Sunday, April 15, 2012

Her Crowning Glory

"but long hair is a woman's glory. Long hair is given to her as a covering."  1 Corinthians 11:15

Mary Elma Davis Billheimer
November 7, 1912 - April 30, 2010
She would have been ninety-eight if she would have lived a few more months. Mom was without a doubt the most meek, mild and humble woman I have ever known. If there were ever angels living here on earth, she would have definitely been one of them. You know the saying "if you can't say anything nice about someone ...'', you know the rest....well, she lived it. There have been times when I have wondered how I could even be her daughter because I didn't seem to inherit any part of her quiet humility. Our personalities were so different. I guess God decided to bless me with the Billheimer genes instead :) My dad's sense of humor and out-spoken mannerisms are still alive and well, living in me! 

I have so many special memories of Mom but there is one in particular that stands out.  Actually, it isn't just a one time memory but something that we shared on many occasions. It had to do with her "crowning glory" or in other words, her very long hair. As far back as my mind allows me to go, I can remember Mom's hair streaming down her back, past her waist, to where she could practically sit on fact, I'm sure she could at one point. This was not something that she would display to just anyone - this vision was reserved only for those of us in the family, in the privacy of our home. She would never have been seen with her hair down in a public place. She always wore it pulled back with somewhat of a little "poof" in the front and twisted around into a bun at the back of her head, usually covering it with a thin, white net cap which fit the shape of it perfectly. The cap was part of who Mom was - she had been born into a family of the Old German Baptist culture where this was part of the church's uniform of dress for the women. The only times she was ever without it was when she was doing some heavy housework, at bedtime or when she washed her hair.

Mom in her younger days with Barbara
Saturday was the day she set aside to wash her long brown hair and because it was so very long, it was quite an ordeal and drying it was another thing all together. I don't think we had an electric hair dryer when I was very young so after washing it and wringing it dry in a towel, she would comb it and and let it air dry. As she would sit in her favorite chair, waiting for it to dry completely, my sisters and I would take turns brushing those long strands, helping it to dry before she wound it back up into the bun. She would pull her hair around to the side or hang it over the back of the chair so we could reach the full length of it. The more we combed and brushed, the sleepier she got - it was unusual if she was able to stay awake during the process. I remember on more than one occasion when it was my turn to do the brushing, I would scoot into the chair next to her after I was finished, snuggle up to her and say, "Mommy, can I always stay here with you? I never want to leave you!" She would remind me of those times later on...especially when I got to that smart-alecky teenage stage in life when it wasn't cool to snuggle with Mommy anymore!

Mom was forty-two when I was born so by the time I was an adolescent, she was in her mid-fifties. Even as she got into her early seventies, she was still mostly a brunette with only a small amount of gray around the temples. I moved away from Ohio in 1981 and it seemed like each time I saw her after that, her brown hairs were slowly being replaced by some gray ones. Little by little, over the next twenty-five years or so, her thick, brown hair that used to be down past her waist had been transformed into a mixture of gray and white wispy strands - still long by most standards - but not at all like I remembered it as a little girl.

Me and my sisters, Ruby and Barbara with Mom
on Easter Sunday, 2010
 I remember the last time I saw her before she died. She had been in and out of hospitals and nursing homes for several months where she had been very sick and then recovered a little, each time making her more weak and feeble. It was Easter weekend of 2010 and I was blessed to have a good visit with her in her hospital room where she was in isolation due to contracting a "hospital bug". I was supposed to be wearing a gown, gloves and a mask but being the head-strong, stubborn girl that my daddy helped create, I chose not to wear the gloves and mask. I had a strong feeling that this would be our last time together on this earth and I wasn't going to let anything come between us...literally! I found her sleeping when I got there and after waking her with a kiss to the forehead, proceeded to "fix" her up a bit to prepare her for other company I knew she'd be receiving later on that Easter Sunday.  Her white, wispy hair was all over the place, totally unkempt and I knew she wouldn't want to be seen like that so I began brushing her thin and not-so-long hair. As I was brushing, I was joined by two of my sisters, Ruby and Barbara, and we finished by pulling her hair to the side and into a small, wimpy looking little braid - the little white cap nowhere in sight by then. Thinking back on it now, I find it ironic but also consider it a precious gift that God gave just to me on that day - that I was able to brush her hair for her one more time.

A little over a month later, I would tell her goodbye as my siblings who were gathered around her bedside held a phone to her ear. She didn't speak - I could only hear the last labored breaths she was taking. Within the hour, she would go home to be with her Heavenly Father, the One whom she lived for and patterned her life after. Her white, spindly hair is now probably brunette once again (or maybe golden, who knows!) and I have no doubt in my mind that it flows down her back too. I'm wondering if she is wearing that little white cap... not sure if those rules apply in heaven... regardless of that, I will always remember that beautiful hair of hers ... her crowning glory.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Monday is wash day.

