The Derelict

A few months ago we sat at table with two silver-haired couples from our church. The older coulples were talking about their children, comparing notes as it were.  Their children were my age.  I guess parents never stop discussing their children.  One of them said something about why their children were born at one local hospital instead of the other.

“It was after the salt babies,” she said.  “I didn’t want to go Binghamton General.”

“That was a terrible thing,” the other woman said, shaking her head sadly.

“I’m not familiar with that,” I interjected.  “What were the salt babies?”

“Several babies died in 1962 after salt was mistakenly put in the baby formula at the hospital,” one woman said.  They continued discussing it and then moved on to more cheerful topics.  I grieved in my heart, though, for those new mothers who went home with empty arms after losing their little babies to such an awful mistake.

When I tried researching it later, I learned that the practical nurse who had made the error was a mother of three and pregnant herself with her fourth.  One blogger postulated that a mentally ill woman who now screams at cars in downtown Binghamton was that nurse.  The guilt from her mistake had driven her insane.

Let me say right up front that I don’t know if that story is true.  In fact, other things I have read lead me to doubt it.  Nevertheless, it gave me pause.

A few years ago I picked up a book by another local man, Ron Capalaces, who wrote about growing up in Binghamton in the years following World War II.  He begins the book with this story.

Uncle John was one of the first GIs to fight his way across the Remagen Bridge in Germany, the last bridge standing over the Rhine River.  The prize waiting on the other side was the road leading straight to Berlin and Hitler’s headquarters.  Taking the bridge at Remagen came at a high cost in U S forces killed and wounded.

Uncle John made it across unhurt.

Now that the war  was over, it was my job to bring Uncle John  safely home from the beer joints on the main drag, Clinton Street in the First Ward of Binghamton.  The fighting overseas had given him a thirst that nights of drinking couldn’t quench.  My assignment seemed almost as tough to me as crossing the Remagen Bridge.

Ron describes being awakened by his mother after midnight and sent down to the bars to find his uncle.  When he finds him, he must coax him away and help him get home.

Crawling into bed, there was too much stuff going on in my head to fall asleep.  I lay awake thinking about the war being over, how I looked up to Uncle John, all that he had been through, what he had done.  As a soldier, Uncle John looked great.  Now that he was home, he looked like all the other drunks up on Clinton Street.  I didn’t like it.  But there was little I could do about it.

SCN_0379These two stories came to my mind as I read Walter Wangerin’s book, Miz Lil and the Chronicles of Grace.  In his opening chapter, he includes this vignette.

He was thin, unkempt, hunched forward so that his head hung down between his knees.  What then? Drunk? On the  pavement between his shoes lay something vividly red.  He was staring at it. I felt enraged by this utter indifference to danger, which forced me in the middle of my busy day to make decisions on his behalf.  Oh, the indigent are so arrogant! …

Wangerin was annoyed that he had to slow down for this man as he was driving to his church.  It wasn’t until he was right upon him that he saw that the man was vomiting blood.  It gave him pause when he reached the church parking lot.  In fact, he couldn’t stop trembling.

How many of these people, the flotsam and jetsam of society, do we encounter every day and give little thought to their need?  How often are we in such a hurry to get to CHURCH that we feel annoyed at the inconvenience they cause us?

David Foster Wallace said this in his speech, This is Water:

The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. … that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry that I am:  it is actually I who am in his way.

Because, let’s face it, we get annoyed by people.  People who are inconvenient.  People who get in our way.  People who demand something of us, just by entering our sphere.  We turn a blind eye to them and drive to church or Bible study or some other important holy function.

When Walter Wangerin began his book with this uncomfortable side story, I knew I was in for it.  In a good way.

Jesus stopped to touch the leper, to talk to the woman at the well, to put mud on a blind man’s eyes, to heal the sick.

I can slow my life down just a little for these as well.

Published in: on February 1, 2014 at 8:00 AM  Comments (4)  
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Sunrise

I used to keep my Bible beside my bed.

Bud would be the first one up and he would bring me my coffee, while I stayed snuggled in the warmth of many blankets.  I would begin my day, in bed, with my coffee and my Bible.

Now I’m the first one downstairs.  It’s dark on January morning at 5 AM.

I make my coffee and begin my day with readings and moodlings and meditations and prayers.  I think I could spend hours thus.  In the dark quiet of my kitchen.

In the summer, I can look out the back window and watch the sunrise, but, in the winter, the sun shifts just enough that I can’t see it from my chair.   Where it rises, though, in the winter, a church steeple stands stark against it, pointing to heaven.

