Friday, December 29, 2017

Light in the Village

It was late evening when the knock came at the door of the mission house.  A couple of the firemen whose station was just on the other side of the wall from where we lived stood there.   A woman who lived in a village some distance from the city needed a ride home and the ambulance was down.  They wondered if  Larry would be willing to drive her there in our van.  We had always been discouraged from driving outside the city after dark.  Unseen objects in the road were known to cause serious accidents, and cows and other livestock, often seen meandering across the highways during the day, were virtually impossible to see at night.  But the firemen spoke somberly explaining the circumstances and why it was necessary to make the trip immediately.  A few minutes later I heard the gate open and the sound of our vehicle backing out onto the street.   

This was the second trip the young mother had made to the Hospital Atlantida in the last few days. Her young daughter had become very sick and she had traveled to La Ceiba seeking help.  But for whatever reason the little girl had been sent home and her condition had worsened. Once again the woman returned to the hospital with the child, but she had come too late.  The little girl died after being admitted, and it was imperative that the two be returned to their village as soon as possible.

Kneeling on the floor of the van, the grieving mother wailed the entire drive back to her village.  Her three-year-old daughter lay behind her wrapped in the heavy, butcher-like paper that was used in the hospital morgue.  That's where Larry found her, sitting there alone beside the body of her little girl.

When Larry turned off the highway, she rose as he approached the first house. Those within heard the sound of the approaching vehicle and immediately exited and descended upon the young woman as she fell into their arms.  They would have had no way of knowing what the outcome of the second trip back to the hospital would be, but there was no question now.  Immediately the word spread and amidst the cries and sobs of family and friends, preparations were already being made.  Tomorrow the little girl would be laid to rest.

The family was poor, their house small.  But at the end of a long path was a much larger house, big enough to accommodate the village for such an occasion as this.  Within a matter of minutes word came back that they were ready and waiting to lay out the body of the child for the wake.  

Somehow Larry was the one who ended up leading the procession that night.   He would later recount that he couldn't ever remember being in a darker place.  There were no streetlights or warm welcoming porch lights to make the journey down that unfamiliar path any easier, and he was concerned that he not veer off that winding track or lose his footing.  In his arms he held the little girl who not too many hours earlier had been warm with life, reminding him of our youngest daughter back home, not all that much older than the child he now carried. 

And then he saw the light, an oil lamp that had been set out in the distance at the far end of the path.  Relieved and grateful, he shifted his gaze from the unfamiliar surroundings and focused solely on that beacon that lay ahead, drawing him and those who followed from behind.  The way didn't seem quite so dark now, that one lamp penetrating the blackness of the night just enough to keep him and the others from stumbling on the way to their destination.

The house sat expectantly as Larry carried the child through the door and laid her down.  There were others who would take over now, his part in all of this was finished.  He headed back up the trail towards the van, his arms empty, the light now at his back.  Morning would break soon enough and the oil lamp would be snuffed out until night descended once again.

I imagine Larry drove home on that black highway with the beams turned up high.  It was after all a very dark night.  But inside there was light, and it had been present all along.  It was visible when those firemen came to the door of the mission house and at the moment a grieving mother was rescued from that morgue and reunited with her family.  And the light was there when a stranger carried her child through the shadows along that uneven path.  Even before the oil lamp was lit, light had come to that village.

"You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."  Matthew 5:14-16 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Soaring at Harris Hill

The Entrance to the top of Harris Hill
I hadn't really thought much about taking a ride in a glider until last year right around my birthday.  Larry pastors just 15 minutes or so from Harris Hill which carries the honor and distinction of being the Soaring Capital of America.  From April through October one can see sailplanes soaring high above Big Flats, a river valley aptly named because of the large expanse of flatland that sits amidst the hills of the Southern Tier.  We have visited Harris Hill several times, sometimes sharing a bench at the overlook that gives way to a splendid view of the valley below.  As beautiful as the setting is, however, the best part is catching it when the sailplanes are flying, coming off the cliff to our backs and returning by the same way, their white wings splendid against the blue sky.  

