Saturday, May 27, 2006
Now we're talking!
My Spring Benediction
By Marlene Depler
It was almost the end of May, and it hadn't happened yet—that is my annual ritual of planting the flowerpots. My full schedule combined with a trip out of town prevented me from accomplishing this most important task as early as usual. I felt edgy and rather undone over the situation.
While there isn’t any law requiring flowerpots, and no one standing over me insisting that I plant them, I still don’t consider it optional. Something in me compels me to complete this yearly ceremony of inserting flowers into the rich soil of each of my white pots. So, just as May was about to slip away, I made a trip to the garden center for the necessary flowers.
* * * * * * * * *
I awake with great anticipation. This was the day—the day of flower planting. I eat quickly, grab my trowel and watering can, and head out the back door. On the patio, the pots were all lined up in a row expectantly waiting to be filled with living color.
Four of the pots are identical in size, shape, and color. Their artistic shape and proportion is that of a classic Greek urn. Never mind that they are made of plastic! The fifth pot is of white ceramic.
I gather all my flowers near and push a white wrought iron chair up next to the row of pots. I sit down, take a deep breathe of the fresh morning air, and let a hand full of potting soil sift through my fingers. Ah, yes! This is why I must plant!
Every year I choose almost the same flowers in the exact same colors. (I would prefer to think that this is because I am a woman who knows what I like, not that I am in a rut!) The geraniums MUST be pink, and the petunias, shades of purple and pink. To that, I add yellow marigolds, blue lobelia, white sweet alyssum, and pink and white impatiens. For texture and greenery, there must be spike and asparagus fern.
Since the spike is the tallest, it is planted first. Next comes the asparagus fern, followed by the pink geraniums. All the other flowers fill in around the edge. I carefully pull each small plant from its container, grasping the base of the plant with my left hand and loosening the pot with my right. The plants slide out one by one, and I gently tuck their fragile roots into the dark soil.
The roots of the marigolds are tightly bound in the tiny pots. They definitely need more space to grow. It occurs to me that it is the same with the human species, including me. And my mind wonders down a mental trail:
I’m often comfortable in a familiar pot, but if I stay in the same pot too long,
it thwarts my growth. I think of the times that I’ve been transplanted both by
force and by choice throughout life's transitions. Yes, I must be willing to be
transplanted if I want my roots to continue to flourish and grow. Why do I so
Repetitiously, I plant one pot after the next, stacking empty containers as I go. My mind freely enjoys the beautiful morning. The sun warms my skin, while a gentle breeze waltzes with the leaves of the lilacs and the variegated, red-twigged dogwood. The lilacs hang heavy like full clusters of grapes on the vine ready for harvest, and their sweet scent fills the air. Large puffs of white cotton dot the blue sky, occasionally and ever so briefly obscuring the sun.
A redheaded finch plays in the birdbath, while a squirrel scampers across the yard. A lawn mower hums, and ducks on the pond quack as ducklings are given swimming lessons. A random choir of birds chirps in cacophony rather than harmony, and the sound of a nearby hammer adds the percussion.
There, I'm finished. I fill the watering can and give the plants a drink. I admire my handiwork. I have a sense of how God must have felt on a much grander scale as he admired his creation. I place the pots in their assigned locations, pull a handful of weeds, and snip off the heads of a few faded tulips.
Unfortunately, there’s still much to do—weeds in the rose garden and a vegetable and herb garden to finish planting. All summer I will wage war with weeds, those uninvited guests—or perhaps I should call them intruders. Ahhhhh! But for the moment, none of that matters. The flowerpots are planted, and I smile with contentment.
Flowerpots are my spring benediction—my renewed affirmation of hope and belief in life and the growth process. Life will go on, and next year I will once again fill my flowerpots with pink geraniums.
(c) 1999 Marlene Depler
Sunday, May 14, 2006
A Mother's Day to Remember
By Marlene Depler
My husband kissed me good-bye at the gate. A few minutes later, the plane taxied down the runway, accelerating for take-off. The nose lifted. The plane soared skyward. I was going to Missouri to visit my grandmother. I settled back into my seat, closing my eyes. Soon memories of my childhood days at my grandparents washed over me like excerpts from a favorite book….
