Going Back to Nothing

It happened again yesterday–the smell took me back. It was a smell I was quite familiar with but Paul wasn’t. I had gone to a local convalescent hospital as part of a ministry my church is involved in. I’d been to Carehouse before when Mom was there in 2007. I hadn’t noticed the smell then. I’m not sure why. Maybe I was just too focused on getting her out of there. Maybe I was too focused on keeping a promise I’d made to our father.

The smell took me back. I was that young girl again giving her father a glass of water. Paul was not there. He never went to visit our father. I can’t blame him, it was a harsh reality to face every week but Mom needed me, so I went for five years until he left us. Dad left but the affects of the distinctive disinfectant smell never did.

Thirty plus years later and the smell can still take me back.

It takes me back and I look for my brother but he is not there. There’s another time he wasn’t there, when he was in foster care for a year when he was 9. A whole year without my brother but I suppose it was for the best. He came back a changed boy, and changed for the better. Last night two words took me back to that time–Monte Vista–the name of the school he went to while he was gone. The words took me back to that time but there was nothing to see. You’d think I’d remember something from a year with only 3 dinner plates at the table but I don’t. I don’t even remember setting the table–I just figure that’s how it must have been.

A smell took me back.

Two words took me back.

And Paul was both missing and missed.



The Empty Camera

It’s Fall and that means back to school pictures. They’re all over Facebook: Little boys in jeans that haven’t had the pleasure of dirt touching them–yet and girls in plaid skirts. That pretty much sums it up among my 200+ friends with children. Then there was this morning’s picture that a friend did with her children and their cousin. I don’t have such pictures. I’ll never have such pictures—just one more hole alcohol has created. Paul never married or had children. He just drank and waited for his father to wake up.

Our Father Never Woke Up.

For fifteen years I hoped Paul would wake up to the reality that he still had a family and his art. For fifteen years I hoped he’d wake up and realize I needed my big brother. For fifteen years I waited for the artist to emerge from the alcoholic. For fifteen years I waited … and hoped.

My Brother Never Woke Up.

I think I would have been a good aunt and know that if he’d let God work, Paul would have been a good father. He was a protective big brother who made time for me (not all the time but enough) and those are good traits for a father. I wonder if he would have chosen a small family like we had or lots of children like our mother’s family. Incidentally our father was one of two children and Mom was one of six. I would hope our kids would have grown up together and I would have taken lots of pictures.

Our Father Never Woke Up.

My Brother Never Woke Up.

My camera is Empty.




How Far Can A Memory Go?

 I sent the galley proofs for Night Blooming Jasmine to the editor yesterday. It’s a family drama created of fact, fiction, and faith. What’s that got to do with the picture of the lunch box and title of this post? Well you see, I have fact and fiction mixed in one scene. I do label this book fiction. Here’s the fact: Paul and I did use our father’s old lunch boxes like this one here: He challenged me to a game he called, “Lunch Pail Bowling,” and I didn’t do so well at first. Here’s the fiction part: I may or may not have done well at first because I still had something like the Holly Hobby Lunch Box pictured above. I don’t remember if I had anything that cute or not, but it was fiction so I could make stuff up. I made up cute. I made up having enough money to spend on cute rather than relying on hand-me-down’s.

My memory only carries me so far. I don’t recall many childhood memories or details but I cherish the fun ones. Maybe I cherish them a little bit more because they are so rare. Did I ever get better than my big brother? Probably not. Do I know why he called it bowling when there were no pins? Not a clue. The point of the game was to see whose lunch box would go further down the sidewalk before crashing. Or was it? No, the point was we were kids having fun on the way to school.

Night Blooming Jasmine is not a memoir so I didn’t feel obliged to include any sad memories. Did I paint an unrealistic picture of an ideal childhood? No, I don’t think so. The Powell family had its share of hardship and the kids didn’t always get along. It’s a realistic childhood, it’s just not completely ours. I’ve got to say though, that the role of protective big brother was one of the hardest to leave out. You see, Rosemary-Rae didn’t get teased because she wasn’t exactly like me. Besides lunch pail bowling, I’ll always remember that when Paul was around, I didn’t get picked on. And for that I am grateful. And for that, he earned the title, “Big Brother,” because I think the definition has to include the word protector.

So how far can a memory go? It can go deep into the heart to remind us that it wasn’t all bad.

Although many kids have gone back to school already, the traditional start of school is tomorrow. I hope some happy memories are made as little sisters walk with their big brothers to school. Kids do still walk, don’t they?

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