All the Broken Pieces

B0A667A3-3427-47C2-9CCB-69261C81498C     This Christmas post began as last Christmas passed by, it’s pieces stiching themselves together during Easter. And now as  this  Christmas receeds it is a story, I hope, to finally do justice to.

Last year my friend died. It was unexpected and very sad, as losing a friend always is. She slipped away shortly after Christmas while sleeping. The new year found her family and friends full of sadness over the loss, and the knowledge that her final years had been difficult and often sad. And though many of her last conversations and texts to me were optimistically looking forward to the new year, I  knew she would have to work to right the ship of her life. Unfortunately,  her time would run out before she could.

     After her passing her husband and son, graciously offered her beautiful dining room set to my son and son-in-law. It was one of her pride and joys, exemplifying her sense of style and design.  My son accepted the gift, and I was touched to think that when I would sit at my son’s holiday meals it would be at my dear friend’s table. I found the idea comforting.

     But when we went to pick up the table and chairs we soon discovered a major problem. Under neath  where the legs  attached to the table top, it was broken. Snapped off and unusable. It was probably broken  by the furniture movers during  her final move.  I was so sad by this turn of events, mostly because this last link to my friend was now gone.

 “Could it be fixed?” her husband asked me when I reported what we had found. “Probably, but we do  not have the skill set or the tools,”  I told him.  My son, knowing intuitively that it wasn’t about the table, held my hand while tears leaked from my eyes as I explained the problem.  We locked the apartment and left.

Later I spoke by phone to her very best friend about the table. The table, I said, was the perfect sad metaphor for our friend’s  last few years of  life.  Balanced and looking steady ready for a holiday meal. But really, underneath, broken and unable to be used. We both pondered the table and the loss of our friend.

A few days later,however, our friend’s husband again contacted me. He had a friend, a cabinet maker who had offered to repair the table. My son would indeed have holiday meals at the table of our friend.

You would  think that this would end the story for me. But it didn’t. And although the table was in fact repaired and delivered to my son, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. The broken table, my friend’s illness and sickness–  brokenness.

Which bring me to Easter. It was Ash Wednesday and I was at church helping to serve communion. As I stood on the steps of in front of the communion table holding the chalice of wine I  looked at the members as they took communion.  One man grieving the loss of his brother, a woman, her head covered in a scarf after her recent cancer treatment, and the others, whose stories I didn’t know, all approached me to receive communion. And then it came to me, or perhaps I heard it.  Clearly, in a voice not my own but in my own head.  “We are all broken.”

It’s not the first time, that something had dawned on me with the surety of the word epiphany. But it was surprising none the less. I left church that night with much to think about.

And now It is Christmas once again. The post that has rolled around in my head since last Easter is finally ready to be released.

We are all broken.  My  friend’s passing last Christmas would not be the only loss for me this year, as Fall saw another friend pass away. You may have had to say farewell to loved ones too this year.

We are all broken.

Several months into Spring, my friend’s husband brought me a few  more momentos of his wife.  Some favorite cookbooks, and a small Christmas teapot.

He enclosed a note to explain the condition of the teapot. You see, it had been broken and repaired. A small chip on the top under the cover had been glued together “by the big clumsy oaf who broke it” , as described by his wife, he wrote.

We are all broken.

Perhaps we are all broken, by loss, by life, by illness, physical or emotional. But this year has also shown me how sometimes we can be mended. Perhaps it is another friend or a child who holds our hand, maybe it is taking part in a worship service, or reading the cookbook of an old friend that can help us move on.  Or maybe it is someone with tools and the skill set we do not have who can help.

This year many of us have experienced brokeness. Maybe many of us have been the hand that helps as well.

I’m just say’n.

 

“Come and gather around the table
In  the spirit of family and friends
And we’ll all join hands and remember this moment.
“Til the season comes ’round again.
May the new year be blessed
With good tidings
Til the next time I see you again
If we must say goodbye
Let the spirit go with you
And we’ll love and and we’ll laugh
In the time that we had
Til the season comes ’round again.”

