The givers


Remembering people
across the years
with a mixture
of awe, gratitude,
and humility
for often those who
gave me the most
had the least
to give

materially,
at least

I don’t recall
every gift now
only the bright joy
on the faces
of the givers

there is
no calculating
the vast riches
in their hearts
or the price
of their generosity

only that it lives on
long after them

I still hold
their greatest gold:

sacrificial love

Widow’s Mite – Ancient Roman Bronze Coins. IronRodArt – Royce Bair (‘Star Shooter’). CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Amen

Here is a memory
I shall keep for you
all of my days:

when we ask
Where is your turkey?
you pat the colorful creature
adorning your shirt
while attempting to say
gobble gobble

and when our family
gathers round the table
to pray

amid the reverent cadence
of your Grampa’s words
I hear you say

nen

nen

nen

—I shall keep it for you,
this memory:
Thanksgiving gold
your one-year-old
baby voice
blessing us all

Amen

I do

Do you remember
how it stormed
on that long-ago morning
and your mother cried
because it was raining
on your wedding day?

I do.

Do you remember
that the ceremony
was over
in ten minutes
(my aunt looked at her watch)?

I do.

Do you remember
how hot it was during
the eternal photographing
(especially having to wear
a black tux with tails
in August)
and how much you hated
that part?

I do.

Do you remember
my going-away outfit
that my mother made
from sky-blue cotton
and how I wore
a big straw hat
with a big white bow
and that just before
we said our good-byes
she took off
her double-strand
pearlescent beads
and put them
around my neck?

I do.

Do you remember
as we drove away
from family and home
and childhood
toward all our new tomorrows
that the rain had stopped
and the sun had come out
and the clouds pillared
up from the horizon before us
like backlit rosettes
on wedding cake
and you said it was
all in celebration of
our just being married?

I do.

I remember it all
nearly four decades
two sons and
two granddaughters
later.
Even the clouds
in their radiant array
seem to remember
today.
While marriage
is sometimes
more blister
than bliss
I can tell you this:
I lift my eyes
to the eternal skies
with a heart
full of wonder
and gratitude
that ours has grown
deeper and richer
each day
since we vowed
I do.

The cover of our wedding album:
“God has created your spirits with wings to fly in the spacious firmament of Love and Freedom.”
—Kahlil Gibran

Excerpt from our wedding album, in a space commemorating the first anniversary.
I wrote, at age twenty-one: “We can’t believe it’s been a year since we’ve been married, but it’s been a happy one and a good one and God has indeed blessed us well – may He bless us for many years to come and let our marriage grow deeper and richer each day.”

—God has.

Eight months

Numbering the days
God recreated my world
with your arriving

My beloved Micah

One day I will tell you many stories, such as how you don’t like to take naps during the day and how I can manage to rock you to sleep. I like to think of it as Franna-magic. I will tell you that at eight months you suffer separation anxiety when you come to my house and your parents are out of your sight. I will tell you how you cry about that and how I take you outside and then you stop crying because it’s June, everything is so green, and the birds are always singing; you grow still, listening to their lively songs. Best of all, you heard your first cicada in my arms, one loner rattling high in the pines; you lifted your tear-streaked baby face to the sky in wonder. One day I will tell you that when I was a little girl staying with my grandparents in the summertime, the constant rising and falling of hundreds of cicada-rattles became my favorite sound. For me it is an Earth-song of belonging, comfort, hope, resurrection. It sings in my veins. In that sound, my grandmother is near. Perhaps you will love it too, my precious Micah. Maybe it will be one of many bonds we share in all the days and seasons and years to come, a tympani accompaniment to our generations, going on…just know that today and every day, your presence in this world is my new and hallowed heartsong.

XOXOXO forever & ever – Franna

Reflections of gratitude: Spiritual journey

For my newborn granddaughter, Micah

What shall I tell you about the day you were born?

Your Grandpa and I were waiting in the carpool line to pick your big sister up from kindergarten when your dad texted: Micah is here! 9 lbs!

