A Rose Quartz for Keeps

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ANTHONY SEEMED LESS BUFFETED BY the hardscrabble lot facing him and the company he kept — about a hundred hungry homeless men and women streaming past the food laden banquet tables at our church in late January.

Above his turtleneck sweater, a snowbird-like tan.

Wavy salt-and-pepper hair, neatly combed.

A clean-shaven face and trimmed fingernails.

Something genteel in his interactions with us.

I could picture him in a suit and tie nimbly climbing a ladder somewhere in corporate America.

Instead, he sat cross-legged on the floor, like everyone else, to eat his dinner on a paper plate with a plastic fork beside blankets piled there for the temporary overnight shelter operated by Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow.

My curiosity about this man deepened when he returned to thank those of us behind the banquet tables for serving dinner and to press a chunk of rose quartz into my palm when I put down the salad tongs.

“Don’t give it away,” he said, smiling.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with passing along things you cannot use or do not appreciate.

“Bless someone else with them,” my mother-in-law often quips when she visits from Michigan and sees my unsorted packrat stashes.

But this interaction with Anthony haunts me still.

Perhaps too many people for too long considered his tangible and even intangible gifts as worthless.

Maybe he started feeling cheap and easily cast off, too.

As we in the Christian community move through the season of Lent — a 40-day stretch before Easter– we reflect on the time Christ spent in a wilderness facing temptations.

A wilderness.

For me, it has taken a wilderness experience — this Lenten season of wandering and wondering — to recognize the temptation of getting good at what I have to offer at the expense of getting good at appreciating what you have to offer.

When weatherbeaten folks schlep into our church in their boots and backpacks, we step into our strengths to welcome these hometown travellers with food and water, shelter and good cheer.

One man hollered into the kitchen after that dinner to ask if he could take one of our stuffed snowman table decorations.

You bet!

But how would these interactions change if I arrived to serve dinner more fully aware of my own dead ends — the places where I feel or have felt stuck and unhappy and in need of help?

What if I arrived believing that someone living at rock-bottom has something to offer that I can’t get from people living someplace else?

What if I accepted the 1.4-ounce rose quartz from Anthony for keeps?

Pam Mellskog can be reached at p.mellskog@gmail.com or at 303-746-0942.

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Why “Bad” Boys Need Our Good Faith

EAGLES AT INVESCO AT MILE HIGH OPENS

Joe Walsh, right, performs with Timothy B. Schmidt, Don Henley and Glenn Frey in Denver in August 2001.  (Mark Leffingwell / staff photographer)

MR. BRADY BROKE THE STATUS quo for eighth grade English teachers everywhere by zinging chalkboard erasers at students when they ticked him off and by playing “Hotel California” as a case study along with the classics during our poetry unit.

It only helped that he wore a black leather jacket and later rode a 1974 Harley-Davidson.

For all these reasons, he caught and kept my attention during the 1979/1980 school year, even though I never before had heard the namesake title track of the 1976 album by The Eagles.

My mother, like many other local mothers during that era, tuned our kitchen radio to KIWI (pronounced “kee wee”) FM 105 — the elevator music station broadcast from Dubuque, Ia., the city across the Mississippi River from my hometown of Galena, Ill.

But once I heard The Eagles on the cassette tape Mr. Brady rewound many times as we studied the song’s imagery, I never forgot the band.

I began listening closely again to this exquisitely crafted music after the death in mid January of Glenn Frey — singer, songwriter and Eagles co-founder.

Ask my husband.

He is six years younger than me and claims that he got stuck listening to Lawrence Welk-style music on the “easy listening” Christian radio station playing in his family’s Grand Rapids, Mich., kitchen.

So, I have justified playing Eagles music pretty much nonstop in recent weeks to give him an immersion experience and to give us more cultural common ground.

Somewhere during this reverie, I wondered what happened to the surviving Eagles, particularly to my favorite Eagle — Joe Walsh, a guitarist, vocalist, and keyboardist.

His sense of humor and musical chops — his commitment to “10,000 hours” of practicing to rock star excellence — inspire me in my grunt work at a quiet keyboard.

