“… light inaccessible …” (part 3)

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Growing up in Wyoming meant many long drives across the Great Plains to attend sporting events or even pick up groceries.  From time to time, I rode alone with my Dad in his pick-up with the windows down.  His observant eye spotted everything- from a pronghorn herd hidden in a grain field to rain streaking the sky hinting storms moving in… I think he taught me to see… really see God’s creation with childlike wonder.

For quite some time, I suggested my childhood died instantaneously when Jamie did.  However, slowly, my senses softened and my lungs expanded again.  The gripping tension in my chest weakened.  And the darken vision of what this “after” life would be… unfolded albeit slowly, mysteriously.

In the dead of winter, we recognize the dormant season.  Willows, once cloaking forts, stand naked and exposed.  Snow shrouds the growth underneath.  Yet, when the cherry blossoms in the spring, when the tulips and daffodils unfurl, when the dawn’s rays rise and the birds sing, do we hide our heart’s recognition of new life?

Little by little, my heart, soul, and mind gained strength reaching deeper than the grief.  Out of the well, fresh awakening and delight saturate my soul.  Withholding gratefulness is an option, but an option that’s sucks life out of us.  Thanksgiving directed toward the “Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise” helps us see and breathe- breath by breath.

In the vivid wonder of eternity’s embrace, do I hide and hoard this fresh nourishment?  Am I not utterly compelled  to share?  Who really cares?

Honestly, both response have been mine over the years since Jamie’s death.  The hiding and hoarding are the yielded responses to fears… especially of vulnerability most people stutteringly steer to avoid.  Discerning when to shine solely from the soul and when to speak continues to be a delicate dance.

Struggles taunt me still, but daily His Word and His Creation revive and refresh the wonder of Who He is and who I am in Light of Him.  He chooses to use seeing people among us to encourage and lighten our loads.  Let’s remember to thank Him and thank them… even if the words don’t come for decades.

And He chooses to use us, too.  Sometimes, we see…and choose to look the other way.  When we hear whispers to reach out, no matter how simple, let’s heed and act.  We never know exactly how He chooses to illuminate Light and breathe Life again through our simple acts of obedience… including sharing our keen eyes of His Hand among us.

Artist and saint alike grope in awe to comprehend the incomprehensible disproportion of the glory of God and the humility of the Incarnation:  the Master of the Universe, become of the earth, earthy, in order to be one with his creatures so that we may be one with him.”

– Madeline L’Engle Walking on Water pg. 154

While our earthly breath is temporary and often labored, the Breath of Life breeches shadows and breathes the delights of eternity into dry bones… and grieving girls.

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“… light inaccessible …” (part 2)

photo (26)

written by Heidi L. Paulec

Oh, how wanted to keep Jamie alive … who he was… not just to me, but everyone fortunate to know him.   His logic.  His eloquence. His kindness.  His quiet wit.  People claim the deceased “live on in our hearts” or “as long as you have memories, he’s still with you.”  Honestly, these feathery words felt empty to me.

When I was asked to be either a pall-bearer (one who carries the casket) or honorary pall-bearer (one given a seat of honor, but no heavy lifting required), my acceptance of honorary over actual pall-bearer brewed out of my hesitancy to accept the permanence of his death and to assist willingly in tucking his memory into decomposing soil.  Neither could I passively accept his absence, nor could I actively indorse his choice.  And somehow I knew the weight of death in a box… no matter how strong I wanted to be… was too heavy for me.

His choosing suicide still perplexed me. C.S. Lewis suggests, “suicide is the typical expression of the stoic spirit and the battle of the warrior spirit.”(1)   Jamie, the bright and mostly compliant over-achiever, recognized immediate gratifying paths led to meaninglessness.  He willingly worked hard and focused.  From Legos to aviation, his devotion to the process and enjoyment in the successful steps along the way yielded visions far beyond his mere 17 years.  While the methodical details he marked in ending his own life fit him eerily, I didn’t want to believe he really did it… to himself.  How could he?

During much of our childhood, I felt like I followed his lead.  He set the academic bar of achievement high. Before we even started kindergarten, he was reading.  I remember listening to him and watching him read words.  Then sentences.  And yes, paragraphs.

