Promises Kept

‘Twas the evening of Christmas and all through the day

We’d celebrated His Birth in a quiet sort of way.

Our dinner was good, simple fare like in past;

The kind that feeds comforting memories that last.

 

The neighbors were busy, the sunshine was bright!

We sat toasting our blessings in Vitamin D light.

Visions of past Christmases awakened our hearts;

Trips, paw prints, gifts and a few toys and carts

 

All add up to blessings that from near and far,

Travel over the rivers in brown wrap and jars,

Bringing sweet, sugarplum moments and smiles of cheer.

Promising love, laughs and music come same time next year!

Sweep It and They Will Come

I have always been grateful that my Rogue is so wonderful a partner when we host company at our home.  Especially in the first few years, I could count on him to help set up the last minute glassware and bar, slice the bread, make sure the table was cleaned and picked up, ready for hungry guests.  He always preferred smaller groups and eating in the kitchen, but would accommodate my wishes to have a more formal setting in our dining room if I so wished.

As we have grown together in this partnership of hospitality, I’ve noticed that some things are no longer as important with him as they remain with me.  I am very detailed in my plans, so from the time the initial invite goes out, I have already amassed lists of menus, settings, decorating or seasonal items needed, you name it – it is on there; even numbering the last minute details to make sure that I plate things that morning, cover and wrap, yet still allow enough time to get upstairs one last time to check my natural look…pun intended.

So I must admit I am rather mystified at his choice of priorities in preparing for two recent events: the first, our placing our home up for sale; the second, a small Christmas gathering of very special friends.

Even with some help with housekeeping, I still go over the cabinets, wiping down counters and door fronts from recent sauce and coffee batches (does anyone remember when carafes used to pour correctly into the cups without dripping?)…on to stuffing excess paperwork in the armoire, any drawers that are handy, moving from one room to another essentially picking up any signs of life that would spoil the perceived perfectly lived-in mystique.

My Rogue wanted to know if he could help (he can sense my anxiety from the next room).

Sure, Honey.  I have something for you to do. How about (fill in the blank)

No, that can wait…think I’ll sweep the garage. (Exit stage left)

Wha…sweep the garage??? You’ve GOT to be kidding!!! I’ve still got the…

Are you kidding me?  We have to make our home look like… (Exit stage right)

For the past year, sweeping the garage has been his preferred task of choice. My response has been near-stuttering shock and awe of a variety of salty, sassy rants…women, use your imagination; men, see * below.

In my mind, I have the garage and one bedroom I can tear up and shut the door; we are moving and packing, right? Why shouldn’t I have at least one area a bit messed up or, pardon the expression, lived in

Putting a home on the market is easy enough.  Maintaining your daily routine as you exemplify the perfected lifestyle and ease of upkeep – a basket in every place to hide the mail, a tray perfectly arranged with daily needs, i.e. mouthwash, hairspray, liquid soap dispenser – each item turned just so for the total picture perfect ambience of living in said space –  is quite another.

No.  His priority is to sweep the garage, most recently, right before our entertaining some very special friends one recent weekend in our Christmas-decorated home.  I had spent the last three weeks, staging the decorations and lighting for just the right effects; making sure my little whimsical touches would delight visitors of any age. I was pooped, but I was extremely pleased with the results. To be perfectly honest, I was more than pooped…I was exhausted!

*Apparently, three men that happened to be close by at the time my ranting was still in full mode (I don’t run down too quickly), happily clarified this particular, male phenomenon.  Three of three all agreed:  yep, that’s what they’d do if company were coming; sweep the garage.  Each completely understood this nest feathering exercise of their male species.

The strain is too much…I’m beating the clock to finish the appetizers and set out the plates, make sure the candles are lit just before I run up, use mouthwash and redo my lipstick, and my Rogue is sitting downstairs, reading his latest magazine; the garage has been swept and all is well with the world… (Doorbell rings; Curtain up)

 

ANOTHER INCH OF RAIN

 

I wondered where I’d be when daily drops would stop or end,

Since they would slither down my cheeks without any notice and not cease

But just pretend.

 

Rainbows hadn’t stopped another inch of rain to fall or so I felt at first,

When alone and all around me sun rays warmed The Others’ cheeks…

Lighter days, in spelling out another Spring, the flowers burst for some who’d

passed beyond the storm and weathered havoc’s wreak

 

Slowly, months and years passed by and, on occasion, I would feel

A lonely teardrop left behind, in fact, its memory fairly leapt to mind!

A familiar scent. A touch. A church bell sound.

The paths we shared, why I could still have you in my very own surround!

 

Some comfort food, a glass of wine, and I’d tell myself I’ll not miss those days as

much or even yet again! In fact, I’ll only charm and laugh at new!

