cynthyb


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Cracks in the Sidewalk

View of home

Blog Post #40

My husband, Brad, and I moved back home eight years ago to help care for my 93-year-old father. He lives in the house our family moved into in 1962, when I was eight. My father is the last original homeowner on the street. Even before our family moved into this house so many years ago, we visited it on a regular basis. Each weekend we’d drive out and look at the stepped lots of dirt, where little flags identified each leveled-off lot. We knew which lot was ours in that vast, arid sea of flattened earth.

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Orange groves once covered the parcel of land where our house now stands

I admit that I didn’t particularly enjoy those trips to the house that wasn’t there yet. It was about as exciting as asphalt – a giant wasteland. Then, on one visit, a slab of cement appeared. My siblings and I explored the foundation until that grew old—let’s see, that took about two minutes. Later, the Palos Verdes stone (complete with real, built-in fossils) that would become the fireplace appeared on the slab, then a wooden framework, walls, roof, and so on. Finally—FINALLY,—the house was finished! We sat on the floor of an empty bedroom and ate bologna sandwiches while waiting for the moving van to arrive. I remember the excitement and anticipation of being in that big, empty house! Something good was happening to our family—I could feel it in my bones.

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The new house two years after we moved in

We moved in on the tenth of November, mid-semester. It’s no surprise that our mother registered us for school right away–almost before she tucked us in that first night. 

Claremont view from living room window Craig bike 1964

Riding bikes in the neighborhood

The first or second weekend, my sister Karen and I got on our bikes to explore. Our explorations took us repeatedly by the model home around the corner. Eager realtors stood by card tables laden with floor plans in the open garage of one model. We knew they had small tokens for the children of prospective buyers, so each time we “happened by” on our bikes, we picked up another novelty eraser for our swiftly growing collection.

B&W Eraser

These were the kind of erasers with generic pictures (the Smurfs weren’t introduced for another two decades) 

Everything was new, then. New, meaning undeveloped. Tumbleweeds and mini-whirlwinds blew through the dusty neighborhood, while lizards scampered about the flattened dirt that was our backyard. My sister Karen and I pretended we were orphans of the Shirley Temple movies variety, lost and alone in a veritable desert. When playtime was over, we carpeting our mother’s pristine floors  with dirt accumulated on our filthy little “orphan” bodies.

The neighbors were also new. We got to know all the families on our block by name. Mrs. Chung across the street had an older daughter who was an opera singer. Her vocal scales blew into our house each morning with amazing clarity —and punctuality. (They moved away not many years later.) The family next door had three children, and would have two more before moving away. The oldest was my age, a son, which automatically disqualified him as a playmate. (I don’t think he sought my particular association either.) Besides being overcome with bashfulness around most boys, I was getting older, and what I really needed, and wanted, was a girl to play with—someone my age to be my best friend.

Cynthy in front of house on Maryhurst 1964

I’m standing on the sidewalk in front of our house. The Chung’s house is in the background. (1964)

Up the street, a family moved in shortly after we did. They had kids, too—four of them at the time, and one who would follow later. The oldest was a girl. I knew she was my age because she was in my grade at school, but not in my class. I watched her curiously as we walked to school—keeping just enough distance between us to avoid having to talk to her. I kept the same unfriendly I-wonder-if-you-have-cooties distance while playing outside. I wanted to make friends, but shyness created an insurmountable obstacle. The Great Wall of China could not have been more effective. I watched the girl ride her bike up and down our street. She made a point to ride in front of my house over and over again. Finally, one day, after a week or two of watching her with the scrutinizing eagle eye of a private detective, that toe-headed girl with the pixie cut pulled up on her bike and stopped at the curb in front of our house. Looking at me with not so veiled disapproval, she bluntly asked something like, “Well, are you ever going to talk to me?” Shy or not, I wasn’t going to miss this chance of making friends. Fortunately, Sheryl turned a blind eye to my backward nature, becoming my best friend – for life. Some fifty-odd years later, she is still my best friend. (If it had been left to me, I suppose I’d probably still be watching her from behind a bush.)

Sheryl Koncsol in front of house at 1034 Maryhurst in 1964

Sheryl standing in front of our house (1964)

The neighborhood was full of kids back then, and we owned it. We rode bikes, but mostly we walked—everywhere. We knew every crack in the sidewalk between our houses and school. “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back. Step on a line, break your mother’s spine” we’d repeat as we carefully navigated the cracks and lines wherever we went, while simultaneously stomping on every dry leaf we encountered just to hear it crunch like a potato chip.

Claremont sidewalk crack

Sometimes, we’d take the back path through the undeveloped field behind our tract of homes to and from school. One day, along the path, we met a handsome fellow—a large *desert tortoise. Wanting to take the heavy tortoise home, we weighed our schoolbooks and the tortoise in the balance. Attesting to our strong responsible natures, and our not so strong arms, we opted to, first, run our books home, then return for the tortoise. Responsible? Yes. Practical? No. Not toward our purpose. (This was during the pre-backpack era when girls juggled loose school books in–or mostly out of–their arms.) If we had thought it through more carefully, we might have concluded that, had we left them, no one would have wanted our school books, but the tortoise was another story. At any rate, when we returned, the tortoise was gone, and we bemoaned our loss.

