Category Archives: family

A boy and his loves.

Liam was with me for a couple of days last week. He is almost six and suddenly reads with astonishing fluency. Reading is downright fun for him, I guess that’s why, and the more you do something you love, the better you get at it. I was pleased to realize that he would be just the person at just the stage to appreciate The Disappearing Alphabet by Richard Wilbur, so I searched through my bookshelves to find it. We read it together with many giggles.

The artwork, by David Diaz, is much more pleasing to me than that in The Pig in the Spigot, another of Wilbur’s books for children which I wrote about here once. Each page is devoted to a letter of the alphabet, with a short verse musing on what would happen to our beloved world if that letter were no more.

After reading the book, then eating dinner, we went on one of my creek walk loops. Immediately we began to practice our mutual love of plants and their names. My grandson is starting to understand that I don’t know every plant, and our nature study is more of a joint effort now, with him not saying, “What is this?” so much, and saying, “Grandma, look!” more.

But he brought up the subject of the alphabet also, as we walked along, saying, out of the blue, “If there were no letter N, we wouldn’t have pain! or lanes! — or extensions!”

Our walk took longer than I planned, because I had forgotten about how it’s our habit to meander and pick things, as I had started out with Liam in Flowery Town years ago.

FT P1090307

We ate quite a few new-green wild fennel fronds on this walk, and even some slightly older ones, comparing the flavor. And several times he reminded me that we must take the route home that passes by the pineapple guava hedge, because he was eager to taste the flowers I’d mentioned.

We ate flower petals, and got to bed late, and the next morning the boy picked more right next to my garden dining spot, which he added to our breakfast feast. Rarely is it truly the right weather to eat breakfast outdoors here in my city, and this may have been my first time to do it with company so agreeable.

The middle of this second day was spent at my church, where the end of the children’s week-long summer program featured a long session of water play, and Liam was delighted to get all wet and to eat a popsicle.

Even here, he drew my attention to a tree blooming right above, which I’m sure I’d never noticed before. Our rector said he planted it himself “way back.”

Australian Silver Oak or silky oak, Grevillea robusta

While children were settling down for the Bible lesson that morning, another boy showed me this fly that he was admiring on his hand. I think Liam was already waiting patiently on the other side of the circle so he didn’t see it.

Later that afternoon I had planned to have him help me clean the greenhouse, but then realized he’d like better to pick sweet peas to take home to his mother. I have only a little patch that I didn’t pull out yet. He was diligent about that task for nearly an hour, and collected a large jarful. I made headway on the greenhouse, and we took breaks to study the bumblebees that only recently decided to mob those flowers.

One day we had read Monarch and Milkweed, and the other, I showed him my milkweed plants; the Showy Milkweed is in a jungle behind the fig tree, where I hope, if Monarch caterpillars hatch out, the birds might not notice them…?

Liam helped me to see my flowers without a magnifying glass. As we were looking at some tiny succulent flowers, and I was trying to get a good picture of them, I began to notice little black dots on them. “Are those holes in the petals, can you see?” I asked him. He squatted down and looked hard, and told me that they were things on the ends of hairs coming out of the middle of the flower. Ah, stamens! When I enlarged the photo, I could see, too:

We washed rocks! Liam had been examining and organizing one of my collections of pebbles and cones and such in the house, and out here I had him put these larger stones from the Sierras and from the Sacramento River through some sudsy water and a rinse, so they could wait presentably until I find a use for them.

What other things did we both like to do while he was visiting? Eat ice cream cones, and judge matchbox car races, and read Winnie-the-Pooh. Many times during his last hours with me, lines from Pooh or The Disappearing Alphabet would come to his mind and he would say them again, looking at me with a twinkle in his eye, knowing I liked them, too. He especially liked these from the page about the letter L:

“Any self-respecting duck
would rather be extinct
than be an uck.”

