A TOUCH OF FORGIVENESS – The Heartland Series

In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.


The Methodist Church of Corydon, Iowa sits on the northeast corner of the intersection of North DeKalb and West Jackson streets. A steeple accentuates its grey-shingled roofline. Stained glass windows soften its red brick walls. A rose-shaped one distinguishes its front side. On which a thick, wooden door serves as the primary entrance to the church.

Standing at the door, I read, yet again, the note left on the kitchen table for me this morning. “Meet me at the parish office, 9:00 AM,” it says. Scribbled below the words is…Reverend M. E. Weston.

At  8:58 AM, I pull the door open. Step through it into the church lobby. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I find my way across the lobby. I pass an empty coat rack. Step around the bin for donated clothes. Go by the table on which a display of the Upper Room rests. Head up the stairs to the hallway that leads to sanctuary. Then stop at the door to the parish office.

At precisely 9:00 AM, I take a deep breath then knock on the door. It opens decisively. Leaving me standing face-to-face with Dad. Looking at him—formally dressed in a black suit, starched white shirt, and tie—I realize the man before me is the minister of the church, not dad.

“Mark Edward, I’ve been expecting you,” he says. “Please come in.” Pointing to a chair in front of a large desk, he tells me to sit there. As I settle in, he walks around the desk. Then seats himself in a large desk chair on rollers on the opposite side of the desk from me. Eyes on me, he leans forward. Puts his elbows on the desk. Intertwines his fingers and clasps his hands together.

“Mark Edward, is there something you need to tell me?” he says. Heart beating rapidly, breathing laboriously my eight year-old mind races madly. “What is it I need to tell him?” I wonder. Could it be my messy room? Not cleaning Major’s poop from the yard? The pranks I play on Pamela? Not lifting the lid when I pee?

“Come now, Mark Edward, tell me what you’ve done,” he says. My mind fills with an assortment of indiscretions. Could it be my not eating the Brussels sprouts Mom served at dinner last Sunday? Wearing my underwear for three straight days? Not doing my math homework? My head about to explode with possibilities, I silently pray, “Great God in heaven, tell me, please, what have I done?”

A calm settles over me. Me being here, in this office, with the minister of the church, I conclude that what he seeks from me must be church related. Focusing, I think about the times I misbehaved during the Sunday service? The time I was late to Sunday school because I was outside playing in the snow with my dog Major? Perhaps it is about me plugging up the toilet, or drinking the grape juice for communion?

Interrupting my church-related-list-running reverie, he says, “Tell me what you’ve done, there will be no punishment. Truthfulness is the path to forgiveness.” Oh, how at this moment I so need forgiveness. But for which of my many transgressions should I seek it?

Sitting here, before him, my mouth is suddenly dry. I lick my parched lips. The rubbing of tongue on lip triggers a memory of the candy bars—a maple flavored Bun and a Zagnut bar—I ate yesterday afternoon. Each cost me ten cents at the Rexall drug store, on the square, downtown.

Thoughts arise within me of the table in the church lobby on which copies of the Upper Room are for sale. How the booklet is the basis for the daily devotions of the women of the church and an integral part of their monthly Prayer Chain meeting. On the table is a small, square, wooden box with a hinged top and clasp. In has a one-inch slit. Through which each woman who takes an Upper Room, slides a dime.

Tears welling up in my eyes, I know what warrants me being here. Realization turns to words. “I took two dimes from the box,” I say. Tears cascading down my cheeks, I lean forward, face in hands, elbows on knees. A few seconds later, a hand touches my shoulder. I look up. There is Dad, with tears in his eyes.

On this trip to Heartland, the memory that greets my arrival involves two candy bars, a donation box, and the minister of the church. It is a lesson about truthfulness, confession’s soul cleansing affects, and the power of forgiveness. Me realizing that discomforts from being devious arise from my desire to be virtuous. That living truthfully requires I confront such discomforts, and by so doing diminish my devious nature.

On a deeper level, I have come to understand that the encounter in the parish office was about the roles each of us must play. That Dad is sometimes Dad; other times the minister of the church. That sometimes I am son, other times parishioner. That sometimes roles overlap. When they do, it takes great care to preserve the unique goodness of each role, while honoring the possibility of new roles emerging.

Moreover, I now recognize that inherent in each role we play, should we care to see it, is a lesson. In the case of Dad and me, the lesson is about coming forth from a place of love. Being resolute, yet yielding. Teaching while learning.

For these reasons, this time as I leave Heartland, my heart carries a newfound sense of gratitude for the way Dad’s hand on my shoulder planted seeds of love within me that to this day continue to blossom. With each bloom that comes forth I think of him. And of the meaningful moment we shared in the office of the minister of the church.

Mark Edward


Note: This is the 27th post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.

 

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FAITH IN MY FATHER – The Heartland Series

In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.

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It is Sunday morning in Corydon Iowa. The bells atop the United Methodist Church are sending forth one final plea for townsfolk to come worship. No one comes forth. All now occupy a church pew. They came earlier.

Patrick and I stand in the narthex. White cottas over black cassocks adorn us. Our hands hold long two-pronged poles. On each, in one prong there is a taper that we use to light the altar candles. When the press of the organist’s fingers on the organ’s keys let loose a mighty flourish, the Congregants stand, and then sing.fathers faith 1Patrick and I step into the nave. As we head down the aisle toward the altar, the choir follows us—two columns, one column behind him, and one behind me. In unison, right left, we step forward. Each step we take, every choir member replicates. As we proceed, behind us, two by two the choir members enter the nave. Two by two they progress down the aisle. With each new couple entering the nave, the volume of singing increases slightly.fathers faith 2Midway to the altar, I glimpse at the Wayne Dietz family. Next to them are the Millers, Carolyn and Kenneth Willey, and the Frizzells. Over there is my teacher, Mrs. Nelson, her husband Lloyd, and son Lloyd Jr. Up ahead, are Pearl McMurray, Corydon’s mayor, and Bennie Hughes, editor of the Times Republican. Mrs. Bains, with no one near her, stands alone. Even though the sanctuary is full, and everyone is singing, their energy is low.faith 4As Patrick and I go up the steps to the altar, the choir members behind Patrick proceed to the choir loft left of the altar. Those behind me go to the one on the right. Patrick and I go forward to the altar.

At the altar, Patrick and I bow to each other, then bow to the cross, and then lights the candles on the altar. Then, pivoting crisply, Patrick turns to the left and I to the right. In tight sequence, we light each candle in our respective candelabra array.

As we light the candles, choir members continue to enter the nave, two by two, and march down the aisle. With the entry of each new pair, the volume of singing increases a wee bit, however, the passion remains low.

