Better than a Hallelujah.
( Amy Grant )
When my husband Tony and I went back to my childhood home, we prayed it would have redemptive processes. My family relationships needed work. My mother is an independent tough, hard working woman whom time, age and life have mellowed. My feelings on my sleeve as I would contemplate what our reunion might be under her new dependency and my coming home specific at her request. During the nights before we actually left to go, and somewhat overcome with so much to be done at work –before we left for both of us.. my prayer was to have a “servant’s heart on this trip. You see, as a child and often as an adult, the words exchanged between us ( and lack of them too ) were often problematic memories. Her whole understanding of me was that she did not understand me and as a little girl, often my desperate need for her to see me for me was a feelings pushed down– heartache.
I found many ways to escape from these feelings. Long walks in the pastures bringing in the cows where I would hide out on my favorite cow, Sapphire’s back. This big ole Holstein cow would allow me to lay on her while she was taking her breather before the next big milking assignment at 4 pm each day. The sound of her breathing among the other ladies in the herd– cud chewing and sweet alfalfa breath in my face when I hugged her was a resonance of the melody of the fields. My songs were made up and sung to her and all the other cows who were my audience. Silent critics who let me belong in their fold. A playground all of my own. My melody of life alone with the cows and God in the fields. It was there, I begin to love writing. Developing poems and stories about what I was seeing, feeling and hearing in those long dairy farm days. My Mother looked out for me in her way when she was concerned using her binoculars to see me out in the field with the cows. Which I didn’t know till much later…
Tz’fanyah 3:17 [Zephaniah 3:17]
“The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you in His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” NKJV
My Dad and I were much alike in personality and were drawn to want to examine the world beyond our farm like borders. That frankly threatened the heck out of her. This ongoing conflict was complicated. All I knew as a child was that if I rode my bicycle or horse to our neighbors house or my paternal grandmother, suddenly I was unconditionally loved and made to feel special.This grew to a list of adopted older women about and around our farming community. Unconsciously this list grew and grew and I was many people’s child as well as my own parents too.
Upon my return with the cows back to the milking parlor, the sound of country music would be belting out loudly among the rhythm of the milking machines whoosh and swoosh. The little calves would be waiting for me and my younger brother, Doug to mix up the Purina calf mix for them in bucket with rubber teats for them to drink. Their anxious to eat bawling blended with the barn sounds a melody that still rings as I remember … remembering now as well how hard my mother worked. Milking cows twice a day, making a big mid day dinner ( lunch in suburban language -dinner is supper ) of fried chicken she had to get fresh chickens for, killing, plucking, cleaning, frying.
Then the numerous assists to my Dad and brothers in the fields, sometimes on the tractor herself. Giving birth to me after milking the cows and realizing she had minutes to get to the hospital. She had no time for things other mothers could do and little time for herself. Her yodeling and singing and playing the violin ( which fascinated us ) long put away. Her songs now only heard in church on Sunday mornings replaced by the life melody as a farm wife who was likely more tired than I could understand.
Our time in my parents home in Southern Indiana involved an incredible amount of cleaning their house . The amount of dust they were breathing was immediately obvious to us but not necessarily to my parents. Although they had difficulty with colds and coughs which they struggled to be rid of … it did not register that there was so much dust and likely mildew. An anger also rose in me that it had been allowed to get to this point. Now mind you, they are not easy to subdue with such things but oh come on… the bathroom conditions in the tub and showers just broke my heart. So we were on a mission and surprises lie in wait to what might be revealed.
The cleaning in itself became our daily routine. I probably have never admired my husband more than the temperance he displayed during this perpetual “dust fest”.
There was more to this than cleaning their house– it was a moment of internal emotional cleansing too– holding my breath and allowing my mother humbled by her inability to do things for herself, to allow me to be her daughter. Doing things that daughters would do for their mother– be tender, and respectful and a benevolent dictator with a new understanding in my later life maturity which helped me to respect the boundaries.
So clean away… coughing and with amazement sometimes to the amount and bounty of worthless knickknacks, and to our hysterical shock, a pair of teeth in a glass shoved way back in the cabinet. The discussion over this became hilarious, as we thought they were my Dad’s as did my Mom when finally nobody knew whose they were or how they got there. Out they go!
