Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Book of Remembrance

I'm in need of a project, and came across my stash of Mom's letters to me the other day. I'm going to type some of them up, to organize them, and so Jeremy and my kids can get to know Mom a little better. I'd like to share some of my favorite passages. The following is from a letter she wrote when I was 11 and put into my Book of Remembrance. Her insight (a prompting?) is uncanny, and my faith in eternal families is renewed each time I read her words:

"...You were born at an emotionally difficult time for me. Just when childbearing had become a triumph and a joy, Peter was a difficult birth and an emergency cesarean section. His birth left me weak. Sarah died 6 weeks later, and scarcely a year after that you were born -- again by cesarean section. Your big brother Matt was not happy with us, and we were not happy with him.

"... Before you were born I was sitting alone in fast meeting feeling sad over the loss of little Sarah and lonely. Dad was home with the boys, and I was enjoying the meeting in peace. A set of twins was blessed that day. I thought as they were taken to the front of the congregation, "What could be more beautiful than a baby -- unless it is two babies. How wonderful!" As that thought passed through my mind, the witness of the Holy Ghost filled me whole body. I thought it meant that I was going to have twins. I asked the Lord again later at home if I were going to have twins, and again that feeling went through my whole being. Strange, the doctor even had been telling me I would have twins. Later -- much later, I learned that the Lord was actually telling me to rejoice, that I would have two more babies -- that the loss I felt would be taken away. I never dreamed I would have two little girls in the place of the little girl we lost, but the Lord told me so before you were born.

"...Dear Jennie, I hope when the time comes for you to bear your first child that I am near and that I am strong. My mother has been such a strength to me through the years. She has known how best to help me and exactly how I was feeling. Such a wonderful companion she has been. I long to be that for you. Should I not be able to be by your side for some reason, little daughter, please know that my thoughts and prayers and my whole soul will be with you -- not only in your motherhood, but in all your life's work. Remember, love and life are eternal. No catastrophe of this life can wipe them out. Those blessings have been sealed upon us in the Holy Temple of the Lord if we are faithful and worthy of them. You were born under that sacred temple covenant, and you are ours forever if we live for it. I loved you before you were born, I love you now, and I always will.

All my love,


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Happy Birthday

Mom was born 68 years ago today. Coincidentally, in the last week, I've come across two things that have reminded me of a few of the reasons why she was so fun. I've enjoyed reminiscing. The first is a cookbook, The Tasha Tudor Cookbook, I have on my bookshelf I was mistakenly remembering was hers, passed on to me. I opened it a few days ago and found this dedication:

"February 4, 1998

To Jennie on the day of her sophomore recital. This book reflects life's deep joys -- family, beauty, and love. We hope it lasts longer than flowers.

Love, Mom and Dad.

PS Keep it away from the kitchen."

If you want to spend an afternoon with Mom, go pick up a copy of this book at the library or the bookstore. Every little thing about it helped me remember all the little things I loved about Mom. I know she loved Tasha Tudor. Now I think she and Mom are kindred spirits like the world rarely sees. The illustrations (painted by Tasha herself) are all of rosy-cheeked, tousled-haired, bare-footed children, or food, or barnyard animals. From recipes calling for a chicken carcass (zero waste) to instructions like these: "Don't drain the pan; cook it right in the drippings. I can feel cholestrol-intimidated people squirming in horror. However, once a year will not hurt you, and life is too short not to enjoy a few treats," I'm reminded of Mom so much I have to chuckle.

The second reminder of Mom is a magazine called, appropriately, Mary Jane's Farm. I have no idea how I got a copy, addressed to me by name here at my new address, but if you're the one that sent it to me, Thank You! I enjoyed it very much. The subtitle of the magazine reads as follows: "Food as Celebration/ Passionate Gardening / Nostalgic Crafts and Stitchery; The Everyday Organic Lifestyle Magazine." Aside from the stitchery, Mom to a T, without cracking the cover. My favorite article in Mom's honor is titled, "Be an 'Entre-maure': Just because it doesn't glitter doesn't mean it isn't gold." Ha! Hilarious.

If you haven't yet reminisced about Mary Jane yet today and felt happy for the legacy she left us, I hope this helps. I usually feel sad Mom's not here. Sometimes I'm mad. But today I'm just happy I got to know her. Love you, Mom.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Unfinished Box

From my mother I inherited a restless curiosity. That's meant a jumble of different interests and hobbies, none of which I pursue casually: prose writing, photography, poetry, fossil collecting, fly fishing, fly tying, gardening, cooking. Tomorrow, maybe something new ...

Nature or nurture, I'm not sure which or in what measure, but I got that curiosity from my mother. Somehow, despite raising eight children, teaching piano, and carrying a constant load of heavy church responsibilities, she found time to pursue a wide range of hobbies, and to share them with my long-suffering father and with us, her kids.

As children, we sold "Current Cards & Stationery" to raise money to buy milk goats and, later, show goats, which we took to many a county fair; she dragged the family on rock hounding trips across the deserts of Utah; I went with her to Spanish classes at the University when I was 7 or 8, and pored over old microfiche slides in German at the family history library. We were always going new places and learning about new things. I also remember her buying me a little apple shaped piece of wood so I could practice tole painting, just like she did.

Mom grew interested in tole painting after a visit to Pennsylvania Dutch country. At the time, we lived on the outskirts of Philadelphia, and I think tole painting appealed to her both as a simple, rustic art form--something she felt she could manage--and for its tie-in with her Dutch heritage. Over the years, her skills grew, and, to this day, we have a number of beautifully painted objects: a small rocking horse, a chair, a clock, a doll's crib, and an unfinished box (a small hope chest), which I love precisely because it's unfinished.

My mother painted the box a deep green, the trim in a lighter hue, and then, on the top, one side, and one end, lovely patterns of flowers and other forms. But she didn't finish one end and one side, and there, only faint chalk lines are visible: patterns she sketched but never painted.

I often wonder what other patterns my mother would have painted had she lived past 59, and I don't mean just tole painting, but all the other things that would have peaked her curiosity or tickled her fancy. Mom was the type who would have taken up the banjo at 80. Really. She was never, ever bored, and I will always be grateful for that incredible enthusiasm for life.

I am also grateful that she shared that enthusiasm with us. When my son Jordan was just two she bought a tiny wheel barrow at a garage sale so that, when he visited, he would have his own little wheel barrow to push round the yard and help with the gardening.

In sharing herself and her interests in that way, she left it to us to paint some of the outlines she sketched, and encouraged us, in our own turn, to leave a box of one sort or another for our children and grandchildren: beautiful, we hope, and graceful, but never finished.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

High School Reunions

My mother used to say that high school reunions weren't worth attending until the 20 year reunion. "By then," she said, "all we could do was sit around and laugh at ourselves."

So, I just attended part of my 20 year reunion, and, as usual, Mom was right. It's not that the pretense has altogether vanished 20 years out, and everyone (myself included) seemed anxious to prove that we'd become something, but my classmates and I, as Mom predicted, had all reached the point where we couldn't hide 20 years of wear and tear.

We age slowly, day by day, and that change is almost imperceptible. At the reunion, however, it was like one snapshot (the way I remembered these folks from their yearbook photos) and then a second snapshot taken 20 years later (the way they look now). That change is dramatic and surprising--there's nothing subtle or gradual about it--and that leaves little room for pretense or smug satisfaction. (Okay, so I did take some smug satisfaction in a popular kid or two who hadn't aged particularly well ... )

Even so, it was mostly fun, because we're all aging and experiencing life at roughly the same rate, and I really enjoyed catching up with a lot of old friends and remembering time spent together when we were footloose and fancy free.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Taking a Break

I'm afraid the blog may take a bit of a break for the next little while, and not for lack of material so much as for lack of time to sift through it.  I have boxes and boxes of my mom's letters and other writings, and most of the previous posts come from snippets I'd collected over the past several years.  With that easily accessible material used up, finding more means finding the time to look for it. 

So, I guess what I'm saying is this:  while I will eventually post more, it may take some time.   In the meantime, if you have thoughts or recollections of my mother that you would like to share, please email them to me at, and I will post them here. Ideally, I'd make everyone an administrator and open it completely up, but I can't figure out a way to do that easily.   

I wish I had something deep or profound to add at this point, but I don't.  Yesterday, on Mother's Day, we drove down to the cemetery in Bountiful where my mother is buried, and I stood for awhile and looked at the dates on her headstone.  Standing there, I felt keenly the loss all over again.  I miss her warmth, her smile, her wit and wisdom, the sound of her voice on the end of the line.  Dinners together on Sunday afternoons.  Cooking together.  Laughing together.  Her enthusiasm for life and people.   

Mom should've been around for another 20-30 years, I can't help feeling, but she's gone, really gone, and there's nothing to be done about it, and the saddest part of all is that--outside of Jordan--my children do not know her and cannot feel the warmth of her love, at least not in this life.   

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Two Duties

January 30, 1999

We had a little row over the phrase “taking the curse off” at supper last night.

This is a “Mormonism” that flies out of the mouths of thoughtless people from time to time. I prefer the gratitude of the old fisherman. The Lord has provided so much for us. In our abundance, we have become thoughtless--even offensive. My problem is organizing and using the food we have in such a way that nothing is wasted. We have not struggled for bread--except to plant a few gardens and arrange to buy what we need. It seems to me we have two duties: to remember the source of our blessings and to share them.

