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Sisters

The Saturday before Labor Day is when White County Creative Writers group in Searcy, Arkansas, always holds their one-day writers’ conference. When Robin and I lived in Hot Springs Village, I would go to the conference, and I’d often submit stories to their writing contests. Today, I’d like to share a memoir I submitted in 2014.

Sisters

A knock on Sharon’s hospital room door interrupted our conversation. I spun around and ducked into the bathroom. My eyes, red-rimmed and puffy, stared back from the mirror. I dampened a washcloth, squeezed out the cold water, and pressed it against my eyelids.

Outside the bathroom, a young woman’s cheerful voice greeted my daughter. “Hi, Sharon. How are you doing?” Earlier that morning Sharon told me the associate pastor from her church might drop by.

“I’m great.” My daughter’s energetic response belied her long labor and delivery the day before. “Our little Robin Elizabeth is doing great too. They just took her back to the nursery. I’m sorry you missed her.”

“Me too. I know she’s precious. Congratulations!”

“Thank you. We’re all thrilled. We’re going to call her Libbey, and Emily is so excited to have a new baby sister.”

Behind the door, I smiled. This morning, as soon as big-sister Emily caught sight of her little sibling, she scooted up close to her mother, propped herself against the pillows, and beamed like an angel when Sharon placed the newborn in her lap. Only after the nurse carried the baby away did our four-year-old granddaughter reluctantly agree to go with Daddy and Granddaddy to get doughnuts.

Holding the cool cloth over my face, I listened as Sharon and her pastor continued their friendly exchange. I felt a little foolish hiding in the bathroom, but I would have been embarrassed to greet the stranger with my teary eyes. She’d wonder why Sharon’s mother wasn’t sharing in the joy, and I didn’t want to explain.

Finally, I regained my composure, and I waited. After the young woman left, I stepped back into the room and gave my daughter a sheepish smile.

She squeezed my hand. “Mom, I’m so sorry about Aunt Cathy.”

“Thank you, sweetheart. I apologize for not meeting your pastor, but my emotions got the better of me.”

“That’s all right. I understand. I’m sure it’s been really hard for you to deal with Cathy having cancer.”

“Yes, as a matter of fact, she’s undergoing more chemo treatments today in Little Rock.”

“Oh, my. I didn’t know that.”

“Her doctors want to shrink the tumor as fast as they can. Since it’s wrapped around the trachea and not inside the lung, they can’t operate. They’ll just have to attack it with chemo and radiation, poor thing.”

Sharon nodded. “That’ll be tough on her, I’m sure. And Uncle Del too.”

“Yes, it will. But she’s a trooper.” I took a deep breath. “When I saw little Emily sitting up there, holding her new baby sister, I couldn’t help but think of Cathy and me, wishing I could hold my baby sister now too.”

***

This incident happened in April 2002, and Cathy passed away four months later. My sister will always occupy a special place in my heart, but today I have other “sisters”— dear friends with whom I can share all my joys and concerns. What a blessing that has been!

 

 

 

 

 

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This past weekend, we had a visitor. He chewed through a corner of the plastic bread wrapper in the pantry, attacked a cellophane-wrapped package of peanut butter cheese crackers, and binged on several small Hershey candies.

We talked with Jim, the Fountains’ maintenance man, to see if he had any traps. He thought he might, but he didn’t get back to us right away, so my husband made a special trip to the store to get some.

The next night, Robin baited three of the traps with peanut butter and placed them in the pantry. I also pulled all the soft packages off the shelves and set the food on our island counter.

In the morning, I gingerly opened the pantry doors. Drat! All three traps were still baited. Our visitor must not have come.

Last night, we left the edible things in the pantry and set two traps on the floor and one on the lower shelf among the packages.

This morning, I gingerly opened the pantry doors again. Both traps on the floor no longer had any peanut butter, but our little visitor wasn’t so lucky with the trap on the shelf. Ugh.

Now the little fellow is lying out behind the bushes in our back yard. I expect he’ll be another little varmint’s dinner this evening!

