Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Simply Seven

S-E-V-E-N! It sounds so wonderful. Seven! It seemed magical to be seven. Seven is BIG! Seven meant second grade and learning more and more amazing things. Seven and Second Grade were ever so much better than Six and First Grade. Seven brought new forms of freedom never before even imagined. I had a book, "Now that We are Seven" and I just couldn't wait to read it. I turned 7 on a bright day in May of 1964 and promptly read that book. I can't tell you a thing about it, except it was white and the title was orange. But it was about being seven...and I finally WAS seven!

We lived in Clinton, Iowa when I was seven. I attended Longfellow Elementary School. Think of the school in the movie, "A Christmas Story" and you'll have an idea of what Longfellow was like. We had a Longfellow song that we sang with gusto. The school was old and established and had a history. Nothing pristine like most of the elementary schools are today. We walked those old halls surrounded by the spirits of generations who had gone before us.

Longfellow School
(picture from the internet...looks much nicer than I remember...they must have fixed it up)

My family lived across the street from the school. While walking home after school, many afternoons found me slowing down in front of a very special house. Mr. and Mrs. Witherspoon lived several houses down from us, and if I was lucky...Mr. Witherspoon would be sitting on his porch after school. I'd wave hello and he would ask if I could stop and visit for awhile. My mother had given me permission to visit with Mr. Witherspoon after school, so I knew it was okay. I would sit with the dear gentleman and tell him all the news of the day.

Who had been in trouble for disobeying the rules. How difficult some words were to remember to spell correctly. How truly hard it was to just know that 7+6=13 (still have to stop and think on that one...it gets me every time!).
Inevitably, our conversation would come around to Mr. Witherspoon's usual request. Would I like a cookie and some milk? Would I??? You bet! Errr, make that, "Yes, sir...thank you very much." We would go into the house, which was an amazing place. They had a mural of Paris, France on the wall, complete with the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower! Who had such things in the their living room besides Mr. and Mrs. Witherspoon? It was like being in a palace to me. I loved that room. I would sit politely on the couch in that amazing living room and wait for my treat, knowing that I would have to pay the piper. Before I received the cookie and milk, I would have to sing for Mr. Witherspoon. He always wanted me to sing, "My Blue Heaven" and I was always happy to comply. You know that song? It goes, "Just Molly and me, and baby makes three. We're happy in my blue heaven." Mr. Witherspoon would smile and act like I had given him the most amazing gift in the world.

The Library in Clinton was an amazing place. We had friends at church, Mr. and Mrs. Owen. He worked at the YMCA and she worked at the library. I loved our trips to the library. How delicious to see all those books! The anticipation of climbing those steps to go up into the building! How important it felt to not only know the librarian, but to also have her be my Sunday School teacher! My goodness, she was the only person I knew who carried a red Bible. I thought that having a red Bible must be the ultimate in glamour (people weren't cool in the mid-60s...or else it would have been way cool to have a red Bible).

Clinton Public Library
(also from the internet)

Clinton had a bus system. When I was 7, I was old enough to go with my brothers to town on the bus...without an adult! Rob was 12 and Terry was 10, and they were supposed to watch after me. Of course, they didnt' allow me to sit with them on the bus. I had to sit near the front and they would sit several rows behind me, but I didn't care. We were headed to town with our hoarded quarters and dimes. We would go to the Dime Store and behold the treasures that were there. Time was so lazy when I was 7. It seemed like we would be gone forever before it was time to catch the bus home. I might have bought some candy or a small toy. Whatever the treat of the day was...it was precious because of the adventure involved in obtaining it.

Another fond memory of Clinton is Eagle Point Park. There was a castle there and I loved playing in it, pretending that I was a Queen in the castle, just waiting for the Prince of my dreams to come along. It took him a long, long time to find me...but he finally did! He was worth the wait, thats for sure!

