Memories written on paper, but held in the heart

There was only one time that I saw my mother-in-law cry. She was a dichotomy, a woman who loved unconditionally and a tough cookie.

She was a nurse when World War II began. Within a month after Pearl Harbor, she told her parents she wanted to join the Army Nurse Corps. They told her ladies didn’t do such things. She was a lady, but she was also a patriot.

Her unit did not ship out to Europe until December 1943. Their destination was Stockbridge, England. She kept a journal overseas. Entries were sporadic, often cryptic, many only a sentence or a phrase.

“First night overseas. Slept in a hut with only two little coal stoves.”

She picked up a 3-week-old black and white dog in England and named her Vicki, short for Victoria and fed it bits of her meals.


Her outfit, the 25th General Hospital, was responsible for setting up and opening field hospitals. They cared for the wounded, mainly Allies, but also prisoners of war. Many of those she tended to died.

“Got sick. Left England with few regrets.”

In July 1944, the month after D-Day, they crossed the English Channel, arrived at Utah Beach set up a 1,000-bed tented hospital near Lison, Normandy, France.

“I’ve worked all around this week – mostly with prisoners – two half days with our boys.”

Another entry reads: “That d—- (she used dashes) Hitler. He should be hung from a toe until dead.”

When the German offensive began, they moved to Belgium.

She mentioned receiving a package from home, noting every item it contained and wrote, “I pray to God things will revert to as near normal as possible when we go home.”

Early in 1945 she wrote, “The more I think of it, the more I liked France in spite of the mud.”

Jan 14: “Here’s hoping the buzz bombs don’t start here. It is wonderfully quiet.”

Feb. 10: “Enjoyed 10 days of work. The boys were swell.”

March 13: “Bombers really coming back today. It was a wonderful sight.”

March 14: “More bombers today. Germany must look like a sieve.”

A few days later from Aachen, Germany: “Talking about sieves – Aachen looks like one. Very few people on streets.”

The most personal entry was written May 7, 1945: “I walked across a meadow so peaceful and beautiful that I had an indescribable feeling of loneliness. I don’t believe I have had a more deep sense of being alone than I did at that moment. It lingered for a couple of days, too. Victory here was expected any moment and there is no one on this side to whom I mean much. Needing companionship, as I always have, it is more wanted at a time like that than any other.”

She smuggled Vicki onto the troop ship heading home, hiding the dog in her overcoat.


Not long after returning, she found the companionship she had longed for and married. In 1950, expecting their first child, she told the obstetrician she’d like to have the baby without drugs. She’d learned of the Lamaze method overseas.

The doctor told her that was not possible.

She said it was possible.

He said if she wanted to try a crazy thing like that, she could get a different doctor.

So she did.

She lived a good and full life and was never easily rattled. When she was concerned about something, she’d let you know, but in a measured tone. Or she’d simply chew her bottom lip.

As she aged, her memory began fading. Eventually, it was easier to remember things long ago instead of things in the recent past.

One day, someone found her box of World War II memorabilia and placed it in her lap. She opened the box, exposing a bright array of red, gold, and blue on emblems, patches and insignias. Soldiers had torn them from their uniforms and given them to her as tokens of gratitude for good care in dark days.

Her eyes welled and soon she was sobbing, memories unleashing a torrent of tears.

It was a deep and sorrowful moment of remembrance.

Traditionally, every Memorial Day at 3 p.m., many Americans have paused for one minute to remember those died in service to the country.

In this age of vitriol, division and polarization, we could all use a moment of unity, a moment reflecting on the sacrifices of others that have enabled us to live free.

 

 

Why mothers might worry

Our kids are in their 30s now. It’s the big exhale. They’re grown, finished with school, settled in solid marriages and raising kids of their own. Everything is good. Everybody is on track. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, the bathroom scale said I was down two pounds and I’m having a good hair day.

Life is good.

Mid-morning, the oldest daughter stops by and announces she is going to have laser eye surgery.

“Creepers!” I shout.

Who lets someone reshape their eyes with a laser while they are semi-conscious? She begins detailing the procedure and I slap my hands over my eyes.

