The cashier

The young cashier dragged each of our grocery items across the scanner, his moves smooth and slow. His expression was neutral—serene even?—but I knew that look; his soul was back at home, sapped by life and hiding under the covers.

I shopped at Trader Joe’s with my girl Flicka that October day, and our trip was more for fun than necessity. The location—Shoreview, Minnesota—was new to us, creating an adventure. And we smiled at our favorite of all adverse weather, a rainstorm, dampening the world outside the glass.

But this person in front of us now… What was his story?

I switched my focus to our small stash on the conveyer belt, forcing my thoughts back to the task.

“Thirty-seven forty-five,” the cashier said, his voice soft.

I inserted my debit card. Waiting for the prompts to complete the purchase, I glanced at Flicka. She had already bagged the items, and now her gaze was fixed on the employee serving us.

We carried our bags from the store and crossed the slick parking lot. I blinked away the pelting raindrops, hoping the sky would wash away my thoughts about the cashier while it was at it. My girl reached into the bag and extracted a pomelo. She hopped into the passenger side, and I slid behind the wheel.

As I drove, she peeled the large citrus fruit.

“Looks like a mess waiting to happen,” I said.

“It’ll be fine, Mom.” She grinned, tearing off a section of flesh, and held it out for me.

I took a bite. “Tastes like grapefruit.”

She chewed the fruit too, but her smile eased off, her eyebrows coming together. “That cashier was profoundly sad.”

“Yeah.” My heart pinched. “I saw it too.”

“I’ve known people like that. It’s hard to watch.”

“I know.”

As we drove along 694 West, my girl and I went silent. Then together, we gave away our worries about the cashier to the One who kept his days and knew what it took for him to get out of bed each morning.

And we left it there.

 

One day two weeks ago, I lugged groceries in from the car. Rain drizzled the April landscape, droplets darkening the brown paper bags I carried. As I fumbled with the door, down came the memories, soaking me.

The Trader Joe’s guy—that cashier—from six months ago… Where was he today? Was he okay?

My memory of his face, although blurry, reminded me of the weight of his life. A pang swept through my chest. Again, I released the guy’s unknown-to-me story into bigger hands than my own.

And I left it there.

 

On Monday, Flicka and I savored an hour on the couch with the dog and coffee before our day’s schedules split us apart.

“You know who I just thought of yesterday?” my girl said between sips.

I swallowed some dark roast and shook my head.

“That cashier at Trader Joe’s from months ago. The sad one.”

A lurch in my stomach. “I just thought about him the other day too.”

Her eyes widened. “Really?”

“Do you think he’s still there?” A dark thought tiptoed into my mind. “Still… alive?”

“If we’re both thinking about him now, yes.” My girl’s wisdom wrapped around me like a hug. And I knew she was right.

And so together, we did it again; we gave away the cashier at Trader Joe’s to the One who still sees him and gives him breath.

And we left it there.

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Still more toys

This is our final week about childhood toys. Thank you for your responses, readers. Enjoy the rest of the stories!

*****

A doll with soft, brown curly hair was my favorite but more important were the outside toys. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and so there was not much grass to play on. That didn't matter as the sidewalks, alleys and streets were great places to use our toys. The toys were: ropes- both a short one and two long ones, chalk, a little pink ball, roller skates and a stick. I could go on and on about how all those toys were used in the streets but won't here. All the games we played helped us to form strong bones as our feet pounded the hard ground. In the summer it was goggles, an inner tube and a small boat, and oh a swim suit that wore out when it was just midway into the summer due to all the play in the salt water of the Long Island Sound. Growing up in the city was a blast that country kids would not understand.

Arleen, Fergus Falls, MN

*****

 I used to dress up in an old shawl of my mother's. It was soft cream-colored Kashmir wool with long fringe twisted with gold thread. A triangle tear sent it to the dress-up box. I used to drape that shawl over my head and imagine it was long golden hair like Aurora in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. Only as an adult did I realize how ridiculous I must have looked, but inside I felt beautiful. I moved with grace and elegance. I WAS Aurora. After all, you are how you feel.

LeAnne, northwestern Wisconsin

 *****

 A back-and-forth between two friends:

 Kathy: I played with Dawn Dolls. They are about 3-4 inches tall. Switched out outfits.

Shelby: I loved my Dawn Doll! *Showed a picture*

K: Oh, they were 6 inches… I thought 3 inches!

S: I’m pretty sure I lost one of her little white shoes within days, if not hours. I also loved my Barbies; though I wasn’t allowed to have Ken, my brothers’ GI Joe made a fine husband and was a bit more “manly.” I liked to make my own clothes for my paper dolls and liked Liddle Kiddles/Lucky Lockets too. I also loved my Velvet doll-cousin of Crissy, with the hair that “grew” when you pushed the button on her tummy and pulled her hair down—or shortened when you turned the knob on her back—which was my present from Santa. While we were in church a few months later, our naughty baby squirrel (we were playing nurse to him after he fell out of his nest), escaped his box and wreaked havoc all over the house. During his hour of mayhem, he chewed off Velvet’s fingers and nose. I was devastated. Oh, I can laugh… now.

