Tag Archives: Memories

July 16 – Do Gerbils Go to Heaven?

by Kali´Rourke 

Girl Feeding Gerbil

(c) Can Stock Photo / zsv3207

Our Pastor told a story in his recent sermon, and in it, a little boy’s hamster had died and he asked his father (a fellow Pastor) if “Timmy” had gone to heaven. The boy was told in no uncertain terms by his father that nothing that has not professed faith in Jesus Christ shall enter the gates of heaven. I am paraphrasing, but you get the gist.

We were all a bit appalled to hear that blunt and dismissive statement from a father to a grieving son, and our Pastor said that he took the little boy aside on his way out and told him that Timmy sounded like a great hamster and he was sure that he was now playing in heaven.

Sounds like a platitude, doesn’t it?

I think of it as a large part of my faith. If I choose to believe in a benevolent God that loves all of us and wants the best for us, then I also choose to believe that all creatures, (even the series of gerbils we had for our daughters since there were allergic to nearly everything else) are destined for heaven. No, I am not a theologian and would never claim to be one!

Our daughters have both grown up into animal lovers (Thank you antihistamines!) and they could not imagine a heaven where Minx, Indy, and Cloud and whatever companions they may have over the years will not come running to greet them in doggy and kitty joy someday when they are all together again.

This brings me back to gerbils and heaven.

Yes, they are shorter lived creatures than our canine and feline companions, and yes, the bond is much shallower, but each of our gerbils over the years had names, were petted and cared for and we had small funerals for our little friends when they passed from this life, wishing them well and many chew toys in their heavenly home.

Their passings were somewhat gentle introductions for our little girls to the concept of death and how we must accept and respect it because it comes to everyone in time. They were the opening to important conversations and knowledge that parents pass on to their children.

The gerbil’s names and specifics have escaped me, brushed cloudy by the passing of so many years, but today I take a moment and say a prayer for all of them, sending it along with thanks for being such wonderful little friends to two girls who grew up to be compassionate women who have room in their hearts to love and care for many.

God bless the gerbils.

Kali´Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, volunteer, philanthropist, and a proud Seedling Mentor. She blogs at Kali’s Musings and A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome. This post originally appeared in Kali’s Musings.

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July 12 – Ties To The Past

by Sara Etgen-Baker

The author wears her own apron, created in 1965.

My fascination with aprons began when I cooked alongside Mother. “Put on your apron!” she insisted. I tied one of her aprons around my waist and immediately felt a connection, a type of kinship with her and other women, for there was a time, not so long ago when wearing an apron was commonplace and synonymous with femininity and domesticity. My mother and my grandmothers put on their aprons the moment they entered their kitchens and wore them throughout the day while preparing meals and tending to household chores.

Grammy’s Tulip Apron

All three women were also seamstresses often making their own aprons and expressing their personalities and individuality with them. Grandma Stainbrook made colorful, loose-fitting bib-style aprons with deep pockets. Grammy, on the other hand, created dainty, pastel-colored half aprons that complemented her outfits and accentuated her tiny waist. Mother was practical and preferred making a bib-style apron, wearing it to protect the dress underneath. She reserved her fancy half aprons accented with ribbon, lace, and appliques for holidays and entertaining.

Mother used her bib-style apron for almost everything; dusting furniture, drying my tears, picking up hot pans, and wiping the sweat from her brow. Her bottomless apron pockets were always full and housed clothespins, handkerchiefs, bandages, loose change, my jacks, and my brother’s marbles.

At 14, I enrolled in home economics class where I sewed my first garment; a half apron of my own. I bought the apron pattern for 65 cents but didn’t have enough money to purchase fabric. So, I used the remnants of mother’s kitchen curtain material; a white fabric covered in delicate yellow roses. During that first semester, I learned sewing basics; cutting out a pattern; pinning it to the fabric; cutting the fabric, and basting the garment. I learned to thread the sewing machine, maneuver the foot pedal, and guide the material under the advancing presser foot. By semester’s end, I’d sewn my apron to the waistband; attached small, rick-rack covered pockets to it; and hemmed it.

Mother’s Holiday Apron

There was something satisfying about taking a piece of fabric and turning it into a beautiful apron. I felt special, for sewing my own apron was a sort of rite of passage into womanhood; and proudly wore my apron every chance I had. In 1965 aprons were a part of being a woman and a homemaker; however, when the women’s movement took hold, aprons seemingly disappeared from favor and the feminine landscape.

