My Nana’s house was tiny—a “cracker box,” my father called it—with a tar roof and peeling paint, two bedrooms and a single bathroom. She stored her wringer washing machine beside the creaky screen door, and stretched a clothesline between the apricot and fig trees in her grassy backyard.
Cozy enough for two, it was a tight squeeze for ten. But when our car rolled up to the curb, she burst through the front door, apron strings flying, and welcomed all eight of us with open arms.
I loved everything about my Nana’s house, but I have special memories of her front porch swing. It wasn’t fancy at all: just a slatted-wood bench, attached to the rafters with metal chains. But when daylight gave way to moonlit evenings, Grandpa Fred would settle his lanky frame into the swing and pull me into his lap. It was a cherished nightly ritual: I’d snuggle into his flannel shirt, and he’d stuff a wad of cherry tobacco into his pipe, light a match and suck on the pipe stem until the tobacco glowed red. We swayed back and forth in wordless silence, twisting pipe cleaners into clothespin dolls as the tobacco curled itself into smoky ribbons that drifted overhead.
That’s me on the left, standing with two of my sisters in Nana’s driveway.
To this day, I don’t think there’s anything more soothing than the back-and-forth rhythm of a porch swing, especially when it’s shared with someone you love. If you’ve ever experienced that, I know you’ll understand why I’ve always wanted a porch swing of my own.
It’s one of those dreams that’s proven more fanciful than practical. My front porch is welcoming, but it’s not big enough to swing your legs wide and far. Our backyard is filled with butterflies and birdsong, and the adjacent hillside is teeming with wildlife—all of which invites us to linger, to make new memories and share our stories. Even so, there’s no place to hang an old-fashioned swing.
But that’s how it goes sometimes, isn’t it? Times change. We adapt. Like this tangerine tree in our backyard, we cling to life’s sweetness — even as we make the inevitable changes, one generation to the next.
When I was a little girl, I vowed that when I eventually had a home of my own, I’d get myself a porch swing like Nana’s. But when that didn’t work out, for one reason and another, I looked high and low for a suitable alternative. A stand-alone swing might just work, I told myself, but store-bought options were either too big, too small, too rickety or stiff.
Patience isn’t my strongest virtue, but in this case, it paid off. Because, voilà! Like magic, a classified ad appeared on my NextDoor app: Two slightly-used rocking chairs AND a glider, $50.00 to the first responder.
SOLD, in a blink of an eye! Granted: my lifelong wish!
Yes, they need a good scrubbing. Seat cushions would be nice. The paint is so glossy, so glaringly white, and I much prefer a weathered look. But…$50.00, for the whole set! I couldn’t resist.
No, they’re not what I originally envisioned, but with a little elbow grease, I can transform these cast-offs into something beautiful. If I use my imagination, I can turn their rigid backs into something more rounded, soft and soothing.
Truth be told, I don’t even know where I’ll put them all. (Shhh! Don’t tell my husband!) But I’ll make room for them somewhere…it’s what we do, for the things (the people and memories) we love and cherish.
In researching my memoir, I oftentimes slipped into the role of my alter ego, Nancy Drew. I’ve retrieved clues from dusty archives; revisited the vacant fields where my father pitched his revival tents; and reclaimed abandoned artifacts, strewn by the wayside as we followed the Sawdust Trail.
I unearthed this family treasure in the Oregonian archives. Years ago, my father purchased this advertising space, in anticipation of a large turnout for an indoor revival meeting. The venue’s long gone, and the intended audience has scattered. But this newspaper clipping is a voice from my past, harkening me back to my childhood. I remember the murmuring crowds, the rise and fall of my father’s voice in the pulpit, perfumed women and sweat-soaked laborers, gospel choruses and clanging tambourines… same as if it were just yesterday.
Most certainly, dusty pages like this would’ve been trashed, were it not for keen-eyed, good-hearted historians–librarians, genealogists, archivists, and volunteers–saints of a sort, who devote their time and energies to the preservation of our individual and collective stories. I’m grateful to them always, but I think they deserve special recognition on Thankful Thursday. Can I get a witness?
In the gauzy hour before sunrise, our shuttle pulls into the circular driveway of Ronald Reagan Medical Center. Streetlamps twinkle on shiny poles, and polished travertine gleams in our headlights. My husband collects his pre-op instructions; I give his hand a gentle squeeze. Sirens wail. Paramedics lower a gurney from an ambulance, and the hospital doors whoosh open, bathing everyone in light.
Hollywood-style glitz, more often associated with its namesake than your typical hospital
Here, staff members treat surgical patients with the same accord as trauma patients, who get the same level of care as celebrities who roll up to the entrance in chauffer-driven Bentleys. Stretched by limited space and overwhelming demand, staff members nevertheless find a way to share a deep appreciation for the human beings that occupy their beds. “What’s your story?” finds its harmony in the oft-repeated, “How can I help you?”
Several hours later, I find myself pacing the length of the recovery unit. A grizzled man clings to an IV pole, winces as he shuffles past me, pivots, and matches his steps to mine. “Way to go,” I say, and he gives me a wan smile.
