Magnolia

Next-to-the last day of March. Early morning. Still dark. Chilly.

I sit at my laptop, sipping coffee, catching up on my Slice of Life blog comments. The neighborhood rooster across the street crows for all he’s worth.

My husband comes into the kitchen: “Is she up yet?” he whispers.

He means our granddaughter. She spent the night. We stayed up way late watching Frozen II (again). We watched her dancing to the ending credits soundtrack, performing her own astoundingly artistic interpretation, cheeks pink, blue eyes glowing…followed by punchy laughter before the crashing.

“Not yet,” I whisper back. He retreats to his study to work on sermons.

Shortly, though, she here she comes, a gift of the dawn, Aurora’s child, barefoot in a blue flannel gown, cloaked in long, disheveled hair, ethereal smile of joy illuminating the semi-dark kitchen. Favorite lines of a Billy Collins poem come to life:

But tomorrow dawn will come the way I picture her,

barefoot and disheveled, standing outside my window
in one of the fragile cotton dresses of the poor.
She will look in at me with her thin arms extended,
offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light.

My radiant dawn-child climbs into my lap. I let her read my post about Dennis the dachshund and his toy moose. At five, she reads with exactly the right inflection in exactly the right places, decoding beyootiful without batting an eye.

“That rascally Dennis!” She laughs aloud.

My husband returns, his own face alight at sight of her. “There she is!” he exclaims. “I’ve been waiting for you, Sugar Magnolia.”

He sings the opening line of the Grateful Dead song:

Sugar Magnolia blossom’s blooming

Just so happens that our granddaughter’s middle name is Magnolia. A nod to her Louisiana heritage. A native tree here in North Carolina, too.

I think how, less than two years ago, my husband was dead, until EMS and CPR brought him back. I think of all he’d have missed…

What matters is that we’re here together now, today, in this moment. The Grateful Alive.

Sugar Magnolia, in one of Grandpa’s hats

When we are dressed for the day, she asks: “Can I pick out your earrings? And your necklace?”

“Certainly.”

She picks the magnolia. She and my son gave it to me for my birthday last year.

She hands me the necklace, watches me clasp it, smiles with satisfaction.

She will look in at me with her thin arms extended,
offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light

Just beyond the bedroom door, from the windows in the foyer, birdsong.

The finches.

I waited for them all of March, in vain. Then, here at the very end, within the space of these last twenty-four hours, a nearly-complete nest rests on my front door wreath. More on this tomorrow, when I write with the Spiritual Journey gathering on the first Thursday in April…for now all that needs to be said is that the finches always come to my door, every year except this last one. They vanished without warning, without a trace, during COVID-19. Now they’re back, making their home in the wreath.

The magnolia wreath.

Front door wreath and nest-in-progress

Magnolias, magnolias, everywhere…

They are tougher than they look. The oldest flowering plants on Earth. A symbol of love, longevity, perseverance, endurance.

It’s that word that captures me: Endurance.

It is the end of March.

We’ve endured the COVID pandemic for a whole year.

We’ve endured the reinvention of life as we knew it, school as we knew it, teaching as we knew it.

My family has endured distance, isolation, individual private battles…and we all get our second round of vaccinations over these next two days.

My husband has endured. He is alive.

My granddaughter has endured. She is the light of our days.

The finches have endured. They have returned to resume nesting.

This is my last post for the Slice of Life Story Challenge; for thirty-one consecutive days, I’ve endured. My writing has endured.

I wrote a lot of memoir in the Challenge, for memories endure. I wrote of a walled garden and roots and the need to get out of the comfort zone; I did that with some of my writing. I think now of my magnolia metaphor and look back at its deep roots in my childhood. Southern heritage. My grandmothers, steel magnolias (although they wouldn’t have thought it of themselves). Women who endured wars, deprivation, unspeakable losses. The stand over the landscape of my life like the old magnolia trees near their homes, their churches. They were the encompassing, protective shadows against the burning sun and sweltering heat, the solid coolness of the earth under my feet, where lie the curious, fuzzy seedpods of my existence, my remembering, my gratitude, my faith. From these branches waft the eternal fragrance of sacrificial love and forgiveness; nothing on God’s Earth smells as sweet.

