Monday, March 31, 2014

27. NINE

I tiptoed to the edge of my adolescence, barefooted, my arms crossed in front of my chest.  At the bathroom mirror I swept my towel across the steamy glass and stared, my mind curious and questioning what my eyes were telling me. Part of me wanted to change, to wear those mini skirts and halter tops the girls in high school were wearing.  I could press my upper arms in toward each other and make cleavage.  And the pudginess around my waist had started drifting down toward my hips.  It intrigued me.  But another part of me wanted to remain in the safe place, where playing Barbies was part of the routine, where I didn't care what the boys on the corner thought, where the bathroom mirror was just a place to stand when you brushed your teeth before bed.

I stood on the edge of my adolescence, alone.  This is generally the way we all walk out of childhood; alone, though there are other kids taking the same walk on either side of us. Of course people guide us, and we have examples, for good and for bad. And good and loving parents help talk us through. But the journey is uniquely ours.  It gives me a mother-ache to know that my grand-treasures will soon begin this journey. 

It was there, on the edge, that the visitor came to our house in the spring of my thirteenth year, just after birthday number 12.  He was on military leave, and had come to Pennsylvania for some odd reason, and stayed with us.  I don't know how long he stayed.  I don't remember anything at all except the wound.  He left me with a secret, silent, piercing wound.  I have carried it all my life.  Hefted it onto my back the very night he gave it to me.  It still makes my shoulders hurt.  Makes me hold my arms, crossed around my waist, my head bowed, my knees and ankles pressed together. I am an old woman, with love abounding, and children I have born of my own flesh.  But down in the center, in the deepest, darkest, smallest place, I am twelve years old.

In a tender mercy, the spirit inside me compelled me to write to him that very night, after he had slithered back to his room.
You have done a very bad thing to a young girl and you should be ashamed, I had written.  I slid the note under his door.
To this day I am profoundly grateful that the holy inside me inspired me to put pencil to paper and give this evil back to him. 

I held my secret from everyone, except my closest confidant, Libby.  She promised to keep it safe.  Faithful sister.  I kept it from my mother, from my husband, and tried unsuccessfully to keep it from myself.  But it just kept rising up and slapping me. Finally, when the holy spirit inside me shook one last time, I lifted the bandage over my history and revealed the scar, to my mother and my husband.  They tenderly whispered words of love and sorrow, giving me the right to own my own wound.  The shared sorrow was so important.  Sorrow shared should always precede encouragement.  Their encouragement gently walked into the room and with it a number of years of therapy, which helped a lot, though it took three different therapists to find the right one.

Thirty years after the incident I received a letter in the mail.  The name on the return address label scraped the thick black scab off the wound.  I stood at the kitchen counter, opened the drawer, drew out a knife, and slid it under the corner of the envelope.  Written on the paper was verification.  Maybe the better word is validation.  I was stunned at how important that felt for me. For years I had questioned my own role in the incident.  Even wondered if I had made it up, that it had not really happened, that I had pretended it happened.  I do, after all, have a powerful ability to pretend. Had I not written to him that night when I was twelve, I might have convinced myself that I had made it up, or that it was my fault that I had let this happen to me. But here it was, confessional evidence. I had no idea that this would be so important to me. 

"I have been working a twelve step program," he said, "and through it I have been able to find the strength to face my addictions."  He went on to say that he was currently on step nine.  

As the child of an alcoholic, whose non-alcoholic parent had the wisdom to take us to Ala-Teen, a program for children of addicts, I knew well what step nine was.  

He continued, writing something like this:
I acknowledge my actions against you. I admit I have harmed you.  I cannot take back what was done, though I wish I could.  I want you to know how sorry I am for what I have done, and ask your forgiveness.  I know I do not deserve it, and I understand if you are not able to give it.  I just want you to know how very sorry I am, and that I am wiling to do whatever needs to be done to make your burden lighter.

