July Joy

DSC_4732Joyous weddings nurture my spirit.

DSC_5011
Daddy dance: our son and the flower girl (our Aria) dancing

DSC_5123
Wine tasting with Dan and la Bella (my brother and sis-in-law, Valeri)

DSC_2849
I’ve wanted one of these giant (= mellow) wind chimes for years. An early birthday gift!

DSC_5160Kizzy, Little Bit, Jemima, Baby Girl, Violet, Pony Boy, Cookie

DSC_5243The Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive” is this plant’s theme song.
Not to be dramatic, but sometimes keeping it alive seems my greatest challenge.

DSC_5250Reintroducing radishes to my palate.

DSC_5210A royal bloom

DSC_2836A byproduct of forced frugality early in life is the thrill of a matched set later in life!

DSC_2869

Reading aloud to my grands is one of my passions. I often read during meals as they eat. Water colors, sketching, markers, or play dough also help occupy their hands during non-meal times. This was my oldest grandson’s creation during today’s read aloud session.

Revisiting Les Misérables

DSC_2671

I’m making a valiant effort to thin out my very thick personal library. Like any parting, there is grief, but I’m choosing instead to grip the joy and gratitude I’ve garnered from my books. When I picked up this 1232 page brick I faced the glacial reality that I would never read all the words again.

The next best thing was to read the bits I’d underlined in neat pencil.

DSC_4414

Because I’m a wee bit obsessive about my books, I knew I had to copy those adored sentences into my commonplace book.

DSC_4415

Two long road trips, several shorter drives, the odd minutes gleaned here and there… and I’ve added 30 pages to my journal of quotes from Les Misérables. All the joy, people. All the joy/grief/delight/disgust/admiration of this magnum opus comes flooding back.

DSC_4420

It was the next best thing to reading every word. And so many quotes!

DSC_4417

DSC_4421

DSC_4422

One thing remains. Giving this book a good home. A place where it can sit on a shelf, get a few loving glances with the whispered promise to read it sometime.

DSC_4412

If my penciled copy of Hugo’s masterpiece sounds like something you want (free), leave a comment. In a week I’ll make a decision where it goes and mail/hand it to that person. Otherwise I’ll donate it.

She’s Not Here, A Short Story

phoneThe young girl sat up in her bed, rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, threw her hair off her face in one easy motion, and scrambled out of bed.  It was an early Saturday morning in May. The house was hushed.  With the stealth of a burglar she tiptoed down the hallway and carefully descended the creaky stairs.

After some domestic disarray, the ten-year old clung to the solid comfort of this familiar routine.  She turned on the stereo, adjusted the tuner, and turned the volume to its lowest setting. Grabbing some throw pillows, she dropped to the floor inches from the speaker, flat on her stomach, her elbows in the pillows and her hands cupped under her chin.

The next two hours brought radio programs for children.  Thirsty for story, she drank in the drama while the rest of the house slept. Midway through the last show the jangle of the telephone pierced the quiet.  Like quicksilver she jumped up and grabbed the receiver before the phone rang again.

“Hello,” her high childish voice could barely be heard.

“Hi! Is your mommy there?”  the other voice trilled.

“Mmm…no,” she whispered tentatively.

“Would you leave her a message, please?”

“’kay…,” her voice wavered.

“The chair she had reupholstered is finished and is ready to be picked up at the shop.”

 “Thanks. Good-bye.”

She replaced the receiver and returned to her position on the floor.

DSC_4115

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

The next Saturday was the same. The family slept while the young girl listened to Aunt Bee, Ranger Bill, and Sailor Sam. She took every precaution to listen without waking them.  Once again, the clatter of the telephone shattered the solitude. She darted to the dining room side table and grabbed the phone before the second ring.

“Hello.”

“Hello!  I’d like to speak to Nellie Harper!”

 The girl paused; she finally said, “She’s not here.”

 “Well, listen hon, this is the upholstery shop calling, and I called last week and left a message.  I told her when she brought it in that it would be ready in two weeks, and this chair has been in the shop for a month now, and I really need your mom to pick up this chair.  Would you puh-lease let her know?”   Her voice was a mixture of artificial sweetener and ill-concealed irritation.

 “Hmmm.”  came out in hushed tones.

 “Thanks, hon, I really appreciate it. You have a good day, now.”

~     ~     ~     ~      ~     ~

DSC_0502

A week went by.  The light was lasting longer, birds were chirping in the trees, and  school was winding down.  Summer had almost arrived, though the markers of seasonal change were little noted in that house.  Again, the young girl woke up early Saturday morning, crept around the squeaky spots and kept her rendezvous with the radio.

She wasn’t surprised when the phone rang; she answered it as she had done before.

“Hello,” spoken softly, so softly.

 “Hi!”  spoken in the tone of one eager to check off items on her list.

 They both recognized the other’s voice; they both had the script memorized.

 “Honey, look, is your mommy home this morning?” came the coaxing plea.

 “No.”   The single syllable dangled in space with nothing to support it.

 Exasperated, the woman on the other end of the line raised her voice.