Friday, April 24, 2009

"Everything is Ephemeral"

November 3, 1997

Nostalgia. From my viewpoint, everything is ephemeral. Teen years, college, childbearing--all fleeting. This trip through life is more and more like an express train. If I am going to do anything meaningful, I’d better hurry. Looking at my mother’s old fashioned photo on the dresser, I realize it must be even more like a fairy tale to her than it is to me. I don’t recognize the face I see in the mirror. It’s like Halloween every day. Luckily these thoughts don’t stay with me. They came with the box of old writings.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Be Happy To Be You

March 14, 1997

[T]he idea is settle for less when it comes to comparing with others. Be happy to be you. It frees you from the awful responsible of being the best there is.

I am having such fun on the organ at Church right now. Instead of thinking belligerently, "Well, if they are going to ask me to play when they know I'm not trained to do it, they'll have to take what they get!!!” and feeling embarrassed each Sunday because I'm doing a poor job, I am practicing each week and learning new things. I am even using the pedal and trying new stops. I am happy when it sounds good, and I know it sounds good. I can't and won't compare myself with Rebecca Green, but I am glad to listen to anything Rebecca Green has to tell me about the organ and try it out. It's fun. I'm just me--a descendant of peasants and fishermen who never had such opportunities.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Crow Shooter

May 28, 1999

I love the crow shooter Peter set up for me. He fixed up a cardboard roll that is as thick as wood. It is perfect shooting hand-held bottle rockets. The bottle rockets I am shooting now don't whistle, but the crows get the message just the same. They are staying away much better. Trouble is, yesterday morning I got up at 6 a.m. and aimed my bottle rocket out the slider. When it shot off, a slight breeze coming in from the deck blew some black powder onto my nightgown and set it on fire. I now have a nice hole in my yellow gown. Luckily, I looked down in time to put out the flames. Also luckily, it wasn't a terrifically flammable material, or I wouldn't be laughing about this story.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


February 4, 1999

I finally bought the family a membership to the YMCA. It is cheaper than the Columbia Association pools, etc. Once Dad began going to the gym, he, of course, thought I should do the same. Since I lost my walking partner, I haven't been walking. The YMCA has a physical trainer on hand who does evaluations of your physical condition and makes recommendations for training. Mike also shows newcomers how to manage the "toys," as he calls them, in the gym. He's a rotund power house with a graying crew cut and a big smile.

On my first visit, Mike showed me how walk on the treadmill. It is an automatic belt with variable speeds. You work to keep up with it. At first, I felt like I was tipping over all the time. Mike made me hold on to the handle grips at each side of the belt and kept reminding me to stand upright. He set the machine at a strolling pace and left me alone with it. As I walked, I read a monitor in front of me that told me how fast I was walking, how far I had walked, how steep the grade (adjustable), and how many calories I had burned. I walked for 45 minutes and felt good. I was dismayed that I hadn't walked very far or burned very many calories when I finished.

I came next day, went to the treadmill without a guide, figured out how to turn it on and began walking. I had noticed people reading as they walked and biked and figured I could study for seminary as I did the treadmill. I brought little book on the teachings of the prophets that I wanted to read--also my glasses. A woman next to me offered a book holder that hooked onto the monitor in front of me. It was convenient, but it covered the statistics that I was so interested in the day before. I noticed that I bounced up and down a lot as I walk and decided I could get treadmill-sick if I read. I have never been able to read in the car. I increased my walking speed to the point where I felt I would get some decent distance and calorie burning and felt proud of myself at 3.7 miles per hour.

It wasn't long before I wanted to see my statistics--how long I had been walking, etc. I was comfortable on the treadmill to the point that I no longer held the handle grips for balance but let my arms swing freely at my side. It was so easy and nice, walking to music. I reached out casually to move the book to one side and knocked the book and my glasses down onto the moving belt. Concerned about my little book, I tried to retrieve it. I wondered somehow if it would get caught in the machine (shouldn't have worried about the book!). Just that much distraction was enough to throw me off balance. When I knew I was in trouble I reached out to turn the machine off as my legs kept traveling backwards. Of course, I fell onto the belt. I was aware that I couldn't get up, couldn't get off, and that my left arm was getting a terrific floor burn as the belt kept moving under me. Eventually I hit the wall behind the treadmill. It sounds like a process, but it all happened faster than I could think--something like a car accident. Three men jumped off their machines to come to my aid. I was more embarrassed than anything, but my left thumb and arm hurt, and I knew I had scraped my knee. Mike made sure he checked every spot, offered ice for my thumb. When I insisted on getting back on, he walked beside me asking me questions until he was sure my head was clear.

I went back next day but didn't let go of the handle grips at all. Took a Tylenol so that I could go to sleep that night. Everything hurt. My thumb is red, blue and purple, but my floor burns aren't bad. I had thought the gym would be a safe place to exercise in the winter. No worry about ice. I guess there is no really safe place for me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Worm in the Big Apple

October 25, 1997

Dear Mom and Dad,

Our confidence in New York City was shaken yesterday. After we had been to the MoMA, we were hungry. We bought hot peanuts from a vendor, but they were not quite enough to satisfy us until 6 p.m. We had an appointment to see Sister Valeriano (a woman I had taught in the Philippines, now 87 years old, living at 333 14th Street), and we weren’t sure we would be fed at 6. We planned to visit a shop called “Gus’ Pickles” on the Lower East Side first and entered the subway by Radio City Hall.

This was the Rockefeller Center Subway Station, a little nicer than most. A nearly deserted pizzeria came up on the right. We decided against it. And then we saw Au Bon Pain on the left. That seemed perfect. We could get a cup of soup and a bagel. Katie decided to get fruit instead of soup but found that the watermelon was bad. I encouraged her to take it back to the counter. As she left, I had the sensation that something slipped from its place near my hand. I turned to the left and noticed a man headed for the door and yelled, "My wallet!" "You took my wallet!" "He has my wallet!" He broke into a run. I was running after him yelling, "Give me my wallet!!" "Give me my wallet!!" "Give me my WAAA-LET!!!"

All I could think of was the little money I had, my checks, my cards, my ID, everything I valued that HE had no right to. He was very tall and easy to see loping through the crowds. His thin head towered above everyone, and the shoulders of his light tan jacket stood out above the crowd. My voice surprised me, a foghorn magnified in the subway tunnel. A couple of men took up the chase. I was hoping for a man, a policeman, anyone ahead to stop him. I felt I was running like the wind and took three stairs at a time coming out of the subway to the street. There I met the men who had chased ahead shrugging their shoulders. He had disappeared.

I knew I had lost. The closest man pressed two quarters into my hand, apologized for my trouble and insisted I call the police immediately. At least, he said, I could claim the loss on my income tax return.

I was still trembling with adrenaline when I returned to Katie. I felt strangely invigorated. I had always wondered what my reaction to theft would be. Now, I know. It would be mindless and uncontrolled. Why would I expect control when I had never been controlled?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

“All I need is a crowbar …”

My mother was infamous for her “little projects.” Pay attention to the dates in this series of excerpts from various letters. As I recall, this particular project started with a cracked tile in the shower of the master bedroom.

March 1, 1997

[T]he shower is still torn out, but I woke up this morning with wonderful plans for remodeling the whole bathroom. Dad is terrified. All I need is a crowbar. You will love this bathroom. It will add to the value of the whole house! It's similar to the kitchen remodel. Take out walls. Let in light and air. Add a tub and tiled floor. We can do it. We watched a video on doing the floor. Easy. It just takes work and time and not that much money.

July 9, 1997

We are making inside home repairs. So far, we’ve made a major mistake with every improvement. We are putting in sun tunnels--compromise sky lights. Glenn did a great job on the first part but continued working after he was tired, lost his balance, and put his foot partly through the ceiling. We are nearly finished with the master shower I ruined last February. We’ve been down to one shower for a long time. I have to grout the new tile, and I am afraid to start. It should be easy. I have watched videos and read books. All that’s left is doing it. There is something exciting about these projects but frightening, too. All are learning experiences.

July 21, 1997

Dad put in a new shower floor, and I fixed the new row of tile. I am worried that I have chosen tile that will actually attract mildew, but we will see. Today, I put sealant on that grout and pick up a new shower door. I never would have torn things up as much as I did if I had known the cost or the time involved. It has been a great learning experience. I am actually enjoying our construction projects. It is interesting to me to see how things have been put together. I am convinced we can do as well as any builder if we just know what to do and get the right tools together--and the physical strength.

October 6, 1997

The bathroom we finally nearly finished has inadequacies. Some kind of acid is in the old paint and leaches through any new paint we put on the wall. So, this morning again, I painted with KILZ. I hope it kills the stuff, and we can be done with this project.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Mary Ellen Edmunds

I love this tribute that my mother wrote to introduce one of her good friends, Mary Ellen Edmunds, at a conference in 1990. It manages to say a lot about Mary Ellen and my mother at the same time.

I first met Mary Ellen Edmunds in Hong Kong in 1963. In spite of her hilarious letters welcoming me as a missionary to the Southern Far East Mission, I wasn’t quite prepared for her. My defenses were down. When it came time for me to meet the Mission President for the first time, I was hiding behind a door barefoot, wondering what to do. Sister Edmunds had tied my shoes to the 20 foot ceiling of the mission home. I didn’t have a clue how to get them down. I didn’t come out until my mission president was really irritated. When I finally did come out, he thundered, “Sister Davidson, WHERE are your shoes!!!

