Leroy’s “New” Plant

Tuesdays often find me driving down the very first driveway I ever drove on.

The one at Blackberry Flats.

Home.

Once again life and laughter and love fills the house and the yard and the spot beneath the Scotch Pine–and all up its branches as the children climb and play, hardly able to be seen from our spot sitting on the porch–now Mess Cat’s and Leroy’s porch.

When I walked up towards the house yesterday, I saw a pot with a plant in it.  For a second I thought, Oh well, isn’t that nice?  Leroy got a new plant.

IMG_7437

He’s got all the landscaping skills.  I love seeing what he has added and enhanced.

But this, after a second of appreciation, this one confused me.  Because–well, there’s a story there.

My Daddy often gave gifts that were out of the ordinary.  On Easter he gave us children mechanical pencils.  At Christmas he picked out music he loved and wanted us to hear.  He’d often share a book he thought we needed to read.  One Valentine’s Day he gave us daughters pretty colored tights.  The purple was especially lovely–I can still see them in the clear plastic ball.  And for Mama, he got roses.  But not in a vase.  In a pot.  With soil.  And he planted it by the back steps.

Many years later, when age and genetics slowed them both down, Mama decided to add a back porch to the house, complete with a ramp to make it easier for Daddy to go places.  Daddy nodded, and it came to be.  But before the steps were moved and the porch was built, the rose simply had to be moved.  And so it was that Leroy came in and did just that.  He moved it down to the other end of what would be the porch.

But this rose, like their love, had very, very strong roots.  And one day, as Mama and I were sitting on the swing on the porch, I noticed little leaves coming up through the crack between the floorboards.

“Mama, what do you reckon that is?”

She looked closely.  And then we looked at each other, realizing what had once been there.  “The rose!”

Now how it continued to grow after Leroy dug it up and moved it was a mystery.

But a lovely one, to be sure.

Mama cut it back a little and tried to get cuttings from it, but she allowed it to adorn the porch.  And it continued to grow.  It intrigued me.

Recently Leroy went under the porch to see if he could figure out what to do about it since spring was here and it was popping its head up through the floorboards again, despite his cutting it back.

IMG_7438

And this was the solution he came up with.

He’s tried cutting it back, and he thought about digging it up again, but in the end, Leroy decided to go with “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

And I love it.

IMG_7439

I mean, I really, really love this.  You know he’s a good man when he will put a hole in his porch to accommodate a living thing like that.

And that rose?  What a beautiful reminder of the strength of the love of the two who started it all.  And the spirit of new life and hope rising up after all that time in the dark and brokenness.

May we all find the strength and persistent spirit to climb up out of our own darkness towards the light and shine with all our being.

Love to all.

 

A Grateful Heart

Whoo, y’all.

Today has been a busy one.

And I wish my poor Mama were here so very much right now.

Besides the obvious reasons, there’s this.

I’d set her down, bring her a glass of tea, whatever book she’s reading, and–

I’d rub her feet.

And back.

And shoulders.

All those years she put a veritable feast on the table, and all we could do is eat it.  In such a small fraction of the time it took for her to prepare it.

And then we children would work out the details about who was cleaning up what–I’m using “work out” as a euphemism here.

Bless her.

She could cook circles around me, as my children often lovingly *ahem* remind me.  Still, I know she was worn out from all the Thanksgiving dinner preparations.  Today I’ve only done about half of what she did, and I am one whooped puppy.

So tonight I’m calling it a night with a tired body reminding me how old I am and a mind already ticking off what needs to be done when I get up in the morning.

But first–

I am thankful.  For a body that can still do and a mind that can still plan.  I am thankful for the bounty of groceries that I have gone through today and yet, there’s still plenty more to cook from the next day and the next and the day after that.  I am grateful for the sanitation folks who picked up our trash this morning and will pick up from all this from my meal preparations next week.  I am thankful for the farmers and the growers and the folks who packaged and shipped and transported and shelved and sold me these groceries.  I appreciate the laughter of my children today while I was cooking and prepping and trying to figure out if I could find one more baking dish…..

Tomorrow we will celebrate and give thanks together once again at Blackberry Flats–our homeplace for right at 37 years now.  It’s been several years since we gathered together around Mama’s good cooking, and tomorrow, while she and Daddy and all those who have gone on up to the House will be missed–it will be a celebration of what is good and right to be back “home” eating Thanksgiving dinner.  The littles will climb trees and pet kittens and play good guys and bad guys or Star Wars or something like that, while all of us grownups will either watch football or try to figure out if anyone will notice if we close our eyes for just a minute…..or both.

Tonight I am thankful for so many things, and one big one is you.  Thank you for stopping in and reading my stories.  Whether this is the first time or the 622nd time, thank you.  When you read what flows from my heart and soul through my fingers to this keyboard and screen, you bring them to life.  And I thank you for that.  A story wants to be heard.  Thank you for listening.