I was so grateful to Liam’s parents for making this intimate visit work out. Next time I see him, he will be more grown up, and a different boy. But probably not all that different. I hope we can always find a way to share our love for words and plants and many more details and gifts of this vast world in which our loving Father has placed the two of us as grandma and grandson.

Mother was the earth.

S.M. Hutchens writing about his mother for Touchstone Magazine:

While our father formed us essentially by disturbing us and inviting us to disturb him, Mother did the same by being a reliably sympathetic presence, an unfailingly generous medium of life. Mother was the earth in which we were anchored and fed, and our father was the husbandman who trained and pruned the plant and fitted it to deal with pests — both are necessary for its health.

Weddings and Road Songs

Today is my wedding anniversary! It was sweet of God to arrange for me to attend a wedding last night, in the neighborhood where my late husband and I honeymooned so long ago. I drove down after church yesterday and listened on the way to Alexander Hamilton on Audible. I’m more than halfway through that book now, only 17 hours to go 🙂

The wedding stirred up memories of our own youthful idealism and exuberance. I often think about weddings Then and Now and will probably have enough material for a very irritating book before long, so I will leave that topic, except to say that I am comforted that there are still weddings happening, and that one still encounters couples who have a vision of what a marriage can be.

When we left the wedding hall in the Santa Cruz mountains the sky was cold and clear, and Orion and the Big Dipper were sparkling up there as huge and bright as could be. I had to be careful walking the 1/4 mile in the near dark to my car, hungrily craning my neck at the stars with an eye on the mudholes below. Then it was only five minutes back to a humble Airbnb room where I slept soundly in a good bed.

This morning I made use of the organic coffee in the fridge and a French press to brew it in… I indulged in carafe full. As I was packing my car and finishing my coffee I got a text from a cousin who lives just up the hill from where I had stayed. Yes, he said, we are home, please come.

The house that he shares with his wife is a mountain cabin only a few doors down from the little place where we newlyweds spent a few nights back then. This very cousin had been visiting his parents’ cabin while we were honeymooning and had stopped in to say hello one morning; I remember it vividly. Now here I was with them in that cabin that has been their home in retirement. It was almost as good as being with my children, to be with this man  who knew my husband long before I did and misses him, too. They gave me coffee that was even better than my first cups, and listened to as many honeymoon or deathbed stories as I wanted to tell them.

When I made a pit stop on my way out of town I tried to eat some sunflower seeds; my hand shook and I scattered them around in my car. Hmm, I thought, being this buzzy from coffee might be as bad for my driving as being drunk. I texted my friends and asked for prayers that angels would keep me, and calm me.

My whole eight weeks of traveling to Wisconsin and India, I felt that angels were carrying me on their wings, or God was keeping me wrapped in a protective cloud, or however He handles these matters. I had accidents, things went wrong, but no disasters… For decades I’ve believed that on the highways, heavenly hosts intervene constantly between all the hunks of metal barreling along, carrying tender flesh — otherwise all of our distractions would cause many more collisions than actually happen. So it was natural for me to count on angels to shield me from harming myself or others through my foolish coffee-drinking.

I didn’t listen to Hamilton at first, because I had to drive on Highway 17 from the coast to San Jose, which always feels like fast slalom course through the hills. I knew it would take all my concentration and I wouldn’t be able to pay attention to American history at the same time. So I let the music play through my phone as iTunes always insists on doing, and it began to shuffle through a hundred or more songs in one folder.

I’ve written before about how my husband had been the owner and manager of the iTunes account; in the last three years I have occasionally sorted through and weeded out, and added new songs. Mr. Glad had several songs by Fernando Ortega, and I heard one of them today. It reminded me of the last weeks of my husband’s life, and the many hours when, wanting to play music that was restful to him while not annoying to me, I settled on the songs of this gentle man.

Nowadays I only have one left in my playlists. It doesn’t come up very often, but when I was just getting in the groove of rapid steering wheel work on the curvy road, there he was singing “Road Song.” I’m sure some of you know this song — don’t you think he is singing about angels? I always do. By the way, I never felt the jitters at any time during the next two hours.

