Thursday, March 31, 2011

WOTD 22 - CARD TABLE

Tucked into the edge of the closet, hiding like a shy schoolgirl behind her mother’s long woolen coat, the old card table lays in waiting. A product of the 50’s, vintage now; almost antique even, it was once the master of Friday nights and occasional Sunday afternoons; taking center stage in the living room after the couches had been slid back against the wall and the coffee table moved to the bedroom. Now we pull it out as our third option, behind the new Costco plastic tables, for the massive gathering at our Thanksgiving feast.

That poor old table is glad to see us. Four metal legs tucked in the edges for storage, a little rusty at the hinges. The slender legs click as they are pulled into place, the square table top rolling like a caveman’s wheel over the carpet as each leg is released, one at a time. Because the top is made of compressed cardboard, it’s very light and I flip it handily once the legs are out; lean on it to make sure its stable, then swipe a damp kitchen dishtowel over the top, clearing the dust from the vinyl covering, brownish-beige and speckled with gold glitter. I carefully cross the tiny tear in the right hand corner. The tear has been there for almost a whole generation. I remind myself to find the Elmer’s glue and fix that, but instead reach into the drawer of our long black hutch and pull out a tablecloth. Taking it by the corners I flick it through the air and carefully guide it as it falls to the table, like those plastic camouflage parachute soldiers we tossed into the air when we were kids. I push my forearms over the fabric, like opposing windshield wipers, pressing the wrinkles out to the edges. The scent of fabric softener rises to my nostrils as I lean closer to the table. From under the kitchen sink I retrieve a plastic spray bottle, filled with water. Pumping it over the cloth I let the mist sink to the table top, set for a minute, then call Dave over to take the other two corners and pull out the creases. Here in this desert place it dries in a minute and the creases are gone, almost like I had used an iron. The tablecloths unify the variety of tables in the kitchen and adjoining family room. They are all ageless and rank-less once they’re dressed for Thanksgiving Dinner.

That old table has held a lot of our family history on her thin metal legs. Early on she saw the underside of bridge cards, way back in the arid air of Shelly, Idaho. The cards fanned out face-down on her shiny new top. I picture my aunts situated across from each other, their high heeled shoes tucked against the foot rests of their folding chairs, their wrists leaning on the table edges, infusing traces of rose scented toilet water into the vinyl. If I close my eyes I can hear their voices; low pitched and glottal with that familiarly comforting nasal quality and crisply enunciated Idaho accent. Very few sounds are as comforting to me as the voices of the women who nurtured and raised me. I recall the sweet calm of falling asleep as I waited to ask my mom a question when she was on the phone. I’d sit there on the side of her bed, waiting dutifully for her to finish. Eventually I’d plop over onto the pillows, drifting peacefully off to rest, lulled to the music of my mother’s voice simply talking. Didn’t matter if it was business or pleasure.

I'm thinkin' table must know an awful lot of secrets, sitting silently all those years as my mom and her sisters gathered around her. When we moved to Pittsburgh the games ceased. The table was relegated to the basement, where we kids took over. At Christmastime we glumped our miscellany on top, pieces of this and that used to make something or other; the stuff imaginative kids will use to create treasures. One year I spread wood shavings on her, gluing and clamping with potato chip bag clips, making ornaments for my Christmas gifts. Another year I made clothespin dolls. I recall cutting into pieces of lace found in mom’s sewing box, tacking collars onto those clothespin dolls. I found out later that the lace I had snipped was a precious piece of heirloom tatting made by Grandma Jenson. It’s to my mother’s credit that she did not reprimand me for that.

Later on, the table held balsa wood ornaments we cut and painted to hang on our tree. When mom finally moved in with Dave and me, after we were married and had bought our home in Pittsburgh, the table joined our limited collection of furniture. I stored gingerbread houses on her, lined up assembly-line fashion, waiting to be delivered to clients of Cori’s Unforgettable Edibles. Christmas Eve we slapped rolls of wrapping paper atop her, cutting and taping and ribboning till the wee hours of Christmas morning. It became the base of Lemonade stands, of bake sales, of garage sale cash boxes and concert CD sales. It held utensils and plates and bottles of pop at open houses; root beer floats at youth activities and brightly wrapped packages at birthday parties. Thinking about it, she was so much a part of the family she could have joined us in family prayer if her legs had been able to bend.

It’s a sweet thing to have a portable table on hand. It means there is enough room in our home to shift things a bit and welcome more people in. More chairs at more tables. Bounty beyond what our foremothers could have dreamed. So much, so easily obtained, and so gratefully spread on our large wooden dining table, two long Costco banquet tables, and one beautifully dependable well worn card table.









Tuesday, March 29, 2011

WOTD 21 - FLIP FLOP

The flip flop flings against the flesh of my feet. Left says flip; right says flop. Flip-flop-Flip-flop: alternating pitches, a third apart, like the bouncing bass notes on a Hawaiian ukulele song. When you hear a sound repeat often enough, like walking in flip flops, you end up not noticing it at all; like the chiming of the clock in our family room; like the lady sitting next to you in church breathing heavy through a whistling nostril. She’s used to it. You’re not. Or the guy two rows back from us in the movie theatre last month who snored through the show. Kind of an expensive nap. And really irritating for the rest of us. Don’t you think snoring on certain levels should wake the snorer up? I know I wake up sometimes and think to myself, “Golly, it’s awfully quiet in here.” I think it’s really weird that the people we are closest to know certain things about us that we just don’t know ourselves; such as how we sleep. I’ve listened to our kids talk so much about our sleeping habits that I once asked them to record me sleeping so I would know what they were talking about. None of them ever did. I think they were embarrassed for me. I think they still are.