(*This predated the time when laws were enacted prohibiting desert tortoises as pets. As I think of it, that tortoise probably was an escaped pet, which may have been retrieved by its owner.)

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Desert Tortoise like the one we found on the path home from  school. Isn’t he (she?) cute?

There was a nice little flower shop a couple blocks from home. They had a large greeting card display in the shape of a Snoopy doghouse from the Peanuts comic strip. I was a huge Peanuts fan and wanted that doghouse in the worst way. I asked Mrs. Mayer (in those days we even knew the names of the business owners in our neighborhood) if I could have the doghouse when she was done with it. I wrote my name and phone number down on a scrap of paper, and waited for her call. When I’d almost given up hope, my mother informed me that Mrs. Mayer had indeed phoned! If I would pick it up, the doghouse was mine! I called Sheryl, and off we went—on foot, of course. (Ours was a one-car family until my later teens. My father made a long commute to L.A. each day, or I’m sure my mother would have been glad to drive me to the flower shop and help me haul that doghouse home. What mother wouldn’t be thrilled and anxious to have such a monstrosity in her house?) I developed a very valuable motto about that time: “I’ll make it in one trip.”  (This motto is still in effect today. Be it a giant stack of text books (the densest, heaviest books in existence), bags of groceries, camping gear, or the kitchen sink, I can pretty much figure out how to haul everything in one trip at great inconvenience and possible harm to myself.)

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Peanuts Comic Books: I read them all

The Snoopy doghouse, when assembled was a good five or six feet tall, counting the cardboard Snoopy sitting atop the roof. Made of heavy-duty corrugated cardboard, the doghouse had several levels of narrow display shelves that formed the roof on both sides. (These had once served to display Peanuts greeting cards, books, and stationery.) The base of the house was about the shape and size of a big, empty washing machine box. Had I cut the door out, I could have curled up and slept inside. (Snoopy didn’t sleep inside his house, and neither did I.)

 

Cynthy Doghouse

Yours truly (and our dog, whose name was not Snoopy) in front of the doghouse. (1970)

Sheryl was such a good sport. Somehow, and with a great deal of difficulty, we carried that doghouse (which was disassembled into large awkward pieces) home. One might think cardboard would be lightweight, but it was actually pretty heavy for two young girls of about ten years of age. After struggling to get it home, we worked out the puzzle of how to put it together with the intensity of Einstein working out Relativity. It took up the former location of a large four-story homemade dollhouse–a conglomeration of boxes, carpet scraps, and homemade décor. Out with the old, and in with the new! I couldn’t have been prouder of my new acquisition. I used the narrow shelves to display framed pictures, artwork, books, greeting cards I’d received, knickknacks and other odds and ends. It was my pride and joy. (Included in the display, was a framed letter written on official Peanuts letterhead to me from Charles M. Schulz himself, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, which he sent in response to a letter I had written him.)

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The letter I received from Charles Schulz was on stationery just like this. (Currently in storage)

In those days, when the homes in the area were still fairly new, if company came to dinner, there was always the grand tour of the house that followed the meal. Not surprisingly, people did a double-take when they saw the giant doghouse in my room—a room which otherwise stockpiled a hodgepodge of hand-me-down, non-matching, outcast furniture. One guest, with stunned admiration (or was it incredulity?) remarked, “Now, this room has character!” At the time, I was certain I had been paid a great compliment, but on hindsight, I suspect that either I was “the great character,” or that it was a polite way of commenting on the odd conglomeration that was my room.

So attached to that doghouse was I, that it followed me into matrimony, providing the duel purpose of a playhouse and a shelf for our children. Once our children were old enough to enjoy the playhouse aspect of it, I finally succumbed to cutting the door out so they could crawl inside. At last, we faced a move in which we would have to store most of our household until we could settle in our own place, which would possibly take months. My husband thought it might be time to rid ourselves of the giant doghouse, which was beginning to show some wear and tear and the effects of age. I protested at first, however after much reasoning, was convinced that the doghouse would have to go (but not with us). Nostalgically brokenhearted, I gave it to a family with young children in our neighborhood, and girl and dog (house) parted forever. It was the last formidable vestige of my childhood still holding a visible presence in our home, and I felt its absence keenly.

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A bucket of lard

Occasionally, Sheryl and I resorted to baking for entertainment (with a bonus–a sweet treat). Absurd as it was, one time we chose to make lard lemon cookies. Why these tempted us, I’m not sure. Just the mention of lard is disgusting to me, but paired with cookies it’s over-the-top revolting. Maybe that day we were missing an ingredient for other, more enticing cookies–namely chocolate. Or maybe ignorance played a part. I don’t think I really knew what lard was until Sheryl pulled out the carton that held it. The interesting thing about this recipe was it required said bakers to mix the lard with their hands! Pulling up our shirtsleeves, we dove in, grimacing and exclaiming “eew!” and “yuck!” It was a nasty business, but we persevered, giggling as we smooshed about in the greasy mixture. I can’t remember if the cookies tasted good, of if they provided the anticipated boon to our efforts. I can’t even remember if I ate any. Did anyone eat them? Needless to say, we only made them once, sticking strictly to Toll House cookies, Five-Minute Fudge, or  molasses cookies (Sheryl’s mother’s amazingly declicious recipe) after that.  

