Sunday, December 30, 2007

From the Dust of the Earth

Her favorite gift from Mom and Dad was a little play dough factory. You put the bright dough into a squeezing machine and from the other end you could cut long ribbons and snakes of yellow, blue, white or red. She played for hours that Christmas at the dining room table under grandpa's watchful gaze, rolling the dough into balls and forming shapes of stuff. She was three years old.

Today my second daughter still plays with clay, hours and hours of it. Only now she is an art major at college, trying to find a profession that she fits rather than squeeze into the mold of other professions. It's not an easy proposition, and the term "starving artist" takes on new relevance when one is in the family. I can see her job application now:

"Do you like working with math?
with writing?
as a salesman?
"absolutely not. I'm never cheerful. I hate talking on the phone, dressing up, and smiling--unless I want to smile--and then I certainly don't want to explain to anyone why I'm smiling."

All that to say, I think I'm seeing some real growth in my daughter's skills. When she began as an art major, she was years behind the others. She had not taken art since elementary school, and the few lessons she managed on the side were short-lived. Her term papers, however, were about her heroes: Thomas Gainsborough and Charles Dickens (who while he wasn't an artist gave descriptions as vivid as paintings). So she struggled through drawing drafts and piles of paintings, some fair, some fine, and some...well...finished.

This year, in her third year of pottery and her second year of sculpture, she produced an amazing likeness of one of her art student friends in a bust of clay garnished with triple layers of acrylic. His name is otherwise, but she calls him Des. He is gorgeous--I'm talking about the statue, not the guy (Hey, I don't even know the guy, but I did recognize him one day in the art lobby)-- from his long pony tail to the collar of his tunic-looking peasant shirt. Now certainly there will be a market for this skill. Aren't there hoards of people out there who wish to be immortalized and made to sit on a grand piano or on the shelf of a library?

I can see her now, not in a dusty fourth-floor corner of her shared studio in the old art building on campus, but in her own little messy studio, slaving away at creating men and women, not having to smile and nod, not bothering to answer the phone--or at least not politely--hiding that long signature on the back collar, beneath the pony tail.

Yes, that's my daughter, the artist....the one with clay on her shirt and paint all over her jeans.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Complete Systems Check

Several days ago a message began appearing on the dashboard of my little silver Buick. "Service Engine Soon" or something of that ilk. Since I had just spent way too much money having my heater repaired and getting the oil changed and all those car juices replenished, I was a little annoyed. After all, I give the car a bit of tweaking and it starts demanding more service! What's up with that? Anyway, I took it into the shop and they checked it. They reset the button (which means they turned it off...stilled its whining mouth...pulled the plug on its audacity). However, it left me a little jealous. Why can't we have a system like that? Just stick our finger in a socket and get a computer reading?

Oh doctor, I'd like to schedule a service visit for myself. Yes, I've got a few nagging lights, and no, I'm not ready for a new model yet. Could you just hook me up to a diagnostic machine and tell me what needs tweaking. Add a few vitamins and minerals and change my transmission fluid. It seems that those messages aren't getting to the brain as fast as they used to. I think you should lubricate the joints as well. Ah yes, and check the pressure. (That easy-to-use home machine keeps giving me readings that are higher than normal, and there is a lot of difference between the left and right arm pressure which can be a scary thing if you do all that medical internet research.) My valves are sticking and I need some engine coolant for all that steam.

Then, in a few minutes they could tell me exactly what was wrong and what I should fix, or they could turn the warning off and tell me it was just a false pain and I am good for another fifty thousand miles. It would sure beat emergency room expenses, cat scans, calcium scans, all those grams and graphs and oscopies...especially the oscopies.


Today I noticed that the message on the dashboard was lit again.
"Service Engine Soon," it said smugly.

Ah well. Nobody ever said we live in a perfect world, and if they did say it, they need an oscopy of the brain.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Strange White World That Has Such People In It

Yesterday I met my new sister-in-law, fresh from the sunny Philippines with flip-flops on her feet and I'm sorry for the loud bed set I gave her--maroon with magnolias all over it. She smiled and said thank you, but I wonder if she was really thinking: "Oh my goodness. How garishly shocking! How will I ever be able to sleep in the same room with that?"

She doesn't say much and I think we overwhelmed her with all our talking and singing and laughing. Mom says she watches and learns quickly. Good thing. She had never used a washer and dryer or a dishwasher, but after seeing once how to run them, she has done the laundry every day. Mom showed her how to make the tea (in the microwave) and she now runs in and does it as if she had been an American Southerner all her life.

We brought her mittens and scarves and hats and jackets for Christmas and she asked us all to choose a gift she had brought from Davao---adorable little purses and exotic new candy made of fruits we had never seen or heard of.

Mom enlisted her help with wrapping presents and the results were such that we all took cell phone pictures of the elaborate bows and folded wrapping paper. Maybe she should work in a flower shop or a gift store...that is when she's ready to work. She is certainly creative.

