Bare Walls

As I prepare to move, I am surrounded by boxes containing books, dishes and most of the odds and ends life holds.  Yesterday I watched as Kerrie and Sam took down and most creatively wrapped almost everything on the walls.  My role was to decide which art would go to my tiny new home and which into storage for an unspecified time..

Bare walls
once hung with
paintings, sketches
tapestries, now
reflect my glance
back to me;
doors once open
to other times
other places
now open only
in memory;
until I hang the art
on new, waiting
bare walls.

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An Ancient Trail of Tears

Once more the little country had been invaded by a military superpower.
The capital city had held out for 2 1/2 years, but the enemy had finally broken through. Homes, public buildings and places of worship had been looted and demolished. All was fire, famine and destruction. Now its soldiers were rounding up many of the citizens for a long trek, separating neighbor from neighbor, brother from brother, parent from child. The skilled, the educated, the able-bodied, had been selected, and with too little time to settle their affairs or make their farewells, were captive and on the march into exile. How, they wondered, could their way of life survive in a distant, foreign land?
The superpower’s government intended to harness the creative gifts and the skills of these artisans, soldiers and scholars for the betterment of its own country. This plan worked. But in a generation or two, another government opened the border and allowed those who wished it, to go back. Some did. More remained, having established families and businesses and now even speaking the language of their adopted country. They flourished. They became scientists, philosophers, scholars, doctors, merchants and bankers. Outstanding religious writings still looked to throughout the world were a product of their many generations in this place.
Yet, in our lifetime, 2500 years after that forced march, their descendants once again put together the few belongings they were allowed to take, and scattered all over the world. Leaving behind homes, businesses and investments, they found their way to China, India, Europe, Israel, and North and South America. This diaspora separated the members of many families, dispersing them wherever they could find welcome.
This was the Babylonian Captivity, when in 586 B.C.E., Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and its temple, taking back with him hundreds of its citizens. Their sojourn in Babylon ended upon the formation of the state of Israel, when Babylon, now Iraq, fearing their allegiance to the new state, saw to it that all but a few aged and unthreatening Jews went elsewhere speedily.
From the beginning of that long-ago journey came the first of many well- known writings: the 137th Psalm. “By the rivers of Babylon…”

Family Treasures

FAMILY TREASURES

When you hear the phrase “family treasures”, you may think of old, heavily embossed silver, or of Grandma’s gold and pearl earrings.  Maybe your first thought is of an ivory satin wedding gown, a set of damask napkins worn through at the fold, or a faded photograph of Great-Grandpa with handlebar mustache and funny, long-outdated clothes.
Whether any of these, or other such relics, lie carefully tended on a shelf, or in a trunk in the attic, we must not neglect the richest treasures of all.  They are our family stories.  These unique anecdotes, whether handed down the generations or recounting a funny or touching incident of yesterday, entertain us, to be sure, but they do more.  They reflect us and define us both in themselves and in our conscious or unconscious choice of what to remember and retell.
In my family, the tale is often told of Great-Grandma’s stern insistence that her husband enlist in the Confederate Army.  “But, Sarah,” he is reported to have said, “I don’t believe in secession”; to which she replied, “Now, Elijah, no man in my family ever refused to fight for his home!”  He went, and she ran their farm singlehanded for the duration of the war.    She, and by extension all the women of the family, are thus portrayed as stubborn and independent.  Many of us are just that!
And that we are not religiously observant the story of our own four-year-old daughter’s first day in Sunday school exemplifies: upon her return from that first session we asked her what she had learned.  She answered, “There is somebody up there who takes care of us, and I forget his name but I think it’s Bob.”  A generation later we still speak of Bob at times.
What we find funny, poignant, or valuable in some other way, is and should be preserved.  Unlike the earrings, the gown or the photograph, which incidentally carry stories themselves, we don’t do this by packing away in cotton, mothballs or acid-free paper.  We tell the stories, and tell them again, and they bind us securely to one another over space and through time.

Somewhere in Turkey

This trip was some 12 years ago.  All may have changed since; but this seemed appropriate for Christmas Day.

We go by the rickety little souvenir stand—nothing there to pause for except a few dusty postcards and a sorry figurine or two—and pass under one of the ancient arches of the church. Walls which once sheltered newly Christian worshippers now gape wide, admitting light, yes, but rain too, and weeds. Water lies inches deep over the faded mosaics on the floor. Dimly seen above us, a procession of saints circles a crumbling dome. The loving hands that painted it are themselves dust these many centuries. We approach a broken tomb, thinking of the fragile bones we had seen in the nearby museum. Tradition has it that they once lay in this tomb, and are the remains of the Bishop of this church.

He must be too busy to see to its maintenance: for this is Myra, and he was St. Nicholas.

