Tag Archives: Christmas

Chapters in December

The skies are grey and heavy with rain on this Saturday a week before Christmas.  I’m supposed to be editing my yearly Family Christmas letter.  The envelopes are addressed, and stamped, the cards are ready to go into the envelopes, and the letter is mostly finished, but it’s been a difficult task this year.

Certain Man is home today, in the house, working on tomorrow’s sermon for our congregation at Laws Mennonite Church.  I’m sitting for the first time since I got up!  And I did sleep in this morning.  In fact, when I got up and saw that it was after eight o’clock, I rattled around the old nursery rhyme in my head, editing it as I went.

Mary Annie has grown so fine
She won’t get up to feed the swine
But lies in bed till eight or nine
Lazy Mary Annie!

This week has been another week in the journey I continue to make in life.  I think the last months I’ve felt more like I was walking in my Mama’s footsteps than I ever have before.  One of the things that is evident to me is that the Mama I remember best was far younger than I am now.  And often things come up that hit me squarely in the face that were things of the years when I considered her “old.”

One of the things that has been entirely too reminiscent of her has been this thing of getting accustomed to my partial plate.  Mama had a bit more vanity than I do, and she went the route of implants and caps for most of the teeth she lost, but as the years passed, she was forced to go with dentures.  They were a sore trial to her, and they hurt, and they didn’t fit right, and they wouldn’t chew the things she wanted them to chew.  Lots of times she had sores in her mouth from where they rubbed, and she was dependent on me or someone else to take her to her dentist in Dover to get things adjusted or repaired or replaced.  I feel so sorry sometimes when I am dealing with even a minor maladjustment to my partial plate and I think of how she must have felt and how miserable she must have been with the constant lack of satisfaction with her teeth.  I wish that I had paid better attention and tried harder to help her get that one issue resolved.  I felt like I did run her to Dover a lot, but if she felt the despair in proportion to what I feel, I’m certain that she often wished that either she could just do it herself, or that I would have understood better and done more.

And then there is that issue with her feet.  In the last months, the feet that I inherited from her have been giving me a fit!  Last week I had a few days when I felt like I couldn’t walk!  I have been seeing a specialist, and he had told me on my first visit to his office that my feet were not in any kind of good shape.

“The arthritis in your feet, particularly your left one, is very advanced,” Dr. Menendez said that day in September.  “You have some bones in there that are ‘lipping’ and there are calcium deposits and just bad arthritis.”  He sat at the end of the table, holding my foot so gently in his hands, like he was willing it to be better somehow.  I saw a look in his eye that I decided to read as “compassion” instead of “pity” but I knew that he had seen something on the x-ray that told him that I wasn’t lying when I said that my feet sometimes hurt.

“I don’t feel like I’m in any sort of a crisis right now,” I said to him.  “Rather, I’m here for sort of a base line consultation at the advice of Dr. Wilson, and because I have a feeling that in the not too near future, I may need some help.  I also wanted to know if what I am doing now is the best thing I can do for them, or if there is something more I could be doing.”

He affirmed all of the things that I had been doing, prescribed a different anti-inflammatory, and told me that if I ever felt like I needed some shots in those feet, I shouldn’t hesitate to call him.  He did think that “putting them up whenever I could” might be a good practice to pursue.

I went out of his office that day with a heart that wanted to turn away from this aging process.  Dr. Wilson has told me (more frequently than I care to remember) that I’m “a young woman trapped in an old woman’s body.”  Excepting that over the years since he started to tell me that, the “young woman” has mutated to being a bit more age appropriate for the body, I’m rather forced to admit.  I remember hearing Uncle Johnny talking at one of our family reunions some time before he died.  He said, “You know, I’ve always been able to count on this body of mine to pretty much do what I want it to do when I want it to do it.  But something has started to change, and this old body is letting me down!”  Yepper, I’d say that pretty much catches it.  This old body is letting me down.

