First Oleander on the Right Elizabeth Willis Barrett December 9, 2011
I drive up Bunker and just past Lionel I make a left turn onto the canal bank where I shouldn’t turn at all. I don’t think cars are very welcomed on the canal roads. But this is where he lives and I have come for another visit. I pull up to the first oleander and get out with my feet feeling like they are trudging through deep, dark mud and with my heart slogging along above them.
“Jeffrey?” I call.
“Hey, Mom,” comes his voice from the middle of the bush.
At least he’s alive--a good sign, I think. I walk up to the large overhanging oleander, and part the branches. There he is like he was the night before, wrapped in his sleeping bag and several blankets and looking very comfortable. I almost want to join him. Almost.
“How are you?” I ask.
“Good. Except for my hip. I think it’s broken.”
The first story is that he had jumped over a wall and landed on his hip. The next story is that he had hitchhiked and as he was getting out of the Good Samaritan’s truck, he caught the heel of his boot and fell hard on his backside. Truth has lost its way in his muddled head and doesn’t know how to get to his mouth anymore. Honesty used to be a valiant companion of this beautiful son. But she was so neglected that she left long ago. We have missed her.
Jeffrey is already dealing with a broken elbow that he acquired when his scooter failed to turn a corner. Scooters don’t miss garbage cans on their own. They need a sober driver and this one didn’t have one. Lack of sobriety was most likely the cause of Jeffrey’s hurt hip as well.
I never planned on any of my children becoming homeless. Homelessness is for people with no families, no opportunities and no one left to care about them. We have lots of room in a very nice home and plenty of food and love to share. We could easily keep Jeffrey for another 27 years. But the fact is, our keeping him was doing him harm, not good. We had enabled him too long or rather dis-abled him.
His father and I finally reached a decisive intersection where we stood together as adoring yet formidable parents. Although we had been at this juncture a hundred times before, this time we irrevocably meant it when we took a turn to the right and declared, “YOU CAN NOT LIVE WITH US ANYMORE!”
I used to wonder how people ended up being homeless. When I’ve encountered panhandlers on the edge of the freeway, I’ve questioned why they didn’t go get a job and pay for shelter. I’ve seen many “help wanted” signs. Surely those on the street have seen them, too, and could “inquire within.” But I understand now. They have “inquired within”--within themselves-- and the answer was, “Drugs. I need drugs.” Jobs cannot be sustained by those who need drugs. And standing on a corner with an outstretched hand can bring in as much as $25 an hour. That beats the wages for dunking French fries into oil at McDonalds. Since they don’t have any ambitions nipping at their heels, why not stand on a corner and beg?
On one occasion, a very kind and well-meaning gentleman gave Jeffrey $100 when he heard that he was homeless. That $100 nearly bought Jeffrey a permanent shelter measuring eighty-four inches long, twenty-eight inches wide, twenty-three inches tall and six feet under, since the entire amount was used to buy drugs.
When I had to take Jeffrey to TASC one day to get a court ordered pee test--more formally called a UA for Urine Analysis--to check for drugs in his system, we joined some rather questionable characters congregating for the same purpose.
“Do you want to be like these people?” I nearly shouted at him. I mean, who would? They all looked frightening and frightened, aimless and aimed at.
“No, Mom,” he said. “I wouldn’t be like these people. When I do drugs, I always know I have a home and a bed to come back to.”
I have to remember these words when I falter and want to gather him up and bring him home. In his case, home has kept him from growth and made using drugs way too easy.
So, I have allowed him to be a homeless beggar, choking back my motherly compulsions and desire to keep his natural consequences at bay. I don’t want him to be cold. I don’t want him to be hungry. I don’t want him to be alone.
As I leave him in his makeshift camp in the bush, I have become a beggar myself. I am begging that a change of heart will come, that truth will conquer, that the need for drugs will diminish. I am begging that another of the many people who love him will be able to influence him in a positive direction since his family no longer can. And I am begging that Jeffrey will finally be able to sustain a home much stronger and more stable than the first oleander on the right.
Another Rat--Another Race Elizabeth Willis Barrett September 23, 2011
Janice slammed her palm to stop the screaming of her alarm clock that told her with insolence that it was time to begin again. Five o’clock had arrived. Janice clenched her teeth in an attitude of determination and sat straight up, throwing her legs over the side of the bed. Another day. Another chance. Another try at the race. She was ready. Her best running shoes were waiting for her and since she had slept with her socks on and had worn her running shorts and shirt for pajamas, she hoped for a head start this time.
A quick bathroom stop, a drink from the bathroom sink, a cursory brush stroke through her hair, a gargle of mouthwash, a breakfast bar in hand and out the door she ran, not stopping to pet the dog or take the garbage to the road even though it was Thursday.
She was off, past those who had stopped to water their plants or to kiss their children good-by. She was out and ahead. “Yea, yea, yea,” she thought as she made her way to the busy thoroughfare. She was going to win today. She was committed.
The road was dusty. A few were ahead of her but she picked up speed. She knew she could stay in the lead. This was her day.
But as she looked over her shoulder, she was daunted to see Evelyn edging past her. “No, not Evelyn.” Evelyn the decorator. Evelyn--owner of the showpiece home. You could walk into any room in Evelyn’s house at any time of day and it would look like a model at Morrison Ranch. Janice thought of the stacks of papers that had gathered unbidden in each of the rooms of her own house. She thought of the unmade beds and the worn sectional in the Family Room and slowed to a jog. Discouragement had a way of slacking her speed. Evelyn was kicking up some dust that blew into Janice’s face so Janice shouted orders to her legs and she tried a little harder. She was still ahead of most of the runners.
Then over her other shoulder Janice could see another woman creeping past her--her stride impossible for Janice to match. It was Karen. Karen the cook. Janice had been the recipient of some of Karen’s cooking and Janice was certainly no match for her. Janice’s meals consisted of Panda Express and Taco Bell. More dust. Janice tried to keep up but her legs were cramping just a little. “Keep going,” she told herself. “You can do it. You’ll make it. This is your day.” But doubt was inching into her confidence like a growing mold.
Dust was rolling around Janice’s feet. “Take that,” she mused, aiming her vengeance at the people racing behind her. She kicked the dust a little higher on purpose.
Then on came three more. They weren’t sidling past her, they were bounding. Where did they come from? Where did they get their energy? There was Dionne, who could pick up a guitar and accompany anything from “Give Said the Little Stream” to “Perhaps Love.” And Nancy with her not-to-be missed catered parties. And Karley with her ability to walk into Dillards and come out looking like a fashion model. The dust was thick and Janice was re-thinking her ability to win at this race in any category. But she trotted on. Running was beyond her for a moment.
She took courage again from somewhere. From where does one take courage? A shelf? From another’s store of it? A bag that just happens to be sitting around with the label COURAGE on it? Well, from somewhere, Janice took courage and put a burst of speed into her faltering steps.
“Yes,” she said to herself. “I can gain speed from my outstanding ability to express appreciation. “Yep, I’m really good at that,” she said with conviction and she pulled out ahead of some of the other runners. But to her dismay, here came Phyllis--the queen of appreciation. She made beautiful thank you cards and always sent them out, even if it was just to thank someone for picking her kids up from soccer. Janice thought about sending thank you cards but they never made it from her mind to the mail box. Again Janice was left in the dust which was billowing in flourishes all around her.
“Aaaaaa,” she protested as the dust gagged her and the runners passed her. There went Jill with her computer expertise. She could upload pictures on Facebook, put her blog into ecstasy with backgrounds and extras that anyone would envy. And coming up on her left was Hannah who could out serve the best on the court and in life with her help with the homeless and bereaved.
Passing her on the right was Amy with her perfect straight and whitened teeth and who had botoxed her wrinkles into another decade. Finally, when Alicia passed her, Janice had to stop and wonder. “Alicia? Really?” Alicia had lost 30 pounds and was entering her 4th Triathlon. There was no hope.
Janice just stood there wondering how to take her next step. Family Home Evening? Yes, she was good at that. She started running again trying to just stay ahead of the stragglers. But it was no good. Here came Beth who never failed at holding an award winning Family Home Evening with her 6 kids and 20 grand kids every week. She used laminated visuals and made mouth watering refreshments. Why try? Janice stopped again. She put her head down and her hands on her thighs in an attempt to catch her breath and think. Think. What could she do? She could write. Yes, yes, yes. But just as she started to run ahead with that consideration, here came Paula. Paula had written 3 books already and had even got someone to publish one of them. Janice blew out her breath like a discouraged horse.
What? Ahh, speaking. Yes, she was OK in the speaking department. This rumination propelled her ahead for several meters until Brenda, the President of the Arizona Chapter of the National Speakers Association raced past her in a long strided sprint. Too much.