Some day, I'm sure, she will tell us how she felt this first Christmas in our cold winter world.
Right now, I'm remembering her eyes when I hugged her goodbye. Big, brave eyes. I asked her if they did a lot of hugging in the Philippines. She shook her head. Maybe she misunderstood me...or maybe she was just thinking, "Why does this plump, bouncy woman keep blanketing me with hugs as overwhelming as white magnolias on a maroon field?

Monday, December 17, 2007


Tonight when I came into the house there was a pot of hot chicken noodles on the kitchen bar. Wonderful delight! No. My husband didn’t cook supper. His idea of cooking is a sack of Sonic sandwiches or a bowl of Sugar Frosted Flakes, and I’m not unappreciative of that, mind you; he could be the kind of husband who insists upon my cooking supper at six—sharp. Of course that would mean no academic team practice and we would never make it to the area tournament and my team of brilliant young minds would …but back to the subject, the noodles. One of our parishioners had brought them by, somehow guessing that I’d soar into ecstasy. Have you ever been overwhelmed with unnatural kindness-- People rushing over to shed caring upon you so that you feel like a lizard in the sun? Well, that's Christmas around here. My students bring hot cocoa and little coffee singles and notes that sing affection. At church the cards and letters pile into my lap. The school board had a banquet for us and the superintendent's wife cooked breakfast for all the teachers this morning--coffee cake and quiche and frozen fruit cups. I just want to say sometimes: "Enough! You are being too nice! I will never, ever be able to do enough good to deserve it all. Don’t you know that I’ve been surly and grumpy and certainly not worth one raspberry of all this?” Yet they come with gifts and I decide to be worthier and I work harder and I love more and I give all I can. Not food. It’s a skill that eludes me. I can pray, and I can teach, and I can say, “That’s really splendid…you’ve put so much into this assignment,” and in the eyes of all my students I see sparkles. Those are my noodles I guess.

One of the seventh-grade girls tiptoed silently into my room at lunch today. She didn’t say a word, just walked over and gave me a smile and a hug. I read her mind. It said: “Glad you’re back. I missed you Friday while you were at the funeral. I know you missed me too. Sorry you were sad. Your friend is gone. But I’m here.”

More noodles. Who am I, God, to deserve such joy?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Let the Snow fall

This afternoon a delivery truck brought a replacement phone for our son, who had somehow broken his old one, and, since the week has been a dreary one for the church as well as for our own family, I was glad to open it and hear its cheerful ring tone.

Almost three weeks ago, on a Sunday evening that was cool and dark, yet fair somehow, we gathered in a warm family room, the bottom story of a recently renovated old milk barn out in the country, all the members of the church choir. We ate warm soup--home-baked bread, cheese, dessert--and we sang and sang, practicing the Christmas cantata. Our hosts, Ken and Carolyn, deacons of the church, were gracious, and we felt a peace that only comes when old friends strain of keeping up pretenses or small-chatting one's way through the coffee. As we arrived, Ken made sure nobody tripped on the little step at the entrance. "Watch that step there. Here, let me take your coat." It was a time to treasure, particularly in light of this week.

Last Sunday morning we awoke to drizzle. We knew that the weather was supposed to turn ugly later on, but thought little of it. There was not any ice yet. By the time I arrived at church, however, sleet was falling and the deacons were discussing whether to cancel services.

It happened quickly. First, David, a member of the worship team, slid on the ice as he left his front step to walk across the street for choir practice. Ken drove him to the hospital, and my husband, the pastor, accompanied them. After they delivered David into the care of the emergency room, while he sat in the vehicle, Ken began to feel faint. In the emergency room his blood pressure plummeted. The ambulance to the city took longer than usual because of the ice storm, but it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway. Little by little we heard snatches of news--a three-centimeter tear in an aortic aneurism. He was conscious most of the day and was able to see all of his children and grandchildren and talk to them. Around eight-thirty that evening they decided to try a surgery, but offered little chance. We all knew the surgery would last four we waited...and nobody wanted the phone to ring.

But it did.

For the fourth time that day we called everybody in the church. People picked up their phones, hung them again, and their stooping shoulders told the news to their families. It was over.

Today we buried Ken. We followed him to the graveside and laid him into the arms of God. It was cold, rainy, and made easier by so many people hugging each other and wiping tears and sharing smiles as they remembered how this gracious giant of a man had lived a life that glorified God. And the church still smells of flowers.

"So what happened to this phone?" I asked my son, as I packed its mangled body into the mailing envelope for the return. "I don’t know," he replied, somewhat puzzled himself. "I had it in my hand when I heard the news about Brother Ken."

It's going to snow tonight. And peacefully the flakes will fall...softly.
I'm ready for the snow.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Keeping Up

I started this blog account solely in order to keep up with my daughter, niece, and cousin, and to be able to comment on their blogs.