Monday, April 25, 2011

WHEW

Well, after a blessedly peaceful, beautiful, love filled (if not a little hectic) Easter I find myself back to the grind of daily living.  We are creating a study in another room of the house - a place I can keep as messy as I want and nobody has to see it from our front door!  (My idea).  Dave can use the front study. So I'm taking the old TV/Play room, which Anna calls the "Drawing Room" because that's where the round coffee table and little kid chairs are...along with the crayons and paper and coloring books.  I've been going through mountains of papers trying to make the best of the new space and clean out the old.  New beginnings are exciting and taxing. 
I'm grateful and a little sad to be done with my Lenten writing experience.  Excited to have a couple more hours a day to do things like sort through mountains of papers. Sad, I guess, that I will let things like sorting through papers (sorry to overuse that phrase...it's just the truth of the moment) take precedence.
In an attempt to review what I may have gained spiritually from this exercise, I have come up with a few ideas.  Rounding them out to 10, here they are:
What I've Learned this Year from my Creative Writing Exercise During Lent:

1. I can make myself do things I don't feel like doing. This should transfer to other areas of my life, don't you think?

2. Everything...seriously, just about everything...can be twisted according to perspective.  The way we view things, experiences, people, emotions, values, religion, philosophy; is altered and is alterable by our perspective. Mood, timing, past experience and even hunger change the way we view things. I considered at one point doing 40 days writing on one word.  One can find a myriad of ways to drive thoughts around one single word.  What I learned from this, in the spiritual sense, is that I must be part of a living religion, allowing myself to be altered by the spirit in meaningful ways, while at the same time being cautious that my own faulty reasoning doesn't take me off track.  Stepping back, shifting to the right or left, slowing down, even stopping - these are all useful tools in changing perspective.  Sometimes a change in perspective puts us behind a column in the theatre of life and blocks our view.  Other times it opens things right up. I've learned to always ask for the Spirit of the Lord to be with me when I risk changing perspective.

3. There is such a thing as too much information. I think I over wrote this year.  Too many words.  I too easily followed my train of thought, which sort of goes along with my messy study.  I let myself drift a little bit too easily.  I need to be aware of my tendencies and correct my course for the sake of the final outcome.(in the study AND my writing. :)

4. Honesty matters. Not everything is sweet.  Nor should
 it be. On the other hand, some things are especially sweet and should be celebrated as such.  It seems like we've sacrificed too much these days, worrying about being cheesy. What is - is. And that should speak for itself. When you expose yourself publicly in the vulnerable hours of the day (when I tend to write) what you get, from me at least, is candor.  That has to be ok.

5. We must be still. But we must not be lazyIn order to get to the deeper places I learned to be still physically, and extra active mentally, allowing myself to push past easy and into strenuous but uncontrived. It's a delicate balance and we don't get good at it until we try. 

6. Some things take a long time.  Their worth is not always in the final product.  Not every thing is worth keeping, or sharing, but that does not mean it's time wasted.

7. There are sometimes big stories and important messages in little things.  Finding them is worth repeated effort.

8. I shouldn't judge myself by others' comments - for good or for bad.  I wanted people to like what I had to say.  More than I should.  It took quite a while and a bit of sorry self-centered conversation with the people closest to me to finally let go and allow people to not necessarily like, or even care about, what I had to say.  For some reason I had very few comments this time around.  It played games with my head and heart. It probably took thirty days of Lent sacrifice for me to let go of caring about that.  I was glad Lent was longer than 30 days so I could come to that conclusion.

9. I have a bottomless pile of memories.  And you probably do too, if you'd allow yourself to fall into them through the rabbit hole in the back of your head. One silly word is a good way to start.

10. God plays a big role in my life.  This exercise was not intended to be anything but a writing exercise.  I had no other intent.  I could not have been so candidly honest otherwise.  But in looking back I see that my faith in a higher power, whom I call God, and whose son is named Jesus Christ and Jehovah, has a central place in my thoughts and history.  By writing every day on words that were not religious by nature, I notice that faith is a part of my center whether I shout it to the crowds or whisper it to myself. If you are a believer, it will show without you trying to make it show.  Trust me on this one.

OK, so now I've looked back and breathe a sigh from all the way down in my diaphragm. 

If you have read this far, you may have read some of my other over-written pieces this year and perhaps for the last three years.  They are all here in this blog.  Can I ask you a favor?  (I realize I am probably at this point talking to Libby and maybe a couple of my kids...oh, and my friend Kristen) If I were to collect a few of the best pieces from my Lent Writing, what would a few of them be for you?   I'm thinking of making a small collection for my bookshelf and decided that printing them all takes too much paper. If you remember any off the top of your head please leave them in the comment section or email them to me (cori@coriconnors.com). Don't go re-reading.  You can also scrawl through titles and see if any of them struck you as meaningful. Even if you recall just the subject matter, that would help, then I'll find the post.
(So there-what you think DOES matter to me)
Thanks.
Again.
Cori

Sunday, April 24, 2011

WOTD 44- CATALOG

Agony is essential. Get to a certain age, and there is no getting around it. There must be somewhere some degree of agony. It’s a relative term, but like they told me when I wondered how I would know if I was in labor: “You’ll know it when you need to know it.”

Our friend and neighbor, Cindy Simpson, died two weeks ago. She knew agony. She battled cancer for seventeen years. In the end she was not herself. I thought it a strange blessing that she suffered visibly in the end, because I surmised it would make it easier for Floyd to let her go, knowing she would be free of her pain. I don’t know if it’s true. I do know they suffered together.

Lib and I stepped softly over the threshold of their house in the last weeks of her life, and in the days after she was gone. We hugged their kids, spoke lovingly to Floyd, tried to walk the razor thin balance beam of emotion at such a time as this; holding our arms out and balancing between the deep sullenness of compassion, respect and reverence and the refreshing lightness of good humor.

"We’re praying for you,” we always said. And we meant it. We say that a lot, I’ve noticed; we Christians.

Years ago, when I became intimate with agony for a spell; when I was very ill, bedridden and unsure of my future, I slept quite a lot. My nerves, exposed because the myelin sheaths insulating them had been stripped, screamed against each other so loudly that sleep was a mode of relief from the shouting. I felt my body fighting for energy, and rest was a sort of refueling for the fight. After the worst of it was over and I was able to sit in a recliner while my nerves slowly re-grew, I spent weeks drifting in and out of sleep. Friends and family visited, bringing so many beautiful emotions with them, and such love and tenderness. They too repeated those words to me, “We are praying for you.”