His abilities inspired me to sit still a little longer.  This enabled me to give phonics time to saturate.  Competition edged out my previous excuses to put off learning to read myself.  Like Tom Cruise’s character in Top Gun, I found flying in second place to Jamie easy, manageable.  Freeing, really.  He set the standard, and I dared to catch up to him as fast as I could.

But his demise left me solo-ing in the darkness.. left me fumbling and fragile.  I remember my role at the funeral included entering and exiting in a honored lineup.  I vowed to be strong enough that day.  I remember feeling like I trudged through… feeling the spotlight… “This must be the worst of it.”  I thought…                                   {shallow breaths}…silencing my interior groans and screams…securely away… somewhere deep.

Strong enough to live without him?  Strong enough to live out his potential and mine?  Strong enough to see beyond the present shroud cloaking me?   All of us, really.

No, the worst was yet to come.  We grew up primed by the prevalent worldview that perpetuates seizing obstacles by virtue of self-will alone.  If I think it, I seize it.  I win.

The problem?  Since I’m still here, I thought I must live this thing called life brilliantly for the both of us.  I even attempted to embody a few of his character qualities, the distinctly effortless part of him, so foreign to me.   Grief’s grip… was strangling me. And my fight?  Weak, frantic, and hidden… as best as I could manage.   Suffocating, really.

Paradoxically, I became nearly transfixed and self-focused (self-protection) while I also sought to think of others well above myself.  (Remember  “Defining Time” ?)  Before his departure, this would have been much more out of the ordinary; however, after he left… well…

Honestly, this step came fairly easily.  When one loses a loved one to suicide, the rejection of kinship  often severs a confidence in the survivor to extend friendship… because really?  When my friendship resume’ includes loss to suicide, I wondered how many ways I had failed him… and I feared failure might result in all relationships.  While I was just out-going enough to easily hide in arenas of conversation and service.  Instead of really connecting,  I found socializing actually helped me escape, too.  Reminiscent of C.S. Lewis thoughts, I found means to live in a crowd.  Caucus replaced friendship.(2)   All this barely breathing beside people… while the longing for friendship deepened.

Strong enough.  Strive enough.  Serve enough…

…but I am not enough.

In the state of cloudy grief, I returned to a large 6A public high school.   God chose to use my friend, Amy-in my sixth hour Algebra 2 class, to breath His Word into me.  How?   Amy slipped hand-written notecards with Bible verses to me periodically through the remainder of our semester.  Imagine, a high school junior thoughtfully taking the time to scratch out a verse or two to pass to me discreetly during class.   Simple.  Personal.  And life-lifting.

At first, I couldn’t even read them.  Why not?   Another  well-meaning friend approached me within the first 72-hours of Jamie’s death with this encouragement: “You know Heidi, the Lord doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle.  He’s prepared you for this.”  In my cloud of confusion and grief, I thought to myself, “What if this God holds me responsible for all I know of His Word?  What if he’s testing my reliance and resilience?”  Again… not enough.

I remember making a decision – not against God Himself for I still awed and revered Him- but against acquiring any more of His Word into my heart or mind out of pure exhaustion and fear of on-going testing.

However, His Word  found me in a quiet corner of a public high school.  I found sanctuary in His Love poured out in His Word hand-delivered on 3×5 cards by my friend who knew only one balm for my heart’s puncture wound.  I’m not sure I’ve ever thanked her enough.  Her simple obedience to keep reaching out quietly to me… rooted my -once rocky- faith in Jesus.

Through His Living Word – handwritten heart to heart~ “The things of this world will grow strangely dim in the Light of His Glory and Grace.”(3)  He’s referenced as the Lifter of Heads in the Psalms.  He tenderly reached out to me.  Personally.  Patiently.  Lifting my gaze.  He helped me distinguish the prowess perpetrators among us while also revealing His Presence pulsing within His people…within me.

Discovering myself loved by God and forging new dimensions of intimacy with God’s Presence had brought healing to my fragmented life.”

C.S. Lewis The Problem of Pain pg.4

Entering every day recognizing, “He’s really gone.”  “He’s not coming back.”  No matter what vivid dreams of him in crowded halls or traffic-jammed parking lots, I awoke… still alone…wondering, “Do I have what it takes to make it through?”

