When I was younger and I took my little brother on walks down our dirt road and then down the paved road and back, we came across rocks in our path. Sometimes we picked them up for his rock collection. Other times I would kick the rock. I liked to watch it skitter across the road and come to a halt. If it didn’t go too far toward the middle, I would kick it along, again and again. Until it ventured too far away from the grass we tried to stay close to or I grew tired and Bubba was ready to be home. Those times with him seemed so ordinary then. And so precious now.
I’ve been thinking about kicking those rocks. It’s harder to find a rock in the middle of our streets in our neighborhood or on the sidewalks, so it happens less and less that I get to kick rocks. I miss it.
When I kicked the rock, it responded. It moved. And then when the energy I had put behind it wore out, it stopped. But in those moments of movement, my existence and my strength were validated. I walk this earth and I made that happen.
My parents were both wordsmiths, craftsmen, if you will, with letters and words put together to express thoughts and ideas and entertain and tell stories. Mama wrote children’s stories and songs. She wrote down memorable moments in her marriage in one book, and in the year after Daddy died, she journaled on the computer. She did this almost nightly until she got so sick and had her first HospitalStay in late summer 2012. Daddy wrote poetry, waxed philosophic about life, and wrote letters that were made to be kept, simply because of their entertainment value and meaning. I don’t know that he considered himself a writer, but he was.
I miss them. I miss their stories. And so it was that one year ago tomorrow I sat down to write. To write our people’s stories. To get down in words what it was like those long twenty-five days in the hospital, watching Mama fight for her life and trying to care for her the way she had for me for over forty-four years. To work out some of my grief and tears and fears through writing and processing with words.
“Use your words,” Mama would often tell us, growing up. This was usually when we were so angry with one or another of our siblings that we were about to use our hands or feet for purposes that were less than desirable. Instead of using violence, she wanted us to use our words. Talk about what we were feeling. Tell the other person how we felt and why. And work through it with anything other than violence. That’s how she raised us.
So it was only natural, I guess, that I turned to words to work through my raw grief and brokenness over losing my two best friends less than fifteen months apart. That I used the beauty of words instead of lashing out at doctors and hospital staff that I was so angry with. To write instead of wrong.
At times during Daddy’s three years of fighting the Giant of lymphoma, we thought things would get better. When he was in remission, things were so good. We thought we had that joker beat. Daddy was nearly his old self. Laughing and telling stories. Washing his truck out in the yard. Sitting on the brown couch, reading or watching the littles play. All those times I should have asked him to tell the stories of our people again. Stories he took time to dig and research and track down. And tell. But I didn’t. It wasn’t until he was bedbound that I sat down across from him with this same laptop and asked him if he felt like telling one or two, one more time. I was ready. But he shook his head and looked out his window. Oh, the tears I have wept over that. All those stories. Gone. So many questions I’ve had since then. For both of them.
So now I also write to share our stories. To get them down for my children and grandchildren and anyone beyond that who might be sentimental enough to care that we had a great-Granddaddy who always started the meal with a blessing and mid-way through would urge, “Take out and help yourselves. You ain’t et hardly nothin’.” Or that my Granny cooked and cooked and never sat down for a meal. She always stood at the counter in the little house where my Papa had made the wooden stools for all of us to sit on. The same counter with the storage built in the back where the Mercurochrome was kept. I tell the stories so that when they get to wondering why I have so many books, they can read the story of how my beautiful Aunt took me to my very first Old Book Sale ever and started an obsession. I write, hoping that when my people cannot hear my voice with their ears anymore, they will find comfort and joy and maybe a guffaw or two in the words I leave for them. Just as I have in those we’ve found of Mama’s and Daddy’s.
The challenge that began when Mama and I were sitting down to order Daddy’s gravestone came to fruition last year on April 7. My oldest, my awesome and smart and funny girl who is also my IT specialist, had already transferred things I had written on a different site in 2011 and 2012. I wrote a post on the 5th about the scarf I started while Mama was in the hospital. But it was on April 7th that I sat down and wrote and kept on keeping on. I so wanted to be able to see something through to its finish, to commit and stay with a project. (Unlike that scarf. Sadly, I still have not picked it back up.) When I wrote that day, I told myself I wanted to see if I could write something every day. Every single day for a year.
