Tragedy Down the Mountain

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The Quietness

    The slower pace and quietness of mountain life called out to our family during the 90’s. After the birth of our fourth child we purchased a home in the northwest corner of North Carolina, high enough to see into Virginia and Tennessee, and close enough to the Blue Ridge Parkway we could hike there. Yet the cities lay just an hour drive down the mountain.

Our 3,500 ft. elevation gave us resplendent Indian summers, but before the end of October, bone-cold nights and snow flurries checked in – to stay.

    By late November, Winter fell like the ax on the neck of the Thanksgiving turkey. She hunkered down with diamond-studded frost or snow, and branch-snapping winds. Often, after a solid week of fog, we’d bundle up, hop into the car, and drive “down the mountain” to Charlotte or Winston Salem just for a glimpse of the sun and the more alive smell of fall foliage.

    One such trip took us to a family reunion, making our light-sweater day especially long. Long after dark and everyone’s bedtime, we reluctantly headed home to our mountain paradise. I leaned my head back on the headrest as we accelerated against the incline, around the switchbacks – up and up into cold air. All four kids (two toddlers and two teens) snuggled under their coats and dropped off to sleep. The quietness in the car felt good.

The Event

    About five miles from the summit, my husband spotted what he thought was a deer carcass on the side of the road. A bit lighter in color than the usual deer, it almost glowed in the headlights of a car we thought may have hit it.

Two men stood over it, yet for some reason my husband decided to look closer. I stopped breathing as he made a fast u-turn back to the scene.

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    When we pulled up and got out, my throat tightened and I suddenly felt hot. I saw one of the men sort of kick at it, and in that moment I breathed a thank you to God that our two toddlers stayed asleep. For it wasn’t a deer.

    “You guys stay in the car,” my husband warned. “Try to keep the little ones asleep.”

       I grabbed coats from the older kids, and ran to cover what now was clearly a half-naked woman. She was alive, moaning incoherent, face down, but not visibly injured.

    My husband asked the men what happened.

    “Dunno… got here jis’ a minute ago. She was a-lying here, but we bin drinkin’ an’ well, we gotta go ‘fore the police come. We called 911 anyways and was jes’ fixin’ to take off when yous came.” They couldn’t get away fast enough.

    I noticed a small pile of clothes close to the car but said nothing to my husband who paced, waiting. As night deepened in utter quietness, all I knew to do was pray out loud for this woman. Her nails dug into the grass as I cradled her over the coats.

    In a few minutes the place swarmed with the swirling lights of police cars and men searching, wondering if a perpetrator might still be close. I kept my position over her, praying and consoling her.

   When the ambulance came, the EMTs replaced our coats with their blankets. Rolling her onto her back they yelled, “What is your name?”

    Her response, a loud fear-filled “Aaaaaah!” told that she’d been drinking. That fact and her car’s freshly cut tire provided a rape scenario (or conjecture) which supposedly began at a bar up the mountain. It seemed as though we’d been dropped into a CSI episode. As they prepared to lift her onto the gurney, the men EMTs asked females present to do as much of the steadying as possible. Their utmost concern for her dignity impressed me.

     As I returned to our bewildered teens in the car, I wondered… would this woman be able to tell them what had happened? Would the authorities work hard to find who’d raped her? Would I ever see her again? How will I talk to my teens about this?

The Meeting

    About three weeks later when the phone rang, I happened to pick it up first. The long silence after my hello clued me who had called.

Heart beating fast, I allowed the pause. Be patient. Give her time.

    In an almost inaudible whisper she finally spoke. “You …prayed … I remember your voice…”

    More silence. What do I say? “Are you alright?”

    “Yes, but I had to find you. I asked around. Can we meet?”

    “Yes, of course. Where? When?”

    We met at a local restaurant. The scene felt surreal. In a booth with ordinary lunch banter going on all around us, I sat before a woman in her early forties with pleasant eyes and smooth complexion, talking, or almost talking, about the most horrific thing imaginable. It seemed. As she thanked me for being there, I knew there had to be more.

   “See, my husband beats me. I just wanted a break from it all.”

