Playing with Father

(I wrote this post about seven or eight years ago for a different blog. I now use it as an example of a narrative reflection in my college-level Rhetoric and Research class, which I teach for North Central University. My R & R students have all seen the now-famous leopard shirt and platform shoes. With Halloween approaching, it seems appropriate to post this here.)

God asked me to come out and play.

My daughter Naomi and I went to the Earth Exchange thrift store to look for a costume for her for the Fall Frolic Halloween alternative at our church. As I was scanning the clothing racks for something for her, I ran across a black shirt jacket with the head of a leopard painted on it and leopard pattern trim on the sleeves and collar. I showed it to Naomi. “You could be a leopard tamer,” I said. Naomi dismissed the idea, so I put the shirt back. I kept suggesting other ideas to Naomi, and she kept suggesting other ideas for me. When we had exhausted every possibility for Naomi, she insisted that I find a costume for myself. I went back to the leopard shirt. “I could be a leopard tamer,” I said.

We proceeded to look for other pieces to complete the leopard tamer outfit. There were some long black pants that I had ruled out because they were size two, but Naomi encouraged me to try them on. Naomi found a black t-shirt with the appliqué of Mickey Mouse in a leopard pattern. I said, “That’s great! It means I can turn a leopard into a mouse!” The pants fit (surprise!) except they were way too long. That’s when Naomi presented me with some amazing black platform shoes. They were a little too large, but they added three inches to my height! Naomi then found some black clip-on earrings, and I found a black stocking cap and a black water bottle holder in which I could place the whip my son had used with his Lord of the Rings costume. To my surprise and delight, I was unexpectedly outfitted in a costume so unlike my “real” persona that it was sure to make anyone who knew me smile at the irony.

At the beginning of the evening, I had the opportunity to have my nails painted, something I seldom do. One of the junior high girls who was volunteering at the nail-painting station was wearing orange nail polish with black spots. I asked her to paint mine the same way. Having always been a minimalist when it came to fashion, I never understood my girly girlfriends’ fascination with accessories.  Now with my earrings, heels, hat, bag, and nail polish, I was fully accessorized. I felt “put together.”

Wearing the outfit for four hours affected me. I felt unusually tall, feminine, confident, and capable. Whenever I met a little kitten or leopard, I asked if she wanted to be tamed by me. They all refused! Nevertheless, I knew that if I were a real leopard tamer and they were real leopards, it wouldn’t be up to them. The leopard tamer is the one who calls the shots.

At the end of the evening, I had a new appreciation of my own strength and femininity. I understood that strength and femininity need not be in opposition. In fact, they complement and enhance each other. It was a healing revelation I desperately needed right now. How mischievous for God to teach me so playfully!

Thanks, Father. I’ll play with you any time!

Zorro and Silver Pennies: Why I Collect Books

As the youngest of nine children, I keenly felt the pain of illiteracy at four years of age. Seeing all the people I admired most sitting down and reading by themselves was tantalizing to me.

Not wanting to feel left out, I frequently spent time combing the family bookcase. Unfortunately, except for a few tattered Little Golden Books, the only books on the shelf were grown-up books without pictures–with one notable exception.

How well I recall the glossy illustrated hard cover of The Legend of Zorro!  In brilliant hues the dashing Zorro–his masked face set with resolve and his black cape swirling about his scarlet shirt–sat atop a rearing black stallion against a Southwestern landscape. Before entering first grade, when I knew all the sounds of the letters and knew how to sound words out, I sat down with Zorro in my lap and tried to read. To my dismay, I couldn’t get past the first word: “the.”

After first grade when I had really learned to read, I tackled Zorro again. I could now pick out a word here or there, but not much more than that. After second grade, I thought I’d surely be able to find out about Zorro, but I still couldn’t read it. Ditto after third grade.

By that time, a few more children’s books had found their way into our home. By saving enough box tops, my mom was able to subscribe to a series of hardcover children’s anthologies that came in the mail once a month. The books had poems, short stories, fairy tales, and an excerpt from a longer children’s book. I eagerly devoured those volumes the day they arrived and couldn’t wait for the next one. They only served to further whet my appetite for books, not satisfy it.

Every so often the school library would discard books. My sister and I kept a watchful eye for those “discard” piles and grabbed any books we could. One of them that I snatched up was Silver Pennies, a handbook-sized children’s poetry anthology. Silver Pennies was in sorry shape when it found its way into our home. A chunk was missing from its hard cover and multiple pages had been scribbled on by unruly children. The little volume was already 40 years old when I adopted it. But I read and cherished it, committing many of its poems to memory. The enchanting words of Vachel Lindsay, Walter de la Mare,  Sara Teasdale, and William Butler Yeats became second nature to me.

silver pennies 1

Tattered and worn–but well loved.

When I was thirteen, both my parents became quite ill, and our family had to move out of our home. There was no time to sort through possessions to decide what was worth taking. When I arrived on the scene, the family bookshelf with all of its contents had already been deposited on the back of a pickup truck destined for the dump. The shiny volume of Zorro was buried somewhere in that load–beyond my ability to rescue it.

But Silver Pennies miraculously survived. I must have had it among my personal belongings. It’s the only book from our original library that was not destroyed. I keep it in a Ziploc bag in my bedroom to prevent further deterioration; it’s pushing 90 now. But it doesn’t remain in my room. A couple of times each semester it goes to class with me. I want my students to feel the awe this little book gave me, so I show it to them when I’m teaching one of my favorite poems from that volume or when I’m sharing with them how important books are to me.

When I decided to home school my children, I also decided to invest in an excellent home library. The tragic “legend of Zorro” was not going to be repeated in my home! My kids have had plenty of books appropriate for their ages and reading levels. They all became excellent readers and probably have their own stories to tell about books that are especially meaningful to them.

As possessions go, books are in a class by themselves. They are more than things. They are companions, mentors, confidants, and friends. I like being surrounded by them.