Janice thought of her grand-parenting achievements. Nope, they couldn’t get her too far. She was passed long ago by Margaret who took a Disney Cruise with her grandkids every year. Spanish? Nope. There went Karma who had taken three months out of her life to go to Peru to become fluent in Spanish.
Sewing, knitting, crocheting? She was passed early this morning in those areas. What then? Janice was a friend. A good friend. But not nearly as good a friend as Marley who went to lunch every other day to keep her friendships in order.
She was kind of good at scripture reading, but Polly had bolted ahead of her with her finishing of the Old Testament. That wasn’t even on Janice’s to-do list.
Real Estate? No. Celeste had that one covered. Good neighbor? Again Janice snorted out the dusty air that had filled her lungs.
Genealogy? Janice raced for two whole steps when she remembered that all her genealogy consisted of was a disordered pile of papers oozing from a cardboard file box.
The dust was getting thicker as runner after runner sped by her. Janice looked on in an immobile daze. Another day. Another loss.
Why not rest right here? Yes, right here. She lay down in the soft layer of dust powder left in the wake of the day’s runners. It cushioned her body like a cloud as new layers covered her with the advancement of sprinting feet. Ah, peace. Janice lay with her eyes closed and her heart subsiding, waiting for tomorrow.
The Ears Have It Elizabeth Willis Barrett November 9, 2011
Listening to books has revolutionized my learning. Even though I used to enjoy reading the old fashioned way--sitting in a comfortable Lazy Boy devouring a bestseller while munching on carrots--I found that I was constantly interrupted. Those interruptions were so annoying. I would much rather read than take care of anything else, so it became easier to not pick up a good book in the first place.
My first encounter with book listening came when Brad and I were driving handicap buses from Murray, Kentucky, to Gilbert Arizona. Brad drove one bus and I drove another. I couldn’t have handled a long bus and wasn’t licensed for one of those, but a short bus was manageable. It was before the era of cell phones, so we used walkie talkies to communicate with each other. It was a glorious experience made even better because we listened to books on tape while we drove across the country. We could rent them from one Flying J gas station and then return them at the next.
The first book I ever listened to was John Grisham’s A Time to Kill. It wasn’t very cheerful but it was intriguing and kept me alert on the long drive. The reader was excellent as he gave each of the characters a different voice. Finally I could get through a book without interruptions except for the occasional crackling voice of Brad checking on me from the other bus.
I was definitely hooked. I came home ready to listen to some more books and went to the Mesa Library to see what they had. This was in the 1980’s and I was told by the stuffy librarians that “listening books” were only for the blind. Hmmmmmm. Soon--and I’d like to think that my prodding helped--the library started putting out a few books on tape for the general public. I listened to a lot of Sherlock Holmes since that was about all they had that sounded interesting. I got a good dose of him and Dr. Watson.
Then slowly the listening library got bigger and bigger. Nearly any book I want to read can now be found in listening form, performed by outstanding readers.
I like to listen to books because when you sit and read, that is all you can do. I suppose you could travel or eat at the same time or if a baby were sleeping, you could babysit at the same time or if you were waiting in a doctors office, you could read and wait at the same time. But when you listen to a book, you can also walk, ride a bike, stretch, lift weights, clean bathrooms, sweep, scrub, do dishes, water plants, drive--a multitudinous list of things.
Listening to books has opened up a wide world for me. I have learned to change my thinking from Wayne Dyer, stave off dementia from Dr. Amen, quit worrying from Norman Vincent Peale and focus my energy from Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.
Listening to books has increased my awareness and allowed me to discuss great books with others--especially Brad, who didn’t develop a listening ear like I did, but is an avid reader on his Ipad and Kindle. We enjoy delving into the writings of John Steinbeck, Charles Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald and other master writers. Brad even read Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre that I had already listened to so we could watch the movie together with more insight.
I would never take time to read wonderful classics in a conventional way because life has too many projects and appointments lined up for me. But listening allows me to do both.
For instance, I could never read a book while suffering in a dentist’s chair, but I can listen to Agatha Christie who is the perfect author to get me through a crown fitting (only if I have laughing gas and a whopping deadening shot, too). I put on my earphones and tell the dentist and his assistants that I am entering a sphere of my own and please don’t try to bring me out of it by talking to me. Since I need laughing gas just to get my teeth cleaned, this added incentive of sinking my mind into a Christie mystery helps pull my mind away from my extreme discomfort.
I know that I have perturbed many in my family because I have earbuds in my ears most of the day, but when someone wants to talk to me, out they come and I’m ready to communicate.
Brad especially dislikes it when I am in my book listening world. I have to remind him that for 40 years I have been subjected to his incessant sports games on the radio and TV and at least when I am listening to a book, I am not inflicting him with the distraction since it is going on in my ears alone.
Coordinating book listening and phone answering used to create a dilemma. I would have my cell phone connected to earphones in one pocket and my Ipod connected to earphones in another pocket. If my phone rang while I was listening to a book, I would have to whip off the Ipod earphones, then whip on the cell phone earphones before I could answer it. (I know that most people don’t bother with earphones on their phones, but I think they are a must because it keeps your hands free to fold clothes or chop onions.) I felt like a quick draw artist.
But technology has come to my aid and the problem has been solved. Now I can download a book onto my Iphone, put in my earphones and listen to a book. When my phone rings, I can push a button on my headset which causes the reading to stop and the phone to be answered. As soon as the call has ended, my book starts up again. Ahhh--progress!
I can’t say that I remember everything I listen to. Sometimes I can’t remember that I’ve already listened to a book until I’m halfway through it the second time. But I have been able to listen to hundreds of books that I never would have taken the time to sit down and read. I have ingested the main ideas, grown to admire the magnificent ability the writers have of expression, been educated in numerous topics and I could probably now answer a lot more questions in the game of Trivial Pursuit.
And when I’m not listening, I have lots more to talk about--if anyone else has the time to listen.
Betsy felt her façade go cold as though it were made of a very thin sheet of ice. The crack that had started creeping on the first of October finally reached her heart and the real Betsy emerged in a shriek: “Stop!” she screamed. “Stop! Stop! Stop! I can’t go on.” It was as though she and Monique had planned a little surprise for the ladies with their own playlet from the story. But Monique looked as startled as the rest and the stage belonged entirely to Betsy.
Betsy stood up with resolution in her bearing and a wildness in her eyes. “Follow me,” she croaked.
So the women of the 7th Ward Relief Society Book Club quickly put down their books, their purses, and their little plates—with a crème puff or two rolling to the carpet—and followed obediently. They were silent, but their looks said many things: “I think she’s a little bit crazy.” “Maybe she’s on crack.” “Whatever this is I am not going to miss it.”
They all followed Betsy down the hall and to the closed door of the guest room. Betsy put a shaky hand on the door knob and closed her eyes in an attempt to support her resolve. Had she belonged to another religion, she would have genuflected. As it was, she offered a silent prayer. “I prayed. I wearied heaven with my prayer….” But short of having the pile completely gone and the day’s events turning out to be a bad dream, she didn’t know quite what to pray for. She opened the door slowly as the women gathered behind her and rose on their tiptoes in an effort to glimpse whatever was in the room.
The catastrophic pile made each of them wince, and they took in their breath as one. Except Sister Lila Freeman who didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. She had a heap rather like it in most of the rooms in her own house.
But the rest stood in quiet contemplation, each trying to process the scene in her own way. For instance, Sister Jepson focused on the makeshift marijuana pipe that was sliding down one side of the mound and realized that hers wasn’t the only family that had been infiltrated by drugs. Sister Anthony focused on the “What to Do if You Suspect your Child of An Eating Disorder” book sticking out from the bottom of the pile and thought that finally she and Betsy had something in common. Sister Adrian Peters’ eyes were drawn to the crumpled pink slip sent from the Town of Gilbert announcing that the Woodward’s water would be turned off if the bill wasn’t paid. Adrian recognized that slip because she had received several herself. Sister Salter felt the frustration and desperation that the room represented in its present state and realized that maybe Betsy Woodward didn’t have everything after all. And for some reason, Sister Jacobs wrapped her arms lovingly around Betsy and huskily whispered a tear-filled, “I love you!”
Betsy gave a wan, distorted smile. There was nothing she could say. One by one the Book Club women dispersed, some touching Betsy’s shoulder in a gesture of understanding, until Betsy was quite alone. It was over. The worst had happened. Betsy put her back against the door and let her feet slide out from under her until her bottom hit the floor with a bounce.
The next day—Saturday—Sister Harris called to invite all the Woodwards over for a barbecue that night and Sister Jacobs called to invite them all for Family Home Evening on Monday. On Sunday the Woodwards were too late to claim their regular pew which was just fine with the kids and just fine with the Johnsons who were sitting there smugly. But as if to make up for losing their spot, there were many genuinely friendly smiles and in Primary several women stole moments away from sharing time and song practice to ask Betsy about where she used to live and how she felt about the election coming up and what books she would like the Book Club to choose for the following year. And Monique grabbed Betsy after the block to tell her that a group of friends was meeting at Applebee’s for lunch on Thursday—could Monique pick her up?
