Language Translation

Friday, July 31, 2009


My mother had 11 children.  She was the Relief Society president for 13 of my 18 years at home.   She was on the City Council.  She was the head of the Snowflake Heritage Foundation.  She and my father started a summertime performance series called "Thursday Night in the Park."   She was the President of the Silver Creek Performing Arts Association and the Symphony Guild.  She was on the board for the National Registry of Homes.  She taught English at the community college.  She wrote several one-act plays that were performed in the community.  She wrote 3 Book of Mormon musicals, two of them were performed and the last one was finished just weeks before she died.  She started three museums.  She kept in touch with 60+ family members and friends on a monthly basis.  I can still quote "The Highwayman" with very few errors simply from hearing her recite it to us on road trips.  She had an arsenal of poems and songs to entertain us when we would start fighting in the car on those long trips from Snowflake to Northern California, where Grandma Washburn lived.  On every trip, at least once, we heard "The Highwayman" and would be coaxed into singing "Sentimental Journey."  It was one of mom's favorite songs and was often followed up with stories of her mother and grandmother and siblings on the Ray and Peterson side of the family. 

It seemed she was constantly typing in the computer room if she was at home.  My mother was a busy woman, a woman on a mission.   It was her desire to keep the arts alive in Snowflake, AZ.   She loved the arts and was ever mindful of the impact they have on people.

Growing up in her home, I could not help but have this same great love for expression in any form of art.   I remember being a very young child and going to concerts.  I watched the conductor, with his wand waving and suddenly beautiful music was heard.  Here was magic!   Sometime after the intermission I would fall asleep and my father would pick me up and carry me out to the car for the short 6-block ride home.

It was in this little town of less than 10,000 people that I began to learn about what power one person has when they live life on purpose.  Yes, Snowflake is still a tiny town, but it is a town that was touched by a very powerful woman.  A woman who wanted to have for her children what she was given.

When my mother was growing up there was someone living in Snowflake that brought the arts in a very real way.  His name was Mr. Crandell.   He was a teacher, and a beacon of light to those whose hearts were mesmerized by beautiful music and prose.  He was my mother's teacher.  In a town that was drunken with the sweat of athletes, he was a lone voice who said there was more - much more.

So my mother, 30 years after Mr. Crandell was only a fond memory of those who knew him, decided it was her mission to carry on where he left off.  She started with one project that would inevitably bleed into the next project.  From each came a myriad of other associations with boards and committees and meetings and hours and hours of discussion on the best way to get things done.

My mother has been dead for 12 years now.  There is not a single person from my immediate family living in Snowflake.  I do not know if her life's work has continued.  Maybe she has become as Mr. Crandell, a memory for those who were around when it happened, while the rest of the world has no idea either one existed.  But there will always be her brood of 11 to carry on her memory.  We are growing ever more - my last count put us at 60, including the grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

JoAn Washburn died at age 58.  I marvel sometimes at the list of things she accomplished in her 58 years - and the truth be told, most of it was accomplished from age 43-58.  It was today 12 years ago that I sat in her bedroom and wondered if she was going to come home from the hospital dead or alive.

I remember sitting in that room, leaning against the headboard, staring down at the blue carpet.  The room smelled as it had my whole life, my mother's smell.   I sat there for hours wondering how my life was going to be changed.   Even before the doctor told us she would not live long, a foreboding had taken over inside of me.

Now, so many years later, I still wonder how my life is going to be different because she is gone.  I don't do things the way everyone else does.  I tell those I love that I love them, and often.  I hug a lot.  I say what I think when I have the chance, because I am aware how limited and rare each window of opportunity really is.

I will probably never write a play, be on a guild, start any foundations, organize any performing arts associations, be on the city council, or have an entire sports team of children.  My home is silent as a tomb.  My computer is full of half-written, poorly worded memoirs.  Those who are in my life will go on much as they have when I am no longer here.  Yet I am only worried about one thing. Who will know about JoAn Washburn?  To whom will her legacy be passed on since I have no children of my own to tell about this magnificent woman?

So I tell you.  There once lived a woman whose heart was as big as the expanse of heaven; whose dreams were magical and whose idea of life was so much more than we could imagine.  She was known by many as a woman with a vision.  She was known by several as a confidant and friend.  She was known by some as a hero and a mentor.  She was known to me as "Mama."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Not an Autism post: Cloud Shapes and Ice Cream Cones

When I was a little girl my eyes would light up and a big grin would spread across my face whenever I could find shapes in the clouds. Ice cream cones could do the trick too. It never took much to make me smile. But as I got older it seemed I never smiled.

