Evelyn’s Autumn

This essay was in an old folder. Fall reminds me of my grandmother, Nana, and I’m posting this today for the first day of fall. I still have fond memories and miss her.

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In Autumn I always think of Nana Evelyn. Lord, what a grouchy old woman. The entire time of my growing-up years she was always there, in the background. She was never demonstrative, and I was sure she didn’t care for me at all, but every once in a while she would spend time with me. One summer she taught me how to paint. I vividly recall her exceptional patience, as she showed me how to blend the reds and oranges to make fall landscapes, flicking a bit of yellow ‘just so’ to finish the medley of colorful leaves. My mother still has one of my paintings from that summer.

Fall colors just seemed to BE Nana. Anything with rich browns, warm reds and orangy golds would make her smile. She didn’t really come alive until October, a respite from the sweltering heat. Transplanted from Wisconsin, the southern climate sapped her. She never complained, just wilted.

She was different from us. I never once heard her say y’all or ain’t. When she was amused she would draw a deep breath and her eyes would widen as she pushed the air out with a little smile. The rest of us cackled and brayed. She was a tad more subtle than us girls.

She and I finally became friends after I had my third child. I began to understand her a little. I think she began to understand me, too.

During cool weather she would tramp through the woods, and pick up scraps of moss, bark and any other interesting bit of nature that caught her eye. My middle son shared a passion for creation with her, and she loaded him up with hick’ry nuts, pine cones and interesting twigs. She would explain what each thing was. “See” she would say, and he would, because he took time to notice the treasures.

She saved nature magazines and stamps for the kids, and always had a pepsi for them.

Every Christmas we would receive a plastic canvas ornament, or a ceramic angel with a crooked smile painted on by shaking hands. She made crocheted rugs out of plastic bags. My boys thought that was so cool. My sisters thought it was tacky.

Every holiday she remembered to send cards and had some small toy and candy for the boys when we dropped by.

No one seems to care about family holidays anymore. I never thought it was Nana holding it together. She never orchestrated the ordeal. That was left to the rest of us women. She just always showed up with that awful cranberry relish and tuna salad.

I have an unfinished cross-stitch I bought to make for her with two of her favorite things in the design, brown and red cardinals in an autumn setting.

When I’m out shopping this time of year and see something in her colors, I always think, “This is perfect for Nana’s birthday.” (It’s November 16) Then I remember and put it back.

I am glad I was finally able to see the colors of Evelyn’s Autumn.

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Do the seasons trigger special memories for you?

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Cleaning Day

“I should be mad at you for not letting me take the car,” she says. Her brows arch in surprise. “But I’m not.” She smiles. A small, sweet smile. The one I would sew a thousand tiny doll dresses, go on a million trips to the park, and bake a hundred chocolate cupcakes for. A yesterday smile.

She is mine for a few weeks. She told me so before finals. She said, “I will be hanging around the house for five weeks.”

I know that won’t happen. She already has plans. There are friends, events to go to, and a dance workshop.  There is a boy. There is always a boy.

Her schedule fills up so fast I can barely squeeze in her dental appointments, an eye exam, and a doctor visit. And she really should be evaluated for that persistent weakness in her ankle. She twisted it at school months ago, stumbling on the theater stairs.

“You were right, Momma,” she told me then. “I should have tossed those boots.”

The worn down heels made her ankles pronate. After she fell that day, I snatched the boots away and trashed them, sending her to buy new shoes with her ankle wrapped tight.

It’s summer break. Today she stays home. We clean. The guys installed an exhaust fan in my bathroom, and the white powdery dust from new cut holes and whatever else they did invaded the master bedroom. It coats everything.

We wipe with damp cloths. I wonder aloud, more than once, why they didn’t consider covering my work space with plastic sheeting. She shrugs, grown wise in the ways of women, knowing I need to grumble and fuss at the mess, knowing it will not make the least impact on our men.