     She went on to tell me about her clandestine plan to meet “another man” down the mountain. No mention of the bar, or her drink. The car started to act strange, she said. When she pulled over, a car came up behind, and a man came over to offer help. The darkness hid his face. When they walked around to look for the problem, he attacked her, dragged her down the embankment and raped her as she dug her fingernails into the hill. After he sped away, she crawled up the hill to get to her headlights. Temps in the 40’s meant hypothermia, pretty fast.

    Next thing she knew, I was praying over her.

    I met her once again a few months later. They had never found the perpetrator. She was fine, she said. “Life goes on.”

The Questions

    My mind reeled. She just wanted me to know that she knew I prayed.

     Of course I hardly knew how to talk to my teens about the event. Even after clipping the brief article from the paper I didn’t know what to say. 

     Do we think there are answers, or some better situation, down the mountain, up
the mountain, or on the other side of the mountain? Or fence? Will we reach out to
others with whom we can hardly relate? How will we do it? When it seems there’s
nothing we can do, will we simply move on in the face of tragedy? Will we pray out
loud when it seems silly to do so?

    Possibly one of the most important questions is:  How do people cope with life’s knock-downs without a real, rock-solid Home to come home to?

    I walked into our warm house on the top of the mountain that last night we met, and realized that prayer is sometimes all we can do. It was my minimum at the time and I must believe it was also my maximum. She knew I prayed.

Cancer Update: Jesus is More Than Enough

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   Twenty-seven days. That’s the number of days since the final radiation treatment for my husband’s prostate cancer. He still isn’t quite ready for a nice rare steak, but that’s getting ahead of my story. It was quite a summer, not an easy one. Yet ironically, this very summer, of all summers, our pastor embarked on a series from Colossians. The theme? Jesus is Better.

     If you haven’t already, you can read here about the rough times of late 2014 and up to now. How we put off the biopsy for months and finally went ahead with it at the same unfortunate time as his massive oral surgery. We knew the mouth issues would be tough for a long while, but had no idea radiation would dwarf that ordeal. How could we know? I’d undergone radiation during my breast cancer eleven years ago, and it was more or less a piece of cake. He, on the other hand, almost immediately, suffered constant stomach upset, no appetite, and almost daily weight loss.

    With no stamina whatsoever, each day he’d manage our business as best he could, then ask to be left alone to rest. As I grieved, I questioned. Why did he resist distractions like a small outing or a walk? Sometimes we left the house. Then a few miles out, he’d turn the car around and head home.

    Each day, though, he’d drive himself the hour to the treatment center, then the hour home. Five days a week. Alone.

    Jesus is More Than Enough

    I entered church the Sunday after his first five days of treatment, and barely acknowledged the theme’s announcement. For the next several weeks, the pain I felt during church trumped my ability to concentrate. I’d sit there and wonder why. Why he only wanted food and laundry needs met. Why he wouldn’t let me comfort him – no holding each other, not even his favorite foot rubs.

    When I did register the theme, Jesus is More Than Enough, my response was hollow. Well, I’m sure that is true in the grand scheme of things. Of course that’s what God says…The screen behind the pastor glowed with the words, but weeks passed before I actually took them in.

    I felt completely abandoned.

   Then I began to dig into Colossians at home. My pastor pointed out how Paul struggled (ch. 1:29 and 2:1) to make the people see “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” I realized that God, through Paul and our pastor, wanted me to ask the question: Is Jesus really more than enough?  Going about the day, I asked, “Is Jesus better than earthly relationships?” I knew I’d have to know, really know, the answer to that someday. But I wasn’t ready to face the question just yet. It blindsided me. I’d read Colossians over and over, and wrestle with God. I’d challenge Him. “Haven’t we already worked this out? Other times of trouble in our relationship sealed the matter, didn’t it? Jesus is enough!”

    But is He More Than Enough?

    In the moments of working alone folding laundry or walking in the neighborhood, I had to face my anger, and this persistent belief that puny me, I, knew better than God what should happen. These unrelenting needs, the friendship and love of a husband who lives in the same house, who surely has many good years left, clashed noisily with the supremacy of Christ. In my head a cacophony of voices screamed against the quiet assurance: No matter what, when all else fails, Jesus will prove to be more than enough. Whether in the resolution of Hubby’s health issues and restoration of our passion.   

        Or in the loss of both.

