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Monday, February 25, 2013

True Grit

       There are alot of stories about true grit. Even a very famous one about a girl who seeks to atone her fathers death. Its been made into a movie a couple times already. Us ordinary folk bump into true grit all the time. Just ordinary people who use grit to make their way through life. Grit, says the dictionary is rough, hard pieces of sand. Or... stubborn courage or brave perserverance. And haven't we all had to have true grit a few times, atleast?
      I met up with true grit a little while ago. True grit is a little girl. She is three years old. She has white-blonde hair, the wispy kind, that won't stay tied neatly up. It has a habit of falling across her face, and she brushes it back with the back of her tiny hands. Her name is Phoebe.
     Phoebe is from the Greek language, another name of Artemus, goddess of the moon, and the Roman Diana, virgin goddess of the moon and the hunt. In old poetry, Phoebe meant the moon personified. I was there when this small Phoebe was born, on that hot, windy day in the high dessert country of eastern Washington. I knelt down and cut the cord. That lifeline that connected her to her mother. I saw her take her first breath. Perfect, tiny miracle of love and life.
    Later that night I was awakened by the the sound of panic, and I heard them rushing her off in the wee hours, in her Daddys yellow mustang. I lay there with her sisters. They are sleeping and I am asking God to let His perfect will be done. when dawn comes I get up to make coffee. her daddy comes home. I can see the weariness in his face. I can see the tear in the corner of his eye. He tells  me that she had stopped breathing. They had got her breathing started again, but were sending her up to a bigger neonatal hospital to care for her. They didn't know how much damage had been done. But he hugs me, and he says, "She is going to be alright." His voice holds faith and comfort. I believe him.
     The days and nights are a blur, as we try to live our everyday lives. But as we work and play and eat and sleep, we pray for Gods perfect will. We shed tears. We try to smile and gather up some grit.
And always, her daddy says. "She's going to be alright." I want to believe him, but some times, the news is not so good. We make the three hour trip up to see mommy and baby. The girls are too small to understand what's going on. They fret. They miss their mommy. We have to scrub up and take turns going in to see Phoebe, They have her in an induced coma, hoping things will heal up.
    Some of it seems like a bad dream. But I will never forget being in that sterile room, standing beside that tiny crib. Phoebe is hooked up to tubes and wires and machimes that hiss and beep. She sleeps without moving. Her daddy puts his huge, work hardened hands in to the crib. he places one strong stout finger in her palm. Her tiny little hand closes around it. He stays there so still, loving her, letting her love him while she sleeps. My heart melts. I feel it down to my toes. I am humble and small and I whisper "thank you".
     Now I go there to spend a week. She goes to Head Start. She is very proud to go on the bus every day, like her big sister. She runs to  show me her back pack. It looks big. She un zips it. Her hands don't work very well, but with true grit, and time, she gets it open. She pulls out her things... her tiny wrist braces, her pink foot and ankle braces. We admire them together, Phoebe and I, and put them carefully back. She struggles, but she gets the zipper shut.
     We play. I feel the incredible strength in her wrists. She has to use them alot! She asks no specialties. She does everything by her self. Getting dressed, going to the bathroom, brushing teeth, eating, holding a glass. They are all a challenge, but she is determined, and in time, she gets them all done. Out side shes clumsy, but she smiles. She pulls herself up when she falls. "I'm alright," she says every time. I smile through my teary eyes, because I see that her Daddy was right. She is okay.
   She climbs in the wagon and I pull her around the yard. She jumps on the tramp. She comes with us when we walk through brushy trails in the back yard. Her knees and her hands are dirty, from falling. Real grit doesn't hurt you when you have true grit! 
    I watch her playing with her best friend, Meredith. They are the same size. They have their backs to me. Their arms are around eachothers waists. Phoebe tries to quicken her steps, to keep up. She stumbles. Meredith holds her up. She slows down, so they can walk together. They laugh and keep on going. I think that  I have witnessed true grit, and true love."Could I have some of that, please God?" I ask.
   Let me quicken my steps, to keep up. Let me slow down and hold someone up. Let me walk together with my fellow man. Let me laugh,and keep on going. Give me some of that true grit. Let me get up when I fall. Let me say, "I'm okay." Let me dance with braces. Let me use my wrists if my hands won't do what needs to be done. Let my knees and my hands be dirty, from using them.
   When Phoebe hugs me good bye I feel her strength and her grit flowing in to my soul. Thank you , Lord, for Phoebe. We are okay!

