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This year there are twelve of us to spend a week-end in a cottage on a lake in Minnesota. We arrive in SUV’s and sedans, mothers and daughters, friends, cousins, co-workers….an electic mix of ages, hair colors, professions, adult beverage preferences. There are bags and totes filled with paper, “embellishments”, glue sticks and stickers, scrap books and cutters totaling hundreds of dollars. It is a Michael’s haven of addicts. There is a cricket, a critter, a cruncher…who knows? Some mechanism that crimps, cuts and does amazingly” bloody brilliant” maneuvers on card stock paper. I have no idea what it does but it is somehow magical and the mothers here create amazing works of art for their children’s developmental stages. I had a baby book for our daughter and I kept it fairly faithfully. Our son arrived four years later and we moved and I fell into some sort of funk and struggled to make it relevant. Not sure how far I got with it…maybe up to about 18 months. These gals create elaborate pages. I attended one scrapping week-end when a woman completed one page in two days. This is not your high school scrapbook kind of project. This is art.
We bring food too, lugging coolers loaded with sophisticated microbrews, margarita fixings, dips, chips, cowboy caviar, tacos, enchiladas, yogurt, fruit and granola, breakfast pizzas, fruit pizzas, and an assortment of other drinks mostly made with lime. Women scrapping need lime….and vodka. The beer variety is astonishing…peanut butter porter, chocolate coffee ale, brown brunette upty ump in a growler. What ever happened to Bud Light? Or even a Blue Mood or a Shock Top?
I am retired. I am busy but not like the other women in the cottage. They work full time jobs, are married, raise a family, volunteer at school or church, run a car pool to football, soccer, dance, show choir or to the barn to care for horses and then to track meets and horse events. Their husbands or partners travel, work, and are for the most part needy and have no idea how much their wives do every day. So one time a year these women gather to laugh, curse, express frustration and spend time connecting. There is rarely a conversation about religion or politics. Thank God. Although this year there was a small discussion about health care and what conditions will no longer be covered. Minor coverage things like maternal and early childhood health care. What else is new? Women and children and the elderly at the bottom of the priority list. Someone mentioned the 40 plus children in Minnesota with measles and how that happened. A discussion of immigration came up but it resulted in most folks saying the people from Somalia had not been given the tools to navigate the system. These are reasonable people. No rancor. Women listening.
There is a lake about a block from this house. There is a Mocha Monkey coffee shop in the heart of the village with tantalizing breakfast sandwiches pressed crispy. At the end of the block there is an elementary school. The neighborhood is neat, clean and picturesque. It seems so peaceful and away from the craziness of terrorism, bombs in Syria, dead American men and women in a desert fighting a 10 year war, bullying in school, cancer in children, guns and violence and dead Black men and dead police officers and speaking of mental health issues, a loony President. There is reason here. Laughter. Tales of children and funny things husbands do.
It’s a relief. The world lifts off these shoulders and there is no calendar to mark on Sunday nights. There is no math homework to wipe tears over or project deadlines or an annoying co-worker. There is peace on earth. The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. This is what life should be. Rise and shine you lovely bitches.
I have been thinking about American History in public schools. I wonder how it is taught now. It was life changing for me. I loved my teacher, Mrs. Hof. I wanted to be her someday. She wore wool skirts, matching sweaters, little ballet flats and gorgeous head bands. At one point in the year, she taught all the girls how to make these magical headbands out of ribbons. We all started wearing them. We wanted to look like her but I wanted to know what she knew. She was so passionate about history. Ben and George and Thomas all came alive. Democracy would not survive without the education of the masses, she said. At all costs, freedom of the press must be protected because anarchy and communism loomed around the pillars of this great experiment. That might have come about the time we all dropped to our knees underneath our desks as the siren sounded down the marble halls of our school. The communists are definitely coming. I knew what Abe said and what he did. Perhaps not the “Team of Rivals” version but certainly not a Reader’s Digest Condensed version either. I knew the Civil War was playing out on our television every night. The riots in the South were part of this history. Mrs. Hof said so. I believed her. Know your history or put your country in peril. I continue to read a lot of history. Some of what I understood has been changed but basically, I still believe Mrs. Hof.
