Category Archives: Stories

Dear Grandmother

You’d have turned 101 today and we, the family, would have asked again, “Tell us a story from when you were a young girl,” just like Matthew used to ask.

We still ask for those stories, you know, and we flip through pages till we find where we wrote them down. We do. We find them and smile, remembering our childhoods with you, our mother.

Notes on the Zoo Trip with Jude’s Preschool

The hallway of Jude’s school was filled with Jude’s friends excitedly telling me their names. “I’m Jude’s daddy,” I’d say before we’d talk about the animals they were excited to see. (Most of them wanted to see an armadillo, which I don’t believe the zoo has on purpose.)

Carmella, Arturo’s mom, was at the school when Jude and I arrived; she was holding Selena and later asked me to keep an eye on Arturo during the trip. I say I will. She walks over to Arturo and he gives his mother and baby sister a kiss.

The bus ride:
Jude was nervous and teared up when I didn’t get on the bus with him right away; he had his heart set on us riding together. His emotion is free flowing, and that’s a gift, though I hope it doesn’t cause him pain later.

Jude and I eventually sit together and smile at one another as I hold his hand.

The zoo is packed with preschool students and families. Our group, led by Jude’s teachers Karen, Julie, and Debbie, sticks close together as we adventure toward “Africa.” We had our hearts set on the lions who were sleeping on rocks when we got there. As they say, the journey is made by walking.

Arturo enjoyed climbing on top of things and saying, “Uude, come here! A picture,” as I got my phone ready to snap. The peace sign is a favorite of Arturo’s.

I ended up as the pack leader, occasionally talking with Essence’s mother who pushed Essence in a stroller and Leo’s mother who pushed him in a stroller too. Essence and Leo (pronounced “Ley-Oh”) are the ones slated to inherit the earth in Jude’s class.

Essence is a beautiful, smiley African American girl who loves it when her class friends come make her smile (a favorite activity of Jude). Essence can walk, sort of, but her little walk, though confident, is unstable; she nonchalantly misses chairs and plops on the ground with the quick, recoiled determination to make that chair work for her.

Leo is a young Latino boy whom Jude has befriended since the start of the school year. Leo smiles a beautiful smile and warms our hearts when he talks with two sticks he holds in his hands; he sings that way too. He moves his sticks around and waves them and the people who know him know exactly what he means. I just marvel and smile.

We traveled a fast pace to and from Africa; the little legs of our troop were too excited with each new animal to notice how tired they were until they relaxed on the bus later.

Lunch time was a big favorite for the kids. I helped open bags of carrots and milk cartons. When the kids started letting plastic bags float in the wind, I ran to catch them. They discovered this could make a fun game; I could tell that in their giggles, yet I was spared the game by God’s grace; the kids just stopped letting their bags float away.

One mother and father noticed I didn’t bring a lunch. Knowing little English, she motioned to me when I wandered close their way. She pointed at a bread sack and said, “You?”

“Me?” I asked.

She pointed the bag’s opening my way and I reached in, not really sure what I was going to pull out, but soon discovering there were a bunch of sandwiches in there wrapped in napkins. They were stacked back in the bag like bread you buy from the store.

“Thanks!” I said with a smile as she opened a cooler with Orange Crush. I nodded at her husband to say thanks to him too.

This was my first sandwich with ham, jalapeño, avocado, and tomato, plus a white substance that I couldn’t tell what it was; it was round like a piece of provolone cheese but crumbly like feta. I had never had it before. The jalapeños were a hidden surprise in the sandwich that helped me appreciate the gift of the Orange Crush.

We wandered to the busses after a little more exploring after lunch. The kids were getting tired and the teachers were feeling the kid’s lowered energy. I was glad my only charge was to watch after Jude and Arturo (a request I made of Karen on Carmella’s hinted request that morning).

The kids talked about wishing they’d seen an armadillo at the zoo as we drove home. Giraffes and the hippo were nice though too.

Why wouldn’t I want my family to be in a school where you can see resurrection happen every day? Resurrection life truly comes as a constant surprise, an unexpected gift, like springtime leaves that come from nowhere.

Lent in the Fields of Eden (Ash Wednesday)

Lent in the Fields of Eden
Ash Wednesday, 2013

Lent has been a sacred season for me since high school, but I think the tradition roots back into forgotten elementary-year experiences at Trinity Lutheran Church in Eden, Idaho.