I feign enthusiasm saying, “Wonderful! You can lose the contacts and glasses.”

She accuses me of insincerity. Maybe it’s because she can’t pry my hands away from my eyes.

“Don’t worry. I’ll be fine,” she says.

At noon, our son calls to say he is going to Alaska on business and will email his travel itinerary. He forwards a confirmation for a primitive cabin in the wilderness. It has a wooden platform for a sleeping bag, a table and chairs and a woodstove. The fine print says, “If you want water, melt snow but be sure to purify it.”

Are you kidding?” I yell into the phone. “Bears!”

He responded by sending a picture of the mountains where the cabin is.

“I can’t see it! My hands are stuck in front of my face. Your sister’s having eye surgery and now you’re camping alone in Alaska when you could be staying in a nice hotel. May I remind you that you have five kids?”

“Yeah,” he says. “I think it’s going to be very quiet.”

“What does your wife think?”

“She very sad – that she can’t go, too.”

“You don’t have to go to the wilderness for peace and quiet. We could come babysit, you know.”

“Don’t worry,” he says. “I’ll be fine.”

I ask him to text when he’s out of the wild and on the job site. He agrees, but says it could be late in the day because he’ll be very busy.

How long does it take to text “A-L-I-V-E” to your mother?

My stomach is churning, my hair is wild from running my hands through it and I am standing in front of the ‘fridge with the urge to graze.

I call our youngest and ask, “What crazy thing are you planning? Skydiving? Running with the bulls? Storm chasing?”

“What are you talking about?” she asks.

“Don’t play that game with me, missy. Your brother and sister just dropped big ones on me and you’re probably up to something, too. It’s not enough that one of you worries me sick, I know how you like to team up.”

“I’m not up to anything,” she says. “You need to calm down. We’re all responsible adults now. Why would you worry?”

Because once a mom, always a mom. That’s why.

 

Messing with a neat idea

It only took one episode of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, the international decluttering guru, to make me a fan. Because I knew the KonMarie method of purging and organizing would be life-changing, I began keeping a diary as I embraced minimalism.

Fell in love with KonMarie method of decluttering. You hold an object close and if it does not spark joy, get rid of it! Now we’re talking! This is going to be great. Our closets will be functional! The kitchen will be streamlined!       Our dresser drawers will look like works of art!

Spent afternoon organizing dresser drawers, folding clothes into thirds and then into small squares. Like doing origami with all my jeans. Workout clothes all folded and standing up like miniature pup tents. Feeling exhilarated!


Since all my workout clothes are black or gray, had to shake out 16 small rectangles while still half asleep at 5 a.m. to tell workout pants from leggings from T-shirt that I wanted for the gym. Will refold clothes watching another episode of “Tidying Up” later tonight.

Decluttered garage. Didn’t throw away much, but tools, sports equipment, lawn care supplies, and water toys are now in large plastic tubs with lids. Minimalism is expensive. Feeling fatigued. And broke.

Fingers cramping from constantly folding socks and underwear into tiny squares. Thinking there must be more to life.

Three-year-old granddaughter taking an interest in folding. Can fold dishtowels into small precision squares. Good to have help.

Have worn same clothes to the gym three days in a row so I don’t have to keep unfolding and refolding.

Refreshed after doing a KonMarie on laundry room. Steam iron did not bring spark of joy. Tossed it. Washer and dryer did not spark joy. Called for big truck to haul them away. ‘Fridge and stove going next.

Husband complaining that the stove and refrigerator are gone. Some people are not suited for minimalism.

Tried to interest 3-year-old in folding fitted sheets into tiny rectangles. No interest. Not so interested myself.

Watched another episode. Think Marie knows about my workout clothes and is judging me.

Noticed Marie doesn’t carry a purse. No makeup? No wallet, cash, credit cards, ID? Maybe she folded them all into teeny tiny squares and tucked them into a teeny tiny pocket. Not giving up my big purses. Ever. Not even for sweet Marie.

Marie says to get rid of books. Am reeling from shock. Every book we own sparks joy. Marie and I are clearly on different pages.

Suspect Marie lives in a totally empty house. Good for her, but I miss eating.

