Tea Olives and Tales and Teasing

The littles and I went to visit our “Pirate” at my alma mater–her college today.

I am not old enough to have a daughter in college.  Seriously.

When I started school and began first grade, I had Mrs. Partain and Mrs. Crouch.  Most of my time was spent with Mrs. Partain.  Everyday before I left for school, Daddy would tease me and say, “I’m not old enough to have a daughter in first grade.  You need to tell your teacher that.”  And every afternoon when he came home, he asked, “Did you tell your teacher I’m not old enough to have a daughter in first grade?” And everyday I said no.  Until one day in the spring, I surprised him.  I answered, “Yes.”  When he got over the shock, he asked what she had said.  “She laughed.”  Which made him laugh too.

He was 31.  Way younger than this Mama of a college student.

We wandered around the campus.  Do I miss it?  Yes.  I told my oldest last night that I would so “Freaky Friday” her in a heartbeat.  Those were good days.  (Only I probably didn’t recognize it each and every day.)

It’s home.  So many landmarks. So many memories. The fountain I got thrown into every birthday I had my four years there and when I was engaged.  (My friends weren’t crazy or mean–it’s a tradition.) And the place where my husband and I married almost twelve years ago.   The window to my freshman dorm room (turns out it was across the hall from where our resident ghost hung out–I did NOT know that at the time–thank goodness), my sophomore dorm room, and the manhole cover I’d always walk over because I like to hear the echo.  The window to the office of our favorite professor, who was known to poke his head out if he heard us calling.  The building where I learned how to fail and try again.  The pond where I rode the paddleboat with a classmate from India and she read my palm.  I could go on and on with the memories.  They’re all still there.

As we were heading back to our girl’s dorm and maybe for a walk by the pond, it hit me.  That smell. I sniffed again.  Intently.  I turned around.

“What are you doing, ‘Dre?” she asked.

“Tea olive.  I smell tea olive.”  As I turned completely around I saw it.  It was so big I had dismissed it as being a tea olive.  We went over and soaked it in.

Soaking in the smell of the tea olive

Soaking in the smell of the tea olive

There is NO smell I love better on this earth than the smell of a tea olive.  Except for maybe a clean baby smell.  I don’t know, it might be a tie.  I wish I could bottle it up and take it everywhere with me.

Years ago Daddy planted one at the house, Blackberry Flats.  The first time it blossomed and I smelled it, I found myself drawn to it, soaking it in.  I told Daddy that I hoped Heaven smells just like that.  It is the most perfect scent there is on God’s green earth.  Hands down.

Daddy's tea olive at Blackberry Flats

Daddy’s tea olive at Blackberry Flats

When we moved to our house here, there was one planted on the side of the house.  I just noticed it blooming the other day.  The scent hits you first as the blossoms are tiny.  Then you see them.  Precious.  In the midst of all the chaos of the past year, my wise gardener friend brought me one, knowing how much I love them, and planted it where I can smell it from the rocker on my porch.

When Daddy died, we were so fortunate to have a kind and witty and compassionate funeral home director work with us.  She asked about a spray.  We had no idea but knew that Daddy wouldn’t have wanted anything fancy.  She suggested we take cuttings from greenery at the house to the florist to be worked into it.  I remember well that crisp fall day, my Aunt and I out cutting small branches from the cedar that had come from their parent’s farm over thirty years ago and from that tea olive.  It turned out beautifully and it meant so much.  Daddy had planted and tended to both of those trees over the years.

So it was that in March of last year, on Daddy’s birthday, our first without him here, Mama and the crew and I took Daddy’s shovels and went out to the little country church where they both are buried now, and we dug a hole and planted a tea olive there.  It was not an easy task–us and the shovels vs. Georgia red clay.  I spent a whole lot of time getting to know that tea olive last year.  Mama saved her milk jugs, and she or I would haul eight gallons out there twice a week to water it all through the dry summer.  I spent a lot of time out there pouring water into the big bucket with slow draining holes my wise gardener friend had loaned us.  As I poured I talked to Daddy.  The conversations were private, but suffice to say, there weren’t always happy and grace-filled.  There were times I just wanted to lay down out there and give up, I missed him so much.  There were days the sky was filled with angry clouds gathering, but much like me, they were all talk and no rain fell, so still I watered.  I knew how to look for new growth on the tree because my Daddy had taught me, so I was pleased when I saw some, and I pointed it out to him.

I love the smell of a tea olive.  I think I may have to go out there and see how it’s doing.  I haven’t worried much about it with all this rain we’ve had this summer.  And it’s seemed harder to go out there lately.  But if there’s the promise of blossoms and that smell, well, that might just change everything.

I hope the smell will bring comfort to my children just as it has for me.  And maybe my oldest will find herself walking out of her way to sniff the tree that very likely was planted about the time I was there, oh-quite-some-time-ago.  And I think that would be just fine.  It is my hope that she too will take root there and grow and hopefully bless the world as she blossoms into who she is becoming.  I’m already seeing new growth in her too.  And though it’s not easy, what follows, just like the scent of the tea olive, will be downright beautiful and worth every bit of the effort.  I promise.