He signed his name.

Alone in my kitchen I stood, my heart pumping, my lips curled up.  I did not cry.  I find it interesting that I did not cry.  Instead I felt a profound warmth.  No fear.  No hatred.  I think it was love.  It still astounds me that the honest emotion of that climax was love.

I wrote back. I sent a book and a letter, and it was not hard for me.  In fact, it was surprisingly easy for me. I was able to celebrate with him his love for the Lord, his trust in His ability to heal him, to commend him as he surrendered his will to His will. I respect this man for the courage and wisdom he used to find his own peace, and in the process of finding his own peace, he helped me find mine. I can hardly believe, with my logical mind, that I could let go so comfortably, that I could share his sorrow for his mistakes, and in the process find healing for both of us.

We all stand on the edge of something or other.  One step to the left or right alters the course.  The safety lies in the motion.  Standing gets us nowhere.  Upward motion, with some sort of resistance to help us maintain balance…that's where the safe passage happens.  True passage, toward the light, upward to the Higher Power.  From step one, to step nine, and onward until, in the end, we find ourselves, finally,  Home.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Once in a while I'll hear David talking about his work day and the phrase "he was bound over" comes up. Lots of legal terms swirl around David's world.  Bound over basically means a defendant has been taken into custody until the court proceedings are completed.  Or something like that.

Once Dave and I were bound over.  Not in the courts of law, however.  For his birthday one year, decades ago now, I had given Dave a Marriage Enrichment weekend.  I know, I know, you say…"Wow, I'll bet he loved that gift!" And it is true, as they said at the opening meeting on the weekend, there is usually a dragger and a dragee in these types of gatherings.  Dave was the dragee.
Let me first clarify that we were not necessarily having struggles in our marriage.  I just felt that this union was something that needed more focus than we were able to give it with four munchkins running around.  So mom watched the kids and off we went to the Hilton Hotel out by the airport.
First thing we did was meet in a conference room and introduce ourselves to the rest of the group.  There were maybe 30 couples there, and a handful of facilitators/leaders/directors.  We started off with a bang.  Dave introduced me by saying I was the most wonderful woman he knew.  Then I introduced him by saying that he was the most honest man I knew.  Chuckle, chuckle from the crowd.  The sad thing is that I was being truthful in saying that Dave is the most honest man I know and I hadn't even thought about that sentence following his words about me.  Anyway….

Next thing our facilitators told us was that we needed to remove our watches, because time didn't matter for the next two days, and that we must not leave the hotel under any circumstances.  They would contact us if there were any emergencies.  These were the days before cell phones. Also, we were asked not to watch the TVs in our rooms.  This was a time for introspection and exchange. So we dutifully removed our watches.  We participated in various exercises that helped with communication and understanding the Mars versus Venus aspects of males and females.  Parts of it were hokey. Parts of it were wonderful.  And we learned some really powerful tools to use when we communicate with each other.  Things like Rules of Fair Fighting, and respectfully communicating.  We learned to listen better, and to write our thoughts and feelings rather than just spilling them out.  Some great stuff we still use, and should probably dust off and use again.  Finally we were released to go to our rooms for the night, where we were given homework assignments.  Dave and I obediently retreated to our hotel room.  We opened our notebooks and discoursed and discussed.  It was great.  I felt understood.  And I think he did too. So then we closed our little spiral notebooks and stared at each other.  We looked smack into each other's eyes, moved closer, nose to nose.  I softly opened my lips and said:
"Lets get out of here!"
We found our watches and strapped them to our wrists, then snuck out the patio door, hopped into our old Toyota Corona and drove to the nearest store where we bought two pints of Haagen-Dazs ice cream: Vanilla Swiss Almond and Chocolate.  We found two plastic spoons in the deli section of the store.

Back at the hotel we snuck back in through the patio door, slipped into our PJ's, switched on the TV and sat in bed.  By then the ice cream was the perfect consistency. We sat there watching TV with our watches on and traded off the pints of ice cream until they were empty and our bellies were full.