After lots of pleasant conversation with those that seemed to ignore her in the past--except for Sister Poltice, who seemed to hang onto her envy like a dripping ice cream cone-- Betsy drove home, humming a cheerful ditty this time with genuine feeling. As the un-veneered, far from perfect Betsy walked into her far from perfect home with her far from perfect children, she almost tenderly picked up The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe from where she’d left it on the entry table.
Opening it at random, her eyes fell upon the words, “it was hope—the hope that triumphs on the rack—that whispers to the death-condemned even in the dungeons of the Inquisition…” She smiled and carried the book to the badly misused guest room and set it respectfully on top of the disorderly pile. Her life wasn’t perfect, but thanks to her exPOEsure, at the moment she was nearly perfectly content.
The doorbell rang again and “I went to open it with a light heart—for what had I now to fear?” In came a group of rather young moms from the ward, headed by gum-chewing, phone-texting Lisa Wilde—her blond, streaked hair pulled into a skimpy straight out ponytail with more hair hanging out than in it. Why did young women wear their hair like that? It made Betsy think of Olive Oyl from “Popeye.” There was nothing attractive about it. But in spite of hair-dos, this was a very confident group. Youth always seemed confident around those that had a little age on them.
Betsy had all the ladies go to the kitchen to fill their plates before the actual Poe discussion started. She heard lots of nice comments like “What a gorgeous home,” “Betsy is so good at decorating,” “I wish I dared ask her to help me do something with our guest room.” At that last comment, Betsy almost choked on the carrot she was munching for nerve control. “She’d love to see what I could do with a guest room!” was Betsy’s cryptic thought.
She also heard some muffled remarks like, “Betsy doesn’t look quite as great as usual, do you think?” and “If I’d known this was all Betsy was going to serve us, I would have eaten dinner at home.” and “I was expecting a lot better food than this.” These last two observations were whispered quietly but Betsy heard them. “And now have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over–acuteness of the senses?” They were said by the second and third largest women in the group—Sister Pines and Sister Hasbrow who seemed to go together like peanut butter and jelly. You seldom saw one without the other and vice-versa.
Betsy felt like shouting, “The way my month has gone so far, you’re lucky I didn’t just serve you water and crackers!” Which reminded her that she had totally forgotten to provide something to drink. She wondered if anyone would be offended if she suggested that those who were thirsty could stick their heads under the faucet. Probably.
Finally, the Book Clubbers were settled back in the living room and Sister Harris stood up to give some background on Edgar Allan Poe: “Born to an unfortunate heritage, orphaned , unsympathetically raised…………”
“Ta dum, Ta dum.” Betsy looked around to see if anyone else had heard that superfluous sound. Nope. Just she, it seemed. She tried to sit calmly with her hands held in her lap as Sister Harris finished up and Sister Barnes started a discussion on “the Pit and the Pendulum.” But Betsy couldn’t concentrate on any of the words because “meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased.” “Ta dum. Ta dum.” It was definitely coming from the direction of the guest room. “It grew quicker and quicker and louder and louder every instant.” “But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed.”
By the time Sister Barnes sat down and Monique Jarvis started her part of the Poe discussion which happened to be “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Betsy had a very difficult time sitting still. She sat on her hands in an effort to keep them from rising in a grotesque choke-hold on her own very fragile neck.
“Ta dum. Ta dum.” What a noise! “And now a new anxiety seized me…the sound would be heard by a neighbor!”
As Monique went on and on about the old man and his blue glazed eye and the mad man watching him and ultimately killing him and hiding his body under the floor, Betsy could hear her own “ta dum, ta dum” growing louder and louder.
Then Monique invited more discussion of the whole story and of the policemen who came to the madman’s house. “But the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder—louder---louder! And still the (women) chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? NO, no? They heard! They suspected! They KNEW!...They were making a mockery of my horror. I felt that I must scream or die!—and now—again hark! Louder, louder! Louder! LOUDER!”
Betsy glanced at her mega, industrial watch that wrapped heavily around her left wrist. 6:32. This was no time for self-indulgent liquidation. Betsy gathered her willpower along with armfuls of Mark’s stuff and threw it all into the wheelbarrow. This load, too, was dumped into the guest room with a flourish and an extra oomph of determination. OK. Trade the wheelbarrow for the vacuum. A speedy run-through in the showable spots. A quick dusting of visible furniture. And because “there came a most deadly nausea over (her) spirit” Betsy grabbed a can of Dr. Pepper from the stash in the back of the pantry, and poured it hissing and bubbling into a glass of ice. She’d have to throw away the can discreetly so her kids wouldn’t see it.
She downed the Dr. Pepper like a pro, then ran into her room, shimmied out of her jean capris, and put on her semi-clean black pants and pulled a black and white polka dot knit shirt over her head. She blushed her cheeks and brushed her eyebrows and just started brushing her teeth when the doorbell rang at 6:50. Betsy stared at herself in the bathroom mirror while toothpaste foamed from her mouth. The early doorbell made her foam even more. “I foamed, I raved, I swore!” Sister Bryce. She knew it was Sister Bryce. She was always early. Who would come early to anything? What a waste of a potential-filled ten minutes! Didn’t Sister Bryce have something to dust at her house or a floor to sweep? Why, in ten minutes, she could read a whole Ensign article but instead she was standing on Betsy’s front door step cheating Betsy out of ten minutes of final straightening. Betsy cursed. Just a little curse. Nothing major. Just a little “darn, darn, darn!” is all. Betsy ran to the door tossing the living room pillows in place on her way.
“Hello, Donna,” she greeted sweetly as Sister Bryce stepped into the foyer and was led to the living room. “Sit down wherever you like—since you’re the first one here,” she added with emphasis. Then, “Excuse me for just a second.”
Betsy walked calmly from the living room and then raced to her bedroom, stopping for the wheelbarrow. Forget the tour. There would be no tour tonight, but someone might ask to see her new bedspread. Why had she said anything about it to anyone? Into the wheelbarrow went the piles of books and magazines that always seemed to find their way into the master bedroom. “Who was reading all these?” she wondered. It certainly wasn’t her. A couple of boxes of Kleenexes, some stray laundry, and the clothes she had quickly changed out of got thrown in, along with some framed pictures that never made it to the wall and some bags of Wal-Mart essentials that she hadn’t put away yet. At least she had already made her bed. She was the only one in the family who believed that a bed should be made first thing in the morning to create a bit of order out of chaos.
Down to the guest room she rolled the wheelbarrow for its final run. Betsy dumped the load quickly and laid the wheelbarrow on its side in the disastrous pile. More lines from Poe came to her: “You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing but you should have seen me.” And “I chuckled at heart.” And “I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness...for I had directed the ray as if by instinct precisely upon the damned spot.” And “I might as well have attempted to arrest an avalanche.”
The doorbell rang again. She hoped Sister Bryce would have enough initiative to answer it because Betsy still wasn’t ready. As she shut the guest room door firmly she seemed to hear “a low dull quick sound such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton.” “More Poe?” thought Betsy. She felt “Poe-ssessed!”
She ran back to her bathroom for a quick brush of mascara and a swipe of Maybelline’s “On the Mauve.” She found a hair pick and attempted to lift her hair into order. Even the mirror seemed to be quoting Poe: “In vain I struggled to perfect—to regain it.” Whew! She only had to get through the next hour and a half or so, but she was feeling the crack “like the thread of the spider.”
Betsy found a sunny smile in her arsenal of expressions and walked sedately into the living room. She would have chosen to walk sedated into the living room but sedately would have to do.
Several guests were already there: delightful Sister McAfee—her face honored with wrinkles that crinkled with each lovely and frequent smile; Sister Branson—her head bobbing in time to her personal ill-health soliloquy; Sister Lansbury—comfortable as an over-stuffed chair and similar in dimensions. And there were others, wrapped in a variety of personalities and packaging.
Why today when she had all these wonderful women coming?—these women whom Betsy had trained into thinking that she was definitely one person who had it all together. They would never understand if she totally fell apart.
Well, there was nothing she could do about it at the moment so she went to work. She got out a dish pan—a big plastic one that she’d bought at Wal-Mart just for this purpose. She quickly threw all the dirty dishes in it and hauled it to the guest room. “Please, please, please, let no one open this door tonight,” she prayed in a whisper. She had made the mistake a few years ago of putting another plastic dishpan loaded with dirty dishes in the oven to hide it. It served the purpose of allowing the kitchen to look great, but the next morning Betsy turned on the oven forgetting its contents. The fire it started wasn’t pretty. Yes, the guest room was a better place for this filled dish pan.
Betsy grabbed a towel and wiped down every visible kitchen surface until she came to the table. Sand? What was sand doing on the table? She took a paper towel and swept the sand across the plastic tablecloth that made a laughing sound with the effort. Even the table was laughing at her. This was not funny and she would have none of it.
