Eyes closed, head back, breeze enveloping me – I hear it even now: creak…creak. The sound of the porch swing, the chirps of the crickets and frogs.
It’s how time used to be whiled away – on a front porch when day’s work was done. It’s how many a mom quieted a fevered child, how many first dates led to first kisses, how many old men faces scratchy with whiskers rested tired bones.
Seasons were observed as legs dangled and moved back and forth, back and forth. First butterfly of spring, first firefly of summer, first fall leaf dropping, first bite of winter wind.
Neighbors were welcomed to the porch and could hear the creak…creak before they got to the first step. Sweating glasses of sweet tea were passed around. Stories were told… Family histories were handed down, children gathered round to hear grandma spin a tale, and all manner of gossip was whispered.
Before air conditioning, the porch swing was the cooling off place – sometimes it was the cooling off place in the heat of an argument. Always it was where the day ended. With last light of day fading into blackness the creak…creak slows and the screen door slams.
White, slatted boards and galvanized chain – these simple elements lead to lifetime memories…
Yards of tulle and silk ribbon adorn the rows. Air is scented with flowers and candles glow. Soft music floats through the air.
Suits with bowties and shuffling feet stand nervously up front as they clear throats and try to calm his nerves.
Grey hair with boutonnieres and corsages escorted carefully down the aisle. They have stood the test of time and pray these do as well.
Moms who have tried to find the ‘just right’ dress, who hope they’ve done everything right to prepare child for this day, march proudly down the aisle.
Ringlets of curls strewing blossoms as she comes, accompanied by chubby fingers balancing that ring on the pillow bring smiles to every face.
Oh so good friends and sisters in matching dresses one by one make their way, smiling the assurances they just imparted one last time.
Suddenly the music changes, heads turn, and the “ahhs” can be heard. A proud father with misty eyes has his angel beauty on his arm and slowly they come forth. One mother takes her eyes off them for just a moment to capture her son’s awe as he watches the one chosen for him.
Two now stand hand in hand listening carefully to words old as time. Repeating what they hear, slipping rings on fingers with vows special for each other. A tender kiss and as God intended now the two are one!
The rumble starts in the distance as the skies grow dark. Slowly as the minutes tick by the air grows heavy. The weight of it settles in and lights come on. In the distance a thunderclap, no sign of the rain or the lightning.
We scurry to move a tender plant or close a patio umbrella. Windows are shut as we peer up at the sky. The brilliance flashes across our face and we count the seconds 1001, 1002, 1003, 1004, 1005 – crash as the light flashes again.
Large drops splatter here and there, a vague breeze moves the tree limbs. Again, 1001, 1002 – suddenly the heavens open wide and the thud of thunder and rain pounding drown out all else.
Limbs bow with the weight of the leaves pushed the wrong direction, the squirrels hide in dens below, momma birds spread wings wide and close their eyes.
The rain flows and soaks the earth good and deep, frogs sing for their favorite weather. Puddles form waiting for a child’s fun. And all the while we wait…
As drops become scattered again and skies lighten back towards afternoon’s hue, the rumble grows distant once more. Opening the door I breathe deep the smell of cleansed earth, feel gratitude for shelter, and there it is…that breeze tickling my arms and my nose with the unmistakable scent of the storm now gone. The fragrance left behind is the reminder of the awe and wonder of creation drinking in the gift of life.
It is the same with life’s storms…the rumble grows in the distance, we know it is coming – even before there are actual signs of it. The weight of life settles in and we scurry to protect what we can. Before we know it we’re in the midst of job loss, a sick child, a dying loved one and the pounding of it drowns out all else. We bend and are pushed along as we struggle. It is a season, and we wait…
Then clouds part, the world goes on – sometimes we have a new job or a healed child, sometimes we lose a loved parent, but always we are reminded by the fragrance left behind of the gift of life.
I have no need for an alarm clock, I have a cat…
Pouncing each morning around 6:30 – even on Saturday!
He used to pounce and attack through the covers – batting at my feet with his hind legs. All manner of pushing and trying to get him to stop only intrigued him. Finally I discovered ignoring him worked best – he gave up on that tactic…
Next was bounding up on the bed and walking with heavy steps behind me as I lay on my side then plopping down against me purring loudly. Again, I found if I lay really still he would settle down. No longer content with the results he was getting he found the foolproof method: pounce, creep slowly but surely, purr loudly in the face, lay on pillow next to her head – I can feel him staring at me. If I try the old ignore him routine, he turns around in circles a few times and proceeds with an extensive bath.