When they were making sleeping assignments for Stake Girls Camp two years ago I had to be candid with Kathy Wood, our Stake Camp Director. The cabins sleep 16, which is really great. Right?

“Uh…” I was a new Young Womens president and was trying to find my definition with the girls, trying to make myself fit somewhere respectably between mature and deeply spiritual and fun with a little pinch of crazy.

“Uh, I have a little problem Kathy.” I know Kathy pretty well, which is a blessing. I know she fits really soundly in the ideal and hard to achieve “fun and really spiritual” category, and I know she knows and likes me.

“I’m afraid I’ll keep the girls awake with my snoring. I’m afraid I’ll take a dive in the coolness department when I keep them awake with my snoring. Either that or I won’t get any sleep cuz I’m afraid I’ll keep them awake with my snoring. I keep my own kids awake. Dang this deviated septum of mine! I think we need a separate cabin for snorers. We can call it the Snoratorium.”

So Kathy, much to her credit, and maybe because some of her counselors have the same problem, did just that: she created the Snoratorium in the sleeping rooms behind the kitchen. She arranged for our campsite to be close by. So every night after we made our Smores and did our figurative jigs around the campfire, I sat in my canvas camp chair in the middle of the cabin where most of our girls slept. While they situated their worn out bodies on their blow up air mattresses I sang them songs, plucking the strings of my guitar like a ticking clock, like a pendulum swinging back and forth, back and forth…you are getting sleeeeeepy.

After I could hear the rhythmic pulse of 16 girls sound asleep I would slip on over to the Snoratorium and get some rest.

One night, it must have been around 1 am, the whole campground was sawing logs. I was down to the really quiet songs from my repertoire. I tried to finish every night by singing a hymn, feeling like it left a kind of musical blessing on my girls before I tiptoed out. So I am halfway through the second chorus of How Great Thou Art… “Then sings my soul – My Savior God to Thee – How great thou….” Suddenly one of the girls, who’s name shall go unmentioned, a girl not in our ward but who was visiting, threw her blanket off the top bunk she was sleeping on. She let out a triple-nasty word, which shall also go unmentioned but which began with the letter between e and g in the alphabet, followed by a grumbled… “Why is it so *@#%! hot in here?!” I sprang from my seat, banging my guitar on the table in front of me, stung and startled and feeling really responsible for the protection of the other girls’ soft skinned ears. I immediately called the name of the unmentioned, moving toward her as she started climbing off her top bunk. It didn’t take long for me to realize she was still asleep. I gently helped her return to her bunk, opened the window a little wider beside her, and asked her to sleep gently and softly and gracefully. And quietly. Actually, she didn’t hear me. I asked God to help her do that.

I felt like I needed to open the door and let the nasty out, (like these girls didn’t hear this kind of stuff every day at school). I actually tried to apply my powers of energy to shoo the bad out the door and beckon the good fresh mountain air in with a wave of my hands; to cleanse the space where my young innocents were situated in a mode of sweet repose. After enough time had passed and the girls who had stirred were back to their steadily paced breathing, I picked up my guitar and sang I Am a Child of God, feeling like we needed another blessing on the place. When I was done I tucked my instrument in its canvas pouch and ever-so-slowly zzzzipped it shut. You know how long it takes to silently zip a guitar gig bag? I placed it in its corner in the cabin; walked to each set of beds and whispered a little prayer for each of my girls, then slipped out the door. Outside, walking along the gravelly path under the shifting light of the moon through the trees, I got to thinking.

Maybe next time, I thought, we should suggest they create another isolated cabin.

We’ll call it the Swearatorium.

WOTD 20 - BELIEF

“What happened to this orange!”

“What do you mean?” Lib replied as she backed the car out of the garage.

I had dipped my hand into the box of small mandarin oranges sitting outside the kitchen door as we made our way out to the car. A seasonal treasure sent by our California sisters, we waited all year for the harvest, anticipating the juicy sweetness of those bite sized segments dripping with California sunshine. I pulled the thin layer of skin from the fruit, picking tiny threads off as we talked. Popped a one inch segment into my mouth and cringed.

“It tastes like salt!”

“Huh?” Lib was focused on backing out; raised her arm and pushed the garage remote to close the door; shifted the car into drive and headed up the hill from their condo.

“It tastes like salt. Taste it! “

I handed her a segment.

“Tastes fine to me.”

I tried another piece and, again, it tasted like that salt lick I tried that one summer out in Uncle Archie’s corral. I wrapped a paper towel around the rest of it and set it on the seat, trying to figure it out, imagining that maybe the orange had accidentally been set on a pile of rock salt and the stuff infused into a portion of it.

The next morning I sliced a grapefruit at home. Slipped a serrated knife carefully around the rim and dipped my spoon into a section, the juice seeping up and over the lip and into my bowl. When the spoon touched my lips, once again the taste of salt attacked my taste buds. I threw the grapefruit away and headed off to school. That week I spent each day substitute teaching at Viewmont High; History and Guitar classes. We spent the evenings that week watching Annie perform in the high school musical version of Les Miserables, volunteering as concession sellers and ushers. Thursday my hands started to tingle. I thought the strap of the guitar hanging around my neck for hours had perhaps pinched a nerve. Friday my feet kept falling asleep. I remember standing in the back of the auditorium, watching the show, and kicking the toes of my sandaled feet on the floor, trying to wake them up. By Saturday both legs were electrically numb, that hyper alive zingy kind of numb you feel when you bonk your crazy bone, like my body was in a vice and little electric worms were wiggling through thick rubber flesh under my skin. My arms were the same. And portions of my face. I remember shuffling on my stinging, burning, electric feet to the study at 3 am, tears streaming down my numb cheeks, Googling my symptoms. The next day, frightened, I sat on the table at my doctor’s office as he spoke.

