Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Places No One Sees

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When brokenness is hidden…

For a couple of years now, a tiny, red glass Christmas ornament has been hanging in one of the spruces outside my immediate work area.  I’ve watched it for the longest time, as seasons have changed,  rain and snow have come, followed by warm sunshine and then summer storms and buffeting winds, all roiling around the tree and the little ornament.  I have always wondered who put it there, and marveled that no one ever removed it.

For a long time the little red ball was shiny and new-looking.  And even now, if I look at it from the right angle, it still shines and appears to be intact.  Beautiful and whole.

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If I turn to the other side, however, the true state of the little red ball becomes obvious.  The shiny surface is showing signs of age and wear, and a huge piece of it is missing.  It’s broken.

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A few months ago at church, it was the Sunday for healing rites, a time during the service when those who wish can have the pastor anoint them with balm and offer a prayer and blessing for healing.  I partake of this rite whenever I have the opportunity to do so. This particular Sunday it occurred to me that someone looking on might wonder why I would do this.  I am not obviously sick, disabled or visibly infirm.

The fact is, I am always in need of healing, of blessing.  Always in need of the loving touch of God’s hand.  Broken in places no one sees.

If we are honest with ourselves, most of us are broken in one way or another.  Some brokenness is obvious.  Drug problems, illnesses, disabilities that limit our quality of life are all around us, and often they are pretty easy to spot.  Other kinds of brokenness don’t show themselves so readily.  Often people appear to be perfectly fine, perfectly whole, on the outside.  But very few of us actually are whole.

If we take the time to look at each other from a different angle, we might detect brokenness…or we might not.  Most of us become experts at hiding it.  I certainly don’t want everybody knowing all about my broken places.  They make me vulnerable, and being vulnerable opens me up to the possibility of becoming still more broken.

There are broken people, walking wounded, everywhere I go.  I pray that my own brokenness makes me more sensitive to the broken places in other people…the places an x-ray can’t reveal.  The places no one sees.

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Blue Hydrangeas and Youth Dew

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Memories of Mom Cutshaw on her birthday…

My mother-in-law, Mary Lynn Clark Cutshaw, was born on April 14, 1923, and like Pop Cutshaw, would be turning 91 on her birthday.  It seems impossible that she would be that age if she were still with us, and it seems impossible that she and Pop have been gone as long as they have.  They died less than 11 months apart, with Pop leading the way in July of 2000.  I know there must have been a reason for the timing of their respective deaths, but it was a hard thing just the same.

I don’t want to think so much about Mom C’s dying as her living.  She was one of the toughest, strongest, most determined women I ever had the good fortune to know.  She intimidated me for the longest time.  I felt like an interloper; I was stealing her baby boy, after all.  I was marrying the little brown-haired-brown-eyed child she loved so very much.

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When Jeff and I got married, she said that she only wanted one thing as far as our ceremony was concerned, and that was for Jeff and me to sing a song.  I knew I would be too preoccupied to sing well on the actual wedding day, so we arranged to pre-record a duet the night of the rehearsal. I adapted the words of The Lord’s Prayer to fit the Bach-Gounod “Ave Maria” music, and Jeff and I recorded it between the rehearsal and dinner.  It was a wonderful gift to be able to honor her request and she was pleased with the result.

Once we were back from our honeymoon, she came up to our little rental house one day and helped me get things set up, including literally taking a knife and helping to scrape who-knows-how-many years of muck out of the oven!  She measured windows and made some of our curtains.  Less than a year later, when we were moving to Florida, she and Pop packed themselves up and made the move with us, spending the weekend (along with Jeff’s sister Bridget and her husband Michael, who lived in New Orleans and came over to meet up, share family time and help unpack) getting us bare-bones settled in.  I remember Mom C looking at all the canned food I had stockpiled to move down with us and telling me she was glad my Mama had taught me how to shop!  She had been worried that we would be moving down with no groceries of any kind to get us started.

Mom Cutshaw was a wonderful cook who made legendary pies yet somehow often scorched the green beans or burned the rolls.  It seemed like there was nothing she couldn’t do.  She knew how to sew and keep finances in order.  She was an Opti-Mrs. (the lady counterpart to The Optimist Club) and took care of children during Sunday school.  And she did more for Pop after he began suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, for a longer period of time, than was humanly possible, keeping him at home up until just the last couple of months before he died.

During this time, she gradually lost some weight, which was to be expected given the physical and emotional demands of being a 24/7 caregiver.  I don’t guess anybody really thought much about it, hoping that once things settled down, she could rest up and regain some of her physical strength.  As it turned out, just months after Pop’s death, we learned that she was experiencing a recurrence of the cancer that had shown up in her colon in 1997, this time in her liver.  Treatment was unsuccessful and she was placed on palliative care at home.  I remember asking her if she was scared, and she said she wasn’t afraid of dying, but she didn’t want to suffer.

