Monday, November 14, 2016

Falling Far from the Tree

I do fall far from the tree.
My dad was just about as conservative as they come. His work for the state government made him subject to the Hatch Act, ineligible to display political signs on our property. He wasn't allowed to write letters to the editor, but that didn’t stop him from speaking his mind to anyone who would listen. Dad was a staunch, dyed in the wool, true to the core conservative. The Hatch Act didn’t stop him from pounding signs for his favorite candidates into other willing voters’ yards. He also wrote letters to senators and congressmen. We used to tease him that he was Orrin Hatch’s pen pal. He would proudly show us Orrin Hatch’s personal replies. 

Dad was horrified when he found out my maternal grandmother was going to vote for George McGovern. I heard him try to respectfully “teach” her why she was so, so wrong. I could tell he was just about to blow, but shut his mouth and stopped so he wouldn't offend Grandma. (In this way, I am just like my father.) I too, have to shut up or stop posting  or speaking before I go too far. I heard him say to my mother, “What is she possibly thinking? She said McGovern is handsome. How is that a good reason to vote for someone?” I’m pretty sure my Grandma just told my dad that to mess with him, she was after all, an intelligent woman. 

I grew up hearing the term liberal pinko thrown around in everyday conversations. I knew Dad abhorred “kooky environmentalists," and as far as he was concerned, Robert Redford was the worst of the bunch, along with Jane Fonda. But he was offended when a neighbor brought John Birch Society material for him to read. For those who don’t know John Birch Society is an extreme right-wing organization. I remember him wondering how the guy could think he was “one of those extremists.” He didn’t like extremism in any shape or form. Dad pined for a day when Ronald Reagan would be elected president. That would have been a momentous day for him and I wish he'd seen it happen. He died two years before, and I couldn’t help but wonder if my dad influenced the outcome from the other side. At the time, I voted for Reagan, even though in retrospect that wasn’t a good idea. Under Reagan's presidency, because of retroactive government cutbacks, my husband lost a good job that was in his field. 

I really had no intention of becoming the person I am today.  I was a slow convert to liberal ideas. I had once believed that being Republican was akin to being a good Mormon, practically a requirement for entrance into the Celestial Kingdom. I knew that admitting to a family member that I had started leaning Democrat would cause as much concern as if I had told them I was forming an alliance with Satan. I have to admit that the first time I checked a box for a Democrat, I felt my heart race a bit—pondering what my dad would think—and if I was indeed committing a sin. At first it was only in local elections  that I dared vote for Democrats. Even though by then, my core beliefs put me solidly on the blue team. Even still, Al Gore was the first Democrat I voted for in a presidential election. When I admitted to voting for Al Gore at what had been a peaceful Thanksgiving dinner, the stuffing hit the fan so to speak. A close family member said some pretty unkind things, including that my deceased father would be livid. I had to admit, Dad would not have been happy. Though I hope that after he passed he wouldn’t have cared one wit about something as inconsequential as a person’s political leanings. 

Through some tears and bites of turkey, I pointed out to the argumentative family member, that my dad had voted for  Democratic candidate Yukus Inouye. I knew it for a fact because I was with Dad when  he pounded wooden stakes of political signs into lawns in Utah county. When I had asked Dad why he was voting for a Democrat, he’d said, because he’s a really great guy, my friend, and the better candidate. To write this I looked up Yukus and found out that he had won in 1972 as Utah County Commissioner in a heavily Republican county. Yukus Inouye lived to be 91 and died in 2007.  

Well, at the dinner I sobbed uncontrollably, even though several of the younger generation tried to comfort me. Eventually that family member and I could speak to each other again. We both had to learn to bridge our differences with a little civility. We also learned never to ask who the other was voting for. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. 

I’m almost certain that my dad would not have voted for Donald Trump, because my dad could spot a fraud. Once in high school, I came home so excited about the stories an LDS general authority Paul H. Dunn told in a huge seminary morning devotional. My dad was sitting in his home office, leaning back slightly in his solid wood swivel chair. When I got done telling Dad the fantastic war stories, he got a smirk on his face and said that they weren’t true. I couldn’t believe my dad, a bishop at the time, would call a GA of our church a liar. I’d said, how can you say that? He'd said, I’m just saying I was in the war and those things couldn’t have happened, and Paul H. Dunn is a great storyteller who stretches the truth for effect. Well, I was hurt and thought my dad was wrong to say what he did. My dad had been gone for a few years when the truth that many of Paul Dunn’s famous faith-promoting stories were nothing more than good fiction. Too bad he’d felt the need to claim they were true. 

There was another popular WW2 Veteran on a speaking circuit, telling amazing tales of his POW experiences and heroism. My dad only had to hear him once to declare that the man was a fraud. Years later he also was discredited. In this case, the man may have actually believed his own stories. 

