Thursday, October 31, 2013

Under the Bed

     It was all because of something she had read in the Bible…words about common dust. Not the kind of grit people in the old stories piled on their heads when they were sad or bad or mad; but the kind the Almighty first scraped together in his muscular hands, and then blew on with his everlasting breath to make a man.

     For you are of dust, and to dust you shall return…

     But I was only four and too little to understand the connection when, one day while she was cleaning the house, Mama looked under my bed and declared, “Mercy, there’s someone either coming or going under here!”

     Like most children, I had my suspicions, but now Mama had confirmed it: those same dust balls that grew mysteriously under my bed when I wasn’t looking would keep on growing into fearful, inhuman creatures with dusty hands, dusty fingers, and dusty claws that could reach out and grab my ankles as I climbed into bed at night. No nightmare in the closet could compare to the one I now believed was lurking beneath my bed. I soon began catapulting myself across the room and into bed like a young pole-vaulter in training. Step, step, stride—and than a long shivering leap into the middle of the mattress. Even then, I didn't feel completely safe.

     When I stayed in my sister’s guesthouse recently, I returned to the cottage every night after dark. Before washing up and changing into my pajamas I opened the shower door, the cleaning cupboard, and the clothes closet to make sure I was alone. Last of all I kneeled down on the carpet to check under the bed. Odd. I never do that at home.

     "The thing under my bed waiting to grab my ankle isn't real. I know that, and I also know that if I'm careful to keep my foot under the covers, it will never be able to grab my ankle."

                                                                  ~ Stephen King ~

Bible quote from Genesis 3:19

Monday, October 28, 2013

October Country

     “That country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain." 

                                                                      ~ Ray Bradbury ~
art by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Tale From an Obsolete World

Future Golden Remains
     I am an avid admirer of the artwork of Jeannie Lynn Paske's Obsolete World. I have loved fantasy and fairytales for as long as I can remember and the stories I feel taking shape around the edges of her paintings haunt me.

     I bought a box of her notecards a year ago to use for my grandchildren’s birthdays and began writing snippets of stories for each occasion to match the artwork on the card and the character of the celebrated child. This week I wrote one for our oldest granddaughter who is growing up so fast I want to catch her by the shirttail to slow her down.

Silent For A Time

     Sofeea is an Elemental. She has long arms and lean legs like the gangly roots and spindly limbs of willow trees. She is so slight that a puff of wind could blow her into tomorrow. Sometimes her friends laugh and call her Twiggy.

     But when Twiggy turns cartwheels—hand over hand, heels in the sky—then those long spindly legs weave the wind into lace as delicate as snowflakes, and those gangly arms float her body like bubbles of light over the uneven ground.

     It makes her friends laugh; but they are not laughing at Twiggy. They are not laughing at anything funny, silly or absurd. They are laughing because those wind-weaving, light-gliding cartwheels that Twiggy makes are painting joyfuls in their hearts—all the brush-stroked, chalk-smudged, crayon-bright, rainbow-edged colors of joy.

     That is what they love most about Sofeea: the nimble-footed joyfuls that twirl inside her like a cartwheel and make them laugh.

     And that is what we love most about our Girlybird.

Monday, October 21, 2013

No Man is an Island

     I stayed last week in my sister’s lakeside cottage down the hill from her house. The cozy four-room cottage was built in the 1940’s from lumber salvaged from Galloping Gertie and is furnished with many things salvaged from our childhood home.  Some mornings I awoke to sweet October sunlight and sat at my parent’s old black and yellow dinette set eating toast and jam. I could see across the rippled water, past the island in the middle of the lake to the honey-colored maples lining the opposite shore. I stepped out onto the chilly porch with my steaming mug of tea to listen to the chatter of birds and watch the college crews practicing for Sunday’s regatta.

     But most mornings were swamped with fog and I could see no further than the restless edge of the lake. Heavy-cloaked cloud-wraiths haunted the sober shores and shrouded the island. Quicksilver sketched the lacework of spider’s webs outside my windows and dripped from the eaves. I thought about the handful of island commuters and wondered how they would find a way over the water through the webs of fog to the boat launch. On those days the cottage felt lonely, and I would slog my way up the hill through the wet grass to eat breakfast with my sister and her dog. Then, nearly every day from breakfast until dinner, we washed, ironed, dusted, vacuumed, scrubbed and polished the rooms in her house. After caring for our parents and her father-in-law, who all passed away in less than a year, she had fallen behind—the kind of behind that feels like an insurmountable burden.

     My older sister is a capable woman—we often call her the queen—but she was wise and weary enough to accept help. She has helped so many others, including me, it was simply her turn.

     That island floating outside her front windows in calm or cloudy weather reminded me of an excerpt from a poem by John Donne:

No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

     In our case the continent is family. However imperfectly, we look out for one another. We care for one another. We believe that we were Providentially placed together and are willing to put aside our own interests in order to serve one another. It isn’t a duty. It isn’t a burden. It is the purest kind of love.

     I realize that not all families function this way, that there are lonely, desert-island souls who are fortressed and steel-plated against the pain in relationships; but that only makes ours the more precious, a treasure that shouldn’t be squandered.

For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands…
(Or, scrub stovetops with one’s hands)

                                                     ~ mostly Christina Rossetti ~

Monday, October 7, 2013

On the Menu

     My husband used to be a picky eater. Fifteen years after we were married he confessed to me that for the first ten years he swallowed peas whole when I served them so that he wouldn’t have to taste them. Then one day he took the bold step and chewed them. He discovered that he liked peas after all. I remember the time when he wouldn't finish using a jar of raspberry jam because he found a bristle in it. However, he has now become markedly more adventurous than I am. His profession takes him all over the globe and he eats what is put before him because it would be terribly rude to do otherwise. Among other delicacies he has eaten duck's egg embryo, chicken feet and intestines, crocodile, tapir, dog, turtle, octopus, grasshoppers and the occasional unidentifiable mass.

     He called me from Sulawesi a few weeks ago to tell me about the dish he was served that he had never eaten before: bat...bat baked with vegetables and served casually with rice. The head and wings were included. I asked him what it tasted like; he said it tasted like meat. At least he didn’t say chicken.

     With Halloween approaching, it is handy to know that if a vampire should sneak up from behind and try to bite me—I can threaten to turn him into a casserole.