Saturday, January 31, 2009

To Envy Robert Frost

Eric and I went to the library a week or so ago. He wanted to check out some books on tape (or CD, as they are these days). Looking over his shoulder I saw a plastic case with the title, "The Voice of the Poet: Robert Frost." I'd always enjoyed Mr. Frost's poetry so I thought it would be fun to hear him read his own work. I checked it out and took it home.

The recordings were made at different times in different places, all later in his life. His voice warbled a bit. That, and his New England accent, reminded me of Katherine Hepburn. He read simply, evenly, sometimes too quickly, I thought, with less drama or emotion than I expected.

I realized again why I like his poetry. He wrote about ordinary things: birch trees, owls, apple picking. He discovered the poetry of simple conversations with people, of a leaf covered path, the grass.

Dust of Snow
The way of a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I rued.
(Robert Frost, 1923)

I found myself envious of his talent. But as I read the brief biography accompanying the recording I learned his life was filled with tragedy. His father died when he was 11 years old. His first son died of cholera at age four. His sister was institutionalized.

If his tragic life somehow birthed his genius, then I'll pass. I'll remain content with my simple prose and keep my mostly happy life.

I'll never win a Pulitzer,
Though Robert Frost won four.
My prize—a happy family;
I'll want for nothing more.
(Rebecca K. Grosenbach, 2009)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Things I Miss From Childhood

The complete lack of responsibility. My mother even fed the dog. But lack of responsibility also meant a lack of freedom. I was pretty much at the mercy of those with cars and the license to drive.

My dog. Pebbles was a chihuahua mixed with who knows what else. She wasn't a particularly nice dog, at least not to strangers. But she loved our family. I can remember getting her to chase me as I ran around the house. Then I'd turn around and chase her. She could sure run, that little thing. And she was always so happy to see us. My parents had a split level home and she had her spot at the top of the stairs, out of the traffic pattern, where she'd sleep during the day. When someone came in the front door she'd do a little happy dance at the top of the stairs. She'd stand on her hind legs, paw the air with her front legs, get back on all fours and wag her tail so hard her entire body wiggled. She knew how to make a person feel welcomed.

Roller skating with one skate in the garage.
We had one pair of roller skates in our family. They were the kind that you'd clamp on your shoes. My sister Ellen and I would each strap on one skate (I don't remember if I had the same skate every time or not) and skate in circles in the garage. Dad kept it clean and it gave us a large, smooth surface. Push-glide . . . push-glide . . . There was something special about it. Sharing, making do, . . .

Dance routines with Jerilyn.
One of my best friends in late grade school was my church friend Jerilyn. I got to spend the night with her once and we made up a routine to the song "Seattle" by Bobby Sherman. I've long since forgotten the steps, except that when we'd sing the word "Seattle" we'd stop and extend an arm toward a painting on the wall of her living room--as if the painting were of the soggy city. Dancing was frowned upon at my house, so dancing--to the music of Bobby Sherman, no less--was like enjoying a forbidden pleasure.

The farm.
The farm was my maternal grandparents' home in Iowa. The house was a simple two-story building, with a rarely used front porch. Everyone came in through the side door, between the kitchen and the cellar. Grandpa was a quiet, stoic farmer who didn't go out of his way to impress anybody. Granny, on the other hand, fretted over everything and everybody. She made sure there were filled candy dishes in every room, bottles of pop on the cellar steps, and ice cream bars in the freezer. And I loved the farm itself. Fields of corn, noisy crickets, smelly cows. I could write an entire book about life on the farm. So maybe I will. It'll be my generation's "Little House" series. 

Riding my bike.
I would go for long rides by myself, for what seemed like hours. If my kids did that today, I'd worry about them. But there wasn't much to worry about in Boise. Once, I rode with my friend Karen all the way downtown--at least five miles. Becky (yes, I had a friend named Becky) and I rode to our favorite spots where we'd climb trees or catch snails. My bike was a way to get to special places. But it was also a joy in itself. Just riding, riding, riding. Sometimes I'd rubber band my dad's transistor radio to the handlebars and enjoy some music as I rode along. I guess this doesn't have to be something I miss; I could still ride a bike today. But I don't.

What's the common thread? I think it's finding joy in the simple, carefree pleasures of life. Yeah, I miss that. Being a grown-up isn't as much fun. But at least I get to drive a car.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hail to the Chief

I watched little bits of the inauguration Tuesday. I was supposed to be working, after all. One of my co-workers, who is very internet savvy, showed me a site from CNN and Facebook that showed live video of the festivities accompanied by live conversation from people all over the world.

I was amazed at the technology--watching "TV" on my computer and reading what people thought about the event at the same time. The comments came almost too fast to read. Most were excited about what they saw, writing about tears, goose bumps, even dancing.

I was able to select an option that would show me what my group of Facebook friends had to say. Some of my friends weren't as supportive. One person even said something about the end of the world.

My feelings fell somewhere in between. I don't agree with many of President Obama's views so I'm not overjoyed that he is our leader. I felt no goose bumps. (Except during the parade, but that had more to do with the five rows of fife players in the fife and drum band. My piccolo-playing heart nearly burst with pride.) But at the same time I share a sense of collective accomplishment that our country has elected an African American president. In a way, it is the ultimate expression of the crumbling of racial barriers. That is something to be very proud of.

But at the same time, I also believe many people voted for Obama simply because he is part African American. To me, that says race still divides us. We haven't become colorblind, we've become color blended. We happily coexist, but we're still very aware of our differences. I'm proud that President Obama's color didn't keep him from office. But it may have helped him get into office, and that isn't right either.

I look forward to the day when race really isn't a factor, when people are elected because of their ability to serve, their stand on important issues, their character. I'm praying President Obama will be the kind of leader I'll be proud to support. I'll let him prove himself. Then I'll start dancing.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Why "miracles in small letters"?

As I considered changing my e-column into a blog, I realized it would be a good opportunity to give it a new name. “Thank God It’s Thursday” seemed like a good title four years ago, but now it seems rather trite. And I wanted something that wasn’t tied to a particular day of the week. Because you all know how faithful I was at writing you every Thursday.

I wanted something that would say, “Finding God in the everyday stuff” but better than that. I considered “Extraordinary Ordinary,” “Burgers and Fries,” or “And another thing,” but none of those cranked my tractor.

So I went online and looked up quotes of well-known writers. Shakespeare, T.S. Elliot. But then I thought, “Why not go to your favorite, the guy who inspired you to be a writer in the first place.” C.S. Lewis.

After a little reading I discovered the quote that is now the basis of my blog name: “Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”

I knew that was it. My original idea for the title was “Small Letters” but that was taken. So I added “miracles” and now I like that even better.

So there you have it. “miracles in small letters.”

I will no doubt write the same kind of self-preoccupied prose as I did when it was known as “Thank God It’s Thursday.” But it’s different, somehow. It’s a blog. About miracles. In small letters.