Potato Peel Nuggets

TheGuernseyLiteraryandPotatoPeelPieSociety_BookCover-Portion-864x648

My Thoughts & Ramblings regarding the book and movie
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
(Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows, Authors)

— Debby Dever

I was walking past my television one day a few months ago, and a movie trailer came on. The words “book club” made me stop in my tracks, so I took enough steps backward to see what this was about.

After watching the trailer, I searched enthusiastically for theater showings of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. After a little research, I discovered the movie was available only on Netflix in the U.S., and the book had been in print since 2009. A trip to Barnes and Noble a few days later, and I held the gem in my eager little hands. As a lover of classic books, how had I missed this?

The story is set on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, 1946, post-German occupation. I really didn’t need another reason to feed my desire to visit the UK, and yet, here we are. It’s written as a series of letters (epistolary form) between the characters, much like Lady Susan by Jane Austen, or the Epistles of Paul to the churches in the New Testament.

Something about this story makes me yearn for an old ribbon-typewriter. To tap away on the keys for hours on end, enjoying a satisfying “ding” each time I hit the return at line’s end. Or, the desire to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon idly browsing through intriguing antique shoppes, searching for classic books, old postcards with wonderful handwriting and personal messages, and yellowed front pages of decades-old newspapers. And the urge to open my ancient secretary’s desk, place a wonderfully crisp sheet of stationary in front of me, and write a handwritten letter in elegant cursive to a beloved aunt. With a feathered quill pen and inkwell…or at the very least, a calligraphy pen.

I wish I could have met Mary Ann Shaffer, co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Her only novel…what a shame…and what a fantastic title. Who would not be intrigued to know how that came about? And how wonderful her niece, Annie Barrows, helped her finish the work she began. I believe what Ms. Shaffer suggested, that there is “some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” Because this book came to me, and I love it.

There have been other times I’ve felt that sensation, but I could never put it into words the way she did. One was the book Vendetta! by Marie Corelli, which I found on a dusty back shelf of an obscure antique store—read the first line (I, who write this, am a dead man…!) and was sold. It remains one of my all-time favorites. Another was Black Beauty, which had me at the words “struggling in the stream, groaning on the grass.” As a child I remember reading and re-reading that sentence. Even though it was a sad scene, that wonderfully alliterative sentence just felt good. It was the first time I remember thinking to myself—Wow! I wish I had written that! Like I belonged to it somehow. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society has become one of those rare books to which I feel I belong.

The story revolves around the character of Elizabeth McKenna, and the impact of her friendship on others. Elizabeth’s sacrificial nature inspires me. Like the members of Corrie ten Boom’s family (The Hiding Place) who died for “helping someone,” Elizabeth risked and ultimately gave her life for others during the Holocaust. She initiated the formation of a book club to bring people together, bravely stepped up as spokesperson when the group was confronted by curfew guards, was arrested and sent to Ravensbrück while attempting to rescue a slave boy, and sacrificed herself finally by refusing to stand by and watch another human be clubbed to death. Her reward was a bullet, if you want to look at it that way…but this fictional character’s life didn’t end with a bullet. Her influence inspired not only the other characters of the book, but every reader of this book. Would she have been released and returned home to her daughter Kit if she had not acted so boldly? Maybe—but that was not her character. The real-life experiences of Betsie and Corrie ten Boom (of The Hiding Place) were very similar to Elizabeth’s. The descriptions of the concentration camp are so alike, they border on plagiarism. But I suppose there are only so many ways to describe such a horrific place. Corrie’s fate might have matched Elizabeth’s, if Corrie hadn’t had cool-headed sister Betsie there to stop her when she grabbed a club to attack a guard.

I find myself contemplating if I would be an Elizabeth or a Corrie in that situation.

As an absolutely obsessed Jane Austen fan, I loved the sprinkled hints of her works throughout the story. The name of the main character (Juliet’s) love interest, Dawsey, is an obvious connection to Pride and Prejudice. Amelia’s daughter (or Eben’s, depending on if you’re watching the movie or reading the book), Jane, was Elizabeth’s best friend, just as the same-named sisters were in Pride and Prejudice. Isola is a reflection of the fun, faithful, not-so-attractive best friend and confidant that Elizabeth Bennet had in Charlotte Lucas. The biggest difference is Isola is a hopeless romantic, while Charlotte was more practical.

