July Has Ended and There Was No Story of the Month?

One of my monthly writing goals is to share a story with a theme that corresponds with that particular month. Well, today is July 31, and, though I tried to make the goal, you will not find a July Story of the Month posted on my website — but for a good reason!

I began my July story right after Juneteenth, imagining a newly-freed young woman and her reaction to the news. I decided to use the first name of one of my ancestors, who was born in 1845. Our family records list her without a last name.

My tentative title is “Tell Her About Freedom,” a theme in line with the Fourth of July holiday that we celebrate in the United States.

As I wrote the story, I also researched the origins of Juneteenth and came upon one Texas plantation owner’s reading of “General Order Number 3” to his slaves. The dispatch from Union Major General Gordon Granger was issued on the morning of June 19, 1865, in Galveston from the Union Army’s Texas headquarters. The details were fascinating, so I decided to incorporate some of them into my story.

The more I wrote, the more I did not want to rush to finish it. So, I didn’t.

But I will finish it soon, and it will be a better story without the rush. Here is a sneak peek:

My name is Aldine, born somewhere in Virginia in 1845 and taken to Texas when I was a little one. That’s what I’ve been told. Right now, it is July in 1865. That makes me 20 years being a slave. I chose June 19 as my birthday because I don’t know the real one, and this one is the day that I was made free for the first time. I got free for a second time, and I will tell you about that later in my story.
The only ones who got treated well — if you can call it that — were the old ones. They just smiled, got along, and made no trouble, knowing that soon they would be departing for that land called heaven, what we all wanted once we had learned about it. I remember helping to pick up old Ethel in the field one day. That was tough because I was just a girl, and she was heavy. Jacob, one of my brothers, was helping, too. And, oh, she was dead and she was smiling. Only way to do that is if you knew where you were going. It looked to me like she did.
You can call me Aldine Woods. I chose that last name because I like the woods. There, everything is dark. In a beautiful dark kind of way. Usually.

Reading and writing about slavery is tough for me. The humiliation, cruelty, and violence that I learn about often overwhelms me. But, when I think about what my ancestors had to endure — and endure they did — I find the courage to write stories that will give them a voice, respect, and the happiness and opportunities they deserved to have as human beings. Aldine was born a slave, and I can’t wait to finish the story with her experiencing true freedom.

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

Happy Anniversary, Angry Lady! Five years ago this month (July 2016), I posted on my previous website an encounter I had at a grocery store that became the most popular story that I have ever shared. The story took several weeks for me to write, so the original readers received the story in three parts. Here is the full story in one post.

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


Part One: Darla Overhears an Angry Lady at the Von’s Check-out Line

When I arrived at the mall, I found a parking spot close to the grocery store, a feat which confirmed this truly was a glorious, work-free, weekday morning.

I entered the store and worked my way down the aisles. A bag of cat litter. A jug of water. A pack of gum. Done. I pushed my cart towards the “Express” check-out. There must have been ten people waiting.

So I steered my cart to Checkstand Four, which had one person waiting. Much better.

The woman in line had a full basket, so I prepared for the wait. I opened my purse to get my phone, but the words I was hearing distracted me. Angry words from an Angry Lady.

A Super-Loud-With-Her-Angry-Words Lady.

“I can’t believe the management at this store!” Slam item onto the counter. “Why don’t they get another checker?!” Slam item onto the counter. “It’s always like this in here!” Slam. Slam. Slam.

She wasn’t talking to anyone directly, and no one was talking to her. All I heard was anger, slams, and the beeping of the grocery scanner.

I noticed the orchid in the Angry Lady’s cart — so delicate, so beautiful. Quite a contrast from its soon-to-be owner.

She looked at me. I smiled at her. The Angry Lady was nicely dressed and her make-up was just right. She had wrinkles that revealed her age despite the sandy-brown hair color. She looked at the items in my cart, looked back at me, and said, “Why don’t you use the express lane?! Fifteen items or less!”

“The line is pretty long over there,” I said.

“That’s what I mean about this place. They need better management. And I hate waiting in line. The service here is awful.” She stopped slamming her groceries and proceeded to tell me about all the things she had to do, including the Spanish class for which she would now be late.

“I don’t mind waiting in line,” I said. “Things could be worse. We could be standing in line waiting for our first and only meal of the day.”

