Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Loss of a Friend--To all You People with Vegetable Gardens

I have a tale to tell.

It’s about a former friend.  Nonna is her name.  Lisa, she says one day—the garden exploded—especially the green beans, she says.  You are welcome to come and pick as many as you like—I don’t want to see them go to waste, she says.

A couple of hours later, she and her comedian husband, Brian, scoff at the Pampered Chef Mixing Bowl I bring to collect the organically grown Blue Lake Green Beans. That’s not gonna work, dear—Nonna says. You’re gonna want one of those—and we have plenty.  She’s pointing to a five-gallon bucket. 

I was born and raised in cities, never had a vegetable garden, never picked a green bean—and apparently I know nothing of the term “exploding garden.”

Nonna shows me the garden in question; it looks deceptively manageable.  You can pick as much of these three rows as you’d like, she says—though we have a family reunion at 3:30.  Three-thirty?  It’s what—eleven now?  She hands me a pillow and a stool resembling a miniature saw horse.  That’s for your comfort, she says.  Don’t forget to come in for water and some shade, she says—you’ll need it.

How hard can this bean-picking be?  The rows don’t look that long.  

An hour in and my back becomes a knot any seaman would be proud of.  Sweat trickles into my ear.  The bugs and flies seem to like it.  I’ve worked two feet of what is in fact a double row.  Additionally, these green beans grow at an astounding rate—sometimes I pick a plant, move on to a new one, look back, and entirely new beans have sprung up on it. 

How’re you doing, Lisa?—Brian yells from the porch where he’s snapping yesterday’s yield.  I can hear amusement in his query.  I want to supply a witty retort, but feel lightheaded—the meager breakfast I had hours and hours ago, gone.

I eat a bean. 

Not bad.

Whenever I’m in physical discomfort/pain, my mind invariably goes back to this:  I was a member of the United States Army.  I didn’t see combat, but I stood for hours under the grueling sun at parade rest during numerous Change of Command ceremonies.  Later I attended Officer Candidate School.  I know about pain and discomfort. I've endured it. I consider writing a letter to the military to suggest bean picking as a new form of torture instruction.

I could quit, I remind myself, but there’s no way I will.  This five-gallon bucket will get filled.

About halfway to the goal, I begin hallucinating.  

It’s no wonder a story about Jack and a Beanstalk exists.  I don’t know who wrote it, but I’m sure it was conceived when some poor unconditioned dupe was picking beans in the noonday sun.  That explains the Giant, his Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum, and the Golden-egg Laying Goose.  Frankly, I’m surprised some more colorful language wasn’t included. Sitting on that sawhorse, steadily wearing down my sweet nails and fingertips—fingertips used to the cush activity of touch-keyboarding—it becomes a mystery—how the *#%*# had no one uttered at least one curse word in the entire flipping story?

Maybe it was edited out.

This isn’t the only mystery I encounter.  As I continue to toil, I notice I am finally almost done.  In spite of my fatigue, I pick faster.  And Faster.  I am a machine.  Minutes pass.  I glance at the bucket.  What?  How can that be?  It still looks like I have a third of the bucket to go.  Back into the beans I dive—lifting one stalk after another.  No bean safe from my hands.  One after another I toss green beans like fish into the bucket.  I wait extra long before checking again, but when I do, I’m not rewarded.  The bucket WON’T fill up.  No matter how fast I pick, no matter how many plants I annihilate, the bucket will not be satisfied.

How’re you doing, Lisa?—yells Brian.  He’s audibly laughing.

I stand up defeated—humbled by the Blue Lake Green Bean.  You win, I say.

You doing okay?—yells Brian, again.  I hear Nonna cackle. 

They are in this together.

I would march right up to the house and tell them a thing or two, but my behind feels like it’s been on a three-day ride on a horse (with no name) into the Grand Canyon.

I’m done.

Nonna, I whisper—you are no friend of mine.

Though I don’t think she’s fond of me anymore, either.

Right as I ‘m leaving, as she and Brian are waving to me with gusto, she says, I’ll call you when the peas come in—should be soon.  The garden’s gonna explode with them.  Come and pick as many as you like.

Sheesh, Nonna—wha’d I ever do to you?

The End

Note to Self:  never complain about prices at the Farmer’s Market again.

Note to Family:  every time you eat one of these Blue Lake Green Beans, I’d better hear how it’s the best flipping-picked bean you’ve ever had. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Boomerang Words…and Their Lessons

Boomerang Wordsthe ones that come back to us.  Some fly back to thump us on the head. Hard. I’ve had a few doozies.  

But others have been a wonder.

When Sam and I were dating, there came a point when he wanted to know about my mother and step-father.  In 22 years of life, I had made up a lot of stories about them, but looking into Sam’s dark browns, I didn’t have it in me to lie to him.  Not directly, anyway. That’s when I wrote “The Story of Ingrid and Richard”—for his reading pleasure.

Theirs was a great love story of high adventure and travel.  They were utterly faithful and loyal to one another.  They were kind and thoughtful in a hundred subtle ways.  He was noble and had incredible strength of character.  And together they laughed.  A lot.  Their story included dancing—not all of it good—which added to their charm.  