But Walsh’s multiple Grammy Awards and platinum records sort of pale next to his successful bid in 1994 to kick decades-long vodka and cocaine addictions.

Bandmates Frey and Don Henley apparently encouraged him to get sober the year before as they moved to reunite the Eagles to tour after a 13-year hiatus.

Since then, Walsh has stayed on the wagon and used his celebrity to educate around addiction and to share how he sees it now.

“As the disease progresses … it convinces you that you can’t do anything without (alcohol or drugs), and really you give all your power away,” Walsh, 68, told The Washington Post in October before headlining a Unite to Face Addiction rally at the Washington Monument.

He has spent the last two decades rebuilding his confidence to write music, perform and be present for his family without being under the influence.

“My message is there is life after addiction, and it’s really good,” he said, alluding to his 1978 solo hit, “Life’s Been Good.”

“If I had known, I’d have stopped earlier” he continued.

Such statements emphasize why so-called bad boys — whatever their age or stage of life — need our good faith before, during and after hazy times.

I still can’t decipher much meaning from the cryptic poetry in “Hotel California.”  Mr. Brady suggested three different interpretations for the last verse alone.

But the song now reminds me that, regardless of what the “night man” might say, you can checkout of strange hotels, you can leave, and you can head home.

Pam Mellskog can be reached at p.mellskog@gmail.com or at 303-746-0942.

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When Love Means Letting the Bear Sing

IMG_9898-smWHEN THE BATTERIES FINALLY DRAINED, the teddy bear’s mouth gaped like a fish in death throes on the beach.

The bear’s original spirited recording of Toby Keith’s hit, “I’m Proud to be an American,” played out now as if the singer had nodded off in the recording studio sipping whiskey.

But that powering down sound sounded so good to us — at least to four of us in our five-member family — as we listened to what we hoped would be the bear’s swan song while we lounged in our jammies around the livingroom’s gas fireplace before hustling off to church last Sunday morning.

For at least a week we had put up with our youngest family member, Ray, 6, compulsively pressing the paw of the little bear dressed in desert fatigues to start the song.

I appreciated the music as patriotic until it rubbed my eardrums raw. Then, I cringed at the opening measures and blacklisted it forever as jingoistic drivel.

This story nevertheless is a love story — one that Hallmark card writers forgo in their Valentine’s Day lines because it highlights how love means putting up with people and honestly wondering more about how they surely put up with you, too.

So, the story went at our house a week ago, except that we were barely putting up with this bear and his boy.

Most of us unwittingly had memorized the lyrics of the first verse and chorus embedded in the bear’s sound chip. And we applauded Ray for singing another word in the lyrics after another dozen times through the song  — a feat for a boy slow to talk due to Down syndrome: “If tomorrow all the things were gone I’d worked for all my LIFE, and I had to start again with just my children and my WIFE. I’d thank my lucky STARS to be living here toDAY, ‘cause the flag still stands for FREEdom, and they can’t take that aWAAAAAY…”

Sometimes, Ray would dance around the kitchen with the singing bear. Other times, he would rock the bear in his arms as if it were a newborn. Occasionally, he hauled the bear around in a fireman’s rescue carry.

His life became very quickly bear-centric, and so did ours, and we did not like it.

Eventually, we got so sick of this, that my two older boys — Carl, 9, and Andy, 8 —  devolved with me into the moral equivalent of Gollum, the craven character with pointy teeth, stringy hair, and pale skin in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” series and “The Hobbit.”

Carl hid the bear in a livingroom corner where two bookshelves meet so that Ray could see it and touch it for comfort without being able to retrieve it for yet another paw squeeze.

“Mom, it’s like that story about the monkey who reaches in for a banana, but can’t get his hand out without letting it go,” he explained.

Andy stuffed the bear upside down in a corner behind his dresser.

I forced the bear to sit like a hillbilly on a haywagon with his legs dangling off the kitchen counter during meals and eventually hid him on top of the fridge.

But our boy with lots of bear love somehow knew this and frantically would point up, which made us all feel guilty, indeed, for not indulging him in such a simple pleasure.