One afternoon I awoke from a restful sleep and had a vivid recollection of a dream. Short, and peaceful, it was unlike my regular dreams. There was a stillness to it, which I thought must have been what made me feel so rested when I awoke. I can’t recall all the details of the dream, except this:

I was standing in a room facing a wall. The wall was filled, floor to ceiling, with small drawers. The drawers looked very much like the card catalog file in the Pleasant Hills Library. A man stood beside me, calm and gentle natured, helping me find the drawer with my name on it. His finger traced the letters of the alphabet as he scanned the massive collection of boxes until he got to a certain one. He then curled his finger into the hooked drawer pull and out slid the narrow box, long and heavy. He looked at me, implying I should look with him. There, on the front of the drawer was my name, and in the drawer were hundreds, maybe thousands of thick paper files attached to a small iron rod at the bottom of the drawer. I don’t remember him speaking any words, but I do remember his eyes talking. Where he looked, I looked. He stood beside me, one hand holding the heavy weight of the drawer, while I flipped through the cards stacked in the drawer. One by one I read them.

Names.

Maybe dates. Maybe more. I don’t recall. But there were for sure names; and I knew most of them.

And I loved them, too. There, in letters pressed into cards of paper, were the names of people I loved, repeating in random order.

Afton H.: Mother.

David C.: Husband.

Sharon…Susan…John…George…Ann Marie…Elizabeth – all my brothers and sisters and their families.

John M.: Son
Sarah… Katherine... Ann...: Daughters.
Extended family, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, and some names I did not know. Even the name of my estranged father.

My eyes turned from the card catalog file and looked into the eyes of the stranger.

Again, I don’t recall him using words, but there was an exchange of understanding, and there was a point as I gazed into those luminous brown eyes and then back at the drawer when I suddenly knew what this drawer held. I understood in an instant that this drawer full of names held a record of people who had prayed for me. Supplications to the heavens for …for… me. It overwhelms me still.

I remember feeling, as I awoke, a profound fullness, a pulsing thickness in my neck and shoulders, a shiver down my arms and a quiver in my bones. I close my eyes and feel it again. It stirs me still.

Looking forward at looking back, I saw before me the love of people in my life who trusted the power of God, even if they did not understand it. There was no indication in those card catalog files what form the prayers took; whether they were spoken softly at the side of a bed, or in the silence of the temple, or publicly from a pulpit; if my name was given to heaven’s charge silently from behind the wheel of a car or in the last waking moments when the head is cradled in the softness of a pillow. It must not have mattered where or how, but it did matter that they were addressed correctly, sent to the proper source. Some guardian of prayers must have been assigned to keep record: My personal divine record. This has changed the way I pray.

A few weeks ago I went to the Farmington Library to get some books on disc for our drive to Mexico. In the back were four small computers holding stacks of information that would surely exceed the capacity of a card catalog file. I suppose that kind of paper information storage is obsolete these days. Perhaps the angels in charge of our dreams take us back to our childhood so we can understand what is being told to us in our unconscious life experience.

All I know is that for some unknown length of time I was standing before a wooden set of drawers with brass fronts; my name typed in bold print on a slip of paper inserted in the slot. And standing beside me, helping me find what I needed, was not our ancient rose-water scented Pleasant Hills Librarian, Mrs. Hubbs, whose well spent bosoms hung gently over the thin belt imbedded in her waist. It was instead a strong, healthy, gentle looking man with tenderness in his eyes, the corners of whose lips raised almost imperceptibly as he pulled the drawer forward and showed to me the first name ever printed on the first card in my drawer of prayers.

On this blessed day, Easter Sunday, let the final words of my Lenten sacrifice be the first who spoke my name; whispered in supplication before my spirit took flesh. He who knew what would come of me, who knew what would come of all of us, offered his own prayer for my soul as He did for yours; there in the shadows of a garden, His hands clenched in supplication, His knees pressed to the ground, His blood oozing from His holy flesh. He pressed His name into every card in that wall of drawers, first in every box; calling to the Heavens for our sakes. No other name comes before it.

He is the first.

And the last.

Jesus Christ: Savior.




Friday, April 22, 2011

WOTD 43- CROWD


 The air was dense with sweat and spices and heat, dust rising like incense smoke. As his leathered feet throbbed against the old skin of the earth it swirled around his ankles and was shaken away, swept clean in the walking by the blue-fringed hem of his robe. Blue fringe, dancing its holy dance; a token of covenant and reminder of his birthright and his blessed appointment with fate. He had come home, across the water to the place where they knew his name. They had heard of the drowning swine, of the cleansing. Jairus, who had left the synagogue and wept at his daughter’s deathbed, had found him and fallen at his feet, imploring him to come.

News of his coming drew a crowd. Jairus brought him credibility. Soon the narrow passages of the town were steaming with the curious, the faithful, and the infirmed. They pressed against him as he walked, layered themselves like mud along the shores of the sea. He moved with haste, pulled along by the grieving father and his family, but the crowd pressed harder and thicker around him.

She heard he would come. She had washed herself and dressed, wiped the blood and anointed herself with oil. She rose from her kneeling, covered her head, and opened the door to the crowded street. Skimming along the edges of the buildings, working her way toward the hub of the crowd, she followed the chanting and the aura that rose above it. Weak with loss and with shame, she could not keep up. Renewed by some spirit, some force from her center, she pressed on nonetheless. Every eye was focused, even hers. Pushed by the throng she fell to the earth, pressing her eyelids tight against the dust. When she opened them, helpless and hopeless, she saw that he had turned. She felt him turn toward her, and yet she could not rise. Reaching, stretching, bleeding, she found the fringe laughing at the foot of his robe. Touched it. And the fountain within her ceased.

He knew he had been touched, that some part of him had been removed that he could not compel, that must only be taken. He felt it go, and she felt it come. She rose and fell again, this time at his still feet; weeping, chanting, clutching her waist and rocking like a childless mother.

“Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole. Go in peace.”

14th century Byzantine Mosaic, Istanbul, Turkey

Note:  The above painting by Del Parson was altered by someone to include the tzitIzit. In the Old Testament God commands the Jews to weave tassels or fringes (tzitzit) on the corners (kanaf) of their garments. By looking at these tassels, they would be reminded to obey all God’s commands (Num. 15:38-40). These reminders both visual and tactile, were sewn into the hems of shawls or robes of Rabbis and other faithful Jews.

The Bible makes note of these fringed shawls in a number of places. Even today there are many Jews who wear a prayer shawl to obey this command.

This woman, unclean for 12 years, was forbidden to touch other people. (a bleeding person was considered unclean).  The fact that she touched the fringe of Jesus' rabbitical robes (a symbol of priesthood power) indicates to me her obedience as well as her faith. 
I love this story.

