The Gift of Right NOW

She has no idea that her legs are too long. She's having fun :-)

She has no idea that her legs are too long. She’s having fun 🙂

Here is my column that appeared in the Crossroads Magazine today. I’m happy to share it here.

It’s a Saturday morning in October as I sit down to the key board with a vague optimism that inspiration for this column will mysteriously appear. Editor Mark Boehler has requested uplifting thoughts about the coming holiday season, so I wait for a flash of inspiration about what to lift up. And I wait a while longer— for a lightning bolt that doesn’t strike.
Now, please, don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I feel at all down. I don’t. In fact, I feel pretty dandy. It’s just that, as I sit here to write, Halloween is still more than a week away and I don’t want to think about the coming crunch packed into the thirty-six days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
Sheesh, that’s hardly more than a month for all the doings of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day to speed by in a blur. Makes me dizzy to contemplate it.
The fact is that I want nothing— absolutely nothing— but to fully live this one splendid, ordinary moment. Right now.
The granddaughter is in the adjoining room, the sitting room of my office. Her usual chatter is replaced by a singsong, contented hum…hum…hum. From the corner of my eye I see the reason for her satisfaction. This child is never as happy as when she is arranging and rearranging “stuff” and her MiMi has stuff galore. She’s in heaven.
She’s not thinking about school or what she’s going to wear for Halloween or what her dogs are doing; she is simply the mistress of a universe housed in one room and her mind is nowhere else.
Throw pillows are systematically displayed according to criteria that only she knows. Candles are aligned. Books are stacked on tables just so, and then restacked. She steps back with her head tilted to one side, and, assessing her design, she adds a glass bird before she nods approvingly and moves on to deal with a quartet of ceramic rabbits. Her hands are firmly planted on her hips: Bunnies, beware!
I am touched by how thoroughly present she is in this moment. Right now.
I sink as deeply into the reality of this clear October morning as an old cat with aching bones sinks into a basket of towels, hot from the dryer. This is a moment worth holding but it can’t be held; it can only be experienced and the experience folded into these words. I breathe it in and am grateful for the quiet gift that it is.
Rewind with me to a scene earlier the same week when I am having lunch with my friend Rita at Borroum’s Drug Store. We stroll in early to claim a booth so the lunch crowd doesn’t force us into the tiny table in the front window. The taco salad is satisfying and the companionship is even more so. It’s an easy friendship that goes back to before I was a mother and when her children were small, that has endured stretches when work schedules and family demands made meeting for lunch harder than it is today. I know when we sit down that I’m going to be leaving a generous tip because we’ll be there awhile, and we are.
We mull over our recent visit to a friend from decades ago who is now under hospice care, and tears smudge my mascara; the paper napkins substitute for tissues. Our stories overlap and we talk about the young women that we three were then, puzzling over the different paths our lives have taken, paths that none of us foresaw. Knowing our stories have found a safe landing spot, we voice thoughts we wouldn’t share with just anybody.
And then we laugh! Hysterical, table-slapping laughter bubbles up and trickles out of my eyes. Rita’s ability to get lost under any circumstance is legendary and she has more than one tale to tell about finding herself in places that she didn’t know existed. More napkins please, but, this time, for tears of laughter.
As we make our way to the counter to pay, we pass a table of four women, each fully absorbed in her cell phone, either talking, texting, or holding her phone in rapt anticipation. Rita and I look each other in the eye and realize we’ve spent two hours absent from our phones and totally present with each other.
This has been true communion, the kind that only happens in undistracted moments. Right Now.
A flicker comes: I see that this holiday column is going to be more about what we can drop during the coming weeks than about what we might lift up.
Beginning with our phones, let’s put them down for a while. Let’s look each other in the eye instead of looking at a screen. Let’s listen to a child’s tone and a friend’s story, instead of listening for a ringtone. They are wonderful devices and they certainly have their place, but that place isn’t to contribute to digital dementia. They are in our hands. It’s up to us to drop them into our purses.
Let’s set aside our fretting over getting things perfect. There will be years the dressing is just right; the sage is spot on, and it’s moist to perfection and then (if your cooking is like mine) there’ll be those other years. The tree might be a dazzling vision and others times, well…we barely replace one string of lights before another burns out. To a child, though, every Christmas tree is magical. The coconut cake may be a tad tilted, but this is the South, where there is no such thing as a bad coconut cake.
Maybe the cards are unsent and the gift wrapping wrinkled. So be it. Perfectionism sucks the joy out of life and we have only this moment, right now, so let’s live it.
And then there’s Facebook. If we don’t drop it entirely, could we at least work on letting go of any illusions that what people post on there is the whole story? Because it’s not.
If we get caught up in what other people share, it may look like everybody’s family except ours is sitting down to a Norman Rockwell spread, has a new car topped with a huge Christmas red bow sitting in the driveway, and is heading off for a beach vacation as soon as the table’s cleared. The rest of the story may well be that they can’t afford the car, the credit cards are maxed out, there was a huge fight on the way to the beach, and the kids threw up in the backseat. So how about it? Could we drop the illusions that anybody actually has it all together? Could we let our families and our plans that go awry simply be crooked and human and funny?
Finally, how about we drop our attempts to please everybody? We probably can’t please them, but even if we can, the price of over-commitment is an exhausted kind of major crankiness. There’s no crankiness like the crankiness of having said “yes” to everyone except oneself.
Prioritizing and being realistic about we want to do during the holidays doesn’t come easily to some of us, but in order to slow down and enjoy the celebrations that we personally find most meaningful, we may need to smile and firmly say, “No, thank you, my plate is full.” With some folks, pesky persistent types, we may have to say “no” more than once.