LArd Cookies

Lard lemon cookies similar to those Sheryl and I made

Speaking of Sheryl’s mother, it might be of interest to note that she was an immaculate housekeeper, and her children learned at a young age how to keep a tidy house. When I had a sleepover at Sheryl’s, I followed her around in the morning while she vacuumed, dusted, and completed various other chores before we could eat our breakfast of Wheaties. Looking back, a better friend would have offered to help with the chores, which, I’m ashamed to admit, I don’t recall doing.

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One day, Sheryl was at our house, playing with me in my room. There was a large black scuffmark on the wall that only someone with Sheryl’s keen eyes for cleanliness would notice (mine were blind to dirt in those days). She suggested we clean the scuff off the wall, and, it went without saying that in doing so, we would please my mother immensely. I produced cleanser and sponges from the bathroom and we proceeded to do a number on the wall removing the scuffmark in its entirety—as well as the paint. When my mother came in and saw what we had done…well, let’s just say, she wasn’t exactly “tickled pink.” She turned more a shade of red.

Sheryl and I were inseparable during most of our growing up years. People knew our names, but often didn’t know which of us was which, even though Sheryl had straight, light blonde hair and blue eyes, and I had curly, (okay, frizzy) dark hair, and dark eyes. To the untrained eye, we attached at the hip.

Sheryl owned two beautiful, silky Japanese kimono-looking pantsuits. Our mothers had given permission for us to go, by ourselves, to the Alpha Beta shopping center (within walking distance of home) to eat an early dinner at a quaint little restaurant located there. Sheryl was going to wear her Japanese outfit. I was envious, and she knew it. I didn’t have anything that even came close to those uncommonly pretty clothes, so Sheryl, being the generous and thoughtful friend she was, offered to let me wear her other Japanese outfit. Off we went, bedecked in those delicately flowered outfits, to Little Pigs of America (I kid you not, that was the name of the restaurant). I felt positively exotic as we walked into Little Pigs to eat. In we pranced wearing our silky pajamas (in retrospect, I wonder if that’s what they really were, glorified PJs), and feeling very glamorous in an outlandish sort of way. I’m sure we turned heads, (and drew snickers) a toe-head and a dark Italian in Japanese costume. We must have been a sight!

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The Girl Scout Cabin “La Casita”

Sheryl and I joined Brownies, advancing into Girl Scouts together, and shared all the joys (ice skating lessons, hikes, campouts, and camaraderie) and trials of scouting (selling calendars and cookies door to door. Let me add, it was a different time. No one ever set up camp in front of a grocery store in those days. Parents never took cookies to work to sell. It was door-to-door or bust). When we went to the local Girl Scout cabin “La Casita” in the foothills near home, pairs of girls were assigned (or chose) various chores that had to be done before the day’s regular activities began. I’m not sure why, but we opted (yes, we chose) to clean the outhouse! (Were we nuts? Maybe. Or maybe it was Sheryl’s propensity towards cleanliness, and the repulsive stench of the outhouse that spurred us on to such undervalued benevolence. At any rate, we took it on and magnified our job description.)  We not only swept it out, we scrubbed it as best we could, and gathered pine boughs and flowers to try to sweeten the air (without succeeding). We felt we had done our duty and a good turn, however I’m not sure it was noticed, let alone appreciated, by anyone but ourselves.

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The outhouse was down the hill to the left in those days. (I wouldn’t be surprised if they use regular bathrooms now.)

After the campfire at night, Sheryl and I spread out our sleeping gear next to each other on the wooden cabin floor. My family never went camping. I didn’t have a clue what an air mattress was. Many of the other girls not only knew, but were privileged to have one. I looked at their soft, billowing sleeping arrangements with a sigh. Surrounded by luxury, I knew I’d be roughing it. I had received a Girl Scout sleeping bag for Christmas. It was like sleeping on a chilled paper towel, having no padding or insulation to speak of, yet having considerable bulk when trying to roll it up tightly again. (After rolling my bag, it always looked as if I had, first, wadded it up, then tried desperately to tie up an explosion that had occurred somewhere in its depths.) I looked on enviously as other girls nonchalantly stuffed their bags into nice little tote sacks. I lied awake in a state of misery most of the night. I was freezing, sore, and needed to use the bathroom in the worst way, but couldn’t bear the idea of traipsing down the hill to the outhouse by myself in the dark (even with the anticipation of the fresh scent of pine needles to greet me). I held it in ‘till morning, then, shivering, made a mad dash for the latrine when the first scouts began to stir at daylight.

