Monday, September 5, 2016

I have finally set up a site for promoting my current project, "In the Trenches".  The site will serve to, not only promote my book, but to also seek out assistance and guidance during the process of getting it published.  I've been writing for as long as I can remember and have found some success in getting published online, but this is new territory for me.  I hope anyone who is interested enough in my writing to visit "Paint in in Words" will also visit "In the Trenches".  I will need a lot of guidance to achieve this dream, but even more so, I will need support.  

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Mother's Day

     For so many, Mother’s Day is just another small holiday to celebrate with cards and gifts, but most women would prefer a few moments of undivided time with their children than any gift money could buy.  I often work on Saturdays, so last year while seeing patients the Saturday before Mother’s Day, I arrived at the home of an elderly lady I had been seeing for months.  I usually saved her visit for the end of the day so I could stay a while and visit after finishing her therapy.  I knocked then let myself in as I always did since she was unable to get from the hospital bed in her living room to the front door.  Two large arrangements decorated the dining table, a stark contrast against the dark paneled walls in the dimly lit room. The flowers were from her children—an arrangement from each of them.  My patient wasn’t feeling well, so we did only a few exercises before I sat on the floor beside her bed and leaned against the heavy, leather chair that was, as usual, occupied by a scrappy, mixed breed dog of some sort.  We spoke of the usual things at first—the weather and her favorite TV show, Bonanza.  Then, I asked if she would tell me about her mother and share some childhood memories with me.  She closed her eyes for a moment, and when she opened them, there was a spark of life I’d not seen there before.  She told me about her “mammy”, who smelled like Chanel No. 5 and oil paints on damp canvas boards.  I heard about her parents’ love story and a privileged childhood in a large family—one who gathered around the table for meals and spent summer vacations traveling to places I’ve only read about in books.  Then, she told of another love story—one that made her pause often and stare past me as she visited memories too tender to share.  A happy couple posed from behind a dusty glass frame on the wall beside the hospital bed.  The black and white photo could not conceal the sparkle in the young lady’s eyes.  The same eyes continued to stare past me now as the room fell silent.  I took her small hand with both of mine and squeezed. 

     “Thank you,” she whispered, “for this gift—for listening.  It’s been so long since I’ve gotten one so nice.”

     “But look at those beautiful arrangements.”  I pointed to the table in the next room, but she just shook her head.

     “Beautiful, yes, but no different than every other arrangement I’ve ever gotten.  And a stranger delivered them from the flower shop.  I’d rather one of my children show up empty handed than a stranger with a dozen roses.” 
     “Yes,” I agreed, “and I would give a year of my life for just one hour of sitting with my mother or grandmothers like this again.” 

     “I know you would,” she replied.  “Tell me what you miss the most.  Let’s give them the gift of remembering today.”                           

     I miss so many things about my mother, but it’s the small things-those often taken for granted until they are gone-that I miss the most.  The sound of her voice saying my name. Hearing my own voice saying, “Mama”.   She had a sweet voice that was a snapshot of her essence, and she always held back in a crowd yet drew people in.  Mama loved to laugh and surrounded herself with friends who brought out her playful side.  She didn’t keep a large circle of friends but, instead, pulled those she called “friend” close and nurtured her relationships with them.  I would love to have known what it felt like to be pulled into her tight circle—that place where I could see past “mama” to “Marcia”, but she was gone before I reached the age when this was likely to happen.  I missed something amazing, and I know this is true because all who called her “friend” still call her “best friend” to this day, even though their time without her has now surpassed the amount of time they had with her.

