Take Me Home, Kermit

This afternoon the crew and I were over at Leroy’s and Mess Cat’s house for a bit.  My littles were playing with Shaker, running through playing some game that kept them entertained and getting along.

*Win*

At one point, our Princess came running through carrying something and the boys were chasing her.  She stopped next to me, poised the bundle she was carrying just so and said in this special little voice, “It’s not easy being me.”

I looked over and laughed.

She had taken the Kermit the Frog that Shaker got for Christmas and wrapped his arms and legs all around him until he looked like what she deemed “Baby Kermit.”  She has played with this little critter every single time we’ve been at their house since Christmas.  It made me smile that she has such a fascination with him.  I think maybe it’s because of the movie trailers for the new Muppet movie “Muppets Most Wanted” coming out on March 21.  My crew wants to see it because “Daddy loves the Muppets.”

As I was thinking about Kermit and all of the Muppets this evening, my mind wandered to John Denver.

Yes, Rocky Mountain High.  That guy.

He was a guest star on The Muppets and then had two television specials with them.  He developed a lifelong friendship with Jim Henson, you know, the Muppets guy.   I think John Denver’s version of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” with the Muppets is the best one ever.  Hands down.  (I heard that song referred to as the “100 Bottles” song of Christmas, and I nearly laughed myself silly.  True.)

I started thinking of John Denver and his music and his untimely death at age 53 in 1997.  He was born the same year as my Daddy.  I grew up with his music.  When we had the awesome backyard Barbie Wedding about thirty-something years ago, my Aunt had a tape of “Annie’s Song” that we played during the wedding (or maybe as the Wedding March?  the brain’s a bit foggy).  That was a great day, as evidenced by the ease with which my mind and heart travelled back to it, with just the mention of John Denver’s name and legacy.

As I played through his other songs in my mind, I thought about Japan.  Yes, Japan.  When we were preparing to leave after our two and half year wonderful, awesome tour there at Yokota and Fuchu Air Bases outside of Tokyo, the Fella’s cohorts from the Japanese Base–Fuchu–threw a Hawaiian themed get-together for us and the other family moving away.  It was at the home of one of the Japanese officers.  All of our friends were decked out in their Hawaiian finest–shirts, leis, and the like.  Our greatest surprise, however, was when they gathered around and our dear friend began to sing, in his best, only slightly broken English, “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” which, bless him, came out something like, “I’m reabing on a jet prane, don’t know when I be bock again, oh babe I hate to goooo.”  Bless.  Him.  That’s another great memory.  I will never hear that song and not think of our good friends  and great times in Japan.  And the gift they gave us by singing that song and making the night and our whole time there so very special.

And then, as I thought a little longer about John Denver, I naturally started thinking about my Mama.

Oh take me home, country roads.

My Mama loved that boy.

As I write this, I have “Take Me Home, Country Roads” playing.  Only it’s not John Denver’s voice I hear singing it.

It’s my Mama’s.

She LOVED. That. Song.

It was maybe about twenty years ago that she got a CD of his.  Maybe his greatest hits?  She loved to play it.  When she was mopping, when she was cooking, when she was doing whatever, she loved his music.  But when she loved most to play it was when she was rocking her first grandbaby to sleep in her chair in the living room.

The CD player sat (and still does) on the corner of her big desk in the den.  Around the corner was the door to the living room, where she and Daddy each had a rocker/recliner chair.  Mama would carry our baby girl in there and if she’d forgotten to press play, she’d call out for me or Daddy to do so.  And she’d start singing.  Right along with Mr. John Denver.  Sometimes she’d sing louder to drown out the cries of a tired baby who never wanted to go to sleep for fear of missing out on something.  I might be wrong but I think that “Take Me Home, Country Roads” was the first song on the CD.  I remember Mama would measure how long it took her to get Aub down for a nap by how many songs it would take.  “She was out before ‘Take Me Home’ was all the way through!”  That was a triumph indeed.  I think my baby girl loved her some John Denver too.  John Denver a la her Maemae.

And that’s where my thoughts landed and stayed.  With my Mama.  Not that a day goes by that I don’t think about her.  It’s just interesting the twists and turns my brain takes each day to travel back to be with her again.

So today I’m thankful for Kermit and my Princess’ fascination with him.  I’m especially thankful for Mr. John Denver who has been on this journey with me most of my life.  I’m thankful for friends who used his song to remind us we were loved and appreciated.  Most of all, I’m thankful for his song that let me hear my Mama’s voice once more.  How I miss her and her…..well, every single thing about her.  Even the way she’d call me on stuff I’d rather not be called on.  Yes, every single thing.

Tonight as I was reminiscing and listening to his old songs I love, I came across a new one I’d never heard before by “JD” as Daddy sometimes called him.  (He also called him by his real name Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr.)  In it I heard words that touched my heart and helped me feel Mama’s hug, to hold her hand, one more time.

From “The Wings That Fly Us Home” by Joe Henry and John Denver:

The vision of your goodness will sustain me through the cold.
Take my hand now to remember when you find yourself alone: you are never alone.

 

Amen.

Decking the Halls

About a week ago I was visiting at Mess Cat’s house, admiring her tree, when an ornament caught my eye.  I was transported back in time faster than Marty McFly could start the DeLorean–back to the living room at Blackberry Flats.  I remember the way the angel fairy’s snowflake reflected the different colors.  I loved to sit in “my” chair snuggled up in a blanket, mesmerized by the colorful shadows on the wall, as I crocheted one handmade gift or another for a family member.  (God bless ’em for putting up with me during that phase.)

Mess Cat's angel she got years ago from our Aunt.  I have been looking on eBay to find one just like her.  She brings back wonderful memories of Christmases past.

Mess Cat’s angel she got years ago from our Aunt. I have been looking on eBay to find one just like her. She brings back wonderful memories of Christmases past.

It was about the same time as my visit with her that we decorated our tree.  I found one of my ornaments from childhood.  He is one of my all-time favorites.  Our spirited Aunt, Daddy’s brother’s wife, used to give us all Hallmark ornaments at Christmas.  Confession time–I don’t remember being exceptionally excited about the gift.  Don’t get me wrong, I was thankful and I did think them beautiful and cute and fun to see, but I’m afraid the stuffed animal or tape recorder (oh what a Christmas that was!) garnered more attention from me.

