Reading Between the Aisles

We are in trouble.

It might be obvious to all of you, but it hit me in the head like a brick the other day, and instead of seeing stars, a light bulb came on.

I get it now.

We just think we run our own lives.

Our lives are actually being run by the grocery stores.

Oh, but you probably already knew that, didn’t you?

I shop at the same few stores each time I go.  I know that the five pound bag of frozen broccoli florets can only be found at this store, where I also buy our favorite rice, because it’s cheapest there.  Another store has the best produce, and I prefer to purchase frozen vegetables at another.  It’s the third one that I am most familiar with.  It’s on the main drag to and from just about anywhere else I go, so I shop there the most.  I used to know it almost as well as the back of my hand.

Until they moved everything around a month or so back.  I’m still learning where some things are.  No, they didn’t bring in anything new, not sure what all the moving around was about.

So perhaps it’s the fact I’m having to watch things more carefully so I don’t miss something on my list the first time around, but I found myself paying closer attention when I was there last Friday. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m having to change my eating habits almost completely, and I find myself searching for non-processed foods that I can eat and stay within the confines of this new diet.

Either way.  I saw the light.

It started in the produce section.  Lovely apples, bananas, carrots, lettuce, and so on.  But there right in the midst of it?

A slushy machine.  I kid you not.

It’s so bright and colorful that it never fails to capture the attention of my littles.  I always say no, and they are always disappointed.  I just wonder at the wisdom of placing that there.  Maybe they–the powers that be–figure we’ll all be feeling so good and healthy about the fresh fruits and veggies we’re buying that we’ll figure we deserve a sweet treat?

I have no idea.

About a fifth of the back aisles in the store are reserved for cookware, utensils, aprons, towels, etc.  All this is saying is you don’t have enough, you are ill prepared, what are you thinking, just assuming you still have that dish to cook in tonight?  Buy ME. I really do wonder at why so much space is devoted to things that could not represent a significant portion of their sales.  Could it?

I love that the red meat is on display on shelves, but the chicken I have to practically stand on my head to get it out of the refrigerated bins in the middle.  Wait.  No I don’t.

But the real discovery was in the freezer section. I was looking for some berries and some vegetables, and yes, they’ve moved stuff around in the freezer cases as well.  As I walked down the aisle with the “Vegetables” sign hanging overhead, I realized at least 2/3 of it was variation on frozen potatoes and bread.  The last 1/3 toward the back of the store did have small bags of frozen broccoli, cauliflower, peas, okra, and so on.  I was blown away.  Imagine how much healthier we could be eating if they increased their vegetable selection to at least 50% of the space or more!  Instead, it looked as if the healthier choices had been thrown in as an afterthought.  And those of us who don’t know any better could happily throw in the fries, tater tots, and hash browns and pat ourselves on the back for filling up our cart with vegetables.

As I searched for the frozen fruit, I walked up and down the aisle more than once until I found them.  One little pitiful section of frozen berries.  At the end of the ice cream aisle.  Subliminal messaging, anyone?

And speaking of which, what about the checkout lanes?  It’s like a conference for sugar and dyes and salts and fats all in one place, have you noticed?  They’re looking for a place to party, and most of the time, I would love to oblige them.  (But most of the time I don’t.)

It makes me sad.  It took me having to change how and what I eat for me to step outside the comfort zone of what I cook and shop for.  And when I did, I became aware of how much the grocery stores affect how and what we eat by what they offer, how they offer it, and the ease with which we can find it.  I was searching for something called Arrowroot powder.  I looked for a few minutes in the organic section and then in the baking section.  I didn’t know where else to look, and I didn’t make the time to ask someone at the customer service counter.  And so I left not being able to make a new recipe that would be a healthy dessert for us.  And that is just one example.

It seems that the grocery stores are offering us their “opinions” in the form of their options.  And we, as consumers, must do our thinking for ourselves–much as we do when we read the policies and beliefs of politicians before voting.  Only in this case we vote with our shopping dollar.  If we refuse to purchase the sugar-laden, full of dye, and unreadable ingredient products, maybe one day they will take them off the shelves.

And fill them with healthier choices.

I’m not trying to tell you how to shop or what to eat.  Just because I’ve been told to cut out all sugars and wheat and dairy, and just because all of this can make me more than a little grumpy, it doesn’t mean that I think everyone should have to join me in this new way of eating.  (Although misery does love company. But alas, there are no cookies.)  However, I do think we need to get real and recognize the power these businesses have in affecting our choices–if they spend much of their store space offering processed, high in unhealthy ingredients foods, then what other choice do we have?  Health food stores are not readily available or affordable to everyone everywhere.  Most folks have to make do with what is right there in their immediate area.

Which is another thing that makes me sad about my friends who are in need in Macon.  Many of them live closer to a “Food Mart” than they do a grocery store.  Without the transportation to get to and from a real grocery store with somewhat healthier options, it’s just not going to happen.  But that’s another soapbox I’ll step off of.  For now.

I’m just one person.  Maybe it doesn’t matter to anyone else.  But if it does–if you would rather have more healthy choices in your local grocery store, don’t be afraid to speak up.  Let them know what your preferences are.  (I once got Red Diamond Decaffeinated tea bags restocked in a store many years ago.  Long story, but suffice to say, your voice does count. And yes, they are the best.)

Our health is a very precarious and sometimes seemingly fickle thing.  We have to protect it and guard it at all costs.  Don’t listen to what the stores are trying to tell you.  What they give the most space to is not necessarily the best for you.  Neither are the things that are easiest to grab.  Step up and educate yourself, and then vote with your shopping dollars.  One day your body will thank you.

Skating Parties and Time Machines

Saturday I got in a time machine and pressed the button for my elementary and junior high years.

Yep, it was my littles’ first skating party.

At the same skating rink that the popular children hung out at when I was in school.  (I was not one of them.)

I remember the first time I was invited to a birthday skating party.  I was in what is now called middle school.  It was a “scandalous” party, as both boys and girls were invited.  A first for many of us. There was much discussion that there would be something called “Couple Skate.”  I didn’t know what it was.  I just knew life would never be the same again.

The funny thing is I don’t remember the party itself–just the anticipation, buildup, excitement, and worry BEFORE the party.  I don’t even remember whose party it was.

On Saturday we arrived and the littles had their hands stamped.  Memory–check.  We walked around to the party area and met their friends.  All of them were so excited–it was downright cute.  Our Princess couldn’t wait to get some skates on her feet and try it.  The only other time she has skated has been in our driveway.  With much help.  Cooter has never had skates on his feet.  We barely had his shoes on his feet, and our Princess was heading out to the skate floor.  She and one of our neighborfriends joined hands and started off around the oval path everyone else was following.  They were so precious.  I wasn’t sure which girl was more likely to fall at that point.  But they got it together.

