So My Children Were Talking…..And What Came Next

I hope that what I’ve written here doesn’t offend anyone, and that you don’t find it irreverent.  There’s just something that stirs within you when you find your 7- and 9-year-old children discussing your estate.  And when it gets stirred you have to do something with THAT, obviously, so this is what came next.  Here goes: 

Yesterday I overheard my two littles in conversation.   At one point, Cooter turned to me as I was making their sandwiches for lunch and asked, “Mama, can I be the one in charge of giving away all the stuff when you die? I’ll do a really good job.”

Wait.  Cute little boy with no teeth on top say what now?

Before I could answer, our Princess, 27 months his senior, answered, “No, you can’t.  Mama is the oldest, that’s why she’s doing it for Maemae.  That means Baba will do it for Mama.  You just can’t.”

To say that Cooter was disappointed would be an understatement.  “But I’d do a really good job…..” his voice trailed as he left the room talking about what he wanted for himself, and then he returned, asking his sister–“Do you want that TV because I’ll make sure you get it.”

She actually paused a moment to think about it and her face brightened.

Good to know.  Our Princess can be bought with a TV.  Okay then.

Y’all.  Methinks my children have had too much death to deal with in the past four years.

They’re just too young.  And yet–well, they know a little bit more about life too now, don’t they?

Still, I’d rather them not be talking about taking my stuff just yet, if it’s all the same to them, thankyouverymuch.

So just to keep the battles at bay and in an effort to keep everyone getting along when it becomes necessary and the situation presents itself, here is a little letter to tuck away for them to read later.  Much later I hope.

Dear Crew,

First of all, I love y’all.  And no matter how many times I told y’all you were making me crazy, I still love y’all.  Each and every precious and tender and frustrating moment.  You are my world and my life is better because of each one of you.

Now.  Let’s get down to business.  Whichever one of you winds up handling my “affairs,” know that I could have chosen any one of you, and been assured it would be handled fine and had concerns all at the same time.  (Keep in mind that you were a hormonal teenager and two who really didn’t like math and following rules very much and would have rather played with Legos than do anything else when I’m writing this–so you can see where I’m coming from, right?)

Okay, lose the “if only’s.”  It is what it is.  Whatever it was.  Just let it go.  (Hopefully enough time has passed that you’re okay with me bringing that song to memory again.)  In the words of Uncle Bubba, it’s never that serious.

Next, no fighting.  Seriously, nothing I have or will have or have ever had is worth more than what you have in each other.  Again, let it go.  Share it.  Give it away.  Leave it on someone’s doorstep, ring the bell, and run.  Make this fun and filled with memories.  Sure, there will be tears–I mean, I’m really pretty awesome, so who wouldn’t have tears (ha), but don’t make it all about the tears, okay?  I mean it.  I’m not kidding.  Don’t make me tell you again.  (sorry, falling back into that mode–hopefully you have all outgrown that beautifully *sigh*)

Do NOT get rid of my Raggedy Ann dolls.  I am just sayin’.  I’ve never quite gotten over the one I had to let go of all those years ago.  (long story)  So they are very precious.  Especially the one Aunt made for me.  Somebody, for the love of all things Raggedy and old, find a shelf and set them out in your home.  What do you mean, they don’t match your décor?

Next.  I am just kidding in the previous Paragraph, Section All.  Get rid of whatever you want to.  Yes.  I’m sentimental.  Yes.  I kept a lot of Maemae and Cap’s and Granny’s and Aunt W’s and Aunt M’s and everyone’s things. I did.  But that’s me.  It doesn’t have to be you.  If it is, okay, embrace it.  But don’t hang on to something because you think I’d want you to or that it would bother me if you didn’t.  I won’t care.  I will have headed on up to the House, and it won’t matter anymore.  Unless it matters to you.  And that’s all I have to say on that.

Please forgive me the mess I leave you.  I’m not like my Mama in that respect.  As Cap would say, “lots of detritus.”  So unless I’m able to reinvent myself and change a lot of my ways, I’m just sorry.  I don’t know why I keep letters and cards and little bits of memories tucked away.  I’m trying to change.  For all of your sakes.  But you know. Old dog, new tricks, and all of that.  So yes.  I really am sorry.

The greatest gifts Mama and Daddy left me were the ones they left behind–the ones who have been here to hug and love on us and ask if we’re over our colds and how was dance or swim lessons or is the math getting any better and how is Aub liking her college classes…..those are our gifts.  And I hope you will find treasure in those we’ve shared our lives with who I am sure will continue to love on you.  Love on them right back, okay?  Love is a two-way street.  Travel it frequently.

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I love you all.  Right now you are all snoozing away.  I don’t know who y’all decided would be best to handle my estate yesterday, but here’s the thing.  You all are responsible for it.  For how I’m remembered and for how you can still feel my love close.  It will be when you are together, sharing stories–the sweet and funny and embarrassing and sad and triumphant.  Do that.  Sharing.  Holding close to each other.  A lot.  Okay.  Really, that’s all I care about.

The rest is just stuff.  Do what you will.  Or don’t.

Just love.  That’s what I’m leaving you and what I’m leaving you as a family heirloom to share with yours.  And so on.  Love.  And lots of it.

Always,

Mama (or ‘dre or whatever you are calling me at the time–just happy you were calling me)

 

Love to all.

 

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.