Her Forgotten Days

My fingers glide effortlessly on this keyboard with a will of their own. I begin to type and  a love song banters and begs to be freed. Sweetly my words flow as sounds and memories mesh and  nostalgic joy begins to sing of her forgotten days.

I want to tell you about a woman. My words can never recreate the person she really was. Words will never show that special twinkle in her eye as she swept up an unsuspecting visitor with her inquisitive conversation.

She loved to engage people in  banter.She had a way to pull them in and warm their hearts.  She was always interested in where they were from and who they knew, places they had traveled.

I often wondered how she knew so much about so many things. She had always just been there at home with us twelve children and dad. How did she lead friends and visitors along and have the knowledge to take them with her across the ocean or up a mountain and down to the devil, back up to God.

As I would quietly climb onto her lap and lay my head on her shoulder, she would rock me back and forth; talking on and on for what seemed like hours.

Yes, my mother loved people, truly, genuinely loved to interact with them. Cared about what they had to say, enjoyed hearing of their adventures, hurt when they hurt, rejoiced in their happiness’s, triumphed in their successes.

She was my idol as I would sit on her lap at the kitchen table and she rubbed my back while discussing what flowers to plant and and how to put up garden vegetables with the neighbor lady. She was my idol even when I would take my little hand to turn her face to me, vying for her attention.

I loved her voice and her absent hands on me as she gave herself to her visitors. I loved her laughter and the way her words wove and bound those around her and held them close and made them feel important.

I love the legacies she has left my family. I love the movements she started in the seventies. I love the stories of all the strangers she brought into our home, giving  them food and drink and support, listening  to their sorrows and bolstering  them up. I love the person she was and the person she wanted to be. I love that she was my mother and I was her daughter. I love that she gave herself whenever she could.sara's family

I love the memories I hold in my heart of her.

A Lovely State of Somewhere In Between

 

Thirteen was a lovely state of somewhere in between. Lean and brown and nimble, on the edge of something unknown, precariously teetering between my childhood and my womanhood. I had nowhere to feel comfortable. No place seemed to totally claim me, not my past and certainly not my future. That familiar little, knocked kneed girl with the dirty face and tangled hair,too quickly, it seemed, was slipping from me. That summer I had noticed my cutoffs were beginning to hug in a new way. My tan legs showed curious new curves, forgetting the gangliness that ten and twelve had brought. Long dark hair had taken on a thick healthy glow and flowed as soft as silk whenever I tossed my head.

The neighbor boys had begun to snicker and elbow one another, speaking when they thought I couldn’t here. “Ha, you see our little tomboy lately? I think she’s wearing a bra!” They had started to call now in a different way, requesting long walks or slow bike rides on warm spring nights. Gone were evenings of ramping bikes or running races. Each one showed at my door, shyly and awkwardly, at different times to sit on my porch and chat.

Bewildered and incensed, I wanted to shout at them, to grab their necks and shake them awake.  Please, see me! I’m here, still just the girl next door, the same one who grew up beside you, who knows every little annoying thing about you. Don’t try to tease me or grab me or hold my hand. Leave me alone. I don’t want to grow up. But that certain power that turned my face to red also crept within my body, spreading its warmth.

Body emerging with softened angles and mysterious allure, I pedaled my bike on that old paper route and contemplated this certain power I dared not use. Men, grown and with hair all over their bodies were straining necks, whistling out their car windows and honking horns. In my girlishness, my face burned as I pedaled faster. I didn’t know this attention and yet it gave me a secret warm glow.

I broke a window that year, on my birthday. A mixture of feelings, I always seemed to be fighting lately, swirled through my mind and body. I was sad and lonely and I didn’t know why.  I wanted to run and play with my brother and his friends but I wanted too, to be grown up and experience a first real boyfriend. I didn’t want men to look and honk but it did feel nice. I threw that last newspaper a little too hard and slam! It broke the glass on that door. I burst into tears, how could this happen to me on my birthday? Mortified, I rubbed away those tears and stomped up to the door to apologize and offer to pay.

In my dark mood, I jumped from my bike and ran into my house. There in that bright warm kitchen, my favorite meal of spaghetti and chocolate cake and colorful, papered presents awaited. There too, my big sis, Amy and her little babe, Laura, who I often babysat. I opened my presents and found things a thirteen year old would appreciate; perfume, cool colored undies with the days of the week printed on them, a pair of jeans with a sweet design on the pocket. My family had gathered around the table and my sister had come home just for me. My mood shifted. I felt okay again, comfortable again, there with my  family’s love showering around me.

I hung there, in that lovely state of somewhere in between, for at least another year. I learned things, secret things that you just come to know. Things that I now know happen naturally and sweetly. The real power of a woman, the true heart of men, all of those things were far ahead. But that year, that year I got a little glimpse of what was to be. And so it was, as easy as a baby’s sigh, with my family’s love there to steady me, I set aside my little girl ways. I began to move gently and gratefully into my own womanhood.

