Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Hydrangeas, Clocks and Piano Lessons

Think about one person who has been a constant source of value and encouragement in your life, even if from a distance.  Can you recall how that person became important to you?  I am thinking about one of those people right now, and I have been for some time.  I can’t remember the first time I met Nellie Rose, the mother of my Oldest Friend and Traveling Partner; even her name suggests the sweetness she endeared to me.  But I can almost remember the first time I stepped inside her home, up the steps to the back door, beyond the laundry room on the back of the house.  

The first impressions I had of her, though, were made by her flowers and her clocks. No one I knew had hydrangeas so I was in awe of the many bushes of the giant heads of blue, pink, and purples blossoms that grew effortlessly in her yard. And as far as clocks go, my father revered time pieces, so I was impressed she did as well.  I remember their asynchronous chiming, some weak, some strong.  I used to watch her pad around her cavernous house, starting in the ever-dark dining room, to wind them and adjust their hands to the correct time, each one just a few seconds off from the other.

My OFTP took piano lessons in those early days of our friendship so if I happened to go home with her on those days I would be alone with her mother until the lesson was over. It was awkward for me at first because I was always wary of adults, especially those who were not related to me, but she never gave me the option of timidity.

My friend was a late riser, and I an early one, like Nellie Rose.  We also shared a need for coffee in the morning, so when I slept over she and I spent some time alone in the early hours as well.  She sipped her coffee from a dainty china cup as she began preparations for lunch, the main meal of the day for her family. She was a talker and I was a listener, so our relationship was symbiotic in that respect.  Maybe our connection was born out of those few private hours over coffee and waiting on piano lessons.  Regardless, it wasn’t long before she was like a second mother to me. It was only fair since my mother considered my OFTP her fifth daughter.  I spent so much time in that gray house on Hall Avenue with a family that wasn’t mine that I seeped in somehow, slowly and tenaciously.  Like it or not, there I was, claiming them all as my own.  

Nellie Rose had a very open way of communicating and no subject was off limits.  To be honest I learned more about the ways of the world and the birds and the bees from her then I did from my own mother.  So, it isn’t surprising that in some ways I felt more open with her than I did my own, shy mother.  She was the one I knew I could turn to in times of emotional need without fear of reproach.  When my sister died, I called her, and at the sound of my voice she took over the conversation with soothing words of sympathy and comfort as I sat in my childhood room holding the receiver and listened and sobbed.

Now, as her time on this earth is winding down like her beloved clocks, I can’t help but remember her in this way; my comforter.  I’ve spent some time by her bed the past few days and looked into her half-closed eyes trying to find her. I teased her because that’s the way we were with each other.  I don’t allow myself to express sadness through my words, even though I feel it to my bones, because I think she can hear me even though she looks through me.  I can’t help but feel regret for all the years I could have made more effort to spend time with her, but I let the trivialities of life get in the way. I hate that about myself.

I know the pain her children are going to feel when she takes her last breath, and I feel for them. But I also know the bittersweet joy they will feel knowing she is released from her worn out body and Home with her Savior and reunited with the Love of Her Life.  I felt this same, albeit guilt-tinged, joy when my own mother passed because I knew she was tired and ready. Nellie Rose is tired, too.  I know because I’ve watched her struggle for sleep.

Godspeed, I prayed for my own mother years ago. Godspeed, I pray now for my other mother.  God, bless her tired soul.  

Friday, May 12, 2017


In the last two days I’ve attended three graduation ceremonies.  Three.  I don’t even have a picture of myself at my own high school graduation; my mother breezed in from out of town to attend and back out again as soon as the ceremony was over. She asked me not to walk in my college graduation because she hated them so.  I obliged, and sometimes, like today, I still feel a little cheated. Then other times, like today, I swear the only one I’ll ever attend again is when my own son finally makes his way across the stage. But that's not true.

