Finding Life (in obvious places): Moving Day

Moving day today. Big day. I picked Julie up with the car loaded down with my three boxes and assorted other things. She came running out to meet.

“You all ready?”

“I think so.”

She looked through the back window. “Is that all?”

“Yeah. Isn’t it enough?”

“I guess so. Well, you want to come in, say hi to Mom and Dad?”

“Not really. I want to get moving, you know.”

“Okay, but give me a second, alright?”

She ran back into the house and I shut the engine off. I looked back at my stuff and thought about her parents. How they were so proud of her and nice to me and such the perfect couple themselves. Her dad smoking a pipe and wearing slippers around the house and her mom fixing big meals and not eating anything herself. The perfect couple. I never saw anything else.

Once we made it to the house, it only took an hour or so to move all my stuff in. Still, I was tired and sat down on the floor, waiting for Julie to finish arranging.

“When are you getting furniture?”

“Soon, I guess. Probably go to auctions and stuff.”

“Be sure to get a love seat. It would go perfect next to that window, facing the television.”

“What television?”

“You are going to get a television, aren’t you?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter. Now, curtains…”

“Why don’t you take a break?”

“Why?”

“Well, why don’t you join me?” I must have had some grin on my face, cause she came over smiling, trying to look all sexy.

“What did you have in mind?” she asked, brushing against my shoulder.

“Why don’t you lay down with me?”

“On the floor?”

“Would you rather go out in the yard?”

She laughed and started unbuttoning her blouse.

Then there was silence. A lot of it. Well, almost silence. No words. I don’t know.

+     +     +

She got up and put her blouse back on, and the rest of her clothes. I stayed there, looking at the ceiling and over at her.

“What are you doing?”

“Getting dressed.”

“Why?”

“Someone may stop by.”

“Who’s going to stop by?”

“You never know.”

“Come on, Julie.”

“What?”

“Come back here.”

“I will. Just give me a minute. Patience is a virtue, you know.”

“I’m not very virtuous.”

She went to the bathroom and brushed her hair. I lay there, looking at the ceiling. She came back with a big grin on her face.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Nothing.”

“Why are you smiling?”

“I’m just happy.” She lightly kissed me on the cheek.

“Well, good.  I’m glad.”

“I was thinking about…. I don’t know.”

“What?”

“About how it could be like this all the time.”

“Like what?”

“You know. Being together, all the time.”

“You mean marriage.”

“God, you make it sound like some plague or something!”

“Well, it is, sort of. Look, let’s not…”

“Let’s not what? You never want to discuss it. You know how important marriage is to me. I thought, since you got this house…”

“God damn it.”

“Nevermind. Just nevermind.”

She went into the kitchen, crying. I kept looking up at the ceiling. I noticed some brown-stained water marks that could mean a leak somewhere. After a while, I went into the kitchen. She was standing near the window, looking out.

“Julie, I’m really sorry.”

“You…”

“No, I’m really sorry. I just… well, I’m just not ready to start thinking like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like about marriage and all. I’m just not ready.”

“I know. It’s just. You don’t understand I need change too. I need something definite. Something secure. Something I can count on.”

“I know. I understand. Look, can we just wait and talk about this some other time? I mean, the house and all..”

“Okay.”

I took her home and thanked her for her help. On the way back I stopped at a used furniture store and saw this old love seat that probably would have fit in the corner, next to the window. It was too, much, though, so I bought a floor cushion instead.

Velvet Love Seat

{This is part of a larger work entitled Finding Life (in obvious places). To follow along with the story, click on the title in the tags below.}

Being a Writer or Becoming a Wife: Reflections from a Young Sylvia Plath

At age 19, Sylvia Plath had gone from being an awkward, painfully shy girl to a sexually confident young woman.  As she prepares for one of her many dates, she reflects on her image and identity.

In the mirror, undressing, I look at the rather impish and mobile face that grins back at me, thinking: oh, growing to be a woman, to learn the art of subtle power!  As long as men have ideals, as long as they are vulnerable, there is the power to create a dream for them.