“I can’t tell, without diagnostic tests, what is causing this, but it is neurological and it is fast moving. Let’s get some steroids in you and send you to the U for testing.”

Thus began the long, painful, wearisome journey with Guillain Barre Syndrome. Without going into a long detailed explanation of the variety of tests they performed on me the following week, I will say, in the end, that a diagnosis of Guillain Barre Syndrome was the best of the options I found on the internet that night I entered my symptoms in a Google search. In the end, while the recovery was long and painful, I was comforted by the stack of papers with test results that indicated hundreds of maladies I did NOT have. Looking at the possibilities they tested for, I marveled that any of us are functioning, healthy individuals when there are so many things that could go wrong with our bodies!


I saw seven different Neurological Specialists that week. Lib pushed me in a wheel chair from room to room, clinic to clinic. I asked each doctor, at some point, about that salty citrus, wondering if this malady was at all related. Six of them said no.

Our daughter Sarah was at the time a student at the University of Utah School of Medicine. Ironically, they were studying neurology at the time. Even more amazingly, they specifically studied Guillain Barre Syndrome, taught by Dr. Renner. After class Sarah made her way down to the professor.

“My mom has Guillain Barre Syndrome,” she said.

“Really? Was she diagnosed by an M.D?”

“Yes. Right here at the U of U.”

That afternoon his office called and asked if I would come in. GBS is a rare syndrome, only diagnosed after many tests including EMG and spinal tap, and he was intrigued to hear of one of his students here knowing someone with that definite diagnosis. Dr. Renner had done a medical fellowship in Guillain Barre Syndrome. Sarah went with me to his office, where he taught her as he examined me. I got all weepy watching him tutor my daughter as he ministered to me, meticulously administering test after test, evaluating my condition, asking me to close my eyes and stand on one leg (impossible); pounding and poking and scraping and gently bending, all the while softly instructing my daughter as she sat in the corner of the exam room, a notebook in her lap, pen in her hand.

He verified the diagnosis, suggesting plasmapheresis. Just before he left the room I stopped him:

“Can you tell me, maybe I’m crazy…but can you tell me if any of this would make an orange taste salty?”

“Indeed, it could. The ninth nerve goes down the side of your face, in the vicinity of the jaw, and interprets sweet, sour, bitter and salty. If that nerve was stripped in the GBS process then it could absolutely misinterpret, making sour citrus seem salty.”

Things got worse before they got better, though they never did get completely better for me. But considering where I was, and what other options I may have had to deal with, I am feeling profoundly blessed. I can play my guitar, can chop celery in tiny little pieces, can caress the soft hair of my grandchildren when I hold them. I can walk. Not without pain, but I can absolutely walk and that is a miracle. And oranges and grapefruit taste like oranges and grapefruit once again.

I wonder, in moments of reflection, how often we misinterpret things without knowing it. Had I never eaten a fresh ripe mandarin orange from the orchard in Roseville would it have surprised me that this particular one tasted salty that day? Or would I have simply believed mandarin oranges were supposed to be salty?

Belief, it is said, is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true. I guess you could say it is not necessary for something to actually be true in order for someone to believe it. Thank goodness much of the mundane in our lives has consistent evidence; humans have heads; lungs need air; sound travels without being seen; the sun provides light by day and the moon and stars reflect that light by night…stuff like that. Easy to believe. We all know it because the evidence consistently proves it.

The older we get, the more we struggle with belief. Newborn babies have no need for belief, I suppose. Their minds don’t search for testaments. They only know what their bellies and their pain mechanisms tell them and it wouldn’t matter if they believe someone will feed them or not, they’re just hungry. You couldn’t even say they trust someone to feed them. They’re just hungry. And if they die hungry, they just die. No anger, no questions. This is before they form attachment. Things change when we become more intelligent and attached. It takes the gently dissipating innocence rising from them as they age, their loss of naïveté, to form the questions which open the window to belief. We do not baptize our babies because they simply have no need for baptism at such an innocent age. We wait until they are old enough, tried enough, challenged barely enough…to believe, or at least to want to believe.

When the great maker of all good things molded us and breathed mortality into us, I imagine him setting us, figuratively speaking, on the chess board of life. He places us in our little first squares, and sits back in his chair. I don’t know how we move, whether we shift ourselves, or whether he lifts his hand and moves us himself, or whether he lets the board rise and fall, sliding us to and fro haphazardly. However we move; we move. Even if we don’t feel like playing; we play. I choose that candid chess scene as a picture in my head, not as fact, though I do believe in a great majestic hand overseeing me. It simply represents how little I know about why things happen.

What I believe and what I know are categories separated by one simple thing. Some call it the Holy Ghost. The Holy Spirit. Inspiration. Spiritual Instinct. That thing which causes the hairs on my arms to stand on end, springing out of little goose bumps when someone says something particularly stirring. That trigger in the back of my head which switches the tear ducts during certain tender moments. That soundless bell of validation I feel ringing in my chest when someone speaks something I consider to be true. It’s as real to me as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Because someone else does not perceive it the same does not diminish the evidence I have accumulated through the years: that this mechanism serves as a form of revelation to me, just like the test tubes and glass slides and microscopes served in my high school Biology class. Without it I would be wingless – unable to rise from the starkness of earth life. I’m not talking fairy wings, I mean figurative functional flight wings with power and purpose. Without it I think I might be able to feel happiness, but I would be devoid of hope; and without hope I cannot imagine being who I am.

Without that one little measure of Heaven our maker sent down with us, to emulsify our earthly mixture of ingredients, I would be resigned to basing what I “know” on pure hard evidence. And had I only eaten one mandarin orange in my life, and it tasted salty, I might never know that oranges are sweetly sour and delicious to the taste. I would presume them to be only what I personally knew them to be. But something in us is gifted to us, to tell us the true nature of an orange…of a child…of human hearts.