Most of all, I am thankful that, as I picked up one of the potholders my Daddy made for my Mama years ago and I went over to the oven to peek in on my pies, I heard my Mama’s voice.

 

“And grant us, Lord, a grateful heart,

For these and all our many blessings.

Amen.”

Whether it’s original or not, I will always think of these as her words.  It was her prayer and how she lived her life.  No matter what happened, she always looked for something to be thankful for.

Is it any wonder that, despite all the cooking she did, this holiday was one of her favorite days all year?  She just wished we’d celebrate and give thanks year round.

Thankful to you and for you.
Love to all.

just need the zipcode for Heaven

Dear Mama,

Well, we are just about done.  The house at Blackberry Flats is almost all cleared out, Mama.  I know you’ve probably been shaking your head, wondering what was taking me so long to get it in gear.  I can’t say, really, except that it was just too much to think about.  To get myself together enough to do.  I know you sure must be proud of Mess Cat and Leroy.  They really made it happen, didn’t they?  And Sister, she helped too.  And the prayers and ideas and help from Bubba and Coey–thankful for those too.

I guess it was just me that was the bump in the road.

And I’m sorry, Mama.

It’s just none of this seems real.  Still doesn’t.  Like one day I’ll wake up and we’ll have a long talk analyzing THIS dream.  It’s been a h— sorry.  Yes ma’am, I’ll watch my mouth.  But you have to admit.  If the past three years, the past fifteen months even, have been a dream, it’s been one for the books, right?

We tried to be good stewards with all of your “things,” all your “stuff.”  I know you’d just as soon we packed up most of it and given it to folks who needed it.  With the exception of the few things you talked about and pointed out where you’d like for them to go.  And one day I will be able to let go of more of it.  Just, not quite yet, okay?

Saturday we came across your “Backdoor friends are best” plaque that hung at the back door.  Remember how I used to be embarrassed to have folks, friends of mine, come in through that door?  You had that old-fashioned wooden clothes drying rack back there, remember?  And you’d hang all of our unmentionables on it to dry.  If we knew someone was coming over, one of us girls would make a mad scramble to go and hide those things.  We couldn’t have folks coming in the back door and seeing that.  Now I miss that life of knowing folks well enough to go in through their back door.  It speaks to the relationship and to the trust and the love.

As I held the plaque I knew.  Aunt.  She needed this.  I hoped she would be okay with us offering it to her.  I knew you would be.  They are our oldest and best “backdoor friends,” aren’t they?  I sent it to her by way of Cuz’n.  She and I talked yesterday.  Turns out that was the right place to send it.  But you knew that, didn’t you?  The only thing was, she wanted to know if I’d be okay seeing it at her back door.

Oh Mama.

Today I’ve thought about that question and how quickly I said “Oh please yes!” as my heart leapt with something akin to joy.  At first I thought it was because it would have a good home (you know how I anthropomorphize things–and yes, Daddy, used that one just for you!).  But as the day wore on, I heard from Mess Cat.  The last of the things have been delivered to a thrift store that will help families who have gone through what we did with Daddy.  Bless ’em.

And my heart crumbled just a bit.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m happy that Mess Cat and Leroy and Shaker are going to make so many new and wonderful (I love hearing you say that word in my head right now) memories.  Have you seen Leroy out in the building?  It’s about to enter a new heyday for sure.  They have beautiful plans and ideas for the house too, Mama.  But most of all, it will be filled with love and laughter again–your favorite way to decorate, the way you decorated it best.

But for a moment this afternoon, as I drove home from Macon, I saw the empty house in my mind’s eye.  And what my eye stayed on was that freezer.  Oh, it’s not there, no ma’am.  Going to be put to good use.  But between it and the refrigerator–you covered them (in your organized way of course) with pictures of our babies and pictures our babies had colored.  Or drawn.  Or scribble scrabbled.  Just for you and Daddy.  There on the windowsill was the little baking cat figure that Aub picked out for you.  The plate we painted for you and Daddy hanging on the wall.  All around you, Mama, you decorated with love.  Your placing these things throughout your home, all the way back to your dresser and the wooden bead necklaces that first Aub and then Princess made for you, spoke volumes to me over the years.

And today, in thinking about them not being there, I realized what they all said.

All of those things you placed freely around your home, said–

You belong here.

You are loved.

You are special.

You are mine.

 

And that’s when the tears came, Mama.

It’s not that I won’t ever not belong there, but it’s time to move on and let new stories come to life in that house.  I’ll knock first and I’ll enter through whatever door Leroy and Mess Cat decide they want folks coming through.  And it will be okay.  Better than, even.

But if Aunt does decide to hang that heart with the back door friends message by her back door–

well, that will be just fine with me.

Because you know, then, for just a moment, I can remember that I had a place that I belonged, a house that always said, “you’re mine” or “well, hey, it’s you again, where you been? what you been up to?” And I can smile and give thanks and know.

I was loved.

Miss you Mama.

