Tag Archives: Service

Courage at Twilight: Stories of Cockroaches and Fleas

Dad, this morning: “I was sitting here remembering an odd experience.  When I was a missionary in Brazil in 1956, my missionary companion [missionaries work in twos] rented a room in a house, where we lived.  He got up in the night to use the bathroom, and when he turned on the bathroom light, the walls and the floor were covered with skittering cockroaches, and my companion screamed and woke everyone in the house up!”  Dad is a storyteller, and when I hear, “I remember when…” I know a story is coming, and I had better just plant my feet in the floor for a few minutes.  His stories are always touching or funny, even after a dozen tellings.  I have typed up every story I have ever heard Dad tell about his life (and Mom’s stories, too).  “I was allergic to flea bites.  The bites would swell in great red mounds.  The itching was terrible, and I scratched the bites with a wire brush—better the pain than the itch.  I got good at catching fleas.  Once I wrote a letter to my mom out of dead fleas.  I stuck them to scotch tape, forming the shapes of the letters with the fleas, then taped them to the paper.  I don’t know how I survived it—I poured a can of DDT in my bed so I could sleep without being eaten alive by fleas, with the sheet tucked up tight under my chin so I wouldn’t breathe in the power.  The DDT killed the fleas, and I’m surprised it didn’t kill me.”  Thirty years later, as a young church missionary in Portugal, I suffered from bed bug bites—the bugs crept out of their hiding places at night while I slept, and bit the backs of my hands dozens of times.  Every morning I awoke with fresh and painful red bites.  I did not know yet of Dad’s mission pesticide story.  As if reenacting it, I bought a can of Raid and sprayed all the wooden joints and slats of my bed and sprayed under the mattress and on sheets.  Fearing illness, or worse, I did all the spraying in the morning, hoping the bed bugs would be dead, and the poison dissipated, by bedtime.  It seemed to work.  And I have my own cockroach story: as a ten-year-old in Brazil, I reached up to open a high closet cupboard, and out poured dozens of two-inch cockroaches landing all over my head and face and shoulders.  Shiver.  I still cannot stand the sight of a cockroach.  I look forward to Dad’s next stories, which likely will be told today.

 

Pictured above: Dad (far left) and his mission colleagues in Brazil, circa 1958.

Courage at Twilight: Giving Tuesday

An excellent church sermon, on the subject of serving humankind in small and simple ways, prompted me to visit the service clearinghouse JustServe.org.  I browsed through hundreds of worthy service opportunities—everything from being pen pals with prison inmates to assembling hygiene kits to indexing gravestone photographs to tutoring young people in English and Math—and settled on a small and simple project I felt I could handle.  The project was to make greeting cards with the message You Are Loved decorating the inside.  I have made cards from pressed leaves and flower petals since my Grandmother Dorothy taught me decades ago.  Against her office walls leaned four-foot-tall stacks of heavy books pressing thousands of slowly drying leaves and petals.  The card-making process involves gluing pressed flowers and other decorations, like paper butterflies, to wax paper, gluing colored tissue paper to that, drying, ironing to melt the wax into the tissue, cutting, and folding.  Into the card I insert a blank paper bifold, on which I write a personal message for upcoming birthdays and anniversaries.  I love making cards because, while far from being an artist, I can make something beautiful to brighten someone’s day.  Equally important, making cards connects me to memories of my dear grandmother.  (For more photos and detailed instructions, see my essays Cards of Leaves and Petals and Grandma’s Pressed-Leaf Greeting Cards.)  My sisters have supplied me with abundant pressed leaves and flowers (from Carolyn) and paper cutouts of birds and butterflies (from Megan).  At the extended family Thanksgiving celebration, after our dinner, I enlisted family members to decorate the card inserts with colored markers, including the message You Are Loved.  I explained that the cards would be included in kits delivered to refugees around the world.  Upon opening the kits, the recipients will be greeted with the generic but safe and loving message: You Are Loved.  With those refugees in mind, my family members, from my two-year-old granddaughter Lila to my octogenarian parents, enjoyed personalizing their cards.  Only after Mom and I delivered the cards to Lifting Hands International, did I realize that today is Giving Tuesday.  That coincidence brought me happiness.  Thoughts of refugees being cheered, even if momentarily, by a loving personalized artistic message, brought me happiness.  In fact, I find that helping others always brings happiness.  Why don’t I do it more often?  To be sure, our service was among the smallest and simplest—no grant accomplishment.  But every good deed, no matter how miniscule, even when unnoticed, contributes to the world’s goodness, of which there can never be too much.  I wonder what small and simple gift of service you may enjoy offering others?  After making 60 labor-intensive cards, I need a break from card-making.  But I am sure I will make more, maybe for Giving Tuesday 2022.  Perhaps sooner.

Roger Baker is a career municipal attorney and hobby writer.  He is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season.  Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  A Time and A Season gathers Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births.  The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Courage at Twilight: 9/11 at 20

