The Sacrifice of Strangers

It’s funny how the great injustices of our childhood convert into gratitude as we age. For instance, when I was a young teen, I was sure my great-grandfathers were the only two old men who didn’t actually fight in World War II—and I wasn’t happy about it.

During my teen years, I devoured books about World War II, watched any black and white movie I could get my hands on at the library, collected special edition WWII magazines, listened to big band music non-stop, and longed for the day when I could see Pearl Harbor and Saving Private Ryan (when I got a little older). I even wrote a novel, titled This Side of Forever, about a family with four sons, each of whom served in a different branch of the military.

Even as an amateur researcher, I knew that first-hand resources were the best. So I wanted to actually talk to someone who was on the battlefield. On one of our visits to Maryland to spend time with family, I decided to ask my great-grandfathers about their experience in the war.

But they just chuckled at their luck. No, they hadn’t seen combat, they said with relief. Just drafted but never sent overseas. And from there, the stories pretty much trickled off.  Pap Gaylor trained in the navy even though he couldn’t swim. Pap Shank’s story was so unremarkable, I can’t even recall it.

I deserved better material to work with.

For a while, I resented the idea that my heritage was so bereft of harrowing, bomb-and-bullet-ridden war stories. I, the writer, deserved better material to work with.

Through the years, I have met veterans who did fight in the war, such as Mr. Smith, the man who lives across the street from my parents. He’s short—as if, when he lied to join the army at 17, he stopped growing, like a clock stopping to mark the death of his youth. I go over to visit when I can, hoping to hear a little more of his story about the war that left him with a shattered shoulder and a glass case of metals. Each time, I hug him goodbye because I don’t know how to say “thank you”—but I know I have to try. His story, after all, affects mine—his courage of yesterday ensured my present day freedom.

I thought of Mr. Smith on Monday when I went to a Memorial Day ceremony at the park down the street. As the volunteer choir and orchestra (which, as Laura pointed out, sounded like a volunteer choir and orchestra) played a montage of military branch themes, dozens of veterans hobbled or strutted forward to claim a small flag as a token of thanks. I considered all of them, the strangers who also have stories that somehow relate to me as an American.
veterans

But it was the monument in the middle of the park—a marble marker with the words, “MIA POW You are not forgotten”— that brought me the longest pause.* It’s not the soldiers I know or the veterans whose hands I can shake that draw from me the most thanks, but rather these, the ones who died, the ones who, though silent, deserve my most fervent gratitude. It is them in particular that we commemorate on Memorial Day.

And despite all the teenage angst over my patriarchs’ lack of action, now it means almost more to know that my freedom was secured not by the efforts of my grandfathers, but by the sacrifice of strangers—both the living and dead. And this Memorial Day leaves me remembering and honoring so many people whom I’ve never even met.

Oh, you should also know that I’ve long since forgiven my great-grandfathers of their nondescript stories. The older I get, the more grateful I am for those who “also serve who only stand and wait.”**

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*At the Memorial Day ceremony, our mayor shared the story of a local woman who was finally able to find peace after her brother’s remains were found 70 years after his plane went down during the Battle of the Bulge.  Similarly, my absolutely favorite Memorial Day story involves an entire town of Les Ventes, France, during WWII, and a soldier named Billie Harris whose plane was shot down at the edge of the town. Sixty years later, after decades of searching for her husband’s whereabouts, Harris’ wife was shocked to find that the town had honored her husband with a parade every year since he died. I hope you’ll read the story.

**This is taken, of course, from Milton’s “When I Consider How My Light is Spent.”

The World in Your Wallet

FullSizeRender (3)“I have found the most valuable thing in my wallet is my library card.”—Laura Bush

It’s been a while since I had a library card. As a marker of books and dog earer of pages, my habits hardly classify me as an ideal library patron. Not to mention the last time I visited a library five years ago in Pensacola, a particularly nasty librarian accused me of losing a book that I know I returned (and was further assured of when I never found it during my subsequent three moves.) It was the young adult book The Summer of My German Soldier; I was researching to write about American concentration camps.

