After the rings
gave her a necklace
to be her father
for the rest of his days
to teach her, to keep her,
to love her always.
After the rings
gave her a necklace
to be her father
for the rest of his days
to teach her, to keep her,
to love her always.
The words roll round my mind as I drive to work, noting how the rising sun gilds the trees in all their fall colors against a deep charcoal sky. The sharp glory of it is beyond my power to describe. It’s beautiful. Haunting. Fierce. How can there be such detailed color and brilliance when the sky is so strangely dark? If a storm is brewing, why is the light so golden-bright? And where exactly is it coming from? The sun itself is hidden.
I cannot quite capture how I feel. It’s more than one thing. Awe. Reverence. Curiosity. A bit of foreboding.
Mostly gratitude for having been here to see it.
I am thinking a lot about the interplay of light and dark this holiday week.
And the fierce beauty of life.
My husband is here after a massive heart attack this summer. His surgeon said that his blockages were such that when the last artery went down that day, he had no reserve; he made a “medically inexplicable recovery.” This coming only three years after my husband lost an eye to ocular melanoma.
Light and dark, dark and light.
He lives to see our son get married the day after Thanksgiving. Not just to see it, but to officiate. After all the years of praying for the boy to go into the ministry and the boy saying, no, Dad, that’s not for me.
He ordained our son into the ministry three weeks ago.
Never say never.
Today the boy took the last of his things out of our house to finish setting up his new home. He’s gone, but not too far away.
He took his dog.
The last dog.
In two years, we’ve lost three: Nikolaus the dachshund to old age. Banjo the yellow Lab that I raised from age seven weeks to a new home because my husband can no longer manage a 90-pound dog after bypass surgery. And now Henry, the best of the best, the rescue dog whose sole mission in life is to extract and exude as much love as possible.
I am now dogless for the first time in almost two decades. On every one of those days I could always count on a happy greeting, an ever-faithful warmth, some commiseration or comic relief. No tail thumping tonight, no snuffling, whiskered nose in my hand, no nails scrambling on the floor in exuberance for a pat, a treat.
How strange is it that my son moves out and I write about missing the dog.
And another thing: I recently wrote about the two old mules around the corner, how one of them was sick. I often saw it lying on its side in the pasture as the other mule grazed nearby. The farmer didn’t want to put his ailing mule down, knowing that the other mule would grieve, as they had never been apart. He finally had to. When I rode by the following week, I saw the remaining mule standing bereft in the pasture. My friend who lives on an adjoining farm said the mule hadn’t eaten since its sister died. I dared not drive that way for a few days afterward, fearing what I’d see, or not see. But this week I braved it. I drove past the pasture. There was the mule, grazing, which made me happy. As I watched, a big orange tabby cat came strolling across the pasture to sit by the mule. It looked right in my direction, swishing its tail.
A once-in-a-lifetime photo shoot that I couldn’t stop and capture.
And then today as I went by . . . the cat was still there. In all these years of loving those old mules from afar, I have never seen any other creature in the pasture. That cat is there keeping that mule company. It was sent. I am sure of it.
What is life but a bizarre balancing act, a series of give and take, comings and goings, losses and comforts, laced with love, fierce in itself. A mosaic of light and color, a stark silhouette against a backdrop of darkest gray.
Every day is one to be celebrated.
Tonight I go to sleep in my dogless house, beside my husband who’s still here. We have one more son sleeping upstairs. Although there’s an ache, there’s not emptiness. I am grateful for that big orange cat who’s out in the pasture with the old mule left behind. I am grateful to see the glory and drama of autumn with the promise of celebrations to come. I am deeply grateful my oldest has found his calling at the same time great love has entered his life; on the day after Thanksgiving, he becomes a husband and a father all at once. It just so happens that his wedding day is the second anniversary of his grandmother’s passing; how she’d rejoice for him.
Light and dark, dark and light.
Oh, and on the wedding night, I get to bring home a little girl, officially my granddaughter; she and I will have our own celebration with Bride’s Cake ice cream and peppermint bark Oreos and probably the movie Frozen.
I put the Christmas tree up early, just for her.
How can there be so much light.
Note: After publishing this post, I learned that the big orange cat has a name: Sunshine.
My blog, Lit Bits and Pieces, is two years old today.
I celebrate with a little recap.
My first post, Seeing past the surface, combines a bit of memoir with teaching struggling readers. When I was a child visiting my grandmother in the summer, she took me crabbing. This activity takes a little more finesse than one realizes . . . as does helping readers make meaning of their reading.
