When the humidity would make the heat almost unbearable – so heavy it drenched our clothes and weighed them down, so they hung shapelessly around us. When the clouds grew dark and sank low in the sky – the electricity in the air palpable, our eyes would begin to sparkle in anticipation. The conditions had to be just right, the air warm enough to sustain long periods in the elements, the soaking blessing-from-above sufficient to wet us through to the skin in moments but not accompanied by the low rumble of thunder or bright flashes of lightning. It was one of the most treasured joys of my childhood – puddle jumping.
Mom was a mass of contradictions: proper and irreverent, straight-laced and ridiculous, particular and loose, law and grace. She had precise rules, tight schedules, and high expectations; she worked hard and expected the same. At the same time, she had an incredible sense of the ridiculous. Always strapped for money, she washed tin foil, zip lock bags, and saved dryer sheets to use over and over, but she also firmly believed that some “wants were “needs.” That held true for my brother’s fancy Puma sneakers when he struggled with his peers in school. Because he desperately wanted them to fit in, she thought his self-esteem was worth the expense – a need. The same attitude extended to me when I begged for some girl clothes because a tormentor had bet me that I couldn’t wear them for an entire week. She went out and bought me a brand new “girl shirt” to wear with my brother’s hand-me-down jeans. With a borrowed dress for picture day Wednesday, a shiny boy’s dress shirt under a sweatshirt for Monday and Thursday, and the new shirt on Tuesday and Friday, I had the week covered. She elevated my “want” to “need” level.
There was grace in her reasoning; she was my first model of a loving God.
Fitted sheets had to be folded “just so.” “A place for everything and everything in its place” was her mantra, but as long as everything was neat and tidy, she didn’t care if she only got to dusting once a week. “Waste not, want not,” she would sing. Mom would frequently eat some horrible conglomerate of leftovers she’d found all mixed in one pot. Her morals and standards were immovable, and, while certain acts would disgust or anger her, that didn’t stop her from loving people. She loved those who were forgotten, discarded, or distraught. Mom was always picking up strays – mostly lonely kids and old ladies whom she felt she could support in one way or the other. It never ceased to amaze me when I would come home from college, and there would be some little kid in the house just hanging out with Mom while she was doing laundry or cleaning. They would show her their drawings, awards, and report cards; she’d let them play in my room and festoon the fridge with their artwork. Other times I’d find her coming back from bringing a delightfully mean, disabled curmudgeon grocery shopping. She loved people with edges. She felt that God loved and accepted her and, like Paul, was convicted that she was the worst of sinners, so Mom was beholden to extend the grace God had shown her to others, and she was happy to do it.
Interestingly enough, while we had to take off our shoes the minute we entered the house, never leave a used dish in the sink, and dress up for church every Sunday even if other people wore jeans, she also loved to take us on “adventures.” One of my favorite types was the puddle walks. The object was to jump in every puddle we could find. We would walk all over town together, splashing and laughing until our ribs hurt. Once I jumped into a small pool that ended up being a grate-less drain and found myself in a little over my head. The joy of not having to avoid the puddles, face pointing up towards the heavens as massive warm drops drenched every millimeter of my body was exhilarating. The competition of trying to make the biggest splash or getting the wettest was intoxicating. Mom knew how to make things fun. She was never so caught up on herself that she couldn’t be silly. Whether we spent our outings with me touting the praises of “my mother” while she regaled me with the amazing exploits of “[her] daughter”; or, pretending we would “make a run for it” to skip out on a lunch bill with some insanely elaborate plan we had no intention of executing, she made sure the time we spent together was filled with joy.
So the next time it’s pouring outside on a warm summer evening, and the skies are free of thunder, try taking a walk in the rain – jump in a few puddles, you might find it makes you feel young again.
Psalm 72:6 May he be like rain that falls on [freshly] cut grass, like showers that water the land.