Tag Archives: Sacrifice

Courage at Twilight: Getting It Right

Yesterday: I was not angling for a pat on the head, but neither did I expect a rap on the knuckles.  I had listened to everything Dad said he would do to get ready for the wedding: string trim the grass along the sidewalks and the rock wall and around the landscape beds; hoe and pull all the weeds and tall grass and wild morning glory vines from the shrubs and beds.  He could do none of it, and I suspected the man he had hired would not show up (he didn’t), so I set to work hoeing, snipping, trimming, raking, bagging, sweating, near collapse from illness and fatigue.  Six neighborhood men converged for a successful second attempt to winch the impossibly heavy brick mailbox pedestal into its hole.  They repaired the broken sprinkler pipe, stacked the sod, and will come back in a couple of days to see how the pedestal has settled, pour fresh cement, and restore the soil and grass.  Dad sat and watched and worried and advised, straight from his bed, without taking his medicine, without drinking, without eating—straight to the job for the long-haul, sitting in the driveway in the hot sun, sweating out his strength, begging on the misery of seizures and exhaustion.  Four friendly Columbians assembled the wedding tent and I stumbled to be friendly in Spanish, treating them to cold Brazilian Guaraná soda (“No es cerveza?”  “No, no tiene alcohol.”)  I finished my work after six hours, and putting the tools away, Dad told me I had done the string trimming wrong.  No “thank you.”  No “looks great.”  No “you did a lot today.”  Like I said, I did the work because it needed doing, and I was proud of the beautiful manicured result—I was not pandering for praise.  But if you expect a job done a certain way, tell me at the beginning of the job; do not wait until the job is done and then criticize the result.  I felt suddenly furious, and announced I was done because I had worked beyond my limits, which I had, and my arms and hands were shaking and my breathing tight and short and all I wanted was to lie down in a cool dark room.  But I found little Gabe (almost four already!) and asked him the question he always hopes to hear: Do you want to bake some cupcakes, little friend?  He measured and poured and stirred and tasted at every step, from bitter cocoa-powder paste to rich batter to sweet butter-cream icing to small spoonsful of sprinkles, the various chocolaty substances fingerpainted on his face.  But Gabe’s all-time favorite game is Hide-and-Seek.  “Nobody wants to play Hide-and-Seek with me,” he bemoaned as everyone worked, and I thought maybe I could find a little hiding and seeking energy for my little friend.  When he counts, he counts fast, and ten “seconds” was barely enough time to bound off and stumble behind a bush, where he found me when I poked up for a peak and he squealed and I laughed and his mama watched us from the kitchen window, giggling.  Gabe took most of the cupcakes home, thankfully.  Later I laid in bed wondering at my still-smoldering anger and how outsized it was to the offense and wondering where it came from and pondering my six-decade relationship with the great man I call “Dad” and learning long ago not to expect praise but to get the job done right and wondering what my three daughters and my four sons think of their “Papa” and whether my expectations were reasonable, and reasonably expressed.

Last Night: And at 1:00 a.m. my sleeping ears began to hear Dad’s far-off call “Rog!” and at the second “Rog!” I jumped from my bed, threw off the loathed CPAP cup, grabbed my 45-year-old homemade brown terrycloth bathrobe and ran to the stairs to confront the whole spectrum of trouble.  But there sat Dad in his recliner, reading, munching, happy, perfectly fine and safe, waving, smiling curiously at me looking distressed in my underwear at the top of the stairs.  I hung my bathrobe on its hook and resumed staring at the dark ceiling, ready to let go of unintended offense, ready for sleep, ready for the last Mary Berry cupcake the next day, a Sunday, a day of rest.

Today: Dad, sitting with me at a round table under the wedding tent: “Rogie, did you do all this work in the yard?  There’s not a single weed in the shrub beds, and they are all raked out so nice and neat.  And the string-trimmed edges of the lawn are perfect.  It’s all perfect.  You have made the hard look so nice for the wedding.  Thank you.”

Courage at Twilight: Unvisitable

The men of the Church assigned to see to her welfare told Dad she could not be visited. As the lay leader of the congregation, Dad bore responsibility for the welfare of every member of the congregation, whether they wanted to participate in the Church or not.  “What does ‘unvisitable’ mean?” he queried.  Apparently, “unvisitable” meant she did not want anyone from the Church to visit her.  For Dad, the deeper questions were “Why is she unvisitable?  What is happening in her life to distance her from the Church and from people.”  Sitting at his desk in the law department of Johnson & Johnson, pondering over this unvisitable Church member.  A thought pressed itself irresistibly onto his mind: Call her. Now.  Having learned to never put off a prompting, he picked up the phone and called her.  “Sandy?  This is your bishop.  I’m coming over right now,” and did not wait for a protest.  He found Sandy living in squalor and disrepair, and terribly depressed and overwhelmed.  The trees and shrubs had overgrown the house and porch.  The front stairs had fallen away from the porch, and the mailman could not deliver the mail.  Stacks of newspapers filled the rooms and hallways, with only narrow trails from place to place.  She had not read them yet, she explained.  The window frames had been painted while open, and remained stuck open, even in winter, when she shoved crumpled newspapers against the screens for insulation.  “I will help you,” Dad promised, and he spent the next year helping Sandy transform her living space, which in turn transformed her life.  He suggested she start her reading with the next day’s edition, and emptied the house of newspapers and trash, taking many loads to the dump.  He cut out the trees and pulled out the shrubs, planting new ones.  He cut the windows free of old paint so they could be open or shut with the season.  He jacked up the stairs and put rock and new cement under them.  He repaired all the plumbing.  He painted all the walls.  Mom asked him once, “Why don’t you involve the other men of the Church instead of doing all this work yourself?”  And he explained that descending en masse to fix the house was all fine and well, but would not fix the occupant.  She needed frequent, regular visits of encouragement, acceptance, and assistance.  In the course of that year, Sandy began to smile, and to converse, and to return to Church.  She and Mom became friends, sometimes hopping on the train to New York City for Broadway’s “two-for” matinees.  In telling the story four decades later, Dad was clear it was not to boast, but to teach me this lesson: No one is unvisitable.  We just need to ask the Savior how to do it, and He will show us the way.  To God, all persons have equal worth, and we can be his hands in reaching out to the unreachable.  No one is unvisitable.

