Mother of the World

Today being Mother’s Day and I’d like to celebrate it with this story.

It was over. The long night of his mother’s illness. The days upon days upon days of her suffering. She was gone. Only what was left of her empty shell of a body lay under the covers on the bed. All her life she kept her faith. Her last moments were no different. She whispered the word “Jesus”, then she gave up her ghost. Finally she was free of the weight of worry and pain and hard work she carried for her fifty-five years.

Soon his three younger brothers and one younger sister would be there to relieve him of his watch, and they would say their goodbyes. Soon the doctor would come to pronounce her dead and sign the death certificate. Soon the coffin maker would come. He would make her body up best he could and box it up and ready it for the cold, hard ground. Soon that tiny body of hers would be covered with the same earth that was to be found under her fingernails.

For the next little while, he was alone with the woman he called Mother for his thirty-eight years. He sat down on the side of the bed and lifted her very small hand. It was not quite cold yet. He started to make an effort to warm it up with his hands, then stopped. It was no use to try.

Nothing could bring back the warmth of those hands she used to cook and knead dough and mend and chop cotton with. Those hands that ran her fingers through his hair ever so gently. Those hands that folded into prayer thousands of times. Those hands that threw holy water onto her teenage boys to get them out of bed and ready for school, calling on the Name of Jesus to cast out any demons that they might have taken up with.

He felt the callouses embedded in that hand thin and gnarly. He laid the hand gently down by her side, then his hand slowly cupped her hairless skull, bald from the chemo that failed to check the cancer surging through her body. He pushed back what he could imagine was once her hair. The hair she’d taken pride in, hair once black and beautiful, its long tresses folded and pinned into a bun with a set of combs, an heirloom passed on to her from her Cherokee mother. The cancer stole that pride of her hair and left her bald.

His gaze lingered over her face, a face that always carried a smile when she saw one of her kids. The mouth never speaking an unkind word for anyone. And now would never speak comfort to him again with her mellifluous voice. He looked at the veins sticking out from her neck, then the body covered with the sheet and the quilt she’d made in the last two years of her life, that tiny body containing a great heart for all she met along her way through life.

Memories of her flooded through his mind, and they were memories of this woman who called none a stranger. They were memories of the times she sat at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a listening ear for a neighbor and the burdens the neighbor  carried. Of the times she bartered with her children and negotiated their arguments, so they didn’t end up in knock-down-drag-outs. The nights she sang him to sleep with a lullaby when all he wanted to do was chatter and romp and take on the world with his five-year old bravado. The times she poured castor oil down his throat and rubbed his chest with vapor rub, telling him that there was no sickness they could not heal.

It was hard work to make a good man out of a boy, much less four boys and a girl, doing the raising all by her lonesome the way she did. It was a work that never let up but went on from sunrise to sunset day in and day out and all night too, and she did it with nary a complaint. Rather she applied her love liberally but she never hesitated with the discipline. It was amazing what some holy water and a switch could do to get a kid to tow the line. When all was said and done, there was a hug for her kids and her grandkids, when they were in need of a hug. And they knew that those hugs came from a love that reached deep down all the way to her toes and back again.

Then his mind turned to the men in her life. The tenant-farmer Pa, that Joseph of a man who took care of his two young’uns just like that long-ago man took care of the infant Jesus and his Mama. This man, whom she adored, was a blacksmith and a good provider and everything a Pa should be. But her three husbands, they were no darn good. They weren’t worth the dirt she walked on. Hank, the laziest man in the state; Jock, twenty years her senior who had thrown his anger at her in dozens of ways; Tor, the man who had stolen her savings and left her in such poverty she was forced to beg her children for help.

Tears welled up into his eyes and he buried his face in her body. He cried his grief, all his grief into this dead woman’s body, the body of the woman he called Mother.

He swiped away the tears and stood up and walked over to the window. Outside the sun dropped out of the sky and over the edge of the horizon. Streaks of purple, blue, orange, yellow and red colored the sky. Soon the sky turned blue and it was night. A breeze touched his cheek and it felt like a kiss. Then the woman’s soul slipped through the window to join what once was and what is, the then and the now and the forever. She was now a part of everything and everything was a part of her. He looked up at the stars and thought that he had never seen anything so beautiful before. And maybe he never would again.

Near 500 words: Just about perfect

Another lyric adventure.

Love is just about perfect,
This and so much more,
Love is just about perfect,
So open up that door.

It’s a lovely morning.
All the colors are out.
Showing off their stuff
As I get on and about.

The sun’s making me smile,
A breeze upon my skin.
Could there ever be
A better day to walk in?

Love is just about perfect,
This and so much more,
Love is just about perfect,
So open up that door.

Oh, what the street gives up
On this Sunday Sunday:
Neighbor washing his car,
The birds having their say.

Kids doing kids’ play
Water bombing a lawn,
Dog chasing his tail,
Street having its fun.

Love is just about perfect,
This and so much more,
Love is just about perfect,
So open up that door.

Soon the day quiets down
When the sun tips his hat
On his way out of town
Letting us know he’ll be back.

