Thursday, June 28, 2007

Oh Brother(s)



When I was in elementary school, they brought my brothers’ school pictures to me because they weren’t in school; my mom had brought them to the preschool picture day. Chris Nosworthy sat across the aisle from me and demanded to see what I’d been brought. Chris Nosworthy was bigger and taller and stronger than all the other boys in the fifth grade (he’d been held back a year), he was athletic and handsome and sort of a trouble maker and none too bright and all of these in fifth grade terms add up to a big success. He was the most popular guy in our class. I showed him the pictures. He said, “They’re cute.” It was quite a compliment for me. Usually his interest in me only extended to the answers in my reading workbook. I was the un-athletic smart girl with glasses and in fifth grade terms that doesn’t bode as well. Nerd city and I was the mayor. I’ve never been anything but proud of my brothers though. My connection to them has always elevated me to a higher place.

My brothers are all three tall and handsome and charismatic. They’re successful and smart and witty. Any girl would want them for brothers. The really amazing thing about them though, is that they turned out as well as they did. See, I’ve known them for a long time. I knew them when they wore patched and re-patched jeans and built roads in the dirt and always had grubby hands.

I remember, along with my sisters, tying one brother up with jump ropes when we babysat him. Now I ask him for financial advice. My brothers used to bug us when my friends came over, always trying to be involved and show off a little. Now, all at least six and a half feet tall, they talk over my head and I try to be taller, to be part of things too.

And my brothers are forgiving. The brother I used to hit with a wooden spoon sent me a $150 gift card for Safeway when Adam lost his job. One brother moved into my room when I went to college. When I came home for Christmas, I gathered up all of his things and threw them on the floor in his old room where the other two boys slept. (Yes, I am still ashamed.) This same brother now gives my kids rides on his horses and encourages me endlessly to do the things that are important to me.

And I knew them when they were teenagers.

How is it that the brother who rigged his truck up with such big speakers that the seats shook and the bass was physically painful, could now cradle his small sons so gently in his big arms? How could my dyslexic brother who always struggled in school and didn’t seem to even mind all that much, speak Korean on his mission? And then become a college graduate? The same brothers who used to stuff me in a closet (which is humiliating when they range from 5 to 10 years younger than you) now own homes and cars and trucks and have wives. And their wives! The same brothers who dated girls that caused their sisters to sigh very deeply, found amazing women to marry. Women those sisters are thrilled to add to their circle.

How did it happen?

I wasn’t around as much to witness my youngest brother as a teenager, so his manhood is sometimes the most startling to me. Somehow he morphed from a little boy, shooting baskets into a hoop standing on an upside down 5 gallon bucket to a college kid clearing a 6’11” bar in a high jump competition. He used to build bridges out of popsicle sticks and now he helps design concrete forms for parking garages. How did that happen?

I’ve never been taken aback by the women my sisters are. I don’t know if it’s because we were invincible teenagers together, sassing our mother and not noticing when we were being brats. Or if it’s because I know them so completely that I always knew their hearts and I knew who they were and who they’d always be.

Sometimes I worried about my brothers though. They were popular which is one of the most dangerous things that can happen to a kid.

I really shouldn’t be so surprised by how they turned out though. They were becoming the men they are all along. They taught us earnest Family Home Evening lessons on flannel boards. They drove too fast, but to seminary and they all served missions. When I didn’t want to drink the milk from Enoch’s milk cow, preferring “real” store bought milk, he’d leave me Drink Milk propaganda on my pillow. Now he convinces people to invest in his real estate deals. Enoch used to push me out of snow banks when he was a seventh grader. Tabor used to make me laugh so hard that it hurt and he still does. When I was a new mother and he was a teenager he gave me advice that was so wise and valuable that I know his now pregnant wife is a blessed woman to have him. Ammon, everyone’s baby, survived having four mothers somehow and survived being the youngest with busy siblings. He used to play chess alone sometimes when no one else was around or willing. He still is one of the most independent people alive. Skillfully navigating his life and avoiding the missteps his older sibling made just as he’s always done.

