Under the Bed

My grandmother left us almost fifty years ago. I think of her every day. And if I didn’t, I’d be reminded of her anyway: I sleep in her bed, I see her art, I use her cooking techniques, and if I were smaller, I’d still wear the tailored wool suit she wore to the State Fair of Texas in 1936 which hangs in my closet. A connection on a molecular level, someone suggested.

We called her “Moo” because I could say neither the French grand-mère she coveted nor her second choice, “Mother Ruth,” that I as the first grandchild morphed. She was a character. That she could bear good-naturedly such an odd name says something, and perhaps enough for now.

William Wordsworth used the phrase “spots of time” to explain experiences which help us through the hard times or, really, just the times. We don’t necessarily choose them, and they need not be considered “Great Moments,” but somehow they’re there. I remember, for example, when Moo took me to get my first perm. I was probably nine, and the hair salon was an entirely new but not necessarily wonderful experience. For the next 30 years, periodically I either went to a salon to get one or, more likely, wound my hair around rods, applied an ammonia-based chemical, waited (outside, at my husband’s request), rinsed, and neutralized to stop the process. It was brutal, but Toni made it cheap. The link to the Wikipedia article above reminds me that our process could have been much worse.

Another memory takes me to the First Methodist Church in San Angelo with my grandmother, her friend, and her friend’s granddaughter. There was a quilting bee on, with the women’s work stretched taut on frames. We crawled around at our grandmothers’ feet and generally stayed out of trouble. My grandmother was not a quilter, and I don’t have any idea why we were there, but that feather’s touch of  time remains.

My grandmother always had what was referred to as “help.” One at a time, these women lived with the family when the children were young in a bedroom designed for them. It wasn’t part of my experience, and the only one living when I was aware remained a family friend. Her name was Viola, and after the children were grown and gone, she’d finished college, earned a master’s degree in education, and taught third grade for many years. Her family were country people and lived in a small town where they gardened and sewed, canned and quilted. And oh, could they cook. They came to a smaller town near San Angelo, Christoval, for a reunion every year. My grandparents contributed meat, and we were invited to the main meal which we regarded as heaven. I remember the afternoon naps in dorm-like, dimly lit rooms. But mostly I remember the cakes and pies and roasts and yeast rolls.

Somehow, all of this came together some years ago in the poem below. The phrase “funny-turned” is from Viola. The images pile on, so try to imagine a kid wanting to retreat, getting under the bed, having been under quilt frames like we were, hoping for better times. Writing in dialect is hard, maybe not always successful. About now, getting under something doesn’t seem that strange. And not coming out until I gotta!


If it gets any worse,

I gonna get unner the bed

An’a ain’t comin out never

An’a ain’t gonna cry none neither


Unner the bed is safe

unner the bed quiet

jus’ me, jus’ so


And the quilt’s over there

pink and green and white

purple red blue

Stars, made ‘em stars

Little bigger bustin’ over

An’ them women hands made it

An’ they talk bout me,

unner the frame way high

Proud I come home

after I go away

proud of me

funny-turned kid they say

talk bout me while they sew

six million gillion threads


Hold me down safe in there

unner the bed

for safe keepin’

only’s if it get any worse,

though, but till then

An’a ain’t comin out

till I gotta


For V.A.

What Am I Seeing?

Among my habits that others find irritating: reading a book before I gift it. This isn’t as bad in my mind as just giving a used book, like my great-aunt used to do. I may be wrong. The latest giftee/victim is Max, a grandson who turned eleven. His conscientious mother listed a book sponsored by his favorite author, Rick Riordan. Max loves Greek and Roman myths, so the Percy Jackson novels are a good fit. By sponsor, I mean something more complicated. The publisher is Rick Riordan Presents, part of the large Disney-Hyperion firm. Most offerings reflect a multi-cultural approach to the YA fantasy genre. So, the book I began reading before Max is Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia, a young man who lives in North Carolina and whose parents were scholars at the University of Wisconsin. It’s well written, fast-paced, and sure to engage Max’s interest. The gods in the plot are both African and African-American in origin. The one most familiar (at least to Southerners) is John Henry, represented here in a short video. A classic man-vs-machine tale, it  is based on fact; however, those of us who know the song remember Tennessee Ernie Ford’s version (great voice) or Harry Bellafonte’s (great voice + art).

But that’s not what caught my attention. Instead, Mbalia uses a bottle tree to introduce the idea of “haints” that challenge our young hero. Perhaps you’ve seen these garden creations—often a dead tree with its branches holding bottles, usually cobalt blue ones. The story, the explanation, was new to me. In the South, people saved the blue bottles from Milk of Magnesia, for example, turned them upside down on tree branches or whatever was handy. Evil spirits couldn’t resist going inside but once there were trapped and destroyed when the sun came up. So what I was seeing, even in my neighborhood, was more than a decoration. It was full of meaning.

