Tag Archives: childhood

When Fireflies Dance

This is the lazy man’s way to blog: recycling homework. While I am not allowed to recycle homework for my classes, I can do it on my blog. Below is a Creative Writing story I wrote this week. Currently, I don’t have time to blog much more than this. This story is fiction. Any names you might recognize are simply because I like to draw from my own experiences and the people around me. It makes the story “me.” And no, my grandma did not suffer from Alzheimers (just to be totally clear). 

I am never quite sure if I like Grandma or not.

When I was a little girl, I thought all grandmas were like this. Until one day I am rolling out cookie dough at Regina’s house, and Regina’s grandmother walks into the kitchen. Once she leaves, I ask Regina who she is.

“Why it’s my grandma!” says Regina.

“You mean she can talk? How can she talk if she is a grandma?”

Regina stares at me in incredulous surprise. “What do you mean? Of course she can talk!”

I don’t know what to say. I just say “oh” in a small voice and tuck it away to think about.

That was a few months ago. Now I know better.

My grandma Emmy lives in a little house with Grandpa John right beside our house. Sometimes she comes over to our house when Grandpa John has to go to town to do errands. Some days I am glad when she comes. On those days, we play doll together. Grandma Emmy dresses up her doll in the nicest clothes, and she is the best at making pretend baby noises. We pretend to be riding in an airplane with our dollies, and even though Grandma Emmy can’t talk, she makes the best airplane noises.

But most days Grandma Emmy isn’t like that. On those days, she walks around the house like she is looking for something. When I was smaller, I would ask her what she was looking for. But now I don’t.

The worse is when she cries. She sits down on the floor beside the toybox and holds her doll tight and cries. I am always scared when that happens, because her crying doesn’t sound like a baby. It is thin and wailing like the lost kitten we found under the pipes in the back of the barn. And I don’t like watching big people cry.

Keith and Amy can remember when Grandma wasn’t like this. When she was like a normal person. They tell stories of the delicious cookies that she made and how she would let them lick out the bowl after she had made cake. She would play checkers with them on winter evenings, and let them make snow candy by pouring maple syrup on snow and letting it harden. She would read books to them, using different voices for different characters, in ways that made the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.

But that all changed one day when she began to forget names and faces. She did funny things like put the silverware in the fridge and the cake in sink. At first it was so funny, Amy says.

But soon Dad started watching her with a furrow on his brow and things just kept getting worse and worse until they were as they were today.

Sometimes when Grandma comes over, I watch her. I like playing with her most of the time, but sometimes I wish I could have a grandma that lets me lick out the bowl after making a cake, and reads scary stories to me at night and plays checkers with me on winter nights.

Sometimes when she is sitting quietly, I go to her. I reach and touch her, just to see if she feels like other people. Her hands are wrinkly like other old people’s hands, like my hands look when I take a bath too long. But her eyes don’t look like other old people’s eyes. They are blue, but when she looks at me, she doesn’t really see me.  Amy says grandma has Al Seimer, but I don’t know who Al Seimer is. I only know Al Miller. After Amy says that, the next time he comes to talk with Dad about the price of hay, I watch him carefully. But he never even talks to grandma, so I don’t think it is him. Perhaps he comes in the night to visit grandma and grandpa.

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I am chasing the last cheerio around in my bowl of milk with my spoon. I like to pretend that the cheerio is a fish and the spoon is a shark. This morning the windows are open and a slight breeze pours in through the window. It is June, my favorite month because it is my birthday month. The shark has almost caught the fish, and I am just ready to ask Mom how many more days until my birthday when grandpa comes panting up the steps.

His white wavy hair sticks up like it does when you rub a balloon over the carpet on winter days and hold it over your hair.

“Grandma.. grandma… there’s something wrong,” he says. “I thought she just wanted to sleep in. But she’s not responding.”

Grandpa’s eyes look worried, afraid. “I think she’s gone.”

I want to look away.  I don’t like to see grandpa upset. Grandpa and dad never get upset.

Dad leaves the table without a word and runs out the door. I can see grandpa follow slowly, his shoulders slumping.

“But mom,” I say, “where did Grandma go?”

My mom hugs me, her long arms drawing me close. “I think she died, Anna. That’s what he means.”