Yesterday, our pastor preached a sermon entitled “In the Ditch.”  In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus talked about a man who fell victim to robbers who left him wounded in a ditch by the side of the road. Several “religious folks” passed by on the other side, unwilling to give aid.  However, a Samaritan, who was considered an outcast by these people, stopped to help. He even took the man to a place where he could receive medical attention, and he paid for the services.  Our pastor asked, “Have you ever been ‘in a ditch,’ needing help, and a stranger came to your aid?”

I was reminded about the following experience:

Traveling Mercies

Returning home from the Gulf Coast, my husband and I sped along Mississippi Highway 49 North. The light morning traffic made for happy traveling.

Then things changed.

Robin frowned. “I’m having trouble with the steering.” He gripped the wheel and began to decelerate.

I glanced at the dashboard. A “Volts” light blinked. The air conditioner had stopped blowing too. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m not sure, but the temperature gauge is registering hot. We’ll need to pull off up there.” He pointed to an entrance sign to Camp Shelby, a U.S. Army post south of Hattiesburg.

Struggling with the steering wheel, Robin managed to wrestle our old Buick into an extra lane coming out of the camp, and he cut off the engine.

Now what? We sat there, trying to think. “I’ll call nine-one-one,” I said, punching in the numbers.

The dispatcher took our information and said, “I’ll send the police to check on you.”

Next, I rummaged through the glove compartment, pulled out our insurance company’s Road Assistance Card, and called the emergency number. A woman on the line took down our location and noted our problem.”I’ll contact a tow truck,” she said.

Then we waited. No breezes stirred through our open car doors. We had no shade, and the outside air hovered at one hundred degrees.

“The alternator might have gone out,” Robin said,” but we’re still able to use the emergency flasher. Must be something else.”

Fifteen minutes later, a police car pulled in behind us. Two burly officers stepped out, and Robin greeted them with a smile. One moved to our passenger side. “Ma’am, you’re welcome to wait in our vehicle. It’s air-conditioned.”

“Oh, thank you,” I said, eager to escape the heat. Then I took a second look. The police car was a K-9 unit. A giant attack dog, barking ferociously, leaped back and forth behind a wire grate separating the front seat from the back. I eased into the cruiser, my head only inches from the barking beast.

“Don’t worry about him,” the officer said. “He’s secure, but do me a favor. Don’t put your fingers through the holes in the cage.”

“That will definitely not happen!” I said. The officer laughed and shut the door.

Finally, the tow truck arrived. A huge, muscular fellow in a bright orange T-shirt stepped out. His brown skin glistened with perspiration. Flashing a big smile, he introduced himself and pulled our car up onto a large flatbed trailer and chained it in place.

The police officers and their dog left, and Robin and I hauled ourselves up into the cab of the tow truck. “I know a repair shop that’s open on Saturdays,” the driver said.

We were at his mercy now, but our friendly rescuer drove us to a truck stop on the edge of Hattiesburg, unloaded our car, and left us in the kind hands of another fellow at the shop. He took a look under the hood, called his boss, and asked him to pick up the parts we needed—a serpentine belt and a tensioner pulley. Apparently, the pulley had broken and caused the belt to break which had shut off all fluids to our power steering and air conditioner.

We spent the next forty-five minutes in the truck-stop diner, watching a variety of truckers, young and old, black and white, traipse in and out. I sipped on a cup of cold lemonade and tried not to worry. Then we ambled back over to the repair shop and waited another thirty minutes for the parts to arrive.

The “boss” turned out to be a young man whose family all paraded into the shop behind him—his wife and three blonde-headed cuties, ages seven, six, and five, I learned from our conversation.

The father of this clan charged us only the cost of the two parts, which he had picked up at Auto Zone, plus one-fourth of his regular hourly rate for the fifteen minutes it took him to replace them. Remarkably, our bill came to less than fifty dollars. Grateful for everything he did, we thanked him and headed for home.

Eight hours later, we pulled into our garage, unloaded the car, and fell into bed. However, we slept well that night, happy to know that kindness to strangers was not a thing of the past.

Clap Out

Last night Robin and I attended what I believe was our very first “Fifth Grade Graduation.” Our youngest granddaughter, Lily Grace, 11, has now “graduated” from her six years of elementary school (counting kindergarten) and is ready to move on to her middle school, high school, and college years. The principal noted that none of those other levels of schooling would be as long as the time the students had spent at Pearre Creek Elementary, so last night’s ceremony was truly “a big deal.”