K: I had the Velvet doll too! I loved her purple dress and longgg blonde hair.

S: Looking at photos, Crissy was much more mod-looking. She was supposed to be a young teen. Velvet was her younger cousin. I wanted a blonde because I was blonde as well—not as bright as Velvet, though. Ha!

K: My sister and I both wanted the Velvet doll, not the Crissy doll. So we fought over who would get stuck with which doll. I think Crissy had red hair. We didn’t like red hair. My friend had Crissy, and I remembered her long red hair and her super mod clothes. Yet, when Velvet came out, I had to have her. Now I see photos of her, and she looks a little bit like an elf!

 Kathy, Brooklyn Park, MN, and Shelby, Crystal, MN

 *****

 I have a childhood story about Christmas and my dolly.

I knew Mother hid the toys (our gifts) up in the attic. And so, when our babysitter came over, I asked her if she would help me get into the attic so I could see what I had up there. She did. And I had a baby buggy up there. Now, how would I take care of having cheated? I didn’t know I was cheating but I shouldn’t have done it, because it ruins what you’re getting! And Mother never did know I had seen it, and I had to pretend I hadn’t. That was my story. And the babysitter helped me do it. She said, “Now don’t tell anybody you did this.” I was seven or eight years old at the time, and I never confessed it to Mother.

Kath, Valley City, ND

*****

My favorite toys were Johnny West and Geronimo action figures with Breyer plastic horses. I had a fantastic backyard at 39xx Kootenai St., in Boise, Idaho, where my heroes could roam. It had a two-story fort, built by my dad, trees to climb, and a large-for-me-at-the-time ditch running behind it that served as a rushing river. It was a spectacular and dangerous wilderness for some plastic toys and a kid with a pretty active day dream cycle.

Part of what made these toys spectacular was the whole process of getting them. Every year, before Christmas, my parents would take us to the most spectacular place on earth! It was a mall, on the outskirts of Boise, but that mall contained THE ICE CREAM PALACE! We were allowed to go through the mall and give our parents options for one gift that we may or may not get. After I finally scored both Johnny West and Geronimo, my “options” were always the same, one of various Breyer horses. After the shopping was finished, we got to go to The Ice Cream Palace! If I were to see it now, I would probably think it was gaudy and ostentatious, like a Trump Hotel on steroids, but in my memory it will always be the greatest ice cream shop ever created! 

After the shopping came the waiting. Waiting until Christmas Eve. We went to the Christmas Eve service at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, won a bag of candy, peanuts, an apple and an orange for making it through the service, and then rushed home to get in our pajamas and open presents. We were allowed to stay up playing with our new toys for as long as we wanted, long after the parents went to bed, and most Christmas Eves I would fall asleep in my dad’s recliner, pulled up in front of the fireplace, wrapped in a blanket, with my new trusty horse and my partners, Johnny West and Geronimo, tucked under my arm.

Scott, Minneapolis, MN

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

More toys

Last week, I asked you, my readers, what your favorite toys were as kids. It turns out this was a really fun topic for you.

Here are the first six stories you sent me (and come back next week for more!):

Milky the Marvelous Milking Cow! It has to be the weirdest toy ever created... how many kids dream of milking a cow for fun? She drinks when you crank her tail? What exactly is in this “pretend milk”? None of that mattered, though - she was so fun and made such a huge, sloppy mess on my mom's clean floors. Plus, the commercial was priceless. (Click here to watch.)

Melissa, Golden Valley, MN

*****

Back in my day, we did not have a lot of toys. One thing my sister did that I really enjoyed were “shadow picture stories.” She would have a good-sized cardboard box that she would cut a square hole in and I think put a piece of white paper over it. She had cut-out men, women, and children and told a story about a family.

I do not remember any story, but Mom, Dad, Grandma, and the siblings would sit there watching her tell the story. There were probably five of us kids watching the story. I remember being so enthralled in the story; I never wanted her to stop.

We had a simple life; but thoroughly enjoyed it.

Amy, New Hope, MN

*****

My favorite toy was a doll too! It was a little rubber doll that just happened to be black. I called it my favorite. And I loved it so much. Fast forward 40 years to when I adopted my two African American real live babies! Yup, they are for sure my favorites! And just like I thought my black doll was cuter than all my other dolls I also think my real live ones are cuter than all the other white babies out there! Maybe I am just a little biased!

