On A Clear Blue Day
When I was a child—when I was five—my mother would say, “Let’s go see Mrs. Oliver.” I would always get excited. Mrs. Oliver lived three doors down. A flagstone sidewalk led up to her door. She had air conditioning. On hot, humid summer afternoons in Dallas, Texas, air conditioning was a luxury. At my house, all we had were giant fans that just blew the hot air around. But at Mrs. Oliver’s house we could sit in her dark living room and get cool.
My mother took me by the hand and we headed over. Mrs. Oliver opened the door. She wore bright red lipstick and her hair was caught up in an emerald green turban. She had a wide smile, although her teeth were slightly discolored—probably from smoking. I remember she held her cigarettes very elegantly. And as she dramatically gesticulated, I thought the long line of ashes would surely fall on her highly polished wooden floors, but she always made it. She would pause, take one more inhalation, tip her head up and exhale the smoke while simultaneously and without looking make two or three taps on the cigarette, and that elongated stretch of ash would fall quietly into the golden-colored glass ashtray. She never missed once. Mrs. Oliver would sometimes stop talking and look right at me as I sat on the floor resting my arms on my mother’s bare legs and say, “I’ll bet you’d like a treat.” She would then get up quickly and always bring a bowl of Tootsie Pops. I loved red ones. “I bought a lot of red ones just for you. You take as many as you want.” My mother would nod her permission, and I’d take all of them. Mrs. Oliver just smiled and said, “I like them too.” And then she’d light another cigarette, and Mrs. Oliver and my mother would keep talking. I noticed the ashtray stacking up with cigarette butts, the ends tinged with Mrs. Oliver’s red lipstick marks.
Mrs. Oliver didn’t mind if I looked around her house. I’d go into every room. She had two bedrooms. They were immaculate with elegant silky looking bedspreads. I would peek in, but those rooms were never very inviting—overly stiff for a little girl. I would never have dared to really jump on the beds, although I thought about it. I’d usually end up in the back room, a den. I’d sit down on the sofa and Mrs. Oliver would shout, “You can turn on the TV.” And I’d get up, Tootsie Pop in my mouth, and turn on Felix the Cat. I was in five-year-old heaven—sitting in the cool house, sucking on candy and watching my favorite cartoon. I could hear Mrs. Oliver and my mom. Sometimes they would laugh really loud. I felt safe. I never wanted to leave. But my mom would eventually come back into the den and say, “We better go. Your dad will be home soon, and I need to cook dinner.” And so Mrs. Oliver would wave goodbye and say, “Please come back real soon.” And the hot, humid air would hit our faces and my mother would say as we walked home, “Now that was fun.”
I never really knew any circumstances about Mrs. Oliver’s life—whether she was married or had any children of her own—what kind of work she did. She was my mother’s friend. And she was one of the nicest adults I knew when I was five years old. Mrs. Oliver represented safety to me as a child—and probably to my mother too. That turban-wearing, cigarette-smoking woman was probably ahead of her time, and she knew how to enjoy life. The laughter spoke for itself. And Felix the Cat and the stain of red on my mouth were all living proof of that wonderfully safe woman.
Other things make me feel safe now in adulthood. Libraries. In every town I’ve ever lived in, the library is a haven. I lose myself in the rows of books. I seek out the quiet alcove. The idea that I can check out as many books as I want is kind of like being able to take all the Tootsie Pops out of Mrs. Oliver’s candy bowl.
My husband’s hands are a sanctuary for me too. Giovanni has the most gorgeous hands. They are strong, and his nails are white, clean and clipped short. He wears a beautiful gold bracelet on his wrist. His hands are always warm too. And when he enfolds his hand around mine, I feel safe. I feel I belong somewhere. Surely my heartbeat slows with that skin to skin safety.
The Lord is my safety as well. Every Saturday I meet Him. It’s our date. Oh, I talk to Him throughout the week. But Saturday is the big day. I get up early and go to my study. There I’m surrounded by all the things I like—my little desk where I write, my pictures of the Eiffel Tower, open gates and benches of contemplation. I light fragrant candles and turn on Pandora. I get out my Bible and ask to hear from Him. He never fails me—never. Never. It’s akin to sitting down and leaning on my mother’s legs and knowing nothing or no one will hurt me. Jesus’ presence is better than the library, better than Giovanni holding my hand. Better than Mrs. Oliver’s house. He gives me a Word every time we meet and assures me that He is My Rock. My Shield. My Provider. My Rest. My Refuge. I never want to leave.