The Puzzle of Prayer

pic of walk

Tonight after supper the littles asked to take a walk.

It surprised me.

I’m used to them asking for dessert, or to play some kind of electronics, or to watch a tv show.  But to take a walk? It’s been a while.  And the irony of them asking on this day.  It just about made me cry.

Four years ago exactly, in the evening, I was taking my second walk of the day.  It was a luxury I didn’t take lightly.  Walking through the neighborhood by myself, letting the breeze blow out the cobwebs.  My husband was home doing prep for a procedure, so when I saw him walking towards me through the shadows of dusk, I knew something was wrong.  It was Daddy.  He was in the hospital ER and it wasn’t good.

Tonight as the littles and I walked, off and on Cooter would reach up and take my hand.  So sweet.  And our Princess would lean over and hug me happily as we walked side by side by side.  The sound of thunder rumbling sped us along, as I didn’t want it to find us before we were able to get inside safely.  The dark was closing in on us as the clouds grew darker and closer.  Just as it did four years ago.  That blasted darkness.

Just the day before we’d gathered at Mama’s and Daddy’s to celebrate my nephew’s fourth birthday.  In the midst of the laughter and merry-making I sat next to Daddy on the brown couch in the big room.  He was unusually quiet.  I don’t claim to know something was going to happen but there must have been some kind of prescience as I remember wanting to hug him close and not let go.

We’d had at least six months of symptoms to seek explanations for, but it was when Daddy’s hand wobbled and he couldn’t get his glass to his mouth that day that Mama noticed and said, “It’s time to do something.  Now.” And so they went to the ER.

I was relayed the message that I was NOT to go to the hospital that night.  So I didn’t.  I did what I was supposed to do which was make calls and share the situation with family.

That night was the beginning of the change in my relationship with prayer.  Before this I really thought that if I prayed hard enough or believed enough…..

One family member asked what could be done.  I said, “Hit your knees and start praying.”  I was so convinced we could ward off the Giant with prayers.

The next morning I called to tell Daddy’s sisters and brother.  My Aunt and I cried together as I recall.  Her big sister, the one in the middle between her and Daddy, offered to pray with me, for me, for all of us.  I remember being comforted and some of her words have stayed with me–words about how much I loved and needed my Daddy.  And how much his grandchildren needed him too.  She knew, she got it–her Daddy died when she was in her twenties.  Her words covered me and held me tight as I knelt in the dark inside my closet, weeping where my children hopefully couldn’t hear me.

Prayer is a hard thing, you know.  Or maybe it isn’t for most folks.  But for me, I don’t get it.  I read part of a book where a man walked around the property he hoped would be his community’s church one day, praying around it.  And it “worked.”  They got the property and have grown since then.  I know people who say that their prayers have been answered in one way or another.  And I’m not saying they haven’t been.  I just know that when someone is sick or hurting or they ask for prayers……all I can say is “I’ll keep you in my thoughts” or “I will be thinking about you” or “You are in my heart and on my mind.”  Which is all true.  I cannot say “I will pray for you” because I don’t know what that is supposed to look like.

And here is why.

Starting very shortly after this date in 2009, when my children fully grasped that their loving grandfather, their “Cap,” was very sick, they ended their table blessings ALWAYS with “And make Cap better. Amen.” It was so much a part of their prayers that they even said it at his table with him sitting there after he came home from the hospital several weeks later.  Loving friends and family let us know they were praying.  Friends in Japan and Germany and young women in Ghana whom we never met were praying for us, for Daddy.  If ever anyone was covered in prayer, it was my Daddy.  And yet….

On a cold morning in November of 2011 I was driving as quickly as I safely could to my parents’ house, my three babies in tow.  When our Princess realized we weren’t taking her big sister to school and that it was still rather dark out, she asked, “What are we doing?  Where are we going?”  I waited until we were on the backroads in case I had to pull over I guess.  I told her, “Baby, God is coming to get Cap today.  Sometimes He has to take folks to Heaven to heal them all the way.”  Or something like that.  And that’s when she started crying and said,

“Oh no, we didn’t pray hard enough.”

Dear God, what had I taught her about prayer?  And what do I teach her now?

It’s a hard thing.  And so I think about it more than I should probably.  And I worry over it.  Not so much for God’s sake as I figure I’m not the first to ask hard questions, but for those I love.  Those I love enough to want things to be better but not really understanding the process enough to commit–“I’ll pray for you.” How can I if I don’t know what I’m doing?

After Daddy died,  I spent fourteen months trying to get my faith and my prayers back on track. Then Mama went in the hospital. So many people praying, saying to us that they were praying for the surgeons, for us, for Mama. Three weeks later, after suffering more than anyone ever should, she too passed on from this world. My friend Mac has told me he has sat in the park and cried and prayed and asked God to take away the taste of alcohol. He’s prayed for strength. I’ve told God how much he means to me and asked God to help him through the constant battle of addiction. And still…..here we are.

