HAPPY NEW YEAR?

fireworks

The normal thing to say here is HAPPY NEW YEAR, but I have a feeling there will be much angst and turmoil in this coming year. More government controls, more taxes, more discontent, more gimme-gimme-gimme, less freedom, less peace of mind, less trust, less optimism. I think we’ll see more of a police state than we’ve already experienced, and more foreign troops ‘training’ on U.S. soil. We’ll see our own armed forces reduced and weakened more and more, and a widening gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’

But in the midst of all the doom and gloom forecasts, I have a lifeline. Whatever comes my way, the LORD JESUS is fully able to handle it, and will never leave me nor forsake me. On that promise do I rest my present and my future.

And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee. Psalm 9:10

What’s your lifeline?

squirreling it away

Upset Sauce and Crabbalin’ Water

When my sons were small, they were quite adept at inventing names for things. I’ve inherited that ability from them. I was just thinking about these names this morning as I prepared the nuts for the sweet potato casserole. My husband was a bit confused when I asked him where we’d stored the thocka-thocka when we moved to this new house. I needed it to chop up those nuts. I had to describe that indispensable tool to him.

Oh, you know what I’m talking about – that thing that goes ‘thocka-thocka’ when I chop things up.

As he was still having trouble visualizing the implement, I just had to go ahead and look for it myself. Aha! There it was, in the cabinet under the counter. I whipped it out and began to chop nuts with great enthusiasm to demonstrate.

Hear that? That ‘thocka-thocka’ sound? THAT’S why it’s called a thocka-thocka.

Somehow he wasn’t convinced, but he humored me, good husband that he is.

That started a whole train of thought that took me traveling back in time – not so much to Christmases past, just to the past. I remembered when I named those loppers used to lop branches off trees, the Cindys. Yes, of course they were named for Cindy Lauper. I never cared for her style of ‘singing,’ and I’m not particularly fond of branch-lopping. It was quite a logical correlation, at least in my mind.

Then there was the time my older son was helping my brother-in-law build a work bench. At two years of age, he was the ideal assistant to Uncle Bill. His dad came out to the worksite to observe the progress, and asked our son what he was doing at that moment. Busily hammering away at a bent nail, he looked up and said, “I’m dokin’.”

Dad was intrigued.

Dokin’?

Yeah, Dad.

Oh, I see. Well, what’s that thing you’re hitting, there?

It’s a doke!

Ah . . . and what’s that called that you have in your hand?

It’s a doke-doke.

Ah-ha. Uhm, and why is it called a doke-doke?

My son, with the patience and superior knowledge of a two-year-old, gave his father that, “Don’t you know ANYTHING??” look, and replied,

’cause you doke dokes with it!

That explained everything! His dad went off chuckling at our son’s ingenuity.

Not to be outdone, our younger son was also able to give titles to deserving items of interest. One of my favorite instances was when he’d once injured his finger. Well . . . I’d better elaborate on that a little more – it wasn’t the fact that he’d hurt his finger that made it a favorite memory. It was what he said to let me know he needed help.

Mom, I hurt myself. I think I need some of that upset sauce.

I looked at his finger and agreed. I got out the ‘upset sauce’ (epsom salts) and put some water on the stove to heat so I could dissolve the ‘sauce.’ As it was coming to a boil, my son was sitting patiently waiting and watching the pot boil, while he held his injured finger up. He was distracted from the pain for awhile as he watched bubbles form on the water. Suddenly he alerted me to the fact that the water was ready.

Look, Mom. That water’s crabbalin’!

And indeed, it was merrily bubbling over the edge of the pot. As I put the upset sauce into the pot of crabbalin’ water, I thought, “If Hollywood gets wind of this child’s gift for coining phrases, he’s got a job for life!”

Back to present-day morning preparations . . . it’s time to clean the floors for the gathering of friends and family. The simple acts of sweeping and mopping again released memories of days gone by.

It’s 35 years ago; I’m in the kitchen preparing to clean the floor, and my son wants to help.

Mom, can I get the sweep for you?

Makes sense. If you mop with a mop, then you MUST sweep with a sweep.

Which took me to yet another japanese chicken (that term is defined on my other blog, the REmissionary). I was thinking of the sewing frenzy I’d just finished for Christmas. I recalled the time my younger son decided he needed to do some mending. He was about three and wanted to fix a hole in something all by himself. He came and asked me for the necessary supplies to complete that task.

