Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Old Pictures

I was going through some old photos and found a picture of Mary Shelley.  If you recall, she's the old neighbor that we used to visit when we lived in Ohio.  I wrote about her in the column about Mom that was published in January and re-published this week in the Budget.

This is Mary and her cat.  The picture was taken about 8 years after we had moved away, when Rebecca and I were back for a visit.

We note the peeling wallpaper and the one remaining arm on the rocker.

I found some other old pictures as well.  Below is Mom with my niece Annette.

 And from the progression of pictures below, you can tell how important Mom and Dad's Bible time was, every morning, year in and year out.

Around 1981
I took this shot just over a year ago.

My sister took this one last fall.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

On Telling: Just to Clarify

My last post was about the ethics of writing about other people.  If you didn't read it, I concluded that most of the time it's best to choose the relationship over a good story, and to ask permission.

I do want to clarify one thing and that is: Sometimes you need to Tell.

There are incidents in my life, family, and history that I've never written about publicly and don't know if I ever will.  But I will say that I've been through hard things and there were some very strong unspoken messages like big banners across my life:
1. We do not have problems.
2. You do not talk about these things.
3. You are very bad if you Tell.
4. In fact, Telling is worse than what's happening.
5. If you don't like what's happening, don't fuss because it's your fault.

Of course, these things have sent tentacles into my adult life that have been harder to root out than a knot of blackberry roots in the rose bed, with branches shooting out underground in all directions.

For example, things can be really really awful, but it doesn't cross my mind to: a) say the words "We have a problem" or b) ask for help.

Paul has at times looked at me in complete disbelief and said, "You know, you could ask for help!"

This always comes as a surprise, like a shaft of sunlight through fog.  OH.  Yeah.  I guess I could, at that. Huh. Who'da thought?

So.  This is my message for you, young woman preyed on by an older man, husband or wife covering up your spouse's abuse, anyone covering for someone's addiction, anyone at the mercy of someone else's sin, anyone in the middle of frightening, silent chaos.

You need to Tell.

This is a problem.  It isn't your fault.  It's ok to string these words together and say them: We have a problem.  I need help.

Not on a blog, not in front of the church.  But to someone who can do something about it.  Yes, even your local law enforcement person.

I keep reading accounts of people who finally get up the courage to tell, and aren't believed.  I suspect God has a special judgment for those who abuse their authority by not believing the ones who come to them for help, or who tell them it's their own fault, or who tell them the Telling is worse than the sin against them.

In fact, I was in a traumatic situation some time ago where I tried to Tell and was silenced and condemned so thoroughly and quickly it still astonishes me.  It was all my fault, see, because I Told.  I don't have much recourse, really, at this point, and haven't felt that the time was right to talk or write about it publicly.  I do have a few supportive people who are there for me now and if I ever Tell again.

I think there are times when publicly Telling is right: when the perpetrators are or were in a public position that affects many people, and there is a systemic hiding of evil after repeated attempts to bring repentance privately, and others are still in danger.

But my advice for you, suffering and powerless, is to find the words to Tell.  Find one kind person.  Tell them.  And may God have mercy and let you be heard.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Ponderous Thoughts on the Ethics of Writing About People

I am up to my eyeballs in getting ready for my two workshops at the Oregon Christian Writers conference in Salem tomorrow.  I'll be teaching one session on "Writing a Newspaper Column" and one on "Telling Your Story: Discover the Thread."

One thing I want to cover is the ethics of writing stories about your life.  This involves, among other things, mentioning other people.

And it is astonishing, the different reactions people have to possibly being written about.  From: "NOW THIS DOESN'T GO IN THE NEWSPAPER, YOU HEAR ME??" to "Ooooo, I'm so excited, I got Quote of the Day on Life in the Shoe!!!!!!"  And some people really don't care if you write about them or not--it simply doesn't matter to them.