Next morning we participated in all they offered us and were grateful for the education. By that night we had a bunch of new friends and had joined what they called an Image Group, a cluster of friends we met with monthly for the next few years.  I still hold that group of friends very close to my heart.
Still, after all these years, the sweetest memory for me is that escape.  That adventure made us partners in crime.  And we were united by it.

Last night, after I took Dave out for his birthday dinner and a movie, we stopped at the store for Sunday dinner supplies.  We had to go to a second store because Dave said he wanted something and the first store didn't have it.  "You'll see," he responded when I asked what he was looking for. Finally at Smiths, he walked up to the cart with his two-fisted treat: Two pints of Haagen Dazs. Vanilla Swiss Almond and Chocolate.

I'm so happy to be bound to this man!
Happy Birthday, partner.

25. EGG

"We'll get an early start," she said at the end of her Sunday lesson. "Meet at the church at 6 am."
We moaned from our metal folding chairs.
Nonetheless, we did meet at the church that next Saturday, somewhere near 6 am. When you're not used to being out in the early morning air it is actually quite refreshing.  Invigorating, in fact, though you're not likely to hear a teenager tell you that.
We were six Mormon girls and two devoted leaders, setting out on a five mile hike as part of our Young Women's Camp certification.  The air in southwestern PA is thick and wet that time of year, and especially dewy at  that hour.  My tenny runners were not well suited for the trek.  But we trudged on, a little ribbon of semi-misfits; semi-willing and not-so-sure we were able.
As part of the certification process we were to gather wood, light a fire, and cook something over that fire.  Before I left home I had grabbed an egg from the fridge and wrapped it carefully in a pile of paper towels.  I carried that egg in my hand for 5 miles, through the woody landscape of South Park.  More than once my slick soled Keds slipped on the wet grass and I almost lost it.  More than once my trusty companions grabbed my arm and saved me before I went down.  We all watched out for that egg.
Finally at our destination, we gathered what little dry wood we could find, stacking it in a pile for our little community of fire builders.  I created a tee pee of kindling, with some of the egg-protecting paper towels rising out of the middle.  I found an old beer can and used my Swiss Army Knife to cut it open, laying the aluminum out in a flat sheet.  Using a sturdy long stick for a handle, I crimped the edges of the metal to fashion a fry pan, just large enough to fry an egg.

Flint and steel, spark and flame, I knelt before my wooden tee pee and blew a steady stream of oxygen into the flame until it convinced the wood to burn.  Finally, when the flame was on the path of no return, I stood and placed my hand crafted fry pan over the heat until it seemed hot enough to cook an egg.  I set the pan on a rock and, with an air of ceremony, we all gathered around while I cracked my egg.

It was hard boiled.

Saturday, March 29, 2014


Joseph’s little fingers were busy.  Sweet and clean and slender and busy.  They clutched his blankey passionately, dragging it on the floor as he teetered toward the couch.  One binky in his mouth, and two others tucked between the fingers of his hand.  He tried to talk, little toddler talk, but the words turned to mush in that squishy soft place between his pacifier and his lips.  His eyes sparkled when the musical sound of his attempt to speak resonated through his nose.  We laughed, the warm embracing kind of laugh that assures children that they should not doubt your love.

Joseph’s fingers grew, along with his legs.  Long and lean and happy.  His fingers sorted Lego’s in mountainous piles on the family room floor.  Sorted by color and shape, then assembled into massive pirate ships and intricate castles.  The first digit of his middle finger developed a knob on the inside of the knuckle, where it rubbed against his pencils.  Colored  ones for portraits and graphite for landscapes and plain old #2 lead for hours of homework.  Soon enough his fingertips clicked keypads and keyboards, sifting poetry and music from his brain, through his heart, down his arms and out his fingertips.  The music drifted through the house, rising from the old piano of his mother’s childhood, comforting his father.  His mother smiled as she kneaded bread and listened, the heel of her palm pressing the dough in time with his music.

