The Next Best Thing

It was the luck of the draw if you will.  An oblong piece of paper, stiff, printed with computerized letters and numbers.  One letter larger than the others, a capital A.  One number smaller, leading me to a seat next to a window where I could see clouds of fluffy cotton candy high in the sky.  Floating by.

Beforehand, while waiting to catch a plane, I noticed her.  A young girl-woman excited to take a new adventure.  Her face was fresh and pretty, scrubbed clean and framed by long, strawberry blonde hair.  Straight, it was held back by a headband of leather.  She seemed perfectly comfortable alone, as if already a veteran traveler at a relatively young age.

Settling into my seat, I stuffed magazines into the back of the one in front of me.  All the while, people tall and short with kids of little, plus parents holding babies passed by, single file.  My head popped up from reading.  Smiles my way, a nod of a head or eyes straight ahead every few seconds…Or once in a while.

Then a backpack of black trimmed in royal blue plopped down next to me.  Jammed and filled to the brim.  Pockets with side zippers nearly split open.  Papers peeking out together with brochures depicting colored pictures of a world I had never seen before.  Clutched in a hand of right, a plush walrus, soft and cocoa colored with warm, comforting dark eyes and a fuzzy, tickling mouth.  A good-luck charm?

“Hi,” she said, enthusiastically!

How lucky was I?  It was the girl I had noticed in the airport waiting area.  The girl-woman surely about to take an adventure.  Although much younger, I sensed she was about to teach me…. Life Lessons.  Closing my book, I welcomed her, ready to absorb whatever she had to say.

Turns out Becca was a member of her high school Rotary Club together with a group of several students boarding other flights that day.  Each had been assigned to live with host families for the next nine months.  It was part of their high school education of which they were expected to journal, in addition to keeping up with all of their regular studies.  Becca was beginning the first leg of her journey to Thailand, where she was scheduled to meet one of three host families who she would live with for nearly a year.

Tossed over an empty seat between us, Becca’s jacket rested over her backpack.  Covering nearly every inch of the front were pins collected from countries around the world.  She proudly showed me many of them, gingerly rubbing her fingers over her favorite, a pair of smooth, cream-colored wooden shoes from Holland.  They were brightly hand-painted with tiny wind mills, surrounded by colorful tulips sprouting at the tips of the toes.

During the whole rest of the flight, Becca thumbed through page after page of what was to be her lifeline, a paperback book on the topic of Thailand.  Several sticky notes stuck to the beginning of chapters, marking the importance of black and white words written inside.  Where to go, what to see and do, political correctness together with the vast, endless beauty of a country never seen before.

Vibrant pictures of color were captured within Becca’s book.  People and places, food, culture and language, dress, customs, transportation and tradition together with life.  It was fascinating to me.  Even more so, was the thought of this young girl-woman off to another side of the world for nearly a year.

Becca taught me a lot in that short ride on the inside of two wings.  Beside all of the facts about Thailand, I learned about Becca, the person.  How very different life was for her than when I was a teen! Thrilling were her opportunities!  To see the world, to learn and grow like most would never know.

The best thing about meeting Becca was getting to know her personality.  So down to earth she was.  No airs about her.  She appreciated all gifts in life and looked forward to giving back.  I had a feeling that whatever she learned or received from the people of Thailand, they too were about to be given life lessons never imagined.

Most of the Thai people probably would never make it to America, but they would see it through Becca’s eyes.  Soon, many of them, families of young and old would take an imaginary trip across a great ocean of blue to stare wide-eyed at our Statue of Liberty where they would be welcomed too.

The world around us.  So much to see and do even if only through paper pages of a book.  Read one today.  Touch the vibrancy of spectacular colored pictures to imagine that you’re traveling all around the world.

It’s the next best thing.







Off Tips of Shiny Silver Wings

Off on vacation, I am.  Sounds of humming engines vibrate below covered feet.  Whooshing air blows cool and quietly past ears to the left and to my right.   Unaware, those around me sleep fitfully with eyes partially closed. Irises of blue, green or brown, some speckled with golden flecks peek from bodies twisting this way or that in an effort to get comfortable in nearly impossible positions.   Hmmm…I’m looking at rows and rows of ‘pretzels’ poured from cellophane bags.  Twisted arms, legs, and feet sticking every which way, their cushions nearly too small to hold them all.

Here I am, sitting huddled in an assigned seating space near the bubble of a plastic window shade.  Raising it with the left of my hand, morning light floods the cabin with a brilliance never quite seen before.  Shades of golden yellow, coral, orange, and cotton white nearly blind me with the beauty of a magnificent sunrise painted against billowing clouds of smoky blue.

How sad for the salted “pretzels” around me who shall miss this magic in the sky!  I want to shake them, wake them from their slumber.  Suddenly from the Flight Attendant’s microphone an announcement is made.  “Hurry, look to the East.  Wonderment is awaiting you.” Ahhh, my imagination is playing tricks on me once again….