This morning, when I left my chair and saw the sunrise, it was shades of gray and beautiful, so beautiful that I took a picture.

sunrise grey 1-15-14

Less than fifteen minutes later, Karl came in the kitchen.  I was back at the table in my usual spot, but he could see the sunrise where he stood.  “Whoa!  Have you seen the sunrise this morning?” he asked.

“Yes, so gray and pretty,” I said.

“No, pink,” he answered.

He was right.  I then took this picture.

sunrise 1-15-14

In another fifteen minutes, the pink was gone, replaced by the dazzling brightness of the sun.

brightness of day

For years, I missed this sight for the sake of warm toes.

Today, I’m thankful.

I’m thankful that nothing is stagnant.  We are ever-changing, ever-growing, ever-moving towards the brightness of another new day.

For all the change around us and in us, one thing never changes.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end.
They are new every morning.
Great is thy faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

Amen.

Published in: on January 15, 2014 at 9:18 AM  Comments (4)  
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The Historical Importance of Broccoli

I recently read a book with Laurel about Air Force One.

IMG_3039[1]Her take-away from the book?  There was once a president who didn’t allow broccoli on Air Force One.

I admit, I was at first a little peeved that they included such a trivial fact.  I thought, Really?  Are we still poking fun at George Bush because he didn’t like broccoli?

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized what an important fact it was to include.  At 10, Laurel can’t relate to the world stage of politics.  Learning the Nixon flew Air Force One to China in 1974 meant nothing to her.  She recognized the picture of LBJ taking the oath of office on Air Force One, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis at his side — but that was because we had read a book about Kennedy’s assassination a month or so ago.  Even the fact that Air Force One is five stories tall (according to the book) is a little hard to for her imagine since we live in a town of one and two story homes.  Our main street has some three story buildings, but I may have to find out how tall the church steeple is to give her perspective.

The problem with teaching history to children is that they have little to no framework in which to fit the events.  Even with timelines in books and across walls, it’s hard to relate to when they have only ten years under their belts.

So broccoli becomes important.  Presidents eat broccoli.  Or, they dislike broccoli so much that they ban it.

We eat broccoli a lot at our house.  It’s one of my favorite vegetables.  That’s probably why it struck Laurel as so funny.  How could anyone not like broccoli, especially to the point of banishing it?

Broccoli became of point of identification.  Someday, she’ll understand more of the import of Air Force One, a flying White House.  As she builds a framework for history, she’ll have more and more hooks on which to hang the facts of wars, national or international events, and geography.  For now, it may be enough to know that the president has a giant jet at his command, and he can choose whether or not he eats his broccoli.

Published in: on January 11, 2014 at 1:28 PM  Comments (2)  
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Ice Skating in a Bow-Tie

I love this picture of my mother and her siblings, circa 1935.

Guilford, Priscilla, Warren, Elinor

From left to right:  Guilford, Priscilla, Warren, and Elinor (my mom).

Yes, Guilford went ice-skating wearing a bow-tie.

Published in: on January 8, 2014 at 9:50 AM  Comments (7)  
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Back in the day…

When Sam was born, phones still had cords. SCN_0297

Even his dad had to gown up to hold him as a newborn.SCN_0300

That little bit of color to his skin, jaundice, was considered worrisome.SCN_0290

Babies with jaundice were put in the sunshine.SCN_0291

Shush meant, “Quiet.  The baby is sleeping.”SCN_0295

Now we spell it schuss, and it means something a little different.skiing

Happy Birthday, Sam!

Published in: on January 5, 2014 at 6:00 AM  Comments (3)  
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Chase Me to the Ocean

This morning it was, like, a billion below zero outside.  Really cold.

Okay, it was only 2 below, but, man, it felt cold.

I was half expecting my Florida relatives to call and gloat tell me how they went for a walk on the beach this morning and later they’re going to mow their lawn.

Ah, the beach… it reminds me of my favorite song from 2013: “Chase Me to the Ocean” (words by Rebecca Reynolds, music by Ron Block, vocal harmony by Kate Rusby).

I figured out the looping feature on my ipod just for this song.  Some days I play it over and over and over.

Here are a few of the lyrics.

Are you tired, chosen one,
Are you often weary?

Weary...

Weary…

Yes, yes, yes.  The two verses are so sweet and easy for me to relate to.  Then, the chorus:

Chase, chase, me to the ocean,
Where the white gulls fly.

where the white gulls fly...

where the white gulls fly…


I’ll build you, build you a castle,
You’ll find pictures in the sky.

I'll build you a castle...

I’ll build you a castle…


The waves will crash around us,
While we laugh, and love, and sigh,

Laugh and love and sigh...

Laugh and love and sigh…


For all we know is growing new,
In the turning of the tide.January 1 2013 041

Ron Block’s CD, Walking Song, which has this song and many others, can be purchased at the Rabbit Room.  It’s my favorite new music from 2013.