I figured we would have to get skates for either me or my Fella (oh please volunteer *fingers crossed*), so we could help Cooter get his legs under him.  But wonder of wonders, Mamas and Daddies were out there in their tennis shoes, etc. walking around with their beginner skaters.  They even had a special area in the middle reserved especially for them.  As I got over my worries about how to handle my new skaters, I started to look around and take it all in.

Oh.  My.  Word.

It was 1980 all over again. Seriously.

Girls were decked out like Cyndi Lauper with the tutu skirts and colorful socks and hairbands.  They flew around the skating rink like they’d been born with skates on their feet.  The smell of popcorn and sweaty feet blended together in a scent called “Reminiscent.”  And then I started listening, really listening, to the music.  Much of it was from my youth.

I seriously think somehow I did hop in a time machine.

I was standing at the side of the rink, watching my littles having a blast.  “Ghostbusters” was playing.  My little guy was out there trying to dance his little heart out (he loves him some music with a good beat).  With.  Skates.  On.

Oh my stars the cuteness.  Off the chart.

His poor Daddy.  It was like trying to wrangle an octopus.  He was trying to keep Cooter from falling over or worse, pulling him over, as the little guy’s hips were giving Elvis some serious competition and his blonde hair was flying as his head bobbed with the beat.

The song ended, and my laughter gradually subsided.  As the next song started, it only took about three seconds for me to “name that tune.”

What time was it?

Hammer time.

Again, with the skate dancing.  As I was watching Cooter and checking our Princess’ progress, I heard someone behind me doing a great job of singing the song right along with MC Hammer.  I looked back and got real tickled.  There was this older guy singing his heart out.  He knew every single part, including the fast parts.  Wow.  How funny was that?

Oh wait.

As the song came to an end, I looked at the guy again.

Oh good gracious, this man was my age.  Or maybe even <gulp> a few years younger.

So much for time travel.

I saw his teenager come up and tease him about his singing.  His pre-teen child walked by and waved.  This guy, rocking out to Hammer Time and telling all those around him, very emphatically, “Can’t touch this!”–he really was around my age.

What a wake-up call.  That brought me back to 2014 very quickly.

Y’all I have my days that I feel as old as Methuselah.  And act like it too, I’m sure.  But some days, and especially that day, it’s like I never aged out of my teens, and that young girl is aching to get out and dance her heart out like she never had the courage to do the first time around.  I was there on Saturday.  I felt young and wished, for a moment or twelve, that they had a dance floor adjacent to the skating rink.  How much fun would that be?  For just a little while I was young.  Until that old guy started singing, and I looked and saw myself.

I felt my age again really fast.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  I like a lot about this age.  When I turned 30, I felt like the world started taking me just a little bit more seriously.  As 40 rolled around, I found I stopped taking myself quite so seriously.  How freeing was that?  Not wishing away the years, but I’m curious what 50 will bring when it gets here.  What all of this on Saturday reiterated for me was an age old truth.

Age is in our heads.  You’re only as old as you feel.  And it can change.  Some days I feel every bit of my years, and some days my heart and mind are so heavy, they age me even further.  But on some special days, when the music takes me back or the weather is as beautiful as my favorite spring day from childhood or there is the smell of fresh-cut grass in the air, I am ten again–with nearly all my life ahead of me and a heart filled with hope and a mind that couldn’t yet comprehend the wonders and heartbreaks ahead of me.

I think the mind is the ultimate time machine, isn’t it?  So thankful for my trip back on Saturday.

The littles have asked to go back again.  You know, I think we might just do it.  For the children, of course.  😉  Every single one of us.

 

In honor of my dancing boy and the song that stirred the pot this weekend, here’s a Star Wars Legos version of “Can’t Touch This.”  May it bring the child in you great delight. 

 

 

 

Just because a cat has her kittens in the oven…..

Friday morning I took the Zoo Crew on the road for a field trip.

Whoo hoo!

Since we are studying the Revolutionary War, we popped “Liberty’s Kids” in the DVD player and made the trek to Perry to the Go Fish Education Center.  My two split their time between talking and asking questions about the program and trying to figure out where we were headed.

That’s how I roll.  I rarely tell them where we are going ahead of time.  Just makes life easier when things don’t work out.  It also keeps them guessing and living the adventure.  But mostly it’s for expectation management–if something doesn’t happen, it lessens the disappointment to just mine.

Friday our instructor/ranger friend talked about the native animals in our area.  Before going out to play a game about bears and food and hibernating, the children were invited to either pet or hold (their choice) a toad, a box turtle, and an indigo snake.  It was fun watching all of the children’s expressions and seeing their fear be conquered by curiosity.  The instructor/ranger is a great teacher.  She has more patience than a little bit.  I learned a lot in our time there–most importantly, that all snakes are protected in the state of Georgia.  That’s right, it is illegal to kill any snake, including the poisonous ones.  Seriously?  Someone asked her to clarify that, and yes, that is the case.  Wow.  Not even sure what to do with that one.

After she passed around the turtle, she took a huge shell from their display and showed the children the interior of the shell and how it is formed.  Amazing actually.  She handed it to a grandfather who was there with his granddaughters, and they began to pass it around.  I watched the delight dance across Cooter’s face.  And then I noticed the wheels were turning.  He is much like his older sister–you can read his emotions in his face.  He was thinking.  And sure enough, when it was his turn, he started trying to put the shell behind his back.  Our Princess thought he was passing it to her around his back and moved to take it from him, whispering, “Don’t pass it that way.”  But no, he wasn’t trying to pass it to her.  He was literally trying to put it on his back.

Are y’all familiar with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

I am.  Very well.  All the way back to my first little guy who loved them twenty years ago.  I used to remember their names by their colors but I’d need a refresher course now.
I have a feeling I’ll be getting one soon.

Cooter had his mind on these special turtles because his friend was having a birthday party, and the friend loves the Ninja Turtles.   My little guy has become fascinated with them of late.  Especially as we were shopping for a gift for his friend–he saw all of the “wonderful” toys and games and books and clothes made especially for Ninja Turtle fans.  *sigh*  Not something else, please.  Let’s just stick with Legos, shall we? (Oh they make those in Ninja Turtles too, never fear!)

My little guy, wanting so hard to be a Ninja Turtle.

My little guy, wanting so much to be a Ninja Turtle.

As we were leaving for the game outside, we picked up the shell and I helped him pose.  He was so thrilled to look like a Ninja Turtle, I think he thought he’d turned into one.  (They love pizza almost as much as he does, you know.)

Alas, no, baby boy.  A shell on your back does not a Ninja Turtle make.

It reminded me of the day I moved into Persons 323 at Wesleyan College at the beginning of my freshman year. My Mama was there helping me move in.  My Rosey roommate had her Mama and Daddy there with her.  Our parents were getting along so well, you’d have thought they were thrilled to be moving us out of their homes rather than suffering from the devastated emotions I am sure they were actually feeling.  Ahem.

