A Kiss From the Sun

There was a contest this summer on My Faith Radio where writers were encouraged to submit stories about when they first learned about love.  As one of the finalists, I got to fly out to Minnesota (where I was the only one with a Texan accent) and meet other writers and eat lunch with Susie Larson (who would be my very best friend if she lived next door…I love this lady).   The story below is the one I wrote about what my Meme taught me.  Many of you know this lady.  She is kind of awesome.  I hope you enjoy it.  

 

My grandmother collected sayings like buttons in a jar.  And we were privy to hear each and every one of them at least one hundred and thirty-three times.  She was full of the sort of soft, gray wisdom that has seen things, good and bad.  Paper-crinkled wisdom in the corner of the eyes.

‘Nothing good happens after midnight.’

These were her words, whispered at the news on television after a late-night accident but more often at my request for a curfew extension when staying in town at her house after Friday night football games.

‘Nothing good happens after midnight.’

I came to disagree with her.

I learned about love from my grandmother in the middle of the night.

Many children, thankfully, never have to learn about love.  Like a particular mahogany hue of wavy hair, hazel-flecked brown eyes or an errant freckle on the forehead…it has always…been.  Never was there a time the child was without it.

I made my way from baby girl to girl-woman in a country neighborhood pulled out of the idyllic, Great American novel.  Long summer days spent playing with the kids behind our house ended with us coming in at dusk wearing sweaty red faces and dirt-stained smiles.  We rode the bus ten miles to school.  All six of us kids would wait at the end of our long, red-dirt driveway sucking fragrant honeysuckle flowers until that yellow giant, protesting in screeches, hissed and belched to a stop at our feet.  A tumble of elbows, knees and a dust cloud, we would shove and pull in a race to get in line first, trailing a path of wasted blossoms. These were days when the faded green riding lawnmower was our pretend car until one of us rammed it into the tall sweet gum tree in our front yard.  Hours were spent lying on our backs in cold clover patches molding the clouds to our endless imaginations.

‘See?  Do you see right there? It’s an elephant holding a baton.’

The still-standing dead tree out back shaped precisely like a man’s boot cradled the sisters for untold hours as we perched on the end of it and planned each other’s weddings.  I remember that boot tree had a hole near the toe-end where a seed of something would take purchase.  Once, it was another tree, an oak, but mostly some wild grass would try and grow in that small pit. Some brave burgeoning seed, always reaching, straining for a kiss from the sun.  Searching for light, attracted by life.  Even when we would carelessly pluck it out, some stubborn, courageous tender shoot would unfurl its head weeks later out of that gray, dead opening.

This beautiful countryside playground set the stage for my life.

But behind the walls of our light-yellow brick house, behind the tightly-drawn emerald green curtains with white flowers  and behind my mama’s shaky smile, a war was being waged.

A war of alcohol-breath, heavy fists, and a rage that could devour a person whole.

It was a war with casualties.  And witnesses.  And people who go off to war don’t return home the same way.  The eyes cannot un-see what has been seen.  Ears cannot un-hear a word.  And wounds cannot heal without at least some visible scarring.

This was not a private war.  I liked to imagine it was when I was young.  I didn’t register averted eyes, pitying glances.  I didn’t realize how transparent claiming clumsy really was.   At times, the neighbors would wake to blue and red lights skipping dizzily on their curtains, beckoning them to investigate what they already knew.  A tasty report for clucking tongues over morning coffee.

I have never doubted that my parents loved me.  But survival is a heavy, short-sighted boulder and delicate, tender things get buried underneath it.  Eight people in that house were trying to survive, each in their own way.

On those occasions in the middle of the night when nothing good happens and unwelcome sounds shock the breath out of dreams like an ice bath, there was an unspoken routine.  There was always a point where the battle reached a fever-pitch so hot it threatened to consume itself.  Or it would burn on forever in a needless and damaging way.  Like a forest fire.  But there was always the point.

And we would be ready.

Ready to pile barefooted and half-dressed into the family van.

Where on earth would we go in the middle of the night?  Who would take in a broken woman with six children after midnight in the middle of the week?

My mother never called anyone for help.  She never had to.  She knew where to go.  Where we went every time.

We drove into town, past three stoplights and four stop signs to a small, perfectly square white house with butter-colored shutters that we knew as well as our own.  Where we had our own toy closet.  Where our pictures hung on the wall.  Where we would have Christmas every year and there was barely room to breathe but more than enough to laugh.

My mother would softly open the screen door that parrot-squawked no matter how slowly it was opened and whisper-knock gently with an unsteady hand.

We could hear my grandmother’s footsteps echoing hollow on the old pier and beam floor before we saw her.  Softly urgent footsteps.  Knowing.

Ushering all seven of us through a tall triangle of soft light shining through the kitchen door, she went to work straight-away.  Make-shift beds on the couch and a chair.  Pallets on the floor.  Cool fingertips smoothing hair.  Never speaking above a whisper or turning on a light.  This care she took with our comfort, the antidote for the fresh trauma, was like a cool rag across a sick, feverish forehead.  As breath and safety returned, the children settled.  In the next room, I could hear my grandmother administering soft whispers and antiseptic, medicine to my mother’s heart wounds.

In my mind, this scene happened more times than we heard my grandmother’s sayings.

Without fail, without judgment, without reservation.

With kindness, compassion, whispered encouragement and a steady heart.

I used to wish I had been born with love that has always been and nothing else was.  But I have since found, will forget and remember again, that new life, true and strong, can grow out of dark places.

