High School

My last two years of high school I attended Bethel Regional High School in Bethel, Alaska. It’s a bush town out on the tundra. The only way to get there is by plane, boat, or in winter, via snowmachine or the ice road. When I was living there the population was somewhere around six thousand. I moved from tropical Haiti to frozen Alaska and it was quite a shock to the system. I walked around in a heavy coat the first summer, but eventually I got used to it. It was the first time in my life that I did not have any tan lines. I’m sure my skin appreciated the break. 

I remember my senior year a girl I knew called me and asked me if I would be willing to tutor her in geometry. I was surprised and a little confused. Umm. I’ve never tutored before, I’m not sure how helpful I would be. Then the girl assured me that our math teacher, Mr. Guffin, had been the one who told her to call me. Oh. Ok. (Mr. Guffin thinks I can tutor someone??) Well, sure, I guess I could tutor you. 

The tutoring went well, she was able to get her grade where it needed to be, and the next semester another girl called and asked me to tutor her for Alegebra 2, also saying Mr Guffin had suggested she call me. I tutored her as well and she was able to pass her class too. 

I would have never thought that I could tutor someone in math. I would never have volunteered to do it. I would have never thought myself qualified to do it. But my teacher saw that I could, pushed me in that direction, and my confidence grew and I learned how to tutor math. 

I ended up writing for the school newspaper. Another thing I had no previous interest in and didn’t really think of it as something I would be capable of doing. A teacher pushed me in that direction and I ended up learning how to conduct interviews, and do layout on a computer. 

My gym teacher declared that everyone in his class would do calisthenics and running and become competent in a long list of sports. I did not think these were things I could do. But, it was required so I did it. And learned that I was actually capable of these things and could even semi-enjoy them. (Ok, maybe I didn’t quite become competent in all the sports, but I definitely made improvements!) 

I was not signed up for band class because I did not play any band instruments. But the band teacher learned very early on that I could play piano. He volunteered (voluntold) me to be the band accompanist. I accompanied several ensembles for their competitions and performances and I ended up accompanying every single student who performed a solo for band competition. And one time, when they were short somebody, I played the timpani. All things I did not think I could do. But the teacher said yes, you can do this, here’s the music, get busy. 

My best friend pushed me to be a class officer. Did I want to do this? No. Did I do it anyway? Yes. Did I learn a lot in the process? Yes. 

When I look back, I think of these last two years of high school as the golden years. I was learning who I was and what I was capable of doing. I made some great friends. My teachers were supportive and involved. My classmates were friendly enough. I was good friends with some, acquaintances with others, slightly nodding recognition with a handful. But no bullies. No kids that I felt the need to avoid at all costs. 

This is what I want for my own children. I want school to be a place where they are pushed to try new things, pushed to excel. Pushed to be more, do more. A safe environment with at least a handful of friends. 

We are looking at making some changes for next school year when we have a junior and freshman in high school. While our local high school was a great experience for our oldest daughter, a reasonable experience for our son and a decent experience for our other daughter, we’ve reached a place where it is not meeting the needs of our fourth daughter and we have concerns for our upcoming freshman. And while I struggle because I want to support our neighborhood school and I believe in their vision and I applaud the efforts of many of their staff, I can’t help wanting my kids to have the same thing I did. And right now it looks like we will have to branch out to find it. 

I’ll write more about this later. 

In Memory of Peter

When I was four or five years old my family was living in Northern Haiti on the OMS missionary compound. Our maid, who lived in the neighboring village, told my mom about a newborn baby in her village whose mother had just died of AIDS. The grandmother was caring for the baby now, but it was not doing well. My mom went into the village and found the baby: tiny, severely dehydrated and dying, the grandmother trying to keep him alive with sugared tea water. My mom brought the baby home. We had a nurse who lived on the compound. She tried to start an IV but the baby was too dehydrated. She instructed my mom to give the baby a dropperful of rehydration fluid every five minutes. My mom worked around the clock with the help of a volunteer missionary who was staying at our house. On the third day, exhausted, my mom asked the nurse if she could take a night shift with the baby. That night, under the nurse’s care, the baby opened his eyes, smiled, lifted his arms and then died. They had a funeral, people from the village came and this death ended up being the birth of my parents’ relationships and ministry in this village. 

