Friday, August 8, 2014
My dear, late mother Ann appreciated jewelry. She would peruse garage sales and flea markets for real precious stones, gems and fine metals such as gold and silver. Many times when I was out of school during the summer she would drag me along for my keen, young eyes. I would read the markings and engravings at the ends of clasps and inside rings. She bought broken items and tangled necklaces many times. Some evenings we’d sit around our kitchen table with my father, repairing and untangling the pieces. Frequently my mother would carry out her jewelry box and fix her own favorite items. My parents would smile at each other and tell stories about some of the pieces: The time my dad bought her ring or when he brought back pearls from Japan, purchased during his stint in the Navy. I learned a great deal from these evenings, not just in relation to jewelry and gemstones, but also concerning life and the individuals we meet. During these jewelry repair evenings, my dad would tell stories. I learned that there are plain-looking rocks called geodes that have precious crystals inside. If we just crack the ugly crust we can see the sparkling insides. Some people are like that. Once we break through the outer layers, there may be a shining beauty inside that we did not expect to find! Likewise, gemstones need to be tumbled continuously with a substance called grit until a beautiful, precious stone is revealed. Many of us go through our mortal existence, getting tumbled around; the grittiness of life sometimes hurting us deeply until the day that our true beauty shines forth at the end of our trials. Growing up, I felt that I wasn’t as pretty or fashionable as the other girls. My dad explained that I was a diamond in the rough. He said that when he was a young boy, his mother told him that beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes all the way to the bone. If someone is rotten inside, no matter how you try to dress it up and paint it, their foul, repulsive core remains in there. My father said that I was good inside and beautiful on the outside, too. He said all I needed was a little polishing and that would come in time. The boys couldn’t see that yet; but the right man would, someday. My mother was especially fond of her strands of pearls. She said there were plenty of fakes out there: glass beads and plastic that held no value past the fondness we might hold for a souvenir or the person that gave it to us. Likewise there are people who might want to make themselves look special to fool us, but inside they are fake and hollow. They just want to fool the world. They have nothing worthwhile inside themselves to offer other folks. My mother warned me even then to be wary of fraud and individuals who lie in wait to cheat. She went on to teach me about real pearls. I learned that at the center of each pearl, there is a grain of sand or some other irritant that causes the small sea animal that harbors the piece of offending matter to produce layer after layer of nacre. That minute thing becomes a pearl and is later harvested. It is considered a precious item of natural beauty. We may also have a little something that irritates us and we too can make the best out of it, creating a thing of precious splendor. We can do this by having a positive attitude in the worst of circumstances. I know when I was younger, I hadn’t yet learned this virtue. In the early 1980s my parents and I went to a gem and jewelry show at Detroit Michigan’s Renaissance Center. We spent the weekend shopping for unique stones and things. My parents brought something else home instead. The first day of the exposition, we spoke to a young woman from Arkansas who clearly had her hands full. She was minding her table and wares all by herself and could barely manage to keep her toddler out of trouble. The lady explained that her husband was busy back in Arkansas struggling in his new-found ambitions and political career. It was only the beginning of the weekend and the woman could barely keep up with her small business and hobby, let alone tend to a baby at the same time. People were stepping over her busy little girl, giving mean looks and nearly tripping over the child. The baby had by that time found some electrical cords and was trying her best to pull them apart. My dad picked the little imp off the floor. The baby turned to stare at him and pat his face. With the mother’s blessings, I was handed the toddler and reluctantly ended up carrying her around the show. Since I was the youngest child of the youngest child in my family, I wasn’t used to babies and I couldn’t see anything positive about this experience. The baby did not have a stroller and was heavy in my arms. She was smelly and messy, too. We were shocked and amazed that this woman would let total strangers leave with her baby, but she was overwhelmed and felt we were good people and could be trusted. (Of course we were.) The woman had so much faith in my parents that in the evening she handed us a diaper bag and we got to tend the child in our own home. That Sunday afternoon, the last day of the show, we returned the baby to her mother. For a couple months after the event the woman frequently corresponded with my family, thanking us for watching the baby. I learned that helping someone in need was more