Repeatedly, in quiet voice and counsel, I hear Him tell me:

Despite my sorrow, I must teach what I have known.

 

A twinge of unnecessary loss and my soul questions again, Why?

Bright new things are mine to own.

It will take time. Those words lie fallow.

Here and there, another wince and silenced groan.

 

Sharing through my childhood lens, I’ll explain a bit; sometimes, too much.

For those seeking comfort themselves, keen eyes observe a scar split open.

Remembering my promise, I reach out; perhaps one more try, one more

touch. Before tomorrow, I must once more accept His Will be Done.

 

So that family, friends, loved ones all– might note with understanding pause

I take up again another day and accept when comes another inch of rain…

Just because.

 

 

Fine-Tuning Christmas Joy

From the best of all Christmas crossroads – a card shop –   I was immersed in the many different twists and turns that local celebrants were traversing this December.   I was reminded that Christmas is the one holiday that can provoke the deepest of senses: a sense of wonder; or simple merriment; or unbridled joy. Where, too, can exist much sadness, or an extremely profound loneliness, some of our cards and current gift selections seemed nostalgic in nature, encouraging a cacophony of youthful memories of far simpler times and similar experiences; by the time our customers reached the check-out counter, the entire spectrum of fleeting emotions had merged into a common understanding and some unspoken messages of peace and goodwill, compelling many of us celebrants to encourage one another!  Smiles, a few promises of keeping each others’ families in prayer, and the customary decorum of the season suggesting each to voice a Merry Christmas! and Take Care! nourished our deepest desires as we bid each other goodbye.     

I was participating in several meaningful conversations during each day’s shift; my worn-weary soul was tired because my intuitive tuning fork was ingesting too many hearts’ sadness.  So, when it came time to spend a little effort at home this holiday, I kept it a simple goal:  I would bring out only a few decorations and call it a Christmas Day. 

My mind racing as always, I chose some odd combinations of pieces from the well-used tubs marked Christmas. I carried them inside and yes, as always, I never choose the same place twice for any item’s display.  Gee…this just might be easier than I thought, as I affixed old ribbons onto the stair rail to secure a keepsake. I was hanging my precious Wreath of Joy; the small lights brightly spelled out “Joy” from permanently adhered, “blue painter” taped sockets.  A Martha Stewart design this was not.

My son-in-law had surprised me our last Christmas in California with his humble gift of love; he had taken an extra string of lights from some leftover decorations. He fashioned the simple message “Joy” with what materials were on hand.  To my surprise, I returned from shopping that afternoon and saw “Joy” blinking from the inside of our front window on Esteban.  I transferred the light string onto an artificial wreath once we moved to FrogHaven, but my son’s-in-law simple handiwork, the taste of a martini, and the gesture of our little grandson offering big-boy “Cheers” to all who joined us that Christmas Day cocktail hour makes me smile every time I light my wreath.

As are many when tired, I can get a bit playful in the moment.  It didn’t take long for my silly wheels to kick in.  Plagiarism and irony are good for this creative soul, I assured myself.  Besides, it’s a very cheap form of entertainment (which is entirely WHY I talk to myself; I prefer my own answers).  A once popular country tune breached the rusty locks of my mind…

If we make it through December,

Everything’s gonna be alright come income tax time—

In pure Red Skelton fashion, I chuckled at my own lyrics.  Now, that‘s funny!  But then, so were the choices I had, digging into those tubs.  In the midst of what had seemed an overwhelming year, some Christmas tide delights awaited me.  My creative juices were running and my spirit was quickly returning! A variety of treasured keepsakes emerged from the trial and error years of varied decorating styles: country, city sophisticate, bold contemporary, nostalgic retro and other Christmas themes were going to blend well enough to evoke an eclectic mix of reverie…

Deck the walls with frogs and folly

La la la la la, and a ribet or two!

See what makes this Frog Broad jolly

La la la la la, here’s a glass for you!

Thank you, God, for a heart of gratitude, a sense of humor, and the comforts of tradition!    Guide us as we share a fine-tuned joy with all who grace our hearts and home during this joyous of seasons.  Awaken our hearts to the many blessings and gifts we already have, and keep us mindful of the power of prayer. May we continue to encourage one another throughout the coming year. Amen.   

                                                                                                           

                                                                                  Annette Brochier Johnson 2013

Renewed Pleasures

Like other families’ homes in the early fifties, ours was a brightly colored mix of multi-colored lights, some store bought decorations and some handcrafted ornaments from school that adorned the walls and surfaces to make our home festive!