In the months since that first visit to Dr. Menendez’s office, I’ve had a life so full of happenings that I’ve hardly had time to think about feet.  There’s been canning to finish, lima beans to freeze, a beloved sister in law living in our yard, a dishwasher that needed replacing, seven family birthdays and a trip to Ohio, parties for my grandsons, Grammy days with my granddaughter, an ordination for Eldest Son, a new foster baby in the family, Thanksgiving, a Christmas Open House for Certain Man’s office friends, Christmas preparations and shopping and then the usual things with Our Girl Audrey and Blind Linda.  Life just hasn’t stopped, and that business about putting my feet up just hasn’t been a happening thing.  And slowly I became aware that there was something just not quite right with these crazy feet of mine. And last week, when it was rainy for a few days in a row, and I could barely motor, I called Dr. Menendez’s office and asked if I could come in for shots. The thing that really put me over the top was that the foot that hurt the most was my “good” one.  That kinda’ scared me because when my “good knee” went bad on me, it had to be replaced before my “bad” one.

They put me on the schedule for Thursday, a week out, and I hobbled about and got ready for the Christmas Open House, and prayed.  And the pain diminished and I felt a whole lot better about things.  I started toying with the idea of not going.  But then I had a regularly scheduled visit with Dr. Wilson, and decided to ask his advice about whether I should have it done.  I thought maybe he would advise against it.  However, it was my first visit to him since he had read the x-rays, and he had some strong words to say about it.  “Go get the shots,” he said forcefully.  “By all means, get them.  It’s Christmas, you are going to be on your feet a lot, and it just doesn’t make sense to not get them.  I really think you should!”

And so, on Thursday afternoon, I tromped off to Dr. Menendez’s office.  I thought I had prepared myself quite muchly for this encounter.  I had taken My Sweet Mama to her specialist often for this sort of thing, and I knew that it wasn’t pleasant, but as I sat on that table waiting for the doctor to come in, I was overwhelmed by such a feeling of Déjà vu that it almost took my breath away.  My feet stuck out the end of the table, and the veins, purple and prominent made their tracks across them in almost the same pattern that I had seen on Mama’s.  And when Dr. Menendez brought his spray for numbing, and sprayed it on my foot while putting a needle into almost the exact same spot that Mama often had hers, the pain from the needle wasn’t even a scosche compared to what was crashing through my heart.  My Mama!  My Sweet Mama!  What she must have felt those many times that she went for these shots, hoping to find relief for the pain that dogged her every step.  What had she thought?  Did she really think it was going to work this time?  Did she think she would spring out of there, able to do all the things that she so longed to do?  Did she somehow know that she was fighting a losing battle with time and aging and a body that was “letting her down?”

It was another chapter in my Decembered grief.  I missed her terribly in that moment, wished for the chance to talk to her again, and ask her more about what was in her heart.  Dr. Menendez put bandaids on the the drops of blood that appeared on the tops of my feet.  He smoothed some callouses off the bottom of my feet and reassured me that I would feel better.  I chatted with him cheerfully over the pain in my heart and took myself out of the office and into my mini-van and headed home.  And then, as I motored towards home, I talked to My Sweet Mama and cried some overdue tears.  The years slipped away so quickly.

But my feet are feeling so much better.  The weeks ahead hold so much promise.  The offspringin’s and the grandchildren are coming home for Christmas and I don’t feel nearly as incapacitated as I did a week ago.  I’m looking forward to the celebrations of Joy that are ahead.  The message of Christmas is that of incredible hope.  A Savior is born!  He came to us, in our sorrow, our need, our pain.  He came to bring Light and Healing and Life.  He came to bring Peace and Joy.  All the things that are wrong with this old world will someday be put right by this Precious Christmas Gift.

And that includes bodies that let us down.  My Sweet Mama’s feet don’t hurt her anymore.  She’s dancing in her brand new feet, and they are beautiful.  What a glorious expectation!  What a thing to look forward to!

My December Heart gives grateful praise.

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Filed under Aging, Dealing with Grief, Family, Grief, Heaven, My Life

2015 Yutzy Family Christmas Letter

*Christmas, 2015*
Shady Acres Farm *7484 Shawnee Road* Milford, DE*19963

Dear Family and Friends,
The year is fast winding down, and it is time to get this letter out once again.  What can we say about a year like 2015?  It’s hard to condense it down into a single Christmas letter, to catch the events, the various things that have influenced us and changed us, the losses, the gains, and the flavor of this season of our lives.  Whew!  But here goes.