James 1 became my heartbeat:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without find fault, and it  will be given to him.” (NIV vs.2-5)
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.” (ESV vs.1:12)

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  (Hebrews 10:23-24 NIV)

I don’t have what it takes to carry on… but I know Who does.

continued… “… light inaccessible …” (part 3)

 

(1)  Lewis, C.S.  The Problem of Pain HarperSanFrancisco ZondervanPublishingHouse, 2001  (2)  Lewis, C.S. The Weight of Glory HarperCollins, 1980                                                                      (3) Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus a hymn

 

“… light inaccessible …” (part 1)

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written by Heidi L. Paulec

The palpable difference between being alive and yielding to eternal living often pulses the brightest evidence in our darkest grappling.  “O, help us to see.”

“Our design… is only to discover how, perceiving a suffering world, and being assured, on quite different grounds, that God is good, we are to conceive that goodness and that suffering without contradiction.”

CS Lewis The Problem of Pain pg.27

After being privy to Jamie’s battling with depression & sinking under the shadow of death via suicide, I remember recognizing my own labored breath. The staccato, involuntary panting of shock slowly subsided. Each inhale and exhale… once instinct… now demanded mindful… labored efforts.  Efforts, I feared I simply wasn’t strong enough to muster and maintain.

For a time, my mind attempted to fight the coils of questions with self-sufficiency.  Soon, my own spirit collapsed within me. I may have been alive; I wasn’t the one our family buried in the ground.  However, grief prodded my broken heart incessantly.  Since Jamie and I were so close and everyone knew it, all eyes followed me.

However, the steps to this dark dance… I didn’t know… my stage expressions couldn’t conceal the seething weakness … the gravity of grief gives way to a raw reality that is too heavy for improv.

In the years since, I related to Jim Carey’s character in The Truman Show.  While it would have been utterly ego-centric of me to assume the remaining attention (which prior to his death, I would have snagged eagerly) ought to fixate on me, I felt the stare of focus.  In part,  my Mom worked in human resources of a large public school district.  Her access to counselors as well as statistical data spotlighted me as a possible copycat… Now, I don’t know that she ever even verbalized this to me, but as an intuitive only child, I  sensed the concerned squints hovering around me.

And for the first time in my life, all I wanted to do was escape and hide.  Maybe in silent isolation, this paralyzing ache would evaporate and normal could return.  Virtually, all of me paused. For quite some time.  The outside of me continued to go through the motions of my existence while the inside conflicted between containment and collapse.

While I recognized the loving desire of family and friends to genuinely care, their grief and confusion heaved and hid, too.  At the time, I could not have formulated words to describe it all.  I just knew I didn’t want to add to the burdens already there.  I felt responsible for them… I felt responsible for Jamie.   All more than I could bear.  And I hated feeling this weak.

If  living was what was left for me… I didn’t know how anymore.  High school fashions, gossip, pressures shrunk away… just as a grander purpose for living…and dying demanded a response.  A breathless banter.   In this heavy haze,  I heard the faint whispers of my own wondering prayers.

continued  “… light inaccessible …” (part 2)

ant hills, mud pies, & rainy drives (part 4)

Jamie bucket bath1976

fast-forward a dozen years … just Jamie and me … in a car … winding our way through a blinding, slippery, Oklahoma summer thunderstorm …

As the sun’s slipping beyond the trees and hills, lightening flashing all around and thunder shaking the car I am driving, I nearly panic.   The road disappearing in the puddles.  The tires tugging and churning.  The spattering rain on the windshield deafening my sanity…

We had just spent… a couple early evening hours… hanging out with other teens we’d met through my high school church youth group.  We underestimated the clouds pace and forbearing intensity as they crowded out the sun.  My fear of running late coupled with Jamie’s relief to leave these strangers led us to hop away in a hurry…

Jamie’s family sent him to spend time with me every summer.  They now lived in a suburb of Denver, Colorado while my family lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

We both attended large public high schools.  Since his freshman year, he’d been battling disappointment after disappointment.  He always had the big dreams.  The step by step strategy figured out, and the fortitude to overcome challenges.  Like many from our era, he dreamed of flying fighter jets via the Air Force Academy.  And eventually at Top Gun and in combat.  In the meantime, football served as the training ground.  Saturday’s autumn allegiance granted to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and Sunday’s filled, first with church in the morning, of course, but the afternoon’s rest rang with the Denver Bronco games.  Jamie never tired of watching, strategizing, and then, of course, running outside to “coach” and practice with his younger brother and any mildly willing neighbor friends.  That is… until Hinckley High …

Instead of tryouts, they simply signed up for football even as freshman.  A game, Jamie anticipated playing for years, became a place and time of personal pain and unraveling destruction.  We’ll never know all Jamie endured as he watched his dreams of playing high school ball dissolve into a crass and cruel heap on the field by coaches …and  follow-up tormenting in the locker room by teammates.

