the tale of a tetovierer

Who has inflicted this upon us?
Who has made us Jews different from all other people?
Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now?
It is God that has made us as we are,
but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again.
If we bear all this suffering and if there are still Jews left,
when it is over, then Jews, instead of being doomed,
will be held up as an example.

Anne Frank


(image of some of the children in Auschwitz holding up their arms to a cameraman,
showing the tattooed number on their arms / BBC)

I am not a fan of tattoos.

I’m just not nor have I ever been.

And this coming from a retired art teacher who had many an aspiring tattoo artist
in class.

I truly believe that what one finds grand, fascinating, bold as well as defining
at say age 18, will not hold the same sense of fascination, boldness nor still
be defining at say age 58…

Plus I can’t help but see a good bit of an underlying psychology underneath a
need to permanently “ink” ones’ body…..

But hey, that’s just me.

It’s obviously not the rest of our culture’s or society’s mindset….
I’m just a one hole pierced earring sort of girl….

I like things understated and simple really…elegant, ageless and timeless.
I blame my grandmother…thankfully.

I grew up with many Jewish friends.
I attended Synagogue with them as they came to church with me.
I feel a deep connection to our Jewish brethren as I happen to
claim one of their own as my Savior.

Yet in all my years, I never knew nor had met anyone who had been a survivor
of the Death Camps.

I knew many a WWII veteran but never an individual who lived to tell the
horrific nightmare of having lived when one was expected to die…

I knew Vietnam Veterans and even POWs of that war, but none from
those infamous Death Camps of a previous war.

So I have never seen an aged wrinkled arm that bears the fading yet distinct
numbers of one’s time spent surviving death.

I did a pencil drawing once of a portion of a forearm and hand…
It was a man’s arm and hand.
There was a number scrawled on the inner wrist running about an inch and a half
lengthwise up the forearm–along with an inch wide hole piercing all the way through
the palm of the hand…
the backdrop was what one would assume to be a rough hewn piece of wood….

His death, the death of the man whose arm I had drawn, had not been in vain and
had not been for but a select few…it had been for all…
as He had been there, in their midst, with all those who had those numbers
inked onto their arms, despite many Jews to this day truly believing that God
had abandoned them during the Shoah …

The biblical word Shoah (which has been used to mean “destruction” since
the Middle Ages) became the standard Hebrew term for the murder of European Jewry
as early as the early 1940s. The word Holocaust,
which came into use in the 1950s as the corresponding term,
originally meant a sacrifice burnt entirely on the altar.
The selection of these two words with religious origins reflects recognition
of the unprecedented nature and magnitude of the events.
Many understand Holocaust as a general term for the crimes and horrors
perpetrated by the Nazis;
others go even farther and use it to encompass other acts of mass murder as well. Consequently, we consider it important to use the Hebrew word Shoah with
regard to the murder of and persecution of
European Jewry in other languages as well.

Yad Vashem

And so I never gave much thought as to those tattooed numbers on those forearms.
I never thought about who was charged with having to “write” them…
I never thought about when exactly it was, during the ordeal,
that they had received them…
And how odd that I had never known anyone who had endured what it meant to have one.

The other day I caught a story with a rather interesting title….
The Tattooist of Auschwitz–and his secret love

Visions of today’s tattoo artists in my mind is of an individual who
themselves is covered in various images and colors, electric pen in hand…
a master of a cultural craft.

Throw in the notion of a secret love and all manner of clandestine activities
suface in one’s imagination.

Clicking on the story, I am met with the tale of a man and of the life
he lived and of an age-long sense of heaviness for having betrayed the
millions who did not survive.
I believe that is called survivors guilt.

And yet in this tale there is found love, loss, rediscovering, life, hope….
and finally a sense of understanding that there was no culpability for
simply having survived.

The story is set in Melbourne, Australia…
a far cry from a Death Camp in 1940’s Poland.
And the hero of this tale actually died in 2006.
It took him until he was well into his 80’s to even be able to share his story…
much of which his now grown son had not known. Not many who survived liked to
talk about their stay.

