And Now, Only the Stories Remain…..and the Echoes of the Laughter

A phone call can change everything, you know?

It can change your plans, your evening, your thoughts, and your life.

I was just now sitting down to write about the bird we saw today, when I got a call that did just that.

My godfather, the man who is responsible for my existence (he introduced my parents), passed on from this world to the Next One yesterday evening.

Oh my heart.

I don’t ever remember him not being in my life.  He was like a refreshing summer breeze, blowing through and bringing all kinds of laughter and stories and sheer joy with him.

Uncle Chesh (short for Cheshire) attended college with my parents.  He was friends with both Mama and Daddy, who had never met.  He called Daddy “The Joyner.”  And he shared some of “The Joyner’s” writings with my Mama before she had even laid eyes on him.  I’m pretty sure Mama loved him before they ever met.  She was blown away by what she read, and Uncle Chesh knew it.  He arranged for their first meeting to be at the laundromat, but my memory might have failed me here.  I suppose I could skip over the part where Mama looked up (her 4’11” to his 6 feet) at Daddy at this first meeting, and said, “I believe I could fall madly in love with you, Mr. Joyner.”  But I won’t.

Because that’s how it all began.  Thanks to Uncle Chesh.

With a wedding planned, he wanted to get them something nice as a wedding gift.  And he did.  A real classy gift.

A set of dishes to start them out in their new home.  Perfect.

But this wouldn’t be an Uncle Chesh story if the backstory weren’t even better.

See, he was a college student.  So he found a way to get them dishes on his limited income.  The gas station had a deal where with every fill-up you could get another dish.

One fill-up at a time, Uncle Chesh got them that set of dishes.

I love that man.

He was right tickled with himself when, at my brother’s wedding back in ’05, he brought his gift.  A set of dishes.  This time not from the gas station, but the story goes that he did have to visit a few different Targets to get enough place settings.

Oh me.

I was the one who first told Uncle Chesh that his dear friend was sick with lymphoma.  The heartbreak in his voice was more than I could take.  He made sure he went over to visit Mama and Daddy when they had to stay in Atlanta while Daddy had his treatments.  And it was Uncle Chesh who came into town less than a week before Daddy left this world, planning a fried catfish dinner because he knew that was something that Mama and Daddy would both like.  He filled the house with laughter and regaled us with tales of his past adventures.  Some stories we knew, some we didn’t.  But it didn’t matter.  That he was there and that, one more time, the sound of his and Daddy’s laughter echoed off the walls were the greatest gifts he could have given us.

I was the one who called to tell him that Mama was gone.  He cried.  He loved them both so much, just like family because he is family.  He wanted to come to the services, just as he had with Daddy, but his own health wasn’t good.

And now–

too soon.

My heart is breaking.

But I did get one good laugh in tonight, when I realized the timing of everything.  Yesterday evening, I found myself wanting to paint–and a picture of the Cheshire Cat came to my mind for no good reason.  Only now I know it was for a very good reason.  I’d like to think that was my Uncle Chesh popping in with his big ol’ grin to say goodbye.  For now.

Because he was on his way.  To someplace better.

And then there’s this.

Yesterday, the day Uncle Chesh passed on, was my Daddy’s birthday.  And if that ain’t just like Uncle Chesh, showing up to surprise my Daddy for his birthday! Because that was his way–on many occasions over the years we’d get a call out of the blue: “Hey, I’m at the Waffle House about two hours down the road, I’ll be by there in a couple.  Can’t wait to see y’all.”

I bet that was a humdinger of a hootenanny my Daddy had for his 73rd birthday yesterday.

I just hope somebody was serving some Waffle House coffee.  Because I have a feeling they were gonna be up a while catching up, and well, it was my understanding that’s where Uncle Chesh told some of his greatest stories.  Over a cup of Waffle House’s best.

To the man who stole my heart from the moment I first met him, and without whom I would not be here–

thanks for the laughter, the hugs, the encouragement, the stories, and the love.

Until then…..

I miss you.

love always,

t

IMG_7217

My Uncle Chesh doing what he did best–making me laugh and sharing his love of life with all around him.

