From Salience to Silence

Robert, my California brother who keeps reminding me he is younger, was visiting some of the family in Georgia the past two weeks. He always enjoys being around my children and grandchildren and greeted them with the usual big Uncle Rob hugs. We ate and ate and served up lots of strong coffee with dessert as we “set a spell”. (That’s Southern for hours and hours.) Our group discussions were much like they were when my sisters and brothers and I were growing up. We sat around the dinner table and voiced our opinions with the same passion and volume a child has when trying to convince his parents he needs a new bike. We asked questions like:

  • Who are the three people, living or dead, you would most like to meet?

This would trigger new questions before anyone could offer their ideas regarding Shakespeare, Michelangelo, or Einstein.

  • So, is anyone ever really dead?
  • What happens to the soul?
  • Are our spirits and souls separated when we die or merely transported to the cosmos along with our bodies?

Once again our family gathered around the table just like days gone by. Only this time weightier, more complicated questions came up.

  • What happened for 400 years between Malachi of the Old Testament and Matthew of the New Testament?
  • Who decided what to put in the Bible and what to leave out?
  • How do we know if the different translations are accurate?

Fourteen days of talk about spiritual and non-spiritual things were sparked by a young-ish man who sat next to Robby on the five hour cross country flight. The unsuspecting stranger had introduced himself as an Evangelical Christian to the world’s greatest antagonist. After exhaustive discussion, the man asked my brother if he had a Bible.

“No. I lost mine somewhere between childhood and enlightenment.”

Yep. That’s my brother.

An enormous Bible was pulled out from under the seat and put unapologetically in my brother’s lap.

“Here. You may keep this if you agree to one condition. You have to promise me you will read it.”

It was filled with sticky notes, highlights, and turned down pages. Obviously it was well read and cherished by someone who enjoyed studying. Robby eagerly accepted the reading challenge. The two men exchanged business cards before they left the plane and parted their ways.

Brother Rob had an unusual expression on his face as he stepped off the airport curb and jumped into the back seat of my waiting car. When we arrived at my sister’s house, everyone did the so-good-to-see-you dance and sang the missed you-so-much song.

Then it happened.

Robby smiled his diabolical now let’s talk smile then he pulled out his four inch thick, leather bound weapon of choice. He now had fuel for the much anticipated, multi-generational rebuttals that always accompany family visits. Or, so he thought. And so he said.

“I have a lot of topics I would like to discuss with my dear sisters before I go back home. First, we will set boundaries and establish rules. No name calling. No shouting. No crying. Second, we will have to respectfully agree to disagree… because you know in the end we will disagree.”

Ha. Little did he know what I have stored in my arsenal.

I was armed with the old Abrahams’ family two volume “World Book Dictionary” and my personal copy of “Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible” that translates Scripture from original Greek and Hebrew to English. He simply called on Ms. Siri and Mr. Google when desperate. Although it took me awhile to find answers to his plethora of questions, time was on my side. Robby had a tendency to misplace his bifocals. 😉

On the lighter side, many hours of playing board games and Chess and occasional Frisbee for old time’s sake passed too quickly. Our days together now seem more precious and too few.

You see, five years ago, our youngest sibling, the baby of the Abrahams family, the one we always called spoiled, was diagnosed with a rare blood disease. It affected his senses of smell and taste, destroyed his facial bone structure, breathing and eventually his stomach. It is literally a miracle he is still alive, having gone through countless series of reconstructive operations and experimental treatments. His cancer was so unusual and difficult to manage, the university doctors in California called in doctors from Japan to help diagnose and treat our little brother. They are all in awe that today he is doing so well.

He is still vulnerable to infections in public places, especially in airports and airplanes. Many prayers have gone up and out for him and he even said he could feel that people were praying for him. He is grateful, but he still questions this phenomenon called God of the Universe. That’s okay. We will never stop questioning this thing called life and what it is for. And, hopefully, we will never be so arrogant to think we know all the answers.

So, we ended our time together as we started. Full of good food, laughter, and tears. The memories were shared of those whom we have loved and lost. A sister, parents, aunts, uncles. So many. We joked about what Mother would say if only four of her five children showed up in Heaven.

As we dropped our dear brother off at the Atlanta airport, we said our silent goodbyes. We didn’t need words to express our love and gratitude for being given another year where we could be together for two weeks. Life has been good to us. We have each other. Always will.

Thank God.


In The Horse’s Shadow

I walk today my head is bowed

My voice is low

My path is darkened with my tears

I stumble so…

I’m in the horse’s shadow

I’ve lost my friend as well as joy

I only sigh

Gone is the sun, the stars stand still.

I wonder why…

I’m in the horse’s shadow

Where are the fields of Kely Green

and Dancing Dawn?

Where is this place of Prancing Hooves

Where she has gone?