Once, when Joseph was young, but old enough to reach the top of his grandmother’s china hutch, he could not resist peeling the dripped wax from Gram’s beeswax candles.  Gram had stood over those candles for a good hour getting the wax to drip in lovely cascades. Joseph, on the other hand, needed the candles to be pristine. He was sure Gram would be grateful that he cleaned them up for her.

Now Joseph’s hands, like his long, long legs, dance.  They speak gracefully at his side as he Lindy’s across the wooden floor at BYU.  They stretch out in front of him and grasp the happy hands of his partner, swinging her to his left, then his right, then his left again.  They clap without hesitation for the other dancers.  They are joyful and purposeful and so clean.  Beautifully clean. 

Joseph’s loving fingers cup around his mother’s shoulder as they stand silently beside her mother’s grave.  They are not the least bit awkward.  They rest there, quiet and still, until his love for her rushes through them and he must pull her closer to his heart. 

Joseph’s fingers stand together, his thumb extended, his arm to the square.  Joseph makes promises he will not break.

Hold on, Joseph.  Hold to those good things you love.  Curl those strong, gifted fingers around your covenants as firmly as you held that fistful of binkies when you were small. And let your eyes sparkle as you do.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Saturday mornings, when other teenage kids rolled over and pulled their covers up over their shoulders, Libby and I laced our shoes and walked down the hall and out the lobby of our apartment building, into the crisp morning air.  Across the parking lot, down East Bruceton Road, waiting for the light to change so we could cross four lanes of traffic on Route 51, we finally paused at the bus stop until the bus to Oakland arrived with a scream and a belch of its braking system.  The bus wove through the winding streets of Pittsburgh.  As we came to the grassy knoll of a park in Oakland I reached my hand for the cord strung above the windows of the bus and rang the bell so the driver would know to stop.  We disembarked outside the Carnegie Museum of Art and ran double time up the steps, through the front doors, then another set of doors, down the hall past our mother's favorite painting of the wood carrier, and into the wing where the auditorium was situated.  We took our seats with a couple hundred other students, two from each school in the area.  Mr. Fitzpatrick stood on the stage and swept his arm across the large paper tacked to his easel, explaining the proportions of the features on the human face, methodically shaping a Romanesque nose without ever needing to pause or erase anything.  I took my clipboard from my bag and tried to copy him, but the face I drew did not fit on the page, and the tip of the nose went off the paper and onto the edge of my clipboard.
I have spacial issues.  The things I create are bigger than the space they are supposed to occupy, at least in the world of drawing.  Libby, with her glass-half-full outlook, always said positive things about my artwork that splashed off the page and onto the easel.  Hers, she bemoaned, was tidy and detailed and well centered in the middle of her paper.  It was perplexing to me that we were, in my mind, basically the same person, from the same gene pool and the same environment, and about the same age; but she could organize her drawings to fit well framed on a page and I…well, I was not a good planner…and a worse executer. 
After I was grown and had a couple babies, my mom and I took an evening class from Mr. Fitzpatrick. I had always admired my mother's artwork, and it was a unique blessing to share time, space and purpose with my mom in an artistic space.  Mr Fitzpatrick had a mantra:  Look…to see…to remember.  I believe, looking back on it now as I write, that he had a powerful impact on my belief that one of our deepest obligations as heavenly souls, having a human experience, is to make ourselves aware. To be conscious of what is around us and moving through us and growing or shrinking in us. 
When I look around this space where I am sitting and I tell myself to use my artist eye, I see things quite differently.  The curved front of the printer behind my computer, the patina on the brass encircling the face of the clock on the wall, the shadows created by piles of papers and books on my desk, the linear pattern of the stack of cards next to my pen cup; these all become visible.  It is quite strange to me that when I notice these things I feel more alive.  Quite strange.
As our mother aged, and her brain had taken a few hits in the neurological sense, we used to take daily rides in the car.  Mom, sitting in the passenger seat, would read the street signs, billboards, store marquees…basically anything.  She would read them out loud to us, her voice as pleasant and charming as if she were reciting poetry.  "Speed Limit 45, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and there is WalMart. Odgen in 9.5 miles." We called her our Designated Reader. I think something inside her was remembering Fitz reminding us to look to see to remember, like if she spoke it out loud it became more real, that she was alive and incorporated with living things. We get so focused on where we are going, we dutiful humans, that we forget to notice what we are going through.
A while back I took a class from my friend Rebecca Mann, a wonderful artist and a good teacher.  The class followed the textbook, Drawing From the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.  What a dynamic book! 
One of our lessons focused on the recognition of negative space- the space around the object being drawn.  Rebecca put a small chair up on the table before us. She instructed us to look, not at the chair per se, but at the space around the chair.  Then she encouraged us to draw the air around the chair.  So I took my pencil and sketched the rectangle of space between the seat and the chair back, then the air around the back of the chair, and so on, until in the end, though I had drawn only the space that was not chair, the chair appeared.  
It was a mind blowing experience that took me weeks to process in my brain, not so much as an artist, but as a being of divine descent. I concluded that who I am is defined as much  by what I choose not to do, as by what I choose to do.  My definition includes the good and bad things I avoid.  And if you looked at only who I am not, you would get a pretty good sketch of who I am.
It's a worthy exercise, to make yourself attempt to draw everything but the object before you.  Difficult, and liberating.  Also worthy, I think, to see ourselves and others with such an artistic eye.  If nothing else it keeps us on our toes, keeps us open and aware, so that one day when we have gone to our graves and left our bodies in the dust, we will have something…because we once Looked, to See, to Remember.