First years are hard, and Baby Girl isn’t so special she dodged the common freshman bumps along the road. Stress and grief dogged her, on too many days panting hard at her heels, snapping. More than once with blood-drawing teeth.

Yesterday she came upon me, armwrapping me from the side. “I feel content,” she said. Has she ever said that before? I wanted to breathe it in, cradle her contentment like an infant-holding  momma smelling her baby’s hair. She still has that peace about her, end of semester relief not yet morphing into boredom and the fidgety unsettledness. We rest in this moment, the place between.

We wipe with the damp cloths. It’s so dusty. The rags have to be rinsed, over and over, water turning milky.

I go through the neglected stacks of papers. It wouldn’t be such a chore if I had kept up with the endless flotsam of every day life, but I couldn’t. Clutter accumulated without notice until now. The curtains needed washing, as did clothes left too long in untidy, neglected mounds waiting in vain to be folded away. The washer has been going all afternoon into evening. There are a pile of rags and towels in it now, waiting for tomorrow. It’s too late to start a wash now. Rugs are clean, floors mopped, ceiling fan dusted. The room practically echoes with good, simple clean.

I found things that have been lost for months. It’s good to wipe away the dust, to rest in the inbetween, finding contentment in the stripped down rooms of home.

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Baby Dresses

The smell of hot cotton fabric permeates the air. I used to hate ironing. I never could get every crease out. A ready iron in my hands had a tendency to create more problems than I could erase, playing hide and seek with wrinkles until it drove me to despair.

The trick is to iron only cotton fabric, cut into squares . I like the small, well-behaved pieces, the calm way they lay still for me, not like hard to manage shoulder seams that always want to squirm away when you try to hold them flat enough to iron.  Simple, unsewn pieces have no curves and strange corners.

I push down on the fabric, slowly drawing the heat across a multitude of tiny blue flowers. The busier the pattern, the less the wrinkles show. Still, I pass the iron over the field of blooms again and again, until the scent of hot cotton lingers, memories of little girl dresses.

I had other plans for this fabric. I can still picture the dress in my mind, the one I imagined when I chose this fabric. But then life happened. Time got away. The white and blue dress was never sewn.

The iron creaks. I never had the money for a good iron, so I made do. There were irons I coveted after. Maybe if I had owned one of those my ironing would have been more successful. Nevermind.

I whisk my palm across the hot fabric, not resting there, always moving, moving. I am going to put this in the shadowbox as a background for the dress.

I barely finished the dress in time. Last babies. You understand. The final embroidered flower was stitched in place while I was in the hospital bed recovering from my fourth c-section, and she was brand new to this world. Silk roses on a baby dress. What nonsense.

Two of the flowers need repair. I hesitate. Was it really so long ago her hands were small enough to catch the tiny loops and undo all my meticulous work? It was a trial to keep her from unraveling them all. I thread the needle.

White thread and a twist. One, two, three stitches. The thread knots. I take my time and unravel it. When I was younger, I was always in a hurry, leaving snarls and wadded thread behind on the back sides of my stiches, not worried about what didn’t show.  I tease out the tangle and leave a clean, smooth stitch behind.

On her way out she breezes by, her fingers lighting on the dress for two, maybe three, seconds as she walks by. She says, “When I have my baby girl, she will have her picture made in this dress.”

I say nothing, because even though we have said this very same thing a thousand times, I can’t say it today.

Not today.

She opens the door, her hand jiggling the keys impatiently. They hit against each other and jangle.

She has one foot out the door when I say, “Text me when you get there.”

The response is automatic. “I will, Momma.” Her mind is elsewhere, on her to do list.

Before I assemble the dress and backing into the shadowbox, I pass the iron over the blue flowered fabric one more time, breathing in the smell of hot cotton meant for little girl dresses.

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Grownups Need Coasters

My son has been nudging me, poking at me with his behavior and mess.

Every day he leaves a greasy frying pan full of egg bits, knowing he’s breaking the rules. Dirty dishes and clutter on the counter. When he walks through my house he doesn’t walk, he tromps. Almost yelling, he talks too loud. Way too loud. He is getting on my last nerve.