I don’t really remember all of that. I had to ask my mom to get those details. 

What I remember is a blue blanket. A little dark head peeking through. I remember my mom made a baby bed in the living room out of a dresser drawer. I remember having to be quiet. And I remember the delight of having a baby in the house. The hope. Could this be my new baby brother? Do we get to keep him?

And then I remember the solemn conversation. Standing next to my big brother as the adults shared some important news. No images of the adults, no memory of their words, just information that was imparted. The baby had died. 

Peter had died. 

No one had bothered to name him, so our family named him Peter. 

It’s a wispy memory. A memory of What If. What if he had lived? What if my parents had decided to adopt him? What if I could have had a baby brother? 

I remember as a bit older child, moving to a different place, telling the new kids I met that I used to have a baby brother, but he died. 

As I was sitting here thinking about all this, it brought to mind another Peter who died. I had an early miscarriage in between my 9th and 10th child. I have no idea if the baby was a boy or a girl, but my heart said, this was a boy, and his name was Peter Elisha. Another wispy memory. What If? What if he had lived? A thought I shy away from. If he had lived, we would not have our last little boy who has brought so much joy to our lives. What ifs are too convoluted, confusing. A rabbit trail not worth pursuing. 

But, it is good to remember for a moment. Peter. Both Peters. You were loved for the few moments we knew you. 

Fat Fridays: The Stories Behind the “Why”

I grew up in the North of Haiti as a missionary kid. Our final four years there was a very turbulent time for the country, during the time of Aristide’s presidency. We were there when the US placed an embargo on the country and it was a very difficult time of food, gas, and medicine shortages. 

We lived in a flat roofed, two story, concrete brick house at the top of a mountain pass (ok, it was really a very tall hill, but it had the feeling of a mountain, and the road was steep enough that it might as well have been a mountain.) We had a view of the Bay of Acul and the Plan du Nord, a beautiful plain dotted with rice paddies and sugarcane fields, surrounded by distant mountain ridges. I spent a lot of time outside, just gazing at the view, maybe trying to sketch what I was seeing, thinking a lot. 

We didn’t have electricity. We had a generator, but during the embargo we had to be very careful with our fuel. We would turn the generator on every couple days so we could get the water pump working. We had a utility room that was full of 5 gallon buckets and water jugs that my brother or I would stand and fill with a hose. This would be our water supply until the next time we turned our power back on. (I mastered the 5 gallon bucket bath.) We had a kerosene refrigerator, but no kerosene, so we just made do without a fridge. Our stove was gas, but somehow we were able to get the fuel for that. 

My mom was a genius at making do with what we had as she tried to feed the family on a very limited budget and very limited available resources. We had friends in the States who would send boxes of food occasionally and there was the local market place. By the time of the embargo, the few grocery stores around were mostly empty. I remember that my mom would buy a giant bag of flour and a giant bag of sugar that she would keep in a steel barrel in the kitchen. The barrel was to keep all the bugs out of the food. My mom baked our bread every week.

There were many times that we were unable to leave the house due to unrest and disturbances. While that sounds exciting, it was actually very boring. Imagine a fifteen year old sitting at home with nothing to do. 

Mom, I’m bored. 

One of my favorite things to do was look through old GOOD HOUSEKEEPING magazines that someone had sent us. They had so many amazing pictures of food. Imagine. Decadent desserts, fancy roasted chickens. Our diet at the time consisted of a lot of canned tuna and Spam, because that was what people sent in food boxes. My mom is a gourmet cook, but she didn’t have much to work with. We will never let her forget the “Sweet and Sour Spam with Angel Hair Pasta” that she made. One of the few times I think I just didn’t eat. 🙂 So, here I am, bored, looking at food magazines, wanting to make all these amazing recipes. I asked my mom if I could bake something. Sure. She handed me her Better Homes and Gardens cookbook with the red-checked cover. 

