Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Litttle Big Foot: Stained Glass

If you would like to start at the beginning of the "Little Big Foot" story, click on the link at the bottom of this post or the one in the sidebar. When you are redirected, scroll down to the bottom of the page.

If you would like to hear Keith Green's song "Stained Glass," click here.

Dee Anna, wearing loafers, blue jeans and a green t-shirt, sat alone in the silent sanctuary of Eastside Methodist Church. She had finished packing the last box of books from her office, and she was tired. She had received several offers of help, but she had wanted to finish that particular packing job alone.
Splashes of color from a nearby window cascaded across the carpet and over the window sill, turning the rays of sun into a work of art all their own.

Dee Anna smiled, picturing the mosaic of color as tiny angels who had come to encourage and comfort her. She giggled aloud when she realized that the angels she was envisioning looked a lot like the three plump fairy godmothers in Walt Disney's classic film,"Sleeping Beauty."
Leaning against the hard back of the pew, she closed her eyes with a long sigh. The melody and words of a Keith Green song drifted through her thoughts.

We are like windows,
the bright colors of the rainbow...

She remembered how she used to listen to Keith Green as she studied in the little dorm room she shared with a preacher's daughter from San Antonio. It was her freshman year of college. Her roommate had been a very devout and outspoken girl who often talked about sin and the need for a national revival. Dee Anna hadn't liked that so much, because it had reminded her of her father. Still, she and her roommate had shared a love of music and of Keith's passionate longing for holiness and a spiritual awaking in the churches of America. In those days Dee Anna had been an idealistic fundamentalist, a young woman who thought she would change the world as soon as someone gave her a chance. She would share the love of Jesus with children, and she would have a lasting impact on young hearts and minds.

She had passionately believed that each person is a unique and beautiful creation of God. She still believed that, she acknowledged to herself. She had also believed that all that was necessary to flourish was to be saved, pray hard, and read the Bible every day.
It was a long time since she had believed that.

She had tried to take the good things from her childhood with her and leave the bad ones behind. The problem was, she thought sadly, the bad things just wouldn't stay put back in her home town. They drifted into her dorm room, her children's church classroom, the seminary library as she worked on her thesis. They followed her to Dallas as she attempted to forget all she had been taught. They floated with her as she prayed at midnight in a downtown Catholic church, and they had even managed to drift northward to Madison.

Like the colors from the stained glass, they tinted her life. But the tints were not lovely. They were gray and black and dark blue, and the shadows lurked, sometimes just out of sight, but always there.

