Page 4 :)

 

Light was just beginning to filter into the green leaves that held up the ceiling of Mickle Smith’s pasture. For as far as one could venture their gaze, there was no color to be found except for the varying shades of Mississippi green. Deep greens shadowing tarragon shades of life fell out across the field until it was only subtle shading differences, leaves and grass, that were noticeable at all. Mostly it was a rolling, slowly waving green canvas named for Mickle Smith who fought hard but died with a traitor’s label on his grave during the Civil War. It was a misunderstanding and his name had carried forward through history without the stigma of his circumstances. His name remained current in Magnolia daily life even after most everyone forgot the man and his struggle.

From where he sat on the stack of river stones, still loading his gun in the open field, Elijah could see the outline of the dog’s body standing fifty yards away. The distance wasn’t unusual, it was a healthy hunting distance, but the dog charged wildly about the trees, and, for John Lander’s blue heeler, that was unheard of. Graham Fitch Jr. tried never to move too quickly at any time of the day or for any reason. Cats could cross his path without response and cars could drive by without causing a chase. It was just his way. Some had gone so far as to try appealing to his herding sense but it seemed as though Graham Fitch was a dog separated from his breeding.
Elijah looked hard at the line of trees in front of Graham but he saw nothing and, try as he may to knock the Vicks out of his nose, Elijah couldn’t smell either. He knew the importance of smell to a man in the woods but his hunting had waned over the years and he’d gotten lax.
Ever since he was a child, there had been talk in town. Stories had floated amongst the elder men about wild cats roaming the backwoods of the rural South. Elijah never wanted to believe them but with a shudder slowly sliding down his spine, he wondered if the dog might have discovered one straying from its path. It would explain the dog’s sudden dive into animation. Elijah was from Magnolia and he’d never come to fear much but a cat was an entirely different set of troubles when compared to the normal run ins with deer and turkey and even moccasins.
With his gun loaded and lifted level with his eye, Elijah held both hands tight, one balanced on the trigger, as he stood up and began a trepid walk over to the dog. His feet moved slowly, methodically stepping lightly through the snakey grass while his trembling courage wondered how he might stand down a panther. He’d never been that type of man who hungered to be proven.
He lifted his eye to gauge the dilemma and he could see the dog’s interest turning from the trees to the ground. His mind eased and his courage stood down at the same time as his shoulders fell because he knew, in terms of his own experience, it couldn’t be a live cat. Not even Graham Fitch Jr. would put nose to the ground in the face of a black panther.

His feet jumped and Elijah quickened his pace, closing the distance between he and Graham. He could feel his chest rise and fall with the heavy breaths such exercise induced. If he was honest, he’d have to admit he was a lot like John’s heeler. He didn’t like to move too quickly at any time of the day either. He liked rest and he liked hunting as long as the hunting was slow paced and leisurely.
Elijah knew something wasn’t right but from where he was standing he could hardly see the outline of the stranger’s face. He brought his eyes to the place where the dog stood trying hard to focus a shape but, covered in grime and a lengthy beard, it didn’t look much like a face at all. Lying in the ground the way it was Elijah could barely tell the browning face from the ruddy dirt.
“What’s it boy?” Elijah asked the dog but John Landers’ Blue Heeler kept rounding the mound snorting and sniffing and on occasion letting out a high pitched, come and help me sort of bark. “Hey ya, Peter Rabbit,” Elijah yelled back over his shoulder. He was still eyeing the face before him, as he carefully sat his gun against the crumbly bark of the oak tree and edged himself closer to the face, “would ya take a look-a- here?”

Some of you.

 

autism sparkles-184I’ll tell you right now, this one has not been easy to write.

Hemingway, with whom I have a love/hate relationship, suggests writing drunk and editing sober and it’s gotten  bad enough that I’ve considered his advice but I don’t drink so even my Hem, this time, is not helping much at all.  It’s such a crazy struggle when you know what you feel and what the story sounds like in your heart yet you can’t place the words into a readable order that makes the kind of sense you’re shooting for.  And, I’ll be honest, making readable sense then becomes exponentially harder when you happen to be writing about your oldest childhood friends.