Always, and always and always,

love,

t. annie

 

 

Something in the Water

I have a very clear memory of my Daddy, in his jeans and his blue chambray shirt that Mama made him, standing at my Granny’s sink near the door to the back porch.  He has one of her small red solo cups of water in his hands.  He is standing, staring out the back window over the sink, looking out over the cow pastures and the barn and the pasture where our horse was grazing.  He might have been thinking about hunting a tree in the woods come Christmas, or he might have been anticipating the weather and trying to decide what he could accomplish before the storm came up.  Or he might have been just resting his mind and heart for a few minutes.

He takes his cup and leans over the sink, refilling it at the faucet.  He takes a long drink, and the “ahhh” sound comes from him as he swallows.  It is refreshing and it is good.

It was only recently that I figured out why he always went and took a drink of water from Granny’s sink before we left.  Staring out at the place he grew up, he took a long drink of water–water that tasted like home.

The sink and view out the kitchen window--where I refresh my soul.  At Blackberry Flats.

The sink and view out the kitchen window–where I refresh my soul. At Blackberry Flats.

I feel the same way.  It was the last thing I used to do when I visited Mama and Daddy–fill my cup with “Blackberry Flats juice,” as Mama called it.  Well water, straight from the kitchen sink.  Nothing better.  I too stood, looking out the window over the sink.  Watching the littles playing on the swings, remembering our swingset Daddy had put up in the back for us when we were little.  He even brought home a slide from the landfill and worked to attach it to the playset and built a ladder for it.  I looked at the silver maple that has grown so much over the years, remembering sitting in a lawn chair out there, the summer after I graduated from college, moving the chair so I’d stay in the shade as the sun travelled across the sky.

There’s something healing about water from home, something that touches my soul.  And my Daddy’s too.  While he was at Emory University Hospital for those weeks while they worked out his diagnosis as he fought the Giant, whenever we went to see him, we took up washed out milk jugs filled with Blackberry Flats “juice.”  Daddy didn’t like the water up there, and I can understand why.  We even met my aunt and uncle once as they were passing through on their way up there to see Daddy, and  we handed off a couple of gallons.

My people are serious about their water.

And there’s nothing like cold well water.

Tonight I am thankful for the comforts of home. And the memories.  They refresh my soul and fill me up with good things–the strength and will to carry on and keep on lovin’ folks.  Just like Mama and Daddy did.

There’s something in the water y’all.

And it’s all good.

and the two became one–how the journey began

December 17.

The day my parents married in 1967, forty-six years ago.  It all started with a guy named Cheshire, who was good friends with Mama and Daddy individually, introducing the two of them while they were in college at Valdosta State.  He had already let Mama read some of the things Daddy had written.  It seems like the first meeting was somewhere like a Laundromat, but I can’t be sure.

At the end of their meeting, the VERY FIRST TIME EVER they had met I want you to remember, my Mama looked up from her 4’10” stance at Daddy’s over six-foot tall self and said, “I could fall madly in love with you, Mr. Joyner.”

Oh my.  We are all so thankful they did wind up marrying.  How embarrassing would THAT have been?

Just kidding, Mama.  You know we love that story.  And she loved telling it.  And she’d look over at Daddy and wrinkle her nose, which is how she often said “I love you.”  There was never any doubt.

Ten years and four children later, they moved their three girls, three-month old baby boy, and several cats out to Blackberry Flats.  It has been home ever since.  Our move-in date was actually December 17.  What better way to celebrate ten years of marriage?

That was the beginning of another adventure, and over the years Mama and Daddy made it their own.  From Mama’s trademark light green paint to Daddy’s building and the trees they planted all over–it became home.  It got its name when a family friend brought us over some blackberries that were beyond the point of eating.  Bless her.  After she left, Mama had me tote the blackberries out to the “high grass,” which is where we took scraps and brush and stuff like that–toward the back part of the property.  As it turned out, those blackberries loved being in that soil and they took off.  After years of Daddy fighting them by burning the prickly briars off, he and the bushes reaches a compromise–he let them have the fence line.  There are still some there today.  Thus the name Blackberry Flats was born.

There were some things that were important at Blackberry Flats, growing up with Mama and Daddy at the helm.  Trying your best.  That was one of the things they would ask often, “Well, did you try your best?”  Telling the truth.  Storytelling (we didn’t use the word “lying” back then) was frowned upon.  Eating what was put before you.  There was no whining about mushrooms in the spaghetti.  (Well, okay, there was, but well, I really, really couldn’t stomach them and I regretted the whining every time I did it.)  Being responsible.  We all had chores, and we were expected to pitch in.  And then some.  Pick up after yourselves, and if you see something that needs doing, do it.  Get along with one another.  Mama would quote a children’s play we had seen at Wesleyan–“I’m sure you’re all really very wonderful.”  Which was our signal to cut it out, because maybe she was beginning to question how wonderful we were, and we were treading on thin ice.  We were expected to show respect, say yes ma’am/no ma’am, yes sir/no sir.  We were to be good stewards of what we had, what we’d been given–that included everything from the things around us to our physical beings and our spirits and our abilities and the people around us.

