A Different Kind of Fairy Tale

Young Margo

By Daniel Harper

Margaret was a complicated person. Now, when someone says that at a funeral, alarm bells should go off inside your head.  But what I mean is that Margaret was a mixture of different characteristics like most of us.  Loving.  Patient.  Stubborn. Funny. Tough. Patient.  Stubborn.

I’m repeating myself. Let’s go back to childhood and try and remember some things about Margaret.

First off she was much older than myself.  6 whole years.  At that age, 6 years seems like an eternity.  Along with Dorothy and David, she seemed much older, cooler, and smarter than I would ever be. She had interests and knowledge I could never match.

But we shared one huge event as a family.  The death of my mother when I was 13. In many ways this shaped all of us because my mom was the anchor of our family and to lose her at such an early age brought many changes.  One random memory from that time is a chicken dinner which Margo prepared. (And maybe Dorothy was involved. I plead teenage male goofiness). This was fried chicken in some kind of cake batter that puffed up as it bubbled in the oil in a cast iron skillet.  We shared a love of good and wonderful food.

Later, she went to nursing school and took her first job at Belmont Hospital. After living in an apartment overlooking the Eisenhower Freeway with all the noise and traffic she moved to 804 S Euclid in Oak Park which was a two flat also known as the Harper Hilton. Two older brothers, David and John, lived in the upstairs flat and Margo along with various roommates lived downstairs.

In 1977 I moved in upstairs and little knew how much Margo would change my life.

Through sheer ineptitude I managed to flip a 3 wheel construction cart on my left foot and was off work for a month or longer. During this time Margo, Bette Unander (now Smillie) and I visited my brother Jim and his wife Kathleen in Portland, Maine.  We took the tour of Boston, parts of New Hampshire, and Maine where Jim and Kathleen gave us a royal visit of that wonderful state.

As I recovered from my foot injury I had time to prepare late night steak bbqs for Margo and Bette when they came home from the 3 to 11 shift.  Our bonds as brother and sister grew especially in the Tuesday night Bible study that met downstairs in their apartment.

At this time I was taking voice lessons, singing solos in a large church choir, and being a member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus.  Margo encouraged me in my singing and attended many concerts with our circle of friends, mainly from the Tuesday night Bible Study.

It was during this time that Margo developed severe headaches. While visiting my brother David she had to be taken to Pittsburgh for treatment but the brain tumor was not discovered for some time.

In the early summer of 1979 the pain was even worse and finally she was diagnosed with a severe and dangerous brain tumor which she decided to have the needed surgery at Mayo Clinic.  While she was there she called me and asked if I would give a ride to a co-worker that wanted to visit her for that week in Minnesota.  I gladly agreed and gave Valeri Kijak a ride up to Mayo Clinic. (And my life was changed forever!!)

Margo had many radiation treatments and at the end of those we planned a celebratory lobster dinner (sent by my brother Jim from Maine).  It was during this dinner (ironically before we ate the lobster) that Margo had a seizure.  This was in September of 1979 and for Margaret the prognosis looked very grim. Later, the whole Harper clan all gathered at brother David’s house for Christmas and most of us thought this would be Margaret’s last Christmas.

God had different plans.  For some unknown reason Margo’s body enveloped the brain tumor and stopped its growth.  But the damage from the treatment had taken a toll on Margo’s body.  She was told that from then on her life would be very limited.

She would never work again.
She would never drive again.
She would never live on her own again.

Here is where her stubbornness comes in.  This is where her toughness comes into play.

Margo did all those things.
Work two different jobs.
Buy a new car. And drive it.
Buy a condo on her own.

But.  The damage from the cure was tremendous.  Margo’s body was never the same again. Her amazing piano skills were never the same. She had much difficulty in moving and having the stamina for being a nurse.

God gave Margo a difficult path to walk.

Here’s where we need to learn what Margo knew all those years ago: God’s way is best even when we don’t understand.

Bitterness only eats up those who are bitter.
Each day is a blessing even with all the challenges that Margo faced.

In the midst of this God sent a gift to Margaret in the form of John Walker. John loved Margo for who she was including the physical deficits because he saw the real Margo that was hidden behind those physical problems.

In 1994 John and Margo were married.

