Tag Archive | Family

Is It Christmas Yet?

It’s barely daylight and so quiet in the house, you can hear the snow blowing around outside.  The scent of spruce boughs lingers in the air as you tiptoe through the living room, bent on checking out those gift-wrapped presents under the tree.  Quiet, don’t wake up the snoring parents in the process.

What’s this?  There’s a huge rectangular package tucked behind the tree with no tags, no names. A plain brown wrapping paper-wrapped shape, no ribbons or bows.  Where did this come from?  It has an air mail sticker in the corner that’s marked, “North Pole.”

Whenever I think of my childhood (50’s and 60’s) and all the little special things that warm my memory, this one rises to the surface most often.  The gift turned out to be simply a suitcase, meant for me.  It was a thoughtful present, as I loved going to church camp in the summer, spring and fall retreats, and to friends’ houses to spend the night.  That wasn’t the important thing.   It was the unexpectedness, the delight and surprise of it all.

There are other memories, the doll I received that was very nice—but not the one I wanted, not the one I asked for. The year I tried so hard as an 8 year old to provide and wrap gifts for my brothers and parents on my own, and in desperation ended up selecting the very best of the cloth handkerchiefs in my father’s drawer, wrapping them beautifully for my brother’s gift.  I remember how accomplished I felt, how impressed I was with myself and how beautifully I wrapped all the presents.  Juxtaposed over that image is the look of hurt and perplexity in my brother’s eyes when he opened my elegant box of used handkerchiefs.  The anger in my father’s voice as he yelled at me for hurting my brother’s feelings.  The lame attempt to pacify my brother with a model car purchased at the all night drug store.  What a memory.

I can remember the best part of our Kentucky Christmas dinner—the homemade candies my aunt Laura made, tons and tons of different chocolates, fruit-filled drops, fudge, and mints.  The warm and spicy aroma of my grandmother’s house with the meal all ready…the bubbling lights on her sad, pathetic little Christmas trees, that she festooned with paper ribbons, German paper stars, and mercury glass ornaments.

I can still feel the sharp bite of cold against my cheeks as we leave Granny’s house after dinner and gift-exchange, heading for home and the inevitable “unexpected” early arrival of Santa, who always seemed to hit our house on Christmas Eve so Mom and Dad could sleep late next morning.  The stale odor of old cigarettes lingered on the car’s plastic seat covers against my cheek and mixed with the scent of foil-covered leftover turkey and dressing that we carried home, pressed upon us by my dear Granny as always.

So many memories rise during this season…the year my brother came home on furlough from the Army, wrecked his brother’s car and went back to base early (understandably).  The funny little borrowed doll that came with a note, explaining that Miss Darlene the Ballerina was ill and in the doll hospital, and would make her arrival a week or so after Christmas when she had recovered.

Setting the table for Christmas dinner always held its special charm:  first I would raise the leaves of our cherry drop-leaf table until the two-seater would seat 10-12.  Then what I pictured as dressing the princess in her ball gown:  I covered the table with a padded protective cover, followed by either a solid green or solid red cloth covering.  Frosting the beautiful crimson or emerald cover would be a delicate crocheted tablecloth, brought back from Germany when my Dad was in the War.

Mama’s feather-pattern glasses with the gold rims came next, and all her good china, each plate turned to just the right angle, cloth napkins in place, and the knives with their blades facing the plate, each piece nestled in its appointed role.

Leaving room for the turkey platter in the center of the table, I placed candles here and there, with fancy dishes to hold the jewel-like cranberry sauce, the antique silver footed casserole holders with their Pyrex inserts, and the butter knife beside the butter dish just so.

The singular display in its place of honor in our living room, however, was the cloud of angel hair that served as a bed for the Manger Scene.  A die-cut cardboard set, it lasted us for years and years.  And it never lost its charm.   I always pictured the baby Jesus with his glowing halo, just as the one in the figures looked.  And that’s the last thing I always fought for, to keep Baby Jesus on display after the holidays were over, all the gifts opened, the tummies fattened, the naps taken.  When the tissue and discarded bows were cleared away I wanted him to remain, the last vestige of the holiday—the real meaning of the Christmases I remember so well.

Manger Scene Set Vintage

We’ve Got Drought…or Black Thumbs are Inheritable

Northeastern Oklahoma in all its beauty is becoming a dry and barren wasteland.  Claremore has water rationing in effect–voluntarily at this point, they say, but the end of all living things is in sight–and so my beautiful hydrangeas, hosta’s, and my prize possession and a special blessing–my brand new butterfly bush, is dwindling down to die.

