The Love Behind the Extra Leaves and Card Tables

I miss our big family get togethers from when I was little.

It doesn’t matter where. From my great Granddaddy’s to my Great Aunt’s to my Granny’s to Mama’s. I loved them all. The hustle and bustle of activity, tables or counters or stovetops groaning, laden with all kinds of good foods–and some that I wasn’t so fond of, but it didn’t matter.  In that setting, a no thank you helping was palatable.  Sweet foods were piled on the plates next to the casseroles.  Some casseroles were having an identity crisis and could have passed for both. (Pineapple cheese casserole, I’m looking at you.)  They had all the goodies of a church potluck, but these were even better–they were with our very own people.

I am still not quite sure how Granny fit all of us in her little house. But she did.  Some folks ate at the counter that ran between the kitchen and the living room.  Others ate at the card tables she set up for folks in front of the couch with chairs on the other side.  Still, how her four children, their spouses and all the grands fit in there, it boggles my mind. Never mind how she prepared enough food for all of us.  It was so good that you had to work not to eat too much, because tucked away in the back bedroom–first known as the “Cold Room” and then the “Pretty room” after its denim and red bandana curtain/bedding makeover–was all of the homemade candy Granny had been preparing.  Divinity, buckeyes, Marth Washingtons…..oh my land.  I just gained ten pounds sitting here drooling over the memory.  I’m pretty sure Granny’s love language must have been food.  If you left hungry, it was your own fault.

Gatherings with my Mama’s side of the family took place first at my Great Grandaddy’s house.  He had a big table, so we’d all gather round the table piled high with food.  What I remember the most from their house was breakfast before dawn (Granddaddy was a retired probate judge and farmer)–biscuits and red-eye gravy.  Excuse me, while I wipe away a tear.  Those things were melt in my mouth GOOD.  For dessert a four layer cake with lemon cheese icing was a given.

Oh me.

After Granddaddy passed, we’d gather at my Great Aunt’s house.  I think she’s on my mind especially today as it’s her birthday.  A few years back I planted a yellow rosebush on her birthday because they were her favorites.  I expect later on I’ll go cut one and bring it inside and smile at all the ways she shaped who I am.

I was beyond thrilled the year I was deemed old enough to go get the extra leaf for her table.  She and my Great Uncle had a lovely table, but what with it being just the two of them, they usually kept it as a small round table.  As we all arrived, there would be a conversation as to how many leaves we needed–one or two.  Then someone would go fetch the required number of leaves carefully from under my Great Aunt’s bed.

Oh my, what a precious moment.  The gently gliding it out from under the bed, wrapped in its sheet.  Then the careful unwrapping and folding the sheet and placing it aside for later.  I carried it upright with both hands through two doorways, calling out to my siblings with a voice that near trembled with the weight of my responsibility, “Move please.  Step out of the way.  Don’t bump me.”  I could NOT hit the walls or doorway with this treasured piece.  The process of dropping it in place and securing it always fascinated me.  After it was all together, it was time to set the table and watch my Great Uncle fry up the okra.  That and my Great Aunt adding almond slivers to the snap beans or a casserole or two were the finishing touches before we sat down to eat.

These days such gatherings are few and far between.  I miss there being more people than I can count, but knowing every face I saw.  I miss the ritual of preparing for the people. It was sacred, a moment of reverence, of appreciating and honoring and creating a place for each one gathered there.  Each one mattered.  Each one had a spot at the table, the card table, or the counter.  And in our hearts.

Today I’m thankful for these memories.  For the hush in my heart when I remember sliding the leaf out from under the bed and feeling the beautiful wood.  For the taste of foods I haven’t eaten in years.  For the smiles and laughter and “scooching” over just a bit to fit in one more person. Because there was always room for just one more.  Most of all, I’m thankful for my Daddy’s sisters who have continued this tradition in their own way.  Who continue to set a place and gather us all close.  The words “thank you” just don’t seem enough.  But I do appreciate them so much.

May you all find yourselves in need of an extra leaf or a card table–surrounded by the people you love.

Love to all.

Ode to the Belly Rub

Tonight as I sat down with my laptop in my usual spot to begin writing, I looked over at my right hip and this, y’all.

IMG_9389IMG_9391

You might say we are attached at the hip.  That’s the same spot she waddled over to the very first time we met.  She sighed, and then she plopped her little head down on my thigh.

Just as she likes to do now.  Every.  Single.  Night.

It’s kind of her spot.

The thing that gave me pause tonight–even though this behavior was no different, is how envious I am of her.

Oh, it’s not all the naps she gets to take–though there is that.

It’s not that food is in front of her almost before she needs it–ready to be eaten.

It’s not even that she is always cute, no matter the time of day.

It’s that this girl knows how to ask for what she needs or wants.

She used to come up and nip playfully at my hand when she wanted a belly rub.  Not a fan of that with all those puppy teeth, I taught her to pat my hand when she was in need.

