One of my favorite joys as a young child was to sit snuggled close to my Grandmother, Boonie, and beg her to "Tell me about when you were a little girl." She seemed to have a boundless supply of wonderful exciting stories to tell. Now that I myself am much, much older, I find myself reflecting on and savoring scenes and incidents from my own childhood. Maybe passing years give us insights and appreciation of those things that seemed so ordinary and unimportant in the long ago of our childhood. I was blessed to grow up under the gentle influence of three wonderful women who by their sweet simple yet full daily lives, molded and shaped me by their very example.
Boonie was the storyteller and the one who always had time for a little girl under foot. She pulled up a straight chair backwards to her kitchen table and included me in whatever she was doing at the time. I would climb up and stand in the chair and watch her every move and fire a hundred childish questions at her. She always had a satisfying answer to my inquisitive little mind.
Lizzie was my maiden aunt. She was always so prim, neat, quiet and yet had a venturesome quality that intrigued me. She was small and thin well, today we would say she was delicate in appearance but tough as nails and could work rings around anyone else. Her stories were more about things and people she knew and worked with. I felt like I was part of her circle of friends and she never talked down to me. I loved to go to her room, a special place. It was always so orderly and pretty, soft little feminine touches she managed from her not abundant working salary. She had a beautiful "blond" bedroom suite with a high poster bed where she kept pretty little pillows lying about. Her dresser, with its three-way mirror and many little drawers, was veritable treasure trove where I was welcome to explore if she was there to supervise. PLUS she let me play dress-up in her pretty clothes and high heeled shoes. I loved to just open her chifferobe door and stand and look and lightly finger her fashionable dresses. She loved flowing muted flowery chiffons and they looked like floating clouds about her as she moved. She also liked simple tailored things. For some reason, I remember a simple long sleeved fitted brown dress with which she wore a lovely large brooch. As a child, I wondered why she wore that dark old dress, now I realize it was a beautiful timeless classic style. When I was grown-up myself, I once made myself a similar dress, same style, same color. It made me feel close to her having no children of her own, she adored my brother and me, her sister's children, and loved doing little special things for us.
And then there was Mama. She, like Lizzie, was small and neat and quick, always busy about household matters, but with a quick and ready laugh and a streak of girlish silliness. She would just break into a little bright song at any time and suddenly I would feel like jumping for joy. She always knew just when to break up a dreary day and how to set little feet on a brief journey, sometimes, to follow a trail of ants to see where their home was, sometimes to check all the rose bushes for newly opened buds, or to run to the garden to see if baby onions or radishes were coming up. Her ability to stir one's imagination was boundless. This is one of her most priceless heritages that she passed on to me, her child, for which I am truly grateful. She could take the dullest day and turn it into a circus. She could take the simplest items and turn them into works of art, at least to my little girl's eyes. I loved just being with her, she was so pretty and so much fun and seldom was out of patience with me.
I could write a book about my precious mother, but just now I want to remember one particular time. It wasn't a special day, at all. I gather I was bored and getting underfoot so she "planned" a special treat for me. Several yards from our big old house was a HUGE oak tree. Daddy had built me a swing there (remember the discarded tire swings on a big Tarzan rope?). Large exposed roots spread around the ancient tree trunk and I loved to play there. (Remember, I was very young and very small). On this day, my mama took me by one hand and a broom in the other and chattering away she led me to the big old tree. She swept every nook and cranny between the roots till the hard earth was smooth and clean. As she swept, she spun a lovely tale of how she used to build a play house among the roots of a tree she used to play under. By now, my imagination is set on fire and I set about with her help to "set-up" a playhouse from a strange conglomeration of "things' that were handy. No Better-Homes-and –Garden house to be sure but perfect for this occasion. If you have never built a playhouse from discarded bits and pieces, you have never lived or known such satisfaction. Mama left, only to return soon with a picnic "in case I got hungry" a Mason jar full of fresh milk just taken from Madame Queen, our cow, that very morning and some fruit and cheese and crackers and a jelly/butter sandwich. She packed my lunch in my little blue metal lunch box with the picture of two kittens on the side, kissed me and went back to the house leaving me to my secret get-a-way. The day was perfect; hot and sunny, but a delightful shady retreat under the big tree where I had made my playhouse. I busied myself in my little house, sang lots of my favorite songs as I swung high into the blue, blue sky in the tire swing, watched birds flying in and out of the tree, listening to their songs. By now, I was ready for my picnic lunch, so I sat down between two big roots and had a marvelous feast. As I sat there, my eyes kept wandering around