Rosey’s Dad was talking about being born in Kentucky I think, but he assured Mama that they were not Northerners.  Mama nodded and said, “Well, just because a cat has her kittens in an oven, that doesn’t make them muffins.”

Oh my.

I shuddered, wondering what my roommate was thinking.  But they all laughed about it, and she and I did as well over the next few years.  Mama.  Seriously?  But yes, that’s just who she was.

And she was right.  Being born in an oven doesn’t make you a muffin.  Wearing a shell on your back doesn’t make you a Ninja Turtle.  Having to wear hand-me-downs and eat leftovers doesn’t make you poor.  Earning a diploma doesn’t make you a smart person. Or a nice one.

It’s what’s inside that counts.  Deep down.  Masks and facades and turtle shells aside, it’s the heart and soul and mind that make us who we are.

Not outward appearances or where we come from or how much money we have in the bank or what papers we have on a wall.  It’s our hearts.

Not a bad lesson to be reminded of by a six-year-old Ninja Turtle Wannabe.  Tonight I’m thankful for that.

Cowabunga, dudes!  And love to all.

Thank you to all of those keeping Aub’s friend Miss K in your thoughts and prayers.  She is doing well.  She has been walking some, doing physical therapy, and went outside for the first time yesterday.  What joy it brings me to be able to share that good report with you all.  Please continue to think of her and her continued healing. 

The Cup of Coffee

I didn’t want to write about this tonight.

Seriously, I’ve spent much of today debating myself about it.  So much so that I have a headache (which could be non-related, but still).  I have other things to share.  80’s music at a skate rink and a turtle shell-inspired story. Good stuff, right?

But my heart says no.  Tomorrow those other stories will still be here.  This one has to be written.  Tonight.  So I can let it go.

And so I begin.

A year ago I spent the day at the hospital in Warner Robins with Mama.  There was all kind of discussion about moving her to Macon, that they had specialists there who could help her.  Once the decision was made (and Mama had to be convinced too y’all, not an easy task), we had to wait on transport.  All.  Day.  Long.  I understand, looking back at the big picture.  But in the moment, I hope you’ll understand when I say there was a bit of impatience on our part.  They told us she would be moved and then we waited for HOURS.  In the meantime, the Fella brought Aub to come get my car, so she could get to and from work the next day.  I waved at my children from the window.  Mama’s pastor came by and made Mama feel so much better with his presence and prayers.  He lit a fire under her faith with his gentle words and she felt much better, at least mentally and spiritually.  Physically she was still in a lot of pain.

Finally the crew arrived to take her to Macon.  I had been asking all afternoon if I would be allowed to ride with her.  I had only heard from one source that I would be able to, so I had been a bit nervous about letting my only means of transportation go.  When the male and female ambulance EMT’s arrived, I asked once again.  I was told it would be okay.  (insert huge sigh of relief here)  They moved Mama to a stretcher which caused her to tense up and pinch her mouth to keep from crying out.  We went down hallways and through doors with special admission only and around to the back of the hospital.  The man led me to the ambulance, and they loaded Mama in the back.  The woman sat in the back with her.  When I thought we were about to leave, the man said he’d be right back, and he went back in the hospital.  I sat there, listening to the movement of the EMT in the back as she hooked up the necessary equipment.  I heard Mama’s muffled voice.  I couldn’t really see what was going on through the opening, so I chose to trust that Mama was okay.  Anything else would have made me crazy.

Finally, the EMT came out with a Styrofoam cup.  He placed it in his cupholder and cranked up.  The radio station blared music from a classic rock station.  Oh.  My.  Word.  When I say “blared,” I am not exaggerating.  If I weren’t already so far over my stress threshold, that would have sent me there in one drum beat.  LOUD.  He said, “I just wanted a cup of coffee before we leave.”  Umm.  Okay?  I mean, I guess he’s allowed.  I don’t want to tell him he can’t have a cup of coffee, but I hope you will understand that this whole thing had us wishing for a sense of urgency on EVERYONE’s part.

We left the hospital, heading west on Watson to pick up 247.  An interesting choice of route.  (I don’t know why, I guess because I have my Daddy’s sense of direction–a good one thankfully–but I find myself constantly calculating the best route or re-routing in my head.)  When he turned on 247 and passed the base, I decided to try for conversation.  I can’t help it, it’s what I do.  (That, I got from my Mama.)

Somehow the subject of coffee came up.  I asked him if he’d ever been to our favorite coffeehouse.

“Um yeah, once,” he said.  “I don’t like all that fancy coffee.  I just like it simple.”

Okay. Strike two.

Please forgive me, but I had already cut him some slack when we had to wait for them to arrive to begin with, and then again when he went back in for coffee.  But then he blares music that there was NO WAY my Mama was enjoying, and he slams my favorite coffeehouse that specializes in sharing light in the world?

Puh-lease.

We talked a little about his recipe for chicken salad, his family, I think, and the fact that he also works at a firehouse part-time.  This I learned when he rolled down the window and talked/hollered with the guy in the firetruck next to us at the light.  Um, no I’m not kidding.

He did swing me back in his favor just a little when he explained his choice of route without me asking.  “We’re going to take Broadway in. The interstate bumps too much and will be more uncomfortable for her.”

Okay.  We’ll take it.

When we got to the hospital, I saw Mama’s face.  She was in pain and holding it in.  We parked in what I think must have been UNDER the hospital, barely eking out a place for the ambulance.  It was packed on that Friday around six in the evening.  They wheeled Mama around the other ambulances, exhaust blowing from the still running engines, and all I could think was, “How sanitary is this?”  But I guess, at that point, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

We wound through the patients in the hallway of the emergency room.  Bless all those poor sick souls.  They all looked miserable.  Yet several gazed upon us with sympathy in their eyes.  We went through more secret special doors and headed up to the fourth floor.  A room with a couch (oh thank you Lord!).  Mama had to be moved once more from the stretcher to the bed.  The two EMT’s were more gentle this time.  Mama couldn’t help it.  She moaned a little.  The female EMT stepped back to the door, as the man paused.  He looked at Mama.  “I hope you feel better soon, Mrs. Joyner.”  He nodded, looked over at me, and headed out the door.

The whole thing was very surreal.  Mama was literally slipped in through the back door.  She didn’t get admission papers taken care of until much later.  As we sat wondering if anyone even knew she was in the room, we wondered where the bathroom was.  And we eventually decided, as we laughed nervously, that this must be one of the special rooms without one.  (We did see it later–it was behind the door to the hallway that had been open the whole time.)

All of this was before they moved her to the CVICU around 10 that night–a room that would be her home for the next two weeks (after which they moved her to the STICU).  It was before the doctor came in, complaining that she had been calling the Warner Robins hospital all day long wanting to know when Mama would arrive.  Before we comprehended the sense of urgency that Mama’s condition caused amongst the hospital staff.  It was before the doctor said that she didn’t have the really bad life-threatening condition (just a highly contagious one), an opinion that was reversed just twenty-four hours later, followed quickly by the first of three emergency surgeries. This was before all that.  A day that began with me feeding my children breakfast and heading out the door ended with me sitting in an ICU waiting area, waiting to hear if Mama was okay and to ask why the rush to move her to ICU.

