Stained Glass

Hanging on a wall in my bedroom is a square of glass. Its a stained glass scene of a sun peeking through the mountain tops as it rises for the day. My grandfather made that stained glass scene, using pieces of colored glass that was left over from the squares that are part of the windowed feature wall at my grandparents’ summer home. The jewel colored glass themselves are from France, ordered by my mother who had once worked at the glass factory they were made. Both my grandfather and my mother have passed, him when my son was small, my mother when I was.

My grandmother, who just celebrated her 101st birthday, advised me to take a few pieces from the home she’d spent summers in my entire life. When she suggested that I do so, I thanked her, then left the room. I had to compose myself.

It was then that I realized what that house has meant to me, and that my visits to that beautiful mountaintop location would soon be coming to an end. All that would be left were memories, photographs and a few momentoes. No longer would I enjoy the long tree shaded driveway, or the view off the back deck. No longer would I sit at the piano, where my grandmother corrected my fingering. No longer would I drink water from the tap in her kitchen, water that tasted different than any water elsewhere.

I will have to cherish the memories of climbing the spiral staircase on summer mornings as my grandmother sang “good morning to you” in a loud cheerful voice. Then the kids in residence would sit at the counter and eat bowls of corn flakes, with fresh cut peaches. We’d listen to the little coffee pot percolating nearby as we’d plan out our grand adventures for the day.

My grandparents often took us to a small farm they owned for a while, and watch my grandfather call the cows to the barn. This would be after we’d arranged the rocks at the creek for the hundredth time was we hiked the familiar trail to the Toe River. The ride back in a Jeep, would always have us sharing space with a basket of fresh corn and green beans for that night’s supper.

We were taken to a local arts school where we were able to watch potters, weavers and glass blowers plying their craft. Many of the artistic pieces that have graced the mountain top home have been acquired from the talented local artist that live in that part of Western North Carolina. Trips to local parks, hiking trails, waterfalls, and of course the small lake built for the community to enjoy were always a part of our summers growing up. Even after I was grown, with children of my own, that tradition of visits to the scenes, sights and arts of the area were on the agenda, for a new generation of grandchildren.

Every evening we’d gather back, and share dinner, always started by a short verse of grace by my grandmother. Then we’d eat, laugh and share stories, while remembering to keep our elbows off the table, a hard and fast rule at Mamaw’s table. After dinner were games of cards, or charades, or skits we made up on the spot. Sometimes a craft project was brought out and we’d spend time together finishing it. My grandmother was a master seamstress and a world class knitter. She still knits almost daily, even though her eyesight is failing. Her inability to teach a clumsy fingered left handed girl how to crochet or knit has been one of her few failures in life.

The house represents a few sad memories as well. Downstairs in the cool basement bedroom with two chenille covered twin beds, is where my dad told my brothers and I that our mother had passed away after a brief illness. I remember crying, while one brother sat next to me, and the baby brother sat in my dad’s arms. I have never been able to walk into that room without remembering that moment, so long ago. The living room is where my family learned of my decision to leave my abusive husband. It was a hard thing to do, as I told them of my decision and why through the tears that wouldn’t stop falling. The outpouring of love by everyone in the room, helped me grant courage to face the following year.

The front yard, is where my grandmother, stared daggers into my soon to be current husband, as she told him to be good to me. He fell instantly in adoration of her at that moment. The same yard is were we always gather to hug everyone good bye.

Two years ago, Mamaw had a pacemaker installed. Her heart has started its long slow dissent to its last beat. After the pacemaker was installed, Gary and I took a weekend to spend with her. I took along a camera and began recording memories of the house, each photograph intended to preserve what I knew would be gone from my life when she was. On our last visit, she told me to take a few things back home with me. She knew, as I did, that each visit could be my last. She has intended to let us have the pieces that mean much to us to be with us as reminders of such a beautiful place. The stained glass art piece made so beautifully by my retired surgeon grandfather is such a piece, along with a cast metal cat they picked up in Egypt during one of their excursions abroad, a pottery cup from a local artist, and a sapphire blue bowl, that may also be an art deco style ashtray. It once sat on a window ledge that looked out to the mountain view.

