On [ Love, a long time ago ]

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“I was a child and she was a child, in this kingdom by the sea…”

This was as true a love as I have known, before or since.  Plain and sweet and honest, grounded in snow days and words and laughter.  Sometimes a warm fire and funny tracts, which no one will understand when I mention it now.  Sometimes little white grapes, we walked to buy in the freezing winter.  One day I took a breath in, then breathed out…..and I was home.

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You knew me thoroughly and all the oddities that made me up – and I can tell you now that they still do.  Refreshingly simple it was, which is not now me at all.  Maybe it never was, even then….but I think it was for that time.  Even today, I believe that was a darn strong love.

I let us slip through my fingers, I could feel myself letting that happen,  watching us disappear.  My own youth and the big wide world with all of its potential and possibilities…loomed large…and I let it overcome us.

You, I hear, are happy, and have been for the many years. I do smile about that, I want that for you.  I have to say I miss you, even now, after all the days and memories. Sometimes, dreams present you to me, exactly as you were, just as we were .  I swear, I can still smell your hair.

“….and we loved with a love that was more than love…”

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E.A. Poe

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On [ Mattering ]

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In this life, we want to matter.  I want to.  I want to make memories with my children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, friends, residents.  I want to bake and cook good food that we will enjoy together. I want to hem your pants and help you clean your cabinets, Mom. I want to  make an appetizer that does not contain meat, Amy.  Frances, I want to bring you peaches and tomatoes, I want you to tell me I have too many plants. I want to laugh with you.  I want to say a thing or two to you that makes a difference, I want my words to matter to you…and I want you to know that you matter to me, that your words matter, your very being.  Even by having this blog, by posting things here, I want to matter.

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I have a dear, dear friend who is a poet, a writer, a singer of excellent songs.   She owns a giant, lovely voice…she writes the words that leave you shaking your head, awestruck.  She is a lover of America and animals and music and God,   of all that is right and good.  She is as true a person as could possibly be.  She matters to me, and I think  I matter to her. Through another dear friend of ours, I hear that she doubts herself, wonders if her efforts have a big-enough landing pad.  She wonders how much she matters, if her words are reaching far enough. She shares with me an old CD she cut years ago.  On it are wonderful hymns sung in her own style, in the giant voice, beautiful. One day I am driving to work and I pop it into my car CD player.  I have to pull over when I hear the words, the music, I cannot drive because of the tears.   I am taken to my knees with the mattering of this. There is a Scottish man quoting scripture, and I now believe Jesus to be of Scottish origin because of it.  I close my eyes, tears squeezing through, breathing those words.  I hear her great voice singing about the God I love, meaning this….meaning this so much. I remember myself, right at that minute. I am able to shore myself up in a difficult time.  I remember that I am not alone, that I know the end of the story, that I can do this, that I can power through, because “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”.  Not lightly, I will tell you that the hearing of this song changed my life, lifted my tired head.  I listen to it now every single morning.  It matters.

The other day here at my job, in an assisted livng community, one of the ladies who lives here, a person I love so much, a friend, said to me….”How are you, baby girl?” That is all, simple, while she patted my arm.  I had been on vacation the previous week, and she had missed me.  This little question mattered so much.  I have not been called “baby girl”  in all of my life, that I remember,  I have not been thought of like this, at all, with the tenderness.  I cried and recognized the mattering of it, that comment, that love for me, from her.  I mattered to her, endearing, the tenderness that I have not known, from Justine. She matters to me.  I melt.  At that moment, I matter.  No one has called me baby girl. Except her.  I need that, right now,  and it matters.

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I declare.  I am having a hard time in my life, my job.  My sister gives me these CD’s….31 declarations over your life by Joel Osteen.  I listen to them and I am changed.  Like that.  I recognize and remember that the words I speak, the thoughts I think, matter.  They make a difference in my life, in the lives of others.  There is a little shift in my reality, my life, my thinking.  A change.  This matters.  I declare.  This gift, at this particular time, from my sister Lori….matters so much….she matters so much.

If you are reading this, you matter to me, in one way or another.  I want you to tell people in your life that they do.  It is a great goal, to matter to someone, and to notice those who matter to you.  Remember this.  Do it.  We may do a little thing, say a tiny word, sing a song we think no one listens to….and it well may matter so, so very much.

On [ Six Random Facts ]

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1)  Seclusion.  I need it. I have to be alone some or I will become fidgetty and anxious and unravelled.  I need to be in the quiet, with just me and books and a dog, with knitting.  I have to do assignments,  such as plants to plant with hands in the dirt, things to clean, books to read. I will hem your pants or bake something for you or sew a dress for my grand-daughter.  When I have had enough of that, I will go out to you, or I’ll invite you in.  I will love the companionship.  Until then, I will need to clean stuff, walk my dog by the rolling river, listen to my own voice or the music or the silence.

2) Food.   It needs to be on the end of a fork or in a napkin.  I do not want to hold it in my fingers.

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3) I live alone, but sometimes I miss having a man in my house.  You cannot be a pretty man like Tom Cruise, because then I will not be attracted to you at all.  Actually, you don’t have to be really handsome.  You do need to be clean and not have bad breath or teeth. If I ever come to love you, it will be because of your mind and your words and your humor.  It will be because you accept me, my family, my words, my idiocyncrasies, my failings.  I will want us to laugh a lot, to hold onto family, each other.  To eat good food and drink good wine.  It’d be great if you’d mow the lawn.  I’ll cook.

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4) My grandkids changed my life.  Forever. I have 5 kids. I once thought I was a good Mom.  Later, upon further introspection, I realized that I was not.  Divorce happened.  Overwhelmed, disconcerted, depressed.  I muddled through, but did not do a good job, I see now. Then there were grandkids, I became Mimi.  We play in the river, wet and muddy.  There are crumbs in my bed and my living room is a mess. We scooter and skateboard, sweaty. We plant in the garden and have picnics under the table and chalk the driveway.  There are 5 of them, soon to be 6.  This is called redemption, y’all.  It is my favorite part of everything.

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5)  My family is a strong, strong chain.  All the links are silly, wounded, annoying, smart. But together, we are all it takes. Parents, siblings, cousins, aunts….this is it.  We are the place it all comes together, where you are loved no matter what.  We delight in each other’s company, comiserate, encourage.  Aaaahhhhh.

6)  In my daughter’s words, I am a bad Christian. But I am one. I am too often not stalwart, I too often flounder, wander, adrift.  At the root of all of that, I really am grounded.  I am His and He is mine.  No matter how broken, wavering, questioning….I am grounded.  My hope is built on nothing less…..

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These are 6 random things about me.  I hope you enjoyed reading.

Mama’s Losin’ It

On [ Stu ]

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Oh, Stu, what a life you’ve led.  I want to be like you when I grow up, Stu.  Overcoming so much wrongness, patient and kind nonetheless…..gracious and loving.  A good example of a dog, and even of a person.

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My son-in-law met you one day on a work-site.  Stu, you were bloody and raw, chained to a tree.  Wounds all over from being dragged, chained, behind a truck.  Your then-owner said you’d be ok.  My son-in-law offerred to take you to the vet, and later told the owner you had died…he saved you, Stu.  My daughter and son-in-law paid for your healing from the many wounds, the heartworm.  Stu, you came home to be a part of our family then.

Stu, you were bigger than my couch, fearsome looking.  Children came, they crawled on you and pulled your ears, you were ever patient and never offerred to hurt a soul.

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I stayed with you last week, Stu.  We sat in the sunny yard while the children played.  Your giant head on my lap, I rubbed your graying muzzle.  We enjoyed the lovely days.  I noticed you limping, Stu.  I noticed you not running as fast for the ball I threw.

Stu, I want you to know that I admire you, boy.  I admire your character, your victory over adversity.  I love your spirit, Stu, your strength. I want to give you a giant thumbs’ up for your life, buddy.  You are so much good.  We will miss you, one day, when you go.  I hope, though, that from our memories of you, we will all be better, kinder,stronger.

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On [ Daddy Todd ]

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After school every day and more often in the summer, my chubby  5 year-old legs climb the steep steps that lead to Daddy Todd’s house.  I ring the doorbell and he opens the door, picks me up and swings me up high, with the giant laughter.  It’s dark in there, with a musty smell like an old man.  Which he is.  Daddy Todd is the only name for him that I know.

We do many things in that house, we spend lots of hours together, just me and Daddy Todd.  We play with his tailless cat, Stubby.  I get to open the glorious top drawer of the bureau which is filled with Hershey bars!!!  And gum!!!  My Mom never lets us have that stuff.  Our snacks are more of the raisin, apple, and sunflower-seed variety.  We go behind the house and pick the rhubarb.  I eat some of the sour stalks right there in the yard, after he wipes the dirt off with his shirttail, and he laughs at my pucker. I take some home for my Mom to make into pies.

On the wide porch in the old creaky rocking chair, I sit on his lap.  He listens to me read and reminds me how smart I am.  He reads to me.  Daddy Todd rubs my little back.  He tells me how he and Stubby love my visits, look forward to them.

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What does not happen there, in that house 2 blocks away from my home in northern Indiana….is anything  inappropriate.  There is nothing called abuse, there is no bad at all. It is simply a friendship between an old man and a little girl, and it goes on for years.

I hear the dinner bell when my Mom rings it, scamper down the steps and off down the sidewalk.  Looking back at Daddy Todd, waving at him waving at me.  “See ya tomorrow”, I yell.  “Not if I see you first!”, he yells back.  We try to do this as loudly as we can.  I guess, to show how much we mean it.

