Old Friend

It washes over me at unexpected times. That a chunk of my life is missing, E asks me if I want to go by my old home. (She knows I will say yes.) She goes by too after Walmart runs to see what’s what. What changes the new owners might be making. When I drive by it’s as if I’m gazing into the familiar face of a cherished old friend, not a place I once lived. No matter how it changes. I will remember…..

I remember little girl yellow and a record player on the floor. And ruffled chenille on the bed. My Mom so mad at the dog for lifting his leg right after she washed it. I remember backyard Birthdays, sheet thrown over the line and fishing for prizes which my brother and his friend fastened from the other side. Names of neighborhood crushes scrawled underneath the windowsills.

And sounds…..the funky doorbell I can hear so clearly. The particular slam of the screen door, the sound of my Mom singing and her voice telling me it was time to get up for school. My groan as I threw the covers over my head wishing for Saturday. 

On the other side of town, I see a sad row of buildings on Main taken over by the homeless, now rampant with drugs and stolen piles of garbage. In my mind I remember the sound our shuffling feet climbing the stairs to the upper room of the Mandarin House Chinese restaurant. We thought we were in Chinatown. The gentle clink of teacups and saucers. Okazaki’s was somewhere downstairs, the Japanese shop where they made the best snow cones. 

Memories can save us when everything around us is unfamiliar and changing. We walk about in a world we no longer recognize. We talk about it every day. Are we, (the sixty-somethings) the last to remember a world that was somewhat sane? 

Of course human nature has always been the same but I truly believe we are just now beginning to see the harmful effects of endless social media. It can’t be healthy to have events plastered our faces at every turn. The mind reels from it. There is no time for the mind to recover from one tragedy when you’re presented with another. 

But thankfully, some things will always remain the same. The important things. God knew there would come a day when we would need to derive comfort from looking up at the unchanging planets. He knew we would always need to gaze into the innocent eyes of a newborn to keep cynicism at bay. And to stand in wide-eyed wonder on the shore of an ocean which seems endless. 

It is Sunday, June 5, 2022, the day of Pentecost. Fifty days after He rose. And God is still in control. And I remember one day long ago when the Holy Spirit touched down in my little world. On a cold, foggy, miraculous December day close to Christmas. 

The Spirit will not always strive with men, but He was with me that day. And He’s with me still. I close my eyes and hear the peace murmured, the rustle of clothes and muffled kneelers leftover from Episcopalian days, and the Doxology from my Baptist days. And singing “Morning is Broken” on the dewy grass at a Methodist Sunrise Easter service. 

Life is good. Because God is.

Miscellaneous

Lassoing thoughts, figuring out what to keep

What to release

The writing process, even the phrase 

Taunts. “As if,” my own voice echoes 

Mocks. 

If no one is there to read, is it still a story? 

Because some things are too beautiful 

Not to share. 

Summer will always be 

The cool of the garden hose held over our heads

And “Let’s make skeletons!” 

Plopping down to feel the warmth of the driveway

Getting up to compare imprints

Purple Koolaid when it was still innocent

Remnants of powder on the cold metal rim.

Summer deliciousness. 

The hope of a warped chime from two blocks away

Rushing inside to get a thin dime

Missiles and Dreamsicles

Stubbed toes and hard-baked plastic flipflops

(Called thongs in those days)

All innocence must be kept like a treasure. 

And not forgotten. 

Writers are the guardians of recorded time.

It’s morning, and it’s God’s day.

I sip coffee and it tastes like gratitude.

I recognize for the umpteenth time

this is a sacred moment.

I stoop over the keyboard, the cat having stolen my chair.

I grant her a moment too.

Just like God has granted me so many over the years.

And this is present day and I summon the past in the form of a real

book. I know there are plenty of people like me,

who shun electronic readers.

Who know that reading is a feast for the senses.

The feel….smell….sound…..of a page.

