Archive / February, 2014

Mississippi Dowager Queen

old-cathedralGrowing up in St. Louis, I was surrounded by a multitude of historic buildings and beautiful monuments and homes. During my high school years, the Gateway Arch was being erected. I remember all the excitement when construction crews prepared to insert the final section (connecting the north leg to the south leg). Everyone wondered and worried whether or not they’d have a successful joining! Just weeks after my high school graduation, the structure was opened for visitors and tram rides to the top.

The picture at left is a study in contrasts with the sleek, modern Arch set as a backdrop for the Old Cathedral that has been on this site since 1834. Its official name is the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France. While another building (an inconsequential one-room log structure) preceded the Old Cathedral, the site has maintained its place because early settlers of the area insisted on setting aside specific ground in their community for a church. The first religious facility was dedicated around 1770.

Today’s Old Cathedral is an impressive Greek Revival building and I’m glad it still stands. The city of St. Louis has of course grown around the building, with roadways and interstate highway edging closely on its west side. (Of course, directly east is the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, a park area surrounding the Gateway Arch, and then the Mississippi River.) It’s a tight fit.

Most of the time when I return to St. Louis, I drive. However, when I have opportunity to fly into Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, I always consider it a treat. Often before landing, the airplane makes a wide arc all the way to the river, curves around the arch, the cathedral and all of downtown and makes its final approach coming from the east into the airport. For me, this magnificent sweep reminds me of this city’s expansive beauty.

I’ve already mentioned the muddy Mississippi. It’s a river in which I once water-skied! (I can attest to its muddiness, especially after it rains.) My fascination with the river always brings to mind writer Mark Twain. When I fly above the river, I feel as if I could look down on it for hours studying its twists and turns, the sand bars, the numerous offshoots that have been etched into the surrounding lands by Spring rains and floods.

I wrote the poem below after one such airborne arrival. It’s a longish poem and its focus was the connection of this town to the river. Yes, there are many other towns up and down the Mississippi, but I’m a St. Louis woman, so one can hardly expect I’d write about Cape Girardeau or Herculaneum!

St-Louis, cities, gateway of the west, Mississippi River, dowager queen, poetry, light verse, poem

Poem: St. Louis

 

If you take a look at the picture of the river, you’ll notice two bridges crossing the wide divide. One of these bridges is a newer structure built for interstate traffic. The one further north is the Chain Of Rocks Bridge, now a pedestrian and bicycle path that once carried traffic as part of Route 66. This is a narrow bridge known for its 22-degree bend about halfway across.

When I took driver’s education in high school, the bridge was on our route one day when I happened to be in the driver’s seat. I will never forget how terrified I was! (I’m guessing my instructor and the three students in the back seat were equally terrified.) Somehow I made it across without a mishap! I will never forget that experience.

A Place Called Home

homemaker-12From the time I reached young adulthood, I recall the general attitude towards being a homemaker had taken on a decidedly negative connotation. Women who performed homemaking tasks were consigned to brainlessness. Refer to someone as a homemaker and in return you’d receive an almost-weaponized look of scorn. (The scornful look communicated volumes. You like nails on a chalkboard?)

Women in the 1970s had begun moving in huge numbers into the “gainful employment” category. This transition meant women (who were already tending to household tasks, nurturing children, preparing meals and managing financial affairs) now had another job to do! Given the limited number of hours in a day, ordinary duties of homemaking were either left undone or hired out for others to complete.

It’s interesting to read the list of 30-plus items Wikipedia includes as “usual things” a homemaker does. It’s a good list, but the usual things would vary within each household. In my re-blog post earlier today, I pointed you to the blog of a fine homemaker whose To Do list includes but exceeds the items Wikipedia mentions. As with a good number of her peers today, this homemaker (full disclosure, she’s my younger daughter) runs an in-home business and also home-educates her children.