       To jump off that cliff of trust, find the net solid underneath, then walk in the truth became the challenge of every day. Colossians 1:23 reminded me to continue “in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel…”

        Finally, I had to say, You are not only enough, but more than enough. You know best. You know more. You love me best. You will figure all this out.

     I had to say it over and over again, with thankfulness (Col. 2:6 and 7) as I went about caring for and releasing my Hubby.  

     How often do I have to jump, Lord? Okay, You know that, too.

    So, you might wonder, where are we now, as a couple?

    After the treatments ended, he still felt horrible. Days went by. When we woke up to the usual how are you this mornings, I’d take the temperature of the room, remembering my truth. My barometer still wondered, is the glass half full? Or half empty? Is Jesus really more than enough if my husband stays emotionally gone?

    Twenty-seven days. Not long, really. Twenty-seven days since the last treatment of summer. We made it through. The laundry smells sweeter, food tastes much better. One of these days my babe may even enjoy a steak again. It’s a process. And one we don’t take for granted.

   But he did come back to me. We comfort each other now, laugh more readily. Finally. But my heart’s desire is to live in the Jesus-is-more-than-enough mode. I want it to be my default mode. I want His enoughness to infuse every minute of every day. His enoughness will get me through the next cliff I face – and hopefully I’ll jump a bit quicker into his net.

    Until the day I get to jump right into His arms. Won’t that be grand?

Molasses Makin’

Romans 15:16  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (ESV)

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     I began my teaching career with a “boat” of a car, a ‘66 Pontiac Catalina, v-8 engine. Designed for the smooth roads of civilization, she seemed to rebel against the bumper-jarring ride to Billy’s house. He’d invited me to see the fall sorghum molasses-making, and it seemed a fun outing for after school on Friday. As the bumps and potholes banged our heads against the windows, I thought surely this “boat” would soon dock in some gravel driveway in a little farming area. Surely.

      What had I gotten myself into? What was “City Girl” doing deep in the Kentucky mountains? I mean, other than a job?  In 1971 the universities pumped out way more teachers than jobs in which to place them, and the U.S. presently suffered a glut of baby boomer teachers. I really should be grateful to have snagged one – in a nice public, albeit rural, school. I guess the children were my “other than a job.” One soap-deprived angel arrived on the first day with a little hop in her step.

      “Look, Teacher! Shoes! Ah got shoes!”

       Once, when the electricity went out, my windowless classroom fell into complete darkness. I asked the children if they’d like to sing.

       “Oh, yes, Teacher! Let’s sing ‘The Old Rugged Cross.’” As the students gathered around my feet, I felt something, or someone stroking my leg.  The red-headed lad probably had never felt silky hose before, either on or off a woman’s leg.

    Though the ruddy, freckled faces of the children had won my heart, I constantly worried.

      How in the world will my $5,500 a year salary continue to support me? There’s no way possible to make it through this first year of teaching. No way. Each payday, two hundred forty-five dollars…

     Suddenly my Pontiac ran completely out of road. Now my worry took a different form. No more road? Maybe I shouldn’t have done this. Billy opened the car door and cheerfully directed me out into the woods.

      “ We wawk the rist o’the way, Teacher. The car’ll be jes’ fine.”

     Walk? With nothing but dense woods in front of us, it looked like the beginning of a hike. I could see my panty hose full of holes and runs after this. Half walking, half hobbling, I inwardly fretted. Why didn’t I change clothes and shoes? A branch flipped into my face as if to force me to pay attention. Then, a clearing.

      As my eyes adjusted to the sunlight I abruptly came back to the moment. A dozen yards in front of us, a horse, harnessed to a long bar, trudged around a muddy circle. His strained push crushed stalks of sugarcane while a bucket under the mill slowly filled with juice. I winced at the smells of mud and manure as they mingled with the woodsy aroma of the fire pit nearby. A huge vat on top of the fire held what seemed like a hundred gallons of boiling liquid. I wondered how those ragged men bent over, sweating and stirring, continuously skimming off the greenish foam. The men neither greeted us nor looked up from their work, but Billy pointed to his dad and said they’d keep at it until late into the night, when that batch would be ready to cool and jar.

