Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Beth was my proche. I don't have many. Despite blogging and teaching and jumping headlong into more ministry that I can sometimes handle, I am a very private person. So was Beth. We were seminarians together, but not really friends then. We knew and liked one another but Beth was the sort of person you had to cultivate before you could use the word friend, she opened up only slowly.
We were adjunct instructors together. By that time we were indeed friends, and when I needed someone to vent a frustration to, ask advice of, celebrate a minor publication with, or complain about the lack of a steady gig to, she was there. She got me. I didn't have to explain in order for us to share the humor in our situation. We thought and taught in some ways quite alike. I remember one term teaching New Testament and she had a bunch for Church History, when I mentioned I was assigning my students a large timeline project. So was she. The poor students- we shared a significant overlap in course list- had two big timelines in the works. We both wanted them to have tools for ministry when they were done. They, on the other hand, were probably anticipating due dates rather than ministry.
We were moms together, homeschooling two fifteen year olds born a week apart. Sometimes they got along, my son and her daughter, in their shared geeky interests. Sometimes they profoundly did not. It didn't matter, we shared curricula, ideas, and frustrations equally whether our kids appreciated the relationship we had built for them or not.
Beth passed away yesterday. It took twenty years of cultivating a friendship with Beth- she even measured her time in PA by how old (and tall, and eventually bearded) the infant I was holding when she met me grew- but she let me walk a rough road with her the last couple of years. She hugged me when I lost my dad (2000) and I hugged her when she lost her mom (2015). She shared her struggles and I shared mine. We laughed together when she lost her hair to chemo and it came back with the curls both of us wanted from childhood. We prayed together in her last days.
We blogged together too. She's over at Endless Books (on my blogroll) and she was far more the verbal craftswoman than I.
Bon voyage ma proche et à Dieu.
Sunday, June 25, 2017
But I'm no artist. And so I was left with the question of what should I put in a notebook that would not be disposable. What notes would I want to keep? And so I decided to keep a running list of books I have read, starting January of this year, titles and authors.
Entry #22: Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan
I wonder if I am reading more books now that I am recording them, competing with the empty pages of a blank notebook. Nonetheless, Girls of Atomic City captivated me.
Atomic City, for those who may not have guessed, was Oak Ridge, Tennessee. I grew up on the other side of Anderson County from Oak Ridge, but my father remembered growing up in Oak Ridge itself, when it was indeed a secret city. It was on no maps in its early days, and you had to have government credentials to come and go.
According to Kiernan, nobody in Oak Ridge talked, not even among themselves, about what they did there in the early days. My grandfather never did. I asked my mother recently, as she was always close to her father-in-law, if he had ever shared those details with her. He had not. I do know that the family arrived in Oak Ridge sometime between late 1942 (my father was not born there) and 1948 (when I have a dated letter by my grandfather detailing his thoughts to a patent lawyer). I know they had left by 1953, when my uncle would have graduated from Norris High School.
The women in Kiernan's narrative often arrived in Oak Ridge without knowing where they were going or what work they would do there. It may have been Oak Ridge where my grandmother moved into a house she'd never seen, but I have no other details about my own family's arrival there.
I have an address (from the same 1948 letter) on East Drive. That is all. Kiernan describes the "Cemestos" (asbestos and cement composite) houses intended to last only a few years, though many still stand and house families, like that house on East Drive. Alphabet houses, given letter names for the size and style of the houses, I wonder how my grandfather rated a "D" house. (A houses were the smallest.)
So now when I find pictures of Oak Ridge, I wonder who those nameless people are... women in a store (does she have my grandmother's nose? could we be related?) boys building a soap-box derby style airplane (could that be my uncle?)
Kiernan's women were real women, many still living when her book was published in 2011. Their stories of mud, "hutments," radiation, and secrecy have me captivated. I wish I could interview my own Atomic City family and hear their own stories.
Friday, June 2, 2017
With all that comes with it.
Black lung, mine rebellions, violent endings
both to the rebellions and to human lives.
Family photos of young men in caskets,
when there was no war abroad.