When my children came along, I chose to be a stay-at-home mom. (Read some other posts that relate, here and here.) But that doesn’t mean I rose from bed every morning eager for another round of mopping the floors, cleaning toilets and washing windows. In fact, I’m a hit-and-miss housekeeper. (The dust is always going to come back, right?!) Still, a measure of order in my small universe is important to me, so housekeeping tasks can’t be totally ignored.

Many years ago, I got to thinking about homemaking and my approach to it. (And what should come out of my cogitations but another poem! Bet you’re surprised, huh?)

I was reminded back then of what Jesus promised his disciples in John 14:1-6. He tells them he’s going to go away. This is before the crucifixion and he wants them to understand that even though he’ll be gone, he is coming back for them.

The task set before Jesus (i.e. dying on the cross) was one aspect of preparing a future home. I don’t think it’s too big of a stretch to suppose the preparation to which Jesus refers in the passage is homemaking. He says “I’m going to prepare a place for you.”

I wrote the poem below after considering the model Jesus provided for me as a homemaker. Some tasks are simple drudgery. Others are overwhelmingly unpleasant. But when the goal is a peaceful and happy, well-ordered home, the reward goes beyond clean floors and freshly-laundered clothing. In its own way, it is subtly redemptive.

The-Homemaker, household chores, drudgery, Jesus preparing a place, poetry, poem

Poem: The Homemaker

 

ReBlog: You Don’t Know Beans

Bio-Photo-12Did I mention I have two terrific daughters?

Why yes, as a matter of fact I do believe I did … just yesterday it seems! The younger one has become an impressive homemaker … far exceeding my limited proclivities.

(I acknowledge lots of people under the age of forty or fifty cringe at the thought of being called a homemaker. I think it’s an exceptional occupation, with the ability to bless many, but I’ll say more about that later.)

For now, I wanted to share with you one of the fruits of my daughter’s labors. (Not just her recipes but her entire blog.) I think you’ll agree with me … she is amazing! (And a culinary artist to boot!)

Raising Camelot.

Raising

Beauty . . . In Aging

As we age, it seems to me there’s a great deal of looking back. We become naturally more reflective. We measure our lives as a way of answering some pointed questions. Did my life matter? Did I accomplish something that will remain after I’m gone?NotOld

Recently, I came across a fascinating project produced by the Yale Divinity School. Aptly named Reflections, the Fall 2013 issue of this magazine offers a stunning photo essay, viewable on its website. The issue’s theme is Test of Time: The Art of Aging.

Beyond the photos, short articles offer interesting first-person memoirs and discussion. Editor Ray Waddle prefaces the journey by challenging his readers:  “The sooner we face our conflicted thoughts about aging, the better.” He invites us into the rest of the magazine to “… finally see the beauty of age.” His challenge presents itself as a superb work of art.

I’m still trying to decide how to define my personal attitude toward aging. Am I, as Waddle asserts, conflicted? No, I don’t enjoy the aches and pains (or health issues in general) that are a byproduct of aging. No, I don’t like the cultural tilt that turns its back on people over fifty. Nor do I appreciate the frequent categorization of “seniors” based on assumptions that may or may not be true of me (or scores of others my age).

But, I’ve learned to ignore such stereotyping. I’ve also learned to accept that as we age, our bodies will eventually wear out. I hated to read a story about Jane Fonda’s blog post (posted but then removed) where she admits difficulty as she contemplates her mortality. (My goodness, the picture in that story certainly belies her 76 years!)

Mortality isn’t something Baby Boomers ever wanted to face. But if we didn’t want to admit it then, it’s impossible now to deny that age enforces a brutal price. (My sonnet Aging Well says exactly that:  we tender youth.)

Recalling what has gone before in our lives can be a means for weighing and embracing the good things we sometimes forget. Before aches and pains begin to overwhelm (or dementia gradually robs you of the precious memories), one of the sweetest exercises may be to reminisce … maybe even create a scrapbook of reflections. (One of the articles in the Reflections magazine provides a thoughtful conversation about dementia.)

