Heritage Sketch: Grandma Loree

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As a little girl you tried to learn the violin, and always wanted to grow your hair long so you could wear a baseball cap, and pull your ponytail through the hole on the back. Neither dream came to fruition, so instead you’ve lived vicariously through your daughters and granddaughters, with our long blonde tresses and musical endeavors. You always insist on standing next to me in church to hear me sing, and although singing is already one of my favorite things to do, it brings me special joy when I know you are listening.

Your husband affectionately calls you Loree-o. He made you a license plate with that nickname on it, and one day it fell off while you were driving to Valley View Elementary School where you taught cursive and multiplication to third graders. At the end of the school day, a little boy came running up to you in the parking lot and handed you your license plate. You were mortified that the license plate was so easily recognizable as yours.

When you were twenty-five, you gave birth to one baby girl, quickly followed by a second, unexpected baby girl. In the days when a healthy pregnancy meant no ultrasounds, you managed to carry twins for eight months without knowing it. You and your husband had only picked out one girl name, Mia, and one boy name, Michael, so you quickly changed Michael to Michelle, and decided that, with the twins, your family was complete. Forty-three years later, your twins are still the best of friends, unintentionally matching, and confusing friends and strangers alike in the grocery store of the tiny town where they both live.

You’ve always loved children’s books. Every year for Halloween you would dress up for your class as the dreadful Viola Swamp from Miss Nelson is Missing. When we lived far away in Massachusetts and the cousins lived in Texas you started recording yourself reading books on tape for our listening enjoyment. One day, the cousins had their jeep broken into, and the thief stole their radio with a tape of you reading The Cat in the Hat still inside. To this day, we fall into hysterics when we imagine a gruff robber plugging in the stereo to hear you reading “I know it is wet and the sun is not sunny but we can have lots of good fun that is funny.”

You can’t stand leftovers, and always crumple your napkin and put it on your plate at the end of a meal. I have many wonderful memories of gathering around your oval table in the dining nook with so many window at the yellow house on Wildhorse Lane. On the first night we arrived you would usually serve chicken and dumplings because you knew it was my favorite.

One year, when all of the cousins were young, you decided to host a family talent show at Christmas. I’m sure us kids did something fun and adorable, but distinctly unmemorable. Your son-in-laws, however, got up and reenacted the sisters scene from White Christmas complete with blue feather boas and theatrical winks, and it was so funny that we decided to make the talent show an annual event called the Family Showcase. Over ten years later, we’re still going strong.

You are so good at listening, at asking questions that make people open up, and letting them know that you hear them. I can’t wait to come home and sit on the plaid couch in your cozy living room and swap stories of the adventures we’ve had since August. Only 25 more days till I see you again!

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Introducing… Heritage Sketches!

Hello Faithful Readers!

A few weeks ago, a classmate of my wrote a blog post entitled “Hold Onto Your Hat.” I would highly encourage you to read it here. The post was inspired by an old sepia picture of her great grandmother as a young girl. Being the history nerd I am, I was absolutely captivated by both the content, and the style of the post, and immediately wanted to steal the idea. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, right? (Don’t worry, Emily gave me permission.)

So, for the next four weeks leading up to Thanksgiving (when I get to go home and see the incredible people I will be profiling) I will be doing a word sketch of each of my grandparents. I’m calling them heritage sketches, and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed sifting through memories to write them.

So without further ado…

A Holy Dark

This morning I woke up early. And by early I mean 5AM, which I know is not as early as some of you greet the day, but in my neck of the woods, on these late October days, 5AM is two hours before the sun rises, and therefore, early.

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Although the rest of my house was still asleep when I cozied up in our living room, far from feeling alone I felt surrounded by a comforting crowd of early risers. I thought of my friend Anna who lives in Pennsylvania, and routinely rises before the sun to go to her seamstress job. I thought of my grandparents who have always lived by the motto “early to bed, early to rise!” I thought of all the mothers awake before the dawn to hold their precious, fussy babies who refuse to sleep through the night. And I thought of my own mother who has always preferred the peaceful morning hours to other, faster paced moments of the day.

Now, I don’t normally get up at 5AM, but last night I had a stomachache, and chose to go to bed by 9 o’clock, which meant the only way to complete my homework was to wake up before the sun. But although my purpose in getting up early was to work, I found a holy stillness in those pre-dawn hours. I took great joy in my steaming bowl of oatmeal, the twinkly lights in our living room, and listening, for the first time this year, to the Thanksgiving music my mom and I so deeply enjoy.