Candles lit, Patrick and I go stand by our seats near the lectern. There I start to sing. Our collective offering to God lacks oomph. As the hymn drags on, I look around. Mom and Pamela are in the front pew. Mom gives up a wink, and Pamela flashes a big-sister smile. They and I, listening to the pitiful singing, know what comes next.

I watch the last choir-couple enter the nave. Behind them, Reverend Mark E. Weston steps into the entryway. Wavy black hair, combed back, dressed in a black robe with purple piping, holding a hymnal in his right hand and a bible under left arm Reverend Weston is the epitome of an evangelist. I see him lick his lips, inhale deeply, wait for a note, and then start singing.

Standing in the entryway, his voice is steady, strong, and pure. His volume is low. Upon entering the nave it slowly rises. As it does, the beat of the music picks up. The organist plays faster. The congregants stand straighter, dig deeper, and sing louder.fathers faith 3Midway to the altar, the Reverend’s voice is strong, pure, and full on. The congregants and organist can barely keep up. I see him nod to the mayor, smile at my teacher, and reach out and touch Mrs. Bains. When at the last pew, he pauses to kiss my mom. At the steps to the altar, the entire congregation is feeling God’s spirit.

After bowing to God at the altar, the Reverend, heads to the lectern. When he comes by me, he stops, bends down, and says, “Mark Edward, you can do this.” To which I reply, “Yes Dad, I can.”

On this trip to Heartland, a memory of a Sunday morning long ago awaits my arrival. It is about a time my father used his powers of attraction to fill a church with townsfolk seeking sustenance and salvation. How his God-given talents met their needs, lifted their voices, and touched their souls. The memory reminds me that personal power is for helping, not harming, and for serving others not self.

From the vantage point of the present, I now see how on that Sunday my father taught me how to inspire, motivate, and serve people. That his processional to the altar put me on a path of serving others, providing advice, and helping them press on when all seems lost. Along the path, I learned to be humble when in positions of power and to focus on the greater good rather than personal aspirations.

My father’s faith is within me. It is why I offer myself to the universe, and stand ready to share my gifts (which do not include singing) with whomever comes forth. I welcome them in his honor and do so with deep gratitude. Yes, Dad, I can. I am your son.faith 5

Mark Edward


Note: This is the 23nd post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.

BE PREPARED – The Heartland Series

In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.

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The moon is in its rightful place in the sky, when the members of Boy Scout Troop 137 and I arrive at Camp Wapello. While we search for our campsite, I think of all the scouts who have gathered here since the camp’s founding in 1932. As we unload our gear in the dark, I try to envision what awaits me at the Annual Fall Jamboree of the Tall Corn Council that starts tomorrow. This being my first jamboree, I cannot. Nonetheless I know something memorable is about happen.

Our troop leader, wanting us to win the Jamboree’s Best Campsite award and the trophy that comes with it, stretches a 180-foot rope, in an L-shape, on the ground. Along it, he places, at ten-foot intervals, one bag with a tent in it. Eighteen boys, eighteen tents. Fifteen-feet outward from the elbow of the L, he places a stone. A campfire goes there. A flagpole goes at one end of the L. My tent goes at the other.

I unfurl my tent. Then crawl on the dewy vegetation that covers the ground, to square my tent to the rope and make it perpendicular to the tent that stands next to it. I stretch out the tent’s guy ropes and secure each with a tent peg. I crawl into the tent, where I stand up the rear and front poles. When I peg the front and rear guy ropes, my tent is finally up. I will be my shelter for the next two nights.

Dirty and sweating, rather than soil my shorts, I wipe my hands on nearby plants and then dry my face. Next up, I roll the ground cloth from the rear to the front of the tent, crawling on the ground vegetation as I do. Then I unroll my sleeping bag. After which, I bring my gear—backpack, hatchet, compass, food, utensils, and the Boy Scout Handbook— inside.

When the leader says that the site set up meets his approval, I head to the campfire. I am eager for the scary stories, tales of adventure, popcorn, and s’mores. I take a place by the roaring fire, savor a gooey s’more, and partake in the heartwarming fellowship that comes with boys being boys.

A while later, a gentle breeze encourages me to lie back on the ground. I look up at the stars. There is Sagittarius, the archer, the V of Andromeda, and the dipper Ursa, with her North Star. Oh my, did the North Star just wink at me? I think so.

As the fire burns down, I bid my fellow scouts good night, and head to my tent for some much needed sleep. Glancing skyward, the North Star tells me to dream big dreams. She really does.

In the tent, tucked away in a sleeping bag, I listen to the sounds of the night. I hear leaves rustle as a night wind sneaks through the trees. The ooo-eee-ooo-eee of thousands of chirping cicadas and katydids serenade me from the treetops. Off in the distance, a wise old owl tells me that, yes, she does give a hoot.

The sound of fingernails scratching skin inside the tent, interrupt the woodlands sounds outside it. I itch. My legs, my arms— I am in such misery. The more I scratch, the more I itch. And the more I itch, the more I scratch.

I want to fall asleep, but cannot. I am too busy scratching my legs, arms, and now my stomach. I want to listen night wind, cicadas, katydids, and the owl but my mind is unrelentingly focused the itches I must scratch. Oh no, my face, now my face is itching.

To prevent myself from scratching I clinch my hands together. Squeezing them tightly to stifle my instinctive urge to scratch. My hands ache for morning. I hope I live that long.

Sitting outside my tent, with eyes sore from lack of sleep and campfire smoke, I watch the sun rise slowly. In the breaking I look at the skin on my legs, arms, stomach, and face. It is red, swollen, and raw. Oozing blisters cover me.

Desperate, I grab my Boy Scout Handbook. The relief I seek must be somewhere in its often read pages. There, under poisonous plants, is a picture of the ooziness that covers my body. Next to it a picture of poison Ivy. Reading on, the handbook says to wash the afflicted area with soap and water. Where is the nearest shower? Words that have never before crossed my lips

Rubbing alcohol, calamine lotion, and frequent showers get me through the day and night. Thank you handbook! Reading further, I learn that Poison Ivy is the most common poisonous plant in the United States. That the oily sap in its leaves, stems, and roots is the source of my irritation and itching.

I look at the picture of Poison Ivy, under it, “leaves of three, let them be.” Then look around me. Leaves of three are everywhere. Oh how I wish that I had let them be. Next time, I will Be Prepared.

On this trip to Heartland, a memory of my first, and most memorable Boy Scout Jamboree awaits my arrival. It is a fascinating juxtaposition of the joy of a boy in the woods with other boys and the itchy-hell that he unwittingly encounters while setting up his tent. In the darkness of that fateful night before my jamboree, the darkness of my knowledge about the woodland world puts me in danger. Though the shower and lotion provide relief, the oozing sores that take months to heal, and the scars they leave behind are painful reminders to Be Prepared.