I don't think anyone ought to be offended at being mentioned in passing, either on a blog or something more formal like a newspaper piece.  "I borrowed a cup of sugar from Aunt Susie."

Longer involvements and quotes usually require permission, depending on the context.

If I don't have the time or a way to ask permission, I'll change names and garble identity.

But mostly, I try to be accurate and kind.  Which can be tough, because not everyone in your life was kind, loving, and wise.  Your story is no good if it isn't honest.  But what's to be gained by laying out the brutal facts about people who don't have the same platform to tell their side?

I recently decided to read Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, by Rhoda Janzen.  Obviously I was intrigued with the Mennonite aspect of the story, and the coming home after many years angle.

But I find it a disturbing book.  I've read maybe a quarter of it, and these are my impressions.

First of all, the author presents herself as an intelligent, literary, worldly-wise woman.  She is very funny and snarky and clever. Her chapter structures are brilliant.  And her turns of phrase.  Her portrayals of Mennonite quirks are stellar, although of Russian Mennonite culture rather than the side I'm familiar with.

But.  She has been through terrible physical suffering, from surgery and a car accident, and through worse emotional suffering, from a completely crazy, selfish husband whom she propped up for years before he finally left her.  But you don't get a sense that this has softened and refined her, deep down.  Instead, you get the sense that she's a teenage girl who's determined not to cry in front of you, so she talks louder and louder and laughs more and more, just to make you think she is SO over it.

She also uses repeated vulgarities of every description.  It seems there was a stripe of reader she was trying to shock, and another stripe she was trying to impress.  I can understand a few words for authenticity, but this is way too gratuitous and too much.

But.  What really caught my eye was her portrayal of her family.  Her dad is portrayed with humor but some respect, her mom is portrayed as lovable but very eccentric, with far too much private information, I thought.  And the sisters-in-law are chopped up into tiny slices and hung out to dry.

I wondered how her family felt about this, and found a blog post by Shirley Showalter.  Shirley approaches the subject delicately--this was the author's experience, her perspective, her story, her journey, her process, after all.  We all perceive the same event differently, etc. etc.  I got the sense it was not ok to say, "Rhoda Janzen was downright mean sometimes."

Interestingly, some of her family members showed up in the comments.  One said, "I am “Staci” in the book. I am most definitely not proud of the way I am portrayed in this memoir. The verbatim conversations between family members either did not happen at all or happened in a very different “unfunny” context. To be perfectly honest, none of us are that interesting or funny. Rhoda's disdain for me, as well as our sister-in-law “Deena” is obvious and hurtful. When we welcomed Rhoda home with open arms and hearts we had no idea she was using us as fodder for a book deal. Rhoda's attempts to portray us as a backwards uneducated farm family are laughable. I have received numerous calls and notes from friends asking if Rhoda has in fact, ever actually met me. So–take this book with a huge grain of salt."

And a brother said, ". . .When I finished reading the book I had to admit that I had a variety of feelings, a few of which are positive. Rhoda is a gifted writer and always has had a keen intellect which she can convey with extreme zeal. . . I am proud of her accomplishments, BUT I have others feelings as well. I feel frustrated about her portrayal of the family. Rhoda’s recollections are not factual and her perspective of reality has a lot of artistic license. I sometimes feel anger at the condescension that is woven throughout the book. Her derision of ‘Staci’ and ‘Denna’ is palpable and I just don’t understand why she feels so negative against family members. ‘Staci’ has always tried to be kind and compassionate to Rhoda, (that is her nature) and Rhoda mocked ‘Staci’ in the book and in various interviews. The impact on the family has not been good. . . My father briefly pulled back from public engagements, my wife feels a sense of mistrust, my mother cries because of the hurt family feelings. Forgiveness is a process and it has begun in the family, but reconciliation is not there…yet. I understand that Rhoda is going through a self-reflection/self-actualization process by writing this book, but, as Rhoda states in her book “… it is much harder to show compassion and understanding when we are the ones being hurt directly, when the wrecking ball of someone else’s misery takes us down, too.”"

