memoir

Jars of Clay

I have always been a God Seeker.  I was talking to God as a child, before I had any concrete information.

I was continually on the lookout for those walking a deep authentic faith, who were walking in an uncommon closeness with God

Patricia was one of those for me. She was interesting and prepared, a great Sunday school teacher.  In her seventies she wore a pixie cut, when all the other ladies her age were wearing teased curls, and I don’t think I ever saw a grey hair.  She could take a passage of scripture, or a story from the Bible and teach it so simply.  That even I, a girl with very little Bible knowledge could understand.

Anytime I would sing her praises to other ladies at church they would be sure to remind me, that even though she was a good teacher, she had quite the shady past.  She was divorced, had estranged adult children, a difficult second marriage and her new husband didn’t even come to church. Funny that I never noticed a deep or authentic faith in any of them.

There was something about her, her love for Jesus, her love for His words, her daily joy within a life of struggle that told me her faith was her hidden treasure, and I could see it shining through. Our friendship grew and I enjoyed anytime I could spend with her.

Several years into our friendship Patricia suffered a massive heart attack.  She laid in a coma for days and when she woke, she could not speak, read, or keep a straight thought.  Her recovery was long, and her heart would never beat strong again.

She would share with me later,  that in those dark hours of the night fear would try to overtake her, and she would pray for a shred of hope. Slowly hope found its way to her through the scriptures she had memorized and hidden her heart over the years.

As she laid in her bed recovering day after day, night after night she recalled the sweet words of Jesus, the soothing Psalms of David and the promises of God.  I remember her holding my hands in hers and telling me how grateful she was that she had hidden them within her and that I should do the same.

I saw how fragile a human life could be, a jar of clay that can be easily broken, and then I saw what could hold it together.

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memoir

The Robins Still Sing

I never understood the ritual of grave flowers. The one you are planting them for cannot see, smell or find any joy in them. Dad was faithful to plant grave flowers at the foot of the stones, engraved with the names of the ones he loved.

In the month of May, he would gather up a trowel, rake and a basket of new red geraniums—always red geraniums. He said, they were hardy and could weather in the sun.

He would make his way to the old Stevenson Cemetery that sits on a quiet country road and while the robins sang in the trees he would go to work. Wiping the dried grass from the stones, he would carefully plant his fragrant, unseen and unknown offerings.

Flowers that would grow unseen by the grandparents he adored, the mother he lost as a boy, the father he lived to please and the brother who died too young. These were his people and they were gone, yet his love for them was as faithful as the flowers he planted each year. His love weathered in the sun.

I find myself weathering, the days, the weeks, the months, the almost two years since Dad has been gone. Grief is an aching, a longing, as memories come fluttering back like leaves on the wind. Grief is the price you pay for love, and the love makes it worth it.

In the month of May, Mom and I find ourselves making our way down the quiet country road to the old Stevenson Cemetery. We wipe off the dried grass from the gravestone inscribed with his name. The robins sing as we sink our hands down in the dirt, the dirt that holds his ashes, yet he is not there.

We plant the grave flowers, our fragrant offering of pastel impatiens instead of red geraniums, because red geraniums make us too sad.

We plant the grave flowers for him, for the ones he loved, but mostly for us. We need reminding, that the love that binds us is faithful, and the robins still sing their cheerful song.

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memoir

The Making of a Bike

When I was eight, I was not the most coordinated girl, but I longed for a bike of my own.  I wanted to ride to the corner store that had a glass case filled with full size candy bars, to the library to walk through the rows of books, and maybe even to the park with friends.

Dad made my bike our project. He had a way of making an adventure of things.  The first step was a trip to the junk yard for a bike frame. The junk yard is a sad place. You had to walk among the parts and pieces as if you are weaving through the tombstones in a graveyard, as we did my heart began to sink.

The bike frame we found was tired and warn, and Dad must have sensed what I was feeling. He looked at me, his blue eyes dancing with anticipation, and promised my bike would be good as new. He had always been true to his promises and my heart lifted with a seed of hope.