 

Stories for Daddy with a Brownie on the Side

Today is my Daddy’s birthday.  March 23.  Another one.  Without him.  This is the fourth without him here with us.  The third since we gathered with Mama and planted the tea olive at the foot of his grave.

How is that even possible?  Time is an elusive creature.

The pan of brownies to celebrate Daddy's birthday.  Unfortunately the littles were there before me and the camera were.

The pan of brownies to celebrate Daddy’s birthday. Unfortunately the littles were there before me and the camera were.

Today we made a small pan of brownies to celebrate the day and remember.  That’s a change from what I would normally make for his birthday, but that is the way the wind blows.  Changes keep coming, carrying us further and further away from the birthdays we celebrated with him.

Brownies?  Why not.  The littles were thrilled, and as my Aunt pointed out, Daddy would have been the first to say, “Just make something those children will enjoy.”  And I expect he could have been convinced to have one or two himself.

I get my sweet tooth from my Daddy, I think.

I’ve thought about him a little bit more than I normally do, and I would venture a guess that it’s a normal thing to do, considering.  And what kept coming to mind are the things I would tell him, as though he were here, and I were gathering my crew to head over and celebrate with him.

Since that’s not something I can make happen, no matter how much I wish I could, I decided to write him a letter.  He loved hearing the stories about the littles in the family.  About his grandchildren, his grand nieces and nephews.  They made him smile and laugh and he loved to share them with others.  And so I have saved a few just for him that I think he would enjoy.

 

Dear Daddy,

Happy Birthday.  Not a day goes by that I don’t reflect upon your words of wisdom or wish you were here so I could glean more.  Lord knows and you do too that I need all the help I can get.  I miss you.  I miss you for so many reasons, but mostly because you were my comfort, my safe place to land.  You didn’t always make it easy, but you always made it okay.

Things are changing around here.  You’d be so proud of your first, your oldest grandchild.  She is looking at making changes of her own, all toward the end of reaching her future goals.  She has her heart set on graduate school, and she’s going to see it through, I’m pretty sure.  She’s about to take some classes that you would have enjoyed talking with her about and hearing her thoughts.  And vice versa.  I am looking forward to the conversations myself, but I know I won’t be the partner you were for me.  Thank you for that.  Letting me talk things out.  And think them through in our talks.  Thank you.

That little girl you called “Princess” is growing up too.  She is becoming a thinker, a problem solver.  I know you’d be impressed, as you and Mama tried to raise us to think things through and not to let anything stop us from reaching our goals–to be problem solvers.

Last week the littles and I went over to Aunt’s house, and their second cousins were there.  They were tickled and had a ball playing.  As always happens in the first warm days around here, the children gathered and decided the only way to get relief from the heat was to play with water–in this case, with water guns.  Cooter had his gym class later on, so he couldn’t get wet.  I apologized but said we’d have to let that idea go for this visit.  Cooter was devastated, as he can get when he is disappointed.  But Princess and the three cousins weren’t giving up yet.  A few minutes later they came in, and Princess shared that they had a new plan–Cooter would shoot everyone else with the water, and when he got someone wet, they’d get a gun and join him in getting the others wet.

Well.

Um.

What was I supposed to do with that?  Aunt, Cousin, and I laughed.  What else could we do?  And since Cooter was good with this version of the game, I had to say yes.  I was actually pretty impressed.  And yessir, she got wetter than anyone else.  You know how she’s always loved the water.

She came in a few days ago, after walking our pup Miss Sophie, and I asked if all went well.  “Oh yes ma’am, she went.”  Oh good.  I asked her if she had picked it up with a bag.  She knows to do this, but sometimes I feel the need to followup.

“I sure did.  Did you know if you put the bag behind her when she’s going, she’ll go in the bag and everything’s all taken care of?  All you have to do is tie up the bag?”  She was quite pleased with herself.

“Wait.  What? That works?”  It was one of those kind of “mind blown” moments, and I wondered how she’d come up with that to begin with.

And I guess it does, because our Princess says she’s done it that way more than once.

Okay then.  Whatever works, right?