In shocking and horrible news, I am told that we will be moving to Texas after my 3rd grade year.  I run as fast as I can the blocks to Daddy Todd’s house, crying.  He comforts me, tells me it will be fine.  He reminds me that I am a strong girl, that I am the strongest girl he knows.  I notice him swipe away the tear on his wrinkly cheek as he says this.

On the day that we are to leave, he gives me a poem written on yellow legal paper.

“Each hour of the day as I sit here alone, I wonder how long till the schoolkids come home……..

Today, I’m sad that I could never see a relationship like this happen between Daddy Todd and my grand-daughter.  Absolutely not!  It would be suspect, dangerous…negligent on my part to allow it. I am sad for the lost innocence.  That the wonderful hours I spent with Daddy Todd would not be possible in this day, in this time, for any of my little girls.

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The little girl in this story is 53 years old now. I’m grateful that I was allowed that time, in the innocent day. Remembering that old man, I smile.  For the purity of it.  The words.  The time.  The love. The cat.  And…….the chocolate.

writing prompt: a character from your neighborhood

Mama’s Losin’ It

On [ Poetry ]

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“The little toy dog is covered with dust,
but sturdy and staunch he stands.
The little tin soldier is red with rust…..” In the 2nd grade, I visit my grandparents in Kentucky. I stand in front of my Pappaw, evenings, in my pink nightgown, listen to him recite poems to me. I am to memorize this poem, and others. This is his plan.
“…and his musket molds in his hands. Time was when the little toy dog was new and the soldier was passing fair…”

I don’t want to do this, I want to read other stuff or play with my sisters or draw. I look to my Mom to save me. She shruggs. I can see that I’m on my own here. She has been in my place before, I imagine, with her Dad who reads dictionaries and encyclopedias for entertainment. My Pappaw says, “Listen to me, Vicki Dee. Your mind is sharp and young. Now is the time to fill it with words. This is what we are going to do.” “….And that was the time that our Little Boy Blue kissed them and put them there.” At 53 years old, I can recite this poem word by word today. I can do it in the Pappaw’s very same inflection…..making some words draw out long and low, some rise in a question, some sad. I feel close to him when I say the words,  smiling,  grateful for the gift, even now.

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“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping…..”
I snap out of my daydream reverie, the 9th grade speech class. Deep words, serious ones, spoken by the senior boy, reciting to my group. My eyes grow large, amazed.
“….suddenly, there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. Tis some visitor, I muttered….”
A tall man-boy, dark and handsome, piercing eyes. Unashamed of reading like this, feeling this deeply about the words. For all to hear.
“….tapping at my chamber door. Only this, and nothing more.”
Mesmerized, shivering, I fall in love a little bit that day, with the words…and with the boy.  I want to know the words like he does, to remember them, to speak them like that.

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“Whan that Aprille, with his shoures soote, The Droughte of March hath perced to the roote, And bath’ed every veyne in swich licour…”  My Mom, silly girl, recites to me, explains how she memorized the Chaucer, what she thinks it means, how to pronounce it.  She is so busy being a Mom, this is a fun exchange, and I welcome it.  I remember the laughter, the funny words, her expressions.  Oh, Lord, the words I don’t understand are rolling off her tounge, lilting.   “….Of which vertu engendered is the flour; when  Zephirus eek with his swete breeth….”  The words sound like music, they smell like coffee.

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“Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres.”  These are Caesar’s Gallic Wars.  “Gall is divided into three parts.”  My best friend and I roll our eyes, but we love the Latin all the same, although we do pass notes in class.  Memorizing diligently, we learn how Latin is the foundation for all words, the beginning of the words we love.  We translate The Aeneid, first from the Latin to the English, and then from the English to the Latin.  It takes our entire senior year.  I have that book still, the notes I took in it, the notes he wrote to me, our tedious translations, line by line by line.  “….quarum unam incolunt Belgae.”  “The first part being Belgium….” My friend and I still talk, and over 30 years later, sometimes we still quote these words.  Just for fun.

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I am not a poet, but I hear it everywhere.  …”I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths, I will turn the darkness into light before them…”  The words lift my head, give me the missing hope. “… and make the rough places smooth.  These are the things I will do.”  They stay in my ears and on my tounge.  “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”  The words…give me rest.

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“The time has come….” Leaving work one dark evening, my young co-worker Olive speaks these words as she clocks out.  I answer. “….to talk of many things.  Of ships, of shoes, of sealing wax…”  Olive pitches in….”…of cabbages and kings…” I smile because she is young, and yet she knows this poem, and we speak on together, walking to our cars. “…and why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings.”  Ah, how sweet to hear the good words we remember, spoken out of nowhere.   I taste them, like honey.

 

On [ Sick ]

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At work one afternoon, a sharp sting in my arm. Itchy and red suddenly, hurty. It swells up until my nurse, here in the assisted living community where I have worked for years, tells me I have been bitten by something, to go to the emergency room. I do. They give me some prescriptions, some creams. It is September.

Over the next days, the itchy bits turn up on the other arm, by shoulders, my back. I scratch them in my sleep and they bleed on the sheets. I slap them. Going through allergy tests, medicines, doctors….no one can figure out what is going on, for months. I wear long sleeves.

In early winter, things worsen. My bones ache, with high fevers, I can’t eat, and I have to chart which drugs I take, and when. My doctor shakes her head.

At one emergency room visit, they test me for things, called lyme, lupus, called many other things. They tell me to go home, but if my fever comes back in the night, to come to the ER. It does, and I do…my Mom brings me at 4 in the morning. I am poked and prodded, tested for all things. They decide to admit me.

I am in the hospital for 8 days. Miserable. Pain deep in the bones, inconsolable, a constant IV of whatever going thru me that stings. My Mom is stalwart, my champion. No one knows what is happening.

One night, late and dark, an “infectious disease” doctor comes to my bedside and I wake to see him looking over me…..big eyes and long nose, like Ebenezer Scrooge…. Terrified, I ask him what he thinks. He says….we will do what we do and if it doesn’t get better, we’ll start over. I look at a streetlight outside that hospital window , I will myself to go toward the light…. I’ve heard people who have crossed say that. I’m finished, I have nothing left, I want to go.

They release me after the 8 days, no better. With 103 temperature, I have lost 20 pounds, I go home. During the next month, there is no time, no day or night. I sleep when I sleep, I am awake when I am awake, and during that time I read. I have pain a lot, I cry in the dark.

People from my church come and pray for me, begging for my healing. Bless them. My cousin, who works with dying people, tells me later that I was dying, that I had that look, that color of death. I fire my doctor on a visit when she tells me she does not know what to do with me, no one knows what to do. I talk to my best friend in NC and he……listens, helps me laugh a little.

Slowly, I get better. I stand up, take a shower, eat a little food, tiny bits. I go back to work, a little at a time. I have lost 30 pounds from an already thin, tall frame. Now, years later, still no one knows what this was. An auto-immune issue that came and went with no explanation. Of unknown origin.

I have learned some things from this. They are: Doctors don’t know everything. Family and friends can get you through. If you have been sick like this, you can have compassion for those who are. You can be so, so grateful to be well.

via Imperfectly Polished

via Imperfectly Polished

{writing prompt} last time you were sick

Mama’s Losin’ It

On [ school ] & a certain time

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c/o Duluth News Tribune archive

c/o Duluth News Tribune archive

I go to kindergarten when I am 5.  This is before people have to be so scared, so I can walk there.  My school is 7 blocks away and I walk with Eddie, our neighbor.  I firmly believe that I will marry him one day.  You cannot wear pants yet in school, if you are a girl.  I wear a dress or skirt in Indiana, and it is snowy a lot.  My teacher is happy that I can read already, and she lets me read aloud to the class.  I learn that I am smart, I learn that I am capable.  She says those things to me, and I take them in.

My elementary years go well.  I do not struggle with schoolwork, and I like learning.  I love to read, everything I can get my hands on.  Already, I love the words.

Middle school in Texas….I start my period on the first day of 7th grade.  Gah!  I do not understand these kids; they are ridiculous to me, all flirty and everything with each other.  Silly! I do well in school still, and eventually understand the flirtiness.  I become pretty good at it, but I am tall, gangly, awkward.  I’m outside a lot, I climb trees and read.  We move often, 2 cities in Texas and then Virginia, in 2 houses there.

The next years, miserable.  Most everything that could be wrong, is wrong.  I am in the 8th grade and my parents get a nasty divorce.  My mother takes us, my 2 sisters and my brother, on a summer-long trip.  We visit friends, family.  My mother is everywhere, but she is not with us. She is trying to heal, and I do understand that she needs…something.  I lose my virginity this summer at a young age.  I am lonely and lost, looking for someone to approve of me, for someone to see me at all.  Oh, I am only 15.

In the fall, we come back to a different house my Dad has rented for us, across town.  There is a rat who lives there with us, we can hear him chewing the rafters.   We try to make jokes about him. It is a gross house, and my brother has no room.  He sleeps wherever: on the couch, in the leaky attic.  He is 8.  We are mostly alone.  Our 2 dogs are gone, our Dad has sold them.  We don’t know this until we get back to town.  It is horrible, hurtful news.  Starting the 9th grade at a new school, I am terrified.  I am not popular, but I  am smart.  I take Latin and English and Literature, and I am good at those things, love them.  Able to run fast and long, I do track and cross country, and I love the running. I do not have many friends.  A boy I like tells me he can’t take me to the prom as I am not from a nice family.  This, because my parents divorced before it became so popular.  Many things hurt.

