Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A Brown Paper Bag

I went for a long bike ride in the country this weekend.  23 miles on the new gift machine. Once I got over being just one measly pebble away from insane road rash and possible death, I enjoyed myself.  We got to rolling green hills and split rail fences, dogs chained to outside trees, an occasional horse, and the strawberry farms. The sweet scent and the bent backs brought my mind back to the mid-70s.

There is a brown paper bag that sits in the back of my mother’s closet. Inside are 3 pairs of shorts and 3 shirts folded and used once a year. They are our strawberry picking clothes. Mine was a halter and some version of terry cloth shorts while my brother’s were some old soccer jersey and any form of Levi’s -jeans or cords- cut off. I suppose ours changed year to year because of growth spurts but my Mother’s were always the same. A sleeveless collared, red gingham shirt, navy shorts, and white keds, the thick kind like you wear on boats. There were a few red splotches stained into the canvas and the shoes eventually turned more pink than white. I am guessing the bag is no longer there anymore but I think about it each time I bite into the first handpicked berry of the season.

I recall my grandparents, Nanon and PopPop, coming on one or two berry picking adventures but I may be confusing that with the yearly treks to the Lacoste outlet in Redding, PA. Anyway strawberry picking day always started early in the morning with a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast (“Eggs stick with you much better than cereal or pancakes” my Mother would  say, long before we thought about protein versus carbs or abhorred white flour) We would pile into the green Chevrolet station wagon and drive to a farm about an hour from our home in Alexandria. That land is probably now Potomac Mills or Tysons II or some other behemoth of retail. We would be given large cardboard trays and be directed to a row good for picking. Then we would start. We would pick and eat and eat and pick and sit in the row and complain that it was hot or tiring or boring. But for the most part we enjoyed it. And my Mom would pick. For Ever. We would not leave until the back of the giant station wagon was filled with cardboard trays bursting with red gold.

That was only the first half. Once home, the yellow french ceramic pot would come out and gallons of sugar and cutting boards and knives would clutter the counter as the process for strawberry jam would begin. On the back burner was a large white and blue pot boiling gallons of water to sterilize the lids and the jars. There were circles of paraffin wax used for sealing in boxes on the counter. Each year I would sneak one or two circles out and carve my name in using my finger nails still stained red with juice. (That never went over well with my ever frugal Yankee Mother). When making strawberry jam there is a “fruit foam” which rises to the top of the berry mess as it cooks down and thickens. It looks more like a strawberry nougat or souffle and it needs to be skimmed off so as to not cloudy the jam. It is pure heaven. We would eat it by the warm spoonful and forget we had almost been sick just 5 hours ago from eating too many berries while we picked.

Last spring I went strawberry picking with my girls. I was trying to recreate one of my favorite childhood rituals. But there was no bag of stained clothes to pull out of my closet. We drove 20 minutes down the road to a farm and each picked a bucket full of berries. I tried to teach the three girls, not to pick ones with white on them or ones too red and mooshy. We had fun and lasted about an hour, with the promise of homemade strawberry ice cream (bought at the farm stand of course) as a post-picking treat. When we got home, they were done with the strawberry thing. I attempted to make jam but nostalgia quickly went the way of my modern impatience. In several sequential phone calls to my mother, here is how it broke down:

1. Do you know how expensive Ball jars are? And I can’t even find the right size! (That is why I always ask you to save the jars from the jam I give you)

2. Do you know the recipe calls for equal parts sugar to fruit? That’s insane! (It does taste good though)

3. Do you know how hard it is to tell if the jam has thickened enough? There is no guarantee! (It is an art)

4. I don’t have time to do this canning sterilizing thing! (I guess that’s why I’m the only one who still makes jam)

5. Well next strawberry season you are going to have to come help. Most of my jam turned out wrong! (I would love to and you can always give it to friends as strawberry ice cream topping)

Sadly, I do not think my daughters will have a fondness for strawberries or the process like the one my Mother cultivated in me. They won’t have homemade prom dresses either.  The planning, the hard work, the educational aspect, the incorporating of children into daily life, the delicious treat coming out of the kitchen: so authentically my mother. What will my girls look back on and remember as something so “me” and yet so fun for them? Will it be our treks to Maine or crazy homemade birthday cakes? I hope they remember I am the ONLY mom who gets into the pool even if the water is freezing. They might be lacrosse players or pickup a new sport at age 40. They may even write. Or maybe the jam trait will skip a generation and be picked up again by my offspring. They do love to cook… I guess it doesn’t really matter what the memory is about as long as it is a strong one and good.