I know what he’s doing. You can count on one hand the weeks he has left in his mother’s house.

It was exciting, buying his own home. Three bedrooms, two baths, and property lines marked by barbed wire. There are woods. He has already found the perfect spot for a someday fort. Not the usual first home.

He has stayed here, at my place, to help with things out of necessity. Meantime, he has saved his money, for the most part. As a momma I confess, anytime saving is brought up I tell him he could save more. He can.

It bewilders him that he can easily afford this home he has signed on.

He decided early what he wanted in a house and this one is it. It’s funny. The location is highly desired, the property in demand, and yet there it sat for six months. Waiting on him. I used to go to Bible study at that house. I told him, “That’s a good house. Plenty of praying’s been going on there for years.”

Everything worked out perfectly. Inspections, papers, appraisal, homeowner checklists, maintenance charts, budget. All that is left is the waiting.

Now he follows me into my room and sits in the chair across from mine, his form settling down into it with an odd deflation.

“It’s a big house,” he says.

“Yes, it is.”

He sighs.

He looks at me with those eyes. They are a bit too shiny. I do not tear up. Mother’s hearts are elastic and hold in things that are of no use at the time. I can mull this over later, take this emotion out of its gilded locked-tight box and hold it close.

quote I do not tear up. Mother's hearts are elastic and hold in things that are of no use at the time. from Grownups Need Coasters Donna Stone

I lift my head and firm my chin. In my packet of mother wisdom, I rummage around, searching for the words he needs to hear on this last leg of our present journey.

The heater kicks on, the warm air whooshing quiet dryness into the space between us.

“You know, your siblings will probably stay with you quite a bit.”

He nods.

I know this is not the same.

He sighs again. It will have to do. His spine bones straighten a bit, taller in the chair.

“I was online reading a list of what I need to buy,” he says, ”and it says I need coasters.” He frowns, “I’m not sure I need coasters.”

By seven months of age he had commandeered my coasters. They ended up in his mouth, gummed, sloppy with baby drool. In his hands, my coasters did more harm to tabletops than good. A favorite thing he liked to do was use them to scrape back and forth on the varnished wood. He would bang, bang, bang them against the furniture. The lovely sound made him pause, cocking his head to one side and crowing before he began again, a wonderful endless game.

A blink later, coasters were mini Frisbees, flying through the living room. You could put an eye out with one of those missiles. Too busy trying to keep him off the counter tops, I had little time to worry about the damage small rings of water could do. The coasters went into a drawer somewhere a long time ago.

We generally use bits of junk mail or magazines that are lying about, maybe a potholder. More than a few times, a clean sock from the laundry pile conveniently located on the couch. Strange how family habits take over and proper niceties are forgotten.

“Yes.” I affirm. “Grownups need coasters.”

“I’ll use a towels,” he says.

I grunt. “You don’t have any towels, either.”

“Yes I do,” he protests, pouting. “I have two.”

I laugh, missing him already, and take today.

We’ll think about coasters tomorrow.

In my packet of mother wisdom, I rummage around, searching for the words he needs to hear on this last leg of our present journey.

 

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Lessons That Matter

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My highschooler comes home from her new part time job, Tuesday through Thursday, at lunchtime. The chatter is non-stop for a while. I love to watch her as she talks.

She works as a pair of extra hands at a private school.

A helper was needed for two special needs kids, teenagers. When the job posting came up, I thought it might be of interest to her. Patience with certain children is one of her attributes, and she is not scared of different. I asked her if she was interested and she said yes.

Our homeschool schedule had to be adjusted, but that is fine. We can well afford to be flexible with the hours.
purseandkeys

Important lessons take precedence, and some things need to be experienced. (Tweet This)

I felt this would be an excellent opportunity for her.

After the first week she says to me, “I’m really surprised by how much I like it.”

“I knew you would.”

I am too smug. She wrinkles her nose at me, then rolls her eyes. I pretend to be affronted, and defend myself.