As I read the book, I had thought "Surely, surely, she asked their permission first."  And it looks like No, she didn't.

In contrast, I read a piece by Mary Karr about her book, The Liars Club.   Her approach was entirely different.  This is a long quote but very instructive in the lengths she went to.  She says, ". . .it's a scuzzy business at best, displaying your wounds in the marketplace, making close compatriots into "characters." How dare I? I did take a few precautions.
Every major character in both memoirs (still alive) was alerted to the project in advance and "warned" about scenes they might find troubling—i.e., I told my mother I intended to recount her psychotic break. I told my best high-school friend (Meredith) that I'd describe her cutting herself, as well as her brother's stint in jail.. . ."
Maybe this ongoing closeness made writing about them easier. Or maybe they're just tolerant individuals, which they'd have to be to associate with me for so long.
Once the manuscript was completed, I sent it to these primary characters for fear I'd misremembered or misrepresented them. The one small complaint I got was from a rock musician (an ex-beau) who worried that I said he'd smoked pot as a teenager—a scene he didn't deny but now found embarrassing. I offered to take the scene out but refused to change how I remembered it. He preferred it stay in.
The large complaint involved my friend Meredith. She asked that I take out the scene of her cutting herself with a razor. She didn't mind if I reinserted it in later editions, after her elderly mother died. To write it and blur the identity of the "cutter" seemed a fat lie to the reader—plus, it's a different kind of betrayal: Watching a stranger taking a razor to herself just differs—morally speaking—from watching a dear pal. So, I'd initially intended to cut the chapter altogether. Then "Stacey," our volleyball-playing pal, said she'd prefer to claim the cutting acts as her own. Stacey felt the scene was socially relevant and in some way "true" and that the book would suffer from its absence. This is the only intentional falsehood I've consciously constructed—other than fake names. It's the one time I've let literature rule over fact. And now that Meredith and her mother are both dead, I correct the score.

I recognize that there are a lot of gray areas in the ethics of personal writing and who am I to judge, remembering some lessons I learned through phone calls that nearly peeled my ear off my scalp.

Even writing positive things can be difficult.  For example, I would have loved to write a lot more about my mom, but she didn't like being written about.  I did write about her after she passed away, of course, and my sister said Mom was no doubt blushing, even in Heaven, at the flattery.

Overall, I can cut Rhoda Janzen some slack--not much, but a little--because writing about family is a very delicate balance.  But I think she could have made her story 25% less hysterical for the sake of being 50% more kind.

But then I think of all the wonderful quotes from my family that I would just love to post but am not allowed to.  At those times, I think the humor would surely be worth the discomfort.

We all have a lot to learn, that's for sure.

Quote of the Day:
Me: I am so utterly tired.
Ben: Do you need a hug?
Jenny: Wow, I didn't think Ben would be this nice when Amanda wasn't here!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Letter from Harrisburg--On Sending Steven to EBI

 It’s no easier sending the fifth child off to Bible school than it was the first, but just as necessary and right.

This time it was Steven, our youngest son, 19, filling out the application for six weeks at Elnora Bible Institute and asking me whom to list as references. When Dad is not only the dad but also the pastor, principal and employer, it’s hard to find references. Also, it’s a sign that his world needs to get bigger — soon.

Steven and his friend Bryce decided to drive to Bible school in Steven’s car. Oregon to Indiana, in winter. I said maybe 20 percent of what I thought of this idea.

“Call me!” I said, tearfully, hugging Steven goodbye.

“What for?” he said.

How do you answer that question? Preferably not like I did, with a pitiful, “Because ... because you might get into an accident and DIE!”

“Wow, Mom, way to think positive. You always were the positive one.” Then he laughed, hugged me with his big arms, picked up the box of snacks I had packed, and left.

