What were some of “Collecting Dreams”‘ outtakes? As my editor rightly pointed out, I got off track in several places. But in my defense, one reason I got off track was because I didn’t want to leave the reader in a house full of old, moldy dried floral arrangements and the stench of unwashed laundry, bacon grease, thick layers of dust and pickle juice jars sitting around in the kitchen, devoid of their pickles, but full of the precious juice. Not to mention vast quantities of objects strewn about with no rhyme or reason. I didn’t want to leave the reader there for the entire story. And in my efforts to take the reader away from all that, I took the story too far away from the main theme. So here’s what was cut:
From Chapter Six:
This summer was going to be different. Every other summer for the past couple of years after Stephen had died, we had gone to visit our aunt and uncle for a week. They lived in Kansas City. Auntie Lacy was a teacher and would always read to us when she tucked us in, before our prayers. One year Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White had just been published, and she read a chapter of that every night. After the chapter, we said our prayers, and there began the tradition of praying for the soldiers in Vietnam, so they wouldn’t get killed. Reese had also started her tradition of praying for all of the Eskimos, so they wouldn’t get cold, and she also prayed for President Nixon. We didn’t know this until later, but Uncle Joe would sneak into the bathroom during prayer time and put his ear to the adjoining wall to hear the entertainment. During one of our most memorable visits, Allison and I wrote letters, just so Mom and Dad wouldn’t miss us too much. Allison’s went like this:
“Dear Mommy and Daddy,
I am having a good time.
Mine went like this in my best cursive:
“Dear Mommy and Daddy,
Yesterday we went to the thirty-one shop. Then we went to Swope Park Zoo. We saw the airplanes land at the airport on Monday then we went to the thirty-one shop. Today we went shopping at Pier 1 then we went to the thirty-one shop. Uncle Joe had a sample of some ice cream and said it tasted terrible, right in front of the clerk! Please remember to feed my guppies and turtles. I hope we go to the thirty-one shop again tomorrow.
Your loving daughter,
The “thirty-one shop” was a local Baskin-Robbins ice cream store. I thought it was just amazing that any place could have thirty-one flavors of ice cream! We didn’t have one of these stores in our little town. I took full advantage of this marvelous place during our visits.
From Chapter Eight:
It was turning into a strange summer as we had quite a number of storms. Of course, in Kansas, tornadoes are to be expected, but we had an overload of poor weather that year. The most memorable storm to Allison and Reese was when they were at a little local amusement park riding the Ferris wheel. The storm sirens were blasting, and just when Allison and Reese had reached the summit of the ride, the Ferris wheel suddenly churned to a halt and stopped operating altogether. It had frozen in that position, and it was quite some time before the operator could get it moving again, releasing the remaining passengers until Allison and Reese were safely back on the ground. The bright side, if there is one, is that they had the best seat in the house and were clearly able to see the funnel cloud approaching as the winds began their menacing stirs.
Later that summer, I was babysitting two houses down from our house. I’d put the kids to bed and was watching TV in the living room. I heard the storm sirens and should have probably gotten the kids out of their beds upstairs and immediately marched them down into the basement. But when the wind and rains came up, I was alerted to an open kitchen window by the family’s dog. The poor thing was chained to a large tree in the backyard and barking its head off. The pressure inside the house was so great that I could not close the kitchen window; neither could I open the back door to bring the dog into safety. I heard a huge “crack!” somewhere outside as the rain poured in. I was completely inside the house and looked and felt like a drowned rat. After about an hour, the parents called, and I told them we were all okay but that their kitchen was a mess, and the dog was still outside. They weren’t as worried about that as they were about their four children, who were miraculously still safe despite my stupidity.
They came home a little after that, although the storm had died down nearly as quickly as its onset. As I left their house to walk back to ours, I realized what a tremendous fool I had been. A great elm tree in their front yard had fallen and cracked into two halves, one of which was now a large, jagged stump that stretched up at about a height of only three or four feet. The largest part of the tree now lay across the yard and into the driveway. This tree was about a hundred years old, at least three or four feet in diameter and fifty feet tall. That must have been the loud cracking sound I had heard. It was extremely dark outside; all of the electricity was out, and there were no streetlights. My eyes adjusted, and I was able to stumble over fallen tree branches and make my way back to our house, where I staggered around in the dark trying to get ready for bed. People are always asking me if I have ever seen a tornado. No! I have always been inside and usually very intelligently taking refuge in a basement. Mom and Dad didn’t call me or come over to the neighbors’ house that night, which was odd. Mom knew about the storm but had fallen asleep on the couch, waiting for me to return as she always did.