The story is of Ludwig “Lale” Eisenberg who later changed his name to
Lale Sakolov.

Lale’s story was coaxed out of his memory by Heather Morris
who has since written a book The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Lale was a Slovak Jew who, like the other Jews in Czechoslovakia, was sent
to Auschwitz.
He was 26 years old.
He did manual labor at the camp until he contracted typhoid.
He was cared for by a Frenchman who had actually been the one who had
tattooed Lale’s number on his arm 32407.
The man was known as in the camp as a tetovierer, or tattooist.
He was charged with “writing” the numbers onto the arms of those coming into
the camp who would be staying—those being sent immediately to the gas chambers.
did not receive numbers.

Eventually Lale became the tetovierer to the camp.

Yet in the middle of madness and death, love was actually kindled.

An 18 year old girl found herself standing before Lale…one in a myriad of women
waiting in the long line…
waiting their turn to exchange a life and a name for a number.

Lale did not like tattooing the women—there was always a sickening feeling in
the pit of his stomach, but he did as he was ordered.

Gazing up at this girl who stood before him, his heart was immediately taken
by this girl’s bright eyes.
Her name was Gita.

Gita and Lale’s life together actually began that fateful day in Auschwitz–
and the twists and turns are amazing…

There is a lovely video clip on Heather’s kickstarter page that she put together—
which I assume was created to help raise the necessary funds to write and publish
Lale and Gita’s story.
The book is now available on Amazon…I ordered mine today.

Below are two links—
the first is Heather’s story along with a brief video overview about her finding
and forging a relationship with Lale, who would eventually share his story with her.

The second link is about the story as written by the BBC.

For even in the midst of misery and death, remains hope…there is always Hope.

http://www.bbc.com/news/stories-42568390

Sun, moon and the love of a grandfather

“There are fathers who do not love their children;
there is no grandfather who does not adore his grandson.”

Victor Hugo


(an older moon shot I’ve used before / Julie Cook / 2016)

I know that yesterday I had given us, or perhaps actually issued is a better word,
a laundry list of “issues” that we were going to need to play catch up with….
all sorts of pressing issues that had come down the pike while I was busy
with all things snow….

And yes, we shall indeed visit those issues…however, I was called into active duty, unbeknownst to my best laid plans, with active duty in my case being
the emergency holiday help at my husband’s store…

So now that I’m finally home, it’s late and I’m trying to prepare some sort of
hot meal of sustenance and get a post ready for tomorrow (which is now today if
you’re reading this), so I think we’ll hold up
on those more pressing topics until I have the proper time to do them justice….

And as life would have it, something interesting arrived in yesterday’s mail
that is now taking precedence.

You may recall that the I have a friend at Plough Publishing House who actually
happened upon my blog about a year ago or so.

That’s how we met.

She has been sending me sample copies of books that she thinks that I will enjoy…
and in turn will perhaps share with others….of which I have as time has allowed.

The small package that arrived in yesterday’s mail was one of those books.

A book that probably has made a bigger impact on my heart than my publisher friend
would have imagined.

Those of you who know me or have been reading this blog since this time last year…
know that I was knee deep in caring for my dad and stepmother.

Dad had an aggressive form of bladder cancer…he was diagnosed in late August and died
in March. Both he and my stepmother had also been diagnosed with varying degrees of
dementia quite sometime before that…
so needless to say we were just all in the middle of a downward spiral is putting it
mildly.

It was a hard road for us all…with dad being an amazing example
quiet acceptance, perseverance and fortitude.

This time last year we already had 24 hour care as well as Hospice care…
plus I was driving over each and every day.

The last time dad had actually gotten out of the bed was on Christmas day when we
wheeled him to the table to enjoy Christmas dinner.
Naturally he didn’t have much of an appetite but he was most keen for the dessert.
So dessert it was.

Dad and my son had a very special bond.
My son was my dad’s only grandchild and Dad was more kid than dad…
so needless to say, they stayed in cahoots most of my son’s growing up.


(Christmas day 2016, Brenton and Dad)

My dad was always graciously generous to his grandson and to say that my son
was dad’s partner in crime was to have been putting it mildly.