We are like windows
Stained with colors of the rainbow
Set in a darkened room
Till the bridegroom comes to shine...
She opened her eyes and looked up towards the altar area with its stained glass portrayal of Jesus as the shepherd. No stained glass at North Woods Chapel, she thought, but there are sheep. People in need of peace, in need of encouragement, in need of God's amazing grace. She recalled the unusual stillness she had experienced as she sat on the bed in the parsonage and again as she had stood in the pulpit. She wondered about the awareness she has sensed of tired, weary people. Had that really been God? Did God really think she was the one to help them?
She spoke into the stillness, as a long-ago pastor's face swam into her memory, an elderly man who had loved the 23rd Psalm and had taken a kindly notice of the little girl with red hair.
"The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He maketh me lie to lie down in green pastures,
he leadeth me beside still waters,
he restoreth my soul."
She would miss looking at the picture, she thought. She sang softly to herself and to the imaginary cluster of angels who frolicked on the windowsills and carpeting.
My colors grow so dim
When I start to fall away from Him
But up comes the strongest wind
That He sends to blow me back into his arms again
Ah, the wind, she mused. The ruach of God, the breath, the soft brush of air, or the mighty rushing wind. Thank you, Lord, for your sweet Spirit who never leaves me or forsakes me. I do not deserve your care over me, but I thank you for it. She stood and moved to the aisle.
We are His daughters and sons
We are the colorful ones
We are the kids of the King
Rejoice in everything...
And then the colors fall around my feet
Over those I meet
Changing all the gray that I see
Rainbow colors of the Risen Son
Reflect the One
The One who came to set us all free.
Are God's colors falling across those I meet? Have I really made an impact for the Kingdom of God in this place? Dee Anna wondered, thinking that it was certainly true that the spiritual hues of Eastside's people had fallen across her.
She moved to the steps that led to the altar area. Stopping, she gazed at her familiar surroundings. "I love this place, God" she said aloud, not sure if she was happy or unhappy that it was so. It just is, she thought. It just is.
She ran her palm along the altar rail, loving the soft sheen of it, the smooth surface, the memories of sharing the bread and cup as she stood at this spot. She went up to the pulpit and stood behind it, gazing without really seeing the empty sanctuary. Instead she saw her congregation--the "colorful ones" of this place. Closing her eyes once again, she saw the sanctuary as it had been yesterday.
The children were in the service because it was her last Sunday as Eastside's pastor. Some were restless, but some watched her intently. She sat on the steps and had the children gather around on the floor as she shared a last children's sermon and told them she was proud of them. Many of the children had hugged her before returning to their seats, and that had brought a lump to her throat.
She also remembered that her daughter Madeline's face had worn a sad expression. She had sat next to Melanie, her best friend. Melanie and Madeline, the two "M's." A smile passed over Dee Anna's face as she thought of Melanie's crop of braids, each with a pink bow, her shining smile, her smooth dark brown skin. The two girls had hugged each other and cried after church, and
Dee Anna had promised that Melanie could come up for a visit.
Melanie was the granddaughter of Leroy the gardener. Leroy was a life-long Southern Baptist and had told Dee Anna he would die a Baptist, but his daughter, Kendra, had come to Eastside as a pregnant single woman. She had sat across from Pastor Dee Anna in her office, twisting her hands nervously as she shared how far she had come from what her mama had taught her. She was involved with a man who was "no good for me," she had related, and she had said to Dee Anna, "I tried to talk to the pastor at Daddy's church, but it just didn't work. Daddy Leroy told me to come talk to the nice associate pastor at Eastside."
Michael and Dee Anna had reached out to the young woman, not sure how she would be received by the members of their all-white congregation. It was not an easy time, and leaving the boyfriend had been tumultuous, but the mother-to-be had stuck to her declaration to "turn things around for this baby that's coming." As it turned out, Kendra had quickly won the hearts of almost everyone with her quick smile and her willingness to pitch in and help wherever she was needed. After a few months, others of Leroy's family had drifted in, and Leroy had begun to attend Eastside about half the time. "I didn't know how I'd take to hearin' a woman preachin' the Word," he had admitted to Dee Anna, but I surely do like you, anyhow."
She was happy that the once all-Anglo congregation now had a sprinkling of others--a few Hispanics, Asians, a Hmong family, and a group of Nigerians, several of whom worked at the University of Wisconsin.
As she stood feeling a bittersweet kind of thankfulness, she continued to picture the individuals who made up the congregation of Eastside. Funny how church people always tend to sit in the same pew, she mused. Some had been challenging, to be sure. Some had left the congregation after Michael died and she had become the pastor. Others had loved her with an openness that had surprised her.
Not everyone had been overjoyed when their attractive young pastor had married a relative newcomer, but most had been glad to see he had found love again after the tragic deaths of his wife and parents. When he had been killed, the people had mourned with his wife and young daughter, bringing food, sometimes little gifts for Madeline, and volunteering to help however they could. They had, for the most part, been patient as Dee Anna put the pieces of her life back together, even as they, too, grieved the loss of their charismatic and and likable minister. She had been surprised and grateful when they had asked her to stay on as their pastor.
"Only Mrs. Herndon probably had a clue just how bad it was," Dee Anna thought, picturing her dear friend on the right hand side, about half way back. "God, bless that precious woman. How could I ever repay her many kind deeds?"
We are like windows
Stained with colors of the rainbow
No longer set in a darkened room
Cause the bridegroom wants to shine from you
No longer set in a darkened room
Cause the bridegroom wants to shine from you.
Dee Anna opened her eyes and wiped them with a tissue from the box she always stashed in the pulpit. She suddenly realized that the muscles of her legs were stiff and getting stiffer. "Too many boxes, too many books, too much squatting" she thought, reaching down to massage her calf. As she did, her gaze fell on Michael's Bible where it rested on a small inner shelf of the pulpit. It was a warm brown leather with gilt-edged pages. She had given it to him for his birthday the first year they were married. After he had died she left it in the pulpit, somehow feeling that a part of him remained at Eastside--with her-- at the pulpit. She bent and removed it from the shelf, caressing the gold letters of the name that she had requested be embossed on the cover.
Michael David Hanson
"How could I have not packed this?" she chided herself. She suddenly, and quite unexpectedly felt a shrp stab of something like panic, and then a wave of sorrow that seemed to flow like hot liquid from her feet up to her chest.
Shocking her, tears began to flow and a quiet sob soon turned to gasps that turned to groans. "Oh, Michael. I miss you. How can I not stand in your church, your pulpit, how can I not open the pages of your Bible to share the sermon with your congregation? How can I leave this place where you helped me find God, find hope, once again?"
She knelt behind the pulpit, grasping the Bible to her chest and sobbing. She remained on the floor, splatters of light falling around her until slowly the torrent of tears lessened and her sobs grew softer. It had been a long time since her grief had felt so raw, so fresh. A bit shakily, she grasped the sides of the pulpit as she stood to her feet and took a long breath.
The colorful "angels" were gone. It was getting darker in the church, and she knew Mrs Herndon and Madeline would be waiting with supper at Mrs. Herndon's little home. She would spend the night there and then they would begin the trip north.
She turned to the stained glass portrayal of Jesus the Good Shepherd. "I will see you in Little Big Foot, okay, Lord?" She gulped back the last of her tears as a chuckle escaped her lips.
Walking to the door that led to the hallway she glanced back for the final time at the pulpit, awash in the dimly waning light of a late-summer sunset.
"Good bye, dear Eastside. Good bye, Michael, my love. It really is time for me to move on."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Doin' It Right at Thornapple Covenant Church

