Cowboys cook in cast iron. (image courtesy of getty images)
My dad only cooked with cast iron.
Skillets big enough to bake all the cornbread you would need for the huge batch of red chile stew bubbling away in the dutch oven. Cast iron is a wonderful cooking tool. Long lasting, even heating and temperature holding. They also require great care. You can’t just throw a cast iron skillet into the dishwasher. It needs to be softly and lightly soaped by hand. And then after all the caramelized bits of your meal have been sloughed away, you need to put the cast iron back on the fire and let it heat while you rub oil onto its surface as a means to season and soften it for the next use.
When we cleaned up after dinner, my dad always took the cast irons as his chore. As a child and then as an adult, I loved to watch him ready them for the next meal. It was a ritual that seemed to me nearly as sacred as anything else I had seen on this earth. When he rubbed the oil across the inside of each pan, I felt that they were being consecrated and prepared for the next time they would fill the measure of their creation. Some of the pieces of cast iron were new and some had traveled with his dad in the forties as he prospected and lived in the deserts of the American South West. All were precious.
We’ve been cooking in the skillets and dutch ovens in the weeks since Dad’s death. A couple of days ago, I noticed that one hadn’t been oiled and fired. On my way out of the kitchen, I thought it could be done later. A few steps out of the door and I turned back around. With tears on my cheeks and an ache that threatened to pierce, I dipped a cloth in oil and turned up the fire. Consecration, it seems, must be picked up and carried along.
That night on the way home, Zuzu cleared her throat in the backseat.
“Mom, where is heaven?”
“That is a good question, sweetheart. You know, Heaven is very close. We just can’t see it. You know how at night we can’t see the sun, but we know it is there? It just isn’t time for us to see it? That is like heaven. It is there as surely as the sun, it just isn’t time for us to see it.”
“Does that make it more clear, Zuzupie?”
“Not as clear as I hoped.”
And then she looked out the window and I looked in my heart and couldn’t find anything else to give her.
Stimulate those flabby muscles!
Award show season is pretty numbingly predictable.
Look at the red carpet full of starlets wearing both on trend color and classic black! Is Brad Pitt’s hair shorter or longer than before? Either way, look at it! Oh my gosh, did Jennifer Lawrence say/do/telepathically communicate something refreshingly adorable? Of course, she did!
And then, always, the hordes of “pro-woman” bloggers, commentators and bystanders that feel like it is their god-given right to communicate their indignation over the chosen aging techniques of any woman over forty. This year people have been screaming about baby boomer, Goldie Hawn and 81 year old (no, being an octogenarian does not protect you from the pretty police), Kim Novak. (Don’t even get me started on Ellen’s incredibly cruel dig at Liza Minelli.)
This Huffington Post piece titled, Goldie, We Love You Just The Way You Were, chronicles some of the outrage,
“The Internet — including our Facebook fans — has spoken. And the overwhelming consensus is that Goldie Hawn and Kim Novak were more beautiful to us before what many believe to be physical “enhancements.”
They then went on to ask their Facebook fans the hard hitting question,
“So should some celebs be thinking about suing their plastic surgeons? What do you think? How much is TOO much?”
And then there was this gem,
“It’s sad that these women have self-images like this. If they had just aged gracefully, naturally, how much more beautiful they would be.”
Yes, how dare they not be beautiful.
Getty was happy to provide a side by side of a 30 year old Kim and an 81 year old Kim.
According to most, Goldie wasn’t golden.
“Experts” and arm-chair twitterers alike opined that they had been so beautiful when they were young. Why hadn’t they managed to age gracefully like Meryl Streep? (Who, while she may not have had any extreme surgeries has had the benefit of a life lived with access to trainers, healthy food, expensive skin care, hair stylists and everything else that makes one age “gracefully” instead of realistically.) How could they have let us all down by being less than we expected them to be? Oh, the horror!
Color me confused. This seems like the same old dirty thing dressed up in glossy politically correct packaging.
Shouldn’t we be more interested in the lives these women have led? That Kim Novak worked with Hitchcock, battled bipolar disorder, survived cancer and at 81 has put more years on this earth than most of the human race? How about Goldie Hawn’s successful family life, body of work and her charitable work on behalf of children? Instead we say that their faces look like leather, we cower in at the size of their lips, we swear up and down that WE will do better. How the hell is any of this any of OUR business? Do these righteously indignant have any idea how inconsistent they sound?