“Well, where is she?  I’ve called, I’ve left messages, and still Nellie has not picked up her chair.”

She clipped each word shorter than a buzz cut.

The moment of truth could be delayed no longer.  The words that were stuck in the child’s throat, words that could not be spoken the previous Saturdays, words that were impossible to say, even today, were forcefully dislodged.

 “Ummm………she………well……..ummmm.   She died.”

 “Ohmygosh, she died? She died?  Your mommy died? What happened?  Oh, honey, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.  Was she in an accident?  She died?  I had no idea.  Oh, honey, I’m so very, very sorry.  Oh dear.  I–am–so–sorry.”

 “No…..she…….just……died.”

The silence was more uncomfortable for the girl than for the woman.  She sensed the shock, the awkward drop, the conversational vertigo of the voice on the other end.  The ten-year old knew she would have to bridge the gap and end this call.  The girl found her voice and began to comfort the caller.

“It’s all right.  You didn’t know.  It’s okay. No one told you.  I’ll tell my daddy about the chair when he wakes up, okay?  He’ll come to your shop and get the chair.  It’s okay.  You didn’t know… Good-bye.”

She walked back to the stereo, turned the radio off, sat down on the floor and sobbed.

 
[Originally posted November 2006]

The Gift of Deep Friendship

DSC_3589

I’m back from the fourth reunion of childhood girlfriends since 2010. We were born in the same year; three resided in the same neighborhood; our parents were friends; we were raised in the same faith; we know each other’s siblings. We’ve been friends since kindergarten.

Along with all these similarities are differences. Geographic, to be sure. The closest link between any two of us is over 800 miles. We differ in economics, vocations, passions, politics, tastes, theology, and in all the other ways people change.

The thing is that we six were not bff’s growing up. I think the phrase friendship by proximity describes some of our early years. Sometimes we hung out together because that’s who was available. Now that our friendship has come of age, we are repeating stories! (We = me, sigh…)

April 20171

This treasure, these friendships, are more precious to us than diamonds. Other than checking our phones and taking calls from husbands and children, our time is unplugged. We don’t watch movies; we don’t go shopping (except for groceries). It is time to attend, to be present, to listen, to share, to truly know each other. We laugh and guffaw, we cry (even the non-criers among us), we eat, we swim, we sing.

We established a protocol at our first reunion that we always follow. We could (and do) have a fabulous time cooking communally, grabbing a cuppa, letting the conversation meander like a river. But eventually we have a formal time of focus. One friend shares her heart: what’s good, what’s hard, what’s changed, what’s real. This is a time of transparency and trust. We take notes, ask questions. It can also be a time of discovery, when the perception of girlfriends translates truth we didn’t before see. Then we pray, asking God to help, to intervene, to strengthen, to bless our friend. Then we sing the songs we grew up singing that are imprinted on our souls. Rinse and repeat.

DSC_3769

These friendships are for each of us a bonus. We all have sisters — not just sisters, but close sisters with whom we regularly share our lives and hearts.

Two stories. Meeting in the airport has always been an exciting moment. We’re giddy and goofy and garrulous. This year, however, Ruth’s father died the Monday before our gathering. She drove to Virginia on Tuesday, buried him on Thursday, and flew out to Phoenix on Saturday. My plane arrived five minutes before hers. I parked myself in front of the gate to welcome her. Sitting at the back of the plane, she was one of the last passengers to deplane. Seeing each other we burst into sobs, running into a hug. It was a spectacle, but we didn’t care. All our griefs to share.

Eileen’s plane came in later than the others. Nancy’s sister Kathy picked her up from the airport. Eileen didn’t want to inconvenience her. Are you kidding? Kathy replied. When we were first married, we flew to Chicago, but couldn’t rent a car because I was under 25. We called my mom in Phoenix and asked her what to do. She told us to call your (Eileen’s) dad. We called him, he dropped everything and drove to O’Hare to pay for our rental. I am only too happy to give you a ride. More tears, and the gift of an previously unknown story about her dad.

One evening the Gibson sisters joined us for an old-fashioned hymn sing. I guess reading the lyrics on your phone wasn’t old-fashioned! Those girls (ahem, women) can SING!! Lots of nostalgia and gorgeous harmonies and rejoicing in a heritage of music.

After four girlfriend gatherings, I remain astonished at the profound transforming power of this deep friendship. It has all the hallmarks of grace: unexpected, unearned, unsought, undeserved.  Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.

Our 2010 Reunion
Anticipating 2010 Reunion

Long After Piano Lessons

DSC_0236.JPG

Why take piano lessons? Because one afternoon thirty-five years later, you will be sitting at your desk with your two monitors, analyzing inventory turns while Pandora plays in the background. And within four notes of a Chopin nocturne, you will be transported to an era you had all but forgotten.

You will look at your coworker, eyes wide. This, um, this piece, you will whisper, I played this for a recital…a lifetime ago. This. is. Chopin. You will be thinking: own this nocturne

Your thumb and finger will reach out to the volume knob of the speakers, intending to increase the volume, barely perceptibly. Then you will throw off tacit office etiquette and crank it up. Mercifully, no one is on the phone.

