Treasure

At church on Sunday, the visiting pastor asked people to share “God moments” during a time when people usually share prayer requests. I knew exactly what I would say if only I were brave enough.

My God moment had started at the end of September, when my anxiety was at an all time high. I received an unexpected package in the mail that contained a t-shirt and coffee. Coffee is one of my love languages — and the t-shirt, soft and gray, with a rabbit and the rhythm of a beating heart, was perfect. I pressed it against my cheek and thought of the dear friend from Indiana who had sent it.

wearing the shirt at Hutchmoot (photo credit Lisa Eldred)

St. Teresa of Avila said, “Christ has no body now, but yours. No hands, no feet on earth, but yours. … Yours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world.”

In that moment, my far-away friend was Christ to me, soothing my anxieties and reminding me that I was loved.

A few days later, another Indiana friend unexpectedly pressed a little package into my hand — a tiny clay rabbit she had made for me. Rabbits are another my love languages.

In the weeks that followed, as I dealt with a lot of interrupted sleep because of my father, my husband being quite ill with what we now know to be Lyme’s Disease, and my youngest daughter suffering a concussion, other packages showed up at my house.

A hand-crocheted hat and scarf.

Mary borrowing my new hat.

A mug to replace one I broke years before and never thought I would hold another like it.

A FreeWrite — a portable smart typewriter that I had off-and-on looked at wistfully for a couple of years.

The packages came from Alabama, Florida, and Michigan.

On a day when I was feeling overwhelmed, one would arrive.

I sat one morning drinking good coffee from my new mug, feeling very rich indeed, and a story came flooding back to me. It was a Dr. Purple story that I stumbled across when I was researching this 19th century physician from the village of Greene.

In 1826, Dr. Purple has acted as clerk for a trial in the village of Bainbridge, a nearby town. Joseph Smith (yes, that Joseph Smith) was on trial. He claimed to have a stone that could reveal to him where treasure was buried. For a fee, he would tell the landowner where to dig. When the man started digging, the treasure would recede and never be actually found. The landowner would be disappointed. Until, of course, Joseph Smith with his seer stone claimed to have found the treasure again in a different spot on his land. For a fee, he would tell the landowner where to dig.

I thought about the disappointment of that treasure that could never be grasped — and the depth of the treasure I held in my hand in the form of a mug sent by the generosity of a friend.

All that ran through my head when the pastor asked for a God moment — I had had a whole month of God moments, and then some.

The riches we have in Christ are riches indeed.

Sometimes they come in the form of rabbits and hats and typewriters.

And sometimes it’s a mug full of coffee.

Yes, definitely coffee.

Burnt Steak and Key Lime Pie

Hutchmoot has been described more than once as a feast — and people are not talking about the food, although the food is amazing.

But each night our chef, John Cal, would introduce the evening meal with a story that related to the food. On the first night he talked about showing his father around New York City. For dinner each night as they ate at a nice restaurant his father would order the same thing — steak, burnt and grey. One night while dining out, he saw a plate pass by their table that looked amazing. Upon inquiry, he learned that it was cassoulet and decided to be adventurous and order it. When he asked about getting rice on the side and the waiter offered rice pilaf, John’s father got flustered and switched his order to steak, burnt and grey.

Thursday night menu at Hutchmoot.  Photo by Mark Geil

The Otesaga Hotel

In Cooperstown, fine dining at its finest takes place at the Otesaga. Years ago, when I was still in high school, my parents took our family there for Easter brunch, which was usually the best of the best, table after table of delicious food.  My youngest brother, after perusing all the food, sat down with a single piece of Key lime pie.

“There’s nothing good to eat,” he announced, which translated meant — I couldn’t recognize all the fruit in the fruit salad. I worried that they had added sour cream to the mashed potatoes. The seasonings looked weird on the vegetables. There were olives in the tossed salad.

All that food, and he ate Key lime pie. I think he ended up eating 4 or 5 pieces of it. That was his burnt steak, his comfort food that he knew he could trust and enjoy.

At Hutchmoot, I watched plates of cassoulet pass by in the form of conversations between people who hadn’t known each other until that day and they were saying to each other, “What! You, too?” The delight of finding new friends. The delight of meaningful conversation. The delight of laughing and crying together over joys and sorrows and longings.

At Hutchmoot this year I chose the familiar over the adventurous. I didn’t meet many new people. On Sunday, I sat at a Cracker Barrel (can you get any more predictable than that?) in Franklin and ate lunch with two dear Hutchmoot friends. I reveled in sinking roots a little bit deeper and strengthening already existing bonds rather than forming new ones.

I am John Cal’s father. Okay — not literally. Obviously, not literally.

But often I choose the familiar over the adventurous, especially days when I am weary.

I think sometimes that’s what we need.

I know sometimes that’s what I need.

Burnt steak and Key lime pie.

Already, though, the conversations have begun with new people. The conversations that happen over the internet from the comfort of my home, when I have time and place to relax into forming a new friendship.

I’m looking forward to the next Hutchmoot when the old and familiar may include some of them.

