Thursday, September 10, 2009

I Know A Lady

     My oldest sister, Joy, is 80-years-old.  I've been calling her on the telephone a lot lately.  She lives in my hometown, about two blocks from where I grew up.
     In the 1980s, she and her husband, Mac, gave up the hustle and bustle of Denver and moved to the Arkansas Valley to enjoy their golden years (and to be near my folks).  When they moved to the country, they bought a small acreage outside of town and immediately started turning the old farmhouse and its surrounding property into their own-planting trees, a huge garden, and almost an acre of irises.  
     Unfortunately, Mac only spent a few years on their little piece of heaven before he died.  They never did get to build the adobe house that Joy dreamed of-the one she had sketched out with the courtyard surrounding her flower garden.  Joy sold their house and tried the city again, but that didn't last long.  She moved back to the Valley, into town this time.  She planted some of her favorite iris bulbs and few trees and settled into small town life again.
     There's a wonderful children's book by Charlotte Zolotow called I Know A Lady and each time I read it, I'm reminded of Joy.  
     Joy is the only one of my nine siblings who remembers my father's mother, Jenny Belle Bloomer.  Recently she gave me an unfinished quilt top that my grandmother made, her last one.  Joy remembers watching her stitch the pieces by hand, sitting on the floor nearby and listening to grandma tell her stories of pioneer days (after all, our father was born in 1904).  At the time, Grandma Allen lived in the basement of one of my aunts and when Joy was naughty, she said her punishment was being sent to the basement to spend time with grandma.  She said, "I got really good at being naughty so I could spend as much time with Grandma as possible."  I'm so glad she did. 
     Joy is the keeper of the history.  She remembers things so clearly (and she admits if she doesn't remember something exactly, she makes sure she makes it a doozy).  She makes me laugh!  But for the most part, I listen to her stories with a keen ear.  I have to.  That's what family stories are for, to be passed from generation to generation.  If it weren't for Joy I wouldn't know much of my father's childhood (he told her the stories he wanted her to remember)… like seeing Haley's comet in 1910 and thinking it was the end of the world, like watching Shep (his childhood dog) being shot, like having locusts attack the Kansas fields of his childhood, like hearing his father (a Methodist circuit rider) preach at a tent revival.  I love hearing those stories.
      Recently, Joy sent me a hand-written story of her first days in school.  The memories are so clear to her.  The teachers asked a group of children the first day, "Who has been in school before?" And remembering she had visited the previous year, Joy quickly raised her hand.  It was weeks before the teachers noticed that she was in the second grade when she should have been in first.  I read her account, written in her own shaky hand, and I'm so glad to have her-story, her piece of history.  Joy told me she didn't learn to read letter-by-letter, she learned whole words, even as a beginning reader-and more importantly, she understood them!  She wasn't so keen on breaking things down to minute, meaningless dribble.  (And, she's still an avid reader-her house is filled with books).  She remembers sitting on my father's lap listening to him read the bible and the newspaper (much like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird) and going to school with words floating through her mind.  She remembers her first teacher so clearly-the description she wrote is brilliant.  My sister was born a learner and to this day continues to read, write, and think--always exploring a new topic.  Joy is wise.
      And, as I sit with children each day, I wonder about story.  Do we take time to tell our children our stories?  Do we slow down often enough just to talk, to listen?  Do we have them sit on our lap as we read or talk?  I know I'm guilty of letting the television or the computer get in the way of taking that time.  For me, it's too late to hear my parents tell me their stories (I wish I had listened more carefully).  Precious time is flying by.
      So, I think tomorrow, I'll give Joy another jingle.  Just to listen.  Because I do know a lady, one who has a story or two left to tell.  And, I'll bet the next one will be a doozy!

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