My middle school years had been rough ones.  After moving from a rural Wyoming town of 1,000 people to Tulsa, Oklahoma and nearly 1,000 people in my middle school, I found myself in rural vs. city culture shock.  From styles to class sizes to “knowing my place” in a small community to “learning my place” in a larger one… at least basketball ought to be a familiar place for me to settle in… my sport of choice at the time.

However, can you even believe six-man basketball was what girls were still playing when I moved to Tulsa in the late 1980s?  I had played recreation league style five-man for a couple years before moving, and I loved basketball. Sprinting down the court, dribbling through the legs, and swishing buckets… oh, and competing as hard as I could against my hardy athletic peers in Wyoming.  But, in Oklahoma… I tried the six-man version  (unfamiliar?  Basically, three offensive players stayed on one side of half court line and only played offense while three defensive players defending the goal only on their side)… and it nearly killed my love for the game.  Somehow, I’m not even sure of the details now, my Mom signed me up for a dance team with an amazingly talented dance teacher who also happen to see potential in me… Remember, me, the tomboy from Wyoming?

Dance spoke a physical language I learned and loved.  I possessed just enough flexibility and determination to overcome my memory lapses and awkward angst against spandex and sequins.   Through a rather quick succession of events, I accepted a special invitation to join a try-out competition squad which led to dancing for a competitive school team in middle school as well as on a freshman competitive team, and making the varsity dancing team with only two other sophomores.  Honestly, I was never one of the best dancers on any of the teams I felt honored to dance among.  However, I can say, some people approach dance to execute the eight-counts or maybe simply to be seen,  but I danced from the heart.  I preferred practices to performances because I loved dancing for the joy of dancing, and team-building… the absolute best part.

All this to say, my high school experiences seemed to be widening my dreams and confidence… as Jamie’s seemed to be waning…

yet, we return to car in the storm… my sanctity shaky – like my steering, but not Jamie…

No, Jamie spoke calmly, quietly, and even confidently: 

“We’re fine, Heidi.  Just keep the car tight between the lines.  Brake easy.  We’re alright.  Drive as slow as you need.  The storm’ll pass.  You’re doing great.   We’re fine.  We’re almost home.” 

Mile by mile, his patient and persistent reassurance always calmed me.  Sure, I probably blabbed and blubbered on, spewing my doubts, but his outer calm always balmed my inner chaos. 

And he was right, that night, we were fine… and we made it home.

“Who knows what the ‘the communion of saints’ means, but surely it means more than just that we all of us haunted by ghosts because they are not ghosts, these people we once knew, not just echoes of voices that have years ceased to speak, but saints in the sense that through them something of the power and richness of life itself not only touched us once long ago, but continues to touch us.”

– Frederick Buechner The Sacred Journey pg.23

 

ant hills, mud pies, & rainy drives (part 3)

Jamie bucket bath1976

… the ant hill incident opened my eyes to an evil I had previously relegated to time long ago, a snake in a garden far, far away.  Ant armies illustrated the slithering, organized approach of evil’s shadowy tentacles…

Shiny things… horizons and mining mounds…

Biting pain… numbing, dimming soul… sure, we made it home. 

A fact quickly forgotten.  Only to focus on failure…and deadening hopes.

On another sunny afternoon, we found ourselves much closer to home.  In fact, we nestled on a back porch.   Hiding from the wind and sneaking water from the hose to make mud in barren planters, we attempted to pass time.  Great-Grandma Ruth spotted us, and she made sure we had proper garden tools.  She also sternly reminded us not to run the water hose.  Get what we need, and shut it off.  We nodded agreement, and she left us to return to her duties.

