Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Puzzling Piece

“I know why you remember that house so well,” my mom commented a couple of years ago. And in an instant it all made sense.

See, we went on vacation every year, even to the other grandparents’ home. We saw friends. We saw cousins. Always for a few days at a time, just the way we visited Escobita. But I barely remember the outline of those homes, so don’t expect a meticulous drawing of anything I saw there.
But Escobita? It left me with smells and feelings and details. And one beautiful memory that encapsulates everything I miss about that house.
I remember him laughing. Always laughing. A World War II survivor and retired Army major, he was a tough dad to my dad. But to his grandchildren, he was one adoring, giant teddy bear. And every morning that I woke up in that house, I ran into the room where he and my grandmother slept, jumped up onto their bed and was crushed in the tight, laughing embrace of my grandpa. The windows behind him were open to a welcoming desert sunrise, and I felt loved.
“I know why you remember your grandpa that way,” my mom told me. “You and your baby sister lived there for nearly a year while I was sick.”  It was news to me.
I was three years old.
I can’t imagine how hard that must have been on my folks. Suddenly, like an amnesia patient with instant recollection, that explanation connected the dots on a whole lot of other memories, including a few that weren’t so wonderful.
Like the one where I stood sobbing in someone’s doorway, begging them to let me run to my crying mother. Misdiagnosed with tuberculosis, she didn’t dare come near us as she said good-bye. But how do you explain something like that to a toddler? And how did grandparents in another state suddenly take the place of an absent mom and dad, and still make me feel safe and loved? Now I know why I knew their church friends so well. Why I know Grandpa ate bacon and home grown grapefruit every morning for breakfast. And why the memories never included my parents.
Finally, I understood the bond I had with my Grandma and Grandpa. And perhaps why I struggle with some insecurities that couldn’t be avoided. It’s as though wandering through those rooms in my dreams finally led me to a place of understanding. And acceptance. And closure.
At the end of the love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13, after it explains what love really looks like, it says we used to think like children, but now we have put away childish things. It says my childish “feeling and thought have no further significance for me.”  (in J.B.Phillips translation)
Maybe those childish things have “no further significance for me” because I couldn’t understand their importance without God’s help.  Nothing is wasted with God. Now I wonder if reading that verse out of context made me forget to connect the dots to the famous verse which follows:
“At present we are men looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror.  The time will come when we shall see reality whole and face to face!  At present all I know is a little fraction of the truth, but the time will come when I shall know it as fully as God now knows me!”  (v. 12)
In my life, the time came when I finally saw puzzle pieces fall into place—at least with this one fraction of a memory.  I believe God speaks to us in our memories and often in our dreams.  He knows me fully—better than I know myself—and He can clear up my puzzling reflections in an instant. 
What can I take away from this new reflection? Children matter to God. Childhood matters to Him. And He is in the business of healing broken places in our lives because He loves us. Which can’t be said any better than the way He said it in verse 13: 
“In this life we have three great lasting qualities—faith, hope and love. But the greatest of them is love.”


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Through The Looking Glass

Sometimes I dream I’m there, wandering through its comforting halls again. If you wanted, I could draw you a blueprint right now—and I’m no kind of artist. Strangely, of all my siblings, I’m the only one who really remembers it. Even my older cousins don’t have the connection to it that I do. So why is it so etched in my memory?

