Article

My Brother, My Hero

Today is Norman’s birthday. He’s my big brother, and he saved my life.

Norman is in his late fifties, a year older than me, but — unlike me — he can pass for someone in his late thirties. He is fit and tall and handsome. He is a friend to many. Children adore him.

He is the number four child of the six siblings. We were together in that triplet Mom had: three babies in three years. Brent, Norman, and then me.  Since we are close in age, there were many a fight between Norman and me. We landed physical punches on one another often in our younger years. I can’t remember exactly why we’d get so mad at each other, but I think fighting was just part of life in the Lowe household. There were heavy things happening for us kids to be mad about.

Having a brother close in age also had its perks:

  1. Bodyguard. I just had to tell him once that I was being bothered by some boy at school. Bam! Problem solved.
  2. Companion. Norman was there on the bus, walking home, playing sports. I always had my big brother around. He never told me to get lost, so I guess I was okay.
  3. Boys. Many of his friends were “crush”-worthy. And he had friends of all shapes and colors. I just had to sit back and watch, all dreamy-eyed, as they came over to hang out.
  4. We were about the same size and height, so I fit into his clothes. The lack of funds in the household would call for this sometimes. I can see as clear as yesterday those grey corduroy “cuffs” he let me borrow.

There are three memories of Norman that stand out in my mind. They do so because (1) a couple are serious incidents; and (2) they reveal the heart and soul of my brother.

One is the Swimming Pond. Throughout our childhood, Norman was the one to take chances. One summer we were hiking through the Santa Barbara hills with our day camp group. We came upon a pond and the teen leader wondered how deep it was. When he asked who would jump in and check, Norman said he would. And he jumped right in. The only problem was that Norman did not know how to swim. Soon I was yelling like a crazy girl — He can’t swim, he can’t swim! I saw my brother’s head come up out of the water. Between gulps he said, “It’s deep.” With that phrase, he proceeded to sink and I proceeded to scream. The leader jumped in and Norman was saved. He was probably all of ten years old. The fear I felt during that scary moment did not stick with me, though. What I carry in my memory is how my brother saw something that needed to be done. And he did it. Most impressive to a younger sister. I’ve seen this trait carried out in his adulthood in various ways.

The second memory is Comic Book Collections. All three of my brothers, along with my sister Lynne, loved collecting comic books. But Norman is the one who, to this day, still collects them. There was something that appealed to Norman about heroes and villains and the stories that entangled them, and they still do to this day. Spider-Man, one of his favorite characters, became my favorite. Spidey had to be cool if Norman liked him so much. I looked up to Norman as we grew up together. My other brothers had their quirky attributes, but Norman was the normal one. He was simply my big brother doing big brother things.

I think he secretly wanted to be more than a normal, everyday brother Norman. He wanted to be a Hero. He had no idea what was coming that would elevate him to Hero status in my heart.

That takes me to the most important memory I have of Norman: Saving My Life. After my freshman year in college, I returned home from living in the dorms. Having tasted a bit of independence, and due to the shortage of living space, I asked Mom if I could turn the car-less garage into my bedroom. She gave me permission, and I had a cool place of my own, complete with the stereo that I had purchased earlier in the year. I was fully into music at that point, and that stereo was my pride and joy, my instrument of escape.

Unfortunately, I could not completely escape the evil that Mom allowed to reside in our home. This evil was consumed with bringing much misery into our lives. My music became a threat. One day a few words  — words that sanity would have been able to consider and take as truth — became fodder for an escalation above the usual abuse. While I was under attack, feeling fingers clamped tight around my throat, I heard my brother Norman. I heard his voice scream out “Get off of her!” I saw Norman leap forward, there was a struggle, and suddenly I could breathe again. It must have been the adrenalin at work, for Norman was nowhere near the size of the evil that had moments ago been squeezing the life out of me.

Norman saved my life. I was 19 years old, he was 20. There is much more to that story, and maybe I’ll describe it better at some point. But for this day, just know that Norman put himself into harm’s way for me. His little sister. And he saved my life.

I have a Mother’s Day card that Norman gave me years ago. He wrote of how proud he was of me — raising my son while divorced, having a small business on the side, working full-time.

Well, Norman. I wouldn’t be around to do any of this if you hadn’t come to my rescue all those years ago. You are my Hero. I probably should tell you that more.

Yes, you make me mad sometimes even now — just like when we were little kids.

But I’ll always love you. You saved my life. You’re the brother who has always been there. Ready to jump in when something needs to be done.

Happy Birthday!

Love,

Darla

Article

In Mother’s Place

The essence of Mother has been in the air this week, but I don’t think the memoir I’m about to begin is going to show me the sweet side of motherhood. Mama’s Girl (1996), a memoir by Veronica Chambers, has this quote on the back cover: “If we learned nothing from this book but the power of forgiveness, that is enough … and thank God for wondrous healing.”

