Wish

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

I was covered with dust and grime from digging through boxes in the garage when I found the one marked TOYS. Using a Swiffer cloth, I wiped off the small box and my hands.  What toys did we have that Mother would have saved and that Daddy would have tucked into the tightly stacked boxes on the shelving in the garage eaves?  We never had the money to buy anything expensive that would be worth keeping, so I couldn’t think what it could be.  I peeled away the packing and memories flooded my mind.

I was ten years old.  We had just moved from the San Fernando Valley to Simi Valley at the foot of the Simi Hills, close to Daddy’s new job testing rocket fuels at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.  Any money that Christmas season would go towards a modest Christmas dinner.  If there were any gifts, they would have to be handmade.

The weeks when Daddy and my two brothers spent time at night in the garage while my sister and I worked with Mother in the house to create something for Christmas seemed an eternity.  What could they be making for us?  There were many things I could wish for, but nothing I could think of equaled the sound of tools and the secrecy that barred us from the garage.

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

At last the day arrived and we gathered in the living room, around the spindly tree covered with one string of fat bulbs, lit in alternating red, blue, green, yellow and white; silver tinsel carefully spread strand by strand over the tree, a red construction paper chain and a few cardboard and construction paper figures we had made.  Mother had carefully kept a box of shiny Christmas ornaments.  We treated them like they were gold.  It was beautiful and mysterious.  We read the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth and then opened our gifts.

The gift from Daddy and my brothers to my seven year old sister and I was miniature doll furniture.  Wooden and handmade.  I was mesmerized.  This was a better wish than I could have dreamed up on my own.  The detail, the time, the beauty of the craft it took to create small works of art. I was overcome with joy and happiness.  It didn’t matter that we had no dolls small enough to play with on this miniature furniture.

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

“You made these?” I asked Daddy. “Did the boys help?”

“Yes, sweetheart,” Daddy’s eyes twinkled, “we worked together.”

All these years later as I stand in the garage and look at those labors of love and ingenuity, I am again overcome and need to share it.  I dig my cellphone out of my pocket and tap on my sister’s number, 500 miles to the north.

“I just found the gift from one of my favorite Christmases,” I said when she answered.  “The miniature furniture Daddy and the boys made for us in Simi Valley.  Remember?”

“Not now, Kenzie,” my sister said to her great-granddaughter, then back into the phone, “that stuff they made for us?  The worst Christmas ever!”

We talked and remembered and laughed and got caught up on current emergencies and challenges and said good-bye.

I sat in the dirty garage fingering those small pieces.  Funny how the same family experience can be so different, sibling to sibling.  I still felt the wonder of a Christmas wish that had no name, the beauty of just us six, our little oasis of love and security, wrapped in our own swaddling clothes of family working together, laid in the manger of belief and trust.

It was a wish I never knew I’d made but it was lived out by my big, strong Daddy who made Christmas beautiful for me and by the special treat of Mother’s Christmas turkey that was always delicious; it was the love we had that turned out to be the greatest wish.  It lived on as my brothers and sister built Christmas traditions with their families that in some form continue what we six had.  It still lives on even though Daddy is now gone and Mother’s strength is waning so that I do most of the Christmas turkey.  It lives on in eternity because it is the wish of the love and mystery and beauty of Christmas.

kitchen visions…

image source:Bing image

image source:Bing image

Knife flies, onions weep,
garlic peel    sticks
Mother cries with throat clogs.

Time flies while Fur Elise sweeps
the keys.
Who knew?
This was no season for angst.

Where is the time kept that perfected
thus?

Sisyphean over and over
around and around, up and down
in and out
marks dread’s thread pulled
over years and ages and days and
minutes to hold in a No. N.O.

Yet, here I am, wheeling the knife
shaping the pieces, carving the chunks
that eases with less than Herculean.

I’m quite impressed
Beethoven, Orff and Bizet serenade
with an flow that marks success.

Smile fills my plate.
Why did I not know it could be this easy?