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Cookie Jar Pig

       Every one has a story. Even a cookie jar pig! Do you see her sweet smile, and how her long lashes coyly hide her little piggy eyes? She has sat on the counter for sixty seven years. Not the same counter, although shes has stood on this one for quite a while. She has no cookies in her tummy now. But I remember! Oh, how I remember. All those cookies. Molassess crinkles and snickerdoodles and chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin...just to name a few. And don't forget prune tarts. Always prune tarts at Christmas time. I wonder how many times I had my hand in there, grabbing a cookie?
     It was war time in this country. A young man had come home from Europe. He was home with his family in Minnesota, that beautiful land of one thousand lakes. His family is estatic to have him home again. All those months of worry and letters and prayers are behind them now. A sweet young girl comes from Michigan to see him. They have been engaged for a while. How the letters flew. Even her engagement ring comes through the mail. He was stationed in Little Rock, Arkansas. Her brothers tease her about her little rock from Little Rock. He still has a year to serve Uncle Sam. The war is raging in the Pacific. He doesn't know where he will be sent next. They decide to get married right away before he has to go again.
     She calls her mother, in Michigan. She tells her they are coming home to get married. Thats all for planning, in that day and time. She comes with all his family. She has a blue wool suit, even though it is July. She shops for a nice white blouse, but every thing is scarce. She finds a white dicky, and is satisfied. Her mother has cleaned and scrubbed the house. The fresh Michigan breeze comes in the windows and the screen doors. The white curtains flutter and sigh. She is the baby of the family. Where did the years fly, that now she can be leaving the nest?
     Her mother tales the white dish pan from the pantry and walks across the road where the wild strawberries grow. Oh, sweet wild strawberries, warmed by the Michigan sun and kissed by the Michigan dew. They grow with wild abandon among the old mines and the rock piles that dot the landscape. They are tiny. They grow so close to the ground. Almost, you can't see them unless you get right down and peer beneath the leaves and the starry white blossoms. Only a mothers love could send her searching, crawling and bending, to fill that pan with tiny red jewels. All the long, warm morning she dances a dance. Kneel and reach, bend and sway, find a berry and pluck it so gentle that it will not be bruised. Does she think that it is the same dance that she has danced to raise this lovely daughter? Kneel in prayer, search for wisdom, pluck the tender fruit, but do not bruise and mar it?
    Then, weary, she walks back over the stretch of pasture, her pan of berries on her hip. Into the coolness of the house. In to her immaculate kitchen. Into her organised pantry, where she makes flakey delicate pastry and fills  the pie tins with the sweetness of that summer day. She plies the kitchen range with kindling and wood. A nice hot fire in that shiny creamy yellow and green stove that says Martha Washington across the door. I imagine the elusive fragrance that filled that kitchen when those pies came out, golden, with red juice oozing along the edges.
    The preacher comes over, and his siters and a friend are witnesses. Those solemn words are spoken and the day is finished off with good strong Finnish coffee and wild straberry pie.
    He has to go away soon, and she follows him when she can. Texas for a while, then on to Oregon, and lastly Washington, where he is discharged. They spend a month traveling the state and visiting and making friends, and decide that one day, they will come back. He wants to finish his education, which he had to abandon when Uncle Sam called, though, so they go back to Minnesota. Minneapolis is their ctiy.  They have no car, like most other people. They walk or ride the trolley any where they need to go.
    What joy to discover that they are going to have a baby! He decides to put off school again, and gets a job. One night, taking a walk, they see a man building a travel trailer. They stop to chat and end up buying it. They bring it to a trailer court. It is tiny and homemade. they have to use a public bathroom and showers. But it is theirs and they love their cosy nest. She sews curtains and they buy a used bassinette. She sews a pretty lining for it. They accumulate the sweet things they will need for their first precious child. It is March. Cold, wintery Minnesota March. He is at work. She wraps up in a housecoat and her winter coat and goes to take a shower before he gets home.
    When she walks back to her home, she sees the windows lit up with a strange light. Fire! A neighbor comes to help, but it is too late. The house is all aflame. She stands there in shock, her feet numb with cold, clutching her coat around her swelling belly. All the baby things! All the furniture! All his books, that he dearly loves! All their life. It vanishes in smoke and flame. The fire men have saved a small pile at her feet. A box of books. A blackened diaper pail and a sooty black cookie jar pig.
     Some friends happen to stop by. They put her in their car to stay warm until her man cmes home. They load up the smokey, singed books, the blackened diaper pail and the the sooty cookie jar. They take them to their home, give them the spare bedroom and find her a dress from the mending basket. She wears it, because she has nothing else, and she knows they are kind, to give it to her. But, it is old and worn, and unfashionable, and it does not reach across her belly.
   When the baby is born, another mother in the hospital room tells them about an attic she thinks they can rent. He finds it and they bring the baby "home" to a tiny attic room, under the eaves. I wonder, did he have to duck or could he stand up straight under the roof? They have a borrowed buggy to sleep the baby in, They have wooden orange crates for cupboards and furniture. The pastors wife gives them some baby clothes that she doesn't use any more. The cookie jar pig has been scrubbed and polished. It sits on a wooden crate and gives them a feeling of home.
     The pastors wife has made a lovely new dress for her daughter, but with true christian spirit she gives to this new mother who has nothing, instead. They do not even have a mirror in the tiny attic room.
    The dress is yellow. Smart and stylish. New and crisp. She puts it on . She hauls the buggy down the stairs to the street and she and the baby take a walk. They walk down to the stores. She stops by the big gleaming store window. She admires her reflection in the glass. She miles with pleasure. It seems so good!
     So the years fly by. They have more children. They are able to buy a house, out in the suburbs. They get a car. They  grow in wisdom and grace. The cookie jar pig sits on the counter in that bright yellow kitchen filled with cookies of many kinds.
      Finally the time comes when they realize their old dream and move west. They hire a moving van. They pile the kids in the old Ford station wagon. They leave Minnesota behind and head into the setting sun. They love their new state. The rain, the tall treees, the moss growing everywhere, the mild winters. The cookie jar pig survivied the move across the country. It sits on many different counters until they finally settle up on the hill, in a little clearing among the huge douglas fir trees that they love. So many cookies, so many hands reaching with in the depths.
      Little ceramic pig. If you could talk, what would you tell us, then? There was always cookies because there was always folks to eat them. Such a stream of friends and neighbors who came and went through the doors. And always they were served coffee and cookies, and meals and other good things. I wonder if you counted them, maybe, keeping a running total in your chubbby little head? Did you hear the laughter, and the the songs? Did you see the tears? Hear the welcomes and the good byes?
     They traveled alot, all over the country. Sometimes the little cookie jar pig stayed empty in a quiet, dim house while every one was gone. Were you glad to see them when they came home? I go there, now. He has gone, ninety two years have gone like a vapour. I stay with her for many days. She tells me stories about long ago and her voice is quavery and her eyes are dim. There are no cookies in the jar now. I touch the cookie jar, rubbing it like Aladin's lamp, feeling like I can find the days long gone. She had never told me this story before. I feel privileged and rich. I want to share with you a life well lived. I want to share with you a cookie jar pig, and all the things that memory brings. Sixty seven years is a long time for a cookie jar. I hope she stays on the counter for many more! 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


