thoughts from the mind of the Dolly Mama

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CARRY ME

I’m tired, God.
I’ve kept my end of the bargain and more, from the time I can remember.
I’ve been tough, I’ve been a good soldier, I’ve been supportive, I’ve been there when the rest of the world ran out on so many people who needed someone to care.
I never gave up. I never abandoned my post. I kept the faith. I withstood pain while doing what no one else would try to do, and I withstood the criticism because the way I got it done was not the way others thought it should have been done.
I’ve stayed positive and strong when I was terrified, and relied on you. I’ve taken the brunt of others’ fear and frustration who didn’t know how to rely on you.
I’ve been lonely missing the ones who loved me who got called away to Heaven and left me behind.
I’ve endured the pain of an aging body and the comments from the ones who refuse to allow me to age because it means they have to assume more of the work load.
I have learned not to let the judgments of others who see me with their own prejudices sway me from knowing who I am in your eyes.
I have learned not to let my feelings show, when they intrude on another’s comfort… only You know, Father, how much hurt I keep  to myself;and never let them know.
I always compare myself to others more desperate and am ever mindful how blessed I am, and look for ways to be a blessing to them when I can.But it is so hard when I keep caring for others who never seem to see what a blessing it would be to me if they cared for me, too;if they just looked past their wants long enough to see … I have fallen, and I have a need for someone to come and help me.
I don’t ask for anybody to carry my burden for me, it is my burden, and I know you have faith in me, or you wouldn’t have given me this load to bear.
But sometimes, just sometimes, I get tired, God, I can’t go another step, and I drop my cross. Please, God, let me just rest here a bit in you, and pick it up another day .
Just hold me while I cry and tell me you love me,and I shall be renewed.

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT

I was hit by a car the other day ,not too bad; nothing broken, but lots of “sprains and strains” as the Emergency Room doctor put it.
As the crowd gathered, I couldn’t seem to keep my eyes open;for one thing I was lying flat on my back on the pavement, staring up into a bright blue sky, which caused me to squint; the other reasons were pain, embarrassment and temporary shock.
The blow seemed to have happened in slow motion, and I barely had time to become alarmed in the split second it took between recognition of the impending hit, and the actual impact. I wasn’t afraid; I didn’t have time to be, and it just isn’t in my nature.
That may sound unbelievable, but it is true,and I do believe that when it is my time to die, I will face death unafraid. ( I only hope it isn’t too painful).
How did I get to be this way? Well, in part because of my mother. I saw her in a coma from a stroke, fighting her way back to self sufficiency during her recovery and I witnessed myself her defiance of the experts who said she never would. They were human, you see, and did not know her God the way she did.
Her balance was shot. She was blind in one eye,which left her with no depth perception. She fell down doorsteps and got concrete embedded in her knee,which then got in behind the kneecap somehow and the doctor was discussing amputation. The concrete had caused a terrible infection and the leg was involved. No, thank you, she would have none of that. She had a family to care for. She took the antibiotics and used some old healing treatments she had learned from her grandmother, who had been born in the mid 1800’s. The leg healed. It took several months, but she hobbled around and never let on if she was afraid.
With no depth perception, the skillet full of hot grease wasn’t as far away as it seemed, and instead of just the breaded chicken, she laid her whole hand in it.
There were many many more instances I could share of her determination, her bravery, her stoicism. She was a strong, brave woman,and nothing Satan could throw at her could make a dent in her armor.
She watched my sister Eloise die at twenty three years of age, over a period of five months. She sat in the front row in the little country church and never broke down. She amazed me, especially since my big brawny Scotch-Irish war hero Daddy turned into wet sand, holding together one minute and falling apart the next, for years afterward.
So I was shocked one day to walk into the kitchen and see Mama sitting at the table, peeling potatoes and silently crying. I asked her what was wrong, and she said ” I was thinking about the day we buried Patricia (her firstborn child, who lived 6 months and died of colitis, which caused it to waste away in front of her). It was raining so hard, and all we had to bury her in was a pine box,we lived way out in the country. Just as we lowered her little coffin down into the hole, a great big clump of wet muddy red clay fell down ,in the grave on top of her.”
Then she said something I will never forget, even if I lived a thousand lifetimes. She said,
“I am so glad it was a pretty sunshiney day the day of Eloise’s funeral. I just don’t think I could have put another one of my babies into a wet, muddy grave”.
The woman was burying her child, and thanking God for the beauty of the day she did it.
She wasn’t cursing Him for taking her child, or wailing over the unfairness, or pitying herself as she surely had every right to do. She was giving Him the glory for not making her suffer even more.
Four years later, it rained one Monday morning,then it cleared off, and we buried my mother in the bright sunshine. Nine months and a week or two later, I gave birth to the child all the doctors said I would never have. (I have a feeling Mama had spoken to God on my behalf when she got there.)
But as soon as I hadfound out I was pregnant, I began to fear; I never wanted to know that agonizing pain of losing my child. So I began to pray and ask God not to take it from me, but if He DID see the need to take it from me, please take it before I had a chance to hold it and love it; please don’t give it to me to love and then take it back. I begged God to never let me have to bury one of my children.
Thirty plus years later, that was my wild child, a young man determined to test the limits of endurance, and he had a heart attack in his thirties. He was in ICU for about a week, and has been and will be on medictions for the rest of his life. At one point,when he was about thirty five he “died” twice in the same day, and was resuscitated .
During this same time frame, there were so many other things happening, I got to the point where I lived in dread and fear of “What next? What will I do?”
We were attending church regularly, I was serving God , I was DJ at two radio stations, one of them gospel, and was bringing up my children in the way that they should go, but it seemed like the devil was using me as his very own voo doo doll.
I just couldn’t take anymore; the burden was too great, and my prayers seemed to go out as high as the ceiling and just stop. I couldn’t understand, I was doing everything God asked of me, I couldn’t understand why He would let all this happen to me and my family.
I prayed and asked him why, and He spoke to my heart and told me to read the book of Job. So I did. I was then more confused than ever, for in the Scripture it said in Job 1:8 and 1:12..
…8 And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?…
…12 And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.
And immediately Satan started after Job the way he had been going at me.
So I cried and asked God,”WHY would you just hand him over to Satan like that? You JUST got through saying what a godly man he was, then you just gave him to Satan ! I do not understand !” And again He told me to “read”.
So I did, from start to finish, the whole book of Job…and got even more confused, and more afraid.. if God would do that to Job, He could surely leave me hanging …
So I prayed and asked again,”God, WHY?” and He said “read it again”.
So read it again, and this time, in Job Chapter two, I read:
…3 And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause.
…4 And Satan answered the LORD, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.
…5 But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.
…6 And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life…