As we sat there, wind whistling around us, Jamie and I unearthed dirt clods and some decent four-year-old philosophical questions.  Like, “Why do grown-ups want to know our favorite colors?  Why do they make us eat food we don’t like?   Why is the grown-up world and the children world so segregated?  (I liked the kids’ table and all.  Mainly, we escaped etiquette training when we sat to ourselves.  But, I did listen in on enough conversations I wanted to talk, too.)    Why do the women work they way they do, and why do the men work they way they do? (Although I often complained about our being tossed outside for hours at a time, I couldn’t begin to imagine working anywhere else… I preferred raking out the barn to pushing dust around the house- any day.)  Why do we dress up for church?  And why were we the only kids not allowed to run in or around the church?

As Jamie and I sat grabbing n’ squeezing, grabbing n’ squeezing until dirt darkened under our fingernails, Grandma Ruth approached us again.  This time, she brought us each a pie tin.  She asked, “Have you two ever made mud pies?”  We looked at each other. Eyes wide.  This time- adventure was coming to us.  Although we were already fairly dirt-smudged at this point, we acknowledged our inexperience.  And our eager readiness to experiment.  Grandma helped us move mud into the tins.  She told us that after we finished loading and decorating them, we could leave them in the sun to bake, too.   Again, she left us to our “work.”

Jamie smoothed his heap meticulously.  I impatiently attempted designs.  I wanted mine done first (yes, that competitive). And mine needed to be prettier than his.  However, his slices would be air hole-less and much more precise than mine.  After a while of watching him smooth and re-smooth, I realized “I don’t even like to eat pie.”  I liked to smell it.  I liked to eat left-over crust baked with cinnamon and sugar.  I even enjoyed watching other people eat pie.  (Grown-ups make faces like children when they eat desserts.)  I just didn’t like to eat it myself.  So, how could I imagine even pretending to like this mud pie?  Was all this just wasted time?

Jamie, on the other hand, enjoyed eating real pie.  And he enjoyed this make-believe mess.  He questioned, along with me, on many things that day… (and many days to come).  The goodness of pie, however, was not up for question.  So, we completed our mud pie projects and placed them on a sun-exposed ledge.   And waited.  And we waited.  I touched mine.  Baking?  No way!  It was as wet and gooey as ever. “This isn’t working!”  I hastily complained.   We waited some more.

Finally, we ventured through the wind to Grandma Ruth’s house to ask how long they would need to bake.  She didn’t know.  She didn’t know?  A grown-up who suggested mud pie-making in the first place didn’t know the time they needed to solidify?!?  She suggested going inside to clean up and check later.  Jamie acquiesced to the suggestion while I complained the whole way back to the big house.

“Deep within every human heart throbs the undying hope that somebody or something will bring both an explanation of what life is all about and a way to retain the wonder.”

-Ravi Zacharias Recapture the Wonder p.13

continued… ant hills, mud pies, & rainy drives (part 4)

written by Heidi L. Paulec

 

ant hills, mud pies, & rainy drives (part 2)

Jamie bucket bath1976

How cruel is it that diamond mounds turn into ravenous ant hills?

We grew up going to the same country church our ancestors built for the gathering of community in worship and service of our Lord Jesus.  We sat still, sang hymns, and gleaned much from older generations.  I especially remember the ladies, especially the grandmotherly ones (some widows), teaching us spiritual formation by example.

Mrs. Hilda, always smiling from deep within her soul, sent birthday cards in the mail to everyone.  Mrs. Susie played the piano with precision.  And Mrs. Sherry, the young pastor’s wife, loved the babies in the nursery.  And our Grandma Phyllis, mostly sang and billowed her delight in the choir.  No matter the size of choir or quartet, her voice inflated the room.  She exuded joy most of the time, but most especially when she sang songs.

Grandma Phyllis volunteered to teach our Sunday School class one year.  How easy she thought it might be – knowing Jamie and me and just a couple other children our age.  The endeavor proved to be a real stretch for her, but resulted in our memorizing the 23rd Psalm.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk

through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;

thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:

thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

Psalms‬ ‭23:1-6‬ ‭KJV‬‬
http://bible.com/1/psa.23.1-6.kjv

Somehow… “The Lord is my Shepherd” came easily to us.  We’d witnessed neighboring ranchers care for their herds with profound, diligent responsibility.  We’d seen horses come running at the shake-shake of a grain bucket.  Sheep naturally follow-the-leader, and we’d seen that, too.