Karen, Sacred Heart, MN

*****

I have many fond memories of playing with my Fisher Price Town and Farm sets as a preschooler. I would take out all the pieces and put the people in different spots and create many scenarios. Even as I got older and saw my little brother come along, simply dump out the bucket of people, vehicles, animals, etc., then proceed to walk away, I would sit down and make those people come to life yet again.  

My joy now, is that I am able to watch my girls play with those same wonderful toys and create new scenarios, characters, and adventures in this classic little town. A special thanks to my mom for being willing to stash this gem away for 25+ years before it was to see the light of day again!  

Mandi, Fond Du Lac, WI

*****

Here's Gordy's memory from 85 years ago, when he was around 5:

He says Orv (his brother), who owned the toy, was probably 10. “The best toy we had was probably Orv's steam engine.” (From Gordy's hand measurement, it was 8-10 inches tall.) “We'd light something cottony in a cup at the base that must have had some flammable fluid in it. That would heat up the water that propelled a wheel at the top. Sometimes we'd rig it up to Tinker toys to power a windmill. I'm not sure that it worked so well, but we tried anyway.”

Faythe’s memories: The Dyrud kids didn't have anything that sophisticated—except for the doll house with “electric lights” from Esther Larson. I would guess my sisters will list dolls. A ball in hand was always my favorite, even in the house in winter, although there was a standing rule that throwing balls in the house was not allowed. When one hit an Aladdin lamp, an expensive chimney (Gordy says the word chimney works with kerosene lamps, maybe not Aladdin) could be broken and a mantle (fancy wick) destroyed. Maybe that could even rise to spanking possibility.

Gordy’s memory: “We broke more than one mantle trying to light cigarettes we made by rolling coffee in a piece of newspaper.”

Faythe and Gordy (written by Faythe), Minneapolis, MN

*****

3 words… Easy. Bake. Oven. For Christmas I would get jumbo crayons and a coloring book which I tore through in a matter of days. And of course… anything Equine.

Shantell, Corcoran, MN

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

Toys

“No matter how old you are, if a little kid hands you a toy phone, you answer it.” Dave Chappelle

 

Today I’d like to hear from you.

Did you have a favorite toy as a child? What was it? And what made it special?

I’ll get us started.

I was a doll kind of girl. I spent my preschool years toting one around at all times. My three favorites were David Joy, Judy, and Tiny Tears. I came up with the first two dolls’ names, but Tiny Tears kept her name from the box.

David Joy and Judy were low maintenance babies, but Tiny Tears could perform bodily functions. A doll that cried actual tears and wet her diaper? What fun! When I fed her a bottle of water, the magic happened. And the extra work thrilled me.

Much later, I discovered Tiny Tears had another talent: she could grow black mold inside her rubber body. But that’s a story for a different day…

Now it’s your turn. Write me a note about your favorite toy from when you were a kid and send it here. Subscribers, simply hit reply to this email. I will publish your memories (along with your first name and location) in next week’s blog installment.

Until then, happy playtime!

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

Clouds

Nothing says family trips in the 1980s like a station wagon without adequate air conditioning.

As the carsick one in my family of seven, I soon learned all the tricks to stave off nausea: “Don’t read in the car”, “Put your head between your knees”, “Take deep breaths through your mouth”, and “Just look out the window”, which was hard to do when my head was dangling between my knees.

Perennially queasy in the warm backseat, I battled my way through childhood trips without asking Dad to pull over—except on June 16, 1983. Winding our way up to visit Mount Rushmore, I was finally out of options.

“Can you stop?” I said, waves of sickness threatening to drown me. “Now?”

I don’t recall Dad’s answer, but he wasn’t pleased by the interruption in our schedule. He pulled the car over and put it into park. I shoved my door open and sprang out. Crouching by a back tire, I emptied my stomach. And then I heard it.

I wiped my mouth and climbed back into the car. “Something’s hissing out there.”

“A snake?” One of my siblings said.

Dad got out and took a lap around the vehicle. He returned. “We got a flat tire.”

No one ever said it, but I’m sure the family thought my bout of sickness, however ill-timed, had saved the day.

The tire changed, we continued our ascent to the presidential faces. But the skies, thick with grey clouds, obscured our view.

“Maybe it’ll clear,” Mom said.

For hours, we waited. But the clouds—more stubborn than we were—persisted.

“I guess that’s it,” Dad said, hands on his hips. “Maybe next time.”

We kids snapped pictures of the hidden landscape. At least we knew what they were all about, and anyone sifting through our photos later would just have to take our word for it.

 

Today, I laugh at the vomiting episode, the flat tire, and our blocked view of the national monument. But isn’t life like this? My days lately have resembled June 16, 1983. The trip up to the stuff of my prayers is winding, and car sickness distracts me. But wait. A flat tire too? And now when I’m almost there, clouds are hovering, obstructing my outlook.