CLICK HERE  for and explanation of the symbolism in the fringe (tzitzit) which was commanded to be placed on the four corners of a robe.  (Not an endoresment of anything, just FYI)

WOTD 43- LABORATORY

I had the unfortunate distinction of following my siblings George and Ann Marie in the classrooms of TJ High. Not to mention being the older and less brilliant sister of Libby. Goodness, talk about pressure! The thing that made things troublesome was that Mom had us so close together. We were the second batch of kids. I was so inattentive it did not even occur to me that some of my siblings had different last names than I, which would mean we were technically half-siblings. The first batch, Sherry, Sue and John, were the children of Cy Davis, Mom’s first husband; the one she married at seventeen. He went off to war for four years. Mom said when he came back they were both different people. I can’t imagine having a big horrendous war hovering over a marriage for four years and not ending up being different people. After their divorce Mom either fell for Dad or made him fall for her and she had four more children in five years: George, Ann Marie, me and then Libby.

I got this all the time: “Oh, you’re the sister of George or Ann Marie Hansen? I expect an A from you!” Their voices would rise in that smug teasing sort of way, like they thought they were giving me a compliment for belonging to a genius family. If Mom had given herself a half dozen years to rest before she had me, the teachers might have forgotten my brilliant brother and sister.

Alas.

George gets a big kick out of repeating a story about a faculty room conversation where the Chemistry teacher reportedly commented that he had the smartest student he’d ever had and the not-smartest student he’d ever had from the same family. Don’t you think that’s kind of a rude story to be repeating? Seriously.

Anyway, I have learned to live with it. I don’t hate myself. I know I hear different drums. I am not wholly uncomfortable being around brilliant people. I married one after all.

My genius brother, who I might add has his own flaws which I will not mention here, is one of those rare breeds who can understand complicated things on paper, but can also translate them into every day layman’s terms. He is as much right brained as he is left. Good logic; and strong creativity. He was artistic and ingenious as a kid. His favorite toys: the erector set, the chemistry set, plaster of paris and gauze, wax, and a set of paints and brushes. He plays mandolin and guitar very sweetly and has a lovely baritone voice. Well, let me recant that last phrase…he occasionally has a lovely baritone voice. Sometimes it is booming and over enthusiastic, usually followed by a rolling belly laugh and a witty little phrase or disclaimer like a curly Q at the end.

George is a chemical engineer. He practiced for this his whole life. Ask my mom. When he grew up he was torn between becoming a Geologist or a Chemical Engineer. Lib tells about being in Brother Bissel's Geology class at BYU. He read the roster the first day of class, last names first. When he got to Hansen, Elizabeth, he looked up from his paper, lowered the glasses to his nose and searched for her raised hand.

“You related to George Hansen?”

Lib nodded her head. He looked her over, took note of her sable colored hair, just like George’s, lifted his glasses back up to the top of his head, made a mark on his paper and said:

“You get an A.”


My brother George created this process by which he coats fabric fibers with nickel. Something like that. It’s a really cool thing, especially if you are into that kind of stuff. He worked for a large corporation in Colorado and then moved to Utah. He and Cyndy built a beautiful home up in Midway, gathered enough volcanic pot rock to cover the whole of their house themselves…one rock at a time. They both know and love the earth. Both are hard workers. Good solid people.

George rented a large warehouse in North Salt Lake and set up his Laboratory so he could produce nickel coated fibers. I drove Mom down I15 one afternoon to see what he was up to. What we saw was straight out of a Jerry Lewis film. Long church banquet tables lined the length of the warehouse, zig zagging like a crossword puzzle in this large high topped structure. George’s booming voice echoed his excitement to see us.

“Come on in!” he said, opening the glass door. He had two or three fellas working for him at the time, one in a lab coat, one in the front office crunching numbers or elements from the Periodic table or something like that. George called out to someone to turn off the gas for a sec while he showed us through. Nickel Carbonyl is highly poisonous. We would later almost lose my brother when there was a leak in that lab and he went back in to turn off the valve so the city would not be contaminated. They had to fly in an antidote from England to save him. He is the only living person on the earth to have survived Nickel Carbonyl poisoning, so I am told. He has a perpetual headache. I think it’s the nickel. But I am not…I repeat NOT… a chemist, remember.

Walking behind him in his place that day felt like someone got the chemistry lab and the Home Ec lab mixed up, like they ran out of stuff to use in Heslop’s AP Chemistry classroom so they borrowed some things from the Home Economics room. Atop the layout of long banquet tables were various crock pots, fry pans, teapots, and Bunson Burners under Mason jars with foil wrapped around the tops, an eternal roller coaster of tubes connecting them. You could see vapor rising; fluids flowing through the snakes of tubing between the various small appliances. Some mechanisms were behind glass shields, others hissed in the open air. We followed the tubes like we were in a game of Chutes and Ladders, ending up at the end, looking at a spool of thin threads the color of graphite.

“All this… for that?” I thought. But that’s not what I said.
“Amazing!” is what I said. And I was right to say that.

A few years later George sold the rights to his process to the world’s largest nickel company (something like that) and he took his family over to Wales for a year to oversee the building of a large factory which would officially manufacture those coated fibers.

Fast forward a bunch of years; a bunch of joyfulness and some piercing agony, and we are suddenly at today. His company, Conductive Composites, is his own. No more warehouse in North Salt Lake. He has his own official lab in Midway. This week I understand they are closing on a large piece of property on the banks of the Green River in Central Utah. They will build a much larger lab there. One with official machines designed just for them. They have in place contracts with entities I am not permitted to mention here. There are defenses and technological advances that are incorporating his genius in their upcoming products; things that will protect and prevent disasters we average people haven't thought about. It all has to do with how electricity travels or doesn’t travel. Like I said…it’s beyond me.

By the end of the year George will be addressed as Dr. Hansen, as will his son Nathan. They will wear those thick heavy royal robes and flick the tassels on their caps and hang gilded diplomas on their office walls. But I can tell you that this did not begin like chemistry teachers like to think genius begins. Nope. It began on the living room floor, with a set of gears and some wooden rods. It was poured down the kitchen sink, after which Mom had to unscrew that thingy and remove the gooseneck, cleaning out all that melted wax plugging things up. It bubbled over on her kitchen stove, and then again on the old church banquet tables in his first official lab.

Here’s to the mothers of Geniuses, and their blessed tolerance. And here’s to the Brains themselves; for making things happen in un-ordained places and in unorthodox ways. If we all waited for the perfect tools to make our magic,…well, where would the magic be?
Today, when I was wiping down the kitchen counter after browning the meat for dinner, I watched the steam rise from the little release valve in our rice cooker.
Made me think of George.
Always does.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

WOTD 42- GUITAR

Some words are too large. Simple six letter words, too massive to describe well; too important in undefined ways. I have pondered what other small words have meant to me; words like mom and family and faith. I’ve allowed those words to hover over me while I examined them, the way I watch hummingbirds near the glass bulb feeder filled with red sugar water on Grams back porch. I have held very still and examined such things. But I am surprised by this word: guitar. It is so familiar, so every-day in my life and in our house. And yet I have not yet stilled myself in a purposeful way to focus on what this one thing has done in my life.