Belief does not need truth.

There would be no war, no classes on comparative religions, if we were unable to believe in something un-true. That’s a risk we were willing to take when we took on our human condition from our pre-mortal state.

But I think somehow truth needs belief.

In a metaphysical sort of way. Divine truth, the less obvious truth that requires something not seen through the lens of science, compels us to resign and surrender, having received enough visible evidence, coupled with that powerful ingredient of the Holy Spirit. That surrender is the umbilical cord to hope. We are nourished and grow, strange as it may seem, because we know something we cannot completely nor immediately prove; and because we cannot prove it we must hope it is true. Just hoping something is true does not mean it is true. But it also does not mean it is not true. When “I believe” grows to maturity, having been nourished by hope; it receives a new name. We stand at the pulpit, our hearts pumping, our minds focused, our arms covered in goose bumps, and we speak these words:

I know.

I like to think when I say those words; in my heart, with my voice, in song or in action; that it is the beautiful union of truth and my God given right… exercised in wisdom…to believe.



Monday, March 28, 2011

WOTD 19 - SOCKS

He sheared the muddy wool in long thick strips, fallen onto the floor of their small thatched shed, the musky earthy glandular smell of sheep filling his nostrils. She gathered the wool in her wicker basket, swung onto her hip, and walked out to the sunshine; crouched onto a small wooden stool, set the basket beside her, and drew the oily wool through two wooden paddles embedded with metal tines, carding it into cooperative units, cleaned of burrs and mud and thistle leaves. She cards, and washes and dyes and spins; knits and weaves and stitches. Stretches the newly knitted, newly washed stockings onto wooden forms to dry in the radiant warmth of the kitchen fire. I see them only in my dreams, my great-great-greats, working the land and their animals, pushing their way through their earthly existence. I only imagine how they do it, composing the scenario from casual scenes found in PBS documentaries and from one particular book purchased in that musty bookstore in Hay on Wye, England; The Downlander Shepherd. No department stores for them. No racks of shoes or drawers of socks, all neatly stitched and seamless. Just an early spring lamb fed from the land, grown till its back and belly grew thick with wool, harvested and spun and knitted and worn under hand cobbled leather boots with button latches.

Yesterday I drove to Kohls, walked back to the Customer Service desk and returned the pair of boots I had bought for Sarah at Christmas, which she decided not to keep. Even though it’s been three months they happily traded the boots for in-store credit, electronically registered on a small plastic card. I traded the card for six pair of socks, three tightly woven running socks with special wicking to pull the sweat away from the soles of the feet - and three pair of argyles, all purchased for David's birthday this coming week. The socks were uniform in size, nicely arranged on thin colored cardboard, a chunk of thin black lines nested under the price on the upper right hand corner. The sign in the Men's department said buy one get one 50% off. The extent of personal labor in obtaining socks for David begins with turning the key in my Honda van and ends with pulling the zipper on my pocketbook. We hardly break a sweat.

For those of us who live in places with seasons, socks are a common denominator. The homeless fellow under the viaduct on 4th South wears them just like the Governor in the mansion on South Temple Street. They may not smell the same, but they both wear them.

When the kids were little and I was busy being PTA president and writing songs and recording albums, we had a laundry room between the kitchen and the garage. There was just a thin path in front of the washer and dryer. The rest of the floor was covered with a bulging mound of laundry. I am not proud of this. Every once in a while, when the mountain began to rumble like a volcano about to burst, I gathered that laundry into big black garbage bags and loaded the van, adding a stack of empty laundry baskets, a box of Tide, a gallon of Clorox and a jug of Downy fabric softener; drove up Main Street through Kaysville past Gentile Street in Layton, to Faye's Laundr-o Mat. I sorted the bags into washing machines, their tops lifted like the beaks of hungry baby birds. Dark's, whites, pastels, reds, sheets and towels,...they each had their own machine. Each fiber, each color, sorted into the bellies of those extra large commercial machines. I left the knits and hand washables at home for another day.

I learned to pace myself, starting the white's on hot while I prepared the colors, adding the Clorox after I pushed my strip of quarters into the batch of towels. The first batch was ready for fabric softener as I sorted the last batch. I worked my way back and forth along the row of washing machines like a suburban Kansas housewife on a trip to Las Vegas, drumming a row of slot machines, stuffing them with quarters and pushing and pulling handles.

Out of the washers, my arms embraced cool wet fibers stinging my nostrils with a waft of bleach or the scent of springtime “for clothes you love to live in!” I loaded the wet clothing into a large wire basket on wheels, my hand leading it along by the rod that rose from the base and bent to a rack for hangers at the top. Rolled the squeaky wheels over to the large bank of dryers, their round glass faces glowing in the reflected sunlight of a Saturday afternoon. It took me most of the day to complete my task. Various people came and went, their small batches washed, dried and folded in the wink of an eye. This was no ordinary laundry day; it was the ultimate test of a woman’s ability to multi task and achieve an end. The closest I come to it on a regular basis is cooking dinner on Sunday evening for a couple dozen people.

Finally…finally…I am finished. Those little demons of guilt get pushed aside when I am done. I feel rather satisfied as I load my piles of crisply folded clothing into laundry baskets, ready for the trip back home. Ah, those beautiful stacks of clean fragrant clothing, anxious to fill my children’s drawers. I swear to myself as I roll basket after basket out to the car that I am going to get a handle on this aspect of my life and have this taken care of on a regular basis, because it feels just dandy to be organized. But the thrill of it never lasts for me and I cannot sustain the desire no matter how often I yell at myself or shake my figurative finger and whisper, “See, doesn’t that feel better? Told you so.” The sense of satisfaction over tidy things and places never matches the thrill of other things for me: a new song, a deep and spontaneous conversation; a nicely rendered meal; a well placed afternoon nap from which you awake at the well resolved conclusion of a dream, a piece of life preserved in word. I wish a clean tidy laundry room made me feel so good for so long. Alas.

