Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Birthday Gift That Kept on Haunting

Since we are a few days past my birthday, sorry if you missed it, I must admit it's not so much fun getting old anymore. It's not the being older in years that's the worst, but the aches and pains that accompany it—which is another matter.
We lived in Chicago while I was growing up, but summered at our lake cottage on Delavan in Wisconsin. My birthdays were a real treat. Each year I could count on a chocolate cake with chocolate fudge frosting decorated with yellow roses from Boutelle's Bakery and presents that were wrapped in pink tissue paper, tied-up in ribbons. I'd sit on the sunny porch, perched on a chair, crown on top of my head with braided hair while sailboats glided passed in the background. Very picturesque.
Then one birthday I got the most horrid gift. I was in sixth grade and my mother felt the kitchen table was no longer the proper study place for me, so she bought me a desk and placed it in my bedroom, upon my pink rug, right in front of the Pricilla laced curtains that framed the windows.
The desk wasn’t one of those charming pieces of furniture with small cubbies at the top for stamps and stationeries; one of those I might have liked. The desk I was given was practical, utilitarian, and served the purpose for which my mother bought it—for studying. The surface was large. Three drawers down each side and the thinner middle drawer. The whole thing was beige. I had to leave the area when I needed to daydream.
Years later, while in high school, Mother thought the desk needed a face lift so she striped it and got one of those new paint kits that were fresh on the market at the time. You chose your fake antique color and then painted on with a special treatment which was to make it look like a genuine antique when completed. Well, it didn’t. The desk was now very dark green with black lines through it. Mother thought replacing the drawer pulls might jazz it up a bit so she bought brass knobs that had a chariot emboldened on it. I didn’t think it was possible for that desk get any uglier until she gave it the treatment.
Of all the things I have owned in my lifetime that is the only belonging that followed me everywhere I went for years and years. It dogged me. Seriously. When I went to college, it came along, when I got my own apartment it was there, and when I moved back home while I filled out job applications, it came back too. Why couldn't I have been followed by my first baby doll, or the pretty chenille bedspread, or the antique floral dishes my great grandmother gave to my mother and then my older sister got? Sigh.
The desk even came along when I got married and we moved to Virginia, back to Illinois and down to Texas. Finally I pawned it off on my daughter Kim when she turned ten, kind of like a rite of passage. I got it when I was ten now it's her turn to be shadowed by it. I felt like writing at the bottom of her birthday card, 'good luck honey' but resisted the urge.
Why do we hold onto things like this? Is it because we have had it for so long that we feel obligated to bring it along with us like ol' Uncle Harry to a family reunion?
One summer, Kimberly and I decided to have a garage sale. That ugly green desk, now chipped with time, was the first thing we sold. That was eighteen years ago and ya know, I still don't miss it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mother's Last Gift

by Robin Shope

Consumed by my loss, I didn't notice the hardness of the pew where I sat. I was at the funeral of my dearest friend—my mother. She finally had lost her long battle with cancer. The hurt was so intense, I found it hard to breathe at times.

Always supportive, Mother clapped loudest at my school plays, held a box of tissues while listening to my first heartbreak, comforted me at my father's death, encouraged me in college, and prayed for me my entire life.

When Mother's illness was diagnosed, my sister had a new baby and my brother had recently married his childhood sweetheart, so it fell to me, the 27-year-old middle child without entanglements, to take care of her. I counted it an honor.

"What now, Lord?" I asked sitting in church. My life stretched out before me as an empty abyss.

My brother sat stoically with his face toward the cross while clutching his wife's hand. My sister sat slumped against her husband's shoulder, his arms around her as she cradled their child. All so deeply grieving, no one noticed I sat alone.

My place had been with our mother, preparing her meals, helping her walk, taking her to the doctor, seeing to her medication, reading the Bible together. Now she was with the Lord.

My work was finished, and I was alone.

Providential mistake

I heard a door open and slam shut at the back of the church. Quick footsteps hurried along the carpeted floor. An exasperated young man looked around briefly and then sat next to me. He folded his hands and placed them on his lap. His eyes were brimming with tears. He began to sniffle.

"I'm late," he explained, though no explanation was necessary.

After several eulogies, he leaned over and commented, "Why do they keep calling Mary by the name of 'Margaret'?"

"Because that was her name, Margaret. Never Mary. No one called her 'Mary,'" I whispered. I wondered why this person couldn't have sat on the other side of the church. He interrupted my grieving with his tears and fidgeting. Who was this stranger anyway?

"No, that isn't correct," he insisted, as several people glanced over at us whispering, "Her name is Mary, Mary Peters."

"That isn't who this is."

"Isn't this the Lutheran church?"

"No, the Lutheran church is across the street."


"I believe you're at the wrong funeral, sir."

The solemnness of the occasion mixed with the realization of the man's mistake bubbled up inside me and came out as laughter. I cupped my hands over my face, hoping it would be interpreted as sobs.

The creaking pew gave me away. Sharp looks from other mourners only made the situation seem more hilarious. I peeked at the bewildered, misguided man seated beside me. He was laughing, too, as he glanced around, deciding it was too late for an uneventful exit. I imagined Mother laughing.

At the final "Amen," we darted out a door and into the parking lot.

"I do believe we'll be the talk of the town," he smiled. He said his name was Rick and since he had missed his aunt's funeral, asked me out for a cup of coffee.

That afternoon began a lifelong journey for me with this man who attended the wrong funeral, but was in the right place. A year after our meeting, we were married at a country church where he was the assistant pastor. This time we both arrived at the same church, right on time.

In my time of sorrow, God gave me laughter. In place of loneliness, God gave me love. This past June we celebrated our twenty-second wedding anniversary.

Whenever anyone asks us how we met, Rick tells them, "Her mother and my Aunt Mary introduced us, and it's truly a match made in heaven."

Sunday, August 09, 2009

I Totally LOVE This Poem

how about you?

My Inside Self, by Rachel Field

My Inside-Self and my Outside-Self
Are different as can be.
My Outside-self wears gingham smocks,
And very round is she,
With freckles sprinkled on her nose,
And smoothly parted hair,
And clumsy feet that cannot dance
In heavy shoes and square.

But, oh, my little Inside-Self -
In gown of misty rose
She dances lighter than a leaf
On blithe and twinkling toes;
Her hair is blowing gold, and if
You chanced her face to see,
You would not think she could belong
To staid and sober me!