 

‘Til the Season Comes Round Again

songwriters, John Jarvis, Randy Goodrum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Day, Sunshine

I was waiting for a sunrise.  From the moment I entered the bedroom of our vacation rental and saw the east facing, lake-viewing balcony, I knew I would be waking up early one morning to capture a sunrise snapshot.  But the best laid plans as the saying goes, did not take into account my catching the dreaded summer cold.  And each morning when the lake loon cried out to the rising sun, my congested head stayed on my pillow.

Summer is the season we Midwesterners dream of through long icy winters and teasing glimpses of spring. Some even decline to enjoy our beautiful autumns by mourning summer’s end. There is so much to love about summer. For me, it’s the little moments of enjoyment. Sipping brewed ice tea I’ve  blended. Watching kids on bikes with tennis rackets or baseball bats heading to the school yards. Murphy, my golden and I wear matching smiles on our morning walks. Smelling the grass and flowers, feeling the breeze as we survey the lake on our walks.

It has been a long time since I felt compelled to walk to the lake to catch the early morning show. A lot of summer memories had been made since I had. Making real lemonade with my daughter, encouraging sprinkler fun as a win/win to my son. Fun for him, watered grass for me. Watching the kids play tee/soft/base ball on  summer evening. Enjoying it more than they probably ever did. Hot dogs on the grill. The delicious smell of a neighbor’s dinner grilling while on our evening walk.  And yes, even the music of the ice cream truck driving around the neighborhood. (I must confess I told my oldest it was just a music truck, and would bring him in the house to avoid the dinner spoiling treats. Imagine my well acted surprise when he informed me, around age 4, that the music truck also sold ice cream! Remarkable! Who Knew? I know, evil mom.)

So on this week-long vacation, at the up north location where we had spent so many happy times with our kiddos I wanted to watch a sunrise. This vacation, sans children was relaxing, and lovely. But, each day reminded me of each time we had all been together, scratching bug bites, riding bikes, and eating ice-cream.  So, on the last morning of the trip, when the loon’s call startled me from sleep I followed up on my plan.  I  tossed  on a cardigan over my night-clothes, slipped on sandals, grabbed my phone and headed out.  The short path from our back door to the  to the small northern lake was rosy with early light. The sky held more clouds than ideal, but still presented itself well. I started snapping pictures hoping for the definitive shot. And then, well then, I turned the lens on myself, in all my sleepy-eyed, summer cold, madcap hair, glory and snapped. And then just sat. And watched. And listened. And experienced. And breathed in a less than perfect lakeside, summer sunrise.

Summer’s are never perfectly perfect. Too hot or too rainy, to cold or too busy too short or too boring. But they are some what divine. Because every year, they’re just what we need. I’m just say’n.

 

The Poetry of Peonies

This is my peony summer. Or rather, it is the summer that  I have given  the fluffy flower its due. I admit that I’ve arrived late to the peony party.  In the first home my husband and I owned there were peonies planted next to the back step.  As the new foliage arrived that spring I was unimpressed. And when I saw all the back ants on the closed buds, yuck!  I  had no time for peonies and exported them to a welcoming and wiser neighbor.  Several years later while driving on a sunny early summer morning I spotted a rural yard with a double row of tall graceful peonies nodding in the morning sun. I appreciated their waves but did not connect them to the ant carriers I had exiled. In the next  and current home we live in, we also inherited peonies. They had earned my respect if not my warmest affection and I transplanted them from an out of sight corner to a place of prominence near the patio. But it is this summer that I’ve begun to really love these ladies.