Find a recipe that we have the ingredients for. 

Ok. 

Turns out, the only recipe I could find that we had ingredients for was simple sugar cookies. Sugar, flour, margarine. Some salt and baking powder. Eggs. Ok. We can make this recipe! I mixed everything up and then pinched some dough when my mom wasn’t looking. (Salmonella! Don’t eat raw cookie dough!) We baked the cookies. A bit too long. They were rather crispy. But they were sweet. It satisfied a longing. It pushed away the boredom for a little while. The cookies made me feel good. 

And cookies and other sweets still make me feel good. For a little while. Until I look down at myself and see the consequences of too many cookies. Check my blood sugar, see some more consequences. But how to change this life long habit? I’m bored. I’m feeling antsy. I’m not happy…food will make me feel better. 

I am discovering that it’s a really hard habit to break. 

A Story Behind Every Cookie

I just made chocolate chip cookies with my eight year old. After the cookies went into the oven to bake, she ran off to play, and I was the one who carefully watched the timer and made sure the cookies came out at the exact right time, quickly sliding them off the cooking sheet onto a cooling rack so they wouldn’t overcook on the sheet. And it suddenly brought back memories. 

My friend Alyssa taught me how to make chocolate chip cookies. My mom was not a cookie maker. No one can beat my mom’s raisin cinnamon rolls or her brownies, but cookies were not her thing. So, I moved to Bethel, Alaska just before my 16th birthday without the great life skill of knowing how to make good cookies. 

Alyssa and I met pretty soon after I moved to Bethel, and our friendship quickly grew into Best-Friend-dom. We were in the same grade at school. Being a Christian was important to both of us. And that’s about all we had in common. Well, we both got good grades in school. She was on all the sports teams, President of the Student Body, involved in every single leadership thing there was and graduated Valedictorian. I practiced piano all the time, loved to read, had a quirky sense of humor, and did not hold any positions of leadership. I ended up being Class Secretary senior year because of her interference. She also would make crazy suggestions like, Let’s Go Running! What??? But, we adapted. I went running, she watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail with me. I like to think that we were good for each other. 

But let’s get back to cookies. Alyssa’s family had the secret “Mrs Field’s Chocolate Chip Cookies” recipe (which Alyssa copied into a recipe book and gave to me for a wedding present and which I have passed down to all my children). One time I checked, very carefully, and was able to see that yes, there were some slight variations from her recipe and the recipe that comes on the chocolate chip bag.. But, I honestly think that the Key to her amazing cookies was knowing the exact amount of time to cook them. It’s a science. It’s taken me many years to figure it out perfectly, but Alyssa, you will be glad to know, I am now a master too! 

Alyssa’s house was the perfect tundra-living house. It was two stories, but all the living areas and kitchen were on the 2nd story. That way, you had a breathtaking view of snow and lights, sky, stars, going on for miles and miles. I remember long winter evenings at her house. We would bake cookies while munching on chips and salsa (also something Alyssa introduced me to). We would make the perfect cookies, play games, talk. Sometimes I’d play their piano and we would all sing together. Or we would go out and play in the snow. Alyssa and her family introduced me to the “STEAM” which is a far-north tradition. Small wooden building full of hot steam, so hot that you end up walking outside in Alaska winter in your swimsuit and it doens’t affect you. Her family also introduced me to Lefse (Norwegian potato pancakes), snowmobiling, and all the thrills of having a Dad who worked for Fish and Wildlife and was a trapper on the side. 

I get up from writing and go in the kitchen to grab a cookie. They sure are good. It’s funny how layered our lives are. We bake some cookies, but oh, all the stories and history behind that simple cookie. It’s good to take the time to remember every once in a while. 

P.S. My husband is back at work, mostly recovered from his covid, thank you for all your prayers!