One of my all time favorites.  He spins around inside of the snowflake.  Just awesome.

One of my all time favorites. He spins around inside of the snowflake. Just awesome.

Howsomever…..

the ornaments I still have.   (And okay, a few of the stuffed animals too.)  But that’s it.  As I grew older, I appreciated the gift of the ornaments more and more.  What a treasure!  To look back and remember putting the same ornament on the tree year after year.  Now that’s a grand tradition.

From Aub's Christmas Number 5.  Thankful to my friend who started us collecting ornaments for Aub.

From Aub’s Christmas Number 5. Thankful to my friend who started us collecting ornaments for Aub.

When Aub was a baby, my friend, who had a little guy only six weeks older, started the Baby’s First Five Christmases ornament collection for her.  And another tradition was begun.  Each year, even when we were on our own, I picked out an ornament that held significance for that year.  A few years in there my Great Aunt gave her one as well.  As we pulled the ornaments out to put on the tree this year, I found myself waxing nostalgic.  In just a few years most likely these sweet and funny ornaments–the old fashioned dress shoes that open, the little dolls, the fairy collection, Barbie and her sister sledding, the Christmas mice, the five little bears all numbered as they grew–they won’t be on my tree anymore.

And I’m okay with that.  It’s the reason I started the collection.  So she’ll have ornaments to look back and remember with one day.   But still…..I will miss them.

Our tree is a mashup of personalities as there are ornaments that represent each one of us and our quirks and meaningful moments. From the Fella’s “Christmas Vacation” collection to a Manning boy football player for me (does it really matter which one?) to Princess’ ballerinas to Cooter’s newly begun collection of Star Wars ornaments, and of course, the ones Aub has gotten over the years–guitar, Hoops and Yoyo, the mouse in the silver cup.  It is fun to reminisce each year.  Especially the homemade ornaments.  Mess Cat even has one that Aub made when she was quite small on her tree.

Aub, when she was quite small.

Aub, when she was quite small.

And then there’s the whimsical, like the fishing bobber we got from Go Fish, fishing with Santa last Sunday.

Love it!  The ultimate fishing ornament--can be used year round.

Love it! The ultimate fishing ornament–can be used year round.

Some of my favorites though are 46 years old to be exact.  Mama and Daddy married on December 17.  They didn’t have a whole lot of anything.  I think they were renting a little place in Valdosta where they were both in school at the time.  Newly married, not much to their names.  Definitely no Christmas ornaments.  So they made them.

My most favorite ornaments of all--the ones Mama and Daddy made when their first Christmas together.

My most favorite ornaments of all–the ones Mama and Daddy made their first Christmas together.

These precious little yarn people have graced our trees at Blackberry Flats for a long, long time.  I like to think about Mama and Daddy working together to make these sweet Christmas people.  I wonder which creative genius came up with the idea?  After all, this was back in the days before Pinterest.  Practically the dinosaur age, right?  Once Mama stopped putting up a full size tree, she passed them along to me.  I adore them and cannot figure out how they have held up so well all these years. I loved finding each couple hanging separately on the tree.  The fabric ones Mama made with fabric left over from making me clothes. I had a skirt made from this  fabric–Aub also wore it when she was two.  I think our rocker cushion might have been made from it as well.  I love the embroidery on the stocking.  (Obviously these were made a couple of years later.)  Such a wonderful story and example of the beauty of Christmas being found in the simple things.

I am thankful that my siblings let me have Mama’s Christmas decorations.  She has shared many of them with us over the years, but what is left they have given me.  And I am thankful.  As I pulled them down from their storage spot at the top of my old closet, I felt the ending of an era. Santa now sits on my mantle (he was moved from under the tree for his own protection–he is likely close to sixty years old now, you know).   Mama’s latchhook Santa made by her sister-in-law that I can’t ever remember not hanging in the kitchen/dining area at Christmas now hangs in our dining nook.  And finally, the piece de resistance–

the mistletoe.

Oh ho, the mistletoe, hung where you can see.....

Oh ho, the mistletoe, hung where you can see…..

It hung year after year after year above the door to the laundry room which led to outside.  No one came in that house that didn’t pass under that mistletoe (some of the newer additions to the family had to duck under it), and Mama/Maemae would be standing there with her arms out, ready to give whoever it was a great big hug.  Oh that mistletoe.  It almost feels sacrilegious for it to hang in my house.  And yet it must.  It’s not Christmas without it. And the best Mistletoe. Story. There. Ever. Was.

Years. Ago.  Before the Giant started fighting with Daddy.  Before so much that has happened ever did.  It was a joyful time, and my cousin B had come over.  I think it was when he was leaving he found himself standing under the mistletoe.  He’s always had a great sense of humor.  He looked at Daddy standing in the kitchen, spread his arms wide, looked up  at the mistletoe, then back at Daddy, and said, “Uncle Bill!!!!!”  Daddy did not miss a beat.  He called my cousin’s name, strode straight over to him, gave him a great big hug and a big ol sloppy kiss.  And the rest is history.  We laughed and laughed.  Actually, I’m still laughing over that one.

Tonight I am thankful for industrious, creative, and generous parents who made beautiful, long-lasting Christmas decorations with love and patience, and who shared them and their stories with me.  I give thanks for my siblings who let me have the rest of Mama’s Christmas things–all the things she and the children would put out together each year around the first of December.  And I give thanks for my spirited aunt and my friend who, years ago, knew something that it would take me years to learn and appreciate–the gift of an ornament is more than merely a decoration, it’s the gift of memories collected year after year after year.

And that is where the real treasure in them lies.  Oh Christmas tree, you are full of the stories, aren’t you?

 

(Special thanks to Mess Cat for the pictures of her ornaments–I found a surprise for you girl!  Can’t wait to share it with you.  hint–it’s just like one in one of the pictures.  Love to all.)

A Christmas Story I’d Like to Read

The book of Luke in the Good Book starts with first one pretty miraculous story and then another.

