Saturday, December 4, 2010


Did the baby in his straw in Bethlehem
Finally understand the point of “Us or Them”?
Your kinsman will never throw you out 
into a shed. They’d rather do without
themselves and give you their own bed.

But even strangers will feel some sort of pity
(If only because Mary’s young, and pretty)
 and offer you a spot against the night.
“Do you think she’ll be all right?”
The innkeeper’s wife asks
Before she hurries back to endless tasks.

And does he finally understand that our big brains
Are why our mothers feel their labor pains
Just as he predicted, and love us anyway?
There in the hay
She wraps him up and sings in an angel’s voice.
“Joseph, he’s here! Our baby! Rejoice!
He has your eyes
And your mother’s smile.” As she lies next to him, 
Shielding him from the cold
Does he realize?
Or is he dazzled by the Magi’s gold?

Because really what’s the point of an incarnation if not
To understand what a body is, and what 
Constraints it puts on us and how 
Tiny we are against the world, and brave,
The people that he says he comes to save.

Yes we choose sides - the stranger and the friend
But if you’re going to have to send
Some teenage boy out on Judean fields to tend
Your sheep, how else do you tell
The ones who are in it for the lols
From the ones who’d die to save your lambs from wolves?
Until someone comes up with something new
“Us or them” is what will have to do.

How was he as a child? I think I can chance
a guess. “We piped for you and you did not dance.
We wept and you did not mourn.”
He was born a baby, but how odd
Our games must look seen through the eyes of God.

I hear him answering, “I tried to play!
But the children never liked me anyway.
I was a know-it-all. When I was twelve, I went into the temple
And tried to teach my elders. They were kind.
They recognized a mind
that wanted to learn and had a love for God.
And yes, I get the joke. I’m not that simple.

“But the God they see is petty and makes demands.
You can only enter the temple with clean hands
So you cannot stop to help that stranger
Set upon by a robber band.
The only one who can help is that poor sod 
Who thinks he has already earned the wrath of God.
But I’m not like that at all!
I’m not that small-minded! I’m like my Dad:
When I’d pick up something sharp in the workshop,
He’d say, “Thank you, lad. I needed that”
So kind, and then say, “Here son,
Do this for me” instead of waiting for the damage done, and then the beating.
I want to be like that! I didn’t know!
I didn’t have a dad myself until a short while ago
And now he’s gone. Your lives are so
Short! Help each other while you’re here.
I’ll wait. I have eternity to wait.

“I’ve learned a few things. I won’t make bets with Satan any more.
Who knew how long that story would endure?
And that I’d be the hero?
Will my people forgive me anything I do?
See, you need to forgive each other, too.
Please?” he says.

But as each Sunday scholar knows
That isn’t really how the story goes.
He didn’t come to listen, but to preach.
His loss
If he’d listened, would he have wound up on that cross?
And puzzled? “My God, my God”
So he was crucified
The way that many other people died
And I’ll weep for them as much.
Don’t expect me to make a fuss
For a God who blew his chance to learn from us.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Shy And

After 36 years working at the center, I am finally retiring. Four weeks from today I will be a lady of leisure, at least until financial realities force me to take a job as a greeter at Wal-Mart to pay for my nursing home insurance. Since I have been employed since the age of 18, this is going to be different, to say the least. I will have to get my head around who I actually am without my job, or at least get my head around the idea that I don't have to be anybody in particular.

My co-workers, some at least, are having a hard time with my decision, too. They keep insisting I am going to be bored and miss my job. I'm 63 years old and work with toddlers who have low frustration tolerance, maniacal energy, and voices loud enough to break glass. I think I'll risk it.

My retired friends, on the other hand, have no regrets. Some of them wonder how they ever found time to work. That worries me. I was hoping that retirement would bring leisure time, lots of it, even if I have to devote a few hours a day to a strange practice I have heard of called "housework". What little I know of it seems to require taking some kind of "Pledge". I'm sure I can find out more on Google.