Thank God. Yes. Life with my mother was dreadful after it got to a certain point, but God did heal my heart in a wondrous way.

I stumbled upon a Bible verse one day, shortly after I had given birth to my son, almost 30 years ago: Psalm 27:10 — “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in.” The words were a gift. I had never thought about asking God to take me in because I had never seen God as a person. Prior to reading that verse, God was a High Being who existed in a place called Heaven where, if I was good, I would live one day. Mom told me that this God created the world and sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. His Bible contained amazing stories about floods, lions, and what the Israelites did. That was about it. I had no connection with the fact that God cared personally about what I was going through, as I and my siblings dealt with things no children should have to endure.

With this verse, God offered to put an end to my orphanhood, my greatest desire, which would also turn out to be the end of my insecurities and constant bad choices.

God became my Mother — and my Father — that day, and I was finally a member of a healthy home.

Physical abuse. Emotional abuse. Shame. Neglect. All of this I received from my mother or from someone she allowed to get close to me and the rest of her children. Yet these ugly memories of Mom — she died almost 20 years ago — no longer hold me back from being the whole person God created me to be. I gave up the memories when I gave up her position to God. And the amazing thing? I began to love Mom again, not with the warmth that a good relationship brings, but with a love provided by God that goes beyond feelings and expectations. Once I accepted the fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), I could better understand her and bring myself to forgive her — a great exchange of a burden for an amazing grace.

Do you have unpleasant thoughts or memories of your mother? Does the Mother’s Day celebration cause you to cringe? Get to know this personal God and let him stand in her place.

(Image of Mama’s Girl from my Instagram feed)


 

Article

Childhood Playground: Hilda Ray Park

hilda-ray-park

This weekend was “Back to Childhood” for me and my siblings. Not only did we have dinner at our old elementary school, but we also drove up to Hilda Ray Park. My siblings and I would spend the summers there — a short walk up the hill from our home — as part of the city’s Summer Recreation program. I’m sure the amazing view was overlooked as we ran for the teeter-totter and merry-go-round, which were made of metal and steel. Imagine a hot summer day playing on those! Note the very safe, plastic play equipment that replaced ours. Times have changed, indeed.

Article

I Met an Angry Lady at the Check-out Line Today: Part Three

two-orchids-sculpture

 

When I started writing this story a few weeks ago, I thought it would be a short one, but that didn’t happen. As I wrote, I remembered more and didn’t feel like I could leave out one detail about the fascinating person I met.

As you will see from reading this final installment, Fran left her mark on me, as I hope I did with her.

Fran the Angry Lady. I met her at the check-out line. We had a conversation. This is Part Three of the story.

[Click here to read Part One]

[Click here to read Part Two]

The day before I met Fran, a police shooting had become the talk of the nation. Many people were furious about what they saw as a race-motivated killing of an innocent man. I did not watch the video that was passing through the Facebook community, but I did read about the incident. Years may pass before I have an “Oh, that’s right! I’m black!” moment here in Santa Barbara, but the focus on skin color was back to high alert in my life.

[Click here to read my story about a scary “Oh, that’s right! I’m black!” encounter I had a few years ago in Montecito.]

As I stood in the parking lot with Fran, it occurred to me that she must have read and reacted to the same event. Black people. White people. Citizens. Law Enforcement. Innocent. Guilty. These lives and those lives. Yet here we were, with opposite skin colors, and the subject never came up during the entire conversation.

“My husband is one thing,” Fran said, “but his family, well…” She drew out the word, wrinkled her nose, and did that “So-so” gesture with her hand. “They’re all so coddled.”

Coddle: Treat in an indulgent or overprotective way. “How so?” I asked.

“It’s a very wealthy family, Donna.They get handed whatever they want. Not me. I worked for everything I have. Not these people.”

“But they welcomed you, yes?” I gave Fran a thumbs up, hoping to bring the conversation back to a positive.

“Yes, they did.” she said. “They’re nice people. Very nice. Four daughters. And he has three siblings. All coddled. But I won’t go for that. They don’t get any coddling from me.”

“And I would expect nothing less from you, Fran, but now you have a chance to show them another way of living. Seize the opportunity!”

“Humph.” Fran didn’t seem so sure of my suggestion. “Anyway, I opened a little shop so that I can stay busy.”

While Fran described her business, I imagined her yelling at her employees and throwing vendor invoices into the trash because none of them could do anything right.

“I hate to cook!”

Not being quite sure from where that outburst came, I could only answer, “What?” The woman was starting to remind me of the Energizer bunny on four cups of espresso.

“Cooking. I hate it. Do you like to cook?” She had a look of disgust on her face.