One of the sailplanes of Harris Hill  
I've always been intrigued with gliders.  My dad was part of the 82nd's Glider Infantry in World War II.  He would say very little about his experiences when I was growing up, but I knew enough to know that he'd flown over enemy lines more than once during his time in Europe.  It wasn't until I was grown and married that he began to open up and talk about those harrowing flights into Normandy and Holland.  The thought of a glider large enough to hold more than a dozen men, all their weaponry and a jeep piqued my interest all the more.  The day would come when I would visit the D-Day Museum in New Orleans and see one for myself.

The National Soaring Museum is also there on top of Harris Hill, an aviation museum devoted exclusively to the history of  gliders.   It carries a number of the craft,  the largest being the Waco glider, the kind that carried my father into enemy territory.   My sisters tell me that he had visited the museum on Harris Hill at some point.  I wonder how he felt when he entered the fuselage and sat on one of the benches.  Did it bring him back to that day in June of 1944 when as a 21 year old he flew over the English Channel into Normandy?  Or did it bring to mind that three-hour flight over the channel into Holland, the heat inside the canvas cavern making him sick to his stomach and hearing the pop, pop, pop of the flak as it hit the fabric.  I wonder.      

The Waco combat glider of WWII  
I'm not sure exactly when I made the decision to take the ride.  I just know that one day not too long ago I knew that it was time.  In part it was for me, a longing to experience those quiet, still moments below the clouds and above the hills, being carried by the wind.  But it was also in part for my dad, to honor him and to let him know, even though he's no longer here, that I haven't forgotten.  I couldn't think of a better place to do that than at Harris Hill. 

So last Saturday afternoon I boarded a Schleicher ASK-21 sailplane.  I'd been surprised with a gift certificate for my birthday just two days earlier, and even though it's good for two years, I wasn't putting this off.  I'd been planning on this for a year and I was going up.  Andy, my pilot, had me climb into the front of the two-seater,  insisting that I'd not miss anything from that vantage point, and after explaining a bit of what to expect, the tow plane revved up.  "We were off!"

The tow plane pulling us
I can't adequately put into words how I felt at the moment the glider lifted off from that cliff.  I immediately felt buoyant, and even with the tow plane pulling us for several minutes, the sensation was different from anything I've ever experienced in an airplane, even in the smaller ones that we used to fly to the islands.  The view was extraordinary, my favorite autumn colors showing off as usual.  I felt elation and with that came joy.  It was something I had wanted to do and I did it.  And then it was over, too soon.  There was so much to see and I couldn't take it all in.  Perhaps I'll do it again someday.       

Afterwards we went through the museum and spent several minutes at the Waco combat glider from the war.  We climbed in and sat on the benches and thought as best we could what it must have been like to be a young soldier riding in that thing, knowing that there was about a fifty-fifty chance of surviving the trip. My dad told me once they were dubbed flying coffins and unlike what I had flown earlier that day, unbelievably noisy.  With no insulation the sounds of the elements, the roar of the tow plane's engines and the rat-a-tat of enemy fire did not make for a pleasant flight, so unlike what I had experienced on that sleek, beautiful bird-like craft just an hour earlier. 

Larry standing outside the Waco
We left the museum and then parked at the foot of the drive leading up to the field and stood for a few minutes at the overlook, gazing down into the valley below. Beautiful. Early October in New York is magnificent, my favorite time of the year here.  As lovely as it was, however, I didn't feel quite the same as I would have if I had taken in the view from that spot just a few hours earlier.  I was now spoiled.  I had seen it from a much higher place, giving me a tiny glimpse of how the Creator might just see all of this.  It changed me a bit, grew me some too. Soaring will do that.                                          
Standing outside the glider with Larry after my ride

Friday, September 29, 2017

Broken Voices (Living with Spasmodic Dysphonia)

It was an early Saturday morning in late March of 2008 that Larry and I traveled from our home in Liberty, South Carolina and headed up to Charlotte, North Carolina, just a couple hours to the north of us.  I would be attending a symposium with a hundred or so others who had come from all over the country.  As I entered the hotel lobby later that morning I immediately noticed how diverse our group was.  It seemed pretty evenly divided between men and women, but our ages seemed to span a good fifty years between the youngest to the oldest.   And as for a dress code, there didn't seem to be one. Some wore jeans and t-shirts while others opted to dress up for the occasion.  So at first glance it didn't seem like we'd have all that much in common. That is,  until we began to talk.     

