Something old


Something old that gives me strength.

Shortly before my mother died, she became anxious about making sure Aunt Jean (her sister) and I went through her jewelry box. My younger sister already had first dibs and had, appropriately, chosen the diamond wedding ring she helped my father pick out for my mother after I went away to school.

I’m not much of a jewelry person. In fact, my own diamond wedding ring is tucked away in a safe place while a plain gold band makes what I expect to be a permanent indent on my fourth left finger. I picked out a few fun strands of fake pearls I expect might be fun for grandkids someday, and gratefully claimed the two mismatched wedding bands of my mother and father.

Sadly (and I’m a little mad at myself for this), I failed to record the audio when, one night as my mother and I were talking, she told me about the mismatched bands. It may have been bedtime. We were both tired. And the details are a bit fuzzy.

Something about how their bands didn’t match and they tried on numerous occasions to get things together enough (time, money, will, who knows?) enough to pick out matching bands together.

She mentioned their trip to Hawaii. I don’t remember if this was a time they tried again, or what?

I do seem to recall a story–which may or may not be true–of my father either spraining or breaking his finger playing church basketball and having to have his ring cut off.

If true, that would be one more impediment in their 20-some year long quest to match.

In any case, as you can tell, my mother’s fingers were so tiny her entire band fit within the circumference of my father’s. (Incidentally, I have my father’s hands.)

How do these two mismatched old wedding bands give me strength?

Because marriage is more complicated than “I do” and “Happily Ever After.” Marriage is the hard–and often painful–work of taking two mismatched hands–male and female, independent individuals with completely different childhoods, personalities, emotional baggage and perspectives–joining them together, with an eternal commitment, a covenant, to see it through. Even if, somehow, you never manage to come together quite enough to find matching bands.

Without airing dirty laundry that I fully expect is now white linen crisp from being washed clean and line-dried in the full sun, I’ll simply mention how as a youth I spent more than one weekend away from home–siblings farmed out elsewhere–wondering if I’d come back to a whole or broken home.

How my aunt used to tell my mother how sorry she was my dad died before they got through the hardest part–so many kids, so much hurt, so many teenagers–and had a chance to turn and grow back towards one another again.

And how my brothers and sister and I so many times worked to find the right words to assure Mom that Dad would indeed traverse the confines of time and space and the mortal experience to meet her when she crossed to the other side. That she would not be left standing there alone, found wanting. That despite their different sizes, mismatched bands and misunderstandings, once they both were free from the mortal trappings of mental, physical, and emotional differences; because they each kept their covenants they would have a joyful reunion. A celebration of their eternal union.

When I wear this necklace–the only other jewelry besides my own band–my fingers sometimes slide and turn the bands as they dangle from the heart. I notice the tension as the metal edges scrape across each other. The subtle scissor blade-sound of edge against edge. And then I move them back into alignment and rest them, nested, one inside the other, over my heart.

These two old mismatched rings give me strength because they give me hope. They remind me of the gift the atonement–at-one-ment–that promises to refine the metal of mismatched rings, and to heal hearts and minds and unions.

[Day 69 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

This day


Fortunately for writing purposes, I’m getting to “this day” prompt today instead of yesterday.

Today I’ve reflected on the power of women. I’ve thought about a number of quotes that have resonated with me the past couple of days:

We were scared, but our fear was not as strong as our courage.–Malala

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness –old Chinese proverb, often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt

The connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet.–Adrienne Rich

I know this women’s march means different things to different people. And I don’t pretend to agree with all the reasons people are marching–I don’t believe I have to. For me and for many of us it’s about using our voices for those who do not have a voice. For speaking up for civility, respect, empathy, compassion, and civil and equal rights.

By being silent I could not reconcile the many times during the past couple of years I’ve asked myself where I would have stood had I lived during the civil rights and women’s suffrage movements or Nazi Germany, or how I would have responded had I lived during a time when this country locked up Japanese men, women, and children in internment camps with how I feel in my heart about current happenings.