They drove to Colorado and spent the night with Bryce’s cousin Beth. Her husband, Cameron, sent me a reassuring message the next morning: “Your boy just left. He’s clean and well fed, and after coming over the pass the worst of the winter driving should be behind them.”

Steven sent a brief text when they arrived at Elnora. Then silence, but I knew enough about Bible school to know that that was OK, and he was entering some of the most intense weeks of his life.

It seems to be a uniquely Mennonite practice, sending young people off for a short term of study in winter, usually from three to six or maybe 12 weeks at a time.

The Old Order Amish don’t provide schooling beyond the eighth grade. The more progressive Mennonites have colleges — Goshen, Eastern Mennonite and Hesston. The wide car-driving-but-still-plain Anabaptist spectrum in between has Bible schools around the country where up to 100 young people gather at a time to learn and socialize and become established in the faith.

On their applications, these young people often say they want to come and study God’s word. The other reasons are more nebulous but still valid — to expand their world, to be an adult away from home for the first time, to make friends. And to establish what they believe, to find out where they belong, to affirm that living apart from the “world” is a valid choice, when so many voices say it’s not.

These schools generally have names pulled from scripture, some more obscure than others — Calvary, Maranatha, Sharon, Messiah, Bethel. But they go by acronyms — CBS, SMBI, MBS.
Steven is at EBI, an anomaly in that it’s named for the little town of Elnora rather than a Biblical reference.

When our oldest, Matt, went off to EBI at age 19, I expected his experience to be totally different from mine, way back in 1981, when I attended CBS, a Beachy-Amish school in the hills of Arkansas.

It wasn’t, despite cellphones and laptops and very different dress codes. As were Amy’s a few years later, and then Emily’s and Ben’s.

The intensity of it, the rules, the friendships, the opportunities, the learning — all were similar. And the awfulness of coming home, that was the same, too.

All Mennonite Bible schools have rules — about clothes, curfews, Internet use, dating and much more. In my day, the girls’ dresses were measured when we first arrived. I stood with my arms out while a patient matron judged whether my dresses reached halfway between my knees and ankles or were too short. Too-tight trousers were in fashion, so the guys had to drop a small glass bottle down the waist of their pants and it had to clatter out at their feet unassisted.

By comparison, the rules at EBI are ridiculously lax, yet my children find them just as confounding. “No T-shirts in class? What’s with that? How come we gotta dress up so much?”

Across the range of schools, there are unwritten rules about rules. Your school always has too many, and you laugh about them privately. But at least it’s not like Messiah or Bethel, where your cousins go. It’s understood that even the most strait-laced kids bend a rule or two. Calvary Bible School didn’t allow caffeinated drinks, so I kept a stash of contraband No-Doz pills in my dresser drawer, for emergencies. A well-behaved son of ours once climbed out a dorm window at night for some remarkably tame adventure. But it’s understood that you don’t deliberately flout the rules all the time. Rebels are not cool or spiritual.
I’m told that the social dynamics are the same at Bible school as they ever were. For example, it’s good to be “deep,” the term used in ways seldom heard outside that little universe. “Deep” kids have intense discussions on apologetics and eschatology, and the “deep” guys are always called on to ask the blessing before meals. They pray the most impressive prayers of thanksgiving you ever heard as you are all standing in line before dinner, and also they have the most amazing large blue eyes with curly eyelashes, and so, if you are anything like I was, you fall in love with them. 

Later that evening, in the privacy of the prayer room, you make a deal with God that if you and Mr. Blue Eyes are both on for dishes in the morning, it will be a Sign. Sure enough, you are both on the list, and your faith and your heartbeat reach new heights, but then as he is spraying off dirty dishes at the sink he doesn’t notice you at all but “accidentally” squirts water at the pretty and very shallow girl from Georgia with the cute accent and the little gold swirls on the side of her glasses. She shrieks and they both laugh and, disgusted, you vow to be done with signs forever. That is also a rule, in its own way, and not found in any Bible school manual.