Is this your life too? I have an idea. Let’s capture some pictures for our photo albums anyway—to remind ourselves. Because the longings of our hearts are still there even when we can’t see them.

Everyone else will just have to take our word for it.

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Winter vs. spring

One day last month, I contemplated the coldest season of the year, and my thoughts turned as icy as the sidewalk in front of me.

The City’s snow emergency rules had given me whiplash: “Because of the storm, park on the even side of the street now, the odd side tomorrow, and the even side again the next day—but wait! Because of the snowfall totals and narrowing of the streets, let’s now only park on the odd side until April 2—or until further notice. But hold on! Here comes a fresh dumping of snow, so let’s go back to the normal snow emergency rules for a few days—even, odd, even—and then we’ll resume the only-park-on-the-odd-side-until-the-spring-thaw rule, okay?”

It wasn’t the City’s fault. What else could they do? The weather had forced every last one of us into the competition of Winter vs. the Minnesotans. I grabbed my shovel, hoping for victory.

“Be sure not to park on the even side,” Husband said to one of the teenagers after another of the City’s snow emergency declarations.

But life is full and far too distracting for kids these days, so her dad’s warning fled my girl’s mind as she parked on the even side of the street the next day at school. A tow truck whisked her car away to an impound lot faster than she could say, “Dad, I need a new scraper. Mine broke.”

She texted me. My car got towed.

I sighed. Oh no... What are you going to do?

Use my feminine wiles to get it back.

My laugh startled the dog. Good luck!

Thirty minutes passed. My phone pinged.

Mom, can you transfer $150.00 from my savings into my checking?

Winter vs. the teenager. Winter won.

 

One night recently, I let Lala, our dog, out into the back yard to visit the facilities. She trotted down our brick walk, pointed in the direction of the garage. The motion sensor light flicked on, its brightness glancing off a miniature skating rink on her path. Of course she would see it, wouldn’t she? Dogs were smart that way. Instead, she hit it just right and slid, her four legs slipping out from under her. She toppled onto her side. Uh-oh. She wriggled to standing, did her business, and headed back toward the house. But her paws caught the same icy patch, and down went our sturdy girl—again.  

Back in the house, Lala chose the treat I offered her over my condolences. As usual, she was fur-wrapped exuberance—and unhurt—but my tolerance for winter plummeted to zero. If our four-legged loved one with a low center of gravity could lose her footing just like that, what hope was there for the rest of us?

Winter vs. the dog. Winter won.

 

“What were the newscasters calling this winter again?” I asked Husband two nights ago.

He scrolled through Hulu selections. “The winter of my discontent?”

“I mean, it was record-breaking, and the biggest snowfall since when?”

He landed on a show. “Who can know.”

I pulled myself out of hibernation mode to do some searching and found the National Weather Service’s claims. The Twin Cities received thirty-nine inches of snow in February 2019, breaking the previous record of twenty-six-and-a-half inches, set in 1962.

So much to melt away; so little patience for it all to go.

“It’s spring tomorrow, though,” I said, hoping to cheer myself, “so this should all be over, right?”

Husband clicked pause. “I hear there’s snow coming on April 2, but what do they know?”

I harrumphed. Maybe it wouldn’t materialize. Or maybe it would. Either way, when it was winter vs. spring, it was easy to choose a side. And I wouldn’t stop cheering until it was over.

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Love (again)

Dicka was sick this week. While I changed her sheets, I found two photo albums by her bed—the ones with pictures of all the little ones we hosted through Safe Families for Children. The books are for us only, and we protect the images of those faces like we protect their lives while they stay with us.

I flipped through the pages, and my heart squeezed again. Here’s a story I wrote, first published here on the blog on January 21, 2016, about one of our twenty-eight loves.

*****

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law.

 

I pulled the Honda up to the curb in front of Healing House. For the protection of the women who were enrolled and living there with their children, the address of the place was unpublished. I glanced at the placement information I had received in the Urgent Needs email. Mona, the woman I had come to meet—the biological mother—had gotten in a fight with another woman and was being kicked out of Healing House’s eighteen-month program. And now she needed coverage for her baby girl for one week while she found other living arrangements for the two of them.

I climbed out of the vehicle, glancing at the infant car seat in the back, knowing it would soon carry an eight-month-old passenger. I strode to the front entrance and pressed the buzzer.

A young woman came to the door. “Are you the host mom from Safe Families for Children?”

“Yes, I am. Are you Mona?”

She nodded, a shy smile playing on her lips, and motioned for me to follow her. “I already have her things packed for you. I hope it’s enough.”

On the floor next to the front desk sat several brimming garbage bags and numerous pieces of baby equipment. Our family had served kids who owned very little, and the five-month-old twins had come to our home with only the clothes on their bodies, a few diapers, and enough formula to get us through the first night. The sight of the large amount of baggage in front of me pricked my heart. “It’s more than enough.”

