Tag Archives: childhood

Haven Winter Blog Series #2: “Creativity Leads the Way”

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Send a young deserving writer to Haven Writing Retreats and change their lives!  To contribute, learn more, and get special perks, click here

Every winter I give my blog over to alums of Haven Writing Retreats who have all come to Montana to dig deeply into their creative self-expression, using the powerful and transformational tool that is writing.  Leading Haven Writing Retreats is my way of giving the support I was either too stubborn or too scared (likely the latter) to give myself in all my years of writing.  It is my deepest pleasure and honor to offer this powerful program, which is really a writing retreat and a writing workshop in one, to people who long to learn how to write a memoir, how to write a novel, how to become a writer, how to write a story, how to start a book, or simply how to find their unique voices and stories…and set them free!  The Haven Writing Retreats community is all about continued support, and the annual Haven Winter Blog series is one way that we offer just that.  My blog is their blog, and in it we parse the creative questions that so many of us have.

This year’s theme is one of my favorites so far:  ”How do we give ourselves the permission to be creative in the first place…and what does that look like?”

In the next weeks, while I go into the winter dormancy of Montana and give myself my own permission to write, these Haven alums will be diving into their heart language to share with you how they show up for themselves creatively.  I hope you enjoy their posts.  I will be chiming in with some of my favorite winter recipes along the way so stay tuned, stay warm, making a nice cup of something soothing, and “lend an ear.”  From Haven to you.  yrs. Laura

Now Booking 2016 Haven Writing Retreats in glorious Whitefish, Montana:

February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

Post #1

Creative Expression Of Me

A few years ago I participated in a personal growth workshop where we learned and then practiced walking meditation. Twenty of us eager and willing students were given the instruction to walk barefoot around the periphery of the sage green classroom, on the dark brown carpet, with the soft music of singing bowls playing in the background. The goal was to continue moving, but move as slowly as possible, after all “there is nowhere to go, not really” said the instructor. I was intrigued, but thought the practice was silly. At first.

Walking for about thirty minutes, I become aware of the tiny bones and cartilage in my feet and the pressure created by the floor, the angular way my hips dip and my knees hinge, and I hear the familiar messages in my mind as they become mute while I repeat the mantra, “there is nowhere to go, not really.” Moving my body around the room, challenging myself to slow it down more, and more, and more, the miracle of my flowing, sensing, alive body fills my awareness. My senses tingle, time fades into a meaningless thought form.

While my mind clears, I drop any agenda I am carrying, and keep my gaze focused on my feet, the weave of the carpet, sunlight streaming in, the person in front of me, and creaking sounds from the floorboards. My awareness expands, while my heartbeat paces with the flow of my being, and all thoughts become peaceful, digestible, present. I let go of something. I remember something. About me. About being human and alive and one of many. Simultaneously it seems nothing matters, and everything matters.

This experience stays with me, and I conjure it up and employ the lessons of what I now know is ‘non-attachment’ whenever I feel the pressured pace of our modern world crushing my creative and free spirit.

“There is nowhere to go, not really.” These words set me free. They disarm the inner critic, and welcome playfulness with words, experiences, moments that invite connection.

When I sit down to write, I remember that nothing I write will matter absolutely, and anything I write might matter momentarily, to someone, and I may never know who. I say a tiny prayer that my words and thoughts and expressions will ease a burden, offer an insight, chart a path or welcome a connection to freedom. Remembering that my purpose is to be an expression of love in all I do keeps me kind, and thus I choose each word with care. Knowing that our shared experience on this planet is fleeting, and wherever we go and whatever we do is a gift, and maybe even a miracle, welcomes honesty and integrity and a fearlessness to tackle the shadowy details that make being human such a gnarly tangled web.

The creative writing I crank out is most often about parenting. What could be more shadowy and challenging than passing along the legacy of misguided patterns and loneliness and love and awkward efforts to get needs met, than the experience of parenting? Every gesture is filled with conscious and unconscious messages, all mixed together, a stream of expressions that carry the family history, and the heavy load that is our entwined collective human experience.

Hugging my daughter, I hold on, longing to feel her heartbeat and smell her distinctive scent for a bit longer than is usually allowed. She indulges me, and I have what I call “a moment.” I live for these. They are my sustenance.

If I can remember to keep myself awake and aware, these moments are enough. They have entire worlds inside them. If I notice, and let them sink in, they sustain me through all the monotony that is a life of ridiculous comfort and overbooked schedules and numbing consistency, mixed with loss and goodbyes and growing old, and a peppering of poignant beauty that practically makes my heart stop with astonishment.

These are the moments I gather. I’m a collector of moments. They give life to my writing, and depth to my creativity. They remind me that my time here is a fleeting experience of risk that welcomes vulnerability which ushers in connection, which nourishes all of me. I surrender to this messiness, and the words tumble out on the page, a creative expression of me. I’m but a whisper here in this dreamy existence of time. And it’s enough. It’s nothing, and it’s everything.

There is nowhere to go, not really.

- Stacey Tompkins tiastruth.blogspot.com

Post #2

Choosing Creativity takes Courage!

I decided to lift up clumps of velvety green moss growing around the roots of the pine trees providing shade on a steamy afternoon with my sister.  I was making carpet for the playhouse we were building during our breaks while working at our large logged barn for flu-curing tobacco. The bright “Kermit the Frog” color added cheer to our earthy living room made from branches, twigs, tobacco sticks, potato shaped rocks, and old boards that we found scattered around the dusty road and area surrounding the barn. As we worked, I was constantly thinking of ways to add to our elaborate home under the pines.  My mind drifted from the heat and harsh conditions and inspired me to keep going in spite of working long hours as a little girl.

Growing up on a tobacco farm in a place called Clover gave me the perfect setting for my imagination to wander wildly.  Climbing apple trees and pretending to fly planes, digging holes to make swimming pools, putting on plays behind sheets draped over the swing set, crawling underneath the quilting table and grabbing pieces of chalk to draw with, dressing up our cats and strolling them as our babies in the old cane stroller in our attic, collecting clay from the creek to make an assortment of items, playing dress-up with the old clothes found in my Grannie’s trunk, or adding more squares of fuzzy moss to our playhouse could occupy me for countless hours.