From Chapter Eleven:
Around 10:00 a.m., after the morning coffee rush, Grandma would take Poppa back to the house for a few hours so he could sit in his recliner, watch TV, and entertain himself. He knew every single game show. He could not walk without the assistance of a walker, and had emphysema. Sometimes he would try to get up to change the TV himself. Remote controls for electronic appliances hadn’t been invented yet. He would haul himself up in the walker, take a few steps forward, and on about the third step, almost lose control. The walker would jump and bump as if possessed, and then it would seem that Poppa was practically running, slapping his feet along the carpeting, trying to keep pace with his walker. We would hold our breath until he eventually made contact with the TV and would switch the knob to the program he wanted. It was a sign of his independence that he wanted to get up and change the channel himself without assistance from any of us. Grandma hired a lady to come in during the day to prepare lunch for Poppa and keep him company. Then Grandma would go get Poppa after 5:00 p.m. and bring him to the restaurant for dinner.
Poppa was an observer. He would sit and watch everyone who came in. He usually wouldn’t engage in conversation but just watch.
On the Sundays we were with Grandma, sometimes we’d ask if we could go do something and Grandma would say, “Just accordin’.”
“According to what, Grandma?”
Poppa was a professional photographer in addition to being an archaeologist, and he had a studio in a room on the lower level of the house. He had a waiting room there, too. He never had clients anymore, but in the past, when he’d have a customer, they would come in through a separate door near the garage. A bell would alert him and Grandma that the client had arrived whenever the door opened. After Poppa retired, the house stayed as it was because the restaurant and doughnut businesses were all consuming, and there didn’t seem to be any reason to move things around or sell his equipment.
But one night the office bell sounded. It woke all of us kids up, and I could hear Grandma and Poppa out in the hall discussing it; of course, Grandma had not yet gone to bed:
“Luke, somebody tried to get in the house!”
“No, the bell just went off, Leah.”
“But the door was locked tighter than a tick!”
“Per chance, per chance.”
After a sleepless night like that, if time permitted and the restaurant business was slow, providing that one of the upstairs apartments wasn’t rented, I might go upstairs for a little nap in the afternoon. I didn’t really like it up there; it was usually too hot during the day. But it was quieter than being in the restaurant, even in the back room.
But what’s even more interesting, Grandma had the ability to be her own advocate, too. There is a particular trip that comes to mind. Everyone was going down to the Ozarks in Grandma’s car because she wanted to see her family. Arriving at Springfield, Missouri, during rush hour was not a good thing because Grandma had had about eight hours worth of silliness from Allison and Reese in the backseat of the car, and her nerves were shot. The car seemed to echo Grandma’s state of mind because it died and refused to start back up in the middle of a busy intersection. Grandma kept turning the key and grinding the engine. A car behind them made the mistake of honking. “Honk, honk, honk, honk, honk, honk, hhhoooonnnkkkkk!”
She flung the driver’s side door open and flew out of the car. As she did so, the car door swung back slightly and hit her in the left knee and straight in the face. Now her dander was really up. She drew herself up to full height, turned, faced the offending honker, and bellowed: “You get up here and start the son-of-a-gun, and I’ll get back there and honk!” (Her salty language requires the reader to substitute the word one sometimes hears in connection with “son-of-a-_____”.) The honking sheepishly stopped. But that was a great lesson for us. At least one of our role models had demonstrated how to stick up for oneself.
There was a lull just then, and out of the blue, Poppa said, “I have been watching Jennifer.” Jennifer was one of the military wives who lived in one of the apartments upstairs with her husband and was working as one of the waitresses on the morning shift. Well, Poppa watched everybody, but he made the announcement in such an odd way that Grandma stopped what she was doing, wiped her hands on her apron, turned completely around, and surveyed each one of us seated at the table: Poppa, Reese, Allison, and me. Poppa went on, “When people leave the money on the table and don’t come up front to pay, she puts the money in her pocket.”
Grandma looked at us as if we had just dropped into the restaurant from outer space. I had never seen Grandma speechless before. She finally found her voice. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, she did it again today.”
I knew Grandma didn’t want to believe it. She was very fond of Jennifer, and in fact, had often spoken of her as an adopted daughter. Grandma was tasked with the unfortunate chore of approaching Jennifer, who had burst into tears and told Grandma that she thought the money people were leaving on the table was her tip money. Unbelievable. She must have been pocketing the ticket as well so there would be no record of the transaction. A few weeks later, Jennifer didn’t show up for work. She and her husband had left in the middle of the night, had taken many of the furnishings from the little apartment, and had high-tailed it to wherever the husband’s transfer had taken him. They were behind in their rent by two months. We learned the story from the other tenant and his wife, who wrote Grandma for many years after the incident. It was as if they felt obligated to somehow compensate for the transgression. They were good people. I liked them better than Jennifer and her husband because they were nicer and didn’t talk through their noses.