“Well,” I say, hands on hips and trying not to grin,“at least I didn’t say, ‘Told you so.’ ”

This earns me a skeptical sideways glance and a lifted eyebrow.

“OK,” I admit. “It’s kind of the same thing.”

“Kind of exactly.”

We laugh.

Over the following days I learn that The Wiggles and Minions are her students’ favorites, about words missed and corrected, and many other things.

I listen to it all.

We are in my room after she gets home one day and conversation goes as usual. She pauses for breath, hesitating.

“Do I talk about my kids too much?”

My kids.

I shake my head no. “I want to hear,” I tell her.

She smiles and speaks of how much her boy student likes to color all the pictures in, not just the right number to get the answer, of gentle tugs on her sleeve and sweet laughter finally earned. She isn’t looking at me as she describes the laughter. There is a particular light in her eyes.

When she still rested in the womb I placed my palms on my naked, swollen belly. With fingers splayed out across the roundness, I wept and promised her she could be who she was, not knowing what future would come.

Here it is. I watch an unfolding woman’s soul begin to enter into being.

“My kids,” she said.

Just when I thought she couldn’t get any more beautiful.

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No Small Act: Learning to Be Kind

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I try to focus on the word kindness, to find meaning in the concept. It’s useless. No idea comes.

Instead, a memory, and not one of a kindness given or received. It is one of those that comes unbidden, in early mornings or late at night when the quiet allows things pushed away into the corners to creep out and demand attention.

In the memory, he is eighteen years old and comes to stand beside me. I am in the kitchen, where moms of many spend a lot of time, my hands busy, taking care, doing one of the small tasks that make up my one best job.

“I have to tell you something,” he says.

His usual method of communication is to launch into loud and long dialog while his audience either keeps up or watches the blur. This preamble means it is serious. He often does this with things that bother him, his expression morose and tragic. Usually the situation is not. He shifts his feet. I finish what I am doing and give my absolute attention to him. He takes a deep breath and blows it out in a hard, fast exhalation.

He looks so very small, suddenly. This is not guilt, or a request, or a confession.  It is something else. He is troubled and sad.

“A long time ago,” he says, “when we were at church, a lady said something really mean.”

This is about his little brother.

A tingle starts between my shoulder blades as the muscles tense, but so many things are open to interpretation. I try to relax. I tip my head to the side and nod for him to continue.

He tells me the words she said and the words, though spoken years ago, are still sharp. “Shouldn’t be allowed” and “normal” and more. They buzz in my ears too loud and hurt, hurt, hurt. The air and sun of seasons gone by have not diluted their terrible power to cut.

The greatest danger of motherhood is the inevitable vulnerability of her tender, unguardable heart.

He stands there, with little boy eyes and slumped shoulders. He has borne this burden a long time, taking the arrows for his brother, for me. The man and the boy are all mixed up. Here is my child, made a man too young, now a grown man with a five o’clock shadow at eleven in the morning, still carrying manly boyhood wounds.

Why would a person say such things to a child about his younger sibling? I want to bind my boy’s hurts, to gather up the pieces of his grief and take them away, to cry, to scream, to use my own words against the one who has injured him so. Instead, I am quietly still. Tight anger is my shield against overwhelming helplessness.

He will not tell me who. He says he does not really know her. He doesn’t remember. But his eyes shift. Still taking arrows, he stands on this with fists clenched tightly around small secrets. There is nowhere for my Momma Bear fierceness to go.

I offer cliché-filled wisdom and rub wide circles on his broad back, pat his arm. We talk. I fix him a glass of sweet tea, give every bit of motherly comfort I can scrape up.

Life goes on and I try to forget about it, to disregard the mutterings of a mean-spirited woman and the scars left behind. I say to myself, “This is her problem, not mine,” and I shake my head at people like that.

Yet it haunts me. The pain in his eyes, and the unspeakable words still there, swirling about in the air and in my mind, never fading.

Kindness. This was not kindness. Then, out of the salt, I know what to do.