Plath did not rest easy in such power.  She saw the complexities of the relationship between men and women and feared what power she might lose were she to pursue marriage (the only perceived “safe” arrangement for coupling at the time).  Nonetheless, she found herself driven to men by a strong sexual urge she calls “refined hedonism”.

Victimized by sex is the human race.  Animals, the fortunate lower beasts, go into heat.  Then, they are through with the thing, while we poor lustful humans, caged by mores, chained by circumstance, writhe and agonize with the appalling and demanding fire licking always at our loins.

This creates a dilemma for Plath.  As she considers her relationship with “Dick”, a pre-med student, she ponders difficult questions.  Would she pursue her writing or become a wife?  Could she do both?

The fact remains that writing is a way of life to me… Would I be forced to give it up, cut it off?  Undoubtedly, as the wife of such a medical man as he would like to be, I would have to.  I do not believe, as he and his friends would seem to, that artistic creativity can best be indulged in masterful singleness rather than in marital cooperation.  I think that a workable union should heighten the potentialities in both individuals.

This “marital cooperation” was not to be found with Dick, who interprets Plath’s assertiveness as a desire to dominate.  She finds others and maintains hope in some “workable union” as she enjoys various romantic relationships.  The idea of being both a wife and a writer remains an ideal.

… would marriage sap my creative energy and annihilate my desire for written and pictorial expression which increases with this depth of unsatisfied emotion… or would I achieve a fuller expression in art as well as in the creation of children?  Am I strong enough to do both well?

Yet, in quieter moments, as she reflects on her passion for poetry and poetic prose, she wonders if she would ever be willing to make sacrifices necessary for marriage.

And when I read, God, when I read the taut, spare, lucid prose of Louis Untermeyer, and the distilled intensities of poet after poet, I feel stifled, weak, pallid; mealy mouthed and utterly absurd.  Some pale, hueless flicker of sensitivity is in me.  God, must I lose it in cooking scrambled eggs for a man.

Quotes from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. 

For more reflections, see –

Beauty Out of Sorrow

Ricocheting Madly In-Between

The Grimness of Atheism

Luxuriating in the Feel of Words

(photo of Sylvia Plath from Caitlin in To Read)

John Prine, Prison, Sex, Religion, Abe Lincoln, Grammar and Happy Meals (favorite Google Hits)

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I was inspired by a recent blog post I read to check out the Google searches people have used to find “A Way With Words”.

My overall impression is that Google Search is doing a fine job of directing readers I want to reach my way.  I hope, in turn, they are finding here much of what they are looking for.

I thought it might be a helpful service, however, to directly address a few of the searches I found particularly appealing –

has john prine ever been to prison

No, you are thinking of Johnny Cash, who recorded “Live at Folsom Prison”.  John Prine did write the song “Christmas in Prison” but he did this with his artistic imagination and poetic license (which he keeps in his billfold next to a picture of Fiona in a bathing suit).

the pursuit of happiness sex scene

Hmmm.  I guess I could work in a sex scene between my 70+ year old lead characters, but that would be just, well… gross.

religion is a system of wishful illusions

On the contrary, as C.S. Lewis once wrote – “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.”

which president is better abe or george and why

Well, according to one of my new blogging buddies, Abraham Lincoln was actually one of our worst Presidents.  I disagree.  While it’s hard to definitively discern history, I believe Lincoln did as good a job managing the worst period in our nation’s history as any President before or after him has done (in much less difficult times).

why is there a place for grammar and mechanics in modern culture

Just as the sun rises in the morning and the moon rises as night. we rely on grammar rules and mechanics to provide anchor our words such that we can make beautiful sense.

how to write an interview on happy meal

Go to the source.  Old McDonald’s Farm.

Inconsistent Sexual Ethics at 6 a.m.: Start Making Sense

Time Magazine Gay Marriage

The landscape of sexual ethics in the modern world is a mish-mash of confused values, convoluted principles, and conflicting presuppositions.

Consider these 3 modern profiles –

1)  A “conservative Christian” rails against same-gender sexual activity and homosexual marriage based on “Biblical convictions”.  He quotes Scripture passages from the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) that forbid such relationships (calling them “abominations”) as well as verses from the epistles of Paul who declares they are the results of our fallen sinful condition.

