Sunday, April 20, 2014

Butter





"Joe-Joe, guess what." Jane tilts her head. In another era she'd have hands on her hips, but today she just sighs.

There moored at the bottleneck part of the kitchen, Joe stands tip-toe, his elbows propped on the counter. A red step stool wobbles against his weight. He clanks the butter knife back to the butter dish, blinks.

"We don't eat plain butter in this family," Jane staccatos each word. She scoops the pottery dish beyond his reach, then softens her eyes. "I know, it sounds sort of crazy," she says.







Joe, the glisten of butter around his lips, grunts disapproval.

Then, it's Monday the wide mouth of afternoon open and grinning at us.

"Alright, everyone suit up for bike rides," I say.

"Yay," the children cheer. They gather scruffy tennis shoes and helmets. I brew a cup of espresso.







"Mom," Myra jangles at my elbow, a blue helmet balanced on red cloud hair. "Jude really likes me because he like my BIKE," she beams. For all the beatitude in her voice I can picture hands clasped beneath her chin. "He maybe likes me BEST," she says.

"Oh," I say. Jude, cousin of all bluster and gusto, always finds redheaded girl in a crowd.

"I'm just so excited 'cause Jude likes me SO much," she says. I nod, her face resplendent with friendship.







They blast up and down the street, pedals spindling spools of mirth. The cousins can't come. Jack's bike almost breaks. Still, warm sun careens across our skin, fractures dullness and woe.

The night circles up at the old black table. We gobble bowls of soup, chew down bread, butter, a generous smear atop. And we unweave the day in gossamer threads of conversation.

The dishes pile in the sink, bowls balanced in uneven stacks, silverware pinched in between. Jane loads the dishwasher, the mathematical plodding of duty, the slavedriver at her elbow. Slog and schlepp, plough and drudge, she pulses the dirge of duty.







"Jane, stop," I finally say. I whip a wadded scratchie-pad from her hand, a bouquet of silverware in her other. She turns the orbit of her face to me, that same slow plodding. "These do not need to be scrubbed," I say. "Just put them in the dishwasher."

"Oh." she lilts.

"Jane, don't be slow," Craig cannons over my shoulder.

Like mortar in a stain glass window, her face fractures; a smile emerges. "O-K," she says, sighs. "I'll try not to do the dishes with my fingertips."







Fingertips. Indeed. She grasps the silverware along their full shiny backs, docks them in the gray washing basket. She whips a washrag over the counters, sidles miscellaneous jars and pans into place, and settles. Something settles across the back of the evening. Strength rises, wings unfurled, and we carry on.

That last dish clangs into place. I watch her, taller than a year ago, curls springs at her elbows, and duty a weightless banner across her shoulders.









Gratitude:

5348. Jack and I take a hike in the woods. A date.







5349. "I really like birthdays and Christmas," Lu says, "because I get to see Uncle Jesse and Uncle Dan and Uncle Peter. I don't get to see them very much."

5350. White chicken chili and leftovers, I love it when dinner guests leave leftovers. Jack says it's his favorite soup ever.

5351. "Please stop kicking the heater," I scold Myra. "I'm not kicking it," she calls from the other room. "I'm hitting it with a hammer."

5352. Out with my mom, the car dies. Twice. Peter rescues us. Twice. Love.







5353. Rosie arrives home safe from Europe.

5354. Carolyn and Ellin arrive home safe from NYC, a good report from the doctor in hand.

5355. Pillow shams, again. The melons ones go back; cream ones come home. The whole room sings around the white shams.

5356. Lucy pukes in the night. In bed. Craig and I stay up until 3:30 washing puke laundry and watching reruns. He lets me sleep until 10:30.

5357. Jane bakes brown sugar oatmeal cookies for Craig. And me.







5358. We attend Easter service as a family. Rapture. Surrounded by our children, we worship the risen Savior. HE HAS RISEN. HE HAS RISEN INDEED.

5359. Jack challenges me to a chess match. I win. He smiles. "Wanna play another game?" he says.

5360. The girls volunteer with Craig in five of the six Easter services. At the tail end of Sunday we catch dinner with my family. Reclined around the remains of a ham dinner and carrot cheese cake, Mom pulls out the prayer requests from last year and reads them off. HE HAS RISEN INDEED. We praise him for his answers.







5361. We leave some items on the prayer list and add to it.

5362. We get the bad news that Great-Grammie fell and is settled into the hospital. "Who wants to pray for her?" I call to the back of the car. "We do," they chorus. We bring her before our Savior.

5363. Resurrection Day. Greatest Day Of All. I bow my heart in recognition of my Savior. I am lost without him. Praise be to Jesus. Amen.