“Not really. Only for family gatherings. Frozen dinners are my best friends. I don’t think there is any food in my refrigerator right now. Maybe corn tortillas.”

“But I do like to clean. I’m a neat freak! Drives everybody crazy. Are you married?”

I froze. Ugh. I hate that question. Ask me anything else: “What is the meaning of life?” “Your hair is SO cool — can I touch it??” “How did your colonoscopy go?” Anything.

“No, I’m not married.” I thought about ending it there, but something about Fran’s expression caused me to continue. “Unfortunately, I’m divorced.”

And there was silence. The first real pause of our conversation.

I looked away from her so that I could collect myself. To this day — seventeen years after the fact — hearing the word “divorce” still stirs up within me the shame, humiliation, and sadness of my failed marriage.

Fran leaned in towards me and said, “How in the world did you ever handle something like that?” She asked this with such wonder, care, and concern that I almost hugged her.

“Not very well, Fran. It was not my choice.”

She stared at me for a few seconds.  I sensed that Fran was struggling with something herself. And then she said this, so softly, so gently: “I asked if you’re married because I think you would be a great person to live with. That good attitude and all.”

I cannot describe adequately how I felt at that moment. It was a combination of things: Knowing full well that “great” does not describe me, accepting the sweetness of her words as a gift, and realizing that I was seeing a Fran whom I never would have seen if not for a bit of patience at a check-out line.

Fran. Compassionate Fran. Only a short time ago you were a nuisance to all who were in your presence. And now? You’re the giver of a soothing gift to a hurting soul. I wish I could have had those words to say to her then. (Of course, she may have slugged me for the “nuisance” part, but I would have deserved it.)

“I don’t know about that ‘great to live with’ part, Fran. I’m just Darla McDavid. Nothing special about me.”

Right then, I saw Anne and Lillian, two elderly sisters, one in her late 70’s and the other just starting her 90’s, whom I’ve known for years. “Hi, Darla!” they each shouted. I waved back to them and we exchanged the usual pleasantries.

“Are they your friends?” Fran asked.

“Yes. We attend the same church.”

Fran stepped back and looked at me curiously. I’m still wondering if that is the point when she realized she had my name wrong. Maybe it was my mention of “church.” Whatever it was, she kept it to herself.

“Well, I gotta go. Time for my Spanish class!” Fran walked back to her car and took hold of her cart.

“And I have to get back to my gardening.” I felt a twinge of sadness as she walked away, as if I was letting go of something precious. “I hope we run into each other again soon.” I turned to my car and lifted the heavy bag of cat litter into the back.

“Me, too, Darla. Here. Let me take your cart back for you.”

Fran came back for my cart and pushed it into her own. Her huge smile showed how pleased she was with her act of kindness as she rolled the carts towards the grocery store. But before she could get too far, a couple approached Fran and offered her the same favor.

“Yes! Thank you!” She turned to me. “See, Darla?! I was going to help you” — she pointed at me — “and then they” — she pointed wildly at the couple — “helped both of us. Isn’t that great how it works?”

I nodded, speechless. Yes, it is, my friend.

And there it was. The circle was complete.

“Goodbye, Darla.”

“Good-bye, Fran.” I really want to give you a hug. 

And she got into her gorgeous, luxury sedan and drove off.

Fran the Lovely Lady. I will never cease to be amazed by the ways God teaches me about who he is and what he wants from my life.

I sat in my car and thought about the transformation I had witnessed — an ugly, angry lady becoming as lovely as an orchid. Patience helped reveal a gem. If I ever see her again, I will not hesitate to give Fran that hug.

Your turn. Go out and let a Fran find you.

Note: Fran is not her real name, and I also changed some of her personal details.

Orchid Image: Aren’t those orchids amazing and beautiful? “Two Orchids” is a pair of 30- and 33-foot sculptures of white flowers made from cast aluminum and stainless steel. The sculpture, seen here in New York’s Central Park, is a 2015 creation of  German artist Isa Genzken.


 

Article

I Met an Angry Lady at the Check-out Line: Part Two

Haeckel_Orchidae

Three items: A bag of cat litter. A jug of water. A pack of chewing gum. Those were the only things I needed from the grocery store that day. Why did I drive all the way across town to the mega-market when I could have spent five minutes at the neighborhood grocery store?

Because time is a non-thing to me right now. Who knows which day of the week it is, and who cares? I’m on staycation. I can choose to waste time in order to cruise through my beloved city. I can take the long route that winds through areas which spark fond memories. Modoc Road, oh, how I love you.

Yet it is clear to me now that the real reason for driving that distance to that particular grocery store had nothing to do with my leisure and everything to do with Fran.

