Have a Marlis Day!

Archive for January 2012

The old movie theater in our town is where I saw my first movie, we had our first date, and where we took our children to their first movie. Since then, it’s been vacant, a church, and is now setting up for laser tag & miniature golf.

I loved it when my parents took us to the movies, especially the Disney films. However, when it was a grown-up  movie, I had trouble staying awake. My head nodded, my eyes blurred, and I zonked out. After all, it was way past my bedtime. Once when I was just about to fall asleep, my father leaned over and whispered, “You better stay awake. If you go to sleep, we’ll just leave you here.” Horrified, I totally believed him and spent the rest of the movie devising ways to keep myself awake. Always the prankster, I imagine my dad peeked at me and laughingly told his buddies the next day how I’d swung my feet, popped myself on the forehead, and tried to hold my eyes open. Waking up in a cold, dark theater in the middle of the night was my worst nightmare. I envisioned myself wandering around the empty seats and living for days on stale popcorn and water from the fountain. I imagined my parents meeting friends on the street later and this conversation:

“How ya doing?”  “Fine, how about you?” “All good.” “Say, I see your two boys there; I thought you had a girl.” “No, just the two boys now.” “Hmm. I thought there was a girl, sorta between the boys?” “Ohhh, you must mean Marlis.” “Yes, Marlis. That was her name. I do remember her- fiesty little girl.” “Well, Marlis isn’t with us anymore.” “Oh, that’s too bad…what was it? Polio?” “Oh no, not polio. She fell asleep at the movies.” “Oh, I see. Well, you can’t have that, now can you?” “No, we couldn’t abide with that.” “Well, you have a nice day.”  “Thanks, you too. Say hello to the missus.” “Will do.”

I was pleased when we started going to the drive-in theaters, because the car always came home. I could fall asleep and no one cared. After all, we always went on “Buck Night,”so we all got in for a dollar and no money was wasted by a kid falling asleep.

On the first day my mother walked me to kindergarten. I was checked by a nurse, declared sound, and given this KGN Health Award. Mom must have thought it important, since she saved it for me along with my kindergarten workbook and first valentines. I keep them in my cedar chest and visit them every few years, inhaling the pungent cedar and recalling the distant memories. I sometimes wonder what will happen to them when I’m gone. Maybe a sentimental grandchild will claim them. I hope so.

I remember children sitting at long wooden tables, where we colored and printed our names. We played circle games, sang, and recited nursery rhymes. But mostly, I remember Miss Jane. I thought she was a big woman, but I guess everyone appears big when you’re three feet tall. She wore wire-rimmed glasses and silvery-gray hair pulled back into a loose bun. She had soft hands and always smelled like spring flowers.

In the game, she pulled me against her soft middle, my nose pressed into the fabric of her dress. She wrapped her arms around me and whispered, “Who is speaking, Marlis? Now listen carefully – it’s one of your classmates.”  Once more the chosen child recited the proper words, but I didn’t care who it was, I just loved being held close to Miss Jane’s bosomy softness, inhaling her sweet fragrance. After some coaxing, I’d mutter “Donnie? Jerry? Woody? PR?” I think I missed on purpose; I loved being in Miss Jane’s warm embrace.  In my family, the women showed affection with a swift peck on the cheek, and the men showed no affection at all. In retrospect, maybe it was my first hug and I wanted it to last forever.  For a few blissful minutes the universe was just Miss Jane and me. After a while, my teacher would gently turn me around. “Oh look, Marlis, it’s Austin!” I’d return to my place among the other children, filled with peace, and love, and all the sweetness of Miss Jane. The only picture I have is this one I clipped years ago from a newspaper honoring the teachers of yester-years in our town.

To this day, I’m a hugger. I hug my family, friends, and even my dog. I’ve been known to hug strangers at bookfairs when they speak kindly of my books.  Somehow, I think it all started with Miss Jane. May God bless the Miss Janes of the world.

I wonder what our five grandchildren will remember about coming to Gram’s and Gramps’ house for Christmas. I’m pretty certain they’ll remember the twinkling tree surrounded by a pile of brightly wrapped presents and stockings stuffed with small surprises. They’ll remember running and playing with their cousins and urging the adults to finish dinner, so they could open their gifts. They’ll probably recall the fancy cookies and candies, but forget the lovely table decorations and Christmas ham. Part of me believes they’ll always remember how Gram read Clement Moore’s famous Twas the Night Before Christmas before the first gift was opened. I’ve done it every year and the older girls recite it from memory as I read. The little ones listen, bright-eyed and eager for the unfolding magic.

But most of all, I hope they remember going to church on Christmas Eve, singing carols, lighting small candles, and their spectacular united glow in the darkened church.  And how we lit the Christ candle on the dinner table and remembered the baby Jesus in the manger before the table blessing.

I pray their childhood Christmas memories fill them with an essence of family and love. After all, God’s mighty gift to us was all about His family and His love.

Happy New Year and may “God bless us every one!”

Hi! I'm Marlis.

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