Love Hurts

The girls arrive at practice looking similar to how I would have shown up 25 years ago. Shorts, tank top, slightly sunburnt forehead, cleats and a stick, mouthguard tucked into the strap of a jog bra. Many are tired from an all day tournament the day before, six games played on the fields of Burlington, NC with no shade. As I reffed my fifth game, I thought back to last week’s post and wished one of those parents whom I sat with at the athletic banquet would show up with oranges or dry socks. We begin practice with many of the same drills I did in the eighties: shuttle passing, footwork, shooting on the goal.  Sometimes I feel like a “hasbeen” in front of these girls, perhaps not just in terms of lacrosse. Sure the game has gotten better, the equipment is easier to perform with, the clothes more streamlined and somehow every player seems stronger, taller, and faster. What do I seem like to them? A really old spaz with nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon? A scary ref who is a rule fanatic? They would probably never guess that I hate dog leash laws. I consider the posted speed limit to be a suggestion much of the time. And I loathe going to the post office because the clerks always find some reason to make me go to the end of the line; either my letter is wrongly addressed or my credit card isn’t signed or my photo id just doesn’t look enough like me.

Earlier in the week our facilitator had inquired if the coaches needed to change the practice schedule because of mother’s day. Though I have 3 girls of my own, my family knows if I get to pick the days activity, it will most likely include some outside sport, and probably lacrosse. It’s a new game where I live and it is growing like wildfire. As I drive through neighborhoods, I see the orange metal pipes of lacrosse goals peaking through azaleas. Kids show up in the park with sticks and a ball and everyone seems to have at least one pair of mesh shorts with a college lacrosse team logo on the thigh. Lacrosse has had some tough press here, not undeservedly so. We are twenty miles from Durham where the Duke lacrosse scandal and the pathetic handling of the case played out in very public display. Not a highlight for the sport where everyone thinks it is a game of privileged players. And for the most part they are right, particularly compared to other sports where God given talent is often the only way out of life’s defeating patterns.

I thought of three people on Mother’s Day morning. First, I thought of my own Mom and all she has done for me and with me. Cindi is a professional volunteer, the kind of person who treats her free job better than most six figured salary employees I know. She has given her life to the episcopal church and along the way become an activist and a liberal (I doubt she would agree with those exact words but I mean them as a compliment). She does not carry picket signs or apply bumper stickers to her car but she really works for a difference and still believes change can be made. She has conducted case studies on the role of women in the church and traveled thousands of miles around Virginia to make sure people are informed on church business. She thinks about inclusive vocabulary when asking a newcomer in the church yard, “Are there other members in your household?” She has sewn strapless rouched taffeta prom dresses, Halloween costumes, and doll clothes. I was a non-sandwich eater in high school and she would make me a salad for lunch and squeeze a grapefruit in a glass so I could guzzle it down in my bedroom while getting dressed…every morning. One summer I decided to take swim team seriously and wanted to do long distance in the morning.  5:30 in the morning. My mother drove me twice a week. She listens a lot to me and occasionally tells me what I don’t want to hear. My Mom is a work horse who does not know the meaning of halfway or good enough. My children should be so lucky.

The other two Moms I thought about yesterday lost children on a previous mother’s day. Ben Woodruff, the brother and son of friends of mine, died in the UNC fire in 1996. Yeardley Love was murdered by her boyfriend last year. Both anniversaries fall on mother’s day. I am sure it is a hard day but what one isn’t without your child? The Gospel Reading yesterday was The Road to Emmaus, where Jesus shows up after his death but the disciples do not recognize Him, until after a meal is shared. As I sat listening to the reading I thought of the mothers, walking their own road, wanting a visit or a sign of their resurrected child. Would they recognize it? Would I?

So it is time for practice to begin. My heart is full but heavy today. We do what we know how. One foot in front of the other. Routine. Drills. The practice centers on creating competition: for each dropped ball, a sprint. As I use my watch to time a run, a player notices my blue rubber bracelet that says One Love. “Is that for Yeardley?” she asks. I reply: “Sort of. It’s really for me and for you… in honor of her.” The girls looks inquisitive so I pull everyone in to a huddle. As lacrosse players they are a familiar with Yeardley’s vibrant smile and the blue and orange #1 jersey, now retired from UVA. I explain that sports is about so much more than acquiring a skill set of physical demands. It is about empowerment, and strength and self worth. It is about doing something bigger than yourself. And if I can teach that to one girl, than I know I have honored Yeardley Love and her mother. I will have honored my Mother and my girls.