But aprons remain important, for they are historical garments reflecting how women functioned in society; how culture viewed them; and how they saw themselves. I recall the apron-wearing women in my life; the stories behind their aprons gave life and meaning to the fabric itself. Their aprons are statements of what they represented to their families and serve as reminders of recipes, values, events, and traditions from gentler, less complicated times. I remain fascinated with aprons, for each one has a unique story to tell with its own ties to the past.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

July 6 – China…Up Close and Personal

by Patricia Roop Hollinger

(c) Can Stock Photo / kentoh

Just a week ago my only encounters with someone born in China were dining out at a local Chinese restaurant or dining in Chinatown in San Francisco, California. As a child, I was admonished to clean my plate because there were starving children who lived in far-off China. Their bony ribs became an image that haunted me. A fourth-grade teacher taught us about many of the traditions of the Chinese. I was horrified when I learned that the feet of Chinese women were bound.

However, just last week I found myself sitting amongst folks from all ethnic and racial backgrounds as we listened to the stories of what life is like living at the Mexico/Arizona border or living in the midst of daily fighting and turmoil in Palestine. We were all seeking Common Ground in the midst of a political climate where policies divide us with the rhetoric of hatred and disdain for the different.

To my right sat a very vivacious young Chinese woman. We exchanged names. She became curious about my being a Quaker when this tradition was a topic of discussion.

“So, what brought you to the U.S.?” I asked. Pei Pei had met a young American man in China and they now live in his home state of Idaho. “Come and join us at Quaker Meeting,” I proposed. She accepted and our day was spent sharing our traditions from both cultures. Her feet were not bound and her ribs were not showing. I challenge all of us to seek Common Ground with those we perceive as being different from us.

“Pat” was raised on a farm, and thus developed an imagination pondering the nature of the universe. Words held the magic of stories. Other cultures intrigued her. She is a retired Chaplain/Pastoral Counselor/Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who lives in a retirement community with her husband and their cat “Spunky.” 

July 3 – Full Circle

By Linda HoyeLandscape

We stand atop a small hill in the middle of a field on the Saskatchewan prairie: me, my husband, my cousin, and her husband. I met this cousin for the first time today; she and her husband have graciously taken us on a drive to see the land where our grandparents farmed. The warm wind that blows across this land uncovers truth today.

I was adopted as an infant–chosen was the word used by well-meaning folks back then. What they didn’t understand was that in order to be chosen, an infant first had to be unchosen; rejected. That’s a burden I’ve carried for almost sixty years and one that still gets in the way from time to time.

The parents who conceived me are long gone from this earth, and my Mennonite grandparents who farmed this land probably never knew I existed. Nevertheless, I feel as if I have come home here.

All around, in every direction for as far as I can see, there is green. It is the most beautiful place I can imagine. Lentils grow here now; a modern-day crop on land that once provided a living for my family.

This is the place where my birth mom was born and grew up. It was passed down to their oldest son, and he raised my recently-connected-with cousins here. A slight indentation in the earth is the only indication that a house stood here at one time, and a grove of trees left standing nearby is the melancholy beacon of all that once was.

To the untrained eye it’s just endless green prairie, to me it’s a mending of a mother-daughter connection that was severed when I was relinquished to adoption. A number of years ago I stood at the gravesite where my birth mother was buried, now I’m here on the land where she was born.

I stand firm in this place; I feel roots take hold. I read once that we carry place in our DNA; if that’s true there is certainly something of this place in me. I have no trouble believing it.

We wander back across the field to the car and, Mennonite style, (men in front and women in back) get in. Conversation with my cousin flows easily and gently. I continue to get to know her and come to understand something more about this family; my family. Stories I’ve heard snippets of, and things I’ve imagined, become real.

We dive a short way along gravel prairie roads, turning left, then right, passing the site of the old school where only a tall wooden swing set remains, and arrive at the Mennonite Brethren church. A little farther down the road, we stop at a little cemetery and there we find the graves of our grandparents. I take photographs of the worn stones and then we head back toward town.

It is about as close to a perfect day as I can imagine.

Linda Hoye is on the other side of a twenty-five-year corporate career. A writer, photographer, gardener, and somewhat-fanatical grandma, she lives in Kamloops, British Columbia with her husband and their doted-upon Yorkshire Terrier. Find her online, where she posts a few words and a photograph early every morning, at http://www.lindahoye.com.

May 31 – Fiction vs. Memoir: Finally I Made The Choice

by Len Leatherwood

canstockphoto16227556-danr13 (c) Can Stock Photo / danr13

 

After a huge cry this morning, I feel better.