If I were able to relocate to Grand Rapids, Michigan, I would apply posthaste to be the new pastor at Thornapple Covenant Church. I'm on a sort of Christian Job List that posts positions for clergy and others. I don't know why I even clicked on this one, because
1. I am not able to move to Michigan and
2. I am not ordained with the Evangelical Covenant Church.

I have a soft spot in my heart for them, however. This dates from when Ken and I were pastors of a small Assembly of God congregation whose church building sat diagonally across the street corner from the small Evangelical Covenant Church. I don't remember how it came about, but we became good friends of the Covenant pastor and his wife, and I learned a little about their denomination. There was much I liked. We held a joint VBS, did outreach together, had a potluck or two where both congregations came.

The Thornapple Church website needs some work, but a look around was so encouraging. From all I can learn they are doing it right. They have the best mission statement of any church I've ever seen, and maybe also the shortest. Ready? Here it is.

Helping people find and follow Jesus Christ.
They caught the essential mission of the church in seven words! Bravo! From their website I surfed over to the Evangelical Covenant Church in America website. I just had to share the "commitment" statements I found there.
What are we committed to?
  • Reaching the unchurched, particularly the emerging generation
  • Pressing forward in ethnic ministry and diversity
  • Extending greater measures of compassion and justice to the poor and desperate
  • Attending to the health of existing congregations
  • Forming spiritually mature disciples who live out obedience to Christ in the world
  • Calling forth and equipping women and men for all levels of church leadership
  • Pursuing expanded strategic global opportunities and partnerships.
They are focusing on the emerging generation, deliberately embracing greater diversity, expanding the focus on justice and compassion, helping their churches be healthy, affirming the equality of men and women in ministry, and reaching out to the world.
WOW! Exactly right!
Thus ends my advertisement for Covenant churches. And old friends Dave and Alexis Davidson, wherever you are, I hope you are blessed and a blessing to many. I'm so sorry we lost touch.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pondering a Pile of Dirt

Isaiah 61:1-4

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me,
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.