Christmas morning, 1971. I cannot recall all that was nested under the fragrant blue spruce arranged with beads and lights and tin icicles on the thin slatted wooden floors of our living room. Somehow Mom always seemed to find enough to make that moment magical, and, even if it was purchased on credit, there was abundant treasure to be found on Christmas morning. At thirteen I was no longer the girl who wanted Chatty Cathy or and Easy Bake Oven. And yet we had not discovered what it was that my maturing spirit wanted to grasp onto; what gifts or interest or talents were bubbling inside the cocoon of adolescence. So I suppose Mom guessed; and on that blessed holy morning I found under the tree a golden hued Yamaha guitar, cradled in its open case, angled to reflect the colored lights strung around the tree. Bright golden wound bass strings and virgin translucent nylon treble threads stretched from the bridge to the headstock. An exact replica sat nearby, with Libby’s name attached. We sat cross legged on the floor, holding them the way we had seen our brother do with his electric one. We muted the strings with our left hands and slapped the fingertips of our right hands back and forth across the strings, closing our eyes and pretending to be rock stars, our heads banging to some undefined beat, my unbrushed Christmas morning mop of hair flopping back and forth. The poor thing must not have known what hit it when my teenage hands took hold.

It was nearly a year before I actually tried to play it. Mr. Cameron had come to Pleasant Hills Middle School when I entered 8th grade. His office was in the back of the choir room. I can’t recall if he was a band teacher or an assistant choir teacher. He was a slight man, though sturdy enough. Young, with hip clothes and short cropped curly brown hair. When the school newspaper came out in September there was a notice that Mr. Cameron was starting a Guitar Club after school. My best friend Betsy, who sang with me in Mini Singers and also had a Yamaha guitar, tugged my arm when the sign up sheet came around in choir. On Tuesday’s and Thursdays Lib and I trekked up Old Clairton Road and down the steep driveway to school, our midi coats flapping against our calves as we walked, the black shapely cases of our instruments making us feel much more cool than we ever were. We sat three or four seats apart from each other on the multi-layered choir risers, our cases open at our feet, our guitars nestled against our budding breasts, our lengthening awkward arms stretching around their curved bodies. We willed our fingers to follow the patterns he taught us. Commanded our picking hands to do their thing. It reminded me very much of that trick where you pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time. Some people could not do it. But I could.

I could! I found that my left hand and my right hand could obey different sets of orders. I learned rather quickly what shapes to make my fingers take against the fret board; where to place my thumb on the back of the neck. I learned to make the fingers on my right hand dance in complicated patterns near the sound hole. Pivotal in all of this was the fact that Betsy learned at a similar pace, probably faster than me. We sat in the choir room long after the others left. We spent Friday nights at each other’s houses, learning tunes from Betsy’s Simon and Garfunkel album. We began going to school early, pulling the cold and heavy front doors of the school out into the dark early morning air, making our way down dimly lit empty halls to Mr. Cameron’s office. There in the tiny office about the size of mu upstairs laundry room he gifted us with Blackbird, and Stairway to Heaven; Dust in the Wind and If You Could Read My Mind and American Pie. Taught us to pluck our strings cleanly and succinctly. Showed us how to love the music in the way he played his own instrument. Betsy started calling him by his first name, Denny, when we jammed together. I just couldn’t. By the end of 8th grade, when we left the familiar space of the Middle School and entered the halls of Thomas Jefferson High School, I had learned basically everything I now know about guitar. There was no guitar club at TJ. No guitar class, and no Mr. Cameron.

Wherever you are, Mr. Dennis Cameron, I hope that the angels you brought to me are watching over you. Thank you. So much of my self definition involves what you gave me, unpaid, and likely underappreciated at the time. All teachers who give such gifts to their students…thank you!

I wrote my first song on that Yamaha guitar under the stairwell next to our apartment on East Bruceton road. “I Love You Mama”. I sang it, hesitantly, quivering with fear of rejection, for my mom on Mothers Day that year I was 15. She must have approved enough for me to want to try again. I wrote my second song in the same place, tucked there under the steps where someone stored their bike. The acoustics in a stairwell are fabulous. I have always had a need to compose in complete privacy. I sang so softly no one would hear me outside the thick firewall doors, and I kept one ear always open to the sound of a door opening in the ten stories above me. Then I would stop abruptly, nearly stop breathing as well, until the person had exited. My second song, Nativity, was a Christmas gift for Mom that year as well. That old Yamaha must have felt a sense of completeness when it was played on Christmas morning. My most recent composition, commissioned for the Clytie Adams Ballet School recital, actually uses the same chord pattern as that particular song written all those years ago.

There are many, many words that want to fill this space, telling about the places I have played, my first love songs; performances and late night rendezvous with my faithful wooden friend. She gave me voice, not just from within my throat but from the pit of my stomach and the inner chambers of my heart.

She took the anguish of my young girl life and let it swirl around inside, then spit it out of the sound hole and into the universe. She allowed herself to be held by that stunningly beautiful dark haired man who met me in the lobby of the dorms at Slippery Rock College. We took turns playing for each other, allowing the exchange of songs to fill the awkward space of flirting. We sat, just he and I and one guitar, until just before the sun rose. The next summer we both played that guitar for the people we love most in the world, all gathered around us, the layers of white lace in my dress cradling her like a cloud, the frothy net of my veil laying softly over her shoulder as we sang to each other, “I’ll walk in the rain by your side….” I found lullabies in her, and stories that came out in rhyme and meter with lilting melodies. My friend Merlyn found the harmonies from within her chords.

One year, when my third baby was newborn, David gifted me with a treasure beyond treasures. A 1953 Martin OOO18. Steel strings, with wood that had vibrated long enough to make her sing exceptionally well. David had recruited the help of my gifted guitarist brother, John. He found the perfect instrument in Boise and secretly snuck it down to Dave for our anniversary. It was my first beloved steel string acoustic. Like a child, I held her against my chest, feeling her heartbeat, aligning my breathing patterns with hers. Songs were born from her, songs incubated like chicks waiting to hatch, carefully plucked out and refined in my quiet places where only my guitar could hear as I stirred the simmering songs: The Builder, Heavenly Choirs, You Would Have Loved This, The Old Singer Sewing Machine, Pontiac Rocket. Songs of that place where I had first held a guitar: Sleepy Little Town and Is It Snowing Tonight. Like a faithful and tired grandmother, my old Yamaha found rest in her hard black case. Never to be sold or given away, though she has been lent to virgin hands occasionally. It was that old Martin that carried me up the stairs to the next level, who allowed me to stand before a microphone and risk my heart. That old Martin allowed herself to be used and abused by a young boy’s curious hands. She gave release to my boy, the sound of her drifting up to me as I laid in my bed at night. Later she released the magnificent voice of my Kate, easing the way with the safety of chords plucked from her strings. Sarah and annie, both gifted on the piano, also learned the basics on that old Martin.

