Friday, November 25, 2011

Time with Ann

I must slow time. Or I will lose it. This a woman with twice my children tells me. And a three letter name to my five.
            “What?” I say. “I don’t just pray, ‘Teach me to number my days aright, that I may gain a heart of wisdom?’”
            “Well,” she says, “that and  . . . “  She pats the grass beside her. Leans back against the tree’s trunk. I lower myself. Pluck a violet. Twirl it.
            She watches the clouds, not me, as she speaks. “To slow time, you must love it. Appreciate it. Notice it. Examine your ankles and imagine minutes swirling all around. You stand firm yet they continue on. And on.”
            The key she says is thanks. And the giving of it. Over and over. All the blessings flow. They are given. Consider that. No randomness here. Only love. And generosity. A father extends an open palm, good gift revealed. A child grasps fingers around. Tight. The papa waits. For a corner of a mouth lifted. A word whispered. An enthusiastic hug maybe. The moment stretches out. Lingers.
            A thousand times a day. No, a minute. Maybe even a second. Everywhere. All over creation. In every life. Known and not. Presents proffered. Presence.
            If you acknowledge the giving, another offering appears. Many actually. Joy, not mere happiness. Awareness. A shimmering of the moment. A pause. You hear and feel your respiration. Record the realization on your heart or perhaps on paper. Resume breathing and discover another thing a blink later.
            Beauty (and bounty) is all around. Immanent. Constant. The living of life, the occurrence of another breath even, is gorgeous. Replete with what ifs. All the more lovely with gratitude. Magnified.
            Ann rises. Tucks her hair behind her ears. I roll my fingers as she moves away. Watch hers. Middle finger joins pointer. Then the ring finger. And pinky. Other hand . . .

Friday, November 18, 2011

*In Search of Excellence*

I stood and faced the ten people gathered around our dining room table. Held up my pointer finger.
            “Will you excuse me a minute please?”
            I bolted upstairs and buried my head in a laundry basket.  And screamed.  When I lifted my head, there was my husband’s pant leg.
            “Something wrong?”
            I glanced up from my crumple.
            “It’s not perfect.”
            He shrugged.  “It doesn’t have to be.  It’s excellent.  That’s enough.”

Last year my Thanksgiving hoohah was a bit of a fiasco.  I decided to be cool and brine my bird.  Nowhere in the directions did Martha Stewart say it would take the turkey three times longer to roast due to its forty-eight hour soak in salt water.
            Thankfully, all the guests were polite about the extremely delayed entrance of the main course.  We actually started out fine.  The wassail was perfect, all simmery and cinnamony in the Crockpot I’d wrapped with fall foliage paper.  It made the house smell like it had one foot in November, the other in December.
            The appetizer buffet was stunning.  I had to smack the kids’ hands with a wooden spoon to keep them from spoiling their appetite with shrimp butter on toasted baguette slices.  My ma-in-law and I vied for the biggest glutton title with the Bon Appetit spiced pecans.  The roasted bell pepper and havarti slices on fancy crackers disappeared in five minutes, thanks to dear husband.

When the oven timer buzzed, I clapped to get everyone’s attention.
            “And now for the main event,” I said.  “Give me a few minutes to get the turkey out of the oven, and we’ll get this feast started for real.”
            My husband hoisted the steaming Tom Turkey out of the oven and onto my Granny’s cream ironstone platter while I got the side dishes squared away.  Nutty green beans go in this bowl.  Garlic mashed potatoes will live in there.  These two trivets will hold my sister-in-law’s best-ever-she-won’t-give-me-the-dang-recipe sweet potatoes.  And I’ll fill our wedding anniversary bowl with my modified Gourmet magazine stuffing recipe. 
            I balanced on tiptoe to peek over my husband’s shoulder as he sliced into the bird’s breast.  I squealed. He jumped.  The carving knife clattered on the stove top. 
            I waved my arms frantically.  “Stop!” I said.  “The juices aren’t running clear!  The turkey package said the juices can’t be pink or cloudy.”
            My husband looked from me to the bird.  I pressed potholders into his hands.
            “Quick!  Put him back in the oven.”
            I increased the heat twenty five degrees and used my Nan’s giant wooden spoon to shove the roasting pan all the way back and left.  I crammed the side dishes onto the racks, hoping to keep them warm too.  I stood, smoothed the front of my cute aqua and lime Anthropologie apron, and headed into the dining room.  With a basket of cheddar pecan biscuits in one hand and a crystal bowl of salted Amish butter in the other.
            “Everyone get a biscuit and butter.  It’ll tide you over ‘til turkey time.”

