Saturday, November 13, 2010

My Inheritance

When my mother passed away, at 85 years old, I inherited her house… and her tiny Maltese dog, Jeffy, who was not housebroken. Lucky me! I had just lost a dog of my own and vowed I would never get another. But what could I do, having promised my mother in a weak moment that I would take care of Jeffy if she predeceased him?

Well... there was a Plan B. Since I couldn’t live in two houses at once, and it was going to take a lot of sweat and money to get hers into shape to sell, my son, Lee, who had always loved the old home place, said he’d move in and fix it up… letting Jeffy live out his years in the home he was used to. He said, “All I ask is that you take him for periodic grooming and veterinary appointments.” 

What could be better than that? 

The drawback: Lee had a cat. Miss Bits was a large tabby cat with a reputation for being mean… actually, down right dangerous! Furthermore, she had not been declawed and I was concerned for Jeffy’s safety.  

But there were no alternatives. My husband was not happy about the prospect of a dog that was not housebroken coming to live with us. So I decided to take Lee up on his offer with the understanding that, if it didn’t work out, I would make other arrangements for Jeffy. Lee and Miss Bits moved in with Jeffy.

It didn’t take Miss Bits long to learn that, besides not being very bright, Jeffy had another deficiency. He could not climb stairs. So when Jeffy, who thought he was king of the hill, tried to do his duty and chase Miss Bits—as any self-respecting dog would do—she’d merely let him pursue her for a while, and then go up to about the third step leading to the second floor, sit down and look back at him triumphantly. Jeffy, looking puzzled,  would sit there barking and panting until he got so tired that he’d give up and lie down to rest. This became an everyday game.

Lee had to go to work each morning but felt quite certain that, while he was gone, they got along fine, because he once came in unexpectedly and found them in the kitchen eating together. It seemed that the “evening chase” was just for his benefit. Happily for me, it seemed this arrangement was going to work out after all.

Fulfilling my part of the bargain, I took Jeffy for his first grooming. My mother had not been well for over a year and his appearance had been neglected. Maltese have long, thick hair that must be brushed daily to keep them from getting matted. Jeffy was very matted. The groomer took one look and said, “I think the best thing we can do for Jeffy is to cut his coat short—a puppy cut!”

“I don’t know,”  I said. “My mother never wanted him cut short.” 

The groomer smiled. “Since it’s summertime,”she said, “it’s a good time to do it. If you keep it in good shape as it grows, it’ll be all grown out again by cold weather.”

It was a good argument and I reluctantly agreed, knowing my mother would never have permitted it. When I picked him up, he was barely recognizable, but looked adorable with his short haircut. From the way he pranced around, it seemed he also felt much better. 
                                
Now there were just a couple more problems. Lee suspected that Jeffy had worms, as well as infected ears! A trip to the veterinarian was in order. I called the vet’s office and asked if I could bring a stool sample in, without the dog.  They said, "Yes." So Lee collected the sample and left it in a baggie for me to pick up. I also took an old, nearly empty tube of ear medication hoping they’d refill it for me.

The vet’s assistant took the sample to check, but she said, “As far as the ears are concerned, the doctor says that, because it’s been a while since he’s seen Jeffy, he’d rather not prescribe medication without seeing him.”

“Oh,” I said. “Guess you’d better make an appointment then.”

The only time she had any time soon was that afternoon and it was now only I said, “That would put me in major traffic going home later.” I lived about ten miles away and the evening traffic was dreadful.

 “But,” I added, “since I’m already here... I suppose I should stay until it’s all done?”  So I made the appointment and went back to Lee's to wait. 

To pass the time, I had a conversation with Jeffy, then Miss Bits, listened to music, and walked the floor while talking to my husband on the phone until almost four. When it was finally time to go, Jeffy flatly refused! I had no idea it would be such an ordeal getting him to go with me. I put him down on the porch to lock the door, and when I tried to pick him up, he lay down and scooted backward until he was under the porch railing. I thought he was going to fall off the porch, but no amount of coaxing would make him get up. 

Trying to balance my open purse, keys, and a bottle of Dr. Pepper while attempting to pick him up, I dropped the Dr. Pepper, and things started falling out of my purse. Angry words spewed from my mouth and I was embarrassed when I realized we were entertaining several neighbors. I finally put everything down, recovered Jeffy,  then slowly picked it all back up and headed for the car.  Somehow, I got the door unlocked and got in while angrily shouting at Jeffy—“BAD DOG!" 