I acquired new guitars from my gifted friend El McMeen; a massively lovely jumbo bodied Franklin, custom made of beautiful Koa wood. My shoulder struggled to fit around her large body and ended up with calcium deposits. So El took it back and sent instead a sweet little Collings that I use to this day. I found other songs in her: One Small Boy and Broken and Memoria and so many others. John also found my happy and dependable Taylor guitar for me. There are different songs in different guitars. I must remind myself of that. I love them all, my children made of wood and steel and bone.

I must make my way down to the basement and dig out that beautiful, faithful old Yamaha and see what songs she has been saving for me. I must find her, and free her from her tightly hinged case. Give her some air, and some light, and some space. Give her a fresh new set of strings and a reverential rendition of Blackbird for old time’s sake. Then maybe she will warm her wood, free the sweetly silent notes from her strings, and embrace me once again.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

WOTD 41- NORMAL

I saw her once, stepping off the curb outside a department store in New York: Normal. She hailed a cab in a simple, pleasant, flowing sort of way. One stopped immediately in front of her, the fella stepping from behind the wheel and opening the door for her. I’m pretty sure it was her. I’d heard about her for years, since I was just a kid playing on the playground at Pleasant Hills Elementary School. Everyone there tried to be like her. I couldn’t figure out exactly what they were talking about, so I started paying attention, keeping an eye on the billboards lining Route 51 all the way into town. I pretty much saw everyone in those ads trying to look like her, but I was never really sure if any of those small-waisted, straight toothed, long lashed women were Normal herself. People generally don’t wear name tags around in public. What I ended up doing was taking the things that were similar in all those ads and making a composite in my head of what Normal looked like. So that day in New York, when we were having to go to dinner with some Law Firm humpty-whumps and I could not suck my tummy in far enough to feel adequate, I felt pretty sure that gal just about to get into a cab was either Normal herself or her twin sister. I thought about her all night. Totally ruined the delicate flavor of that Veal Piccatta I had ordered. I reprimanded myself through each bite, denying the poor girl in the mirrored walls the pleasure of cream and butter and white wine, telling her Normal would never indulge like that if she could not suck her tummy in. She would have smiled her brilliant white smile and ordered a green salad with vinegar. I ate it anyway. But I could not embrace it.

My best friend Cheryl decided that Normal was her new best friend when we were in sixth grade. She got some lipstick samples from her aunt who sold Avon and we tried them on in her bedroom one Saturday. We stood in front of the mirror and smacked our lips together like she said Normal would and I thought we looked really silly. But Cheryl liked it. Pretty soon her cheeks turned all pink and her eyelids bright blue and the boys started to make circles around her in the lunch room and that was that.

Later, when we were in High School, I started to feel more at home with the anti-Normal bunch. I wore football jerseys and my old Levi 501’s and a pair of hand beaded moccasins bought at the Fort Hall Indian reservation on the way home from Idaho one year. I wore my hair straight. No make-up. No nail polish. The closest I got to the pro-Normal girls was an occasional ribbon in my hair, flowing down the back in a semi-feminine sort of fashion. When the soles wore out on my moccasins I layered duct tape on the bottoms, extending their life by months if not years.

Every once in a while I flirted with the idea of Normal. Tried curling my hair, or dressing in something matching. Tried catching the occasional wave of confidence that wafted through my unstructured abnormal life, allowing me to stand in a circle of kids and think anything I had to say might be worth hearing. There were seasons when that confidence was healthy and vibrant. My whole eighth grade school existence was on Team Normal, but I think that was in large part because I was in the Mini-Singers ensemble choir and Mrs. Tucci allowed Betsy Gerson and me to sit in the hall and play Gordon Lightfoot songs on our Yamaha guitars. This was the early 1970’s. This was cool.

Cool was short-lived. Pretty soon I convinced myself that cool was too much like Normal and I would never be like her so it was not likely I could sustain the coolness. Instead I made myself responsible. Even though that was a show as well. When my classmates selected people to fit in arbitrary categories they did not select me as best smile or most likely to succeed. They voted me most dependable. This is not normal for high school.

You’d think a girl of the 1970’s would be quite comfortable not hanging out with Normal-ites. It was after all the age of free spirits, free love, people marching to all sorts of off-beat drummers. But I could never be that kind of ab-Normal or Normal; not with the back of my ears still wet from the waters of baptism. They never dried out, the divine water constantly trickling down my neck, reminding me I was designed to be peculiar. I could not hang with Normal, but I didn’t fit in with Funky either.

When I got grown up and thought I had comfortably found my place in line, a bit to the left of Normal, I realized that Normal was not exactly what I thought she had been all those years. She began to age, and the wrinkles that soften the tight brow of super models found their way to her and to me. She hated them. But I didn’t mind. I’d learned through the years to live with flaws. I didn’t mind them so much now. I don’t even try to suck in my tummy now. We are quite a ways past that. Now I think that I have the charge to be a missionary for diversity. I don’t so much keep my peripheral vision on the lookout for Normal passing by, worried that others will see us both and start comparing. Instead I push myself through the typical, hoping if I kick hard enough I will push through the thick jelly of average and pierce the membrane, rising up into fresh blue sky of individuality, my mouth wide open gulping in the freshness. Normal can’t kick like that. She had super high heels on, and tight skinny jeans, and she just can’t kick like she’ll need too to get free.

So in the end, it doesn’t matter if that gal getting into the cab those years ago was actually Normal or not. I used to like to say I thought I had seen her. Now I don’t really need to know where she is or what she is up to. This, my friends, is one of the beauties of being over baked and over weight.

It may well have been Normal I saw getting in a cab that day. She sure was beautiful. Not knock-out eye popping gorgeous, just pretty pretty. I salute her, wherever she is, and hope she has a nice ride.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

WOTD 40 - UNIT

When I was 14 years old we moved from the old English Tutor house on Old Clairton Road to the high rise apartments down on East Bruceton. We had lived in that house from 2nd to 8th grade. That’s my perspective. George would see it that we lived there from Jr High through Graduation. Mom might see it as the time between hopeful denial and stark reality. We who lived there knew it as the charming but tumultuous era when Dad was there and not there; when you never knew if he’d come home happy or come home drunk or come home at all.

The walls of that old tutor can tell stories. They hint of Iron City beer and cigarette smoke in the basement going fist to cuffs with the April freshness of laundry soap. Dad sat in the chair in one room watching the Pirates in their hey day while Mom worked in the laundry room right next to it, forcing the cloth of our lives through the repentance process of baptism by water and fire, pulling pieces one by one from the dryer, warm and clean and innocent.

