Drowning a dragon

I had one of those coughs that made your toenails rattle and, after a morning of listening to my hacking, a co-worker gave me the evil eye. “That sounds like a smoker’s cough,” he said.

“I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life,” I said.

Story_squareBut I had to take it back. There was this one time

My father was a smoker for many years and, at age 6, I approached him after supper one evening. He was sitting at the dining room table with a cigarette in one hand, white smoke drifting like a lazy river toward the ceiling, and a glass ashtray before him.

“Would you like a puff?” He gestured to me.

Yes, I would. I scooted up to him, excited to share this special moment with him. I lifted the white tube to my lips and took a long pull on the cigarette.

Dragon’s breath first roasted my tonsils before descending with white heat down my throat. My lungs were instantly seared and my stomach rolled with burning coals.

The scalding smoke slammed into my eyes and my nose filled with a smell of dead mice and scorched banana peels.

Even my toenails curled with the heat.

Certain that my life was about to end, I spun and ran as fast as toasted legs could carry me into the kitchen. I stuck my head under the cold water faucet and tried to drown myself.

What else can you do when a dragon has unleashed its flames?

I survived, undoubtedly due to my quick thinking in rushing to the kitchen sink.

And, as the rushing water sluiced into my mouth dousing the fire, I had one single thought: one swallow of the dragon’s breath was more than enough for me.

The Christmas Pickle

Story_squareLate on Christmas day several years ago, we bundled our family into the car and headed for a ski trip in the Colorado mountains.

The gift-giving had been trimmed back so that we could enjoy this ski outing but my husband wanted to do something special for the family on our travel that evening.

“Let’s stop at that nice steak house on the interstate,” he said.

So we did. They were closed. It was, after all, Christmas day.

Hmmm. We hadn’t thought of that so we continued to the next town and pulled in, thinking the Chinese restaurant there might work well.

Closed.

We were starting to get a clue, finally. But we had five kids in the car and the Christmas cookies were wearing off. They were restless.

“Let’s try a fast-food place.” My husband had set his heart on a special mealtime family gathering but his stomach was growling, too.

Closed.

Grocery stores were closed. Walmart was closed.

We were about to take stock of the energy bars that might have been left in coat pockets when my husband spotted a 7-Eleven convenience store open.

We turned the kids loose. “Find something to eat.”

Because there’s virtually nothing healthy in a snack place like that, the kids were not bound to a balanced meal. They grabbed chips and popcorn and gallons of fountain drinks.

Their parents have felt guilty for years for not having enough foresight to avoid such a disappointment. We wanted to give them a nice steak dinner but instead offered candy bars and peanuts.

But I have been assured by our older son not to worry.

“I got a fistful of dill pickles,” he said. “Best Christmas dinner ever!”

Hold me to this


I’m joining Jeff Goins’ challenge to write 500 words per day during January. I’d like to develop more consistent daily writing habits and this looks to be a good start.

I’ll post updates during the month. If all goes according to plan (and it always does, right?), I should have at least 15,000 words down on paper -well, on my hard drive – by the end of January and several blog posts in the queue.

Hold me to it!

Squirrel-itis

In the movie Up, a dog with teeth bared moving in for the win could be distracted by the call, “Squirrel!” The dog’s head instantly rotated in search of the new prey.

disney-pixar-upThat problem isn’t just with dogs. My sister and I have been struggling with the same issue.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

I recently had a couple of errands to run before visiting my mother, who is currently living in a nursing home. From the bank, I headed downtown for errand #2 – picking up a part from an appliance store. One block before I arrived at the store, I instead turned right onto Main Street and drove back across town to the nursing home.

Two hours later, I realized I hadn’t snagged the part I needed.

Squirrel!

A few days ago, my teenage son and I headed out on a day-long trip. Before we walked out of the house, I reminded him, “You ought to take a water bottle with you.”

“Oh, yeah,” he said and filled a stainless steel bottle pulled from the cupboard.

