Saturday, December 29, 2012

Handprints

This morning my good friend and neighbor Joe went home to be with the Lord.  In his memory, I am reposting the story that I wrote about Joe.  I learned so much from him over the years.  He taught Bill and me how to build a deck.  He taught Lulu how to play the harmonica.  He taught Katie how to drive.  Mostly, he taught me how important it is in life to slow down and pay attention to the little things.

My heart is broken over the loss of my friend, but I know that he was ready to go.  He wanted to be at peace, and his life was not peaceful over these past two years.  I know that his wife and his good friend and buddy, Bobby were waiting for him and that his soul is resting in God's arms.

This story, "Handprints" embodies Joe's spirit.  It reminds all of us what matters in life.  Everyone who reads this today should take some time to reflect on those people who matter to us.  Take the time to tell them they matter.  Love them.

Handprints
I visit him on a regular basis; at least three to four days a week.  He lives just across the street, so I don’t have to go out of my way to stop by; however I find that I often become so engrossed in everyday living that I let other things get in the way.  I know that he looks forward to my visit.  We sit in the old rusty beach chairs and sip on cold beers as we talk about the “good ole’ days.”  He always has so many stories to tell about growing up on the farm.  Inevitably, he’ll make a comment about how he and his brother would have broken my horse in less than a day (I’m going on three months now without much progress).

I listen contentedly as he strolls down memory lane.  “Sure n’ough would’ve broke that horse.  Me and my brothers would work our mules to the bone all day long and then ride ‘em down the dirt road well into the night.  Them mules were so tuckered out, they ain’t never had the energy to hurt one of us.  Your horse there – she’s got too much pent up energy.  That’s her problem.  No doubt about it.”

He’d go on and on about my horse, and I’d get to feeling guiltier and guiltier as the conversation wore on.  I knew I didn’t spend enough time with the horse, but it isn’t my horse!  It is my fourteen-year-old daughter Katie’s horse.  I remind Joe that I made it clear to Kaite that she and I would be breaking this horse together.  The “breaking of the horse” lasted about fifteen minutes.  I wasn’t doing anything right in Katie’s eyes, and she was doing nothing but bellyaching in my eyes.  The entire horse breaking session ended with the two of us breaking down and the horse running away.

So, this is how it goes:  I sit with Joe, and he scolds me about the horse, and I make excuses for my lack of enthusiasm and commitment to “taking the bull by the horns” or, in this case, “the horse by the reins.”

Joe and I often talk about how busy I always am; coming and going on a non-stop merry-go-round.  It’s a wonder the horse, goats, chickens, cat and dogs even get fed!  Joe tells me how short life is and how I should slow down and start playing my banjo more often.  I always promise him that I will take his advice and I always fail miserably come the next day.

One day I was pondering my hectic schedule of teaching, birthing goats, taxiing children, grocery shopping, cleaning, and paying bills when Joe got up to get us another beer.  As he made his way to the sliding glass doors, my six-year-old daughter came bounding up his steps, arms outstretched, ready to give “Mr. Joe” a big hug.  He took her in his arms and told her he had just bought some chocolate covered ice cream cones that very day.

Her huge brown eyes lit up, and she asked, “Do you have cherries too?” 

“‘Course’ I do, Lulu!”  Joe responded, “What’s a super duper ice cream cone without a cherry on top?”

Lulu smiled and giggled as they made their way into the house to make the cone.  I watched them go, hand in hand, and I grinned at the portrait they presented: Joe's twisted rugged hand encircling the small black hand (Lulu is from Haiti).  Joe's old legs moving slowly as Lulu's young legs slowed to keep pace.  Joe's aged, wrinkled face smiling down at Lulu's young expectant face.

I thought to myself, “This is what life is all about.”  It’s about the little things that make you smile and leave lasting imprints on your mind like footprints in the sand or handprints on a wall: Those little flickering moments that are forever woven into the tapestry of our lives.

Joe started to pull at the sliding glass door, and Lulu reached up to help him.  She placed both her hands squarely on the glass and pushed with all her might.  When she released her hands, Joe pointed to the prints she left behind.

“Look, Lulu!”  He said, “We have a new set of handprints to add to the collection!”

Lulu laughed as she examined all the handprints that covered the glass door.  “Are these mine?”  She asked as she pointed to some smudges just above hers.

“Sure they are.”  Mr. Joe assured her.  "Yours are the most important handprints I have."

They made their way inside and occupied themselves with the making of the super duper ice cream cone.

I stayed behind in my dilapidated beach chair, and I reflected that just yesterday I yelled at Lulu for getting her handprints on the wall.  I handed her a spray bottle and, scolding her, instructed her to wash all the handprints away.