As we age, one of the joys my Beloved and I share is the appreciation of our four adult offspring. In them (yes, even with our estranged son), we love the adults they have become. We’re always amazed by the part we were privileged to play in their lives!

This sonnet was written some years ago, before our sons left home. I remember people around me talking about the “empty nest,” warning me it would be a difficult transition. (I didn’t find it to be.)

The years since have continued to be (as the poem suggests) a series of adventures for me. I’m older than when I wrote this sonnet, but I’m still enthusiastic about the future with its “new adventures” … and more blessed than ever!

A-Mothers-Reflections, mother, daughter, beauty, son, sonnet, poem, poetry

Sonnet: A Mother’s Reflections

Archibald Alexander Leach*

If you’re part of the Baby Boomer demographic, you probably remember playing interactive games that didn’t flash before you on a screen. (If you’re younger, maybe that era seems almost unimaginable to you!) One game we played back then was Charades. The game didn’t require specific equipment or a deck of cards or a game board; people − with their vivid imaginations − were the only “supplies” needed for lively entertainment.FamilyCharades

Most people in that day were familiar with the rules. (Read basic rules at the web-link provided above or here’s another website, wiki-how, that provides thirteen steps to follow … more involved than necessary, in my opinion.) The game requires presenters to pantomime and the presenter’s team tries to guess what each clue means.

Not surprisingly, I’ve now discovered another website that brings Charades into the twenty-first century. If you provide the players (i.e. a living room full of people divided into two teams), this website will generate words (songs, famous people names, common phrases, etc.), and you have the option to use the computer timer and have your scores recorded. (Sure beats the thirteens steps of the wiki-how mentioned above!)

In the game, there are several non-verbal cues a presenter is allowed to use. One of these cues is to point at one’s ear; gamers translate the ear-pointing hint to mean “sounds like.” This particular tool may be especially useful for unfamiliar words or concepts.

Thinking beyond the game of Charades, sounds like is an important concept on this blog. As I work (play) with words, I’m less likely to think in terms of grammatical elements (phonics, vowels and consonants, diphthongs and digraphs) though the grammatical has its distinct level of operation in any blog.

On this blog, I often mention my boundless affinity to words and the enjoyment I receive from bouncing one word off another. (Two posts come to mind … here and here … but if you want more, use the search term “poetry” to find others.) Engaging the sounds like tool … recognition by the ear that one sound resembles another … is one of the splendid ways in which I bounce words like high-velocity super-balls.

Today, I bounced words … I played with assonance. Actually, I’ve been working on this whimsical verse for a couple weeks, but finally completed it today. (Yes, the poem contains all the usual grammatical elements, but who cares, right? Just enjoy the poem!)

Clock-In, clock, ticking, tocking, quietude, distractions, silence, light verse, poetry, poem

Poem: Clock In … Yes, Out!

 

*And if you’re pondering the relevancy of this post’s title (Archibald Alexander Leach), the Charades category is famous people and their given names. Archibald Alexander Leach was the given name of Cary Grant, who played in the 1963 version of the film, Charade, opposite Audrey Hepburn.

Did you catch the pleasing assonance of his given name?!

Like Broken Glass

In other posts, I’ve mentioned my tendency to get caught up in the life stories and heart-wrenching experiences of my friends. Today’s sonnet is one I wrote after a friend told me about the breakup of her marriage.

The-View, broken heart, recovery, sonnet, poetry, shattered life, poem

Sonnet: The View

 

Day Of Rest

Around our house, Sundays are usually a time to kick back and enjoy some relaxation. The poem below uses the term Sabbath in a somewhat metaphorical sense. (Please don’t think my intention is to demean the biblical Sabbath as celebrated by many Jews and some Christians.)

This poem is (who would have guessed?) a sonnet, a somewhat lighthearted one, but as anyone who has suffered insomnia knows, when you’re trying to get some much-needed sleep, it’s also representative of sincere struggle. Sometimes, happiness is nothing more than a good night’s sleep.

