Capturing life in words…
I have always been a reflective person. Even as a child, my questions would cause my mother to scrunch her brows together, making two deep crescent dents, one cupping each eye brow.
“Why do you want to know something like that?,” or “What made you wonder how old is this rock?”. Particularly perplexing questions caused her to draw slowly on her Winston cigarette, squinting her brown eyes through the blue-ish smoke. I actually had a theory as a child, on assessing my mother’s mood based completely on the level of brightness and length of the end or “cherry” of her cigarette.
Short ends meant she was puffing short and quick. Shallow, anxious inhales. Nervous taps. Short cigarette ash. On those days the ashtray would get full. Dad would come home smelling of Miller Lite. Long ash on the cigarette meant Mom was content and busy. Laundry and housework beckoned louder than the Winston pack. Conversations on the phone or the visit of a neighbor on the front porch punctuated with laughter or “Oh my god! She did what?!”. Cigarettes would burn away. Forgotten, they would smolder out untouched– leaving a long gray ash like a snake laying lifeless in the glass tray. Unattended cigarettes also meant Dad forgot to drink. He’d remember to ask me what I had done with my day and would tousle my honey hair as he called me something sweet.
An observant, curious inquisitive child, I was often told the first thing they hoped would shut me up. The proverbial, “You will understand when you are older,” causing my little fists to clench and a foot to stomp. Boldly I would proclaim, “I am going to remember all these questions I have and get answers when I AM older!” Sometimes they’d chuckle, other times they’d ignore me and shoo me off.
One issue I had grave, grown-up contention which splashed over my early elementary years remains clear in my mind. It was a cruel variable in life. It was Math. Math actually brought me back to God.
About the time of long division, Mr Math and I had a falling out. Dread pervaded my little gastro-intestinal system every time the teacher said, “Let’s get out our math book.” Once I was old enough to be forced to learn fractions, Mr Math moved from frenemy to formal enemy. When letters “x” and “n” where introduced into what we were calling “number sentences”, I was secure in my decision math could not be trusted! Not easily detoured, I was determined this issue of math in my life could be rectified. I thoughtfully planned my attack.
The level of authority was Mom. Jaws clenched and purple marker in hand, I set to writing my argument. Within the hour, I had a succinct list. I captured reasons I did not need math, written in my very best penmanship AND used a purple marker for good luck. I was sure my last reason would seal the deal. PLUS it was written in my lucky, most favorite color — purple.
She discounted my first several reasons as invalid; the standard “I’m going to use calculators when I grow up,” and the stance of not being of occupational use. I had foreseen those being argued. I took the hits of dismissal like a brave warrior. I held out. My last reason was not numbered, but delineated with a carefully drawn, solid colored purple star. It was my hidden Ace in the pocket. Next to my purple star I had printed very carefully, “Why do I need to learn math because we all are going to die anyway and God will give me all the answers in heaven.”
I knew when she got to the Purple Star. Mom drew long, hard and slowly on her Winston cigarette, and her brow furrowed. She thoughtfully, slowly took another very long drag. I thought, “Aha!! I shall be free of this silly math stuff!”
She looked through the curls of smoke coming from her Winston and said, “Who told you about God?”. My hopes quivered. This is not about God. This was about math! Why do adults always get it all wrong?!
I sighed. I was apparently going to have to figure out God, before we could take care of Mr. Math. Boy, this was an unanticipated hurdle. God was my friend and that is all I knew.
I thought hard as I could… Hmmm. When or who taught me about God? I was as puzzled as her. I didn’t know. I had never been to a church. Great pains were taken to ensure I was not baptized. I thought Christmas and Easter were about presents and bunnies. I didn’t know how I knew about God. I just knew truly there was a God and He was an invisible, benevolent friend.
Mom and Dad could not decide what religion to raise me, so they did what they have always done — ignored the issue and did nothing.
“We don’t baptize because children should decide for themselves what they believe,” was the standard response to inquiries. Over the years several well-meaning neighbors tried to bring our family into the flock, and heard this pronouncement. “Those Christians”, would cajole, persuade, leave pamphlet and even call once learning my father’s name. (As the white pages gave his anonymity away.) Mom and Dad would have none of it.
They had their reasons for avoiding church and organized religion. Mostly it was to avoid familial conflict at the in-law level. They were careful to not let me “get caught up in those churches.” Yet here I stood with written proof in purple showing my heart had been touched by God. All their hard work to protect me from scandalous teachings was for nought. Somehow God got to me.
I stared at her. She stared at me. I said with sincerity, “I don’t remember. I just know Mommy,” I pled, “God loves me. He told me not to worry about math… that He’d give me the answers later,” and I added “In Heaven.”
I stood silent. She was silent. Only the light crunchy burn of the cigarette paper could be heard. The pause was pregnant. And too big for my fidgety self. Finally she said she’d talk to Dad. I ran off to play. I still had hope. I was a child and children always have hope — even in the most dark, dire situations.
As I sit here today, decades later, I get it. God is like that. He will find you and let you know of His love. When God slipped into my purple list, I had the eyes of a child … and child-like trust. I trusted my feelings, not asking for proof. I didn’t give this much thought until the day of the purple list. It was my innocence allowing my heart’s door to open. With acceptance of a child, I was able to see and hear the divine whisper of God. My mother had lost it, and hence could not see God anymore. It baffled her at that time in her life.
She called my dad at work, I remember. She stood as far as the curly phone cord would stretch and was whispering frantically. She reminded dad of my invisible friend a few years earlier. I had called my invisible friend “Jesus Christ”. Now here I was telling her God told me not to worry about math and He’d answer all my questions in heaven.
My parents sat me down later and gently, with quiet sense of urgency, tried earnestly to figure out how God got to their daughter. They were not angry with me, but truly perplexed… maybe even amazed. I do believe this event, along with my learning later as an adult when I chose to become baptized, my mother and father questioned their own dismissal of God. Per Mom’s recount, I spent countless hours with this invisible friend, talking, playing “house” and hop-scotch. I even demanded a place be set at the table for my friend. And when asked the name of my invisible friend, I would matter-of-factly say, “His name is Jesus Christ.”
I was told when grown, I once was holding hands with this invisible friend as we scampered through the rain into K-Mart. I put a grown up pout on my face, and sternly said, “Jesus Christ stop walking through the puddles.!!” My mother said she was embarrassed because it sounded as if I were using the Lords name in vain and mimicking her.
” When asked the name of my invisible friend, I would matter-of-factly say, “His name is Jesus Christ.”
(I do think Jesus would dance and splash in the puddles.)
Then as suddenly has He came into my life, poof, He seemed to disappear. And when asked where did Jesus Christ go? I said calmly, “I don’t know, but He said He’d come back again soon.” That was the last they heard of my heavenly exchanges until the day of the Purple List. How and why was God back in my little girl world? I still don’t know. He is just like that. And I know, when I can get myself out of the way, I can feel the presence of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. However, having lost my childish ways, it is more of a struggle to connect with my Creator.
Maybe I need to get my purple crayons out.