Left it set up and on going from Friday night until this morning.  Marathon Monopoly--too much fun.

Left it set up and on going from Friday night until this morning. Marathon Monopoly–too much fun.

We found a Star Wars Monopoly game at the GW Boutique Friday.  Brand new, never opened.  We picked it up, because Cooter is the biggest Star Wars fan ever.  And Aub likes to play monopoly.  She’s really good about playing games with the littles.  I know, she gets that from Mama.  So they had a marathon game going all weekend, reminiscent of the games we used to have going at Granny’s–me and the cousins way so long ago.

They were all really pretty good sports through it all.  Occasionally I’d hear voices get a little louder and I’d call out, “Hey, y’all be kind!”

Yesterday morning, I thought I heard them getting after each other.  I was about to remind them again, when I heard Cooter laughing.  “Ha.  Dirty napkin.  Dirty paper towel.”  He fell into fits of laughter again.  When he came up for air, he said, “I’m just trash talking, that’s all.  Dirty paper plate.”  And this time I joined him in the laughter.

That boy.  He’s quite the character.  He reminds me of you in that respect.

They all love and miss you, but the tears have given way to laughter for the most part.  They love talking about what they remember.  How you reacted to cricket sounds in the Eric Carle book.  Every.  Single. Time.  Your playing soccer with them.  Your Matchbox cars.  Watching Cats with you.  Eating pizza with you.  How you made them laugh.  The books you read to them.  So many precious moments, tucked away in their hearts to pull out and look at again and again when they need a smile and to know that they are loved.

I don’t know what else to say, except the same thing I said each evening of those last weeks when I was leaving out to head back home.

Bye Daddy.  Thanks for everything.  Love you.

t

 

 

Where Was Her Biffle?

This afternoon I had the pleasure of being a part of a girls’ outing.  Aub, our Princess, a dear friend, and I went to see “Cinderella” together.  Cooter didn’t want to go, not because it was a Princess movie, but because he had heard about the “Frozen” short film that was to precede the main feature.  He’s so over Frozen, the thought of watching that short was downright off-putting.

We gathered in the lobby and headed down the hall to the third door on the right.  The previews started shortly after we arrived.  And still folks came in and wound their way to find seats in a nearly packed theater.  By the time “Frozen Fever” started, we were ready.

The short was actually cute and entertaining, and I can predict what Disney’s new stuffed critter item will be (spoiler alert–baby snowmen).  Then Cinderella started.  I watched the old and comfortably familiar story; yet I still found myself on edge, wondering what would happen.  Which part would they change, and which part of the story was so sacred that it could not be touched?

Photo via eonline.com

Photo via eonline.com

I enjoyed the movie, once I employed suspension of disbelief.  I think that the enthusiasm of my friend who is the mother of a son was infectious, and I was able to forget about the overall message and fall in love with the beauty and romance and magic.  Our Princess was enchanted, and her eyes shone brightly all through the movie.  She missed nothing.

A time or two during the movie a particular thought tried to surface, but it never quite made it.

Until the movie was over and I was sitting quietly with my thoughts.

Then it hit me.

Where were the people who knew Ella and her family?  Where were her friends?  Their friends?  Surely there was someone who, at some point, thought to him or herself, “Hey, wonder where Ella’s been?  I haven’t seen much of her since her Father passed on. I should really check in on her.”

I wondered where the people were who would feel inclined to pay their respects after his death.  Bring a casserole.  Drop by for a visit. Why was there no one to realize that this girl was being mistreated by the very ones to whom her care was entrusted?

Why didn’t someone notice and do something?

My friend who joined us reached out to me two weeks ago with a message: “Hey, if y’all are going to do a girls’ outing to see ‘Cinderella’ and I wouldn’t be intruding, could I join y’all?”

Absolutely.  It would be our pleasure.  And it was.

It was so good to see her, to sit and laugh over the hideous dresses of the stepsisters and gasp at the wickedness of some in the movie and to agree that we like to sit until the credits are pretty much over.  Most of all, it was good to visit.  To catch up.  To share stories.  To check in with each other.

