Football and Other Team Sports

The past few weekends have found me watching a whole lot of football.  Some exciting things were happening for teams down here in our parts.  My little guy is a huge football fan, and I enjoy seeing his joy, so I’ve picked up watching and rooting for teams again.  It brings back happy memories of Sunday afternoons laying on the couch with Daddy kicked back in his recliner, watching the games and not betting on the games because Mama didn’t allow that.  (Okay, there may have been a quarter or two that exchanged hands. Shhhh.)

Saturday we watched the Falcons game over at MessCat’s house.  Leroy had invited us to join them for the Big game.  I’m not sure he knew what he was getting into, because I can get rather vocal in my cheering on of the team of choice.  And with the playoffs on the line, I was pretty…..ummm, into it all.

Y’all, I watched my little guy cry real tears when the Patriots came back in the second half of that Super Bowl last year.  I’d have loved for the Falcons to have another shot.  But they didn’t win on Saturday, so they don’t, and nobody handled it better than my little guy.  He just moved on to the next game…..and cheering on anyone playing the Patriots.  He’s growing up.  And adapting.

I’m a proud Mama.

While we watched the games, I was intrigued by something that seems new to me.  When a player caught the ball and landed on the ground, there were several occasions of it being in question as to whether the player had “control” of the ball when he landed.

Really?

I mean, is this new?

My brother-in-law explained that they were really cracking down on this this season–that if it didn’t appear that the player had control of the ball, the pass was not complete.

Oh.  My.  Stars.

I don’t mean to sound old (I mean, yeah, I’m rapidly approaching that state), but back in my day, if they caught the ball and didn’t drop it when they fell, it was complete.

Or at least that’s the way I understood it.

I cannot tell you how many plays we had to sit and wait after while the folks in New York made the call as to whether a player in Philadelphia or Massachusetts actually had control of the ball.

Never mind that the player did not lose the ball when he landed on the hard ground.

It was really, really annoying.

And while I’m not going to argue about the ins and outs of football–I don’t need to know all the intricate details, I leave that to fans like my little fella–I have been chewing on why maybe this has bothered me so much.

And here it is.  Way too often in this life, we are hit by something from out of the blue.  Something that knocks us for a loop, sends us off track, causes us to lose our way for a moment.  And  way too often, there are those around us all too ready to have us doubt ourselves and how we are handling things.  How well we are hanging on to the good in our life.  They would have us thinking that we don’t have a hold on things, no matter what we know to be true.

We didn’t drop the ball.

We are still hanging on.

And we will get back up and carry on.

No matter what those in New York–or anywhere else for that matter–have to say about us.

The other thing that struck me was that each and every person watching had an opinion as to whether the ball had been properly “caught” or not.  Usually said opinion had a direct relationship to the person watching’s team preference.

And then it was a couple of days later that this hit me.

Life is a team sport, isn’t it?  

For the most part y’all, we don’t do life by ourselves.

We have folks around us, doing this life journey alongside us.  Sometimes folks are cheering for us, and other times, sadly way too often, folks are cheering against us.  There are times when people we have on our side get traded or retire and we are given new team members.  New people to meet and get to know, and soon our stories and journeys are intertwined as we head onto the field together.  Some days we win, some days we lose, and all those days in between…..

we learn.  We try.  We practice.  We rest.  We sit in the stands and cheer others on.  Or help them get down their own field.  We revive and restore and then…..

we try to get down the field a little bit more.  Together.  With the help of those beside us.

A team sport.  Where we learn to trust and share and pass the ball when we need help and block the hard things as best we can.  And when one of us gets knocked down…..

we reach over and give them a hand up.

I think that has been my favorite part of watching the games, and I didn’t even realize it. That hand that goes out to the player on the ground…..and it’s ALWAYS there.  I’ve yet to see someone have to get up off that ground alone.  No matter what the situation was that put them there.

Tonight I’m thankful for the ones running along with me and for those cheering me on.  I’m thankful for the ones up ahead who have made a way and for the ones coming behind.  Most of all, I’m thankful for the ones who sit with me when I’ve been knocked down and offer a hand to pull me back to my feet when I’m ready, all without judging what knocked me down or how I came to be there.

