The summer of 1971, my friends and I frolicked among sheet-metal mobile homes unaware of the terror that would soon chase us into a grown-up world of insecurity.
We sat on the grass lawn of the club house, plucking clovers and stringing them together into long weedy necklaces. My childhood was much like those childhood necklaces--pieced together, fragile and wilted. My single mom did her best to nurture me and my two sisters, but at the end of the day she was just worn out.
I was eight that summer; my sisters five and four. One of the older girls in the trailer park looked out for us, but I knew it was up to me to keep them entertained. Sometimes we wandered to the back lot where the dandelion garden grew. The bright blossoms delighted my sisters and their joy inspired me. Day after day, we picked the pungent little weeds and I wove greenery for them to wear. I intertwined them with clover, grass, and vines—creating princess crowns, bracelets, rings, necklaces and anklets to adorn their tiny limbs. They squealed with delight each time a new creation drifted from my brain to the weeds and then on to their twirling arms.
Sometimes I made long chain necklaces for our mom, but always by the end of her long days at the factory, they were lifeless—much of their charm long gone. Mom would smile, that end-of-the-day smile, and thank me politely with a squeeze, then move to the kitchen to make dinner.
One afternoon late in June, heavy rains kept us inside, huddled in the basement of the clubhouse. Storm warnings erupted. And I worried about my mom far away at her work. Would she be okay? Would she come home to us?
It wasn’t long before even the adults grew quiet, heads turned upward, ears straining to hear. After a momentary silence, the sound any Midwestern dreads to hear—the sonic boom of a tornado descended upon us. Crackling and heaving of wood. Screams. Whooshing of air bursting. Glass shattering. I thought it would never end.
And then, our world collapsed around us.
My mother made it safely home that night. Our house, however, wasn’t so lucky. Our belongings were scattered; some never to be found, just like my mother’s hopes and dreams. She wandered aimlessly through the broken dishes, tattered clothes, and remnants of memories.
Along with nearly 100 other “survivors,” we found temporary shelter at the local high school. Every day, though, she insisted we make the one-mile hike back to the trailer park to search for our lost items. While she never seemed to find exactly what she was looking for, I always came away with bits and pieces of treasure.
It wasn’t long before the treasures began to form in my mind and my hands obeyed. A cross was in the making—a mosaic of colors and textures. Its creation filled my days with purpose and hope—a gift for my mother.
“Mama, I made this cross for you. I made it from the pieces of our things. Isn’t it pretty?”
My mother plopped down in the midst of her broken house. “Yes, darling. It’s lovely.” Her fingers traced the edges of the broken pottery and caressed the plaid flannel patches that had once been my daddy’s shirt. Jagged mirrors reflected her tired face.
“Mama, I remembered I heard once in Sunday School that the cross gives hope to the brokenhearted. Do you think it could for us too?”
Her eyes filled with tears as she reached up, pulling me into a tight embrace. “Oh, yes, Caroline. Your cross gives me . . . gives us all hope. You took the broken pieces of our life and made something beautiful with it—just like God does.”
I am older now. I still weave hope with clovers and dandelions for my own girls. I still fashion crosses of faith from objects found. It is His handiwork.
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