Not far from here is a fragrant, flower-covered hill that is perhaps 25 or 30 feet high at the top. I couldn't really capture the glorious color, but these pictures give you an idea. It is large enough to be visible from a distance.

Isn't that glorious? You cannot see it in the photo, but this little hill sits off the side of the road because of nearby construction. Last year the beautiful mass of color was just unsightly dirt and debris left over from excavations, and bulldozers unceremoniously piled it on the side of the road. I remember driving past and thinking that they should have at least put it back from the road a bit. I wondered if someone would eventually move it.
Winter comes, as always here, with plenty of ice and snow. The unsightly brown hill became a mound of glistening white. As the first hints of spring warmth arrived, bits of green sprouted here and there.
Then one day, seemingly overnight, I drove by and saw that the ugly and useless pile of dirt had become beautiful--covered with green grass, purple phlox, and wild yellow mustard! I wish I had taken a picture then. The mustard plants soon disappeared and the phlox seemed to expand daily to eventually cover the hill in a fragrant mass of color.
I don't know if some anonymous nature lover decided that the ugly dirt pile needed to be something else--and spread phlox seeds all over--or if somehow it just "happened" as seeds that lay dormant were stirred up, left to the sunshine and rain and--voila--something beautiful grew.
Phlox grows wild here and right now it can be found in many fields, ditches and tall grasses.
I do know that what was a pile of dirt and debris a short time ago is now so lovely that I stopped to take a picture, and I've seen others doing the same. I pass this mass of flowers almost every day and I always feel a little lighter of heart, wondering how such a thing came to be.
The words "beauty for ashes" kept coming to mind. Beauty for ashes? When one is in a metaphorical ash heap, it is hard to imagine beauty. The Isaiah passage is one that Jesus quoted, saying that it was fulfilled in him. The Lord Jesus Christ is the One who heals, consoles, comforts, and transforms us.
I choose to consider this metaphor of new life as a special gift of God to me in difficult days. Each time I pass it (almost every day) I pray that the Lord will give beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, a garment of praise instead of a heavy spirit. I ask that for myself, and I ask if for others who are waiting for the promise of beauty to be fulfilled.
I am praying for you. According to the passage, the end result, friends, is that God is glorified. May it be so!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Little Big Foot: Afterwards

The Reverend Gene Young was tired. Knowing the meeting at North Woods Chapel might run late, he had made a reservation at the Little Big Foot Motel. After the business meeting had concluded he had spent a few minutes with the three deacons. Now he sat on the side of a squeaky double bed, rubbing the back of his neck and trying to unwind. It was after 10 p.m. he noted, staring absently at the digital alarm clock on the nightstand. He wondered if he should set the alarm or if he would wake up in time to get a reasonably early start. He pondered the merits of a shower, decided to forgo it till morning, and bent to untie his shoes.

What an evening, he mused as he undressed. Moving to the small bathroom, he washed up and brushed his teeth almost without thought. Folding his clothes neatly on a nearby chair, he donned pajama bottoms and pulled the curtains open so the morning sun would wake him. It had been pleasantly cool when he'd left the church, so he decided to open the window. Then he climbed between the sheets. Ah, he thought, it feels good to stretch out. Yawning, he listened to crickets. Was that an owl?

He wondered if he should call his wife and then decided it was too late. He closed his eyes with a sigh and in his mind saw the church sanctuary as it had looked earlier that evening. He tried to empty his thoughts, but was unsuccessful, thinking of the various questions, comments, concerns. Annoyed, he wondered why he always had to rehash everything--as if there was anything to be done one way or the other!
"Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee" he quoted from the King James. He always thought in King James when recalling a verse. "Lord, I'd like a peaceful night, please" he said aloud.

Had he been too blunt? he wondered. Not blunt enough? Well, judging by the questions and comments that had followed his little speech he had at least got them thinking. He wondered about the deacon board, wondered about the initial question from the short, blond man, wondered about the concerns over Dee Anna's single status, wondered how Dee Anna would take his report. Would she be relieved?

