Tuesday, April 10, 2012

ALL CHIEFS ~ NO INJUNS


My brother John came for Thanksgiving one year, back when Gram was still cooking Thanksgiving dinner and we were all helpers.  It was one of the rare years when we were all there, all seven kids with their various familial flocks.  John drove down from Boise and brought with him his new wife, LaNae.  We all tried to be good and kind, knowing she might feel a little awkward because we all had a natural feeling of devotion to his first wife who was the mother of his kids.  It was a typical Thanksgiving gathering; lots of people and lots of plans and lots of hiccups in those plans.  Our mother is a strong woman, very much a leader of the pack kind of gal, and so we should not be surprised that she raised a few strong willed children:  Lots of chiefs; not enough injuns, if you know what I mean.  I cut my spuds THIS way to boil them.  My sister cuts them THAT way.  One likes the napkins folded under the forks, another likes them in a complicated flower type fold sitting in the middle of the plate.  Against the clanging of utensils and the thumping of cupboard doors comes scattered conversation:

“Don’t you think we need a little more salt in that gravy?”

and

“Do you really want that much brown sugar in those yams?”

Nothing earth shattering.  We all get along fine and it works out in the end. There's plenty of laughter. Dinner is always yummy and the dishes always get done and we sing the night away after it’s all over. 

But we are tired.

That night John, finally alone with his wife, asked her what she thought of his family.

She responded:

“It’s like being around six of you!”


(I, for one, was flattered.)


She’s not his wife any more.



 Here’s to the people who share my mother: Sherry, Sue, John, George, Ann Marie and Libby!

So we haven’t figured out how to keep a normal schedule.

So we sit with seats between us in theaters cuz we’re all a little claustrophobic (people think we don’t like each other).

So, when we finally all get in the car and go to the store, it’s closed.

So we trip over each others’ dogs and junk in the hallway

And we wait…and wait…and wait….

We also fold our arms together to pray, regardless of our faith

And we hug and kiss each other with perfect ease

And we think of each other when random things appear

And we call each other random names like Limpy and Oose and Sharawn and Gorgeous Handsome

And we adore our mother

And accept our past

And cherish our present

And hope for our future.


Every once in a while… when I am very tired and yet feel compelled to say my personal prayer before allowing myself to sleep… a very old, very familiar string of words flows through my brain.  I can almost hear my little girl voice pronouncing them:

“Heavenly Father,

Thank you for my family, and for this nice day.

Please bless Ameree, Libby, John, George, Susie, Sherry, Mommy and Daddy.”

It flows out exactly in that order.  I’m not sure why, because it’s not chronological, and I don’t even recall calling Mom “mommy”, and definitely not calling Dad “daddy”. So it must be very old, like the vintage books I paid big money for on my bookshelf just cuz they hit me back there, in that tiny little sacred spot behind my sternum.

I let that prayer rise to the top of my brain these days, that exact prayer, because we all need the blessing. And I need to return to that child in me.

And I need to give that thanks; not so much because God needs to hear it; I suppose He knows exactly what we need and how I feel.  I say it because I need to own it and shoot it upward in the right direction. Up there where we all came from, and where we’re all gonna end up again. 

I can see it now, all of us lined up in the great theatre in Heaven, smiling over at each other, one empty golden seat between each of us.

HAPPY SIBLING DAY, 2012

Sunday, April 8, 2012

44. THORNY CROWNS


On my sofa table at Easter time is a cluster of tokens to remind me and my family what it is we embrace in our hearts. 

There is a small leather bag of ancient coins, 30 of them, spilled out onto the black tabletop. 

There is a large sharp nail. 

A small molded copy of the Michelangelo’s Pieta’ that David brought home from his mission in Italy. 

And a crown of thorns.

All these surround a framed picture of the Risen Lord by Carl Bloch. The whole scene speaks of triumph over trial.

 *****

One Sunday not too long ago, after teaching a Sunday lesson on the benefit of trials, one of my darling Beehive girls, age 13, came up to me and hugged me, thanking me for the lesson.  Then she stood back and took my hands. Her eyes were teary, and she spoke softly…

“Cori, I pray for trials.  I know they will make me stronger so I pray for them.”

I squeezed her hands, then threw my arms around her neck and whispered in her ear…

“Oh Honey, don’t pray too hard!”

 Megan is a pretty dynamic girl, full of faith, and goodness, and confidence. She’s the kind of girl who, when the score is tied and there are only seconds left on the clock will call out, “Put me in, Coach!” Her confidence is based on truth, so she is often successful. Still, there comes to most of us some trial some time that throws us off kilter and shakes us to the core.  I pray she will be strong when that happens.  Until it does, though, I say lay low when the wagon of woes comes rolling around.

 *****

When my eldest, John, married Ashley in the Salt Lake Temple, they were blessed to be sealed as an eternal family by an apostle, Elder Neal A. Maxwell.  Twenty one years earlier Elder Maxwell had joined our prophet, Spencer W Kimball, in the priesthood circle that blessed Ashley when she was a baby.  After elder Maxwell married John and Ash, he spoke to them a while.  We were all invited to listen in.  He paused for a moment, then indicated that he felt a particular desire to bestow upon them an Apostolic Blessing.  It was a sacred and private thing, and I will not share the details, except to say that he told them that they would be able to withstand the trials that would come to them.