Over the years I have come to understand that I can never be too prepared. Despite my best preparations, there will always be circumstances beyond my control. As was the case of the jamboree, where I thought I was prepared, but the darkness of the night, prevented me from seeing the Poison Ivy upon which I was pitching my tent. Further, my limited knowledge prevented me from even recognizing that possibility.

I now understand that the best way for me to prepare for the worlds into which I step and the lives I encounter there is acknowledge each as splendorous and all as having poisons and risks. I must see them for what they are and call them by their true names. By honoring them in this way, whatever adversity befalls me, I am ready.

Mark


Note: This is the 22nd post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.

THE KISS – The Heartland Series

In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.

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“Mark E, be sure to wash behind your ears,” Pamela says. It is Saturday, late afternoon, in Corydon, Iowa. Normally I bathe before bed, but this is not a normal Saturday. Dad and Mom will soon leave for a two-day Chautauqua retreat in Centerville, Iowa. Mom’s friend Francine is going with them. Her niece Julie, from Ontario, is staying here tonight. I am getting ready for Julie. Ears clean, bath done, I dry off, dress, brush my teeth, and comb my hair. This is so not like me.

In the kitchen, at the table, Dad, between mouthfuls of dinner, admonishes me to “do what Pamela says.” And Mom, being a mom, says, “remember your manners…be a gentleman.” Pamela takes all this in then says, “Is that cologne I smell, Mark E.” Swallowing hard, I search for an answer…

Knock! Knock! They are here, THANK GOD. Mom hurriedly deals with the dishes. Dad and Pamela head to the front door. I hang back.

“Come in, come on in,” Dad says to Francine. “My don’t you and Julie look pretty.” Standing off to the side, is Julie—curls, bauble and bows, pink dress, white blouse, and pink Mary Janes. My jaw drops. The Julie, who pals around with me at the farm and reservoir while wearing jeans and Buster Browns, is a princess.

Dad, Mom, and Francine say everything that must be said and then say it again before they head off to their Chautauqua. From the living room window we watch them leave. The second the car exits the driveway, upstairs I go. There, I grab every spare blanket, comforter, and quilt I can find. I bring them all to the living room, where I stack them neatly.

Watching me scurry about, Pamela says, “What’re you doing?” My “blanket fort” response causes her to smile and Julie to giggle. When I remind them that, “A Boy Scout is always prepared” they start laughing. They now know that tomorrow we build a fort.

“Okay, the fort will have to wait. It’s movie time. Let’s go,” Pamela says. Dutifully fulfilling her responsibilities, she gets Julie and me out the door and shepherds us downtown—Julie on her left side, me on the right.

At the movie theatre, I stand tall before the ticket window, and say, “Three please!” Inside, I squeeze through a row to get us three seats down front. Pamela, and Julie follow. Reaching the seats, we sit—left, center, right—Julie, Pamela, and me.

Lights come down, curtains open, and the show starts. During the cartoon I peer past Pamela at Julie. I see her laugh when Bugs Bunny says, “Eh… What’s up, doc?” However, when Julie looks at me, Pamela leans in, blocking my view. Bested by my big sister, I put a whole box of milk duds in my mouth, and settle in to enjoy the show.

Afterwards, Pamela shepherds us home via West Jackson and West Anthony Streets. Once there, Pamela sends Julie and I to run upstairs to change into our pajamas while she prepares an after-movie treat. When we return, Pamela is scooping cherry cobbler and ice cream into three bowls on a tray. When the bowls are full, Pamela, tray in hands, leads Julie and me to the living room.

Munching on a spoonful of cobbler, I look at Pamela, Julie, and then the stack of blankets, quilts, and comforters. A blanket-fort awaits its builder. I eat faster—gulping one double spoonful, then another, and another. When my bowl is empty, I jump up, grab a blanket, and drape it over a chair. Next I move an end table near to the chair. I hang a comforter, over both. Julie joins in with a quilt. Pamela brings a blanket. Julie gets pillows. On it goes until we construct a fort, correction, a spectacular fort. Resting on a soft comforter, the fort’s floor, it is Pamela in the middle, Julie on the left, and me on the right.

Later, I awaken. Go downstairs and into the fort. Julie is asleep there, a moonbeam shining on her face. Her beauty makes my heart beat fast.

Looking at Julie, in a curl, I worry that she might catch a chill. So I cover her with a blanket. As I do, the scent of lilac, her scent, wafts upward. A strand of hair rests on her face. As I move it aside, my hand shakes. I pause to look closely at Julie’s face, closer than I have ever looked at any girl before. A beauty mark punctuates her left cheek. Three freckles adorn her nose. I wonder…

Pop! Julie’s eyes open—twinkling sapphires. Their greenness is greater than I remember from previous encounters. Seeing me, Julie pulls me toward her. Kisses my lips. “Mark Edward, what will I ever do without you,” she says. Side by side, no one between us. We say no words.

Our moment becomes an hour, then another. Early on Julie falls asleep. I cannot sleep. Looking at her, I think about how I did not want for anything before meeting Julie. Now I cannot imagine life without her. I want to protect her, spend time alone with her, and be close to her. But she is leaving. There will be distance between us.

My silent reverie ends when Julie awakens, sits up, straightens her pajamas, and prepares to leave the fort. Before she goes, Julie whispers, “Mark, it’s late, come to bed.” With that, she takes me by the hand and leads me up the stairs. She releases her grasp on my hand at the spare room, gives me a secret smile and says, “Sweet dreams, Mark Edward.” As she closes the door behind her, my heart skips a beat.

This time, when I return to Heartland a memory waits for me about a girl who makes me feel like no girl ever makes me feel before. Her presence in my life evokes changes in my behavior that make me seem so unlike myself. Her kiss, so sweet and pure melts my heart then (and, upon remembrance, does so now). At the same time, her imminent departure and our impending separation create pain beyond words.

With the benefit of hindsight, I now realize that Julie expands my understanding of myself. How spending time, alone, with Julie, a girl, while strange and new, is a big step toward my personhood. That being close, sharing feelings, exploring barns, building blanket forts, and kisses with Julie are priceless lessons to be cherished. The joy and pain I experience with Julie completes and brings out the best in me. The flame she sparks within me burns bright to this day. Thank you, Julie.

Mark E.


Note: This is the 21st post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.

COURAGE TO DO THE UNTHINKABLE – The Heartland Series

In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.

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God put me on this earth to explore every nook and cranny of Corydon, Iowa. I take this charge quite seriously. To understand just how serious, consider the many nooks and assorted crannies that I have explored since arriving here two and a half years ago.