Gratitude flooded our hearts as photos flooded our phones.

We wept at sight of you. Your sister would say “happy cried.”

Looking at your beautiful rosy face, a thousand thoughts fluttered in my mind, like birds descending from the azure sky, landing one by one on soft, moss-covered branches…

I remembered it was supposed to storm that day, and it didn’t; the late October sun shone for all it was worth, illuminating the countryside with brilliant gold, orange, yellow, and scarlet.

I forgot the shadows, worries, and grind of daily life.

I remembered the story of my own birth, told over and over to me by my grandmother: She, Daddy, Granddaddy, and Grannie stood looking at me through the nursery window, Grandma “happy cried,” Daddy said I looked just like Granddaddy.

I forgot to be sad about not going to the hospital to see you on the day you were born due to limited visitors in COVID protocols.

I remembered that I’d be able to come the next day, and that it would suffice.

I forgot there was even a pandemic.

I remembered the joy of your father’s birth, the fierce motherlove which surged in my veins, which surges still, and exponentially now, for you.

I forgot about fearing my own inadequacies.

I remembered to wear Grandma’s locket.

I forgot, until your curious big sister opened it, that your father’s newborn picture was nestled inside.

I remembered the promises of God, that blessings fall on the generations of those who love Him, my precious, precious baby Micah, daughter and granddaughter of pastors: Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments (Deuteronomy 7:9, ESV).

I have never forgotten that.

Thankful for the infinite grace of God. Love you always, Micah. – Franna

********

with thanks to Denise Krebs for hosting November’s Spiritual Journey Thursday group, with a focus on gratitude.

and also to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge.

I am deeply grateful for you all.

Beautiful lady

beautiful sign

It took me a while to figure out the tiny, nondescript building in the heart of the rundown side of town. I only noticed what it was when I needed it—there, in the tiny window, a tiny sign:

Dry Cleaning.

My first thought: So that’s what that little place is!

Second thought: Time to take that mountain of cleaning . . . 

Back at home, I grumbled all the way to the car with my armload. Too much of my family’s wardrobe required dry cleaning. Suits, coats, some of my dresses . . . this is ridiculous, this is IT, I am reading every tag in the future and I am NOT buying anything else that has to go to the cleaners. I could buy several more outfits for what this is going to cost!

The tiny parking lot had only three parking places. A pretty tight fit.

Fortunately, two spaces were free.

I got out of my car, gathered my garment mountain unto myself, and somehow maneuvered through a sliding glass door to enter the shop. I made it to the counter where I let it all go—thunk!

Yes, the weight of the clothing was enough to thunk.

Then, as if by magic—I didn’t see exactly where she came from—a young woman materialized.

“Hello!” she said, smiling at me. “Welcome! I am happy to help you today.”

Her Korean face shone like the sun; I actually blinked. I could feel the warmth she radiated.

She clasped her hands. “Oh, you are such a beautiful lady!”

Tears stung my eyes.

Seriously.

I almost wanted to hide.

I had been feeling—acting—anything but beautiful. I am quite sure my face looked like a thundercloud when I walked in.

“Oh my,” I said, feebly. “Um, thank you.”

She beamed.

She catalogued my family’s clothes, said they’d be ready next Tuesday, and she walked me to my car. When I pulled out of the parking lot, she stood there waving good-bye with fervor.

My first thought: Grandma used to do that. Used to wave after the car when I left, even ran out into the old dirt road to keep waving until she couldn’t see me anymore.

Second thought: How can this lady be so exuberant? Is ANYONE really that happy?

But I realized, as I drove away, that I was smiling, too.

Thus began years of visits to this dry cleaning shop.

Always when I walked in, the young woman dropped what she was doing and flew to meet me: “Beautiful Lady!”

I stopped ruing the fact that I had so many clothes needing to be dry cleaned.