Still, we kept the bear up there in the peanut gallery for long stretches to spare ourselves aggravation.

Inevitably, we found Ray the day before the batteries fizzled slouching alone on the top step of the stairs with his hands folded in his lap as he quietly became undone.

His IQ may be on the lower end of the spectrum, but his emotional quotient is genius.

Ray felt all of our bear burnout and subsequent meanness, and he took it personally.

The corners of his mouth turned down into a deeply etched frown before a single, Skittle-sized tear rolled out of his right eye.

My husband cracked then, told Ray that he would fetch the bear from its perch, and that Ray could squeeze the bear’s paw with abandon — but only in his room with the door closed.

By Sunday morning, the bear was in danger of being just another stuffed animal in Ray’s collection — not the one whose mouth moved when he sang his special song.

And it would have been very easy for us to justify the malfunction to Ray with two words that he absolutely understands: “Dead battery.”

The boy might buy that, and let it go.

But no.

My valentine, my husband of nearly 13 years, quietly slipped away then and returned within a few minutes to hand the bear over to Ray as good as new– energized.

This whole family drama wakes up a truth about me and perhaps about most of us most of the time.

So much of what we do is predicated upon us playing our favorite songs, not someone else’s.

But because of Ray’s age and developmental stage, which will always be delayed, he rarely gets to deejay.

So, the bear breakdown prompts me to wonder more about what of mine he would put on top of the fridge if he could?

And if he could, would he?

May be this small story is about big love, about letting the bear sing and letting the boy dance and letting yourself enjoy someone else’s song exactly because it is all theirs.

Pam Mellskog can be reached at p.mellskog@gmail.com or at 303-746-0942.

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Unpacking the ‘N’ Word

During a birthday party for our middle son, Andy, 8, in early January, he opened this card from a shy classmate. The childish scrawl reminds me that the even the very young appreciate being on equal footing and help getting there.

During a birthday party for our middle son, Andy, 8, in early January, he opened this card from a shy classmate. The childish scrawl reminds me that the even the very young appreciate being on equal footing and help getting there.

WHEN THE WORD, “NIGGER,” ROLLED off Carl’s tongue in midsentence at the dinner table, my husband and I put down our forks and gave him a hard look.

Our boy, a 9-year-old fourth grader, had been reading about the life of Martin Luther King Jr. when he came across the curse, the word used more than a half-century ago and still today by some to express superiority and contempt toward blacks.

Conversations like this with kids can go lots of places, but ours that night went to Montgomery, Ala., on Dec. 1, 1955 — the day the Montgomery police arrested Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old African-American seamstress, for not giving up her seat to a white man on a crowded public bus.

We explained that for about a year after that, black people in that city stopped buying bus tickets from white people with the “N” word likely in their vocabulary.

They were sick of paying the driver and then stepping down to enter the bus through a rear door for a seat in the back; sick of not getting a stop at every corner in black neighborhoods as was the custom in white neighborhoods; and sick of standing in packed buses over empty seats reserved for whites.

Some protesters participated in a complicated carpool system to get to work that involved about 300 privately owned vehicles.

But most black workers — an army of housekeepers and janitors, cooks and maids — still walked miles to and from work no matter bad weather or fatigue.

My little family and I, we together wondered more about these walkers who wanted seats on a first come, first serve basis so badly.

They got that on Nov. 15, 1956, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled bus segregation laws unconstitutional.

Even still, all our talk about buses earlier this month brought up a specter of Jim Crow that I witnessed on a long bus ride I took with some black folks in 1997.

I lived in Minneapolis then and attended a United Methodist church in a black neighborhood. That summer, I volunteered as a leader with the high school youth group during a camping trip to the Collegiate Peaks area outside of Buena Vista.

After travelling about a thousand miles from the Twin Cities with only quick gas station stops, we reached Denver and pulled into a Pizza Hut for a late dinner.

The kids were hungry and excited about the pizza party before roughing it in the mountains. But our driver — a soft spoken black friend of mine named Jon — walked away from the white manager at the counter and boarded our bus full of kids tucking in their shirts to deliver disappointing news.