Life is a team sport.  I’m going to hold on to that image.  For the days I’m feeling knocked down, dragged out.  And for the days when those around me need someone to cheer them on or someone to pass the ball to…..or someone to remind them that no ma’am, you did not drop that ball.  You hung on to it.  And you might be on the ground right now, but you’re okay.  And together we’re going to get you back up and on your way.

Look around, y’all.  Give your team people squad posse fans coaches fellow players a big ol’ high five.  Because you’ve got this.  Some days you may run into double overtime and find yourself a touchdown behind, but we’re all going to be okay no matter what the folks in New York say.  Because we are together.  And if you’re sitting on the bench by yourself right now, don’t stay there.  We pick you to be on our team.  Come on over.  Because we can never have too many folks to count on and share the journey with.  There’s no such thing as too many players on the field in this version of the game.

Thanks for playing alongside me.  Love to all.

 

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Delta Dawn and Earworms

Isn’t it interesting to hear songs now that you once sang out loud as a child?  Does it ever make you cringe that you sang it, not knowing what the lyrics meant?

So many songs from all those years ago I can still remember the lyrics to.  One of my favorite radio stations is the 80’s one.  (It makes Cooter crazy, which gets quite comical at times.)  When I hear one of the songs from way back when, and the lyrics all come flooding back without me even thinking, it amazes me.  And sometimes is a little embarrassing.

And then there are the times one comes along and gets stuck.  In my head.  All day long.  I think they call them earworms now, but back then, we’d just walk around complaining, “I have a song STUCK IN MY HEAD, and I can’t get it out.”

I don’t know how old I was when Daddy came up with the solution, but it seems like it’s been a part of our story for as long as I can remember.

“Sing Delta Dawn.  It will break up that song stuck in your head.”

And he was right.

Tonight I was thinking about that, and trying to remember who sang it originally.  After realizing it was not Helen Reddy, I remembered it was a very, very young Tanya Tucker.  I finally decided to look it up, and the cool thing is they both sang it.  (My memory is a little better than I thought, which is very encouraging after the week I’ve had.)  Tanya Tucker had a top ten country hit with it in 1972, and then Helen Reddy had a #1 hit with it in 1973.  And here’s what I found out that I had never known–Bette Midler also recorded it, and she planned to release it, but Helen Reddy’s version came out two days earlier.

Wow.

Bette Midler?  Delta Dawn?

Fascinating, but the truth is I couldn’t get through a whole stanza of her version.  VERY different, and just not the Delta Dawn I grew up with.

Except now I’m afraid the little bit I listened to of her version is my newest ear worm.

“Daddy, what happens if I sing ‘Delta Dawn’ and get rid of the song stuck in my head, but then Delta Dawn gets stuck in there?”

I don’t remember his exact answer, but I think it had something to do with it being a good song, so it would be okay, or it would eventually fade or something like that.

And so now, I guess I’ll do just that.  Go to sleep with a very slow version of ‘Delta Dawn’ in my head.  Unless Tanya and Helen can help me out.

What do you do to get rid of your earworms?

Tonight I’m thankful for this memory of my Daddy that made me smile.  I wonder what he’d think of Bette Midler’s version, but I’m pretty sure I already know.

May we all have a day of only the really good songs getting stuck…..

Love to all.

 

 

