Changing characters, unchanging spirit of life

I spent the last year writing a historical fiction book. It was a self-imposed doable project that fit the time and space of Covid-19. The book’s setting is northeastern United States so, I could drive my own car, bring my own food, and stay at triple cleaned rentals for the night, while investigating the protagonist’s landscape. But I didn’t have to do much traveling, because most of my research was done from home through the internet. Let me say that in another way. It wasn’t the internet that supplied the bulk of my collected information, it was the services of historical societies and libraries.

Although I have memories of me walking through Saco Cemetery in Maine, last autumn, feeling embraced by the yellows, oranges, and reds of falling leaves while searching for the gravestone of my main character, Daniel Patterson, and memories of me getting lost while driving in circles looking for historical markers, I have a gazillion more memories of me standing in my office at my standup desk, with grandchildren bursting in the room and saying, “Grandma, I made this for you.” I have more memories of me speaking over the phone with, or contacting through a webpage, people who work at historical societies and libraries.

Although I used the internet, it was not the internet that supplied the historical information. It was the people who wrote history books, the people who worked in historical societies, the people who worked in libraries, the people who updated webpages with information who supplied what I needed.

It was the people who haven’t stopped thinking and working, simultaneously.

I know we all get excited over different things. I don’t get excited about shopping or eating anything else other than oatmeal for breakfast, salad for lunch, and potatoes for supper but get me on the phone or online with a historian and I get excited.

“Daniel Patterson, you say, when did he die?” asks Mrs. Elder from the Dyer Library in Saco, Maine. “I’ll call you back.”

Time passes.

But I get excited as I see in my head, Mrs. Elder walking pass the history section to the research department, closed to the public because of Covid, and making efforts to peruse microfiche or digital newspapers. While waiting at home, I write about something else or organize all the paper craft projects made for me by little innocent grand-fingers. Sure enough, Mrs. Elder will call me back with a found obituary that leads me to the United States Patent Department, where a Mr. Salis assists me. He emails me a court documents that sheds light on more of Daniel Patterson’s story.

Daniel Patterson was a man who grew up in Maine during the emergence of the industrial age. He became a dentist in New Hampshire, paid royalties on a patent for vulcanized rubber dentures (superior to wood or metal dentures), escaped Salisbury Prison during the Civil War and walked 400 miles during the night to safety in the north, married and divorced a woman who would later become famous for incorporating spirituality into healing.

What else did I learn? To always double or triple check information.

While most of the historians and libraries were smack-on delightful to work with and sharp-as-tacks, a few were lax and only repeated what they read on the internet, which I already could do from home with a grandchild sitting on my desk saying, “I’m drawing a fairy picture for you, Grandma.”

Although websites such as Ancestry dot com or Find A Grave dot com are amazing, they contain errors. Human errors. No biggie, mere reminders that human beings make mistakes, including the characters in my book. So, I politely thank and disconnect from the person who repeats what they read on the internet, all the while failing to countercheck the information on another website themselves.

Don’t bother getting disgusted, I remind myself. There are nearly three hundred thirty million people in the United States, someone else will make the effort to help me. And this is where I learned to use the internet to contact municipal offices for vital records. It was another place where I exercised my right to give people a break. Let me say that in another way. It was another opportunity to act on the fact that someone will help me, I just have to make an effort also.

I pretty much count on it because, if Covid teaches me anything, it is that the same spirit that motivated a Union man to escape prison and traverse his way over the Blue Ridge and Alleghany mountains, living off the land, wearing the same clothes he was wearing when captured seven months prior, is the same spirit that motivates us today. And I do see people helping people.

The nowness of snow

The snow is melting. Rats!

Snow has always been my favorite part of winter. I grew up sledding with my sisters and brothers, racing down the hill, through the trees of the Blue Mountains in Oregon. Sometimes, we ran smack into trees, but oh well.

When older and visiting Palo Alto, California, in the summer, on a gorgeous seventy-five degree day, the friend I was staying with, a permanent resident of Palo Alto for seventy years, said, “I love this temperate climate. I’d never move.”

I had to think about what she said.

First off, I was there in July, when it was one-hundred-five degrees back home in southeastern Washington State. The seventy-degree weather indeed tempted me to believe temperate weather had appeal. But to live in it, year round? No dice.