Yet, this same man is himself divorced and remarried (or supports those who are).   He conveniently ignores the explicit teaching of his “Lord and Savior” – Jesus Christ – who calls divorce and remarriage “adultery”.

2)  A “liberal Christian” endorses same-gender sexual activity and homosexual marriage based on an ethic of “justice/love” she believes Jesus embodied in his relationships and teachings.  She contends that Jesus did not once even address the topic of homosexuality (which must mean he “blesses” such unions – provided they are based on a philosophical ideal of “love”).

She conveniently disregards that the foundation for Jesus’ ethics is not in philosophical ideals he invented (or borrowed from others), but firmly rooted in the Old Testament Law.  It is true he sometimes corrected misapplications of the Law, but he clearly stated that he came to fulfill it, not abolish it.  Just because Jesus did not address same-gender sexual activity does not mean he endorses (or blesses) them anymore than he blessed usury, unjust slavery, or bestiality.

3)  Advocates for gay/lesbian marriage contend they have the “right” to the same privilege of a life-long union with the partner of their choice – redefining the traditional definition of marriage  ( a union between a man and a woman) to become a union between two consenting adults of any gender.

Yet, gay (G) and lesbian (L) advocates continue to lobby for bisexual (B) and transgender (T) rights, arguing they are worthy of equal rights as well.  While it has not been politically expedient (yet) for them to clarify this position, the obvious next step of advocacy will be for bisexuals to have the right to fully express their sexuality in a covenant of “marriage” – which will necessitate another redefinition to allow for a person to marry at least 2 others – a male and a female.  Otherwise, we would be denying them their “rights” inherent in their “sexual identity”.

Inconsistencies abound.  It boggles the mind.

But, perhaps I am just muddled in my thinking.  I would encourage all of you who identify with one of the three positions above (or who concoct another one) to help me understand how your sexual ethics are more consistent than what I’ve portrayed.

image “Time Magazine Gay Marriage” from Bryon in It’s all a part of life

I’ve Got Good News and Bad News (and they’re the same thing)

Meissonier, Jean-Louis-Ernest - Prophet Isaiah (c. 1838) - Oil on fiberboard 35.3x23.8cm

I will punish the world for its evil,

and the wicked for their iniquity;

I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,

and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.  (Isaiah 13:11)

In Isaiah 13, the prophet is addressing the faithful remnant of Israel (and all who suffer persecution) with harsh words about their persecutors.

Where is the Good News here?

The good news is that as pervasive as evil has become, it will not endure.  The reign of those who are wantonly wicked will come to an end on the day of the LORD.

Do you believe this?

There is a prevalent presumption in popular culture that there is a “divine spark” in all things, that there is good in everyone.

One of my virtual friends expressed this notion well when he said, “Even Hitler loved his dog.”

I don’t deny that all things were created good and that everyone is made in the image of God.  Further, I would say we shouldn’t “give up” on anyone or conclude that someone is beyond the grace of God.

But wickedness and evil are extremely powerful and harsh realities in our world and we can’t dismiss them with positive thinking or self-esteem therapy.  We need to hear and heed God’s warnings about wickedness in our own lives and share them with others.

I often hear people quote (out of context) the words of Jesus, “Don’t judge, lest ye be judged.)  Or, they may even refer to his word picture about having a log in your own eye and trying to remove a splinter out of another’s eye.  People conclude that we are to withhold all judgment, to be spiritually laissez-faire – “I’m okay; you’re okay.”

But Jesus doesn’t say to leave the logs and the splinters in your eyes so you can all be spiritually blind.

First, he says, take the log out of your own eye – address your own sin.  Then, deal with the splinters in the eyes of others.

We are in desperate need of this Gospel today – especially in the area of sexual sin.

When I was unfaithful to my wife – at first I was in denial.  But, when I was convicted by the Spirit of my sin, I confessed it and repented.  I did it personally with my wife, as well as publicly (in the best way I could).