Last night our oldest granddaughter, Alex, asked me to be her mentor for confirmation. “What do I do?” I asked. “I don’t know exactly but I’ll find out”, she said. I kind of know what a mentor does in our church. But I’m thinking confirmation class has changed in the years since I endured the process much like American history has. We memorized catechism. “What is the chief end of man?” Well, that wouldn’t fly would it? It’s gender inappropriate. Kind of like “kingdom”. Really? I remember the seven deadly sins. I remember corrupt popes and bishops and councils convened at the whim of a king. I remember the Confession of Faith. I remember “Father, I have sinned and committed that “in” word I can never spell.” Confirmation was NOT life changing for me. I was not taught the power of the community of faith. I was not taught our Lord is a joyful Lord and wants us to be happy but sometimes life stinks. Sometimes a person might just shake her fist in God’s face and scream out “that’s not fair.” But who knew what a powerful influence these mentors would have on my life. I remember one, a 48 year old man kneeling in front of the congregation, the Holy Water trickling through his black curly hair, my mother in tears. A crusty Marine, an orphan and a survivor of a Japanese WWII prison camp, somber and noble, accepting Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. I imagine the Lord joyfully clapping His hands and angels singing and dancing in celebration; not because they were welcoming a newcomer but because they were so happy to see an old friend. My father knew the Lord. He had spoken to him on many occasions; he was a grateful man. He was a builder of all things good. He lived the Gospel and now he admitted he needed that community of faith. This is what a mentor should do for all those young people deciding to join up or to check out. I want Alex to know the history of her faith and her country. I want her to realize that faith is a verb not a noun. I want her to have an intimate relationship with God. I want her to love generously and to worry less about abundance. When the tears come, I want her to instinctively, ask God what to do. I am sad my father is not here to show Alex the way. But I am. Pray me enough.
Looking at sun, a swimming pool, lemons, oranges and grapefruit hanging seductively in the trees, ripe for plucking. Green Bay and Dallas almost ready to slug it out in Lambeau Field. What could be better? Beer, wine, food in the fridge. Great stress free life. Relishing the moment. Then, I open an email from a friend. A college classmate has left us. Suddenly. No warning. She is not the first. How did this happen? Where did life go? I do not know how I got here. I am thinking of my parents, aging, watching their friends leave and the sadness of growing old without them. I am not ready for this. Mindfulness. Be here now. Focusing on the beauty of those lemons.
So what happened in the years between 2013 and now 2015………….hmmm. My mother released her earthly body and stopped chopping onions and grating cheddar cheese. Her spirit soared into the heavens and I like to think she is swinging around up there with my father and Samson, our loving yellow lab, is lying on her transparent feet. I continued to write and rewrite and tear up and totally ignore this blog until yesterday when a woman named Emily…an angel among us…followed me on this old blog. WHAT???? Synchronicity (is that right?). Why? Because I am in the midst of making sense of my father’s letters to my mother from his Japanese prison camp (actually, he was mostly in China but the Japanese were obviously in charge). They were closed up in a box in my mother’s cedar hope chest and now that she is gone I felt I could open them up and explore. My father, the Marine, was captured on Wake Island in 1941, right after Pearl Harbor. Unbroken is a wonderful story but I think my mother waiting for four years is a story that must be told. So here I sit, pondering these letters from the leather box, feeling so overwhelmed with inadequacy to tell this story. I am not Laura Hillenbrand. And there pops up Emily to give me courage. Thank you, Emily, wherever you are.
My goal for 2013 was to begin a blog. A friend of mine published his first book. It motivated me to stop talking and start “doing”; blogging seemed the least threatening. It takes courage to write because sometimes it is really bad. And sometimes it is so bad people don’t even comment about it. There are friends and family with me on this adventure and I might even tell you about the title in another posting. How lucky can you get ? “It’s a beginning,” said Alice, looking down the hole.