Another thing about Blackberry Flats was that learning was of the utmost importance.  And so was reading.

We grew up with frequent trips to the library.  Mama was very involved with the Friends of the Library. She helped with storytimes and eventually became a Rolling Reader at the school all four of us had attended.  She loved it and stopped only when Daddy got sick.  Many of the children knew her as “Maemae,” (me-me) the name that her grandchildren all called her.  Her fun science experiments and wonderful storytelling were her trademarks.

Children’s books were Mama and Daddy’s favorites.  They enjoyed looking up new books and discovering new authors.  Their all-time favorite was “Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm” by Alice and Martin Provensen.  Mama and Daddy loved sharing the book with children they met along the way.  One of their favorite things to do was choosing the perfect books for their grand nieces and nephews and their grandchildren.

The past few years I remember Mama trying to find a good Christmas or winter story to share.  For the fun of it and in memory of the woman with whom I’ve spent every Christmas except for the two I lived in Japan, I set out on the journey to find the 2013 holiday story.  I browsed through picture books and animal stories, snow covered tales and retellings of the nativity story.  And one day, I was wandering through the virtual bookstore–I apologize to my local bookseller, but some days it’s the only way to shop while supervising the zoo crew around here–and I saw several holiday stories by an author who also had a book I recognized in her list of published works.  “G is for Goat” by Patricia Polacco.

Oh my.  The tears began to flow.

Mama had chosen that one for my sweet Cousin’s daughter one year.  She had been thrilled.  She called me to celebrate her triumph.  “Don’t you think it’s the perfect book for her?”  And it really was.

Seeing that Ms. Polacco, whom Mama had so loved, had a large selection of holiday and winter stories to choose from felt like a nod from Mama–a wink and a thumbs up.  “You found it, T. Annie,” I could almost hear her whisper.

After scanning summaries and reading some of the books themselves, I finally chose this year’s Holiday Book.  Drum roll, please.

Uncle Vova’s Tree by Patricia Polacco

Uncle Vova's Tree by Patricia Polacco

“Uncle Vova’s Tree” by Patricia Polacco

Oh y’all.

This is a beautiful story about a family who celebrates Christmas with aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, parents, and cousins.  The beautiful colors and traditions will touch your heart.  The throwing of the rice on the ceiling to foretell how many bees will come will make you laugh (as long as you remind yours we don’t do that!), and the bowl filled for those who are no longer with them will bring tears to your eyes.  And the words, “We remember.”

Yes.

from "Uncle Vova's Tree" by Patricia Polacco

from “Uncle Vova’s Tree” by Patricia Polacco

But it’s not a sad book.  Not at all.  It’s full of life and joy.  When the aunt unwraps the ornaments and decorates the tree as though it’s a gift to the family, you can feel her joy and the anticipation of the others.

If you haven’t had a chance to love this book, I want you to.   In honor of the ones who helped me discover the joy of reading and the beauty in children’s literature and who started their lives together forty-six years ago today, I am giving away a copy of “Uncle Vova’s Trees” by Patricia Polacco.  Share in the comments section or e-mail me your favorite holiday or winter story and your e-mail address.  I will randomly select someone on Wednesday, December 18th at noon EST to send Ms. Polacco’s book to.  My hope is for you to have this wonderful story to share with those you care about in time for the weekend.

Just a beautiful story.  Even though the people are of another culture and they live where there are sleigh rides and snow, I find these people to be my kindred spirits.  They believe in faith, family, laughter, and love.  They know what is important, from remembering those living in the winter weather to remembering those who have gone before.  And honoring their memory.

We remember.

Amen.

Merry memory-making, my friends.  Love to all.

My Daddy and His Way of Preaching

I have a memory of my Daddy that I’ve thought back on so often that the corners of the memory are wearing thin like the pages of my favorite books.  It is as comforting as the blanket I carried and then slept with for years and years (and still sleeps in the back corner of my bottom drawer).  I pull it out and think on it when I feel small and lost.

When I was in early elementary, Daddy came after school to pick me up.  That was very unusual because he normally didn’t get off from work until 4:30 in the afternoon.  Mama nearly always picked us up.  Except for that brief time in the third grade when they let me ride the bus.  Until a couple of days into it when the bus driver passed my house and dropped me off four doors down.  Back then it seemed like a very long walk home. When the driver came back by, headed to the school, Mama flagged him down and let him know she was not pleased.  He knew where I lived, but he hadn’t stopped in time.  Yeah, Mama could be a fierce Mama Bear when she needed to be.  I hope to be just like her.

I think we’d had some kind of party at school the day Daddy came to pick me up, maybe even the last day before Thanksgiving break, I’m not sure.  Mama had sent me with something incredible she’d fixed in a Tupperware dish.  I had my bookbag, lunchbox, and this empty dish to carry.  For some reason it seemed more hectic than usual that day with all of these big high school people wandering around, heads taller than me, seeming adult-like in their size and attitudes.  I looked around and I remember seeing Daddy materialize almost in front of my eyes.  This guy I thought was one of the high schoolers took a step towards me and I realized, That’s my Daddy.

