Parking Lot Party

Tonight I had the joy of being with Mess Cat and her family and our Cuz’n.  Mess Cat travelled for business and has been away for a couple of days, so it was good to see her and hers.  Adding in my Cuz’n was icing on the cake.  And not that gross stuff that comes in a can that has no flavor.   The good stuff.

It was a time of togetherness and laughter and just being comfortable with folks who have known you forever and frankly don’t care about your quirks and odd ways anymore.  It’s been so long they’re just a part of who you are and not even noticeable anymore.  There’s real grace in that.

When Mess Cat and her family had to head on home (long flight finally caught up with her), my Cuz’n and I sat visiting a little longer.  Then I gathered my littles and all their paraphernalia and we headed outside towards our vehicles, conversation still going on.  We stood out there and talked and laughed, and he even, with his observant self, prevented an accident from happening in the parking lot.  (Seriously, this driver was not paying attention when he was backing up as a car drove in behind him–watching him back out later, yeah, he needed some refresher lessons.)  The hot sun from earlier in the afternoon had gone behind a cloud and there was a nice breeze.  The weather was perfect for hanging around outside “shooting the breeze.”

My Cuz’n is a good storyteller.  He puts me in mind of my Daddy and my Granny, both of whom could tell good stories.  They’d always leave you wanting to hear more.  I remember many an afternoon, sitting on that brown couch at my Granny’s, listening to Daddy and Granny tell stories of family lore and the “old folks” and things that had happened in town.  I guess it’s probably a “thing” in our family, as a big part of our family get-togethers is the sharing of our stories.  We have quite a few who are talented when it comes to entertaining with stories of their day to days.

In the midst of our postprandial visit tonight, I thought about a country song called “Parking Lot Party.”  I’m not sure of all the lyrics but the chorus goes something like this:

Cause there ain’t no party like the pre-party
and after the party is the after-party
At the parking lot party

It has a great beat, okay?  Don’t judge.

I know that anyone who knows me well is shaking their head at this point…..You?  Party?  Ha.  But I like the song, and laughing and telling stories and just visiting with folks you enjoy being with–that’s a party for me right there.  The best kind of party.

That’s how I like to leave a good gathering too.  Not “load ’em up, move ’em out, we got to go now” kind of thing–I just don’t have that in me.  (Truth? I’m not that organized.)  Daddy used to shake his head at how long it would take me to head out of the house and get in my car when the crew and I would visit.  “Like a herd of turtles,” it has been said.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

There’s something to be said for those parking lot or backdoor or backyard “parties.”  We just move the visit out the door, slowly step by step, until we get to the car, get in, and eventually crank up and actually leave.  (Unless of course, we forgot something, and then we start all over again…..)

Yesterday the littles and I went to visit our girl at her higher institution of choice.  She’s doing pretty good, really good actually.  We had promised we would pop in on Tuesday and bring her a couple of things she needed.  Because of a mixup and miscommunication about required meetings, our anticipated hour and a half visit turned into a twenty-minute one.  With a hurried exit and no parking lot party in sight.  It was a so long, see ya, we GOT TO GO.

And it felt all wrong.  I think that might be why she and I both felt a little broken after that.  She’s been raised on parking lot/backdoor/backyard party goodbyes, full of stories that just came to mind and laughter and making plans to do it again and when.  This hurried, harried, rather sterile goodbye was not the stuff that satisfies an aching soul by any means.  Thank goodness for phone calls later in the day.  (Yes, we talk a lot.  It’s what we DO.)

Tonight I’m thankful for family who loves me anyway, and for the laughter and storytelling that brings comfort and joy.  I give thanks for my Cuz’n and Mess Cat and Leroy who made time to be together, and for an awesome parking lot after party–at which the sense of going hunting in 32 degree weather in the dark of early morning when you pass by 3 grocery stores on the way was discussed.  Among many other things.  It was awesome.  And I’m also thankful for who wasn’t there.  My oldest, my college student.  I missed her like crazy.  She would have enjoyed the stories too, but I am thankful she wasn’t there because she is right where she is supposed to be.  Having dorm “parking lot” parties, getting to know new fascinating people and hear their stories, and getting to know herself.   Now that I’ve figured out we are a people of slow and gradual goodbyes, we will make time for that at our next visit.

‘Cause nothing good can come from being in a hurry.  Especially when it comes to saying ‘bye.  There’s too much fun and joy to be had by dawdling and taking your time.

A Long Day Everyday of the Year

Today was a very long day.

We had all kinds of grand plans and things to check off, little room for error, leaving our house early in the day and not returning until late.

As I sat with the littles at lunch in the midst of our activities, I told them to eat plenty.  “And let’s refill your drinks.  It’s going to be a really long day.”

Cooter, age six, piped up, “Is it the summer solstice?”

Well, that one caught me off guard.  He cracks me up and amazes me with the random stuff he knows.

“Well, no it’s not, but you are right—that is the longest day of the year.  Umm, where did you learn about the summer solstice?”

Without looking up from the chip he was carefully dipping in queso, he said, “Oh, Phineas and Ferb.”

Well, thank you, Disney Channel.

I decided to jump on that teachable moment. I checked the clock.  I had a few minutes before we had to leave for our next destination.

“So if the summer solstice is the longest day of the year, what is the winter solstice?”

They said in unison, “The shortest day of the year.”

School, check.

And that’s how we get things done in homeschoolin’.

(just kidding)


As I drove to meet with my Sister Circle, a group of women who are either homeless or in  transition, I thought about what would have been my longest day.  Everyday of the year is long for them, it doesn’t matter how much sunlight there is—trying to stay safe from the elements and the people who would harm them or use them for their personal gain.  I just don’t even know y’all.  The things we do to each other.  Breaks.  My.  Heart.

