Monthly Archives: July 2012

Believing for Spring

One selection from a memoir, Wild Irish Ties.

Believing for Spring

I’ll never forget the winter of 1971. Glee club tryouts had been postponed for the third time because snow had cancelled school for over a week, we were almost out of firewood, and the cold wind was relentless. Every winter, we moved the living room furniture into the kitchen closer to the fireplace and the stove. After hanging blankets on the doors, we snuggled under Nonie’s quilts. I loved those quilts because they reminded me of Nonie and how much she had embraced prayer. I remember sitting under her quilting frame. The more fervent her prayer, the more passionate her stitching had become, so it was a blessing to have the “prayer quilts” as she called them, with us, now, even if she couldn’t be with us.

At night, the fire would glow and cinders would pop out onto the hearth. While everyone watched the flames, I watched Mama. Every night, without fail, she’d sit at the kitchen table and read passages from the Bible: She would say: “If we have faith as a grain of mustard seed, we can move mountains, you know. Don’t fret none, ‘cause God will provide. He is our shepherd, we shall not want, it says right here in Psalm 23.” I often wondered how she could be so positive that God would take care of us, because all she had to do was look around and see that we were falling into a deep pit. It didn’t seem like God remembered us, or that he wanted what was best for us; nevertheless, Mama, always trusted God to make a way.

With the help of Mr. Johnson, our landlord, the Lord did provide us with all the fallen limbs that we could gather from his pine grove that grew dense beyond the cornfield. There was only one problem. In order to get the wood, we had to drag our wagon through the mud. Our wagon groaned under the heavy burden of firewood. Mom wasn’t physically able to walk through the fields, so she waited in the yard to chop the limbs into smaller pieces. Each journey down the corn rows required dogged determination, but we were cold and that settled it–we gathered every stray twig that we could find.

We tied army blankets to left over tobacco sticks, and fashioned a harness from worn belts so that we could carry the load on our backs. That solved the problem of weight on the wagon wheels, but after a few days of being human beasts of burden, our backs ached from the constant assault, and the limbs became scarce. When Daddy hauled a load of sawdust and scrap wood from work, and unloaded it near the back porch, we were in heaven. All we had to do, was pick through the wood. It didn’t last. The pile grew smaller, and my greatest fear was the weather forecast that said we’d have yet another snowstorm. It was only a matter of time before there wouldn’t be anything else left to sacrifice but the quilts, but for now, we still had old clothes to burn. In spite of the cold, burning clothes required opened doors. By the end of February, every available item was ashes in the fireplace, and we were still cold. Being a mature teenager, I offered my tire swing and rope to burn. At first, daddy hesitated, but he later consented when his glass of water turned to ice after he left it on the counter for a while. “If construction workers can burn tires in big barrels to keep warm, why can’t we burn tires in the fireplace?” he reasoned. After taking a lingering swig of whiskey, daddy retrieved the tire swing, broke up the ice, and stopped long enough to compose himself, fighting back his tears and the icy winds.

The tire swing stuck out on the hearth about a crescent moon, and its rope twisted as the flames touched the frayed ends. The boiling glob of rubber bellowed up the chimney. We sprayed water on the treads to keep the flames down, and the stench of smoldering rubber bubbled and blopped puffs of black smoke and flames that scorched the paint underneath the mantle. We were all grateful that we hadn’t lost the mantle to the tire, and for a while we forgot all about being cold.

Mama asked Daddy, “Dan, what are you doing?”

“I’m gettin’ somethin’ to burn, I’m cold!”

“There’s nothing left to burn but sheets and wearing clothes.”

“Well, that’s somethin’. I’m cold.”

Mama knew that if Daddy got his mind off of being cold, he might go to sleep.

“Dan, why don’t you come to bed, we’ll save what’s left to burn for in the morning.”

“Got some thinkin’ to do yet.”

Daddy found a ragged shirt on the couch and put it on the cinders; it flamed up for a short time then quickly died down again. “Got to get some wood.”

“Maybe it will dry up a little by tomorrow so we can get through the field,” Mom offered, trying to ease his mind.   Reluctantly, mama told us that it was time for bed. We did have a big day at school. She looked at Daddy and said, “Try not to stay up too late.” I saw Mama’s concerned look. She was a beautiful woman, but lately the worry lines and gray hair had really become more noticeable.