Elizabeth and Zachariah are pretty old, and one day the angel Gabriel comes to Zachariah, a priest, in the temple and tells him that Elizabeth is going to have a baby boy.  Zachariah thinks about this, his age and everything, and pretty much says, “You’ve got to be kidding me.  Do you know how old we are?”  Gabriel isn’t playing around, and he tells Zachariah that yes, it’s true, and just for not believing him, Zachariah will not be able to speak until after the baby’s birth.

Well then.

Meanwhile, Zachariah finishes his assignment, goes home, Elizabeth becomes pregnant, and Zachariah can’t speak.  In another town, Elizabeth’s cousin Mary is also visited by Gabriel.  Apparently he’s a pretty intimidating angel, as he tells Mary not to be afraid just as he did Zachariah.  He tells her about her pregnancy, how she’s been chosen by God to give birth to the Son of God.  She is also struck by disbelief, but I guess Gabriel’s getting used to it, because he kindly answers her questions and then tells her that Elizabeth is six months pregnant. “Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.”  (Luke 1:38)

Mary doesn’t let grass grow under her feet.  She takes off and heads straight to Zachariah’s house.  When she arrives she is greeted by Elizabeth, whose baby in her womb leaps at the presence of Mary and her unborn child.  Elizabeth somehow knows that Mary is the mother of her Lord and expresses her joy over Mary’s presence.  Mary responds from her heart filled with joy and gratitude over being chosen by God.  And then…..

20131219-220042.jpg

What?  I’m sorry.  I’m flipping through the Good Book, thinking to myself, “Somebody has taken a page of ten from this book.  What happened?  Three months?  Are you serious?  Nothing?”

Nope, nothing.  Not a word.

Now this.  This is the story I want to read.  Really, really.  Two women, each expecting her own miracle, hanging out together in a home where the man of the house cannot speak. (No offense meant, guys.)  Can’t you see them? They are the original awesome cousins and sister friends.  Giddy with laughter while kneading bread on the smooth wooden surface.  Quiet moments lost in their own thoughts as they sit in companionable silence while knitting or sewing or shelling peas.  Cleaning the house together–“many hands make for light work.”  Comparing pregnancy notes.  Sympathizing over the aches and pains.  Celebrating the little flutters and kicks.  Whispering in hushed yet excited tones over how the world is about to change.  Over the news that they know.  And what they imagine it will be like. Patting Zachariah on the shoulder good-naturedly as he sighs and tries to enter the conversation with his hands, trying to get his thoughts across.  Sitting together at the table sipping the soup and savoring the moments that would pass all too soon.

Three months.  Two women. Each sharing her own form of the miracle of new life.

This.  This is the Christmas story I want someone to write.  Yes, I’m okay with a fictionalized version.  I just know it would make for a great book–one that would cover all the gamut of emotions–joy, laughter, fear, worry, happiness, exhaustion, peacefulness, exhilaration, and anticipation.  The strength of women, cousins, sisters, sharing a journey–one that would take the world and all of us to places we’ve never been. These two women who shared three months’ time together, intimately and comfortably, are about to give birth to boys who are going to change the lives of everyone forever.

That’s a tale of epic proportions, and yet, it is beautiful in its simplicity.  The sharing of tasks, thoughts, time, and prayers.  And affection.  Love for one another, love for their unborn sons, and love for the God they seek to serve.

Yeah, that book would be placed at the top of my “to be read” stack.  And I don’t think Mt. Washmore on my couch, waiting to be folded, or hungry mouths or lessons needing to be done could distract me from it.  That’s a true story for the season.

(Anybody get wind of a version that I wasn’t aware of, please send me a link.  You will make my day.  🙂  )

 

 

(Update on my daughter’s friend, Miss K, who is in critical condition in the hospital.  She is still on the ventilator but it’s not set as high I believe, which is good.  They think she has improved enough to take her off the full-time dialysis machine to the 4-hour one.  She responded to her mother asking her if she was hot or if she wanted the air on.  And she shook her head yes, that she was ready to get out of the bed.  The doctors want to continue to keep her heavily sedated so her body won’t stress over anything.  They want her body to focus on healing from the sepsis and the pneumonia.  Her mother wrote: “For her Wesleyan sisters, have fun with your families and enjoy your holidays, she should be better and ready for you guys when you return…..that’s my own little prayer…”   As it is ours, sweet Mama.  Thank you all for your continued thoughts and prayers for Miss K and her family.   Their Christmas will be very different this year, and it makes me cry that she thought of her daughter’s friends and wished them well.  Life is so precious and fragile, isn’t it?  Love to all.)

Krystal’s–Just Icing on the Cake

English: One of Krystal restaurants (in Calhou...

English: One of Krystal restaurants (in Calhoun) by Cculber007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Growing up we had many adventures.  Especially during the summer.  My favorite memories of those times are loading up in either our Chevy II or my Aunt’s, and off we would go.  We loved going to the weekly movies at the Planetarium.  They would project old Disney movies like “Cannonball Express” or “Candleshoe” or “Apple Dumpling Gang” up on the horizon part of the dome above us.  The cool darkness was a welcome contrast to the blazing bright heat outside.  As we exited through the side door, talking about our favorite parts of the movie, we would blink against the sun shining down on us.

As the movies were shown mid-morning, by the time the movie was over, we were all hungry.  It was lunchtime.  I remember on several occasions either Mama or my Aunt driving across town to the Krystal over near the Mall.  One of them, maybe both, would have clipped  a coupon out.  Krystal burgers 25 cents each.  Later the special was 35 cents each. As we’d pull into the drive thru lane, they would do a headcount and figure out how many each of us could eat.  With at least seven children (and eight later on) eating between the two families and two adults, the order could get quite sizable.  Seems like I can remember us ordering well over thirty.

But we’re talking Krystal burgers, so yeah, they all got eaten.  And appreciated.  If you’ve never had one, you don’t know what you are missing.

Good food.  But really, really good times.

Today I had the rare treat of spending time just me and my little guy Cooter.  We spent a little while at a Christmas Market where he assured me he would absolutely take care of the wooden fire engine or tow truck, and that he really is old enough for a cap pistol. Ahem.  Christmas is coming soon, buddy.  In the end, he was happy with the simple lariat he found, convinced he is the next Indiana Jones.