He turned over and fluffed the pillow. Okay, he thought to himself, enough already. It's done. Well, done for now, anyway. What would come next? Had he been right to suggest to his former student that she take a harmless trip to Little Big Foot? He thought of her late husband, his friend Michael, and felt a gentle wave of sadness. Dee Anna had adjusted well, he thought, after the initial shock, but how long would she want to stay in the Eastside manse that held so many memories of their life together before Michael's tragic accident? He wondered about Madeline. She seemed to be all right, though he knew she missed her daddy.

Remembering he hadn't set the alarm, he decided to chance sleeping till he woke on his own. Leaning sideways, he turned out the light and felt the darkness surround him like an embrace. Silently, he prayed for Dee Anna and her little daughter, for the congregation of Eastside Methodist Church, and for the people of North Woods Chapel. "Oh, dear Lord, may your will be done, Amen" he concluded aloud. He pulled up the quilt till it lay under his chin.

He faintly heard the clock in the Episcopal steeple chime eleven. A few minutes later he was asleep.

Next morning, Gene Young awoke to the sound of his cell phone playing a manic version of the 1812 Overture. Disoriented, he sat up and blinked. Sunlight streamed across the rust-colored carpet and illuminated the little motel room. It was hot. The phone stopped ringing. Rubbing his eyes, he slowly swung his feet over the side of the bed, which responded with a creak. What time is it, anyway, he thought foggily.

On the wall opposite the bed hung an oil painting done in improbable greens and blues, a lake scene with pine trees and reflected pinkish clouds. A buck stood under a large tree and geese flew in the sky. Ah yes. Little Big Foot.

The clock on the nightstand said 8 a.m. He usually didn't sleep past 6:30, he thought to himself. He must really have been tired. Business meetings could take it out of a guy. As he stood and padded to the bathroom he wondered who had called.

Emerging from the shower, he was awake and clear headed. He pulled on his clothes and then checked the voicemail on his cell phone. The call had been from his wife. Well, he'd call her from the restaurant, he decided. As he ran a comb through his abundant silver hair, he looked out the window. Last night he'd pulled into the front parking lot of the old-style motel. He hadn't know what was behind the building, and it had been too dark to tell when he'd opened the curtains last night. Now he gazed at a wide swath of green lawn that was bordered by a strip of weeds and wildflowers. Beyond the weeds was a dense woods of pine and hardwood trees. I could get used to this place, he thought, as he turned to arrange his suitcase.

Not long after, he sat in a booth at one of Little Big Foot's several "mom and pop" establishments. This one was called Wilderness Cafe. After giving the pleasant young waitress his order he sipped a cup of black coffee and dialed his home number.

His wife's soft voice answered on the first ring. "I saw it was you calling," she said without saying hello. "So how did it go? What happened? Are you calling Dee Anna Hanson this morning? Are you on the road yet?"

He laughed. "Okay...plenty...yes...and no, I'm about to eat some breakfast. I sort of slept in." He spent a few minutes in further conversation before a plate of golden pancakes arrived. Sniffing appreciatively he smiled at the waitress as she refilled his cup, a heavy ceramic mug with a deer depicted on the side. "Well, breakfast is served, babe. I'll be home in a few hours."

His chair faced the entrance to the little cafe and afforded a good view of some of the town's folk as they entered the building. The restaurant seemed to do a good business. Always interested in people, Gene Young noted that most of the patrons were men. Several sat at a long breakfast counter and read the newspaper or joked with the wait staff. Most of them wore baseball caps, some with the Milwaukee Brewers or the Green Bay Packers logo, some said John Deere and some advertised corn or seed. Most of the men, and the few couples, seemed to be working-class people. It was Saturday, however, so maybe they just were dressed casually because they were about to start of day of fun--or work around the house. Everyone was white, except for a couple of men in jeans and tee shirts who appeared to be Native American. He briefly thought of Dennis Whitewater and his lovely wife. Was it Marla? Such nice people.

