At long last, Berry

I am finally reading Jayber Crow, the novel by Wendell Berry.  My friend Judy so graciously gifted me with a copy of my very own exactly five days ago.  (Thank you, thank you, yet again and as usual, Mrs. C.!)  I have not been living only between its pages, however, so I haven’t made amazing time reading… just 34 pages in as of tonight, but then again, Berry is like dark chocolate… there is a richness in each bite.  Sometimes his prose is more poetry than anything.  And he likes to surprise you with tiny and delightful turns of phrase.  A window permitting him to observe “the life history of leaves.”   A distant house “at the point of the meeting of earth and sky.  I would let my mind go there and make itself a home.”

Mr. Berry and I are only slightly aquainted (in his writing), and as I only know the merest details about the man and his work, the only observations I can make are more notes of discovery and delight (or disappointment, I suppose) than anything.  The first thing I could get my hands on bearing his name was a new novel, Andy Catlett: Early Travels.  It is short, and basically plotless… and suddenly you realize it’s quietly come and taken your breath away.

There is one passage of the book that I found so evocative, I had to read it over and over– and aloud to my parents.  I remember feeling it, feeling the darkness and the cold wind and the aloneness; it was real, so real.  As I find the page and read it again now, I can almost feel what I felt at that moment.  How did he do it?  How did Berry lay out words on a page that could make me remember the feeling of something I’d never experienced?

Grandma blew out one of the lamps and picked up the other.  We went through the shadows out into the cold front hall, up the stairs, and into the room over the living room.  Grandma set the lamp on the washstand.  I put down my grip and, standing over the register that let some heat come up from the stove, I began to take off my clothes.

That reminded Grandma and she said, “Did you brush your teeth, Andy?”

 I said, “I don’t need to, I don’t reckon.”

We both knew that was a fib, but the pitcher on the washstand was empty and it was a long way to the kitchen, and so we both pretended that I didn’t need to.

I didn’t tell her that my pajamas were in my grip.  The room was cold and it would be colder in the morning, and so I left on my shirt and long underwear, like Grandpa.

Grandma turned back the covers, I sank into the feather bed, and she covered me up, adding another quilt from the closet.  I was so pressed upon from all sides I didn’t think I could move.

Grandma said, “You’re snug as a bug in a rug.”  She said, “Go to sleep now.”  And that reminded her of a scrap of eloquence she loved, and she repeated it: “Sleep is nature’s sweet restorer.”  I was a long time learning that she was quoting from Edward Young’s Night Thoughts.  But where had she learned it?

She kissed me goodnight then, picked up the lamp, and went out.  She closed the door, perfecting the dark, and I heard her footseps cross the hall.

We had made little enough of a stir all the evening, but now as we settled for the night the quiet if the empty rooms began to seep into the occupied ones.  The old house clicked and ticked in the nighttime cold, and the wind, I thought, was trying to wrap all the way around the walls.  In that house, especially in winter, you never forgot the weather.  There was no insulation in those days, no double-glazed windows.  Only the two rooms were heated.  The others, except for hearth fires at special times, stayed cold.  And you could hear the wind.  My earliest dreams that I remember were dreams of the wind, dreamed in that house.

At first the bed was ice-cold.  But I began, gradually and deliciously, to get warm.  When I was fully warm, I slept.

Typing it word by word, it still gives me a chill.  I think it reminds of me something familiarly foreign, old people’s houses, other people’s grandparents; and darkness, and empty rooms, and being alone… which was to me as a child the worst sort of foreigness, a knawing fear.  But now, remembering the feeling, it takes on a different quality.  It is a loneliness that I can bear, and examine, and allow myself to feel, and maybe perceive as comfort and even beauty.



Waking up thinking about the grace of God… which is not only the ONLY reason there is any breath in my body or life in my soul, but also promises the now and future good gifts of a Father who loves me without reservation and based completely on his own merit… makes the day look very good indeed. 🙂

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Yesterday I had the privilege of being with my friend, her husband and her midwives while she give birth to a little girl named Chavah. Watching her descend further and further into the deep place of labor was tremendously powerful. Her strength was amazing. Later in labor, she would lean in to the side of the labor tub, her head bowed onto her arms, and she would shake silently with the increasing pain of each contraction. As they became more and more intense, she would sometimes rock gently on her knees, side to side, and run her hands over her blond hair, again and again, her breath coming in quickening gasps. Finally, as the baby descended lower and lower, she couldn’t steel herself in stillness against the pressure, and she would cringe backward with a look of the closest thing to panic I saw on her face throughout. When the peak of the contraction had passed, her blue eyes would connect for a moment with someone in the room, then they would shift away again. Once when Eliazar had stepped out, she looked at me and mouthed an echo of what she had already said to him: “This is hard.” It said it all. It was hard. But she had taken hold and would see it through.
 Their daughter was born at 8:47 that morning, the first day of spring, a day that culminated in snow after a week of warm spring weather that had seemed to insist the past record-setting harsh winter was done. Her head full of dark hair, the midwife lifted her out of the water and handed her to Rene, who settled back in weak, yet happy, relief. The cord was short, but they lay together there for a few moments; and Eliazar (who had earlier insisted he wanted neither to catch the baby nor to sever the umbilical cord), asked if he might cut it. The midwives wrapped little Chavah in a warm red towel and handed her to her daddy, his face alight. While they settled Rene onto the bed and prepared to deliver the placenta, he said, “Almost a new year’s baby!”, explaining that according to the Hebrew calendar, the year was only a few days old.
She weighed in a little under eight pounds, and took at once with relish to the task of filling her little belly. Before I left, she had been cleaned and wrapped in the blanket which Rene had explained was the only one she and Chavah’s big sister Lydia could agree on; held by grandmothers, great grandmother and big sister, and settled in for a long rest with her mother in the darkened and empty bedroom, such a contrast to what it had been an hour before.
As I got in my car and pulled out of the apartment complex, my own exhaustion and numbness were overcome bywaves of powerful and complex emotions, which I spent the whole drive from the north side of Dallas to the south side of the metroplex sorting through and trying to make sense of. In retrospect I felt the profound power of watching my friend labor while I sat there against the wall, unsure of how to support her other than making contact through our eyes when she looked my direction; Rene, leaning on her shaking arms and fighting silently against and with that force driving her labor forward.
I had thought I wanted to be a midwife. Now, I know.

