Cakes, Cookies, and Circling Close

Today was our family’s Fall Hootenanny, and this beauty was waiting to greet me when I walked through the door.

LOVE.  100% Pure Tee Love right there.

                                                  LOVE. 100% Pure Tee Love right there.

That right there is a genuine Ten Layer Chocolate Cake.  My Aunt made it because she was thinking of my Granny, her Mama.  It took her a whole afternoon to make it.  What a gift of love, and I swanee, it fairly melted in my mouth.

Oh yeah.  It was inhaled very quickly.

                                           Oh yeah. It was inhaled very quickly. Because #THATGOOD

Funny, isn’t it, the journey that food takes us on?  I make a coconut cake for our Spring Easter Egg Hunt/Wienie Roast for the same reason–because it makes me think of Granny.  Yesterday I baked my Mama’s Lucia Pepparkakor cookies and used her jack o’lantern cookie cutter, and I could almost see her hands rolling out the dough.  I also made a pound cake with a praline/caramel glaze and thought of my Daddy and his love of caramel cakes.

Mama's Swedish Ginger Snaps

                                                            Mama’s Swedish Ginger Snaps

Food.  Love.  Interchangeable really.

I sat at the table today with my cousin’s three children.  The oldest took a bite of a Mint Chocolate Chip cookie that another cousin usually makes and brings to our family gatherings.  As he began to chew, he closed his eyes and said, “Mmmmm.  It’s even better than I remember. It’s just so good.” He looked up very seriously. “I could eat more than three.”

Oh bless him.  He was so precious.  His memories of our family as he gets older will include these cookies as much as the coconut cake and Ten Layer Chocolate Cake remind me of Granny.  (He also has a theory about eating Rice Krispie treats and enjoying them because they aren’t too filling and there’s more room for the cookies–another year and he’ll have this whole dessert management thing down to a science. And with this family and all of our talented bakers, we need it.)

We also had our annual Turkey Egg Hunt.  Our Princess was shocked to discover, upon enthusiastically telling others what we were going to be doing today, that not every family has a Turkey Egg Hunt.  All I can say is y’all are seriously missing out.  Hunting eggs twice a year is kind of our thing.  Turkeys get equal billing with this crew.

Our Princess chasing down another turkey egg.

                                         Our Princess chasing down another turkey egg.

Today was a day of standing around and telling stories, sitting with folks younger and older and shooting the breeze.  It was about hearing all the love in the voices of those who have known me longest (and they still love me anyway–I don’t take that lightly).  It was about missing the ones who weren’t with us and giving thanks in all kinds of ways for those who were.  It was about old traditions and new beginnings and swapping recipes and making plans for future visits again real soon.  It was a day of open doors and windows and scooching over to make room for more.

Because that’s the love language of my people, y’all.  We’re not the most extroverted bunch, but when it comes to scooching over so someone else can squeeze in, we’re good.  We’ve got that part down.  And if it means we can share a cookie and a smile while we’re sitting there elbow to elbow, then all the more joy for everyone.

Tonight after we got home, the littles and I watched an episode of “Girl Meets World.”  That we love this show and why is a whole ‘nother post.  The main character, Riley, shared these words with a group of friends and family on the episode we watched tonight:

“We think that we are the center of the universe, but the truth is… we need to circle the ones we love for as long as they’re here. We need to hold them close, because no matter how far we travel, they are the ones who hold us in place. It’s gravity, and without it, we’d just all float away from each other.”

That’s what today was about, circling the ones I love and giving thanks that they are here.

And cakes and cookies, and all the stories and memories they can hold.

Y’all go find somebody to circle.  Hold ’em close.  Maybe even share a cookie.

Love to all.

Leaps of Faith

Out beyond Granny’s house on the farm was a ditch of sorts.  It was swampy around it, and whether or not anything we imagined was true, we cousins made up stories about what kinds of horrible things lurked in the murky, dank waters.  The worst thing in the world would have been to fall in that mess.

And yet–what did we do?

Made a game out of running circles.  Run towards it, leap over it, stick the landing, get up, run around it and back to the other side to do it all over again.

Great fun.  We laughed and encouraged and teased each other.  That ditch was a source of disgust and inspiration for many afternoons of fun.

I’ve been thinking about marriage lately.  I remember well the day I looked at my Fella and thought, “Well, yeah, okay.  Why not?”  And then we took a giant leap of faith.  Together.

And some folks would have us believe that marriage, the act of making that commitment one to another, is a leap of faith.

Hogwash.

It SO is NOT.