Another reason I’ve steered clear of libraries is that I’m a germaphobe when it comes to holding something that unknown persons or number of persons have held in unknown locations and in unknown hygienic conditions. And, let’s face it, if there’s one thing you learn early in life, it’s that libraries—really any place with books—attract weird people who seem too preoccupied with either learning or pursuing their fandom to practice basic hygiene regimens. (A bit off the topic, but perhaps not by much: Laura was reading a second-hand book the other night [Tinkers by Paul Harding, if you must know] when she turned the page only to be sprinkled with what appeared to be dried cupcake batter—either that or powdered sugar from the top of a funnel cake. One can never quite tell with these things, and Laura refused to taste it to find out.)

Another reason I’ve steered clear of libraries is that I’m a germaphobe.

Still, two weeks ago, Laura and I decided to go to the local library just to look around. Like the bums we are, we stopped first at the DVD section and filled our arms with movies starring Meryl Streep and Elvis—like the discriminating movie watchers that we are.

Laura’s tour of the library ended when she discovered adult coloring books and colored pencils at a table, presumably the library’s service to bored chaperones or stressed parents. I set off to peruse the other shelves while she set to coloring an ornate fish. By the time I got back to her half an hour later, she had managed not only to finish coloring the fish, but also to creatively cover a crude word and two anatomically vulgar pictures etched on the pages by either a perverted adult or horny teenage boy.

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Though largely taken for granted, libraries hold an inescapable appeal. Everything is free (providing, of course, you return things on time.*) Can you think of many other experiences quite so rewarding as walking in empty handed and strolling out with a bundle of items, all free. No gimmicks. No membership fees. No two-hour sales pitch. No hidden agendas. No background check. Just free stuff. (I know, I know—taxes, blah, blah.)

But just think of the possibilities presented in a library. There is nothing that cannot be discovered, no topic that cannot be explored at the library. No one laughs at your research of cures for toe nail fungus. Never is heard a discouraging word for those seeking to know the mating habits of porcupines. Not one librarian blinks an eye at a request to be shown to the section on ancient torture techniques.

The old cliches about the library opening new worlds is true.  (It’s also true what one of my favorite authors, Michael Perry, said in response to so much information being available to our generation: “Nowadays, ignorance must be willfully tended, like a stumpy mushroom under a bucket.”) Having a library card is really like stuffing the world in your wallet.

“Libraries really are wonderful. They’re better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the goodness of their hearts.”Jo Walton

Chances are, you remember your first library card. For most of us, it was the first plastic card that would get us something for nothing (at least for a little while). We tucked it in our pocket or wallet, our proudest possession, a simultaneous responsibility and honor. We had arrived, members of an elite club of knowledge seekers (or of those hoping to score free movies and internet access.)

“When I got [my] library card, that was when my life began.”― Rita Mae Brown

I practically lived in the library as a teenager. It was to me what the mall was to most gHula hoopsirls my age. Though I can’t claim to have been reading classics (except 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which probably led to my fascination with all things oceanic, especially the giant squid), I enjoyed the eclectic—researching for my World War II novel; ordering black and white Humphrey Bogart movies through interlibrary loans; feeding my obsession with Ben Affleck; learning how babies are born; and, my favorite, gaping at each page of the Guinness Book of World Records.

The librarians knew me, if not by name then by face. I remember the tall man with the gold chain around his neck. He looked more like a drug dealer than a librarian. But he always smiled when he saw me coming, and he spoke gently when I laid my stack of books on the counter and often suggested other things for me to read or put on hold other movies that I might enjoy. There were other librarians, too, who acted as tour guides through the world of books, gatekeepers to the cities of knowledge.** And after all these years, I’ve never forgotten them.