Broken Shells

An old piece so I am not tempted to use it on a Tuesday…

Once I strolled down the beach with my Mom when I was a little girl. We were looking for shells after a long day of salty air and strong sun and my eyes were tired. To be honest, I did not really want to be there except my Mom and I always looked for shells together and there was no where else to go. I kept staring at the grains of sand and could only find thin, cracked shells that had been tossed one too many times in the powerful arms of the ocean. Although my Mom did not want to pick those shells up, I thought they were the most beautiful ones. Their colors were the most vibrant and I imagined that if they could talk, the broken ones would have the most interesting story.

When I look into the mirror, I often see that same cracked beauty of a tough sea shell. My eyes become blue lapis, a strong stone with material value and warmth. The lapis makes others want to possess me and makes me feel worthy to be bought like a jewel. They give me a basic commodity of value. But I can make them as cold and strong as the ocean that breaks the fragile shells. Then the other, weak sea creatures know to stay away from me. But no one person is always the sea or the weak shell, or even the highly valued lapis stone.
A mirror reflection can be as deceiving as the undertow of fierce ocean. The water can have a pulling strength that overpowers the innocent swimmer before she is aware that it is in existence. That artificial vision in the glass sneaks up on me and who I see becomes someone I don’t know and never want to meet. The pulling strength is something my Mom always told me to stay away from. “Only go into your elbows when there is an undertow” she said. This way I was evenly matched with the ocean because I could walk on top of it. I could sink my toes into the cool mooshy sand for stability and my arms could punch at the slapping waves. Then I return back to shore and the warm sand with beautiful broken shells. But looking in a mirror, there is no strategy to overcome the pulling force. Unless of course, you only take the quick glimpse. This way the freckles don’t really form on my hidden cheek bones and my large forehead does not overshadow my lapis stones. Others do this too. A quick “how are you” or compliment keeps you above water and out of danger, trapping the pain of experience behind the material wealth of lapis. But I want to swim out so far i can no longer see the shells or the beach or the mirror.
I want to swim with my ribs rubbing against the sleek grey skin of a dolphin. I want to go underwater and open my eyes until the salt stings all the color out and I can let the pain flow into the strength of the ocean and help someone else. I want to blow bubbles to the top of the water until I no longer need lungs and I can still keep swimming. I want to feel the grit of wet sand under my nails, the kind that is bothersome when building sand castles, and have it file my fingers down to become part of the ocean floor. I want my hair to tangle in the seaweed and force my head to stay underwater and I don’t want to struggle. I don’t want to fight the strength of the ocean anymore. I want to be a part of the ocean and use it’s strength, it’s beauty, and it’s undertow to help me see the mirage in my glass.
The beautiful cracked shell. Where does it’s attraction come from? Although the edges are rough and cutting, the tops are smooth from being tossed among salt particles. It’s rough journey makes each shell more individual and more precious. All of my shells have rough edges and beautiful stories. And perhaps the rough journey is why so many cracked shells end up on dry land. Maybe the ocean became too much, the shell was not ready or willing or able to become sand and yet it was too tired to resist the strength and the temptation of the unknown.  The warm dry sand with funny looking people searching for them becomes comforting. The cracked shells wait on the shore to be picked by some tender hand and admire for it’s beauty. They wait to take on an easier transformation than the one required by the ocean. Be part of a lamp in a summer rental or glued securely to a picture frame or someone’s modern beige condo. And it’s always the cracked ones who wait longer. The perfect ones, who did not change, get picked first, making their life enviable and sweet. But not me and my shells. We wait on the beach for some person to choose us because all the boring, beautiful ones are gone But we have the story and strength of the ocean to carry through the rest of the journey.
I pick up a cracked shell and show my mother. She stares into my lapis chips and finds the beauty in me and my purpose in picking the broken shell. She knows the strength of the story because she has her own broken shell. The one that whispers of dolphins and seaweed and salt water. The shell that brings the strength of the undertow and knows the beauty of a rough edge and a smooth top. The beauty of a crack which gives a purpose and it’s own powerful story.

The Saints*

The parking lot is filled with cars. We drive past filled spaces and admire the green athletic fields, perfectly manicured and lined for each sport. There are now two artificial-turf fields, a separate lacrosse field and a baseball diamond. In my day, there was one field, not quite regulation size, worn down to large dust patches at either goal end due to overuse. By all physical measures, my high school is totally changed. A facelift for the present way parents need to be convinced to spend $20,000 on a high school education.

