Monday, July 17, 2017

When Emmylou Danced

Emmy dancing with her father Mark

Carolyn could hardly contain her excitement when she found out that she was going to have a little girl.  She was already the mother of two sons, but to add a daughter to the mix would make her family just about perfect, complete.

I'll never forget this particular baby shower.  The mother- to- be wanted everything to be just right, perfect. And it was. Beautiful handmade ceramic teddy bears graced each table as centerpieces and a teddy bear cake held a place of honor among the other desserts with blocks of confection framing each letter of her name, Emmylou.  No little girl would ever be more welcomed than this one.

I remember visiting the hospital not too many hours after she was born. I was anxious to get a peek at this little one who had been anticipated with such longing.  She was only hours old and I noticed nothing unusual, only that she looked like a member of the family with her light complexion and reddish blond hair.  But it wasn't terribly long before Carolyn and her husband Mark received the news that there was something not quite right with their new little Emmylou.  In fact, they would soon be confronted with the reality of raising a child with multiple needs who would require constant care, probably for the rest of her life.

Over the next few years this little girl would spend thousands of hours in hospitals,  most specializing specifically in pediatric care for severely ill children.  For a period of time she was experiencing hundreds of seizures a day and Carolyn and Mark would spend days, sometimes weeks, staying at Ronald McDonald Houses and other such facilities, trying to find some kind of help or relief for their little girl. Oftentimes on her own, Carolyn would simply bed down in Emmy's hospital room for several days on end, keeping protective watch over the child that she had longed for and fiercely loves.

Several weeks ago we received an invitation to attend a special event in Emmy's honor on her fourth birthday.  It was entitled Emmylou has met her Prince,  a gathering to celebrate "Emmy's walk down the aisle with her Prince Charming."  So on that Sunday afternoon in early June we drove to the little church where it was to be held.  As we entered the building it struck me that in the same way Carolyn had fussed over every detail in anticipation of her new daughter four years earlier, she had done the same in this place, in another church hall.  But rather than teddy bears, this time the adornments were of those things that a little princess would desire such as butterflies and tea cups and glass slippers. Yes, now all that was needed was a prince.   

Princess Emmylou
Emmylou was dressed in a beautiful blue princess gown with exquisite slippers to match.  All eyes were on her as her God-ordained parents and two brothers stood before all those in attendance and spoke of their love and even more importantly, their never-ending commitment to her. And then as the music began once again,  her father picked her up in his arms, and holding her close, danced with her for several moments, eventually passing her on to her mother who danced with her until the music stopped.  The room was quiet, no doubt moved at the intimacy of that moment, just as I was.        

Emmy dancing with her mother

This was a celebration of a little girl who has lived four very hard years, but in the process has touched the lives of those around her.  I saw it in the tenderness on her brothers' faces and in the arms of her mother and father.  And as difficult as it has been and will continue to be, she has completed this family.  She has in deed found her prince.  He resides in the heart of each of them.   

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Splash Pad

It was late Sunday afternoon and we had just returned home after a full day.  Sundays are usually like that in the life of a pastor and Larry was ready to settle in for the evening and already had the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle spread out on the dining room table.  I'm not into puzzles so Rudy the dog and I decided to take a walk around the park that sits just across the way not far from the parsonage.  

The park was quiet and I noticed the sky was turning a bit darker as I walked the trail.  Rain clouds were slowly rolling in.  But I could also see high plumes of water coming from the splash pad on the other side of the field.  Someone was sticking it out til the last moment.

As I drew closer I heard the voices of children calling my name and then, "Where's Pastor Larry?"  It was the Nichols children,  Sierra, Duane, Jordan and Joyce.  They come to church every week with their grandparents and are some of our favorites.  I explained that he was back at the house working on a puzzle but pulled the cell phone out of my back pocket and dialed. It only rang a couple of times. "The Nichols kids are here at the splash pad.  They're asking about you."  He didn't hesitate, not even for his beloved pastime of puzzle making.  "I'll be right there."  And he hung up.

There are four entrances into the Park and ours is at the farther end from the splash pad.  "What's taking him so long?" one of the boys asked.  It was starting to sprinkle.  I tried calling again but there was no answer this time.   And then they saw him.  He had changed from his dress shirt, tie and slacks into shorts and an Hawaiian-style shirt. And he was barreling as quickly as he could come down the middle of the field.  "Pastor Larry, it's Pastor Larry!"

Somehow he ended in the midst of all four of them on the splash pad as a plume of water shot skyward.  They were delighted.  Pastor Larry had gotten all wet.  For them.  I asked him later as we walked home why he hadn't thought to bring a towel.  Turns out he hadn't really meant to get wet but when he got there, well, that just seemed like the right thing to do.   

Larry with the Nichols kids at the splash pad


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Walking The Park

Rudy getting ready to take me on a walk at the park

There's a park just across the way from the parsonage with a half-mile walking track that the city put in a few years ago.  Rudy the dog takes me for walks over there, and I oblige him as often as I can. There's a large playing field for lacrosse matches on the weekends, a nice playground for the kids, a basketball court and a splash pad that opens when the weather turns warm. Rudy loves it, stopping every ten yards or so to smell the grass and/or to leave his mark, reminding the other canines that frequent the place that this is as much his as it is theirs.