The manager wouldn’t seat us, even though from the dark parking lot we observed nary a customer on the other side of the windows in the brightly lit restaurant.

The posted closing time was minutes away, but the restaurant officially still was open.

So, my white friend, Scott, then hopped off the bus and strode into the restaurant to inquire again with the manager about serving our group.

As I watched him push through the glass door, I felt anxious about the whole situation — embarrassed at the manager’s refusal to seat us when Jon asked and indignant that Scott should need to ask again.

At this point, a “yes” to Scott felt as bad as the “no” to Jon. It seemed liked the best thing to do would be to move on, something I suspect black people in certain parts of this country grit their teeth and still do to avoid dust-ups.

Yet, I respected Scott, a co-driver on the bus, for leaving his seat behind Jon to protest something that seemed unfair.

Decades after the bus boycott in Alabama that we discussed with Carl over dinner, MLK’s legacy still has feet, still has people walking in the spirit of his unfinished peace and justice movement to level the field for all.

And this movement’s message of equality and cooperation trickles down to the playgrounds as one still relevant, appreciated and needed.

After our middle son’s 8th birthday party last week, I read a handwritten card from a very shy classmate that sums that up: “Dear Andy, you are my best friend because you help me when I fall on the ground.”

Thank you, MLK, for leading us this way.

Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-746-0942 or at p.mellskog@gmail.com.

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All Ears in the New Year

IMG_9801-smAS THE BLACK MAN IN the tweed newsboy cap shopped in the one-room video rental store, my Dad whispered to ask if I recognized him.

A drought during the summer of 1988 forced everyone to crank up their air conditioners, and one hummed in the window as I glanced at the man.

Nope.

I couldn’t place him until a minute later when he paid the clerk and left the counter with a  “thank you.”

Celebrity glitter sparkled in the short space between us then.

The man’s voice made an unmistakable vocal fingerprint in the air for how it resonated through just two words.

It was James Earl Jones — better known as Darth Vader’s voice — in our small town to play Terrance Mann during the filming of “Field of Dreams” in nearby Dyersville, Iowa.

Crossing paths with Jones and the “wow” power of his voice came to mind this week as I sat in a Grand Rapids, Mich., theater with my husband, brother and sister-in-law to watch “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Vader’s grandson, Kylo Ren, shows up on screen in similar black garb and a black samurai helmet.

But instead of Vader’s quirky communication aura — heavy breathing through an apparatus like that of a ventilated patient coupled with Jones’ commanding speech — we hear something very different in Kylo Ren.

We hear distant, robotic-like dispatches through his mouthpiece until the mask comes off during the movie’s climax, during a tense scene between Kylo Ren and Han Solo on a bridge.

His voice shorts out there. It glitches between the computer generated sound quality and that of a very confused, volatile person.

Such vocal cues, along with the dreamy soundtrack, tell the Star Wars story on a mysterious level — a more difficult level to access that keeps me coming back much more than the visual special effects or the script twists.

Surely the Dolby Surround Sound directs audience attention to the audible texture of these films, the layering of memorable voices, sound effects, and orchestral music.

But ordinary life outside of the theater comes with the same opportunity to understand more deeply the universal themes presented on our natural sound stage through the voices of the characters in our life.

To this end, is the soundtrack around each of us ever just “incidental” music?

Only seven minutes of the 102-minute score by John Williams, Star Wars’ original composer/conductor, refers to musical themes in earlier movies. Instead, the fresh score for the 90-member orchestra gives us moviegoers another chance to appreciate this story as not only couched in musical feeling and mood, but shaped by that.

For instance, Williams interprets the music around Rey — the scavenger girl-tured-“she-ro” — through instrumentation with delicate celeste chimes, flute, and piano.

What would the music in your life sound like? Who hears it, and what does it mean?

Ordinary life invites each of us to listen more closely to all that encircles, enriches, and dramatizes our story — to listen to the score composed daily by the people, places, and things that speak into our moments.

About four years ago, as I pushed my three boys on an empty wire cart from the parking lot corral to the grocery store, an older woman returning to her car stopped as a we passed.

The kids all stood with their feet on the cart’s lower rack and gripped its rim like three little monkeys.