Moon slips across sky,
Crickets sing her praises,
Nightly kisses good night,
Love ever amazes.

Love is just about perfect,
This and so much more,
Love is just about perfect,
So open up that door.

Uncle Bardie’s Movie Spotlight: The Light Between Oceans

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Movie is “The Light Between Oceans” (2016):

If you had to choose between the one you love and your conscience, which would you choose? This is one of several themes of “The Light Between Oceans”.

Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) returns to his native Australia from the battlefields of World War One. He is a wounded man and he knows he is a wounded man. He can’t get the war out his head. To find some peace, he volunteers to be a lighthouse keeper. The lighthouse is on an island miles off shore.

Running away from life, he finds life in a woman who lives in the Western Australian town that is the jumping off point to the island. Isabel (Alicia Vikander) falls in love with him and he with her. Alone on the island, he realizes he wants to say yes to her proposal of marriage.

Tom and Isabel are happy on the island in the early days of their marriage. Their life together on the island seems perfect.

On the island, Isabel loses both of her babies during pregnancy. Then a row boat comes from the sea. On it are a dead man and a baby. Isabel wants to keep the baby; Tom wants to do the right thing and report what they have found to the authorities. This is where Tom’s dilemma begins.

At the end of the movie, I still can’t answer the question of whether I would have made the choice Tom makes. Just like I don’t know which child I would have chosen if I were Sophie in William Styron’s “Sophie’s Choice.” Or whether I would have made the choice Scobie makes in Graham Greene’s “The Heart of the Matter.” Would I have chosen the choice Danny’s father made in Chaim Potok’s “The Chosen”?  I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

Perhaps this is the moral of “The Light Between Oceans.” There is no right answer and there is wrong answer. There is only a human answer.

This Old House

A ceiling above my head
The floor beneath my feet
Four walls around me
This old house moans and squeaks

Shadows paint the walls
Summers and ice cream days
Autumn leaves and Christmas trees
And all love says and doesn’t say

Thanksgivings come and go
Like suns into the sunset
And Christmas Eves too
Pass me much too quick

Standing in this room of mine
A witness of a former self
A ghost who has memories
Of love that is love and so much else

These my memories run
Through my heart like a river
Laughing, dancing and singing
Carrying me into forever

My Old Man, Santa Claus

My old man was a hoot. Everybody in the neighborhood said, “Tom Pickering does have one heck of an imagination.” The thing was that his inventions seldom worked. His imagination seemed to be larger than his abilities.

There was the bicycle he believed would fly. He believed it so much that he rode it off the roof of our two story house. All the neighborhood saw it and there were those who shouted, “It’s a bird. It’s a plane.” When my Dad and the bike crashed through our neighbor’s first floor window, they were sure it wasn’t Superman.  Dad landed on Mr. Adams as he was trying to get some shut eye after a long night’s work. Needless to say Mr. Adams was not pleased and neither was the bicycle.

But Dad was no quitter. He had just the right thing he thought would get him into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame. An underwater car. It was a Saturday afternoon when he drove the Chevy off the pier. Little did Dad know that the water was deep. Very deep. So deep in fact it could have made the Challenger Deep look like a sinkhole. Down, down, down the car went as its engine stalled, then stopped. It had putted its last putt.

It was then that Dad realized he had forgotten one essential piece of equipment if you want to travel underwater. He forgot oxygen tanks. Fortunately there were three scuba divers who followed Dad into the water. It took several minutes for them to make the jailbreak out of the car. It’s a good thing that Dad was a deep breather.

Then there was the time Dad went about saving Christmas. At least for my kid brother, Jimmy. It was the year I told him there was definitely no Santa Claus. The whole thing was made up.

At first, Jimmy didn’t take my word for it. Then several of the the kids in his school  confirmed my testimony. They too told him there was no Santa. Jimmy did the math. He added and subtracted, multiplied and divided. He was nowhere near having an answer how Santa and his reindeer made it to every house in every country in the world on Christmas Eve.

When Dad saw Jimmy with qualms of disappointment on his face, he knew he had to come up with a solution to the Santa Claus issue. He remembered way back when he was young. A similar thing had happened to him. Only it wasn’t a kid. It was Old Mr. Creepers next door. He wanted to make Halloween the biggest holiday of the year. There was only one way that was possible. He had to take down Santa Claus.

That year Santa missed Dad’s house. All because he doubted Santa. Now Dad was determined that was not to happen to his kid. His solution: he would appear on our roof as Santa, then slide down the chimney with a bag of goodies.

Now Dad had the heft of a Santa and he carried it with grace. Six weeks before Christmas Eve, he began the preparations for what he called “the Santa’s Caper.” He went down to the local Santa store and bought his fake beard and his fake hair and his suit, which was not fake. And he did not cut corners. Only the best for his little Jimmy.

When Mom got a clue to what Dad was up to, she asked, “You fool, how are you going to get down that chimney?”

“Oh, it will be a tight squeeze. But I have the perfect solution. Grease.”