Fran the Angry Lady. I met her at the check-out line. We had a conversation. This is Part Two of the story.

[Click here to read Part One]

[Click here to read Part Three, the conclusion]

Give me a slight breeze and seventy-two degrees and I will choose gardening. My yard is a mix of projects completed, in session, or forgotten. A never-ending mess that I love. The backyard is covered in a weedy grass that can only be killed by Kryptonite. I have tried, tried, and tried again — mulch smothering, Round-up poisoning, boiling water scalding, the California drought. Nothing has been able to beat it.

So, after paying for my groceries, I left the store with visions of weed wars in my head. I could not wait to get home and take on the enemy, another sweet battle that I would temporarily win. I had already spent more time in the store than I had planned. If it hadn’t been for …

Fran?

There she was, loading her groceries. My car was right across the lot from hers and a few spaces up. Her back was to me. I could have passed her by and been on my way to gardening joy.

I got closer to my car, my mind doing that Tom and Jerry thing where the angel would be on one shoulder and the devil on the other: Garden. Fran. Garden. Fran. You already spoke to her. But how can you pass by without saying something? The woman feels better now. She told you so! Oh, stop being selfish and say something to her.

The angel won. Instead of sneaking away, I called out to her as I got to my car. “Goodbye, Fran.” She turned to me and I waved.

“Oh! Donna. Look at this orchid.” She held up the plant. “I love orchids. I buy new ones every few months.”

I considered correcting her on the name fail, but I decided against it. “Orchids are so beautiful. Don’t they look like they’re smiling at you?”

“Yes, they do. And I see that you have a cat.” She walked over to me and pointed at my cart. “I saw the cat litter. I have a dog. I rescued her. Sweetest thing. Never would leave my side. Now she has all the room in the world to run, from the ocean” — she swung her arms back and forth — “to the mountains. Not like in New York. Here, I thought she would run away, but she still won’t leave my side.”

I tried to convince her that cats rule, but she wouldn’t buy it. “I’m too independent myself,” she said with a wave of her hand. “Anyway, nice talking to you.” She walked back to her car.

“Take care, Fran.” There. Duty done. I opened the hatch to load my things.

“I wish there was another place nearby that I could shop for groceries, but I live too close.” She yelled to me from across the lot. “I hate this store.” She pointed at it to make sure I knew which one.

“That is some strong language, Fran.” I turned towards the store. “This one is my favorite. I drive across town to buy my groceries here.”

“You’re kidding! Let me tell you something.” She walked back over to me. “This doesn’t happen in New York. Businesses know how to treat their customers. There’s too much competition for them to treat people like they do here. Treat the customer like that and they’re out of business the next day. Really!”

“I don’t doubt that, Fran, but, well, um, you know, this isn’t New York.”

“I don’t care!” She threw her hands up. “It’s business. Everybody should treat their customers right.”

“I agree.” I admitted to Fran that I encountered the “I’ll help you when I’m good and ready” attitude many times in Santa Barbara. I shared a bit of history and what I had seen over my fifty-five years in this town, especially the early days when local families owned all the stores and restaurants.

“Humph. How old are you?” Fran asked.

“I’ll be fifty-six this year.”

“I’m seventy-eight. You’re my daughter’s age.” Fran’s eyes had lost their fury. “My husband died and I remarried. That’s why I’m here — to be with my new husband. He’s a CEO for a worldwide company. I told him he had to retire.” She grinned. “If you want to marry me, I said, you have to retire.” She leaned in closer to me and lowered her voice. “This man is the best. He treats everybody like they’re special. If they call him, he’s there. It doesn’t matter what time of the night or day. Everybody loves him. But I told him he couldn’t have me and work every single day. Retire or forget it.” She stepped back, looking victorious.

“And he did?” I didn’t doubt it, but I was dying to hear her tell the story. This woman was thoroughly entertaining. The garden could wait.

“No.”

“No?!” I was stunned. How could this man resist Fran?

Fran crossed her arms. “We compromised. He said three days a week. I said okay.”

I laughed. “I guess that’s better than seven.”

“Actually, after a while, I told him to go back to seven. Having him home those four days, it was” — she shoved me — “driving me crazy!” Her voice was shrill. Her delivery was perfect. She laughed like it was the first time she had heard the story. After getting over the shock of her shove, I joined her. Absolutely hilarious.

What more could this woman do or say to make our conversation better than it had already been? ∞

NEXT: Part Three (Final) – Darla Shares a Sad Part of Her Life with Fran

Note: As with Fran’s name and a few of her personal details, I have also changed Fran’s husband’s occupation.

Orchid Image: That center orchid has a lovely face, doesn’t it? The image is a lithographic color plate from Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur, 1899, showing the botanist’s depiction of different varieties of orchids. Source: Wikipedia.