Back in our garage we sanded and primed, making my bike frame ready for painting. As Dad spray painted my bike frame midnight blue, my seed of hope began to blossom. Next came the chain, the pedals, seat bar and handlebars. Then the beautiful white handlebar covers with streamers, blue, white and red. I could almost see them blowing in the wind. Finally, the crowing piece, my banana shaped bike seat, white and covered in bright and glorious flowers.

The Making of a Bike (1)

 

Dad’s final touch for my beautiful bike were meticulously cut, thin strips of white auto tape making jazzy pinstripes.  Then he painstakingly wrote out my name on my chain cover, one pinstripe at a time.

Then came the more difficult part: this uncoordinated girl had to learn to ride a bike. Days of trying to keep my bike upright while peddling seemed to be an impossible feat.  Dad tried all the tricks, running beside me, letting go while trying to make me think he was still holding on.  I spent far too much time looking back to ensure he was still holding on and once I realized he wasn’t down I would go.

With each crash I cried at the new dent or scratch it left behind on my beautiful new bike. Dad consoled me with his practical thoughts, “A dented bike is a well-used bike, it gives it character.”

We decided that the quiet alley beside our house was the softer place for me and my bike to practice, and practice I did.  Finally, the day came when I had mastered the art of bike riding.   My bike was officially well-used by then and I was grateful that my streamers were still intact.

Bike Streamers (3)

 

Riding a bike proved to be just as I had dreamed, carrying me to all of my favorite places.

 

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memoir

Stewards of the Earth

We always lived within walking distance of the The Little Store, an old two-story brick building that sat on a corner lot. Crates of in-season produce greeted us at the sidewalk, and inside the first floor was a local grocery packed with all things good.

The second floor was an apartment, and I remember thinking how lucky the person was that lived above The Little Store. All the bread, milk, ketchup, mayonnaise, brooms, dust pans, cigarettes, and candy they could ever need was just below them.

The candy counter was glorious to behold, the glass case displayed full-sized candy bars. Hershey Bars, Butterfingers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were always a big splurge at fifty cents apiece.  Adorning the top were glass bowls holding the best of penny candy, fire balls, bubble gum with a comic tucked inside, pop rocks and my all-time favorite, blow pops. What could be better than a lollipop with gum hidden inside?

Sally or Jack were the familiar faces behind the register, and they carefully surveyed the store that was often full of kids. The creaking wood floors gave them the location of kids who were reading comics, gazing at candy, digging through baseball cards, or leafing through the coveted Teen Beat magazine. The Little Store held the dreams of many young hearts within its walls.

Before I could walk to The Little Store on my own, I was game to tag along with Dad whenever he was going. I loved walking with him, holding his hand, and anticipating the treat that was waiting for me.

One afternoon as we walked home, Dad blowing the smoke of a Winston into the air, I unwrapped my treasured Blow-Pop and I held the wrapper tight, until my hand began to itch and sweat. What a relief it would to be free of the pesky wrapper.

I waffled back and forth in my mind, something deep within told me it was a mistake.  The lure of sweet relief won and I slowly opened my hand, letting the wrapper fall to the ground, as I wiped  my sweaty palm on my jeans.

Dad suddenly stopped, his blue eyes on fire. “Pick that up now. McCracken’s do not litter. Do you hear me, we never litter. The Earth is our home and it is our job to care for it and keep it clean. I never want to see that again.”

As I ran back to pick up the wrapper from my blow pop, fire crept up my neck and burned in my cheeks. It was the first time in my life I remember feeling ashamed—ashamed that I had disappointed Dad and marred the family name, ashamed that the lure of temporary relief had captured me so easily.

I ran back to Dad with that wrapper back in my sweaty hand and tears of shame on my cheeks. A lesson taught and lesson learned. Dad held my hand the rest of the way home and I knew that even though I had made this terrible mistake, he still loved me.