My BFF is also going to be retiring at the end of the year, now that her youngest is graduating from college, so we are looking forward to trips together to places our husbands don't want to visit and girlie lunches in tea rooms. Thirty years ago we used to go to marches and rallies together. Things change. Friendship hangs on.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


spider lilies blooming in the backyard

My husband is not the romantic type. His attitude for the most part is "I told you I loved you some time or another and I'll get back to you if that changes." Once when we were on a cruise I saw that there was a ceremony being held for couples who wanted to renew their vows. When I asked hubby if he wanted us to renew our vows he did not even look up from his coffee as he asked in bewilderment, "Why, have they expired?"

What hubby is is the practical type.  When I locked my key in my car twice in one month, hubby drove thirty miles round trip each time to unlock the car with his spare key. Then he bought me a magnetic key holder to put under my bumper. When my son had an ambitious science project to complete that required simulating a beach in a kiddy swimming pool, hubby borrowed a pickup truck and drove to a sand pit in the rain to buy sand. When I had surgery on my foot, hubby helped me wrap my foot in plastic bags and get on and off my shower chair for weeks until I finally got the bandages off.

Not to mention that he does most of the housework and half the cooking.

Even so, occasionally I am moved to remark that it's nice to get flowers as a surprise. And surprise he does. One day I came home from an errand to find a vase full of orange flowers like the ones pictured above sitting on the mantle. 'Where did you get them?" I asked. As it turned out, he got them from the vacant lot next door to a rent house he owned downtown. "There are a whole bunch of them," he added. "If you like them I can dig some up and plant them in the back."

Ah, my ever practical hubby. The spider lilies, as it turns out they are called, are the oddest flowers. The leaves bloom in the spring, then they appear to die away, and leafless flowers pop up a few months later, when I least expect them. As I said, it's nice to get flowers as a surprise.

So I'm keeping him. Him and the spider lilies.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Stalking Miss Iowa

Abbey is the one in blue.

Every September for the past nine years, the small non-profit organization I work for has held a fundraiser breakfast. For the first seven years we had the usual run of motivational speakers, including one who was informally voted Worst Speaker Ever. Last year we had the good fortune of getting D.J. Gregory, author of  Walking with Friends, as our keynote speaker, and everyone was mesmerized. One of our board members noted, "I can listen to Dale Brown at practically any meeting I go to, but I don't get to hear speakers who have disabilities."

So this year my boss tried to get Temple Grandin, but that fell through. Instead we found Abbey Curran, Miss Iowa-USA 2008. Abbey is your ordinary, run-of-the-mill drop dead gorgeous beauty queen with cerebral palsy. When Abbey entered her first beauty pageant, one of her teachers tried to discourage her, saying, "Abbey, be realistic." As the parent of one of my little ones noted, "I'm surprised she would say something like that. Was she trying to get sued?"

In addition to being gorgeous, Abbey is a very funny speaker. She talked of growing up on a hog farm and how all her friends envied her. Abbey also talked about her first beauty pageant, and how worried she was that she would fall getting to the stage. She was proud to report that she didn't fall, but her dress did – right to her knees.

(I'm not sure whether to believe that story.)

I didn't exactly stalk Miss Iowa, but what with one of my co-workers taking official pictures, the news people taking pictures, and several of the organizers taking pictures, I had to squeeze in where I could to get a few blurry, badly lit shots. She didn't seem too upset.

Later that evening, my husband and I went out to dinner. At the next table I heard a woman saying, "I gave them a donation. They showed a video that really tugged at your heartstrings. And the speaker was from Iowa. She won a beauty pageant." Small world – she had been at our breakfast. On my way out I thanked her for her donation, hoping all the while I didn't still have hot wing sauce on my face.

I wonder about the Abbeys of the world. What is it that makes some people say, "I can do that" when everyone else is saying, "Be realistic"? Are people born with that kind of confidence and determination, or do they develop it as they grow? Just being gorgeous isn't enough to win you a beauty contest. You have to enter. You have to show up.

You have to be willing to risk falling on your face.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Yesterday, my husband developed a yen for pizza instead of the nourishing dinner I had planned for him: roast salmon, sauteed eggplant and peppers, salad and sourdough bread. Well, he was buying, so I stowed the salmon for another night and went with him to our favorite pizza place. We found two free copies of a local magazine, Town Favoritesto read while we were waiting for our orders. I turned to the horoscopes, which I read out loud to my husband along with my editorial comments.