God had done it to Job AGAIN !
So I read the whole book again, even more confused as Job and his friends went back and forth discussing it all, and poor innocent Job suffered, and God let him !
Naturally, I went back to God, asking him WHY He would do such a thing, and all He would say was “Read it again”
By this time, I saw no use in reading it again, I had already read that God let all of Job’s children die,and to me, that was unmerciful.
But this time when I was told “read it again”, I prayed beforehand, ” PLEASE show me what it is I am not understanding, that I need to know”
This time, reading back over it all again, something leapt off the page at me, it seemed….
Job 3:25 …For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.
Then beginning with the thirty eighth chapter, God speaks and reminds Job of just who GOD IS .
In the forty second chapter, I read:
10 And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.
Suddenly I understood. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I realized what God had been teaching me; Job said, “For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.”
Job had to face his fear, since he had not let go of it. As long as Job had fear, it came between him and God;it kept him from being as close to God as God wanted him to be; it let him be vulnerable to attack from Satan; it gave Satan control over him; and it stole his faith in God. Job’s fear had to be faced, overcome, and surrendered! He, like I, could not truly LOVE God with fear in the heart !
It is a basic; you cannot love openheartedly, with fear in your heart !!!
I had to once again surrender my child up to God for safekeeping,as well as all my other children, and everything I had or was,and let go of the fear and worry and dread; because all of that was opening me up to even more trouble and heartache !
I will still have trouble and heartache; I am a physical person in a physical world where Satan walks to and fro. BUT I do not have to be afraid.
Like my mother, I can look, not down into the grave, but up to the heavens,into the bright blue sunshiney sky and thank God that He has me and all I love, in His hands.

Worms, A Well and A Woman

I was diagnosed many many years ago with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, due to severe physical, mental and emotional abuse I lived through during my first marriage.

I have been through many sessions with counselors, those well-educated folks with framed degrees showing off what doctorates they proudly claim. I am sure this is something to be proud of; I take nothing from them;and it must be nice to be able understand such complex things as the workings of another human being’s mind.

I, however, never achieved that level of understanding of myself after living with myself for fifty eight years around the clock, much less other human beings I became acquainted with an hour at a time every couple of weeks.

No, my education of how things work started, I am sure, on my belly, watching some worm and wanting to understand why the worm was a worm, first of all. Then, why didn’t it have legs,and why did it go into the ground, did it eat the dirt, etc.,etc., etc., so I studied and pondered and observed. My conclusion? I don’t even understand worms, so I’ll leave them up to God. My two year old child’s version of a headache was immediately relieved…probably because my eyes were no longer crossed from staring at worms !

I don’t remember pinching them in two, or being cruel to them in any way. I always assumed they might have feelings. For that reason, I don’t fish with them. I tried once, and it traumatized me, the way the poor thing wiggled and screamed in agony with its tiny voice that only other worms could hear, I imagined.

The folks with the degrees in frames would probably describe that as respect for life gone to extreme.

But even the life of a worm has purpose and meaning. Ask any organic farmer. Worms enrich   the soil they live in. They eat DIRT, and poop out better dirt. They are necessary, and God wasn’t just goofing off the day He made them. They are part of a bigger scheme.

I have applied that ‘life  science’, if you will, to most every area of my life throughout my life, and it has served me well, although I was rather slow on the uptake when it came to giving my own life as much meaning as I recognized in a worm’s.

I allowed myself to be beaten down and ridiculed and made to feel worthless until I was fodder for the machinations of my ex husband’s sadistic, sociopathic mind. It was important for him to make me feel meaningless, worthless,useless. Only then could I be disposable enough to submit without a will of my own.

In a session  with one of those folks with a degree once, I referred to myself  as a well , I and my heart.  I gave and gave and gave, and was there for anyone who needed me. I gladly offered up  my very self, and whether they realized it or not, they depended on me. Yet when they came to drink, they drank all they wanted, and then emptied the rest of the bucket on the ground.

Over time, my level dropped; the water (which was my love) was no longer as fresh and  eager to spring up , to fill the bucket  when it was demanding to be filled. Then as the continuous pouring out onto the ground and wasting continued, and the demand remained constant “Not good enough ! More ! Better ! Now!”, eventually, the well that is me began to become  unhealthy, murky, unpleasant , and then the demand was “What’s the matter with you? is that all you’ve got? More! Better! Now!” Along with a rock thrown  along with a curse.

Eventually after enough rocks were thrown, it gave the appearance of the water table rising, so the using up and wasting of my precious resource- ME- continued,until finally all the rocks were thrown from my well curbing, I had nothing to support my walls, and I caved in on myself.

But now I realize that I am not just a well that popped up out of nowhere. Someone made me; the water (love) in me came from somewhere. I am also not a failure because I ran dry. I was never  meant to be used up and mistreated the way I was. I was simply expected to give more than I had.

So God helped me, I stayed caved in, inside myself, so to speak, until the message finally got through to the ones who had emptied me : there is nothing  here for  you, user. And sure enough, when I had nothing else left to give , they moved on.

One day, someone came along that realized that I did indeed still have worth.He began to dig, to remove layer upon layer of rocks  and the silt and sediment and  fouled  muck buried deep within me, and sure enough over time, I began to fill again. Once again,  I had love to offer, and I am clean and wholesome.

But this time something is different. I recognize my source. I am not just stuck out here,vulnerable and at the world’s mercy.The same One who designed me to be filled to overflowing filled me with goodness from an unseen source, just like a water well is filled because it taps into an underground stream, that comes from an underground river, that forms huge underground lakes and aquifers until it finally surfaces somewhere and flows into the mighty ocean. I am a part of that. My little well of love flows from the heart of God, the River of Life.

