Steps

Clutching her handbag tightly in her left hand, Mary Riley gripped the rail at the top of the steps outside St. Vincent’s with her right. For the hundredth time that winter she wondered why she hadn’t requested communion be brought to her home. And for the hundredth time she smiled to herself, knowing how much she looked forward to Father Mark’s homilies and the feeling of belonging she received from attending mass.

Although a chilly wind swept across the steps they were clear of snow and ice, yet Mary knew the three sets of four steps could be treacherous for one her age. Just last fall her friend Ruth had taken a tumble on the last two steps and broken a hip. That same Ruth who’d once raced her to the top of the steps so many years before had never recovered from her accident and they’d buried her two days before Thanksgiving.

Mary stopped to rest on the first landing from the top, looking back to see Father Mark visiting with a young couple. He gave her a wave when he saw her standing there. 

“Mary, do you need a hand?” he asked.

“No Father, I’ve got this. Just remember your promise.”

He smiled, “Of course, but we’ve got years yet.”

She hadn’t wanted to like this young priest. He’d come in and stirred things up after Father Thomas left the diocese ten years ago. But Father Mark’s heart had shown through and soon he had revitalized the old church, bringing in new families and making everyone think about social justice.  

Just last week she’d made him promise to officiate at her funeral, fearing that he’d be moved to another parish and forget all about her. If she and Robert had been blessed with a son she’d have liked him to be like Father Mark. 

Of course Robert might not have liked the priest’s liberal views; he’d always been so conservative. But he was practical, as well. After both their older girls had found themselves in a family way while still in high school he’d instructed Mary to take their youngest, Regina to the family planning clinic uptown. “They’re breeding like rabbits!” he’d ranted. 

She shook her head ruefully, thinking of how she’d changed after Robert’s passing. He’d died of a heart attack months before Father Thomas left and had never known the younger priest. 

Robert had been a good man, Mary knew, continuing her descent, if a bit controlling. She’d never have gotten so involved in Father Mark’s peace protests had Robert still been alive. What would Robert have made of her striding around in slacks, of all things, singing anti-war songs? 

At the second landing Mary leaned heavily on the railing. She could clearly picture standing there with Robert posing for pictures after their wedding. He’d been so strong and handsome, his black Irish charm devastating. It was right there he’d swept her up to carry her to his Buick. Of course she hadn’t weighed much back then, but oh! It still made her heart beat a little faster to think of him carrying her down those last few steps.

Ruth and the other girls had been quite envious. But then Ruth had gone off to university and before long had started teaching in public school. Ruth had never married and sometimes Mary had envied her friend’s freedom. 

“The grass is always greener,” she mused aloud.

Getting her third wind, Mary pushed against the railing and carefully placed her foot on the next step. There was a little scuffed out place there where she always feared losing her footing. Almost to the bottom, just three steps to go, she looked up, surprised to see her Robert standing at the bottom looking just like he had on the day they’d wed.  “Well,” Mary sighed.

She looked back up to see Father Mark still visiting with parishioners.  With a smile she acknowledged he’d be keeping his promise to her sooner than he’d thought.

“What’s the smile for, my Mary?” Robert asked.

“I’m just thinking you could’ve met me at the top of these steps,” she laughed. 

We Do Everything Right (So Why Am I So Sad?)

We don’t head to the beach on the 4th of July

We know better after all of these years.

We don’t stay out late on Saturday nights

Indulging in silliness, downing our beer.

We avoid crowded places, concerts, and games,

The stressors outweighing the fun.

No more jostling with shoppers for bargains

Online shopping gets everything done.

Theater movies we seldom attend

The prices and people too much

On Demand provides our viewing now

Yet I feel so out of touch.

Just once in awhile I believe

We should pretend to be much less together:

Go play in the rain, drink a carafe of wine

Brave the crowds in all kinds of weather.

We do such sensible stuff in our sensible lives

So why does that make me so sad?

Perhaps I am not meant to be sensible

Perhaps I’m to be slightly mad.

Polarized

her tightly pinched lips
sickly white from forced pressure
pushing love away.

giggles erupting
uncontained mirth engulfing
overtaking us.

no smiles found her eyes
wary, watchful orbs untouched
by life’s happiness.

prayers heard solemnly
lovingly tucked in warm beds
sweet dreams little ones.

slippered feet silenced
anxious to avoid conflict
too quiet children.

holding on tightly
waltzing in circles of joy
her love unrestrained.

  

  
Peace, people!

Those Were the Days

  

Not anymore, but there was a time

When laundry piled up in baskets

And toys cluttered the floors.

Our mornings were hectic

Nothing ever in its place.

Keys always missing and 

Lunch money dispersed.

Backpacks with homework,

Field trip permission forms, and

Last minute projects forgotten til 8.

Life was chaotic, messy; an adventure.

Aunt Nanna

Every child should have a favorite aunt. Growing up, mine was my mom’s younger sister, Nedra, or as I dubbed her early on, Aunt Nanna. Only when an elementary school friend teased me about her name (Aunt Banana!) did I begin calling her Aunt Nedra.

Beautiful, teen-aged Aunt Nedra spoiled me rotten. She was the softer, more lenient, counterpoint to my strict mom and when I was with her I got away with all sorts of mischief. 

Of course once Nedra married and had children of her own our relationship changed. She had to act like a mom herself then, but her children were as close to me as my own siblings back in those days. We all lived in Floydada, Texas, and not much was off limits or out of bounds. My life was good. 

