Remembering Without Knowing Irvin Pharris

 

Tears well up while polishing dry crackled wood on a magazine rack built by a grandfather I never knew.  How can this inanimate object built over 70 years ago effect my emotions this way?

Though I never witnessed his wrinkled brow in concentration while whittling, sawing or hammering, I do know he was a serious and solitary man who had creative talents in carpentry. I know that he was a man who loved his daughter, my mother.

This wonderful piece of wood was constructed with patience and caring. Was it his hope to please my grandmother Evelyn, who was never happy? Or did he need to escape from her to his workshop, to keep his sanity while she was on the verge of loosing hers? Evelyn married a man 20 years older, a railroad man. He was away a lot. She berated him often. She complained and was unkind to him. My mother shared stories about her childhood, raised under her mothers ridicule, a frightened little girl in an unhappy home hearing her parents fighting, and the loss of a daddy who was dear to her. He died in his 50s from complications of a stomach ulcer. Evelyn had an affair with his coworker who drove her to the Railroad Hospital in Chicago where he was dying. I only found this out recently, but I am not surprised. Evelyn was cold. She was never grandmotherly. I suspect she had a personality disorder but the family never discussed that, and that is another story.

Wiping wood cleanser on it’s ancient varnish to bring back its luster also brings back my own childhood. My earliest memories are of playing on the floor near this magazine rack, hiding my stuffed animals inside or using its wooden platform for my Barbie dolls to stand against, it was the perfect size for Barbie feet. However, as I approached my teens, I rebelled against it, mad that my mom insisted my sister and I dust all its crevices, along with all the other furniture, every Saturday.

Thinking about my mothers’ deep sadness makes me cry. She is gone now too. All I want to do today is call her, talk to her. I want to tell her again how blessed I am to have been nourished by her love. I want to hear her kindness flow over me and hear our laughing together while we share every little thing about our lives. I want to ask more questions about her daddy, which she referred to him as with a faraway look of longing in her eyes. I wish I had realized the significance of her sharing those stories when I was younger. I failed to grasp the hurt she endured since my own childhood and our family life was very happy.

This magazine rack is a root to our connection that I keep in a safe place in my home.  I keep my mom and her memories of my grandfather alive in my heart. This piece, as well as two chairs he built, are the only things that I have from a grandfather I never met. That, and the knowledge that my mother loved him so he must have been a good man. These pieces of wood created under times of hardship, furniture unknowingly left by him, are somehow a legacy of love to a granddaughter he never knew.

Irvin Magazine

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To Be Two

To be two is to be

Completely carefree.

Belly laughs are heard

Everyday

Fascinated and fun.

Learning concepts and words

Bright

Eyes and ears alert

About all things near

Everywhere

Cuddly and kind

Tight body hugs of cheer

Always

Spontaneous smiles

Unprompted, unplanned.

Happy

Soft and sweet

Nibbles of neck and feet

Yummy

Giggly and squirmy

I will hold this innocent age in my heart

Forever

Love,

Grandma

(05/03/2017) Silas turns two today!  I want to grasp his sweetness before he goes full-force into the  “terrible two” stage.

Save The Polar Bears

 

  • imageAfter a weekend spent with my grandsons on a trip to the St. Louis zoo my heart is breaking for all animals that will soon be extinct, and especially the polar bear. I have been to the zoo on many occasions in and of course I have enjoyed the levity and laughter while watching the antics of the apes, the entertaining sea lions, I and have been amazed and awed by the beauty of big cats. However, yesterday, sharing our greatest creatures ever to walk this exquisite earth with the three little boys dearest to my heart while knowing that there is a distinct probability that every animal cherished in their favorite books will be extinct in 50 years has saddened my spirit. I was obsessed with animals when I was a child. All animals, large and small, hoofed or padded, ferocious or domestic, I loved them all. I can remember decorating my bedroom with posters of polar bear babies, frolicking sea lions, puppies and kittens as a preteen. My goal my freshman year of high school was to become a veterinarian and I was a member of the veterinarian club. We had field trips to the zoo, where I wanted to work. I would have done any job there, even cleaning the manure, just so that I could be close to the animals. But my sophomore year I started running with a different group of friends and my personality changed. I guess you could say I lost myself somewhat, I stopped listening to my own voice, and instead attempted to become more instep with others. I have had many passions and ideas that I have not followed through on in my life, regretfully. However that is another story in itself.