Out came the lace tablecloth and onto crystal plates and into crystal bowls went the Costco specials: mini cream puffs, spirals, baby carrots, salsa, chips, cheesecake bites. She briefly contemplated putting some HCG on a serving tray for the two women who seemed to live on it and nothing else. The thought would have been humorous if she had been in a better humor.
Gathering the empty cartons and the dishtowel, she ran to the guest room and tossed them on top of the loaded dish pan.
Now what? It was getting so late. How was she going to make it by 7:00 with any semblance of her public self? “There suddenly came over my spirit all the keen, collected calmness of despair.”
The wheelbarrow. That would be the quickest. “It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain.” She ran to the garage and grabbed the wheelbarrow from its revered spot in the corner. She dumped its contents of miscellany and rolled it through the kitchen to the family room. In went the school papers, the backpacks, the sweatshirts, the week’s mail, the shoes under the coffee table, the half bag of Cheetos and the tall stack of newspapers. Betsy had begged the kids to not eat in the family room but if they insisted on eating there, to at least pick up their dishes and put them in the dishwasher. She might as well have tried to instruct a herd of zebras. So on top of the pile in the wheelbarrow went three dirty plates, seven glasses and five forks. Betsy wheeled the barrow right to the center of the guest room and dumped it unceremoniously. She didn’t have time to be careful.
The bathroom was next. Into the wheelbarrow went the damp stinky towels and the stiff washcloths and the pile of dirty clothes both Mark and Benjamin had left on the floor. What did they care if a group of ladies was coming to the house and just might need to use the bathroom? Not as a group, of course, but it would only take one woman to spread tales of disgust to the rest of them. Betsy took one of the damp towels and wiped down the sink with its globs of toothpaste, the tub with its week’s worth of soap scum. And the toilet. Yuck. The toilet. Oh, Nelda, Nelda, Nelda. Betsy definitely didn’t pay her enough. Why can’t boys hit the water instead of back behind the toilet seat? It couldn’t be that hard to aim dead center, could it? No wonder Marcie insisted that the males in her family sit on all occasions. With a wipe-down of the mirror and floor, Betsy was on to the office. “You should have seen how wisely I proceeded…I went to work!”
She’d have to admit that most of the mess of the office belonged to her—the white cardboard carry-all she used for the Primary Singing Time spilling over with word charts and teaching tools, the messy stack of spiral notebooks filled with ideas and notes about gardening, writing, photography, and inspirational thoughts. Betsy wondered if an I-Pad would eliminate the need for all these notebooks that had no order at all to them. Well, she’d think about it later. If she’d have a “later.” The way this day was going, that was debatable.
All of her office stuff went callously into the wheelbarrow along with the kids’ doodling papers and unfinished school assignments and Nick’s piles of church manuals and books and file folders that had never found a safe, permanent home. This load, too, was dumped in the guest room. The pile was huge now and Betsy was feeling a sense of power, of accomplishment, of get-it-done-ness. “In the enthusiasm of (her) confidence,” “in the wild audacity of (her) perfect triumph,” Betsy wondered why she had never done this before? She had several very clean rooms and only one horrendously messy one. It was worth it. She thought she could now run get herself ready when her heart buckled under a new realization.
Since Mark’s room was closest to the front door, that room would have to be purged, too, so that coats could be laid on the bed if necessary. Betsy opened Mark’s room with trepidation and rolled in the wheelbarrow. The smell was overwhelming and it was piled high with stuff—boy stuff. Clothes, shoes, stiff socks, guitars, music, papers. She had pleaded with him to put his things away because she was having company, but her words must have hit a ricochet spot near his ear drum and disappeared into the opposite corner of the room. She started throwing everything into the wheelbarrow: the CD’s, the sketches of football plays, the several pairs of basketball shorts. And another apple and pen. Out of curiosity, which she really didn’t have time for, she slipped the pen into the apple. A good fit. Was this a straw for sucking out apple juice? A tiny piece of information she had heard somewhere came unglued from her memory and she sank in the comprehension that this wasn’t just an apple and this wasn’t just a pen. And together they didn’t make a straw. Together they made a very unique pipe. A great marijuana smoking pipe. Betsy didn’t have time just then for her body to turn completely inside out, starting with the top of her head, going down through her skull and straight through her body to her feet. But she was definitely going to put it on her to-do list. She also fought the urge to throw herself down on the floor with flailing legs and pounding fists as she sobbed herself into oblivion.
The evil of this day had started with the month. On October first, which happened to be a rainy, depressing Sunday, one of the football team parents had called with a distressing bit of information. Nancy was her name. (The name of the parent, of course, not the name of the information.)
“My son, Jefferson, just told me that he saw your son, Mark, smoking weed on the canal bank the other day. I don’t like being a tattle-tale but just thought you’d like to know.”
Betsy got the feeling that Nancy did like being a tattle-tale and that she looked for opportunities to snitch, but thanked her anyway. Betsy felt pretty certain that her son would never be dumb enough to do any kind of drugs. He came from a model family and everyone knew that children from model families didn’t do drugs.
On October 3rd, however, a crack started down in the corner of her veneer. While in Mark’s room looking for dirty dishes to put in the dishwasher, she saw an apple with a hole in it. What was that all about? A pen was nearby under some putrid socks. Well, not a pen exactly. A shell of one, though, with the insides out of it. What use would that be? She had seen a similar apple and pen in his room before and had thought nothing of it. But another set? Hmmm, things were looking a little fishy. She wished she had gone to the school meeting that informed parents of what drug use looks like. But, as she had thought then, why take valuable time learning about someone else’s problem? Now she was wondering.
On the sixth of October, which was not a P-Day, Betsy received an e-mail from her missionary son, “Mom, this is too hard. I really don’t want to be here anymore.” The crack was growing.
On the ninth of October when she was into a great deep-cleaning mode trying to get ready for the Book Club ladies, the school had called to say that Benjamin, her youngest and most lovable, was having too many difficulties in the regular classroom and could Betsy come that afternoon to discuss putting him into some special needs classes? Betsy felt the crack in her armor continue its upward creeping.
On the eleventh of October, her wonderful, hardworking husband sat Betsy down at the table, strewn with the remains of dinner. “I got news from the top today,” he said, “and it’s not good.” Betsy wanted to put her hands over her ears and go running into the night, but she’d only have to come back. “You know they’re downsizing ,” he continued, “so when I get back from New York on Friday….Did you remember that my plane comes in really late on Friday night?...well, I might not have a job . Just wanted to give you a heads-up.” The crack was growing and Betsy didn’t know how to stop it.
And on the twelfth, Elise had eaten her breakfast and run to the bathroom to throw it all up. She didn’t look sick but suddenly Betsy was aware of how thin Elise was looking. And Betsy wished she had gone to another school meeting that informed parents of what eating disorders look like. That school was busy. There could be a meeting a night talking about all the maladies waiting to afflict her children. The crack continued “with a low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe.”
And now it was Friday. Friday the 13th. Someone should have taken all the thirteens out of the calendar long ago to save humanity from days like this. The disappointing meanness of the month climaxed on this day and this hour of 5:00 in the afternoon with her house cleaner, Nelda, calling in sick. Nelda might have been sick, but she couldn’t be as sick as Betsy felt. “All sensations appeared swallowed up in a mad rushing descent as of the soul into Hades.” She had specifically arranged for Nelda to come in at 5:00 after the kids got home and were assigned out again to friends and activities. Now what was she supposed to do? The ladies were coming. She was supposed to have refreshments ready. Her house was a disaster. She was a disaster.
What had happened to this last precious day? She had been called to the school for Benjamin. Elise had forgotten her homework. Betsy’s sister had called and they’d talked for an hour. A repairman had come to fix the ice maker. She had made the mistake of walking outside to bring in the garbage can when Mr. Phillips was retrieving his. He then took up thirty minutes of her prized time to delightedly tell her all about his new grandbaby. Then she had gone shopping at Costco for the groceries, but since she had failed to return her wallet to her purse when she’d paid the repairman, she had no money. She had to go all the way home to get it and by the time she had paid the disgruntled cashier and finally returned home again, Betsy and all the day’s allotted time were completely spent. She thought about canceling the Book Club due to tuberculosis or some other horrible made-up disease, but that was something wimpy Sister Sheffield would have done and Betsy couldn’t stand to be compared to her.
She considered pulling herself up by her bootstraps. But what did that even mean? How does one pull oneself up by bootstraps? What are bootstraps anyway? She gave that personal conversation up and just planted her feet firmly in front of herself where she had been slopped on the family room couch and with the help of the arm of it, pulled herself up. Who needed bootstraps?
