To Cap it Off

Down in the basement, Heather searched for yarn. And if that doesn’t frighten you, it should.

Some people, I’m sure, must have basements that practically sparkle, ones that could be rented out as living space or wow the judges on a reality program. Mine tends to descend into a state of nature if left on its own for longer than a week. It’s the sort of place that Indiana Jones might explore with torch and bullwhip, or where Gandalf might issue a warning about the things to be found in the deep places of the Earth.

But that’s where the old crafting material had gone – I thought. And so the archaeological expedition began. Past the baby toys. Around the Christmas stuff. Behind the kennel that was too bent to use …

Suddenly, Heather’s eyes widened. She’d found the yarn, all right. And a little something extra.

“I didn’t know any of these were left!” she said as she pulled out a small “elf hat” – a short, knitted, close-fitting cap seeming to hold all the colors of the rainbow. Heather’s Grandma Val had made several of them before she passed away a few years ago, planning to give them away. A few had made their way to Missy – Val’s daughter and now our ward – after she was gone. But those were treasures of another day, presumed to be long-gone.

Except … now they weren’t. Two caps sat in the box, one finished, the other still attached to a knitting needle, needing just a small amount of work to finish it off.

“There’s not that much left,” Heather wondered out loud as she fingered the rows. “I wonder if I could …”

And for a moment, across the years, Val reached out to touch her one more time.

We’ve all known moments like that, I think. Heck, the universe has known moments like that. In a recent experiment that will probably win someone the Nobel Prize, scientists managed to detect gravity waves for the first time – the slightest tremble of space-time left behind by two colliding black holes around 1.3 billion years ago. The event validated a 100-year-old prediction by Albert Einstein and also confirmed a basic human truth: What you leave behind matters.

We all touch lives. There’s no real way to avoid it, short of living in a hamster ball. But often it’s done without thought or realization. After all, we’re just trying to get through today – who has time to worry about tomorrow?

But tomorrow comes. Some of those choices we make will live on. Shouldn’t we make sure that they’re the parts of us that we want to survive?

Grandma Val planted miniature roses. Some of them are still coming up in the garden now each spring, despite my certified black thumb. A small decision that continues to add a little beauty to the world.

Another friend who recently left us planted stories. Some were his visions of the stories of others, brought to life on a carefully-lit stage. Others were the memories and tales he shared in the gatherings and cast parties afterward, with a wry smile and a bright eye. The best of those stories still makes me laugh … and remember.

What are we planting?

We all plant something, whether we intend to or not. With a little thought, it can be the best of us, whether it’s a work of our hands or a kind word at a hard time. It might seem small, something sure to be forgotten.

That’s OK. Forgotten hats get found. Forgotten flowers bloom. Forgotten energy ripples the universe long after its collision is gone.

Reach out. Care. Touch. Make a mark.

And while you’re at it – don’t forget to clean the basement.

A Mighty Wind

I admit it, I brag pretty shamelessly on Colorado. I’ll talk up the mountains, I’ll cheer on the Broncos, I’ll even fill in a newcomer on our weather’s four seasons – as in 6 a.m., noon, 6 p.m. and midnight. But there’s one area where I have to admit that my “second home state” of Kansas has us beat.


I know, Colorado gets gusts. Pretty good ones, too. But Kansas gets wind. The name means “People of the South Wind” and they ain’t kidding. Never mind the tornadoes that sent Dorothy to Oz, it’s the straight-line winds that’ll carry off Auntie Em, Uncle Henry and Toto, too, if you’re not careful. I’m talking about a mass of moving air matched only by the collective filibusters of the United States Senate, with a presidential speechwriter or two thrown in.

That big.

I think about it most at this time of year. March and April are known in Western Kansas as the “blow season,” the time of year when you really didn’t need the shingles on your roof … or the homework in your hands … but you probably did need that dent in your car from the door that blew open next to you. It’s a time when wind can grab a headline all by itself – and just about anything else that isn’t nailed down securely.

Maybe a bit of Kansas blew inside me, too. Because “blow season” remains a time when I can look for my own winds of change. And usually find them.

It was during my first blow season 16 years ago when I became a Kansan, a reporter and a fiancé all in the same week.

It was at that time of year five years ago that I gained my brother-in-law Jay and lost my grandmother-in-law Val on the same day.