A couple years earlier I had noticed something weird going on with my voice.  Right after Christmas I had what I thought was a simple case of laryngitis, possibly brought on by allergies.  Several weeks later, however, the laryngitis had developed into a persistent rasp.  I scheduled a long overdue physical which revealed absolutely nothing.  That doctor referred me to an unimpressive throat specialist who checked for nodules, found nothing, gave me some pills to try and sent me on my way.  The problem progressed.  It was harder to get words out now, as if a fist had clamped itself around my throat.  I was still teaching music and directing our church's worship and drama ministries, but I didn't know how much longer I could keep it up.  I pleaded with God to give me a name to this thing that was disrupting my life.  

One afternoon, frustrated and desperate, I sat at the computer and went on a Google search.  I typed in everything I could think of related to the throat, looking for any clue that might solve the mystery behind my troubled voice.  Then suddenly, there on the monitor, was a list of symptoms that described perfectly what I had been experiencing over the past several months.  And it had a name. 

It's called Spasmodic Dysphonia.  My brain was sending the wrong signals to the muscles controlling my vocal cords, therefore making it difficult to speak.  Initially I felt relief. At least I now knew what I was fighting and was ready to do whatever was necessary to get my voice back.  I couldn't wait to be free from the vice-like grip that had taken hold of my voice box.  

I opted for what I thought to be the most reliable treatment available, Botox injections every few months into those out-of-control muscles to calm them down.  And they worked for awhile.  Well, sometimes.  I had good weeks, bad weeks, good days, bad days.  During the good times I was grateful that it was possible to talk without getting tired or feeling socially awkward.  I cherished those days when I could call my family or make an appointment over the phone. But there were also those times when it was easier to avoid people, hoping and praying that I wouldn't have to talk to anyone, uncomfortable at the curious looks.  At those times my voice felt like it was in a prison.  

When I traveled to North Carolina that morning my voice was doing quite well.  I was having pretty good results with my new doctor in Atlanta, in fact my speaking voice was the strongest it had been since all this had started.  But I was well aware that this was temporary.  My vocal cords would start doing their own thing again and that's why I needed to be here, to meet and learn from others who had been through this.  

As I approached the registration table, there was a cacophony of voices like I'd never heard before.  Some seemed close to normal, possibly benefiting from injections or some other procedure.  But others sounded strangled, struggling to be understood or even heard, some of them much worse off than I had ever been.  The lobby seemed like a tiny universe with its own peculiar inhabitants speaking an odd language.  Except that I was a part of this little microcosm and immediately felt a connection with these people.  Though they were strangers to me, we shared something in common. We all had broken voices.   

Before the day was over I would hear story after story of people whose lives had been interrupted just as mine had been.  There was Leta.  I had met her once before in my doctor's office in Atlanta.  Tall and striking, she had a very successful career in sales before her voice broke.  Warm and vivacious with a vibrant faith, she talked about the challenges she faced daily in her line of work.  There was the young missionary wife who had plans to go to Russia with her husband before their mission board advised them to consider another field where the people wouldn't be expecting physical perfection.  I still hear the frustration expressed by the recently diagnosed police captain who feared that his newly broken voice would be interpreted as weakness and cause a loss of respect among those under his charge.   

But all those I met were fighters.  Like the pastor who continued to preach each week by whispering his messages into a microphone and the nationally syndicated radio host who with treatments was able to continue on with her career and the teacher who showed up everyday in her classroom with an amplification device to be better heard and understood by her students. 