The next thing I remember him saying was, “Sister Edmunds, see me in my office after dinner.” She wasn’t scared. She was as much at home with him as she would have been with my little brother. So, that’s one side of Sister Edmunds: she plays mean tricks.

Mary Ellen was prepared early in life for such things. One morning-- just to see what her reaction would be--her own mother threw a pie in her face.

Eventually, we were companions in the Philippine Islands for 9 months. I got to know her well. I learned she doesn’t sleep as much as most people. She kept me up working all night and then made fun of me when I fell asleep on a bus the next day. She said she couldn’t decide whether to hold my legs together or to hold my mouth shut to keep me decent in public. Once she tended a little boy all night in a primitive hospital while I slept in the nurses' quarters.

There are several things Mary Ellen does not like: she can’t stand pessimism, she can’t stand being late, and she doesn’t tolerate dishonesty. I remember a dishonest taxi driver who should have known that before he let her into his cab. Because he guessed we didn’t know the territory and was driving us all over town, she grabbed the back of his neck and shook him. He was glad to stop the cab and let us out without paying his outrageous fee. Mary Ellen has the courage to stand for truth and righteousness under any circumstances. You would want her next to you in a good fight. I have seen her take on a whole gang of ruffians single handed, just because one of them was harrassing me. As a result, she earned the admiration of the whole gang.

Mary Ellen has an elephant-sized heart. That is what drives her to stay up nights, to be a champion of righteousness, and to work with all her might, mind and strength ... literally. She came home from Africa--her 4th mission--in a wheel chair. She loves people. She loves all of us, even though she notices our idiosyncrasies. She is equally at ease with the famous and the infamous, the wealthy and the poor, with the suffering and the dying, with the disfigured and the disabled. All are safe in her presence (except those who are pessimistic, those who are late, and those who are cheating). Her love is irresistible. It takes away all fear. Everywhere she goes she has a following, like the pied piper. Her following includes children and old people, men and women, sick and well. I am one of her followers. I love her and consider it a great privilege to be able to introduce her tonight.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Harvard Humility

June 29, 1996,

We’ve just come back from a business trip to Cambridge, Mass. We stayed in an old house called “A Friendly Inn” run by a Chinese family almost on the Harvard campus. Couldn’t have been closer to the old school. Dad was America’s representative there to an international medical standards group--the only American and the only non-doctor--to decide on the international standard for suction.

We took a tour there, guided by a Harvard Junior in English, who was absolutely certain Harvard is the only school in this country worth talking about. Their motto “veritas” (truth) apparently does not include humility. He also said that the only book saved from a fire in the Harvard library in 1856, The Christian War Against the Devil and his Hosts and the Flesh (approximate title), “Certainly didn’t interest him in this day.”

* * * *

I don’t remember when I have spent four such idle days. While Dad attended his sessions, I was left to myself. Most of the time, I walked the campus, the arts and science museums and the little downtown area known as Harvard Square. There are many old frame houses of all colors--mostly three stories high--and many picturesque churches in the area. I found the Cambridge Ward on Brattle Street. We were told Julia Child lived in the area and “many other famous people.” It was home to Henry James, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Louis Agassis. The Longfellow house still stands. Memorial Hall at the center of campus has the appearance of a gothic cathedral erected to knowledge--beautiful stained glass windows, and a regular cathedral transcept in the center with marble plaques on its walls commemorating the Harvard Civil War dead. A large part of the building is a dark wood dining hall decorated with marble busts of philosophers and other great intellects. The exterior includes the latin learning of men mingled with scripture. In some bygone day, someone chiseled, “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” over the doorway to Emerson Hall. I am not sure that is the sentiment of the current freshman class.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Hope for Change in Us All

This is a rather personal journal entry, but I wanted to share it to show (a) my mother's self-awareness, and (b) her ability to pivot from a negative to a positive--her desire to see the good in herself and others and to make the best of the situation. Several of the references here may be unfamiliar to readers who are not members of the LDS/Mormon Church. "Relief Society" is a women's meeting taught by lay members (one of several meetings held each Sunday). The "Gospel" is a generic term for that faith/belief system, which places a strong emphasis on appreciating and learning about one's ancestors. In that faith, we often refer to fellow members as "brother" or "sister." The "pioneers" were early Mormon settlers who fled persecution in Illinois and Missouri to the valley of the Great Salt Lake in the mid-1800s. That migration remains a great source of pride to many Mormons, and my mother's point was to emphasize that--regardless of our blood lineage--we all have "pioneer" ancestors who paved the way for the blessings and opportunities we currently enjoy.

Sunday, August 1, 1993

Last Sunday I gave a Relief Society lesson on our "pioneer heritage" and made sure each sister recognized that she had a pioneer heritage of her own in those ancestors who have made their present blessings possible. During the lesson, I gave examples of my own pioneer ancestors and, in an effort to make them more human, I referred flippantly to their weaknesses--temper, theft, etc. I then said how thankful I was to them for their sacrifices that have benefited me so much, making it all right that I had mentioned their faults.

During the week following I have been overshadowed with the conviction that I have wronged people I love, people who are just as real now as they ever were. Grantma Groen's love of beauty in all her surroundings and her insistence on quality in work and workmanship lives with me. Every time I see a beautiful farm and wonderful animals I think of her. Treelined streets and landscaped shopping areas would have delighted her. Benches in beautiful places would have been a joy. She would have loved our shopping mall and would have been overjoyed at some of the fine European breads available here in the East.

As for Grandma Davidson, I am just like her. I have the same feelings for the Gospel that she had. I want to be faithful as she was. I don't want to be remembered as bad-tempered any more than she would want to be. It is not fair for me to label my grandmothers as "dishonest" or "hot tempered" because of a few instances in their lives. Labeling is hard to overcome, especially when it hounds us even beyond the grave. Does their death give me license to label them for their faults? My mouth has done a terrible thing.

I realized I am guilty of even more offense. Somehow I have felt free to point out the faults of all those I am closest to, especially those who live in the same house. I am kinder to the neighbor next door in my judgment. How different it would be in our family if I changed and could put a bridle on my tongue! I want to change. I really want to do it. With God's help it must be possible. (And yet, during this writing when I left to go upstairs and found my picture knocked from the wall, I immediately railed on Ben for being so rough in the hall.)

Today, I feel that our brotherhood is limitless--that there are no bounds between dead and living, between races, between countries--and in the other direction, no open license to condemn father or mother, brother or sister, son or daughter, or husband just because they are family and are somehow part of me. I guess I have no right to condemn myself for a fault. There has to be hope and real possibility for change in us all.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

To Dance and Dream

July 19, 1993

Today is a beautiful summer day, warm and humid. I have just baked some cookie bars, whole wheat and raisin, brown sugar and almonds, and the house is filled with the aroma. Katie and her friend Sherrie are upstairs trying on my make up and perfume and having a wonderful time. Peter, Josh and a boy from France are playing on the trampoline and squirting each other with a hose, Paddy running around their feet hopefully, begging them to throw the ball. I have been listening to Andrew Lloyd Webber's Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, a brazen, irreverent, wonderful, inspiring musical account of the story of Joseph sold into Egypt. I feel it would offend my mother, but it makes me laugh and cry and want to dance and dream of the coming of Zion.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sharing Sarah

My mother published the following article in the June 1981 edition of the Ensign magazine, when she was roughly my age, and already the mother of six. Despite its length, I thought it worth sharing. The original title was "Sharing Sarah: Our Down's Syndrome Baby."

Once the possibility had been suggested, our doctor left me alone with my new daughter to see for myself. He had mentioned a few of the signs: low placement of ears; flat nose; short, stubby hands and fingers; large cleft between big toe and little toes; umbilical hernia; simian crease in hands; mongolian fold in eyes. She was so tiny and new—not beautiful, really, but cute, adorable.

It was late evening, and no one bothered me. No nurses came. I examined her from head to toe and found some of the signs to be possible. She was so little it was hard to tell. But even then, without clinical verification, I sensed it was true. Our little girl was mongoloid: born, as I was later to know, with Down’s Syndrome.

Cuddled there together in a darkened hospital room, I felt we faced a menacing world. I carried the memory of a shallow conclusion formed years earlier that the greatest gift a man could possess was a brilliant mind, the greatest curse, a dull one. I had actually expressed it: “Give me a child with physical handicap, never a mental.” From my elementary school days, I remembered two small brothers who said very little and clung to each other on the playground. None of us played with them, and none of us seemed to know where they had gone. There was a foster child placed with a family in our neighborhood, a little girl who watched us enter the chapel each Sunday with slow gaze and heavy tongue. I winced as I applied these memories to our tiny daughter. Of my little Sarah I asked overwhelming questions, “What kind of person will you be?” “What will people do to you?” “What will your dreams and heartaches be?” “Will we be able to teach you?” My husband and I together asked the age-old question: “Why was little Sarah born this way?” “What did we do wrong?” (We remembered the ancient question, “Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?”—John 9:2.) Now, as we look back on Sarah Jane’s short four and a half years of life, we have found at least partial answers to these questions.

In answer to the first question, “What kind of person will you be?” our doctor assured us that she would be lovable. The best possible thing, he said, would be to take her home and love her. That was a good beginning.

