Category Archives: New and Unpublished work

The Ghost of Christmas Transition

It’s a new Christmas here.  For years, I spent Christmas at my in-laws, did the “Santa” thing at home with the kids the next day, went to church and hopped into the car for a trip to my dad’s in Greensboro.  We’d go and have cocktails, eat dinner, tear into the gifts with all the nephews and nieces and chat with AMR and Uncle Carl.  And every year since the kids were little, I’d complain about having to make that trip.  Two years ago after dad’s passing, I stayed so busy I didn’t take a moment to let it in.  This year, it is here in full force – the Ghost of Christmas Past swirls about my kitchen and shouts at me to “Snap out of it for heaven’s sake!”  The Ghost of Christmas Present is jingling about singing that it’s time for a new tradition:  “Hooray – all you’ve wanted for all these years!  You’re very OWN Christmas”.  The Ghost of Christmas yet to come looks at me silently and shrugs.

He pisses me off.

So I turn on some music, pour a glass of wine, boil the potatoes and blog my way through this gray day of transition.  I miss my brothers and sisters.  My children seem disappointed in their gifts.  But this is all melancholy; it is not how Christmas is intended.  I hear Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come chuckle.  The bastard.

My resolve returns.  I decide I will not be pressured or intimidated by the secular nature of the season.  The gifts, the lights and the food will not be the center of this day.  I will light the white candle of my advent wreath and enjoy the ham my husband has labored over today.  Baby Jesus is in His manger on the hearth.  I imagine He purses his tiny mouth and blows a comforting breath through my kitchen dispelling the three trouble-causing spirits and filling my home with the Holy Spirit.  A new Christmas is beginning as I let go of what once was.  My fingers seem stiff and unyielding, but they will bend in time.  As the gentle and holy breeze washes over me, they will relax and I will move blithely forward.  The gray day will roll away.

Next year I will decorate, sing, and spread much cheer.  Not all Christmases will be as those I imagine to be in my future.   Some holidays will be like this year, which hosts “The Ghost of Christmas Transition.”  Luckily it’s not a permanent condition.  I chuckle and shrug back at Christmas Yet to Come.


How lucky am I???

Most everyone that knows me knows that when I was 7 years old, my mother passed away.   She was 41 years old.  I have outlived her by 2 years now and am beginning to see many unfinished circles complete.  My own daughter has a best friend that I am delighted to have in my home, and Amanda, who is a blessing to my daughter, is also a blessing to me.  I have granted her “Honorary Daughter” status.  By the same token, even at my age, I have recently been granted “Honorary Daughter” status once again. This is the most wonderful gift that women give each other.  One of the unfinished circles I have the pleasure to experience has been my opportunity to pass this gift along.

Although I had to survive the excruciating pain and fear of the blind-siding loss of my mom, God has granted me abundant grace in love from other women over the years.  No one can ever replace my own mother, but I have been ever so blessed by the many wonderful women brought into my life.  One such woman was Gullinore Campbell, who became for me “M.O.Y.” during my 7th grade year.  I had decided that she was not just “Mother of the Year” but “Mother of ALL Years” for the simple fact that she listened attentively to me.  She asked me about my problems, offered comfort, advice and support.  She was exactly the kind of nurturing spirit a pre-teen needed.  MOY taught me how to attend to the sniveling drivel of a twelve-year-old.  (Not that my own daughter snivels or drivels, but Clarke definitely benefits these thirty-one years later from the gift of attending I learned from MOY.)

In my young adulthood, I had the pleasure to work with a lady named Loree Charles.  Loree taught me humility and Christianity by the way she lived her life.  When I met her, she had recently returned to work after caring for her mother and step-father, both of whom had Alzheimer’s Disease.  She dealt with moving her step father and mother to nursing homes, renting  her parent’s home, and churning through a very demanding job.  Through dead-beat renters, running back and forth to King’s Mountain as her stepfather’s health declined, and quietly enduring the pain of her mother mistaking her for someone else at every visit, she still managed to smile.  She trusted me enough to share her pain and worries with me and unselfishly helped me through mine.  The people she has worked loyally and diligently for in the last 16 years have (for the most part) not been worthy to stand in her tiny shadow.  Loree’s willingness to share her struggles and talk openly to me about her prayer life showed me that just because life is difficult doesn’t mean that Jesus doesn’t love you.

Shortly before I met Loree, I was given the gift of a mother-in-law beyond any new wife’s best dreams.  Carol Armstrong is the woman who I am privileged to call Mom these days.  From the very start my relationship with her son, my mother-in-law has given us her uncompromising support.  She helped me plan the wedding, she and her friends threw me wedding and baby showers and she was present for the birth of our daughter.  She even helped me wall-paper the miniscule bathroom in our first house and I could not have enjoyed the task more.  Had it been left to Frank and myself, one of us would not have left that bathroom alive.  Not once in 18 years of marriage has Mom been anything but a great friend and adviser.  She and her husband of over 40 years raised my best friend.   She is a strong and supremely classy individual and I want to be just like her when I grow up!  “Evil mother-in-law?”  I think not!  (Eat your hearts out ladies.)