Gemini (May 22-June 21)
Don't overspend to impress someone who interests you. Okay, no big tip for the cute waiter. Emotional situations could bring out your stubborn nature. Oh, you think?  Be sure to keep communication open with those you live with. Who, what's his name? What would I want to do that for?  [This prompted What's His Name to remind me who was springing for pizza.]  You could receive recognition for a job well done. Not in this lifetime. Your luckiest events this month will occur on a Friday. 

The last sentence didn't even deserve comment. There have been two Fridays this month up to this writing and so far I have spent them having blood drawn, getting my bones scanned, and having one of those ultrasounds that require you to drink 32 ounces of water and hold it for an hour or so while someone pokes around your innards with a probe. Even happier news, the ultrasound revealed a fibroid tumor and a cyst, which means in a few weeks I get to do the ultrasound all over again. If these are the lucky events this month, maybe I should spend the rest of it in bed.

Okay, on to hubby's horoscope:

Taurus (April 21-May 21)
You can't always have your own way. [bolding mine]

I didn't get to read any further because that sentence provoked his sad face, which always cracks me up. I note, however, that his luckiest events this month will occur on a Monday. Now if I'm getting lucky on Fridays and he's getting lucky on Mondays, doesn't this portend marital disaster?

I turn quickly to my son's horoscope. He's not around but what the heck:

Scorpio (October 24 - November 22)

Take time to find out all you can. Can I recycle that "not in this lifetime" crack? Make sure any presentation you have is ready. In-laws may cause difficulties. If it turns out he has recently acquired in-laws without telling me, it's mom who will be causing the difficulties, no matter how ready his presentation is. Travel should be considered. Oh, yes. He's supposed to be returning to Paris on business, preferably with his well-prepared presentation. I understand they are having strikes and bomb threats in Paris. Something to do with the burka being banned. The Parisians take their fashion quite seriously. Situations in your personal life are moving a little fast lately. I'll say, if he's suddenly acquired in-laws. Your luckiest events this month will occur on a Wednesday.

 At least among the three of us, we have the good luck spread out nicely across the week.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Today I was working with D again and we were looking at an abbreviated, board book version of the book, The Carrot Seed.  While D showed his mastery of simple WH questions (yay!) by pointing as I asked, "Where is the carrot?" and "Where is the older brother?", I reflected, as I so often do, that three of the four characters in the book were unbelievably dumb. I understand the charm of the book, really I do. I love the illustrations. I love the indomitable spirit of the little boy, watering his carrot seed every day and pulling up the weeds, despite the naysayers. I used to have a vinyl record of the story that I played to my little students of long ago, back when we still had a record player, and I can still sing the tunes that went with some of the words. Heck, I bought the book when the record was no more.

But when I drop my willing suspension of disbelief, I find I can't understand the attitude of the parents at all. Okay, older brothers are born to say, "Nah, nah, it won't come up", but why should parents be so convinced that a seed won't grow? Grow is what seeds do. It's not as if the boy wrote to his favorite baseball player inviting him to dinner and lo and behold, there he is at the door.  It seems to me that people as stupid as the parents should not, unlike the carrot, be allowed to breed.

And I shared these thoughts with little D, a bad habit of mine when I know that my jaundiced comments are flying over a child's head and not likely to do any harm. Then I announced it was playtime.

I have been working for a long time to get D to say "I want truck" rather than just name the item he wants to play with. Despite the fact that he is now talking in sentences, short and ungrammatical as they may be, and despite a few successes, D just did not seem to get it.  So when I asked, "What do you want?" it was with the expectation of a long go-round to get those three words out of him, in order, in any kind of temporal proximity to each other.

And D said, as naturally as any other child, as if it had never been a problem, without any hesitation, "I want bus."

I think I get it now.

Oh, carrots grow from carrot seeds.
I planted one and grew it.
I watered it, I pulled the weeds.
Carrots grow from carrot seeds.