I have spent the past five days immersed in one of the toughest/saddest times of my life – moving to LA in 1994 to be near my brother who was about to go into active AIDS just at the point when the life-saving protease inhibitors were first introduced. (My oldest brother had died of AIDS just 3 years before.) My husband, three kids and I came after my brother offered me a job in his laser surgery center so that I could run his business when he and his partner got sick and we could be near him as he died. If that weren’t bad enough, he also had a “loving” boyfriend who had targeted him for his money. I wish I could say it all went smoothly. It didn’t. The result was an emotion-ridden roller coaster ride that forced me to grow up and understand that tough love is sometimes the only love that makes sense.

Robert had the opportunity to choose life over death with the help of those coveted protease inhibitors. In truth, Robert chose death. In the book, I had him do one thing differently, which helped him to see why and how he could choose life. In both real life and fiction, my brother and I made peace with each other and were deeply bonded as a result of this experience.

I went with fiction for lots of reasons, primary among them being that the predatory boyfriend is still alive and would sue me in a second. However, I also wanted the freedom of fiction and to have the chance to “re-imagine” what life could have been if my brother had made a different choice. Plus, John Rechy, my writing mentor, with whom I workshopped this book for five years in a Masterclass, is well-known for calling all of his books fiction even when some mirror his life fairly closely, and he strongly encouraged me to go this route.

I read through every volume that I have produced over these past 18 years of trying to wrestle with this subject – five major drafts most of which were memoirs – and finally concluded that my decision to factionalize this book was indeed the right choice for me.

Alas, I worked 18 hours a day on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday and then stayed up almost 24 hours on Tuesday so I could finish the editing.

Is it perfect? No. I woke up in the middle of the night and realized I’d forgotten a scene that must be included. I also have a few scribbled notes regarding details I need to make sure are right. In addition, the pacing might have a bump or two and the ending might need one more run through. However, am I finally going to be able to put this baby to bed so I can move on? I believe so.

I am tired, but also happy and relieved. Hooray.

Len Leatherwood: Program Coordinator for SCN’s Online Classes, has been teaching writing privately to students in Beverly Hills for the past 17 years. She has received numerous state and national teaching awards from the Scholastic Artists and Writers Contest. She is a daily blogger at 20 Minutes a Day, as well as a published writer of ‘flash’ fiction/memoir.

May 13 – Shaping Words

By Sara Etgen-Baker

winifred christine stainbrook etgen

Winifred Christine Stainbrook-Etgen

Before giving birth, Mother undoubtedly read child development books and baby-proofed her house. But no one could tell her what to anticipate. No one could tell her that the little girl she’d soon birth would come with a personality all her own and it would often run in direct opposition to her own.

I guess what got me thinking about Mother was a Mother’s Day keepsake the six-year-old me prepared for her in school. Our teacher mimeographed pictures for us to color; I selected the rose picture and colored the roses red because Mother’s favorite flower was red roses. When I ran across the keepsake in one of my scrapbooks, my mind was flooded with memories of Mother.

I remember the summer I picked plums with her from the tree beside our house and made plum jelly. I remember walking with her to the nearby corner store, buying a package of M&Ms, and washing them down with a diet Dr. Pepper. I remember her making me peanut butter sandwiches; combing the tangles out of my wispy, fine, hair; and making me wear the itchy, frilly dresses that she made. I remember the five-year-old me sitting on her lap while she read me books. The older me remembers her reading the dictionary to me every night.

“Words are powerful,” she repeatedly said. “Learn their meanings, how to spell them, and how to use them properly.” The teenage me half-heartedly listened as she impressed upon me, “Choose your words carefully and kindly when conversing with others.”

Mothers Day Card FrontFrom kindergarten on, she dropped me off at school. As she drove away, she rolled down the window and said, “Remember, you’re smart. You’ll do well in school.” Whenever I wrote a paper for any class, she always read it before I turned it in. Rather than offering criticism, she asked, “Is this your best effort?” Even now, her words echo in my mind whenever I’m critiquing or editing my own writing. Her methodology gave me confidence by teaching me to measure my own abilities and efforts from an internal standard and compass.

Mothers Day Card Inside

I thank Mother for her shaping words; words that made a difference. There have been those times in my professional career and personal life when I felt stretched beyond my ability. But I would always hear her gentle voice telling a younger me, “You’re smart; you can do whatever you need or choose to do.” Her words pushed me beyond where I might have been tempted to stop.

The much older version of me stares into the eyes of the reckless, demanding, know-it-all child I was; it must’ve been difficult to be my mother, for my personality and hers clashed. Frequently, I think about the words I said and wish I could take them back. I was unbelievably blessed with the quintessential mother. Were Mother still alive, I’d thank her for the words she gave me and the non-stop encouragement she administered; encouragement that’s sustained me my entire life.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.