Isola…what a perfect character name. She is alone…isolated…when it comes to love and life. What a wonderful gift to find the group of friends who embrace her. Isola reminded me immediately of Honey, the funny feather-haired sister of Hugh Grant’s character in Notting Hill. You can’t help but love her. One of my favorite Jane Austen lines describes friendship as being the “finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love.” I love the line where Juliet sees Isola doing something goofy right off and says she loved Isola the minute she saw her. The balm of Juliet’s friendship seems to fill a great need in Isola’s life, as she “waits for her Heathcliff.” Their sleepover conversation and tearful hugs and goodbyes are such touching scenes. Later in the story, the Miss Marple mishap investigations are hilarious. You can only hope their friendship grows if the story continues. Friendships like that are so incredibly rare and precious.

Another great Austen reference was the look on Juliet’s face when she first sees Dawsey’s quaint cottage. It reminded me of the look on Elizabeth Bennet’s face when she rounded the corner to a full view of Darcy’s “Pemberley.” I can never decide which movie version of that gaze I like best—Keira Knightly’s humorous shock, or Jennifer Ehle’s softer, incredulous gaze. Lily James does the scene justice, not overdoing her reaction…but then again, she was looking at the cottage of a pig farmer as opposed to a 300-room mansion. Hey—a girl knows when it feels right, whether it’s Darcy’s Pemberley or Dawsey’s pig farm.

There were comedic scenes, even if they weren’t meant to be funny. One was the yellow dress Juliet wears to the party…the only thing I could think of as she was descending the stairs was Bridget Jones and the gown of similar color she wore to the Lawyer’s Ball, without quite as much success as Juliet. Another Jane Austen reference, even if it wasn’t intentional. And let’s be real…it’s hard to compete with Lily James (aka Lady Rose Aldridge of Downton Abbey, Elizabeth Bennet of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies).

There were heartwrenching scenes…as when Kit walked in and Juliet saw her for the first time. This brought back a memory of the first time I saw my adopted daughter Jessica…that little pixie face looking up at my husband saying, “Can you take me to chorch tonight?” No one with a soul could say no to such a face. Some moments you just never forget—you know that person is going to be a part of your life forever. And the scene where Eben’s grandson Eli is sent away overseas with the other children to England the day before the Germans came…all those little faces…unforgettable and unimaginable.

There were symbolic moments…the hoards of expensive flowers from Markum, which Juliet thought nothing of, to the contrast of a simple wildflower, crushed between the pages of a book, touched by both Kit and Dawsey, absolutely precious to her. And the coldness of the expensive ring she kept hidden, much like Titanic’s Rose keeping the huge, priceless Heart of the Ocean diamond in a box and hating to wear it. I also liked the scene where Juliet is sitting at one of her dull fancy parties, and she’s so bored she watches a balloon break apart from the bunch and float away. Such a great illustration of her longing to float away from that crowd, to be free to find what is missing in her life.

Which brings me to another point, the focus of many movies and stories: the rich, obnoxious, seemingly perfect current boyfriend who gets thrown over by the heroine for the regular guy. This storyline is not like Jane Austen, unless you include Mansfield Park. But it smacks of the Hallmark movie “The Wish List,” where the girl makes a list of her qualifications for a husband, finds the perfect guy, and ultimately falls in love with a guy who doesn’t fit the list whatsoever but attracts her anyway. And Titanic, where Rose falls for a penniless artist, giving up a seemingly perfect, wealthy man.

The character of best-friend Sidney was wonderful. He reminded me of Rosie O’Donnell in Sleepless in Seattle. The best friend who isn’t afraid to tell you what they think, can ask a question just sarcastically enough that you know it’s sarcasm, and can tell you more by a look or even by their silence what they’re really thinking. It’s a shame Sophie wasn’t included as a character in the movie. That left a huge hole, don’t you think? As well as Remy, Juliet’s mistaken rival for Dawsey. There were other characters missing from the movie that weren’t terribly missed, but I really am sorry the movie didn’t include Isola’s experience with the letters from Oscar Wilde. You must read the book to get that exciting sidestory.

