never being able to remember a joke? 99% true. The only joke I can ever remember is that one about the two guys hobbling toward each other in the Veterans Memorial Park. It’s one of those jokes that requires actions, so I won’t try to recount it here. But it is sadly the only joke I can ever remember. I do have a passion for art, and artists, and though I have by default had to run a few political campaigns, I don’t love politics and do love justice. I think it’s interesting that my husband started his public service with politics as city councilman and mayor, and evolved toward pure justice as a state court judge. He’s kind of sevenish himself. And I kind of do find myself gravitating toward quirky people, probably because I am one, but I don’t dislike fashion and I don’t consider anyone I know shallow, and as long as someone will communicate I promise they do not bore me…ever!
Then there’s this: 
The 7 is physically lanky and tall, but not athletic and doesn't care about sports. 
Uhhhh…. Tall and lanky?
I do like my Pittsburgh Pirates though, and any game one of my treasures is playing in.
 Finally, there’s this little paragraph:
The 7 is spiritual, but not religious. In fact, the age-old questions of what life is all about, why am I here, who am I, and so forth, never reach the status of clichés, but are essential to the 7's life-experience, and unless he finds the answers he will not stop looking for them until he dies.
Yup, I am spiritual. I do have those questions in my soul: who am I and where did I come from and where am I going when I am done? But here’s the thing: I think there are answers to those questions and I have some of them. And I’m not even dead. If I don’t have answers it’s not because I don’t think they exist. I just don’t know them yet.
Mostly I plug along on faith, based on the restored gospel Jesus authored. This pretty much puts me in the “religious” category. Not very much about my life is absolute knowledge. I think, for instance, that when I go get in my car this afternoon it will start, and will drive me to Timo’s band concert in Herriman. I don’t know for a fact that my car will work, but we take care of it, and give it fuel and oil, and it has proven in the past to be dependably faithful. I will be shocked if I go out and it doesn’t start. Just like I will be totally shocked if I die and there is nothing after this life that is organized and exciting. I can’t yet say I know, but I believe, based on experience and the feelings of my heart. And though I do pretty faithfully adhere to my religious sect, I continue to ask myself those foundational questions, because it is important for my spirit to be continually reinforced. That’s nature, I think, and God knows it. That’s probably partly why He offers us the sacrament weekly.

I am of divine origin. There is some sort of energy, a being I call Father, who has sincere interest in me and my spiritual success. I belong with Him, and Her, and the rest of the team that supports me. That’s my core belief. And here’s another cool thing; you do not have to believe the same thing. You don’t have to agree with me. I will still find you interesting, and will want to know your quirks, and if you are at all interested I will offer you the one and only joke I can ever remember.

Monday, March 20, 2017

18. EXTRAORDINARY

Yesterday in church one of our speakers talked about someone being extraordinary. He used the term repeatedly. Each time that he said it, a nonsensical bell kept dinging in my head, making the term sound more and more odd when I thought about it. It reminded me of that time when I was five years old and I got this thought in my head that noses were strange things. I pondered, as any five-year-old might, how odd it is that we have these things poking out of the middle of our faces, with holes in them. I spent a good week staring at people’s faces, trying to imagine them without their noses. One must use kindergarten logic when analyzing this behavior.
So yesterday, sitting in the choir seats at church, I finally leaned over to my friend and whispered that I thought the word “extraordinary” was an odd word. She sat for half a minute, looking up toward the right quadrant of her brain, and then leaned back over toward me and whispered, “How so?”
“Wouldn’t you think that if someone was extra ordinary that they would be super-duper average? Like, extra ordinary, not just plain old ordinary?”
She paused a while, and we listened to more of his talk, then she leaned over and said “I think you’re right.”
I used to think I was personally called to be a missionary for diversity in a pretty Wonder Bread white toast community. And I think I have succeeded somewhat in that, as my garage does not look neat and tidy like my neighbors’ garages do, and I don’t go to the gym, and the lights are still burning through our kitchen windows into the late-late night, when everyone else except for my sisters’ are long dark. I am chubby but jolly, and I waddle when I walk. This keeps the angle of our world turning as it should, slightly off center.
When I get to feeling a little above average in some things, I am blessed to be reminded by someone or other, or something or other, that I am pretty much ordinary. For instance, a few years ago my friend Glen Leonard wrote a play commemorating the birthday of the prophet Joseph Smith. He asked if I would write songs for it, which I did. Glen was a historian for the LDS church and has published many books, and I was honored to work with him. He was also our stake president. We performed the play for our stake. Afterward a fellow from the stake, a member of the high council, came up and asked if I had written the songs. I answered yes, to which he replied. “They were quite nice. In fact, I think they were even above average.”
“Why, thank you.” I said. Mom always told me to just smile and say thank you when someone pays you a compliment.
So if you ever hear me saying that I think I am extraordinary, I hope you understand that I am just that…extra-super-duper-run-of-the-mill-ordinary.
Years ago, when we had just moved to Farmington from Pittsburgh, I was out in the lobby of the church during Sacrament meeting, trying to keep my wiggling toddler from destroying the reverence in the chapel. I got to talking to Bernice Smith, an old Farmington treasure who lives down on Main Street. We had moved into Somerset Farm, those nice new houses on the hill, and I guess there was a little eyebrow raising from the old timers at this fresh new crop of suburbanites coming into Farmington. As the Sacrament ended and I was gathering up my little squirmy worm to go back in with the rest of the family, I told Bernice how great it was to chat with her. She said to me, “You’re just an old dirt farmer, aren’t you?” Then she gave me a hug. A big old dirt farmer to dirt farmer hug!
Best compliment I ever got.