Then we got into the car and I buckled in. “Oh,” I said. “I forgot my water bottle.”

I got out of the car, headed back toward the house, and he rolled down his window. “Would you grab mine while you’re in there?”

Squirrel!

My sister is working with an essential oil that is supposed to help with distractedness. I’m calling it squirrel oil and, if it helps her, I may mainline the stuff.

How Dad fixed his family

Salsola tragus, dry

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my father’s last morning on this earth, I was privileged to sit alone with him for over an hour.

The night before, I realized that the family had come to tell Dad goodbye and assure him of their love. But Dad wasn’t able to speak at that point and I went to his bedside that last morning with one idea in mind: to speak what I thought he’d like to say to us.

I assured him that we knew he loved us. We knew he’d worked hard for us and that he had provided very well for our mother. I told him that we knew many practical things because of his teachings.

And then I launched into stories that I knew he’d remember.

“Remember our neighbors up north? Remember when they had a sick horse and called the vet but by the time he arrived, the horse had died. So the neighbor met the vet at the driveway. ‘The horse died. Do you want to see it?’ The vet shifted his pickup in reverse. ‘Naw, I’ve seen plenty of dead horses.'”

My dad loved a story and had told this one to the family many times.

I took his hand that morning and searched my memory for another story.

“Remember when you were tired of buying fly swatters for Mom? She was murder on those flies but the swatters splintered under her stern hand.”  I swabbed some water in Dad’s mouth before going on. “You decided to cut a fly swatter from an inner tube and punched holes in it. That fly swatter could take on Flyzilla. The only problem was the black marks left on the walls when Mom went fly hunting.”

Once Dad would have snorted with laughter. Now he blinked and swished drops of water in his mouth.

“You’ll remember this one better than me,” I went on. “But I hear that when I was two, I could escape the fence around our yard and go exploring. When a guy doing groundwork with grader found me watching at the edge of his field, you decided to fortify that fence. I could shinny under the gate and I could climb up the wire fence. So you jammed railroad ties under the gate and put barbed wire at the top of the fence. It was that way until we moved. I was 13 by then, Dad!”

No chuckle. Once he would have leaned his head to the side and told me that he couldn’t be sure about me at 13, either. Not this time.

I gripped his hand like it might slip away at any moment. “You were always a little slow to talk about your World War II days, Dad. Being an orderly kept you away from the front lines. Maybe that was a failure to you but it was great to me because it meant you came home in one piece.”

No one drifted down the hallway past our room. Even the horse in the painting on the far wall seemed to hold its breath this morning.

“I remember the story you told about the young soldier who arrived in a body cast. The nurse insisted on pulling the bedsheets tight and clamped that young man’s feet flat to the bed. When he cried in pain, she called him a baby. But you came behind her and jerked the sheets off his feet. I still remember you bobbing your head as you said, ‘And he said “thank you” after I did that.'”

As Dad’s health had declined over the years, so had his ability to fix things. Whether inventing a better fly swatter or freeing a soldier’s painful feet, Dad responded to problems with a solution.

In his final years, Dad had not been able to solve what he had once easily fixed. He needed his children, whom he’d taught.

On that last morning, I wanted him to know that his gifts were remembered. And that his family, who had watched him for many years, could carry on what he had begun.

 

 

Good Friday

I remember walking somberly into my church as a child on Good Friday, surprised at the dimness of the sanctuary and the absence of candles on the altar. A black cloth hung over the cross and no music played.

cross draped in blackIt was a powerful reminder of Jesus’ death and the hopeless of a world without God.

I had a time several years ago when I believed God had abandoned me and so I allowed a wall to form around my heart. But eventually I found I missed him. I didn’t want a world without God.

So today I reflect – again – on the thorns of my own pride and find my heart longing for the abundance of God’s fruit.

Fortunately he’s promised never to leave me or forsake me. I don’t have to wait until Easter to celebration.

My joy happens moment by moment.