Start practicing now!
The hum of a child puttering about, the tears of tenderness and amusement shared with a friend, these are the pure and humble gifts of ordinary days, gifts that aren’t tied up with bows but with cords of connection.
The gifts of sharing stories, listening from the heart, keeping old traditions and creating new ones are timeless. They were never meant to be contained in a treasure box and, yet, at this time of year, as we gather with friends and family, we’re reminded of how precious they are.
As we pull out the roasting pan and wrap gifts and hang ornaments, let’s listen closely to each other. Let’s look each other in the eye, enjoying the blessings of the simplest gifts.
The only time we have to unwrap them is now.

Right now.

Jaylene Whitehurst is an artist and Licensed Professional Counselor located in Corinth, Mississippi. She may be contacted at 662-286-5433 or at jaylene@heartworkccl.com.

Somebody has to do it: Shift work

It's 10:25 PM and that's a workday for lots of people.

It’s 10:25 PM and that’s a workday for lots of people.

Somebody has to do it.
Somebody has to care for the sick in the middle of the night or answer the call when shots ring out. Somebody has to haul goods over road or rail, day and night, or keep the machines of industry churning 24/7. Somebody has to work the all-night gas station or sort the packages that eventually land on our doorsteps. Somebody has to stock store shelves to get ready for the next morning and somebody has to clean offices after they are closed to the public.
On any given night, while my head is on the pillow, many of my neighbors are at work, providing safety and protection to the public. Others are on the job, serving the incessant demands of a society that no longer sleeps. They work, driven by businesses that never stop.
Approximately one in six U.S. workers is employed doing a version of shift work. Generally speaking, this term refers to work hours that fall outside the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. time frame, often including weekends. The National Sleep Foundation has a more restrictive definition of shift work, calling it all work that falls outside of a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday, extending shift work to include early morning and late evening hours plus rotating and weekend schedules. According to the NSF, approximately fifteen percent of full-time wage earners work non-traditional hours.
Most of us know someone who is directly affected by long and late work days that run throughout the night. Whether we work shift work ourselves, are related to someone who does, or are the recipients of the shift worker’s labor, the relationships within many families in our community is affected by this schedule.
While I suspect that in our community that there may be more than one in six employees occupied by shift work, one thing I know for sure: maintaining relationships and a good quality of life, while managing non-traditional work hours, doesn’t happen by accident. It takes deliberate planning.
Like many others, my family members are survivors of shift work. For nearly twenty-eight years, my husband worked a rotating shift and, prior to that, his jobs involved either straight nights or staggered shifts and weekends. In forty years of marriage, he has never worked a Monday through Friday, straight day job.
Yes, he was the one actually at work, but our family became a shift-working family. And that included his parents and my parents; all of our close connections were affected. Even when they knew he was off work, friends were cautious about calling for fear of waking him up needlessly. Frankly, while we were in the process of riding the shift working train, it was all I could manage to hang on and try to not wake Gerry up when he was asleep. It’s only now, with a few years’ hindsight, that I can look back and appreciate how challenging it was.
Decades ago, when Gerry first began working nights because that was the available shift, we didn’t have access to support in managing night work and family/social life. We stumbled along the best we could and stumbling it was. While he was never completely rested, I was always completely frustrated with the inconsistency of our lives, which felt to me like a chaotic mix of gratitude for steady work and deep fatigue, both physical and emotional.
Nowadays there are myriad online resources citing research, mostly about the increased risk of shift work on employees’ health (concerns about heightened risks of diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, digestive problems, depression, and infertility, among others). A quick online search yields page after page of concerns about how the disrupted circadian rhythm of night workers appears to play havoc with physical health.