looking for new undiscovered wonders that might be hidden there. Nothing much met my eye, just a few pretty stones, some soft green moss, a ladybug rushing on her way. And then, I saw it. Now how had I missed it before? It was so unexpected and so lovely, it took my breath away. And what was this wonderful discovery, you ask? Simply stated, it was only a piece of broken glass. To grown up eyes, that's all it was, but to the imaginative eyes of a child, it was magic. I sat very still for minute, then I got up and moved so close I could stoop down and reach out and touch it with my finger. How can I describe the feelings of a child from long ago to a cynical, prove-it mind of today? Impossible, but I shall attempt to recapture my emotions of that day. It seemed I sat there for a long time, just gazing at the piece of blue glass. It was a small, irregular shape of paper-thin porcelain not much bigger than a penny. But SO BLUE. I finally carefully picked it up, wiped it carefully on my dress and just let it lie in my small little palm gazing at it. I had never seen such a thin, fragile piece of glass and certainly nothing on earth was so blue. I looked around to see where it had come from. Had something been broken here? No, there was nothing, just this one small fragment. Where had it come from, and how did it get here? I kept looking around for clues, even up into the sky...the sky!!! THE SKY!!! Holding my newfound treasure ever so carefully I held it up against the blue of the sky. I caught my breath. I couldn't tell where the piece of glass ended and the sky began. It just blended right into the blue of the sky. It was a perfect match. Now my child's imagination is working overtime. Was it possible I asked myself?? After all there's nothing here it could have come from. And it matches color exactly. Could it be...could it be...a broken piece of blue sky that fell to earth and nestled precariously there where anyone could have stepped on it and crushed it to smithereens? By now, I am in a world of my own. By some miracle I am holding a piece of broken sky. Look how thin it is. Probably it hardened as it fell through space. I kept holding it up to the sky above and, yes, it just matches. I tried to find a break in Heaven's blue canopy that it might have fallen away from, but not a crack was to be seen. I felt I was in possession of a matchless, priceless gem. What am I to do with it? I can't return it, and since I found it it must be mine to keep. It's so small, I mustn't lose it. I looked around and there is my blue lunchbox. I had eaten all my picnic lunch so I wiped the little box out with the skirt of my dress, put in some soft moss to keep it from shaking around and gently placed my piece of blue sky inside and closed the lid. I don't know how long I sat there just enthralled in what had happened. Finally I decided it as time to go home so I took my lunchbox and went back to the house.
I hid my little blue lunchbox in a safe place and now and then I would go and open the lid, look inside at the blue scrap of sky still lying there, and close the lid again. Sometime passed, and one day my brother came to me and asked if he could use my blue lunchbox for a treasure box since he didn't have anything suitable. (Remember, we are both still very young children). Stalling for time, I asked what would he put in it. He swore me to secrecy, looked around for enemy agents and opened his closed fist. There in his hand was a fabulous RUBY...it was as big as a half-dollar and cut in many little facets that sparkled and reflected the depths of color. How could I refuse?? So my blue lunchbox became the shared storehouse for many childish jewels and treasures.
Years and years later, as a young mother myself, I was prowling for memories in the basement of the old homeplace. There on top of the old furnace I saw it...my little lunchbox, grimy with years of soil. I took it down, cleaned it up and finally opened the lid, stuck with long years of disuse. There they were...the fabulous ruby and the broken piece of sky. Still safe where two children had placed them decades before. But now, my eyes were adult eyes, having lost the ability to see magic in the commonplace. There was just a cheap red glass setting from a dimestore brooch and a chip of thin blue porcelain from some long ago broken cup or saucer. Smiling and shaking my head, I picked up my blue treasure and half laughing at myself I stepped outside and held it up to the summer sky. What do you know?? It matches exactly. And where HAD that small fragment come from years before? Of course I know there is no magic in either treasure but in my memory and heart of hearts, I still recall the feelings of that far away day when a little girl found a broken piece of sky.
Could you believe I took both of those childhood discoveries home with me and put them in an old unused jewelry box? I don't know what happened to them over the years and many moves , but I will always be glad that once upon a time, a child's imagination brought into my possession a beautiful broken piece of blue sky. May we all keep alive enough of childhood's pure imagination to still see beauty and wonder and mystery in the small things of life. Be it a word of encouragement, or hope, or love, or the beauty of a sunrise or sunset, or the music in a birdsong, or a rippling stream, or the touch of magic in a gentle breeze, or an old picture, or special stone…whatever it is that stirs such emotions in your heart...KEEP IT. Put it in the safe keeping of your mind and once in a while bring forth that treasure and relive that wonderful moment when the ordinary became your very own special treasure.
Copyright Ruth Martin. July 2005