I started taking things that needed mending. A hem come undone, a blouse pulling apart, hateful buttons that fell off of coats because they weren’t sewn on properly to begin with. A zipper that broke, needing to be replaced.

She fixed them all.

Once I took a challenging piece to her. A jacket with torn lining.

For the first time, I saw her brow furrow as she examined the tear.

“Is it fixable?” I asked. “If it’s not, that’s okay.”

She held her head up, sticking her chin out just a bit. “I will fix it. Not on the machine. By hand.”

And she did.

When I picked up the jacket, I marveled at the tiny, perfect stitches. They were machine-precision. I looked at her in awe. Sewing, I’d decided long ago, was just about a lost art. My mother and grandmothers sewed; they made clothes for themselves, my sister and me when we were children, and for others. My mother even crafted a slipcover for a sectional sofa. I can barely sew on a button.

And here in my hands was some of the prettiest handiwork I’d ever seen.

“It’s beautiful!” I said.

My dry cleaning lady smiled, good cheer emanating from her entire being: “It must be beautiful for the Beautiful Lady.”

I swallowed, too humbled for words.

Her habit now was to carry my clothes to the car—she absolutely would not allow me to do it—to hang them and to open the driver’s door for me. And there she stood, waving good-bye to me until I was out of sight.

I had taken to rolling the window down and waving back until I was well down the road.

I met her children as they began learning the business. “Look!” she exclaimed on one visit, as soon as I entered.  “Look at this report card!” Her son had received straight As.

“That’s awesome work,” I said to him as he rang me up on the register.

“Thank you,” he said somewhat shyly, handing me my receipt.

“Listen!” said my dry cleaning lady another time. “My boys are taking piano lessons.”

There against the wall by the entrance stood a piano; when did that get delivered to this little shop?  The two boys, in turn, sat and played without any sheet music:

The Entertainer.

Fur Elise.

Moonlight Sonata.

My musician son was with me on some of those visits; he listened, nodded his approval, and was invited to play.

He played his favorite.

Amazing Grace.

My dry cleaning lady and her boys nodded.

“Beautiful music!” she clapped, hopping up and down, when my son was done.

“Your boys also played beautifully,” I told her.

“I am taking lessons, too,” she said, glowing with obvious joy. In that moment, I realized just how much I admired her. Her generosity of heart, her effervescence, her genuine zest. The utter freedom with which she honored life—her own as well as others’.

I didn’t know, still don’t know, her back story, whether she was born in America or came here when she was a child. I never met her husband. She labored long hours in and out of that tiny dry cleaning shop, tireless in her dedication to her work, her family, and her customers. She raised three stellar boys, paid for their piano lessons, got that piano for them to practice as she taught them the dry cleaning business after school, and decided to play herself.

I wonder how long she harbored that dream of playing.

One day I walked in and an old man greeted me. When I inquired where my dry cleaning lady was, he explained with a heavy accent: “I am her father. She is gone to open another shop.”

In another town.

That shop will do well, I thought, thinking of her smile, her magnetic energy.

But a great light and warmth had gone from this shop.

I saw her first name written down once and asked her how to pronounce it. She coached me on it until I said it perfectly. I recalled it this week, and looked it up: It’s derived from the old Chinese “Ming,” meaning bright, brilliant.

It’s too perfect. Dead-on. Life is like that, so seemingly random at times, but always, always moving with purpose, like realizing a nondescript shop is a dry cleaners and oh, maybe I should bring that mountain of cleaning, never expecting to come face to face with the most alive human being, whose ability to make another person feel valued is unparalleled, whose very name means brightness.

I’ve been in the presence of greatness in a tiny shop in the heart of the rundown side of town. I needed to be there, but not for the kind of cleaning and mending I thought I needed. For a different and deeper kind: A lesson in blessing others at the hands of one luminous, amazing, incomparably beautiful lady.

You are beautiful.

If we could all see one another that way, and could say so sincerely, if we honored each others’ lives because we believe it . . . what a different world it would be.