I notice them on my morning walks in the park. The mounds of earth await the village workers bringing flats of annuals to plant. But the peonies have a permanent home in the small city park, and a head start on summer.  I watch them as they grow taller. Likewise in my own yard the green stalks have returned. Which will burst forth in color first, mine or the parks? I watch for the ants. I now know those busy, tiny soldiers, are necessary for the flowers bloom.  Where are the ants?  Don’t they know they have work to do?   The peonies that bloom first are in the flower section of the grocery store. I hold off buying them. I want my own. The park peonies bloom next. Come on, I encourage my own plant. Will it bloom soon?  Will its timing between rain storms be wise enough to protect its’ blooms? Finally, they open, three big beautiful  flowers. And it is summer.

I know what follows. The peony once opened can’t stop. Its many tiny petals reach and open further each day. Until finally they drop off the stem. Other flowers in my modest garden will need to be plucked, dead headed, as we say, or they will shrivel to brown and withered detritus. But the peony can not stop opening, until it can no longer hold on to itself. The peonies in the park, so heavy with their own beauty, lay down their weary blooms. My own, held up with wire baskets are also destined for the same end.

And then I notice all the places I have inadvertently planted peonies. On the pillows that cozy up my sofa: peonies.  On the cover of the small notebook I carry; peonies. On my wedding china; peonies. And there, framed and hung in my dining room a water-color painted by a beloved cousin; peonies.

Recently a friend sent us a beautiful arrangement of her favorite blooms. You guessed it, peonies. As I watch their intense salmon blooms open and open more. Their unbelievable color morphs into a more traditional pink. They refuse to remain static, until they are white. Only then do they start to release their petals onto the table. I do not wipe up the scattered petals. Even they seem perfect in their faded glory, laying across the mahogany.

Peonies, summer, ephemeral delights both of these. Children laughing as they run through a sprinkler. Voices in conversation, in the dark of the patio the gentle clink of ice cubes in glasses of cold drinks, moments of summer.

Poet Mary Oliver  wrote about peonies,  “with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling..to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are nothing, forever.”

I’m just say’n, yes, I love the peonies, ants and all.

 

 

 

 

 

In the Middle of a Moment

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I was watching my favorite TV comedy, The Middle. I love its portrayal of a mid western, middle class family. The shows mother, Frankie Heck, is beleaguered, harried, and always fully cognizant of her failings and shortcomings. In this episode she was feeling nostalgic and wanted to celebrate an important moment in the life of her family.  Introspection on Hallmark moments is not something she does a lot of. But she wanted to take note and more importantly she wanted her family to recognize the moment with her.  And in true television sitcom form laughs and zaniness ensued.

That’s what happens with plans to create moments in  real life too. The moment that we think we need to spotlight may not pan out just as we  had planned. But sometimes the momentous moment sneaks up on us.  Yes, moments are funny things.  We all have memorable ones.  The first time you hold your very own baby. The first kiss at the wedding, the first dance.  And there are the other kind as well.  The heart stopping heart breaking kind. The phone call about , cancer, the divorce or and accident.  They are just as unforgettable.  Touching our hearts and grabbing our breath.

This past summer we were awash in weddings.  Five brides had invited my husband and I to share their day.  Weddings are quintessential planned beautiful moment productions.  The walk down the aisle, the music, the dress all selected to provide memorable moments.  And each wedding we attended was lovely and meaningful.  But for me there was one moment. It was unplanned, and unscripted as all the best moments are.

My god daughter, was the bride.  She and her family had planned a small intimate wedding.  No big church with hundreds of guests. Rather 70 or so friends and family in the dining room of an Elks lodge.  Flowers, a cake, dinner and homemade jam as party favors, defined the day.

The bride’s mother was quite busy before the ceremony.  Doing all those things  that mothers do. Running hither and thither pining boutonnieres on her husband and son, checking with the catering staff. Now I admit I love to catch a peak of the bride before a wedding if I can, who doesn’t ?  So I knocked on the door of the designated bridal dressing room.

“Oh thank goodness!”  she said. So I went in.

And there all alone, the beautiful bride was obviously going to be unable to hook up the intricate back of her gown. And so I set to work.