God’s Angelic Author

She bore twelve children and we just called her mom. We never realized that she was a young woman once, with dreams all her own. We’ve glimpsed old photos of her with sassy pigtails and a tiny waist. But those old photos never whispered the ambitions and aspirations she relinquished to give us life. We only know that our father came home from the war as a young man to find his best friend’s little sister all grown up. Beautifully, she came walking down the steps. Stunned, he looked up and said, ” Why Mary Ellen! You’re all grown up!”  Her blush was to be the very beginning of a beautiful 52 years of life together.

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Such a simple lady, living amongst her children, serving her husband, toiling beside him there on that sweet land they loved. A dreamer was she, a lover of words. Many a play day echoed with the sound of her old typewriter clackity-clacking in our ears. Through her writings one could easily realize that when she looked her eyes saw that the dirt was gold, and the trees were majestic, the wind, that blew the leaves, the warm breath of God. Hers were mystical words that created an amazing world.

Her writings were actually little pieces of art. Words and sentences wove together to form one grand masterpiece. When we cut them apart to search for quotes to adorn photos at her funeral, we found that each small sentence was somehow a great piece of wisdom. So beautifully carved  and laid there before us, were they, that we didn’t even realize she was gone. It seemed to me that she was there, just above our shoulder, nudging us and whispering to us.

My niece and I poured over her old photos and simultaneously mused through her writings. Brittany would pull out a photo and magically the sentence I was reading would seem to match right up to that picture. We felt such a closeness to her as we toiled away on our little project. We wanted to stay there drowning in her words and memories. Let tomorrow and tomorrow come and go while we drank her words and relived her life. We felt happy and sad. We felt her presence.

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Maybe she had finally reached her highest ambition. The Alzheimer’s fog  would have cleared for her now and  I could imagine her making little memos of the rippling, swooshing wings she witnessed. I could hear her laughter as she scribbled precious words to her Lord. I imagined the twinkle in her eyes as she took note of his incredible creations, painting all of Heaven with her beautiful words.   Perhaps finally she was there at the throne, God’s angelic author.

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My Father’s Shoes

How shall I write of such a humble man? How to pay him the homage I know he deserves. My words are confining, far too simple and they fall so short. I don’t know how to begin to capture his gentle spirit and his quiet ways.

A smell came to me today, winding its way into my soul, searching out a memory that I had forgotten.

Me and Dad in front of the house on Main Street

As I walked the halls of the school where I work, I didn’t know the origin of that smell and it didn’t even matter. No, what mattered only was that this particular smell took me back to my childhood, back to the days I would stand beside my dad watching him polish his uniform shoes.

My father was an Illinois State Police Officer for 25 years, which was all of my childhood.  As I walked down the hall, the smell invaded my senses, all these pictures and feelings and smells swirled around me.

My mind took flight and there he was, my dad, scrubbing on his shoes with that old brush, the shoe polish box sitting nearby. There I saw him, so handsome in his police uniform, in our old kitchen with his foot placed upon a chair, bent over, intently polishing away. Man, how those uniform shoes would shine!

No one knew as I walked down that school hall that my eyes no longer saw them. No one knew that my smile was not for them. No one knew that it was my dad who walked beside me now, filling that hallway chock full of memories.

Mom and dad’s bedroom was the only passage to the bathroom in our house. We had to walk right past their bed, past the closet, always aware of his uniform hanging in there.  I still feel myself stopping to peek up into the closet they shared.  I still can feel the mystery that was his career.

For our friends, we would delight in pointing out his gun in its holster on that shelf and that bright shiny star pinned to his uniform shirt. Ah, yes, we were proud, but never did we dare to touch that sacred gun. My gentle Dad would surely have taken a belt to us if we had. Or so we thought.

He hung his uniform pants by a belt loop on a hanger there in that closet. We all knew that he kept lots of coffee change in those pants pockets. Sometimes we naughty children would help ourselves to a small handful of that change and race up to the local candy store for a sweet bit of heaven. Surely he missed his change now and then but he never did say a word. Perhaps it was his way of indulging without actually spoiling us.

I don’t think we ever really realized how special he was. He was just our dad.  He worked hard and long. It was just what he did. It was just our life. Besides being a policeman, he was a farmer and provider for us twelve kids. When he wasn’t at one job, he was at the other.

I remember how he would sometimes take a different road home from the farm and honk like crazy and stick his head out the open window. Yelling a wild Indian holler, he would swear he saw a real live Indian standing high on a cliff above us.

Birthdays were crazy special when he was home. He would grab us up and shove us under his bed. Taking a board and grabbing a hammer, he would yell that we weren’t allowed to get another year older. He would swear he was going to lock us up and throw away the key. He would proceed to hammer on the board threatening to keep us under the bed so we wouldn’t be able to grow up. We would scream and laugh, knowing he meant no harm.

He often patrolled the third shift and mother would shush us and make us be especially quiet on those days. Poor old dad needed his sleep she would tell us.

