For Anne, Who Was Still Growing

For Holocaust Remembrance Day, I stood in the cool and cluttered pantry of my house. I took a few breaths and thought myself back thirteen years to the first time I visited Amsterdam. Then I took this picture of the doorframe:

Always growing.

Always growing.

What does my dinged up pantry molding have to do with Remembrance?

If you’ve been to Amsterdam, I hope you’ve been to the Anne Frank House. If you haven’t made it there yet, I hope you will go someday. Take a virtual tour.  Read The Diary of a Young Girl.

Richard and I went on a snowy morning. Both of us were so moved by the experience that we couldn’t really speak. When you step behind the bookcase and climb into the Secret Annex to occupy the same space where eight people hid from the Nazis, you can’t help but understand the horror of that time. The floorboards creak. The blacked out windows still let in the sound of the church bell a few blocks away. The walls are covered with magazine pictures of Anne and Margot’s favorite actresses. And on one wall, their father Otto drew lines on the wallpaper to show how much the girls were growing.

Anne and Margot Frank growth lines on wall.

Anne on the left, Margot on the right

 

Anne grew 13 centimeters while they were hiding.

At the Imperial War Museum in London, I watched raw film footage taken by the British when they liberated the death camps and had to use bulldozers to bury the dead. In Prague, I walked through empty synagogues that have become museums because the Jews who built them are gone. I told the story of one in “Doris and the Dragon.” In Paris, I crept down a flight of cold cement stairs to the river bank where boats were loaded with Jews for deportation. I’ve stood in a cattle car and tried to imagine when it was filled with terrified families. I’ve read the statistics and the history and the memoir, but nothing brought the story of the Holocaust home to me like these narrow pen marks on a wall.

I can hear “6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust” and believe it, but not comprehend it. When I look at those marks climbing the wall and know that Anne was still growing, still becoming who she was meant to be…I understand that because my wall looks the same. We so often try to learn history from the big numbers down, but I learn so much more when I start from the one–the one life.

Every single one of the six million had a life. A mama who reminded them to shush now and then and a papa who marveled as they grew. A first kiss. An annoying sibling. A dream of becoming something in the world. A story to live.

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Love For the Sheer Joy of Loving

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Wesleyan College lost a great light this weekend–our chaplain, Reverend William Hurdle. For seventeen years, he encouraged and counseled and delighted in every young woman who needed an ear or a shoulder or a hug.

Reverend Hurdle joined the staff after I graduated, but I’ve had the pleasure of being in his presence many times at college events. Over the last few years, he had grown weaker–he would be seated on the stage already instead of processing in with the faculty and staff in all their regalia. As he made his way to the podium to say an invocation or grant a benediction, his body showed the signs of age and illness, but his voice kept its gentleness.

There are a thousand broken hearts now that he is gone. He truly was the kindest, gentlest, most loving man. I didn’t know before today that he was on Okinawa at the age of seventeen.

Well, none of these words come close.

I’ve been thinking about his “motto” that so many of his friends have quoted this weekend–“Love for the sheer joy of loving.” Not because Jesus told you to, or because you want to improve your own karma, or to pay back some debt. Love for the JOY of loving. Love for the goodness it brings right now, to you.

I was sad today, so Vivi and I took our Kindles and went on a little adventure. We stopped by Trader Joe’s and bought an armload of roses–green and red and white. We ate Belgian frites with feta sauce and read our books. She’s reading “The YoYo Mystery” and I’ve begun “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” We sat at the tall table that we can’t sit at when Carlos is with us. While we were sitting there side by side, she looked up, all freckles and brown curls, and said, “Mama?”

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Before she could even start her question, I heard Reverend Hurdle’s voice in my mind and heart, “Love for the sheer joy of loving.” That’s exactly the way I feel when I hear myself being called “Mama.” A simple joy, nothing complicated and not towards any end. Just love.

It reminds me of a talk my friend, Robin, and I had once about Jesus’ love. Even though I am an atheist, I don’t mind talking about Jesus because I think he got a lot of things right. (I don’t talk about religion much because I don’t have any interest in changing how others believe and I don’t plan to change my beliefs either…now back to our story). Robin was trying to reconcile the idea that Jesus loves EVERYONE equally, regardless of how they behave. Hitler, Ghandi, Beyonce and Mr. Rogers all stand in the same line. So Robin had finally found a way that she could picture this unmeasured, inclusive love. She stopped talking and simply spread her arms wide, like a mother would do when her child starts running to her for a hug. That was her idea of what the love of Jesus looked like. Made sense to me.