I penned three pages of (poorly written) whopping Ninth-Commandment Transgressions.  

Never mind what happened a couple of months later when Sam asked to meet these people.

This isn’t about that.

This is about ten married-years later, when I found the fabricated words and realized that what I had written was my own love story.


Fast forward to Madeline wanting to date Aaron.  Aaron, an agnostic vegetarian with different political leanings.  Sam said fine—as long as Aaron came to the house for Bible study on Wednesdays, and to church with us on Sundays. 

Aaron agreed without pause, and for almost four years, it was our routine.  Shortly into that four years, we added dinners and outings—mainly because we came to love Aaron, and he came to love us.

But this isn’t about that.

This is about when Madeline transferred to UVA.  Something happened to her faith.  It wasn’t that she didn’t have it—it was more like she was tired of it.  The last thing she wanted to do was think about God, and have restrictions put on her when she was finally free of parental oversight.  She certainly didn't want to go to church—which her father was encouraging (according to him) and insisting upon (according to her).   Sometimes she'd look up a church on the Internet so she could tell her dad she’d been to their 11:00 am servicewhile giving him a few erroneous details (a chip off the old block).

By the time Madeline and Aaron got married, she had a renewed faith.  We learned afterwards that during the critical time, Aaron had gently spoken into Maddie the words Sam had spoken into him during their Wednesday night Bible studies.


When my children were young, they loved visiting Sam’s parents.  I thought how awesome it would be if the kids could run over to see their grandparents whenever they wanted instead of what we were doing—making elaborate plans in order to visit.  I said something about it to Sam’s dad when he was talking about retiring—he loved the idea.  We even looked at a beautiful piece of wooded property where we could each build our own homes, yet be close.

But Sam’s dad put off retirement, and by the time he was ready, it was too late—a week after retiring, he’d get a cancer diagnosis.

A month before the birth of our first grandchild, my son-in-law Aaron was diagnosed with acute Multiple Sclerosis.   Most of the doctors we’ve gone to, have never seen a case this aggressive.

But this isn’t about that.

It’s about how the words, the hopes, that had already been formed for one set of grandchildren and grandparents came back to me.  We could build houses adjacent to one another, and in addition to being available to help Aaron and Madeline, our grandchildren would be able to run over and see us without us making elaborate plans.


We don’t know what the future holds for Aaron’s health (things are looking better every day), but it doesn’t even matter.  Building our lives so we are in walking distance of one another is something that appeals to all of us, regardless of other factors.

Boomerang Words…

They’ve taught me a few things:

--Dreams—Sometimes God gives us the desires of our heart before we even know Him—it’s as if He beckons us to Him through them.

--Speak good things into people—even into someone who is very different from you.  You may find he is not so different after all.  You may find a depth of unexpected love.  You may find a son-in-law who blesses you.

--Don’t be self-centered.  The more you hope for others and give to others, the more will be returned to you.  It’s not the reason for hoping and giving, only a natural by-product.

--Since we have no way of knowing which words will come back to us, think, speak, and write words of goodness and beauty and love—when they come boomeranging back, they will fill you with an abundance of the same.

Some of my favorite words of goodness and beauty and love dwell in The Sermon on the Mount.  When I read those (and many other) Words of God, it brings dreaming and speaking and hoping and giving to the surface—ready to sow into the world.

I hope your lives are filled with these things, both in the giving and the receiving. 

All in Goodwill,

P.S. About fibbing.  I have learned to love the truth—without it there is nothing, can be nothing.  Those skills I honed early in life, though, have been pretty handy when it comes to writing fiction.

Monday, June 16, 2014

On Fathers--Even the Absent, Bad, and Deadbeat Ones

This Father’s Day.  

I thought it might be hard.  

The search for my biological father (a very public Facebook search) was unsuccessful.  A month ago, a DNA test I hoped would be positive came back negative.  I'd exhausted my leads and myself, and didn't have the energy to process feelings.

But then Father’s Day came along.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Thing About Sorrow...

The Thing About Sorrow…

One minute you’re sitting in a Nigerian classroom.  One minute you’re running a half marathon.  One minute your family is joyfully anticipating the birth of a baby.

The next minute you're brutally kidnapped from your Nigerian classroom. The next minute you collapse in a heart attack at the end of the half marathon—though you were in shape.  The next minute your son-in-law (the father of the baby) is diagnosed with acute MS.

The thing about sorrow is that sometimes it comes from nowhere.

No, that’s not true.  It comes from somewhere—a fallen world.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Dr. Lin on Pregnancy, Delivery, and Love

Our family has an acupuncturist—Dr. Lin.  She’s from China where she was the head of OB/GYN for a substantial geographical area.  Once she delivered 17 babies in a single day.  She and her husband are Christians, and when the opportunity arose, they came to the US and sought asylum. 
While Sam and my son-in-law, Aaron are VERY fond of Dr. Lin, Maddie and I love her.  Dr. Lin doesn’t merely stick needles into body parts.  She massages the hands, feet, sometimes the back.  She always has a period of pressing her hands at our temples.  Our bodies soak up peace and tranquility.  We leave feeling refreshed.