Mostly I hate school. I am a nervous wreck every day, I want it to be over.  Grades, though, are still good.  The people I see there seem to be having a good time,  they seem to be liking things….I do not understand this.  I am invisible.  I don’t know what to do or who to talk to.  The memories, mostly, of this time, are not good ones, they are not good ones.  That is all.

My family, though, ralllies.  We live in the silly house, and we get a new stray silly dog, Emmy.  She helps to heal us, although she never quite gets the idea of housetraining.  My Mom has to work a lot for not very much money, it is a miracle that we even have the used orange Vega.  My sister and I walk to running practices at school, 3 miles each way.

We learn more about the real Jesus, not formal religion….but the love part, the grace part, redemption.  We get friends in that house.  We get happier.  There is music all the time, love, good food smells, noise.  Tall, leggy teenagers still sit on our Mom’s lap. She lets us.  We made friends then that we still have today, years later.  My Mom married one of them.  One of them was, I still believe, the love of my life.

We learned lessons that have stayed with us.  They are:  You can make it.  You are resilient.  You can get through. You have an excellent heritage.  You don’t suck.  You are smart.  God thinks you are awesome.  You are a good person.  People love you.  Music solves things, every single time.  And, mostly….family is everything.

On [ Steps ]

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At 16, my world crashes down. Always somewhat crashy for me , now this world means it.  My parents are divorcing.  My Mom leaves for a couple weeks to stay with my aunt, devastated.  My Dad is going, he has found someone else.

Oh, I was mad.  Such rage at the people I blamed, my soon-to-be-step mother, my father.  I railed.  Horrid, angry, yelling, rude, ugly.  She never, ever railed back.  She made craft projects for us to do, cooked for us, invited us in, loved us ever, in spite of me.  She was forgiveness, the epitome of love to me in my worst awfulness. Today, I stand ashamed.

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My father married that lady, and they lived happily together for many, many years.  I grew to love her as a parent, a confidante, a friend.  She was and is Nana to my children, Mom to me, a gift.  She cared for my Dad when he was sick, she loved me like I was her own daughter.

I stood holding my father’s hand while he died, my other hand holding hers.  This is my family, my step-sister Pam, all of us.  Together because of the love of these two pepole.  I am infinitely grateful.  I love her so, speak with her often, visit, go to my Dad’s grave with her.  Clean off the dirt, lay down flowers, say hello, we miss you.

I would do anything for her, I will take care of her until the day she dies, she is my family.

After my parents divorced, my Mom met a man, a friend.  Over months the friendship grew large, became love.  Oh, I was mad.  Such rage at the people I blamed, my soon-to-be step father, my mother.  I railed.  Horrid, angry, yelling, rude, ugly.  He never, ever railed back.  He loved us ever, in spite of me.  He was forgiveness, the epitome of love to me in my worst awfullness. Today, I stand ashamed.

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He accepts the fact that he will not have kids of his own.  He loves us unconditionally, he put up with our teenage ridiculousness.  My mother married that man, they have lived happily together for many, many years.  I grew to love him as a parent, a confidante, a friend. He was and is Baba to my children, Dad to me, a gift.  He cares for my Mom, loves me like I was his own daughter.

I stand holding his hand, my other hand holding hers, as he prays over our Christmas dinner.  This is my family, all of us, together because of the love of these two people.  I am infinitely grateful.  I love him so, speak with him often, depend on him.

I would do anything for him.  I will take care of him until the day he dies, he is my family.

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The twists, the turns, the angst that makes families happen, imperfectly…. are perfect. We are given the people we need in our lives, and let’s be thankful for them.  I am indeed grateful for my steps, for how they have put up with me, loved me altogether, in spite of myself.  I cannot imagine my life without them.

On [ the Lagoon ]

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After living in my new little house for a few months, after some neighborhood exploration, the kids and I found a path.  Oh, it is an excellent path, paved and wide.  It winds through woods, where sounds of birds and earth-smells are all that matter.  We go there often. Down the path, carting baskets of chalk, bags of food, sometimes on scooters or skateboards.

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One day we found a side entrance to a place that changed our lives, or at least our weekends, our memories.  A weedy, beaten path, down a sharp slope…then 8 concrete flat steps that someone, long ago probably, thought to add, making the way easier, straight down to the river.

Amazed at our luck, we go there every weekend, several times a day, rarely seeing anyone else.  The kids deem this “the Lagoon”.  I smile, thinking of the “Ferngully” of my own children’s childhood magic place.

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We get into the water, chest-high for the smallest of us, at 3 years old.  There is the rock-side and the beach-side….the beach-side across the river breadth, where the rocks are broken small and the sun shines warm.  Treasures found are kept in a basket on my kitchen counter….seaglass, shells, pretty leaves, acorns.  We love it here.

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Mornings, we wake up, I ask them what they would like to do this day.  Movie?  Museum?  Park?  “The Lagoon, Meem!  You know we have to go to the Lagoon!” They pack the brown bags with breakfast or lunch or dinner.  Hard-boiled eggs, cold pizza, grapes, yogurt, bananas… the menu of choice.

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This first morning in December we are here early, 7:30.  A balmy day, perfect.   Children play, wet and dirty.  Here, there are imaginings, stories created that we will speak of later, often.  I sit on the rock and take pictures, look at the beauty of the children, the day…drink my warm coffee.

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When the water is not too cold, I go in with them, and we wade over the expanse to the beach-side.  Where I watch my little brood play, make memories.  Where I close my eyes, where I remember that this is why I am here.

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On [ Gathering ]

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We gather. Weekly, monthly, yearly. Every chance we get.  In various places, configurations, groupings. Looking forward to these occasions, we count the days until the next one, make them up.  They all have a different flavor.

Heading to the mountains in early November, we celebrate the Mama’s birthday.  That is the excuse, but the real reason is to gather, to be together.  Here, we are family, old friends, a rag-tag band of disparate folks who simply love each other in spite of our differences.  Here, there is good food, prepared by many hands. My brother-in-law Brian causes smells to come from that kitchen, reeking of heaven, inviting bears. There is music, hymns, silly songs, old ones. Games of “Oh Hell”, our favorite card game played over coffee and Bloody Marys in the morning, over wine and martinis at night.  There are hot tub confessions, validations, encouragement.  Much laughter, connection.  All of us, looking at the beautiful nature, saying “Oh”.

In a tradition we call “Friday Festivities”, we meet at my Mom’s house, bearing wine and appetizers, stories from the week past, every Friday night.  We have done this for years.  A  big gathering in years past, now smaller since my sisters moved away.  Sometimes it is just me and my parents, but it is still good, a connection that we depend on.  We catch up, we need to.

A variation of Friday Festivities is Music Night, every month or so.  Music lovers in this family, we open our doors to friends, neighbors. We play and sing, going around the room.  In my own living room, this is some of the best music in Music City, y’all.  Joe, my brother, writes some gorgeous words.  My Dad sings, clear tenor, words he wrote, or old hymns, beautiful.  When we are lucky, friends who are actually IN the music business join us, we have a good old time.  We are just as happy when it is just the core of us, good food and good company, lovely voices, sounds going up to heaven.

In September, girls go to the beach for a week.  Oh, this is the best week of the year.  We pack into a little condo, fall into our roles.  Someone goes to the store.  My sister-in-law Sandy cooks fragrant meals, made with so much love.  We smell the food, breathe it in.  Someone cleans up, makes the coffee, loads the car with the beach paraphenalia, sets the table for cards, makes the mimosas.  We girls are drawn in by the ocean, the calm, the company, our love for the food….for each other.  As years go by, rituals are added, places to lunch.  A wooden swing on a porch overlooking the ocean, a strong cup of coffee and a bagel. Good stories, laughter, family, friends.  What a gathering.

On holidays, we gather.  Christmas Eve, we meet at our church, we hold candles, hold hands.  At the Mama’s house after, we have soup & cornbread & dessert. We hug, connect.  Children run crazy, adults sit and talk.  Feel the love.  Christmas day, we meet for dinner, after long hours of cooking, preparing.  We form a giant circle, holding hands, my Dad prays, kids antsy for the chocolate.  The connection is palpable, electric.  Children dance in circles, our future.  They eat in our laps. Wrapping paper, ribbons & bows, everywhere.

This is a season of gatherings.  In my family, I am grateful that they are often, that there is no need for a holiday for us to come together. I wish all of you the pleasure of gathering, for the joy it brings.  For the closeness, the love.

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On [Hearts]

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Hearts are the beating things, the center of us, our hold on life. We bestow them with feelings – they are wounded, broken, lost, joyful.  Physical hearts are compromised.  They beat too fast or slowly, skip beats, stop suddenly, give out.

Mine is broken, has been.  The pimply faced teen calls me “too big”.  I am 5’11”, skinny.   I am not from a nice family,he says, because my parents divorced.  Finishing just shy of a track championship, after working so hard.  My own failed marriage.  If I am being honest, I break my own heart sometimes. Making bad choices.  Saying things I don’t mean to say, or at least not the way I mean them.  I mean them to be funny, but they aren’t.  I hurt people without meaning to, disappoint myself.  The subjective pain of a broken heart…is real.  This shit hurts, y’all.

All of my sisters have rhythm issues, besides the white-girl-dancing problem.  Likely inherited from our Dad. His heart was paddled and shocked, in  many attempts to get it in line.  Mine and Tracis’ are treated with medicine, vitamins, procedures – doctors tell us problems could crop up again at any time – or not.