I come from this quiet little beach town, south of Santa Barbara, and it’s not at all a fancy town like Santa Barbara.  My town is a more like a sleepy beach town.  Plain town.  Small town.  During my growing up years there were only 8,000 people in our town with little stores called The Sunshine Shop and Ralph’s Grocery as well as The Spot, Mills Drug and Thrifty’s (5-cent single cones).  Our town was so small that our phone numbers (pre-cell phone era) all shared the first three numbers so that all we had to remember were the last four numbers of our friends’ home phones.  My childhood friends were 5866, 2978, 1913, 2134 and, back in the day, I was 5592.  Some of you big city kiddos might laugh at this but, seriously, our graduating class was hardly over a hundred classmates and we’d been memorizing these phone numbers since grade school.  We’re tight knit now because there just weren’t that many of us back then.  These days, 30 years after graduating, we may be scattered around the country and beyond,  but we remain tight because small town kids are like that and we commit to our village.  Once a villager, always a villager….no matter how far away you may find yourself.

So, lately, the village has been hit hard.

Childhood friends of mine have been handed some impossible paths.  R-o-u-g-h stuff.  What makes it even more astounding is that these friends are some of  the healthiest people I know.  Top softball players, soldiers, teachers, singers, runners.  A truly top notch crowd of great parents, skilled individuals, good hearts, extraordinary friends and loving husbands and wives to their spouses.  And that whole idea that bad things are reserved for bad people is destroyed because these are the most positive and kind people you will ever find and they happen to be the highest level of devoted parent that can exist.

Literally, they astound me.

When life hit them hard and threw breast, liposarcoma and colon cancer at them as well as multiple sclerosis and pediatric bone cancer and terminal spinal muscular atrophy at their children, these best-of-the-best human beings did not crumble.  You know how some of us do that go-to-thing where, when asked to stand, we fall right down in a heap of tears and screaming howls?  When asked to shine, we dim?  When asked to inspire, we fall right into our own pity party?

Yeah, that thing. It’s okay because that is who some of us are.  We crumble, we tremble and we fall into a million pieces when challenge knocks at our door. And I’ll be honest with you, having not been tested before, I might just be a crumbler but NOT these friends.   Differently than the crumbling I might have fallen into, these friends did no such thing!!  When life hit these childhood friends HARD, they didn’t do any of those crumbling, pity-partying, light-dimming,  falling-into-a million-pieces things that most of us do.   Not one of them fell or dimmed or crumbled.

As I see them fighting with such radiance, I am absolutely gobsmacked by their wonder as they step up, lead the way and shine a light to inspire the rest of us.  And, honestly, these are not people who were looking to inspire any of us.  They are quieter than that.  They were busy being good spouses and parents and didn’t need to inspire us any more than they already had.  These friends did not want to be asked to shine a light and yet, when asked, THEY DID and they did it with gusto and sparkle and a positive gift giving flair that drew us all to their strength.

So when I hear the world at large throwing around the word “hero”, my hackles go way up because little boys who make millions playing games on fields and in gyms are not heroes.  Showing up does not a hero make.  Heroes are not entertainers paid millions to make nice sounds.  Heroes are not actors paid millions to cry on cue.  Those are merely kids playing games they are well compensated for.

Heroes are so much more  and real heroes are quieter than that.

The real heroes are found on a variety of hospital floors every single day fighting hard and doing what they do best…shining.

  • Heroes are the parents who shine even as they face terminal diseases in their children, like cancers and spinal muscular atrophy, head on despite the tears that fill them, because they want to prolong their child’s life even if for one more day.  They make a path for their children so that a child’s story can be told and they stand up for their children even when their heart is crumbling.
  • Heroes are the ones who face cancer like a prize fighter while enduring a double mastectomy and hardly skip a beat when the cancer returns a second time and they are asked to start the fight all over again.
  • Heroes are the ones who, when the doctor says they will be faced with a rigorous and daily chemo/radiation schedule, they step up and start fighting with their light shining bright.
  • Heroes are the ones who stand tall and fight cancer on two fronts when a daughter and a wife are diagnosed with cancer at the same time.
  • Heroes are the ones who smile even when their heart is breaking because of a high-grade liposarcoma that is more aggressive than anything we have ever seen.  The ones who share their light with the rest of us and inspire us to be better.
  • Heroes quietly go about standing up tall and shining their lights even when they feel like fading from the weight of their battle.

The biggest truth is that these friends, and many strangers just like them, do this every day..quietly and out of the spotlight.  They summon up energy even when they have none, they stand when they feel like crumbling and they keep strong for the sake of family, friends and their own hearts because not everyone is born into lives brimming with health and happy or a life padded with parents offering a silver spoon.  Not everyone is given the pool side chaise lounge.  Some of you are asked to dig deeper, stand taller and endure more.  People with first initials (because you know I value privacy) like S and R and H and J and J and B and D are quietly asked to do more for no apparent reason at all…except to show the rest of us what grace, and hope and real faith look like in living color.