my one stunning antique thrifting find

Now that title just doesn’t have a very good ring.  What it was meant to indicate is that, folks, well…

I tend to go rather overboard buying second-hand books.  A reduction in income has forced me to become somewhat more disciplined in my shopping habits of late, but I still gravitate to the bookshelves at the thrift store or the jumbled boxes of incongruous volumes at the garage sale.  I often come away with a tattered paperback copy of one of the classics which some highschooler has beautified by writing her name in the margin every several pages, and occasionally I’ll find a nice hardback which is in much better shape than the 50-cent pricetag would suggest.  However, I don’t generally unearth anything of earthshattering value or significance.

One day I did stumble upon this boxed set of little leather-bound volumes, however; and while they fit right in with all the other stuff of un-earthshattering value and significance wherewith I fill my shopping sacks, they were so utterly charming (and in good shape for their age) that they trancend once-read novels and dog-eared Penguin Classics.

This, of course, is the view of the bookshelf-top/nightstand beside my bed, and the knick-knack shelf hanging above it.  If you look closely, up there on the right end of that shelf, there is a little boxed volume of books.

This is them!  (Yep, I took them out onto the front porch to catch some late-afternoon sun during our photo shoot.)

See their beautiful covers?  If I had measured them before I took them back upstairs, I could tell you precisely how small they are; but as is, I suppose I’ll have to guess and say, somewhere around 3×5 inches.  You could tuck one in your pocket for a stroll around the garden!

Title page for the “Winter” volume.

Sorry for the blurriness.  Copywrite 1917.  Can’t you just imagine a young lady in her long cinch-waisted dress and big hat fingering the pages 93 years ago?

These are the inner-cover illustrations.  I didn’t think to check and see– maybe they’re the garden in each season?  Beautiful though!  The introductory sentiments indicate that this little set of volumes was written for the purpose of identifying common garden flowers, as opposed to wildflowers, which apparently were well-covered in the guide-book market.

Here are a couple of pages from the “winter” volume.  Pretty (watercolor?) illustrations by various artists.

So there you have it!  My thrifted antique flower guides.  Who knows what I’ll find on my next visit to the second-hand store?…

I feel You here, and You’re picking up the pieces

It’s been a hard year
But I’m climbing out of the rubble
These lessons are hard
Healing changes are subtle
But every day it’s

Less like tearing, more like building
Less like captive, more like willing
Less like breakdown, more like surrender
Less like haunting, more like remembered

And I feel you here
And you’re picking up the pieces
Forever faithful
It seemed out of my hands, a bad situation
But you are able
And in your hands the pain and hurt
Look less like scars and more like

Less like a prison, more like my room
It’s less like a casket, more like a womb
Less like dying, more like transcending
Less like fear, less like an ending

And I feel you here
And you’re picking up the pieces
Forever faithful
It seemed out of my hands, a bad situation
But you are able
And in your hands the pain and hurt
Look less like scars

Just a little while ago
I couldn’t feel the power or the hope
I couldn’t cope, I couldn’t feel a thing
Just a little while back
I was desperate, broken, laid out, hoping
You would come

And I need you
And I want you here
And I feel you

And I know you’re here
And you’re picking up the pieces
Forever faithful
It seemed out of my hands, a bad, bad situation
But you are able

And in your hands the pain and hurt
Look less like scars

And more like

Less Like Scars, Sara Groves

“so writing takes courage”

The act of writing itself constitutes a conflict, a struggle, through which you overcome obstacles both within yourself and without.  When you write, you press out something from inside: you ex-press yourself.  Something hidden lies within you, and something about writing pulls on you.  So you press it out onto paper in the form of written words.  This written act causes you to turn outward, to take your inner self and unveil it on the page.  So writing takes courage, since, as an act of self-expression, it also exposes and reveals.  You show others something about yourself.  It makes you vulnerable– a lamb leaving tracks across the snowy page, tracks that every potential wolf may easily stalk.

–from Right Words: The Grace of Writing by Blair Adams with Joel Stein