Monday, August 16, 2010


The post office at Fin del Mundo - the end of the world, or the ends of the earth

No matter how much I try to stand out in the world, I am really a walking cliche. I am part of the Baby Boom generation, so I have a lot of peers. I am overweight, like so many Americans are. I am middle class and white. I even have a blog, like how many million other people?

But the two cliches I embody the most are the two best. I have a husband who literally followed me to the ends of the earth, and a mom who literally walked through fire for me.

My husband did not want to go on an Antarctic cruise the first time I brought it up, or the second time, or the fifth time. After three years, I had given up on getting him to go when one day he said out of the blue, "So you want to go to Antarctica." Shortly after we paid the deposit in the fall of 2008, the stock market crashed, and he began having second thoughts, but we couldn't get the deposit back anyway, so we decided to prop up the world economy the best we could with our travels. The ship left from Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world, and home of the Unidad Postal Fin Del Mundo, the official end of the world. I love to brag that my husband followed me there.

Without my mom, though, I wouldn't have been alive to have those adventures. My "mom" is actually my stepmom. She came into my life when I was 8, three years after my mother died, so she's my mom, even though our relationship was rocky, to say the least. The only thing we seemed to have in common is being hypersensitive and quick to take offense. Otherwise, she was an extrovert high school drop out to whom family and friends were everything; I am a bookish introvert to whom friendships come hard and grades came easy. If we had been more easy-going people those differences might not have mattered, but they did.

But if she didn't accept me, adore me, or understand me, there is no doubting the woman loved me. One day, standing in our cold kitchen trying to make breakfast, I reached over the stove. My dad had left the oven on and the door open to heat the kitchen, and despite being a supposedly bright 14 year old I did not think to close the oven door first. Before I knew it, my robe was on fire. I panicked and screamed for my mom. Not knowing what else to do, she walked up to me and pulled my robe off me with her bare hands.  For the next two weeks, she had to have people help her with her intimate needs until her hands healed. For the next six weeks, I was in a hospital having third degree burns debrided and skin grafts in six different spots, but I was alive.

I would like to say that that incident was a turning point in our relationship, but it was not. We tried to reach out to each other but always wound up feeling mawkish and gave up. Mom did support me through my divorce from my ex, and she adored my son, but we were never close. I don't know if she ever did know how much I appreciated what she did for me.

So I am, as I said, an ordinary person, one of a large and undistinguished crowd. But I have a husband who followed me to the ends of the earth and a mom who walked through fire for me, and I wouldn't trade that for a Nobel Prize.

Friday, August 13, 2010


One hundred years from now,
It won't matter what car I drove,
What kind of house I lived in,
How much I had in my bank account,
Nor what my clothes looked like,
But, the world may be a little better
Because I was important in the life of a child. 

If you work with or have children, you have probably seen the paragraph above at least once in your life. Since I work at a non-profit pediatric rehabilitation center, I keep encountering it posted on bulletin boards and coworker's desks, and whenever I do, my reaction is the same. "One hundred years from now", I mutter to myself, "that kid'll be dead, too."

It's amazing how many untruths can be compressed into so few words. One hundred years from now it won't matter whether I drove a gas guzzler or a fuel efficient car? Won't matter whether my house was well-insulated and used solar energy as opposed to drafty and expensive to heat? Let me introduce you to Al Gore.

It won't matter how much I had in my bank account? Won't matter if I finish my years on welfare? Won't matter if my son spends what would have been his children's college fund supporting me in my old age? Let me see if I can find a bridge to sell you. That might help my bank account immensely.

Won't matter what my clothes looked like? Okay, that one is right, but try not wearing any clothes at all and use the "one hundred years from now" excuse. It matters now.

What does it even mean to say "it won't matter"? Won't matter to whom? To the people who will be alive one hundred years from now. They won't care what car I drove or what house I lived in, but if they don't care about me, then why on earth should I care what they are going to think? They don't even exist yet, and maybe never will, so when did they get a vote in my life choices? It matters to me, right now, what clothes I wear, what house I live in, what car I drive and what's in my bank account, and to try to argue me out of having a preference by pointing out that eventually I'll be dead and won't care strikes me as wrong-headed in the extreme. It's the kind of argument a mugger could use while stealing my car keys and spare cash - "Hey, lady, a hundred years from now you'll never even care."