The look of a particular font

even the thickness of the paper, all conjured up to make it

an experience.

Even before the first word is read.

Letting Go

It continues to feel strange, this new journey I’m on. In 2021, Dad passed on August 19, and then Mom passed 44 days later on October 2. At first, there was the flurry of activity involving the memorial for Dad, then we barely turned around and the same had to be done for Mom. We were taxed out emotionally and other ways too. We said our goodbyes with family and friends and things kind of leveled out. Then the house cleanup began…….(lots of buried emotions, plowing through and just getting it done.) 

Now the house sale. More emotion. More tears at unexpected times. I recorded certain sounds on my phone that I will never hear again which I may keep or not down the road. The sound of the old door locking/unlocking, the funky doorbell that for 40 years has sounded the same, and the closet doors my Dad installed that have been off kilter (also for years). 

But here is what I hear that can never be recorded except in my memory, and there they will stay. The sounds of hundreds of gatherings over the years. The October parties I used to plan with Mom, every backyard Birthday party with all the neighborhood “gaggle” of kids we played with. The fresh pot of coffee that was ever brewing for all kinds of friends and neighbors. Faces I still see so clearly: Mrs. Nystrom next door coming down the steps with a freshly made cake (from scratch of course). Mrs. Day from across the street with a loaf of something healthy and homemade. Ladies gathered around my Mom’s table, all strong women, each with their own heartaches and joys. I can see them, their faces aglow and the walls echoing their laughter. Praying hands in a circle. 

So much love, so much grief, so much life. And now all is stripped bare, devoid of any life but flowing with memory. This little tract home was Mom and Dad’s pride and joy. It was the model home of the neighborhood complete with the ugliest rock wall anyone’s ever seen. My Mom used to curse those rocks because when she vacuumed, they would come loose. When my cousins came to say goodbye to the house, a couple of them wanted to take a pebble from the infamous wall. I told them, “Just get the vacuum out!” 

The funny thing is, they had to find tools to pry them off, almost as if they too, were reluctant to say goodbye. And if those little stones could talk, I’d like to think they would whisper back all those prayers my Mom said for me as we held hands before the fireplace, when going to school was so, so hard for me. 

I know walls, (and stones) can’t talk, but I do think they remember.


First Sunday of Lent

Each evening the sun’s rays hit my Mom’s sheep and birdhouse at exactly the same spot. I never planned it that way, it just happened. Sometimes the cat poses along with the sheep putting himself squarely in the portrait. More than likely he’s only following the last bit of warmth before evening.

This morning I was leafing through my Dad’s Book of Common Prayer. He had written a note over part of the Eucharist seen below:

This made me smile. I know Dad was proud of his Scottish and English heritage. Since I did my DNA a few years back I’ve found that I’m 28% Scottish. I previously thought I was more English.

I read aloud and as I did, I recalled the soft murmur of voices in the chambers of my heart and memory. I remember the sounds in the old St. John’s church when it was on Lee Street in the middle of town. I heard the soft insulated thumps of prayer kneelers going up and back down. Dust motes floating through stained glass light; I heard us saying the words of the Eucharist all at once: 

We lift them to the Lord

It is right to give Him thanks and praise

So many years later it’s as if I’m there. And there are so many other church services down through my youth, Baptist, Methodist, Non-denominational, weekend Church retreats, you name it. My folks were denomination hoppers for a while and now I’m glad they were. Because the common denominator running through them all was tradition, and community. 

More than that, it was Jesus.

I remember faces, voices from the past, too many to count. I thought again how grateful I am to have this rich heritage of Churchgoing. Those memories hold you together in all those in between times in the desert of faith when you’re trying to recapture what you’ve lost. 

What I am sad about is that I am wondering if my generation will be the last to remember the old hymns. I can still chime in with the melodies even if some of the lyrics are lost. I can see the value in churches holding fast to keeping their traditions alive. In a world that is spinning out of control, it’s comforting to know you can attend church and parts of it at least, will still ring true. Still hold to tradition.