The post with the most views is Deeper than data. It opens with a conversation during a meeting at school, where a child’s reading data is projected and I, as the literacy coach, am expected to make a pronouncement on what all this data means and what to do for the child. I say I can’t answer these things until I listen to that child read first. This post is about seeing the children behind the data points.
The post with the most likes occurred just a few days ago: Blanket. I wrote it when I was too tired to write, and I am still sitting in amazement at the response.
A post frequently mentioned to me, that seems to strike a deep chord in others, is Fresh-cut grass. As long as I live, the fragrance of cut grass will remind me of my father and evoke my childhood.
I can’t say I have a favorite post, really. It’s akin to saying which of your children is your favorite. I think a couple of my best are To love that well, a tribute to my mother-in-law’s life on her passing, and What child is this, remembering a former student killed in an accident. I ponder the importance of college and career ready versus life ready. Especially when a life lasts only eleven years.
One of the great joys of writing is turning back time to relive moments too precious to live just once. Here I am as a child with my Granddaddy: Red rubber boots. I walk the old paths with Granddaddy again many times in these posts.
I started this blog for a couple of reasons: to stretch myself as a writer and to walk the walk as a writing teacher and coach. If I’m going to be encouraging students and teachers to write, I’d best be writing myself. And, as Dr. Mary Howard says of her Facebook posts, that they’re her “writing playground,” so this blog is my my own writing playground. I didn’t want it to be all about education; I want to write about whatever comes to my heart and mind at given moments.
Here I simply ponder the meaning behind experiences, images, and ideas. I strive to capture what I find as best I can. If you come away feeling uplifted, then I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to do.
I celebrate two years of writing Lit Bits and Pieces. I celebrate life.
I celebrate you.
Thank you for reading.
They sit at the table before me, these two boys, with their books open.
The book’s too hard for them. I know this. But they’re fifth-graders now, having been in intervention groups since first grade, and this is a book they really want to read.
So we’re reading it together.
The book? Wonder. By R.J. Palacio.
We stop to discuss words and phrases that they have questions about, such as “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
“I don’t get it,” says one of the boys. “Why is the mom talking about a tree? What tree?”
“You’ve studied figurative language in class, right?” I ask. The boys nod. Their expressions are perplexed. “Sometimes words and phrases mean something more than what they actually say. That’s the case here. Think of a tree loaded with apples. If an apple falls off, what eventually happens to it?”
“Someone comes to eat it,” offers the other boy.
“Maybe,” I laugh. “But let’s say the apple stays on the ground where it fell and no one ever comes to eat it. What will happen?”
They think. I can almost see their brains scrolling.
“It’ll go bad, won’t it?” asks the first boy.
“Yeah,” says the second. “Like, brown and mushy.”
“So,” I press on,”what’s inside of that rotting apple?”
“Seeds?” says the first boy.
The second boy says “Oh!”
“What?” asks the first boy.
“The seeds. They get in the ground and grow into more trees.”
“Now you’re getting there.” I lean in. “You know about life cycles from science. So what will these new apple trees do?”
“Grow more apples!” says the first boy.
“Yes. The new tree does exactly what the mother tree does. It grows the very same kind of apples. So when August’s mom says ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’ when Julian’s mom doesn’t RSVP to August’s party, what is she really saying? Think of what you already know about Julian.”
“He acts like his mom!” says the second boy.
For a second, tiny rays of light beam across both boy’s faces, driving their clouded expressions away. Then . . .
“What’s an RSVP?” asks the first boy.
“You’ve never heard of it before?” I ask.
He shakes his head.
I turn to the second boy. “How about you?”
He shakes his head, too.
“It’s what people put on a party invitation so that the people throwing the party know how many other people are coming, so they know how much food to buy or how many prizes to get.”
Their faces are blank.
“It’s French. RSVP stands for répondez s’il vous plaît: Please reply. When you get an invitation with RSVP, you’re supposed to let the sender know yes, you’re coming or no, you’re not. That’s what’s happening here in this chapter. August’s mom has sent the invitations for his party and people are saying their children can’t come. Julian’s mom doesn’t even answer.”
“Oh,” says the first boy.
It hits me then.
“Guys, have you ever gotten an invitation to a birthday party or anything?”
They shake their heads.
I look at them for a long moment while my mind races. My thinking process is like a bubble map sprouting out in every direction, bubbles upon bubbles, thoughts multiplying exponentially.
What some children— including my own—may take for granted as a natural and fun part of childhood isn’t every child’s experience. Superman, Captain Hook, the Titanic, even—alas!—Barney the Dinosaur themed-parties clamor in my mind.
These two boys have never had, never even seen, a party invitation.
