written in stone

Over the past two years I have spent a lot more time than I ever have before in cemeteries.  It is not that I was afraid before.  I actually find them a beautiful place for quiet, thought, and peace.  The first time I’d been out to the Little Union cemetery since my Great Grandmother died many years ago was in November 2011.  My brother-in-law Leroy and I rode out there to see the place that we’d been told we could use as a family plot.  Daddy was not doing well, and it was only a week later that we were all gathered there again to say goodbye.

The day that Leroy and I went out to the little country church cemetery was bright and sunny.  After talking over the options, he and I walked it over.  It reads like my family tree out there.  For several years Daddy took care of the grounds in the summers.  Just because.  He had wanted to go back and whitewash some of the older gravestones, but he got so sick before we could do it.  The stones out there for those who died during the War have different types of markers, a reminder of the limited resources of the time.  Some names look like they were written by hand with a stick in wet concrete. I wonder if that is actually what happened.

The precious church and cemetery out at Little Union.

The precious church and cemetery out at Little Union.

The family and I went out there on Sunday, as it marked the date that Daddy died in 2011.  Two years.  Our littles love going out there.  Goodness knows we were out there a lot in the summer of 2012, watering the tea olive we’d planted at the foot of Daddy’s grave on his birthday in March of that year.  We’d haul 8 gallon jugs of Blackberry Flats (the homeplace) water out there twice a week and cheer it on during the dry, hot summer.  Their little faces turning red and damp in the heat of the day, they’d run around the cemetery reading names and exploring.  They picked up turned over flowers and collected trash to dispose of later.  They knew to be respectful and not walk on the stones and to leave things better than when you got there.

And so this past Sunday, they went back to their adventuring after pausing a moment to let it soak in that there are two headstones there.  I remember the discussion with Mama about putting another line on each stone.  One word.  That’s all I wanted.  “Others” for him and “Loved” for her.  But Mama was having none of that.  Since I haven’t been out there with my hammer and chisel yet, their stones only tell names and dates, no indications of the beautiful lives they lived in between the two.

Amy from our Rising Bloggers circle asked a question this week that made me think:

Epitaphs used be to three words: “Mother. Sister. Wife” as an example. If you were writing your own Epitaph, what three words would you want to be your legacy and why?

I was sitting here thinking about that tonight.  I really couldn’t come up with three words.  Or three separate thoughts.  It’s hard to see yourself through the lenses of others, isn’t it?  What would my family think appropriate?  It delighted our Princess to see Papa or Mama on the stones and read them aloud.  One she loved said, “Mama, Daughter, Beloved.”  But what would they say about me?  Hard-headed? True.  Distracted?  Ahem.  Move on.  Always running behind?  I will come back and get y’all if you put that on there.  I own it, but I sure hope that’s not my legacy.

Death has reminded us once again in the past week that you just never know. And while there are no guarantees, I hope I have more time to work on my legacy.  Maybe the three words that will stand out haven’t bloomed in me yet.

As I was about to walk away from thinking and writing for a little while, hoping something would come to me, I heard the words, almost as though they were being whispered through a veil.  Three words.  A single thought.  To cover my whole life–bumps and bruises and stops and starts, messes, successes, mixups, things done and left undone.  All of it.  I don’t remember the first time I heard it or whether it was Mama or Daddy who said it to me first.  It was saved for the really special, choice moments in my life.  Like when my oldest and first treasure was born in the wee hours of a Tuesday morning.  Or each of my other two treasures born 9 and 11 years later.  I think Daddy said it after I shared stories at my Great Aunt’s funeral in 2010, and Mama said it after the rush and chaos had settled following Daddy’s service.  I don’t know that I deserved the words, but I do know my heart soared and I cried tears of gratitude deep inside my soul on those precious occasions when I heard them.

I hope one day I will live up to these words, that my life’s legacy and my efforts will not have been for naught, and that I will have earned them in every sense of the word:

She done good

I’m not ready to go yet, because I still have a lot of work to do to get to the point where anyone, especially my people, will feel like pulling out the hammer and chisel and putting this on my stone.  But it’s good to have goals, and this is mine.  To do good, and to be loved, and to love in a way that those left behind will forgive me my temper, my lack of organization, and all of my shortcomings.  I hope they will forgive the stacks and stacks of books and bits of notes and cards and whatnot that I am loath to let go of, and in their hearts, they will be able to say those three words.  She done good.

It’s something to live for, isn’t it?

For more epitaph thoughts and stories, visit Amy at her blog, “the reinvention of amy,” and read down to the links at the bottom of her post.  Thanks, Amy, for a thought-provoking question this week!

the only way to fly

Each Tuesday I gather with a group of women at Daybreak for our Sister Circle, a time of sharing and caring and listening.   I was so looking forward to today, especially since I had to miss last week due to my little guy having a tummy bug.  I always learn something or hear a bit of wonderful wisdom to take with me when I sit down with these amazing women.  These are women who may be in the midst of a battle or a survivor of addictions, homelessness, or in need for a day or a season.

Today did not disappoint.  We talked about the ways life can toss you up in the air, chew you up and spit you out.  And we talked about birds.  What we see that birds do–they fly, they sing, they nest…..and they are in community.

We could learn a lot from the birds.  That whole community thing is pretty powerful.  They need each other just as we do.  And they build nests so they can rest and regain their strength before stretching their wings and taking off again to do what needs doing.  Beautiful.

When Miss N and I were visiting at the beginning of our time, we talked about what it would look like if we could do just that–stretch our wings and fly.  And we talked about what is holding us back from doing it.

“Not being in the right place,” she said quietly, as is her nature.  “Or having the right folks to help me.”

Ah yes.  We need the right support network to step out and try sometimes, don’t we?

Miss N is an artist.  We shared paper and markers and drew or wrote about what our lives would look like if we did have what it would take to “fly.”  Miss N drew one with her paying bills on her own, another with her having friends over to her house, and then this one.  It spoke to me the most.

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If she had the resources and the support and encouragement of those around her, Miss N would “hit the street. Go places.”  She would love to travel.  Go wherever she decides to and see what she wants to see.  Thus the road plays a big part in her picture.