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Breakfast was its own trial since I was a picky eater. My mother never made oatmeal. I’m not sure why, but, when growing up, we never had hot cereal or casseroles (both typical Girl Scout fare). I was crestfallen when I heard breakfast was oatmeal, not pancakes. I sat there staring at the lumpy white goop while hungry scouts all around me gobbled theirs up. The rule was you had to eat two big Girl Scout bites before you could leave the table. After tasting just a tiny bit of the bland and sticky stuff, I was pretty sure a 21st Century Girl Scout would find me dead on the bench decades later. Sheryl encouraged me along, as did the other girls around me, urging me to put sugar and milk on it—promising it would help. I loaded the sugar on and choked down my two big Girl Scout nibbles, then got out of there as fast as possible.

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I’ve acquired a taste for oatmeal since those long ago days. I especially love it with cinnamon apples, nuts, brown sugar, and raisins. Yum.

When we were about twelve, the big day arrived when our mothers consented to let us ride the bus alone to an outdoor mall about five miles away. We put on our best dresses and boarded the bus. (In those days, going to the mall was an event worthy of dressing up. I think it’s rather a shame that practice of dressing up for special outings has been mostly lost.) We were sure we had reached a certain level of maturity when Sheryl’s mother decided to send money to treat us to lunch in a department store restaurant. Before lunch, we shopped, or more appropriately, window-shopped, as we had very little of our own money to spend. We looked at items on the main floor of the department store, checking price tags with cloaked dismay. We made our way to a less expensive part of the store, perhaps located in the basement, thinking we might find something in our price range while still giving the appearance of being two very independent, and if not well-to-do, at least refined young ladies. While I looked with interest at one clothing rack, knowing full well I couldn’t even afford to buy one of the wire hangers the clothing hung on, Sheryl was making her way around another circular clothing rack across the room. Suddenly, she looked up and called out to me in a rather loud voice, “This isn’t the budget department!” I’m not sure if I disappeared into the clothes on the rack in front of me, or if I just pretended I didn’t hear her. At any rate, the ruse was up!  We were what we were, and there was no hiding the fact.

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We rode the little bus shown in the picture (above) up and down the mall on our grown-up excursion

Honestly, this is one of the many things I have always loved about Sheryl—she is as genuine as they come. No pretense. Honest as the day is long, she calls it as she sees it, so you always know exactly where you stand. A true treasure.

We were a twosome. If Sheryl had a dentist appointment, we walked downtown to the dentist office together, then to the library, and to the bakery for a cookie afterward. We created clubs, played the piano, and vied to see who could take the most notes during class. We walked to and from school together, made identical Halloween costumes, and roasted hot dogs in the fireplace when she spent the night. When I wanted to join drill team in high school, Sheryl was right there trying out with me. We shared all the monumental events girls go through. Our families shared holidays and outings. Our mothers were best friends. Our brothers were best friends. And my sister Karen was welcomed into the circle of our friendship, as well. We laughed and cried together. And we even had our spats, but they never lasted long.

Halloween 1960s

Halloween: Sheryl and I were majorettes. I’m the one in the tall hat with the curly dark hair, and Sheryl, is my blonde twin. My sister Karen is Peter Pan.(I’m guessing 1965)

Then the dreadful day came when Sheryl’s parents announced they were moving—and not just across town, but all the way to Ohio! I was devastated. We did our share of bawling, and making promises to be true to the end. Before Sheryl’s departure after our sophomore year of high school, my sister and I hosted a going away party for her. It was a bittersweet event. We pledged to write letters (the old-fashioned kind), and we kept our pledge faithfully for a long, long time.

Sheryl's going away party 1970 Linda Guay, Cynthy and Sheryl

At Sheryl’s going away party (1970)

We didn’t have cell phones, and with expensive long distance rates, calling was not an option except on rare occasions, such as a birthday, and soon fell out of practice. When high school graduation time rolled around, Sheryl flew out to celebrate with me. That was our last hurrah together.

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Celebrating high school graduation (1972)

We didn’t see each other in person again for close to thirty years, and that was only for an hour at the airport when I was passing through.

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A quick visit at the airport

Letters became sporadic throughout those years. Life was busy with work, family, moves, and other normal occurrences that drive people apart, but we never gave up on our friendship. As we approached our fiftieth birthdays, we determined it had just been too long, so Sheryl flew back to Southern California from her home in Texas, and I returned from Colorado at the same time. We both stayed with my father at my childhood home (the same home I live in at this time), tracing our steps from the past. We walked three houses up the street to Sheryl’s house and knocked on the door. The current owners were gracious, inviting us inside, and giving us a tour of the house as it then stood. They even magically pulled from a brown paper bag the original kitchen cabinet and drawer hardware that looked like bunches of grapes, sending the bag of metal treasures from the past home with Sheryl.