(Photo from lily pond at Island Lake in the high Uintah mountains, 2007.)

Courage at Twilight: A New Doll

After Mom turned six, in November 1945, her mother and father informed the children that there was no money for Christmas presents that year. The parents were sorrowful and resigned, while the children—Mom being the oldest—naturally felt disappointed.  Still, they were used to not having many material things, so the news was not a shock or a trauma, just a disappointment.  Though they were poor, they did not think of themselves as poor.  They did not have many possessions, but they were tender and loving with each other and enjoyed the richness of home and family, church and community, music and literature.  With this radiance, the children rapidly reconciled their disappointment and looked forward to Christmas morning nonetheless.  Christmas was still a happy, hopeful season.  Sauntering slipper-footed into the living room on Christmas morning, Mom saw a new doll in the corner, meant for her.  She joyfully picked up the doll, not having expected any gifts at all, and began to love it and play with it.  Soon, however, she discovered, with a sinking feeling, that the new doll was in fact last year’s doll, made up to look new.  Mom’s mother, Dorothy, had clipped locks of her own auburn hair and sewn them to a band, which she stitched to the doll’s head, concealing the band with a new little bonnet.  After her realization, Mom regrouped and was happy about her new doll, feeling gratitude for her mother’s efforts during a challenging era to provide for her and her younger siblings.  The orange and peanuts in her stocking added a measure of pleasure to the day.  Knowing Dorothy so well (she passed away at age 96), I was moved, thinking of her cutting off lengths of her own hair to make a gift for her little girl.  Of course, this was only one of infinite sacrifices Dorothy made for her children.  My mother, in turn, made infinite sacrifices for her children, as I have done for mine, and as my children are beginning to do for theirs.  And so it goes.

(Image by Christiane M. from Pixabay.  Sadly, no photo of Mom’s doll is known to exist.)

Courage at Twilight: The Spanish Word for Pain

“I wish I could do more for you,” Mom lamented one recent afternoon.  “I am so sorry for all the mistakes I made as a mother.”  For a moment I stood stunned at the revelation of my 82-year-old mother’s insecurity, especially as incongruous as it was with my memory of reality.  Mom gave her whole soul to being a mother.  Hot whole-wheat gruel steamed on the table before school, and she served a delicious dinner at precisely 6:00 p.m., every day.  She washed by basketball socks and took me to buy my first pair of Levi’s.  She gathered us every Sunday afternoon to play games—PIT was a favorite, with six kids clamoring cacophonously for “wheat!” and “rye!” and “barley!”  The family car ran night and morning with rides to and from marching band practice, piano lessons, and early morning Bible class.  I sat at the kitchen table one evening struggling with my homework, trying to remember the Spanish word for pain—dolor.  She surprised me by bursting out protectively, “You know: dolor, just like Delores!” referring to my painfully unrequited infatuation for a girl at church.  I never again forgot that word!  She nursed me through dozens of ear infections and serious injuries followed by surgeries and staff.  She organized a family vacation to the magical woods of Maine, and I have loved loons since.  She even gave me an enema (my most embarrassing life memory) when I writhed from what the doctor arrogantly insisted was constipation but was in truth an appendix about to burst.  And at 82 she says good-bye with “I can’t wait to see you when you come home!” and greets me after work with “There’s my boy!”  Once again she is providing a safe and comfortable home for me, and listens without upbraid to her children in all their multitudinous troubles.  “What mistakes?” I asked her sincerely.  “I cannot remember any.”  Even were they present, and I presume they were, they are long forgotten.  We six siblings, and our numerous offspring, all cherish her.  It is our turn now to wish we could do more for her.

Chapter 18: Mary

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–Bend, bend, but don’t break.–

I had rescued Austin from his fall just two years before.  Now the barrel-chested man was gone.  Mary, his widow, a diminutive black-haired woman in her nineties, lived alone.  We tried to visit her one afternoon.  We knocked and knocked, but no one answered the door.  Later we learned that she slept during the day and lived her waking life at night.  I now understood the dim yellow light that glowed late at night from her living room window. Continue reading