A few days ago I had the privilege of speaking with a most delightful fellow on the phone. My little nephew, who just turned four, woke up from his nap and came in the room where my brother was on the phone with me. The miles divide, but the heart does not. Thankfully so. When his Papa told him who he was talking to, the little guy got on the phone and said hello.
My brother was suffering with a pretty bad cold. After we said our hey, how are you’s I asked my little friend about his father. “So are you taking good care of Papa? Since he’s sick?”
“Uh huh,” he said. I could almost see his head nodding over the phone.
“Oh good,” I replied. “I need you to take very good care of him, because I love him. He’s my baby brother.”
“What?!” he exclaimed in disbelief. He turned to my brother. “Papa, Aunt Tara says you are her baby brother!” He giggled as he relayed this silly idea.
“That’s right. I am. She’s my big sister,” I heard my brother say on the other end of the phone.
“What?!” my nephew repeated through his giggles. “THAT’S HILARIOUS!!!!!”
Oh, the joy in hearing him erupt with laughter on the other end of the line! Bless him, I miss my brother and his family. The laughter was like a balm to my soul.
I’ve been thinking about that little guy and his shock and disbelief about our connectedness. It was as though something like that had never even entered his mind. About how we are joined together. The string that connects us.
I am thankful for my nephew, his laughter, his joy, and his reminder that sometimes we might not know or remember just how much we are all–every single one of us–connected. And oh–the joy and laughter that knowledge should bring.
Sometimes I think it’s easy to remember the things that divide us–those things tend to be so much easier to focus on, don’t they?
But wouldn’t it be nice if we had someone to remind us of that connectedness and laugh like a child with joy over that knowledge?
Hard to believe since today has been cold as all get out, but a couple of months ago the littles had a swim meet. It was one of those Georgia days that started out pleasant–the temperature just right–but rapidly moved into the “I’m sweating an ocean right where I’m sitting” situation. The Fella was helping as a timer, so he was somewhat in the shade, but Aub and I–not so much. We sat in our camping chairs (that have never been camping, but they have attended numerous sporting events over the years) and tried not to complain about the heat too much.
Because it was hot as mess.
We were using arms and sunglasses to block the burning glare, but there really was no escape for those of us who were watching the meet. We were drinking all the water (subtracting out what may or may not have been poured on one or both of us in an effort to cool us off) as we cheered our swimmers on.
Just when we didn’t think we could bear it any longer, a woman came up to us from the pool area. Separated by the chainlink fence, she hoisted her black umbrella up above her head and over the fence.
“Please take my umbrella. I’m about to leave, but my son is over there. He’s staying until the meet is over because his daughter is still swimming. You can just give it back to him when the meet is over, okay?”
I was stunned. Not only had this stranger offered us protection from the glaring rays of the sun in the form of her lovely umbrella, but she’d been paying attention. To us. Folks she’d never met before. And she’d noticed our distress.
Of what she had, she was giving.
I’ve thought about her many times over the past few months since. She touched my heart with her generosity and interruptibility and compassion. And with her umbrella, which was the embodiment of those three things. She saw, she noticed, (and those are two very different things), and she gave. She was the umbrella.
Two days ago Cooter shared with me a story that he read in one of his books of football stories. In 1943 because so many young men were being drafted for WW II, two teams–the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers–combined the players that each had left, so they’d have enough players to make a team. Formerly bitter rivals, they worked together and had a winning season. Though not their official name, the blended team was called the “Steagles.” During a time of crisis, the ones who were former “enemies” banded together, worked together for the good, and created a winning team.
As 2016 comes to a close, both of these stories are at the forefront of my mind. While I know my Mama would be fussing at me for disregarding the beauty and joy in everyday, several times over the past month or two, I’ve said along with many–“Good riddance, 2016.” I know it hasn’t been all bad, but good gravy, we’ve had some doozies this year, haven’t we?
As I turn the page of my calendar tomorrow and greet a new day, a new year, I look for my word–the word to carry with me through the year, to hold close and inspire me, to encourage me, and to challenge me to, as my Mama used to say, “be my best self.”