“Ok everybody,” Betsy bellowed as she gathered her strength and clapped her hands together as a sign of authority. “They are coming. The Book Club ladies are coming. Let’s get things done around here.” She walked past the piles that had grown around the sink, on the counter and by the stairs. “You have got to take care of your stuff.” That sentence started out like a trumpet and ended like a piccolo, for there wasn’t anyone around to listen to her tirade. They had already disappeared as planned, leaving their residue to be hauled and re-dumped by a frantic mother. “As usual!” she yelled at the walls with great emphasis. The walls didn’t comment. “As usual!” she yelled again, even louder this time. Silence.
It was growing. Betsy could feel it. The crack. She had held herself together for a good twenty-five years and now she could feel the fissure and the repercussions were going to be terrible.
Betsy Woodward was the kind of woman that every woman envied. Well, at least the women in the LDS 7th Ward of Gilbert. Her home was spotless, her children well behaved and popular, her husband handsome and successful. When her visiting teachers came each month, Betsy’s home smelled of homemade bread and her living room, which is, of course, the only room that Visiting Teachers ever see, looked like a Thomasville showroom.
While waiting at the front door—totally devoid of cobwebs—her Visiting Teachers could hear Betsy singing a very cheerful ditty. This proved that along with everything else in Betsy’s favor, she didn’t have an ounce of depression. Here was a woman polished to perfection and untouchable by anyone in the boundaries of the 7th Ward. It was a bit intimidating.
When Betsy went to her son Mark’s football games, she looked more like one of the students with her slim body and fashionable clothes. Mark was, of course, the quarterback and the greatest reason for the team’s success. Her daughter, Elise, was excellent at ballet or so everyone said and her youngest son, Benjamin, had the sweetest personality in the whole Primary.
The women of the 7th Ward Relief Society didn’t know Betsy as well as most of them knew each other since she had only been in their ward for a year. But they knew enough. They knew that besides the aforementioned kids, Betsy had three older children—two at BYU and one on a mission. If that didn’t signify parental success, what did? They also knew that she lived in the most beautiful home in the ward, that she drove a very nice car, and that she could sing like an angel. All of this excellence made Betsy quite unapproachable, so she didn’t have any close friends in the ward and didn’t get invited to go to lunch at Flancer’s or to go shopping for curtain or pillow fabrics at Mesa Sales. And she and her husband never got asked to parties at ward members’ homes nor did their family ever get invited to Family Home Evening. Betsy said she didn’t care. But she did—a little.
Actually, Betsy exerted a conscious effort to create a façade of perfection. Impressions were important to her and she worked hard at keeping hers favorable. It wasn’t difficult to impress her Visiting Teachers because they always called ahead. She could make sure the living room was picked up, dusted and vacuumed and smelled like Bath and Body Works’ Coconut Lime before they came. And timing it just right, Betsy could pop some frozen Rhodes Cinnamon Rolls into the oven with their tantalizing aroma at its peak when the sisters sat down to give her the lesson.
Betsy loved to hear comments like, “Your home is so lovely.” or “How do you do it?” or “You’re amazing!” Betsy made it a specific point to look terrific when she went to Church each Sunday as she smilingly led her attractive children down the aisle to the second row on the right, giving a little smile and lift of the head in greeting to her husband, Nick, who sat on the stand as a member of the Bishopric. She’d scoot the three kids in first, always glad when they got there before the elderly Brother and Sister Johnson. Betsy had to put on some extra speed at home so she could beat the Johnsons out of that particular pew. The Woodwards had been sitting there for some time now and the Johnsons had become usurpers. No one needed to know that on most Sundays, Betsy’s family had had a miserable morning of quarreling as each searched franticly for just the right Sunday clothes and hurriedly downed a bowl of Lucky Charms so they could be there seven minutes early, much to the annoyance of the children.
No one had ever seen Betsy Woodward looking less than her best because Betsy made sure they didn’t.
Betsy didn’t participate in too many ward activities, but she did join the Book Club which met once a month. It had been an enjoyable enough activity until this month. This month of October. Someone had thought it would be fun to read The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe and have the meeting on October 13th, which happened to be a Friday. Friday the Thirteenth. So fitting, they all thought. Way back in January, Betsy had thought it was a good idea, too, and had even signed up to be October’s hostess. But the calendar pages had whipped off as in a hurricane and October had arrived way before Betsy’s plans for purging and perfecting every single room could be accomplished.
Because of found minutes during ballgames, dance lessons and in the bathroom, Betsy could actually say she had read the book. But it hadn’t been pleasant and as the raven quothed: “Nevermore!” Life was definitely too short to read Edgar Allan Poe. She discovered that many of Poe’s words would come back to her with amazing clarity and at odd moments.
And now today, Friday the 13th of October, Betsy wished she had never heard of Poe or the Book Club and definitely wished she had never put her name on the line to be the hostess. Her house wasn’t as ready as she had wanted it to be and she knew that several of the women had planned on her giving them a tour. That’s what happens when you live in a beautiful home—everyone wants to see it. And she had wanted them to see it but now that today was here, this was not the day.
In fact, this wasn’t a day for anything. Betsy would have chosen to take a few sleeping pills, crawl back into bed, scoot her knees up to her chest in a fetal position and wait for the Second Coming. It was definitely not a day for company. In the words of Poe, she had “a strong desire to lapse into insensibility.”
Day 3: The Cruise Peruse Monday July 11, 2011 Elizabeth Willis Barrett
Another great day. Didn’t spend much time outside. We went touring the ship. Every day we will get a detailed newsletter that lists all the activities for the day. There seems to always be something to do.
When I saw that there were a few classes that you could sign up for, I was ready with a pen. I love learning.
At 10:00 I went to a class called Face Lifting Without Surgery. Doctor Noreen told us all about Botox, Restylane, Perlane and Depport. I could see immediately--probably because of all my learning--that this was really a sales pitch for procedures that could be done right there on the boat by Doctor Noreen herself. Since she was 38 and looked 18, it was enticing. I even signed up for a free consultation at 2:00. Free--that was the magic word.
At 11:00, I went to a class called “Flat Stomachs for Dummies.” Well, it wasn’t called that, but it should have been. The very charming, Australian accented, young and handsome, and flat-tummied presenter told us the shocking news that if you want a flat stomach (who doesn’t), exercise can only get you 15% of the way and nutrition can only get you another 35% of the way. The last 50% must come from detoxification. Ahhh--detoxification. “Here it comes,” I thought with great discernment. “Here comes another sales pitch.”
He told us that we daily ingest many impurities and that they must be flushed out with a good cleanse. Yep! I was right. Get out your ship charge card.
When he related the well-traveled story of John Wayne dying of colon cancer and having 64 pounds of fecal material rotting in his intestines, I not only got suspicious of this young man’s credentials but I almost chortled out loud.
I went to a colonoscopy doctor once for that rather discomforting procedure and truly thought I’d come home at least 5 pounds lighter. But the doctor informed me that that is not what happens in one’s colon. It doesn’t store years’ worth of excess muck in there. So if you want to lose weight, a colonoscopy isn’t going to help get you to your goal, because it is impossible for the colon to collect that much residue. And in John Wayne’s case, did someone actually weigh it?
Furthermore, the last time I heard the John Wayne story--also from someone who would prosper by potential pill buyers believing it--it was only 40 pounds of rotting fecal material. So someone, somewhere is lying or exaggerating to promote their own cures and frankly I’m not buying it--the story or the product.
The young man then proceeded to tell us that we shouldn’t mind spending $150.00 a month for the 6 months it would take to become completely detoxified. I didn’t stay for his total revelation of the stomach flattening medication, but as with so many other things--I’m sure there is a better and cheaper way to get in shape.
Brad met me and we went back up to Raffles for lunch. More excess gorging followed which will make repentance necessary as soon as we get home. When food is in such abundance, it makes me want to take advantage of the situation--so I do.
At 2:00 Brad went to the Star Dust Theater to save us seats for the 2:30 Magic Show and I raced to my face-lifting consultation. Dr. Noreen made me wait in the waiting room for 15 minutes so I got a little shortchanged on my 30 minute appointment. When she finally ushered me to her examination bed, the Doc was very ready to point out my facial flaws. I am already well aware of them, but it is a little difficult to hear of them from an expert. She suggested some Botox here and some Restylane there and in 12 minutes she had created a vision of a new me that would only cost $1200! A pittance for the great change it would make. I would have had her procedure me then and there if I didn’t have many other uses for my money, if I knew it was an excellent price and if Brad wasn’t waiting for me at the Magic Show. But I did, I didn’t and he was.
So off I ran, my wrinkles still intact, to see a fabulous Magic Show--in the dark where no one could see my face or my belly. Temporary oblivion. For the moment, what a nice place to be!