I like the four seasons to be noticeable. Clear. And snow in winter is clear. I love watching snowflakes drift. I don’t even mind when a howling wind makes the snow fall at a sideways angle. Give me a scarf to wrap my face in and I’m outside.

This year’s snow in upstate New York where I live now, has been superb. A blessing, after a year of lockdown due to COVID. Not that my year stopped or felt lockdown. It hasn’t. I’ve been practicing violin again and play duets with our daughter on the piano. We play sacred songs, country songs, and broadway songs. I also started writing a book about Daniel Patterson and am nearing the end. Just in time for the snow melt to show dirt. Where we will be planting more trees. How can we not plant trees after watching Diana Beresford-Kroeger in her tree documentary, Call Of The Forest – The Forgotten Wisdom Of Trees?

We’ll also be planting a garden according to Ruth Stout.

But in the meantime, I’ll enjoy the melting snow, keep praying, and clean off my desk.

From, 21st Century Science and Health: “Genesis 1:14. And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years.

“Spirit creates heavenly or celestial bodies, but outer space is no more celestial than our earth. This text gives the idea of the diffusion of thought as it expands. Divine Mind forms and peoples the universe. The light of spiritual understanding gives glints of the infinite, even as black holes indicate the immensity of space. Mineral, vegetable, and animal substances are no more contingent now on time or material structure than they were “while the morning stars sang together.”[1] Mind made the “plant of the field”[2] before it appeared on the earth. The events of spiritual ascension are the days and seasons of Mind’s revelation, in which beauty, magnificence, purity, and holiness (the divine nature) appear in spiritual beings and the universe, never to disappear.”


[1] Job 38:7

[2] Gen. 2:5 (NASB)

Dr. Patterson and his wife, Mary

Readers:

I purchased the book, The History of Franklin, by Alice M. Shepard, from the Franklin Historical Society in New Hampshire and read an interesting paragraph about dentist, Dr. Patterson, the second husband of Mary Baker Eddy. Below is a draft sketch of what I perceive an important part of history.

Summer 1854

 Flapping her hands and pointing around the kitchen, Mrs. Patterson said, “I wish you’d clean away all these dental supplies.” Daniel had just entered the back door and removed his hat to hang on a hook. He held a basket with more dental supplies he’d just picked up at the drug store, making Mrs. Patterson’s statement paradoxical. But he walked to his dental office, set the basket on the floor, found a crate, returned to the kitchen and collected his crucible, tongs, and instruments from the kitchen. He carried the crate to office and set it behind the door.

Daniel sat at his desk to pick up and scrutinize the mold he’d made day before yesterday. His plan was to pour silver into the template to form a plate to be used as a palate for the mouth of a little girl born with a hole in her upper mouth. Daniel fretted, was it the right size? Would the silver palate remain in the mouth if connected to her small teeth? Can I insert a thin wire into the cooling silver?

Imagination stirred into a whirlwind, Daniel found Mrs. Patterson and asked, “When can I use the woodstove to melt some silver?”

“Tomorrow morning. I will be meeting with the Ladies Circle at Priscilla’s home all morning and most of the afternoon,” said Mrs. Patterson.

This piece of news elated Daniel. The Ladies Circle put Mrs. Patterson in good moods. Not that Mrs. Patterson wasn’t in good moods other than the Circle’s twice monthly meetings, but Daniel’s newest project demanded an inordinate amount of inspiration and whether Mrs. Patterson knew it or not, her state of mind, in pursuit of betterment, augmented his inspiration.

Daniel attributed his deduction to living in the Franklin area where education was of great interest to its citizens. Not only was the education of children at the Academy highly regarded, but also the education and betterment of adults.

Church attendance was consistent. The men’s Lyceum Association provided public lectures and a place for literary advancement. As for the Ladies Circle, it was founded by half dozen women including Martha Baker, a sister of Mrs. Patterson, and Augusta Holmes, another childhood friend along with Priscilla Clements. The Circle mission to promote literary enlightenment and community generosity was genuinely inspiring.

And the frosting on the cake, “Priscilla’s home” was within walking distance for Mrs. Patterson. Daniel wouldn’t need to harness and return the horse and buggy.