And while some of us complain about the weather or our kiddos or the traffic we endure, some of you sit in doctors’ offices and listen to crazy foreign words like cancer and radiation and chemo and double mastectomy and spinal muscular atrophy and you simply step up in ways we cannot imagine.  Despite the heartbreak and the fear and the stubbornness that screams ‘this-can’t-possibly-be-happening’…….

YOU

STEP

UP.

And these friends are what my heroes look like….because life isn’t fair, life isn’t equal, life isn’t always kind but some of you step up, shine a light,  lead the way, clear a path, tell a story,  and you inspire us all to be better than we are.  You teach us to do more than what is easy.  While some of us will walk though this life entitled and arrogant because life has asked nothing more of us, you  reluctant heroes define grace.  While some of us will be given children who develop rapid fire and hit their developmental milestones with ease no matter how badly they were parented, you show us determination.

The harder realities of life I’m learning in my fourth decade are that:

Some of you will walk a tougher path,

Some of you will not have it easy,

Some of you will be asked to do what seems like the impossible,

Some of you will share a light that will change our lives,

Some of you will inspire us to be better people,

Some of us will simply be in awe of you,

And some of us, like me, will be changed by your journey.

Some of you are simply asked to be heroes and to make the world a better place and to remind us that we are all capable of more.  My hope and want in writing this is that, in the middle of your challenging days, that you understand that who you are matters to all of us and the battle you face matters…perhaps more than you know because some of you are the inspiration that moves some of us to reach higher, dig deeper and live more boldly.  Some of you are asked to dig deep so that some of us can stand in the shadow of your strength and see faith up close.  You are the light and you lead the way for all of us to be better human beings.

What I write won’t ease your chemo or your radiation or the pain your child endures or the loss of your spouse but, truly, I am grateful for who you are and how you show me a strength of spirit I had never seen before.  When I see you shine, I see His light on your path.  I would say I am better because of you but I’ll go further out on that limb and say, we are all better people because of you and the grace you allow us to witness.

I watch you stand up,

I watch you stay strong,

I watch you shoot straight as an arrow

I watch you shine your light and

I am in awe of you because you make me want to be a better human being.

The REAL Superheroes: The Magical Siblings of Autism

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It happened on our beach day.

I was trying hard with four children to get out the door by 7:30 a.m.

We were off to Jellybowl and there was still a bit left to do. I had three kids plus one child’s friend to get organized, sandwiches to make, a dog to feed and a cat to appease.  The kids needed to get dressed, remember their rash guards and beach shoes and mom needed to remember to find the sunscreen, pack chairs, gather enough towels, bring clean comfy clothes for the drive home and enough drinks to keep everyone hydrated (but not too many since I would need to  carry them all up and over the train tracks).  I’m pretty good about the chairs and towels but I have forgotten the sunscreen before and it is never pretty.  I didn’t grow up using sunscreen so it is not top on my list but today I have been entrusted with a friend’s child so I can’t mess that one up.

Ok, I digress.  Away from the sunscreen and back to my point.  This is about autism.  Really, it is.  Just wait for it…

So in the middle of the chaos, and after I have just finished cleaning up the zucchini bread mess Miss Maisy left in the kitchen (because we did not adequately protect the zucchini bread my daughter made from the food obsessed labrador), I am  brushing my teeth when my fourteen year old daughter comes in to my bathroom to finish drying her hair.  It’s all good.  We co-habitate well and we share pretty well too.  And, at the same time as my daughter begins to unravel the cord on the hair dryer, my twelve year old son comes in to ask if I will tie his swim trunks.  He is all about being naked at home and not ashamed of his body in our halls but being on the beach and losing your shorts is an entirely different story.  He wants to be certain his shorts stay up.

With my toothbrush in hand and the toothpaste slop dripping off, I ask him to wait a minute.  He stands there patiently, waiting pretty well and then his sister does this thing she has started doing.  She is fourteen, he is her little brother and the really neat thing I see that morning is that he is just her brother… before he is her autistic brother… and she does this thing.  She steps in to help in.  Without a word, without a huff or complaint, without announcing it to me and before she plugs in the dryer she instinctively reaches down and, in a motherly fashion beyond her years, she ties his shorts.  He says thank you and goes on his way.  Without fanfare, she asks, “Isn’t this autism day or something?”  I finish brushing my teeth and tell her, “It’s autism awareness day.”  It’s a quiet conversation between us.  I tell her what the world is doing.  She asks what we are doing.  I tell her we are going to Jellybowl.  I tell her she can wear blue if she wants to.