I don’t rightly know why we moved. I think maybe the landlord decided to sell the house we had rented all those years. Ann Marie and Libby would know this. I lived in my own little world. Still do, I guess.

I have a vivid memory of seeing my father for the last time in the parking lot of that apartment building. It followed a hefty argument on our way home from Idaho. He never spent one night with us in that place, just drove away in a cab without ever walking in. But that’s another story.

We four girls; Mom, Ann Marie, Libby and I, did the best we could to pretend nothing had happened. There was plenty of work to do, and school was just starting, so it was natural enough to push the piercing knife of rejection over to the side of my brain and just …just…exist, I guess. We had lots of stuff to deal with, shifting from a large home to a three bedroom apartment. In the week before we left for the west we made the trip from the house up and down the steep hill to the apartments countless times. It reminded me of a bouncy red rubber ball attached to a rubber band, which was attached to a wooden paddle. We bounced back and forth, back and forth- the same distance, the same motion, repeated and repeated. It quickly became obvious things were not going to fit in our apartment and the single storage unit assigned to apartment 101. In the bustle of volunteer hands moving things for us, Mom suggested people just put the stuff no one knew what to do with in empty storage units on alternating floors of the building. The units had simple padlock hinges. The apartments were fairly new, and many were unoccupied, so Mom bought a series of locks for the apartment numbers she knew were not yet occupied and we sort of “borrowed” the units until we got back from Idaho and could figure out what to do.

After we returned from the dry arid summer air to Pittsburgh smog and humidity; after we had hung the curtains and discovered what wanted to be where in the apartment; after Ann Marie had painted her bedroom dresser yellow; Mom needed something that must have been stored in one of those units. In the long search through the various closets, tucked in sections on every other floor, we discovered someone had removed one of the locks and replaced it with a new one. Turns out our cubby full of treasures had gone to Good Will, since the manager did not know to whom they belonged and new tenants were in need of the space. After that Mom negotiated with the manager to use empty units until new tenants moved in. Thus began the occasional Saturday scurry of shifting things between storage units. We’d get word that a certain unit was leased and we had a very short time to empty the storage unit. So we sorted and consolidated, shuffled and discarded. This process repeated until just about everything had to be given away.

In the end what we stored in the one storage unit assigned to our apartment was a couple hundred pounds of hard red winter wheat, a symbol of faith more than anything. It was awfully painful for me to sort through those storage units, not so much because I was a restless teenager who did not want to be sifting through junk on her day off (though there was no doubt a hefty measure of the grumps), but because I found everything to be useful, and desirous, and it was awfully painful for me to agree that something needed to go. It wasn’t until years later and I was standing beside my mother in the garage of her condo here in Utah that I figured out the psychology of letting go. Dave had loaded the old red truck with the dregs of our garage sale; all the left over items; things nobody wanted, even for a measly nickel. He picked up Mom’s old Singer sewing machine, hefted it into the truck bed, and turned to Mom, asking if she was sure she wanted him to take it to DI. She nodded her head, without hesitation, and said:

“Yup, take it. Someone needs it more than I do now.”

And so the truck drove off, up Sweetwater Lane toward Deseret Industries, where I hope someone wonderful bought and cherishes that machine and is currently sewing away all sorts of soft fabric delights for their family.

When I get that old panic, rising up from inside, at the prospect of giving some treasure away, I try to repeat Mom’s words. Like a mantra:

Someone needs that more than I do now.



I know, Dave, you are wondering when I am going to start using that mantra in a meaningful purposeful way! Sorry, Love. :)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

WOTD 39- FRENCH

I wrap my fingers into the edge of the metal handle attached to the wooden door on my Sub-Zero fridge. It requires intentional strength to pull the door open, the air suctioning the cold inside. Finally it gives way and the door swings out, revealing layer on layer of leftovers stacked in Rubbermaid containers, two gallons of 1% milk, a carafe of orange juice and six pounds of butter. We have our priorities around here. I grab three brown eggs from their scooped cradles inside the door, and one of the jugs of milk. With eggs in one hand, and milk in the other, I kick the fridge door shut. I can hear the air sucking inside, like the thing has lungs. I set the milk on the counter and open the maple cupboard door to the right of the sink, lifting a vegetable bowl and pushing some dirty dishes off to the side making room on the counter near the sink. I set the bowl on the cold granite and tap one of the eggs against the stone. I lift the cracked egg with the flow of a conductor raising her baton for the upbeat, stretch my thumb and ring finger away from each other while still gripping the shell. The egg gives way and divides itself. I raise my hand again and let the liquid, all jelly like with a golden orb in the middle, fall into the vegetable bowl. As I repeat the process on the second egg I reach behind me, pulling on the wooden handle of the utensil drawer, and retrieve, without looking, a fork. I whip the eggs in a rolling motion, the yellow-gold swirling into the gelatin white. Soon it is all a frothy pale yellow. I place the bowl next to the sink, lift the gallon of milk over it, and pour a few tablespoons into the whipped eggs. As I continue to whip, my hand reaches into the narrow spice cupboard to the left of the stovetop. A waft of miscellaneous fragrance floats out as my hand reaches in, past the bottles of sage and cinnamon. It comes out victorious, with a bottle of Mexican vanilla. Still whipping, I tip the bottle and allow two drops to fall into the eggs.

At the stove I bend over, way to the bottom roll-out shelf, and pull out the square griddle. As my left hand places the griddle on the burner, the right hand twists the ignition knob. A yellow blue flame leaps out around the edges of the griddle, then settles into a slow steady hiss as the griddle heats up. I dip a knife into the ceramic container of butter, the one we bought in England years ago. The rectangular terra cotta butter box says Original Suffolk Butter Box – for Home or Safari. I slide the chunk of butter from my knife and lift the pan, watching the creamy oil disappear as it slides, singing, over the hot griddle.

Grandma Sycamore bread: soft, white substantial, fiberless and delicious. I pull it from the bread drawer, untwist the tie, and pull out four pieces. Fork in one hand, I dip the bread, a piece at a time, into the egg mixture, shake it two times and then place it on the griddle, one lined up next to the other. I have an instinct about things on the stove. When my cooking angel tells me, I slide the edge of a spatula under one of the pieces and flip it onto the opposite side of the griddle where the butter has turned brown, smells yummy delicious, right there on the edge of burnt. I listen to the egg sizzle for just a moment, then silently heat the mixture infused in the bread until it is slightly firm, the outer skin of the bread looking all golden brown and mottled. I slide the slices onto a plate from the cupboard, spread a generous chunk of butter atop and move it across the landscape of the toast until it looks like a golden swampy earth spot in early spring when the snows have melted. Atop the pond I sprinkle soft, virgin powdered sugar, straight from the bag, the sweetness falling like snow from heavy evergreen branches.