The Castle at Eagle Point Park, Clinton Iowa
(you guessed it...picture from the internet)

One last thing about Clinton that year. In the spring of 1965, the Mississippi River flooded. It was an angry, raging flood...the likes of which had never been seen. On April 28, 1965, the river crested at 28+ feet, the highest ever recorded. Schools and businesses were closed. We had to take a series of typhoid shots (ouch! not pleasant shots to take). My Sweet Daddy and brothers went down near the river to help fill sandbags. The thing I remember most about the whole situation is that there were reports of rats coming up out of the sewers into homes through the toilets. If my memory serves me, my Mother put the bathroom scales on the toilet lid at the house (the only bathroom in the house was on the 2nd floor) and I had to have her come with me when I needed to use the toilet. She would take the scales off and peer into the toilet before I could get on.

To this day, I don't sit on a toilet seat without first looking to make sure nothing is there. I don't know if I'm checking for rats, but I turn on the lights at night and check before I expose my bottom to whatever could be lurking there! Don't we carry funny things from childhood throughout our lives?

(picture courtesy of my beloved grandfather, Bobo
who took most of the pictures of my childhood)
Disclaimer....these stories are like historical fiction. They are based on the facts, as best I can recall from 46 years ago.
If I have told anything in error, that error is firmly planted in my brain and at this point the facts would only confuse me. I did look up data regarding the flood. It really was the BIG one!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Winds of Change

My idyllic childhood came to a screeching halt the year I was 6. Oh, not really, but it was a year fraught with change and not all of it was good change.

First grade was not nearly as fun as kindergarten. For one thing, you had to go all day long. Some of the things we had to learn were hard. Really hard. I had to give up my daily nap and that wasn’t my best deal, either.

Those little changes were nothing compared to some life shattering changes that were in store for me. The winds of change were howling at my door.

On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was shot and killed. They announced it at the end of the day. I remember feeling an overwhelming panic. My row was in the cloakroom, putting on our coats before dismissal when the announcement came. The look of horror on my teacher’s face was so frightening. Johnny, an annoying boy standing close to me said something like, “Good. Now he won’t be on the news all the time.” I smacked the boy and told him off. Even at the age of 6, I knew that this was a bad thing and that Johnny had said something insensitive and quite frankly, stupid. I understood the gravity of the situation all the more because the teacher didn’t say anything when I smacked little Johnny right in front of her. She simply put her hand on my shoulder and patted me, with tears running down her face.

I spent hours in front of the television set, watching all of the ceremony involved. I remember seeing John-John salute the coffin as it passed by. I cried and cried because that little boy’s daddy was dead. And if that could happen to his daddy, couldn’t it happen to mine?

That was probably the first time I ever really understood that the world is a dangerous place. Sure, I knew not to take candy from strangers. I knew to look both ways before crossing the street. I knew it wasn’t a good idea to touch the stove when it was turned on. I even knew it wasn’t very smart to continue whining when one or both of my parents told me to stop. But I don’t think I ever made the connection between those rules and the danger around me the way I did during that sad week we watched history unfold on that old black and white television.

After Christmas that year, my family settled in for a long winter in northeastern Iowa. It was a cold and blustery winter. In February of 1964, my mother had her last child…my little sister, Linda. Within 2 weeks, the blowing winds brought my older cousin (she was 16), Pat, to live with us as well. Pat was a troubled teen and my parents were doing their best to try to help her.

Take one 6 year old Mollianne whose Daddy was the center of the universe, who knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that SHE was her Sweet Daddy’s girl and add not only a baby sister but also a manipulative, troubled teenage cousin and my world was rocked off course. Pat and Linda shared the room that had been mine. I was moved to my own space, a dressing room down the hall. Where our life had been somewhat calm as a family of 5, we were all of the sudden a family of 7. This was the days before mini-vans. We didn’t even have to wear our seat belts. Before March was over, I had been left at the church after Sunday Worship, standing out in the cold…wondering if they would come back and get me. There were so many kids in the car, it was probably easy to miss one small girl. They did come back to get me once they realized I was missing.

At some point during all of this, I did a very naughty thing. I recall very deliberately getting a ball point pen and marching up the stairs and scratching my name, Mollianne Buster, into the woodwork of the door frame of my old door. That was very destructive and I was punished for that defiant act of marking my space…as I ought to have been. Nothing excuses being destructive. Especially in a rented parsonage.