 He whined the whole twenty minutes we had to wait in the waiting room. A boxer growled at him, a cat hissed at him and a large blonde woman tried to make nice conversation with me. I didn't feel like it, and was glad when someone said, "Mrs. Toney?"  (My mother’s name was still on the records.) 

I didn't bother to explain that I wasn't Mrs. Toney. It was easier to just go with it. The doctor checked Jeffy’s ears to find that they were indeed badly infected. He put the first drops in while instructing me, “I want you to do this twice a day for ten days.” I nodded. “The worm test was negative,” he said. At last, something for which to be thankful! I thought.

Arriving at Lee’s, I was grateful to find him home. I took Jeffy  in, gave Lee a full report, the eardrops, and left, still hoping to beat the heavy traffic. But I didn’t. It was an exhausting trip… and to make matters worse, I felt guilty about losing my patience with the little dog. I promised myself I’d never do that again.

That was Jeffy’s last trip to the vet. On a Saturday morning, several weeks later, my phone rang. When I answered, Lee said shakily, “I have bad news.”

“What is it?” I said… unable to hide my dread.

“Jeffy died in his sleep last night.

 “Oh, no! What happened?”

 “Not sure,” Lee said. “Perhaps it was a seizure. He didn’t suffer; just one little cry, some shaking and he was gone.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “But don’t feel too bad. You gave him a good home.”

“Yes,” he said, “but it still hurts.”

Lee buried Jeffy in his back yard that afternoon. Although our hearts were aching, we consoled each other with reminders that our joint efforts had given this little orphaned doggie a pretty good life considering all the dreadful things that might have happened to him otherwise. 

Somewhere in Heaven, my mother is smiling.


This story also appears in my book, Somewhere in Heaven My Mother is Smiling.

  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's A Joy To Have Friends

                                        Published by Charleston Gazette -
                              Sunday, July 11, 2010~

Recently, I was pleasantly surprised to hear from two friends that I haven’t seen or talked to for many years.  How nice it was to reconnect with them after such a long time!

I enjoyed a lengthy phone conversation with each of them. Having experienced similar changes over the years, we had a lot of catching up to do. Besides growing older ourselves, our children have grown up, married and blessed us with grandchildren – some of whom are now adults. Admitting our advanced ages, we compared ailments, meds, healthy diets, and physical fitness programs – finally agreeing that retirement is the best thing about getting older. And sadly, each of my friends related how devastating it had been losing her husband to an untimely death. 

After hanging up from the most recent chat, I sat thinking of the good times the two of us had shared years ago, the secrets we’d tucked away, and especially, the way we’d laughed. Every time we were together, we found something that made us giggle like school girls. Our friendship was like that – fun!

There were sad times, too – the occasional problem with one of our children, family illness, the death of a loved one – all of the things that are difficult to face any time, but doubly so without a friend by your side.  Thankfully, true friendship withstands both good and bad times.
 
So why do we lose touch?  When we like some people so much, why do we let years slip by with no contact?

As I pondered this, I thought about something I read a few years ago, written by a young lady from the UK named Jessica Smith.  It made a lasting impact on me. Some excerpts follow: 

Life is like a train ride.
We get on. We ride. We get off. We get back on and ride some more. When we are born and we first board the train, we meet people whom we think will be with us for the entire journey. Those people are our parents!
Sadly, this is far from the truth.
Our parents are with us for only as long as we absolutely need them. They too have journeys they must complete. We live on with the memories of their love, and guidance... their ever presence.
There are others who board the train who eventually become very important to us.  These people are our brothers, sisters, friends and acquaintances, whom we will learn to love, and cherish.
Some people on the train will leave an everlasting impression when they get off.  Others will get on and get off the train so quickly, they will scarcely leave a sign that they ever traveled with you.
Remember, at any moment during our journey, any one of our travel companions can have a weak moment and be in need of our help.  We, too, may need someone we can count on to be supportive and understanding.
The biggest mystery of our journey is that we don’t know when our last stop will come. Neither do we know when our travel companions will make their last stop. Not even those sitting in the seat next to us.
We’re all on this train ride together. Above all, we should strive to make the ride as pleasant and memorable as we can, right up until we each make the final stop and leave the train for the last time.
The old friends that recently came back into my life are only a small sample of those that have traveled on the train with me, but these two, in particular, left an everlasting impression when they got off.  I’m glad they got back on – and delighted that they've been a part of my train ride!



This story also appears in my book, Somewhere in Heaven My Mother is Smiling~



Friday, October 29, 2010

A Summer Romance

In the summer of my sixteenth year, my best friend, Carol, and I spent most of our time together. We took long barefoot walks, went to Saturday matinees at the local movie theater, and had sleepovers – spending most of the night talking and giggling – but our favorite thing to do that summer was go to the roller rink. 