My mother and I walked into the front hall, a place I have been associated with since my brother started fourth grade there in 1978. As I put on the plastic nametag with my married name of Jones, it felt sort of odd. In this place, I am Melanie Bartol. I am known for me and my faults and accomplishments as an individual, not for my girls or my husband. It is as if the spotlight has been cutoff. I am not more fierce or competitive or strong or loud than any of the people there. I am home.

There are familiar faces everywhere. My classmate who runs the alumni office, the head who is the same since I went there (and who my mother has known since she was a teenager in Connecticut), the former teammates and coaches who all seem to come back or never leave. And it is a joyous occasion, five people and two teams being inducted into the athletic hall of fame. The feats are somewhat awe inspiring of those honored: A gym teacher who taught for 41 years; a three sport athlete who scored 1,041 point on the basketball court. I had the privilege to play lacrosse with her in high school and college. A wrestler who won the national prep school wrestling title and an ACC college title. And the 1995 field hockey team who had a perfect season -no losses, no ties, no goals scored upon. There are only seven high school field hockey programs in the country to achieve that. I felt pride for what they achieved.

It was a joy to sit with parents who drove us to games, paid for camps, listened endlessly to the breakdown of games, cut oranges, cheered loudly even when they didn’t know the rules, brought old newspapers to tournaments to stuff in our cleats so they would dry between games. Secretly I think there was a competition among the parents to see who could come up with the next handy gadget to support us. One year, a Dad showed up with a picnic table that folded into the size of a briefcase. There were tents and towels sitting in ice water for the hot days and sock warmers and sweatshirts for the colder games. In short high school athletics was an atmosphere where we were cared for and rejoiced in. We were cared for and we mattered.

There have always been rumors the school has recruited athletes, starting in first grade. I imagine these people think the interview consists of freeze tag and relay races with any seven year old not in the top three being cut from the process. I can assure you this does not happen. There is nothing fancy about the plays or the training or the coaches. In fact I don’t remember feeling any outward pressure to win. Prepare, play hard, inspire teammates, reap the benefits. A straight up process. It worked most of the time. In twelve seasons, over four years, the teams I was on lost 5 games. Total. In college we lost more than that my first season. I had to learn how to lose and I did not like it, still don’t.

This week was a big news cycle: The Royal Wedding, The President’s birth certificate and Obama’s speech at The White House Correspondents Dinner, the Tuscaloosa Tornado, the killing of Osama Bin Laden. So why do I write on sports? Because it’s the only thing that makes sense to me day in and day out. Fairytales will fade back to the books, our enemies will find new reasons to hate us, and politicians will continue to bicker. Natural disasters will wreak havoc on towns and change lives forever. And for me, sports will always be an analogy for life and faith. In the movie Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell, the running missionary, says:  “Then where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within.” It is something I was subtly taught while competing. It was brought to glowing light this weekend. Each honoree was humbled, thankful, and sure of what sports had done for their lives. I hope one day to be able to say that about my faith.

* My high school mascot is the Saints. As visitors to away games, we would roll down the windows on the bus, slam our sticks loudly on the floor and scream “Oh When The Saints Go Marching In.” This title is in no means a reflection of our perfect behavior, most of which was not and is not fit to be written about anywhere.

Were You There?

My friend’s 15 year old son calls them two-timers. More historically, the term has been “C and Es” as in those who come to church on Christmas and Easter. But I like the double entendre of two timers as in people who are posing as one thing -people of faith- but are living another reality. “I’m spiritual but don’t like organized religion” or “I find God in my garden” or “It’s just too hard to get everyone there on one of my mornings off”.  Then why come on the biggest day of the year? Does anyone watch just the first and last episodes of American Idol or Survivor? Would you really care who won the recording contract if you didn’t see the bad songs and out of the ballpark arrangements along the way? If you don’t do it for television why do it for God? I mean does the story make any sense at that point? The last time you heard about Jesus he was a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes (whatever those are), lying in a manger. Now he is being nailed to a cross and left to die. The Jesus story is a pretty big leap of faith anyway but to hear just the beginning and the end, with no meat in the middle, would really blow my mind. Do the two-timers know Jesus struggled with the Devil? Do they know he asked God to stop this if possible? Do they know Jesus rode in to town on a donkey just seven days before his crucifixion with a mob of people celebrating him as King?