I was 12 years old.  Barely budding, in the spring of my adolescence.  Saturday afternoon, cleaning my room. It was the first time I had a room all to myself.  John had moved to Idaho, and George was gone for some portion of the summer, so I got his room if only for a whisper of time. It was an afterthought kind of space, added on at some point, in the rafters over the garage. Freezing cold in the winter and hot as heck in the humid Pittsburgh summer. You had to go through Libby's and my actual bedroom to get to it.  But it was private and for a brief moment in time it was mine.  I took the little black and white portable TV I had won from the JC Penny cherry  counting contest and set it up next to the HiFi on the built-in counter top in back portion of the room. On this particular Saturday I turned on the little TV to keep me company while I cleaned.  These were the days before DVR's and On Demand TV.  I came in right in the middle of the Saturday afternoon matinee movie.  Eventually I sat on my bed, compelled by the tragic story on the screen.  In shadows of my own young life I watched as the main character in the movie evolved, from a slight square shouldered singer-songwriter in a cowboy hat, dripping with talent, to a sorrowfully drunken failing artist who eventually handed over his life and all that mattered to the bottle. In the end, his life was lost completely. He died in the early morning hours of NEw Years Day in 1953 at the age of 29 from heart failure exacerbated by pills and alcohol.
I never did get my room clean.  I ached at the side of my bed, my chest curled over my belly.  By the end of the movie I lay curled fetal-like on my bed as the credits rolled.
Having come into the show halfway through, I never did catch the name of the movie. Not until the characters' names appeared in the credits did I know the full name of the hero. They only called him Hank.  He reminded me too much of my father.  Too tragically much.
His name was Hank Williams.

After the show I remembered that downstairs, in the bottom drawer of the console that once held an old tube TV, long since dead, was an old Hank Williams LP.  The TV didn't work in that console, but the record player did.  So I scurried down the stairs, dug out the album. slipped it out of its cardboard sleeve and set it on the turntable.  Switching the knob to 33 1/3 I watched as the round black ripple of a disc started to turn, then set the thin needle on the arm at the shiny edge of the record.
I laid on the old brown herculon couch in the living room and listened as he strummed his guitar and sang:
Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I'm so lonesome I could cry.