Lori, the middle sister,  now, is in the heart drama, again.  Her heart, failing and skipping beats, needing to be made right, to beat in proper order, neatly.  This, after other obstacles, called cancer, called congestive heart failure.  At only 50 years old, this heart barks back at her best year.  Training for a marathon, raising her young children, positive and grounded.  This is bad timing.

Last night in my bed, late, looking at my dark ceiling, I wake and feel my heart, my right hand on my chest feels it beating.  In rhythm, for now.  I pray in silence for the hearts of my sisters.  For hearts hurt by cruel acts or words.  For hearts to be healed.  Remembering the way our hearts lead us to be right, to love.

Rolling after pondering all of this…., my almost 7 year old grand-daughter puts her hand on my chest.  “Mimi, you are the best Mimi ever.  And, when I touch you, I am putting my love in your heart.  And it will never leave. Ever.”  My heart has never felt this fine.

On [ Flooded ]

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See the city, look at her beauty, her pride.  Her name is Nashville, we call her home. On an early Saturday in May, the rain comes, steady, relentless.  Here, we are not sure what is happening, only that the rain does not stop. We call each other, wanting to be told what is going on, needing to know what to do.

By afternoon, it’s clear that this is something else, not the ordinary rainstorm. The water comes and comes. It does not stop, pouring in sheets, pounding our ground. We stand in Nashville, eyes wide, watching. I am at work this day, seeing the water rise in our parking lot, moving my car uphill when the water reaches the driver-side doorframe. I see trash and filth float by. A kid’s red sweatshirt, oddly. My own shoes float away.

I make it home, shocked, grateful. My basement apartment takes in some water, enough to wet the carpet. I lose power for a time, phone service.

It is several days before I can drive to work, horrified to see my city. Piles of people’s belongings….a toy like one my grandson loves, a crib, a flat-screened TV, all stacked squarely at the roadside, rubbish now. Driving by ravaged houses, I can see through the front door to the back, there are no walls now. Only shells where homes used to be.

The city is taken to her knees, by water, drowning. But, look! She is getting up, the people are trying to stand, even as water sloshes around their feet, all around. Many times they fall, but they are getting up. Soon we are on our hands and knees, one person after another…hands outstretched – to get help, to give it. Then on our feet, before FEMA comes, before there is any help at all, we are here for each other.

We are community. We help people we do not know. My son calls me to help an old man whose land has flooded, his basement, his buildings. Many pitch in, still in the rain, helping, loving, caring, even laughing.

Nashville has recovered, mostly. We have changed. We know how quickly the waters can rise, how soon we may need to help neighbors, friends, strangers. We are ready. We are Nashville.

Prompt: Flooded

Mama’s Losin’ It

On [ Abby ]

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After a long gritty fight, here you are. One minute I am a child, in terrified pain. The next , I am a mother. You’ve come too soon and you are tiny, a word not often used in this family. The word for you, though, is perfect, the word for you is lovely. I hold you like glass, and in this moment, I understand everything. We are the only people in the world.

Because I do not know what to do, I smell your milky breath, My pointy nose is in your mouth, both of our eyes closed. I breathe you. There is no one else here.

For these months, I will be your mother and you will be my child. That is all. More children will come, and oh, we will love them. But always, at the center, are you and me.

As babies tend to do, you grow, amaze me. You get hair! A sharp tooth! Words! Movement! Your Dad comes home from work and I am on the floor holding you up in the air, shaking my head with a rattle in my mouth, forgetting to cook dinner.

Before I know it, you are an actual kid…blonde hair, giant blue eyes. My eyes drink you all the time, noticing the minutes passing. I know to pay attention, I know this time will fly by.

I become a single Mom, and you help me be a mother. This is not an easy time..you have to call me at work when the power is turned off, when Clay scrapes his knees. I come home to find you holding him, rubbing his little back, saying “there, there”.

Now you are a big girl, mother to my grandchildren. Oh, you are your best self , there is no way I could be more proud. I want you to know that I still love looking at you, Abby. My eyes love seeing you and remembering that you made me a Mom, that you made me a Mimi, that from the beginning it was me and you.. I still want to hold you, I still want to breathe you in, smell your breath. Happy 30th birthday, my love…always, always my little girl.

On [Dancing]

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I am bad at this, but sometimes I do it anyway.  Only in private, unless I am with a grandchild.  Usually to music that I am way too old to listen to.  I had these daughters, though?  I loved to watch them dance.  The long arms and legs, the pointy feet, the graceful necks.

My body could never do those things and have it look this easy.  The leaping and bounding, the facial expressions that match the music….at once smirking, then smiling, engaging the audience with their own interpretation of the music, the dance.  I watched them, amazed, mesmerized really.  How could people with this grace, this expression and flexibility, have come from me?

My oldest daughter danced Swan Lake.  En pointe, she was lovely on that stage.  Her face was called beautiful, her movements fluid.  I have a picture of her in that white dress, being the swan, her arms just so, floating….it is on my bedroom wall even now.  I sewed the feathers on the dress, at the hem, tedious.  To watch her in it made my eyes glad, to be allowed to sit there and witness her dancing, her love of it, her beauty.

Tori learned to love the dance from her sister Abby, the swan.  In our giant rec-room downstairs, she would go and dance for hours, alone.  Hearing the music coming up the stairs, I would sneak half-way down where she could not see me and watch, crouching in the stairwell.  The look of her was called freedom, it was plain joy.  I watched her in secret. She used the furniture as props, and I was afraid that she might break her neck.   Not knowing I was there, the smile on her face was giant with the happiness.  Oh, she was her own audience.

Now, I have granddaughters, and they dance for me.  They are different in their dancing, in their personalities.

Ella is 6, and she wants jewelery and feather boas.  She wants to wear the high heels I wear to work and my dresses.  She wants scarves and props and my undivided attention.  Ella instructs me to sit and watch, to clap and cheer, and I do.  “Pretend I am on the stage, Mimi.  Pretend I am the best dancer in the world.”  I do. And, she is.

Nev is 5, she has rhythm.  She wants to orchestrate the dance, call the shots, be the conductor.  She wants me to dance with her, however poorly.  “Mimi, really? You are not good at ALL.  You got to shake your BOOTY!  No, that’s not good, I’m tired of telling you, Mimi!  You got to REALLY shake it!” Her laughter is huge, resounding in this house.

This is my weekend entertainment, a flashback to the years when I watched my own little girls dance, when I was able to bear witness to their joy.  Oh, I am fortunate, thankful for the dancing that has gone on in my homes, in my family, for the happiness it brings, even now.

On… Old People

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     They are just old, old.  They have pain so much, all the time, everywhere, and pee their pants.  All they want is to see that I know this, that I get it.  I like to look in their cloudy eyes so that they know I am trying to understand, and I am trying to, even though I cannot.  When I  talk with them, I say the small words.  I say “yes” and “oh”.  I call them precious, lovely, perfect, dear,  and I mean it.  I touch them on their shoulders, their bony backs, adjust the saggy sweaters.  I touch the veiny hands, and I do love the powdery feel of them.  They feel like life and earth, like history, fleeting.   All the time, I know how brief their stay here will be, how soon they will go, how their feet will leave this ground.  I know how much I will miss them, how I will remember their stories, their time here, their thumbprints on my life. How I will hate that they are gone.

      This is my work,  an assisted living community. I have been here for eight years.  The work involves filing, paperwork, managing things, filling the building up, but they are why I am here.  Tying a shoe, holding a shaky hand, looking into the ancient eyes…this is what I am called to do.

     Long ago there was a lady, my best love, my Nannie.  Looking into the mirror, I am  fixing her hair. “Who is that old person?”, she says.  “Who is she?  It isn’t me!  I am 17, and 25, and 40, I can’t be that old girl!”.  I realize that all those people are inside, all the younger selves.  I want to know all of them.  I am young, but I live my life seeing them all, wanting to see them. She teaches me what I need to know, to do this job that I will love someday…but I don’t understand that now.

     I come to this job and there is Ed.  He has lost one leg, outlived two wives, given all he owned to Hurricane Ivan.  Oh, imagine the hurt.  Seeing him, you would never think he’d  had a bad day!  Such joy! He asks to play the harmonica for the devotions group I lead, and he does, poorly but with feeling.  We all smile at his gift. Not the harmonica, but the love.

       Here is Mary.  She loves birds, as I do, it is our bond.  I fill her feeder every day and hang a hummingbird feeder on her porch, fill it will sugar-water…week after week.  After 2 years, she comes down the hall, big smile, dentures clacking.  The hummingbirds have come!   In a move that I will  discuss with her later, she dies on my birthday. I am sad…. and then I recognize the  gift.  I will never forget her.  On my birthday every year, I will remember Mary.

     Helen is one hundred and two.   Coming  to my devotions group,  she sings the hymns in her beautiful, warbled voice.  Knowing all the words, looking to heaven as she sings them. Helen is a little child and her father buys a goat.  Helen, her brother and sister name the goat Billy.  Dad has built a carriage,  Billy rides the three around  dirt roads of the village all day, they are the  talk of the town. Now, Helen says she is ready to be with Jesus. She is tired, she wants to go, every night she is ready, she reminds us.  She tacks a sign written in red ink above her bed, to make sure we all know. One night, it happens when she is one hundred and three. We are not sad, we are high-fiving in the office, in the halls, all over the building.  Yay for you, Helen.  Praise the Lord.

     This, mostly, is my atmosphere, where I am, where I belong.  There are good days and not-good-days. They are, mostly,  good.  I am able to love, I am able to give back, I get to.  I am able to live the life I was meant to live, to give the things I have to give.  To touch, to love, to remember.