The clerk looked at me. The customer at the head of the line looked at me. And the Angry Lady looked at me.

“Humph!” she said. “Well, I wish I could have that attitude.”

“You can.” I provided a number of other bad situations for which she could be standing in line. Funeral. Clothing handout. Place to sleep after a fire. Little things like that. “Plus, you can practice being patient for a time when you really need it. I love to do that while standing in line.” I chuckled.

She took a step back and frowned. “Here.” She thrust her arm towards me. “Rub some of that attitude on me!”

So I reached towards her and rubbed her arm. We both laughed as she continued loading the belt with groceries. I noticed the amused expressions of the store clerk as well as the customer ahead of the Angry Lady as he paid and left.

“Well, they could at least open another checker, don’t you think?” Her tone had softened.

“I bet they would if they could. I always imagine that there is a good reason for it.”

She looked at me with a smile that teetered on frustration. Then she said, “Okay, okay! I’ll try to look at it that way.”

“Excellent,” I said. “Patience is a virtue. What’s your name?” The Angry Lady didn’t look so angry anymore. She told me her name — Fran* — and I told her mine.

“Darla. That’s a pretty name,” she said. Of course I had to tell her the story of my sister Lynne and how I got my name. Sensing her true age, I knew Fran would recognize the Our Gang character. “That’s a wonderful story, Darla. Yes, I remember watching that TV show.”

Our conversation continued as the clerk quietly checked the grocery items. Fran told me that she had only lived in Santa Barbara for one year. She came here from New York.

I felt even more compassion for her after hearing that little fact.

New York, she explained, had better customer service. Not like here, she assured me. The clerk stood waiting and I nodded to let Fran know that it was time to pay.

She slid her card through the payment machine. “How does this thing work? What am I doing wrong?” She tapped the number pad and kept sliding the card, back and forth. I gave the clerk a “Please help her” look. He did. I glanced behind me. Traffic jam at Checkstand Four.

Finally, with her payment made and her groceries bagged, Fran was ready to go. “I do feel better, Darla. I do! Goodbye!”

I waved to her. “Nice to meet you, Fran. Have a great day.”

“I will! You, too! Hope I don’t get to my class too late. No, no, I don’t need any help out.” She shooed away the bagger, steered her cart, and headed for the exit.

Finally, it was my turn. The clerk scanned my three items. He didn’t say a word about Fran. I didn’t say a word about Fran. We both grinned. When I handed him my cash, he asked me if I had a store card. “That’ll save you some … three dollars,” he said. Yikes. I had forgotten to enter my information and I was glad he had reminded me. Tap, tap, tap, on the number pad.

I saw the woman, next in line, frown. 

* Fran is not her real name. Other upcoming details about her life have been changed as well to keep her privacy.


Part Two: Darla Spots Fran Loading Groceries Just Steps From Her Car

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?


Part Three: Fran Asks a Heart-Wrenching Question

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.

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: When I started writing this story, 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 had met. Fran left her mark on me, and I hope I did the same for her.

May Story of the Month: A Mother’s Day

The United States celebrates Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May. That’s this weekend, and it’s a perfect theme for this month’s Story of the Month.

While researching the Great Depression (1929-1940) for one of my stories, I found this photo and it is an amazing one. The joy this woman shows, despite her poverty, is the perfect picture of motherly love.

Inspired by the photo, I imagined myself sitting with this woman to learn about her typical day.

Cotton picker with her baby, Maricopa County, Arizona, November 1940. Photo by Dorothea Lange

Look at her.

My child don’t know nothing about life. Oh, how that makes me glad.

All she knows about is me, Daddy, her brothers, my bosom, my arms, my whispers. She knows my smell, my smile. And when she wakes, when those eyes open and she jabs my soul with her brown eyes, oh, so deep, dark brown — she knows the love of God through my ragged self.

My day is cotton picking, metal pans, and hot dust. Then I come home to feed my folk. If Daddy don’t come home with some food, I’ll be cooking with weeds and what I can find hiding under a stone. Sometimes I feel sorry for the critters. They hungry, too. It don’t take me long before I get over that sorrowful feeling and aim that club. Daddy says I should just think of them as gifts from God and then do the deed.

