The Warmth of Community

A week or two ago, we were tricked into thinking that Autumn was on its way. The lows were dipping into the 50s, and we started to get chilly at night, sleeping with our windows open. We even broke out a quilt, still packed away from last winter. I know. We were fooled.

It’s now quite toasty again and last night, even with the fan, it never really cooled off upstairs. But the quilt is still on the bed, because we refuse to acknowledge that it’s late September and rather unpleasant outside.

Every morning, we pull up our covers (yes, Mom, we do), and we spend a few seconds musing about our quilt. Every evening, as we get ready for bed, we spend a few more seconds musing about it. When I happen to wander through the room at other moments during a given day, I muse.

What the heck could we be musing about?

I thought you’d never ask.

This quilt is an artifact of community. My students are writing about communities for their second papers, and they have to select an “artifact” of the community as a way of analyzing the community’s values, so I’ve been thinking in terms of artifacts a lot lately.

It’s the quilt my mom put together after our wedding. She cut out large 12×12 pieces of material before the wedding and then set up a table at the reception where guests could write us a message with fabric markers. Then she turned it into a quilt, a big one, big enough to cover our king-sized bed.

On the whole, it’s a fun idea, and we ended up with a diverse array of messages–congratulations, of course, and recollections of shared memories, Bible verses and prayers, beautiful calligraphy right next to chicken scratch and poor penmanship, and drawings of all sorts–including one of a dinosaur eating another dinosaur, complete with blood, thanks to a young cousin. It’s lovely and fun and we get a kick out of the oddness of our loved ones. (Yes, you.)

But it’s an interesting artifact for reasons other than the particular, often quirky messages we reread to each other each day. As the years go by, I imagine it will become even more dear. Already it is a witness to people who have passed out of our lives, especially family members who have gotten ill and died, but also friends we haven’t spoken to in years. With sadness, we look at it and mourn broken relationships, yet we also see it as an account of joy, a celebration of new births and recent marriages, as we notice who is missing from the quilt. It is an account of our history up until June 19, 2004, a smattering of different nicknames, different groups of friends, different churches, close family members, long-far-off family members I couldn’t pick out of a crowd.

Of particular significance is  the medium of the message, the more I think about it. These messages are on a quilt, which is not just an artifact, really. It’s a blanket, a comfort-er. It keeps us warm when we’re chilly.

So thanks, Momma.

And thanks to you, community, for the warmth you give us.

Pappy Sands, the Stories We Tell, & Remembering the Good

Pap2My Pappy Sands passed away on Sunday night, January 27th.

Alzheimers had slowly been stealing him from us for more than a year, but his sudden, rapid decline in recent days caught us by surprise. At Christmas, his family had gathered around him to sing carols together–and he sang along, knowing the words. In fact, when I greeted him in December, he kidded with me about wanting to call me Betty. Maybe it was confusion. Or maybe he was cracking jokes. Either way, he was in good spirits.

Pappy Sands and Grandma Bev, his wife, owned a campground in New Hampshire. Throughout my childhood, we often drove the nine-hour trip north through the night to visit in the summer, especially over my birthday, the day before Independence Day. Flipping through his old photo albums, there were an inordinate number of me opening birthday presents year after year after year.

Pappy and Grandma were snowbirds in the winter, and eventually retired to Florida. We frequently drove south to Florida–again through the night–to celebrate the Christmas holiday in the warmer weather.

So yes, lots of pictures of those Christmases, too. One year, for some unknown reason, I had a Christmas sticker on my forehead in every single photo. Why I put it there in the first place, I don’t know. Why nobody insisted I remove it after the first few photos, I really don’t know.

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The Songs We Sing (Part 1), or, “If you’ll be M-I-N-E-mine…”

Some time around 1979, my dad, mom, and my dad’s sisters and their spouses formed a gospel singing group called The Family Circle. Lugging around their sound equipment and matching outfits, they sang to gospel music cassettes at assorted church events on the weekends.

From an early record cover

Eventually, they upgraded from a van pulling a trailer to a full-size coach bus decked out with bunk beds, a kitchen and dining area, and a bathroom. Since my grandfather owned a campground in New Hampshire and spent winters in Florida, The Family Circle ended up driving that coach all along the Eastern seaboard. We called it “the bus.”

I came along in 1982. By the time I was four or five, I had my own song, called My Mommy Told Me Something. I don’t remember singing it, to be honest, and at least in the one video recording I saw of myself flanked by my cousins in front of a church, I mostly stood there mute and stared at the congregation, microphone in hand.

My memories of time on the bus are a ragtag collection of snippets: Uncle Larry microwaving Lebanon balogna sandwiches, the teasing over Coke versus Pepsi, learning the “Fifty-Nifty United States” song when travelling during the school year, lots of sunburned shoulders, getting foot massages from Aunt Diana (a reflexologist), watching Top Gun in the back bedroom, sleeping on the bottom bunk on the right side across from my cousin Justin, the youngest of the group.

And, of course, all the singing.

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Black and white and read all over

This may sound silly, but it was not until college–actually, at my now-husband’s family’s home over breaks–that I was first exposed to the concept of the daily newspaper.

Okay, so of course I knew that there were people who subscribed to the newspaper, but only in a vague Lady and the Tramp sort of way. (Remember that scene with the hole torn in the newspaper as the guy reads it and drinks his coffee? Yeah, that movie was from 1955. My point exactly.)

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Ode to My Momma

Today is Mother’s Day.

Yesterday was my momma’s birthday, which was another one of the year’s milestones in the family. In honor of her, and this wonderful day dedicated to mommas everywhere, here’s another list.