I pray for her.

I am surprised by the way it washes me, this act of kindness. And in this, I discover an even greater act of kindness, one toward myself. In one step of faith and obedience towards forgiving the unforgivable, the impossible happens.

quote 'with one small step of faith ...towards forgiving...the impossible happens." donnajostone.com

In one step of faith and obedience towards forgiving the unforgivable, the impossible happens. (Tweet This)

Healing and freedom begin to take root.

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Encouragement for Mothers: Diving In

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You are ready.

It will be glorious or horrible and, most definitely, it will be messy. There will be sunshine and roses, rain and thorns.

This is what will happen.

The washer will break.

Flu will haunt your house like a hungry stray cat you accidentally fed.

Some days you will forget what blue sky looks like, but on other days you will be able to taste it when your mouth opens wide and lets laughter fly free.

There will be tears.

You will be expected to sweep up sharp broken pieces even while your bare soles are smudged with blood. You will never be enough and always be enough.

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You will never be enough and always be enough. (Tweet This)

It will be scary hard. You will be forced to plant your feet, take ownership of your failures, and stare them down. You will fall short but you will be forgiven. You will learn to forgive yourself.

You will be pulled and stretched until every bit of your bounce is gone. Flexibility will be your middle name. On certain days you will wonder if the shape of deflated balloon is the permanent price your spirit will pay. But then, when you develop eyes to see the magnificence of stretch marks, the vision will leave you without air.

You will breathe beauty.

You will take a small hand in yours. If you don’t let go you will both grow into your feet, getting big enough to walk in the land of giants. You will begin to understand that perfection does not dwell in the world of mortals. Yet in times to come, a backward glance will reveal the perfect, unerring, working out of the distance you have already traveled.

This is what will happen.

You don’t get it all. You get the prize.

You don’t get it all. You get the prize. (Tweet This)

Your sisters are all lined up along the edge. They will help you if you are wise enough to understand that you are not alone.

Dive deep.

You will be fine; more than fine. How do I know? Look at you, sister-friend, momma-lady, baby-girl.

You’re already treading water.

 

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Beautifully Fragile

I feel very fragile lately.

I have been fragile for years, but it was a moment of clarity and surprise when a medical assistant shook her head and said so to me.

You’re so fragile.

The idea was foreign to me. I was the girl who dug trenches in hard, red clay to bury water lines, planted gardens and carried heavy loads. The girl who bathed dogs and people and wiped up vomit from the floor.

When she told me I was fragile, I laughed.

Who has time for that?

Now I have time. I’m not a girl anymore.

It’s a strange place, but not bad. Tears dampen my cheeks almost daily. But what days they are.

My daughter comes in from a trip to the movies.

“Bree asked me if I was a daddy’s girl.” She bites her bottom lip, trying to hide a smile. She looks at me from underneath her lashes but I can see her eyes, the way they shine. “I told her yes.”

And here I go again, wiping my eyes with a tissue.

My middle boy, the one who drives me crazy, the one too much like me and too much like his father, says to his little brother who is now a man, “I am proud of you.”

Their conversation continues to flow around me while I am stayed, becalmed in the current, bathing in that singular moment, hardly able to breathe and not really caring if I ever do again.

I cry at the note taped to the television, “Watch anime with me,” and at the memory of how he always laughs at my lame joke about anime and anemone. An invitation into his world is a prize. This is not a carnival prize, but a gold medal prize to be carried and worn over the heart.

My husband comes in, weary from work but too stubborn to admit it. He stands, reading the endless to-do list on the refrigerator. When I see him with the youngest man-child and get a glimpse of the crazy, terrorizing love that comes with being this boy’s father, the wild rawness, the manliness of it, moves me.

Against such things it’s hard to keep fists clenched tight around the small threads of bitterness gathered up over days and years. Maybe that is where the salt for all these tears was being held, waiting for release.

There are always ready tears for my eldest, who does nothing to make me cry, and so I do. What can I say? Mothers understand.