I now know the Wayne County Courthouse from its full-length urinals in the basement to the bells in its cupola. The Corydon State Bank, where the townspeople keep their money, I frequent its safe. Next to the bank is the dairy that processes the milk that farmers draw from their cows in its big vats and pasteurizers. Churches, I have been in all 10 of them, some, dozens of times. Movie Theatre, I know the secret entrance out back. The Times Republican, its editor stocks a candy bowl just for me. And the 600 or so houses that protect their occupants from the elements, and each other, well I reckon that I have been in at least 250 of them, maybe more.

Every day, as I go about exploring Corydon, I pass by the water tower. Most days, as I go by, I gaze at it and wonder what my hometown looks like from up there. What nooks and crannies might I see from there that I have yet to explore?

The water tower is by far Corydon’s tallest structure. From tower’s base to the tip of the lightening rod that adorns its top, the span is 130 feet. Its big cylindrical tank—with City of Corydon painted on its side— holds 750,000 gallons of water. It rests on four steel-beam legs. Each leg angles slightly outward, it foot embedded in cement. On one leg, a ladder leads up to a narrow walkway that encircles the tank.

The tower pulls water from the Wayne County reservoir, seven miles away. Hydrostatic pressure pushes water from the tank to the sinks, toilets, and tubs of the homes and establishments that connect to Corydon’s water main. During the day, as the townspeople do their business, the water level of the tower falls. At night a pump fills it back up so it is ready for another day.

Today is the day that my friend John and I decide to climb the tower. I go first. Left foot on rung, I eagerly grab a crosspiece with my right hand. Up I go. Right foot on a different rung, my left hand on another crosspiece, upwards I climb toward the tank and walkway. What a proud explorer of nooks and crannies am I. The evenly spaced rungs and crosspieces make for steady climbing but the steep angle of the tower’s legs demands much effort. Right foot, left hand, and left foot, right hand upward I climb. My legs, arms, and hands ache with fatigue. I use the little strength that remains to pull myself up onto the walkway. Perched there, I reach down to help John get up here.

John safely by my side, I take a moment to look out at Corydon. I see the United Methodist Church where Dad ministers to his flock, the elementary school that I attend, and the parsonage in which we live. Slowly my eyes scan backwards from the parsonage to the library and finally to ground below. There, sitting at the base of the tower, my dog Major, a 185-pound mastiff, looks like a tiny chihuahua. On the nearby sidewalk, a lady carrying shopping bags looks about the size of an infant.

I feel vulnerable in a way I have never felt before. My heart races wildly, my head spins, and stomach rumbles. I turn white. Fear overtakes me. A gust of wind could blow us off the walkway. Tears flow freely. “God, please God help me get down from here,” reverberates in my head. I wish I had never climbed up here. What was I thinking?

Gasping for air, I whisper to John, “Let’s go.” Sliding over the walkway, heading down, I realize that no one can help us. No one knows we are here.

As my foot touches the first rung, my leg goes rubbery. I pause to collect my thoughts. My hand, on the crosspiece, is sweaty. “What if I lose my grip?” I ask myself. Gripping the crosspiece extra tightly with one hand—while blocking thoughts of slipping from my mind—I wipe my other hand on my pants.

One rung and one crosspiece, I pause to breathe deeply and exhale slowly. Then another rung, another crosspiece, another deep breath, and another slow exhale. Rung by rung, breath by breath I make my way down the water tower. A proud explorer of nooks and crannies no more, I am a disappointment to myself but a conqueror of my fear.

On this trip to Heartland, a memory of a terrifying moment on the water tower greets me. It is a vivid reminder about facing and overcoming fear. How, up on the walkway, when fear set in and I had no choice but to find my way down. To do so, I had to regulate myself. I held on, breathed deeply, silenced my mind, and did what I had to do…rung after rung. As I did, I discovered an inner-strength I never knew I had and an explorer’s pride that I had in abundance.

Going deeper, I now understand that the lesson of the water tower is also about comfort. That new learning only happens outside my comfort zone. How, on the walkway, when I was uncomfortable, I learned a valuable lesson about fear. That, by facing my fear and taking a step, I became stronger and more self-reliant.

Now, I also understand that sometimes I take risks and other times risks find me. In a risky situation I often must take a step, or leap, of faith, sometimes to save, help, or improve myself or, perhaps, someone else. When I do, I find the courage to do the unthinkable.

Mark 


Note: This is the 20th post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.

HANGING IN THE BALANCE – The Heartland Series

In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.

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Aunt Francine, Aunt Francine…Mark Edward is coming,” yells Julie as she runs from her upstairs bedroom to the first floor living room of her Aunt’s house. I, oblivious to the goings-on inside, pedal my bicycle straight through the puddles that dot the lane that perpendicularly connects Francine’s house with Highway 2 west of Corydon, Iowa.

Inside, Julie looking out the living room window, her Aunt looking over her shoulder, says, “Look at him!  All arms, legs, and feet…a knight charging to save the damsel.” I, pedaling up the lane, wet from the rain on this gray day, have a pack on my back. I feel like a rode hard, put up wet mule. In the pack, wrapped in plastic, are quilting materials for the project that Mom and Francine are doing on behalf of the Women’s Circle of the United Methodist Church.

Though unsophisticated in the ways of women, I realize my trip here is about more than the delivery of materials for the project. It is a mere contrivance that brings Julie and me together. I am okay with this…but certainly do not say so to Mom. Being with Julie, even in contrived circumstances, is something I enjoy.

Julie, a city girl, here to live with her Aunt, makes me think about things I never think about. I, a small town boy, who loves the outdoors, am proud to show Julie a world she never dreamt of seeing. When together—thinking and showing—we run, laugh, have fun, and sometimes shed some tears. The thought of being with Julie this afternoon excites me.

After leaning my bike against the front step, I reach to knock on the door to the house. Before knuckles hit wood, the door swings opens. Opposite me stands Miss Francine, with Julie—jeans, plaid blouse, ringlets, and bauble—by her side. Pulling me in, out of the rain, Francine hands me a towel. Then says, “Julie, please take Mark Edward’s pack up to my sewing room, then join us in the kitchen.”

I feel a strange, dark foreboding as Francine leads me to the kitchen. While she piles fresh baked chocolate chip cookies on a plate and pours three glasses of milk, I wonder what the foreboding might mean. When Julie sits down beside me, poof, the dark thoughts evaporate.

As I munch a cookie, Francine thanks me for trekking out here in the rain. I say, “No problem, it’s a fun adventure.” When she asks about Mom, Dad, and Pamela. I put my second cookie back on the plate then provide a terse summary about Mom and Dad…not Pamela. Francine, sensing my discomfort, starts talking about what she and Julie have been up to. Finished with the second cookie, now munching on a third, I hear about their shopping trip to Centerville, a movie matinee last Sunday in Corydon, and the usual gardening, sewing, cooking, and cleaning stuff, that women do, about which I have little interest. Nothing to say, and no room for a fourth cookie, I look at Julie.