There’s a beautiful verse about God’s gift of sleep in Psalm 127:2. It says:

It is vain for you to rise up early,
To retire late,
To eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.

Sabbath, day of rest, slumber, insomnia, sonnet, poetry, poem

Sonnet: Sabbath

 

Letter From A Friend

476px-Rembrandt_Peale_-_George_Washington_(Porthole_type)_-_Google_Art_ProjectHappy Birthday, George Washington! Yes, today is the birthday (in 1732) of our country’s first President.

I think it is a day for honoring the contribution President Washington made at a crucial time in the birth of our nation, but also, to honor his efforts that came earlier, before the possibility of our becoming an independent nation was widely considered.

There are a host of resources available to study and acquaint oneself with this man. There are also plenty of resources that dispense with the usual myths that have persisted about Washington. There’s no point in my retelling those here.

Instead, I thought I’d approach this post from a different angle, interspersing my own observations about his life.

The Mount Vernon website has a webpage entitled Key Facts About George Washington. One of the facts that stood out for me was that Washington never attended college. Beneath the fact, there’s a blurb that says (in part) he was “always sensitive” about his lack of formal education. (When he was eleven years old, George’s father died and funds weren’t available to George for receiving an education in England.)

In other words, Washington’s education developed along an unconventional trajectory. He was partially homeschooled and also received instruction from a local church sexton and eventually for a brief period from a schoolmaster. [Are you involved in home educating your children? If so, be inspired by Washington’s story!]

By the time George was sixteen, his education took another turn. He had already joined a surveying party and within a year was surveying western points of the Virginia colony. His educational experience advanced from book-learning to practical application.george-washington-surveyor 2

Think about that, if you will. A sixteen or seventeen year old wandering the far spaces of the “civilized” world of that time! His mode of transportation may have been an animal (horse?) but it’s just as likely he was often afoot carrying a pack of limited supplies, passing through untamed regions, facing dangers from the elements, wild animals and even the potential hostility from native tribes.

Few parents today would desire such an adventure for their teenage offspring!

And yet I think Washington’s frontier education was in many ways superior to what teenagers receive in the relative ease of today’s stereotypically cushy classroom. (I daresay it was also superior to the formal education he might have received from proper tutors back in England.) Rather than a stultifying classroom, Washington’s school room was the whole world in which he lived!

Certainly, there are plenty of discussions online referencing the leadership qualities of Washington as well as his apparent reticence to seek a lead position, but his concurrent willingness to be recruited and to serve, both admirable traits. Was his reticence really a false humility? I don’t get that sense. I think he was willing to believe there might be another person better equipped and capable than he and that’s why he didn’t immediately foist himself on an assembly.

I think his genuine humility was just as evident in his readiness to hang up the mantle. He wasn’t seeking accolades for himself, but desired to do the best job he could for the nation and its people. In my view, there are too few of his caliber around today! In general, it seems the majority of public people (I refuse to call them “public servants” because they’re mostly serving themselves) seek the accolades and the power and the influence that comes with the position.

I remember learning about George Washington in grade school, junior high and high school. Perhaps the most striking thing I’ve carried with me all my life came from his Farewell Address. I can’t remember when I first heard a recitation of this address, but I recognized Washington’s words demonstrated how unique he was in contrast to the people in government with whom I was familiar.

In his Farewell Address, he warned against polarizing political parties. Anyone familiar with that? He warned against the dangers of government borrowing. Can you say seventeen trillion in debt? He spoke about the importance of religion and morality being a critical foundation for a free people.

Most strikingly for me, Washington urged his country’s future leaders to shun needless or extended foreign entanglements, citing the likelihood that such alliances have the power to draw our nation into wars. Indeed.