The Grasshopper Stitcher

THE GRASSHOPPER STITCHER
In one of her novels, Jane Austen characterized a young woman as having a grasshopper mind. The minute I read that, I knew that she meant someone like me: someone who hops from interest to interest, from enthusiasm to enthusiasm, lighting on nothing long enough to become truly knowledgeable. This habit of mine made me well suited for the career of librarianship, because I knew a little about lots of things, enabling me to have a pretty good guess as to where to find more for the inquiring patron.
When it comes to stitchery, however, it was clear that I would never become an expert in any one type. I’ve been fairly consistent in a general interest, but definitely as a browser in this field.
I began as a ten-year-old, not with a sampler as I would have done a generation or two ago, but with dime-store tea towels and pillowcases printed with garden gates and cutie kittens. My mother had no needle skills, and other relatives were distant, so I was self-taught. In my teens I sewed a few (a very few) of my own clothes, and then I married and the kids came. I sewed more successfully for them, and took pride in creating, not buying, the Hallowe’en costumes for all four. Throughout my working life I did cross-stitching in the evenings from some of the many books I checked out of the libraries where I found myself. Occasionally I went to needlework shows, notably the annual one at Woodlawn, in Virginia; these both impressed me and depressed me. What beautiful things people can make, I would think; and then would come the thought, But I never could.
Still I always liked to have a “Project” under way, for busywork as I watched TV, or sat in a hotel room while on a trip. Some of these projects never reached completion–my grasshopper mind again! Or perhaps they did, in someone else’s hands. Did anyone out there discover, while looking for treasure in a thrift store, an unfinished panorama of the city of Jerusalem, or a cushion cover all over pink stylized tulips? The panorama went on and on, far beyond what my attention span would accommodate; I stopped work on it; it sat on the shelf reproaching me. I could not bring myself to discard it. That seemed disrespectful to the subject. I consigned it to a shop from which I hoped it would be adopted. The pink tulips became a bore to work on, and I thought they would be that to look at, too, so they met the same fate as the panorama.
Quilt-making by hand I always knew was too demanding, requiring patience and fortitude which I have not. I did manage a pillow front from my husband’s old ties, appliqued and embroidered but not actually quilted. Machine-appliqued crib quilts I have made, one for each grandchild, and these I designed myself, from folk patterns or story illustration.
Along the way, for grandchildren or for library storytime, I have made dolls, stuffed animals, puppets and flannelboards. Once I even made a doll for my mother. She had spoken so often of her grandmother who wore black and white print dresses every day, that I recreated Grandma, print dress, white lace cap and all.
At my present time of life, I have at last learned to select projects taking little time, with
almost instant satisfaction. Potholders and bookmarks are about my speed; but most fun are finger puppets. A box on my work table holds characters from Mother Goose and from the Bible. Easy to acquire materials, easy to make, easy to store. The grasshopper mind has finally alighted.  I think.

An Enchanted Evening

An Enchanted Evening

It was the fall of 1949. The college semester was well begun, and I was at a table in the University Commons with the usual group. The background music was from the then-popular musical, South Pacific.
The song was Some Enchanted Evening; I chanced to look up, and as the lyrics continued, I did “see a stranger, Across a crowded room”.
He saw me too, and “somehow we knew, we knew even then” that we would meet.
It was some weeks later, in fact, that we met, introduced by my then boyfriend. By Thanksgiving we were an item. He was from the Middle East and I was a dyed-in-the-wool Midwesterner; my parents weren’t thrilled that we were making future plans together. I was too young; they didn’t know his family, etc. He was meeting opposition from his distant family too, in that “Americans did not make good wives”, and anyway he was not to marry before his sister did.
We went blithely ahead, marrying the next summer. Happily both families became reconciled, no doubt partly because we produced four grandchildren for them. Now we have our own grandchildren, nine of them, and a great-grandchild.
We had just celebrated our 57th anniversary when he left this life. A poster for South Pacific graces the living room wall, and will always do so for all the memories it evokes.

If Only I Had Known

IF ONLY I HAD KNOWN

It was 1948, and I was a very young, very green college student. I was attending Indiana University, five blocks up Woodlawn Avenue, as it was too costly to go anywhere else. Mother and Dad, however, may have felt that some sort of experience away from home would be good for me; and if they felt that they would have been right. A more naive and unworldly eighteen-year-old would have been hard to find even then, and probably would be impossible now. Dad had acquired a brochure listing inexpensive student tours abroad, under the auspices of Columbia University. He and Mother selected for me a month-long stay in a small town in France, with a family who would travel a little with the participants and acquaint them with other families in various walks of life. I was to travel on an unconverted Marine troop ship, and this turned out to be a delight even in rough weather. There was a day of rolling and pitching when I was one of only two passengers on deck having fun.
On my arrival in France, the rendezvous with the two other American students and with our French hosts took place. Monsieur was a tall, imposing figure who was the pastor of a Protestant church; Madame his wife’s origins were Italian and Russian. They had several children, only one of whom, their daughter of about our age, was to spend time with us, We all piled into their aging Citroen and headed for the parsonage where we were to live for four weeks.
As described in the brochure, we partook of their family life; we met French doctors, farmers and shoemakers; we toured Roman ruins and VanGogh scenery; and we brushed up our French language skills. All in all, the experience lived well up to expectations.
Their names had of course been known to us from our first reading of the brochure. What we did not know, and I at least was not to learn for some years, was this: Andre Trocme was the pastor under whose guidance the entire village of Le Chambon had saved hundreds of Jews during the Nazi era. How recent a memory this must have been to them when we were there, but not a word did they say to us about their heroism.
Through the book by Philip Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed; and the Pierre Sauvage film Weapons of the Spirit, the world now knows the Trocmes. What a privilege it would have been to hear their story as they would have told it.