I remember sitting there, my face streaked with tears till there was absolutely no make up left for the family pictures.  The words echoed in my head, and I felt a stinging foreboding, wondering what was going to happen to them that would compel an apostle to bless them to be able to sustain themselves through difficulties.  All I could focus on was that there would be difficulties.  Now, over ten years later, I wonder to myself why in the world I would fixate on the difficulties instead of the magnificent blessing of being able to withstand.  Truly, everyone’s going to struggle. No getting out of it.
*****
Ain’t nobody doesn’t got a trouble.
*****

For three years I served in the Davis County Jail as a spiritual advisor and as Relief Society president for two of those. Many of the women there were clean and sober for the first time in a long time, and they seemed to want the Lord in their lives.  So when we went in every Sunday and Wednesday to teach them and share our testimonies, we found them anxious to get their lives straightened out.  (Most of them at least.  Some of them just wanted out of their cells and a church service was their only escape.) Corinthians 10:13 was our most quoted scripture.  I must have repeated it at least once a week for three years.

The inmates, their knees tucked under their chairs, their orange uniforms making the circle of us look like a giant pumpkin, leaned into our circle of sisterhood and prayed for the strength to believe in that scripture; prayed to believe that they could escape the temptation to use drugs…to misuse relationships…to return to old familiar habits and people.  Their thorny paths were precipitous and frightening and at that moment they wanted to believe in their hearts enough to resist temptation when it came upon them, as it surely would once they were released.


 *****
When I think of trials, I think of that thorny crown.  That ironic crown, that the oppressors thought would be a mockery, but in actuality was a true token.  Jesus Christ is triumphant because of his painful sacrifice, which, coupled with his foreordained authority and worthy life, made him the only means by which we can return Home. A golden bejeweled crown would have been an actual mockery. He is crowned with his suffering.  And in some way, I think all of us will be as well.


I’ve had an idea for many years now that one day we will all be sitting around in heaven, at various times, in various circumstances…and we will say to each other in casual conversation; “So how did YOU die?”  That’s when the really tragic demises will get their true shine, and those of us who just pass away in our sleep from old age will sort of shrug our shoulders and say, “oh well, nothing too exciting.”

“But…” some of us will say…”Check out the scars on my head!”  We will wear the healed wounds of our life’s struggles like badges. Suffering endured. In the end we are all triumphant, some just get there more gracefully than others.

My Crown of Thorns, with its three-inch-long spikes, reminds me not only of the divine suffering of my Lord; it reminds me that my own personal suffering…and that of the people I love…is designed to lead me back to Him.  The thorns in my life may be painfully uncomfortable; but they will not do me in. Whether or not I acknowledge His power to save me; He saves me still.
A blessed Easter to everyone.  Thank you for following me in my Lenten offering this year.   Cori

Friday, April 6, 2012

43. SCARY WINDOWS

Parker had a late night play date with his friend the other night.  He’s not a late night boy, so when Gumpa and I went over to babysit I wondered what condition he might be in when he came home two hours after his normal bed time. He bounded in the front door and threw himself on the ottoman in the family room, where Gumpa and I sat on the couch with Sophie snuggled next to us.
“How was it Bud?” we asked him.
“Good.  Did you ever see TinTin?” 
We had not.  But we asked him if he liked seeing it.
“Yes, but the middle was scary.”  He said it in a resigned sort of way, like he knew he was gonna have to deal with these feelings all night now, and it worried him.  I asked if the ending was ok, and he said yes, so we agreed that if he started thinking too much about the scary middle he should jump to the ending in his mind.
“Hey Bud, let’s go get in your PJ’s, K?”
“Well, I have to go potty”, he replied.  I said OK, go ahead, and he hesitated.
“Gummy, there’s a window in the bathroom.”
“Does that worry you?”
I cannot adequately describe his soft blue eyes, his pursed eyebrows, the way he speaks with those crystalline pools and does not need to use words.
“Yes. Will you come with me?”
So I accompanied little Park to the bathroom and leaned against the counter while he sat on the throne.  He wrapped his little fist around the bar below the window and plopped his head onto his forearm, moaning.
“What’s wrong, Park?”
“I wish…I wish…”  he kept trying to get the words out right.
“I wish I was fourteen.   Maybe not fourteen, maybe just a teenager.  Maybe not a teenager, I wish I was just grown up.”  His tone was not wistful, like he had dreams he wanted to accomplish.  It was more weary, like he was anxious for the inevitable to finally get here.
“Why’s that, Buddy?”  I scooted over closer to him so I could look him in the eye.
But he didn’t look up.
“I wish I was grown up so I wouldn’t have to be scared any more.”
When you’re a mom, and feel a stewardship to your children, that stewardship bleeds over to their children, and also to the neighbor’s children, come to think of it.  That trigger that made itself known when I first entered the nurturer phase of my life presented itself and I grabbed hold of it.  I instantly shot a prayer to heaven, not dissimilar in trajectory to the tubes at the drive-thru at the bank.  Give me an adequate answer Lord…and quick. 
“Well, Park, you’ll get your turn soon enough. But right now you are one lucky boy because you have a Mommy and a Daddy whose number one job is to protect you, and not only that, you have a Gummy and a Gump and Papa and Mushy, and all the other grown ups who love you.  We all promise to protect you. Just let us do that and you relax until you are grown up, K?”
 Gumpa lay in Parker’s bed with him, reading until they both fell fast asleep.  I tucked Sophie in bed and sat on the couch, pondering.
 Words, repeated from the mouth of our boy, silently rose to heaven.  Recent birthdays and recent brushes with fate made me shiver, feeling like I was stuck in the middle of the movie, swirling in the scary part.  My own mortality, and that of the people I cherish most, came to view like a shadow in the bathroom window.  My mother is 89 years old this year.  I am the younger of my siblings.  My husband is six years older than I am.  I am no longer in control of so much of my life. I question if I ever was in control, or if I have been living in a state of denial. Those vulnerable emotions I try to scoot away came swirling around my head; those emotions you don’t let a five year old boy see when he’s scared.   I never want to tell him that being grown up doesn’t take away that fear.  He’ll figure that out on his own. And I am quite sure that my own fears, if they were presented side by side with anyone or anything trying to harm our children, would be cast aside in favor of protection at any cost.  Still, they are present, these childlike fears in a grown up mind, as I sit under my own scary window.