The greatest gift is that she wanted to be with us, and she said so.

That right there.

How would the story have been different if Ella (Cinderella) had been able to call up a friend and say, “Hey, I would really love to spend some time with you”?  Where was her tribe?  Her friends?  Her “biffle,” as my college girl calls her best friend?

And then the next question is begging to be asked:

Who am I supposed to be reaching out to?  Whom should I be checking in with?  Who has locked him or herself away, and needs a friend to help bring him/her out?

Tonight I’m thankful for my friend who reached out and made time to be with us.  For seeing an age-old story with new eyes and feelings, I am grateful.  In this world of busy-ness and to do lists and running here and there and yon with littles in tow, it is good to be reminded to be still.  Be quiet.  Listen and look.  To check in with those I care about, and help those who need to be free and loosened a little from their worries and woes.  To be a good friend.

Wishing you all someone who will do that for you.

Love to all.

 

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

As I was wrapping up writing this post, I saw this shared by Love Wins Ministries, folks who know how important relationships are and work hard to get them right and make a positive difference.  I think this is spot on and wanted to share it with you.  

IMG_7207

Cinderella could have survived locked in the attic, but what kind of survival would that have been?  

Just a thought.  

 

 

 

Ode to Spring and Welcome

Though I complain about the pollen that turns everything an interesting shade of yellow or green and has my nose and sinuses on the run, little can lift my spirits from the quiet contemplative state of winter like the appearance of the blossoms in the spring.  The glimpse of beauty bursting open, seemingly from out of nowhere touches my heart and gives me hope.  If beauty can come from what once looked like an old dead stick, well, you can see where my heart takes that.

In an effort to share just a bit of joy with you all, I offer you these glimpses I’ve had of such beauty in the past few days.

 

IMG_7168

From my Bradford pear–good gravy, I do love those Bradford pears.  They are such wonderful divas, so full of color as the fall comes–their glossy dark green dresses turning all shades of autumn.  So beautiful that one might think them spent until the following fall.  But no, they come out of the slumber of winter all dressed for the dance in their finest ball gowns of white…..

IMG_7169

 

with a tinge of pink.

 

 

 

IMG_7170

 

And then’s there’s the Loropetalum.  So dainty and exotic looking all at the same time.  Glorious color everywhere!  She greets me and all who come with her beauty and colorful blooms and leaves.

 

IMG_7171

 

Oh me.  My very favorites.  The tea olive, offering up the finest scent from its tiny cluster of blossoms.  I once told my Daddy, who had planted the very first one I’d ever met at the corner of the house at Blackberry Flats, that the fragrance from the tea olive was what I hoped Heaven smelled like.  It was love at first sniff.  I have one by each door into my house, and I often finding myself stopping and taking time to smell the tea olives.  Be forewarned, if I’m around one and you are with me, I will make you ask you to smell it.  Because when I experience beauty that touches me to my very core, I might just feel compelled to share it with all who cross my path.  So it is with the tea olive.  We planted one out at the cemetery on Daddy’s first birthday after he left this world.  I love that I can go out there and catch the delicate perfection that is the scent of the tea olive, while my Daddy is experiencing the real thing firsthand.

IMG_7178

My little guy and I visited Wesleyan, my alma mater, last Thursday evening.  The cherry blossoms were in full force, just in time for the opening of the Cherry Blossom Festival.  This group of beautiful trees stands close, tucked away behind Candler Alumnae building.

IMG_7179

As we walked through the trees, I remembered an evening just about twenty-five years ago exactly, when I had made myself a sandwich in my room and walked out to sit on that bench at dusk and contemplate the changes that were about to come in six weeks and some odd days–graduation and all that followed.  It was the “all that followed” that I wasn’t very sure about.  It scared me, but I remember finding peace and hope sitting there, hidden and protected by the umbrella of blossoms.

IMG_7180

 

Oh and the Geese.  On front campus.  They aren’t the friendliest of sorts, much like other creatures we are starting to see as the weather becomes a little less frigid.  And I realize they aren’t really signs of spring, but they always make me smile and I am reminded that I am not alone.