And so I even though I’m away from home and had to work today, I have supported my friends and family in their various marches in whatever ways I could. And since I believe we can stand up for what we care about and believe without being hateful towards others who see the world differently, I have used my voice where and when I could. And I was happy when someone I know promised to write my name–along with so many others–in henna on her arms as she marched in D.C. today.

I know some will judge me and assign certain beliefs to me to which I do not ascribe simply by association. Others will not see what I am standing up for because they cannot distinguish standing for something from standing against America.

I can’t help but remember how a few years ago after a number of high-profile brutal rapes in India a group of women I don’t know organized a march at consulate in Canada in order to peacefully request their native government be more vigilant in protecting women from rape and in prosecuting the men who violently violate women, often in gangs, while everyone looks the other way.

In solidarity, a friend and I organized a similar vigil and invited our friends and family who would to join them in spirit by having a moment (or many) during their vigil to think about these women and show our support for the safety and protection of women.

After their vigil I saw a newspaper article that stated only 50 people attended. Not wanting them to feel alone and unsupported in their worthy cause, I found the newspaper on Facebook and left a comment about our sisterly vigil from across the borders, told them how many people had joined our group prior to their peaceful protest and how unbeknownst to them they actually numbered just over 200 from across the world.
Perhaps that is a small number. But 200 is greater than 50. And I have to believe that knowing people you’ve never heard or or met or who are not personally affected by your heartbreak stand with you might mean something.

It did.

We’ve never met, but since then the two organizers friended me on Facebook. We share in one another’s joyful moments and also, sometimes, one another’s sorrows. We appreciate the beauty in one another’s occasional vacation photos. We wish each other Happy Birthday. “Blessings on you,” we say. And we mean it.

Never underestimate the power of women who share and listen to one another’s stories. Who have compassion on the world. And who, without necessarily being the same race or religion or having the same political beliefs, have the courage to stand together and speak up for common good. –me

[Day 68 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]


“Write about a time the way you thought about someone changed.”

This is my favorite thing. And also why I believe and love how stories connect us. And why BrenĂ© Brown’s work on vulnerability resonates so strongly with me.

Several years ago I found myself reentering the work-force and finding myself catching up from 17 years of technology that advanced without me. I answered an ad for a temp job in a newspaper I wouldn’t normally have seen and only because the spirit whispered to me that I should.

Four months later our department took on new responsibilities, my job–while still flexible–became much more than temporary, I was hired as one of the supervisors and I found myself working with a young kid (most of the employees there were 20-something kids) who, even though our job titles were equal maybe 8 weeks seniority over me.

At first our relationship was a bit combative. He was smart. Much smarter than me in many things. And he was brilliant with computers. I find that often people who know their way around computers make assumptions about the intelligence of people who don’t, even though computers are just one thing among all the things there are to know in the world. Even though he was smart, he wasn’t always right. And I wasn’t afraid to speak up when I saw things another way. Sometimes that put us at odds with one another.

Then one cold snowy day I caught him in a moment of transparency. He spoke briefly about his little sister who had just been diagnosed with cancer and I caught a brief glance at his sorrow and worry. His heart.

Perhaps in part because cancer has left its mark on so many people I love, or perhaps because I have a place in my heart for rough people whose tenderness is buried deep, that was all it took. I found myself driving down Bulldog Avenue with windshield wipers swishing madly and tears running down my cheeks as I prayed for his sister.

And our working relationship thawed.

Another time–his last semester of school–I caught a brief look at insecurity and stress as he–one of the brightest people I know–worried over not being able to graduate because he couldn’t pass the ridiculous math class (as I recall, this class was so bad, the local newspaper wrote an article about how difficult it was to pass).

I left him with a few words of encouragement and may have prayed for him again.

And we became friends.

For a short time before he did pass that bear of a math class and graduate and move on, his wife taught school with my husband. And we used to laugh about how each one of us spent more time with the other’s spouse than we did with our own.