 *******
Blessed week that it is, and blessed Lenten sacrifice that makes me think more deeply about the blessed week… I felt my thoughts being led, like a lamb to water, to images of my savior in deep red robes, returning to claim His flock. I could almost hear Him say, “I promise to protect you.  Don’t be afraid.  I will fight your enemies and bring you home. Just let me do that, K?”

I could hear my mother’s voice from some long ago moment, quoting in her most comforting poetic voice: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Trust Him. 
 
I suppose I do, because if there was ever a child who had a Parent who was trustworthy, it is I.  And, sacred truth be known…it is also you.

 
 
He is worthy and He is able.



42. PRESENCE

When I was ill, years ago now, and wondered if the illness that had come upon me was going to take my life, it seemed all clocks clicked into half time.  Even my brain moved in slow motion.  When all those vials of blood had been drawn, and those electrical currents pressed through my arms and down my legs; when the scans had been passed over my head and torso, and fluid tapped from my spine like a maple tree in spring; when they finally determined I had Guillain Barre Syndrome, then I lay still in my bed to allow the good Lord’s miraculous creation to heal itself.  Long, long hours spent there in my bed, shivering with heat, burning and freezing at once, my flesh crawling with what felt like little electric worms.  There was no release from the electricity gone wild under my skin, caused by nerve endings stripped of their myelin sheath coatings, like clusters of electrical wire that had had wire strippers drawn down the length of them. Those electrical wires, known as nerves, fired against each other, over and over.

 I feel blessed…and I am not kidding about this…I feel blessed to have experienced that.  And equally blessed that only the nerve endings in my feet remain exposed.  The other insulating sheaths have grown back now.  But in the middle of the whole experience there was a milky murky place where my brain tried to process what was going on.  I remember lying in bed, quaking, my feet feeling like electric ice.  I remember my family bought me a CD player with headphones and some dear friends had brought me a recording of Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing  Consider the Lilies.  I played it over and over, feeling the peace of the Lord through that lovely music. Hearing it now makes me weep because it takes me back to that emotional place.
 One afternoon, early on, my mother came over.  She was still walking then, but not all too well, and she made her way to my house and back to our bedroom where I lay paralyzed.   She sat on the edge of my bed, without a word, and gently lifted my frozen feet into her hands.  Quietly she sat there, just holding my feet, wrapping them in the warmth of her hands until I fell off to sleep, willing what little energy she had to push its way into my weary body.  She didn’t rub them, didn’t have to keep pounding-in her devotion.  She simply held them in her warmth, ministering with her presence. No electric heating pad could do what her hands did.
*****
Today was Maundy Thursday; a sacred day of remembrance: The day we remember the breaking of bread and blessing of wine; the day when the Master washed the servants’ feet; when betrayal was prophesied, when there was no more concealing identities.  After the sun set, and the table was cleared from supper, the Savior and a few servants went to the garden to pray.  With what little detail we have, I 've pictures conjured in my brain, drawn there from a lifetime of stories.  I see Him a stone’s throw from his friends, bent over a rock, under the low lying branches of cypress or olive trees.  I see his unpierced fists clenched, his fingers interwoven, his arms drawn up to his chest, his lips whispering.  Someone must have heard those words, else how would we know them: “Father, remove this cup from me… nevertheless….” So much pain on one set of shoulders, so perfectly unfamiliar with sin.
 My friend Jay Hess helped me understand a little better the process of enduring pain; at least a little of what that kind of pain might be like. 
Jay was a prisoner of War during the Vietnam War.  He was imprisoned for over 5 years, Stripped and tortured and starved. Demeaned and abused.  This went on and on for Jay.  He is an amazing man, Jay Hess.  Jay told once about one of the tortures he chose to endure.  I say he chose to endure it because he could have given up secure information and been treated with less hostility. Instead he took the pain.  His oppressors tied his elbows behind his back with rope, then as they interrogated him they wove a stick in the rope and began to twist it, tightening the rope, until his shoulders popped out of their sockets.  He fainted, and was revived, repeatedly.  Jay says they left him there, with his dislocated shoulders strung back behind his neck.  Forced to stand, his head flopped down onto his chest.  He recalls becoming conscious of his circumstance and noticing the pores on his chest had opened in wide wells, and that a clear liquid, faintly tinted pink, oozed from the wells.  That’s what his body did in response to his agony. 
When I think of Jesus Christ bleeding from every pore, I picture Jay Hess.
It tears at my heart, truly, to think of it.
Pain is a lonely place.  Solitary and sapping. 
*****
Way back in the starting place, before the earth was formed, I imagine the spirits Jehovah and Michael laughing in their heaven place; building young spirit boy forts and playing war, like little boys will.  I realize I am thinking as a human here, and I just speculate (lest you think I know these kind of things for real).  I imagine the brotherhood, and the friendship, because I am blessed to know that kind of relationship with my siblings.  I imagine the toil and creative task that was undertaken when they created this beautiful place we call earth.  And I imagine Jehovah watching with great hope as Michael received his body there in the Garden of Eden, taking the new name of Adam upon himself: Adam, the keeper of the Garden.  I imagine the discussions that likely continued in that Garden, and outside of the Garden.  I imagine the shared sorrow, and the express joy. I imagine the sweet reunion when old Father Adam finally ascended to his heaven place once again.
And, I can see Michael there on the brink of heaven, his toes curled over the edge as Jehovah took his own little body of flesh on that sacred night in Bethlehem.
They were companions and friends, beloved and devoted. 
 