Adventures with Friends

We just spent a long weekend with our friends down on the coast of South Carolina. We’re driving back to Tennessee now, car full of kids, favorite music playing, kids counting down the minutes before we can stop at McDonalds for lunch and get a Happy Meal. We’ve got the three youngest sitting right behind our seats, my husband is driving with earplugs in because the high shrill voices of small children wears him down. 

We had a wonderful time playing, kayaking, visiting the beach. As we were talking with our friends, we realized that we have been friends for seventeen years. That seems unbelievable. We met when we were all newlyweds with babies. We were remembering the first camping trip we did together. I was very pregnant, it rained, we set up a canopy and cooked under it while we threw all our kids into our van which happened to have a tv in it. 

Over the years we have done life together, in a very real way. Together we’ve figured out parenting challenges, marriage challenges, career challenges. We’ve encouraged each other in our spiritual walks. We’ve babysat. We’ve crashed at each other’s houses. We’ve taught each other our favorite hobbies. 

Our friends have moved around while we’ve stayed put, but we still manage to see each other a couple times a year.

And the old quote comes to mind,

 “Make new friends, but keep the old; Those are silver, these are gold.” Joseph Parry

Yesterday our friends took all the little kids to a playground while my husband and I took some of the older kids on a bike ride. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I had given my friends zero instructions on how to take care of my children and I had given my kids zero instructions on listening and obeying. Because it wasn’t necessary. I already know they can handle my kids. My kids already know these adults and respect their rules. These are people I don’t have to give backstory to. These are people that I can not call for months, and then send a random text about a random topic and I know it won’t be a problem. 

Gold. 

Friendships are funny things. They ebb and flow. They aren’t something we have a lot of control over. Sure, we can choose to be the best friend possible, but it has to be reciprocated. Sometimes it is, and it’s wonderful, sometimes we just change and grow apart. Sometimes we reconnect later, when our lives and interests intersect again, and sometimes we just remain a fond memory from the past. Whatever the case, long-term friends are rare and precious things and I am very thankful for them. 

I would post some pictures of our trip, but I don’t have any because I was too busy having fun. All I have are a couple pictures of kids squinting into the sun. Ah well. My son asked me today if I had taken a “mind picture” of something, so I could remember it for later. So, yes. I’ve got a whole album of Mind Pictures and another chapter added to our Adventures With Friends. 

In Memory of Grandpa Picazo

This week I have found my mind wandering back to the day that my grandfather died. My grandfather Mardoqueo Picazo, known as Mardy, or Grandpa, was a great man.  He was a US Navy WWII veteran, broadcast engineer, minister, missionary, and radio personality among many other things… As I sit here, I don’t think I can properly write down all his accomplishments. Instead I’ll tell you about his role as Grandpa. 

I remember sitting on his lap when I was very young, listening to his deep rumbling voice as he read stories to me. I remember him sitting at the head of the table at meal times. He had a rule that when us grandchildren were done eating, we had to come over to his chair and ask permission to leave the table. Looking back, I can see it was an excuse to get an extra hug and kiss before we ran off to play our own games. 

I remember the sparkle in his eyes, the amused smile. His love of corny puns and jokes. His warm hugs. 

I remember when I was fourteen, I flew from Haiti to the States to visit my grandparents and other relatives. My grandfather drove to another city to come pick me up at the airport. We drove back towards the small country town where my grandparents lived. When we were close to my grandparents’ farm, we stopped at a roadside stand to buy some fruit. My grandfather proudly announced to the lady at the cash register that his granddaughter had come from Haiti to visit him. The lady looked surprised then eyed me carefully. (Keep in mind, I was a very quiet, reserved kid.) Then she leaned towards my grandfather and whispered, “Does she speak English?” My grandfather nodded gravely and said, “She gets by.” We got in the car and he chuckled to himself. My grandfather is Mexican American and has a slight Spanish accent. I am very white and have spoken English my entire life. He thought this was hilarious. 

As I think about it, my lasting impression of my grandfather was a gentle, humble man who quietly went about his days doing God’s work. No fanfare. Just quietly going about his business with a lot of humor mixed in. 

