A Day on My Road Trip: Linking The Present To The Past

Donna from years gone by. And yes! Jonathan does look like me!

May 26, 2010 was a journey into my past, visits with family and friends from a lifetime ago; pieces of my today as much as my yesterday.  The morning was spent with Robin, always a treat. Four years my senior, Robin and I none-the-less share important history and traits. Over a breakfast of eggs, grits (rice for Robin) and toast, we laughed and caught up on a million small details. After our meal we set out to visit a store that boasted all kinds of treasures, things people who enjoy home decorating, crafts and a good bargain love. Robin and I share each of these things. We returned from the store with lovely fabrics – gotten at rock-bottom prices – and collaborated ideas about how to use our goodies. I plan to cover my breakfast room chairs IF the color is a good match. I’ll also make a cushion for the bench.  I intend to use several other pieces to create a coverlet for the master bedroom. I ended up with some wonderful things (I have no idea what they were really intended to be) that are going to become covers for bolster pillows or table runners or an embroidered runner for my book table or, ….well, I’m not sure how I plan to use them but they were a tremendous bargain so I had to have them. The ideas will come later. I also ended up with a bit over a yard of another fabric that called to me. Its uses, too, will become known at the correct time. I can’t wait to see what it will be. Likewise, Robin left the store with pieces of fabric that she will also make into something else as the something reveals itself. That’s a family trait. It makes me feel good to know I share these things with someone else. For a person who often felt totally alone as a child; a woman who was in middle age before she realized the importance of embracing all of the steps of her personal journey, this feels like stability! (See Angels Encamped About Me: Provision In The Wilderness for more information).

We stopped for a few minutes to visit Ms. Betty. She is always good for a story and information about neighborhood happenings. Unfortunately, the story she had to share this time was not a good one. Childhood friend Judy, died on her 52nd birthday, January 19.  Judy had suffered for many years, having lost her sight in her 30s. I’m told that even though she was in tremendous pain, she maintained a wonderful attitude and positive presence. She and her husband worked with the youth at their church, providing encouragement, treats and the ministry moment for the children. What a legacy.

I spent a great deal of my life in this room when I was a little girl!

On the way to the next stop we took a brief detour into one of my childhood neighborhoods. I was so glad I had gotten photos before the landscape was totally changed. Still, Gerald was able to get a glimpse of what Maybe Hill had been when I lived there as a young girl of about six or seven. Then we had dinner with Bettina. She has been my friend for as long as I can remember. And though I moved away prior to my 8th grade year and we lost touch for periods, our hearts have always been joined. We share memories of growing up and intersections beyond. We have children the same age, only a month difference in their ages. We’ve both been married nearly 29 years. We have grandchildren we adore. Bettina came to Dayton for my ordination and I appreciated it. So, on this whirlwind journey, we met over a meal at Golden Corral, and yes, I overate!

The last stage of this journey was spent at the home of the matriarch, Charnetta Williams or Miss Charnetta as she has always been known to me. I drove up to find her walking slowly through her front yard, leaning on a stick and looking a bit like a sage. She has aged and thinned since I last saw her. But her mind is much more focused than it was that year  or so ago. She had forgotten I was coming but was glad to see Gerald, Hezekiah and me. Hugs all around and an invitation to come into the house were issued. We elected to stay outside; Hezekiah really needed to run and play and we weren’t sure how long we’d be there. At 82 years old, Ms. Charnetta still loves to work in her garden. She proudly showed me around, pointing at the veggies that had ‘volunteered’ to grow this year and those deliberately planted. It was a bit surreal to walk through overgrown brush (oh Lord, I’m allergic to most of this stuff, I kept thinking, and was afraid of what might be hiding in the rest). Still we walked, she leaning on her stick and often stopping to point out a plant or weed, to gather up random trash and to show me the rose bushes that seem to be everywhere. With delight, Ms. Charnetta pointed out the buds or flowers on the plants. She showed me the ones she had transplanted, the forgotten bag of seeds laying on the ground where they had been forgotten earlier in the afternoon. She chided me for not remembering what certain plants looked like. Each bush, plant, new bud, or failing plant elicited comment; statements that showed just how much she loved them.  For long moments I wasn’t merely a 52-year old woman; I was a six-year old girl who looked forward to helping Ms. Charnetta plant her garden. I remembered the joy of skipping through the rows, digging my fingers in the dirt to place a seed and the excitement of seeing the plants stick their heads out of the dirt. Being both of those people is difficult to explain. For a moment I could just imagine myself walking backward in time as we moved through this yard, overgrown in so many places but so dear to its owner.  This place gives her joy, not just the growing of the vegetables and flowers but the knowing that in a few weeks she will have food to share with those less fortunate and lovely flowers for her great-grand daughter who loves pretty things. 