Click here for the link to the YouTube video of Helen Reddy’s version

Here for Tanya Tucker’s version

and finally, here for the Bette Midler one

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casserole kindness

the phone call came in the midst of the chaos
and hearts aching and tears
and all of the planning and rushing around
flowers, words written, songs chosen,
people coming and going
and no time to settle down and breathe
or think
or grieve

the phone call saying, “I’ve got this”
and “What time works best for you?”
such a little thing to some, maybe
but for us,
it was everything

supper was coming
and for a few moments
we–the new widow, the children, spouses,
and grands
we all could be together
and gather around the casserole dish
filled with loving goodness
and give thanks for the hands that prepared it
the loving spirit
who stepped outside of her own world
and showed up in ours

though she was plenty busy herself

because that’s what love does
it shows up
in the midst of sorrow and joy
and it sits with folks where they are
and takes their hands and holds on tight

the dumplings were so good
and gone way too fast
but the memory of that meal,
of the love from someone who didn’t have to,
who had many excuses not to,
that radical hospitality
and loving on folks
will never be forgotten

casseroles and covered dishes
speak a love language all their own,
healing hearts and
lifting spirits,
if only for a moment or two,
filling the darkness with a light
that feeds our souls

thankful
for that casserole
and the hands that made it
four years later
remembering

with a grateful heart

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the rest of October

October comes blazing in
with orange and pumpkins and bales of hay
everywhere

mums adorn porches and storefronts
and the smell of funnel cakes and
barbecue is in the air

and then suddenly the month is two-thirds gone
and the caravan of trucks move down the interstate
taking away the sights and sounds that had folks
talking and riding and laughing and screaming
with delight

ribbons are won and the quilts are folded
and put away
the cows go back to the barn
and the newly hatched chicks find their new homes

and suddenly, I’m tired
and worn out
like the leaves on the peach trees,
spent
and drifting

with the first chill that seeps into my bones
I am reminded of that October
when every moment was so very precious
and I sat by his bed and hoped–
I was still hoping in October

how could I not with the calliope music
and the lights
and the pony rides and rock walls
and the laughter he still shared when we spoke of such things

but then November came
and I knew,
I knew it would not be long
before this world would change forever
leaves would fall
as would the tears
and the days would grow shorter
and the shadows longer
and our hearts would be broken in bits

because he would leave us

and now when October is two-thirds over
and the Fair folk pack up and leave
a part of my heart goes with them
as I turn to face the
October that is left,
pregnant with sad anticipation

of all the remembering
November brings

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Stories for Daddy with a Brownie on the Side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dear Daddy,

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

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

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

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

Well.

Um.

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

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

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

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

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

Okay then.  Whatever works, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bye Daddy.  Thanks for everything.  Love you.

t

 

 

The Heart’s Memory

You know what surprises me?

And you will probably be surprised at this–

My heart.  My mind.  My heart’s memory.

That’s what surprises me.  Big time.

Grief and the paths it takes us on surprises me too.

Saturday we took the whole crew and met Gnomee, Leroy, and Shaker at the Fair.  Rides are not my thing unless it’s the Agri-Lift, which is a very time-consuming, slow, and relaxed ski-lift type ride over half of the Fairgrounds.  I enjoyed watching the children ride and worrying over whether or not Cooter was going to lose his lunch, since the first ride he went on was rather rambunctious.

The last of the tickets were used to ride the Ferris wheel.  We had just enough for everyone to ride except two.  I gladly sat it out with Cooter (who was still a little puny), as I like to be the cheerleader on the sidelines when it comes to these kinds of things.  I also like to people watch, and I welcomed a few moments of downtime.  As I waited for them to come around in sight where I could wave to them, I people watched.

"Great Dads Get Promoted To Grandpa"

“Great Dads Get Promoted To Grandpa”

And when I saw this man and his shirt, my first thought was “Oh, that’s perfect for Daddy.”  They didn’t come any greater than him.  And immediately after that…..

it hit me all over again.

It’s been almost three years since my Daddy went on up to the Big House, and I know this.  Not a day goes by that this doesn’t register in my brain.  But somehow on Saturday afternoon, I relaxed so much that for a nano-second, my heart forgot.

And then I had to feel the pain all over again.

I’ve got no idea how that even happened y’all.

I probably would have gotten him a car, but he would have loved the airplanes too.....

I probably would have gotten him a car, but he would have loved the airplanes too…..

Just an hour later, after we rode the Agri-Lift–such memories we make each year on our leisurely ride–we were in the Commercial Exhibits building, and I found myself admiring the woodcrafts of one of the exhibitors.  I’ll be dog if I didn’t have another one of those moments.