This is a matter beyond understanding the heart of this scene in the books before them.
It’s now a matter of understanding how the world generally works. Of broadening their world.
I recall a university professor giving a keynote address to would-be educators years before. He described his impoverished childhood and taking an aptitude test in elementary school. He told of this question: “What color are bananas?” I can’t recall the four answer choices (one of which was presumably yellow and the right one) but he chose “black.” Because that is what he knew; his father could only afford the bananas that were reduced when they began to spoil. He’d never seen a yellow banana.
How could he know?
How can these boys know what an RSVP is, or care? Until now, it’s never appeared in their world. It has no significance, no relevance.
“All right, then,” I say. “That’s enough for today. We’ll read more and talk more about this chapter tomorrow.”
They gather their things and head back to class.
That night, I make two invitations, personally addressed to each boy:
You are cordially invited to attend a popcorn and book celebration
with Mrs. Haley at
(the time of our group meeting, two days away).
(On an additional slip of paper):
RSVP – I will ____ will not ____ be able to attend.
The envelopes are on the table at their places when they come the next day.
“What’s this? ” asks the first boy.
“That’s our names on there,” says the second.
“Well, I guess you have to open them to find out,” I say.
Rustling, tearing. Reading.
“What’s this word?” asks the first boy, pointing.
“Cordially. It means ‘warmly’ or ‘in a very friendly way.'”
“A popcorn party?” says the second boy, eyes lighting up.
“A popcorn and BOOK party,” I tell him. “We’re still going to read.”
“Can we have Dr. Pepper, too?” The first boy bounces in his seat.
“That all depends,” I smile, “on my knowing how much popcorn and Dr. Pepper I need to buy. How am I going to know?”
“Oh yeah . . .”
With their pencils, both boys check I will be able to attend on the slips. The second boy slides it across the table to me. The first boy follows his lead.
“Great! All my people RSVP’d that they’re attending! So tomorrow is our celebration. Just promise you won’t get popcorny fingerprints and Dr. Pepper on our books.”
Together we read a little more of August’s struggles. All the while my heart is hoping that right now, and tomorrow, and what little bit of time we have together in the tomorrows beyond, will lessen their own. And that their learning will become one long celebration, filled with wonder.
This weekend I caught a bit of an interview with Jon O. Newman, a senior judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Judge Newman has written a memoir entitled Benched. The subtitle is rather epic, something you should experience on your own . . .
What caught my attention, however, was the Judge’s statement that “everyone should write memoir, for your children, your grandchildren.” He went onto say how valuable a person’s memories are to the successive generations, especially for the unique knowledge they impart.
These statements were both invigorating and validating to me for a number of reasons.
First: I’ve been writing a good bit of memoir here on Lit Bits & Pieces. It may well be my favorite thing to write. When I am composing a piece, it’s almost like I have “street view” of moments and people as they were long ago; I can see it all from so many angles, from within and beyond my childhood self. Judge Newman said, “The more you write, the more detail you will remember.” It’s astonishing, really, the little things I begin to recall, one after the other, once I start writing. The images return in startling clarity. I write in scenes, small moments. I tell writing teachers that memoir is really small moments on steroids, all pumped up and full of meaning.
Secondly: I write these pieces of memory because they hover so vividly, begging a landing place, and because I truly love the time-travel. They’re meaningful to me, so I try to preserve them as best I can. What’s astonishing is the response I sometimes get from a reader; I never anticipated such deep chords would be struck. It leaves me, every time, in wordless awe at the power, the “magic,” of writing.
Lastly, having watched my mother-in-law and grandmother suffer the ravages of dementia — and the loss of their dignity — I write to celebrate the human brain at its most glorious, the triumph of the human heart over its darkest moments, the joy and the story of lives well-lived.
In this way, my blog serves as a memory box for me, homage to those who’ve gone before, and perhaps a gift to those who come after. As the photographer of the beautiful image at the top of this post wrote: We should save part of our memories in a box . . . we may need it later . . .
Tonight I celebrate memory. My own and the bright fragments given to me by those I loved — those I still love, for in truth, when I write, they are ever so near.
The first day of April – glorious. A sky as blue as it ever gets, hardly a cloud to be seen. Dogwoods and redbuds, bare just days ago, flowering profusely. On the breeze, the scent of blossoms, almost like perfume – winter daphne, I think.
All marking the end of desolation. Nature composes a theme of renewal with color, fragrance, amber light and birdsong.
At the close of the day, I celebrate its beauty. I celebrate the inherent message of hope with the arrival of another spring. Even the news carries a rare inspirational story about a man opening his front door to find his dog, missing for four years, back home on the porch. He sat down and the dog put her head in his lap – what an emotional celebration that must have been.
