HOME PLACE - Tidying yields little piece of heaven


While I often like to crank out holiday-themed columns (I'm girly like that), last month I gave you a sad tale about our dear kitty, instead.

Turns out I have a Christmas column after all, one that unfolded just before the holiday began in earnest. I hope it will be worth your time to travel back a few weeks.

So, as you know, I'm not very good at keeping my inner weirdness hidden. And lately - not to go all "Chronicles of Narnia" on you - I've been feeling like the membrane separating Heaven and Earth is nearly transparent at times.

Like the dream I had about my late husband in November, one that filled me with fresh grief but also nearly drowned me with love and happiness.

In it, David was waiting patiently for me to join him, sitting at a picnic table, wearing that cute little grin of his. His hair was shiny black once again and he looked healthy and serene. As I pulled up in the minivan and saw him, I knew he was already dead, evidenced by the presence of Patrick Swayze in the grandstands off to my left.

Whom I duly noted, but I only wanted to reach my guy. Abandoning the kids in the car, I ran to him, dodging around vendors and people. I suspect we were at an auto racetrack, which would absolutely be my husband's idea of heaven.

David didn't say a word to me, but his smile spoke volumes and I sensed he was telling me we would see each other again.

Sad as I was to wake up from that, I had a glow for days and days.

It was on the heels of this …vision … that what happened next takes on greater texture.

Let me set the scene. We were cleaning the house in early December, the little ladies and myself. The middle-schooler was in charge of vacuuming the storage room, which houses the nerve center of our family's communication devices.

What that really means is a mess of wires strung from China to breakfast and hooked up to blinking boxes supplied by the devil. Installed by his minions, I might add. It's a delicate balance to avoid the wires while retrieving or storing stuff.

My daughter Hoovered away with energy, moving a rolling shelf out of the way to get the dirt underneath. Almost immediately afterward I noticed the phone system had gone silent.

The kiddo must have knocked a wire out of some box, I thought. Which has happened even to this adult.

The next Saturday morning, we manned up with our flashlights and entered the storage cave … er, room.

I fiddled with each hanging strand, which look like high-tech tape worms - flat, white bodies, headless and without tails. I twisted metal ends, unhooked and rehooked communication lines. I traced wires to and fro, all to no avail. Nothing was loose.

Suddenly I remembered David's long-ago project of turning our one-phone-jack house into three and that they all stemmed from a master jack. That was located upstairs, in a little cabinet built into our 1947 hallway and known forever as the telephone table.

The cupboard is a narrow thing, reminiscent of English cottage style, with the phone jack anchored on the bottom shelf and hidden by the door.

When we moved to the Home Place in 1994, I decided the rest of the cabinet was suitable for extra spiral notebooks, binder paper and not much else. And that's what the space has housed since then. That's it. We fill it up every August and ignore it until we need a refill.

So there I was, tummy-to-floor with a flashlight, peering at this triple jack thingamajig. Yes, there was the phone wire, fed up from the basement below, tucked tightly into its slot. Here was the other wire feeding the stationary phone above me, just where it's supposed to be.

Still the phone refused to cooperate.

Tear leaked out as I slumped there in utter frustration. I wanted to fix this problem myself, to not have to call one of the many saviors who have helped us over the past two years.

"God," I said aloud, "just please show me what to do here. Be a pal, wouldja?"

I flattened more and peered up underneath the cabinet, thinking maybe some wire was … I dunno … kinked up or something (I'm technical like that).

And there, with one corner wedged under the little shelf, a small, yellowing square had curled itself up, clinging to the wood like a caterpillar's chrysalis.

Whatever it was, I could see it was old. With gentle fingers, I pried the paper away from the shelf and turned it over.

There he was. David, at about age 9, sitting atop a picnic table (picnic table!) with a too-large baseball mitt on one hand and a baseball in the other. Sun is on his face, shadowed in spots by that thick wave of chestnut hair that will later darken to ebony.

His white T-shirt and blue jeans are clean and my boy looks vaguely happy, which must have been a rare moment in his decidedly awful childhood.

Had I seen this picture before? Yes, but not for so many years that my mind would never have bothered to remember it existed.

But how could this snapshot have gotten here, in the school-supply cupboard? That only has held school supplies since our time at this house began?

Then the tears flowed fast, as my kids helplessly watched. "It's a message from Dad," I sobbed. "He's telling us something."

I stood up, cradling my treasure, and walked into the kitchen. Picked up the phone to again hear nothing. And for some reason, I decided to look at the back of the base, where I found the little outlet jack completely unplugged.

You know what happened when I pushed the metal into the housing, of course. Every single phone worked again, and just fine. "Oh, David," I said, with a relieved grin.

The next day, I told the tale to an artist friend, finishing with a description of how the photograph was cracked in two places where it had worked itself into a semi-circle.

"I'd like to find some place to get it fixed and maybe make copies for the kids," I told her.

"I can do that for you," she immediately replied.

"You can?" I, so artistically challenged, answered in shock.

"Yes, in my studio."

And she did, producing a number of beautifully restored copies of the little baseball player and framing several of them.

Like whipped cream on top of the frosting, that gesture seemed.

You cannot imagine how delighted I was to do this gift wrapping for David, rustling up fancy Christmas bags, tagging each "From Dad" and meaning it.

I passed them out to assembled children on Christmas morning, recounting the story of the great find to those who weren't here to witness it.

And for a few moments on that boisterous dawn, we were all quiet. Dad was with us once again, his little-boy smile promising happiness to come.

Giving me a little glimpse of Heaven.


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