For a second in a surreal moment, I thought what an awesome gift one of these would make for Daddy.  For Christmas.

Oh me.

Of course I’m not losing my mind.  Not really, right?  It seems that Fall is a trigger for me.  I’ve thought more about those last few weeks in 2011 with my Daddy in the past couple of weeks than I have in a long time.  And I’ve discovered something important…..

There is pain, yes, but there is so much beauty in those moments.  The memories of our last weeks and days were not just filled with tears.  There was a lot of laughter and a lot of quiet moments of giving thanks.  For our time together, for the man who raised me, for the grace he always gave, for the stories he told, and for the love I still feel from this gentle giant.

Tonight I’m thankful for the reminders of my Daddy.  For the cardinals that play in my backyard and remind me of our quiet days sitting and watching them through the living room window.  For the woodcrafts that remind me of his carpentry skills and how he loved to create with wood.  For the yellow jackets and wasps that make me laugh as I remember Daddy videotaping the ones that lived in his workshop out back, wanting to observe their behaviors.  For the quiet of a fall sunset that lets me sit and be with my aching heart as I remember all the times I sat in comfortable and peaceful silence with my Daddy.

I’ll always be his girl, and if I think of him sometimes and forget that he’s not here, then maybe it’s because he’s so close, just on the other side of the veil, and I can feel him there.

I hope so.  I sure do miss him and need his wisdom right about now.

Wishing you all a beautiful fall sunset to remember and reminisce and to make precious memories.

Love to all.

 

The Teacher I Never Had

Yesterday, my friend Baddest Mother Ever asked the question, “Who was your favorite teacher and why?”

I started to respond, but then my mind ran around and around in circles.  Whom would I choose?  I mean, really–ONE?  I’m the girl who always made my Daddy laugh by giving him 2 or 3 cards on Father’s Day and birthdays because I could never choose just ONE.

I started thinking through them.  Those who were not in the running were painfully obvious.  Moving on…..

My favorite?  Favorites?  My very first teacher, Mrs. Partain?  The one who gave me a “B” in conduct the second six weeks because I only quit talking when she asked me to–for a few minutes anyway.  The same one who laughed when I finally told her what Daddy had been saying all year–that he wasn’t old enough to have a daughter in the first grade?  Or Mrs. Crouch? She and Mama became such good friends that Mess Cat was the flower girl in her daughter’s wedding.  What about Mrs. Turner in third grade? The one who read aloud “Charlotte’s Web” in the dark during quiet time and knew I was crying with my head folded down on my desk.  She’s also the one who let me sit next to her chair on the playground as she taught me to crochet.  What a gift that was.   There were many other good ones in elementary and junior high.  I dearly loved Mrs. Scott who had gone to school with Aunt and my Uncle.  Such a sweet spirit.  Mrs. Watson was an awesome pre-algebra teacher.  Turned out she’d been teaching us Algebra 1 all along, so ninth grade was a breeze.  And speaking of math, there was Miss Bell.

*moment of silence here please*

She was just that good.  She taught my Daddy and his siblings and my siblings and cousins after me.  I had her for three years, and I loved her.  From the beginning perhaps it was only because of that link to the past.  But she was an awesome teacher who commanded the classroom in her quiet way.  You did your homework or you wiggled through the whole class because she KNEW.  I don’t know how, but she did.  One time a classmate who hadn’t done his assignment was asked what answer he got for an algebra problem.  He tossed something out there.  Standing next to his desk, she looked down at him and raised her glasses as she did and said her signature line, “Do wha-uut?”  Before she could say her next line, “Go to the board” (oh the fear that could put into you–working the problem in front of the whole class and HER), he looked up and said,  pointing at the board in the front of the room, “Well Miss Bell if you go up to the board, I can tell you what I did to get it.”  He was buying time and she knew it.  She called his full name–“I can walk faster than you can think.”  Ha.  That was classic.  She knew how to laugh when things were funny, and she cared that you learned it.  That was it.  She wanted to impart knowledge.  I loved her dearly.