He did move on and has gone on to have a brilliant career. Which is mostly on the down low, for reasons I can’t discuss.

But once a year he comes back to town and we go to lunch with our former boss and catch up on old times. And we inevitably remark how despite moving on–in his case to much more prestigious things–we are grateful for and have never found anything quite like the team of people we were way back in the early days of this 100-year-old company’s transition into the digital world.

And I am grateful for how something as simple as brief moment of authenticity can illuminates someone’s truth in such a way that binds you to them in friendship and loyalty that transcends miles and years.

Recently I had an experience I’ve gotten off on the wrong foot with someone new. This person has no idea, for I kept it to myself. But I was justified in my indignation.

And God promptly put me in not one, but two circumstances which cast this person in a different light and made it clear I am not to judge, but to love.

For a minute or two I was uncomfortable. But I will forever be grateful.

[Day 67 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]



Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.–Martin Luther King, Jr.

I like this image because in it King is not standing alone. I hate the thought of anyone having to fight such a big fight as the ongoing fight for civil rights alone.

I studied history in high school.

I studied history again in college.

It wasn’t until this past couple of years that I realized more deeply than ever before that this fight for civil rights we’ve read about for so many years is not nearly as over as we–sitting cozy in our white privilege–believed.

This month two years ago I found myself looking at images and headlines from the battles for civil rights battle for equal rights battle while wandering through the national archives.

Two things struck me:
One, I wondered, as I always do, where I would have stood on the side of history. Would I have had the courage to speak up and to write and to march for my brothers and sisters who were deeply persecuted, who did not enjoy the same rights I do?

Two, I realized for the first time that when I was a young girl entering my congregation’s Young Women’s organization women had barely earned the right to apply for a bank loan on their own credit standing–without a parent or husband’s co-signature.

This past couple of years I’ve been moved by so many stories. Particularly the stories of mothers who fear for their children’s lives every time they go out in public. It’s not as simple as “if you are obeying the law and do what you’re told, you won’t get hurt.” I think we tell ourselves that only because it makes us feel better.

While I’m mindful of the sacrifices police officers and their families make every single day in order to protect the peace and I’m careful to avoid making judgments without all the facts every time an African American is killed by a white cop, I’m not naive enough to believe that bias–conscious and unconscious–isn’t real and rampant in the world. That it doesn’t have significant and devastating effects on real people and their families every day (that’s a whole other post). And that some people are powerless against injustice.

And stories of African American journalists and other professionals who’ve been profiled and accosted in places they had every business to be, for no other reason than the color of their skin. Even just last week a friend tweeted how here in my very town a friend of theirs stepped out of a home where he was an invited guest in order to take a phone call and not one, but two different neighbors called to report him, simply for the color of his skin.

A couple of months ago I found myself stopped at a stoplight with a police officer stopped behind me. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. It was daylights so I wasn’t worried if perhaps I had a taillight out. But for a brief moment I felt a palpable fear. And I knew in my heart that there are people in this world–in my world–who feel this on a regular basis.

This past election cycle has brought so much of this into even sharper focus. As a moderate who could no longer tolerate the intolerance and lack of compassion of the party in which she was raised, I stood alone, in the middle, watching with dismay as my liberal friends slung hate and intolerance at my conservative friends and my conservative friends slung hate and intolerance at my liberal friends.

I make a hard, hard choice and voted my conscience against a hatred, misogyny, and bigotry I had hoped we were all beyond tolerating here in the 21st century and have had my integrity and my religious worthiness challenged as a result.

Now, more than ever, I believe Dr. King’s words are true.

Without love in our hearts, when we speak up for what we believe, people will not hear us for the hate.

If we are not willing to see the good in those whose different experiences cause them to see the world differently than we do, the light of the good that is in us will not shine.

We will not come closer together, find common ground, and move forward together by hate. But by love.