“Wash all those handprints off the wall!”  I yelled, “You should know better than to dirty the walls that your daddy just painted!”

Somewhere in the corner of my mind, I heard myself saying the same words to my oldest daughter, Jennifer.  She’s in college now.  Her handprints are long gone from our house.  They’ve been painted over or washed away.  They’ll never be back.  Nor will my daughter, Katie’s handprints or all the handprints of our 53 foster kids.  My son’s handprints too; they’re gone from his grimy room that always had the distinct smell of boy.  In place of his handprints is our office – gray and devoid of any remnants of boyhood.

I pondered, “Are there any handprints left?”

The melancholy that overtook me was instantaneous, and I had the sudden urge to grab Lulu in my arms, rush home, dip her hands in mud and tell her to get busy dirtying the walls!

Joe and Lulu made their slow decent down the steps and quietly sat relishing their ice cream cones.  I sipped my beer and eyed the sliding glass door.

Joe caught me contemplating the handprints and remarked, “You know I never wash that glass door.  Every one of those handprints reminds me of my little visitor here.  I look at those handprints when I’m eating alone at night or feeling lonely for my wife, and they take away the heartache.  I guess I could wash them off, but it just wouldn’t be the same without them.”

Wiser words were never spoken.

In the scheme of life does it matter if there are handprints on the wall?  Absolutely! It matters.  It matters because one day they’ll be grown and gone.  It matters because one day you’ll walk through an empty sanitary house and wonder where all the handprints went.  It matters because when you’re old and gray, handprints are as important as talking with your neighbor and eating ice cream cones on cool summer evenings.  Handprints matter.  They just do.  I wish I had kept a happy memory for every handprint I washed off the wall.  I wish I had never washed them off the wall at all, but then again, it’s not too late to start. 

Top Ten

Since the year is coming to an end, I thought that I would post the list of the top ten most read blog stories.  Here they are in order - with number one being the most viewed all time story:
1. Dennis
2. Playground Hell
3. Mrs. "P"
4. Shift
5. O.K. Corral
6. Unbreakable
7. Soul Drain
8. Wings to Fly
9. Handprints
10. Hallelujah Acres

It is my hope and my prayer that 2013 will give me many more opportunities to write inspiring and funny stories.  I am thankful for all my loyal readers and hope you all enjoy reading the blog as much as I enjoy writing it.  Wishing all my readers a very happy and safe New Year and a blessed 2013.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

God's Christmas Gift

I was a teenager, but I remember every detail of that evening as if it were yesterday.  The family room was decorated for Christmas with garland, lights and stockings hanging on the fireplace mantle.  There was a warm fire blazing casting an amber glow over the cozy room.  I was sitting on the couch nestled under a warm blanket watching the tv show ““Eight is Enough””.   My father sat on the other end of the couch reading his paper.

The show was a staple in my life.  I watched it regularly along with “I Love Lucy”, “The Brady Bunch” and “Gilligan’s Island”.  I certainly didn’t expect this episode to shake me to the core like it did that night. 

“Eight is Enough” was a show with a blended family just like “The Brady Bunch”.  The storylines of both shows were usually funny and rarely addressed the reasons why these families were blended (with a step-parent replacing either a mother or a father).  I certainly related to these shows since my mother had died suddenly when I was just two.  Until recently, I never even knew what she died from.  She was never mentioned in my family.  There were no pictures of her anywhere.  It was as if she never existed.  I had a step-mom, but it didn’t take away the longing in my soul to know who my mom was.

Well, for some strange reason, this episode of “Eight is Enough” decided to address the emotional topic of the missing mom in the storyline.  It was a Christmas show and all the kids were busy preparing for Santa’s arrival that night.  If I recall correctly, the step-mom and one of the girls were cooking when they discovered a wrapped gift hidden in the top cupboard.  The gift was for one of the eight children, Tommy who was struggling with this Christmas without his mom.  The gift was from Tommy’s mother.  

I remember the poignant moment when Tommy’s sister explained to the step-mom that their mother used to shop for a special gift for each child throughout the year and hide the gifts until Christmas.  The girl was clearly overcome with emotion as she held her mother’s gift for Tommy.  That is the last thing I remember before I broke down into uncontrollable sobbing and made a mad dash for my bedroom where I could break down in solitude – a coping mechanism I had learned early and well.

I sat on my bed crying and praying that God would send me a gift from my mother so that I could know something, anything about her.  Just then, there was a knock on my door.  My father hesitantly cracked the door and asked if he could come in.  Over the years, no one had ever dared to disturb my solitary anguish.  For whatever reason, the philosophy of that time was to eradicate all remnants of the missing parent and ignore the emotional ramifications this might have on the children.