I won’t go on as it seems I’ve written about all of this before and if I do go on,
I’ll simply loose focus over my original intent of this post and
cry more than I already am.

The book my friend sent me is actually a children’s book.
And I imagine it came my way because I will become a grandmother soon.
Yet the tale of the book resonated so much with me, not so much because I am
a soon to be grandparent,
but rather because it is a tale about a grandson and his grandfather.

It is a book written by a German author, Andreas Steinhofel and illustrated by a
German artist Nele Palmtag—and yet the tale is quite universal.

Max’s grandfather is in a nursing home because he has what is surmised to be
Alzheimers or some other form of dementia….’forgetting’ being the key word.
And nine year old Max, who adores his grandfather and misses their life together
before the nursing home, formulates a plan to “spring” his grandfather from the
nursing home…
in essence a plan to kidnap his grandfather.

And in so doing another member of the nursing home escapes by accident.
A long and spindly woman who is in search of the sun…as she dances
behind Max and his grandfather on their misadventure.

The tale is not a long read—-
I read it in less than an hour’s time.
Yet it is a deep read by adult standards.
It is funny, it is cute, it is painful, and it is very very real.

I think my 29 year old son would appreciate the story much more than his 9
year old self would have—as he now has the hindsight of understanding
Max’s deep longing.

I know that if my son could have kidnapped his “Pops” from that hospice bed he
would have….and off on one more adventure they would have gone.

But in this tale of last adventures, Max’s grandfather reassures Max, who is now desperately afraid that his grandfather, in his forgetfulness, will forget
he loves Max…explains to Max that he will always be there, loving Max,
even if it appears he has “forgotten.”

He explains to Max that when we look up into the sky we know the moon is there
because we can see it. Yet during those nights that the sky appears to be moonless,
which is only because of how the sun is shining on the opposite side of the moon—
the moon is indeed still there—just as his love will always be there for Max,
even if Max won’t be able to directly see it….

After finishing the story last night, I could not recount the tale to my husband
without crying…finding myself just having to stop talking as I allowed the tears
to wash down my face.

The story as read for a child would be fun, poignant as well as mischievous…
As for any adult touched by the stealing effects of memory loss or just the loss of
a loved one in general, will find the tale heartwarming and very poignant.

Just as I now fondly recall a life that once was…

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.

Psalm 143:8

it’s that time of year again….

Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
whispering, ‘It will be happier.’

Alfred Lord Tennyson


(Nany’s plant is blooming again….)

****It’s that time of year again…or so that’s what they keep telling us.
When you’re husband runs a local retail business, time and life ‘this
time of year’, is not your own….those of you who know me, know this….
And so my posting may be a bit more “lite” verses hefty and plentiful….
But I’ll do my best…..

This Christmas lily, which just so happens to be currently in bloom,
the one in the above photo, was my grandmother’s… Nany.
I’ve written about Nany’s lily before.

There is a tale of tenacity in this lily.

Nany died in 1986 and therefore I inherited the plant.
How and why I was the recipient, I don’t recall…
perhaps it was because mother had just died three months prior and poor ol dad
had no idea as to what he’d do with a plant…only to throw it out….
Having none of that, I “volunteered” to take the lily.

It was early on in our marriage and I was young…
more like stupid now that I look back on my younger self…
but I suppose we all were back then…..

I had left the plant out one night when there was a frost.
The plant died….
or so I thought.
Oh well.

Yet my husband brought the pot back inside the house, despite it being just now
a pot with a frozen brown mass of mess drooped within.

I pruned away all the dead parts and just kept the pot with it’s dirt.
Then a few weeks went by with little to no thought of the plant…that was until I walked past it one day and low and behold…a green shoot had begun to make it’s way upward…
the rest is history.

Nany probably had the plant 10 or more years before I inherited it—
making the plant…roughly somewhere between 40 to 50 years old….

Yet the plant had never bloomed.

I just thought it was a big green leafed plant that was until one year
right around Christmas.
Our son was little and we were still living in our first home,
the house before this house.
A shoot in between the midst of the large green floppy leaves magically appeared
bearing one cluster of three blooms.
It was like some kind of miracle to me.
Who knew this was a flowering plant?!