I sat with these women, from the age of my oldest child to old enough to be my mother, and we talked about grace.  And how, for some of them, the people in their lives who should have had their best interests in mind, just don’t.  Or how they immediately feel judged when they go in someplace… sweet girl mentioned the church she attends.  Oh.  Just no.  Please tell me that you feel accepted there, of all places, but no.   I asked her what she does with the pain from that.  “I just give it to God ’cause I sure can’t handle it myself.”  For the love of God, what is happening?  I guess that’s it.  Sometimes we forget that loving God means loving all.  That’s a scary thing.  And a sweet lady whom I remember from our Sunday night suppers…..she said she just doesn’t talk to anybody, stays to herself, so that way no one has anything to give her a hard time about or to judge.  Oh, the brokenness.  We are driving people away from God’s church, from our community, from being with folks in relationships at all…..all because we perceive them to be different and don’t mind them knowing it.

Bob Goff, author of "Love Does" gets it.  This is where we should be.

Bob Goff, author of “Love Does” gets it. This is where we should be.

I love Bob Goff, author of Love Does.  If you haven’t read it, you should.  If you have, then you know what I’m talking about.  He gets it.  Today I heard story after story of how these women depend on God or how Jesus will get them through it.  One really, really needs housing.  A place she can lay her head and be SAFE.  When I mentioned talking to one of the administrators at the shelter, she said, “Naw, it’ll be okay.  I know God’s got this.”

Oh my.

I don’t mean to say that God doesn’t have it, but maybe, just maybe, we are the answer He has in mind. Or a part of the answer.   And maybe talking with the administrators would be part of His plan.  I get why she is leaning solely on God though.  Because those of us who should be “Jesus with skin on” for her have let her down.  By judging, by looking away, by thinking God or the government or the churches or the folks who volunteer every week GOT THIS.  I don’t have to…..

Let me say this.  This problem is bigger than that. Truth. This problem of the unhoused and the unfed and the unheard and the unsafe–this problem of all this brokenness is so big it will take all of us to change it.  We have to change our attitudes and look outside our four walls and comfort zones and reach out to the folks in need.

If only with a hug, that’s a start.

pic of comfort quote

My daughter shared this quote with me last week.  Ain’t it the truth?  Boy I wish I could just sit back and “rest on my laurels,” as Mama used to put it.  But I don’t have any to rest on.  So it’s time for me to get uncomfortable.  And do more than just sit and listen to these stories.  I want to make it possible for their stories to have chapters on healing and on acceptance and love.  And to ban the stories of rejection and judgment, pain and hurt from ever happening again.  Not on my watch.

pic of goff quote go love someoneIt’s time we all get a little or maybe even a lot uncomfortable and explain our faith through our actions.

courtesy of Project Meet Me Halfway, Shared via CASA of Cumberland, Gloucester & Salem Counties

courtesy of Project Meet Me Halfway, Shared via CASA of Cumberland, Gloucester & Salem Counties

To start, let’s begin by looking and seeing and hearing and loving, and make the long days for these beautiful women and all those without homes or in transition a little shorter by walking alongside them, a little brighter, a lot safer, and filled with love and grace.  There are so many programs and different ways to make a positive change–local Salvation Army programs, spouse abuse shelters, after school youth programs.  Donations and volunteers are needed in food pantries and clothing closets.  Tutors and storytellers are needed in schools.  Day shelters need folks to help with laundry and showers.  They too need donations of supplies and snacks.  Most importantly, each person you meet in your day wants–NEEDS–to feel worthy and to be seen as such.

How are you being called out of your comfort zone?

We’re all in this together.  WE GOT THIS.

‘Cause Mama Said

"Because I'm the mother, that's why!"  A brilliant cup from Tervis.

“Because I’m the mother, that’s why!” My clever cup from Tervis.

Before our lives changed four years ago, Mama had been making a weekly trip to see my Great Aunt for years.  Tuesday was her day.  My Great Aunt was a mother to her, and their visits were times that they both treasured.  Occasionally one or the other of us children would go along, and after Daddy retired in 2003 he went sometimes, but mostly it was the two of them, visiting and taking on little projects around the house and yard.  And then there were the lunches with the banana pudding as dessert.  Whoa be the person who made them too late to get some of the one pan that was made daily at the Sidetracks restaurant.

Tuesdays were so ingrained that when I went to work full-time and Mama and Daddy kept Aub after school, Daddy arranged his schedule so he could leave work early on Tuesday and pick her up from school.  Tuesday became their day too.

But four years ago, when Daddy’s undecipherable symptoms hit full force unexpectedly, he was admitted to the hospital.  A week later he was moved to Emory where he stayed for over a month.  During that time, Mama was by his side the whole time.  The Tuesday visits were over for a while.  One of the first things Mama did was worry about my great Aunt.  She was in good health, but as often happens as the years go by, she was on many medications.  Each week before Mama left, she went to the kitchen counter, pulled down the many bottles of medication and vitamins and set them up in the 14-section medicine caddies.  Mama kept two completely set up in addition to the one for the current week–just in case she had to miss a week going down.

My great Aunt was a very bright woman, and since the death of her husband sixteen years before, very independent.  She and Mama had their own ways worked out.  So when I walked in that first week, scared and heartbroken over my Daddy, but determined to take this worry off of Mama’s list, I was a bit anxious.  Just as I had suspected, my great Aunt was having none of that–she did NOT want me to set up her medicine.  As she hadn’t done it in quite a while, I knew she was bluffing as she waved her hand at me, sitting in “her” chair, saying “Pshaw, I can do it.  Don’t you worry about it.  Come sit down and visit.”

Hmmmm.  Face my great Aunt or my Mama?  Who was I more willing to upset?

I sat for a few minutes and plotted and thought as we chatted about the weather and how Daddy was doing and so on.  Aub looked over at me and we exchanged a look.  I could tell she was interested to see how this was going to play out.  I was too.  Only I was the one who was risking making my aunt mad by going against her wishes.  Finally Mama’s words–my “out” my whole life–came back to me.