I knew.  It was a moment. The moment I would remember  and treasure long after this wedding season had passed. I had been the one to hold her at her christening, included in her milestone events, birthdays and graduations. At six years old she had announced to her mother I was a great cook based upon my peanut and butter and jelly sandwiches.  And now here we were in the middle of a moment. I felt equal parts gratified, useful and honored. Feeling the the moment in every hook and eye I fastened, connected as each lacing I tightened on her gown.

That week the bride’s sister and I had co-hosted a dinner for her.  It was lovely, just as we had planned. During the wedding I had selected and read a reading, my husband officiated, he was great.

But the moment I will treasure took place in the ladies room of an Elks Lodge that Friday night.

Frankie the TV mom, wanted to make a toast at a family dinner to commemorate a transition the rest of the family was oblivious to.  She had to settle for clinking and olive jar in front of her open refrigerator.

We try so hard to create those memorable moments but often the most wonderful moments happen with out a plan or even a wedding planner in sight. It’s a wedding, mothers cry, father’s beam, enjoying the moment.
Summer wedding season is over now.   I’m walking through crunchy leaves and crisp fall air.

“I’m having a  moment. ”  It’s a  cliche and sometimes even a punchline.  But if we are lucky those moments leave trails in our hearts and memories as we walk through our days and nights.

I’m just say’n.

 

 

Let’s Hear It For Dads

I’m embarrassed to say that this will be my first post for Father’s Day.  Let’s face it, dads sometimes get the short end of the stick when it comes to their special day.  So as I was walking on this beautiful summer day I was thinking of my Dad.  I often think of him.  But this time I was pondering which story to share that would illustrate the relationship we had.

My Dad was talented and smart. He could repair almost anything we had. His natural gift was probably enhanced by his military training as first a pilot and then, when an old baseball injury scrubbed him from the air corp, his training as a radioman and later his  work on un- manned drones. Before he even joined the Army he was trained by his father and uncles as a working carpenter. So if he couldn’t build it he could probably still fix it. Cars, big appliances , small appliances. The Stereo cabinet (very 1960’s) my bedroom dresser, and a big beautiful wooden playhouse came out of his work shop. But it was something much smaller that he made for me that still makes me smile.

When I was seven my second grade teacher decided that our class should learn and present a play as puppet theatre.  We read the play in class, The Princess and the Pea, then we would be assigned parts and perform the play for the other grades all from the puppet theatre in our class room.

I don’t remember how I felt about this project, only that I was home sick the day students were assigned their roles.  When I returned to school I learned that all the parts had all been taken.  The Princess,  the King and Queen the assorted folk of the village everyone had their part. There was just one role open–the Prince.  I remember not being too happy with having to take a boy’s role.  But this was the ’60s, the teacher told me I was going to learn the part of the Prince and that was how it would be.  Second grade puppet theatre had two important tasks first, for some still unknown reason we would have to memorize our parts. (Remember this was a puppet show we were behind a puppet stage no one could see us.)  Second, and this was what really scared me. We had to provide our own puppet.

Now if my Dad was “Mr. I can make it or fix it” my mother, although a classic “homemaker” of the era, was not as we say now a days, “crafty.”  Our Halloween costumes were store bought, our clothes form the Sears catalog. And that was fine. But, how was a royal prince puppet to be created?  I brought this dilemma home to mom and I must say she looked shaken by the thought of providing my thespian debut so important a tool.

We went to the only how to manual that wasn’t about cars, mechanicals and woodworking in the house.  My trusty Brownie Girl Scout hand book.  Eureka !

There were puppet making directions in the book!  Great. It involved large spoon and a napkin. You drew a face on the back of the spoon, and worked the napkin around the handle forming a cover for the puppeteer’s hand.  Believe me what you imagine that looked like would be better than it actually turned out.

And so I set out for school with my spoon puppet in by book bag.  My teacher was less than impressed.  I don’t remember how she explained to me, or how  her note to my mother was  worded.  But we were both informed that a spoon-napkin puppet would not meet  the  teacher’s theatrical standards. Back to square one.

