Month: August 2015

Missing: One loving grandma and her famous chocolate chip cookies

“She opens her mouth with wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” Proverbs 31:26

Grandma and I after a tough shuffleboard game. She is 90 in this picture.

Grandma and I after a tough shuffleboard game.

Some days my heart aches. I can feel it in my chest, pounding away, sending out desperate signals for warmth and friendship. But the crisp chill of fall is in the air, and these warm summer days are taking their final bows. The dark curtain closes, and just like that, a new scene is upon us. This one is not to my liking.

Last week, we said goodbye to our grandma. She was 91 and had led a rich and full life. I suppose we should be happy that she passed quickly. But she was the type of person that had such a strong light, it seemed she could easily live to be 100. It’s hard to believe she is no longer with us.

Grandpa, her husband who passed seven years before her, once said he wished he had a nickel for every chocolate chip cookie she ever made. By now, her descendants would be wealthy. The supply from her hands to our mouths seemed limitless.

Cyber granny

She loved her computer and traveled with her tablet.

Grandma on her tablet. She is 90 in this picture.

She loved her computer and tablet and soon learned how to make posts to Facebook and play “Words With Friends.” When I marveled at her abilities, she shrugged her shoulders and told me matter-of-factly that she had always been interested in computers.

That humble quality was attractive, perhaps because it is so rare in our modern world of social media selfies and one upmanship. It was common for her to take the worst seat at the table or sleep on the couch when we spent time at the family camp in Pennsylvania so that everyone else could have the beds.

Her home had that warm, comforting feeling that you might expect to feel at grandma’s house. The sheets on the beds were soft, the lazy boys sucked you in and kept you from getting up, the warm apple pie smell and rich hamburger and rice casserole or chicken potpies made you long to dig in.

You never went hungry at grandma’s house. Even the neighbor’s felt it. Every holiday, the bachelor next door would come fill his plate with the delicious food grandma prepared. Many of the neighbors came to her funeral and mourned her death and celebrated her life right alongside the family.

Grandma was a devout Lutheran and took her responsibilities seriously. When the pastor listed off all the many activities she led or was involved in, it took a full minute. The church lost a dependable and loving member the day she died.

My homemade birthday cake next to her birthday cake for Jesus.

My homemade birthday cake next to her birthday cake for Jesus.

I never knew my own grandparents, who passed away when I was two, but it was easy to adopt my husband’s grandma as my own. Although she had lots of grandkids, she showed me warmth and kindness and accepted me as a grandchild the moment I entered the family. She made me a homemade birthday cake every year, the pink frosting wishing me a happy birthday etched out in her scrawling grandma handwriting. Once when I was visiting, she brought out a special teacup she had gotten when she was first married and gave it to me as a keepsake. I was deeply touched.

She shared recipes with me, too. One summer we picked fresh rhubarb from her garden, and she showed me how to make her famous rhubarb jam. I have her chicken and noodle recipe, her peanut butter fudge and her recipe for a Jesus’s birthday cake, which she made every year and decorated with fresh evergreen and a crystal angel.

Grandma made me long for something more — to be better than I am. To be that light of goodness and compassion for my own family and to strangers. To welcome the outsiders in and share the warmth of grandma’s heart with them.

The world, and all of us, can use a few more grandmas like our grandma.

 

Across the divide: Finding friendship, fashion and acceptance in a college dormitory

Me and my hair, newly permed and ready for action.

Me and my hair — newly permed and ready for action.

I remember the day I met her. She strolled over from next door and introduced herself to me and my roommate, Katie,* friendly like.

“Wampum,” she said. “That’s hello in Jamaican.”

Her skin was as dark as the color of black walnuts, and she laughed a lot. I liked her right from the start.

It was the first semester of my freshman year in college, and I was having a tough time getting acclimated to dorm life. I had grown up simply, out in the country with plenty of fresh air and food but not much in the way of expensive gadgets or fine clothes. I didn’t wear makeup and kept my hair in a perpetual ponytail.

My new friend was about to change all that. “If I had your looks, the guys would be tumbling over me,” she told me. “Why don’t you put on a little makeup and wear something cute? C’mon, let’s see what you have.”

And just like that she dragged me over to the closet and began pulling out clothes until she found what she wanted. “Here, wear this,” she said.

When she couldn’t locate the perfect shirt to complement my skirt, she pulled me into her room and went into her own closet to find the best blue color. “To match those eyes,” she said.

I had never had someone fuss over me, especially not an exotic, new friend with style who was raised in New York City. I found myself opening up, like a delicate flower in the presence of the right combination of temperature and sunlight.

“Girl, we need to get you to the beauty shop,” she told me, chuckling heartily. “You leave it to me. I know a good place. It’s not a place I’ve ever been to cause they wouldn’t know how to do a black girl’s hair. But it’s where all the white girls go.”