“Let’s go play in the barn,” says Julie. At that, I offer up my best thank-you-for-the cookies to Miss Francine, finish my milk, stand, then head to the back door. There, Julie waits for me, umbrella in hand.

As Julie and I walk side-by-side toward the barn, she reaches high to hold the umbrella over us. The barn, having seen better days, still works. Its four sides and a hip roof adequately protect the livestock from the wind and keep the dirt floor and a hayloft dry. An intense rain, quick series of lightning flashes, and thunder rumbles announce our arrival. The pungent smell of livestock, manure, and hay welcomes us as we step through the door into the barn.

Julie, city-girl-cautious where she steps, proceeds to show me around. A roost of chickens there, two milk cows through here, a group of hogs over there, and…. Oh, no, a dead cat, from the looks of her, a mother. My first thought is about the foreboding I felt earlier. I, at once, am sad, awestruck, and relieved.

Julie, a tear in her eye, wanting to care for the cat starts to kneel down. Before her knees touch the ground, a soft, delicate meow sifts down from the loft causing Julie to pause. Another meow follows, and yet another. Julie stands up. I spring to the ladder and start climbing. She hangs back, apprehensive…I note curiously.

In the loft, 25 feet above, the meows pull me to a litter of five orange, tan, and black balls of fluff—kittens. “Julie, over here,” I say as she crosses the ladder’s crest. “They miss their mother.” Julie walks ever so cautiously along the loft’s edge.

Lightning, a clap of thunder, a scream, suddenly, there is no Julie. I go to the edge. Afraid, I force myself to look over. There, a few feet below, upside down, hem of her left pants leg impaled on a large, rusty, four-sided nail, hangs Julie, unconscious. Loose arms and limp hair dangling downward, if she moves, surely the hem or nail will give way, reuniting Julie with her beloved bauble, next to the dead cat, on the hardpan floor more than 25 feet below. Acting, not thinking, with both hands I reach over the loft’s edge, grab Julie’s ankle with strength from I know not where, pulling her up and over the edge.

Sitting on the floor of the loft, sweat drenched, my heart beats faster than it has ever beaten before. Julie’s near lifeless head rests on my lap; her limp body leans on my dirty pants leg. Looking at her pale, clammy skin and watching her shallow breathing, I think about the apprehension she felt about coming up here. I ponder the foreboding I felt earlier. Must this have happened? Minutes pass, her eyelids flutter. Seconds pass, an exhale follows.

“What happened?” asks Julie. As the rain patters on the metal roof, I answer her question. Quietly, we decompress. The enormity of Julie’s near death sits silently with us. The meows of the motherless kittens’ are the only punctuation.

“Mark, I want to tell you something,” says Julie. “Promise me you won’t tell a single soul. Not even Aunt Francine.” When I promise, she tells me that her parents are divorcing. Her mother, wanting to straighten out her life, sent Julie to live with Francine for the summer. When Julie goes home it will be to a new house—a new life.

“Dad is not always nice to my Mom…” Julie says. When she leaves it at that, I remember Mom talking about a neighbor family in which the dad was “not nice to the mom”. Their two children are my friends. We talk. I understand what not nice entails.

“I fear for my Mother, “ Julie says. “ I’ve heard nothing from her since I got here.” Here, Julie is safe from the situation back home. Soon she must return there. She will be vulnerable. And I will be here, unable to protect her. I fear for Julie. As I do, I realize that Julie has a special place in my heart.

As I walk home, the rain stops. The wheels in my head are turning faster than those of my bicycle. Over my shoulder, I glimpse back at Julie, in an open doorway, watching me walk down the lane. When I turn left on Highway 2, back to Corydon, I am alone.

On this trip to Heartland, the memory that awaits me is about contrivances, kittens, and the near death of my  friend. The memory reminds me to share my feelings. When I do not share my feelings contrivances occur, such as the get-together for Julie and me. Likewise with my foreboding, Julie’s apprehension, and the incident in the barn. What difference might giving voice to them have made?  As for our exchange in the loft, I never share it with anyone. I am confident Julie did not either. What risks did we take?

Now looking back, I see that each of us deals with big issues. For me it was my sister Pamela, for Julie her parents. Many of us chose to keep our big issues secret. When we do, our lives hang in the balance. And sometimes, as with Julie, we end up hanging by a hem.


Note: This is the 19th post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.

ONE FLEA CAN WORRY AN ENTIRE DOG – The Heartland Series

In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.

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What a night. Major spent it doing battle with a flea. His incessant gnawing, scratching, and shifting around kept me awake. Now, as a sunbeam dances on the bedspread, I am so tired I ache.

I should get up, but, hoping to shake off my tiredness, I linger here in bed while Major, exhausted from all his gnashing and gnawing, soundly sleeps on the floor below. Lingering and aching, I think about Major, the flea, and the events of yesterday that led to his misery last night. And in turn, left me sleep deprived this morning.

Major, an apricot colored mastiff weighing in at 187 pounds, is more than a dog (and tasty flea food). He is my constant companion, confidante, and fellow explorer. We are a team. Everywhere I go, he comes along. Everything I do, Major is there.

Yesterday is no exception. Up with the sun, we eat breakfast with Dad, Mom, and Pamela. Then, as we do every day during the summer, we go check out the happenings in this part of Corydon.

First stop, my friend Donnie’s house. Front door unlocked, Major and I step inside, nod good morning to Donnie’s mother, traipse up the stairs, and then walk into his disgustingly messy bedroom. Where, we shake awake my still sleeping friend. Some boy talk ensues, and we hatch a plan to play ball later today. After which, Major and I move on, leaving Donnie to his morning chores.

Next stop, Mrs. Van Fleet’s garden. There, as she meticulously tends it, Major and I hear about the weather—partly cloudy today, rain tomorrow—and the marvels of natural composting. She rewards our attentive listening with a pat on my shoulder, a rub of Major’s nape, and a big sack of cucumbers for Mom.

Next, sack of cucumbers under my arm, we sneak in the back door of the church. Once inside, we plan to spy on Dad. No such luck. Dad sees us. He tasks me with removing wax from the altar candelabra. When I finish that job, Dad walks home with us for lunch.

Still lingering in bed, I keep wondering about whence cometh the flea that is more than a match for Major. As I linger and wonder, Major, now awake, rolls to and from in a futile effort to squash the mighty flea. Let’s see, Donnie’s house, Mrs. Van Fleet’s garden, and Dad’s church—no fleas there. Well, maybe Donnie’s room. It is a disgusting mess…nah, not there, sure lots of dust and clutter, but no fleas. Where, oh where, did the flea find Major?

Flea-crazed, Major is miserable. In all the time we have been a team, never ever has Major been this frenzied. His misery is so worrisome that it makes me miserable. Desperate, an unthinkable thought enters my mind—bath.