I shall not want…” maybe not so easily.  Often, I found myself wanting… everything Jamie had.  (Sadly, I even envied his birthday coming before mine every year.  Our Great-Grandparents celebrated Jamie’s August birthday before traveling south for the winter, but they always missed my October birthday.

“…valley of the shadow of death…” how utterly foreign!  Some point along the way, death silenced some older men in our congregation.  I remember an older cowboy gentleman I called Grandpa Claude (although he was not blood relation) and Uncle Reuben both died.  Their weathered skin, distinguished glasses, and stiffened gate indicated life’s naturally slowing pace.  Somehow their deaths followed a predictable, expected cycle.  One I didn’t question.  Sadness seeped in for a time, yes.  I remember Aunt Ruth climbing the church steps alone and sitting alone in her pew.  Yet, I found I liked remembering people’s lives in the whole – the lives we often hear about only in the funeral/memorial service setting.

But somehow, the dissolving diamond mound and the erupting ant hill introduced me to tentacles of the shadow of death as I heard the lies pelting us, “You’re alone!”  “You won’t make it back!”  “This pain is all your fault!  If you hadn’t suggested, even pressed for, adventure, Jamie would be fine.”  Subtle stabs… venturing off the homestead unleashed hopes, dreams, plans, failures, and fears like I had never encountered before that day.

Once we returned and the rattle rested.   Jamie-bathed and balmed- assured me he was fine, sore and tired, but fine.  He firmly noted we should never play in ant hills again.  In the calm, I finally remembered we failed to even get the mail.  He tried to reassure me someone else probably already did that job.  And he was probably right.  But, disappointment and discouragement fueled frustration and fatigue.

Someone quieted us with a snack.  However, a haunting, an unsettling, a soul-stirring churned within me.  This big, beautiful, bountiful world reflects our Creator.  We already knew this from our Sunday School classes, and we’d seen plenty of His systems.  We’d seen barren fields embrace seeds and grow crops.  We’d “worked” sprinklers, rode along tractor runs and combine courses, and “took care” of badger invasions.  We’d witnessed the hardy efforts bring in the harvest.  Big men.  Hat hair.  Dusty jeans.  Worn boots.  Calloused hands.  We’d tasted the joy of a profitable season- both in Grandpa Ken’s study as he worked figures as well as around the dining table where we gathered to feast and give thanks.

But, the ant hill incident opened my eyes to an evil I previously relegated to a time long ago, a snake in a garden far, far away.  Ant armies illustrated the slithering, organized approach of evil’s shadowy tentacles…

Shiny things… horizons and mining mounds…

Biting pain… numbing, dimming soul… sure, we made it home.

A fact quickly forgotten.  Only to focus on failure…and deadening hopes.

“…the challenges looming on the horizon would test every comfortable assumption of Empire and every fiber of personal faith and courage.”

Stephen Mansfield Never Give In: The Extraordinary Character of Winston Churchill p. 31

continued… ant hills, mud pies, and rainy drives (part 3)

written by Heidi L. Paulec

 

 

 

 

 

 

ant hills, mud pies & rainy drives (part 1)

Jamie bucket bath1976

Sometime in the late 1970’s, Jamie and I (cousins only seven weeks apart in age), just exiting our toddler years, already knew we contributed in big ways to this family farm operation.  We knew our “jobs.”  Mainly, we needed to stay outside, stay as clean as possible, enter any building or work site of the farm only upon invitation, and stay within the circle of the homestead.  This still left us a dozen acres or so to explore, to invent and enter our land of make-believe.

Although hundreds of acres framed our family homestead, our boundaries cinched tightly within the visible interior perimeter of the buildings.  Circling to the left of the dirt road “driveway,” several buildings made up the “home-place.”  The ol’ chicken house.  Quonset- a metal building that stored spuds and grains in season as well as large equipment like tractors.  Next, the corral connected to the barn.  Just up from the barn sat the “bunk house.”   (Honestly, I’ve no idea what the purpose for this room-size building was originally.)  To the center of the circle sat our Grandpa’s huge and tidy shop- housed his tools (wood-working, etc.)