My cousin was getting more and more out of hand and I imagine I was being naughtier and naughtier. When school was out, my Mother did the best thing she knew to do for me. I went to spend the summer with my grandmother, my precious Neenie. Of course, when they all left and I was sitting on the porch steps, I was certain that they were leaving me with Neenie because they simply didn’t want me anymore…just like my cousin, Pat, had viciously said.

Years later, I understood that they left me with Neenie because it was a safe place where I would get plenty of attention and nurturing. My Mother had her hands full with all those other children. I imagine she thought she was in danger of me turning into a rebellious hellion. That summer at Neenie’s was one of the most delightful I have ever spent. I spent hours with my great-grandmother, Bigmama. I went to Vacation Bible School at the church where my Grandfather, Bobo, was the pastor. I went for ‘ladies lunch’ at Aunt Ruth’s house, where you always had a present at your plate. I made new friends with some of the children in town and had plenty of playmates. I got to go with my Neenie to a statewide Missions event and watch her give a program to what seemed like a million ladies. I even got to talk to my Mother and Sweet Daddy long distance on the telephone.

At the end of the visit, I went home feeling very loved and very secure in my place in the family. Not long after I returned, Pat left. I’m not at all certain that I ever saw her again. I’m afraid her path took her away from everyone who loved or cared about her. She is a sorrowful memory for most everyone in our family.

Mollianne and Linda

The winds of change blew through our family in 1963-1964. In the same way that our nation lost some innocence, so did out little family…at least in my mind’s eye. The nation suffered tragedy and loss and so did my family. We were never the same again…dynamics changed, all of us were older and perhaps wiser, and by the end of the year we had once again settled in for another cold Iowa winter. We were warm and as secure as you can be in our house on 19th Place.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Two Gifts

I have in my jewelry box a most prized possession. Actually, that box holds several items that have deep meaning to me. But the one I’m thinking of today was given to me in an old medicine bottle, that had been kept in a drawer by my Mother for safekeeping until someday arrived.

It is a child’s dress-up watch. You remember the kind that had a thin, black elastic band and a ‘gold’ plastic watch with hands eternally stuck at 5:00 o’clock? Nothing like the watches made for children today, that watch from yesteryear was made to look like an adult’s watch.

The watch itself looks rough. It is smashed. The elastic is rotted with age. But it is as precious to me as the diamonds and emeralds that also reside in my jewelry box.

You see, that watch is the earliest gift I have from My Sweet Daddy. I don’t even recall getting it the first time. My Mother tells me that he brought it back from some trip when I was just a toddler. She said that I put in on and refused to take it off of me. I would hold up my little hand and ask, “What time is it on The Watch My Sweet Daddy Gave Me?” For weeks and weeks, that watch was on my wrist. I slept in it, played it in, bathed in it and insisted that people tell me the time on The Watch My Sweet Daddy Gave Me until it was tattered and ragged.

My Mother took it off of me one afternoon while I napped. I immediately noticed the missing watch and ran to her, desperate to know what happened to The Watch My Sweet Daddy Gave Me. Through my grief and tears she promised me that she had put it somewhere safe and thatsomeday, when I was big enough, she would give it to me as a keepsake.

I’m sure I had no idea what a keepsake might be, and I’m also fairly certain I was doubtful that I’d ever see it again. But I must have gotten over it, for as many memories of toddler years do, the memory of the beloved watch faded until it was forgotten.

When my 19th birthday came around, I was engaged to be married and my parents gave me a watch that looked very nice with my engagement ring. That watch, by the way, is also in my jewelry box among the treasures there.

Along with that lovely, white gold watch was an old medicine bottle. In that bottle was The Watch My Sweet Daddy Gave Me. Mother told me the story and made good on her promise that I would get it again, someday, when I was big enough. I guess 19 is big enough.

For 34 years, I have treasured that old, play watch. When My Sweet Daddy had a heart attack, I took it out and held it in my hand as I prayed so fervently for him and for a recovery to good health. When my marriage was falling to pieces, I pulled that watch out, clutched it to my heart and prayed for strength, courage and grace. In every crisis of my adult life, My Sweet Daddy has been a rock for me. That watch was more than something I could hold in my hand. It is a remembrance of one of my greatest earthly blessings, My Sweet Daddy.