In the not too distant future, the mountaintop chalet will go to new owners. The thought of never again getting to drive up the tree shaded drive anticipating the house coming into view saddens me, but not as much as knowing that its anticipated occupant will not be there as well. I am grateful for that house, and the love that poured out of every window and onto every single person that stepped foot on the property. A small stained glass scene, hanging in our bedroom, will remind me of that love for the rest of my life, and remind me to do all I can to ensure that Gary and I’s home exudes love as well.

Of Cobwebs and Pop-off Valves

It started out as a small drip under the back deck. The water was coming from a small spigot that released water from somewhere under the house. I wasn’t sure, but I suspected it was the air conditioner as it has been quite hot and humid. We were of course wrong. Over the next week the drip started to get more pronounced, finally the beginnings of a marsh was forming. We decided to investigate the source of the fast dripping water.

That’s the problem with being a homeowner. Despite doing what we can to be good caretakers of our property, sometimes, things go awry, and repairs or replacements are in order. In this case, investigation of our marsh/wasp watering hole was finding the source. We deduced the cause was one of two things, the A/C or the hot water heater. That required one of us trying to determine which. That also meant one of us had to venture into spider central, the crawl space under the house.

I hate spiders only slightly more than their webs. The crawl space is spider web nirvana. Armed with a brook I opened the door, took a broom, and whisked away as many webs as I could reach, then held the door open with a paint can. Only then did I dare poke my head inside. The water heater was close enough to the water outlet to deduce it as the cause.

So trip #1 to the things you buy to fix your house store, we went. There we priced new water heaters, along with estimates for someone to come and investigate the actual cause of our leak, and replacement of the heater. The price was ridiculous, but we arranged for a plumber to come over.

The next morning, after church and some online research we decided to take a closer look. Gary and I make a decent working pair on projects, but we both have back issues and bad knees. In fact I’d had knee surgery a couple of months prior. We knew it was going to be uncomfortable for the both of us, but under the house we went, looking for the simple problem we were hoping for, flashlight, tools and my tablet in hand. The tablet was our troubleshooter, how to guide, as neither of us had a clue as to what we were doing.

I warn people all the time not to get older. Its not for wimps. Doing something like helping your husband, (my helping is my holding the flashlight and handing tools) in a crawl space that has no more than 4 feet of headroom, will certainly remind you of the fact that youth has left you behind. Its also laughing at your older self.

It took two more trips to the home improvement store to fix the water heater, and cure the leak. Those trips meant crawling in and out of the crawl space each time, with more dirt and cobwebs clinging to us. Each trip back under was met with increasing dread, as our bodies kept trying to remind us of our ages and physiques. Thankfully, we were successful in our repair, accomplishing the task while saving us hundreds of dollars in repairs. It took us three days to recover.

Identity Crises

Am I supposed to be surprised?

Am I supposed to be surprised?

This morning I had to call the airlines to make a correction on my ticket confirmation. My first name was misspelled. The matter took about five minutes to correct and I could print new confirmations with the correct spelling of my name. I needed to do this to ensure that there were no delays for my very early morning flight in regards to the difference between my ticket information and my ID. It was likely a precaution, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

I wish this was an isolated occurrence.

You’d think that a simple two syllable proper name that sounds phonetically like it is spelled, Sylvie, (Sill-vee) wouldn’t be such a problem for people that encounter that word. You’d be wrong. When I was a child, every single teacher I ever had, would take one look at my name on the roll, and ask how to pronounce it. It got so I knew what to expect and as soon as the teacher would pause to my expected spot in the roll, I’d just go ahead and call it out.

Then there are the mangled spellings. One of my old banks had all my personal information exactly correct on bank related documents, except in one location, my bank statements. Every single one from that bank, spelled my name wrong. They flipped the l and the y, turning my name into Slyvie, pronounced, Sli-vee. I sent multiple requests for correction, that were never resolved. For the record, my brothers ensured I would know exactly how Slyvie was to be pronounced, along with their other  mangled versions of my name, Sliver, Silverware and Sylvester. Aren’t brothers fun?