Mom shook her head, knowing there was no changing his mind. “Just be careful and please don’t break the chimney.” But she gave him that worried look. With Dad, what would go wrong would go wrong. So much so that she had taken to calling him Murphy behind his back

Christmas Eve came. Jimmy and I were sent to bed early with a “Santa won’t come if you’re awake.”

Though we absolutely knew there was no Santa, still we were taking no chances. By ten p.m. we were in our beds, pretending we were zzz-ing off to Never Never Land. Despite our best efforts, we nodded off. Then we heard a noise on the roof.

It wasn’t a clatter we heard. It was more like a bomp. One thing was sure. Santa was making his rendezvous. It was a definite that he was on our roof. Clomp! Clomp! Clomp! went Santa’s boots.

We jumped out of bed and hurried to the window. No sleigh on the lawn. Rudolph must be on the roof. Along with Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. We just knew it.

But it was not Santa. It was Dad. And he had spotted his target. The chimney.

All dressed up in his Santa suit, he lugged his bag over to the chimney. He sat down on the chimney’s side. With the bag lifted over his head, he gave himself a push. As he shoved off, he heard a giant ripping sound. His red pants had caught on a nail. The nail tore not only his pants but his bright red Santa underpants with white Rudolphs on the bottom as well.

That night gravity did its mighty work. Down the chimney went Dad and his bag. Until he didn’t. Like a balloon blowing up, Dad filled up the chimney, then stopped half way down.

Mom took out her flashlight and pointed it up the chimney. What she saw made her throw herself onto the floor, laughing uncontrollably.

In all the history of Santas, this must have been the first time Santa found himself unable to reach the cookies and milk. The grease had not worked.

Jimmy and I rushed into the living room. “Where’s Santa,” we screamed in unison.

“Boys, go back to bed,” Mom said. “Otherwise Santa won’t come out of that chimney. And there’ll be no presents. Right, Santa?”

From the chimney came a muffled voice that was half Santa and half Dad.”Ho, ho, ho. Listen to your mother. Moms are always right.”

“Okay, Mom,” we said, disappointment in our voices.

We left the room and closed the door, but we were not about to go back to bed. We’d be kicked out of the All American Kid Society if we did. We took turns peeping through the door.

Somehow Dad squeezed himself almost to the floor of the chimney. His black boots were about three feet in the air. If you’ve never heard a man cry, you would have heard a man cry that night. “What was I thinking.”

“You weren’t, as usual,” Mom gave him one of her what-fers.

“Well, can you give me a hand?”

Mom grabbed onto Dad’s boots and gave them a tug. “Ouch,” the chimney said. The boots dropped onto Mom’s foot and her ouch joined the chimney’s.

“Do you still have those rockets you bought for the Fourth of July?” Mom asked.

“What are you going to do with them?”

“I’m going to stick them up your rear end and send you into the Great Beyond. Otherwise it will be the waste of a perfectly decent chimney. Why do you ask?”

“No.” The chimney was emphatic. “Absolutely not.”

“Do you have a better suggestion?”

For years afterward, my family called this horns of a dilemma The Horns of a Dilemma.

Behind the slightly open door, my brother turned to me. “Where’s Dad? He could get Santa free. He’s smart like that.”

I just didn’t have the heart to tell Jimmy where Dad was.

Then a thud. And not just any thud. It was The Thud.

Mom’s eyes and Jimmy’s eyes and my eyes shot to the ceiling and the footsteps. Could it be?

Of course, it was.

From above, we heard a deep bass voice. “Fool, get out of my way.”

Dad dropped to the chimney floor and crawled out, his suit all in tatters. Behind him were a pair of boots. They stepped over Dad and into the center of the living room. There was a glow about The Man. He wore a suit of the brightest red I’d ever seen. I swear the white beard shined.

Mom rushed over and grabbed the glass of milk and the plate of Oreos. She timidly handed them to The Man.

He looked at Mom and smiled and took the refreshments. He gulped them down, then headed for the work of the night. The Christmas tree.

Frozen in our places, the four of us watched. He set his bag on the floor, reached up and adjusted the star and several of the ornaments. Then he opened his bag. He looked over at Jimmy and nodded. “This one is for you.” He placed the large gift under the tree. “For believing.” Next came my gift, then Mom’s.

Finally he looked over at Dad. Tears were in The Man’s eyes. “Thanks for the help.” Out of the bag came a very small package. He placed it under the tree, giving it a bit of extra care as he did.

In a flash, he was back at the chimney and up on the roof. But he wasn’t done. Back down the chimney he came. Standing before us in all his glory, he said in that deep deep voice of his, “I forgot.” Then he sent us a “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

From our toes to the tippy tip top of our heads, our bodies filled with joy and love and peace and hope.

“And one final thing. Merry Christmas and a very good night.”

On the roof, we heard, “Peace on  earth and goodwill toward men.” Then he disappeared into the night, heading onward to fulfill the mission he has been on for centuries.

And now, from Uncle Bardie, Merry Christmas to one and all. May you and your loved ones have a wonderful holiday this year. And one final thing. As Tiny Tim said, “God bless us everyone.”