Instead, marriage is a thousand little leaps of faith, sometimes all in one day.  It’s fighting all that would pull us asunder, and taking that leap to honor, to trust, to share, to give, to open up, to love–hoping to stick the landing.  One. More. Time.

And there’s a lot of asundering things lurking in the murky depths out there.  Sometimes it’s even us ourselves threatening to pull us apart.

When my cousins and I used to play “jump the ditch,” we’d leap and try not to fall in the mess below.  On the off occasion that we nearly fell in or our foot slipped and we had nowhere to go but down, it seems like there was always someone who turned back and offered a hand and made sure we got back on level ground again–if only we trusted them enough to take their hand.

That’s what marriage is about too I think.  At one point or another one partner or the other hits a slippery slope or just plain falls in the mess of darkness and pain and fears.  It’s hard to be vulnerable, and sometimes it’s hard to trust that other person standing there loving you through it, willing you to take their hand and come back to level ground.  Sometimes what is stopping us is ourselves.  We lose our footing because of so many reasons, and it’s hard to think that it all even matters anymore because all we can see is the mess.  The brokenness.

But then there’s the hand.  Of someone who loves us, helping us back to where things are good, and we are standing on firm, even ground with them.  If we would just take that leap of faith over the messes and the doubts and the fears and frustrations.  Leap and grab hold.

For dear life.

And love.

Tonight I give thanks for the ones who took my hand all those years ago, and for the one who continues to reach out to me even when I’m asundering myself into a million broken little pieces.  With each leap and landing that we stick, we get stronger, because neither one of us plans on letting the other one fall in the darkness.  At least not for long.

Love to all.

IMG_9952

the eerie light and Irish Spring

after a day of playing tag before the heat of noon
chased us indoors to have a sandwich or a buttered biscuit
leftover from last night’s supper

and marathon sessions of Monopoly
or building frog villages in the sand pile
under the big tree
complete with parking garages for the Matchbox cars
that all too often caved in
the casualties were regrettable
especially when Granny asked us where all the cars
had gotten off to

late afternoons spent in front of “Gunsmoke”
or “Andy Griffith”
cooling ourselves in front of the fan
with a cup of Granny’s homemade peach ice cream
she’d frozen in those individual cups
as the sun slanted through the front porch window
and began its descent

after a supper of fried catfish and homemade french fries
served by the hands that caught ’em, cleaned ’em, and cooked ’em,
we headed back outside for one more round of chase
but mostly we danced with the lightning bugs
enchanted, bowing, and following their lead
the music was silent but not in our hearts

and then it was time for baths
as the darkness surrounded the little house
all by itself out there miles from town

Granny let us fill the tub as full as we wanted,
a luxury to be sure
the feel of the footed tub worn smooth with all the scrubbing she did
the black rubber stopper on the chain keeping the water level up
the smell of Irish Spring a sure sign of summer
and all that was right in the world

the only light in the bathroom, the one up high on the wall,
gave an eerie almost green glow to the room
made all the more curious by the window up next to the ceiling
that faced the back porch
which was always pitch black during bath time
unless Granny had to go out to the washer or freezer

anticipating the ghost stories we were sure to share
as soon as the lights went out
I could almost imagine a face up there
and so I would duck under the water
and lay there for a second
closing my eyes, holding my nose
and listen to the world echo around me

all was quiet
and warm
and safe

there under the eerie green light
the scent of Irish Spring greeting me as I rose to the surface

and all was the best it could ever be
only I had no idea of any of that,
so I dried off and put on my pajamas

and hurried to the pallet Granny had made for us with her quilts
when the 11 o’clock news was over, she turned the TV off,
told us good night, reminded us to keep it down and go to sleep,
and then she turned off the lights

tonight as I reach over to turn off my own lamp
I find myself wanting one more bath under that light
one more sniff of Irish Spring and
and wanting, once more, to feel my Granny’s hand as she patted me on the shoulder
on her way to bed

more than anything though
I want to dance with lightning bugs
and the people I love
and have feet so dirty they leave a ring in the bathtub

just as they once did
beneath the eerie light
in the little house
that built me

The Love Behind the Extra Leaves and Card Tables

I miss our big family get togethers from when I was little.

It doesn’t matter where. From my great Granddaddy’s to my Great Aunt’s to my Granny’s to Mama’s. I loved them all. The hustle and bustle of activity, tables or counters or stovetops groaning, laden with all kinds of good foods–and some that I wasn’t so fond of, but it didn’t matter.  In that setting, a no thank you helping was palatable.  Sweet foods were piled on the plates next to the casseroles.  Some casseroles were having an identity crisis and could have passed for both. (Pineapple cheese casserole, I’m looking at you.)  They had all the goodies of a church potluck, but these were even better–they were with our very own people.

