One of my favorite parts of writing is the way it immortalizes the trivial things that might otherwise be forgotten. “It’s all about the mundane,” my college writing instructor, Matt Frank, repeated. “The mundane is sacred. It’s holy.”
My little brother Mark wrote down a bunch of stories about Mr. Bray, an iconic and well-loved coach, teacher, and driver’s ed instructor in small-town Upper Michigan who passed away last year.
I love reading about what Mr. Bray meant to my brother and his friends — how he motivated them to dig deep and busted their chops to make them better.
I would like to add a few of my observations about Mr. Bray — they are quite different from my brother’s.
First off, as intense and as NUTS as Mr. Bray was, he was also the opposite. If you were within a hundred feet of the trophy hall between the middle school gym and the weight room, you KNEW you’d either hear Mr. Bray hollering with the most booming voice you will ever remember, or you’d see him strolling, and I mean strolling, across the glossy linoleum like it was a summer day at Lake Superior and he had nothing to do and nowhere to be. He’d be wearing those damn Zubaz pants (to his JOB as a professional educator) with white tennies and a half-zip pullover windbreaker, swinging his whistle around in circles with a cockeyed half-grin on his face. He’d give you a little grunt or witty comment paired with your nickname and keep strolling.
You loved seeing this Mr. Bray.
Last Thursday, my great-grandma turned 96. Months before, we’d planned a birthday bash for her with her three children attending from three states, along with several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Then the coronavirus crept into our region, creating a trickle of closures and cancellations. We altered our plans with the changing recommendations from the CDC.
Plan A: Hold the party in the dining room at her assisted living facility with all of us present.
Plan B: Pick up Nana and transport her to my parents’ house for the party.
Then we learned the entire assisted living facility would be locked down, with no visitors in and no residents out. Time to think creatively.
My first gray hair turned up when I was a sophomore in college — twenty years old and full of sass and gumption. No way I was going to let anyone see THAT nonsense. I headed to the salon and promptly covered up my defect with fifty bucks worth of highlights and lowlights, glad I escaped a dangerously close marring of my youthful image.
After a few years of salon visits, the grays were multiplying and my “career” as a student teacher didn’t exactly provide the means to fund my self-preservation project, so off to Walgreen’s I went to find a box of hair color to restore my dark curls at a fraction of the cost of salon color.
In the beginning, I wrapped myself in a color cape every eight weeks or so, humming along to Counting Crows and Pearl Jam in my Marquette apartment, watching the timer tick for thirty minutes before rinsing myself back to the security of 5C Brilliant Brunette.
Ahh. That’s better.
After a month of a nearly-empty egg basket, the fall moult is complete and the girls are laying again. That speckled egg is the first we’ve seen from our new Welsummer hens. Isn’t it gorgeous?
Keeping livestock adds rhythm to our days. The feeding and watering, the egg collection, the midday check to make sure everyone’s a-okay. Our lives take on the shape of seasonal activities, filling out during busy times like high summer or the season of Advent, and giving way to a bit more elbow room during the dark winter. But animal chores are steady, keeping time for us throughout the months, the years. Counting the chickens with my youngest son as they emerge from the coop each morning. Scratching kitty chins at lunch break. Dropping a fistful of hay in front of each rabbit at dusk. Continue reading
“I miss your writing,” an acquaintance told me in the juice aisle at the grocery store. “Are you going to get back to blogging?”
A few years ago, I was creating and publishing content to this space three or four times a month. If you were a regular here, you saw that taper off and become sparse these past two years.
It’s not that I lost my drive to create — not at all. But the bulk of my creative energy was consumed by other endeavors. It started when I was a preschooler, really. As a young girl, I ached to live on a farm. I was sure I was born into the wrong era or the wrong family or at least lived on the wrong street in a quaint neighborhood of small-town Michigan.
I dreamed of climbing mountains of straw and soaring from a hay loft on a rope swing rather than shooting hoops on gravelly pavement. I dreamed of open space beyond my home rather than houses neighboring on every side. I dreamed of pets that clucked and quacked and mooed rather than squeaking caged creatures taking turns running on the wheel to nowhere.