However, when it comes to the relationship effects of shift work, the information circulating is mostly anecdotal. From person to person, successfully juggling family and friends with shift work remains a process of trial and error, an ongoing balancing act on the parts of everyone involved.
My perspective of shift work is biased because of its impact on my own family, so I checked in with others to get a fuller picture of how they wound up working nights or how their lives have been affected by someone else’s work schedule.
In several professions, coverage twenty-four hours a day is the nature of the job. Health care workers, law enforcement officers, and fire fighters face this as the reality of the work they are drawn to. These men and women knew the deal going in.
Several mentioned that they accomplished more work at night when the administrative staff is largely absent. In fact, they preferred the less intense atmosphere enough to choose nights.
A couple of friends opted for the late shift in order to juggle childcare with the other working parent. One woman looked back, shaking her head in amazement, at her years of working nights as a nurse and then coming directly home in the morning to care for her little one. Fueled by caffeine, she stayed awake, napping only when her child did. Handing her off to the dad when he got home in the afternoon, she got a little shut eye and headed back to the hospital to do it all over again.
The extra income from a shift differential was incentive for some to request nights. And speaking of income, more than one person mentioned that many who work nights have second jobs. Whether they have their own businesses or fit other employment in around their night work, the schedule allows them to bring in more income, be it a financial necessity or a choice.
Night owls opted for the late shift. These are the individuals who will never be perky in the morning no matter how much coffee they gulp down. Even if they weren’t working nights, they’d naturally be cleaning out closets at midnight and going to bed at 3 a.m.
Finally, and most often mentioned, was that employees wound up on nights simply because they needed a job and took what was available.
For some people the adjustment comes easier than to others, but the refrain “It gets harder” was repeated by every single person who’d worked the graveyard shift for years.
No matter the adjustment or the reasons for working nights, there is a thread of isolation that connects all of us affected by shift work. Even the men and women who opted to work nights acknowledged a sense of social disconnection, feeling out of sync with their families and friends.
Those effects ripple throughout the family and social network of the shift worker. Even when children try to understand the absence of a parent and are accustomed to Dad’s or Mom’s schedule, they miss their parent at special events, large and small. And to children, there are no small events. One woman told me about how it was for her as a child, always tiptoeing around the house, trying with all her might not to disturb Daddy because he’d be grumpy if she disturbed his day sleep. She didn’t get to have company because little girls are noisy. The pain lingers to this day because her dad missed so many of her birthdays when she was young and, even when he was off work, missed them because he said he was tired. Her father’s irritability is a touchstone of her childhood memories. The details differ but others shared similar recollections of the isolation of night shift extending through the lives of the children.
Clearly, shift work is here to stay, and it’s acutely affecting individuals, families, and communities for the long term. Either we deal with it deliberately or it deals with us.
From the perspective of my own hindsight and the welcome insight of night working friends and their families, here are some practical thoughts about caring for personal relationships while engaged in shift work:
• Keep a visual calendar so the whole family can see the time structure for everyone in the family. For younger children, one week at a time is plenty to look at. Adults and older children may want to schedule farther ahead, perhaps for the full month. Let children help mark the times when parents are available and also mark their own activities. Aim for time each week with each child, something that the child can look forward to. It may be routine simple tasks done together, but it’s the togetherness that the child will remember decades later. Because committing to every occasion isn’t possible, be realistic about what is workable and plan on that. Children generally handle that better than parents over committing and then cancelling.
• Fatigue breeds irritability. Simply being mindful of this can help the tired parent or spouse get a grip. Three deep breaths help diffuse the automatic reaction to lash out when tired. It takes practice, but the side effect is that it’s also refreshing. If three doesn’t work, take five deep breaths!
• It gets tiring for spouses too, handling children’s problems alone or trying to keep a quiet atmosphere so the day sleeper can rest. Coordinating times when parents can communicate and neither is exhausted is a problem. Except in emergencies that can’t wait, time to catch up on what’s happening is one of the things that must be scheduled.
• Cell phones make it easier than it used to be to keep in touch with family while at work. A quick call during break can mean the world to a child. And a spouse.
• Children need to express their experiences. It may not be possible for a parent to change their times of work; still, it matters that children release, in some way, what it’s like for them. Talking, drawing, making up songs and stories, are all ways to set the tension loose. Although child and parent may both say, “I wish it were different, but it’s not,” the child knows that the parent cares about what it’s like for her.
• Little acts matter. Children look forward to habits, so a note on a pillow or in a lunchbox may be more reassuring than adults imagine. Honor the small rituals. Keep in touch.
• It takes specific planning to maintain family and social life. The spouse who misses events due to work is apt to feel left out and the spouse who goes alone to special occasions is likely to feel lonely. An honest effort on the part of each partner to put themselves in the place of the other can offset resentment and foster connection instead of chagrin.
• Couple time is worth scheduling. The dedicated effort to spend time together, whether it’s a whole day off or sitting quietly over a cup of coffee, speaks more clearly than words about the commitment to the relationship.
If this planning sounds like effort, it is. Taking deliberate responsibility for managing time and honoring relationships creates the structure that allows the shift worker, family, and friends, to function in a mutually supportive framework, rather than in chaos.
Oh, and one more thing. Those of us who get to curl up and sleep the night through would do well to remember not to call the woman who works nights at two o’clock in the afternoon. We might just get a call back from her on her “afternoon” break…at two o’clock in the morning!