Sheryl in front of house on Maryhurst

Sheryl in front of her former home

As is the case with faithful souls, we picked up exactly where we left off years earlier, laughing and having a great time. Time sped by and we soon regretted how little time we had allowed for this visit together. (Sheryl confessed she didn’t know how it would be, and didn’t want to be [stuck] with me for more than a weekend if “things” didn’t go well. She didn’t use the word “stuck,” but she would have been had she stayed longer and things hadn’t gone well. Fortunately, we parted wishing for more time, instead of holding to the sentiment my mother-in-law used to profess: “Company is like fish; after three days it stinketh.” It was time to bid each other farewell again and just as when we were children, it was hard to do.

Cynthy & Sheryl in the Koncsol's old backyard on Maryhurst 7-04

Sheryl and me, the last time we were together

This farewell was so like our sixth grade graduation from elementary school. On the last day of school each spring, the 6th graders filed through the younger grades, all of whom were lined up by the bike racks, singing “Aloha Oe” ( in English, “Farewell to Thee”). We knew that when our time came, we’d face this emotional event. Even when singing among the younger grades each year, we felt the weight of this melancholy, and life-changing rite of passage. Usually, we walked to school, but on our last day of sixth grade, we rode our bikes. We walked numbly and with a lump in our throats through the singing students, boarded our bikes, and bawled all the way home.  We knew an important era of our lives had come to a close.

“Farewell to thee,
Farewell to thee,
Thou charming one who dwellst among the bow’rs.
One fond embrace,
Before I now depart,
Until we meet again.”

(“Aloha Oe,” as we sang it to the 6th graders)

Bike racks

This is a recent picture of the school bike racks. When I was a kid, the bike rack area was smaller, and either there was no fence, or it was chain link. The 6th graders processed down the center  through the opening, and the younger grades sang the mournful tune on either side.

At fifty, we bade each other farewell again. Time and circumstance have kept us apart to this day, but fortunately, although we couldn’t foresee it then, we lived to the ripe old age of cell phones and Skype (which we’ve yet to use). We communicate more frequently now, calling at least on birthdays, but at other times, too, and we write emails as well as the old-fashioned, hand-written, snail mail letters.

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Our house in the 1970s.

Now, in my sixties and back at home, I walk on almost a daily basis the same places Sheryl and I walked as children, but most of the time, I walk for my health and diversion instead of to get where I need to go. The neighborhood has aged, but many things remain the same. Instead of tender young shoots, the trees are giants, providing shade and beauty. The homes still stand, some having undergone face-lifts, others falling into various stages of age or transformation. Yards no longer sport dichondra, and even grass is becoming scarce, as a long-term drought takes its toll and people move toward drought-resistant landscaping. The sidewalks are uneven and weathered.  The cracks are still there, and greet me like old, worn-out and worn-in friends. Those cracks in the sidewalk prompted this post. I walk past Sheryl’s house every time I’m out, and remember…remember….

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My younger brother Craig in front of our house.  (About 1970)

I believe memory is a gift from God. All time is present before God. We can experience a little of that miracle through memory. The past is present before my face; time is naught, and I can relive so many of those special moments so dear to my heart as often as I like, and “be with” friends gone from my sight, living far away, whom I treasure–like Sheryl.

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“It is one of the blessings of old friends

that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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From quiet homes and first beginning

Out to the undiscovered ends,

There’s nothing worth the wear of winning

But laughter and the love of friends.

~ Hilairee Belloc

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“No distance of place, or lapse of time can lessen the friendship

of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other’s worth.”

~ Robert Southey

 

“But if the while I think of thee, dear friend,

all losses are restored and sorrows end.”

~ Shakespeare

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“Let the soul be assured that somewhere in the universe it should rejoin its friend, and it would be content and cheerful alone for a thousand years.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

End Piece

© May 28, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.

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7 Comments

Nearly Perfect

Blog Post # 21


Ether 12:27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.


    A woman approached a bouquet of silk flowers, investigating it closely. She zeroed in on the only rose, reaching to touch the petals and whispered, “Is it real?” Judging from the other flowers in the bouquet, I shook my head, and told her I didn’t think it was. Drawing back her finger, she remarked confidently, “It’s fake, but the rose looked real—it isn’t perfect.”
    This silk rose was unlike some—made with small imperfections. Reproductions of nature are sometimes created in perfect symmetry and form: a dead giveaway that the reproduction is a fake since things in the natural world tend to have blemishes and inconsistencies. At first glance, a rose may appear perfect, but even the most perfectly formed rose is, upon closer examination, likely asymmetrical, or may have a spot of brown, or a gimpy petal.

    It is in these little departures from perfection that we see the true beauty of the rose. Each rose, though coming from an abundant proliferation of rose bushes around the globe, bares its own individual distinctions and, if I may, flaws. I wonder if all roses were identical in shape and arrangement—clones of one paragon of perfection—would we find them boring or monotonous? (Well, probably not.) But even “flawed” roses are perfectly beautiful.


    The same is true of other things. When electronic keyboards became popular many years ago, I occasionally had the displeasure of playing one. The older, economical models had the action of a toy piano, and the tone of a toy accordion. Many of the keyboards were only half the size of an eighty-eight key acoustic piano. Try playing Wagner’s Wedding March for a bride on such an instrument (I know–I had to do it once), and you’ll find the results as laughable and embarrassing as if the Olympic Fanfare and Theme were played on Kazoos. 