Many people (well-meaning friends and family) advised me – “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”  What they were really saying, of course, is “Don’t take the log out of your eye or else you might see my splinter.”

We want forgiveness for things we refuse to confess.  We want mercy at no cost.  Our prayer should not simply be “Lord, have mercy.”  But, “Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

image above “Meissonier, Jean-Louis-Ernest – Prophet Isaiah (c. 1838)” from  Jason Urso in A Little Bit of Everything That I Love

A Sacred Moment in “Mad Men”

Mad Men: New Season 6 Poster and Behind the Scenes Video - IGN

Thanks to the recommendation of my friend-and-literary-therapist George, I’ve been watching episodes of “Mad Men” for a glimpse of the world of the early 1960s.  It is a well crafted show with compelling characters.  For a moralist like me, though, it’s hard to see much of spiritual significance behind the haze of cigarette smoke and steamy sex.

Last night, in episode 6 of season 1, however, I caught a glimpse of the sacred in the profane.

Don Draper, the lead character, was at a club in the Village with his lover and one of her Beatnik boyfriends.  Don and the beatnik were sparring about the size of their manhood (not biological – more vocational, and social-political).  Don’s lover was trying to distract them by showing more leg.

On stage a “performer” read the obituary section out of the newspaper.

Following him a busty brunette recited a poem about being ravished by Fidel Castro at the Waldorf-Astoria, then coming out and seeing Nikita Khrushchev plucking chickens.  After the recitation, she responded the to an audience command to take her sweater off.

Don starts to leave, but his lover urges him to stay for one final act.

Then, 3 men took the stage – two playing instruments (one was the mandolin).  They began to sing in a plaintive voice –

By the waters the waters of Babylon

We lay down and wept and wept for Thee Zion

We remember we remember we remember Thee Zion

More than a Hebrew folk song, these words are rooted in Scripture.  Historically, they describe the suffering of Israel in exile.  Spiritually, they depict our separation from our homeland, and thus, from God.

While the sacred song continues, the scene shifts –

…. to Don’s boss and his lover getting dressed in a hotel after another adulterous affair.

…. to Don’s current love interest – a Jewish business owner who is thinking of submitting to his advances.

…. to Don’s wife putting lipstick and a slip on her 7-year old daughter.

All of these characters are trapped in Babylon.  They long for the homeland, but they have little idea where it is and no clue how to get there.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.

If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Raise it, raise it, even to the foundation thereof.

O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.

Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.       (Psalm 137)

(image “Mad Men…” from  IGN Entertainment in Art, News, & More)

Sent to Serve: My Life with (and without) God – Part II

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College was a time for experiments.

Mixing songs with sex, ideas with drugs.

The God I had come to know went up in smoke.

I replaced the living Word with words from lives

That thirsted for truths to absorb the Truth

And hungered for rights without Righteousness.

 

I wrote a book my senior year called,

Life (in obvious places)

Filled with family stories and ones I’d conceived.

At the end, a coquettish Claudia Matson asks the narrator –

“Why don’t you write any love stories?”

“I don’t know any,” he replies.

 

I took a job at a plastics factory.

And started going to a country church.

Grammar Presbyterian.

Filled with farmers and grandmothers

Who made room for me in my stained Salvation Army clothes.

Smelling of smoke, looking for a God of substance.

 

Easter Sunday, on my way to church.

I saw a grey-haired woman in a tattered coat wandering.

I pulled over and tried to help.

She didn’t know where she was and I didn’t know where to take her.

We were both lost.

 

I drove her to a downtown church.

Dressed in his Easter best, a usher gave her a donut and some coffee.

He sat with her and helped her find her way home.

I left the church in tears.

Finding strength to be weak in a community of grace.

 

I went to seminary to serve God with my mind,

Hoping my body and soul would follow.

In class we looked at the language of Scripture

And discussed how not to talk about God.

 

In my pastoral work, I found God…

… in the joy of boy who would never speak.

… in the songs of prisoners longing for freedom.

… in the tears of a man praying beside his dying wife’s bed.

 

I say I found God, but really God found me, and I didn’t run away.

 

I met Alice in the office of a friend.

She was arguing with the phone company about a deposit.