As we were leaving, he mentioned being hungry.  Today was one of those strange days that clocks didn’t matter.  We hadn’t eaten lunch at the traditional hour, so I told him we’d run through and pick something up.  He was in good spirits, that cutie pie in the booster seat behind me.  His joy came through in his attitude as he played with his rope.

“Mama, we can eat from anywhere you choose.  Just anywhere you choose is just fine with me. Anywhere at all.”

Well.  That was strange.  Cooter is a fan of the beige food groups–pizza, chicken, cheese quesadillas, etc.  When I encourage him to eat his vegetables, he reminds me, “But Mama, I’m a fruitatarian.”  Oh my.

I am my Daddy’s daughter, so I couldn’t resist teasing him.  “Sure thing.  I was thinking of going to the Vegetable Place.”

A glance in the rearview mirror showed his face had fallen.  Bless him.  I felt bad.

“Mama,” he said in a small voice.  “I don’t like vegetables.”

I assured him I was just kidding.  Then he perked back up.  And asked for Zaxby’s.  Ugh.  I do love Zaxby’s at times, but we can have it anytime, as it is safe for my food allergy child.  While I wasn’t looking to have a nut sandwich for lunch, I was hoping for something that wasn’t from one of the few places we are able to go safely.  As I turned into Zaxby’s I saw it.  The red circle.  The K.  Krystal.  My heart, my stomach, my mind–whatever–hollered YES.  I was going to have to make another drive around to get in the drive-thru at Zaxby’s, so I told Cooter that I had a treat for him.  As I pulled back out on the road and went two drives down to Krystal, he began to cry.

“No Mama no.  I want Zaxby’s.”

“Trust me buddy, this is going to be really good.”

We don’t eat much red meat in our house anymore, so I didn’t want to chance the burger.  I ordered him a Krystal Chik, their mini chicken sandwich, and a Krystal pup.

He sat quietly in the backseat.  When the food was ready I passed it back to him.  And then…..

“Oh Mama! This is really, really good. How long have they been around?  When did you have your first one? I can’t believe this is so good.”  He went on and on between bites.  “It’s even better than Chick-Fil-A.”  What?!  Are you kidding me?

Oh y’all.  He carried on  like that for the rest of his meal.

“Mama, those tears from before were untrusting tears.  But I trust you now.”

Well all righty then.

I told him the story of sneaking a Krystal Chik into Mama at the hospital.  He laughed at that, and then we had a long talk about hospital food and what it’s like.  As his hunger subsided and he was all but glowing from this meal he loved so much, he started chanting.

“Krystal’s is great, Krystal’s is good, Let us thank Him for our Krystals…..” When I recognized the cadence as an altered version of our blessing, I stopped him.

“Whoa buddy, let’s don’t do that.”  I wasn’t sure, but it felt like it might border on sacrilege.

“But Mama,” he said, insistently, “we HAVE to pray for them; we want them to stay open.”

I smiled.  I am glad he enjoyed his day and our time together.  I know the meal he had today wasn’t the best for him.  So I will pump him full of fruits and much better things tomorrow.  The thing is, I hope one day he will look back on today and remember the Krystals and everything and be filled with the warmth that only a good memory can bring.  And one day he will realize, as I have come to, that while the Krystal burgers, chiks, pups, whatever are delicious and worth remembering, it’s who we were with and how they made us feel that were really at the root of the joy of the day.

And when you throw in Krystals with good times and the folks you love, well, that’s just icing on an already better than anything in the world cake.

Hootenannies, Turkey Eggs, and Treasures from the Past

Today was our Annual Fall Family Hootenanny.  My Daddy’s side of the family has been doing this for many years.  In the spring we have an Easter Egg Hunt and Wiener Roast.  In the fall it’s soup and Brunswick stew and barbecue.  And desserts at both.  Lots of desserts.  Our people can straight cook, y’all.

I don’t remember how many years ago it was, but my Aunt Bea–my Aunt’s older sister–who hosts the fall gathering decided to add an egg hunt.  A turkey egg hunt.  Yes, it’s a real thing, people.  The eggs are bigger, and there are not as many, but turkeys lay eggs.  And we hide them.

It was a delicious day.  The weather was fall perfect.  In Georgia that means highs in the low 70’s–we started off in jackets and eventually shed ourselves of them.  There were all kinds of foods–the Brunswick stew and the soup were two of my favorites.  The broccoli salad was also delicious, and I think it was new this year.  (Never did find out who made it, but if you’re reading this and you did, can you please send me the recipe?)

The dessert table overflowed.  So many good things, that Cooter said never mind about the stuff in the kitchen, he’d just start with the dessert.  I know what he meant. There was a genuine fear of getting too full to be able to sample all the goodies.  What I love so much are the things that show up at every gathering.  Traditions.  Like the mint chocolate chip cookies, the muffins, the lemon lavender cookies, the rice krispie treats, and the beet chocolate cake.  Y’all have no idea.  When I found out my Baking Cousin was bringing the beet cake, I immediately started craving it.  And that slice I had today was very good.  So good that I’m going to have to pull out that recipe this week and a can of beets (sorry girl) and try my hand at it again.  That sweet girl also offered to make the rice krispie treats–those were Mama’s things and bless my Cousin’s heart.  She also made the lemon lavender cookies just because my Aub shared on her blog how much she loved them.  That’s love right there, y’all, and we have it full to bustin’.  And if you could have seen the youngest great-grand of my Granny’s running around with a mint chocolate chip cookie his Mama made, he was just too cute.  That chocolate around his mouth let you know how good it was.

The "Katie cabinet" from my Granny's--oh the memories of reaching in there and getting out the Honeycomb cereal!

The “Katie cabinet” from my Granny’s–oh the memories of reaching in there and getting out the Honeycomb cereal!