But what drew me in was the stoplight.  She’s at a juncture in the drawing.  And there is the stoplight looming overhead.  So many times in my life, when I’ve hit a bump or been completely knocked off the main road, it’s hard to know if I can keep going.  How will I even be able to take another step?

I guess that’s what I feel like Miss N is asking in this picture.  Will those twists and turns and one way traffic signs stop you, give you pause, or will you keep on keeping on?

And actually there’s a place for all three, isn’t there?  There is a time and place for each one of those lights to shine in our lives.  In grief it’s important to slow down and sometimes even stop completely for a time so you can regroup before rejoining the community and the flight pattern.  Other times, when evil is attempting to prevail, it’s best to just green light it and keep on walking.  It’s not even worth stopping for and getting tangled in that web of mess.

Then there are the happy moments–new babies, graduations, promotions, books being published, goals being reached–that also call for yellow light and red light moments–time to  stop or pause and savor every single moment of the precious time while you are in it.

Before we left today, we also talked about balance.  Tonight I was thinking about that.  Whether we ever get in a vehicle and head down the road or not, we all have red, green, and yellow light moments in our days.  The goal is that there are no solid green light days–that kind of “on the go” can wear a body and a spirit out.  Fast.  Nor do we hope for all yellow light days.  While those can get some books read from the stack you may have collected (sigh), those days can also be frustrating–always waiting, being put “on hold” as life decides to answer you.  The red light days can make you feel lost and like you’re spinning your wheels.  And that’s the key to it all being okay.  Balancing out the doing and the resting and the contemplating and the wrestling with life’s big issues.  And then letting it be what it is.

That’s about as far as we got.  How to work towards that balance and how to keep it once we get there, we were all a little fuzzy on that. How can we keep from letting the bumps in the road send us into permanent red light mode?  How do we keep from laying on the horn when folks are in the way of our green light go, go, go mode?  I don’t really know one hundred percent.  But I have a feeling it has a lot to do with that community thing the birds have down pat.  Taking care of each other and surrounding ourselves with good folks, those who will fly on ahead and lead the way when they see us getting tired and those who will nudge us out of our nests when we just want to give up.  Those are the kind of folks we need to put ourselves in the midst of.

Ah yes, relationships.  Community.  There they are again.  I haven’t done any research nor do I have any facts to back it up except for my own experiences, but my guess is that Miss N is very right.  To live out our dreams we need to be in the right place–physically, emotionally, spiritually–and we need to have folks around us who will help and encourage and support as we “hit the street and go places.”  That’s the only way to fly.

 

fairytales schmairytales…..a letter to all my young’uns

A picture by Gustave Doré of Mother Goose read...

A picture by Gustave Doré of Mother Goose reading written (literary) fairy tales (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These thoughts are for my children, the ones I gave birth to and the ones I didn’t…..I love you all.  You give my life meaning, and I would do anything to keep you from being hurt.  And yet it still happens.  Don’t let it break you. More than anything, keep being your beautiful and giving selves.  The world needs you.  And so do I.  I’m so proud of who you are. 

Dear Ones,

Those fairy tales we told you,

the ones in the movies,

with the pretty dresses and beauty and rugged good looks

and weak and strong

and song

They are not real

There is no happy ending

guaranteed for any of us

There can be heartbreak with no one to make it better

There can be pain with no relief in sight

There can be getting lost with no breadcrumbs to lead you safely home

There are far more Maleficents and Ursulas

hags and witches and evil stepmothers

than there are fairy godmothers, mice who can sew, and

fairies who save their wishes for last to

reverse a curse, bless her

There are few Prince Charmings or genies or magic lamps

left to rescue you from the tower

or turn you back from a llama to whom you used to be

if that’s what you want

There are rarely happy, joyful, singing birds and dancing dogs

and fairytale wedding happy endings

Instead there is life, there is real, there is feeling it all–

the good and the sad and the joy and the hard

A transformation or rescue is not magical

or in an instant

It can take a long time

And it looks way different from a cloud of  glittering smoke and pixie dust

It looks like a long drive down the coast because of one phone call

Or a purse full of just what is needed at the moment,

A message or note or a hug from someone who cares,

A sister doing what is hard because she loves

It looks like a brother holding a sister and melding their tears and pain into one

It looks like a treasured Soul picking her way across the dirt and pebbled path of a cemetery

to show up

It looks like showing up

Love

looks like showing up

And sometimes it looks like you showing up for yourself

Sometimes that’s as good as it gets

and it turns out that is just whom you needed the most

When the words of others are thrown like darts straight at your heart, again and again and again

until you feel you can’t bear it anymore

There will be no charging steed or Chinese warrior to come and take them out

To make them pay for the pain they’ve caused

It is simply evil being evil and sometimes

there are no consequences for evil

and you are left to wonder why

The real magic comes when you let it go, walk away, and say no more to the darkness

turn toward the light

It is there

in the people who raised you, those who are here and those who are on the other side of the veil

watching, nodding, knowing

you are rising above all the pain and ugliness and above your own desires

to make.someone.pay

There is magic and beauty in the friends who love fiercely and stand beside you,

in front, and all around

to keep out the darkness and to protect and shield and comfort

In the end there is no The End

It is only the journey continuing through the days and nights and one day

you realize

you have found joy, a treasure, that your heart beats to a tune that is life-giving

and fills your soul even in the midst of trouble and hard and broken times

you hear laughter and you realize

it is bubbling up from inside you

In that moment of exhaling the very breath of life, laughter,

that heart-healing, soul-refreshing breath,

you realize that another moment is possible,

you can go on, and that maybe the key is you have to make you own joy and

leave behind the ones who would bring you down

with the poison apple of hatred and brokenness

Maybe that right there is the glass slipper in your life

just the right size, and it can change your life

for the better

My dear ones, there are no happy endings,

life can get messy

folks don’t always do like they should

but you can say no to the dark

and make your own joy

Never let the Evil blow out your light

the world needs it to see all the beauty and love you share

Fairytales, schmairytales

write your own story

and make it a good one

make it real…..

love to all, here if you need me, always

me

My Daddy and His Way of Preaching

I have a memory of my Daddy that I’ve thought back on so often that the corners of the memory are wearing thin like the pages of my favorite books.  It is as comforting as the blanket I carried and then slept with for years and years (and still sleeps in the back corner of my bottom drawer).  I pull it out and think on it when I feel small and lost.

