The Enchanted Granny

 

DSC06066.jpgIt was a bad idea. My husband said, “This is a bad idea.” But I suffer from an enchanted condition called ‘Grandmother.’ The spell works differently in different grandmas, but I’ve been told that, when fully under its power, I am blinded to any defects in my grandchildren. Past disasters are blotted from my memory and possible future chaoses are bedazzled by blind optimism.

My two oldest grandsons, ages 2 and 3, both wanted to sit with my husband (Grampy) my youngest son (Uncle K) and myself (Granny) in church.
I said yes and led the two small boys to our customary seat.
Families with small children usually sit in back.
Our customary seat is middling-front.
In the area frequented by people who came that day foolishly assuming they were going to hear an entire worship service.

My husband slipped in to my left. “This is a bad idea.”

“No. It will be fine! Three adults and only two little ones? We can separate them. Besides, they are playing with their church toys.”

I folded my hands as the pastor began to pray, ready to offer a silent postscript of gratitude for these wonderful little blessings.
We didn’t even make it through “Dear Father in Heaven.”

Did you know that church toys, contrary to all that is right and good and expected, are cursed with a dreadful spell?
EACH TOY is under enchantment to make it alluring and desirable ONLY WHEN ONE’S COUSIN IS PLAYING WITH IT.
As soon as the magical toy is wrest from the grip of the other, its enchantment dissipates.

Did you know that small children are shape-shifters? They change into eels that slither around and between adult legs to reach each other. Their 30-pound frames transmute to several tons of bonelessness when an adult attempts a leverage-and-lift.

You know how beavers have that extra eyelid that closes in water?
The magical human variety have a mudflap that descends over the eardrum in public.
It flips down  at the first sound of “SHHHHH! We’re praying!” or “It’s not your turn” or “Do you want a timeout?”
The mudflap rolls back up at the smallest vibration of a fruit snack package crinkled anywhere in the building, which triggers the vocal chords which immediately demand, in a roar also heard to the limits of the building, “I want a snack, Granny!”

I have a magic bag of tricks. I call it my purse and it contains everything that could address any conceivable physical emergency. It contained fruit snacks. The magical children made them disappear in 3.7 ( blessedly silent) seconds. Then these amazing creatures turned the purse upside down and— ABRACADABRA! 28 sq. liters of stuff came out of my 8”x10” handbag.

For their next trick, they levitated my artfully-tied fashion scarf from around my neck. A lively discussion between the cousins ensued. #1 thought he should wear the scarf around his head. Pirate style. #2 disagreed. It should be around #1’s neck. Hangman’s noose style.
For a brief moment my Enchanted Grandmother brain cleared and I remembered how dangerous anything around the neck of a child can potentially be.
I reclaimed the scarf, hissed words of warning,
and all billy h-e-double hockey sticks broke out.
#1 transformed into a shrieking hydra, squirting tears in a three-foot swath. Then he saw Cousin looking smug and his resulting howls registered on sonar equipment.

Grampy hustled #1 down the aisle and into the back.
Uncle K busied himself comforting a sobbing #2 who, now that he’d gotten exactly what he wanted, no longer wanted it.
I smiled assurance at the tense people around us. Things will settle down now. Only one little boy. You may even catch the last few lines of the sermon.

Grampy, who’d forgotten he needed to collect offering, hustled back up the aisle and deposited #1 next to me in the pew.
Only a few minutes to go. I could do this.
Did you know that time, under enchantment, expands?
The few minutes lasted well into the next century.

Ignoring the urgent cries of the little Faeries of Common Sense fluttering around my head, I handed each boy a quarter to put in the collection plate.
Once the quarters hit the warm hands of the magical children they fell under the spell. They multiplied. For the next seven minutes quarters hit the floor 220 times.

The pastor pronounced the benediction and dismissed us with the Lord’s blessing. Our grandchildren’s parents came to reclaim their offspring. The little boys hugged our legs, looked up with sweetly trusting eyes, and lisped, “Love you Granny. We sit with you again.”

Anyone have a good counter-spell for ‘Enchanted Grandmother?’