At the end of my grandfather’s life, after the passing of my grandmother, he ended up spending his last weeks at my home in hospice care. We had a lot of family coming in and out during that time. I remember times of sitting with my grandfather, singing the old hymns. By that time he was not able to communicate. And so I sat and held his hand and we sang songs that we knew he would remember. 

At the very end, I had the privilege of being in the room when he passed away. He was surrounded by family. My father recited the Twenty-third Psalm as he breathed his last. And I remember walking over to the corner of the room by myself, tears streaming down my face, and suddenly I was overwhelmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. I was sobbing, hands lifted up in worship, my mouth speaking words I did not know, and I had the impression of light, even with my eyes closed. 

And that is my final impression of my grandfather, and the legacy I want to live out and pass to my children and my grandchildren. May we live our lives in such a way that our passing is a Holy moment covered in the presence of the Holy Spirit. 

Flights of Fancy

On a rare warm day in February, I step outside,

Feet squelching through the muddy brown grass.

I pause and look up, the blue sky calling my gaze.

White clouds drift across the sky, and I am mesmorized, 

This temporary break from a gray, cold winter. 

Suddenly, three birds fly over my head. 

Small. 

Nondescript. 

But they are close. I can see them. Their wings flapping with strength, 

Their chests straining as they climb through the air. 

I watch them, and I feel the muscles in my arms and my chest, 

Straining in rhythm with theirs. And for one moment, I am certain…

I have flown before. 

I know this feeling. My body remembers the exertion. 

My arms begin to raise, as if, at any moment, they wil be capable of lifting me into the air.

I close my eyes and I can remember the feel of the wind hitting my face. 

I can remember squinting through the bright sunlight.

I can remember the exhilarating rush of climbing and falling.

And then I step back. 

Silly me. 

What flights of imagination.  

I am a logical woman. My feet have never left the ground. 

I bring my eyes back to earth, continue to walk through the brown grass. 

But one part of my mind rebels. It says, No, you are wrong. 

You have flown before. 

We remember. 

I wrote this poem because it showed up in my mind and needed to be written down. But, I sat here puzzling over it. Because, I do have this feeling that I have flown before. What is that all about? And as I have sat here thinking about it, I suddenly have this memory of me, as a small child, on a very windy day, running through a field. Certain that if I just run fast enough, lift my arms high enough, the wind will lift me off the ground and take me away. Maybe if I just take some jumps in the air, that will help the wind along. I remember running for the joy of it, my face turned to the sky, my heart pounding as I pushed myself as fast as I could go. I remember lying on my back, staring, watching the clouds sail past. Dreaming of living in those clouds, how soft they must be! Ah yes. I have flown before. 

Oh, to remember how to be a child and fly again. 

Childhood Memories

Disclaimer:

The following is a memory from my childhood. A note on memories. They are not always accurate. Details might be wrong. Also, these are the memories of a child, my understanding of the world around me was that of a twelve year old. My main concern in posting this article is to not cast a bad light on the country of Haiti. I do not want that. I think the events that happened are universal to any society that is going through upheaval, not specific to Haiti. So, without further ado..

I was twelve years old. We were living in Cap Haitian, Haiti. We had just moved back to Haiti maybe six months before, after living in the States for five years. Haiti was the home of my father and mother, and I had memories of Haiti from when I had been younger, so it felt like home.

There had been a Coup d’etat, the government had been overthrown and the country was in an uproar. We had been hiding in our house for a week with little word of how things were going around the country. My father religiously listened to the radio throughout the day and he had a ham radio in his truck that he could reach a missionary compound that was maybe a thirty minute drive away in Vaudreille where my Grandparents lived. My father and Grandfather had a prearranged time that they would talk over the radio twice a day. 

The first day that everything fell apart we had heard explosions and gunshots. We had all hid in the stairwell of our house, the safest place we could find in our open, airy, tropical home. Not sure if any of the bullets were aimed our way. During the day we could hear the low roar of a mob, far off in the distance. And I wondered what that mob was doing. I had overheard stories of mobs attacking rich people’s houses, dragging the occupants out into the street and killing them in horrible ways and then ransacking their houses. The sound of the mob was the sound of death. I hated that sound. 