 
So on that dark night in the season of Passover, when the sun had descended and the chain of events were set in motion, I am comforted in my imaginings by the appearance of an angel there in the Garden, that place of crushing. I imagine there was little he could, or would, do to take away the pain, because the pain had to be born in a solitary way. What I see is a pair of able hands, warm and comforting, touching and blessing and praying, like my mother’s hands there on the side of my bed. Ministering with his presence.
 
 
Michael; familiar with Gardens.

On this Maundy Thursday I offer my thanks for those who are willing to suffer.  And thanks, too, for those whose presence, while it cannot take away the pain, can surely embolden the heart.







Thursday, April 5, 2012

41. COLONOSCOPY (bet you're wondering if you really want to read this)


A few years ago our neighbor Doug Miller, aka Mr Outdoors Utah, succumbed to colon cancer.  His daughter, subsequently, made a series of commercials about getting your colonoscopy…cuz you never know.  So I finally heard enough of her pleadings and went ahead and scheduled one.  The doc my friend referred me to was unavailable, so I went with another one on my insurance list.  I guess you don’t really need to meet with such a doc face to face.  They just said come on in on this certain date at this certain time, and oh, by the way, you need to drink this stuff and empty out the old plumbing before you come.  So I drank the dreadful stuff last Tuesday (remember the blog entry when I had NOTHING to say?  That was Tuesday) I went in early last Wednesday morning.  Dave had jury selection for a trial, which he couldn't miss, so Lib drove me. Yay for sisters. 



I met Dr. Pugh about three minutes before they knocked me out. Besides the fact that I almost died on the table from an allergic reaction, all went as planned.  I guess.  I really had no plan.  I was at the mercy of medicine, and it was not pretty.  My blood pressure plummeted; I passed out, was covered with hives, oxygen levels dropped, and I threw up multiple times.  Throwing up after fasting for 40 hours is not pleasant. Anyway…that’s probably more info than anyone needs in a blog.  They filled my IV with stuff to combat the reaction and the doc with the extremely ironic name came in while I was still half out of it and told me that I needed to have more fiber in my diet.

So tonight my sister Ann Marie and brother John are visiting from out of state.  We decided we would all make a trip to the gym together after Dave and I babysat our grand kids while their parents went to a movie. Since I’m pretty sure only family reads this blog, besides Val, Susan and Fran (Hi girls!) I am sort of laying it all out here before you.
See, last month I found this gym close by that never has anyone in it.  It’s a little place, full of equipment, and the sign on the door says Private Fitness Club - open 24 hours. I had decided I needed to do some weight training, since my neuro-pathetic legs don’t work very well for aerobics.  I called and met the owner there.  It was reasonably priced, has the stuff we need, and its close to home.  And to make it even sweeter, we can go late at night when for sure no one else is there!
So Dave and his harem all signed up.  We go a few times a week; Dave, Sherry, Libby and me.  Sometimes Gram comes in her wheel chair and watches us grunt and giggle. It must be a ridiculous sight, the team of us moving down a long row of weight training machines (some of us definitely more fit than others), working our various flappy muscle groups.  I’m just glad I am the one behind my eyes! It makes me laugh to think of it. It's sort of out of our comfort zone.   First off, when you walk into the place it smells like a pizza parlor.  Don’t you think that’s hilarious?  A gym that makes your mouth salivate?  It’s situated right next door to a Subway Sandwich shop and I think the exhaust pipe from the ovens feeds right into the gym. The way things work in our family I am quite sure we are all gaining weight on the fumes.
Anywho…tonight John and Ash got home a little later than we thought and Dave was sawing logs on the couch at their place after the end of his week-long jury trial.  So my sisters and I texted back and forth and decided to do the gym tomorrow.  Besides, Ann Marie was in the middle of making oatmeal cookies.
I drove down Summerwood road toward home and my car just instinctively turned into Gram’s driveway. It was almost midnight.  I pushed the garage door opener, lugged my unexercised body out of the car, and walked through the aromatic scent of freshly baking oatmeal cookies that wafted out into the garage. I flung the door open and declared:
"I’m here for my fiber!"
Dr. Pugh would be so pleased.