Today is also the first day of National Poetry month. I have recently discovered a lost booklet of poems that I wrote as a teenager. All things considered, this particular poem struck me as one appropriately celebratory – winter is over, spring has returned; a lost dog has returned home; my lost poems are found.
I wrote it when I was sixteen. Back then, I called it “Yesterdays.”
Yesterdays are gone
Leaving nothing but memories behind
And, if meant to be, a chance for tomorrow.
So weep no more
For what once was,
For it may be
I love the sound of chimes.
I always have.
There’s something magic in those ethereal tones, something stirring, uplifting, echoing the fairy world, whispering of good things and better yet to come, hinting at happily-ever-afters. Perhaps this is why chimes sometimes play at the end of weddings, their light, airy sound signifying the beginning of a new, hope-filled chapter, the turning of a page.
Come to think of it, when I was little I had read-along books with audiotapes that chimed when it was time to turn the page.
The telephone on the kitchen wall of my childhood home was avocado green with a six-foot cord, and instead of ringing, it chimed. Visitors always said, “There’s the doorbell,” and we always responded, “No, that’s the phone.”
I never knew of anyone else’s phone that chimed like mine.
As a teenager my pulsed quickened at the sound, because I was sure the chiming meant someone was calling for me. It often was. I stretched that cord at least another two to three feet, enough for me to sit on the bed in my room and talk with the door closed. Yes, on the cord.
My smartphone is set to chimes now. When it rings, the melodic tones are like strings of tiny silver plates in the wind.
Perhaps no chime has given me as much pleasure as that of my WordPress app, however.
For me, that’s truly the sound of celebration.
I’ve heard this chime so often in the past month, denoting likes and comments on Lit Bits and Pieces during the Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. The chime has come to represent the warmth of this community, the connection of minds, hearts, and kindred spirits, reiterating the power, the magic, of words. I am a first-time slicer and the words of others have borne me far in the completion of thirty-one posts in thirty-one days.
This is the thirty-first post. With it, I cross the finish line – my first cheer.
The WordPress chime also proclaimed two other milestones, two days ago:
I hit the 50-post mark. My second cheer.
Lit Bits and Pieces turned one year old on March 29th, along with my first post. Cheer number three.
When I started Lit Bits and Pieces a year ago, I asked a friend to give me feedback. The friend said: “Hmmm. What’s your niche? Your target audience?”
I said, “I don’t really have a target audience in mind. I just want to write whatever I want to write.”
The friend looked skeptical.
I added, “It’s for human beings.”
To you, Dear Reader, I leave three parting thoughts on this Lit Bits and Pieces celebratory post. Chimes play for you, somewhere in the wind – I hope you hear them as you read:
Into each life some rain must fall
But too much is falling in mine
Into each heart some tears must fall
But some day the sun will shine
Some folks can lose the blues in their hearts
But when I think of you another shower starts
Into each life some rain must fall
But too much is falling in mine.
Yesterday morning the sun beckoned from among striated clouds, streaking the sky with silver and gold. Birdsong—it’s a brand-new spring. The scent of fresh-cut grass from the day before lingers, and nothing takes me back to my childhood and my father quicker than that sweet green fragrance.
Even as the sun shone, a soft rain pattered down.
In my heart, in the hearts of my community, too much rain is falling.
Yesterday we buried a young lady who grew up here, was one of us, was an only child and grandchild. She was a college freshman, eighteen, a year younger than my second son, his childhood playmate and lifelong friend. She went to church with us all of her life, sang in the choir, and was beautiful. She caught the light and scattered it like a faceted gemstone quietly scatters tiny, vivid rainbows on objects close by.
Death, when it comes suddenly to someone so young and full of promise, can only be likened to a great ripping apart.
She is ripped away.
The church was full and overflowing an hour before the service. People stood around the walls of the sanctuary, packed the fellowship hall, lined every hallway on both sides throughout; a huge crowd waited outside because there was no more room.
My husband officiated. He was at the hospital the day this child was born. He ended the eulogy with a little twist of Shakespeare: “Good-night, sweet princess; and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”
As the crowd walked to the burial site, the sun shone for all it was worth. The clouds were gone; a warm breeze ruffled dresses, suit jackets, hair.
Even so, the rain will fall within us for days and days to come, yet it doesn’t mean that our little suncatcher won’t keep catching and scattering the light in the quiet way she always did. More light than ever is reflected in the myriad drops of rain, like iridescent droplets of diamonds quivering with celebration that she lived, that she was a gift.
She will always be.