As it rattled across the rough concrete, they laughed and shouted for me to push it faster.

The bemused woman then said something that left as much of a vocal fingerprint as James Earl Jones saying “thank you” at the video store in my hometown.

“Someday,” she said. “Someday, they will be pushing you.”

Happy New Year!

Pam Mellskog can be reached at p.mellskog@gmail.com or 303-746-0942.

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Living Off the Bonus

FullSizeRender (1)ANDY NEVER NOTICED THE WATTLES between my Grandmother’s chin and collarbone until he peered into the casket at her 95-year-old shell.

She died two years ago shortly after Christmas, and he had been army crawling with his cousins under pews in the decked out church before her funeral service.

Then, for unknown reasons he got “curiouser and curiouser,” what Alice spluttered after aspects of the Wonderland Lewis Carroll created overwhelmed her.

Andy stood up. He moved in for a closer look.

After all, this lady often predictably slipped him $2, discreetly folded, to spend on old-fashioned bulk candy at the Kandy Kitchen in Galena, Ill., where I grew up and she lived out her retirement.

I watched his approach from about 10 feet away and mistakenly figured that my middle son, then 5, intended to pay his last respects with a rare moment of stillness and silence beside her.

Instead, quick as a wink from St. Nick, he reached forward and wiggled her wattles before dashing off.

I nearly fainted.

Only later could I appreciate the gesture as some sort of “See ya later, Great Grams!” — one she would rubber stamp in a second because kid antics amused her to the end.

Andy’s second grade teacher this fall coined this kind of signature behavior.

Like a Supreme Court judge, Mrs. Larson knows it when she sees it and calls it: “Bringing on the ‘Andyness.’”

Sometimes this is a good thing. It is unfettered curiosity, imagination, and energy.

Sometimes, this is not a good thing. Think stubbornness that gives way to hysteria.

This bundle of a boy is my poster child nevertheless for the living-off-the-bonus attitude he inspired me to cultivate, especially when weird stuff happens.

He reminds me that all of us operate on a tightrope — not on the ground –and that just being up there is a gift whatever our contortions as we repeatedly catch our balance.

Why? Because for about 20 minutes in December 2007 he seemed doomed.

Truly.

As my late afternoon prenatal appointment with the obstetrician dragged on, the month’s early darkness pressed its face against the windows at the Longmont Clinic.

The doctor could not hear Andy’s heartbeat.

She moved the stethoscope all around my buddha belly that had grown with the baby in that eighth month of pregnancy and only heard my heart, beating perhaps a little quicker as the specter of stillbirth floated into the room.

Finally, Dr. Smith stepped back from the table. She quietly got the nurse who gave me sugar water to stimulate fetal movement before an ultrasound would confirm the situation.

I sipped the syrupy drink from a Dixie cup without company then and waited to be summoned.

At first, the small ultrasound screen revealed only a ghost town on a foggy midnight — a place slumbering in shadow and light.

Then we both spotted the one unmistakable feature, the target of our hunt.

A tiny heartbeat. Slow, but steady.

My toes curled a little tighter on the high wire that day.

How dizzying the heights can be.

Yet, because the show goes on with Andy, not without him, I sensed a second chance to appreciate everyone a little more — everyone as an acrobat feeling their way on the wire between two platforms.

Don’t we all deserve a hand for this?

Andy still forgets to knock when I am using the bathroom. He just barges in there after school to give me all the news that breaks during his day.

And I love that, although at some point I must insist that he wait outside the door for just a minute.

Still, how thrilling to witness a child playing out his story, a child growing into the future, a child living off the bonus as all of us do.

“Mom! I finished my i-Ready test, and I caught the football 10 times at recess, and did you know that a girl plays with us, too? I like that a girl plays football. Not all do. I like it that she tries the hard stuff…”

Pam Mellskog can be reached at p.mellskog@gmail.com or 303-746-0942.

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On the Lookout for Holiday Hidey Holes

20151122_185234SHORTLY AFTER THE CLERK HANDED us the room keys, the maintenance man appeared at the front desk to remind us that the mountain lodge moaned and groaned when the wind picked up and the temperatures fell.