I even liked the noises of the library: the beep of the card scanning; the click of plastic as the librarians opened the VHS boxes and closed them; the rustle of pages turning; the creak of the circular, metal DVD towers being rotated; and of course, the national sound of libraries everywhere—sssshhhh.

The smells stay with me still. Closing my eyes, I can imagine the faint odor of wet carpet and scotch tape. The unmistakeable perfumes of old books and the sour aroma of paper. The garlic and sewer fragrance of the homeless guys surfing the web. The plastic smell of book covers and DVD cases.

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Though long estranged from this institution I once inhabited, two weeks ago when the librarian placed the library card in my hand, I felt something familiar.

“It’s amazing how a library card can make you feel grounded, like you belong to something,” Laura said as we toted our mounds of DVDs, CDs, and one lonely book to the car.

And I think that’s what it was: I had found my way back to the place that for me, once upon a time, felt very much like home.

 

“A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered. Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people—people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.”― E.B. White

 

 

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*”The world´s largest fine for an overdue library book is $345.14 (£203.29), the amount owed at two cents a day for the poetry book Days and Deeds checked out of Kewanee Public Library, Illinois, USA in April 1955 by Emily Canellos-Simms. Although the book was due back 19 April 1955, Emily found it in her mother´s house 47 years later and presented the library with a check for overdue fines.”—from The Guinness Book of World Records

**Libraries have been around for a long time and let’s hope they stick around. (Ray Bradbury said, “Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.”) Check out the restoration going on in one of the world’s oldest libraries.

Anything Can Happen

For a while, the world was obsessed with the eagle web cam documenting the lives of two bald eagles who have nested in a Tulip Poplar tree in Washington, DC, and have proceeded to capture the world with their two eaglets (and their curious menu.*)

Eagles

Mr. President and The First Lady, as they’re called, are the first eagles (that we know of) to nest in the DC area since 1947. In 2015, they raised a first eaglet.

Every so often I turn on the eagle cam and watch them. The breeze rocks the tree and ruffles their feathers as they huddle there in austerity, pecking at flies as if to distract themselves from the interminable boredom of being confined to a nest, the mother to keep her babies warm and the babies to wait for their feathers to fledge.

And not much happens.

My fingers sometimes twitch to find the fast forward button while they sleep, heads tucked beneath their wing. Then I remember—this is real time. Reality knows no rush. Time will not be hastened. The micro-life plot somewhat plods. And, also, bald eagles will sleep as long as they darn well please. (Though once I was rewarded for my patience by seeing an eaglet shoot a projectile stream of poop over the side of the nest.)

Each time I visit the website, perhaps to assuage my boredom, I’m drawn to the disclaimer below the video.

This is a wild eagle nest and anything can happen. While we hope that two healthy juvenile eagles will end up fledging from the nest this summer, things like sibling rivalry, predators, and natural disaster can affect this eagle family and may be difficult to watch.

It gives me chills to think of watching a predator kill the eaglets or the eaglets harm one another or the nest fall from the tree. I’m horrified to think of watching life play out its gruesome tale, with me helpless to intervene.

May be difficult to watch, the disclaimer warns. There’s still time to back out, to close the window and go watch a Disney movie—something you can fast forward through the scary parts to the happy ending.

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Here at Goose Hill, we’re surrounded by goslings and ducklings. Last night Laura and I strolled around the lake at the back of the property. (We also have a lake at the front of our property). The geese had congregated—the families of five, six, seven, and another of five newly hatched goslings. Twenty-three yellow- and gray-downed goslings scurried behind us and in front of us, down the hill, pecking the whole way. Their parents hissed and gave the evil black eye, as if reminding us exactly where the term to be goosed came from.

Each time we see the geese families, we count them, relieved to find that all the families are accounted for. No goslings lost. But we know that anything can happen.

Cars. Hawks. Cats. Storm drains. Disease. Snapping turtles. Cruel humans.

I think it keeps us grounded to watch something other than ourselves surviving. It keeps our minds off, yet somehow on, the fact that real life is perilous, for birds and otherwise.

