it is HOT
and September
and nothing makes sense
But iced tea
and rhubarb pie

Growing up in Colorado, we had a garden of strawbwerries and rhubarb. Since it was arid where we lived on the eastern side of Pikes Peak, we couldn’t grow anything in our backyard except the one fruit and one vegetable. (According to Michigan University, rhubarb is a veggie.) Because it was so dry in the Summer, the grass often gave up the ghost, making room for weeds to grow. Those were the times we ate dandelion greens in place of canned spinach. Neither was tolerable to my childish palate unless a promise of pie preceded the meal.

When the neighbor kids came over on skin blistering days, we drank sugarless iced tea and crowded in front of our one window fan. On the good days, there was pie. Somedays were too hot to be cooled off merely with dry air blown over our sunburned bodies so Mom taught us a trick that she learned growing up in southwestern Kansas during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. She soaked a towel in cold water and draped it over the makeshift air conditioner. It was enough to cool us off while she reminisced about the times she only had potatoes to eat and other children made fun of her for having one dress to wear everyday to school. We begged for more stories about a distant time and place so different from our own, but it was time for us to finish our snack, she would say, before leaving us alone again. We sipped our iced tea and ate our treasured treat with renewed sense of gratitude and energy to play again.

Everyone who was lucky enough to taste it, declared Mother made the best rhubarb pie. Her secret was tapioca instead of cornstarch for thickening the sauce and lard and vinegar for making the flaky crust. She didn’t put any strawberries in it. She didn’t believe in “doctoring” something that was already perfect. Strawberries were saved for freezing and for eating later in Winter.

Many years later, after I had moved to Seattle and was recuperating from a painful operation, Mother along with my sisters, took time out of their busy lives to travel up to the Great Northwest to help me. I was never considered a spoiled child growing up, but that week I felt very special.

I could barely eat and keep anything in my stomach and I was getting weaker each day. My mother asked what she could do to make me feel better. I knew the perfect medicine. Unsweetened iced tea and rhubarb pie, please. Yours, of course. None of that store-bought-strawberry-doctored pie for me. Anything other than Mom’s rhubarb pie would simply be nonsense.


Brothers and Sisters

 Brothers and sisters  
(at least in our crowd)
You tell them you love them
You tell them you're proud

Of what they've accomplished
Of what they've achieved
Of all their successes
And how you believed

They had it within them
Each task that they tried
Would turn out stupendous
Would bring family pride
Before we were grown up
That's not how it went
Even Mother would say
We weren't heaven sent

When young we would argue
All things come what may
Whose turn to ride shotgun
What game should we play

We'd fight over candy
Who Grandma loved most
Was Santa a real man
And who burned the toast

Whose turn to wash dishes
Who should put away
Its who set the table
Who chooses today

Name calling was frowned on
We couldn't do that
We'd go to our bedrooms
To settle a spat

Our mouths would get washed out
For saying that word
Unspeakable happened
For flipping the bird

The weekends were for fun
But on Saturday
Our chores had to be done
Before we could play

The families on our block
Seemed much more subdued
But when they spread gossip
A battle ensued

Don't pick on our brothers
Or say things unkind
Our sisters will give you
A piece of their mind

And don't tell our sisters
They're not very smart
Our brothers will fight you
So don't break their heart

{That's the revised, more refined version. Feel free to write your own ending]

Where the Broken Heart Heals

Where is the pathway
Where the broken hearted go
Away from this pain

My heart weighs heavy
This morn approached with promise
Then my friend's son died

Death overtook him
Sorrow pounced on us today
There was no warning

How can he be gone
How does the world keep spinning
Without this boy's smile

Birds hush their singing
Melody melts into dawn
How dare the sun shine

Neighbors come and go
Memories shared with each hug
Roses and lilies

Teacups sit empty
Much like the room where he danced
Only days before

Tables and counters
Burdened with uneaten food
No one is hungry

He would have liked this
Thrown back his head in laughter
A party for him

His mother and dad
The ones who raised him from birth
Struggle to join in

Spirit cover me
Envelope me with your Grace
Give me the right words

There aren't any words
Family and friends offer love
Help is close at hand

Faith has been challenged
Why can't we feel God's comfort
Hope lingers midst fear

Vision turns greyscale
Colors crash into the moon
Igniting shadows

I swallow burnt tears
From the ash heap of lost dreams
Touch becomes muted

Helplessly I watch
My friend reaching for reason
Grasping only clouds

All prayer is vapor
Disappearing with the rain
But there is no rain

Creatures that inhale
Eventually exhale
One final heart beat

We know this is life
But we don't have to like it
While we endure it

We know there is God
We know we'll see him again
We know he is safe

But what about us
And all those who remain lost
Without our loved one

So we must comfort
One another with these words
We will meet again

Mountain of Mourning
We'll never get over it
But we'll get through it

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.

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.