I like being ordinary. I want there to be splatterings on my kitchen stove. I want the grass to be worn down under the swings in our yard. I want to have dirt under my fingernails, and a fallen-over pile of pillows stacked in the corner of my bedroom for tired grandchildren. And the broken gate that allows people to pass from our side of the neighborhood to the other side of the neighborhood? It can remain broken, and the grass through it can be worn down, too. I will never be a spit-!shine kind of gal, even though now and then I try to fake that I can be. Truth is, I am not only just plain ordinary…I am extraordinary. Extra-ordinarily extra ordinary.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

17. BASE

I’ve been thinking lately about how much I miss boys. I had one, once, and I miss that aspect of my life that vibrated around boys. Little ones, with their little boy charm; that mama-adoration to which nothing else can compare. Elementary school ones, who find out what they like and what they don’t right before our very eyes. Adolescent ones, who are torn between the innocence of childhood where they felt safe once, and the irresistible pull of hormonal passions that open all sorts of frightening and exciting doors. I miss the teenage boys who pounced through the kitchen, stopping for a microwaved burrito and a chat with their buddy’s mom. I miss the missionaries and the college boys. And then, I just end up missing them altogether, because they moved on to grown-up man things and don’t really need anything this old house has to offer. But that’s ok. I suppose its how its meant to be. Still, it makes me a little melancholy.
Back when I had my boy, and his buddies who were also my boys by default, we spent many a spring, summer and autumn day at the baseball field. We had the unusual good fortune to have a particularly strong collection of guys right here in our neighborhood. They all went to school and church together, and they played ball together. First rec ball, and then about three fourths of the varsity baseball team at Davis High were boys from our neighborhood. Best friends from the time they were small. They could read each others’ minds, and they were a joy to watch. I could pretty much yell at any one of them like I was their mother, and hug them just as tightly as I would hug John. I love my boys.
I recall the tragic day when, after they had graduated from high school and were off to their various schools and jobs, they returned home one weekend and gathered in our basement. There had been an early snow, well before Halloween. Ryan decided to drive up Farmington Canyon to see if there was enough of the white stuff to do some power sledding the next day. Somewhere in the early hours of the next morning we got word that his car has slipped from the edge of the road and toppled down the canyon wall. He did not survive the fall. Our hearts broke to see our boys lined up in their white shirts and ties, carrying the casket of their friend that week, rather than sledding down the mountainside. I think we lost a bit of our boys that day because they lost a bit of themselves; that part of childhood that got to be carefree and invincible.
Still, there were other times that solidified the cliché phrase, boys will be boys. They couple with the serious matters to make well rounded human beings who end up raising our grandchildren and holding responsible positions in work, church and our communities. Some stories are classics. One came to be on a March morning during their senior year.
The older boys on the Davis High team were called to meet at the ballfield to get it into shape for the upcoming season They had built official cement dugouts, and new red dirt was hauled in. They were to clean out and paint the dugouts, and spread the dirt, trim out the overgrown grass between infield and outfield, position the pitcher’s mound and set the bases. I think there must not have been much adult supervision, though I was not there and couldn’t really tell you. This is all second-hand storytelling I offer. But it came from several reliable sources, so I suppose it to be true. At some point the desire to hit a baseball overshadowed the desire to work (imagine that) and they took turns pitching and hitting as others worked. Jason came up to home plate and Jeffrey or Casey of Tyler pitched. John called little discouragements to Jason, telling him he couldn’t hit it out to midfield, let alone out to the fence.
“Just watch”, Jason commented as he hovered over the plate, stirring the air with the end of his bat, swinging his hips and lifting his left leg when he saw the pitcher wind up.
“You hit that ball over the fence and I’ll run these bases naked.”
Next thing you know there’s a crack of the bat, the ball flies over the outfield fence, and there’s JMC rounding second base, in nothing but his ball socks and cleats.
The fellas raking the grass in the outfield had quite a view when they turned around.

Johnny had the nick name of Hot Socks on his team. Good thing, because the rest of him must have been feeling pretty breezy that chilly morning in March.