I wage war against flies on a daily basis. Thanks to our porch structure, farm life, and tendency to go light on air conditioning, we often have bothersome intruders. I keep a flyswatter handy and periodically go on murderous sprees. One evening last week I started counting out loud. Peter, attempting to get in his afternoon nap, was interrupted by my periodic, gleeful announcements. 16 . . . 19 . . . 21! I know how to woo a man.

There was an old lady . . .

For 4 weeks, the petite 6 year old had been feeling a discomfort in her ear. She no longer complained of pain—though I suspect it had been there initially, dulled by the passage of time. Thanks to her lack of a social security number, her parents were ineligible for health care for her, and so they had not been able to go to a regular hospital. When she first came to us, 2 weeks ago, we did not have the right equipment. We had attempted to clear out the blockage but the machine had failed so, 45 minutes later, the doctor seeing her that day had given up, asking them to make an appointment for later, and hoping, praying, that we would be able to get the equipment in time.

We did.

The beginning of the appointment this week went smoothly enough but, after the ordeal she had gone through before, when we held up the water pic to her ear, she panicked. For the first 10 minutes, 3 of us attempted to get to her ear, trying to assure her that it did not hurt, and that it was just water. The doctor paused at one point, stood back up, touched the girl lightly on the shoulder, and asked if she wanted a break. She nodded and, as I watched, a switch seemed to flip inside her. I wondered if she realized that she had the ability to do something, and that it was up to her to be strong. She told us that she would like to sit in the chair, rather than lie down on the exam table.

The doctor gently lifted her up, placed her in the chair, and then asked, “Lista?”

Almost imperceptibly, she lifted her chin up, and back down again, and braced herself.

The machine began its whirring, and the girl’s fists clenched. But she remained still. The water streamed into the cup I held under her ear for about 5 minutes, as it filled up. Running low on water, the doctor paused and stood up. As she did so, she stopped and peered more closely into the cup. “Ohhh-los pies!”

We all stared in and there, indeed, were a pair of unmistakeable insect feet.

She quickly got up, rushing out to get more water into the machine and then, back again, we started up with the whirring. A few minutes later she once again paused, looking into the cup, and then saying, “Oh, never mind. I thought I saw something . . .”

I looked in again, and then gasped. She followed my lead, looking more closely. And then we collectively cheered. So loudly that the entire clinic was watching when we later emerged from the exam room. For there, floating in all its water-logged glory, was the largest fly I have ever seen. 

We practically danced out of the room that day. The little girl beamed from ear to ear, her ponytail dripping as if she’d just gotten out of the swimming pool. 

She took home with her not one, but two of the Imagination Library books we keep as prizes, walking out that day holding up her board books as if they were banners waving triumphantly behind her. They might as well have been.

in a boat out at sea

June 20, 2022

It occurred to me this afternoon, while roaming the poolside with on of the newer nieces on my hip, that the pleasure of the moment was largely due to the fact that I had no agenda with her—no devious intent to measure her head circumference, count out her heartbeats with my stethoscope, or invade her privacy with a small thermometer . . . no agenda.

And in fact, this day has been a lesson in the same. I tend to expect some sort of pivotal lightbulb moments when there are annual gathering, and my level of inner anticipation this time around was extra amped up due to the new absence of my GramBea for this Father’s Day tradition. But somehow the afternoon passed in a state of calm un-noteworthiness that felt almost anticlimactic; except for the fact that it was, well, perfect.

At one point, I asked the hostess if I could help with anything else and she said that, no, she was done and we were expected to just enjoy each other’s company. So I stifled the urge for productivity and did just that.

I laid on a pool float and “splashed on” poor laughing nieces.

I lost a competition with my brother over conquering the challenge of standing on the bodyboard.

I chitchatted about nothing of consequence.

And then I hugged folks goodbye and we drove back home for the evening chores.

That was it.

Hugging one cousin, I asked him how he had been since this the last I’d seen him. “Better than I deserve,” he said, with a grin.

I grinned back, and wished more of the world operated with such a mentality.

Today I listened to a song that I love, but haven’t heard in a long time. 

You belong among the wildflowers

You belong in a boat out at sea

Sail away, kill off the hours

You belong somewhere you feel free

Our towering sunflowers came to mind. 

I brought a bouquet of them for the front of the sanctuary this morning and, during worship, noticed that one woman was pointing the the flowers, whispering to another as she did so.

After the service, I walked over to her with the jar of flowers and, rather abruptly, said, “Please, take these”

Her mouth dropped open a bit and she stammered, “You don’t know how much this means to me . . . you won’t believe this, but I was just telling Jane about how amazing sunflowers are. Did you know that they follow the sun?”

I smiled and told her that yes, I watch my sunflower heads gazing at the sun. Boldly claiming its glory.

It begs that ancient question: how smart are we, really, compared to those “lilies of the field”?

a ball gown

June 12, 2022

Alone in the kitchen tonight, I played Spotify as loud as my aging iPhone would allow. I imagined Lyle smiling as he heard my harmonizing across the air waves. 

If I needed you, would you come to me?

Would you come to me for to ease my pain?

If you needed me, I would come for you. 

I would swim the sea for to ease your pain . . .

It took about twice as long as necessary for me to slice the pumpkin and chop the kale, pausing in mid-slice to belt out a crescendo—but efficiency was thankfully far from my radar on this mood-lifted Saturday. It had been a good week, in many ways; but workdays get long, and needs overwhelming, even in the best case scenarios.

But as grateful as I was for a Saturday, the Joy I felt was a person: Aunt Joy. I had spent the afternoon listening to her stories about life here, in the same neighborhood in which she now lives, 80 years ago. I pictured the parts of town she described and I marveled at the experiences I was getting to relive through her. I also wondered how I spent 40 years in her company without asking the simple questions that today prompted such a wealth of narration.

But of course, that’s what it is to grow up in a family—you spend time around your great aunts and grandparents and great grandparents without thinking to ask any questions; they are “just” family, and don’t register to young lives as people who were once living young lives themselves.

Great-aunt Joy, a few days after my last visit with her, called my mother to tell her how beautiful the roses I had given her were, and to describe how each of the little buds had blossomed into full blooms. That was, of course, my hope when I had cut the blooms, and so I smiled heartily when mom relayed the message . . . joy.

“You know,” she said, “I need to shop for a something to be buried in—I used to have some nice dresses but then I got rid of them. I wish I’d thought about how those funeral home folks have fasteners they can use on the clothes, so no one notices they don’t fit anymore. I just don’t want to be in that casket wearing a dressing gown—a ball gown maybe.” She stopped, adding with a wink, “But then again, I’m only 88.”