Category Archives: Moments In Time

‘Words Can Change Our Worlds’ by Gloria Christie

My 7-year-old self walked aimlessly about a yard bereft of trees, neighbors hidden by the distance. I understood that walking could not carry me into my dear Grandma Christie’s arms ever again. But I had nowhere to go, anchored as I was to this ashen earth.

Grandma had gone into the clouds and changed from her rose-covered house dresses into a long white gown. And I gathered from Sunday school that they rode donkeys wherever she had gone. But I doubted that she would prefer that ride over the padded seats in her green Studebaker.

Without warning, a flock of hummingbirds interrupted my thoughts and surrounded me. Magical. A charm of hummingbirds, they are called. And charmed me they did, as well as comforted and delighted me. The charm of birds fully encircled me like angel hair envelops a Christmas tree.

Grandma loved cardinals. Could she have directed the child-sized hummingbirds to comfort me? I wondered. The birds lingered for a few precious moments, then disappeared, leaving me less burdened by my grandmother’s death.

The birds have it right: a congress of crows, a company of parrots, a ballet of swans, a watch of nightingales and a wake of buzzards.

I grew up in the country of eastern Kansas and went to a one-room schoolhouse. For show-and-tell, my parents finally let me take dad’s Japanese rifle, the one he brought home from World War II. I struggled against its weight, but the effort was well worth it. And sure enough, it elicited the anticipated ooh’s and aah’s.

But then Cheryl Moyer opened her big cardboard box. And my Japanese rifle was forgotten, because Cheryl’s box contained the huge dead horned owl her older brother shot hours before. Certainly not part of a charm. No, owls come in wisdoms. We were at once fascinated and fearful.

I have contemplated why we deferred to the power of guns. I grew up around guns. Dad is a natural sharpshooter. On brisk falls days, my mother’s brothers, gun enthusiasts, sought out deer. Today “gun” is an abstract word in an abstract world. “Gun” translates into power, winning and/or skill. In that little schoolhouse, the magnificence of the horned owl, paused in flight, enthralled us. Not its death.

We knew death. Mothers killed chickens and dressed them for dinner. Men butchered big, soft-eyed cattle bound for the freezer.

The kids in my school saw the release of life. We understood the carnage a gun renders upon a body. We recognized the coppery smell of blood and saw the real price of a bullet. The words “death” and “gun” had concrete meaning to us.

I knew a young man who was shot in the face. It was a hunting accident between a classmate’s father and another’s brother. The victim recovered, but the shooter was unable to liberate himself from his terrible guilt.

Today we throw away words as if they were worthless, but each emits a positive or a negative charge: stupid, good job, enemy, thank you, evil and hero.

Words can channel fear into a raging river of hatred. They can engender respect. Or they can change our worlds.

When I was a high school junior, five words strung together did just that. I sat in my vertically alphabetical desk, against a putrid green wall, a color forced upon all past students of a certain age. Mrs. Michaels roamed her English classroom as she often did, but this time she stopped at my desk, bent forward and whispered, “You should write for television,” then continued down the rows of desks.

Those words were like a trolley pulling me toward a platform destination I reached before branching out into other adventures. Thank you, Mrs. Michaels.

Words do matter. Rhetoric has the potential to wound or to heal or to heal wounds.

I had never seen a charm of hummingbirds before my grandmother passed away. Nor since that walk in the yard. But their charm comforted the little child I was. And after all these years, that memory still elicits a smile and a positive healing charge.

Copyright 2015 by Gloria Christie. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Hunt For White Ants’ by Michael Owuor

In my culture white ants were and are still a delicacy. There are several types of white ants generally called ngwen where I come from. Certain types fly out  in daytime and the others do it at night. Let me say something about ngwen that fly at night: They are very difficult to catch. And again they are basically in two categories: those that fly out around 2am, and another at around 4am. More delicious is the 2am ngwen. This one is a little bigger and fatty, and may cause diarrhea when eaten in excess, and yet most people prefer it raw. Ngwen normally fly out from grown anthills. We usually had to go searching for anthills that were ready for harvest many kilometers into the wilderness back in those days. On discovering those that were expecting, we then prepared them by clearing and digging a small hole for trapping ngwen on either side of the hill, and sometimes we had to blow tobacco smoke into the anthill to make sure all the ngwen were put on standby. The other materials to prepare for the night exercise were dry grass that would be lit to provide flames, that attract ngwen and got them trapped into the harvest hole before drawing into baskets.