Another rich example came this week when I listened to this podcast, “Rediscovering Mary, mother of God.” Catherine Taylor (no relation) earned her PhD from the University of Manchester and published Late Antique Images of the Virgin Enunciate Spinning: Allotting the Scarlet and the Purple. The title is a bit daunting, but when the author explains it all, I can almost understand. We have the birth of Jesus in Luke 2. An apocryphal book, The Protoevangelium of James, goes much more into detail about Mary’s life and history. When we see pictures from centuries ago, everything is symbolic: colors, animals, artifacts. Dr. Taylor discusses the weaving aspect in the podcast/transcript having to do with the making of Christ’s body. The spindle and distaff produce yarn, manually as the spinning wheel does more mechanically. This picture features a medieval woman holding a set; the background should remind you of the unicorn tapestry, which may further remind you that the unicorn is a symbol for Christ. So, Mary as a craftswoman has a deep history. This picture of the Holy Family shows the parents working and Christ in a walker, which is certainly a first for me. This one has Mary in the traditional blue dress, weaving. Thank you, Dr. Taylor. (Sorry. I just like the sound of it, really.)

Finally, a lovely gift arrived last week. It’s hard to describe: A rattle that is shaped like a heart. A spirit rattle. Actually, you can see it here. Without knowing its meaning, a rattling heart wouldn’t make sense: “Native Americans used rattles to ensure blessings upon their crops. Use your inner spirit rattle to help rattle some rain into your life, some rain out of your life, to rattle your worries away, or (if you insist) just to keep your papers from blowing astray.”

Sometimes on FaceBook I ask “What am I seeing?” Often there is a hidden frog (or snake!), not to mention the color of a dress or a shoe. That’s a literal interpretation, though. Most often, if we aren’t getting more, it’s because we don’t know to ask not just for an explanation of something that seems obvious (the dress dilemma wasn’t one unless someone explained people saw it differently) but for its deeper meaning. It’s a lifelong pursuit, and not everything we don’t get means it’s a symbol. I have, however, taken one of my cobalt blue bottles outside and hung it on a crape myrtle. Just for fun.





3 Nephi 3

For this week, I had a completely different plan. Cobalt blue bottles, the Virgin Mary, and a new middle-grades novel with African and African-American themes. Not finished maybe, but that’s what Monday mornings are for sometimes. Then I read the ten verses below and saw today’s theme: lies.

The most important element for the definition of a lie is intent. People say things that are factually inaccurate all the time, but to do so with the purpose of deception ups the ante. When I worked all those decades for Children’s Protective Services, I saw how much people abhor being lied to. Obviously, people lied to me all the time; it was part of the job. Most interesting, and most concerning, were the parents angered by their children not telling the truth. The reasons were generally to do with self-protection, and to me at least, didn’t seem serious, but some parents reacted more violently to the principle of lying than was appropriate, in my mind at least, because the intent was mitigated by the desire not to get beaten for whatever offense had occurred.

In the passage below, we have a master liar. Not a child. Not a teenager. He is a murderer, a thief, a leader of murderers and thieves. He challenges a ruler to give over his country and promises not to harm anyone if he does but threatens destruction if he doesn’t. What struck me on this reading was the subtlety of the wording. For all Harry Potter fans, it was like hearing Parseltongue. If you remember, the language of serpents usually indicates the presence of a Dark Wizard, so there is deep concern that Harry knows it. The liar below uses several techniques, strategies, whatever you want to call them, to try to inflict his will. It all sounded so familiar and so modern.

The year is 16 A.D. when Giddianhi sends a letter to Lachoneus, flattering him for being firm in trying to protect the liberty and property of his people. Quickly, he tells him that it is pointless to stand against the force that Giddianhi commands because they are ready and able to destroy Lachoneus and his people because of the wrongs they have wreaked upon his band. He promises not to destroy them if they surrender and learn the secrets of his order. None of this is true, of course. Lachoneus knows that and refuses to yield. Victory is his because he waits for Giddianhi to come to their newly fortified strongholds. That’s the short take, anyway.

Perhaps you’ll have the same experience I did when reading the actual words of the liar, whose skills are far beyond mine. Perhaps you’ll see applications all around just now. Or perhaps you’ll wait on the blue bottles, the mother of God, and a kid’s book. Excuse my diversion. Someone shared this quotation from J.R.R. Tolkien today: “It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they have is not ours to rule.” It seemed to fit.

3 Nephi 3:

And now it came to pass that in the sixteenth year from the coming of Christ, Lachoneus, the governor of the land, received an epistle from the leader and the governor of this band of robbers; and these were the words which were written, saying:

Lachoneus, most noble and chief governor of the land, behold, I write this epistle unto you, and do give unto you exceedingly great praise because of your firmness, and also the firmness of your people, in maintaining that which ye suppose to be your right and liberty; yea, ye do stand well, as if ye were supported by the hand of a god, in the defence of your liberty, and your property, and your country, or that which ye do call so.