“Wanna see Adele now?” Mona’s eyes shone.

We walked down a long hallway to a sunny nursery. A childcare worker bounced a baby on her hip and handed a toy to a toddler who tugged on her shirt. When we stepped inside the room, the woman brought the baby to us.

“She’s darling.” I reached out for Adele and took her into my arms. She smiled at me, and so did Mona.

I gave her back to her mother for our walk out to my car. Mona buckled her baby into the car seat, kissing her first on the forehead and then once on each cheek. She closed the door and turned to me.

“Thank you.” Her words, warm with untold stories, lit her face.

I touched her sleeve. “I’m happy to help, Mona.”

 

Later that day, after dinner and playtime with Adele, it was time to say goodnight. I whisked her away from my girls, and they followed me into the guest room. They poked through the clothing bags, oohing and aahing over the tiny dresses.

I made funny faces at the baby while I changed her diaper. “Can one of you find something for her to wear to bed?”

Flicka handed me a pair of pajamas, and Ricka chose Adele’s outfit for the next day.

Dicka pulled something square and flat from one of the bags. “Mom, look. This was in there with the clothes.”

A Baby’s First Year calendar. I remembered recording the tender details of my babies’ first years in calendars like this one. And like Mona, I had captured all the firsts too—the first tooth, the first time sleeping through the night, the first step.

Dicka settled onto the guest bed and flipped through the calendar’s pages. After I zipped Adele into the fuzzy pajamas, I sat down too, snuggling the baby on my lap. I gazed at the document in Dicka’s hands as if it were a priceless artifact. Because it was.

Mona had chronicled Adele’s birth and filled in the family tree. Then in more blanks designated for the baby, she had instead written about Adele’s father, telling the story of how they had first met when he moved onto her block—just a few houses down from hers—one summer. As the warm winds swept in that July, so had their love, and the two were inseparable. He was her Once-in-a-Lifetime, a good man, and she was proud of him—and Adele would be too one day. Though her words were cheery, pain lived in the spaces between Mona’s sentences.

I drew in a deep breath and exhaled. “We should put this away.”

Dicka nodded, closing the calendar and tucking it back in with the clothing.

 

The days with Adele fluttered by, and she spent her waking hours glued to Dicka’s hip.

“You can let her have some floor time, honey,” I called from the kitchen while I made dinner one night. “It would be good for her.”

“No, that’s okay,” Dicka hollered back. “I don’t mind.”

 

At the end of the week, I met Mona again.

“We looked at the calendar you packed with Adele’s clothes.” I deposited the baby into her arms. “I hope that was okay.”

“Yeah.” She beamed, her eyes sparking with life.   

 

I remembered the other mothers we had served during our time as a host family. All of them had bigger dreams for their kids. All of them were brave. And all of them had the kind of love that could let a baby go to strangers for a while because of something better in the end.

But memories of Mona rose above the rest. Her words, bleeding out beauty on the page for her daughter to one day read, marked me and reminded me that in her life—as in mine—love had come first.

It always comes first.   

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Future window

“Future window”

The man scrawled the two words in pen on the plywood on the west wall of the mud room that day in 2000 before the workers hung the drywall in his new house. Ever a visionary, he lived for the future. No “Possible window” or even “Window?” for him.

The man oversaw the details of his house’s construction, making his mark in other ways too before the paint dried. But he died in 2006, and his widow lived by herself in the house, unaware of his intentions inked on wood underneath the wall’s layers.

Even though she was alone, the woman loved the house she and her husband had built together. And she delighted in the rural property surrounding their home. She gardened all summer long, planting, weeding, and tidying flower beds and vegetable plots during the day. No enjoyment could take place outside after dark in northern Minnesota, though—the ravenous mosquitoes would see to that. If she were to linger in the evening air with the chirping crickets or freshly-cut grass, she would need to do it in a screened-in tent. And so she bought one.

Soon, a storm destroyed her tent. She purchased a second one. Strong winds tore it from her yard. She bought a third one. But this time too, the weather stole it away.

She voiced her problem to her adult children.

“Mom, you should build a sunroom,” one of them suggested.

“A sunroom,” she said. “What a good idea.”

With the help of her children, the woman determined the ideal placement for the room. She would build it, facing west—just off the mud room.

One day in the spring of 2011, contractors cut through the wall of her house. The noise ceased for a minute, and one of the men called out to her.

“Come here. You’ve gotta see this,” he said.

The woman hurried to the demolition site. The workman pointed to a board, once hidden away beneath the sheetrock. On it were written two words.

“‘Future window.’” She splayed a hand on her chest. “That’s his writing.”