The stumble after the fall

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Decades of experience have proven that a blessing can, conversely, work as a curse.

Take the old Irish benediction ‘May the road rise up to meet you.’
Think about it. One is walking, in a carefree, guileless manner along a road/path/sidewalk/carpeted hallway, and it rears up to meet one in the form of a bump/stone/protuberance/wrinkle.
What happens then? Anything from a face plant to a gyrating series of stumbles, bobs, weaves and windmilling arms. It’s never pretty. If you ever see me do any of the above—please be kind and pretend you didn’t. Don’t offer me a hand up or ask if I am all right.

Because pride hurts worse than the fall.

What is worse than the physical pain of bruised shins, bloodied knees or chipped teeth?
Metaphorical falls.
They occur, with irritating regularity, on the twisting, booby-trapped, buckling road of daily life. We are tripped up by bumps of:
-forgetting stuff
-mispronouncing stuff
-acting out of ignorance
-making faulty judgements based on incomplete facts
-speaking loudly and publicly and foolishly using those faulty judgments
-social blunders
-at a baby shower, during a game,  announcing ‘Myrtle’ as a name to  never name a baby, forgetting the hostess’s name is Myrtle.*

Unless you are a hermit, perfect, or have the gift of flight, you can no doubt remember one or two figurative stumbles of your own.
When we fall—spraining hubris, skinning egos, and banging up pride, we hope no one noticed.

Just in case though, we take ridiculous measures to maintain some semblance of dignity. Instead of rising to our feet, smiling ruefully and taking note of what precipitated the fall so we don’t repeat it, we might:
-make excuses for our forgetfulness so we don’t appear at fault
-stubbornly cover slips of tongue or mangling of words so we don’t appear less than clever
-huffily defend ignorant behavior so we don’t have to appear humble
-bluster through wrong assumptions so we don’t appear ignorant
-blather on with foolish pronouncements so we don’t appear…foolish
-grumble past our social blunders as if society where at fault instead of ourselves
-refuse to apologize profusely for an unintentional personal insult because we might appear vulnerable—i.e.—mortal

A fall is embarrassing and it can hurt. But it happens, and it isn’t irremediable.
Unless.
Unless we pretend we meant to fall.
Unless we sacrifice others to save face.
Unless we blame the road instead of our own inattention.
Unless we never look at what caused the fall to avoid it in the future.

The stumble after the fall is worse than the accident itself.
It compounds the topple, hurts the onlookers, and ensures we’ll continue, in spite of bobbing and weaving and windmilling, to fall flat on our faces.

Let’s stop deluding ourselves. Clumsy, prideful, defensive methods to make certain no one noticed serve to only prolong the stumble.
Let’s turn that curse back to a blessing.
When the road rises to meet us, grin, and thank it for pointing out that the clumsiest of humans can rise after the fall, a better person.

*An all-too humbling real-life experience that occurred in the distant past of the Tuesday Prude.

Man’s Work

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Daddy (who would have been 100 this Friday) had a wealth of old sayings, aphorisms and proverbs.

One he quoted often while looking fondly at Mom:

“Man’s work goes from sun to sun, woman’s work is never done.”

We never quite made sense of that, since Mom, for most of her adult life, worked outside the home, while Dad made dinner, did dishes and laundry, yard work and handyman stuff.

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But despite all evidence to the contrary, old sayings are old sayings. And Dad believed every pithy word.Scan 150770001

Sibling Rivalry

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A Christian (let’s call him Christian) walks into a coffee bar.
He sees a woman, head bent over her Bible, reading and taking notes. His heart leaps. Like calls to like as he realizes that, although he has never seen her before, she is his sister. His sister in Christ.

He hesitates at her table. When she looks up with an open and welcoming smile, he says, “I see you are reading the book of Matthew. Are you a believer?”

She responds with a happy affirmative, introduces herself as Christiana, and asks him to join her.

The conversation starts slowly:
“How long have you been saved?”
“What’s your favorite book/verse/passage?”

They dance around “Where do you go to church?” knowing the answer could lead to one of those family arguments about which sibling’s doctrine is better than the other. Or worse. What if the other is a heretic? A black sheep of the family?