Published in: on January 3, 2014 at 3:15 PM  Comments (4)  
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Augur’s Bookstore

davidsons_large1New Year’s Day is like the back room at the old Augur’s Bookstore

In Cooperstown, on the corner of Pioneer and Main, is a bookstore.  Well, it used to be a bookstore.  They still sell books there, but now they also sell  jewelry.  And toys.  And children’s clothes.

In the old days, it used to be a bookstore that also sold office supplies.

In the left-hand back corner of the store was a display case full of fine writing instruments.  Not 99¢ Bic pens, but Cross pens that were gold or silver, and fountain pens with ink cartridges.  I even think there were bottles of black India ink and blotters.

On the top of that glass case was a display Flair pens of every color imaginable.  I loved to try new colors.

To the left of the back left hand corner, tucked away where it was easy to miss, was a door that led to my favorite room in the whole store.  It might have been my favorite room on all of Main Street Cooperstown.  It was quiet and smelled like paper.

Often there was a man working back there at desk.  He sat with ledger books and an adding machine.  A glance at me over the top of his half-eyes told me that he knew I was there;  then, he would set back to work.

And I would begin my perusal.

Poster-board of many shapes and sizes stood in a rack as I entered.  I never cared much about poster-board.

Blank notebooks were neatly stacked and arranged on a shelf along the whole right-hand wall.  Nice paper, onion skin and bonded paper of varying weights, filled boxes and shelves.  Ledger books stood in one stack, and receipt books made up another.

It was a room of possibility.  Everything was blank, just waiting.  Waiting to be filled with all sorts of words or numbers or pictures.

I miss it.  Because Augur’s now has become more.  More stuff.  Less potential. It’s funny how that works.

But New Year’s Day — it’s like that back room.

Today, I can run my hands over the blank pages of the new year.

And imagine.

****

I’m starting the 2014 with a blank new blog to fill one day at a time, one month at a time.  The theme for January is “A Month of Remembering” and focuses on  dementia.  Please visit, and if you have a loved one with dementia, consider writing a post or two about them in January.  My first post is about my mother, “A Remarkable Woman.”

Published in: on January 1, 2014 at 1:49 PM  Comments (3)  
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A Year of Listening – 2013 in review

I dubbed 2013 “A Year of Listening”.  The idea was to pay attention to what was being said around me and to me.

The most important listening I wanted to do was to listen to God. No, I’m not saying that God speaks to me in an audible voice, but He does speak through scriptures, and I often think the little nudgings on my heart are from Him.

One scripture that I pondered in 2013 was Genesis 3:9 – 10, the conversation is between God and Adam.

But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”

And the man answered, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

Over the course of the year, I began jotting down times that I heard God.  I used the format that Adam used.  “I heard the sound of You (fill in the circumstances), and I was (fill in how I felt), because (fill in why), and I (fill in my response).  Here are a few.

Early on, I wrote this:

I heard the sound of You whispering in my heart, and I was surprised, because it was unexpected, and I listened.

Make no mistake.  God is alive and well;  He does speak to us.

One day, I had some terrible ugly words spoken to me, and a friend spoke words that were a salve on the wound.  I wrote this:

I heard the sound of You in a friend’s words, and I was comforted, because I was hurting, and I was blessed.

Contrary to the face we put out to the world, sometimes there is friction and contention in our family.  In the context of that, I wrote this:

I couldn’t hear You when there was arguing, and my head hurt, because of the discord, and I was grieved.

022

sisters

One of this mother’s greatest joys is hearing her children having fun together. I don’t remember exactly what was happening when I wrote this one because, thankfully, there are many such occasions.

I heard the sound of You in laughter, and I laughed too, because You are Joy, and I was cheered.

One of the things I re-added into my life in 2013 was playing my flute in church.  As long as the choir director doesn’t get tired of me sitting beside her and playing the hymns, I’ll keep doing it.  I feel like it’s my way to worship.  I think I wrote this, however, after riding in the car alone one day, blasting the music and singing along with it.

I heard the sound of You in music, and I sang out loud, because You love a joyful noise, and I love You.

Last night, Bud said, “2013 has been an odd year.”  I looked at him because I wasn’t quite sure what he was getting at, and then he elbowed me with a smile, “Get it?”  Bud doesn’t always play with words, so I wasn’t prepared.  I guess I need to listen for that.

It hit me as I was writing this, that one of God’s most important messages to me is one He delivers nearly every day through my youngest daughter.  She wraps her arms around me and showers me with kisses.  When she’s done, she turns her cheek to me so that I can kiss her too.  She leaves notes on my pillow and sends me email messages.  They all say roughly the same thing.  Here’s one exactly as she sent it.