Like a young plant out of that hole in the toe of our old boot tree I grew up.  Stubborn to live, reaching for the light, ignoring the rude pull of young girls’ fingers.  Flourishing, growing stronger under the warm example of my grandmother’s fierce love.

Love like a kiss from the sun.

I would never trade the beautiful lesson I learned from my grandmother who never wanted the opportunity to teach under those circumstances.

I learned how to love.  Unconditionally.  Wholly.  Compassionately.

And it has shaped the whole of my life.  It has provided the gateway for the kind of love that kisses skinned knees and watches babies sleep full of peace and holds hands with a husband with a kind heart and a gentle touch.  A wondrous kind of love.

The kind of love sometimes taken for granted because it is always present.

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18 COMMENTS

  1. Sarah BLAIR Plemons | 15th Nov 13

    Wow. I love you beyond measure. I highlighted Blair to brag on our sisterhood. You are, have always been and will always be a blessing to our family. Thank you for your transparency. Thank you for your boldness. Thank you for the love, laughter and joy you bring every time we hug.

    • melissablair09@gmail.com | 15th Nov 13

      Oh, Sarah. You know I feel the same about you. A sister and a best friend? Yes, please. And thank You, God. I can’t wait for you to be so close you’ll be sick of me!! And also…the blessings I have received from our (yours and mine) family…I can’t even count.

  2. Jeanna Allen | 15th Nov 13

    Brought tears to my eyes Melissa. You are a beautiful writer. God has brought beauty from your hurts, it is amazing how he heals. As I read this story from a child’s perspective it gave me a glance at what my children were feeling in the midst of our crazy cycle. Our story has a blessed and positive turn as Brett is celebrating more than two years free from the grip of alcohol! I continue to pray that he binds up every wound my children had felt from that difficult time and that they rise from the ashes as you have.
    Jeanna Allen

    • melissablair09@gmail.com | 15th Nov 13

      Jeanna, I read your comment several times…and will again. No one really wants this as part of their story, do they? God will redeem the years the locusts have eaten, right? I am celebrating with you about Brett! Seeing the other side…this is nothing to take for granted. I said it before and I say it to you now…the hard lessons are where lives are changed…you and Brett are doing that with your kids and it will NOT return empty. Thank you so much for sharing with me. I am praying alongside you. You’ve made my whole day with your brave transparency. Thank you.

  3. Sara Aguirre | 15th Nov 13

    Incredible words from an incredible writer highlighting the incredible love our Meme gives to us. Your words bring back memories of those nights. Never asking. Never questioning. Just loving. That is the kind of love I want to give too. It’s an incredible feeling to know that we have broken that cycle. You are an amazing example of a true Christian woman and I am blessed to have you as my big sister. Thank you for letting me see your light shine so brightly it made me jealous of your relationship with God. So much that I had to have one of my own. I wanted that fullness, peace, and wholeness you had. I’ve got it now. Thank you.I love you to the moon and back.

    • melissablair09@gmail.com | 15th Nov 13

      Sara, Sara, Sara…you stun me with your words. I believe I see that writing gene of Dad’s in there…It’s the best way to process…I think you should do it. Your last couple of sentences…I don’t know how to respond to that except to say I see you and I am proud of you and I will always be walking right beside you. I love you. To that big full moon and back :).

  4. Peggy Whitfield | 15th Nov 13

    Melissa, this gave me the chills. I read and reread it. I’m so proud of the beautiful woman you have grown up to be.

    • melissablair09@gmail.com | 16th Nov 13

      Aunt Peggy, I loved hearing from you. I know you know this story…and I know you love the same way. Thank you for these sweet words. You made me smile. I love you.

  5. Julie Minton | 15th Nov 13

    Wow. I absolutely love love this. Meme is our family’s heart.

    • melissablair09@gmail.com | 16th Nov 13

      I absolutely love you 🙂

  6. Paula McGuire | 15th Nov 13

    What to say? Wow!!! Beauty from ashes. Your God-given gift to write is truly just that … God-given. I truly loved reading your story. Although I have only gotten bits and pieces over the past year of knowing you, I knew there was more to it. I love Overcomer stories. I have met so many through the years especially being married to Chanse, who is an Overcomer himself. I was one of those children who didn’t “have to” learn about love. It was always there … and taken for granted more times than not. Now that I am a Mom I cherish the fact that I did not have to be an Overcomer and that love was always there for me … to take for granted at the least. Thank you for sharing. Beautiful story!

    • melissablair09@gmail.com | 16th Nov 13

      Paula, I always love to hear what you have to say…you will always go deep with me. Thank you for these words. You know, my kids will not have to Overcome either…and that’s a good thing, isn’t it? He loves us lavishly all the same. I sure do love you, girl.

  7. SB | 15th Nov 13

    Why I love Meme, your mom, and most of all, why I love you.
    BB

  8. Debbie Whitfield | 15th Nov 13

    I LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!

    • melissablair09@gmail.com | 16th Nov 13

      I love you, Mom 🙂

  9. luanne | 20th Nov 13

    Melissa…I loved this. Loved it. In my mind I was picturing every word and thinking “Meme…what a blessing”! Love you girl!

    • melissablair09@gmail.com | 22nd Nov 13

      Meme is such a blessing. I. LOVE. YOU. Love keeping up with you and seeing those perfect, happy babies…and hearing what a wonderful person you still are from mutual friends/coworkers. You haven’t changed.

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