    Further into the clearing we reached the house. On the outside it looked bigger than I’d expected. Wood siding, a fairly new door. Billy led me to the side entrance where the kitchen greeted us with a chill. Now, away from the fire, I felt the bite of fall. For through the kitchen blew a draft from the unfinished, cavernous house. Studs framed would-be rooms and almost no furniture graced the plywood floors. The barren kitchen housed few utensils, which make me wonder if meals were prepared at all during molasses-making. On the walls, unpainted shelves held jars, some filled, some waiting. Curtains partitioned off bedrooms.

     Then finally, the big reveal. Billy’s bed. A separate, walled room held the beginnings of a bathroom, and as he showed me he beamed with pride. The glory of the room was his bed, the white clawfoot bathtub. Here he slept, he said, away from the noise and the chilled air in the rest of the house. I stood amazed at what I saw, from the production outside to the provision inside. I saw hope. Hope thrived in Billy’s heart because he had a place to sleep – and his daddy was making molasses!

    My fretful thoughts now shamed me. I had a warm apartment in town. I slept in a nice bed. I drove where I needed to go. How could I worry about my salary?

      As my huge boat of a Catalina drove home so many years ago, I asked the Lord to make me thankful for that day, for that tour of molasses-making. I asked Him to keep me thankful for His care, and for a lasting hope that always lay right in my lap.

Dear Father, Thank you for stopping me in my complaint! You are my hope today and always!

Facing Loss

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It was November of 2014. Our mouthwatering ribs on the breezy patio of Longhorn Steakhouse tasted even better being near the ocean. If the first item on our ToDo list was eating ribs, the second item was to discuss our future beach condo. This weekend getaway provided uninterrupted, relaxing time to dream. Retirement, my hubby’s reward for a lifetime of hard work, must include the romantic sound of the surf and sand between our toes.

     In an instant, my husband’s eyes flooded with tears and he buckled in excruciating pain. He grabbed his napkin and covered his mouth with another moan.

     Though we didn’t realize it yet, in that moment, life as we knew it, plus our hopes and plans for the future, vanished. We got through the night with ibuprofen, and headed home in the morning where the dentist confirmed sad news of immediate oral surgery. My husband’s wince of pain had come from a deep crack in a vital tooth. One procedure led to another issue, and in the end he lost all his teeth. I will spare you the details, but bone crushing was only part of it.

     Anxiety and depression mixed with physical pain form a terrible force. Engulfed by sadness, we found that even normal hugging and tender kisses had to be suspended because of pain in neck, jaw, and gums. If that weren’t enough, my husband lost his appetite, and worse yet, his sense of taste. Over six months he dropped forty pounds. Also, we both faced a new face – one I saw every day for thirty-nine years, and one he once knew in the mirror whenever he shaved.

    A few months later, with the hardest procedure only a week past, time ran out for “the biopsy.” During the holiday season our doctor had noticed his PSA lab numbers rise, putting him at risk for prostate cancer. So, in spring, not able to put it off any longer, he submitted to the prostate biopsy.

    When “the call” came, my husband buckled once again.

     Notice I said he buckled. I, on the other hand, sucked in my breath, set my (intact) jaw, and moved ahead. This cancer was caught early! We are in great position for complete recovery. We can get through this. We will be fine.

    “Come on, Honey, we’ll hear the options and take the one best for us.”

     We decided to go the route of radiation. Forty-five treatments, five days a week, nine weeks. As the treatments began, he slipped farther and farther away from me emotionally and physically. Tired to the bone, he fell asleep by eight each night. I inwardly railed. A sort of panic set in. What will become of us?

      In actuality it was me. What about me? What about our relationship? What about our plans? Somehow the “us” got lost in the “me.” And the “him” got left out. As a result he felt even more pressure. He asked for space. He asked for time. Time to grieve and to heal. But I didn’t want to give it to him or take it for myself.

     Walking the house at night, I planned how to engage and encourage. I cajoled him, and (there it is) I lectured him on “trust” in the Lord. I became that “‘dripping wife” of Proverbs. My situation went on the altar, then off the altar, then back on again. But much more off than on. I didn’t help us, or me, and definitely not him. How could I help when all I could see was my own agenda going up in smoke?

      And I finally did it. I reached out. I called the American Cancer Society.