On [ Love, a long time ago ]

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“I was a child and she was a child, in this kingdom by the sea…”

This was as true a love as I have known, before or since.  Plain and sweet and honest, grounded in snow days and words and laughter.  Sometimes a warm fire and funny tracts, which no one will understand when I mention it now.  Sometimes little white grapes, we walked to buy in the freezing winter.  One day I took a breath in, then breathed out…..and I was home.

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You knew me thoroughly and all the oddities that made me up – and I can tell you now that they still do.  Refreshingly simple it was, which is not now me at all.  Maybe it never was, even then….but I think it was for that time.  Even today, I believe that was a darn strong love.

I let us slip through my fingers, I could feel myself letting that happen,  watching us disappear.  My own youth and the big wide world with all of its potential and possibilities…loomed large…and I let it overcome us.

You, I hear, are happy, and have been for the many years. I do smile about that, I want that for you.  I have to say I miss you, even now, after all the days and memories. Sometimes, dreams present you to me, exactly as you were, just as we were .  I swear, I can still smell your hair.

“….and we loved with a love that was more than love…”

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E.A. Poe

On [ Mattering ]

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In this life, we want to matter.  I want to.  I want to make memories with my children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, friends, residents.  I want to bake and cook good food that we will enjoy together. I want to hem your pants and help you clean your cabinets, Mom. I want to  make an appetizer that does not contain meat, Amy.  Frances, I want to bring you peaches and tomatoes, I want you to tell me I have too many plants. I want to laugh with you.  I want to say a thing or two to you that makes a difference, I want my words to matter to you…and I want you to know that you matter to me, that your words matter, your very being.  Even by having this blog, by posting things here, I want to matter.

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I have a dear, dear friend who is a poet, a writer, a singer of excellent songs.   She owns a giant, lovely voice…she writes the words that leave you shaking your head, awestruck.  She is a lover of America and animals and music and God,   of all that is right and good.  She is as true a person as could possibly be.  She matters to me, and I think  I matter to her. Through another dear friend of ours, I hear that she doubts herself, wonders if her efforts have a big-enough landing pad.  She wonders how much she matters, if her words are reaching far enough. She shares with me an old CD she cut years ago.  On it are wonderful hymns sung in her own style, in the giant voice, beautiful. One day I am driving to work and I pop it into my car CD player.  I have to pull over when I hear the words, the music, I cannot drive because of the tears.   I am taken to my knees with the mattering of this. There is a Scottish man quoting scripture, and I now believe Jesus to be of Scottish origin because of it.  I close my eyes, tears squeezing through, breathing those words.  I hear her great voice singing about the God I love, meaning this….meaning this so much. I remember myself, right at that minute. I am able to shore myself up in a difficult time.  I remember that I am not alone, that I know the end of the story, that I can do this, that I can power through, because “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”.  Not lightly, I will tell you that the hearing of this song changed my life, lifted my tired head.  I listen to it now every single morning.  It matters.

The other day here at my job, in an assisted livng community, one of the ladies who lives here, a person I love so much, a friend, said to me….”How are you, baby girl?” That is all, simple, while she patted my arm.  I had been on vacation the previous week, and she had missed me.  This little question mattered so much.  I have not been called “baby girl”  in all of my life, that I remember,  I have not been thought of like this, at all, with the tenderness.  I cried and recognized the mattering of it, that comment, that love for me, from her.  I mattered to her, endearing, the tenderness that I have not known, from Justine. She matters to me.  I melt.  At that moment, I matter.  No one has called me baby girl. Except her.  I need that, right now,  and it matters.

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I declare.  I am having a hard time in my life, my job.  My sister gives me these CD’s….31 declarations over your life by Joel Osteen.  I listen to them and I am changed.  Like that.  I recognize and remember that the words I speak, the thoughts I think, matter.  They make a difference in my life, in the lives of others.  There is a little shift in my reality, my life, my thinking.  A change.  This matters.  I declare.  This gift, at this particular time, from my sister Lori….matters so much….she matters so much.

If you are reading this, you matter to me, in one way or another.  I want you to tell people in your life that they do.  It is a great goal, to matter to someone, and to notice those who matter to you.  Remember this.  Do it.  We may do a little thing, say a tiny word, sing a song we think no one listens to….and it well may matter so, so very much.

On [ Six Random Facts ]

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1)  Seclusion.  I need it. I have to be alone some or I will become fidgetty and anxious and unravelled.  I need to be in the quiet, with just me and books and a dog, with knitting.  I have to do assignments,  such as plants to plant with hands in the dirt, things to clean, books to read. I will hem your pants or bake something for you or sew a dress for my grand-daughter.  When I have had enough of that, I will go out to you, or I’ll invite you in.  I will love the companionship.  Until then, I will need to clean stuff, walk my dog by the rolling river, listen to my own voice or the music or the silence.

2) Food.   It needs to be on the end of a fork or in a napkin.  I do not want to hold it in my fingers.

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3) I live alone, but sometimes I miss having a man in my house.  You cannot be a pretty man like Tom Cruise, because then I will not be attracted to you at all.  Actually, you don’t have to be really handsome.  You do need to be clean and not have bad breath or teeth. If I ever come to love you, it will be because of your mind and your words and your humor.  It will be because you accept me, my family, my words, my idiocyncrasies, my failings.  I will want us to laugh a lot, to hold onto family, each other.  To eat good food and drink good wine.  It’d be great if you’d mow the lawn.  I’ll cook.

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4) My grandkids changed my life.  Forever. I have 5 kids. I once thought I was a good Mom.  Later, upon further introspection, I realized that I was not.  Divorce happened.  Overwhelmed, disconcerted, depressed.  I muddled through, but did not do a good job, I see now. Then there were grandkids, I became Mimi.  We play in the river, wet and muddy.  There are crumbs in my bed and my living room is a mess. We scooter and skateboard, sweaty. We plant in the garden and have picnics under the table and chalk the driveway.  There are 5 of them, soon to be 6.  This is called redemption, y’all.  It is my favorite part of everything.

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5)  My family is a strong, strong chain.  All the links are silly, wounded, annoying, smart. But together, we are all it takes. Parents, siblings, cousins, aunts….this is it.  We are the place it all comes together, where you are loved no matter what.  We delight in each other’s company, comiserate, encourage.  Aaaahhhhh.

6)  In my daughter’s words, I am a bad Christian. But I am one. I am too often not stalwart, I too often flounder, wander, adrift.  At the root of all of that, I really am grounded.  I am His and He is mine.  No matter how broken, wavering, questioning….I am grounded.  My hope is built on nothing less…..

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These are 6 random things about me.  I hope you enjoyed reading.

Mama’s Losin’ It

On [ Stu ]

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Oh, Stu, what a life you’ve led.  I want to be like you when I grow up, Stu.  Overcoming so much wrongness, patient and kind nonetheless…..gracious and loving.  A good example of a dog, and even of a person.

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My son-in-law met you one day on a work-site.  Stu, you were bloody and raw, chained to a tree.  Wounds all over from being dragged, chained, behind a truck.  Your then-owner said you’d be ok.  My son-in-law offerred to take you to the vet, and later told the owner you had died…he saved you, Stu.  My daughter and son-in-law paid for your healing from the many wounds, the heartworm.  Stu, you came home to be a part of our family then.

Stu, you were bigger than my couch, fearsome looking.  Children came, they crawled on you and pulled your ears, you were ever patient and never offerred to hurt a soul.

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I stayed with you last week, Stu.  We sat in the sunny yard while the children played.  Your giant head on my lap, I rubbed your graying muzzle.  We enjoyed the lovely days.  I noticed you limping, Stu.  I noticed you not running as fast for the ball I threw.

Stu, I want you to know that I admire you, boy.  I admire your character, your victory over adversity.  I love your spirit, Stu, your strength. I want to give you a giant thumbs’ up for your life, buddy.  You are so much good.  We will miss you, one day, when you go.  I hope, though, that from our memories of you, we will all be better, kinder,stronger.

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On [ Daddy Todd ]

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After school every day and more often in the summer, my chubby  5 year-old legs climb the steep steps that lead to Daddy Todd’s house.  I ring the doorbell and he opens the door, picks me up and swings me up high, with the giant laughter.  It’s dark in there, with a musty smell like an old man.  Which he is.  Daddy Todd is the only name for him that I know.

We do many things in that house, we spend lots of hours together, just me and Daddy Todd.  We play with his tailless cat, Stubby.  I get to open the glorious top drawer of the bureau which is filled with Hershey bars!!!  And gum!!!  My Mom never lets us have that stuff.  Our snacks are more of the raisin, apple, and sunflower-seed variety.  We go behind the house and pick the rhubarb.  I eat some of the sour stalks right there in the yard, after he wipes the dirt off with his shirttail, and he laughs at my pucker. I take some home for my Mom to make into pies.

On the wide porch in the old creaky rocking chair, I sit on his lap.  He listens to me read and reminds me how smart I am.  He reads to me.  Daddy Todd rubs my little back.  He tells me how he and Stubby love my visits, look forward to them.

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What does not happen there, in that house 2 blocks away from my home in northern Indiana….is anything  inappropriate.  There is nothing called abuse, there is no bad at all. It is simply a friendship between an old man and a little girl, and it goes on for years.

I hear the dinner bell when my Mom rings it, scamper down the steps and off down the sidewalk.  Looking back at Daddy Todd, waving at him waving at me.  “See ya tomorrow”, I yell.  “Not if I see you first!”, he yells back.  We try to do this as loudly as we can.  I guess, to show how much we mean it.

