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Hoge Poge and My Brother’s Birthday

I promise you I have been off any pain meds except Tylenol for over two weeks. Pain medicine makes my coffee taste terrible for a couple of months after I quit taking it and I am definitely addicted to my coffee.  But, as usual for someone who loves thinking about theories or possibilities instead of paying attention to the actual world around her, peculiarities still happen. I got to a doctors appointment recently and as they were taking my blood pressure, I realized I had my blouse on inside out. Of course, me being me, I didn’t keep quiet and just take the first chance alone to right it. The two nurses swore they hadn’t noticed. Which worried me a bit, because I like my medical people to stay aware of the real world in front of them, particularly when I am it.

Then a few nights ago when I was still wearing my back brace at night, I awoke to make one of my usual trips to check out the plumbing, but couldn’t get up because I was unable to move my arms. Luckily before I panicked, my attempts to free my arms made that noise peculiar to Velcro being tugged loose. It happens that the two wrist braces I wear at night for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome have Velcro similar to that on the back brace. Somehow, I had Velcroed my arms to my body. I woke my husband up with my laughter, but managed to get loose without help.

Strange things also come to memory when I have way too much time on my hands while recuperating from back surgery.
Today is my brother’s birthday. He’s my only sibling and ten years younger than I am. I was trying to remember anything about the day he was born, but couldn’t. I don’t know if I just wasn’t sufficiently impressed with that event or perhaps I was significantly depressed and blotted it out. Because I do remember riding the train with my very pregnant mom back to St. Louis when my Dad got a job there after being in the army. She was very uncomfortable in the old Pullman berth and needed my pillow. I think that was my first clue that this wasn’t going to be like getting a kitten.
I remember living on the seventh floor without air conditioning and only having screens on the windows. And when my brother was about eighteen months old I found him sitting on the window sill in the bedroom with his face pressed against the flimsy screen. I didn’t scream or grab for him, but I did get mom.  Then we had to live with those child gates on all the windows. Kind of like a kiddie prison decor.

He had natural talent in art and music, but as the “late” child never got lessons. Where as, my nun piano teacher after three or four years suggested they try me on the drum instead. Life is not fair, is it? But when he was twelve and I had married and moved to Tennessee, I sent money for him to go to the Fine Arts Museum for Art Lessons. Unfortunately, I think my mother quit driving him to them, when she found out they were doing life painting of nudes. Oh, well, at least I tried.

I have wonderful memories of the many years he came to visit us in our hundred acre, Winnie the Pooh wood.  We two city kids, that had lived seven floors up, thought we’d died and gone to heaven. He enjoyed the country even more than I did, being willing one summer to haul water in buckets up to our garden during a drought. I would have just waved good bye to those tomatoes from the house.  I fell in  love with all the weeds and rocks and spent years making crafts with them. And he would bring an empty suitcase to take back full of rocks and fossils from our creek.  He taught a class in geology in Houston which only had sand and shells.

He and I would talk until sun-up about everything from politics and religion to physics and geology. He had so much passion about everything, I loved every moment. When he was teaching in a huge high school in a very impoverished neighborhood, he was constantly at war with the administration, who seemed only interested in their own survival, not the kids welfare. I know he was a good teacher, because when he retired, the adversarial principal told him grudgingly that no matter what they asked his students, (one of whom had held a knife to my brother’s throat once), they would never “rat” him out!

So, happy birthday to my “BRO” who all my friends think is much funnier than I am. He needs to be the writer in the family, but since retirement, he has opted to fight nature and turn a flood plain into a botanical garden.  Not too different from teaching .

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I Do Believe. Help Thou My Unbelief.