For the past two years my life has been full of really exciting experiences. First I moved out of my childhood home to a new city, then I ventured to Eastern Europe, next I entered and exited my first serious relationship, and then I spent an exhilarating six weeks in Nepal, with plenty of smaller excitements in between. These experiences have been good, and hard, and stretching, and beautiful, but most of all, they’ve been big. After returning to the states from Nepal, I distinctly remember thinking, “I could use a season of quiet, simple, undramatic everyday life.” And that’s exactly what this season has been. Somehow the big experiences have helped me better appreciate the little beauties hidden in every day. The older I get, the more I realize that I don’t want to take any blessing for granted, no matter how small. As a sweet 92-year-old woman reminded me yesterday, every day is a good day because I am alive!

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So Father, thank you for the Holy Dark I experienced this morning. Thank you for using it to energize me, refresh me, and remind me that your mercies are truly new every morning.

Three Little Girls

A few weeks ago, my school’s Latino Heritage Club sent out an email inviting students to perform in the next Spoken Word Night, which would be on the topic of social justice. For the past year I’ve contemplated performing in one, but I’ve never had the courage to actually do it. As I read through the email, however I started to seriously consider performing, and when they said the topic was social justice, it cinched the deal. For better or for worse, I was in! And I immediately knew that I needed to write my piece for the three little girls I met in a village in Nepal. So without further ado, here’s the written version of my spoken word piece.

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Three Little Girls

Houses

made of nothing more than stones and mud

lie flattened

unable to withstand the quaking that occurred.

Young children with ripped pants

climb the trees like mischievous little monkeys

while women work the water spigot.

Most schoolchildren have already marched down the mountain

in their light blue uniforms

but three young girls linger.

They’re 8, 10, 12 at the most.

Slender bodies, undernourished.

Bright undereducated minds.

Underappreciated beautiful souls.

The epitome of vulnerable.

Every year,

10,000 girls are shuffled across the porous border between Nepal and India,

undetected,

unaware.

And you could be 1 in 10,000.

Your parents are desperate.

The vistas may be stunning

but you can’t eat the view.

“See that man over there?

He’s a friend of your uncle, and he says he can give you a job in India.

Be a good girl and go with him.

You may be a bit young to work,

but at least you’ll have food in your belly.”

It’s a way out,

an escape,

no wait, it’s a trap!

10,000 girls per year?

That’s nearly 30 a day!

Numbers don’t have faces.

But girls do.

And I can’t seem to erase your face from my mind.

So little sisters, please listen.

Your body is not a commodity.

That man with the job in India

is a fake.

The stranger who wants to marry you,

he’s a sham.

To the pimp

you’re just property. And if you die,

it’s nothing more than a bad day on the job.

They will measure your value

by what your body can do for a man.

And in selling your body,

they’re stealing your soul.

But you were not made to be bought and sold

used and abused.

And at the end of the day,

money can’t buy happiness,

and it shouldn’t be able to buy you either.

Grandpa Roy

The rush has finally slowed down, and for the first time all evening, I can breathe. I’ve survived another Monday of frantically making mini pizzas for the almost 1000 students who funnel through our cafeteria on a weeknight. As I am collecting my thoughts, I look up to see a welcome and familiar sight: Grandpa Roy has arrived!

For those of you who don’t attend my school, Grandpa Roy is a wonderful elderly man who has adopted our campus. During most weekday lunches and dinners you can find him sitting in the cafeteria at the same round table, reading the newspaper or talking to students. He is known for being a good listener, having an infectious smile, and giving away hundreds of flowers from his garden.

Every Monday night at seven, Grandpa Roy comes into the part of the cafeteria where the food is served and gives each of the workers a flower. At the end of a long shift, it never fails to make my day. I always pin mine to my name tag until I get home, and then I put it in a little dish of water. By Tuesday morning, the tight bud will have opened, and for the next few days the cheery little blossom will brighten my bedroom.

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Every time I see Grandpa Roy, I think to myself, “I want to be like him when I grow old.” So many elderly people in our society are grumpy or bitter, but Grandpa Roy is exactly the opposite, a bright spot of joy in a weary world.

I truly believe Grandpa Roy has found the secret to aging gracefully: keep pouring out. While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with retiring from your job, I also don’t think there ever comes a point when you should retire from your calling, or “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Frederick Buechner) The Bible never says to love your neighbor until you turn sixty-five and start collecting social security, and I think Grandpa Roy beautifully exemplifies loving well until the end. Someday your time on earth will end, but until then, you have a reason to be here. Whether you’re twenty, or eighty, God wants you to be his agent of redemption in the world.