In shocking and horrible news, I am told that we will be moving to Texas after my 3rd grade year.  I run as fast as I can the blocks to Daddy Todd’s house, crying.  He comforts me, tells me it will be fine.  He reminds me that I am a strong girl, that I am the strongest girl he knows.  I notice him swipe away the tear on his wrinkly cheek as he says this.

On the day that we are to leave, he gives me a poem written on yellow legal paper.

“Each hour of the day as I sit here alone, I wonder how long till the schoolkids come home……..

Today, I’m sad that I could never see a relationship like this happen between Daddy Todd and my grand-daughter.  Absolutely not!  It would be suspect, dangerous…negligent on my part to allow it. I am sad for the lost innocence.  That the wonderful hours I spent with Daddy Todd would not be possible in this day, in this time, for any of my little girls.

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The little girl in this story is 53 years old now. I’m grateful that I was allowed that time, in the innocent day. Remembering that old man, I smile.  For the purity of it.  The words.  The time.  The love. The cat.  And…….the chocolate.

writing prompt: a character from your neighborhood

Mama’s Losin’ It

On [ Poetry ]

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“The little toy dog is covered with dust,
but sturdy and staunch he stands.
The little tin soldier is red with rust…..” In the 2nd grade, I visit my grandparents in Kentucky. I stand in front of my Pappaw, evenings, in my pink nightgown, listen to him recite poems to me. I am to memorize this poem, and others. This is his plan.
“…and his musket molds in his hands. Time was when the little toy dog was new and the soldier was passing fair…”

I don’t want to do this, I want to read other stuff or play with my sisters or draw. I look to my Mom to save me. She shruggs. I can see that I’m on my own here. She has been in my place before, I imagine, with her Dad who reads dictionaries and encyclopedias for entertainment. My Pappaw says, “Listen to me, Vicki Dee. Your mind is sharp and young. Now is the time to fill it with words. This is what we are going to do.” “….And that was the time that our Little Boy Blue kissed them and put them there.” At 53 years old, I can recite this poem word by word today. I can do it in the Pappaw’s very same inflection…..making some words draw out long and low, some rise in a question, some sad. I feel close to him when I say the words,  smiling,  grateful for the gift, even now.

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“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping…..”
I snap out of my daydream reverie, the 9th grade speech class. Deep words, serious ones, spoken by the senior boy, reciting to my group. My eyes grow large, amazed.
“….suddenly, there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. Tis some visitor, I muttered….”
A tall man-boy, dark and handsome, piercing eyes. Unashamed of reading like this, feeling this deeply about the words. For all to hear.
“….tapping at my chamber door. Only this, and nothing more.”
Mesmerized, shivering, I fall in love a little bit that day, with the words…and with the boy.  I want to know the words like he does, to remember them, to speak them like that.

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“Whan that Aprille, with his shoures soote, The Droughte of March hath perced to the roote, And bath’ed every veyne in swich licour…”  My Mom, silly girl, recites to me, explains how she memorized the Chaucer, what she thinks it means, how to pronounce it.  She is so busy being a Mom, this is a fun exchange, and I welcome it.  I remember the laughter, the funny words, her expressions.  Oh, Lord, the words I don’t understand are rolling off her tounge, lilting.   “….Of which vertu engendered is the flour; when  Zephirus eek with his swete breeth….”  The words sound like music, they smell like coffee.

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“Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres.”  These are Caesar’s Gallic Wars.  “Gall is divided into three parts.”  My best friend and I roll our eyes, but we love the Latin all the same, although we do pass notes in class.  Memorizing diligently, we learn how Latin is the foundation for all words, the beginning of the words we love.  We translate The Aeneid, first from the Latin to the English, and then from the English to the Latin.  It takes our entire senior year.  I have that book still, the notes I took in it, the notes he wrote to me, our tedious translations, line by line by line.  “….quarum unam incolunt Belgae.”  “The first part being Belgium….” My friend and I still talk, and over 30 years later, sometimes we still quote these words.  Just for fun.

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I am not a poet, but I hear it everywhere.  …”I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths, I will turn the darkness into light before them…”  The words lift my head, give me the missing hope. “… and make the rough places smooth.  These are the things I will do.”  They stay in my ears and on my tounge.  “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”  The words…give me rest.

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“The time has come….” Leaving work one dark evening, my young co-worker Olive speaks these words as she clocks out.  I answer. “….to talk of many things.  Of ships, of shoes, of sealing wax…”  Olive pitches in….”…of cabbages and kings…” I smile because she is young, and yet she knows this poem, and we speak on together, walking to our cars. “…and why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings.”  Ah, how sweet to hear the good words we remember, spoken out of nowhere.   I taste them, like honey.

 

On [ Sick ]

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At work one afternoon, a sharp sting in my arm. Itchy and red suddenly, hurty. It swells up until my nurse, here in the assisted living community where I have worked for years, tells me I have been bitten by something, to go to the emergency room. I do. They give me some prescriptions, some creams. It is September.

Over the next days, the itchy bits turn up on the other arm, by shoulders, my back. I scratch them in my sleep and they bleed on the sheets. I slap them. Going through allergy tests, medicines, doctors….no one can figure out what is going on, for months. I wear long sleeves.

In early winter, things worsen. My bones ache, with high fevers, I can’t eat, and I have to chart which drugs I take, and when. My doctor shakes her head.

At one emergency room visit, they test me for things, called lyme, lupus, called many other things. They tell me to go home, but if my fever comes back in the night, to come to the ER. It does, and I do…my Mom brings me at 4 in the morning. I am poked and prodded, tested for all things. They decide to admit me.

I am in the hospital for 8 days. Miserable. Pain deep in the bones, inconsolable, a constant IV of whatever going thru me that stings. My Mom is stalwart, my champion. No one knows what is happening.

One night, late and dark, an “infectious disease” doctor comes to my bedside and I wake to see him looking over me…..big eyes and long nose, like Ebenezer Scrooge…. Terrified, I ask him what he thinks. He says….we will do what we do and if it doesn’t get better, we’ll start over. I look at a streetlight outside that hospital window , I will myself to go toward the light…. I’ve heard people who have crossed say that. I’m finished, I have nothing left, I want to go.

They release me after the 8 days, no better. With 103 temperature, I have lost 20 pounds, I go home. During the next month, there is no time, no day or night. I sleep when I sleep, I am awake when I am awake, and during that time I read. I have pain a lot, I cry in the dark.

People from my church come and pray for me, begging for my healing. Bless them. My cousin, who works with dying people, tells me later that I was dying, that I had that look, that color of death. I fire my doctor on a visit when she tells me she does not know what to do with me, no one knows what to do. I talk to my best friend in NC and he……listens, helps me laugh a little.

Slowly, I get better. I stand up, take a shower, eat a little food, tiny bits. I go back to work, a little at a time. I have lost 30 pounds from an already thin, tall frame. Now, years later, still no one knows what this was. An auto-immune issue that came and went with no explanation. Of unknown origin.

I have learned some things from this. They are: Doctors don’t know everything. Family and friends can get you through. If you have been sick like this, you can have compassion for those who are. You can be so, so grateful to be well.

via Imperfectly Polished

via Imperfectly Polished

{writing prompt} last time you were sick

Mama’s Losin’ It

On [ school ] & a certain time

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c/o Duluth News Tribune archive

c/o Duluth News Tribune archive

I go to kindergarten when I am 5.  This is before people have to be so scared, so I can walk there.  My school is 7 blocks away and I walk with Eddie, our neighbor.  I firmly believe that I will marry him one day.  You cannot wear pants yet in school, if you are a girl.  I wear a dress or skirt in Indiana, and it is snowy a lot.  My teacher is happy that I can read already, and she lets me read aloud to the class.  I learn that I am smart, I learn that I am capable.  She says those things to me, and I take them in.

My elementary years go well.  I do not struggle with schoolwork, and I like learning.  I love to read, everything I can get my hands on.  Already, I love the words.

Middle school in Texas….I start my period on the first day of 7th grade.  Gah!  I do not understand these kids; they are ridiculous to me, all flirty and everything with each other.  Silly! I do well in school still, and eventually understand the flirtiness.  I become pretty good at it, but I am tall, gangly, awkward.  I’m outside a lot, I climb trees and read.  We move often, 2 cities in Texas and then Virginia, in 2 houses there.

The next years, miserable.  Most everything that could be wrong, is wrong.  I am in the 8th grade and my parents get a nasty divorce.  My mother takes us, my 2 sisters and my brother, on a summer-long trip.  We visit friends, family.  My mother is everywhere, but she is not with us. She is trying to heal, and I do understand that she needs…something.  I lose my virginity this summer at a young age.  I am lonely and lost, looking for someone to approve of me, for someone to see me at all.  Oh, I am only 15.

In the fall, we come back to a different house my Dad has rented for us, across town.  There is a rat who lives there with us, we can hear him chewing the rafters.   We try to make jokes about him. It is a gross house, and my brother has no room.  He sleeps wherever: on the couch, in the leaky attic.  He is 8.  We are mostly alone.  Our 2 dogs are gone, our Dad has sold them.  We don’t know this until we get back to town.  It is horrible, hurtful news.  Starting the 9th grade at a new school, I am terrified.  I am not popular, but I  am smart.  I take Latin and English and Literature, and I am good at those things, love them.  Able to run fast and long, I do track and cross country, and I love the running. I do not have many friends.  A boy I like tells me he can’t take me to the prom as I am not from a nice family.  This, because my parents divorced before it became so popular.  Many things hurt.