I smile quietly to myself so that I don’t shine too much light on it.  This is all normal for her now.  I realize as we are speaking to each other that…. autism is natural to her.  Autism was never really part of her existence.  Well, it was and it wasn’t.  Everything about autism is familiar to her but it just never had a defined name.  It was not applauded or hated during her childhood.  It was just part of us and, because of that, autism is different to her than it is even to me.  It was just her little brother.  We never spoke about autism or being less or giving him special privileges.  He was just her brother and she treated him…well,  just like a brother.  She never asked what was wrong with him, he was just part of her world and she organically accepted who he was.  His value was simply equal to hers and her other littler brother.  Yes, he might have been quirky or amplified or different at times but it was normal to her.

He is simply the older of her two little brothers.

She was twelve before she ever spoke the word.  She was twelve before she ever asked what autism was.  She was twelve before she asked if her brother was.  I had books on the shelf and she was helping me organize them.  Actually, being the girl she is, she asked if she could organize the shelf.  When she was finished, she asked, “Mom, is my brother autistic? You have a lot of books about autism.”  And, that was the beginning of her understanding and maybe even putting together the pieces of her memories.  It wasn’t a big conversation.  I think I said something like, “Yeah, he is.  But that doesn’t mean we treat him any different.  We expect as much out of him as we do anyone.  He is just as capable as any of us and just as intelligent.  This doesn’t change anything.”  Her response, in that oh-so-lovely-twelve-year-old-tone, was something like, “I know, Mom.”

And, she is the sibling.

She is the next generation.

She is amazing.

She knows autism on a different level than most and it is simply part of life.  It is neither less nor is it more.  It just is.

She is the awareness others seek.

And, honestly, there is little fan fare.  We don’t hang banners, we don’t do walks, we don’t shine blue light on it.  We accept it and love it and bring it to the world in our quiet way and when others ask, we say, “Yeah, it’s autism.”  And, they say, “That’s autism?”  And, we say, “Yeah, it’s autism.  Yeah, that’s what it looks like.”  It looked different at three than it does at twelve but, yeah, that’s what it looks like. It was a lot crazier at three and at five and at seven than it is at twelve but he is still himself.  Autism is part of him but it is not all of him.

Yeah, it’s autism but it’s more than that too because he is more than autism.

My daughter is a straight A student who has a skyhigh IQ that mine never ventured anywhere in the vicinity of and I have great hopes for her.  She is remarkable and I hope one day that because autism is so natural to her that she will be the awareness in her generation that says, “Yeah, it’s autism.  So what?”  And not the kind of “so what” that says we don’t care about your needs because you are not like us but rather the best kind of “so what” that says, “What’s your point?”  The kind of “so what” that says we all have the same value and WILL be treated equally.  And the acceptance that follows the awareness begins with her as a role model for autism’s “So-What-ness.”  By birth she has become an autism ambassador but, the really cool thing, is it is so natural to her…she doesn’t even know it.  She simply accepts it as normal.

I hope she becomes a scientist or a doctor or the POTUS and with her strength and her ability I hope she sets the tone for her generation to begin to see autism through new eyes.  Her kind of eyes that see iridescence rather than a lessening of value.   In my biggest dreams (mine and not hers I have to tell you, LOL) I imagine her becoming a doctor who works with kids.  And, with her understanding, I imagine her telling these new parents,

“Hey there.  Yes, I do have the diagnosis.  We have found that your child is a bit iridescent.  Yeah, you’re right, he/she is going to be quirky.  It’s a kind of quirky sparkle that you may not be used to and you may need some support with it.  I know, it won’t be easy and some days will just down right suck because it’s not the norm, it’s Holland and not Italy but, take heart, these iridescent kids are crazy brilliant.  They’re going to seriously rock your world.  You just have to be patient.  Part of their brilliance gets stuck in their sparkle and it takes a little longer for these iridescent kids to sort it all out.  Don’t give up and don’t lower your standards though because he/she sure is going to surprise you. OH, and hey, if you’ve got an extra minute…let me tell you about my brother.”

And, I know, not everyone will agree with me.

I get it.

