Sometimes everything has to be enscribed across the heavens so you can find the one line already written inside you. Sometimes it takes a great sky to find that small, bright, and indescribable wedge of freedom in your own heart. David Whyte

Stories From My Kitchen Sink

As I look at my sink
Dishes stacked to be washed
Remind me of days long gone by
Each one tells me a story
A heart-warming moment its gift

Blue glass Starbuck’s mug
Harks back to first son
Long conversations we shared
While his baby son in car carrier slept
Mug greets my mornings today

The crinkly green juice glass
Sole remainder of set
Marks when I was pregnant
With son number two
Now I use it to take morning pills

Little brown bowl rounded out a set
For meals many years later shared
By third son a school teacher
And me living alone
Holidays celebrated in style


Eighty Candles

Way back in the early summer my sister Sally from North Carolina asked my sons how they were planning to celebrate my eightieth birthday in December. And the seed was planted. And the roots branched out. Fred was a substitute teacher with one of my friends from church. He asked her for names of people to invite. My son Bob contacted a friend of mine in the Greenbriar Apartment building where I live who supplied him with more names. My sons asked my sister who had given them the idea to drive to Cleveland for the big surprise. She and my brother-in-law Tom planned to give my other sister Brooke, also from North Carolina, a ride with them. My son Donovan who lives in Minneapolis arranged to fly here with his wife and two children. In the middle of summer I remember that my son Fred tossed out the idea that we really should plan something special for my big 80 but nothing else was said. I had no clue of the blossoming plans.

A couple of weeks before my birthday my son Bob called and asked me to save the date. He said he would pick me up around 3 PM and I should wear nice clothes. Well, that tipped me off that something out of the ordinary was going on. He and his family have me over to gatherings often and never mention what to wear. I thought maybe they planned to have a photographer take family photos. A week before my birthday my son Fred invited me out to lunch. He told me he would pick me up around 1 PM and that Bob would join us. We had a lovely lunch at a favorite deli of mine. It was special to be with my sons without the rest of our family. I loved just listening to them discuss various aspects of their lives and work. I enjoy being with the men they have become. Then Bob excused himself and went off to complete a work project. I thought this was a wonderful way to celebrate my birthday.

Fred said he needed to stop at the grocery on the way to drop me off at my apartment after lunch. I needed a few things, too. After we finished our shopping Fred asked me about the possibility of renting the Greenbriar Party Room for a block party with some neighbors. He said he’d like to take a look at it. I agreed.

To back up a little. When I was pondering why Bob wanted me to dress up and be at his house by 3 PM on the day of my birthday I imagined a surprise visit from Donovan. Yet when Donovan called me that morning to wish me happy birthday I realized I got that wrong. Donovan often calls me on his way to work in Minneapolis so he couldn’t be in Cleveland. My sister Brooke also called me in the morning to say happy birthday.

Meanwhile Fred and I arrived at the Greenbriar. We stopped off at my apartment so I could put my groceries away before I showed him the Party Room. Then we took the elevator to the fifth floor and walked up the stairs to the Party Room. I noticed that there were quite a few people up there. I realized they were my friends from the Greenbriar and from church! They all stood up and shouted “SURPRISE!” I couldn’t take it in. I was truly flabbergasted. The surprises kept coming. From out of the crowd I saw Donovan walking toward me. But he was in Minneapolis! His wife Rama and children Kieran and Leela were right behind him. Then I saw my sister Sally, and Tom her husband! And there was Brooke! But I had talked to her in North Carolina that morning. Turns out the out-of-towners had arrived in Cleveland the night before – I just assumed they were at home. And my son Bob was not at home working on a project. He was here helping his wife Linda set out the birthday cake and refreshments. Fred was right beside me. My former husband Bob, who lives down the street from my apartment, was there to celebrate also. Now I know what people mean when they say “I could not believe my eyes!!” More than that there are no words to express the love I felt bubbling up and overflowing all around me. Who needs champagne?!!


Police Matter

There is always a police officer standing near the entrance to the grocery store where I shop. I’ve shopped at this store for years and this was not always the case. I know from reading the “Police Blotter” in our weekly regional newspaper that shoplifting is a regular concern of merchants in our area. Other crimes reported are stealing cell phones. breaking into homes to steal electronics and jewelry, and people’s wallets and laptops being stolen from unlocked cars in their driveways. After watching countless episodes of Law and Order I think things seem pretty tame here. This is a good thing but I often wonder what the police officer in the grocery store thinks while he watches us collect a cart and push off toward the produce section.