For 2017, I’ve chosen two words.
As I seek to make the coming year a better one, one that welcomes all, encourages all, loves all, I need to be the umbrella. See, notice, share. Offer protection, shelter, comfort, love. And I need to pass along the umbrellas offered to me. Pay it forward, backwards, upside down–pass it along to whomever, wherever/whenever it is needed. And the really cool thing about umbrellas is even if you can’t afford to let it go, there’s usually almost always room to invite another soul in out of the rough stuff to stand beside you and be protected alongside you.
This is going to be a year of collaboration, community, teamwork. It will have to be. I think great and beautiful things can happen. But only if we are willing to break through the perceptions that are barriers, the ones that keep us from seeing how alike we are despite the world posting the differences on a lighted marquee sign. While it will be way out of my comfort zone, I think it’s time to join up with folks from the other teams and see if we can do any better together.
Because better is what we need.
My last umbrella wound up going to someone on an exit ramp during a bad rainstorm. Which is as it should be. So I’m out of umbrellas and I doubt I can find a Steagles jersey on Etsy (but you can find Falcons ones, and that’s all I’m going to share about that because birthdays and whatnots are coming up, don’tcha know), but I can carry the spirit of them both with me and share it with folks I come across on the backroads and interstates and sidewalks.
Tonight I’m thankful for old WWII football players and grandmas at swim meets. They both have taught me a great lesson–one I’m going to try my level best to live out in 2017.
Happy New Year! But as Mama would say–even more importantly, Happy Everyday!
Christmas Eve twenty-one years ago, I bundled up my baby girl and we attended the midnight service at our church. Organ music began at 11 p.m. and the service began at 11:30. We had enjoyed sitting there for a few minutes, listening to the music, when she had a moment that babies do that need attending to. Sooner rather than later. So I toted my little “sack of taters” out to the car parked close to the side of the church. After a refreshing change, I wrapped her up snug, and paused to listen to the music pouring out from the church with the light through the beautiful stained glass windows. It was my favorite–“O Come, All Ye Faithful.” The service was beginning.
My heart was full to bustin’ as I walked across the dark churchyard. My soul was filled with song and joy. I couldn’t hold it in. I found myself not just singing my favorite song, but I was belting it out with all the verve I could muster.
I was LOUD.
As I approached the church steps, I realized that I had not been alone in the dark as I had thought. The ushers were still outside greeting folks who were coming in at the last minute.
They grinned and welcomed me again. “Merry Christmas, Tara.” The smiles on their faces left no doubt that they had heard me.
And I grinned right back.
The overwhelming joy within wouldn’t let me feel a moment of embarrassment. Just light. And love. Wonder and joy.
This holiday season I wish for all of you that kind of joy–the kind that has you overflowing with song and laughter–the kind that nothing can dampen.
Sing out loud for all to hear! The world needs to hear your voice. Today and everyday.
Forty-nine years ago today my parents said “I do” because they did and that was the beginning of a fantastic journey full of brilliant, simple moments and more love than one house could hold. Forty-nine years ago right now, I believe they were warming up some Pepsi or some such because they’d heard that it was delicious. I tried to wrap my brain around the idea of them, newlyweds, in the kitchen in their little rented home in Valdosta, Georgia standing over the stove with grins they couldn’t wipe off their faces (at least I would imagine so), and I never thought to ask if it was any good.
I would think probably not, since they never made it in the years that I can recall.
That love. Those two people who loved each other, loved others–
I miss them.
They especially loved little ones. And books. I’ve shared before how in the later years they’d choose a special book or two to share around the holidays. As a comfort and way to connect with them after Mama passed on in 2013, I attempted to continue the tradition. Some years it’s been easy to find a book right off. Others it took longer. This year was the latter. Most definitely the latter. I tested some, read lots, but none felt completely right. And again, I found myself drawn to books about trees. Which makes sense really, since going out to Granny’s farm, traipsing through the woods, and finding our very own Christmas tree all those years are some of my favorite holiday memories.