   It takes a lot of courage to stand at the edge of a grave of someone you love. The first time I had to do it, I was bereft of courage. I was a child. I did not want to be there. It was a cold, grey damp November day. I loooked longingly at the gate of the cemetery. It was not so far away. I could dart through the crowd of people. I wanted to take off at a dead run, off down that gravel road. Far far away from this place where I did not want to be. I wanted to run so fast, and so far, until my breath was gone and I could collapse on the cold damp ground and lie there exhausted until it was over.
    I missed my chance, though, the crowd was gathered and I was there. My heart was a cold stone in my chest. The grass was wet. The feet of the people had churned up the clay-ey soil into slick mud. The brown leaves were drifted wet and soggy against the stones and the bushes. An ancient old tree was over us. It branches bare of leaves. It was hung with moss, grey green shaggy moss. There was nothing nice, any where. I could see the pain written all over my father. See the tears in my mothers eyes. I could feel the ache in her throat.
     An old man stood behind me. His english was broken and quaint. His walk was stumbling. His hearing was not the best. His eyes had a cloudy look. But his eyes and his ears were better than mine. "That tree is full of angels" he told me, leaning over my stiff, unyielding shoulder. He pointed at the tree. His eyes were full of light. He was listening, too, I could tell. "They know about us" he said. " They came to comfort us."  I was wary. Every one tried to tell you things. Things that made no sense. They thought that were helping you. They didn't know... any thing...
     I tried not to, but I imagined. I imagined angels in that ugly tree. They wouldn't be stately, majestic, scary arch angels. Maybe they were soft motherly angels. maybe they were smiley baby angels. Maybe they were friend angels, just looking down from the tree and peace and comfort, and even joy were gently sifting down over us. Over me! Maybe I couldn't hear the music because I was hearing the people singing. maybe...
      I have been there many times, now, over the years. I have stood at the edge of other graves. I have come there just for the peace of the place. I have come there to plant flowers. I have never wanted to run away again. I have come there in the sunshine. I have laughed and chattered there with my family anf friends.  I have seen others shed tears and weep and grieve . I have looked for the angels. I have listened for them. I know they are there. In the green summer, when the leaves are thick and glossy. They are there sifting peace and comfort and even joy over the ones who come here. I know. I saw it in that old mans eyes, when the cloudiness turned bright. I have heard it in that old mans voice,
 in that broken english.
        I stood there now, again. It is a grey drizzley day the kind of day my father loved. The grass is wet. The peoples feet have churned the clay-ey soil into mud. It is January. The old tree has no leaves. They moss grows grey green on its branches. The brown leaves have drifted wet and soggy against the stones and the bushes. Two beautiful young girls are brushing the leaves off of a tiny marker. They kneel in the wet grass. They clean the marker and trace the words with their slender fingers. Their hair falls across their faces. They get up and they smile at eachother. Bright young , peaceful smiles. A giant of a young man stands weeping in the drizzle, looking down at  his brothers resting place. His mother hugs him. They turn and smile at each other, too, comforted.
     I rest against my husbands shoulders. I am looking at the tree. I am satisfied. The people are singing. They sing the old familiar songs. But my heart is at rest. I know the angels are there, just like that old man told me. Haven't I seen the truth of it? My grand baby gurgles with joy. I have courage! I feel it in my chest, in my breath, in my step. It takes a long time. It grows when we don't know it. It fills us. It is made of comfort and peace and joy and angels and old men who can see farther than the edge. I wish it for you.