As I grew older and recognized that more and more was being demanded of me in helping run the tobacco farm, I began to study harder in school to make certain that I would never work that hard physically again. While getting my grades up and juggling my working schedule, I placed my playfulness on hold until I was enrolled in college.  My flair for creativity shifted to writing college essays. For me, an education meant freedom from farming.  I would be the first person in my family to go to college.  My father had quit school in eighth grade to make certain his family kept their family farm in spite of his dad’s failing health.  His strong work ethics had been instilled in me and lead to my academic success.

While striving to be successful, I began to listen to others’ voices more than myself. This desire to please others would ultimately leave me feeling less than capable to choose a career path where my natural gifts for creativity would flourish. In spite of a strong desire to be a professional singer, I became an elementary school teacher.  Teaching first graders was good for me because I could make up lesson plans and decorate the classroom using my vivid imagination and artistic tendencies.  Seeing children struggle with learning lead me to becoming a school counselor for a few years.

My priorities shifted when faced with colon cancer at forty-one.  Sitting still for 16 chemotherapy treatments gave me the impetus to journal. I realized that choosing to live fully meant being myself. The little girl who found soft velvety green moss emerged with her strong voice and creative ideas once again.  My passion for helping others and vision for inspiration pushed me into faithful actions towards ministry.

Finding my sweet inner creative child was a gift that quickly faded. Just as I was learning to play again, my husband died while playing basketball with our younger son and other boys at school.  The irony of this life-changing event threw me into a depression.  While the pile of grief books began to resemble the self-help section at a bookstore, I wondered if I should write a book sharing stories drawn from this tragedy.

Thirteen years later while flying home from Montana, the woman seated in front of me turned around and said, “You should write a book.”  I was stunned to hear her say the very words that had been rolling around in my head like a hamster on a wheel since losing my husband.  During the long flight, she had heard me sharing stories that can’t be made up with the passenger seated by me.  In introducing herself to me, she handed me her business card.

Upon arriving home, I decided to do a Google search on Laura Munson, the author named on that card.  My heart raced as I wrote her a note inquiring about the Haven Writing Retreats she leads in Whitefish, Montana.  Two months later I boarded a plane heading to Montana seeking the keys to writing that book. Under the tall pines draped in snow, the soft green velvety moss emerged on a sunny afternoon and a little girl found her courage to share her stories.  Listening to one’s heart opens the doors to creativity!

- Susan Butterworth www.heart-heels.com

2016 Haven Writing Retreat Schedule:
February 24-28
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

 

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Long Ago: Community Entry #12

 

Bad news: "Closed for the Season." Oh for a pint of porter and a cup of venison stew... Solo writing retreat is getting a bit anti-social. Cabin fever?

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

As a fellow North Shore Chicago girl, this piece spoke to me in spades. The shores of Lake Michigan are calling me out of this winter of writing retreat to do three events in March and I cannot wait! Thanks, Kim for this lovely reminder of home and community. Please enjoy, everybody! yrs. Laura

The Girls from Wilmette, by Kim Smith

Forty-nine years. It hardly seems possible, but we’ve been friends for forty-nine years.  We met in kindergarten, and we ten are friends to this day. Forty-nine years later, we share a kinship, a connection that has somehow survived the visissitudes of life.  We’re a cohort, a gang, a community of friends for whom time and distance mean nothing, and history and laughter mean everything.

The Wilmette (Illinois) of our collective childhood, back in the Pleistocene Era, also known as the 1960’s and 1970’s, was an idyllic place to grow up. The main east-west thoroughfare, Lake Avenue, was lined with trees so mature and majestic, that they reached across the sky to meet and form a canopy, a lush, green cathedral of sorts, all the way from Green Bay Road to the lake. Streets paved with brick, ancient and hand-laid, that made your teeth chatter as you rode your bike to get to Peggy’s  house or to school or to the beach, or one of the myriad other places that you visited on your trusty Schwinn.  There were corner bakeries and neighborhood drugstores where your folks ran a tab, and dimestores where you could actually buy things, lots of things, for a dime. And there was Parker’s, the diner that made the best chocolate shakes and cherry phosphates, and that served french fries with an addictive orange salt called Lawry’s. No shakes or fries would ever taste as good.

And there were families…families with children. Scores of children. Heaps of children. Oh yes, a healthy Catholic population (and the rhythm method) ensured that there were plenty of kids. And all those Catholic offspring went, of course, to Catholic school – St. Joe’s or St. Francis in Wilmette, Faith Hope & Charity or Sacred Heart in Winnetka – and there they stayed, at least through the eighth grade. Plaid skirts and saddle shoes, confession and communion, reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. All God’s children, all on the same righteous path. These things bound us together, and bind us still.

Of course, friendships lasting almost five decades don’t come without hiccups, and we’ve had our share. I’ve come to know that, much like a successful marriage, lifelong friendships require a “for better or worse” philosophy; with age comes the realization that the value of this circle of friends far outweighs our individual failings. As one of the girls who moved away, and who often yearned for contact with my friends that was not forthcoming, I have, at times, come very close to “divorcing” them, only to think “How do I divorce a piece of myself?”

Put another way, with the exception of my parents and my sister, no one else in my life today knows what I was like back then, except “the girls.” No one else remembers the tiny townhouse in which I grew up, or the twelve Girl Scout badges we earned in one year, or how Sister Loretta Marie would make you write out a dictionary page if you were naughty…but they do. Neither my co-workers, nor my clients (thank god!), are aware that I affected a British accent for a time in third grade, thanks to my infatuation with Davy Jones, but “the girls” remember. They remember hiding in my closet to surprise me on my 15th birthday, and they remember getting me pulled over by one of Wilmette’s finest, one hot August Friday night, by hanging out of all the windows of my car. They were there, so they remember.  First Communion, confirmation, Scouts, braces, dating, driving, birthday parties, first jobs – we did it all together. How could I possibly leave that shared history behind? Well, I couldn’t, of course. I can’t.

That’s not to say that our shared childhood memories are all that keep us together. As adults, we’ve been in one another’s weddings, mourned the passing of parents, and watched children grow up, in Christmas cards, if not in person. In fact, Madeleine was there when my son came into the world, taking him from the nurse and handing him to me. Despite the time and distance often separating us, moving through life’s stages and phases somehow only served to deepen our bond. Two moments, in particular, both when I was in my 20’s, remind me of the powerful and enduring nature of these friendships.