When I was in early elementary, Daddy came after school to pick me up.  That was very unusual because he normally didn’t get off from work until 4:30 in the afternoon.  Mama nearly always picked us up.  Except for that brief time in the third grade when they let me ride the bus.  Until a couple of days into it when the bus driver passed my house and dropped me off four doors down.  Back then it seemed like a very long walk home. When the driver came back by, headed to the school, Mama flagged him down and let him know she was not pleased.  He knew where I lived, but he hadn’t stopped in time.  Yeah, Mama could be a fierce Mama Bear when she needed to be.  I hope to be just like her.

I think we’d had some kind of party at school the day Daddy came to pick me up, maybe even the last day before Thanksgiving break, I’m not sure.  Mama had sent me with something incredible she’d fixed in a Tupperware dish.  I had my bookbag, lunchbox, and this empty dish to carry.  For some reason it seemed more hectic than usual that day with all of these big high school people wandering around, heads taller than me, seeming adult-like in their size and attitudes.  I looked around and I remember seeing Daddy materialize almost in front of my eyes.  This guy I thought was one of the high schoolers took a step towards me and I realized, That’s my Daddy.

Me and my Daddy--he was pretty close to 25 in this picture.  He looks like a baby to me here.

Me and my Daddy–he was pretty close to 25 in this picture. He looks like a baby to me here now.

He always did look young for his age.

And that’s what has always struck me about that day when I replay it over and over.  Sunshiny day, vibrant colors, lots of people moving in crowds with a sense of purpose, and then he steps in front of me.  I have laughed over the years about the fact that I thought my Daddy who was easily in his early thirties at that time was in high school.

Reading with my Daddy.  He loved books as much as I do.

Reading with my Daddy. He loved books as much as I do.

I was remembering it the other day, and I looked closer.  I always focused on the emotions I felt (relief, happiness, joy, love) when I saw my Daddy and realized who he was.  But this last time, I looked at my Daddy’s expression.  His eyes lit up, and he seemed relieved to have found me.  It was obvious he had been searching through the crowds all over.  And then we found each other.

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I understand a lot more about God from how my Daddy lived and treated each one of us.  I’m not saying he was perfect, but he did walk in the dust of the Rabbi, at least how I see it.  My Daddy was a man of few words sometimes.  He wasn’t a churchgoer for the most of his life either.  But he set an example without ever saying a word of how to live, and that example was full of love, compassion, giving, truth, and kindness. When I was seeing this memory in a new light, I thought about how Daddy was looking for me in this great crowd and didn’t stop until he found me.  I suddenly understood the story from the Good Book about the lost sheep so much better.  According to the story found in Luke 15:1-7, the Shepherd will leave his 99 sheep to go after the one that is lost.  It was always a comforting story and now even more so. He could have given up and let me try to find him when the crowd cleared or when I decided to go to where he was.  He could have gone to the office and let someone else find me.  No.  He came and looked for me himself.  Beautiful.  And humbling, to think that I am worth that.  That my Daddy and God would come after me whether I’m lost in a crowd of people or in a pasture of green grass, flowers, and trees.  Neither of them gave up on me.

Today we drove out to Little Union Cemetery at the request of our Princess who will always remember the significance of this day, because it’s the day after her birthday.   We passed by so many landmarks that trigger other Daddy memories.  The road we biked on to get to our Granny’s–a LONG ride.  The road that we drove on when he helped my oldest and me move to our first ever house.  The road we turned on so many times I could do it blindfolded–the one that led to Granny’s.  And then. The spot where Daddy had finally had enough.  He had come as soon as I called and said I needed help.  And with an intense love and protection that can only come from a good Daddy like him, he let anyone around him know, raising his voice choked with emotion, “That’s my baby right there.”  And I was safe.  I cried because I had made him tearful.  I think maybe God is that way too.  God looks around and sees the choices we are making and, as hard as it is, sits there biding time until we have had enough and cry out, “Help me.  Make me safe.”  And then God steps in with emotion and a passion born of great love for us, “That’s one of mine.  Don’t hurt her anymore.”

Oh how my Daddy loved us.  As my dear friend Weezer would say, “Warts and all.”  He never stopped coming when we needed him, and he loved us with a quiet fierceness that was the greatest comfort of all.

It’s been two years ago this afternoon since my Daddy went on up to The House.  It’s been a hard day.  For so many reasons, but mostly because it’s been two years.  We keep moving away from the time when he was still here to hug, to shake hands with, to listen to, to ask his thoughts about something.  Or to make laugh.  Oh goodness me, how I loved to make him laugh.

The view from Daddy's window at Blackberry Flats.  Cardinals love those those hedges.

The view from Daddy’s window at Blackberry Flats. Cardinals love those hedges.

Thankful that these things matter to a new nine-year old, I took time to go out to the cemetery today for our Princess and for me and for our family.  We stopped by Blackberry Flats, and I stood and looked out the window that was Daddy’s view for over thirty years from his recliner that sat next to it.  When he came home from the hospital for the last time, we had a hospital bed waiting to keep him comfortable and to help us better care for him.  And we put it next to his window.  This was the same view I saw in the moments I stood with the strong women I love–my Mama, his sisters, my sisters–as we listened to his breath growing quieter and quieter until he was finished with this battle with Goliath, and it was over.

