Tag Archives: life lessons

Race and Kisses and Grandsons

He was our first foster baby.  He was officially placed with us when he was eight and a half months old, but he had been “ours” for several weeks before.  He was a chubby little guy, obviously of African American heritage, and we loved him with a ferocity that scared me sometimes.  Back then, foster care agencies were known to move children if they thought the foster parents were getting “too attached.”  A caseworker, Mimi Sommers, of Franklin County Children Services, had gone to bat for us, and had literally bucked the powers that be for him to be allowed to be placed with us.

“You can’t do this,” said her supervisor.

“Oh, yes, I can,” I am told she said.  “And I’m going to!”  And she did.

His placement was legal enough that we were allowed to bring him home for Christmas in 1975.  We pulled into Daddy and Mama’s driveway very late that night, but Daddy, Mama, Sarah and Alma were waiting up for us.  There was a fire burning in the fireplace, and we brought our swaddled, snow-suited little guy in, put him down on the rug in front of the fireplace, and unwrapped him.  He sat blinking in the firelight, looking at all the strange faces around the circle, and then a smile split his little face wide open and in doing so, opened the hearts of our Delaware family.

He was with us for 20 months.  We were first time parents, and we had much to learn.  He would escape from his crib at night, and explore the territory.  We found him sitting in the stereo one time, on the turntable, the spindle up between his legs against his well diapered sleeper.  It worried us.  We had no way of securing the front door from the inside of our shed-type house on West Avenue in Plain City, Ohio.  So we devised a plan for a “lid” for his crib.  Made of cardboard and held on by shoelaces, we made sure we could easily get him out in case of an emergency.  He loved it, and would ask to have it secured if we forgot.  He was very attached to Daniel, following him around, riding piggy back all around the living room floor, and sleeping in his strong arms whenever the chance arose.  Daniel called him, “Daddy’s little brown boy,” but never in a deprecating way.  It was affectionate and defining and respectful of the delightful color that graced the skin of our beloved son.

There were several factors that went into the agency’s decision to not allow us to adopt him, and while they would never be considered viable reasons now, they were then, and in August of 1977, our little guy was adopted into a family that did not want to have any ongoing contact with us.  The adoption went smoothly enough, but in the days following, this Mama felt paralyzed.  And sick.  And empty beyond belief.  We grieved deeply, but mostly privately.  It wasn’t that people didn’t care, but it’s a difficult thing for people to understand.

It was a few years later that Joseph’s adoptive mother called me.  She caught me up on this little guy that had so suddenly disappeared from our lives.  And then she told me this story.

She said that one day, Joseph had come to her and said, “Mama, you are white.”

“That’s right, Joey,” she said, wondering where this was going.

“And I’m brown,” he said, matter of factly.

“Right again,” she said.

“Do you know why I’m brown?” He asked her.

She said to me, “I thought, ‘Oh, dear!  Not this already!'” but she said to him, “Why is that, Joey?”

“Well,” he announced with a great deal of confidence and delight, “The Mommy and Daddy I had before I came here kissed me all over and made me brown!”

I cannot tell you how that comforted me.  I don’t begin to know how to tell people to navigate through this current race thing.  So many of the things we did and said back then are taboo now in the circles I operate in.  There are nuances and familiar words upended and so many connotations that I cannot figure it all out.  Sometimes I’m silent because I do not want to say the wrong thing.  Sometimes I’m silent because I disagree so deeply with what is happening, and I’m too angry to see straight.  And  sometimes I’m silent because it feels like everything I say further inflames emotions that will come back and hurt the people I love so very much!

Ever since Joey’s story, the color of brown has been the color of love in my book.  If every child could consider the color of their skin to be the special product of somebody’s love for them, wouldn’t that solve a lot of problems?

No, it probably wouldn’t.  Because that is too simple, and our world is too complex.  There will always be bullies, and this world will produce out of the vast store of hatred and prejudice the people who seek to destroy those who, through no choice of their own, threaten them by virtue of being different.

I just wish it wouldn’t be children who bear the brunt of it.  And more specifically, I wish it weren’t our three grandsons targeted because of their color in a modern school setting in  the quiet town of Sugarcreek, Ohio.

No amount of “kissing all over” can protect a child from this kind of attack.

Read our daughter in law, Regina’s post from this week, HERE:

https://leapoutoftheboat.blogspot.com/2018/01/racismyes-again.html?m=1

And weep for us all.

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Filed under Family living, Foster Care, Grandchildren, Racism, Uncategorized

February Mix: Winter’s Chill and Spring’s Warm Hope

The wind whipped cold around the corner of the bedroom where Certain Man and I sleep. It howled and complained and I could feel the cold that wanted inside around the window by our bed.  Out from our window, I caught the sound of our chimes, (named “Mozart” because of the chords that are able to be distinctly heard in the composer’s scores and had been recreated in these chimes) as they bravely withstood the onslaught.  The silvery notes hung in the darkness on the cold, cold wind and comforted me.

I thought about cold.  I thought about fear.  I thought about darkness and hope and silvery notes on the night air.  I thought about the things that hold us steady and give us joy when it feels as if we are buffeted by unexpected, icy blasts.  I thought about how beautiful the weather had been just a day before, and the daffodils that were nearly six inches high in my yard, and the tulips peaking through the cold ground on the sunny side of the barbecue pit.  Just yesterday I had noticed the crocuses poking through the mulch on the peony row by the front door and thought that they are late this year.  I thought about the incoming Spring.