Me and my Daddy--he was pretty close to 25 in this picture.  He looks like a baby to me here.

Me and my Daddy–he was pretty close to 25 in this picture. He looks like a baby to me here now.

He always did look young for his age.

And that’s what has always struck me about that day when I replay it over and over.  Sunshiny day, vibrant colors, lots of people moving in crowds with a sense of purpose, and then he steps in front of me.  I have laughed over the years about the fact that I thought my Daddy who was easily in his early thirties at that time was in high school.

Reading with my Daddy.  He loved books as much as I do.

Reading with my Daddy. He loved books as much as I do.

I was remembering it the other day, and I looked closer.  I always focused on the emotions I felt (relief, happiness, joy, love) when I saw my Daddy and realized who he was.  But this last time, I looked at my Daddy’s expression.  His eyes lit up, and he seemed relieved to have found me.  It was obvious he had been searching through the crowds all over.  And then we found each other.

20131117-225607.jpg

I understand a lot more about God from how my Daddy lived and treated each one of us.  I’m not saying he was perfect, but he did walk in the dust of the Rabbi, at least how I see it.  My Daddy was a man of few words sometimes.  He wasn’t a churchgoer for the most of his life either.  But he set an example without ever saying a word of how to live, and that example was full of love, compassion, giving, truth, and kindness. When I was seeing this memory in a new light, I thought about how Daddy was looking for me in this great crowd and didn’t stop until he found me.  I suddenly understood the story from the Good Book about the lost sheep so much better.  According to the story found in Luke 15:1-7, the Shepherd will leave his 99 sheep to go after the one that is lost.  It was always a comforting story and now even more so. He could have given up and let me try to find him when the crowd cleared or when I decided to go to where he was.  He could have gone to the office and let someone else find me.  No.  He came and looked for me himself.  Beautiful.  And humbling, to think that I am worth that.  That my Daddy and God would come after me whether I’m lost in a crowd of people or in a pasture of green grass, flowers, and trees.  Neither of them gave up on me.

Today we drove out to Little Union Cemetery at the request of our Princess who will always remember the significance of this day, because it’s the day after her birthday.   We passed by so many landmarks that trigger other Daddy memories.  The road we biked on to get to our Granny’s–a LONG ride.  The road that we drove on when he helped my oldest and me move to our first ever house.  The road we turned on so many times I could do it blindfolded–the one that led to Granny’s.  And then. The spot where Daddy had finally had enough.  He had come as soon as I called and said I needed help.  And with an intense love and protection that can only come from a good Daddy like him, he let anyone around him know, raising his voice choked with emotion, “That’s my baby right there.”  And I was safe.  I cried because I had made him tearful.  I think maybe God is that way too.  God looks around and sees the choices we are making and, as hard as it is, sits there biding time until we have had enough and cry out, “Help me.  Make me safe.”  And then God steps in with emotion and a passion born of great love for us, “That’s one of mine.  Don’t hurt her anymore.”

Oh how my Daddy loved us.  As my dear friend Weezer would say, “Warts and all.”  He never stopped coming when we needed him, and he loved us with a quiet fierceness that was the greatest comfort of all.

It’s been two years ago this afternoon since my Daddy went on up to The House.  It’s been a hard day.  For so many reasons, but mostly because it’s been two years.  We keep moving away from the time when he was still here to hug, to shake hands with, to listen to, to ask his thoughts about something.  Or to make laugh.  Oh goodness me, how I loved to make him laugh.

The view from Daddy's window at Blackberry Flats.  Cardinals love those those hedges.

The view from Daddy’s window at Blackberry Flats. Cardinals love those hedges.

Thankful that these things matter to a new nine-year old, I took time to go out to the cemetery today for our Princess and for me and for our family.  We stopped by Blackberry Flats, and I stood and looked out the window that was Daddy’s view for over thirty years from his recliner that sat next to it.  When he came home from the hospital for the last time, we had a hospital bed waiting to keep him comfortable and to help us better care for him.  And we put it next to his window.  This was the same view I saw in the moments I stood with the strong women I love–my Mama, his sisters, my sisters–as we listened to his breath growing quieter and quieter until he was finished with this battle with Goliath, and it was over.

After I looked back at some of the pictures this afternoon and listened to the quiet, the crew and I loaded back up and headed over to the cemetery.  I love the drive over there.  It’s just over the county line, I think, and the land out there just feeds my soul.  Mama said it’s because our people lived around there.  And she might be right.  That is one beautiful ride.  It’s the kind Sunday drives were created for.  When we got there, I stopped to look and remember.  It was my Princess’ birthday two years ago just after lunch that I had planned to meet our sweet and kind funeral director out there about Daddy’s plot.  We had just shared my girl’s birthday lunch with Mama, and Princess had finished her birthday treasure hunt.  It was about to storm, and Mama didn’t want me to go.  Call him. Just wait until tomorrow, she said. But I felt deep in my heart that I had to go then.  I met Mr. K out there, and I loved the spot immediately.  It had been a while since I’d been out there, but when I saw this path I knew.  Perfect.