Daddy slurred “I won’t; I’ll keep the fires goin’.” How could she sleep knowin’ that he could end up burning the house down like he almost did the day before with the tire?

I heard Daddy opening each dresser drawer one by one. He dumped the contents out on the floor. Daddy always said two sets of clothes was all we needed anyway–one set for washing, and one set for wearing. It was late when I finally dozed off to sleep.

The next morning, the weather had cleared enough so we could go to school, and it was also the day for Glee Club tryouts. I was confident that if I felt good about myself, it would help me to sing better, so with some of money that I made working last summer, I had bought a new poor-boy jumper and saved it for this special occasion. It was time to get ready. Things don’t always turn out as we plan, but I still remember the sick feeling in my stomach, when I looked into my bare closet, that day. “Where is it?”  I could feel my heart beating in my throat as panic washed over me. Every closet I searched gave me the same results. I didn’t want to know, but when I saw Mama’s eyes, I knew. They were puffy and red, as if she had been crying all night.

“Daddy was cold, and he burned some old clothes. I’m so sorry, but he threw it into the fire before I could stop him. I’m sorry.”

I felt lost, as if some mere piece of cloth could have solved all the world’s problems, and now, it was gone. Nothing that I could do or say would change the sorrow that I felt, but I was used to disappointment, and I didn’t know why I expected today to be any different from all of the other days that left me abandoned emotionally. All I could do was stand in front of the fireplace and stare into it, as if staring into it might miraculously change the past. I was mesmerized with the fire all through breakfast, and nothing was left in it but embers—slowly smoldering embers that seemed to keep holding on to vibrant life. In that moment, I had an epiphany: nothing has any true value, because in an instant it can become ashes in a fireplace and be lost forever. Showing any display of open disappointment, would serve no other purpose than to hurt my mother, who already felt bad enough over the situation. Besides, it wouldn’t bring back the beloved poor-boy. I helped Mama clear the table.

“Mama, it was brand new.”

She took my hand and said, “I know sweetheart, I know.”

Soot covered the yellow wall of our kitchen, and mom sat down one last time at the wobbly kitchen table to read. She found the verse, John 3:16, which says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “We believe,” mama said, and with a heavy sigh, she started to unscrew the table legs, and knew what to burn next.

I had a choice, to wallow in defeat or to get up and do my best to keep moving forward. I was reminded of the scripture that says, “All things work together for the good to them who are the called according to his purpose.” All things, even the loss of a dear poor-boy jumper, could work for my good. God is still on the throne, and all I really needed to do was follow his plan for my life. When I came home that day, I was part of the Glee Club. It was a monumental victory for me, and I was able to purchase the navy blue skirt and white blouse required to participate.

I am constantly reminded of how faithful God is to us, when I watched my mother make the best out of difficult circumstances. Were we poor? No, a thousand times, no, not by God’s standards. What we lacked in the physical world around us, God provided in the love that went into each stitch of a quilt, or the hands that prepared a pot of beans for our evening meal.

If our electricity was shut off, we made shadow rabbits on the ceiling and wall. If too much snow caused us to grow weary, we would make snow creme. But my favorite memories are the times that we were together as a family. Even Daddy could bring laughter into our lives, when he wasn’t drinking moonshine. I am a better person, today, because I know that my only hope is in Jesus Christ, and nothing will ever separate me from his love.

Do you have stories of God’s Provision?

 The Lord is never late or unconcerned about the things that concern us. He will meet every need. Sometimes we must endure great hardships to be prepared to receive his provision, so it is important that we learn to trust God to deliver the promise when it’s the right time.

I remember the incidents in this story as if it happened yesterday. It will be etched in my mind for years to come because it holds the key to finding favor with God: trust. Don’t lose hope. Your answer is on the way.

Dancing in the Lily

The children are on my mind constantly. I love them and every day brings me an emptiness that I can’t fill. Today, I feel sad, and at the same time I am pleased that once again I have dreamed about them. I called mom today and she said that the people at the grave side said that if your adult children don’t take responsibility for the $500.00 left on Mr. Maitland’s burial plot, that they will have to exhume his body and move him by the river in the marsh land. They didn’t bother telling anyone but mom that we even owed the money. What a slap in the face and certainly not anything that mom needed to be concerned about now. She is too young for social security, and too old to find work since she hasn’t ever had to work a public job.