Sunday, April 13, 2014

Act I





"I'm gonna get Jane a sweater," Jack snaps the back door closed, shakes his wellies off, then lopes through the sunroom. He calls over a shoulder, "She's really high up in the tree."

"Oh," I say, but he's already half down the hallway. The thumb-drum of his footsteps on the hardwoods and he reappears, a striped fleece slung over one arm.

"And Lucy is making a salad out of leaves," he says nary missing a beat, "Jane is picking the leaves and throwing them down." He wiles a foot back into his wellie.

"Uh-huh," I nod, shored up there on the green couch, the space heater full blast in front of me.







"I found a stick, one that is shaped like an axe," he says. He corners the other wellie and pounds his foot into it.

"Yeah?" I say.

"See?" he holds up the curved arm of a branch, the end flattened hatchet style, second-cousin to last week's bow and arrow.

"I'm glad you have it," I grin. He dips his chin.

"Bye." He flicks the door shut and gallops around the house's far corner.







I absorb the trumpeting warmth of the heater, picture Jane up in the tree, a carnival of play marionetted below.

Later, lunch orbited into place, dishes and crumbs vanquished, I join the children outside. The matted lawn feathering shoots of green feels spongy.

"Mom, I'm good at football," Myra says. She swings belly-down on the big yellow swing. She gets a running start and flies up as high as she can. "I'm good at football," she says.







"What makes you say that?" I pull my sweater tight around my shoulders and cross my arms against the last nips of winter.

"'Cause," she says, "I'm good at football, means I'm good at swings." She arcs the swing up as high as she can, toes pointed diver fashion. She pendulums back, grins, gives me a knowing nod.

She pulls me in. I nod back, follow the tic-tock of that swing, her blue eyes leading the way.

The week finally circles back to Sunday. I sit at the old hand-me-down lawyer desk, our computer a tiny face atop it. Myra vacillates at my elbow. Almost well from the pukes two days earlier, she lays her face next to my arm.







"You have sunburn on your cheeks," I say. I trickle my finger over a dusting of pink, new freckles just visible.

"How many days 'til my birthday?" she says.

"Twenty-something." I pull a chocolate square from a crinkled wrapper. I nibble the corner. "This chocolate's two years expired," I say. I roll it over my tongue: chalky. "I know what you should get me on my birthday."

"What?"

"Chocolate."







"Yeah," she trails off. "How many days 'til my birthday?"

"Twenty-something."

"Twenty-eight, maybe. That's not very much." She smiles. "Then I'll be FOUR." She sits up. "Then five. Then six." She stops at ten. "When I'm ten, then will I be a mommy?"

"No," I smooth her red cloud hair, "you have to be twenty. Or about twenty."







"Oh. Then I will be a mommy?"

I memorize the curve of her smile. "What do you think's gonna be your favorite birthday?" I say.

"Probably when you give me chocolate," she says. She tips her head to me, "I don't even want to think about that."

I mimic the blue circles of her eyes. We blink. "Oh," I say.







He face cascades into a smile. "I want it to be a SURPRISE," she says, "my birthday." The moment laps around our shoulders. "I'm starting to think like a GROWN-UP," she says.

We do that thing where we nod in tandem and synchronize smiles, the matching emotions pleasure between us. I feel it. She's memorizing my face: the creases around my eyes, the eddy at the corner of my mouth, that wrinkle up the middle of my forehead. She's tracing the grown-up way, and it's me.







Me.

The main act already begun, and here I was waiting to get to the important part.





Gratitude:

5326. "Mom," Lucy asks, "does Hell make you really thirsty?"

5327. I corner Joe, spoon in hand, elbow deep in the twenty-five pound brown sugar sack.

5328. Craig fixes a broken seal on the bathtub pipes.







5329. We replace our 18 year old vacuum. It's a date.

5330. Almost a hundred tomato seeds sprout in our sunroom.

5331. The Tuesday girls meet at our house this week.

5332. Chocolates. They bring chocolate.







5333. New dish towels. The new dish towels, the cotton flour sack ones, suck the water right off the hands.

5334. "You're right," Lucy says from the far end of the table, "reading really is relaxing when you know all the words."

5335. "Whenever I drink tea," Jane gestures to Joe, "he's like magnetized to me." Joe commandeers five different tea cups that day, taking tariff on each one.

5336. "I wear unda-wear," Myra announces, "'cause I'm a-most a woman."

5337. "I pray for my bad dreams," she tells me, "'cause I want the bad guys to go away. The bad guys are afraid of Jesus."







5338. Jack pours tea for Joe. Joey gives his jungle animals a sip out of the tea trough. "No," I say. He retrieves the tiger, licks a drip of his tail. He blows bubbles in the tea, dribbles it down his chin and into his shirt pocket.