When I was 23, in the depths of post-collegiate penury, and in despair that I would ever figure out what to do with my life, I realized I needed to join the rest of my family, since relocated to Seattle. (Note to 2013 self:  Please figure out what to do with your life.) I arranged for my belongings to be shipped, and booked my flight out of O’Hare; one of the girls, Mary, offered to drive me to the airport. We pulled up to the curb outside of Departures, and got out of the car; I went around to the trunk to retrieve my suitcase. Glum does not begin to describe my mien that day – I didn’t want to leave, and my friend knew it. Now, I’m not a huge fan of emotion, especially tears; I’m old school…to me, they’re a sign of weakness, and they make me terrifically uncomfortable. (Yes, of course, I know I’m horribly repressed and completely wrong to feel this way. I understand. Please just don’t cry in my presence. Please. Don’t.) So it’s possible that I cried that day, but if I did, I appear to have blocked out that particular detail.  I can tell you that, as we stood there saying goodbye, neither of us knowing when I might return, Mary shed a tear. And it touched me deeply that she was so sad that I was leaving, deeply enough that I remember, and treasure, that moment to this day. Not despite the tears, as one would think, but because of them.

A short four years later, my mother had a nasty run in with a brain tumor. There were weeks in the hospital, followed by months of recovery and rehabilitation; she made it all the way back, but it was tough. By this time, my sister and I were living in Chicago, so we alternated spending time in Seattle caring for Mom. During one of the periods that I was at home, one of the girls was visiting from out-of-town, so we all got together for Mexican food and margaritas. Kathi and I were friends, good friends, but, as I’m not one to share my emotions (pesky things), we had never had that kind of moment. As we left the restaurant though, she asked me about my mother, and I told her about the stress, the anxiety, and the fear that were constant companions throughout the journey with Mom. And Kathi took my hand as we walked, and squeezed it. I was moved by a gesture so simple, yet so kind and so compassionate. It moves me still.

The idea of friendship sometimes seems like the topic du jour…books are written about how to make them, how to keep them, how to end them. Be they new friendships or old, they are often fraught affairs, with the demands of modern life taking a toll. There are people for whom a handful of good friends is enough, and people who seem to require a veritable village of friends. We lose touch, we reconnect. Or perhaps we don’t. Some friendships evolve, some endure, and some die.  If you’re lucky enough to have made it through forty-nine years with the same group of friends, you know that it’s a special thing, a great thing really, a thing worth celebrating. This, then, is my tribute to friendships forged in childhood, but maintained through the years by MIller Lite and margaritas, by Hackney Burgers and barbecues, by the squeeze of a hand, by hugs that last just a little bit longer and are just a little bit tighter than hugs from anyone else, by laughter and tears, by sheer force of will, and, dare I say it…by love.

Bio: Kim Smith is a Chicago girl who resides, reluctantly, in Western Washington.  She’s a writer, but has a day job as a sales assistant to pay the bills. She spends her free time tapping into the zeitgeist and making snarky observations about the world around her, although, thanks to Laura Munson’s workshop, she throws in an honest, emotional bit every now and then.  Just for giggles. You can find her blog, KimSmith/WordSmith, at www.kimwordsmith.com.

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Long Ago: Community Entry #9

Taking a break from the writing. Reading an old time favorite. "Live the questions." --Rilke

For those of you who have been submitting to and following this “Long Ago:  Community” writing series/contest…I want to thank you.  Your supportive comments and vulnerable stories represent the staples of true community:  support, bravery, creativity, generosity, and the willingness to share. 

As I enter into the next part of my solo writing retreat to work on my novel, it brings me great joy to know that you all are here, holding These Here Hills in my absence.  My Haven Writing Retreat season will soon begin, and I have learned that if we are going to nurture and inspire other people in their self-expression, we have to begin by doing just that for ourselves.  If you are interested in joining me for a retreat, email me at Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com.  June is fast filling.  And August, and September are now booking.  Contest winner for Haven scholarship will be announced soon…  Submissions are closed…  For more info click here.

Please enjoy this nostalgic piece about neighborhood magic by Betsy Nelson!

yrs.

Laura

The House at the End of Belvedere Road, by Betsy Nelson

 

When I was a girl growing up in the 1970’s living in a Texas town near the Louisiana border, I often visited my friend Molly’s house at the end of Belvedere Road.  Most houses on Belvedere were roomy, two-story brick traditional, enveloped by the deep green leaves of sprawling Live Oak trees and angular pine trees. But the very last house on this small-town street was not like the rest.

To begin with, it didn’t look like any of the other houses. The exterior was rough stucco, the color of French Vanilla ice cream.  It was topped off with an aged slate roof that looked like small, uniform waves, or like the curly, hard Christmas candy I found in my stocking each year.

The house was U-shaped, built around a central courtyard, shadowed by the iron balconies that lunged overhead, from the second-story bedrooms.  In the middle of the pebbled courtyard was a trickling fountain with a quirky bronze statue of an owl perched above it.  The image of this mysterious owl at his post, haunted and sometimes comforted me, as I caught glimpses of him on restless nights when I would sleep over.

Upon entering the house through the side door, into the kitchen, I would glance at the simple chalkboard hung on the wall next to the telephone, which was usually ringing or occupied.  Scribbled on the board were chalky messages or funny hand-drawn pictures, chronicling the various comings and goings of a lively family of seven children and their Mom and Dad.  If I was lucky and it was close to dinner when I visited, the kitchen would be filled with the pungent aroma of garlic and onions sautéing in preparation for some fabulous, exotic Southern dish.

Walking through the house on my way to the backyard, I would feel the warm sunlight streaming in through a wall of tall windows, as I passed the pine dining table, where twelve whitewashed, ladder back chairs stood neatly aligned, until the family would arrive and disrupt all order bringing vibrant life to the abandoned scene.

Sliding open the heavy glass doors that led to the expanse of sweet-smelling, green grass and billowy clover with bees hovering above their fragile stalks, I was met by a familiar chorus of gleeful, Southern voices and raucous laughter.  There, a throng of athletic-looking, tow-headed children of various sizes, ages and abilities, encircled a mammoth, jet-black canvas trampoline.  Calling, “Hi!” and “Come On!”, the family and a mélange of neighborhood children, jostled to make room for me there beside them.

Spindly, suntanned arms stretched out to rest on the cushioned rim careful not to get fingers caught in the coiled springs. All heads looked up at the glorified kid of the moment, the one taking his turn jumping on the trampoline.  Some could bounce high and touch their outstretched toes while suspended for a moment in the air.  Some could do flips, bounce up, land cross-legged on the canvas and bounce up again.  Others could do little more than jump shyly and roll onto the ground, holding their sides, aching from too much laughter.  Oblivious to all this, were Queenie and Greta, two silky, steel-gray and snow white, German Shepherd dogs, stretched out grandly on the cool ground in the sphere of shade beneath the mighty trampoline.