We only visited there a few days each summer of my California childhood til I turned ten. You’d think I stopped by that sprawling place just this week the way I can describe it, but I haven’t been to my grandparents’ ranch since they sold it forty-five years ago.
Aren’t memories a mystery?
Wrapped up in nostalgic scents and colorful images, they come with clues about who we are. I just couldn’t put my finger on the significance of this one, even though I knew it was vital to recovering an important part of me.
My dad said his folks’ ranch was nicknamed Escobita after the purple wildflowers that surrounded it every spring. I just remember the buzzing creosote bushes—yellow with bees—that lined the walk to the front door. I learned not to stick my nose in noisy blossoms, but I still love the smell of those sticky green bushes. And when you pour in a little rain? Man, to me that’s heaven. If you ever get to sniff the fragrance of the desert after a deluge, you can thank the creosote for the sweet, fresh scent that hangs in the air. It’s like . . . a desert daiquiri—a sublime sip that reminds me of that ranch.
The house at Escobita was modest, built of round river rocks that were probably gathered nearby. Rivers in Arizona don't have water, they have sand and rocks. I remember there was a wide open room they called the breezeway, right through the middle of the home, separating bedrooms from the living spaces. And on each end it was punctuated with screen doors to exploit wayward breezes.
At the back of the kitchen was another door that led to a cool, tunnel of a room. That one connected the main house to the garage. The house had no air conditioning. Not even a “swamp cooler”. The only relief from summer’s triple digits was concrete floors, electric fans, and an escape atop the garage where you could go sleep at night when the house was too hot.
I remember the vivid display of stars from that rooftop, but I don’t think I ever really slept up there—I was too afraid the howling coyotes might climb the stairs to our outdoor bedroom. My granddad said they wouldn’t eat me, but why take chances?
I often dream of houses. But they're always different, with surprise rooms hidden behind door after door, level after level. And I only dream of each one once. I dreamt of my grandparents' home dozens of times. For years, I wondered if that meant it was a metaphor of my life.It didn’t follow a cookie cutter layout—neither do I. It had surprising qualities, and some dark corners with a few scary critters—I can relate to that.  I can still picture my grandmother killing scorpions on the walls.
I thought it was a neat house, but if it was metaphorical, there was one outstanding memory of the place I couldn’t make sense of.
Like a leftover piece of a puzzle, it just didn’t fit.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Glass Half Full

I’ve been taking myself on drives. For coffee. And chocolate. And creosote smells. Anything to make me a happier wife when sweet thing comes home.  I confess. Too little time with my baby who ‘owes his soul to the company store’ makes me a little beastly sometimes at his expense. On the upside, I’m pretty sure we can deduct it on our taxes this year and call it a business expense.
What was he thinking 37 years ago? Not only is he tired, but he has his hands full dealing with that melancholy temperament/menopausal/emptynested/ tormented writer wife he pledged his life to.   If only he’d known what he was getting himself into—he could have been a mercenary or a monk instead, and had all his dreams come true. Silly boy.
So. Driving.  It soothes the savage beast in me. Especially when I head away from other motorists. This morning curiosity got the best of me and took me on a slow, meandering drive into some desert foothills near our home. 
“I wonder where this road goes?” I thought to myself.  And Myself replied, “I wonder if you have enough gas to find out?” 
Myself is a pessimist.
I rolled down the windows and sucked in deep breaths of coolness and creosote and even a little moisture.  There’s a fine film of green on the desert floor right now, thanks to some recent spring rains.  It’s as close as we get to actual grass, but we’ll take it.  If you squint when you look at it, it reminds you—to get some counseling for being delusional.  This is the desert.  Even I have to tell myself it’ll be hot next week and to stop dreaming about verdant foliage.
I told you Myself is a pessimist.
The drive past saguaros and through rolling hills did the trick, though, and—just to appease Myself—I did the sensible thing after the descent back to reality and pulled into a gas station to refuel.  I thought that just meant buying gas.
It meant more.
I turned off the engine, parking behind a minivan whose driver was just finishing up at the pump. She put the cap back on her gas tank, replaced the gas nozzle, and turned her wheelchair around, rolling up to her driver’s door.
I’ve never seen anyone pump gas from a wheelchair before.
It must have taken her twice as long as other drivers to fill up her van, but she had it down pat. I watched her hoist herself into the driver’s seat and remotely open the sliding door behind her. A small crane extended out the side of the van—close enough for her to secure the chair—and the whole thing slowly disappeared inside her vehicle. The door closed quietly on its own. Then the woman pulled away, merging into a morning full of traffic that didn’t care about her disability, treating her with the same disrespect they give every other driver during rush hour.
From inside her van, the ground is level.
I watched the whole scene with tears rolling down my face. It was a baptism of admiration and not a little bit of shame. How does a woman with two working legs tell a woman pumping gas from her wheelchair that life is hard sometimes and the desert turns brown too fast and getting older isn’t for sissies?
It’s okay.  It’s a rhetorical question. 
I just wanted you to know I recognized the contrast.  I know who left the gas station this morning with a handicap.  And who left with a wheelchair.
Myself begins rehab today.
Photo courtesy of Cayusa's photostream at

