Here Comes The Bride

After yesterday’s post, one of my friends commented about the resemblance between my mother and myself. When I was younger, I would not have considered that a compliment though over the years, I’ve realized how true it is … and I’m honored.MomGmaWest

Today, I thought an appropriate follow-up to yesterday’s post would be a few words about my mom’s mother. (Photo at right shows my seventeen-year-old mom standing with her mother on graduation day.) Unfortunately, I didn’t get to know Marion Ruth (Hoyer) West because she died before my second birthday. Although many of the women in her family lived into their eighties and nineties, Marion was a mere sixty years old when she died.

When I look at pictures of my grandmother, I’m often reminded of my mom’s facial expressions reflected in Grandma’s face. Today’s poem is something of a summary of her life:  born in 1890, she was nearly thirty when she married, her first child died in infancy and her husband died after less than thirteen years of marriage. (I suppose there would be a great deal of truth in granting that my mother probably learned her lemonade-making skills from her mother.)

The sweetest part of Grandma’s story (for me) is their wedding day. Proving their off-beat sense of humor, this couple decided to be married at their church’s annual Halloween party. No one besides the pastor and his wife knew about the wedding, so all their friends came to the party dressed in various and appropriate Halloween costumes. Of course, when Grandma and Grandpa arrived in a wedding dress and a tuxedo, everyone believed these were costumes. It was not until the pastor’s wife sat down at the piano and started playing The Wedding March that everyone realized something more than a Halloween party was taking place!

Ode-To-Grandma, World War I bride, family history, poetry, poem
Poem: Ode To Grandma

Recognizing another day of National Poetry Month, I give you my Ode To Grandma.


Aging Sucks

2014-04-06 10.06.38It’s always a special treat to spend time with my dear, sweet mother. In fact, I hated to leave this morning. As she draws nearer to her eighty-eighth birthday (this August), every day with her becomes ever more precious. The photo at left isn’t a great one; blame the photographer (me) … I snapped this shortly before heading out the door. I think she’s beautiful!

When we’re together, I try to get her talking about events from her earlier life. I’m so thankful she still has a good memory that hasn’t been ravaged by old-age senility! Despite her limited vision, she continues to have a zest for life and an interest in the world outside her door. Anyone who observes her would not be aware of her sight disability because she navigates well.

Still, it is a huge challenge for her everyday because society (by default) caters to sighted people, and she remains dependent on others for her comings and goings. For someone as fiercely independent as she’s always been, this involuntary dependency has been an adjustment. As for carrying a cane, she’s not inclined to cede another loss to old age, if she can avoid it!

Hearing loss is a more recent disability she’s learning to accept and address. An unfortunate byproduct of hearing loss, she’s told me, people tend to equate hearing loss with some degree of diminished intellect. Whenever people talk as though she’s not in the room, she is naturally hurt and offended. (I definitely understand how that would make her feel!)

As my mom’s second child, I’m privileged to have been a part of her life longer than my younger siblings. (Over the years, I’ve come to understand how one’s birth order can dramatically determine the level of insight that person achieves with one’s parents.) The things I’ve learned about my mom’s childhood and who she was as a young woman enable me to have a better understanding for the woman I know today. (If you care to read other posts I’ve written about her, there are more than a few. These are a good start: here, here and here.)

Watching my mom age, I’ve come to understand certain truths about aging. (I’ve used the most relevant one for my post’s title!) I’m not at the same stage she is, but as with concentric circles, there are parallels in our age-related sagas. (Search my blog and you’ll realize I’ve discussed this topic as well!) And honestly, I’ve decided it doesn’t really matter what stage of aging you’ve reached, aging is ultimately an insult! Borrowing from Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:8, “… it was not this way in the beginning.” (God’s original design didn’t include aging or death.)

If I must grow old, though, (and God willing, I shall continue to do so), my hope is to grow old emulating the beauty and grace my mom lives out everyday. Her life has never been perfect … I think she learned early any illusion of perfection would be a foolish expectation. In some ways, she’s lived much of her life making lemonade from whatever lemons were dropped on the front step … no complaints, no whining, just an affirmation to press forward.