Of course the more common incorrect spelling and pronunciation of my name is Sylvia, which is close, but still wrong. It it the version that appeared on my flight confirmations. I’ve learned to answer to that, as it’s just become  too much trouble any more to keep correcting every third person I encounter. What I find amusing is that friends attempt to do the pronunciation correction for me, as I’ve just given up on it. People are usually mildly horrified at this etiquette breach and try to remember to say my name correctly from that point on. It has a fair success rate.

You’d think my identity crises would end with just simple letter misplacements or pronunciations of my name. Again you’d be wrong. My name is apparently so incomprehensible to the average person, that they substitute the nearest facsimile they can think of instead. Some of those substitutions have included:

Sheila, Stella, Shirley, Sharon, Sybille, Wanda and Jennifer. I have no idea how the person got Wanda from Sylvie. It remains a complete mystery. Jennifer, however isn’t. I do purchasing at my job, and a staff member needed for me to pay for something offsite. He had the vendor call my office for payment. The vendor already knew who I was, but asked for Jennifer anyway. I told him that there was no Jennifer in my office. It was about then  that I heard my co-worker over the phone.

“Is that Brad (name changed to protect the guilty)?” I asked the vendor. A brief exchange could be heard over the phone.

“Yes.” The vendor said, “It’s Brad.”

“Ok, I’ll pay for the item then.” I then completed the transaction.

When Brad returned to my office, receipt in hand, I asked him what my name was, which he answered correctly. I then asked him why he called me Jennifer at the store. his excuse was he’d forgotten what it was, and in a panic, Jennifer popped in his head. He still calls me that on occasion.

This same vendor, called me Sylvania several months ago. He had just put light bulbs on a shelf and when I called, the brand name transferred to my identity. Another co-worker overheard my exclamation of “Sylvania!?!” It didn’t take him long to realize what had happened. Thanks to that one monetary crises of identity, I earned another nickname. Arent co-workers fun?


Sometimes Love

images (1)Sometimes love is snuggling before the snooze alarm sounds again.

Sometimes it’s making the bed together.

Sometimes love is putting on a bra, on your day off, to run an errand for a friend.

Sometimes the bra doesn’t matter.

Sometimes love is going to a professional wrestling event with your son when you’d rather watch ballet.

Sometimes it’s just watching him play.

Sometimes love is the delighted cries of your grandchildren crying “Nana!” when you visit.

Sometimes it’s just those sticky hugs.

Sometimes love is feeling just as helpless as people you know who are in pain or peril.

Sometimes tears are all you can give.

Sometimes love is pouring out the pain inside of you.

Sometimes  shared pain equals healing.

Sometimes love is loud and passionate, as grievances are aired.

Sometimes love is silence.

Sometimes love is the thought of growing old together.

Sometimes it’s holding a life brand new.

Sometimes love seems elusive, for others, out of reach.

Sometimes it makes unexpected appearances.

Sometimes love is an unfettered mystery that defies explanation.

Sometimes its as simple as the smile upon your face.

Human Remains

potluck-connect-westheights-orgIt was over. The last person to offer comfort was finally departing down the gravel driveway to head home. Mama had long ago pleaded exhaustion and was lying down in the second bedroom, and I was dismayed with size of the mess. Grumpily, I started picking up the Styrofoam cups that had found their way to every flat surface in Gram’s living room. I carried the first load to the sink and dumped out the half-drunk contents before throwing the empty cups into the trash. Then I went back for more.

As I straightened up the room, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the day. It had been a long one with phone calls beginning at 6 a.m., followed shortly after by the first visitor to Gram’s house. Mama had decided her mother’s house would work as the place for people to gather. It offered more space and better parking than Mama’s condo. The fellowship hall at the Holly Ridge UMC, Gram and Mama’s church was undergoing renovations so it was unavailable. Somehow my grandmother’s little 1200 square foot home on Bluebell Lane had ended up with enough room for everyone. But I suspected it was thanks to her large yard that made it possible.