The fundamentalist in me misses altar calls. Remember those? The closing music starts up, and the Pastor stands at the front, invitation open. Hopeful hearts pray while eternity waits. Then one courageous individual stands and scoots across knees out of the row and into the aisle. The most dramatic and personal moment in the church for me was that moment. I was fourteen. I grabbed Mom and she went with me.

And the great miracle is that as Christians, we carry this living cathedral wherever we go. Held safely in the shelter of our hearts. A turn of the key, sealed for the day of redemption. As parents, the most invaluable gift we can give our kids is something, or most importantly someone bigger than themselves.

To deal with life’s blows you need this.

In closing, join me in prayer for our war weary tear-stained world. For you, for me, and the Ukrainian people and (no doubt, many Russian people) many of whom are not in favor of what is going on.  

God of the nations, whose sovereign rule brings justice and peace, have mercy on our broken and divided world. Shed abroad Your peace in the hearts of all and banish from them the spirit that makes for war, that all races and peoples may learn to live as members of one family and in obedience to Your law, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Anglican Church, Diocese of Perth. 

A Pretty Nice Life

It’s been awhile since I posted anything here in my little corner. So much has been going on. Sometimes it still feels surreal that Mom and Dad are both gone. Elaine says, “You will feel a bit like an orphan,” and she’s right. We had the garage sale and the house is mostly empty. The cousins came and we did a walk through. Shared some memories of 1127 Glenhurst long ago. Of exploding homemade firecrackers and waking up to the screaming engines of the hydro-boat races on Fourth of July mornings at the lake. 

This war that has just been started is hitting me hard. Several times I have cried, prayed over the pictures I see on the news. What is it all for? Maybe it’s because I’m thinking of Grandma and her family coming over on the ship, immigrants from Russia themselves. How bad must it have been to risk that horrific trip across the Atlantic to land on Ellis Island with only hopes and dreams of a better life? 

This morning I feel incredibly lucky. We’ve been living in this small space going on 6 years now. It hasn’t been easy, but we have made it work and made it homey. But we are longing for a real home again. And we are closer now to being there, wherever there is. Real estate is ridiculous in California but there are places to be had up in the foothills. And neighboring states close by are a possibility. 

I think of the Ukrainians on the run, fearing for their lives, their homes. I settle in my cozy spot by the window, with second steaming mug of coffee, reassuring stack of books nearby, within eyesight. This old tub is burdened with books in every storage place. Elaine says its like the long, long trailer only it’s not rocks its books. 

The other day I lifted the storage under the bed and took all 15 or so out. “I’m cleaning books out,” I said. She was hopeful. My measly little stack of four didn’t make a dent, but it was something. “Hey, it’s a start,” I say. 

And it’s another Saturday and the collectors are coming for the throwaway stuff at Mom and Dad’s house today. And today, I will exercise, and thank God for our freedom as my heart aches for those whose lives will never be the same. 

Buster

Cat Chronicles, Buster (then)

After his initial dusting with flea powder, we decided it would be best to give both cats a flea bath. Rocky was first. Gentle giant that he was, he turned into a cougar when wet and it took us both to keep him from lunging out of the sink like a large furry banana. When he was done it was poor Buster’s turn. He was so small and so stressed that when it was all over, he collapsed. Horrified, we thought we had killed him. That was the last bath they ever got.

Turns out Buster was part dog (he growled, and fetched). He also had a penchant for opening drawers and retrieving underwear which he scattered different places for us to find. The front door had a window you could see through and several times people must’ve thought there’d been a break in when they saw clothes strewn up and down the stairs.

We also found out he didn’t like whistling, not one bit. I started whistling to the Seven Dwarfs tune watching an advertisement one night and he leapt from where he was on the living room floor, and headed straight for my face the source of the infernal sound. 