So this year I tried not to pick out a Christmas tree story. That was proving difficult, and I had set this past Wednesday as my personal deadline. Wednesday morning Aub and I sat with a stack of Christmas books and looked through them. Then…..I found it.
I vaguely remembered Mama’s excitement at finding this book a few years back. I thought and dug through my memory banks that I expect are getting to be like what my Granddaddy described as Fibber McGee’s closet, and I kept coming up with my sweet cousin for some reason. So while Aub looked up my Mama’s Amazon account record, I texted my cousin. Sure enough, she’d given it to my cousin a few years ago. Appropriate. Perfect for her actually. However, I was sad. I really love this book!
So I continued searching. Aub left for work, and I started to read on my own. I found two I liked, but I still couldn’t choose. Then it hit me–maybe I should bring my littles in on this year’s choice. They know about the tradition, and as it turns out, they were tickled to help choose.
I think they chose well.
So our Princess, Cooter, and I are thrilled to announce this year’s choice for Maemae’s Christmas book.
It really is perfect. I have such happy memories of Little Golden Books growing up. Those gold edges and perfectly same-sized books–hard covers and beautiful, colorful illustrations–we had quite a few sitting on our book shelf…..waiting to be taken down and read again and again. Some of those same ones grace my shelves now. But not this one. I was thrilled to find it, as I’d not read it before. I love the sweet stories and poems, especially the one about the animals and people’s reactions to “no snow.” But what tickled me the most was Cooter’s reaction to the story about the little squirrel. Read it. See if you can figure out at what moment he said, “UH OH” out loud–concerned that things were about to go awry. I don’t want to spoil it, but that was Cooter’s favorite part of the book.
I highly recommend both of these books. I also recommend the other book (which our Princess especially loved). It is a sweet story of a strong woman who makes a difference in our world with her caring, strength, and ingenuity. A great story not just for the holidays but everyday, right?
What are your favorite holiday and Christmas stories? I would love to hear about them.
I hope your holidays are filled with hours and hours of enjoyment and good books to read, but most importantly, I hope these days are filled with the living out of your own great story.
Sunday morning Cooter came into our room, bouncing on the bed. It being a day of rest, the Fella and I were trying to stretch it out as long as possible. Cooter is a morning person, me–not as much.
He was excited about the upcoming Falcons game, and he and his partner in all things football talked about the games from the night before. I may have zoned out a tad during this bit. Eventually the conversation caught my attention again–when I heard the Fella say, “Yeah, I don’t know if I’d want to be the kicker. You have to be on standby, ready to be called in at any time.”
The conversation lost my attention again at that point, as I thought about the kicker. I used to imagine stress as like being the catcher in a baseball game–ready for a ball to come from any direction. But a kicker, sitting on the sidelines, not knowing for sure when he will be called in…..and expected to help the team out in a big way when he is? Bless.
Because that’s the thing about football–there’s never a time when you tell the kicker, “Eh, just whatever, man. It won’t matter.”
Anything and everything that kicker does matters.
That night I was in my think tank (some folks call it a shower), and I started pondering on who the kickers are in my life. Those folks who are there, on my team, ready to step in whenever, wherever I need them.
Like Mess Cat making the time to come out after dark to pick up our Princess because I was with our drama king, Cooter, at his dress rehearsal. (Coming out after dark is a whole ‘nother level of showing up, y’all.) Or my Aunt who picks up the phone and listens and shares laughter and wisdom and “poor baby’s.” Or my Cousin who answers my SOS texts when I’ve sliced my finger open, cutting up the cabbage for supper. Or Aub who hangs out with her siblings so I can go do what needs doing. Or the Fella who takes time from work when things go awry. Or my brother who listens so well or my neighborfriend who picks up oyster crackers for my sick one or steps up in so many other ways…..my friends…..family…..And so many more–all these wonderful kickers, who are there, waiting, willing to be called into “the game” (and chaos) of my life. Present, interruptible, loving, wonderful people.
I think we are called to be kickers in this life. Doing our own thing, sure, but never forgetting we are a part of a Team, sharing the same goal, same dreams. Helping each other out whenever need be.