The true blessing of The Watch My Sweet Daddy Gave Me is more than just a pretend watch that doesn't even tell time. The blessing is My own Sweet Daddy who is a godly man. A Daddy who showed me the way to The Father and who has loved me unconditionally and unabashedly for my entire life. The true blessing and the best gifts he has given me are not things I can hold in my hand, but rather the treasures I have heaped high in my heart.

My Sweet Daddy isn’t a young man any longer. I recently had the amazing opportunity of seeing him in the pulpit at the church he served when I was a teenage girl. He was helping in the funeral service for one of his very dearest friends.

Here is the second gift. As I sat in the congregation of that sanctuary, in that church, in that town, I saw him step up on the platform and up into that pulpit. It felt to me that the earth had moved. For a split second, I saw him not as an aging man, but as a man in his prime. I saw that handsome man who walked with such purpose in his stride. Tall. Strong. Full of energy. The man with such a strong voice and message. The man who had been the center of my world for my entire childhood. When he spoke, that vision of my Sweet Daddy as he had been vanished. I heard a voice that is a bit weaker now. I saw in his gestures hands that are gnarled with arthritis. His hair is not so dark as it once was and he is stooped a bit.

The message of hope in Christ, however, was not diminished. The ability to offer comfort to a grieving family was still there. The very essence of My Sweet Daddy is firm and strong, even if his body is not.

The gift that day? Not a watch. Not even really a gift from My Sweet Daddy. The gift that day was a gift from The Father. A gift that took me back in time to see once more My Sweet Daddy in that pulpit, in that sanctuary, in that church and in that town. Back in a place that means so much to me. Back to a time that meant so much to me. For that gift, I am very thankful.

For My Sweet Daddy, I am extremely thankful. For a life that pointed me to God. For his love. For the remarkable Mother he provided me in his beautiful wife. For his humor. For his intellect. For his easy smile and gentle laugh. For his arms that protected me from many imagined dangers throughout my childhood. For the hands that held mine as he gave me in marriage as a young woman. For the shoulder that I cried on when that marriage failed. For his lovely blessings upon my family as it changed and grew. For the respect and admiration he and my Rocket Man share. For being such an amazing Papa to my children and grandchildren. For teaching me, by his example, how to live a godly and good life. For all these gifts and many more…I am eternally grateful.

I love you, My Sweet Daddy.

Happy Father’s Day!


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My Sweet Daddy Did So Ride on the Pony Express!

My Sweet Daddy and me
Winter, 1963

I had an idyllic early childhood. I had no idea that we were poor, but I have come to know that we probably were. My every need was provided and I felt safe and secure in the love of my parents, my family and the people in our church. I remember watching Captain Kangaroo with my mother in the mornings after the boys went to school and I remember my Sweet Daddy rocking me to sleep after lunch for my nap. My Mother read Shakespeare’s sonnets to me, and introduced me to many other poets and authors who remain my friends to this day. We spent our days together with me following her around as she cooked and cleaned and waited for the best moment of the entire day...the moment My Sweet Daddy's car pulled into the drive and he was home! (Do I need to tell you that I'm the self-proclaimed Queen of Daddy's Girls?)

One memory that stands out, though, happened in Kindergarten. Actually, there are several distinct memories from that year. My Mother miscarried a baby 2 days before Christmas and that was very sad. A very sweet memory is that my grandparents, Neenie and Bobo, came and celebrated my birthday with us and came to my class with a cake and goody bags for everyone. There was a shiny, brand new dime in the bottom of each bag. My Bobo did that, I'm sure. He was always giving me dimes. That was long before goody bags were a normal occurrence. It was a stinking big deal at the end of the year…the only such party complete with grandparents that happened in kindergarten. We didn't say such things then, but that totally rocked!

The other memory is a bittersweet one. It happened as we were starting the big celebration of ‘The First Thanksgiving’. I went to kindergarten in the early 60s and it was the first group learning experience, aside from Sunday School, that any of us had ever had. Nobody had been to preschool or daycare or Mother’s Morning Out. This was the first time we had ever made pilgrim hats or turkeys from our hand outline. This was big-time very important stuff we were learning.

When Mrs. Clark called the class to circle and began to tell us that we were going to be learning about the Pilgrims and the Indians and the First Thanksgiving, I raised my little hand and said, “I know all about that, Mrs. Clark! My Sweet Daddy was there!!”

