for June, who has loved me
Some 34 years ago, I happened to work in the curriculum library at The University of Kansas, reshelving and rearranging and doing whatever projects the director needed me to do. A strikingly beautiful woman with a soft Southern accent happened to be a doctoral student under the director, with a desk in the library’s office area. Her inevitable kindness, her ready smile and laugh won me instantly – and one day she invited her younger son to take us out to lunch at Pizza Hut, thereby (not quite unknowingly) selecting her daughter-in-law.
From the first, June considered me a daughter, loving me neither less nor differently than she loved her own children. And I have always called her “mom,” because she immediately became a second mother to me, as precious as my own.
Sometimes I envied her energy and her talents. She could make anything on a sewing machine from a simple skirt to complex valanced drapes. She could cook anything from scratch and taught me to love simple beans and cornbread as well as exotic tabuli. She canned and froze and dried the produce of the family farm and in her children’s youth had driven the tractor, planted trees, and helped put out the fire that younger son inadvertently started in the outhouse. Her eye for beauty ensures that nothing in her various homes has been accidental or happenstance, and each one has inevitably been both elegant and comfortable, truly home to all who step across the threshold. She taught economics and home economics at Texas Women’s University and she is an artist and a landscaper and a homemaker par excellence.
But I understood immediately that she didn’t expect me to be like her, that she realized that my upbringing, my talents, my preferences and abilities, even my lesser store of energy are uniquely mine and to be valued as such. Never have I felt a moment’s slightest disappointment from her, but only encouragement to follow my own paths, to excel in being the woman I was created to be. And while I’ve not, sad to say, learned to sew or cook or decorate my home in the complex ways she does, I have learned from her anew the most important lesson my own mother has always impressed on me, not by speech but by example.
For Mom generously, fiercely loves people, with a deep loyalty and a vulnerability that draw and enfold. All that she does arises from this love. When she bakes bread and prepares a lovely pot roast and a sumptuous dessert, it is an offering of time and love to those who will share it, as is the time given to teach her grandchildren to sew and draw and paint, showering love along the way. Her home opens vistas of quiet beauty where guests feel free to relax, from the cushioned window seat and afghans in the den and deep leather couches in the living room to scented soaps on the bathroom sinks and lush down pillows on the beds. Her paintings – like the two I see each time I glance up from this writing – greet the viewer with a profusion of soft colors that draw the eye into a centered depth of beauty that is like the depth of her own centered love, the theme of all her interior decoration, even to simple trinkets hanging in a window.
One year, we arrived at Mom’s the Monday morning before Christmas, racing ahead of sleet and snow, the day sagging about us, grey and drizzly. Bringing dishes to the sink after lunch, I noted the several multi-colored, multi-shaped, flat pieces of glass hanging in the kitchen window that had been there since I could remember. Pretty, I thought, and didn't notice them again. Wednesday dawned bright, the ordinary sun dazzling after nearly a week's hiding behind the wintry grey. Around mid-morning, I started from the den toward the laundry room -- and was arrested by vivid rainbows reflected on the white walls, a brilliance that abruptly stilled my teeming mind. After catching my breath, I approached the window to find their origin, and, for the first time ever, I saw among the colored baubles two small, clear glass pieces: a ball and a teardrop, each with dozens of facets cut into the surface, joyfully refracting the sunlight into radiant beauty.
Simple elegance – yet with depth, richness, brilliance like the love of the woman who, with her instinct for beauty, hung the glass in that perfect place to provide moments of sudden delight. This is her way – not extravagance but quiet gestures that never waver, never halt, but need only the light of our gratefulness to break into beauty enough to delight the universe.