Despite what they say, the dead can’t wait, at least for a better time to deal with the task of burying them. We discovered, while sitting at the funeral home to finalize preparations for the funeral that Gram’s pastor was out of the country.

“He’s on his honeymoon, Isn’t it just the sweetest thing? They eloped” said Mr. White, the funeral home rep.

“Honeymoon?” Mama asked, “Isn’t Pastor Miller about my mother’s age?”

“He’s 79. He and his bride are in Aruba and won’t be back till next week.” The rep, who’s comb-over dated back to the Nixon era, crossed his hands on the folder that contained the paperwork for the funeral. “Now you can certainly choose to wait till he returns, and if so we can discuss the holding fee..”

“Isn’t there another option?” I asked.

“Well, we do have a list of pastors who rotate on an on call basis for those times then a dearly departed’s regular minister is unable to provide the necessary service.”

I looked over at Mama. She looked utterly worn out. I doubt she had slept 8 hours since leaving the hospital three days ago. She closed her eyes a moment, then said, “Alright. You have our denominational preferences, and I know she would have preferred someone a lot like Pastor Miller.”

Mr. White looked at a sheet of paper on his desk. “Ah, Pastor Eckhart is on call this week. He will perform a wonderful service for your mother,” He opened the folder and pushed some papers over to Mama. “Now if you will sign here, we’ll get everything taken care of just as you asked.”

Mama and I met Pastor Eckhart about fifteen minutes before the funeral. He was at least as old as Pastor Miller and I couldn’t help noticing that most of the hair that had once graced his scalp was instead growing thickly out of his ears. The elderly pastor had been quite soft-spoken as he introduced himself with fifteen minutes to spare before the start of the service. I stood awkwardly by the casket as people I barely knew continued to pay their respects. Friends of my grandmother, relatives I hadn’t seen in many years, and some I didn’t remember hugged me tightly and commented on how much I’d grown while Mama and the pastor stood off to one side speaking. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I’d long since mastered the growing up part, and didn’t even need permission to stay out late any more. I thought it best to keep my sarcasm tightly reigned, even thought I had inherited that trait from the woman currently in the casket beside me.

“I had to strain to just hear the man speak.” Mama whispered to me as we finally sat down in the front row. The opening measures of It Is Well With My Soul, began to play. “I hope those who have them put fresh batteries in their hearing aids.”

So it was a bit of a shock to the friends and family, most of whom were Methodist and expecting Pastor Miller’s usual gentle words words of comfort to sit through Pastor Eckhart’s funeral service. Instead of a gentle homily, the people packed into the funeral home chapel found themselves subjected to the exuberant style of the fire brand preacher from the First Apostolic Holiness Lighthouse Church.

“At least no one is sleeping through this service.” I had thought as I could feel half the room jump behind me every time Pastor Eckhart banged his bible down onto the pulpit. Sometimes someone would let out a surprised squeak as well. Mama was mortified. She had wanted a quiet service with little fuss. Between the cavalcade of relatives who’d been calling non-stop since getting word Gram’s passing, some of whom had asked at this morning’s viewing for Mama or I to arrange for a place to “lay their heads”, a mix up with which coffin was actually hers and a very enthusiastic preacher, quiet was hardly what Gram’s send off to heaven could be described as. I watched as Mama sat there, hands clasped so tightly together they were white, as she fought back the tears that had been threatening all day.

“Just think Mama,” I whispered to her, leaning so I could be close to her ear. “This will be over soon. Besides, just imagine Gram’s conniption fit over this spectacle. I bet it is taking a whole host of angels having to hold her back so she don’t come right down here and haunt the lot of us. Why, what she’s probably planning for Mr. White is likely giving St. Peter fits.” The pastor stopped in mid-sentence and scowled right at us, as Mama fought to get her laughter under control. He then got over his outrage and continued on about the wages of sin, as my mother took my arm and linked it to hers. She only let go long enough to get in and out of the car for the graveside portion of the service.