Gifts from a House Fallen Silent

Mom mag 1There were no clattering skeletons hanging in the back of my parents’ closet. Nary a rattling bone fell out of the drawers to turn my unsuspecting world upside down.
No, the sounds were softer than that, more of a rustling between my fingers, as I moved through the work that was in front of me. This house was crammed full with sixty-three years of marriage and two years of widowhood. A younger generation had an expiring lease looming and needed to call it home. Time to get busy!
Many of us have been in a similar position. It’s not unusual to the human experience to find ourselves parentless, and, at the same time, facing the adult task of sorting through a house fallen silent, inhabited only by the lingering energy of memories. It’s an age old situation, but it was my new reality.
When my grandparents died, I’d helped my parents clean out their houses in a superficial way. I’d pop in and clean out a drawer or two after I got off work, but the hardest jobs were mostly theirs. When my mother-in-law died, my husband and his brother had their own system for working through the household. Once again, I played a supporting role.
Suddenly, here I was, one of the leads. My brother came from Huntsville to help, leaving with a few Saturdays’ worth of furniture and family items, but hardly a dent was made in the marathon of sorting and evaluating what to keep and what to dispose of. There I sat in the midst of it, grieving, tired, and out of sorts. Grumbling is what I do best when I’m overwhelmed and you had better believe it: I was doing some first class grumbling. I’m great at being peevish when I can’t get my bearings.
Friends, who knew I was under a time crunch and who were probably sick of listening to me moan, practically begged to help me go through the house. Without fully understanding why, I said “No.” It was, surprisingly, in not accepting their generous offers, but in finally accepting that this was a sacred task, and mine to do, that I found my way.
I am intensely grateful that I did.
The house in which I grew up was modest, with no sprawling attic of trunks and armoires. Beyond the trappings of daily living, were simply drawers and drawers and drawers of cards, clippings, receipts, photos, notebooks, church bulletins. The tidiness that we’d managed to keep up throughout Mother’s Alzheimer’s-driven ramblings belied the sheer accumulation of what had been left behind. To a stranger’s eye, a good deal of this documention would have looked ephemeral, papery and fleeting.
For me, it was priceless, an unbound journal of the marriage of two children of the Depression and their relationships with family and community. Every scrap of paper was a fragment of the past, significant to them in ways I can only guess, touching in its simplicity and poignant in its complexity, the threads of their stories weaving through generations before them and after them.
It takes so long to know a parent, to know THE PERSON that existed before we were born and after we left home. Perhaps we can never truly know those closest to us, least of all while they are alive and able to guard their hearts. We accumulate experiences, stored in the closets of memory, and unless it’s jogged loose with a question or reminder, the past lies hidden, a silent mystery.