Birdhouse – by Julienne Johnson

image source:google images

image source:google images

You can’t pick a metaphor with a roller skate key
so I kept my secrets there
hidden under a hammock
where Butchie and I were trying hard to balance
younger then, peaches that still had fuzz — holding tight
the woven grey canvas swinging from the green metal frame
pushed to the farthest edge of our mowed square
far as we can go — you know the rules:
one half-acre of green limit
crab grass, sassy as ever
Kentucky Blue, and dandelions —
yellow crayolas rub ’em under my chin
see if I’m tellin’ the truth —
see — no yellow, told ya so!

swinging but trying not to
so our dinners wouldn’t spill
leaning toward the center of each other
to fill up that empty space we felt there;
I loved being close to Butchie
he was my picnic table
like he hid under
last time he ran away
almost got to Ohio

trembling together that day
still in dirty swimsuits — wet
kids play under sprinklers – sizzling hot heavy Michigan days
but now it had cooled down
little bodies wearing goose bumps
balancing plates on laps
burned green peas and hard hamburgers
a slice of white Silvercup bread on top of tears
trying not to fall into the empty wheelbarrow we watched
out in a field of catsup
that we were afraid to ask for
we kept our eyes on a robin dancing on the wooden handle
while hundreds of Black-eyed Susans
like me — looked for a four-leaf clover
but it was so hard to see through the blur
eat your God-damned dinner or the belt
no pants — again
Dad wore his weapon
had a way with keeping his word

I see the Birdhouse.
Butchie made it with his new jigsaw
a Christmas present
he was only six
so proud of that Birdhouse
he could hardly wait for Dad to come home
Dad left on Mondays and came back on Fridays
eight years of peace in the middle
Hammer! I see the hammer too
rusty with a worn oak handle
blue shingles — orange somewhere

Butchie loved to build things
and I loved Butchie
My Father smashed the whole thing
all on one Friday night
an ugly pumpkin!
only 15 minutes home
I wanted to hold Butchie so he could hold me
Lifesavers from the same package that stick together
but we had separate bedrooms
walls — grey between us — walls
and no crying
wasn’t allowed on the new yellow bedspread
or anywhere else in their house
a night stand stained with maple pushed against the bed skirt
it was hard to see through the plaid — hear them coming
so much dust under the bed

but back to the hammock…
Butchie and I weren’t very hungry for peas and cotton
even the lilacs blooming in the corner knew
we hated our Father
our mother was dying, trying – again
on a rainbow she longed to ride out
red yellow blue — all in one swift swallow
faster than you can crush a ripe wild strawberry
the red must have stopped her… same as before

“Who are you? Please help me. I want my Daddy.”

“It’s me Mommy. Don’t be afraid, I’ll take care of you.”
but where’s Butchie, the lilacs, the four-leaf clovers?

older now, fuzz free, face down, Rolex up on a Persian carpet
his own kids in Jordan Airs — stepping over him
a bridge between two chairs
smashed
cheers — to the Birdhouse.

Julienne Johnson
http://www.julienneART@me.com

Art heart…

The heart lunges, it hungers, it leaps.  I’ve seen it try and pour itself out in saving others or giving to others in a beauty that is unrecognized by the fearful, the hurt, the hungry.  They lash out against the heart’s beauty.  They misunderstand.

I get the beauty, but of course, I compare.  Me to her.  Me to him.  Aren’t I silly for doing that?  What’s to compare?  Their uniqueness shrivels my plainness?  Or does my beauty shine a hue that differs from their rainbows?

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

Take the strutting peacock, for instance.  That’s just the male.  The female, the one he’s strutting for is plain and mousey by comparison.  Which begs the question, if you follow, does the male with his bright feathers, tips in bright, bold eyes, think he is beautiful?  Or does he strut because he is ugly until chosen?

Perhaps it’s far simpler.  His DNA is programmed for bright hues and strutting and her DNA is programmed for simple, plain, protective style that melds into the ground cover, hiding there to protect the young, making the nest look enticing to the fabulous, plumed, brilliant, stunning MALE.  And so they choose and so they mate and so the breed continues.

They did what they were born to do.  They follow instinct and fulfill their destiny.  I get tripped up in the search for my destiny versus some other person’s destiny – hers or his; my potential versus hers or his; the choices, the options are myriad.  Too many to comprehend and embrace.  Perhaps that is why I get nothing done and accomplish squat.  Which way to go?  Which dream to follow?  Which heart to embrace?

I ponder and try to reach beyond the sameness of this morning.  Nothing new there; it’s the common challenge as the everyday breathes on all sides.

I call to Mother and she comes to my desk, slowly, her balance steadied by her footed cane.  Sun shines its morning glow through the eastern window with a glisten on the gray streaks in her dark hair.

“I can’t stand here looking at pictures,” she leans on the cane, “I have to get some breakfast.”

“I know,” I rise from my folding chair and help her get seated.  “Just this one; you’ll love it,” I maneuver the laptop so that Mother can see.

My nephew’s wife posts pictures of their two girls, toddlers, on her facebook page.  In this picture, the littlest one grins, every inch of her body covered in happiness, her big blue eyes saucers of joy.  Her older sister looks shyly at the camera, her smile demure, her big blue eyes tentative.  They’re both dressed in ruffled, polka-dot cotton shirts and tot sized blue jeans.