Daniel had concluded that the women also knit hats and other items for people and especially children, more unfortunate, but Mrs. Patterson, not a knitter, gave little evidence to support this particular conclusion of Daniel’s.

He set out the door to find Mr. Bradbury Prescott, the recently established forge shop owner on Chance Pond Brook.

A mile or more in the west, the brisk walk urged Daniel with gladness for the breeze. Coming upon the forge, Mr. Prescott was soon found and pleased to show Daniel his newly added furnaces and machinery. He’d set up with business orders with railroad companies and locomotive builders.

“What can I help you with, Dr. Patterson,” asked Mr. Prescott with a loud voice. But he had to speak loudly to compete with trip hammers, thundering furnaces, and pounding of iron.

Daniel explained the need for very thin wire, amenable to bending but not breaking.

Mr. Prescott pondered Daniel’s request, body standing still but mind searching the piles of metals laying around the forge yard. “Follow me,” he soon said.

The two men walked the yard until Mr. Prescott reached under a pile to pull out a very thin wire, amenable to bending but not breaking. “Let me know if it works,” said Mr. Prescott as he handed it to Daniel, who promptly returned home before his five o’clock patient arrived.

That evening, Daniel again studied his drawing and measurements of the girl’s mouth. Mrs. Patterson wrote at the kitchen table when reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the assigned reading for the Ladies Circle.

Up early the next morning, Daniel lit the woodstove and stoked it until it was hot. He melted silver in the crucible atop the stove while studying his drawings and measurements of the child’s mouth. After pouring the liquid into the mold to cool, he cut two pieces of short wire and shaped them into loops. As the liquid began to solidify, he inserted the ends of loops into the sides of the plate of silver now resembling a palate.

He carried it to his office to let cool for another day. A few patients stopped by his office for some dental work and then Daniel boiled his tools and lay them to dry on a towel.

He could hear Mrs. Patterson entering the front door, returning from the Ladies Circle. Daniel gasped, looked around and gathered all the dental supplies in his arm. They passed one another as he was leaving the kitchen. “How was the Ladies Circle?” Daniel asked, slinking to his office.

“I know exactly what you’re doing, Mr. Patterson. The kitchen looked like a factory the whole time I’ve been gone today. Is that not correct?” asked Mrs. Patterson with a smirk.

In the morning, Daniel reviewed his notes again, unaware of the piece of bread Mrs. Patterson put in front of him.

“You need to eat, Daniel,” said Mrs. Patterson.

It wasn’t her instruction, but her use of his Christian name, Daniel, that touched and pushed his single-mindedness into something more.

“Excuse me,” he said.

“You need to eat. You’re ready for the Nesmiths,” she said.

Mrs. Nesmith came with her daughter. The brave girl sat in the dental chair, leaned back, and let Daniel insert the silver palate while hooking the loops around her tiny molars. Daniel was thoroughly relieved to feel the plate slip up snugly into the top of her mouth.

He felt Mrs. Patterson peeking inside the office door and turned to look. Husband and wife smiled at one another, then Mrs. Patterson took a step in and asked the girl, “Would you like a slice of apple or a piece of cornbread to eat?”

She answered, “Cornbread,” and her mother brashly exhaled a loud release of stored angst. If the child’s ability to speak more understandingly maybe she will be able to eat more than liquified foodstuff. The mother’s void of angst was instantly filled with empathy as Mrs. Patterson hugged her gently before going to the kitchen to cut a piece of cornbread for the child.

Dr. Patterson and the child’s mother watched as she ate with obvious liberation. Daniel told Mrs. Nesmith, “As she grows, this palate will need to be resized or rebuilt.”

Mrs. Nesmith, trembling and with a tear in her eye, nodded and said, “Mr. Nesmith will pay you shortly.”

Mr. Nesmith came by an hour later and paid generously. Daniel mustered the strength, not to refuse the generosity, but to humbly accept it.

After a supper of fresh strawberries, peas, fish, and cornbread topped with pure maple syrup, Daniel read to Mrs. Patterson from, Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott. Enjoying the story, Daniel instinctively began adding dramatic tones and nuances for about an hour, animatedly swooping his arm with a regal force when reading:

When Israel, of the Lord beloved,
Out of the land of bondage came,
Her fathers’ God before her moved,
An awful guide, in smoke and flame.