We hold back parts of ourselves from those closest to us, maybe to protect ourselves from our frailties and disappointments, maybe to protect those we love from family truths that would set them free, if only we could find a way to bring them to light.
Hard edges develop in relationships when we constantly protect ourselves or others from our stories. We call them “rough patches” in my family, and if your family is anything like mine, you know exactly what I mean. The edges may need only a quick sanding or they may be absolutely jagged, but we’ve all had some degree of bumpiness.
In what my parents left behind, I found unexpected tenderness for the rough patches.
Beneath neatly stacked newspaper clippings, in a flat paper bag that I’m sure came from Sterling’s dime store, my mother left four magazines, undoubtedly tucked away for me. The woman with whom I’d had an uneasy relationship, who was intensely private and spoke of her own rough patches with difficulty, had saved for me an issue of Good Housekeeping from May, 1954, the month of my birth, along with copies of Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, and Reader’s Digest from the month of my marriage.
Those magazines touched me in a way that nothing else did. She’d kept every card I’d ever sent, every report card, even notes of phone calls from me, but those magazines weren’t about keeping anything of mine. They were about leaving a marker of the times for me, for the woman I would become. And they were about leaving a part of herself with me, a mother who could express herself more easily in unspoken actions than in words.
There were receipts that brought tears to my eyes. My heart broke for the bereft couple that my parents had once been, arranging the funeral of their first child at McPeters Funeral Home, his having been born too early to survive; ordering his simple headstone; paying his hospital bill. I don’t remember a time of not knowing about their baby, Stephen Jay, but seeing the steady signature of our grieving father on a receipt from W.E. Boatman Monument Works took my breath away.
There were others, finds that blended the daily activities of house holding with the sad times and the celebrations of life. Photos and receipts, obituaries and awards, birthday cards and letters, all these formed a collage illustrating the intricacy and resilience of their modest lives. But if I’d found only the magazines and the funeral receipts it would have been enough to make real to me that there is only so much we can know about those closest to us.
If we’re fortunate to find clues and if we pay attention, we may someday pencil in the unknown aspects of those who’ve gone before us. When we face our own hidden stories and frailties, we have a chance to touch those parts of previous generations who left legacies in ways they couldn’t foresee.
Whether we leave skeletons in our wake or a string of receipts, our stories keep unfolding for those who care to follow our trails.

The Red Toolbox: Lessons on Living

Red ToolboxThe Red Toolbox is now mine. An open wooden rectangle, cobbled together from leftover scraps of previous projects, it’s not too big. Made for use, it has a round dowel handle, easy to grab and go.

That old box has been a part of my world for so long that I have no idea when my dad made it. The red paint’s worn a bit chippy from decades of projects and repairs, a disconcerting number of those at our house. “Go get my hammer out of the toolbox.” “Put the toolbox in the truck.” “Leave that tape measure in the toolbox.” The thing was ever present. I grew up and grew older with it.
Oh, sure, there was a bigger toolbox, also handmade, but The Red Toolbox was the go-to box with the dependable basics: Daddy’s favorite hammer, nails and screws, heavy duty tape measure, a couple of crescent wrenches, several screwdrivers, nail set, small chisel, pliers, scissors, those flat carpenters’ pencils that intrigued me as a child, and a couple of last-minute items that got tossed in.
Daddy always kept a few tools in his vehicles, a set of wrenches and a screwdriver. But if he was going out of town, The Red Toolbox rode in the back. Just in case….
His toolbox and his workshop were basic to my image of him and the foundation of how I knew the man. I called on him to fix everything because I thought he could. As a son of the Depression and sharecropping parents, keeping tools and machinery in repair was a way of life that stayed with him.
Giving care to what he had was a ritual of appreciation for the use of what God had given Daddy. He attended to what he used. Keeping things in good shape was his giving back; fixing what was broken was his creativity. Leaving things in better shape than he found them was his “Thank you.” He was a simple man and it was simply the right thing to do.
In my own life, attending to brokenness took a different form. I became a counselor, an attendant to the pain of being human.
Caring for brokenness calls upon a common wisdom, whether it’s a human spirit grown dry or a hinge, un-oiled and rusting. Both creak for attention, habitually and loudly. Wisdom doesn’t rush the process of caring.
Daddy brought to his projects what he brought to his life: practicality, confidence that he could figure out a solution to whatever was awry, and a worrisome stubbornness that left me thinking he was determined to get hurt rather than get help. The man would look at a problem inside out and upside down with a dogged determination that could my impatience threadbare.
It was exactly that tenacity that had him putting a motor in a car when he was eighty-one because he’d never done that before but he thought he could, if he took his time.
Clearly, when it comes to a model for dealing with whatever is broken in this experience of being human, I don’t have to look far.
Daddy never jotted down a list of rules. Like so many of his generation, he didn’t need to.