Found a square of chocolate I missed in the pantry purge. Am rejuvenated and heading to the thrift store. At the rate people have been decluttering, there are probably some good buys on major appliances.

Am taking my big brown purse. One of five.

Sorry, Marie.

 

Remember where you came from

Statistics reveal that family sizes are shrinking around the world. In many countries, families are having fewer than two children—not just one child mind you but, according to the charts, 1.75 or 1.8.

I always worry about those fraction children.

Smaller families mean smaller extended families with many children now growing up with fewer cousins, maybe one here and 1.8 over there. This is hard to imagine as I come from a large extended family with 23 first cousins on one side and 25 on the other, which makes a grand total of 48.

Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I test my mental acuity by trying to name all my aunts and uncles and cousins. Then in the morning I get up and wonder if I should make an appointment with a brain specialist.

Of course, almost all those 48 cousins have married and had children and now their children are having children and we have multiplied faster than cell phones.

With extended family growing so large and spreading so far, reunions have nearly become a thing of the past. One of the last reunions some time ago on my father’s side was at the home of a cousin who has place in the country on top of a hill with surrounding acreage. A tent was set up for shade, a large equipment building held long tables creaking under the weight of fried chicken, potato salad and chocolate cake. A fishing hole waited nearby for the kids. Vehicles poured in from every direction, parking on the drive, the grass, wherever they could find a spot. There was talking and laughing and joking and food and more food. It was pitch black when the last set of taillights disappeared into the night.

While reunions have grown infrequent, funerals have not.

We have just returned from the funeral of a dearly loved man who was married to one of my cousins. He was the oldest of 12 siblings. It was a big funeral with streams of silent tears and muffled sobs.

There was a meal afterward because we are people who share the belief that food is an elixir in times of sorrow.

Although some of us have not seen one another since so-and-so’s wedding or somebody’s father’s funeral, most were still easy to recognize. Three sisters who sat together all have the same beautiful skin their mother had.

The cousin with bright blue eyes who barrel raced her horse as a teen still has bright blue eyes. An older cousin who gave me piano lessons when I was young and flighty didn’t seem to hold any grudges.

A smattering of cousins wore hearing aids and some that didn’t probably should. Being that we share the same gene pool, the future suddenly looks somewhat, well, muted. But we also share a gene pool of people who work hard and laugh often.

As we gathered our things, said our goodbyes and prepared to leave, a cousin called to me saying, “Don’t forget where you came from.”

I never could. And I’d never try.

Surely we weren’t in the same house at the same time

How is it that a group of people can be in the same house at the same time, experience the same event, yet have markedly different memories?

The way I remember it: Five grandkids were here for a long weekend and it was loud. Very loud.

The way the kids remember it: Five of us cousins were together for a couple of days at Grandma’s. We used our inside voices.

Grandpa: A couple of the grandkids spent the night. Maybe two nights. Or three. If it was loud, I didn’t notice.

Grandma: The kids spent one morning crafting at the kitchen table. There was construction paper everywhere, scissors all over the place, markers without lids, glue sticks rolling on the floor, tape that wouldn’t peel off the roll, a jammed stapler and a hole punch that had opened from the bottom and showered the floor with confetti. One kid had marker on her face and another had marker covering the sides of her both hands. The tablecloth we use when they craft was a smidge on the table and mostly on the floor.

The kids: We made art. Wanna see it?

Grandpa: It may have gotten a little wild at the kitchen table. I didn’t really notice. The tape was old and kept getting stuck. I was focused on unsticking the tape.

Grandma: It was time for lunch, so I said, “Clear the table, then go wash your hands.”
The kids: Grandma said go wash your hands, so we did.

Grandpa: I helped with lunch by keeping the kids out of the kitchen. I moved the coffee table out of the way in the family room so they could do cartwheels and somersaults.

Grandma: I cleaned up the crafting mess, boiled water for mac and cheese, made a few sandwiches for the peanut butter-only wing, peeled and cut apples, halved some bananas, cooked the macaroni, set the table, threw in another load of laundry, finished the mac and cheese, iced a head bump that mysteriously happened in the family room, put the milk on and called them to the table.

The kids: Grandma is a good cook and we told her so.