In the Purple

A text from my sister asked me what childhood memory I have of Christmas. I remember receiving a bright, deep purple bedspread that resembled shag carpet of the 1970s. Two-inch long shag. Sounds awful doesn’t it? Well, it was.

I shared a room with this very sister and therefore, we had a bed each, meaning she also received an identical gift and we had not one, but two of these imperial purple beauties gracing our small abode.

Our family of seven lived in an old farmhouse in the state of Washington, built before wall-to-wall carpet was a thing. In other words, the place had old linoleum flooring. So, maybe the bedspreads were a form of compensation for lack of carpet.

That Christmas morning, we five kids sat giddily around the tree, unwrapping gifts.

When unwrapping the soft package, I noticed first, the purple. I like purple, not lavender or violet, to fluffy, but dazzling bold purple, so this gift was looking pretty good, until I finished unwrapping and stared at the hunk of shag material. “It’s a bedspread,” said Mom.

Mom was perceptive. I’m sure she heard me think, “What is this?” I’m sure she also knew my verbal, “Thank you, Mom and Dad,” was strained. But that could be because we all knew, every gift was purchased by Mom from the Montgomery Ward catalog. Dad did not shop unless it was for a potato harvester or pipeline.

I sweat under the heavy coverlet. But sweating under shag aside, this gift, I attribute to my present day attitude toward gift giving. Super nonchalant.

The attitude started as “helpful hints.” I’d tell Mom what I wanted. She abided and even made it easier by asking me to mark, a month before Christmas, no next-day delivery back then, my druthers on the Montgomery catalog pages.

After getting married, my attitude took a necessary diversion. It believed that I enjoyed the first year of selecting gifts for in-laws who I so badly wanted to be a part of. But, Christmas Eve, when the in-laws gathered, I could tell, the blouse I got my sister-in-law wasn’t what she liked, therefore the next year, I simply wrapped the gifts I choose along with the sales receipt, for easier returns.

The in-laws abided by doing the same. But “returning” items irked me. So, my attitude shifted to a protest. Hopefully, I said it kindly, but I said, “I don’t want to draw names anymore, thank you.”

At first, the in-law family was a bit curious as to my request.

Which by the way, my request wasn’t reversed by my husband, who himself has zero patience for shopping expeditions of any type. He did not offer to shop for his family.

But after a few Christmas gatherings, and the in-laws watching me nonchalantly, smugly, sitting in a chair eating Norwegian Lefse, not opening ridiculous gifts, low and behold, gift giving plunged in the important factor.

Did we notice? Not really, because my ever-growing family knows the best gifts are singing carols, saying grace with one another, and laughing until the cows go home.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

What I learn from others

Have you ever traveled to Marrakesh, Morocco? If it wasn’t for our eldest daughter, I probably wouldn’t have traveled to this imperial city, sometimes spelled Marrakech. But many years ago, our daughter wanted to visit Marrakesh. With me.

She was living in southern France at the time. I, in New York.

“After seeing some of France, we’ll fly to Morocco,” she emailed me.

Why not, I thought.

Before leaving New York, I went to the closet and pulled out the big green book. The World Atlas.

Thank goodness for indexes but searching and aligning cartography coordinates still required patience on my part to locate where I was going. France I could point to on the map but not Marrakesh. Not even Morocco. I learned its basically south of France, flying over the Alboran Sea.

Marrakesh sits west of the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. The description was vague. Words in my head. But off I went.

In southern France, we galivanted through historical spots for a few days then headed to the airport to catch a plane to Marrakesh. The particular airline we booked with didn’t bother to assign seats. It was a race of the fittest and the fittest got to the plane first and selected all the isle seats. The rest of us had to climb over them to get a seat. 

After arriving in Marrakesh, we took a cab but were dropped off in a tight spot and told we’d have to walk the rest of the way. A boy, looking about nine years old, confidently offered to lead us to our place of stay. We followed and gave him a tip.