These tenets were simply how he lived:
1. Be sure your foundation is solid. Fix it if it’s not.
2. Get familiar with the problem you’re tackling. Look closely. Look at problems from every angle. Get down on your hands and knees
3. If small repairs need to be done before the big job, DO them. There are no shortcuts. It’s time well spent.
4. In painting or staining, do the prep work. Prepare the surface to be receptive. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
5. Keep The Red Toolbox handy. You never know which tools you might need. Put the tools back in it when finished.
6. Buy the best quality materials you can afford.
7. Seeing a job as a puzzle of small pieces makes it manageable. Oh, and lay the pieces out in the order you removed them so you know where they go. Every piece has its place.
8. When a job isn’t coming together, take a break. Go work on something else awhile, even a little task. It’s good to accomplish something, even if it’s not what you intended.
9. If that still doesn’t help, do the best thing you can come up with at the moment. If it doesn’t work, you can rule one thing out.
10. Have good resources: make friends of the guys at the local hardware store and garage. The folks at Biggers’s Hardware and the Gilmore boys are your friends.
11. Good tools make the job easier. Keep them sharp and dry. Never put tools away dirty. Absolutely never!
12. Fixing one board saves a whole wall later. Do the job while it’s small.
13. There are times, when in spite of your best efforts, repairs won’t hold. The original is simply too worn to work with. That’s when it’s time to let it go and start fresh.
And
14. ALWAYS clean up after yourself. The job’s not finished until the floor is swept.

No, Daddy, you had no need to jot them down. You were living them.
I was watching.

Happy Father’s Day,
J.C. McCrary
July 11, 1923—May 9, 2009

This column was published in the Daily Corinthian newspaper, Sunday, June 15. 2014. I am happy to share it with you here.

Peace,

Jaylene

THE Dollhouse

dollhouse

Atop the bookcase in my blue room sit two metal dollhouses, circa 1950s. They are sentinels over the gathering space of my studio/office, high enough above the mix of chairs and throw pillows that they call no attention to themselves. I suspect some visitors hardly notice them.

The one on the left is the dollhouse I thought I found; the one on the right is the one I did.

When I was young, older than a toddler but not yet school-aged, our next door neighbors were Gladys and Elbert Jobe and their two daughters, girls edging into their teen years. The family doted on me. Martha, Alice, and their parents were a constant presence, keeping an eye on the tot I was, especially when my mother was ordered to strict bed rest while she was pregnant with my younger brother. The almost adolescent Martha was my playmate. I adored her.

My best guess is that I was about two and a half the Christmas that they gave it to me: THE dollhouse.

All I have to do for the memories of my dollhouse to surface is close my eyes and be still. In the quiet, I am there, back in our old living room. The chill of the uninsulated linoleum floor rolls under me, stretched out, stomach down before the open backside of the dollhouse. The chill penetrates my cotton camisole and red corduroy shirt with a shiver, while an insistent hiss from the gas heater is background noise. Warmth and chill coexist as I arrange and rearrange the tiny furnishings and determine the movements of a plastic family that I can control.

Bright lithograph colors on thin sheets of metal, all right angles and structured together with deftly folded tabs, it was sturdy. And that’s a good thing, because it was magic; and a sturdy kind of magic was needed by the child that I was, playing my way through the changes my family was experiencing.

Between the years when I was three and five, my mother buried a brother and her grandmother, both deaths shocking, with the abrupt cruelty of accidents. There was loss on my father’s side of the family too, not so cruel, but change producing, nonetheless.
The adults around me were juggling, emotionally and physically. This wasn’t an era when the impact of death on children was supper table conversation. We were fed, clothed, kept warm, and taken to church.