Tuesday, April 3, 2012

40. SNOWY OWL

Yesterday, after driving the 20 miles to Salt Lake City for business, I gave myself permission to take an hour and visit one of my favorite old haunts, a wonderful second hand store called Emily Jayne’s on the corner of 8th and 8th.  Jayne was working, arranging her very cool collection of stuff for sale.  She has such a knack for design, and even though her inventory changes constantly, she keeps things looking like you absolutely MUST have that vintage casserole dish in your cupboard!  I worked my way around the store in my regular browsing pattern.  Back in the children’s room I leaned over to move a stack of baseball bats when a very round, very yellow eye peeked out from behind a lampshade.  I scooched the lamp to the side to reveal a marvelous fluff of cuddle. 
“Hey!” I thought to myself, “I know what that is!  It’s a Snowy Owl!  That’s a female snowy owl!”  I could tell by the flecks of black splashed atop her fake fur feathers. And I knew those bright yellow eyes, encircling deep black pools. This was a stuffed animal Snowy Owl staring out at me!
Yes, I do know about Snowy Owls.
Sophie chose the Snowy Owl for her second grade animal report.  I sat at her kitchen island one evening, chatting with her and her mama, reviewing some of her homework assignments.
“I have to make something for the Animal Fair, Gummy.  What do you think I should make?”
Questions like that ring little doorbells in my head; little invitations to examine creative options.  IDEAS R US, is my slogan.  I rarely have a problem coming up with ideas.  Execution is sometimes a little messy, but ideas are abundant and have always been so.  
I asked Ash if I could take on the duty of Animal Fair Project with my grand daughter.  Ash was more than happy to let me take these reigns, especially since grades were due and it was the end of the semester for her as well, Fourth Grade teacher that she is.
Soph came over after school the next day.  We rummaged through the pantry and the basement and came up with the goods for a dandy Snowy Owl game.  Gumps dug a cake round out of the basement for me, and I hot glued one of Kate’s oriental pot sticker sauce bowls to the center of it.  Then Soph spray painted the whole thing silver out on the lawn by the driveway.  She then hand colored about 100 little square stickers, which we applied to the perimeter of the game board.  In the center we glued raffia to make the nest look real.  Sophie’s little 8 year old fingers rubbed and rolled tiny pieces of Sculpee, which we baked into little bird eggs for the nest in the middle of the board. Next we painted peanuts white, drawing little beaks on their heads and bright yellow eyes straddling the beak.  We glued the painted peanuts to pieces of cardboard to be used as game pieces.

At 8:30, about when Sophie normally goes to bed, she called her mama:
“We prolly have a couple more hours of work to do, is it ok if I stay up to work with Gummy?”
Much to Ashley’s credit, she agreed.  She knows the value of teaching moments, which often coincide with bonding moments, and are unfortunately sometimes not convenient or altogether comfortable.  By 10 pm we had enough done that I could drive her home.  She scurried into the house, set the game on the counter, and immediately asked her mom to play a round with us.  We drew question cards, moved our peanut owls round the circle, skipping ahead when we landed on a lemming, and moving back a space when we hit a predatory silver fox. The game worked perfectly, much to our delight!


The game is fun, that’s for sure…but the real joy was in the making of it. Something absolutely priceless wraps itself around moments when two creative minds are working together.  I made myself pause constantly, like I was rebooting my brain, so I would completely perceive the sacredness of this time with my girl; watching her mind churn, her hands paint, her fingers write and color.  I feel blessed beyond adequate expression to feel so comfortable with these children who call me Gummy.  I can be completely myself, and I perceive they are completely themselves as well.  I understand this as a gift.  That I am able to devote time and attention is a gift.  I know that, and I thank the Lord for it.
I watched Sophie gather up her little nest of eggs and pile them into the little LancĂ´me make-up brushes box we converted to a Snowy Owl Game piece container.  I watched her arrange the game and the cards and the box in a neat arrangement, sweep her hands over the lot of it as if to bless it, and then step back from the counter to observe her creation.  Her eyes sparkled with a well deserved sense of accomplishment.  My eyes watered with a grateful burst of love.

The next day I drove down to Knowlton Elementary School and made my way back to the media center that was once called a library when my own kids went there.  The room was filled with tables and display’s; animals familiar and unfamiliar, all colorful and vibrant and alive through the imaginations of second graders.  I found Sophie over next to Abby, who had a diorama of a Cheetah.  Sophie explained about her owl. Things I already knew, because I had spent the night before typing questions for her game.  I can, even now, see her bright little face explaining in her most dedicated mature manner how the snowy owl can eat 1600 lemmings in one year; how they nest on the frozen tundra and lay 8-14 eggs at a time; how the father and mother help care for the little ones.

