HERITAGE JOURNALS: STORIES COLLECTED BY 6TH GRADE STUDENTS OF JAQUI EICHER, 2002

I want to tell about the milk route and dairy my father, W.R.Terhune operated. We lived 1.5 miles North of Jefferson on Highway 99E. There were probably six dairies in the area. They would have from 2-10 cows. The milk was put in ten gallon milk cans and the cans were packed up by a truck every day.

My father decided to deliver milk to Jefferson which had a population of about 400 and would help him be more profitable. This was about 1927 until about 1934.

The milk was bottled in one quart glass bottles and capped with a round cardboard bottle caps. The milk sold for 10 cents delivered to the house or 8 cents delivered to the grocery stores. There were two grocery stores at that time, Smith and Fontain and Thurston’s Red and White Grocery. Also, probably two restaurants.

He would deliver to homes starting at five in the morning, then be back home to milk the cows, then eat breakfast with the family.

After breakfast he would deliver to the stores and restaurants. After all this he would care for the cows and feed them.

Bob Terhune

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In The Unraveling

Thread that binds us

is impossibly strong;

we are more closely knit

than we can fathom

(even if we do try

to deny this often).

 

Seams sometimes split;

some places need

more mending and tender

care. In mending, time

has a strengthening way

of altering the original.

 

Sometimes in the unraveling

we find and follow

the thread that binds us;

it’s then we see how

strong we are and what

we have been together.

Hunger For Beauty

 

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How do we balance extravagance with stewardship in life?

 

Jaqui Eicher March 2016

The question really is: what is it worth to you? Anytime you give of your time, energy or money. Is the cost worth it to you in some way that makes the balance tip toward the extravagance, the expense?

Not long before Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary stood at Jesus’ feet and wept, her tears washing his feet. She wiped them with her own hair and then poured a most expensive, red colored perfume on them. Judas and Lazarus were also present at this event. Lazarus had recently been raised from the dead by Jesus. Judas loudly complained about Mary’s waste. “Wouldn’t it be better to sell the fragrant oil and give the money to the poor?” But Jesus told Judas to leave Mary alone; that she did a good thing. In my mind, this story points out the difference between the “proper thing to do” and the “necessary for the heart” thing to do (the unexpected, beautiful thing to do).

During my past years as a human I have collected a few stories that help me as I struggle with balancing extravagance with stewardship in my daily life. Every one of these stories is kept safely in my “pocket of important life lessons” and has helped shape me into a stronger person today than I was twenty years ago.

I’ll begin with the oldest of the stories, though it’s still as ponderous today as it was in 1993. While attending Western Oregon University as a junior in college, I sat in a class with my most admired professor in the front leading a student discussion about this very question, though it was framed very specifically: why do people in poverty, sometimes without a home and panhandling, smoke? The habit is expensive and if people can’t afford basic human needs, what right do they have to panhandle for cigarettes? There wasn’t even a question in my mind about this. My professor, however, had a different view and he shared it. If one small comfort could be afforded someone with little else to look forward to in life, it is the person mentioned above. What harm is it doing? This view baffled my naive outlook, but it shook my understanding of the world enough to leave a lasting impression on me. I think of a person with very little beauty around them finding the beauty in a single cigarette, warmly comforting them in body and mind for a short time.

Next, a story from last week. A man who goes in and out of housing security boards his pet at the veterinary hospital where I work. He gets a fair discount. He can’t afford his own housing and yet he comes to visit his pet and brings her canned food while he visits. He lives for the beauty of his animal companion and dreams of having a place to live that allows her to come home to him as his dear companion. Is it financially wise for him to willingly ask for another mouth to feed? Is it beautiful to have an unconditionally loving companion to share your days with?

One year ago I lived in a wonderful and small apartment and had the very BEST landlords in the entire world! Also, the rent was the best anyone could hope for, and was financially in my best interest. But I had lived there for about a year and was beginning to feel the walls closing in around me. In a tour of other places my landlords had for rent, I opened my heart and said that I worried what others might think of me: out of stable work, but seeking a larger apartment which would cost more money. Wouldn’t they think I was being greedy and unwise? My very wise landlord said calmly, “I’ve heard voices like this in my life and I tend not to listen to them.” The idea that I could choose to listen or not listen to voices around me was a new one and it struck me as some of the sagest advice I had ever received up to that point in my life. In this moment, I knew what I needed in order to survive and it was an extravagance of more space. And this choice to move to a larger apartment has ended up being worth it so far. It has afforded me a comfort and ease that the other place could not.