      You thought I’d say I prayed. Well, I’d been doing that. Or you thought I meant I found a certain scripture. I have dozens of them, they are all wonderful. No, I called the American Cancer Society because, well, I couldn’t carry on any more without some expert terrestrial input. I needed someone to read between my “going forth” lines, ask the right questions, and get me to face my reality. It took a while to get there, though. Extremely condensed, our conversation went a bit like this.

     “Hello, I’m calling about a support group for wives of cancer patients. Prostate cancer.”

     “Okay, tell me your situation.”

     “Well, I uh, so I like to help people, uh, and if there isn’t a group, I’d like to start one… because I want to know if other wives are experiencing the losses, uh, the problems, we are.”

     “My name is Bonnie. Maybe I can help you. What are you feeling?”

     “Well, he says he wants space, but I know he needs connectivity more than space…”

     “He’s asking for space?”

     “Uh, yes. But I just worry that if he sort of drops out of the game now, we might not be ‘us’ again when all the treatments are over.”

     “Do you think maybe he’s asking for space, but you are the one needing connectivity?”

     “Maybe.”

      “Your husband’s cancer diagnosis, as well as his mouth situation, will mean a new ‘us.’ Can you accept that whatever you thought your life was going to be no longer exists? Will you not give him the space he needs to process that? And also give yourself a time of grief?”

     At that, my wall began to crack. She went on.

    “What you do have is today. Only today. We can’t mold tomorrow. Your husband needs support. And so do you. But you need support other than his. He has all he can handle on his plate right now.”

     Saying goodbye to Bonnie, I decided to give in to grief. Just because I’m so good at denial doesn’t mean I hurt less. I work and work and fix and fix. I blame. I manipulate. I deflect the real pain of the situation. I put it off for another day – a day when it may be worse and there are hurt people to whom I must apologize. No, best face it head on. The plans, the dreams, irrevocably changed.

   Yet that is not to say our future is dashed to pieces, either. To say things will never be the same is not failing to trust God. It is just reality. When I read Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes (“a time for everything under heaven…”) I see loss in a more eternal perspective. Loss can be refining. Loss gives us empathy for others. Loss is a vital part of life.

    It seems that in Autumn losses begin to mount up. They actually mount down, because they are really holes. Holes that can swallow our joy and pull us down into their pit of sadness and depression. Yet, does anyone’s life turn out like they thought it would?

    So what do we do?

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    I plan to grieve. I must grieve the loss of what I thought my marriage would be like. Mind you, I give God room to do “above and way beyond anything I could ask or think” for our final years. He’s definitely not through with us yet! But it won’t be like I thought it would. It will be His kind of good, His kind of wonderful, because He is good. Our future may involve ribs by the ocean.

     But it may not.

    

Five Ways Autumn Beauty Enriches the World

How Autumn Beauty Enriches The World

As I tweezed my almost invisible eyebrows the other day, I actually drew blood. Ouch! Why do I submit to magnifying mirrors? It’s only in their larger-than-life perspective those wild hairs even appear. I wondered, why does Vanity still hold me hostage?

On this day, suffering this “injury” brought back the memory of tweezing my mom’s eyebrows in her fifties and sixties. As a teen, I’d stand behind her chair with her head tilted back on my rib cage, and gingerly pluck microscopic hairs from her translucent skin. Every once in a while I’d grab a bit of flesh and her little squeal would bring me back to concentration. I would think, “Will my skin ever be this loose? This un-elastic, this wafery thin…? Yet she asks for this torture!

Smiling today, I know. Youth slips away slowly. The thick, dark hairs (which once made tweezing almost a matter of forest control) become pale by years, decades, not months. Gradually they turn in all helter skelter directions, and we continue to pluck in spite of both blindness and pain. We don’t succumb easily to any of it- the lines, the loss of muscle tone, the changing complexion. We push against it with the same stiff demeanor of those very hairs, and with all the seriousness a magnifying mirror can muster!

However, I strongly believe that beauty with aging enriches the world.

We should (and I use that word carefully) stand tall, pull back those shoulders, and go out the door knowing we own the wisdom of, well, years of experience. Not just years, decades of it. Decades of perseverance, mess-ups, successes and failures.

So today I offer my top five reasons why autumn women who keep working on beauty make the world a better place.