And then there are the other dogs

And then there are those other dogs who from their backyards peer at us and bark for attention through their fenced-in enclosures.  We have our favorites, well at least I do.  Rudy is accustomed to the din by now and pretty much ignores them all.  That is except for Maggie.  She's a pretty little Lhasa Apso who often wears pink bows in her hair and is meticulously groomed.  Her fence is right close to the track and if she's outside, she'll run to greet us in her rather high-pitched squeaky voice. In fact, until I learned her name, that's what she went by, Squeaky.  My other favorite is the big hound dog whose house sits back in the corner beyond a popular shade tree.  He stands on his back legs, his front legs hanging over the fence and bays away.  I think his people call him Cash. And there are the dachshunds, the golden retrievers, the miniature collie, the Labrador retriever and others, most of questionable ancestry. My heart always feels a bit lighter after a lap around the park, especially if the dogs are out, calling out their greetings to both of us as we pass by.

Then there are the flowers.  One section in particular is especially beautiful right now.  The bushes overhang the fence of a property owned for many years by a school teacher.  She's gone now, but I can't help but think of the visual gift she left to that young family who bought her home and to those of us who walk by that section, taking in the beauty and breathing in the fragrance of those blossoms. They naturally call me to reflect on my own life, challenging me to ask myself what kind of gifts I intend to leave behind.     

And there are of course the people.  Sometimes the park is quiet, most likely during a last minute walk around at dusk or before a threatening rain.  But Spring is enticing and the sounds of basketballs on concrete and the familiar squeak of swings is once again sounding across the field of grass.  And there is the familiar question, "Can I pet your dog?" and the reassurance that Rudy is just fine with that.  I've noticed that most people in a park are not in a hurry, that they don't mind striking up a conversation. They're not so guarded or seemingly pressed for time while relaxing on a bench or watching their child go down a slide for the umpteenth time.   Some of my best encounters with neighbors have been at the park, and I try not to miss opportunities to connect with others I might not meet otherwise, even if it's but for a moment.  You just never know where it might lead.

Travis is my part-time neighbor and part-time walking buddy.  He's nine years old, almost ten, and is with his dad on weekends and Tuesdays. He likes the park and likes Rudy.  During our times together we're getting to know each other. He tells me about school and talks about his two dogs and his temperamental cat.  The other day he asked me what kind of movies I like and we talked all the way around the track about that one thing.  "You want to go again?" he asked me. And we did.

The sun has come out after a bit of rain so I think I'll grab Rudy's leash and head to the park.  He's prancing at the door because he knows exactly where we're going.  It's a Tuesday but knowing him, he will barely slow down long enough to let Travis catch up with us while he throws on his jacket. After all, it's the park, his park. And that's just the way it is.  

The park 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Waiting for Cinderella

Making a special memory with my granddaughter Rylee at Cinderella 
Rylee turned six this month so for her birthday I took her to see a performance of Roger's and Hammerstein's Cinderella.  I wanted to make a special memory with her and thought this would be the perfect venue.  I grew up loving musicals.  I didn't go to the movie theater a lot but both times The Sound of Music came to town my mom and I were there.  I bought the piano music and played it so much that eventually I could play and sing the score without hardly even looking at the book. And there were others like Carousel, Oklahoma, The Music Man,  The King and I, State Fair, Oliver, Fiddler on the Roof. If it had music and dancing I was hooked.  I loved and knew them all.

Cinderella made its appearance on our small black and white television set in the corner of the living room in 1965.  I don't remember who all watched that night, but I know there were two girls, sisters, who sat entirely transfixed to that screen and dreaded the moment when the credits would roll.  And when they did, my eight-year old sister began to cry.  It was over.  Long before video cassette recorders came along, before instant gratification was part of our vocabulary, it was understood that there would be a long wait before seeing one's favorite movies again. But she had truly loved this one and the thought of waiting an entire year broke her heart.

In the meantime I bought the piano music and would play while Dawn sang along.  And when we knew all the songs by heart, whether it was on a vacation trip or just a short drive up the seven-mile hill to my grandmother's, we would sing them all.  Then each year as our anticipation grew for the next showing, we would count down the days, excitement building. And we would watch as if it were the first time, and afterwards Dawn would cry again at the thought of having to once again wait another year.   

Cinderella would broadcast eight more times, always in February.  I was thirteen years old that first year and in college a thousand miles from home when it finished its long, successful run. I'm sure she watched it every single time.  I wonder if she missed my being with her  those last few years.  I hope so.

Rylee all dressed up for our evening together
So back to Rylee and our evening together.  I had asked the box office for the best seats of those remaining where a little girl of six could best see.  The night wasn't important I told the girl at the window,  so she gave me two for Wednesday night towards the front of the balcony.  We sat the third row back and the seats were perfect.  And as the music played I naturally thought of that sister who lives a good distance away, whom I see so little of and wished she could be a part of all this.  After all, she loves this story as much as I do.

That's why today as I sat to write about her, missing her as I do, I was curious to know a bit more about the Cinderella that connected us all the more deeply as children and as sisters.  When I saw the date of the first broadcast I could hardly believe it:  February 22, 1965, fifty-two years ago to the very day.   

The same date connecting the past with the present