It took me a while to come back to the truth - joy is found in the little things. No amount of "big" experiences would make up for the little joys in life. I realized I was not grateful for those little things. I guess I started to equate joy with having a family and to me, "family" was defined by children. Somehow I convinced myself that joy in the little things could only be found through the eyes of my children.

One day, while driving cross country, my heart just began to swell with wonder and amazement as I watched the landscape around me change from desert to mountain to green and lush valleys. I thought about all the changes on this earth that I have seen and I wondered if I were really as thankful for things as I ought to be.

That idea sparked more and more gratitude within me. I started noticing more around me that I had forgotten about. My smile came back and the twinkle returned to my eyes. There are so many beautiful things that are free to enjoy and all we need do is open our senses. There are amazing smells, breath-taking sights, and soul healing sounds all around us every single day. We must open ourselves to the experience and then enjoy it as it enters our consciousness and fills the emptiness within.

As I came to this understanding, the idea of never being a mother was not so heartbreaking anymore. I have found, rather than it being a time of sorrow and hardship, it is a time for me to prepare for what comes next. I know I will, one day, be a mother. What a joy it is that I get this time to prepare for that. I get to learn from those around me, and help those I can.

There are hundreds of children in my life. Each one is so precious and has settled into my heart. Some have grown up and have children of their own now, others are still infants. There are also those who, no matter how much they grow, I still see them at age 1 or 2 (sorry Calvin) with their cute little faces and adorable laughs. Their voices change, and their bodies grow, but when I look at them I can't help but see the little child I knew. (I feel kind of like that commercial where the dad is looking at his daughter as she asks to borrow the car and then his son is leaving for work.)

Joy in others' children is not quite the same, I imagine, as joy in my own children. But that is the joy I have been given for now. So I will relish it and glory in it and find the peace that comes from loving those I have rather than mourning those I do not. There is joy in the moment that can heal the hearts of those yearning for children of their own, if they want their hearts to be healed.

As for me, my heart has healed. It took more than I thought it would to heal me, and far less than the price I should have paid for it. There is nothing more amazing than a gift received when it was most needed, even if I did not know it was needed until I received it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Not an Autism post: Is it Music or Fighting - the Ear of Mother Decides

Today I was talking with a friend who is expecting - again.  An accident - again.  Not really looking forward to it - again.  I listened to her and as she spoke I thought, "How sad that she does not realize the gift growing within her."

Many of us do not realize what we have if it comes easily to us.  I love to sing, always have.  I started singing before I could form a complete sentence.  My first public performance I was 3 years old.  I didn't appreciate my voice and what I could do with it until I could not do those things anymore.  It was mine, it was easy, and I took it for granted.  Did that make me a bad person?  

Granted, a child is a little more important than my voice, but the concept is the same.  A woman who has children she does not desire is not any different than someone who has or does something that is taken for granted.  The real tragedy is that the children suffer.  But voicing my idea of what a mother should be will not make that child suffer any less.  

I spoke with my friend about her feelings, and about my feelings.  It was not an easy conversation to have, but I needed to let her know that, while I did not feel as she did, I was still her friend and then gently let her know my views on the matter.

The idea is to help and not preach, to show and not shove.  If I can give my friends a view of life through my eyes, maybe they will see their children differently - if even for a day.  And seeing the view from her eyes I learn that life can be hard when you are functioning on no sleep - and not out of personal choice.  There is a difference in being tired because I decided to stay up late and right this blog vs. staying up late because your child is sick and needs comfort throughout the night.  One is much more important than the other, and mine is simply my choice - not a requirement.  If I quit typing and go to bed, no one will suffer for it, but if the mother with a sick child goes to sleep, her child suffers - so she cannot sleep.

On the other side of that view - I only wish I had a sick child.  Does that mean I think I would make the perfect mother?  No, I have too much of my parents and myself in me to ever be perfect at parenthood.  I do wish mothers would hug their children more.  Kiss them a little more, especially when they are out of the infant/toddler stages.  Children of all ages need love, more than anything else.  They will not remember if they felt hungry one day of the week because lunch was 15 minutes late, but they will remember that those 15 minutes were spent with mom's undivided attention.  

If children can feel, even once in a while, how very precious and wonderful they are then I am content.  It is a joy to hear a baby cry, I would give anything for a sleepless night with my baby.  Children figthing and arguing is not easy, but I would trade any woman on this earth in a heart beat for the empty silence in my home.  Their crying and fighting is as music filling the empty depths of my aching heart.  I do not wish for children to be contentious and ill-tempered.  But I know that those things are inside each of us, and I would rather have only that than the barren waste staring me down.  They are learning and it is not easy.  Even though they are learning, they are still worth infinite love.  The worth of a person never changes, only their worthiness.  Blessings depend upon worthiness, but love is given freely to all because all are of infinite worth.