Cakes, Cookies, and Circling Close

Today was our family’s Fall Hootenanny, and this beauty was waiting to greet me when I walked through the door.

LOVE.  100% Pure Tee Love right there.

                                                  LOVE. 100% Pure Tee Love right there.

That right there is a genuine Ten Layer Chocolate Cake.  My Aunt made it because she was thinking of my Granny, her Mama.  It took her a whole afternoon to make it.  What a gift of love, and I swanee, it fairly melted in my mouth.

Oh yeah.  It was inhaled very quickly.

                                           Oh yeah. It was inhaled very quickly. Because #THATGOOD

Funny, isn’t it, the journey that food takes us on?  I make a coconut cake for our Spring Easter Egg Hunt/Wienie Roast for the same reason–because it makes me think of Granny.  Yesterday I baked my Mama’s Lucia Pepparkakor cookies and used her jack o’lantern cookie cutter, and I could almost see her hands rolling out the dough.  I also made a pound cake with a praline/caramel glaze and thought of my Daddy and his love of caramel cakes.

Mama's Swedish Ginger Snaps

                                                            Mama’s Swedish Ginger Snaps

Food.  Love.  Interchangeable really.

I sat at the table today with my cousin’s three children.  The oldest took a bite of a Mint Chocolate Chip cookie that another cousin usually makes and brings to our family gatherings.  As he began to chew, he closed his eyes and said, “Mmmmm.  It’s even better than I remember. It’s just so good.” He looked up very seriously. “I could eat more than three.”

Oh bless him.  He was so precious.  His memories of our family as he gets older will include these cookies as much as the coconut cake and Ten Layer Chocolate Cake remind me of Granny.  (He also has a theory about eating Rice Krispie treats and enjoying them because they aren’t too filling and there’s more room for the cookies–another year and he’ll have this whole dessert management thing down to a science. And with this family and all of our talented bakers, we need it.)

We also had our annual Turkey Egg Hunt.  Our Princess was shocked to discover, upon enthusiastically telling others what we were going to be doing today, that not every family has a Turkey Egg Hunt.  All I can say is y’all are seriously missing out.  Hunting eggs twice a year is kind of our thing.  Turkeys get equal billing with this crew.

Our Princess chasing down another turkey egg.

                                         Our Princess chasing down another turkey egg.

Today was a day of standing around and telling stories, sitting with folks younger and older and shooting the breeze.  It was about hearing all the love in the voices of those who have known me longest (and they still love me anyway–I don’t take that lightly).  It was about missing the ones who weren’t with us and giving thanks in all kinds of ways for those who were.  It was about old traditions and new beginnings and swapping recipes and making plans for future visits again real soon.  It was a day of open doors and windows and scooching over to make room for more.

Because that’s the love language of my people, y’all.  We’re not the most extroverted bunch, but when it comes to scooching over so someone else can squeeze in, we’re good.  We’ve got that part down.  And if it means we can share a cookie and a smile while we’re sitting there elbow to elbow, then all the more joy for everyone.

Tonight after we got home, the littles and I watched an episode of “Girl Meets World.”  That we love this show and why is a whole ‘nother post.  The main character, Riley, shared these words with a group of friends and family on the episode we watched tonight:

“We think that we are the center of the universe, but the truth is… we need to circle the ones we love for as long as they’re here. We need to hold them close, because no matter how far we travel, they are the ones who hold us in place. It’s gravity, and without it, we’d just all float away from each other.”

That’s what today was about, circling the ones I love and giving thanks that they are here.

And cakes and cookies, and all the stories and memories they can hold.

Y’all go find somebody to circle.  Hold ’em close.  Maybe even share a cookie.

Love to all.

the eerie light and Irish Spring

after a day of playing tag before the heat of noon
chased us indoors to have a sandwich or a buttered biscuit
leftover from last night’s supper

and marathon sessions of Monopoly
or building frog villages in the sand pile
under the big tree
complete with parking garages for the Matchbox cars
that all too often caved in
the casualties were regrettable
especially when Granny asked us where all the cars
had gotten off to

late afternoons spent in front of “Gunsmoke”
or “Andy Griffith”
cooling ourselves in front of the fan
with a cup of Granny’s homemade peach ice cream
she’d frozen in those individual cups
as the sun slanted through the front porch window
and began its descent

after a supper of fried catfish and homemade french fries
served by the hands that caught ’em, cleaned ’em, and cooked ’em,
we headed back outside for one more round of chase
but mostly we danced with the lightning bugs
enchanted, bowing, and following their lead
the music was silent but not in our hearts

and then it was time for baths
as the darkness surrounded the little house
all by itself out there miles from town