God sees every sparrow—but the sparrow still falls. Though we’re cradled in the Father’s grace, not one creature is immune to the Fall. Life doesn’t have a disclaimer so blatantly stated, still we know it’s there, silently posted above, beneath, through every day: This is life and anything can happen.

In every fragile moment, may heaven find me grateful.

Rejoice that your uncertainty is God’s will and His grace toward you and that that  is beautiful, and part of a greater certainty. . . . be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world. . . . And when you resent the ache in your heart, remember: You will be dead and buried soon enough. –Paul Harding, Tinkers

 

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*Recently, the eagle family made the news when one of the parents brought home a cat for lunch.

**Though not entirely creative or original but certainly appropriate, the eaglets’ names are Freedom and Liberty.

 

 

 

Goldfish Crackers and Four-Course Dinners: Talking Dreams and Motherhood with Diane Tarantini

Diane Face2Diane Tarantini—you can sing her name to the tune of “Gary, Indiana” from The Music Man. And she’s the kind of person who would have a name you could sing to. With her vivacious blue-green eyes, be-ringed fingers, and quirky wardrobe, Diane is excited about life in general, and especially about the two callings that she loves the most—being a mother and a writer.

All of her three children have their own flairs, which Diane readily describes.

“Josephine Joy (Josy), 24, graduated college and married in May 2015. She teaches third grade and plays the flute beautifully. She and her husband plan to go to Nepal this summer for a one-month mission’s trip serving in a house of prayer there.

“Then there’s Cody Brook who will be 21 in May. A junior psychology major at Wagner College on Staten Island, N.Y., Cody lives with her rat, Hazel Grace, in an apartment. She is currently working two waitressing jobs, tutoring other students, and has a radio gig at the college station.

“And then there’s Tre Antonio—he’s 16. He goes to Young Life (faith-based youth group) two times a week, karate three times a week, pole-vaulting practice four days a week, and is in the marching band. When asked recently what he wanted to do in life, Tre said, ‘I want to make things for NASA.’ Aerospace Engineering it is then.”

Motherhood was an unexpected adventure for Diane.

As much as she loves her children now, motherhood was an unexpected adventure for Diane.

“I never wanted to be a mother. I didn’t play with dolls. I didn’t babysit. My biological clock never ticked or tocked. But I consented to have one for my husband, Tony, who wanted many. And then daughter #2 arrived. And then our son was born. I was 29 when I became a mother, and I remember thinking a few months later, ‘Why did we wait so long to do this?’

“I remember the time when Josy was maybe three, and I looked at her in the car’s rear-view mirror and thought, ‘She’s my best friend. A three-year-old is my best friend. Who would ever have thought that?'”

But it’s not as if being a mother hasn’t required sacrifices of her.

“The first thing you give up is your body. You will probably have various levels of discomfort—morning sickness, migraines, incredible fatigue, indigestion, and swelling of hands and feet. Sleep was a huge loss for me. I remember thinking upon occasion, This is how they torture people—sleep deprivation.

“I never dreamed I would a) have children or b) choose to be a stay-at-home mom. But only two months after Josy was born, I decided there was no way I could allow someone else to . . . spend more time with her a day than I did. So I guess I sacrificed my dream of a high-powered career. [But] I have never regretted my decision.”

Writing came along a little later in Diane’s life. In college, she was a journalism/ advertising major and thought she would move to Manhattan to be an account executive in an ad agency. Instead, she worked in advertising in Washington, D.C., and then as an office manager for an interior design firm in Cincinnati, until her first child was born. Two years later she moved back to West Virginia where she currently lives.

There is SOMETHING I’m supposed to do with my life.

“All along I DID feel conflicted about being a stay-at-home mother. I have ALWAYS felt there is SOMETHING I’m supposed to do with my life.