“I was born in the original UCLA hospital,” I say.
“Don’t date yourself,” he warns.
We walk together in silence, but before long, he’s describing for me a harrowing tour of duty in Vietnam. He’d signed up for the military after high school—same as his daddy, and his granddaddy before him. But while he didn’t expect a hero’s welcome when he returned home as a decorated paratrooper, neither did he expect to be pelted with glass bottles, verbal expletives, and spit. He shrugs, scratches the tattoos that span the length of his arms, says his heart transplant was probably caused by stress. But he is quick to reassure me that the protesters hadn’t broken his spirit. He is proud of his children, and several grandchildren look up to him, now.
We linger in my husband’s doorway, talking softly while he emerges from his anesthesia haze. A nurse swoops in, repositions the cotton gown around his shoulders, offers him water, and fluffs his pillows. Eric opens his eyes, gives me a weak smile that says, roughly translated: “I love you. We made it.”
They are worlds apart, my husband and this wounded veteran. Their paths converged in this hospital because of health concerns, nothing more. Their prognoses are good. They have everything in the world to live for, and they know it.
Believe it or not, the same can be said for the people who huddle inside these temporary quarters, parallel-parked on a road less travelled.
You’ve perhaps seen this kind of encampment on your way to work: a derelict dwelling that afflicts the comfortable. Most people avert their eyes as they hurry past…but I don’t.
What I’m about to tell you might come as a surprise to some, given that I most often blog about hummingbirds and butterflies, wonders of nature and writerly stuff.
As the daughter of an itinerant preacher, I’m intimately familiar with the musky odors of makeshift quarters like these. I’ve experienced poverty so severe that it creeps into your psyche, have endured hunger pangs so severe that they feel like a shank to the belly. I spent a good portion of my childhood in the margins, wholly dependent on the kindnesses of strangers. Despite–or maybe because of all this–I cling to the comforting words of my Nana: “In the darkest nights of winter, watch the skies and listen for the robins.”
Nana taught me to lean in the direction of things that are “lovely, honest, and true,” to believe, without wavering, that “joy cometh in the morning.” She never stood in the pulpit, but by her example, I learned the simple elegance of the Golden Rule. It’s the gold standard, when it comes to taking the measure of your life.
I’m not afraid to venture into neighborhoods best known for crumbling sidewalks, ghost signs and hazard cones, and curbs so steeped in garbage that you turn your ankle when you step into the street against the light. Call me reckless if you will, but I’m not afraid to venture into darkness to serve “the least of these.” I love the whirr of iridescent wings, but this is the pulse of my life.
Rarely has any of this made its way into my blog–not explicitly, anyway–for reasons I’d rather not go into right now. Mary Oliver once said: “Write for whatever holy things you believe in.” I’ve always done that, sometimes in broader strokes than others. But the events of this past weekend have inspired me to put a finer point on things this morning.
All that to say: when I sprinkle candies over a swirl of frozen yogurt (to celebrate my husband’s homecoming), I also toss a large wedge of gourmet Swiss cheese into the grocery cart. An impulse buy, for total strangers.
I keep a respectful distance, smiled as I peer into the shadows. “Hi, my name is Melodye,” I say, “Do either of you like cheese?”
Four hands, light and dark, stretch beyond the portal of the tent. A wordless answer, easily translated.
We exchange names, share a few pleasantries, and then I retreat to the warmth of my car. New friendships need oxygen, and grace.
In Inky and Starr’s mirrored sunglasses, I see reflections of our shared humanity.
Storm clouds cover the sun with a wooly-gray blanket. Heavy winds lift the edges of the tarp. My husband’s discharge process takes longer than expected, and as I tap-tap-tap my fingers on the steering wheel, my heart tugs me in the direction of their curbside home. Again. I cut the engine, shove my keys into my purse, grab my camera, and cross the street.
“May I sit with you for a while?” I ask. The answer is yes!
We warm ourselves around a makeshift grill, spin yarns about our childhoods, and muse about the events that brought us all together. They’d met two years ago, Starr tells me, at a bus stop in Hollywood. Inky gives her shoulders an affectionate squeeze, “I’ve been looking for her for all my life,” he says, “and we’ll be together for always.”
“Would you mind if I take your picture?” I ask. “And maybe take a short video, so I can share your story with my friends?”
Inky flings his arms open, fingers splayed, and flashes an open-mouthed grin. “Sure,” he says. Starr nods, with no hesitation whatsoever. So I switch my camera to video mode, and press the shutter button. The result is this unedited clip–not inclusive of everything we covered in our earlier conversation, but enough for you to get better acquainted. Roll straight through to the end, and you might learn something new about me, too. I’ve never fielded this question publicly, but his curiosity was genuine, and disarming…
Call them serendipitous, call them happenstance or good luck. But the truth is, these seemingly random encounters occur more often than anyone (aside from my closest friends and family members) might guess. My husband calls them “a Melodye thing.” I call them shivery magic–miracles that come of flinging your heart’s door wide open, and basking in the light.