“So beautiful.  I want to squeeze both of them,” Mother reaches up and adjusts the angle of her glasses for a better view.  “They need to come see us again.”

We look at several pictures until Mother pushes herself upright and with careful moves of her cane, returns to the kitchen.  There’s a slight lift to her movement.  She drank in the beauty of two new little lives, health’s glow on their skin, bright eyes, fluffy hair and pint-sized outfits.  She doesn’t feel any better than she did before; it’s the beauty that has lifted her.  She’ll get her breakfast a little easier now.

So shall I compare my beauty to theirs?  To some artist?  Shall I stifle the creativity that I didn’t know was there because it looks different from all others?  I find myself picking at our differences.  I see the lack in my creative well.  I feel drab and useless.  I am ineffectual.  I am not an artist.

It’s no good stopping at that sore spot.  The lack is too painful.  I push on.  I seek the truth.  I dig until I find it.  Or it finds me.  God programmed their DNA.  God programmed my DNA.  I’m not the artist she is or he is.  I am my own artist.  I will take my cue from Mother.  Absorb the beauty, let it escape the synapses of my gray matter to run down my arms and spill out through my fingers.  I will create.

fly high…and sing your song…

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

We lost another one this week.  That makes two in the last eight days.  First, Bob, then Charmaine.  Elderly, frail friends of Mother’s.

People she knew for nearly forty years from church.  People, who were hardy, still working with busy productive lives when she and Daddy first met them.  People, whose lives morphed and changed into retirement, followed by the death of spouses and the total rearrangement of how they lived; people, who once self-reliant, at the end, relied upon others.

Mother hasn’t been feeling well, so I told her the news carefully.  She seemed to take it in stride as part of the everyday markers of her elderly life.  After all, Daddy’s gone too, and he was her mainstay.

Charmaine and Jim retired and moved back to the mid-West to be near their kids.  Maybe ten years ago?  Then Jim got sick and died and Charmaine’s daughter was around to do the caring.  Now Charmaine’s gone.

Bob nursed his ailing wife while he worked full time and then she died.  Mother says he was never the same after those exhausting years.  Is that why Alzheimer’s took over his capable brain?  In the end his daughters had lie to him to get him to leave the house so that they could get him care.  Bob’s gone now, too.

A flurry of birds in the backyard catches my eye as sparrows dart, flutter, and settle on the grass and the green is painted into a polka dot green blanket with hopping browns and grays.  Today’s sunshine reveals a glitter in the multi-layered hues of their feathers.

Squawk!  A blackbird clutched to a swaying high wire interrupts and the sparrows take chirping flight up into the bare oak branches.  Low to the ground, along the fence perimeter, there’s black fur that moves stealthily.  Feral cat.  Could be that squawk was a warning, right?

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

So, those ended elderly lives?  Makes one think; ponder; if you get my drift.  The shortness of their lives doesn’t hold a candle to the song bird, the Cedar Waxwing, trilling on the bare Apricot branches.  Those dudes only live two or three years.  That’s short, my friend.  Or it is when compared to Mother’s eighty-plus-year-old friends that just sang their last, breathed their last.  Well, you get the point.

But, does it seem short to the Cedar Waxwing, or does it seem normal?  They’re born, they’re fed, they learn to eat and to find their own food and water; their instinct keeps them moving ahead, they make music, they make baby birds, they feed them and push them from the nest.  They make more music.  They die.

It’s all perspective.  The light we’re seeing from the stars, by the time it gets to us, those stars have died.  The music of Chopin or Pachelbel, it’s ours because they lived and created, but they’re done now too.  Even so, they left something behind.  So do the stars, so do the Cedar Waxwings.  Their beauty and their songs are captured and saved on YouTube on in some documentary for us to enjoy.

Here’s what keeps crawling around the edges of my mind, “Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Aren’t you worth more than they?”  That was Matthew, a Jesus follower, noting down his observations of the cycle of the birds in the skies above him over 2,000 years ago in Palestine.