Poverty, feuds, wizened grandmothers,
My grandfather was a union organizer.
A migrant worker
after he left the mines.
He went where the money was.
Cincinnati, New York, Radford, Oak Ridge.
An air raid warden,
leaving my grandmother frightened in the darkness
with two small boys,
while he roamed the town,
attending to the compliance of other homes.
An old man, stooped over, chewing tobacco,
he wanted more for his sons.
A quick mind, sparkling eyes, he wanted more for our world.
My grandfather was a backyard inventor--
a water engine, clean technology.
Safety and efficiency.
He would have been fascinated by your smart phone.
He would have marveled at your hybrid vehicle.
Solar roofing tiles would have delighted him.
He would have reveled in an Ohio River safe work and play.
He would have been shocked by your loyalty to the coal that slowly kills.
My grandfather used to say,
"We can never destroy the earth,
We will only destroy ourselves first."
My grandfather was a coal miner.
But my father was an engineer.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Fresh and fragrant, daffodils blooming in the bright sunshine -
They open their little buds in vibrant yellows, white, and orange-
Bursting forth in a riot of blooms, *clip, clip, clip* a bouquet.
Friday, February 3, 2017
When I was young, teachers were teachers. They lived at the school, as far as we were concerned, and surely had no other interests than the subject they taught. Sometimes they would tell us that they had families, but part of us never really believed that. They were unseen and therefore not part of our reality.
The only difference was Mrs. Thurman, whose daughter had been in my class since first grade. I had been in their home. We played Trivial Pursuit. She made spaghetti with actual meatballs (something I thought only existed in the movie Lady and the Tramp and was surely too good to be true). She was also my ninth grade geometry teacher. And frankly, that was a little weird. But it was only weird for an hour or so a day, at the beginning of the year. Then I compartmentalized Mrs. Thurman again, with teacher this time instead of friend's mom. It was okay.
I had teachers I adored, but they were still teachers. They had no first names. Their mothers surely named them Mister and Missus at birth. I had teachers I did not quite adore, too, but they also were teachers. They were on the dark side.
Pastors were the same. Our pastor from the time I was twelve (until the time in my teens that I left for Anglicanism) took an interest in kids. He took us on retreats and outings. He was interested in leather working and golf. We got to know him. Still, he was our pastor. When our assisting pastor went to work for the region, he moved compartments in my mind. It was dissonant. He was the regional youth pastor, but we had some claim on him, surely, because he had been our pastor. My brother thought he looked like Jesus.
That worked through college. Professors, no matter how closely you worked alongside them, were still professors. And their mothers named them Mister, Doctor, Missus, Mizz. Surely. Very fore-thoughtful mothers, no doubt.
Then seminary happened and our professors were called by their first names. Allen, Rod, Ann. Still, they were professors. They lived in that category of teacher.
Except I went to church with Ann. And somewhere along way I had need to call her at home for something, which seemed at the time like a terrible no-no. You don't call your professor at home. That's why they have offices.
Our priest was supposed to be the same way. Priest, professional Christian who lived at Church the way teachers lived at school. Okay, by then I knew better. I had friends who were priests. But I had yet to have my own parish priest as my friend. Teachers and priests had not yet broken down the walls of their compartments.
And now, old person that I am. They have. Tonight I sat with Ann at dinner, not because she's my former Greek professor, but because she's my friend. We share hobbies together I'd never have expected (she knits, I spin... so we make stuffed sheep together to celebrate special people in our lives) and can call one another just to say hello. Heavens, she texts me. (And I her, of course.) I'd have never dreamed. And we were at dinner to celebrate that same parish priest, whose birthday is today, who broke that wall between priest and friend. Many have since, of course.
I still keep walls, because I am a pretty private person (who blogs, people are full of contradictions) at heart. But childhood me would have never thought of pastors and teachers on the inside part of that boundary line.
I still can't call my childhood teachers by their first names. But I have come to realize that one of the joys of growing up, and yes, growing older, is to come to know people as the multifaceted wonders that they are.