Cat lover or not, you probably know most cats are very aloof. Not this guy, he’s Mr. Sociable. His favorite visitors are friends who are dog people and really don’t like cats. He makes it his mission to be sure and make them feel right at home – you know, walking behind them on the couch and laying behind their head, or better yet plopping down at their feet and wrapping his paws around their ankles and holding on for dear life. Should he detect that you have good fashion sense he proceeds to stick his head in your purse and explore all you brought with you, or rub against your black trousered leg – after all black and white do make a statement. But, I digress, back to the morning wake-up call…
As I stretch and stick out my arm to stroke that ever so soft fur, the first thing to greet me is whisker kisses. It’s hard to resist him! After all, he is doing his duty: making sure I’m up when I should be, making sure I know he loves me, and truth be told, making sure I know he is impatient for his morning grub!
Smells are powerful – a scent can come our way that we haven’t breathed in years and instantly we are transported in time to a distant memory…
I have a favorite rest stop on Highway 10 along the Florida panhandle where the pine stands are thick. I get out of the car and fill my lungs. Often the air in this region is scented with tall pines. It is the smell of home – at least for me. When a scent says “this is where you were born and raised” then it’s familiar, like an old friend.
Soup bubbling in the pot, apple pie baking, strawberries about to be smothered in whipped cream – just recounting them makes your stomach grumble. Citrus blossoms, red roses, and gardenias are creation’s fragrant bouquet.
A baby’s soft skin, the smell of sweaty little boys coming in from play, a husband’s shirts – these bring a smile to your face. Cotton sheets fresh off the line or out of the dryer have a unique smell and elicit a contented sigh. Oh, and the smell of rain – who doesn’t wonder at that wonderful scent straight from heaven!
My mother was a hairdresser and she always said the smell of a hair salon was her favorite, funny my daughter loves that also. These days it’s my mother’s perfume that makes me stop. She’s gone and for the first couple of years her clothes still hung in the closet – when I would visit I would go bury my face in her dresses. Now all has been packed up and given away. Yet her scent still lingers on keepsakes I brought home: scarves, a soft throw, notes she wrote. Happening upon one of these catches me off guard, and suddenly the woman who taught me so much and loved me so dearly caresses my cheek. I close my eyes and long for the sweet voice and old stories.
God blessed us with the sense of smell; it has a way of bringing peace in the chaos of life…
“Wait for me, Nanny!” Nanny is what Little One called her grandmother. “Come on, Little One, the garden is calling.” “I don’t hear it, Nanny. What is it calling?” Laughing, Nanny said “No, Little One, you can’t hear it with your ears, you hear it with your heart. The garden is full of life and adventures, not to mention good stuff to eat.”
Little One clung to Nanny’s dress as they waded through the rows of corn towering higher than even Nanny. When they reached the beds of squash Little One let go and ran up to a squash flower peering in. “Look, Nanny, there’s a bee inside!” Next to the squash were the pole beans. Nanny had positioned strings running up to a center pole so that a ‘tent’ of bean tendrils had grown all around and up to the top. “Look, Little One, so many beans are ready. They will taste so good with cornbread and fried chicken.” “Mmmm, I like beans, Nanny, can we have some now?” Grandmother and granddaughter plopped on the dirt and Nanny spread her apron wide and ‘unzipped’ several pods. Fresh peas fell upon Nanny’s apron and both tasted the goodness of the garden.
“Let’s go pick some maters Little One.” Jumping up Little One ran ahead to the tomato cages. “Ooo, look there’s a big green worm on this one.” Nanny plucked the worm and squished it and then another and another. “Darn horn worms, they like maters more than I do” said Nanny. Little One looked at the squished worms; she wrinkled her nose and put her hands on her hips “Darn horn worms!” Caught off guard Nanny said “Don’t go telling your momma I said darn, Little One, and don’t you say it either.”
Not too many years later as Little One was starting school she and her family moved to where people didn’t have gardens. The years flew by and Little One was all grown up. When she began to have children of her own she and her family moved back to where people still planted gardens. She remembered the smell of the dirt, the tickle of the corn silks, and taste of the fresh beans. Most of all she remembered the joy her grandmother had just being in the garden, a joy she still felt in her heart. She started with tomatoes and took her children out to look at them each day. When they began to turn red her little ones said “Look, mommy, there’s a big green worm on this one!” “Darn horn worms!” said mommy as she squished it….