* * * *
I remembered hot, humid summer nights with chiggers, fireflies, and hide-and-go-seek with cousins. The calls of Bobwhites and Whippoorwills. Fishing holes, feeding chickens, and feeding my face with corn candy, grape soda pop, homemade ice cream, fresh blackberry cobbler, and dill pickles.
Grandma made the best dill pickles. I smiled as I thought of all the wrinkled, green pickles she had cut up over the years. She had always exercised such restraint as we walked through the kitchen snitching salty, sour spears from her dish. Never once did she scold us for our thievery. And somehow there where still enough pickles left to put on the dinner table.
* * * *
My plane landed, and I was greeted by my Uncle Bob. After retrieving my bag, we drove through the rolling hills towards Grandma’s place. We shared news of family and common friends interspersed with moments of silence. I looked out the window at the passing countryside. The landscape struck cords of familiarity. My history was rooted in this place. Even so, I realized this was no longer home.
My anticipation heightened as we turned down the dirt road that ran in front of Grandma's country home. In that moment, I felt exactly like I did as a child every time our car turned down this road. But then I wondered if I was prepared for my grandmother's physical condition. I hadn't seen her in several years. I wondered if she would be frail and reminded myself to be realistic. After all, she was 98 years old!
When we turned into the driveway, Grandma was not at the door, coming out to greet us, as had been customary in days gone by. Instead, I could see her sitting by the window. From there she could view the road, her rose garden, the weeping birch tree, the mail box, and the three-room, dilapidated house across the road—the house where she had raised her family.
We entered. Grandma’s eyes lit up and a smile crossed her wrinkled face.
"My, my, Marlene. I’m glad you could come," she said. "It’s so good to see you. Come on in."
I walked across the room and bent down to hug and kiss her. How warm, comfortable, and familiar it felt to be there with her!
"You can put your things in the front bedroom," she said as I stood back up.
After putting my suitcase in the bedroom, I came back in the living room and sat down in the chair across from her. Grandma asked about my husband and each of my children by name.
How did she keep track of all the great-grandchildren? I wondered.
From her ten grown children, she now had seventeen grandchildren, and a host of great-grandchildren. Her mental sharpness amazed me. I pulled out some recent photos of my children to show her.
As suppertime neared, I went to the kitchen to give Aunt Winnie a hand. Winnie tried to shoo me out, but I insisted that she could use a little help. She relented, and allowed me to set the table. We were all soon sitting down to fried ham and potatoes with green beans and coleslaw. Food here was always on the simple side, yet delicious.
"What would you like for Mother's Day dinner tomorrow?" my uncle asked Grandma.
Without hesitation, Grandma replied, "I would enjoy fried catfish, salad made from the fresh greens in the garden, and fried apples."
With no further discussion, the menu for the next day's dinner had been decided. We could easily meet her simple requests.
After we had eaten, I helped clear the table, and volunteered as dishwasher. I started running hot, soapy water when I noticed something small, round, and white on the shelf by the sink. I shut the water off and picked it up and smiled. It was the sand dollar I had given Grandma when I was about eight years old. She had kept it all these years!
When I was a child, my family lived on the Oregon coast for a few years. During that time, I had only found one perfect sand dollar—the one I had given Grandma. Now, here it was sitting on her shelf nearly thirty years later. No wonder, I always felt important to my grandmother.
After supper, we chatted a while before Grandma went to bed. It was the kind of conversation that would have bored anyone who wasn't family. Later that night as I crawled beneath the quilt on the twin bed, I felt such a sense of belonging, and yet my thoughts were of my little family back home. Somewhere in the midst of my prayers for them, I drifted off to sleep.
I awoke to the smell of bacon and biscuits. I opened my eyes. Then I remembered where I was. When I was a child, I loved to wake up at Grandma's house.
It was Sunday morning. Grandma was no longer able to go to the country church where she had attended for over a half century. We all decided to stay home with her on this Mother's Day. It felt a bit strange, since it had long been a part of my Sunday routine to attend church. However, for today, I knew it was the right choice.
After breakfast, I went for a walk. As I stepped outside, a single robin and the gentle warmth of a spring morning greeted me. I sauntered down the dirt road for a mile or so, then turned and started back. When I got near to the house, I turned to the opposite side of the road and walked toward the now abandoned house that for years had been brimming with family life. This is where Grandma and Grandpa had raised their family with no electricity and no running water. (Even after they got electricity, Grandma still insisted on cooking on her wood cook-stove.)