But was she my favorite?  Close.  But no.  I don’t think so.

My favorite teacher is one I never had a class with.  I never sat and called her by the name that she went by then.  I knew her many years later, when I was grown, sitting a few pews over from her in church.  I recognized her name, and she asked me if I was his daughter.  I beamed.  “Yes ma’am.  Yes I am.”

She was my Daddy’s third grade teacher.  Miss Ann.

Daddy didn’t care much for school before that.  He didn’t apply himself.  He told me this.  My Daddy used to say to us children we couldn’t complain about anything, because at least we weren’t hoeing cotton.  I think he did a lot of that.  Shoes weren’t a given year round for him.  He came from hard-working, good people.  But school?  It just wasn’t for him.

Until that year.  Miss Ann saw something in him and brought it out.  She asked him to clean the chalkboard, dust the erasers.  She encouraged him.  He learned to love learning.  He became enraptured with words and knowledge and books and writing.  He once told me she changed his life.

And bless her, she changed so many after that, simply because she took time with one little boy whom she thought could do better.

He passed on his love of reading to his little sister with a trip to the used bookstore, who later took a little girl in the third grade to her very first used book sale.  That little sister loves books to this day, as does that little girl, whose library overfloweth.  (literally) He held us all to high standards in the field of learning.  There might be things we couldn’t do, but we could apply ourselves and try our best, and that’s what he expected of all of us.  From his oldest child to his youngest grandchild.  He knew an education was something that couldn’t be taken away from us by anyone.

When my old life fell apart, he sat me down and encouraged me to get my Master’s, “so you can take care of you and that baby.”  And he was right.  He made that possible because he believed in education.  And the power it has to make lives better.  He was a lifelong learner, constantly reading books that imparted knowledge–about all kinds of things from quantum physics to theology to children’s books that he held in highest regard.

All because of Miss Ann.

We, each one of us, have the power to change lives like that.  It’s a bit scary, isn’t it?  I don’t know if Miss Ann ever realized what she did, but I know.  And the best way I can thank her is by doing what my Daddy did–pass it on–this love of learning, this encouraging someone to be their very best.  Listening, sharing, letting curiosity grow.  And being present.  It all comes back to #bethefeather, it seems, doesn’t it?  Being kind, caring about another, taking care of those around us……doing unto others, as Mama was always preaching.

Do me a favor.  Please.  If you get the chance to encourage someone tomorrow or the next day or next month, will you take a moment and do so?  You don’t have to be in charge of a classroom to do it.  In honor of a great teacher, Miss Ann, and all those teachers who step outside the box and change a child’s life and the lives of future generations all down the line, let’s make a difference by caring. And doing.

Thanks.  That is huge.  Love to all.

 

 

From MGB to Minivan

Late this afternoon, I was taking our Princess to her gymnastics and dance classes, which she loves.  She was listening to music and I was in my own world as well when I saw it.  Up ahead.

An MGB.

Sure, it was on the back of a wrecker, but still.

An MGB.  You just don’t see those very often anymore.

I pointed it out to our Princess.  “I used to have one of those,” I said.  “I drove it to high school.”

She looked up, saw it, nodded, and went on with her life, nonplussed.

Well, sure, it wasn’t the Batmobile or Millennium Falcon, but show some respect, girl.

It took me back.  Way back.  After I turned sixteen, my Daddy and I went car shopping together. The first thing I’d check in each vehicle was the radio of course.  He would shake his head and turn it off.  Ahem.  The first car we looked at was a Dodge–maybe a Charger, but I’m not sure.  It was fairly old and had a cracked head.  I remember being assigned to write our own “Declaration of Independence” for English Composition my junior year.  I wrote mine on why it wasn’t a bad idea for me to get that car.  “A cracked head’s no big deal; folks walk around all the time with those.”  But Daddy voted no, since he’d be the one bringing it up to code, so to speak.  So…..next.