That’s the image that comes to mind when I think of Reverend Hurdle, arms flung wide, come one, come all.

May those who loved him hold his memory as a blessing. Here’s the lovely blessing I remember hearing from him:

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Last Day of the Season

A few days of this beautiful weather and I’m already thinking about loading up the kids and Huck and heading for the woods this weekend! Our family has a hunting camp near the old home place–a spot where we can gather to holler and get dirty and shoot at stuff. (Remember last year when Huck got to be “a real dog, all day?”)

DSCN5636I steer clear of Cowtail when it’s hot, buggy, dry, or when people are shooting at stuff. Even though our 100 acre tract is posted, there ain’t enough orange in the world for me to take my babies into the woods during deer season. I’d even worry about Huck–someone might think they had drawn a bead on the fabled white buck that roams the forest.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with hunting anything we can eat. Shoot a rhino or a hawk or a mockingbird and we have a problem, but if we can grill it or roast it and it’s within the season and the limit, etcetera etcetera…have at it. I don’t shoot guns, but I take my bow and arrows to see if I can hit a balloon off a piece of plywood. I’ve never been one for the noisy kind of hunting.

At Thanksgiving, the nephews were talking about deer hunting and a friend of the family asked Daddy if he was ever much of a deer hunter. Daddy laughed and said, “I hit so many with my truck we didn’t have any space in the freezer for me to hunt.”

Then Daddy told a story that I really get now that I have kids of my own. He said that one year, Joe had finally gotten old enough to go deer hunting and he was beside himself with excitement. He kept asking Daddy to take him, but Daddy put him off time after time because he was too busy. If you don’t know much about deer hunting, it happens in the EARLY morning hours when it’s nice a cold and most people are asleep. It requires hours–to get out to the right spot, settle yourself, and wait. Our dad worked six days a week as a country veterinarian, so it was hard to find the time that hunting required.

Finally, on the last weekend of deer season, Daddy promised Joe that he would take him hunting. Joe could hardly sleep. Next morning, they woke up before dawn and as Daddy was getting his rifle ready, he realized that he was out of bullets. How was he supposed to tell Joe that they couldn’t go after all that waiting?

So they went anyway. He didn’t say a word to Joe about the bullets. They tromped through the woods and climbed up in the stand and waited and waited. Daddy let Joe hold the rifle the whole time. They didn’t spot a single deer, so Joe never had to take a shot.

As Daddy told the story, forty years later, Joe heard the truth for the first time. And judging by the way he laughed, he didn’t mind one bit that the gun was never loaded. He got to go hunting with his dad, just like he had been promised.

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We only have so many mornings to fulfill our promises to our kids. Even when it’s cold and dark and way too early.

Saturday Snort–Ain’t No Party Like a NASA Party

 

I think this baby looks like Prince George…except for the belly hanging out and the Sears photo studio backdrop. And that backdrop looks like it’s covered in dog hair, right?

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Miss Doffy’s Pool Party

Miss Doffy beaming on the day she got her homestead loaded on a truck and moved it closer to her. She was that kind of lady.

Miss Doffy beaming on the day she got her homestead loaded on a truck and moved closer to her. She was that kind of lady.

A great lady died unexpectedly this week–Mrs. Dorothy Biggers Argroves of Greenville, Georgia (one of my hometowns). Everybody called her Dot, except the little ones–they called her Miss Doffy.

She and Mr. Harry were married for 65 years and still seemed to be right smitten with each other. They had three girls–Angela the oldest, then Andrea (who everyone in town called “Baby Sister”), then Harriet, who was in my sister’s class at school. Even when Harriet came along, Baby Sister stayed Baby Sister because that’s the way nicknames work.

You can’t miss the Argroves Girls, Miss Dot included, because every one of them is tall and elegant and charming. Like the Amazons formed a chapter in Meriwether County.