Mostly I hate school. I am a nervous wreck every day, I want it to be over.  Grades, though, are still good.  The people I see there seem to be having a good time,  they seem to be liking things….I do not understand this.  I am invisible.  I don’t know what to do or who to talk to.  The memories, mostly, of this time, are not good ones, they are not good ones.  That is all.

My family, though, ralllies.  We live in the silly house, and we get a new stray silly dog, Emmy.  She helps to heal us, although she never quite gets the idea of housetraining.  My Mom has to work a lot for not very much money, it is a miracle that we even have the used orange Vega.  My sister and I walk to running practices at school, 3 miles each way.

We learn more about the real Jesus, not formal religion….but the love part, the grace part, redemption.  We get friends in that house.  We get happier.  There is music all the time, love, good food smells, noise.  Tall, leggy teenagers still sit on our Mom’s lap. She lets us.  We made friends then that we still have today, years later.  My Mom married one of them.  One of them was, I still believe, the love of my life.

We learned lessons that have stayed with us.  They are:  You can make it.  You are resilient.  You can get through. You have an excellent heritage.  You don’t suck.  You are smart.  God thinks you are awesome.  You are a good person.  People love you.  Music solves things, every single time.  And, mostly….family is everything.

On [ Steps ]

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At 16, my world crashes down. Always somewhat crashy for me , now this world means it.  My parents are divorcing.  My Mom leaves for a couple weeks to stay with my aunt, devastated.  My Dad is going, he has found someone else.

Oh, I was mad.  Such rage at the people I blamed, my soon-to-be-step mother, my father.  I railed.  Horrid, angry, yelling, rude, ugly.  She never, ever railed back.  She made craft projects for us to do, cooked for us, invited us in, loved us ever, in spite of me.  She was forgiveness, the epitome of love to me in my worst awfulness. Today, I stand ashamed.

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My father married that lady, and they lived happily together for many, many years.  I grew to love her as a parent, a confidante, a friend.  She was and is Nana to my children, Mom to me, a gift.  She cared for my Dad when he was sick, she loved me like I was her own daughter.

I stood holding my father’s hand while he died, my other hand holding hers.  This is my family, my step-sister Pam, all of us.  Together because of the love of these two pepole.  I am infinitely grateful.  I love her so, speak with her often, visit, go to my Dad’s grave with her.  Clean off the dirt, lay down flowers, say hello, we miss you.

I would do anything for her, I will take care of her until the day she dies, she is my family.

After my parents divorced, my Mom met a man, a friend.  Over months the friendship grew large, became love.  Oh, I was mad.  Such rage at the people I blamed, my soon-to-be step father, my mother.  I railed.  Horrid, angry, yelling, rude, ugly.  He never, ever railed back.  He loved us ever, in spite of me.  He was forgiveness, the epitome of love to me in my worst awfullness. Today, I stand ashamed.

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He accepts the fact that he will not have kids of his own.  He loves us unconditionally, he put up with our teenage ridiculousness.  My mother married that man, they have lived happily together for many, many years.  I grew to love him as a parent, a confidante, a friend. He was and is Baba to my children, Dad to me, a gift.  He cares for my Mom, loves me like I was his own daughter.

I stand holding his hand, my other hand holding hers, as he prays over our Christmas dinner.  This is my family, all of us, together because of the love of these two people.  I am infinitely grateful.  I love him so, speak with him often, depend on him.

I would do anything for him.  I will take care of him until the day he dies, he is my family.

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The twists, the turns, the angst that makes families happen, imperfectly…. are perfect. We are given the people we need in our lives, and let’s be thankful for them.  I am indeed grateful for my steps, for how they have put up with me, loved me altogether, in spite of myself.  I cannot imagine my life without them.

On [ the Lagoon ]

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After living in my new little house for a few months, after some neighborhood exploration, the kids and I found a path.  Oh, it is an excellent path, paved and wide.  It winds through woods, where sounds of birds and earth-smells are all that matter.  We go there often. Down the path, carting baskets of chalk, bags of food, sometimes on scooters or skateboards.

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One day we found a side entrance to a place that changed our lives, or at least our weekends, our memories.  A weedy, beaten path, down a sharp slope…then 8 concrete flat steps that someone, long ago probably, thought to add, making the way easier, straight down to the river.

Amazed at our luck, we go there every weekend, several times a day, rarely seeing anyone else.  The kids deem this “the Lagoon”.  I smile, thinking of the “Ferngully” of my own children’s childhood magic place.

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We get into the water, chest-high for the smallest of us, at 3 years old.  There is the rock-side and the beach-side….the beach-side across the river breadth, where the rocks are broken small and the sun shines warm.  Treasures found are kept in a basket on my kitchen counter….seaglass, shells, pretty leaves, acorns.  We love it here.

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Mornings, we wake up, I ask them what they would like to do this day.  Movie?  Museum?  Park?  “The Lagoon, Meem!  You know we have to go to the Lagoon!” They pack the brown bags with breakfast or lunch or dinner.  Hard-boiled eggs, cold pizza, grapes, yogurt, bananas… the menu of choice.

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This first morning in December we are here early, 7:30.  A balmy day, perfect.   Children play, wet and dirty.  Here, there are imaginings, stories created that we will speak of later, often.  I sit on the rock and take pictures, look at the beauty of the children, the day…drink my warm coffee.

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When the water is not too cold, I go in with them, and we wade over the expanse to the beach-side.  Where I watch my little brood play, make memories.  Where I close my eyes, where I remember that this is why I am here.

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On [ Gathering ]

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We gather. Weekly, monthly, yearly. Every chance we get.  In various places, configurations, groupings. Looking forward to these occasions, we count the days until the next one, make them up.  They all have a different flavor.

Heading to the mountains in early November, we celebrate the Mama’s birthday.  That is the excuse, but the real reason is to gather, to be together.  Here, we are family, old friends, a rag-tag band of disparate folks who simply love each other in spite of our differences.  Here, there is good food, prepared by many hands. My brother-in-law Brian causes smells to come from that kitchen, reeking of heaven, inviting bears. There is music, hymns, silly songs, old ones. Games of “Oh Hell”, our favorite card game played over coffee and Bloody Marys in the morning, over wine and martinis at night.  There are hot tub confessions, validations, encouragement.  Much laughter, connection.  All of us, looking at the beautiful nature, saying “Oh”.

In a tradition we call “Friday Festivities”, we meet at my Mom’s house, bearing wine and appetizers, stories from the week past, every Friday night.  We have done this for years.  A  big gathering in years past, now smaller since my sisters moved away.  Sometimes it is just me and my parents, but it is still good, a connection that we depend on.  We catch up, we need to.

A variation of Friday Festivities is Music Night, every month or so.  Music lovers in this family, we open our doors to friends, neighbors. We play and sing, going around the room.  In my own living room, this is some of the best music in Music City, y’all.  Joe, my brother, writes some gorgeous words.  My Dad sings, clear tenor, words he wrote, or old hymns, beautiful.  When we are lucky, friends who are actually IN the music business join us, we have a good old time.  We are just as happy when it is just the core of us, good food and good company, lovely voices, sounds going up to heaven.

In September, girls go to the beach for a week.  Oh, this is the best week of the year.  We pack into a little condo, fall into our roles.  Someone goes to the store.  My sister-in-law Sandy cooks fragrant meals, made with so much love.  We smell the food, breathe it in.  Someone cleans up, makes the coffee, loads the car with the beach paraphenalia, sets the table for cards, makes the mimosas.  We girls are drawn in by the ocean, the calm, the company, our love for the food….for each other.  As years go by, rituals are added, places to lunch.  A wooden swing on a porch overlooking the ocean, a strong cup of coffee and a bagel. Good stories, laughter, family, friends.  What a gathering.

On holidays, we gather.  Christmas Eve, we meet at our church, we hold candles, hold hands.  At the Mama’s house after, we have soup & cornbread & dessert. We hug, connect.  Children run crazy, adults sit and talk.  Feel the love.  Christmas day, we meet for dinner, after long hours of cooking, preparing.  We form a giant circle, holding hands, my Dad prays, kids antsy for the chocolate.  The connection is palpable, electric.  Children dance in circles, our future.  They eat in our laps. Wrapping paper, ribbons & bows, everywhere.

This is a season of gatherings.  In my family, I am grateful that they are often, that there is no need for a holiday for us to come together. I wish all of you the pleasure of gathering, for the joy it brings.  For the closeness, the love.

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On [Hearts]

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Hearts are the beating things, the center of us, our hold on life. We bestow them with feelings – they are wounded, broken, lost, joyful.  Physical hearts are compromised.  They beat too fast or slowly, skip beats, stop suddenly, give out.

Mine is broken, has been.  The pimply faced teen calls me “too big”.  I am 5’11”, skinny.   I am not from a nice family,he says, because my parents divorced.  Finishing just shy of a track championship, after working so hard.  My own failed marriage.  If I am being honest, I break my own heart sometimes. Making bad choices.  Saying things I don’t mean to say, or at least not the way I mean them.  I mean them to be funny, but they aren’t.  I hurt people without meaning to, disappoint myself.  The subjective pain of a broken heart…is real.  This shit hurts, y’all.

All of my sisters have rhythm issues, besides the white-girl-dancing problem.  Likely inherited from our Dad. His heart was paddled and shocked, in  many attempts to get it in line.  Mine and Tracis’ are treated with medicine, vitamins, procedures – doctors tell us problems could crop up again at any time – or not.