“Look if you don’t want to do something, if you know you shouldn’t, whatever, just blame it on me.  Say I won’t let you do it.”


I got up from the couch and squatted next to my aunt’s chair.

“Ummm, we’re gonna have to leave in a few minutes and get on back home, but before I go, I’m just going to get your meds set up for next week, okay?”

“No, I already told you, you don’t have to worry about that.  I can do it later.  You just sit here and visit until you have to leave.” She waved that hand again.

I was ready this time.

I looked down and sighed.  I stared at my fingernails that were probably a disappointment to this beautiful and elegant lady in front of me.  I sighed again. “But see, Mama asked me to do it.  And she’s going to ask me later if I did.  And when I tell her no, she’s gonna beat me but good.  Please let me do it so she won’t beat me.”

A chuckle burst out unexpectedly.  She took a deep breath, and laughed even harder.  I had her.

“Well my gracious goodness, I certainly don’t want that on my conscience.  I guess you’d better do it then.  But I wish you wouldn’t worry about it.”

“No ma’am,” I said.  “I’m not worried about it, but I am worried about that beatin’.”

She laughed again and took the “tea cup” from our Princess and “sipped” on her tea.  “You go on ahead then. Do what you need to do.”

And our pattern was set.  From then on, each week, she would tell me not to worry, I’d tell her I was more worried about my Mama and her wrath and that promised beating.  And she would acquiesce.  Done.

I am thankful for Mama’s willingness to take the fall, to be the bad guy for me all my life.  If I was invited to do something that I really didn’t want to, that was my excuse.  If someone gave me a hard time about not doing one thing or another, I’d just shrug and sigh, so “burdened” by my overprotective parents–“My Mama won’t let me.”  If someone wondered why I was calling home or why I always did something a certain way, “Mama makes me.”  I appreciate that so much.  I still do it today.  If I ma’am someone and they wave it away, I always reply, “No ma’am, I’m sorry.  If I didn’t say ma’am to you my Mama (or my Granny) would come back and whoop me.”  (And really, physical discipline was not as common around our house as one might think from listening to me carry on.  But yeah, suffice to say, I don’t use my manners and act like I am somebody, one of them’s coming back to raise some kind of ruckus!)

I have told my children, especially my oldest, the same thing.  “Blame it on me.  You need an out, you got one.”  Yes, I want them to be strong and stand on their own and for what they know is right, but sometimes it helps to play the “Mama said” card for reinforcement.  After all, it works.  It convinced my great Aunt to change her mind–and that was no easy feat. ” ‘Cause Mama said”…..that’s the universal language for “this is how it’s gonna be.”

Taking the Ones We Love…..A Little Everyday

My littles have a joke they love to sneak in on me, on you, on anyone they can.  They learned it from their friend during one of our summer adventures.

L: Hey Mama, will you remember me always?

Me:  Of course I will.

L: Will you remember me in an hour?

Me: Yes.

L: Will you remember me in four hours?

Me: Of course.

L:Will you remember me in a day?

Me: Yep.

L: A week?

Me: Sure thing.

L: Will you remember me in a year?

Me: You know it.

They will fake me off with a few moments of quiet during which I’m unloading dishes (hopefully clean–don’t ask) or folding clothes or making one of the million trips between two rooms in my house.  Then–

L: Knock knock!

Me: Who’s there?

L: You already forgot me! (usually this is where he or she collapses in giggles because yes, once again, they got me)

It’s a cute joke.  I laugh every time they get me, because well, it tickles them and I have to laugh or I’ll cry over how easily distracted I am and how easy it was for them to get me.  Again.

The other day I saw this posted on Facebook. It’s a whole different, heartbreaking and very unfunny side of the forgetfulness.

pic of alzheimers request

Alzheimer’s is definitely no joke.  So many of us kid about having “senior” or “Old Timers” or even “Alzheimer’s” moments.  It is said in jest with no mal-intent, but the pain and brokenness behind the truth of this disease is almost too much to comprehend.

I remember meeting someone with Alzheimer’s twelve years ago when I worked for Hospice.  The sweet and gentle man was lying in a hospital bed in a nursing home.  Each morning very early, his wife of over fifty years came and sat with him.  She did not leave until dark, which unfortunately was much earlier in the winter.  She didn’t like leaving him that early, but she couldn’t drive after dark.  Perhaps the saddest thing of all was that I am not sure he even knew she was there most of the time.  And the sweetness and gentleness was fading quickly.  It broke my heart to see her dedication and how much she loved him, as she watched what someone once described as having your favorite book be torn apart, one page at a time.

We had been through it already with my great-great aunt, but I don’t remember a lot of the details.  I mostly remember Mama talking about how she was doing things that were very uncharacteristic of her.  Once a genteel Southern lady, she became aggressive and downright irrational at times. She too wound up in a nursing home before she left this world for a far better one.

I have had this on my mind the past few days.  Today four years ago we celebrated the birthday of my beloved aunt the day after her birthday.  My zoo crew, Mama and Daddy, and I all went to see her. I had even baked a cake in the shape of a crown.  She seemed to enjoy the day, which was joyful for all of us.  Her memory had been slipping a little and though I don’t know that there had been a definite diagnosis, I suspect that Alzheimer’s had been tossed around.  It was only a matter of time before we would have to make a decision about her living situation.  She was in the house she had been in for decades, and she probably knew it better than she knew the back of her hand.  It would be very hard to convince her to move, though it would have been for her own good.

There is a special tint to the memory of that day.  I look back through the lens of sentiment and sadness and gratitude.  It was the calm before the storm.  It was the last birthday we would celebrate with her, as she died peacefully in her sleep in her own home about eight and a half months later.  Though we still miss her everyday, we are thankful she didn’t have to leave what was comforting and familiar for her.