Tiptoeing through their darkened bedroom, we really did try hard not to wake him on our way to the bathroom. So many times we thought him sound asleep as we tiptoed through on our way back out. But alas, he would reach out to grab us with an unexpected yell.  It would scare us, and then make us laugh. We thought he didn’t have the time or energy to play with us. We were so wrong. He gave us what he could.  I wish it had never stopped

When he was home, he was worn out, dozing in his recliner, watching gun smoke or the evening news on T.V.  I remember taking his shoes and socks off and feeling really good to do this for him. I remember stretching up to shyly kiss his cheek before bed.  I still remember how his rough, day old whiskers would scratch my lips and the way his old spice aftershave mingled with cigarette smoke. Sometimes he would give a little growl and snap at me like a dog and I would jump and giggle.

I remember when I first began to feel silly giving him a goodnight kiss. I would slink behind my  little brother as he kissed him first. I would feel my cheeks turn red as I gave him a quick peck. I thought myself too big a girl to kiss my daddy goodnight.

I wish I had never stopped.

Hello, My Old Friend

I have a very dear friend who comes to call at the most unexpected times.

When he does, he leaves behind such warmth and wonderful feelings.

It seems that I have all these small sunshiny memories that make me so happy. Such a small thing sunshine is but what a powerful impact.  How does the sun shine so beautifully despite the hustle and bustle of the world? How is it that we are so busy that we don’t take time to let it soak into our bones and soothe the frazzled edges?
My mind is filled with little memories of delightful visits from the sun.

The first would have to be a very little girl’s memory, my mother’s bedroom as she threw open the curtains and opened the windows.

The sun shone right through those windows into a room that usually stayed peacefully dark.

My father often slept during the day and patrolled nights as a state policeman. So it was very delightful to feel the sunshine in places it rarely was allowed to visit. What a magical place my parent’s bedroom became when it was spring cleaning day. I can’t explain the joy I felt as the sun blared in and I explored the corners that were usually dark. The busy busy of my mother and sisters vacuuming, scrubbing and dusting in that bright sunshine has left a sweet impression in my heart. Nothing big or important, just a bright little memory of a bright shine and clean white curtains that makes me happy..

One of my most favorites is also minute, it is only the sun shining on the back steps of my parents home.

The first days of summer vacation, found me, probably about ten or eleven, sitting on those concrete steps with it’s bumpy small stones massaging my bare feet.

The house quiet with my family still asleep. A moment, deliciously alone, just me and the world. I had slipped out to enjoy the smells of the hot concrete and the fresh cut grass, the sweet honeysuckle growing on the fence and I can still feel every little detail. I see the large beautifully scary, red velvet  ant making it’s way to the large crack in the steps. I feel the sun kissing me and really soaking into my winter weary bones. I raise my face to the sun and breath deeply. Summer was finally here. My life was ahead of me, no school for 3 months and a whole summer to bring on whatever adventures were heading my way.
This was truly, the first day of the rest of my life.

Years later another  memory, again of the sun.

Just a tiny house I rented from my sister. My two babies and I, newly divorced and on our own.

The house had just been cleaned up and my children were down for their naps. I had spread the beautiful pink quilt that my mother and Aunt LaVera had made for me upon my bed. The sun shone in and I basked in it’s warmth as I dabbled in my dreams and wrote about my life. The babies asleep in their own beds in that  same room, the sun shining in the window as I floated in that sweet shiny pink world. Safe, warm and oh, so cozy.
Life was good.

And again, the snow melting, the babies all grown, the sun bright and clear and begging to be felt as he splashed across my window sill.

Barging into my kitchen he lit up my  table.

Such melancholy I felt as I snapped a picture of him dancing there. I realized then that this was to be another beautiful memory. The day my oldest  friend  came to sit with me once again. This time at my own kitchen table, he made his appearance to shoo away the dreariness, to give a kiss of hope and cheer. I felt him whisper to me, ” Brighten up, old girl, winter is closing it’s door and spring is peering around the corner. ”   I sat there warmed by him and drank a toast of hot cocoa to the one friend that never fails me. “May I live to see you dawn, feel your caress upon me and watch you beautifully set for many more years, come what may!”
Here’s to you, Sunshine!

I love sunshine in my kitchen

My Poetic Heart

What is this horribly heavy thing
Inside my chest.
Why is it that I do this
Time and again?

A melody sweet and true
Somewhere in my heart
Distant and haunting
Longs to ring out.

My free spirit rides the wind
Laughing with abandon
Carefree and  taunting
Beckoning mischief

But the storms do rage
The savage wind blows cold
And I grasp for love
Blindly seeking shelter.

Who can catch this little girl
Running in my mind?
Who will catch her, tame her
Make her his own?

~Sara Jane~

Again

I pray the Lord
I do this right.

I pray the Lord
To give me insight.

I pray the Lord
For I have no fight.

I pray the Lord
While I take flight.

~Sara Jane~

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