January Guest Writer, Robin Church
Reaching for the Light
Any day I have to dig grime out from under my fingernails is a good day.
Gardening became my salvation after my son Gary died in July 1994. I was lost in the land of grief without a map and even reading didn’t bring me the usual–or to be truthful–ANY comfort unless I was reading a book on grief.
I had just built a house on five acres with no landscaping or flowers…yet. Mourning had sapped my energy for big stuff, but when the summer cooled into September, I bought a bag of daffodil bulbs. For the first time in months the tears I shed were healing instead of heartbroken when the metaphor of resurrection gob-smacked me as I dug the holes and plopped in the dry, brown, dead looking bulbs. More healing tears fell in early spring when brave little green shoots started reaching for the sun through the snow.
Ever since then, I salivate at the sight of garden centers and my poor yard guy just can’t believe he has to dig more holes every week. A serious neck injury prevents me from doing the heavy lifting, but I can plant, mulch, and water. And buy more plants.
But the weather last year certainly put a cramp on my fun. Spring lasted for maybe two weeks before the sauna we call summer set in. What a hot and humid drag when the heat index is above 85 degrees by 10 in the morning and stays that way until after 10 at night. My wilting plants didn’t like it any more than I did. I kept telling them to hang on until autumn, our second spring.
But what the heck?!? The heat finally broke in October and we had maybe two weeks of glorious fall weather before the first frost did a sneak attack on most of my flowers. One of the good things about Evansville is we USUALLY have wondrous springs and falls to balance out the miserable summers and winters. I truly felt robbed.
Thankfully my ten year old geraniums survived and I brought them in to over-winter and set them on a table by a south facing window in my bedroom. This window is filled with stained glass angels and an orb shaped prism. As the days grew darker and shorter and my mood with them, my tabletop garden and sweet angels seemed to say, “Hold on! Spring will come again!”
Lolling in bed one morning when I felt too blah to get up or even do my stretches, I noticed the geraniums were not only blooming, they were turning their little pink faces toward the sun and reaching for the light. Not to be outdone, the prism was casting dancing rainbows on my ceiling. I felt the warmth of healing and hope start to flow through me as the winter-low sun streamed across my bed.
“Yes, spring will always come again,” I told my flowering friends, “and I will follow your lead by adding ‘Reaching for the Light’ to my morning routine.”
For Dec. 8 and 15:
This week’s guest writer, Jamia Dixon, shares the beginning of a recollection about the helplessness of childhood. The passage for December 8 is prose; for December 15, we consider the precision of her language as poetry.
I folded the placemat-sized Confederate flag carefully and tucked it into the shoe box on top of the marbles, partially to keep them from rolling around as the station wagon tacked its way North in the night, but mostly to hold on to what I could when there was so much slipping away. How do eleven-year-old best friends say goodbye–say what they mean to each each other–in a brief moment with adults talking above them about future plans they have no say in? Will there be trees to shelter in, high above a clueless, grounded world? An ocean to watch for hours, hearing the waves break against fishing jetties and granite cubes tumbled at the base of the seawall? No, definitely no ocean. But maybe a new favorite tree perch.
I folded the placemat-sized Confederate flag
tucked it into the shoe box on top of the marbles,
partially to keep them from rolling around
as the station wagon tacked its way North in the night,
but mostly to hold on to what I could
when there was so much slipping away.
How do eleven-year-old best friends say goodbye—
say what they mean to each other—
in a brief moment
with adults talking above them
about future plans
they have no say in?
Will there be trees to shelter in,
high above a clueless, grounded world?
An ocean to watch for hours,
hearing the waves break against
fishing jetties and granite cubes tumbled at the base of the seawall?
definitely no ocean.
a new favorite
(…to be continued)
The short story below features the gift of capturing the profound within the ordinary. In “Provenance,” Brandy Wilkinson reflects the precision and mastery of storytellers like Alice Munro and Flannery O’Connor. Wilkinson lives in Fishers, Indiana. She reads and writes at brandywilkinson.com.
The day after Irene’s doctor tells her she’s dying, she walks down to the Family Dollar and buys three packages of neon yard sale tags and a king-size Snickers bar.
“You having a sale, Miss Irene?” the cashier asks, a wad of bright green gum between her teeth. A small photo of a pigtailed girl hangs from her name tag.
“Nope,” Irene answers, taking her bag. On the way home she peels open the candy, chocolate liquefying in the July sun, and eats it in five huge mouthfuls. She whispers a few words of farewell to the diet she has been on for fifty-seven years.