I was eight years old when things began to unravel in Vietnam. During my high school years, the Vietnam War was being waged and escalated by President Johnson. Time and time again as the images of that war played out on my family’s television screen, I remember thinking how our leaders were ignoring George Washington’s wise counsel in the Farewell Address!

I am amazed how Washington’s Farewell Address carries a currency today … more than two hundred years from its first reading. Read it now and see if you agree!

The Wait Of Silence

AEO_Mexico1Looking for a post about silence? Allow me to explain about an unabated, extended silence … nearing its eighth year.

First, let me introduce to you a twenty-something young man (first guy on the right, in this 2005 picture at left), seemingly happy and carefree, attending (at that time) a nearby university. The photo shows him on Spring Break that year, spending the week in Mexico working on a building construction crew for a church there. Over a period from 2000 to 2005, he devoted five Spring Breaks with the Mission to Mexico trips sponsored through our church.

AEO_Mexico2The picture at right shows his sweet smile and gentle nature. We knew him as a big-hearted guy the photo reflects, someone well-loved by peers, tender to animals, and eager to help with tasks set before him.

We also knew him as an earnest family-oriented man. A single man, he exhibited the kind of relational devotion one would hope to observe with a soon-to-be father. At the news of a nephew’s birth, he cleared what remained on his school and work schedule that same day and promptly traveled two hours to personally welcome this baby boy into the world. Think I’m kidding? Look at the two of them below, a photo taken in the hospital.

Andrew&GriffThat was May 2005. Things hadn’t yet deteriorated. As the youngest of my four offspring, he probably enjoyed the most freedom … and sooner than his older siblings. (On that point, his siblings agree!)

Through his years as a student, he’d worked hard after classes to fund his education expenses without incurring debt. Living at home was another cost-cutting measure he’d chosen. The prospect of graduating college without debt appealed to him.

But summer of 2005, he moved into an apartment, and though continuing to work, decided to seek a student loan to cover his senior year school bills.

Austin_54a

There was, as one might predict, a woman influencing his decisions … no, not the little gal in this picture with him to the right. (That’s his Texas-born niece, a picture also taken in 2005.)

Yet, he was advised by a woman, someone just five or six years younger than me (his mother!). Over the next several months, he maintained (in frequent conversations with his daddy and me) the relationship wasn’t serious and would have no long-term place in his future. What we observed (even then) failed to support his assertions.

I won’t drag this out with blow-by-blow details. Suffice it to say, this sad story of estrangement and silence has an end that remains unknown to us. I’ve made references to my ongoing grief in other posts (herehere, and most recently, here). Like most families, whenever we get together (the other three adult children and their families still seem to appreciate their parents’ company), we laugh and love and sometimes cry … just as we’ve always done … but in the midst of family times, there’s always a palpable void. We are un-whole.

There was no formal cutting of ties; one day, he just never returned. On his next-to-last visit, he told me:  I was never happy in my childhood. I was stunned of course. I made a personal pilgrimage through all the family photos to see if the facts upheld his statement. I found the exact opposite, a happy-go-lucky child, ebullient, zestful.

Oh, I was never the best mom on the block … never claimed to be. When I think back on my days mothering four, I think with wonder how delightful they were … but I’m most apt to recall my own personal failures. With my youngest (the subject of this post), I remember his shyness in childhood. Was I such a tower of overbearing bluster to have caused his reserve? I know I was a yeller − shame on me! I remember doing our home education, trying to teach him fifth or sixth grade math (not a subject I enjoy). Often, we both ended the lesson in exasperation.

One of the last times I saw him, he came home to return (unopened) a birthday card I’d mailed to his apartment. Before he opened the card (it was a short book and cd), he wanted me to warrant the envelope contents wouldn’t upset him. I couldn’t do that, so I responded by tossing the card/package in the trash. I promised him that day I would not contact him again; the next move would have to be his. (I’ve broken that promise once by texting him when his granddaddy died in 2008. He skipped the funeral anyway.)

