Friday, August 12, 2011

Kathryn Stockett’s The Help reminds me of a first love

A recent trip to the movie theater landed me in a center seat with a view of a movie titled “The Help.”  A good story touches a nerve, the heart or intellect.  Sometimes it hits all three.  For many of us in Jackson, Mississippi there is a different side to this story.  Some of us grew up in South Jackson.  The Help is based on what was happening in some places in North Jackson.  It is safe to say everyone in North Jackson wasn’t rich. However, if you were raised in South Jackson odds are both of your parents worked, and this is the reason they hired a maid. 
After I was born, my mother was one of those women who went to work.   The lady who came to clean house and care for me and my brothers was named Annie Mae.  It’s been so long ago, I’m not sure if her name was spelled May or Mae.  Of course I was a preschooler, so that was beyond my scope.  What wasn’t beyond me was the love this woman gave.  Unlike the movie, we lived in a home with one restroom.   There wasn’t a guest restroom, let alone a separate one for “the help” to use.  Also, I never recall Annie Mae being referred to as “the help.”  She did wear a white uniform and white shoes and socks to match.   I can remember her smelling like starch and tobacco.  She ate dry starch, I guess maybe because her diet lacked it.  My dad smoked a pipe, and he kept his favorite tobacco on his dresser.  When people gave him the kind he didn’t smoke, he saved it for when he ran out of the tobacco he liked.  My dad is a gentle man, and he never made a scene about it, but he still laughs about opening his spare tobacco, only to find it was gone.  Annie Mae liked her tobacco!  
My days with Annie Mae are memories engraved more on my heart than in my mind.  She and I were often left alone because my brothers were in school.  Some days we’d gather plums, her from the tree and me from the ground.  She’d say, “Oh not that one, it’s not good.”  The following weekend my mom would make plum jelly from the gatherings.  Other days, Annie Mae and I’d sit on the front porch, and I’d make a request of her to sing Jingle Bells.  In the heat of a Mississippi Summer she’d start with, “Dashing through the snow…”  I’d stop her and say, “No, not that, I mean Jingle Bells.”  She’d laugh and start to sing the refrain.  That was the only part I could remember.  Sometimes, I’d ask to go see a friend and she’d say no.  I always jumped out of her lap and told her I was running away.  I’d run to the end of our driveway, then I’d turn and run back into her arms.  I loved her, and that short trip down the drive made me realize how much.
It never occurred to me that Annie Mae would have children other than me!  The first time I saw them, I was a bit jealous.  I don’t know how she got to work, but I know there were times when my mom or dad would take her home.  There were also times when mom took her clothes, for her children, we’d outgrown.  It was a special trip to be able to go to her house, to see where my beloved Annie Mae lived.
When my brothers were around, Annie Mae was my protector.  There was the time my oldest brother chased me with a can of starch.  He said, “If I spray you with this, you’ll be frozen for life.”  I believed him and ran for my life!  Annie Mae didn’t look up from the dishes, but she said, “You leave that child alone.”  That was enough to stop him and save me from becoming a statue.
Annie Mae thought everyone was on a party line.  She’d run across the street and ask our neighbor to call my mom at work.  Then she’d head back to our house thinking she could pick up on our phone and listen.  And when mom asked why she didn’t dust mop under the bed, she’d say she opened the windows and a big wind blew the dust up under it.   Annie Mae may not of had a formal education, but she was educated in what God finds to be most important.  Her lack of schooling didn't matter in my world.  What mattered was Annie Mae was mine.  I don’t mean that in any ownership way.  I mean it in a way, where time stood still and she and I shared a simple and wonder filled life.  I guess it’s indescribable, but I belonged to her too.  My dad has remarked over the years, he believes my laid back attitude comes from being around her.  He could be right, because she was a sweet as sugar and my days were filled with her spirit.
The color of Annie Mae’s skin wasn’t something I pondered.  My own skin was dark from playing in the sun.  My dad’s parents were immigrants from Lebanon, and we three children took after him.  Until some neighborhood kids got mad at me and called me the “N” word, I didn’t even realize others thought she was different.  We weren’t allowed to say that word in our house.  My dad, as a child, had faced prejudice and ugliness from others because he was different.  To this day that word makes me uncomfortable, whether coming from blacks or whites.
I don’t know when it happened, but one day Annie Mae was gone from my life.  It was because I’d started school, and she probably headed to another full time job.  We had some part-time maids after that.  I even remember one named Mary.  She was young and liked to play my Cinderella board game  My parents may have told me why Annie Mae left, but I don’t remember getting to say good bye.  But in the world of childhood, things are often left this way.  My mother says Annie Mae is long gone from this world, and many times over the years, I’ve thought about her.  Every time, I cry, and today I cried all the way home from the movie.  It should have been because of the injustices displayed on the screen.  The truth is though, I cried because a little girl’s heart cannot forget one of the first loves of her life.  And I’m hoping my precious Annie Mae knows how much I love her now, how much I loved her then and how she influenced my life in ways she probably never imagined.  One day, I hope to see her again, to hear her call my name. While basking in the smell of dry starch and sweet tobacco, I’ll climb into her lap and tell her all the things a small child didn’t know how to say…from a heart that never really wanted to say goodbye.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Looking for my Father

