Storms of Summer

godspellWhen I was in college, I made a trip home to help my parents celebrate their wedding anniversary.  To mark the occasion, the whole family had tickets to see “Godspell” at a local dinner theater.  As the ten of us gathered around a large table, a stranger who was seated nearby struck up a conversation with my father, and noted the unusually large size of our group.  My father explained that all eight of the kids were his children, and that he and my mother were celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary. The man stood, raised his glass and roared, “Twenty-five years and eight kids!  God bless ya!”

It was one of those unforgettable evenings when everything was right in our little world.  My parents were beaming, the food was delicious and the performance was magnificent.  Even my youngest siblings behaved.

I thought about that evening this morning as I readied myself for the day.  I often listen to my IPod while I put on my makeup. The IPod was my mother’s and although it’s been months since she died, I haven’t gotten around to updating the music.  Today, I put in the earbuds and scrolled through music library, stopping at “Godspell.”  It had been years since I’ve listened to the songs from the musical, but hearing the melody was like running into a familiar old friend.

We plow the fields and scatter the good seed o’er the land

But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand.

He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain

The seed time and the harvest, and soft refreshing rain.

All Good gifts around us are sent from Heaven above

So thank the Lord, yes, thank the Lord for all His love…”

“Thank the Lord for all His love.”  I guess I hadn’t done that in a while.  So often my prayers are full of requests- wisdom, guidance, solutions to problems.  I forget sometimes that a large part of prayer is thanking.

It’s been a rough summer, fraught with numberous challenges- physical, financial and emotional.  As I’ve done for the past thirty-five years, I’ve prayed my way through the storms, asking God for solutions.  And as always, we’ve come through the other side intact, but I feel battered and bruised.  Tears lurk just behind my eyes, and although I stay busy and engaged, my heart yearns to run to a place where I can find solace.  And summer-my time for regeneration, for laughter in the sun, for dancing in the waves and celebrating life- has let me down.

I spent this week on vacation, and as I often do, spent time on the beach.  From my beach3faded canvas chair, I sat alone and  watched the waves swell and crash, turning from gray to green to frothy white.  The seascape never remains the same. The barren landscape, carved by the relentless sea, never remains the same.  I watched as an abandoned sandcastle crumble when hit by the pounding surf, and a lump caught in my throat.  My sandcastle.  Gone in an instant because of some unexpected wave.

“Why can’t life just stay still?  Why do moments of joy so quickly dissolve into faded photographs and hazy memories?”   My cries were drowned by the calling of a gull and the crashing of the sea, and I wondered if my questions would forever go unanswered.

But, as always, the answers came.  Life must change.  I know what would happen if the sea suddenly ceased to rise and fall.  Stagnant waters would become diseased. Plants and animals would become sick and die.  The movement of the seas, the changing of the landscape, and the tides of our lives must continue.

Slowly, I have come bsuitedto realize that summer did not let me down. Summer changed me.  Those sand castles I had built were not ever meant to stay.  And the storms of this summer?  Like the movement of the sea, they were to cleanse me, to move me, to keep me alive.

So today, a crisp September morning, I can say again that all gifts from God are good gifts, and the storms of summer are no exception.

“So thank the Lord, yes, thank the Lord…for all His love.”

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Goodbye to Summer

Autumn officially begins next week, but for me, it started yesterday, when the temperatures fell and I needed a sweater to stay warm throughout the day.  Although I’ve spent fall in other parts of the country, nothing matches the beauty of New England, when the apples ripen and verdant trees turn russet and gold.  This happens quickly.  In September, tree tops show splashes of color here and there, but within a few weeks, the hills become a patchwork quilt of saffron, copper and crimson.  The fragrant breezes of summer are replaced by October’s chill spiced by the faint scent of rotting leaves and wood smoke.  Lazy afternoons on the beach are replaced by planting mums and replacing worn weather stripping.

As a child, I loved fall’s crisp blue skies and brilliant sunlight.  It was a time to pull on woolen skirts and knee socks, to fold away shorts and swim suits, and stow bicycles and lawn chairs.  My sisters and I conspired about Halloween, planning elaborate costumes and Trick-or-Treat pranks.  School was in full swing, and we scuffed through the fallen maple leaves by the church steps on the way home from the bus stop, our arms laden with earmarked books and notes we passed during math class.  In fall, crayons still had points, new shoes still shined and teachers hadn’t begun to yell when they got frustrated with noisy children.  Although the calendar year was beginning to wane, the reopening of school made it a time for new beginnings and fresh starts.

