Childhood

::20/20 Vision::

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Best Friends - ARTWORK

I was in third grade. The term they used was, “legally blind.” All I knew was, I couldn’t see the blackboard. Sister Damien got fed up with me needing to come stand up close to it, so she called my mother. Mother took me to the eye doctor in the Utica Square Doctor’s Building. We picked out burgundy frames with little specks of glitter in them. And then …

I remember the moment I put those glasses on.

Wait … was this what other people’s normal was? I could see every tree leaf! I could read the street signs, I could even read the numbers on Mrs. Temples’ front porch. In an instant, my eight year old life took on a whole new meaning. My heart was pounding like a bass drum.

For the first couple of weeks, through those glasses I read everything, everywhere, out loud.

“T G & Y. C. R. Anthony’s. Bekins, we are careful, quick and kind. Meadow Gold Milk, Ice Cream, Beatrice Foods Co. You can trust your car to the man who wears the star; the big red Texaco star. Desert Hills Motel, Guest Laundry, No Pets.” I could read it all.

Finally my Dad hollered into the back seat for me to shut up he was driving. Then he cranked up Frankie Lane on the radio singing Moonlight Gambler.

I looked out the window and whispered to myself,
“Jim’s Coney Island.” I had to, because I could read it.

artwork copyright cece dubois, 2012, all rights reserved. http://www.cecedubois.com

::Bread Heels on My Family’s Table::

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BREAD HEELS

We called them bread heels. The ends on loaves of bread. Once a loaf was opened, it was each user’s responsibility to keep the end slapped up against the next slice inside the plastic bag, so the remainder would stay fresh.
When there were no slices left, the two heels took on a life of their own, and a sort of bread heel caste system was born.

Sometimes on a Saturday afternoon my daddy would slather two heels with Miracle Whip, and make a sandwich with slices of raw potato and purple onion. This was the working class life of bread heels.

Then there were the heels that were lined up on a baking sheet, covered with cheese product, and slid under the broiler just long enough for the yellow stuff to char around the edges. Middle class bread heels lived through fire in a gas oven to become the cheesy toast served with potato soup on a Friday night.

Other times they were thrown into the skillet with the broken handle that lived in the oven. The ones that piled up in that skillet got hard as a rock. When there were enough of them, my mother clamped the food grinder to the kitchen table, and ground the petrified heels down to a powder.

She took that bread heel flour, mixed it with eggs and vanilla, buttermilk, molasses, spices, raisins, poured it into a cake pan, and baked it in the oven. This was bread crumb pudding; dark, dense and moist, it was just about the best thing you’d ever want to put in your mouth.

It’s been said that bread heels the world over have talked amongst themselves, and considered with reverence the fact that the heels of breadcrumb pudding had indeed lived the upper crust life of bread heels everywhere.

:::LIFE AS A NOVENA:::

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NOVENA CARD

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Not sure why that saying came to mind this morning, but it wouldn’t leave me alone so I wrote it down.

I’m finding myself in an interesting place. The last quarter of last year was probably the most difficult, the most challenging, in my life. I say that, then I find my gaze drifting back through the past−pregnant at twenty, hysterectomy at twenty seven, trying so hard to be all I could be to everybody−and completely missing the mark on self awareness, self care, self sustenance.

Did it have anything to do with those Holy Cards? We were big on collecting them in second grade. They were like baseball cards for Catholic girls. The gilt edged ones with Saint Theresa, Saint Cecilia, Our Lady of Fatima, all were coveted.

Which brings up a whole different thing since coveting broke the tenth commandment. We were eight years old, and all guilty.

And then there’s the pride thing. Mary Margaret Snyder had more gilt edged cards in her Missal than anyone else in the class. She held it up during Mass, ceremoniously turning to each card as the priest said his Dominus Vobiscums, his Kyrie Eleisons, his Oremuses. We sat, stood, or knelt as was prescribed, but we were watching her out of “side eyes,” elbowing each other, and hating her. Rack another one up on our confessional hit parade. Hate. It’ll take at least three Hail Mary’s plus an Act of Contrition to scrub that off.

But where I was going about those cards is, they were Da Vinci-esque renditions of martyrs who died for their faith. They were bludgeoned, or decapitated, burned at the stake, nailed upside down to a cross, tortured in a wide variety of ways. And now were featured on Holy Cards, bathed in heavenly light, eyes cast upward, heads tilted ever-so-slightly, hands outstretched or coming together in prayer.