Matthew’s been gone a long time, but he caught the truth and left a record of it for us.  It’s life.  The value of life.  The preciousness of life.  Your life.  My life.  The bird’s life.  Ok, I’ll admit it, as much as I don’t like feral cats, the feral cat’s life, as well.  Life.  We see it replicated from one bird to another; one cat to another, one human to another, but it’s a gift.  Matthew said it was a God given gift.  It is.

image: google images

image source: google images

I see that.  I feel it inside.  I’m aware life is a gift and not something I can make or bring into being.  Nor can I control how long life lasts.  Oh, I suppose I could throw in the towel to my life’s fight and find some way to end it.  The problem is that’s only the life that exists in this earthly world; the one we can see and touch.  But, it’s not the soul.  There’s no ending to the soul.  The soul comes from God and he controls its destiny.  I need to remember to hold it in an open hand, because I can’t control it.  Just like I can’t keep that Cedar Waxwing living on forever nor can I predict how long before Mother loses life.  Her life and soul came from God and back to God she will go.  I will go.  You will go.  Take comfort.  God loves you and the soul he gave you.  Meanwhile, fly high and sing your song.

Method

image source: Bing images

image source: Bing images

Everybody has a method, right?  Like, there’s scientific method and method acting and teachers and doctors have their methods.  Even businesses have their methods.  Well, I can tell you, Granny had her method and her “grandchildren” either learned it or we were gone.

“It’s quite simple, Vanessa,” Granny had a way of making her point clear, especially when she wasn’t looking directly at you.  Her voice cut like steel and ice, “you know what to do and you will do it.”

“She’s not ready, Granny,” I stood behind the younger girl, tying the bow in her hair, “why not let me or Bryan do it?”

“Nonsense,” Granny sorted through the paperwork on her desk, “Vanessa is thirteen.”  Her hand stopped mid-air as she looked over at us.  “At her age, Maggie, you were nearly as good as me,” she turned back to her desk, “We leave in fifteen minutes.  See that you’re ready.”

She was right.  I was good.  I could move through the crowd and people didn’t even know their watch or their wallet or their necklace was missing.  Bryan liked car keys and room keys.  He would wander in and out of the concert or meeting room or lecture hall, a happy grin on his fifteen year old cherubic face and always had a good haul by the time we got back to the house.

“How do you manage to get the right key back to the right person,” I asked?  We headed downstairs to leave for the afternoon lecture to rich patrons on the plight of suffering third-world urchins.

“Dunno.  My brain just remembers,” Bryan looked honest and trustworthy.  No one ever suspected.

Bryan and I had been at this for about five years and we knew the drill.  Granny handed us school books.  We spent our mornings studying.  Granny tested us and accepted nothing but high grades.  Then we practiced our trade.  Granny expected us to excel.  We earned our keep.  Fail at our studies or at our trade meant being locked in our rooms with only bread and water until we got it right.

I looked back up the stairs at Vanessa, who lagged behind, “Come on, it will be ok.”  If my method worked, it would be ok.

***

I had to be quick.  Vanessa looked like Alice down the rabbit hole.  She was pale and stiff as a board.  She’d gone for a wallet and fumbled it.  The old guy turned and saw his wallet on the floor at his feet.  If she caved and tears fell, she’d confess and it would all be over.

I scooped up the wallet, held it out to him and put my arm around Vanessa.

“This must be yours, sir,” I batted my eyes and did my sweetest, friendliest smile, “Vanessa is such a talented artist.  She’s always dreaming and not watching where she’s going.”

He took the wallet, a mixture of doubt and relief on his face.

***

“Fine,” Granny closed the safe and pressed the lever that moved the section of bookcase back in place, concealing the hidden safe.  She came across the Aubusson rug toward us, diamonds at her neck and ears glittering above her white ermine stole.

“I’ll give you more time to work with Vanessa,” she moved up the walnut circular staircase.

I squeezed Vanessa’s arm and smiled at her.

“But know this,” Granny turned at the top of the stairs to look at us, her eyes scathing, “I don’t need worthless orphans who can’t do their job.”

***

We couldn’t only work Granny’s rich society functions.  It brought in good hauls but it’d be too suspicious to just hit them, so Bryan and I worked the crowds at Grand Central, along Wall Street and the subways most afternoons.  We dressed for these gigs in jeans and t-shirts and could move in and out of the bustling corporate types and do pretty well, although not that many people carried cash these days.  Didn’t matter much.  Granny had contacts to move the iPhones and iPads, whatever we picked up.

It was my idea to set Vanessa up with an easel for her ink drawings.  She’d sit on a wall or bench, an art box at her feet and earn a few dollars while she drew.  Granny wasn’t thrilled, but at least Vanessa was worth something.  I knew Granny was cutting me some slack because I’d worked hard and earned her respect.  Even so, Vanessa’s failure to pick-pocket wouldn’t be tolerated much longer.  If all went well with my method, it wouldn’t matter.