I love where Juliet is packing for her trip to Guernsey and tosses aside her book written under a pen name, and chooses instead to take her biography of Anne Brontë, which she wrote under her real name, from her heart. You can’t help but wonder how hard it would have been in Jane Austen’s time to have no choice but to write in anonymity, signing just “A Lady,” or as the Brontë sisters did, using male pen names.

The one irritating point in the movie to me was the obligatory overbearing, hypocritical “Christian.” Not referring to Elizabeth’s love interest, who was apparently a great guy…but to the hideous Charlotte Stimple, the keeper of the boarding house. She is the Frank Burns (of M*A*S*H fame) of the story—rude, judgmental, intolerant, and just plain awful. Self-righteously placing a Bible on the nightstand for the newly-arrived Juliet with a pious, holier-than thou glance. It’s all the negative misconceptions of Christianity stuffed into one snooty old English bag. Just hate seeing an unfair generalization of a section of society which in general deserves more respect. I suppose the innkeeper’s character was the equivalent of Adelaide Addison from the book. There have to be antagonists, I suppose.

Back to the movie. Didn’t happen in the book, but the scene where Juliet leaves on the plane is so heartbreaking. So Casablanca. But after the tearful goodbyes, where Markum buckles her in like he’s saying YOU’RE MINE NOW…that really enhanced the feeling of knowing she’d be back. After all, Anne Brontë wouldn’t have stood for that kind of treatment.

Just as Juliet stated in one of her letters, all good books lead a person to other authors and books. Since the mention of Charles Lamb, I’ve enjoyed and shared the poem “The Old Familiar Faces” and soaked up his famous motto: “Contented with little, yet wishing for more.” (Don’t you just love that?) I’m researching other writings and the tragic life stories of Charles and his sister Mary. I had never heard of either of them. “Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” This quote from the book, featured just inside the cover, gave me goosebumps before I even started reading. Because I believe that is true…in a God-sense, more than a magical sense. Soon after I began reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, my husband and I were browsing around an antique store, and as usual I ended up in a section of dusty books, haphazardly stacked in no particular order. The faded red spine of a rather large volume caught my eye: it was TALES FROM SHAKESPEARE by Charles Lamb. I don’t care what anyone says…this book was meant for me to find. For one thing, I’ve been meaning to read Shakespeare in depth and just can’t seem to get into it, and this book is made for children, which is great. For another thing, if you’ve read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you know that Charles Lamb is the main author who brought people together in the story. It was a truly goosebumpy moment, finding that book. (Yes, I bought it.)

But the greatest moment of the book (and movie) for me, was when I was watching the credits roll at the end. (Don’t you hate watching the movies on television, where you can’t read the credits, or hear the soundtrack?) I watched and listened carefully, and realized the audio was of the readings at the meetings. I rewound and listened…took notes of who was presenting, and what they were reading. At the very end, little Kit recited the poem “Now We Are Six” by A.A. Milne, which I had never heard. I cried. Because I have a precious granddaughter who is six, and I would love for her to stay six forever. She has memorized the poem. Just tell me that wasn’t for me. This felt like the cherry on top of the sundae of my experience with this compelling book and movie.

It was meant for me, and maybe it’s meant for you too. Happy reading.

TheGuernseyLiteraryandPotatoPeelPieSociety_BookCover-Portion-864x648

Advertisements

Missing

When I first met Diane, we had lockers next to each other in high school. She was a senior, just moved to the district, and didn’t know anyone; I was a lowly sophomore, too shy to speak to the new girl, especially when she was a senior. So we probably could have been friends a few years earlier, if either of us had said hello.

We actually met again in our early 20s, because our husbands at the time were buddies, and mine deposited me in her kitchen to get to know her while the guys went to the garage. We were both pregnant with our youngests, and she told me all about what kind of teas to drink to get rid of morning sickness. She had dysentery and was telling me all about the cures for that.

She had a cure for everything. She was a born nurse. I helped her study for her LPN test and was really proud of her when she passed it.