I could feel the edges of the curtains that hung from my bedroom window as they billowed over me, tickling my foot that stuck out from under the covers and  waking me, as they usually did on those summer mornings. The early, gentle breeze flowing through that window smelled of honeysuckle and echoed the chirping of every kind of bird in my neighborhood - the mourning dove especially comes to mind. I remember lying there before getting up, trying to mimic all of their assorted calls. As I wiped the sleep out my eyes, I realized it was Monday...wash day. My older sisters dreaded this day but I was kind of excited because I had gotten old enough to help and I thought it was fun...way back then. We didn't have the convenient washers and dryers that we have today but instead, an old tub-type washer with a wringer that you had to feed the clothes through. It sat right out in the kitchen because we didn't have a separate laundry room. I wasn't allowed to mess with it...way too dangerous for the littlest girl...that part of the job was left to my older sisters and of course, Mom, who all reminded me from time to time of a little child they had heard of who's arm was crippled after it had gotten "run through the wringer". The only time I was allowed to get near the washer was when one of my siblings decided to use me as an "object" to hide during one of the many times we played that game...sometimes it was me, sometimes it was a clothespin or any other random object that we all agreed on. I thought it was great fun being hidden in the tub of the washer with all the dirty laundry! It's unfortunate that most kids these days don't use their imaginations like we did back then.

In those early days when I was very young, we didn't know what an automatic dryer was. We hung our laundry on a clothesline out in the side yard. On rainy days, we had a line stretched across our bedroom upstairs. Later on, after Dad had the back patio covered, we even had a line running across the width of it. I can remember the little fold-up laundry cart with wheels like it was yesterday. The older girls would carry it down the steps out of the kitchen...full of wet clothes, sheets, or whatever was being washed that day and then rolled it out and over the driveway, into the side yard where the clothesline was planted. It had a little pocket on the side to hold the clothespins. When I was really little, my job was to hand my sisters the clothespins as they held the laundry up to line. When I finally got tall enough to reach the line myself, I thought that I had really accomplished something very important! Of course, when the laundry was all nice and dry (and somewhat stiff), we would then gather it all back in and begin the folding process. My job was folding handkerchiefs, wash cloths (we actually referred to them as "worsh rags" back then), and small kitchen and hand towels. In my opinion, there is nothing that compares to the aroma of freshly washed laundry that has been hung out to dry!

I don't remember exactly how old I was when Mom received her first ever automatic washer and dryer. If my memory serves me correctly, I think she got them when Dad had won one of the door prizes at the annual Beach Manufacturing summer picnic. That was where he was employed as a tool and dye maker, among other things, and every summer they had this big picnic and the owner of the company, Ted Beach, donated many large household items and other very nice things that were given out as prizes. I'm sure Mom didn't know what to think when she was awarded this new luxury! I sort of remember still hanging the sheets outside so they would have that fresh smell but that new dryer made the bath towels way softer than when they were hung on the line.

Looking back, I don't think Mondays were ever quite the same after that. Yes, the gentle breeze that I was referring to earlier still flowed through my bedroom window on summer mornings and the sounds of the birds singing and the scent of honeysuckle still filled the air. At the time, I'm sure I thought it was great having the new wash day equipment but the things I remember most are the times when we did things a little differently than we do today....a simpler time, indeed. It's those little details of how we accomplished our daily tasks and how we lived our lives...not taking much for granted, unlike today. Now that I am 50 something, I guess I have gotten somewhat reminiscent of my early childhood times yearning to go back and re-visit those days....if only for a short time. I really don't want to have a wringer-type washer again, even though I think it might be fun to have one to use as a planter or something out in the yard. I really don't want to have to hang my clothes up on the line either....even though it might be fun to do it just because I want to sometimes (but of course, I never do).

Wash days occur any day of the week for me now... sometimes EVERYDAY of the week! These days, I look forward to being able to afford a brand new set of the front loading, high tech washer/dryer combos that are so popular today. My only new laundry appliances were purchased right after Jim and I were married and they have gone to wherever old appliances go to die....after almost 36 years, I guess so! For now, I will get by with my used, unmatched set until the great appliance master in the sky calls them home as well. I thank God for these memories that will probably seem a little foolish to some and this is just one of many that I will always cherish and keep in the treasure box of my heart.

Well, until next time...gotta go finish my laundry....and yep, it's Monday!