"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Monday, January 19, 2015


Red Riding Hood sat on the counter of Grandma's house for my entire childhood. She was never moved. She was always full of cookies. Grandma, all ninety German pounds of her, could bake. She wasn't a cuddler or an ooh-er and aah-er, but her cookies felt like love. We didn't make the long drive from Sandpoint to Kingston often, but when we did that cookie jar was waiting for me. And I was happy to see her every single time.

When I left childhood and Sandpoint and my family, the image of Red stayed with me. The comfort of her constancy and bright colors. The promise of the sweetness she was designed to hold. She was the one thing of my grandma's that I wanted to inherit. A cousin who lived close by and who had a day-to-day relationship with our grandmother got Red when Grandma died. It was fair. But still.

I never quite got over that loss. Those losses. The loss of Grandma before I was healed enough to thank her and truly appreciate her. The loss of a symbol of one of the few bright spots of my childhood.

The first time I saw Red in an antique store, my heart leapt. Until I saw the price. Years of searching revealed many Reds, but all of a similar price. And I just couldn't bring myself to spend $300 on a childhood memory. I convinced myself that I didn't really need her. I tucked the want of her into that corner of my heart where other unfulfilled dreams live. Life went on.

This last fall I made what has become an annual birthday trip to the Seattle area to spend a day with  my middle brother, Mark, and to have dinner with all three of my brothers. We stopped by Mark's house, and when I walked into his kitchen, my eyes landed on Red. Sitting on his counter. Waiting for me. He'd gotten her at auction for next to nothing because her head has been repaired. She was mine if I wanted her, if I didn't mind the wound, if she still mattered to me.

I had a hard time hearing anything Mark said about Red because several little girls inside of me were jumping up and down, shouting for joy. I struggled to say thank you because no words would do justice to the gratitude I felt, the surge of relief and rush of lightness.

She lives now in the corner behind my kitchen sink, the actual heart place of my home. A dream fulfilled through the love of a brother I once thought lost to me as well. Every time I see her, I'm reminded of that love. The crack in her head, instead of diminishing her appeal, reminds me every day of the deep beauty of flawed things. As much as Red was once a symbol of love and sweetness, she's now become a symbol of never giving up on dreams. A reminder that deferred dreams fulfilled after hope has been released are so much sweeter than a grandmother's cookies.

Walt and I visited our financial guy last week. I had finally gotten brave enough, and sick enough of the fear of what I expected to hear, to face the truth. At 63, I am on the cusp of old age, and traveling the first steps of what I hope is the last third of my life. My lifelong dream of being a writer whose words open hearts, a singer of the highest magnitude on the page - that dream has felt lost to me since I returned to the classroom four years ago. With every new calendar I put up, the dream seems to slip farther away. Aging comes at a price. My biggest fear these last four years has been that by the time I could afford to retire, my mind and my heart would no longer be available for the fulfillment of my deepest, longest held dream.

The news was miraculous. I will teach one year beyond this one. Walt will probably go three more years to reach forty years of service. I won't have to sub, or supplement our income at all. We can travel. I can focus my time and energy on this elusive dream that refuses to stay tucked away. There are choices. Not a bread-and-water old age, but a banquet of possibility as long as our health holds.

This hope for the future feels very much like seeing Red in my own kitchen. A reminder that dreams are all the sweeter in a fulfillment where the packaging is a gift all its own. A reminder that "Wait." is not the same as "No." At least not always. A reminder of the Power beyond my own with a knowing beyond my own whose flawed gifts hold a perfection that can only be experienced in brokenness and surrender.


DJan said...

I am so very glad to hear all this, Deb. Your writing is a gift to all who read it, and I say that with knowledge of how deeply your words always go into me. I'm sure I'm not alone, so how wonderful that you will be able to follow this important dream. You are a great friend to boot. And the story of Red resonates with me, too. :-)

T. Powell Coltrin said...

There are so many emotions surging through me right now with comments darting around in my head that I cannot sort them, but here I go.

First of all, YAY for Red to have found her way to your house. Secondly, I have the same reaction to a cat cookie jar that my grandmother owned. I have no idea where it lives--now. Finally, I'm glad for retirement lurking in your background, begging to be used.


yaya said...

What a special gift your brother gave you. I bet he was excited to see your face when he gave it to you! Our memories from childhood are burned deep. Mom has a special cake mold that she uses every Easter. It's cast iron shaped like a lamb. I love it. My brother found one at an auction and gave it to me as a surprise...brothers are awesome! Congrats on being able to retire and fulfil your writing dreams. You have such a wonderful talent.

My life so far said...

Retirement sounds wonderful.

When I was growing up my mum baked cookies about two or three times a week. It was so nice to come home to fresh baked cookies.

Linda Reeder said...

Memories in a cookie jar, now resting on your own kitchen counter. Reassurance of life beyond work, free of financial worries, with freedom to chase your dreams. How wonderful for you!

Sally Wessely said...

A dream deferred...

The dreams are coming true. Red is on your shelf and you can retire in one more year! Yay!

I retired at 65. I have gone back to work more times than I ever believed I would. Finally, I am really retired. I, like you, want to work on writing. We do need to chat.

#1Nana said...

I have a piggy bank from my childhood that I hold in the same esteem as you do Red. When my mom died we took turn picking the stuff we wanted. The pig is mine now. I doubt either of my children will want it. I'll have to talk it up to the granddaughters. They might like her because she has "jewels."

Such good news about retirement. When I finally went to talk to the retirement people, I was surprised that I didn't need to delay retirement. I could end an intolerable work environment immediately. I retired two weeks later. When you retire, lets all go on a writing retreat...maybe at Vashon?

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

What wonderful news! I had to work a couple of years longer than I'd expected just so my hubby could be covered under my health insurance until he qualified for Medicare. But it's been a huge relief to find that we, too, can afford to spend our time pursuing our dreams instead of working. I love that you got Red as a gift from your brother, making her even more valuable than if you had purchased her.

Terri Tiffany said...

The story of Red brought tears to my eyes! How sweet of them to find one for you. :) and yay that you only have to work another year!

Deborah Barker said...

I loved reading this post Deb. I bet we are all looking for "Red" in our own way. Finding yours was miraculous indeed. How thoughtful of your brother. As for retirement, that is a gift worth having to be sure. The words you plan to write are eagerly awaited by us all! :-)

Midlife Roadtripper said...

I'm so glad you've received this news. Gives an end to what you're doing and time to plan what you want to do beyond. Careful planning as you have time.

Very happy for you.

Barb said...

Red is a good reminder to you - both of the past and what is possible in the future!