     As a child, it was like magic to watch Mama transform from “mother” to “daughter” when we reached that small white house in the woods, surrounded by hydrangeas and cedar trees.  She was Mama in the car, cigarette hanging loosely from her fingers as she sang softly along with the radio.  When we’d reach Stuttgart, her home town and that magical place in Arkansas that was, to us, summer vacations and holidays but to her still “home”, Mama would sit up a little straighter and begin pointing out landmarks to her childhood memories.  We already knew most of them since we heard the stories any time she could talk Daddy into making a loop through town.  Still, Vicki, Lori, and I would cross our fingers in the back seat, hoping Daddy would turn left instead of following the railroad tracks out of town and to the rocky back road to Mamaw and Papaw’s house.  I remember what it felt like to turn onto that gravel road—a right turn then immediately over the tracks.  Music from the car radio was drowned out by the popping and dragging of rocks underneath the car until we made the right turn for the home stretch.  The rocks turned to dust and hung in a thick, brown cloud behind the car.  When we finally turned into the driveway, Mama’s excitement from the front seat was tangible, contagious.  “Mama” became “daughter” as our grandparents took her again into the fold.  For the next few days, she was different.  Her childlike voice became even sweeter when she talked with her daddy, and her timid nature was replaced with the confidence of a woman secure in her position as “only daughter” to doting parents and “beloved sister” to her three brothers.  
     I used to watch Mama with my grandmother, Vera, and wonder, again, if the friendship between them happened to every mother and daughter at a certain age.  They laughed at the same things and each knew what the other needed before she had a chance to voice it.  They were playful together and even more playful when my aunts were also with them—calling each other by nicknames and turning a simple dinner preparation into a party that ebbed and flowed with the cadence of each new song drifting from the small brown clock radio on the kitchen table.  The best way to describe my grandmother would be to take everything that Mama was and turn it inside out.  Vera was vivacious and forever young as her body moved to the beat of a song and her mind drifted often to dreams just on the outer borders of her reality.  She spoke what was on her mind and carried herself with confidence.  She was tanned legs that ended in bare feet and painted toe nails.  She was always put together and kept her home the same way.  On the surface, she was smoothed out and tucked in, but beneath, she was a free spirit and often unpredictable.  In many ways, I related to her more than I did Mama or anyone else, except for one special lady who I also called Mamaw—my daddy’s mother. 

     My grandmother, Vira, was a blueprint for what I would one day become.  I’m not an exact replica of her because she was certainly an original.  The similarities were there, however, in the fine corners and slopes of the early framework.  Then, as maturity put its finishing touches on me, I could look at Mamaw Vira and see myself.  This wasn’t a physical resemblance but a spiritual one that allowed us to both perceive the world and express ourselves in the same way.  Vira didn’t just live life.  She experienced it, receiving each day as a new adventure, a venue to play in, or a new story to write. Thoughts flowed through her pen onto the page, arranging themselves into stanzas, lyrical snapshots of her past and descriptive illustrations of her future dreams.  She had a huge presence about her, and, though she loved being with people, she wasn’t afraid to be alone. Playing had nothing to do with age because age was of no concern to her. One of the greatest gifts I have given my children is permission to play at any age.  I was given the same gift by Daddy, who received it from my grandmother, as did all of his siblings.  Vira found ways to enjoy all of life’s little moments and knew how to bask in the afterglow of them, filling the pages of her notebooks and the hearts of all who would relive the moments through her words.  

     It was getting dark by the time I told my sweet patient goodbye and started my drive home.  I’d always enjoyed the long drive home for the time it gave me to think about the day.  I thought about each blessing I was able to give and all that I’d gotten in return.  I pondered the things that didn’t quite work for my patients and how I could improve on them next time.  On this day, however, I thought only about my last patient and wondered what Mother’s Day would look like for her this year.  Would she be alone with her memories?  No, I decided.  She could never be alone with them, any more than I could have been alone on that drive home.  Once again, I’d gone into a home to serve and left with as much as I’d given.  She’d invited me to share memories, to give my mother and grandmothers the gift of remembering, but she’d known all along that I would be the one receiving that gift.  It would be the last evening I’d sit on the floor beside that hospital bed, scrappy dog breathing down my neck, telling stories and listening.  My friend no longer needs me to listen—she is with those who put that sparkle in her eyes.  My gift to her this year is remembering, and once again, I will get as much from it as I give.  