Mom hated fussing with the light strings, so my job as I grew older was to string the lights on the table top tree.  I soon discovered that putting lights on any size tree was the pits!  The stringed wires were normally thick, and red, green or black in color; no matter where you started or how much you tried to twist the string in between the branches, the darn wires showed anyway!

Seven watt glass bulbs could really get hot over a period of time. These were the days when you lit your tree through the Christmas season up to and past New Year’s; if the tree was still fresh, we could enjoy it until January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany.  Normally, we’d slowly stop lighting it for fear that the needles after three weeks were becoming too dry and could easily burn from the bulbs.  By this time, Allstate was advertising that we were in good hands, but Mom didn’t want to take any chances.

Both the tree lights and the ornaments were glass and somewhat fragile.  The bulbs were brightly colored and if carefully handled, didn’t have too many little chipped spots where the paint had flaked off from years’ use.   Our ornaments were a collection of whatever hadn’t broken over the years; some were striped, others were hollowed on one side with a sunburst of color, some were teardrop shape, and some were flocked with “snow” accents.

Tinsel; now THAT was another fun job.  The kids across the street could toss it on the tree when their mother wasn’t looking.  No such luck in our home.  We hung the tinsel “correctly” (per Mom’s direction), making sure that each piece spread evenly over the branches and hung down between the needles “like icicles”.    The tinsel was heavier in the earlier days; the metal helped weigh it down.  But it easily showed its age, especially if you didn’t gently fold it back into its box; the darn stuff could crumple and look really rugged, but would still stay together; I still have an old box of the metal type.  I don’t think the stuff would ever disintegrate even if buried! I relied on the tinsel camouflaging the unsightly strings enough that no eye would be focused on anything but the colorful lights and ornaments. Our gifts were placed in and around the table legs, each package showing off its bow because we could stand several of them on end for the best effect.

Daddy was always happy to come home and see the tree decorated.  He’d catch sight of it as he drove up the drive.  I never remember him walking in the first night’s lighting of our tree and not commenting on how pretty it looked.

If Mom were especially busy, she let us girls decorate the rest of the room. Our stockings were hung by the chimney with care but remained empty always; they were strictly for décor.  Next, we worked on the mantel area.  The little cardboard village pieces and the simply made, wooden stable with its little figurines glued in place were dutifully set up.  A few wire “bottle-brush” green trees on their small wooden disks stood here and there along the length of the little landscape.  The surface was covered with “snow”, made from panels of cotton batting.  If we had an extra string of lights, we could weave it underneath the snow, making sure the stable was properly lit with a yellow bulb that protruded through the stable’s back wall.

On especially cold mornings, Mom or Daddy would make a small fire in the fireplace to take the chill off the rooms.  The house had one floor heater so the fireplace was much used and needed.  Mom turned the tree on in the early mornings for us to enjoy; we could sit and eat breakfast in the adjacent dining room, enjoying the festive silver tip.

While the décor never varied much from year to year, we used what we had and found renewed pleasure in the company of our simple, familiar things. Gratitude trumped creativity, especially at the Christmas season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seasonal Attitudes, Winter 2011 Still

Part of the joy of living here in the Midwest is experiencing the simple, pure, patriotism that residents share at the grass roots level here in the heartland of our great country.  As a rule, I have found most of the political discussions to contain respect, a good dose of humor, a bit of self-degradation at being a particular party member or ideology, and last but not least, a deep appreciation for the ties that bind us all when the political discourse has run its course.  After all, for many of us, our generations’ Pearl Harbor was 9-11.

One can imagine my continued disappointment at observing the group mind-think that, on occasion, present-day ideology and devoted, cultural movements attain, using old marketing tricks.  For example:

Democrats don’t wear flag pins or Republicans want to kill Medicare patients

Statements such as these are disingenuous at best, but make great headlines and fodder for 24/7 news coverage which relies heavily on speculative, rather than factual, discourse.  Unfortunately, by using off-the-cuff remarks, presented as creed in casual settings or within professional, web-savvy, political graphics, such simplified statements are magnified and instantly attain significance.  Even more dangerous to me is the acceptance by an energized but historically- ignorant crowd.

If I had uttered anything similar to these sentiments when I was in school, my teacher would have corrected me and asked,

Can you back that statement up with facts, data, or any research?

For sure, a discussion – at the junior high level – would have ensued in that semester about generalizations; the pros and cons of using them in a debate, an essay, a discussion, etc… The accompanying reminder to note our specific research and be prepared to footnote such statements akin to my examples would have been emphasized several times by any of our instructors; very simply:

If you can’t back it up, don’t include it in the final report.