Looking at a beautiful polar bear laying in the dirt, panting heavily while trying to stay cool, was heart wrenching. He was asleep up against the glass while we all stared at him. I could hear all the usual comments around me, all the usual exclamations about how big his paws were. Or how cute. Children would ask questions like why doesn’t he play. All I could angrily think about was how uncomfortable he seemed. Where was his glacier!? How can he survive in the St. Louis climate in the summertime? And what about the other polar bears in the Arctic who are suffering because of global warming. The only thing separating me from that incredible bear was a 2 inch thick pane of glass and decades of my ignorance. I have let the years of my life swallow up my desire to help animals. In the noisy daily trappings of my daily duties I have forgotten the silent ones. I have guiltily cast aside the Endangered Species list and replaced it with a To Do list. Ironically, that To Do list makes me feel like a caged animal. You know, that proverbial hamster on a wheel in a cage constantly running, doing, going…. nowhere.

Later that night when I tried to fall asleep all I could think of were my grandchildren and how the world is changing so fast, and I wondered how my grandchildren’s children would see their world. Will they grow up to have an appreciation for nature and for all things great and small? Would they have trees to climb in and fresh water to drink? Will there still be animals left on the earth roaming freely in their natural environment?

The next morning, my oldest grandson Dylan, 11, who has always been an insightful boy and is now becoming a deep thinker, shared some of his thoughts about planet earth and its relationship to the universe and solar system, and somehow that led to the conversation of Isis and terrorism. He even told me about ‘Anonymous’ that group of activists/hacktivists. While I have heard about that group, he knew more about it than I did! We shared our sadness about the near extinction of some of the animals that we saw at the zoo. His soulful brown eyes told me how upsetting it is for him. Dylan is my nature boy, my creative grandson who looks at the world and constantly reminds me about the importance of kindness, peace and understanding others He wanted me to watch some of his favorite YouTube videos with him. He immediately pulled up Prince Ea’s powerful political and important philosophies Regarding saving the earth and animals. I was in near tears while watching this incredible man espouse his opinions regarding these issues on which I used to have so much more passion about.  I need to rectify that.

 

Double Digits

Dylan is Double Digits!
At this milestone birthday I want to wish for you a huge birthday wish for many, many, many more happy days in your childhood.  You are 10!! Ten seems like you are growing up so fast, but I am here to remind us all that you are STILL a young boy. That is GREAT!!!.

You still have so much more of your childhood left Dylan so enjoy playing with all your friends. Enjoy all the silly goofing off and clowning around that only a child can get away with! Enjoy make-believe and pretending!  Enjoy digging in the dirt and exploring.  Enjoy your Army men and Minecraft.  You have a great life and are surrounded by love which is reflected in the goodness of your heart and the sweetness of your personality.

I will enjoy introducing you to more and more of the world (and books) and answering your inquisitive questions. I am so proud of the capacity of your brain inside that cranium of yours Dylan!  Like a sponge it soaks up so much every day, continually learning.  Enjoy all that!  Never stop observing the world, thinking and asking questions.

Do NOT worry about anything.  You are 10!  You are bright and smart!  You know what your job is!  Listening at school. Being polite to others. Looking both ways when crossing roads. Taking care of a few chores at home.  Eating healthy and getting exercise every day to keep your body and brain strong and happy.

It is hard for me to express with words… but your first 10 years have spread so much laughter, love and joy to your entire family!  When I think of you, it is always brings a smile to my face and it always brings a fierce feeling of pride and protection. I love everything about you Dylan.

Love, love,
Your #1 Fan, Grandma.

D.J. Heatherly

10/04/2014

dylan 10

Meramec River Boys – A Sequel to Black River Boys

Meramec River Boys – A Sequel to Black River Boys

D. J. Heatherly / July 27, 2014

 

Happy smiles from a proud grandma greet my grandsons upon their arrival.

I hug them hello feeling tight little arms wrap around my soul.

First things first.

They remove their shoes and run inside to assess the sleeping arrangements.

Well-taught and well-mannered.

They know the rules of the Raptor as instructed by Vernon.

Dylan climbs up the loft with his pillows and his thoughts.

Devin quickly follows.

Together, they stretch out for a total of 3 minutes, planning their next move.

Zip down the ladder, zoom out the door to explore.

An old cedar swingset sits 500 yards away.

We keep them in our sights giving them their space.

Two brothers swing and giggle uninhibited.

I join them.

Fearless, Devin swings willy-nilly in an attempt to hit the swing posts.

I grab a pair of ankles to suspend Dylan in mid swing.

A tangible memory floods my senses.

A palpable push that propels me back in time.

I recall how I swung them as toddlers.

I describe the feel of their tiny backs as I gently pushed, reminding them to hold on tight, and to swing their sweet, skinny legs.

I tell them how much they liked to be swung by Grandma.

Dylan says, “Show me.”

I grab his 9 year old ankles. Stronger now, and capable of hiking, running, tree climbing, pedaling.

I grab a hold and push him back, then, I run behind him, grab the swing to delay momentum, which always made him nervously giggle when he was a tot.  He roars with delight.

Love flourishes when laughter abounds.

Devin wants the same, of course, so I repeat the process.