After tiptoeing around the edges of the theological crevasse they realize that, in spite of some differences in non-essentials, what unites them is greater than what divides.

The conversation continues with gusto. They compare favorite sermon topics, debate merits of hymns or contemporary praise-n-worship songs, free-form services or liturgical, sprinkling or dunking, heads bowed or hands held high.

Family business taken care of, they get personal. Christiana describes how she was raised by atheists and just last year had a Damascus Road sort of conversion after seeing a billboard that read “Amazing Grace: Not just for bagpipes.”
Christian reveals that he is the son of believers, raised by believers, who were umpteenth-generation believers.
They again compare notes. Enthusiasm of the fresh convert or quiet, deep conviction of one raised in the faith.

They’ve reached the part of the conversation where they begin speaking of how great their mutual Father is. All the awesome stuff He does for them. Caramel macchiato and spiced chai latte grow lukewarm, then cold as brother and sister in Christ move from generals — Grace! Forgiveness! Eternity! — to specifics.

Christiana reveals at least a dozen times in the past year, when she thought she was out of money, envelopes with cash showed up in her mailbox.

Christian, whose hours at work have been slashed so drastically that he’s taken a second job flipping burgers, forces sincerity into his smile.

But then he remembers how, when his grandfather died, when his wife miscarried, he’d been filled with a supernatural peace that passed understanding. They had, he knows, died in Christ. He shares this with Christiana, whose unsaved parents died within a year of each other and she’s still coming to grips with the fact that she will never see them on either side of eternity.

But! She’d suffered from chronic back pain since a freak accident involving a teeter totter, an outsized friend and an irritable hummingbird. Her pastor led a group in prayer and laying on of hands and she was immediately free from the torment.

Christian feels his smile freeze into position. He’s been dealing with IBS and eczema since he was young, and no amount of sincere and faith-filled prayer had taken them away.
Conversation lags. They both make attempts to restore the fraternization they’d enjoyed at the beginning. Christiana tells of more miraculous interventions. Christian counters by affirming trust that grows in spite of thorns in one’s side.

Christiana bundles her Bible and notebook into her knapsack. She gives Christian a philadelphia sort of hug and says she’ll be praying for his eczema. (He’d chosen not to bring up his IBS.) Her Father had said that ‘all His promises have their yes in Christ!’ she adds brightly.

With a stiff upper lip Christian promises to pray too, that her faith will mature and she’ll soon be enjoying spiritual meat in addition to her milk diet.

As he hands her a pencil that rolled on the floor he thinks “The babies of the family get spoiled. Makes ‘em soft”

She thanks him and volunteers to clear their cups and napkins from the table, reflecting that the oldest kids in the family always seem overbearing.

They wave goodbye and go their separate ways, each one wondering, “Who does Father love best?”

Aging Like a Conifer

‘Let me grow lovely, growing old”

is a poem by Karle Wilson Baker, which I’m not sure I can reprint because I’m not sure it’s public domain. (Prudes thrive on assessing and evaluating each potential action they might take, then searching for laws that could prohibit such action.)

The poem goes on to extol other beautiful, fine old things, like lace. Trees make the list.

Oak trees grow lovely, sure.SONY DSCMaples? You bet.

The venerable weeping willow droops gracefully as she sheds her final tears. SONY DSC

Elms, even those untidy, drop-their-messes-everywhere mountain ashes—

hardwoods wear their age well.

 

 

 

 

 

The leaves these old deciduous trees dropped the previous autumn might not all be replaced in the spring. Come late summer, their scant leaves fade into fall hues even as their younger compatriots still flaunt green foliage.SONY DSC

But sparser leaf covering serves only to accentuate the splendid outlines of these trees.

There is dignity in the gnarled, scarred trunks.

Branches, some of them more fragile now, still extend with grace and beauty. More of the basic structure is being revealed, and it is beautiful.

The deciduous tree is stately.

Its oldness has a fine quality.

Even the most elderly of these, naked and alone, can provide a perch for the majestic bald eagle.

SONY DSCWhat about the aging conifer?