When I first went up to the house and walked in the kitchen, this surprised me.  Granted it’s been a while since I was at my Aunt Bea’s house, but it wasn’t there the last time I was.  I asked about it, and as she began to tell me about what she’d done, the color went from black to yellow in my mind and I was back in my Granny’s kitchen.  This was the cabinet that Granny kept the cereal in, inside of those big plastic cereal containers that you could pour from.  I seem to remember Honeycombs a lot, but maybe there were other ones too.  I loved the Honeycomb cereal at Granny’s.  Eating it from the glass bowls with the daisies around the border.  That was happiness in a nutshell back then my friends.  As she told me about painting it, my aunt mentioned that it had always been called the Katie cabinet because it had come from my Great Aunt Katie’s.  She’s the one who cut our hair when we were little.  How one piece of furniture can trigger so many memories and so much history, I don’t know, but it did.

After the meal had wrapped up and we were outside visiting and watching the young’uns run around and play, my Aunt Bea called me inside.  She stood close beside me in the kitchen and showed me a true treasure.

My Granny's recipes for Brunswick stew--the real one AND the fake one.....but both are real good!

My Granny’s recipes for Brunswick stew–the real one AND the fake one…..but both are real good!

The recipe for Brunswick Stew.  Handwritten by my Granny.  At the top was the original recipe.  It began with “1 hog head (clean)” and “4 feet (clean).”  I think I remember this being cooked way back when I was little, and that is why I wouldn’t eat Brunswick stew for many, many years.  But my Aunt Bea’s Brunswick stew recipe came from the one written below, also in Granny’s handwriting.  It’s labeled “good” but also “fake.”  That made me laugh.  Granny knew what was real and what wasn’t.  But she’s right about another thing–it is GOOD.  I wanted to eat some of my Aunt’s soup, which was really good, but I also wanted to have seconds of the Brunswick stew.  Decisions, decisions.  These recipes were hand-written in a cookbook that had been Granny’s.  That is a real treasure to see.  I am so thankful that my Aunt Bea shared that with me today.  I look forward to wandering through the cookbook again.

Yesterday was All Saint’s Day.  Last night at our supper table, we lit a candle to remember Mama and Daddy and so many more who aren’t with us physically anymore.  Today was about remembering in a different way.  It is a celebration of my Granny and all of our people who have passed every time we get together.  I love it because we laugh and share stories and spend time just listening and being together.  It makes me sad because of the ones who are no longer with us–Mama and Daddy among many others.  Too many others. I found myself standing back and just watching and listening and soaking it all in.  It’s all just to precious and dear.

On the ride home I figured out why I write.  Finally, right?  These are the stories I would share with Mama during our phone calls.  Or with Daddy as I sat with him in the living room, as he told me the goings on of folks as they drove past his window.  I miss sharing my stories with them.  Daddy loved hearing about the great grands’ antics and Mama loved getting hugs more than anything in this world.  They would have loved being there today.  My guess is they probably did.

When I tried the broccoli salad today, I could hear Mama asking me as she would, “Did you try this?  Isn’t it wondah-ful?”  And when my Uncle, Daddy’s older brother, spoke, his voice had the same intonations as my Daddy’s, and it broke my heart.  In a good way.  Sometimes our hearts need a crack or two so the light can get in there.  And mine has been in darkness for a long, long time.

These family friends I was with today have surrounded me in love for my whole life.  They are the ones who say my name better than anyone else in the world.  There’s no explaining how to pronounce it to them, nor is there any apologizing for why I am the way I am.  They just know.  And love.  Oh, how they love.

What a surprise it was to see the Katie cabinet and Granny’s recipe and remember the dear person who raised my Daddy and let me sit and talk with her for hours, the one who would ask me before I left her house, “Do you want a pie?” or “How ’bout a jar of pickled peaches?”  Then she’d go on the back porch and pull a sweet potato pie out of the freezer or a jar of pickled peaches off the shelf.  It was a joy to remember her today.

Tomorrow I will gather with another group of people who loved my Mama, as we light a candle and remember her.  It will be an honor to remember the dear, sweet woman who gave me life this very weekend all those many years ago (yes, she was already in labor on November 1–she let me know that OFTEN).  And isn’t it funny that it falls on the same day this year?  I can’t think of a better thing to do in celebration of all she and Daddy went through to get me here.  Take time to remember and maybe this time, I’ll say “thank you.”  Because I’m pretty sure that I didn’t tell her that. Ever.  When she’d tease me about a weekend of labor, I’d always say, “And wasn’t I worth every bit of it?”  And my Mama, being my dear sweet and sassy Mama, would say, “Well I reckon so.”  Then she’d peer over her glasses at me.  “Most days.”

There have been years I was all about the celebrating, but this year I think remembering will suit me just fine.  And the candles that are lit will linger a little longer before they are blown out. They will be for remembering this year.  Remembering all the lights in my life that were blown out way too soon.  I miss them all so much.

Love to all.

My Cocoa Apple Cake this year.....recipe from my Baking Cousin's Best Cookbook Ever.  Just out of the oven.

My Cocoa Apple Cake this year…..recipe from my Baking Cousin’s Best Cookbook Ever. Just out of the oven.

Stitching Good Things Into Our Life Stories

Today we headed back down to the Fair.  You know, my very favorite time of the year.  Since today was the final day of the Fair, we loaded up the crew plus our angel and set out for fun and adventures.

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Despite the midway being my least favorite place, we spent time over there, and the littles loved their first time over there riding the rides.  The Fella had his fill after the Flying Kite ride where you lay down on your stomach and fly around and around in circles.  Mess Cat rode with our Princess, and the Fella rode with Cooter.  Yeah, I was the official photographer.  No rides for me.

Then it was time for my favorite place at the whole fair, the Crafts building.

20131013-212710.jpgThe quilts, the crocheted and knitted dolls, blankets, and other projects.  Canned goods and baked treats, camellias, paintings, photography, art by folks of all ages.  I love it.

Aub ran into an old friend while we were there, Uncle Si from Duck Dynasty.  She shared her sweet tea with him, which made him happy happy happy.

Aub and Uncle Si.  He was a part of the 4-H scarecrow competition.  I love seeing all the creativity the young people have in creating their scarecrows.

Aub and Uncle Si. He was a part of the 4-H scarecrow competition. I love seeing all the creativity the young people have in creating their scarecrows.

While we were there, the littles carried on the tradition of painting a wooden figure/ornament.