Then, I stop to sigh.  Perhaps this “Here and Now” moment is for me alone to embrace, to tuck within my heart or to lock away in a trunk of forever memories?  Yes, my bubble window space has been a quiet blessing during this unexpected dawn of spectacular seconds for this day to stow away.

Sparkling rays of brilliant sun point towards Heaven off tips of shiny silver wings.  Look beyond to see and hear what angels do……



There’s No Place Like Home

I was on the 5:45 last night.  Yes, sitting on a silver jet plane flying from Phoenix to St. Louis.  Beheld below was the setting golden sun among a massive crystal clear sky.  An orange fireball, surely sent by God Himself was there to say, “Good-by” to me.  Twinkling lights, a million or more reminded me of Christmas past, or maybe one in the future to come.  The sky was a lovely dusty blue with waves of muted grey clouds swimming slightly above shaped like shark fins.  I gazed at the beauty through my diminutive “port-hole” window site.

Closing my weary eyes to remember what I was leaving behind, I thought of my temporary desert home: of my “other” family, my mother’s house and the gift of my father.  Reaching for a Kleenex a single tear drop fell.  “Good-by,” is hard, you know.  Still, I looked forward to getting home where my grown children were surly cozy and warm.  I’d see my boys again, my “Gracie-Girl,” my “Doodle” dog, and the new snow on the ground.  How different it will be for me.  Am I prepared for it?  Only time will tell.

This morning I sit in my cracked and torn leather swivel chair.   I’m writing at my old familiar keyboard, the one with some of the painted letters worn and missing.   I must say, it feels a bit strange to me.   My fingers aren’t quite here.  They need to pick up the pace.  The rhythm is missing.  My hands feel clumsy and not “quite right.”

On the top of my half-moon desk I see nothing but a great big mess!  The mail is piled sky-high with un-opened glittering Christmas cards.  They arrived after I’d gone.  Over-due bills sit in a rattan corner basket with “junk-mail” not far behind.  I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with all there is to do.  My suitcases are un-packed; laundry will be next, piled to the painted ceiling, and there’s cleaning to do.  I can’t even think of it all.  Then, there’s my work; writing deadlines make me shudder to think of them!

I’ve got to “catch-up.”  Before I forget, I will tell you the temperature when I departed the plane was a shock to me.  18 degrees the thermometer read.   Yes, I’ve left the warm desert far, far behind for the freezing Midwest.

Still, there’s no place like home……..

Dorothy's Ruby Red Slippers from 'The Wizard of Oz

Arizona Memories

Last night we looked for a Mexican restaurant nearby for dinner.  I hardly had an appetite.  Most of yesterday, I spent packing for today, when I get on that great big jet plane to fly home to my St. Louis town.  I had already said “Good-Bye,” to friends and a brother by phone.

Earlier in the day, I left my guest house to amble down a familiar path around the desert in the afternoon.  Jumping dogs on chain-link fences howled as I passed by.  Along the dusty, gravelled road, I waved to them for one last time.  Ahead, a tall saguaro looked down quietly from the rose and slate blue sky.  It didn’t say a word to me.  The crisp, dry air was silent.  Still, a message was whispered to me…..

Today I’ll call my Great-Aunt who lives about an hour away.  One last hug and kiss over the phone from my father’s home.  Later, I’ll squeeze my second brother tighter, thanking him for playing board games with me.  When it comes to my father, how do I say the words I feel?  I’m not sure they’ll be there when we must part.  He’ll drive me to the airport pulling to the curb.  I won’t let him park.  He’ll help me with my bags, our eyes will well with tears.  We’ll hug, I’ll kiss him on his rosy cheek before skipping away without looking back.  It’s too hard in fact.

So last night we headed off to the Mexican restaurant to have “our last supper.”  My spirits were low, how could they be not?  We pulled into the parking lot.  Like a western movie reel, there it was.  We pointed and did a double-take!  I laughed out loud, jumping from the car.  A saddled horse with a bridle and spurs was next to cars in the parking lot!  A beautiful horse with his reigns tied to a tree!  It was a sight no one would see in any other state.

That was my last Arizona evening sight.  It was perfect you know.  It’s in my pocket now, next to my boarding pass.

And the memories I shall never let go……………

“It’s a…….”

On this last day of the year I’m far from my St. Louis home still in the dry desert here.  It’s black as Santa’s coal out my guest bedroom window here.  When I open it to breathe in the fresh air “SWOOSH” it feels as cold as his North Pole.

Stretching my neck to free nightly pillow kinks, I cock my head this way or that.  If I slip out the window a tall Saguaro cactus will surely catch me, OUCH!  I see a prickly tumbleweed ball blowing down the dark dusty street, and hear the haunting howl of a lone coyote near the rocky mountain base. God’s country.

What a year we’ve all had.  Children have grown, others have wed, babies were born, some became sick, and a few have left the nest.  Back in St. Louis…… my heart melted when a wee hand clasped mine to say a simple seven letter word in her sweet voice aloud, “Grandma.”