When I am finished with my laundry day I load one last basket into the back to the van. The leftovers. A deep plastic rectangular weave filled with miscellany: a pair of shorts little Annie’s outgrown; a tee shirt with the hem coming unstitched; the belt to Johnny’s ball pants. On top of the basket of miscellaneous clothes I plunk a Smiths grocery bag stuffed with un-matched socks. I harbor hope of finding their mates, even though I know they were likely sucked into the big vat under the laundry mat floor where the sock monster hunkers; his belly groaning and gurgling every morning; his big green arm rising up from underneath the washing machines and dryers, the crook of his fingernail snagging poor unsuspecting socks. I gather the mateless matchless misfits in my grocery bag. I don’t know why I keep the widows of gobbled socks. I guess I live in denial that there is a sock monster, hoping that instead there are corners of closets and pockets in sports bags where long lost mates are imprisoned. I keep thinking I will find them and free them and reunite them with their mates.

Years down the road I finally toss them, first taking the best 100% cotton ones out to be used for washing my bathroom mirrors or polishing my guitars. I talk to myself, giving me permission to let them go, telling myself they have filled the measure of their creation.

I think of my Great grandparents, going to so much effort for a single pair of socks. I feel ashamed that I have so many. So many that I only need to wash them in my nifty difty electric washing machine once every few weeks. How fortune smiled upon us to bring our feet to this time and place.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

WOTD 18 - NICKNAME

I was sixteen years old, long blonde hair, hip hugger jeans, my absent father’s old letter jacket and hand knit red wool sweater with two deer facing each other on the front, a pair of tan suede square toed Wallabies keeping my feet warm.
My hair smelled of Clairol Herbal Essence. When the chilly winter air blew through it, I inhaled a little deeper, searching for that scent of artificial springtime. There was a single ski tacked to my bedroom wall, a reminder that every babysitting quarter I earned was getting me closer to a real pair of my own. There was a candle holder and a half spent bayberry candle beside my bed; a clock radio set to wake me to the music of John Denver, Joni Mitchell, or Three Dog Night; a well-loved well-worn Raggedy Ann, positioned like a contortionist, smashed between the wall and my pillow. I was Junior Class President at TJ High. Sang in the 10th grade choir. Shot hoops at the community center almost every day after school. I played guitar in church and sometimes in school. I knew who I was and it all seemed fine to me.

Poor girl. I look at her through the rearview mirror of memory and feel a wash of overwhelming sadness, knowing that very soon her little bubble of self would morph and twist and burst, like a blister on the heel, the watery defenses of a teenage soul seeping out over the floor.

We didn’t know what it was in those days. Now we raise our shields and draw our medicinal swords and attack depression with full force and no apology. But then, we didn’t know what it was, or that it was following me through the halls of school, on the long bus ride home, and straight to my bedroom. Didn’t see it until it snatched me in it’s steel hinged jaws.

Eventually it squeezed itself between my sister Libby and me, staring me in the eyes and flailing it’s big hairy blue arms like a defender in a full court press. Color drained out of the picture of my daily life, eventually going from black and white of full on gray. The color left, and the laughter, and the music. My grades plummeted, friendships sort of diffused into thin air. I came home from school and curled up in Mom’s old white upholstered rocker and glazed my eyes with Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street on our recently acquired second hand colored TV. Looking back, I want to stretch my arms around that girl who probably just wanted to be little again. Stretch my mothering arms around her and draw her in.

When someone is depressed people quit doing certain things around them. Probably in self defense. Or maybe because some things don’t seem fitting. They start to tiptoe in stocking feet. Speak in whispered tones. Sometimes walk down the aisles in the grocery store thinking “What would make her happy?” They shimmy around silently until something bursts from them, or until they can no longer contain the frustration. Then cluttered emotion spews like that fountain of bronze beasts in downtown Kansas City. Tensions spurt and explode into anger, then tears, until finally arms rise up to the heavens in resignation. They breathe deeply, hold their breath, bow their heads, then …once again… fall into silence.

We tend to lose the sweet slushy yumminess of terms of endearment when loved ones are depressed. Maybe because they don’t feel dear, and they make cynical faces at such terms in order to make us stop. “I am not dear. Not dear to you or me or anyone else, so quit trying to make me think I am.” That’s the logic of depression. And out of love we stop. Our self definition, once boldly dimensional and vibrant, thins to a steel blue shaft, almost unseen. We feel invisible. Nameless. It’s stunningly frightening to think of oneself without even a name. Pretty soon we just want to disappear. Pretty soon we do.

Cork MaLork. That was the nickname my mother gave me when I was little. Sometimes she called me Corinna, if she was feeling a little more nurturing. But when she was freely happy, I was Cork MaLork. My father had called me Sport. Dad took my name with him when he left. No one has ever called me that since. And mom, not knowing what to say or do with me that dreary winter of my discontent, stopped using my nickname. She may have tried once or twice, but I likely never responded. It’s a risky thing to tease someone bound in the shroud of depression.


Christmas morning that year, in the mid 1970’s, there was a gift for me under the tree. There were many gifts, I suspect, but right now I am remembering this one. A silver gift box, about the size of a loaf of bread. It was bound by a single red bow, drawn tight and tidy with my mother’s hand. Attached to the bow was a teeny little gift card, about one inch square. The card had a picture Flopsy Bunny on front; the soft gray bunny brother of Peter Rabbit. Inside the card, in the blessedly graceful handwriting of my mother, was this message:

“Merry Christmas, to Flopsy Cork”

Inside the box was a stuffed Flopsy Bunny, purchased from the Toy Shoppe in Williamsburg, VA. We had visited Williamsburg often, and at some point I must have said something admiringly about that stuffed animal. And at some point my mom must have returned to the store and purchased it for me.