    Early Electronic Keyboard
    Kazoo

    Recent electronic and digital instruments have improved on those early models. They come with headsets, improved hammer action, full-sized keyboards, and a variety of sound options. But there’s one thing these modern instruments lack—flaws in performance sound and delivery. Digital tones can be beautiful, functional, and astonishingly versatile, but without the small distinctions and inconsistencies in tonal quality created by the vibration of strings and the resonance of a wooden sounding board the sound they create is manufactured and flawlessly, monotonously consistent.  By nature of their design, acoustic instruments have distinctive character that makes their reverberations unique and moving.

    Piano Sounding Board

    When my daughter was purchasing an acoustic piano, we walked together through the warehouse trying out different instruments. Each piano, including those made by the same company, had a distinct sound, action and quality because each piano was made from a different kind of wood, from a different tree, with slight variations in the wound strings, and so on. Each had a unique identity—a unique voice. These inconsistencies created character. Where one had a bright, full sound, another was subdued or thin, another rich.  It was somewhat like choosing a friend to interact with for years to come. It had to be the right fit. 


    Among book lovers, there is a newer debate of preferences between digital books, audio books, or “real” hardbound or softcover books. I was, at first, skeptical about Kindles when they first came out, holding fast to traditional books. Then, a few years ago, while waiting hours for Jury Duty to begin, I noticed one of my fellow jurors reading on a Kindle. I asked her what she thought of it, and her response was positive. She let me hold it, heft it, and look at the appearance of the writing on the screen. “Humph…,”I thought, “It’s OK, I guess.” But I wasn’t sure I could get used to such a thing. There’s something about holding a real book, the weight, the feel, the sensory experience. Flipping pages. Those things aren’t possible on a digital screen.


    My sister, Karen, and I attended several educational conferences together many years ago. Before each conference we packed up boxes of encyclopedias, reference books, and resource materials with which to work while we were there. We lugged those heavy boxes up and down flights of stairs to and from our room each time we went for the sheer joy and anticipation of what was to come! On more than one occasion, we skipped less appealing activities (such as rafting on the Truckee River, or going on a “field trip” into town) in order to pursue more exciting prospects (such as sitting in our room pouring over encyclopedias while writing curriculum for home school)! A notepad or laptop would have made our lives much simpler and less burdensome in those not so long ago days of the late 80s and early 90s.    


    After considering the many conveniences of a notepad, I invested in one a couple of years after seeing the juror’s Kindle. I have since read many books on a digital screen, and am convinced the technology opportune and valuable. There are advantages to the notepad format. Just as a pianist carries an entire orchestra in a portable digital keyboard, the notepad carries an entire library in a very small, lightweight package. (Not to mention the multiple other uses and apps included in its convenient and compact form.)


    However, after having read several books digitally, I’m convinced that there is nothing better than a good, old-fashioned book to soothe the eyes, and to enjoy a more satisfying, sensory experience with reading. 

    Old Books: Flawed on the outside, but what’s inside remains of value

    A digital screen poses the same problem as the silk rose and the digital piano: no apparent flaws. The well-lit, non-glare screen is bright and easy to read even for a passenger riding in a car at night. (Note: I said “for a passenger,” not for a “driver!”) Pages turn smoothly, and have easy bookmarks. It’s possible to make notes and to highlight words and passages. Perfect. Yes?


     No. Not quite.

    A local church leader recently challenged members in our area to reread the scriptures during the following six months on an inexpensive, paperback copy, and to make marginal notes of impressions and inspiration received during the reading. I dutifully bought said scriptures and began reading and making notes. It has always been my practice to make copious notes, and to record impressions and inspiration while reading the scriptures—even when using my laptop or notepad. However, while reading the paperback text, I discovered something unexpected. I was profoundly impressed with the difference in my experience rereading the bound paper book, instead of the digital screen. 

    Isaiah 7: On my Android


    Subtleties of light and shadow falling on the page, the character of the paper, and the appearance and selection of the words may all be incidental to one’s study. But after reading from a monitor or screen for a period of time, I couldn’t help but notice that these physical elements caused certain words to stand out, catching my eye and my attention, and leading to further thought and sometimes to new understanding. The sensorial experience far exceeded any experience I’ve had staring at a flat, brightly lit screen, and helped me to “listen to” the layers of meaning within the written words, to understand and relate them to my own life in a more personal way. The ease of writing notes and impressions in the margins was not only simpler when done by hand, but it was almost as if the personal inspiration I received became one with the physical book of scripture in my behalf.

    Isaiah 7: My scriptures

    All this was not possible to the same degree on a digital screen. Why? Because of the absence of flaws. The irregularities in the printed text, the wrinkling pages, the layout on the page, the play of light all influenced how I saw and felt the words. I didn’t just read, I poured over the words. I studied, I reviewed, I basked, I feasted. My fingers could rest on the paper without accidentally turning the page or inadvertently causing some other kind of action to happen. The feel of the thin paper was a tangible connection to the written word.

