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.