I don’t know why I even think of this right now; why I even chose to write about depression triggered by the word of the day: Nickname. Don’t know why I remember that little card or that gift. I’d like to say that there was some magic that rose from the silver gift box under our tree that year; I’d like to say that the depression lifted and I got my old self back and the demons never returned again. But such things are almost never the real truth. The truth is I don’t know why that particular gift mattered to me or why I even remember it.

Maybe it was just that there was a tiny thin blue thread of hope in the ink scripted across that little gift card. Maybe I awoke for a moment, long enough to discover my old nickname written on that little card, in the handwriting of the woman who loved me more and knew me better than anyone else on earth. Perhaps I saw the shadow of that little girl that used to be me and I shifted the light to make her come into view.

Not very many people even know that was my nick name. It was sort of my mother’s alone. Maybe that’s why I cherish it so much.

My friend Susan and I play this game on our iPhones now days. A Scrabble game. I usually give it one shot at 2 am before I go to bed. I like to play it because it keeps me connected with Susan. She is very patient with me. Our friend Fran has joined us and now I feel connected to her, too. And once in a while my very busy daughter Sarah plays a game or two. We got to pick our game names when we started. Susan’s name is Mavin. I’m not sure why. Fran’s is Frannie B. Sarah is SarabellaC. And mine is Cork Malork.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

WOTD 17 - YES

She stood in the doorway to our room. Leaned in and called my name.

“I’m right here,” I answered, slowly whispering so she would know there was no need to yell.

Without apology she dove into her request. Something about going somewhere with someone. Immediately the porcupine of parenthood raised its pricklies under my ribs, and I began to construct my response. Coming up with reasons she could not go. Not really evaluating the request, just the manner in which it was given. I needed to wield my mother-sword to remind her who was boss. I had refined this tool of parenting when our oldest first started asking these kinds of questions in this manner. I think it was the day after his 14th birthday. Something about flailing in a pool of weariness makes bossiness rise to the top.

For a long time my instinctive response to my kids’ requests was NO. They had to convince me to change to a YES. It made me feel empowered I guess.

Then I read somewhere that I might try making my instinctive response YES. When I heard this I kept my arms folded in front of me, my lips pursed and my right eye scrunched under my furrowed eyebrows. “How dumb is THAT?” I thought.

And then I thought some more.

Next time Johnny asked if he could drive to Jeff’s house I gave it a go:

“Yes.”

That’s all I said.

John sort of hung there for a moment, his chest pumped full of air, prepared with his come-back. Finally he exhaled.

“Uh…OK. Thanks.” He looked at me, sort of a pregnant pause kind of look, then peered out into the hallway, then back at me.

“OK. Bye.”

“Be back in an hour?” I called behind him.

“Sure.”

And he was.

This is interesting, I thought to myself. I began considering that perhaps what my kids wanted to do was in their own best interest. But how could that possibly be true? It’s against the nature of the teenage beast.

Sometimes, maybe even oft times, it is true: kids do not know what is best for them. But at some point they need to figure out how to make personal decisions. Practice is helpful. Best to start young rather than waiting till they are hormonally driven teenagers.

The key is letting consequences fall naturally, like snow on a winter day. It lands as easily on the sharp needles of a pine tree as it does on the smooth table top on the back deck. Sometimes we need to lay out the consequences before the figurative snow begins to fall. In fact this is a pretty good idea.

I started asking my kids what the consequences should be for themselves. That was another groovy parenting tool.

“So what should the consequence be if you are late coming home from Jeff’s?”

“Ummmm, hmmmm, maybe that I don’t get to drive the rest of the week?”

Sounded good to me.

In this way my children raised themselves.

Kids like being trusted. If they are not manipulators (and some are) then they will do a lot just to keep your sincere trust. At least that’s how it rolled out with my kids. They probably were not conscious of it, but somewhere inside they really wanted us to trust them. I always said one of Johnny’s finest gifts was his strong conscience. He may not have always followed the CTR rule (Choose The Right) but at least he felt bad about it when he didn’t. Guilt is a God given mechanism, and is often given a bad rap, probably because we misuse it. A wise bishop once told me to reserve guilt for sin.

I think to myself as I sit here typing that if anyone reads this, and likely few will, they will be shaking their heads and chuckling about my profound gift of denial, wrapped in a bright pink foil of oversimplification. They won’t know the intense struggles we had, and the agonizing prayers we whispered concerning our kids. It’s not like I reached over on my desk and punched that Staples button that triggers a little recording saying “THAT WAS EASY.”

Truly no one knows. For me or for you. No one but the divine father of us all. Thank goodness He is the only one allowed to judge us.

I’m just sayin’ that when I started coming at responding to my kids from the north of YES versus the south of NO, my perspective changed and so did theirs. It reminded me that while I am their mom, they are first and foremost stewards over themselves. They have battles of their own to fight. And I want to be an ally in battle, not an enemy.

I don’t quite know how to emphasize that this is not an easy-out form of parenting. This takes considerable forethought, intelligence, and faith in divine guidance. It also does not mean that just because my first instinctive response was trained to be “yes”, that the actual verbal response was “YES”. As often as not what came from my lips was NOPE. But it came out that way after first considering that we had an option in YUP.

I dare say my kids remember none of this. They wouldn’t know what was going on in my head. To them I was still that rather controlling mom who wasn’t all too consistent in her parenting skills. Heck, I was still a baby myself back then. I had four teenagers by the time I was 37.