We used to sneak out and offer a little comfort, we’d water in the dark late at night, hiding from the water police…but the situation seems so dire, we gave up and quit watering.

So I’ve watched the struggling, spindly plant shrivel up, turn brown and brittle, and basically die.  Besides, it’s only survived until now based on the fact that Vernon, my husband, has faith and has handled the watering.  You see, I have a huge black thumb.  I kill every living plant I come into contact with.  I don’t think it runs in my family, because my Mom on the other hand, could jab a yardstick in the ground and make it grow and bloom.  I’ve watched her!!  The great Atlanta Plant Whisperer of 1983!

My daughter Shannon phoned from Houston, Texas late this afternoon to share news of her promotion at work.  It was a real accomplishment for her, a career ‘star in her crown’.  I told her I’d love to send her a plant, but until we discover if we’re solvent or not (has to do with short-term disability payments), I said I’d just send her photo’s of the  beautiful peace lily we just received from our church following my husband’s shoulder surgery.  It would be a sort of “congratulations/plant IOU”.

We talked back and forth, touching on 43 topics in the space of 10 minutes or so–we had to be quick ’cause she was at work.  She started trying in her compassionate way to make me feel better about losing my butterfly bush, and shared a story.

“It can happen to anyone, Mom, it’s just the odds.  We planted three white oak trees that were a gift from a friend.  Two were placed in the back yard, and the third tiny one in the front yard.  We did everything exactly the same for them, yet no matter what we did, the one sad little guy didn’t make it.  So we pulled it up and threw it away.  It’s a loss, but it can happen to anyone, trust me,” she went on.

In our mother/daughter fashion, I started listing things she could have tried–‘did you water them well? Did you feed them like the directions say? Did you…’  I went on in my helpful, searching voice.  Then she began to giggle.

“Wait, Mom.  I figured it out.”

“What?  What’s different about your three trees?”

“Robert (her husband) planted the two big flourishing trees in the back yard.  It was ME that planted the one that died in the front.”

“Well, welcome to The Curse of the Black Thumb!” I cried.  Now you know why I don’t water the butterfly bush myself.The flowers of a peace lily plant.

We finished our conversation and I let her get back to work.

My next move was to take a few interesting pictures of the church family’s peace lily to send to Shan as her “IOU plant”.  I placed the HUGE peace lily with its satiny red ribbon, nestled in a woven basket on a table by itself.  It’s just spilling over with dozens of white blooms shaped like a shell, sort of a ‘jack-in-the-pulpit’ shape with the bumpy pistils each standing up in the shade of its own white shell.

I took a couple of shots of the entire plant, and then thought we needed a closeup or two of the blossoms.  As I pointed my viewfinder at first one cobra-hood shape and then another, the old brain decided to take a left turn…the plant began to come alive!  And I texted Shannon the following:  “This is a big green jungle of leaves, hard to get it all in the frame.”   “These white blooms are nodding at me.   There’s so many they’re starting to bob and weave.”    “Sheesh, Shan, I thought I heard them whispering…I think I’m going to give them names.  One just said something about ‘the neighborhood…'”  Realizing I sounded as nutty as I felt, I stopped all that and sent her the pictures…When it comes to plants, if ya can’t keep ’em, just fake it!A picture of Peace Lily along with its leaf. C...

Technology at Our House

My Toy Maltese, Miss Chantilly Lace—“Tillie” to a few of her closest friends—is a devoted old soul.  Next month she will turn 70 in dog years.  By the hesitancy in her eyes when I call her to jump onto my bed, or to dance a whirling jig on her hind legs for a chewy bacon treat like she used to, it’s evident that Father Time and aging are not being kind to her.  Her little knees ache at times, making her an excellent weather forecaster for those rainy days.  While she’s a bit slower to get going in the mornings, she still has spunk, making the rounds of her vast kingdom—my back yard—lecturing the squirrels, chasing any unidentified birds out of her territory and keeping it safe for her family.  Knowing Tillie is on the alert is a comfort and a blessing.

She loves me, has been deeply devoted to me since I purchased her as a puppy from a kindly retired veterinarian in Ardmore back in 2002.  Yet there’s a definite fickle streak in that tiny six pound body.  She will attach herself with wildly enthusiastic abandon to any visitor who comes through our front door.  Her captivating black marble eyes instantly charm, yet when sensing a new situation and not completely sure of her reception, she escalates her nervous habit  (we all have them, don’t we?).  In fact, the welcome mat at the entrance to my home says, “Beware: Dog cannot hold its Licker!”

