Pansies, Oak trees, Blue Birds and God—Candace Cole-McCrea 1
I would like to be able to tell you why I was victimized and subjected to such horrific treatment, but I cannot. My family has never talked about it. I had an aunt who was a nurse and she always told me that she had repeatedly insisted to my parents that their acceptance of my being placed and used for experimental surgery was wrong. Who knows?
I only know a few things:
1. My birth certificate says I was healthy, full term and normal. My mother says I was due the first of August and born the last of May. She says I was severely disabled from birth. My aunt, a nurse, said I had clubbed feet and that is all.
2. My mother and father say I was born with dislocated hips. Later, when I became an adult and went to specialists in Boston, they would not agree with this diagnosis, but so much harm had been done by then that joint replacements were necessary anyway.
3. I had an older sister Melody, who died at one year of age, living at home with hydrocephalis. She was kept upstairs in my grandmother’s house in a crib and slowly died. I don’t know why she was kept there. No bothered with her much. She died alone and my mother took the only photos of her, in her casket, after she died. Shortly after she died, my mother says I was born, early, and that I looked just like Melody. She has often told me that she felt haunted. She felt that God was using me to keep the memory of Melody in her life.
4. Even if I had been born with dislocated hips, I learned, having met many others who were so afflicted at birth, that corrective treatment was available at that time and persons lived normal lives, no limps, no disabilities, even skiing as adults. Why not me? I will never know.
So where does that leave us with my story? Let’s begin with pansies, an oak tree, blue birds and angels.
Pansies, Oak Trees, Blue Birds and God—Candace Cole-McCrea 2
Due to muscular atrophy and destructive experimental surgeries done previously, during my preschool years I was either carried encased in a full plaster cast or laid to rest in the bottom half of a cast. Without this artificial exoskeleton, I simply wobbled and trembled. If I were tied securely, I could be set in a chair. Sometimes I would be tied outside on a lawn chair and left to myself. These times were beautiful. I loved seeing, simply seeing, the outdoors. There was always so much to see. Nature was so beautiful and so peaceful, so different from my physically, emotionally and socially painful life. I did not like the People World.
Since my father was out of work, often, my parents, older brother and baby sister lived with my grandmother in her home. One day, before being taken outside, I overheard a conversation between my brother and an uncle. What was Ricky going to be when he grew up? Thoughts and ideas went round and round in this conversation. I had heard this conversation before with each of my many cousins, but no one had ever asked me. Tied outside in a chair alone, I wondered what this “being when grown up” meant. It seemed to me that it meant that a kid changed into something else somehow, some day, and that there were choices as to what one would be. I decided that I needed to figure out what I wanted to be.
I spent a lot of time dwelling on this. I had only one friend and decided that I wanted to become just like this friend. This friend always listened to me, comforted me with big arms, soothed me with a gentle sort of music, quickly protected me from rain, and often had me laughing. This friend was big and very strong on the outside. It was very, very hard to hurt his body. Yet, he was very soft on the inside and loved nature as much as I did. I could tell because he so often danced with the wind and laughed with the sun. And when times got hard, and winter came, he endured quietly, with dignity, without complaint. He knew the goodness and warmth would return to his life and he could wait. He was my first great teacher.
I made my decision. When I grew up, I would be an oak tree. Big, powerful, strong, gentle, kind, generous, and tender, I would be an oak tree. This became a determination that has held great power throughout my life as the oak tree
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became, over the years, less a goal to become and more a teacher of how to live my own life on earth and how to share this world peacefully with others. I learned that the sacredness and power of the oak tree lie in its ability to offer shade, to be a nesting place for little birds, a home for squirrels. I learned that it gave of itself though branches for climbing and holding swings, though providing acorns for feeding so many creatures, and finally, when it aged, as wood for fire and warmth. Without giving, it could not endure; without giving neither would I ever become my Self. The lessons of the oak tree have never ceased to teach and guide me, especially in my own winters of hardship, ever mindful of the most basic values I learned while sitting with this dear friend.
Of course, I was not much older before I learned that I could not grow up to be an oak tree. It happened quite naturally. Since no one asked me what I would be when I grew up, I decided to tell anyone whose ear I could catch. The response was always a laugh or a big grin. I could tell I had said something stupid but I never understood what it was. I just learned that people thought I couldn’t grow up to be an oak tree. Well, maybe I could and maybe I couldn’t; until then I wouldn’t give up but I would also consider other possibilities.
I slept in an alcove in the attic. It was cold and dark all winter. One morning, however, I awakened to a lighter room, but one filled with, what I thought was a terrifying sound of something close, so close to me that I could not see. I was so scared! I screamed for my mother, but she was downstairs and did not hear me. I tired myself out, screaming and rested a moment.