The second week of February was a tough week for the family unit at Shady Acres.  Monday of that week was spent doing “prep” for a scheduled colonoscopy with our one handicapped individual, BL.  In a delightful surprise, it was way easier than I had anticipated.   Over the years, BL has honed her control issues to a very tight ship, and one of the things that she has controlled in almost unbelievable ways has been her bathroom habits. (As in holding everything until it is a most inopportune time or for someone that she doesn’t like.)  This habit that has been one of the hardest for me to be gracious about (particularly when she is giggling out loud over an “accident” that has me scrambling) actually worked in my favor in this particular situation.  Since she is non-verbal, I trucked her to the bathroom at timely intervals, and she never once made a mess for me to clean up. This gal really does have control!

Another thing that made this prep easier than it would have been with another individual is her ability to down large quantities of liquid with scarcely drawing a breath.  (She will actually chug 12 ounces of Pepsi without stopping for a breath if someone doesn’t intervene.) So getting her to drink her “Go Lightly” mixed into 16 ounces of water?  Piece of cake.  16 more ounces of water?  She was holding her hand out for it.  And 16 more?  Bring it on, she was ready!  Of course, I didn’t allow her to drink it all at once, but it was no problem at all getting her to drink all 48 ounces in an hour.  The second round of prep was likewise finished just as successfully, and we were finally ready for the visit to Milford Hospital’s Day Surgery department.

That day was long and hard.  BL’s veins are difficult and beyond the abilities of even the best phlebotomist.  Precious time was spent (and lost) as tech after tech tried technique after technique with no results, or minimal results at best.  We started at the Day Surgery Department at 7:30 a.m.  The clock on my dash read almost 4 p.m. when we headed home.  Dr. K had come in after completing the colonoscopy with the words, “We’ve got to talk.”  My heart sank as the import of the words settled into my brain.  “Mass, cecum, surgery, cancer and ASAP” swirled around in my brain as he gently tried to impress upon me the importance of his find.  The staff was terrific.   They made an appointment for the surgeon already the next morning, and scheduled two CT scans for yet that day, with and without contrast.  They poked and prodded poor BL until I was past being able to bear it.  Each department was sure that their vein finding prodigy could surely get a viable vein and until they were convinced otherwise, BL had another infiltration, another poke, another cry like a wounded animal.

Along about 3 p.m., I stood by her stretcher over in the Cancer Center, where they had sent us, hoping for a quicker and more efficient finish.  The techs had gone off, looking for supplies and assistance.  It was just her and me in that big, cold room, and she was huddled under a warm blanket that they had brought in for her.  I stroked her wounded arms and rubbed her purple blotches and in the quiet of the room, I started to quietly sing to her.  “Jesus Loves Me,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Be not dismayed.”   She seemed to relax a bit and her face wasn’t as contorted. How I wished that they could just get this over with!

The techs came bustling in, then,  to try on their own one more time.  Linda’s anguished squeal started my tears, even as they exalted that they had gotten it this time!  When the vein blew just as they started to push the contrast for the scan, I was done.  I had stayed with BL for almost the whole day, but now, through my tears, I asked, “When am I allowed to say that it is enough and that you have to call Vascular Medicine down to start the I.V.?”

They looked at me surprised, and said, “Oh, we’ve already called them and someone is on the way down.  Should be here any minute.”

I took a deep breath.  “Okay,” I said, “I’m sorry, but I cannot bear to watch any more.  I will do what I can to help to get her situated, but when it goes to another stick, I am going to excuse myself to the waiting room across the hall.”  They were understanding.  They were kind.  And after a while, they came and got me saying that, after two tries, Vascular Medicine was able to start a suitable thread, they had completed the scan, and that I could take BL home.

I got her bundled up and tucked her into the wheelchair.  I pushed her through the halls of Milford Memorial Hospital, and I wondered what she was thinking.  I had tried to explain as much as I could all day long, as well as when I was doing the prep, but she sat in the huge hospital wheel chair as I pushed her along and she had drawn herself into a small lump, looking miserable and confused.  I spoke quietly to her as I pushed her along the almost deserted halls, cheery words of comfort and hope.  And then I thought about one of her favorite songs, Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” as sung by Elizabeth Mitchell on one of BL’s CDs at home.

“Woke up this morning,” I started to sing quietly, “Smiled at the rising sun.  Three little birds sat by my doorstep . . . ”  I could hear the notes sort of echo off the walls, but no one was in sight, so I kept on.  ” . . .singin’ a sweet song.  A melody pure and true.  Singin’ this is my message for you -ou – ou !”

Now there were a few people moving along the corridors, some of them glancing furtively at this singing spectacle, pushing a blind, handicapped scrap of a woman in a huge wheelchair.

“Singin’ don’t worry,” I warbled on, “about a thing.  ‘Cause every little thing’s gonna be alright.  Singin’ don’t worry, about a thing, ’cause every little thing’s gonna be alright.”  I got some sympathetic looks, and I thought about how embarrassed my kids would be if they were along, but I sang until I got her down to the entrance, where valet parking went to bring my mini van and I loaded her into her seat, buckled her seat belt and took her home to her chair.  She was hungry, and she bore almost a dozen bruises from her ordeal, but she was restive and quiet.