Lori, the middle sister,  now, is in the heart drama, again.  Her heart, failing and skipping beats, needing to be made right, to beat in proper order, neatly.  This, after other obstacles, called cancer, called congestive heart failure.  At only 50 years old, this heart barks back at her best year.  Training for a marathon, raising her young children, positive and grounded.  This is bad timing.

Last night in my bed, late, looking at my dark ceiling, I wake and feel my heart, my right hand on my chest feels it beating.  In rhythm, for now.  I pray in silence for the hearts of my sisters.  For hearts hurt by cruel acts or words.  For hearts to be healed.  Remembering the way our hearts lead us to be right, to love.

Rolling after pondering all of this…., my almost 7 year old grand-daughter puts her hand on my chest.  “Mimi, you are the best Mimi ever.  And, when I touch you, I am putting my love in your heart.  And it will never leave. Ever.”  My heart has never felt this fine.

On [ Flooded ]

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See the city, look at her beauty, her pride.  Her name is Nashville, we call her home. On an early Saturday in May, the rain comes, steady, relentless.  Here, we are not sure what is happening, only that the rain does not stop. We call each other, wanting to be told what is going on, needing to know what to do.

By afternoon, it’s clear that this is something else, not the ordinary rainstorm. The water comes and comes. It does not stop, pouring in sheets, pounding our ground. We stand in Nashville, eyes wide, watching. I am at work this day, seeing the water rise in our parking lot, moving my car uphill when the water reaches the driver-side doorframe. I see trash and filth float by. A kid’s red sweatshirt, oddly. My own shoes float away.

I make it home, shocked, grateful. My basement apartment takes in some water, enough to wet the carpet. I lose power for a time, phone service.

It is several days before I can drive to work, horrified to see my city. Piles of people’s belongings….a toy like one my grandson loves, a crib, a flat-screened TV, all stacked squarely at the roadside, rubbish now. Driving by ravaged houses, I can see through the front door to the back, there are no walls now. Only shells where homes used to be.

The city is taken to her knees, by water, drowning. But, look! She is getting up, the people are trying to stand, even as water sloshes around their feet, all around. Many times they fall, but they are getting up. Soon we are on our hands and knees, one person after another…hands outstretched – to get help, to give it. Then on our feet, before FEMA comes, before there is any help at all, we are here for each other.

We are community. We help people we do not know. My son calls me to help an old man whose land has flooded, his basement, his buildings. Many pitch in, still in the rain, helping, loving, caring, even laughing.

Nashville has recovered, mostly. We have changed. We know how quickly the waters can rise, how soon we may need to help neighbors, friends, strangers. We are ready. We are Nashville.

Prompt: Flooded

Mama’s Losin’ It

On [ Abby ]

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After a long gritty fight, here you are. One minute I am a child, in terrified pain. The next , I am a mother. You’ve come too soon and you are tiny, a word not often used in this family. The word for you, though, is perfect, the word for you is lovely. I hold you like glass, and in this moment, I understand everything. We are the only people in the world.

Because I do not know what to do, I smell your milky breath, My pointy nose is in your mouth, both of our eyes closed. I breathe you. There is no one else here.

For these months, I will be your mother and you will be my child. That is all. More children will come, and oh, we will love them. But always, at the center, are you and me.

As babies tend to do, you grow, amaze me. You get hair! A sharp tooth! Words! Movement! Your Dad comes home from work and I am on the floor holding you up in the air, shaking my head with a rattle in my mouth, forgetting to cook dinner.

Before I know it, you are an actual kid…blonde hair, giant blue eyes. My eyes drink you all the time, noticing the minutes passing. I know to pay attention, I know this time will fly by.

I become a single Mom, and you help me be a mother. This is not an easy time..you have to call me at work when the power is turned off, when Clay scrapes his knees. I come home to find you holding him, rubbing his little back, saying “there, there”.

Now you are a big girl, mother to my grandchildren. Oh, you are your best self , there is no way I could be more proud. I want you to know that I still love looking at you, Abby. My eyes love seeing you and remembering that you made me a Mom, that you made me a Mimi, that from the beginning it was me and you.. I still want to hold you, I still want to breathe you in, smell your breath. Happy 30th birthday, my love…always, always my little girl.

On [Dancing]

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I am bad at this, but sometimes I do it anyway.  Only in private, unless I am with a grandchild.  Usually to music that I am way too old to listen to.  I had these daughters, though?  I loved to watch them dance.  The long arms and legs, the pointy feet, the graceful necks.

My body could never do those things and have it look this easy.  The leaping and bounding, the facial expressions that match the music….at once smirking, then smiling, engaging the audience with their own interpretation of the music, the dance.  I watched them, amazed, mesmerized really.  How could people with this grace, this expression and flexibility, have come from me?

My oldest daughter danced Swan Lake.  En pointe, she was lovely on that stage.  Her face was called beautiful, her movements fluid.  I have a picture of her in that white dress, being the swan, her arms just so, floating….it is on my bedroom wall even now.  I sewed the feathers on the dress, at the hem, tedious.  To watch her in it made my eyes glad, to be allowed to sit there and witness her dancing, her love of it, her beauty.

Tori learned to love the dance from her sister Abby, the swan.  In our giant rec-room downstairs, she would go and dance for hours, alone.  Hearing the music coming up the stairs, I would sneak half-way down where she could not see me and watch, crouching in the stairwell.  The look of her was called freedom, it was plain joy.  I watched her in secret. She used the furniture as props, and I was afraid that she might break her neck.   Not knowing I was there, the smile on her face was giant with the happiness.  Oh, she was her own audience.

Now, I have granddaughters, and they dance for me.  They are different in their dancing, in their personalities.

Ella is 6, and she wants jewelery and feather boas.  She wants to wear the high heels I wear to work and my dresses.  She wants scarves and props and my undivided attention.  Ella instructs me to sit and watch, to clap and cheer, and I do.  “Pretend I am on the stage, Mimi.  Pretend I am the best dancer in the world.”  I do. And, she is.

Nev is 5, she has rhythm.  She wants to orchestrate the dance, call the shots, be the conductor.  She wants me to dance with her, however poorly.  “Mimi, really? You are not good at ALL.  You got to shake your BOOTY!  No, that’s not good, I’m tired of telling you, Mimi!  You got to REALLY shake it!” Her laughter is huge, resounding in this house.

This is my weekend entertainment, a flashback to the years when I watched my own little girls dance, when I was able to bear witness to their joy.  Oh, I am fortunate, thankful for the dancing that has gone on in my homes, in my family, for the happiness it brings, even now.

On… Old People

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     They are just old, old.  They have pain so much, all the time, everywhere, and pee their pants.  All they want is to see that I know this, that I get it.  I like to look in their cloudy eyes so that they know I am trying to understand, and I am trying to, even though I cannot.  When I  talk with them, I say the small words.  I say “yes” and “oh”.  I call them precious, lovely, perfect, dear,  and I mean it.  I touch them on their shoulders, their bony backs, adjust the saggy sweaters.  I touch the veiny hands, and I do love the powdery feel of them.  They feel like life and earth, like history, fleeting.   All the time, I know how brief their stay here will be, how soon they will go, how their feet will leave this ground.  I know how much I will miss them, how I will remember their stories, their time here, their thumbprints on my life. How I will hate that they are gone.

      This is my work,  an assisted living community. I have been here for eight years.  The work involves filing, paperwork, managing things, filling the building up, but they are why I am here.  Tying a shoe, holding a shaky hand, looking into the ancient eyes…this is what I am called to do.

     Long ago there was a lady, my best love, my Nannie.  Looking into the mirror, I am  fixing her hair. “Who is that old person?”, she says.  “Who is she?  It isn’t me!  I am 17, and 25, and 40, I can’t be that old girl!”.  I realize that all those people are inside, all the younger selves.  I want to know all of them.  I am young, but I live my life seeing them all, wanting to see them. She teaches me what I need to know, to do this job that I will love someday…but I don’t understand that now.

     I come to this job and there is Ed.  He has lost one leg, outlived two wives, given all he owned to Hurricane Ivan.  Oh, imagine the hurt.  Seeing him, you would never think he’d  had a bad day!  Such joy! He asks to play the harmonica for the devotions group I lead, and he does, poorly but with feeling.  We all smile at his gift. Not the harmonica, but the love.

       Here is Mary.  She loves birds, as I do, it is our bond.  I fill her feeder every day and hang a hummingbird feeder on her porch, fill it will sugar-water…week after week.  After 2 years, she comes down the hall, big smile, dentures clacking.  The hummingbirds have come!   In a move that I will  discuss with her later, she dies on my birthday. I am sad…. and then I recognize the  gift.  I will never forget her.  On my birthday every year, I will remember Mary.

     Helen is one hundred and two.   Coming  to my devotions group,  she sings the hymns in her beautiful, warbled voice.  Knowing all the words, looking to heaven as she sings them. Helen is a little child and her father buys a goat.  Helen, her brother and sister name the goat Billy.  Dad has built a carriage,  Billy rides the three around  dirt roads of the village all day, they are the  talk of the town. Now, Helen says she is ready to be with Jesus. She is tired, she wants to go, every night she is ready, she reminds us.  She tacks a sign written in red ink above her bed, to make sure we all know. One night, it happens when she is one hundred and three. We are not sad, we are high-fiving in the office, in the halls, all over the building.  Yay for you, Helen.  Praise the Lord.

     This, mostly, is my atmosphere, where I am, where I belong.  There are good days and not-good-days. They are, mostly,  good.  I am able to love, I am able to give back, I get to.  I am able to live the life I was meant to live, to give the things I have to give.  To touch, to love, to remember.