Three years ago, the winds carried us to Missy, Heather’s developmentally disabled aunt. We moved in her with that April, became her guardians not long after, and – well, “change” is too small a word for everything that’s happened since. So is “wonderful.”

That’s the thing about wind. It doesn’t let things rest. It upends them, frees them, forces them to move, often in directions no one could predict.

When we notice, it’s mostly the inconvenience; the trash bin that got blown over, say, or the old aspen that was finally born down. It’s human nature. We grumble, even on the rare occasions when we think of the big picture. (Theatrical voiceover: “It was a world without a breeze … without a season … without a hope. Columbia Pictures brings you a Joel Schumacher film. Gone … With The Wind.”)

We need to be stirred up. Even if we’d never admit it.

Granted, that sort of change isn’t limited to March and April, any more than big wind is. But it’s not bad to have a time when it’s in your face, a season when you have to think about it. To be reminded that we only determine so much – and that that can be a good thing.

Good or not, it’s a wind we have to ride.

I’ll try to remember that as the windows rattle and my sinuses scream with the shifting air of our own Colorado gusts. Today’s blast of wind may be tomorrow’s welcome rainstorm.

Or, perhaps, tomorrow’s snowstorm.

After all, this is March on the Front Range. And the next season is due any hour now.

Gone to (Tea) Pot

There are things that must happen in a Missy morning. But the greatest of these is tea.

Get the kettle singing. Ready the Tetley’s – always Tetley’s, never any flavored stuff. Mix it up with a bit of milk, enough to turn a black cup into the beige of a Volvo station wagon.

Oh. And make a full pot. There will be refills.

“I wan’ m’ tea.”

“Coming right up.”

For all her disabilities, both physical and mental, Missy is still the daughter of an English mother. And that means a cup of tea is as much a reflex for her as her puzzle ball or her 120-decibel stereo. It launches her off to her day program in the morning and it greets her on her return in the afternoon, a cup of liquid welcome. A sip of home.

Often, it’s a sip of memory, too.

In my mind, the memories are always of Val, who was Missy’s mom and my grandmother-in-law. One of Longmont’s ubiquitous “English ladies,” Val passed on many things to Missy, including a small stature, a love of dancing and a steaming teapot. I never visited the house for long before a cup found its way to me – though I picked up my share of wry looks for taking my own tea black, without milk or sugar.

I know. American barbarian, that’s me.

Val’s gone now. But the tea remains, the cup held carefully in her daughter’s shaky hand. It’s a space in the day, one where nothing has to happen, where it’s OK to just be.

That’s a small accomplishment by itself.

“Being” isn’t something that’s greatly prized in our country today. We’re a nation of doers, where who you are is measured by what you’ve accomplished, or at least whether you have the decency to look busy. We treat absence of activity like a mom faced with bored children: “If you don’t have anything to do, I can find you something.”

No time for reflection. No time for discovery. No time for second thought, or maybe even a first one.

That’s a great way for a piston to live. For a person? Not so much. Having that small space in the day is like having a period in a sentence: essential for any clarity and meaning.

But there’s more to it as well. At a very basic level, a cup of tea is a small act of caring.

I lived for nine years in Kansas. Not once in those nine years did I enter a home without being offered a glass of water or a cup of coffee in the first minute. It was the fundamental decency of a host or a neighbor, welcoming another with something of your own.

It was a small ritual. But it had a big message behind it. Stay a while. There’s no rush. You’re among friends.

It’s those little, almost routine acts that can mean the most.

Love doesn’t have to be big or elaborate. It can be – I still remember the newlywed obsession that led me to organize a “12 Days of Christmas” onslaught of surprise gifts for my wife Heather – but truth to tell, the saintly and the passionate can be a bit intimidating for the rest of us. Fearing not to be perfect, we can fail to be merely good.

But a life lived with love can find a voice even through the everyday and the mundane. Maybe especially through them.

Maybe it’s in the things we do without thought that we see who we truly are.

And once in a while, the ripples of those small efforts for another come back in a wave.

This morning, after getting ready for the day, Missy looked up at me with a sweet smile. She reached out with both arms.

“Love me?” she asked, eyes sparkling.

The hug that followed was warm and long.

And then, we went downstairs for tea.