Autism is different for everyone.  But this is my dream…that one day the awareness will be so internalized that no one will care about the differences, or the tantrums or the lack of eye contact because we will also have a plan of action, a path to follow and others will inherently understand that, indeed, different is NOT less.  I hope one day that people will understand more so they will point and blame less.  I hope one day play groups won’t gripe and complain about their inability to socialize as easily as others and teachers won’t feel they are doing favors or being slighted by taking these kids into their classes.  That it won’t take specialized training to prepare teachers for autistic students because teachers and school districts will be expected to teach all students together and equally.    And, when the world is trying to point fingers and lessen those with autism I hope she, and others like her, stand up with their young peers and begin a new generation that says, “Yeah, it’s autism. So what? It’s all good.  They are just like us but a little bit different and that’s okay because when you stop being scared of different it just so happens you find out different is also pretty darn brilliant.  And then you find out, in this life, the more we share our differences, the more we are the same.”

Hands Up? Hands Down? YES.


autism sparkles-138

I sat in church today and inevitably, as it always does, it started again.

That dance she and I do.

It must look comical to those who stand around us, beside and behind, who can see us.  No one snickers out loud that I have heard yet but I am sure we are amusing.  We could not be more different if we tried and the differences are deeper than the blonde and brunette hair on our head.

I am the brunette.

Since this is church related, I’m going to digress at this point, even change up the font a bit, and say, right up front, I do not have all the answers about who He is, how He is and I have not memorized the bible.  This is not a post about that.  You can call Him what you will and worship Him as you see fit or not.  I am not here to fight those battles. 

All I know is I believe because faith gives me strength. 

It gives me a reason to get up in the morning and hope the blackness that filled the day before is gone and I can start with a clean slate with a God who is looking out for me.  I believe because faith gives me hope that the answers I don’t have yet rest within Him and, in time, He will share them with me.  I believe because faith helped me stop beating my head against the proverbial brick wall and it helped me to see that all the head banging in the world won’t change one thing…but having faith will. So, I believe.  I give it up to God.  I rest my head on his goodness and inside the promise that He has my back, sees all, is a loving Father and He will see me through the rough spots.  And, you know what?  It’s good and ever since I stopped needing control and handed it over to Him, a calm has settled into me that evaded me most of my life before that. A calm that says, He has this.  A peace that says that no struggle is bigger than He is but it is bigger than me. 

Okay, I am done digressing.  Back to that dance she and I do.  That’s what this post is about…believe it or not.

When it comes to the dance, today was no different.  I was sure it would not be.  Certainly nothing has changed since last week.  Not in her and not in me.  In fact, nothing has changed in us during the last four years since my kids and I were fairly new to the town we live in and she took us under her wing and invited us to her church.  This woman has, since I arrived in this new town six years ago, evolved into my closest friend here.

Despite the fact that we each have three school aged kiddos…

Despite the fact that we both have jobs that fill our weeks…

Despite the fact that we are both hands-on and busy mommas…

Despite the fact that our time to sit and chat together without kiddos is rare…

…we have Sunday morning and Sunday morning is ours.

Side by side, third row from the front, the time in church is ours.  Well, it’s God’s and Pastor’s time too but, in a week that revolves around kiddos, schedules, schools, activities, cooking, laundry and the ever present cleaning, on Sundays we have carved out ninety minutes of time together, to sit side by side.

Busy mommas will latch on to that.

And, you might think that time in church might be easy for two women to make happen.  You might think it’s just a schedule thing but, my friends, you’d be wrong.  Scheduling is sometimes the easiest part to overcome.  Sitting us together in church…it runs a whole lot deeper than that.

Whew…Oh yes. D-E-E-P.

She and I are different and, like I said, it’s not just our hair color.

The church we share isn’t Pentecostal but it’s a whole lot more animated than my quiet Baptist and Catholic upbringing.  It’s actually non-denominational but with strong animation.  I am used to a hands-at-your-side, quiet voice, church going experience.  My friend, on the other hand, worships with both arms raised up high and her body comfortable in mild movement.  She prays out loud along with the pastor.  I am quiet as a mouse.

Thankfully this church is not as regimented as the one another friend attended.  The one where the pastor actually taught a class on the arm/hand language in church.  He taught that elbows locked and hands held up high was the ONLY way to really show your whole devotion to God.  If you were halfway committed, you held them up halfway with unlocked elbows and if you weren’t ready to commit to God, you kept your hands sadly at your side.  Crazy rules for me who is an iron-arms-down-tight kind of worshiper.  The quiet girl that does not want to be noticed.   (Yes, I have my issues and I own them.)   Thankfully not all church communities believe in predetermined rules for existing in their community.  I am blessed our church does not walk down that road.  In our church, you worship in whatever way you are comfortable and Pastor is clear about that.