And it seemeth a pity unto me, most noble Lachoneus, that ye should be so foolish and vain as to suppose that ye can stand against so many brave men who are at my command, who do now at this time stand in their arms, and do await with great anxiety for the word—Go down upon the Nephites and destroy them.

And I, knowing of their unconquerable spirit, having proved them in the field of battle, and knowing of their everlasting hatred towards you because of the many wrongs which ye have done unto them, therefore if they should come down against you they would visit you with utter destruction.

Therefore I have written this epistle, sealing it with mine own hand, feeling for your welfare, because of your firmness in that which ye believe to be right, and your noble spirit in the field of battle.

Therefore I write unto you, desiring that ye would yield up unto this my people, your cities, your lands, and your possessions, rather than that they should visit you with the sword and that destruction should come upon you.

Or in other words, yield yourselves up unto us, and unite with us and become acquainted with our secret works, and become our brethren that ye may be like unto us—not our slaves, but our brethren and partners of all our substance.

And behold, I swear unto you, if ye will do this, with an oath, ye shall not be destroyed; but if ye will not do this, I swear unto you with an oath, that on the morrow month I will command that my armies shall come down against you, and they shall not stay their hand and shall spare not, but shall slay you, and shall let fall the sword upon you even until ye shall become extinct.

And behold, I am Giddianhi; and I am the governor of this the secret society of Gadianton; which society and the works thereof I know to be good; and they are of ancient date and they have been handed down unto us.

10 And I write this epistle unto you, Lachoneus, and I hope that ye will deliver up your lands and your possessions, without the shedding of blood, that this my people may recover their rights and government, who have dissented away from you because of your wickedness in retaining from them their rights of government, and except ye do this, I will avenge their wrongs. I am Giddianhi.


“If I Were King of the Forest…”

Leadership. One of the current tropes is that we have a dearth of leadership. There’s nothing modern about the lack, of course. Leaders lead; followers complain (see Moses et al.)

While the foursome wait for the Wizard of Oz to receive them and award their witch-killing efforts, the Cowardly Lion sings “If I Were King of the Forest.” His odd list of what would happen reflects an odd view that’s not consistent with modern sensibilities. (High-falutin’ words, I know.) Sure, it’s just a lyric, but to think of trees kneeling  and chipmunks genuflecting—even if he shows “compash/For every underling”—just doesn’t sit right. He disses queens, too, to which I will take offense in place of former female monarchs. Princes and dukes too, but they’re just fillers. Nathan Lane’s concert version throws in “the performer formerly known as Prince for good measure and good fun.  Even more odd, however, Cowardly Lion believes that courage alone will allow him to be a king, a good leader. Maybe so. That’s a really short list compared to the ones I’ve seen.

This one ends with courage and includes others that we would expect: vision, compassion, “walk the talk”, and communication. This one adds “Be human,” which I guess lets the robots and mean folk out. Here and here we have lots of possibilities (41—who could remember all those?). All this admittedly shallow research led me to think about the real leaders I’ve known, one of whom we’ll learn more about: Robert “Bob” Callanan.

A little history first. One year my college didn’t need my talents, nor did the State of Texas. About the same time, the federal government encouraged employees to explore long-term care insurance. I agreed to listen to the sales pitch but had no intention of buying anything. Although my grandfather had brought insurance to West Texas, paying for a non-tangible (that’s the real term) has always irritated me. Not that the woman who came tried to be persuasive, and even though I was prepared to say no, we bought a policy after I thought of an aged future when I’d hate to ask my children to do the care I might need. Men die first, usually, and that glimpse for me was sure. But not only did I agree to buy this insurance, I also decided to sell it. Paperwork was submitted, approvals were garnered, and an interview with the regional sales manager was arranged. From that first meeting with Bob until our last, I learned what the rules of leadership are.

  1. This mission comes first. His was taking care of people, whether his family by earning a good salary or his sales team by expecting their best or our clients by educating them and providing them the best possible product. Nothing came between him and the mission. That meant corollaries. For example, although he never used these words, there was never to be the appearance of evil. He would meet me at What-a-Burger rather than come into my home alone. We all sensed that he loved his family above all, so nothing that might jeopardize the family would ever happen. His faith was strong and deep and tangible, another support to the mission. As long as he was able, he attended Mass every morning. Even for those of us who consider ourselves faithful, that commitment is above and beyond. The long lists, the short ones—he lived them. He had his favorites (Diet Pepsi and “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”) but the integrity of his character earned him what might be called followers. Most of us aren’t very good at following (see, again, Moses), but Bob was good at what he did, so we were glad to be with him, going where he was going.

And that’s it. To quote Stephen Covey, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” So there aren’t 40 other things to say or remember. Today’s leaders—good, bad, or indifferent—should take note. Robert Callanan, 1940-2019. RIP