Every so often Sister Diana introduced a new Holy Card; she’d say in soothing tones,
“Children, which martyr is this who became a saint because he/she died for Christ?”
She held the small rectangle up like Vanna White, and cut her eyes toward it with her Mona Lisa smile. We were transfixed, and determined to add it to our collections. Two guilt-edged Michael Archangels in different poses were worth a fortune. Mary Margaret Snyder held three, and wasn’t trading. So you can understand the hatred.

But the point is that I recently started thinking about the focus on “dying for Christ.” A kid takes stuff like that literally. I remember trying to figure out which way to do it−I wanted it to be quick. Decapitation, maybe? I didn’t want any Daniel in the lion’s den stuff. That would take forever.

But eventually−third grade, I think, during Lent, when they took the boys for Latin lessons−we girls were told we should “die for Christ every day;” Some of the pie eyed looks traded amongst us are legendary. Karen Flanagan wet her pants and started crying. Jesus H. Christ, people, don’t EVER speak in metaphor to anyone under eleven!

But, you know, we got over it, and life goes on. We all grew up, went our separate ways; some of us probably separated from the saints, and the church, and the rituals of holiness.

Some of us learned, eventually, that the stories told about goodness are true, and that our lives are the very celebrations, the Novenas, the prayers of righteousness for which those icons sacrificed. So some of us found our way back.

Now, listen: I’ll admit straight up that I’m a holy mess. I’m a desperate contradiction between a hunger to express my own goodness and the need to barge right in, stop the proceedings, and tell the idiots running this world a thing or two. The older I get the more I care about telling the truth, and the less it matters to me how I’m excoriated for it. That, it seems, has become my Novena.

So there’s that. Stuff. DNA; corpuscles−all laced with it. Not the only ingredient, but it’s kinda like cayenne pepper: a little goes a long way. Remember to mind the burn. It will warm you, if you let it. And it can last a lifetime.

::FAITH, HOPE, and TRUST::

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FAITH HOPE TRUST 2

I’ve had several conversations lately about “Hope” and “Faith.” People ask me: are they different, or are they the same? I’ve given it a lot of thought; reflection from my seminary days. I’m going to write down some perspective I’ve had about it … mostly to clarify it in my own mind:

Faith is the element of knowing without seeing. It is the bedrock of my heart’s center, the knowing beyond understanding. We are born broken, and all long for redemption, for goodness, to finally believe we are lovable. Most of us are afraid to believe that, but it’s a critical piece on the journey to wholeness as the Father created us.

I know that my Creator’s Almighty fingerprints are all over me. I know that, in spite of my failure to always exercise “right use of will,” His plan is at work. When I feel alone, when I feel without hope, “hopeless,” it is I who have moved off center. The Creator – being truth and love – never yields, never moves. The truth is that my Father will be standing, arms outstretched, a beacon of Light, long after the noise of falsehood has collapsed under its own weight.

How can I declare this? How can I be so certain that these things are true? I have no explanation except … faith.

My parents did the best they could, but their profound brokenness saturated every thread of my childhood. Even so, it did not define it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my childhood was defined by, and my heart was protected by, my faith.

I was born with it. In my earliest days I thought everybody was. I can remember even as a tiny girl, age two or three, looking up to the clouds, talking to the angels. No one told me they were there. I knew it. I could see them. And they saw me.

Growing up, Spirit surrounded me at some of the darkest points, when most would ask how a kid could make it through that. It was not remarkable to me. It was my “normal.” There were my parents. There was my faith. Faith was my trump card. It trumped everything. I always trusted it would be there.

And the best way I know to describe trust is, imagine a baby learning to walk. The Mama or the Daddy is right there, giving the toddler its freedom, but keeping watch in case the child starts to fall. She learns to trust that a parent will be there for her. Trust. Faith and trust. The baby is not “hoping” that someone will catch her. She moves forward on faith, “trusting” that protection is present.

Hope … hope springs eternal, but faithful hope in action is “trust.”

There are those who question the atrocities in this world, and ask how a loving God could allow such things. My answer is, we are human beings with free will, and we are each given a moral compass. Free will has a perfectly calculable algorithm called “cause and effect.” Do many people suffer from the actions of others? Without question. I believe that all the inhumanity in this world is the expression of people who are driven by their own brokenness. Happy, loving people do not have on their agenda the harming or destruction of others.