With the exception of the giant redwood, maybe the grand cedars of Lebanon, very few elderly needle-producing, cone-bearing softwoods inspire poets.

SONY DSCA spruce, on exiting middle age, gets all prickly and irritable and begins to drop things.

The ancient fir suddenly realizes he is more bark than bite.

Pines fight a losing battle with needles turning from verdant green to unattractive rust.

Or worse, the needles fall out, never to return.

 

Think ‘Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.’

 

The tall conifer looks over its shoulder one day and realizes it has developed a distinct dowager’s hump.SONY DSC

Your yew (just let that phrase roll off your tongue), along with cousins cypress and hemlock, realize they are getting bald and spindly.

And the lowly arborvitae is just a bedraggled mass of sepia-colored scales drooping from veiny branches.

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Brittle needles.

Unnatural color.

Unattractive veins and spindly shanks and drooping limbs.

That’s how a conifer ages.

 

 

Some of us, as we wend our way through mid-middle age, mature like hardwood deciduous trees.

Fine, elegant, stately.

And some of us, as we approach our pre-old age years, can’t help but notice we are getting scaly and droopy and rusty and prickly.

None of us have total control over how we’ll age.

It’s built into our DNA.

Plant an acorn and an oak grows.

Plant a scale-covered seed and you get a conifer.

Oak trees, maple trees, birch—they grow lovely, growing old.

Conifers just . . . grow old.

But little birds lighting on the numerous exposed branches of an old conifer don’t care what it looks like.

Their unlovely tree provides rest and shelter and doesn’t mind being swarmed with small bodies as long as the little ones don’t take the prickliness personally.

Old oaks, ancient maples, venerable elms, grizzled birches—still delight the senses with their beauty.

But the  sparrows in the branches of an aging conifer don’t care about dropping needles or sagging limbs or spidery veins.

Like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, the conifer might not have grown lovely, growing old,

but it has grown love.

Bless the Bandaid Solutions

SONY DSCLuxury items for those of us growing up in the 1960’s are today considered basic human rights. Cameras weren’t all pricey, but film and flash bulbs could be.
Languishing in drawers of many 60’s and 70’s households were rolls and rolls of undeveloped film, waiting till the photographer garnered enough cash to bring them to the Fotomat.
Long distance calling and pay phones meant keeping one eye on the second hand of the clock and the other on a pitiful pile of disposable income.
Today your average tween can call practically anywhere in the world as long as they stay within their parents’ minutes plan.
And they have 10 thousand photos on their phones and twice that many on their facebook pages.
You know what else your average unemployed anybody has access to?
Bandaids.

Those pinkish strips of adhesive were the crucible of wealth when I was a child. Could my friend afford a bandage on a minor scrape or bump? They must be rich.
I, on the other hand, child of a genteelly impoverished private school teacher, was always told I didn’t need a bandaid.
They were expensive.
They wouldn’t make the injury better anyway.
It just needed to be cleaned well.
This meant sanitizing it with whatever in the medicine cabinet was labelled ‘Causes Unbearable Stinging Sensation.’
Then we engaged in something called ‘letting the air at it.’

But I wanted a bandage. I wanted my dad to attain sudden wealth so we could have unlimited access to Bandaids.
Not because putting a strip of padded rubbery stuff on a scratch was a status symbol.
I was too young to care.
No.
That bandage felt like a small hug.
It relieved some pain, no matter how my thrifty, cash-strapped parents scoffed at the notion.
The wound felt safe and protected.

Bandaid solutions to major problems in the 21st century, issues ranging from obesity in overdeveloped countries to famine in third-world nations, are scoffed at.
They don’t fix the problem, we hear.
They just cover it up.
A bandaid fix serves no purpose but to ignore the festering problem.

But maybe bandaids, used with common sense, do serve a purpose when dealing with these and other issues of enormity.

Some of us feel smug when we recycle our plastic bottles.
We are saving the environment!
But we really have no idea what other resources are being used to recycle that plastic, or how much if it is ending up in landfills anyway.
Our pretty recycling bandage might hide a spreading mess that we can’t cover with an entire pharmacy of wraps and bindings.

