Where Your Treasure Is- Lessons From a Mermaid

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Matthew 6:21

When I was a little girl, I was given a garnet ring for my birthday.  Garnet was my birthstone, and I loved its fiery scarlet hue and the way it sparkled in the sun. I wore the ring every day, never taking it off.  That is, hardly ever. 

During the summer following my birthday, I went swimming with my family at a small nearby lake.  My sisters and I pretended we were mermaids, searching the lake bed for hidden jewels. I never swam with my eyes closed- I loved the way rays of sun shone through the water’s silt and glinted on objects lying in the sand.   At the ocean, we filled empty soda cans with sand and threw them into the deep, diving after them in a contest to see who would be the first to recover them.  In the calm of the lake, we did not have to contend with the tide, so we tossed smaller objects in order to make the search more challenging.

Toward the end of the day, my sisters tired of the game, and went to shore in search of treasures of the edible persuasion, leaving me alone in the darkening lake water.  I tossed a small white stone a few feet away and pretending it was a rare opalescent pearl, ducked to the bottom to find it.  Lost in my fantasy, I dolphin-kicked my way to the deep, searching the sand until my lungs burned for air.  Each time, I found the stone and each time, my swagger grew greater.  I  imagined that perhaps I was a real mermaid who could find any treasure in my magic lagoon.  But the rays of the sinking sun were weakening, and the pebble looked less and less like a treasure and more and more like a plain old river rock.  I needed something more beautiful- something that would catch the light and glitter like a real jewel.   In a moment of foolish daring, I slipped the garnet ring off my finger and dropped it in the water close to my feet.  I plunged into the water to retrieve it but after searching the sandy bottom until I was out of breath, came up empty-handed.  Again and again I searched, but my ring was not to be found.  Realizing I had made a terrible mistake, I began to cry.  After tearfully explaining to my father that I lost my precious garnet, I nervously watched from the shore while he trolled the lake bed like a submerged submarine.  For several minutes he searched for the ring, but it was hopelessly lost, and I cried most of the trip home, sick over the loss of my most prized posession.  I never replaced the ring, although I still love the warm claret color of a garnet.

That day taught me several life lessons.  I learned I was not, nor ever would be a real mermaid.  I learned to not allow confidence to overshadow discrimination.  But mostly I learned to hold on to the things I love.

Now that I am no longer a child, I have come to realize that the real jewels of my life are the people in my path, who work by my side, who live in my heart.  Like a faceted russet stone that glitters in the sun, they reflect light, bouncing rainbows across the room, adding dimension and beauty to my life. 

I thought of this while I was talking to my youngest daughter this week.  As mothers and daughters do, we sometimes struggle to agree, and in my frustration, I was tempted to speak harshly and sarcastically.  But she is my garnet ring, a precious gem of scarlet and gold and I realized to speak unkindly to her is to toss her into the deep, trusting that I can find her again later.  What if I were to lose her? What if I were to dive deep, swim until my lungs scream, search the sandy lake bottom, and come up sputtering, unable to find her gleaming in the light? 

Thankful for the reminder, I bit my tongue and choose my words carefully.  Words of love, laced with kindness.  Words that are warm and full of light. Words that hold her close and tell her that she is my treasure.  Because she is.  And where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

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Bringing Mom Home

Last Friday, I took the day off from work.  It was a beautiful spring day with brilliant sunlight peeking through new leaves and cheery forsythia branches nodding in the cool breeze.  Just the kind of weather that makes you glad you’re alive and living in New England.  But my heart was heavy.  My job for the day was to take my mother home.

When Mom passed away in December, the weather was cold and snowy.   We had her cremated with the intention of burying her ashes next to my father’s when spring came.  This was to be the weekend, and I had volunteered to pick up her ashes from the funeral home.

While driving from Concord to Northwood, I noted how ironic it is that I was taking her home in the car she had given to me shortly before she died. She loved that car, and the independence it afforded her, and in November, when passing the keys to me, her eyes acknowledged the sad realization she would not drive again.   I drove slowly, but when I turned a corner, the urn fell over on the seat next to me.  I reached over to right it and found that I couldn’t let go.  Silent tears splashed on the steering wheel, while I cradled the urn for the remainder of the drive. 