Last year ended, and our new year began with our church family coming together in a reassuring way, showing unity and courage and foresight as we put together a plan for rebuilding our church house after the arson of December, 2014.  As a congregation, we worked through issues of forgiveness and reconciliation, as well as feelings of loss and violation.  We haven’t been perfect in this year of rebuilding, but God has been faithful to us, proving over and over again that “He meant it for our good!” This has made the most difficult days and the hardest times, hopeful.  On December 6th, four days after the first anniversary of the fire, we held our first service in our beautiful new sanctuary.  We plan for a public open house after the first of the year, but these first weeks, our church family is savoring this gift that has been given to us through what has proven to be a severe mercy.  Our small church family has been through a lot of changes in the past year.  We had three weddings, a birth, two funerals, and installed two young men (Caleb Bontrager and Tyler Schrock) on the Leadership Team.  All while using a facility shared with us by Grace Community Church in Greenwood. We are so grateful for their generosity and willingness to allow us such free access, but it is really nice to be back into our own space again.

Funerals.  As many of you know, there was one that affected our family directly.  My Sweet Mama, whose health had been in severe decline for the last year and a half, fell in May, broke her femur, had surgery, developed pneumonia, had a heart attack, and just didn’t seem to improve much over the 12 days she spent in the hospital.  On June 2nd, we brought her home to a big sunny room at Country Rest Home where we could spend time with her and have help with her many physical needs.  There were good days and bad days, as there always are in times like this, but on June 16th, she went home to Heaven while we stood around her bed, held her hands and reminded her of what a wonderful Mama she had been to us.  This entire letter could be about how that has impacted us – my siblings and their families, our family and me personally, but it’s been another odyssey of both splendor and sorrow.  It’s been one that has made me quiet and more introspective than is comfortable.  I keep reminding myself that I won’t always be this sad, and it won’t always feel this empty.  But I do know that I will always miss her, even while I’m hopeful for the future.

And then, there are some wonderful things to report on the family front.  Our youngest daughter, Rachel, graduated from Bryn Mawr College with her Master’s degree in Social Work in May.  A series of events made it possible for her to be home through her Grandma’s illness and death, giving her time to be with Grandma, and to lend a hand to the home front when I needed to be gone.  The rest of the summer she was home, checking out jobs, mowing lawn for her Daddy, babysitting some, applying for jobs, visiting friends, going to weddings, being interviewed for jobs, making two trips to the west coast this fall, and (finally!) taking a job.  Earlier this month, she accepted a position with Catholic Charities in Washington, DC, as a social worker/ clinical case manager.  She is working in their homelessness and housing department with children and families. She is living with three other girls in a row home, and seems to be settling into both the job and the living situation with alacrity.

Lem and Jess are in the same apartment in Alexandria, VA, but are actively pursuing home ownership for the near future.  Lem just finished course work for his PhD in Social Work at Catholic University and is carrying a full load as a psychotherapist at Alvord, Baker and Associates, while he works on preparing for comprehensive exams in February and March.  Jessica changed jobs this year, and is now working as a Research Analyst for the US Government Accountability Office.  She is enjoying this job immensely; from the people with whom she works, to the impact that the GAO has on improving life for average Americans. They continue to be involved at The Table, the church where they have found good friends and common ground.  The last few months have been very intense for them with Lem’s schedule, but one of the things that we’ve admired about these two is that they can endure hardship when they have a plan and a dream, and they have proved it to us again this last semester. Having them in the same area as Rachel has been a great comfort to these “elderly parents.”

Raph and Gina, with their three boys, Simon, Liam, and Frankie, have had an eventful year.  They are finishing this year with really good news on the job front for Raph.  As of January 1st, Raph will be a full-time employee of Grace Mennonite Church (a realization of a life dream).  His official title is Director of Students. He will be overseeing the junior high, high school, and young adults of the congregation with a focus on high school and young adults.  Gina, a wonderful mom, is also a supportive wife and best friend to Raph.  It’s been wonderful to watch how God has knit this family together in ways that seemed only remotely possible when the boys first came, nearly three years ago.  They are doing well, and even though there have been significant bumps in the road this year for this family on several fronts, there is hope and joy and so much love and laughter. One of our favorite things to do is to spend a weekend in Holmes County with the “Ohio Yutzys” and soak up the comfort and activity of life in their home.