I wrote this back in 1989 and it was one of the memories that I had forgotten. It amazes me how people can treat others and still call themselves compassionate. My mother lived a hard life, but she was the type of person who was nonjudgmental. She loved people and if you made mistakes she would still love you and pray for you. You could always talk to her, because she would never criticize you.

When I wrote this I was still trying to get used to being married and living a normal life. My life had been in such a turmoil for so many years, that normal was foreign to me. I expected at any moment to wake up and it all be a dream. The love in our home, the provision, the peace, the safety, would all vanish like those speech bubbles in the cartoons. POOF. But it didn’t vanish, and now over twenty-four years later we are still together and serving the Lord.

My life wasn’t always this happy. I remember a time when there were three children to raise as a single mom. I remember the hours spent walking to school or work, and the helplessness I felt at not knowing if the children were safe. It wasn’t uncommon for a headstart van to drop them off at the apartment early, without even knowing if I had made my three hour walk from community college or not. They called one time and said that they were bringing my three year old daughter home because she was running a fever and they didn’t want the other children to get sick. When I told them that I was at school and there was no way that I could get back in time, they said that I had to make arrangements because they were bringing her home.

I panicked. I ran as much as I could for what would usually take me three hours walking. It was at that point that I felt so lost and vulnerable. How could God allow this to happen? When I did get home, I found my daughter at the neighbor’s door, outside, unsupervised. She was just sitting on the door stoop waiting alone. I felt so helpless, that all I could do was hold her close and cry. Why? All I wanted to do was get an education so I could have a better job to raise my little family, and I was so tired of fighting the system, so I worked at Rose’s Department store to avoid having to depend on anyone for help.

I would leave every day for my job at Rose’s, and before I could get down the sidewalk, I could hear my babysitter yelling. My instincts told me to walk back, no run back, to rescue my beautiful children from her verbal assaults, but I had no other options. What terrible days did they endure while I was working to provide for our little family? They may have blocked it out of their memory by now, or maybe not. It wasn’t a good environment, but what could I do?

It was all about daily survival. The Martha spirit, again, rose up in me and I compulsively cleaned everything, because I could control the cleanliness in my environment even if I couldn’t control my situation. I hated leaving my children every day, then, Alisa contracted pneumonia when she was six months old.  I hated asking for assistance, so I made the decision to only get help to pay for the hospital bill. I still remember the day that I walked into that Social Services office, with children in tow, and I am still incredulous of the answer they gave me when I asked: “we’re sorry, but we can’t help you unless you quit your job.”

Really? As long as I had struggled to stand on my own two feet? So much for digging my way out of the system: to be self-sufficient. You will do things that you never thought possible when it comes to raising your children. Again, I was not given any choices. I quit my job and for two years slipped into chronic depression on welfare. I was angry at the System, at their father, and sometimes even at God, but God was all I had to turn to, so I poured myself wholeheartedly into serving the Lord.

He was the only one who never failed me. He sustained me and by some miracle I started to climb out of the depression and have hope in spite of my circumstances, until the day that I had to move to another apartment. It wasn’t convenient for me to get to church, and once again I had to depend on others to pick us up. I felt all of the old bitterness and hurt come flooding back, as I used to wait at the door looking out of the window for a ride to church for the night service, only to find out that they weren’t going to come. Then, one day, they stopped coming by altogether. I refused to put myself or my children through that humiliation ever again, so we stopped going to church. We sang the songs, and read the bible, and prayed at home together.

I can’t help but think about the children. At the time, I didn’t know where they were because I had released them for adoption to give them a fighting chance to get off this course of life that leads to despair. I lived in alcoholism and the last thing that I wanted for my children was to follow in their granddaddy’s and in my footsteps. I wasn’t an alcoholic, but I had seen so much heartache that I felt that I wanted to spare them from the pain that I was going through. In some way if they didn’t see me putting myself down, they wouldn’t hear the negative all the time. I wrote,


Life gets more complicated every day. When will I stop being mother and start being daughter?

I wish a thousand times that I had been more sensitive and aware of the life that my mother was living without Dad, but I was consumed with making a fresh start, being someone important and respected, but at what cost? I was just a daughter who was rebellious and self-centered and spiraling out of control even when I felt that my life was finally coming together. I was the one who looked in the mirror and saw the sadness behind the beaming smile, there was a secret life of tragedy, longing for hope and peace, never quite satisfied, never allowing myself to feel the joy that life has to offer: after all, why did I deserve to be happy after all that I had done?

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