For the past twenty-seven years my mother lived in an old farm house with my sister Martha-Jean, her husband Robert and their ten children.  I remember the day they found the house and how my mother loved the magnolia tree by the front door.  Now the tree was in full bloom- just beginning to shed its pale pink blossoms. They fell upon on the ramp to the entry, as if a carpet set out for her return.  In the back field my nephew mowed the small cemetery where my father and two nephews lie at rest.  I cringed at the idea of covering my mother’s remains in a dark grave. She was sunlight and smiles, full of laughter and loving touches.  I could not imagine her covered beneath the earth.

I stood outside for a moment, watching the emerald grass wave in the breeze. Usually at this time of year, my mother would be in the yard, planting her garden. She loved to garden.  When I was a teenager, she transformed our dusty back yard to a jungle of peas, beans and tomatoes.  When she moved to Northwood, she and my sister planted rows upon rows of vegetables.  Her gardens grew like her children- robust and abundant, and there was nothing she liked better than to get down on her hands and knees and play in the dirt.

“Play in the dirt.” I almost said it aloud.

Burying Mom’s ashes was not hiding her from the light. It was laying her in the earth she loved so much.  The warm earth that transformed a few seeds to a bountiful harvest.  The rocky earth that fed her children, and their children.  The earth of her home.  This was where she belonged.

So the next morning, surrounded by my siblings and our children, I tenderly placed my mother’s ashes next to my father’s in the rich New Hampshire soil that she loved so well.  Together we covered the grave. Together, we wiped each other’s tears.  Together, we kissed each other’s cheeks.  And together, we brought Mom home. 

Talent, Texting and the TV

On Wednesday nights, my brother Eric and I often watch American Idol together.  It does not matter that he lives in western Massachusetts and I live in New Hampshire.  We watch from our own living rooms and send text messages to each other, opining about the singers’ range, timbre and choice of song.  We spend the evening punching cell phone buttons in rapid repartee, chiding each other about our appraisals, our preferences, and our obvious lack of expertise.  The cell texting is a relatively new activity.  The teasing is not.  It is our way of communicating.  We cannot help it.  We were born under a star of biting sarcasm. 

Sarcasm and talent shows seem to go together, and I am a stranger to neither.  As a child, I watched Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour in fascination of the marginally talented trying to claim their fifteen minutes of fame.  My sister Robin and I would giggle until we cried, as we watched sequined tap dancers and baton twirlers vie for the gold pot at the end of the Geritol rainbow.   On Sunday mornings, we kids watched the local version of this program, Community Auditions, which pitted barrel bellied baritones against six-year-old acrobatic dancers who bent their stick figure bodies like paper clips.   We sang along with the opening jingle, shoving each other for a better view of the black and white screen.

“Star of the day, who will it be? 

Your vote may hold the key.

It’s up to you. Tell us who

Will be star of the day.”

Amateur Hour and Community Auditions faded, making way for a different breed of talent show, often with celebrity judges.  The first of these was The Gong Show, a program that truly showcased the crème de la crème of America’s untalented.  Star Search dominated the eighties and nineties, and then the new millennium spawned a whole generation of reality shows-American Idol, America’s Got Talent, America’s Top Model and other forms of American genius. 

I fully confess that I am a talent show junkie, although I’m not sure if it is because I recognize potential stardom or that I am drawn by the same magnetism that pulls my eyes to the scene of a train wreck.  I would love to say it is the former, but my moral fiber and Catholic back ground compel me to admit it is often the latter.  I do know that talent shows have been the springboard for many hours of family laughter.

The summer Gabriel was born, I lived with my sister Martha-Jean.  She had adopted a newborn baby-Ryan, only a few weeks before Gabriel joined the family.  We spent a summer meeting in the living room for three AM feedings, making the hour more palatable by watching reruns of Community Auditions on television.   Soon the babies would be sound asleep, their bellies fat, their burps coaxed out by rhythmic pats, while Martha-Jean and I drank coffee and snickered at Irish step dancers and trained poodles wearing pink tutus and clown hats.   No doubt, Gabriel’s aptitude for razor-sharp sarcasm was formed during those early morning trysts, and I will forever cherish the memories of those sleepy hours in front of the TV with my sister and our babies. 

There are no more mid night rendezvous for me.  If I waken at three AM, I roll over and go back to sleep, grateful for two more hours before my alarm beckons me from the Land of Nod.  Ted Mack is no longer living.  The host of Community Auditions is now the spokesman for an assisted living community.  No longer do I share a home with my siblings.  But sarcasm abounds and so do television talent auditions.  At eight o’clock on Wednesday evening, I’ll be watching American Idol.  Text me.

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