There would be time in the days ahead for me to sing other songs to her, (“God Will Take Care of You,” and “Why Worry When You Can Pray,” and “Whisper a Prayer in the Morning,” and “My Lord Knows the Way Through The Wilderness” and others) but for that moment it seemed like the right thing to be singing at the end of a terrible day, full of bad news, and needles and hard stretchers and cold rooms and great indignities.

Is “every little thing gonna be alright?”  I don’t know.  These days are filled with many unknowns, and I’m not at all sure how things will actually work out.  We are scheduling surgery, checking some other suspicious areas, signing papers, getting clearance, trying to cooperate in every way we can with recommendations and making a concerted effort to make things as normal and as cheerful as possible for both OGA and BL.  And the support and the words of comfort and encouragement have been freely given to and gratefully received by this Delaware Grammy who has been caring for handicapped individuals for over thirty years.

I am sometimes surprised at the people who imply that it’s time for me to quit.  I appreciate the concern, but I’m listening up to my Heavenly Father, talking to my family and doing a lot of praying, and this is not the time to bail.  Nor do I even want to.  We are BL’s “family.”  She has lived with us for over 17 years, and as I checked into her record, I realized that we passed, a LONG time ago, her longest placement before she came home to stay.  And just so no one worries unduly, I would like to say that the Delaware Department of Disabilities has been concerned, supportive, and more than generous in their offers of help.  I am not alone.  We are not alone.  God has a plan.  He loves BL, and He will do what is best.  By His Grace, we want to do our part, but health and healing are, ultimately, up to Him.

And in that, I not only rest, but offer here a sacrifice of grateful praise.

For those of you who would like to listen to Elizabeth Mitchell’s version of “Three Little Birds” you can find it here:

(And if you like Bob Marley’s version better, you can probably access it from that link.)

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Filed under disabilities, Family, Handicapped Adults, Praise, Stories from the Household of CM & CMW

Holy Fire and Human Flailings

Lord Jesus, please hear the heart of Your Handmaiden.

I read this morning in Leviticus 10 of the death of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu.  As is the case every. single. time. I. read. it, my heart aches for Aaron and his wife and his family.  Here is Aaron, in his mid eighties at least, and his sons — were they reckless youths?  We know they had no children according to the scriptures.

It seems so harsh, Lord Jesus, so final, so – well, so without warning.  I always struggle when I plow my way through this passage and read of a father who “said nothing,” when it happened.  A father who wasn’t allowed the “comfort of mourning,” wasn’t given any time off from his job, all under the thread of death.  “And Aaron . . . obeyed.” (Lev.10:7)

What must he have felt, though, and how could he have dealt with it?  There was no arguing about who had passed the severe judgement, no arguing with this God who had, always had, the final say, the trump card, the final word, supreme power , ultimate authority . . . This morning I feel like this fuzzy, rebel brain is at the very edge of an answer that can help this aching heart.

First of all, Lord Jesus, I do not know the whole of the circumstances that let up to this.  From what it says, the boys, (young men) were duly warned, thoroughly instructed and well aware of what the protocol was.  And because you are GOD (who has the final say, ultimate authority, etc.) what you did was right – and (though I choke when I say this) GOOD.

Father-God, in this whole nitter-natter about “Why?” and seeking to come to acceptance and peace, I feel like I am missing something important.  Something to do with your Holiness.  Something about the God-Fire Purity that is the essence of this “I AM” God, whom I’ve chosen as my God, but whose very essence I do not begin to comprehend. I cannot capture the depth, the intensity, the incomprehensible HOLINESS that is God.  Awesome, Powerful, and Eternal — and yet, You love me like a protective Father; care (infinitely more than I can imagine !) what is going on in my heart and call me to reflect that Holiness with purity.  And it occurs to me that when I offer anything else back to you except “Holy Fire,” it spells DEATH.

But why?  Lord Jesus, Why?

Is it because that what is at the root of the “strange fire” is an attempt to appear right before you, and before those watching?  That is not only prideful and deceitful, but an affront and a contradiction of WHO you are, and WHAT you are.  And this strange fire cannot help but be swallowed up, consumed by the intensity of your Holiness and Purity.  It’s not as much a  judgement call by a Holy God as it is a very natural consequence.  It’s almost like a tiny flame, inching up a glowing wick to a stick of dynamite, assuming he is the victor because he burned the wick all the way to the end. None of us would say it was the dynamite’s fault for totally encompassing and extinguishing the flame.  We would think it ridiculously ostentatious for other flames, looking on to accuse the dynamite of wrong doing, or hasty judgement or of unfeelingly, arbitrarily “making rules” that explode with deafening brilliance and force and destruction and death.

Oh, Holy God, our God!  Passionate and pure and intense and full of fire.  Not because you decide to be, but rather it is because You ARE.  Somehow you decided to use poor, wretched humans to reflect your perfect Holiness — elevating us to sons and daughters (Family!) and we accuse you of being unfeeling or unfair when we fall victims of our own foolish, selfish, and prideful plans that cannot begin to stand before you- Glorious, Awesome, Righteous, Burning Holiness and Purity.