Truly in every circumstance in which I have found myself worried, confused, deeply wounded, or conflicted, the answer is always to find it in ourselves to love.

[Day 66 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]


troubleI think there may be a little mischief in those eyes

I may have escaped getting in trouble after the great food fight, but that does not mean I escaped trouble entirely.

When I was in elementary school I had a crush on a kid named Rance Clifton (or something along those lines). I wouldn’t even recognize him now, but I do recall he had kind of medium-dark brown hair. And I think he somehow reminded me of Randolph Mantooth.

In any case, in that awkward way kids have of mistakenly believing any kind of attention is good attention, I inexplicably stole his coat. In my mind, it a blue down-looking coat. Kids these days call them puffy coats. And while I know myself well enough to say it’s unlikely I deliberately dragged Rance Clifton’s coat through the mud, it’s likely I was careless and the end result was the same.

Rance went home in a rather brown coat instead of a blue coat.

And I had to have a visit with someone about why I would do such a thing.

When I was in jr. high, I do recall getting called to the vice principal’s office one time. It was the end of the school year. And our school’s tradition–I should say the students at our school’s tradition, as it was not in any way sanctioned–and indeed was prohibited–was to correlate end of school year with water fight.

Said water fight was forbidden, but, much like the live chicken at the Provo High-Timpview rivalry game, was still tradition. I don’t recall details, but believe water guns may have been involved. For some reason I think I may have gotten called out of math class. But I may be blurring memories with how Cindy Smith and I used to be in trouble with the math teacher rather frequently because math was after lunch and we had energy to burn in a math class that despite a wonderful teacher was not challenging enough for us and we talked and giggled too much.

In any case, I don’t remember the vice principal’s name, but he was whatever the male version of petite is, was rather stern, and wore glasses.

And he knew exactly the right thing to say to this otherwise responsible and obedient student (due to that “responsibility” mantle most oldest children take upon themselves).

“I’m disappointed in you.”

Those same words, on very rare but somber occasions uttered by my father cut me to the quick.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t, get into trouble at least once or twice more with my parents (mostly staying out too late, which resulted in severe grounding, or sometimes being a little sassy, for which there was zero tolerance).

But I never got called down to the principal’s office–vice or otherwise–again.

[Day 65 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

a table


Not too long after we moved into our current home a friend of mine who has a knack for finding furniture on the cheap and then painting it colorful fun picked up a large table she wanted to resell as was and without painting.

She sold it to me. Along with maybe six matching wheat-back chairs. Most of which have somewhat fallen apart over the years.

It’s a simple table, solid wood block-style base with a (what I didn’t realize was a veneer until after was almost done refinishing it) oak finish.

It fits in my dining room. With no room to spare.

With its two leaves–which now are permanent fixtures–it can seat ten. But often sits more.

As with most horizontal surfaces in my house, it has a difficult time staying clear and has to be cleaned off weekly. At times the south end of it has served as a sewing table and as my desk. Currently it serves as my husband’s desk.

What I love about this table is how easily people will gather around it.

It somehow handles the excess of Thanksgiving 2.0. My Grandpa and Grandma Jacobs used to sit around it. I loved how they would tell me how dinner tasted so good–especially after having told me that when you get older you can’t taste so well. Along with my mom, who came for a few years more after they died. A few neighbors now and then.

It’s survived–along with all my tables–numerous cub scout activities.

It’s held hor d’oeuvres for parties a time or two.

Maybe served a softball or volleyball team dinner or two.

It serves as a great workspace for pie making.

But most importantly, it’s a great place for Sunday dinner. We’ve promised a seat at it to any nieces and nephews who move here for school. Along with those friends of our kids who are like family to us.

Sometimes what’s served on it is well planned. At other times it’s thrown together (sometimes rather desperately). But it doesn’t seem to matter.

As long as they feel the love.