After I looked back at some of the pictures this afternoon and listened to the quiet, the crew and I loaded back up and headed over to the cemetery.  I love the drive over there.  It’s just over the county line, I think, and the land out there just feeds my soul.  Mama said it’s because our people lived around there.  And she might be right.  That is one beautiful ride.  It’s the kind Sunday drives were created for.  When we got there, I stopped to look and remember.  It was my Princess’ birthday two years ago just after lunch that I had planned to meet our sweet and kind funeral director out there about Daddy’s plot.  We had just shared my girl’s birthday lunch with Mama, and Princess had finished her birthday treasure hunt.  It was about to storm, and Mama didn’t want me to go.  Call him. Just wait until tomorrow, she said. But I felt deep in my heart that I had to go then.  I met Mr. K out there, and I loved the spot immediately.  It had been a while since I’d been out there, but when I saw this path I knew.  Perfect.

20131117-233034.jpg“The foot of the path.  Is that okay?”  I remember choking up.

Mr. K nodded.  “Yes, that’ll do just fine. But I hope I won’t be seeing you about this for a long, long time.”

It was a little over 24 hours later.  Bless him, he and his wife are two of the most caring folks I’ve met.  They were called to do what they do, and they are good at loving on folks in the hardest of times.

Tonight, two years after I tried to sleep with Mama in her bed, and then moved to lay with Mess Cat on hers and we all played musical beds, I am thankful for this day of remembering.  My Daddy and my Mama are the reason I know how to behave.  They often said, “Know better, do better, and folks’ll like you better.”  And if that ain’t the truth, I don’t know what is. Some folks don’t have the truth in them and we call them “liars.”  My Daddy was a truther.  I expect he could tell a tall tale for entertainment purposes, but he didn’t have an untruthful bone in his body.  As Shakespeare wrote in The Merchant of Venice, “…..the truth will out.”  Daddy knew this, and he didn’t play.  He didn’t accept less than the truth, from himself or others.

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When our Princess walked up to the graves with me today, she smiled and said in that way she has that I’m sure has God and everyone else smiling and high fiving at what a good job they did on THAT one, “Oh look, it looks like they’re holding hands, the way the dirt goes across at the bottom.”  Oh baby girl, there is NO doubt that is exactly what they are doing.  Their love was something special.

I know not all men are created equally, at least when it comes to being daddies.  Some know how almost instinctively, some don’t. Some learn as they go, and others never do.  But I also know this–my Daddy was one of the best.  He taught me more about God’s love and pursuit and protection of us than any preaching from a pulpit ever did.  He was a good Daddy and a treasured friend, and I miss him with every breath.

Daddy took time to teach me about life and living things.  Daddy, me, our pony Adabout, and our dog Pete

Daddy took time to teach me about life and the living things. Daddy, me, our pony Adabout, and our dog Pete

the greatest legacy I can give my children

This has been a week like no other.

We’ve had a birth in the family and a death.  A celebration of another year of joy and fun in the life of our Princess, and we’re remembering the day two years ago today that my Daddy left this earth and his fight with Goliath was over.   Needless to say there’s been a lot of remembering and storytelling and laughing until we cry, and crying until we could laugh again.  It’s beauty and brokenness in its truest form.  It’s life.

On the way home from some celebrating and seeing people we love and hanging out with Mess Cat and the family–just sharing the joy of the day, a song came on the radio that I haven’t heard in quite a while.  I believe it was a 1985 countdown, and the song was “Say You, Say Me” written by Warren and Heidi Williams and sung by Mr. Lionel Richie himself.

Daddy loved Lionel Richie.  It always tickled me to be able to share music with him that we both enjoyed–like the Vince Guaraldi Trio  (they do the Peanuts music) and Elvis.  But there weren’t many current artists that he enjoyed.  Lionel Richie was one, and I remember he liked Men at Work.  At least we thought he did–it might have been the Marshall Tucker band.  Either way he wound up with a Men At Work cassette for a gift one time.  As for Lionel Richie, Daddy thought he deserved recognition and a Grammy for his song “You Are.”

So today when the song came on it made me think of Daddy, and I didn’t change the station, though my first inclination was to do so.  But the DJ mentioned the movie “White Knights,” which I am pretty sure was one I saw at the movie theater, which was rare for me.  That made me think of Mikhail Baryshnikov.  Okay?  Okay.  Enough said.  And by then the lyrics had started and I was singing along, surprising myself that I remembered all of the words.  And for perhaps the first time I really listened to the lyrics.

I had a dream I had an awesome dream
People in the park playing games in the dark
And what they played was a masquerade
And from behind of walls of doubt a voice was crying out

We are all wandering in the dark, aren’t we?  Many of us hiding behind a mask, the walls of doubt and hurt and brokenness keeping us from reaching out and taking off the masks and really being with folks, being our very truest genuine selves.  It’s just so sad that there are many folks who never let go of what they want people to see, and so they hide and lose who they really are.  Instead they are always seeking something, and in the seeking they become lost.  It breaks my heart.

 As we go down life’s lonesome highway
Seems the hardest thing to do is to find a friend or two
A helping hand, Someone who understands
That when you feel you’ve lost your way
You’ve got someone there to say “I’ll show you”

As my mind dusted off the lyrics and sent them through my heart and voice in sync with Lionel Richie’s, I smiled at this verse.  It is hard to find folks who understand and are willing to be present for you no matter what, even if it means doing things that are very hard.  Life can be lonesome.  But in the midst of all that has been in this week of paradigm shifts and paradoxical parallels, I have been reminded of the folks in my life, both near and far, folks we talk to everyday and some only a couple of times a year–I have been reminded of the ones who are willing to change up their lives–who are willing to be interruptible–for us.

My sweet friend who called and said, I’ll be where you need me to be when.  Our neighborfriends who remember birthdays better than I have, I have to admit, remembering with cards and messages that bring smiles and warm hearts.  My family who has listened and prayed and talked and hugged and loved through something they might have a hard time understanding, and yet they still did all those things. A friend who asked what can I do and then proceeded to plan a menu to share.  The family and friends who helped this be our Princess’ best birthday EVER.  A former co-worker who remembers and shared tears with me this week.  Family who shared pictures of the new baby born across the country whom we won’t meet in person for a few months.  People checking in just to see how things are going and genuinely wanting to know. Hugs.  Thoughtful.  Listening.