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Secret

Once upon a time in a mid-sized village, high in the second floor tower of their stucco castle, lived two beautiful princesses and their brother, the Young Prince. Theirs was a life of love, laughter, and security, though they never wandered far on their own.  
Adventures were enjoyed, to be sure, and while the Land of Disney was a high point of their young lives, the best part of their day was always . . . well, every minute of it.
Far away in a distant stucco kingdom some seven miles beyond the the Mart of Wal lived Queen YaYa and King Chief—or Chief King.  One was never sure the proper order of his name. They were the ancient rulers of an obsolete kingdom now occupied solely by themselves and a wild jumping beast prone to squeezing under gates and through prison bars. Part canine, part ferret, the beast nevertheless adored the beautiful princesses and, to her credit, avoided licking the Young Prince in the face.  She preferred biscuits.
Many a morn’ when their hearts longed for laughter, the ancient King and Queen bridled their white mount and flew like the wind to the stucco castle where the princesses and Young Prince dwelt. They ascended the secret passageway to the upper floor, recited the magical words, “We’re here!” and stooped low, bracing themselves for the enthusiastic welcome of tiny royalty.
On occasion, the royal siblings behaved like common preschoolers and, with their special talent for squeezy hugs, sometimes knocked the King and Queen onto their pride. Except for the Young Prince.  He merely smiled sweet dimples and drooled his approval at their arrival.
Most people think that life in a second story stucco castle is restrictive. Such are the thoughts of peasants who have read too many fairy tales. Others are prone to believe that ancients such as King Chief and Queen YaYa have passed their expiration dates and are unable to remember the magical enchantment of childhood.
Some suppose the laughter and unbridled energy of children is something to be restrained in the presence of important ancients from obsolete kingdoms. Such are the thoughts of trolls.
Like a beautiful rose kept under glass in a secret room, there is a priceless jewel known only to those who have lived for decades. Once the fierce defenders of their own kingdom, they bear hidden scars born of fighting dragons and waging war with those who would threaten their beloved ones. Then, with dignity and pride, they passed their Claymores on to their grown heirs who now protect kingdoms all their own.
But while the fading of Spring and surrender of Summer may have brought shades of gray to their royal heads, none should be so foolish as to dismiss King Chief and Queen YaYa, nor make reservations for their Fall and Winter years in halls of assisted living.
And thus may I reveal here, to you my cherished reader, the priceless reason such ancient royals risk loss of hearing and bruises to their pride each time they ascend the second story of the stucco castle, which lies close to the Mart of Wal.
It is for a bow of the knee and a touch of the hand from the beautiful princesses. “Let’s dance!” they joyously request and, in a heartbeat, the King and his Queen transcend time and responsibility and worry - and dance with princesses in the upper room while the Young Prince coos his approval.
Many have crossed dangerous oceans in search of the fountain of youth. Many have wasted their fortunes on worthless potions with false promises of eternal beauty. They have surrendered great wealth in the vain search for a priceless jewel kept secret by small royals.
The Secret to being young again is to be loved by children.  And, when invited, to join in the dance.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing

