Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Oh, Johnny

Old friendships…

Near the end of every school year, Mrs. Justice, our music teacher, would direct a themed musical production featuring first through sixth grades.  Every grade level would perform song and dance numbers in the gymnasium while our parents looked on. Huge illustrations drawn by one of Mrs. Justice’s daughters adorned the cement walls of the gym, giving it a festive feel.
It seemed I was often chosen as a dancer in these productions.  I think that says less about my dancing prowess and more about how little my singing was missed in the choir. The dance I remember most vividly was a square dance titled Oh, Johnny!
My partner, James Howard, was about as thrilled to be square dancing with a girl as any eight-year-old boy would be.  Like most square dances we had our main partners, but by the time we had do-si-doed and allemanded left a few times, we had danced our way through the entire troupe.  We then rejoined our original partners and danced the final portion of the dance with them.
The linking arms and moving through partners in the square dance closely resembled the evolution of friendships throughout the different phases of our lives.  I remember the little eight-year-old girls who shared my friendship all those years ago.  We grew up.  Some of us grew closer over time; some more distant.  New friends from new places moved in and out of the friendship circle as though dancing to the commands of some unseen square dance caller.  I remained aware of my friends from long ago even as time and distance made it harder for them to move freely within  the friendship circle.

Now, here we are in middle-age.  The rhythm of the dance has slowed somewhat, but we still link arms from time to time moving in and out of each other’s lives when we hear that familiar call.  And just like as we did in Oh, Johnny we make our way back to the original partners, the friends we’ve had for a lifetime.  We work our way back into the circle to the spots where we feel at home, the same spots where we danced so long ago in a gym filled with song.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Country Darkness

Mama Kat

Ron and Gladys had day jobs though I didn’t know much about them.  What I did know was every Wednesday and Saturday night Ron tended bar and Gladys waited tables at the Elks Club which meant every Wednesday and Saturday night I watched their two girls out on the Old Bogue Road.
Ron and Gladys were country people. I was small-town, and there is a difference between country and small-town.  That difference is most pronounced after sundown.
In the country, dark is absolute and perfect.  Even in the smallest of towns the darkness is disrupted by street lights, and porch lights, and light creeping out from the places where someone works late or a poor soul can’t sleep.  But the country is cloaked in darkness.  Each farm seems to have one tall lamppost with a single fixture pointing down, casting a circle of light, but just outside that circle lies complete darkness.
Country people seem comforted by the perfect darkness.  It seals off their day and allows them to sleep in peace.  A small-town girl like me finds no comfort in a darkness that hides what lies outside, and so it was on the Old Bogue Road.
The girls and I had played Hide and Seek until I couldn’t stand any more, then we’d switched to Annie, Annie Over for what felt like forever. The darkness was slow to come that night, and we had made the most of the long summer day.  The girls were tucked in bed now, taking in long breaths that whistled quietly when exhaled.  I was curled into the corner of the couch reading a library book when I first heard something brush against the side of the house near the front door.
I stiffened and concentrated all of my energy into listening.  A thump and then the brushing again.  The sounds repeated until they became a rhythm–thump, brush, thump, brush.  My mind ran over all the possible things that could cause noise like that.  A picture of the front stoop filled my memory, but I could not produce a single thing we had left lying loose that might be swinging in a breeze.
I crept towards the front window near the door each step as silent as the grave. The thought sent a shiver down my spine and I admonished myself for getting so frightened by a little sound.  I flattened myself against the wall and with an almost imperceptible motion pulled the curtain back just far enough to look outside.  Whatever was making the noise was pressed too close to the house to see, but there was an undeniable shadow of movement registering on the edge of the light circle cast by the yard light.  As I stood stock still wondering what to do next, the handle of the door rattled causing my to swallow the golf ball sized lump in my throat.
Padding into the kitchen, I silently slid open a drawer and grabbed hold of the wooden handle of a butcher knife.  Deciding my best bet would be to know who or what I would be up against and to use the element of surprise, I made my way to the back door.  I was going to slip around the house and make my approach from behind.
Descending the back steps on bare feet, I was careful not to make sound.  Then I eased around the back of the house and up the north side, grateful now for the country darkness that cloaked me.  I got to the front corner of the house and froze.  My next step could expose me.  At the very least that step meant there would be no turning back.
I prayed, realizing suddenly the prayer had been running through my head for some time now. I took a deep breath, clutched the knife handle securely, and stepped out of the safety of the darkness at the side of the house hoping I was prepared for whatever I found.  I was not.   At the front door of the house just at the edge of the circle of light thrown down from the tall lamppost stood a cow trying repeatedly to relieve an itch on her back by brushing against the house and then rubbing the door handle back and forth down her spine.
Dropping the knife, I slid to the ground.  I sat alone laughing loudly into the country darkness.  The cow slowly turned her head to look at me in wonder before returning to her rhythmic brushing against the house.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Lone Leaf