“Sometimes, you’ll hear banging sounds. Don’t worry about it,” he said, cheerfully.

After showing my husband how to light the lobby fireplace, he also explained why the doors on 23 of the 24 rooms in the vacant lodge stood wide open.

Apparently, warm air circulates more efficiently in an open facility.

He and the clerk wished us a good evening and promised us that they would return at 8 a.m. the next day.

Quiet fell on us then like winter’s first snow.

We had found a hidey hole, a place during Thanksgiving week to retreat from big meal preparations, black Friday sale advertisements, and our long “to do” lists.

And we found it at our ground zero, the place where in August 2003 we married on the mountain outside the front doors and celebrated with about 100 friends and family members in the banquet halls inside that face Mt. Meeker.

With David’s parents on duty to watch our three sons at home, we almost didn’t know what to do with so much stillness.

Everything about our overnight mini-vacation at Highlands Presbyterian Camp & Retreat Center in Allenspark felt off season.

When we drove to nearby Estes Park for dinner, most of the tourist town’s motels confirmed it with neon vacancy signs and deserted blacktops.

Totally empty booths and tables surrounded us at the Chinese restaurant, and we drove back to Allenspark in the moonlight as if we owned the mountains and the highway was our driveway.

The slow time helped us to count our blessings during Thanksgiving week and helped me to be on the lookout now for ongoing quiet spaces to focus on people not things.

For me, that includes inviting my kids to share the long version of their stories as we cuddle on the couch underneath an afghan in the dark beside a lit Christmas tree.

It means staying up past midnight rolling about a zillion Russian tea cakes in powdered sugar to serve to the homeless men and women who sleep at our church over the winter.

It means going back to the writing I once enjoyed every December with a ballpoint pen — going back to writing lengthy holiday greeting cards to friends and family.

There are many ways to welcome this season, many ways to find holiday hidey holes in the midst of the Tinsel Town trappings that draw tourists back to Estes Park and make cash registers ring around the world.

As David and I schlepped our luggage down the hall at the lodge, a faint piney fragrance emanated from one of the open doors we passed.

We doubled back in the hallway a few steps to peer into the room at a stockpile of holiday decorations and evergreens to be displayed in the lodge this season.

Let the festivities begin!

But not without a deep breath and a sharper sense of what is sacred stuff and what is just window dressing.

Pam Mellskog can be reached at p.mellskog@gmail.com or 303-746-0942.

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The Upside of Tanked Trick-or-Treating

My oldest son, Carl, then 4, contemplates the jack-o-lantern he and Daddy carved on Oct. 31, 2010. So far, no bad behavior on the part of our three boys has nixed other Halloween fun -- namely, trick-or-treating.

My oldest son, Carl, then 4, contemplates the jack-o-lantern he and Daddy carved on Oct. 31, 2010. So far, no bad behavior on the part of our three boys has nixed other Halloween fun — namely, trick-or-treating.

AT DUSK ONE HALLOWEEN IN the late 1970s, my Dad turned into a drill sergeant — called us outside under my brother’s second-story bedroom window and told us to line up “by the numbers.”

“The numbers,” in our case, meant our birth order. And he only told us to line up in front of him when something hit the fan or was about to hit the fan.

Sure enough, as my younger brother, sister, and I stood in our costumes, I spotted it. The evidence. White, spray-painted doodles on our goldenrod-painted house.

When no one confessed to the graffiti, Dad laid down the ultimate consequence for farm kids in costume heading to town to trick-or-treat.

If the vandal refused to step forward and accept responsibility, we might as well take off our costumes and go to bed while our friends raced from door to door collecting candy.

He would cancel trick-or-treating, and we would need to wait an entire year to head out into the one night glorious beyond compare for all its pageantry and sugary excesses.

The three of us kids stood like sentries.

Dad waited.

Because I did not spray paint the house, time raced on gobbling up the minutes between dusk and the soft trick-or-treating curfew parents of school-aged children telepathically agreed upon –somewhere between 8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m.

I must have been about 11 years old. My kid sister, who must have been about 6 years old, finally stepped forward.