Small World

Bud found a piece of paper covered with words on the coffee table this morning. “What’s this?” he asked.

“Word Battle?” Mary guessed.

Yes, Word Battle.

I am addicted to play a game called Word Battle. Here’s what I like about it:

  • It’s fast. A game is completed in less than 5 minutes.
  • It’s challenging. You can have anywhere from 9 – 13 letters with which to make a word.
  • It’s a community.

A fellow player posted this picture this morning.

She captioned it: For all my WB friends.

She lives in England — and there are quite a few British players.

But the circle of players is the circumference of the earth.

The best players seem to be from the Philippines and India. I asked another player once why that was.

He said, “Because we learn our native language before English.  But because we actually ‘learn’ English, we spell and write better than the native speakers!”

The more I play, the more I feel like I “know” the other players — well, as best anyone can know someone they will never meet in person and only chat with in short spurts while waiting for games or during games.

I know that one player is the process of publishing a book, another is applying to Brown, and another is confined to a wheelchair and has a therapy dog.

One player’s daughter died recently, at the age of 30. I watched the word spread through the other players. I think I was not alone in whispering a prayer for her in her grief.

We discuss the virtues of coffee and tea, as well as rum, vodka, and other drinks. The political discussions can get hairy — but I know far more world politics than I would have known otherwise.

In fact, that’s some of what was on the paper — Hindi phrases and politicians’ names.

Yes, sometimes they chat in Hindi — and it irks me not to know what’s being said. So I write it down and look it up.

I wrote “Feku” down the other day, thinking it was a who, but when I asked another player, she laughed.

“It’s Indian slang,” she said.

Then I worried that it was inappropriate, and asked her that.

“No, it’s a politician who lies,” she responded.

Ha — so that’s a worldwide problem.

The other day, all the players played the word COGIES while I came up with some insignificant, less point word. I’ve seen COGIES played, but it’s not a word I ever use, so I don’t usually think of it.

“What’s a cogie?” I asked.

“I don’t know, but I’ve seen it played lots of times,” one player responded.

“Never ask a woman her age, or a Scrabble player the meaning of a word,” another answered.

For the record, a cogie is a small bowl.

A pandit and a pundit are essentially the same thing.

Ecce is directly from the Latin — means, “Behold.”

And, in this crazy world, where virtual and real mix together in a jumble of letters, Word Battle can mean friends.

The Power of Hello

I go to the grocery store, on average 20-21 days every month.  That’s like going every single day for 3 weeks and then taking a week off.

My shopping frequency combined with my New Year’s Resolution to not use the self check-out has given me ample opportunity to get to know the people at my local store.

One cashier is coming up on her 50th high school reunion.

Another was at work shortly after surgery, telling me, “I can’t afford to take three weeks off. My family needs the money.”

A male cashier thanked me for shopping at Safeway — but I was at Price Chopper. His eyes widened and he put his hand over his mouth. “I can’t believe I said that. I haven’t worked at Safeway for over 10 years.” Plus, for the record, there are no Safeways in our area. He and I laughed about it. “Your secret is safe with me,” I told him — except, I guess, it wasn’t because I just told all of you.

One of the deli guys took up the challenge of slicing my swiss cheese thin. “Is that thin enough?” he asked, holding up an imaginary slice of cheese held between his forefinger and thumb. We both laughed.

Then there was the cashier with the sugar-daddy. (See “In the Parking Lot“)

I now recognize most of the people who work in the meat department, the flower shop, the service desk, and produce, and I try to greet them. It was an introvert hurdle — but I think I’ve gotten over it.

The other day, one of the produce guys greeted me. I had grabbed my bunch of bananas and was headed out when he said, “Are you Sally?”

“Yes,” I replied, wondering how he knew my name.

Then he asked again, this time adding my maiden name.

“Yes,” I said, “How did you…”

Before I could finish, he introduced himself. He had graduated with me from high school.

Boys can undergo a dramatic metamorphosis between high school and life. I doubt I would recognize many of the boys-turned-men with whom I graduated just on sight. He was no exception.

As soon as he said his name, of course, I remembered him. I remembered when his family moved to Cooperstown. They were from a strange place called Lon Guyland. In fact, it was always referred to as “down Lon Guyland.”

Besides my mother’s Boston that snuck into her speech every once in a while, and a local doctor who was decidedly southern, I couldn’t have identified any other American regional accents. Now I could add Long Island to the list.

That day in the grocery store, I was so happy that he said something to me. It was the day I wrote “Bleh” and was feeling just like that.

Discouraged.

A mess.

A failure.

And then someone reintroduced himself to me. As we caught up on each other’s lives, it turned my day around.

The power of a simple hello.

Last night, the local guy behind me in line said, “Remind me why we like Cooperstown in the summer.”

The store was crowded with tourists. The couple ahead of us in line, probably grandparents come to watch their grandson play at the Dreams Park, hadn’t noticed the Express Lane sign for the register — 15 items or less.  But all the registers were busy like that.

Cooperstown in the summer: Busy. Crowded. Baseball teams. Tour buses. No parking spots. Few familiar faces.

