Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Girl With Red Marker on Her Face

Sunday, I went to church. Migraine and all.

I don't go to a big fancy church. I go to a small church. Most of its members are in the over-fifty range. They are salt-of-the-earth types, and they know how to get things done.

They also know how to cook.

Which is great, because Southern Baptist churches are notorious for feeding the flock. :0)

We have at least one potluck a month, and when I can attend, I do. Not just for the food (all of it made with real butter and real cream and real veggies and real meat and.... Well, you get the point!). I go because I love the people. They have maintained a community mindset that is sometimes missing from my peers. They think of the group before they think of themselves. They are always ready with kind words, hot tea, meals. There is never a sense that their time is more important than someone elses. Nor do they look at any task as menial.

I think if we could shrink the wonderful group down to bee-size, they'd fit quite well into a hive. Bustling and buzzing and working for the good of all.

But, that wasn't what I came here to write about.

I came to write about the girl with red marker on her face.

She was in church Sunday.

She's been there before.  A foster child who is sometimes in respite care with one of the older members of our church family, the girl has some challenges. She is probably my Sassy's age. She can barely write her name, though. She has a speech impediment and moves awkwardly. She has no social boundaries. No sense of other people's space. She is a little rough, a little rowdy. She moves a lot. From one seat to the next to the next.

She loves my Cheeky girl. But, who doesn't? Cheeky is the most accepting and loving child I have ever known. So,  the girl sits by Cheeky when she is not wandering the sanctuary.

Sunday, I saw her from afar and thought she had terrible burns on her face. My  stomach knotted up and my insides went icy cold. As I drew closer, I realized what I thought were burns were actually scribbles. Red scribbles. All over her face.



Her nose was bright red with it. Her cheeks were smeared. It looked like she'd taken a sharpie and scribbled everywhere. I heard one of the kids ask why she had marker on her face. Her response didn't make much sense. Something about trying to be a character from TV.

That was the last I heard about the marker.

This girl? She sat next to an older couple for a while. They talked to her before church began. When she  moved to sit next to Cheeky, no one stared. She talked to someone who was sitting beside her, and I didn't even see the elderly woman blink at the red stuff spread all over the child's cheeks.

About halfway through the service, the kids went up to the front. The pastor always spends a couple minutes every week talking just to them. The girl with the red marker on her face plodded up to the front in shoes that were two sizes too large and about twenty years too old. They flopped off her feet, the use-to-be-shiny black leather scuffed and dull. Her socks were striped and her dress was checked. Like the shoes, it was several sizes too big.

The pastor gave his mini sermon, and the girl with the red marker on her face listened. When she was asked what she was thankful for, she said her family, and I wondered what family meant to her. Her bio family? Her foster family? Her respite family?

Here she was, this girl with the red marker on her face, with her too-big shoes, too-old clothes and her awkward ways. Here she was with red sharpie scribbled all over her face. Here she was with nothing that any of my kids have. Somehow, in the midst of all the things that were stacked against her, she was thankful.

She sat down next to Cheeky again, and she took one of the visitor cards. She scribbled on it for a few minutes but must have finally realized what it was. She leaned over Cheeky and grabbed my arm.

"I want a visit from the pastor," she said. "But that's already scribbled out on the card."

I looked at the card. She'd written her name in shaky letters at the top and written her respite care parent's name in the middle.

"See?" she said, jabbing at a typed line that should have read I would like to visit with the pastor. . "It's already scribbled out."

Sure enough. It had been. Scribbled so dark with black ink, the words could barely be seen.

I looked at the scribbles on the card and the scribbles on her face, and I wanted so badly to fix everything that was broken.

"Don't worry," I told her even though the pastor was preaching and people all around could probably hear every word we were saying. "I'll fix it for you."

I took her pen and wrote in big letters across the top - I want a visit from the pastor.

I handed it back to her, and she smiled and thanked me and tucked the note in the pocket of her dress.

I hope she gave it to the pastor.

And, I hope she gets a visit from him.

Because, I can't stop thinking about the girl with the red marker on her face. I can't stop wondering if there was something more that I could have done for her. Because, it seems that writing I want a visit from the pastor isn't nearly enough. Not when it comes to little girls with red marker on their faces and thanksgiving in their hearts.  Not when it comes to any child.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

It's Sunday Morning

It's Sunday Morning.

A little after seven.

I've been up for a couple of hours with a raging migraine, so I've had a chance to watch the sun creep over the distant mountains.

This is my favorite time of day and my favorite moment of the week. Even when I don't have a migraine, I'm up early on Sunday morning. Earlier than The Man and the kids. Earlier than the birds, even.

On Sunday morning, I get to sit in silence. I don't have to work or, even, think about work. Sometimes I do, of course. But, mostly I just try to listen. There is something in the silence that can't be found anywhere else. Not in the chaos of my daily life. Not in the busy-ness of my evenings. Not on walks with friends or dinners out. Silence is where I hear my own prayers and where I hear God's answers.

Not in an audible voice. Just in a simple nudging. A sense of purpose. A feeling that I am not alone in the quiet. There is a thickness in solitude, as if the air itself is energized.

It is difficult to explain, but maybe I don't need to. Maybe you have felt it, too.

This morning, I sat in the quiet with my horrible migraine, and I thought about me and God and the great world around me. I thought about my friends and my family, about the sun slowly rising and the cold air seeping through the window pane. I thought, too, about a reader who questioned what was hidden in my heart. She'd read The House on Main Street and was offended by the colorful language (to quote another reader). She posted a review and said something along the lines of, "What happened to Shirlee McCoy to make her turn to this? Or maybe this is what she's been hiding all along?"