I let the music play, and thought about how the words of so many of the songs expressed my experiences of the last hours, or of my marriage, on this day of remembering it in particular. Gordon Lightfoot was singing about “Rainy Day People” and how “They don’t talk back, they just listen till they’ve heard it all.” That was my cousin and his wife whom I had just hugged good-bye.

Tom Petty sang, “We were built to last, on until forever. The world is changing fast, but our love was built to last.” Yes, the love between my husband and me was “built” by Christ Himself.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Cor. 13)

It was not a nature-study sort of trip I was on, but I did wish I might capture some of the colors around me on my way. Driving home I stopped at a rest area south of San Francisco, down the hill from this statue of Father Junipero Serra who in the 18th century founded first nine of 21 Spanish missions in California. I have seen the statue hundreds of times from the highway but never hiked up the hill before for a close encounter.

The friar had a string around his finger — was he trying to remember something? I stood directly under his pointer to get this view.

Ceanothus (California lilac) was at its peak of bloom right by my car,
and I even got a new bee-at-ceanothus pic (top of page).

California poppies also dotted the hillside, but my favorite display was farther up the road. When traffic came to a standstill on 19th Avenue in San Francisco, I saw out my window by the trolley tracks a crop of those orange flowers brightening that drab space.

Now I’m home again and just under the wire getting this short report done when it is still the today I began to write about. Tomorrow is another day, if God gives it to me, another morning when the mercies of God are new again. That has been my experience, and as long as I’m on this journey that will be my Road Song.

Happy Anniversary, Mr. Glad!

Patience, with pebbles and a saint.

I have very much enjoyed reading about St. Raphael of Brooklyn whom we commemorate today on the anniversary of his repose in 1915. He was born in Beirut where his parents had fled, because of persecution of Christians in their home city of Damascus, and he spent most of his life going where he was most needed, mostly Russia and America. It is astounding how much he accomplished in his zeal to care for his flock. He was the first Orthodox bishop to be ordained in America, in 1904, and Tsar Nicholas II gifted the new bishop’s vestments.

In those days all the Orthodox in America were together under one heirarch: “There were no parallel jurisdictions based on nationality. The Church united those of diverse backgrounds under the omophorion of the Russian Archbishop. This was the norm until the Russian Revolution disrupted church life in Russia, and also in America.” oca.org

Today is the first day since I returned from India that I feel normal again. While the traveling itself felt easy enough in the 33 hours of moments, the recovery has been a process requiring patience! It took me a week to get to church, and it was a joy to be back there. My goddaughter Mary seems to have grown a lot in two months, in size and maturity. She hadn’t forgotten me. 🙂 And I had one of those experiences I’ve described before, where for about ten minutes the sun shines through a window of the dome at the perfect angle to warm my face and head, and blind me to everything but the candles before the altar, which shine like stars in my momentary darkness.

Saturday I got to see both Pippin and Soldier!! That comforted my heart that was in mourning from the separation from Kate and her family, to whom I had grown so attached in all those weeks of living with them. Some of us spent happy hours on a windy beach that was perfect for the weather because instead of sand it was composed of little pebbles that did not blow into your eyes or stick to your food or skin. We examined hundreds of of the tiniest stones, pieces of white shell or green sea glass, and whole grey-blue mussel shells.

Ivy loves climbing the way her mother also has done from a young age, and these rocks were perfect for scrambling up, and then jumping down into the sand.

It feels cold here in sunny California, compared to winter in smoggy Bombay. I guess I didn’t stay long enough for winter to pass me by altogether; I’m glad I have a woodstove. I did go out in the garden a couple of times and see that in the midst of the chilling wind and dormant gray and brown, many little things are budding and even blooming. Quite a few of them are pink, like the native currants:

If Winter will bring rain, as it’s done today, I’ll welcome it to stay months longer. But perhaps Spring could bring some rain, and let Winter say good-bye?