Probably everyone other than my dumb younger self.

Talk about fragrant.

So now every year since, this plant sends up a lone shoot,
during sometime each December…making it a Christmas Lily.
A small miracle taking place each year in my kitchen, where the plant now lives.

Except this year…..

This year, for the first time since I’ve had the plant, two shoots have emerged.
I don’t know if it’s some sort of sign or some sort of fluke—
I’d like to think Nany is looking down and is happy knowing she will have a great
great granddaughter in February.

I was named after both of my grandmothers…and my son and daughter-n-law are now
using my maiden name for our soon to be granddaughter’s middle name—-

Both Nany and Dad would be pleased…..

My heart is stirred by a noble theme
as I recite my verses for the king;
my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.
You are the most excellent of men
and your lips have been anointed with grace,
since God has blessed you forever.
Gird your sword on your side, you mighty one;
clothe yourself with splendor and majesty.
In your majesty ride forth victoriously
in the cause of truth, humility and justice;
Let your sharp arrows pierce the hearts of the king’s enemies;
let the nations fall beneath your feet.
Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.
All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia;
from palaces adorned with ivory
the music of the strings makes you glad.
Daughters of kings are among your honored women;
at your right hand is the royal bride in gold of Ophir.
Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention:
Forget your people and your father’s house.
Let the king be enthralled by your beauty;
honor him, for he is your lord.
The city of Tyre will come with a gift,
people of wealth will seek your favor.
All glorious is the princess within her chamber;
her gown is interwoven with gold.
In embroidered garments she is led to the king;
her virgin companions follow her—
those brought to be with her.
Led in with joy and gladness,
they enter the palace of the king.
Your sons will take the place of your fathers;
you will make them princes throughout the land.
I will perpetuate your memory through all generations;
therefore the nations will praise you for ever and ever.

Psalm 45:1-14

indebted

“I don’t know who my grandfather was;
I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.”

Abraham Lincoln

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

Marcel Proust


(the cousins circa 1966 )

Family.
A difficult and delightful hodge podge and conundrum all rolled into one.
For good or bad…we all have family….

Do you see the wee awkward one there, the little one in green sitting in the
middle on the couch in this grainy old family photograph?

That would be me.

Little did I realize then that the two cousins, brother and sister, sitting to my immediate right and left would eventually come to be two of the most important people
in my life.

The age difference is 5 and 8 years respectively.
Enough of a deep and wide chasm to keep the young cousin at, what was hoped to
be, a safe distance.
Being just that, I was the little cousin who was to be endured during holidays,
for what was hoped to be only for a day at best.

The only catch was the fact that the two girls were also just that—
the only two girls in a sea of boys with a doting grandmother who had raised
two boys yet always yearned for a girl.
Of which forced these two mismatched girls to spend more time together than either
one particularly cared.

So should it come as any surprise that the older of the two girls tried twice to do
away with the younger one?

How was the fact missed that when these two cousins were once visiting their
grandparent’s farm, deciding to go out for a ride on the horses,
the older one opted not to secure the younger one’s saddle, leaving her dangling precariously between a deep raven or a bed of overgrown brambles…
with the only choice of survival being the brambles….

Or what of the time the older one was told to prepare the younger one something
for supper…and so, what was dubbed a cannibal burger, was quickly served…
simply being a raw hamburger patty that perhaps was hoped served as a last meal….

The teenage boy you ask??
Well he simply had no time for any such foolishness, opting instead to spend
time his own way…away.

And little did any of us know that on that picture day so long ago that
two in the photo would leave us far too soon.

I lived in the family of the younger of the two brothers.

A quiet lazy man who called Atlanta home.
Ours was a small family of four.
The other and older brother lived with his young brood up north in a rural
city in the same state.

The distance often limited the times spent together as “family.”

The oldest cousin in the photo was soon to move states, off to college,
where he would eventually go on to medical school,
marrying and forging his life there, away,
as it is to this very day… so his presence now is of little consequence.