Grandpa: I walked into the kitchen and there was lunch. It’s like magic.

Grandma: After lunch, I said, “Why don’t you kids clear the table and dry a few dishes?” They each grabbed a dishtowel and pulled up a chair next to the kitchen counter. I washed, they dried. I finished washing before they finished drying and went into the other room to pick up some toys. I folded laundry, straightened up the bathroom where they had washed up and cleared a path in the front hall.

The kids: After lunch Grandma went into the other room. We think she sat in a chair. The sink was filled with dirty dishes. We cleaned up the whole kitchen all by ourselves while Grandma sat in a chair.

Grandpa: She looks well rested to me. Those kids are a huge help every time they come.

 

Easter now trending

Google doesn’t acknowledge Easter. Or at least the Google doodle doesn’t.

For the past 18 years, the “doodle” logo atop Google’s home page – which is cleverly altered to recognize a person or holiday — has been empty of any visual reference to the empty tomb of Christ. The irony is delightful.

Had cyberspace and digital technology been around at the time of Christ, the news of his death and resurrection would have spread even faster, despite certain search engines’ reluctance to acknowledge it.

The women who went to the burial tomb on the third day and found it empty would have been the first to tweet #heisnothere and #heisrisen.

The male disciples ran to the tomb to have a look for themselves. More retweets would have followed: #heisrisenindeed.

Naturally, the opposition would have started a Twitter firestorm with #heisnotrisen #hewasmerelyunconscious and #disciplesstolethebody.

On Instagram, followers would have posted pictures of the empty tomb that had been secured for Christ’s body by Joseph of Arimathea. Quickly, on-line opposition would have rallied, calling for a boycott of Arimathea Tombs and Crypts and all advertisers. Within minutes, mobs would have called for the resignation of Mr. Arimathea.

On Facebook, people would have been posting, “I can’t believe that Christ has miraculously risen from the dead. This is a picture of the heart in my latte when I heard the news.”

Technology or not, the outcome would have been the same. Some would have believed; some would not.

The questions then are the same questions asked now — How does a man rise from the dead? Can a man honestly claim to be the Son of God? How can one man’s death forgive the sins of others? How can a good God permit evil?

How hard do we search out answers today? Google “Did Jesus rise from the dead” and you have 55,900,000 answers in .51 seconds. Click and done.

Highly respected archaeologist Sir William Mitchell Ramsay spent 15 years trying to prove the historical inaccuracies of the New Testament. Instead, he was convinced of the incredibly accuracy of the book and converted to Christianity.

Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton portrays a man earnestly reading, searching and growing in faith through his middle years until his death at 49. Christianity was a foundational aspect of his thinking, yet entirely absent in the smash musical.

The road to C. S. Lewis’s conversion was lined with much reading and reflection. He was heavily influenced by the writings of G.K. Chesterton and George MacDonald. Lewis wrote in his autobiography, “In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for… A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.”

A life of faith is not a once-and-done moment, like a tweet or FB post. Maturing faith requires the things we are least willing to give — time for reading, reflection, quiet, conversations and prayer.

Seek and you shall find. You may even find that he is risen.

Two tickets for the matinee nap, please

For the most part, going to the movies is the equivalent of an expensive nap for us. We are both on the move most of the time and usually sleep-deprived, so when we slow down and sit completely still our brains signal our bodies that it is time to sleep.

We were glad to see that our local theater understands this. Their seats used to be big puffy chairs with huge cup holders that would hold a 2-liter of soda, but they have remodeled and now the big puffy chairs that hold 2-liter drinks also recline.

We found the recline quite by accident.  I saw a button on the arm of my chair and said, “I wonder what this is?”


The husband said, “Don’t touch that if you don’t know—”

WHOOSH! I was in recline position. Totally reclined.

If there had been skylights, I could have been stargazing.

If a dentist had appeared holding that crooked little wire tool that makes that scratching noise, I would have instinctively opened my mouth.

“How did you do that to the chair?” the husband asked.

“I just hit this button on the arm. Look, you have one right —”

WHOOSH! He was reclining, too.

“Well, what do you think?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “I may have vertigo.”