Truth-On-Youth, grow old along with me, growing old, aging, senior citizens, light verse, poetry, poem
Poem: The Truth on Youth

The poem below addresses aging, but more in relation to my Beloved (and myself). It’s a tongue-in-cheek look at aging, with a heavy dose of poetic license (for instance, neither of us has dentures and we didn’t know each other when we were fifteen). As to the photo, well, my Beloved is much better looking than the cartoonish guy pictured and I can’t think of anyone else with whom I’d rather grow old!


Across The Chain Link Divide

Day 4, National Poetry Month … I suggested to my mom that we could write a poem together and she had about as much enthusiasm for that as she might if I’d told her the doctor planned to amputate both her hands and feet. I guess we’ll see what she says tomorrow. (No, I’m not one who gives up easily.)poetrycover

Today’s poem takes me back to when my children were young. Over the last thirty-five or forty years as women have embraced employment outside the home, questions about possible negative effects of raising children in an institutionalized day care environment have been raised and answered, raised and debated, raised and answered again. As a peripheral component of the so-called Mommy Wars, sending children to day care has both detractors and advocates.

I’m not posting this poem to criticize anyone. I always felt like I was the best caregiver for my children and was committed to raising them myself. Others have disagreed and are certainly the best judge of their individual situations.

However, when I wrote the poem, it was based on a poignant personal moment one day as I happened to be walking past the playground of a day care facility. I’ll never forget the little one whose hands held tightly to the metal fence and whose forlorn face stared longingly out at me on the other side of a chain link fence. I remember contemplating what exactly the child’s look and posture meant … and of course, I interpreted them through my own empathies. This poem reveals what I was thinking.

Child-Care-Child, childcare, day care, children, abandonment, poetry, free verse, poem
Poem: Child Care Child



Downstairs, Upstairs

upstairsMy son and his family have been living (upstairs) with us about a month now. For my part, I have no complaints about the arrangement; we’re glad we have the space to accommodate them while they look for another place.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this arrangement has been having our grandson under the same roof. In the mornings, he brings his cheerful, almost four-year-old self down the stairs and greets us eagerly. He’s ready to interact, prepared to cuddle and share his stuffed animals with us, and chock-full of commentary about the day ahead of him (and us). It’s a treat. For my Beloved and myself, our grandson’s presence is a huge reminder of how blessed we are.

On the other hand, I think we may be approaching nightmare status with our daughter-in-law. I can say it’s been a month since they moved in; my DIL would say (much more emphatically), it’s been a MONTH! From her point of view, one month is about how long she’d hoped it would take for them to find a house. (Yes, she’s definitely an optimist.)

Never having lived with my mother-in-law (thankfully), I don’t know that experience first-hand. But I can honestly say, there’s been no tension, no cause for anxiety. (Why, I ask myself, would anyone mind living with delightful people like me and my sweet husband?!) Nevertheless, I’m also sympathetic to our DIL’s desire that they find a place of their own. She’s used to things being done in a particular way … and truly, they don’t have the kind of space upstairs as they previously enjoyed in an entire house of their own.

The house-hunt is (naturally) stymied by factors that include the (1) kind of house they prefer (2) available in their price range and (3) located in an area of town that suits their needs. Obviously, almost everyone searching for another place to live faces these (or similar) challenges. When I suggested to DIL they might want to talk with some builders to see if they’d have a better chance of finding (and affording) what they want via new construction, DIL demurred, insisting new construction would “take too long.”

As they’ve looked at various properties, though, they’ve weighed the desirability of newer home vs. older. DIL adores quaint, one-hundred-year-old homes with plenty of character. My son looks at these vintage homes and visions of “money pit” dance through his head. Other considerations abound: acreage vs. subdivision, long commute vs. short, etc. When they located a house they both agreed on, it ended up being in a 55-plus community! (I didn’t know younger folks could be locked out of a neighborhood, did you?)

The search continues. I’m reminded of a time many years ago when my Beloved and I were purchasing our first home. We had two small children and no money to speak of, but we hoped to find a home with ample square footage to hold what we expected would be our growing family. We settled on a home with just over 2,000 square feet (four bedrooms and two baths) … a home that needed a huge amount of work. What can I say? We were young and naive, but we lived happily in that home for 23 years.