Now someone who wants to disrespect and belittle me needs to know, they are not abusing a lone, vulnerable heart, a well of love set out all alone in a desert. They are  spitting down God’s own well, fouling HIS gift, that HE blessed them with. I will recover; the flowing River will cleanse and purify me, but their deed will not be forgotten. No wonder people in hell cry out for just a drop of water.

Giving and Receiving

I have a very hard time expressing my deepest feelings, so I have always been a giver of myself. People have never understood that. They think the occasional gift is nice, and they say thank you. They don’t fully understand the weeks and days they were on the back of my mind, while I considered them and the meaningful parts of their lives I could enrich.
They don’t understand that even if I am just giving them something I have had and enjoyed but no longer have a use for, and am passing along, that I have given consideration to which of my six children or their spouses or children would most have a need or purpose for it, or get the most pleasure from it. Which means that each of them, their lifestyles, the hardships they face, the victories they have won, who they are and hope to be, are all on my mind and heart before I give them, say for instance, the Tupperware pitcher their own juice was stored in as a child. They look at it and say “Oh, thanks, I can really use that.” But only I know how much,because only I remember the little face, fresh from playing outside, panting up at me as I poured from it, ” I are WILLY FUSTY, Mama ! And I can wun WILLY fast now !”
I don’t count it as a sacrifice on my part that I am not acknowledged for the thought that goes into the things I do for the ones I love. They have no idea,otherwise they would; they, too are caring people.The thoughts of them as I am planning on what I will be doing, giving, and sharing are my reward, because those thoughts of them are more precious to me than gold. Those thoughts of love make me a better person and fulfill me, and I would not be me without them or the memories my loved ones have created in me of them. That is their gift to me; being able to love them has made me, ME.
So the fact that they don’t appreciate what giving them the gift means to me, does not mean that they don’t appreciate the giver. In time , they will realize just how much they appreciated the giver, but I may not be around to know it.
I recently made a quilt for the crib of my about-to-be-born tenth grandchild,and as usual, I started shopping for fabrics months ago. I thought about what shade of green the mother seemed to favor throughout all the other rooms of her home ; that home which has such a welcoming, homey feel, full of love,and that is how I wanted my grandchild to feel. Welcome home, to a world filled with love.
Of course, ,it had to have blue, because this will be my son’s namesake, his own son,a boy !
And there had to be blending of the colors, and no clashing, but complimenting each other and the differences, so that out of all these many different bits and pieces, there would come to be one whole, solid, smooth-flowing, harmonious, comforting covering for the baby,just like the family it will be becoming a part of; all of us different, some crazy, some soothing, some puzzling, but all a part of the whole.
There had to be fabrics to join them which spoke as well, and I had found some with exotic animals, so he would always see the world with wondering eyes. There was one which announced “Baby Boy”, and another with a train full of toys, so he will always find adventure and always remember to play as well as work. I especially liked the shooting stars squares, because he is a little star which God has allowed to come from Heaven into our lives,and he shall be raised with the knowledge and worship of his Maker.
As I was trimming the threads, getting ready to fold the finished quilt and take it to the baby shower, I pinched myself with my new scissors. I kept on working, turning it this way and that, looking for more stray threads, when suddenly I saw a tiny smear, then another , then a few miniscule dots. The scissors had not pinched me, they had made a tiny nip, and I had bled a smidge here and there on the quilt, barely noticeable, and would only be seen if being searched for.
I panicked, thinking “How am I going to get these out, it will have to soak, and then dry, and I have no time… besides, they are dry now, they won’t come out”
So I had no choice but to take it as is, and on the way I got to thinking… I’m kind of glad. I hope his parents will always make sure he knows his Grandmama made this for him, it is his very own,made for him and him alone.
I want him to always know as he he goes through life that he is loved, when Grandma made his quilt, she put her heart into it, and those few little spots are there to prove it.
I hope that his parents also teach him of another who loved him even more, so much that HE gave HIS life’s blood,and that HE and HIS love will never die.

Barefeet and Angels

My mama was the most down to earth person I have ever known. Learned professors of the English language would use phrases such as ‘pragmatic’.

She was born in 1920 on a farm in Middle Georgia, she survived, went to school and learned in the Depression in Middle Georgia,she married my Daddy in 1939, sent him to war,kept the farm going while he was gone,raised a family and died in 1974.

Nice, tidy summation of a lifetime of victories won on the battlefield of life by an unheralded soldier with bare feet.

When we were little, she rarely went to church. But daddy took four children,two grandchildren and himself in freshly laundered, line-dried,starched and ironed clothes each week,and everybody looked like they walked out of a Life magazine advertisement of the 1960’s.

While we were coloring in Sunday School and Daddy was doing his duties as Head Deacon, Superintendent of Sunday Schools, Usher,etc.; Mama was at home in her bare feet.

After church we would all climb out of the car and pile into the house delighting in the aromas coming from the kitchen. There mama would be, barefooted,  under that tin roof ,in summer, the roast in the oven or the chicken fresh out of the skillet and her stirring the gravy, tea steeping on the stove,sweat pouring off her, dripping off the tip of her nose, and one insistent little ringlet springing forth from her scalp to wave its independence in her face,only to have its uprising swiftly vanquished by a swipe from her hand before bending down to check the biscuits. While we were singing about Heaven in the air conditioning at church, she was stewing in  South Georgia’s version of hell.