Back out to the circle:  The big house.  Originally, a modest home, my Grandpa Ken build up and out as the family grew.  (The creation and destruction of this house is a story all its own.)  The well house neighbored the water well.  Rounding out the home-place building circle, our Great-Grandparents summer home and Grandma Carrie’s home.  However, Grandma Carrie moved out, and Jamie lived there with his parents until his was five years old.  Now technically, I did not live on this place, but rather my parents and I lived on another family homestead a few miles away.  However, this place felt like home, too.

Sometime in the late 1970’s, Jamie and I (cousins only seven weeks apart in age), just exiting our toddler years, already knew we contributed in big ways to this family farm operation.  We knew our “jobs.”  Mainly, we needed to stay outside, stay as clean as possible, enter any building or work site of the farm only upon invitation, and stay within the circle of the homestead.  This still left us a dozen acres or so to explore, to invent and enter our land of make-believe.  Funny, how even in those early years, we scouted the boundary lines closely… often encouraging… and taunting each other.

One particularly sunny morning… I’m guessing late spring or early summer.  The temperatures, still chilly enough, were warming up by midday.  The adults readily sent us outside.  And after enough pleas, we convinced someone (I wish I could remember who) to grant us permission to wander beyond our customary boundary.  Dressed in our official play clothes consisting of shorts and shirts, socks and tennis shoes that often coordinated or matched, we took off down the “driveway” taking a left toward the mail box.  Unlike city mailboxes, our mailbox stood miles away.  So, our plot and plan – quite akin to treasure hunting- traversed the gravel road of the Great Plains with great hopes of delivering mail to the happy surprise and wonder of the parents and grandparents.

Anticipating our noontime farm-hardy meal as a family,  I’m pretty sure we could hear their pride and celebration… which is probably partly why we ventured… a little too far for our spring season stamina.

“As I went walking that ribbon of highway, I saw above me that endless skyway,  I saw below me that golden valley- This land was made for you and me.”

Woody Guthrie

We jibber-jabbered our way for a good while into the Wyoming wind.. fully focused on the horizon.  The dot of the mailbox.  Racing.  Skipping.  Walking…and looking back… now and again to see the “home-place” growing smaller and smaller behind us.  Can you believe this?  We’re really going some where… all by ourselves.

Eventually, our tired set in, our heads drooped a little, and our gaze set toward our feet.   We spotted the glistening clusters of crystalized pebbles  reflecting in the rising sun.  Then, we imagined we’d stuff our pockets full of these “diamonds,” which is clearly a brighter treasure to the mail… But, what if we came home with both?

Simultaneously, we spotted the pertruding mound of these “diamonds” along the southern shoulder of the road, but just north of the home-place.  We scurried over to inspect it.  Leaning over it, we spotted parading tiny trains of black and red heave-hoing in and out, in and out of tiny holes in the mound.  (I remember someone once warned me some insects bite or sting.  And I hated horse flies because they hurt the worst.)  Anyway, in our fascination observing their order and occupation, we didn’t realize where their marching led right up Jamie’s legs.  An entire ant brigade … “left, left, left, right, left…”

Suddenly, Jamie screeched as his legs jumped and arms thrashed.  Swinging.  And kicking.  Slipping… and falling… into the whole “diamond” mound.  The trains of ants instantly derailed and frenzied.  And I started laughing… yes, laughing.    Kicking to his feet, Jamie paused… right there, both feet planted in the cratered mound… now, erupting with ants.   He looked up at me… and he shot panic- like a light saber- at me.  Then, I quickly grabbed him and started swatting and swiping.  So many of them.  As we cleared some away, I saw his skin welting red.  Looking toward the home-place, I realized how very far, far away and all alone we were…

Mysteriously moving from girly giggles to pure panic and on to lifeguard mode, as Jamie’s tears flowed, his skin swelled, I ran both of us home.  I just kept repeating, “You’re going to be ok.  You’re going to be ok.  Just run with me.  Stay with me.  I’ll hold your hand.  You’re going to be ok!”

Maybe remembering The Little Engine that could, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” or maybe a gusto of grace…we arrived at the first house… dusty and disheveled.  The adults swarmed into take-over duty…  Rushing him off to a bath,  my breath surfaced… racing.  We made it.  He really is ok, right?  His eyes screaming panic… played over and over in my young mind… and sometimes, they still do.

continued…ant hills, mud pies, & rainy drives (part 2)