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Blog Post, The Last

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“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” -Frank Herbert
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Dear Friends,

Three and a half years ago I started this blog. It was a creative outlet during a time when I was very much home-bound tending to the care of my father, and feeling very much the need to give expression to the stew-pot of random thoughts and observations simmering inside of me. Once again in my childhood home, surrounded on every side by things that reminded me of my youth and the familial happiness I had always enjoyed, I found I had a new, more experienced perspective  from which to  interpret the past.  Once again I walked the neighborhood frequently. (I used to walk this neighborhood by necessity, to get to school, to visit friends, or to go to the store, but since returning I have walked mostly to add variety to my days, and for my health.)

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As I walked, I couldn’t help but feel the past and present mesh into a finger-painted blur. The most interesting observation resulting from this fusing of times was that everything that was old was new, and everything that appeared new was shaped by the old. Once, there were orange and lemon groves skirting the foothills on the north end of town, now there are big, expensive homes that have stealthily crept up the mountainside. The homes in our more workaday neighborhood have remained the same, yet have become different, having undergone updates, remodeling, drought-tolerant landscaping, or having been worn down by time and neglect.  Still, basically, they are the same homes, roosting like hens on their nests waiting for something new to hatch out from under, within, or around them.

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One walk took me onto the premises of my old elementary school. Peering through the windows of the first classroom I attended at that school produced mixed emotions—the once tidy, orderly classroom with the honey-colored wooden shelves and cabinets housing fresh manila paper and stacks of sack lunches, had become cluttered and tacky with too much “stuff” covering the walls, windows, counters, and floors. The large picture windows on one end of the room, once brightly beckoning weary brains to recess, had been blocked at the lower levels so students, I supposed, couldn’t see out, or daydream, forcing Light, the literal Revealer of Knowledge, to diminish. Surely the school wasn’t perfect when I was there, but I turned away from that window feeling melancholy at the loss of something that was once unspoiled. Also gone was the old-fashioned playground equipment from my past: the extinct teeter-totters, the variegated metal rings and the uneven bars that all the girls of my generation had used to test out (and show off) their athletic prowess. The school still stood, was still in use, but it was changed and affected by the times.

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Our neighborhood park has often been incorporated into my walks. It, too, at first glance, appeared to be what it once was, but the trees have grown tall, or have been removed, old playground apparatus’ have disappeared, the rec center is now a day-care, and scores of soccer players now populate the lawns. When I was a child, the park, like the housing development, was brand new, the trees—but saplings back then—provided little to no shelter from the sun. The park has since become an oasis of shade, a welcome stop for grandchildren to climb trees and scramble over the playground, letting off pent-up energy from being indoors.

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The city center, once a cute, small-town “village” still has a reputation as such, but up-scaling has produced higher-priced, fancy restaurants, haute couture clothing stores, and a library that was once a quaint, little gem transformed into a ziggurat-ish eyesore. Still, much of the old has been preserved in town, and, for the most part, it retains its charm and attraction, for which I’m grateful, and very fond.

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Neighbors have come and gone, too. Mostly, they have gone. Besides me, those directly across the street are the only ones left from the “olden days.” They’ve been in their home almost as long as our family has occupied ours—over fifty years. They are both now eighty-five, and tend their front lawn with tender loving care and a fine-tooth comb. (It was only this summer they finally broke down and hired a gardener.) It’s comforting to see their familiar faces, and to share produce and jam, as well as watch over each other’s homes during vacations. They are like the pepper trees lining the street, rooted to the neighborhood, providing the kind of constancy that shades and protects that which is cherished. But I know even they will not last forever. Things change. Time slips by in unintelligible increments, quietly amassing into years filled with subtle change.

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I have often written about change in my blog, and here I am writing about it again, one last time. A year ago, my dear father passed away. The reasons that writing a blog were so appealing to me at the time I began this blog have become moot. A time for reminiscing has transformed into a time for wiping the slate clean, so to speak. That’s not what I’m really doing, of course, but it feels like it. It feels like I’m in process of taking down, ripping apart, discarding, or throwing away almost every remaining vestige of my childhood and former life, and of the lives of my parents, kissing them all a tender good-bye. Today, I went through another closet. My father’s old corduroy jacket was buried in a sack of old sweaters. I pulled it out, smelled it, and hugged it for a long time, weeping over the loss of my dear parents.  I took it into his old closet and hung it up. It won’t stay there, because going through the things in that closet are also on my have-to-do list. I have to do this—there is no one else who can. It is my lot, and I must face it, and carry the weight of it.