Deborah’s year has been different than any other since 2007 in that she hasn’t been out of the country this year.  She enjoyed a trek to Mississippi and Louisiana with her friend, Liz Washburn Strite. They visited Deborah’s friends, Joel and Althea Bontrager and their family in MS, and a friend of Liz’s in New Orleans.  Visiting New Orleans fulfilled one of Deborah’s bucket list dreams (as did holding a real live tarantula while there).  She worked long hours for Delaware Hospice (now in her sixth year there) and has been very involved in the renovation of our church house.  She is taking a break from teaching the young women’s class at church this year, but remains involved in the lives and families of her friends.  In April, she discovered that there were some serious complications with her liver, and was advised to engage in focused diet and exercise.  She complied, even while more testing was being done, and the results have been favorable, health wise, and also flattering to her physique.  However, when the tests were all in, it was discovered that she is dealing with a genetic disorder called Alpha-1, which is best managed by doing exactly what she is doing: Watching her weight, exercising, not smoking, and not drinking.  (H-m-m-m-m-m.  The last two aren’t as big a challenge as the first two for a lot of us!)  The good news is that the last lab results show that everything is back within normal limits and we are all relieved.  She still has her living quarters on the left side of the upstairs landing in the old farmhouse at Shady Acres, and having her here has been a decided plus for both her daddy and me.

Christina and Jesse, along with Charis, are still on Bontrager Road, about 1½ miles away.  Charis is in first grade this year at Mispillion Elementary here in Milford, and does well.  She is learning to read and writes the most wonderful notes to the people she loves. (Dere Gemme you arE the Best Gremall ever.  Love Charis.)  (And if you can’t read that, there’s something wrong with you!) Christina, still a homemaker, is involved with school projects, transporting Charis to and from school, and is the motivating force behind several projects within our family as well as helping out at church.  Jesse, still our beloved son in law, is a valuable asset to Daniel and me on so many fronts.  He lends a helping hand when Daniel needs a strong arm for any of a number of projects.  He is my go-to tech when I need something in the world of computers and printers and the problems that come up there.  He is a systems engineer at Burris Logistics and his intelligence, aptitude for solving difficult problems, and loyalty have paid off in recognition and advancement.  He is a good provider for his family and is a creative and involved Daddy to Charis.

Daniel and I are still involved in life in ways that keep us interested and motivated and engaged.  Daniel continues in his job as Plumbing Inspector for the State of Delaware, raising chickens, gardening, taking care of our farm, and serving on the leadership team at our church as deacon.  I am still caring for handicapped adults (Linda, 16 years, and Audrey, nine) and leading a Thursday morning Bible study that has been meeting at our house for probably 20 years.  I’ve taught “The Littles” at our church part time over this last year, and that is probably one of my favorite things to do.  Children are so honest, interesting and beautiful.  I’ve not been writing or blogging as much since Mama’s death, but discovered recently that the therapeutic value for me personally is worth the time and emotional investment that it takes.  I’ve been blessed with a husband and family who are supportive, and I’m looking forward to being a bit more consistent with postings at https://maryannyutzy.wordpress.com/. (So if you want to catch up on what is happening in our lives before next year’s Christmas letter, you can check up on us over there).

We are enjoying the Christmas season here in our house on Shawnee Road.  We’ve already had some of our yearly gatherings, and Daniel has his huge Christmas Village set up. (Come and see it!  It will be up until late January.)  The Nativity scenes are scattered through the house, too, and the family comes for early Christmas this weekend (the 19th). We are always delighted for a reason to have our family together under one roof.

But the Christmas Village, the nativities, and even the offspringin’s and their families gathering in are only reminders that this special season points the way to Easter, the Cross and the Empty Tomb.  The Baby came to bring us hope.  In this year, when it has seemed that everything has been so different from what I may have chosen, the one thing that has kept me steady has been the hope of the resurrection, the promises that Jesus made to us that He will never leave us, never forsake us.  For this and for all the blessings that this year has held, my heart gives humble, grateful praise.