I am still not quite sure how Granny fit all of us in her little house. But she did.  Some folks ate at the counter that ran between the kitchen and the living room.  Others ate at the card tables she set up for folks in front of the couch with chairs on the other side.  Still, how her four children, their spouses and all the grands fit in there, it boggles my mind. Never mind how she prepared enough food for all of us.  It was so good that you had to work not to eat too much, because tucked away in the back bedroom–first known as the “Cold Room” and then the “Pretty room” after its denim and red bandana curtain/bedding makeover–was all of the homemade candy Granny had been preparing.  Divinity, buckeyes, Marth Washingtons…..oh my land.  I just gained ten pounds sitting here drooling over the memory.  I’m pretty sure Granny’s love language must have been food.  If you left hungry, it was your own fault.

Gatherings with my Mama’s side of the family took place first at my Great Grandaddy’s house.  He had a big table, so we’d all gather round the table piled high with food.  What I remember the most from their house was breakfast before dawn (Granddaddy was a retired probate judge and farmer)–biscuits and red-eye gravy.  Excuse me, while I wipe away a tear.  Those things were melt in my mouth GOOD.  For dessert a four layer cake with lemon cheese icing was a given.

Oh me.

After Granddaddy passed, we’d gather at my Great Aunt’s house.  I think she’s on my mind especially today as it’s her birthday.  A few years back I planted a yellow rosebush on her birthday because they were her favorites.  I expect later on I’ll go cut one and bring it inside and smile at all the ways she shaped who I am.

I was beyond thrilled the year I was deemed old enough to go get the extra leaf for her table.  She and my Great Uncle had a lovely table, but what with it being just the two of them, they usually kept it as a small round table.  As we all arrived, there would be a conversation as to how many leaves we needed–one or two.  Then someone would go fetch the required number of leaves carefully from under my Great Aunt’s bed.

Oh my, what a precious moment.  The gently gliding it out from under the bed, wrapped in its sheet.  Then the careful unwrapping and folding the sheet and placing it aside for later.  I carried it upright with both hands through two doorways, calling out to my siblings with a voice that near trembled with the weight of my responsibility, “Move please.  Step out of the way.  Don’t bump me.”  I could NOT hit the walls or doorway with this treasured piece.  The process of dropping it in place and securing it always fascinated me.  After it was all together, it was time to set the table and watch my Great Uncle fry up the okra.  That and my Great Aunt adding almond slivers to the snap beans or a casserole or two were the finishing touches before we sat down to eat.

These days such gatherings are few and far between.  I miss there being more people than I can count, but knowing every face I saw.  I miss the ritual of preparing for the people. It was sacred, a moment of reverence, of appreciating and honoring and creating a place for each one gathered there.  Each one mattered.  Each one had a spot at the table, the card table, or the counter.  And in our hearts.

Today I’m thankful for these memories.  For the hush in my heart when I remember sliding the leaf out from under the bed and feeling the beautiful wood.  For the taste of foods I haven’t eaten in years.  For the smiles and laughter and “scooching” over just a bit to fit in one more person. Because there was always room for just one more.  Most of all, I’m thankful for my Daddy’s sisters who have continued this tradition in their own way.  Who continue to set a place and gather us all close.  The words “thank you” just don’t seem enough.  But I do appreciate them so much.

May you all find yourselves in need of an extra leaf or a card table–surrounded by the people you love.

Love to all.

the boots

her boots standing over by the door
ready and waiting
were once white I believe
but years of trekking through the garden and the Georgia clay
in the heat of summer and the cold of winter
had turned them an off brownish-orange
and still they held up

just like the one who wore them
day in, day out
covering her feet so’s the job what needed doing
could get done

she was strong and wore them well
finishing the task at hand before the sun set
when she went in the old house
and set them once again by the door

I bet she’d wonder why all the folks are wearing
the boots
now
where is the garden that needs tending
which animal in the pasture needs seeing about
which young’un has wandered off out of earshot

her boots were made for working
and that’s just what she’d do

but these boots today
in all kinds of styles and colors
with nary a red clay mark on them
would make her wonder

just where is it y’all are going
that you need those boots to get there?

Love is Always in Season

The day is here.  Everything is red hearts and pink hearts and roses and chocolates and Sweethearts Conversation hearts.

All things I can do without.

Well, maybe except for the conversation hearts.  I used to think those things had some kind of “Magic Eight Ball” foretelling ability.  And we all know the M8B knew…..