That day was also the last time we would do something like that as a whole family together.  It was less than a week later that Daddy went into the hospital to officially begin what would be over two years of fighting against the giant that would later be named Lymphoma.  Like memory loss and Alzheimer’s that one struck from out of nowhere and hit us hard.

This is a hard world to be in at times.  Sometimes we lose the folks we love suddenly, leaving us wishing for more time, for just a few more minutes to say what we left unsaid.  And sometimes we lose the ones we love little by little, almost imperceptible from day-to-day, but it continues and takes its toll.  Alzheimer’s is like that.  One little bit of memory, of personality at a time.  Lymphoma turned out to be the same way, only affecting the body instead.  One skill at a time…..little by little.

Tonight I am thankful for the memory of this day.  I am grateful we had just decided to homeschool, and that my oldest was able to be there and also has the memory of this celebration.  I turn back to this page in my mind often and the corners are soft and worn and comforting.  The laughter, the visiting, seeing the joy and the spark in her eyes, how she oohed over the cake that was made especially for her, how Daddy took the littles outside, just like he always did–such a beautiful day, inside and out.  Most of all, I am thankful for folks who are researching and studying both of these diseases, working so maybe fewer and fewer people will leave us this way.  I get that it’s just a label to folks who have never known someone with it, and that’s understandable .  But I also know that if you lose the people you love most to either disease, you will never forget it.

If you would like to join in the fight, here are just a couple of organizations who are working to change the world through research and support:

Alzheimer’s Association  Because September is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, there are many “Walk to End Alzheimer’s” events going on this fall to raise funds and awareness.  It’s not too late to get involved.

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society They have Light the Night events to raise funds and awareness as well.  Right now you can buy a balloon for $1, $5, or more at Burlington, a partner with LLS, and the funds go back to LLS.

We can all make a difference in the fight for someone’s life.   I’m thankful for that too.

The Right Tools and the Right Folks

You would think with all my lists and planning and washing and packing and thinking and not sleeping and planning some more that I would not have forgotten anything.

I mean, I worked to give my oldest all the mental and emotional tools I thought she’d need to make this transition and be okay, better than okay.  As we’ve prepared and packed for college, I hope I put kindness and compassion and listening and strength and passion and faith and so much more in her carry-on of character.  Only time will tell what kind of job I did, I suppose.  But today, I found out that those aren’t the only tools she will need.

Practicality, one.

‘Dre, zero.

It was one thing or another, who remembers now, that needed a screwdriver.  And WE did NOT have one.  My Daddy would be so disappointed.  So would my cousin who came over to teach our girl about the most important things she needed to know for caring for her car.  I bet he would have had one on him.  I’m just sayin’.  Everything we needed the other day, he either had on him or in his truck.  (And he’s not a mechanic by trade.)  But I think the most disappointed would have been my Great Uncle.

Mama used to quote him, “Well as Uncle Ray would say, ‘The right tool for the job can make anything easy.  Or at least a whole lot easier.'”

And that is usually the case.

After we all unloaded and unpacked, I went to the local stuff mart to get stuff on our “oh you just thought you had your act together, Tara, but look at what you forgot” list.  It wasn’t horribly long, and in my defense, there were some things that just couldn’t be anticipated.  But yeah, some could.  And yes, I forgot the tissues for a second time.  So that first-year student carrying around a roll of toilet paper for wiping tears and blowing her nose?  Yep, that’s my girl!  We are nothing if not resourceful.  Ahem.  (Note to self:  Let’s try the old third time’s a charm and get it this time, okay?)

And in my searching for picture hangers (isn’t that the official name?) and a hammer and an all-purpose tool or a screwdriver, I found this.

I mean, some of this stuff, I don't even know, but it's got to be important.  This was the DELUXE kit.

I mean, some of this stuff, I don’t even know, but it’s got to be important. This was the DELUXE kit.

Y’all.  For the win, right?  I mean, there’s stuff in there I don’t even know what it’s for, but it has to be handy, don’t you think?  And it all came inside a lovely purple and grey canvas toolbox. (Can I call it a box if it’s canvas?)  I think I have found my new gift for…..well everyone.  I mean if you’re caring and compassionate and a great listener but you don’t have a screwdriver or hammer to your name…..well, we might have to rethink just how wonderful you are.

Just kidding.  But it is my hope that my girl will be able to be helpful and share this with those who need it and that this will go to her first house with her, where I am SURE she will need it.  Everyone needs a pair of channel changers, right?

So today I learned a lesson about being practical as well as philosophical in what I send my child out into the world with.  There will be some days that the practical will be way more important.  Like today.

And I also learned that while I know what my Daddy meant when he said almost eighteen years ago, “Ain’t nobody gonna help you raise this young’un,” today was the exception to that.  I’ve shared before about folks not setting good examples and what society deems “appropriate” and things like that–none of which make it easy to raise up a child. But today once again, I saw he could be mistaken.  Today friends were a huge part of my girl’s journey.  The love and caring that they shared with her and with my family today–you can’t buy that kind of friendship.  It’s a gift.  A gift of strength (hauling things up two flights of stairs–so thankful) and holding it together in the face of tears.  A gift of laughter (if you’ve never seen a big football player sitting on a color coordinated bed in a women’s dorm, I’m sorry, you’ve just missed out people).  A gift of stepping outside of the box and ingenuity (asking total strangers for a screwdriver for a child that isn’t your own; sitting in a van when it’s pouring down rain watching Gilligan with the littles *sigh*).  A gift of companionship (sticking it out and changing plans you might have had).  A gift of compassion (listening, sitting in the dark with someone, walking through the rain with them).  A gift of patience (my littles, long rainy day, ’nuff said).  A gift of shared joy (being there at the start of our girl’s journey and helping her get started).  A gift of caring (texting and calling and checking in to see how the new college student AND her Mama were getting along).  We are so lucky to have the kind of friends and family many folks only hope for.