How about the old momism that is so derided?
‘Eat your vegetables. There are starving children in the world.”
And us smart aleck offspring respond, “Fine. Let’s send my creamed asparagus to them.”

This bandage not only doesn’t solve world hunger, people say.
It creates another issue—obesity—among the ‘clean plate club.’
Maybe, though, Mom was on to something.
That bandaid was decorated with little truths:
Be grateful for what you have.
You don’t deserve it so don’t waste it as if you do.
When we appreciate the wonderful gift food is, could we resist the temptation to gorge ourselves?
Could the reproachful eyes of that starving child swim up before us, reminding us that wasting, either by tossing or overindulging, is akin to stealing?

Maybe that same appreciation of physical blessings will open our eyes to blatant consumerism. We’ll focus not so much on recycling as doing what our ancestors did:
making do with what we’ve got.
Reusing and repurposing and being thrifty and not buying what we don’t need will help clean up the messy ulcerated miasma of rubbish, with a little help from the protective bandage of recycling.

Do you throw coins in a homeless person’s cup because you saw some youtube video where everyone walked past disguised family members without recognizing them?
You might be doing worse than putting on a bandaid.
You might be pouring acid on their wound.
Some of my friends, however, started with that ‘toss in a dollar’ quick-fix mentality, but didn’t stay there.
They began living and moving among the homeless, seeing them as fellow travelers instead of causes.
They aren’t eradicating the problem of homelessness or mental illness or addiction.
They know they aren’t God.
But after the feel-good bandage came off they realized we are all messed up.
We aren’t put here to fix everyone.
We are to treat everyone with dignity and wisdom and love.
I am a zealous defender of Bandaid Solutions but that doesn’t mean we should rely on them solely.
They can make us feel good and secure for awhile, but put one on an area of the body we don’t see much, like the calf or the back of the arm, and it can languish, forgotten, while the dog bite or stab wound it covers becomes infected.
Twittering ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ made a whole host of people feel like they were doing something noble when Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped.
They were changing the world, one tweet at a time.
But we’ve sort of forgotten those girls.
No one recently has posted ‘Bring back our girls. Or else.’
The kidnappers pay no attention to what we over here twitter during our extensive free time.
They are too busy strapping explosives on the girls to use as unwilling suicide bombers, lambs driven to slaughter of themselves and other unwilling victims.
We either get bored of a good cause too quickly, or realize the powerlessness, even of a million tweets, to change the minds of fanatics.
That twitter bandage, though, might raise some awareness of girls being misused in our own neighborhoods.
It might make us see how children are manipulated by the media or advertising or individuals or organizations to achieve goals that have nothing to do with the welfare of that child.
They are only the sacrificial lambs to further the agenda of whoever is using them.
Maybe we’ll protest not only with clever little signs but with our actions and our checkbooks.

Protesting war—any war—seldom accomplishes anything.
Governments don’t care if you disrupt traffic while carrying placards.
Especially governments who don’t like your country to begin with.
But if, while you engage in the futile effort against violence, someone rudely rams into you, you might think twice before bringing your ‘PEACE AT ALL COSTS’ sign down on the offender’s noggin.

Here’s the thing about bandaids.
They don’t stop further hurts and wounds.
They don’t make present damage disappear immediately.
But that protection, that relief from pain, albeit temporary, can have some surprising results.
We want to do whatever minor fixes we can to help relieve the hurts of others.
It helps us remember that temporary remedies are great, as long as the underlying injury can be dealt with.
And those monumental wounds, the ones no amount of adhesive and germ killer can cover,
force us to our knees before the only One who really brings temporal and eternal healing.

Grace for the Chatterbox

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A strong, silent type and a chatterbox

Recently the pastor preached on Mark 9.
Jesus took 3 disciples up a mountain.
His clothes became white as light,
God spoke audibly from heaven,
and Moses and Elijah, who had been dead several hundreds of years, came to discuss issues of life and especially death with Jesus.
It appears that while these three phenomenal, unprecedented events were occurring, James and John stood silent.
Then we have Peter.
In the pastor’s words, he suggested they build tents and camp out up there. With the Son of God and…the guys who had died.
WHY this inane comment?
Because ‘he did not know what to say…’

So, when Peter had nothing whatsoever of value to contribute to the conversation,
he opted to say something of absolutely no value.
Peter suffered from ‘Fill the Silence with Sounds Syndrome. (FSSS)
He is the patron saint of chatterboxes.