When we finished, a few of us might sneak off and clamber up the bare wooden stairs to the steaming, windowless attic of the house, to dig through the Magic Box, a deep, Chinese-red trunk, filled to overflowing with velvety and satin costumes, smelling of old perfume.  Or perhaps, with the late-evening sun beating down, we would climb onto our bikes and take off for the dusty “hills”, a bank of hard-packed dirt, nothing more than the result of a bayou that had been dug alongside the house.  Wheels whirring, our bikes glided up one side and coasted down the other until sunset streaked the sky coral pink and mustard yellow.  Then, reluctantly, we would all say bye to each other, as we would leave to return to our own homes, and anticipate the next time we would be lucky enough to visit this enchanted place on Belvedere Road.

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Long Ago: Community Entry #8

Step by step. Word by word. Page by page.

“When I am writing I am far away and when I come back I have already left”

– Pablo Neruda

I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing this week.  I feel so held in this haven of the blank page and snow.  If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.

Please enjoy this lovely entry to my “Long Ago:  Community” series/contest.  It brought me right back to the feeling of a Sunday morning in church– my first haven. 

Submissions are closed.  Winner announced mid-Feb.  Thank you to all who are sharing and reading and commenting.  We can build community from far and wide.  yrs. Laura

An Echo from the Bronx, by Alison Bolshoi

I learned about a long ago community from a very old woman, my great grandmother, although it would be decades before I understood anything she said about it.

Molly, or “Mom” as we all called her, was a tiny person who never stopped moving.  She lived every day to do things for other people, and is the only person I’ve ever met who was truly happy serving others.  You meet people who say they are, but you can still see some resentment at the corners of their mouth or the angle of their neck.  Mom was filled with joy and light.  When I showed up at her apartment, she would turn from her sewing machine with an expression of happiness on her face that told me there was no one else in the world she would rather see, at that moment, than me.  Yet everyone in my family describes the same experience when they would go see her.

Mom was a seamstress and made all my clothes until I was in high school; everything from my nightgowns to my winter coats and hats.  While she sewed, and I helped, she told me stories I didn’t understand about church and community.  She was born in 1888 and raised Roman Catholic in the Bronx, when it was still “the country” and had dirt roads and horse drawn carriages.  She described the church as an amazing place.  She met her best friend Anna there when she was a child.   She and Anna did lots of things together, including working at the church office and washing their families’ laundry in the East River.  They were poor but they didn’t seem to know it.  When they were 15, Anna made Molly an incredibly beautiful scarf, crocheted out of raw silk, which was rare material back then.

Mom also told me about dances, bake sales, fundraisers, parties for people’s anniversaries and christenings, and even wakes and funerals, which all centered around their church.  The whole church community would visit the family of the deceased throughout the three-day waking period, and bring food.  Mom told detailed stories about so many different occasions, like one night when she and my great grandfather Jim were dating, and walked to a dance at church.  Jim didn’t like that Molly wouldn’t kiss him, so he picked her up and put her inside an open garbage can.  She screamed, but as long as she didn’t move, her dress didn’t touch the sides and stayed clean.  When she finally relented and kissed him, he lifted her out and they went on to the church dance.  The theme that night was “Old Italian Love Songs” and he said, “See?  Even God said you were supposed to kiss me.”

Her stories seemed so alien to me.  We went to church, three of them, in fact, in our area, but we never talked to anyone and there were never events going on in any of them.  This was Westchester County, NY; stuffy, and for me, very fake.  The closest we got to “community” was at the sign of peace, where you turn to the person nearest you and shake their hand, muttering “Peace be with you.”  Then we’d go home and never speak to them again.

Mom’s stories stayed with me, though I didn’t understand them.  When my son was seven and announced one day, as I picked him up, that he was Christian and wanted to wear a cross and go to a church, I nearly drove my car off the road.  I hadn’t been to church in so many years, though I still felt Christian.  I was terrified.

After talking with a friend and explaining my aversion to Roman Catholicism, he suggested St. Luke’s Church, right in town, in Montclair.  I asked why that place.  He said, “They’re Episcopal, and they’re a very happy group of people.”   I said, “You mean ‘Jesus Freaks.’”  “No,” he laughed.  “It’s hard to explain.  They’re just really happy to see you.”  Hmm.

So I went.  And an amazing thing happened.  People talked to me.  Not in a pushy, nosy sort of way, but in a welcoming, interested way.  I went back.  I realized that every Sunday after services, there was a coffee hour, where people talked to each other about their everyday lives.  I saw that gay people sat with each other in pews, held hands, and even kissed at the sign of peace.  Homeless people sat next to wealthy people.  The church had a soup kitchen; a pretty famous one.  And a “Second Time Around Shop,” a thrift shop run by the old ladies in the church, who organized it.  People had parties for their anniversaries and christenings in the Assembly Hall.

Over time I saw what a real community this is, where wonderful, sad, magical, real things happen — like after two of my friends had a fire gut their apartment, and everyone came together and gave them furniture, dishes, clothes, money, and food.  Or when my friend Tim’s son Maurice died suddenly at age 20, and even his horse was welcome inside the church, at his funeral.  Or this year, when my best friend Monique renewed her vows with her husband Louis.  I sang the service and we all went to a wonderful party in the Assembly Hall, singing opera karaoke, and left after midnight.  It is my understanding that not all Episcopal churches are like this one.  So I feel lucky.

These are not people who shake your hand and then forget your face by the time they get to the door.  I found a Long Ago Community that’s alive right now.  And I’m in it.  I even wore Mom’s raw silk scarf, now 110 years old now, to the ceremony where I was ‘received’ by the Bishop.

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Filling Station

As seen on Huffington Post 50

When I was little, one of the things I most loved to do with my father was go to the gas station.  A child of the early 1900s, he called it the “filling station” and he always made sure that he had at least a half a tank of gas.  He took the filling station very seriously.  Shopped around for the best prices.  Knew the attendants and shot the breeze with them—Chicago Lake Effect weather, price of beans and corn down in central Illinois, the youth these days.  I kept my mouth shut and listened to the
soothing sound of his part scorn/part idolatry of it all.