She's changed it since the original posting, but I had the pleasure of reading it.

So, I was thinking about me and the darkness hidden away in my soul.

Foul language is not one of the things I hide away. I am, as the reviewer said, very articulate, and I can think of much more effective ways to express myself.

But, I do have things hidden away - insecurities, struggles, days when I just want to throw in the towel, crawl into bed and cover my head with the blankets.

But, then, I figure the vast majority of human beings are the same.

They are the people I am writing.

So, I am sitting in the quiet, and I am thinking of my neighbors and my friends and my family. I am thinking of my church and the people I love. I am thinking about how some are sweet and kind and loving, and how some are virulent and crass. I am thinking that in Apple Valley, Washington, people are exactly like that - a microcosm of the world in general, a little peek into every village, town, city, metropolis on earth.

 The House on Main Street in an editor's pick in the Christmas edition of FIRST for Women Magazine.

And, I think it is because the town is exactly the kind of town all of us would like to live in. At least  for a little while. The people who live there are the kind of people most of us have in our lives. Good people. Crass people. Funny people. Grumpy people. Christians. Non-Christians. People who want what we all want - love and acceptance and the chance to find the one place that is and always will be home. Yeah. It's a cleaner version of the real world. No sex. No clothes ripped off. Nothing graphic or explicit. It is "a cup of hot cocoa" kind of book.

And in the quiet, with my migraine, I'm thinking that's fine.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

This One's for You, Nana

This is Willetta Ruth Pothier AKA Nana.

Nana married young, just a few months shy of completing her nursing education. She'd met and fallen in love with a dashing older man. He'd been married before and had two children. I'm sure it was quite scandalous.

When I was a kid, Nana lived in Massachusetts and my family lived in Maryland. We'd visit once or twice a year. She always seemed rather high brow and exotic to me, her old house in a Boston suburb so much cooler and more interesting then the cookie cutter 1970s house I shared with my parents and four siblings.
Even the story of her long absent father showing up on her doorstep enthralled me. Granddad had gone off to the Merchant Marines after his wife died. He'd left his two daughters with their grandmother. According to the stories, he reappeared in Nana's life many years later, and she took him in. He lived with Nana until he died.

When we'd visit, he'd either be sitting in an old leather recliner or on a bench under the grape arbor. He kept butterscotch candies in his pocket and offered them to us. He also chewed tobacco. Because of him, I know the exact function of a spittoon and can describe what it sounds like when a gob of tobacco lands in one.
I will spare you that, though.
Nana had secrets.
For as long as I can remember, I knew that.
Her husband died when her oldest son was sixteen. My father, the youngest of five, was eight and has no memories of his dad. There were pictures of William Pothier in Nana's photo albums. She'd let us look through the pictures, but she never said a word about the husband she'd lost.  
It didn't matter. I had a huge imagination, and I filled in the details that she wouldn't provide. In my mind, she and William had a love so deep and strong that Nana had barely survived losing him. I never put a word down on paper, but I created my first romance based on Willetta and William.
Years later, I found out the truth. William hadn't been a very nice man. He was harsh and probably abusive. I would say that Nana was more relieved than heartbroken when he died, but I'll never know the truth, because she would never say. She kept her thoughts to herself and raised her kids without piling her baggage onto them.
She was a great lady, my Nana.
She was also a writer.
Years before I was born, she sold a story to a magazine. I don't know what the story was or if anyone has a copy of it. I didn't even know she could write until I submitted STILL WATERS to Harlequin. My father, being the proud papa he is, told his family that I'd queried a publishing house and gotten a request for my book. Nana was thrilled. She'd already had a few mini strokes and her memory wasn't as good as it had once been, but she remembered my submission and asked every week if I had sold the book yet.
When I finally did, Nana was thrilled. She couldn't wait to get her hands on a copy.
As the years went by and her memory got worse and her health failed, Nana never ever forgot that I was a published author. Near the end, when her children could no longer care for her at home, she stayed in a nursing home. She brought copies of my books with her and told all the nurses that her granddaughter had written them. I've heard rumors that she even slept with them sometimes.
Six years ago, Nana passed away. The morning of her death, my husband found a beautiful mourning dove in our yard. It didn't fly away when he bent to pick it up. He carried it into the house and put it in a box. My kids and I spent the day with the dove. It didn't seem sick, but it never flew out of the box. It didn't struggle when I picked it up, either. It had the softest feathers and the most beautiful eyes. If my Nana had been a bird, she would have been one just like that.
That evening, my husband carried the box outside and the dove flew away.
You can say it means nothing, and you will probably be right, but there was something magical about that day, something altogether unexplainable about that beautiful mourning dove.
When I wrote The House on Main Street, I spent a lot of time thinking about family, about love, about the things that bind us together and the things that pull us apart. I thought of Nana and her husband and her old house and the porcelain pig that sat at the top of her stairs. I thought about her secrets and her dreams and the way that she loved her children...unconditionally and without reserve.
I thought about how we can be so caught up in the daily grind, so steeped in the ordinary that we miss the extraordinary.  
And the extraordinary really is all around us.
We just have to slow down long enough to see it.
Nana never said as much, but I'm pretty sure she knew it.
I wasn't asked to write a dedication for The House on Main Street, but if I had been, it would have read - This one is for you, Nana, because you have proven that an ordinary life can be an extraordinarily magical thing and because you understand the power of family and of love.