“I feel like I’m about to be wheeled off to surgery. All that’s missing is the IV and an anesthesiologist calmly insisting I will wake up when the surgery is over.”

Others around us are reclining as well. I can’t see a chair that isn’t reclining. My maternal instincts want to check on the younger people in recliners asking if they’re comfortable, need their favorite stuffed animal, a blankie or a drink of water.

The husband says to stay put. If they’re old enough to buy a ticket, they’re old enough to bring their own blankie.

I have no choice but to stay put. Finding how the button works to get the chair upright is not as easy as getting it to recline.

The recliners are so comfortable they are not exactly conducive to alertness. We don’t always stay awake when we’re upright in a movie theater, let alone in nap position. It doesn’t matter if it’s a car chase, buildings exploding or double-agents cliff jumping, at some point both of us will probably doze during key plot developments. We put the story line together on the way home in the car.

The theater fills and moviegoers are clearly relaxed and enjoying the new recliners.

“They’re sitting on a gold mine,” I say to the husband. “I’ve read about businesses that set up nap rooms where employees can catch a few winks on a cot. Think how many hours this theater is not showing movies and the recliners all go unused. They could rent them out for naps. Great idea, don’t you think? Who couldn’t sleep in one of these?

“Honey?”

 

Grandma’s every move under surveillance

If I’ve told those grandkids once, I’ve told them 100 times, what happens at Grandma’s, stays at Grandma’s.

I just received a frantic text.

“The girls say you fed them ice cream for lunch!”

“And?”“And nothing else. Just ice cream. Is that true?”

“Does that sound like us?”

“Mmmmmhmmmmm.”

“Ice cream is in one of the major food groups. We got you covered for dairy today.”

“Right, thanks.”

“Btw, technically it wasn’t lunch. We didn’t feed them until almost 2, which made it more like an afternoon snack.”

The week before that, we had kept a crew for a few hours and after they were picked up, we had another series of texts.

“I can’t find the pants the baby wore to your house.”

“What color were they?”

“Orange. The girls say you threw them in the trash.”

“She had a blowout. The pants were beyond redemption. If you’d seen them, you would have agreed. You have better things to do with your time.”

“OK.”

“I’m sorry I threw them the trash.”

“That’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”

“No, I mean the entire garage smells now. We should have burned them.”

We’re the ones watching the kids, but we’re also being watched by them. They’re stealth. They silently track our every move, make mental notes, then blab everything they see to their parents.

Overheard in the backyard:

“Grandpa got in trouble with Grandma while you were gone.”

“What did he do?”

“He bought two more tricycles at the thrift store and then hid them from Grandma and pulled them out when we got here and Grandma says he doesn’t need to keep buying tricycles, that four tricycles and three wagons are enough for us kids and the garage is full and a mess, but we like it when Grandpa keeps buying things.”

“And then Grandma went back in the house and Grandpa said, ‘Don’t you kids worry, I’ll keep buying fun things for you,’ and then Grandma stuck her head back out the kitchen door and yelled, ‘I heard that!’”

“Yeah, we hope Grandma doesn’t make Grandpa go to bed early tonight.”

A phone call after an overnight:

“The kids say you let them watch a show with wolves with sharp teeth and they were chasing small animals.”

“It was a nature video. I turned it off before the wolves started devouring their prey. Do you know the difference between a wolf and a coyote?”

“Why?”

“Ask the kids how to tell the difference between a wolf and a coyote.”

Pause.

“They say a wolf is bigger, but a coyote has longer ears with sharper points.”

“Then I guess they learned something and you did, too. It was educational at Grandma’s house.”

It always is.

Why we’re not leading the marriage conference

Our youngest daughter and her husband received an invitation to a marriage conference, one of those weekend gatherings where someone talks about improving communication—like finding a sweet way for him to tell her that she has morning breath and how she can gently let him know that if he cracks his knuckles one more time she may go ballistic.

Naturally, I inquired about the conference leaders’ credentials. I wasn’t talking degrees and alphabet soup behind a person’s name; I was curious as to know how long the conference speakers have been married, when their last argument was, what it was about and how they resolved it.