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Before long, the house will be sold. But first, it will have to undergo even more change—a face lift. Nearly everything in the house is original, except the carpet. The linoleum tiles can be picked up and moved around like puzzle pieces (the glue wore off long ago). The wood cabinets are thread-bare and tired. They cry out for me to put them out to pasture. The yards, too, have suffered great neglect during the last two years of my father’s demise, and the decade-long drought that beset California until this past winter.  Yes, the house must undergo change. It’s gray hairs are showing, just like mine. I miss the days of dark-haired youth, but there is no holding back time or the tide. We all ride the great gushing wave of eternity, and there’s no getting off. My own mortality beckons to me frankly, and it’s okay. I am not afraid of what lies ahead and beyond.

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But there is an overwhelming sense of so much to do. Will I ever finish? Does anyone ever finish? My parents didn’t. Each left projects undone, words unwritten, music not played. As I wade through receipts that are a half-century old, old negatives, artwork, books, clothing, letters, photographs, stamp collections, family history work, and endless, heart-strung memories, I find much of my parents’ life work in a state of suspended animation. I think “finishing” is a false idea, a foolish notion. We come to the great Finishing School of Earth without the slightest notion of finishing, of becoming fully polished and ready to enter the vast gates of eternity, though we may work toward it all our days. We struggle with human frailty, with ambition, or lack thereof, with responsibilities, fears, and trials. We grasp for every moment of joy life affords, and relish time with loved ones, friends, and the beauty of the earth. We study hard and take exams, we marry, and rear children, we gather the sheaves of the depth and beauty of life into the garners of memory to cherish in our old age. We wrestle with aging bodies, health, and dementia, and watch our beloved, aging parents become as children, needing their children to “parent” and assist them as they exit this life. They welcome and parent us into life, and we bid farewell and parent them out of this life. It is a circle. We are an intrinsic part of that circle. It will all happen again. As I sift through the relics of their lives, having to part with most of it, I wonder if I will have time to complete those things I have longed to accomplish. Simple things, like writing my personal history for my posterity, and spending time with and knowing each precious grandchild and great-grandchild intimately—having a relationship that will outlast time. Those relationships are the things that endure, that stay in the innermost pockets of the heart, and that are valued throughout eternity. Nothing can take that away from those who nurture those relationships. Not even time.

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And so, I have come to the point where I realize I have little left to write of in my blog, at least right now. I can’t think about it anymore. I must move on, finish, if possible, reliving my parents’ lives as I go through what they left behind, and attempt to finish what is left to live of my own life (and I hope there are decades-worth left). My mind and heart are beset with the sheer volume of stuff, the monumental size of the task, and the overwhelming sense of a book that has turned its last leaf and is winding down towards an unending finish. It is at this point I find I must also end my blog, at least for now.

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“A Random Harvest” has been therapeutic for me. It allowed me to reach out and interact with others without leaving my father or the house. It allowed me to ponder upon my past and to share the blessings of life that my husband and I have enjoyed, (alone and together), to muse on the beauty and poetry of life, and to observe with friends the interesting little inconsistencies, the absurd, the delightful, and the profound aspects of life. Whenever someone—someone known to me, and someone I did not know—responded with a comment to my little offerings, I felt a greater extension of the brotherhood and sisterhood we all share with one another. I hope you felt it, too.

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Mine are just little scribbling symbols of random, haphazard thoughts and ideas. But I have felt such gratitude and such unity as I have learned that others have felt much the same. How can I ever thank you for reading my obscure, little blog? For holding my hand, as we’ve walked this small byway on the path of life together? When I have looked at the stats page on my blog, I have been amazed at the people from around the globe who have—I’m not sure how—happened upon and read my humble thoughts. I find that absolutely unfathomable. But I am humbled and fascinated by it every time!

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I love Emily Dickinson’s poem about books– “The Frugal Frigate”–one of my favorites:

There is no Frigate like a Book 

To take us Lands away 

Nor any Coursers like a Page 

Of prancing Poetry – 

This Traverse may the poorest take 

Without oppress of Toll – 

How frugal is the Chariot 

That bears the Human Soul –

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In many ways, I feel similar sentiments about this blog. For me it has been a frigate—a chariot—bearing away my human soul, traversing lands, and ideas, and hearts, without oppress of toll. I have connected with others who share my love of all things good and virtuous. This makes me happy. There is a lot of good in the world! I’m so grateful!