  1. Our Husbands Appreciate It.

Whether we dress up or wear yoga pants and a t-shirt, the amazing fact remains, husbands see us as the young girl he married… a lovely face, a wonderful body (even with ten extra pounds), a winning smile, charm and wit. What miracle keeps us looking very much the same to him over the years? No one can explain it– it remains a mystery. Now, though they appreciate us most when we’re naked, all the original qualities thrill him year after year after year…and when he’s proud of us, he’s a happier, better man.

  1.  The Young Who Fear Aging Need It.

If we work on replacing youthful color and see ourselves vibrant and alive in the mirror, our health improves overall. It’s an attitude. All the makeup and jewelry in the world can’t overcome a negative attitude, but those things help produce a positive outlook. If you never wore makeup, it’s okay. But if you decide at 50 or 60 to begin, you will likely take off a few of those last ten years, and look perkier.

Why look ten years younger? To feel ten years younger! During my trip to Canada I had the pleasure of meeting a 106 year-old lady in the nursing home. She walks with a walker, wears pearls, pink lipstick, and a stylish outfit. You can find her chatting with those who stop at the coffee shop. She’s proud of being a woman, and causes those who meet her to fear growing old a little bit less.

  1. Our Children and Grandchildren Appreciate It.

Aging parents remind children of their own mortality. They desperately need a model up close and personal. Should we shield them from our aches and pains? Not necessarily. But a smiling, warm, and positive mom or grandmother makes them proud. If we took a reasonable amount of time to be beautiful, they’d love showing us off more. They may even want to be first to run up and introduce us to their friends.

  1. Workplaces Are Transformed by It.

One of my friends worked in an extremely stressful care-giving job. A key requirement for the job was to wear make-up and keep a stylish haircut. These habits didn’t transform the employees into more productive workers, but somehow showed others they felt more up to the pressure. And thus they became more effective.

In any setting, skill, not hair, gets the job done. But beauty helps make the workplace a more pleasant place. Proverbs author Solomon says,  “…beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised.” Can she be both at the same time? Of course. One just lasts longer. Even while she fears the Lord and honors Him, her radiant appearance puts the icing on the cake. It shows she is aware of her femininity to His glory. She reflects His beauty in her own. What a way to show the world your faith!

  1. Society Sees God’s Design for Sex in It.

Nothing reflects the sexual dynamic of marriage like a couple in love. So what in the world would this have to do with beauty? A few years back, my hubby and I were touring in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado. We saw an older couple, each with white hair, zoom by in a red Chevrolet open convertible. Her scarf blowing in the wind and their smiles gave me a picture I kept in my head. “That’s us in ten years, Honey!” I said. They drove past quickly, so their actions had nothing to do with my impression. It was her beauty sitting beside him.

What does this mean? Whether with her husband or alone, shopping, working, an autumn woman’s countenance can show the world the dynamic I admired in the couple above. Of course  women who wear makeup and dress beautifully might be single. Or have no love life. But a woman who cherishes her role as her husband’s lover, (or acts as though available for that), and gives off a pleasant aroma wherever she goes, inadvertently broadcasts the purpose of marriage – to reflect the relationship between Christ and the believer, his Bride. That’s a sermon the world craves. Do you know you preach a sermon about aging?

So I’m not just talking about physical beauty. If a woman’s outward beauty becomes her highest priority, she appears shallow and both “deceitful” and “fleeting.” As John Piper reminds us, “He is most pleased when we find our desires filled in Him.”

Summer Break

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Brutal Wisconsin Winters packed an exhilarating punch around the holidays; but by spring they grated on my nerves. The overcast skies of March and the ever-increasing dirty gray slush made spring seem a figment of our imaginations; and even April could spitefully spew out another snowstorm.

Our high school sat on the other side of a super highway, which ran parallel to our street. School days we’d walk right, to the end of our block, cross over to where on the left a large tunnel took us under the highway to school. As far north as our city, the sky was often dark when entering the lighted tunnel in the morning. It was dark again when we returned in the late afternoon. This darkness marked our winter.

The school, normally part of the view from our living room picture window, hid in winter behind gargantuan heaps of snow. Reliable, persistent snowplows pushed the snow into the wide median month after month until the school disappeared. The snow on our side stayed white, but on the highway side, cars and semi-trucks caused strata-like layers of ugly dirt-  black snow on the bottom gradually turned white about six feet up.

