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Posts Tagged ‘childhood innocence’

 

open door

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. (Ernest Hemingway

In 2012 I wrote a journal during Lent when memories of trauma ate through the present. Today I survive, as imperfectly as everyone else. I decided to reread an entry or two. This story appeared on an ordinary Wednesday when I was babysitting two of my granddaughters. Rebe was four and Ella was a toddler:  

I’m rinsing breakfast dishes as the doorbell rings. Jay is busy with Ella, so I answer. Outside a young girl stands sobbing. She asks to use our phone.

     “Who are you?” I ask.

     She doesn’t answer. Instead she tells me her boyfriend beat her up, and she wants to call the police.

     Jay is standing behind me by now. He holds Ella. I don’t know what else to do. I don’t want this girl standing out in the cold. I let her in and get her a glass of water, then finish the dishes as she calls from our living room.

     When I get back, Ella blows kisses to her and the girl smiles and tells me she has a one-year-old child.

     “How old are you?”

     “Eighteen.”

     The girl’s skin is a flawless ebony. I would have guessed she was much younger.

     While I don’t watch the clock, it seems like a long time until two policewomen arrive in two separate cars.

     We leave the room. I need to change Ella’s diaper anyway. On our way into the bedroom we hear one of the officers ask, “So why do you stay with him?”

     Apparently this is not a first-time event.

     After the girl leaves with bus money we provide, one of the policewomen comes back into the house and chides us for our kindness. This girl’s live-in is trouble. It is her choice to remain in jeopardy. Drugs are an issue.

       We should have called the police and made her stay on the porch. Twenty-twenty hindsight. (Although, an addition added to this entry in 2020, I doubt I would have followed her advice. After all, an abused eighteen-year-old girl is a child in need.)

Ella as a baby

       I am relieved later while Ella and Rebe watch Caillou, a children’s cartoon show, where a lost toy dinosaur is the only problem. Two little girls wrapped in the discovery of a stuffed toy and the loving concern of Caillou’s father.

     Real life isn’t always that sweet. I have been fortunate. My flaw today was trust. Yet, I pray that our little Ella’s blown kisses can be a blessing into the soul of this lost girl. A seed, perhaps. One that can grow someday, even if I never see it blossom.

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You know what the great thing about babies is? They are like little bundles of hope. Like the future in a basket. (Lish McBride)

I tell my hours-old granddaughter how beautiful she is. Everyone does, even if the message is a smile or a touch. Little bundle of hope. I look at her instead of the news. And leave my cold, wet coat on a chair. The outside world can wait while we meet:

You haven’t become complicated yet, Adeline. Your wants and needs are identical: warmth, food, protection, a pair of arms.

I pray for you, my old-lady blessing. Then I realize. You are the one blessing me with the freshness of possibilities. With love. As you grow may I learn to repair, seek no more than the basics, and celebrate life.

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The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them. (Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.)

Ella and I play trick-or-treat any time of the year. Our version transcends reality. The costume takes over the wearer. A skeleton drinks apple juice and it passes from bone to bone to the front porch.

Today Ella wants me to be permanent trick-or-treater while she adjusts the treat to the visitor.

“Hi,” I say, then complain. “I’m a tree, and yeah, I know the peaceful nature scene. Quiet. The woods. All that. But I have bugs climbing all over me. Squirrels are nuts. They don’t just eat them. And the birds? That early morning song is nice enough, but the pre-dawn time can get on your sap after a while.”

Ella smiles and then takes on a composed expression. “Okay. Here’s a woodpecker.”

I’m immediately out of character. Our girl has a sense of humor. Down syndrome, yes. Up personality? No question about it.

 

photo a combination of pic taken in our backyard and portion of public domain pic

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It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. (Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker)

On Labor Day afternoon my granddaughter, Ella, and I play fast-food restaurant. She is at the drive-through and I am a 107-year-old customer with a special request. Since my chewing is limited, I want my order cut into small pieces: 2 hamburgers, a couple dozen chicken nuggets, five orders of fries.

She is willing to oblige.

“How much is that?” I ask as I reach for my invisible order from my imaginary car. (Fortunate, since at 107, more than chewing mechanisms would be out of order. Driving may not be advisable.)

“Nine hundred dollars.” She grins.

Wow! Service charges have gone up everywhere. However, in the pretend world I can reach into my pocket and find five dollars, a thousand dollars, or a magic frog.

Perhaps I should have given her the magic frog.

Imagination. I hope it stays with me until I am old enough to keep the nursing home entertained.

Ella’s real-life gifts appear as I get lunch ready. She makes Lego creations for my friend, Ann, to see by feeling them. Ann has been blind since birth. I don’t mind that Ella sits next to Ann instead of me.

After the meal, Ella brings Ann to our toy shelf and shows her safe-for-kid paint jars, stuffed animals, cars.

I watch. Enriched. Ella has Down syndrome: I am grateful to be favored by the up of her existence.