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Xmas Wars

Its Christmas eve, eve, or as my daughter Ashley calls it, Christmas Adam. Gary and I received a restaurant gift card and wasted no time treating ourselves to a nice dinner out. We have a couple of days off for the holidays, and if I had my way, I’d burrow myself into covers on the couch and not venture out till Monday. But, I know that won’t happen. We will, make the rounds of local family delivering gifts, hugs and well wished, and I hope little else.

I have managed to avoid much of the holiday insanity, a goal I try to accomplish annually. As with every year, church music took its normal chunk of time and energy. I enjoy it immensely, but I’m glad to give my vocal chords a rest and to put retire my hand bell gloves for the season. Yet, I can’t help notice insanity all around, not at Walmart, or the mall, but on social media.

Today I saw two opposite extremes on the “War on Christmas!!!!!!” The first was a propaganda style meme bemoaning the fictional war on Christmas. It mentioned an unnamed town in North Carolina, that may have lost a court battle, to display an overtly religious display on government grounds, a display that had been there, where ever that is, for 40 years.

After I rolled my eyes, I did the math. Prior and up to 1975, there was no religious display on the grounds of a government building, and guess what? No one cared. A few churches would have nativity or similar displays, and a home or two may have something in their yard. Showy displays of holiday decorations was just not a big deal back then.

I don’t get the whole war on Christmas thing. Local churches advertise their Christmas presentations on local tv, you can’t walk through Walmart without seeing someone in a Jesus Is the Reason Sweatshirt, and local fast food chains have satellite radio stations tuned to a Christian station that airs someone singing Silver Bells in worship music style….yes its as bad as you think. I’ve yet to see anyone prevent the holiday from happening, or from anyone from enjoying to their full religious minded heart. I’ve only seen some people asking for a bit of respect and understanding for the non-Christmas partakers.

Which brings me to the opposite end of the war on Christmas spectrum. As I mentioned in my last entry, I didn’t grow up keeping Christmas, so seeing the following article this afternoon brought up the memories of hearing these reasons to avoid the season at all cost. I get point #1 on that list. The commercialism of Christmas is ridiculous, but there are billions of Christmas celebrants who don’t go batshit insane over commercialism. Its mostly a USA phenomenon. So that point really doesn’t fly.

The second point tries to hammer home the fact that Christmas wasn’t mentioned in the Bible. Well neither was Thanksgiving, Mother’s day, or Memorial day, all three US holidays. Then they try to make the date of Jesus’ birth an issue. It’s common knowledge that no one knows the date, that’s not the point of honoring the event of his birth. One of their proofs, as if we can call the absolute ridiculousness of it proof, was that shepherds would not have had flocks in the field in December. There’s this assumption that Judean winters are hellish and too cold for any livestock with heavy wool coats to survive. I just looked up the weather for Tel Aviv. As I am typing this, its 3am there. The temperature is a frigid 54 degrees. Its actually colder in SC.

There’s more of course. On the surface the list seems to make sense, but as with the sheep example, they really don’t hold water. Yet these folks are determined to fight the war on Christmas; just on the opposite end of the battlefield of those who made the government building meme.

I, like most of the billions of people  will be celebrating Christmas over the next few weeks, as our Orthodox partakers wait until January. I suspect that many will probably think all this warring over a holiday is a waste of time. Some of us are religious, some not so much, and some think “Meh, religion. Pass the eggnog.” Its still a delightful holiday, with so many wonderful traditions, and excuses to get together with family and friends, show a little extra loving of our neighbors, and gear up for our New Year’s diet.

So, if you, want to go full on baby Jesus, and place manger scenes all over your front yard, sing O Holy Night until your dog’s ears bleed, and be waiting impatiently for the pastor to open the doors of your church, be my guest, and may your holiday be merry and bright. Let me also assure you that you’ll get to do it all again next year, and the next and yet, also the next.

For those of you who are quite certain that Christmas is the epitome of evil, that those who celebrate the holiday with all its pagan debauchery and frivolous frolicing, and that God is going to make sure that we are punished for our wicked ways,  I wish you a happy and joyous Thursday. Let me also assure you that you have nothing to fear from a celebration season, nor are your neighbors, your family members doing so a danger from God whatsoever.

