For the Departed

This is Kansas.

variations on a tree 2

But so is this.

molly and g listening

And this.

bluebird bloodmobile


weed flag

And this.

papa sue and me

G and I just returned from our 2000 mile trek there and back. My grandfather, Papa George (that’s him above), died a week ago Wednesday. Saturday after came the funeral. Where I read this, upon finishing its writing the night before at Grandma Lita’s house in Indiana whilst G did naked flips off the side of her chair.

Papa Fills the Room

Papa knows how to fill up a room.
My mother tells me
how he put the-fear-of-god
in her, but I only know how
important I was when

he’d order me a Shirley
Temple in the clubhouse
after golf. Cherry intoxicating
fizz, the room warm
with drink and friendly faces.

He was the gleam
in his parents’ eyes, their
only one and only.
Even the faded monochrome
on my mantle—Papa in the middle
with his arms slung around Big Grandpa
and Grandma—comes alive
with him in it. Wholly
untroubled, he looks out at
the world laughing. He can fill
a room, Papa can, with his brand
of mischief and goodwill.

Jenny, remember
how I used to give you tastes of beer?
I didn’t, being hardly

two. He’d chuckle as he
sunk into his overstuffed
chair, his rack of pipes there
on the wall just
within (and maddeningly
out of) reach. Pipes
that always smelled of smoke
but I didn’t know how because
we never saw
him smoke one once.

It pleased him, that
he’d somehow slipped one past
my parents giving me
the beer, pleased him
more that I smacked my lips,
wanting more.

With delight, with desire was how.
With food and drink. With hunger for
the living. With teasing laughter.
His mama’s face agape
with mock horror as he let loose a string
of Serbian obscenities GEORGE!
She shook her head, giggled
like a young girl.

As he laughed the room got bigger
and I never felt small. There was always enough
room even when Papa filled the room.

The Marines played taps, with full honors. Watching the two Marines unfold the flag then fold it up again, I was fascinated, having never seen it. One Marine was older, the other looked to be just out of high school. I could tell he was nervous; I wondered if it was his first time. I imagined my grandpa telling him a joke to get him to relax a little, but then I was glad he was nervous. He wanted to do this right. And even if his motivation was just not-to-mess-up, that intention had honor in it. I palpably felt their intention to honor my grandfather, and I finally understood a little better the military code so elusive to me and mine (contentious objection runs deep in this Mennonite blood): Honor, Courage, Commitment.

So I cried, and I was glad. And I knew him a little better. Baptized an Orthodox Christian in the Serbian church, I felt a connection to him, but the Marine code of honor, courage and commitment better defines the way he lived.

O God of spirits and of all flesh, Who hast trampled down death and overthrown the Devil, and given life to Thy world, do Thou, the same Lord, give rest to the souls of Thy departed servants in a place of brightness, a place of refreshment, a place of repose, where all sickness, sighing, and sorrow have fled away. Pardon every transgression which he has committed, whether by word or deed or thought. For Thou art a good God and lovest mankind; because there is no man who lives yet does not sin, for Thou only art without sin, Thy righteousness is to all eternity, and Thy word is truth.

For Thou are the Resurrection, the Life, and the Repose of Thy servant George who has fallen asleep, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever unto ages of ages. Amen.

And okay. A few more pictures from Kansas.

g and isaiah

g with cello

g in the loft

g kissing mary


harry lauder
Kind of amazing, right? That grey sky behind it has gotten under my skin as these January days stretch out before me, but if the sky was blue, it’s unlikely I would have paid much attention to this fine specimen of a Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick. Also known as a Corkscrew Hazel or Contorted Filbert—genus/species, Corylus avellana.

We planted one of these peculiar beauties with J’s placenta in our Missouri front yard nearly eight years ago. Kind of the perfect tree for a peculiarly wonderful boy.



Practicing resurrection

We are back to it. Finally. After two (Surprise!) arctic days off were appended to the boys already substantial Christmas break, coats and boots were donned, breakfast shoveled in, and here I sit—a little stunned by the hubbub and its following silence.

All told, the boys had 18 straight days off. G counted them by sleeps:

“After this sleep do we have to go to school?” No. “After the next sleep do we have to go to school?” Nope. “After the next sleep?” Uh-uh. “After the next?” Nope. “And the next and the next and the next…”

Well, you get the idea. I had to start visualizing the calendar in my head so I could give him some sort of approximation. The game filled him with glee. As his birthday approached, his attention shifted there. Like Christmas, it’s the first time he really gets what it’s about (most theologies aside).

But that cold. The lowest windchill reading I saw was -33. Even Jonah—the boy impervious to cold—didn’t want to leave the house. I cringe to think what our heating bill will be. We have a few remaining leaded windows that are original to the house, all of which had frost on the inside panes:

frosted panes

Our back porch is (loosely) glassed in, and the hoar frost reminded me of something I read in Willa Cather’s Antonia. Or maybe it was Laura Ingalls’ Little House. The cold certainly brings it’s own sparkly, if shivering, beauty:

hoar frost

I have no revelations toward the new year, though I do have a new golden room cleared of toys and arranged for grownups.

golden corner
big chair yellow

As you can see, different times of day bring out the yellow’s moods. And that room has me thinking about what it is to keep going. I am partial to mule/plow songs in that sense. Though it may sound like drudgery, there’s an inherent hopefulness we humans do in our getting up to live our lives again and again. I read a quote this morning by Maira Kalman (described by some as “normal lady buddha”):

How are we all so brave as to take step after step? Day after day? How are we so optimistic, so careful not to trip and yet do trip, and then get up and say O.K. Why do I feel so sorry for everyone and so proud?

Wendell Berry says something akin to that in this piece of a poem:

Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it…
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts…
Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.