Sometimes things we miss in the hurry of our everyday, God will put plainly in sight when we least expect it…
I pulled up to the stop light and before I could check my phone for a text, or look in the mirror to see my reflection, or tune the radio to listen to whatever, there it was beside me…
The young girl on the bicycle, not more than 12 or 13, rode up right behind the two walking ladies. At first I thought she must be with them as she was riding so close. The walking ladies were good friends, it was easy to tell. They were talking away as good friends do, so full of words and so full of friendship that they didn’t know they were walking or where they were. They only knew they were finding God’s gift for their day – the pure joy of having another to share all those words with.
I thought to myself “Why doesn’t the girl just say excuse me or clear her throat or something? Or maybe she is with them and has to ride behind them?” Not more than hundred feet of this happened when a wide driveway into a shopping center became her chance to go around. And she did, she went right around them and zoomed down the street. The walking ladies barely noticed, the words just kept tumbling out.
I thought again of the bicycle girl. I thought her mother should be proud of her. She was so patient, so kind. Then it occurred to me, would I have been? Haven’t I honked the horn when the light is green and the lady in front of me is fixing her hair or tuning her radio? And yes, I have had the horn honked at me when I’m lost in a text while waiting for the green light. How did it feel? It felt unkind.
In the matter of less than sixty seconds God showed me what kindness looks like. It looks like a 12 year old with a long, brown braid on a yellow bicycle gently pedaling and not making a sound and smiling as she goes around two women enjoying their gift for the day…
The silver haired reflection in the mirror seemed unfamiliar – where were the strawberry blonde curls, the freckled cheeks? The first Valentine’s Day in fifty-two years without Ed. The first Valentine Ed ever gave me was actually sixty years ago. Cut out of red construction paper and pasted on white notebook paper. I was eight and Ed had made one for all the girls, but when he handed them out I was last. He laid it on my desk and started to walk away, then stopped and looked at me and said “Your hair sure is curly.” That was all he had to say, from that day on I knew I was in love.
It took about another eight years before Ed ever said another thing to me on Valentine’s Day, but this time it was me who delivered a card. It was from the dime store and in it I wrote “Remember me? I was the eight year old with freckles and curly hair. Eleanor” At lunch I got up all my nerve and laid it on his lunch tray as I walked by.
That evening as I washed dinner dishes there was a knock on the door. I could hear daddy say “Come on in, son, how can I help you?” I froze as I heard Ed’s voice stammer “Well, sir, I want to ask permission to give this box of chocolates to your daughter, and, well, and sir, I was hoping I might could take Eleanor to the soda shop tomorrow night?” There was a long silence, I couldn’t breathe. Suddenly my younger brother said “Who would want to take Eleanor to the soda shop?” Daddy intervened “Buddy, go on in to the kitchen and help mama.” Then he said “Well, son, let’s see if Eleanor wants to go to the soda shop with you. Eleanor? Come on out here.”
Oh my goodness, my hands were still in the soapy water, I had an apron on, my hair was probably a tousled mess. But I didn’t waste any time, throwing the dish rag down I practically ran into the living room. Every Valentine’s Day since, Ed has always written on the card envelope “Freckles & Curls, That’s My Girl”. This year he would not.
Retrieving the shoebox where I had put each Valentine card, I took off the lid. The faint scent of Ed’s aftershave lifted out as I stared down at all the years. I decided I would start with the first one scrawled by an eight year old boy and work my way up to last year’s. I dumped the box upside down. To my surprise the first card on the bottom wasn’t that faded construction paper heart, it was a red envelope that read “I’m Sorry Freckles”. Inside was a construction paper heart and written on it was “I knew our first Valentine’s Day apart would find you reminiscing. Just want you to know that those eight years between the first Valentine card and our first date, I was in love too. Someday together again, this time you’ll be stuck with me forever. Bring chocolates! Love Ed”
Paris Renae is about to go live – it is an exciting time. Please visit again on February 14th as we officially begin sharing the stories of your lives…
PLaY CReaTivEly WitH YoUr LiTtLe OnE
PURSUING GOD WITH PASSION
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