Of course, we would also explore the exaggerated concepts found in advertising campaigns; i.e. testimonials from the manufacturer that “9 out of 10 dentists recommend Crest” or some celebrity exhorting his favorite hair product.  Once again, we students would have participated in an open discussion that encouraged us to think and to question from where such statements came; more importantly, were such statements relevant to the topic at hand?  The entire discussion would have been respectful and factual. Personal slurs were off limits; no serious student who had completed his homework would stoop to that low degree in any academic setting and still expect a passing grade.

Again, I’m aging myself.  We were taught to question and think.  One entire unit in social studies warned us to beware of ideas presented in print.  Red flags rose in our young minds when we learned to “read between the lines” as we absorbed our current events in classroom studies.  Was I the only one who wondered just how the next generation was going to absorb any more history?

Call me an optimist, but I believe appearances are deceiving in this politically correct, technologically savvy, holiday season.  Heartfelt wishes for our country’s future in this brave, newer world present themselves often; one has only to ignore the incessant claptrap and irritating buzz, and then focus on the sincere goodwill of their daily encounters.  Actions still speak louder than words here in America’s Heartland; unemployment is high, foreclosed homes are prevalent, yet the locals still find enough change and bills in their pockets to fill the kettle and thank the bell ringers for volunteering to stand in the cold winds.  Smiles and respectful chatter abound; and yes, we still wish strangers and friends alike a Merry Christmas…

 

Pearl Harbor; some 70th Anniversary Reflections

Dear Readers:  This was composed in 2011 for the 70th Anniversary; I felt it appropriate to repeat it once again, as we who came after this day of infamy need to know our country’s history or be condemned to repeat it.

Bless our Veterans and Military Families and remember them year round! May God continue to Bless America and its people, among the most giving and caring on this earth. – Annette

 

Family history in our home was commonly categorized into three eras that everyone from the Greatest Generation on down ultimately understood: “before the war”, “during the war”, and “after the war”.

Like my mother, I always loved reading history.  Her passion for listening to others’ stories became mine also.  Mentors, neighbors and relatives related some tidbits from their personal experiences; other facts below were picked up from history lessons:

A young kid was working as a bag boy at a local market on the East Coast.  The news came over the radio:  Pearl Harbor had been attacked.  The young kid told his boss,

Well, we know one thing for sure: pineapples are going to go up in price!

Once this kid became of age, he joined the military, fulfilling a career in the Air Force.

A little girl came home after school, saw the photo of a man in uniform on the mantle, and began crying… the photo was actually that of her uncle, her daddy’s younger brother, but he looked enough like her daddy to shake her little soul and make her believe: Daddy had gone to war!

Many women went to work in the factories; the iconic poster Rosie the Riveter salutes their contributions during the war years…

Military wives stayed behind, keeping the house and raising their young children…

Some men hunted and brought home extra meat for their own tables and their extended families’ tables as well…

Men too old to enlist left familiar workplace jobs, choosing to work “for the war effort”…

Scrap metal was collected…

Hollywood leading men and women either enlisted and/or made feature releases, using their notoriety to sell War Bonds for the War Department…

In addition to radio and newspaper, newsreels informed the public of the latest war news; Victory At Sea was one such news reel series…

Believing Loose Lips Sink Ships, cryptic messages, codes, and other safeguards were set into place and honored by all military and civilian citizens, including Hollywood’s movie moguls and newspaper journalists.

The neighborhood kid accidentally hit his little friend in the eye.  The eye quickly started to darken; he was obviously going to go home with one good shiner!  The neighborhood kid’s mother used a frozen steak from the freezer as an ice pack on the little friend’s eye and escorted him home.  Using a steak for a poultice! During  wartime?  The little friend’s family was in awe…

When his father was killed in a freak work accident on the docks, the only son was called home from overseas; he arrived home in time to attend his father’s funeral. In his eyes, he was one of the luckier ones, having only suffered some trench foot; but as he remarked, at least he came home alive and in one piece.

Some WWII Widows were fortunate enough to meet men who came home and were willing to raise their fellow brothers-in-arms’ sons and daughters…

A little girl walked out the door one day, telling her widowed mother that she was going to search “for a new daddy”…

Growing up in the late fifties and sixties, I dusted Mom’s mantel space which was often filled with family photos.  Those extras that were older but still cherished were placed inside a dining room sideboard drawer.  We could easily access these so pulled them out on occasion to view.   Professional wedding photographs, twenty-first birthday photos, and yellowed news clippings of friends in uniform were fascinating to read.

There was a particular uncle that we knew only from his wedding photo; he had been killed during the war.  We used to visit his grave and leave flowers.  Daddy was bothered and always uncomfortable about my uncle’s death, even mentioning that he didn’t believe the remains sent home actually belonged to his brother-in-law.

Mom was more pragmatic:  it didn’t matter…they belonged to a soldier. We would leave flowers always.