Party Favors

Christening each visit to my parents' house, my Mom places a bag of party favors on "my bed." If you know Mama Kitty Ann, you understand that life as her daughter is one big, crazy party! Though when the party ends for a brief respite, she embodies thoughtfulness. Her brilliant ADHD-brain bounces from one topic to another, but mid-air her simultaneous train of thought is how to make her family happy and aware of her love. My party favors from the last trip were bulging out of an old Bath & Body Works bag:

~ The Lasting Joy: The National Library of Poetry - a book of poetry contest winners from Papaw's bookshelf.
~ Paperback children's books: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett, Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco, and The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant. Encouragement from Mama's faith - God will give me children, He's just taking His time.
~ A brown and turquoise Indian-inspired journal with brown ribbon to tie my secrets shut.
~ A pastry blender - I needed one!
~ Burt's Bees light tinted facial moisturizer - she didn't quite like it, but I do.
~ A bar of Pre de Provence ginger spice soap.
~ Papaw's Aramis cologne.
~ Nina's notebook.

Nina's notebook is a small 6-ring binder containing two chapters, the black cover barely cracking. Chapter 1 is her book-reading list from 1990 to 1997. Chapter 2 is a variety of lists: her cholesterol levels, oil change records, doctor's appointments, gasoline prices, hair appointments, teeth cleanings, AAA payments, and magazine clippings of ideal cholesterol levels. The notebook smells precisely of her last apartment in Houston. Eyes shut, I stick my face into the lined pages. In less than a second I walk into her bedroom. She is lying (laying? She was an English teacher!) flat reading a paperback from her list, listening to talk radio, or watching the Dallas Cowboys. I see her furniture, the candy in a crystal dish, her little kitchen with 100% bran cereal in the pantry. My eyes fill with thankful tears. When I'm alone in our apartment and conjure a memory, I often say aloud, "I love you, Nina." I'm not certain of the theological implications in doing so, or if God allows her to hear me. But I do know she is with Him - and hopefully reunited with Papaw, Memaw, and Nana as well as befriending Johnny's Dad, Kierstin's Dad, our friend Kristen, Johnny and June Carter Cash, Flannery O'Connor, and Mother Teresa. I like to think they all occupy the same space while worshipping Jesus.

Nina's book list is impressive and comical. She read a book every 1-2 days! Next to The 27th Wife by Irving Wallace (finshed reading on June 9, 1996) she wrote, "bo-o-o-ring." Thankfully Guilty by Association by Susan R. Sloan (January 25, 1996) was better - next to it she wrote "good" underlined twice. It is funny because I keep my own book lists, but not in a charming notebook. Mine are found in a modern Clie palm pilot, but since my handy device is aging, I have contemplated reverting back to a classy hand-written daily planner. The Clie was a gift from Johnny and I love it as is evident by its worn-out appearance. But my handwriting sucks due to neglect, and as much as I love typing on this iBook, I don't want to be too modern. Plus, I do not use the Clie properly; I've synched it to my laptop only twice so it is more of an electronic notebook. Perhaps I will transfer my book lists to the Indian journal and start anew. I'd rather like Genevieve and Calvin's kids to stick their faces in my notebooks and smell lavender, vanilla, amber, or incense; read book/CD/movie lists and Whole Foods shopping lists.

I love how Mama passes on family heirlooms. After the funeral, she gave an early 1900's coin buried in Papaw's wallet to my brother who grinned while placing the coin into his own masculine wallet. She made sure I took several of Papaw's bolo ties hanging symmetrically on his bedroom wall, and one of his Texas Association of Hospital Auxiliaries Volunteer Service medals showing he worked at least 250 hours (he owned several such medals stored in his chest of drawers). When my father-in-law passed away, she encouraged Johnny to keep a country-style bowl trimmed with bluebonnets for popcorn feasts while telling our kids about their grandfather.

I now have focused writing goals: essays, books, and short stories honoring my family. I will try to live up to my Mom's party favor bag legacy, but my gifts will include the written word. I want my kids to know their ancestors' stories which I never tire of hearing. I want them to know about pretty, young Marguerite who gave my Mom life and did what she thought best for her daughter (and gave me fun, crazy aunts Denise, Amy, and Nancy). I want them to know how Theresa Lee Carter adopted my Mama and patiently loved her when the party began early. I always knew my Mom was adopted, but as Nina rubbed my back 100 strokes with elegant nails until I fell asleep, I never doubted she was my grandmother or that she loved my Mom. I loved Nina fiercely up 'til the last nursing home days when I took her Jack in the Box chocolate milkshakes, read to her from the Bible or Billy Graham's Angels, brushed her curly hair, and wheelchaired her out into the sunshine.

Since a fantastic poet reads my blog, I am hesitant to share my very first horrid poem I wrote in 1998 - the year after Nina died. I always loved to write, and I'm drawn to poetry, but I never understood poetry. I wrote the following poem for an HCC writing class which scared me witless as I had to share my work! The class was kind, and the professor was fairly kind. Clearly, he did not like my poem and with good reason. He graciously offered that my poem was reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe's Annabel Lee. Since I plan to join a Houston writing group soon, I'm practicing courage by sharing An Angel Among Roses. If you will, please focus on my memories of Nina and let's save the criticism for the writing group, shall we?

We took a jaunt
you in your two wheeled chariot
and I on foot behind you.

The stillness of silence
walked with us for awhile
as we marveled
at the expanse
in which sunlight danced.

We halted
in front of your tree,
a pillar of strength and beauty.
Our eyes were averted
to a bed of crimson roses
resting alongside the timber.

The sun
ceased to waltz
and found respite
behind a great cloud.
As the light languished
you said,
“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”

I did
and now
am aware
that I shall never gather
a flower of such fragrance
which now abides
in the confines of
nothing but eternity
in companion with
the seraphim and cherubim
who led you there,
and flowers with petals
that will never wilt
gathered by The Rose of Sharon.

P.S. ~ Happy birthday, Kierstin! She is one of my best friends, now pregnant, so my happy-factor is severely high. Kierstin reminds me of Kitty Ann: she is ever-thoughtful and chooses fun little gifts and cards that reflect your personality. Kierstin's baby will grow up and call her blessed, just as God deems my Mom.

Happy birthday also to Kemper who always knows which CD I need; who said I am Kristin Lavransdatter; and if it were not for his great teaching, Johnny and I both would still have wretched theology.


Beckye said...

Our family loved Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs! In fact, we recently checked it out from the library again just to hear it after so many years.

Hotwire said...

my son and i have ready 'cloudy with a chance of meatballs' so many times we've worn out the pages.

also, that's a very nice poem.

Christine said...

Jenni, I love this post! You always have the perfect mix of humor and sobriety. I love it.

I'm with you on not wanting to become too modern. Especially after my trip to New Mexico! I'm on my iBook WAY too much, and it must end. Just being there and reading so many books has reminded me of how far I've gone from simplicity.

Much love friend.