Hands up?  Yes.

Hands down?  Yes.

Tolerance of others is mainly what exists in our church community because Pastor believes the experience that made people who they are matters. He even reminds us to value the individual within the community.  Do what works for you, he tells us…not anyone else.  I like that philosophy and that is largely why I have burrowed into this church community.  Here with him, with her, with God…I am enough.  I am not wrong for being different.  Our church community believes it is your relationship and your life and you have to do what works for you…and you are beholding to no one else in making choices that work for you and your family.

My friend and I clearly worship differently.  We stand beside one another, as tight as friends can be despite our differences.  Doing our quirky dance, week after week, year after year because, really, we are the same…despite our differences.

Sound nutty?  To some perhaps but not to us.

In fact, we have never spoken about it.

She has never asked me why I don’t and I have never asked her why she does.

We find no fault in our differences.

She is she and I am me and we are united…in our sameness and our differences.

And we don’t care about arbitrary rules someone else creates because we are us and we do what is right for the betterment of our own lives and we treasure each other completely…different or not.

Whoever you are, whatever you choose for you…your choice is your own… as is your life.  You are the only one who can make the right choice for you no matter what the larger community says.  Only you know YOU well enough to know what is best for you and ascribing to my rules of life does not make you more complete or better equipped nor does it make me somehow better if I ascribe to yours.  That is what individuality and free choice are all about.  In fact, I’d go a step further and say that when you begin to rise and fall according to preset rules set up by anyone else, you somehow lose a piece of yourself and your ability to hear your own intuition.  And, friends, when you stop listening to your own intuition, that voice in your head that agrees or disagrees with what is thrown your way, that crucial voice begins to dissipate and you lose touch with who you are.

Only you know what is best for you and your family and labels and rules only work if they work for you.  I am home here, in this church, in the larger community with my friend, with my children, with this pastor…despite how different we all may be.  We are free to choose as we need to choose.  In fact, about half of the church is animated while the other half is quiet like me and, you know what?  We each make our choices and we each love and respect one another…no matter what.  It works and no one ever takes exception with anyone else.  We simply come together for the greater good.  Period.

Tolerance allows differences the opportunity to become complimentary to each other when given enough time, kindness and acceptance. I kid you not.

Sparkle On, my friends.

An American Child Prisoner of War

For My Grandfather On Memorial Day

There is mostly light filling his life,

He is young, strong, he is American.

A peaceful man, taken from his quiet life of sales in 1944

And asked to defend his country.

Life changes, plans fall, he is from a generation who does not run.

He will not run.

He stands up and is poised to fight for Her.

He lands on the ground, in Europe, fighting…

For his own life.

It is January, 1944

He is captured.

He is a prisoner of war.

An American boy

German-kept month and then months.

Starved until he may not walk again.  Starved until he may not live.

He is an American boy

He will not fall so easily,

He rises from the starvation

He stands again.

Not as straight and not as tall

But he stands because he will not let men of hatred crush him or Her.

He is an American boy

He stands proud.

He sees Europe

By foot

He is marched and marched and marched,

Month to month to year,

Until he cannot move.

He learns to cut hair to improve his standing, to stay sane.

He marches until the starvation makes him fall…again.

They say he will not stand again.

But it is 1945

The war is over

He is free.

An American Boy

The prisoner of war returns to Her.

 

He is skin and bones,

Others stare at him, his protruding bones,

They cannot understand.

He will not leave the dinner table.

He will not waste what he once longed for.

He will not leave the table until each plate is bare.

Long after all have pushed out their chairs and walked,

George will still be sitting, eating, appreciating.

Thankful for the food and careful not to let

One single precious crumb be tossed away.

Wasted like he was in those sixteen months.

Those who have never left the bounties of America cannot understand.

He is free but he is never free of his memories

Never free from his starvation.

Five decades will pass and he will still fear

Not having enough.

An American boy

The calendar says he is 89 and now another war has come.

This time the Persian Gulf.  This time men and women fight.

The new war stirs old wounds

George fights the old battle in his memory

It is hard to tell the difference between what is now and what is memory.

His body is fading

He is fighting the war still.  In the hospital.

He is starving again

There is mostly darkness.