So my brothers. In my mind they’ll always ride around on stick horses. I’ll always be a little shocked every time I see them unfold their long limbs from their big trucks and unload their young families. I’ll be grateful that I knew them when they smelled like sagebrush and dogs and wore smashed up cowboy hats. And I’ll be grateful I know them now.

And what would Chris Nosworthy say?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Prayers

In primary we teach about prayers being answered. We tell simple stories. I recently told my CTR 7 class about a little boy who lost his pet lamb. He prayed and then found the lamb. In primary stories it always works out quickly. In life it doesn’t.

When Adam first lost his job, we lived near San Francisco. We went to the Oakland Temple, to bolster our courage I guess. I sat in the temple, praying and for the only time in my life, heard an audible answer that we would be blessed. I took that to mean a new job. And soon.

It didn’t happen. We prayed and prayed. Adam’s parents offered that we could stay with them. We prayed that he’d find a job before we had to move. Just to avoid the upheaval. The uncertainty. Braeden prayed Dad wouldn’t find a job. So we could go to Grandma and Grandpa’s. His prayers were answered. We moved to Washington. Time passed. Interviews infrequently came and went. Adam did everything he could think of. Everyone gave us advice. We prayed. I remember praying by my bedside, begging. Please, please. We can’t wait any longer. Soon I realized that yes, we could wait longer because we were. My prayers changed a little. I prayed for faith, patience, understanding. I still prayed for a job. Months passed.

Gradually and eventually something happened. Adam found a job. We found a house to rent. It was time to go back to California and get our belongings. We left the kids and Adam and I flew to San Francisco. Adam and men from our ward there loaded up a U-haul. It was a little on the small side but Adam’s good at spatial awareness and he got everything in. We were loaded to the hilt.

We hit the freeway and the truck started to rock if we got past 50 mph. It was alarming. Was the truck going to flip over? Everything we owned was contained in the truck. And we had over 800 miles to go. We talked back and forth about what to do. What was causing this unsettling rocking? How could we fix it? We realized the truck was unbalanced. In an effort to make it all fit, the oak bookcase, washer and dryer and other heavy things were on one side of the truck. If we wanted to travel with any degree of safety, we needed to stop and re arrange. That seemed impossible. It had been hard to make everything fit in the first place. And there had been about 10 men helping. And I was not very strong. And it was raining. How could we unload all our earthly possessions in the rain and reload them? Continuing like we were wasn’t going to work either though.

We stopped at the next rest area. Adam went into the bathroom and I stayed in the truck. My stomach was in knots. I had had a lot of practice praying in the past months and I prayed then. I prayed for some kind of miracle. For the rain to stop, for us to be able to somehow reload the truck. I looked up and saw Adam walking towards the truck and the rain had stopped. Adam climbed into the truck next to me and I told him that I’d just prayed for the rain to stop and it had. He said that he’d prayed for the rain to stop too. We looked at each other and climbed out of the truck to start unloading. Not only did the rain stop, but the wind started to blow. Pretty hard. The wet pavement started to dry. We opened up the truck and unloaded things: heavy things, light things. Soon the now dry pavement was littered with our futon, bookcase, boxes, a lamp. Adam quickly figured out how to get everything back in and I was able to help him. We got back in the truck and started out. The truck wasn’t rocking. We were safe to proceed. And it started to rain again.

Our prayers that day were answered as quickly as if we’d placed the order at a drive up window. We prayed for help, we got it. Like a primary story.

When I think about these two different sets of answered prayers, I wonder which I learned more about prayer from. What if Adam had been able to find a job the day he lost his other one, the day we started praying for him to find a job? We would have missed out on a lot of lessons learned. You’d have had a hard time convincing me at the time but we would have missed out on a lot of blessings too. So many blessings. We moved to Washington which was where we’d always wanted to end up anyway. Our children got a chance to get to know their grandparents. We had a lot of time with Adam. In the years since that Adam’s been working (and I’m grateful he’s been working!) we see much less of him. I feel sorry for Mark because Adam has never had as much time with him as he did with Braeden and Emma, in those days when he was looking for a job. We were blessed with enough of everything we needed. We had a comfortable place to live and food and clothing for our children. My prayers were answered all along the way. We were provided for and learned that we don’t always know when or how our prayers will be answered, but someone does. And they will be answered.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sad

In the first days of college, I met her. She was funny. That’s what I most remember. We were in different circles that first year but on the same floor, shared the same hallway and bathroom so we knew each other. We were moving off of campus as grown up sophomores and somehow, she and Natalie joined our group and we were all going to be roommates. I considered it a coup. I liked her.