As it does, voila, I know when and how the flea found Major. It was yesterday afternoon, when Donnie, John, Cindy, and the rest of us were playing ball. I was on the field—running, throwing, and catching, a big bubble gum in my mouth—and Major was sitting near the backstop watching the game. Next to him, Ginger, Connie’s lovable mutt. Major and Ginger, sweet on each other, were sitting closer than friends ever sit. Yes, it has to be Ginger. She hangs around the pigs, cows, and chickens on Connie’s folk’s acreage near the edge of Corydon. The flea came from the acreage, to town, to Major via Ginger!

Mystery solved out of bed I jump. Time to stop Major and my worries. Down the stairs I dart. To the washroom I go. There, I grab a bar of fels naptha soap then head outside. Major follows me, stopping to scratch, gnaw, and roll to and fro with each and every bite of the flea.

At the edge of the patio, I command Major to sit. Stubbornly and ever so slowly he lies, not sits, down. I grab the hose, turn on the water, and give him a good spraying. Then, leaving the hose to flop around on the patio, I, both hands holding the soap bar, commence scrubbing Major. Suds cover every inch of him—and me. Undeterred, I keep scrubbing. Lather is everywhere. When Major unleashes an ecstatic howl, I stop. The flea is dead. He need not worry any more.

On this trip to Heartland a memory of my beloved Major greets me. It reminds me of the transcendent nature of friendship. How a true friend takes care of his friend. How the misery of one friend affects another. How the challenges that friends face strengthen the bonds of friendship more than the good times they share. When a person cannot see or understand the source of his misery, the bond empowers a friend to help him see and understand it. Moreover, when a person is incapable of lifting himself out of misery, an empowered friend must be guide, support, and be the strength for two. This is why, when Major could not sleep, neither could I and why, when the flea had bested him, I washed away the flea.

Looking back, I see that my life has lots of fleas. Not of the type that Major had, rather the annoyances that pester me and keep me up at night. These fleas are incredibly small and not immediately visible. They seek me out when I engage with others. Find me when I step up. Bite me when I am tired and want to sleep. These fleas drive me nuts. To rid myself of them, I must look deep to understand their source. Some fleas have simple cures, a walk, a talk, or a bar of soap. Other fleas necessitate the breaking of habits, changing of lifestyles, or severing of relationships.

I now understand that my flea-crazed misery affects my friends. The bond of our friendship is what ends the misery. Either I lather up and wash off my fleas, or a friend will hose me down. For my friends, I will do likewise. This insures that one flea will not make my entirety, or theirs, needlessly worrisome.

Mark 


Note: This is the 18th post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.

MY LIVING QUILT: STITCHED WITH LOVE – The Heartland Series

In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.

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Going west on Highway 2, Mom turns onto the gravel lane that leads to the split-level house that sits on the acreage where Francine lives. Lately, Mom is spending lots of time with Francine. Most times, Pamela joins them. Sometimes, as is the case today, I come along.

The ladies of the United Methodist Church of Corydon, Iowa are committed to delivering 15 quilts to the Bidwell Riverside Center by month’s end. Mildred, as Mildred is wont to do, directs the effort. In typical Mildred fashion, she has 35 quilters and 6 alternates, each assigned to one of 15 teams. With each team sewing one quilt.

Mom and Francine are on the same team. The tone-on-tone quilt they are sewing, as Mildred reminds them every day, is behind schedule. Eager to silence Mildred, Mom and Francine plan to get their quilt back on track this afternoon. I tagged along so I can spend the afternoon at the reservoir directly south of Francine’s place.

I help Mom and Pamela unload the sewing supplies and quilt from the car. Inside the house, I fidget while she and Francine discuss blocks, batting, borders, and bindings. When they spread out their quilt and start threading needles, I can barely contain myself. At the moment they start talking about Mildred, my fidgeting gets the better of me. I say, “Mom, may I please go—now?”

Having accepted, and reciprocated, Mom’s “I love you,” I make a dutiful son’s “promise to be safe” then head to the back door. Where, as I attempt to make my grand escape, Julie, Francine’s niece from Ontario, captures me. In one breath she says, “What’re you doing? Where are you going? Can I come along? Let’s go!” So we do.

Walking down the lane with Julie, I realize that anyone seeing us would have reason to chuckle. Here is Julie, in blue plaid denim shorts, red-and white blouse, and ringlets struggling to keep up with my lankiness, cutoff jeans, and buzz cut. Back at the house, Julie’s Aunt Francine and Mom are peeking out a window. I see them and they are not chuckling. Instead, their smiles say, “Mission accomplished.”

Across the highway, a trail runs parallel to the eastern edge of the reservoir. Walking along it, I proudly point to the tadpoles in a backwater pool. Further on, when we encounter a muskrat swimming along the shoreline, I explain to Julie that its narrow eyes, sloped ears, and webbed rear feet make it maneuverable and fast. When the trail, turning southeasterly, goes into the woods, I show her a hawk, perched on limb that is waiting for his lunch.

As we walk, Julie takes cautious steps. She does her best not to get dirty. All eyes and ears, she humors me when I hold forth on various plants and animals. Never once does she ask where am I taking her. If she had, I would say, “To my fort.”

At the edge of the woods, rests the Corydon cemetery. Near its far end, in the woods, is my fort. Following the trail through the woods will get us there but takes longer than does cutting through the cemetery. So although the cemetery makes me feel creepy, eager to show Julie my fort, I opt for the cemetery route.

Stepping into the cemetery, I walk faster knowing that if Julie were not with me I would, as I usually do, run, not walk past the stones and monuments. Walking fast I look to my right and then my left sides. Whoa, Julie where are you? I look back. There, Julie stands, solemnly looking at a stone—Glen “Bill” Hayhurst 1870-1949 and Eva Marie Hayhurst 1873-1959.

I walk back to Julie. Stand by her for a minute. Then, say, “What’re you thinking?”

Touching the stone, Julie says, “Who is here? What’s their story?” As she runs her index finger across the inscription, I tell Julie what I know about Mrs. Hayhurst. Dad visited her when she was ill, and had her service when she died. That she was a church lady, Mildred gave the eulogy at her funeral, and Aunt Francine and Mom served dinner afterwards.

Julie goes from stone to stone. She stops at one. Touches it. Reverently runs her finger across the name inscribed on it. As she does, I see she silently speaks the name Then stops at another stone, and another. I am puzzled. Sensing this, she says, “Lest they be forgotten, I’m giving life to the memory of each person here.” Bewildered, I wonder what the heck this means?

When Julie stops at Mary Alice Robertson 1939-1952, Beloved Daughter. I think about my sister Pamela. She will be 13, Mary Alice’s age, this coming October. Pamela’s seizures are coming more often. Each shakes her fragile existence.