    And what of the flaws in people? We all know they exist, and sometimes we aren’t particularly thrilled about those others may have, not to mention our own . Once, when I was bemoaning the behavior of my children, Karen shared an insightful comment. “What if, every single day, every one of our kids got up and came in like perfect little grown-up automatons, sitting on the couch without doing or saying anything out of order. Wouldn’t we be shocked if they acted like that? Would we really want it that way?” 



    As I pondered this, I realized that, though challenging at times, their variety of behaviors—good and bad—were extensions of precious personalities; part and parcel of growth, development and becoming. No, I wouldn’t want little automatons any more than I would want them all in comas. I was happy with the little people I loved sharing everyday life with. Hindsight has shown that those seeming flaws were building blocks to some profoundly important traits and gifts, needing time to channel and mature.


    One day, when my oldest child was only four, we lived in a cute little rural community where we spent most of our free time in the garden, and visiting friends. One day, I took my little ones and walked the several blocks to the home of a close friend. As I approached the door, I accidentally heard through apparently thin walls my dear, laughing, seemingly perfect, never-raised-her-voice-above-a-whisper friend yelling at her children! I stopped in my tracks. I certainly wasn’t going to knock on her door at that telling moment, when it would have been impossible for her not to recognize I had heard through the walls. We backed up into the street, waited a respectable length of time, then returned and knocked on the door, cheerfully gained entrance, and had a wonderful visit. The point is, from that day forth, I felt an extra special bond with this friend. She was like me: flawed. It wasn’t that I didn’t already know that she had imperfections. Who doesn’t have them? It was that I hadn’t witnessed them before. Etiquette, good manners, propriety all summoned imperfect, flawed beings such as my friend and me to be on one’s best behavior when in one another’s company. It wasn’t dishonesty; it was decency, respectfulness, politeness. If those walls hadn’t talked that day, I would have missed perspectives I sorely needed—to know I wasn’t alone in my own flawed life; that other “good” people were also flawed, while striving to be better each day. Flaws don’t make a good person bad; they just make them real, and interesting, and familiar. 


    The scriptures teach us to be perfect. Here are just two examples of this commandment:
    James 1:4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
    Matthew 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
    Flaws are a part of nature, including human nature. We are all flawed, but not hopelessly so. Each soul is on a journey, and walks at a different pace, occupying a different location, along the path. All face obstacles on the path, and must learn to dodge, hop over, climb above, or wade through them. Flaws are among those obstacles and are necessary parts of the journey. Through them, we grow stronger, more humble and teachable, and if we desire it, filled with more faith and hope and trust in God.


    A *wise man once shared the following story:
    When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as “rootless and stemless.” We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is. [W. Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis (New York: Random House, 1974), p. 37]



    How true of us all! Certainly our development not only encounters, but invites flaws and mistakes. When a baby is learning to walk, it falls over and over again. But we wouldn’t say the baby is flawed! We recognize the baby is just young, just learning. We think the baby cute, sweet, and tenacious. We are all like the baby, like the rose. We may sport gray hair and wrinkles, but we are still in process of development and growth. And that’s OK.

    After all, aren’t the rough edges of a rolling stone merely flaws that will wear away in time, producing a refined and polished gem? The flaws, instead of becoming scars, will add depth, interest, and flecks of lasting wisdom and beauty. The very flaws we once despised may become vehicles toward perfecting our natures. 

    Rough Opal
    Polished Opal
    Turquoise: Rough and Polished

    And then, there’s always the rose—in every stage of development…perfectly beautiful, and “perfectly all right as it is.”




    * The wise man who gave the talk entitled “The Authority of Personality, Competence, and Character,” that included this quote, was Marion D. Hanks. The talk can be found at http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1970.

    © November 7, 2014


    6 Comments

    "Waiting"

    Blog Post #13

    “Waiting on the Shore” Norman Rockwell


    1wait
     verb \ˈwāt\
    gerund or present participle: waiting
    : to stay in a place until an expected event happens, until someone arrives, until it is your turn to do something, etc.
    : to not do something until something else happens
    : to remain in a state in which you expect or hope that something will happen soon

    Waiting is difficult. 

    I confess: I’m not very good at it, even though I’ve practiced my whole life.
    Some years back we moved into a new subdivision. While planting strawberries on the slope between our house and the house next door, our neighbor, Chirin (originally from India), saw me and came over to chat. After talking about the strawberries, she shared an observation: “Americans seem to like instant things. In India, we plant seeds and wait for them to grow. Here, people buy mature plants and have instant gardens!” She talked about the pleasure she found in the process of planting, nurturing, and waiting for the seed to bring forth fruit.



    We moved from that neighborhood many years ago, but her observation, like a tiny seed planted in my mind, germinated and grew over time. Chirin was right. We often do look for shortcuts, and we lose something when we don’t wait. Something important.