The thing about miracles is that they happen so that when you are called to tough it out, you know that there’s a reason, even if you don’t get to see what it is in this life. I’ve experienced miracles, so you’d think I’d be cool when I’m facing a challenge. NOT! A spiritual counselor once told me that I have spiritual Alzheimer’s. I was very distressed over that at the time, but I have to admit, it’s true.
Life is hard. PERIOD! And different kinds of hard defeat different types of people. Most of the time, when I’m faced with a serious life crisis, I pray, gather others’ prayers, then focus, rally my inner resources, and stay functional at least until it’s over.
But when faced with a string of challenges, particularly ones requiring the handling of a lot of details, I get scattered, constantly distracted, and overwhelmed. I forget all the miracles, even God’s obvious interventions in similar circumstances in the past. I end up a basket case.
Now once again, I have let my present challenges stress me out, forgetting God’s miracles in the past, doubting His grace, and allowing myself to become paralyzed by imagining worst case scenarios.
So, I’m writing my memories of similar past challenges and God’s visible hand in them to nurture my mustard seed of faith, praying it will free me to trust God even if He doesn’t rescue me from my circumstances this time. So hopefully, I will be able to be open to what God is teaching me or calling me to through these particular challenges.
I grew up living in apartments in large cities. From eight years old until I was thirteen, I actually lived on the seventh floor of a ten story apartment building near downtown St. Louis. After I met and married a Tennessee boy at Rice University in Houston, Texas, we moved to Nashville where his parents had both a downtown apartment and a house in the country. As our own family grew, we spent many weekends at Birdsong, their lovely hundred year old log house that now had all the modern conveniences, but still radiated the warmth and beauty of a bygone era. It also had a two hundred acre rural setting of forests with a river like creek, a water fall and swimming hole, fields of peonies, horses and barn, a pond, and a historic ruin of a civil war powder mill. At first I had followed my mother-in-law on explorations to look for Jack-in-the-Pulpit and tiny wild Iris with a city dweller’s trepidations, “snakes and ticks and poison ivy, oh my!” But eventually I fell in love with nature, from its obvious glories to its fascinating hidden world of tiny treasures.
When I was expecting my fifth child by Caesarian section which would include a planned hysterectomy, my in-laws decided to sell Birdsong. They offered to trade us the main house, barn, tenant house, and thirty-five acres for whatever we could make from selling our house. Not only did I covet Birdsong, this was an incredible financial offer. Our home was a pleasant four bedroom two-story house in an area of wonderful public schools, but Birdsong was twice its size, beautiful, historic, and unique with a wonderful thirty-five acre setting on a creek. After prayerful discussion, we decided this was the chance of a lifetime and we put our house on the market a month before Thanksgiving when our baby was due. While in the hospital recuperating from my surgeries, our house sold with the agreement that the buyer could take possession in a month, which was the week after Christmas. To say the least, it was a somewhat daunting prospect in my post operative condition, with a new baby, and four other children under ten. But again, it seemed a miracle to sell so quickly and I wanted Birdsong more than I had ever wanted any thing. To top it off, one of my husband’s brothers hired a baby nurse to help me for the first two weeks, so it seemed meant to be.
Unfortunately my new son needed a hernia repair shortly after we had come home from the hospital. The night before his surgery, the doctor discovered that he also had a heart valve defect. The defect didn’t appear life threatening and it was one that sometimes is outgrown, so they only did his hernia surgery. The day we brought him home, my in-laws came to visit and announced apologetically that they had accepted another offer for the whole two hundred acres and Birdsong. So, we ended up two weeks before Christmas having to be out of our house in three weeks with nowhere to go. I was pretty much in shock. At that day and time there were no condos or apartments in our neighborhood. Checking the papers and calling realtors turned up nothing to rent until we could figure out what we wanted to do. I didn’t want the children to change schools unnecessarily, but there simply wasn’t anything available. At that time the house market in our area was no better. I sat on the couch after I had called the last realtor with tears running down my cheeks. The kind baby nurse, a middle-aged black woman with seven grown children, sat down beside me and put her arm around me.
“What do you need exactly?” she asked.
I thought about not being able to drive or climb stairs for another month and answered, “A five bedroom, one story house in walking distance to our school to rent for nine months. That would give us time to decide where to live without our children having to change schools.”
She responded with a smile, “All right, we’ll pray for exactly that and a can of oil.”
“A c c c can of oil?” I stuttered.
“Yes, we have to take the baby back to the doctor tomorrow and I’d rather drive my car, but it needs a can of oil.”
I tried to not look incredulous, as she began to pray specifically. When she finished and we said “Amen” together, she smiled cheerfully and went to get me a cup of coffee. As I sat there stunned, the doorbell rang. It was Sarah, a woman I knew from our school’s Parent Association.
“Eileen,” she said. “I’m sorry to bother you, but my car has stopped running at the end of your driveway. Can I use your phone to get the mechanic to come?”
“Sure,” I replied, “If you’ll ask him to bring a can of oil.”
After her phone call, she joined me for coffee as we waited for the mechanic and the oil.
“I hear you’ve sold this house,” she said. “And you’re moving to the country.”
“Well, not now. That fell through and though I don’t want to move the children from their school until we figure out what we are going to do, there’s nothing available to rent around here right now. I’m kind of in a panic.”
“Do you know about the Keck house?” she asked excitedly.
“No. Where is that?”
“It’s one street over and two houses down. You can see the back yard from here. They are going as missionaries to the Philippines for nine months. They are supposed to leave the first week in January if they can find a renter. They are trying to do that by word of mouth, because they don’t want just anyone to move in since they are leaving all their belongings.”
“What is the house like?” I asked, almost holding my breath.
“It’s a one story with four bedrooms , a study, and a nice den. It also has a wonderful yard and patio.
I couldn’t believe my ears. “We have a large basement at our office where we could store their belongings, “ I said excitedly. “With our having five children, that would probably be safer for their furniture and happier for our kids.”
Three weeks later, we moved a block away and after several months of looking for land in the country, we bought our own hundred acre wood, my husband designed a marvelous house for our family, and nine months later  when school was starting, we moved to a county with a much better school district than the county where Birdsong was. We lived there for twenty-seven years.
Another challenging selling and moving story with surprising happy results will follow soon along with the parallel challenges we are currently facing.
I should believe! I do believe. Help Thou my human fears.

A Country Education

When we moved to our hundred acre weed and rock sanctuary, I happily dragged the children through the woods on hunts for nuts, lichen, and pods for ecology crafts.  We waded the creek finding smooth stones and fossils, even coral. In the snow, we went looking for animal tracks. And in the dark of night we drove the jeep through fields to find the perch of the Great American Owl, that we spotted flying during the day.  I often enthused about all the amazing things, we were going to learn by living in the country.

One day, my first grader announced, “Mom, you were right. I’m learning a lot of new things in the country.”

Delighted, I asked, “What kind of new things?”

“Well, before we moved here and had to ride a school bus, I didn’t know hardly any cuss words.”
That wasn’t quite the answer I was hoping for.

Later, I realized that in my eagerness to get back to nature, dragging my family with me, I might have gone overboard a bit. A friend from church invited my first grader to go swimming with her first grader at the Country Club. She later laughingly told me she figured we must swim in a creek, because my son asked whether he should leave his tennis shoes on for swimming.

I told her I was surprised he didn’t throw rocks in to chase the snakes away.

A lot of things are different in the country.