During the past two years I have slowly been changing careers and entire lives, it seems. I am in unfamiliar territory without a map or compass, which leaves me feeling lost on most days. I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with this feeling, but some days it still feels mighty scary. At the age of 46 I am beginning again in every way, but the most profound of ways is in wage. Now I feel lucky to have a minimum wage job because it’s full time, with benefits. There were months when I didn’t think I had enough to pay the rent (another benefit of having an caring landlord). Another sage piece of advice I received during this time came from a friend. I had been talking with him about how worried I felt about this new territory. His response was, “Enjoy this. Freedom and security never come at the same time.” Because of his advice, I roused myself to invest my free time into developing my love of art. It is thanks to this friend’s advice that I am now a better artist than I was two years ago. I hungered for beauty in the dark time of my life. When it was hard for me to get out of bed in the morning, I gave myself jobs to do that brought me joy—painting. The past two years has been my most prolific period for art and I have enjoyed it.

Thinking of Mary at Jesus’ feet, pouring fragrant oil as if it had no cost makes me think that maybe she hungered for beauty too. Here was a man who had given her so much. To show him how priceless he was to her family, she felt free to lavish him with her heart just like the man who lavishes his cat with food he can’t even afford for himself, and like me who lavishly lives in an apartment with extra space.

Glass From Sand

They make glass from sand, a fact I just barely believe because it is when I feel like sand that I am at my lowest, most dry moments of my life; my plainest, ugliest times–times when I feel like I am one in an infinite number and it would not make an impact at all if I slipped on out to the sea and disappeared under the weight of the ocean and the world.

What I know about the ocean floor is that they have yet to explore much of the deepest parts, and that there are fissures in the crust where edges of the earth allow molten core to escape up into the ocean–a meeting of fire and water. If my grain-of-sand self reached these dark, unexplored waters by floating unnoticed through currents and doldrums, it would be what they call a ‘non-event’.

But they make glass from sand

and if my single-grain-self rested there at the bottom of the bottom of the ocean, even though no one knows this from experience or exploration, most likely I would find myself resting among an infinite number of other sand grains, all of them ancient, some of them content–maybe–I would bring them the news, quietly (perhaps in passing): “you’ll never guess that this is true, but they’re making glass from us up there.” They’ll look at me quizzically, some of them, as if to say, “glass?”

Then I’ll launch into a big tutorial about how glass is made. Of course I’ll have to start farther back than that by describing the properties of glass: its reflective and refractive qualities allow the light of the sun to shine through. Ah! I need to start with sunlight of course. This is getting complicated. When I get to the description of how fire is used to create the glass transition no one will be buying it. “We haven’t seen fire in these depths for eons,” they’ll say. And it’s true–how could I expect these salty folk to believe in fire and glass if there’s never a chance for them to see either?

So I do what I’ve come to do: rest, without bothering the world with my plain self.

But they make glass from sand

and while I settle myself among an infinite number of other fine grains–“pardon me while I get comfortable”–I feel an undocumented rumble below. One next to me notices my startled look, “Don’t worry. We feel that every once in a while. Nothing ever comes of it.” I let it rock me and I imagine a warmth spreading, passing from on to another around me. Then I realize it’s not my imagination. What happens next seems to startle every one. Such a heat is reaching us that I curl up next to one near me, quivering.

But they make glass from sand

and I am no longer my single-grain-self but something larger altogether. Before we know what to think, multi-grain partners are becoming more common all around. Some notice what happens when more and more are joined. We are transparent; we reflect some of the fire around us, but allow protected viewing of the earth and ocean event below. We have become glass.

They make glass from sand

and an element of fire which turns out to be ingredients found at the bottom of the ocean, where I came to rest. I marvel at our combined beauty and strength. We are clear and crystal-like. Beautiful.

Looking Out

“Let go of all that seems to suggest getting somewhere, being someone, having a name and a voice, following a policy and directing people in ‘my’ ways. What matters is to love.”

Thomas Merton, A Book of Hours, page 171.

For the good share of my former life (the past 10 years) I had been looking too much our: toward the things that I thought would bring me happiness, like the accumulation of goods, a house, security in general. Looking back now, I can see I was building a safety net that I thought could protect me. I felt safe. . . but I wasn’t. It turns out I was only buying insulation to protect myself from a reality that I didn’t have the heart to face–I was a partner in a marriage that was failing miserably and I was unhappy, though I tried every day to convince myself otherwise.

So after finally facing these two very powerful realities of my life, I shed (or lost) nearly everything: house, job, partner. . . anything that had brought me a feeling of security. Since then, for more than two years, I’ve been looking more inward than outward; developing a confidence in who I am or who I want to become more of; struggling to survive without all the “things” I thought I needed. I think I’m beginning to feel successful in this area. My life now has given me a kind balance between working a job I honestly love part time and developing my interest and skills in the areas of visual art and writing in my expansive free time. This has helped me find a confidence that had slowly been whittled away. I’ve initiated the practice of seeking what I need inside myself and finding security in who I am.

And since I’ve experienced reaching the end of who I am and what I can sustain, I’ve learned to seek out the help of One Who Is More Than Me for help beyond myself. I’ve learned that this is the only security I can ever truly hope for.