[Day 64 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

This battle

Me at the house "in town"

More specifically, this battle:

To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
e e cummings

It means wearing Birkenstocks from the day you first slipped your feet in them at a family reunion at some water park in Salt Lake City when you were about 26 and realized your feet and your back didn’t hurt when you wore them.

With no regrets.

But admittedly with a tiny bit of smugness when some of your fashionable friends who mocked you most bought their own Birkenstocks a couple of years back when they came into fashion.

It means, unlike Hermione, mostly not caring about what the back of your hair looks like since you were about 14 years old. On some days maybe you don’t really care what the front of your hair looks like either–you just want it out of your eyes.

It means getting excited over simple things. Laughing at puns no one else appreciates. Being unabashed about your love of clouds and weather and rain and snow even when many of your friends want it to be endless summer. (You are consoled, somewhat, that some of your kids love the rain and the snow too sometimes.) Being the only one who doesn’t love the movie Elf or red velvet cake or Las Vegas. Or the only one who laughs at your jokes or cries at over TV shows. Or movies, even when you’re watching them on a crowded plane on a tiny screen on the back of someone else’s airplane seat.

It means not being afraid to own it (or working to own it even when you are afraid) when you make a mistake or sincerely say “I’m sorry” when you hurt someone, even though a sincere apology is a rare, rare gift these days.

It means trying really hard (even though you’re not perfect at it, or even always that good at it) to see other people fighting that same battle for who they really are, believing the best in people even when they disappoint or–even worse–hurt you. Looking paste their shape, their clothes, the color of their skin, their hair, the way they speak, and try to catch a wisp of their stories. Because the stories will tell you.

It means being square with yourself.

Digging deep, deep down when the world even–maybe especially–when the people who are supposed to love you unconditionally repeatedly tell you that you are not enough and deciding you belong, your weaknesses along with your strengths, to this place. And you are enough. Both because you are you. And in spite of being you. Mostly because you are God’s. You are in a state of becoming. And you trust God will make you whole.

It means working hard, even though you are flawed–and sometimes it hurts, and sometimes it’s hard–to let others be enough. Being patient while they become. While God makes them whole.

[Day 63 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

In the kitchen

as you're teaching the girls you remember you've done this once before...with these same girls (and you hope it sinks in somewhere and at least one of them learns to love to bake pies from scratch someday)

some of my fondest memories are from a variety of kitchens where I’ve taught so many girls I love how to make pie from scratch

One time when I was a kid–an older kid–my parents were away for the weekend and I woke up and went downstairs to find a stinky black mass of ants spilling out from under the kitchen sink and across the floor and up the cupboard drawers. Ants are gross. The pheromone or whatever it is they leave behind as they mark their territory is gross. Cleaning them up is gross. I may have used the vacuum cleaner, which doesn’t seem highly effective (wouldn’t they have crawled back out?) now that I think about it, but what else was one to do? I just remember it was one of those occasions where I wished I weren’t the grown up and that someone else could be the responsible one.

When I was at BYU I once had a roommate from Tonga. She had four or five four- or five-syllable names. She was lovely and gracious and generous and wonderfully kind. But this was also my first experience with living with someone from another culture (I truly hope grown-up me would be better at this than young adult-me) and there was a bit of a culture shock. Primarily the night I came home from doing my homework on campus and walked into the dorm kitchen to find a full pig on the kitchen counter. Head, hooves, and tail attached.

I remember roasting my first turkey as a young married woman. I felt fairly confident in my cooking skills – I mean it’s usually all about a recipe, and, since I’m female, asking for and following directions isn’t too terrible a stretch. Only I may have simply thought I could just do what I remembered my mom doing, only the updated version since by then we knew never to cook the stuffing in the actual cavity of the bird, to avoid salmonella. So I missed that also essential step of removing the neck and the giblets from the neck and body cavities. And I cooked the turkey with the neck and giblets neatly wrapped in their paper packages inside the bird.