When I was a teenager, autumn evenings were often filled helping my mother can pickles, jam, and vegetables from our back yard garden.  We stood side by side in the kitchen, slicing and chopping, filling Ball jars, and bathing them in a bubbling pot of water.  It was the perfect setting for long talks about school, boys, our dreams, our faith.  From cook books I learned how to preserve food and stock pantry shelves, but from my mother, I learned to preserves relationships and stock one’s heart with love and laughter.

During the fall of 1982 I was newly pregnant with my daughter Abigail.  The honking of Canada geese as they flew across a nearby pond heralded a new era of my life.  As is the case with most first-trimester mothers, I experienced several weeks of morning sickness.  In October, my husband took a week’s vacation to replace the roof of our little house, and I would listen to the banging of his hammer while I fought the bile that rose in my throat.  At last the roof was completed, with the exception of the shingle caps for the peak.  As Paul climbed the ladder under the sinking sun, rain clouds gathered overhead.    When the last of the twilight sky turned to black, it began to shower.  Paul was desperately trying to hammer the caps in place, but was unable to see.  Ignoring my queasy stomach and the fact that heights made me dizzy, I shakily climbed the ladder and sat on the roof to hold the flashlight.  We straddled the roof, raindrops dripping down our necks, until the last of the cap was in place. I looked at my husband’s fingers, bandaged and bleeding from when the hammer missed its mark.  He flashed me a grin.  We had done it- the roof was complete- and our house would be a warm nest for our expected little one.  To this day, when the October skies turn gray and I hear the faint honking of Canada geese, I remember that happy day, when determination triumphed over circumstances, and love prevailed over fear.

Now, as summer pales and the nights leave heavy dew on the car windshield, I fight against feelings of loss and nostalgia that threaten to leave me unmotivated and despondent.  No longer do I have school or canning or a new baby to anticipate.  The coming of fall marks the end of summer.  It is time to haul my beach chair and umbrella to the attic, to scrub windows that will soon be latched against the cold New Hampshire winds, and to wash the cedar from wooly sweaters.  No more lazy Sunday afternoons drowsing on the beach.  No more humming of fans and tall glasses of lemonade.  No more long legged children who leave wet towels on the beds and unlaced sneakers on the floor. 

I sigh and shake my head- no pity parties for me.  There is applesauce to be made, and Christmas pajamas to sew.  The sky is a brilliant blue and puffy white clouds part to reveal a golden sun.  It’s time to say goodbye to summer and greet fall with open arms.

A Fan of the Fan

When I was a little girl, summers seemed longer and hotter.  Perhaps it was because I grew up in an era when window fans were scarce and air conditioning was practically unheard of.   On scorching summer days, my mother pulled the window shades to keep the house as cool and dark as possible, and when night fell, she put a small table top fan in my bedroom.  Its metal blades reminded me of airplane propellers and it hummed a hypnotic tune that lulled me to sleep on hot August nights.  I knew fans were dangerous, as my parents had warned me that the spinning blades could sever a small child’s fingers, leaving her without a finger to wear a diamond ring.  Still, I was intrigued, and more than once, cautiously poked the tip of my index finger just inside the metal grid as the blades slowed to a stop.  Fortunately for me, my finger was not long enough to reach the blades, but the thrill of taking the chance created chills along my spine, which cooled me more than the fan’s breezes.

Most of the shops in the middle of my home town had huge oscillating fans that stood on the floor and swept gentle breezes across the merchandise in lazy back and forth patterns.  There was a fresh produce store in the center of town and upon entering on hot Saturday mornings, I would inhale the pungent aroma of peaches and plums as my mother waved away fruit flies and piled grapes on a squeaking scale.

The meat market was similar, as was the bakery and the five-and-dime.  Some of the fans had small ribbons attached to the grids that fluttered in the breeze.   I watched them with delight until my mother took her change and handed me the paper bag.  We  walked from one store to the next, ducking under striped awnings to avoid the blazing sun, watching a haircut through the windows of Smitty’s barbershop, peering at dresses and hats on the mannequin in Nikki’s Shoppe, and as a rare treat, licking an ice cream cone from the soda fountain at Galas’ Drugstore.