How could it be that her husband’s dream of a window eleven years earlier matched her dream of windows too—in the same spot?

The days passed, though, and the woman forgot all about her husband’s writing. The crew worked for several months, erecting walls, pounding nails, installing fourteen large windows and a glass door, and painting the room a pale green. That fall, the woman’s brother, son, and son-in-law laid the bamboo floor. The sunroom was done.

In early 2012, the woman eyed the temporary steps going out of the sunroom to the yard—stairs that remained from the project. They could have stayed, but she had a better idea.

“Let’s build a deck off the sunroom,” she said.

The workers ripped off the old steps, and in their place, began building a deck that would branch out beyond her new room of many windows.

One day, the woman remembered the piece of wood with the two words.

“Whatever happened to that board my husband wrote on?” she asked a worker.

“I think we used it for one of the old steps,” he said. “I’ll go look.”

He rummaged around in the pile of wood torn from the house and found it among the scraps.

The woman gazed at the writing. Her husband had lived for the future. And maybe it could be said he lived for the destination instead of the road for getting there. But his focus drove him to love what was ahead, praying Light and Life for generations to come.

“I’m going to keep this,” she said.

 

I sipped coffee at Mom’s kitchen table during the Polar Vortex of January 2019. A windchill of almost minus fifty drove us inside for most of my visit up at her farm in northern Minnesota, and no amount of persuasion could convince me to enjoy the great outdoors. I shivered and pulled my sweater closer.

“Let’s drink our coffee in the sunroom,” Mom said.

I beamed. The room of many windows—my favorite room of all in her house. “Let’s do it.”

I refilled my mug, added a splash of cream, and headed with Mom toward the sunroom. I paused at the entrance and looked up. Above the doorway hung the piece we kids had framed for Mom in 2012 as a Christmas present. It was a rugged one, that gift, floating in its refined frame.

And there was Dad’s handwriting again, reminding me of his love for Mom—even beyond the years he would see: “Future window”

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Wrestling

I’m facing an opponent on the mat.

It’s not death, although too many obituaries have been printed for ones close to my close ones in the past three months. It’s not lack, although for a while I feared it when the government shut down and refused to pay Husband for thirty-five days. It’s not destruction, although a crisis beyond our home rattles a branch of our family tree, threatening to snap it.

It’s something deeper.

While sipping coffee together on the couch, one of my own speaks up, showing me my opponent.

“I’ll always choose God,” she says, her chin wobbling, “but when I pray, I’m consistently disappointed.”

Her pain slices into my everything, and I would love to be the kind of adult who’s already glowing on the other side of hard. Instead, I only nod.

Because I’m disappointed too.

I’m called back to the mat again, my hopes hanging onto the hem of my sweatshirt. And there I wrangle and thrash around with disappointment—this time on my kid’s behalf.

When I think of my word for 2019, expectancy, I think of only good things to come—or at least I did when it came to me. What could it mean for me and the ones around me? The finale to a nagging health issue, freedom from a forever debt, healing for a crisis of faith?

Maybe I’m expecting the wrong things. Maybe I’m anticipating good things, but not good-for-me things.  

It’s only two months into the new year, and now I see the match is set; and I’m afraid someone around me might get pummeled before good finally pins evil on its back.

I think of a day not too long ago when Husband, reclining next to me, watched something. Whistles, shouts, and applause piped from the screen in his hand. I leaned over to take a look at the event unfolding on his phone: wrestling.

Behind that screen, my nephew in Valley City, North Dakota, overpowered his opponent, putting him in a cradle in the center of the mat. He was agile and smart, and he won more than one match.

When I’m alone again, I stumble on the story of a patriarch—the one who has trouble telling the truth. He sends his family on ahead across the river—along with all his possessions—and he’s alone too, because that’s where we are when we really fight. And he wrestles all night long with the One who knows him best.

What a strange story, I thought when I was a kid. Who would actually wrestle with God?

The man prevails—and receives a blessing—but hobbles away from that match, his hip socket touched for forever by his struggles in the darkness.

I struggle too with my expectations of how life should be and when. And it turns out I can put up a good fight. But in the end, I know Who’s better at this, Who knows what I need, and Who loves me best. So, I’ll step away from the mat sooner rather than later and let Him take down my disappointment, putting it in a half nelson before the final pin.

Because I really don’t like limping.

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Love does

In 2006, I dropped out of life.

For months, I retreated into our family’s story to care for my sixty-seven-year-old dad, a post-bone marrow transplant cancer patient. The church we attended at the time was big, but we were small—a family of five among a multitude of others. We didn’t know too many people, I reasoned, so we probably wouldn’t be missed. But through a friend outside the church, word of what our family was doing leaked to the congregation.

And the church ladies came.