 

May you all find something that ignites the hope that lies deep within you.  And may it open and blossom just like the buds on the Bradford pear, the grande dame of the seasons herself.

Love and hope to all.

 

the wild and starry sky

they talk about how lovely it is, the sky,

and how this phenomenon or that

is about to happen

and how we all should go out and

Observe

 

I get a little crazy at this,

the idea of something like Halley’s comet

happening only once in my lifetime

is too much weight to bear

if I miss it, there are no second chances, are there?

 

it all feels so finite

 

and I don’t need reminding of how short

life is,

this journey,

the paths that just stop

way too suddenly

leaving those of us who loved them

in shock, arms empty, weeping

 

longing to run out into the dark night

and shout at the stars

with anger until our voices are raw and

almost gone and we have nothing left

and we collapse to the earth–

“didn’t you have enough? why did

you need another one to shine through the

darkness when you already have so many?”

 

our world is so much darker now that there

are more stars

 

and still we follow the crowds out the door

to look up in wonder and ooh and ahh

over the once in a lifetime sight to behold

 

knowing that we had a once in a lifetime treasure

walking beside us for a while

we stifle our pain and smile to disguise our

tear-stained cheeks

 

and gaze up in amazement

that has nothing to do with the wild and starry sky

we look up and keep our screams and fears and

heartbreak to ourselves

we lift our eyes, unseeing, as the memories

play across the screen of our hearts

like those planetarium shows did when we were young

 

but we save all of that for a night

when there is no eclipse or comet or colorful lights

to mark the passing of our lives by,

for a night when the crowds have all gone

and we stand out there alone

beneath the darkened dome

and tell the heavens of

the heaviness in our hearts

and the darkness that still is,

despite all the light from above

and in the quiet of the night, the wind blows

and the tears fall to the ground, the echo

of their sadness

the only sound for miles around

 

IMG_7199

 

 

 

 

On Memory, Cats, and Amounting to Something

This evening Cooter and I headed up to Macon to join Aub for a special performance at Wesleyan.  It was something I really wanted to see, and Cooter really wanted to see his sister.  Our Princess had swim practice, so she and the Fella were off in that direction.

As we rode up there, I listened to the radio while Cooter read his new historical “Choose Your Own Adventure” books.  I was just listening and thinking, you know, so not really listening, until this song came on.

IMG_7176

How appropriate that this song stirred up so many memories for me.

How many children did my Daddy put to sleep, sitting there with him in the old burnt orange (that used to be a thing okay) recliner, while watching Cats?  Cooter was one of them.  I asked him if he remembered the song, almost willing him to.  He didn’t, and now I laugh as I realize why.  The song is not in the first third of the musical, I don’t think, so of course he doesn’t remember it.  He was never awake for it.

That Barbra Streisand sang this version was also interesting.  I remember being quite young and hearing admiration and respect in Mama and Daddy’s tones as they mentioned that Ms. Streisand refused to get plastic surgery.  I found that all intriguing, as it was the first I learned that people had the option of not accepting their looks and changing them.  I also learned at that early age that being yourself was the best way to be.  Never mind that they thought she was extremely talented, and then there was the fact that she had been in a movie with Robert Redford.  Which was really cool, because Robert Redford.

Despite the fact that I grew up with folks who respected and admired Barbra Streisand’s gift, I was thinking as I listened that there was something missing.  It just wasn’t–perfect.

What was it?

And then it hit me–

a cat costume.

Well, in a manner of speaking anyway.  Elaine Page and Veerle Casteleyn, the actresses who played Grizabella and Jemima in the recorded version, were also talented.  But I think their performance was amazing–flawless even.  More so than the very talented Barbra Streisand?

Yes.

Because not only were they singing, they were also acting while they were singing.  It took even more energy and effort to perform this powerful song than merely singing it on stage or in a recording studio.  They had their hearts wrapped around that song and its meaning, and vice versa.

I’m so impressed.

Daddy always was too. On more than one occasion, he commented on how young the actress who played Jemima was.  While he liked both actresses, he was almost awestruck by the younger one.

But then he always was one to see potential in someone and want to see them do their best and “amount to something.”