I remembered the hollyhocks that had bloomed by the front gate and hot summer evenings on the front porch, listening to the grown-ups talk of yesteryear. I thought of the old dog, Rex, who always joined us for hide-and-seek. I walked around to the back. The outhouse was now gone. I doubted that anyone missed it!
The deserted chicken house and the old barn were still standing. I remembered feeding chickens, gathering eggs, and playing in the hay. Old rusty, antiquated pieces of farm machinery were still sitting in the exact places they had been when I was a child.
I wandered into the old orchard where I thought, remembered, and prayed with a heart overflowing with gratitude. Several blackbirds in the old peach and apple trees joined with me to form a worship choir that Sunday morning.
Something compelled me to sing aloud a melody of praise, so I lifted my head toward the sky and sang:
In moments like these,
I sing out a song,
I sing out a love song
And so out of character for me, I lifted my hands to the heavens as I sang. I found my own sanctuary in the orchard of gnarled trees that May morning. I was reminded that worship of God is not confined to buildings made of stone and wood. Refreshed both in body and spirit, I headed back across the road.
Grandma was dressed and sitting in her chair by the window. Her hands were folded in her lap, holding a flowered handkerchief. The index finger on her left hand was missing. A long time ago she had told me how she lost it. Now I couldn't remember what had happened.
Grandma wore a navy blue dress. I had never seen my grandma in anything but a dress all the years I had known her. My eyes rested on her face and hair.
For most of her life, she had worn her long hair pulled up in a bun. When I was young, she would sit patiently while I brushed it and pretended to style it. I loved running my fingers through her salt and pepper hair while we talked. Now her hair was short and "permed"—still not totally gray.
"You've been out for a walk, have you?" she said. "Nice morning."
I knew how much she missed being able to go outside to putter in the garden or inspect the freshest flower blooms. Yet she did not complain.
I sat down across from her, and we conversed about things past and present. She recited a poem that she had learned when she was a girl.
How could she remember something from so long ago? I asked myself.
“Shall we sing?” Grandma asked.
Then she began singing one of her favorite hymns, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." I joined in singing the alto. The harmony shared between us was more in heart and spirit than in sound, but neither one of us cared.
Soon I smelled the catfish frying, mixed with the scent of apples, sugar, and cinnamon caramelizing in butter. I went to the kitchen to join in the preparation. We were soon gathered round the table with Grandma, joining hands for the blessing.
The rest of the day was a smorgasbord of hellos, hugs, laughter, and good-byes as other family members—aunts, uncles, and cousins with their children—came and went on this special day. My husband and children called to wish me a happy Mother's Day.
Before I knew it, I was settled in bed once again filled with joy from the blessings of the day, yet keenly aware that tomorrow morning I would be leaving. I wanted to stay, and yet I wanted to go. I missed my family.
Morning came and with it the good-byes. As Grandma and I hugged, she whispered, "Sure glad you could come."
I turned to leave as she wiped a tear. Then I wiped my own. We pulled out of the driveway with Grandma waving from the front window. Somehow I sensed I would never see her again. I felt both joy and sadness at the same moment. I couldn't explain it.
As we drove away, I reflected on Grandma's life. She had experienced her share of sadness, suffering, pain, and poverty. Three babies had died as infants. Her son, Alvin, was killed in Germany during World War II. I cringed as I thought of the pain and heartache she had endured. Yet there was something about Grandma—she was strong and resilient. She loved her family, her garden, and definitely her God. Grandma loved life!
As her granddaughter, a part of her flowed through my veins. Could I, too, find that same strength? I felt strangely connected to the generations of women who had come before me, as well as those who would follow. We were one continuous golden cord bound together in both our joy and sorrow. Grandma had given me a legacy—a legacy of a simple, sustaining faith intertwined with love of family. I could ask for no greater inheritance than this.
* * * *
That October we buried Grandma in the old country cemetery beside Grandpa, Alvin, and her babies. Elsie Lorene Boyce Herndon.
(c) Marlene Depler
Monday, May 08, 2006
The last tulip blooms.