One final curious image—it persists, so I have to figure out if and how it will fit here: When I was very small, I spent a lot of time with Grandma, Daddy’s mother. She and Granddaddy lived nearby in city apartments until he retired and they moved back home to the country when I was six. In this scene, I am around four, I think:

I am waiting in the hall for Grandma. She’s turning the lights out; we are getting ready to go. She calls my name from another room. I call back: “I am here.” My voice keeps bouncing, off the walls, off the stairs going down, down, down, into the darkness; we have to go through it before we can get to the door and the sidewalks and the sunlight outside.

“Grandma!” I cry. More bouncing voice, hollow, strange.

She’s there in an instant. “What’s the matter?”

“What is that sound?”

Oh, honey, that’s just your echo.”

She calls out, “Hello”…her voice bounces, just like mine.

“Echoooo…” I call. Echooo-ooo-ooo, says the shadow of my voice, rolling down the stairwell.

And I am no longer scared, because now I know.

What does this have to do with magnolias?

Only that we are on our way to the park, where she would offer me bread to feed the ducks, which would come to eat from my hands, from my little extended arms…and where the magnolias still grow in abundance. The memory is a cup of light I carry with me, just as the echo of her voice remains, just as I find myself echoing her, for we are always echoes of the ones we love most. As blood circulates in our veins, so do remembered light and beloved voices, long past shadows and silence. These are things that endure.

Grandma’s homeplace was named for the dawn, by the way. She’s literally Aurora’s child.

But tomorrow dawn will come the way I picture her

“Stand right there, honey. Let me get your picture by that tree,” I tell my granddaughter, on our first trip to the park.

It’s a different park. A different tree.

But still, and always, a magnolia.

Our Sugar Magnolia, by “her” tree.

*******

With abiding gratitude to the community at Two Writing Teachers during the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, which concludes today. It was a joy to write alongside you every day in the month of March. Thank you for every cup of light you offered; I will savor the echo of your voices for many days to come.

Moose! by Dennis!

Dear Readers…as with children, what you do for one, you must do for the other, so…on the heels of yesterday’s airing of a grievance by Henry, another guest “pawthor” today

Not to be outdone by that Henry! Here’s me and my Moose!

I LOVE LOVE LOVE my beyootiful Moose!

Won’t turn him loose! Try! Try! You can’t get my Moose, Moose, MOOSE!

I Moose Moose Moose….until I’m out of juice…

Zzzzzzzzzz…taking a snoose. With amoosing dreams.

*******

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, 
meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. 

This marks my fifth consecutive year.

About the Pawthor: Dennis the Dachshund is sixteen months old.
He belongs to my musician son and is named for Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys.

Airing of a grievance (Henry writes)

Dear Readers, who stumble across this bit of unfortunate correspondence, please note that Henry, aka HRH, is an occasional contributor to my blog — a guest “pawthor,” if you will. He even has his own category on Lit Bits and Pieces. For an essential bit of perspective on what you’re about to encounter, my oldest son belongs to Henry. That is all I can really say in this regard, as Henry would not be dissuaded from airing his grievance … alas… who am I to deny anyone a forum? My humble apologies. – The Management

My Dear Him:

It is with immense forbearance that I have not addressed this issue before now, but the time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of this thing…

You and I have lived inseparably lo, these last five years, beginning with the day you came to redeem Me from a life behind bars (my having landed there through no fault of My own). I shall not go into the haunting particulars of that time, other than to say your appearing was, essentially, the day My life began in earnest.

You have proved yourself, for all intents and purposes, a good and loyal servant to Me, and I would be remiss to leave this unacknowledged. In fact, you remained constant to Me even when you took in the Her and the Little Her with those two lowly mongrel creatures of theirs in tow. I was never consulted on this matter, nor was My authorization sought, a serious violation of and in itself; but due to your theretofore slavish attentions to Me, I deigned out of the generosity of My heart to permit the Hers and their, ahem, dogs. Where We were two, We became, overnight, without the slightest bit of advance notice, six.

However.

Where I have been most accommodating of these arrangements on your behalf, as this menagerie of collected pets seemed to please you, and because I want nothing more than your happiness, second only to My own happiness, parameters have been crossed one too many times. Boundaries have been infringed upon. We have clearly reached The Point of No Return. Accordingly, I have no choice but to lodge a formal complaint in writing (which, as you know, is no small feat, considering that I must type one painstaking letter at a time with the tips of My forenails, which are curved to a ponderous and complicated degree at present due to your failure to perform My pedicure on a regular schedule).