While I’ve been here a “present” arrived.   It was a surprise.  A square white box with a pink printed sticker from a bakery, no less!  My cell phone rang.   It was my son.  “Face-Time” it said.  The small colored screen suddenly came “alive.”  There he was with my daughter-in-law, too.  Something was “different” this time.  Something in their eyes, in their secret, silly smiles.

My son told me to, “Grab a kitchen knife, to open the box.”  I did what he said.  Inside was a beautiful cream-colored frosted cake with pink and blue polka dots.  On the top it read, “It’s a …………..”

With much anticipation I sliced into the lovely decorated cake to see what “color” the cooked batter might be.  While my son and his dear wife looked on from states far away (thanks to technology), they saw my reaction in “real” time.  There it was.  Inside the frosting, a moist cake of baby blue!  I was overwhelmed.  I cried a tear or two.  I’m “expecting” my first grand-son sometime next May.  What a “New Year” for me to look forward to!!

Happy New Year to You, Be Healthy the Whole Year Through, and May All Your Dreams Come True.

Where Santa Claus Lives

I was thinking about my babies this morning, my babies now grown.  Often I wonder if I’m an anomaly or if other mothers think like I do?  Mothers who see their grown children’s mirrored images appear as they once were?

It’s the season that brought these particular memories to me today.  My boys will be coming over in a few short days, five to be exact.  Sunday is coming soon!  We’re celebrating Christmas early this year, the first since my “babies” were born.  We’ll gather in the “‘Christmas Room,” to unwrap gilded presents of colored crinkled paper, search for personalized stockings hung from the mantle, and delight in the sweet awe of our little “Gracie-Girl.” Her busy morning will be torn between bright, musical instruments to play,and pushing new baby. Strolling her away.

Knowing I’m off and away only a few days later, I can hardly catch my breath.  I’ll be leaving on a jet plane.  Pushed and shoved until I take my seat by the window where shades of pink and aqua sun shall rise.  Morning coffee will be served while l tap numbers on my cell phone, leaving torn “Good-by”‘ messages.  I will miss them so.  Then, I’ll close my eyes to dream of my former home far away in the desert. My father will be waiting for me to arrive.  Christmas will soon be there too.  God’s reason for the season.  There will be church to attend, candles to light, carols to sing, and my father’s birthday to celebrate.

Arizona has many memories of my “baby boys” for me.  Jayson, was only eight months old when I held him on my lap flying to a new home.   We boarded a plane in Michigan headed for a land he didn’t know. Less than three years later, Justin was born in the same saguaro sand.  When Christmas came around, I used to long for snow in the bitter cold and a breath I could see.  I’d bundle my babes in puffed jackets and mittens where soon we’d visit light displays in all of the city.

Looking back, perhaps it was because Arizona didn’t have snow that neighborhoods compensated with lights all aglow?  When I think of it now, it reminds me a bit of the movie “Christmas Vacation,” albeit in a good way.  Each house slowly passed became more decorative in their displays, until finally at the end of one cul-de-sac, cars completely came to a halt.  Mothers with children milled about, fathers tossed a football around, and even Santa himself appeared with striped candy canes for kids who stood in line.  I looked about.  Was there a ticket to be bought?

The night was young and relatively warm.  I turned off the ignition of my 1980’s car.  My babies were unstrained, their eyes wide with wonder.  A ferrris-wheel of teddy-bears twinkled in the night and Rudolph and all his reindeer danced and pranced away.  Nearby, a golden, glowing gingerbread house was lit from the inside-out, while Grandma served cookies from one of her windows there.  My tiny-tots took their turns sliding down a holiday blinking silver slide.  They drank watered-down cocoa from green snowflake cups using a thin red paper straw.  Tossing my long sticky hair sticky (I did not care), they slurped and dribbled  striped candy canes while sharing them upon my lap.

Soon it was over, seemingly almost before it ever began.  Before tucking angels into bed, I sponged delicate wings, told a tale or two and kissed golden halos above sweet locks.  Story book covers were tucked under chins, sweet dreams across rose colored lips.  “Mama, we saw where Santa Claus lives,” my two-year old said, scrunching his pillow between the crook of his arms.  “Yes, I think you’re right Sweetheart, that must be it.” With that I closed their door, a gentle smile across my face.  It had been one of those perfect unplanned nights. For my two babes, and even for me, I believed in the magic of Santa Clause that night.

That’s the memory I’ll hold dear in my heart when I’m that plane next week.   The memory of my “babies” long ago, Christmas lights and a magic place where Santa Claus lives.

Our Christmas light display

Double Celebation

It seems the holiday train has already left the station and is moving fast upon its tracks.  If I listen very closely, I can hear the whistle blow softly in the distance.  Lofty, grey steam swirls up toward heaven, rising from the engine’s shiny red smokestack.  There is no stopping it now, so I must hop aboard.  I will decorate our tree today with dancing antique ornaments and loose white popcorn on a string.  Assorted needlepoint stockings in red, blue and green, will hang from the fireplace mantel.  Drooping from above will be twisted evergreen boughs going every which way.  Their scent will soon fill my rooms with the freshest bouquet, reminding me of my home town in Michigan near the bay.