Special Delivery

Yesterday a package arrived from Australia.  My sister was moving and there was no place in her new home for our mother’s silver tea set–the one Mom kept on her buffet in her little house in Detroit.  My sister could’ve easily packed it off to a thrift store or sold it at a garage sale. Instead she kindly chose to pay postage to send it all the way to America to reunite the silver service with mom’s old buffet, which now lives in the dining room of my home in Seattle.

Three days ago I put my son on a plane to Turkey, where he will teach English for the next three years.  I can fret, or be proud of him for having the courage to make such a momentous move.

His sister Bea was scheduled to come home from her program in Lithuania two days after Eli’s departure. Unfortunately they would miss each other, but Eli turned it into an opportunity.  In the wee hours of the night before he left, we hauled a little surprise for Bea up from the basement.  Eli hoped she’d like it even better than the last surprise he left her.

It was the perfect way to present Bea with motion-activated cooing tribble slippers she hadn’t even known she needed.

Still, it lacked a certain ‘Je ne sais crois.’

Actually, Eli knew exactly what it needed.

…And then he added the finishing touch.

Packing done, boarding pass printed, and still enough time to play one last game of Pandemic and save the world before our trip to the airport!

On the way we brainstormed how and when to visit, just as I used to do with my mom before each parting. And nowadays we can even Skype in the meantime.

My mom taught her kids to look for the bright spots. She could find ’em where you wouldn’t have thought there was one.

After Mom’s first chemo session, my sister Constance and I suggested going home to rest. Mom said, “The doctor says it won’t hit me until tonight. We’re going to Sanders Ice Cream Parlor. If I have to get sick, I’m going to throw up ice cream.”

 

Bea arrived two days after Eli left.  His parting gift was appreciated (up to a point). Now it resides in his room, scaring the heck out of me and making me laugh every time I go in there to open the blinds.

Bea, unpacking the heirloom tea set, said, “We’re going to have a MONSTER Tea Party!” There was another unexpected gift from Auntie Down Under–an uber-protective full-body swimsuit. Bea ran to try it on. Like Clark Kent bursting from a phone booth in Superman duds, out of Bea’s room flew Doing-Things-That-Aren’t-Fun-But-Are-Good-For-You-Girl.

Doing-Things-That-Aren’t-Fun-But-Are-Good-For-You-Girl (aka The UV Protector) threw Fashion Sense to the wind, and bravely faced the sun and its evil rays–in public.

All our lives we’ve heard,”You gotta break an egg if you want an omelet.” We jump willingly into the fray, enduring, for instance, the red eye flight for the trip to Europe.

My mom used to say, “When you’re holding your baby in your arms, you forget the pain.” Then Mom’s sister lost her baby. So what if there’s no baby to hold? My Aunt Loena would say you have to find others to hold and love, which she did. But some challenges you cannot go around, hire out, or wiggle free from.  It’s the stuff no one else can do for you, even if they wanted to.  It’s the bend in the river of life where there is no turning back and no standing still. Moving forward is all you can do, and your only choice is about how you do that, whether you are five years old or ninety-five, whether it’s getting a tetanus shot or chemotherapy, whether you are saying goodbye for now or forever.

I know and love–and I’m sure you do too–some very dear people who are facing some of life’s most daunting challenges and have been taxed in ways most people can only imagine.  Yet they are getting up and going to work each day and taking their kids to school and playing Werewolves with them at the end of the day with stents in their chest.  Or telling stories to bring joy to their audiences while undergoing months of chemo, and celebrating the last treatment by traveling the great cities Europe.  Or writing Haiku with one hand while learning how to walk again after a stroke. Or surviving cancer to reinvent themselves, leaving a bad marriage and developing a highly successful career as an artist. Or after a hip replacement, beating the odds from sheer determination to progress from wheelchair to walker to cane to standing on their own two feet while receiving radiation for a spot on the lung.

Who ARE these people? They are not the Supermen and Wonder Women of the world; they are the Clark Kents and Diana Princes, who through sheer strength of will and spirit quietly forge on through fire and ice. They are the real superheroes, delivering the right stuff. Their legacies are not the silver tea sets, but the stories they give us to hold in our hearts.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

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The Secret Object I Keep Hidden in My Underwear Drawer

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Yes, I really do have a secret object hidden in the back of my underwear drawer.

It was in a bag earmarked for the Salvation Army, a tiny doll-sized white cotton undershirt, but I snatched it back from among the outgrown feet pajamas, baby booties, and Alice-in-Wonderland dresses.  Then I tucked it into the back of my underwear drawer.

It isn’t an heirloom or valuable in any way, except to me, because both my kids wore it as fuzzy-headed milk-scented most-beautiful-in-the-world newborns.  Once in awhile it still sees the light of day.  Not on those “hurry-up-or-we’re-going-to-be-late! mornings,” but on quiet afternoons when I’m putting away freshly folded laundry.  I can still smell the baby shampoo and feel the round little tummies that filled that shirt.

Recently I realized that no one in the world would know or care what happened to that little shirt unless…I showed it to my daughter Bea and told her about her first night home from the hospital. She was wearing the little shirt, or one just like it, while lying beside me on the bed to nurse.  By the soft moonlight shining in on us I watched her, filled with awe at the sight of this new person looking up at me like a little old wisewoman.  I marveled at her perfect little toes and her tiny feet and those exquisite fingers.  Just as I was moved to tears at the miracle of life and birth, she reached up with her tiny finger and DOINK! poked me right in the eye. Ever since then, I told Bea, she has kept me from taking myself too seriously.

I told Bea how four year old Eli rubbed her tummy and told his baby sister all she would need to know to get by in the world. “You only get to drink milk now, but when you’re big you get macaroni and cheese from a fork. You’ll learn to walk and then run, but be careful or you might fall and scrape your knee and bleed, but blood has platelets that make a scab, but don’t pick it or it’ll bleed again…”  What a warm, wise welcome into our family!

On my kitchen wall is a picture Bea drew of a paintbrush and an artist’s pallet.  Underneath she wrote,”Only the artist knows the story of her painting.”  Too true. So tell your stories to your kids, your friends or your enemies, lest they disappear when you do.

Whether you write them into your memoirs, or tell them from your mouth, let them see the light of day, feel the moisture of your breath, live in stark black beauty on a crisp white page.

One day Bea might show that tiny shirt to her children and say, “When I was a baby…” Even if it finds its way to the Salvation Army, she might say, “My mom once saved a tiny white undershirt from the rag pile and kept it in her underwear drawer.  Sometimes she took it out, and told me stories about when I was a baby…”

All words and images copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck

(Except “Mrs. Bradley Ripley Alden and Her Children” painted by Robert Walter Weir, 1852)