And tonight I am especially thankful for two people who made a promise on December 24, 1995.  They promised to look after my girl.  And they meant it.  Both of them are among the treasures I have stumbled across on this journey.  I’m too bumbling to have been able to find them on purpose.   They are two of my life’s  great gifts.  And this week both have said to me, with words, with actions, with caring hearts, “I’ll show you.”

One of the greatest legacies my parents left me was the people they brought into my life.  They valued family, and being with our people was and still is of the highest priority.  They moved to a new home when I was nine, Blackberry Flats.  They were good neighbors and their good neighbors became great friends.  Mama touched many hearts and lives during the fifteen months she was a part of the Trinity UMC family.  And those dear people have enveloped us with their love and warmth.  And there are many others.  Mama and Daddy left us in very good hands.

As I think back over this week, I realize that I too am building a legacy of people who love and are loved by me who will one day be there for my children, to say, “I’ll show you” and to remind them, as Lionel Richie sang out this afternoon, that they “are a shining star.”  And that is far greater than anything else I could give them.

Love to all.

Rolling with the Princess

It was a day like any other day.

Nine years ago.

Only I was very, very pregnant.

And we were stationed in Japan.  Thousands of miles away from my Mama and Daddy.

School was out for two days–teacher work days at Yokota East Elementary where my third grader was in school.  We had gone up to the school to help Aub’s art teacher and my friend, Van, decorate a bulletin board in one of the rooms.  He is from South Carolina so the first time he met Aub and heard her accent, he asked to meet me, and we were fast friends from then on.

As we were wrapping up, another friend needed a ride from across base, so Aub went to lunch with Van, and I headed over to the commissary.  I met my friend and grocery shopped.  I picked up the Anthony’s Pizza two slice special, dropped my friend off at her house, and went back to our apartment.  I only ate one slice and I drank some orange juice because the baby (we didn’t want to know in advance the gender) hadn’t moved in a few hours.  The OJ did the trick, the baby moved, and I was happy.

Later I picked up Aub and dropped a present off for our favorite twins who were having their birthday that day.  They had begged me to have the baby on their special day.  I hugged them and said, no, no baby yet, and we went back home.

The Fella was working a military exercise out on the Japanese base about 45 minutes to 1.5 hours away (depended on the Tokyo traffic), which had him getting  home in the wee hours.  I had put a roast in the crock pot and made a peach cobbler (yes, from canned *sigh* the real ones over there were several dollars each, but boy were they beautiful).  I was working that evening on the awards for a reading incentive program at Aub’s school  “Reading our Way up Mt. Fuji.”  I was telling Aub how to e-mail our Fella and tell him what we had cooked, and I stood up.  My water broke.  That had never happened before, and it was the strangest thing ever. Aub was worried, but I remember just laughing.  I was so surprised.

After getting cleaned up and ready, I quickly called The Fella, who went into game planning mode immediately.  He was very shocked as this was two weeks early.  He just knew he’d be done with that exercise before the baby came.  But this baby hadn’t signed up for military duty yet and was having none of that.  I called Van because he had agreed to help me with Aub in the event that something like this happened.  Our other southern friends were visiting his home off-base and I could hear their excitement.  Finally I called the house of the twins and let their sitter know.  I called back home, as it was early morning there and let my parents and my sisterfriend know.  Then it was time to head out.

I got my stuff together quickly, and we wheeled my little suitcase out the door, to the elevator, and down to our van. Carrying the suitcase across the grass, I thought maybe I shouldn’t be carrying it, as it was a little heavy.  Then I laughed, what would it do?  Put me in labor?  Ha.  We cranked up, and I drove us to the hospital just a short way down the road.

I don’t remember a whole lot about the next little bit until Van and Vernon, our other friend and Aub’s PE teacher showed up.  They were all smiles, and they decided to take her to eat at Burger King.  Since the baby was still breech, I was having an emergency C-section, and they knew they’d be back before we were ready for visitors.  As they were leaving, the Fella showed up.  He had been so worried about making it in time.  He said to begin with, he drove cautiously.  After that, he thought, no this is my baby being born, and there’s no second chances on this!  I don’t think I was ever so glad to see him as I was then.   I gave thanks that it looked like she’d make her way into the world during the period of the day when it was the same day in Japan as the States.  I had stressed so much over what if it was one day here and the next day there, and what would be her real birthday.  Yeah, me and Anxiety Girl go waaaay back.

It really wasn’t long before our precious baby girl, our Princess, was born.  Her given name means happy or joyful, and that is who she is.  We say she is our sunshine, but sometimes we have to wear shades.  From the moment she joined us on this journey, she was making people smile.  Vernon’s wife showed up at the hospital to meet our girl in her pajamas.  She said, “I wasn’t going to come, but then I thought, this chance doesn’t come along very often, so here I am.”  And she loved her velvet baby, as she called her.

Our Princess eight years ago in a kimono given to her before we moved back.

Our Princess eight years ago in a kimono given to her before we moved back.

Our girl adores her big sister and considers it her personal responsibility to keep her little brother out of trouble.  She didn’t learn to read well until she was seven, and then she took off like a house afire.  She can’t start her day until she’s had her first bowl of cereal, sitting and turning the pages of her favorite book, reading as she eats.  Her favorite author is Daisy Meadows who writes the Fairy books.  She’s been known to lose her math book, and I don’t think it’s coincidental that math is her least favorite subject.  She loves dogs and cats, but especially Miss Sophie and Sugar.  She can go from picking up and “rescuing” lizards and frogs to getting a special treat manicure in less time than it takes you to say, “marches to her own drum.”  She cries at movies, and she worries over Amber Alerts and lost puppy signs.  Her favorite shows over the years have been “Melmo” (Sesame Street), Sid the Science Kid, Curious George, Olivia, Kratt Brothers, and Jessie.  She used to dance on the bed to the intro music to Hannah Montana, and now she loves ballet, tap, and gymnastics.  She loves to write stories, make people laugh, she’s a budding artist, and when she loves something I cook, she makes me feel like a gourmet chef.   She has a joie de vivre that is true and genuine.  She is often heard saying, “This is the best {day, meal, picture, book, story, birthday, etc} ever” and she sincerely means it.  She cries missing her Maemae and Cap, whom she first met when she was eight months old after our return from Japan.  She was the apple of their eyes.  She loved it when Daddy would carry her through the parking lots looking for Mustangs if she got a little restless at Stevi B’s Pizza.  And cuddling with Maemae to read a book was the best thing ever.  She is a Daddy’s girl, and the only person I’ve ever known who nearly sobs while crying tears of joy.  She asks hard questions from the gentlest of spirits, and I’m so honored and awestruck that I was chosen to be her Mama.