And it is just that, Heavenly Father.  I cannot stand before you, pretending to have any fire that matters to you at all.  I feel exposed, weak and useless in my wretched reasoning and the offerings I bring.  I want to cower in the darkness, away from your throne, wondering what to do next.  But I hear words of hope, ringing in this head that I want to cover.

“For we have not an high priest that cannot be touched by the feelings of our infirmities . . .  in all points, tempted like as we are . . . ”

Ah, Lord Jesus!  My Brother, My Redeemer!  The one whose fire is the only fire I can offer back to the Father – I eagerly and frantically and deliberately and with nothing to repay you, choose you!

The fear melts away, the bitterness running off my heart in rivulets as You become Righteousness in me; rekindling the Only Fire that is acceptable to God The Father.

And my heart gives grateful, humble praise.

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Filed under Christian Living, Homespun Theology, Uncategorized

Another Sunday with the Littles

I got to spend time with The Littles at our country church in Slower Lower Delaware this morning.  The class has the same four children, but this morning I looked into their faces and saw how much they have grown up in the four short months that they’ve had another teacher.  Katie and Judah have a new baby brother, which got discussed thoroughly and delightedly.  Jamison, far more verbal than he was four months ago, joined in the conversation with feeling and much expression.  Charis, the oldest, was thoughtful and participant, but the only one without a brother (or even a sibling for that matter) was quieter than usual.

We sang the song that we had used to open class time last year, and they all remembered and helped along.  My heart warmed to hear each of their four voices soar in the familiar words and tune.  The story we were covering today was the story of Jesus coming to John the Baptist for baptism, and I laid the background of what John’s mission was, and desert lifestyle and diet and his message to the people of his time, and there were appropriate expressions of disgust at the garment of camel’s hair, and talk of “throwing up” over the locusts and wild honey.  (Especially the “grasshoppers” business.)  And then we got to the part about Jesus being baptized by John.

The teacher’s manual provided a cutout that made a dove “spinner” to emphasize the dove that descended upon the head of Jesus, and each of them had their own spinner and a chance to try it out.  Also suggested was using ribbons for blessing and praise.  I had made each of them a “Blessing Stick” by attaching ribbons to a 12″ dowel stick, and after speaking a blessing over each one of them, I told them that we were going to use the sticks with singing a song.  They gathered, excited and gloriously distracted and yet eager to sing.  We sang an old children’s song that I learned many years ago, using the sticks in different motions for the two different phrases.

Hallelu-, hallelu-, hallelu-, hallelujah!  (Shake sticks in front of you)
Praise ye the LORD! (Wave in a wide arc over head)
Hallelu-, hallelu-, hallelu-, hallelujah!
Praise ye the LORD!
Praise ye the LORD!
Hallelujah!
Praise ye the LORD!
Hallelujah!
PRAISE YE THE LORD!

About the third or fourth time through it they really got into it, and there was much waving about of the ribbons and the words were intelligible and they even got the standing up and sitting down motions that we were using.  But time was getting a little short to finish everything up, so we went back to the table to get the coloring pictures and take home papers and one last activity from the home papers.

“Pra-a-a-a-i-i-i-i-s-e-e-e   y-e-e-e-e-e–e–e–e—e the L-o-o-o-r-r-r-r-d” warbled Charis in a vibrato mode as she pulled her chair back up to the table. “Ha-a-a-l-l-l-e-e-e-e-el-u-u-ujah!”  She was really putting her soul into the music as she sang with pronounced showmanship.

After a time or two of this, Katie looked at her with puzzled disdain.  “Charis,” she said with a hint of annoyance, “why are you singing that song like a goat?”

Charis looked at her pityingly.  “That’s opera!” she said and resumed her song.  It went on and on.

“Charis,” I interrupted.  “Do you like opera?”

“Oh, yes!  I love it!” And she resumed her song again.  I listened as she sang and could hear the “opera” in her rendition.

“I think you could be an opera singer some day,” I told her.  “You seem to have the voice for it.”

“Really?” She asked excitedly.  “I would really love that!”

“I think you could,” I told her, “but you would have to study hard and get a trainer and all of that.  But I think for now, maybe we’ve had enough opera.”

“Okay,” she said agreeably, bent her head to her papers, and started to sing again.  Then stopped.  “Oh, dear!” She said impatiently.  “Now I got that song in my head!”

I think we all did.

And I smiled to myself as I thought about this class of LITTLES.  They are growing so big and it’s happening so fast.  Life is moving right along and the happenings of our world are impressing themselves on their minds and hearts.  They live in a world that is divided by hate and bigotry and mixed messages and uncertainties and so much division in the Family of God.

And I’m trying to sing a song to this old world.  It’s the Story of Jesus and His Love.  I would like it to be vibrant and full of harmony and joy and hope and love.  I would like it to catch on with the people around me.  I would like it to stick in their minds and I would like them to wave banners of light and beauty and blessing.  I would like them to “jump out of their chairs” at the right moments and I’d like them to do it with unity and peace and courage — but mostly to bring His Love to the rest of the world.