20131117-233034.jpg“The foot of the path.  Is that okay?”  I remember choking up.

Mr. K nodded.  “Yes, that’ll do just fine. But I hope I won’t be seeing you about this for a long, long time.”

It was a little over 24 hours later.  Bless him, he and his wife are two of the most caring folks I’ve met.  They were called to do what they do, and they are good at loving on folks in the hardest of times.

Tonight, two years after I tried to sleep with Mama in her bed, and then moved to lay with Mess Cat on hers and we all played musical beds, I am thankful for this day of remembering.  My Daddy and my Mama are the reason I know how to behave.  They often said, “Know better, do better, and folks’ll like you better.”  And if that ain’t the truth, I don’t know what is. Some folks don’t have the truth in them and we call them “liars.”  My Daddy was a truther.  I expect he could tell a tall tale for entertainment purposes, but he didn’t have an untruthful bone in his body.  As Shakespeare wrote in The Merchant of Venice, “…..the truth will out.”  Daddy knew this, and he didn’t play.  He didn’t accept less than the truth, from himself or others.

20131117-233019.jpg

When our Princess walked up to the graves with me today, she smiled and said in that way she has that I’m sure has God and everyone else smiling and high fiving at what a good job they did on THAT one, “Oh look, it looks like they’re holding hands, the way the dirt goes across at the bottom.”  Oh baby girl, there is NO doubt that is exactly what they are doing.  Their love was something special.

I know not all men are created equally, at least when it comes to being daddies.  Some know how almost instinctively, some don’t. Some learn as they go, and others never do.  But I also know this–my Daddy was one of the best.  He taught me more about God’s love and pursuit and protection of us than any preaching from a pulpit ever did.  He was a good Daddy and a treasured friend, and I miss him with every breath.

Daddy took time to teach me about life and living things.  Daddy, me, our pony Adabout, and our dog Pete

Daddy took time to teach me about life and the living things. Daddy, me, our pony Adabout, and our dog Pete

The Journey Home

It’s funny what folks call home, isn’t it?  I live here at “Buckingham Bottom” as Daddy named it, but I will always call Blackberry Flats home.  Our Princess considers Japan home when she talks about it sometimes because she was born there.  Just as my sweet little neighbor friend is happy in his new place in another state–“This is my home.  I was born here.”  Mac, my friend who is once again on the streets, calls the city of Macon in general his home.  He is at home by the river, on the streets, sitting by the convenience store.  Many of our friends without a roof over their heads call Daybreak home.

Home.

Some folks are still searching.  Some feel lost and alone sitting where they have always been, surrounded by people they know.

Tonight I share with you this quote from the book “Find Your Way Home: Words from the Street, Wisdom from the Heart” by the Women of Magdalene and Becca Stevens.  It touched all of us on Tuesday during our Sister Circle.  Each of us from different walks of life, along different paths on our journey–it spoke to each one of us.  And I hope it will speak to your heart as well.

20131004-235148.jpg

Tonight I ask God to sit with those who feel lost and don’t know how to begin the journey back home.  And with those who don’t even know what home looks like.  Also with those who are on the journey home through this cool, dark night.  And those who have no one else to tell them they love them or that they are enough or that they will be right there until everything is okay.  Home.

Each time Mac calls, albeit sporadically, before he gets off the phone he says, “If no one else has told you they love you today, well, Mac Carlton loves you.”

I know it’s silly, but that makes me smile and warms my heart.  He can worry me and even frustrate me, but hearing I am loved and knowing I am–that helps me feel a little less lost in the moments when everything going on gets overwhelming and hard.

May we seek to be the instruments of peace and encouragement and compassion, the compasses for those who are lost–so they can believe the trip home is possible and find their way home to love and acceptance and warmth.  Wherever that may be.

Amen.

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.

 

Piddlin’ and Putterin’ Around

It’s been one of those weekends. I only had a couple of things on the “agenda,” leaving a lot of room in the margins for getting together with my sister Mess Cat and her family. Or not. Whatever. Free time. That has become a precious commodity around here. So it was a nice surprise.

Several times this weekend, I’ve called Mess Cat or she’s called me.
“Hey, whatcha doing?”
“Nothin’ much. Just piddlin’. You?”
“Oh just putterin’ around. Nothing major.”

And this is how our several phone calls went all weekend. (With the exception of her painting trim in their new house. And I think she did refer to that as “putterin’.”)

This afternoon we puttered around at Mama’s. We sat on the porch swing and just soaked in yet another southern July day with highs in the 80’s and a nice breeze.  Beautiful.

The view we had today.....sitting on the porch swing and piddlin' around.