It was common at that time, for roller rinks to have side walls that were opened to the outside on warm evenings allowing passers-by to enjoy the sights and sounds inside. As lively organ music blared, my best friend and I whirled around and around the wooden floor holding hands. Sometimes, the lights would be turned down low and a kaleidoscope of colors would dance all around us while a soft melody played. They called this a “couples” selection and it was the last skate of the evening. Almost always, a boy would ask me to skate with him. Carol was asked, too. It was so exciting! 

One night, I noticed a good-looking boy standing on the outside looking in. He had curly brown hair, cut short, and twinkling eyes that smiled even when his lips didn’t. As he watched me skate, his broad grin exposed perfect white teeth. At first, I tried to ignore him, but soon felt self-conscious and burst into laughter. He laughed, too. Shortly, he came inside and swaggered around the floor that surrounded the skating area – still watching me. 

This boy was dressed in a most unusual fashion, even for that time. He wore pink pants, a pink and white checked shirt and white buck shoes. Carol took one look, poked me in the ribs and said, “Look, Maggie!”  I said, “I am looking.” She said, “Isn’t he cute?” Making a face, I said, “Can’t you pick ‘em better than that?”

I was not at all impressed with this boy and his peculiar clothes or his superior attitude, but Carol was taken with him!

However, when the last skate was finished and we sat down to take our skates off, he came over to me and started a conversation. “Hi,” he said. “Where do you live?” 

“96th St,” I said. “Where do you go to school?” he asked. 

“I go to Peyton High,” I answered. He looked surprised and said, “Well so do I. How come I’ve never seen you there?” 

“I just transferred from Bingham last year. I’ll be a senior this year.”

“Me, too,” he said. “What’s your name?”

“Maggie,” I said. He smiled and said, “I’m Ken. I live on the West Side. I still don’t understand why I never saw you before in a whole school year.”

“Don’t know,” I said, picking up my skates and heading for the door… with Carol close behind. 

“Hey,” Ken said. “Can I call you?”

Before I could answer, he handed me a small piece of paper and said, “Just write your number on this.”

I don’t know why I did it, but I wrote my number on the paper and then complained to Carol all the way home that I shouldn’t have because he just wasn’t “my type.”

He called – the very next day. When he asked if I’d go to a movie with him on Saturday night, I said, “Yes.” What’s wrong with me? I thought. I don’t even like this guy. He thinks too much of himself. Hope he doesn’t wear that pink outfit again.

That was the first of many dates. And with each date, I found myself liking him more. School started and we had a great senior year! We went to football games, movies, and spent as much time together as possible. The holidays came and we enjoyed them together, too, doing all the fun things young folks do at that festive time of year. Spring soon arrived and so did Prom time. How special that night was! I in a beautiful long gown wearing the corsage he’d given me and he in a tux, sporting a red rosebud boutonniere on his white jacket. Those happy days passed much too quickly, although we didn’t realize it at the time. To us, it meant we were almost adults. Finally, the big day came and we had a lovely graduation. We cherish the wonderful memories of that last year of high school together!

Suddenly, it was summer again. My parents were planning my future; his parents were doing the same for him. Little did they know that we had other plans. One day in early September, while my parents were at work, we eloped.

That was many years ago and we’re still spending all our special times together - along with our children, and grandchildren.

Just think - it all started with a pair of pink pants, white buck shoes and a winning smile!


This story appears in my book, Somewhere in Heaven My Mother is Smiling



 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bye-Bye Birdies – Please!

                                                Published by The Charleston Gazette,
                                                                                       Sunday August 4, 2008~
      