My dad would have been appalled at the choices in this election. I have no illusion that he would have voted for Hillary. She is far too liberal for my dad. But he also would not have voted for Donald Trump. I’m quite certain he would have seen him as the con artist he is. Dad had strong opinions. He thought everyone should think like him, and he argued with those who didn't. But he also taught us to be politically active and to stick up for our principles. Though he might be turning in his grave to see me as the “liberal pinko” he would disapprove of, I hope he’d respect that I will speak out for beliefs, even when I’m in the minority, even when it’s hard, and even when it hurts so badly you feel like you can’t breathe. Because after all, he taught me to do that. Maybe I don’t fall as far from the tree after all. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Tender Mercies: Sundays with Judi

This may be my only photo. Several years ago, she came to hear me speak about the book "Just Shy of Paradise."
Dear Judi, 
When I got word that you had “graduated” from this life, I was walking in Brooklyn to brunch with my daughter Ginger, daughter-in-law Joanna, and our new friend Lauren. We knew that I could receive the dreaded message at anytime, since I’d heard the evening before that your time was near. So when I felt the buzz in my pocket, I immediately glanced at my phone. When I saw that the inevitable had happened, my loved ones hugged me as I let the tears flow. I agonized that I hadn’t made it home in time. We had rescheduled our flight in hopes that it would make a difference. I had so wanted to sit with you one last time, even if you wouldn’t have been aware. I needed my Judi Berry time.
As we began down the street again, Joanna nudged me and pointed to the name of the street sign a block away, “Berry.” Was that you? Did you let me know that you knew I needed you? Did you prompt Becky to send the text at that moment? Since the beginning of our friendship, the tender mercies have so often been there. Your character and how you’ve handled your often very difficult challenges has taught me so much.

Berry Street in Brooklyn

So often during my NYC week, I thought about seeing you on Sunday as had become my habit over the last couple of years. I had hoped to tell you all about the trip because I knew you would genuinely be interested in what I experienced. In April, we had taken a trip to Mesa Verde just because you had told me so much about it. When I said, I was going you brought out all your pamphlets and said that we could take them as long as we took good care of them. The stop at Hovenweep was my favorite and I couldn’t wait to tell you all about it. You’d said, on your trips you couldn’t sleep the night before you’d be so excited. Every step through Long House, even when we were crawling through a tunnel from one part of the house to the other, I thought about you doing the same thing at a healthier time. Your enthusiasm and your passions were contagious.
Those rock trips, and Native American ruins trips happened before I really knew you. Before we became friends. Now instead of excitement, what kept you awake at night was pain and burning acid that didn’t even allow you to lie down. Remember that one Sunday? I looked through the window and saw you asleep at the kitchen table sitting upright in the chair. I hesitated to wake you, but gently knocked. You told me you had been awake all night except when you had fallen asleep standing at the kitchen counter. You cried when I came and said that you had been praying for someone to come to help. I told you that I would have come anyway, even without the prayer. You reminded me that I don’t come every single Sunday, that I miss a few. And then I told you that perhaps the answer to your prayer was that I’d brought my husband with me, which hardly ever happened. He shoveled all the walks while I helped with some things inside. I was glad that he got to experience what I had so often, to see you reflect on tiny miracles and tender mercies.
Another tender mercy was that the day you were diagnosed with Scleroderma, I happened to be walking through the Budge Clinic picking up my contacts. I heard my name and turned to see you alone in a waiting room. You’d said, “How many auto-immune disorders does one person have to have?” You were holding the pamphlet the doctor had given you, so that you could learn about what awful stuff was in store for you. We hugged. We cried. You courageously went on, handling the best you could what was a very rotten deal. You lost your husband when you were still young. Your body took a beating as one bad thing after another knocked you down, and yet, in spite of that you always found something, a reason to keep getting up. Something to look forward to: a phone call from a son, a new colt frolicking in the field out your window, a visit from a friend, a new book to read ahead of everyone else since your friends at North Logan Library put you at the top of the waiting list, or Shawn, the Bookmobile librarian would bring your books out to your car when you honked, or especially for a day when you felt “good.” Which we both knew meant you didn’t feel quite as rotten as usual. One of the best things to happen in this last part of your life is seeing you come alive again with all the quilting you’ve done. I knew you had made quilts before, mostly humanitarian but you’d had to put that away for a while. So when things got just a little better for you and you got out your sewing machine, you sparkled with renewed passion. I loved seeing the quilts, first in colorful shapes and pieces on your kitchen table, then as patterned squares, then as a top, and finally finished. Your biggest concern had become living long enough to finish the quilts for your grandchildren, your son and his wife, and especially for your last big masterpiece for Justin. But you did it! And you still managed to make a whole bunch of quilts for people who were terminally ill. You had laughed when I told you that I never wanted one of those quilts—not if I had to die to get one. Your sense of humor was so cute. I noticed how you could laugh and tell jokes about yourself, especially to caregivers, doctors and nurses. You always said thank you when people did even the smallest thing for you. You finally learned that you had to give up a little of your independence so you could stay in your house in your beloved town of Paradise. You never took that help for granted, not one little bit.
Some of your friends and your family have thanked me for “being so good to you.” I said, I did things for you because I loved you, but it was so much more for me than it was for you. The truth is that it was me that needed you. Someone else could easily have done the few things I did. But the sanctuary, the refuge, that you provided for me was so much more for my benefit than it ever was for you. Remember how many times, I knocked on the door, waited for the, “come in” and then slumped into your recliner, the chair that had become “Carole’s chair.” Even your sister Linda would vacate the chair for me unless I insisted otherwise. I spent many a tearful Sunday talking about my doubts, my challenges, and my angst, mixed with my joys and triumphs. Even though we both knew that your challenges were so much greater than mine, you still empathized in ways few others could, And I knew without having to say anything that my concerns would be kept between us. You respected privacy better than most of us. I felt such safety, such acceptance and no judgement toward me—just empathy, understanding and genuine love.
Sundays will be hard for me. My church often was sitting with you and sharing stories, concerns and insights—sacred time. I got to witness a remarkable friendship between you and your son Justin as he would inevitably call while I was there. Your banter and discussion with him was so ordinary yet endearing. One of the last conversations I remember was when you were telling him how excited you were to find potato chips without corn oil. You had told me that Justin had found you ice cream without corn syrup. Corn and many other items did terrible things to you, so instead of dwelling on that, you became enthused when you found things you could eat. Dwelling on the positives in life was something you were so good at. I used to tease you that you would get yourself admitted to Logan Regional Hospital just because they fixed the best Salmon in town. I should know since I ate more than half of yours that one time.
Thank you Judi. Thanks for your courage, your heart, your gracious and generous life. Everyone needs someone like you, a Judi Berry in their life. I’m so blessed I had you in mine. You were my tender mercy.
your friend,