I think that afternoon was spent with neither one of us wanting to talk about the dilemma. I know I felt totally clueless about puppet design and creation.  She probably did too. By the time my dad come home for dinner  the house was pretty quiet.  I also don’t remember who told my dad about the puppet problem but soon after dinner he got to work.

And a couple of  hours  and old white pillowcase later a Prince was born. No spoon and smiley face here. This prince sported an ermine-like black and white jacket and a jaunty face drawn on a puppet body that fit my seen year old hand perfectly.  My mother’s old black Singer sewing machine whirled and stitched while my father fed the fabric under the needle.  The first and only time I ever saw him at  the machine.

You know how the story ends. Everyone loved my puppet. And as we performed for the other classes I rendered what I remember as an inspired prince of a performance. The kids laughed at the Prince’s antics.  He gestured with his little puppet hands, scratched  his little puppet head as he performed his princely lines. I was a smash hit as a puppeteer. The  teacher congratulated me as the Prince  took his bow.

In a drawer of my dresser I keep the beautiful gavel with inlaid wood my father made me when I was elected presiding officer of  my local Rainbow assembly.  In my living room there stands a beautiful grandfather clock he built and passed on to me. But on this Father’s day I’m thinking about a puppet prince and the man who designed, sewed it and sent me off to school to be the best prince any little girl could hope to be. Sitting over the old Singer at the kitchen table stitching a memory that will never fade. I’m just say’n.

Thoughts On A Teapot

Thoughts On A Teapot

The first time I noticed it my daughter was 16 and going to the prom. In the photos we had taken of the prom group, the girls all had one thing in common.  It wasn’t a hair style or a dress length, high heels or flats.   No.  It was  their arms.

Almost, without exception all of those beautiful high school girls were posing with what I would describe as “teapot arms.”  Do you remember the old nursery rhyme we sang as children?

“I’m a little teapot short and stout. Here is my handle, here is my spout.”
As we sang about the teapot’s handle we put our hand on our hip to make a right angle.

Teapot arms.

So why, in all their prom finery were the girls doing that with their arms?

It’s not a pose limited to my small Midwestern town.  When I saw photos of other girls in other towns I saw them posing in the same way.  And lately I have noticed women of a certain age (namely mine) posing in the same  way as well. Arm bent, leaning out, what was going on?  I asked my self when did smile for the camera also involve  bending your arm in an artificial pose?

Finally I was so curious  by this phenomenon that I asked my daughter.  “What gives with the teapot arms?”  “This is not a pose that happens naturally.”  So she told me.  “It makes you look skinny.”

What!   All those beautiful, fresh faced young women, many of them athletes, concerned enough about the size of their silhouette  to strike a pose looking so forced?   I was one part stunned and two parts disappointed.  All the work we had done as mothers trying to instill confidence, to negate body shaming and we had daughters with teapot arms?

Being a parent is fraught with guilt and the fear that we are making mistakes every day.

“Was I home enough ?”

“Did I listen enough?”

“Was I too strict?”

“Was I too permissive?”

“Did I teach her that good health was more important than any idealized thin size?”
We hold ourselves to standards that move continually farther away from us.

Happily our children grow up and for the most part succeed. They may do so not on our preferred schedule, but they do fine.   They learn to take care of themselves, They work, they contribute.  They say please and thank you. They volunteer in their communities.  We see all this and hope we did right by the motherhood thing.

My daughter did look lovely for the prom. She finished high school. Went on to graduate from college and yes find a job. That Christmas we were all together posing for the usual family photos, the two of us in front of the tree.  “Smile for the picture,” someone said.
And then she did something with her arms.

She put them around me.  And we both smiled for the the picture.  All of my teapot arm concerns fell away in her embrace.  Finally, a pose I could love.

I’m just say’n.

imageCloset Wish