I’m singing it the best I can.  I’m singing it with all my heart.  I’m singing it when I’m thinking about it, and I’m singing it when I’m not.  Because it’s stuck!  Not only in my head but also in my heart.

And it’s my fervent prayer that no one wonders why I’m trying to sing like an old goat. I do make mistakes in the music.  I sometimes jumble the words.  I sometimes even forget them.

But the basic melody of JESUS, friend of sinners, hope of the world, SAVIOUR — This, I pray will be heard.  And whether the listener likes opera or classical or modern or country, may it fill their ears, stick in their heads and find its way to their hearts, inviting them, drawing them into The Family.

“Oh, LORD JESUS!  May it be so!”

 

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Filed under Christian Living, Laws Mennonite Church, music, The LITTLES Sunday School Class

Charis and Grammy Butcher a Chicken

The big trucks had pulled in and out of the lane at Shady Acres for most of Wednesday  night.  The big, fat, stinky chickens had been caught, put into the cages and hauled away to the processing plant.  Certain Man, short on sleep and long on labor, had finally come into the house and collapsed on his beloved chair and fell fast asleep.

The day was full with much coming and going, but somewhere along the line, Certain Man said, “The chicken catchers left one chicken — one big one!  Do you want to butcher it or shall I just put it into the composter?”

“I want to butcher it!” I said.  “I will probably not get to it, though, until tomorrow.”

“That’s fine,” he said.  “I will catch it and put it into my coop and you can get it whenever you want to do it.”

And so the day passed.  Thursday, I got a note from a cousin asking about some chicken soup for one of my neighbors, and I was reminded about that chicken, waiting for me.

“Sweetheart, did you catch that chicken for me?” I asked in one of my conversations with him during the day.

“Oh, no!” He said.  “I didn’t get around to it.”

“Do you think the fox got it?” I asked, reminiscent of the last chicken I had planned for a pot of soup.

“Shouldn’t have,” he said, “because it was in the chicken house and the doors were closed.”

Thursday nights are “Grammy Night” with Charis, and I decided that, unless her Daddy and Mommy objected, or unless she thought it was too gross, Charis and I were going to butcher a chicken for Grammy night.  I called her Mommy and told her my plan, and she and Jesse talked it over and decided to ask her what she wanted to do.  After school, when her Daddy was bringing her down he broached the subject.

“Grammy thought maybe she and you would butcher a chicken tonight,” he told her carefully, explaining some of the possibilities of the evening.  “Would you like that?”

“I wouldn’t like that,” she said, all excited. “I would love it!”  And so, it was decided.

She came into the house, all fired up to get busy, but I had something to get in to the post office before it closed, and she occupied her time with other things until finally, I was ready.

“I’m not so sure about this,” I said to her as we started out.  “Grandpa didn’t get this chicken caught, so I’m going to have to chase it down.  I’m getting a little old for this sort of thing.”

“Oh,” she said, confidently.  “You have me!  I’ll catch it for you!”

“I’ll be glad for your help, Charis,” I said, “but this is a big chicken.  It isn’t very easy to hold and it might hurt you.”

“Will it bite?”  She asked a bit anxiously.

“It probably won’t peck you, but it has spurs on the side of its legs that can scratch pretty hard.  I wouldn’t want you to get hurt.”

“Oh.” She said.

“Maybe you can chase it towards me and I can catch it,” I said.  “We’ll just see what works out.  Do you know which chicken house it is in?”  (She had been conversing with Aunt Lena who had helped Grandpa with some of the chores in the chicken houses that follow the movement of a flock.)

“Yup!” she said proudly.  “House three!”  So we headed out towards house three.  I was on the golf card and she was on her bike.  We stopped at the barn and the shed, also at the ante rooms of both house two and three, looking for the hook that makes catching a chicken a whole lot easier, but alas!  None was to be found.  I was wondering how in the world all of this was going to work out.  Chasing a chicken in a newly emptied house is precarious business for a woman of my age and weight and athletic ability.  The litter is uneven, with ruts and often wet places.  Chickens are crazy birds, with the ability to turn on a dime and run in the opposite direction.  They squawk and flutter and they are often the bearers of chicken poop on their feathers and always on their appendages that you are most like to grab when you are trying to catch them.  And without a hook?  I was most certainly in for some trouble.  But there was Bright Eyes beside me, chattering cheerfully and so very excited about our upcoming adventure.

We pulled up at the end of the chicken house and I opened the end doors.  It was dark and reeking of ammonia and the foul smell of a chicken house.  Charis nearly gagged at the heavy wave of barely breathable air.  We peered down the long expanse towards the other end, and in the darkness, somewhere near the middle door, I saw — well, something!  It didn’t really look like a chicken, but it was some sort of interruption in the emptiness, so I said to Charis, “We are going to go down to the middle door.  Grammy thinks she sees that chicken down there.”

We both got on the golf cart this time, as Charis decided to leave her bike and come back for it later.  Away we went, down to the main side door.  I opened it wide and stepped inside.  Charis stayed on the outside, undecided as to what she wanted to do.  She let the door swing shut.  I couldn’t see a thing.  I opened it back up.

“Charis, can you hold this door open so that I can see?”

She half-heartedly held it a bit, then stepped inside, then stepped back out, then held it open about a foot.  I still could barely see, but I could make out our intended victim.  He was a big old duber,  and when I stepped in his direction, he started getting away as fast as his little legs could carry him.