I remember the year we made a Valentine’s Day card holder when I was in elementary school.  It was two huge hearts–I think mine were blue, very telling–glued together around the edges, leaving the top open.  For some reason, we used paper folded accordion style for arms and legs and I drew a face on the heart.

Precious.  Ahem.

I don’t remember all the cards I got over the years, but I do remember obsessing over how the card was signed–“Did he write “Love, Me” or just “Me,” and did he add a smiley face or not?  Was it one of the regular-sized cards in the box or was it one of the rarer super-sized ones?   I think I was finally over V Day when, in high school, they did the big carnation sale.  At least I think that was on Valentine’s.  What a day.  There was the girl who ended the day with several carnations, some from her “BFF’s” and even more from boys who hoped to win her heart.

And then there were those of us who left for home carrying only our books and a little heavier hearts.

I’m fine really, but the pressure of the day…..It was way back then that I pretty much wrote off the day.  I’d much rather do what one of my aunts does and just give you something when the mood strikes me, and not when Kay and Hallmark and Helzburg and Ferrero Roche tell me I have to.

There was one year that was special though.  I don’t know why or what for, but Daddy had found himself at the Wal-Mart.  This was over twenty-five years ago.  I can’t imagine what need took him there–a ball of twine?  Duct tape? A case of oil?  Anyway, when he came home, he handed each of us girls a small, clear plastic ball that had a pair of (I think) knee highs in them, and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day.”  (No exclamation point there, it took a lot for his voice to rise, and usually it wasn’t good.)

Mine were lavender.

And I don’t think I ever wore them.

They were a treasure, you see, unexpected as they were, and from my most favorite guy ever.

Cooter was due at the end of February in 2007.  Since our Princess had been two weeks early, I figured he would be born on Valentine’s Day.  I joked–“Valentina for a girl, Valentino for a boy.”  It was a reasonable assumption.  Instead he was two and half weeks early and born on the 10th.  As we were spending our last night in the hospital, our night nurse, Miss Suzette, came in to weigh him.  She held him close and looked at his sweet face with the tenderest of expressions.  “He can have a Valentine’s themed birthday.”  In those moments she saw this little baby, my first boy, grow up before her eyes–something I wasn’t able to do yet, but the love in her eyes touched me, and I still remember being teary-eyed as we said goodbye.

Seventeen years ago, I spent Valentine’s Day morning at a Scrapbooking workshop.  (I was a really awesome scrapbooker for about a year or so–Aub has six months of her life in one to prove it.  *sigh*)  When I got back to Mama’s to pick up my little two-year old, Mama stopped me at the back door.  Daddy’s vehicle wasn’t there.  She told me the heartbreaking news.  My Granny, whom I adored and loved and still miss so much, had died.

She’d been sick, yes.  But still.

She was in a better place.  Oh, don’t I know it.   Celebrating with the great love of her life.  But still.

She had lived a long life.  Yeah, I guess.  But still.

Daddy had gone to her house.  To do what a child does when his/her parent dies.

As I think about Valentine’s Day, and how it is supposed to be all about love, I look back over this patchwork quilt of motley memories from this same day in the years past.  And I see LOVE written all over them.

Oh, not that the advertisers would recognize it–there’s no chocolate or diamonds or vase full of flowers.  (Not even ONE carnation, people, not even one.)

But there’s LOVE.  Of a stranger for a child she’d likely never meet again.  Of a teacher who helped each one of her students create and design and feel special on a day that could very well have one or more feeling left out.  Of a Daddy spending a dollar apiece to show his infinite love to his children.  Of a son for his mother.  Of a Mama for her daughter.  Of a Mama for her son.

Love that lasts a lifetime and not just one day.  Or season.

So if I’m not wearing red tomorrow, but have on my shirt with hearts in April, maybe you will understand.  If I shy away from all the “love” posts on social media or roll my eyes at the commercials that are intended to make you feel “less than” if you aren’t giving your love “this” or “that,” don’t be surprised.  If you ask me what the Fella and I are doing for supper on Valentine’s and I reply “heat up leftovers and watch ‘Worst Cooks in America’ or ‘Chopped’ with the littles” with a great big smile on my face, please don’t think me callous.  Or unromantic.

In the words of Bob Goff, “Love does.”

In the words of Hugh Hollowell, “Love wins.”

In the words of Jesus, “Love is patient and kind…..

In the words of my heart, “Love is not for a day or a season, it’s for always.  And for all.  Period.  The end.”

So yes, I’ll celebrate love on Valentine’s Day.  Same as I try to do every other day.

With a smile, a hug, hanging out with the ones whom I love most, and sharing the journey.  Doing and winning and loving.

 

May your day be just what you need it to be.  Make it yours.

Love to all.

