You pulsed in forehead lump from tree smack after ecstatic dash from DB, my first crush. You surged while LK from Hungary then HG in recovery stayed in our attic. Where were You, Love, when we moved back to Michigan once more during Christmas break? You tunneled deep with indelible heart words through my reading eyes, poet ears, piano fingers. You blessed our going by Mrs. L's stitching our names on corduroy peanut pillows, mine red, N's blue, J's green. And blessed our coming with fridge and cupboard full of groceries from Dad's sponsoring church.
Mom was pregnant when I was eleven. Nancy cuddled her doll baby in eager expectation. The still-birth hit her hard she tells me now. But I was carefree, dashing across the street to Doreen's house to watch Mickey Mouse Club or pre-occupied on the sidewalk for hours keeping the hula hoop whirling on my waist. There were memorable times with Mom: May walks in Lilac Park; summer picnics and camping; singing in the car on the way home. Best of all were our Skip-a-Cross games after the younger kids were in bed. Yet most times I was content alone or with my friend Alice whose tree we climbed.
Helen wrote poignant letters raising funds for four-year old blind orphan boy at school. Laura spent the summer caring for her baby sister and bringing in the cows. Mary did chores, walked to school, studied hard, walked home, did more chores, taught siblings each night. Ida knelt in church, thinking less of God than how her red ribbons and white coat looked. Zora beamed with joy reading all the books the women from Minnesota sent her. Ann was mad at first when Dad's mission brought them to New York and Mom took her savings. Kathy realized her parents welcomed all, unlike other whites on Indian land. Cindy ran for police to keep Dad from killing Mom, kept her own abuse secret. Daisy spent summer on Long Island with parents, sister, and writer grandmother. Malala prayed "Bless us and protect us. No, not just Pakistan. Bless all the world."
We were going places, meeting people. From Grandma's house I was allowed to walk to Cherry St. Playground, taking Billy. But when I wanted to leave he didn't so I said "We can go a different way" and finally he agreed. But I realized after a tiring detour we were lost. A kind lady drove us to Sigsbee St. Excited to travel by herself, Jean flew West, spent Easter Break with grandparents at the mission house in New Mexico. Got her hair braided, admired Zuni clothes and was awed by native ceremonies. Why did Grandpa and Grandma frown on them? Twenty years later Jean's son spent summer weeks in Greenbelt with Grandma Marjorie who wrote: Nine-year old had fun at the pool, more fun after the high school dudes showed up-- trying new moves, one-hand or no-hand dives; racing those two, loaning them his goggles. All fun, no talk till leaving, one asked "What's your name?" "Judah" "Good name." Three smiles.
In the middle of third grade we moved out of Michigan again though we'd always be back for visits. I'd never forget Mom's parents' Sigsbee St. house with narrow driveway between two tall trees and park-like yard with cherry tree I may have climbed once. Inside was the fireplace and big chair where Grandpa told made-up stories featuring a mischievous crow. Neighbors fences bordered our yard in Rochester: Taylor's on the right who had the twins Dean and Dale, Billy's age; flower garden people on the left and swimming pool in the yard behind. Near that back fence I recall losing track of time, building sand towns. Mid-childhood school and church memories blur. One home highlight was the radio show "Greatest Story Ever Told: Greatest Life Ever Lived" starring Jesus which we heard on Sundays while eating melted cheese or brown sugar toast from trays in the living room. Eight-year olds I identified with in books, among family and at church were more often boys than girls. Once I told Nancy I was a boy-- was I explaining my low voice or lack of interest in dolls? Forgive me, sisters, daughters, nieces, for slighting your eight-year old passions. Thanks Mom for labeling photos reviving third grade eyes and minds.
The Marjorie I was named after died of scarlet fever before reaching her seventh birthday. She was Mommy's older sister. My middle name Anne came from Anthony, Dad's brother who died of a ruptured spleen at age seven after "a mean boy pushed him into an excavation". The Marjorie I was at seven may have absorbed these stories. Atop the hill behind our house I was appalled to find a gravel pit. Cousins Kenny and Bon had mumps so couldn't come to Grandma Ribbens' for cake and ice cream. But life was good. Our grandmas kept us well dressed; Auntie Ruth was our fairy godmother. I knew the way to school and church, didn't miss what we didn't have-- neighbors, television, pets. The Bobbsey Twins were my ideal family. Mom closed my baby book that year with "Likes school" and Mrs. Kramer gave me A's in Bible, Reading, Spelling and Arithmetic; B's in Penmanship, Art, "Personal and Social Traits" and Conduct. God, we mourn the fears, hurts, judgments passed on to kids and grandkids. Give us more chances to walk or read with seven-year olds.
Headline revives old daydreams: Six-year Old Gives Up Birthday Party and Gifts To Feed Homeless. We imagine a world without nightmares where all sleep like our kids did at age six and wake up with bright ideas that electrify advocates. Sunday Schoolers sing "Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight". Holy Love, unscreen our vision; give us first-grade eyes of raw compassion like mine seeing photos and praying earnestly for hungry, hurting children. Whether or not we knelt bedside with a parent or child back then, we kneel today in child pose, resting guilt-free, trusting You, Peace Prince.
The day I turned five we drove a long way back to the state where I and my sister were born when we lived with gram and grampa. But this time we got our own red brick house cuz now we had Billy, and Mommy was growing another baby already. It must have seemed strange to leave my first school in late October. I can't remember either kindergarten. Progress reports from both teachers cheer me still: "plays well with others" ... "makes friends of the lasting type though not one to make a lot of friends quickly." Old photos taken in sunlight restore the simple happiness I knew outside-- seeing, being seen, posing with shy smile. Of course I never sucked my thumb outside. Was excited, running to greet cousins; curious, eager to climb the hill out back. Many hills, valleys, friends and years later my kindergarten heart shines with grateful praise to the Divine Parent, Creator, the One I sensed in wind, water and trees, Love Power who grew me as a daughter, sister, student, teacher, mom, now grama. I'm grateful this Great Love grew Aunt Nancy to be my son's kindergarten teacher. I treasure Duffy's five-year old wisdom: "Maybe God will pull the rain strings back up." And another day when asked "Where's God?" "God's up in the clouds singing with the birds."
Four-year old faces from years past spring to mind on Greenbelt walkways: Lily in low-branching tree perch delaying nursery school day-start; Lukas watching caterpillar slowly, safely cross service road; Max building playground teepee or volleyball sand court road system. Streamside, lakeside, garden, forest-- all-weather childcare renews me.
Three-year olds in Greenbelt and previous homes taught me how to be a friend. 1. Delight in differences: "Hey Mom, Rhonda's blue, and I'm red!" Brother and sister--friends for life. 2. Declare your devotion: "You're my best friend, grama." "I love you, Judah." 3. Go on walks together: "Look, a butterfly!" Kindred spirits bond outdoors.