Three leaves rustling in the breeze caught my eye.  The tree had shed all its other leaves some time ago, but these three were still firmly hanging on.
My mind shifted to Maudene, a dear lady from church.  Though she hasn’t been well lately she was always a spunky lady with a quick smile and quicker wit.  After their husbands died, Maudene and her friends, Lois and Carol, attended church and Sunday brunch together every week.  They could always be found at the 11:00 service on the East side of the sanctuary about five pews back, heads together sharing a story and laughter.
Tenacious as the three leaves dancing on the branch over my head, these ladies held on.  Both Lois and Carol’s memories and thoughts became muddled over time.  Their bright minds darkened.  Both ladies died in their nineties.
It was bittersweet after this to see Maudene alone in their pew on a Sunday morning.  More than once we moved to join her.
What must it be like to be the last one holding tight, no one to dance in the breeze with you.  No one to share the stories and the laughter.  There is tremendous blessing in a long life, well lived.  Still, there must be pain and loneliness that comes of being the last one still holding on.  The lone leaf.
I pray for Maudene’s restored health.  I pray she doesn’t experience pain.  I pray that some day when her time comes, she is able to let go peacefully, and that her soul is caught on an updraft, the lone leaf dancing across the sky.

I wrote this several years ago.  Maudene is no longer with us.  Coincidentally, my daughter was hired by a local dental practice earlier this year.  The office is managed by Maudene's daughter, Marti.  

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Gap Year

Originally I wrote this for a Folk Journaling project as my son was finishing his senior year of high school (2013).  He didn't end up taking a gap year and has just graduated college.  His studies took him to China, France, Germany, England, and on occasion even Kansas.   Today he turns 23, and I am reposting in honor of him.

It is the last semester of my last kid’s last year in high school.  Years ago I thought I would be a weepy mess by this point, but I am not.  He is a great kid with a huge heart and good mind.  He has two older sisters who have gone before him and shown me that a young adult can leave your home, but never leave your heart.  So, much to my surprise (and no doubt his), I am getting anxious to see what comes next.
My son comes from a long line of males on my side of the family who are late bloomers in terms of achievement matching ability.  For several years now I have been promoting the idea of a gap year between high school and college.  Recently, I think my son heard what I have been saying for the first time.  Delayed entry to college makes sense to us all.  So, the search has begun for an appropriate gap year experience.
Travel is educational and encourages maturation, but it comes with a price tag that exceeds what my son has available.  His dad and I are not interested in working here at home to pay for our eighteen-year-old to be a jet-setting tourist.
I have found programs that pair international travel and earning college credits.  If we aren’t going to send him to college in the USA in the fall because we think he could use more time to grow ready for the experience, how could taking classes half a planet away serve him well?
The third option we found online is a combination of international travel and service.  This is the option that has us the most excited.  Serving others is good for your soul.  It makes you appreciate what you have as well as what others do to serve you.  There is nothing like hard work at minimal wages to make you begin to see the value of higher education. Helping to pay your own way builds self-confidence.  It gives you a clearer picture of the worth of a dollar.
I see by the application deadlines that we are arriving late to this party.  So, we will be scrambling over the next several weeks in an attempt to make this happen for him.  I have no idea what our search will unearth, but  I trust that we will forge the best plan for his growth and development.
There is a big world out there, and nearly everything my son has done to this point has signaled his intention to explore it.  His knowledge of geography surpassed mine more than a decade ago.  His favorite classes are the three foreign languages he studies.  His future holds the promise of great things.  As his mother, I will do all in my power to give him the world.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

When You're a Mother...