The poem below provides a glimpse of that inaugural home-owning experience. The week we moved in (back in 1977), we were immediately confronted with unexpected and costly repairs (undisclosed by the sellers). This poem attempts a humorous retelling of what was (at the time) a terribly discouraging turn of events. Our “Dream Home” suddenly turned into disaster … and the Latin phrase caveat emptor moved from theory to harsh reality.

Thankfully, we survived … but whenever we hear about a Handyman Special, this is the reality we remember!

Handyman-Special, remodeling, renovation, bathroom updates, poetry, light verse, poem
Poem: Handyman Special


Where Kudzu Grows

Peacock1Today in Savannah, Georgia, a parade and street fair were celebrated to honor the memory of writer Flannery O’Connor. If you’ve read much of this blog, you’ll be familiar with posts I’ve written about her. I’m often reminded of O’Connor when I come across Pulitzer Prize winner (for editorial writing) Paul Greenberg‘s occasional discussions of the South.

An editorial writer for our state’s newspaper, Greenberg’s cogitations on the South are (for me) always thought-provoking. Last Sunday, he asked the question:  Where does the South begin? This column has some similarities to a previous column he wrote back in 2009:  Where does the South end? (Disregard the title at that link; the column is the correct one.)

In my view, Greenberg’s awareness of the South is something of a throwback. Because our culture has become relatively homogeneous, regional differences seem less regional than in the past. Furthermore, lots of people (who once would have willingly identified as Southern) have scrapped the description, considering it tainted and out of favor.

Besides Greenberg’s columns, I’ve read and heard numerous discussions attempting to define the South. Professor John Shelton Reed provides an interesting overview, The South:  Where Is It? What Is It? He links to informative charts to build his case, and his overview is well worth the read.

Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, I always thought of myself as Southern. Though the Missouri Compromise (1820) prohibited slavery above the southernmost border of Missouri (for states that formed west of Missouri), my state entered the Union as a slave state. But Missouri’s history as a slave state is not why I considered myself a Southerner. There was another quality − a je nais se quoi, if you will − that defined my Southern state of mind … before I was even aware of it!

Greenberg admits his reluctance to cede Bentonville, AR (to the north of where I sit right now) its Southernness. He prefers the label midwestern, a term I’ve often deplored. But he does offer:  “If you think it’s a step down [being called a midwestern], you must be a Southerner.” Indeed.

Additionally, Mr. Greenberg, with all due respect, please don’t describe the northwestern corner of your state (now mine, nearly forty years) as somehow “Oklahoman.” If midwestern is a step down, well, you should be able to understand how utterly inappropriate Oklahoman would be.

I’m not as old as Greenberg, but I also remember singularly Southern culinary delicacies including Moon Pies, Grapette Soda, and RC (spoken as one word, AhrCee) for a hot summer’s day thirst quencher. But memories don’t necessarily make a person Southern.

My daughters, one born in Texas and the other born in Iowa (but both mostly raised in northwest Arkansas) are Southerners. The younger one is married to a member of the Kappa Alpha Order, an organization Reed states is a “college fraternity with an explicitly Confederate heritage.” Reed’s observation notwithstanding, I think it would be wrong to read into that comment any kind of racist or hate-filled underpinnings; we simply honor our heritage. We don’t deny its warts and shortcomings, we choose to rise above them.

Reed uses the words of Josiah Royce in formulating a working definition of the South. He suggests specific things and I summarize them here:  the South is a geographic and social domain with a unified consciousness and pride in certain ideals and customs and a sense of distinctness apart from other regions in the country. I think that sums it up fairly well.

I also like Reed’s concluding comments:  “… the South exists in people’s heads and in their conversations. From this point of view, the South will exist for as long as people think and talk about it, and as for its boundaries well, the South begins wherever people agree that it does.”

Mr. Greenberg will, no doubt, continue to think about … and write about … the South. It has penetrated his soul, just as it has mine. It is part of the culture in which I grew up. It’s part of that mystery through manners about which Flannery O’Connor wrote. O’Connor called her home region the “Christ-haunted South.” Yes, the South is a place where there is still a belief in the soul … it’s fading, but more slowly than in other parts of the country.

If all other definitions fail you, the South is where kudzu grows.