Talk for University 3rd Ward Sacrament Meeting
Elizabeth Willis Barrett
August 28, 2011
Just for a moment, open up the eyes of your imagination and consider this question. What would our University 3rd Ward be like if every member were exactly like you? Awesome? Cool? Hot? Kind? Shy? Quiet? Self-conscious? Happy? Miserable? If everyone were exactly like you, would there be anyone to teach Sunday School? Help with the music? Organize the sports? Bring dessert for the ward parties? If everyone were like you, would there be any parties? Would the Visiting Teaching get done? If everyone were like you, would you feel the love of our ward family? Would there be anyone who could forget about themselves long enough to reach out to you and become your friend?
I know how I felt last year when we were first called to this position. It was scary. All of these strange, yet beautiful--of course--faces and names that had to be put with them. Some of you have come from out of state not knowing anyone. I admire you greatly for your courage. The entity that will make your experience here a wonderful one is friendship.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism.’” And according to Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy: “That thought ought to inspire and motivate all of us because friendship is a fundamental need of our world. In all of us there is a profound longing for and a deep yearning for the satisfaction and security that close and lasting relationships can give.”
Friendship is what has made our University 3rd Ward the wonderful ward it has become in its first year of existence and Friendship will keep it that way through the years. Each person in our ward needs to feel surrounded by love and friendship. That can only happen when we each forget ourselves and reach out to someone else. I know it’s hard. It’s really hard for me.
For one thing, we are all really busy. That will probably never change. There was only one time in my life when I felt like I was ahead of the game. That was when my two youngest children were in their car seats looking out the back window as we sped along the freeway. As they saw all the cars racing behind us they said with excitement, “Hey, Mom, you’re winning!”
If you are a good friend now, most likely you will be a good friend later in your life. But if you are too busy to share the love of friends now, you’re not going to have any more time later to be a good friend.
I know, you don’t believe me! I thought that I would have time just hanging around waiting for me to do all the things I ever wanted to do when I got to this stage of life. But I don’t and neither will you. It’s rather a shock!
Besides the lack of time, the lack of charity can get in the way of befriending others. We might discount someone because of one thing we find objectionable in them and then we won’t take the opportunity to know that person better. What a loss!
At times we might put ourselves and others into classes: rich, not so rich, gorgeous, not so gorgeous, brilliant, not so brilliant. And then feel like we need to stay in our own preconceived circles. Many chances for friendships are lost that way, too.
If we are taking time to analyze and find fault with others, we won’t have as much time or desire to look for and see the good.
Perhaps we have finally found a group of our own that we feel comfortable with and we don’t want to rock the boat of acceptance by opening up the group to let someone else in.
One of the greatest inhibitors of friendship could possibly be our own shyness or our own self-consciousness. We are so concerned about our own deficiencies that it is hard to worry about anybody else.
As Elder Jensen said: “How selfish we can be. How unwilling to be inconvenienced, to give, to bless and be blessed. What kind of parents or neighbors or servants of the Lord Jesus Christ can we be without being a friend?
“The power,” he said, “is in each one of us to be a friend. Old and young, rich and poor, educated and humble, in every language and country, we all have the capacity to be a friend.”
Being a friend takes time and effort, but think of the great benefits. Here are eight pointers on how to be a good friend.
First: forget about yourself. Maybe you didn’t have time to do your hair just like you wanted, maybe you spilled ketchup on your tie, maybe you couldn’t find just the right thing to wear but you are not the only one. Each person here has something about themselves that they don’t feel so great about. So forget about you and find someone that you can help and include. Be aware of other people and what they might be feeling. Be sincerely interested in others, and more people will be interested in you.
Second: “act as though.” C. S. Lewis said it so well: “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone you will presently come to love him.”
You learn to love others by investing in others.
Another way to “act as though,” is to assume that the people around you actually like you. Sometimes we expect someone to snub us or talk about us or reject us and we’re looking for anything in their actions that will prove us right so we can say, “See, I told you he didn’t like me!” Often that person is just reacting to our own action of insecurity or rudeness. Act as though everyone likes you. They probably do! How could they help it, right?
Just as you are trying to “read” other people, they are trying to “read” you. Sometimes you get it wrong.
“Act as though” you’re not shy and self-conscious. Most people here didn’t know you in high school. They didn’t even know you last month. You can remake yourself. Thinking more about others than about yourself is a good start.
Get out of your comfort zone. Stretch a little. Charity, the pure love of Christ, will help you do that.
So that’s the Third thing you can do when working on friendships: Pray for charity. Pray that you will be helped to think about others and what they need. Then you can forget about your mind that goes blank when you try to think of something clever to say and you can forget about your tongue that gets thick when you’re attempting to express yourself.
Keep in mind the message that the Savior taught us over and over in His actions and words: Love one another as I have loved you.
As Mother Teresa said, “It is not how much you do, but how much Love you put into the doing that matters.”
According to an Ensign Article by Shirleen Meek: “Our Father in Heaven can give you the courage to talk to others, the motivation to try something new, or the desire to go out of your way when you just don’t feel like it. And he can comfort you when your efforts don’t turn out quite as you had hoped.”
One of my favorite quotes is from the author Willa Cather, “Where there is great love there are always miracles.”
Fourth: Live the Gospel. A true friend makes it easier for you to live the gospel when you are with him or her.
Fifth: Get involved. Make the effort. Be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there and good things will happen in your life. There are so many activities in our ward and stake. That doesn’t happen in home wards. The goal here is to bring young people together often to meet each other, learn from each other and to make memorable friendships. And to help get some eternal families going, of course. You never know, your one and only may be at the fireside that you are trying to decide whether to go to or not or at the FHE that you are just too tired to attend. Get up, get going, make your life happen.
Sixth: Remember what people tell you so it will give you something to talk about when you meet again. And be sure to compliment those around you even if you think they already know they look great or taught well. They probably don’t know it already and everyone needs praise.
As Garrison Keillor of Lake Wobegon fame said:
“They say such nice things about people at their funerals that it makes me sad that I’m going to miss mine by just a few days.”
Seventh: Learn everyone’s name. That won’t be easy. You’ll have to work at it. But as you know, nothing is as sweet as the sound of your own name. And besides, it would really help me if I asked you what someone’s name was and you could tell me. Can you imagine the positive impact it would have on our ward if everyone knew everyone’s name?
We are a ward family: some brothers and sisters, a mother and father and a few loving aunts and uncles thrown in. We help each other. Sometimes we have to take out the garbage. Sometimes we have to clean our rooms. Sometimes we are needed to share rides or to comfort and uplift and encourage.
Hopefully, in this ward and in the many wards you’ll be in in your life, you will choose to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.
As it says in Romans 12:5: “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”
And it helps to be one when we know each other’s names.
Eighth: and last: Be your best self. President Spencer W. Kimball once said: “What are your eccentricities, if any? I think nearly all people have some. If so, then go to work. Classify them, weigh them, corral them, and eliminate them one at a time.”
That, too, will take time and effort but know that we are all striving to grow to be a better people, a better ward family. We can learn from and help each other.
Our Bishop and his counselors love you. I know that each of them would call each of you “friend” and so would the other adults assigned to this ward.
What greater gift dost thou bestow,
What greater goodness can we know
Than Christlike friends, whose gentle ways
Strengthen our faith, enrich our days.
You enrich my days and I am very grateful for your friendship. Thank you for your love and devotion to each other. May you be willing to reach out to those you don’t know yet and help them feel the outpouring of love from this ward. Be a friend!
Elizabeth Willis Barrett
August 8, 2011
I have two grandchildren that will be starting kindergarten this year--Barrett and Claire. I pray that they will each be blessed with a teacher who loves them and wants them to become the best they can be. After all, kindergarten is the gateway to years of education and Barrett’s and Claire’s experiences in this school year could possibly color the rest of their lives. I hope these experiences will be the color of roses and not of fog.
I especially wish for these children a more positive experience with kindergarten than I had, because kindergarten at Emerson Elementary in the school year of 1954-55 left a little to be desired. In fact, I am surprised that after my year of kindergarten I didn’t cower behind my Mom’s skirts and refuse to ever set foot in another educational facility.
In case you didn’t know, according to Webster’s 17th edition of the dictionary, the word kindergarten comes from the German language. The word kinder means children and garten means garden. In English, this translates into a garden of children. So wouldn’t you think kindergarten would be a very loving, nurturing place? It conjures up thoughts of watering and cultivating and carefully assisting lovely young plants to grow and progress.
Well, my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Hill, was not cut from the cloth of a gardener and she was definitely not cut from the cloth of a kindergarten teacher. Her Maker must have grabbed the wrong fabric when she came down the assembly line. I think He got mixed up with a Nazi general when He reached for the material for Mrs. Hill. She was not made from a soft, supple, warm fabric but from a scratchy, unrelenting, cold one.
Mrs. Hill’s birthday was on February 29th which, obviously, only comes every four years. “I am only twelve years old,” she’d tell us. I think to a kindergartener, anybody older than five, even an aging adult, could easily have been twelve. What did we know?