I don’t remember how many others we looked at before we found her.  My Grey Goose.  A 1970 silver/grey MGB.  Four in the floor.  Some rusted out spots in the floor too as I recall, but I didn’t care.  As I debated its merits in my mind, my Daddy said something that I have never forgotten, and it has affected many of my decisions since.

“Don’t settle.”

He went on to say, “If you want an MGB, a convertible, don’t settle.  Get it now.  The time is gonna come when you won’t have that choice.  One day when you have a family, you will need a vehicle with more room.  If you want something like this, now is the time.”

And so it was.

We brought her home, and I was thrilled.  She needed some work.  So the summer I was in Washington for a week with the Flint Electric Tour and Governor’s Honors Program in Valdosta for six weeks, Daddy tweaked the engine, made repairs, and did what needed doing.  Actually I’m making stuff up–I don’t know what all he did.  She needed a lot of work, but the only thing I remember is him taking plywood and putting tar on it and creating a new and improved, without holes floorboard for my new car.  It was brilliant.  Daddy was brilliant.

My whole summer away–the summer before my senior year, I kept a picture with me of my Grey Goose.  I hoped that I would be able to drive her when I first got back, but she wasn’t quite ready.  I had driven the family’s Fiat Station Wagon when I needed to drive anytime during my junior year.  I was thrilled, when the car was ready, to be driving Sister, who was a freshman, and myself to school and back during my senior year.  No more school buses for us.  We had arrived.

Daddy got her all ready, and Sister and I made the twenty-minute drive to and from the high school together.  One day in particular, we had discussed that morning that if we hurried out after school, we might have time to take down the soft top, and drive home convertible style.  It was a beautiful day.  But of course we didn’t want to be the last ones leaving the parking lot, and I had to drop Sister off and get to work–thus the need to hurry.

As we passed in the hall, each on our way in the crowd to our fifth period class–the day almost over, I called out to Sister, “Hey, you still able to get out there quickly?”

She nodded and waved as she moved along the current of students with her friends.  My friend walking along had heard us and asked, “What are y’all doing after school?”

Without thinking, I answered, “Taking the top off so we can drive home.”

Y’all.  Have you ever met a high school boy?

Yep.  Of course it went there.  The whole joke that my sister and I were driving home topless.  Which we were, I suppose.  It was only made funnier by the fact that I practically had NERD stamped across my forehead back then.  Ahem.  (We are not talking about now, people.)

And that was the joke for a while.  That Sister and I drove topless.

Ah, memories.  You have to laugh, don’t you?

We thought we were so cool, driving by the middle school with all the sixth through eighth graders hanging around outside waiting for their buses to come, with our radio blaring songs like Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” on one of the many songs I loved from my “Chicago 17” cassette tape.  And by blaring, I mean at a level that we could hear the music, but not so much that we couldn’t hear any emergency vehicles that might approach.  Safety first.  I mean, being cool has its boundaries.

Tonight I’m thankful for that lesson my Daddy taught me.  So many times I’ve heard his voice, “Don’t settle.” And it has saved me from making poor choices on more than one occasion.  I’m grateful for this unexpected trip down memory lane.  I loved my MGB that got me through my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college.  I can still see her parked in the same parking lot I parked my family-mobile in for Alumnae weekend four days ago–behind the first floor of Persons dorm.  Most of all I appreciate my Daddy having some sort of amazing vision of where life would take me, knowing that if I passed by the joy of having my “fun” car as a young person, I might not get another opportunity.  What a gift that was.  I sure loved that car, and even more I love my Daddy who made it possible.

After all, how often does a girl get a chance to drive topless?

Love to all.

 

 

 

written in stone

Over the past two years I have spent a lot more time than I ever have before in cemeteries.  It is not that I was afraid before.  I actually find them a beautiful place for quiet, thought, and peace.  The first time I’d been out to the Little Union cemetery since my Great Grandmother died many years ago was in November 2011.  My brother-in-law Leroy and I rode out there to see the place that we’d been told we could use as a family plot.  Daddy was not doing well, and it was only a week later that we were all gathered there again to say goodbye.