I don’t like Easter. There I said it. Blasphemous I know but walk with me here and imagine what Easter Sunday is like in the clergy spouse world. The preacher is out of family commission during Holy Week. There are at least twelve services to participate in and bulletins to proof. He has his own faith journey to ponder and then of course the 984 hands to shake on Easter morning is exhausting. Although we have separation of church and state, public schools have decided spring break should coincide with what we Christians call holy week (I am sure this is sheer coincidence). Each year as friends pack  for trips to the beach or one last hurrah on the fabulous snow out west, I answer the question “will you be here for Easter?”.  I have not perfected my poker face yet so people usually self correct and say oh yea of course. I feel a bit jealous. I should be used to it by now, 13 years into it. Plus in college there were no trips to Cancun or Ft. Lauderdale; spring break was spent doing two-a-day lacrosse practices, often in the snow or freezing rain of Providence.

Often I take the girls to my parents house outside of Washington DC. We do museums and monuments and they play with my Barbie clothes from the 70s. There are some very special outfits like a blue fur coat with silver piping and the ball gowns my mother crocheted out of baby yarn and mailed to Arizona for my grandmother to adorn with french knot roses. The two of them made 14 one year for birthday party favors and each girl left my house with a handmade treasure. I need to frame one to remind myself of the amazing talent and time these two women in my life gave to me. But this year I was not up for the drive to DC. We stayed close to home and did the Asheboro zoo, played tennis, and had our Granny visit us here. It was a good week, not a change of scenery but fun and easy.

I like Good Friday. I can’t remember when I have missed a service. I do remember going to some high church growing up which used so much incense I fell asleep for the service and cured myself of any need for smells or bells in my worship. I like Good Friday because you can’t miss the metaphor. The altar is stripped bare the night before, the crosses are covered in black tulle, the flowers and silver and all adornments are put away. The clergy and other participants where black robes, not white cottas to float through the air. No processional hymn, nothing. It is as if we have walked into a house that has been robbed. Familiar but different. Solemn, dark, cleared of clutter and value. Good Friday has my favorite hymn, a spiritual titled “Were you there”

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

It gets me every time. The tune is haunting, especially when the word tremble is sung. The notes are so low and quiet I want to look over my shoulder to see if someone is sneaking in to do harm. During this hymn, I can feel the finality of death. I am transported to the crucifixion, as one of the people who cheered for Jesus on Palm Sunday and denied him a few days later. I am in the field owned as property, picking tobacco leaves and hearing the crack of a whip land on my neighbors flesh. I am listening to doctors say there is another cancer growing inside your child and we don’t know why.  These stories don’t skip from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. They sit in sorrow and pain, trying to answer the question, “why me?”. I tremble thinking of them.

 But I have never had a Good Friday without an Easter Sunday. I know we will roll away the stone to see an empty tomb. We will hire the horns and timpani and buy a bagillion white lillies and sing “Hail thee Festival Day” and “He is Risen” and wear hats and eat sugar and ham and lamb and rejoice. And we will shout Alleluia the Lord is Risen indeed.

I take it back. I do like Easter. I depend on it everyday. I just feel alone on Easter morning. I am jealous of the people who have family members saving them pews or who were organized enough to put flowers on the mite box so their child would be proud of their contribution.  I want to complain about sitting in a different part of the church or having to do baskets, breakfast, brunch, dresses, hair, parking, pictures, post sugar meltdown alone. And I hate myself for feeling anything but joyous. I feel like a two timer. I have my dress and my smile and my very unchristian thoughts about the woman sitting in my pew.

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore Toto

Her name is Bonnie.  She is a nurse at Rex Health care and works in the post surgical wound care division. She commutes to work from Garner, about 30 minutes each way. She is 5’3″, my exact height. That is literally the only information I know about her. I have no idea how old she is, what she looks like or even what her last name is. I don’t know if she has kids or friends or dogs or a church or a house or what.

Apparently she likes to ride bikes. Really nice ones.

Bonnie recently saw my friend as a patient and they got to talking about cycling. Turns out she had a bike in her garage she wanted to get rid of. A road bike, the kind with skinny tires and low handle bars that they ride in Breaking Away, only this one is made of carbon-graphite composite and weighs less than 5 pounds.  The kind those insane bike messengers in big cities use to weave in and out of traffic. While living in Manhattan, I never feared being hit by a cab but there were a few close calls with the psycho kamikazes with packages and a death wish.