Men are not evil. Women are not suffered. We are all brokenhearted. Casting aspersions based on ANYthing – gender, race, religion, nationality … only causes us to further break our own hearts. Division helps nothing, heals nothing, takes us closer to nothing good. It carries us further into the darkness.

Satan is about separation. People often attempt to … “hope out a plan.” And I don’t think I’ve ever seen it work … in large part, because they had no faith that it would. This is a process of isolation and futility. Separation tells us to make a plan, and cross our fingers, but don’t count on it, ’cause people suck and shit happens. And with this approach, it probably will.

God is about connection. Hope-as-Trust is the fierce tangent of faith that gives us the fire to move forward smiling, in spite and in Light. When we are in sync with that Divine energy, we make plans, but remain open to the fact that it could all shift, and may even appear to fall apart so that other things can fall together. We are flexible, and willing, and openhearted. We believe that all things will work together for good.

In either case, everybody believes in something. And whatever we believe, we’re right.

The best, most radical thing we can do for ourselves and the world … is to strive to be exactly who God breathed life into at the moment of our birth. If we all, every person on the planet, would be our authentic selves for one hour, the transformation would be miraculous. Instantaneous. The world could never again return to its former state of being.

My advice, if I have any to give, is this: be brutally honest, and ultimately gentle with yourself. Let yourself have, and hold, the truths of who you are. Look deeply into your own eyes. Be tender with your own shattered places. Hold closely those parts you have a hard time embracing. Make that list of loving things you’d do for someone else, and do them for you. We love others in direct proportion to our love of the Self God created in us.

My prayer is that every person, everywhere, will ultimately bear witness to their own loveliness, their own lovability. We will discover that the peace we long for abides in us. And it’s been right there all the time.

::JOURNAL ENTRY: OCTOBER, 1961::

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Tattered Treasure Box

My altar is secret. I don’t really even have one yet, but I’m getting ready.The things I have for it are tucked away in a box. It’s a shoebox. From Renberg’s. Christmas, 1959. My father’s slippers came in it. If I lower my nose to the box, I can still smell the leather from those slippers.

The box is in the bottom drawer with some other stuff—so that no one can tell it’s something special.

A picture of Susan Van Wyck is in there. Susan Van Wyck’s been on the cover of Seventeen magazine about twenty times. Some people tell me I look like Susan Van Wyck. But she’s so beautiful, it makes me shy to think about it; I can’t believe it. But I keep that picture to remind me.

Then there’s my scapular. I got it in first grade when I made my First Holy Communion. It’s faded and the silk straps are twisted, but it reminds me of the Holy Sacrament. I like to remember when I was seven, and believed everything they told me, without question. Sometimes I sleep with it on, because I need those feelings I had back then. Innocent. Faithful.

There’s a little rock from the time we went to Roman Nose State Park. It was the summer before first grade, and the only vacation we ever took. This stone makes me think of highways, and swimming pools, and places far away.

The four leaf clover is from my boyfriend. Rick gave it to me –or should I say he walked down the aisle at school and dropped it on my desk. That’s how I knew he was my boyfriend. We haven’t talked to each other or anything, but sometimes you just know.

The scrap of brown eyelet material is from Nanny. She taught me how to sew, starting when I was five. When I was ten, She taught me to use the treadle machine on her patio. We made doll clothes all summer that year. Nanny always said, “You can do anything you want to do. Just come up with an idea, then think backwards and you’ll know how to get there.” This piece of fabric reminds me that I can do anything.

The last thing in here is a crystal heart. Daddy gave it to me before the 8th grade dance. It’s the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen, and it makes my own heart squeeze when I look at it. When Daddy’s having a bad night and I can hear him through my door, I take the crystal heart out and put it under my pillow. It helps me remember who he really is.

::TULSA, OKLAHOMA::

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TULSA POSTCARD

I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma
Where you learn that the Trail of Tears was real, stopped in Tahlequah, and never really ended.

I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma
Where you learn that even half a can of Aqua Net cannot hold sway against the wind.

I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma
Where you learn that the kindness you seek at home is given by the ladies at Bishop’s Bakery, Tuesday afternoons on your way home from school.

I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma
Where you learn that, on a clear day, you can see the state line in all directions.

I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma
Where you learn what love is. And what it is not.

I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma
Where you learn that basements in a storm can be salvation.

I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma
Where you learn that having a dream, making a plan, and hatching a plot may be the only way out.