The day that Leroy and I went out to the little country church cemetery was bright and sunny.  After talking over the options, he and I walked it over.  It reads like my family tree out there.  For several years Daddy took care of the grounds in the summers.  Just because.  He had wanted to go back and whitewash some of the older gravestones, but he got so sick before we could do it.  The stones out there for those who died during the War have different types of markers, a reminder of the limited resources of the time.  Some names look like they were written by hand with a stick in wet concrete. I wonder if that is actually what happened.

The precious church and cemetery out at Little Union.

The precious church and cemetery out at Little Union.

The family and I went out there on Sunday, as it marked the date that Daddy died in 2011.  Two years.  Our littles love going out there.  Goodness knows we were out there a lot in the summer of 2012, watering the tea olive we’d planted at the foot of Daddy’s grave on his birthday in March of that year.  We’d haul 8 gallon jugs of Blackberry Flats (the homeplace) water out there twice a week and cheer it on during the dry, hot summer.  Their little faces turning red and damp in the heat of the day, they’d run around the cemetery reading names and exploring.  They picked up turned over flowers and collected trash to dispose of later.  They knew to be respectful and not walk on the stones and to leave things better than when you got there.

And so this past Sunday, they went back to their adventuring after pausing a moment to let it soak in that there are two headstones there.  I remember the discussion with Mama about putting another line on each stone.  One word.  That’s all I wanted.  “Others” for him and “Loved” for her.  But Mama was having none of that.  Since I haven’t been out there with my hammer and chisel yet, their stones only tell names and dates, no indications of the beautiful lives they lived in between the two.

Amy from our Rising Bloggers circle asked a question this week that made me think:

Epitaphs used be to three words: “Mother. Sister. Wife” as an example. If you were writing your own Epitaph, what three words would you want to be your legacy and why?

I was sitting here thinking about that tonight.  I really couldn’t come up with three words.  Or three separate thoughts.  It’s hard to see yourself through the lenses of others, isn’t it?  What would my family think appropriate?  It delighted our Princess to see Papa or Mama on the stones and read them aloud.  One she loved said, “Mama, Daughter, Beloved.”  But what would they say about me?  Hard-headed? True.  Distracted?  Ahem.  Move on.  Always running behind?  I will come back and get y’all if you put that on there.  I own it, but I sure hope that’s not my legacy.

Death has reminded us once again in the past week that you just never know. And while there are no guarantees, I hope I have more time to work on my legacy.  Maybe the three words that will stand out haven’t bloomed in me yet.

As I was about to walk away from thinking and writing for a little while, hoping something would come to me, I heard the words, almost as though they were being whispered through a veil.  Three words.  A single thought.  To cover my whole life–bumps and bruises and stops and starts, messes, successes, mixups, things done and left undone.  All of it.  I don’t remember the first time I heard it or whether it was Mama or Daddy who said it to me first.  It was saved for the really special, choice moments in my life.  Like when my oldest and first treasure was born in the wee hours of a Tuesday morning.  Or each of my other two treasures born 9 and 11 years later.  I think Daddy said it after I shared stories at my Great Aunt’s funeral in 2010, and Mama said it after the rush and chaos had settled following Daddy’s service.  I don’t know that I deserved the words, but I do know my heart soared and I cried tears of gratitude deep inside my soul on those precious occasions when I heard them.

I hope one day I will live up to these words, that my life’s legacy and my efforts will not have been for naught, and that I will have earned them in every sense of the word:

She done good

I’m not ready to go yet, because I still have a lot of work to do to get to the point where anyone, especially my people, will feel like pulling out the hammer and chisel and putting this on my stone.  But it’s good to have goals, and this is mine.  To do good, and to be loved, and to love in a way that those left behind will forgive me my temper, my lack of organization, and all of my shortcomings.  I hope they will forgive the stacks and stacks of books and bits of notes and cards and whatnot that I am loath to let go of, and in their hearts, they will be able to say those three words.  She done good.

It’s something to live for, isn’t it?

For more epitaph thoughts and stories, visit Amy at her blog, “the reinvention of amy,” and read down to the links at the bottom of her post.  Thanks, Amy, for a thought-provoking question this week!