If I ever write that first novel, the one that is a thin veil for an autobiography, I know the opening line: “I got in the car today and had an epiphany while backing out of my parking space: I am not going to grow any taller. I am 29.” So it seems funny that height would finally play a role in something I do write. My hallelujah moment is still correct and at 40 I am 5’3″. I am sure I was meant to be taller. I have such a bigger personality than 5’3″. Maybe if my size fit my persona, I would be too much. I am sure my husband thinks so. But there are so many annoyances to being short: Hemming costs. Having to be older to ride rides at amusement parks. Theater going in general. Constantly dragging chairs across the kitchen floor to reach items on the top shelf. Getting lost in a crowd. Being called cute or spunky or perky.

But this week 5’3″ is the golden ticket. Because Nurse Bonnie wanted to get rid of her really nice bike and guess who the lucky recipient is? Yep. I did not even have to pick it up. She brought it to work and my friend brought it to my driveway from his last appointment. And I am now the owner of a really cool Trek road bike that will enable me to do triathlons. I don’t even know enough about bikes to list the great details here but it looks cool and that’s half the battle when you have to wear really tight shorts to participate right?

Bonnie’s kindness overwhelmed me. She doesn’t even know how undeserving I am of this.  The point of this gesture, I guess, is to follow by example or, to borrow the phrase from the movie, pay it forward.  I called a charity which provides families and homes for troubled teen boys. I am going to give them my mountain bike and hope it makes someone smile or provides transportation or maybe even inspires a new healthy endeavor. I got to thinking that our subtle views of inadequacy  hold us back from giving what we can. We have all seen the shows where Oprah gives everyone in the audience a new car. I have found myself saying wow it must feel great to be able to do that, to have so much  you can make a difference in someone’s life…like a new car. But don’t we all have something the world wants? Before you say no, come with me. Don’t you have a funny story to share or a great recipe or something bad that happened to you that might make someone else feel less alone? What about five minutes to call your grandmother? A day to spend at the zoo or an article cut out of a newspaper worthy of a stamp and a real envelope? Bonnie’s bike giving is big and so is just about everything Oprah does. But all the little things add up to making a big difference.

My city of Raleigh, NC was hit by a tornado this weekend. My husband and two of my girls were caught in Target. While he was assuring them a large cement store was a safe place to ride out the storm, the power went off and the cashiers screamed like they were being stabbed in the ears with ice picks (his words not mine). Coco was petrified and Anna clung tightly while they were relocated to a safety room in the back of the store. Cheyney and I were at home, making dinner and should probably have paid more attention to our dog cowering in the bathroom. But he’s a scaredycat and was abused by his previous owners so Roy does this sort of thing on trash and recycling day too. Roy is the dog that cries wolf. At the time I did not think much of the weather outside other than to be relieved I was not in it and to wonder if the basement was going to flood.  But it was really bad. One lady was hiding in her bathtub when it fell through the floor and fractured her face. 200,000 homes were without power. Trees uprooted, cars toppled over, stores and homes destroyed. Downtown was still without many of it’s traffic lights on Monday. People died.

When Coco was 3, she became obsessed with the Wizard of Oz. She watched the movie, went to the play, and wore ruby red slippers everyday. She had a blue gingham Dorothy dress that came with a basket and a mangy dog that resembled Toto. She would even let me put braids with red ribbons in her hair when the costume was on. Truth be told, Coco looked a bit like Judy Garland back then. I wonder if that’s part of why she was so scared by the tornado. I never really grew tired of seeing snippets of that movie. It brought back a million of my own childhood memories, sitting as a family watching that or The Sound of Music after a holiday meal, back when once a  year was your only chance to grab these treasures. Everything now is so at our fingertips. Pause the movie, order it on demand later, fast forward through the commercials, watch what you want when you want. If it’s not ideal we don’t do it. Whether it’s giving stuff away or taking time to be. And it takes a huge wind tunnel wreaking havoc on a city for us to slow down and pay attention long enough to realize: I matter. Today matters. My neighbor, huddled in her basement, matters. And we matter together. The way we treat one another matters. Not because it will get you into the kingdom of heaven or even get good things for you here on earth. It matters because this is the one trip you get. There is no rehearsal or do-over or shouldacouldawoulda. And who knows the trash in your garage might make a huge difference in some strangers life.

Embrace It

Monday mornings are maintenance days. I like to knock it all out: laundry, room pickup, groceries, emails about activity carpools, you name it.  Push the flock out of the roost, have some space in my house. Monday is admin day. The problem is Cheyney, my 3 year old, does not have school on Monday and she has no idea what “admin” or efficiency mean. One wise mother once told me 3 year olds have two speeds: meandering and running and they always do the opposite of what you want.