important than finding a great bargain at some vendor’s table. I discovered that to be trustworthy and to serve are crucial to one’s character. After that gem show, my father made a goldstone choker for me that I still have today. More importantly, I often wonder about that little family. At some point during our evenings, my mother taught me about gold. She explained that just because something looks like gold, it might not be. Back then in the seventies and even decades before then, many items were gold-plated. Later some pieces were labeled “gold-filled” which really means, “gold that is filled with some other material”. She said that inside all that shiny yellow metal was something worthless and cheap. On the other hand, many jewelry buyers think what they are buying is pure gold. They want that pure gold wedding band and a big, fat diamond engagement ring. What they really want is 18 Karat or even the slightly more durable and popular 14 Karat gold. These varieties have other metals – alloys --blended with gold to make rings, necklaces and bracelets stronger and wearable. This past weekend in church, our Relief Society* President, Laura, was leading a discussion on choices and accountability. We can all make choices. We become stronger individuals when we have the opportunity to choose, but all actions have consequences, both good and bad. Laura said she knew that she was not perfect, but she was trying to be as pure as she could. She encouraged us all to try our best. I raised my hand and asked her if she was trying to be like pure gold. She smiled and said that, yes, she strives to be. I explained that she should attempt to be more like 14 Karat. Life’s experiences are like the alloys that make gold stronger; otherwise we would be too soft and of no use. Some people around us might even be 18 Karat and that is good. They have just enough of life’s lessons (or alloys) to make them strong. These individuals are the purest of the pure despite the realities of existence here on Earth. I think that as we become older we have the opportunity to learn more lessons. These opportunities make us what we are. We remain precious but we also become fit for the task of serving one another, lifting our sisters and brothers up with the inner strength that comes from enduring. I just hope that when push comes to shove, we as sisters won’t be some silver-plated or gold-filled cheapened piece of costume jewelry, harboring some poisonous heavy metal inside. Those are the kind of people that will smile in your face and stab you in the back, and as the scriptures say, from such turn away (2nd Timothy 3:5 KJV Holy Bible). We can only do so much and be so much; striving for pureness and all the while we know that in the end Jesus will craft of us what He will. The Refiner’s fire will make us pure in the end for His needs. In the meantime, stay gold. Stay precious. * * (Founded 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois, The Relief Society is one of the oldest organizations for women in the world and has approximately 6 million members in over 170 countries and territories.)
Sunday, June 22, 2014
Monday, April 14, 2014
Papa and I walked from the station wagon to his Cousin Barbara's porch. The moon was rising high and fireflies danced and frolicked around us. Summer in North Carolina was humid and thick with the smells of cigarettes, beer and pine trees. Just about everyone had retired into Barbara's house that night after a small family reunion. The relatives were quieting the young ones, singing the babies to sleep. In the distance and through the trees I heard drums and saw a bonfire. Papa casually said, "The Indians are out celebrating, too." My eyes went wide, my heart pounded and despite the warmth still hanging in the misty mugginess, I felt a chill shake my body. "Oh, Papa, will the Indians scalp us? Will they burn down the house around us, right here?" Papa turned, set the suitcases and blankets on the porch and took me in his arms. "Liesa, oh no. They're just having fun like everyone else! Didn't you know, you're my little Indian Princess?" I looked at his eyes. The light from the windows reflected in my father's face and I saw calm and sincerity -- and love. "My dad was mixed-blood Cherokee. I'm part Cherokee. You're part Cherokee and you’re my little Princess." "Really?" I questioned. "Honest to goodness. Where did you get the idea that the neighbors were going to scalp us and burn down Barbara's house?" "From the Cowboy and Indian movies I watch on TV." Papa shook his head and said, "The Indians haven't been on the warpath for about fifty years. Barbara's husband Roy is Cherokee too and you know he's a good, gentle man." Papa took my hand and led me into Barbara's home. The men were seated around the kitchen table, playing cards, drinking Colt 45 Malt Liquor and laughing. The older children were punching holes into the tops of jars, filled with fireflies. My heart felt like those jars, filled with bubbling buzzing light. My father put my mind at ease and peace filled my soul. I learned a lesson that night, that we can choose to fear or choose to love, but we must choose to be informed and face life bravely. I took a jar full of those lightning bugs into the dark living room and looked out the window. I saw the full moon. . . and he was smiling.