Our daughter said she didn’t know how long they had been married. Then she said—and this is the absolute truth—“With as long as you and Dad have been married, you could probably lead a conference.”

It was a lovely compliment. It was so lovely I considered asking her to repeat it so I could record it on my cell phone but decided that would not be showcasing good communication skills. We were deeply touched—especially considering that she lived under the same roof with us for the first 18 years of her life.

The husband and I then had a misunderstanding regarding an event on the calendar. It wasn’t a terse exchange, but perhaps somewhat business-like, not particularly dripping with honey.

She then announced that maybe we might be more suited for leading a workshop.

One minute we’re conference leadership material and the next minute we’re downgraded to workshop leaders.

Fine.

The husband then returned to his computer and began humming. I asked him to please stop humming. I’m not against humming, but when he hums it is never a real song or a full song, so the humming sounds like someone a few crayons shy of a full box.

She then offered that maybe we’d be best at leading a breakout session. A breakout session is usually cobbled together at the last minute for people who failed to sign up for the workshops before they filled. It was a definite downgrade.

Forty years of marriage and all we could qualify for is leading a breakout session. Maybe.

The husband asked what was for dinner and I said, “Chicken.”

“Again?” he asked.

There was an edge to his voice.

I heard it. She heard it. The chicken heard it.

She then suggested we might be suited for working the refreshment table.

“We could,” the husband said, “if they don’t mind chicken.”

He went back to humming and I started preparing the chicken.

“Know what your father and I would really be good at doing at a conference?” I asked, dousing the chicken in olive oil. “Parking cars!”

The husband jumped up from his computer and we high-fived each other. We may not be communication experts, but we know how to have fun.

We’ll be the ones wearing orange safety vests in the parking lot.

 

Why dance when you can floss?

The irony is not lost on me that the child teaching me how to do the dance craze known as the floss is missing four teeth.

Two on top. Two on bottom. Gone. Nothing but a black hole when she grins. The kid has nothing to floss, but here she is doing the floss, arms flying, hips swinging, smiling from ear to ear, shouting, “C’mon try it!”

“What’s the name of that dance again?”

“The floth!”

That’s right, the floth—distant cousin to a dance called the sloth—a dance where you sit motionless and watch others go through awkward gyrations.

The floss has been all the rage for more than a year and I am late to the party, or the bathroom sink. But here I am.

I am learning the floss to disprove claims that only young people can do the floss because adults lack necessary eye-hand coordination.

How absurd. Just yesterday I spotted a kid jumping on the bed and another trying to hide beneath it and nabbed one in each hand. My eye-hand coordination is excellent.

That said, the floss is harder than it looks. With feet apart, arms extended and fists clenched, you pretend to be holding dental floss. Now, swing both arms with clenched fists from side to side in front of you, back and forth. Now, this time when you swing your arms, swing one arm in front of you and the other arm behind your back.

Repeat in the other direction. Or go sit down and work on the sloth.

After you get the arms swinging, the hips join in, swinging in the opposite direction of the arms. Now try chewing gum at the same time. Or reciting the alphabet backward.

If I were holding real floss, I would have floss burns on my waist, floss circling my ears and a few strands woven through my hair. My arms tend to overcompensate for what my hips seem unable to accomplish, although my dance instructor is yelling, “Way to floth!”

Inspired, I yell, “Do the toothpaste squeeze!” Arms raised, we move our thumbs and index fingers like we are rolling the end of a toothpaste tube, squeezing out the last bead.

“Do the brush!” someone else yells.

We mimic brushing our teeth with invisible toothbrushes.

“Now the ambidextrous brush!” I yell, upping the ante.

Since they have taught me the floss, I offer to teach them the twist.

“Feet together, pretend you are holding one end of a bath towel in each hand and are drying your back after stepping out of the shower, back and forth, while moving up and down. Now move one foot forward and pretend to extinguish a cigarette with your toe.”

“But, Grandma, we don’t smoke!”

“Of course you don’t! You don’t floss every day, either! Just dance!”

We are flossing and twisting and twisting and flossing, cleaning our teeth and finishing our imaginary showers with such vigor, that tomorrow we may all skip our morning routine—which sounds a lot like doing the sloth.