I saw a dead cat once. Amy’s cat. It was lying on the road by the mailbox when Dad went to get the paper one morning. It had probably been hit by a car while it was hunting for mice in the ditch, Dad said. I remember seeing it a little, but I didn’t like to look at it much because it was bloody and messed up. It didn’t look like Whiskers anymore.

But I have never seen a person dead.

Aunt Dorothea comes the next day, but she doesn’t laugh as much as she usually does. Then come Uncle Roger and Aunt Nellie, Aunt MaryLynn and Aunt Lorena, and Aunt Barbie. Mom says they came for the funeral.

Other times, I like when they come. They bring good food and candy, and tell stories all afternoon and evening, and everything is jolly. But this time, nobody seems to pay attention to me. Keith and Amy go outside to help Dad with the barn chores, acting important that they can do something to help. But I am too little.

The morning of the funeral, I wipe the last bit of egg from my bowl using the buttered middle of my toast.

I ask Mom, “Where is Grandma, Mom?”

Mom stops spreading the glaze on the cinnamon rolls like she is surprised and looks at me.

“She went to heaven, Anna.”

“But where is heaven, Mom? And how did she go? Did she want to go?”

Mom waits a long time, and she looks out the window.

Then she speaks. “Anna, I don’t know where heaven is. All I know, is that it’s with Jesus. And Anna, I really don’t know how it works. All I know is that only Grandma’s body is here, but she isn’t inside it anymore.”

“She isn’t inside it anymore? But how could she go without her body? How could she walk?”

Mom comes over across the room and sits down beside me. Her hands grasp mine, hard and strong and a little sticky from the cinnamon roll glaze.

“I really don’t know, child. But I do think she wanted to go.”

“Why, mom? Why would she want to go? How do you know?”

Mom sighs, and she looks out the window again.  “Anna, you remember hearing stories of how Grandma used to be, right? When I was young, she was the best mother I could have asked for. She was kind. She was strong and healthy, and could walk and talk like other people. But then she got sick. Like her mind got sick. And even though we took her to the doctor, he couldn’t help her. But now, she is like she used to be again. Her old mind and body that were sick are left behind and she went to heaven.”

I nod. And swallow the lump in my throat. I feel funny and I don’t want to talk about it anymore.  So I pretend to understand. But I don’t really. How could Grandma not be in her body anymore?

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The funeral is long and warm. I see Grandma in the box, but she doesn’t move. I think about what Mom said about Grandma not being here anymore, and wonder what it means. There are so many people. I can’t breathe because there are too many people, and I don’t know where Grandma has gone. I hold Mom’s hand tight, tight the way Grandma used to hold her doll when she cried. I watch them put the dirt over her. How will Grandma go to heaven if there is dirt over her? I don’t want to cry. Big girls like me don’t cry. I try and try and try to hold it back, but suddenly I can’t. Mom picks me up and holds me. I cry till her shoulder is wet. I don’t care anymore about being a big girl.

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That evening, I sit on the wooden steps. Mom is making strawberry shortcake for all the aunts and uncles that are still here. They are laughing now.

I like the night like this. It is quiet and safe. I feel tired from crying so hard. I put my feet down on the grass. It is soft and wet. The darkness comes creeping over the lawn, like it has a secret to tell.

Suddenly a little light blinks on, and then off, right above my head. A little bit later another light blinks on and off.

I stand up in wonder. It’s fireflies! I remember last year when the fireflies came! Keith and Amy and I chased them over the lawn and caught them with a net. One time we put them in a jar and watched them fly around.

Their lights blink on and off all over the lawn, above the wet, cool grass. Quickly and quietly, I run into the kitchen and climb onto the counter. I grab an empty glass jar on the shelf. I don’t want Keith and Amy to see me. I don’t know why, but I want this to be my secret.

Out on the lawn, little lanterns blink by the hundreds above the dewy grass. I have never seen so many. I watch, and chase them. They dance over my head. I catch one and watch as it crawls over my hand, its light slowly glimmering on and off. I put it in my jar and screw on the lid. I chase the others. Sometimes I almost have them in my hand and then they flit away. Finally, the jar is filled with tiny lanterns, blinking, flitting. Mom is calling me to come eat strawberry shortcake with the aunts and uncles. I run upstairs with the jar and put it on the windowsill.