IMG_6940

Whom Do I Get That From?

One of my favorite conversations I ever had with my Granny was the one where I would ask her who looked like whom in our family.

We had it several times over the years.

I would ask her about each one of my siblings–my one sister looked like my Papa’s family, the other sister like Granny’s family, my brother looked a lot like my Mama’s family with a little of Daddy’s mixed in.  I would always save myself for last.  I loved her words that never changed and savored them, loving the way they fell on my ears.  And my heart.

“You?  You’re a perfect mix of your Mama and your Daddy.  I can see both of them very clearly in you.”

Yes ma’am.  I’ll take it.

I was laughing today thinking about what this conversation would be like today.  It’s been at least eighteen years since we last talked about whom I took after.

“Granny, where do I get these age spots from?” (her and Daddy, bless ’em)

“Granny, what about this proclivity to getting mouth sores right before a cold?” (my Mama)

“Granny, what about this absent-mindedness and brain fog that’s starting to set in lately?” (she’d likely plead the fifth on that one)

and so on…..

I was laughing over what I’d ask her about now, when the thought came to my mind of another trait that I’ve only garnered in the past few years.

And I pondered on whom I got that from.

It turns out, interestingly enough, this one turned the family tree upside down.

This trait did come to me from my one of those who came before me.  It turns the family tree upside down.

I did not get this trait from one of those who came before me. It turns the family tree upside down.

I’ve become stronger.

Wait.  For that -er to work I would have had to be strong to begin with.

There’s no comparison.

I’ve become STRONG.

Like I’ve never been before.

It didn’t take my Granny sitting in her recliner across from me in the new house in town to tell me where I got that from.

My daughter.  My Aub.

I get my strength from the one who first made me Mama.  The one who is now in that fascinating land somewhere between childhood and adulthood, where Disney movies and J-Lo movies (oh me) intertwine.  The Jonas Brothers and Ed Sheeran.  Comfy sweats and jerseys with leggings and boots.  Makeup and ponytails.  Fine dining and Nu-Way.

A wonderful place to be, and I look at her and I’m amazed.  I’m sorry, I’m pretty sure it was just last month that she was sitting on the bed trying to hold her head up at just six weeks–poor little pointy headed baby.

It’s rounded out now.  And so has her world.  She started off strong.  Knowing her own mind.  From the get go we knew she didn’t like turtlenecks but she loved butter.  She didn’t like to sleep, but she loved to sweep.  She loved pigs and she was not keen on sour candy.

She grew up speaking her mind (no, Granny, I got no idea where that came from *sigh*), and I kept telling myself, “One day this will pay off. One day I’ll be glad she’s so strong-spirited and speaks her mind and stands up for who and what she believes in.”

It became my mantra.  One day…..

And I was right.

I became strong because of her.  Because she has been strong through so much hurt and disappointment and loss, I look at her, and I know, I can be too.  Some might say I had to become strong for her, because of her, and that might have been the start, but really, now, it’s like she’s showing me how to be strong.  How to stand up and speak my mind.  How to tell the world, this is not okay.

Because she’s doing all of these things already.

I’m very proud of her.  And a little in awe of her too.

And lest you all think I’m under the impression that she’s perfect, have no fear.  I know she’s not.  And just to prove it, here is a shot of her bedroom.  At Home.  Where she does not “live” 80% of the time.  (I have no idea what her dorm room looks like–there’s some things you just have to let go and are better off not knowing.)

 

My girl's bedroom--proving she is far from perfect.  Hey.....wait, what?

My girl’s bedroom–proving she is far from perfect. Hey…..wait, what?

 

 

Hey.  What happened there?  It seems the Force is really strong with this one.

Just kidding.  I wouldn’t do that to her. (And no, we’re not discussing where she gets that *ahem* “lack of organization” from.)

Tonight I’m thankful for family members who look like one or the other and for those who don’t.  Those who are born to be one of us and those who are chosen.  Each one is beautiful, and each one my heart grows a little because of knowing.  Finally, I give thanks for a daughter who is growing up to be someone I admire and respect, and I don’t take that lightly.  I only know a drop in the bucket of what she has to deal with, and how often she has to regroup and stand strong in her beliefs.  And for me, that’d be enough to have me toppling over, falling to my knees, crying “Uncle”–really hoping one of mine would show up to straighten the situation out.

But not my girl.  She takes care of business.  She’s brave and strong, and even though she’s not always happy about it (I can be a slow learner at times), she is teaching me to be those things too.  She empowers me and challenges me to be my best self.  For her, for her siblings, and for this world.

Strong?

Yeah, well, I get that from my daughter.

Love to all.