It was not Alfred Hitchcock’s famous movie that caused my fear of birds, although I do feel a certain kinship with Tippi Hedren’s character when I’m working in my yard and hear a noisy twittering in the trees.  It gives me a chill every time!  It all started many years ago when I was very young.
It was common in those days to buy a live turkey for Thanksgiving.  Due to poor refrigeration, it had to be chosen, slaughtered, and made oven-ready right before the “big day”.  As the story goes, my father brought one home for my mother’s approval, and I, a mere toddler, was quite puzzled to find this strange looking creature walking around in our kitchen.  I had no idea what it was but was not about to get close to it, nor would I turn my back on it… and the feeling seemed mutual.
While my parents discussed its size and weight, this huge bird and I sized each other up.  She stared at me and I stared at her.  She took two steps toward me and I took two steps back.  She gobbled.  I shuddered…and we continued the two-step until my dad grabbed the rope that was around her neck and led her outside.
I never wanted to see that big bird again!  But I did when it graced our Thanksgiving table a few days later.
Now, that experience alone may not have done lasting damage, except that I was destined to have more “fowl” experiences.
A few years later, while playing in my grandparents’ yard and enjoying a cone of ice cream, a large rooster appeared unexpectedly and began flogging me like there was no tomorrow!  That rooster was definitely mad at me!  I threw my ice cream in the air and let out a blood-curdling scream that brought my grandmother to my side… fearing that I had met with a terrible accident. However, when she learned what had happened and that the only thing hurt was my pride, she soothed my ruffled feathers with a peck on the cheek and another cone of ice cream.  Reluctantly, I went back to my play—keeping an eye out for that big rooster, to be sure!
That same summer, I visited my maternal grandparents, too.  Unaware that they had acquired a parakeet since my last visit, imagine my surprise when I was introduced to Tweety.  “I guess a bird in a cage is okay,” I thought… but little did I know that Tweety was allowed to “mingle” occasionally.  So when I was sitting in front of the TV one evening and Tweety suddenly came flying into the room and landed on my head….I squealed hysterically until someone got that yellow bird off me and put him back in his cage.  I couldn’t stop shaking, and Tweety lost his mingling privileges until I went home.
There were other avian experiences throughout my childhood, but I managed to grow up in spite of them.  I got married and had a family, and we always had pets—dogs, cats, goldfish, hamsters, and turtles—but never a bird!
My children found my phobia amusing and devised all sorts of ways to mock me.  They’d place bird feathers strategically around the house…inside and out…just to watch my reaction when I found them, and I once discovered a stuffed bird on my pillow when I awakened.  That deed did not go unpunished!
One day, my daughter and I were in the checkout line at a pet store when I felt something brush against my arm.  I turned to look right into the face of a big green parrot sitting on a perch—no cage.  I felt paralyzed!  When I was able to speak, I said, “Let’s go”, and headed for the door putting my intended purchases down as I went.  My daughter enjoyed telling that story at dinner?
Occasionally, a bird falls to its death after colliding with our storm door.  When its limp little body is found, someone usually quips, “Aha! This one was trying to get inside to see you.”
Secretly, I do sometimes believe they are plotting against me.  Recently, I discovered a bird’s nest in a potted plant beside my front door. It had five eggs in it.  Not only are they plotting, but also brazenly increasing their numbers right on my doorstep!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Lure Of The River~

This was published in The Charleston Gazette ~ Sunday, June 14, 2009~


A friend recently sent me an old photograph of a young girl standing on a small boat. She looks to be about twelve or thirteen years old. She exudes confidence with the jaunty tilt of her head and one hand perched on her hip. I can’t seem to put this picture out of my sight or out of my mind.  After two days, it continues to haunt me.

You see, the girl in the picture is me, and this old black and white, creased photo has evoked bittersweet memories from more than half a century ago. One in particular.

From the age of seven until my late teens, I lived in a house by the river. A dozen or so rickety wooden steps and a narrow path led to the river’s edge, where there was a dock with a couple of rowboats and a small houseboat tied to it. One of the boats was used as a ferry for taking passengers to the other side. There was also a long, log, moss-covered raft secured there.

 My parents gave me strict orders, on the day we moved there, to stay away from the river, especially when they were at work. Unbeknownst to me, they had enlisted neighbors to report to them if I was seen breaking the rules.

But I was drawn to the river like a hobo to a freight train!  Every chance I got, I headed down the rickety steps and narrow path, and jumped onto the deck of the houseboat.  I often took a friend with me.  We’d sit on the edge of the deck dangling our bare feet in the cool, green water.  It was especially fun when a paddleboat passed, sending wave after wave crashing against the boat, making it rock back and forth… splashing us as we giggled excitedly.

Too often, while sitting on the boat with my back to the shore, I’d hear a familiar whistle. Turning my head, I’d spot my dad’s striking figure at the top of the hill, his expression conveying—in no uncertain terms—that I was in a heap of trouble.  Reluctantly, I’d follow him home for my punishment.  Sometimes, I would be grounded for days. Other times, the peach tree switch, which I had to cut myself, was applied.  

But punishment worked for only a short time. When I thought I had my parents’ schedules down pat and could slip away to my favorite place without being caught, I was on my way again. Occasionally, I’d pick an apple from a nearby tree and munch on it while dangling my feet in the water. Life was good! 

Sometimes I got away with it.