My father’s appearance at my door was completely astonishing to me. I firmly believe that it was God’s intercession that brought my dad to my room that night.  I didn’t know how to react, so I just blurted out, “I never knew her!” 

He came over to my bed and put his arms around me – something he had never done.  I cried and cried on his shoulder.  Through my sobs I just kept saying, “I never knew her”.  His response was simple and, as my father is a man of very few words, only one sentence.

“She was just like you.” He said as he kissed me on the forehead, got up from the bed and quietly slipped out of my room.  For a minute, I wondered if he really had been there or if it was some strange aberration that I just imagined.

I sat on my bed for a very long time after the door closed behind my dad.  His words kept echoing in my brain…"She was just like you."

 Just like me…what does that mean? 

He never elaborated and I never asked.  You see, in God’s infinite wisdom and only as God can do, he answered my prayer.  If I was just like my mom, then she would always be a part of my life.

This is what I’ve learned about my mother over the years:  She is very stubborn and extremely opinionated.  She is fiercely loyal and loves her family more than anything in the world.  She never shies away from a good argument, but is shy in social situations.  She is very spiritual.  She can be wicked at times.  She is creative.  She has a great sense of humor.  She is generous.  She’s made her share of mistakes.  She’s learned from some of her mistakes and still has a lot to learn.  She loves to write.  Her biggest fear is being forgotten.

Forty-some years ago I vowed that I would do my best to live an honorable life that would pay tribute to my mother’s legacy.  I promised that through me she would always live on; and she has. 

In loving memory of Lorraine Martha Breiner.

 Always in my heart.

 Never forgotten.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Trailer Trashe'


I’ve had trouble with the flow of this story.  No matter how I try to depict the events, I just cannot find adequate words.  It’s as if my brain is stopped up and I cannot uncork it.  I feel like I need a mental plunger to release my thoughts.  In some ways, I feel like I have a kindred spirit with my trailer’s septic system.  

Well, I’m just going to plug along and hope that the story will eventually flow.  

Just yesterday, I was on the phone with my sister when I told her that we are now officially trailer trash.  During the course of our conversation, my sister suggested that “trailer trash” was too harsh a description for our current living conditions.  After some discussion, we concluded that trailer trashe’ sounded much more posh; like when you say I’m shopping at Target’ instead of plain old Target.  

The reason that we are now officially trailer trashe’ is because we have finally moved into our RV located in the pasture behind our house.  We are renting out our house in the hopes that we will be able to save our home by having the rent cover our mortgage.  Essentially, we will be living mortgage/rent free for a year if we can survive RV living.  

We’ve been in the RV for two weeks now.  In the past two weeks, Bill has hit his head on the cabinet above the bed at least ten times, our dog has tumbled down the RV steps countless times (he now walks crooked), our cat moved in with the neighbors, our 12-year-old daughter swears her life has come to an end, I fell of the step stool trying to reach the spices and twisted my knee, the sliding shower door regularly falls off, Bill ran over the satellite cable, water hose and electric cord and ripped all of them out of the trailer and our toilet is completely backed up…things are going pretty well.  

As I’ve mentioned, our toilet was completely backed up because the holding tank was full.  This made it imperative that we get our septic system done immediately.  In order to save money, we decided to complete the project ourselves.  I mean, how hard could it be to put in a small septic system?  All you have to do is dig a hole, throw in a holding tank, glue a few pipes together and cover the whole thing in some rocks - a piece of cake.  Of course, the hole required that we rent a machine.  

It was early morning when I stepped out of my trailer to the blinding glint of sun off the steel frame of the monster machine filling most of my field of vision.  The thing wouldn’t fit under the huge oak trees so it was deposited right in the middle of the pasture looking like a massive sleeping prehistoric creature.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but in my mind I envisioned one of those little diggers similar to the buckets you see at a playground.  This beast dwarfed our little Chevy pickup truck making it look like a Tonka toy sitting next to it.  The tires were so huge that our Toyota Scion on the other side was completely hidden from view. 

“Bill,” I screamed in awe, “there’s a massive pterodactyl in our pasture!”  

“Nonsense,”  I heard my husband’s voice as he came up behind me, “it’s just a...HOLY CRAP...front end loader.  How are you going to operate that sucker?”  He asked.  

“Me!” I looked at him as if he had three heads.

“Well, you didn’t think I was going to do it did you?”  He smiled wickedly at me.  “Come on, you know you’re dying to mount that steed.”  

He knew me too well.  I couldn’t wait to get behind the controls.  I ran out the door, had my boots on in a flash and boldly ascended the steel steps.  Bill followed laughing at the sight of all five feet of me trying to adjust the seat so that I could reach the foot pedals and the hand controls.  