“When the kids were young, Tony and I participated in a Bible study called The Journey of Desire by John Eldridge. Studying the workbook, I came to realize that the SOMETHING I was supposed to do was somehow related to writing. So, what to do about that?

“I saw in a magazine (Today’s Christian Woman) an ad for The Christian Writers Guild. I researched the two-year program and ended up signing up for it. It was a 2-year correspondence course with assignments due, via email, every two weeks.
Not long after that, I applied for a one-year spot as a ‘food writer’ at our local newspaper. I joined [a writing] group and attended [a writing] conference that summer. I came alive that weekend! These people were like me. They spoke my language.

“I knew the day would come when my children would ‘fly the nest’ and I’d need to be prepared. So after I graduated The Christian Writers Guild, I subscribed to Writers Digest magazine, read craft books, and attended writing conferences. In addition, I entered (even won prizes) in writing contests. And I also formed relationships with other writers.”

Once her children were older, Diane took a big step toward furthering her dream of writing. When a friend posted on Facebook about the fabulous experience she was having in her low-residency Master of Fine Arts program, Diane messaged her with questions. After fully researching her options, she applied and was accepted into the MFA program at Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C. In June of 2015, Diane graduated with her MFA in creative nonfiction writing. Like motherhood, the process of chasing her dream of being a writer had sacrifices and challenges as well.

“I wanted to show my kids that you’re never too old . . . to go after your dreams.”

“As much as I didn’t ever think I wanted to be a mother, once I had children I gave 120% to the task. The hardest part of my low-residency program was the four, 10-day residencies in South Carolina. I was pretty sure the home front would fall apart without me. I prepared and froze meals and printed out detailed 10-page documents for Tony, telling him how to take care of the kids and our many pets.

“It was scary to go back to school in my late 40s. I had to use my brain in a way it hadn’t been used in decades. My critical project during my third semester was the most difficult academic task I have ever done.

“But I had another reason, beyond my own education, for getting an MFA. I wanted to show my kids that you’re never too old . . . to go after your dreams.”

Diane Wedding2

Motherhood and writing intersect for Diane in many ways.

“I was at a reading one night, chatting with a group of local writers when an older man who works at the university commented, ‘Diane, she just writes “family stories.”’ He said it with such scorn, I was furious. Not even hurt, just mad. He said it like family stories don’t matter, but I know otherwise.

“I blogged faithfully for more than three years. I would say a good 50% of the posts were about our family. So for me, being a mother has provided a lot of material for stories.”

As Diane’s children grow up and move on, she increasingly has more time to pursue her writing—and to expand her vision.

“I used to think all I wanted was to be the author of a published book. I’ve tweaked that vision lately though. I want to be a ‘communicator.’ I believe that will involve writing, blogging, and speaking.”

Today Diane strives to build her platform and find a literary agent interested in representing her various works-in-progress. A new blog is also in the works. But for now, check out a few of her published pieces.

“The Woman in Red” took third place in the Writer’s Digest competition several years ago in the inspirational category.

“Killing Her Softly” won second place in a nonfiction competition (my state’s, but still).

“Black Lungs” is a very popular story of mine. A more edited version of it went on to place very well in two contests: The Appalachian category in the West Virginia Writer’s competition and also second place in the West Virginia Fiction Competition.

“Playing Favorites” is one of my “family stories,” published by Pithead Chapel, an online literary journal.

I’ve recently been asked to write for the website Grace and Such.

You have to feed that vision, even if it’s goldfish crackers, not four-course dinners,

For women currently juggling their dreams and motherhood, Diane has sound advice.

IMG_3600“To create life along with the Creator is a great privilege and a fantastic adventure. [But] you need to identify your gifts, talents, abilities, and even as you mother, begin to nurture your dreams. And if you can’t pursue them 100% right now, identify small ways to stay connected to your dream.

“The Bible says, ‘Without a vision, the people perish.’ I believe it. I think you have to feed that vision, even if it’s goldfish crackers, not four-course dinners, so that you stay ‘fed.'”