Sorry, kids. I didn’t mean to be so bossy. Just imagine how bad it could have been if I had never considered saying YES.

Friday, March 25, 2011

WOTD 16 - NOTION

It must have been while she was sleeping. Or perhaps when she was out in the parking lot talking to the neighbors. She can’t recall when or how. Must have buzzed around her head for a while, so tiny she would not have noticed it. Circled and circled until it found the right moment, then entered behind her ear. Bored its way through the soft moist skin back across the hard bone behind the lobe, back where there was still a hint of the scent of her shampoo. She never felt it, though she may have shaken her head or flicked the hair behind her ear or sneezed or something. I mean, how can such a thing have happened so unawares? Nevertheless, it was there.

The teeny winged notion planted itself in her brain and waited. Through a week full of nights and equal days. The week spun itself into a year. Or more. While it waited it grew, its belly growing fat, stretching and bulging until, finally, it gave birth. Nested the frenetic swarm of notion until they ripened and the little nubs on their shoulders stretched and morphed into wings of their own. They fluttered and flitted in her brain until she opened her eyes one afternoon after a fitful nap. Looked in the corner of the room and decided it was time to go. Saw shadows of things she had never before noticed. Heard voices and music and some distant drum beat calling her. So she went. Took only the soft blue sweatshirt from the pile of laundry in her closet, and the patent leather shoes she had purchased for her cousin’s wedding and never worn. That was all. Left her nightgown, and her blue plastic strip of pills, and her make-up and suitcase.

No one heard from her. They searched for nearly a year, some searched more, some are still looking. Wondered where she ever got the notion to leave. Now, even all these years later, her neighbors stood in the parking lot talking to each other, wondering whatever became of her, chitting and chatting and pursing their eyebrows. The gal who lived across the hall was sure she followed the fellow who had visited her apartment that one day in early autumn. She rolled her eyes to the upper left quadrant of her brain, rocked side to side on the outer edges of her feet as she talked, her arms crossed in front of her like she was holding her ribs in place. All of a sudden she slapped the back of her neck. Held her hand in front of her face looking for a mosquito but found nothing. Flicked her head to the side and scratched the itchy flesh behind her right ear; the soft, tender, moist portion of flesh behind her right ear.
Note- This is not autobiographical. 
Just a writing exercise.
I know you were wondering.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

WOTD 15 - COPYRIGHT

Copyright: the right to copy.
When the word copyright popped up in the random word generator today I raised my imaginary hand in my little invisible class, mumbling under my breath, ““Ooo, ooo! I know this one, I know this one!” Mind you this imaginary class is on the level of taking snack and recess breaks and as opposed corporate lunch breaks, but I am somewhat familiar with copyright as a writer and publisher. I discussed this topic briefly last month with a group of songwriting students in the basement auditorium of the Bountiful Davis Arts Center.

“Your song,” I said, “is copyrighted the minute you create it. It is simply not registered until you do the paperwork with the Office of Copyrights.” If its not registered people may assume its public domain, meaning it is free to copy by members of the general public without obligation to get license or to pay for use.

“Oh,” they responded, “so have you registered all your songs with the Copyright Office? Isn’t that kind of expensive? I mean, how many songs do you have?”

How to answer that and appear responsible and authoritative?

“Welllllll,” I shifted my weight back and forth, “I have registered my albums. And if I am not the publisher, my publishers have registered others I’ve written, since I share the copyright with them. But I look at it this way for many of my tunes: If my work is so good someone would consider stealing it, then I am pretty darn happy!”

Of course I don’t mean to be flippant and irresponsible. If I sense I’ve written a hit song, I am going to register the copyright for sure. I just haven’t felt that way very often.

Imitation is the greatest form of flattery.

It’s really good to know the most important things do not require licenses for us to copy them. Things like my mom’s recipes. My daughter’s wry wit. My husband’s dependability and my son’s inherent interest in other people. My brother’s ability to twist words in witty ways. My neighbor’s graciousness. Sisters’ undying interest and skill with wordless conversation. None of them even think of wanting a copyright, or patent. That’s a good thing!

The very, very best of life is free to copy. Seriously, the maker of the world Himself laid his life in an open book; a step by step tutorial on how to live. He sealed it with His own blood and delivered it to every single one of us. No license required. No payment. He doesn’t even require the tender wages of love. Anyone can copy for any reason at all. We don’t even have to love Him.

I’m quite certain, however, regardless of whether we believe Him or whether we receive Him; He is going to love us.

Note: It is always safest and most responsible for songwriters to register their completed pieces with the US Copyright Office. I am a right brained optimist and some things I do are really NOT worth imitating! You can register a compilation of songs for a reasonable rate. Visit www.copyright.gov for more info.

WOTD 14 - OPEN

“Wooo Hoo! It’s OPEN!”

I hear eight-year-old Maddi scream as the tires of her bike skid to a stop at the bottom of our driveway. Behind her comes the parade of her twin sister Sophie and her triplet brothers Aiden, Evan and Luke, flowing down the bend of cement on wheeled chariots; bikes and scooters and modern-day-descendents of the Big Wheel. I’ve just pulled into the bay of our garage, the fan still hums as it cools the engine in my van. I’m almost knocked over by the stream of kids: sun bleached hair, soft glistening skin the color of browned butter, flip flops and sockless canvas tenny runners. They shoot past my van, straight to the front of the garage where the neon glow of the OPEN sign reflects on the silver tops and colorful sides of aluminum soda cans. Their little hands reach and grab at the top of the counter, looking like a human octopus stuck in a whirlpool, in and out they go, picking a root beer…no wait, a Fresca…ooo, you have caffeine free Mountain Dew!...nah, I’m picking a root beer! One or two take a cup and scoop ice from the ice machine, then open the drawer and retrieve a straw. The others drink it straight up; no ice, no straw, no cup. They scurry out the garage oblivious to my presence, till Aiden calls back “Thank You” and they all echo as they rise up the hill and into the cul-de-sac, They leave me a sweet trickling chorus of thanks.