A couple years ago, my Beloved phoned our son (around Christmas time) hoping to set a meeting for coffee. Our son asked one question: Have you changed your attitude about B, the woman with whom he presumably lives … or lived? The phone call ended with a quick rebuff after my husband replied, no, it hasn’t.

Two days from now, our family will mark this young man’s thirty-second birthday. As always, we will pray for him. We will long for his fellowship. We will wait in regretful silence as the years roll slowly along.

What do I know about silence? I know I would rather be beaten to a bloody pulp than endure one more day with a crucial part of my heart missing. But I will not wallow in self-pity. For as long as it takes, I will muddle through the silence because I must. Nor would I ask anyone else to pity me.

There are worse silences than the one I carry; I posted yesterday about an extreme torment I thankfully have not endured. It would be a grave affront for me to compare my burden of silence to what that family suffers. I wouldn’t dare.

Only Evil Continually

Evil exists in our world.EStanford

Two days ago, this evil was embodied by a 45 year old Springfield, Missouri man wearing a baseball cap, longish gray hair and a beard, a man who drove a tan Ford Ranger. (His name or picture isn’t relevant here. Evil Beast [EB] will do as a fitting descriptor.)

The EB drove into a Springfield neighborhood sometime after the school-day ended, spied an innocent ten-year-old child walking blithely along on her way home, lured her close to his vehicle by asking for directions, grabbed her by the arm and yanked her into his vehicle. Within three hours, the child was dead.

Two alert individuals in the neighborhood were near enough to witness the act and they attempted to thwart the abduction. One apparently gave chase. Both provided immediate details to police (including a license plate number) which allowed law enforcement to pursue, locate and question EB, arresting him almost on the spot due to probable cause.

But before she could be rescued, a little girl named Hailey died from a bullet shot to the base of her skull.

The Greene County prosecutor, whose news conferences relate how he’s begun to build a case against EB, is quick to remind that the perpetrator of this crime is innocent until proven guilty. Wise man. I suppose even the most obvious slam-dunk cases have fallen apart for prosecutors from time to time. With two eyewitnesses and the child’s body (hidden in two trash bags) found in this predator’s basement, it looks like the proverbial airtight case.Handcuffs-Jail

I grieve for this little girl’s family. Their lives will now be despicably bound up with that of the killer. It is heinous to think how EB has inflicted himself into their lives in the most excruciating way! Even if a jury recommends the death penalty, EB will likely live many years and from afar will continue to wreak Hell on this family!

I grieve for the witnesses who were nearly able to wrest the child from harm. In a world where would’ve-could’ve-should’ve often carries a heavy burden, these two individuals may be unduly plagued into believing the child’s death is partly their fault. If-only is a disease that savagely gnaws at the heart.

In days to come, the history of EB will be revealed. Druggie? Porn addict? Kiddie porn? Are there other bodies? There will be the usual hand-wringing and strategies to shift blame elsewhere. I don’t even want to go there.

But take a look at the lovely tree-lined street in the photo above. That’s EB‘s street, a typical quiet Springfield neighborhood with modest 1960s homes lining the street. The homes appear to be well-kept, a community like many others in this middle part of the country. The residents in that block may be as surprised as anyone that their one-time neighbor is a cold-blooded child-killer.

A couple years ago, I posted on the seventeenth anniversary of Morgan Nick‘s disappearance from an Alma, Arkansas Little League park in 1995. Her mother, Colleen, maintains hope Morgan will one day return home.

In Genesis 6:5, we read:  “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Evil rarely wears a Freddie Krueger mask. More often than we’d like to admit, evil lives quietly among us, cruising our peaceful neighborhoods.

Tonight when you tuck your little ones into bed and kiss them before turning out the light, hug them extra close and say a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessings you’ve enjoyed. And as you exit the room, whisper another prayer for the family of ten-year-old Hailey.

Her bed (and their arms) will be tragically empty because calamity befell her … and because evil exists in our world today.

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