Have a wonderful Christmas season and a blessed New Year!
Affectionately,
Daniel and Mary Ann Yutzy

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“We need to hang it high . . .”

I looked at the beautiful wind chimes in the flat, heavy cardboard box that lay on my lap.  I had just opened the carefully wrapped present in our family Christmas celebration.  “Mozart” said the label on the box.  These would make some beautiful music.  I immediately began thinking of where I could hang them.

“Where do you want to hang them?” Asked Certain Man.  He had the whole week off and was busy getting things done.

“I don’t really know,” I said.  “I’ve been thinking about taking down the plant that Hortencia gave me last summer just before they left, and hanging them there, right outside my kitchen window.  I could hear them there.”

He looked at me with that look in his eye that said that he had a better idea.  (He really is like the old Ford slogan, He usually has a better idea!)  “I’ve been thinking, maybe,” he said, “that we ought to hang it off the upper deck, outside our bedroom window.  That way we could hear it at night.”

“That sounds fine,” I said.  “It would be nice to hear it at night.”  I thought about the fact that it was winter, and it would be spring before I could hear much of anything, and that if it was up on the upper deck near to the house (where I understood he wanted to put it) it wouldn’t get much wind at anytime and that wasn’t what I wanted, either.  But, still.  This Certain Man often thinks of things that never cross my fur brain, and I thought that he probably had a plan.

He did.

Yesterday, while I wasn’t looking, he put in a hook, up on the corner post of the highest platform, and hung the chimes right exactly where they should have been hung.

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The weather has been so strange this year.  Last night, it was so warm in our bedroom that I opened the window, and turned on the ceiling fan.  It had been a long day, and I lay there so tired I hardly knew whether I was going to be able to sleep.  And then, —

I heard the gentle noise of music in the night.  The chord was familiar and soothing.  The night was wild with the wind and rain, and I listened to the storm interlaced with the music.  A symphony, unscripted and unrehearsed emerged as if Mozart himself was composing in cahoots with the elements.

Certain Man said that we needed to hang it high so we could hear it from our bedroom window.  He was so right.  So very right!

And I slept the hard, deep sleep of the very weary, lulled by a melody that was provided by a gift from Youngest Son and his Girl With a Beautiful Heart, hung by that Man That I Love Best, and carried by a strange warm wind on a Delaware December night.

My heart could not have been more full of the grace and glory of this moment.

And I gave quiet, grateful praise.

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Filed under Family living, Holidays, Uncategorized

Christmas in my Heart

It has been an eventful week.  The house is quiet today, for the first time in four days.  The four grands are precious, indeed.  They are smart, cute, verbal, affectionate and engaging.  They are not quiet.  I remember how I wanted so badly to play the piano at my Grandma Wert’s house and how My Sweet Mama always (and I do mean always) said “No.  It will get on Grandma’s nerves!”  It made me almost frantic to put my fingers on it and make a glorious noise.  However, I knew better than to disobey.

Here I am, 61 years old, with four grandchildren.  Three of them are in a family that has a very loud daddy as well as a very musical daddy and here is this Delaware Grammy who isn’t at all anxious for them to try their hands at the piano.  Fortunately for me, it is one (of many) things that their wise parents have made off limits for most of the time.  Actually, this weekend, I don’t know of a single time that they were playing on the piano.  That did not stop the noise and the busy-ness.  Most of the time, the noise was glorious, in that it was not fighting or scolding or screaming or sassing.  It was just little boy and little girl play and little boy and little girl talk and little boy and little girl noise.  How I loved it!

(How I am enjoying this quiet after the storm.)

But that makes me a bit pensive when I think about the silent piano this weekend.  Were their parents sneaking around and shushing them with ,”NO, you may not play the piano!  It will get on Grammy’s nerves!”  I hope not, but I cannot say with any confidence that I KNOW they didn’t use that excuse.

It has been a good season for our family.  We have much to be thankful for, and I rejoice in God’s Gift to the world that long ago night.  A Savior.  Christ the LORD.  Above all else, we followers of Jesus have reason to celebrate.  But I would be less than truthful if I were to act like this season was without its share of pain.  Our world has so much pain.