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And our Sunshine, our Princess is turning nine.

I give thanks for her and her unjaded views on life.  She loves all folks, even the ones who are a little harder to love.  She has a heart of gold, which is appropriate as she one day aspires to be a Golden Heart at her sister’s, her Mama’s, and her Maemae’s alma mater–Wesleyan College.  In the meantime, we will stick with her third grade subject matter, keeping up with that math book, and getting excited over things like potato soup for supper or homemade “sushi” dessert to celebrate.  She is my Japanese baby, who is already doing great things to light up the world.  When she blows out her candle to make a wish, there’s no telling what will come into that beautiful, whimsical, quirky little mind of hers.  But I do know that whatever it is, she will smile and say, “This is the best birthday ever!”

Because that’s how our Princess rolls.

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a safe place for her to land

The goal of raising children is what?

To help them grow and leave and go out on their own, right?

The downside of that is, if you do your job right,

THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT THEY DO.

My oldest had to say goodbye to both of my parents, two of the people she loved most in this world, way too soon in the past two years.  She aged and matured in the midst of that pain.  Then she went to college three months ago, and I saw the first shoots of her independent self bursting through. I realized I was catching a glimpse of whom she’s becoming, whom she’s going to be “when she grows up.”

This week she has had to, once again, say goodbye to someone she cared about. Way too soon.  I didn’t see her until after it was all over.  I talked to her regularly, but I wasn’t there to hold her hand, to give her a hug, to decide what she could hear or be exposed to.  I wasn’t there to protect her when the unkind things were said or when the really hard things happened.  All I could do was offer to be where she needed me to be when she needed me and wait and listen.  Letting her do this all by her big girl self, as she used to call it, was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

All I could do was sit back and watch her spread her wings…..

and be a safe place for her to land. 

She’s in the midst of learning what it means to be grownup.

And finding out it’s more than using curse words at will.  Or picking out your own clothes.

It’s learning to sit back and hold your tongue, even when the other person is being unkind or foolish.  It’s learning when to speak and when not to.

Being grownup means doing something even if you don’t want to, because it is, as Baddest Mother Ever says, “the next right thing.”   It glitters like fun but hurts like heartbreak, and when it’s all said and done, most of us who are grownups are left looking around wishing the real grownup would appear, because this is so much harder than we ever thought it would be.

When I was younger, so much younger, I thought being grownup meant watching whatever you wanted on TV as late as you wanted, eating whatever you liked, chewing a pack of gum a day, talking on the phone whenever you wanted to, driving without limits, being with friends and coming in and not having to get up and do chores the next morning.  I think when none of this actually came to fruition I was a bit shocked.  Yeah, all that glitter and fun and the like–it’s not real.

Real grownups cry.  They laugh at the faces babies make and the things their children say way harder than they ever did at any joke.  They have relationships that matter and they work to keep them.  They work hard before they ever get to play.  Sometimes they go days without “playing.”  Or weeks.  Or longer.  They say I’m sorry and don’t have to be right all of the time.  Real grownups rarely get to sit at Starbucks for hours sipping lattes and reading the latest People magazine.  They say thank you and mean it and then try to pay it forward.  They bring joy to others, and as my Mama would tell us, they act like they are somebody.

As I watch this one, whom I swanee was in diapers and onesies just last week, grow and make mature choices, I sometimes have to bite my tongue.  And sit on my hands.  I want to help, but this week has shown me that my little bird is sitting at the edge of the nest.  And ready or not, this girl is learning to fly and doing a pretty good job of it.

And while I realize that people like my parents and so many others have played a huge part in who she is, I also think about the things I’ve tried to teach her, and I give thanks.  Sometimes it seems like she really was listening.  And then I remember the little girl who was headstrong and adorable, just like her precious niece is now, who would curl up next to me on Friday nights and listen to the jazz music on public radio as we lay there in the dark,  and I curse a little myself.

Time.  And the job I did.

Sometimes I wish she would need me a little longer.

Then I smile.  She will need me.  Little birds have to take a rest and return to the nest every now and then. And those are the moments I will treasure the most.  The ones where we talk and I hear all about her adventures in the big blue sky out there.

A page has turned.  She is growing up on me.

the ones that make it hard to say goodbye

When a soul leaves this world so do his stories.  Those little tidbits of fact and fiction that were a part of the journey on the paths of his life, a part of who he was, unique only to him.  Gone.

About two or three months before Daddy died, I took this laptop over to Blackberry Flats and sat in the recliner at the foot of his hospital bed in the living room.  He was gazing out the window as he usually did.  I told him I’d brought the computer to record his stories.  (I type faster than I can write.)  He knew such great stories about our great-grandparents and other kin from generations a ways back.  He had done tedious research and traveled to cemeteries all around and put together these great stories.  He had also taken some of the stories Granddaddy Cleveland told and made them his own.  Daddy was a storyteller.  I aimed to get those down for my children and future grands and so on.

But I had waited too late.  Either the stories were fading or his will to tell them, I wasn’t sure which it was, but he shook his head ever so slightly and turned back to the window.  And my heart broke.  All those stories, gone with him when he left us and went on up to the House.

Today more stories left this world with a soft breath and a gentle yet painful letting go.  Stories that were tangled up with mine for a time.  Some that were known only between us, now those stories are mine alone.  When Daddy left and then Mama, some of the stories got fuzzy and I no longer had someone to ask, Do you remember…..What was his name…..When did we go…..How old was I when…..Did Granddaddy really say a mule fell down a hole in the middle of downtown?  All those questions that can never be answered again.  Lost.