Add also to the photo the fact that two in the picture had been adopted…

And so it was with my having been one of the two adoptees.

Such was that I always had felt a deep void in my heart.
I always felt a disconnect from my cousins…
as if I really wasn’t related and therefore I was always an outsider,
not really related.

We all shared the same last name,
but at some point prior, I actually had had a different last name.
Different family traits, different everything.

Of course today my grown mind knows better and that such a thought never crossed
the minds of my cousins. Simply put, I was just the little cousin…
Yet in my mind I always felt separate from what made the family just that,
a blood bonded family.

As time passed all the cousins went their own separate directions…to school,
careers, marrying and forging lives of their own.
All except for the two youngest boys.

The youngest cousin there on the floor was only 3 years older than me.
We were very close growing up, as our ages dictated that we were the two
relegated to spend the most time together.

We were the best of friends, growing very close over the years as we each dealt
with our own varying family dysfunctions, that was until he was tragically killed
in a car wreck at the age of 23 while at age 20, I was left to pick up our pieces.

My little brother, the youngest of all the cousins would eventually commit suicide
as he could never reconcile himself to having been “given up” and then in
turn adopted…despite the fact that he was always loved and cherished within
this family.

There would always be the occasional wedding or funeral that would bring everyone
back together….
but time, age and distance had placed a divide in the family,
creating a group of strangers rather than bonded relatives.

My family of 4 eventually became a family of 3, then it was down to 2 and
this past March, it became only a family of 1.

Their family of 6 eventually became 5, resting now at an original 4.

But as theirs was the greater in number, it only made sense that their family’s
numbers would grow exponentially…
blossoming to the current total of 31 while mine is up to 4 with a
5th on the way.

But oddly and blessedly enough, time would be kind as it always has a way
of coming around full circle.
It has allowed for the bridging of the chasm of both age and distance…
in turn rendering all of the divides no longer relevant….delightfully
null and void.

Each cousin has lived through, as well as survived, their own life’s tumults…
And the realization and acknowledgement of such has provided a bonding effect.

Those two cousins who sat on either side of me all those many years ago,
along now with their spouses, swooped in to take my small brood of
a family under their care when it was most needed.
And when things became really difficult, they merely intensified their care.
And that care continues as I continue putting the pieces of loss back together again.

No longer was I just the little annoying cousin but I had become more
like the younger sister…
a sister who they each knew would need their love and support.

Family, as we most all know, is a complicated affair.
Never perfect, never what we hold in our minds.
However we are blessed when we realize that our adversities can actually provide
a unifying factor.

Despite having known these people my entire life, I don’t think
we actually got to truly know one another until we became adults.
And since neither of them read this blog I don’t think they’d mind
me telling you how very lucky I consider myself having been “stuck” in the
middle on that couch so very long ago…

Family, for good or bad, we usually all have one….
and how so appreciative I am that this adopted child was blessed by one
with such a tenacious zeal.


(both of my cousins with their mother, my aunt, my now 92 year old aunt,
almost 3.5 years ago in Savannah at my son’s wedding / Julie Cook / 2014)

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their
own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8

the sippy spoons

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in
and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep,
leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can.
Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better
hour because it is dead.
Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones,
while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”

Beryl Markham


(my grandmother’s silver sippy spoons / Julie Cook /2017)

Our trip to West Palm Beach was long, short, sad and wrenching.
653 miles spent driving down on a Friday…
only to then turn around and drive it all back again on a Monday.

It took about 10 hours, with only one quick stop for gas.
Coupled by a constant flow of bumper to bumper traffic hurling itself,
as if lemmings on some odd unknown mission, to an unforeseen southward destination.

We drove and we drove to what seemed to be the ends of the earth…
but that would have been Key West and that would have required more time with
more stops than our backsides would allow.

The color of the sky changes when one is traveling so far south—
It goes from the more familiar north Georgia’s typical hazy blue sky,
to a faint veiled gauzy cloudy azure blue…
Maybe it’s because the land lays so flat, punctuated only by pencil thin palms
as the soil is more white sand than dirt…
and with the sun so intense, light easily reflects back upon itself.