The view we had today…..sitting on the porch swing and piddlin’ around.

Later we checked around on things, uprighted a birdbath our two rambunctious boys decided would be cool to turn over to get the “dirty” water out.  No easy feat, that one.  We puttered around in the house, picking up, putting things away, emptying the ice bucket from the freezer.  A whole lot of little and a little bit of nothing.

In case you were wondering, putterin’ and piddlin’ around are not related to laziness at all.  In fact they are not for the faint of heart, for to putter or piddle around, one must have the ability to do things with ease and focus so as not to enter the level of frenzied activity that could be deemed “work.”  Piddlin’ and putterin’ are good for the soul and not strenuous on the mind, body, or spirit.  Think Andy Taylor and Floyd sitting around whittling on the bench outside the barber shop.  Now you got it.  Good stuff.  It takes skill, I’m not gonna lie, and years of practice.  But yeah, me and Mess Cat, I think we’ve got it down.

We’re working our way slowly toward the new normal.  One day at a time.  I like to think we are resilient.  Like the Back Porch Rosebush.  Before Mama’s back porch was built, there was a little set of concrete steps at the back door.  Next to the steps was a rosebush.  When they were getting ready to build the porch, someone, I think it might have been my brother-in-law Leroy, moved the rosebush to the other side where the porch would end.  It’s growing quite nicely, and there were two beautiful roses on it when we were there today.  It was a few months after the porch was built when we saw a sprig of green coming up through the floor of the porch.  At first we didn’t really pay much attention to it.  I think we clipped it back and kept on keeping on, what with Daddy being sick and all.  It quickly grew back through the floor.  Mama soon realized it was her rose, which somehow enough of it had been left in the ground that it was regenerating down there in the darkness under the deck.  She tried rooting it and cutting it back some.  The rooting didn’t go so well.  In recent months my siblings and I haven’t really thought too much about it.  Today, here it was in all its glory, thanks to all the rain, celebrating reaching the sunlight.

The porch rosebush, our own version of the phoenix, rising up out of the darkness towards the light.

The porch rosebush, our own version of the phoenix, rising up out of the darkness towards the light.

For Mess Cat, me, our brother and sister and all of our family, this is what each day is about.  Reaching past the darkness towards the light and hope for better days, yet still connected to the darkness.  Once you’ve been there, you can never leave it fully behind, but you can soak in all the goodness and love around you and reach for the light.

And so we do.

And while we’re reaching, we putter.  And piddle around.  And sit and be together.

That’s the best stuff in life.  Being together.

As a summer treat to celebrate a beautiful day, here’s a great summer song to putter and piddle around to–y’all enjoy!

And yes, that’s Kris Kristofferson with the guitar and cigar.  And if you don’t laugh with Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish, well, there’s just no help for ya!

I Hear Voices

One day over a year ago, we were up at the day shelter with our friends, wrapping up a meal.  Only a few folks remained, and we were hanging around visiting.  One of our friends, whom we love dearly, but who can be a bit eccentric at times was talking, and then he said, “I hear voices.”  I looked at another of our friends, who almost spit his food out, trying to hold his laughter in.  Our eccentric friend continued, “Yeah, I really like that song.  It’s by Chris Young.  It’s a good one.  Have you heard it?”  He and Aub then launched into one of their many, many conversations about country music.

Well, okay then.  I am sorry.  I was going in a “whole ‘nother” direction on that one.

It is a good song–about the voices holed up in his head, giving him advice.  If you haven’t heard it, or if you love it and want to hear it again like I did tonight–here’s the link to the video.

The lyrics are here.  A really good song.

So today I’ve been hearing voices in my head.

Our princess has been affected by the unseasonably cool weather.  I mean we’re barely hitting 90 the past few days.  This girl is ready for a picnic.  Today on our various adventures with the Zoo Crew (aka the littles and Aub), we have passed by cow pastures, complete with cows and calves and a pond for cooling off in, a manicured yard of an apartment complex, and a couple of other beautiful lawns with trees and flowers.  Each time, “Mama, let’s pack up a picnic and come back here and have one, okay?”

And each time, I said, “It’s not your property.  We can’t have a picnic there.”

Tonight as we passed one more beautifully landscaped area on our way to the library, she responded with a little bit of a whine, “Mama, how come every time I see a beautiful place to have a picnic, you say ‘it’s not your property’ and we can’t have a picnic there?  I want to have a picnic.  We haven’t had one in the longest.”  And she’s right, we haven’t.  But there’s a time and a place…..and if it ain’t your property, it ain’t the place.

Two years ago, after Daddy fell and broke his hip, he fought hard to get back up on his feet.  Unfortunately the lymphoma was affecting large motor skills, and he just wasn’t able to get up and about like he had hoped.  I spent a lot of time sitting in the living room where his bed was, visiting and talking.  One day I was telling him about how disgusted I was with the builders in this area.

“There just won’t be a single tree left when they get done, Daddy, I mean it.  I’m sick of seeing all these little copse of pines disappearing.  They could at least try to work around them.”