After the business was rid of the bad apple, it seemed to thrive. The rest of the summer saw lots of additional income as many tourists came to town and some ventured down our quiet, little street. Grandma worked harder than ever and so did we
We had Thanksgiving at Grandma’s place. She brought little Poppa from the nursing home; it wouldn’t have felt right to have Thanksgiving without him. We’d been used to having holidays mostly at Poppa’s house with the big dining room and beautifully colored cut glasswork on shelves over the west-facing windows that overlooked the field to the back of the house. It was very satisfying to see the sunlight glinting off all of the pretty colors during an evening meal. We’d always had dinners there, and we’d always joined hands and prayed. Poppa would always lead the prayer. When the prayer ended, he would start the little signal by squeezing the hand of the person to his right. The signal would go around the table until it ended back up with Poppa. Then we could eat.
From Chapter Twelve:
One year, we’d decided to have the Christmas holiday meal at Auntie Lacy and Uncle Joe’s little place. It was the little house they had before they moved to Kansas City so Joe could study to be a doctor. We couldn’t all fit around their little table, so everyone had spread out. Some of us were eating in the little living room with our plates on our laps. Poppa was out in the living room, next to me.
Suddenly Poppa yelled, “Who cut the ham?” Joe came out of the kitchen with a quizzical look on this face and said that he had. Poppa thoroughly dressed him down for cutting the ham too thick. Everyone ate in stunned silence because this was so out of character for the gentle, little man. But something had struck a nerve. Maybe he had trouble cutting thick ham, or maybe he thought it was inappropriate to serve ham in thick slices. We never found out; everyone was too afraid to ask.
Poppa looked a bit forlorn in that humble little abode but seemed happy to be part of it and was extremely pleased to see me. He shook my hand with both of his, got tears in his eyes, and said, “It’s wonderful to see you, Kelly.”
I shook his hand back, smiled, and said, “Thank you, Poppa. It’s good to see you too,” displaying in turn my very best manners.
From Chapter Thirteen:
We lost our little Poppa the following spring. We had been seated at Grandma’s little table for a Sunday evening meal. All of a sudden, Poppa’s teeth dropped out of his mouth right down onto his plate. “Yeeww!” We thought he was teasing, because he was always doing silly things like that. But then one side of his face went limp, and his arm on that side of his body went limp, too. When he tried to speak, the words came out all slurred. The ambulance arrived, and that was the last time I saw him alive. Our sweet little Poppa had had a stroke.
I hadn’t approved of Grandma’s marriage to him. I remember being very disappointed when she showed me the ring he’d given her. But she and he had known each other for a number of years. In fact, at one time he had been her employer. When Grandpa had died in the late fifties, the only way Grandma could make ends meet was to move out of her little house, rent it to a very low-income tenant, and take a room in Poppa’s house along with his wife, who was very ill. Grandma took care of the wife and kept the house spotless. She also acted as Poppa’s secretary for his photography studio. In addition to this, at the time she was also supporting two of her children in college and was going to school part time herself to learn how to be a cosmetologist. No one ever worked harder than that woman.
I had overheard Mom and Grandma talking in our little kitchen in the Stevie house. Grandma was saying, “Luke said, ‘Marry me, Leah, and take care of me. I’ll take care of you after I’m gone.’” But the sad thing of it was not just that there was nothing left after Poppa died; the money had all been spent on his nursing home expenses and the capital to establish the two little businesses. But the really heartbreaking thing was that it hadn’t really been a marriage at all. Grandma would reflect on it in the letters she would write to me in college. “It was a marriage in name only,” she would write. “Old Poppa tried, but he was just too old.” I think she may really have loved him. I don’t think her character would have permitted her to marry just for the money.
We all went to the graveyard together. It had started as a seasonably cool day but the earth warmed as we stood in the cemetery. It was the end of an era and the new season seemed to breathe new life into Grandma. She only had herself now to be accountable for.
The egg man continued to make house calls to her little place. Sometimes they would drive to nearby Crestview together and go to auctions. Jake was a dairy farmer who also kept chickens and pigs. He didn’t always buy something when they went to auctions. Sometimes they just went for the outing.
They married the following summer. He was fifty-six; she was fifty-five. Poor Jake had never been married, but when he finally did, he got a wife, three kids, and nine grandkids. Great-grand kids followed not too long afterward. Life got good again for everyone. New traditions and memories were established in Jake’s little farmhouse just north of town. Grandma kept her little old house in town, rented it once again, and adopted the life of a farmer’s wife who created lovely gardens and always had a house full of wonderful food.