I have had the opportunity to litter hundreds of times since then, but Dad’s words still ring in my ears. I’ve held wrappers in my hand for hours or stuffed them in my pocket, but never again, from that day to this, did they fall to the Earth.

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memoir

Makers

For as long as I can remember my parents were makers. The act of working with one’s hands brings a special kind of joyful satisfaction that is not found anywhere else.

After a full day of work and caring for our family, the sun would set on another day and the moon would rise. Once Mom tucked my brother and I in bed for night, out would come Mom’s fabric, pins, cutting board and the quiet hum of her sewing machine would begin. Often, I would creep out of my bed and peek into the living room and see her sitting in the lamp light, cross-legged on the floor, holding a pin in her mouth, her gaze intent on the fabric in her hand.

For those hours she was consumed in the act of making. Far ahead of American Doll she was making my dolls and I matching flannel nightgowns, wardrobes for my barbies, superhero costumes for my brother. She found a quiet joy in the making hours.

Dad had a shop where his latest projects came to life. From loading his own shot gun shells, making fishing lures, refinishing wood pieces to crafting leather his hands were always at work, and were rough stained and often garnished with a piece of duct tape, acting as a band aide.

He spent hours in his shop, sanding, building, cutting, staining and stringing, and we were always welcome to join him.  The shop was a magical place, filled with the smell of wood and leather, and my brother and I were always invited to join.  Boxes and drawers were filled with trinkets and heirlooms and every piece had a story.

Dad’s shop sits empty now and my heart aches each time I peek in. I long to see him look up from his worktable with a smile and say, “Hey, baby girl!” when I pop in to visit. I long to hold his stained, rough hand in mine and feel his warmth.

As Mom balanced Dad’s care and working full time her sewing machine grew quiet for years.  On a dark winter morning the three of us huddled around Dad as his last breath passed from his lips and we all grew quiet, not sure what life would be like without him. I know this, life is less without him.

It would take a pandemic for Mom to pull out her fabric, her pins, and her cutting board.  Her sewing machine hummed once again as masks were made and pressed, a safe covering for family friends and neighbors. She was making again, and joyful satisfaction was found once more.

I have had many failed attempts at trying to find some way of making that would fill my bones as it did my parents.  I have drawers filled with cake decorating supplies, paint and brushes, glue guns, yarn and crochet hooks.  It wasn’t until I stuck my hands in the dirt, nurturing seeds as they rooted and grew, that I finally found the joyful satisfaction I had seen on their faces for myself.

Winter is long in the North East and a making had to be found to fill those long, dark months when plants sit quiet.  I found that words are like seeds, you write them out, bury them, go back and water them often, and they too will root and grow.

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memoir

Hometown Vigilantes

It was a summer of tree climbing, front porch sitting, walks to the library and the community pool with friends. There may have also been a little cigarette smoking and joy riding.

Front porches were one of our favorite summer perches, and we noticed a short, middle-aged man with a pot belly and sandy brown hair, feathered back like Shaun Cassidy who started by walking past the house once a day, then multiple times a day.

For the first few weeks he never spoke a word, he just circled. Gradually he became brave, and began making little comments, then sexual comments that grew more crude as the days went by.

As he grew brave, we grew brave too, “Pervert!” We would yell back at him from the safety of a porch. Then a shift happened and some of our phones began to ring, only to hear breathing and sexual threats, the kind of threats that are thick and heavy making your stomach roll and skin crawl.

We were smart enough to know that this danger had become real and parents were told. Word flew around the neighborhood that danger was lurking, and it was hunting their children. Suddenly the hairs on the back of necks were raised, eyes were wide and alert.

I was walking home from the library one late afternoon the sky was blue, the sun warm and books were tucked under my arm. With not a care on my mind I walked and daydreamed. Suddenly Mom pulled up beside me. “Get in the car,” she hissed. The kind of hiss that meant I was in big trouble, or something terrible had happened.