Then the next day before daylight she was up percolating the coffee for  Daddy’s thermos  while we still snuggled and snoozed;we all got up and ate a hot breakfast cooked  by Mama in that already steamy kitchen,put on more freshly ironed clothes,and went out into the world; to work and school, or the little ones out in the yard to play. In my case, out to the wash shed in the back yard with the old wringer machine to play around mama’s feet as she slopped through the mud, filling the tubs with the water hose and flopping the clothes from  the  machine to rinse tubs, her hands in the soapy,stringent, bleach water.  All day, carrying them from the house out to the shed,into the machine, agitating them, lifting them wet, into the wringer, guiding them through,down into the rinse tub,plunging them up, down, up, down, lifting them full of water back up to the wringer again, down into the next rinse tub; through three rinses. Then finally out through the wringer for the last time and into the big metal tub waiting  to receive them, where she lifted them to be carried to the line,bent, picked up each garment, hung it out ,then bent , and on to the next. All through the dirt with her wet feet ,so that by the time she got to the back door to get the next load of dirty clothes, she had to scrape the mud off her feet before she could go in . Then back out to the wash shed with another load, to lift the tubs of rinse water and fill them again so she could start over.She repeated this for the laundry for all eight of us, even Daddy’s heavy overalls and my brother’s blue jeans.

As each load would dry, she would bring it in and put it on the spare bed in the room off the kitchen  where a maid was supposed to sleep,fold and put away as much as she could, and start starching the rest for ironing on Tuesday,seperating the piles all over the bed.

She would go over to the back door, look out to see where the sun was  positioned in the sky to see  what time  it was, start looking for the produce man’s truck to come by, and get preparations for supper underway. Her ‘break’ in the day came when she would sit outside on the front porch peeling potatoes, shelling the peas, and  such “sitting down” chores. But even then, she had no break, for then they would come; the people… the people who REALLY relied on ‘Mrs.Mac’… the ones who needed to unburden, to ask advice, to share their good news,to tell a secret they knew would never be repeated, to ask for prayer, to have a catfish fin removed, a baby’s rash looked at, to let her know someone in the community was in need, knowing she would help; they came needing love.. and they all got what they needed. They gathered around; when the settee  and glider were full, Mama would tell them “Grab you a chair out of the kitchen”. But likely as not unless they were a lady, they were happy to sit at Mama’s dirty bare feet.Mama never drove,so people came to her; from all walks of life. They sat,and when they got up they dusted off their trousers and straightened their ties.

After supper we all played and got baths,getting ready for bed while she cleaned the kitchen and mopped the floor, so none of us could “track it back up”,   poured the dirty mop water out the back door,and her house was in order. She cleaned herself up,came to bed,sat on the side of it, and rubbed  her bare feet together to “knock the sand” off,then laid down to meet her Savior in prayer.

I knew to lie quietly ,barely breathing,while she  and God had one on one,deep ,close time. I was always careful to listen so I knew when to ask her ” Mama, can I get up with you in the morning?” before the first gentle quiet puffy snore told me God had  given her rest.

Next morning in the dark she would shake me awake, whispering my name, “Let’s go potty”,carry me downstairs, put me on the toilet,wipe me, help me off, lift me to the sink to wash my hands,and carry me to the little room off the kitchen to lie there while she got the percolator going with  Daddy’s coffee. Then she would peep around the corner, tiptoe in, and lie down with me for a few more minutes’ sweet repose. We would lie there in the dark, just the two of us, anticipating something which could not be seen, but knowing we would know it was time whenever it was time.

There was a little  AM radio in there and I would whisper”Mama, can we hear Snow White Dove?”  This was the opening theme song for a daily radio show by a gospel group called the Chuck wagon Gang and my favorite, because I could sing part of  it… ” A sign from above, on the wings of a dove”… and then a little later… “He sends down his love, on the wings of a dove”. She of course wanted me to doze back off  and I wanted to play so she might stroke my hair back from my face to try to get me drowsy, while I would  giggle and stroke her unruly ringlet off HER forehead, back into place !

Too soon, though, much too soon, the percolator would start its strange little sound and we would lie there listening to it until it quit,and she would rise.

When Mama had her stroke and cerebral hemorrhage, those same people  who used to visit her on the porch came. They came to the  hospital regularly, they came to the house, they cut grass, they cooked food, they did laundry, there appeared a new automatic washer and dryer.Months later when Mama’s bed was all set up in the living room and Daddy drove up with her in the car,there was a throng to support her weak side  which was still affected, as she made her way from the car to the bed.

They came in the weeks and months and years to come; they were told ” Grab yourself a chair out of the kitchen”, and they did. They sat in kitchen chairs in the living room with her until she was able to recover enough to sit up, then they grabbed their chairs and followed her around to whereever she was.

I was nine by this time, so I did my share with Mama’s care too. Daddy had installed an outdoor faucet on the bathtub along with a washing machine hose with one end cut off so that she could sit in the tub as I bathed her and be able to rinse her clean after the soapy water had drained. So I would get her out of bed, she would lean on me, and we would make it to the toilet. I would position her in front of it and she would hold onto my shoulders while I grabbed the hem of her gown. Then she would sit while I lifted the gown over her head. After she rested, we would maneuver her into the warm bath water.

Unfortunately, one of the effects of the stroke she had to recover from was control of various muscle groups, and one time as I sat her down in the warm water, she turned her head to the wall and about the same time I realized she was crying, I smelled it; the source of her embarrassment. I reached down into the brown bath water and released the plug,let it drain, and used the hose to wash the tub around her, hose her off, and run new warm bath water while she cried. I hugged her and said “Mama, please don’t cry, you’ve cleaned my messes lots of times. I won’t  tell nobody”.

After that she became determined not to ever be a “burden” to her family again. She fought back. She never regained vision in one eye, but she got a lot better,and she walked. Barefooted. Everywhere. One hundred and twenty pounds’ worth of steps. She prayed at night for God to  let her live long enough to raise her children. She lived another nine years after that debilitating stroke,and when the last one came, I was eighteen and my brother was sixteen.  We could “do for ourselves’ as she would put it. Her  job was finished. The bath water was down the drain, the mop water was out the back door.

I was beyond grief,inconsolable. The closest thing I  found to any sort of comfort was when  I was sobbing and praying, crying out to God. I had to find some way to let her go, someway to make peace,some way to know Mama was alright. So I begged God for a sign.

She died on a Saturday morning after cooking  everything imaginable,all day Friday, for a planned family reunion on Sunday and traveling to her hometown Friday might. Instead of the family reunion, the family gathered for her wake, with no unexpected expense or trouble incurred on their part.  They brought food and enjoyed the feast she had prepared for her own wake.