During her tearful confession, I figured I was mere seconds away from dashing down the sidewalk steps and into that year’s Halloween adventure.

Instead, she confessed as falsely as a torture victim. She took the rap because she cracked under the pressure of interrogation and the threat of paradise lost — a Halloween bust that entailed folding the pillowcases we used as goody bags instead of filling them with treats.

Sister took the rap, but I doubt that my Dad believed for a second that her short arms could reach so far outside of the window.

Because I knew I didn’t do it and wanted to get the show on the road, I mentioned to him that the graffiti was outside of my brother’s bedroom window — not my bedroom window or my sister’s bedroom window.

Doesn’t that sort of turn all eyes on my brother?

Apparently not.

So, the stalemate turned into one of our family’s favorite injustice-themed stories — one that some of my old friends occasionally ask me to retell because any adult who trick-or-treated as a child appreciates its conflict as high stakes.

None of us trick-or-treated that night.

My brother, for his part, casually confessed years — and I mean years — later, which only confirmed my instinct then to disown him for letting my sister take the heat and for ripping off both of us.

Meanwhile, my Dad never apologized for this legendary Halloween drama because he is old school.

He believes that if you throw down a consequence, reversing it represents wishy-washy parenting that conditions kids to mistrust family leadership, believe that everything is negotiable, and — ultimately — disrespect parental authority and authority in general.

Clearly, that would be the road to hell itself.

That I appreciate his point of view much more now than then, might be the only upside of our tanked trick-or-treating.

But there’s other good stuff here, in the midst of this memory’s calamity.

One of Dad’s stock phrases hints at how wise parenting comes about:

“You can’t ‘B.S.’ an old ‘BSer,’” he likes to say.

Happy Halloween!

Pam Mellskog can be reached at p.mellskog@gmail.com or 303-746-0942.

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Glad to Get Back to Work Without a Paycheck

IMG_9044 WHEN I FIRST GOT AN iPHONE, a friend told me that her husband also owned an iPhone and initially spent lots of time messing around on it with Siri — the name of Apple’s computerized fetchit girl.

At one point, after peppering Siri with all sorts of trick questions — something he practices in the courtroom as a lawyer — he tested her programming by proposing.

“Will you marry me, Siri?” he asked once, my friend said.

“Let’s just be friends, OK?” Siri quipped from her script.

Apple on its website invites customers to “talk to Siri as you would to a friend.”

She is, of course, a technology genie with a voice programmed to sound pleasant and helpful.  If your question stumps her, she always can direct you to other resources off the top of her virtual head, thanks to her binary coding brainstuff.

But I wonder how she answered a boy at bedtime who in the dark clutched his smartphone and whispered: “Siri? Is my Mom going to die?”

He did not know that his father lingered in the hall after switching off the lights that night when they came home from the hospital and she stayed.

“She” is another mother named Pam, a person I barely know after meeting her just once in San Francisco to celebrate the 40th birthday of a mutual friend there in spring 2007.

These days, though, I ask that mutual friend more about her because that Pam is fighting leukemia, and lots of us are praying.

In the latest update, our friend told me that for the first time when he called the other Pam’s husband to check in during her most recent hospitalization, the husband sounded down — especially after overhearing their 7-year-old son pop a question only God knows how to answer.

The story sticks with me for lots of reasons, but mostly because on Labor Day weekend it seems timely to rethink the privilege of providing labors of love.

The phrase means “a task done for pleasure, not reward.”

IMG_4498Anyone in the parenting trenches now or in the past knows that this job sometimes feels like that, feels like Christmas morning for all of the surprising delights that go along with caring for children.

It tickles me still to think of my third son giggling for the first time as a baby when I acted all business with him as I followed new physical therapy directions to help him roll over on the livingroom floor.

What a pleasure, indeed!

We both beamed at each other then, even though Ray — my boy with low muscle tone related to Down syndrome — remained flipped like a turtle in a home PT session that clearly had tanked.

Truth is, though, that labors of love often come without memorable moments.

Is anything special about doing laundry, making meals, going to the park, and helping with homework?