Earlier this month we enjoyed the Georgia National Fair and all of its splendor. Rides, exhibits, music, food, friends, fun–every bit of it. During one of our visits (yep, we went more than once this year–ALL the fun, y’all), we were wandering through the commercial exhibit hall. Cooter stopped to look at the piano in one of the booths.
As he looked at the keys, searching for middle C, the owner came up and, noticing Cooter’s baseball cap, spoke to him. “Hey, are you a Clemson fan?” Then he looked up at me, “Are you a Clemson fan?”
I shrugged and said, “I’m not, not really,” and smiled back. The good-natured salesman laughed and said, “Then why on earth would you let him wear that hat?”
I laughed. “That’s just how we roll.”
The truth is that Cooter found the hat at the GW Boutique, and he really liked it. His friend is a Clemson fan, so he cheers the team along with his friend. Am I a Clemson fan? Is the Fella? Is anyone else in our house? Not really. But it doesn’t keep us from loving Cooter in his Clemson fan-dom. He’s becoming his own person. He IS his own person. He is learning and living out his story, and he’s forming his own opinions about sports teams and what books are his favorites to read (biographies and history and oh, Captain Underpants) and what matters most to him. We’ve been studying the beginning of this country and how the government was formed, and so he’s even been venturing into forming his own political beliefs.
On all of these things–sports teams, books, what matters most, and even political beliefs–there are things we have in common, things we believe the exact same about (Captain Underpants not being one of them, you understand), and there are things we absolutely disagree on.
And yet, just this morning, that little imp told me I was his favorite Mama. And while, I’m the only nominee in this category–it’s not an award he had to give. So, despite our lack of commonality on several things (the need for him to do his science lesson being a major one), he loves me.
And I adore him right back.
Perhaps what I should have told the piano man back at the Fair is, that in this family, it’s okay to like and think and believe different things. That’s why it’s okay that my oldest loves music I don’t really care for, that my middle child loves UGA (though I’m a Tech Fan), and that my baby boy is a huge fan of all things football and enjoys books I am not really interested in.
And it really is all okay.
Because at the end of the day, we are all right here together. Living in our own little corner of this great big world. Growing and learning and sometimes changing our thoughts and beliefs and preferences as life takes us on down the road. And whatever it takes for us to live and love together, that’s what counts the most. Being okay with our differences and not only allowing but encouraging each other to have them–even if it’s cheering for a team I could care less about–that’s what keeps us going. That’s what matters most. In our house, our neighborhood, our town, our country, our world. For all of us.
I hope you get to wear the hat you want. Because it’s your head, your journey, your story. And I hope folks love you just the same.
When Aub turned 3, I planned, with the help of my Joyful friend, a party with the theme of “Pink Pigs, Puppets, and Pizza.” (I do love alliteration!) It was a lot of fun, as all of the parties were back then, and I even had her third birthday picture made in her favorite pink nightgown with all of her pink pigs sitting beside her. I love that picture.
Tomorrow my girl turns 21.
I don’t know how that happened. Cliche’ but true. The days were long and the years were short.
And now–here we are. 21.
Tonight I mentioned to my older friend who is the epitome of wisdom, love, grace, and spryness that I guessed I was done. Twenty-one equals grown, right?
I was walking behind her, and saw her shoulders shake with her mirth before I heard her laughter. “Oh me…..okay. Sure. We’ll let you think that for now.”
I know better. I really do.
My girl wanted a very laid back birthday this year. I was good with that. It seems like the world right now is a cyclone of chaos and to do’s and needs and what not, so a chance to sit. And be. And not much else. SURE. YES. The gift that keeps on giving.
We gathered in the backyard with the fire going (I’m getting pretty good at starting them now), and I set out the hot dogs and fixin’s along with the sticks for roasting. I had a few decorations I’d put together for the day with a small sign with the theme for her 21st birthday “party.”
I returned to alliteration eighteen years later. (I was in a play in Junior High with Beta Club, and my one line that I still remember was “I just love alliteration.” I looked up what that was, and you know what? Turns out I do. To this day.) Only the letter has changed. This year’s theme?
