Why I Want to Wear Black

pic of gibran quote

Yesterday I spent most of the morning with my children cleaning my great aunt’s house.  It has sat empty for over three years now.  We have a new realtor and high hopes this time.  When I went in for the first time in quite a while on Friday, meeting with the realtor, I knew we would have to come back and clean.  It was not a requirement or even a request.  It was a gift to one of the strong women who helped raise me.  I couldn’t kiss her forehead when she left, nor could I wash her face and hands one last time.  But I can make sure that folks who come into her home know someone cares and that it doesn’t look thrown away.  So we vacuumed and dusted and polished and swept.  It was a sacred morning.

Last night I was filled with sorrow and joy all at the same time (I know, I’m the crazy one in our family), and the first thing I thought was, “I want to tell Mama.”  And it all came rushing back.  I’m afraid the emotional tidal wave had me pouring my heart out in a raw, broken way.  And I’m sorry about that.

But I feel raw.  And broken.  Even still.  I get invited to do lovely things with wonderful people, and I want to do these things.  But when I think about it, the panic sets in and I just can’t.  I am so sorry for that too.  The panic.  The not being able to do things.  Be with people.  I do apologize.  But there it is.  And I don’t know what to do about it.  But wait, maybe?

This morning I thought about something I wrote less than a month after Daddy left this world.  Considering the trip I took on the Grief Wheel last night, I offer this for whatever it can be.  An explanation.  An apology.  The map of where I am for the time being.  With love to all.

I originally wrote this the morning of 12/13/2011. It is just as true today, and even more so.

The journey is over
He, who fought so hard, and did so much to stay
Had to leave
He told me so
Not long after he left and we all said goodbye
I saw him, in my dream
We were all gathered to say goodbye, and he was there
I ran to him and hugged him
“What are you doing here?” I was ecstatic and a little confused.

“I’m sorry,” he said as he hugged me back
“I had to go. I’m sorry.”
He looked so good. Healthy. Strong. Ready to take on the world again.
To create with wood and words and make us all laugh and keep us all straight. He looked full of life.
I know he is healed. So many remind me, trying to bring comfort.
One said, “God needed your Daddy more than you did.” I don’t think so. I cannot breathe sometimes I need him so much. But thank you for taking time to speak to me.
Others choose not to say anything or ask anything. Grief is not a fashionable accessory. It can make a lot of folks uncomfortable. And that is okay too.
And those that ask, I wonder. How long can I be honest? How long can I tear up when they ask? How long before someone tells me enough is enough? How long before the world continues on, as though the sky did not fall, as though it can still breathe, as though he did not even exist? As though none of this matters anymore?

There are things to do, hustle and bustle, and appointments to keep, projects to produce, shows to watch and restaurants to visit, vacations to take, and trips to plan. How long before Life throws its hands up and says, “Really we must go on without you, because this whole grief thing…..well, it’s really getting old.”
Perhaps the tradition of wearing black for a year is not as unfounded as we may have thought. If one is mourning, and one is marked as a mourner, perhaps that is enough. There is grace in that, I think. So that when I start to cry in the candy aisle at the grocery store, because I just thought about buying that candy for him because he loves it, folks will know. Or when I feel drawn to the cancer center, to reach out and hug someone going through just what we have, maybe folks won’t think I’m strange, because they will know. Or when I am trying to remember the name of the person who worked with Daddy, and I think, I need to ask him…..and then it hits me, and I burst into sobs. Folks will know. I need for them to know.

I need for them to know, because one day, one day soon I fear, I will reach out and grab hold of the closest person around and I will beg them to hold me, to wipe out all of the brokenness in this—my Mama who is alone; my sister who shuts the door to her office and cries at work; the grandchild on the way who will never know what a special man he is and was; my children who miss him so, the oldest who misses the man who loved her and raised her and the youngest who doesn’t know what to make of all this but just misses his car playing buddy who let him drive his cars around the rails of the hospital bed…..over and over; and his sister, who cries quietly because she misses her brother. I will reach out and grab hold and I won’t let go. As I cry and sob and let it all out, I won’t let go. Because I’ve done that already, and it hurts so much I cannot breathe. I need for them to know. Because I cannot forget.

pic of things quote

Hey Girl

I originally wrote this when my Aub was away for a few days on 7/21/2008. I can only imagine how precious the Hey Girl will be in a few months, when she goes off to college.  As we prepare for her graduation tomorrow night, I am waxing reminiscent.   I realize that since I’ve written this, “Hey Girl” has been made popular by the Ryan Gosling meme, but for me, it will always make me think of Granny.  And my girls.