God Puts The Lonely In Families

After yesterday’s post, I decided I needed to expand today on the details I mentioned about my younger sister. (So if you haven’t read that post about my older/younger sister, you might go back and read that first.)LittleGirl1

When my sister Nadja died, I was 6½ years old. Hers was the first death I’d encountered in my short lifetime and it took me some time to understand the permanency of death.

Over a period of months, I slowly came to the realization Nadja wouldn’t be coming home to us. One night during our family devotions, the full impact of that realization hit me:  our family − once composed of six unique individuals − was incomplete. As much as anything, that void was most obvious because my brothers had companionship with each other, but I had no one. (Sorry, this is how my mind interpreted things at the time.)

Aloneness. As this concept penetrated my brain, I remember crying inconsolably. My parents tried to comfort me and to understand what was the cause for my suddenly overwhelming grief. Given the months already gone by, I don’t know that they identified my weeping with my sister’s death, but I know I didn’t have words to adequately explain it. I could only sob profusely.

Some time afterwards, I listened to a Billy Graham Crusade on our television. I don’t remember exactly what he said nor scripture verses he might have given. In his crusades, Graham had a tender way of communicating two things that stood out in my memory:  (1) God cares for our sorrows and (2) God answers prayer. What I remember above all was the assurances he offered that − even at my young age − I could “… draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, [to] receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) And that’s exactly what I did.vegetable garden

From that moment, I began to pray for another baby sister … and to know with assurance that God would answer my prayer.

Does it strike you as simplistic? Of course, I knew nothing about the birds and bees. It didn’t matter. My faith began to deepen. As I considered the situation, I believed God had set this yearning in my heart and he alone would provide the fulfillment.

Doubters might suggest God had nothing to do with it, that my parents were directly involved in orchestrating a plan that would “answer my prayer.” But I never actually told anyone about my prayers until the day my sister was born. Before that day, God was the only one who’d heard my prayer.

Doubters might also suggest the birth of my sister was simply a pleasant coincidence, the convergence of a natural (and perhaps predictable) event that occurred in concert with my prayers. I know I can’t disabuse you of that notion; I just know otherwise.

Tamara Joy Stricker was born on July 12, 1957, and it was a day of rejoicing for all! I remember my daddy whispering her name to me that day:  Camera? What a silly name! I told him. But then he said the name aloud for all to hear … and to correct my mis-hearing.

I can’t speak with great knowledge about what it’s like to be a child some would characterize a “replacement baby.” She was never that to me, and I know my parents gave Tamara all the love and nurture they devoted to the rest of us. In the sense of replacing Nadja, I don’t think any of us believed Nadja could be replaced. At the same time, we recognized Tamara’s unique place in our family.

But it was natural for all of us to dote on Tamara, to beware all dangers that might befall her, to cushion every stumble and slip. With all of us still operating on high alert, Tam couldn’t cough without someone giving her a thorough going-over. Considering the level of our solicitousness (and overbearing supervision?), Tamara’s early years could be characterized as charmed or nightmarish, maybe both, depending on the day.

One of these days, I’ll have to ask my sister which was harder:  differentiating herself from a sister she’d never known, or distinguishing herself from the sister she knows. Even with nine years separating the two of us, I know I often cast a shadow that was difficult to escape, unfortunately.

When I think about my sister Tam, I think of her as a gift from God. She is that and much more to all of us who know and love her. Psalm 68:6 tells us:  “God sets the lonely in families.” I love that verse! My own experience affirms what a blessing it is to be part of a family.

Safe In His Arms

Nadja_Ruthe_1Less than two weeks from today, my family and I will quietly acknowledge the short life of my younger sister, Nadja Kaye Stricker. She was born on April 8, 1954 and died on July 30, 1955 of intussusception, a medical condition that causes a portion of the intestine to telescope within itself. When the condition isn’t diagnosed quickly, a child may suffer sepsis and (when left untreated) death.

It’s almost impossible for me to imagine my sister as an adult celebrating her sixtieth birthday, but every April, I’m reminded of our loss when she died so suddenly. The picture of her at left was taken on Easter Sunday, 1955. We had just celebrated her first birthday two days before Easter. That’s my mom holding her by the hand (and my backside in the background).

Today, children usually don’t die from intussusception. My sister was taken to regular pediatric check-ups and never exhibited any symptoms of distress until the day of her death. Memories of that day are indelibly imprinted on my brain.