And when I’ve thought back on that day today, all day long the thing that pops into my head immediately and stays there is that cup of coffee sitting in the cupholder.

It was such a simple, mundane thing for him to do.  Get a cup of coffee before he hits the road again.  Just as a businessperson might grab one before tackling the next report.  Or a student might grab an espresso before beginning work on a ten-page paper.  We all do it, right?  Take a moment before the next thing.

Only in this case, the next thing was my Mama.  The situation and she herself were at the top of my priority list.  In those moments I couldn’t care less if he were as thirsty as a man crossing the desert.  Getting my Mama well was all I had on my mind.

It’s a wonder all I did was think ugly things.  I’m surprised I didn’t say them.  But then again, that was before Mama died, and I still had a little bit of a filter.  He wouldn’t be so lucky these days, I’m afraid.

As I rode in the car home from a birthday party this afternoon, I thought about how many times I “stop for a cup of coffee,” not appreciating the situation those around me might be in.  I stand daydreaming in the line at the grocery store, not aware that the woman behind me might be in a rush because she’s been at work all day and has a sick child at home.  Or that the cashier might just need to hear a kind word from somebody because she had her heart broken the night before.  So many times each day, I just keep on going to the next thing. 

For me that cup of coffee stands for more than a thirst or even a caffeine addiction.  It represents the importance of being aware of what’s going on around me and shifting my priorities as needed.  If he had taken the time to turn off the radio or ask if the station was okay or just turned it down, what a difference that would have made in my attitude.  As it was, I felt like Mama was “just another body” to carry up the road to him.  One more checkmark on the list until he could get off and go home later that night.  And no one, not on my watch, was allowed to treat my Mama any way other than the special person she was.  Especially in the hospital.  She was so sick, the most vulnerable I’ve ever seen her in my whole life.  To treat her as someone who could wait on a cup of coffee or not even have a choice about the music or volume…..that broke my heart.

And maybe he got it.  I saw something shift in him as he left us in that room that evening.  Maybe he finally saw her as a woman, a person, a Mama.  And maybe, just maybe, he realized that no one’s life is worth putting on the back burner…..not even for a cup of coffee.

A good lesson for us all to remember, I think.  Especially me.

Dear God, please don’t let me get so bogged down in my own needs and wants and grief that I don’t even see that there are those around me hurting and needing to be loved and respected and heard.  Amen. 

Amen.

On journeys, memories, and finding peace

Journeys.

We begin them.  We come to the end of them.

One year ago tonight, the Fella was flying a night sortie.  He wouldn’t be home until after midnight.  I had a sick young’un who was on the upswing of the bug, and my oldest was supposed to go to a Wesleyan College information night at Bare Bulb Coffee.  It had been a week of rearranging plans and cancelling get-togethers.  Like you do when one of your babies is sick.

It wasn’t ideal, but we made it work.  Aub and I took turns watching the littles in the Blazer in the Bare Bulb Coffee parking lot, sitting and playing games on my cell phone with the heat on.  Somehow we got questions answered, met the Provost, found out about Scholarship weekend, and made a refundable deposit to hold her spot in the Class of 2017.  When we were all back in the car together, I took my phone back from the littles, and prepared to drive us home.  A notification on my phone caught my eye.

A missed call.

From my Aunt’s cell phone.

This did not bode well.

I called her back.  And my churning guts were right.  Mama was at the ER.  In severe pain.  In her quiet way, made even quieter by Mama’s presence, my Aunt shared with me that Mama had called her and asked her to take her to the hospital late that afternoon.

If Mama was hurting badly enough to return to the hospital, she was not doing well at all.  She had been in the hospital for eight days the previous August, and she did not ever want to return.  But nobody really does, do they?

I was thinking about all of this today, and I thought about my Aunt and how it seems like she’s always been there for us whenever Mama was in the hospital.  All the way back to when we were all young.  I remember us staying with her family when Mama was in for several days (I think) following surgery.   If I remember correctly, she took us back to our house to shower and change for bed, and then we went back to her house for the night.  I don’t have all that real clear, but what I do remember clearly is knowing it would all be okay.  Because of her.  My Aunt has a way of making me feel that way.  Even when the world is falling apart.

On the phone that night, January 17, 2013, I asked her if she wanted me to come on to the hospital so she could go home.  She hadn’t planned on them admitting Mama when she left her home, but it certainly looked like that was what was going to happen then.  We talked about options, and she finally said, “No, I’m fine.  Even if we stay the night, I’ll be okay.  You stay there with the children tonight.  In the morning will be soon enough, and I’ll head on home when you can get here.  Get some sleep tonight.  We don’t know how long it will be before you can again.”

What wasn’t said.  That.

I love her so much for that conversation right there.  For two reasons.

She knew I needed my sleep, and she gave me the gift of one more night at home in my bed.  Neither of us were to know it, but the next night I would spend sitting up in a brightly lit ICU waiting room with the TV blaring TNT “car chase” movies, getting exactly twenty minutes of shut-eye.  I am thankful for that gift.

But even more so, I am thankful that it just went without saying that we, none of us, would be leaving Mama by herself.  There was no discussion to be had.  It was an assumption, and I love her for that.  She stayed until I arrived the next morning, having gotten things in some semblance of order (such as it is around here) at my house and having packed a bag.  Just in case.  A good thing, it turns out.

One year ago tonight, my Wesleyan Pirate began her journey towards attending Wesleyan.  And we began the journey of–well, how do I phrase that–“losing Mama?” No I know where she is.  She’s still very much with me.  “Letting go?”  We didn’t.  I hung on tooth and nail, worrying every doctor I knew in that hospital right up until one finally said, “It’s time.”  I don’t know what that night began except that I can tell folks that it was as close to hell as I ever want to be.  It was hard.  And for now that’s enough said about that.

I’m trying to make the point of remembering over the next few weeks to be one of redemption, of finding what I can be thankful for in the middle of all of this.  Each night that I sent out an update from the hospital last year, I tried to end with “Tonight I am thankful for…..”

I think Mama would have liked that.  I also wrote things I wanted to remember to share with her, things I thought she’d laugh at.  Like the time she was still sedated but bit the doctor when he put his finger in her mouth.  After letting her be shocked and feel bad for a minute, I was going to tell her that he deserved it. (He did.) Oh, and the story about one nurse’s little baby and how I took her a copy of Mama’s favorite book from the trunk of the car (where she kept extras) for the baby.  Mess Cat and I were going to share a veggie burger with her from the cafeteria–it was so delicious!  So many stories not shared or told.