We think of fairy tales as the young prince who carries off his young bride in some idealized Hollywood movie. Let me give you another version:

A 40-something cancer survivor meets a young man who sees the fairy princess locked up inside her own body and loves her for who she is.  

THAT is a movie I want to see. John has been a  faithful and loving husband to his bride, Margaret.

In the last conversation I had with Margo a month or so ago she amazed me with her wit and intelligence and I hung up the phone exhilarated and rejoicing in who Margo was. And is. I selfishly would love to have that conversation with Margo again but I know that as of right now Margo is in the presence of her Lord and Savior.

Free from pain.
Free from limitations.
Free from a body that served her well but imperfectly.
And at rest and at peace with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Amen.

New Wardrobe for the Walls

DSC_0954Our home is the kind where nail holes in the wall are sacred. I normally change a picture—or even a paint color—about once a score. Score, you’ll recall, is the second word in the Gettysburg address.

And now, in the space of one month, I have three new views. This shocks me…and confuses friends for whom a total room makeover occurs with every new season. The kind of interior decorators who develop a facial twitch if everything in their house is the same for six months.

The Courage, dear heart is eye level next to the mirror in the bathroom. Befitting, eh?  I love looking at this while I prepare for the day ahead. My husband uses this phrase to gently tease me. As in, (me–>) “I can’t figure out how to get the gray scuff marks out of the sink.” (him–>) “Courage, dear heart.”

DSC_0164I saw these colorful creatures at The Potter’s House, a local store that sells hand-thrown bowls and plates and mugs. A store perched on the other end of the spectrum from WalMart. My go-to store for gifts. I couldn’t resist the whimsy. Curt calls it, “Till We Have Faces.” I wake up with the birds every morning; they make me sing.

DSC_0206My friend Faith gave me Bind my wandering heart to thee knowing the phrase came from my favorite hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. I propped this on top of my piano, testing the location before I pounded a (sacred) nail in the wall. This week I was in the midst of a talkfest in the aisle of a store when Tune my heart leaned into my peripheral vision. And now they both sing to me in my kitchen while I make dinners or type on the computer. I love the pairing.

Beauty and serendipity washed and rinsed me again. ♫♪♫ Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow ♫♪♫.

Emma’s Wedding

DSC_0991Today, it’s been two months since my niece Emma married Glyn. In my life, the big things aren’t cemented until I’ve written them. From writing this wedding I have cowered, knowing my word hoard hasn’t the depth or width required. I refuse to use ‘epic’ and ‘awesome’, yet I’m still searching for the best words.

July 20142It was a grand Coming Together. Emma is American. Glyn is British. They live in Turkey. Their friends live all over the world. Each mileage sign represents someone who came to the wedding.  The only continents not represented were South America, Australia, and Antarctica.

lobsterfeedThis wedding occupied three days. Everyone was invited to the rehearsal dinner aka Lobster Feed, the wedding the next day, and a brunch the day after the wedding. It resembled the medieval feasts that I read about in my books.

DSC_0860The ceremony was held under the ancient apple tree.

DSC_0877The background was my sister-in-law’s glorious garden.

DSC_0763She grew almost all the flowers for the wedding.

DSC_0653My daughter-in-law made the bride’s bouquet.

DSC_0857A sail cloth tent hovered over the festivities.
My grandson said, “Nana, it looks like Narnia.”

DSC_0909The tables were set.

DSC_0910Mismatched china completely charmed me.
‘Elegant simplicity’ set the tone.

DSC_0915All the cloths under the flowers were purchased
at the bazaar in Istanbul.

DSC_1021My brother, the tenor, sang Simple Gifts, a song
that he sang at the wedding of Emma’s parents.

DSC_1022Emma and Glyn listen.

July 20143Kids were welcomed with open arms.
Not often does one hear, “I’m so glad you brought all your kids!

July 20144We’ve always loved Emma; it was easy to see why she loved Glyn.
They are both strong, generous, compassionate, and fun.
Not to mention smart. They have our deep respect.

DSC_1000As long as I’m giving honor, let me say that my brother Jim
and my sister-by-marriage Kathleen were stellar. This event was
the culmination of a lifetime of love invested in their family, work on
their homestead, their habits of beauty, blessing, and hospitality.