“What do I do now?” I yelled to Bill as I spun the seat around to face the bucket.  I looked at the array of buttons and levers in bewilderment.  I knew that there had to be a key somewhere to turn the damn thing on.  Five minutes later I located the key to my left under all the levers.  I timidly turned the key not sure what would happen.  The monster roared to life.  I felt it’s power rumbling under my feet and realized that the only thing standing between safe operating procedures and total devastation was me!

“How do I make it go forward?”  I yelled to Bill who shrugged his shoulders.  

Just then, I spotted some movement out of the corner of my eye.  From my perch I observed a parade of neighbors coming across the pasture on foot and in golf carts loaded with their lawn chairs and beer.  Nothing like a backhoe to rouse the neighbors out of their beer induced stupor.  They must have seen it being delivered this morning because I hadn’t told anyone about it.  Word sure does travel fast around the 55 and over park.  Maybe one of them will know how to get this thing in gear.  

I reached down to turn off the machine so I could go ask the neighbors if any of them could help.  Suddenly a hand grabbed mine and I screamed. The hand belonged to Taco who had appeared out of nowhere at my right shoulder.  Over the din of the machine, I never heard him coming.  Taco, a friend of ours who works at the local tractor rental company, is the guy who delivered the machine this morning.  I don’t know why he is called Taco - it’s just the only name I know him by.  

“Need some help?”  He laughed.  

“Boy, am I glad to see you.”  I answered, “I was afraid I might run over Bill and flatten the trailer.”

Under Taco’s tutelage, I was able to move the machine without squishing any seniors who were now perched on their lawn chairs at the back of the trailer where I was going to be digging the septic tank hole.  Taco was a master teacher.  I became an expert backhoe operator in a matter of minutes.  Okay, maybe it was more like a matter of hours, but at least I didn’t knock down the trailer or knock anyone on the side of the head with the bucket.  

I had to learn how to operate the bucket as well as the front loader because once the hole was dug, I was going to have to push the dirt back in and level it.  The hole I was digging had to be at least seven feet deep and twenty feet long.  It would be an all day affair but I was ready for the task.  One of my neighbors handed me a beer as I masterfully dumped my bucket on the now ten foot tall pile of dirt.  

Perhaps it was the beer, but it appeared that the hole I was digging was just a little off kilter. It was just a tad crooked and maybe there were parts where it was deeper than necessary, but I doggedly kept at it as the neighbors cheered me on.  I figured a hole for a septic tank didn’t have to be perfect.

I found out later how wrong I was. 

So, it took all day to dig the hole and place the holding tanks.  Bill and his friend Charley did all the connections while I was off getting tires on the car.  When I returned, I was impressed with the amount of work they completed.  They had to work super fasts because they didn’t want to have to do anything the next day as they had tickets to a football game.  In the morning, I was left alone to fill in the hole.  I guess the neighbors found better things to do.  Or, maybe they were still sleeping off all the beer they consumed the day before.  In any case, I operated the bucket and front loader like a pro (with no one there to vouch for my newfound prowess).  I was excited to finally finish the chore by late afternoon and I quickly gathered the drainage pipe to run it from my trailer to the new septic.  

As I looked at the section where the pipe connected, I noticed for the first time that it was a bit lopsided.  This could explain why Bill and Charley had completed the connections in such record time.  It wasn’t level. The flaw occurred at the connection causing the pipe to be angled up.  I know that water only flows down so this could pose a problem because the water coming from the trailer would flow down and then, right at the end, would have to flow up to make it into the septic tank.  

Oh well, I’m sure it’s nothing, I said to myself as I fitted the pieces together.  

That night, as I climbed into bed I smelled a strange odor wafting in through the back window of our bedroom.  

“Do you smell that?”  I asked Bill who was just entering the room.  

“What’s that smell?”  He replied.  

“DAD!” Lulu yelled from the living room.  “Take it outside!”  

“It wasn’t me!” He yelled back.  

While they squabbled, I threw on my robe and grabbed the flashlight and headed to the back of the trailer.  It didn’t take long to locate the source of the foul odor.  Right next to the septic tank was a gurgling gooey seepage erupting like a mini volcano.  

I quickly closed the RV’s sewer valve and made a hasty retreat before I puked.  We immediately closed the windows before the smell overtook us all.  The next day I inspected the problem and discovered that there was a diagonal split right where the pipe angled up.  Oozing out of that split was raw sewage.  

What now?  I asked myself.

Luckily, my friend has a friend who has a port-o-potty business.  I immediately called her and the next day our shiny new john arrived.   Well, I thought as I admired the outhouse, this does give new meaning to trailer trashe’.