For all of us, whichever you fit on the Christmas spectrum, as well as those of you celebrating the Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, Eid, Kwanzaa, and any celebration I missed, I wish you Happy Holidays and/or a restful rest of the week

My very First Christmas

charlie-brown-christmas-tree_watermarkI remember my very first Christmas. We had a very small table top tree that possessed  a few more needles than the one Charlie Brown had. There was a string of lights and a few ornaments, including a hand made cross  tree topper that was fashioned from two sticks gathered from the front yard. The tree and the trimmings were borrowed, the year 1994, and the guilt I was feeling over that dinky bit of fake pine was nearly palatable.

Its a difficult thing to decide to do something you’ve been told your whole life was wrong, that participating in such a ritual was a sure sign of apostasy and that to do was was to willingly turn your back on God. It’s rather terrifying, wondering if they, the religious leaders you are now ignoring,  were right all along, and everyone else, who is doing just what you are doing, is wrong. But then fear was a huge part of my religious construct.

Most of what I believed and practiced up until that year was because I was terrified of the consequences if I didn’t. I questioned the faith I’d been brought up in all the time. I just never voiced them. Fear kept them on a little shelf that resided only in my mind.

What did I know about Christmas? Oh the usual.

1.Jesus was not born on December 25. That day was a Roman pagan holiday and must be avoided at all costs.

2. Ancient Pagans had Christmas trees. Its right there in the book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 10:2-4)

3. Wise men, Mistletoe, Christmas trees, presents, Santa Claus, tinsel, carols, etc, are an affront to God and those who participate in those Satanic things will be thrown into the Lake of Fire

4. No true Christian kept such evil holidays, along with any other holiday that may remotely be attached to the traditional Christian calendar.

That naughty little list, along with the other teachings of my old religion held me back, kept me afraid, of God, of religion, of how others perceived me. But despite my spiritual and emotional terror, I have this one fatal flaw, stubborn curiosity. By the time my sad little tree was settled nicely in my living room, I’d spent a year in an ongoing comparative religion experience, splitting time between my old church, and a small Southern Baptist one that I’d been roped into playing piano for. That time helped me walk away from the faith that kept me in terror, and started me on a path that was brand new.

While my new religious path was initially terrifying, my fatal flaw went into overdrive. I began to understand the hows and whys that millions of Christians celebrate Christmas. I began to respect that there is a rich tradition and history to this holiday, and I began to realize that even the non-religious or people of other faiths can find some value in parts of this winter holiday. I also discovered that there are other major holidays that occur during the same period, practiced by people of different faiths, yet that get very little attention, outside those that participate. A comparative religions course I took a few years ago showed me that even though all faiths have their unique aspects, it is in what they have in common, that intrigued me.

Its been 20 years since that first Christmas and I enjoy this time of year, but religion has less and less to do with my personal celebration. I have never been able to go whole hog over it. I’ve tried, but the effort ended up feeling forced. I enjoy some of the holiday music that plays, leaning heavily towards the classics, Handel, Mendelssohn, ancient folk tunes and spirituals. I enjoy the decorations, but keep them fairly low key at my house. I love buying presents, trying to find the right thing for each recipient, but I’ve never been one to spend lavishly, mostly because our budget is small.

Yet my religious past, just doesn’t have me going whole hog over the religious aspects of it. I’ve tried, but just can’t make that leap. I find the story beautiful and endearing, and there is much depth and richness in the lessons of the birth of Christ. But my fatal flaw has me asking questions, that surround the religious tenets that surround this time of year.

But, I don’t have to be afraid anymore about how I celebrate a holiday. I don’t have to fear stepping out of the boxes of religious dogma. I no longer have to be in terror of questioning all things God. I can continue down the path, I embarked upon 20 years ago, at peace with where I am at as a skeptical mystic, who doesn’t quite fit within the boundaries of traditional Christianity. I wish at times, I still had that pitiful little tree. It represents a shift for me, a journey that began, even though has taken me a very long time, to discover that fear makes for a very poor aspect of faith, and is a terrible way to live one’s life.