The Lofty Chronicles: 5 — Doing What You Like to Do

Doing What You Like to Do

Helping out with Tom's new deck
Helping out with Tom’s new deck

Spring 1992

When Robin Hood Was a Boy (Wednesday, 4 March 1992) We’re in town today, tending our usual long list of errands. We’re also planning to take in a matinee performance of Hook, the Peter Pan sequel which Lauren’s been wanting to see. As we’re winding our way down the mountain on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Lauren starts talking about a difficult dynamic that she and one of the adults in the community are working on together. Lauren vents some feelings. Then the conversation broadens into the subtle but pervasive prejudice against kids in this culture.

A while later, Lauren is wishing for a movie about when Robin Hood was a boy. She’s read the classic book version of Robin Hood, and has seen the Kevin Costner movie about her hero. I silently wonder if she’s wanting to see how Robin, who stood up to the establishment against overwhelming odds, might have faced the looming conspiracy of adults when he was a young boy.

Then Joyce suggests that maybe when Lauren grows up she can somehow avoid contracting the inevitable case of adult-itis. Maybe she can even make a movie about what it’s like to be a kid living in a world run by adults.

“Yeah!” Lauren replies. “And when I make the movie, I’ll give [that so-and-so] free admission, just to see what it feels like.”

The conversation gets buried under the busyness of the day. Finally, after supper, we sit down in the Grandin Theater to watch Hook. I’m not too taken by the movie. Dustin Hoffman is wonderful, but other than that, it lacks the magic of Spielberg’s earlier classics.

Lofty, however, loves the show. She laughs and hollers all the way through it. It’s worth the price of admission to see her enjoyment. Finally I tumble to the tie-in between the theme of the movie and our talk coming down the mountain. For the busy, self-important, grown-up Peter Pan has forgotten his magical childhood. As a properly pre-occupied adult, he has effectively suppressed any traces of spontaneity, wonder, and adventure, both in himself and in his children.

The movie’s plot has Hook kidnapping Peter’s children. Peter, in order to rescue them, is forced to return to the magical island and the magical powers of his youth, thus providing Hook with a “worthy opponent” and the opportunity for revenge. The entire movie, in other words, is an imaginative amplification of the very themes that we’d been talking about earlier.

In an amusing footnote, as we’re driving up the mountain, through the misty rain, the car starts acting a little funny.

“Let’s send it some stardust,” I suggest.

In the movie, Tinker Bell had used stardust to assist the children’s flight, and I’m hoping to fly home without too much of an adventure.

So off we go, into the fog and up the mountain. Somewhat to my surprise, the car’s funny symptoms subside. By the time we reach the top of Bent Mountain, it’s purring along, my anxiety has dissipated, and Lauren has fallen asleep.

Just as I’m mentioning to Joyce that we should remember to thank Tinker Bell when we get home, a shooting star with a long flowing tail, its brilliance barely softened by the fog, falls through the darkness just ahead of us. It looks exactly like the depiction of Tinker Bell in the movie. Joyce and I look at each other, grin, and wish that Lofty had been awake to see it.

An Exchange of Favors (Friday, 6 March 1992) A nice example of the universe taking care of itself today. Joyce volunteers to drive Marlene to Bedford and spend the day with her while she has her teeth pulled and gets fitted for dentures. Upon their return, Marlene receives in the mail three videos that she’d ordered as part of a video club come-on—Robin Hood, Dances With Wolves, and Ghost. All three are among Lauren’s favorites. A fine exchange of favors between Marlene and Joyce, completely unplanned (at a conscious level) by either of them.

The Old Western Café (Saturday, 7 March 1992) Lofty and I are heading toward dinner this evening. We are most of the way to the community shelter when she says, “Wouldn’t it be fun if I were all dressed up in cowboy clothes, with a hat and everything? And you were all dressed up in cowboy clothes? And Mom was, too? And we all walked into a café? And it was called ‘The Old Western Café’? Wouldn’t that be neat?! I’d like that!!”