One by one over many weeks, those ladies drove to our house and climbed our front steps to drop off tuna noodle casserole, fried chicken, tater tot hotdish, burritos, rice dishes, salads, cakes, brownies, garlic bread, and more. Twenty-six meals in all.

And each bite tasted like love.

Sometimes the ladies called first to let us know they were on their way. Sometimes they knocked on our door to signal their deliveries. Sometimes they deposited their edible gifts—without a word—into the designated cooler on our porch and tiptoed away.

No one left her name. No one paused for a thank you. And no one expected anything of us, strangers to them, caring for our immunosuppressed loved one.

Even though our three girls were tiny and Dad’s care was intense, we didn’t need the meals, I told myself. Those meals should be for those struggling more than we were. Feeling undeserving, I phoned the warm meal ministry coordinator to thank her.

“God must think you really need it,” she said. “The response has been overwhelming.”

No sound made it past the lump in my throat. Instead, I nodded into the receiver, absorbing all of their love through the phone lines.

 

Because our culture says to, I think of romantic love each Valentine’s Day. But only for a few seconds. Then I remember those ladies who delivered casseroles instead of counsel, salads instead of sermons, and homemade desserts instead of stories of their own pain.

Love. It’s everything, which goes without saying. But what I learned from those church ladies was that love does without saying too.

 

… let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Hey there, reader!

Hey there, reader!

You’re out there somewhere on the other side of my screen. You live all over the world, I see. Whether I know you or we haven’t met yet, you make me smile.

I write for you—and me—to make sense of life, the neighborhood, and the world. We’ve been through a lot together over these past four and a half years, but I do most of the talking.

I’m brainstorming blog topics today, but can we do it together instead? It’s more fun that way. Grab your coffee or tea, and let’s chat.

What have you enjoyed most about my blog? What would you like to read (or read more of) in future posts?

Here are some new and/or used topics:

1.      Neighborhood stories

2.      Family service to the neighborhood and beyond

3.      Childhood stories

4.      Spiritual topics or faith-based perspectives on issues (examples: fasting, prayer, mercy, forgiveness, depression, disappointment, injustice, anxiety, anger, death, etc.)

5.      Travel stories (example: coverage of our family’s upcoming California road trip, summer of 2019)

6.      Healthy living, eating, and recipes (just kidding about the recipes! I’m not that person.)

7.      Business, movie, or book reviews

8.      Humorous stories

9.      Marriage and/or raising kids (I’m no expert, but I’ve been at it a long time.)

10.   My hobbies/jobs (grant writing, creative writing, modeling, hosting kids in crisis, donating plasma, thirty years of diary writing, etc.)

It’s your turn now. Readers, click here to send me a message. Subscribers, simply hit reply to this email.

I can’t wait to hear from you!

Tamara

No, this is no one we know. (Thank you, Pixabay stock photos!)

No, this is no one we know. (Thank you, Pixabay stock photos!)

 *Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

Blizzard, 1984

Happy Polar Vortex 2019!

If you’re in the cold’s path, reader, stay safe. Protect yourself; you’ll want those fingers and toes when the world thaws.

Let’s look back together to a blizzard long, long ago. Enjoy the following story I wrote (first published on December 31, 2015):

The February wind sliced through our coats as we hustled into the mall in Fargo, North Dakota. 1984 had rushed in with punishing sub-zero temperatures, and the packed snow squeaked like Styrofoam under our feet. My nervousness from the MMTA (Minnesota Music Teachers Association) district piano contests had eased off an hour earlier. In front of the judges, my memory had led my fingers through the motions, but my nerves quashed any passion I could have layered into the song. And so it came out bland but mostly accurate. Oh well. Done for another year. And now was the time for shopping. What more could a thirteen-year-old girl want?

My sisters—nine-year-old Olive and six-year-old Flo—and I milled around to my favorite stores: Lerner, Claire’s Boutique, Stevensons, Vanity, Contempo. As we walked, I tossed a furtive glance at Spencer’s Gifts; I could never go there because Mom thought the place was raunchy—especially the posters and other items in the back of the store. We passed by, and she zipped in to B. Dalton to browse through some books. Later, Flo tugged her sleeve as we neared the Orange Julius. Mom pulled out some cash, and while we slurped the creamy goodness through straws, we looked out the mall’s glass doors at the end of the corridor.

“The snow’s really coming down.” Mom shook her head, wide-eyed. “I should call Dad and see what he knows about the roads.”

She rummaged through her purse for change and then made a beeline for the pay phones. Olive, Flo, and I listened while she discussed the weather with Dad. Terms like black ice and whiteout peppered her end of the conversation. After some minutes, she hung up, and the pay phone gulped down her coins.

“Dad thinks it might clear up if we wait a little longer before heading home.” But Mom’s mouth was a straight line, her brow furrowed.