This morning I arrived at Mass and immediately saw my dad’s truck in the parking lot. He always parks in the same place because he arrives early! He usually doesn’t attend daily Mass at the parish we share, because another parish has an earlier Mass, and he likes early.

When I walked in, I didn’t see him sitting in the same place he always sits. Our priest tries to get people to move out of their “regular” seat, and it works maybe once. After that we’re like stubborn children in the desert wandering back to our comfortable places. My dad sits in one of the back pews, and I sit to his right. But he wasn’t there. That’s not unusual because sometimes before Mass he will be in the side chapel praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I always stop there before Mass for a brief moment myself, but I didn’t recall seeing him there. So I started wandering around. When I’d say I’m looking for my dad, the response was, “Maybe he is in the restroom.” I chatted with a sweet couple, and they showed me a photo of their son-in-law who is serving in one of our military branches. After that I returned to the chapel to see if maybe I missed my dad. Our priest was coming out of the chapel, and I said, “I’m looking for my dad.” He looked through the glass in the cry room and said, “There is your dad. He’s sitting about five rows from the front. Can you believe it?” I said, “No wonder I couldn’t find him!”

When I reached my dad, I asked, “What are you doing here? I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” Two ladies sitting behind him were laughing. My dad chuckled too. I crawled pass him and took my place next to him.

After Mass my dad and our priest had a good laugh about this “moving” episode. On the way home, it became a reflection for me. It started by replacing the thought of my dad with the thought of God our Father. The image of our priest pointing me towards my dad became him pointing us to God. My little trip around the church looking for him became our journey towards God and those we meet along the way. However, the most important point was looking for my dad in the place I expected him to be. Unlike my dad, God doesn’t change places. But we find ourselves looking for Him sometimes in the same place or places we expect to find Him. My lesson for today is not to assume, and to keep searching. If we continually look for our Father we will see Him more. God is present in every space we occupy. So why do we look for Him to only be in the same place in our lives and hearts? And most of all, why are we surprised to find Him in the places we least expect?


Lord, we pray you will open our eyes and hearts to you, no matter where we find ourselves! Amen

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Conversion / Reversion Stories

If you enjoy Catholic conversion and reversion stories check out this facebook page!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Japan’s state before the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power problem

In the February 24, 2011 issue of The Wanderer a column appears titled, Japan: Leading the way to extinction. The article, written before the devastation, is by Brian Clowes (Dr. Clowes is research manager for Human Life International, Dr. Clowes would not be aware that the numbers he quoted would change in a short amount of time. He writes, “According to the United Nations, there are 1,170 fewer Japanese in the world today than there were yesterday. By the end of this year, there will be a third of a million less, and by the year 2050, Japan will have lost nearly a third of its population.”

The reason for the decline in population is due to practically no emigration or immigration and most significant, many Japanese women are opting out of motherhood. Also Japan legalized abortion in 1949 and has suffered 40 million losses from this alone. In essence what occurs is the population stabilizes then declines. By discouraging immigration, choosing abortion, contraception, and sterilization, Japan is losing a required workforce to maintain productivity. The fallout is a nation turned on its head. Now the elderly population is top heavy and the support at the bottom has decreased leaving little support for the retired.

Dr. Clowes further points out the occurrence of a strange phenomena known as the hikikomori, or voluntary long term shut-ins, and the soushoke danshi “grass-eating boys” named this because of their lack of interest in human relationships. Contrary to what most of us believe these people are living quiet lives outside of competition. This hopeless state is backed up by a suicide rate unrivaled by any other developed nation. “More than half a million Japanese have murdered themselves since 1995.” On top of that euthanasia was approved in 2007. And a sad commentary to go along with the above is the market has shifted from the young to the old. This market includes companion dolls. The Tomy’s baby dolls are for women who never married or had children. Dr. Clowes says, “…some of these women actually believe the doll is their own flesh and blood.”