After Daddy died, Mama told me something that was hard for me to hear.

“Tara,” she said, on the phone late one night. “If you call over here and you don’t get an answer, and you find that I’ve left this world in my sleep one night, I don’t want you worrying over it.  I’ve had a good life.  And I’ll be okay.”

“Mama it sounds like you want to go.  I don’t want to talk about this.”

“No, I don’t.  I’ve got a lot of things left to do.  But if I go, I just want you to know that I’m at peace. And I want you to be too.  You got that?”  For a person of such diminutive stature, she could sound quite forceful at times.

She did have things that she still wanted to do.  She told her pastor and sweet friend the afternoon after she was admitted, “I have to get well.  I want to come work in the food pantry at the church as soon as I get out of here.”  She had plans to go see her new grandson after he was born.  As they wheeled her down to surgery, she told her nurse who was assuring her everything would be okay, “It has to be.  I’ve got a new grandson coming any day now.”  And she smiled a big ol’ beautiful smile through all that pain and discomfort and fear.

And that’s what I want to do.  Throughout the next few weeks, through the pain of remembering and grief, I want to find and remember something to be thankful for in our days and weeks on the journey, some form of joy to be found.  I don’t want to just plant a smile on my face, I want it to radiate from my whole being.

Because Mama told me she would be at peace, and I think she’s telling me it’s time I found myself at peace too.

Tonight I’m thankful to be the Mama of a Wesleyanne.  When I was a student there, just yesterday I think it was, I never imagined the joy it would give me to be a part of the traditions with my own daughter.  I give thanks for my Aunt who has been with us every step of the way ever since we were little.  And that she still lets me walk with her today, that I can pick up a phone, just as I used to reach up my hand on our walks, and find her there.  I’m thankful for the gift of being on the journey with my Mama, for the gift of seeing that smile and hearing the hope she had.  I don’t understand, but that’s where that peace that Mama talked about, the peace that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7) comes in.  As I journey through the memories of the past and press forward to the future, that’s what I seek and hope to find.  Peace.

Love to all.

I Want the Caramel Flavored Fluoride Too!

Whoo.  What a day.

We worked hard to get in as much of our studies as we could before heading out for dentist appointments.  Me and the littles.

I used to love going to the dentist.

That ceased two and a half years ago.

I got my first cavity. Ever.

I was so mad.  I figured it was the fault of the new mouthpiece I wore for TMJ.  I blamed it so hard that I quit wearing it then and there.  And after getting the filling, I definitely was NOT happy.  I remember going back to Mama’s to pick up my littles and almost drooling on Daddy in his hospital bed as we talked.  I felt sure my mouth was sliding off my face.  It took forever to regain feeling.  Have I mentioned that I was NOT happy?  Not one bit.

I tend to stress before the appointments now.  Yeah, Anxiety Girl shows up in all her glory.  Even more so when it’s my children’s appointments.  What they don’t tell you as folks are congratulating you and oohing and ahhing over your sweet new baby is this:  “Congratulations, you have now become responsible for someone else’s teeth.”

Whaaaaaa?

It is hard enough to obsess over my own, but now, I stress over what the dentist or hygienist will tell me about my children’s teeth, which of course is ALL MY FAULT.  It’s enough to make me lose sleep and gain weight.  (Oh if only I could switch those around!)

So of course, it makes sense to schedule all three of us together at the same time in rooms next door to each other just so I can have all the stress and anxiety and worry hit me in the head all at once.  Might as well.

Oh boy.

So today Cooter sat in with me while his sister had her teeth cleaned.  While I was having an x-ray done, he slipped into the other room for his cleaning.  Our Australian dentist came in to check my teeth and gave me the report on the littles.  I held my breath.  Which isn’t easy to do when someone has their hand in your mouth.  Seriously.  Try it.

“No cavities.”  The whoosh of relief might have fogged up his glasses just a little.  “However, you need to help Cooter just a little bit with his flossing maybe if that’s possible.  He has some spots where cavities could develop.”  I sighed.  Yeah, I figured.  Okay, we can do that.

Bad news sounds so much better when delivered with an accent, you know?

I love my hygienist.  We have known each other for years.  And for two people who only see each other about twice a year usually, we keep up with the important stuff in each other’s lives.  No small feat considering I’m rendered unable to speak legibly during much of our time together.

Today we talked about weddings and death, stress, yeast, grandchildren, and the holidays.  When my little guy came in–the same one she guessed the gender of when I was pregnant with him–she smiled.  Since she was giving me my fluoride treatment, the two of them talked.

“Did you get your fluoride treatment?” she asked him.

He nodded.  (Boy, speak up, she can’t hear the rocks in your head.  But I was unable to get the words out.)

“What flavor did you choose?  Strawberry, bubble gum, mint, or our new one–orange crush?”

He looked around for a minute, thinking.  “Ummm, caramel.”

She and I both burst out laughing.  (Mine was through my nose–very attractive.)  “Really?” she asked.  “Are you sure?  Caramel?”

He nodded again.  “Yes.  It was caramel.”

I reached over and mock-punched my hygienist.  “Girl, you been holding out on me?” I said.  Only I’m pretty sure it came out, “Durrr, uuu biii ooin ow a e?”  Which of course she interpreted (she’s just that good), and she started laughing too, pretending to fend off my blows.  She called out to her friend and co-worker next door and asked.  Turns out he’d had the new one.  (Yeah, there was no caramel.  But what a concept!)

So of course, after my treatment was over, we all taste tested it to see if it did indeed taste like caramel.

I couldn’t tell, I was jazzed up on the mint.  (Never choose anything other than mint.  It just doesn’t feel clean otherwise.  I know this from experience.  Trust me.)

When we left with our “supply” bags in tow, my two proudly showed me their “treats.”  I love this dentist.  They used to give out “toys” from the treasure box.  Now they give out Chick-Fil-A coupons.  THANK YOU, DR. K!   As we left with smiles and good reports and hugs with my friend and hygienist, we all felt pretty good about ourselves.  We were cavity clear, headed to CFA for free food, and full of relief that we’d eked by one more time.

It’s a good feeling.  I intend to enjoy it.  At least for the next five months and twenty-nine days.

Happy Brushing, y’all!

In honor of my hygienist/friend whom I love, here’s a little giggle and a shout out to those great people who help us keep our mouths clean.  😉  Thank you all. 

Not just another January 15

The first January 15 that I ever remember is the one when I was five. 1974. We were at my Granny’s farm. Daddy had cows there, and I absolutely loved them. Mama had asked me to leave them alone and stay out of the pasture, as it was a special day. All kinds of goings on in the house, so after I poked my head in and spoke, I wandered back outside. Before the morning was over, I had found the cows. Yep. Mama wasn’t happy. With three little ones– me, age 5, Sister, age 3, and Mess Cat, 7 months, she had her hands full on a non-special day. But that day…..

it was my Aunt’s wedding day.