Granny let us fill the tub as full as we wanted,
a luxury to be sure
the feel of the footed tub worn smooth with all the scrubbing she did
the black rubber stopper on the chain keeping the water level up
the smell of Irish Spring a sure sign of summer
and all that was right in the world

the only light in the bathroom, the one up high on the wall,
gave an eerie almost green glow to the room
made all the more curious by the window up next to the ceiling
that faced the back porch
which was always pitch black during bath time
unless Granny had to go out to the washer or freezer

anticipating the ghost stories we were sure to share
as soon as the lights went out
I could almost imagine a face up there
and so I would duck under the water
and lay there for a second
closing my eyes, holding my nose
and listen to the world echo around me

all was quiet
and warm
and safe

there under the eerie green light
the scent of Irish Spring greeting me as I rose to the surface

and all was the best it could ever be
only I had no idea of any of that,
so I dried off and put on my pajamas

and hurried to the pallet Granny had made for us with her quilts
when the 11 o’clock news was over, she turned the TV off,
told us good night, reminded us to keep it down and go to sleep,
and then she turned off the lights

tonight as I reach over to turn off my own lamp
I find myself wanting one more bath under that light
one more sniff of Irish Spring and
and wanting, once more, to feel my Granny’s hand as she patted me on the shoulder
on her way to bed

more than anything though
I want to dance with lightning bugs
and the people I love
and have feet so dirty they leave a ring in the bathtub

just as they once did
beneath the eerie light
in the little house
that built me

Riding Shotgun

Some of my fondest memories from when I was little are riding shotgun with my Daddy.  We played this game until he would finally have enough and stop it–bless him, I’m sure it went on way longer than he could have possibly wanted it to:

Me:  What’d you say?
Him:  What’d you say I said?
Me:  What’d you say I said you said?
Him:  What’d you say I said you said I said?
Me:  What’d you say I said you said I said you said?

…..and so on until we’d get tongue-tied in fits of laughter or Daddy would kindly indicate that was enough.  Being a parent now, remembering how much he did play it with me, it endears him to me even more.  BLESS.  HIM.

We’d also sing crazy versions of “Yellow submarine.”  We all live in an orange jellybean, a blue tambourine, grass that’s really green…..

Or “You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Cage.”  Yeah, that was a good one.

I enjoyed our times together when he taught me to drive.  There were life lessons going on in that vehicle as well.  All kinds of wisdom imparted on those drives.

As I got older I enjoyed when Mama would let me join her on trips to see my Great Aunt.  Or to town.  Sometimes I’d drive, sometimes she would.  The fun times were great.  The hard ones were scary, like the time I drove her to the ER when she was running such a high fever.  Even then, she kept her sass I loved and her sense of humor I loved even more.  We were bonding across that dashboard.

This is a “thing” I am passing on to my crew too.  We have some light-hearted, joyful, funny, deep, and hard conversations as we travel down the road.  I remember it was on one road trip that the impending arrival of Cooter was announced to his sisters.

Yesterday my Cuz’n helped us move the big things up to my oldest’s dorm room.  He had helped us move her out back in May.  The rule around our house (or so I told him) is you bring it in, you’re responsible for getting it back out.  He’s a good sport.  Willing and able, two qualities not to be taken for granted.  He met us at the house to load up her mini-frigidaire, rug, and papasan chair.  I commented that it seemed like she had brought back way more at the end of her last school year.

He reminded me, “Don’t you remember, Tara? You keep taking things up all year long, get it just like you want it about April, and then move it all back in May.”

Yep. Sounds about right.

As the Fella loaded up in his vehicle with a few smaller things inside, I decided to ride with Cuz’n.  We don’t get to visit that often, and when we do, it’s always a happenin’, as my Mama would put it.  We packed up our mini-convoy and headed up the road to Macon.

What we talked about isn’t nearly as important as the laughter and the shared memories that allow for really, really good conversations between folks who are each other’s people.  Folks who get the quirks and hardly see them anymore. Or at least when they point them out, they still love you and will go off on anybody ELSE who points them out.

Yes. A good time riding shotgun.  It didn’t hurt that we were in his old truck taking the backroads as far up as we could.

It was Sunday, after all.

Sunday drives are the stuff some of our best stories are made of.  Yesterday, I added another chapter.