As we continued to roam from store to store, a voice boomed out an announcement over the mall’s loudspeakers:

“This is the West Acres Mall Management. We are closing the mall due to dangerous weather conditions. For safety reasons, everyone must remain inside. We will keep our restaurants open to serve you, and for those with diabetes or other medical conditions, Walgreens will help you with insulin or other medications. Thank you.”

We girls tittered with excitement. For a 1980s teenager like me, being locked into a shopping mall was like Brer Rabbit being thrown into a briar patch.

“I guess I won’t be driving home on glare ice after all.” Mom’s face softened. “I’ll call and tell Dad the news.”

In the evening, employees tugged their store grates shut, locking them for the night. But one store rigged up a TV and VCR and played Black Stallion for the captive masses.

Finally, it was time to sleep. We curled up on a small carpeted area on the floor in front of Foxmoor. Our stocking caps stuffed with scarves served as pillows, our coats as blankets.

The thrill of the adventure staved off the chill of the hard floor. But we awakened early the next morning anyway, along with the other confined shoppers who were rousing in storefronts near ours. The voice on the loudspeaker invited us to breakfast at a restaurant which fed us the only sustenance it had left: pancakes and water.

At last, the mall management unlocked the doors, and we were free to leave. The morning air stung our faces as we trudged through the drifted parking lot. Our car’s engine sputtered to life, and the stiff seats under us warmed. But the sight of vehicles stuck in the lot and strewn about in ditches and on roadways jarred us as we rolled out of town.

At home later that evening, we watched the news and learned that after that storm on February 4, 1984, authorities found Fargo’s 19th Avenue full of cars—most of them covered in drifts. Drifts as high as speed limit signs. And just outside West Acres Mall—where we had taken shelter—a number of people had lost their lives.

All these years later, I think of our story and shiver. Shopping malls: saving teenage girls from social embarrassment since forever. Who knew they could save lives too?

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

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Words for 2019

I know I’m on the cusp of something. Something good. So, my word for 2019 dropped into my mind as naturally as a memory.

EXPECTANCY.

I shared it with my girls. They nodded.

“It’s like anticipation, but without the anxiety,” Flicka said.

Yes.

In 2019, I won’t live in wishful thinking, but I’ll walk in EXPECTANCY. And I’ll keep you posted.

Last week, I asked you, my readers, what words you had chosen for yourselves for the new year. Here’s what you told me:

KINDNESS: Kindness is lacking in far too many people’s verbal and physical vocabularies. People need to be consistently taught, retaught, and reminded of its importance in the treatment of everyone.

Linda, Lake Stevens, Washington

*****

BREATHE. Anxiety, fear, worry... they all make me hold my breath. In the moment, I don't even realize it, but 'not breathing' has been with me since I was a kid. My past words- Release (I kept that one for several years) and Grace both came from a desire to let go and to live life with thoughtfulness and peace. With the same intention, this year, I will remember to breathe.

Trixie, Hudson, Wisconsin

*****

TRUTH: The truth in God’s word. I’ve spent WAY too much time being fearful. The only thing that changes fear is God’s truth instead of how I feel.

Sharon, Great Falls, Montana

*****

INVEST: In my health. In my wellness. In my family. In friendships. In my jewelry-making business. In my faith. In continuing my education. In building a career I love. In my essential oil team. In my communities. In my family’s future. In my home. In giving back. In getting my SPARKLE back... again (my 2018 word; I lost it again when my Dad died in June.)

In 2019, I will INVEST.

Sheila, Bloomington, Minnesota

*****

WELCOME is my word for 2019. Several years ago, I went back to work full time. I have focused my energies on being the best teacher I can be. I have allowed connections in the other parts of my life to weaken because of my lack of effort in maintaining them. I have also done little to expand my creative self. WELCOME will serve as a reminder to me to open myself to new experiences, people and opportunities. It will also remind me to invite all those I love and cherish to join me in the here and now and celebrate today.

Kristan, Golden Valley, Minnesota

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

What's your word?

I mulled over the Word as I blended the dough for the Sandbakkels, watered the Scotch pine, and brewed the Trader Joe’s gingerbread coffee. I dwelled on the Word as I wrapped the presents, waited my turn at the post office, and crooned along to the season’s music. I thought of the Word as I slipped into new high heels, snapped the festive photos, and held lit candles at two services.  

Christmas is over now, but I still contemplate the Word—the Word that became flesh.

But as the new year approaches, I think about other words too. I’ve already chosen my special one for 2019—a word to remember when my faith is flagging, my hope is sagging, my heart is dragging.

I’ll share it with you next week.

Do you choose a word each year too? A word that focuses, guides, and encourages you?

What’s your word for 2019?

Send me a message here with your word and why you chose it, and I’ll publish it in next week’s blog. (Subscribers, simply hit reply to this email.)

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.