This momentous day has been about the right tools and the right folks in our lives.  One you can find at the stuff mart for a price and the other is priceless.  Tonight I hope my girl and all of her classmates sleep well in their new home–tucked away under bedding that expresses each one’s personality or preferences.  And if they need to sniffle or cry a bit, I hope there’s at least an extra roll of toilet paper close by for them to use.  Most of all, I hope each one goes to sleep knowing how much she is loved–by friends and family.

Sweet dreams, Aub.  I love you.  And as Maemae would say, “Happy pink and blue dreams.”  And if you have trouble falling asleep, count your friends.  That will take you longer than it possibly could to fall asleep.  They outnumber the stars I think.  ❤ –‘Dre

Gone too Soon

Today, thirty-six years ago, just six weeks before my baby brother was born, we had a death in the family.

Elvis Presley died.

I am not being facetious when I say he was a member of our family. I really felt that way–about him and “Uncle Willie” Nelson too.  I grew up hearing his music constantly.  And seeing his movies.  And wishing I could be BFF forever’s with Lisa Marie.  I didn’t care much for Priscilla, because, really, how much sense could she have had NOT to be married to him anymore?

I was young, and I didn’t know any better.  Grace abounds, my friends.

Daddy talked a lot about how Elvis was a better conductor than he was a musician and for sure, an actor.  Daddy thought his “Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii” was proof that he was moving towards putting together musical “productions” rather than just singing a song–and he was good at it.  The other day I heard the beginning of that concert on the radio.  I once had the whole concert memorized.  In order.  It was awesome.

When I was little we had a little record player that we children were allowed to use. Daddy had a lot of 45’s that were Elvis singles, in addition to his LPs.  I used to play like I was a DJ and I’d intro the song better than anybody on the airwaves.  Or so I thought at the time.  I knew my Elvis stuff, and I’d ooze it out as smooth as anything, and then…..I’d play the song.  I loved his music and to this day, it’s a comforting thing for me.

Elvis and crew in "Follow That Dream"--my favorite Elvis movie ever.

Elvis and crew in “Follow That Dream”–my favorite Elvis movie ever.

We watched his movies–the bad ones and the not quite as bad ones.  I thought they were awesome.  And there must have been some nostalgia for Daddy too, because though he didn’t think Elvis was a great actor, he did watch them over and over with us.  And when Aub got old enough, that’s what she got for birthdays and Christmas–Elvis movies on DVD.  She loved them and always seemed happy to get another one. But her favorite?  Viva Las Vegas–with Elvis and Ann-Margret.  She adores Elvis, but she loves her some Ann-Margret too.  My favorite was the same as Daddy’s–anyone surprised at that?  Follow That Dream.  It was based on a book, and it was hilarious.  Love.  It.  (Gave a whole new meaning to saying one’s multiplication tables out loud.)

I thought that Elvis could sing any song better than anyone else with the exception of two–

Simon and Garfunkel’s version of “Bridge over Troubled Water” blows me away every single time. (Although Elvis was a very close second.)

Willie Nelson outdid him on “Always on My Mind.”  I’m sorry, he just did.

Having said that, while there are many Elvis songs that are so much fun that I can’t help but move (“Long Tall Sally,” “See See Rider,” “Blue Suede Shoes”), there are a few that have touched my heart and stayed there.

“In the Ghetto”–I was crying right along with the Mama, and I still do.  That song, much like Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” had me convinced I had to do something to change the brokenness in this world.  No other song painted such a picture and inspired me at the same time.

But I think it was his gospel songs that touched me the most.

“Crying in the Chapel”

“You’ll Never Walk Alone”

“Peace in the Valley”

And in the American Trilogy, his “Glory Glory Hallelujah” gives me chills.  Seriously.  Sitting here blubbering, listening to it all over again.

pic of elvis flaming star cover

As I have been remembering the King of Rock and Roll today, I looked back at some album covers and the one from Flaming Star near about took my breath away.  So many of them make me miss my Daddy, because the love of Elvis and his music and movies was something I shared with him.  But that particular cover–I always thought Elvis kind of looked like Daddy in that one.  I had forgotten that.  Maybe it was the hat, I don’t know.  But yeah, today I am missing so many people who left this world too soon.

I remember when I heard the news back in 1977.  For some reason I was the one to hear it first.  I went in and told Mama.  She didn’t believe me at first, that’s how far-fetched it was.  After I remember just feeling hollow.  And everything seemed so surreal.  And today it seems like it was just yesterday.

The awesome thing is that Aub and I have passed our love of Elvis down to the littles.  As I was playing one of his songs a few minutes ago, they came running from the back of the house, “It’s Elvis! It’s Elvis!”  Daddy would be pleased I think.

So much seems in turmoil these days.  It has been nice to sit down and remember simpler times and the joy that the music and movies of this man brought to our little family.  I am thankful I have found a few moments of peace in the listening and remembering.

There will be peace in the valley for me, some day  

There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray  

There’ll be no sadness, no sorrow  

No trouble, trouble I see  

There will be peace in the valley for me, for me

–Carole King and Toni Stern

Ready, Set, Go…..

Alternate title: One of the youngest and brightest heads to the oldest and the best


A letter to my oldest, as she ventures further along the path intended for her…..

School bag all packed and ready to go.

School bag all packed and ready to go.