She won.

I said to myself, “I want her on my side.”

Within 6 months, we were engaged.

 

We moved to a 3-room row house in South St. Louis.

The heat was unbearable,

Steam rising from the asphalt.

We passionately loved and more passionately fought.

From this conjugal clash, a child was conceived.

 

We moved to the countryside,

And I became a pastor,

A shepherd of a frozen flock.

I preached sermons on Sunday,

And took out the trash on Tuesdays.

 

Sarah was born in early Spring.

There was a chill in the air and ice on the roads,

But we barely noticed.

We brought her home to balloons and signs

A Noah’s Ark nursery.

 

We made her first week a music video

with Sandy Patty singing –

You are a masterpiece
A new creation He has formed
And you’re as soft  and fresh as a snowy winter morn.
And I’m so glad that God has given you to me

 

After a week, I was spent (or so I thought).

I retreated to my office and didn’t come out

Even when I came home.

 

the story begins…

Out of Nineveh: My Life with (and without) God – Part I

the story continues….

Prayer, Parenting, Pits, and Pills: My Life with (and without) God – Part III

A Clarion Call: My Life with (and without) God – Part IV

Alone in a Fog: My Life with (and without) God – Part V

On a Teeter-Totter: My Life with (and without) God – Part VI

In the Heart of the Finger Lakes: My Life with (and without) God – Part VII

Chosen to Adopt: My Life with (and without) God – Part VIII

Lost on Long Island: My Life with (and without) God – Part IX

Life at Indiana University in the Early 1960s: A Rising Stahr

Indiana University

Modern universities, in a postwar American society that had either ignored or revised a significant portion of the old puritanical code, could no longer function as bastions of the social system.   

Thanks to some research by Carrie Schwier, Assistant Archivist at Indiana University, I was able to find Thomas Clark’s Indiana University, Midwestern Pioneer (quoted here) that will help me better understand the world of IU in the early 1960s for my upcoming short story – “Life”.

Here are just some of the interesting discoveries I made in Clark’s book –

In 1962, after 25 years of acclaimed service, IU President Herman B. Wells announced his intention to retire.  His successor would be John F. Kennedy’s Secretary of the Army – Elvis Jacob Stahr, Jr.  Stahr told reporters he was very happy with the appointment, that he felt like, “a kid with a new toy.”  Clark writes of Stahr’s comments on landing in Indiana –

He assured reporters he might never fill Wells’ shoes, and he refused to answer questions about compulsory ROTC and the Sex Institute. 

His wife accompanied him.  Clark describes her reaction –

Dorothy Stahr answered the astute questions as to what she expected her role to be in Bloomington with the statement, “raising children and pouring tea.”

One of the challenges Stahr saw before him in this Cold War period went beyond education, to politics.  Only two days after he had taken up his post, he told an audience in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia —

So long as we believe in government by and for the people — a concept the communists abhorwe must continue to find ways to exceed in educated brain power.

To chart such an ambitious course would have been difficult under normal circumstances.  But with the rise of restlessness on campus and beyond, there was much to compete for Stahr’s attention.  In his first State of the University Report (December, 1963), Stahr wrote —

My first year here despite “sweating out” the General Assembly session(s); the acrobatics of those terribly exercised in various ways about a now defunct group called YSA [Young Socialist Alliance]; and some of the inevitable, and I fear eternal headaches associated with “football for the alumni, sex for the students, and parking for the faculty…” was a happy one for my family and me.

In my next post, I’ll explore another thing that caused President Stahr to sweat – a student demonstration over John F. Kennedy’s Cuba Blockade policy that turned ugly.

(image above from Beautiful College Campuses, DanceU101 )

What’s Your Point of View?: Perspective in “The Poetics of Aristotle – III”

In the first two sections of The Poetics of Aristotle  (which I reflect on here and here), the medium and the objects of the play are addressed.  In section III,  Aristotle considers another aspect of drama —

Oedipus at Colonus by Jean-Antoine-Theodore Giroust 1788 French Oil by mharrsch

       There is still a third difference—the manner in which each of these objects may be imitated. For the medium being the same, and the objects the same, the poet may imitate by narration—in which case he can either take another personality as Homer does, or speak in his own person, unchanged—or he may present all his characters as living and moving before us.    