I sat in the empty funeral home Sunday morning in the small country town with no locked doors,  next to the casket, looking at her,and trying to comprehend the concept of letting her go. Her ringlet kept springing forth as if it hadn’t received the message “life has departed”. I played with it, stroking it back, watching it pop back over her forehead, and became aware of a small sound somewhere, a sound that seemed slightly familiar, but hauntingly unfamiliar. It continued on, getting incrementally louder, until it went,over the course of about twenty minutes,from”do I hear something?” to “what IS that?”

I alternately pondered a car running out in the street somewhere, to a suction machine somewhere in the funeral home, to  a dog who had possible been hit by a car and was softly moaning in its death throes. Not being able to stand the thought of anything dying alone, I got up and followed the sound. It seemed to be coming from the front  porch,  a stately antebellum affair with two story columns rising,rising majestically up to the peak of the porch roof,and as I opened the door and stepped out, what I thought was a pigeon swooped down as if to attack me from out of the heavens.Instead of attacking me, though, it dove straight down to me, circled around me, and flew off. I couldn’t move; it was as if I was paralyzed and  the world stood still; there were no street noises, no chirping birds, no breeze  to be heard.

I don’t know how long it lasted, but I then heard my ex husband frantically exclaiming from the doorway “get back in here! ”  I was still dumbfounded, asking  him “Did you see that pigeon?”, and he was almost hysterical by that time “that wasn’t a pigeon, didn’t you see it? That was a white dove ! That was a sign you will be the next to go!”

For some reason I wasn’t afraid, though, and as I sat back down near Mama and resumed playing with her ringlet, stroking her hair, trying to figure out where I had heard a sound like that sound…. that sound  I now knew had been the cooing of the dove  calling me to the porch, I knew: the old percolator !

It was a sign, alright ! But not a portent of looming death death for me. It was the answer to Mama’s child’s prayer. God had sent me the sign  I had asked him for,telling me Mama was alright; she was with Him. He sent down His Love on the Wings of a Dove; a sign from above, on the wings of a dove.

The next day was the funeral, a storm cloud blew up but passed away. I went back to the cemetery and some of the flower stands had toppled over; I straightened them up. One had had a dove affixed to it that had blown away  so I didn’t know which one to put it back on. I kept the dove; I figured it was meant for me.

Later that night  I went back to the cemetery at bedtime. Mama had never traveled or slept in a motel alone so I wasn’t going to leave her there without saying good night.

I sat down on the mound of earth and looked up at a vast blanket of stars. There was a peace there, a quiet, a solitude,a vast openness, a beauty, but Mama was not there.

She had flown away; her feet were no longer on the ground.

I’m Fifty Seven, I think I’ll Finish Being Eight Now

I am fifty seven years old; I will be fifty eight in two months,and I am about to finish raising myself.I wonder what kind of mother I will be to myself. I hope I will be as good a mother to myself as I have always tried to be to my own children, my husbands, my invalid mother, the people God has sent me along life’s journey, even my own father in his old age.

But first of all I have to finish being eight and I’m not quite sure how to do that, because I don’t remember anything past the  third grade Christmas play rehearsal and the music teacher stopping banging “We Three Kings Of Orient Are” on the piano for us all to hear the loud speaker blaring the radio from the principal’s office….”To repeat that… President Kennedy HAS been shot; in Dallas…”

I am sure the play was presented a few weeks later, I am sure life went on. I just don’t remember it, for awhile, anyway,and I’m not sure why.

I know that same year my sister’s husband left her pregnant for a woman twice his age and my sister had a nervous breakdown,the cops carried her away to the state mental hospital and I grieved for months like she had died.

I know blacks were rioting and I had a plan to rip the back off the couch and hide inside it if they came to our house to kill us all and cut us limb from limb. I just hoped they didn’t burn the house down, because then I would be burned alive, trapped inside the couch.

I know I had a conversation with a lady with toilet tissue flowers in her hair carrying a baby doll who was wandering around the waiting room,who wanted to touch me while she waited for Jesus to come visit her; Mama and Daddy had left me sitting there while they were arranging a visit with my sister.Other people came around me like I was an exhibit at a zoo and  I was terrified.

There were lots of other things that happened through that short time span of remembrance of my eighth year which ripped the cocoon of my world wide open and exposed the gelatinous, underdeveloped butterfly I was meant to be to the world,and I clung on as long as I could, until my barely developed  misformed wings were dry enough to carry me to the closest haven of safety,and I began my journey of life.

I would need help, I would need extra assistance, I would need tutoring and mentoring in the ways of being a self sufficient butterfly who could not only sustain myself, but give back, spread pollen, do all the things a healthy butterfly is meant to do, and which it instinctively knows to do. But with all of that, maybe, just maybe, I would be okay.

But it was not to be. I came home from school in the fourth grade and Mama wasn’t there; she was in a coma in the hospital due to a cerebral hemorrhage. After a few months she regained consciousness, was discharged home,and I became my mother’s mother.

There was no more time to be a child; like it or not, I had to be the woman of the house now; daddy had to rely on family and friends while I was at school,and me in the evenings,on weekends, and summer vacations. I learned responsibility,compassion, loyalty, tenderness,all sorts of good traits in a human. But I forgot how to be happy; I forgot how to laugh,how to be carefree. I was thrust from a child’s world into a world no adult could handle the strain of without buckling.

Life carried me along in the adult world; I was never in trouble, didn’t get pregnant, stayed in school, played the piano in church, and dutifully married the man Daddy thought could “handle” me, at fifteen years old.

It was only sixteen years later after my four year old daughter told me “Daddy be’s nasty to me” that I found the courage to get out from under the years of abuse and mental torture, the skull fractures,the fault finding and insults,that were marriage to a sociopath.

I could rescue her, but not myself. I wasn’t of value enough to be saved, I guess I thought at the time.

I carried on smiling at the world. My smile is the cross I bear; it makes it possible for the world to not have to acknowledge anything that  might cause anyone else discomfort.