And today more of those stories.  Gone.  Like the rice, and pizza with sardines and coke and Star Trek, a dog that understood and answered questions and was missed when she was gone, the cat that acted like a dog, the little dog that ate the little boy’s hot dog, the little girl with the maybe not so imaginary friends, the first pink in four generations, the boat adventures, the airplane, whoa man, the little boy who burped the first time I met him and said, “It was just a ‘ittle one Daddy,” the phone call that came about a heartbreaking loss–even though our stories were no longer as intertwined, the fascination with the Frugal Gourmet, the love of the Allman Brothers,  the smell of peaches in the air.  And so many more.

I wonder where all of these stories go.  In the movie Epic, the character voiced by Steven Tyler (I know, right?), Nim Galuu, is a glowworm.  He is in charge of something like the hall of the Book of Life.  All of life is recorded on these scrolls–past, present, and future.  Wonder what it would be like if those scrolls really did exist?  I could ride down in the little car (with Steven, ahem, I mean Nim) to the lower levels of this amazing library and re-read the stories of old and remember what Daddy said happened to Grandma Jane or what exactly was so amusing about the story about the mule that Granddaddy told.  I could relive the spelling bee in the sixth grade where my cousin was also competing and I am pretty sure he won.  I could re-read the conversation between me and Daddy about the one thing that has been on my mind that I think he told me. I could go to the old book sale with my Aunt again for the first time ever.  So many stories I would sit and rediscover.  As for the ones from the future, I don’t think so–they would either spoil the fun or keep me from getting out of the bed some mornings.  No, it’s the ones from the past I want to remember and revisit.

Well maybe not all of them, not the hard ones.  It’s best to let those go and not dwell on them overmuchly.  And there were hard ones, many of them, in the ones that left us today.  And I’m okay with those being let go.

It’s like my oldest said today.

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“In the end, you only remember the good stuff–which makes it so much harder.” 

The song she mentioned is “The Scientist” performed by Coldplay and written by Guy Rupert Berryman, Jonathan Mark Buckland,  William Champion, and Christopher Anthony John Martin.  Today was my first time hearing this song, and I’m not sure which part of the song spoke to her, but these words stuck with me today:

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Tonight I give thanks that the happy memories float up from the dust of long ago just when they are needed the most.  There is healing grace in that.  Redemption.  And I am even more thankful that in the midst of those intertwined stories written on the pages of the Book of Life, though there are many hard and broken and sad, there are also many happy and funny and joy-filled ones to come home to.  The ones that make it hard to say goodbye.  That’s what I’m the most grateful for.  And that will do for a Wednesday like no other.

Cardinals and Starlings and Remembering When

This morning our Princess was the one who took Miss Sophie out for her morning constitutional.  I heard the door open and close, and then immediately open again.

“Mama! Mama!  You have to come here!” she said urgently.

I really don’t like it when they do that.  It could be anything from a flower growing in a flowerpot (yay!) to a bleeding injury (boo!), and since I have no idea, Anxiety Girl always leaps in to jump to conclusions, and my stomach turns inside out.

“What is it?” I called out, making my way to the front door with a sense or purpose.

“There’s something dead in the front yard.”  She stopped.  “Yes ma’am, it’s something dead.”

We live at the edge of a wooded area.  That something dead could have been ANYTHING from raccoon to fox to cat to dog to mouse to mole to chipmunk to frog to snake to worm.  Considering the source, any one of those would have caused her to raise her voice as she did.

“What is it?” I asked, peering out into the yard.

“I don’t know.”

I walked outside, and there it lay on the grass.  Definitely dead.

Oh no.

A cardinal.

Cardinals are my favorite birds.  I can remember one flying across the bottom on my way to work many years ago, every single morning.  I felt like it was a good omen for my day, and I made up in my head that it was good luck to see a cardinal.  When Daddy was diagnosed with the Giant four years ago, I would see one at Blackberry Flats from time to time.  One day when things were particularly hard and discouraging, I went in and sat with Daddy, next to his hospital bed in the living room.  He was gazing out his window, the same one his recliner used to sit next to.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of red.  “Daddy!  It’s a cardinal.  That’s good luck.  It’s a good sign.”  He gave a half-smile.  And watched.

I gave Mama a cardinal Christmas ornament that year, and she kept it hanging from her lamp year round.

We love those beautiful birds.

And now. Today.  Poor thing.  My heart broke.

Of all weeks.  In the midst of emotions and memories and trying to wrap my brain around the idea that it has been almost two years since I last heard my Daddy’s voice and held his hand and looked in those eyes.  A precious, beautiful cardinal.  Dead.

Sadness.  Just this.  That sweet little bird, once so alive and flying high above it all–now, just gone.  No more.

It left me with a heavy heart.  I wanted to sit and cry and let this bird’s life not to have been for naught.

But as always happens, perhaps for the better, life intervened.  My zoo crew and my zoo all needed feeding and tending to.  I turned away, and wiped away the tears I was crying on the inside.  Time for that would come later.

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Tonight as I thought about the cardinal and how he spoke to my grief, laying there lifeless and still beautiful, I found this quote from a poem.  Yes, another Mary Oliver poem.  She speaks to me lately, and I give thanks for her.  I too long for these things she describes.

I remember sitting on the couch in the living room of the little house on my Granny’s farm on a cold Sunday afternoon in winter, listening to my Daddy and Granny talk about the birds that had been around.  When I feel small and lonely and miss those that have gone before I go back in time to that couch, listening, feeling small and safe and warm as the little heater worked to warm the room and the whole house.  And as they talked I gazed out the big plate-glass window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the birds they were speaking of.  I wanted to be able to talk about them too.  To belong. And be with.  The same things I want now. 

“Look, Daddy!  A cardinal.  That’s good luck.  Things are going to get better.”

Starlings in Winter

by Mary Oliver

Chunky and noisy,

but with stars in their black feathers,

they spring from the telephone wire

and instantly

they are acrobats

in the freezing wind.

And now, in the theater of air,

they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;

they float like one stippled star

that opens,

becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;

and you watch

and you try

but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it

with no articulated instruction, no pause,

only the silent confirmation

that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts,

that can rise and spin over and over again,

full of gorgeous life.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,

even in the leafless winter,

even in the ashy city.