Across the store, I could see Mark putting out tomatoes in the produce section. I thought about how nice it is to live among people who have known my family for nearly half a century, and especially how nice it is to be recognized and greeted.

“Because it’s lovely,” I replied.

The Gift of Giving

About a month ago, I received a curious piece of mail.

When I opened the envelope, I found a folded-up piece of yellow construction paper. In red marker, the sender, Juliette, a little girl from our church in Greene, had drawn a heart, an elephant, a waterfall, and some flowers covered in dirt. (Her grandmother wrote explanations for me.) 

It also included a dandelion. I actually love dandelions. I loved when my own children were of the age of bringing me dandelion bouquets.

That letter made my day. It was so fun to receive something so unexpected. I knew I needed to respond, but, in the craziness of getting ready for France, I didn’t do it until the other day.

I made a card for Juliette. 

The rabbits were just a little too big to fit neatly on my card, so one rabbit’s ear and tail fold around onto the back. I guess you could say its back side is on the back side.

I asked her grandmother for Juliette’s address. She texted the address back and added, “She is fascinated right now with giving everyone the pictures she makes.”

 

Juliette is learning at a young age that giving is its own gift.

***

Last night at the dinner table, as my father repeatedly repeated himself, I found myself wondering at the wisdom of bringing my children here to live with him.

It can be frustrating and even, sometimes, a little irritating to listen to the same comments about the blueness of the skies and the greenness of the plants.

I’ve heard Mary patiently explain how to operate the remote control to the television and sometimes resort the explanation of “magic” when asked how she found the right channel. The other night I heard Karl trying to explain the remote control. Again.

My youngest children have to live in a house with rooms still full of items from previous occupants. My parents’ house became a repository for so many things from other family members that it’s hard to find space for its current residents.

I wonder repeatedly, is this good for them? Is it good for our family to be a little fractured for the sake of the eldest member? Is it good to stretch between two homes, and in so doing, to almost have no home? Is it good to see their grandfather needy and weak and forgetful?

But I remember my mother caring for her mother and mother-in-law. With patience, sacrifice, and great love, she did for them what they could no longer do for themselves.

I suppose I’m following in her footsteps.

It’s a different kind of giving from sending a sweet greeting in the mail.

Sometimes this kind of giving seems like a terrible gift, but I need to remember that it is a gift nonetheless.

I need to lean in. Embrace each moment. These gifts are good.

Guiding Principles

When I started planning the trip to France, I had no idea what I was doing.

I take that back. I knew two things. One, that my father had talked for a long time about going to the beaches of Normandy, and, two, that I was going to make that happen.

So I started planning the only way I knew, with economy and frugality at the forefront. It’s how my mother always did things. It’s how, of necessity, we did things with our children.

My neighbor set me straight. I had asked her about how to find a private guide, things to do in Paris, stuff like that because she traveled extensively.

“We got a real bargain on our airfare,” I told her. It had cost only about $500 per person to fly economy from Newark to Paris. I was pretty proud of myself for finding such a deal.

“You need to book a bed for your father,” she said. I had no idea such things existed on commercial airplanes. “This trip is all about him. Remember that.”

And I did. Book a “Biz Bed” — and remember her advice.

It became a guiding principle. When in doubt, think about what was best and most comfortable for him.

Hence staying at the Villa Lara because it had an elevator.

Hence doing only half day tours of the beaches. (It would have been more economical to hire Colin for full days, plus we could have covered more ground, but a half day of touring was plenty for my father.)

Hence forgoing the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and choosing the Eiffel Tower. (Eiffel Tower is  much more wheelchair-friendly.)

Hence hiring the Paris Black Car to pick us up at the airport, drive us right to Bayeux, then pick us up again at Bayeux and get us back to Paris. (If we were all able-bodied, I probably would have looked into the train to save a few dollars.)

When I think about that advice and how we used it to guide us for everything — how we got around, where we stayed, where we dined, what activities we chose — I am so thankful for it.

Looking ahead to my trip to Croatia and Bosnia, I thought, I need another guiding principle. It added so much clarity to France.

The first part of my next trip is spending time with my friend, Leah, while exploring Dubrovnik and Mostar, and the second part is a work project in Bosnia with a team from our church.

We had a team meeting last week, and we had to say why we were going on the trip. I hadn’t clearly formulated my thoughts on that, but I have now.

For me, that trip is about investing in friendship.

Friendships, like every other relationship, take work and time. I’m looking forward to my time with Leah as an investment in my friendship with her. When we reach our work project, I’m looking forward to investing in time with the other members of our team, especially Amy. And, I’m looking forward to meeting new friends from a new place and investing in them.

The more I thought about it, the more excited about it I became — not the trip, but the purpose.

So much so, that I’m dedicating June to “Ulagati u prijateljstvo” which, Croatian means, “Invest in friendship.” Kind of like a jumpstart on Bosnia.

Today I’m sending a little package to a dear friend who’s going through a difficult situation. I made her a little card showing one rabbit helping another. She’ll understand what I mean.

Tomorrow, I have another little package almost ready to go.

They are investments.

I’m so excited for the next few months.