And we played. My imaginary friend, Mattie, and I held power in the magic realm of the dollhouse.

Somewhere along the years, I suppose my mother gave my dollhouse to another little girl, though I can’t say when that happened. Thinking I’d outgrown it, probably by second or third grade, I imagine her passing it along to a friend’s daughter, maybe a three year old who fit perfectly in front of its tiny rooms.

I hardly let myself miss it.

Until I started tapping this keyboard, pecking around for words that have taken me down a forgotten path, I wasn’t aware that my dollhouse mattered so greatly to me. Nevertheless, I’ve grown curious, fifty-five years after the fact, why the memory of it sent me out, years ago, to find its vintage twin.

One of my earliest forays into the world of eBay was the mission to find a replica of my dollhouse. I saved my search, kept up with new postings, and compared them against the image in my mind. Nope, not that one. Maybe this one…. but no. Oh, this one looks like it. Yep, that’s it!

I didn’t have a clear memory of the facade, since most of my time was spent at eye level with the interior, and I was sure that the one I’d bought was the exact same style as mine, red roof and all. There was no doubt I’d found it.

There was no doubt, that is, until ten years later when I found IT.

A red-roofed image, unexpectedly familiar, caught my eye and a gulp of recognition stuck in my throat. Displayed in a local shop window, I recognized the printed stone design on the exterior of a fifties era dollhouse. The tiny stones were amazingly similar in color to the faux stonework I’d painted during my mural painting years.

At gut level, I knew that I was looking at the origins of my own pink-green-blue-gray rocks. This was imagery that had become hard-wired into me. I cannot paint stone without those tones mixed in. I don’t even want to.

Here in front of me was evidence of how my childhood attempts to make sense of an uncontrollable world had become instinctive, part of who I am at the core. The comfort of my dollhouse with its dependable design, the setting where I could direct the action, the impact in my later life of what I was doing as a three-four-five year old, had been hidden away beneath events that I saw as more significant than my being Mistress of the Dollhouse.
It was all hidden until I began to write this essay about neighbors and loss and finding a dollhouse. Tapping away at the keyboard, gently rapping at the door to poignant and dusty places that want to see the light of day, it began to come together: I still love colored stone and arranging houses and scene setting and red roofs.

I found my old neighbors, still living in my heart.

And I still believe in the power of play.

Now, excuse me, while I dust off my dollhouses.

She rests.

beyond the deep blue velvet curtain
of making breakfast
folding towels
sweeping garage
checking homework
unloading dishwasher
paying bills
scrubbing earsgrace extended
hangs a gossamer sheer
a fine and fragile barely there veil
thin as a breath
every night she pulls it aside
crawls through to her life beyond
and
she rests.

Jaylene Whitehurst
Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Unheard Story: The HeartStory

Good Morning, Fellow Travellers,

You know that saying about being kinder than necessary because everybody is fighting some kind of battle? It sets me to remembering too that everybody has a STORY, the story of his or her Life that contains experiences I don’t have a clue about. Everybody has a HeartStory.

To have the privilege of hearing a bit of another person’s story is holy to me. It’s a trust. Yes, it’s part of my profession, but it’s more: it’s something we can offer each other anytime. “Tell me about when___? What was it like when____?  Who was there when____?”

I’ve been married thirty-eight years to the same man. You can probably imagine how well I think I know this fellow. Thirty-eight years and just the other day he shared an event from his childhood that, for whatever reasons, I didn’t know about.

It was such a stunning, intense event that I had to question myself: How could I have not known that? Had it been mentioned, maybe as a matter-of-fact, and I was so caught up in my own drama that I completely missed it? If he hadn’t mentioned it, was there something about our relationship that he didn’t entrust the story to me til now? Was it something he assumed I knew because he did?

Or maybe it just came up exactly when it needed to come up…..nothing more complex that perfect timing!

However it came to be part of not just his story but now part of our family story, I am grateful that I now hold it with him.

And I realized one more time how little I know and how ignorant I am to think I know….

Today I will listen to someone I think I know well.

And I’ll hear an unheard bit of the story.

And we’ll be changed by it.

 

Travel lightly,

Jaylene