And here it is. It hit me about two months ago how close I was to reaching that goal. And then one month. And last week, as it grew closer, I started getting something akin to stage fright. This is a big hulking deal for me. It’s been so hard to stay focused for years now, at least since 2009 when Daddy was diagnosed. So much rolling around up there, but difficult to stay focused. I wasn’t sure I could do it.
And here I am. Barring anything unforeseen happening between now and when I hit the “publish” button tonight, I’ve done it. There were times my days were so full, it almost didn’t happen. Like the day and night I spent with Sister, being given the gift of being present for my niece’s birth. There were nights I didn’t publish until after midnight, so it looks as though I published twice on one day, and none on another, but I know the truth. Like the night my Bubba was here and we stood in the kitchen whisper-talking until after 1 in the morning. People and relationships take priority always. My Mama taught me that. And I almost didn’t publish before falling asleep at 2:45 a.m. but I thought about those precious to me who said they read my thoughts first thing in the morning. I didn’t want them to worry, so I wrote.
I’ve been thinking all day about those rocks. The thing about kicking them is that when they stopped, that was it. They moved no more unless someone else came along to push them a little further. But words, words are different. They can’t be completely taken back. You never know the full circle of who they touch, where they go, and how long they will be heard. I am inspired by one of my favorite writers whom I am privileged to also call my friend. Karen Spears Zacharias. She knows the path of grief and loss all too well. And she is a writer. Her words touch people all over for days and weeks and months and years after she crafts them together into a story or a message or a thought that is too important not to share. She touches lives and makes a difference. With her words. And her heart.
Besides using this writing thing of mine to work through my pain and weariness of grief and to record our stories, I wanted this too. I wanted my words to make a difference, to change a life.
And you know what?
After a year of sitting down to write as my house settles down and eyes, little and big, close, and sleep wafts through like a gentle summer breeze, I can say that these words I’ve written, these thoughts I’ve shared, these tears I’ve cried as my fingers hit the keys, these stories I’ve shared, the times I’ve laughed out loud about where a story was heading…..they have changed a life.
And for a one year mark, that’ll do. I can’t ask for any better than that.
Love to all. Sweet dreams, dear readers and friends. Thanks for hanging out and listening. Always.
Many thanks to those who have made this year of writing possible. My friends who have encouraged me, especially Baddest Mother Ever, who pretty much threw the gauntlet down and challenged me to do this to begin with, thank you. I am grateful to all of you who take time from your own stories to read mine–whether one time or every day or anything in between. And to my friends and family who have taken time to comment here or on Facebook, thank you! Hearing your thoughts in return is a precious gift, and it means the world to me. Thanks to my family for putting up with me crashing in the brown chair or propped up in the bed late at night, clicking away. (Or worse, putting up with me on the nights the Muse was a bit elusive. Ahem.) Thanks to my author friends who have called me the “w” word (writer). You humble me and I hope to one day to deserve that label. To my Aunt who listens and reads and listens a whole lot more, there are no words to fully say thank you–but yes ma’am, thank you. And I’m sorry I wore out that old phone battery. 😉 To my sisters and brothers and cousins and friends and family and children and my Fella and my Mess Cat, who love me and put up with me, knowing their story is only a few clicks away from being told right here, I love you all so much. Thank you, my big girl, who is not only my IT specialist but also my editor sometimes and always one of my treasured friends. The one who lets me tell my stories and her stories and the stories from our before, and who never fails to encourage me and is never surprised when something goes well. She shrugs as if to say, “Well duh, ‘Dre, I knew you had it.” I love you baby girl. To you, Princess, Cooter and my Fella, I am deeply indebted for the gift you give me of time and encouragement and putting up with me when I am “in the zone.”
And finally, to my Daddy who challenged me to write oh so many years ago, and to my Mama who told me to write it all down in a book, I owe my world to. I am who I am because of them on so many levels. My Mama gave me a journal for my birthday two years ago, when Daddy was so gravely ill. She talked to me non-stop about being thankful and finding something to give thanks for everyday for the fifteen months she lived here without my Daddy, her best friend and true love. Mama, that journal is still empty, but my heart is full. Thank you for encouraging me and pushing me to do this. Even from beyond the veil, your voice is strong and your love is stronger. Love you both. Always, T. Annie