Out there, that’s Clarence and Cecil. Good boys. I bring home the critters and make a teaching out of it. I teach my boys how to spell as we skin and cook. R-A-B-B-I-T. Rabbits, squirrels, birds, snakes. Use what you got, I say. Even those hoppers can taste good when you know tomorrow might be empty. My boys did get good with the club, too, so I can care more for my baby girl. So thankful for the bags of flour we get. I can always make do with some of that. Salt, pepper, roll it around ’til the critter is covered, thick. Melt the grease and fry up what I got. If the only thing that tastes good is the smell, then at least that’s something.

No meat tonight, though. Fried dough. See that? Flour, lard, water. Roll it up. Stick it in the grease. Eat. And those rations, they don’t last long. Especially the salt pork. Men trade that for cigarettes and anything else that’ll ease their pain. Oh, they are sure bold about stealing. Daddy don’t fight about it. He asks me “Salt pork or be dead?”

He’s a wise man, a good man. Love him so. Clareen looks just like him. When she opens her eyes, you’ll see.

Daddy brings home our dollar twenty-five, tired as a dog. When he looks at her, I see his face rest. Not in a happy way, but a satisfied way.

He works for something better than a meal.

We built our house from scrap piles of junk. Now, this is our home for I don’t know how long. I know folk who don’t have a roof overhead, so I’m not complaining. Can’t keep out the dust, but what it settles on is clean.

Our washing and relieving are in the pail and the ditch. Now that he’s older, Clarence got charge of the clean-out. I help him get ready with the bleach and send him on his way. Can’t have none of those germs around my baby. I’ve watched too many of my folk losing their own because they don’t take time to be careful.

Wonder what she’s thinking. God knows I love her. I sing her this song every day:

Jesus loves me, this I know,

For the Bible tells me so,

Little ones to him belong,

You’re so weak, but he is strong,

Yes, Jesus loves me; yes, Jesus loves me; yes, Jesus loves me,

The Bible tells me so.

Singing is how I take my babies on trips. Leave this dreary ol’ Buckeye place. I sing that we’re riding on a train, new shoes, drinking a peach Nehi. We get to California, the orange trees heavy with fruit. We just pick them, don’t have to pay, nobody chasing us away. Juice running down our faces. My babies love that song, never tire of it. And I sing about the ocean and how they can swim in it, if they want. We read the papers and plan for the day. Reminds me of what the Bible says — the promised land.

Oh, yes, my day is more difficult with her, yes, it is. All my business stops when she’s awake. My boys don’t like it, I know, but they had me, too, like she do now.

Joy, joy, joy. Look at her. Clareen. My first baby girl. Oh, when I’m out in that field, picking, bending, and I feel her breath against my neck — that just grows me. My legs get stronger, my hands get tougher, my aches don’t weigh me down. There’s a reason for all this, I believe.

I’m hoping I have the answer before she starts to asking what it is.

There you are, baby girl. Hush, now. Hush.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy;

at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16:11

April Story of the Month: I Heard the Clouds Say Something That Easter Morn

Easter Sunday, Late 1960s

The Lowe Family did not miss church on Easter Sunday.

Mom and Dad didn’t think twice about skipping it every other Sunday of the year, but attending the Easter service was a must do. It was like they figured the liveliness of Spring stirred God into bursting from his year-long patience with them. It was time to get into the pews before they felt his wrath.

Plus there was that whole “sin” and “Jesus died, but he’s alive” thing that they told us Easter was all about.

Mom and Dad had both been brought up to know God and the Christian faith. They shared those beliefs with us (me and five other siblings) in unique ways. For example, Mom told us that all the bad things we did until we were teenagers counted as sins against her. We felt crummy about that. So, Mom had a flock of well-behaved children; we lived in fear of being responsible for her being sent to hell.

I love my Mom and Dad. With all that life had handed to them, at least they tried. Besides the guilt they felt for not attending church throughout the year, perhaps they thought sitting under a fire-breathing pastor on Easter Sunday would burn off the thick layers of sin we had piled on all year.

As a child, Christmas was our main celebration of Christianity. My mother loved Jesus through her Christmas celebrations, and she made sure her children did, too. My young self cared little about my parents’ guilty feelings and only a bit more about Jesus’ death on the cross. Better than that, Easter meant new clothes and shoes, and the tangy smell of vinegar. Boiling water steamed up the windows and we’d draw pictures with our fingers. There was that miracle of colored drops transforming a stupid egg into a thing of beauty. That was Easter for me.