I’ll add here that our daughters know how to travel affordably. We don’t go to touristy (read, expensive), places of stay. I’m the forty-, or fifty-year old staying at hostels with a bunch of young backpackers. Fortunately, they don’t give a hoot and we all eat macaroni and cheese together.

In Marrakesh, we stayed at a place in the medina, the older part of town with narrow, maze-like walkways paved in brick. The medina was built before cars. A long time before cars. Therefore, the reason the cab dropped us off outside the area.

During the week, we listened to prayers throughout the day, amplified over loudspeakers throughout the town. We admired gardens, palaces, mosques, and got lost while sharing walking space with donkeys and carts and vendors. We took a cooking class. The teacher made us go to the market to buy our ingredients and spices.

After forming bread dough, we carried it to the local baker. A man, situated down a few stairs, adeptly moving in front of a large stone oven. He wielded a long-handled paddle to put bread dough in the oven and twenty minutes later bring out baked loaves.

“Return in an hour, after cool, get loaf,” he said.

It was a community oven. One oven for surrounding neighbors.

Surely, it saves on air-conditioning personal spaces. Marrakesh became more than words in my head. It became a genuine place of interesting experiences, knowledge, and traditions. My souvenir? Images of hardworking, sincere people, willing to take stands for safety and understanding one another.

Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.–Ps. 37:3

God’s burning light of genius

While our granddaughter walks a few feet, indoors, to her laptop, to attend virtual school, I remember walking a long driveway and riding the school bus 45 minutes to the nearest rural school. Eight hours later, in reverse. We each, however, have jobs to do after school.

In the fall, my job took me to the freshly harvested 400-hundred-acre potato field. The job required tumbleweeds, a pitchfork, and matches. Fire.

Southeast Washington state, where I grew up on the family farm, grows bounteous crops of tumbleweeds. Highly combustible tumbleweeds. Capable of igniting infernos especially when mixed with dry cheat grass and sagebrush, common vegetation on the west coast.

You can imagine, I was trained to apprehend fire. I don’t fear fire as much as anticipate the need for immediate action to make sure the good caused by fire outweighs the bad.

I appreciate cooked food, but I also follow Smokey the Bear’s instructions on proper fire handling. I support laws prohibiting celebratory fireworks. And it became natural to install solar panels to counterbalance climate change.

When a kid, fire was used to counterbalance the tumbleweed threats of fire and of barricading plows.

Because the weeds are round prickly conglomerates of stems that grow three to four feet in height and width, the bunches made it impossible to plow the ground. So, with pitchfork in hand, I’d walk the field, jab tumbleweeds and carry them to pile. Once the pile was fairly large, I’d strike a match and produce a bonfire.

Four hundred acres required a lot of piles.

To save matches, or rather, to save myself from getting frustrated because the match sticks kept breaking, I first built multiple piles of tumbleweeds and lite only one pile. Within half a minute the pile was in flames. I’d then jab the pitchfork into the fire and pull out a clump of burning weeds before running, carefully, with the clump to insert into the next pile to catch it on fire.

I came home smelling like smoke and with an appetite for dinner.

No longer a kid in the potato fields, today, the smell of smoke continues triggering an appetite for improved strategies to counterbalance devastations produced by fires. I keep an ear open to the genius-spirit that moves people, calmly, persistently, and solidly, to design improved strategies, despite the howling noises produced by blame and animosity.

When young, I learned to plow fire breaks around fields and houses to help reduce fire damage. It helped but plowing isn’t a cure-all, because of countless shifting variables, because of unknowns.

Unknowns exist, no matter how much human beings believe they can know or control everything. But unknowns aren’t as scary when we’re open to the genius-spirit.

Even in the face of today’s weirdness, practically mocking our controlled schedules, I see the genius-spirit moving people to develop approachable programs to fight fire damage or help children learn. It’s happening. And I can support its many forms by grabbing clumps of this enlightened genius, before leaving behind, and moving away from, my burning outgrown passions.

We read in 21st Century Science and Health: “Pay attention! Make sure that the motive for prayer doesn’t embrace the desire for human admiration and instead encourages pure sentiments. It is physical emotionalism, and not Soul, that triggers a nervous passion for God. Allow spiritual sense to guide your higher experiences, because fanaticism and self-satisfied devotion do not promote spirituality. God is not influenced by human beings. The divine ear is not an auditory nerve. The Divine is all-hearing and all-knowing Mind, recognizing and supplying our every need.”