Tonight I’m thankful for the memory of Memory.  And Cats.  And of my Daddy.  And that old recliner.  I still have a button from it tucked away.  To remind me of the color as the memories begin to fade, just as the chair had begun to do.  I am grateful that they appreciated good music and good people.  And that they saw hope and promise in those around them and were always encouraging.  Most of all I’m thankful for the tears that still come when I hear this song.  From missing the ones I love and from remembering those sweet, sleepy babies curled up at their Cap’s side, as he watched and listened to the rest of the movie, saving up his own memories as they dreamed.

May this be a day of joy-filled memory making.

Love to all.

 

The Mushrooms Said “I love you”

Today after we wrapped up our morning lessons, the littles flew up the stairs and into their rooms and all around the house in a flurry of activity.  At some point (I’m not sure when) they had consulted and decided what they wanted to do together after they were done with school.

And it wasn’t begging to play on electronics or watch a video.  That was a wise decision today.

Princess came out in my eighth grade graduation dress that my Mama made special for the occasion.  Yes, she’s three years younger than I was at the time, and yes, she is as tall or taller than I was at thirteen.  Thank you for asking.  Cooter came out wearing his repurposed and embroidered Chef shirt I made over for him from a GW Boutique purchase Christmas 2012.

They explained to me that they were opening a restaurant, and that I was to come place my order.  This was timely as it was lunch time and I needed to throw something together for their lunch, but their minds were set.  Their restaurant, my order.

Princess had set up a wooden TV tray table at the foot of the stairs complete with a menu and prices (so convenient–don’t you hate it when they don’t have the prices–that never turns out well).  She was a lovely hostess, and as I placed my order for pizza and sushi (hey, I was hungry), she wrote it all down.  She told me it would be ready soon, and I was dismissed.

I heard some hollering back and forth–it was hard to decide if this was fine dining or a diner–and some skerfuffling and a few minutes later, Princess called out that my order was ready.  I was a little taken aback, if I’m being honest here, because I thought she had told me my food would be brought to my “table.”  I expressed my concerns, and the lovely hostess apologized and said it would be brought right out.

I was sitting in my comfortable spot, when Chef Cooter brought out my tray himself.  What a good chef!  He wanted to see the joy on my face himself, I guess, which I thought was sweet until I saw the twinkle in his eyes.

What?

IMG_7173

Ah yes.  The pizza.  He had put mushrooms as the topping.  Just for me.  And I realized this, just as he was about to force feed me a “bite” of the pizza, giggling harder and harder as he approached my mouth with it.

Because mushrooms.  Just no.

As I’ve shared before, I did not care for them growing up.  Acting ugly about them or turning my nose up at them was not tolerated.  I was expected to eat them just like everyone else.  Until I was grown.  And then Mama wanted my picked off/picked out mushrooms.  She loved them, you see.  We were a perfect match when it came to eating a veggie pizza.

And Cooter knows all of this.  And he deliberately put the mushrooms on that pizza for me today.

Yuck.

And yet–

I felt loved.  So very loved.

That sounds crazy and counterintuitive, I know.  And I’ve thought about how to write about this so it made sense for hours now, and yet I still don’t know how to do it justice.

But when he teased me like that, with that giggle and twinkle in his eye–I knew three things.

He knows me very well.

He loves me so much to tease me and make me laugh like that.

He is so comfortable with me that he knows I will laugh at this thing he did and not take offense.  And he really wanted me to laugh.

As I pushed the pizza away with all the drama and disgust I could muster, we were all three laughing and Miss Sophie was dancing around, wondering what all the excitement was about.

Mushrooms, Sophie.  And so much more.

Tonight I’m thankful for the love and laughter.  For being known.  For parents who loved me and for the children who continue to make me smile and laugh and give me a reason to look forward to another day.  For their fun and creative spirits and joy-filled hearts, I am grateful.  And most of all, for twinkles in eyes and that the teasing that came with living with my Daddy is carried on, I give thanks.

May you all have someone who teases you with a twinkle in the eye and who makes you laugh and laugh.

Love and laughter to all.