I had my eye on a girl about Vanessa’s age that I’d seen several times.  She looked pretty rough.  Dirty clothes, hair not washed much, but her face was clean, she had a great smile and she moved liked lightning.  I started bringing an extra sandwich.  Granny penny-pinched on our food and we weren’t to spend any of our haul.  Bryan would grab a sandwich off a stall once in a while, but most of the vendors dished up what people wanted and it would cause too much attention to steal from them.

“Got an extra sandwich,” I moved up behind the dirty street girl just as she started to brush against a guy wearing a Rolex, “wanna take a break?”

***

It took several weeks of finding her daily and being friendly until she was comfortable.  Jasmine was her street name.  The way she said it, I was pretty sure she’d chosen it herself.

It didn’t take much to convince Bryan we could use another fast hand.  He liked the idea of keeping Granny happy and off our backs.  A happy Granny meant more perks for us.  We’d done well enough last year that Granny took a vacation in the Bahamas, where we picked-up another haul but also got to swim and deep-sea dive.

“How’d you like three squares, new clothes, a hot bath and your own room?”  I took a bite of sandwich and watched Jasmine’s face.

***

It was a risk bringing Jasmine back to the house.  I had to promise her part of my next day’s haul if it didn’t work out after she showed her haul to Granny.  But if Granny liked her, she’d trade sleeping on the street and the few bucks she was getting at pawn shops for a comfortable life.

I could tell Granny was impressed with Jasmine’s haul.  It was about the same as mine for the afternoon and more than Bryan’s.  Granny and Jasmine sized each other up.  Granny had her walk around the room while she asked her questions, mostly I think, to hear how Jasmine talked.  Without taking her eyes off Jasmine, Granny said,

“It will be up to you, Maggie, to see she is ready for the opera at the end of the month.”

I grinned at Jasmine.  “You’re in,” I whispered as we left Granny’s library and headed upstairs to show Jasmine her room.

I worked hard with Jasmine.  Mornings, how to talk and what to say in the ritzy crowd; making sure she knew how to get clean, do her hair and choose appropriate clothing; plus, intense tutoring in the school books, all the while telling her about the trips, the perks, the pay-off for doing it all well.  She was sharp and caught on fast.

Afternoons and the 5-7 pm rush hour, we were back on the streets.  Jasmine moved even faster and was less noticeable now that she was clean and had fresh clothes.  She flashed that big smile and people didn’t suspect a thing.  Granny’s wariness began to fade, though her eagle eye missed nothing.

We made it through the opera night without a hitch and an even bigger haul with Jasmine along.  Granny was pleased.  Her eye began to linger on Vanessa.  I knew what she was thinking.  She’d have to spend money on art training to get Vanessa’s skill to bring in a good return.  Was Vanessa’s talent worth the years, the effort and the money it would take?  If she decided no, then Vanessa would disappear.  I’d seen two other girls disappear over the years.  I never knew what happened to them.

It was time to put the next part of my method into action.

We hit the streets about 8 a.m. that Saturday.  Jasmine and Bryan moved off into the crowd.  Vanessa was about to set up on a bench when I took her arm and hurried her down the street.  A four block walk and we were at Penn Station.  I lifted a wallet off a woman and dug out enough cash to buy two tickets to Philadelphia.

“Where are we going?”  Vanessa asked as we found seats.  She hugged her art box to her chest and looked shaky.  The only times we left the City, we were in Granny’s limo.

“Do you trust me?”  I looked into her eyes.  She nodded.  I opened my book bag and showed her my wad of cash.  Her eyes got round as saucers.

“Granny is not going to like this,” she said.

“I’ve been putting a few dollars away every day for a long time.”  I closed the book bag and wrapped my arms around it, just like any other student on the train.  “Granny’s not the only one who has hiding places.”

“You were four and I was eight when they separated us and sent us to different children’s homes,” I reached for her hand.  “It took me over a year to find you using Granny’s contacts.  I’m not going to lose you now.”

She looked puzzled.

“You’re my sister, Iris,” my voice went gruff over the frog in my throat, “and no one is going to keep us apart again.”

“Iris.  No one’s called me by my middle name since my Mama died.”  She stared at me.  “I had a sister.  Mags.”

“You have a sister, Iris.  I’m Mags.  Maggie.”

Her eyes got round again and, as I knew they would, tears came.  We reached for each other and held on tight.

We don’t live in paradise….

The sounds coming from the bathroom are not pretty.                   Chugging splats                       bubble,

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

plink.
Groan, spray filtering.
The rustle
wait
bustle              wait.
Bemoan;
the whine is wallpapered, stiff and melting.
The smell, oh the smell.
Bemused gave off the bewildering.
Resolve flushed.
Can’t.  No, can’t.