Each year they paint something to bring home.  I love traditions.

Each year they paint something to bring home. I love traditions.

They also started a new tradition.  The leatherwork folks were there, and you could make a leather bracelet or bookmark.  They both enjoyed this. It made me smile because when I was in elementary school the leather bracelet with your name on it was THE thing.  I almost made myself one today, but held back–all for the children’s sake, you know.  But oh, the memories.

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What was most special in the building were the memories.  I saw the camellias on display.  In my previous life, I did love camellias.  While walking through, I came across someone I worked with twenty-five years ago.  Mr. T, such a kind soul, sold the number two peaches when I was working my way through college at Sunburst Fruit Packers in the summers.  It was a sweet visit to the past.

Then there was this.

20131013-212643.jpgThe art of needlework on display.

This is the first year that I didn’t spend time going through all the creative displays (isn’t this one lovely?), looking for our cousin’s handiwork, checking to see if she won a ribbon, and taking a picture of it.  Miss B was Mama’s first cousin once removed, as her grandmother and Miss B’s mother were sisters.  Mama was Miss B’s guardian, as she was mildly mentally delayed.  The true story as to whether she was born with the delay or something happened is lost somewhere in the family lore.  The important thing is she was cared for by people who loved her–first her Mama, then her Aunt, whom she adored, then a cousin, and then my Mama.  Each year Mama encouraged Miss B in her needlework, and when it was done, Mama took it to be matted and framed, except for the year she embroidered the state birds quilt, the year she made a butterfly quilt, and the year she embroidered a shower curtain.  Yes, she was just that good.  Here, you can see for yourself.

All those intricate stitches.  There's no telling how long this took her, sitting in her red chair, working away diligently.  She truly had a gift--of patience and with the needle.

All those intricate stitches. There’s no telling how long this took her, sitting in her red chair, working away diligently. She truly had a gift–of patience and with the needle.

She knew I loved sunflowers.  The one below hung in her room.  Each time I visited her she told me she wanted me to have it one day.  “I know how you love your sunflowers.”

I dearly love this gift from Miss B.  She stitched with love and skill.

I dearly love this gift from Miss B. She stitched with love and skill.

While Mama was at her HospitalStay in February, Miss B was taken to the ER and later admitted to the hospital in another town.  It was her lung problems.  While there she fell and broke her hip.  In the end, I guess she never really recovered from the surgery for that.  Her lungs just weren’t strong enough.  So exactly one week after Mama left us for a better place, Miss B followed her on the journey.  It was appropriate, I think, that Mama, who had taken such good care of Miss B in life, went ahead to pave the way for her journey there.

This is the first Fair that I haven’t had the adventure of looking for her work.  While she was in the hospital, some of her kind ladies came to see her and talked to her about how she had to get back home so she could work on her Fair entry. Weeks later, when I was getting her room cleaned out, a dear friend of hers and Mama’s came to help me.  She pointed to the sunflowers, “You know those are yours.  She wanted you to have them, said you loved your sunflowers.”

Tears.  Of sadness.  Of joy.  Of gratitude and admiration.

By all reports, most likely she should not have been able to create the beautiful pieces she did.  She was so patient and intent on completing each project.  When I was going through her things, I found this blanket.

Each stitch of this twin sized blanket is single crocheted.  Single.  Crocheted.  For real.  The time she put in this.....unbelievable.

Each stitch of this twin sized blanket is single crocheted. Single. Crocheted. For real. The time she put in this…..unbelievable.

Single crocheted.  Each and every stitch.  Pretty sure each color represents one skein of yarn.  The fact that it is single crocheted means it took a lot of time–no easy way out when you are making those tiny stitches.

She did what some might have deemed impossible.  Because she tried.  Because she focused, had a goal, and worked diligently towards it.  She also was very sweet and loved my family.  Our Princess was born on her birthday.  She was convinced it was because she had asked me to have her on that day.  From that moment on, our Princess was hers.  Pictures on her little mini-fridge in her room, and she cross-stitched ballet slippers for our Princess to hang on her wall.

Somehow I think she would have been proud of her Princess and Cooter today.  They set out with a goal and went after something that some would have deemed impossible.  Much like she did.  They set out to climb their own mountaintops…..just like her.

Cooter was right behind his sister not to be outdone.  He kept on trying.  Way to go, bud!

Cooter was right behind his sister not to be outdone. He kept on trying. Way to go, bud!

Princess made it almost to the top.  So proud of her.  The whole thing was her idea.  She set her sights and went after it.  Keep that up baby and you'll go far!

Princess made it almost to the top. So proud of her. The whole thing was her idea. She set her sights and went after it. Keep that up baby and you’ll go far!

Tonight after an exhausting day of many steps down memory lane, I will lay my head down on my pillow with a full heart and a thankful one.  Miss B was a beautiful soul with a simple, beautiful heart.  She found joy in pretty things and she shared beauty with those she loved.  Her handiwork is the stuff of family heirlooms, and that is how we treat it.  Most of all the lesson of her patience and determination and dedication will last for generations to come.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.  Go after what you want but be willing to work and work hard to make it happen.  Those are the great things to stitch into our stories. The needlework of our lives comes together one stitch at a time to form the big, beautiful picture we call this life.

A bit sappy and sentimental tonight perhaps, but how could I not be?  Trips down memory lane can do that to a person.  Wishing you all happy trails on your own memory lanes…..love to all.

Don’t Leave Anyone Out

These last few days of summer have been filled with some of the best things in life, but some of the best fun has been playing and having adventures with cousins.  As can happen when you mix children from a few families, you often have to remind the group, as Mama always told us when we were going to see our cousins at Granny’s house, “Don’t leave anyone out.”

This afternoon the crew were all over at Blackberry Flats.  I had gone out to give another round of “encouragement” to all the young’uns about playing together well and fairly.  And yeah, “Don’t leave anyone out.”  Our Princess, the oldest in the crew, stood on Mama’s front porch and pitched in her two cents, “Yeah, we can’t do that.  Because if Maemae were here she’d say, ‘Y’all don’t leave anybody out.  I don’t lak (like) that.'” (Sometimes her accent is thicker than others.) She continued, “It’s like when you are having a party and a poor child comes to your door and you invite them in and have them sit by the fire and give them food and turn it into their party.  That’s how we should do.”