Miss Dot was a fixture of my childhood at basketball games, school events, and pool parties. I’m pretty sure I remember my Daddy working on their cows but I can’t recall for sure. I remember many hours spent sweating in our car in their driveway while she and Mama talked and talked and talked. I can feel the sizzling plastic seats of the car sticking to the back of my legs now.

I’ve only seen her a few times in my adult life but I swear I could pick her out of a crowd of 10,000 people, blindfolded. Miss Dot’s voice is one I can summon up in my head whenever I think of her. She had a Southern accent–not country, but from the farmland. I don’t mean to make her sound brash, but her voice carried. You could tell she was used to making herself heard across a pasture.  But the best thing to me about Miss Doffy’s voice was how it always sounded like she was on the verge of laughing. She was FUNNY and FUN.

The last time I saw her was a few Christmases back. We were all at Grandmama Irene’s house the Saturday before Christmas for an early celebration. I was two rooms away, making sure Vivi didn’t break anything, when I heard that voice come twinkling through the front door. Miss Dot had been driving by, saw all the cars in the yard, and stopped to see who was there. That’s the way small towns work, you know. It was such fun to see her that day and introduce her to my kids.

swim-240928_1280Here’s a story that made her laugh that day. I told her that I think of her every time we have a pool party. The Argroves had a swimming pool and were kind enough to invite us over one hot afternoon. We were all in the water, splashing and shouting when Miss Dot walked up to the edge and hollered, “Don’t any of you kids pee in this pool! I put a special chemical in there that will turn bright blue if you pee in the water.” I spent YEARS watching to see who was going to pee a blue streak. And now I use that line myself when kids come over to swim! Miss Dot laughed and laughed then she leaned in close and said, “I bet you never peed in that pool, did you?” I sure didn’t.

There’s just never going to be another one like her, that lady. Her passing has had me thinking about the way we can live forever in stories when this life is over. Sweet rest, Miss Doffy. You’ll never be forgotten.

P.S. – I Googled Miss Dot’s name to see if I could find any more pictures of her and stumbled on a link to a horse racing site. Apparently, a mare by the name of “Dot Argroves” won a good bit of money on the track back in 1974. It’s too late right now to call either one of my parents and ask them about this, so I’m going to believe it’s a horse named after her. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.

P.P.S – Yep, Angela has confirmed that there WAS a Thoroughbred race horse named after her Mama! Here’s the pedigree. I love that the horse Dot Argroves had “Schiaparelli,” “Flirting,” and “Prince Chevalier” in her family. Delightful.

I’ve Never Heard Such Arrogance

arroganceJust typing that word in the title makes me physically uncomfortable. All the energy in my body goes right up to the surface, like my skin is lifting up to be on the lookout. And that leaves a hollowness in the center of me. All from invoking the word “arrogant.”

I’ve been wanting to write this post and explore these feelings for a couple of weeks now, ever since Seth Godin sent this little ponderable to my inbox:

In search of arrogance

Do you care enough to believe in things that seem unreasonable?

Do you believe in…

your people,

your project,

your endeavor so deeply that others find your belief arrogant now and then?

If your standard is to never be called arrogant, you’ve probably walked away from your calling.

Gut punch. That word was used to hurt me twenty something years ago and it burrowed under my skin and festered there ever since, making me continually question my belief in myself.

It was Thanksgiving, back when I was in grad school, so I already had one degree in English and I was working on a second. The whole family gathered at my grandparents’ house for lunch. My cousin and I stood in the hallway outside the kitchen. We were teasing each other and I said something along the lines of, “There ain’t a thang in the world we can do fer y’now!” in the heaviest country accent I could muster.

Behind me, I heard my grandmother scoff. Then she grabbed my upper arm and interjected: “AIN’T? All that fancy college education and you don’t know any better than to say ain’t?” She was smiling when she said it.

I answered her, my arm still in a pinch, and I was smiling too: “I think of it as poetic license–I’ve proven that I am thoroughly familiar with English and I certainly know how to speak it properly, so now I’m free to choose words for their effect when I want to.”

Her face changed instantly into a furious snarl. “I have NEVER heard such arrogance!” She shoved my arm away, turned on her heel and stomped off.

And every bit of my tender heart wanted to say, “You started it.”  But I didn’t. My cousin and I exchanged shocked looks with lifted eyebrows then wandered off to another part of the house.