“Charis, can you come and help to chase him towards me?”  I was of the opinion that she could at least stand guard while I snuck up on him.  I caught on really fast that wasn’t a happening thing.

“Grammy, see, I can hold a little chicken,” she said from the safety of just outside the door, “but I don’t know how to hold a big one!”  She watched as I traversed the litter and got him over to the other side of the house.  Then, “Grammy, I’m gonna’ be down here,” she hollered as the door slammed shut and I heard no more.

I had a little more light at the far side of the house and it occurred to me that darkness might be in my favor in this situation, and so I eased myself slowly in the direction of the chicken.  He watched me with his beady eye.  I was almost ready to reach out and catch him by his wings when he suddenly took off towards the other end of the house.  About then I heard Charis at the end of the house where she had gone to retrieve her bike.

“Grammy, I’m down here, if you need me,” she hollered.  It was only 175 feet away.  I was pretty sure that she wasn’t going to be much help.

“Okay,” I yelled back.  “That’s good!”  At least she wouldn’t be getting hurt by a frantic rooster.

The things I had been concerned about were reality as I went over the ridges and rolls of the litter in the empty chicken house.  It was loose and I slipped and skittered around, trying to keep my balance.  Oops!  There was a very wet spot.  I hurriedly dislodged my foot from there, wishing with all my heart that I hadn’t worn my sandals for this job.  It already felt like there was at least a half a cup of litter between my sandal and my foot and now there was dampness. Oh, yuk! But I was intent on my prey, and he was stepping closer and closer to the wall.  I very slowly  narrowed the distance between us and suddenly made a grab!  Caught him squarely!  He squawked and protested mightily with his strong wings, but I quickly subdued him.  Charis, noting that he was safely in hand, disappeared again from the back doors of the chicken house and with amazing speed, met me at the side door as I exited with him.

I had procured some baler twine from the side wall of the barn when I had been in there looking for the hook, and I wrapped it around his legs while Charis made comments about his soon demise.  I put him into the back basket of the golf cart where my unreliable efforts to incapacitate him would not allow him to escape.  He looked questioningly at me through the wires.

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Charis fancies herself an animal whisperer.  She got up close to him and started to talk to him.

“Hey, little guy,” she crooned.  “Do you know you are going to get butchered?”  She didn’t seem sorry at all, and there was no pity or compassion or even regret in her voice.  She said something about it being her relative, but when I asked for clarification,  she changed the subject.

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“Come on, Charis-girlie.  We need to get this fellow up to the house and find a place to hang him.”

“Are you going to cut off his head?”

“I am, but I’m going to hang him first.  That’s the way my Daddy taught me.”

“Aren’t you going to lay him down and chop off his head?”  (There was entirely too much enthusiasm for carnage in this little person.  Maybe this wasn’t the best idea after all.)

“No, Charis, I’m going to hang it from the baler twine, then while it is hanging, I am going to go in and get some water started to scald him with.  While the water is heating, I will come back out and cut off his head.  But I don’t think you want to watch that part of it.”

“Yes, I do!”

“Well, we shall see.  But for right now, we need to find a place to hang it up.”  When we tore down the old shed, I lost my row of chicken hanging ropes.  I needed to fashion something to hang this chicken where it could bleed and flap about.  Charis and I checked out several possibilities while the chicken watched from his spot.

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I was feeling sorry for him about now, but my companion in crime was going full speed ahead.  “Why are we hanging him upside down, Grammy?  Why don’t you hang him on your onion rack?   Why are you doing that?  What are we going to do next?  Are you going to cut off his head with your knife?   Are you going to get your knife?  When are you going to get your knife?  Why do you need to get water?”  I answered questions and did my best to downplay any violence either intended or implied, but her thirst for gore was unabated.

I finally hooked the blue baler twine over the railing for the sliding door to the woodshed and secured the poor chicken into its restraint.  It was beyond much protest.

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But, wowser!  That fellow was really heavy.  Certain Man had said that he didn’t think I would have any trouble catching him because he was too fat to run too far, but for as heavy as he was, I thought he had run pretty fast!  Now, hanging him up, I wondered if my baler twine would hold him.  I didn’t think it would break, but it kept slipping down and the piece of wood that I had gotten to serve as an anchor wasn’t proving reliable.  I finally twisted and wrapped and wrapped again and decided that it would hold.  Charis wanted to touch him, but was worried.

“Do you think he will bite me, Grammy?”

“No, Charis.  I’m pretty sure he won’t.”

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And then we left him dangling in the evening sun, and we went into the house, started the water in a big kettle on a power burner, and sharpened my favorite butcher knife.  I tried to talk her into staying in the house with Auntie Beebs while I took the head off, but she insisted on accompanying me back outside.  The chicken was quiet.  I explained that hanging upside down like that made all the blood run to his head, and it kinda made him unconscious.  I told her that the knife was really, really sharp, and it only took a second to cut off his head.  I told her that her Mommy and Auntie Beebs and Auntie Rach and even the neighbor children and Grandpa didn’t watch while Grammy cut off a chicken’s head.  I told her that Grammy didn’t even watch while she cut it off.  She found the place on the neck that the knife needed to go and turned her head away so she wouldn’t have to watch.  I told her, again, that I didn’t want her to watch.  I told her that she had to stand back because the chicken would flop around up there on the rope and she could get blood on her.

