When I was a wild and crazy hippy chic with a baby in my back pack and Birkenstocks on my feet, my world was a radically different place. It was 1976. The USA had only just withdrawn from Viet Nam. John and I had two babies, no car, no insurance and a grocery budget of $18 a week. And we walked everywhere. It didn't seem that big a deal. I was only 25 and completely invulnerable...a lioness who could run an easy ten minute mile (eight on a really good day!). I was going to change the world, make it a better place for my sons to live in. I could do anything!
We had no washing machine or dryer, so walking to the laundry mat was a twice a week event for me. I'd put Ben in my back pack and Ryan in the stroller and drag the laundry behind me in my shopping cart . We'd walk two blocks over and four blocks down to get to the laundry mat that was located across the street from my old High School. I used to laugh when I told the story about how easy it was to clear out the truant high school kids by opening up the diaper bucket to load up the washing machine. I was probably the best form of birth control around! One look and smell at what babies give back to the world in the "shape" of dirty diapers and barfed on clothes usually sent all of them out of there with a truly horrified expression on their faces. I always imagined the girls saying "No way Jose! You aren't putting your hands on me! I'm not going to end up like her!"
I loved my life though. I've always looked at it as a great adventure. Anything is possible. Just keep your eyes open and listen to your intuition. It will guide you to wherever you want or need to go! Guess you could say I was a "leaper". I loved jumping off the cliff and into the water, yelling "Yeeeeeeeeehaaaw!" all the way down. (Course, I usually did that after watching someone else jump and come up safely. I wasn't completely stupid, just liked that feeling of taking a chance.)
One Sunday in April, while John was at work (he was in school and working two jobs to keep us going.), I packed up the boys and all of our laundry to make our usual hike towards cleaner pastures and sweet smelling sheets. On our way we had to pass a little white church. I loved to walk past. The congregation was mostly African American and that place rocked on Sunday! People were clear out onto the sidewalk, mingling, talking, fanning themselves in the early Summer heat...and singing. Oh my, the music that came out of that little building. It was wonderful! It was such a celebration. The energy coming down the sidewalk at us was huge!
I'd forgotten that it was Easter! How could I not know that? I stood there, watching the people go in and out of that church wearing their Sunday best. The little girls all had on pretty dresses and ribbons in their hair. The little boys were kind of squirmy in their tiny little suits, pulling at the neck ties. The ladies smelled like lavender and powder and were wearing dresses all the colors of the rainbow. Some of the younger women had dared to wear pants suits, bringing looks of disapproval from the older women.
It was Sunday and there I was, walking to the laundry mat again dressed in my cutoffs, Birkenstock sandles and T-shirt that said "Give Peace a chance!" My boys were wearing Osh Cosh by Gosh overalls and tennis shoes. the smell of dirty diapers preceded us, I'm sure. It was Easter and I'd forgotten! I stopped up the block, waiting for people to finish fileing up and into the church. I didn't want to offend anyone with my dirty laundry.
While I stood there a feeling, for the first time, washed over me of being alone. My family was spread out to the four corners, Grandparents and Mom gone, and a Dad that wanted nothing to do with us. Just for a moment all of my brave "Yee haw!" was forgotten. I'd always thought that my kids would grow up with family around them too. I stood and watched and remembered, smiling and hearing my Grandmother fuss over my dress and shoes, worrying about my fly away hair.
"Come on in sweetheart! I've been watching you walk past for months now, loving up on your pretty babies and always a smile on your face. You just come on in and sing with us." It was one of the ladies who always stopped to smile and wave at us as we walked past. She was wearing a hat with feathers in it, a huge corsage made out of peonies and a lavender dress. And she was a force to be reconded with. She was not the sort of person you could easily say no to.
"Oh, I couldn't. Look at us! We're not dressed for Easter Sunday. And where would I put my laundry? It smells pretty awful." She just laughed. " Honey, the Good Lord don't care how you're dressed and he sure don't care about dirty laundry. He just cares that you're here!" And with that she swept me and my boys up, leaving the laundry cart sitting around the side of the building, and away we went into that amazing church.
The pews were full and the paper fans were going. All of the windows were open, but it was still hot inside. My escort moved through the building like a battle cruiser, people stepping out of the way, parting the sea to the front of the church. There was a place held for her and others scooched over to let me squeeze in with my babies. I felt distinctly out of place. Everyone was dressed to the nines except me! But they all had smiles for me, with much exclaiming and passing around of my boys. They were fussed over, hugged, kissed and rocked by nearly every lady in that congregation before the end of the service.
And, oh, the music. It was pure gospel, all of it. We rocked and swayed to the music, singing and laughing and saying "Amen!" at the tops of our voices. I loved all of it! Not one of them ever said a word to me about how we were dressed. We were part of their community for the length of that service. I've never had so much fun on a Sunday morning before or since. My voice is an alto when I sing, so I harmonized with the sopranos around me, all of them smiling their approval at me. Now that's what I call church!
That little church is gone now, knocked down to make a parking lot for an apartment building. Many of the older homes are gone also, to make room "for progress". It's a shame . There were beautiful trees arching all the length of that street that were taken down too. When I drive past and sit in my truck on that same corner, waiting for the light to change, I still imagine that I can hear the sounds of Easter Sunday, when the wind drifts past just right. It's a good thing people are used to seeing other people "talk to themselves" with the addition of cell phones to the world. They never miss a beat, watching me sit there and sing old gospel tunes, remembering.
My sons are grown men now with their own lives and paths to follow, living in other states. We see each other once or, if I'm really lucky, twice a year. They both live with wonderful young women that I'm proud to call my daughters in law, all of them learning how to deal with this world. And I'm living on a little ranch on the edge of Oz with my horses, dogs, cats and a donkey, and visited every year by a new herd of cattle who come to live in our north pasture for the Summer. The closest I get to Sunday Gospel now is when I sing in my barn when I clean the stalls, always in my alto voice.
All of my days begin and end with my menagerie, gardens, singing and dancing with Lucky or Apache. It's hot now and we're in to the full swing of Summer here with tornadoes one day and sunshine and wind the next. The haying has started and I ride my horse everywhere instead of walking. Guess you could say I'm still leaping off those cliffs while I try to start my next career with horses and their people, learning how to teach them to dance and sing with their horse partners.
Life is good! " Yeeeeeee Haw!"
I am, ever yours, Nancy ... singing at the tops of my lungs, with a smile on my face!