In addition to what were clearly regulars, several families sat at tables. Judging from the clothes, the kids, and the way they looked around when they first entered, he guessed these were tourists spending a few days in Wisconsin's northern vacation areas.
Dee Anna and Madeline were spending the day in Door County, a beautiful peninsula jutting out into Lake Michigan. They had driven up the length of the county after a night in an Algoma motel, stopping in several of the little towns. "Tourist traps" thought Dee Anna. The little highway had been crowded--many people having decided to take a last-minute trip before summer vacation ended. In Egg Harbor, Madeline had bought a snow globe for Mrs. Herndon. It had a light house inside.

Now they sat in the sunshine at a picnic table, licking ice cream cones. It was tradition that when they reached the tip of the peninsula they would stop at the fish store. It was not to buy fish, it was for ice cream. It was always odd, thought Dee Anna, to buy ice cream in a little shop that reeked of fresh fish. That was why they always ate the ice cream out back in the little park. Gulls soared in the sky, filling the air with their shrill calls. Madeline chased one across the lawn. Children laughed. A baby cried.

Madeline returned to the table and her ice cream, chatting happily, "Mommy, Door County is a funny name. Where is the door?"

"Well, kiddo," answered Dee Anna, "actually the name was "Door of the Dead." Madeline stopped licking her ice cone to stare at her mother.

"Early French explorers named it that because the the passage at the tip of the peninsula was so treacherous. It later was shortened to just Door County."

Madeline turned her globe upside down and chattered about whether Mrs. Herndon would like it, adding, "There's lots of lighthouses around here, huh, Mommy?"

Dee Anna nodded. "There were many lighthouses because there were many ships. The one in your globe is the one in Sturgeon Bay, but there are ten in all. Maybe some day we will come up here and take the lighthouse tour."

As she listened to Madeline talk about lighthouses and wonder how it would have been to live in one, Dee Anna's thoughts were about the meeting at North Woods Chapel. As she wiped ice cream from Madeline's chin and tossed their napkins into a trash can, she determined for about the tenth time, not to think about anything but what they were doing at that moment.

They walked to the pier and looked at the Island Clipper, one of the boats that made the short voyage to nearby Washington Island, waving to a group of women who stood on the upper deck.

They bought some jars of Door County cherry jam, one for them, and several to give away. They sat by the water and laughed as the wind blew their hair. After a while they headed for the parking lot and located their car.

Dee Anna's cell phone rang.

She had been waiting for a call, but when it came she wished it hadn't. She struggled to get her cell phone out of her purse before it stopped ringing.
"How ya doin,' girl?" It was Brother Young's hearty Texas-style greeting. With a sudden lurch in her stomach, Dee Anna did not immediately reply. "Hello? You there, Dee Anna?"
She swallowed. "Yes. I'm in Door County with Madeline. Let me sit down in the car. Please, hold on." She settled Madeline and helped her fasten her seat belt, and then she climbed behind the steering wheel. "Well," she asked quietly, "How did it go?"
"Well, Dee Anna, there was a good turn out, lots of discussion--an' only two "no" votes in the whole count. Not bad, you know. Unanimous is nice, of course, but this is not bad. Not bad at all."
Dee Anna rested her head on the steering wheel. She didn't know what to say. "Mommy?" said Madeline from her car seat. "Dee Anna?" said Gene Young on the cell phone. In unison, she heard both voices say, "You okay?"

She laughed a little breathlessly. "I'm fine, sorry. Just not sure what to think."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Conversation With a Budding Biologist

Those of you who know me at all, in real life or just in cyber space, know about Trinity, who is about 2 and 1/2. I cannot overstate what a blessing this little grandchild has been to her "Papa" and me. She is the bright spot in a very difficult few years, and she helps us look to the future with joy and hope. Today she was picking wildflowers in her yard with intense concentration. You can see it on her face in the picture. The pretty little flowers are called "Indian paint brush." Trinity is quite a conversationalist.

Here is a little of our conversation today.