pic of coconut cake

My Granny holds a special place in my heart and memory. I still bake “her” coconut cake on her birthday every year that I have been able to. I think of her often and when I realize that she’s been gone over ten years, it takes my breath away. She was just as tough on us as she was loving, but that didn’t matter. Granny was Granny and always will be. I love my childhood memories of visiting her, but my most favorite ones are when I visited as a young adult, just the two of us, sitting and whiling away the time. We had serious talks, like when we both got rather vehement about the town’s Christmas decorations being put up before Thanksgiving could even be celebrated. Boy, that got her dander up. And mine too—so much so that I wrote a letter to the editor (at her goading, if memory serves). I think it tickled her. At least it got a smile out of her .
When I’d go to her door off the carport at her house in town—that’s what it will always be for me—her house “in town,” because, as we all know, Granny’s house is the one in the country—out on the farm at the end of that long dirt road I learned to ride my bike on. No matter whose name is on the title—it’s hers. But I digress. When I’d go to the door and knock—doorbells are for company (don’t knock on my door if you don’t know me)—I’d peek in and see her ambling over. In the beginning on her own, and later with her walker. She’d smile and I would too. I don’t know if she was always glad to see me—a new bride who just was seeking company in one of the places she considered home—but she never made me feel less than special on those visits. The first words that came from her were, “Hey girl.” I’m telling you it warmed the cockles of my heart. (Cockles? Really? Yep, look it up—it’s the fourth of fifth definition of the word.) I can still hear her voice, “Hey girl.” And the smile that accompanied the heartwarming melody went all the way up to her beautiful brown eyes. In that moment, I was home. We’d sit and talk and solve the world’s troubles in those times. I often would make her tell me over and over who so and so took after or how we were related to so and so. Later when she was bedridden and not doing too good, I’d knock and go in. When she’d see me, she’d still smile and so would I—“Hey girl.”
Now I know I’m not the only one she’d say that to, but the important thing is that when she said it, you were the only one. A term of endearment. That’s what it became for me, and I’m just starting to appreciate it.
Today I was on the road and missed a call from my treasured friend who was volunteering out in the heat for her son’s ball team. I quickly called her from my cell when I got her message. When she answered, obviously after glancing at caller ID, she answered, “Hey girl.” It took me back. Yes, it’s a term of endearment. I’ve said it myself without even realizing it. But only to my truest of true, “bosom” friends as they were once called. I say it in love and respect. It’s not something I say unless I know you and really care about you. You have to earn your “hey girl” with me.  I know that my precious friend had no way of knowing how much those two words touched me, but in that moment I was home, safe, and comforted in the warmth of our friendship.
My soon to be teenager has been gone for three days now for a wonderful mini-vacation with great friends from our overseas tour. I’ve called two nights in a row and she’s been out having the time of her life. We’ve all missed her. Her little one year old brother has been more vocal than he’s ever been, walking around tonight, hollering his nickname for her “Baba! BA-BA!!!!!” I thought when she left, Well, maybe she’ll come home and appreciate me a little more. I think the opposite may happen. She has a gift that she shares with us, her family, and that is missed. I’m thrilled that she is where she is, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if, when I pick her up at the end of the week, the first words out of my mouth are, “Hey girl.”

That's my girl--ain't she a mess?

That’s my girl–ain’t she a mess?

The Memory of Yesterday, The Legacy of Tomorrow

This weekend marks 23 years since I graduated from college.  I don’t think of it every year, but for many reasons, this year it’s been on my mind.

It was four years before that I spent a week choosing between Wesleyan and Georgia Southern.  Yeah, you don’t get much more polar opposites that those two, do you?  Coed vs. all women, small vs. large, close to home vs. a few hours away, and so on.  I had a leaning towards Wesleyan because it was closer (seriously, that long drive with Daddy for Scholarship Interviews at Southern was very possibly a deal breaker–there was nothing on I-16!), and because Mama had graduated from there four years earlier.

Mama only had two quarters left in college as a Chemistry major at Valdosta State when, as a first year bride and newly pregnant,  she was told by doctors it was either the degree or me.  She chose me.  With only two quarters left.  I am humbled and thankful.  So in 1980, she transferred her credits to Wesleyan and changed to a Psychology major.  I remember her music class with Dr. Herrington.  She came up with neat mnemonic devices to remember the composers–“Mozart’s in the closet! Let him out! Let him out! Let him out!”  My brother went to the little preschool at the edge of campus while she was in class, and when we were out of school, we would go and sit in an empty classroom across the hall from hers.  I remember sitting in the brown desks, dreaming of the day I would go to college.  It seemed so far away then.