Parker comments on Sophies display at the Animal Fair..
Yesterday I plunked down $16 for that stuffed owl.  Sophie found it in a bag on the kitchen floor when she came over to make cookies this afternoon. 
“Oh, I guess I’d better give that to you now, hadn’t I?”
She held it up, arms length from her chest. 
“It’s a female Gummy.  See?  She has black flecks on her feathers!”
I know, Soph.  I never would have known this, except for you.  I might have never noticed those yellow eyes peering out at me in the store.  
Instead, I am more informed.  And I like, most of all, to think of my little girl lying in her bed tonight, her arm curled around a new stuffed creature.  And I like to think that somewhere in her little heart she has tucked her Gummy under the large soft wing of that Snowy Owl.



39. SWALLOWING POETRY

Freshman year at BYU, I made a random selection of classes when I registered.  No one advised me, that I can recall, and if they did I must not have listened.  I ended up with a graduate level art history class, and some other hefty courses, all of which added up to 16 credit hours. Classes, in general, were the last thing on my mind at that point.  There was just so much newness there in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains. So many new personalities, new places, new sights and sounds and smells.  Even the air felt new against my skin.  My hair was silky smooth in all that dryness.  I remember thinking I had probably jumped the gun by hacking it off before I moved to the desert. My former waist length hair would have flowed so nicely away that horrid humidity of my hometown in PA.
At the top of the list of freshman newness was falling in love.  Mmmm, delicious love, with its yummy kisses and stimulating conversation.  The last thing  on my mind were classes.  Not that they were completely unimportant, just not prominently there.  But I did think that my poetry class would be an exception.  I was, after all, a poet.
I had received a scholarship/talent award from the university after winning the New Era Poetry Contest.  They published about a half dozen of my little poems.  Even Dave, all the way over in Italy, and well before I ever met him, recognized my name and picture in the New Era when they announced the winners.  He was a missionary then, and I was the little sister of a guy he used to play ball with.  I defined myself as a poet. My sense of self was polished with a way with words. 
The class was taught by a professor whose name was well regarded, and whose poetry was beloved, especially by the professor himself.  I went into the class confident in my abilities and pretty excited for the easy grade.  
The easy grade did not come.  Even the hard grade did not come.  I recall the devastation of having my work critiqued flippantly before the class.  I can still feel the sting of his scribbled handwriting in the columns beside the stanzas; stabbing exclamation points to deepen the wound.
At night, in tears, I decided to spend the money I did not have to call home.  Calling home in those days required money by the minute, and our conversations were often planned and sparingly executed for the sake of the budget.  But this night I did not care, because I needed to hear my mother’s voice. That voice that first read me poetry; the one that made my own third grade poems sound so…I don’t know…mature.  Mom’s lips forming the words of anything anyone ever wrote made it seem so much better. 
“He hates my poetry!”  I sobbed, knowing she would understand and likely defend me.
 “No matter what I write, whether it’s what I feel I should write or whether I’m writing what I think he’ll like, he hates it!”
Mom listened.  I could hear her breathing on the other end of the line.  I ached to have her arms around me, her slender hands patting my back.  She listened until I was done ranting.
“You take what he has to teach you, chew it up and see if there is anything worth swallowing.  Then spit the rest out.”
I didn’t think there was anything worth swallowing from him.  I was sure he was all ego and shallow mindedness.  In the end I learned to release my ego and see if I could learn.  And I believe I did, though I cannot for the life of me recall anything I wrote during that period, except for that one piece about Roman Duomo not needing to bow to God.  In the end all that mattered to me was that the boy who gave me those yummy kisses wanted me to be his bride.
I’ve thought often of that advice mom gave me, what seems like a lifetime ago.  I whisper it to myself, and to my own children.  I let it echo in my head when I start comparing myself to others.  I can hear her say, “You go ahead and see how you compare to the other people you admire.  If there’s something good you can learn from such an exercise, then go ahead and swallow that.  But you be sure to spit the rest of it out!” And she would probably add that most of it was worth spitting out.
For all those years I sat up with my children, helping them with their writing assignments, I could almost hear the echo of my own mother’s voice as I read their work aloud to them.  Young mothers and fathers…this is a trick I will teach you right now:  read your own children’s writings back to them.  With your mature intelligent voice.  With the poet’s voice.  They will hear more clearly, and write more poetically, and love you more deeply because of it. And they will become better writers.
All of our children are fine writers, if I say so myself.  I think they learned to love the lilt of the human voice as it pronounces word upon word, crafted artistically like literary Lego's. Well chosen tasty words united by poets at heart.
My mom used to bribe all her grand kids to memorize fine poetry.  If they stood up straight, announced the title, the poet, and perfectly recited the poem (at least 8 lines long for the little ones…and they got more difficult as the kids aged)…then Gram gave them a crisp $5 bill.  Thereafter, every time they recited the poem again, they got a Quarter.
 All our children can recite to you poems for which they earned $5.  
The money is gone.  
The poetry remains.
Thanks, Mom.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

38. CHUCK WAGON


Once every 15 years or so Dave allows himself to toy with the prospect of getting a new car.  My family has been trying to get him to rise above that old RAV 4 he’s been driving for 240,000 miles, but he’s a die-hard.  
“That car is gutless, Dave!”  I regularly tell him.  “Seriously, don’t you think you should have a car that will actually approach a canyon fishing stream with any gumption?”