Saturday, March 29, 2014
My family had dogs while I was growing up. Additionally, my husband and I had dogs for many years. My dad always trained our dogs to STAY INSIDE the fence line. I trained my dogs as well and they all stayed in the yard. No matter where we lived, if the gate was open, or the snow was piled high in drifts taller than the fences, our dogs stayed put. If we saw a problem, my husband and I would fix the fence, etc. We had collies, Rottweiler's, mutts, German Shepherds, a Dalmatian, terriers etc. Then we got Jodi, a Labrador puppy. She grew into a loveable, huge brown dog. The neighbor's lab taught her how to dig under the fence, so we would find the trouble spots and hammer rebar into the ground. She soon learned how to jump the fence. We put her in an enclosed dog run. She chewed a hole through it in less than twelve hours. We had to let her out sometimes in the yard and she'd promptly jump the fence to find the old lady that cruised the street on her power scooter. Scooter-mamma would yell at us and we'd lock Jodi back up in the reinforced pen. Jodi would howl, dig, chew and escape again. One Thanksgiving she got loose. It was night. We yelled for her and searched. In the darkness we heard, "Whoosh, chuckity, chuck, whoosh chuckity chuck," and of course here comes Jodi with a large garbage bag, a turkey carcass inside. She was so sad when we threw it out and yanked her to the porch. The following Christmas Jodi brought back what I thought was a deflated purple ball. I ran outside and went to get it from her. I found that my dog was gnawing on the end of it, trying to get at the Crown Royal whiskey inside! (How the heck Jodi got this prize is anyone's guess). She still hadn't broken the seal and my brother-in-law said he wished his labs (that were trained to hunt) would bring him whiskey for Christmas. I handed the bottle to him and said, "Merry Christmas, from Jodi, Eh?" We tried walking her on the leash, but she walked us. It didn't matter the leash, collar or method, she wouldn't be reigned in and actually obeyed better off leash. We bought her a super long chain and my dad complained that no dog of his ever got out of the yard and why couldn't we just train her? Lord knows we tried! When we had to let her out on our acre, we put her on that thirty foot line, staked to the ground, but some well-meaning person kept unhooking her because "It just isn't right to chain a dog" and of course, she would jump the chain-link fence and try to play with the lady on the power scooter. This went on and on for years. One hot day a neighbor found Jodi and her buddy Hank swimming in her horse trough and said, "If they'd been chasing the horses and cattle, I'd be well within my rights to shoot those dogs, but they were just swimming. Next time I might shoot them both." My husband and I agreed that if it happened again, we'd hold no hard feelings if it came down to shooting our Jodi. One day, I just got fed up and rehomed her. The people she went to live with had acres and acres of farmland and were delighted at how well behaved and smart Jodi was. I know I made the right decision. I didn't want her to get shot. I also valued my neighbors who were beyond patient in this situation. Anyone who says they will NEVER have a dog that wanders might find that one comes to them in a furry, fun-loving and rebellious package. Its name might not be Jodi, Hank, Rover, Fido or Misha. Her name might be Karma and she will show you how to eat your words. They taste a lot like kibble.
Saturday, March 22, 2014
The other day during lunch a co-worker was playing her song-list. We both enjoy early seventies music, so we listened together. The song "That's the Way I always Heard it should Be" by Carly Simon came on. I hadn't heard that tune in over a decade -- at least. Today I decided to download it and did a little research into the melancholy ballad. Then I read some comments. One person declared "This song is so beautiful, but very very very depressing. And true. What's the point, everyone ends up hating each other or getting divorced, right?" I noted the date of the comment was 2007 and I hope things got better in that individual's life. I really do. I know seven years have passed, but I answered: "I love this song, the music and the lyrics; but to answer your question I for one have been married nearly twenty-seven years. Marriage and relationships take hard work and very little selfishness. Sometimes the fire goes out, but you have to keep the coals alive to bring the flame on again. The problem is everyone is looking for the ideal relationship, marriage, career, child, romance etc. If you had a hobby or sport that you were really into, wouldn't you put a great deal of your time and efforts into it? I watch my husband referee games and I don't know very much about basketball. Yes, sometimes I want to fall asleep after a day of teaching and housework or I just read my kindle and glance up sometimes. On the drive home I rub his right thigh. (Because he's driving.) He lets me have my own space and supported me through months of post-partum depression with our first baby. We've committed not to "cut-and-run" in the face of trouble. He is my hobby. . . my project. Not everyone breaks up and hates each other. You might not like each other every day of the week, but when two people work hard at something it's valued. Best wishes to you." I didn't intend to preach. Realistically sometimes a person might find that his or her partner is a real selfish jerk. You might be married to a serial killer or a drug dealer. If that's the case LEAVE THE RELATIONSHIP-- NOW! If you are just saddled with an average individual realize that you, too, may be run of the mill. All of us are special in God's eyes, yes, but we all have our faults. Those of you out there with pets know that fluffy might take a whiz in the corner or JoJo might shed, but does this mean that you're ready to send them to the pound or rehome your fur babies? I hope not. You might just be the Fido in the relationship, yet your spouse doesn't mind that you snap once in awhile. If you love your significant other half as much as you love your pet, or as the above mentioned hobby, give your grievances some time and forgive, forgive forgive. Don't harbor resentment. Just love. That's all there is to it. THAT'S THE WAY IT IS. I bet you never heard that.
Friday, March 14, 2014
Sunday, February 16, 2014
It doesn't seem so long ago that I was in grade school. My parents were getting old and my grandparents were getting older. Then I went to high school and college. My grandparents were passing from earthly life to Heaven. My parents turned fifty. I got married. I had children. Ten years ago this month, my mother died- then my father- then my father-in-law. Today my mother-in-law joined the rest of them. Just a brief ten years and we lost them all! I have a little grand-niece about to be born. I myself am a grandmother. Next month I will be fifty. My husband and I are now the elderly generation. Life goes on. Today I wished for the healthy care-free days of my high school years. Then I realized that if I had my parents back and my grandparents too, I wouldn't have my children and I wouldn’t be a grandmother. I guess that’s what Heaven is for; a place of rest and a grand reunion waits for us. Who would trade that for any earthly pleasure or material thing? Have a wonderful journey, Shirley. Say “Hello” to everyone and save a place for us at the banquet table. (Sculpture by Jerry Anderson)