Because Mama was on campus regularly, she learned of things like the children’s plays and the Naiads–the synchronized swimming team.  We went to the theater for the plays and for concerts.  We watched the swimmers in their beautiful suits dancing in the water.  I suppose it was only inevitable that Wesleyan won in the choice of college; she had already won my heart.  I was home.

I made great friends during my years at Wesleyan, and I figured out what I believed.  I loved the classes and assignments that made me stretch myself and explain what I believed and why, especially the papers for Dr. Ledbetter’s classes (my favorite may have been on the spirituality of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer”).  Because I attended only four years after Mama, I had Dr. Curry for Psychology just as she had.  My freshman roommate helped me bind my children’s book  for Miss Munck the night before it was due.  (I still have it.) We had a gummy bear throwing “thing” going on with our across the hall neighbor.  (Some things you don’t ask about, people.)  I may or may not know something about a vehicle driving across the sidewalk to get its occupants to Physical Science on time, because they had been watching the last few minutes of Y and the R.  As a Resident Assistant, I found great friends in the classes behind ours.  And I collected a great deal of purple paraphernalia over the years, as I was a Purple Knight.  Wesleyan was where I learned to accept others, no matter our differences, and to accept myself.  This is also where I fell in love with the theater, and I was thrilled when Sir cast me as the lead in the children’s play my junior year.  I was going to be on stage performing for excited children, just as those actresses had when I was younger.  What a blast I had!

I learned that time management was important (we don’t talk about Calculus II–EVER), and that laughter truly is the best medicine.  I was thrown in the fountain for my birthday each year, and twelve years after graduation, I was married around the fountain which has the words “We Live For One Other” etched in the marble.

The fountain at Wesleyan--so many memories.

The fountain at Wesleyan–so many memories.

This year I suppose the memories of my years–was it only four?–at Wesleyan are especially poignant, as this is the year of the passing of the torch.  As I sat with my older daughter on Scholarship Day, I wondered if she would choose my alma mater.  I only wanted it for her if she felt like I had–that it was home.

I had my answer very soon.  Scholarship Day was Saturday, February 9th.  It was the evening of the 10th that my dear friend, minister, and sister Wesleyanne brought Aub to the hospital to say goodbye to Mama.  Aub walked in, went straight to her bedside, and said, in a voice that was somewhat tremulous and strong at the same time, “Maemae, I decided about college.  I’m going to Wesleyan.”  I was in tears (and yet I thought–wait–we haven’t heard about the scholarship yet!).  It was the day after Mama’s funeral that Auburn’s Admissions Rep, also a Wesleyanne and a fabulous woman, called her and gave her the good news.  Auburn is the newest recipient of the Mary Knox McNeill Faith and Service Scholarship, and a member of the Pirate Class of 2017.

My Pirate, Class of 2017!

My Pirate, Class of 2017!

My girl has embraced her choice and never looked back.  (As she was born on National Talk Like a Pirate Day, I suppose it was inevitable.)  She is a strong woman, that one.  I give thanks for that.  She joined every Wesleyan related Facebook page she could.  She has friended former and current Wesleyannes.  She talked me into going back for STUNT–the awesome production that took up much of my life my junior and senior years.   She even participated in a contest to design the t-shirt for the incoming freshman–and her design was chosen. Not too shabby for our future Graphic Design/Psychology major.

So as I remember my graduation, I wonder where we all will be four years from today, watching as this young woman sets out on the next step in her journey (which WILL be graduate school…..ahem).  I am thankful for the strong women, some of whom are Wesleyannes, who strengthened her through their love and guidance and laughter.  I am thankful for the men who encouraged her to speak her mind and taught her she can be anything she sets her mind to.  And I’m thankful for her spirit–she has weathered many a storm, but like the Pirate she is, she has stayed afloat and is sailing afar, up for a new adventure at her new home, my alma mater and my Mama’s–

Hail Wesleyan, thou emblem of all that is grand;

The noblest, the greatest, in all this fair land.

Thine ideals are honored, thy name always blest;

A fountain of knowledge, the oldest and best.

A star in the dark is thy glorious past,

Forever and ever thy glory shall last.