5339. Pizza, oh glorious pizza dinner. Salad. Pineapple dessert, a billow of almond whip cream on top, a shovelful of toasted coconut on top more.

5340. Friends invite us for dinner. The soft evening light, a spring soup, the gentle settling of a day, friendship hems us in.

5341. Craig gets two new shirts for work.







5342. Joe gets new jeans: 3T on his strapping 2T self.

5343. Crayons, the fat triangle ones that don't roll off the table.

5344. Pillow shams. Our bed now has shams to match the quilt, melon shams.

5345. Jane and I go on a date. It includes teal leopard print sunglasses.

5346. "Joe can do GUM," Myra announces. "I just chew it up for him, and then he doesn't swallow it. See?" Joe grins, gum squished between his front teeth.







5347. We reel in another week. It feels important. The work of our hands fills us with pleasure.





Sunday, April 6, 2014

Crumpled





"Go look on your dresser," Jack says. "Mom, go look at your dresser." Jack bombs into the room. Boy bluster, the persistent verbal tapping, I turn. He wrinkles his forehead, pulls his eyebrows expectant.

So I go. A tiny measuring cup, a white bunch of flowers, he splits a grin, affection crinkled at the corners of his eyes.







Then it's Myra, "Mom look, I got a jar with water in, and plants are in." She turns a pint jar upside down, then rights it. Green leaves whirl with the movement. "I don't want Joe to get it," she explains. "I'm gonna look at my plant." She unscrews the silver ring, pokes her nose into the jar.

A friend pops in, the children scatter through the house, undo miscellaneous messes. We smile at the nice company.

"I'm gonna go get more flowers for your vase," Jack announces as she leaves.







"Aw thanks," I say. I wonder how many stems will fit in the tiny cup.

"I actually wouldn't care about going out there except for flowers for you," he says.

"Yeah?" I say. I smile from the green couch. He shrugs there at the back door, his six salad plants sprouted on the brick hearth, crisp green, already four inches tall.

"I hope there are some spring flowers," he says. "I'm gonna wear my boots." He shoves a toe into a black wellie. Jane scampers by. He turns to her. "If I can't find flowers, then I'm gonna play," he calls.

They play. Another bouquet finds its way to the table.







I call Myra in for naps. We meet in my room, her perched on the edge of the bed, her mason jar balanced against her leg.

"Oh, wow," I say. I pick up her jar.

"It's a plant thing," she says. I rotate the vase in my hand. The metal seal topples off, I right the gush just in time.

"Here, we'll leave it on the dresser while you nap," I say.

Then, each morning, Jack heralds me. "Momma, you should look at your flowers this morning," he says.

"Ok," I say.







"Mom, you should look. Some of the buds are blooming that weren't yesterday."

I smile his direction.

"Some sticks are poking up," he pokes his fingers through his hand. "And the white part isn't even crumpled."







Bouquets appear on table tops, the hearth, dressers, and countertops. The children carry them around in jars and cups, bowls and old bottles. Joey steals a bouquet at nap time, drinks the water out of the vase.







They pour over the plants, memorize the dried up buds and crumpled leaves. Myra clutches her jar, totes it around until it starts to stink.

"It smells good," she says.

"No it doesn't," I say.

"Oh," she says.







And then they pick more. Effusive. Unflappable. They pick more.

Gentle footsteps of affection fill the house.











Gratitude:

5310."Now, stop picking your nose, and you can start drinking your tea," Jane says to Myra.

5311. "Mommy, these are not frustration marks," Lu points to scribbles on her math. "Joey just was trying to help me."

5312. We pick up and head to the farm last minute. We collaborate a meal together and let the evening settle.







5313. I note Craig's dad always holds the door for me.

5314. I find a pile of crumbs next to Lu in the sunroom. "Jack broke off some of his brownie for me," she says.

5315. "I still like myself when I'm weird," Myra says, "'cause that's what we're supposed to do."

5316. Myra can't push her bike up the driveway. Her older cousin comes up behind and pushes it for her.







5317. "Don't just eat the vinegar, Joey," Myra frowns at a puddle of vinegar in Joe's beans. He slurps it up.

5218. Joe hands Myra an M&M. "EAT," he says.

5319. Craig unsuccessfully tries to re-cook a slice of bread in the microwave. The resulting plume of smoke makes a permanent memory for us all.

5320. Myra puts a key in an outlet. The spindrift of sparks, the flickering lights, her blackened hand, the key ring blown apart, and she's safe and sound.







5321. Joey turns two. Our family encircles us. Ham and potatoes, brownies and ice cream, we eat. We bump elbows, we visit, entwine conversation, and linger. Love settles between us, the perfect gift.