The other questions were not so easily answered. But since most of my husband’s university experience had been in child development and psychology, he knew where to begin. We read books and visited a center for developmental disabilities. They gave us instructional material and moral support. We received regular visits from our county health nurses. But our most comforting resources were other parents of handicapped children. We traveled with our two-week-old infant to a “Parent-to-Parent” group in Salt Lake City. A woman there touched me. “My little daughter,” she said, “was born following three healthy boys. She is the light of my life.” I clung to that.

As we learned, we taught others. We decided to share Sarah with all who were interested. The Sunday Sarah received her name and blessing, Glenn announced to the congregation that she had a unique mission in life and that we were not sure yet what it would be. Everyone was warm and interested. Some families in the neighborhood made a special project of Sarah. They visited and brought little gifts. They always spoke to her. Certain she was among friends, she developed a bright response and a ready smile.

I had feared most the answer to my second question: “What will people do to you?” From the beginning, we discovered that this depended largely on us. Sharing Sarah openly helped a great deal. I dreaded the natural, open questions of children, not knowing in advance what I should say. Simple answers proved the solution to simple problems.

Each week as my piano students came for lessons, they greeted Sarah and sometimes played with her as she sat near the piano in her little rocker. When doctors discovered a massive heart defect and recommended surgery, these children and other children in the neighborhood and family gave us great strength through their fasting and prayers.

Once, after Sarah had finally learned to walk in spite of great obstacles (bone infection, heart surgery, paralytic stroke, shortened leg, and a broken leg), a little boy laughed and said, “She walks like a gorilla.” Swallowing my instant hurt, I explained that Sarah had one leg shorter than the other, so it was hard for her to walk straight. The little boy was satisfied.

Many little ones asked, “Why doesn’t Sarah talk?” I always explained that it was harder for Sarah to learn words than it was for them, but added that she could learn if we were careful to teach her. They remained Sarah’s friends.

What people did to Sarah was to care for her, to learn from her, and to love her.

The answer to my question, “What will your dreams and heartaches be?” is only a guess. Sarah was just beginning to want to do more than we were ready to allow her when she passed away a few months before her fifth birthday. She evidenced talents and capabilities full to overflowing that wanted expression.

From infancy she was responsive to music. She loved it. When my students played, however badly, she quieted and listened or bounced her rocker rhythmically. When my trio sang, she clapped and shouted, “Wow!” When the stereo played especially stirring music, she danced, changing her body movements to harmonize with mood and tempo. She had favorites among my piano pieces. Whenever I played a particularly lively Schubert piece, she would come running, climb onto the piano bench, and beat time with me on the high keys. It became a kind of ritual with us, our duet.

We sensed in her celebrations a beautiful spirit. Whenever anything delighted her, she used all her resources to express her feelings. When grandma and grandpa came or the home teachers stood at the door, she greeted them with a big “hiya!” She danced and laughed and hugged and kissed. When we had spaghetti for dinner, she clapped and hollered, stamped her feet, and passed her dish for more. Dogs, cats, horses, birds, and bumpy roads made her lift her arms and squeal and laugh. If she had found any more means for expression, we feel she would have used them.

Sarah had a special sensitivity to peace and happiness. Discord distressed her. If baby Ben cried, she said, “Oh, Bee,” and pulled me to him, or pushed his head toward me, knowing I could quiet him. If the boys were fighting, she’d bang me on the arm and take me to them, jabbering the story on the way. If a visiting cousin were minus a toy and crying, she would snatch one from her brother and offer it as a solution.

Quite by accident we discovered her fierce desire to accomplish household tasks. Her fussing with the dishwasher turned out to be a desire to help load and unload dishes. Similarly, she demanded to be included in diaper-folding, bed-making, and putting away clothes and toys. Her interference at the dinner table turned out to be a desire to help with the passing. Once we gave her the opportunity, however, she passed food with such gusto we had to stay alert. As she grew older, these desires to help began to expand.

Though it was not always apparent, Sarah helped to keep us all tidy. Thoroughly smeared with spaghetti, she often demanded that we attend to the escaped pea or the spilled milk before she would continue eating. When she and her younger brother Ben were seated at their own small table, she assumed responsibility for him, mopping his face, the table, the floor, running for napkins and tissues, and pronouncing it finished with a big “There!”

Decidedly unlike her five brothers, Sarah expressed a deep femininity. Any hat, shoes, or dress sent her trotting to the mirror, where she cocked her head and turned slowly, acting pretty. Her favorite decoration was a large, lacy doily, my treasure, made by my deceased grandmother. Sarah discovered it no matter where it was. With the doily on her head, she walked a little straighter, regally, peering up through the lace to see for herself just how pretty she looked. She loved to comb her daddy’s hair carefully all around, even sideburns, cranking his head this way and that by the chin and standing back to admire, as though she had a particular design in mind. Like any little girl, she loved to mother. Her little brother Ben was the victim of most of this. She dressed him in his coat, often upside down, and helped him escape from the house to play. Three weeks after Sarah was gone, Ben was still searching the house for “Tah-tah,” his once constant companion.

Somewhat like her father, Sarah enjoyed ritual. She was upset if not always allowed to zip up her sleeper. No matter how prolonged her bedtime antics, she settled to sleep in the same position, placing her two little hands in her daddy’s big one.

Some of her rituals demanded all her strength at times, but Sarah evidenced a Spartan power to endure. With breath and energy failing, Sarah often woke suddenly in the night. Religiously, she would cross the room, turn off her humidifier, and then turn on the light before stumbling to her daddy’s bedside. Occasionally, these duties accomplished, she would collapse on the floor and whimper before she could reach him, but she refused to take shortcuts. Once, following six days of intravenous treatment and liquid diet in the hospital, she was placed on a total fast for tests but allowed to go home. She woke in the morning and, as usual, stumbled to the cupboard for dishes, then stumbled on to set the table before requesting the breakfast we couldn’t give. Just three days before her heart stopped for the last time, we watched her pull herself up the ladder at the park to go down the slippery slide five times.

The answer to our question, “Will we be able to teach you?” is simple. Yes. Sarah learned everything we consciously tried to teach and much that we didn’t. Our big problem was assuming she could not learn. Teachers outside our home accomplished things with her we would not have tried. With her own stubborn insistence, she often taught us she could do more. She learned several words on her own, but we did teach her the word drink. Often Sarah would resort to banging daddy on the arm, pointing to the pitcher and jabbering, but as we worked with her, more and more she remembered the word. She would stop in the middle of the action, duck her head and say deliberately, “dri,” then give a big cheese grin and celebration while dad poured her drink. “Dri” was the last word she ever said. With her mouth full of tubes keeping her alive, we are sure she attempted the “dri” and the grin. Yes, we could teach her.

Sarah’s short life broadened our understanding, increased our compassion. Her life was of value, all of it. To us she was not a partial person, but so whole we were constantly aware of spirit. She reminded us of the frailty of this life and of her need and ours for fulfillment in the eternities. During her time with us, we found ourselves thinking and speaking of her as “our bright spot,” “our little sunshine,” the “light of our lives.” So at last, to the age-old question in its ancient phrasing, “Who did sin, this man, or his parents?” (“Why was Sarah born this way?” “What did we do wrong?”) the answer is the Master’s:

Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. (John 9:3.)

The works of God have been manifest in Sarah Jane. In her innocent suffering, she has made us again aware of the sacrifice of “the just for the unjust.” And through her sweet influence, she has caused a great longing in us to be reunited with her. If we accomplish this, she will have helped us gain eternal life. Then “the works of God” will finally be manifest when both she and we come forth in glory, in the morning of the resurrection of the just.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Half Bushel of Beets

I am back [from Pennsylvania Dutch Country] with 1/2 bushel of red beets. A young Amish farmer had his “red beet” sign out, and when I perceived his hardship, his youth, etc., I felt I couldn’t buy less than $5. I tried to talk him into giving me less for the same money, but he was determined to give me full measure. I hadn’t realized he didn’t have the beets harvested and would have to pull them as we watched.

He is having a difficult time as a dairy farmer. No matter what price the grocer puts on it in the store, he always gets the same paltry amount for his milk. He had a full dark beard, rosy cheeks, and a constant full smile. His clothesline was filled with baby clothes--at least three toddlers and an infant, judging from the sizes. Karen [Athay] was laughing at me all the way home for my half bushel of beets, even though she was ready to hand him $20 herself.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Rain and Wind

I went to graduate school in New York City, and my mother used to come and visit us there, in our one-bedroom apartment on Tiemann Place just off of Riverside Drive, a block from the Cotton Club and 125th Street in Harlem. When we first told her we'd found a place, she had visions of a tiny, dirty apartment in a dingy building, and we did nothing to disabuse that notion. She arrived in due time, armed with mops and scrub brushes and ready to do battle with filth and vermin, only to discover she'd be had: our apartment there was clean and spacious, with plenty of light through large windows facing south and west.

I share the following brief excerpt because it demonstrates her gift for words. Notice her attention to the sounds of a place. In just a few lines, she takes me right back to New York City, years ago, on a night of wind and rain ...