A chatterbox, to boil the definition down to its solid state, talks a lot.
Unlike politicians, who talk a lot to get elected, stay elected, or confound anyone who questions their record/stance/expense account/dalliances,
a chatterbox has no firm agenda in mind.
We don’t aspire to impart the wisdom accumulated by ourselves or others, as teachers do, and our verbiage doesn’t expound on the ultimate Word in the way of pastors.

We part our lips. A lot of stuff comes out. It is as simple as that.

Chatterboxes differ from windbags. We don’t just want to hear ourselves speak.
We aren’t egomaniacs. We aren’t driven by a need to convince you of our fabulousness.
Under that steady stream of babbling syllables often lies a bedrock of intelligence.
We do care about people, and express it is via a plethora of utterances.

Are chatterers a product of nature or nurture? No empirical data to back this up, but I’m guessing we are either/or, possibly both/and.
Just don’t assume that every chatterer you meet was born that way.
Many of us, in our essence, are wallflowers.
Tuck us in a quiet corner with a book.
Please.
But another psyche wars within us, a little harder to identify.
The nature that abhors a vacuum of silence.
Many non-stop talkers I know have a fascination with the written word.
Has it metamorphosed into a need for generating the spoken word?
Or maybe us FSSS sufferers harbor an unattractive, latent god-complex.
Anyone’s slings and arrows of outrageous fortune can be repelled if we only speak enough words over them.
Share a problem or concern with us and, even as part of our brain says, “Can you just keep quiet and listen, for pity’s sake?” our mouths are positively burbling with advice or sympathy or a similar woe shared by a great aunt.

The wisdom of the world sides with that portion of our brain begging for silence:

“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. “ Proverbs 17:28

Aesop made the dictum pithy:
“Fine clothes may disguise, but silly words will disclose a fool”

George Eliot expanded on the adage.
“Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.”

Even the Mad Hatter gets his digs in.
“I don’t think…”
“then you shouldn’t talk,” said the Hatter.

Compulsive talkers are surrounded by this kind of stuff. We want to appear wise and sage and prudent. Really we do. But like Peter, when we don’t know what to do, we say.

Quiet people suffer from no such urges. And they look like we want to. Intelligent.

But here is the problem. Say there is a party. A baby shower. The in-laws’ 50th anniversary.
One of our ilk sits down at a table with 3 or 4 silent types, each a quiet, wise-looking little iceberg.
Like the Titanic propelled on a turbine of words, our chatterbox steams into view and, unlike the Titanic, breaks the ice. While the icebergs don’t necessarily interact with each other much, they are tolerant of, and even engaging with the icebreaker.
Really, there isn’t much they need do. The chatterer will fill the air with a perpetual tumble of anecdotes and questions and comments.

At the end of the evening the quiet ones head for home. It was a successful evening. They hadn’t been bored. They could socialize gently. They haven’t appeared shy or been accused of being stuck-up.
The chatterbox leaves with her usual host of regrets.
‘I talked too much. Again’
‘I said such STUPID stuff.’
‘Why can’t I develop laryngitis?’
Chattererboxes find comfort where they can:
We are generally liked.
We can patter lightly on about almost any topic.
Occasionally we give offense—how could we not? The odds will catch up to us and we’ll eventually put words end-to-end that hurt someone’s feelings.
But it is almost always inadvertent. Our chief function is to care for others by filling empty space with syllables.

Sometimes we surprise ourselves by saying something worthwhile.
St. Peter burst out with the profession that Christ is the Son of the Living God. And even though he almost immediately blundered into saying something really, really stupid, God used this compulsive chatterer as a foundation to build His church.

Yes, there is ‘a time to keep silence.’
But blessedly, there is also ‘a time to speak;’