Even on the sunniest day darkness can dwell, and it turned out the predator had been tailing me and I hadn’t even noticed. A friend’s mother had been driving by, her mama bear instincts sensing danger, and she rushed home to call my mother.  Mom dropped everything to come rescue the clueless prey from her predator.

Late that summer Dad and his friend happened to spot the man walking and pulled their pickup right up onto the sidewalk behind him. In an instant the predator had become the prey.

As my Dad would tell it, they pushed him up against the pick-up truck, roughed him up, and then threatened him within an inch of his life. They reminded him that if he looked or spoke to any child in the neighborhood again, they would simply run that old truck right over him.

I remember feeling so proud and protected. Grateful to my friend’s mother, who was normally quiet and reserved, for sounding the alarm.  Thankful for my mother who would drop everything to come to my rescue and cheering inside for a strong father and his fellow vigilante, who made it their business to protect children from the predators of this world.

 

 

memoir

Of Planting and Tearing Up

My hands have been deep in the dirt these past weeks, pulling and planting.  It is a peaceful place for my hands, heart and mind.  Sweet memories, the seeds and water of my life, re-root there.

Dad was a man who was always willing to try new things, I loved that about him, and I am grateful that he passed that willingness along to me. Nothing makes my heart stir like a new project.

One Spring someone gave him burlap bag full of strawberry plant starters.  Dad began to talk about a strawberry patch, how we would have so many strawberries and would be eating all the strawberry shortcake and strawberry pie we could stand by the next June.

He went to work clearing out a small plot behind the garage.  It wasn’t easy turning over that earth, it was covered in strong rooted grass.  He was strong and never a man to give up and after a few days of toiling and turning, the rich dark soil showed itself.

Once a shallow crevice was dug out for each one, we carefully planted each of those tender strawberry plants.   Our strawberry patch was perfect, there is something wonderful about freshly turned soil and newly planted plants, it is a place where hope dwells.

We checked our patch every day, giving our plants plenty of water and tender loving care.   Dreaming about the day we would have more strawberries than we could imagine.

Those dreams came to a crashing halt, when our neighbor Mrs. Kitch, who’s favorite past-time was to snitch, came to my parents with the bad news.  Two boys had pulled up all of Dad’s strawberry plants, and she just happened to know which neighborhood boys they were.

I remember my Dad standing over our precious strawberry patch, his camouflage hat in one hand, his head bent in defeat with his free hand running through his hair.  This told me he was upset. Our once strong plants laid scattered and uprooted, their leaves wilting in the sun.   Inside I raged, not only for our uprooted plants, but for the loss of our hope and plans.

The next thing I knew Dad was walking down the sidewalk to the house of one of the boys.  After a few minutes Dad, one of the boy’s father and two crying boys stood over our decimated strawberry plants.  In silence, the father shook his head in shame as he surveyed the damage, not wanting to believe that his boy was one of culprits of this act.

I stood off to the side watching the scene unfold and I’ll admit I enjoyed it, every uncomfortable moment.  It’s easy when you are not the one squirming.

After some discussion the boys and the father were back with gardening tools.  The two men, with arms crossed over their chests, supervised two scared and sweaty boys as they carefully and gently replanted each plant that they had torn out.

When their work was finished, I watched as my Dad looked each boy in the eye, he shook their hands and tousle their hair.  His way of saying, this can be forgiven.

The sun would not be so forgiving, and our plants would require extra water and tender loving care.  With that care, they rooted, they grew and our hopes and dreams for them revived.

Strawberries

Seeds were planted in the hearts of two boys that day, forgiveness and redemption can come when one rights a wrong. Plants that have been torn out and left for dead can thrive again when planted in good soil.

Seeds were planted in the heart of a girl, as she watched from afar the ways of good men.  Seeds of humility and forgiveness, of wisdom and kindness, of words spoken with grace producing sweet and lasting fruit.

I think of that day in the early Spring, as I clean out my strawberry patch.  Tearing out the weeds, making room for the new runners that will dig in and new young plants will sprout.  I am reminded as I dig and pull that hope dwells here.