Ms. Charnetta leading me on a tour of the garden

Miss Charnetta’s son and daughter-in-law Wayburn and Gracie came over and it was wonderful to see them. I tell the story in my book, Angels Encamped About Me, of ‘dating’ with Wayburn and Gracie before they were married. This was the era when people weren’t suspicious of each other and when you could allow a little girl to hang out with a young man who was not her father. I looked forward to going with Wayburn to pick Gracie up for a Sunday drive. What a different concept of dating when a five or six year old who chattered non-stop and sat in the front seat in the middle joined you!  As we stood talking in the driveway, neighbor, Miss Shirley, walked over to say hello. It was wonderful to see her, too. We laughed about the year we separately attended Woman Thou Art Loosed in Atlanta. With nearly 20,000 women in attendance and after years of not seeing each other, it was amazing that we met standing in line at the women’s toilet! We all had a great laugh when Hezekiah looked up at her and declared in a clear voice  “She’s dark. Her face is dark!” Nonplussed, Miss Shirley joined in the laughter while Gerald and I tried to slide under the nearest parked car. Leave it to children!

This has been a great trip. Having a morning talking to Robin and watching her play on the floor with Hezekiah has been nurturing. I haven’t mentioned Peggy Ann, my darling cousin who has Downs Syndrome. Peggy is the sweetest 46 year-old child-woman I know. She still collects papers and pens, none of which she really wants to share. Peg gets such joy from being in her room writing in her puzzle books, listening to music in her headset and singing in her microphone.  She is surrounded with things she loves, things that make her feel secure and happy. Well into the night I could hear Peg singing in her room. Right before she went to bed she came to my room to ask me, once again, about Jonathan. For whatever reason, Peg sees me and recalls Jonathan as a little boy. Throughout my visit she asks about him even as she hugs Hezekiah. I hope Jonathan will one day go visit her. Robin has provided a beautiful, stable home for herself and Peg.  It’s a good thing!  Throughout this wonderful day, I’ve felt grounded in a way that allows me to recall with joy and gratitude the many blessings God has bestowed on me, not just in these days but in the ones that made this one possible.  All things DO work together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to His purposes!

Here’s my sweet Peggy Ann, named for my birth mother, Peggy Maggie. Who couldn’t love this beautiful face!

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Granny

Granny

I’ve come to realize that God provides family in a variety of ways. For some, the path is clear and  traditional – through the physical womb. Yet, for many of us, God uses non-traditional yet just as authentic methods. Through seemingly random circumstances God slowly built a family unit. Gerald was Lori’s principal at Weisenborn. I was Lauren’s choral director years later. Yet, if we but look closely, we see the divine hand of a God of order and clear intent. Neither Gerald nor I passed through Granny’s womb. Consequently, neither Jonathan, Jamie nor Hezekiah has her physical DNA. Yet, we – each of us – passed through Granny’s heart and thus her spiritual womb.  So we were connected. Granny loved us and we loved her. Transplants to Dayton, Granny provided a crucial missing element, the wisdom and presence of an elder. It was a rare birthday that didn’t start with an organ fanfare of Happy Birthday. Our Granny loved music – singing, playing her beloved organ, talking about music, listening to it. On Thanksgiving, her voice rang out cheerfully, especially when, after dinner, games replaced dinner plates. A fierce Scrabble competitor, Granny gleefully did her best to spell everyone under the table.

I have precious memories of Granny but they are far too few! I want more. I need more. Hindsight teaches what we must clearly learn to see in the present; it is folly to presume a day that is not promised. Today, right now, is all we ever have in which to show people how much they mean to us. I will cherish the bright smile Granny gave me when she opened her eyes and saw me in her hospital room. I’ll long remember her chuckle as I teased her about being well so I could keep my promise to host high tea for her 91st birthday.

Sweet Granny, thank you for adopting us into your heart and family. Your absence will be deeply felt and your legacy an aspirant goal. I want to have as many spiritual children and grandchildren as you. I want my life to be as full and rich as yours was. When it’s my time to join you in Glory I pray I will have lived, loved, cared, laughed, teased, directed family, and given advice (solicited and unsolicited) with a measure of your grace. Well done, Granny!

Daughter Donna

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