After supper is over, mom makes me go to bed. She says I am tired and need to have a long night of sleep. For once I don’t complain. I lie in bed and watch the fireflies in the jar. Amy comes up. I decide to tell her about the fireflies, but she doesn’t really listen. She is getting too grown up and is getting boring. I am never going to grow up.

After she is asleep beside me, I lie still, very still and think. The crickets are singing under the wooden porch again. Outside, a new sliver of a moon is coming up. It looks like a boat that floats crookedly through the sky, like if you would ride in it, you could almost fall out. A few feet on the windowsill is my jar of fireflies.

The fireflies are flying inside the jar. I see them from here. They fly against the glass and bounce off. Silly little fireflies, I think. They don’t know what the glass is. They don’t know that they can’t break the glass. But still they fly against it and bounce off, again and again.

Where do they want to go, I wonder? Why don’t they like it in the jar? I wonder what it would be like to be a firefly. To dance across the lawn at night when the sun goes down and turn my light on and off. I would be the fastest firefly. And I would dance all night long.

I wonder where grandma is. I wonder if she likes fireflies. I wonder if they have fireflies in heaven. I wonder if Grandma caught fireflies and put them in a jar when she was a little girl.

I sit straight up in bed. I look at the fireflies again. They are still flying in the jar, bouncing off the glass, wanting to get out. I wonder if they are scared.

I crawl out of the bed, the floor cool to my bare toes. I tiptoe to the window, trying not to wake Amy. I take the jar off the windowsill and screw off the lid. The window is open and I hold the jar outside. The fireflies pour from the jar, fairylights gleaming. They fly into the night, free from the glass that held them in, dancing and dancing and dancing, until they are lost in the night.

I laugh to myself, a happy laugh.

As I tiptoe back into bed, Amy stirs.

“What are you doing?” she mumbles.

I wrap the covers around me and snuggle down.

“Nothing,” I say.

 

photo credit: Pixabay.com

Still a Child

Little baby girl, in the dark night

Deep dark night without any light

Fear of the blackness creeps on the wall

Fear of the night closes in like a shawl

 

The boundless outside, beyond her small world

Presses deep  on her as she lies curled

Helpless she stares, pulled taut at Fear’s touch

The shadows on the wall are too much, too much.

 

She cries and the sound is harsh in the night

She whimpers in the darkness, longing for sight

Then, coming through the darkness is her mother at last

Warm, pulsing presence, understanding what has passed

 

Gulping down sobs, she rests with a sigh

Listening, oh listening, to the sweet lullaby

 

“O Jesus liebt mich

O Jesus liebt mich

O Jesus liebt mich

Die Bibel sagt mir so” *

 

Little baby girl grows up over years

Still scared of the shadows, fighting her fears

Scared of the darkness, the anguish it bears

Hard down upon her and the pain that she shares

 

She cries and the sound is harsh in the night

She whimpers in the darkness, longing for sight

Then coming through the night is her Jesus at last

Warm, pulsing presence, understanding what has passed

 

Gulping down sobs, she rests with a sigh

Listening, oh listening, to the sweet lullaby

 

“O Jesus liebt mich

O Jesus liebt mich

O Jesus liebt mich

Die Bibel sagt mir so.”

 

*”Yes, Jesus loves me

Yes, Jesus loves me

Yes, Jesus loves me

The Bible tells me so.”

 

-October 2012

 

Young Grief

I was very young, perhaps 4, when I first learned what it meant to cry for someone else.

Oh,  I was an expert when it came to crying. Even up to the age of about 7, I considered it a day of victory if I got through the day without the inevitable tear. But I remember distinctly the day I learned what it meant to feel someone else’s pain.

It was also on that day that I came to the realization that people don’t just hurt on the outside. They can also hurt on the inside.

The knowledge I gained that day shaped my life forever.

 

Young Grief

Cool and gray, clouds overhead;

Slip my young hand into my mother’s;

We walk to the big house

Sit in the rows and rows of people

Who are here because of the little girl

Littler than me

In the white dress

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In the breathless room

I try to draw a deep breath

But there are too many people

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I don’t understand.