An American boy

Decades have changed him

War has not changed.

He cannot see war again

His mind cannot relive the ache that still breathes

Inside the darkness within him

New prisoners of a desert war are taken

The same and yet different,

They are women this time

With grace and forgiveness, George’s body gives way before he can see

The faces of the new POWs

The faces of women who have replaced him.

He goes before he has to see

Them living the nightmare of his war life over again.

Or, perhaps, he has to go

And be with them.

Lend his strength, His knowing, His awareness

To them

Because only he can know

The depths of what they will need

What they will see

And how, in their mind, they will never stop being that

American Child

Prisoner of War.

POW George Anderson, held by the Germans for 16 months during WWII, passed on March 24, 2003, before he could see the new POWs.  An amazing man and my grandfather.

MJB: Indeed, Good To The Last Drop

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Third grade was a very good year.  I can still remember her project to this day…which is odd since I can’t remember my own at all.    The “her” I am referring to is one of my earliest childhood friends, Mary.  There were no Logans, Cadens, Emmas, Sophias, Masons or Hunters back in our day.  We were simple-named kids, born in the later 1960’s, with plain Jane names like Mary, Danny, Kathleen, Chris, Steve, Tammy, Mike, Sheryl and Joe and we stepped onto Canalino’s kindergarten playground for the first time in 1972.  In 1975, when we first walked into Mr. Spittle’s third grade classroom, we plain named kiddos of the 70’s were sporting some eye popping polyester, waffle stompers, vibrant florals paired with stripes, bell bottoms and a whole lot of hand sewn and hand-me-down clothes. I still remember the yellow, button-up, Raggedy Ann shirt my mom made me.  We were, without apology, a myriad of fashion don’ts.

There were two third grade classrooms at Canalino and they sat right next door to one another with a moveable, accordion style, wall separating the two.  Thirty-eight years ago, there were roughly forty of us third graders in those two classrooms and we’d been friends since kindergarten.  Small town, small school and that forty or so member alumni third grade group (combining Mrs. Kerr’s and Mr. Spittle’s students) would also go on to create 1/3 of our 120-kiddo high school graduating Class in 1985.  Small towns are like that.  The kids you meet in kindergarten stay with you throughout your school career and go on to shadow you into the rest of your life. Few in number but as solid and enduring as they come and, consequently, the loss of even one is a heavy blow.  I can still remember when Lee and Denny moved to Sweetwater, Texas and, to this day, it feels like we lost one of our own.

The project I remember, hers and not mine, was titled: MJB: Good to the Last Drop.

We were expected to use our initials or full name to make a product and then design or sketch a prototype.  I think, if my cloudy memory serves me at all, we had to write a letter to a company or celebrity as well.  I wrote a letter to Dusty Baker and that is the entire extent of what I remember about my project.  Mary’s project, on the other hand, is etched into my memory because she was just downright brilliant.

I won’t give you her whole name.  I love her family too much to compromise any level of privacy but, for the sake of explaining her project, I will confess her initials are indeed MJB.  Very much the same as the brand of coffee from the 70’s.  For our third grade project, Mary made her own brand of coffee, named it MJB (replacing her last name with the word “BEAN”) and thus was born her product.  She then brilliantly allowed two powerhouse coffee companies to collaborate on her product as the motto for her MJB coffee became Maxwell House’s slogan, “Good to the last drop.”

These flashes are what hit me on Friday.  The Friday last week when I fell head first into a puddle of tears.  They are the same flashes that fill me, today, the 364th day since her untimely death.  They are flashes from a childhood and an adulthood that we shared and traipsed in and out of during out last forty years.  Moments mostly.  I am left with a handful of these nearly still shots that spread out to include her smile, her laugh, sarcastic comments whispered under her breath immediately followed by a giggle, both of us dressed in our red polyester pantsuits for the Pixie (the precursor to Daisy Scouts back in the day) meeting after school in first grade, a monumental, pee-your-pants kind of belly laugh on a stair case while on a double date in college as we tried and failed to mix the flavors of two bottled drinks with a turkey baster, and the very overwhelming moment when I was homesick for Cali and friends after just moving to Cleveland and while on the phone with another Canalino friend who asked, “Doesn’t Mary live in Cincinnati now?”  I still can’t figure out how two Cali girls, raised a few streets away from one another, wound up living in the Midwest just three hours apart but God was good to us.