There are those times when her lack of licker control can be a nuisance.  Yet she will always calm down, especially if you’re willing to perform an undercover operation.  Just cover your lap with one of our small fleece throws; then she immediately scoots under, settles in beside you, goes completely silent—and off to sleep.  Licker silenced.

But if you want to really see the blazing fast communications technology at our house, come around to the side gate.  Thomas Edison invented the telephone and the telegraph.  My Maltese created Tilliepathy.

Waiting for Daddy’s truck – in Colorado, 2005

I mean, just look!  The grass-worn path from our gate to the back door is getting deeper and deeper with use.  The instant Tillie sees her Daddy step out of his diesel F-250, she abandons her lookout post at the gate, makes a beeline for her doggy door, and meets him as his key turns in the lock.  Our Tilliepathy is pretty dependable; very appreciated; and a memory that I cherish, whether it kills the grass, tunnels through snow, or fills with seasonal rains…that’s love in action!

The “Best of Times”

    I had the privilege and blessing of being in the “right place and time” this week.  I was working at my church, helping prepare for vacation Bible School.  A church member called in and asked the secretary if she knew of anyone who could help them out in a pinch.  The caregiver for his 88 year-old mother was unable to continue, so they needed someone immediately to care for her, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week–either on a permanent basis, or at the very least until they could find someone to hire.  I spoke up and volunteered.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to; not even sure I’d be able to provide the level of care they needed.  But somehow the Lord was standing right behind me, and kept pushing me, or so it felt.  I couldn’t say no.

     So I went home and packed a bag and my laptop, and drove the 35 miles to Geneva’s house. I found a beautiful brick home, timely and classic, well cared for, and orderly, just like the lady I came to meet.  I was greeted at the door by the most horrific din, all produced by a mini-hurricane of a Yorkie, all 2 ½ lbs of him livid that I would dare to enter his domain and endanger the safety of his mistress.  I knew this would be a challenge, but I also knew that there was a great deal of love powering that tiny beast.  And I knew that when he understood that I came to help, we would be friends.

      Amid the barking and growls, while protecting my ankles I met a delicate, lucid, beautiful woman, her silver hair a graceful halo about her face.  It didn’t take me long to surmise that she’s reached that stage where—like my Mom said when she was there, “you feel like you have to test the ground every time you take a step.”  Her body may be failing her, but her spirit is as lively, as strong, as powerfully in love with her Lord as it was when she met Jesus and was baptized at eight years old.

      Geneva has her favorite stories and loves the finer memories, although the ones that have faded are a bit of a worry to her.  Yet that’s one of the prices that age demands of most of us.  And as we proceeded to get to know each other, she shared some of her favorite memories with me.  I treasure every one of them, and wanted to share them with you here.

 BEULAH

      She loves to speak of her sister Beulah, 17 months younger, a lady she’s very fond of and very close to.  (Beulah called this morning and spoke with her, just checking up on her).  Geneva told me about the time these two sisters would play outside together in the sunshine.  They had the best time mixing up their gooey concoctions, fashioning mud pies and decorating them with sticks and pebbles.  Then they searched for some unsuspecting customers they could serve their treats to.  She said, “I loved my Mama and Daddy so much, they just cared so much about us, they would come home after working hard all day and after dinner they would come out and sit outside and let us serve them our delicious mud pies!”

      “We kids had to work hard, we had the task of shocking oats.  Do you know what shocking is?  You know, after they run the binder, until they thrash the oats, we put the oats together in shocks.  My poor sister Beulah resisted.  She just didn’t want to do it, and Mama and Daddy really got onto her—everybody had to help.  But what they didn’t know was that she was coming down with something awful, and she was sick in the bed for eight long months.  But they didn’t realize she was sick.”

      “When she was bedridden for all that time, I felt so sorry for her.  I had to go with Mama and Daddy to shock some grain, and some people had a puppy there.  When I first saw that puppy, I thought of Beulah.  I begged my Daddy for the puppy, and he let me keep it.  I held it close and it kept licking my face.  So they let me take it home to Beulah.  That puppy helped keep her happy while she was sick.  Beulah and I was always close.  Now she’s my age, just 17 months younger than me, and she’s caring for her son who’s been so sick. I admire her, it’s so sad.  It’s gotten so he can hardly walk. But she takes really good care of him.”