You will mumble, Please excuse my humming. But you will think I am one with this, how could I not hum it?  Your index finger will conduct the pianist playing through your computer.

Your hand will return to the mouse, and you will pretend to get back to the business at hand. You will abandon pretense, incapable of any action but soaking up the fragile beauty. Your coworker, younger by four decades, will pause and then stop what she is doing. She will listen to the delicate melody in G minor.

As the final notes linger in the air you will recognize that at this great distance from the discipline of daily practice, playing Chopin is beyond you. But you will make a note to find the music when you get home.

And you will remember the time when you practiced Opus 37, No. 1 until it was woven into the double helix of your DNA, when you could play this flawlessly, when your playing was capable of breaking even your own heart.

Deep Reading (All the Books)

DSC_3351

There is a moment when you’re charmed / challenged / bedazzled by the writing and you resolve to read every book this author has written.

(Sometimes, though, in the middle of the fourth book by that beloved author, one recants! Alas, true story.)

My reading life began with Laura Ingalls Wilder. Twice a year — on my birthday and on Christmas — my dad and mom gave me a brand new hardback, the next Little House in the series. Oh how rich I felt, how lovingly I smoothed the dustjackets, how often I re-read those early books.

Wilder was the first author who inspired me to ‘read the canon’ (not to be confused with reading the cannon!) even though I didn’t know the word canon. As long as we’re talking about obscure words, I like oeuvre. (←three vowels in a row!!!)

In my early twenties I embarked on reading James Michener — always skipping the first boring chapter — immersing myself in family sagas set in Hawaii, Israel, South Africa and the Chesapeake Bay. At some point I forgot what I loved about them and moved on. I have his book, Poland, unread on my shelf, curious what I will think of it after all these years.

Somewhere in my thirties I read Jane. Dear, dear Jane. There is only one Jane whose whispered name thrills the soul. Jane Austen. Seven books that I’ve enjoyed multiple times. My beloved Latin teacher would say, “I was reading Mansfield Park, and came across the ethical dative.” There is more than one reason to read Jane.

Fast forward to 2012. I fell victim to a Kindle Daily Deal and bought all of L.M. Montgomery’s books for $2.99. More astonishingly, I read them all! I had known and loved Anne-with-an-e, but I never knew Emily! A few got a ‘meh’ response, but I enjoyed almost all.

I began to compile a list of authors. David McCullough. Anthony Trollope. (Same beloved Latin teacher remarked, If you like Jane Austen, you should read Trollope.) Jan Karon. Wendell Berry. Miss Read. Marilynne Robinson. Colin Thubron.

[Wait for it! Here come the initials!] A.A. Milne. C.S. Lewis. J.R.R. Tolkien (I can’t. I’m flawed. Because The Silmarillion.) P.G. Wodehouse. G.K. Chesterton. N.D. Wilson.  P.D. James. D.E. Stevenson.

A few authors I vowed to read all and then recanted: Mark Helprin. Alexander McCall Smith. Bill Bryson.

This year I succumbed to Shakespeare. I joined a Facebook group that is reading All of Shakespeare in 2017.  While I don’t love all of the bard, each play or poem rewards the discipline of reading it. It feels like being back in school, with a schedule pressing. I copied a friend’s idea to document the quest.

A friend calls this deep reading. I like that.

Next year I’m thinking of reading all of C.S. Lewis. It will require diligence and discipline. But why wait to read some of the best writing on the planet? Harper One has reissued Lewis’ books in gorgeous paperbacks with deckle edges. (Go ahead and click on the link just to see the covers.) Here is an even better glimpse. Even though I own almost all of CSL in various and sundry editions, I’m jonesing (← am I allowed to use the word jonesing with Lewis?) for this collection. I’ve already mentioned it to my husband. Birthday with a zero this year, dear. This is what I want. I dearly love matched collections.

Last month two young friends invited us to join them for lunch. As I passed through a bedroom (the only route to the only bathroom) I noticed her shelves full of Louis L’Amour paperbacks. What fun! She has her own quest, yes?!

Grief and Laughter

DSC_3261

 Tears are expected,
but sometimes laughter feels like the much more appropriate
— and the much more restorative, healing, even — response.
Laughter mixed with tears works, too.
And laughter takes the edge off those times
when tears are, in fact, unavoidable.
— MFS, personal blog

It occurred to me this morning that my thrifty sister would have heartily approved of the tax benefits related to the timing of her birth and death. We Harpers exult in saving money! Margo was born a few days before the end of the year, giving my folks a welcome tax exemption for that short week in 1948. She died at the beginning of January, giving her husband an exemption and joint filing for 2016. Way to win! Take that, IRS!! [Further, the airfare to travel back there was amazingly low. Who travels to Chicago in January?] Time sifts the pain and grief and gives us eyes to see the humor.

This may appear irreverent, but, my brother-in-law and I shared a good horsey laugh talking about it. I can hear Margo’s chuckle in my head and some pseudo-modest acknowledgment: Not bad for a bear with very little brain! [She had a brain tumor removed in 1980.]