      These, then, as we said at the beginning, are the three differences which distinguish artistic imitation,—the medium, the objects, and the manner. So that from one point of view, Sophocles is an imitator of the same kind as Homer—for both imitate higher types of character; from another point of view, of the same kind as Aristophanes—for both imitate persons acting and doing.

Playwrights choose the genre (medium) in which they tell the story, the characters (objects) who make up the story,  as well as the narrative perspective (manner) from which the story is told.  Homer, for instance, wrote his classic The Odyssey from the perspective of the hero – Odysseus.  Similarly, Sophocles writes Oedipus the King from the perspective of Oedipus.  Aristophanes, on the other hand, tells the classic sex comedy Lysistrata not only from the main character’s perspective, but through the dialogue among the characters and the songs of the choruses.

I’m not certain what Aristotle means by “higher types” of character.  Perhaps he is referring to the heroic qualities of both Odysseus and Oedipus and their special relationship with the gods.  What I take from this, is that, in good drama both heroic and common characters are shown to act and do things that make sense and that contribute to the plot of the story.

Thus far, I’ve chosen to tell the story “Liberty” from a third-person point of view.  Interestingly, however, all the scenes center on the main character of David.  Nothing takes place that David doesn’t witness, yet he is not the one telling the story.  The only hints we get about what is going on in David’s head is from what he says, from a few of his gestures, and from some carefully selected “soundtrack” music.

Aristotle concludes this section identifying some of the debated geographic and etymological origins of Comedy and Tragedy which I didn’t think would be fruitful here.  One comment he includes is –

… some say, the name of ‘drama’ is given to such poems, as representing action.

Again, action is central in the creation of drama.  When I was chatting with my former theater professor ab0ut the subject of extensive dialogue in drama, I brought up the example of the movie, “My Dinner with Andre” (a film depicting a conversation between two intellectuals that enjoyed a great deal of critical acclaim in the 1980s.)  Essentially, his response was the exception only serves to prove the rule.

I am certainly being mindful of including action in the story “Liberty” as it develops.  While it is true that it is still mostly dialogue (as is “The Pursuit of Happiness”), the dialogue drives, describes, and in some cases dictates the action.  I don’t believe a play has to have sword fights or sex scenes to be good, but neither can you simply record a Twitter conversation about a recent bowel movement and call it good theatre (although I imagine if it hasn’t been done, it will be soon).

(image above “Oedipus at Colonus by  Jean-Antoine-Theodore Giroust”  from mharrsch, some rights reserved)

Sexy Syntax in WordPress

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First, a disclaimer… this is not a list of lurid erotic posts found in WordPress.  It is a follow-up to an earlier post I did (reflecting on a section of Mark Tredinnick’s Writing Well) that describes the process of forming sentences for good writing as something like foreplay.

As I mentioned, I am Puritan enough to believe this intimacy is best reserved for the marriage covenant, but the analogy between the interplay of words in good writing and the dance of intimacy in a loving, holy relationship is sound.

To illustrate Tredinnick’s point, I’ve looked for WordPress posts that stitch together words in an alluring, suspenseful, even seductive way.  They have nothing to do with sex.  They are about relationships – between a man and his food, between an artist and her model, between a loving father and his daughter, as well as between the Creator and His created,

For some truly sexy syntax, check these out…

Bread Whine” (Logos con carne) bemoans a love lost, then describes his search to satisfy his hunger as best he can.

The Pygmalion Effect” (charlottesville winter) depicts a wonderfully suggestive, seductive relationship between an artist and a model.

The Big Leagues” (The Best Place By the Fire) tells the intricate, discreet details of a poker hand.

Blue” (Another Resolution) shares a lovingly intimate moment of a father bathing his child in a sink.

The Master Shucker” (Increase & Abound) draws an extended analogy from a childhood memory of a father shucking crabs.

 

(image “Words (IMG_5971a) by Alaskan Dude” from shallowend, some rights reserved)