In short: I have tolerated the mongrels and have endeavored to act kindly toward them, even to engage them. I have been gracious and accepting of both Hers, especially when there is a scent of Food or those fond delights called “Treats” on their persons. I have not appreciated the close proximity that the Hers insist on having to you, prompting Me, on occasion, as you will recall, to break up said proximity by wedging Myself between them and you as a reminder that you are, first and foremost, My Him. Let the record duly reflect.

Then, this evening, this very evening, as I tried yet again to fit the whole of Myself into your, might I say, rather pitiably undersized lap, only to be told “You know you cannot fit,” causing Me to retreat to the opposite end of the settee to nurse my wounded feelings…just to watch, right before My very eyes, as the Little Her climbed in exactly where I was told I could not fit. She is, in fact, larger than I, just slightly more vertical, yet you carefully encircle Her in your arms whereas I am left to My lone and lapless Self.

And she sits there, still. The pair of you looking terribly content.

I am hereby officially airing My grievance of this utter injustice and demand that corrective action be taken at once. If the matter is not rectified to My liking… well, I wouldn’t stoop to something destructive in regard to, say, the furniture or carpet, as I have too much wherewithal for that sort of protest; no, I will just continue to stare at this egregious display until you remember to Whom you belong. Which you have so obviously forgotten.

You have been notified.

I am waiting…

Signed, sealed, and delivered this day by HRH (Henry Rollins Haley)

Absolute affrontery. I command you to remove the Little Her from your lap AT ONCE.

*******

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, 
meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. 

This marks my fifth consecutive year.

Henry politely suggests renaming this Challenge to The Tournament of Champions,
Wordsmiths of the World, Master Crafters of the Writing Guild, Order of the Padfoot. He seems quite Sirius.
He also believes it would be a kind gesture to rename the site and recommends
Too Writing Creatures.
He fears the number is misleading.

Digging for awe: Golden shovel poems

I recently wrote a post for the CCIRA Professional Development Blog on the sometimes spirit-crushing work of literacy education. I will not list all of the contributing factors here; I will just say that there are many, especially during this long year of COVID-19. Prior to to writing the post, when asked what teachers are facing in regard to literacy and what is most needed, I responded: “A great lot of pressure at present. We have to able to relax some and find joy in our work.”

As I wrote, and as is usually the case, the path became clearer: Make room for awe.

That is my guiding “one little word” (OLW) for the year, see. And maybe for the rest of my life…

Yesterday I spoke with a colleague who will continue teaching virtually until the year ends in June, for students whose parents have chosen this option. She spoke of awe in regard to the Google Classroom chat feature: “So many more kids share their thoughts this way, more I’ve ever seen in person. I’m in awe of how much they have to say and how they encourage each other. We use the chat all the time now.”

This means students are writing more, which makes my heart sing. If ever there is a conduit for awe, it is writing.

Example: Have you noticed how many people—many students—have suddenly been enraptured by poetry after hearing Amanda Gorman? Who credits her childhood teachers and her school for valuing this kind of expressive, artistic, move-the-mountains writing?

I’ve been lamenting the loss of meaningful writing in elementary schools in my corner of the world, just when it it’s most needed—the writing workshop model having fallen out of favor in the last few years for an embedded, formulaic approach around a topic at a time. That is another whole story; suffice it to say that I am in awe of teachers and students finding their way back to writing that matters.

All of which brings me to Golden Shovel poems. It’s a form I’ve been playing with for about a year. It holds great appeal on a number of levels, practical, creative, metaphorical…the idea of mining for the nuggets of gold, the diamonds that lie within, often so unexpected, yet so important.

A teacher might give the Golden Shovel to students to dig something more out of whatever books they’re reading, songs they’re singing, famous speeches they’re studying, even a line a classmate has written—anything, really. Not necessarily as a response to the work itself, but latching onto any line that strikes them with its beauty, or pierces their hearts with its poignance, or stirs their souls with its power, to create something new and personally meaningful from it. Make room for awe…

Try digging with the Golden Shovel yourself. Take a line from a poem or a favorite book, speech, or song that has special appeal to you and transform it into something of your own. Each word in that line becomes the ending word of a line of your own poem (or the beginning word, if you prefer). Your poem may reflect an aspect from the original work. It may not. A Golden Shovel poem can mean whatever you wish; it’s just inspired by the line you use to create it.