And I was right. The more I got to know her and she revealed her weaknesses and fears and hopes for the future, I loved her. We were friends. She was so cute and charismatic that there was a steady stream of boys in our apartment. She was kind and sincere. She left me witty notes and she was funny, wickedly funny.

Every Thursday night, she’d tell us something interesting she’d learned in anatomy. Something for our “gee whiz” file, she’d say. When I was in the middle of a bleak bleak time she picked me up and loved me and made me laugh and made me have a good time. (Like I said, there WAS a steady stream of boys because of her.) Our junior year, we shared a room. She hung a huge canvas she’d painted on the wall above her bed. She’d push her snooze button over and over until I had to beg for mercy. One night she and Rachel and I read the entire novel, Love Story out loud to each other and cried together.

That year she had a boyfriend and she often invited me along as the third wheel. I felt uncomfortable at times, not sure I should tag along, but she assured me it was more fun when I was there and they invited me to take a spontaneous trip to San Francisco with them one weekend. We saw all the sights there were to be seen that were free and dodged people acting crazy on the piers and ate clam chowder in bread bowls and laughed a lot.

As we were driving home over the Sierra mountains she taught me every word of Carol of the Bells.

At the semester, she left school and served a mission. I got newsy letters from France. Funny letters that cheered me up and made me laugh and sigh and miss her. I married Adam while she was gone and was happy when she got home. Adam dropped me off at her family’s house and went who knows where and left me to chat with her for hours. I had graduated by then and she was still going to BYU. We saw each other infrequently and she’d still leave funny notes on my apartment door sometimes. When Braeden was born she gave me a baby blanket she’d had her aunt knit for me. I talked to her the night before I moved to Connecticut.

We kept in touch. We wrote a few emails and letters and called each other. With less and less frequency I guess as our lives moved on because suddenly I’d lost touch with her. She didn’t return my calls or emails or letters. I talked to Rachel and she said that she’d been really abrupt and changed somehow the last time she’d talked with her. I talked to Erin and she hadn’t talked to her or heard from her. I was worried. Had something happened?

Years passed and occasionally I’d try to find her. I never had any luck.

Then one day I got a letter from her, my mom had forwarded it to me because it had been sent there. I don’t remember the entire letter but one phrase won’t leave my mind, “I’m not writing to rekindle any friendship.” She had written to say she’d forgiven me. What?! I read on. She outlined things that made no sense. Things that couldn’t have happened. I couldn’t understand. I called Adam at work. I asked him about it, making sure I remembered my life. He said I was right. I called my sisters. If anyone knows my history, they do. Could this have happened? She’s not right—how could she be so mistaken? They didn’t know. They told me that what she said couldn’t be true. I didn’t think so but how could she have thought that, my friend…my smart and funny friend? They didn’t know.

She had left an email address in the letter. I wrote immediately. I tried to explain that I didn’t know what she was talking about. I apologized. I said please let’s be friends. I didn’t hear back from her.

I wrote her a few more times until I got an email back saying that was no longer an active account. I’ve looked her up on the internet. I figured out that she’s married. I’m dying to know what he’s like. How did they meet? Is she happy? And she has a son. I wish I could have made her a baby blanket. I wish I could have talked with her about the startling proposition of motherhood but I can’t.

I want to say, remember building that 7 foot tall Buddha snowman in Kiwana’s Park? Remember when we were taking a pumpkin pie over to some of the boys we knew and Natalie slipped on the ice and she went one way and the pie went the other way? Remember when we went to the Indiana Jones trilogy starting at midnight? We stumbled out into the daylight and went home and slept all day even though we should have been studying for finals? Remember?

I should just let it go. I am not lonely; I have wonderful friends. Friends that are beautiful and charming and funny. Friends that make me happy and are steadfast and forgiving. I should be indignant and forget her because it was all a big misunderstanding and I honestly don’t know what I even did. But I can’t. She’s my friend.