And when we were back on the road, I memorized the lyrics and Big Band tunes on his a.m. radio station, “The Music of Your Life.”  This was safety to me.  The thought of women in white gloves, hats and heels, and smart cocktail dresses, and men in suits with slicked hair and doffed fedoras and overcoats…dancing in sync on a parquet dance floor with an orchestra and a cocktail waiting for them back at the small round table in a lowball glass.  I agreed:  what was wrong with the youth these days….sitting in ponchos and bell bottoms, smoking pot, talking about free love and war mongering?  I wanted his youth.  And I found it at the filling station.

I used to go there just to smell the gasoline, to see the rainbows of fuel in the wet pavement after a good old fashioned Midwestern thunderstorm, to see if the guy behind the counter might chat me up if I bought a Hershey’s bar or a bottle of Coke.  Over the years, I became friends with that guy.  His name was Bud.  He used to give me little plastic animals.  One time he gave me a whole tube full of Noah’s Arc plastic animals, who gladly joined my china figurines collection that I played with religiously (and now more religiously), in wooden structures I made in shop class.  I’m not sure what happened to Bud, but I do remember the look he gave me when I tried to buy beer in sixth grade.  Part scorn/part iconic.  The youth these days.

***

Now I live in a small mountain town in Montana.  I drive a big gas-guzzling truck because here…it’s justified, given the roads we travel and the creatures who travel it with us.  Thusly, I spend a lot of time at the gas station.  I go there for gas.  I go there for a carton of
milk.  I go there for elk meat.  I go there for box wine.  I go there for conversation.  Now my Bud is a guy called Murray.  For months he called me Laurie.  NOBODY calls me Laurie.  One day I got up the courage to tell this kind man with the Peace tattoo and the Jerry Garcia hair and the kind smile:  “I’m Laura.  Not Laurie.”  He looked at me in what I would come to know was mock-befuddlement, and belted out, “Hey, Munson!”

Now most every time I come into my gas station, there’s Murray saying, “Hey, Munson!”  I love this man.  Over the years, I’ve told him
jokes, we’ve shaken our heads over national tragedies playing out on the corner television.  He’s bought me a box of wine here and there.  He even gave me a glass horse figurine that he picked up at a consignment shop.  It’s clear with cobalt blue inside.  It sits next to another glass horse figurine that is almost identical, only I bought it for a lot of money at a glass-blowing factory in Venice.  The one I bought is on its knees, struggling to get up, neck craning and stretching.  The one Murray gave me…is just a little bit more on its feet.  I repeat:  I love this man.

A friend once told me, when I was new to Montana, that there are saints everywhere.  “Pay attention,” he said.  “They will stun you with their loving hearts.  Just when you least expect it.”

Well the other day, amidst all the holiday scrambling—sitting on the living room rug in a fit of wrapping paper, scissors, ribbons, and tape, my son entered the room and requested a ride to the ski resort in the town where we live.  Maybe you’ve noticed something about the kids these days:  they don’t make plans.  They text.  They walk in and demand things last minute, like your whole world revolves around their social life and their techno needs, even if it’s good clean fun like skiing.  I’ve got pretty amazing kids.  Kids who listen to NPR and write in journals and ring the Salvation Army bell.  Still…it’s different than it used to be and I’ve learned that being a mother requires some level of going with their flow, lest we be in constant conflict.  So I ditched the wrapping paper, and stuffed my night-shirt tails into my yoga pants, donned my Sorels, and with neither underwear nor bra, I grabbed my big parka and hit the road with my son.

You know that thing they say about always making sure to wear clean underwear?  Well…here’s what happened:

In the car on our way up the mountain, my son realized he had no money for his standard grilled cheese lunch at the Summit House.  I looked around for my purse, and there was no purse.  Which meant there was no money.  I always leave my purse in the car.  I was perplexed.  I said something to the tune of “Blame it on the holidaze.”  But then I realized that I had no license, and that just the other day I realized my registration had expired.  Blame it on the holidaze?  And my insurance card was expired.  And…then I looked at my gas gauge…and it was low.  Really low.  I always keep at least a half a tank of gas, just like my father.  And no cell phone to boot. This was so entirely not like me.  Holidaze?

I scanned the car for an errant twenty, or at least a five.  And there under the teacher gifts yet to be delivered on the dash, were two fives.  “Here, I’ll take one and you take the other,” my son said.

“I don’t know if I have enough gas to drive the ten miles home.  And my purse must be at home, so I have to go home in order to get money in order to get gas.”  I didn’t tell him about the part where I was driving totally illegally.  Not in unclean underwear, mind you…but in NO underwear.  Etc.  “Can’t you borrow some cash?” I said.

But there I was, teaching my child to be a mooch.  I humbly took the remaining five.  “Don’t worry, Mom.  That’s a gallon of gas.  And a gallon of gas goes fifteen miles.  We live ten miles from here and you probably have at least enough to get home and back to the gas station.”  He smiled, all faith.

For some reason, I bid him fondly adieu, feeling like a combo of Debbie Reynolds the later years, and Carrie Fisher, ditto.  What happened to me? I thought.  Two seconds ago I was in a twin set and khakis, fresh from the gym, with exfoliated skin and lunch plans. Now I am one beat-up Suburban away from bag lady with no buttons to push, and only an accelerator from which to hope for power. And then I remembered what my friend said about saints being everywhere.  And I thought of Murray.

So I pulled into my gas station on fumes, rehearsing what I could possibly say that wouldn’t be a total breach in customer privileges.  After all…what have I ever given him, except for a kiss on the cheek once when he told me that I was one of his favorite customers.  This after I’d spilled my guts about a particular glich in a particular relationship with a particular persona non-grata—also a customer of this said gas station.

Needless to say…I felt like the worst mooch ever.  Because I was about to ask him to spot me some cash.

I threw my shoulders back like my father used to do in facing an awkward situation.  Walked in.

“Hey, Munson,” he belted out.  “How’s it going?”

“Well…” I confessed, “Not so great, Murray.  I need gas.  And I don’t have any dough on me.  And I’m wondering…if I could borrow a few bucks to get home, so I can grab my purse, so I can come back and fill my tank and reimburse you.”  I looked past his Peace tattoo and into his kind eyes.  “I feel horrible, Murray.”

It’s a great experience going from the false power of button-pushing and bitching about little things like the holiday rush and the price of gas…to actually knowing that you are one step away from standing on a street corner holding a cardboard sign, just to get home.  Where is our power, really?  Not in buttons.  I can tell you that.  It’s in making those connections with real live people over the course of time. It’s about looking in their eyes and past their tattoos and into their hearts.  And sometimes, it’s about asking for help.