Maybe being a leap year baby was at the root of her problem. Maybe she felt a need to inflict her frustration of only having a birthday every four years on very unsuspecting first year students. None of us had gone to preschool. I don’t know when preschool became a necessary prerequisite to kindergarten. So this was our very first experience with education.
We each had brought a little rug from home to take naps on. Naps! We were only in kindergarten for half a day. Claire and Barrett will be in school all day but I don’t think they’ll be napping on home-brought rugs. But in my half-day kindergarten, we would each take out our little rugs and lie down on them halfway through our daily time there. Without pillows! Who could lie down on a hard floor and have a restful rest without a pillow? And we were to be quiet while lying on those rugs. We wouldn’t even think of making a peep and being brought to Mrs. Hill’s attention. Not because she would gently reprimand us or send a note home to our parents. No. Remember, she was cut from the rough scratchy cloth of a Nazi. If you crossed her discipline radar, you could very well end up in the closet with a gag over your mouth. That’s what happened to Danny on more than one occasion. I know that sounds like a lie but it isn’t. You can ask anybody in the black and white picture enshrining my fellow classmates of the Emerson Kindergarten Class of 1955 if I’m telling you the truth. Any one of them will tell you that Mrs. Hill had no business masquerading as a kindergarten teacher. She belonged to a different age and time, and should have been marshaling a ragtag bunch of unruly soldiers and not attempting to teach a budding group of tender and tiny five year olds. (Actually, I was never tiny, but that is fodder for another story.)
On one occasion Mrs. Hill took a student and bound his hands before she put him in the closet. That atrocity happened to a boy named Jack who would often come to school without shoes. We didn’t live in the rural olden days when going to school without shoes was more common than going to school with shoes. I’m sure Jack didn’t need to be humiliated any further than he already was, but Mrs. Hill didn’t seem to know that. I don’t remember Jack at all in later years. He might have been a kindergarten drop-out. I’m surprised more of us didn’t fall into that category.
Once Mom was giving a Relief Society lesson in the good old days when our Church Relief Society was held every Wednesday morning. All the women in the Mesa 8th Ward attended without fail just to have that wonderful association with great women. Mom wanted me to add to her lesson by reciting the poem, The Owl and the Pussycat. I was very willing, especially when I knew that I would miss kindergarten that day. Even when I was told on my return to the trenches that I had missed a class party, I still didn’t mind. Any day away from kindergarten was a day to be treasured.
There might have been one or two favorable highlights that year. Once Mrs. Hill wrote “bananas are good” on the blackboard (no white boards then!). She pointed to the words and said, “bananas, blank, blank” and I was the one who could fill in the blanks correctly with the words “are good.” I was actually quite smart if I do say so myself. But that good memory is offset with the bad memory of having to spend time in the corner because I was talking to Jeanine.
Mrs. Hill made a statement one day that was very disturbing to my young mind. We were all being overly noisy and she said that if we didn’t behave, the principle would fire her. “Fire?” I only had one interpretation for that word: the principle would light a match and burn her up. I became very quiet. We all did. Maybe the others had constructed the same horrible mental picture.
It really is too bad that she hadn’t been fired--in the real meaning of the word, I mean. She should never have been a kindergarten teacher. Her antics would certainly get her fired today. Fired and sued and perhaps arrested. Surprisingly, in spite of Mrs. Hill, I went on to love school and thrive in its environment.
My prayer for Claire and Barrett and my other fourteen grandchildren is that they too will thrive. I hope they will always receive excellent gardeners in their “garden of children.” But even if, along the way, they have to suffer through a teacher who should never have become a teacher, I pray that they will prosper anyway, knowing who they are and Whose they are. May they be great learners in this wonderful world and love the learning.
New Orleans--what a great place to begin and end a cruise. It is extremely warm, which sounds rather critical for someone who lives in Gilbert, Arizona, where it can be 110 degrees all day and all night. But I will definitely take our warm to New Orleans’ warm with its sticky high humidity. I have been apologizing to guests who have had to weather our weather for August weddings or mis-planned visits for a long time now. But Arizona heat is looking pretty good to me at the moment.
Last night Brad and I and Sam and Leona--2 of the 22 that make up our very congenial group--made our slow and uncomfortable way down the New Orleans streets to get a bit of the flavor of this very unique city. At Mother’s, a small and popular restaurant, we had heaping plates of red beans and rice along with cabbage and roast beef. It looked sloppy and monochromatic and would never have placed in a gourmet contest, but it tasted delicious and New Orleans-ish. Then we walked down the very decadent Bourbon Street which I have done on two other occasions and don’t have on my bucket list to do again. We found a relatively peaceful place to sit and listen to Jazz and Blues and eat beignets, which made the sweltering walk quite worth it.
This morning Brad and I headed off to Jackson Square to go to Mass with Wally and Nancy. Unfortunately we didn’t get our directions straight and went out of our way which wasn’t too fun in this exquisite heat. Then in talking to a corner tour vendor we discovered that St. Thomas Cathedral personnel might not let Brad into Mass wearing shorts. So Brad raced back to the hotel to change and left me sitting alone on a bench a little nervous after the above mentioned vendor had told of the looting and beating up of innocents that happened during Hurricane Katrina. He didn’t make New Orleans sound like a kind and loving city.
During my apprehensive wait, Brad called my cell phone to say that I should walk on to Jackson Square and he would meet me there. I raced off keeping my phone in my hand to ward off any attackers who would want to rob me of my jean purse and all its contents including 50 $1 bills and this journal that would undoubtedly bring a great price if sold on the black market.
I made it into the St. Thomas Cathedral with the last of the Mass-welcoming bells. I felt a little like Maria in The Sound of Music running down from the mountain and into the cloister at breakneck speed as the bells chimed. Thankfully the Delecki’s caught me before I walked clear up to the alter. There are several warnings to turn off cell phones which of course wouldn’t have been issued when this gorgeous edifice was built between the years of 1789 and 1850. Interestingly, this is the oldest continuously operating cathedral in the United States.
Before I could turn off my extremely modern I Phone 4, it rang and I quickly hit the decline button. It was Brad wondering where to find us. I tried to quietly text him but then he called again and again I cut him off. Mass began with a song--a rather loud one that the congregation needed to stand up and sing. That gave me the opportunity to scrunch on my bench, call Brad’s cell and whisper to him where we were sitting. He had practically run all the way--not from the hotel because he never made it to the hotel. He had mis-calculated his way and gone about eight blocks out of it. So he was still in his shorts when he panted into the cathedral. Thankfully, he was not turned away as weren’t the other 100 men in shorts.
We enjoyed the Mass. Nancy guided us through it in the booklet that is printed every quarter, I believe. The music was beautifully led by a very skilled vocalist. She sang most of the songs with a different melody than was written for some reason, which made it a little harder to follow when it was our turn to sing. The priest gave a very nice sermon on the sower who tossed his seeds and some fell on thorny ground, etc. We felt very edified. It was a beautiful place to experience our first Mass.
We gathered all our belongings from the hotel, took a cab to the embarkment point and after signing away our full credit card capability, boarded the Norwegian Cruise Ship “Spirit.” It is enormous and beautiful. It was like walking into a six star hotel lobby. We were greeted by a Flamingo Dancer and attractive drinks which we declined. (We declined the drinks, I mean. I don’t think the Flamingo Dancer was offered.) We found our room, #6532, quite quickly. It is small but very efficient and has a big window looking out over the ocean. I think we’re going to like this!
It is 7:30 AM and Brad and I are sitting in the Sky Harbor Airport waiting to board our Southwest flight to New Orleans where we will board a Norwegian Cruise Line ship for our first ever and much deserved cruise. It is to celebrate our 40th Wedding Anniversary which is coming up on August 18th. If not now, when?
I haven’t really gathered any enthusiasm for this privileged adventure yet. I’m hoping it will come. If not, I will be considered a very ungrateful little twerp since a very low percentage of the world’s 6 billion—or is it 7 billion?—people can ever dream of going on a trip like this. But collecting enthusiasm takes time and brain power and both of those commodities have been busy elsewhere, along with my scattered emotions. Mom died in April and we had a very reflective and sweet time with family and friends. We took a wonderful trip to Conneaut, Ohio—Brad’s birth place— in May. June vanished like disappearing ink without making an impression at all and we had a memorable family reunion at the cabin over the Fourth of July after spending several days in Flagstaff for business. Now here it is time for this possibly once in a lifetime vacation and I’d better perk up and get my whole body, mind and spirit in total alignment to enjoy it. OK, Chopra and Dyer—please remind me how to do that!