This weekend had been particularly crazy for me. I ran a 10 mile race through Chapel Hill in the cold. The course was scenic, meandering through beautiful quiet neighborhoods. They were eerily quiet on a Saturday morning at 7:30 AM and I kept thinking of people living in those houses drinking hot coffee and reading The New York Times. There were switchbacks and loops through the race so I could never tell if I was gaining ground or losing speed on the pack. Usually when I run, I use my dodging expertise honed from the Atari game Frogger back in 1983.  The object of Frogger was to get your frog across the road without being run over by a car. The joystick moved the green guy up and down, left to right, and the orange button in the top left corner enabled him to jump. The moves had to be timed perfectly in order to avoid moving targets. I see my fellow runners in a similar way: go left around that one, squeeze through those two, and maybe pull out on the right for a good clearing. It’s crazy but it makes the race go faster. And frankly, running is crazy in and of itself. I actually pay money to wake up at some hour beginning with a 5, stand around with a bunch of strangers and then run for two hours all for a medal and a tissue thin tinfoil blanket. There is of course the whole accomplishment thing and calorie burning bonus which are my real motivating forces but still it seems a tad demented.

The worst part of this race was the last  1 and a 1/2 miles which were uphill, so much so that many runners were walking. A steep incline at the end of the race is, well, insult to injury. A hill pulls on your hamstrings and ankle joints and it plays with your head. It feel like someone is sitting on your chest while you are trying to breathe. The only reason I kept running was to be finished faster. And then…it’s over. We finished in sub 8-minute miles, got a cup of water, and drove home to Raleigh by 10 AM. The irony is the race was the easier part of the day. If at home, I would have whipped up pancakes and struggled not to yell when the egg yolk ended up on the kitchen floor while my 3 girls learn to cook.

The rest of the day I reffed 4 lacrosse games, attended  a 2 year old birthday party with the family, and told my husband I was physically too tired to attend the wedding of a friend. Greg and I don’t do weddings together very often. He either can’t make it because he works on Sunday or he is officiating. I am the awkward guest, sitting alone in the pew. Next time you go to a wedding, see how many people are solo. Weddings and church are hard places to be alone. It feels like Noah’s ark where everyone is paired in twos. During the peace, I get a pang of high school insecurity as I stand alone, waiting for my neighbors to finish greeting their partner with a handshake or hug and then turn to me. Episcopalians tend to sit in the same place every Sunday. Mine is on the left, 7 rows up from the back, as close to the aisle as possible. I recently found out a newcomer felt sorry for me. She wanted to know what was wrong with my husband (if there was one), why he couldn’t get to church on a Sunday morning. My friend Lee graciously had to tell her, I was the rector’s wife.

Sunday morning came fast and went relatively smoothly. We have graduated out of the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru breakfast but there was a stretch of about 2 years when that was the only way I could get myself and the 3 girls to church. It was bribery I know but it was the best $9.43 I spent each week. And their coffee is really, really good. Home for lunch, dash off to coach lacrosse and then play a two hour tennis match. When I got home I had to pay the babysitter in quarters, eight dollars worth. I thought it was funny but she was not impressed.

A house falls out of order quicker than a deck of cards falls. I had a 4 hour window to build it back and a 3 year old to help. We started getting off track at our first stop, church. Cheyney wanted to play hide and seek. She wanted to get her daily lollipop from Ms. Jennifer. She wanted to say hi to her teacher Ms. Betsy. She wanted to see if Sooz was working. She wanted to see if Ms Garey had chocolate. She wanted to see if Daddy was there, ride the elevator, say hi to Buddy, climb the wall, race around Ben’s tree, balance on the curb. Anything but get in the car. I even played along for the hide and seek bit. I figured it was better to be looking for Cheyney around a bush than  panicking in the grocery store after losing her in the produce section (which has happened to my kids twice, once in the lingerie department of Belk and the other in the candy aisle of Costco). I had fun. I laughed. I explored. I saw a friend. I smelled a flower. I rejoiced when Cheyney spotted a smooshed worm and wanted to get in the car so it wouldn’t get her.

Job had the patience of a mother.