Away from horses’ shadows

Her Spirit lives though out of reach

Beyond my touch

I long to see the One I knew

and loved so much…

Alone in horse’s shadow

Her blanket hangs awaiting time

to drape her form

Tho’ snow falls cold and Winter’s come

I know she’s warm…

Not in the horse’s shadow


I face the Wind and feel her breath

She nods and neighs

I close my eyes, I lift my head

I sing her praise

While in the horse’s shadow


Someday I’ll ride upon her back

We’ll soar so high

We’ll split the clouds and laugh out loud

Away we’ll fly…

Above the horse’s shadow!


Word for Word

In Russian it’s Slova. In Spanish it’s Palabra. In German it’s Wort.

Words are magical, mysterious,  and memorable. They can transport us to another dimension, another time. We laugh when we hear them and cry when we read them.  A song is merely a tune without words.

Mothers tell us to choose them wisely. Fathers tell us our words are as good as a promise. Siblings use words to build us up, to tear us down, to keep us in our place. Friends give us their solemn word, knowing there is nothing more sacred. As Christians we are taught Jesus is the Word of God.

We write letters to stay in touch with loved ones. Sometimes we even mail them.  Journals hold our secret desires, our wildest dreams, our quiet frustrations. We don’t keep journals unless we put our words in them.

Essays are written to present our point of view, either to convince another person we are right or to encourage those who agree with us. Reports are given to our constituents to convey what happened or to prove to our teacher we actually read the book.

The blind see words by feeling shapes, the deaf hear words by sign language or reading lips. Babies instinctively know they must learn the words of their culture in order to communicate their wants and needs. They know, somehow, love is a very important word in every language.

As writers, we understand the power in the words we use and how we use them. When written on a piece of paper or on a computer screen or on a subway wall, our words can take on a whole new meaning, create a movement, change governments.

Like Mother said, choose your words wisely. Someone is reading… Someone is watching… Someone is listening…


The Letter

Our step-dad, affectionally called Papa Bill, enjoyed communicating with all of his children and grandchildren who lived in various regions throughout the world. It wasn’t unusual to find in our mailboxes after a long day at work, envelopes stuffed with silly cartoons and pictures of kittens doing crazy things. He definitely knew how to cheer the weary soul.

However, he was infamous for his 5:30 a.m. phone calls. It may have been 5:30 a.m. for those of us on the West Coast, but it was already 8:30 a.m. in Georgia which is Southern for “time to go to work”. Having grown up on a Texas cotton farm during the Depression, his clock said the day was half over. His greeting always started with, “Good Afternoon!”  And trust me, you never, I mean never, sounded groggy or irritated that you had been woken up early (even if it was on the weekend) before the obligatory triple shots of Starbucks, or you would be treated to an even earlier phone call the next week.

While rummaging through boxes stored away from their big cross country move a few years ago, my sister found this letter addressed to her and my brother-in-law Dick who, at the time it was written, lived in rural Kennewick, Washington. They had horses and lots of pasture and, of course, the necessary barns.

The eastern part of the Washington State is known for numerous horse ranches, endless sky, and expansive farmland. This is where you will find your best cherries and apples – sorry Michigan – and asparagus and potatoes – sorry, Idaho. Many of the best wines come from that region, too.  Which may be another reason some of the residents of the Pacific Northwest will argue California is mostly unnecessary.

This letter was typical of Papa’s view on life. Laugh. Love. Now get to work!

It is copied below word for word, showing typos, missing punctuation, added consonants,  He would have claimed certain amount of skill was required to type on his treasured typewriter (errors be damned) which is now in the care of  his great grandchildren.

It is unknown why he didn’t type the last line. I like to think it was to prove he still mastered pen and ink and was not going to be overshadowed by any technology monster of tomorrow, be it typewriter or computer.


Sat  23  Jan 99

Dear Children:

I am always thinking of your welfare; therefore, enclosed is a copy of the GA Farmers and Consumer Market Bulletin. I thought you may want to know what to do if your horse is stolen. Granted this advice is for GA, but it could apply to WA. Now if your horse is stolen and you can’t find it you may want to go into another hobby. For example how about pigs. You have a barn and they like barns. Page 5 has a list of pigs for sale.

On the other hand you may rather go for goats and sheep. Now goats will cleans(sic) all the weeds, cans and shrubby(sic), but the billy goats stink. Therefore, why not try for sheep. They do like the cold weather in Kennewick and you can take them to the mountains in summer. Also you can shear the wool and in winter you can make wool socks. Another profitable hobby is poultry. Now you can use the barn and of course they like trees. The price of eggs makes this hobby interesting (you will need to build nest for the eggs and of course someone has to gather the eggs each day — they spoil in summer and freeze in winter. There is one other hobby you may be interested in and that is rabbits. Now rabbits are good to eat. You can dress them out and hand (sic) them out on a line in winter and you have food. This will require building cages.

I did not list catfish farming – cause you don’t have a lake.

Here is some gossip:     

The quality of life is in the mind, not in material. The world is filled with beauty when your heart is filled with love. We grow because we struggle, we learn and we overcome.  Goodness is the only investment that never fails. Live every day of your life as though you expect to live forever. Don’t believe in miracles – depend on them. Kind words do not cost much, yet they accomplish much. Cherish yesterday, dream tomorrow, live today.  Be not simply good, but good for something. To desire is to obtain, to aspsire is to achieve.  Happiness is not pleasure – it is victory. To have character is to be big enough to take life on.