Dear Aub,
Funny, I typed Abu first. She’s with us watching over you as you go, you know. I’ve never been so sure of anything as I am that.
I need you to know you can do this. I know it doesn’t seem like it to you, but you have done amazing things so far, and you will only continue to amaze. You have it in you. Just reach down deep inside and grab hold of it. The same thing that allowed you to move halfway across the world and let your light shine, the strength that had you starting over at a new school six times and finding your niche, and the passion that helped you figure out what you believe and stand up for what is right—all of that will see you through.
No matter what twists and turns this path takes you on, always remember that we all share this world, and we all have the same right to be here. Remember that people really want to be heard, so be sure to listen. Not just with your ears but also with your heart.
I know we say “grace abounds” quite often around here, but do you really get it? That means that when you unload the dishwasher when the dishes aren’t clean, I need to be more gracious in my response. And that when our friend calls and says he wants to get sober and off the streets, again *sigh*, we continue to love and support him. That means that whatever story you have to share, I will listen. And it means when your roommate wakes you up, coming in late from whatever path she’s on, you forgive and forget and move on. You see what I’m saying? Grace. Don’t leave home without it.

Make it a priority to learn people’s names.  Everyone’s.  From your classmates to your big sisters to the lady who cooks your lunch to the “workman” who fixes your leaky sink.  Learn their names and say them.  Shows folks they matter, and shows you know they do.   It’s just the right thing to do.
I’m going to mess up. I’m going to be pushy and ask you questions that will tread all over your new-life independence. And I’m going to suggest how you might do something differently. I’ll just go ahead and apologize now. I’m sorry. It’s what I do. But I will try my best not to do it more than once or twice. A week. Deal?
And you’re going to mess up. You’re going to overcommit or forget an assignment or do less than your best on a project. You’re going to, at some point, feel like there is a big old “FAIL” etched across your forehead. Rest assured it’s not. Get up, dust yourself off, and try, try again. Keep on keepin’ on. That’s what Maemae and Cap used to tell me. All those many times I felt like “Fail” was my new middle name. All those times I wanted to crawl under the covers and hide from my mistakes. That was their solution—try again. And you know what? They were right.  They were always right.  But you already knew that, didn’t you?
You are about to meet all kinds of kinds. Try not to judge. I know it’s hard, but that is one of the worst things you can do—for yourself and for them. You might miss out on knowing someone really awesome because you’ve dismissed them based on some kind of first impression that winds up being totally skewed and off track. Don’t be heard sharing the failures or missteps of others. That’s common as pig tracks and besides, it hurts folks. That whole “do unto others” thing that Maemae preached about on a daily basis—that’s what this is all about. You don’t want others telling about your missteps, let those of others go as well.
At the same time, be wise. Surround yourself with strong people who are full of positive energy. It’s not your job to fix crazy or toxic or hurting people. You can be kind, but don’t take that on yourself. One of the best things you can do for a toxic person is to let them go. And point them in the direction of help. And that’s it.  I know that sounds harsh, but in the words of a wise therapist, “It’s okay to choose healthy.” And your Mama highly recommends it.

Don’t let your past be your excuse.  Ever.  It can be a launching point and a reminder of how not to be, but don’t let it be an excuse.  You can rise above those who haven’t been what they should have in your life.  Don’t let them live in your head rent-free.  It’s time to evict them.  Forever.
Make time to laugh. And try new things. Stay in touch with your artistic self. Listen to your music. Sing out loud. Explore and take walks. Give yourself permission to reinvent yourself but don’t change who you are. (I know, I sound like one of those judges on a reality tv show—”be yourself but not so much, ‘kay?”) I hope that makes sense. You are wonderful just as you are, but you can branch out and do more, do different. Swim. Ride. Make your own adventures. You have what it takes. Go for it.
Get plenty of sleep. You know how you get. Sorry, you got that from me. And when in doubt, take a shower. You know how they make you feel better. If something ever starts weighing heavy on your heart, call me. If that doesn’t help or isn’t an option in the moment, look at your painting you created last Sunday:
pic of aub's painting

Because it’s not. I don’t want you to take it too lightly either, but I doubt you will. So, I remind you what Maemae would say, “It’s all for the fun of it.”
Finally, if you find yourself doubting you can do this or if you are ready, remember what Maemae said, “It’s time. You are ready for this.” And as our Princess reminded us the other day:
“Maemae said you can do it, and she was always usually wise, so I know you can.”
‘Nuff said.

Love you, forever and always, to the moon and back,

ps–just for the fun of it–

“Always be yourself.  Unless you can be a Pirate.  Then be a Pirate.” 🙂

And from the lyrics of your new favorite song–“Keep yo’ business off  of Facebook!”  (For those who haven’t heard the song, click here.)  Just really good advice.  Love you.

The Circle of Light

Yesterday I sat in a circle with a group of women for whom a safe place to be is not always a given.  Some had worked and found a place with a roof, and some were still on the streets.  One was quite possibly one step away.

We gathered to share and talk in a safe place.  We borrowed our name from our sisters in Ghana at ABAN–our Sister Circle.  It seemed to resonate with them, that we are sisters though we come from many different walks of life.  We sat and talked about what community means to each of us.  It boiled down to love, respect, having the other person’s back, trust, safety, and listening.  It’s all about acting on that love.

I was humbled to sit with them and hear their stories, stories freely shared.  The pain and sheer brokenness in some of the stories moved me to tears.  We sat there together as sisters who have things in common, but I couldn’t help but think about the differences later, after we said our goodbyes.

I might wonder about the “what” of my next meal, but I never have to worry about the “where” or if.

When I lay my head down at night, I don’t have to keep one eye open, constantly alert for any threat or harm headed my way.

At the end of the day, when I shower I am washing off what miniscule dust and dirt I might have accumulated during my basically clinically clean day, not the real filth and residue of pain from the brokenness that threatens to engulf me.

A long time ago, I walked away from an abusive relationship, and I had a safe place to go.  I was not chased and attacked with no place to hide or relax or live.

I figure when all is said and done, I’ve had a really easy life compared to many of these women.

But here’s the thing.  Despite all these women have been through, and I don’t know all of it, each one of them has such tremendous faith.  They talk about how God has always been with them.  About the Comforter, the one who never leaves them behind.  God is the one Constant that has been with them through all of their stories.