Dec. 2, 1996

Dear Peter,

It poured rain all Saturday night and into Sunday. Rain and wind. New York City is quiet in bad weather. Few sirens and car alarms. Only the subway train whooshing by in the night and the sound of the rain beating against the windows.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Moved to Mars

My mother taught me a love of new places and new experiences. But that doesn't mean transitions were always easy for her. She wrote the following shortly after a move to Ellicott City, Maryland, from Highland, Utah, where we'd lived for many years. What I see in it is her determination to find what is good and beautiful and interesting in this new place, far from friends and family. Before the move, I remember her reading maps, articles, and everything else about Maryland she could get her hands on. I think she was determined to try and get us excited about this big--and potentially disruptive--move, and even to persuade herself. In the end, Maryland became very much home for her, in so many ways, and she deeply loved the house and yard there on Wild Filly Court and so many new friends who came into our lives.

June 1, 1987

Dear Ones,

In some ways I feel we’ve moved to Mars. We are so far from anyone familiar, and the world around us is so different. We remember you all in our prayers, and that is our tie to home.

* * * *

We took a walk after Church along the Patapsco River. We walked through a tunnel of huge, green trees, and the undergrowth was filled with wild roses, blackberries, ferns, wild rhododendron (that’s what it looked like to me), and even some grapes. Tangles of vines and some honeysuckle climb the trees and bushes. All the growth kills noise—except for the bird songs. It was like the Pagsanhan River in the Phillipines, except the trees and plants weren’t tropical. They were just as green. There were lots of irridescent bugs around—greens and blues. The trail we walked on used to be brick or cobblestoned, but it was crumbling and covered with years of dirt. We saw an old, moss-covered chimney and wondered how old it was. It appeared that in the very old days some homes were built along the river. I’m sure it was used for transportation. It must have been difficult to cut roads through these forests. If all the people here now were to leave, it wouldn’t be long until all trace of us would disappear too.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Thunderstorm Days

In the early 1960s, my mother served a full-time volunteer mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon Church), in what was then called the Greater Far East Mission. She served for roughly six months in Hong Kong, and then spent the remaining eighteen months of her mission in of the Phillipines. Her voice was younger then, but unmistakable.

July 19, 1964

How I’ve loved the rides along Highway 54—especially on the thunderstorm days of July! The skies, the countryside—everything—seems to feed my imagination with all sorts of beauty, rest, or excitement, depending on my mood and theirs. These days, the sky to the South is exciting, piled high with thunderstorms or black, with white, whispy clouds swirling along close to the ground. The flat land above the highway reminds me of what I would imagine a misty England scene to be on a rainy day—all lush green under a dripping sky with patches of darker green where thickets of bamboo or pampas grass have sprung up. A few thin Brahma cattle generally graze there alongside a caribou or two. It’s strange to see such bony cattle in the midst of what looks like abundance. (Reminds me of the 7 lean cattle in Pharoah’s dream.) I used to wonder if they all had worms, but, apparently, it’s just a matter of the wrong kind of grass.

Rain means suffocation in the back of the bus. All the wooden windows bang up, and the breezes stop, but the smoking goes on, regardless. No more thoughts of a misty English countryside. Mid-bus is a fair place to be this time of year. There’s but a sparking rain curtain over the door that waves in the wind and occasionally draws aside to give us a few of the floods outside or splash us all—love it.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Singing in a Dark World

From a letter to my brother Peter, who at the time was serving a Mormon mission in eastern Germany.

February 4, 1999

I have just been listening to Katie's high school choir concert on tape. She would love to send you a copy. Here are the words to one of their songs (written by a Jewish prisoner in Germany in World War II):

I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.
And I believe in Love, even when there's no one there.
And I believe in God, even when He is silent.
I believe through any trial, there is always a way.

But sometimes in this suffering and hopeless despair
My heart cries for shelter to know someone's there.
But a voice rises within me saying, "Hold on, my child.
I'll give you strength; I'll give you hope.
Just stay a little while."

I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.
And I believe in love, even when there's no one there.
And I believe in God, even when He is silent!
I believe through any trial, there is always a way.

May there someday be sunshine.
May there someday be happiness.
May there someday be love.
May there someday be peace.

The music for these words is magnificent. The kids raised the roof with it. They also sang, "Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel? Yes he did! Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel? Yes he did! Then why not every man?!" Many of their songs had religious substance to them. These youth are singing their hearts out in a pretty dark world.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

More Work Than Miracle

[During a church service in Manhattan,] the bishop announced that we would be treated to Polonaise in A Flat Major by Chopin. Unusual for sacrament meeting, unheard of for testimony meeting. Then a tiny blonde girl 8 years old stood up to play it. She disappeared onto the piano bench. They lifted the lid on the beautiful Manhattan Ward grand piano and then--wow!--we heard Chopin. Katie and I wondered if some adult with large shoulders and big hands had crawled back there to trick us. She was wonderful--beautiful phrases, sparkling music. We thought she was some NYC protege but learned afterward that she is from Salt Lake City, taught by her mother, had gone to a piano competition in Texas and won the opportunity to go to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall. Her 10 year old sister had done the same thing two years before. She gets up at 5:30 to practice and averages 4 hours per day when preparing for competition. The mother has no degree in music but played from the time she was 5. She studied music after she was married for two years at the University of Utah. Beautiful young mother. Every phrase of that music had been carefully and beautifully practiced. More work than miracle, as always.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Garden Notes ...

Nearing the end of her life, my Mom's garden and compost pile were something to behold. She took such good care of the soil that it felt like damp sponge when we walked on it. In the Spring, the flowers and vegetables would rocket skyward.

July 21, 1995

Ben and I planted bare-root tomatoes at the side of the house, and even though we’ve planted tomatoes on the same spot for nearly eight years, they look pretty good. I think it’s time to rotate, though. I planted two fig trees there this year. Four little figs are forming. I had a beautiful clump of squash growing on the corner of that garden until some wild animal came in the night and nibbled away all the youngest and greenest leaves and quite a few of the blossoms. I think it was a wood chuck. It also ate most of the pole beans that had begun to climb in the other garden. This morning, I bought 4 lbs of dried blood and scattered it around all the plants in hopes that all the wild rabbits would have nightmares when they smelled it and leave our plants alone.

I am in my blue phase. I love blue and white dishes, blue clothes, blue and purple flowers. The dark blue lobelia in front is a perfect color. I am also in a garden phase. I keep thinking of Grantma Groen and wishing I could walk around her garden again. I would learn something. I am remembering many of the plants she had there and wanting to duplicate them in my own yard. I am haunting the garden section of Borders book store and would like to buy three $30 books and one $50 book. So far, I’ve resisted. Perennials are so expensive in the nurseries here that I am in complete sympathy with Grantma’s theft. I would love to dig them in the wild but conservationists have made even that a guilt trip for me. I want to learn more about propagating plants and building soil. My compost pile is almost as interesting as the wildflower garden. I look at it every morning and imagine the wonders it will produce in the garden next year.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Self Mastery

September 19, 1993

I heard a talk at woman’s conference that was illuminating. Mary Finnegan said, “Either you master your money, or it will master you. You will either be boss or slave. There is no middle ground.”

This morning I thought that this applies to food and time as well. Either you master food, or it will master you (If you are lucky enough to have food in abundance). Working by time schedules brings control and freedom. I need to master all three of these areas in my life. I have done it in all areas for short periods of time, but I know people who have been able to do it consistently. These are the solid, admirable people among us. The danger inherent in mastering these is an accompanying impatience with those who have not--or, equally bad, becoming miserly in all things--preoccupied and ridiculous with food, short-sighted and selfish with money, or unyielding and unwilling to give time.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Maryland Summer

If you grew up there, it's easy to take Eastern landscapes for granted. (I'm sure the reverse is true). My mother, however, grew up in the intermountain west, where summers are hot and dry and the trees few and far between, so the East never ceased to amaze her, with its dense green forests and the way things grew so readily in her garden. Note the nod to the silent treatment. My mother's disregard typically ran more "hot" than "cold."

July 21, 1995

Today, I’ve been pushing the lawn sweeper over the lawn to collect two-day-old clippings. I didn’t go out gracefully. First, I shamed everybody who turned me town by cold disregard the past two days. When everyone left to play anyway with no apparent twinge of conscience, I finally went out myself. It is 92 degrees in the city today. The sun came up dull red this morning through heavy gray mists. Even at the peak of day, the sun is somewhat dimmed in the humid air. This is thunderstorm weather, and I don’t want the grass clippings to be washed into the lawn in matted clumps where they smother everything underneath.

I’ve been slogging along, wiping the salt out of my eyes with the back of my gloves, enjoying the green beauty of this place. The amazing tangle of vines, shrubs and trees that grow untended all around is especially beautiful this year because of heavy rain.

Katie and I have planted a small garden in back with vegetables at one end and wildflowers at the other. Every morning we check the garden to see what new surprises have bloomed back there--and what new damage has been done by the neighborhood rabbits and woodchuck. I weeded the spot carefully, pulling only those seedlings I knew for certain to be weeds. I think we have nourished a few weeds I didn’t recognize along with the flowers, but the results of the scattering of seeds are miraculous.

I don’t even know the names of the flowers blooming there--except for pink, orange and red poppies, black-eyed susans and coreopsis. There are miniature pink and yellow snapdraggons and nameless small white flowers. Cosmos and bachelor buttons seem to be there, and volunteer coriander is flowering everywhere, white and lacey looking. Butterflies are discovering our little spot, along with thumb-sized toads, crickets and dragonflies. A sleek gray bird has been eating the thorn-less blackberries at the vegetable end this afternoon.