We stayed inside, rarely venturing into our concrete-block-walled yard. We had very little groceries in the house and had been subsisting on macaroni and a large bag of pancake mix. 

The first night of the trouble, my father had told us to lay out an outfit in dark colors and pack one small bag. He was afraid that our house might be attacked in the night and that it would be necessary for us to run on foot from the house. He had spoken to our night watchman and the watchman knew the trails over the mountain that could take us to the missionary compound, and he was willing to lead us if necessary. 

I had always wanted to hike over that mountain, it always looked so romantic, looming over the Northern Plain, often covered in clouds. The whole idea sounded exciting, but it also made my stomach churn. I remember laying out my black tshirt and my blue jean capri pants. I packed a small blue jean bag with leather straps that my mother had brought as a gift for me when she had gone to South Africa for the funeral of her missionary father. I always slept with my favorite stuffed animal, Potbelly, and I couldn’t decide if I should stuff him in the bag so he would be ready to go or should I sleep with him and then, if I was awakened in the night, I could stuff him in the bag at that time. I can’t remember what I decided. 

My mom had a large jewelry collection, none of it worth a great deal, but each piece representing an exotic location she had visited. My mom got out some dark green fabric and showed me how to sew a simple little drawstring bag. We sewed two bags and then put our jewelry in the bags and stowed them in our travel bags. 

When I woke up the next morning, I looked over, and all my travel stuff was still there. I was surprised and thankful that we hadn’t had to run in the night. But, we left our stuff layed out every night that week, just in case. 

After a week, my Dad came in after talking on the ham radio with my Grandpa. After talking with my mom, they announced that we were going to drive to the missionary compound and stay there until things had calmed down. 

What about the drive there? What about the mobs? What about the gunshots? What if we got stopped? 

My Dad said we would not get stopped. Everything was going to be ok.

We each packed a small bag of valuables and clothing and then loaded them into our truck. The watchman agreed to stay on and take care of our pets and take care of the property. 

Our truck had once been a Tap-Tap, a vehicle outfitted to act as public transportation. The back had a roof and sides. My dad had changed the benches in the back to make them more comfortable and he had installed a tail gate and wire mesh doors that could completely close up the back. 

Usually, my brother and I would sit on the benches and we would get a bungee-cord and fasten it to the two wire mesh doors to hold them closed from the inside. If my dad wasn’t carrying passengers he simply used a padlock to shut the doors from the outside.

This time my dad put a mattress down on the floor of the truck bed and instructed us to lay on the mattress. Then he shut the wire mesh doors and locked them from the outside with a padlock. He had canvas curtains that he could put down when it was raining. We hated those curtains as it shut out any breeze and made it very hot. He put down the curtains so that nobody could see into the back of the truck, and we couldn’t see out. 

I lay on the mattress on the floor and just stared at that padlock through the dim gloomy light. What if our truck DID get stopped by a mob? What if the mob set our truck on fire? I knew this was a possibility. I had seen burnt-out vehicles by the side of the road before. What if the mob pulled my parents from the truck and killed them and we were just stuck in the back of the truck, unable to do anything?

I looked over at my brother. He had his headphones in, music blasting. I scooched a little closer to him, layed on my back and stared at the sliver of light coming between the rubber curtains. I held on as the truck slowly made its way down a very rutted and washed out dirt road. I mentally kept track of where we were, each bump and turn giving me a clue. I didn’t move from the mattress. I had no desire to get up and peek through the cracks. Finally the truck pulled off the dirt road and onto a paved road that was also rutted and full of potholes, sections of pavement missing every once in a while. My body tensed. We could drive faster on this road, but we were still in town. Just a little bit farther and we would be out of Cap Haitian. The closer we got to Vaudreuille and the missionary compound, the safer we would be. 