    When I was a child, my parents bought a home in a new subdivision—the very home I’m now living in fifty years later. My parents loved the quaint little collegiate village they were settling in. It had a small town feel away from the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles. The streets, lined with lofty trees touching leaf and branch across neighborhood streets like old friends shaking hands, remain picturesque and inviting today. The founders of the town planted these trees in the 1890s and early 1900s with the anticipation that they would one day beautify the town they loved so well.  Their efforts are realized in the lush greenery that now canopies the town with shade during hot summer months and that adds character and dignity to the college atmosphere during leafless winters.

    A tree-lined street in my home town


    We made weekly visits to our developing property located in a newer section of town. Orange and lemon groves were removed to make way for housing. At first, the tract was nothing but a stepped sea of grey dirt, level and barren, except for posts and flags marking lots, and an occasional tumble weed bouncing by. Next, cement slabs appeared, followed by a framework of timber. Week by week, we watched as the lot transformed into a skeleton of wood and stone, and then, into a home. There was value in this watching and waiting and anticipating. As our home was developing, so was an important aspect of character: patience.


     pa·tience
    noun   [pey-shuhhttp://static.sfdict.com/dictstatic/dictionary/graphics/luna/thinsp.pnghttp://static.sfdict.com/dictstatic/dictionary/graphics/luna/thinsp.pngns]  
    1.     the quality of being patient, as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.
    2.     an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay: to have patience with a slow learner.
    3.     quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence: to work with patience.

    When we were young, and wanted something, we were encouraged to save for it. We did chores, babysat and saved our allowance in order to, eventually, buy what we wanted. We were planting seeds of patience each time we went through this process. Sometimes, this meant working and saving, and sometimes it meant planning and creating. But we learned that dreams were attainable with work, perseverance and patience.


    The art of “waiting” is perfectly illustrated in a favorite line from the musical The Music Man. Professor Harold Hill smooth-talks Widow Paroo into buying a cornet and band uniform for her son Winthrop. When clinching the deal, he tells her:

    “…there won’t be a penny due till delivery, which gives him four weeks
    to enjoy, to anticipate, to imagine, at no cost whatever….”

    Widow Paroo & Professor Hill


    Professor Hill giving Winthrop
    his long-anticipated cornet

    4 weeks of waiting rewarded!


    When things come instantly, there isn’t time to “enjoy, to anticipate and to imagine”—all invaluable aspects of waiting. Joy in arriving at a destination, or achieving a goal, consists of 80% anticipation. 

    Imagine not having to wait nine months for a baby to arrive. Those nine months are not only a necessary chunk of time for development on the baby’s part, but also for the would-be parents. Planning and preparing take time. But the dreaming about and anticipation while waiting add a measure of joy and excitement that culminates only when the precious package arrives! There is wisdom in God-given waiting.



    Waiting is thrust upon us throughout life: we wait for an infant to learn to walk, to grow a tooth, or to say ‘mama’ or ‘papa’; we wait for a child to ride a bike, to drive a car, and to graduate from high school. We wait for a first date, for a job, and for a paycheck to arrive. We wait for good health when ill, for a dentist appointment to be over, for a letter to arrive in the mail. And as we age, we wait for children and grandchildren to visit, and ultimately, for death to send us home to God and loved ones beyond the veil of life. Life is about waiting. How we wait determines if we are happy or grumpy, prudent or foolish, faithful or inconstant. 



    As with the rest of our town, our street was planted with parkway trees. Unlike the large oaks, elms and eucalyptus trees found in the older section of town, ours were scrawny pepper trees. Returning from the village on many occasions, my sister and I expressed our desire for our pepper trees to arch across the street like they did in the older part of town. We waited and waited. In the meantime, one or two of the trees on our street became diseased and were replaced by silk trees. Sometimes large branches were torn off by the wind. Our children climbed in the pepper trees, hanging from the branches like monkeys in the rainforest. In summertime, they covered our cars with cooling shade, and shielded us from the burning sun as we walked to the park.

    Trees in the older part of our town


     Recently, I was driving home from the older part of town when I noticed the trees in front of our house were touching leafy fingers with those across the street! It took fifty-two years, but it had finally happened! And it happened when I wasn’t expecting it, and when I wasn’t looking. It happened while all kinds of wonderful life events danced beneath them. The trees needed time to grow and develop, and so did I. All the years of enjoying, imagining and anticipating were fulfilled.
     

    Trees in front of our house


    My lessons in waiting and patience have grown with the trees in our neighborhood. There’s no rushing the growth of a tree, and the same is true for me. It takes time to grow and develop into a mature plant, and into a mature adult. But life’s lessons were being learned through every stage of life–youth, adolescence and adulthood. Through joy and sorrow, broken limbs, and broken hearts, wind and storm, sun and rain, through celebrations and pain of death. Like the trees, I am learning what it means to reach across barriers and touch others with friendship, to recognize and share those gifts that are uniquely mine, and to wait patiently and anticipate tomorrow’s joys while living fully today. 


    “The key to everything is patience.
    You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.”
     – Arnold H. Glasgow


     


    “Patience is power.
    Patience is not an absence of action;
    rather it is “timing”
    it waits on the right time to act,
    for the right principles

    and in the right way.”



    © Copyright July 17, 2014