IMG_4048Yet, a framed poster hanging in a pediatrician’s office at the Longmont Clinic — one titled, “How to Really Love a Child” — says it all in the first idea of the many listed.

“Be there.”

I hope the other Pam enjoys that simple pleasure with her son again soon.

Unlike Siri, she has gotten sick and tired as we all do upon occasion.

But the other Pam is the real deal, a person who knows how to labor out of love, and the tension of her predicament spurs me to gladly get back to work without a paycheck.

Pam Mellskog can be reached at p.mellskog@gmail.com or 303-746-0942.

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Grant’s ground zero

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AS LITTLE RAY PEEKED UNDER the American flag attached to President Grant’s pew earlier this month, I began a new process of understanding the complicated man who made my hometown famous — a Civil War general some dubbed “the butcher” and a man remembered also for his devotion as a husband and father of four children.
This year marks the sesquicentennial of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) at the village of Appomattox Courthouse, Va.
As the nation looks over its shoulder to see this military man and two-term 18th president more clearly through 150 years, I just drive from my home in Colorado back to where I grew up in Galena, Ill., to visit my folks.
Galena is Grant’s ground zero.
From here, he and eight other generals headed to distant battlefields beginning in 1861 when the town’s population was about 12,000 residents.
We still see him at every turn in our community, which now holds steady at about 3,400 residents.
A statue of Grant stands in his namesake city park, a green spot along the Galena River where I once played in the fountain and later attended Easter sunrise services.
There he stands again with his generals to shake Lee’s hand in Thomas Nast’s 9-foot by 12-foot “Peace in Union” oil painting that hangs on the second floor of the Galena Historical Society and U.S. Grant Museum.

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However, as of late my thoughts wander more toward where Grant sat — where he reposed and recharged.
We see his dining room table and chairs on display with other furniture and artifacts in the hillside brick home our town gave the Grant family following his Civil War victory.
Yes. We gave him a house, and a nice one with a view at that.
He sat down with his family there to enjoy dinner every evening.
Every Sunday morning, the Grants sat in a pew I noticed after my three boys scampered up the steep narrow steps to the sanctuary of the First Methodist Church on Bench Street.
We arrived there on a Monday afternoon in early June for a week-long afternoon vacation Bible school.
Ray in five minutes spotted the small American flag posted on a pew left of the pulpit about eight rows back.
A college-age church member and VBS volunteer told me that they tag that pew with the flag because they know without a doubt that the Grants used it.
In those days families apparently rented pews the way city folks rent parking slots, and the church kept the records.
Of course, I already knew this was Grant’s church.
I probably knew that since I attended VBS there as a child in the 1970s , a girl already steeped at school in local Grant history.
But I pictured the past better after seeing this little flag under the pew arm and studying a blurry black-and-white photo in the foyer that shows the church festooned with bunting and a giant “Welcome” sign posted during Grant’s homecoming parade in 1865.
The Ohio native’s youngest child, Jessie, was just 2 when the family boarded the paddle-wheeler in St. Louis that brought them up the Mississippi River to Galena in April 1860.
Grant, then 37, came to town to work with two of his brothers in the family’s leather goods store. His wife, Julia, was 34, and their three other children were Frederic, 10; Ulysses, 8; and Nellie, 4.
A very different world ensconced those kids.
How glad Grant would be to know that 150 years after the high point of his service to this country my little boy, Ray, 5, would enter his church as a visitor and find a special friend in a member — a dark-skinned girl about his age adopted from Haiti by a local family.

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Grant supported the 15th amendment to the constitution, which during the Reconstruction era allowed former slaves to vote.
Before the second term of his presidency ended in 1877, he also supported the Enforcement and Civil Rights acts of 1875 to give more freedoms to blacks that included the right to peaceful assembly and entrance to certain events.
It was a start.
And we are nowhere near a finish.
But it spoke to me that Ray ran his fingertips over this girl’s neatly braided corn rows with beads, and then she giggled as they clasped hands. Happy Fourth of July, America!
Pam Mellskog can be reached at p.mellskog@gmail.com or 303-746-0942. For more photos and stories, visit Mommy Musings online at http://mellskog.pmpblogs.com/.

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