“It works fine,” he’ll say, and he’ll go back to unloading his wet waders from the back.

Well…miracle of miracles…Dave finally allowed himself to consider a new car this weekend, since I sort of insisted on it as part of my birthday present to him.  And…miracle upon miracle…,he bought a new RAV 4 that actually zips up the mountainside. It’s not brand spankin’ new.  Someone else broke it in.  But that’s perfect for him, cuz some guys will pay a lot to break a car in and he’d rather not be that guy.

So now we have two silver vehicles nesting in our garage.  His new beauty, and my old dependable Odyssey van.  Mine only has 160,000 miles on it and I’m happy if she has miles to go before she sleeps.  She suits me just fine.

People may wonder why an old Gummy would want a van in her days of solitude.  So let me explain.

First, these are not days of solitude.  They just are not days of hauling ball teams around.  Instead, we haul around The Harem.  The Harem consists of Dave and his girls: Gram, Libby, Sherry, sometimes my sisters Ann Marie and Sue, and me.  And sometimes his daughters and granddaughters. Dave has travelled the world with his Harem and he’s perfectly fine with it.  When we went to Germany years ago we rented an Econoline van, extra long with extra seats.  Dave drove, Sherry took shotgun and chief sandwich making duties.  Gram and Sue took the middle row and Libby and I took the way back, like the old days when we traversed the continent in our big blue Pontiac Rocket.  Sometimes we play with people and tell them we are from Utah and start talking in gas station convenience stores like we are sister wives.  It’s all in good fun.  Dave is such a trooper about it, as long as he only has to go to bed with me.  And I’m fine with it, too. When we are driving around town with any portion of the harem it’s really good to have a van.  It’s easier to get mom in and out of, and the natural anxiety we all get with closed in spaces is less prominent with the large windows of the mini-van.

Secondly, we need a van to lug my equipment. Speakers, and mixers, and stands and stools, not to mention guitars…they all feel much happier in the back of my van.  I don’t think I’ve ever had to load my equipment into a trunk, and for that I feel abundantly blessed.

Thirdly, that silver van is affectionately known as the Chuck Wagon.  Since we live one house away from each other, and my sisters care for our mother 24/7, I have elected to do my part to help by cooking when I can for the crew of us. So many nights of many weeks I cook for the crowd.  I almost never cook for the two of us. And, in general, that makes me happy.

Wherever Gram lives is central in our lives, so the object is to go to Gram rather than making her come to us.  I call our house the West Wing, since we are really just a few yards down the street from them. I call the cul-de-sac The Compound.  Craig and Karen Madsen live in the house between us, and we consider them family, too.  It’s easier for me to cook in my own kitchen.  I can stir a simmering pot with one hand while the other reaches into the utensil drawer for a whisk; my knee naturally kicks the rolling drawer with the sugar and flour bins, in perfect syncopated time with my hands dumping a cup of flour into a mixing bowl.  I know my ovens, and I understand the flames on my stove top.  So, more often than not, this is what the back of the van looks like on any given evening:


Tonight we loaded a cake into the back of the chuck wagon. A yummy chocolate garbage cake with birthday candles.  The car smelled of tender pork roast, marinara sauce simmered for two days on my stove top, raspberry salad with cream cheese and pretzel crust, fresh asparagus steamed in my favorite steaming pot. Hot bread and tender pasta awaited at the East Wing. We drove the 200 yards to Gram’s driveway and called out the forces to help lug it all in.  The middle generation streamed out of the house, down the wheel chair ramp in the garage.  They scooped up the goods and trudged back in, their conversation mingling with the rising steam and fragrant aromas of our Sunday dinner.  We sat together around Libby’s massive table, set tonight with an Easter lily and palm fronds in honor of Palm Sunday.  Sarah thanked the Lord on behalf of all of us, asking him to bless Kate in her far away place, thanking Him for her good father, beckoning a blessing on our feast and our family.  Ann Marie stood at the stove as Sarah prayed, one arm tucked into her belly in a reverent fashion, the other gently stirring a lovely pan of Alfredo sauce. The night rolled out in typical fashion, conversations weaving in and out of each other, babies laughing, then crying, children squealing; knives and forks clanking against plates: someone asked for the butter, someone else poured a musical flow of ice water into glasses. Hours later, when conversation had waned and the little one’s were showing signs of waring down, we loaded up the pots and pans and serving dishes into the trusty chuck wagon and coasted back down the hill and into our driveway.


Tonight Calvin was tired, and a little sad about the teeth trying to break through his 8 month old gums.  I scooped him up and took him to the recliner in the family room, part of the Great Room of Grams grand house.  I sat there, across from my octogenarian mother and my sister, next to the kid’s table laden with little plates and cheerful children.  I sat there and listened as I cuddled my boy.  I knew then, as I know now, that this is the sweet spot of my life.  All is well.  All is not perfect…but it is blessedly well.