Well kinda, my Dad was now obsessed with the trash. He did not want coffee grounds loose in his trash bags . My husband and I exchanged some looks and conversation about this compulsive trash ritual, my Dad had developed. My mother said it was not being as busy as he once was and being in her “back pocket”. Dad making sure each thing was sorted then burning trash frequently, too frequently which we exasperated by all our cleaning. Then realizing something had physically changed my Dad too, maybe an unknown stroke and that the two of my parents had enough physical and mental resources together in their 63 years of marriage to make it day by day. Their aging life melody that we watched being played out before us.
Down came curtains as we coughed through their washing, out came the vacuum sweeper to deep clean and floors scrubbed.
In our cleaning mania we learned that spiders and nests were everywhere and that the garbage disposal did not work. Our investigation led to many things that needed repair and a plumber was called who was a minister to boot. We loved talking with him as he made the repairs. Kinda of prophetic that too. The garbage disposal that would not work– now humming along taking out debris. New sink facets bringing in flowing water. These things speak of letting go of the emotional debris and allowing cleansing to come. It was part of the daily melody of life for us that week. Looking at the past and what it had meant.
Then we came to the antique and heirloom dishes. This was a delicate new junction in my relationship with my mother. She had never been one to release easily her things to me. Now she suddenly tells me that the antique bowls, glasses, cups, plates, keepsakes from generations past and some from the home of one of the “adopted grandmothers” could be mine.
This was simply amazing to me and I was troubled she would change her mind.
So I gingerly began to select items and discuss those with her. She was eager for me to take them but alas the next day said she had others in the family who needed to also have these. My brother inherits the farm and many things and suddenly my feelings wounded anew by her swift change of position upon praying decided not to take any. Praying hard so I could just be contented to have had great moments on this trip with her.
The next morning when she wobbled into the kitchen where I was having coffee and busy on my laptop with issues at work that needed attention, she makes a verbal observation. ” I see you did not pack up the dishes last night, and I thought you would have already” . Her way of saying she was sorry.
So we went out to get boxes , bubble wrap and packing peanuts. Our journey had us cleaning out all these items in every small town post office around us and then some. We also visited UPS who told us to visit a place in Vincennes that was owned we learned by a friend of my deceased brother. We were ready to begin. After hours of washing dishes, sorting and pulling these out for display the dining room table was covered in dishes and generations of memories. The gentle clinking of the crystal combined with the discussion over the history of the dishes… memories flooding back of my adopted grandmother who hand painted many cups and signed them. Of my German grandmothers, aunts and great grandmothers whose young bride treasures –these many heirlooms, that had graced their tables. We were wrapping the unheard dinner, breakfast and family celebrations in each item we packed.
My mother sharing stories of her remembrances of her mother’s things and the auctions where my brother Doug ( he was also an auctioneer ) would bring her home, the treasures he had bought. Making them even more special to her now special to me. This was her way of loving me an unspoken melody understood between us. My joy and hers full in this mother and daughter exchange.
When finished we took these to the friend of my brothers who tenderly put each of our packed boxes in yet another air packed box to protect them. Then he shared that he had been with my younger brother the night before he died. I was so thankful to the Lord for this unsought but divine appointment to learn things that I would have not known.
How amazing this incredible sharing of sorrow and joys with someone whom I had not crossed my memory again till now.
We are now preparing to go back to NC. My mother is happy for all the cleaning but thanks my husband not me, and I realize this is a good sign her old ways indicating she is becoming herself again. This is hard this up and down time. So I go and walk out to the lilac bushes taking in their smell while a slight gentle rain falls… dropping down watering my face hiding tears as I struggle to stay in the right place recognizing that my mother loves me the best she can.
My uncle Max shows up along with my older brother and his wife about this time with his zany stories making us all laugh and the sound echoes into the night air, blowing in the windows as the sun begins its drop for the moon to come up. Their story swaps better than a hallelujah I imagine, as this family struggles to forge our relationships and I am hoping God is pleased.
To be continued….
From Meet Me in the Meadow
|Great Is The Lord by Roy Lessin
Today, may you love Him as your Father,
Thank Him as your Creator,
Look to Him as your Guide,
Depend upon Him as your Protector,
Trust in Him as your Provider,
Seek Him as your Strength,
Yield to Him as your Lord,
Worship Him as your God,
Serve Him as your King.
Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim His greatness. Let the whole world know what He has done. Sing to Him; yes, sing His praises. Tell everyone about His wonderful deeds. Exult in His holy name; rejoice, you who worship the LORD. Search for the LORD and for His strength; continually seek Him. Remember the wonders He has performed, His miracles, and the rulings He has given, you children of His servant Abraham, you descendants of Jacob, His chosen ones.
Psalm 105:1-6 NLT