Tonight I’m thankful for the folks whom I get to call mine.  They really are the best.  I’m thankful for the willingness of good guys to spend their Sunday making sure my girl had her niceties to make this year and her room extra homey.  (The littles and I helped her move the necessities–clothes and bedding–up last Wednesday.)  I’m thankful that no one mentioned, not even once, that maybe next year she could ask to finally be on any floor other than the top one.  And that no one complained we didn’t get to use the elevator.  Good guys, I tell you.  They were smiling and laughing the whole time.  Most of all, I’m thankful for a good day of riding shotgun, laughing over old memories, and making new ones to laugh over in years to come.

Wishing you all someone fun to ride shotgun with–it’s always a good day for a Sunday drive.

Love to all.

Maybe I Should Wear a Cone of Shame

I don’t know that I’ve ever had a Monday so stereotypical as this past Monday. You know, one where you’d really rather just pull the covers up over your head and go back to sleep?

Yeah.  That was my morning.  Between me and Miss Sophie, we stayed in the road for appointments.   One in town and one out of town.  By the time we were all home and settled back in, it was mid-afternoon.

That evening my sweet cousin texted me to check and see how we were all doing.  Because she has a hot spot she won’t leave alone, Miss Sophie had to wear a cone–the “Cone of Shame,” as some call it.  It’s not serious, but she keeps scratching so the cone was the obvious solution.  As I told my cousin about both visits that day, she wrote back, “Well, at least you’re not having to wear a cone too.”

Well, if that isn’t the truth!

After I laughed and appreciated having someone on my side who can keep it real and yet keep me laughing (a true treasure), I got to thinking about what she said.  And while I’m glad I don’t have to wear a cone, I’m not sure if maybe I shouldn’t be wearing one.

After all, I tend to pick at things until they fester up again, instead of leaving them alone and letting my heart and soul heal.

In cases like that, a cone around what is worrying me would be a welcome reminder for me to leave it alone.  Let it go.  Move on and beyond.

I was thinking about this today when something that frustrated me a few weeks ago started rumbling around in my heart again. After a few minutes of reliving it and getting all riled up again, I realized what I had done.

Opened the wound.  Felt the pain again.  Set the healing process back all over again.

So yes, please, could I borrow that cone of yours, Miss Sophie?  It seems to be working for you.  Maybe it’s time I learn to quit picking at those worrisome spots.

May we all learn to let things go.  Even just a little.

Love to all.

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It’s All Yours, Uncle Willie

So we’ve finished our whirlwind trip from my beloved plains of Georgia to the beautiful hill country of Texas. Before we left, my sweet sisterfriend surprised me by leaving a copy of Willie Nelson’s new book on my front porch–since we were headed to his stomping grounds, it made sense. Ever since, apropos to our journey, I have had “On the Road Again” playing through my mind.   

As I write, we are literally on the road again, heading south on 75 in my home state, having spent four days in Uncle Willie’s neck of the woods. (I grew up thinking he might actually be my Uncle, because that’s how my folks referred to him. Uncle Willie. Aub recently told me she thought the same thing when she was little.)  I’ve been toying around with a couple of verses for a Haiku, but y’all, I’m sorry. The old five-seven-five syllable setup just isn’t enough to fully encapsulate my emotions right now.

So instead I offer you a variation on the Haiku. Perhaps a Willie-ku.

(Y’all, I do apologize for that.  It’s been a long day.)

“On the Road Again” is a great song and all
good job, Uncle Willie, but I will let you have it–
once this road gets me home
I believe I will put up my feet and stay a while  

A Legacy of Loving

Thursday evening as we pulled into the middle school parking lot, arriving for the littles’ gymnastic recital, Cooter piped up from the backseat, “I wish Maemae weren’t dead.”

Oh my heart.  Bless him.  Me too, baby boy.  Me too.

I’m not sure what prompted him to feel that, but maybe it’s because she was there for his very first gymnastics recital in 2012.  Maybe he was seeing her walking down that sidewalk with us after it was all over, her face beaming and telling him how wonderful he was–I know that memory kept playing over and over in my heart as we drove in and parked.

His sister agreed with him.  My Mama had a special gift of making the one she was talking to feel extra special.  Valued. Loved.  Wanted.  A treasure indeed.  And she never accepted you putting yourself or anyone else down.  Not ever.

She also told me when I needed to get off my pity pot.  But that’s a story for another night.

So this is for my children–the ones she loved, the ones she said made her life “grand”–

Maemae loved you.  She still loves you.  You never failed to put a smile on her face and a song in her heart.  She wanted you since the moment she found out you were on your way.  And she never stopped wanting you–as her grandchild, in her home, sitting next to her, in her heart.

She never stopped, and she sure shooting hasn’t stopped now.

There are going to be these moments in your life when the pain of her being gone is going to be a little harder than normal, like these past few days–special events, moments that make you think of her, or sometimes, for no reason at all.