And so she does. Whenever she feels the need.  Whether it’s been five minutes or five hours (rare) since her last belly rub, she knows how to ask.

Because she knows what she needs, and she trusts us to provide it.  And if we get a little thick-headed, she also knows she can use her voice (very loudly) and point out to us that she needs some more food or she’s ready for bed or she’d like to go outside.

Oh, to be that way.

To know exactly what would make things better, first of all, and then to trust that in asking, it will be provided.

To know how and whom to ask.  All while smiling.  (Or, you know, tail wagging as the case may be.)

Yes.

May we all work toward becoming more secure in the asking, and find ourselves surrounded by those who care enough to reach down and rub our bellies.  So to speak.

Love and happy asking to all.

Friend is a Verb

For my littles, who are worried about such things as this:

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Friend is a verb.

You know, you’ve learned this in Grammar–a verb is something you do.

I know you think friend’s a noun-an improper one at that, but it is also a verb.

So when I hear you worrying over who your best friend is, or how to answer when someone asks you who it is, I want you to remember–

Friend is a verb.

Go and be your best self and friend some folks.  Good folks, folks who could use someone to stand alongside them.  Folks who are lonely, who are kind, who smile shyly when you ask if you can sit with them.  Folks who sit by their mailbox with their bike, waiting to be asked to join in the fun.  Folks without a bike, wishing they could join in the fun.

Be your very best you, and friend them.

Bring them into the fray, alongside you for the fun, invite them into your heart and to share the path on your journey.

Listen to their stories, hug them when they’re sad, laugh at their silly jokes, offer them a popsicle when it’s hot or your extra hat when it’s not.  Dance together in the rain and keep their secrets about favorite colors and how many times they can burp in a row.

Friend them.

Love them.  You pretty much can’t go wrong with that.

As time goes by, friendships evolve.  Some last longer than others, but all of them–every single one of our friends are worthy of our best, aren’t they?

Don’t worry about labelling any one person as your “best” friend.  That sort of limits the possibilities of all the adventures you can have with all of the amazing people who come into your lives.

So maybe the next time someone asks you who your best friend is, smile and tell them you are being the “best friend” you can be to all the people you care about–I don’t know, maybe just look at them and say, “Friend is a verb, and I’m doing it the best I can.”

Or maybe, don’t worry about such silly questions and just go have some fun.  Life is too short to be worrying over things like choosing one person over another.  So many beautiful people, so many folks to love and cherish and enjoy and treasure–why limit your heart to just one?

Friend is a verb.

Now go and friend as best you can, as only you can, my bright and amazing crew.

Love to all.  The very best kind.  Always.

Pondering the Ants

This morning the littles and I made the trek up to Macon for an appointment.  Part of the trip calls for me to get on the Interstate.  As I got on the Exit Ramp, we came up to the red light and stopped.

The tiny ants were crawling all over the pavement and back into their nest in the grass.

The tiny ants were crawling all over the pavement and back into their nest in the grass.

While sitting there for a moment, I glanced out the window to my left.  It was a beautiful and sunny (and yes, hot–that’s a given this time of year down here) day with a blue sky and puffy white clouds.  I looked over at the pavement, and noticed the tiny workers, going about their business, seemingly not troubled by the chaos less than six feet away.

Because y’all know folks don’t always go slow on those exit ramps…..

and yet, these little creatures were carrying on as if this were the norm.  As if there were nothing unusual about the roaring vehicles racing by where they work, play, and live.

It’s all in what you get used to, I suppose, isn’t it?  I admire the way they can carry on with their lives with chaos right there beside them.  Unfettered, unaffected, undaunted.  Living and–I hope–laughing and loving.  No matter where they are–just because they are.

I want to do that.  Love because we are, not dependent on the who’s and what’s and where’s.  Able to do so no matter the chaos surrounding us.

May it be so.

Love to all.

Duplicate Prints

My Mama’s cousin made time for a visit with us on Tuesday as she made her way back home to Florida after a trip to North Carolina.  It is always good to see her for many reasons, but especially because she reminds me so much of all the ones we love and miss.  And that we can love and miss them together.  So many stories we can share and laugh about.

She brought with her some pictures that her Mama, my great Aunt, had kept and put in albums over the years.  Pictures of us–some were from her trips up to see us, but many were ones Mama had sent her when we were little and ones I sent when my own Aub was small.

And the magic words came to mind:

Duplicate prints

Remember when we took film to the Mart and dropped it in an envelope after writing our name and address and phone number on it?  And those boxes–matte or high gloss and…..single or duplicate prints?

I seem to remember that the duplicates weren’t really too much more expensive than the single prints, so I usually checked duplicate.  I can remember the excitement of opening up the prints and going through, making a pile of the second prints to share with different folks.

And now, what a gift these all are…..put together in an album…..glimpses of my childhood and the beginning days of being a Mama…..almost twenty years ago.