We were on a camping trip with a large group of couples when we took our first nature walk. Everyone else was partying and we’d both become bored with that sort of thing. I don’t remember which one of us asked the other to take a walk. I just remember that we did. 

When we walked for a couple of hours without either of us getting bored, and she got excited about every bird we saw and really excited about the beehive we found in a hollow tree, that’s when I knew she was my kind of gal.

The first thing she did on every camping trip in those days was to go find a church in the area to attend Mass on Sunday morning. I really admired her for that.

She introduced me to her colorful extended family, who included me in their game nights, particularly Trivial Pursuit games that were always entertaining. I will never forget the capital of Switzerland, because her brother pulled that answer out of…somewhere…for final Pie. Such a large, happy, fun-loving family.

I have memories of bringing the kids over in the summer, and she’d be out in the yard in her sundress, hanging clotheslines full of cloth diapers or working in her garden, her three babies running and crawling everywhere. In the winter I remember her actually cooking and baking with her beautiful old wood-burning stove. One time after breaking another cheap wooden spoon, she got fed up, went outside, grabbed a hunk of wood and carved one of her own. She was the original Pioneer Woman. 

I remember the weathered butcher’s block in the middle of her kitchen. I loved when it was covered with her famous nut cups (my favorite), and many varieties of other Christmas goodies, stacked and loaded up in tins for all her family and friends. 

We chopped apples on that butcher block, made applesauce, and discussed politics. I bought her an apple-picker at an auction for Christmas and you’d have thought it was made of gold she was so excited. 

Diane and her sisters Deb and Donna showed me how to make grape jelly, and she explained to me, with her signature hand on her hip/pointing her finger sideways with the other hand, that this wasn’t any ordinary jelly or jam. This was “jem.” Something in between jelly and jam. Too thick to be jelly and not thick enough to be jam. She was serious about stuff like that.

She used those same gestures when she told me her big secret about her homemade spaghetti sauce. Super serious. She let out a huge sigh before telling me. She swore me to secrecy because if her family ever found out the secret, they wouldn’t respect her anymore.

We took oil painting lessons together, and were probably not the best artists in the world. But it was fun, kept us out of trouble, and gave us an excuse to visit Hobby Lobby with a side of Barnes and Noble.

Diane loved music, and like me she enjoyed a wide range. Classical, classic rock, 60’s–70’s, singer/songwriter, movie soundtracks, others. Never could bring her over to the country side.

We loved the movies. She dragged me to my first Lord of the Rings feature. I did not want to go. All this nonsense about wizards and elves and dwarves and who knows what. A couple of months later, I had bought all the books, seen The Fellowship of the Ring at least three times at the theater, and started collecting action figures. I couldn’t wait for the next movie to come out.

Diane never could get used to the idea that I smuggled a water bottle in to the theater. She would always ask loudly at the snack counter, “Aren’t you getting a drink?” and I would just stare at her, and she’d put her hand over her mouth and go, “Oh!” Every single time. She would buy the biggest popcorn and make the cashier stop filling it so she could salt it halfway through. She loved her popcorn.

We discovered some of our favorite movies by accident, when the one we’d intended to see wasn’t playing. One was A Knight’s Tale; another was Ever After. I remember how she laughed out loud during A Knight’s Tale every time a current song kicked in to the medieval time period.

I turned her on to Jane Austen. We shared books back and forth, watched every movie and miniseries version we could find, constantly interrupting with “it wasn’t like that in the book” commentaries. We compared Mr. Darcys, Colonel Brandons, Elizabeth Bennets, and all the characters.

She got us Cleveland Playhouse tickets for my birthday one year, to see Pride and Prejudice. When I dropped my glasses under the seats, I remember the sight of her crawling on the floor in a dress, looking for them, because my back was bothering me. Diane never gave any concern to what people thought of her…she had no idea what the word pretentious meant. She was just herself.

When she developed an allergy to peppers, going out to eat became an adventure. She would always ask the waitress if the salad dressings had black pepper. Inevitably they would look stupified, go to the kitchen and ask, and come back to tell her only oil and vinegar could be guaranteed to not have pepper—but that never stopped her from asking. Then she would say she didn’t like oil and vinegar, and ordered something other than a salad. She also instructed them to scrape the grill so there was no trace of seasoning on the grill before she ordered her steak. Remembering her days as a waitress at a truck stop, I laughed inside wondering how she would have handled a customer like herself.