She faced her battle bravely, just as she had faced everything else in her life.  She died in the wee hours of the morning on June 18, 2001.  The house was full of all her kids, 2 of the 3 kids-in-law and 2 of the 3 grandchildren.  I feel sure that she knew we were there, and I hope that it comforted her.

She has come to me many times in dreams.  The most vivid and telling one happened more than once.  The estate was in the process of being settled and their house was on the market for a while before it finally sold.  In my dream she kept quoting me a very specific number saying, “____ thousand and the house is sold.”  The number was low for a house and it didn’t make sense.  As it turned out, though, once the house sold and the proceeds were divided among the 3 children, the figure that came to each sibling was the number she had quoted to me in the dreams.  She knew and she shared it with me.  It still gives me chills to think about it.

She wore Estee’ Lauder’s Youth Dew, and to this day when I catch a whiff of it, I remember her… and smile.  She also grew lots of beautiful flowers.  Her blue hydrangeas were the prettiest I’ve ever seen.  I have a few dried ones in the china cabinet that came to us after she died.  Every time I see them I remember her…her strength, her beauty and youthful spirit, her courage in the face of adversity and her love expressed in meals cooked and clothing sewed, dream visits and oven-scraping with a new daughter-in-law.

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Pearls Of Great Price

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There are many kinds of value…

I love jewelry.  I have loved it since I was a little girl.  My earliest memory of wearing a piece of jewelry is the time Mama put a little heart necklace on me when she got me all gussied up in a dress no doubt made by Aunt Ruby for some Pixie Pin-Ups pictures.

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Ever since then I’ve been hooked on all kinds of jewelry.  Gold, silver, (rose gold is a real favorite!), with gemstones or not, rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces are all fair game for me.  From the daintiest studs to enormous earrings, as fashions have changed over the years, I have experimented with different jewelry styles.  But there are some items that are classic, timeless, always right, always appropriate and always ladylike.  Like pearls.

As far as I know, Mama never owned a strand of genuine pearls, but she had good pearl earrings that I borrowed for dressy occasions until I received some pearl earrings of my very own.  For Christmas 1991, my sweet husband gave me a beautiful, luminous 18 inch “princess” length strand of pearls.  I was thrilled!  To this day I think they are the prettiest pearls I’ve ever seen.  I wear them for dressy occasions and, because pearls are part of my chorus’s concert attire, I wear them for concerts as well.

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And sometimes I wear them with casual clothes just because they are beautiful and I love them.  However I wear them, I take good care of them because natural and cultured pearl jewelry is expensive and I want them to stay as beautiful as they always have been. Someday I’ll be gone and someone will inherit my pearls along with my other belongings.  I hope that someone will receive as much pleasure from wearing them as I receive.

The most recent addition to my pearl collection is not of the expensive sort…but its value is beyond measure.  When Aunt Ruby died last August, my cousin Alan had the family gather at his house after the graveside service.  He mentioned that he had her old sewing machine out in his garage and asked if I wanted to poke around in the drawers.  I asked if everybody else had been through them and he said, “Yes, there’s not much of anything in there.”  So I had the chance to gather a few little treasures from Aunt Ruby’s sewing machine.  I took home a couple of little boxes not knowing what all they contained until I sat down for an afternoon of “pilfering” (what Mama used to call it when we went digging/rummaging/hunting for something).  In a tiny old-fashioned medicine bottle were a few random fasteners, the snap kind that Aunt Ruby put on housecoats, as well as a couple of sewing machine needles, the kind that served double duty as ear-piercing instruments.  And there was one small plastic “pearl” button.  It wouldn’t surprise me if she had used the other buttons like that on one of the many little-girl dresses she made for me.

What a treasure!  And I knew just how to use that solitary little button.  It now lives on the gold pin that holds my Confidence Charms, the talismans I wear for every important event in my life. It has found a perfect home there.

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Just a little plastic pearl button, not what could be considered valuable…but it’s priceless.

The Song Of My People

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My kind of Southern…

A Facebook quiz recently asked, “How Southern Are You?”, and several friends of mine had taken the quiz and shared their results.  I was curious about the questions and what my percentage might be, so I took the quiz.  I had done 19 of the 36 things listed, giving me a paltry 53% Southern score.  I was disappointed until I realized how limited the quiz was in its scope.

This whole thing started me thinking about what “Southern” really means, realizing that it varies by state, region and individual.  My reflections on Southern-ness are unique to me even though many other people will have shared the same experiences.  So, if I may wax rhapsodic for a few minutes, I would like to share a bit of what being Southern means to me.

 

 

The song of my people

is dinner on the grounds and

breakfast for supper

 

front porch swings and rocking chairs

and the squeak of Granny’s old aluminum

glider

always moving

never going

anywhere

 

aprons dusted with biscuit flour and

women like Southern tea

sweet and strong

 

white-glove gentility and

hard-nosed grit

 

I can talk about my family

any way I like

but you

you best not

 

cast iron skillet and mason jar

vessels of promise

 

fifth Sunday hymn service

and shouts from the Amen corner

the song of my people

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