Yesterday, a perfect day with blue sky, floating white clouds, light breezes and moderate warmth, Katie called me: “Mom, come quick! Stand right here under this sky in this back yard and tell me you want to move from this place! Can you imagine a better spot than this?” I couldn’t.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Samantha the Squirrel

While I was away in college, my mother found an injured baby squirrel and nursed it back to health. She had that gift with animals of all kinds. For additional context, "Samuel Moroni Hawkes" was the name my Mom had picked out for a ninth baby that never came. (He may heard the name and decided to take a pass ...)

September 5, 1993. Dear Tim: We have a new baby at home. For the first few days we called it Samuel Moroni Hawkes, but my brother Alan told me it had better be Samantha. So, Samantha it is. Cocoa [our cat] found a squirrel that had obviously fallen from its nest in one of the trees in the neighborhood. I heard its pathetic cry. When it cried the second time, I couldn’t stand it and ran out to see what it was. Cocoa had bitten it, and it had an abrasion on its tummy. I was sure it would die, so I wrapped it up and put it in a quiet corner of my bedroom. At bedtime, I found it still alive and wished it would go peacefully. As we were falling asleep, it made a pathetic sound like a nuzzling pup. Dad said, “Mary Jane, it’s hungry. You’ve got to feed that thing.” I was doubtful that food would do anything but kill it, but I got up and fixed baby pablum with honey and a little canola oil. I expected it to be dead by morning. Instead, it was ravenous. I went to the pet store and bought milk for newborn puppies. It smells like liquid vitamins, but it seems to have done the trick. So far, so good. … It’s wounds seem to be healing without infection. Amazing.

Eventually, Samantha became a part of the family. My mother described the bittersweet occasion of releasing her into the wild in a subsequent letter to a family friend.

October 6, 1993. Dear Wendy: Our little squirrel has just spent its fourth night outside in a tree somewhere. So, this year, I dread owls and winter. After six years of living here, I heard two owls in the early morning darkness. I woke from a sound sleep when I heard them. I keep checking the squirrel nests in the trees and wondering how that pile of dry leaves can keep a little thing like our squirrel warm and dry. It became such a darling pet before we took it outside. We watched it pull its tail up like a blanket over its face. We watched it yawn and stretch in the morning. It even lifted its arm to be scratched underneath when we scratched its tummy. The first three days we put it outside, it came to us again at night to sleep inside. Finally, it didn't return . . . .

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Slippery Slide

The second sentence here proved telling in ways my mother could not have recognized at the time. Paddy was our lovable--if neurotic--boston bull terrier. Terrified of storm drains and dark closets, she would attack and kill soccer balls, and loved walks and people and, of all things, slippery slides ...

November 10, 1997

Dear Peter,

It’s hard to believe it’s nearly Valentines already. My life will be over before I know it. Time is racing by these days. We had a beautiful snow storm Saturday night, and Sunday was a fairyland. Katie and I and Paddy went walking in the snow on the unpowed streets and unshoveled walks. Soft, easy walking. I brought my camera and asked Katie to take Paddy up on the platform at the totlot for a picture. Afterward, she let go of the leash, and Paddy went down the slide, ears pricked forward, looking for all the world like she was having a wonderful time. Just to see how she really felt about it, Katie took her up without the leash, and she went down again without our suggestion. She is a fun dog. She enjoyed plowing into the snow at the bottom and sending it spraying as she zoomed down.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mice is Nice

Dec. 2, 1996

Dear Peter,

Dad heard scratching noises in the garage this morning and went in search of them with his flashlight. Two white footed field mice (just like Moon Mouse) were trapped in the bottom of a clean aluminum garbage can. They must have been cold in that metal can. They had crawled into a plastic detergent scoop and were huddled together. They are a tawny brown color with snow white chests and tummies and white feet, large ears and bulging black eyes shining up at us. I thought Dad would let them go in the woods before going to work, but he didn’t.

When Ben came by to shave before work, I showed him the mice--also Paula Burr next door and her little boy by lifting up the plastic scoop and walking out onto the driveway. They were frightened at first and hid their eyes, curling up in two quivering brown balls. Then they became lively and looked as though they would jump out onto the driveway. I was afraid a crow would scoop them up, so I tried to keep them in the cup as I bent down toward the ground. One jumped out into a pile of leaves, but the other started up my arm. I could feel him on the back of my hand all soft and warm. I told him not to run up my arm, but he did anyway--and then onto my back and up my neck and into my hair. When I put my head down to the ground, he finally jumped off into the leaves. I think they knew we didn’t mean to hurt them. Little Patrick (He’s four) got a big bang out of the whole thing. I was still in my nightgown, shivering in my bare feet.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

"Say Goodbye to You!"

July 8, 1996

Went on an unplanned camping trip when Dad discovered he didn't have to work July 5. Beautiful trip from my point of view. Some little boy on the trail in front of me at Swallow Falls was kicking up his heels, jumping around and making his parents nervous. They were trying to restrain him, but he kicked up to eye level and crowed, "Say goodbye to you!" Dad and I laughed and talked about how thin we would be if we kept that active. I used to be able to kick high like that, so I said, "Say goodbye to you!" and kicked my right foot up high. Trouble was my left sandal slipped in the gravel and nothing held me up. I went down on my petussi right on a big pointed rock in the path. Bottom hit first and then my left ankle buckled. I was looking up at the sky and at Dad's anxious face. Bottom hurt worst, then ankle, then wrist where I had tried to catch myself. Couldn't get up for a while. I felt disconnected from my body somehow--like I was looking out of a box that had rolled down a hill--and I couldn't stop laughing. I wondered if that was how Grandpa Hawkes felt when he fell backwards all those times. My bottom still hurts, but I was lucky. I could have cracked my head on that rock. It could really have been "Goodbye to you!"

Friday, January 16, 2009

Her Mother's Death

The following pulls together bits of letters, emails and journal entries that record my grandmother's death in March of 1999 from stomach cancer and my mother's reactions to it. Fortunately, my mother was able to spend the last few weeks of my grandmother's life helping care for her. Although long and involved, I thought this was worth sharing because death is a part of life, and we each must deal with losing a loved one at some point in time. My mother rarely pulls punches in her writing, and so these snippets reflect some of the exhausting physical and emotional tensions of that experience. It also says a lot about my grandmother, who was an extraordinary woman in her own right.

Notes to Aunt Riek, Tim and others from my letters & journal entries:

February 27

I had made an airline reservation for March 3 to go to Mama, just trying to guess when she would need me most. As soon as I made that reservation, I was uneasy. Each day, I would wonder if I had made a mistake waiting that long. I wondered how Mom was but didn’t want to worry her with telephone calls. How would I ask, “Just how close to dying are you?” Mama was having the same difficulty. As soon as she knew my flight date, she was saying, “I don’t know whether I can live until MJ gets here.” Dad phoned this morning to tell me to get on the very next plane.

February 28

I am so glad I am here. Mom is jaundiced. Cancer must be destroying her liver. She said, “Mary Jane, I am so glad you are here. You came at the right time.” We shed a few tears. I feel angels had a hand in it. Southwest Airlines did not charge me extra to move my flight to an earlier time.

March 1, 1999

Dear Glenn,

It is 5 A.M., and I can't sleep. Poor Mama tried to get to the bathroom at 4 without disturbing anyone. She made it to the toilet but couldn't lower herself onto the seat. She fell to her knees, and the sound of bone on tile and her soft "oh" woke Dad and me. She has bruised both knees badly. It's a wonder they aren't broken. I am afraid the next get up will be very painful for her. Her response: "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have tried to do it on my own."

Her eyes hurt from weeping at the end of yesterday. She had 38 visitors, all of whom were bidding her goodbye. Many tears were shed. Mark’s little children just sobbed. Little Jesse had made her a card with two figures on it--one on the ground, and one in the sky. It said, “Goodbye. I’ll miss you. I’ll always remember you.” On the next page, the little person on the ground was saying: “I hope you will always remember me.”

Mama hates to leave us all, but she is too tired to stay. Paul's young Paul wants her to stay for his mission farewell, but even the thought of waiting until July is unbearable to her--as well as impossible. Only 28 visitors today. I have tried to sleep lightly, so that I will hear Mom asking for help to the bathroom. Daddy has been rousing, putting on his peg leg and then gently guiding her and holding her as she shuffles along. I get up, too, now. We are a strange trio in the night. I wonder how Dad could ever hold her up if she should need it. I wonder if I would be equal to it.

March 2 - Aunt Riek's Birthday. I was dreading this day. Aunt Riek was given $20 for her birthday by Truce van Eck. She decided to spend it on salmon and bring it to Bountiful for her birthday dinner with Mama. I didn't want Aunt Riek to see how far gone she was. They have been so close. And I didn't want Mama to go through the sorrow of saying goodbye again. I didn't listen to their conversation, but I heard Mama assuring her that they would soon be together again as their two old heads came together on the bed.

Janet came to fix a perfect dinner of asparagas, mashed potatoes, lemon gravy, and salmon. Amazingly, Mama asked to be helped to her rocking chair. She hadn’t been out of bed for two days, except to shuffle to the bathroom with help. she sat for the last time for four hours observing and smiling. Mom had asked Tony Uffens (her Dutch friend from the ward) to come--I think to provide some distraction and company for Aunt Riek. The fun began when Aunt Riek blew out her candles. She blew her false teeth out as we were taking her picture. That started her on her stories. We kept asking for more. Trudy's little Joseph was there, hearing the stories for the first time. He could scarsely sit on his stool he was laughing so hard. Tony laughed so hard she left with a headache, and I helped Mom back to bed. It was a wonderful day. This night, however, was more difficult. Mama leaned against me to rest three times on the way back to bed from the bathroom. I thought she was going to collapse before we got back to bed. “We might as well use those Depends I have in the basement,” she said. “It is so much easier not to have to get up at all.” This night, we gave her her first pain medicine--the smallest dose of Codone (or something like that), a mild narcotic. Ibuprofen wasn’t helping anymore. She woke with a start in the night and called me, thinking she had made a horrible mess. She had forgotten the Depends and was very relieved to know that there wasn’t any problem at all.