And what amazed me the most?

They, not a single one of them, are not angry with God.

Oh there’s anger and frustration with the system–the system that seemingly works to keep them from getting the real help they need. The red tape and bureaucracy that seems to separate the haves and the have nots.  There’s anger at “so-called friends,” the ones who were nowhere to be found when real trouble hit.  There’s anger with themselves even, that they didn’t do this or that they once made this choice.  But anger with God?  I never heard even a hint of it.

I have not walked their journey.  I cannot even imagine what a day in any one of their lives is like.  But I know this:  my faith is only a drop in the bucket compared to theirs.  How they continue to carry on, to have hope, and to have faith–it defies logic.

Much like faith itself.

This thought came to my mind just a few minutes ago–you need faith to have faith.  In other words you have to have faith to step out on a limb and say you believe and that you know God has got you in the midst of all of this.

Y’all I was humbled and inspired and challenged by this group of strong and beautiful women.  They have seen humanity at its very worst and still believe.  Laugh.  Live their lives.  I did not hear a one of them ask anything like, “Why me?” or say “It’s not fair.”  I found it interesting because that is something I hear quite often in the general population (or in….say… head?).

Today I talked with friends about how once upon a time, I thanked God when we would hit nearly all green lights on the way to take my oldest to school.  Then it occurred to me that if I continued to do that, I might get frustrated with God when I hit red lights.  Which I did.  But once I let go of thinking God was a traffic controller, I quit feeling persecuted by him when they were all red lights. You just get what you get and don’t pitch a fit.  (quoting my brother there)  And that’s what these women are doing.  They are making a go of it, but they aren’t sitting around saying the things like, Why me? or It’s not fair.  It doesn’t even enter into their minds I guess.

But boy did this hit home with me.  I’ve had so much anger and frustration and asking “why” since Mama and Daddy both died in the past twenty months.  I don’t get it.  And I’m pretty sure that’s okay.  But I do know this, that God is with me, maybe even more so in the lousy points of my journey.  And tonight I am thankful for the reminder from my beautiful sisters about the face of community–love and respect–and for sharing their visions of God with me.  I look forward to walking this path with them. It is an honor.

At Least They Are Getting Along

English: A Nintendo DS Lite, shown with stylus.

English: A Nintendo DS Lite, shown with stylus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Okay, truth?  I didn’t want to write this post.  There are others bumping around in my noggin, jockeying for a chance to come to the forefront and have their stories told.  But this one?  I just had no choice.  Why?

Because It’s All My Children Have Been Talking About.  For Days.

During our summer adventures we had weekly trips to run errands with a huge side helping of fun with friends of ours.  As this was not our average “run to the grocery store” trip in length, my crew was very happy that their friends brought along their electronic game players and two to share.  They could all play the same game together (I have no idea how), which made it really fun.  So much so that my oldest pulled her game player out for the first time in a long time so she could play along.  That was lots of fun to listen to from the driver’s seat.  The laughter was near about intoxicating.  Happy children often makes for a happy Mama.

So I guess it’s only natural that the littles have decided that they want game players of their own.  They have gone through every possible scenario in their minds–big sister will give us hers and she will buy herself a new and better one, we will each get one for our birthdays, we will each get one for Christmas.  And then being assured Aub wasn’t letting go of hers, and deciding that Christmas was too far away, they decided to save money for it.

They’ve asked me if they can do things for pay.  Our Princess carries her change pouch EVERYWHERE just in case we are somewhere that she could purchase this name brand electronic contraption for a song and a dance and probably $2.52, all in pennies and dimes.  But mostly pennies.  It has been interesting to hear the planning and plotting of my two littles.  For one thing they are getting along.  That has been REALLY nice.  They are problem solving and working together.

A snippet of tonight’s conversation:

“Mama she (Princess) said she’d buy the games and cases if I (Cooter) buy the devices.  Isn’t that a good idea?”

“Well, buddy, sure, but where are y’all getting money from?  You have no money.”

Princess piped in. “Yes we do.  I have my purse and I have been saving money FOR THREE YEARS.  And he has his school bus bank.”

“Yeah,” said Cooter proudly. “I have about one hundred and three cents!”

Yeah.  That sounds about right.  Don’t judge, people, money skills are next semester.

After explaining to him that the total was only about a dollar,  I found myself looking at an undaunted child.  They are determined.  Another snippet:

Princess: “Hey Cooter, if you come keep me company, I will buy the devices and let you buy the games and cases.”

“Okay.” And off he went.  Happily.

Oh my.  I got no idea y’all.

But it works.  They haven’t fought about anything really since joining forces.  Well except for him taking apart a Lego minifigure that she’d built.  But that is so minor it hardly counts.  It has been really nice.  And when they put their heads together and come up with what they think is the perfect plan, they clap and get so excited.  I confess I look forward to hearing each new plan.

So what do I do?  Should I be upset that they are pretty close to obsessing over these things or should I admire their dogged determination? I don’t want my children to become electronics junkies.  We’re already headed towards that path.  (But is it really a problem if they are begging to watch Gilligan’s Island in the car? Really?)  I have to limit their screentime and then work on not sitting in front of one of my own so much.  Easier said than done.

On the other hand, I know part of the reason they want their own is that they want to capture some of the fun and adventure of the time they spent with their friends this summer.  Riding up and down Highway 247 in the van, playing all kinds of games.  Together.  And that’s the other thing.  Their greatest excitement about getting these devices is that they can play the games together.  And that does make me happy.  That my children want to be together, play together.  That is huge.  The fact that they are all piled up in here with me right now, snuggled together looking at a book, talking about their favorite movies, and laughing together…..that is more than I hoped for.  Getting along, yes.  Wanting to be and do things with each other, priceless.