Back in the day we were struggling financially and I was home all day and before all the powers that be razed all the family orchards in town, I used to can. Canning is a hot, sticky mess. I was afraid of canning vegetables or meat (again, salmonella). But I loved to can fruit. I learned the hard way that cherries–a favorite from home–in Utah are inflicted with this lovely white larva that floats to the top of your jar when you can them organically. Also, for some reason–I’d like to think it personal preference and not a spirit of rebellion–I canned peaches and pears the opposite of the way my mother and grandmother did. I like the peaches sliced and the pears halved.

I learned to pray over each batch when I canned, after too often suffering the loss of a jar or two in a batch. Cracked shards of glass and mushy ruined fruit floating in the canner made me sad. Sad over the wasted fruit. Sad over the wasted effort. Apparently I don’t cry so much over spilt milk, but broken glass and wasted fruits make me sad.

One of the best things I love about canning is how after the canning is done and the canners and rings and jars and knives put away and the sticky syrup mopped up, the lovely way the sun shone golden through the neatly lined rows of cooling jars of pears. That is also, truly, the one thing I miss about canning now that the orchards are gone and it’s actually cheaper to by canned fruit at Costco.

I guess one of the best things about being in the kitchen are those times when you’re not in the kitchen alone.

When you and your siblings are snapping beans and peeling fruit with your mom because in the house you grew up in, feeding people was a group effort and you all worked together to make it happen.

And when you picked up two bushels of peaches from the orchard up the street from your house and delivered the other to your tiny aging grandparents and saw them standing next to each other at the double sink because they worked together to preserve the fruit that was routinely served in tiny pink melamine bowls next to a single slice of lightly buttered whole wheat toast at lunchtime at their house. On a good day the fruit might also be accompanied by a small bowl of cottage cheese.

Or those many years you found yourself alone with your mother-in-law (because except for the year before your mom died Thanksgiving 1.0 was always in Duchesne on Thanksgiving proper, because Thanksgiving 2.0 would follow at your house on a Sunday next) in her temporarily quiet kitchen while everyone went out for the traditional Thanksgiving drive in the mountains and you made pies with her tools and utensils while she prepped and put the turkey in the oven.

Or that one time you had Thanksgiving at your mom’s the year before you died and you loved how you and your siblings–even your brothers, maybe even especially your brothers–all came together in the kitchen to prepare the meal while you watched you kids and your nieces and nephews enjoy visiting with your mom and you noticed how content she was that you were all there with her.

And that other time just months ago when you chatted with your newly ex sister-in-law’s brother’s girlfriend over potatoes–she peeled and you chopped–enjoying the view out the spacious kitchen window of her new home while your sister and your brothers and your niece and said newly ex sister-in-law and her widowed mother bustled about preparing Thanksgiving dinner.

The kitchen can be a good place to muse and to ponder when working alone. But it can also be a wonderful place of energy and synergy where many hands make lighter the work, particularly when those hands help with the cleanup.

[Day 62 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]


in my dreams – photo credit GocheGanas

This is hard to write about. Because my bed is broken. And because like my mom and most of my siblings I have sleep issues, so I spend more time than I’d like in bed wishing I could turn off my brain and go back to sleep. And because when I come home from work in the winter when it’s too dark and too cold and my bones hurt or in the summer when it’s way too hot and I feel parched and worn and sapped of nearly all life-force it’s all I can do to make myself wait until a decent hour like say 8 or 9 to put on my pajamas and crawl into bed. And because some days in the years past the only sanctuary I’ve had from pain or loss or sorrow or worry has been the fleeting bliss of unconsciousness that even interrupted sleep brings.

I almost changed the prompt to puppies. No reason other than because suddenly nearly everyone I know is getting a puppy. And that’s crazy. Because puppies are a lot of work. I know this because we still have an overgrown four-year-old puppy. And because suddenly nearly everyone I know is getting a puppy I’m wondering why? What pain or loss or sorrow or worry are they subconsciously trying to compensate for with a puppy?