Mother, with great sighs, slowly makes her way into her bedroom and shuts the door.  In my bedroom, pale light filters through the wood blinds on donkey my window.  Gentle, not too bright ribbon.

I lie on the bed, under blue weed covers.  I was sleeping but now that’s gone.  My brain buzzes.  Fine.  So don’t do it.  It’s her decision.  The can’t lets the air out of the balloon to a slow relaxation for her but now I’m wound up.

image source:google images

image source:google images

What’s next?  What to do after that can’t?  Her stress floated down the hall and settled on me.  Too much to think about.  Too much to query to God.  I need some wisdom here, because this impasse is looming large on the horizon, if you get my drift.

The house has gone quiet.  My black sleeping mask is in my hand instead of on my face.  All is still.  Except the racing thought trails of my mind, up over mountains of possibilities down into ditches of nasty consequences of seemingly innocent choices.  It’s all food, right?  What’s the big harm here?  Well, that is the question, isn’t it?

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

Pick your poison, Ma’am.  Step right up into the parlor of innocent nutrients.  FDA approved, so what could possibly be harmful?  It’s the amazing machine of the intricate mysterious inner workings of the human body.  Absorb this.  Slough off that.  Change, swish, chug, mutilate, smash, transform, squash, mutate, evolve, utilize, reject and package into that passenger train of garbage that came in and is now garbage headed out.

I know what I’d do if it were me.  Identify the perpetrators and stop giving them admittance.  Mother can’t seem to understand that concept.  It’s food.  It’s her favorite foods.  How could they possibly be causing these difficulties, these distresses?

There’s a straight line connection, but she can’t see it.  What a relief it would be if that connection didn’t exist.  I’d take that world.

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

Imagine what it would be like if Adam and Eve hadn’t eaten that apple?  Hadn’t decided they wanted the job of god in their lives?  Everything was perfect before that, so we’re told.  It’s hard to imagine a world where there’d be no decay, no disease, no killing, no hatred, no suffering.

No acid reflux, no food sensitivities, no teeth that break off and require oral surgery.  Sounds like paradise, to me.

Oh well, reality beckons.  We don’t live in paradise.

I don’t know what to do for her, God.  At least you know the body you made and just ‘cause bodies get faulty, you don’t.  My stress ebbs away and I sleep again.  Cell phone vibration and ring-tone startle me awake.  I fish the phone out from under my pillow.  An 800 number.  Not answering that.

No point is lying here.  Might as well see if I can print up a list of foods that won’t aggravate Mother’s GERD.  Maybe she’ll react better to the CANs instead of the CAN’Ts.  Thanks, God.  That dozing helped.  I feel a little closer to paradise.  Amazing what rest can do.

Carry on……

image source:google images

image source:google images

The cuckoo clock ticks.  The floors creak with the slow movement of the elderly woman traversing the length of the living room and the dining room, cane maneuvered by one hand, the other hand holding the day’s newspaper, just retrieved from the front step.

Great hall height     BUMBLING                  forward                inside all the way              to cake breakfast            before        drop         eyelids               into    the deep.         Being      of course,         is perfectly soluble          fight and fought             fraught?               Bought for naught? While I              DANCE                tripp ingly                        two sides                                              that’s                       understood,
or                                   should be,

if you get my drift.   I read just the other day, somewhere, or maybe I heard it?  Well, I won’t bore you with the how or the why, but you follow what I’m saying.

It was like, the time comes when the young take up the cause left behind by the old.  Something close to that.  Oh, maybe, the time comes when the old give up their cause to the young.  Yeah, I think that’s was it.  The time comes when the old give up their cause to the young.

Souls fly higher daily, skin thinned into translucence; some march straight ahead to the edge of the cliff and step out into air; some slow until inert stasis is the wall paper of their last days; some push against dread and fear; some laugh and joy in the legacy they’ve built; some writhe deep in pain and suffer the sloughing of the dying flesh; some faces light with the promise of more life to come; some pull the trigger in search of false relief.

I hear Mother coming; her cane clunking.  My mind flies to memories treasured.  I hover, chose and settle in to enjoy.

“Decaf?”  The waitress sets a glass of water and a napkin wrapped knife, fork and spoon on the table.

Crile R Dean

Crile R Dean

His solid but not overweight figure sits tall against the back of the booth, his hair white, every hair combed into place;  his eyes bright, a smile on his face, his cream colored, short sleeved, button-up shirt and brown slacks, not new but clean; his walking shoes a little scuffed.