When we climbed back into our car that evening for the ride home I knew that God had prearranged this day for me.  During one of the sessions I had asked the question that had been most on my mind.  I had been grieving my loss for awhile and wanted to know, needed to know,  if things would ever feel normal again. Several in that room immediately rose to tell their stories, some of whom had lived with broken voices for a long time.  Unequivocally the message was the same.  Things will get better.  And I would make it.   

Things did get better.  I still faced challenges, of course, and at times became discouraged.  One of my next treatments didn't work, and because of insurance issues, I went well over a year unable to get any financial help.  But I was now better able to handle the setbacks and disappointments in part through the examples of those whose resilience and courage had so inspired me.  Their voices might have been broken, but their spirits were not.  They were the ones who said I would make it.  They'd be pleased to know they were right.  

Friday, September 22, 2017

Rex's Journey

Larry and me with Rex a year ago 
My brother Rex turns 65 today.  Five years ago on his 60th we traveled to Olean and helped celebrate that milestone in a pavilion at the same park where we both learned to swim when we were kids.  My mom would have us walk up to the fire hall during the early mornings of summer, and from there we were bussed to the Olean pool just a few miles away.  I don't remember how many summers we took swimming lessons there, but we both became pretty good in the water.  That pool was eventually torn down and replaced with another.  I read that the rec center where the newer pool sits had to be closed this past summer for an overhaul. Just a reminder that time takes a toll on things.

Time has taken a toll on my brother as well.  Diagnosed with Parkinson's a little over 10 years ago, the disease has little by little worn my very active brother down. As time passed, leaving for work extra early in the morning and staying late wasn't enough.  His body was simply refusing to cooperate and he couldn't keep up on the workload.  So three years ago he did what he had tried with all his strength not to do.  He resigned his position and applied for early retirement.

The first year wasn't too bad.  He was still relatively active and able to climb the stairs to his room and shower on his own in the upstairs bathroom. But life is unpredictable and many times cruel.  A stroke right before Easter in the early spring punched him in the gut and knocked him to the ground. They called it a minor stroke, but coupled with the Parkinson's, it drastically changed his life.  A few weeks in a nursing home, trying to get his strength back, was probably the low point for him.  He was eventually released to return home, but life was not the same. The upstairs bedroom had been replaced with a hospital bed off the dining room and the shower was used only on the days when he was strong enough to climb the steps with help.

But neither has life been all bad.  In adversity, good things can happen as well.  A well-timed gift can come out of nowhere.  A long-time St. Bonaventure basketball fan, the university called, offered him season passes and a spot just beyond the court for his wheelchair with a good view so he wouldn't miss a thing.  For years he has been known as the Flag Man, cheering on the international students by waving their flags when they were on the court. The school now in turn expressed their appreciation for what he had meant to them, and they wanted him there. As far as I know, he made all the games, even when he didn't think he could.    

An article on "Flag Man" Rex Marvin,  from the Olean Times Herald in 2007
The two of us didn't always get along growing up.  It had nothing to do with age, we're only eleven and a half months apart.  But our interests and temperaments are pretty different.  Music was my thing, but he'd complain when I'd break out into song on a car trip which I did a lot.  I was the oldest and thus the responsible child and perhaps a bit bossy. He had more of a tendency to get into trouble, like almost burning the garage down when we were kids.  He liked matches and fireworks almost as much as I liked to sing.  But as time passed and we both began to grow beyond ourselves, I began to really like this brother who loved loud noises and Yankees baseball and amusement parks.         

One year minus 13 days between us 
Whereas time wears away at these bodies, it can do the very opposite within the spirit of a person. Perhaps it's more the awareness of the fragility of life as we age, or as we see those that we care about slowly fading before our eyes, that we finally get it.  For me, it was also the example of my sister, a schoolteacher with time off in the summer, who drove up from Maryland and spent two weeks spending time with, caring for and serving her brother during an especially difficult time.  He ended up being admitted to the hospital. 

