Just Wondering

Early in the summer, I was camping in the southern Utah town of Cedar City. After a day of hiking and then napping by the pool at the campground, I ventured out for a short run about town.

Heading south down the main street, from the northern end of town, I came upon a picturesque cemetery. The tall trees, in an otherwise high desert setting, cast shade about the thick, neatly trimmed grass, made a brilliant green by the slant of the evening sun, and upon the roads leading into the cemetery, vacant on this late Sunday afternoon, inviting me in.

At first I focused on my running, feeling fortunate for the quiet roads and cooler venue. Out of respect, I ran as lightly as I could, placing each step without sound upon the pavement. Is this irreverent? I wondered. I’ve run alongside my hometown cemetery, but never through it.

But soon my attention was on the headstones.

There was something perplexing about them. Each marker seemed recently placed – clean and gleaming like new countertops, all with what appeared to be freshly incised lettering. A newer section of the cemetery, I thought, but, with the inscriptions so sharp and mysteriously not timeworn, I could see, easily, that they were diversely aged, many having been situated there more than 50 years.


How has time not permanently dusted and dulled these markers? Why are the loving inscriptions and vital statistics not worn down, lost to those looking upon them now for the first time? My wondering continued as I ran.

And the decorations! The sites, nearly every one, were adorned with bright bouquets, crisp and new, like the headstones themselves. Deep reds, not one bit faded from the hot western sun, and yellows vibrant as if they had just popped that morning. I saw balloons, aloft of the markers, not drooping in the least, seemingly placed just moments before I arrived. Hats, flags, garden decor. All tidy. Colorful. Nothing out of place. Every grave looking as if it had been attended to that day.

How is this possible? I wondered, looking around, searching for someone, anyone, to inquire if they were noticing what I was noticing, to ask if they knew the secret of this place. It would make sense if it was just past Memorial Day, but the holiday formerly known as Decoration Day was two weeks gone. No one else. No one there to wonder with.

I thought of my running friend, how we’d discuss this if she was here. And my hiking partner; he’d enjoy contemplating these things with me. But mostly I thought of my mom. I remember visiting with her live-in partner one day, remember him saying something about how my mom never says, “I don’t know.” He said that when he asks her a question and she doesn’t know the answer she won’t say, “I don’t know.” She’ll muse about it, toss out some ideas, ask him what he thinks. He didn’t seem to understand why she would do that, why she wouldn’t just say, “I don’t know.”

“Is that bad?” I asked him. “Because I do that, too!” I visualized doing this with my mom; yes, we definitely had thought, together, about things we weren’t sure about, exchanged ideas, furthered our thinking, and often come up with answers or explanations that we wouldn’t have, had we not gone through the process of wondering, together.

I needed my mom, a friend, information about this cemetery, Google, anyone.

After running crisscross up and down all the paved roads in the cemetery, I came upon a newer section toward the back. Here, the roads were gravel. Here, there were no trees, none casting shade anyway. But the markers themselves looked the same–new, recently etched, smartly adorned. An American flag, not faded in the least, flapped in the wind, wind not previously perceived in the more protected confines of the cemetery.


I ran on.

Now I came upon a small dirt area, red dirt, typical of the southwest. Short sticks and rocks marked the burial sites, presumably those of pets. Twenty graves perhaps. Why just 20? Just 20 beloved pets lost over all these years? Perhaps the pet cemetery concept hadn’t taken off or the idea ruled against. A few weeds grew here. Why are there weeds here and nowhere else? Why haven’t they been pulled?


Oh, to mull these thoughts over with someone.

Not far from the pet cemetery, I came upon an information board and a map explaining the layout of the cemetery. A bit of information to shape my pondering.


What? Not a pet cemetery, but an Indian burial area. More questions. Why just 20 or so Indians? Maybe shortly after Indians were permitted (or chose) to be buried here, they were included in the regular sections, treated equally, with grass instead of weeds, proper markers rather than sticks and stones.

I went back to the little dirt area. Took a closer look. Noticed an etching on one of the sandstone rocks placed there. Tom somebody. This rudimentary carving was not sharp, not legible, not even up close, not even later when I zoomed in on the photo. October 1947? 1941? Space for just one date. Was this the year of birth or death? Probably death. Tom. Lost. Lost to most.


I continued on through the cemetery, taking each road one more time. Wondering about this place. Wondering about wondering. I could stop by the office the next morning. Ask some questions. Inquire. I could, upon arriving home, do some research on the Internet. Was there another cemetery in Cedar City? An older, more historic, more typical one? Where were most Indians buried, back then and now, too?

No, forget it. I wasn’t going to. To leave here just wondering, that’s what I decided to do.

I recall mentioning to my aunt the conversation I had had about my mother and her wondering, her thinking aloud, her expecting others to build upon her thoughts, her using this approach to try to come to some understanding, some conclusions. I recall my aunt saying, “I didn’t have a mother who wondered. I had a mother who said, ‘I don’t know.’ It was the more appropriate thing to do in her time.” And then, “I missed out on a lot of conversations.”