Dynamics in the dorm are just as intense, with heights and depths not experienced before. I found belonging there: in a candle-lit, late-night meeting where we “shared our hearts” and were safe to talk about secrets and doubts never aired before but surprisingly universal. 

And not belonging: loaning and borrowing dresses was a big deal in the CBS dorm, but no one ever wanted to borrow mine. Feeling superior: the girl in the next bed smelled bad and didn’t shower enough. Feeling inferior: The Pennsylvania girls had “cool” down to an art form that I would never attain, with their chic little bolero jackets and big eyeglasses.

And, yes, Bible school also involves learning, both academics and things of the spirit — how to pray, how to believe, how to hear God’s message to you in scripture. Classes have a way of leading to opportunities. I had often thought of my life as a hallway full of closed, locked doors, but when Ervin Hershberger, the white-bearded principal and Christian writing instructor, read my essay to the class and smiled, one door in that hallway opened and eventually led to many more, so many I couldn’t explore them all.
Our son Ben’s class in missions led to his teacher urging him to volunteer at a small mission in Toronto, which led to a year of cooking at a Native American restaurant in Toronto, assisting a small church and big-city experiences a world away from sacking grass seed in Oregon.

Mennonites value community, and one of the best benefits of Bible school is the lifelong connections. Sometimes, your best dormie dates and marries your cousin from Ohio. You attend the wedding and meet not only all your Bible school friends, but a man scouting for teachers for the church school. So you teach there for two years and marry a guy in the youth group.

Then, theoretically, 30 years later you meet the cool girl from Georgia who has had five children and is plump and warm and down-to-earth. You confess your past jealousy, and she admits that you always seemed so exotic because you had gone to a public high school. The guy with the blue eyes comes to preach at your revival meetings but he is stuck in 1981, with thinning hair but the same feathered hairstyle parted in the middle, plus he has bad grammar that you never noticed back then, so you fervently thank God for not answering those prayers as you had hoped.

Bible school always ends, much to the disappointment and even despair of students. In 1981, I flew home from Arkansas and went back to my work as a teacher, high on a cloud of spiritual enlightenment.

Reality was not kind to me. Sermons were dull, hymns were slow, and the adults in my life could think only of insubstantial things like the price of farmland and picking up prescriptions and why wasn’t Bertha in church on Sunday? I longed for the intensity of Bible school, of “sharing” what was “on my heart” with people who truly “got” me.

When the euphoria faded, I was still a better and wiser person for having gone.

My children, bless their hearts, were exactly the same. 

They came home and walked around in a distant, heightened reality, humming the new praise songs they’d learned and constantly on the phone with their new friends, the only people who understood them. 

They acknowledged that Paul and I were saved, yes, but hinted much more: Wasn’t it sad how we were so lukewarm and content, so absorbed in minor earthly details when God had so many heavenly things for us to grasp? Then they eventually came back to Earth with a new resolve to make a difference in it.

It stretches my imagination to think of Steven coming home in such a state, but Bible school accomplishes remarkable things. Whether he comes to understand why his mom wants phone calls so badly, or not, he will be a better man for having gone: his horizons wider, his faith deeper, his connections stronger, his determination to do good to others more solid than ever.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Troubled Thoughts on Meaning Well

My friend "Jan" and I have had many conversations about how we respond to mean people who say nasty things.

I freeze in both mind and mouth. These people always catch me unprepared, and I can never think of anything to say.  I stare at them with wide-open eyes and think shocked and frozen thoughts.

Jan, on the other hand, fires back with sizzling zingers that put them in their place just like THAT.

I have told her, many times, how deeply I envy her.  What vindication and justice and joy that would be, it seems like, looking on, to be able to not only think of just the right response, but to SAY it.  Just like THAT.

She has told me, many times, that she envies me my silence because it saves me soooo much trouble.  Oh my, I have no idea, she says, what it's like to have these words come flying out of your mouth and you can't pull them back in and then you are STUCK with the consequences.  It's horrible.