The heat of day does not dissipate with the waning of a day as it does at home.
It doesn’t back off when the sun finally sets, providing that long awaited
respite of comfort.
There is actually a tremendous heaviness that engulfs one’s whole being…
this being due to the overtly high humidity which makes breathing nearly
impossible.
And I thought our humidity was bad.

Moving from air conditioned buildings, which is essential to survival,
out to the oppressive heat and unrelenting sun leaves glasses fogged over
and skin and clothing feeling sticky and oddly wet even before one has had
proper chance to sufficiently break a true sweat.

This is the place Martha called home for the past 30 years.
A far cry from the years spent in Alexandria, Virginia during the early years of
her marriage.

I now understood why…for despite the apparently tropical beauty,
Martha would always protest…
“no no, let me just come up there”…
And because of that one fact, of her always wanting to come to us as she
would always prefer to venture north,
this was our first visit to West Palm Beach.

Martha would drive or fly up several times during the
year, staying for a couple of weeks at a time,
back to state she still considered home…
or more specifically near the city of her birth and raising….
Atlanta.

I can’t really say all that I should or would like to at this point
about all of this…not yet.
Having lost three of the most important people in my life in the past six months
has simply taken its toll…
As processing the emotions, memories and feelings of such emptiness
will take some time.

One by one… the supports and shorings are now gone…
Those that helped to hold up the life I had always known…
This is part of the transition where I become the shoring to others…
a transition that denotes change, loss, growth and new…
all rolled uncomfortably into one.

My cousin, Martha’s adopted daughter,
had asked that I come to the house the day following the funeral
to see what if anything I would like to carry back home with me.

Martha was an avid antique collector…
and her collections were eclectic at best…
old antique Papier-mâché halloween decorations with a proclivity for pumpkins.
North Carolina’s famous family of folk art pottery, the Meader’s ugly jugs,
along with the primitive pottery of Georgia’s Marie Rogers.
The Ohio Longaberger baskets numbering in the hundreds…
to early vintage RCA radio dogs..
all the way down to antique turkeys of every size and shape.

I was really overwhelmed when we walked into the house and actually saw
the level to which some of the “collecting” had spiraled.
Her house not equipped for the excessive spillover.

My cousin immediately asked if I would like Martha’s sterling silver
flatware set.

Once was a time, long long ago, when every young bride
looked to building her proper entertaining set of silverware.
Receiving the coveted wedding gifts of silver pieces was as common
as the throwing of rice…
That being a particular pattern of sterling silver complete with
utensils and serving pieces.
Everything from teaspoons to seafood forks to butter knives….
As that now all seems to be for a time that was more civilized than
our own today.

But already having my mother’s and great aunt’s sets…and truth be told,
as my world shrinks, entertaining and cooking is now not nearly what it once was,
I tried to instill the importance of her keeping the monogramed set for both her
and her own daughter.

But when she opened the dusty old silver chest, my eyes locked immediately on the
well tarnished bundle of silver drink spoons / straws…
or what we had always referred to as sippy straws or spoons, depending on who
was using them.

While growing up, whenever we visited my grandmother,
we were always served a tall glass of icy cold
Coca Cola complete with a silver sippy straw.

Coke never tasted so good as when sipped through an elegant silver straw.
It provided a seemingly civilized air of savoring verses gulping and quaffing.
Probably Mimi’s way of getting us to slow down, enjoying and not wasting…
as she was a woman who lived during a time when waste was indeed considered sinful.

The straws were always kept in a certain drawer in my grandmother’s kitchen…
inside the 1920s small Atlanta Buckhead home.
A pale wooden light green kitchen cabinet, I can still see clearly in my mind’s eye,
was where the straws, always shiny and polished to perfection, were stored.

In 1989, when my grandmother passed away, Martha and I were the only two left to
the task of sorting and emptying the house for market.
She got the straws.
I had always wanted just one…
just one to remember.