“As a woman, you are more than your looks. More than youth or age. More than the social expectations placed upon you. Unless of course, your choices violate what I consider appropriate for your current stage in life. Unless I think you have betrayed the beauty I think your youth once held. Unless you violate the social expectations I have deemed sacred. Of course, if you do anything against any of those things, I will hold you up as an example of everything that is wrong with the feminine. I will post your picture across twitter and facebook and news outlet as a warning to all the other women that follow your way.”
And then, women SHARE that betrayal on FB as if it is empowering! As if it is something of substance!
It boggles the mind.
Here’s a thought. What if we, you know, didn’t do that? What if we just loved women no matter their age, background or number of botox injections? What if we stopped acting like a bunch of high schoolers and finally – FINALLY – got around to the substance of womanhood. What if we asked Kim Novak how she survived her considerable trials, the sexism of early (and modern) Hollywood and still finds the strength to sparkle at 81? What if we were interested in the things that come out of Goldie Hawn’s mouth rather than speculating about the amount of fat that fills the lips that frame it? And what if – WHAT IF – we decided that we are not the arbiters of the incredibly complex concept of the definition of true beauty?
Would that be so bleeping hard?
I wrote this last year. Reading through it today, on my 29th birthday, I realize it is still the prayer I hold close to my heart. Thanks for spending the past year with me. Here’s to a few more.
Yesterday, I sat on the back porch of my in law’s house as the day began to end. The girls played under a colorful sky for the first time in months. It was all blues and orange and streaks of white. They leaped under the canopy of clouds, their limbs bared and their cheeks red. My daughters with their strong growing legs and arms that reach for things I can’t see. They are beautiful. When I am very lucky, I can see myself in their unbrushed hair and grass stained feet. Only a few years separate them from me, I am sister as nearly as I am mother. And the strength, the potential, the bright light I see for them is just as much mine as it is theirs. We are none of us too old to move forward or too young to handle the big things of this life.
Today, I turn twenty-eight. An age without much attached to it, a lost year between the beginning of twenty five and relative youth of thirty. It seems it shouldn’t be a year starting with so much light and hurt. But as I watched my little girls play, one golden moment at a time, I realized that life’s profound nature needs to stop surprising me. They danced under the setting day and I felt that this life will not become easier or more expected. And I knew that I wouldn’t wish for it to be different. I want the lessons at the end of each difficult road. They are what I have come to claim as my own. If I can just have enough moments of light in the fading sun, I will be sustained when I cannot see in the dark.
And so for this year, I wish for things I have not before. For the courage to be shaped into the person I was born to become. For enough years to give me lines on my face and hands. For dirt under my nails and the sweat of the blessing of hard work. For inspiration and stories and ink filled pages. For touch and smell and taste. For late nights spent in Riley’s arms. For tears with meaning and an ache that drives me home. For the ability to live the hard times well. And my girls, for them I wish even the briefest understanding of what we have here together and what we have here forever. Just a flash of the place where this moment touches eternity. If I can help them see that, then they will be able to see everything.
Today, I turn twenty-eight. And I am uncertain and the world is big and my heart feels new. But I have my husband and my daughters. I have my God and my faith. I have my passion and my path.
Then, there is joy. I do not have to wish for joy. It already belongs to me.
And for that I am grateful.
Avila Morning by Diego Rivera
The last two days were hard. I’d lost sleep and breath and a vision of the life that lies beyond this moment.
I imagine I will have more days that seem without a promise of tomorrow. But this morning, after a night of rest, I can take in the morning’s light.
It’s an amazing thing, the 24 hour cycle that tells the time of our lives. Each one that passes, a symbolic proof of the nature of mortal and immortal existence. A bright morning followed by the work of midday and then the rest of evening. Nothing could look more like the great span of our lives than the single days that make them up. And then night comes and buries us in it’s black. We sleep because we must, because continued existence demands it. We are taken out of ourselves in the long night, in our sleep, in our surrender to necessity.