I worked at a university for 27 years before I ever attended a commencement for the sake of watching my international students graduate. That was a mistake on my part.  I’m good at making mistakes.  I seem to make at least one every day to keep in good practice.  But every once in a while the stars align and everything falls into nice, correct order and I get something right, but it takes a day like today to realize it.

In the old days the cycle began with a blue piece of paper filled with scrawled words of great dreams and aspirations of how complete life would be if only they were accepted to my prestigious institution.  Now it’s usually a blip in an email, "it is my dream to study at USM".  I usually respond in a generic fashion with instructions for the first steps to making their dream come true.  When the application finally arrives our exchanges become more frequent and by the time they are admitted it’s as if we’re old friends. Months later, if the earth spins in the right direction and I throw salt over my shoulder and jump three times, I finally meet my correspondent face-to-face as they begin fulfilling their dreams of an American education.

Fast-forward a few years and they are sitting in a chair on a basketball court that has been transformed into a place of dignified order, and a velvet-lined hood is draped over their shoulders or a diploma is placed in their eager hands and they walk across the stage and into their future to accomplish great and wonderful things. That moment, my friends, is when the stars align and the earth spins in perfect timing and I know, I just know that for once, or maybe three times, I did something right.  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Dreams revisited

Recently, I had a dream that was both frightening and wonderful.  It centered around a great war, maybe it was Armageddon.  It was like when Voldemort was terrorizing Hogwarts and his voice surrounded the school with ominous doom.  It was like that but not exactly.  Instead there were terrible clashing mechanical noises and menacing voices booming in the distance. Then a darkness fell and a storm came with howling winds.  My daddy was there for a second and there were other people I don’t’ remember.  For a while I was with several people at my parents’ house, my dreams often center there, and we were powerless, sitting ducks. The house groaned from the storm like the sounds you hear in a horror movie haunting. I left briefly and saw my mother and then went back home.  I remember saying out loud that I was less afraid of the dark woods across the street then I was of going back into the house. Then I was all alone; divided and separated from everyone I loved. When I was younger sometimes I would wake in panic in the middle of the night and run through the house turning on every light to make sure I was not alone.  That is how I felt in my dream, panicked and desolate.

Then suddenly a calm came over me and I was at peace. Something inside told me the storm and the noises were just a ruse and all I had to do was go in the house and prepare and the storm would eventually pass.  So I did. I began closing windows and shutting up the house as if preparing for a hurricane.  In the front bedroom there is a door that leads to the front porch and I had trouble shutting and locking it against the hammering wind. When I finally clicked the lock securely I turned to shut the side window and I saw my daddy running in the yard along the side of the house.  Joy!  I no longer had to fight alone.  My daddy was there to protect me!  I began yelling, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!!” but my voice was weak against the howling wind.  I couldn’t get out of the door I had just locked so I tore through the house still yelling, desperate for him to hear me.  I bounded out the front door and I met him at the foot of the steps and flew into his arms.  He flashed me the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen and said something I only wish I could remember.  All that mattered at that moment was I reunited with my daddy when I thought I was alone and doomed. 

I attribute this dream as a visit, for that hug was real and he was there with me in that moment.  I think maybe I was in heaven at that split second, and I was offered a glimpse of what it will be like on that day when I do get to heaven and am really reunited with my daddy and my Father.  If the joy I felt in my dream is only a miniscule fraction of what it will really be like then let me count the days.

Separation. Divide and conquer. How much is that dream like our relationships with God?  Satan works best when he can get us alone and use our temptations and sins separate us from God. But when we fight back and brace ourselves for the storm we can realize it is all a smokescreen and we can become closer to God and experience the reunion.

I remembered my dream last night when I listened to the Gospel at the Easter vigil.  The feeling I experienced in my dream must be like the emotions the Marys felt when they met Jesus on the road after his resurrection.  They fell to the ground and grasped His feet in worship, so says Matthew.  Maybe it was also to assure themselves He was real, like I did when I held tight to my daddy at the foot of the steps to my childhood home.  And after communion when we sang, “I will raise you up on the last day”, I could no longer hold back the tears. Let me count the days.