When he was a kitten, he tormented poor Rocky endlessly. He jumped on his back, and clung to his tail and ambushed him every chance he got. Every now and then Rocky would have had too much and just held him down with one giant paw as if to say, “Okay now sonny, I’m still boss here.” But it was obvious they loved each other.

Buster also liked cookies and would try to bat them out of my hand before they got to my mouth. Rocky and Buster went through several out of state moves together which they handled like pros. They observed all through bright curious eyes, except the time we encountered a violent downpour crossing the desert and both of them dove to the back under the blankets. Buster was thrilled with the Arizona house with its wooden banisters two stories up. He scared us to death by sailing through the air and landing on the skinny railing, part cat, part monkey.

The next move to New Mexico was also just fine as long as we were all together, except for our stop in Gallup. Buster went mad and wouldn’t stop yowling and we couldn’t figure out why. Later we found out that there was a frequency there that humans couldn’t hear.

After our two years at Intel Corp. in Rio Rancho, NM we both put in for a transfer. We longed to move closer to California so we transferred back to Arizona. 1 hour and 45 for a flight, and 12 hour drive is do-able.

Our temporary stay for the first weeks there was a local business hotel with many rooms and a homey atmosphere right in the center of Chandler. There was a Great Pyrenees dog show nearby and they were all lodged at the same hotel. Buster and Rocky just took it in stride. They never had potty accidents there or any other place. 

In fact, the only bathroom incident Rocky ever had turned out not to be. While we were still in California, my Mom had kicked off her Birkenstocks and Rocky decided there was a smell on her shoes he liked so much he had to mark it. While we all looked on horrified, he filled up the entire shoe. We determined he was exactly a size eight bladder.

Arizona was our home again from 1998-2016. After renting for awhile we put an offer on a nice house on a corner lot. We built a huge fire pit in the backyard which Rocky loved. Happy times were spent there. But those times also were tainted with sadness. Rocky and Buster were getting along in years.

Now: We have spent almost 5 years living here at my Aunt’s property in a Motorhome and four and a half months without a cat family member. (Since 9/28/2020) when we put Briggs down. There are cats around, the two Weigumina’s and George at my folks. But we miss the patter of feet. The constant presence, the expectant looks, the furry body in the lap, and the purrs. It’s amazing how one small cat can fill up a space in a home and a heart.

“Animals are proof God loves us”

Remember Me

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What do you see when you look at me? Do you see only the rumpled clothes, the spots I can’t see? The spilled food? Yes, my hands shake and my steps falter, but I have lived life and it has erased much of what I was before. If you look closer you can still see who I used to be. It takes love to remember it. The love I gave you for so many years. The love I’m still trying so hard to give.

When you are impatient and have to wait for me, remember all those years I waited for you. I waited for you to walk so that we could walk together. And we did. Our lives were a set of parallel lines that made up all the joy in my life. Everything I did was because of you, in you I found my purpose.

Remember for me when I can’t. I know it’s hard when you have to answer the same question again and again, but instead of irritation, replace it with something else. Replace it with the love that was behind my every task. Let it temper the anger that is so quick to flare up.

Remember the Birthdays I never forgot, the cakes I got up early to make, the laundry I folded, the endless meals I cooked, the alarms I set to get you up and ready for the day.

The prayers you never knew I said.

Please be patient and know that when I struggle to read directions or do a task, I am frustrated too. Do you remember the light in my eyes every time you said yes to something I suggested we go do? The hope behind it all. I think maybe my eyes only truly saw for the first time when you were born.

Remember me in my strength, not in my present physical weakness. Can you let our love run together in the same direction as it used to? I’m worn out and worn thin and my memories haunt me much of the time. That is, when I do remember.

Someday soon I will be gone, and it’s my hope that you won’t regret what you didn’t do. I certainly won’t hold you to it. The hardest thing is to learn to forgive yourself. It’s a lesson I wish I could have learned in life. I know that only with God is it remotely possible.