Well, I must be losing my mind. I stayed up until after midnight last night re-writing a post I’d forgotten I published last December. I almost plagiarized myself.
Who does that??
I guess I’m in a blogfog. There’ve been signs, of course. I need to write, but where’s the inspiration?  I tried a blog writing course, but the lessons got lost in my email.  And my email.  Don’t get me started.  Does the number 437 mean anything to you?  Me neither.  By this evening it will have warped into 521 unread messages, and 437 will just be a fond memory.
It’s a lonely, desolate place, this writing wilderness.  “I have so much to say!” I told my better half once. He already knew that, of course—I’ve bent his ear so many times he looks like a basset hound. “Good boy, Rob,” I told him, and patted him on the head for listening again. 
But now that I’m facing a reservoir drained of ideas, I find myself sitting at Starbucks, drowning my sorrows in coffee-flavored half-and-half. That could lead to something, I guess—a scientific study of the effects of caffeine on a paralyzed brain, for example. Or I could count how many white cars go through the drive-thru before I switch from coffee to iced tea. Maybe I could blather the perspective of a non-Catholic on the appointment of a new pope.  Sounds dangerous.  Even heathens rejoiced when white smoke poured out of that chimney yesterday. 
Maybe I should give up writing and go back to . . . what was I doing before I contracted this deadly disorder?  French 201? Raising children? Laundry? Well, French would still be fun, but this computer doesn’t know an accent grave from an accent aigu. It’s been five years since I conjugated a verb—I don’t think I could even write a complete Francophile sentence without insulting a Parisian somewhere. Then again, they seem to enjoy being offended. I’ll re-consider that one.
Last night I dreamed of a fictional novel idea. But I don’t want to write fiction.  I just want to write embellished non-fiction.  I can’t make things up that are worth reading. That won’t sell! Oh, wait a minute. Fiction does sell. Non-fiction doesn’t sell. That’s how tabloids stay in business.
Hmm.  Well, that’s a thought.  Maybe it’s time to make up a story about nothing.  It worked for Jerry Seinfeld, and look how successful he is.  Nothing sells like nothing.  I just need to stop writing about anything and everything and stick with nothing which is probably the way to something.
I got it. After carrying on here with almost five hundred words about nothing, I know what to do with my life.
I’m going into politics. When it comes to talking about nothing, I’m a natural.

Photo courtesy of Buhny's photostream at

Monday, March 11, 2013

To Tell The Truth

Quietly.  That’s how it began late last September.  Sneaky, stealthy, silent. Don’t attract attention. Keep it on the low down. You’ve got to admit—they’re good at deception.  Of course, they’ve had a lot of practice.
This January the truth came out—against their will.  But they were ready.
ü  Initiate Plan B.
ü  Take the credit for being proactive.
ü  Admit the failure.
ü  Cut your losses.
Spin the story and reassure the public—it’s all about efficiency, not power or money or even safety.  Remember - emphasize efficiency.
76 of 250 nude body scanners began disappearing from airports last fall with no explanation. Until January. “All of the controversial backscatter x-ray body scanners will be removed from TSA checkpoints by June,” the TSA boasted, declaring that this decision was not due to safety concerns, but to speed up checkpoints at busier airports.
I can only hope they broke their own arm while they patted themselves on the back.

See, Congress told the TSA to address privacy concerns or ditch their Rapiscan x-ray machines by last June. (1) Rapiscan couldn’t meet that deadline to change software in the “pornoscanners” from naked images to cartoonish outlines. (2) Now, $45 million dollars worth of peeping toms will be shuttled off to warehouses until they can be set up in other government agencies. (3)
Now that makes sense.  Let the punishment fit the crime. Hopefully one of them will sit permanently  in the doorway to John Pistole’s office.
I've done my part to make America beautiful. After assuming the position in a virtual strip search machine at Sky Harbor Airport last week, I went looking for the promised deadline to remove every single backscatter machine from U.S. airports. We're slipping a little as a world leader, you know. We're one of the last countries still using a dangerous technology outlawed in the UK two years ago.  So here's the good news. They have to pull all Rapiscan machines by June 1 of this year. (4)
Don’t high five your little fig leaves yet.
What they’re not telling us on the TSA’s propaganda site is they’ve already signed a $245 million dollar contract with three companies for more body image scanners. One of those providers is American Science & Engineering, which uses the same backscatter technology as Rapiscan, but has updated software for the required generic body outlines. (5)
“In other words, while passengers may not have their privacy violated anymore, they still will have their health endangered.” (6)
But that doesn’t matter, right?  You can't have everything. And after all, the most important thing to the TSA is efficiency.
Yep. Efficient, quiet deception.


