Saturday, January 21, 2012

My Sweet Aunt Jo

My heart is heavy today.
I lost an aunt this week--a vibrant, encouraging,"ever-on-top-of-the-situation" kind of lady, a pastor's wife and woman of faith, a good representative on earth of the God she had served since childhood.

Uncle Henry and Aunt Jo lived close to my family while we both served as missionaries. Three of my sisters and I were young, and we played soccer with our cousins in the tiled driveways, or croquet in the tiny, fenced-in yard. Aunt Jo had a lovely cactus garden, set in white chips of onyx stone beside their driveway in Puebla, Mexico. We used to tease about nobody being tempted to steal the spiny plants, not painlessly anyway. It was a great idea, though, to feature the flowers that grew in the midst of thorns and spikes.

Later, we all returned to the United States where my family settled in Missouri and they eventually moved to Arkansas, accepting the pastorate of the very church where my husband was growing up. We visited them there one Thanksgiving break. What crisp South Arkansas weather I remember: A hint of fireplace smoke in the air, mingled with lob lolly pine scent; brown, gold, red, crunchy leaves underfoot; football out in the empty lot beside the tidy, little parsonage; the kitchen full of food; laughter around the table!

Years later, when Turtle and I entered the ministry ourselves, we moved close to Henry and Jo where they pastored a church in Kansas. They took us in and helped us as we struggled for a niche. I remember "mentoring moments" in the guise of stories, times we ate at their table and played games on a Sunday afternoon, and always laughter, always a big smile.

Throughout the years, even during difficult crises in her own health and family, Aunt Jo didn't lose the ability to smile and keep her head up like the cacti in her rock garden. She became the e-mail friend, the one requesting prayer for countless other friends, concerned, and companionable.

In this picture, taken at our last family reunion, my dad and mom shared some memories as they worked with Aunt Jo to identify people in old photographs.

Last summer we visited Turtle's family in Arkansas, then traveled with Henry and Jo to see my cousin Mark and his wife and children. Henry rode with Turtle and Jo rode along beside me, directing my way to a wonderful little lakefront restaurant. On that ride I caught up on years of family history and did a lot of chuckling as Aunt Jo filled me in with amusing details.

Her voice was unique; I think I'll be able to remember it always.
And her face, well, that I'll see in the faces of her beautiful granddaughters...until I see her smile again, in another grand reunion,
my sweet Aunt Jo.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Banh Gai

Every now and then, Claye manages to talk her father into taking her to the Asian Market in the city. Since he has to make frequent trips to the city to visit parishioners in the hospital, and since he likes the company on such trips, he is more than willing to oblige her. Yesterday they brought back some delicious, plain white rolls and several suspicious-looking packages of strange stuff that looks more like something you plant with each seed of corn than something you would eat.
Tonight, for dessert, they decided to try Banh Gai, a lotus Leaf Cake.

Claye gave Turtle the privilege of tasting it first, since he's the man of the house and in charge of braving danger for his family.
He began to unwrap it carefully, holding his knife ready just in case it was still alive. Right away, we could all see that wasn't the case. The blue-green, almost black seepage was a give-away.
After peeling away multitudinous layers of husks, Turtle discovered a gelatinous mass of gooey stuff, the center of which was white.
He tasted it, being particularly careful not to stain his beard.

He gave it a few seconds,
trying to decide whether he liked it or not.
And he bravely pronounced it:
"not so bad...but not so good" either.

Now he wants me to try it, and says I'm a coward, unwilling to try new things. I just laugh. Nobody will give me a guilt complex that way. . . and as long as I have a choice about it, lotus cake won't be on my diet.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Some People Need to be Taught a Lesson....

"If a bully keeps taunting you, just haul off and let 'em have it."
"You can't really make friends with that boy until you whip him, show him you can't be messed with."
"Try to reason, but if reasoning doesn't work, just pop him in the nose a few times."

Familiar advice, isn't it? It seems reasonable, and even normal, and it works--some of the time. But what about the times when it doesn't, when a good old fistfight, or even little pop on the nose drops the other child dead. "Unlikely," you might say.
Granted. But it happens.

Last week in our town a couple of junior-high aged boys got into a little scuffle after church on Wednesday night. It was over very quickly. One was dead and the other was saddled with the irrevocable knowledge that he had killed another human being.

The funeral is today, in a couple of minutes, up at the school auditorium where the cars are settling over every available space and grade school children are learning that death is close, and that every human death is somber and inflicts a curious pain.

People are looking for someone to blame:
"The church wasn't supervising carefully enough; the carpet covering the floor wasn't thick enough; the youth pastor should have been teaching those kids right from wrong; the parents should have been there, instead of just sending their children alone; the other kids should have intervened."

Yes. The list goes on and on. There will probably be lawsuits and recriminatory remarks for a long time. But none of them are really just.

Boys fight sometimes. No matter what you teach them in church, at school, at home.
You cannot always everywhere...see everything.
It was all "over" in a few seconds.
But it will never be "over" now.

So, what are you going to tell your son?