Monday, December 31, 2018

Naked Sentinel

This is our Christmas tree, and no, we aren't getting ready to drag it out to the curb. It's been naked and waiting since the day we bought it. 

I had a vision of decorating it Christmas Eve, the way they did in Ye Olden Days, when the twinkling lights adorning the branches were candles and the risk of fire was significant. Back when Christmas began rather than ended on December 25th. It's a vision I've entertained for decades; a romantic notion fed from books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Charles Dickens. My darling Dolce puts up with my fancies and was willing to try the Christmas Eve thing this year. 

But sometimes life intrudes. My dad died December 18. 

He didn't want a funeral, so there was nothing to do but sit with the news.

Dad was also romantic, though his ran in the style of Henry David Thoreau. Many of my childhood memories are the result of the restlessness his heart experienced. We moved a lot and jobs were transitory. For a while, we lived close to the land in a one room cabin with no running water. I learned about hunting for hickory nuts there, and what wintergreen leaves look like, and how to keep picking black raspberries despite the scratch of thorns. I learned to be careful when chewing a mouthful of squirrel because you could break a tooth on a stray piece of bird shot. I also learned how to appreciate oddballs, like the elderly hoarder up the road who let us fill our metal milk can with water from the pump in his front yard. His name was Charlie Parker. Chickens and ducks clucked out of the way when we drove up, and a pack of basset hounds bayed their warning hellos. Charlie Parker showed my dad how to stir together a simple dough and bake bannock in a cast iron skillet over an open wood fire. Dad made the bread just once. The bottom was burned, but he was proud.

He didn't want a funeral, but Dad said he'd like his ashes scattered there on that mountain where my parents argued while deer mice made nests in the belongings we stored in a shed not far from the outhouse.

A few years later, my Dad moved out. The end of the marriage was swift, and shocking. My mom, brother, and I had to move into low-income housing, which meant giving away our beloved dogs. Mom was a wreck for several years. I stayed away from home as much as I could, hanging out with my boyfriend and getting up to no good. Mom's family lived on the opposite coast, and we had no contact from dad's family, so connection with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents was lost. Although he moved a few states away, Dad tried to stay in touch. I have an old scrap book containing letters from him during those years. But human nature made it easy to turn him into the villainous cause of all our suffering.

Dad didn't come to my wedding in 1986. I never asked him why, and of course now it's too late for questions. I imagine he avoided it out of guilt and shame. I'm beginning to think they are the most corrosive emotions; infections that fester and deepen unless they're lanced so light and air can stream in. I forgave Dad decades ago for my childhood pain. My brother's had a harder time doing that. Since then I've inflicted damage on my own children, and understand better what it is to be immobilized by guilt and fear of rejection. My heart hurts when I think about the possibility of Dad suffering those emotions for fifty years.

Facebook allowed my dad and I to reconnect in a way we hadn't previously given the distance of geography and time. With Dolce's encouragement, I also connected with his wife and daughters. It's fun to have sisters, and I'm grateful to have a wise, witty, protective stepmom. I'd hoped to visit them one day. We'd be a gaggle of girls around the old man my dad had become. It's clear that Dad was a better father to them than he was able to be for us. 

December dwindled while I processed the reality that he was gone, along with the chance to be part of that gaggle. Christmas Eve arrived. Dolce and I still intended to decorate the tree that evening, but it was a hard day. Tears welled suddenly even when I wasn't thinking about my dad. We passed time with books, television, and me crying periodically. The tree stood waiting, tall, and a bit too slim in the hips. A sentinel and a symbol; waiting but not demanding. Sharing space with us; a green reminder of Christmas with all it's loss and promise.

It still stands waiting, on this, the seventh day of Christmas. It will wait with us, naked and brave, for five nights longer. After the day on which we celebrate the magi's arrival we'll carry it out of the house. If we lived in the country I would drag it to an empty field and set it ablaze. If we lived on the water I would put it in a boat, putter out to the deep, and watch it sink and settle to become a sanctuary for fish. But we live landlocked in the city limits of a small town.

I think I'll lean it in a corner against the garage so birds can shelter when the winter winds blow. I'll watch it lose it's color and vibrancy, losing the fight of days marching until its death is no longer arguable. And when the tree is even more naked, once the needles are gone and the wood is dry, I'll cut it into pieces. I'll use the tree to make a fire. I'll bake a round cake of bannock. It will probably burn on the bottom. Dolce and I will lift a glass of something, and I'll sift through the mix of memories and tell her some happy ones; of the taste of a turkey shot behind our cabin, and the sight of a rusting model A Ford in our driveway, and of the scent of gun oil and home-rolled cigarettes. 

The stories will mix with the scent of baking bread and burning wood, and the tree will become a part of the story of my dad and I. A sentinel to the unique thing that was us.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Cover reveal: TRANSFIGURED is coming!

I've been busy getting my second Where True Love Is devotional ready for launch, and so you haven't seen much news from me on this blog. You can follow the status and read excerpts from Transfigured however on the Where True Love Is website!