And I met Dennis, the love of my life; a twisted, hurt, broken, soul like I was, so desperately hungry for love that we were like two halves of one whole, and God said ” It shall be good”. We have fought the world together, cried together, been each other’s sole source of joy,and made the most passionate love known to mankind or the animal kingdom.

But, like everything else, there has to be a fly somewhere, and now it has come to light that we can’t heal each other from the darkness hiding deep with in us.  It has been festering, infecting ,and eating away from within, and now we have to each take time to let it rupture, spill out,drain in all its ugly putridness,and offend everyone anywhere nearby before it can begin to heal.

What is “it”? Our inner child… both of ours; mine, who was hacked at by an assassin, rioters,husband stealers,mamas who went away and crazy people who had no boundaries,who all reduced my secure world to a ravaged skeleton.

His, who suffered because of a drunken father who was mentally unstable ,a depressed mother,a violent alcohol-ridden extended family who passed him around from place to place and finally institution to institution,learning disabilities, sexual abuse,drug  and alcohol addiction as early as elementary school,bipolar disorder,and always, always, needing to be loved.

So here we are… two inner children… mine 8, almost 58, his about 4, almost 50. Me saying” I love you, and to me, loving you means I control things so you don’t get hurt, I will assume responsibility for everything, because that is what love does,no matter how much it takes me down and breaks me, if I go under and drown, you can float on my dead body and save yourself because I love you. I don’t matter, just as long as you are safe”

And here his is, saying ” I am a child, I am loving having you love me and cherish me above any and everything else,because that is what a child needs. I will please you,give you all I have, give in to you,and give you free rein on all decisions, because in return you nurture and love me.I will follow you whereever you say”

So those putrid messes have risen to the surface and must be excised, and I really don’t want him to have to witness mine,and I don’t have to see or smell or experience in any way, the draining away of his. So we are living apart right now.

We will be healthy adults; it will take time,and it may be a meandering path, but we still love each other. GOD gave us to each other to love, HE created that love, and nothing can destroy it.

In the meantime, I am going to be traversing backward over fifty years and I am going back  to finish developing. But this time God is holding my cocoon in His hand, because I put it there, and He promised he would keep it there.

Because,he told me, I am HIS child, and HE loves me.

Fear

Someone I care about loves someone who is mentally ill. Bipolar, to be exact. They have been together most of their adult lives, loving each other, until recently the manic phase of the illness reared its  ugly, argumentative,destructive head, because the one with the illness refused to take the medicine like they should.( Which is all to common in Bipolar patients, by the way.)

This time, however, it wasn’t a sex binge or alcohol binge or drug binge. There was no extravagant throwing away of money or running away from home and disappearing for days,leaving the other one to cry and pray and beg God to bring them home safely,to protect them and don’t let them get killed or hurt or locked up.

No, this time it was a relatively tame nuclear meltdown; an initial phase of sleeplessness and irritability for a few weeks followed by 4 AM wakeups with fresh pots of coffee and gospel CD’s and shouting and singing and clapping and praising and Bible reading. For you see, this time, it is a religious excursion they are on. Then came the illogical kinetic need; weeding the garden  in the rain after church on Sunday afternoon, for instance,walking to the friend’s house down the street several times a day; anything to keep moving. And then there was the nitpicking and complaining, the anger and frustration,the accusations over imagined slights,the suspicions of being wronged or criticized or ridiculed or taken advantage of  and the outbursts that came with that.

Finally, all rationale was out the window, the gloves were off, and it was all the other person’s fault; they were terrible, they were this; they were that; and criticism and condemnation were the closest to words of love ever spoken.

Then came the reckless, dangerous behavior, born of a feeling of invincibility that made it possible for them to put themself in an ambulance covered in blood, and in surgery and the SICU,still blaming the other person.

Their children and grandchildren cried, their aunts and uncles and cousins who had already buried brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers came to the hospital,afraid because of what could have been and how close it came to being this time and they don’t want to bury another loved one.

And the one who loved the most, the one who has been there all the way,who has shared the grief and borne the hurt and fear and shame and everything else right alongside them,who would have borne it FOR them if that was possible,finally realized…. I can’t protect them. My pleas to them to take their medicine didn’t protect them; my arguing and fighting with them to try to make them realize how important it is to take it didn’t protect them; my trying to keep tabs on them and keep them out of harm’s way didn’t protect them; my prayers didn’t protect them….my love cannot protect them.

And while their love was dealing with the agony of the helplessness and hopelessness of the situation alone, they were  blaming them and punishing them for causing it to happen.

And still refusing to take the medicine.

As sad as it makes the one who loves them, there has to be a seperation, for their own sake;they have to get healthy,for mental illness affects those who love the patient,as well as the patient. So the loved one grieves and misses the other half of their very existence,and prays that somehow, God will intervene and they will realize that for their sake, and their children’s sake, and the sakes of brothers, sisters,uncles, aunts, cousins, old folks at church, the grandchildren, their boss theo admires them….so very many people who care, but also because they are WORTH it,they MUST take their medicine and stop the manic cycling, before all these people are left grieving, next time…or the next time… or maybe the next….

And the loved one gains wisdom they never wanted to learn:

In order to be loved, you must first be respected.

You cannot love a person and fear them equally.

Forgiveness is a gift. Trust is earned.

Being needed or depended on is NOT the same thing as being loved.

If they can’t control their own life, don’t let them control yours

Don’t be their excuse.

Pity is not love.

Looking forward to an Eternal Spring

I want to ride in the backseat while Daddy drives and he and Mama talk and his window is down and the spring breeze flies in on my face. I want to go to Granny’s and hug her and smell the freshly-planted fields and listen to uncle Lonnie’s crazy laugh. I want to go to the little white church and run up and down the half-circle steps while Mama and Daddy unload all the Easter lillies and take them around back to the graveyard. I want to not understand why I am not supposed to run or laugh in a graveyard .

I want to get dragged up to my wierd Aunt Louise’s house and be taken on a Sunday afternoon drive and wear my new patent leather shoes with the strap that goes across my foot or swivels back behind the heel so I look grown up,and watch where I step in them because the chickens are all out in the yard. I want to wear them with my new white gloves and hat that looks like a big wide headband and has flowers all over it.