At home, she washes her hands and spreads the colorful tags across the kitchen table. With a felt-tip pen and faintly trembling script, she begins to label and price everything she owns. Her son will appreciate her efforts when he flies in from Virginia to sell off her estate. Nothing is worth much, not to anyone else, and she smirks a little, imagining her daughter-in-law, Marjorie, fresh off the plane and picking through Irene’s double-wide for antiques to hock.
Brass mantel clock: Wedding gift from Bud and Trudy Taylor, 1961, $3.
Kodak Brownie camera: Doesn’t work, still cute, $1.
Wooden chess set, each piece a different farm animal: Belonged to my sister Clarice, $2.
Drawer full of cheap costume jewelry – a few sparkling brooches and strand after strand of chunky plastic beads: Help yourself, Marjorie! Sell what you don’t want!
She opens a cabinet under the small kitchen island, removes a cardboard box and lifts out thirteen newspaper-wrapped dishes. She unswaddles each, slowly revealing a child’s tea set, her own: Blue Willow pattern, Made in Occupied Japan printed across the bottom of each piece. Irene has watched enough Antiques Roadshow to know that this is the most expensive item she owns. She imagines Marjorie’s hands unwrapping each dish, her long pink nails and Irene’s mother’s wedding ring.
“Nope,” she says.
The cashier at the Family Dollar greets her when she enters. Irene walks straight to checkout and places the box on the counter. “A tea set,” she says. “For your little girl.” She buys another Snickers bar and walks home. She eats it on the couch with Wheel of Fortune on the television, her feet on the coffee table, and the roomful of tags waving gently like wildflowers in the ceiling fan’s breeze.
You ever just heard a poem that stuck in your bones?
This is Christie Thompson’s tribute to her father and her family. Thompson is a writer returning to her love of writing this year. She lives in Henderson, KY, and works at WNIN, the NPR station in Evansville, IN.
My father has been gone for almost a year
And I was on my way to visit his grave
Tucked sweetly within a family plot
Beside his momma and daddy
St. Peter’s Cemetery
Is in the tiny town of Waverly, Ky—
Very much a Catholic area
And very much a poor, Catholic area
Every time I drive to see Daddy
I listen to Hank
Those in my family, we just say Hank
Because there’s only One
But perhaps I should specify—
Hank Williams Senior circa 1952
He was my daddy’s favorite
I know every word
To every song
And if you’re not sure, or don’t know who that is
It’s that twangy kinda country music
That makes dogs howl
The stuff I absolutely love
That will always feel like Daddy’s arms around me
Transports me to another time…
You ever just heard a story that stuck in your bones?
And who was tellin’ it made you rejoice
But who it was about made you cry
Even if they were one in the same?
The story came deep from within my blood:
My father grew up on a farm—
No, it wasn’t really big enough to be a farm
But there were hogs, an ass and two old milk cows—
Bessie and Brownie
It was a tiny two-room shack
In desperate need of repair
Chipped white paint, missin’ slats of wood
An old outhouse for a bathroom…
Daddy remembered the outhouse
When he was around six
He hated walkin’ to it at night
‘Cause the old mean rooster would peck at his privates
My daddy’s mom and dad,
They were extremely poor
And this story must’ve stuck in my daddy’s mind too
‘Cause he cried when he told it
His house was the kind that had dirt for a yard
Wobbly, slanted floors
And chickens wild
My dad and his brothers were the kinda kids
That wore girl’s jeans ‘cause they were cheaper
Right around the time of James Dean and Brylcream
Can you imagine what that must’ve done?
And when their father would eat
He would let the lard from the pork, stew, or whatever
Run down his chin
Only to wipe it with his sleeve
I only knew my grandpa for a very short time
But to a four-year-old he looked ominous, grotesque and mean
He was known to have cut the family dog with a razor blade
Rub gunpowder into its wounds
Purposely drivin’ the dog mad
Swearing it would keep Coloreds away from the yard
And my grandmother—
I never got the chance to meet
But she married at thirteen!
What I wouldn’t give
To tell her
Her granddaughter and great-granddaughter
Have her blue eyes and red hair
But mostly, that her son
Changed the course of an entire family…
She died when Dad was fifteen or so
He found her dead
After the night his daddy had beat her
Just a little too much
Can you imagine what that must’ve done?
When a Hank Williams song can make his eyes water
And a little black and white girl playin’ together
Can make him smile
Or when he wants to hold on to his only daughter
He let me go—
Goin’ on pure faith that he had taught me right
To lie down and die