“Again” they say in unison just as they did years ago.

Their legs are now too long for a swingset however who can resist reliving past moments?

Later, after dinner, it’s back to the old swingset again.

Perched in the swing, Dylan is stretched out, laid out parallel to the ground.

“Look at the sky!” he yells with wonderment.

I look up to see a jet black night glittering with silver stars.

At that moment my sweet mom is with me.

I tell the boys my belief that stars are the energy and spirit of good people who have left this earth.

“Yes. I know.” Dylan says. “My grandma Jean is up there. And dad’s dad, Chuck.”

I want to cry. Instead I smile and hug him and Devin tight.

Early morning awakens us. We eagerly prepare for a 6-mile float.

Skin slathered with SPF. Skulls protected with bandanas.

A school bus like none they have ever ridden awaits us.

Loaded with coolers full of beer. And adults full of excitement.

Cracked windows with a solitary spider hanging on for dear life on a web.

Blows into the bus as the bus driver picks up speed careening around a corner.

I scream as Bobby rescues us by closing the window.

Startled by a loud pop, we all jump in our seats!

Dylan’s window has been hit.

Realizing it was a water balloon thrown by a random camper, we all laugh.

Except Dylan is not laughing. He barely manages a smile.

I imagine the many scenarios running through his head. All the questions he has. All the reasons. Why was it his window? All the what-ifs. He is a deep thinker.

Scramble to the raft.

Attach tubes to the raft for the kids, to which Dylan and Devin’s faces say it all before they even speak it.

No Way!

Scared of snakes striking. Fear of fish biting.

“It’s an adventure” I encourage.

They bravely get in their tubes and we take off!

We move at a snail’s pace.

Dangling legs in the murky Meramec River.

Fear of unknowns’ unseen in the water.

Anxiety overwhelms Dylan.

“We are survivalists!” I tell the boys, as I get in his tube as he takes my place in the raft.

“Ahhh, this feels sooo good.” I smile. And it did, so happy to share this day with them!

In a valiant attempt later, Dylan gets back on a tube.

Trepidation of turtles. Worry about the white water.

“Lift your bottoms up.” His mom and I say together approaching faster moving “rapids” so river rocks would not bump them.

Dylan straightens his entire self out on top of the tube, elongated and nearly hyperventilating with worry.

We laughingly decide it is time to give up the tubes.

Eight people and 2 coolers in a 6-man raft.

The tubes glide empty behind us as we fill up the raft with gaity and contentment.

Boys on swingDylan Tube

>Black River Boys

Black River Boys (2006)

D.J. Heatherly Hall

Prepare, pack, plan, provide

Sun, hugs, mud, bugs

Filthy fingers. Happy feelings

Finding tree stars and tree nuts

Four-wheeling to a fishing spot

Our little bit of paradise

Where the River runs shallow and secluded.

Floating in clear coolness with eyes full of brightness

Dylan’s curiosity along with Devin’s sweet smiles.

Brings contentment to the family.

 

Small voice questioning all around us

What are those lines?

As Dylan points to the ripples in the water

Bordering us silently, moving as we slowly glide.

What is that sound?

Listening to concealed birds screech over head.

What are those things?

Looking intently at the polished pebbles under foot.

Tiny fishes scatter in all directions

Yet, the plastic red one is continually caught

Proudly on the end of Dylan’s reel.

 

Canoeist’s float towards us

Small talk begins. They comment

about our boys in the River.

Devin coyly smiles at them

Dylan shyly looks away, grinning.

Canoeist’s drift lazily past us

And Dylan quietly says to me,“I did not talk”.

 

Heather and Bobby take a walk, take a break

Alone together to float downstream.

Dylan tells me, “I can’t see.”

“See what?” I ask.

“My best friends” he says in his small voice.

He misses his mom and dad.

They are his world.

Minutes later he sees them floating towards us

he points at them excitedly with his whole self smiling.

 

Back at our camp site quick showers

Washing away sunscreen and sweat

Primed for evenings’ bug spray and smoke

Blued-eyed dimpled Devin bounces happily in his walker

As we work our magic on the grill.

 

Snuggled in their tent, our boys doze off before dark.

Time for adults. Starry nights and wine lead to talk

About life, the future, and The Universe.

 

Rise and shine to a dewy day.

Dylan chases his early morning shadows.

While running from hand monsters.

“It’s getting me, it’s getting me.”

Giggling all the while.

 

Early a.m. energy and excitement.

Stooping, exploring, digging, collecting

Acorns, rocks, leaves, memories.

Arms wide with joy, high stepping and spinning.

“Whats happening to me?” Dylan laughs.

His feet, in constant motion.

 

Coffee savored over warmth of the fire.

Simple moments make the grandest of occasions.

Dylan’s sweet comments and Devin’s carefree smiles.

Our Black River Boys.