 The interesting thing is that it seems my life has been perpetually filled with sweet spots.  I am surrounded by people who will accept my love and who love me back, in spite of my foibles.  I am filled with a faith that makes even difficult times seem sweet somehow.  And I am blessed to live one short chuck wagon drive away from the people who mean more than the world to me. 

37. FLOW BLUE FRUIT BOWL


Atop my mother’s pine hutch sits an old flow blue fruit bowl, the one Hannah McGrew handed her on an autumn day years ago.
Hannah McGrew was one of them Mormons.  She hunkered deep in a holler somewhere in the winding woods in the South Hills of Pittsburgh.  Though I was a Mormon living in that portion of paradise, I never knew her; never saw her in our little chapel in Pleasant Hills.  But she was on the record of membership and so on Sunday afternoon between Sunday School and Sacrament meeting Chuck Iams drove up to our house and called in through the front screen. 

“Hello?” he bellowed, his bass voice belying the long lanky Danny Kay body with the faded orange sherbet crop of hair on top.

My brother John’s rubber band legs scooted down the stairs and without a word the two of them were off to do their Priesthood duties.  Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching in our neck of the woods meant a good long bumpy ride into places no one knew anyone lived.  Long lists of stewardship that included people who had not set foot in a church for fifty years.  When I grew up and became a Visiting Teacher my list was 10 ladies long.  Finding them was my foray into treasure hunting.  Maybe that’s why my favorite thrift stores and bargain shopping haunts feel so right to me.
I imagine my 14 year old brother walking beside Chuck Iams, lifting his long skinny legs up the front porch steps, giving, unawares, a sacred three taps to the wooden screen door.

“Mrs. McGrew?  It’s your Home Teachers calling this afternoon.”

John says he does not remember much about those days, except for the front porch and Chuck Iams and his priesthood duty.  Nowadays my brother’s latent priesthood lies in wait. But there was a time it was alive and beating.  It was there in his raised right hand when he was 16 and I was 8 and he laid me down in the waters of baptism.  It was in his words and his bowed his head, and in the motion of his strong arms as he dipped me under in the font of the Pleasant Hills Branch. He doesn’t know it worked, and if he does he probably doesn’t know how it worked, but the Holy Spirit has lived in me ever since so it must have.
I suppose it was my brother who told my mom that old Hannah McGrew was one of them old time Mormons, one of those that saw the light before the last century turned, when saints were reading first editions of the Book of Mormon and some of them left to join the rest in Ohio, then Missouri, then Illinois and then Utah. I suppose it was my dead grandfather who told my mother to find Hannah.  Reading her father’s old tiny leather bound nission journals, Mom found reference to her father before he was her father traveling without purse of scrip through the woody hillsides of Pennsylvania preaching the restored gospel.  There are old names buried somewhere in my brain, names like Coal Valley Road, except I don’t remember them now and I remember that one.  But they sound like that.  There was an old train station with one of those names, and that was the borough where Hannah McGrew’s family lived, and that was one of the stations where young George Parrish set his bag to the side of the tracks.  He wrote of taking a meal at the old white house with the raised front porch.  He wrote of sacrament being passed and an old pump organ in the living room.  Church was home in those places, in those days. I imagine my young grandfather’s long thick legs taking the steps up to the porch like his grandson would.
Mom found Hannah McGrew before she died.  Sought her out in the capacity of Stake Relief Society, and spoke to her about the long past days when there was just the Eastern States mission and my grandfather was a missionary.  “If your kinfolk was a missionary in the late 1800’s, then he was sure to have been in this house.  And if he was in this house then my mother was sure to have fed him some fruit from this bowl, as she was inclined to have a tender spot for them boys so far from home.”

Hannah raised in her withered hands this old fruit bowl from the kitchen counter.  Its creamy white skin patterned with flowing cobalt blue, the blue seeping softly into the white like my mother’s memories mix with her imagination now. 

“Here, you take this, and remember your father.”  Hannah handed my mother the bowl, like Mary standing before Jesus with her perfumed oil.   
“No, I can’t.” 
“Ah, go on, it’ll mean more to you than to my children.”

And so my mother, at the end of her afternoon with Hannah McGrew, set this old flow blue fruit bowl on the passenger seat of the car, brought it home and placed it on the china hutch of my childhood.  Written on the bottom with a black marker, in my mother’s handwriting, is the name John.
Years later, when I had grown and married and had two little ones of my own, Mom and I made a few last visits before we moved from Pittsburgh to Utah.  We drove over to Westmoreland, to the old Milkglass Factory that was closing its doors forever.  I bought myself my own set of Westmoreland Milkglass China, and Mom overdid her overdone set even more.  And we made a trip to that unnamed holler to see if Hannah McGrew’s place was still there.  It was.  Hannah was not.  A niece or a nephew, I can’t even recall, now lived there.  The front porch was newly painted white, and the house was a grand old place that came to be before the stacked houses of the steel mill boom took over the hillsides.  They welcomed us in, and I recall the sunlight streaming through the long, long kitchen windows.  And I recall the kitchen counter, where Mom said the fruit bowl sat.  And I imagined the suncracked hands of my grandfather before he was my grandfather, white cuffed wrists turning an apple against his pantleg, laughing that George-like laugh, which vibrations must be captured somewhere in the flow of blue against white of my mother’s old fruit bowl.