 

So this will be my last blog post as “A Random Harvest,” at least for a while—maybe forever.  I am allowing it to enter into a state of suspended animation. At some later date, if a desire has not rekindled to post again, I will retire it into the annals of things of the past. Like my childhood home, my blog has run its course. Both have brought me joy, and I have learned and grown because of them. I hope it has been one small pinprick of light and joy for you, as well. I will miss it. I will miss you.

 

I declare to you my faith in a loving Heavenly Father, and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the “Author and Finisher of [my] faith,”(Hebrews 12:2) and the Holy Ghost. They are the hub around which my life revolves, and the balance that keeps me sane and happy. It is through Them that all sad endings, and supposed “unfinished symphonies” of life may be transformed into eternal joy and sublime fulfillment. I share my gratitude for a supportive and loving husband, Brad, (who has good-naturedly allowed me to feature him in my blog from time to time). I also share my love of family and friends, for there is nothing that brings greater joy while traversing this expanse of time on earth. I thank you for your comments, for your interest, and as always….

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….from the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

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©September 22, 2017

*Note: All these beautiful book covers are public domain images.

+Featured Image: “Destiny” by John William Waterhouse (one of my favorites)

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.)

 

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Back Door Blessings

Blog Post #31

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Psyche Opening the Door into Cupid’s Garden, by John W Waterhouse

There are things we all dread: different things for different people, but dreaded things nonetheless. Many of us take preventative measures in an attempt to avoid some of these dreaded things, such as parking the car in a remote part of the shopping center parking lot, installing locks and security devices, making sure there’s plenty of food, water and emergency supplies on hand, and going to great lengths to teach children safety practices. But what about those things we can’t plan for and don’t anticipate? What about those things that sneak in through the back door?Key in Lock

When we were young, my mother left the back door to our house unlocked for our use before and after school. My sister, brother and I were to enter and exit through the back door for everything. For all we knew, the house had a faux front door—just painted on for looks—because we rarely, if ever used it. Neighbor friends were instructed to use the back door for their comings and goings, as well. It was a given: the back door was THE door, the ONLY door we should use.

The kids were not the only ones relegated to the back door—others, also, had the good sense to use it. The milkman always came to the back door. (During the late 50s and early 60s, we had one of those fabled milkmen—wearing a white shirt, cap and slacks, and carrying a wire tote holding glass bottles—who delivered milk once or twice a week.) He always made his deliveries at the back door. I know people, now, who get milk delivered to their doors, but the milkmen of today have the audacity to drop their deliveries in wooden boxes on the front porches of their customers. Bold by yesterday’s standards.

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I don’t want to mislead you about the front door. We did have one— right there in plain sight, smack dab in the middle of our house where you couldn’t miss it. People were known to use it, but ideally, it was reserved for “company.”  Fortunately, we had a large window in the living room to the west of the front door, and two bedroom windows facing the front yard to the east. These were necessary lookout posts, in case some of that “company” made a sneaky appearance at our front door. On more than one occasion, we scrambled about the house like pinballs bouncing off furnishings and each other as we hurriedly picked up and swept the house before an unexpected guest arrived. If “company” entered the “faux” front door, they had to be greeted by the “faux” tidy house. It would have been shocking if they had encountered the mass of creative energy splayed everywhere in true open-air-market/swap-meet fashion. My mother kept a very clean house—right into the obscure corners—but she was hard-pressed to keep up with the three Tasmanian Devils that whirled through every room in expressive, chaotic disorder. Imagine the havoc we might have caused had we been allowed to use the front door on a regular basis? Instead, we tracked our dirt, milk carton moth cages, lizard pets, roller skates (complete with keys), skateboards, skip tapes, jump ropes, club paraphernalia, flies, and an abundance of “stuff” in and out the back door where all was welcome. (Our mother was not just a good sport, she encouraged our creative energy—often winking at the untidiness we left in our wake).

taz-the-tazmanian-devil-spinning-tattooBusinesses and restaurants continue to adhere to the old philosophy of back door users, and they’re wise to do so. They tend to reserve back doors for deliveries, employees and discarding garbage. A restaurant’s clientele would drop-off considerably if patrons had to squeeze by bussers sporting stained and splattered aprons, carrying stinky garbage cans in and out the front door.