I adored her then and still do today. I remember how in awe I was of her that day. She has always been so beautiful, but I still remember how especially beautiful she was that day. And I remember thinking she was so calm finishing putting the roses on her dress. She had crocheted the whole gown. In Tiffany Blue, before Tiffany blue was in style. With beautiful crocheted roses. (And if I have these memories wrong, please forgive me. They’ve been rolling around in there for forty years now.)

Her special day, and I was starting to smell like a cow pattie, or at least a cow. I remember Mama bemoaning that I’d need another bath.

My memory doesn’t recollect that I’d done all that disobeying on my Mama’s birthday. But I had.

January 15 is the day this spunky precious treasure entered the world as well.

Check out my Mama.  The original Princess Leia buns!  Wasn't she a cutie!

Check out my Mama. The original Princess Leia buns! Wasn’t she a cutie!

I don’t remember how old I was when I “got” birthdays other than my own. But I’m hoping maybe by the next year. Mama was born in 1946 in January–her birthday became a light in the midst of the after Christmas blues. Eventually I wanted to make her cake. Over the years I’ve made her pound cakes (more than I can count of those), banana pudding from scratch (her and Great Aunt W’s favorites), and there was the year or two I made White Mountain Cake with lemon glaze (as she loved her citrus, being a born Floridian and she needed to cut back on her cholesterol). I loved baking for her. And vice versa.

She didn’t have the happiest of childhoods, but the amazing thing about my Mama was that no one paid the price for that. Except her I guess. She was an amazing and loving and fun Mama, despite the fact that she had had no example set by her own parents. I credit her grandmother, her aunts and great-aunts, and her mother-in-law, my Granny, for loving her through it and empowering her to be more. She was amazed by their love, and she worked hard. She even went to nursing school for a bit, something which I, a self-diagnosed hypochondriac, always appreciated. (Her usual response–“Tara, it will either get better or it will get worse, and then we’ll know.” Wise woman.)

Mama in her nursing uniform.

Mama in her nursing uniform.

She moved on from there to Valdosta State, where a friend named Cheshire introduced her to “The Joyner,” as he was referred to. Daddy wrote thoughtful and thought-provoking things, and this friend who was friends with Daddy too had already let Mama read his writings. I think it was at a Laundromat that they met for the first time. Where she said, “I could fall madly in love with you Mr. Joyner.” Oh boy. But I’ve already told y’all how that turned out.

Daddy was someone else whose love amazed her. Standing beside his bed, holding his hand, as he took his last breaths, Mama told God how thankful she was for having him in her life, what a beautiful gift he was to her. Y’all. Greater love did not exist. I promise you that. Theirs was one of the greatest love stories, a quiet one, mind you, but a great one.

That's my Great Uncle giving Mama away there.  He had nothing to worry about on that account.  And do you see how she's peeking up at him?  She adored him, and I know he thought she was pretty special too.

That’s my Great Uncle giving Mama away there. He had nothing to worry about on that account. And do you see how she’s peeking up at him? She adored him, thought she’d hit the jackpot in love, and I know he thought she was pretty special too.

They started their life out with Mama about to finish college, but during the spring semester she found out she was pregnant.  The doctors told her that it would be graduating or having a healthy baby. I’m glad she chose the latter, because by the time their first anniversary rolled around, I was a month old.

Mama doing what she did best--loving.  Me and my Mama.  How I miss her every single day.

Mama doing what she did best–loving. Me and my Mama. How I miss her every single day.

Three years later there was Sister, seventeen months after that Mess Cat joined the Fray, with her first words coming out–“My Turn.” Is it any wonder?

A little over four years after Mess Cat was born, and after some sadness and heartbreak, Mama’s Gem was born. Dark haired, blue eyes like his Daddy, Mama’s little cowboy entered into our family. She often talked about the first time she heard the song “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” with the line “Don’t let ’em pick guitars and ride in old trucks.” My baby brother had just gone on his first ride with Daddy…..in Daddy’s old truck. She knew she was in trouble then.

Mama who considered us her gifts--it was she who was our greatest gift.

Mama who considered us her gifts–it was she who was our greatest gift.

She loved her birthday cakes. Or maybe she was indulging me. I just know she is the reason I bake now. She let me mess up (as long as I cleaned it up) and use her cookbooks and experiment. I love baking because of her and my Granny.

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That Bassett Hound candle was originally on my cake.  I don't think we ever lit him, so he would show up from time to time like an old friend or a comfortable shoe.  I'd forgotten using him for her cake that year.

That Bassett Hound candle was originally on my cake. I don’t think we ever lit him, so he would show up from time to time like an old friend or a comfortable shoe. I’d forgotten using him for her cake that year.

Mama was an incredible cook. The whole time we were in Japan, I heard from my Aub that my food was okay, but it just wasn’t Maemae’s. I know baby girl, I know. Mama didn’t always have a lot to work with, but she made some delicious food from scratch and we never went hungry. (Unless there were mushrooms in the spaghetti and I just couldn’t deal with it that night. Let me amend that–if we went hungry, it wasn’t Mama’s fault.)

This is her "Don't take that picture--I mean it" face.  Ha.  We always did anyway.

This is her “Don’t take that picture–I mean it” face. Ha. We always did anyway.

The next round of January 15’s saw Mama gaining more children. She and Daddy have sponsored children through the Pearl S. Buck Foundation since I was born–even when times were lean. It just mattered to them to help others. Always. So they welcomed others into their home from time to time. And then they started gaining children-in-law. For Mama, that in-law part didn’t matter. In her heart, she now had four daughters (plus one more she loved like a daughter) and four sons, and she loved them just as fiercely as she did her own children she’d given birth to. As a matter of fact there were times when I suspected she loved my Fella more than she loved me. (Surely I was mistaken here. Ahem.) She found things to love about each one of us, and never stopped right up to her last breath.

Then the grandchildren started arriving. She would tell anyone who would listen and even folks who would not how GRAND being a grandmother was. She loved it. She was made for the part. Aub and I lived with them for a period of time, and though I know it wasn’t easy, she balanced being a grandmother with being more than that very well. I am so thankful for that. Each one of my children has precious memories of her, and for that I give thanks. Mama has fifteen (plus three who loved her as their Maemae too) grandchildren now, two of whom she gave a kiss and a hug to before they joined this world. They were her greatest treasures. Always.

Mama and Aub.  Sewing on her machine.  They loved each other to pieces--they were like two peas in a pod.  So thankful Mama was so much a part of her growing up.

Mama and Aub. Sewing on her machine. They loved each other to pieces–they were like two peas in a pod. So thankful Mama was so much a part of her growing up.

Over the years we gave Mama different gifts on January 15 (and later some years–it’s a rule, we celebrate birthdays all week long, sometimes longer). But the gift she gave us whenever she saw us was that smile. Even in the hospital when she was in so much pain, she would try to give us that smile. And the wrinkle of her nose that said, “I love you.”