I chose this line from Gorman’s Inauguration Day poem, “The Hill We Climb”: Even as we grieved, we grew.

Days roll on, even to odd, odd to even,

tossed dice, never quite landing, as

we wonder how that’s possible. Don’t we.

In the spinning we still loved as we grieved

and we’ll go on, won’t we, 

even as we did when odds against us grew.

And this one, from the book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, by Katherine May: We do not fade so easily from this life.

Now, who are we

and what should we do,

here where the sun shines not

and Earth’s colors fade.

Even so

consider how easily

we glide from

that room to this,

enduring, rather than living, life

And so I pass the Golden Shovel.

Here’s to the awe of your own discoveries.

Happy digging.

Photo: Golden shovels. Alachua County. CC-BY

*******

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, 
meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. 

This marks my fifth consecutive year.

In the night

A “backwards poem,” to be read like Hebrew or Arabic, from right to left:

start a with wake I

voice your hearing
name my calling

remember I before
are you
here longer no 

are you
gone long

still but
somehow
near so

or perhaps try it frontwards, left to right:

I wake with a start

hearing your voice
calling my name

before I remember 
you are no longer here

you are
long gone

but still
somehow
so near

*******

many thanks to Katrina Morison for the backwards poetry” inspiration during
the March Open Write at Ethical ELA

Image: Pillow. Playingwithbrushes. CC-BY

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway,
meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March.

This marks my fifth consecutive year.

Zone

This quote was in my planner for the month of March.

Since it is the month of the Slice of Life Writing Challenge, I thought of it in terms of writing, and of the mind—where writing lives.

I picture “comfort zone” as a little garden surrounded by a stone wall; there is no gate. There, in the coolness of the day, the grass remains lush and green; dew glints like diamonds in a sun that never rises nor sets. There is no twilight in this zone, nor any dawn. Time is irrelevant. The season is constant; perpetual spring. Flowers remain in bloom, lavender, pink, lacy white like a wedding gown, but they give off no spirit-stirring fragrance, and they never die. They just are. A little fountain bubbles quietly in the midst. In the distance, birdsong. The birds don’t come to visit this garden, though, beckoning as it is. They are living things which need living things. Nothing grows in the garden. It is not stagnant, only static.

This garden is a place where nothing ever happens; to attempt feeling, to imagine, to have any hope of creating, one must risk climbing the wall.

There is no guarantee of what lies on the other side…except that the ground is there to land on, and that the stars are overhead for guidance, and that the wind will not be controlled, it will blow where it will, and somewhere in it you learn what holds and what does not, like the stone walls, mossy, cool to the touch, henges of the human mind. That is the strangest zone of all. It has nothing to do with time, but with that small green thing that desires to grow, seeking cracks for tender tendrils to poke through…whether in or out. The little living thing simply reaches for the light.

And so we write. We scale the wall of the comfort zone where nothing beautiful grows… and discover unexpected light. Perhaps in the wonder of words, in the glory of ideas, in the power of story… and then we realize: Different gardens, different flowers, different wellsprings, perhaps…but underneath, the living root that connects us all, one to the other. It is deep. It is ancient.

Going more than a bit out of my comfort zone here: sharing Golden Shovel poems built from the planner quote. They still need a good bit of work. As we sometimes do. They are imperfect, unpolished. As we are. You can see the poems are mirror images of each other. For so are we, in the end…

The writerly zone, after all, cannot be the comfort zone.

It is a scaling of the wall. Of the mind, and also of the heart… for that is called trust.

Note that one definition of “mind” is the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought.

Sounds like a writer to me.

Before the Writing

A keen awareness of World
comfort beckoning
zone of reckoning
is this defining one’s mind?
A vast, inner expanse encompassing the
beautiful, a safe
place of keeping
but does that matter if
nothing leaps from yours to mine, or
ever climbs over the stone walls where
grows our vine of stories, inextricably
there intertwined, and infinitely rooted.

After the Writing

World of awareness, keen, a
beckoning comfort
reckoning of zone,
mind, one’s defining, this is
the encompassing expanse, inner, vast, a
safe, a beautiful
keeping of place
-if matter that does, but
-or mine to yours, from leaps nothing
where walls stone the over climbs, ever
inextricably, stories of vine, our grows
rooted, infinitely, and intertwined, there.

*******

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 26, I am writing around a word beginning with letter z.

Now that I’m over THIS wall…in which direction shall I go for the remaining five days?