But that's not really what this post is about.  It's only an intro to say that Jan has always been like this, as evidenced by a little memory she posted the other day:

They say children are cruel but I believe adults are crueler. My first experience was in the bathroom of our newly remodeled church (no more outhouses !!!). The all day meetings were on a hot summer Sunday and I was restless, had my shoes kicked off... Mom whispered in my ear 'go run out on the sidewalk and then wash your face and come back.'. I remember standing in the bathroom fascinated by the locks on the bathroom doors (I was barely 6). This little old lady (who probably was only50!!!) came in bent over and peered at me with her piercing blue eyes 'and who are you?' I'm Jan. 'do you have any brothers or sisters?'. No. 'well you know, only children are spoiled!' having enough of being reminded of my rotten place in the religious sector of large families(4+) I remember saying Yes I am spoiled and I STINK too. She cornered my mom later and let her know what a failure she was not to have had more children. Dad laughed and laughed and laughed when Mom told this on the way home that evening-I remember him saying to Mom ' she has no clue what your life is. ' I always gave that woman a wide berth ...

Well.  That story really troubled me, not because of Jan's sassy comment to the lady, but the fact that someone was that cruel.  A subsequent conversation with Jan confirmed that the woman was someone I knew, one of those industrious, earnest types to whom the world is a pantry and they are the designated keepers of it, to dust off the tin cans and line them up alphabetically, toss the outdated cake mixes, set the mousetraps, and line up the edge of the Saran Wrap just right.

I will call her Hazel.  She was also a minister's wife, which adds more tainted cabbage to the already sick feeling in my stomach. [Locals: it's probably not who you think it is so stop speculating.]

Even if you didn't know Jan's mom, you can easily imagine the heartache and wrenching, repeated pain of being a Mennonite wife and able to birth only one child.

And here this earnest woman berated her for not having more.

Hazel meant well.

We know this, right?  And we say it, or I do, in an attempt to give grace when it's very difficult to do so.  Oh, but, --sigh-- I'm sure she meant well.

She meant well and her tongue pierced to the part of the heart that hurt most.

She meant well, but when do any of us intend to be mean?  When do we ever intend to be unkind?  With all of our concern and our trying to fix our little worlds, we always mean well.  And yet what galling pain we inflict.

While I don't think I've done Hazel's level of damage, God and plenty of others know of the grievous errors I have made, as a minister's wife and in other roles as well, speaking into situations where I felt I should DO something, and mucking it up much worse.

So I want grace for that.  In fact, I desperately need it.

I look at Hazel and others like her and I think, "But they should have known."  But what does that mean for me and what I should have known??

I pray for wisdom in these things, and to keep from creating this sort of carnage.  The best preventative seems to be to avoid that unctuous earnestness, that bustling about one's pantry and setting the tin cans in line because it must be done and if you don't, no one will.
And yet, how many dozens of past acquaintances could testify of my doing just that?

Maybe I should be grateful for the moments when I'm frozen into silence.  At least I'm not destroying anyone then.

Am I responsible for what I should have known?

And: I probably won't know unless someone tells me, so how can I be a safe person to tell? 

I am trying not to obsess about inadvertent harm I might have done, but I just find this a troubling subject all around.

Quote of the Day:
[At Dad's, in December]
Paul: Pure water will NOT conduct electricity.
The BIL who grew up in Mississippi: But what about when Ah'm up on the roooof weldin' and it starts rainin' and all of a sudden Ah'm gettin' juiced??

Sunday, February 09, 2014

How to Make Me Happy

"Does snow just make you happy?" Amy asked me in December when we had that cold snap and we were taking a walk and her nose was freezing and I was practically bouncing for joy.

"Yes," I said.  It's the Minnesota girl in me, I'm sure.  I just go a bit crazy-happy in snow.

It is just so incredibly WHITE.