Lofty’s Pouch and Fur-Bag (Saturday, 7 March 1992) Lofty and I are in the community shelter this morning. She’s all decked out with her paraphernalia: a large Swiss Army knife that Adam gave her for Christmas (more on that in a moment) fastened to her belt on a key chain holder and tucked into the front pocket of her favorite pair of black jeans; a leather carrying case, which she calls her “pouch;” and a small lambskin bag that’s her “fur-bag.”

She’s been helping me pick up some shards of a broken lamp chimney and has sliced her finger. As she sucks on it, trying to get it to stop bleeding, she suddenly gives a start and says, “I almost forgot all about them!”

Opening her leather pouch and rummaging through the contents, she triumphantly produces a small band-aid, which she applies to her wounded finger.

“I knew they’d come in handy,” she announces.

I smile and ask what else she has in her pouch.

“You can look if you’d like.”

But just then Sage arrives and off they go.

Later, however, I accept her offer and take an inventory of her medicine bundles.

In the fur-bag are a pair of dice, one red, one white, and a small, plastic, rectangular container with a snap lid. In the pouch, which may once have been a leather carrying case for a pair of opera glasses (it has a zippered lid and a carrying strap) are the following:

A small blue pocket notebook; a tiny Swingline stapler with two little boxes of staples; a pad of yellow Post-em notes; a pocket copy of the New Testament, along with the Psalms and Proverbs, courtesy of Gideon International; one of those hand buzzers that were around when I was a kid, that you conceal in your palm when you’re about to shake hands with someone; a small pack of cards from some word game (“l. Igloo, 2. Glassy, 3. Snuggle, 4. Twilling,”); a pack of coupon tickets which can only be redeemed at Showbiz Pizza; a small box containing the Masonic trowel that Tom has given her; a ball point pen; a plastic whistle; a 1990 quarter; an aluminum medallion (“Knights Go Back To The Future, 1991″); a clear marble; a key chain ornament advertising Union Bank; a plastic cricket; and three more small band-aids.

Tom Sawyer would be proud. And perhaps just a bit envious.

Lofty’s Swiss Army Knife (Saturday, 7 March 1992) And now back to her knife.

Not too long ago, Lauren gave herself a good demonstration of how malleable life’s circumstances can be, if only one’s desire and intent are clear and strong. The fruits of her focus hang from her belt in a place of honor.

I smilingly recall the Christmas just past. Adam has given the kids some presents. Sage and Christopher get Swiss Army knives. Lauren and Myra receive magnified and lighted viewing lenses for studying small natural objects.

Both items are nice, but there’s a bit of gender bias in the decision about who should get what. The boys get the knives; the girls get the lenses. I know there’s disappointment brewing. Lauren has already lost a pocket knife and has been longing for another. Sure enough, after the presents are opened, Lauren manages a polite “thank you” for her viewing lens, while casting covetous glances in the direction of Sage’s new knife.

The next day she half-heartedly tries out the viewing lens, but quickly loses interest. Not only is she heart-sick over the knife she didn’t receive, but she can’t get the light on her viewing lens to work. The battery doesn’t fit into its compartment.

She brings it over to show me. After confirming that the battery is the correct size, I help her jam it into the compartment. It’s a tight fit, but the light goes on O.K., so I hand it back to her.

A moment later she drops it with a yelp and starts sucking her finger.

“That thing burnt me,” she exclaims.

I pick it up. Sure enough, it’s still hot. Part of the plastic has even started to melt!

To make a long story short, we show the lens to Adam, who agrees that it’s defective.

“It has a money-back guarantee,” he adds. “I’ll ship it back to them.”

Then the wheels begin to turn. There’s some hurried consultation and in a few moments Adam turns to Lofty.

“Do you want them to send you a new, replacement lens?” he asks. “Or should we just get a refund and order one of those knives for you instead?”

Lofty’s eyes light up like a sparkler. Before a word is spoken, Adam gets his answer.