A couple of days later we were sitting in his room with him. He was frustrated, close to tears, wondering what had caused this sudden spiral downwards, leaving him unable to do anything at all for himself. Just a few days earlier he had been on an upswing, even feeding himself without the uncontrollable shaking that comes with the disease. And now he couldn't even hold a simple utensil that lay beside the supper that sat on his hospital tray.  With that I picked up the silverware and began to feed him, one spoonful at a time, while with each bite I talked to him and encouraged him to continue on the best he could in this journey called Parkinson's.  And when he was finished I held him and prayed over him as he wept on my shoulder.

I hear that Rex is on the upswing once again.  He's getting around better, is feeding himself again, sleeping better and feeling more positive about things.  I'm glad the road's a bit smoother for him right now.  It's a nice place to be and I hope he's there for a long while.  Happy Birthday Rex. Continue on with your journey.  You're doing just fine.  
Rex's birthday present--He can get upstairs on his own!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The No Hum Drum

One of the PVC pipes lying in the grass 

Vacation Bible School was starting in a week and I had pretty much given up on getting the No Hum Drum made for the first night of closing. I was disappointed but couldn't justify paying the sixty plus dollars it was going to cost to purchase the supplies to make the thing. I'd even called one of the other churches using the same program to see if they'd like to help share the cost.  But they didn't think they'd have time to include the No Hum Drum into their evening program.  Oh well, I might just have to let this one go.  

Vacation Bible School is a big deal for our church.  A year after we moved to this area,  I did census work here on the south side of Elmira where we live. One call in particular still stands out.  I was getting ready to knock on the door of a run-down duplex when I heard a long stream of expletives directed at someone on the other side.  A young child answered the door that afternoon and I knew he and a couple of other siblings huddling in the corner of that small living room had to be the targets of an angry mother's tirade. I'd never heard children verbally attacked with such venom and it broke my heart.  I think it was at that moment that I knew we had to do whatever we could to reach as many of those children from our community as we possibly could.  They needed to know that they had value and were loved.  Vacation Bible School became a vehicle for that.

And so for the last several summers we have put everything we possibly could into making that one week in August something that the children would anticipate all year long.  Those working on the sets and props begin several weeks earlier, aiming for what they call the "wow factor."  We've had ships and caves and castles and mountains filling our sanctuary, and there is no greater reward than watching the children's faces fill with awe as they come through the "portal" on that first night.  

And that's why I wanted that No Hum Drum so badly.  Besides it being a truly cool prop, ending the evening on a high note ups the odds that they'll be back for more and hopefully bring some friends with them. But after visiting a couple of hardware stores and calculating the cost, disappointedly I figured I'd have to come up with something else.    
A few years ago our church bought an old building across the street and had it demolished to put in a parking lot.  At the far end of that parking lot there is a grassy area where I take Rudy the dog every morning for a few minutes and sometimes in the evening, a routine that we've been following for at least two years or more.  It was on the Monday morning exactly a week before the start of our VBS that I saw them. Two long pieces of PVC piping were protruding from the grass just a few feet away from where I stood, both the exact length and width that I needed for my No Hum Drum.

When I ran to show Larry what I had found he reminded me that the pipes had been there the entire time.  I knew he was right.  I was aware that there were a couple of dirty PVC pipes lying in the grass close to where Rudy and I walk each morning.  But on this particular day I actually saw them, I mean really saw them.  At first I couldn't quite believe that the very thing I needed to make that prop was right in front of me and had been all along.  But my Father, knowing that I would have need of that very thing in the summer of this year, already had it covered.  It just took me awhile to realize that he had.    

The No Hum Drum got made just in time.  A friend cut one of the pipes into the exact lengths I needed and another was so enthusiastic about the project that he bought the elbows needed to connect it all.  A nice bright paint job finished it off.   And as expected, the No Hum Drum was the perfect ending to that first night of Vacation Bible School.  The kids loved it. And just in case you're wondering exactly what this thing does, just ask anyone who was there. I'm sure they'd be glad to tell you all about it!       

The No Hum Drum finally completed  

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