Xenophobia

It was a glorious fall afternoon when I took my youngest son, then four, on a quick trip to the hardware store. I was preparing to paint some baseboards in the house.

He was playing his favorite video game: Banjo Kazooie.

“You’ll have to pause that,” I told him. “We have to go buy some paint supplies. You can play it when we get back.”

“Okay,” he replied with good humor, “I’ll put it on the Eyes.”

The Eyes meant the pause screen where these colorful creatures called Jinjos just sit, blinking their big eyes.

My boy loved the Eyes. Would often pause the game just to watch them.

I could not see why the Eyes were so enthralling, but… moms are busy people, and I had things to do.

He paused his game with a last loving look at the Eyes, and off we went.

The round trip took about fifty minutes.

Upon arriving home, I thought it odd that a random piece of wood was lying on the back deck. It wasn’t there when we left…

Odder still: the back door standing ajar.

And that the bottom of it had been split wide open… hence that random piece of wood, and more pieces, in the doorway.

I couldn’t quite make sense of it.

I stepped into the house.

The comforter from my little boy’s bed lay in a heap in the middle of the living room. The soft blues, green, yellows, and oranges so out of place, there…

The TV was gone.

And the Nintendo.

In those split seconds, you don’t think I am currently messing up a crime scene, here in my house.

You think, What am I seeing? What has happened here? How much more…?

You go running room to room to find out.

It took only seconds to ascertain. All the TVs, gone. Older son’s gaming system, gone. Husband’s desktop computer, too. One pillowcase from my bed gone; bedclothes rumpled and mattress shifted where…where someone must have run hands underneath (do people really hide cash under their mattresses nowadays?).

My wedding rings still lying on the dresser in plain sight (I was planning to paint, remember) but the closet door open and my husband’s jewelry box, containing some of his deceased father’s cufflinks along with the shells from the twenty-one gun salute at the military funeral…gone.

“Mama! Mama!” My son’s voice, in the living room.

I race back down the hall.

He’s standing, facing the spot where the TV used to be. He looks up at me, confused:

“Where are the Eyes?”

That’s when it all snapped into focus:

“I have to call the police, honey. Bad strangers came and took the Eyes…”

*******

Shortly after that is when the nightmares started. They lasted long beyond the years of child night terrors. Waking up believing someone was in the room, when no one was.

He couldn’t understand it, why bad strangers would come and take the Eyes. He asked over and over: “Why?”

We eventually replaced the Nintendo, eventually got another Banjo Kazooie game.

But a young, tender psyche paid a price. It was violated, just as our home was violated.

Bad strangers haunted his dreams for years.

One might expect that he’d grow up hardened, possibly angry, understandably mistrustful.

He is none of those things. The nighttime xenophobia never diminished the brightness of his being.

In his twenties now, my son is a gentle spirit. Kind, quiet and deliberate, with a quick, razor-sharp wit. He’s our musician, listening over and over to rhythms and patterns and chords that he can replicate on a number of instruments. A singer, a natural harmonizer; I know he hears things many of us do not, or maybe it’s just that he hears them differently and more beautifully. At seventeen, he achieved a childhood dream: He got a position as a church music director.

He’s recently left it for another calling. A full-time job, see.

Part of it involves going into people’s homes to take away something precious.

I don’t imagine many young people dream of going into the funeral home business but that is what my youngest has chosen. He refers to it as “a ministry.” He now encounters strangers in their time of greatest need, speaks words of comfort to them, enters their homes, and helps to carry their loved ones away for final arrangements. On these “death calls” he leaves our house wearing a tie, dressed in his best, out of respect for the strangers he will encounter and their dead.

He is at peace with himself and with others. A calming presence.

It occurs to me that the opposite of xenophobia is philoxenia, “friend to strangers.” It is the basis of the Biblical word translated as hospitality.

A good stranger, then, to the people he encounters. Once he saw an elderly lady with a walker eating alone in a restaurant; he paid for her meal along with his own, and left without telling her.

My precious boy, overcoming the darkness, being a light in so many ways… has it ever occurred to you that you are the Eyes.

To this day, the boy loves “the Eyes” – he even has a stuffed collection of Jinjos.
In the video game Banjo Kazooie, the player must find where the witch has hidden the Jinjos, and rescue them.

*******

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 24, I am writing around a word beginning with letter x. 