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You mustn’t be fooled by the front door paradox! Just because special people—indeed, company—were received at, or entered through the front door, doesn’t mean that all were among those who most benefitted, or blessed, our family, or that they were always those who were most welcome. Salesmen, such as the legendary Fuller Brush Man, solicitors, and other such persons, tracked the neighborhoods of my youth to peddle their wares. They always came to the front door.

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Special “back door people”—whom we never referred to as “company”—had a better title: “friend.” In reality, being a “back door user” means you have earned the reputation of “comfortable”—it means we’re comfortable enough with you to let our guard down, to let you see us as we are in our untidiness, to trust you with our true lives. It means real, not faux. Those who came through the back door in my youth were friends and neighbors who shared our toys, our time, and our lives. They were often my mother’s friends, women who sat and chatted at the kitchen table while my mother folded clothes. These people were back door blessings, and remain so today.

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My mother may not have welcomed everything that came through her back door, however. Certainly, we brought in more than our fair share of dirt, let in a multitude of flies, and sometimes wore her out with our endless door-slamming and clamoring in and out, the messes we made, and the arsenal of creative material we carried back and forth through the back door that we needed to pretend with. Perhaps she dreaded what might come through that door, or the persistent knocking, doorbell ringing and petitions of neighbor kids wanting us to come out and play. I don’t remember her finding fault with any of these things (except the flies and door slamming), but sometimes I wonder about the other things….

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We all have things we dread—things that sneak in, like annoying flies, through the back door of opportunity or circumstance. I have experienced some of these kinds of things in my life—things I didn’t want, didn’t anticipate, and, in fact, dreaded. Things that snuck in the back door of my life while I had my hands and attention focused on dishwater. Things like a house fire, a hole in the roof, and a broken neck. They sound horrible, and in many ways are! They can be frightening, can turn one’s life upside down, and may wreak havoc all over the place!

Oddly enough, each may turn out to be a back door blessing. Yes! It’s true! I know, because I have experienced these very back door blessings in my life.

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Back Door Blessing – Example #1: Kitchen Fire

One night, I returned from an evening choir rehearsal to find the inside of our house charred. Structurally, the house was still sound, but the fire had singed much of the kitchen, and the smoke had painted the house with blackened fingers, leaving its smoldering scent behind as a souvenir. After finding family members to be safe and well, I sat on a dining room chair in stupefied amazement. How would we ever clean-up the mess that brief, but effective, fire left in its wake? At that moment, all I could envision was working from morning until night for months on end in an attempt at futility. It was daunting and I was overwhelmed. To my utter surprise, a man appeared through the back door that very night, carrying blessings in his capable hands. Before I arrived home, my husband had already made some phone calls, bringing an army of recruits to arms! Here was a man, sent by our insurance company, specializing in restoring homes after fire damage. Before long, ALL of our belongings—from cans of tomato sauce to mismatched socks—had been packed up, lock, stock and barrel, shipped off to be cleaned, and returned to us after the entire house—save the basement—had been revamped, repainted, re-carpeted, re-floored, reinstalled with new appliances and cabinetry, and essentially, re-everything-ed! I’ll never forget opening the first box of clothing returned to us: sweaters, jeans, and underwear had been cleaned, pressed, neatly folded, wrapped in fresh, white paper, and bound with a golden seal. I nearly cried. It was a beautiful thing.

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“A kitchen fire—a back door blessing?” you ask. You bet!  In fact, so many blessings resulted, I can barely count them! I came home one day to discover kind neighbors had come in through the back door and left a Crock Pot of simmering stew for us. Firemen came with special donations. Our church family offered loving assistance. Our insurance adjuster was of the most generous sort. But greatest of all was the assurance that God was mindful of us, waiting to pour out tender mercies to us in our extremity, and to remind us of what matters most. We were all alive and well, we had our home, we were safe from harm, and gratitude was the only suitable response to this would-be misfortune.

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Back Door Blessing – Example #2: Broken Neck

For much of his life, my husband Brad’s worst fear was breaking his neck, and yet, one sunny morning almost thirty years ago, it happened. Next door. On a trampoline. Witnessed by three of our, then, four children. It was surreal in so many ways. I will spare you the details of that whole ordeal. Summing up, after three months in a halo brace, having a piece of his rib fused to his neck, and adequate healing time, no one would ever know, now, that for a moment, Brad wavered between normal bodily activity and paralysis. The accident barged into the back door of our lives like an unwelcome, loud-mouthed, rudely mannered form of company. It disrupted everything that was normal, and caused untold physical suffering and pain. It caused temporary anxiety, and a looming question mark as to what the future would hold. You may be asking yourself if any back door blessings could possibly come from a broken neck. The miraculous answer? An innumerable amount.