I was in a hotel elevator, at a conference on domestic violence prosecution, in Provo, Utah, when I learned of the attacks on the Twin Towers. The scheduled speakers yielded to the television screens as we watched, stunned and horrified.  Twenty years later, I walked amidst 2,977 American flags planted in a field, a Healing Field, in my new residence city of Sandy.  Each flag had a tag with a name and a story of where he worked, how she was loved by family and friends, what their hobbies were, their age, their loved ones, and the location of their death: World Trade Center; Pentagon; Flight 93 in a Pennsylvania field near Shanksville.  I read a hundred or so tags on flags flying for the people who died on 9/11/2001.  I had dressed in a jacket and tie, thinking it fitting.  The next day I drove Mom and Dad slowly around the field, twice, because they couldn’t walk, but they wanted to see, they wanted to honor, and I told them about the persons I had read about—the Flight 93 pilot, the World Trade Center trader, the Pentagon general, the child traveling with her mother, the secretary, the cook.  And the next day I descended on the field with 300 other volunteers to remove the tags, roll up the flags, and yank the three-foot rebar from the ground, one each for 2,977 persons, including 411 first responders, whom we have promised to always remember.  I rolled flags and yanked rebar with people aged from 10 to 80.  One of the octogenarians poked me with the butt of a flag, and apologized, and I joked, “You know, I have always been told to watch out for pretty ladies rolling up American flags,” and she laughed.  A small older man followed me and others as we pulled rebar from the ground, carrying heavy stacks of the stuff to the flatbed trailer.  I called him “Rebar Man” but his real name was Ishmael Castillo, a brawny little man with a big soft heart who came to help.  I thanked the organizer, and he gave me a 20-year commemorative bronze medallion.  I saw the Alta High School NHS photographer looking in the now-empty field for his lost lens cap, and I asked him if he had received a 9/11/2021 medallion, and gave him mine, because I had bought one for myself on 9/11.  “That is amazing,” he gasped his thanks.  The empty field will endure, now, until 9/11/2022.

 

Courage at Twilight: The Little Chores

I have asked Mom and Dad to save up for me the little chores they would like me to do when I come home from work.  I’m no handyman, but I can do the little things: change a furnace filter, snap in a new smoke alarm battery, carry toilet paper to the basement bathroom, heft the water softener salt into the tank, unclog the corner rain gutter, snip out the old dog wire, tighten a door knob, pull the empty garbage cans back from the curb.  These little chores give me pleasure, not only because they are quick and easy, and not only because I am capable of doing them, but also because Mom and Dad appreciate me for doing these little chores: my doing them makes their lives just that much easier.

Courage at Twilight: Finding Myself Again

Nearly a month into this experience, this mission, I began to notice rising feelings of distress.  I felt irritable and overwhelmed and stretched—that old rubber-band feeling where any more pull will break the band.  My emotional energy reserves were gone.  And I didn’t really know why.  My sisters encouraged me to have compassion for myself, to realize that after living alone for years I am suddenly sharing space with other people all day every day.  Continue reading

Courage at Twilight: Missionary Work

I had intended to accept an invitation to gather with the men of the neighborhood to help an ill neighbor with yard work he could not do.  “Bring your chainsaws,” the organizer goaded, “and show what real men you are.”  I chuckled, knowing his heart was pure.  As I sat with Dad in the back yard, however, and he talked about all the things he would like to accomplish in his yard, I decided to change course.  I chose to stay home and help with his yardwork, which I suppose is my yardwork.  An impish niggling voice accused me of being selfish for not helping the neighbor.  But I shrugged it off and responded, “Nope.  That is not my mission.  This is my mission: to be here, to help here, to the end.  This is missionary work.”  And so I got to work pruning trees and weeding flower beds and yanking out the long Virginia creeper vines.  A smile on Dad’s face, and his call of “Looks great!” confirmed what I already knew, and made me happy to be so engaged.

Courage at Twilight: Newspaper Elf

During a visit to Gilbert, Arizona to see my sister Jeanette, she took me to a state park near Sedona, high above the desert, with a little trout stream flowing through the pine forest.  On the park lawn grazed a squadron of pig-like creatures called collared peccaries, or javelinas.  I asked a uniformed park ranger about them—he told me javelinas are not pigs at all, but a cross between an old-world swine (which is a pig, I thought) and a new-world raccoon.  I stared at him stupefied, wondering if were joking.  Sadly, he was perfectly serious.  Of course, such a cross is genetically impossible, for the same reasons a dog cannot breed with a cat, or a chicken with a rabbit: impossible.  (Idaho does boast its jackalope, a cross between a jack rabbit and a pronghorn antelope—Google it.)  On another visit, Mom and Dad brought back a life-sized rusted metal javelina that sits quietly on alert, on their front porch.  When the Deseret News stopped its daily circulation, opting for online distribution, Mom and Dad subscribed to the New York Times, which is tossed every day out of a car window onto the driveway.  Leaving the house for work in the morning, I noticed the newspaper, bagged in blue plastic, sitting on the javelina’s snout.  I asked Mom about it, and she whispered simply “newspaper elf.”  Another morning, I saw from my home office window a man crossing the driveway.  Ah, so he must be the newspaper elf.  But on Saturday the newspaper was in the driveway.  “The newspaper elf doesn’t work on weekends,” Mom explained cheerfully.  “We have to go and get it.”

Courage at Twilight: Dirty Laundry

Mom said to me soon after I moved in, “I’m old, and I can’t do much, but I can do laundry and I like to do laundry.  Would you let me do your laundry?  I would like to do that for you.”  I felt inclined to decline, and demurred.   Dirty laundry is a sensitive subject for me.  Returning from a five-month separation in 2014, I gently insisted on doing my own laundry.  Home from my eviction, I found I could not allow her to handle my dirty laundry, though she wanted to.  I could not let myself be vulnerable in that way.  Now, with my mother’s request, I am trying be vulnerable enough to allow her to do something for me that she can do and wants to do and likes to do, even though I like doing it, too.  For me, separating the colors from the whites and putting in the soap and running the machines is fun.  And I like folding the clean clothes and putting them in their organized place.  With Mom’s offer to wash my dirty clothes, I have come full circle to my childhood.  Mama is taking care of me again.  How tender that she wants to.  After thinking it through and breathing deeply, I said to her, “Mom, I would be very appreciative of you washing my dirty clothes.  Thank you so much for offering.”