So here’s to the power of wondering, to thinking aloud. And here’s to my mother for engaging in this behavior, drawing me in, teaching me to wonder, to just wonder.

Haiku of Wisdom

Wisdom is to give

Laughing gas to the mother

Not just the daughter.


No mother would choose

To sit there, in her right mind,

Listening, watching.


The doctor pokes, prods

At the giant hidden teeth

Just out of his sight.


The daughter groans, laughs

Her head still, but legs writhing,

Numb mouth, hearing ears.


The mother, undrugged,

Counts extracted wisdom teeth,

Writhes herself, then sighs.


This was written for The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge: Haiku Catchoo!

“In this week’s creative writing challenge, we’ll step toward verse to try our hand at writing haikus. Haikus are a great way to warm up to your writing projects. The short form, combined with simple line and syllable constraints, helps you to work your mind in a new way, as you embrace brevity in a bid to create vivid imagery.”

The Embroidery

Each fall as I see hillsides of deep color and texture, I am reminded of an embroidery panel of my mother’s that I saw as a child.

I have no memories of my mother sitting and embroidering. I suppose, now, that she did such things after we kids were tucked in or perhaps while I was away at school, especially for the two or three years when we lived in town, prior to the farm, after which I’m sure she never sat down to embroider again.

Despite that, every fall, I am taken back to our house in town, upstairs, to a small nook off the main part of my parents’ bedroom, to my mom’s sewing area where I discovered the embroidery.

The panel was large, perhaps two and a half feet across and a foot high, the left third or so embroidered, the rest just muslin with faint veins of blue guidelines.

I ran my hand over the finished part, astounded at how an entire hillside of evergreens, leafy trees, bushes, and reeds grew from the different stitches and small knots made with various hues of thread. Where and when had she learned to make a piece of fabric come to life? Looking at it was probably my first experience with art appreciation.

I don’t recall asking my mom about the embroidery, but perhaps I did, or maybe she noticed me admiring it, for I have a vivid memory of the day, not long after that, when she introduced me to the craft.

I was home sick from school, in my parents’ king size bed, heavy with bed covers, their warmth, their scents. Their room was just down the hall from the kitchen where I could hear my mom and call to her when need be. She tended to me with soup, 7-Up, and things to keep me occupied between naps.embroidery thread

At one point of waking, she was there with a small piece of muslin and several shiny, silky threads. I have no memory of her teaching me, but she must have, for I can see myself, a pajamaed girl in that vast sea of bedding, hunched over my work until it sapped from me every bit of the little energy I had that day.

When I could concentrate no more, I lifted the work from my lap to take a final look at what I had accomplished, and when I did, up came the sheet along with the embroidery. Every stitch I had made had gone through not only the muslin, but the sheet beneath it, the sheet in my lap that warmed my skinny, seven-year-old legs.

“Mom!” I screamed, feverish, fatigued, and devastated that my embroidery would forever be a part of her bed.

She was there right away, not angry, tender as always, telling me not to worry, that she could fix it. When I awoke, the embroidery was detached from the bed and there were more stitches in the muslin than I had put there and they were even and lovely and not those of a beginner’s hand.

I have no other recollection of my mother’s embroidery panel, no knowledge of whether it was ever completed. She may have put a lot of time into it initially, and then, as her days and priorities changed, put it aside, then, finally, away.

Yet still, the embroidery that I see every fall upon textured hillsides is that season in my life, that day, in particular, when my mother’s presence, her attention, her patience, were the stitches that constituted her love.

The Button Pusher

The pole on the street corner concealed her body, her hands the only evidence of her presence as they clutched the rounded handles of the umbrella stroller before her.

He sat, seemingly complacent, his two little mitts steadying a small cup in his lap, the straw protruding almost to his lips.

Traffic zoomed by as I sat in the left-hand turn lane.


Memoir Chapter One

It was August 2009 when I had to give my daughters away. By court order they were going to live with their father. In another city. Across the state.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m afraid it’s what many thought about me at the time. She must be a loser of a mother, must have done some bad stuff, neglected her children, something. Maybe she drinks too much. The judge must know something about her that we don’t know. I’m sure my family was even wondering—what is going on that we don’t know about? I mean, why else would the kids be taken away from her? It’s unorthodox to order preteen daughters to go live with their father, especially a father who had little interest in them at all for the past twelve years.