Think outside box when in Big Boxstore

The blackhole of Walmart is treated with humor in our household. It’s been treated with awe and disgust in the past but that’s not near as pleasant, so you can imagine the hoots and hollers when my husband brought home a package of 10 underwears. Not size large mens. But size large boys.

“You could lose weight,” said our son-in-law. “Or go back to Walmart.”

Losing that much weight is impossible but in desperation not to return to Walmart, my husband actually admitted, “I tried to put them on.”

Superstores have a place. If anything, the place of convenience. But convenient for what? Well, for me it too often meant the convenience to buy too much. Not thinking outside of the box, I finally saw that type of convenience was feeding the human habits of addiction and throwing away the future. Like eating or gambling problems.

The problem of getting sucked in. By so much stuff. And its promises of good deals and convenience? Lies. All lies.

First off, I don’t need near as much stuff as I believe. Second, if I do need something, I can mooch it off my daughters. Just kidding, but shopping for too much food leads to too much eating or rot. Bummer futures. Both.

Life isn’t about resisting hard work and inconveniences but about tackling them with a worthy future of balance and goodwill.

And because my husband lost his Trac Phone, purchased at Walmart years ago, and because I found his flip phone out on the deck, after it got rained on and wouldn’t resurrect, we made the decision to go to Walmart. Early.

While walking to the entrance, I got a brain flash. I’ve needed washcloths for about a year now, so I said, “Hey, I can get washcloths too.”

Yep, although I haven’t been to a superstore in half a year, I already began straddling the rabbit hole of consumerism. But after entering the store, I caught myself and said, “We have to stay together, or we’ll get lost or buy too much.”

Walking toward Electronics, I put myself into a mental straitjacket and gave myself lectures. “No, Cheryl, we don’t need another watermelon, or Honey Bunches of Oats, or toilet paper, or winter shirts, geesh, those donuts smell good, keep walking to electronics.”

But when passing a muscular bin of underwear, it grabbed my husband and yanked him in for a purchase.

Making greater efforts to stay on the straight and narrow, we then found and purchased the phone and washcloths before hightailing it out of the store.

We’re now waiting until our three-year old grandson can fit into the boys size large underwear.

“Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!”– Philippians 4:4, The Message

“On our spiritual journey, if we sympathize with mortality, we will be at the beck and call of error and follow a zig-zag course getting nowhere. If we travel with the worldly minded, we get sucked into a nasty cycle. A good example of this is randomly walking around the shopping mall, making feel-good purchases and eating junk food with friends. We return home, thinking we had a good time and feeling satisfied. However, when re-thinking the situation, we realize that too much time and money was wasted. So, we repeat the trip to the mall but buy books on time and financial management, or on dieting.

“Our moral and spiritual progress is monotonously slow if we constantly bounce back and forth between futile habits and the hope of forgiveness. Selfishness and stupidity cause constant retrogression. We must wake up to Christ’s demand; however, the waking generally causes suffering. We may even feel like we are drowning and struggle to stay above water. Through Christ’s precious love our efforts are rewarded with success.”–21st Century Science and Health

Menus change, God does not

Listen to the following menu because it has changed. If you’re calling about Covid-19, press one, if you’re calling about racial injustice, press two…if you’re calling about economic failure, press nineteen.

Please wait, your call is important to us. All our representatives are busy.

Whereas we have the option to:

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” –Psalms 37:7

If time has less power than God, Love, then “waiting” isn’t a matter of waiting around for something to happen. To wait patiently is to wait on God with perseverance. To serve Love.

A new baby

The expected birth found us ready and waiting, for the last two weeks. Neighbor Mom and Dad were ready to go to St. Anthony Hospital and, along with other neighbors, we were ready, on call, to watch the baby’s three-year old sibling when the time came.

An ultrasound showed the baby, not so much waiting as hanging out content as a pearl in a shell.

So, let’s briefly go back in time.

Oblivious to a near future, the pregnancy was celebrated before epidemical rumblings turned into roars. We could easily foresee, along with their three-year old and our two grandchildren, another child happily loping around on our lawns with no fences between.