The terrifying noise had stopped.
I waited, quietly. It started again. I screamed again. It stopped. It did not take me long to realize that when I screamed, the noise stopped; when I was quiet the noise began again. It never came closer, I realized, and it never hurt me. I relaxed
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and started dancing with the noise. I would scream, it would stop, I would be quiet, it would start. I liked having control of something as I lay there and I started making long and short intervals with the noise and myself so it sounded nice to me. Eventually, I decided the noise sounded nicer than I did so I would just lay there and listen. I lay there and listened and listened and listened.
What was that? I listened intensely and then realized that I was not listening to one loud noise but to many different little noises, all together. I concentrated on trying to pick out each one, each so different from the other, if I only closed my eyes and listened deeply enough.
I was happy. Whatever this was, it wished me no harm and was beautiful. As I lost myself in it, my pain eased and my body relaxed. I was in reverie. I wanted to stay there forever and never have to deal with the People World again.
Ah, but change happens. Eventually, my mother burst into my room, talking loudly to someone outside of the room as she approached. The wonderful noises stopped. I waited and the noises did not start again. I was enraged! I cried and screamed at her. I wanted her to go away. Miraculously, she somehow understood my cries, for she picked me up in my body cast and carried me down those steep stairs, through the parlor, the kitchen, out the back door and down to the far end of the yard, near where my friend, the oak tree lived.
She turned around and faced the house, holding me, so heavy against her small body. I had learned long ago how People wanted me to behave: I was still and quiet. She pointed up to the roof. There on the back of that farmhouse roof were scores and scores of the most amazing little blue creatures, creatures like nothing I had ever seen before! I watched them with wonder and as I did, I just couldn’t believe it, but they began to make those little noises that I had found so beautiful. They were alive! They lived on this same earth that made my friend the oak tree! Maybe there were other wonderful things on this place where People lived and maybe all was not the hell I knew. Here was beauty beyond my dreams.
Pansies, Oak Trees, Blue Birds and God—Candace Cole-McCrea 5
Dreams sometimes shatter and that happened this day. My brother came running out the old wooden screen door of the kitchen, slamming it behind him. The beautiful, musical creatures took to the sky, as if they were one being. So quickly they were gone. I watched them carefully as they rose and flew. They had tiny legs that seemed hardly important. More importantly, they had wings and voices. Maybe I didn’t need legs either…wings and a voice would be all I would ever need. While I was thinking, my mother introduced the words “birds” and “blue birds” to me. I never forgot. I changed my mind. Being an oak tree when I grew up may have been silly for some unknown reason, but no one could ever believe being a bird was stupid…they were just too beautiful and too free. When I grew up, I would grow strong wings, when I grew a voice, I would sing of being free. I was going to be a bird.
One day, my uncle was sleeping in the hammock my mother usually lay me in during the day. she had to find another place out of the way to put me. Ah, on a dense grassy place near the side yard. She lay me there on a blanket and went inside. I had never seen this side of the house before. I began to discover the sights and smells of this new world. There was a little hill, a small rock wall very close to me and…and…and…what was so colorful near that rock wall. I strained but was very quiet. I thought these were birds and I didn’t want to scare them away. I thought they were birds but they made no sound and I could see what looked like bunches of legs under them. It made no sense. I stretched my arm as far as I could. It hurt against the plaster yet I kept stretching. I wanted to feel one. Finally, my hand barely touched one and it broke off, right into my hand. I cried knowing I had hurt this little life. I drew my hand back, gently holding it, and couldn’t believe what I saw. It was something I would later learn to be a “pansy flower” but right now I only saw the intricately brilliant and subtle painted colors on little leaves (petals) somehow tied so carefully together to make a perfect panorama. I was in awe. Who could have ever made anything so delicate, with such an eye for beauty? Who would have taken the time? Why bother in such a
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big world with such a little work of art—and there were so many each uniquely made, right here in my grandmother’s side yard—imagine how many throughout the world!
Pansies answered my basic question about God. God must be so magnificent and love this world so much to take the time for such tiny details of beauty. I didn’t care what Satan did, his power could never match this. And if God could grow such beauty amongst rocks, maybe He could help me grow in the painful People World, also. Maybe, maybe, no, not maybe, I was sure that whatever came, no matter how many hells, and there were so many to come, more than I could ever imagine, that there would still be the power of God amongst all rock gardens and it was my job to find him.
This determination would suffice for me even after my grandfather taught me so much more. My grandfather taught me so much, yet in some ways, a greater lesson was taught to me by pansies… birds…oak trees.
No year in my life goes by when I am not surrounded by all three.