Over the years I’d see other straws at various antique markets and silver stores,
always thinking I’d buy myself just one,
but in the end deciding it just wouldn’t be the same…

It wouldn’t be one of the straws I’d gleefully
retrieve out of the pale green drawer, delightfully anticipating plunging
it into my frosty glass of brown fizzy liquid…
as I’d gently clench the straw between my front teeth,
feeling the cold drawn liquid being pulled up into a parched waiting mouth…
So refreshing because Mimi’s house, back in those days, was not air conditioned…
an icy cold Coke, on a hot Georgia summer’s afternoon,
seemed like the greatest treat a child could have been given…

I asked my cousin if I could have the straws.

She was 10 years younger than I was and did not have the same fond memories
from time spent with our grandmother.
Being so much younger and living so far away, never afforded her much time to
bond with the long widowed woman with the poodles there in Atlanta as I had.

I had been the only grandchild for many years and we only lived 10 minutes away.
Plus Mimi was not a warm and fuzzy grandmother like others and what warmness
there was, faded with her mind as the dementia grew more and more.

My grandmother had lived a hard life.
A life that she had forged alone for herself and her two daughters during
a depression and a World War as a widowed woman…
long before it was common for women to own a business and work outside of
the home.
Both of which she did very successfully for most of her adult life.

My cousin was more than happy to give me the straws and seemed almost
sad that I really didn’t want to take much more as her task is now daunting
as she figures out what to do with years of accumulated treasured stuff.

This as I still have my own years of stuff to sort through at Dad’s.
As both cousins are now left to the task of picking through,
as well as picking up, the pieces—
all of what stays and all of what goes.

My cousin tells me that she wants to sell the house, eventually moving northward
where there are actually seasons, hills and trees…
verses living where the sky meets the ocean coupled by the
oppressive heat, humidity, and an azure blue sky….

I think I’ll polish my straws and then do something I haven’t done in years…
I’ll pour myself a Coke, a real Coke…bottle only mind you,
over a tall glass of ice…and I’ll plunge a straw deep down into the glass of
cold fizzy liquid as I draw up the memories of lives once known but always loved.

purpose

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive,
but in finding something to live for.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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( a jar of Pickles from Pickles with a Purpose)

I suppose a jar of pickles and Christmas seem to have nothing much in common…
But as you may know, those of us predisposed to all things Southern, love a good pickle.
As we love the sheer notion of pickling.

We pickle everything from cucumbers to okra to quail eggs, to pigs feet.
And mind you whereas I prefer all things of the cucumber variety, I have been known to
venture out on a limb by trying a pickled green bean as well as an okra,
I simply draw the line however with the eggs and pig’s feet.

I live in a small Georgia town, a growing town, but considered small
none-the-less by the larger city dwellers…
And I should know having grown up in the big city…
we are indeed small, despite having a super Kroger and a Super Wal-Mart.

I don’t like super…super is too big, too generic, too impersonal.

I do like my small town as opposed to the big city.

Whereas the big city has more to offer such as great places to eat,
unique places to shop, and abundant things to do….
the small town is more homey.
And I like the feel of homey.

I was at the pharmacist’s the other day getting a prescription filled.
I like my pharmacy.
It is owned and operated by a local gal whose husband I once worked with at the high school.
I remember when they got married.
They now have boys in junior high.
Time flies in small towns.

Her dad works the counter, while she works at filling the bottles.
It’s nice as in it’s homey, as they know me by name.
They know my husband and they know my son and daughter-n-law.
They order things I need.

So the other day as I was waiting for my perscribtion to be filled, I wandered about
looking at the items she has in for Christmas.

Sitting amongst the ornaments and specialty soaps sat a jar of pickles.
Curious I picked up the jar.
The label simply read Pickles with a Purpose.
The side label gave a listing of ingredients and the fact that they came
from Marietta, Georgia…once a small town of its own,
but Marietta is now a part of the mega growing Cobb County, the
soon to be new home of the Atlanta Braves.
How an Atlanta baseball team can still be known as just that, Atlanta’s baseball team,
when moving out from Atlanta to a neighboring county still has me confused…
but that is not my worry, not today.

There was also a website listed on the back label of the pickles.
A website where one could learn more about the story behind the pickles.