You can imagine how Mrs. Clark reacted. She assured me that My Sweet Daddy could not have possibly been there. This is the point where I got hysterical and they had to call my Mother to come and get me. I was sobbing, beyond comfort. My teacher was the seat of all authority in the whole universe. My Sweet Daddy was the center of my very existence! What was a 5 year old to do with such contradictions?

I should backtrack and tell you that My Sweet Daddy (remember, the one who wanted a baby girl to name Mollianne?) was a History major in college. I followed in his footsteps somewhat with a minor in History, but I studied European History where he studied American History. Daddy is also quite a storyteller. He used to tell me story after story. Like “When George Washington and I cut down the Cherry Tree” and “When Abe Lincoln and I split rails” and my personal favorite, “How I escaped the Alamo after Davy Crockett was killed”. Of course, you may have already figured out that two of the stories I cut my teeth on were, “How I helped Miles Standish cross the Atlantic on the Mayflower” and “When Squanto taught me to plant corn in Plymouth.”

I really thought I knew all about it because my Sweet Daddy had been there. And he told me ALL about it! The cold winter. Plymouth Rock. The starvation. The danger of the New World. The gratitude for harvest. I was always spellbound when he told those stories. I knew every one of them, practically word for word. My mother explained to Mrs. Clark how I might have come to believe that My Sweet Daddy was present for the First Thanksgiving. That night, My Sweet Daddy took me in his arms and comforted me and told me that those were just stories. “Sweet Daddy, you didn’t really help Johnny Appleseed plant trees?” “No, Mollianne, it was just a story.” That took me awhile to digest, I’m sure.

I’m quite certain that my parents were amazed that I believed those stories to be gospel truth. My Sweet Daddy was just passing the time and teaching us a little American History. The boys knew that. Little Mollianne did not. From My Sweet Daddy’s mouth to God’s Ear, you know?!

I never believed in Santa Claus (that is one story I never heard at home…and that is a blog post for another day), but I imagine that at the tender age of 5 when I learned that My Sweet Daddy didn’t really celebrate the First Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims and Indians or ride the Pony Express I shared some of the same emotions as children who learn that Santa doesn’t really bring their presents.

From that day on, I was a bit wiser…but I’m not sure I was ever a happier Mollianne than the little girl who just knew that her Sweet Daddy went west with Lewis and Clark to explore the Pacific Northwest. The one thing I do know for sure and have known all my life, stories or not, my Sweet Daddy is and always has been my hero. He is constant and strong and brave and true and loyal and he loves me with an absolute unconditional love.

An idyllic childhood...yes, I think I had one. I was safe, loved and protected. And I had a Sweet Daddy who could always pull out a story to pass the time. I can't think of anything better! Can you?


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Chapter One, I am Born

Well... actually... according to family lore, I was never born.

At least, according to a story I told my Bigmama when I was a small child. Bigmama was my great-grandmother and we were grand friends. She called me her ‘little honey’ and I slept with her when we went to visit my grandparents.

Bigmama, it seems, was telling me something about when I was born. I looked at her amazed and declared, “Bigmama! I wasn’t ever born!”

“Well, young lady…how do you think it is that you got here?”

My story went like this:

I was an angel in heaven and lost my wings. I tumbled and fell all the way to the earth, to a street corner in Louisville, Kentucky. I was standing there all by myself, singing “The Church in the Wildwood” when my Mother and Sweet Daddy walked by. They saw me there, all alone, and asked if I’d like to come live with them and their two boys. They liked the way I was singing and they told me that they needed a little girl, and were hoping for an Angel. My name would be Mollianne. I decided that would suit me just fine, since I couldn’t get back to heaven. So they took me home and I’ve been Mollianne and in the family ever since!

Bigmama was so amused that she told everyone and that has been the legend of how I came to be Mollianne and part of the family ever since.

A more mundane account is that I was born on May 20, 1957 during the 3 a.m. hour at the Baptist Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky to Bobbie and Charlotte Buster. Bobbie was finishing his first year of seminary and had a Greek Exam later that day. He studied through the night and he aced the exam. I must have been a good thing for him from the very start! He certainly set a high academic standard for me from the get-go!