“Okay, Grammy,” she said cheerfully.  “I’ll stand clear over her and I’ll do this.”  She backed about ten feet away and covered her face with her hands.  I checked to make sure she wasn’t peeking through her fingers.

“That’s good, Charis.  I think it’s better if you don’t watch.  I’ll tell you when you can look.”

“Okay, Grammy.”  Still cheerful, still not looking.

I grabbed the head of the big old rooster in my left hand.  He had a really thick neck.  I felt for an indention where I could put my knife, and put it there.  I turned my head while I made a quick, clean slash with my razor sharp knife, then dropped the head on to the grass.  And turned my head far enough to see two brown eyes peeking through conveniently spread fingers.

“Grammy!  I saw it!  I saw it!  I saw you cut it off!”  There didn’t appear to be any trauma connected with it, and I decided that I wasn’t going to make anything big of it.  In years gone by, many were the seven year old children who had to help with the family butchering, and seemed none the worse for it.

I gathered up my knife and said, “Come on, Girlie.  We need to go get the boiling water.”

“What are you going to do with the water?” She asked.

“We will put the chicken into it and scald it a little and then the feathers will come off.”  We procured the water, got it into a big pail, and came back out to where our now very dead chicken hung.  I dipped the chicken into the water and checked to see if the feathers were pluckable.  They were, and I hung it back up and started pulling feathers off in great quantities.  This seemed to bother Charis more than anything else.  She had donned latex gloves with the intent of helping, and I explained what she could do.

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She helped for a while and then, “Grammy, I didn’t know that I would have to do this.  I don’t like it.”

“It isn’t the most pleasant, but it is something that we need to do before we finish butchering it.  We have to get all the feathers off.  That’s first!”

“When are you going to take the guts out?”

“That will be next,” I told her.  “But first we need to get as many feathers as possible off.”

She manned the hose when I wanted the chicken rinsed off, and then we carried it over to the outside sink that her Grandpa had installed by the garden.  I scraped the skin and cut off the legs.  She watched in great interest as I made the first cut to loosen and remove the crop and windpipe.  She was unabashedly curious about every part that I removed.

“This windpipe feels like a tube!” she said as she fingered it.  And then, “Grammy is there any ‘chicken’ on the wings?”  I must have looked surprised, because she motioned towards the wings and asked again, “Is there any ‘chicken’ on the wings?”

I realized then that she meant “meat” and I said, “Oh, yes, there is.  You know, when Daddy goes to get hot wings, that’s what he’s eating.  Chicken wings!  Lots of people really like them.”

She looked thoughtful.  Then puzzled.  “Grammy,” she said, “do buffalo have wings?”

I had to laugh.  “No, Charis, buffalo do not have wings.  When the wings are called ‘buffalo wings’ it is talking about a certain spice that they put on chicken wings.  It’s still chicken wings, but it’s called by the name of the spices that are used.”

“Oh,” she said.

By then I had made a cut into the abdomen to draw out the innards from the bottom.  (I seldom cut up a chicken into pieces because I mostly use them to cook whole for soup or to stuff and roast whole or to soak in Tenderquick to put a different taste-twist on it.)  It was here that I expected some gagging or some serious revulsion and a hasty departure.  There was nothing of the kind.  The gizzard, the heart, the liver, the lungs, the intestines and even the gonads were duly noted, examined and discussed. And when all was cleaned up, a little girlie carried the heart, the liver and the gizzard to the house while Grammy carried the big old bird.  Inside, we put him into a big container and Charis added a cup of salt.  We filled the container with water until the chicken was covered, added ice, snapped on the lid and left it for the night.  I got a little pan and fresh cooked up the giblets.  Charis wasn’t much interested in partaking of any of them, so Grammy got the liver and Grandpa gladly speared the heart and gizzard for himself.

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Then her Daddy and Mommy came and fetched her home, and her Mommy reported that she slept almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.  Another “Grammy Night” was history.

After the chicken had spent the night in salt water, I took it out and put it into a big Ziplock bag to take to the fridge in the garage. On the way out the door, I stopped at the scales in the laundry room and plopped it on.  A full 8 pounds, all dressed.  He was big!

Then I cooked him up and today I made him into a big pot of chicken corn noodle soup with a generous portion of Delaware lima beans in it.  It made over two gallons.

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That’s enough to give away, share with friends and feed my family (who just might be getting tired of Chicken Corn Noodle Soup!) for a few days.

And that’s the news from Shady Acres, where Certain Man is always glad to let the butchering of chickens up to his wife, where none of The Offspringin’s are interested in learning this particular skill, and where Only Granddaughter has some stories to tell about her latest Grammy night.

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Thoughts on this October day

I turned 60 today.

I don’t quite know how I got this old this quickly.  I don’t understand how this person who feels like myself is trapped in this body that the calendar says is 60.  I’ve never minded the passing of years, to be honest with you.  But maybe I just never took time to think about the sand in the hourglass and how it would, some day, run out.  I look at the years that lie behind me and realize, with the proverbial jolt, that the years ahead are far, far less than all those happy years that I’ve already lived.