Now I’m looking forward to sharing some gifts with the world–looking out more often while still developing the who that I am. It turns out, I like me and I just never really knew that at the level that I needed to. I never had to trust myself like I have needed to during the last two years of my life. I am happy to have found this reliable friend in myself.

Marvelous Leap, or Leaving a 20 Year Partner and Stable Job With Benefits for No Job, No Benefits, No Partner

And I said, “Oh, I know! My work is one of joy, kindness, something to live up to.” I said I also cradle a song in my heart. In time it is morning and I look out my window. I prepare for a marvelous leap. (jaqui eicher, 2014)

Most of the time, I don’t think of this “leap” as marvelous, unless it’s used as an adverb and followed by the word ‘frightening’ or ‘awful’. Most days, I wonder what I have done with my “one wild and precious life” as Mary Oliver says. But on the days that count, I know that something in me awakened and has driven me toward this move. I have become mindful of my hours and days; how I spend my time matters much more to me than it ever did before. In this way, I have taken a marvelous leap toward mindfulness.

So far the journey has been painful and filled with such a powerful lack of confidence that each step further, each day, leaves me with nearly as many questions as answers. Only the more confident voices of my friends and neighbors have grounded me with good reflections and reminders of my better qualities. I’ve covered new territory (that which I didn’t know existed); wild and dangerous terrain. But I’m still alive! And still there exists in me the will to wake each day and take the next step.

Lately I have wondered when this “marvelous leap” will end. I’ve got to land sometime, right? I’ve considered turning back on the worst days, but instead I take the next step forward, toward the distant unknown. William Stafford wrote: “it is legitimate to crawl after the wings are broken.”  So some days I crawl toward the unknown.

Soon I will need some greater force to pull me because I will be spent and have no energy left with which to move–either forward or back.

My path seems to be leading me toward teaching English overseas and I am happy to finally see something on the horizon besides a bank of fog. Recently I heard Sinead O’Connor’s song, “I Am Enough For Myself” and though I’ve never before  believed this, I’m learning that it might be true and I may have to sit with this for a time.

Taking Up Space

Dancing at Village Harmony Camp in Vermont, 2014

Dancing at Village Harmony Camp in Vermont, 2014

Today has been one big reflection on the past year. For me, this brings nostalgia and some regrets too. It started with me looking through my photo files on my computer, which I was only doing because I found a was running out of space on my phone, due to the 400 photos I was storing on it! When I finally have time to myself, one thing always leads to another and before I knew it, I was feeling tearful about all that has occurred in my life during the past, oh. . . say. . . 35 years!

In August of 2014 I was in Quebec, Canada with someone I hardly knew, meeting new French-speaking friends at a week-long singing class (in French! I don’t speak French). We continued on to Vermont, to meet up with friends I had made earlier that summer at a singing camp in Oregon. Singing is what we had in common and it was this that brought us all freedom. In Quebec, our small class took instruction from Frank Kane, vocal teacher extraordinaire.

During the week in Quebec, I learned a surprising amount, despite my lack of French and probably because I am surprisingly good at reading body language. I found that by watching, I could pick up the main idea of what was going on. All of us sang in the Georgian language, which was unfamiliar to us all, and which is easy to pronounce because it is phonetic. Frank Kane worked with all of us as individuals and as small groups. He gently encouraged us to participate in the various activities–some of which required quite a bit of bravery for this introvert! We sang with heads next to others’ heads to feel vibrations, to sing with one leg in the air behind us and one arm stretched out in front to create asymmetry.

At one point, late in the week, I sang with a group of two others: the three of us creating close harmony and feeling the sound waves vibrating between us as we stood in the center of the circle. Frank’s comment to me was this: “Jaqui, your voice is lovely. People would come to hear it–they might pay to hear it even. But I’m wondering when we might hear the other 85% of your energy come through.” I remember this striking an immediate cord with me because it is exactly how I had come to view the way of living I’d been participating in for the past 15 years.

Before taking this class with Frank Kane, I’d decided I was only taking up a very small corner of the dance floor of my life; I was determined to change that. And this is what took me to Quebec with someone I hardly knew, in order to take a class in a language I didn’t know before traveling on to Vermont to reunite with new friends. Frank’s observation seemed like an further epiphany to me and an apt metaphor for how I wanted to spend the rest of my life: using up all 100% of my energy to express what I think and feel to those around me.

What I’m learning is that when one expresses oneself in this way (100%), one is going to have to learn to deal with conflict, which is not something this introvert, Mennonite-raised girl knows much about because I’ve become good at skirting around conflict for most of my life. So regrets? Yes, quite a few. Nostalgia? Yes for those times when I felt free and welcome even to be myself. I’m not sure I’m taking up any more space on the dance floor, but I think so. How’s that for starters?