The little girl has gone somewhere-

But I’m not sure why or how.

But I do know no one wanted her to go

So it’s sad and then people cry.

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But my mother isn’t crying

And I ask her why

From deep inside the answer comes

“I’m crying on the inside.”

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So I sit

And think about the little girl

Littler than me

In the white dress

Who has gone somewhere

And no one wanted her to go

And soon I too begin crying on the inside.

 

         Originally published in Echoes of Eternity

Those Poor Children

Author’s note: I am not disclaiming the need in any way for humanitarian aid, justice for those oppressed or at risk, or education for those who lack it. Those who know me best will attain to that fact. However, I am simply restating the well known fact that wealth and prosperity have  never been known to bring happiness. 

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I’ve seen children sitting afloat pieces of junk in a murky little sewer stream, splashing in the water, challenging each other to jump across, or pretending to push each other into the smelly depths. I’ve seen these same children fight out a game of “sabaa” on a dirt road, similar to bowling but using small round stone-like seeds, plucked from a tree in the mountains. They squat in the dust and with screams and squeals play the game, squabbling as they play, but usually emerging from the argument with a smile and laugh. Dirty- faced younger siblings play in the road as well, fighting mock battles with sticks, or other trash pulled from the dump that borders the Thai slum village. It’s dirty. It’s dusty. It’s smelly.

And then….. I turn around.

And see immaculate houses filled with toys, crammed with food, with all the comforts you would want. I see children with no siblings and with abnormal levels of self -entitlement screaming their wrath to the world because they were denied a certain color crayon.

I see parents bowing to all wishes—- Child, “I want this toy-a!”

“But honey, you’ve got one at home!”

“But not just like this-a!”

“Ok, ok, honey! We’ll get you one as soon as we can!” Heaven forbid that we cause another tantrum!

I see parents with their children on an unseen leash, protecting and wrapping them in invisible bubble wrap—“Dear, don’t run! You might fall!”

“Darling, don’t go out into the sun! It’s so hot!”

“Honey, don’t get wet! You might catch a cold!”

Disobedience is met with a “Oh- you’re -so -cute -and –so- bad- and- what –on- earth- will- we –ever- do –with- you” shake of the head and a sigh.

Forgive me, parents. I know that if I ever have children of my own, I might look back with a little more understanding.

But please….. Let the child climb that tree and stomp in that puddle and make that mud pie and use that hammer! Let him fall! Let him bleed! And please, please, don’t, don’t give him everything he wants!

I endured one of the happiest childhoods of anyone. We swam in the dirtiest water you could imagine— the algae infested cattle tanks on our farm. We made mud pies and shot baby sparrows and set them in the middle of the mud pies. We painted our faces and made teepees in the grove of evergreen trees and made paper boats and floated them off down the ditch after a hard rain. We built dusty houses out of small square straw bales and climbed the barn walls in search of sparrow nests and built tree houses in as many trees that God allowed to be suitable for tree houses. We had tea parties on the roof; we woke up at 4:30 to watch a summer sunrise; we rode our pony full speed down dirt roads and through grassy fields; we drank out of hoses; we ran through the sprinkler; we acted out Indian powwows; we rattled around on one speed bikes, reenacting the Kentucky Derby. We used our imagination where our resources were low.

We also worked. We planted potatoes and green beans and corn. We picked strawberries until we thought that we were going to die and threw the rotten ones at each other when we were bored. We pulled weeds. We harvested potatoes and green beans and corn and vowed to never, ever plant 5 long rows of green beans when we grew up. We fed baby calves. We milked cows. We brought cows in from the pasture and on sweltering days stepped into the manure patties in an attempt to cool off our bare feet. We broke ice for the calves’ water when the weather turned freezing.

We were deprived of TV, computers, and internet. We got to go to town at the most about once a month. We went out to eat as a family at the most 3 times a year.

Were we happy? Yes. Were we perfect? No.

But …. I sorta feel like we turned out ok.

And none of us grew up with the belief that the world owed us anything. If anything, we owed the world. Sheltered as we still were, we still knew there was a big, mean world out there, and we were inwardly, as much as children can, grateful that we could live the simple life we did.IMG_0816

My growing up years were far from being that of a street urchin. However, sometimes I see the two pictures in my mind—one of the slum children squatting by the dirty little stream and one of the rich little girl demanding the right kind of toy from her parents.