These moments are like a lifeline, filling up the spaces, as I approach tomorrow…a year to the date that I lost this Canalino friend who is as much like family as anyone I know.  Friends from small towns are like that and become  family with as much ease as a tributary embeds itself into a river.  There weren’t that many of us growing up so you hold on tight.  Friends in small towns become second nature to you and when you lose them, it’s like losing a witness to your life.  There were things about my life ONLY Mary knew.  She walked the still shots with me and, with the witness gone, it was as though those moments no longer exist.

I have been ultra aware that tomorrow is approaching.  I have struggled with her absence in every single one of the 363 days that have passed before today.  What I wasn’t aware of is how deeply her absence would swell inside of me as the 365th day approached.

Friday morning, Day 358, is when the tears began to well up with such force that they would not be still and stop falling.  Thankfully, shortly after the water works turned on (even tho I am NOT a crier), I got a surprise text from a Canalino friend.   He sent me a good morning text from where he lives a few hours away. I immediately gave him a kind head’s up that I was having a bad morning and that he might want to high tail it out of range of me ASAP.  The very endearing thing about those Canalino friends… is they don’t run.

Canalino friends step in closer during the rough spots.

He texted back, “You know I won’t run from you. EVER. Give me five and I’ll call.”  That is what a good friend, a childhood friend, a Canalino friend does.  He stepped in to hold me up while I was crumbling and I cried my eyes out for two hours while we talked.  I gave him all sorts of excuses of why I was a red hot mess until it hit me and I whispered to him, “Mary”, and it all made sense.  And I told him, “I need to do more because she can’t.”  And, my friend, the tattooed, roughed up, tough guy that might just scare you if you didn’t know him, the boy who is simply my sweet childhood friend despite the rough exterior he’s gained as an adult, set me straight.  He reminded me that, just like he and I are connected no matter how different we are and no matter where we live or who else is in our lives, she will always be connected to us too.  She’s still here, she’s a Canalino friend and Canalino friends step in.  She is part of who we are and though I can’t text or call her any longer, her vivacious nature is present.  She is embedded in each of us.

In the beginning as I stepped up to meet death head on, I had thought it would simply mean I would grieve, lose her and move on.  I have struggled all year with why I cannot let her go but now I know, I was ALL wrong.  Big time wrong-ness.  Talking with Danny reminded me of MJB.  Talking with him, hearing his voice, it took me back to third grade and Mr. Spittle and the Dusty Baker/ MJB project.  That’s when it hit me HARD.  That’s when I finally understood that MJB is indeed… good to the last drop and there is absolutely NOTHING to let go of.  It’s wicked funny how Mary’s project from thirty eight years ago is still imparting wisdom and comfort.  It’s crazy how brilliant the woman was and currently is.  It’s amazing how she is still at work in my life.

Childhood friends, friends like my Mary and my Danny, leave droplets in your heart, they leave flashes in your memory and they imprint themselves so deeply into your soul that they never really leave you.  Even in death, they simply step in closer.  When you have navigated life with a friend for so many years they leave a layer of themselves under your skin and in your heart and you are never far from who they are or from the laughter they shared.  Every single drop she left behind…her humor, her audacity, her laughter, her skill, her brilliance …every piece of her remains solid and present.  And the anniversary of her passing, the day when her body lost a fierce battle, is the day I vow to welcome her back into my life because I know that no amount of emptiness will ever be fierce enough to take her place.

Strong her whole life, she was a uniformed customs agent for 21 years, an expert marksman, a K-9 handler, a mother and a friend but she was never delicate.  She never gave up, she never walked away from family, she never backed down.  She was vast and brilliant every day and I realize now that what I am left with, a year after she passed, is a thousand tiny drops of MJB laced within my life.  Moments, laughter, and brilliance that were bathed in her light that are embedded in each of us that loved her.  And, somehow, I am able to see life and death differently because of Danny and Mary and I am thankful for every single day I knew this fabulous woman that lived so fiercely because, I know now, the beauty of a life well lived…is that it lives on… in every single drop and the drops never end.

Beware The Happy Parent Moments

That happy-parent-moment…after you have tucked your children into bed and their rooms are dark…life is content and you have this overwhelming emotional need to rush back into their room for one last hug and to tell them just one more time how much you love them and how lucky you feel to be their mother and you push open the first door… only to suddenly be a little confused by the sight of his face, all lit up by the unmistakable glow of the Nintendo he is PLAYING that he had hidden under his pillow while you said goodnight the first time… and the happy-parent-moment…it’s GONE…and replaced by something entirely different.