One day I arrived at the river and the houseboat was gone. I looked in all directions but it was nowhere to be seen. Disappointed, but not to be outdone, I decided to approach unfamiliar territory…the log raft.

Barefoot, I stepped cautiously from the pier to the raft and realized at once that it was very slippery… and slimy!  

“Oh my gosh”, I thought.  “I have to go back”. Turning quickly, I lost my footing and slid off the raft into the murky water. I couldn’t swim!

I didn’t think it was deep this close to shore, but trying to touch bottom proved me wrong. I went under water, bounced back up, sputtering, and trying to grab the raft, but my hands kept sliding off. I went under again…and again… and back up…clutching at the slippery raft repeatedly.  I was so tired….

Panic stricken, I thought, “It’s cold…and dark…I’m drowning!”

Suddenly I felt a swift tug on my head..…Whoosh!  I was out of the water, lying on the slimy raft. Coughing and sputtering, I looked up into the scowling face of Mr. Taylor, a neighbor who ran the ferryboat. He said, “You okay, girl?” Fighting back tears, I nodded.

“What are you doing down here anyway?” Without waiting for my answer, he lifted me to the pier and said, “You git on home now and don’t come back, you hear?”

I ran all the way home. Luckily, my parents weren’t there, but I knew it was just a matter of time until they would be, and I was dreading the sting of a peach tree switch on my bare legs. I got out of my wet clothes and waited for the inevitable. When my parents arrived, I listened fearfully for the ring of the telephone or a knock at the door, but neither came.

Days passed… and then weeks… but to my happy surprise, Mr. Taylor never told my parents about the incident. Perhaps he thought that such a frightening experience was punishment enough.

I sure did!

I’d like to say I learned my lesson and never went back to the river, but I did, many times—even as a teenager. The only thing that changed was the gender of the friends I took with me—but that’s a whole other story!

This story also appears in my book, Somewhere in Heaven My Mother is Smiling~



Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Back Home Again


I jumped off the train steps and the conductor handed my suitcase down to Mother, who was waiting for me. I wasn’t ready to come home. Kingston was the only place in the world I could go barefoot all summer, climb mountains, and run around in a summer rain shower in my underwear if I wanted to.

It was so much fun when Aunt Betty, Cousin Sue and I climbed from the rock wall out back of my grandmother’s house onto a peach tree limb so we could walk over to the roof of the house. I don’t know what all the fuss was about when the whole family came running out of the house yelling at us, “Girls, girls, get down from there right now!” We thought it would be fun to get on the roof.

   “Heck, I won’t have any fun here,” I thought, as Mother opened the front gate. “Daddy won’t be home from the power plant until midnight. Mother will make me take a bath, shampoo my hair and go to bed before then.”

I loved my daddy!

Sometimes, when my best friend, Carol, and I went to the movies on Saturday, and they showed those awful newsreels about the war, I watched Japanese planes crash onto one of our ships killing American men and I worried so about my daddy! When I had nightmares about those newsreels and woke up crying, Mother said I should be grateful that my daddy had a good job at the power plant because, since he was doing something as important as making electricity, he wouldn’t have to go to war.

I was awake early.  Mother had already gone to work. The sun was shining and I heard Daddy in the kitchen singing… “Precious Memories, how they linger...”

Running into the kitchen, I squealed, “Daddy!” He turned, flashed a big smile, ran toward me and hugged me tight. “How’s my sweetheart?” he said.  Without waiting for an answer, he said, “What do you want for breakfast?”
“I don’t care.”

He gave me bacon, eggs and toast. I started eating and he started singing again. 

When I was finished, I got dressed and called my friend, Carol. 
   “What cha’ doin’? 

   “Nuthin. What’re you doin’?”

   “Nuthin. Wanna go for a walk?”

   “Sure, but I have to eat first.  C’mon down.”

Mrs. Lewis always wanted me to eat with Carol, who was a picky eater. I’d eat even when I wasn’t hungry because it seemed to please her.

Our walks always ended at the river. There was a small houseboat docked there and we’d sit on the deck, dangling our feet in the cool, green water.  Sometimes a paddleboat passed, sending wave after wave crashing against the boat, making it rock back and forth… splashing us as we giggled excitedly.

As we sat munching juicy red apples from a nearby tree, Carol told me about the summer she’d had while I was at Kingston. She’d gone to the beach, got a beautiful tan and met a boy named Emil who had promised to write to her. We were just beginning to pay attention to boys, and it was fun to talk about them, though we were still too young to date. Once, when we were at the carnival that always came to our town in August, a boy I’d just met, stopped me in the house of mirrors and put his arms around me, but I pulled away and ran. 