Upholding thine ideals, thy daughters shall be

True, faithful, and loyal, dear Wesleyan to thee.

As she stands around the fountain under a star-filled sky, arms joined with her Pirate sisters, the sound of their voices raised in song filling the night air–for just a moment, I hope she will look up and think of those who have gone before, and all that lies ahead of her.  And I hope, in that moment, she will smile.  And dream big dreams.  Like I did 23 years ago.  Go get ’em girl.  Pirates, all the way!

Prom Night

My girl.  Her Junior/Senior.  No, really, it’s her first and last prom.  It’s a long story but this is her junior and senior year, so this is it.  THE PROM.

She hemmed and hawed as we do about whether she would go or not.  In the end, she wrote her own check and bought her ticket.  Let me just tell you this is HUGE.  I am so proud of her.  She was intent on going and having a great time.  With friends.  I love that.  I didn’t have her courage or grace when I was her age.  The jury is still out on whether I have as much as she does now.

So we went shopping.  In the end she chose a beautiful dress that was just perfect.  From the GW Boutique.  I’m telling you, we love shopping there and can get the best bargains ever.  I was proud of her choosing to shop there and then so thrilled that she found THE DRESS.  (Aub, are you saying yes to the dress?  Why yes, yes I am.)

THE prom dress.....Take 1

THE prom dress…..Take 1

She then planned out her shoes, found them at a different location of the GW Boutique.  Yesterday she got some inexpensive stuff to do her nails and today she did them herself.  I am telling you, this girl can make a party out of nothing.  She just has that gift.

This afternoon she visited our sweet neighbor friend and talented hair stylist, and she got her hair did.  It was beautiful.  So we had all the puzzle pieces together, time to put them in place.  She started getting dressed and came to me to help her zip up.  Oh y’all.  I just about cry when I think back on it. Just a few hours ago.  My girl.  Beautiful.  I tried to zip but I didn’t have my hands in the right place.  So yeah.  This happened today.

This zipper is broke.....and so was my heart.

This zipper is broke…..and so was my heart.

I just pulled wrong and too hard.  I tried y’all.  Really I did.  We got out the needle nose pliers and I opened up the zipper to slide the other side back in.  Oh what a mess.  My heart sank as each minute ticked by.  She was about to miss her prom.  Because I.  Messed.  Up.  If I had been my Granny or my Aunt or my cousin even, I would have ripped that zipper out, HAD the right one here to replace it, and stitched it back in, and she still would have been on time.  Ahem.  No.  I heard my girl say, “It’s okay.  I just won’t go.  It will be all right.”

Not.  On.  My. Watch.

I love this child.  I try not to spoil her.  But I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if I’m going to let her miss her prom, after she made the decision to go and got her outfit together with such a good attitude and open heart.

I started barking orders.  Rare for me.  (Never mind, I can’t even type that with a straight face.)  So I said, “Get your dress shoes, take your boots just in case, throw on clothes, we’re going to a store, and this is GOING TO HAPPEN.”

And you know what?  It did.

We had a twenty minute ride to the closest store that might possibly maybe have a dress in stock.  She had called them, and we were hopeful.  In the meantime she was texting our other dear and treasured neighbor friend who was pulling dresses from her closet and texting pictures in case the shopping trip was for naught.  Have I mentioned I have great folks all around me?  Love my neighbors.  Yeah, these folks make that an easy commandment to follow.

We laughed as we made a game plan for our dash-in-try-on-buy-and-dash-out mission.  Failure was not an option.  Despite the rain, she kept her cool and her hair in place.  We walked in and saw a beautiful selection of dresses right away.  My eyes went to the chartreuse immediately (yeah, it’s kinda my thing) and Aub’s went to a cute black and white number with BLING. (And she can pull off some bling!)  She did indulge me and try on the chartreuse.  She thought she looked eight years old.  I thought she looked like Tinkerbell, and it was very cute.  But the black and white one…..her eyes lit up.  The price was right, and the pashmina wrap was on sale (needed–the rain had dropped the temp to 55 already!) and there was a cute pair of earrings to match.  And with that we were at checkout right on time.  We asked the cashier for a pair of scissors to snip the tags off.  (Remember my broken filter? Yeah, I told her about the zipper.)  “Oh when is your Prom?” she asked.   I checked the time.  “Ummm, now.”  Sweet young woman.  Headed to the same college as Aub next year–for nursing school.  She’ll make it.  I saw it in her eyes.