Trinity: HELLO, Grandma! Come see my flowers. We have to pick them.
Grandma: We have to pick them?
Trinity: (With that look she gives me that says she wonders why I am so dense), Yes, Grandma. We have to.
G: Okay then, let's go. We walk out into her large yard and she takes me to the flowers. There are many. She points, with authority.
T: You pick here and I pick dose over dere.
G: Okay
T: Grandma, we need more. We gots to pick more.

After intense and focused flower picking:

G: I'll be right back. We need a glass to put these in.
T: Okay, Grandma. Thanks, Grandma.
G: Here you go.
T: What you gots for da flowers?
G: A glass.
T: That is my glass! Not for flowers, for me!
G: It is still your glass. You can drink out of it when the flowers are gone.
T: Oh! Big smile. Okay, Grandma!

In the house:

T: Here, Grandma. Puts more flowers in da glass
G: Can we put the glass in the window here so Mommy can see it?
T: NO! I gots to hold dem! They my flowers. I hold dem!

When I mentioned that she would not be able to hold anything else if she held the flowers, she looked concerned and handed them over. At that point she heard a bird from outside the window and announced:
T: Hear it? Thass a cardinal! (She was correct.)
G: You are right. And what is that bird on the clothesline?
T: Thass a woodpecker, Grandma! (She was correct.)
We went outside, and picking up a flower pot she asked,
T: You want to count with me? We count da pots!
G: Okay. (After some counting, she picked up a pile of those little plastic things with a picture and the name, that go in pots, and she showed them to me.
T: See, Grandma? I has lotsa pictures of flowers! That one is yalloh. Is a marigold! (She was correct.)

Then we went to the chicken coop, and she announced,
T: Baby chicks are getting big, Grandma! They not babies so much anymore. Then she pointed to her chest and smiled and added
They growing, just like me!

At that point a bluebird hit the glass window and she looked up with great concern on her face.

T: Whassa matter that bird? What that bird doing?
G: I don't know. Maybe it sees itself in the window.
T: I go see outside now, Grandma. You stay here and watch da chicks for me, okay?
G: I'm coming outside too.
We look around and she says, "It a daddy bird. It have a nest somewhere."

Then she sees my fingernails with a coat of polish (not usual for me) and says, with enthusiasm,
T: Nice fingers, Grandma! They brown!
G: Well, sort of brown I guess.
T: They brown.
G: Okay
T: See my toes? They pink toes, Grandma. Mommy makes my toes pink.
She then stuck out her tongue and added
T: My tongue pink too. Kool Aide makes my tongue pink, Grandma. Is you tongue pink too? Lemme see, Grandma!
Then she pulled up her shirt.
T: Thass is my belly button and thass is my nipples. You gots them too, Grandma?
G: Trying hard not to laugh Yes, Trinity. Everyone has a belly button and everyone has nipples.

I'm exhausted from all this conversation. And she has started asking, "Why?" Oh dear.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Hanging Around the Veteran's Administration Grounds

Last week Ken and I went to Milwaukee's Veterans Administration (VA) hospital. Ken was being evaluated in the "Pension and Compensation Clinic" and we had to start early in the a.m. Because of that, and the fact that we live a ways away, we went to Milwaukee and spent the night on the VA grounds in Domiciliary Building Number 43. I don't think I have ever before seen the word domiciliary.

The hospital is located at one end of the 25-acre property--beautiful property that includes rolling green lawns, a small lake, stately old trees, historic and interesting buildings, and the VA cemetery. I always find VA cemeteries so sad--the rows of identical little white headstones seem to go on forever and they seem so dreadfully anonymous. We passed the cemetery and a historic but sadly dilapidated chapel building (with a large sign on the side "We Need Your Help to Save Our Chapel"), and we arrived at #43, a building containing what is named the "hoptel." Veterans can stay there free of charge if they need to be at the hospital early. It was obviously also some sort of residence--I mean domicile--for veterans in need.

We entered the building and passed by the friendly "gatekeeper" who was manning a sigh-out book for residents of the building. Several disabled veterans were sitting on a bench just smoking, passing time and chatting, watching who came and went.