Mom, can I use your needle? Do you have some theard? Uh . . . I mean some thord? Uhm . . . Mom, tell me everything that’s in your sewing box.

Another perfectly logical train of thought – that thing he wanted HAD to be in the list I was about to name off for him.

Can you remember your kids renaming anything more logically than its original name?

I just wanted to share a few special, favorite memories on this very special, favorite day. And I’d like to take this opportunity to pray a most wonderful, blessed, memorable CHRISTmas Day to you and yours!!!

M E R R Y   C H R I S T M A S    Y’ A L L !  ! !

The System

You thought I didn’t know.

What?

You thought I was asleep. You thought I didn’t know. But I did.

The coffee is cold. I stick it in the microwave and open the cookies, trying to gather my thoughts. Ellie never talks about anything from the past. She has closed it out, like it never happened. She’s the pretty one, the popular one, the successful one. The one who married well and moved up the corporate ladder, retiring early and traveling the world. She’s the one who has it all together.

And now, today, she wants to talk about it. She wants to talk about what happened.

I’m back there again. I’m eleven. Lying very still every night, waiting for her regular breathing, and for the people’s regular breathing. Waiting until I’m sure they’re all asleep. Then the tears come, and they don’t stop for so long. I’m so tired. I want to make it all go away, to go back to the day before it happened and make it not happen. I want to go home. But instead, I fall asleep and dream of the day before it happened. I dream of not being to blame for it all.

You knew? All these years, and you’ve never said a word. Why?

I was scared and confused. And angry. I was only seven – I didn’t know how to ask.

Why ask now? It’s been fifty years.

I know. Fifty years today. Did you know that?

I know. My mind has been wandering in and out of reality all day, clinging to old memories and then tossing them aside like filthy rags. I can’t stay on task. I can’t stay in the present.

Sis, why didn’t you ever tell me why you cried yourself to sleep every night for so long? Were you like me? Mad at Mom and Dad for abandoning us? Or was there something else you never told me? I’ve been afraid to ask you all these years.

Abandoning us! Abandoning us?? Why do you think they abandoned us? We were forcefully taken! Mom didn’t know they were coming. She fought The System for years, trying to get us back. And Dad? He was gone way before this happened.

Had my sister struggled with feelings of rejection all this time? How had I never seen this? She’d been the life of the party ever since we were taken away. She was the most popular in high school, the most successful in business, the richest of all us kids. She never cried.

I’ve kept my secret inside long enough. It’s time.

I’ll tell you why I cried all those years, Ellie. It was all my fault.

I talk about that day, February 12th, 1963. Cold and overcast, dark seemed to come early that day. The snow was gone but the ground was still hard, just right for bouncing a ball. The fire had gone out before 10:30, the house was cold – but hey, who had time to build a fire? There was playing to be done! Besides, there was no wood for the fire anyway. Those lazy big brothers had ignored Mom’s orders to fill the woodbox, choosing instead to spend the day running in the woods. I certainly wasn’t going to do their job – I had other things to do. So what if I was supposed to be doing the dishes? I wanted to play! And Mom would be gone all day looking for work. JJ was fifteen and in charge, but he was too busy with his own games to worry about whether I did my chores.

A knock. A stranger at the door.

Who’re you?

I’m a friend of your mother’s. Is she home?

No. What’s your name?

Sonya. Can I come in and wait for her?

She won’t be home for a long time.

That’s OK. Maybe you can show me your house while I wait.

Uhm . . . I don’t know if I’m supposed to let anybody in while she’s gone.

Oh, what a pretty little doll dress. Can I see it? Do you have any other pretty things like this?

Oh yes! Look at this dress – I made it out of a sleeve off that old shirt over there. I can make stuff!

You must be very smart. Could you show me what else you’ve done? Oh – what’s in your kitchen? Anything good to eat?

So I led her through the house, showing her my treasures, proudly pointing out the clever ways we’d used whatever came in the boxes we got from churches and other charity places.

That’s the day we were introduced to The System.

When Sonya left, I blithely went back to playing, forgetting all about her. We were playing House, and I was the mommy because I was the oldest. They had to obey me. Ellie and Mikey didn’t play nice. They didn’t want to let me be the boss, so they went outside and played ball with Terry. I played with the two youngest ones. I was eleven, and they were four and five. They thought I was pretty smart, most of the time. That day I wasn’t very smart, though.