The fact is that caring for children is an overly sentimentalized and underpaid task. If you can make people feel crass for even expecting to be paid for doing it, then you won't have to pay them (much). Sappy sentiments don't go far at the grocery store, I've noticed. Money does.

Besides, who knows what is going to have an impact on a child's life one hundred years from now? Maybe if I had traded in my eleven year old car and bought a new one five years ago, some car salesman would still have a job. Maybe the effect I had on the life of his child was to keep the kid out of college, or braces. Maybe if we had built that bigger house we talked about, some builder's child would be in medical school by now.

I propose a new meme. "One hundred years from now, it won't matter that the Saints won Superbowl XLIV, but even so, what I make for being important in the life of a child is 1/40 of  Drew Brees' base salary." It doesn't sound as poetic as the original, but it's something to think about.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Briar Patch

This has been out for a while, but I only recently learned about The Modesty Survey, which its designers bill as an exciting, anonymous discussion between Christian guys and girls who care about modesty. Its designers are Alex and Brett Harris, the younger brothers of Joshua Harris, the author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye.  I am actually familiar with that book, since my son's stepbrother, B,  gave it to my son as a college graduation present. My son's stepbrother and his wife married while in college and had their first child six months or so later, so I suppose it is fair to say that they did kiss dating goodbye. Their selection of the book as an appropriate gift for my son, however, prompted me to ask, "Has B ever actually met you?" 

To get back on topic -  I can easily understand how a discussion of bikinis, tight jeans, camisoles and fishnet stockings among those whose hormones are surging could get exciting. What I'm not sure about is where the "modesty" part comes in. The Harris twins billing this as  a "modesty survey" is on a par with Capitol One advertising their credit card as a way to save money, or the Lexus people trying to convince you that their cars are a bargain. Basically, the survey was a way for men to tell women what they found arousing. If the results had been published in Cosmopolitan, the article would have been titled "Christian Men Dish - What They Find Hawt!" Seventeen would have called it, "Christian Boys Confess, What Makes Them Blush". The rationale for calling it a Modesty Survey is that young ladies can use the results as a guide to wearing modest dress, rather than as a guide to what will turn men's heads. "One of the purposes of The Modesty Survey is to allow Christian guys to express their gratitude to their sisters in Christ who strive to dress modestly—to let them know that their efforts are both noticed and appreciated by their brothers in Christ". 

I've got you this time, Brer Rabbit," said Brer Fox, jumping up and shaking off the dust. "You've sassed me for the very last time. Now I wonder what I should do with you?"Brer Rabbit's eyes got very large. "Oh please Brer Fox, whatever you do, please don't throw me into the briar patch.""Maybe I should roast you over a fire and eat you," mused Brer Fox. "No, that's too much trouble. Maybe I'll hang you instead.""Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please," said Brer Rabbit. "Only please, Brer Fox, please don't throw me into the briar patch.""If I'm going to hang you, I'll need some string," said Brer Fox. "And I don't have any string handy. But the stream's not far away, so maybe I'll drown you instead.""Drown me! Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please," said Brer Rabbit. "Only please, Brer Fox, please don't throw me into the briar patch.""The briar patch, eh?" said Brer Fox. "What a wonderful idea! You'll be torn into little pieces!"

Now why does that passage suddenly spring to mind?

When the survey came out, there was some confusion as to what the men who responded actually found immodest, since there is a list of statements they were asked to agree or disagree with and you have to click on each statement, one at a time, to find out which ones the guys found to be "stumbling blocks". ("Stumbling block" in this context does not, as logic would suggest, refer to clothing which the young gentleman finds difficult to remove from the young lady. It refers to clothing that causes the young gentleman to think about the young lady in a less than gentlemanly way.) So it is not true that jeans which are not tight, plain hose, and the mere sight of a young woman's calves are going to fire the average young man in your church's youth group up. That takes tight jeans, especially with a design on the back pocket, fishnet tights, bikinis, translucent shirts that turn see through in bright light, boobs that bounce when you walk or run (ie, boobs, period), a purse worn with the strap across your chest, or bending over or stretching. 