It took a long time to get here. I always, always knew it was all worth it. All the books and articles and wise women said so.

So the fragile girl laughed and wiped up vomit and held tight to little (and not-so-little) hands whether they wanted it or not. She waited by the phone and did not yell. She saved her keening for another day and stood as tall as five foot something allowed. Love made her strong.

quote"who knew being so overwhelmingly, beautifully fragile would come from being so strong" doonastone.me

Who knew being overwhelmingly, beautifully fragile would come from being so strong? (Tweet This)

It’s not a bad place. Not a bad place at all.

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On Raising Conversational Men

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Talk to him.

Never answer “Why?” with “Because I said so.” Explain yourself in concise words. If you don’t know, admit it. If it’s the best you can do, say so. If you are wrong, apologize. (Tweet This)

Talk about everything. Talk about things in the news, and things he likes and things he reads about, and things his friends say and do and about his dreams and yours.

Listen as much as you speak. Never laugh at his opinions. Let him keep his voice. Do not give yours away either, but temper it when he needs you to. Always flavor the conversation with generous doses of love.

Talk about hard things. Those things you’d rather not even think about but expect a man to know. He will not find his way alone, or maybe he will. Maybe he will take another, darker path than the one he should and cause your heart to shatter. The harder it is to speak of it, the more you need to speak of it. Do not wait for him to bring it up. Speak and wait and listen. Let him be quiet when he needs to be. Allow him time to process. Give him room and space to think, so his thoughts can find him.

Then bring it up again.

Teach him to respect all people. Teach him that allowing others to have an opinion does not invalidate his own deeply held convictions.

In time, reveal your fear and your anger. He needs to know you are you and he is himself. He needs to know how to speak, listen, and think. So do you. Let him see your cracked places, without breaking him. A grown up man-child can handle your unwatered, passionate views.

Talk to him often, and rest in the words, and in the inbetween.

Do this.

If you are blessed, one day he will come up beside you and, without thought, steady you with his words, spoken and silent. And you will weep at the kindness of your son.

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Audacious Faith

The heat comes early. A Bible lay on the bench, out of reach unless I get up. I close my eyes against the slant of light, and against the air stirred by the blades of the ceiling fan. I lean my head back, resting it on the cushy part of my chair.

I don’t hear You like I used to.

Yes, you do. You just don’t trust Me like you used to.

My eyes pop open. It’s true.

Life has always been bloody and hard. Still I rarely wavered. Hope held me captive. People who know have seen the warring places I’ve come through, they see my hard things. I see them. Everyone sees them. The worst, the very worst, happened then, not now. And truly, there is peace and healing and even glory, glory, glory.

I have a testimony.

So why is today such a battle? Why do I wrestle with what should be Small Things? (Tweet This)

Because one day a life-smack blindsided me. I came to the cruel understanding that Things Weren’t The Way I Thought They Were and They Never Would Be. Deep things. Things I didn’t know were so dear until they were ripped from the side of my heart. Non-recoverable things.

Bereft, like a child whose mother never came, I watched everyone else go home while the sun died.

It was a rude discovery, to find I’d been on training wheels the entire journey thus far. It rankled. Still does. There I had been, thinking I had A Large Faith (they told me I did) when, in reality, I had never been allowed to crash too hard. It had only felt that way because my breath came fast and my sweat stank and my strong thigh muscles burned, burned, burned and I got plenty of bruises.

You can break both ways, but there’s a difference between being caught and being picked up out of the dirt. (Tweet This)

Distracted by my wounds, I didn’t realize I’d lost more than my balance.

My faith has not been of the bold sort lately. More often it is the grasping kind that clings, attempting to fold itself into His side. A redeeming failure, but there is something more.

Do I want to have an Audacious Faith?

Sometimes, I wish I were still ignorant. Sometimes, when people talk to me, wise words come out of my mouth and I wish I could snatch them back.

There’s nothing to be done for it. He is a Tenacious God.

I put my face to the wind.

morning

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