Hundreds of siblings, parents, and grandparents poured into the gym, filling the bleachers and all the chairs on the floor, while many were left standing against the walls. Then the five classes of fifth graders marched in to be seated in the reserved rows in front of the stage.

Two high school seniors, former graduates of Pearre Creek, spoke to the group, sharing words of wisdom about how to be successful next year in middle school and beyond. After several other presentations, we watched each 5th grader proudly walk across the stage to get a certificate of promotion and a big hug from his or her teacher.

The thing I really loved, though, happened at the end of the program. All the parents and other visitors filed out and lined each side of the hallway from the gym to the front doors. Then, as the students ran down the hall, we clapped and cheered for all of them. That “clap out” ceremony is a tradition at the school, and I’m sure the children will always remember that great send off.

However, last night’s “clap out” reminded me of another great “clap out.” This one took place on Thanksgiving Day, 2008. Our son Steve and his wife Tonya were the last ones off the plane arriving from Kazakhstan. As they walked down the ramp with their new baby daughter in their arms, our other granddaughters, Audrey, Emily, and Libbey, spotted them first.  They jumped up and down, shouting and waving their balloons high in the air. “Here they come! Here they come!” We all clapped and cheered and laughed and cried as we welcomed dear little Lily Grace into our lives.

 

 

Holy Week Fire

The horrible fire in Paris this afternoon breaks my heart. Much of the stately Notre Dame Cathedral, built eight centuries ago, has been consumed in a matter of hours. But we should give thanks that, so far, only one firefighter has sustained serious injuries. Human life is still more precious than buildings and relics, no matter how unique, ancient, and revered.

When tragedies strike, this faith of ours is tested. Some call these catastrophic events “acts of God.” But I believe the true “acts of God” are those of God’s people reaching out to comfort and rally around and help our fellow human beings who are suffering.

During this Holy Week in Christendom, we are reminded once again that God’s love for all his children was demonstrated by Jesus on the Cross on Friday and on Easter Sunday when Jesus appeared again to his disciples.

I believe God’s love will still prevail even today in Paris.

Today, Robin and I visited a Hindu temple in Nashville. Subadra and T. K. Subramanian live in a villa down the street from us here at The Fountains, and Subadra had arranged with our activities director to take a group of us on the bus to the Sri Ganesha Temple where she worships and volunteers.

Subadra is one of the most loving persons I have ever met. This gentle woman goes out of her way to help and care for others. When Robin and I first moved in, she came with a loaf of sweet bread to welcome us, and she gave us a list of local places we might like to know about.

Before our tour today, she gave each of us a printed Visitor’s Guide to the temple with a brief description of Hinduism:

“Hinduism believes in One Supreme Being who is infinite, all-pervasive and eternal, and the source of all creation. God is in everything that exists and is at the same time beyond the manifest universe. The various divine functions and aspects of the One Supreme Being are given different names and worshipped through different images.

“The goal of human life is to realize the divine essence within ourselves and to experience the oneness of all existence. This is considered to be synonymous with obtaining the vision of God. This may be achieved through various paths, such as renunciation, loving service to others, devotional worship, meditation, and psycho-physical exercises. All these paths overlap, and each person may choose the most suitable combination. Hindus believe that all religions are different paths towards the same goal of God-realization and that God incarnates upon earth from time to time to proclaim spiritual wisdom to humanity.”

Today, we entered the temple downstairs where we removed our shoes and placed them in the Shoe Room. Then we moved up into the main room (sanctuary?) where we saw ten beautifully decorated and ornate shrines around the sides of the large, carpeted room. Hindus believe the figure in each shrine is a “lesser god” who performs specific functions of the Supreme Being, like “executives in a large corporation.” Families, including young children, were worshipping at the various shrines today. However, Subadra led us around to each shrine and explained the focus of each one. I noticed fresh fruits were placed as offerings in many of the shrines. Gongs and bells were often rung.