We enjoyed going over to visit them. Their house was comfortable. There might be little areas of clutter like magazines and such, but nothing like our house with the books overtaking the living room, in spite of the grand bookcases. When we would pull up into the yard, Grandma would always come out of the house with her index finger raised in salute. Or if she were out in her garden, she would stop, transfer the hoe or whatever to the left hand, and raise her right index finger to greet us. She did the same thing to bless us on our way when it was time to leave. That was her signature wave.
Just like our move to the new town after Stephen’s passing, Grandma’s marriage to Jake and move to a new little community seemed to help her move on. We had the advantage of experiencing it with her. But even though she was moving on, in a way she was moving backward in time. Jake had no indoor plumbing. There was an outhouse for about the first year of their marriage, and one day during that first year, Grandma was in the outhouse doing her business. Sometimes she would have a smoke out there, and she had decided to do that today, so she had her cigarettes with her and had just lit up.
She heard the tractor out in the yard. Jake was going to go plow a field. Suddenly she felt a slight bump. Well, that was a little annoying, but no matter, back to business. Jake must have not turned wide enough when he was trying to go down the lane. Then there was another bump, then a third. That last one was no mistake! “Jake, you stop that!” She was barely audible over the loud tractor, but Jake wasn’t stopping anyway. He bumped the outhouse again. This time, she flew off the seat, and the door flew open. She came running out, panty hose wrapped around her ankles, the cigarette hanging between her teeth, hands gesturing wildly. Jake was whooping it up like there was no tomorrow.
They teased each other like that and seemed to genuinely love each other. He took very good care of her, and she took care of him. He had home-cooked meals every night, which was a lot easier for Grandma once running water was installed in the old farmhouse, along with a proper bathroom.
Everyone benefitted from Grandma and Jake’s marriage, even the dogs. Tiger and another dog called “Buddy” (Jake’s farm dog), enjoyed the advantage of a heating pad that Grandma kept out on the porch for them when the weather was cold. Jake had never done that for poor Buddy. The dogs ate a lot better with Grandma around, too.
New traditions were started. Santa Claus came out to Jake’s farm now. He’d never visited in person before! There were many Thanksgivings at the little farm, always with Grandma’s good cooking. We were all sound asleep after one particularly good Thanksgiving dinner. Asleep, that is, until there was a loud bumpety-bumpety-bumpety bump bump bump bump bump! Dad had gotten up at about 4:00 in the morning. He was trying to quietly go down the stairs from the second story down to the first level of the little farmhouse in order to use the bathroom. But his socks slipped on the smooth, wooden steps, and he fell all the way down the stairs. Luckily, he wasn’t hurt, but there were a few cranky people that day. They’d been planning on a very nice sleep after full stomachs and good conversation.
And now, when we are all together, someone always has to mention Dad falling down the steps, and “Who cut the ham?” to general merriment before the holiday can be complete.
From Chapter Fifteen:
I really had to get a grip on myself. I looked around and remembered that I’d been in this very corner by the old stereo during that first summer break from college—the summer of the biscuit, pickle, and tea diet—when an invitation came from the local pastor. He was in need of an adult chaperone for a camping trip. Some church kids were going to Colorado for a couple of weeks. This pastor was a very nice man. He’d visit Mom without being judgmental about the house. He would sit in a spare chair in the kitchen and adopt the role of counselor by listening to her woes about the house and the move. I’d met him a time or two when he stopped by, and eventually the pastor called and asked Mom if she thought I’d be interested in accompanying the group on the trip. I wasn’t really the outdoorsy type. Sure, I had done Girl Scouts, but after one night of being invited out to a lake with some friends of Dad’s, freezing our butts off and getting a million mosquito bites, I really wasn’t an enthusiastic camper.
But I’d agreed to go and had everything ready. The comfortable boots I’d worn in college, jeans, clothes, personal items, and a borrowed sleeping bag were all packed and down in the front entry among still unpacked boxes from the previous year. Part of the deal was that I would have to drive a bunch of the youth in a car that wasn’t ours but which belonged to a local church member. It was a humbling thing to have somebody I really didn’t know entrust me with their very late model and very nice Pontiac sedan. I was afraid that I would have an accident or do something with the car.
After I’d put everything in the entry, I went upstairs where Mom was and told her how scared I was about driving all that way. It was a good twelve-hour drive from the farm to the church camp near Fort Collins, Colorado. She immediately grabbed my hands and said she would pray with me.
And I found that God really did answer prayers. We had a safe and accident-free trip, with no mishaps at all except when the car got stuck in some mud at the camp. But that was a minor deal compared to the lengthy drive. Mom had always loved Jesus. It was a lot more apparent to me after that trip and, of course, whenever I received letters from her in college in which the entire last two paragraphs would be devoted to sending angels my way and reminding me that Jesus is my very best friend.