March 4 - Grandpa's birthday was lovely, thanks to Janet. I made his favorite apple squares, and Janet made a beautiful roast beef dinner. Grandpa was hungry for brown gravy, for Nibletts corn, and for carrots and onions. That's what we had. We didn't give him a gift yet. He is longing for a chipper shredder. We would all like to go in on one for him but don't know what kind to get. We had to say the gift was still coming. Trudy gave him a new tiny swiss army knife, and that pleased him. Boon and Cheryl brought him Baskin and Robbins ice cream and a Marie Calendar's pecan pie. John said, "What are they trying to do--kill him!!!" It couldn't have been more wrong for a diabetic, but they meant well.

Your e-mail messages arrived yesterday morning. After a nice bed bath from a professional nurse, Mom was peaceful. I sat and read your letters to her. She loves you all so much--still always thinking of each of you and wanting to know how you are doing. And, Ben, she hangs on every word you say. Her grandchildren are more important to her than any of the others--never too many words from you.

I'll try to stay in touch--between the phone, Mama's needs, and the streams of people who want to come by (we are trying to limit those a little now), I stay busy. I love you all. See you soon.

March 5, 1999

Thanks for all your help covering for me so that I can be here. I couldn't be anywhere else right now. It is extremely comforting to me to be able to care for my mother. I am grateful for any experience I have had caring for bedridden people. I need more training. Everyone should have a little. She has a little bedsore where her tailbone has broken through the skin. Rachel phoned the hospital and got a little gel patch that sticks right to it and gives her some relief.

I was thankful to Marilyn Edmunds again this morning for showing me how to make a bed with someone in it. Mom smiled a bit, but we got the job done. She had a difficult night throwing up I don't know what. Dad insists it was the tiny bit of potatoes and gravey from his birthday dinner, but she didn't come close to eating that much, and it was fluid and it was the wrong color.

Grandma is fresh and clean now and in a clean bed, thanks to Marilyn. I don't have to wait for a hospice nurse to come in and do it, and she is resting comfortably. Thanks to I don't know who, she likes my back rubs. They ease her. She is so appreciative of every little thing anyone does. Always a thank you. Always the reminder that she is glad I am here and that she doesn't know what she would have done without me. Such a sweetheart. Being with her helps me to realize I have a long job of character building to do in divine company. Mom is much closer. Her patience is inspiring.

March 6, 1999

Dear Ones,

I don't know how she can last another night, but I guess all suffering is possible. It seems so long to me--and to her. The one question she asked me today is. Is it still the same day? She sometimes opens her eyes and doesn't see us now unless we put a hand on her shoulder to rouse her. She still tries to help me a little when I change her position or clean her up. Once when I was fussing with her, she said something. I thought she needed to change positions or something, but when I got close enough to hear her, she was saying, “Didn’t Joseph laugh. Didn’t Joseph laugh.” Then I realized she was reliving Aunt Riek’s birthday party.

Aunt Marie phoned and wanted to come to visit. When I told her Mom was past visiting, she insisted that they wouldn’t stay and would just be in and out. I still said she was past visiting. They didn’t come. Dad told me after she was gone that I had made a mistake, that Mom had wanted to see her. I didn’t know. Mama is far away most of the time. I hate to disturb her for anything. Dad seems to want to rouse her and does for every phone call. I am not taking any more phone calls to her, and she has finally asked Dad not to. I told her Dad was probably waking her to help the time go faster, but she shook her head and said, “No, Mary Jane, the time goes much faster in oblivion.”

Matt came this morning. She was waiting for his visit. The two of them did a little weeping together with his head next to hers. She gave him her last words and told him to love Marci--that it would be the source of his happiness. He was sorry I hadn't let him bring the baby, but she isn't even able to see her watch anymore. She asked me to take it off.

Mama roused late this evening to talk to Julie Halstom. Julie phoned to say she was coming, and when I put on hand on Mom’s shoulder to ask, she opened her eyes and said, “Let her come.” Julie had been asked to play the organ at her funeral and wanted to know Mom's wishes. She brought flowers. When she saw how sick Mom was, she began talking nervously about everything. Mom put her at ease, told her how much she had loved her Relief Society lessons, and how beautiful she thought her children were. She asked Julie to play all the songs in the Primary song book. " I love them all," she said. That was the last she really talked.

Sunday Morning, March 7, 1999

Dear Ones,

She is farther and farther away. I don't know how she can last into another night, but I guess all suffering is possible. It seems so long. She sometimes opens her eyes but doesn't see us now. She can give a barely audible response to questions. I'm going to give Mom her medicine now. I love you.

March 13, 1999

Mama died at 12:15 p.m., March 7. I had thought she would go when the sun came up that day, but she was still breathing. I could hear her breathing from my bed on the floor and had been counting at various times through the night: "one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, four one thousand...." That's as far as I got for most of her breathing, but occasionally it went to "eleven one thousand," or even "fourteen one thousand."

Daddy had prayers by her side of the bed, as he habitually does, and turned on the Tabernacle Choir. When he asked her if she enjoyed the music, she seemed to nod her head. Daddy is convinced she heard and enjoyed. He dressed for Church, running from the bathroom to her side, from the closet to her side. “She would want me to go to Church,” he said. Then when he actually went to tell her goodbye and leave, he looked at her, took off his tie and said, “I’m staying.”

Dad asked me not to give her medication when I came in the morning to do it. "I want her clear!" he said. It was difficult. Her brow was puckered, and her hands were moving to the covers, to her gown, to her chest. She wanted her covers turned down. It looked like claustrophobia to me. I wanted to relieve her.

I went to another room and phoned hospice. The nurse on call told me that was always the conflict: the mate wants clear communication, and the family members prefer oblivion. Medication would probably shorten her life a little at this point. He told me my father's wishes were likely most important in the long run than hers. I should respect them. That helped me. I let Mama continue to struggle. By 10:15, I couldn't stand it any longer. Trudy phoned. I told her the situation and my dilemma. She advised me to give the medicine when Dad wasn't looking. I told her to come. I told Dan and Janet to come. Mom was retracting, and her breathing was rapid.

Shortly after talking with Trudy, I put the medicine drops under Mom's tongue when Dad went to the telephone. I felt terrible giving it but worse not giving it. Her forehead never did relax as it had done formerly. She seemed distressed but far away. Trudy arrived and then Maria and Liz. So Trudy, Maria, Liz, Dad, John and I were there when she passed away. Three long, long, long noisy exhales with long pauses between them, and she was gone. A visible pulse in her neck continued after she was obviously gone. There is such a difference between life and death.

We were not in a hurry to move her. She stayed right there in her bed for several more hours. Trudy and I cleaned her up just one more time and put her underwear in place. (She hadn't wanted a gown) We had been warned that it would be difficult when the mortician came to take her away--that they would take her away in a black bag. Instead, he came in with his young son, placed a folded sheet over her before pulling back her blankets. He asked if the family would like to help or if any of us would be more comfortable leaving. They carefully tucked the other half of the sheet around her and slipped it underneath. Everything was modestly and carefully done. Then, the mortician took Mama in his arms while his son took her legs, and the two of them laid her gently on a gurney on top of a burgundy bag. Before zipping the bag closed over her, he asked Dad if it was all right for him to do that, explaining that the weather was bad outside, and he needed to close it. Then they took her away, and the house was desolate.

So, that is almost the whole story. There was more--more sweet interchanges than I can remember. It was a mostly sweet experience to be with Mama. Everything was in order--her drawers, her cupboards, her knitting, her refrigerator, everything!--ironing and washing done up nearly to the very end, little marked containers of food stacked in the freezer for Daddy. She thought of everything and everyone.

Mama told me to take the beautiful quilt she embroidered and quilted for herself. She never did put it on her own bed. Dad said she was afraid he would sit on it. He told me that after she was gone. How will we ever qualify for that quilt? We not only have our own Dad to sit on it but kids, two dogs and a cat who might sit on the bed. Maybe I will hang it on the wall someday.

After the funeral when the family was gathered after lunch, I took Mark in my arms and reminded him how much his mother had loved him. “I know,” he sobbed. “I know.” “And she loves Claudia, too,” I said, “I know. I know.” He answered. Then he said more:

“You know, MJ, a couple of weeks ago, Claudia had one of her ‘waking dreams.’ She has those from time to time. In her waking dream, she said she saw me coming to get Mom. She didn’t understand why I would come to get Mom. She saw the dream again, later. Finally, she told me about it. Then I said, ‘Claudia, that wasn’t me coming to get Mom. It must have been her father. He looked a lot like me when he died. It had to be her father.’ I went over to ask Claudia about it, and she said, “Oh, Mark told you that? I don’t tell people about those things. I have those. I wouldn’t dare call them visions, because people would think I was crazy. (I said, smiling, “You are crazy, Claudia,” and she retorted, “I haven’t been crazy for twelve years!”) Then she repeated her experience as Mark had told it to me.