DSC_1016Emma’s older brother Will—best friend of bride
and groom—officiated. This was his first gig. We called
him—tongue in cheek—”Brother Will.”

DSC_1163There were some great toasts: sweet, witty, heartfelt.
But at the end of the day, what everyone remembered
and remarked on was Jim’s toast to his daughter.

DSC_0887Then we took the party to the barn.

DSC_1188My grandson (with the hat) rocked the reception
with his unique style of dance.

DSC_1224It is a Turkish custom to have fireworks at a wedding.

DSC_1219It was a magical evening.

BakkerfamilysanscollinThis is our family (missing our son Collin).
The extended tribe (my siblings and their descendants)
present numbered 39. There were gaps here and there.
We cherish time together and relished the gift.

With the help of Facebook and texting, my kids and their cousins
are much closer than my generation was with ours.
It is a delight to see their friendships deepen.

DSC_07052014 will forever be the summer of Emma’s wedding.

My photographer brother’s photos.

Link to the magnificent photographer’s pictures.
(She shoots film.)

England, Goudge, the Eliots

101_4570Elizabeth Goudge’s Eliot Family Trilogy?

First, it is English: paragraphs of appreciative comments on the comfort of tea; gallons of hot tea consumed; nine variations of rain—slanting, gentle, white, solid, gloomy, light, windy, misty, sparkly; logs added to warming fires; imaginative children; a country vicar; the pronoun ‘one’ put to good use (Eustace—dreadful name! One thinks at once of a parson’s dog-collar); ditto for the adverb ‘rather’ and the adjective ‘dreadful’ (Ben says it’s dreadful. They’re trying to do a telescoped version of ‘The Wind in the Willows’, and it won’t telescope.)

Then, it is Elizabeth Goudge. I find Goudge in a category of her own. She is spiritual, at times mystical, fantastical (Faerie, but just in cameo appearances), romantic in the sense of the woods being infused with symbolism, almost medieval.

But her characters deal with modern problems that most authors of her genre would avoid. One man falls in love (inexcusably, I’d say: one must recognize boundaries) with the wife of one of his relatives. This complex relationship is the focus of her first book, but isn’t completely resolved until the third. Goudge’s parents have favorite children. Some of the marriages lack love. One character’s violent past is haunting.

There is a strong sense of place. Damerosehay, a large eighteenth century house purchased by the Grandmother, home base for the Eliot family, is the focus of book one. The Herb of Grace—a Pilgrim’s Inn, where sojourners stay on pilgrimage to a sacred place—is more ancient, with deep history in its walls. George and Nadine’s restoration of this Inn is the focus of the second book. The third book adds Lavender Cottage, a small place where Margaret and Lucilla can retire.

Her themes resonate with me: determined contentedness; work as a sacramental offering; the mystery of small joys; beauty indoors and outdoors, interior and exterior; the inscrutable connection between twins; aging, grandparenting, and above all else, relinquishment.

“Relinquish.” It was a good word. It suggested not the tearing away of treasures but the willing and graceful sacrifice of them.     The Bird in the Tree

The twins mimic a blend of The Wind in the Willows, medieval crusaders, and pirates:

“Scrooge, scrabble and scratch.” repeated Jerry. “For the glory of God, my hearties. For the glory of God.” Pilgrim’s Inn

Hilary, wounded in the first world war, is stable, sensible, lovable.

Nevertheless, the tea was what he wanted. Heat, he thought, there’s nothing like it. All the best symbols have to do with light and fire and warmth. The Heart of the Family

Hendrickson has recently reissued the trilogy.
            

I took the top photograph at Shere, a picturesque English village. While I was in England, I darted into used bookshops looking for treasures. It is thence I found a first edition of The Herb of Grace (the English title for Pilgrim’s Inn), my favorite of the three books. I’d like to give away this book that has given me much pleasure. (It’s the first time I’ve used this widget. I hope it works.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway Congratulations, Di! You won the Herb of Grace book.

*It occurred to me that my definition of ‘treasure’ might not jive with yours. Here is a picture of the book. It is not a pretty book, but I love the inscription in the front “Jeanette Pound 1950” and I like old hardbacks.

DSC_8686