Then, finally, change! Snow piles began to shrink. Almost overnight the longed-for melt formed ponds. Ponds to ford whenever we walked or drove anywhere. A bother? Not at first. Water meant spring!

Would spring really change its mind and come to Wisconsin?

School changed too. Pressure. Life became increasingly serious, and busy, and hard. With theatre rehearsals, projects, and finals, April daylight hung around for the chilly walk home. I would hurry through the parking lot, down the sidewalk, to the tunnel where a month ago my breath would freeze in the scarf over my face, chapping my lips. But now, with the scarf draped under my collar, I would emerge jogging from the tunnel, deftly avoiding the lake in our road.

Then up the driveway, warm house, hot supper, homework, and sleep. Only to begin all over again.

The next day proved warmer and longer. And the next one warmer still. (This week will the wool scarf stay home?) And, finally, Flowers!- the intoxicating aroma of glorious lilacs. Tulips popped up, albeit late for Easter. Hydrangea, rhubarb, with all sorts of flowering bushes, filling my head with perfume akin to- well – a spring day in Wisconsin.

And what in the world now blanketed our yard? A soft green carpet.

Like the bright sun sliding out from behind a cloud, grass signaled the end of school. Finals passed, ceremonies done, good byes said all around, my neighborhood friends came to our yard to celebrate. Tumbling and rolling, leaping and turning cartwheels, we giggled in sheer wonder! Lying on our backs, those snow angels forgotten, grass angels stared up at the sky as if we hadn’t seen it for ages. We hadn’t.

I pushed my face into the grass trying to feel the tickle of its blades in my nostrils. Then I’d sit Indian style and grab the grass under my nails and between my fingers, as if it might disappear.

Spring here, and in a few short weeks we’d have summer— hot, exhilarating summer.

Summer, oh, how I’ve missed you!

Gone are thoughts of papers and tests and grades.

Gone are thoughts of work, and hurry, and push.

It’s time to rest and just be.

So stay, Summer.

Stay just for me…

Talking ‘Bout “My Girl”

I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day.

When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May…

My girl, (my girl), talkin’ ‘bout my girl…”  -The Temptations

Such a simple thing. Hubby comes into the kitchen, brushes past me, and without eye contact or emotion says,  “You are one hard-working girl.” Not a hard-working lady. Or hard-working woman. Or even hard-working chick.

Before our marriage, during his career as a professional musician, my husband played that song hundreds of times- often several times in a night. The crowds loved “My Girl” then and the world loves it still. But, why did it pop into my head today as if for the first time? I realized that in thirty-nine years, (That’s how long we’ve been married.) he’s never referred to me gender-wise with any other term. Of course, I’m also those genderless names of Honey, Sweetheart, and Love. But mostly, I am “his girl.”

He would even tell the kids, “Don’t you cross my girl. She’s your mother and my wife.”

As I thought about his consistent use of the tag, I wondered if it’s made a difference over the years. What if he’d used just the other terms of endearment? Or called me by my name or “The Mrs.” These questions brought up a distant memory from VBS teaching days (my mid-forties) when a misbehaving six year-old referred to me as “you old lady.” I immediately burst out laughing, it sounded so crazy. Seems I have been affected by my husband’s pet word, for a long time. But how?

Self-Esteem

Since reality says I’m way past girlhood, being called Girl has affected my self-esteem. I don’t mean self-worth. I find my worth in God’s view of me. But when women pass the girl stage of life, they may tend to feel “past their prime.” The term “Girl” evokes a sense of freshness, radiance, and warmth. When he calls me that, I feel all those things, even if only for a moment.

Attraction

“My Girl” speaks of security and belonging. His “Come here, Girl,” sounds more alluring than “Come here, Woman,” or Lady or Chick. Now I admit there are times when the latter references might “stir things up” a bit quicker. But normally, when he draws me into his arms with this playful name, I want to move toward him. I think it’s because I sense he wants me for me. Not for what I have to give him.

Sense of Aging

As hard as it is to admit, I feel more like a girl because that’s exactly how he sees me. Always has. Here I am in my sixties, but besides having (a bit) less agility, the mirror is the sole conspirator against my sense of “girlness.” Denial? Self-trickery? Maybe.