Monday, March 4, 2013

The Cradle Will Fall

“Daddy, watch me!” he called to his preoccupied dad, who sat on a bench inspecting his cell phone.
“Daddy!” the young boy called again, jumping stones between the restaurant and the parking lot, as the family waited their turn for a dinner table.  His father ignored him while his mother leaned wearily against a post and told her son,
“We’re not looking at you.”
A waiting crowd gathered outside as the dinner hour advanced full swing, but the only audience the young boy attracted was a tense grandmother with her heart in her throat who watched the drama from an opposite bench.
Soon the boy gave up hopping and wandered back to his mother. The grandmother’s eye caught movement a nano second too late to look away, and instead watched helplessly as the father suddenly gave his son the attention he craved—the back of his hand to the boy’s mouth.
“You watch what you say,” he barked at him, and the boy dissolved into embarrassed sobs and buried his face into his mother’s blouse.  The father never looked at his son again, continuing to read important updates on his cell phone from his judgment seat outside the restaurant. 
Looking into her weeping son’s face and the uncomfortable face of the stranger who watched, the boy's bleeding mouth inspired her for the first time to speak to the father.
“Maybe he’ll learn it’s not that hard to follow rules,” he responded unrepentantly, eyes down, interested only in the face of his phone.
Disgusted, the mother disappeared through the glass doors beside the father. Left alone, the once cheerful boy stared ito my sympathetic eyes and wiped his own, his gaze exposing another block of resentment in the wall his father built. Then he turned and followed his mother inside.
Every adult was once a child. Every angry man was an angry boy. Every disillusioned woman was a heartbroken girl.  Children don’t bounce back—they build walls. They act out later. They give up on people, learn to rely only on themselves, and escape.
Sometimes they even escape on cell phones.

The cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,

Little Boy Blue and the Man In The Moon,

When you comin’ home, Dad?

I don’t know when,

But we’ll get together then, son,

You know we’ll have a good time then.

He'd say, "I'm gonna be like you, dad,
You know, I'm gonna be like you."

(Lyrics by Harry Chapin)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Where Your Treasure Is . . .

Allie showed me her bag of treasures today. Don’t you love it when a five-year-old with sunlight in her curls and stars in her eyes shows you the priceless things she’s hiding in a Sprouts plastic grocery bag?
I peeked inside. An earthy fragrance floated up from the morning’s collection of pinecones, leaves, and mysterious seedpods. 
“Let’s have a treasure hunt!” Allie announced enthusiastically.  “I’ll hide all these things outside in the backyard and you and Jules can come find them.” 
Well, how could we say no?
It was tricky finding the leaves hidden on top of the grass, but Allie told me if I’d kiss her on the head, she’d give me a hint. And by hint, she meant she’d point to something and not move until I picked it up. My kind of hints.
So little sister Juliet and I carried out a search and rescue mission and recovered every one of Allie’s treasures, plus a few more leaves that looked priceless, too. Pretty soon the treasure bag had doubled in volume and value thanks to the generosity of an orange tree in the corner of the yard and the amazing skills of Jules and YaYa.
I wandered over to the playhouse at the back of the patio and picked up a pinecone. That’s when I noticed a homemade sign hung over the knob on the front door. Decorated with butterfly stickers and a cheery red yarn hanger, I recognized its distinctive penmanship.
“That’s a nice sign,” I told Allie.
“Thanks,"she answered, "I wrote it. Do you know why it says Stay Out?”
I had no idea. She’s usually a lot more hospitable than that.
“Because it’s a mess in there,” she stated matter-of-factly.

You know, she’s a genius. I gotta try that at my house.

Treasures and honesty. You can learn a lot hanging out with preschoolers.