Finally, finally, the truck took a sharp right turn and then stopped. I knew we must be at the gates to the compound now. The gate would be locked and guarded, but they would recognize our truck and let us in quickly. 

We finally pulled into a grassy driveway behind my grandparents house. My dad got out and I could hear him talking to my grandparents. I shook the back door, Hey, let me out. And he walked over and unlocked the gate. My brother and I jumped out, holding our bags. We all then acted like we were having a holiday visit with my grandparents. My grandmother showed us our rooms, my brother and I sharing the room we had always shared when staying with them. A cannonball from the Citadel, a large fortress in the North, acting as a door stop for our door. The whoosh of ceiling fans. The chimes of my grandmother’s clock. 

My grandmother explained when supper was, when breakfast was, what the shower schedule would be, what she and Grandpa’s work schedule would be, as they were still working full-time at the Christian Radio station. It was all so orderly. Just like my grandmother. 

I laid on my bed that was made up with seventies style flowered sheets. I pulled out my book and started reading.

Birthday Memories

Today is my birthday. Yay me! I am feeling happy and relatively peaceful and relaxed. My day has been pretty ordinary, but I don’t have any errands to run. No appointments to go to. Lots of projects to work on, but no urgent deadlines. My husband is cooking supper tonight and I will probably guilt trip my kids into cleaning the house as a birthday present for me. It’s been a chilly morning and I am so happy that Fall is progressing as it should, unlike last year when summer went over several months more than we wanted it. I even lit a fire in our woodstove. 

This morning I had a sudden memory of my fourteenth birthday, and it was a fun memory to re-live. 

We were living in the North of Haiti. I was attending a little mission school at a nearby Baptist Hospital Compound. There were five of us in high school that year. We all came to school every day, sat at our little cubicle/desks and worked on our own correspondence courses. We had a grown up in the room to help us if we needed it, but we were all pretty much working independently. There was one other girl besides me, Olynda, who was a senior while I was a lowly freshman. Except, in that school, it really didn’t matter. We were all friends. 

As my birthday was approaching, Olynda and I started talking about birthday wishes. What would be the best birthday ever? I said something along the lines of being kidnapped by my friends, and then we’d all skip school and go to a nearby waterfall to play for the day. We laughed and giggled as we elaborated on the guest list and all the things we would do. 

I didn’t think too much more about it after that.

The morning of my birthday came and our family did the normal birthday tradition of getting up early to open presents. Afterwards I was getting dressed, getting ready for breakfast. My brother surprised me by asking if I had brushed my teeth yet. What? Why are you telling me to brush my teeth? That’s weird. I’ll brush them after breakfast. He was very urgent, telling me to go brush my teeth now. Good grief. Irritating older brother. 

I was standing in the living room talking to my mom when I saw her eyes flicker over my shoulder. I glanced around and there was one of the volunteers from the Baptist Hospital, an American nurse named Kristy who offered tutoring help to the highschoolers on occasion. I started to turn around. What is she doing here? It’s early morning. What on earth? Then she rushed up to me and stuck a pillowcase over my head.  I think I went into a bit of shock cause the next couple minutes were a blur. I heard Olynda’s voice and a lot of giggling and I was pushed through the house and into a car. I can’t remember exactly, but I was probably saying something along the lines of, I can’t believe you actually did this!! 

The really funny part was that this all happened during a time of political unrest, and we had to drive through a police checkpoint on our way to the Baptist Compound. Before we got there, Olynda yanked the pillow case off my head. Sorry, we can’t drive through the checkpoint with a pillow case on your head. We all smiled and looked as normal as possible as we drove through, then Olynda stuck the pillowcase back on my head.

When we got to the Compound I discovered that Olynda had arranged and prepared a birthday breakfast with our friends. And while it wasn’t hooky from school or splashing in a waterfall, it was definitely one of the best surprises I have ever had on my birthday. 

Thank you Olynda (and Kristy!) for the great memories!

The Traveling Clothes

It’s funny how an outfit can get associated with an entire time period of your life. When I was six and half years old we moved from Haiti back to the States. My mom was planning on going back to school so she could become a PAC and come back to Haiti to do medical missions. 