 

 

Author’s Note: This interview was first published on Do blog.

Putting the Next Season on Hold: A Grammy’s Perspective on Helping to Raising Her Granddaughter

Paula

When her unmarried youngest daughter announced her pregnancy, Paula Allnutt took the news hard. But after recovering from the initial shock, she determined that there was only one thing to do: accept the baby with as much love as she had accepted her own three daughters. This turned out to be much easier than she could have ever expected when Shira Catherine was born. The two were almost inseparable from that day on.

I’ve been with her since the day she was born, helping her mother care for her.  Other than breastfeeding her, I’ve done everything for her that I did for my own children. I feel like she is one of my children.

I enjoy every minute of being with her. I enjoy feeding, bathing, playing, and talking to her. She has a sense of humor and a big imagination, and she hates to think that she has hurt anyone’s feelings.

The most important thing as a grandmother that I want to instill in her is how much God loves her. After that I want her know that her Grammy and Papa love her unconditionally, and she can never change that no matter what she does. And that as much as we love her, God loves her more. . . . Her value is in Christ and what He did for her.

Paula’s dreams and goals have always had to do with her kids.
I’ve loved being a wife [since I was 18] and mother since I was 19, and enjoyed having my children around me. I dreaded the day that they would all be gone. For 30 years I’ve enjoyed the role of being a mom. That’s what my identity has been for so long that it’s hard for me to change gears and transition into the next “season of life.”

Two of Paula’s daughters live in different states, and just over a month ago, her youngest daughter (Shira’s mother) got married and moved out. Though most women would be enjoying post-child retirement, that next “season of life” is on hold for Paula since she babysits Shira four days a week and often on the weekend while her daughter works. Though she’d love to find more time for gardening and spending time with her husband, Paula is rarely alone—and she’s fine with that.
Am I tired at the end of the day after caring for a toddler all day? YES! Do I dream about a quiet evening with my husband when I can kick back and relax? YES! But when I actually get one of those rare evenings, I feel so sad and worried about Shira that I can’t fully savor the quietness that I’ve longed for.  When I don’t have Shira, I tend to fill my day with as many things as I can so that I won’t have as much to do when I do have Shira.

On this round-two of child rearing, her techniques have changed a bit from when she raised her three daughters.
Being a new mother you tend to worry about everything, from germ exposure, to too much TV, to keeping them on a rigid schedule for eating and sleeping, and trying to make sure they eat the healthiest of foods, and making every moment a teachable moment, and the list could go on. I try to be more relaxed and enjoy the moment we’re in instead of thinking about what’s next and what needs to be done.

In part, Paula’s drive to be a good mother and grandmother came from her own mother who died from cancer a week before Paula’s seventeenth birthday.
I [loved] my mother dearly, but to be frank, she made some stupid choices that affected our family greatly. I know by the choices that she made that I do not want to make the same mistakes she made. . . . I can try my hardest not to repeat them. . . . Looking back over her life, I’m sure she has regrets just like we all have because we are not perfect. But God will wipe away all tears from her eyes, as well as ours, and we will live perfectly in eternity in a home better than we could ever imagine.

For other grandmothers helping to raise their grandchildren, Paula’s encouragement is simple.
Just love them! Love them with all you have in you to love! Pray for them, and enjoy them. Don’t be eager to get rid of them. They know when they’re loved and wanted. Love them like it’s the last day you’ll ever spend with them. You never know what a day will bring.

Mommy Blog

I write for a website called Do blog. A month ago, the administrator asked me to write a Mother’s Day blog post about mothers in different stages of life.

I interviewed several mothers, but in the end found that I could only squeeze one story into the word count. So in the coming days, I’ll post the blog that I published on Do, and another that I wrote just because. (Ok, because she’s Laura’s mom—and she’s kind of my “other” mom too.)

So don’t be alarmed at the coming posts: I’m not turning Goose Hill into a mommy blog. I’m just going to share the stories of a few special moms.