So, ladies, do you want to get young Ezekiel's attention at the next youth barbecue? Here's what you do. You put on your shortest shorts and a tank top with spaghetti straps, and make sure your parents see you, so that they can tell you that no daughter of theirs is leaving the house dressed that way. Then you go to your room and change into a pair of jeans which you have dressed up by gluing a Jesus fish applique to the back pocket. Top that with a white V-neck T-shirt, and accessorize with a cross on a chain just long enough that only part of the cross is visible above the V. Cover up with a sweatshirt that has something like "Yale" emblazoned across the front, and carry a shoulder strap purse across your chest. Scowl and mutter "I hope you're happy now" at your parents as you leave.

When you get to the barbecue, edge up to Ezekiel and say, "Wow, it's hot in here. Can you hold my purse while I get out of this sweatshirt?" While most of the boys polled did not find shirts with words across the front or girls removing pullovers to be immodest, a significant minority did. Turn your back to him modestly, so that you can pretend your watchband is caught on your sleeve, making it necessary for you to lean forward while you take off the shirt. That will expose an inch or so of your back (Over half the survey agreed that's immodest. You aren't supposed to have a back.) When you stand up to pull the shirt off, stretch. Survey says seeing a girl stretching is a stumbling block, or as the rest of the world calls it, a turn-on. Now position yourself and your white shirt near a light source. Zeke will be putty in your hands.

Brer Rabbit says so.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Praise Jesus Snow Cone Stand Amen

Water tower in Clinton

Back in July my husband and I drove north to the small town of Clinton, Louisiana for their Red, White, and Blueberry Festival. Driving up there took us along Highway 67, and brought back old memories. For a while in the 1980's, when I was a single mother, I supplemented my paycheck with a second job doing home health visits, and usually wound up in the far flung parts of the parish, or the ones nearby. I was convinced that if the directions to get to a patient included the words "gravel road", "cattle gap" or "trailer park", they automatically gave it to me.

My ride up Highway 67 involved none of the above; it just took me to a sheltered workshop in the town of Zachary. For the first few months that I made the trip, there was a snow cone stand by the side of the road called the Praise Jesus Snow Cone Stand Amen.

Actually, the place wasn't called the Praise Jesus Snow Cone Stand Amen. The sign out front said "Snow Cone Stand" and above those words the owner had written "Praise Jesus" and below them, "Amen", so the sign read, from top to bottom:

Praise Jesus!
Snow Cone Stand

But of course the words all blended together in my mind into the name of the snow cone stand. 

I lead a surrealistic life. On the day I first passed The Praise Jesus Snow Cone Stand Amen, my first day at the workshop, I was greeted in the hall by a naked man, one of the clients who had become disturbed about something and was running away from the staff member who was trying to get him dressed. That was not a common occurrence at the workshop, fortunately, which made it all the more memorable. If I'd known that was about to happen I might have thought to fortify myself with a snow cone on the way, but given the sign out front I doubt they made any with whiskey in them.

The snow cone stand closed, alas, and my drive became more  ordinary. It often occurred to me that The Praise Jesus Snow Cone Stand Amen would make a wonderful title for a book of just-this-side-of-precious short stories about a small town in the south. Come to think of it, it would make an even better title for a book of just-the-other-side-of-precious short stories about a small town in the south. Unfortunately, the snow cone stand is gone, along with other landmarks of my home health days: the general store in Hardwood that also served as a post office, the Star Hill Post Office and the antique shop that now sells chainsaw sculptures and garden pots from Mexico.

On the way back, we did pass the Miller and Daughter Mortuary. It's nice to know that some of the old  landmarks remain. I wish I'd taken a picture.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The One That Got Away

This past Saturday, Andrew Cohen wrote an article about a woman he used to date who was marrying another man:

Some readers found it touching and others found it creepy. Columnist Lizzie Skurnik weighed in here.  I found it a little bit of both, though I have to agree with the critics who found the article more about Andrew than his lost love, and who thought his offering her "worldly absolution from any guilt or sadness she felt between the time she said no to me and the time she said yes to him" was a bit superfluous, seeing as how she was marrying another man, a circumstance most people would accept as evidence that she had moved on.