I want to stare,just because I am a kid and I can stare because I’m not old enough to know better. And I will stare at the people my Daddy loves,who stand with one hand in their overalls pocket and talk with the other one. I will stare at wierd farm equipment I can’t figure out the use of. I will stare at how big the underarm sweatstains of those people are when they come to the house for dinner.I will stare at the farm animals who are doing funny things with each other until my Mama grabs me by the arm and won’t let me watch anymore.

I want to be dragged along mile after endless mile and introduced to people and sit quietly and listen,house after house, while my parents visit people they love,or some who are sick or have new babies or a son off to war.  I will be especially quiet and stare at the pictures on a side console table,all the old fashioned black and white ones with the funny hats, and the color one of the handsome man in a uniform,while the people’s house is deathly quiet and all I can hear are a pendulum on a grandfather clock,my parents’ voices and the other couple’s voices so low in the kitchen that I have no idea what they are saying. I will sit there holding my bladder while the sun goes down and the lady cries,because now is not the time to ask if I can use their bathroom. And so Iwill sit,while the room grows darker and the young man in the picture becomes harder and harder to see then gradually fades into the darkness and I hear chairs scraping back away from the kitchen table and I am finally able to ask my Mama,”Where is the bathroom?”.

I want to ride home with Mama and Daddy,mile after mile in the dark, with not a word being said and the Grand Ole Opry on the radio,turned down very low while I lay my head back and stare out at the stars and how they turn around when we go around a curve, and I think the moon must be following us and maybe there really is a man in it,and I am going to be eight years old on my next birthday….

So I guess I will go sit outside in the yard and close my eyes and sit quietly and feel the sun and Spring breeze on my face and visit them all again,until my grandchild comes up to me and asks,”Grandmama, is something wrong?” And I will tell my just-turned-eight-years-old granddaughter,”No,everything is just fine. Would you like to go visit a graveyard with Grandmama and Grandaddy during Spring Break? We can put flowers in it”

 

All contents copyright 2011,Gloria Hayes. All rights reserved

Faith and Crackers

  I have lived through some hard times, that if I were to write about, people would think I was a liar. But they are every bit true, and I wouldn’t change any one of them, because I have learned from them. I am wiser because of them.

  We had all the children in a four bedroom house with two bathrooms in town, and Section Eight was helping pay the rent. I was having to collect welfare because my ex would not pay child support. Two things caused me to make a change that most people would say was insane: I noticed a known crack addict in the neighborhood stopping to watch my little girl play and trying to talk to her; and a couple of times one or the other of the children had asked me,”Mama, when your check gets here next week can we…”,and I realized that we were all falling into a mentality and dependence on “the system” to provide  for us.

 So I began looking for a way out; scouring the want ads for owner-financed or rent-to -own land or homes,since I had no credit established. It had all been in my ex-husband’s name.

  It was impossible, it seemed, but I prayed and prayed, and finally I saw an ad in the paper, went out and looked,and there it was: five acres of unsettled woodland,eight miles from the nearest store,through six miles of swamp. The owner was willing to finance and  bulldoze down enough trees for us to get a mobile home pulled  in and my Daddy was a well driller, so we had that part covered.

  Then I found a used mobile home dealer who would finance and move it, and we wound up buying two mobile homes and parking them side by side…the one from the 1960’s in front,the one from the 1970’s in back! We joined them together and started moving.

   Everything was going along smoothly; the trailers were in place,the well was drilled and capped off, ready for a pump,the power pole was in place, ready for the power company to come turn the power on as soon as the inspector okayed everything.

  The inspector was dragging around and we had to move, so we figured a few days without power would be okay; we had always taken the kids camping, so we went ahead and vacated the house and moved to the woods.

  Then came the snag: the inspector would not approve the electricity. The mobile homes were so old that neither one had an approved electric breaker box, and they had aluminum wiring throughout,which had been outlawed because of the fires they had caused over the years.

   The owner of the land had agreed to include the septic tank in the deal, and he dug the hole and set the tank in the ground and covered it up, all except for the end which was supposed to have drainage lines coming from it, which he now claimed never to have promised to provide.We soon discovered why: The pipes were not that costly, but the gravel needed to run them was outrageously priced.

   So here we sat: enough money to get one septic drain line in so we could use the bathroom,but not enough for both of them, so it could pass inspection-which was also required before the power could be turned on!

   The wiring, a professional to install it, the tie downs, set up according to code, and the drain line would have been a few thousand dollars-which of course, we did not have.

  So that is how we came to live like people did one hundred years ago, for seven months, in the Georgia backwoods. No electricity, a hand pump on the well, scrubbing clothes in five gallon buckets and hanging them on the clothesline. Cooking supper before dark on a gas stove and eating by lamplight. A wind up clock to wake up by, for Dennis to go to work and the kids to get on the bus.

   After dark a panther prowled in the yard and under the house ,and one morning bright and early my two youngest ones walked into the woods to try to “pet the big kitty cat,color of Mama dog”, which was our black chow. Scarlett was truly upset and crying as she told me “it don’t let us pet it” ! I wondered if Guardian Angels could have heart attacks….

  Someone dropped off a huge dog in the woods and abandoned it, thinking I guess that “people who live in the country”would of course take it in. Not. It laid across the road in the woods for a week until Scarlett,who was four by then, took the trash out for me. There were bloody meat wrappers in the sack, and I guess the scent triggered the starving animal. We could not stop it before it had crouched, leapt,and attacked her. Its huge mouth held the entire top of her head as it shook and slung her trying to snap her neck, like some lion on the National Geographic channel killing a young animal.

 Then it dropped her and went for her throat. Thank God she instinctively drew up into a ball, facedown, with her head tucked, so it was not able to reach her veins, but it was tearing into the back of her neck and shoulder.

 We went running towards it,and Brett had an axe in his hands which he used to beat it in the head until it let go and ran off. Scarlett had to have lots of stitches and still bears the scars.

   Afterwards, as another family moved into the area with their dog, she was terrified, so I taught her not to fear, and to trust God to protect her. I told her that she was God’s little girl. Did she believe Jesus was God’s son,and He died on the Cross for her? Then she didn’t have to be afraid of anything, she was even the devil’s boss! Anything that tried to hurt her, she could command it in Jesus’ name, and God would make it stop.