Diane loved birdwatching. When I started showing her how to identify birds, something I’d done since childhood, it was all over. She went all out: full camo, road trips, bird guides. She took pictures from the driver’s seat, standing up, popping out of her sunroof. She agonized over identifying a certain bird, convinced at times she had found a species no one had ever seen in the whole history of Ohio. Once we watched a hummingbird feeding its baby, and she was mesmerized. She bought me a camera for my birthday, and we visited lots of birding sites together. She also took her grandchildren on bird walks. She was absolutely thrilled to photograph the baby eagles at the Audubon preserve.

On one birdwatching trip, we rented a little cabin and played word games all night long, while it poured and stormed. She introduced me to Zentangle and adult coloring books. She was struggling with a heartbreak, and we talked a lot.

Diane loved her children and grandchildren, and her eyes smiled when she told stories about them. She actually had smiling eyes.

When a fire destroyed part of her house and many of her belongings, she handled it so well. The things she was most upset about were her recipes, pictures, book library, and computer which contained most of her photography. Losses like these would have thoroughly discouraged most people, but she moved on with an impressive strength that I know I wouldn’t have had.

* * * * *

There are flashbulb moments from the last months of Diane’s life that will always stay with me. 

The last movie we saw together at the theater,  Love and Friendship, based on an early Jane Austen novel.

Our trip to visit Diane’s twin brother, Dean, in New Mexico—my first plane flights.

A great horned owl sitting in a tree outside, that sat still for us to take pictures. 

Enjoying shopping in Old Town Albuquerque boutiques for new skirts to wear to a festival, when normally both of us hate shopping. 

Walking the brick sidewalks of Old Town early in the morning when no one else was around, taking pictures of all the colorful buildings in the beautiful golden light.

Standing on a street corner that morning, no one else around, when out of nowhere a really good-looking guy with sunglasses drove by in a red convertible, blaring Take It Easy by the Eagles, right at the part about “standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.” OK, we were in New Mexico, not Arizona, but it was close enough, and Diane knew it was one of my favorite songs and stared at me wide-eyed. Another of those “synchronicities” she knew I was famous for. No one else would have put all that together and understood without a word how awesome it was.

Buying each other silver and turquoise necklaces. I bought her a butterfly and she bought me a hummingbird.

Watching her eat a steak sandwich the last night we were in New Mexico, as she rolled her eyes with pure delight, saying it was the best thing she’d ever tasted. She gushed over that sandwich. It was so good, she went to the kitchen to thank the chef. That was a “so Diane” moment, as her sisters would say. This was a good memory I recalled often as it became harder and harder for her to eat solid food. She was so happy that day.

Two months after our vacation, staring at the sudden, devastating results of her first chest x-ray. 

Singing along to Moody Blues oldies at the bandshell on a warm summer night.

Our last trip to Barnes and Noble. Wefought” over the last What Would Jane Do? book, laughed a lot, stayed too long, bought too much, and drove home in silence in the pouring rain.

The last play we saw together, same as the first, Pride and Prejudice, where we arrived 45 minutes late, but it turned out for the best, because it was getting harder for her to sit very long.

Her celebration-of-life party, where she reunited with old friends and reminisced with family. The way she looked at everyone with so much love in her eyes, especially the little ones.

Sitting with her while she dozed in and out, confined to her recliner, watching a Golden Girls marathon, me pretending to like that show, and hearing the song “Thank You for Being a Friend” about ten times and trying my damndest not to cry.

Holding her hand and patting her head, me saying I’m sorry I’m so sorry as we cried and prayed for God to send the angels soon to take her home, so she could be with Jesus and with her Mom, and that He would let her go peacefully and not suffer with a lot of pain. (But not until after Dean gets here, she added. He’d kill me.)

The last time I saw her and gave her her Christmas card, telling her I’d see her tomorrow night to watch a movie she’d been wanting to see.