Mason Jars, Mermaids, Makeup, and Monograms.
My baby girl who isn’t a baby anymore loves most things Southern. Traditions, cornbread, grits, pearls, and Mason Jars for anything from drinking out of them to storing things. I tried a Pinterest project (ha–close to a fail, I’d say, but since I learned from it, we’re moving it to the WIN column) and “frosted” some jars with mermaids inside. If you want to know more, let me know. I’ll do my best to tell you the right way to do it, which the folks on Pinterest most definitely did NOT do. As for the mermaids, a dear friend of mine and I talk about them as a symbol of not only adapting but transforming into something beautiful wherever you are. Aub is about to enter a whole new way of life, with this “official” adulthood thing. I don’t want her to feel like she’s underwater…..I want her to grow a tail and swim–take off and make the new way of life her own. As for the makeup, she loves it. Since she’s 21 and not 11 anymore, I’m okay with that. She is beautiful inside and out, makeup or no, and as long as she remembers that, I don’t have a problem with her enjoying the world of makeup. (I do have a problem with the folks who didn’t recognize that her cake, designed and made by her loving Mama, was a compact and NOT a toilet. We won’t even go there, folks. I’m about to get sappy, and I can’t if I revisit my emotions attached to that experience.) Monograms needs no explanation–I’ve written about that before. She loves ALL THE THINGS monogrammed. Even her cookies. Today we were talking about her monogram, and she said, “I do love it. It’s so asymmetrical.” You’re welcome, boo. Of course I thought about that when naming you. Ahem.
Tonight as I remember where I was exactly this moment 21 years ago (calling my parents, his parents, my dear friend, heading to the hospital), I am thinking about that letter M and all of the other things it could have stood for–Mercer (where she might maybe perhaps go to grad school), Mouse (her nickname before she was born), Mama (who loves her dearly), Mic drop (something she does regularly), Mississippi (because she is a really good speller and knew how to spell it almost as soon she knew her alphabet…..and so many others. But as I sat down by the fire last night, and realized how far she’s come, and yet this is only the beginning, I thought about the things I wish for her in the years to come that start with the M.
*Make time for the things you love. Don’t toss the things you enjoy doing aside permanently for the sake of your career or even another person. If you love it, make time for it.
*”Make hay while the sun shines.” Work hard when the opportunity presents itself. Never go halfway. Give it your all.
*Make a difference. In whatever you do, do it in kindness and with good intent.
*Make someone laugh or smile. At least once a day. And it’s okay if that person is you.
*Make other people feel important. Because they are.
*Meander on the less traveled path. Learn to love the other way around.
*Mix it up. Try new things. Attempt something you never thought possible. Eat a new food. Read a different genre. Take archery lessons.
*Move. Your arms. Legs. Head. Dance. Walk. Run. When you are moving, it’s harder to sit on your pity pot. Trust me, I know this.
*Middle. Sit there every once in a while. Or more often. It offers a different perspective, and different perspectives can be very good to try out for size.
*Master something you’re curious about. Painting. Knitting. Piano. Underwater Basket Weaving. No one can ever take your skills away from you.
*Music. Listen. As much as possible to as many kinds as possible. Music can lift your spirits or rest with them where you are. Never be without music.
*Make. Create. Share.
*Motivation. Seek it. Offer it.
*Move on. Move beyond. Don’t get stuck in that one bad moment. Or bad experience. Or held up by that one person who doesn’t get you and never will. Let it go. (Yeah, I said it–I sang it too.) I feel that it will be okay. It will be okay.
*Muse. Listen to her. Let her guide your thoughts and your words. Write. Please. The world needs your voice.
*Metamorphose. As much as it takes. Change. Adapt. Grow. Never stop growing. Adapting. Becoming.
*Miracle. You are mine. Be good to my treasure. Because I love you.
And I give thanks for you every single day.
May Light shine upon you, today and everyday–chasing the darkness away, so that you can reflect all the good that has gone before you and offer a glimpse of all the good you will bring in the days and years to come.