However, doesn’t love see everything in its best light?

If your husband hasn’t used this reference to you lately, and you haven’t thought of yourself this way, here’s my advice to you:

         Keep the attitude of being your husband’s girlfriend. You are your husband’s lover, wife, and business associate, all in one package. Concentrate more on the girlfriend part, and tell him you love being his girl. Call yourself a girl when referring to yourself. “I am one tired girl!” “This girl really likes you, Mr. Hunk!” You get the idea. Don’t call yourself Old Girl, though. That’s an automatic penalty.

         Finally, think of your grown daughters as your forever girls. My oldest daughter just turned thirty-seven, and she is still my girl. I will always be her mother, and she’s the mother of her own brood. We belong to a sisterhood of girls- for life!

Grace, A Quiet Blessing

My bedroom door creaked open into our pitch black hall.  Mom and Dad kept it that way so they could sleep with their door slightly ajar. Tiptoeing  toward the sounds of muffled snoring, I felt the wooden trim, and stopped for a second or two, trying to decide if I really needed to do this. Three times in last few weeks! This is crazy. I am almost 11! But the orderliness and supposed serenity of our middle-class Canadian home didn’t stop the nightmares. As a matter of fact, the rude intruders had appeared often enough recently that Mom had made an appointment to see our family doctor.

Deciding to go ahead, I carefully pushed open the door. There she lay, as always, purring softly on her side of the bed. Just a whisper, “Mom, I had a bad dream,” and she would quietly lift the covers to invite my skinny, shivering frame. Slithering in like a little snake, so Dad wouldn’t suspect I had arrived, I would cuddle up beside her, my forehead to her chin. I’d lie as still as a dead person, hardly daring to breathe,  thoughts of reluctance totally banished. She had allowed me, as old as I was, into her sanctuary. And there I would stay, until the need for oxygen would force me to move.

She would hold her arms down by her side, acting as though I wasn’t there, but I knew she was aware of me. Free to go and welcome to stay, it was glorious. She smelled of the lily of the valley cologne donned earlier in the day along with her modest pink calico house dress and beige hose.  Could I even imagine Mom in pajamas? Her bedtime wear was always silk and lace and ribbon; and in the mornings a flowing champagne-length robe would drape the most stately shoulders I have ever seen.

Her name was Grace and lots of  people said she reminded them of the queen. Yes, our queen. Queen Elisabeth of England who was younger than Mom by about 6 years. Well, actually precisely 6 years, since they were both born on June 4th. But the slightly more mature face of my mother was, to me, way more beautiful. Her larger brown eyes, almost perfect teeth, radiated a smile of warmth and acceptance to all in our household. And her hair,  that short, wavy brunette hairstyle, could have been coiffed by the same stylist as the queen.  I often wondered if women in this era longed to look like the queen, so many of them wore that hairstyle.  But unlike most, my mother was also tall and thin, and graceful. She did look like the queen, only better. And I knew what her hug felt like. Those full cheeks of incredible dewy cream were so like the powder puffs she used to dust them. Even though they have caressed me, I can’t describe that softness.

And, like the queen, Mom was a woman of few words. Her busy life as a neonatal nurse, mother, and humble hostess for a pastor husband had already been difficult. She was healthy and strong; but a stoic quietness marked her spiritual journey. By 65 she would be rendered completely immobile by a debilitating muscle disease, transitioning from cane to walker, to wheel chair, to nursing home. All with a grace that reflected her name.

But that was the mysterious future- decades ahead of us. Tonight she was my rock. During that brief half hour or so, becoming hotter and hotter, I would grow cramped and sore from lying stock still beside her. So I would gingerly slip out of the covers and feel my way out the door and along the hall back to my own bed, the refreshing coolness causing me to fall instantly asleep.

Next morning, the episode wasn’t mentioned, by her anyway. I would say, “I had another nightmare, Mom.” Then she would go on doing what she was doing, making a pan of biscuits or buttering toast; and she’d purse her lips together in a half smile, the way she always did, so I would know she heard me. But her love flowed from that quiet gentleness. All day at school her warmth would comfort me. Grace. My quiet blessing.