And it's bright.  In fact, when there's snow on the ground, there's so much light in the air you feel like you could breathe it in.  Even at night, you look outside and there's all this endless, generous whiteness, solid and waiting in the darkness.

The weather reports earlier this week hinted at snow in that way that Oregon weather reports do, and you learn to calm down the Minnesota girl inside and tell her it'll probably just be a few flurries, at best, and if there's any accumulation, it'll be up in the hills, not here, so don't get your hopes up.

But on Thursday it started snowing in the morning, enough that many local schools were closed but not enough to call off Linn-Benton Community College, so Ben went to his 8:00 class and Paul dithered about whether or not to call off school.  All those self-tests people were scheduled to take, and HE wouldn't have any trouble getting there and back.

I reminded him of the inexperienced 16-year-olds driving their siblings to school.  He finally made the call to cancel school for the day, and Linn-Benton closed early as well and Ben had a dicey drive home, going 35 or less the whole way.

Friday there was no question about school.  It snowed, and snowed, and snowed, steady, all day.

Normally when it snows in Oregon there's a flurry of snowflakes, and I stand at the window and watch, thinking "Yes, yes, you can do this, little snowflakes, please please, keep coming, be strong," as the flakes finally stop melting when they hit the ground and actually start to cluster in the green grass.  But, far too soon, the falling flakes get slower and bigger until they are like cotton balls, filling the air, and then they stop.  Within a couple of hours the temperature rises and all of the pathetic little stash of snow melts.

Not this time.

It kept coming, fast and steady, with small, insistent flakes, hour after hour.

It covered the roads, the sidewalk, the cars, the grass.  It grew, inch by happy inch.

I found my winter hat in the attic, the moosehide-and-rabbit-fur hat that Mary Kanakakeesic had made for me when we lived in the North, and I went out walking in the snow, the air full of white flakes, falling falling falling.  I turned my face upward and caught snowflakes on my tongue and was entirely happy.
"There is no such thing as bad weather.  Only inadequate clothing."
This is how crazy I am about snow: we had to cancel our ladies' retreat at the coast because of the storm, but I was still happy. Yes, that retreat, the one that I look forward to for months before and chuckle about to myself for weeks after, recalling late-night conversations, and eat amazing food at, and just hang out with friends in an utterly relaxing, rejuvenating weekend at.

If it had to be canceled, snow was the best possible reason, unless it would be my kids or sisters coming to visit, something like that.

So I stayed home and went on walks, tromping happily in my black boots and big coat.  I even made a snow angel.
By Saturday we had about 9 inches of snow and only a few miles north of here they had a lot more.  This is also what happens in Oregon: you go to bed at night and lift the shade to take a last peek out of the window at the snow, and then in the morning you wake up and everything is dripping and the green grass is showing again.

But Saturday morning there was, if anything, more snow on the ground.

Then it started in with this crazy rain.  It wasn't hard or fast, but it stuck to everything.  And it laid a crusty layer of ice all over that lovely snow.

Which put an end to my happy rambles, because the ice wasn't thick enough to support me, and neither was it easy to break through.  So each step was a hard stomp downwards to try to break through without your foot sliding off toward the walnut tree first.

Paul, undaunted, went back and forth to the warehouse during all this.  One time, before he left the house, Jenny asked him to bring a shovel home.  She wanted to do this cool thing she had read about in books: Shoveling the Walk!

So he did, and she did, and I took a picture.
She also had great fun tossing crumbs out onto the snow for the birds, again like people in books.  The birds loved it even though their little feet kept scootching sideways on the ice, which made them nervous but it was just too cute.

 Jenny also brought in an ice-covered branch and quoted dramatically from The Wreck of the Hesperus:
The rattling shrouds all sheathed in ice
with the mast went by the board
Like a vessel of glass she stove and sank
Ho ho! the breakers roared.