13 Things I've Learned From My Momma 
Over the Years (in no particular 
-- How to sing harmony.
-- Flour need not be measured 
-- A weed is anything growing 
    where you don't want it to be.
-- "Just ignore him, Elizabeth."
-- Always wipe the counters.
-- Wash the dishes as you go.
-- Sometimes it's hard to trust 
-- ...but forgiveness is always the 
    best option.
-- Hospitals throw away a lot of perfectly useful things.
-- It is okay to take a nap.
-- Always send someone else your travel itinerary and emergency contact 
-- Fresh herbs make a big difference.

And last, but certainly not least,

-- Call your mom on Saturdays.

Happy Birthday, Momma!

A Milestone Worth Celebrating…

This year marks some milestone birthdays in our family, and today’s belongs to my dad. I won’t reveal the special number, but, well, let’s just say it rhymes with “nixty.” 

In honor of him, here’s a post that has pretty much nothing to do with community. But I hope you’ll join with me in wishing him a Happy “Nixtieth” Birthday.

10 things I've learned from my dad over 
     the years, in no particular order
- How to fry the perfect egg, ice a cake, 
     and make strong coffee.
- It is probably not a good idea to go chop 
     down trees in the woods by yourself.
- Do not call anyone after 9 pm.
- Teenage boys really do have only one 
     thing on their minds.
- If you're respectful, anything is up 
     for discussion.
- Dying my hair green would only make 
     me look stupid, not him.
- The best conversations happen after 
- Always offer dessert, even if it's just 
     the bin of Little Debbie snacks.
- Sometimes a generous tip to a grouchy 
     waitress is being Christ to her.

And last, but certainly not least,

- Why, yes, you can reheat coffee in the microwave.

Happy Birthday, Daddio!

When God Talks…

Warning: I'm feeling a little preachy today, so if you prefer more 
generic posts about community to my convictions about the liturgical 
calendar, well, you might want to just skip on over this one.

I grew up in a world where God talked to us.

What I mean is, I grew up in a world that actually talked about God talking to us.

Sure, I was never one of those folks who heard an audible voice from heaven, but I really did “hear” God’s voice through the Scriptures on more than one occasion, and I still do believe in nudgings from the still, small voice of God.

I think it’s fair to say that I don’t live in that world any more, but since my pastor reads this blog as do a handful of other folks from my church, I’ll leave it up to them to correct me. Regardless, it doesn’t seem to me that I hear very many people in my faith community talking about listening in any tangible sense for God’s voice–and actually hearing something worth communicating.

That’s not a slam, by any means. There are lots of ways to believe, to pursue, and to seek God’s wisdom in this life, and my denomination certainly loves Jesus and does a great deal of good in the world by sharing the gospel message.

I’m just not used to hearing messages about God talking to me.

To me.


But, crazy as this might sound to some of you, I still believe it. And I think most of my church friends believe it, too, even if they don’t say it out loud very often.

So I decided to say it today, Ash Wednesday.

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Abiding in the Pieces

On Saturday afternoon, sitting at my kitchen table behind the whirring of a borrowed sewing machine, I smelled something that transported me back to my childhood.

To be honest, I don’t know much about sewing though I’ve survived a handful of projects. (By “a handful,” I mean enough to make me more confident than I should be, given the circumstances.) Because I don’t know how to use a pattern, I rely on my creative instincts and my editor’s eye for layout design work. Basically, I’m no Martha Stewart, even if I can make a basic panel curtain.

As the sewing machine sporadically stopped and started–I hadn’t perfected the steady pressure on the foot pedal either–I sat back in my chair, stunned.

There it was all around me, something slightly mechanical and smoky. It wasn’t burning fabric or an overheated engine, but a gentle warmth, like an old kitchen or maybe a pile of dried leaves.

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His Banner Over Me Is Food, Part 1

One of the many songs I’ve carried with me from my gloriously evangelical childhood is “His Banner Over Me Is Love.” (If you’re not familiar with this song, of which there are many variations on the simple verses, here’s one cheesy rendition you can listen to on YouTube. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, though, if you end up humming this for the next few hours.)

The verse that has stuck with me the most is the one based on Song of Solomon 2:4, maybe because I never really understood it as a kid. The version I was taught went something like this–

He leads me to his banqueting table... his banner over me is love.
He leads me to his banqueting table... his banner over me is love.
He leads me to his banqueting table... his banner over me is love.
His bann-er over me-e, is lo-ove.

Of course I’m a fan of the refrain throughout the song–his banner over me is love. I can hardly sing it, especially the melody of the final line, without bobbing my head to the side. “Banner” is one of those KJV throwbacks, like “Yea though I walk…” in Psalm 23, that gives me warm fuzzies.

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In Honor of Fairey Godmothers

Last week, I wrote an ode to my old T-shirts as a means of introducing one of my favorite stores, “The Fairey Godmother.”

My brother, Stephen, and I shopped there when we were teenagers, and we bought some pretty funky stuff. At the time, Stephen had a haircut that made him look a lot like George Harrison, so the retro suits and vintage bell-bottoms were perfect. Consider, for example, that he wears a buttercup yellow suit in one of our family Easter photographs.

I was just happy to find pants that were long enough. In addition to my more-normal assortment of T-shirts and plaid bell-bottoms I acquired through the years, I bought my costume for our musical my senior year at The Fairey Godmother, Stephen’s prom dates bought their dresses there, and my cousin bought his prom tux there (baby blue, if I remember correctly, with ruffles).

But this post isn’t about clothing. It’s about community.

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