The next two weeks are an agony of waiting. Lauren’s attention is riveted to each and every incoming package. Finally it arrives. Joyfully she rips open the box and carefully examines all the different blades and tools. Then she lovingly ties it to her belt loop and slips it into her pocket, where it’s remained ever since. The rest of us are happily impressed by how cooperative the universe can be at times.

Lofty with goggles and knife leash
Lofty with goggles and knife leash


George Carver’s First Knife (Saturday, 7 March 1992) As a postscript to the above story, and a further confirmation of a cooperative universe, Lauren recently asked Joyce to read her some more about George Washington Carver. Joyce is initially reluctant. Last fall we had read two long biographies of Carver and Joyce wants to turn to someone else.

But Lauren pleads for more Carver. So I prowl through a packet of materials that Tuskegee University had sent us and come across The Man Who Talks With the Flowers, by Glenn Clark. So Joyce surrenders and starts reading pieces of it to Lauren. Almost immediately they come upon the following story, which I’ll share in full. Clark is questioning Carver.

“Could you describe to us your methods when you meet a problem?”

“I never grope for methods. The method is revealed the moment I am inspired to create something new. I live in the woods. I gather specimens and listen to what God has to say to me. After my morning’s talk with God I go into my laboratory and begin to carry out His wishes for the day.”

“Can you recall your first answer to prayer?” I asked.

“One of my most surprising answers to prayer came when I was a little boy of five or six. I had no pocket knife, and how I longed for one! I was very mechanical-minded. And of all things–a boy without a pocket knife!

“So one night I prayed to the Father to send me a knife, and that night I had a dream. I dreamed that out in the field where the corn rows joined the tobacco rows there was a watermelon cut in halves. One half was all gouged out. The other half, plump and full, was leaning up against three stalks of corn, and out of it stuck the black handle of a pocket knife.

“The next morning I could hardly wait till I got through breakfast before I scampered out to the cornfield. There where the corn rows joined the tobacco rows I saw a watermelon cut in halves, one half was all gouged out and the other half, plump and solid, rested up against three stalks of corn. And sticking out of it was the black handle of a pocket knife.”

Lauren, of course, is enthralled by the story, relating to it directly and empathically. None of us had heard it before; the other two books hadn’t mentioned it. Directly following this story is another question for Carver.

“You have the habit of talking to a little flower or a peanut and making it give up its secrets to you. How do you do it?”

Carver’s response is profound:

“You have to love it enough,” said Dr. Carver. “Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough. Not only have I found that when I talk to the little flower or to the little peanut they will give up their secrets,” he continued as if talking to himself, “but I have found that when I silently commune with people they give up their secrets also–if you love them enough.”

Re-Tracing Our Gender Lines (Tuesday, 17 March 1992) Today, on Joyce’s birthday, I’m wanting to trace back Lauren’s gender lines. Genealogy can quickly become labyrinthine. It also has a strong patriarchal bias. Perhaps a less complex and less sexist approach might be to delineate someone’s mother-line and father-line. Lauren’s father is Robert. Robert’s father is Caleb. Caleb’s father is Henry Wilder. And so on. This is a fairly easy line to trace. It goes back twelve generations to Pasco, who arrived on the shores of Salem, Massachusetts from England in the early 1600s.

Lauren’s mother-line, however, is less easy. Lauren’s mother is Joyce. Joyce’s mother is Lilly. Lilly’s mother is Dana. Dana’s mother is Melly. And there the trail (at least for me, for now) grows cold.

These mother-lines are fascinating, precisely because they’re so obscure. In our patrilineal culture, a girl takes her father’s name and a woman takes her husband’s. Women don’t have surnames, only given names. Slaves, too, had no surnames. George Washington Carver, for example, took the surname of the family which owned him.

Neither slaves nor women have their own names. Women have maiden names and married names, but both are men’s names. What does it mean for a woman not to have her own name? How does being nameless lodge in a woman’s psyche? How does it affect her sense of identity and continuity, her connections with the past?

It feels important to offer to Lauren (and to other girl-children) whatever slender threads of a mother-line that we’re able to spin out of the scanty records that we have or can find.