 

I remember shortly before we left, I was looking in my closet, and in the back of the closet found an outfit hanging up. It was a white sleeveless tshirt with blue anchors all over it. There was also a pair of navy blue culottes. Culottes? I didn’t own any culottes. Now, my next-door best friend Helen had lots of culottes. Maybe these were her clothes hanging in my closet? Maybe she had left them here and Mom was just waiting till she could give them back? I went and asked my Mom and she said that actually this was my traveling outfit, I was going to wear these clothes when we got on the plane to leave Haiti. They were my traveling clothes.

 

Oh. Ok. 

 

I remember the confusion of emotions. Excitement that I had a new outfit with CULOTTES! (I’d always wanted culottes!) Anticipation of getting on a plane. But also a bit of dread since I had no idea what all this meant. 

 

I remember when we got to the airport. My clothes were new and a bit stiff. The airport in Cap Haitien was still small and simple at that time, an open air tin roofed structure with a small area of seats. Lots of gates and chain link fences. For some reason or other me and my best friend quarreled at the very last minute and we either did not say goodbye or it was a very stilted farewell as the group of missionaries that had accompanied us hugged and kissed us on our way. But, I didn’t have too much time to dwell on that, we were getting on the plane. 

 

My mom handed me some Chiclet gum that she had bought from a vendor outside the airport. We rarely got candy or gum so this was a special treat. She instructed my brother and I to chew our gum while the plane was taking off so our ears wouldn’t pop. We obediently and industriously chewed our gum as the plane creeped down the runway, turned, and then suddenly started moving very fast. Everything rattled, we gripped the armrests, and then abruptly, all the shaking was gone. We were up in the air. My face was glued to the window as I watched Cap Haitien and the Mountain and the Bay slowly become smaller and smaller, and then all I could see was the ocean underneath us. 

 

We stayed in Florida for a little while. My only memory of that was going into a grocery store with my parents. Being a lot closer to the floor, I happened to see a small bag of Reeses Pieces in the trademark orange bag. The bag was open and only had a couple pieces of candy left in it. I quietly picked it up and tried out this little treasure I had found. Wow. This stuff tasted good! I quickly finished off the bag and then hid the evidence. Maybe a year later, I learned in school that you were not supposed to eat candy you had found because it might be poisoned. I was still too young to understand how poison worked, and I went through an anxious period of time while I wondered if that candy from a year before was still inside of me and might poison me yet.  

The next time my memory kicks in was when we arrived in Nashville, TN. My mom was looking at two different schools, one in Nashville and one in Morehead, KY where we had lived before on the family farm. 

 

While in Nashville, we stayed in a little guest house of sorts. An upstairs tiny apartment. I remember it was rather dark inside. I’m not sure how we got hooked up with this guesthouse. Some kind of church or mission connection I imagine. I remember that outside the house were long grassy lawns that my brother and I ran around on. And downstairs was a grizzly older woman who I somehow made a connection with. When we left that place she gave me a stuffed toy cowboy as a parting gift. I named him Cowboy Bill and kept him for the rest of my childhood. 

 

I remember while we were staying at this apartment, my Mom bought us a box of Lucky Charms cereal. This was amazing. We did not eat cereal in Haiti. In Haiti we had cooked breakfasts. Oatmeal, pancakes, toast, etc. What was this heavenly ambrosia? It had marshmallows in it! Marshmallows! For breakfast! And they were all pretty colors! And this began the long debate in my mind…Do I eat all the marshmallows first and then have to eat all the plain oat cereal afterwards? Or do I eat all the plain oat cereal first and then end the meal with the bliss of mouthfuls of marshmallows? (It took years of gaining maturity before I could learn to enjoy eating it mixed together, the perfect blend.) 

 

Though I’m sure I had other clothes, all of my memories of that time are of me wearing my white sleeveless tshirt with the blue anchors, and the navy blue culottes. A dark haired little six year old girl. Silently taking in the world in her traveling clothes.