My husband checked the bird thirty minutes later.  He stood in the dining room doorway and shook his head ever so slightly.  I choked on my biscuit bite.  Wadded my pilgrim and Indian print napkin and threw it at my empty plate. 
            “Here.  Let me take a look.”
            My mother-in-law followed me into the kitchen.  She touched me lightly on my shoulder.
            “Why don’t we start with the side dishes?” she said.  “While the turkey finishes up.  It’ll be fine.”
            I sighed. And sniffed.  “Okay.”
            She removed everything from the oven but the turkey. Arranged the bowls on the kitchen table.  I placed a little calligraphied placard in front of each serving dish.  The guests filed in, loaded their plates, and returned to the dining room. 
            Before we dug in, my oldest brother prayed.  "Lord, we thank you for this bountiful array of food.  Bless it to our bodies, and please, comfort my sister in her time of distress."  

A half hour later my husband inspected the turkey again.  Then once more after twenty minutes. 
            “Think I’ll wait an hour before I look again,” he whispered to me before he sat down.
            I took a swig of white wine.  “You know what?  Just leave it in there ‘til it’s black for all I care.”
            My mother pointed her fork at me.  “Actually, this is good for my hiatal hernia,” she said.  “Small amounts of food throughout the day are much easier to digest than large meals.”
            I tried to smile.  “Thanks, Mom.”
When we were done with our stuffing and veggies, I stacked my plate on my husband’s and stood.       
            “Forget about the turkey,” I said.  “I’ll give everybody some to take home.  Who’s ready for dessert?  There’s Praline Pumpkin Pie or Frozen Caramel Pumpkin Torte.  Both with homemade hazelnut whipped cream.”
            I flipped the toggle on the coffee maker and cut five pieces of each dessert.  Dolloped them with whipped cream.
            My husband set a  cup of coffee on the kitchen table in front of me.  I started to take a drink, but stopped.  I inhaled.  Wrinkled my nose.
            “What’s in it?  It smells different.”
            He grinned.  “A shot of Bailey’s,” he said.  “I thought you might need it.”
            I felt my nostrils flare and my eyes start to burn.  He patted my back.
            “There, there. Think excellence, not perfection.”
            I turned to face him, my hands on my hips.       
            “This won’t happen next year.”
            He cringed.  “We eating out?
            I snorted.  “Heck no,” I said.  “I’m gonna cook the dang turkey the day before.”

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Silver Hurricane

(Also known as, Things Ann Voskamp Prompted Me to Say)

     For decades of days I have sensed the presence of a marvel waiting to be. A silver tornado--twisting, hovering--at the edge of my existence.
     What epithets have I been called? None. You can’t say I’m a failure. Because I never tried. I shroud myself in recycling, laundry, and recipes. Whisper the lie: "This is all there is." It’s not all. But it is easier. At the end of the day—No, at the end of a life, does easy get you anything?
     I dread my habit: Beginning another day I’ll just waste, fritter away. Lord, please don’t think me blasphemous that I want more than simply my daily bread. I desire the silver hurricane--its velocity, passion, urgency. And the sure knowledge that it was here. When I'm gone, will anyone know I was here?  
     Every morning I lie in the trough, the culvert, of my bed. In between get up and you’re going to be late. I pray: "Make this day special, please. Mold it into something other than meaningless. Because my hands are useless, snuggled in duct tape mittens. Ordinary is a paraffin dip of all of me, not just my hands. Warm, then not. Fluid, then immobile. I need you to dynamite significance into the humdrum white flatness of today's to-do list."
     I’m fatigued, tired of living carefully, exhausted from waking in the night with a bottomless craving for abundant life. I don’t want tomorrow to be just another biscuit of a day--pallid, arid, desperately needing a smear of salted Amish butter, raspberry jam, or Nutella.
     Even so, I long for contentment in all circumstances. While you’re at it, may I pretty please  also have eyes more wide open to the things of you, to the goings on in the spiritual realms, to my own possibilities? What did you place inside me eons ago that I have not yet discovered? What is the God-destiny of me? Lord, please don’t let me perish before I do the thing you formed me for. It's downloaded in my essence, kissed on my DNA. I just have to find the file, the cell, or the strand, and press OPEN.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Out of the Box