We took the bus that ran across campus into the nearby town and entered a fancy salon. I only had $40 in cash and the haircut and perm cost $60, but the stylist was kind and agreed to do the job for what I could offer.

A rare image of me with a perm. Sadly, I did not own a camera and never snapped a photo of my first college buddies.

A rare image of me with my first perm. Sadly, I did not own a camera and never snapped a photo of my first college buddies.

I stepped into that shop a country girl and came out a sophisticated college student. My long, straight hair was now six inches shorter and consisted of tiny ringlets. As a bonus, the perm lightened the plain brown color into a golden blond. For the first time in 18 years, I felt beautiful.

That evening, the three of us went out on the town and like Cinderella, I met what seemed like a fairy prince (although later he turned out to be the green, toad variety). It was the first of many fun outings and midnight conversations over popcorn and hot chocolate.

Break-in
Late one night, as we studied for finals, each in our own bedroom, we heard the sound of shattering glass, screams, and two sets of footsteps running through the hall. “He’s got a knife,” someone yelled.

“Let me in. Let me in.” The raw pounding on the resident advisor’s door across the way (or RA as we called her), reflected the panic of the knocker.

I cracked open our door to catch the action and was just in time to see a girl slip through as a man with a knife went flying by. I closed my door quickly and locked it.

There was a long silence. No one knew what to do.

“Amanda, Katie, you okay?” Her scared little voice was so close, it sounded like it was coming from within our room. For some reason, Katie and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.

“Where are you? Are you in the….closet?” I opened my closet door but no one was there. The walls were so paper-thin, that when she was in her own closet, it sounded like she was in mine.

“Yeeess,” she said, and I could hear the quiver in her voice. Clearly, she was frightened.

“Why are you hiding in the closet?”

“Ain’t that what you’re supposed to do? Girl, I’m from New York. That’s the first thing they teach you. If someone’s attacking, you’re supposed to hide.”

Growing friendship
We went to see a movie together: Jumpin’ Jack Flash. The show starred Whoopie Goldberg. I don’t remember anything about the film. What I do remember is that we were three friends, hanging out: A former cheerleader and student council president (my roommate), a country bumpkin (me) and a New Yorker with a funny, Jamaican accent.

There was no prejudice between us, no black versus white issues, no police brutality or white supremacy. It was a time of friendship and a blooming perspective. We talked politics, religion, death and taxes and found common ground. We shared some of our most painful memories and happiest dreams. We laughed, we cried, and we hugged often.

Over winter break, I took her to meet my family, and she worked her magic on my parents. So much so that my father, who had never entertained an African American at his dinner table, kissed her cheek when she departed.

She left me at the end of the semester. She wasn’t happy with her major and had run out of money. Katie and I also parted ways at the end of that year. She went to the “quiet” floor, and I stayed behind to enjoy a little noise with my studying.

A new perspective
The years have passed like gray dots on a rolling filmstrip. I have had many friendships since then. Some carried me through graduate school. Some were there when I got married. A few witnessed the birth of my three children. Many are still involved in my life today. But none carry quite the same sweet innocence, openness and profound acceptance as my first college buddies.

Sadly, those two girls have disappeared from my landscape like shooting stars in the night sky. I haven’t found them on Twitter, Facebook or any other online media. Still, in my mind, we remain in innocence, giggling at the absurdities of life, exchanging confidences and beauty secrets, and listening to one another with focused appreciation and a matching desire that all our wishes would one day come true.

*Names have been changed.

A story of snails and puppy dog tails

In a few short weeks, my little boy, who now towers over me at 6′ 3,” will head off to college. How can that be? Just yesterday, I was wiping his bottom and bandaging his bruised knees. I was bribing him with Subway in the mall so that he would stop zipping by in his roller shoes and put on the little vintage outfit with bow tie the photographer wanted him to wear. I was reading every Harry Potter book in the series to him as he lay in bed at night and begged, “Just one more chapter, mom, please, please.”

The soon-to-be-college student who posed for a picture in bowtie after his mom bribed him with Subway.

The soon-to-be-college student, who posed for a picture in bowtie, after his mom bribed him with a Subway sandwich.

From the time your kids are small, everyone tells you to enjoy it because childhood goes fast. They aren’t lying. It does go fast.

I remember when that same little boy went off to kindergarten 13 years ago. His mother was a wee bit worried. I wrote in my journal:

“What if the other kids or teachers aren’t kind to him? What if he gets lost or can’t find his classroom, or can’t get on the right bus home? What if he hates school?”

Thankfully, none of those imaginings came to pass. The other children did treat him well, he did make friends and yes, he did find his way home from school. He loved learning, maintaining near perfect attendance all 12 years and graduating with a 4.0. and a strong passion for computer coding.