Now, all of my past mistakes are long forgotten and I dwell in the Light of Eternity where there is no longer anything to regret. I have greeted those who I’ve longed to see again. Here there is only Love.

I’ll wait for you here.

What’s in your cup?

cups 3

Dad called, “We just have too much,” he said, “We cleared out the shelf where we keep the coffee cups, and there’s only two of us here now…..” When I got there they were all over the table, stacked two deep. He wanted to throw them all away. There was a sense of urgency about it, like so many things he is wanting to clear out lately. I said, “Well, let’s just sort through them and see which ones you still use. We agreed that they had to keep the ones from the Ahwahnee in Yosemite. And the one to Grandpa and Grandpa from Lauryn. We narrowed it down to 5 or 6 out of 20. 

Clearing out things can be a lot like clearing out a life. An acknowledgment that an excess is no longer needed. It can be liberating but also diffused with a sense of finality. Memories are attached to things and that’s where it gets tricky. There are hoarders who have a mental condition that prevents them from throwing anything away. I guess they find a kind of comfort in all those piles of stuff. And then there is the opposite, throwing away everything and then wishing you hadn’t because you realize there is still life to be lived.

When life spirals out of control I guess you feel you must do something about the things you can control. Little things become paramount. You can’t control getting older, or change, or a ravaging disease, but you can control the things you see in the immediate space around you, so there’s a sense of haste.

I kept the best ones and took them to a local cafe where they accept everyone’s used cups. It’s a cool thing I think, like drinking out of someone’s history. I find comfort in knowing some of their coffee mugs will live on in our community. I like to think the many prayers and all the laughter shared while using those cups and the hands that held them over the years will somehow pass a little peace and grace on to the next user.

cups 2

For so many years, their home was where everyone came. There was always a knock or a hello through the screen door and the phone was always ringing. “I’ll just put on a fresh pot of coffee,” my Mom would say. Even now, I can see shining eyes, and ringing laughter over those cups. The walls hold the memories even in the silence. The winding down of life.

The Bible speaks about our bodies being living vessels. Far too many years I tried to fill it with things it was never meant to hold. The Christian life is a series of emptying and filling. Sometimes this life just empties you out. People and circumstances can leave you feeling that way. Maybe that is Jesus’ way of getting us out of the way so that He can fill us with Himself.

Jesus once had to drink from the worse cup ever. But drink He did, to the bitter dregs. He did this so that we wouldn’t  have to. Has your coffee gone cold? Are there only the bitter grounds of yesterday? Pitch it into the bushes and refill from a fresh cup of Grace today. Jesus stands ready. The campfire is warm and the coffee is hot. 

“You prepare a table before me in the Presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Psalm 23:5

cups

A World in Pause Mode

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Life has been suspended and I can’t help feeling that for once, on this day it feels right. I remember as a kid when things closed and everyone flocked to church at noon on Good Friday. I also remember being glad when it was rainy or cloudy because that also seemed right on this day of days.

“Oh Jesus, what you went through so that we could have forever with You. When the shadow of the cross fell it reached all the way to Heaven and even silenced the Angels. They had never seen the Father hide His face from the Son. Ever. But that day was unlike any other day that will ever happen again.”

This shutdown has not been without benefit, in every adverse situation the good arises like a sweet perfume. The weeds grow along with the seeds, it’s just that the weeds are visible right away. But the good seeds are working their magic down below where we can’t see.  I believe we will have a lasting benefit from this time.

We will remember the quiet times, the books we read. The times spent talking, learning new games, getting to know each other again. Maybe all this family time, cooking and eating together, stretching our imaginations and praying more will have a lasting effect. Not to mention going a little bit crazy. 

What I’ve been learning from all this is what I have taken for granted, the simple little things. I have always been a person who has been intentional about not doing this and yet, I have realized that to some extent, I have. Who ever thought hugging someone we love would feel like a luxury, a risk, something forbidden.