High School was when I started to take interest in the changing of the seasons – and there’s no change more desired than the warmth of spring outgrowing the frosts of winter. Lent is rooted right in the heart of this annual experience and I remember connecting the silence and prayer of Lent with the warmth of Spring.

I would celebrate this connection by spending warm (briskly so) evenings watching the passing sunlight give way to the Evening Star. I enjoyed the silence and the space for reflection, especially from the asphalt shingled floor of my mother’s rooftop. From up there, I would look west through the leafless, empty trees and watch the bare field dirt gobble up the sun’s warmth. The orange beauty (which is beyond the capacity to paint) I would savor for minutes, maybe an hour, as the constellations took their positions.

Each Wednesday in this springtime routine, I would drive with my mother and younger brothers south of our small town (Eden, Idaho; 400 people) down the familiar, hilly three miles to Trinity Lutheran Church; there we would sit down for a soup supper and then head to prayer.

The subdued feel of fewer people in church (the same people who naturally became my “favorites”) mixed with the subdued light in the western windows to create the perfect ambiance for prayer and meditation. The faith of others in the sanctuary was palpable on these nights – the people’s postures and strong singing of memorized Lenten hymns drew me into imitation.

…I had often wished we could stay there in the sanctuary after the singing had stopped just to be there to think, to pray. But: I followed the group and we all eventually went home.

Stargazing and worship would build up to the most cherished part of Lent. It wasn’t Good Friday, or Lent’s demise – Easter – but the dark vigil we would keep from the end of Good Friday services till sunrise on Easter. This was my favorite. I would sign up for my hour and secretly hope no one else would sign up behind me, making me feel like I got a two for one.

Pale white light shown behind the cross against the wall in the middle of the most beautiful and simple stained glass window. An “eternal light” flickered it’s red electric candle bulb above the lectern. This was it. The pale light and me. No: the presence of God and me.

All the sunset vigils and prayer-wrestling culminated in this sanctuary solitude. This is where God would have the last word and I would sit there pouring over a Gospel or Epistle, soaking it in.

A Visit to the Local Bhutanese Garden

I could smell the fragrance of incense in the air as the sun rose higher, making us turn out backs to it to talk with one another.

With hellos, new acquaintances spoke about their connection to urban farming or the Prescott community. I smiled in the beauty of it all, watching more people come through the gate, people who looked the part of caring about peace, justice, and roots in the soil.

The warm August morning sun made sweat gather on our foreheads as we listened to short speeches before the ribbon cutting. We celebrated together with Jambi, one of the organizers of the farm; Rachel, a Catholic Charities urban gardening minister; and many Cultivate KC people as the ribbon was sliced. Our celebration was communal – not just for our Bhutanese friends with their very accomplished garden, but for us as entire community. Look what a treasure we have down the hill here on 14th street (we can wonder to ourselves)!

…and yes, the corn, as they say, was as high as an elephant’s eye.

The Empty Lot in Eden, Idaho

As far as we knew, no one had ever built on the empty lot behind us, left only for a large garden that the Fitzpatrick family to the north of the lot planted.

Mother used to spot us riding on the forbidden Hunt road through that lot. We’d try to sneak by as fast as we could, but she had an eye for our snoopy deviance.

I remember the day the west neighbors put their home back there; I remember it because I was saddened for the change. Here was another person to have to get used to. The vista of an empty lot was just eaten up.

…and it was their yard light that caused me the most grief. The stars lost their back yard brilliance then.

Yet, even so, I remember climbing to the asphalt shingle roof and looking over that house, over the smaller trees (then) and into the great flat horizon that the sun slept in. I’d watch the sun descend slowly, diminishing from the brilliance that illumines the eastern world with copper and amber light. I’d watch the sun sleepily descend from that brilliance to the deep red-orange you can look at and not have to squint for. Then, millimeter by millimeter, the solar enormity disappeared, ushering the mystery of twilight.

The killdeer celebrated this each night. So did Venus, who arrived early in twilight’s hour. Sister stars and planets came too, and on a particularly marvelous night, the golden cheese of a moon would ascend in the east and I’d watch the slow climbing descent (I think it’s both directions at the same time) of twilight in the other hemisphere.

Above the reign of mosquitoes, I’d watch, I’d pray, I’d be silent. As light faded, so did my journal handwriting.

And once twilight met night, the neighbor’s yard light came on. I’d go inside.