The library was a mile walk from our house, and my siblings and I frequently trudged down Green Street and up Academy Hill to spend an afternoon within its cool granite walls.  Half way up the hill we would pause to look over the bridge that spanned the railroad tracks.  Along the edge of the tracks was a small spring that trickled water down the granite ledge and into the ferns and moss below.  Out of reach, it taunted our parched throats and dry tongues, and we yearned for just one swallow of its coolness.  After a short rest, we continued our trek until at last we reached the marble sink just inside the library entrance.  Standing on tiptoe, we guzzled water from the faucet and then spend hours browsing the aisles to choose an armful of books to carry home.  On rare and wonderful occasions, Mary Reed Newland presented story hours on the library lawn.  She was a wonderful artist and author, with a love for children and a flair for dramatic story-telling. We children gathered on the emerald grass to listen to her spin tales of adventure and fantasy.  She filled our heads filled with dreams and images while our sweaty bodies cooled in the shade of the maple trees.

The dog days of summer seemed endless, and so were our tactics to keep cool.  We swam in Wally Lunden’s pond.  We ran through rainbows created by the running garden hose and danced in the summer showers when the yellow skies turned gray and big drops splashed down on the parched pavement of the driveway. We slurped slushy popsicles that dripped sticky and purple down our arms.  We scratched tic-tac-toe in the dark soil beneath the shade of the catalpa tree in the side yard.  And at night, we rested our pillows on the window sill and read by the street lamp while soft breezes lifted the shades and slapped them against the screens.

These days I go from an air conditioned apartment to an air conditioned car to an air conditioned office.  And although I enjoy the cool dry air that the technology and Freon afford me, summer no longer is lazy and relaxed like when I was a kid.  I can’t help but wonder if our cool comfort has robbed us of the excuse to sit on the front porch with glass of lemonade, or to snooze in a hammock for an hour, or to stay up late and watch the heat lightening streak across the sky.  Gone is the slow, easy pace that came with the heat of summer.  I accomplish more these days.  I sleep in silent comfort with the windows closed and the central air running.   But sometimes – just for a moment- I long for blistering days when the cicadas sang to the sun god, and I took the time to notice that the baking heat was lifted for just a moment by the lilt of a breeze or the hum of a fan.

Emerald

When I was a little girl, my older sister Martha-Jean had an emerald birthstone ring.  I was terribly jealous, and whenever I got the chance, I would sneak it from her dresser to try on my own finger.  I loved to hold it very close to my eye and peer deeply into its faceted stone, as if the truths of time would be revealed within the shimmering green.  Then, knowing that I would never own it, I returned it to its hiding spot, hopeful that on another day, I might again borrow a short moment to enjoy its brilliance.

Today was an emerald kind of day.  I drove through the late May sunlight, enveloped by  new grass and spring leaves.  The foliage on each side of the road was shiny and lush, and the color of the world was as deep a green as the Emerald City.  I thought of how much I missed this verdant world when I lived in the Southwest.

In 1978, I was a VISTA volunteer in Boise, Idaho.  In the whirlwind of that summer, my husband and I drove across the country twice, and for a brief time, lived in Arizona.   I was awed by the Southwest, with its pink and yellow deserts.  The rock formations left me breathless, the sunsets more brilliant than I had ever seen.  But the sky blazed with unrelenting heat and the clay earth was dry, harsh, and unforgiving.  I missed the quiet coolness of a lawn beneath my bare feet, and I longed for the shade of the silver maple tree in my parent’s back yard. 

To me, summer was green.  It was delicate ferns that grew between the tree trunks in the woods behind Bridge Street.  It was long beans and elephant leaves that hung from the catalpa tree on the side yard.  It was coleus that spread like Victorian tapestries, and tall grass that tasted like childhood when you chewed the tender end of the stem.  It was the sweet aroma of hay on a hot August afternoon, and the tickle of long blades of grass as you searched by flashlight for night crawlers bathing in the evening dew. It was the smell of thunderstorms that ripped the sky open and wash the heat of the day down the gutters, leaving the world fresh and cool and green again.

As I drove this afternoon, I glanced at my daughter Abby, who was sitting next to me.  Her birthstone is also an emerald, which is as it should be, for she is new, and fresh, and full of life like the leaves on the trees that dapple the highway.  She brings renewal to the refugees with whom she works.  Like the shade of new leaves, she brings relief from the heat of war and the glare of persecution.  Her green eyes are deep emerald pools, like springs that are surrounded by carpets of moss.  She is the cool refreshment of promise and hope.

Alas, summer in New England is not long to enjoy. In a few short months, the green of summer in New England will fade and give way to the brilliance of autumn’s rusts, crimsons and golds.  Much the same way, my time with my daughter is too short. Abby’s life has its own path, and she will have to travel where it leads.  Like my sister’s ring, I must let go, for she is not mine to keep.  But for now, I will cling to the moments I have with her, where the world is fresh, lush and deeply, divinely emerald green.

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