I am named for my Sweet Daddy’s grandmother, Mollie, who by all accounts was a very good, longsuffering and kind woman. I feel very honored to have such a legacy to live up to. Since Mollianne is such a long name, my parents felt that I didn’t need a middle name. It was already included. Daddy wanted to name their second child Mollianne, but since that child was a boy, they chose something else. I’ve been told all my life that I’m lucky to have been a girl, because my name was going to be Mollianne no matter what! I have always thought it was a lovely name, and quite frankly…I think it suits me.

Back to my childhood version of how I came to walk the earth! In retrospect, it wasn’t all that off. Not in my understanding of the world around me. You see, my Mother used to call me her ‘Little Angel”on a regular basis. I suppose I have known for as long as I have been cognizant of the world around me that my Sweet Daddy wanted a little girl to name Mollianne. I cut my teeth on that truth. I knew that I entered the family when they lived in Louisville, Kentucky. As for the song I was singing, “The Church in the Wildwood” was on a Tennessee Ernie Ford recording that my Grandparents played for me and I loved that song. My favorite children’s book was “The Littlest Angel” so why not portray myself as an angel?

Rocket Man and Mollianne

Fast forward four decades to a couple sitting on a couch. Their relationship is brand new and very tender. Both have been hurt terribly in their previous marriages which are now defunct and each carry carefully guarded wounds and scar tissue. He looks at her and whispers, “Are you an angel?” The answer? With a big grin and in all seriousness, “Well, as a matter of fact…I am! You see…I was an angel in heaven and lost my wings. I tumbled and fell all the way to the earth, to a street corner in Louisville, Kentucky….”

That Rocket Man had been looking for an angel for a long, long time. My earnest prayer is that he has found exactly that. This Angel begin to experience healing and grace that evening from a man who recognized exactly who I was and how I got here! In fact, when he whispered that question, “Are you an angel?” a part of me that I thought was long dead was reborn.

(The angel above is from a book written and illustrated by a former co-worker, Marty Bibee, titled, “Sister Mary Mollianne’s Gift” and she claims that the inspiration for the character Sister Mary Mollianne (who is an angel) was inspired by me. When my grandsons saw the picture on the front, they exclaimed, "Grandmother...its you!" It was one of the most awesome and humbling gifts I have ever received.)


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Laundry is NOT For Sale!

As life "marches on" there are moments when of every emotion. Today was a stellar day, a chuckle moment.

I do love hanging clean clothes outside to dry. I have two very sturdy and fine wooden racks to hang clothes outside, and I hang shirts and skirts on coat hangers on the car port gutter. They flutter in the breeze and I have to admit, give me satisfaction.

This particular morning, I was putting my "undies" [as Mama said] out to dry and an unfamiliar van pulled in the driveway. The lady who got out with a "Good Morning" was a total stranger to me.

I smiled and said, "Beautiful Day!"

She was very happy and came toward me with, " Are these racks as well as the clothes for sale too?"

I just dropped my jaw with real surprise I said, "Goodness, these are my clean clothes--and no ma'm! They are NOT for sale!"

Believe me, she was not only shocked, she was also embarrassed and I just had to laugh.

I am very proud of those racks, and they would not be for sale at all. Not ever! There are no others like them that I have ever seen. I have two daughters who would like them...and they aren't getting them any time soon, I hope.

I will continue hanging out my laundry. My sheets and blankets and table cloths on the neighbor's clothes line, the rest on the racks or the gutter but note this---


Now, I was not in a good mood that morning. I was mourning the death of a good friend and I was not rejoicing in the very real joy of her Home Going. So, Our Father put a smile in my way to teach me that everything and everyday has something that will cheer and something that makes a chuckle.

Thank God for Chuckes!!!

Would you believe----that another couple come up to "buy" my stuff...

BUT…this time, it was really good. Jack and his wife! Jack and I went through high school together, and I have not seen them lately. It was a good visit.

I told them I am sorry that nothing I have is for sale right now. The sale is one block down and I was sorry they had a false stop.

Jack said, " I'm glad we stopped. It would not have been so much fun!"

What a Day!!!!!!!

Image: iStock photo/Mike Flippo Photography via. Bing.com