I told Carol about my summer, too… but she couldn’t understand why I enjoyed climbing mountains and picking blackberries; or why playing games and roasting potatoes in an open fire on the creek bank at night was so much fun. She knew nothing about the excitement of going to the Company Store or the admiration one feels watching weary miners with black faces trudge home from work in the evening. 

Some things are hard to share—even with your best friend.

This story appears in my book, Somewhere in Heaven My Mother is Smiling.



Friday, October 15, 2010

The Dark Night

~Published in the Charleston Gazette - February 7, 2010~

 "....the endurance of darkness is preparation for great light.”
                                                            ~St. John of the Cross 


Doctors call it depression. Anyone who has ever experienced it calls it misery.

It has no specific beginning. It sneaks up on you. You suddenly realize you have no interest in things that formerly interested you; in fact, you’ve lost interest in almost everything. You aren’t physically ill, but don’t feel well just the same. You walk around in a fog. People talk to you, but you don’t hear them; you don’t answer your phone or your e-mail; you don’t want to talk to anyone or see anyone. You literally “shut down.” I call it “stopping the world and getting off.” My son says it’s wallowing. He’s right… and that’s exactly what most of us want to do when we find ourselves in this unfamiliar place!

Your friends and relatives don’t understand what’s wrong with you, but they have plenty of suggestions about how to fix you. They say, “Get out, go somewhere; get a new hairdo; buy a new outfit; you’re just bored, take a trip; join a club – meet new people.” 

They try to call you every day and, when you don’t answer, they leave their well-meaning messages; but the truth is, nothing helps! You try to read, but can’t concentrate. The music you once enjoyed is dull and you soon learn that total silence is preferable. TV doesn’t help either. Right in the middle of a movie, you realize you’ve lost the plot because your mind has wandered. To what? You don’t know; it’s just not on the movie.

Once enthusiastic about Sunday’s church service and interaction with other believers, you no longer look forward to going – in fact you have to make yourself go. During the service, your mind wanders and you don’t hear the sermon… or the selection the choir sings. When the service is over, people smile at you and you smile back in an effort to appear pleasant, but you’re eager to reach your car as fast as possible and hurry home to obscurity.

Weeks pass and you wonder if you’ll ever be normal again. You don’t even remember what normal feels like. You pray but get no answers. God seems to be ignoring you. You feel utterly and painfully alone!

In his writings about “The Dark Night of the Soul,” St. John of the Cross presents a portrait – painted from his own experience – of one who progresses successfully through the struggles of the spiritual life. The “dark night” that he describes is not abandonment by God but special consideration from Him for those who desire to cleanse and perfect their souls. With a soul purified from earthly attachments, we can advance through the much quoted but often misunderstood “dark night of the soul” into harmony with God. By accepting the despair and difficulty of this process, the soul cooperates with God and opens itself to receiving and revealing more perfectly God’s glory.

After reading St. John’s description, you wonder if that is what’s going on with you. You almost hope it is because you know that when it’s over, you will be a much better person for having endured this agony.

You finally decide there’s nothing you can do. You continue to pray but your words seem hollow. Believing that God is far away, you accept your condition. You fear you may have to abide in this state of emptiness forever. So that’s what you do. You abide.

Then one morning, you open your eyes and the sun is shining; you feel wide awake and full of energy. You turn on the music. You dance; you sing. Life matters. People matter. You want to talk to someone – to everyone you know!  Total peace moves through your heart and mind, supreme ecstasy begins to infuse your spirit, a holy presence surrounds you. Your sense of self fades away. You are a new being. The anguish and suffering within you have been transformed to profound understanding and joy.

The dark night has passed. 

This story also appears in my book Somewhere in Heaven My Mother is Smiling~

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mother's Love

~Published in the Charleston Gazette - Sunday, May 9, 2010~ 



"Some are kissing mothers and some are scolding mothers, but it is love just the same.” ~Pearl S. Buck



“Pretty is as pretty does.”
“Little girls are supposed to be seen and not heard.” 
“Tell the truth and you may not be punished; tell a lie and it’s certain you will be!” 
“Always respect your elders.”
These are just a few of the guidelines I, an only child, received from my mother long before I knew what all of them meant.

My mother was a strict disciplinarian. I was afraid of her. My dad, on the other hand, was tolerant and easy going. He laughed often – and I adored him!  It took me a lifetime to realize I loved my mother, too. Though I grieve for the lost time, I’m grateful I found out before it was too late!