But mostly I found it puzzling, because I have a hard time identifying with the idea of the one who got away.  I must admit, my romantic life has been far from typical. The only relationships I have had that lasted longer than 8 weeks  are my two marriages. I'm not sure what that says about me, maybe that I'm very good about not wasting other people's time? The other thing is that the only break-up I initiated was my divorce from my ex-husband. In all the other cases I was the one dumped. Nonetheless, I categorize the relationships as Narrow Escape 1, Narrow Escape 2, Narrow Escape 3, Narrow Escape 4, Sweet Jesus, I actually married that man, what was I thinking, Narrow Escape 5, three mostly platonic friends one of whom was probably gay and then Hubby! Yay, I finally did something right! Okay, to be fair, Narrow Escapes 2 and 3 were nice guys who had the sense to realize we weren't right for each other before I did, and Narrow Escape 1 was as young and immature as I was. But Narrow Escape 4 put up red flags I didn't recognize when he complained about how his mother stuck him and his father with "her jobs" while recovering from her hysterectomy and Narrow Escape 5 lived with what looked like post-college surroundings into his late thirties, an inability to treat himself well that suggested maybe he wouldn't have treated me any better in the long run. Besides, I suspect if ex-hubby and I had broken up before we married, I would have remembered him as a nice guy who had the sense to realize we weren't right for each other instead of knowing him as the abuser he turned out to be. 

I actually ran into one of the mostly platonic friends about four years after my marriage. We looked at each other for a bit saying, "You look familiar" before recalling we had actually had a few dates. He had also married and we managed to congratulate each other on having found happiness without adding out loud "with someone else, thank the Lord". I doubt any of the others remember me, but if they do, I'm Narrow Escape number whatever. Fair enough.

Hubby, fortunately for me, is the one who didn't get away. We have the same values, the same political views, the same attitude toward money and spending, and just enough differences in personality and in taste in music, movies and the like to keep life interesting. If I hadn't had the good fortune to get dumped by all those other dudes, I might never have found him.  

Sometimes I get all the luck.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Famous in a Small Town

Paintings from last year

Another summer, another week of our annual summer art program for special needs kids. Last year at this time we were trying to sell our house and move out of state, so I didn’t expect to be doing this again. Our summer art program is fantastic for children, with or without special needs, not so good for 60 something, out of shape women with bad knees and bad arches and a severe need for an afternoon nap.  I like to call art camp the reason God invented Celebrex.

This year, the children got to do pottery, storytelling, painting, dance (called “movement”, like they weren’t moving the whole rest of the time) and collage. There were five groups of children so they rotated through the classes. I was with the second oldest group, which comprised two children in power wheelchairs, one with a walker, two children with autism, one with Down syndrome, one with an unspecified form of cognitive disability, two siblings, and two children of my co-workers.  Despite the wide range of special needs, they behaved exactly like any other group of  children that age: distracted by the construction going on outside, inclined to converse with their best friend while being given instructions, imaginative at using any art supplies as small weapons, stubborn about trying anything outside their comfort zone, and generally in need of those crowd control tactics beloved by generations of teachers everywhere. Compared to the younger groups, they were easy to handle, especially with the aid of several teen volunteers and one of the siblings, and for the most part understood the basics of the tasks and did an impressive job with them.

On our first day there, I noticed a reporter accompanied by a photographer being led from group to group. It started me thinking about the advantages of living in a small city. There are stories in our local paper every year about our art program, our annual canoe trip, and our two major fundraisers. These are not just small paragraphs in an “around town” section. These are full articles with bylines and pictures. I suspect that if we existed in Philadelphia or Atlanta, this would not be the case. As Miranda Lambert sang, everybody dies famous in a small town.

The reporter was back for our culminating event, the recital at the end where the children danced “The Ant and the Grasshopper” and displayed their work. By this time, I had forgotten the bad knees and bad arches, the spilled paint, the “swordfights” and got teary eyed when most of our group, who were playing dragonflies, remembered where to stand and when to flash their lights. By the time the ants carried off the dead grasshopper and took their bows, a process that took longer than the actual dance, I was convinced that it was the best production of  “The Ant and the Grasshopper” ever.