And then I thought maybe I could write about other kinds of beds. Nail beds? Do you refer to whatever it is that makes up nail beds on your toes as nail beds too or is that simply a fingernail thing? Because a pedicure sounds like heaven right now. Bed of nails? I keep having this itch in the center of my back (dry winter air=dry winter skin), so even that didn’t sound as appalling as one might have thought. A bed of nails might just scratch that itch.

Flowerbeds. I almost went with flowerbeds. But again the loss. A distant but sure longing for a simpler time when I was no less exhausted but I was home all the days and the heat and the cold got to me less and I found joy and renewal each spring turning over trowels full of warming earth in preparation for summer color while my kids played outside without a care in the world. My favorites were the delicate impatiens that thrived in the protected shade–blooming freely and effortlessly on the north side of the house. Or when in anticipation of spring I dug down deep in the fall, when the kids went back to school, making room for firm, paper-covered bulbs. Or mid-summer, when I was smart enough to begin early in the morning, while everyone else was still in bed and before the heat hit, burying my face in the fragrant purple lavender stems while weeding the side bed–the one that separates our property from our neighbors,’ and is perpetually plagued by grass and morning glory. Most of the flower beds have now been covered with sod. Or are otherwise neglected.

I wonder if when I read this ten years from now the unclaimed but undeniable metaphors will hit me over the head and land heavy in my heart or be long forgotten.

[Day 61 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

I remember when…


I remember when I was a kid and a big family of maybe 8 kids or more (we had 6, so in my mind a big family was one with more kids than 6) had a fire in their home. For some reason I think it may have been the Hatch* family (Duane Hatch was the dad, he was the county extension agent as I recall. I remember this because when I took a class from one of the best on the planet–Larry Sagers–he told me he knew Duane, maybe had gone on a horticulture trip or two with him. They were friends. I was friends with their daughter, Deanna.).

In any case, they had a fire. And I remember my mom taking in their laundry to try to get the smoke smell out of it. I remember this in particular for two reasons:

1. The smell. Every time I smell fabric that has been exposed to smoke–not campfire or bonfire or cigarette smoke–but that pervasive acrid smoke that embeds itself into every fiber of every item in a home where a fire has wreaked its havoc. That smell of that smoke. The reason it was so familiar to me is that back in the day we had nothing but regular laundry soap (and we used the cheap kind – no Tide for us) and no fancy odor eliminators or scented dryer sheets (which I sense would have been ineffective anyway). I don’t remember how many times we must have washed the same clothes (and there were a lot of clothes, sheets, towels, etc. because it was a big family), but I’m not sure we ever entirely rid that smell from their things.

2. My mom’s example of service. There must have been countless acts of service I was never aware of. Both my parents provided wonderful examples of service (lest I forget, I want to note how my dad made sure to leave early enough for church to pick up a severely handicapped woman named Callie from some sort of care facility to take her to church every week). But for some reason this one simple act has always stayed in my mind. Simple? Maybe not. As the mother of 6 who lived on a 6-acre farm with cows and pigs and horses, I’m sure my mother had quite enough laundry to do. Maybe it was the way she did it. Matter-of-factly. Without a second thought. Without complaint. And without expectation. Almost as if it were instinctual. This is just what we do when our neighbors suffer a tragedy.

So yesterday when I saw at car parked next door at our neighbors house, all cordoned off with yellow police tape, I went over to speak to the woman in the driver’s seat, presumably our neighbor’s daughter. (All but two of their many children are already grown up and moved out, so I haven’t met all of kids.)

“Please have your dad call me when he can. I have a big washer and dryer and this great product that is wonderful at removing odors. I’d like to help with the laundry.”

[Day 60 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

*Post edit: Google reminds me there were only three children in the Hatch family (my memory is funky like that) so it either was another family with many children or my mind gave to hyperbole and it just seemed like laundry for a big family because in my small mind that was an awful lot of laundry.