Monday, March 21, 2016


    It was evening on a day when everything just felt right. I was in the back of a parked truck in our driveway with my two sisters, Vicki and Lori. Like most times when we played with Lori, Vicki and I were more than willing to go along with the games she made up for us.  This time, we were playing “One Tin Soldier”. We spent an hour memorizing the song then sang it together over and over while acting out the lyrics. Lori was the leader, and I was eager to please her. It was easy, however, to get distracted with Vicki constantly pecking me on the arm to get my attention—always to show me the current color of her new mood ring. Okay, I pecked her couple of times too. The rings were so amazing, and mine had stayed a brilliant blue the entire day. Blue meant that I was happy. Still, I felt a bit cheated when it didn’t change colors often the way theirs did. At least mine was stuck on blue and not black, the color that revealed anger or fear. We must have acted out “One Tin Soldier” twenty times before Mama called us in to eat dinner. It was hard to go inside with the strong, warm breeze just now blowing in, adding to the drama of our little plays. We were having pizza for dinner, though, and pizza was as good a reason as any to stop playing and go inside. Vicki and Lori tumbled from the side of the truck bed and started racing each other just as I stepped over the tailgate, pausing long enough to take a quick glance at my ring. A light green color hung onto the edges of the blue, and I had to reign in my joy for fear of chasing the new color away.
    Mama was just taking the second pizza from the oven when I made it inside.  My grandmother, her Mama, was bustling around the house like she always did. I raced Vicki to the bathroom to wash up for dinner while Lori lingered in the kitchen to sneak a pepperoni from one of the pizzas. Just as I pulled the towel from the rack to dry my hands, I heard her scream.


Then, Mama’s usually-calm voice, now laced with fear, cried,

    “Mama, come here—quick!”

Vicki and I ran from the bathroom to see what was happening just as our grandmother made it to the patio door and screamed.

    “Mama!  Where are you?”  My great-grandmother was the oldest of us all—four generations of women with no men to protect us from the monster outside our patio door.  Daddy was away, working on the pipeline in Alaska.  Had I made it to the window, I would have broken the chain.  I would have called out, “Daddy!”

    My grandmother pulled us all into a tight huddle in the middle of the dining room, like football players planning our next move.  I tried to hear what the adults were saying but could hear nothing over the loud roaring in my ears. It was a deep sound that I could feel as well as hear. It grew louder in direct proportion to my fear until I could feel nothing else. Just when I thought we would stand clinging to one another until we were killed by something I didn’t even have a name for yet, my grandmother began tipping over chairs in the living room and pushing us beneath them, as if mere pieces of furniture could save us. My great-grandmother stood, pressed into a corner across the room, unable to get to the floor.  I was trying to make eye contact with her when the air was suddenly sucked from the room and everything went black.  I feared it would be the last time I would ever see her alive.  Now, in total darkness, I tried to picture what the approaching monster must look like, but the image of Mama’s terrified face was all I could imagine.  The roaring in my ears was now a living, breathing thing, passing over us.  Still, I could hear my grandmother pray and Lori, whose only knowledge of tornadoes came from years of watching “The Wizard of Oz”, cry out,

    “Mama, is our house in the air?”

    The roaring finally stopped and was replaced with an eerie silence. I thought for a moment that we must be the only people on earth still alive—until the neighbors were screaming and pounding on our front door, jammed from the strong suction of the tornado as it passed. Someone eventually kicked the door in, and Mama ran to our linen closet to grab sheets and blankets for the cold, bleeding neighbors. My sisters and I were moved into Lori’s room where we sat huddled together until the cries from the living room stopped and everything went silent again. I should have been comforted by the fact that it was over, but all I felt was confusion from the knowledge that there were things in the world larger than the safety of our home—things that could bring terror into the faces of those who were not supposed to be afraid. Our uncle, who had shown up to make sure we were okay, entered the room.  A thin ray from his flashlight brushed past us then returned and rested.  Tightly clasped hands were still in prayer on my lap, and my mood ring displayed its new color proudly. My eyes snapped shut. I didn’t want to see the color for fear that my desire for it had caused the storm. Still, the image of what my eyes were too quick to miss burned behind closed lids. The brilliant blue was gone, replaced with the boldest black I’d ever seen.