Heading on to the fort, thoughts about life, death, fragility, nature, and Pamela pulsate through my head. Once there, I proudly show off my fort—a three-sided lean-to structure, fire-pit, and perimeter fence replete with booby-traps and snares. I invite Julie to sit by the pit. I offer her half of my somewhat smooshed snickers bar and a swig of water from the canteen. As Julie, take itty-bitty bites of her half of the bar, she says, “So, Mark Edward, what happens when people die?”

With every bit of my half of the candy bar in my mouth, I struggle to swallow. Unable to answer, I shuffle my feet. A few tense moments later, eyes looking downward, I say, “Excuse me.” Then go sit at the gigantic base of a nearby elm tree. I think of the dead people I know—Grandma Weston, Mrs. Baines, Dr. Lindsey, and my neighbor Mrs. Baker. I recall my dog Mitzi, killed by a truck. And, of course I think about Pamela, as I so often do, around whom death seems to hover. Tears well up in my eyes, once flowing, they do not want to stop.

I am not sure how long I sit here deep in thought before I realize that Julie is sitting beside me, her arm intertwined with mine, her chin resting on my shoulder. After sitting this way for quite some time, Julie breaks the silence. She says, “I’m sorry about all of this. Are you ok?” To which I softly reply, “Yep.” Julie, unconvinced, says, “Hey, Mark Edward, why don’t you take me swimming tomorrow?”

With this my yep becomes a YEP, and she, little Julie, pulls me up by my arm, then says, “We need to go home.” And, looking me straight in the eyes, she shoves me against the giant elm—hard—and starts running toward her Aunt Francine’s place. I race after her.

On this trip to Heartland memories of a young friend, our walk in the woods, and the time we spend in the Corydon cemetery greet me. It reminds me how I share my active, carefree, and natural side with her. And she shares her sensitive, sympathetic, and empathic side with me. We help each other go deeper—into nature and ourselves. Individually we are different, together complete. Much as the blocks, batting, borders, and bindings come together in the quilt Mom and Francine are making.

As I revisit this memory, I understand that Julie’s wonderings in the cemetery force me to go deep inside myself to a raw place I have never been. What I touch there helps me become more complete. That completeness, as I later learn, is what helps me handle the challenge that awaits Pamela and I. It is the thread that holds the quilt of my life together.

Mark 


Note: This is the 17th post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.

MARK EDWARD MEETS HIS MATCH – The Heartland Series

In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.

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Even at the tender age of ten, I have been to more than my fair share of potluck dinners hosted by the good ladies of the United Methodist Church of Corydon Iowa. I have eaten enough of their deviled eggs, meatloaf, seven-bean salads, and Jell-O with grapes to last a lifetime. This Sunday, as I sit here, next to my mother and sister Pamela, at yet another potluck dinner, with yet another plate full of potluck food, up walks Francine.

“May we join you?” Francine asks. A tray with two plates of food, two glasses of tea, and two side dishes, with a chocolate chip cookie on one and on the other a piece of apple pie is in her hands. The food is common fare here. What stands next to Francine—actually slightly hidden—is a dish unlike like any I have ever seen here before.

“This is Julie,” Francine says to my mother. “She’s my sister’s daughter. You know, the smart one in North Ontario that I’ve told you about.” Eyes suddenly downward, I sit uncharacteristically straight, still, and silent. Each mouthful of potluck food I carefully chew 23 times (even the Jell-O). I know, because I count each bite.

When Francine says, “Julie is staying with us this summer.” I think about the acreage east of town, near the railroad overpass on Highway 2, just north of the reservoir. Two milk cows, a hutch of chickens, a garden with several rows of sweet corn, a split level house, and a couple with no children.

I try my best to be inconspicuous, not to fidget or look up, but cannot stop myself. Ever so discretely a peek at Julie I sneak. Ringlets and eyes greener than the peas in the salad greet my blue eyes. Confused, curious, and intrigued I look downward and chew my food. Each bite 23 times, I know, I count.

My ears perk up when Francine says, “Murrell, I was wondering…” My chewing slows when she says, “If you could ask Mark Edward…” Then speeds up when she says, “He’s such a nice boy…” When she says, “To look after Julie while she’s here in Corydon?” I gag!

My Mother, as only a mother can do, senses my discomfort. She puts her hand on my knee. A gesture, that thank God the tablecloth hides, tells me to not say a word. Mother says, “Francine, Julie is such a nice girl. Thanks for asking. I will talk with Mark Edward tonight. I’ll call you tomorrow.” With that, Mother and Francine take up other topics. Pamela grins. My chewing resumes.

As I chew, I consider taking another peek at Julie, but am too mortified to move. Somehow, my eyes, perhaps controlled by a puppet master somewhere, look up and my head turns. There, in a red cardigan, over a white shirt and blue shorts, a big red bauble holding up her ponytail, sits Julie, listening to Aunt Francine and my mother prattle on. Noticing a beauty mark on her left cheek, I wonder whether she has freckles? As I start to look more closely, Julie’s turning head causes me to stop. Her soft, sweet smile makes me look away.

At home, Mother says nothing to me about Francine’s request and I do not bring it up. To be sure it does not, I head to my tree house, where I spend the rest of the afternoon—alone. There I eat two apples and read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. When I get to the part about Becky Thatcher and Tom, I read it twice. Trying to understand their relationship. Over dinner, I am silent. I go to bed before it is time to do so. When Pamela comes by my bedroom to read with me, I pretend to sleep but watch her through my barely open eyes.

A week later, Mother, Dad, several families from the congregation, Pamela, and I are at Francine’s acreage for a barbeque, bonfire, and songfest. Remembering Francine’s request of Mother, my senses are on high alert as I step out of the car. During dinner, I stay close to Pamela. As Francine lights the fire, I hang in the shadows. When the songfest begins I join the kids to play hide and seek. Julie is “it”. I run to the north side of the barn, beside the haystack, near the creek that flows to the reservoir—there I hide.

Near the house, Kumbaya fans the flames of the bonfire. Laughing kids run to keep away from Julie so as to not become “it”. Here by the barn, my back on the soft moist grass, looking to the Moon and stars, safe in the dark, I wait for Dad’s call to go home. Fanning the bonfire, We Shall Not be Moved reminds me how much Dad loves to sing and be with his flock. I worry, and should.

Plop! A pair of plaid denim Toughskin pants sits down beside my head. A pair of Buster-Browns follows, after that a plaid Toughskin jacket. Then comes a whisper. “Great place, Mark Edward. They’ll never find us here,” says Julie. When she stretches out beside me, my heart is beating so loud I fear the nearby barn will rattle.