Of course Murray spotted me that cash.  Saints are like that.

Look around.  Pay attention.  Chat with the people at your local filling station.  And be filled.

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Breaking Point: #20

I am going to end this Breaking Point series with two stories of grief:  beginning in resistance, denial, anger and a final facing of the truth…and ending in Glacier National Park, a place I hold dear.  And a reminder that nature (or God if that is your belief) can hold us when we can’t hold ourselves.  “Let go and weep.  I will not leave.”  Thank you to all who have bravely contributed and to all who have bravely read and commented and shared with others.  It is Springtime now. 

yrs. Laura

 

Submitted:  by Laurie Wajda who blogs here.  You can get her ebook here.

Tribute to a Friend

It was 4pm. In all reality it was 5, but the recent time change had stolen an hour so the shadows were reaching their peak. I rolled down the sleeves of my jacket as a chill hit the air, and stood in my own eternity looking at the stone. It was 4:02.

The mist that had started to rise as I passed through the gate was growing denser with the twilight hours. It swirled up slowly, engulfing my ankles, and lulled across the grass, around and over and between each epitaph. Surely my imagination, but as the earth’s pores let out its steam, the pungent odor of decaying flesh filled the air. I stood fixated, pulling tight the coat around me as if to ward off some unseen evil.

I patted the two Michelob Lights I’d shoved into my pockets and settled myself directly in front of…it.

It was my best friend’s birthday, and I was bringing her a beer. The sad part?   I brought two, opened them both, and placed one at the foot of her headstone.  It had been two years since I’d been to this place.  I had to laugh as I looked around and said, “Well, kiddo, you haven’t changed a bit.” And then my head hit my knees and I cried like a baby.

I don’t know if I went there that day out of guilt or loyalty: Guess I never will. But nevertheless, there I sat.

“Listen… I know I haven’t been here in awhile. Well, I haven’t been here at all… A few times but … it’s not like I could forget your birthday or something.”  Phil Collins flashed throughmy head. No Reply At All. “Jesus. Listen to me talking to a rock.” I took a swig of beer and waded through my myriad of thoughts.

“Ya know – I read your name on that damn thing and I still don’t believe it. I feel psychotic sitting here but we always said the big 2-1 would be a hell of a party.  Some party…

“It’s not like I forgot you or anything…  It’s just that, well, it all feels so superficial…   I’d come here, drop off a flower and sit and cry… what’s the point?  It’s not like I’m here for a visit with some tea and a chat, right?

Listen, Kate, You were my best friend – always were, always will be. You were the person I talked to and trusted and partied with – and then you just up and died and I had no one to tell.   I can’t come here.  Just to look at a damn stone with your birth-date on it?  I can’t do it… I’m sorry, but I just can’t.”

Before any tears fell I got up to leave. Hands shoved in my pockets, I slowly backed away. I turned my back on that stone, that grave. And then I walked toward the gate, never looking back.  I knew at that moment I would never return.

I left the beer bottles there that day. One full one and one empty one, standing side by side. They stood there together like old buddies saying I’m sorry and I forgive you and Happy Birthday all at once.

When the groundskeeper swept them up the next day, I’m sure his only thought was that a local drunk had left his garbage once again. He would never know that those two bottles stood for years of friendship and laughter.  For vacations and smiles and tears and
understanding. He would never know that those two bottles were a tribute to a friend.

Submitted by: Kaye Dieter  

“The River”

Glacier National Park’s Rocky Mountain Front borders the east edge of the North Fork of the Flathead River that winds its way past my childhood home.  These mountains rise rugged over the grassy, tree-dotted valley that holds this river that has been a friend to me for over 30 years, a friend that listens, always listens.  Even before I sensed it was listening, I was drawn to the river.  Before the sadness.  Before the tear drops would not fall, then carrying the tears that could not be contained, unnoticed and without a grudge, in its welcoming mass flowing cold, clear and comforting, away from where I stood on its rocky edge.

I have come to this place since I was seven years old.  Back then it was pure joy to be a seven-year-old girl with an hour, or afternoon on a hot Montana summer day, with time to be oblivious to everything but what absorbed me from my inner-tube portal.  Tied to a log in the mainstream of the river, my rubber craft allowed for enough interruption in the current that, if I sat silent and still, was usually rewarded by a glimpse of a bull trout lying heavily on the grey-green limestone river bottom.  The inlet, where the water flowed slowly in a clock-wise direction, and the spring glacial silt settled to cover the rocks, is where I drifted facedown, delighting in the newly hatched frogs that hopped from the muddy shore, and the minnows as they zipped, zigzagging through the mesmerizingly spaced grassy reeds.  I was keenly aware of the large water beetles swimming haphazardly, and then colliding bluntly, into whatever happened to be in their paths.  Any innocuous leaf or silent stick that was unfortunate enough to bump into the last 1/3rd of my foot (it required too much effort to keep it out of the glacier-chilled water), was unfairly accused of being one of the clumsy little monsters, and was reflexively kicked at. If the water beetles were monsters, then the slimy green-black leaches were blood-sucking snakes that brought terror into my inlet water world.

From the idyllic age of seven, the dependable nature of the four seasons initiated me into early adulthood sooner, and later than I would have liked.  The river saw it all, and listened the whole time.  When I had to leave the river is when I needed it the most because that is when the sadness became my constant, demanding and meddling companion.

During the winter months of November, December and January the river struggles to flow as the slushy islands of ice glob onto its edges.  By early January it is no longer a black ribbon meandering quietly between soft snow banks, it has become just another cold, hard surface for snowflakes to settle on.  But under the deep layer of snow, on top of the thick glass ice, the subdued river is still listening.  Then, as an 18 year old, I kick and glide, kick and glide down its unobstructed path, the snow greedily snatches the tears falling from my eyes, and the water below murmurs quietly.  I listen.

The river says softly, “Let go and weep, I will not leave. Even though you must leave again, when you return I will be here, and will always listen. I know you and I also feel your sadness. I knew and miss her too. I saw her watching you from the high bank.  Making sure I wasn’t playing too rough with you, admiring my graceful form in the varied shades of light, and paying me the highest compliment by putting my likeness on canvas.  Her protective gazes over you were over me too. So please, let go, weep, collapse, remember, weep some more, and when you are able, remember and smile.”