I lay there on our couch, my chest rising and falling, tears rolling through my hairline and pooling in the cups of my ears. I did not try to stop the tears. I was twelve years old. And I knew too much.  

I knew things a twelve year old should not know.  I knew the sound of anger; passionate anger, blood drawing anger.  I knew the sight of knives in hands, of running feet, of slamming doors and mournful cries.  I knew the stench of liquor, and trousers worn too many days without laundering from too many days without coming home, of cigarette butts gathered in ash trays, and the fermenting of malt at the bottoms of empty beer bottles.  I knew the taste of old cigarette smoke, and Spanish olives from a bottle dipped in alcohol. I knew the sounds and smells and images of a dark bar room, my eyes searching through the smoky neon noise for the profile of my father.  "Dad, when are you going to come home?"  I walked out alone.

We quietly inhaled all of these and held them in our lungs, next to our overstretched hearts.  Quiet and smiling, when we went outside to play. But at night, when I was back in the room I shared with my sister, we laid in our twin beds, a small night table between us.  We laid there and listened to our mother's muffled sobs, out past our bedroom door, down the hall, through her own bedroom door, where she hovered in that solitary space alone.  We laid there, our heads resting on our feather pillows, our eyes looking into each other's, our silent tears rolling over the bridge of our noses and dropping into our soft flowered pillowcases.
I have lived long enough to know that all men are not destined for tragedy.  I call Dave a missionary for men in our family.  And my father's only son is good and gentle. I have lived long enough to know many kinds of tears.  They come in all sorts of settings, through laughter and through sorrow, and in divinely peaceful moments as well. My good husband lifts his hand to his face just about every Sunday, at some point in church.  He tucks his thumb and middle finger up under his glasses and wipes the tenderness from his eyes.  His hands are kind. He wipes his tears and wins my heart over and over and over again.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


today's random word is "ADVERTISING"

“I will be studying journalism,” I told the reporter when he interviewed me. The flash on his camera blinded me for a moment.  I had received a scholarship from the Pleasant Hills Women’s Club, in spite of horrific grades in a couple classes.  It was the other stuff about me that sold them, much to their credit. Yes, I would study journalism at BYU with the funds they had so graciously given me.
Then I took a journalism class.
That’s when I decided to study advertising. 
Advertising was a much better fit.  Journalists are writers, of course.  But creativity was not what they were looking for in my journalism class.  It was, on the other hand, exactly the right fit in advertising.
My first full campaign was for a pressure cooker, one particularly marketed for its ability to cook crisp and tender chicken.  The recipe that came with the cooker was reported to have been Colonel Sanders’ original Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe.  My research told me that the reason most households did not own pressure cookers was because they feared the pressure.  In other words, they worried about the thing blowing its lid.  So when they gave us our own cookers to use for a week, I had the same worries. This cooker, however, had guarantees that it could handle the pressure.  So I cooked us up a batch of chicken and it was pretty yummy.  And the cooker did just what it said it would do.

My campaign for hard copy and for television and radio had a reporter at the site of Old Faithful.  Anticipating the hourly eruption, the crowd was gathered to see that they had placed a rather large pressure cooker lid, just like the one we were selling, on top of the geyser.  Of course, it didn’t blow.  And so…. Well, you get the drift.  Our pressure cooker can handle any pressure, even Old Faithful. I got a good grade in the class, and eagerly anticipated the next level class in my Advertising major.  But I had a visit from the stork and instead ended up dealing with the pressures of motherhood.  Still, I think I might have been pretty good at advertising if I had ever had a chance to use it.