Last night, I gathered the grands around me one by one and we picked out gifts from the Compassion, Int. Christmas catalog.  Charis was first. She is the oldest at 5.  She wanted the children to have some thing to play with. “Some toys for the poor children, Grammy!”  She picked out some “safe playground equipment.”

Simon, although younger than Charis by almost six months, is also 5.  He crowded in beside me and thoughtfully looked at the pictures.  He was extremely saddened by the picture of the little boy, obviously malnourished, eating rice.  It was one of the first pictures in the catalog, and he came back to it, looking with deep concern at the little guy.  It didn’t take him long at all to decide that his part of the gift would be food for hungry little kids.

“Don’t let nobody else get that,” he said.  “Just me.”

“Well, Simon,” I said to him, “Let’s just see what the others want to do.  I have a feeling that all of you will want something different.”  And he was good with that.

Liam (4) was very serious as he looked and looked at the possibilities.  He wrinkled his face and thought long and hard.  He finally chose seeds for growing vegetable gardens.  “I like seeds,” he said happily.  “I help Mommy in the garden and plant seeds.”  Which, I found out later, is one of his favorite summer things to do.

And then Frankie.  He’s three.  A great conversationalist, and always thinking about what he can get into next.  I went through the catalog with him and explained everything.

“I want to buy SCHOOL BUS!!!”  He insisted. I explained patiently that there was no “school bus,” and that these people didn’t even have cars to take them where they needed to go.

“Look, Frankie,” I told him.  “They do have bicycles.”  He looked at the picture that had two people on a bike, with a basket that was full of parcels, while the people also had bags on their backs.

“Dey should put backpack in dere,” said Frankie, pointing at the basket.  “Backpack in dere!”  He studied the picture seriously, considering buying a bicycle over a bus.  Finally, with his Grammy’s encouragement, he was convinced that maybe he would settle for a bicycle, and our choosing/planning session was over. (Whew!  That was a relief.  I was pretty sure that Grammy wasn’t going to be able to afford a school bus!)

And it did this heart good.  The season has carried a great deal of memories for me, of other years and happier times.  On Sunday morning, in our Christmas program, the carols and Christmas hymns swirled around me, making it difficult to sing as the poignant memories flooded my heart.  Probably the setting we were in had something to do with it.  Daddy and Mama started attending at Laws Mennonite Church when I was two years old.  With the exception of the ten years we spent in Ohio, every single Christmas program has been in that church.  And though I know we have much for which to be grateful, and the accommodations are pleasant and adequate, it just isn’t the same.  And I was homesick for the old white church on the corner of Canterbury and Carpenter Bridge roads.

Especially sharp this year was the missing of people who have gone on before.  As we launched into “Silent Night” there was this pause at the end of the first line — at a place where J.R. Campbell always added an extra bass trill.  I waited, half expecting to hear that clear, full voice chime in the extra notes.  But there was nothing.  And no one filled in for him.  It made me think about J.R. and the essence that was so uniquely him and while my thoughts were those of thankfulness to him for his foresight and careful attention to detail that has blessed us so immensely as a church in this fire, I missed him!  The music, the laughter, the philosophizing, the attention to detail, the artist, the dreamer.

And I missed my Daddy.  It was nine years ago that he went home to Heaven on a night that we had a Christmas program.  It was the Sunday night of December 18th, 2005.  I had taken him to the hospital in the morning, and they admitted him.  He thought they would take some fluid off his lungs and he would go home.  When they admitted him, he encouraged Mama and I to go home.  There was the Christmas program, and he didn’t want us to miss it.  Shortly after we were in the service, a phone started ringing somewhere.  I was aggravated that someone wasn’t paying closer attention to their cell phone, but it stopped and we were singing the carols of Christmas when someone came and got me and said that my Daddy wasn’t expected to live through the night.  We got to the hospital in record time and soon after 9 pm, he smiled his last smile, breathed his last breath and went on home.

I always think about it, but it has been harder this year.  Maybe because of losing Frieda so recently.  Maybe because of other losses in my family.  Maybe because My Sweet Mama’s health is so precarious.  For whatever reason, it has been a little tougher this year than sometimes.