What was that noise? More company?? Outside were three long, black cars parked in front of our house. One long, black, expensive car would have raised all our eyebrows – but THREE? Panic rose inside, so strong it was an acid taste in the back of my throat. My heart raced, then stopped, then raced again. The blood was struggling to flow; I felt faint. Who were these people? What did they want?

Jerry and JJ ran in from the barn. JJ was first to the window.

Who’s that?

I don’t know . . . . Hey! That’s Sonya. She was here this morning. She said she was Mom’s friend.

Did you let her in?

Yes.

What did she want?

She wanted to see the house and all the stuff I made. She said it was pretty.

Oh no. Why’d you let her in? You done it now, girl.

What? What did I do?

She ain’t no friend. They’re from the orphanage, and they ain’t plannin’ nuthin’ good. Y’all run and hide. I’ll try to get ’em away from the house.

We ran. Jerry ran to the woods. Terry ran to the barn. The little ones were scared and crying. They clung to me as we ran to the blackberry patch behind the house. Mikey and Ellie made for the hill on the other side of the house.

Kids, wait – don’t run away! We don’t want to hurt you. We want to help you.

Frank, you go that way. Sonya, you stay here in case any of them come back through here. Carl, you go with me. I think I saw a couple of them go towards the barn.

They caught us all, one by one. Jerry was the last one. He could have gotten away, but he came back. He said if we went, we all went together. He never blamed me for not telling them about Sonya’s first visit. But I knew. I knew I could have stopped it if I would’ve just not let her in. If only I wouldn’t have believed she really wanted to see all the things I made. If only I would’ve told JJ that she’d been here. JJ could have gotten us out, if he’d known in time. He would’ve known what to do.

Please, Mister. Why are you taking us away? What did we do? Mom is going to be so scared when she comes home and we’re not here. Why couldn’t you let us stay at home? What’s going to happen to us?

They put us in those long black cars and took us away. I was in the middle car with Mikey. The one called Carl – he sat in the back with us and tried to calm us. He kept saying that this was all for our good, and that it would all be better tomorrow. We’d be happier tomorrow. I didn’t believe him, but the soft voice and calm words began their work. Mikey stopped crying and just sat silently, clinging to my hand.

They put JJ in the front car, and then Terry. Terry wouldn’t get in without Jerry. That’s why Jerry came back – he had to protect Terry. What did the people in that car tell them, I wondered.

Ellie and the little ones were in the last car. What did they tell Ellie and the little ones? How did they explain what was happening? Did they use the same words – that it was all for our good, that we’d be happier tomorrow? What were they feeling? The little ones had not stopped crying. Ellie never cried. I saw her pull the little ones close, one on each side, and stare straight ahead.

The night felt so long. We sat there in that big room, hearing people come and go, wondering what they were planning for us. We talked together in low, hushed whispers, afraid they’d hear us. We discussed how we’d get away, as soon as we saw a chance. Jerry, the wild-eyed, adventurous one, wanted to overpower the guards and make a break right then. JJ, the practical one, scoffed at the idea. Those two were still arguing, even at this point. Would they never get along??

I was bone tired. I felt like I’d aged a hundred years in that short period. Had it only been five hours since I’d been happily playing House with my little sister and brother? For years, those evening hours – especially on ‘that’ day every February – brought pain and deep longing. I longed to go back and stop the clock, right at 10:59 a.m., just one minute before Sonya knocked on the door. I longed to fix my mistake. To lock the door and pretend nobody was home. To run and tell the others when she left, so we could all get away before she returned. It was my fault. It was all my fault that our family had been separated.

We’d never heard of foster homes – we all thought kids without moms and dads went to an orphanage. We didn’t know we had to be split up; we thought we’d at least be together in a big orphanage. I had always thought kids stayed together until they were all grown up. We didn’t know that nobody else wanted eight kids.

JJ went to a foster home by himself. He said it wasn’t my fault, but I knew it was. He told me he forgave me for opening the door and letting Sonya come in, but he never forgave himself. He was in charge, he said, and they took us away, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. If he would only have stayed at the house and filled the woodbox, instead of running the woods with Jerry. If only he’d seen Sonya talking to the nosy neighbor that morning, the one that didn’t like us because we were poor. The one that called Sonya and told her to come and take us. JJ remained bitter to the end. It hurt to see him that way.