Meanwhile, here's a peek at the cover:

It's a wonderful resource for all people who want to broaden their view of our limitless God.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ash Wednesday Fish

Image result for ash wednesday meal program

I wrote this summary of our Ash Wednesday three years ago, and for some reason, never posted it. Posting now, because I still need to take to heart what we experienced.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, and Dolce and I discussed the readings of the day over breakfast. We'd taken our time getting out of our warm bed and so breakfasted late. I sliced thick slabs form a lovely loaf of fresh sour dough bread and fried a couple of eggs each. I slathered butter over the crusty toast. Dolce made yummy sounds the whole time she at it. Toast is one of her favorite things. We compared how Jesus' instructions to keep pious actions on the down low seemed to be in contrast with the very public sign of a dark smear of ashes across the forehead. Dolce talked about the practice of giving up chocolate or other favorite vice, wondering if it would be more in keeping with Christ's instructions to just go out more fully into the world as carriers of God's love? And so off we went to our church's Wednesday fee lunch program for the hungry. We'd been planning to attend for months, to see if we might volunteer here as we have once a month at our previous church's meal program. When it is our night to cook we consider ourselves the hosts of an extended family dinner party. We choose a menu that is special, balanced, and contrasting in textures, colors, and flavors.

We walked in to the fellowship hall and saw full tables and faces of mixed complexions and ages. Most people were men. Two women were there with two girls who looked to be five to seven years old. We chose a table and sat between a group of three deaf men who stayed busily engaged in conversation through the meal, and a twinkling-eyed, middle-aged Hispanic guy with a service pit bull at his side. A smiling volunteer greeted us and quickly brought plates heaping with food. The air was redolent of fish and we saw a floppy brown rectangle, a mound of suspiciously glossy smooth mashed potatoes, a tiny bump of coleslaw, and a pile of grayish peas mixed with soft, soggy carrot rounds. A dense under cooked biscuit rested atop the whole thing, earning pride of place perhaps because it was homemade. I looked at the food and dug in, forcing my foodie proclivities down as I lifted fork after fork of the bland mush into my mouth. A young Hispanic man joined us a few minutes later, calling our neighbor Papi and chatting animatedly with him in Spanish. Papi entertained us throughout the meal with stories about the dog. Her toenails were painted bright red. He fed her from his fork, starting with a bite of coleslaw. He scrolled through photos of her on his phone. One showed her dressed in a camouflage tutu, in another she watched TV, and in a third she sported sunglasses. Her name was Tanya, and helps him when he has seizures. He said she was his wife.

A youngish man behind me stood up to take care of his garbage. For the next five minutes he berated the room at large. "Who threw that fish away? There's nothing wrong with that fish!" His dark eyes flashed as he looked around, while pulling up the sleeves of his snow coveralls, and pulling a knit cap down over his tousled black hair. His skin was sun and wind darkened, his lips chapped. "That fish is good food! Who would throw that away?" A female voice muttered in response, but he merely stomped away in disgust. Dolce hates fish but she'd dutifully eaten a few bites in solidarity with the group. I took the abandoned remainder, scraped off the soggy coating and ate the thin flakes of flesh that were revealed.

Papi continued chatting with us and with he newcomer. He told us about a place around the corner called Common Ground where you could get free donuts and coffee. He said you could hang out and watch TV, maybe watch a movie. He recommended it to us, explaining that it was open every day from 12:00-4:00.

By this time the moms were getting in motion. One said "Come on! It's time to go!" and a little voice responded "I want to stay a while and get really warm!" My heart clenched at the thought of the girl needing to stock up on heat calories, wondering if they'd be spending the afternoon outside. But mom didn't want to hear it and she bustled the girl to the bathroom, and eventually toward the door. As she passed by, the littler girl called out her friend "Come on! We're going to Common Ground!" And so I relaxed, picturing her continuing to be warm at least until 4:00.

I continued working at the pile of gluey food in front of me, hating to wast it but full to the point of nausea. Eventually it seemed like we'd stayed long enough and so I threw away our disposables and thanked the folks in the kitchen who had cooked and served us. They wished me a good and day and we went back out into the sparkling snow, saying goodbye to the woman we see on Sundays, who's face looks like it is caving in in the center, so eventually her forehead and chin will meet in the center. I'm not sure how she manages to push her walker through all that snow and slush outside. It must be exhausting.

As we drove home I thought about the contrast of the simple, beautiful breakfast we'd eaten and the Styrofoam pile of calories placed before us a lunch. I thought about the fasting called for as a Lenten practice, and wondered if becoming overly full during this meal could somehow be a form of that practice. I thought about how much we would like to bring our own style of serving into this setting once a month. How we would like to host a family party for this group of womenless men and single moms with kids and gumming old women and middle aged black ladies with red sequined hoodies, and half frozen young men who know the value of a flat greasy block of fish, and friendly, fatherly guys who want to help two middle class women know where to find free donuts.

So tomorrow I'll hunt down the contact information for the program's coordinator. Hopefully she'll let us throw that party once a month.