Not that we’ve ever had that happen, but yeah, just like that.  I stood amazed and somewhat slack-jawed.

Matthew 25:35, Princess version.  Invite a stranger in and make the party all about them. I like it.

**Today’s Thirty Second Tuesday is brought to you by a challenge from my baby brother Bubba.  He’s been in town, and we were talking this evening about writing.  He teased me about what I write, saying, “I don’t know. After thirty seconds I’m just skimming.  Thirty seconds is all I can give you.”  Which was followed by a suggestion that maybe I could try to write something that could be read in 30 seconds or less.  I don’t know about that, but Bubba, here’s my best shot.  Hope it met the challenge.  Love you bro.

 

A Throw Your Clothes Up in the Air Kind of Joy

Our Princess has had about as much fun as an eight year old can have and it still be legal.  She has loved having her cousins from out-of-state staying with us, as there’s all kinds of adventures and things to play from getting up to laying down.

Today alone she’s played Star Wars versus Lalaloopsy’s and built with Legos.  She had “the best lunch ever.”  (She’s sweet like that.  If there’s anything at all that she likes, she praises it as the best ever. Today it was because of my potato salad.) Princess rode her bike up and down the sidewalk and felt the wind cut through the sweltering heat that has finally arrived here in Georgia.  She got to peruse the shelves and shelves of books at her favorite bookstore and found a book by her favorite author that she didn’t already have.  Along with her brother and cousins they “rescued” itty bitty frogs and a skink and cared for them in a bug box she got for 77 cents at the GW Boutique.  We got our money’s worth from it today. Right up until dark when I went to let out all those little critters.  (They were concerned about the skink and wanted us to take him to the vet.  To which my sister-in-law told them they’d better have a bake sale because we weren’t paying for a skink’s vet visit. Right on.)

The evening ended with them all running through the sprinklers and sliding down the slide in their wet clothes, which made it even more fun.  They’d yell, “Water slide!” and off they’d go.  It was a busy and fun day.  And to top it all off our Princess didn’t even mess up her nails that she had done with her aunt yesterday.

Still pretty as a picture, even after chasing frogs and skinks and riding her bike.

Still pretty as a picture, even after chasing frogs and skinks and riding her bike.

After all that water fun they came inside in their wet things and headed to their respective baths/showers.  And this is what I saw when I went to check on the Princess.

The shirt our Princess wore today--just hanging out to dry.

The shirt our Princess wore today–just hanging out to dry.

She was quite apologetic as she hollered from the shower.  “Mama, I’m sorry.  I tried to get it down myself.” (as evidenced by the little stepstool underneath)  “I was so happy when I came in that I wanted to toss my shirt up a little bit.  I guess I just threw it too high.”

Y’all.  For the love.

Bless her, she thought I was upset, but it was all I could do to keep from laughing.  Imagine being so joyful that you threw your clothes up in the air so high they landed amongst the light.

The family saying about our Princess is that she is our sunshine, but sometimes we have to wear shades.  I love this side of her.  The one that gets so “I just about can’t bear it” excited.  Life should be that way for all of us at least once, shouldn’t it?

Tonight I’m thankful for her exuberance and joy.  And for a real stool that I can use to get that shirt down.  And yes, I’m going to get it down.  Maybe tomorrow.  For tonight it inspires me.

May you all have a “throw your clothes in the air” joyful kind of day!

The Three Gifts

Twenty-four hours into the HospitalStay with Mama, she and I rode in an ambulance from Warner Robins to Macon, a very painful ride for Mama, only made more so by the driver blasting Q106–Classic Rock.  Yeah, there’s another letter to write.  I’ll add it to my to-do list.

Forty-eight hours in, I had spent a night in the CVICU waiting room, been home the next morning for a few hours, and then returned mid-afternoon to hang out with Mama again.  The game plan was for me to stay until visiting hours were over for the night at 9 p.m.  Mama and I talked some, she dozed some, and we sat in companionable silence too.  One of the care techs came in and shared her story with Mama, while holding her hand and trying to take her mind off the pain.  Mama was like that–folks were always sharing their stories with her.  She was a great listener.

As the evening wore on, Mama was getting tired, but the pain kept her from getting good rest.  It was about 8:15 when she said, “Why don’t you head on home? It’s almost time, and I’ll be fine.”  I told her no.  I just didn’t feel like I could leave yet.  I am thankful for that still, small voice that told me to stay.  It was only a few minutes later when I noticed a flurry of activity at the nurses’ station.  Doctors and other staff were gathered and looking towards our room and then moving with purpose towards us.  I knew something big was about to happen.

There was a very kind doctor who had a great smile–remember Enos from Dukes of Hazzard?  Yeah, that kind of smile.  He came in and explained that the latest MRI confirmed what they had suspected, and that Mama would need emergency surgery within the hour.  We were both in shock.  Mama did not want to have surgery.  When my brain started functioning again, I thought about Sandy, my sister who had been there earlier that day for several hours.  She had probably only been home for a couple of hours actually.  I called her and put her on speaker phone.  She talked to Mama about the surgery and listened to what the doctor had to say.  She told Mama, “I don’t think we have a choice.  I’m coming Mama.  I’m leaving now.”

I looked at Mama and she looked at me.  I knew her fears on this, but we really had no choice.  She finally nodded and said, “Go ahead.  Sign it.”  She was in so much pain she hadn’t been able to sign anything for herself since being admitted.  “If it will make this pain go away…..I’ll do anything.”

There was a rush of getting things together and then wheeling Mama down.  One of the last things she told me was, “Don’t let Sandy do anything foolish.”  Meaning what, Mama?  Mama was worried about her making the two hour drive late at night by herself and wasn’t sure Sandy should come.  I tried to reassure her, but I knew it was on her mind.

After meeting the surgeons and anesthesiologist, I was led out to a waiting area.  To sit by myself.  And wait.  I had called my other sister and my brother and let them know.  I talked to my aunt again.  While I was talking to her, she said to be sure to check my cell phone, that my cousin had texted me.  I told her I would, and we said goodbye.