The phone ringing the next day at 2:08 pm, Monday December 18th, the caller I.D. being her daughter, and not wanting to answer.

* * * * *

Some of Diane’s paints, paintbrushes, unused canvasses and coloring books are with me now, and the little book What Would Jane Do? The antique yellow chair she bought me at an auction—no occasion, just because she knew I’d like it. The turquoise butterfly necklace I once gave her. The first piece of pottery she finished, that she signed and gave to me (“this will be worth a lot someday,” she joked), painted to look like a beehive. The green and black striped blanket/poncho she wove for me, a favorite rose-patterned shirt of hers, and her famous birdhunting camo gear. Other things.


* * * * *

I don’t know how to finish this. How do you tie a bow on a thirty-year friendship and say, “There, that’s wrapped”? Pieces of me are missing now, pieces no one but Diane will ever know or understand.

I guess that’s what death is to the living. It’s so many pieces of us, missing.

There is so much of me missing without you, my friend. 💔

diane

In Loving Memory

Diane Rose (Jones) Sturgill
September 1, 1961–December 18, 2017

My Comforter

file1781240944437

Slamming the back door behind us, we splashed through the puddles to the van. Running late, I thought to myself. Half-dragging my five-year-old granddaughter Amilyn by the hand, I slid the side door open and lifted her onto the booster seat. “Buckle up, we’re late!” I said impatiently, as I slammed the door and ran around through the soaking rain to the driver’s side.

Starting down the driveway, I glanced at her as always in the rear-view mirror. I could see her sweet face and beautiful red hair. But this gloomy afternoon, her eyes were wide and serious.

“Baga, why are you grumpy?”

My granddaughter has always called me “Baga” since she was little, because she couldn’t pronounce Grandma. It stuck, and I love it.

After a long pause, I told her I didn’t know why I was grumpy.

“Baga, are you sad?”

The words hit me like a slap, and tears swelled. Was I sad? That was the understatement of the year! Four days until Thanksgiving, the first Thanksgiving we would have without my dad since he passed away unexpectedly in March. My mom, stepdad, and stepmom were having health problems. I had lost my teacher’s aide job of many years, and missed my students. This would be the third holiday season with our adopted daughter not speaking to my husband and me. And for eleven months I’d been watching my best friend of over thirty years, Diane, suffer with terminal cancer, knowing now she was nearing the end of her struggle.

Was I sad?

“Yes, honey, Baga is sad.”

“Why, Baga?”

“Because, honey, my friend is really sick.”

“Why is she sick?”

“I don’t know, Ami. Sometimes people just get sick.”

“Then do they die?”

“Yes…sometimes if they don’t get better, they die and go to heaven.”

“Like your Daddy?”

A punch in the gut, to go with my slap in the face.

“Yes, like my Daddy. We know he’s up in heaven with God. Because he believes in Jesus.”

We had talked about this before. She was quiet for a moment, and then I heard her give a little gasp. It startled me, and I said, “What?!”

When I looked in the mirror, her mouth was in the shape of a little “o.”

“Your friend will get to see your Daddy, when she goes to heaven!”

I had thought about this many times before, but to hear it with her sweet voice, with her simple faith, made heaven seem more real and close to me than it ever had in my life.

“Yes, honey, she will.”

She definitely will.

________________________________

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Thkunks, Parades, and Power Rangers

Thkunks, Parades, and Power Rangers
(or, A Day in the Life of a Church Van Driver)file0001191584169

We roll into our first stop, a trailer park. My husband, Mark, slows the van down at Jarrod and Josh’s trailer. A birdhouse, with the name “Jarrod Allen Brant” painted on the side, hangs from a tree. On summer days the two brothers are often in this tree, eating peanuts from the squirrel feeder and waving us on, but on this cold December day they run down the sidewalk, tumbling over each other like Ralphie and Randy on A Christmas Story. I smile to see them up and eager to go to church.

As they clamor aboard, Jarrod announces, “Mark, guess what! A car hit my mom yesterday right in the bumper!” Mark gives me a look as if to say, I hope she was driving a car at the time. Jarrod continues with the bumper story while Josh bounces around like a rubber ball. Josh doesn’t say much, but never stops moving. I encourage him for the first of countless times to please sit still.