And then, inevitably and directed by the same law of being that made us sleep, we are woken up. And the sun that greets us shines as if there never was a night. Living life and death and resurrection every day as if it is a matter of course.
Because it is a matter of course.
My mom asked me to share the eulogy I gave at my dad’s funeral. It seems so personal and I almost didn’t put it in this space. But I think mom is right about posting it here. You have all become such beautiful parts of my life. I can trust you with this as you have trusted me with so many of your emails, cards and thoughts of good heart. Thank you.
It is an odd thing, speaking at the funeral of the man that has served as the narrator of your life. In the hours and days since his death, I feel as if I’ve lost my words. I suppose it is because he was the person that provided me with so many of them. So many times over the past few days, as we’ve struggled or hurt or hoped I’ve thought, I should call Dad. He’d help me see this all the right way.
He was good at that. Helping me see things right side up. When I was seven, he took me to Jurassic Park. After the first kill (poor dino handler) he had to spend the rest of the afternoon explaining to me that the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park weren’t really real. When I was 15, we sat on the floor of this office and he put his arm around an incredibly awkward me while I cried because I wasn’t “cheerleader material”. (Keep crying meg. That one is never going to happen.) Just five years ago, he held my first baby and rocked back and forth in our glider while I rocked back and forth through postpartum depression. He held Zuzu with his eyes shut tight and in that deep softness his voice got when he truly meant something, he said, “Don’t worry, meggi. This baby girl is your best friend. Yes, you have a best friend right here. Don’t worry, sweetheart. I am right here. You can do this.” It took months for me to understand what he was saying, but as I waded through the murkiness of depression I held on to the sight of him rocking in my house with his eyes closed.
My Dad always closed his eyes when he spoke about the truths that meant the most to him. I used to think he closed his eyes to keep the tears in. Anyone who knows my dad, knows the man could cry over paint drying just right. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve changed my mind. If keeping tears in was the reason he shut his eyes, they would hardly have ever been open. No, rather, I think he closed his eyes when he spoke so that he could see more clearly. At the dinner table when he cleared his throat and squentched his eyes shut, we always knew it was time to put the forks down and listen. My dad had a way of gathering the beautiful aspects of mortality and immortality and holding them up for all of us to see.
My dad. For me, He is cowboy boots and fancy dancing with my mom. He is chile rellenos under the shade of a pecan orchard. He is biscuits and gravy and John Wayne. He is laughing until you lose your breath and the promise of a long talk on a short drive. He is a papa to my babies. The giver of big hugs and pink plastic rifles. He is a trip to Kentucky where I learned that the mountains really smoke and that time can stop long enough for you to breathe in the moments we have been given with one another. He is not enough days and so much blessing it hurts. He is “I see you, Nkosi” and a fast sailing ship. He is whiskers and encouragement and Christmas all shined up bright. He is the man that first taught me how the Lord must love.
Everybody here knows my dad in a different way. As a teacher, businessman, dreamer or seeker of the best hole in the wall restaurant. Me? I know my dad most truly as kimmy’s husband. My goodness, he loves that sweet, sassy, crazy lady.Whether talking about the way she looked in a pair of jeans walking across BYU during their courtship or holding her hand in a cramped hospital room, that woman put the light in his eyes. He lived for her in mortality and I can feel him living for her on the other side of this life. My brother, sisters and I learned to love by watching our parent’s marriage.
When I was little my dad brought home a box of chocolates for my mom. It was heartshaped and all red velvet and gold ribboned. It had also been opened. He said he had gotten hungry on the way home and had just needed one of the little candies. The gold wrapper from the chocolate he ate was still in its plastic heart molded place. Mom laughed and yelled at him. But when she picked up the wrapper to throw it away a lovely necklace dropped out of the tinfoil. I remember thinking that was the most romantic thing I’d ever seen. (Which honestly may have been more of a comment on my limited five year old experience at the time, than on the gesture itself.) But really, in so many ways that moment summed up my dad, always finding a way to make the good a little bit better.
My mom believed my dad could do anything. I remember long drives across town and country. My parents in the front seat, holding hands and talking about their dreams. Me in the backseat, listening because even when I was tiny, I understood I was witnessing something special. My dad hoped he could do great things, My mom knew he would do great things.. My mom has always had absolute faith in my dad. I think that sometimes when we hear that word, we think of some sort of passive, domesticated inertia. In truth, Faith is a principle of power and action. My dad was propelled to the heights of his mortal life by the active faith of my mother.