 

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Breaking Point: #16

Today’s Breaking Point stories are about endings.  They’re about having to let go of “the way things were.”  If there’s one thing we can count on…it’s change.  Sometimes that’s good news.  Sometimes that’s heartbreaking news.  We want to cling to the past, to the myths that society spins about where our safety lies.  I have learned that our only real safety comes from within and I think that is excellent news:  because it means that we can feel safe no matter what’s going on in our lives.  Especially when we recieve the present moment rather than resist it, and learn to breathe into its groundlessness.  yrs. Laura

Both of these are about the end of marriages, the first from the perspective of a child…

Submitted by: Stefanie A. Shilling who blogs here.

“The Word”

It would be the last time the four of us crawled into my parents’ bed. It could have been the first time, for all I know, because that was also the day that my childhood not only ended but was erased. I have virtually no memory of my life before that day.

I was 9 years old.

I don’t remember the words leading up to the only word I really remember. I’m sure they told us they loved us. I’m sure they told us that it wasn’t our fault. I’m sure it was probably hard for them.

But they weren’t 9.

They saw it coming. They were witness to their arguments. They felt the unhappiness. They knew long before the day they told us.

I remember feeling completely shocked. I don’t remember ever seeing them argue in front of us. But I guess I don’t remember seeing them hug or be affectionate with each other either.

I don’t remember how, or even if, my brother reacted. His childhood had just exploded, too. He was 13. I’ve only known him to process things internally. I don’t know if he cried much before that day but I’ve only seen him cry a few times since that day.

I don’t know which one of them said the word, but I know the word that I kept yelling:

NO! NO! NO!

No! No! No!

no. no. no.

Of course it didn’t matter. It was another reminder that it often doesn’t matter when a child says no. It wouldn’t be the last time in my life that I said that word…but it was the first time that I remember.

…And the next Breaking Point story is from the perspective of an adult.

Submitted by: Gracie

It was last August and my husband was screaming yet again at the top of his lungs. About  how we were separated (even though we lived in the same house), that he could do anything he wanted, that he didn’t have to consult with me about anything, that everything was over and why wouldn’t I just get it?

I was silent in the face of his blasting furnace of anger and pain. He was a far cry, at that moment, from the man I had loved and been devoted to for 8 years, for whom I had left a husband and a life on another coast, 3,000 miles away from this home of ours in the woods. As I stayed silent and looked at his red face, his clenched hands, his rigid body, I saw that he was completely broken and that it was time for D. and I to go. I could not fix him, I could not reason with him, I could not make him see. He had problems that required the help of experts and professionals, far beyond anything either he or I could do, separately or together. But there was no explaining that to him. He just couldn’t hear me, so I left a few weeks later and took our 3 year old son with me. It was time now to protect him, more than anything else.

I had fought the idea of separating for more than a year. During that time, I forgave (I know people say they do but I truly did) a digital transgression of many months, the existence of which I thought explained a lot of the difficult and painful behaviors happening in our house. But that wasn’t all of it. Not by a long shot. There was more to come, Another 8 months of screaming rages, smashing pans and dishes in the kitchen, hateful invective, and lots of cursing. It hurts even remembering the unrelenting, seemingly inexhaustible tide of anger that rolled through our house. I did not scream in response. Having grown up in a house with a dad who was a crazy screamer, I actually hate screaming, doing it or being on the receiving end of it.

For months, I waited out the rages thinking: soon he’ll find the right meds and feel better. The rage will subside, he will be ok again. But it never came, at least not while we lived there. He cycled through a stack of prescriptions and medical and therapy appointments but nothing worked, until it finally did, after we were gone.

I don’t know why the screaming fit in August was the one that did it. It was no worse than any of the others. It was certainly not anything I hadn’t heard before either. But during this one, as I looked at my husband, I really saw him and I realized in his current state, he was beyond my reach and I was finally done.

 

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Montana Mudpies

When my children were very young, I often read them a wonderful book I love called Mudpies and Other Recipes by Marjorie Winslow, who is a shirt-tail relative of mine. We had many mudpie parties where the kids made up a menu and served their creations to their dolls and stuffed animals. I love that at fifteen and eleven, my children are still making them.

Here are a few sample recipes from Margorie’s book, and what they inspired in my yard this fine summer day:

 

Pine Needle Upsidedown Cake

Sage Sushi
Sunflower Torte

Sunflower Torte

Tea and Toast

Tea and Toast

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Children’s Books

I did a poll on Facebook the other day. Here was the question: What are your three favorite children’s books? Within an hour, 50 people had responded. They’re still responding. I do polls all the time because I’m curious about the collective We…and this was the one that had the most immediate and passionate  response. This not just enlightened me as to what people love to read, but what people want to share bout.

And here’s the thing: there weren’t a lot of bad guy books. My son always wonders why there has to be a bad guy in all the movies and books in our lives. Why can’t it just be easy? Why does there always have to be conflict? We might, as parents, want to answer, “Because life is FULL of conflict.” But you know…sometimes life isn’t full of conflict.

In the books that people loved, I found that there wasn’t as much conflict as love. Few mentioned Harry Potter, in fact. More mentioned Winnie the Pooh and Dr. Seuss. Sure Pooh and the rest had their fair share of befuddlements. And rising to the sky holding a balloon, bees swarming all around, is not opportune. But the books people loved most weren’t full of real evil or real villains. It was more heart language. Here is that list. yrs. Laura

Laura Munson wrote: I’m doing a poll. What are your favorite children’s books? Mine are THE GIVING TREE, AMOS AND BORIS, and…THE COUNTRY BUNNY. And FLICKA RICKA AND DICKA too.”

Then thanks to people jogging my memory, I added: A TIME OF WONDER. THE HAPPY DAY. A TIME TO KEEP. And EB White. And of course ELOISE. And so much more…

Miss Rumphius
I’ll Love you Forever
Horton Hears a Who
Tigers in the Cellar
Plum Pudding for Christmas
Ferdinand
Polar Express and Eloise
Ping the Duck
The Giving Tree
Gerald McBoingBoing
Betsy-Tacy series
The Monster at the End of this Book

The Little House
Carl Goes Shopping
The Peculiar Miss Picket
Mandy
Mary Poppins
I’ll Love You Forever
The Fall of Freddie The Leaf
Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See”
Where the Wild Things Are
The Three Trees
Green Eggs and Ham
Skippy Jon Jones
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
Alligator Pie book
Cat in the Hat
Jelly Beans for Breakfast