Jerry and Terry went together. After all, they were twins and inseparable. Jerry protected Terry his whole life. Jerry never forgave himself. It was all his fault, he said. He should have fought those men when they tried to put us in the cars. He was a fighter, not a runner. And there in that room that night, when that one was teasing him and told him they’d burned our clothes because they were so filthy, he wanted to strike back. He tried. They overpowered him. He was small for thirteen, but he was wiry; it took three of them to subdue him. He never forgave himself for causing such terror to the rest of us. We thought they were going to kill him. JJ was mad at him for stirring up more trouble. Jerry was mad at JJ for not helping him.

Mikey and Ellie ended up with me. Not at first. At first it was just Ellie and me. The people were nice, but temporary. I can’t even remember their names; I think of them as Mr. and Mrs. Shortstop. They told us we wouldn’t be there long – we didn’t even have a bedroom, just a cot in a corner of their room. Ellie and I shared that cot for those two weeks before they moved us. I cried every night, after the people went to sleep. Ellie never cried. Not once.

Mikey was with Jerry and Terry for those two weeks. The people were mean to them there; they wouldn’t let them come inside the house until bedtime, and then only to use the bathroom and sleep. They ate on the back porch. Mikey said the people didn’t want them around their own children. They didn’t want them to touch those other kids. Mikey didn’t understand why that would be a bad thing. Did he have something on his skin that he couldn’t see? He came to live with Ellie and me, and Jerry and Terry went to another place, where the people were nicer to them.

The youngest two – where were they? I missed them so much. They went away and we were not allowed to see them any more. The social worker (not Sonya) said they’d been adopted and were happy without us. I wasn’t happy. I wanted our family back together. It was my fault we’d been split up, all because I disobeyed. I let Sonya come in and didn’t tell my big brother. I didn’t warn the others so we could run away.

Ellie sits there very quietly as I recite the story. She’s crying. When I finish, she speaks softly, as if to herself.

It was my fault. They told us in the car that Mom had asked them to take us. They said she was tired and couldn’t take care of us any more, and that she wanted them to give us a place to live. They said she was sorry she had so many kids, and that she just didn’t want to try to make us mind any more. I knew then that it was all my fault, because I’d sassed her that morning before she left. I’d stomped my foot and cried when she told me to help you do the dishes. She was mad, and said she was just sick of kids not minding. It was my fault for crying and throwing a fit. She told us she was going to look for a job, but she was going away, and it was my fault.

Is The System ever right in taking children away from their parents? Is The System ever right to lie to kids about the reason? They said all this was for our good. They said we were abused. They said we were starved and filthy and ignorant. Lies. We were not abused. We were not starved – we were often hungry, but never starved. We had food, as much as my mother could bring in, any way she could get it. We were dirty but not filthy. Kids get dirty when they play in the dirt! We went to school, and had the same education all the other kids had. We were not ignorant.

We had no running water, no electricity, no indoor bathroom, but we had each other. We were happy together, and it never occurred to us that being poor was shameful. Why was the neighbor who called Social Services so offended by our family?

Now that we have each other back again, I’m not letting that go – not for nasty neighbors, not for nosy, lying social workers. I wasn’t to blame, my sister Ellie wasn’t to blame. None of us kids were to blame. Mom wasn’t totally at fault either. I don’t really think The System was to blame. It just happened.

(Note: this was written in response to the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: Dialogue. I was intrigued by this challenge and wanted to give it a try. This is a fictional story, very loosely based on a true one – the names, of course, being changed to protect the characters in this story.)

Sleep Walkin’, Dream Talkin’

What a character!

My foster father Claude had a cousin that walked and talked in his sleep, and did all sorts of other funny things – especially if he’d been sick. I never met him, but I heard so much about him I think I would’ve known him in a crowded hotel (come to think of it, I KNOW I’d know him in a crowded hotel – he’d be the one hanging out the upstairs window). Claude described him often, in fond, head-shaking terms. I’ll call him Clarence, in case any of his relatives are reading this.

As a boy, Clarence was clumsy, uncoordinated, and gangly – all arms and legs. He was usually pasty white from being sick a lot, which made his freckles quite prominent. His pale blue eyes squinted in the light, behind black horn-rimmed glasses, and his wispy-fine, straight hair stuck out at odd angles all over his head, waving wildly with any passing breeze. Clarence’s reddish-brown eyebrows curved in a way that always made him look surprised. His hair was only slightly darker than dirty dishwater, with just a hint of red, and smelled very much like dishwater. And pee. He wet the bed, y’see, right up until he was about 11 or 12. He also, on occasion, had other accidents in his breeches. His older sister Charlotte had to take care of him at school, because he was always forgetting his books and his lunch and where he lived. A bookish, quiet girl, Charlotte was a little taller than Clarence but just as skinny, with straight dark hair and dark blue eyes, and a perpetually embarrassed expression.