I won’t tell you otherwise. That I was a good mom, one of the best. It’s not something I can say and therefore it is. I know a lot of women who don’t have it together but still believe they’re good mothers. They don’t get that it takes more than extreme love for your children. I could be one of those moms for all you know. But those who knew me before—those you watched me raise my babies—would tell you otherwise. My colleagues, other moms, the girls’ teachers and coaches, my mother, my sister, my brother, my aunts, my mother-in-law for God’s sake. They all knew. And it didn’t go unnoticed by Dave either. I wanted to relay all the positive feedback I’d gotten about my parenting and my kids to the judge. I especially wanted to tell him what a teacher friend of mine had just said to me, upon the birth of her second child. “You need to stop writing books about teaching and start writing books about parenting. I’ve watched you over the years; you make it look so easy. Plus, I want my kids to turn out like yours—smart, independent, courteous…” But that’s not how it works. I learned that I wouldn’t necessarily get to tell the judge what he really needed to know. Or that he’d take it into account.

And there are those who came after who can attest to the time, energy, and love that I have dedicated to the girls since the divorce. I did not quit parenting once I lost them. I thought about it. Don’t get me wrong. I even considered relinquishing life altogether. But my girls needed me now more than ever. Who knew what they were headed for. Absurd as it seemed, my role may have just become more vital, more valuable than it ever was before. How I conducted myself, how I came out of this situation, was going to have a bigger impact on who these girls became, as women, than any further day-to-day parenting I was no longer privileged to provide.

I turned the girls, and their belongings, over to Dave in a convenience store parking lot in the small mountain town that the court had declared to be the midway point between our residences. This is where we would meet once or twice a month for the next six years until the girls were out of high school. I handed box after box to Dave and he loaded them, slack-jawed, astonished at how much his daughters had acquired over the past decade, into the shell of his F350. I noticed, as I always did, that the tailgate hit him mid-chest. Why he had to buy the largest truck possible I never understood, though I, and others, speculated that its grandiosity and power represented something he longed for in himself.

When we had passed the last of the boxes, careful not to accidently brush hands in the process, he looked at me with raised eyebrows. He hadn’t spoken to me in over a year. He did communicate, but only via email or text, always brief, to the point, and somewhat mordacious. For the past several months, since Dave had moved back to the city to take a new job, the girls had lived with me 250 miles further west, where the whole family had moved a few years earlier, with high hopes of making things work with a new backdrop. But the time had come. They needed to get settled in their new home before school started.

The agonizing despair had come and gone, my ripped up guts somewhat healed, my mind deadened with this actuality, my heart held together now with nothing but faith. Faith that these girls would make it, that they wouldn’t become some foul statistic. I had to believe that they were in God’s hands, not Dave’s.

It was not with the judge’s final ruling two weeks earlier that I had learned that I would lose them; I sensed it long before, as the reality slowly but steadily materialized, like darkness on a night with no moon.

His raised eyebrows said, “So, that’s it then?”

And though I was sure he wasn’t referring to just the boxes, I replied with, “That’s only half of it. I’ll bring the rest next time.”

The “it” was the girls’ assemblage of their childhood:  toys, keepsakes, artwork, clothing, shoes, outerwear, souvenirs, stuffed animals, and room decor. Being tweens—still girls but barreling at full speed toward the teenage years—they seemed to have twice as much as a girl in strictly one or the other category might have. As we packed up their rooms, they were reluctant to get rid of anything, and understandably so. Everything they possessed represented a happier time, a safer place. I didn’t press. I was secretly hoping that when they unpacked and set up their new rooms, every item would serve as a reminder of my love and devotion to them over the years. Not that I wanted them to feel regret, guilt, or hurt; I just couldn’t bear them forgetting me.

Dave pursed his lips and bobbed his head slightly at the enormity of their belongings, grasping, I think, the enormity of the situation. He would now be raising these children. He would be responsible for their welfare, for how they turned out in life. Was he at all concerned about his lack of parenting experience? Maybe I had made it look so easy to him, too.

Of course, he probably wouldn’t be the one caring for the girls anyway. He would be working a lot, as he had been before. He had a live-in girlfriend, Susie, who was not employed and the court presumed that, for that reason, she would be an acceptable caregiver. Not just acceptable, but preferable. A better choice than the tried-and-true biological mother who had managed work and household and children just fine all these years.

Dave turned back to me. His eyebrows, still raised, showcased the stress lines on his forehead beneath what appeared to be a premature receding hairline. It had, in actuality, been that way since I’d met him some 22 years earlier. The fissures had come in gradually, like cuts in a chicken breast to determine if the meat was thoroughly cooked. Medical school, slice. Not-exactly-wanted children, slice. Cancer patients dying, slice, slice, slice. The tedium of the days, weeks, years. Slice. A move, a new job, a fresh start, cancer patients still dying. Slice. A wife who finally gave up and wanted out. Slice.

The question remained. “So, that’s it then?” As if the passing of the belongings served as the culminating event of the decisions made over the past year and a half. It was done. The girls were his. And I? Well, I was now an every-other-weekend mother.


My mom came to town last weekend for a quick visit, arriving on Friday afternoon and leaving early Sunday morning. She’s 71, but she’s a Wyoming girl. It’s no big deal for her to drive seven hours to get somewhere and then, two days later, drive those seven hours back.

She knew before she came that she’d be plopped right into the middle of our lives— More