Monday, January 11, 2016

Whiling the while with Words!

I remember when I was four or five and I discovered the magic of copying letters onto a paper to form what appeared to be words. I still didn’t understand the sounds, but understood the symbols. I was at the family cabin in Silver Gate, Montana in the upstairs loft. I carefully scrawled letters in varying word lengths and would run down the stairs to show them to my mother. She would try to read the nonsensical words and sometimes they actually were close to something. But not understanding the power of vowels, she’d inform me that some of them were nothing. Still, it was the beginnings of writing and reading. 

In 1st grade with book mark in hand, small groups of students and the teacher in a circle in the back of the room, I could read Dick and Jane books like nobody’s business. I longed to be in those books, to play with Spot, Dick, Jane and Tim. Their lives were so simple. They jumped, played ball, ran, skipped, looked—oh how they looked. Look Dick look. See Jane run. 

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, my neighbor Sharon, with her naturally blond hair the color of Marilyn Monroe’s, stood on the other side of the hedge that was between our yards. Sharon was about three years older than me, so was sophisticated in the ways of the world. When I told her I was going to the library, she said, “Be sure to get some Dr. Suess books.”  When I found the Dr. Suess books on the bottom shelf of the fabulous basement Orem library—then in an old house across from the Scera theater, I was hooked by the magic of nonsensical words, some very much like the words I had first strung together years earlier, the beauty of alliteration, rhymes, and drawings that covered every inch of the page. I still believe Theordor Suess Geisel to be nothing short of genius. His capturing of deep philosophies and allegories in exquisite drawings and words has not been equaled. His powerful messages could indeed, not just captivate us, they transformed us. The world Suess created was infinitely more interesting that Dick and Jane’s world. Horton hearing who’s. And cats in hats, sneetches and green eggs! What  words could be more wonderful? 

Words: We used to shout at each other on the playground: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me!” But that was a lie. I had a teacher tell us it was a lie. I remember being confused and then relieved. Confused because it had always been taught. Confused because physical hurt was definable. But emotional pain was something we buried and denied. I was relieved because I felt bad whenever someone called me a name, and now I knew that was ok.

Words: I used to hate some of the words I heard at home hurled at me by my siblings: Stupid, retarded, baby, faker, or more like faker, faker, faker—a sing-song taunt. School was a safe haven because at school, teachers made me feel smart. I loved school, but I loved staying home  on sick days too—without my brothers. Home alone with only my mother who never hurled insults. Home to I Love Lucy, Gilligan’s Island and Romper Room all day sipping hot jello drinks. Home to a stack of picture books—a good Suess book and a cuddly cat curled next to me. Even though as soon as the brothers came home I would be the faker, faker, faker—the hours of peace were worth it. I remember being home sick when I was in kindergarten or 1st grade and Miss Julie on Romper Room held up her magic mirror and declared, “And I see Carole who is home sick today.” My mom didn’t believe she was really talking to me, but I knew she was. She saw me. If she saw me, I wasn’t faking. I couldn’t be faking. Did that mean I also wasn’t stupid? Sticks and Stones. I used to shout it out to deflect the power of words. Words, they can inspire, affirm, debase, or hurt. I wish my armor could be made of all the beautiful words in the world, so the negative stuff couldn’t penetrate.