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Oh Mama, yes woman, you are FABULOUS!

Oh Mama, yes woman, you are FABULOUS!

She loved reading. Especially children’s books. Her favorite thing, next to spending time with her family, was reading to the children in my Joyful friend’s class and her friend’s class over the years. They adopted Maemae as theirs and loved the books she shared, the animation in her voice, and the science experiments she would bring to show them. She loved children. She believed that every child deserved to be wanted and loved. God bless her, she tried to do it all herself sometimes. And as for us, the four who called her Mama first, she loved us and spoiled us rotten, never letting us forget about the switch bush right outside the door. Who was her favorite? I claimed it, just ask the nurses and doctors at the hospital.  But if you asked her, she’d tell you, “My favorite is the one I’m with right at this moment.” You gotta love diplomacy, don’t you?

Last January 15 we didn’t get to celebrate or party. My little guy, Cooter, was sick. Our Princess had ballet and tap that afternoon. Mama herself had been in pain herself since Sunday, two days before. Mama had told me all she wanted for her birthday was fluorescent light bulbs to replace the ones over her dining room table. They were doing that annoying flashing thing and it was time. Mama, not feeling good, sicker than any of us–including her–realized, did not feel up to going to Lowe’s and picking them out. She asked me if I would. “That can be my present,” she said. “You pick them out. Put them on my card. My gift is I don’t have to get out and get them.” She was going to ask her neighbor or Leroy to help her change them out.

Our Princess and I darted in Lowe’s that afternoon, hurrying and scurrying and then there were all these choices. Different colors of fluorescent lighting?  Who knew?  I mean, I thought a light was a light. Alas, no. Fingers crossed that I’d chosen well, but keeping the receipt in case I hadn’t, we checked out and hurried over to Blackberry Flats, leaving only a short time to visit before dance started.

I don’t even think we went all the way into the house. Mama really wasn’t up for company, and she knew we had to go. I hugged her and encouraged her to call me or the doctor if things weren’t better. I put the lights in the laundry room, and we made party plans for Friday. Friday and Stevi B’s pizza–it was a party date. We just knew everyone would be feeling better by then.

Only that wasn’t to be. Mama never saw those lights put up, though Leroy replaced them the following Saturday. I’ve thought about it a lot today. Do I regret the time at Lowe’s that kept us from visiting a few more minutes with Mama that day? Before everything started?

My answer, strangely enough, is no.

Mama believed in taking care of business. Getting things done. I think having those bulbs where she was then back in control of them being changed out was a gift that she needed. And the truth is, while I can’t call her up and ask her what on earth I should be doing or saying or thinking about this or that or the next fire that starts, I feel like she is still very much with me. Believe me, I wish I could hear her voice out loud, even if only over a “Speak to Your Loved One in Heaven” app or something like that, just for a few minutes. But this morning, when I was taking Miss Sophie out for her morning constitutional, I wished Mama a Happy Birthday and told her I love her.

And I swanee, I could hear her in my heart, where it really matters, whisper back:

“I love you too, baby girl.”

And that will do for this January 15.

Me and Mama, decked out in our best 70's fashion.  Pretty sure she made much of what we are wearing.  In case you haven't gathered this by now, I LOVE THIS WOMAN.  Always.

Me and Mama, decked out in our best 70’s (or 80’s?) fashion. Pretty sure she made much of what we are wearing. In case you haven’t gathered this by now, I LOVE THIS WOMAN. Always.

Happy Birthday, Mama! Thank you for everything.

Wanted: A Grateful Heart and a Satisfied Soul

This afternoon after our Sister Circle was over at Daybreak, I saw my friend Mr. B sitting in one of the comfortable chairs in the gathering area.  He waved me over.  I was glad to see him.  He had heart surgery before Christmas and wasn’t able to get his medicine filled until January 1.  (Oh the things we take for granted.)  He smiled his wonderful smile and asked about my Fella.  They became good friends when the Sunday night suppers were being served each week.

The last time I saw him he was staying at one of the overnight shelters.  I asked him how he was doing, and he said he was still staying there.

“I’m okay, though.  I don’t mind it at all.  You know, I was thinking about this the other day.  You know how when Jesus was here?  Walking around on this earth?”

“Yessir.”  I nodded.

“Well, think about this.  Everything around him was His, belonged to Him.  EveryONE around him belonged to Him really.  But the Son of Man had no—”

“place to lay his head.”  We finished together.

We both nodded.

Mr. B continued.  “So then, who am I to want stuff?  When God’s son Jesus didn’t even have anything to his name, why should I spend my life wanting stuff?  Why shouldn’t I be okay where I am?”

Preach.

It was more than a good sermon.  What he didn’t realize was he was calling me out.  Me, who does love her GW Boutique bargains and who spends way too much energy mooning over pretty scarves and cool handmade jewelry and things I have no real need for.  Who has a hard time letting go of “stuff” that has a story behind it.  I stood there looking him in his precious face and thinking of how I have failed and how much I want to have the heart this man has.  A heart not weighted down by stuff.

It was a surreal afternoon.  When some of my friends who live in their “camp” close by asked what the weather is expected to do the next few days, I looked it up on the Weather Channel App.  My heart sank as they groaned at the lows the next couple of nights.  As we said goodbye, we waved once more, and then headed across town.

But it might as well have been to another world.  So much of my life is filled with this grotesque contrast between the world of the “haves and the have nots.”  I found myself sitting in a lovely office with amazing chairs listening to someone who knows how to handle finances and all of that “stuff.”  As we visited, the word “stuff” came up.  He laughed and asked if we had heard George Carlin talk about “stuff.”  I have.  This comedian described our houses as piles of stuff with tops on them.  That we have to lock so no one will come in and get our “stuff.”  And when we run out of space for our “stuff,” we have to buy a bigger place to hold our “stuff.”  The funniest part to me is when he mentions that there is a whole industry devoted to taking care of our “stuff.”  *sigh*  Funny but sad.  Because it’s true.

Tonight I’m thankful for a friend who knows what it is like to be satisfied where he is.  He is not wanting more stuff.  I want his focus and faith and heart.  And I want to share it with my children.  Christmas is not even a month gone, and I’ve already heard a want or two.   I am ashamed to share that.  It breaks my heart.  Did they learn that from me?

I want to raise children who are thankful and satisfied–to be adults who are thankful and satisfied…..and not always wanting “the next big thing” or “more stuff.”  I could blame it on the commercial and advertising we are exposed to, but in reality, I know it’s not completely their fault. I need to set an example of a grateful heart and a satisfied soul.  Like my parents did before me.  Live simply within my means and be thankful and take care of what I do have.  That’s what I want for my children as well.

Tonight I am thankful for those around me who show me what it’s like to be satisfied, and I’m thankful for the stuff I do have…..but I really want to let go of the wants and focus on the good of where I am right now.  Wherever that might be.