It has always been clear to me that you adored your folks and sister. That your life with them was one of faith, love, and charity. But then your sister went away. In sickness, not health. Her leaving left a pockmark on your insides. A small but permanent, life-will-never-be-the-same nick.
            God holds your tears in a bottle. You know that, right? In my mind’s eye I see it. It looks like a cordial glass carved out of amethyst Swarovski crystal.
            So I thought, as writers often do, what if? What if the “H” family had one more daughter? No, that’s not it. What if Mr. “H” walked out on the front porch to fetch the Sunday paper and there was a baby girl. Freshly hatched. In a lightbulb box, swaddled in a khaki cardigan.      
            Wait a minute. There has to be backstory. How exactly did this infant come to be?
            Well, my birth mother was a young thing, and unwed. Her father, all Magic Marker eyebrows and flailing hands, accused her of wantonness. She insisted she was merely putting on weight. Consumed huge quantities of Wonder bread slathered in Parkay margarine to make it seem true.  Every day she wore her father’s scratchy, mud-colored sweater. Tugged at it constantly to make her stomach seem more corpulent than expectant.
            When my time came she made her beau bring me into the world. In the back of his dad’s car. She’d brought towels. Rubbing alcohol. And a library book on midwifery. He had a flashlight.
            The windows were rolled up and steamed. My birth father said surely the folks closing up inside the hardware store would hear her screams. She didn’t care. “Get it out of me!”
            “Now what?” he said. His face was pale and slick with sweat. He held me in his arms, but not close.
            My mother wouldn’t look at my face. She cracked the window to release the scent of my beginning.
            “Cut the cord,” she said. “My sewing scissors are in my purse. The outside pocket.”
            My father’s face blanched as he balanced me on his knees and leaned to fish for the scissors. They rattled against his class ring. My mother struggled to sit up.
            “Here! Give ‘em to me! I’ll do it.” She snatched them from him. Pinched the cord and severed it. I cried my first cry when the cold of the stainless steel fingerloops brushed my belly. 
           My mother made him drive to your house. Because she knew, was positive, that Mr. and Mrs. “H” would do the right thing. They did.
            We three girls grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. Most of the time we could finish each other’s sentences.  Every Monday Becky would pass her lima beans to me under the kitchen table and I’d lean forward and stuff the whole handful in my mouth and chew, chew, gulp. We watched The Brady Bunch every week on the living room floor and fiddled with each other’s hair. You were the only one who knew how to French braid though.  Sometimes late at night in your all’s bedroom, we took turns kissing a handmirror, so we’d be ready for the time when Daddy let us car date.
            Almost every evening at supper, he’d stare at each of us for a moment, and then he'd nod.
            “Yes, indeed. Three is surely a charm. The good Lord knew what he was doing with our family.”
            But then after college, your sister— our sister passed. And once again, back in our childhood home, you and I huddled under the covers. Only there did we dare to say, why and if only. We sobbed until we were ugly and had the hiccups. Finally the exhausted slumber of grief consumed us.
            At the church, we sat thigh to thigh. In blue dresses because blue was her favorite color. You gripped my hand and blotted my face every now and then with a handkerchief our grandmother embroidered decades before.
            “Hand me your purse,” I said (Lord knows I never carry one). “I think I have to throw up.”
            “Breathe deep,” you whispered as you traced circles on my leg. “Remember what Daddy said. She’s absent from us but present with the Lord. And surely we’ll see her again one day. When the roll is . . . When we . . .”
            I let out a raggedy sigh. “I know. But now three's not a charm." 
           Your breath stirred my hair. "Even so, God still knows what he's doing, right? Right?"


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