Now I think this is enough because as the day lengthens, the cold strengthens.

I love both of you. By-the-way if Dick gets fed up with Realestate he may want to go into farming and there are some good buys in the Bulletin.

I did this on my 1972 Smith Corona typewriter/computer.   Bill  


The Colonel

The Old Soldier decided to look out the window one last time.

Winter birds hushed their chatter when they saw the proud but tired man’s face appear on the other side of the window pane.

Even Snow and Ice silenced all traffic in the streets for the Colonel’s final inspection.

The officer was unable to raise his broken arm in a salute, so he simply nodded his approval.

He pulled the shades and closed the curtains before he bent down to remove his battle worn boots.

He took good care of them all his life and they served him well, much like his soldiers, he thought.

After the boots were put aside, the uniform was carefully removed and hung in the closet.

He put on the new robe given him by his unit for his journey home.

He smiled.

Memories flooded his mind as he glanced around the darkening room.

There were fading outlines of awards, plaques, and trophies he earned for serving his country through the years.

Once again he turned his body in the direction of the door and focused on his next goal.

He rested his bruised and swollen hand on the doorknob, not knowing what awaited him on the other side.

To his surprise, the door opened easily.

The light in the room immediately blinded the soldier.

He knew he was in the presence of greatness and fell to his knees when he heard the voice.

It was his King who called his name and said softly, “Come.”

The words the old timer heard next were what he always dreamed to hear, but didn’t know if he ever would.

                                      Sit next to me

                                      And take your rest

                                      All Heaven knows

                                      You’ve done your best.

                      Enter in, thou good and faithful servant.


Papa Bill and Grandma Gwen

I wrote this after Papa Bill died. He was my second father, but I was as close to him as if he were my biological father. He showed our family what it meant to love unconditionally. And I will always be grateful he came into our lives. He was superstitious about one thing. He would never allow us to say good-bye to him. We had to say “See you later” instead.

It happened in January 2011 during a terrible snow storm that stopped all traffic and flights in and out of Atlanta for several days. My daughter Heather packed her bag and planned to stay with him at the nursing home when she heard the weather reports would prevent anyone from getting to him. She was trained in Hospice care and knew her grandfather wouldn’t live very long and didn’t want him to be alone. My mother was unable to travel at the time due to her illness and needed constant care herself. I chose to stay with Mom.

Miraculously, Papa’s son, my step-brother, was able to catch the last flight coming in from Colorado Springs that day. The roads were impassable and he couldn’t get a taxi to drive the last mile to see his dad, so he walked through the ice and blinding snow.
Even though he didn’t appear to be conscious, Heather told her beloved Papa that his son was on his way and would be there soon.

Shortly after Papa Bill heard his son’s voice, he quietly passed away. He was 92 years old. He earned medals for his exceptional service during WWII and was very proud of being an Army officer most of his life. He had too many achievements for me to list here, but his greatest one was earning the love of everyone who knew him. He is sorely missed.

It’s difficult for me to explain. This is a poem I wrote, but it felt more like a vision of Papa Bill’s final moments that needed to be recorded. I merely happened to be the person with the pen and paper. Vaya con Dios, Papa. I know we will see you later.

Let’s Do Happy

Camping in the Rockies. Fishing and eating rainbow trout fresh from a Colorado mountain stream. Driving cross country, exploring State and National Parks for Summer vacation with seven of us, plus an occasional dog, in a gray Ford station wagon. Those are childhood memories that were good for some of us and not so good for others.

But, there was a time when my family was very happy.

I remember December in the 1950’s:

Going to Christmas Eve church service and driving home taking a detour to the “rich folks’ houses” to see the lights and fancy decorations.

Rolling down windows (even though it was freezing outside) and all of us singing Christmas carols at the top of our lungs.

Maybe the neighbors enjoyed hearing us.

Maybe not.

Arriving home, popping corn and sipping hot cocoa before opening just one present that was under the tree.

Usually the one of choice was from Aunt Helen. We already knew it would be hand sewn pajamas which we all enjoyed modeling for each other.

We were saving the surprise presents for Christmas morning.

Going to bed.

Waiting to hear the reindeer’s jingle bells on our roof. Or the throaty Ho Ho Ho outside our bedroom window.

Covering our heads with blankets so we would appear to be asleep just in case someone would check.

My brothers and sisters knew Santa never comes when you’re awake.

Finally falling asleep and waking to a glorious sight of more presents under the tinseled tree. Proof that there really is a Santa Claus.

Back at school, Smarty Pants Mary Jo said there was no such being and the other kids believed her. Just because she was a fifth grader. What did she know?

I’m amazed how some people will believe anything.

I still claim that was the real Santa Claus I heard every Christmas Eve.

I merely stopped talking about him after third grade so I could sit at the cool kids’ table.