I embraced Cheyney’s dawdling. And it wasn’t nearly as frustrating waiting for her. And then I started thinking. God is patient. He waits around while we flit and float and meander through life. God lets us look for lollipops or run races, and meets us where we are. I have yet to set my alarm for “the fives” to read the bible or pray but I have had conversations with God in my sneakers. I have gotten the metaphor of faith when it has been so dark on the road I can literally only see the one step in front of me and no further. I have had fellowship with my friend Ashley as we wrangle with self and kids and marriage. I have heard chirping birds and been thankful for a new day. I have been overwhelmed with a feeling of gratefulness as I say the prayer, I run because I can and for those who can’t.

I believe God embraces us for who we are. He wants us to know ourselves as well as He knows us. God wants us to be a gift to each other and to ourselves. Be where you are. God will be there too.

A start

She hustles in the door, smile glued to her face behind clenched teeth and a racing pulse. “Good morning!” she says while quietly thinking the rector’s wife should have a reserved parking space but who would think of that? Ironically, Sunday mornings are a time of tension in any church going house  but none more so than in the home of a priest. One family member gone and additional items on the check off list: ironing dresses, tights, matching shoes, money for the collection plate, let the dog out, a good answer to “…but God doesn’t care what we wear” (yes but everyone else does and you get to choose every other day so just put the dress on for 3 hours and no you can’t wear flipflops in the snow) food, and oh yeah, that peaceful spirit which teaches kids going to church really is a good thing.

I am a preacher’s wife. It is a role I never thought about really, a life story that seemed extremely out of the question -well not even in the running- until I found myself in Honduras falling for a man headed to Seminary. I say that because I have an image of who that woman is but I am not sure how it was created. As a child, we moved as often as the Navy told us, which usually meant about every 2 1/2 years. Up and down the east coast we would find different episcopal churches: St. Mary’s Portsmouth, St. John’s McLean , Christ Church Shrewsbury, Emmaunel on the Hill, Emmanuel in the Hole, Eastern Shore Chapel, and finally Christ Church Alexandria. I remember my 3 year old Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Light,  whose perfectly set hair was so white and her smile so kind, I thought she was married to God. I remember playing musical chairs and being too young to go on the youth trip to Great Adventure; I remember hurting my ankle at a church picnic and Dr. Rixie coming to help me and my Mom realizing this was the first time anyone at that church had ever talked to us. I remember a phenomenal youth group  led by  Keith whose brother was killed in the marine barracks bombing in Beirut. We watched the movie the Morning After and talked about nuclear war as if it was going to happen tomorrow, back in 1985. I even remember the prayer my rector said before every sermon when I was in high school when attendance got spotty: “Uphold thou me that I may uplift thee”. Most of the memories are good, easy. Church was not a haven for me or a place that evoked much of any emotion. When I was mad with God, it was between the two of us. When happy, same thing.  But what surprises me, looking back, is I can’t remember any of the rector’s wives. Sure I know some of their names but I can’t conjure up one memory of any of them. Did they have a ministry and I didn’t know? Was their ministry more personal, holding the family together while the problems of the parish sucked the priest dry of emotion and questions and time? Did they think their duty was that of the mother of the groom -show up and were beige? I don’t know.

I do know I am not that.

Here is what I am in 50 words or less. A searcher, a boundary breaker, a change agent. A mom, a college All-American lacrosse player,a runner, a tennis player. Teacher, coach, marketing executive, entrepreneur, writer. Insane competitor, passionate person, friend who likes fashion and living on the edge -it’s where my best work is done.

This blog is started for 3 reasons. 1) My friend Susan says I am a writer and my friend Dean says the only thing that makes a writer different from everyone else is that a writer writes. 2) I want to write a book and it’s a lot easier to get my brother to create this blog than it is to find a publisher. 3) I need a better answer to the statement: You are not a typical preacher’s wife.

No I am not. I am me, Melanie Anne Bartol Jones. I am the conversations in my head and the moves on the dance floor of my 40th birthday. I am a “radical liberal feminist” as the boss at my first real job labeled me and I am everything and nothing that means. I am a child of God and I believe what Marianne Williamson says so eloquently: “playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so other people won’t feel insecure around you.” I am a preacher’s wife and I don’t where beige, but you may catch me one Sunday morning, rushing in the back door of church in fishnet hose and heels.

Happy Birthday Melanie

Happy Birthday!

Melanie,

Happy birthday from your family in PA!

Good luck on making this blog a fun place, I am sure you will.

Please let me know if there’s anything you want to learn about blogs, modifying any of the features, or whatever!

Love,

John, Lisa, Abbie, (and John IV)!

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