Writing

With special thanks to Dr. Kim Johnson who hosted Ethical ELA’s Open Write last week with the invitation to compose “Your Life’s Table of Contents” poems. There is no formula, just lots of freedom; Kim said: “I started thinking about how I might write a table of contents organizing the poems I have written over these past few years, in verse…Imagine you are creating a collection of your own work, and try your hand at an organizing poem to be a table of contents or any other feature of a book.

My poem is based on a timeline of my writing history, starting at age 6.

My Life’s Writing Anthology

Bible story plagiarized
in blocky big letters
on lined newsprint paper

All About Me
carefully rendered detail
teacher-praised

Myth of Shoeani
on the origin
of shoes

Dr. Heartbeat, Dr. Heartbeat
a play composed
around four words
heart
lion
clock
—I forget the fourth

The Poetry Years
of rainbows
friendships
love
loss
even a baby dragon
rhythms of my soul
attempting to understand
itself

A short story
a mystery
a secret
a little girl
kept safe

All-nighter
research paper
on the function of 
King Claudius
in Hamlet
—still tied two of my best friends
for the highest marks in class

Oral tradition
of grandparents
put to paper
for the first time

Novel ideas
captured in notebooks
beginning to live
even if 
they haven’t breathed
in a while

Critical research
on children’s fantasy lit
taking the last of my strength
and the humanities prize

Short stories
hammered out
within word counts
for competitions

Mentor texts
for students
and teachers
learning how to write
and to love
memoir
essay
story
fantasy
poetry

The blog:
the archive
the scrapbook
of my writing life
my love letter
to words
and the world

*******

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 23, I am writing around a word beginning with letter w. How could it NOT be “writing”?

Voices

On the last Sunday in July, 2019, my husband went to the gym after church. He had a great workout on the stationary bike (always proud of accomplishing five miles in fifteen minutes).

He got in his truck to come home.

That is the last thing he remembered for a long time.

At the house, our dog went crazy, barking. Someone in the driveway. Police officer: Your husband’s had an accident. Do you have a way to the hospital… truck ran off the road into the woods…appears to have been a medical event…sorry, I don’t know how bad it is. EMS was working on him when I left…

Both of our grown boys happened to be home that afternoon. We rode together to the ER, not knowing what we’d find.

My reeling mind wondered if their black suits were clean…in case…

At the hospital, a nurse was waiting for us. She ushered us into a side room.

Massive heart attack, said the ER doctor, but he’s alive. He wasn’t when EMS got to him. He was in cardiac arrest. They did CPR, defib…they are heroes…heroes…

Heart attacks killed his father and grandfather in their fifties.

After emergency surgery, he underwent induced hypothermia to allow his brain time to rest from the trauma. No one knew how long he’d gone without oxygen. EMS had arrived on the scene quickly, as the station is just up the street from where the truck ran off. My boys and I learned that their dad endured forty-five minutes of CPR and ten – TEN – shocks from the paddles. We would learn that his sternum was broken. Attending CICU physicians warned: After hypothermia, we’ll do a waking test. There’s no guarantee he’ll wake, or how extensive the damage will be to his brain…

As we endured those long hours, we learned that his truck was barely dented as it ran off the road, that it stopped just short of a deep ravine in the woods. We were told that he swerved into oncoming traffic and back into his lane before running off on the right. He never struck another vehicle. People behind him called 911. One thing different, and all would be different…

As one doctor said: Everything aligned for him. Everything.

He did awaken. He knew us. He was soon able to ask, in a raspy voice after coming off the ventilator: What happened?

It would be a long recovery involving another hospital stay and more surgery…but he recovered.

He could remember leaving the gym, but he could not recall anything from earlier that month, or from many months before. All of his long-term memory remained intact; all his stories, all his sports trivia and stats. There was just a period completely erased, leading up to the heart attack. He could not recall a thing from our family vacation to the beach earlier in July, the glorious time we had.

The brain’s way of protecting itself from pain, our oldest son said. I had a professor who told us about this in class. It’s not good to try to make a person remember…

He didn’t recognize the scenery on the way home from the hospital: Why are we turning here? Everything looks so new…have I seen this before?

The doctors said, Some memories may return as he heals. Some may not. It’s hard to say; everyone is different.

After a couple of months, he returned to his work at the church. He’s a minister. The number one question people had after he began regaining strength: Did he see anything? when he was… you know… ‘gone’? I mean, he IS a pastor… such curiosity tinged with hope, in that questioning.