It wasn’t all gold encrusted chocolates. My goodness, that marriage took good heart and hard work. I think they will both agree that the other was worth it. There were financial setbacks and little misunderstandings and real sorrows. They fought and kissed and fought some more and kissed some more and well, you know…more. Even when my parents hated each other, they couldn’t stand to be apart. For the bystanders, it was both adorable and completely exhausting. Personally, I think for my parents just thought it kept things interesting.
Last night, we had a viewing. Dad was there in his cowboy approved pinebox and mom sat in a chair next to him. My little Dewey and Kimmy. For just a moment, the two of them were alone in their corner of the room. It was like something out of a picture book. The faithful woman standing sentinel over the man she loves. A very dear friend and I took in the scene together. It was, as he pointed out, pretty damn heartbreaking. But when I squentched my eyes shut, I could see it was also beautiful.
A long, long time ago, a benevolent God gathered spirits together and presented them with the opportunity to become like Him. Born of water and blood and clothed in mortality those spirits get to experience life on earth. Mortal life! A gorgeous heartache full of pain and joy, light and darkness, love and loss. I think sometimes we see this life as an exercise of the Lord’s test giving ability. As if he is nothing more than some sort of eternal proctor. I just don’t think that perception could be more wrongheaded. In reality, this earthbound journey is a loving testament of our Lord’s unflinchingly active faith in every single one of us. Faith in our eternal potential, faith in our unvaried worth, faith in our illuminated destiny.
Even as our hearts beat their way across this temporal expanse we are given glimpses of an innate and ever present spark of divinity. We create, we hope, we seek, we understand, we strive, we love. And oh my goodness, the godly blessing of two hearts that choose to create and seek and love together! My parent’s met while under the care of our Heavenly Father’s faith. It is a faith so powerful it shaped the water and the land, it is a faith so earnest it sparked the stars, it is a faith so complete it provided an atonement that revives and sanctifies through the blood of His only begotten son. It is a faith so fierce it has sustained my parent’s love and forged it into a gleaming thing that is unbreakable and without end.
They belong to one another. They are bound and there is no disease or accident or course of this little thing we call life that can do a darn thing to change that beautiful, soul saving truth. This separation is a matter of temporary circumstance. My dad still exists and as he goes about the Lord’s errands, I know my mom is still the thing that puts the light in his eyes.
What a blessing.
Yes, it is a blessing and that is all well and good, my heart says. But what about now? How do we survive until the reunion, the sanctification, the fulfillment of our Lord’s faithful ways. What about today? It is a good question and one I expect to ask and answer by the day, by the hour and sometimes, like right now, by the minute.
What about today?
Well, today, following the example of Dewey Conley, I will close my eyes so that I can see more clearly. And there in that place, absent from distraction and dismay, I know what I will find. There is a daddy whose body has been taken, but whose heart is near. There is a mom that has a Godly mission and earthly joy still waiting in this life. There is love and the blessing of time given and time taken. There is hope and faith. There is the brush of something greater than you and me, something that carries the smell of stars and the impression of truths strait and gleaming and multi-dimensioned.
And there is the quiet assurance of a Father’s voice, rocking back and forth against my heart, “Don’t worry, sweetheart. I am right here. You all can do this.”
I have a five year old that loves my dad with that special fierceness given to children. She thinks that man lit the sky. When she was younger she had a hard time saying goodbye every time we left my parent’s house. She’d kick and cry and protest. And who could blame her? Why would any of us want to leave that sanctuary of love and chocolate milk and gifts of toys and laughter? My dad is a smart man and found a way to make the parting a bit easier. As we’d walk out the door he would shout, “Not goodbye, Margaret!” Smiling at their game she would yell back, “Not Goodbye, Papa!”
So today, with my heart and hopes kicking and crying and protesting against this early farewell, I am learning from my dad and my little girl. This parting is not forever.
Not goodbye, my Dewey Conley.
Let’s end the scourge of blood cancers. Please donate to my mom’s Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Woman of the Year Campaign today. Every little bit helps. With all my heart, thank you.