When you’re a mother…
It is not easy to trust that someone else could care for your child’s life the way that you do.
It is not easy to let them take their first tentative steps out into a world you know to be dangerous and unpredictable.
It is not easy when those steps into the word are not their first and are no longer approached tentatively.
Its not easy to sit back and watch your children take a path that life experience tells you is a dead end road.
It is not easy to not lambast someone who uses your child as a doormat, even if it was your child who printed the word “welcome” upon that mat.
It is not easy to keep your mouth shut even when you know you should.
It is not easy to watch your child try on roles that do not suit the person you know him or her to be, though you know it is in trying on roles, discarding some, and embracing others that your child will define who (s)he is and will become.
It is not easy to refrain from prodding and allow your child to tackle situations in his or her own good time even though you know the world’s time does not mesh.
It is not easy to allow your child to put themselves in situations that cause them pain even though you know it was through difficulty that you yourself learned best.
When you are a mother, it is just plain not easy; but then again, the most worthwhile things never are.

Originally written January 25, 2013.  Shared today in honor of my second-born's 25th birthday.  Nothing in my life has given me greater challenges or deeper joys than being a mother.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


 Mama Kat

The job you dreamed you wanted when you grew up.

While other kids were playing things like Kick the Can and Cowboys and Indians, my imagination took me to some odd places.  I played things like Democratic National Convention and a dramatic play game called Uncle Fargo and Aunt Margo which was nothing more than a thinly disguised plan concocted by my friend Chris and me in an effort to fan the flames of romance between her sister and my brother. But perhaps my perennial favorite fantasy play was Missionary.  
Lining my dolls up side by side I would evaluate their needs.  Some would be desperate for clothing, others required medical attention and all were in need of a nutritious meal. Dinners were served on the set of Blue Willow doll china I received one Christmas. Any dolls who had been orphaned were paired with suitable doll families.  Once these immediate needs were seen to, the preaching began immediately followed by academic instruction.
As an adult my work style might be best described as serial monogamy.  I am passionate about the work I do.  I throw myself into it completely.  Single-mindedly,  I tend to give until I am used up.
I then retreat for a period; I rest and refocus. After some self-care and soul searching I stumble onto the next vocation that sparks my interest--vocations that would seem quite familiar to the little girl at play so long ago.  I work very hard in each chosen field for several years until I have once again used up my reserves.
Though I have never journeyed to far off lands to find work as I did in my imagination during childhood, my work has seen me travel through multiple careers. After college I taught both elementary school and pre-school children.  Following grad school I spent several years as a social worker working with families.  I moved on to the job of Director of Children's Programming at my church.  Currently, I am back in the school system serving as School Social Worker to middle school students.
Looking back I would have to say I've been playing Missionary for a good long while now.  It is hard to imagine that will ever change.

Thankful: The Language Arts Edition

On a road trip years ago we had ventured into unchartered (by us) territory.  I was behind the wheel; my husband was navigating.  Anticipating our exit, we were uncertain whether it would be on the left or the right ahead.  Scouring the map, my husband gave a command which I wasn’t sure I had heard correctly.  “The left?”, I asked as it drew ever nearer.  “Right, right, right”, he shouted as I changed lanes looking for a non-existent exit on ….ahem…the right.
Turns out it would have been more productive if he had shouted, correct, correct, correct when I asked if the exit was on the left.  Language is funny that way, it is only as helpful as our ability to use it well.
It has been a week of language used well, and for this I am truly thankful.

It was Youth Sunday at my church last Sunday.  Three of our high school seniors told their personal story about growing in their faith.  I was Director of Children’s Ministry for ten years and watched these kids grow up which was a joy in itself, but when they spoke about the experience, it affirmed years of my work.
They touched my heart with words of gratitude, words of promise, words of affirmation and words of love.  Not to mention their love of the word.
My son has me learning German online.  He hopes to study in Germany this fall and wants us to come and share some of the sights and experiences.  We are still in the planning stage and don’t know yet if it is all going to come together, but he set up an account for me at so I can chat with the locals just in case.
I am thankful that the huge world is more manageable than it used to be to allow travel and the experience of other cultures.  I am thankful for the opportunities my kids have.  I am thankful they are eager to share their world with us.
I am thankful for the language of love which we celebrated with a very nice Valentine’s Day.  And for a new little person born on 2/12/14, my newest Great-niece, Charlotte Anne. And for Charlotte’s mom and dad, Laura and Nathan~may they enjoy parenthood.

#355 through 365 of my 1000 Gifts.
This classic thank you note was first written in 2014 and remains one of my favorites.