He listened.  And I continued on my rant. “Just like there’s a lot down the road from us–and there’s this little pine sitting there, not even three feet tall.  It could grow big and strong, but I bet you anything they’re going to just run right over it.  You know what, Daddy?”

He shook his head.  “What?”

“I think I’m just going to go over this evening and dig that little tree up and rescue it.  Don’t you think that’s the thing to do?  Poor little tree is just going to get destroyed when they start building, I am SURE.”  I was getting warmed up but good.

Daddy shook his head again.  “Don’t you do it.”  What?  “Is that your tree?  Is that your property?”

“Well…..no sir, it’s not but…..”

“But nothing.  It’s not yours.  It’s not right.”

“So Daddy, are you saying I need to ask the builder if it’s okay?”

He shrugged and then nodded.  I kept looking for a loophole.  Some of my people used to say I missed my calling to be an attorney, but that’s a story for another day.

“So Daddy, what if I can’t find him.  I don’t even know who it is.  What if they’re about to run the tree over?  Just let them?”

He looked down at his hands.  “It’s not yours to do anything with.”

And he was right.  So I set out to watching the lot up the street.  And as luck would have it, one afternoon when I was leaving my house, there was a man walking around on the lot, talking on a cell phone.  I got out of my vehicle.  He looked a little uncertain, excused himself from his caller for a moment, and said, “Can I help you?”

“Yes sir, are you the builder?”  He nodded.  SCORE!

“Well, I was just wondering, see, there’s a little pine over here on the side and I was wondering if I could have it–I mean if you aren’t going to leave it for the yard or anything–it looks like it might be where a driveway would go, but I can’t be sure…..”

I don’t know if it was to hush me up or if he really wanted to get back to his caller, but he looked and scrunched his face up in thought, looked at the sky, and FINALLY said, “Yeah, sure, you can take it.”

“Oh thank you sir, thank you so much.”

That afternoon I told Daddy my story.  He shook his head in disbelief and laughed.   When I was in first grade, each day after school he would ask me if I had told my teacher that my Daddy wasn’t old enough to have a daughter in first grade.  And each day I would reply “no sir.”  I was too embarrassed to tell her.  Until almost the end of the school year.  And when he asked just as he had everyday, and I answered, “Yes sir, I sure did,” he laughed and had the same expression as he did when I told him about my pine tree.  It was fun to know I could still surprise him.

And so that evening my crew and I rolled our wagon and a pot up the road with a shovel and I dug out our little pine.  He is still growing in a pot on my front walk, but I have a feeling he’s about ready for his new home out at Blackberry Flats, where I grew up.  He’ll have a lot of family out there.

So today, as I told my princess why we couldn’t have a picnic at the cow pasture or in someone’s yard, I heard Daddy’s voice and laughter in my head just as I have so many times in the past two years.  It’s just not our property.  End of discussion.

I also heard Mama’s voice today.  Growing up, whenever we got to scrapping with each other or complaining or in general being sassy, Mama would often sigh and say, “I’m sure you’re all really very wonderful.”  This was a line from a children’s play at Wesleyan many, many years ago.  I don’t remember much about the storyline, but I do remember there was a good witch, much like Glinda from Wizard of Oz.  When all of the characters got to bickering, she would exclaim in her high-pitched singsong voice, “I’m sure you’re all really very wonderful.”  Mama loved it.  If I had a nickel for everytime she said it over the years…..well, you know.

Yeah, I so outgrumped him today

Yeah, I so outgrumped him today

Anyway, today I could have won a grump contest with Grumpy Cat.  I have been frustrated, disappointed, upset, grief-stricken, madder than an ol’ wet hen, and…..this is how bad it was…..I almost replied to someone spreading foolishness through social media. *gasp*  I know.  Just walk away from the keyboard, Tara.  And I did, but I’m still itching to leave a good one-liner.  Only problem is, I know it wouldn’t end there.  So I leave it alone.

If it weren’t for three wise women guiding me today with conversation and truth, with their love and kindness and compassion, I probably would have really and truly lost it today.  I was headed straight for ugly.  And then I heard Mama–“I’m sure you’re all REALLY. VERY. WONDERFUL.”  Ahem.  (That was her clearing her throat there.  ‘Cause she would do that too after she said it.  And that’s when you knew it was serious.)  This was her code for step back, regroup, and act like you are somebody.  Yeah, that was another line of hers.  Very important.  Not act like you’re better than anybody–EVER.  But act like YOU are SOMEBODY.  The end.

So tonight, like Chris Young and his co-writers Chris Tomkins and Craig Wiseman, I give thanks:

Turns out I’m pretty dang lucky

For all that good advice

Those hard-to-find words of wisdom

Holed up here in my mind

And just when I’ve lost my way

Or I’ve got too many choices

I hear voices

Call me crazy, but I’m thankful I hear those voices.  Some days they’re just what keeps me sane.