The concepts have come in handy through the years though. I’ve used the principles without knowing it for…well, forever.  I could sell Libby on whatever pretending game I wanted. And I seriously convinced Ann Marie, for years, that I was going to run away from home and she would never see me again.  She chased after me every time.  Seriously, every single time.  Bless her dear, tender heart for running after me.
My first semi-serious gig in advertising, at least the one where there was an audience other than my family, was when I was in eighth grade.  Maybe it was seventh.  In our Language Arts classes, all students were assigned to create an imaginary product and try to sell it. There was a contest, and I won.  I made a prototype of my product and presented it at a school assembly.  I remember I wore my new bib overall shorts and my hair was on pig tails.  I stood at the front of the stage next to my machine.
“Hey there folks…”I said in my best southern drawl… “Bertha here, lettin’ y’all in on a little ol’ secret!  This here is the answer to yer worries.  Pappy Parker’s Powerful Pound Popping Machine.  Mmmm Hmmm.”
The way it worked was you put one overweight person in one side of the machine, and one skinny Minnie in the other.  Then with the flip of a switch and some flashing colored lights the two emerged all normal sized and everything. Mom had found a refrigerator box and we painted it and added lights and all.  Or at least I think we did.  I really don’t remember.  And my imagination plays tricks with my memory anyway.  But I did get an A, and I did win the contest, and I did wear my cool new bib overall shorts and my black and white saddle shoes with knee high socks.
Obviously the machine was fake, because if it were real I would not look like the “before”.  And I would be rich. 
Had I not been a “kept woman” all my adult life, and I needed to make real dough with a real get-up-and-go-to-work schedule, I think I would have done advertising.  And I think I might have been pretty good at it. As it worked out for me, I spent my days instead multitasking at the old homestead, shuttling kids from here to there, mixin’ up a pot o’ stew fer dinner, stayin’ up late doin’ homework with my chillen’, and then working on songwriting after they went to bed.  It’s been a good gig.  But it has had its hefty portion of pressure.  Makes me think it might have been a cool idea to make those pressure cooker lids into hats. 
For overworked parents. 
So they don’t blow their lids.

Monday, March 24, 2014


He stood on the mound, his shoulders level, his hands drawn to his chest.  Home plate pointed directly at him, and he stretched his little shoulders perpendicular to it, his eyes focused straight through the point of the plate.  The earth paused in its rotation until he raised his leg, pulled his elbow back, and released the pitch with all the force a nine-year-old boy could muster.  We cheered, perhaps a little reservedly, conscious of the batter who was also nine years old and whose swing-and-a-miss may not have been directly related to the quality of the pitch.

Timo  tries to control the upturn of his lips when he is called to the mound.  He tries to give the impression it’s no big deal that the coach is handing the ball to him, of all the boys on the team.  It’s rare, but it has happened more than once. He is a natural with a ball, any kind of ball that requires rhythm in the energy forced against it, which in athletics is pretty much any kind of ball. He’s pretty natural, and he likes it.  But I don’t think he loves it.  There is a vast span of space between like and love.  This old world is hard on nine-year-old boys if they don’t love balls.  So he plays with the rest of the gang, pitching and dribbling and kicking balls.

But when he’s alone, in his safe place, with a set of headphones on and a pair of drumsticks in his hands, his pitch is passionate and impeccable.  He catches the pulse of the earth and puts it into triple time, with a kick in the proper spot and a tap of the cymbal to keep the spinners awake.  He is wholly in his element.  And his pitch is perfect.

From his car seat behind me as I drove him home, back in the days when his mama was a med student and his dad was at the U, when I tended him almost daily…he sang before he talked.  He inherited this.  His Auntie Kate did the same thing.  Pitch perfect, with no words, the whole melody of Brahms’ Lullaby and other oft repeated tunes.  You could hum a note from the front seat and he would echo it from the back.  Not only the exact pitch, but with the exact timing, like if sound had a mirror he would have it pointed right at you.  He would lay his little blonde capped head on my mother’s shoulder and hum himself to sleep, Gram leading the way with her own sweetly comforting melodies. 