Aub changed in the car–avert your eyes people.  She kept it decent, and we were on our way.  She was only fashionably late, thank goodness.  And all was well.  I am so proud of her for turning her back on a bit of a rough start and setting off for an evening of fun with friends.  I love this girl.

My girl, turning her back on the past, and headed for the future.  You go girl!

My girl, turning her back on the past, and headed for the future. You go girl!

After seeing her off, I called my cousin.  I shared with him the evening’s events.  I told him how bad I had felt about not being able to fix the zipper.  “Eh, it’s good to know what you can and can’t do.”  And he is right.  I could have tried.  But many broken relationships and a month later, Aub might have had some semblance of a dress left.  When it comes to stitching and sewing up something that delicate when it’s that important with serious time constraints…..”ain’t nobody got time for that.”

Tonight I am thankful for a girl who dreams big, who is strong and wise and beautiful inside and out.  I am thankful that we were able to go to a store and get a backup dress.  I am thankful for our conversation and laughter and meeting a new person and hearing her story.  I am thankful for kind and gracious neighbors who are a part of the village helping me raise my children.  I am very thankful for great hair spray that withstands major humidity and many dress changes and tremendous stress.  Finally I’m thankful for the words of wisdom from my cousin–trying to make myself into something or someone I’m not…..yeah, FOR SURE ain’t nobody got time for that.

And just for fun, and with much appreciation, the original “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

Ain’t nobody gonna help you

This display was seen at a bookstore on our walk in downtown Macon.  Daddy warned me about this crew!

This display was seen at a bookstore on our walk in downtown Macon. Daddy warned me about this crew!

Tuesday when the littles and I were headed back from the Grand Opera House to where we’d parallel parked (you may take a moment to be impressed–ha) on a side street, I saw this display in the window of a bookstore.  As I stood there taking it all in, I thought about what Daddy said when I was expecting my first one, his first grandchild, eighteen years ago.

“Ain’t nobody gonna help you raise this young’un.”

Now my Daddy was an educated man, a wordsmith of sorts who did all kinds of cogitating and reading fascinating and in-depth works.  However, he was smart enough to pass on this bit of wisdom in just this way, probably the same way it had been passed to him.  I don’t know, maybe it’s his original thought and he just knew it would resonate better this way.

Because I’ve never forgotten it.

When folks gave my child the diet soda when she was very small instead of the juice I’d sent, I remembered this.  When ThoseInCharge on the plane trips back and forth from Japan played Rated R movies on the overhead screens and I had to keep a constant check that she wasn’t watching (and therefore I could not sleep!), I thought about this.  When one of her teachers questioned why I wasn’t letting her watch one of the popular tv shows at the time, I remembered Daddy’s words.  When those who should have had her best interest first and foremost let her down time after time, yep, Daddy, I would think, you are SO right.

There have been so many times.  Rules set by parents of peers–they give their children new cars while she is sharing Becky the Blazer with me.  Children who had cell phones way before she did, and she just didn’t understand.  Young people her age allowed freedoms that just aren’t okay with me.  These folks just ARE NOT making it any easier for me in raising my child.   Oh boy, was Daddy right.  Nobody’s helping me here.

But then again…..

I look around now, today, just four weeks until her graduation.  And I know what Daddy was saying, and yes, so many times it was true.  I’m glad he told me that so I was a little prepared each time it happened.  But I also know he was wrong in a lot of instances too.  He himself proved the prophecy wrong.  He and Mama have been huge in the “raising up” of my children.  Their help was priceless and made a significant impact on the young woman about to embark on the next step in her journey. (Maybe his double negative was prophetic after all?)

There are others.

Family, our people, who take time to love unconditionally, as hard as that may be–and to laugh with me and at me in the challenges of parenthood

The teachers who empower and encourage her to think for herself–the ones who show her the door but let her open it herself

The folks in her life who helped her figure out what she believes and what she doesn’t and give her grace in changing her mind; those who help her on her faith journey, help her to develop strong faith so her steps won’t be wobbly as she continues upward

Those who take time to listen to her stories, people of all ages who love her and listen and call me on stuff as well (you know who you are)

Today I am thankful for those who have given her grace and love and a safe place and continue to do so.  When the messages she gets from those around her fill her with doubt or sadness, there are people who ARE helping me raise her–our village people–the ones who hug her, who are on her side, who come out swinging the proverbial bat, saying, “Where are they? I got this.”  Those are the ones I’m thankful for.  And because of them–

The folks who ain’t gonna help me just don’t matter.

And for the record, no one got a book on Tuesday.