However, we grew up with frightening stories about Jinn’s and ghosts during the ngwen season. Our elders usually told these scary stories at night, especially after supper, and this inflated fear into us to the extent that no one would shout or even talk at night. The Jinn’s are called ‘Yamo’ in my local language, and had the most horrific stories. Yamos were known to be tall, awkward humanlike creatures with goatlike hooves, and would turn you into whatever they wanted if they caught up with you.  But I never got the slightest proof whatsoever. Therefore, one required a lot of courage to move at night. But despite all this, white ants are a delicacy in my culture, thus it was a must for people to go hunting for ngwen in the wee hours of the night; the very time the Yamos were known to explore the land.

One day we went to trap ngwen at an anthill almost 4km into the wilderness. It was midnight when we set off in a very dark and quiet night in the month of August. We were four in number, each equipped with a bundle of dry grass, a box of matches, and a basket for the harvest. By about 2.45am we had taken position around the huge anthill, two on either side. Ngwen began to rain out of the anthill as though very uncomfortable in their motherland, time and again blowing out our flames. We beamed with excitement and the baskets had just begun bulging with the delicacy when suddenly one of us glimpsed at something standing, and without looking back shouted, ‘Yamo!!’ Everyone got terrified and in a blink scattered for their lives, leaving all we had behind, only to reunite as we scrambled for the narrow door into our hut. Early the next morning we went back to the scene, but to our utter amusement it was an old tree stump that had scared us out of our wits.

Copyright 2015 by Michael Owuor. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Tony’ by Gloria Christie

Brownie only had three legs. He belonged to Aunt Avis, Mom’s older sister. I never knew why he lived with us, but he stayed for several years. I did know why Brownie had three legs. He lost one of them by getting too close to a machine with gnashing horizontal teeth attached to Dad’s tractor, a machine that cut the purple flowered, sweet-smelling crop alfalfa, and cut Brownie’s leg off. That is why you never get close to the tractor.

Then Aunt Frances, another Mom sister, said a neighbor had puppies; and after a suitable amount of begging, my parents said we could have a dog. I picked one of the squirming bundles of puppy pleasures and named him Tony. Dad said he belonged to all of us, my two sisters, too. Of course, I knew he was my dog…knew as in a feeling that washed down from my shoulders and settled deeply behind my stomach.

We returned Brownie, and I turned to my dog. The splash of brown and white across the upper portion of Tony’s body told us what we already knew – he was a collie with German shepherd coloring. After I saw Timmy grooming Lassie on TV, I decided to brush Tony’s long, sleek hair. By then, my dog was a year old.

The daylight hurt my eyes and the sidewalk’s concrete bit into my little knobby knees, but I was determined. The trees gave us shade then took it away, the dust fluffed into bursts as the invisible wind shifted past us. Ours was a working dairy farm in rural eastern Kansas and filled with all sorts of adventures for an ultra-curious me on other days.

I still associate the day I groomed Tony with malted milk filled to the top of a glass and carried carefully in my sticky six-year-old hands from the kitchen to the outside. As I brushed Tony, I found something that little girls didn’t have, a penis! What pleasant surprise that was, Tony made different, but mostly the same.

I brushed until his coat shone in blue-black glints. My dog was every bit as magnificent as Lassie, and she had her own TV show! My mother thought otherwise, since I used her good hair brush. And no one wanted to make Mom mad; her anger was thunderous. I didn’t understand why she would care though; their hair was almost the same color.

Tony lived with us for maybe five years. Dad wouldn’t let us have animals in the house, so ours was an outdoors dog. One morning, I went out and called for Tony. He didn’t come. Dad said that he was gone, a cougar might have got him, but I called for my dog all day. Night came, but Tony did not.

Living on a farm teaches a person about the stages of life and the harsh edges of death. Tony would have come back to me if he could, so I knew he was dead. I cried without sound. It would upset the sisters the grownups said, and they couldn’t understand. So grief bit at my heart, and loneliness weighed down my throat. Tears leaked across my cheeks; I dashed my hand at them, angry at myself for crying. And yet they still come.

Copyright by Gloria Christie, November 19, 2015. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.