When I was a child, not many women worked outside the home, especially mothers, but mine did. It’s quite possible I was the original “latchkey” kid. I longed to come home from school and find my mother in the kitchen baking cookies or fixing dinner – as my friends' mothers did – but I arrived to a lonely, messy house instead, and it was my job to get everything in order and start dinner before my mother got there. I considered this unfair and was convinced she didn’t love me.

On Saturdays, I had to help clean house and do laundry. However, if I did my chores to my mother’s satisfaction, I could go to an afternoon movie with my best friend, Carol. We so enjoyed sitting there together watching a movie and munching on buttered popcorn that we often stayed for the second showing. Sunday was church day. After lunch, I’d either go for a walk with Carol or spend the afternoon reading – my favorite pastime. Sundays passed quickly and Monday morning came much too soon!

Sometimes, after school, I’d get my work done fast and venture outside to have some fun. I remember one day, in particular, when I disobeyed one of my mother’s rules and learned a hard lesson. We had a large apple tree in our back yard that I loved to climb. But climbing trees was strictly forbidden! “You could fall and break your neck!” Mother warned. “And besides, it’s just not ladylike!"

 “Just this once.” I told myself. “She’ll never know.” So I scrambled up the tree, grabbing an apple on the way and chose a sturdy limb to sit on. As I sat there, legs dangling about seven feet off the ground, chomping my juicy apple, I felt as free as a bird – and was confident my mother would never find out!

When she got home, I was in the kitchen, as usual. The look on her face told me something was wrong. “What were you doing in the apple tree, today?” She asked in a stern voice.  Stammering, I said, “I wasn’t!”

“Don’t lie to me, young lady!” she said, shaking her finger in my face. “What have I always told you?” 

“If I tell the truth, I won’t get punished, but I will if I lie,” I said tearfully. When she went outside, I knew what was coming next. Returning with a peach tree switch, she quickly stripped it of its leaves, switched my bare legs until they were red and sent me to my room, sobbing.

Afterward, when I asked how she knew what I’d done, she said, “A little bird told me.” I later learned that the “little bird” was a neighbor Mother had enlisted to watch from her windows and report to her if she saw me breaking any rules.

She punished me many times after that, but I now understand that I may have turned out differently if she hadn't. God doesn’t make mistakes! He gave me a strong will, and then blessed me with a mother who would temper it. Just as He uses adversity to refine us and make us stronger, my mother combined just the right mix of nurturing and discipline to shape my character.

After my father died, at 63, she lived twenty-five years, never remarrying. As she aged and began to suffer from ill health, I became the mother and she, the child. She depended on me for everything and wouldn’t make a single decision without consulting me.

We enjoyed many hours together in those last months while I cared for her at home or sat by her bedside at hospitals. Intimate conversations revealed a softer side I’d never seen, and I began to realize that this woman I'd feared all my life actually loved me very much. Why else would she have spent so much time and energy trying to make me into a worthy person? 

Just before she died, she looked into my eyes and said, “You’re an angel!”  Bending over, I kissed her forehead and said, “I love you, Mother.” And meant it!

This story also appears in my book, Somewhere in Heaven My Mother is Smiling~

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Game Of Chug-A-Lug-A

Published by Charleston Gazette - Sunday, March 15, 2009


I was wise enough to never grow up while fooling most people 
into believing I had.  ~Margaret Mead

                                                                                 
I often reminisce about the many times I’ve played games with my grandchildren. One of the most enjoyable ones, we called “Chug-A-Lug-A.” As a child, I often traveled on a train, thus the chugging, spewing noises, and the shrill “Woo-Woo” of the whistle at crossings, is a vivid childhood memory.

So it became natural, when a grandchild was bored, for me to entertain him by playing this game:  I would lie on one end of the sofa, encouraging him/her to lie on the other.  We would put the bottoms of our feet together and make a bicycle riding motion with our legs while chanting, “Chug-a-lug-a, Chug-a-lug-a, Chug-a-lug-a.” Suddenly, I’d make a pulling motion in the air with one hand and shriek, “Woo-Woo!”, in my shrillest train whistle voice…eliciting a burst of equally shrill giggles from the child (and a deep chuckle from my husband).

This game never failed to entertain the little ones—from the very small until they were too big to lie on the opposite end of the sofa with me.

It was antics such as these that prompted my three year old grandson to ask the question, “Maw-Maw, what do you want to be when you grow up?”  Another time, he overheard his mother telling me that there were no children his age in their neighborhood, and therefore, he had no playmates. Wide-eyed and serious, he said, “Me have Maw-Maw!”