Then life changed. Nedra’s bunch moved away and she went through a divorce. All of us grew up, married, lost loved ones. And now, not a single living member of my mom’s family lives in Floydada anymore.

My Aunt Nedra married a wonderful man, my Uncle Richard many years ago and they settled in Canyon, Texas. I hadn’t seen them since my dad’s funeral in 2006. Until today. And what a happy day! 

My mother-in-law (Saint Helen) and I drove to Canyon to Nedra and Richard’s home. They knew we were coming, so Nedra was waiting at the door to welcome us. My Aunt Nanna. And there was Uncle Richard sitting in his favorite chair. Nedra had cooked lunch and we had a wonderful visit. It wasn’t nearly long enough, but two years’ worth of talk wouldn’t have sufficed.

We forget, I think, the important places in our hearts that have been claimed by these favorite aunts and uncles until we can see them and hug them and have all of those emotions and memories come rolling in and crashing over us. We have a shared history of family loved and lost, of experiences both profound and silly. Nothing can ever replace that. No one can ever replace these loved ones.

Love you Aunt Nanna and Uncle Richard.

All My Bags are Packed

Truly my bags are packed. I’m off to Texas tomorrow for a Doright family reunion. 

Positives (in no particular order):

  1. Seeing my children and grandchildren. Hugging will happen.
  2. Hanging out with Saint Helen. 🙂
  3. Visiting with the Doright clan, especially Studly’s sisters and his brother.
  4. Saint Helen’s cooking. Yummmmmm!
  5. The Doright Family Auction–always a hoot.
  6. Getting to see my Aunt Nedra and Uncle Richard.
  7. Touching base with old friends.
  8. Eating Tex-Mex food. 

Negatives:

  1. Getting up at 4 a.m. To make my flight. Ugh!
  2. That’s it. No more negatives. Going to bed now.

Peter, Paul, and Mary: Leaving on a Jet Plane. This song always makes me cry.

http://youtu.be/c8jEapecSqc
Peace, people!

Pregnant with Death

In the last trimesters of my two pregnancies my mind and body went into high states of anticipation. Physically I was full of child, round and healthy, a walking, talking, glowing clichè. Who cared that we were young and totally unprepared? My body was saying, “Let’s do this!”

Not me.

Mentally I went into the hormone zone. At night I dreamt of having twins or triplets, and literally juggling them (even though I can barely handle more than one bag in real life without dropping it) or forgetting they existed at all until learning they were grown without having ever known me. Gotta love those pregnancy hormones.

Recently I began noticing a parallel between my late term pregnancy time and my current existence. You see every night before I closed my eyes to sleep back then I’d think, “What if this is the night I go into labor?”

Now, as I near sixty, I sometimes wonder at bedtime, “What if this is the night I die?” It’s not as morbid as it sounds. I’m a healthy woman. I sleep well and eat a reasonably nutritious diet. After my bout with early stage breast cancer I am religious about having regular mammograms and other preventative medical exams.

But it’s as if I’ve become pregnant with death. 

I’m past those years of thinking I am invincible. I’ve lost friends who seemed full of life and possibility. I was with both of my parents as they died, and I was struck by just how effortless the final step was. They’d both suffered the indignities of long, painful illnesses, but when death finally came for them there was a release and a relief.

So sometimes at night the anticipatory thought comes to me. “What if this is it? What if this is the night I die?”

I say my prayers as always, for forgiveness, for the health and well-being of my family, for an end to wars, for any friends who’ve requested prayers, and I always end with a thank you. Because if I’m to go I want gratitude to be my final thought.

In the end I guess we are all “pregnant with death” and life is too precious to spend even a moment on dramas that separate families and friends. So forgive. And then forgive again. 

I’m not a big Max Lucado fan, but this I agree with.
 
Peace, people

If I leave tonight
my spirit will stay with you

I’ll love you always.

Mother’s Day

I have beautiful memories of Freida Hall, the woman who wiped my snotty nose, cleaned out my grungy ears, and made sure I always wore clean underwear. Glamorous roles, indeed.

Isn’t that what being a mother is about,  though? Taking on those tough jobs that nobody else wants to do: Getting up at midnight and two and four and six with a newborn who can’t settle into a schedule, or with a two year old who just wants to have a cuddle and a bit of comfort, or with a 16-year-old whose boyfriend had just broken up with her?

It’s about doing the tough love stuff when necessary–sniffing out the truth instead of believing every word her beloved child tells her. It’s about holding that child accountable for wrongdoing, and then holding her close and letting her know she’s still loved.

I’d love nothing more at this moment than to be able to tell my mom how much I loved her and how much she meant to me. I’d say:

Thanks Mommy for all of those unglamorous acts you performed, for all the wiped noses and bums, all the scrubbed faces and ears. 

Thanks for all the times you stayed up with me, cuddled me, held my hand, cooled my fevered brow, and listened to my teenaged angst. 

Thanks for teaching my brothers and me to be responsible adults through example and discipline and tough love.

Thanks, Mom. I love you and miss you every day.

   
 

Peace, people. Life’s too precious for anything else.  

The Family

Why is the Family
Important
In this day and
Time?

Family defines us,
Binds us,
Cradles us,
Refines us.

Family catches us,
Finds us, and
Snatches us
From the brink of
Nothingness.

Family shelters us,
Upholds us,
Reflects us on
Life’s stage.

One who has
Family is never
Alone,
Even if they’d
Sometimes prefer
Solitude.