Happiness wasn’t dampened as time passed and circumstances changed. But travel restrictions brought about some rethinking.

The neighbor’s immediate family members live far away.

The parents got caught in conversations between us neighbors offering to help and their families wanting to travel to help during the birth.

How do we comfort the joyful yearning to share the birth, but the need to stay home?

I lessened my judgmentalism about people traveling. Birth and death define human life but it’s the love in between that lives. I could respect their decision to travel. But as it turned out, they found comfort in staying home.

Fast forward to last Friday night, when all of us near and far, were texted a photo of the newly born infant. Picturesque. Powerful. Pure.

Another neighbor was home with the three-year old.

The birth went well. But the professionals wanted to watch Mom and Baby for 48 hours. So Dad came home, spent time with their three-year old and then brought him to our house before returning to the hospital.

Grinning ear to ear, Neighbor Dad was operating on adrenaline. Their three-year old caught the eye of our three-year old grandson and they nearly collided with excitement to go play. The noise level of the house ramped up double notches. Our daughter and I stood and smiled and nodded as the enamored dad told us details.

After the dad left our house to go to the hospital. After their son and our grandson played until they because starved. We congregated in the kitchen for some chow.

I asked the three-year old, “What is your baby brother’s name?”

“Baby Brother,” he said.

Sometimes I too can’t remember names or the correct words, but it doesn’t lessen the meaning or anticipation of joy.

Sure enough, the three-year old expressed unadulterated joy a few days later when we came to see his baby brother. His joy wasn’t dampened by the fact we all stood a ten-foot distance away on the porch. Neither was ours. Joy closed the gap.

An August Birthday

It’s Mom’s birthday today. Although her deathday was nearly ten years ago, she still bustles with aliveness to me. Parenting isn’t easy, but along with Dad, Mom managed to corral five kids into a family nice to one another. The kind of firm niceness that pretty much kept us out of trouble.

After growing up and becoming a parent myself, it felt arduous to know or capture this kind of nice.

I get peek-a-boo insights into this knowledge. Even now as a grandparent. And more often since March. Since my immediate familial members and I have been very chummy and living together steadfastly. In the same house.

In the same house where I hear just about everything.

I can tune out most sounds, except stressed, shall we say, loud speak. Eh, I mean, yelling. It happens sometimes.

For example, a few mornings ago. Parental yelling.

After which, my daughter, on the cusp of bursting tears, came to me and said, “Oh mom, it’s exhausting to yell but how do I get the kids to clean their room without whining?”

She was pretty disgusted. Probably because I stood there looking as useful as a door to a cobwebbed attic.

But, and what I’m about to type, didn’t come by means of a thought-process. I didn’t reason or recall a string of logic. I didn’t give a pep talk. I didn’t ask her, how does this make you feel, because her feelings were plain and clear. I just knew.

Nice.

Niceness exists. It’s alive and multiplying. The seed within itself.

I admitted or knew, this niceness that Mom validated when she cleaned my room and did my laundry until I left for college because she knew I’d rather be working out on the farm with Dad. It’s the niceness that thrives on the power of teamwork. It’s nice to respect one another’s uniqueness yet require expanded talents, since somewhere along my childhood, Mom did get me to clean my room and do laundry.

I even sort of learned to cook, okay minimally, in between baling hay, training fruit trees, and graveling roads on the farm. But when home, I saw Mom cooking without grumbling, teaching me it was possible.

When becoming a mother myself, I put the mental plow to the ground and tilled the soil that let me take on this heritage of niceness when doing housework.

Don’t for a second think that my plowing came painlessly. We’re talking plowing a planet here. I whined, fumed at my husband, yelled, and made myself miserable for at least ten years, but one day while standing on a mountain of dirty laundry, sorting clothes and stuffing the washing machine, the word “infinite” knocked on my mind. I opened the door and snickered. Infinite laundry was translated into the possibility of infinity. Eternity. No wonder Mom is still alive to me.

As for my daughter the other morning, my response was, “Oh for Pete’s sake, I cleaned your room until you were fourteen years old.” Her children are six and three.

We smiled at one another and chuckled. Not because her kids are younger but because, it was nice.

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