In Michigan one year I remember waking up to a rhythmic thud repeating from somewhere in the cottage.  “What is that?” I whispered to Dave, a little perturbed with the awakening.  It was so rhythmic I thought maybe it was something mechanical in the basement.  But then the beat changed up.  Curious, I got up and went downstairs.  Timo had his drumsticks flying like rubber pencils against a couch pillow. 

Ask any other ten-year-old who their favorite musical artist is and they are likely to give you the name of someone on the Billboard charts.  Ask Timo and he’ll tell you his musical hero is John Powell, the composer of several movie soundtracks.  Last week when his Auntie Kate was in town they were listening to his CD of the Frozen soundtrack, the one without words, as they shot some baskets in the driveway.  He paused mid-shot and turned to Kate…”Listen.  Hear that?  Don’t you just love it when the trumpets come in?”

For his Birthday three years ago I got him six months worth of drum lessons.  I searched for a teacher online, and randomly found one near his house in Herriman, UT.  It took some talking for the teacher to agree to teach a seven-year-old. 
“In my experience they really are not ready to pay attention, let alone understand the concepts necessary to drum legitimately.” 
But he agreed to try it for a month or so.  It’s been three years, and his teacher keeps begging Sarah and Dave to let him put Timo in competitions.    Timo sits at his drum set in the basement with his headphones on and reads his music like his teacher has assigned him.  Roll, thump, roll, thump-thump…over and over.  (It takes a special family to encourage a drummer.) When he is finished with his homework his reward is a set of noise reducing headphones attached to his iPod, with one of his beloved soundtracks flowing into his brain, his hands freely keeping time with his drumsticks.

Who can say what time and other factors will do to this boy.  We do not get the privilege of a glimpse into his future.  But we can imagine.  I can imagine, quite easily.  Not that what I imagine is what I would necessarily wish upon anyone.  The life of a professional musician is not an easy one, nor especially rewarding in worldly terms.  Musicians generally work at night, at least if they are performers.  They have to fight the expectation from society that music comes to us free of charge.  Musicians spend a fortune in money for their training, a fortune in time practicing and rehearsing, they sacrifice family and personal time to lug their instruments and equipment to a gig then wait around until it’s time to perform, then break it all down, lug it home, unpack it once they’re home, then fill out a W9 tax form for $100 in pay, for which they’ll effectively get $70. Then they’ll do it all again in another place the next night. Add to that the general sentiment that art in any form is not considered a “real” job.  I should not wish this upon him.

And yet I would not wish from him the wonder of that moment, rare as it may be, when the stars align and the lyric fits in perfect prosody with the music, and the instrument becomes the perfectly fueled vehicle over which the voice hovers, hummingbird-like, fluttering as it was designed to be in the heavens.  This divine thread of music weaves itself through the giver to the receiver…sometimes many receivers in one space.  They are all one, and the conversation is perfectly understood. And the hand and the heart and the lungs are synchronized.  And there is a sense of wholeness no other experience can match, except perhaps the moment a baby is born. He is not likely to find such moments at any desk, nor on any assembly line.  I do believe it is as close to heaven as one can be.
And yet it will not feed a nest of hungry birds, unless the receivers will pay for it.

I hold very still and listen when I hear my boy sing.  It comes usually only when he has his headphones over his ears and does not think about the fact that he is singing.  I love his pitch pure voice. I pray he will find the place to plant it, where it will grow and flourish. I pray that by the time he is grown we will have come to our senses and reward what we receive. I pray that if he chooses to use his gift for a living, that his drive will equal the talent.  And if he chooses to set his gifts on the second shelf while he hunts and gathers for his family, that he will keep his instrument in a place of honor, that he will keep himself and his instruments in tune and in good repair, and that those who share his home and his heart will understand that this is how he speaks.