I love spring and early summer because of all that blooms! All these photos are taken in my yard. Thought I would share them with my blogger friends. I can't wait to get more annuals in pots and in the ground. In June my roses and clematis will be in royal splendor.
Friday, May 05, 2006
Grand-parenting: Exponential Joy
By Marlene Depler
My siblings and I were like a broken record. "How much further?" "Are we almost there?" I'm sure it nearly drove our parents crazy. When we finally turned down the dirt road that led to my grandparent's farm, I nearly burst with excitement. I knew Grandma would rush out the door to greet us with hugs and kisses, and Grandpa wouldn't be far behind.
Even though I was the eleventh in a string of seventeen grandchildren, I still sensed Grandma's delight and love for me as an individual. Her house provided a wealth of memories: eating her homemade dill pickles as fast as she cut them into spears, sitting outside on hot summer evenings with a bowl of homemade ice cream, and listening to her recite a poem or sing a hymn. Almost daily she made hot fresh biscuits for breakfast. Grandpa always teased her about the biscuits being flat.
"Elsie Lorene, it looks like a cow stepped on these biscuits," he would say as he devoured yet another biscuit.
As the years unfolded, I married and had children, making my parents into grandparents. However, I never gave much thought to becoming a grandparent myself—that is until our son and his wife gave us the news. "We're expecting a baby in December!" Then it hit me. That means I'll be a grandmother!
The months flew by. Late one evening, we got the call. "It's a girl!" our son said.
The next day I met my granddaughter for the first time. Without warning, this tiny infant in a cradle stole my heart. She was MY granddaughter—which, of course, made me a grandma. I slipped comfortably into my role as a grandparent without a second thought.
Since that time we have welcomed five babies into our hearts, three grandsons and two more granddaughters. The delight has never diminished. As I cuddle these precious bundles, I am awed again and again by the miracle of birth and life. According to Proverbs 17:6, "Grandchildren are the crowning glory of the aged…" (I like the "crowning glory" part, but don't call me "aged"!)
As grandparents we have the opportunity to bless our children's children. We can provide extra love, attention, acceptance, and FUN! As a parent, I was often consumed by the endless responsibilities, the constant care, and the daily decisions and discipline. I didn't always give each child the attention they needed. However, as a grandparent, I'm no longer as distracted the routine obligations of parenting. It's easier now to drop what I am doing and give my undivided attention to the grandchildren. It's more important to read books, make cookies, draw pictures, fly paper airplanes, eat Popsicles on the porch swing, or play Candyland than it is to dust, pull weeds, or fold laundry. Once the grandchildren leave, the chores can be done.
It's important for grandparents to respect the rules and values of the parents. I’m generally mindful of this, but I'll admit that occasionally I have indulged them with a few more sweets than the parents would probably approve of. One such time, I made something similar to marshmallow treats, only this recipe called for Fruit Loops instead of the typical rice cereal. I'm quite sure that I would never have considered making this recipe for my own children. Nevertheless, the bright colors made for visually appealing treats. I invited the two oldest grandchildren over to eat them.
Later as they were stuffing their faces with gooey treats, my granddaughter said, "Mommy says, 'It's Nana's job to spoil you, but it's Mommy's job to keep you healthy.' " I may have to exercise some restraint when it comes to giving them goodies, but I doubt that my love and attention will ever do them any harm. Children need all the stability they can get in this unsettled world.
It's a joy and privilege to invest in the lives of my grandchildren, to delight in their presence, to augment their learning, and to pray for them. Hopefully, I will be a model of active faith for them like my grandmother was for me.
As I look back over my childhood, I realize that my grandmother made a huge impact on me. Her eyes always lit up with delight whenever she saw me. I never doubted that she loved me and thought I was special. Her legacy to me was one of family and faith.
May my grandchildren experience that same delight. May they never doubt my love. It is my desire that my grandmother's legacy continue to flow into the lives of her great-great grandchildren through me.
8 of the Best Gifts any Grandparent Can Give:(c) 2006 Marlene Depler
1. Pray for each grandchild.
2. Model your faith in God.
3. Acknowledge their presence with delight.
4. Listen at eye level.
5. Spend time with them and make them a priority.
6. Accept each grandchild's unique personality and individual strengths.
7. Let them share in activities you enjoy, and allow them to work alongside of you when possible.
8. Laugh with them.