KushPOOL0001It was a hot summer day and few homes in 1955 had air conditioning, certainly not ours. As usual, my brothers and I were playing out in the yard. We had a 50s-era green canvas kiddie pool (like the one at right, though the picture is borrowed from here). Our pool was set up for summer play and most days, we were in and out of it until dinner time came. Any pictures of us in our kiddie pool would have been black and white prints, but we’d have gathered for a snapshot just like the little ones in this color picture did.

On that particular day, my mom and sister were inside the house, and I tend to think (in retrospect) my sister may have been showing signs of fever (infection) because my mom had decided to bathe her. The minute my mom called my older brother to the front door and instructed him to fetch our neighbor (a nurse who worked nights and would be home sleeping), our intuition went on high alert.

Ruthew_kidsAny other time, my little brother and I would’ve been mercilessly ragging on our older brother for his serious infraction of Dad’s rules … crossing our busy street to fetch the neighbor. I think the two of us probably stood with our feet in the kiddie pool, watching older brother look both ways and skitter across the street, up the steps and knock frantically on the storm door. For children who’d never known anything but a quiet, idyllic existence, we were wondering what could possibly have happened to thrust us into bizarro-land. Certainly, it never crossed our minds our baby sister had fallen into a coma and would be dead within hours.

Dead? That wasn’t a concept with which we were familiar. Look at the picture above with our mom and the four of us children all dressed up for Easter. Happy faces full of innocence and joie de vivre. But our world was about to tumble off its axis.

Our dad happened to be out of town that week. As a member of the Missouri Air Guard, he was out of state doing his two weeks of summer camp. My mom didn’t even drive … and her lack of skill with a manual transmission was a significant concern if we happened to be in the back seat! Fortunately, the neighbor/nurse had a vehicle and quickly carried Mother and baby Nadja to the hospital.

Eventually, my dad’s older brother arrived to take the three of us to his house. Before the night was out, our daddy had been airlifted home. With tears in his eyes, he told us our sister was gone.

After all these years, it’s hard for me to weigh the emptiness I felt. I didn’t have a clue what dying was all about. But I understood my daddy’s tears and the obvious grief that covered him like a suffocating shroud. I can’t be sure, but I don’t recall seeing my mom again until the next day. Where was she? Perhaps we’d been put to bed before she came home?

Like most traumatic events a child experiences early in life, my sister’s death had a pivotal effect on all of us. It definitely put a damper on the world my brothers and I shared the rest of that summer. There was a dreadful expectation that another shoe might drop. What would it be, we wondered?

Through it all, our parents encouraged us to have hope, the confidence that we would see our sister again one day and that she was safe in the arms of Jesus. I Thessalonians 4:13-14 says:  “… do not grieve … as those who have no hope …” The Scriptures brought deep comfort to us! Also, my dad often sang the Fanny Crosby hymn, Safe In the Arms of Jesus, and I have no doubt the lyrics caused him to remember his departed daughter. (I don’t have a recording of my dad singing, but the link I’ve included above reminds me of his steady tenor voice.)

In God’s perfect time, and as an answer to my specific prayers, another sister came into my life two years later. What a blessing she has been! (That’s another story entirely!)

Without intending to be morbid but to honor her memory, I celebrate the short life of Nadja Kaye. I wish we’d known her much longer. 

Breaking Away

During the early years of my life, Sunday was actually considered a “day of rest.” We’d spend the morning attending Sunday School and Church, of course, but after we’d had lunch, everyone laid down for a mid-afternoon nap. The house was probably quieter than any other time of the week. It was a respite from the hustle-bustle that started up again as soon as the sun rose on Monday morning.

SundayPart5I remember one Sunday that was different. My brothers and I slept upstairs. (One is two years older than me, the other eighteen months younger than me.) That Sunday, I woke up from my nap and on my way downstairs, I noted that my younger brother was still napping. My older brother was not in his bed though, so I proceeded downstairs to find him. I quietly searched all through the small house, but didn’t succeed in locating him. Eventually, I tiptoed to my mother’s side and asked where Eric was. She was awake but resting beside my dad.