Near the end of the article we read a warning for the world, “…our population control cartel continues to abort, sterilize, and contracept the people of the world as fast as they can.” And, “The world’s total fertility rate will hit replacement in just three years. Its population will peak in only three decades and then began to decline.”

It is evident our prayers for Japan should not only reflect their needs caused by the affects of natural devastation.

"Man’s life comes from God: it is his image and imprint, as sharing in his breath of life.
God therefore is the sole Lord of this life: Man cannot do with it as he wills."
Evangelium Vitae-Gospel of Life-Pope John Paul II-1995

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Lessons learned when facebook turns ugly

Recently a friend of mine posted a photo she saw on her home health route. She is a therapist, working in a rural area. She often does this, and the last photo she posted, before the one that cause a stir on facebook, was a calf being born. The photo in dispute was a clothesline filled with several bras, ladies’ panties and two nightgowns. She wrote something like, “the things you see in home health.” Most people remarked about frozen underwear (it has been cold here) or said she was at their house, etc… No person, with the exception of one, pointed to the fact that the owner of the underwear could be poor with no other option. The fact he pointed this out was not a problem, but how he chose to point it out didn’t set well with others. He attacked my friend, saying she was OUT OF TOUCH among other things. He used a lot of caps, indicating screaming. Feeling the need to defend my friend, I responded that she was not OUT OF TOUCH and unknown to most, often provided material needs for her patients because they could not afford such items. This included not only medical equipment but food too. I used the phrase, “…she often eases their poverty.” I also stated many women hang their unmentionables to dry because the dryer takes a toll on the life and use of the elastic and delicate material. Keep in mind only delicate items were hanging on the line. The guy then turned on me saying I was probably wrong, and I should be ashamed of using the phrase “…eases their poverty.” He added …not to talk to him about poverty unless I had the basis to do so. I asked my friend if this guy grew up poor or was impoverished, and she said as far as she knew, quite the opposite. Because I’ve had a rough patch in my life I responded, “Family and friends helped me years ago when I needed it. They EASED my life in many ways. They have nothing to be ashamed of….so I don’t understand what you are saying.” After that I wrote to my friend, I knew she didn’t mean harm and others knew it too. I further stated the problem with the written word is, sometimes people interpret it with different meanings. My friend posted the people had a nice house and car.  She said, for all she knew they were better off than she is herself.

Long story short…he “unfriended” her, but still sent some strong emails her way. Needless to say, I was pretty put out, because I’ve known my friend for over 30 years. I felt he was unfair in judging her. It took some prayer to get me back on track. So today, after mulling it over, I realize this ended up being a positive. It reminded me of that time in my life when things weren’t so great. I wasn’t going to go hungry, because my family wouldn’t let that happen, but I wasn’t a stranger to creditors calling requesting their money. It took awhile to dig out of that hole, but along the way people helped ease my burden. Some made sure my children made it safely to school, because I had to be at work early in the morning. My parents bought me a washer and dryer, plus put a new roof on my house. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for all they’ve done. Guys I worked with, moved sand to my yard to help the grass grow, plus one repaired all the wood trim outside my house. They came when I locked my keys in my car and looked at any problems I had with it too. My neighbor and his son fixed my broken down lawn mower.  His wife took care of my children when I couldn't be home, because an emergency occurred. The list goes on and on. So today I’ve found myself reflecting on those who have helped me along the way. I can never express how thankful I am for their love and friendship or how much they mean to me. I do pray that God will bless them richly and keep them safe.

Furthermore, "poverty" is not a word to associate with shame. It is often defined as “a lack of need.” This can be material or spiritual. At times in life when I am spiritually impoverished, family and friends step forward to lift me up. Complete strangers have done the same. Mother Teresa often remarked that the wealthiest people may actually be the poorest. There is so much truth in this, because those who lack the material see what is really important. It is not the number of shoes I have in my closet, but it is how I relate to those in my life and those I meet along the way.

So from this unpleasant encounter, thanksgiving and beauty has thrived. What shame is there in easing someone’s poverty? After all of these years, I recognize those who helped me, simply reflected the light of Christ. May I learn from their example, as they have learned from His.