One way is to enjoy the moment—right? I have been practicing enjoying the process or the journey, as it were, and not just the destination, but I have a long ways to go, so to speak. For instance, I didn’t enjoy any of the moments last night while I was finishing a marathon packing spree. A packing job that should take two hours at the very most always ends up being as big a deal as packing up the Ringling Brothers Circus. Why is that? One minor reason is that invariably, while slowly packing, Brad turns on the TV. The TV is so distracting to me. Brad comments on what is being debated on the current talk show—which I must respond to—and then he talks to me about other things that could easily be discussed while we’re waiting an hour in the airport. I don’t think men think that way, though. They just say things as they come to mind and never consider more convenient timing. My goal was to go to bed at 8:00 which was ridiculous, I know, but I believe in aiming high. My head didn’t hit the pillow until nearly mid-night, however, and just knowing that the alarm was set for 5:00 this morning made sleep evade me like a grandchild at Wal-Mart.
So now that we have surprisingly made it in excellent time to the airport—via a loving and kind daughter, Allison—I will try once again to enjoy the moment. Ummm, maybe not this moment. I am sitting behind a Mister “I don’t care if everyone knows the minutiae of my frustrating and difficult business” who is talking twenty decimals louder than sotto voce on his cell phone. Should I let him ruin my moment? According to author Byron Katie who makes falling flat on the floor appear to be a special gift from providence, “Of course not.” That would be giving him too much of my power and I need my power for this trip.
So I’ll concentrate on some of the other people—scores and scores of all shapes, sizes and demeanors. All clothed and coiffured in a myriad of ways. And God knows each one intimately and loves each one, too, which seems like a stretch in some instances —the angry, the chuckling, the immodest, the ancient—Imagine!
Well my number is up and we are about to board. Me and my best friend—going on our first cruise. Lucky, lucky me!!!
My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Elizabeth Willis Barrett June 13, 2011
Some days are wonderfully good days. In fact, most of them are. Nah, that’s sounding a little too Pollyanna-ish. Most of them are just OK. But on some days, I am really in the flow and everything falls into place. I can go to Safeway and find everything I had a coupon for. I can turn left onto Baseline without waiting for 20 cars to go by. The people I want answers from respond quickly to my text messages and my head isn’t in need of an Excedrin. Jelly side up days. I like those days. When I get my thinking in order, I end up having a lot more of them. But lately I have let the small nuisances of life—the little things that slowly pump the joy out of existence— get to me and make some not so good days. The other day was one of those.
Brad and I were getting ready to go to the cabin and I made the mistake of saying, “My thumbs hurt!” All I needed him to say was, “I’m so sorry. I bet that is really uncomfortable for you.” Or “Arthritis is a pain, isn’t it?” But he didn’t. He said, “I told you to go to the doctor. Why don’t you just go and quit complaining about it?”
Nothing makes me quit talking more than a comment like that. I know he couldn’t help it. Like most men he was born with a gene that makes him blurt out an obvious fix without any intermediate empathy. Of course I should go to a doctor. But I didn’t need him to tell me that. I needed him to sympathize with and listen to me like I sympathize with and listen to him when he complains of a jabbing headache or an incompetent employee. I don’t think he even noticed that I totally quit talking after that—about anything.
Until, that is, we were at Home Depot getting some essentials for the cabin yard. It was after lunch time and I was hungry. Right in front of Home Depot was a Pollo Loco so as we got back in the car, I asked Brad if he wanted to stop there. “No, I’m not hungry,” he said as he drove past it.
I was miffed again, but that wasn’t his fault either. Women, for the most part, are born with a gene which makes us say things like: “Do you feel like a Jamba Juice right now?” And when our man says, “No,” we get mad and quit talking. That’s because we expect him to have enough sense to say, “I’d love one,” even if he wouldn’t. We want him to instinctively know (as women know) that we wouldn’t have brought up Jamba Juice if we hadn’t wanted one for ourselves. And for some asinine reason, we don’t feel worthy of getting what we want unless someone else wants it, too. It’s not the men’s fault, really. We as women need to state clearly, “I’m stopping at Jamba Juice. If you want one, I’ll get you one, too.” Or “Stop right now at Pollo Loco. I’m getting a taco salad. What would you like?”
This particular day wasn’t improving with its passing.
I usually don’t drink anything but water. I am definitely not one of those that has to run to Circle K for a 44 ouncer every day at 1:30. But when we drive up to the mountains, I really like to stop at Circle K for one of their semi-frozen Sprites to which I squirt in their additives of vanilla and raspberry flavorings and vitamin B12 and gingko. You get all that for $ .79 whether you choose a 24 oz., 32 oz. or 44 oz. Being the value mogul that I am, I, of course, fill up the 44 ouncer with relish. The very best combination is Sprite mixed with Mango but I have only found that in one place and that is way out on Hunt Highway. Driving out there would be a very foolish way to spend $20 in gas just to buy a $ .79 drink.
Since I didn’t get any lunch on this occasion, I thought I could at least look forward to my frozen concoction. But unfortunately, not all Circle K’s have frozen slushy drinks. In my opinion, they shouldn’t have started the trend unless they could carry it out in all locations. Now that I’m hooked, finding what I need has turned out to be very difficult.
Brad was sure there was a Circle K we could stop at in Gold Canyon which was on the way. He thought he could find it, but he couldn’t and for that matter, neither could I. My annoyance was intensified. I really had my taste buds ready. On we went to Miami. Brad stopped at the first Circle K we passed but they hadn’t modernized and my drink was not there. Humph.
As we drove on, we saw a Church’s Chicken establishment off to the right. Being unusually decisive, I told Brad to pull into the drive-through and I ordered chicken strips. No reflection on all Church’s, but these were inedible. Brad was very kind and told me not to eat the chicken, and we would try somewhere else.
We stopped at two more Circle K’s. The first didn’t have the drink I wanted. The second did, but the machine was frozen up and the icy liquid wouldn’t come out. Aaaaaaaaaaa! I was quite beside myself.
Then up the road we saw a KFC. “They won’t let me down,” I thought with great conviction and my mouth was rather ready for highly seasoned chicken. It isn’t usually, but there is something about being in the car and having few choices that did it. It didn’t look like any alternatives were available in Globe unless I wanted to go to McDonald’s or Taco Bell. I didn’t.
As we drove up to KFC, it looked closed. But as they say, “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” so I got out and tried the door. It was locked even though the sign said they were open for several more hours. As I pulled on the door a few times, a KFC worker appeared and motioned for us to drive around to the window. Obediently, we did. Brad first asked the same worker, now receiving our order at the window, if he had any pot pies. Sometimes a pot pie tastes very soothing, especially a KFC pot pie. No, he didn’t. That wasn’t too surprising because it is a hit or miss for any of the KFC’s to have pot pies when you want them.
“How ‘bout the little wraps?” I made Brad ask. Brad hates drive-through windows in the very best of situations, and this wasn’t turning out to be anywhere near the best.
“We don’t have much tonight,” was the boy’s answer.
“Hmmm. Well, what do you have?” Brad asked. This final question should have been answered with about 30 KFC items, but there was only one from this worker who probably didn’t want to be there and most likely would have loved to be home playing Nintendo or something.
“We have three chicken strips,” was his reply.
“Three chicken strips?” My raised voice carried very easily from the passenger side of the front seat.
“Yep. Three chicken strips.” He said it matter of factly, like we shouldn’t have expected more from a chicken-serving-fast-food-place that had about three more hours to be open for service.
“We ran out of chicken,” he added.
Tornadoes were going on in the Midwest, and earthquakes in other parts of the world but Globe, Arizona, looked perfectly calm. No disasters seemed to be coming down on it.
“We borrowed some chicken from Show Low,” he continued, “but we’re all out again.”
Astounding! Kentucky Fried Chicken had run out of chicken. I hoped that some manager’s job was on the line for this.
“I’ll take your last three strips,” I said. My mouth was still ready for chicken and I thought, of course, that these last three would be succulent and delicious. Wrong. Very wrong. They were worse than the Church’s. I didn’t eat them.
We finally made it to the cabin, drink-less, dinner-less and humor-less. I took a Marie Callender’s beef tips dinner from the freezer and put it in the micro-wave, with a Healthy Choice meat loaf dinner waiting in the wings for Brad. He set up the two TV trays and turned on the news.
Because Brad is a perpetual channel changer—another characteristic imbedded in male genes—several news stories began hitting my ears and my always active guilt center: the earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan, the flattened town of Joplin Missouri, the embarrassing sexting antics of Congressman Weiner, the horrendous trial of Casey Anthony.
Here were some people having some legitimate terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. Comparing mine to theirs would be like comparing a piece of hay to a haystack. It was like I could hear The Powers That Be whisper in my ear, “Quit your bellyaching or I’ll really give you something to cry about.”
I’m a good listener. I chastised my selfish inner child and vowed to be more like our neighbor, Dave Robinson, who never met a day he didn’t like.
After my sincere bedtime prayer of thanks for my shelter, my bed, my companion, my family, and countless blessings, I ruminated on the day and surprisingly, with the flip of a mental switch, it became a glorious, wonderful day and I humbly look forward to many more to come.