As with every VA facility I've ever seen, there was a general air of shabbiness. Where is it mandated that VA facilities are painted with ugly colors? No sage greens, creamy yellows, sea foam or cornflower blues here, just brown, ugly mint green, and bright aqua that made me think of the 1950s. We were checked in by a friendly employee in a cramped office filled with old furniture, battered file cabinets, and dingy walls. We went upstairs and found our room. It was pretty much as we had expected: two twin beds neatly made with white sheets, old mattresses, plastic chairs, second hand-store-style lamps. The bathroom was shared with the room next door, which (happily)remained unoccupied while we were there. The bathroom was equipped for wheelchair access, and while clean had clearly seen better days--cracked tile, old fixtures, wavy mirrors.

We dropped off our bags and went downstairs to the dining room. It too was brown. Nondescript brown floors, brown Formica-topped tables, brown wooden chairs, and beige walls. There was an old upright piano on one wall, one bright poster and one wall hanging that declared "Freedom Isn't Free." Otherwise the large room was bare. It was stuffy and overly warm to us, but we noticed most of the occupants wore long sleeves and even jackets. Dinner was fried chicken, canned black-eyed peas and collard greens (southern night at the domiciliary building?). It may have been the worst fried chicken I ever ate and the rest of the meal wasn't much better. Some men sat alone, heads down. Others sat together at the tables, and listening to the conversation was enlightening, sort of.

One Table
First vet: Hey, glad to see you back. How was the weekend?
Second vet: Okay, I guess.
First vet: Did you get laid?

Second Table
First vet: Hey man, what's going on tonight?
Second vet: a movie.
Third vet: *&^%*#@ movies.
Second vet: So, stay in your room and stop bitching.
First vet: So did you hear from your daughter?

Into the room came the guy from the entrance. He loudly announced that something (I didn't hear what) was missing. Had anyone seen it? Someone saw a white guy with a black shirt and white letters in the hallway. The white guys, and a few black ones, said they didn't know anything. One guy opened his jacket and said, "See, my shirt has no letters. Now go away."

All the staff and nearly every vet we saw smiled and greeted us, except for the one with no legs who sat in a wheelchair on the small sidewalk outside and smoked. Most seemed like individuals who were on the margins, guys who might be homeless if they didn't live at #43. Most were middle aged or better, but some were young. I noticed, as I have before, that nearly every Viet Nam era vet has a beard. Many have longish hair, some have ponytails. I wonder, are they all aging hippies? (Yep, my husband has a beard too.) I said to Ken, "I wondered how they come to live there. And I reflected on how many veterans are homeless on the streets of the USA. Especially Viet Nam vets. This is, I believe, a national disgrace.

There were signs of various kinds everywhere. Many of them were permanent and screwed into the walls. If you were putting up a permanent sign wouldn't you make sure it was reasonably straight before screwing it down? The number of seriously crooked signs was mystifying to me. Ken said, "volunteer labor." Maybe so.

Next morning we had a breakfast of powdered eggs and nearly burnt toast. I tried the oatmeal--a mistake. I've worked for large kitchens before, and I found myself wishing I ran this one. The staff was helpful and smiling, but their cooking was abysmal. They were on a tight budget, no doubt, but still...

There were more sad-eyed men, shuffling, in wheelchairs, smoking, but usually smiling and greeting us. I think it is sense of shared history, of fraternity. We would not have been there unless one of us was a veteran, so we were "in the club" so to speak.

At the hospital it was, as always, more of the same. Amputees, bearded middle-agers, full waiting rooms, long waits. A general air of shabbiness. Cramped offices. Equipment not new. Many employees of the VA do seem to be very caring individuals. I wondered how many of them worked in the hospital or other places on the installation because they genuinely care. Quite a few, I suspect.

And I am left to wonder, Why is the lovely chapel in such sad shape? Why is it that those who have paid a severe price for their service to the country--broken minds and bodies--aways seem to get leftovers? When I consider the federal budget and how it is being spent--well, something is very wrong about that.