Today, Sunday, we stayed home, unheard of for this family on a Sunday morning.  I ventured out and took more pictures and watched bits of ice come showering out of the pine trees like little clinking bits of broken glass.
Now, this evening, the temperature is up to 43 degrees and the snow and ice are going going going, off the sidewalks and roads, sliding down off the roofs, crashing off the trees, steadily slipping away.

But my family is ready for school and normal life, and so am I.  While I am sad to see the snow leave, I feel like my Minnesota heart has been feasting on it for four days and that was far more than I would ever have thought to ask for.

And it's February.  Soon there will be daffodils.  No, I'm not afraid of the weather killing the daffodils, because Oregon daffodils also have Minnesota hearts, and they don't mind the snow at all.

Quote of the Day:
Teenager: Sometimes you have those days. . .today was one of them. . .one of those days when you just sit there thinking, "EVERYONE is an idiot."
Me: More tea?
Teenager: I would LOVE another cup of tea! I declare I feel like I'm trying to drown my sorrows in tea!
[If I did hashtags this would be #drowningmamaindrama]

Monday, February 03, 2014

The Dog

Mrs. Coffey the next-door neighbor called me on New Years Day.  She sounded worried.  "There's a big old dog by our front door," she said.  "I fed him, but Max doesn't want me to get too close.  I don't know where he came from, but he's just sitting out here.  He's old--his muzzle is all white. I'm wondering if there's any chance. . ."

"Yes," I said, "there is.  I'll send Steven down."

This is how animals and people come into my life.  I don't go looking for them.  I don't have room for them in my life, my home, my schedule.

But then they show up, and I know I am supposed to take them in, and the things, the time, and the priorities jostle around and there is enough room after all.

If my mom was a determined rescuer of lost and broken things, her grandson Steven is exponentially more so.  He got in the van and drove the short distance down the road.

We were all remembering Hansie, may he rest in peace.

A while later I heard Steven and the dog having a conversation in the carport, then Steven came inside.  He was smiling.  "I need a bed and stuff for him.  And I'm gonna go buy him some food."

"How did it go, bringing him home?"  I said.  "Did he get in the van like Hansie used to?"

"No.  He wanted to play fetch, so we played fetch all the way home.  The van is still down at Coffeys."

Steven left to buy dog food and I cautiously went out to meet the dog.  He was, as Mrs. Coffey had said, old and dirty and big and brown.  He was also polite, with that air of restraint that indicated a good deal of training and love in his past.

Steven got the food and also a long leash, which he hooked to his collar.  And he checked: no tags.  Steven named him Titan.  On the first nice day, he gave him a bath that improved his matted coat at least a little.

Whose was he, really?  Where had he come from?  Emily remembered seeing a poster on a pole down by the Harrisburg Mennonite church.  I went and checked it out. It was for a lost cat.

Had some evil person intentionally dumped him?  I mulled appropriate punishments for such a person, such as fending for themselves along the creek for a few weeks in the middle of winter, as Titan had apparently done.

Ok, I decided.  We have a dog again.  Not what I was looking for at all, but here he is.  And it seemed meant to be, the way Steven glowed with that radiant happiness reserved for when he rescues lost things.
Steven bought him a bed, the old rugs I had proffered not being good enough.  He also started unhooking Titan from the leash during the day, since he never wandered outside the hedge.

Always, he wanted to play fetch.  He fetched baseballs and sticks and an old hoe handle that he chewed into a mass of tooth-shaped dents like Donna M. used to chew her pencils in school until they were so tooth-marked you didn't want to borrow them, ever.

One Saturday a few weeks after Titan arrived we had a strange storm, with wind and even thunder.  And suddenly, just that quick, Titan was gone, apparently spooked by the thunder.

We called, hunted, hoped, looked, prayed, drove up and down roads, searching.

He has never appeared again.

"I like to think we were just a nice family in the middle of Homeward Bound," said Ben.  But Steven looked defeated and worried.

And that was it.  I really hate stories that stop without really ending.