Can I Do It For a Million Dollars? (Saturday, 21 March 1992) Lofty is telling Joyce what she would do if she had a million dollars.

“I’d buy a horse. And a saddle and bridle and everything. And I’d buy the materials and have someone build me a barn. And then I’d buy all the fencing to fence in the pasture. And enough hay for the horse to eat in the winter.”

She pauses and looks at Joyce inquiringly.

“Do you think I can do it for a million dollars??”

Cold Lava (Saturday, 21 March 1992) Another of those peculiar synchronicities today. Lauren awakens with a dream about ice-cold lava flowing slowly across a highway. Then this afternoon she receives a postcard from her aunt Heather, who is visiting her uncle David and aunt Karin in Hawaii. The picture on the card shows molten lava from one of Hawaii’s volcanic eruptions. The lava is flowing across a coastal highway. Lauren is startled to see the card. It’s the first time that she has either dreamt about or received a postcard about lava.

Bedtime Story (Friday, 3 April 1992) Lauren’s riding another wave of reading enthusiasm. After we finish the evening ritual of reading our bedtime story, and Joyce and Lauren climb into bed, Lauren reads aloud from one of her books. Currently we’re being treated to several pages nightly from The Cat in the Hat.

Won’t It Be Wonderful (Wednesday, 8 April 1992) We awake to a beautiful spring day. Lofty and I walk out of the house and up toward the shelter. We’re on our way to pick up my mother, Hope, at the airport. Lofty takes several deep breaths, drinking in the aroma of the earth. Then she says, “Won’t it be wonderful that Hopie will be able to come here and smell this smell?!”

The Bomb in the News Station (Wednesday, 8 April 1992) Lauren has a dream about being at Blue Mountain (a local alternative school) with a bunch of kids. She’s having a good time playing with them. Somehow, though, there’s a news station attached to the school, with a bomb in it that’s about to go off.

George Washington Carver’s Way (Saturday, 18 April 1992) Tomorrow we’re celebrating Lauren’s eighth birthday, combining it with an Easter egg hunt and Sunday morning pancakes. We’re expecting a big crowd. Fortunately, the weather forecast is favorable. We’d have to move into crisis mode if all those kids and their parents had to somehow cram into our small community shelter.

Lauren’s helping Joyce dye Easter eggs, using various natural ingredients that Joyce has learned over the years will produce all those softy, lovely earth colors. Toward the end of the process, Lauren wants to try a dying experiment of her own. So she gathers some grass and onion skins and various other substances, mixes them together, and adds an egg to the mixture.

Nothing happens, except the faintest tinge of some drab color.

Disappointed, Lauren asks, “Won’t my experiments ever work?”

“Well, you can learn everything I’ve learned,” Joyce replies, “and then you can study all the different books to see what other people have learned. Or,” she adds after a pause, “you can try George Washington Carver’s way.”

Lauren, of course, rises to the bait.

“What way is that?”

“You can ask God to help you figure out what experiments to try. Then you can be quiet and listen.”

A long silence ensues as Lauren mulls over this unorthodox option.

Doing What You Like to Do (Saturday, 18 April 1992) After Lauren finishes dying the Easter eggs she comes down to the house to help me figure out what games to play during her party. It’s mid-afternoon. I am experiencing my usual mid-afternoon energy slump and am moving toward my usual brief-but-sweet mid-afternoon nap.

Lauren reads my mood instantly. After we’ve decided on a few games, she asks me, out of the blue, “What do you like to do?”

The question startles me, not only because it’s out of context, but also because it seems like an “important” question. My body can feel the importance of the question, as though its one that we should be asking ourselves and each other more often.

So I share several things that I like to do.

She nods, and then asks, “What else do you like to do?”

I pause, reassess, and add several more items to my list.

She nods again. Waits a while. Then says, “What would you most like to do, right now?”

Without thinking, I reply, “I’d most like to take a nap.”

“Well, that’s just what you should do. You should do just what you’d most like to do, no matter what it is, because that’s the best way to get your energy back.”

I bow silently to my teacher and follow her advice.