When Julie asks, “What are you thinking?” “S-t-a-a-a stars,” sneaks out my mouth. Thank you God, she says nothing more, just lies here, next to me, looking at the stars.

When my heartbeat stabilizes, I dig deep for the courage to test my mouth, saying, “That’s the Big Dipper.” Proudly pointing to a seven-star configuration in the northern sky and showing how it indicates Polaris, the North Star. Glancing at Julie, who is looking at the Dipper, a moonbeam illuminates four freckles on her nose. I imagine they point to her beauty mark, much like the Dipper points to Polaris. When I say something about her freckles, she says, “No way! I don’t have freckles!”

“Olly, olly, oxen free,” yells a voice by the house. Hearing this, Julie pulls my left ear—hard. Then she jumps up, and starts running. Without thinking, I jump up and give chase. She is fast, real fast, but I am faster. Soon we are running side by side. The bonfire blazing, house rapidly approaching, I stretch out my legs to pull ahead of Julie. As I do, I call her “Freckles.” Safe base in sight, this race is mine. Then suddenly, not knowing why, I ease up…ever so slightly. Julie pulls even with me. Side by side we run. When I intentionally ease up, Julie pulls ahead. I let her beat me to the base. Game over. Night done. Time to go home. Think about the race I gave to Julie. I have met my match.

The memory that awaits me in Heartland is about being stirred up. Realizing that some people come into my life for that purpose. Their presence helps me question who I am becoming. Forces me to face the unknown. Do things—like throw a footrace—I never ever would have done otherwise. The memory admonishes me to be open to others, especially those who may, at first, stir me up. They bring balance to my life, the anima, in the case of Julie, to my animus.

On a deeper level, my memory of Julie is about seeing. Francine sees qualities in me that I do not see that she sees will benefit Julie. My Mother sees Julie’s refined, empathetic, and deep thinking nature as a nice match for my active and carefreeness. I, with the help of the moon, see the freckles that Julie refuses to see. Julie sees that she is faster than me, but I know better. I see that one, very special girl, who by pulling my ear, helps me view the races I run differently. Sometimes, life is funny like that.

Mark 


Note: This is the 16th post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.

GUARDIAN OF MY DREAMS – The Heartland Series

In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.

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“Sweet dreams Mark E,” says Pamela as she flips the off switch for my bedroom light. A Stillness at Appomattox, a bookmark near its middle, sits on the nightstand beside my bed. It has been Pamela and my pre-bedtime reading this past week.

My bedroom is on the second floor of the old Victorian style parsonage in Corydon, Iowa that my family calls home. It has oak floors, high ceilings, two windows, and is big—a perfect space for reenacting scenes from the books Pamela and I read. A toy soldier, somewhat deformed, sits next to the book on the nightstand. He was part of my reenactment of the Civil War’s ending at Appomattox until Pamela stepped on him earlier this evening.

Nestled in bed and blanketed by darkness, a summer breeze comes to me through a slight opening in the window whispering, “Sleep Mark Edward, sleep.” A moonbeam, shining through the dust-covered windowpane, beckons me to dreamland. Eyelids closed, body at rest, breath steady—I give myself to sleep.

Asleep, I go, in my mind, to the attic directly above my bedroom. This is the place I come to dream. A Civil War sentry stands guard. His union blue uniform, with brass buttons, is well worn. His cap is slightly askew. Rifle by his side, bayonet fixed, his eyes are alert. As I pass him, he gives me an all-is-safe nod. I know from my many previous encounters with him that this means an extra special dream awaits me.

Tonight the dream I dream is about my Little League game tomorrow—Corydon versus Allerton. In it I hear the whack of a massive home run, feel the schlap of a deft catch made, and listen to the cheers of a hard-fought victory won. Companionship, community, and competition, oh what joy I feel. I love this dream…

“Mark Edward,” whispers the breeze. “Dream bigger Mark Edward.” Heeding her admonition, I imagine a career with the Red Sox—pennants, World Series championships, all-star games, and a spot in the hall of fame. As I imagine these things, she says, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

Game won, cheers done, teammates gone, field lights turned off, I put bat to shoulder and head for home. At the edge of the field, I see a mother pushing a wheelchair. In it sits her son. I have seen them around Corydon before, but we have not met. He is about my age. A ball cap like the one I am wearing is on his head. When I offer to push the wheelchair, his mom smiles a grateful smile.

Her son, twisted and palsied, is very excited—excited about the game, baseball in general, and me specifically. With great difficulty he offers congratulations on Corydon’s victory and my play. He recounts the hits I had, swings I took, and putouts I made. The effort he puts forth to say these words and the contortions he must endure as he does far exceed the energy I expended during the entire game he just watched me play. “Your ball games mean a great deal to him,” says his mother. “They’re the highlight of his week.” The boy’s animated excitement makes this evident.

Watching the boy, I think: I play baseball, but it does not excite me. He cannot play baseball, but it excites him. I am, however, strangely excited that he is excited about baseball. As we approach his mother’s car, I ask if he would like to come to the next game with me. Then say, “I’ll ask the coach if you can sit with me in the dugout.” The tears in his eyes tell me that if he could jump for joy he would. At that moment, the tears and his joy mean more to me than a career with the Red Sox.

Startled, I wake up. What is the meaning of this dream about baseball and the boy in the wheelchair? Pondering this question, peering at the dusty window the twinkle of the North Star encourages me to “go deeper.” I think about how life brings teammates to me. Some of them are big, strong, and fast, others twisted, palsied, and confined. I must not choose sides. Rather, I must accept each person who enters my life, standing with them as I stand together with my teammates on the ball field. The best victories and biggest homeruns of my life will come from the excitement and joy I bring to those with whom I stand. This I will dream, this I will do.

As the dream winds down, I sit with it. Absorbing its rich meaning. Done, I leave it where I left all my previous dreams, in the care of the guardian of my dreams.

The memory that greets me on this trip to Heartland is a poignant reminder that I am and always have been a dreamer. How early on I learned to protect, analyze, and regularly reflect on my dreams. Not only the ones I dream at night, but also the dreams I dream of achieving in life. Some of my dreams are small, others life-long and enduring. Many hold messages that I must heed, as was the case with the boy in the wheelchair—my true calling. Dreams, such as that one, that stick and disturb, have special significance.

Going deeper, I now see that all dreams require protection. Often from the Civil War that rages within each of us that we reenact on our internal battlefields of doubt, insecurity, and desire. I was fortunate to have a guardian who protected my dreams and watched over my attic dreamland. He taught me how to nurture my dreams, giving them space and time to flourish and thrive. From him, I learned to treat my dreams as sacred, work towards them, and ultimately not to give up on them, thus ending the war. My dreams, in turn, taught me that their best and most vigilant guardian is I.

Mark


Note: This is the 15th post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.