   I was so tired of living under such hard conditions,and was starting to think we were better off with the crack addicts , I wondered what kind of mother would put their kids through this kind of hardship, Dennis and I were doing all we possibly could and it was not enough. What was going to become of our family? We didn’t even have the money to move back into town.

    As I doubted, Scarlett’s faith grew; she commanded the little mean boy to go home in Jesus’ name,and he did.She commanded everything she could think of that came against her, in Jesus’ name. I was amused at her childlike faith, but I was wondering,”What will I tell her when she commands something in Jesus’ name and it doesn’t happen?”

   Then the little mean boy and his dog came one day. The dog was a big brute, very protective of the little boy, and whenever Scarlett went near, he would bark and growl and threaten her. Suddenly Scarlett commanded the dog to shut up barking at her in Jesus’ name, and that dog shut his mouth and tucked his tail and never threatened her again. She had conquered her fear through faith. I just stood there watching, frozen; shocked and disbelieving what I had just witnessed.

   Finally came the ultimate test; two child protective services workers came out, in two seperate cars,and I knew that was so each of my children could be seatbelted in safely and taken away from me. They asked if it was true that I had no electricity, water,or sewage. I showed them the septic tank, took them inside and showed them the gas stove,the cooler,the children’s rooms; everything.They said “So you don’t have running water, then…”

    Brett walked over to the pitcher pump on the well, started pumping it up and down, and water flowed out, good, clear, and cold. Brett looked at them boldly and said,”Yes, we have running water. You pump the handle and the water runs out !” 

   The children were obviously well fed, wearing clean clothes,and polite, attended school regularly with good grades, except for the two little ones, one of whom proudly spoke up with” I can almost go to school, I can say the pledgealeejus”…and she did,at four years old.Then she sang him the alphabet song. Not to be outdone, the three year old piped up with the Lord’s Prayer, word for word.

   Suddenly, I spoke up and without realizing it, gave a commandment in Jesus’name. I calmly said, “Mister, before you take my children away, you better be ready to take away every Quaker and Amish family in the United States’ children, because most of them have never even seen a light bulb !” And the big mean protective dogs stopped barking, tucked their tails, got into their cars, and left.

  Later on, I saw Scarlett with a pack of saltine crackers. Everyone knows saltine crackers are crumbly;they are made to be crumbled. Yet after about the third cracker, or cookie, as she called it, left crumbs all over her, she  gave a command in Jesus’ name, “Cookies, I command you in the name of Jesus, don’t you break no more!”

 “Uh, oh, I thought, this is it”. I watched secretly and waited;and waited; and witnessed a four year old child eat almost an entire pack of saltine crackers without even one crumb falling.

  Suddenly I was humbled and grateful. My child had taught me a lesson. Believe. Trust God to keep His word, hear my prayer, and answer it. He had heard the words of a child spoken in simple faith, and did not even let her cookie crumble.

     If God could keep her cookie from falling apart, He could keep our family from being torn apart,even if all we had to offer them was the best we could do, and our love.

   The power was finally turned on, an electric pump ran water into the house,and life went on. But those seven months in the wilderness with only our children and God paid off. Not one of our children was ever in trouble with juvenile authorities.

     The mean little boy down the road with the new home,big TV,nice cars, video games, and any and every modern convenience is, sadly, from a broken home and is in prison.

   We might have been broke,but we were never broken.God never let us crumble.

Mornings with Old Lovers

   A single sunbeam steals across the floor and tickles my eyelids. I open them slowly, luxuriously,feeling first all the familiar sensations that are you. The leg thrown across mine at the ankle with the sheet tangled in your toes. The intense warmth you generate whereever our bodies are touching,that has always existed, right from the first moment.

 I close my eyes again and smell you, the clean masculinity that completes my own femininity,the coarse hair that scratches my cheek as you nuzzle my face in your sleep. I breathe deeply as you exhale, drawing in the breath that was down next to your heart just moments ago, and hold it in my chest, next to my own heart. One breath, one heartbeat, one life. Ours.

  You adjust in your sleep and habit causes you to reach for me and pull me over to you, my head on your chest. I lie still, so as not to wake you, just as I did last night when you finally fell asleep with your head cradled in the small of my back. The strong,muscled arms which have strained and toiled and provided sustenance for the family we have raised are gentle now,tender,as you pull me as close as to you as possible, and kiss the top of my head. I feel myself melt, knowing I am safe and protected by a love second only to God’s love for me.

  I tilt my head back  so I can clearly see your face, the features I have loved since they were smooth and wrinkle free,now covered in creases;I trace the laugh lines with my eyes and know that I, too, share the same laugh lines, just as we shared the laughter through the years. They are good lines,for when we look at each other we see the joy of the life we have shared.

  There is less of your jet black hair than ever ,and I know every gray hair I reach up to touch. I remember the times I have held your head as you cried with me,the many, many times I have stroked it as together we struggled through the hard times, and I still feel a thrill when the memory runs through my mind just how handsome you were, with that black hair and mustache,now graying too.But you are still my handsome dashing hero; I can see you no other way.

   But it is when my eyes wander lovingly to rest upon your closed eyelids that I am satisfied. Home like a hero from a far off war,who has wandered miles and miles to find his way back home,worn out from walking, the journey over, as he stands at the door. Like your eyelids, the door is closed, but it doesn’t matter; he can feel the love inside, permeating him before he even enters. The familiar voices, the welcoming arms, the tears of joy,the longings of yesterdays and the dreams of tomorrows,they are all there, on the inside, waiting.

    Then you open your eyes to look at me, and I am home.

   I slowly, stiffly rise and start to the kitchen to make the coffee. I know just how to make yours: one sugar, two cream. I am slower than ever, having to let my joints get warmed up.

  But I smile to myself in the empty kitchen, remembering  how, as the morning came in bringing the bright sunlight into my eyes, I made love to you as you slept.

All contents copyright 2011,Gloria Hayes. All rights reserved