I LOVE YOU AND DAD MORE THAN ANYTHING IN THE HOLE WORLD!!! 
:* :* :* AND I KNOW YOU GUYS LOVE ME TOO!!!! :)
Sent from my NOOK

I can just imagine God saying those same words to me.

All in all, 2013 has been a growing year for me. Listening is an art, and listening to God takes special ears.

Published in: on December 31, 2013 at 8:35 AM  Comments (2)  
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Who Needs Video Games?

We spent our Christmas at a nursing home.  It was the best way we could include my mother in the celebration.

One might think that there’s not a lot for kids to do at a nursing home, but there are all sorts of ways to be entertained.  One game is to put a piece of food (we used Chex from our Party Mix) on your forehead and then, through facial contortion, try to get it into your mouth.

Chex on the forehead

Chex on the forehead

Another is to put the Chex on your shoulder and, without shrugging, accomplish the same goal.

Chex on the shoulder

Chex on the shoulder

Can he reach it?

Can he reach it?

Success!

Success!

Gag gift

Gag gift

Gag gifts added a little fun.  I was looking for fake vomit at the dollar store, but instead found a fake leaking catsup pack.  We got a few laughs out of it.  The Rattlesnake Eggs didn’t work very well.  The deck of magic playing cards was impressive.  We decided not to use the stink bombs or the squirting calculator.   The Whoopie Cushion, however, did make the rounds, which, in turn, led to the underwear jokes.

“Have you looked under there?”

“Under where?”

“Ha-ha, I made you say underwear!”

The room fell silent, though, during the game of Jenga.  The tower grew and grew.  Anytime someone touched the table, it visibly wobbled.  They were approaching 30 levels when it finally fell.

Jenga

Jenga

Maybe my mother did fall asleep during the festivities…

A little nap

A little nap

but the important thing was being together.

And we were.

 

Published in: on December 30, 2013 at 8:59 AM  Comments (8)  
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My Most Beautiful Moment at Hutchmoot

As with most beautiful moments, it was entirely unplanned.  And unanticipated.  Those of you who took part in it probably had no idea how profoundly it would affect me.

Mark Geil captured a photo that I go back to over and over and over.  It reminds me of that moment.  A little thing, but so huge.

It wasn’t the hug that I received at the beginning, although that was definitely a close second.  Since Hutchmoot 2012, I had been corresponding with another Rabbit Roomer. When we saw each in person on the first day of Hutchmoot 2013, she squeezed me in an hour long hug.  Okay, I may be exaggerating a little.  It might have been only 60 seconds, not minutes, but for a non-huggy person, it took my breath away — literally and figuratively.  I felt so loved.

No, the most beautiful moment took place on Saturday.  I had finished my small group session and gone on a quest for my husband.  I found him on the lawn, his small group still talking with Jeffrey Overstreet.

Image

photo by Mark Geil

On my way to finding Bud this thing happened to me.  Such a small thing.  Probably insignificant to everyone else. But, for me, huge.

I walked out the back door to find Bud and had to walk through the tent — the one filled with tables and chairs to accommodate overflow dining.

The ladies were meeting in the tent.  This small group session was being led by Jennifer Trafton Peterson, Lanier Ivester, and Sarah Clarkson.  If Hutchmoot had royalty, these three ladies would be wearing tiaras.  They embody so much of what I would like to be as a Christian woman: gentle, kind, and gracious.  They each have the ability to see beauty and then put it into words for the rest of us.

The circle of ladies was intimidating to me.  Looking at them reminded me of all my misgivings about Hutchmoot.  Hutchmoot is such a gathering of talented, amazing people.  I feel grateful that I can sit in the background and soak some of it in.  But I always have this nagging little voice whispering in my ear, you don’t really belong here. You don’t really belong.

As I looked at the group of ladies — and you have to understand that all this took place in the space of a few seconds — I saw the beauty, I saw the talent, and I heard the little voice.

Find Bud, I told myself, hoping to walk past the group without anyone noticing.

Then the beautiful thing happened.  Lanier looked at me and said, “Come join us!” Jennifer smiled at me, and Sarah scooted her chair over to make room for me.  For me.  In their circle.

photo by Mark Geil

photo by Mark Geil

Probably each of them would say this isn’t a very flattering picture.  I would bet that they rarely, if ever, go back and look at it, but I do.  Often.  Because I’m reminded of all the little ways they told me that I belong.

Sometimes it’s the little things we do, and we don’t even know that we’re doing them, that can make the biggest difference.

So, today, scoot your chair over for someone.  Smile.  Invite someone on the outside to join you.

It may be the most beautiful thing that happens to them.

Published in: on December 28, 2013 at 8:45 AM  Comments (2)  
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