Each morning. I have tried to go outside at first light and celebrate a little resurrection. I close my eyes and concentrate on all the noises I hear. It’s a blessing to have these mornings at home. Not having to get ready for anything. Downtime. Then there’s the downside.

Honestly some days it feels a little bit like the shadow of death is hovering all around us. Seeing loved ones only from a distance. Not being able to go, to help, to do. So close, so far away.

I’m thankful I have had someone (thank you E) to laugh and cry with during all this. It’s been a blessing to help those in our circle who are alone. 

I’m reminded in Scripture that this is only a light and momentary affliction. The other side of eternity stretches much further than we can see right now, but it’s still there, waiting for us. Because of the horrible, awfulness Jesus went through for us. Because He loves us.

The Trinity worked a beautiful plan my friends, and we can all partake of it. This pandemic will pass, but what will not pass is the empty tomb. It stands open and glowing with hope. Today we remember how our Savior was battered and bloody beyond recognition but on Sunday we remember how Satan was defeated.

Death has indeed lost its sting. Again. Thanks be to God.

Extraordinary Grace


This is a thankful post on a day we celebrate things like that. It’s about a regular day, yesterday, which was just about perfect. To start, I was off work and the anticipation of having five days off contributed to a general feeling of well being. That in itself is something to give thanks for. In addition we had a real honest to goodness storm with rain and wind. It wreaked havoc with leaves, branches and debris in its wake, but the air was fresh and clean and I took deep life-giving breaths as I stood on the river bank.

The river rolled by looking so smooth and pure I had to stop and say what I call an “awe” prayer. It’s the kind of prayer that is more just an exclamation of exultant joy at the beauty that God has given us. The yard was a mess. I dragged a few big branches to the river’s edge and threw them in. I took a few photos and then went back up our little hill to the Motorhome.

The floor Elaine put in looks fantastic, gives it a whole new look. It was a real pleasure to see that ugly linoleum gone. I found a classical Christmas station which was very pretty but was a bit melancholy so I switched it to Smooth Jazz Christmas and that added to the general feeling of well-being.

After we got ready to tackle items on our list, we went to breakfast at the Hollywood cafe and as usual the staff was wonderful and the food was excellent. We had Joe’s special which was scrambled eggs with hamburger, cheese, fresh spinach with hash browns and toast. We stopped by the Animal Shelter to measure the shelf for the carpet for Coco. Last time I was there he had a terrible trying to get a grip on the slick shelf.

After that we got all the stuff on our list including baseboards to finish off the floor. We had a great time getting everything on our list. I saw some truly miserable people at the grocery store which made me sad for them. I have been where they are.

There was a time not so long ago where I was unmoved by everything. It was a tough time. I didn’t care about reading, nature, anything that usually lifted my spirits. If not for Elaine (and lots of prayer) I don’t know what I would have done. She patiently told me to snap out of it and that made me laugh despite myself. Seriously though, it took lots of prayer, counseling and “motoring” through it. And the Doctor put me on a low dose of Zoloft, which I still take. There may be a time when it’s right to go off of it, but for now it’s working for me.

I guess that’s why I am so grateful for the good days. I remember the despair. There are many more good days now and I enjoy going to the library once again. People wonder why I go every week, but it’s like a tonic to me, even with all the homeless hanging around there. I am happy books make me happy again.

The end of the day had a bit of drama but nothing that tarnished the day for me. The opportunity presented itself to give Mom a hug and that was appreciated. We ended the day with a bit of Amaretto, a yearly Christmas treat. I fell asleep to the sound of rain again. It was marvelous.

It put me in mind of another day a long time ago when Mom and I had a good day together and we were listening to Susan Boyle sing “A Perfect Day.” Mom said, “This was a perfect day.” I told her, yes indeed, it was. 

It lives in my memory, and so will this day. I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving from my humble Prayer Closet.

Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night. Rainer Maria Rilke