As if I have not been blessed enough, just last year I was adopted by my friend Cheryl’s mom, Judy Bridges.  Judy was my original mother’s name, so I’ve come full circle.  Judy is a cancer survivor who inspires me with the seeming ease with which she takes each person as they are, and graciously offers them acceptance.  Not only has she not forgotten how to have fun, she has in the past had to remind me to have fun, too.  I have the distinct impression that the two Judies would have been great friends.  I can easily imagine Cheryl and I headed to the theater with our moms and having an absolute blast.

God makes no mistakes.  As a matter of fact, He scored BIG on this one.  It is as if every time I cried out to Him, begging him to tell me “Why” when I was growing up, He nodded indulgently, knowing how much love and joy He had for me in response.  It has been a gift beyond all telling.  Thank you Lord.  Thank you, Ladies!

And now for something completely different…

As those who know me will tell you, I have a religious bent.  I’m a practicing Catholic, but I won’t say I’m a good Catholic because…of course, I’m still practicing!  When I get good at it, I will most probably be dead.  One of the things I’ve been trying to be consistent about to help me in my quest to be an improved example of who a Catholic is called to be, is in reading the Bible.  I recently read the story of the 10 Lepers who were healed.  I had read this passage many times before and always came to the same conclusion.  I have harshly judged the 9 that did not return to give thanks to Jesus for the cure.  Bear with me here…I’m setting up a poem, so if you’re already familiar with the Gospel story I’ll be brief.

In part of my studies, I discovered that the one man who returned to Jesus was a Samaritan; the other 9 were Jews.  Therefore, when Jesus instructed them to go and show themselves to the priest, it was for ritual cleansing.  This may not have meant anything to the Samaritan, so on the way to the priest, when he discovered he was healed, he returned giving praise.  Jesus asks him, “Were there not 10?  Where, then are the other nine?”  Of course it is easy to consider the remaining 9 to be ungrateful, but what if that was not the case?  What if they were eager to re-join their faith community or their families?  What if, when they returned they were not welcomed as they had hoped?  Had their wives, after their banishment to the Leper colony  had to live as widows, selling off children, or themselves to make ends meet?  I imagined a sadder side to this healing miracle, filing it under “be careful what you wish for…”

So, in considering all this, I came up with a short poem.  I hope you will enjoy it and use the allegory to possibly expand how you read stories that have always seemed familiar to you.

One of the Nine

Praise Yahweh – We are Healed!
We leapt on our once leperous legs,
Embracing as we continued on
Toward Temple, eager
to show ourselves to the priests
as the Nazarene instructed.

All went but the foreigner, who turned back
The one who had no place,
Who, with nothing to gain, would defile
The Holy of Holies

We carried on
Astounding all Jerusalem
As word of our recovery
Reached the priest well before us.

“What of the man?”
I replied to their interrogation,
“He simply directed us to you.”

But I, like the foreigner,
Was given no place at the Temple
No return to the Bosom of Abraham —
Once unclean, always unclean.

I remain judged for all time
As one of the 9 who did not return to give thanks
Yet I am one who sought only
To rejoin the living community of God.

Praise Yahweh…I am healed…

Poetry – the lighter side

I have a writer friend who is enamored of the female form.  He says that the worst thing he could ever hear a woman say is that he is “harmless.”  But it’s true – he’s a complete dear.  One evening he was overheard mentoring a group of individuals  younger than himself about the “proper” way to appreciate a woman’s gifts surreptitiously.  Unfortunately, he has not in fact mastered this particular skill himself.  As a matter of fact, there is no man who truly has.  Thus, I dedicate the following piece to him and men like him around the world.

A Man’s Needs
By Claire Armstrong

It is not the lingering, open-mouthed,

drool-laden goggle-eyed man-stare.
It is not the lustful, smirking, slack-jawed and distracted gape.
These are not the well-received

or appropriate

ways in which to appreciate a woman.
While the longing gaze into the vermillion of her eyes

is the romance which she seeks,
a man still has needs,
the need to admire and imprint in the mind’s eye,

the shape of a well-formed female form

to draw on that mammary memory in times of distress

or comfort
or boredom

without offending or arousing disgust in the bosom of the muse.
A man needs to first make eye contact with the owner of the targets of appreciation,

linger there and smile (in anticipation?)
and cast glances askance at times of her distraction,

never letting her see his gaze

drop to the oh-so-hated level of the t-shirt slogan.
No, a man has need to take several mental images

in short staccato shudder bursts, as the telephoto lens of a paparazzo

storing the curve, the lighting, the gentle rise and fall…

But most importantly a man needs to do so
without eliciting a well deserved poke in the eye.

Eyes are up here, dude!