But for all that has been difficult, I’ve still have it so good.  I have enough food to fill the tummies.  I can grow a garden from a vast variety of seeds or little plants.  My trusty mini-van isn’t dependent on me pedaling it to get it anywhere, and the children have safe recreational activities available on all sides.

There is hope for the hollow, empty eyes.

I am only one, but I am one.  I cannot do everything but I can do something.  The something I can do, I ought to do. And by God’s grace, I will.

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Filed under Dealing with Grief, music

Salmon Soup and Family Memories

I was looking for a quick and warm supper for tonight.  As my mind was floundering about, I suddenly remembered that I had bought a can of salmon some time ago and put it on the shelf for such a time as this.

Salmon Soup.

Many was the Saturday night after a long day of cleaning and shopping and such that our tired Mama would bring out a can of salmon, warm the milk and add a few of her own touches along with a can of salmon and feed her six hungry children and husband on that can of salmon and milk from the bulk tank.  The melted butter floated in the top and the salty crackers broken up in it made a warm and nourishing soup.  She flaked the salmon small and we savored every morsel of salmon that sank in our soup bowls while we all sat around the kitchen table, and had bread with King Syrup on it to serve as an accessory to the simple meal.  Daddy probably had home canned peaches to finish things off.

Just about the time I had made up my mind to make Salmon Soup for supper, the phone rang.  It was my Sweet Mama.  She has been spending some time with my brother, Nel, and his wife, Rose.  She gets such good care there and I’m always glad for her sake when she can go.  However, she has been sick and still sounds tight and wheezy in her voice.  Her good doctor prescribed antibiotics for her as well as an expectorant, but I’ve had some anxious thoughts since she has been gone.  Not that she would get better care if she were home, but she seems so far away.

“What are you doing?” Her familiar voice rang cheerily over the phone line.  It is her typical question.  (There have been times when she asked that question and I didn’t want to answer and I would scramble for something to do quick so that I could answer something that would meet with her approval or that I would feel comfortable telling her I was doing.)

This time I could tell her what I was doing for most of the day.  “I’ve been working on my Christmas letter,” I told her.  “And I saw the dentist this morning for an appliance for those front teeth that are hurting, and I’ve been home.  It’s been cold and snowing.  I’m getting ready to make some supper.”

I paused and then said, “How did you make your Salmon Soup back when we were children?  I would like to make some for supper, and I’m not sure I remember what all you put into it.”

She went over the simple steps, asked Sister in Law, Rose, how she did it and we had quite a discussion.  Suddenly, I was filled with a deep and pensive longing.

“Oh, Mama,” I said.  “What I wouldn’t give to be a little girl again tonight. To pull my chair up to that kitchen table with you and Daddy and all my brothers and sisters and have a bowl of your Salmon Soup.  To not have any responsibilities except to be a part of our family as a little girl . . . ”  I couldn’t go on.  The tears were clouding my voice.

She was quiet for scarcely a second, and then she said gently, “That would be nice, wouldn’t it?”

And then we were on to other things, but the longing had been stirred and it followed me the whole evening.  Certain Man and I, sitting at the counter with our bowls of Salmon Soup, were enjoying some quiet moments together, and I was still pensive.

“Sweetheart,” I finally said, tentatively, “do you ever feel homesick to be back with all the family around the table again?”

He looked at me puzzled and said, “Well, it would be nice, I guess, but they are all scattered, I mean, they DO come home, but I guess it’s not the same –”

“Oh, I didn’t mean OUR children,” I hastily interrupted.  “What I meant was when you were children.  Do you ever wish to be back around the table with your sisters and brother and Dad and Mom –”

His eyes were suddenly guarded and he shook his head so slightly.

“Don’t you have any good memories about being together for supper or having fun around the table–?”  My voice hung in the air, and he turned his head away.

“Not that I can remember,” he said tightly.

This time, my tears were not selfish.

There are far worse things than wishing you could somehow be back in the happy, warm, embracing, comforting, encouraging memories of long ago.

One of them is to remember your childhood and to never wish to be back there.