All he could remember, much to people’s disappointment: It was just like going to sleep. No pain, just fading into sleep. So peaceful.

Then one day he saw pictures of our family vacation and recognized the giant tortoise we chanced upon at a roadside display: I remember that!

Random bits returned to his mind, here and there.

Then on another day, much later, he told me: I heard voices.

What do you mean, you ‘heard voices’?

When my truck ran off the road. When everything was going dark.

What did they say?

They said, “He’s in trouble. We have to get him off the road.”

Did you…did you recognize the voices? Do you think that maybewell, it could have been just the EMTs…

He shook his head. All I know is, I heard them when I was driving and I thought, if I can just get over there to the grass, to that little hill… where that sunset is…everything will be okay.

He left me staring after him as he headed out to the park for the eight-mile hike he makes now, several times a week.

He’s in trouble. We have to get him off the road…

Everything aligned for him. Everything.

I ponder the mystery of memory, and the miraculous…in ceaseless awe that he is returned to us, restored, rejuvenated, whole.

In his own words, with his characteristic wit and big, contagious laughter, as “a member of the Lazarus Club.”

*******

Photo is entitled “The Day Black with Night” and is in the public domain on Creative Commons with this verse: “Go for help to Him who makes Orion and the Pleiades, by whom the deep dark is turned into morning, who makes the day black with night; whose voice goes out to the waters of the sea, sending them out over the face of the earth: the Lord is His name.” —Amos 5:8.

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 22, I am writing around a word beginning with letter v.

Unique

She loves jokes. She just doesn’t get the delivery.

“Okay, okay,” I say. “You’re going to have to practice. Let me tell you a joke that will CRACK PEOPLE UP. My mother used to laugh every single time. It was the best joke.” (Really it is the only one I can remember at the moment).

Her blue eyes shine. She bounces. “Tell me!”

“First I have a question: Do you know what unique means?”

She looks puzzled. “I don’t think so.”

“It means one of a kind, a thing that is different from anything else in the world.”

“Oh, like very special.”

“Yes! Exactly! Unique means very special and not like anything else. So are you ready for this joke?”

She nods. “Ready!”

“Here goes… How do you catch a unique animal?”

She pretends to think, hand on chin. “I don’t know!”

You neek up on it. Get it?”

She looks blank.

“Like, you sneak up on it but instead of ‘sneak’ you say ‘neek’: You neek up on it…”

“Ohh, you take off the ‘s’ and… neek!” She dissolves in giggles.

We practice this over and over:

How do you catch a unique animal?

You neek up on it!

She belly laughs, every time.

When my son and his wife come to collect her, she runs to them with glee:

“Franna taught me a joke!”

“Great,” says my son, with absolutely NO enthusiasm. “She likes jokes, Mom; she doesn’t get how to tell them…”

“Ahem,” I warn. “She’s been working hard on this.”

I am sure I detect a tiny sigh, but my son says: “Okay, let’s hear it.”

“How do you catch a unique animal?” She can barely contain herself. Wait for it, wait for it…

Her parents look at each other and shrug.

“We don’t know. How do you catch a unique animal?” asks her mom.

YOU NEEK UP ON IT!”

They crack up, and the look on her face…priceless.

Little unique creature. You neek up on my heart, over and over and over again.

Kinda like that joke.

My son says: “She just keeps telling it over and over, Mom. We’ve heard it a million times. It was funny like the first two times, but…”

“It’s her joke. Let her enjoy it.”

She’s a masterpiece in the making, see. At age five, she’s read Charlotte’s Web. Independently, with some questions about how to pronounce some words…I wondered how much she understood, really, but then my daughter-in-law tells this story: They were baking the other day and my unique animal was rolling out her dough with extreme care.

“Oh, you’re doing a nice job,” said my daughter-in-law.

“Thank you,” said my granddaughter, sprinkling flour. “It’s my magnum opus.”

“Your… what?”

Magnum opus. It means ‘great work’.” And she patted away at the dough.

Great work…like mastery of that joke.

Dear, dear Charlotte… messages from one unique animal to another… magnum opus, indeed.

A unique moment with my unique granddaughter. We went to see the waterfall at the park. She’s holding my husband’s walking stick and wearing my “fancy” watch on her left arm, plus one of my sunhats. We pulled our masks away for the photo.

*******

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 21, I am writing around a word beginning with letter u.