 GENEVA’S MOTHER

      I could just see the strong shoulders, the head held high, the God-fearing, powerful woman that Geneva described to me.  It moved her so that tears ran down her papery cheeks when she explained,

      “You know, people that missed out on meeting my mother really missed it.  When Mama started praying, it was so powerful.  When she prayed, her feet just about left the floor.  You’d think she was going right up into heaven.  It was amazing.  I knew one other sweet lady in our church that prayed really well, but nothing like my mother.  Whenever the preachers held a revival, the deacons in the church would always come and get my mother and take Mama around with them to visit people on account of her powerful way with prayer.  She was amazing, the Lord just blessed her something terrible, how He blessed her!”

 HER FATHER

      “Mama and Daddy had five of us girls, and no brothers.   We had a cousin who lived with us for a while; he was a good boy.  Daddy always loved us so much, he would tell us he didn’t want no boys, that he was just happy with what he had.  We knew he was pretending, every man wants sons, but that’s what he said.”

      “Daddy was kind of short and Mama was tall.  Whenever someone wanted to take their picture, Mama would make sure that he was standing up on something so he was taller than her….it tickled me.”

 HER FAITH

      “I remember a troubled man in our community that people had prayed for a long, long time.  When he came finally forward in church one day and he was saved and baptized, I can still see the look on his face.”  Geneva teared up here; she told it to me several times over several days; each time she repeated it, she would tear up again.  That man’s expression was so heavenly and it touched her deeply.  She didn’t know it, but the look on her face was pretty special at that moment as well.  I could tell that this was a very powerful memory for her.

      “It was beautiful, and when he told everyone his testimony, it was so wonderful.  I can still see the smile on his face.”  She questioned me more than once, why it is that we retain some memories so clearly while others fade into obscurity?

      In my “know-it-all” way, I said that those that have meant the most to our hearts are the ones etched the deepest.  She thought about that, and just smiled at me.

 HER FAMILY

      Geneva gazes at the portrait on the fireplace of that beautiful couple, her husband Don and his beautiful wife.  She mentions him often, and tells me again how much she loves and misses him.  Upon reflection at one point, she said,

      “When Don and I first married, we lived in Oklahoma City and he worked at the airplane plant down at Tinker Air Force Base there.  But he had always wanted to return to the farm so eventually we came back here.  So together we milked cows and ran a dairy.”

      “You know, every one of us five girls married good men, and lived with them for about the same length of time.”  Looking at the fireplace again, at all the other photos of her children and grandchildren, she added,

      “If I remember right, all my children, all my grandchildren, and all my great grandchildren are Christians.  And you know, (her heart in her eyes) it just makes you feel good to know that they are.”  We listened to a worship service on TV this afternoon, and I expected her to listen for a few moments and then nod off.  Instead Geneva was riveted to the screen, listening to every word—I finally realized she could hear little of the television with the volume at normal range, so we cranked it up almost to the max, and she seemed to really enjoy the whole service.  At the end of the show, they sang “I’ll Fly Away”.  Those now familiar tears brimmed her eyes as she smiled at me.  We sang it together, following the words the closed-captioning was printing across the screen, my alto complementing her sweet, resonant soprano.  At the end of it, her eyes twinkled when she noted,

      “I remember Mama singing I’ll Fly Away.”

     Funny, when you look back, how often we actually FIGHT the draw of the Spirit to get us to do things He wants us to do.  And when you go through the steps He wants you to take, the blessing is so pronounced, so powerful that it’s just overwhelming.  My only question is, why do we fight it so?  My never-ending need to be in control?  My spirit wants desperately to be Spirit-controlled; but my brain just doesn’t think anyone else knows better than it does.  This is going to be a life-changing week.

Ponderings

So much to consider. So many thoughts clamoring for time.  Sometimes I think we should be made like a one-way valve; we live one day, it’s gone.  No going back; no looking back.  Just finish this day and move on.

Today’s problems and today’s decisions are one thing.  But yesterday’s can back up like chocolates on Lucy’s conveyor belt, until we find ourselves stuffing our faces with candies to keep up and not drown in the backlog.  Yet if we stay in one place, and continue to chew and chew on the tough things that have passed, they don’t seem to digest at all.  They just grow and grow, and expand all out of proportion.

But then there’s grace.   Then there’s grace.