I did however notice a small card propped up by the pickle jars…
so I pulled it out hoping to read a little further into the story.

It seems the idea of the pickles came from a 9 year old boy named Luke
from Marietta, Georgia who felt God wants him to help raise money for an older man
he knows who happens to be homeless.

The young man’s grandmother graciously offered her secret pickle recipe as a means
of having a product to sell in hopes of raising enough money to buy Luke’s
homeless friend a home.
The homeless friend, named Tim, is a middle aged black man whom Luke
had met while helping his mom at a business she manages…

At that point, with tears in my eye and my prescription being ready,
I grabbed up 4 jars… all I could carry, as made my way to the counter to pay.
I was told that the pickles were really great so I went back and grabbed the last jar.

It wasn’t the fact that the pickles were supposedly really good…
It wasn’t because I like pickles…
but rather it was the story behind the pickles that actually inspired me…
as I normally wouldn’t buy jars of pickles to give as Christmas gifts.

Later at home I got on the computer and looked up Pickles with a Purpose and found the
following You Tube video of the young man Luke sharing his plan of raising the money
to buy his friend Tim a home…

I hope Luke’s story will inspire as well bless you as much as it blessed me…
As Luke’s pickle story is really just another reminder of what Christmas is really all about…

I’ll be going back to pick up some more jars of pickles…
Small towns are nice that way….

The magnolia tree

“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone.
Hermann Hesse

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(magnolia bloom / Julie Cook / 2015)

Growing up, we all have a measuring stick.
A benchmark of growth.
A point of reference for progress.
A door frame, a yard stick, a section of wall ripe with the marks of hoped for and greatly anticipated advancement.

Even when I was still in the classroom, my kids marked their various heights along the doorframe of the classroom’s door.
Who was taller this year verses the heights from year’s past.
Ever onward and upward. . .

Today was not easy.
Another trying day.
Sweet Dad.
Yet Gloria is struggling.
Transition and growth, that was once exciting, is now painfully dreaded.

Funny how we are always in such a hurry to “grow up”
yet suddenly one day we wake up,
wanting nothing more to do with it, preferring simply to stop it all–
Racing frantically backwards to the blissful days of youthful abandon.
When nothing hurt, nothing mattered and everything worked as life was nothing but good.
Where did the time go. . .

Looking out the window from the sunporch, I noticed a lone bloom on the massive magnolia out back.
I know this massively tall tree.
I remember when 50 feet was just a tiny sapling.

I excuse myself to go out back to take a picture.

When do those things which once seemed so expansive and endless
become small and constrained?
Standing in the backyard, my presence fills the space that once seemed so vast.
Vegetation has moved closer to the house.
The monkey grass use to be further back. . .
I don’t remember that carpet of ivy. . .
Where did the pine straw islands disappear to?
And the magnolia tree. . .

For whatever reason, my grandmother who I had spent the weekend with, decided to bring
me back to mom with a magnolia sapling in tow.
The sapling was tiny and leggy.
At 7, I towered over the plant.
“And this was to become a tree,” I mused,
Not impressed I “humphed” away rather uninterested.

The tree now towers over the landscape.
It’s out of place.
Not harmonious with everything else in the yard or surrounding yards.
It dwarfs everything around it.
It’s far out lived both my grandmother and mother.
At this rate it might just outlive me.

I marked my life by this tree.
We played backyard football around this once tender plant,
Making certain we didn’t hit it with the ball.
It was a reference point or boundary during many a childhood game.
“Don’t go past the magnolia tree”. . .
“The base is the magnolia tree”. . .

It was mother’s tree.
A gift from one mother to another mother
As oddly I now seem to be a distant guardian.

So on this most difficult of days
Finding the lone bloom beckoning me out,
Out to the yard, to a place I’d not simply wandered through in years,
As it’s really no longer my space to wander. . .
I felt a deep sense of comfort.
As perhaps both Mimi and Mom were somehow still standing there,
Wondering where in the heck to plant a tiny little sapling in a vast backyard. . .
Which in turn would greet me these 50 years later in a now seemingly small backyard
With the gift of welcomed comfort from a single lone bloom.

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