I’ve talked with some folks about prayer. Told them that I don’t get it. I don’t understand exactly what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Expectation management as my husband would call it. If I’m praying, believing God can or will heal my Daddy, my Mama, Mac…..then is it any wonder that my faith is shattered and my heart broken when they aren’t healed? And if I’m praying, knowing it could go the other way, then why bother at all? That would be praying, having no faith that it could help. I’ve heard some folks say, “Well you must not have prayed hard enough.” NO. I can’t take that upon myself, nor can I believe in a God that would punish for prayers said wrong or not at all. Somehow I think we’re missing a piece of the puzzle here. I pray and…..? And what? There has to be another part of it.

I don’t know what the answer is and may not know in this world.  For now I borrow from a wise Mennonite minister, Hugh Hollowell, who shared in an old post that his prayers evolved into telling God how much someone meant to him and asking Him/Her to be with that person.  That I can do.  That doesn’t set expectations or requests–just puts someone in the Light for a few minutes. And I’m hoping that in the midst of the dark and brokenness that can be overwhelming, that if I talk to God and share how much I love that person, maybe for a moment the Light will shine through the darkness.  And shine a bit of peace through it all.  For that person I care about and for all of us.

Amen.

For the Birds

English: Picoides villosus, Hairy Woodpecker -...

English: Picoides villosus, Hairy Woodpecker — Whitby, Ontario, Canada — 2006 January, The red on the back of the head identifies this as a male. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I originally wrote this four years ago about a walk I took in August 2009.  I wrote it in December of 2009 to be included in a Hope Book of encouragement in which family and friends shared stories and pictures and laughter with Mama and Daddy, as Daddy began his fight against Lymphoma. 

Lately I’ve really gotten into cardinals.  I love them–males and females.  I can remember one flying across the bottom just before Evans Packing Shed on Highway 96 just about every morning on my way to work at Peach Area Child Care Center.  I made it up in my head that the cardinal was a sign of good luck.  I guess I felt like I could use it at the time.  Recently on a rare time of running an errand at Blackberry Flats by myself, I saw a beautiful flash of red in one of the cedars.  Breathtaking–and oddly comforting.

It’s interesting, because birds were always my sister’s thing–especially cardinals.  But birds go way back for me.  I remember Daddy telling me, while he was working to pull my tooth, some story about bluebirds in their mailbox when he was growing up.  I couldn’t concentrate on the story because I just knew that when one of those birds flew out of that mailbox, my tooth was going to fly out of my mouth.  That’s not how it happened though.  But to this day when Daddy asks me if I remember the bluebird story (a different one), I first recall the mailbox one and think, “No, I was only half listening back then.”

Back on an August Sunday morning I went on a walk before the neighborhood woke up.  It was a beautiful day.  I finally heard someone else who was up–a woodpecker.  Crazy thing, he was pecking at a metal light pole.  When he realized I was close, he flew over to a tree,.  I thought, “Well good, now he will figure it out, poor ignorant critter.”  I walked a ways before I turned back toward home.  By this time, the August heat was doing a number on me and the dew on the grass–steamy! I heard the woodpecker again, and would you believe that he was back on that metal pole?!

It hit me on the way home that I’m a lot like that crazy bird.  I’m just that hard-headed.  I will keep at something that maybe I wasn’t made to do.  Even when I might be veered in a different direction, sometimes I still go back–determined to make it work.  And that works out about as well as a woodpecker pecking at a metal pole.  And it can be just as discordant.

############

The Other Bluebird Story

Daddy told me this one several times, especially after he became so sick. 

It didn’t keep me from wanting to make him my top priority and

he didn’t quit reminding me where he wanted my priorities

to be.  I’m thankful for how much he loved our children and how he

wanted us to focus on them even in the midst of what he was going through. 

Sometimes remembering the strength of his spirit and

love makes me cry. 

There was a Mama bluebird and four babies in a nest.  One day

a bad storm was coming, and Mamd Bluebird knew it.  She

decided to move her babies to safety.  She didn’t

have time to get them all under cover, so she decided to move as

quickly as possible.  She took the first baby in her mouth and flew

towards safety. “Oh Mama thank you so much for saving me first.  When you

are old, I’m going to take care of you just like this.”

Mama Bluebird dropped the baby and went back for number two.

The same thing happened–“Oh Mama thank you, one

day I am going to take good care of you just like you cared for me.”

Mama Bluebird dropped it and headed back.

The same thing happened with number three.

When Mama Bluebird went back for number four, the

little bird sang out, “Oh Mama, thank you for taking such good

care of me.  One day I will take care of my little ones just like

you took care of me.”

And Mama Bluebird and her baby flew on to safety.

~The End~

And for those who can’t get enough of good bird stories, here’s a beautiful one from my friend over at Baddest Mother Ever–A Tuesday Kind of Miracle.  I never get tired of reading it. 

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)

(maybe)

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…..one 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.”

Bing-o!

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   http://www.alz.org/  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  http://www.lls.org/#/ 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.