It is early morning, on a test day, and my boy or my girls scurry down the stairs. I bless the food myself, asking the Lord to help them recall what they’ve learned. I pour a cup of juice and set it before them. They inhale the toast and drink the juice down in three swallows; grab their books, call out a “Thanks, Mom”, and (depending on the child) slip over to the stove to give me a hug or a kiss. Then they are off to school.

In the fresh cold silence of my kitchen I find there is just enough egg mixture left in the bottom of the vegetable bowl for maybe one slice for myself. I dip the soft white bread in and slide it around like a dinner roll in the last trails of gravy on a Thanksgiving plate. It’s not quite enough to cover all the bread, but I make it anyway. Sit at the counter by my lonesome and sprinkle powdered sugar on top. Soft, white, sweet and buttery powdered sugar on top of French Toast.

WOTD 38 - BIRD

There is a day; a morning; a moment: Late in the winter when hope awakens with the rising sun. Our bedroom sits on our lot down near the wooded hollow, filled with ancient scrub oak trees and orphaned miscellany brought to the mulchy space by fierce Farmington east winds. Three purposeful columnar maples shade our windows in the summer, just outside the bay facing the mountains to the east. In the autumn I leave the blinds open all day and all night. The leaves provide privacy and the glorious golden apricot blend of color in those large flat leaves stuns me every time I enter the room by light of day. I close the blinds in the winter when the trees are bare, mostly to protect the private space between our window and our neighbor’s. All winter long the space is somber and silent; until that one morning when the sun has begun to rise earlier, the light of morning pushing through the blinds, appearing like a blank sheet of radiant lined school paper waiting for a story to be written.


I lay in my bed and notice, for the first time each year, the two toned melody of a bird in the trees. One simple song, by a single winged creature somewhere out there in the woody place where leaves have not yet begun to bud. I take note of the day in March, often close to my birthday, opening the spot in my heart where hope is kept.


I keep hope safely tucked in a rather organized cupboard, unusually organized for one like me. It requires certain keys to open the cupboard door; some distinct hard evidence to serve as a trigger to pry it loose. The song of the winged one is the key in the hand of spring, hope of seasons impending. So often I forget to recognize hope for what it is. So often I think it only appears as the elusive quest in our human hearts for things unseen and eternal. I forget that it shimmers in the distant lights across the bay when we are headed to Salt Lake City at night. At dusk, when the waning light confuses the landscape, hope tells me the city is there because it has always been there and cities generally don’t disappear in real life. Hope reassures me my Kate is alive and happy in Houston, and that Annie’s baby is growing in perfectly healthy ways with her belly. And it sings to me in wordless melody that spring is coming. I know that song. Each time I hear it hope throws its roots deeper and deeper into my soil of belief, so that soon hope becomes trust.

Spring is in the offing. My skin can feel the rising sun through the window blinds. The solitary bird is joined by other songs as the days progress; a cacophonous set of harmonies much like the Debussy choral piece we did in high school choir. I leave the window on my side of the bed slightly cracked open throughout the year, inviting fresh crisp air into our space regardless of the temperature. We are sheltered by the architecture of the brick structure, the large bay in the Living Room protecting us from wicked winter winds. Only on the bitterest winter days do I seal that window shut. In the spring the music of the birds echoes off the brick, rises to the Bailey house to the east of us and reflects back at us from there as well, the sound amplified as it travels. By the time summer comes there are flocks of small-beaked creatures nesting in those trees and the sound is so abundant that it awakens me in the early hours, often not too long after I have fallen asleep. There is a first chorus around 5 am. Still dark. Not even the hint of a rising sun. Like monks in a pre-dawn chant they gather their songs and offer them in an Avant-Garde chorus. The song is not long lived, maybe ten minutes, maybe twenty. Then the silence returns until the first rays of sunlight peek over the mountains. Then they sing unceasingly. All the live long day. I recognize their compositions, repeated like eternal musical stutterers. For seventeen years I have bathed in their songs and I do not know who they are. Sort of like all the years of my youth I repeated lyrics to tunes I knew by heart, though I cannot tell you even now who the artist was or the name of the band. I realize as I write this how narrow minded I can be, that I would drink the auditory flavors of three full seasons a year and not even attempt to know from whence the offerings come.

I have just spent the bulk of this Saturday morning searching the internet for the sounds of my hollow. I’m overcome with the ease of access; that I, a completely anonymous searcher, can find recordings of the songbirds outside my window tucked here in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains. I’m thrilled, and then moved to tears that the songs I know so well have names attached to them. I feel like the pauper who has just discovered the benefactor who has been leaving bread, mysteriously, at my doorway for nearly two decades.

We get so used to the ease of finding things on the internet I forget that someone has spent hours, weeks, months, even years collecting and arranging words and pictures and recordings, then making them available to Mrs. Anonymous. I type a few letters into a search box, click my mouse, and up come my options. This one from the WESTERN SOUNDSCAPE ARCHIVE has given face to the voices I hear every morning, calling me from the softness of my down pillow. Thank you University of Utah J. Willard Marriot Library Digital Collections, for lifting the blinds and swinging wide open the window to my woods, when my own feet are too feeble and my own blurry eyes cannot see through the trees.

I can now recognize the jack-hammer pulse of a northern flicker, followed by the crescendo of his song, the pitch rising in staccato notes then falling again.

The beautiful but brash-throated stellars jay, whose bright blue wings look stunningly brilliant against the crystalline innocence of new born leaves.

Swallows, and titmouse, and sparrows and robins. A whistling warbler, and the doves who make their way down my chimney on a regular basis. They combine to create a chorus I can hardly define but which I know so well. I’m an on-listener at my own bird convention.


And thanks to the Western Soundscape Archive I can now know exactly what to curse on a warm summer afternoon when I am trying to regain some strength through a moment of afternoon repose. Down in the hollow a song repeats, unrelenting, two notes, a third apart. Over and over. I pound my pillow into a new shape, lift my head and turn onto my other hip there on my bed. I cover my ear with another pillow. Still, the shrill notes pierce through. Now that I am educated I can grumble a nasty remark specifically to that black-capped chickadee out there. There’s only so much of two single notes, sung repeatedly, that is appealing to the human ear.

(BTW- in case you didn't already know this; when text is blue in a blog post that usually means you can click on the word and it will take you to a link.  The two colored texts above will lead you to sites where bird pictures and sounds can be seen and heard.  Click on the "black-capped chickadee" and you'll see the pretty little thing.  Then click on "listen" within the link and you'll hear the charming-annoying little thing.)














Friday, April 15, 2011

WOTD 37 - TOILET PAPER (The Truth in an Organic Process)

Warning. This post contains terms not approved by my mother.

(My friend, a fabulous writer named Kristen Randle, offered a challenge to write about something pivotal in our lives. I decided to write about toilet paper.)

