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It was late August, time for Mother’s jelly making for our winters during the war years. From a farmer’s stall in the country, Dad had already lugged baskets of purple grapes into the hot kitchen and placed them in the sink for the first washing. All was ready.

Perspiration glistening on her cheeks, her brow taut, Mother set to work. With gloved-hands she pulled grapes from their woody stems, rinsed them under the faucet, then plunked them into steel pots filled with water upon the counter. Next came hours of simmering the bubbling grapes over low burners. At intervals, she stirred them with a long-handled spoon between sips of ice water. Next came cups of sugar and more stirring. From the living room came strains of symphonies from the Capehart. Toward mid-afternoon, Mother poured the sticky mass through cheesecloth, hooked to the top of a tripod, and watched the gummy sweetness drip into the pot below.

That evening saw jars of grape jelly, sealed with paraffin wax, lining the pantry shelf. Her work finished, her splotched apron resembled the regal pastiche of a preschooler, her housedress soaked with perspiration.

The pungent aroma seeped into the breakfast room where I was sitting with the funnies from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Already, I was enjoying the sweetness of Mother’s grape jelly on warm buttered toast before walking to school.

With this blog, I honor our Mother’s courage in maintaining the semblance of normalcy in our home, all the while dreading Dad’s eligibility for the draft and becoming cannon fodder. That did not happen.

 

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Slowly, the women’s locker room door opens. Out limps a wizened senior, the drape of her swimming suit clinging to her thigh bearing a recent incision. She studies each step as she leans upon her helper’s forearm and inches her way toward the pool.

“Oh! She’s back!” says another, with white cornrows patterning her head like crop circles. She begins to wave. “Carolyn! Carolyn! We’re here! Over here!” Others, already in the pool, wiggle off the noodles supporting them in the water and head toward the steps. As they splash, eyes glisten with joy; gaiety implodes their spirits.

It is Tuesday morning at the Clayton Center in St. Louis, Missouri, and time for their water aerobics class. Only one other group ripples the surface of the pool at the deep end.

Carolyn looks up, a grin parting her creased lips, her shoulders shrugging off the tension. She stops, draws a deep breath. These are her old friends, the Noddlers—Their storied lives sealed by years of such Tuesdays, always followed by lunch at Subway’s.

Such groups like the Noddlers evidence the multifaceted mystery of life. Despite the crimping of physical pain and other diminishments, their spirits thrive within the so-called amniotic fluids of the heated swimming pool. Like the unborn, they are becoming the beautiful women God intended. Such happens within each Tuesday’s splashing around.

We learn from them.

 

“Hey! Look over there! That car’s stopping!” exclaimed Sloane, already tanned in her flowered sundress and clapping her hands in the air. Excitement fused through the gyrating torsos of kids, just released for the summer from the nearby Mark Twain Elementary School. Beneath the shade of a maple tree stood a cloth-covered table lined with pitchers of lemonade and red plastic cups; coolers of ice chips flanked its corners. Mason grinned as he tended the cash box.

And so the exuberant afternoon went, with moms and dads watching. Kids from other blocks hung around the lemonade stand where they laughed, turned cartwheels, and spoke of summer plans—No matter the heat. They had their lemonade with its tart sweetness.

Such places of refreshment still soften hearts—An opportunity to enter the world of the child we once were. And it’s this same child, today, who still gets overwhelmed by the unexpected, however small or great, and seeks help at the closest “lemonade stand.” That could be a trusted friend, a solitary walk in the woods or by the ocean, a pet dog’s nuzzling her owner.

Or even more powerful: sitting still in prayer and waiting for the emergence of God’s presence. The release of tears gives urgency to the plea for comfort, for the inevitable new learning, for its assimilation within the ridges of the hurting heart. In time, its bitterness, like the lemon, is sweetened by wisdom’s smile.

 

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