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December 11, 2013 · 4:10 pm

Searching for a Meaningful Christmas

He is only eleven, but he looks fifteen.  He reminds me so much of our first foster child, and when I look at him I wish that we could fill his heart as easily as we can the stomach as he shovels down his second bowl of cheddar cheese chowder, polishes off a piece of homemade bread with butter and homemade strawberry jam, then downs some ice cream.  He helped me make the chowder, following my directions with precision and energy when time was short before church the other night.  I just love him so much.

He has been loved.  He knows he is loved, and when he writes his thankful list he always lists, “I’m thankful for my loveful family.”  He has been bullied in school, though, and he can go from calm and reasonable to rowdy and, well, “eleven year old boy” in about three seconds flat, depending on what happens.

I’ve been searching for something suitable for my class to do for the Christmas program.  I know he can sing.  Last night, as he rattled around the sun room, waiting for us to be ready to leave for church, I was listening to the Mennonite Hour Singer’s Christmas Album.  I enjoy it greatly, and that is an understatement.  The songs bring back a thousand memories and there are times when I feel like a little girl in the living room of a house that still stands on Greenwood Road, listening to the old stereo, a boxy thing on four legs, while the rich, full music of four part harmony spills over and around.  It is my childhood Christmas and all is right with the world.

So I listen to the old, old songs of Christmas and ponder ways to work them into something that would be doable for my class.  And then the sound of a male voice comes out of my kitchen CD player.

Sweet little Jesus boy
They made you be born in a manger
Sweet little holy child
We didn’t know who you were
Didn’t know you’d come to save us Lord
To take our sins away
Our eyes were blind, we could not see
We didn’t know who you were

Long time ago
You were born 
Born in a manger Lord
Sweet little Jesus boy
The world treats you mean Lord
Treats me mean too
But that’s how things are down here
We don’t know who you are

You have told us how
We are trying
Master you have shown us how
Even when you were dying
Just seems like we can’t do right
Look how we treated you
But please Sir forgive us Lord
We didn’t know it was you

Sweet little Jesus boy
Born a long time ago
Sweet little holy child
We didn’t know who you were

Suddenly, I got this sweet, sweet picture.  This eleven year old prince is standing in the candlelight at the Christmas program of our little country church, and he is singing this song.  Someone is accompanying him on a quiet guitar, and the congregation is moved. It is a holy moment.

I was so excited.  I thought about it, got more excited, and then called him out to the kitchen.

“Do you like to sing?”  ( I thought he did.  I mean, he sings in church . . .)

“Not really.”

“Oh, come on.  Can you sing?”

“Um.  Not really.  Not very good.”

“Would you want to sing something for the Christmas program?  I mean, if someone would help you learn it and help you practice?”

“Um.  I don’t know.  I don’t really think so.  Maybe.”

“Listen to this song –”  I back up the track and the music fills the room again.  I can tell he isn’t impressed.  At all.  “Just listen!  Here.  Where it talks about ‘the world treat you mean, Lord.  Treat me mean, too.’  That is something you can kinda identify with –”

I can tell I’ve lost him.  We scurry around, getting ready for church and then get off.  Later, on the way home, the kids are talking about the Christmas program and what they would like to do.

“Ms. Mary Ann wants me to sing this old slow song,” I hear him tell the others. And then they are off!

The dreams of old songs by candlelight die quickly as they talk of writing their own rap for the program.  I hear “manger” and “danger” and some pretty creative ideas floating around and I look again at this sixty year old heart that has a hard time letting go and wonder when I will learn.

Isn’t it far better for them to write about Jesus in ways that are meaningful to them, with songs they can “stand” and that spark interest in their hearts and start their creative juices going than for me to get my picture perfect cameo in the Christmas program?

I suppose so, young prince.  That’s why I gave you and your friends permission to try to see what you can come up with.  God help me to keep my wits about me!  I’m just not a jammin’ and a tappin’ and a rappin’ woman.  Ask Youngest Son.  He knows what happens to this mama when there is just too much of a hip-de-do-dah thing agoin’.

And with that, I leave you with this final tip of the hat to what I saw in my head for a few brief minutes:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8bEOVi-qJ4

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