Yes, I was moved to tears.  That my Great Aunt had saved them all those years and put them into albums, the love just shone through.  But most of all, I smiled and held the pictures and the memories in them close, thankful they’d been given to me all over again.

Me and my sheep, Raspberry.  How he got his name is a story for another night.  Loving the 70's fashion statement I'm making here--or early 80's.  It all sort of ran together.

Me and my sheep, Raspberry. How he got his name is a story for another night. Loving the 70’s fashion statement I’m making here–or early 80’s. It all sort of ran together.

Maybe 8 or 9 here.  About Cooter's age.  And speaking of my little guy.....it's possible that maybe he might actually look like me.  This is the first time I realized it.

Maybe 8 or 9 here. About Cooter’s age. And speaking of my little guy…..it’s possible that maybe he might actually look like me. This is the first time I’ve realized it.

My Mama, doing what made her happiest, loving on her grand baby--my big girl--this was almost 20 years ago.  Where has the time gone?

My Mama, doing what made her happiest, loving on her grand baby–my big girl–this was almost 20 years ago. Where has the time gone?

Tonight I’m thankful for visits and memories and stories from the past.  For laughter and tears and hugs and pictures taken to save a moment for always, I give thanks.  Most of all, I’m thankful for the people and the love that each story and picture holds.

Wishing you all someone to share duplicate prints with, and the delight of finding treasures from the  past.

Love to all.

the dryer and its lies

And then suddenly the waiting for what was to come
the unexpected, the wondering, worry, and waiting
is over

and the time for the next unknown is here
the figuring out of this new “normal”

Normal is a setting on the dryer
nothing more, nothing less
it cannot describe our lives, our days, our moments
each one unique to who and what is with us at the time
and all the feelings that come and go, ebb and flow

and even that setting on my old dryer is broken
and so I set it on the other one, the one
that I have to watch and carefully consider
what cannot handle the heat and time it myself
and thus, this becomes my new “normal” setting

the waiting and watching and considering

we never really get beyond that, do we?

life requires so much of those things

or else it could all shrink down to nothing

and we’re left with a life that constricts and never
feels quite right

“one day” we often say
no, today is the day,
the only day

normal is not for those who live,
who love,
who feel–
forget normal, just breathe
and live
and soar

even if it’s from the bed in your pajamas

if that’s as good as it gets
fly from there
don’t let the world ground you
and tell you, you can’t

stay there as long as it takes
until the dryer is fixed and your other clothes
are ready to be worn
and your soul is ready to wear them

etch this on the side of your dryer
and your heart–
there is no normal setting,
not really,
there is only
what is,
in this moment,
and we learn to breathe all over again

electric-clothes-dryer

A New Heart

Tonight, as I sit writing, my role model, hero, and friend Hugh Hollowell sits with his sweet wife, Renee, waiting for her heart transplant.  She has been on the list for a while, and today they got the call.  It was time.

They are beautiful people.  Hugh heads up Love Wins Ministries in North Carolina. I have written about him and how what he believes and how he lives has changed my life–here and here, among many other times.  He works hard for and with people who are in the midst of chronic homelessness, and it’s not an easy job.  We people, housed and homeless, are not always easy to love.  When I had the honor of meeting him in person in January, I noticed when he spoke of Renee, there was a light in his eyes and in his voice.

And that is a precious gift.

There will be all kinds of changes and challenges ahead of them over the next few weeks.  So much excitement and anxiety in this day alone.  And yet, when Renee posted this afternoon, she said she has plenty of folks sending prayers, positive energy, and well wishes for her–but she asked for thoughts of peace and prayers and love for the donor, a 38-year-old male, and his family.

Tears, y’all.

My Mama wanted to be an organ donor.  I remember this vividly.  And I also remember the moment when the hospital told me she could not be a donor because of all of the circumstances surrounding the deterioration of her health.  I wept.  Because I had so hoped for something somehow good to come from our pain and loss.

Organ donation is important.  It’s the ultimate gift that can save a life.  Just as it’s saving a precious, treasured life tonight.

If you have a moment, will you please think of Hugh and Renee? Of the staff at Love Wins as they carry on with their mission without Hugh there for the next few weeks?  Of the family of the man whose loss is saving another?  Of the surgeons and nurses and staff who have a long night ahead of them?

To find out more about my friend, Hugh, and Renee’s story, you can read here.  There are links to the backstory and ways to help if you are so moved.  These beautiful souls have given so selflessly to others in need over the years, it’s time for the community to support them.

That’s kind of how it goes, isn’t it?  We love and are loved.  We care and we are cared for.  We give and we will one day need to be on the receiving end.  It’s the yin and yang, ebb and flow of this journey, I think.

Also, if you are interested in learning more about organ donation and how to sign up to be a donor, click here.

Tonight I am thankful for those who give selflessly–both with their bodies and their souls.  I give thanks for the call Renee got today and for the gift she’s receiving tonight.  Most of all, I give thanks that we are not on this journey alone.

Others.

What a beautiful word.

Love to all.  Thanks for listening.