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Again, the love and support of friends, family, church family, and virtual strangers was mind-boggling. People are good, and want to help others. I still remember with gratitude the ambulance crew that treated Brad with kit glove delicacy, insuring he suffered no further damage, delivering him to the hospital with extreme care and caution. The neurosurgeon, whose skill and expertise we trusted so implicitly, was a great back door blessing. The act of taking stock of our lives, of reevaluation: what is necessary, what is precious, and what we were blessed to have, but perhaps had not fully appreciated, and of the immense gift of health, all tiptoed in through the back door, unfolding their priceless value to our souls.  In the beauty of a clear, blue-sky morning, God opened the back door of my heart and mind, and intimately visited with me in His still and quiet way. He gave me complete and absolute assurance that He lives, that He knows us as individuals, that He loves us, and that He answers prayers—my prayers. (To be sure, He answers yours, as well.)

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Would I want to revisit Brad’s broken neck, or see it happen to anyone else? I answer an emphatic, “NO!” But each of us has a choice. In such situations, we can either slam the door of opportunity and growth, or we can leave it cracked open enough to let light, faith, hope and knowledge flow in.

One last story—a story as recent as these past few weeks….evidence that these kinds of things can happen anytime, anywhere.

Back Door Blessings – Example #3: A Hole in the Roof

gina halferty/staff, herald news, 7/11/06 A mother raccoon ( far left) and four of her youngsters take a peek out of their storm drain home in Tracy this afternoon.

Brad loves to feed the critters that frequent our yard. He has made the opossums, squirrels, lizards, hummingbirds and other neighborhood “folk” feel so welcome they just clamor to move in with us. (See Blog Post #9 “The Lizard Whisperer: A True Tale) Just a couple of weeks ago, we discovered one of these friendly critters—a member of a family of raccoons living in the drain under the sidewalk nearby—had been busily engaged in clawing away at the aging shingles on our roof in order to set-up housekeeping in our attic. He had succeeded in making a fist-sized hole through the plywood. It was just a matter of time before he would have made his own back door into our home.

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Since we live in my childhood home as caregivers for my 92-year-old father, Brad called my father’s insurance company to inform them of the meticulous work our “neighbor” had been doing for who knows how long. Amazingly enough, the insurance man looked up his records, and with surprised admiration, informed my husband that Daddy had been a member of their company for 54 years and had never made a claim! They waived his insurance deductible during that initial phone call, and set about assessing the damage. Turns out, the raccoon had torn up the entire ridge pole from one end of the house to the other, and had clawed away multiple areas of the roof, including the hole, trying to gain access to our inviting attic. Because of Daddy’s loyalty (and premiums), the insurance company decided to pay for the replacement of the entire roof! (The new roof was completed yesterday, but not without additional back door blessings, such as an errant nail mischievously seeking out a copper pipe flush with the plywood, thereby piercing the copper and causing a waterfall down the siding outside the house, and brownish-red water to leak through the ceiling light fixture in my work room. The back door blessing in this case was that I had not gone on planned errands, and was able to stop the deluge before more serious issues arose.)

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It seems to me, that raccoon deserves a gold medal for a job well done! Had it not been for his noisy antics on the roof late one night, we would not have been alerted to his activity. We might have discovered the fruits of his labors later on, after he’d begun redecorating the attic to suit the needs of his family. Because our uninvited “company” announced himself through the back door, so to speak, when the rains, at last, come to our drought-ridden state, we will sleep in dry comfort beneath a brand new, solid roof. I consider it Providential in every way. Truly a back door blessing.

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Sometimes, when you leave the back door unlocked, comfortable, friendly blessings tiptoe—or bulldoze—in and cozy up at the kitchen table with you. Do you always appreciate these back door blessings, at first? Perhaps not, but if you look a little deeper, and close your eyes to the annoying flies that slip in simultaneously, you’ll find these to be the best sorts of neighbors to keep company with. You’ll come to love and cherish the companionship of back door blessings long after they’ve gone.

I know I do.

© August 21, 2015

© July 15, 2015

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