Saturday, July 31, 2010

Night School ... reflections on The Help

This little memory has been floating in my mind and heart for many, many years. Reading Kathryn Stockett's The Help crystallized the importance of this one experience. More importantly, the five minute episode at age 6 gave me not only a lesson itself, but affirmed the power of a mother’s example. I believe that it shaped who I am as a mother. Like Skeeter in The Help, my mother put principle above popularity and propriety.

The setting: summer 1961. A rambling lakeside house in Alabama. Our family was spending the week with several other families, all lifelong friends of my mom. I'd been put to bed just off the main room where the adults were socializing.

Sleep wouldn’t come that sultry July night. Tossing and turning, I was spooked by an unfamiliar bed and shadowy room. Though my four-year-old brother slept beside me and my parents were just steps away, I felt scared and alone in the creaky house. 

A cacophony of night noises mingled with those of the grown-ups as they laughed over a game of cards. Iced drinks clinked. Voices rose and fell. Then rose again. Sleep creeping ever closer, I was jerked awake by urgent conversation.

“They have their place. We have ours.” The voice of mom's childhood friend.

“I disagree.” Mom’s voice was strong and resolute, but completely alone. “God created everyone in His image, and everyone is of equal value, no matter his skin color.”

“Come on, you can't believe that,” replied the friend.

“I am right, absolutely,” mom answered. Then awkward silence.

With 50 years of hindsight, we can easily minimize the magnitude of civil rights issues. But my mother grew up in the deep South of the 1930’s and 40’s, when racial segregation and prejudice were as normal as lack of air conditioning: it was all she’d ever known. To sever her mind and heart from her upbringing and stand alone in her convictions was radical. Speaking up in a roomful of lifelong friends had to have taken immense courage.

I strained through the darkness and heard my mother sobbing softly. Though surrounded by friends and husband, she was utterly alone. I wanted to leap from the tangled sheets and dash to her, stroke her smooth face and take refuge in her soft, familiar shoulder. I needed her arms around me, but especially wanted my arms around her. How I grieved with her.

The conversation ceased. I licked my lips and didn't move. No other memories of that night remain.

Beyond my little world, 1961 saw a turbulent summer. "Freedom riders" were testing the laws prohibiting segregation of interstate travel facilities across the South. Many of these groups, comprised of student volunteers of both races, were attacked by angry mobs. Certainly this news event initiated the conversation in which my mother found herself.

Changes in the world can happen through big events like freedom rides. Or Rosa Parks's silent statement on a city bus. Or the march on Washington. Or the influence of Ghandi or Mother Teresa.

But they also happen in the tender heart of a little girl who adopts courage from her mother's voice on a summer night in Alabama.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Help, part 1


Kathryn Stockett has a winner. She wrote the New York Times #1 bestseller, The Help. I waited to borrow a copy on a list of at least two dozen at our local library and nearly missed this treasure, except my daughter-in-love Jenny  encouraged me to read it.

The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960's. "Skeeter," a main character, is a young, white college graduate whose coming-of-age opens her eyes to the deplorable treatment of the black domestics in her circle of friends and family. Her growing conviction leads her to interview a number of maids, "the help," and write their stories in hopes of publication. Skeeter's ride is not an easy one. She's shunned by lifelong friends, and must win the trust of the suspicious domestics.

Fifty years removed, many of us didn't experience or don't remember the struggles of the civil rights era. But I remember. There was a person in my life who made it her business to help me remember. She was my Skeeter.

In my next post, I will share.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

two years and 368 posts

Late one sleepless night two years ago, my daughter Katie helped me set up this blog. For me, the blog took on a little life of its own, pestering me, calling me to tend it. Darn thing.

Dinner has been late while I finished up a blog post.

The dog's walk has been skipped because of writing. Housecleaning has definitely suffered, but then it always has under my care.

And I've disappeared from my husband Bill while I work on the blog. "Silly," I tell him. "No," he says. "You write." Love that guy.

While I'm no Pioneer Woman with thousands of followers, I am exceedingly grateful for you, the faithful readers who've encouraged me along the way. You keep coming back to a blog that has no theme whatsoever. Your comments touch, humor, inform and surprise me. Your devotion means more than you know.

Anyway. As you might notice, I've changed the appearance - and name - of the blog. Call it the two-year celebration. But I'm not out partying. I'm still here ... writing.
Thanks for reading!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

sisters' excellent adventure: a visit with pineapple man

If you've been hanging around this blog for awhile, you might remember the posts on my dad, "pineapple man." Sadly, he lives more than 400 miles from me.

This week my sister and I visited together, making it an especially sweet time. We haven't had a real sister-to-sister visit in years. Of course I took my camera and tried to shoot some moments ... though we were kinda busy what with driving to and fro (and learning our way around Nashville as we went), visiting with both dad and our stepmom Sally AND our lovely stepsister Anne. (to complicate things a bit, my sister AND my stepsister are both named Anne.)

Here's my sister Anne with Dad in Sally's apartment.

Dad and Sally took us to the Loveless Cafe,
a historic cafe/motel out on highway 100.
Why can't anyone north of Kentucky make good sweet tea?

In my last post, I shared a Longfellow poem called Kindness.
Anne and I were blown away by the kindnesses we witnessed at
Richland Place, where Dad and Sally live.