 

Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. Luke 9:58 NIV

The Better to See You…..With

It has occurred to me in the past few days, perhaps not for the first time, that this whole being “with” that I am trying to step outside of my comfort zone and embrace, it will take a different set of eyes.  People, including myself, don’t always tell folks when they need help or a hug or a listening ear.  It’s just not that easy, is it?

I saw a video clip at Evening Prayer last night that spoke to me.  I hope it will inspire you as well.  Not easy, but “this is water.”  This is a graphic version of a commencement speech that David Foster Wallace wrote and gave at Kenyon College in 2005.  It rings so true for me–especially the grocery store stress–the fluorescent lights, and I inevitably get the wonky grocery cart.  It also made me think of Mr. Al whom I met at the store last week.  I am thankful for that quiet voice within that told me to stop and be with…..if only for a few minutes.  Thank you, my pastorfriend, for enlightening us by sharing this with us last night.

It reminded me of a video I saw on a friend’s page a few weeks ago.  (I’m sorry, I can’t remember exactly who, but thank you!)   It is a different way of presenting a similar message, and it would be really hard to live like this every moment of every day.  However, I think the point is that while we can’t help everyone we can start with ONE.   And that it’s not all about us.  We just need to start opening our eyes and our hearts. Right?  If you see it differently, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I am due for an eye appointment and checkup.  I think I need new lenses–the better to see you…..with.

The Rememberer and Moving Forward

This is going to be a strange week.  I cannot believe it has almost been a year.

Wednesday is my Mama’s birthday.

Almost two years ago, Mama planned for us to have Stevi B’s pizza and gather together for Daddy’s birthday–the first one after he died.  I stopped and picked up the pizza and a tea olive and some balloons.  We ate in Daddy’s honor–he loved Stevi B’s.  He and Mama used to eat there every Monday.  After he got so sick, we would take the “buffet” to him.

After we ate our fill of the different pizzas we’d brought, we loaded up the tea olive, a shovel, and the balloons and drove out to the cemetery.  The children had all “written” something for their Cap, attached it to the balloons, and let their messages fly towards the heavens.  Mama and I worked to dig the hole, and we finally planted the tea olive, Daddy’s favorite.

I am remembering all of this as Mama’s birthday comes closer.  I want to celebrate and honor her and make it a special day of remembering and joy, just as she did for Daddy.  But I’m not exactly sure how.

Tonight before Evening Prayer began, I was visiting with my knitting diva friend.  I mentioned that this week is full of one year marks in addition to Mama’s birthday.  And that all of that remembering is tiring and hard.

“Well, don’t do that,” she said quite reasonably, with love and wisdom.  I really do adore her.  “Really that’s not good for you.  I have to think to remember dates and years like that.”  As we talked, I envied where she is.  She has great stories about her family, but her memories are not bogged down in dates and sad anniversaries.

Oh to be at that place.

They play through my mind like that ticker tape on Wall Street, constantly running…..January 15–her birthday (we didn’t get to celebrate because of sickness), January 17–hospital, January 18-transferred to Macon (oh that awful ambulance driver blaring the rock and roll), January 19–her first surgery, January 21-her second surgery…..and it goes on and on.  For three weeks.  All of these recalled without looking at a calendar.  But if I needed to consult, there are the update emails sent daily still somewhere in my email sent box.

All there.

As Evening Prayer began I wondered why I am wired this way.  Why I remember each year the day that someone I love was born…..and when they died.  And for Mama and Miss B, our cousin, this first year since they’ve passed, I will remember the days leading up to the day we said goodbye.  Why?  What am I hanging on to all of that for?

And then the service started.  Today is the day we remember John the Baptist baptizing Jesus.

Ahem.

Worship and grief–they both follow a calendar, don’t they?

I stopped listening for a moment.  My mind was spinning.  It wasn’t until I was an adult, attending the Episcopal Church, that I became really familiar with the liturgical calendar.  Before that, yes, I realized we remembered Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection each year, but we actually do so much more.  So much of our worship is about remembering, honoring, and sharing the stories of what happened so long ago.  Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday is especially hard.  I feel as though I am grieving anew each time it comes around.

And that is when it hit me tonight, as I rolled through the year of worship in my mind, this is why I am this way.  It is what my people do.  We share the stories of those we love who are no longer with us.  We honor them with what we do.  We give dish towels and handkerchiefs and remember our Great Aunt who made Raggedy Ann, Raggedy Andy, Sylvia the cat, Cocoa the bear, and so many other stuffed toys for us, and who loved us dearly.  We eat coconut cake on Granny’s birthday, and I remember all of my special times with her, including the birthday it snowed, and it was just the two of us eating cake and celebrating.  I planted a yellow rose bush in memory of my Great Aunt, who loved them.  We have a version of caramel cake on Daddy’s birthday, and whenever we see matchbox cars, my little guy Cooter still asks to get one, remembering how much Daddy loved them.  There are so many ways throughout the year we honor and remember and share these stories.

And it’s the same in the church, isn’t it?  We study and remember words from the past each and every week.  We look back to what we’ve been taught, what stories Jesus shared or David told or how Jacob got his hip out of joint.  Joseph’s coat, Noah’s Ark, Zacchaeus’ tree.  We share these same stories year after year.  And as we do it, we are called as a community, as a family, to look forward and take care of each other.

The same is true for me.  I have to figure out how to balance the remembering with moving forward.  I think this is what my wise friend was trying to tell me tonight. I don’t want to get bogged down in the pain of the memories of all those days of Mama’s suffering and us feeling helpless and then hopeful and then helpless all over again.  It was more than hard the first time.  I cannot imagine that it will be much easier reliving it a year later.  And yet, if I let these weeks pass by without acknowledging where we were a year ago, I will feel somehow incomplete.  And truthfully?

A bit disloyal.

That’s crazy, you say?  Maybe, but there it is.  I think it’s my job to remember.

I’m the Rememberer.

I’m the one who asked Granny to tell me the stories of our folks, who listened as Granddaddy talked about a mule that fell down a hole in downtown Fort Valley and about a politician that came to town in a horse and buggy.  I’m the one who asked my Great Aunt what it was like when she worked at the courthouse.  Way before she was married.  I’m the one who remembers why my Great Aunt loved the house on Bond street.  I love the stories of old, and I wish I had written down all of the ones that Daddy used to tell.

My heart breaks over that.

I think that’s the biggest fear I have though.  If I don’t remember, each day, where we were, I might begin to forget.  And once I start forgetting, it might be like losing Mama all over again.

And I can’t bear that.

I will try not to get too maudlin these next few weeks.  I will try to set boundaries on my remembering.  Doesn’t that all sound quite healthy?

In reality, I will try to survive and get through them.  This year, it will be about surviving.  I can’t speak for those that follow.

I just know that grief is an odd duck.  And the more I experience it, the less I understand it.

Love to all.