And there was the first gift of the night.

The gift of presence

The gift of presence

My cousin and his wife had come down to stay with his folks for the weekend.  When they heard what was happening, they decided to come and sit with me.  When I read this I shed the first tears of the night.  That they would make their lives interruptible, travel a half hour up that late in the evening, that they didn’t want me to be alone–have I mentioned how incredible my people are?  And they brought me a bottle of water and homemade peach cobbler.  There is that too.

In the meantime I had texted my dear friend and minister, who also said she was coming.  Bless her heart, I was tucked away in a waiting area that no one knew about apparently, so she wound up wandering the hallways of this enormous hospital complex, until she was rescued by a kind soul who led her to where we were.  And then I got the second gift:

The gift of comfort

The gift of comfort

My sweet friend had heard all about my experience of spending the night in the waiting area the night before without the comfort of pillow and blanket.  On her way out her door, she grabbed these blankets and a pillow for me and my sister to have as we sat through the night in the surgery waiting area.  Bless her.  Yes, they were as cuddly as they look.

What a gift she is! Wouldn't you be happy to see that face too?  Here she is saying, "Are you serious?" when a dear friend offered to bring us the Best.  Coffee.  Ever.  (She was, thank goodness.)

What a gift she is! Wouldn’t you be happy to see that face too? Here she is saying, “Are you serious?” when a dear friend offered to bring us the Best. Coffee. Ever. (She was, thank goodness.)

My third gift arrived in a bit of comic relief.  My sister was trying to figure out how to get to the right parking deck.  We could SEE her from the windows in the waiting area.  It was pitch black out, but there she was, trying to get around one way and closed streets to where I was telling her to go.  Finally my sweet cousin pulled out her phone and used the GPS to lead Sandy in.  I was so relieved and thankful when she was finally sitting next to me.  And I looked around.  Sitting around us were people who loved us, who made time to be with us during a very dark and scary time.  And there were so many more who were holding us in their hearts who couldn’t be physically present.  So thankful for them all.

One of my heroes, Hugh Hollowell, who runs Love Wins Ministry in North Carolina tells the story of one of his friends in need asking him for help with her utilities.  She became quite upset when he told her he just didn’t have it.  “I thought you were my friend,” she said.  And Hugh told her he was.  And that though he couldn’t keep her lights from going off, he would come and sit with her in the dark…..because that’s what he thinks Jesus does.  Sits with us in the dark.*

Tonight I am thankful for family and friends who sit with us in the dark.  Who hold our hands and tell us it’s okay to be afraid, it’s okay not to want to do this again.  So soon.  And who bring us comfort in the form of warmth and a most delicious peach cobbler.  Most of all, I am thankful for folks who show up.  They may not be able to fix things–things may not even be fixable.  But in the midst of the darkness, they show up.  In whatever way they are able to–bringing meals, sending messages, making phone calls, dropping off goody bags, delivering cups of coffee, offering hugs in a hallway, listening,  sharing muffins on a Wednesday aftenoon, through all of this–sitting with us in the dark.  And that is one of the greatest things any of us can do for each other.

*This story can be read in the chapter “The Marine,” in Karen Spears Zacharias’ book “Will Jesus Buy Me a Doublewide?: ‘Cause I Need More Room for my Plasma TV“.  Or you can meet Hugh Hollowell here http://lovewins.info/ or here (yes, it’s 18 minutes long, but I’m pretty sure you will love him):

Beauty and Sorrow

Pieces of home

Pieces of home

Today was a beautiful spring day. The sun gave everything the glow of highly polished gold, reflecting the beautiful blue of the sky. The wind kept the sun’s rays from being too warm. The day started off just cool enough to make me appreciate the warmth from the rays this afternoon.

Lunch with my sister and her family, an impromptu and entertaining visit with my cousin over at Mama’s. The joy of being with family, folks who know what lies behind the smiles and laughters and make no demands that it be any different. Just comfortable. Understood.

And yet, in the midst of the good moments, I found myself laying on the floor in the middle of the hallway at Mama’s. I lay there and closed my eyes. I could hear the past, Mama calling us for supper, Daddy calling my name to come help with something, or his patience as he helped me prepare for the state spelling bees, our whispers and giggles after lights out, all four of us piling into one bed early on Christmas morning, waiting until we could wake Mama and Daddy up.  I could see the sun shining through the windows at my favorite time of day. 4:30 p.m. Usually I had homework done by then, Daddy was almost home, and it was too early to prepare the table for supper.  A peaceful and sometimes quiet time in our home.  I could smell the brownies or chewy bars or peanut butter bars Mama had made for our afternoon snacks, which would welcome us as we came in the back door home from school. I could feel the heat from the baseboard heaters against my back in the middle of a cold winter evening. I remembered the way the attic fan would draw the refreshing night air in through the open windows on hot summer nights, billowing curtains cheering the coolness on. I saw Daddy’s coats hanging on the wooden hooks in the hall. I opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling. And listened to the echoes of the past and then…..the quiet. How could it all be so close but I cannot reach out and grab it and keep it close to me? This. This is the thin place where I live.

I walked barefooted outside in the yard. I have a wise cousin who would say this helps ground me. It does. Being at the place that has been home for over 35 years also grounds me. It brings me joy and peace. And it also brings me tears and longing. For all the pieces to be back together. Today the ground was damp under my feet as I walked across the grass showing off with its new green sprigs popping up. Tonight my cheeks are as well. The longing for the people who made this home, for truly it is only the people who ever could, that longing–the reason for the unanticipated, uncontrollable sobbing when I found myself in that rare moment alone. The moment when it all hits me how suddenly and unexpectedly it was all taken away.  Broken.

There is beauty in this day and there is sorrow. And the two cannot be untangled, as it was the beauty that brought the memories that led to the surfacing of the sorrow. I do dearly despise platitudes as I told my cousin today. And he said, “Well pretty much all that can be said is, it will be different. Nothing will ever be the same again.” For those words, for the absence of the need to fix things with his words, I am thankful.

And I am thankful for the moments that are thin–when for a brief period of time, it is the same. For just a few minutes today, memory was real and all was whole again. There is beauty in that.