There was Michelle, the sweet and caring woman who cuts, styles
and perms the residents' hair. When I found her with her hands full, she came to dad's room when she had time for him.

Mia is one of dad's amazing attendants. She takes his vitals, chats, knows his whereabouts, brings his dinner, bums gum off him, finds his TV remote,
and brings her kittens in for a visit.

Anne and I happened upon a fabulous fruit stand. Look at those South Carolina peaches! Dad loved them. The tiny plums in front are called Bubble Gum Plums!

Oh, I couldn't help myself. What a cool sky over Publix!

Anne gave Dad a first-rate manicure. So patient and gentle, she was.

While Dad napped one afternoon, Anne and I zipped over to see 
Nashville's Parthenon.

It isn't easy seeing the decline and growing dependence of a parent. But I'm blessed by the kind caregivers who love those entrusted to them.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Kind hearts are the gardens,
Kind thoughts are the roots,
Kind words are the flowers, Kind deeds are the fruits,
Take care of your garden and keep out the weeds,
fill it with flowers,
kind words and kind deeds.

Henry W. Longfellow

I've just returned from three days with my father, sister and a lovely step-sister in Nashville. These lines by Longfellow are perfect companions for what I experienced. More to come. 

(Thank you, Donna Boucher, whose blog I enjoy.
She shared these words of Longfellow.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

canning or can't-ing?

Last week my son Mark hauled in bag upon bag of apples from the farm. He and Jill commenced to make applesauce FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME. They've been married not even a year and they made a very delicioso applesauce.

I've been married almost 32 years and while I can cook my face off, I have never achieved success in the realm of canning. It seems so hot and steamy and laborious, ya know? I once tried making strawberry jam and it resembled syrup. Come on, how hard can this be?

Tonight, my second batch of apples is simmering. Mark and Jill made it seem so easy. Mine's a hot, gloppy, sticky mess that refuses to strain. Further, it doesn't smell like July, it smells like October!

Maybe my aversion to canning has deeper roots. My mother used to can green tomato relish, a favorite of my father, who plopped it on his black-eyed peas. Blech.

I think I'll stick to zip-loc bags and the freezer. Tell me, do you can?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

what we leave behind

Early this morning, I dragged from slumber thinking about ... garbage bags. And clutter. And Thoreau. You see, last week we moved my mother-in-love to an assisted living facility. Very nice place, I might add. "Nursing homes" are out and sleek new apartment-like "assisted living" places are in.

But Mom has quickly discovered, even though she left a big jumble of stuff behind, she must dispose of even more.

As I've spent a few days sorting and bagging and saving just a fraction of her accumulations, it is clear. There isn't one material thing on earth that will mean squat at the end of our lives.

As I read over these posts, I notice a common thread.   What my children, grandchildren and whoever's left will remember is who I was to them - for better or worse.

Did I take time to read stories with them? Laugh at their jokes and listen to their stories? Discuss God and the mysteries of life? Did I teach them to ride a bike, make a bag lunch, and how to fly a kite? Did we swim, hike, pray, visit the library, and catch fireflies on summer evenings? Did I take them to a funeral so they could learn how to comfort a hurting friend?  Did they see me hurt and feel and cry? Did I apologize when I lost my temper? Did I make our home a haven from the world? Did we play piano and sing together? Did I strive to treat them as well as I do my best friend?

If I was too busy for such things, then all the trinkets and heirlooms and even family photos won't amount to a hill of beans. In fact, they won't matter whether I did OR didn't invest in those I love.

And that's because the only thing we leave behind that really matters is ... you guessed it ... love.

Friday, July 9, 2010

a GRAND time had by all

Last week we mounted a massive migration to northern Michigan and spent a few days on the shores of Grand Lake. And grand it was. Lots of laughing. Cooking. Eating. Salad-making. Rock-painting. Lighthouse-climbing. Baby-feeding. Swimming, reading, and hammock-lying, too.
My camera was on assignment at a wedding for the first couple of days, but I caught up as best I could.
This sort of vacation requires basic survival skills like cooking and clean-up, so I swiftly put the 'children' into doing dishes Girl Scout camp-style. Wow, they loved that!

The newest little Haller visits Fireside Inn ...
for breakfast before church on Sunday.

The three amigos, playing frisbee golf.
(that is, my three sons)

They fling 'em like this.

I'm almost embarrassed to post this because I don't
think a dog really needs a vacation ...

This one's just artsy.

And this one makes me laugh: my hubby,
sharing a morning moment with Ari.

Gotta see my lighthouses: lovely
Presque Isle lighthouses!

Lots and lots of photographing went on.

In a few years, Ari and I will walk
the shoreline in search of rocks and other treasures.

I don't know which is my favorite ... this one,

or this one.

Rock painting!

(Thanks, Dan, for digging up trees
from the septic field!)

'Baba' and Ari.

Ari wanted some ice cream very badly.

Girls laughing hard, having ice cream.

"Pops" with Ari at the harbor in Presque Isle.

Fun memories with precious family. Love 'em!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

soon and very soon

We went. We're back. It was fantastic. Anxious to write and post photos ... but been mighty busy around here. For now, a favorite photo of our time together.

More soon. I promise.