Today has been such a happy day.  Each one of my siblings wished me a happy birthday.  My far away Oldest Brother and Middle Brother called, as did Youngest Brother.  I saw Youngest Sister at Sweet Mama’s this morning and talked to Middle Sister on the phone this afternoon.  And all the offspringin’s and the ones they love have called or texted or visited.  I have a little grandson in Ohio who shares my birthday, and I even talked to him on the phone tonight.  It has been a glorious day.

I’ve done some thinking this week about many things.  It’s been a season of missing my Daddy rather intensely.  I cannot always say why things sit heavy on our hearts at particular times, but it seems to me, after what is now the eighth summer without him, that the one thing that triggers it for me is putting the garden to rest for the season.  Certain Man has been taking down “them thar tomato thingies” and mowing off the spent vegetable plants.  I gathered the peppers and green tomatoes last week and made hot dog relish.  The few ripe tomatoes got put into a few last quarts of juice.

But the pole limas are still standing.  Yesterday, I picked what I am pretty certain is my last big picking from the twenty three plants that made it through this summer.  They have done exceptionally well this year.  When I finished the last bags for the freezer last night, I realized that I have seventy 3-cup bags in the freezer from this summer.  I’ve done them along, four bags here, six bags there, and a time or two there has been ten.  Wonderfully tender, vibrant green, and so, so good.  I am so grateful for the way the bags have added up this summer.

It is the eighth summer without our Dad.  When Daddy died in December of 2005, there were so many things that were the essence of him that we knew we could never replicate, never replace.  The man he was, and his influence on our lives.  His prayers.  His vibrant interest in each of us, and his steady encouragement.  We really can do nothing to fill in these spaces that were left when God called him home to Heaven.

But there were other things that we could do.  I could grow lima beans.  At least I thought I could.  I honestly didn’t know very much about it, seriously had no idea how much WORK was involved, but decided that it would be one way that I could maybe feel close to this man who was so HUGE in my life and was suddenly so gone.  Maybe I was somehow trying to capture a tangible part of Mark Yoder, Sr., and make it my own.  Certain Man was more than willing for me to try, and in the summer of 2006, at my request, he built the pole, wire and twine lattices for two rows of beans.  He asked for advice and got healthy plants from the experts.  He did the planting and the weeding and slowly the plants grew and blossomed and began growing beans.

I was impatient for beans.  The first ones I picked made barely a cup in the smallest pan I had.  They were so good, and Certain Man and I shared them, delighted with the first fruits of our labor.  Then I checked and rechecked and finally decided that I could actually do a real picking.  I think I got a basket.  They were little and piddly and wonderful flavor, but clearly not ready.  I’ve thought so much about that summer as I’ve picked big, full pods of limas off of my plants this year.  The truth was, when I barely got anything in those first pickings, I grew more and more discouraged.  My grief was so deep and terrible, and when I was in the bean patch, I missed Daddy with an ache that often had me wiping tears on my sleeves as I searched for the beans.  I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I had to feel each bean to see if it was ready, and the task seemed interminable.  I found myself more and more just staying out of the patch, not thinking about the passing of the days.

And then we had a hard, killing frost.  The leaves on the bean vines shriveled and died and the pods that I had never picked hung brown on the vines.  It looked like thousands of pods; good, good lima beans that had gone to waste.  I hated the sight so much.  Certain Man finally took them down, put the garden to rest, and I didn’t have to look at them anymore.  I didn’t know if I could even try to raise limas again.

Certain Man is not a man who allows me to wallow.  He understands grief.  He’s certainly had his share, and honest emotions are treated with gentle kindness.  But he dislikes moping almost as much as he likes lima beans.  And he had built those really good supports and I’m not sure he even asked me the next year if I wanted to have pole limas or not.  Had he asked, though, I probably would have said “yes.”  Spring always does that to me, and there is a hope and a deep belief that this year things will go better than they ever have, that the garden will stay weed-free, that there will be not produce left go to waste, and that no one will resent anything that might grow there.  Anyhow, Certain Man planted limas again in the summer of 2007 and things went a whole lot better.

Each year I think I’ve gotten more comfortable with our patch of beans.  I often think of Daddy while I’m out there picking, but I seldom need my sleeve for more than wiping sweat off my face.  The memories are warm and good and they often make me smile when I remember the man who probably picked thousands of bushels of lima beans in his time.  I remember his eyes and the laugh lines around them.  I remember the way he would sit on his chair and shell beans with drive and attention.  I think about how he liked to get a pan for the grandchildren and rope them into helping.  I remember his delight in a pot of lima beans, made by Sweet Mama, exactly the way he liked them, and the way he could put them away at a meal.

There are life lessons here, I know, and over the summer, there have been many life applications for this old gal that came from the bean patch.  But on this night, of the milestone birthday and realizing that Dad only had 16 years left when he was my age, and thinking about being faithful in small things and leaving memories behind us, and how, no matter how much people may want us to stay and think they need us, we don’t really have a choice as to when God calls us home– all these things somehow feel like they really have to do with the lessons I’ve learned in two rows of pole limas in a small garden patch on a Delaware Poultry farm.

Common, ordinary days that are touched with Heaven.

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