We were blessed with seven grandchildren. They all learned to play the special game, as well as many others in their grandma’s repertoire. No matter how tired I was, or how busy, I stopped to play with the little ones… and they expected it. It was a wonderful time!

However, nothing lasts forever. Just as our children did, they’re growing up much too fast! The youngest now is a precocious nine-year-old granddaughter who would be highly insulted if I suggested one of those “childish” games. 

Nevertheless, the fun is not over yet.

Recently, my husband and I visited our granddaughter and her husband. They are the parents of our youngest great-grandchild, Izzy, two, who was born prematurely, and is rather exceptional. She learned early that I would play, so she took my hand and led me to her playroom, which is full of toys. She ran inside her “Izzy sized” playhouse, motioning for me, saying, “C’mon, Gam-Ma.”

The playhouse, about three feet tall, looked like an impossibility for an adult to access… but not wanting to disappoint Izzy, I managed to crawl inside and sit beside her. She generously handed me a rag doll, which was quite homely. I showed my dislike for it by making an ugly face, throwing it up in the air, and squealing, “No. I don’t want that!” Izzy giggled and handed it back, wanting me to repeat the gesture, which I did … again and again. Each time, she giggled hysterically, bringing her mother running with a camera to record the hilarity of Izzy’s game with Gam-Ma. 

Although exhausting, it was an enjoyable visit. I smiled all the way home, thinking about the fun Izzy and I will have when I teach her to play Chug-A-Lug-A. Better yet, we have just learned that Izzy will welcome a new baby sister in April. 

Woo – Woo! 


(This was written in early 2009. Izzy and her baby sister, Gabby, are older now and will soon be playing Chug-A-Lug-A with Gam-Ma.)

This story also appears in my book, Somewhere in Heaven My Mother is Smiling~


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Lovely October


Published in the Charleston Gazette - Sunday, October 11, 2009~


Like a child eagerly anticipating Christmas morning, my enthusiasm for fall has intensified each day for the past month.  It’s hard to say exactly when it happens, but sometime in late August, those who are “attuned” to the changing seasons, as I am,  begin to notice a gradual transformation.  Mornings and evenings become cooler while sunny afternoon temperatures continue to climb to the mid-eighties. Crickets fill the evening air with their mournful refrain in quest of one final mating before frost, and lightening bugs disappear.

Even my cat notices the change.  Liza Jane is keenly aware that just a short while ago, she owned a large spot of sun on the kitchen floor where she enjoyed late morning naps, and now, that same bright spot has moved to the front of a cabinet. She stares longingly at the sunlit cabinet, obviously wondering what happened. 

It’s useless trying to explain to Liza that, in June, the sun is directly overhead and therefore, shines straight down on the floor through the kitchen skylight, affording her a blissfully warm place to nap, but that, by late August, the sun has moved downward in the sky and no longer shines on the floor. She merely gives me that “you have mistaken me for someone who cares” glance that cats invented and leisurely strolls off to my husband’s den where the sun comes in at a different angle.

Feline contentment aside, it is an ideal time of year. Summer is over and we are slowly moving into fall. School is back in session, children are in bed earlier and life has become more relaxed.  It is a good time to catch up on things that there was little or no time for during the busy summer months – like curling up with a good book, listening to music, watching a movie you’ve wanted to see or spending more quality time with your spouse.

Then Lovely October makes her debut!  Each time it occurs, it seems more beautiful than the last. Mother Nature paints surrounding hillsides with brilliant shades of red, yellow, orange, gold and brown, creating a breathtaking landscape. The sunny days become shorter, the sky bluer, and the air crisper. As leaves begin to turn, a few opt to give up and fall to the ground early.  In a short while, lawns are covered with the crispy remains of summer foliage and all too soon the raking begins, removing the last vestiges of nature’s most spectacular season.

“October means winter is not far behind… and everything dies,” some complain.  But in reality, there is no death in fall.  It is a season of rest – a time for bringing our lives back into balance.  Most of us have family, work, church and social activities to coordinate and, in the busyness of our days, it is sometimes difficult. We find ourselves spending more time in one area than we do the others and our lives drift out of balance. Fall, with its slower pace, helps us correct that.

Just as plants are resting while their underground roots prepare for a rebirth and the flourishing of new blooms in spring, we, too, should rest and get ready for a new surge of growth and development.

If God, Himself, rested from His work after creating the earth, we should not be surprised that we also need rest… and I, for one, am grateful He gave us such a lovely season in which to begin it.
This story also appears in my book, Somewhere in Heaven My Mother is Smiling~

and in Front Porch Magazine