I can’t wait for the reviews.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


I spent most of yesterday afternoon renewing my passport. It sounds like a simple thing to do - you can even fill out the form online - but each of the different steps required driving around town. I had to go to the bank to get my old passport from the safe deposit box, then from the bank to Walgreen's to get pictures taken. After hanging around until the pictures were ready (maybe ten minutes), I had to go home to fill out the form, print it, sign it, and find an envelope. Then I had to drive to the next town to go to the post office. (Yes, we have a post office in our city. Several. It's just that I live so near the city line that I'm actually closer to the post office in the next town.) There was a line at the post office, and traffic on the interstate. So it went.

This takes me back to when I first got a passport, in 1986. Prior to that, my only out of the country travel were day trips to Canada and Mexico, and in those days all you needed to cross those borders was a driver's license or student ID. In 1986, however, I decided to go on an Earthwatch expedition to Zimbabwe, and for that I needed a passport.

Having heard of the horrors of passport photos, I was surprised to find that I actually liked mine, despite not liking any pictures of myself, ever. I didn't think to ask if I could get extra copies. Subsequent passport photos have looked more like passport photos. I was also surprised at how quickly I got it. I was told it would take 4-6 weeks. Instead, it took a little over a week. Holding the passport made my trip seem real to me for the very first time. By the time I had to surrender that passport to get a new one, it had been stamped in England, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Brussels, Italy and France. I still have it. It's been stamped "cancelled" and has two holes punched in it, but my picture can still be seen.

The next edition, the one I just surrendered and hope to get back, similarly disabled, has an even more exotic history. It has been stamped in the Carribean, Canada and Mexico (in a less trusting time), Japan, Thailand, Hungary, France, Argentina, Brazil, Port Lockroy, Antarctica, and Cape Horn,  Chile. The Port Lockroy stamp has a penguin picture on it. The Cape Horn stamp has two. I tell people my passport looks like it has been issued by Pixar.

I don't have any exotic trips planned yet for the new passport. I just want to have a current one ready in case I do make plans to travel. It should come in handy if I ever get a yen to go to Fiji. Or Arizona.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Things We Don't Know We Know

my backyard

My family has always been spiritually adventurous. All of my grandparents started out as Roman Catholics, but my paternal grandparents became Pentacostal after my grandmother fell ill, and my step-grandparents became Jehovah's Witnesses. My stepmother did not like the Witnesses, so she brought us up in the Protestant church closest to our home, which happened to be Methodist. That didn't happen until I was 8, so I did make my first communion as a Catholic, as I was reminded recently when my godmother sent me pictures of the event. Since my most vivid recollection of communion is that the incense made me sick, the pictures were a nice surprise. There I was, in my white dress and veil, which I think served as the prototype for Sally Field's headgear in The Flying Nun. There are my friends, in different dresses but matching veils, including Joan who lived across the street. There is the back patio of my godmother's house, and therein hangs my tale.

Fast forward a bit. When I bought the house my husband and I live in now, I didn't like the postage size back patio, which could hold either furniture or people, but not both. One of the first things we did was have a newer, larger patio poured. It needed shade, so I convinced my husband to build me a pergola like one I saw pictured in Southern Living. The pergola now boasts a sturdy wisteria vine which provides a lot of shade. Hubby and I had some differences over the construction of the pergola. He wanted to use 6 by 6's for the columns and I wanted the delicate ones in the picture in Southern Living, which I got.

So there amidst my godmother's pictures of flounced little girls is a picture of a gathering in her backyard, with relatives sitting on a patio under a familiar looking pergola. The pergola does not look familiar because I remember my godmother, or any other relative, having one. The pergola looks familiar because there is one like it sitting right outside my back window.

"Look," I say to my husband, "I didn't remember that."

"Yes, you did", he replies, pointing out the window. "No wonder you wanted me to make it out of matchsticks." Hubby is the one who does eternal battle with the wisteria to keep it from yanking the pergola completely over, so he favors function over form.

"I didn't remember I remembered it."

I wonder how many other things we don't remember that we remember.

celebrating my communion, long ago