Henry and Mudge
Mr Putter and Tabby
Good Night Moon
Pigs Ahoy!
Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches and Other Stories– my favorite being “What Was I Afraid Of?”
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs
Mrs. Pigglewiggle
Anything Will Steig
And Barbara Cooney
The Happy Day
Ferdinand the Bull
The Five Chinese Brothers
Miss Rumphius
A Time to Keep
Emma’s Pet
All three books by E.B. White, especially Trumpet of the Swan.
Jellybeans for Breakfast
The Kissing Hand!
Llama, Llama Mad at Mama
Blueberries for Sal
One Morning in Maine
Miss Rumphius
Goodnight Moon
Make Way for Ducklings
Wrinkle In Time
all of the E.B.White books, especially “Stuart Little”
Seven Silly Eaters
A Fly Went By
Goodnight Moon
Now We Are Six (AA Milne)
The Story of Babar
The Velveteen Rabbit
A is for Annabelle

I Can’t, Said the Ant
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Sahara Special
Harriet the Spy
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Little Bear
Now we are Six
Babar…
A TIME OF WONDER
Eloise
Madeline
Babar
Winnie the Pooh
Goodnight Moon
Wodney Wat
Edward the Emu
I’ll Love You Forever
All I See Is Part of Me
Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book
Shel Silverstein

Harry Potter
Oh, The Places You’ll Go
The Tar Baby books
The Giving Tree
Guess How Much I Love You
Little Bear
Frog and Toad
Eloise
Madeleine

It’s Mine: the Greedy Book
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Now We Are Six
Epandimondas and his Auntie
Where the Sidewalk Ends
Be Nice to Spiders
Alice in Wonderland
The Little Princess
Chrysanthimum
Amelia Bedelia
Wynkyn, Blinkin & Nod
Goodnight Moon
I’ll Love You Forever
Velveteen Rabbit
What is God
A House is A House for Me
Olivia
The Polar Express
Dr. Seuss
Harry Potter

The Country Bunny
Make Way for Ducklings
Blueberries for Sal
Goodnight Moon
Judy Blume
A Wrinkle in Time
A Wind in the Door
A Swiftly Tilting Planet
The Day the Babies Crawled Away
Goodnight Gorilla
Guess How Much I Love You
The Giving Tree
The Lorax
Old Hat New Hat
Oh the Places You’ll Go
Winkin’ Blinkin’ and Nod
Now We are Six
Madeleine
When Luis Armstrong Taught me Scat
In the Night Kitchen
James and the Giant Peach
Winnie the Pooh
Trucks, Trucks Trucks
Guess How Much I Love you
The Henry and Mudge books
Theasaurux Rex
Courduroy
Miss Twiggly’s Tree
The “Fancy Nancy” books
Anne of Green Gables
The “Little House” books
Little Women
The Ox Cart Man by Donald Hall
Ollie’s Ski Trip
Iggy Peck Architect
And Now Miguel
Farmer Boy
Ballet Shoes
Where The Wild Things Are
Little Bear
The Giving Tree
Ballet Shoes
The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew

Resources:
http://kids.nypl.org/reading/recommended2.cfm?ListID=61
Esme Raji Codell’s blog: The Planet Esme Plan, http://planetesme.blogspot.com/

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One Man's Trash…


When we were kids, a person my parents held in highest esteem gave us some Christmas ornaments. They were red balls with Santa’s caps, felt eyes, and faux fur brows and beard. My parents coveted them and would only let the kids hang them when we were dexterous and teenaged, and even then we’d get stern looks before they put them in our charge. “Two hands,” they’d say. When I was finally old enough to hang these ornaments, I did it with fear and self-doubt.

A point came many years later when I was staring at the Christmas tree with my father like we used to do– “dreaming” he called it, and I looked at those Santa ornaments on the tree, waiting to feel that old tingle of being gifted by “kings”…and I realized, in my adult cognition, that they for all intents and purposes were…really really tacky. And ugly. And cheap. We had given them so much meaning, and there they hung, like the emperor and his “clothes.”

“Dad, you know…those Santa ornaments? They’re kind of horrible,” I said.

His face scrunched into a look of disdain, readying himself for fatherly-flung disagreement that truth-be-told, had worn thin as I’d got older and smarter and more dexterous. And then his face softened. And he laughed. “My gosh, you’re right! They ARE horrible.” And we laughed and laughed and laughed and I’ll never forget it. A total castration of royalty, right there in our sun porch.

Still, even more years later, when my parents sold their home of 40 some odd years, my sister and I divided those Santa ornaments up like family jewels. Two for her, two for me. And every year since then, I’ve hung them myself, only recently entrusting them to my own children. Even though I know better than to cling to such things, those Santa ornaments hold some sort of power for me. I think it’s because my parents believed they had power. And I believed in my parents.

Then yesterday, I came in from grocery shopping and my husband was under the Christmas tree with the vacuum. My ten year old son looked at me. “We’ve had an accident, Mommy. The tree fell down out of nowhere and a few ornaments broke. But just think of all the ones that DIDN’T break.” I looked at the re-erected tree and scanned it, making a check list of my most favorite ornaments, dating back to my grandmother’s childhood in the late 1800s. Then I saw my son’s eyes dart to the coffee table and there were the Santas. Both of them broken. And you know, I cried. I did. I wept. I wept because my father’s fingers had touched those powerful tacky bulbs and believed in them. I cried because they were apart of his Christmas “dreaming.” I cried that my mother and father needed to assign power to a thing like a tacky Santa ornament in the first place. I cried that I had assigned them the same power. I knew the person who had given them to our family. I believed in her power too. And now she’s dead. And so is my father. And all that power is either in my memory of them, or died with them, or never existed in the first place. I cried because at Christmas time, no matter how good you are at busting through myths, it’s hard. You want to dream. You want to believe. But I knew that this was yet another lesson in letting go.

So I took a photo, and then I promptly tossed them in the garbage can, smashing them down with my naked hand, perhaps wanting to bleed a bit. They’re just ornaments. They’re meant to be enjoyed and part of their wonder is that they are so fragile. Memories aren’t. The love of a parent is not. I haven’t told my mother yet. I wonder what she’ll say. I wonder if a thing like an ornament matters when your husband is dead and your friends are dying all around you. Perhaps that is why I wept. I wanted that return to childhood where time stands still just for a moment every year, when I wink at those tacky Santas and feel their power. I know the “dream” is in me. But sometimes it’s nice to have a little boost. So tacky little Santas, may you rest in peace. Thank you for your years of service. I’m sorry you had to go the way you did. But I’m not sorry we believed in you.

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