It didn’t take long to figure out my brother was not in the house, nor was he outside in the yard playing. I can’t say my parents panicked, but within minutes they were looking everywhere. I think it may have been an alert neighbor who noticed a tow-headed little boy walking alone down the sidewalk. Because he carried a suitcase, he surely looked out of place. He had slipped out while everyone else was resting. Where he was going wasn’t clear, but he had succeeded (to that point) with his plan to run away.

Apparently, there had been some family slight that he’d taken personally and he was bold enough to believe he could make it on his own in the world!

Many years later, as a parent myself, I remember my oldest daughter making the same decision. By my recollection, she didn’t get farther than the end of our driveway, but her strong-willed nature certainly gave us pause to watch closely from the window. She lingered there at the end of the driveway before slowly turning back. I’m grateful she quickly realized her plan had some holes in it!

The sonnet below was written with that occasion in mind.

Runaway, running away from home, emancipation, family conflicts, poetry, light verse, sonnet, poem
Sonnet: Runaway

I wrote this sonnet such a long time ago, I had the vaguest of recollections its unusual rhyme scheme (a-b-c-a-b-c c-b-d-b a-d-d-a) followed the Mason Sonnet form. (This is not a common form for the sonnet.) Invented by a poet named Madeline Mason, information is difficult to find online. However, I located a blog devoted to sonnet forms and the Mason Sonnet is among the many forms discussed on that site.

To my dismay, it seems the rhyme scheme I used isn’t strictly the Mason sonnet form (a-b-c-a-b-c-b-c d-b-a-d-d-a)! (This should only be of concern to purists, I know.) That being the case, I suppose the rhyme scheme I utilized can only be considered a variant, non-conforming tribute to Mason.

No matter. The poem is a sweet reminder of a little red-haired girl I once knew. Today, she’s blonde and closing in on her fortieth birthday.

Each One, A Precious Gift

CharlotteAnneYesterday was World Down Syndrome Day. In a post I wrote last year, The Quest for Perfect, I included a video link that featured my niece, Charlotte (shown to the left).

Then not long ago, my daughter-in-law told me her good friend was pregnant and fearful the child she carried had Down syndrome. My response was to encourage DIL to be emphatic with her friend that all moms have challenges with their children. In fact, normal is not a word that should be top on the list of a mom’s vocabulary, because each of our children is unique; as a mom nurtures her children, she comes to understand what is “normal” for each individual child.

The video below celebrates World Down Syndrome Day and is a marvelous reminder of the blessing each child is. When you view the video, I suspect you’ll cry, just as I did. The video celebrates life and the precious bond between mother and child.


Hug a child today. Thank God for each child whose life touches yours. Recognize you’ve been given blessings beyond measure. I’ll be doing the same.

Abandon Splitsville!

FemEarlier this week, I was reminded of a statement from Sisterhood is Powerful a book by author and radical feminist Robin Morgan published back in 1970:  We can’t destroy the inequities between men and women until we destroy marriage.

I’m not certain how Morgan (or any of the other feminists of the period who agreed with Morgan’s position) view the world today, but my sense is they would consider their destructive mission mostly accomplished.

I’ve posted about divorce several times on this blog. Before the advent of 1970s feminism, I recall hearing the phrase “staying together for the sake of the children.” (Yes, I remember a pre-feminism time.) Back then, there were married couples who were aware divorce was available to them, but they consciously chose to keep their marriages intact because of potential damage a breakup might have on their children.

Personally, I think married couples who made the adult decision to stick it out are to be commended. (Whether the majority stayed married after their children left the nest, I’d have no way of knowing.) From what I’ve observed, delayed gratification is a rare commodity today, living as we do in an instant gratification culture.

The poem I chose for this post poses the tale of divorce. Time and time again, I’ve watched the tragic ripples on the divorce pond wreak their most brutal destruction on the children. I remember the words of one little boy (now a man) who desperately queried his mamma, “Is it my fault daddy’s gone? What can I do to bring him back?” As an adult, this man is still dealing with the baggage of self-blame and feelings of abandonment.

I know this young man is not alone.

Abandonment, divorce, dissolution of marriage, sonnet, poetry, poem
Sonnet: Abandonment


The 1970s radical feminists seem to have succeeded at this fool’s mission of destroying marriage. Too bad they didn’t care about the toll on children, but I guess it’s rare for narcissists to think about anyone but themselves.