That should have been that, but it wasn’t.

anchorman-ron-burgundySo if I speak up for myself, I’m arrogant? If I use words from my new life back in my old one, I’m arrogant? My grandmother was furious in that moment that I had sassed her. I stayed quietly furious for twenty five years because she had insulted me.

The problem with a poisonous fury like this one is that the poison stayed inside my own head. I’ve been living my life with the fear of being called arrogant. I can’t even claim the things that I HAVE achieved because I’m afraid I’ll be called arrogant. I’m working on it but it’s a process (Year 15 and we’re making some progress…).

Earlier this week, I was offered an opportunity to do a speaking engagement. It tooks some chutzpah to accept it and I’m really excited about it. Then my imposter syndrome flared up. Who am I to talk to a crowd of strangers? Are they sure I’m qualified? This must be a mistake.

I had to send a few snippets for my bio. I wrote:

  • I handle internal communications for a healthcare system.
  • I serve as the President of the Wesleyan College Alumnae Association, the nation’s oldest alumnae association.
  • My blog, Baddest Mother Ever, is part of the BlogHer publishing network and I was selected as a 2014 Voice of the Year.

Before I could hit Send, I stared at the list and thought, “Huh. Maybe I am qualified to go talk to some people about some things.”

I stared at the little list until I felt CONFIDENT instead of arrogant.

Like Seth Godin says, you have to be so confident, so audacious in the pursuit of your dream, that some might call you arrogant. That’s on them, not you.

My therapist and I talked about this old story and she pointed me toward the idea of external validation and internal validation. Back when we met, she reminded me that I put most of my energy towards external validation–finding someone to tell me I was OK. The longer I live and the more I work on being comfortable in my life, my focus moves towards internal validation–I can tell me that I am OK.

On that Thanksgiving day, I was a young adult. Just getting my own legs under me. Growing confident in the work I was doing–teaching writing and studying linguistics. When I defended my poetic license, my grandmother could have said, “Well ain’t YOU fancy!” and acknowledged it as banter. She could have said, “That’s true. I hadn’t thought of it that way,” and met me as an equal. Instead, she reacted to my temerity by cutting my legs out from under me.

It seems that once you integrate all the wisdom and experience of growing up, you can let insults and misunderstandings bounce off without letting someone else’s idea of you become your idea of you. I believe this school of thought can be summed up in, “I’m rubber, you’re glue…what you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” That will be $150.

So I hereby release the word “arrogant” back out into the universe. It holds no power over me.

Good riddance, because I got things to DO. Big things. Bold things. Scary things. Growing things.

In other words, I ain’t got time for narrythang what wants to hold me back.

Do you have a word that rankles and festers and burrows? (Those are some damn fine words right there, huh? I know my synonym shit.) Share your word in the comments!

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Hot Pants

Tonight at about 8:30, we had the kids settled in after a long weekend of staying at home, all up in each other’s business (but in a good way). Alone at last! I plopped myself down on the loveseat to watch the tail end of last week’s Downton Abbey before this week’s episode began. G went outside to smoke.

It’s right at the part with the fire in Lady Edith’s room when G comes in from the deck and takes his spot on the couch. We’re following the show in silence when G says, “Do you smell something burning?”

Ha ha, G. Real funny.

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So Downton Abbey concludes (I can’t wait for the day that Lady Edith just up and slaps Lady Mary for being a shrew) and we’re watching the little special about Edwardian manners and how rigidly polite everyone was…when G leaps up into the air and starts swatting at his thigh.

The man’s pants were on fire.

Seriously.

And not in a Tony Gillingham way.

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After a good 10 seconds of WTFFrenzy, G got himself extinguished. I sat there across the room from him, giving him my best Lady Mary Face. “Now that you mention it, I DO smell something burning. It’s your leg, darling.”

Apparently, he misflicked a cigarette ember and it had landed in the front pocket of his sweatshirt. That was a good, thick sweatshirt because it took quite a while for it to smolder through the pocket, the sweatshirt itself and then through his pants.

Just another Masterpiece Classic evening at our house, watching the denizens of Downton Abbey with just a touch of sizzling thigh hair to perfume the air.

Ambience.