Happy

I wish I could bottle up last night, put it on a shelf and save it for a day next February when I’ve forgotten what blue sky looks like. Last night is why people live in Seattle. It’s what makes all that rain worthwhile.
Adam had a meeting late enough that he’d miss his usual train and the next train wouldn’t leave until over an hour after his meeting. He’d get home about the kids’ bedtime. I decided to go pick him up. We didn’t get home any earlier but we were together.

We had dinner then walked along the waterfront towards the sculpture park. Adam and the boys watched a seal while Emma and I lagged behind and she told me about The Golden River, a story she’s writing. We watched jellyfish in their graceful dance of rising and falling in the water. We saw ferries and sailboats and birds and a glorious sky. Between the water, sky and near and distant mountains, there were too many shades of blue to count. It was just beautiful.

We puzzled over some of the abstract sculptures then read their descriptions on the little plaques. Oh, OK, I guess that’s an eagle. I explained to Emma what a typewriter eraser is (there’s a sculpture of one). First I had to explain what a typewriter is.

We made our way to the small beach and threw rocks in the water. The kids scrambled up rocks and Adam and I sat on a huge log and I called over to Mark to be careful. I think it’s one of the main things he hears me say. It was perfect. The weather was the perfect temperature. Everyone was comfortable…me in my sweatshirt and everyone else in the family happily in t-shirts.
On our way back we walked along the lower side of the park and none of the kids could resist the steep grassy hill. They charged up it and rolled down it until they were dizzy. Well, except Mark, he didn’t really get the rolling concept and mostly just hurled himself down the hill.

(Be careful, Mark.)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Climate Controlled

I love going to Alfy’s. It’s the pizza restaurant near our house. We ate lunch there yesterday to celebrate the last day of school. We’ve celebrated birthdays there, the end of Braeden’s soccer season, (and I really felt like celebrating it being over because I hated it so much), and the end of Braeden’s basketball season with awards from his coach.

We’ve gone to Alfy’s on hot days when our big western facing windows made our house too miserable for cooking dinner. We’ve gone to Alfy’s tired, sunburned and sandy, on our way home from playing all day at the river. We’ve gone to Alfy’s on nights when I’ve had a bad day and Adam realizes it and says, let’s go to Alfy’s for dinner. (one reason to love him so much) We’ve gone to Alfy’s in the middle of winter storms when our power has been knocked out and they have power.

It’s always the same there. Climate controlled. The same guy has even worked behind the counter for the 6 years we’ve been going there. The d├ęcor hasn’t changed. Bold and warm; red and green. Not trying too hard to be Italian because we are, after all, in Everett, WA.

It’s safe and comforting to have places you can go to that are a refuge. One summer we were reeling in instability. Adam’s company had folded so he was looking for a job. Our lease was up on our house and we needed to move. We had less money than we’d had in our entire married life and three children. We found a house to move into and on the day we moved in, surrounded by the chaos and inevitable mess of moving, we were overpowered by a stench coming from the new refrigerator and there was filth and dog hair in the bathroom left by the owners. I can’t remember the reason, maybe we just fabricated one, but we went to visit Adam’s parents. Just walking into the soothing and familiar order of their house bolstered me. I felt like we’d survive. With them as our anchor, we could start over again and make it…and we did.

Sometimes our troubles are much more internal and less obvious. Sometimes I feel inside like I’m not waving but drowning. And I go to church. I see people in the hall and their faces automatically turn into smiles. I find myself smiling back. I sit in sacrament meeting and mindlessly twirl my finger around my daughter’s hair. I feel a surge of love for my children that is restorative. I open the hymnbook to the song we’re singing. A song I have sung since I was a little girl and know by heart. I’m going to be OK. I hear a familiar bit of Gospel truth from one of the speakers or in one of the songs and the Spirit touches my heart and I am reminded of what I know and believe. I am going to be just fine.

And who knows, maybe sometime I’ve smiled automatically at someone in the hall at church, someone that was hurting inside, and maybe that made a small difference for them too.

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