I found out. After the recent horrendous killings of people being arrested and policemen being attacked and killed in retaliation, which has resulted in a tinder box of fear and anger ready to explode, a woman in the apartment building where I live asked herself what she could do. She is an extraordinary ninety-seven year old social justice activist who isn’t “going gently into the good night”. She called the Mayor and invited him to arrange for a meeting of police officers and the inhabitants of our apartment building to talk about the current situation. A date was set for us to gather in the Party Room of our apartment.

The residents here are diverse. We are a congenial mix of age, race and religion. The night of the meeting we filled the Party Room. Five police officers, most of whom have been on the job twenty to thirty years, told us about their roles on the force. The Director gave us a history of the changing culture of police work from “warrior” to “guardian”. Our police force were preparing for changing times long before things caught fire this summer. Our police force has moved to think of us as the people they work for and to listen to our needs. Some of the older members of the force call the new environment social work, which is not what they signed on for. When questioned, the Director said the biggest part of their job involved traffic and keeping the roads safe. They also go into the neighborhoods to check out garage doors left open and even cars left unlocked. The goal here is for officers to know and to be recognized by us before they are called for an emergency. The officer in the grocery store is being a recognizable face inviting us to approach him with questions and feel comfortable. I think this is like the beat cop of years gone by who was a regular feature of the neighborhood.

We were invited to share our past experiences with the police, good or bad. I told my story. The summer my¬† oldest son finished high school he was out partying and drinking beer one night. Coming home he was pulled over by a policeman and charged with a DUI. He was taken to jail to spend the night. Next morning he figured out how to call a bail bondsman to get him out of jail. When he made it back home his first words were “Mom, I’ve done something terrible.” He said he now realized the law had teeth and he was scared. The next weekend while he and his two brothers were away camping with their dad, a police officer came to my front door with a warrant for my son’s arrest. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I was really upset. I had met the officer a few weeks before at a large Boy Scout outing where he was acting as a security guard. It helped when he let me know he was sorry to be the one to bring the warrant.

When I finished telling my story one of the police officers said that is exactly what they hoped to accomplish in developing their Guardian culture. The experience my son had being arrested taught him to be aware that his actions have consequences. I have always been grateful for that. And I understand the significance of having a police officer at the grocery store. He’s one of the building blocks of developing a police culture hand in hand with the people whose well-being they guard.


Writing 101, Day Seventeen: Your Personality on the Page – What Do I Fear

Each one had been longed for and wondrously delivered to my care – for a season.
Ever since they were three teenagers,
Out exploring and claiming their world,
I’ve known that my greatest fear is losing a son.

I have memories of mishaps.

The time I closed the garage door automatically from the kitchen
And when I reopened it out came my son riding on his Big Wheel.
Thank goodness I hadn’t closed the door on him.

Or when one son, horsing around outside, pushed his brother into a window-well,
Breaking the silence of our adult evening meal with the crash of glass splintering.
No one was hurt.

Or the time a son, sledding on a neighborhood hill, colliding with rocks at the bottom,
Appeared at our door, dazed, carried in the kind arms of a stranger,
Bleeding stanched by the man’s clean white handkerchief.

I’m not afraid of mishaps.
Only later did I begin to taste fear.

Following his own trail in the Alleghany Forest, my teenage son got separated from his dad overnight on a camping trip.
A telephone call reported his loss to me. Rangers and dogs were searching.
Meanwhile my lost son, happening upon a dirt road, walked along and found his searchers.
He maintained that his dad was the lost one. He knew where he was. No one was afraid but me.

Another son, a newly-minted college graduate, went West to seek his fortune.
Luggage lost by airline, sleeping on the couch of friend too poor to afford a phone,
Trying to set up job interviews on a pay phone, no luck there,
Coming down with mono, coming back home. This time I wasn’t afraid, but my heart ached dreadfully.

My youngest son was still at home when I left him in his father’s care to spend weeks away pursuing a new degree.
I never imagined mothers were so necessary. He let me know. He acted out.
He and a friend took a screw driver to break into the Junior High building. They set off the alarm, calling the police.
Police turned them over to the Principal, who disciplined them ordering Community peer counseling. My son taught me a new lesson about fear.

My first reaction to my son’s acting out was to give up going back to school and go home. I was afraid of not being a good mother.
I thought further and decided that his being the catalyst for my giving up my dream was a burden I didn’t want him to carry.
That was a huge step for me – trusting I loved him, and myself, enough to make this decision.
I let go of being afraid of marching to my own drumbeat.

My sons are grown. I still fear for their well-being and disappointments, whatever lies ahead. But I trust life and their ability to manage its challenges.
And I celebrate what we’ve taught each other about fear.