When Clarence got excited he’d repeat certain words or phrases in his peculiar, high-pitched singsong whine. Imagine trying to cry and sing at the same time, with your nose pinched shut. That’s the sound. They attended a one-room school in the country when Clarence was six years old. One day Clarence had one of his accidents in his pants, and the entire room was decidedly anxious for him to go home. Right away. It wasn’t really his fault; they’d had beans for lunch, and Clarence always got the runs when he ate beans. But being poor, beans were a staple … and Clarence loved beans.

Back to the story. Clarence had filled his pants, and his embarrassed sister began shoving him towards the school door, making their getaway. Clarence got a bit put out with her, and jerked away from her grasp. He yelled in his best sing-song whine, “Stop a-pushin‘! You’ll make me speeyall it you’ll make me speeyall it.” He did spill it.

Clarence absolutely LOVED anything sweet. If you told him it was sweet, he’d gobble it – usually without even chewing! One day his dad (Claude’s uncle) was eating sauerkraut and crackers, and asked him, “Hey Clarence, want some sauerkraut?” Clarence immediately responded, “Yes, yes! Is it sweet?”

Clarence liked to read. He imagined himself in the stories, especially stories about pirates and cowboys and truck drivers (his interests varied, depending on the tales his grandpa, a retired truck driver who lived with them, had been spinning). But Clarence often had trouble distinguishing between reality and story, so his family kept a close eye on him when he’d been reading. You see, he tended to doze off in the middle of his book, and that could be bad. As I said before, Clarence had always been a sickly child – and when he was sick, he often walked in his sleep. His family kept a particularly close watch if he dozed off during the day in the summertime. It was funny, but when Clarence went to bed at night, he stayed in bed – it was only when he took a nap in the daytime that trouble brewed.

Another peculiarity of Clarence: he hated being hot. Summers were hard on the boy, and not much better when he became a man.

Once, when he was about ten, Clarence had been reading his favorite book on a Sunday afternoon. The family and some friends sat outside in the cool shade of the huge old oak tree by the side of the house. Everyone was having such a wonderful time visiting and drinking lemonade and eating homemade ice cream, that they all forgot about Clarence … until he appeared around the side of the house dressed only in his tidy whities and carrying his socks. His mother jumped immediately to her feet and took him gently by the arm, guiding him out of sight of the others to the side porch. She knew not to awaken him or he’d be scared and not remember why or how he got where he was. She asked him where he was headed, and he said, “I’m a-goin’ to the store an’ git me some new shoes.” She took him into the house and told him the store was closed, and he should lie back down and wait until it opened. He was quite happy to wait for his shoes.

Another afternoon, Clarence got hot and sweaty, and went upstairs to take a nap. Claude got worried about him, and went looking for Clarence after an hour or so. He REALLY got worried when he checked Clarence’s room and didn’t find him. Clarence’s clothes were all lying on the bed, every last stitch of what he’d been wearing. After a moment of panic, Claude noticed the window sill looked a bit odd – there were hands on it! He went over and looked down, and there was Clarence. He was hanging out the second-story window by his hands, stark naked, sound asleep. Claude asked very quietly, “Clarence, what are you doing?” Clarence smiled and cocked his head to one side, hair smacking at the flies as they buzzed around him in the breeze, and said in his singsong whine, “I’m a-coolin’.” It took Claude and another family member about 15 or 20 minutes to get him safely back inside the window, dressed, and back into bed – without waking him.

Well, that’s our Clarence in his growing-up years. He grew into a fine young man, Claude said. His hair never quite calmed down (those were the days before spiked hair became a fad), so he kept it cut very short. His eyes didn’t get any better either, but he got glasses that didn’t make him look like a half-blind owl. And he put on some weight too, enough that his arms and legs looked like arms and legs, instead of random twigs stuck wildly onto a weeping willow branch. Clarence also married and had several healthy, robust, extremely intelligent children. They all remembered their lunches and their books and where they lived. Not one of those kids walked in their sleep, not one had to have Aunt Charlotte escort them out of school with full breeches, and not one single offspring ever hung out the upstairs window a-coolin’. I think they missed out.