Jacqueline, a pleasantly plump blond 7th grader, lives in the same trailer park, so she climbs on next. She asks us to turn on some music. Her grandma waves goodbye as we pull away.

Next we pick up Shelby, a sweet-as-can-be miniature Patty Duke—always dressed up and carrying a little purse. She crunches through the snow in her fancy little boots, and I help her in.

Jarrod spouts, “Hey Debby, did you go to the parade?”

I reply, “Yes! I saw Santa Claus! Did you get any candy?”

Jacqueline asks, “Can I say an Awana verse to you, Debby?”

Shelby asks, “Did you see the Eagles float?”

Jarrod replies, “Yep, and guess what, I shared some.”

I say, “Wow, that was really nice, Jarrod. Yes, I shook the Eagle mascot’s hand. Sure, go ahead, Jacqueline.”

“For the wages of sin is death…”

“I gave some to a kid who was on his dad’s shoulders,” continues Jarrod.

“…but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 6:23!” finishes Jacqueline triumphantly.

“No, not that eagle. I meant the Eagles Club float,” corrects Shelby.

“Good for you, Jarrod!” I answer. “Oh, I thought you meant the Ashland University Eagle mascot…that’s the only eagle I saw. That was really good, Jacqueline. You aren’t in Awana anymore though, are you?”

No, she just wants to keep learning verses. I tell her that’s great. And it is.

Josh bounces off the back of my seat.

Next aboard is Daniel, a first grader with new glasses (he announces). Daniel has no front teeth. He talks almost constantly, to no one in particular. The main topic is usually the new house Habitat for Humanity is building for his family, but today it’s “Power Rangers.”

“I watchthed Power Rangerth thisth morning. My dad saysth he’d rather watch paint dry on a barn. Power Rangersth isth the bestht. That wasth the firsth Power Rangersth, the one with the dinosaursth. I love Power Rangersth, believe me.”

We believe him.

I hoist six-year-old Bryan, a good-natured chunk, onto the van. He chooses a green sucker from our candy bag. “I picked the green one,” he explains, “cause I’m gonna to be green all week at school.”

Mark and I exchange wide-eyed glances.

Bryan, realizing our confusion, says, “That’s when I’m good, so I get a STAMP STAMP STAMP (he demonstrates by punching his hand with his fist), and then one more (STAMP), and then I get to go to the treasure chest if I stay green.”

Okay…

Now we honk at Brittney’s house. Brittney comes out, but her sister didn’t wake up in time again. Brittney seems to be in a good mood which I am thankful for, as we tend to butt heads.

We stop at 10-year-old Jessica’s house, where she lives with her disabled father. I knock on her door, and as she opens it, I realize she’s dressed in the same rumpled clothes as when we visited her yesterday. Her little mop of dark hair is disheveled. She rubs her eyes and says she is going to visit her brother in jail today, so she won’t be coming. My heart sinks as I get back on the van.

Brittney and Jacqueline are singing and giggling in the back seat. This helps.

We drive slowly past Breanna’s house, hoping to see the tiny blond bundle of energy. But she isn’t standing outside, so we drive on. I remind myself to send her a postcard telling her we miss her. It has been three weeks or more since she’s been to Sunday School, and I wonder why.

Turning around in the driveway, we spot a squirrel in a tree. I say, “Look, a squirrel!”

Mark ponders, “I think it might be a rat.”

Someone says, “Maybe ith a thkunk.” (Guess who.)

Mark quips, “We had some thkunks out back at our shop.”

Jerod, knowing Mark is a hunter, asks, “Did you blow their heads off?”

Daniel, the cartoon lover, says, “Maybe it wasth Mighty Mousthe.”

I know my husband is nearing the end of his rope when he sings out, “HERE I COME, TO SAVE THE DAAAAAYYYY!!…”

Daniel chatters on, “Mighty Mousthe isth okay, but I love Power Rangersth, but thsometimesth my mom watches Archthie Bunker. Well, thshe usthed to, but thshe doethn’t anymore.”

A millisecond later, he continues, “Hey, Mark do you know where my Gramma livesth?”