Cardinals and Starlings and Remembering When

This morning our Princess was the one who took Miss Sophie out for her morning constitutional.  I heard the door open and close, and then immediately open again.

“Mama! Mama!  You have to come here!” she said urgently.

I really don’t like it when they do that.  It could be anything from a flower growing in a flowerpot (yay!) to a bleeding injury (boo!), and since I have no idea, Anxiety Girl always leaps in to jump to conclusions, and my stomach turns inside out.

“What is it?” I called out, making my way to the front door with a sense or purpose.

“There’s something dead in the front yard.”  She stopped.  “Yes ma’am, it’s something dead.”

We live at the edge of a wooded area.  That something dead could have been ANYTHING from raccoon to fox to cat to dog to mouse to mole to chipmunk to frog to snake to worm.  Considering the source, any one of those would have caused her to raise her voice as she did.

“What is it?” I asked, peering out into the yard.

“I don’t know.”

I walked outside, and there it lay on the grass.  Definitely dead.

Oh no.

A cardinal.

Cardinals are my favorite birds.  I can remember one flying across the bottom on my way to work many years ago, every single morning.  I felt like it was a good omen for my day, and I made up in my head that it was good luck to see a cardinal.  When Daddy was diagnosed with the Giant four years ago, I would see one at Blackberry Flats from time to time.  One day when things were particularly hard and discouraging, I went in and sat with Daddy, next to his hospital bed in the living room.  He was gazing out his window, the same one his recliner used to sit next to.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of red.  “Daddy!  It’s a cardinal.  That’s good luck.  It’s a good sign.”  He gave a half-smile.  And watched.

I gave Mama a cardinal Christmas ornament that year, and she kept it hanging from her lamp year round.

We love those beautiful birds.

And now. Today.  Poor thing.  My heart broke.

Of all weeks.  In the midst of emotions and memories and trying to wrap my brain around the idea that it has been almost two years since I last heard my Daddy’s voice and held his hand and looked in those eyes.  A precious, beautiful cardinal.  Dead.

Sadness.  Just this.  That sweet little bird, once so alive and flying high above it all–now, just gone.  No more.

It left me with a heavy heart.  I wanted to sit and cry and let this bird’s life not to have been for naught.

But as always happens, perhaps for the better, life intervened.  My zoo crew and my zoo all needed feeding and tending to.  I turned away, and wiped away the tears I was crying on the inside.  Time for that would come later.

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Tonight as I thought about the cardinal and how he spoke to my grief, laying there lifeless and still beautiful, I found this quote from a poem.  Yes, another Mary Oliver poem.  She speaks to me lately, and I give thanks for her.  I too long for these things she describes.

I remember sitting on the couch in the living room of the little house on my Granny’s farm on a cold Sunday afternoon in winter, listening to my Daddy and Granny talk about the birds that had been around.  When I feel small and lonely and miss those that have gone before I go back in time to that couch, listening, feeling small and safe and warm as the little heater worked to warm the room and the whole house.  And as they talked I gazed out the big plate-glass window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the birds they were speaking of.  I wanted to be able to talk about them too.  To belong. And be with.  The same things I want now. 

“Look, Daddy!  A cardinal.  That’s good luck.  Things are going to get better.”

Starlings in Winter

by Mary Oliver

Chunky and noisy,

but with stars in their black feathers,

they spring from the telephone wire

and instantly

they are acrobats

in the freezing wind.

And now, in the theater of air,

they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;

they float like one stippled star

that opens,

becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;

and you watch

and you try

but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it

with no articulated instruction, no pause,

only the silent confirmation

that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts,

that can rise and spin over and over again,

full of gorgeous life.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,

even in the leafless winter,

even in the ashy city.

I am thinking now

of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots

trying to leave the ground,

I feel my heart

pumping hard, I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.

I want to be light and frolicsome.

I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,

as though I had wings.

 

“Starlings in Winter” by Mary Oliver, from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays. Beacon Press, 2003.