5322. Peter brings his metal detector to the party. A gang of treasure hunters follow him like a wake.

5323. Pete lets us borrow his spare detector.

5324. I find a mistake in my knitting, set my mind to puzzle it out.

5325. I think about the church of ancient Rome and Paul's words to them. He speaks so highly of patient continuance in doing good. Patience continuance. Yes. Nourishment.








Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Note





"Lucy, what are you doing?" Myra says. She lifts he chin.

Lu marks a lime green sticky note in pencil, tilts her head. "I'm making something 'cause Jack's gonna play a game with me today, " she says, "hopefully." She makes a curved scrawl on the green note. Myra frowns.

"Jack, wanna play Shoots And Ladders with me?" Lucy shouts. Jack, holed up at the little black couch, creases a fresh towel on itself, folds it in half two more times, then flops it on a stack of clean laundry.

"No," he says.

"Is it 'cause I'm so good?" Lu asks.







"No, I wanna play outside."

"Ok." Another pencil stroke across the green note and Lucy discards the pencil. She balances her note on the piano lip.

Outside. It's two shakes of a lambs tail, the laundry folded into geometric shapes, slid into cupboards, and the children are outside, an economy of play unfolding.







Then there we are again sidled up on that same table bench working out the underpinnings of a morning.

"If you give yourself less time in the time test than the teacher says," Lu chatters, "then you will go faster." She presses the stop button on the math timer, subtracts the remaining time in her head and writes her score.







She scoops up Joe Alan, her baby. His head lobbed over one shoulder, she pats his blue bottom. "Rockie at Grammie's yesterday kept asking me, Why are you STILL holding your baby?" she says. "And I was like," she cups a hand to her mouth, "in my head, Well, THAT'S how you take care of a baby."

I nod in time to her story. She rubs Joe Alan's back. I hold still to let the story unfold. A tiny vibrato of affection there between us.

The day pages by, snap shots of faces up turned to me, full moons of faces, unself-consciousness and present. The moments move past in perfect time.







"Do you know where my piggy bank is?" Myra asks.

"No." I look up from a notebook of memory work. I copy verses over and over until I know them.

"It's on my bed," Myra says, a tiny nod to punctuate. I watch her, all pjs and wild hair, and I feel it again, that tiny rhythm of a scene. We both wait, a fermata, as if a line were coming, but it didn't belong to either of us.







"Did you put the NOTE in it?" Lucy says.

"Yeah." Myra nods to Lucy there over my left shoulder, penciling away math facts. Myra turns to me, her face wide open. "It's by my pwidow," she says. A confidential tilt of her head, her bottom lip drawn up, she almost winks.

I nod. There it is again, that urge to hold perfectly still, let the current of play rush by, make as small a dent as possible.







The note. I wrote the note before bed, stuck it to her headboard. I called her Strawberry Shortcake. A note. She put it in her piggy bank next to her pwidow.





Gratitude:

5295. Myra bonks her head. "What happened?" Craig asks. "I was speeding," Myra says.

5296. I hear a noise in the night and jostle Craig away. It's nothing. After playful jabbing he pats my leg. "It's ok," he says, "I live to protect you."

5297. "Mom, today can I wear something pretty?" Myra greets me.







5298. Joey fishes the carrots out of his stew and stacks them up on his spoon.

5299. Lucy can't find a cup so she gets a drink in a cupcake liner.

5300. "Jane, some boogers keep dribbling out of my nose," Myra Rose whinnies. "Yeah," Jane says. "Then you know what you do? Blow it. And then it stops." She fetches Myra an arm-length of toilet paper. "Here, Rose. Fold it like this. Then wipe your nose." They converse wilted on living room rug.

5301. We travel to our friends' house for dinner. The eleven of us around an old farm table, we commune over minestrone and fresh bread, salad, lemon bars and coffee. Adult and child conversations overlap in concentric circles.







5302. Joe pours a quarter cup of honey on his toast when no one's looking. Honey fingerprints dot the house. I even find them on the handle of my toothbrush.

5303. "Ya didn't paint my nails," Myra says to me. "I know, 'cause we might have to wait if there's not time," I say. "I'm just sayin' that," she says, "'cause don't you want me to be pretty tomorrow?"

5304. Cat cookies. We celebrate the last wrestling match with a bucket of cat cookies.

5305. The last wrestling match finally comes and goes. Jack takes home a gold. All the cousins look a whole year more practiced. A new grade of solidarity passes between them. And us.







5306. Lemon soap.

5307. Knitting needles. The tunic dress almost finished, I already have the needles for the next project.

5308. I mention chili powder, and Cerissa sends some over for me to try. We saddle up for another week of beans.

5309. Another week cycles by, and I count myself rich. Love encircles me. I bend a knee to my savior.