Subadra then led us back downstairs where we put on our shoes and ate lunch in a side meeting room. She served a special vegetarian meal consisting of dishes she had prepared at home, using various grains and rice mixed together with vegetables and yogurt. We also had a salad and a cookie. She had been careful not to use too many spices today, she said.

It’s always interesting for me to learn about the ways people worship and practice their faith. There are many commonalities. Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest living religions, and Hindus are given the freedom to approach God in their own way, encouraging a multiplicity of paths, not asking for conformity to just one.

As a Christian, I’m thankful that God, the “Supreme Being,” loves every one of us and encourages all of us children to help each other and treat our sisters and brothers with loving kindness and respect.

 

Soon after Robin and I moved to The Fountains of Franklin, I began to share some of my published memoir stories with the women in our Tuesday morning Sisterhood Fellowship. This prompted them to recall interesting incidents, too, and last fall, I talked with them about letting me capture their own stories in writing. They agreed that would be fun, so in September, I wrote our first memoir story, and now we’ve completed six.

Our procedure goes like this: First, I arrange a date for an interview. Then I go to the storyteller’s apartment, and we enjoy visiting as she shares her experience. It usually takes several visits for me to get all the details straight, but after I complete the story, she reviews it to make sure I have everything correct. Then we share it with the other women in our group, and she can also share it with her family.

Today, I’d like to share the latest memoir with all of you.

A Devastating Blow 

Born on January 15, 1922, Myrabel Bivin Theobald recently celebrated her 97th birthday, but she remembers a day from her childhood as clearly as she remembers her name. This traumatic event occurred when she was only five years old, and her little sister, Merida, was three.

During the 1920s, the Bivins lived in a small frame house on several acres in central Illinois. Myrabel’s parents did not farm any land, but they did raise a few chickens. A railroad track ran near the back of their property, and the two little girls loved to watch the trains go by.

Myrabel’s father operated the local grain elevator. Late one morning, he hurried home and burst into the house. “There’s a big storm coming down the track! Dust and dirt are flying everywhere. Quick! Get into the center of the house.”

Myrabel’s parents grabbed the girls, and the four stood with backs pressed against a wall, tightly gripping each other’s hands. A mighty wind roared through their house, and all around them, walls collapsed and the ceiling exploded. A moment later, they were standing in the midst of complete devastation.

Everything was gone!” Myrabel said. “I looked around and Mother and Daddy and I were there, but where was Merida? My frantic parents dashed out through the debris, crying and calling her name.”

Myrabel’s mother found little Merida not far from their house, stunned but unharmed. “She only had a small cut on one finger,” Myrabel said with a smile

I asked her if she or her parents were hurt. “We had a few cuts. I still have a small scar on my forehead. But none of us were severely injured. The neighbors up the road came right away to check on us—our house was the only one in the area that was hit. I learned that all our little baby chickens were blown away, too, but I guess I was just too bewildered to cry. The tornado traveled down the tracks, destroyed the grain elevator, and hit some other houses in a nearby town.”

Myrabel doesn’t remember what the family did that night, but she believes they may have stayed at their neighbor’s. Soon, they moved into a small rental house.

“With the grain elevator gone, my father no longer had a job, so our family lost our income as well as our house and all our belongings,” she said. “My mother suffered a nervous breakdown soon after that, and she had to spend about a month in a hospital. Those were really hard times for all of us, but friends helped us all they could. Eventually, Daddy was able to get an old truck with a tank on it, and he ground up fodder and drove around and sold it to farmers in the area.”

I shook my head in amazement. “How does a family ever overcome such a devastating blow?” I asked.

“Well, the Great Depression was beginning then, too, but I believe God was good to us,” she said. “All four of us survived the tornado, and I’m thankful my parents were able to care for Merida and me during all our growing up years. We never went hungry. In 1940, I graduated from high school and married my high school sweetheart a year later. Ray and I had three children, and he lived until he was 88 years old. Now I have seven grandchildren and sixteen great-grandchildren. And I’m glad to be here at The Fountains.”

“I’m glad you’re here too,” I said, “and I’m really glad you could share your experience with me. You have a great story, dear one, a story we will not soon forget.”

Madelyn F. Young