 

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From discord, find Harmony. (Albert Einstein)

An Old Man’s Final Wish

Along a back window

at a huge family gathering

at a rented hall

the oldest uncle sat in his wheelchair

with the youngest child curled in his lap.

 

In the center

long tables covered with

gold, red, or blue

painted signs demanded isolation.

They claimed truth, whole

perfect, beyond criticism.

 

The families divided the space

into zones, while ugly words

stung the air—

How can you say that?

I can’t forgive you . . .

You are a fool.

 

While the family members argued,

the elderly gentleman and the tiny girl

met with approving eyes,

a twining of fingers, a gesture, a smile.

 

He celebrated the exquisite fit of

her name to her personality,

despite the hardened hearts

that fed her and his inabilities

to respond beyond a crooked grin

and speech delayed by multiple strokes

and advanced age.

 

She giggled, tugging gently

at the sagging folds in his face.

Then, as the toddler grew tired

and slept in his arms,

the man’s wife, gone twenty years,

appeared, clothed in soft light.

 

She called to him.

 

Before he allowed his spirit

to separate from his body,

he whispered his final wish

into the girl’s small ear.

 

The buffet opened as

the child’s mother noticed

her waking in the lap

of the dead man.

 

Unwilling to touch cold flesh,

several family members

abandoned their divisions,

at least for that moment,

and called to the girl,

 

Please, Hope, come to us.

 

They didn’t know they were

echoing the gentle man’s

deepest desire for his family.

 

poem previously published in For a Better World and in Piker Press

 

 

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The one thing I need to leave behind is good memories. (Michael Landon)

So many things clutter our attic. I find my wedding dress, yellowed with age, and remember a poem I wrote after my parents died:

LAST VISIT TO THE HOUSE I CALLED HOME

Dust encases the old homestead.

Encyclopedias from 1963,

boxes of unused pencils,

 

skeins of yarn with faded fifty-cent

mark-down stickers,

a broken clock.

 

Most of the saved items are gone,

Dumpster and shredder items wait.

Bags of cancelled checks

 

on Mom’s closed account.

She died years ago.

Dad’s will to maintain dissolved, too.

 

In the back yard his loss leaked

into the naked, open space

leaving it flat, withered.

 

Before the property grew sullen,

I planted seeds for annuals that sprouted into

a tiny-stemmed miniature garden.

 

They dwarfed next to tomato vines

Dad tied to hand-cut posts.

Sunlight coaxed

 

white blossoms into green and then red fruit.

Inside the house Mom made soups that

took all day to blend the chicken

 

with onions, carrots, celery

into a fragrance that filled every nook.

I try to recall an ancient, lingering scent

 

but it was taken for granted

too long ago. I find my wedding gown

in an eaves closet,

 

zipped in plastic.

I had changed my name and moved on.

The yellowed department-store receipt

 

remains attached to the wire hanger.

I wipe off the grime and carry what-was-me

into what-is-me now.

 

The door locks for the last time.

The sun leaves a sliver of itself

on a pink horizon,

 

a visible color beyond reach,

like memories, both dark and light,

locked inside things left behind.

 

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Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve.
(Erich Fromm)

Human animals think too much—without questioning the truth of their source. Unfortunately, we upright-moving creatures are born with ego and an overdose of certainty, based on experience in a tiny section of the world.

I wrote this poem more years ago than I recall. My granddaughter was a toddler. She is now in fifth grade. A ballerina. Grade-A student, She also happens to be significantly taller than I am.

These verses are based on an incident that occurred at the Museum Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. My beautiful girl may have grown up, but she chooses her friends based upon inner qualities, not incidental skin tone. I am proud of who she has grown to be.

Naked Baby Dolls

 

Child-proof dolls

with painted black hair

and eyes forever open

 

lie on the floor

of the toddler room.

Figures identical, except for

 

brown or peach plastic bodies,

the dolls are naked.

The children don’t care.

 

Bare babies and honesty

fit the simple ambience

of parallel play.

 

I watch as each doll

passes from child to floor,

and back again. The brown babies

 

get picked first.

My toddler granddaughter pouts

as another child grabs

 

the dark doll she had been cuddling.

I try to hand her the paler version.

Her frown deepens. On the rug

 

the dolls that wait

look anemic, pale.

I think about human skin shades

 

from ivory to licorice, and mentally

list a larger number of darker tones.

Nutmeg, cinnamon, chestnut, bronze

 

chocolate, mahogany, coffee, umber.

Strange that at this age

the little people choose the toy

 

with the richer complexion.

Yet only a few of the children

resemble darker hues. The toddlers’ choices

 

contradict the prejudiced

adult majority. Someday I pray

these children see beyond the exterior.

 

The dolls wear a paint layer

thin enough to be chipped off.

Their differences can be altered with a brush stroke.

 

People share diverse histories

and cultures, but living hearts beat

a common rhythm.

 

May we grow

together

as one human race.

 

(This poem has been published in the anthology, FOR A BETTER WORLD and in the online magazine PIKER PRESS.)

 

 

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