I am thinking now

of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots

trying to leave the ground,

I feel my heart

pumping hard, I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.

I want to be light and frolicsome.

I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,

as though I had wings.

 

“Starlings in Winter” by Mary Oliver, from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays. Beacon Press, 2003.

Talking to the TV, Time Change, and Listening to the Littles

Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier

Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This afternoon it was just me and my little guy at home.  He asked to watch his “Davy Crockett” movie.  He loves it, and his sisters are not so fond of it, so I said yes.  Then he made my day and asked me to sit and watch it with him.

Sweet boy.  Yes.

We were sitting and watching when he got very excited.  “This is the part!  This is the part!  Davy and his friend are going to sneak up on the Indians.”  He started whispering very quietly.  It seemed like he was giving directions to Davy and Georgie Russell, but I couldn’t be sure.  He saw me watching him from the couch, and he smiled, a little embarrassed.  “Sometimes I think they can hear me from the TV and I don’t want them to hear me and find Davy Crockett.”

I laughed.  Quietly of course.  I didn’t want to be responsible for that either.

He reminded me of something similar I used to believe.  When we lived on Boy Scout Road, at one point two boys lived next door.  Mama and their mama were friends, and we played together too.  The older boy was Sister’s age.  I remember him telling me he watched “Batman” at 7 p.m.  One night our TV was left on that channel, and Batman came on.  I went up to the TV talking to J, thinking he could hear me through the TV since we both had our TVs on the same channel.  Yeah, well, I figured it out.  Eventually.

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This evening we were on our way back from Evening Prayer.  The littles were in the back seat asking me about their big sister.  “I have a question,” Cooter said.  “Where does Baba live? Does she live at our house or does she live at college?”

“Yes.  Both of those.  When she has classes, she lives at Wesleyan, and when she doesn’t, she lives at home.  So yes, she lives at both,” I answered.

It was quiet for a moment, and then he said, “So are the whole people at Wesleyan her family too?”

His sister, our Princess, piped up.  “Yes, buddy.  That’s how it is.  They are all sisters in the classes.  She has big sisters who are Golden Hearts because she is with the Pirates.  One day the new Golden Hearts will come and they will be her little sisters.  And one day when she IS VERY GROWN UP, I will go there and I will be a Golden Heart.  So I am her big sister.”  Ummm, get all that?  (For those not familiar with the traditions of Wesleyan, each of the four classes is like its own sorority–and they have big sister and little sister classes–Purple Knights, Golden Hearts, Green Knights, and Pirates.  So our Princess, with the exception of that last sentence, is absolutely correct.  She is in third grade and is already counting the days until she can move in on campus as a Golden Heart of 2027.  She is ready; we’re just wondering if Wesleyan is ready for her!)

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When we got home tonight, the littles went inside ahead of me.  I asked Princess to let Miss Sophie out of her kennel.  Cooter had run in ahead of her.

“I think he beat me to the punchline,” she said.  I don’t know why but that cracked me up.  No baby, he might have beat you to the punch, but I didn’t hear a joke in the midst of our arrival.  And yet, ironically enough, I was laughing.  Huh.  How about that?

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This time change is wearing us out.  In all kinds of ways.  But it is especially confusing for Cooter.  He is very troubled as soon as it gets dark. Right around 6 p.m. “Is it very, very late?” he will ask.  Usually it is not, and I tell him so.  Then Princess will answer, “The time changed, buddy, that’s why it’s dark.”  This conversation, exactly the same each time, has taken place numerous times over the past week.

Friday night I picked him up from Mess Cat and Leroy’s house around 10:30 p.m.  Sleepover cancelled.  I was prepared for his change of heart, so it didn’t bother me to head over and get him.  I picked him up already bathed and in his pajamas (thanks MC), and we headed home.

“Will there be any other cars on the road?” he asked.

“Sure there will, buddy.”

“What time is it?” he asked in an almost reverent whisper.  “Is it after midnight?”

“No, it’s not.  You’ve been up this late many times.  You’re fine.”

He was quiet for a few minutes.  Then he asked about other cars again.

“Cooter, there’s one up ahead and one just passed us going the other way.  Yes, there are other cars out.”
“Where are they coming from?  Are they going home?” He was worried about something.

I answered, “Well yes, they probably are.  Maybe they were out to a late supper or watching a movie.”

He was quiet again.  He finally got to the heart of the matter.

“What I’m really worried about is the traffic lights.”

I wrapped my brain around that.  Well, yeah, that could be a problem, couldn’t it?  So I explained that the lights were working fine and that no, they didn’t turn them off in the middle of the night, and we would be fine.

We both breathed a sigh of relief when we walked through the door of the house that night–each for different reasons.

So tonight as we were talking about the time change, I explained that the days get shorter and shorter this time of year.

“So how far away is the summer solstice?” he asked, with a longing tone in his voice.  (Whoo hoo, homeschooling WIN, he remembered our conversation from months ago!)

I counted off the months. “Ummm, a long way off buddy. It’s going to be dark early for a while.”  And then I got a little sad myself.

Seasonal Affect Disorder is very real y’all.  And I strongly suspect I am not the only one suffering with it.

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So bringing it back around to another talking to the TV story.  And no, we really don’t watch that much TV, but today was an exception.  Princess was in the bath, so Cooter and I were watching together.  It is rare for us to watch live and commercial TV but when we do, I tend to mute the commercials.  I was slow to do it at one point this evening, so the commercial began.  It talked about how we have policemen and folks like that to keep us safe in the world, but then it asked who keeps us safe on the computer.  As I hit MUTE, Cooter said loudly and very matter-of-factly, “Our parents.”

Love that boy.

And I’m thankful he sees me as a protector.  That fits with my newly found identity of domestic shepherd. I like it.

Tonight I give thanks for the voices of my children sharing their thoughts and worries and joys with me.  They make me laugh and cry and think, and hearing their voices in conversation, whether with each other or yes, even with the TV, makes me smile.