When I read the Little House on the Prairie series, I was certain Laura Ingalls was the luckiest girl who ever lived. Those open fields. Those prairie hens. Those evenings around the fire with hot cider and a lively fiddle.
I wanted a life so big, yet so small. Room to stretch my legs. A creek in which to cool my tired feet. Snap peas so fresh I’d have to shoo off a dragonfly before biting into the crisp pod. Of course I’d be barefoot in the garden for this idyllic moment.
But alas, I lived in a ranch home on a corner lot in town, and the only thing we grew was a lawn.
In the summer of 2015, everything changed. I was thirty-three years old, married with three kids and two college degrees collecting dust on my shelf when a cherished friend died suddenly and unexpectedly. My friend’s death shouted in my face that you get one chance to do life on this earth. My friend had dream-chased himself to New York City to work in the English department of a Manhattan university. It was time for me to chase my dreams in the opposite direction — so into the country I went.
He cried yesterday when I excitedly told him it was his last night as a five-year-old. “I like being five — I wish I could just stay this age forever. Will you take one last picture of me while I’m still five?”
He has always liked being little — being near. He spent hundreds of hours strapped to me in the baby carrier, peaceful and secure among the whirlwind of toddler and preschool aged brothers.
Years later, his brothers may wander to the yard or down to the neighbors’ house, but this boy often parks it at the kitchen counter, chatting to me about his Lego creations or asking if he can crack the eggs for me.
He is content to hang out with our animals or snuggle with me in the reading nook for hours, not thinking of what he might miss out on. I love this about him. I will never hold my kids back from growing and exploring, but I am grateful for the rare gift of a boy who sees everything he already has as enough, a boy whose undemanding presence reminds me of how sweet it is to just be — together.
Happy Birthday, Miles. And yes, I will keep a picture of you in my heart where you can be five forever.
Every Advent season, when my husband sees me stooping over the pile of cards and envelopes, flexing and unflexing my writer’s-cramped fist, he asks “Why?”
Why spend all that money creating and sending cards that are likely going to be read once and then hit the waste can?
Why spend hours in an already busy season writing and folding and sealing and stamping?
Why bother when most people are already connected through various forms of social media?
This is my Why.
The boy who made me a mama is nine today. I’ve written many letters to my kids over the years. I think I’ll share a few here. . .
You have been a big kid with a big personality since the moment we met you. When Dr. Ryan delivered you, he shouted to the operating room, “Somebody get this kid a cheeseburger!” When he put you on the scale and you weighed over twelve pounds, Mom thought she was hallucinating! Dr. Ryan must be some kind of a prophet, because you really do LOVE cheeseburgers, don’t you?
Mom and Dad have enjoyed watching you grow into the terrific guy you were created to be. We admire many things about you, but here are some of our favorites: Continue reading
A sweet friend took me out on the town last night. We dined at the only fancy-ish restaurant in our small city, swooning over Greek Bruschetta and perfectly roasted artichokes before scurrying to the theater to support friends in a local production of Rent.
Another friend met us at the show where our three mouths hung agape over the showcase of local talent. (“Wow, that girl can WAIL! Where do these people COME from? Do they LIVE here?”) After the performance, we chatted in the street beside my friend’s ginormous SUV, wishing there was somewhere we could grab coffee.
“There’s always McDonald’s,” someone offered timidly, more like a question than a suggestion. . .
We rolled into Mickey-D’s at 10:15, settling in between the giggling high school crowd in the back and the cat-vibes lady with the pink sequined scarf up front.
Four hours later, we were still in the booth. Our conversation had rambled through the territories of foster care, intercessory prayer, seasonal depression, religion-based shame, Kindergarten crushes, self-love, gluten farts, and the most absorbent mom-bladder pantyliner. Continue reading
In March of last year, my dear friend and fellow foster mama left me a voicemail one evening explaining that she had a new placement and was wondering if I could care for the child for a few hours the next day while she was at work. I called her back and accepted with a flutter of excitement and nervousness in my belly, then I lay awake into the night anticipating meeting this baby in the morning.
My husband and I were new foster parents; we were just licensed the month before and had not yet had any placement requests. Despite our training, we had little idea how the system worked or what to really expect as we became involved with caring for foster children. Continue reading