Mark, who has no idea who Daniel’s Gramma is, mumbles cluelessly, “Umm, no.”

Daniel shakes his head in disbelief. He begins a detailed account of directions to Gramma’s, complete with pointing, whipping his arm around in a circle, and incoherent explanation. “Well, my Gramma livesth right up that road, then you go down the nexth one and go that way and then thstraight and then turn and then you’re there. You thshould know where thshe livesth, Mark. You pasth it all the time.”

(Yeah, Mark, what’s wrong with you?)

The church comes into view. The Hallelujah Chorus echoes through my head. I’m ready for my afternoon nap…but Sunday School hasn’t even started yet.

Daniel says, “I wishth we had churchth all day long. Don’t you, Mark?”

Mark is speechless.

Not to worry. Before he can come up with an acceptable response, Josh pipes up: “Not me. I wouldn’t come!”

At least he’s honest. We still haven’t thought of an answer.

As we pull up to the front doors, our precious cargo tumbles out of the van and scatters to their classrooms. I wonder about each of their futures. I can picture Shelby as a pastor’s wife…Jarrod an evangelist…Josh a youth pastor…Jessica a corrections officer…Breanna an Olympic gymnast…Brittney a social worker…Daniel an auctioneer…Bryan a schoolteacher.

And I wonder how I could have ever valued an extra hour of sleep above them.

— ©2002, Debby Dever

Rich Field (a poem)

Modern dinosaur, crumbled into dust

 

Veils of smoke within are gone

replaced by heavy sweet aromas

 

Thickly planted ground

a sponge beneath our cautious steps

 

Here and there, matted ovals of grass

impressions of passing deer

Where once stood rows and rows

of folding chairs

 

Tiny feathered soloists

proudly claim center stage

Tonight the fireflies will flick

a random encore

 

Our eyes roll toward the heavens

with patience

A shadow of grumbling masses

waiting for restrooms

 

Those who’ve reached a certain age

marvel at the transformation

 

We know who we are…

 

Hear the faded echoes of an ended era

once embraced so near, so far

 

Grateful for the dead, we celebrate

newness of life

Retracing our footsteps

blazing new trails

 

Returning to the scene

of long-forgotten crimes

 

We shade our eyes…

 

The slate has been wiped clean

Another dimension has appeared

 

We let the sun soak in, just like a song.

— © 2004, Debby Dever

_____________________________________________________________________________

Written after exploring the former Richfield (Ohio) Coliseum location,
which is now a nature preserve.

_____________________________________________________________________________

 

As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
When the wind has passed over it, it is no more,
and its place acknowledges it no longer.

But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children,

To those who keep His covenant and remember His precepts to do them.

— Psalm 103:15-18

Autumn’s End (a poem)

DSCN1558-wm

Youthful beauty quickly goes
As fleeting fawn, or withered rose
As sudden as the autumn breeze
Which dries the unsuspecting leaves

For years into my looking glass
So many careless glances cast
To fix a flaw, or wisp of hair
And satisfy the image there

But with these forty summers gone
I mourn the end of autumn’s dawn
In crinkled corners of my eyes
No will or potion can disguise

A hint of gray, a loss of curl
A shadow of a former girl
Whose fading luster seldom shows
Whose former passion rarely glows

And though it is the way of things
(For all must bear what nature brings)
I wish myself to summer’s path
And dread the winter’s coming wrath

I dream that I might own again
A firmer frame, a smoother skin
But vanities which once were mine
Have softened with the pass of time

And so this autumn’s end has shown
A peaceful rapture all its own
Through rain of spring, and summer sun
A harvest of the soul is won

As looking inward I compare
A calm, contented spirit there
Of choices made, and lessons learned
To outward proof of seasons turned

Spring, naive and innocent
Summer, willful, lacking sense
Autumn, busy, bountiful
Winter, wise and sensible

If a choice were to be had
(For all are good, and all are bad)
Of winter, summer, spring or fall
I would not choose, but claim them all.

— © 2005, Debby Dever

Let us now fear
the LORD our God,
Who gives rain in its season,
both the autumn rain
and the spring rain,
Who keeps for us
the appointed weeks
of the harvest.

— Jeremiah 5:24