The diner is clean, if well worn.  Much used faded counters nicked and scarred, brown booth seats with a sag here and there, wood chair legs nicked, metal table stands marked where decades of shoes kicked or rested.  Some faint muzac plays overhead.  People chat, waitresses weave in and out of the tables, arms laden; people eat.  It is a little cooler in the middle of the room and warmer in the booths against the east windows, their shades angled to keep the sun out of the eyes of patrons.

He isn’t cold.  His morning three mile walk has warmed him and built his appetite.

“No decaf, high octane,” he hands a menu back to the waitress, “bring me the Grand Slam; eggs fried.  Bacon and sausage.”

“Syrup or jelly for the pancakes?”  She writes on her order pad.

“Both.  And toast.  Add toast.”  He smiles again.

In my mind I walk into that diner and sit across from him.  His eyes light with love and joy at seeing me.  I hand him a wrapped box with a bow and a tag, Happy Eight-Eighth Birthday, Daddy.  His grin is awkward.

“You didn’t need to do this,” he pulls off the bow and peels off the paper.

I smile at the memory of his strength, his stamina, his love for life, his drive to make a difference in his world, his sharp grasp of things political, sociological and spiritual.  His ability to still lift the hedge trimmer and the edger and to navigate the lawn mower.  His confidence that still sent him onto the garage roof to trim a dead plum tree limb and God’s grace that urged him safely back to the ground just minutes before a 4.2 on the Richter scale hit.  He was fearless and bold.  Even at eighty-eight.  Mother called it reckless and foolish.

I hang on to the scenes of his life, vitality and joy.  They weren’t our last scenes.  Those were hospice and changing diapers and giving morphine and a skeleton pushing through translucent, whisper weight skin.  I skim past those and hang on to a truth.  Those last days were just the cocoon breaking open, setting his soul free.

I miss him.  I ache.  I cry.  I smile at his silly sense of humor.  I breathe in the certainly he’s there waiting for me; in eternity with the Creator.

Mother has made it at last to the kitchen.  I turn to her,

“Morning, Mother,” I smile.  Daddy and Mother were like night and day together.  Being here with her and remembering him, I see the differences no longer matter.  Daddy lived his beliefs and then he gave up his cause to the young.  Mother is nearly there.

My journey continues.  I have a choice.  I begrudge the time I no longer have with Daddy.  I get irritated at the task of being with Mother.  I watch any brighter, bigger purpose and meaning shrivel up while I trudge through the mundane.  I feel myself drowning.

image source:blingee

image source:blingee

I reach for a lifeline and I’m pulled up to keep walking, to take the steps onward.  I take heart from Daddy’s life.  I slough off the dread, the weight of unfulfilled expectations.  I let go of the hurts, imagined or real.  I remember the love, I remember the promise of eternity.  I believe.  I carry my cause, forged in the smelt of their influence, with honor.  I’ll keep on, until it’s my turn to leave a cause for the young to carry.

Choose

humingbird

image:birdsandblooms

The heart of the hummingbird beats so fast, his entire body quivers.  He is mostly on the move, flitting here and there, balancing mid-air to dip his long beak into the flower decorated feeder hole in the hummingbird feeder.  I’ve watched him through the dirty window behind the desk as he flits from place to place.  He is such a delicate creature, yet he perseveres, he continues his flight, his quivering quest for sustenance.  He survives.

Mother comes to mind; her essential tremor that keeps her head moving in tiny jerks; her fragility when she doesn’t feel well.  The effort it takes when she has to be out early to get to the dentist.  Where there are two flights of stairs to climb to get to the office door.

“Do you want to go up the stairs,” I ask as we pull into the parking lot, “or shall I drive the length of the building, we’ll take the elevator and walk all the way back to here?”

I look over at her in the passenger seat next to me.  She’s nicely dressed in green slacks and a flowered blouse under a white cardigan sweater.  Her slightly graying hair is combed and sprayed.  You wouldn’t know to look at her how difficult it was for her to push herself to get out of the house.

The day is a beautiful seventy-six degrees, blue skies, a nice breeze.  The talk radio host expounds about things worth pushing towards, in his mind at least.

“We’d better take the stairs,” Mother says as she pulls off her sunglasses, “I’d rather be early than late.”

She’s such                  A                  trouper
She                 keeps pushing                       ahead, whether                          she feels well or not.
She
is pushing ahead to
haveThreeTeeth                 PULLED
and                three teeth ADDED           to her partial                      so
that she can eat easily.                 I leave                 the choice to her.  Would         I             PUSH            if I                 were eighty-six    and     in               PAIN                                  from                         a CROOKED back?