And here’s what I want you to remember.

Maemae left you a legacy.  A legacy of love.  She loved you so strongly that when you sit and think about her and all you did together, I hope it puts a smile on your face.  Because you never failed to put one on hers.

But she also left you a legacy of loving.  She spent years and years building relationships with people who loved her back and who now love you.  Because you are hers and because you are pretty amazing people all on your own.  Look around at who is there when you have special events.  Look at who answers the phone when you have something to share.  Look at who blesses your heart when times are hard.  Look at who comes and moves you out of your dorm room or listens to you play piano over the phone or on a video.  Look at who listens to your stories and plays with you.  Look at who comments on your posts or sits and makes you laugh.  Look at Who. Shows. Up.

You were loved.  And you still are.

None of those who are here loving you now could replace her, and none of them want to.  But what they can do and WANT TO DO is love you and celebrate you and bring you comfort when you are sad.  And remind you that you are a treasure.

How lucky we are that Maemae was so good at loving people that she left us with all of these folks who love us too!

Our Princess’ dance teacher retired last year.  She returned this afternoon to watch “her girls” perform in their recital.  It was a loving gesture, and the girls were so excited to see her and for her to see what they have learned in a year’s time.

As she and I stood backstage watching them perform, it struck me how fortunate we are that Miss B did such a wonderful job of loving and teaching our girls.  These girls love her and were sad when she decided to retire, but because she passed the love of dancing along to them, they had what they needed to continue with dance when she wasn’t there.

See, if she had empowered them only to love her, none of them would have returned.  What a selfless gift she gave them when she made it bigger than her…..these girls’ love of dance is her legacy.

Maemae was like that with love.  She loved us fiercely and taught us to do the same, but instead of always wanting all that love for herself, she taught us to send it flowing outward to others and others and more others.  It didn’t stop with her, and because of how she loved, it never will.

That is her legacy.

Tonight I am thankful for women who teach and love in such a way that their absence doesn’t stop all the good things they have taught us.  I give thanks that my children remember and miss their Maemae, but even more I am thankful for those who continue to love them in the here and now.  I know she would be the last one wanting them sad on special days like these, and I love her so much for building relationships that feed our souls and warm our hearts and celebrate alongside us.  I don’t know what I would do without those smiling faces in the audience, those loving voices on the phone, the laughter and the willingness to step in and help.  I don’t know what I would do without those who show up.

And I’m thankful I don’t have to.

May we all love and teach the ones around us such that we don’t have to be around for the words and lessons to still matter and guide their hearts.

Love to all.

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the song I seek to live

as he played the guitar and told his stories in song,
the smell of coffee permeated the air,
the dull roar of the blender and quiet conversations the only other sounds in the shop

I watched him play, his fingers strong and pliable
his voice smooth and folksy
and the lyrics took me back in time
to before
all that has fractured my heart

the people walking up and down the street
through the window behind him caught my eye–
some meandering, some with purpose
singles, in pairs, in big smiling groups
enjoying the blue sky and sunshine of the lovely summer evening

and then there was the One
who approached the window timidly
his attention riveted by the guitar and the man playing it

as though in a trance he walked right up to the window
I expected to see his hand reach out and touch the glass
I wondered if he could hear the music from the outside looking in

if he could hear the words at all,
the chorus
“a place where all are welcome, all are kin”

the man through the glass turned instead and walked to the door
contemplating whether to open it I guess
and after a decisive moment he did

he smiled shyly as he entered and stood off to the side,
and it was then that I recognized him
he was not intrusive, did not sit down in the empty seat
and when invited kindly by the one who had recently lost so much
he waved his hand and looked at him and gently said, “No thank you, I’m only here a minute”

he listened to the chorus once more
“a place where all are welcome, all are kin”

and though he was only a visitor
I was drawn to the peace and joy surrounding him

then he smiled again and turned and walked out the door
headed to a place that God only knows

he didn’t look like I expected,
but then they say he never does
slipping in and out of stories,
turning them for the better,
bringing light into the darkness,

only maybe we don’t see it right away

it was later tonight, long after the sun had set
and the music faded, that my tears fell,
thankful for the timing of the One who welcomes all,
joining us during that song, touching the one who was grieving
and leaving without preaching a word

I know he turned this story
for I felt it in my heart,

and though I’m not quite sure how
I know that this evening,
that moment of watching his loving gaze
land on the one who played and the one who grieved,
will be a night that I will look back and see
as a pivotal point

to what I don’t know
I only know I follow the path
of the One who welcomes all
and makes us all kin

and I walk into the night,
for once unafraid of the darkness
singing the chorus of a song I seek to live

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