Spinning
Still, it is in moments like these, when the old wheel of life takes another spin, that I pause and reflect. Life is ever-changing and this moment — our now — will never be quite the same. I can’t ever go back and reclaim that inquisitive little boy who asked me at all hours of the day, “What time is it in Japan right now, mom?” He no longer wants to snuggle on my lap as I sing made up nursery rhymes about the lawn mower in the garage. And more often than not these days, he’s instructing me on what cell phone to buy, where to get free movies, what songs are popular and the best places to grab a cheeseburger.

As he packs his bags to leave home, I have new concerns: Will his roommates be nice and treat him well? Will he like his classes? Find a girlfriend? Avoid serious drinking and drugs? Have fun? Graduate?

I hope in five years I am writing another blog post talking about his many successes. But there are no guarantees.

As I wrote in my journal so long ago, “It is time for him to begin this new phase in life — a phase where mom and dad can’t be by his side, watching and protecting. I must put my faith in the kindness of strangers and hope that they treat him well. And although I know what is happening is right and good, I can’t help but shed a tear for what I must lose in the process. And I know that I will shed those tears every time he takes these steps.”

And so my smile remains fixed in place, but those tears are not far away.

Farewell, my son. May God bless you on your journey through college.

That time a ghost followed me home from school

imageGhosts and romance are unlikely bedfellows. Ebenezer Scrooge had the ghosts but not the romance. Jane Eyre had the romance but not the ghost. The movie, “Ghost,” had both. Of course, the ghost, played by Patrick Swayze, could no longer kiss and hold his love, Demi Moore. Therein lies the crux of the problem.

Swayze needed an emissary — a middle man so to speak — or in this case a middle woman, so delightfully played by Whoopie Goldberg.

I have thought a lot about the role of mediums since I saw that movie. You might think this odd, since I write paranormal romance and talk about my own experiences with ghosts frequently on this blog, but I often wonder if mediums are authentic. Oh, I know there are people like the Long Island medium who claim to be for real, but are they actually having conversations with dead people during the day when they are awake? It seems unlikely. After all, if that were the case, wouldn’t murders be solved daily because ghosts would be pointing mediums to their killers?

Most of my ghostly experiences have come in dreams, without any act of will or desire on my part. There are the odd exceptions, though.

Ghost in the classroom
I stand in a line facing the chalkboard with six other little girls in our fourth grade class. Our mission? To see a ghost, any ghost, but preferably one that is friendly.

Ghosts have been the subject of conversation during recess. We tell each other scary stories of family or friends that claim to see spirits. We wonder if it might be possible for us to see a ghost, too.

We have pulled the blinds down low. The only light that penetrates the room is from the small crack at the bottom of the line of windows behind us.

I lead the conversation. In our little circle of friends, I am always the one in charge when it comes to the supernatural. At ten, I have an innate instinct for how to speak to the dead. “Is there a ghost in this room? If so, show yourself,” I command in my squeaky, prepubescent voice.

We watch and wait. Nothing. We can hear the sounds of other children on the playground outside the classroom walls. A car passes slowly on the street that runs by the school. The sound of its revved up engine blares through the windows. Still nothing.

“If there is a ghost in this room, show yourself,” I call out again. This time I brilliantly add, “Give us a sign. Tell us who you want to go home with.”

A shadow morphs on the opposite wall near the door. I watch, stunned as it speeds around the classroom, casts a breeze on my cheek, slides to the door opposite, and disappears.

“What was that?” one of the others pipe up.

“A ghost,” we all say, our voices overlapping in our excitement.

“Did anyone feel anything?” I question.

“I think I did,” my best friend, who is standing next to me, admits.

“I did, too,” I acknowledge. “Who do you think it wants to go home with?”

“You,” she unhesitatingly replies.

Later that night, I shiver under the blankets.
From the glow of the hallway light in our century home, I can see what appear to be faces in the Victorian wallpaper. Their unsightly mouths yawn wide, screaming silently. While I watch, the big oak door to my brother’s room opens. My eyes peer into the space beyond, waiting patiently for someone to come out. No one does. Instead, the door slams shut. The hallway light flicks on, off, and on again. Downstairs I hear the sound of muted laughter as my parents and older siblings watch T.V.

“Who is that?” my sister calls from her side of the double bed we share.

“I…don’t know,” I say, some part of me not willing to acknowledge what I have just witnessed.

“Will you sing me a song?” she asks, her voice small and scared.

As the big sister, it is my job to comfort her. I take the role seriously. My voice wobbles, but I manage to crank out Twinkle, Twinkle and then move on to Christmas carols, although it is the middle of the summer. The sound of my voice singing Away In A Manger in the dark room strengthens and calms me. I feel the Lord’s arms around me, telling me gently that it will be okay. Beside me, my sister snores softly. I pull the covers over my head and fall asleep.

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