And I wonder.

Which one should I really feel sorry for?

 

 

 

That Terrible Word- Grown Up

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A terrible thought occurred to me today as I was sitting on a bench at the park reading 1000 Gifts.

I might actually have grown up. It’s a very disturbing thought.

I remember one day in my childhood distinctly when I was sitting on the porch and my mom came around the side of the house. Instead of climbing over the side of the porch – so much faster!—she went all the way around to the steps and climbed up the steps to get to the top of the porch. I remember wondering in my 11 year old mind if I would ever get to that point where instead of just climbing up the side of the porch, I would take the steps instead.

And I never thought I would reach that point.

I was the sort of child that mothers despair over. When I was younger, I wanted to be a boy. I wanted to wear pants, I wanted to train horses, I wanted to go fishing with my brother when my uncle took him, I wanted to drive the tractor at the same age my brother did, I wanted to do all sorts of things that were not quite kosher in our conservative circles. So I made do. Actually, as far as being able to do things boys normally did, I was really privileged. I wore sweat pants under my skirts as I tore down the road on my copper colored pony, Penny. I went on long walks by myself or with my younger sister, exploring every inch of our unromantic and boring farm and in my mind’s eye, converted every unromantic part of the farm in a fairy nook, or a an exciting Indian realm. I milked just as many cows as any male on the farm did, and gave shots to calves, and waded through mud carrying a newborn calves, and nearly froze my toes hunting in the dead of winter.  I loved basketball and baseball and followed the Kansas City Royals avidly with my brother and pitched tennis balls to him overhand so we could re-enact our beloved team.

And my mother despaired. I didn’t want to learn how to quilt. I didn’t want to play with dolls (or so I said.) I wanted to wear the same red dress every day. I didn’t care if my hair was wild and sloppy. I didn’t care if the dress I was wearing had a gaping hole in it. I didn’t care if I was reading a book on my back on the floor with my legs in the air. I didn’t care if my room was an absolute pigsty. Neither did I want to hear one word of growing up and getting married and “settling down.” Yet, even though I am sure my mother sometimes felt very impatient with me, she never pushed me much to become more ladylike.

But slowly, as I grew older, I began to change and see the beauty that there is in being a woman. Not that I still don’t love a wild gallop down a dirt road at dusk, or the challenge of getting a calf to drink a bottle for the first time. Granted there also are things that women cannot or should not do, but I still love doing the things that I did 15 years ago, only with more dignity.

But today as I sat in the park, thinking about my work, teaching 3 and 4 year old Thai children, as well as the Little Girl Who Lives With Us, and I realized that maybe I had GROWN UP. That terrible word that I vowed I would never be.

I no longer think that rolling around on the floor in undignified positions for no reason at all is necessary. Nor do I think that incessant giggling and silliness and walking into walls on purpose when you are supposed to be walking in a line are needed. I tell little people to behave themselves every day and wish, wish, wish that they would just grow up a little bit. But do I really want them to grow up? What really does growing up mean? I wish someone would tell me. Does it mean becoming staid and practical and bossy and sensible and climbing the stairs instead jumping over the side? Does it mean never doing things that would shock other people or rock the boat? Does it mean becoming mature and thoughtful and wise like a guru on a mountain? Or does it mean being organized and neat and on time and never getting into awkward scrapes? If it’s the latter, than I have most definitely not grown up.

In working with children every day, sometimes I feel so old, because I am always the one giving commands and being the good example. I can’t do un-grown up things because if I do them, then guess what?! A troupe of 12 others would probably follow suit. So I don’t do un-grown-uppish things and it makes me feel old indeed. There are days when I get this inexplicable urge to jump out of the office window into the padded play area below. Or hide under my desk in the middle of the day. Or try to squeeze through the bathroom window which is about 2×3 feet in circumference just to see if I could. It would be so easy. And so fun. And so un-grown up.

Maybe, on second thought, I haven’t grown up after all. Or maybe I have, and being grown up means knowing when jumping out of windows and sitting under desks are appropriate – and when they’re not.