Mama’s actual death was not a spiritual experience for me. It was a physical experience. I was so concerned about her discomfort, I wanted it to be over. I wanted her to finally be at rest. This little interchange with Claudia and Mark comforted me. I think Claudia actually did see Mama’s father coming to get her. When I came to Bountiful on February 27, Mom said to me, “I think I will live for Aunt Riek’s birthday, and I will probably live for Dad’s, but I would like to spend my Dad’s birthday with him.” I asked, “When is your Dad’s birthday, Mama?” And she answered, “March 7.”

March 27

There is more. I had a little bed on the floor in the room next to Mom and Dad’s. We both left our bedroom doors open, so that I could hear if they needed my help during the night. Mom’s comment after the first night: “Boy, MJ, you surely snore up a storm!” I tried to sleep lighter after that. I don’t know if I succeeded, but I was awake often in the night peeking in to see if both parents were peaceful and breathing naturally.

Oh, it was hard to see Mama’s wasted body becoming less and less a part of her. Her feet and legs were swelling. Her hands were thin but swollen, and she became more golden each time I looked at her. The membranes in her eyes were particularly yellow, and her eyes seemed to receed, though they continued to shine with gentleness and love.

I gave Mama’s little skeleton a backrub just before bed one night, and when I knelt for my prayer, the contours of her wasted body seemed to be still under my hands. I was heart broken and searching for comfort. I thanked the Lord for the atonement. I’ve studied it so many times, thought about it occasionally, but don’t remember ever wanting it to be a reality more than I did as I thought about Mama’s precious body wasting away a few feet from me. As I prayed those words of gratitude, I was enveloped in that feeling best described as flames of fire. Delicious warmth filled every part of my being. I felt enveloped and engulfed in flames. They lingered but not long enough for me. I would have liked to have kept feeling with me. They are what I have come to regard as the Comforter.

Later, after the ordeal of Mama’s physical death, the cold questions crept into my mind: What if it’s all a story? What if this death is really all there is? What if all that was my mother has come to a final end? What a leaden, miserable feeling it was. Thankfully, it was brief.

In retrospect, those two strong memories make an easy choice for me. I know which of them to believe. One of them is death, and the other is life. One is cold, and the other is warm. One is false, and the other is true! I believe in the atonement. I believe in resurrection. I believe in eternal life! I thank the Lord! I have been sweetly and personally comforted. May the Lord help me to keep that truth and comfort in my life.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Soul in the Music

November 27, 2000

Dear Jennie,

Yesterday as I was driving home from church, strings came on the radio. I realized how long it has been since I have heard some great strings, and a wave of longing flooded over me. I have hesitated to say much about my deepest feelings here because of the pressure it might place on you. I never dreamed I would have a daughter who could play like you do. When you went away to college, it was as though someone precious had died. I missed the music and all the musical connections. I didn’t want to say that, because it almost sounds like music and you are one and the same. It was just an additional bereavement along with your empty room, your empty desk and bulletin board, and all the absent teasing. I miss you, Jennie, and the soul of you I feel in your music.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"More feelings than words"

November 3, 1997

Dear Nathan,

I loved your phone call. Nothing’s better to me. I get lonely for you. We’ve had some good talks. Some remain in my memory--sweet snatches--more feelings than words. It’s raining. I’ve just taken Karen to the airport. This morning, the wind is blowing all the beautiful golden leaves from the trees, gluing them to our wet house. Dad is in Arizona on business. I am into my letter box, reading snatches of bad writing I’ve kept over the years.

I opened a pack of letters returned to us when Grandpa died--letters we had written them back in 1970. You were about six months younger than Jake then. I thought I’d pass along a few words.

May 25, 1970 (Matt not 2 and you 6 months)

Nathan had his first mouthful of dirt. I had him out in his stroller while I was hanging clothes, and Matt packed his mouth full. He didn’t protest at all, and I found him happily chewing on it when I came out from behind the sheet I’d just hung. Dirt in his suit, his diaper, his hair, and his ears. Three hours later, he was still spitting dirt he must have swallowed. I wondered why Matt had been so quiet. Matt keeps bringing little rocks into the house--all about the size of the end of his thumb. These go in the baby’s mouth, too.

* * * *

Monday, January 12, 2009

"How precious you are to me"

My mother wrote the following letter (excerpted) to my brother Ben when he was incarcerated at the county jail after running from an officer during a routine traffic stop . . .

September 1, 1996

Dear Ben:

I have this constant picture of you coming through the doors in that place you are living in. It is always so good to see you. I am reminded of how precious you are to me. Everything reminds me of that.

* * * *

I would like to sit down with you, like I have never done, and talk about faith and where yours is at the moment, what you have problems with, what you feel sure of. It isn’t an easy talk to have, but I had many of those talks with my Dad as I was growing up. He was a good one to talk with. I fear that I probably “talk at” rather than “talk with,” but I do know the difference and would like to talk with you. If you want to talk by mail, I’ll try to be a good listener. I don’t know whether you would ever have enough peace for that kind of letter. If you do, write. If you don’t, write any kind of letter.


Kids are People Too

July 3, 1997

Dear Matt phoned yesterday. . . . I have been reading some of the notes he wrote me as a boy. I laughed at the time--still do--but probably should have taken the little notes more seriously. They were an outpouring of his heart. Time is teaching me that children are, after all, real people with deep feelings and thoughts just as valuable as an adults--maybe more valuable. They are sensitive and bright from the very beginning.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Quiet Morning

Jan.11, 1997

Dear Peter,

We have had a beautiful 4 inches of new snow during the night on top of about 3 inches of wet snow and ice. The sky is snow-washed blue, and everything is sparkling in the 20 degree weather. A light breeze is stirring the trees, and a few dry snow flakes are flying around in the sunshine--a beautiful winter day. Dad and I have been enjoying being alone. I guess I have enjoyed all stages of family life. This Saturday, Ben slept in, and Katie is with friends. We have had the house to ourselves to eat and talk, shovel snow, and do files together. We laid around in bed from first light until the sun was up--an unheard of luxury for Dad. We had no teens to wait up for or worry about last night. Ben was home on the couch with Paddy. Nice.

The Full Letter

I just found a bunch of my Mom's old journal entries and stumbled across the full Christmas letter excerpted below, which I think is worth sharing. Her brief mention of Sarah refers to my younger Sister, Sarah, who died of heart complications at age 4.

Dec. 2, 1996

Dear Peter,

This morning I finally have set aside time to write you a Christmas letter. Because Christmas falls heavily on my shoulders, I haven’t appreciated it recently as I should, so it’s nice to take a break and think about it.

As the years have gone by, Christmas has taken on new and deeper meanings. At this stage, of course, the significance of the Savior’s birth and atonement grows in me. I’m getting older. It means more and more as our family grows, as my love grows for your father and my own parents and for you children, and as I see the lives and personalities of my children unfold. For me, the most enduring part of Christmas as we celebrate it is in the sacred carols. They carry the joy and awe of his birth. I also cherish the sweet feelings I have toward all the family as I try to think of things that would delight each one---and the pain that accompanies knowing I can’t give every delight. Mixed into that is the memory of Christmases past--mostly the feeling of gathering near the tree with loved ones, playing games, enjoying gifts, listening to sweet music, enjoying life together.

As I think of all the sweet babies that have come into our home--their precious personalities and the fun we have had, it almost overwhelms me. I can hardly imagine such rich blessings. Now I see them being repeated in grandchildren.

You are a great part of my joyful memories, Peter. As an infant, you were my deep comfort. In sorrow for little Sarah, I held you even closer and relished your infancy. Your traumatic birth brought me closer to the millions of women who have lost their lives and/or their children in childbirth. I really felt the sacrifice and the value of it. Your personality was a joy from the beginning--warm, loving, busy, enthusiastic, obedient and respectful to your parents and teachers. I think you came to us that way, a special blessing to our family and to all who have been close to you.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Reflections on Christmas

I know I'm a tad late here, but, given the season, I thought I'd share two brief reflections on the meaning of Christmas . . .

From a letter to her son, Peter, dated December 2, 1996

As the years have gone by, Christmas has taken on new and deeper meanings. At this stage, of course, the significance of the Savior’s birth and atonement grows in me. I’m getting older. It means more and more as our family grows, as my love grows for your father and my own parents and for you children, and as I see the lives and personalities of my children unfold. For me, the most enduring part of Christmas as we celebrate it is in the sacred carols. They carry the joy and awe of his birth. I also cherish the sweet feelings I have toward all the family as I try to think of things that would delight each one---and the pain that accompanies knowing I can’t give every delight. Mixed into that is the memory of Christmases past--mostly the feeling of gathering near the tree with loved ones, playing games, enjoying gifts, listening to sweet music, enjoying life together.

From a journal entry dated “January 1997”

To me this whole process is the greatest evidence for eternal life: Why the journey--the lives of struggle and learning, always arriving at wisdom after the experience--coming to know how to run the plays when the game has ended and often after we’ve lost the game??? It only makes sense if there is more. There is no evidence in nature of futility. Everything has function and purpose. Should our hard-won understanding be wasted when our bodies decay? No! This has to be just what we are taught it is: preparation for more and more and more. That’s what Christmas means to me. I believe the story. It’s far crazier than a Star Wars fantasy, but I believe it.