The Lowe kids looked sharp as usual on that Easter Sunday: Three girls in frilly dresses and pressed hair, and three boys in button-down shirts and pressed pants.

As we climbed into the car, I noticed the clouds. Cotton candy thick, the type that stirred a child’s thoughts and imagination. They were not unusual for the season, but on that particular morning, when I looked at those clouds, I felt like their fullness and brilliance were saying something to me. Something about God.

And right then I wondered: Did God ever think about me?

The preacher’s sermon was about Nicodemus, and he would shout and pound on the podium when he said the name:

Nicodemus! He came to Jesus at night.

Nicodemus! Didn’t want nobody seeing him there.

Nicodemus! You must be born again, Jesus said. Nicodemus!

He went on and on about this man who was afraid of his friends and didn’t understand a mystery. I wasn’t impressed: Okay, so, this Nicodemus man believed in Jesus. Good for him. I want my Easter basket. When will this be over?

And then the preacher started talking about Jesus coming back, and that Jesus would use the clouds to get here.

Clouds? I perked up.

“He died, YES! he rose, YES! and one day, I said, ONE day he will return!”

Return?

“To take you home to heaven, children!”

Heaven?

“He’s coming in the CLOUDS, brothers!”

The clouds? I looked out the window.

“In clouds of GLO-ry, sisters!”

Sisters? Me?

I had heard it all before, but this time that return in those clouds to take me sounded both scary and … wonderful.

The preacher was a sight. He was yelling about a rapture and a new earth, and he was taking throaty breaths between sentences, and he was slapping the podium, harder, harder, faster, faster, like it was the devil telling him to stop preaching, stop it, STOP IT!

Because someone’s heart was being moved.

“The Crazy Part” was my childish name for what came next. Everyone started singing with the choir. Men, women, and children were up, clapping, shifting, and stomping. Soon the Lowes were, too. It was infectious. Since church wasn’t the norm, I was a bit wary of acting that way in God’s house, like it was our living room with the Top 40 hits blasting from the radio.

The piano player was moving side to side, his shoulders working into a chunky rhythm of soulful song. Women were hopping on one leg, up and down the aisle and in the front of the pews, doing that dancing, “slain in the Spirit,” where those women would let go and let God.

This both frightened and humored me, especially when the old ladies fell to the ground, shaking and writhing and screaming. And I was embarrassed because they were sharing all of their female garments while they were down there. They didn’t seem to care. I looked at Mom, her eyes focused straight ahead on the preacher like nothing unusual was happening.

My brothers and sisters were trying hard not to laugh because we knew to whom that sin would go.

Soon the fans were fanning and the women were settled. The congregation was excused. The Lowe Family had appeased their God for another year.

We went home to the Easter baskets and all was well. Except, I kept thinking about those clouds. I walked to my bedroom and went to the window.

I looked out.

The afternoon sun was shining through the clouds just so. Majestic, soft and inviting. Glory!

Was he coming today?

I tried to imagine what home would be like in heaven. “Happy” was the word that settled in my heart. Things in my earthly home had not been going well. Mom and Dad were yelling, cussing, hitting, throwing. They talked about Jesus like he was something special, but their lives showed me another story.

I stayed there by the window, nesting in the hope of a safe and happy Day. Then the clouds moved on and I gave in to the enticement of kitchen smells and sibling voices.

Things were back to normal. Dad was fixing lunch and singing along with the radio. Mom was in the yard with a cigarette and a neighbor. Brothers and sisters were in front of the television, satisfied with their jelly beans and marshmallow bunnies. I grabbed my basket and joined them.

Easter Sunday. Tomorrow’s Monday.

It took me decades of selfishness and sorrow, topped with the frustrations of motherhood, to finally listen to a God who deserved my attention. When I made the great exchange at age 30, and gave my life to Jesus Christ for his, I remembered that cloudy Easter morn. Through the clouds, the preacher, the singing, the rolling-around old ladies — even our rare church attendance — Jesus the Risen Savior had been calling my name.

My greatest regret is that I did not answer him sooner.

But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe;
Here, Lord, I give myself away;
‘Tis all that I can do.

(From the hymn “Alas, and Did My Saviour Bleed?” by Isaac Watts, 1707)