I push now to do all the right things for my health.  I push now as I could live another 25-30 years; I push now to make those years easier.  I push now because I hope.  I push now against aging; I push now against loss of ability, against sagging, against creepy lines.  I push as if I think I could really halt or slow the processes of time.  I fool myself.  I am a fool.  Am I a fool?

image:communitycaringcouncil

image:communitycaringcouncil

Mother and I start the climb up the stairs.  Her footed cane takes the first step.  She grasps the railing with her right hand, her left directing that cane lest it teeter against one of the pebbles in the aggregate stone steps.  The free-floating steps undulate and sway in the breeze, the pebbles bubble; I grasp her left arm and lift, trying to not leave a bruise.  She’s moving too fast.  She’s jerky as she hurries.  The footed cane bumps half on, half off the step.

“Nice and slow,” I take the next step with the cane, “take your time.”

She breathes out a sigh, slows, and carefully places the cane, then she and I together pull her up.  We lift off and huff and puff through each step until we’ve reached the top of Mt. Everest.

Going back down, the pictures in my head are not pretty.  The view down the top side of Mt. Everest is long and steep.  One misstep and she’ll be Humpty-Dumptied.  How will I explain that to her other children?  We descend ok, but I can’t get the eerie wariness out of my head.

Later, I close my eyes to doze and see bleak days filled with sponge baths, wheelchairs, bed-fast summer, winter, spring and fall and utter dependence.  My head screams, “I DON’T WANT TO BE HERE.”  I twist and turn in my worry.

“STOP IT.”  I sternly speak into my nightmare and wake myself.  It’s one step at a time, Victoria, one step at a time.  That’s what that shepherd boy knew, in the black of night, out on those lonely, cold hills, thousands of years ago.  He knew it was a step at a time.  And, he knew he didn’t take those steps alone.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

He made a choice.

I will make a choice.  I choose life.  I choose to push.  I choose to take the next step.  I choose to trust.  I choose not to fear.  I choose not to walk alone.

Christmastime

image source:kansastravel

image source:kansastravel

Christmastime is here.  Carols on Cd’s and choirs on TV, tear-jerker movies of lost love and found meaning and purpose, laughter at silly lyrics of ‘you’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch’ and ‘No crocodiles, no rhinoceroses, I only like Hippopotamuses’ float across the air, the dark night lit by twinkling lights on houses and yards decked out with clear LED strings around trees, over fences, up chimneys and draped on bushes.  Whole streets are transformed into wonderlands of colors and sparkles and strings of lit icicles along roof lines.

There’s the flap on the media about how much more polite and less threatening it is to say ‘Happy Holiday’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’ and kids now have Winter breaks from school instead of Christmas break.  They’re still out of school, though, and most of them still go to bed on Christmas Eve all hyped up and excited about those wrapped gifts under the tree.

The politically correct police try to pretend there’s no deeper meaning than Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman and apparently big business agrees as we’re inundated with advertising to urge us to shop, shop, shop, spend, spend, spend, until we collapse from all the stress and turkey and pie overload.

But there’s something deeper, richer about the last days of December than the other days of any given year.  After all, why do people decorate the outside of their houses, put up trees inside, bake goodies to give away and spend hours shopping and wrapping gifts?  If it’s all just a marketing ploy why does the time of Christmas mean excitement or joy, or peace or any number of other feelings to millions?  Oh, sure, not everyone has a happy Christmas memory from childhood but why do we all long for the warmth, the promise of peace and the happiness that seems to go with the time of year?

How could the world’s people, so different in their customs, their traditions, their histories and their memories all want the same things, peace and joy?  And keep on wanting those things generation after generation, time after time?  And keep on trying to make life less bleak, less dark, less painful.  More filled with light and beauty.  And peace and joy.  Why?

Unless.  Unless, we were made with a soul and a spirit that respond to joy and peace.  Made with a soul and a spirit that crave the knowing that we were made for something greater than the everyday.  That we were made for joy and peace.

It was that same craving that sent those three Wisemen on a road trip, following a star that they believed would lead them to the very originator of joy and peace.  They found that joy.  It came to the world in that tiny baby, Jesus.

image source:jimmyharmon

image source:jimmyharmon

Every year we go through it all again, we wrap those presents, decorate that tree.  Every year we search for peace and joy.  Every year we’re reminded of the real meaning of life.  And if we listen to the twinkling lights, the rustling of the wrapping paper and the faint sound of carols through the night, we’ll find that peace and joy.  Just like the Christmas carol says, ‘Joy to the world, the Lord has come.’  Come for you.  Come for me.