My mom came from that old school; the one where things were not balanced; the kind of school where you might wear a nice Sunday dress with stretched out athletic tube socks and fishing boots. Some things are very earthy and raw; others are more refined.

OK, so I am going to just jump in on this one….

We were never allowed to say the word “pee” when I was growing up. I feel weird writing it. I can name people who will feel icky reading it. We didn’t say pee, and we didn’t say poop, and we didn’t say bum. It was “urine” and “bowel movement” and “butt” (as slang as we were allowed to get, for “buttocks”).

I cannot believe I am actually writing this.

There was no shame in any of this, my mom said. It’s all part of being human, a natural process of the body. But it was private and not all that pleasant and so we were required to use the medical terms, though we have used the term “tinkle” for…well, you know what I mean. And “potty, potty” is used for the other.

Oye Ve! Words can be delicate modes of communication.

We weren’t allowed to say Shut Up either. We got a nice lather of soap on the tongue for that one.

I don’t know how it happened; they didn’t learn it from me; but my kids say pee and poop. Not that it’s the topic of Sunday dinner conversations. They are in the process of raising little children and it’s a fact of life that we use some term to express what’s happening. It must be that the generation after mine just refused to use those medical terms. Little Ruby has decided she is done with diapers. So you can imagine we are talking a lot about this stuff. It is as simple a fact of her little life as eating Cheerios and watching Yo Gaba Gaba. She has taken to putting three or four or five pair of princess panties on at once. The layered look.

So I’ve been with my grandkids a lot lately, which is great. I am tired, though. My head is tired. And my bones. I was standing in the bathroom at John and Ashley’s yesterday, waiting for Ruby to go potty. Tinkle, to be exact. Pee, as she put it. “I go pee!”

She insisted that she had to do more than pee though, and she sat there on the toilet swirling her feet in little circles, humming a little tune, pointing to Mommy’s shampoo and Daddy’s shaving stuff and telling me what it was and to whom it all belonged. I stood there 15 minutes waiting. Tried to lift her off at least half a dozen times but she clamped her legs around the porcelain bowl and screamed bloody murder that she wasn’t done, so I relented. Over and over. It was nap time, and she had been zipped into the tent covering her crib once already. “Potty! Potty!”, she screamed from her room; and since I was on the team designated to help her learn, I went in her room and unzipped the net over her crib that keeps her from climbing out. She stood there in her crib, buck naked, her nose dripping from crying, with a victorious grin on her face. I gathered her clothes, including the dry pull-up she had been wearing when I put her down, and placed them on her changing table. I carried her into the bathroom and set her on the toilet, her little legs straddling that big bowl. Her knees just barely reached the rim. Ruby is only two years old. She is yet young to be doing this.

When Ruby decides something, watch out! So I stood there in front of her in the bathroom. Waiting. Waiting. She had already gone tinkle. As I repeatedly tried to remove her and put her back to bed she dug in her figurative heels deeper and deeper. That little beast that lives behind my right kidney started climbing up my esophagus, ready to burst out with some not so nice verbiage. I thought that monster had been conquered in my “maturity”. I realize now it just has not been beckoned forth by little childish demands. He is alive and well and living in ME! Sad. I have an image to uphold! I am GUMMY! I am thinking it is not good for our grandmother-grandchild relationship to have this much intimate time together, at least not when Gummy has an eternally throbbing headache. I finally pulled her kicking and screaming from the potty, forced her twisting hips to let me put the pull-up back on, and put the closest dirty shirt on her so she wouldn’t freeze. I wrapped her in her blankie, tucked her pale pink elephant “Ellie” in her arm, handed her her Bah-Bah and rocked her to sleep. Rocked us both to sleep.

I woke a few minutes later in the darkness of the room, the afternoon light barely diffusing from the edges of her soft pink curtains. I awoke with this image in my head.

The roll of toilet paper.

I woke thinking about the roll of toilet paper Ruby kept pointing to there in the Battle of the Bathroom. And this is what I was thinking as I shifted back and forth in that rocker in Ruby’s room.

I remembered years ago, on a hot summer afternoon, sitting in my own bathroom, tears streaming down my raw salt-worn cheeks. We had answered the call, the one we all have nightmares about receiving, on that sunny summer afternoon, having just returned from our family vacation in Michigan. We had sobbed and groaned and clutched our own empty chests; turned to each other and embraced, our pulsing shoulders throbbing against each other as we walked into the valley of the shadow of death and began the long painful process of grieving.

Mom Connors was dead. Grandma Connors. Helen. She had died in a car accident after dropping us off at the Saginaw airport. It was a truth that kept trying to chisel its way into our heads, but we could not allow it in. Logic told us to process it. Our hearts refused.

I found privacy and thinking space in the bathroom. I remember sitting there looking at the roll of toilet paper beside me. I remember distinctly thinking that the last time we used this she was alive and vibrant, her soft warm arms thrown out to her grandchildren, her loving eyes catching the gaze of her second son. I remember resisting using that roll of paper, thinking that if we left it the way it was time might have stood still where we left it before leaving for Michigan. I sat there a long time. Weeping. How dare the sun dip into the lake to the west of us, the world keep spinning, neighbor children keep playing out in the yard? The world should stop, out of respect if nothing else! Shouldn’t everything stop? For just a minute at least.

And yet I felt my body doing what it has done from birth. I got thirsty. And hungry. And tired. Just like it did when she was alive and well. And life-giving water processed through my body like it always had. The water I had ingested in Michigan processed through in Utah, just like nothing had happened. It just did not seem right.

Finally, I felt an overwhelming peace come to me. Right there on the toilet. God, I guess, is no respecter of people or places. I felt the warm embracing arms of faith come round me, like some angel had picked me up and wrapped me in my heavenly blankie and was willing to rock me to sleep.

It’s ok. It’s more than ok, it’s comforting to know this old earth will continue spinning, spinning, spinning. It will spin when I am gone, too. Indeed, we pause in the misty dusk of grief when we lose those we love. We pause sometimes for a long, long time. Still, the ebb and flow of life goes on around us. We think it disrespectful, when in fact it is wholly and completely respectful. We are only here for a little while. This is temporary. It is not an unimportant thing that we are here, true. But it was designed to be temporary. The earth will turn with or without us. People will drive past us when we go out to get the mail and they will have things on their mind that are important to them, but they will have no idea our world has just turned upside down. The same shows will play on TV; same clocks will rotate their arms at the same steady pace. All this says, in repeated choruses of daily existence, that we are meant to move on. We jump in, then we jump out, like Sophie in her jump rope games. The rope keeps turning, up then down, slapping against the days of all life. We enter, then we exit, and the rhythm continues without us.

I will one day jump out myself, and Ruby will take my place with her own grand-daughter. She will perhaps stand there as frustrated as I, waiting for her to go “pee”. And I, in the meantime, will hover over…up high….way high above her, and chuckle from my heaven place.