Dave’s Pop Shop.

When we built this house we realized we were closing off a pathway long used by neighborhood kids to travel between two housing sections. The developer should have seen this and made accommodations for foot travel between the Hollow and Summerwood. But he didn’t. Anyone else would have done all they could to preserve their privacy when they built on our lot. Not Dave.

I love people as much as anyone I know, but even I want my privacy.

Not Dave.

I should say he respects privacy and understands our need for it on some level, but it mattered more to him that we not interrupt people’s access to each other. He simply did not want to even appear to be the snob who took away the foot path. So we have a gate that remains open 24/7, allowing anyone to pass through. We lock the gate one day every 10 years so the land does not become public by habit (there’s a law about that that I should remember from our real estate classes.) People walk past our messy garage and rather undisciplined grow box garden, up our driveway or down the path and past the big rock behind our house. I wouldn’t mind keeping my mess to myself.

Not Dave.

He’d rather not have the mess. But the mess does not stop him from welcoming any weary or not-weary traveler to stop at his Pop Shop for a little respite from the heat of travel.

We bought some cabinets from a friend’s kitchen when they remodeled. Dave installed them in the garage. It was great for quite a while, relatively tidy out there. That was until our kids started going to and returning from college. Things started to pile up out there. And the more there were piles, the more we piled on. It’s some universal rule of magnetism that messes beget messes.

One year, for Mothers Day, Dave presented a most glorious gift to me. A stand-alone ice machine that made little square cubes of clear, hard, crunchy, yummy ice! I am the grand-daughter of the man who owned the Blackfoot Ice House back in the day, when there was no Freon flowing through tubes in the refrigerator in the typical American kitchen. There was only an ice box, with a compartment fit to hold a block of ice, replaced every other day by a fresh block, sawed to size from the gargantuan blocks my grand-Dad and uncles had cut from the Snake River in the winter and stored in sawdust through the summer.

That big dark Ice House loomed over their living space. By the time I was born people had electric refrigerators in their houses and only bought ice for their camping trailers in the summer. When I was quite little I remember my brother chiseling a small chunk of ice from a block in the chilly dark cavern of that ice barn. I held the frozen chunk in the fabric of my cotton blouse, lifted it to my lips and licked until it was small enough to pop into my mouth. I laid in a pile of sawdust and let the coolness drip down my throat. The crisp light air cooled my sun steeped skin until the ice was melted and I was chilled to the bone. I love ice.
Dave installed our little electric ice machine in the garage to avoid the possibility of drainage problems on the wooden floors of our kitchen. He placed it smack between two of the cabinets. Next thing I knew he came home from Smith’s with a van full of soda pop, all varieties. He arranged the pop on top of one of the cabinets, beside the ice machine, and invited passing neighbor kids to stop for a drink when he was out there working.

Next he bought a little fridge.

The word got around. Lots of people started passing through our gate. Just about every one of them is exceptionally kind and delightful. The school bus started picking up and dropping off neighborhood kids right by the gate. We soon found we needed to set some rules. Like all good rules, there were just a few of them, and they were easy to understand. Here are the rules I posted on the gate the first day of school. They now hang above the Pop Shop on the cupboard door:

When one of my favorite stores in Kaysville closed their doors, I asked the manager if she’d like to sell me their OPEN sign. This was before places like Costco sold them. She said sure. So I brought a nice neon sign home and Dave installed it above the Pop Shop. Parents are pleased that we have some sense of responsibility and don’t over-supply their kids with unnecessary sugar every day. And we need to be able to have our garage to ourselves if we want. So we yank on the pull chain under the sign every few days, and nearly every Saturday in the warmer months, and on Sunday afternoons in the summer when our neighbors tend to take their Sunday strolls. The Shop is traditionally closed on Fast Sunday. No sense in tempting our youth.

We know soda pop is not healthy. It’s not the means though which we should be getting our fluids on a regular basis. We suspect some people wish we didn’t have this available. (We do keep water out there as well, I might add here.) But in a society where so much is ME oriented; where we teach our children to protect what is theirs and preserve our entitlement to things we’ve earned; we see Dave’s Pop Shop as an attempt to swing the vote to graciousness, generosity and good humor. This is such an inexpensive way to teach kids how to be nice and share. Heck, who would not spend 20 measly cents to help a neighbor kids feel special?

I don’t love having my whole life exposed to the public. This might surprise some people, because I’m pretty open personality-wise. But I have my pride. And I like a little privacy. I even placed this door mat by the door coming into the house from the garage:

I don’t particularly love the exposure the Dave's Pop Shop gives us. But I DO love that the man whose name I took as my own three decades ago has a tender place in his heart for all God’s children. I love that he is willing to give up his own time and money and space to bring a half-a-minute of pleasure to our neighbors and their friends. I heard a teenage companion of one of our neighbor boys talking as they walked through the gate, their soda cans whooshing as they clicked the tops open, “Wow, so cool that your neighbors just give you that!”

Such a cheap way to appear cool!

I empty my van of the groceries as the parade of Harris kids disappears up the hill. I step on the Leave floor mat and press the electric opener to close the garage door. It pops back up. Something has triggered the electric eye. Looking back I see the littlest Harris boy, Nick, run in, focused on the row of soda against the wall. He grabs a pop and scurries back out.

“Fanks, Coe-wee”, he calls out behind him as he runs to catch up with his siblings. I yell over my shoulder, “You’re welcome Nick Nack!”

Love.

Open.