I don’t know whether they will wind up getting their devices, and if they do, I don’t know when.  But I do know that I will savor every minute of listening to them all planning and talking and having fun together.  The joy of just being together.  The gift that lasts a lifetime.


Imma Need Me a Puppy

It’s been a long decade so far.

I’m in dire need of change.

For the better this time.  Please.

The past three years have been filled with a lot of sadness and heartbreak and caregiving and tender, sacred moments.  I’m not saying I’ve had any more to deal with than anyone else, but, not for nothin’ y’all, I’m tired.

I need a little pick me up.

Or maybe a little something to pick up. *teeheeheeing gleefully*

As time winds down to the day that my oldest heads out on the next leg of her life journey, I find myself in need of something to care for, to cuddle, to sit next to when I’m reading.  And y’all, Cooter, my baby, is six and it’s just not his thing anymore.

I want me a puppy.

I grew up with dogs and puppies.  My great-grandparents were known in the area for the rat terriers they raised.  My Granny also bred dogs.  Her Bassett puppies were so adorable, I still melt when I think of them.  It’s in the family.

My first dog was Pete.  We had him when it was just me and Mama and Daddy and we lived in Meriwether County. He was a beautiful dog.

pic of puppy me and Pete 1

And a good buddy.

pic of puppy me and Pete 2

Later on we had Blue.  He was a little smaller but had a great big heart.

pic of puppy me and Blue 1

pic of puppy me and Blue 2A few years later, Daddy was working on a farm near my Granny’s, and one day a dog showed up.  Daddy took a liking to him and brought him home for us.  He was named Slocum, because I told Daddy he was slow to come when I called him.  But he was the greatest dance partner EVER.

pic of puppy me and Slocum

Over the years there were many other dogs.  Shadow and Sugarfoot came along when Mama took us to go get a new puppy.  Mama and my sister loved Sugarfoot and I loved Shadow.  The folks giving them away offered Mama a big bag of food if she took both.  I’ve already said how much Mama loved her a bargain, so yes, both of those little loves came home with us.  We also had Belle the Bassett, and Samantha the German Shepherd.  Samantha just showed up one day at our first house in Byron.  She attached immediately.  I remember one day a mean stray showed up when I went to check the mail.  That dog barked and growled at me.  Samantha walked sideways and pushed me all the way back to my front door, barking and protecting me the whole time.  A special one that one.

When I graduated from college, I got myself a puppy that was 1/2 Bassett, 1/4 Fiest, and 1/4 Chihuahua.  So sweet.  Her name was Madge.  She was my little lady.  Until she got aggravated and scrunched that cute little face up at you.  In my previous life I was part of the family with Millie, a Boston Terrier.  Smartest dog I’ve ever known.  You could ask her if she was hungry or thirsty or wanted candy.  And depending on what she wanted, she’d either be still or start bouncing on her back legs.  She knew what you were asking.  She also became very defensive of me, which I really appreciated.  Then there were Scarlett, Rhett, Prissy, and Pittypat, the Beagles–my attempt to join the ranks of the breeders in my family.  It might have gone well if I hadn’t had to move back home.  But that’s another story.

When my girl and I ventured out on our own we added Bosley and LizzieLou Ashalee to our family.  They were both sweet dogs and brought us comfort and protection and companionship.  Years later after our family returned from Japan and we settled into our own home, we added sweet Tater, the Golden Lab/Bassett mix we adopted.  He was a sweet dog, but he just got wanderlust and started digging out.  This started right after the boxers next door started digging out.  I swanee those dogs whispered their secrets to him under the fence.  *sigh* Anyway, we were lucky to find a farm to take him in where he could roam and roam and live with a beautiful American bulldog buddy.

And so here we are now.  Dog-less.  Because of allergies we are downsizing our cats to only the outdoor ones.  And I’m sad.

I want me a puppy.  A hypoallergenic, indoor, follow me around and remind me of the fun in life, genuine puppy.  I used to say it was hard to sit on your pity pot when you had a little one sitting in your lap.  Now that my littles have just about outgrown the lap-sitting phase, I’m going to modify that statement:  It’s hard to sit on your pity pot when you have a dog looking in your eye and licking your face.  I just know it would be.

The crew and I have talked about it.  I told them we’d name her “Miss Kay” when we get her.  (Note the positive thinking use of “when.”)  I’ve mentioned this want (dare I say need?) to some of my friends.  One sweet friend said she wanted to go with me when I get my puppy.  Another suggested maybe I should get a rutabaga instead.  That tickled my funnybone.  I think that might just be a good name for my new little one.  Aub says we could call her “Rudy” for short.  I like it.

And so the decision-making and discussion continues.  I think back over the years and dogs that my parents let us have.  What I appreciate so much now that I’m grown is that they let us get those dogs, despite being pretty sure of how it would turn out.  That they would wind up taking care of the dog, that hearts would be broken eventually, that ultimately one of the dogs would tear up or chew up something.  It’s just the nature of the animals–both the children and the dogs.  And yet, they still said yes.  More times than not.

As I do my research on breeds (Yorkie or Morkie) and remember all that having a puppy again would require, I know there are downsides to the warm and fuzzies.  I have had my share of piddle puddles and getting up at 3 a.m. to housebreak a puppy and heartworm treatments and losing a puppy to parvo or a dog to an automobile.  It’s hard stuff.  But in the end, for me, the warm and fuzzies win out.

Years and years ago, I gave my Granny a print by Mary Engelbreit which had a quote by Robert Whalen on it.  She and I both loved it so much that when I found the art on a t-shirt I got it.  It reminds me of two parts of my life that made me very happy–my Granny and my puppies.

pic of ME puppy shirt

As the winds of change come sweeping down the plain, I find myself more and more certain that, while a puppy might not fix everything, it would come mighty, mighty close.  Yep, I’m thinking Imma need me that puppy.