The Empty Chairs

Thanksgiving.

It will be different this year.  Again.  The empty chairs, the ones not there, it all affects the spirit of the day.  The memories both lift us and bring us down.  Joy that they were, sadness that they are never to be again.

Sometimes the best way to get through it is to “act as if.”  Act as if it’s just another day.  Another day to be with each other.  To lower the expectations.  The demands of our time and energies.  To look at the substance over the form.

I am thankful for Leroy, who made the call to cut back on the preparation and dishes served this year.  I guess he could tell I didn’t have it in me.  Maybe he doesn’t either.  No matter.

So this year we won’t have the Norman Rockwell laden table with all of the kinfolk circled round, heads bowed, and everyone sharing a perfectly lovely sentiment about what each is most thankful for.  The rosy cheeked cherubs won’t clean their plates, clear their dishes, express extreme gratitude, and then head out to play in the absolutely perfect weather.  I mean, they might, but I’m certainly not expecting it.  Expectation management, as my Fella would say.

I was raised with my Mama reminding us quite often, “The Lord loves a cheerful giver.”  She also ended many a blessing with, “Lord, grant us a grateful heart.”  Living with my Mama, almost everyday was Thanksgiving day.  She wanted us to find something to be thankful for in the midst of each and every day.

Her and Paul.

We are called by Paul, in the Good Book, to give thanks in all things.  On the eve of tomorrow, I look around and I give thanks for the empty chairs–that they matter so much.  For all the years they weren’t empty.  For all the years I could depend on the ones I love to be sitting right there, no doubt about it.  I was loved.  I still am, and I give thanks for that too.  I give thanks for the empty chairs that are that way only this year.  Only tomorrow.  The ones that will be filled again soon, once folks return from where they are.

My Aunt and I agreed on this today, when she said, “Our time to celebrate is when we are all together.”  It doesn’t have to be a legal holiday, y’all.  Celebrate the ones you are with when you are with them.  Don’t wait for the calendar to tell you it’s time.

Remember that story about using the fancy china on a regular basis instead of saving it for a “special occasion?”  Because everyday is a special occasion of one sort or another.  I’m thinking maybe we need to serve turkey and dressing more often.  It has made me laugh how when I’ve opened up a can of cranberry sauce throughout the year, my people’s eyes light up, and they automatically think the supper is extra special.  (And yes, the stores carry the sauce year round.)

Let’s do that, y’all.  Let’s practice giving thanks everyday.  And keep a can of cranberry sauce in the refrigerator.  At all times.  Ready to go.  To remind folks that every day is Giving Thanks Day.

May you all fill the empty seats with precious memories and light.  Today.  And Everyday.

Love to all.

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“Paul Gaugin’s Armchair” by Vincent Van Gogh [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Elvis Had Left the Building…..and the Yard

Cooter and his cousin Shaker were talking on the phone yesterday–mostly about that ever-loving Minecraft game.  (Do NOT get me started.  They weren’t even playing it–just talking about it. They can do that FOR HOURS.)  Then Shaker cut it short, saying, “I’m sorry.  I have to go.  Elvis is missing, and me and Dad have to go look for him.”

Elvis had not only left the building, but he had left the yard, and possibly the whole neighborhood.

It was quite distressing to hear.  Elvis is Leroy’s, my sister Mess Cat’s, and Shaker’s black pug.  He is adorable but he can’t hear a lick.  And although he can tell when it is time to eat to the very minute, his sense of direction is not very good either.  Bless him, he had gone outside and, in the words of Cousin Wash on “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”, “RUNNOFT.”

On one of the hottest days of our Georgia summer.

My heart was heavy for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening.  Texts to my sister telling her I was thinking about her got no replies.  Elvis is no longer a young fellow, and he can’t handle the partying like he used to.  I was worried.

We all were.  He’s been a member of the family for so long I’ve forgotten what he looked like without the white hairs on his muzzle.

When the littles and I got in last night, Aub asked if Shaker had called me.

“No, why?”

She announced with much fanfare.  “Elvis has been found!”

Well hallelujah.

I called to get the details.  Prayers and wishes had been answered.  Elvis was home.

Shaker answered and was quite pleased.  “Yes, I’m glad he’s here.  I don’t know what I’d do without a dog to ignore.”

Oh me.  That cracked me up.  Elvis is an old man, y’all, and he doesn’t enjoy playing with the little people much anymore.  Plus the whole not hearing well thing only convinces Shaker that Elvis is ignoring him as well.  He even told his Mama, “And Elvis wouldn’t know what to do without a boy to ignore.”

Excuse me while I wipe my tears…..from laughing so hard.  Bless him.

When I finally got to talk to Mess Cat, the story got even better.  And I laughed even harder.  First of all, my sister, bless her heart, rushed home from work when she got the call, so she could help look for him.  So there she was, walking up and down their road, knocking on doors, asking if anyone had seen Elvis.

Y’all.  I can only imagine the looks on folks’ faces.  Too funny.

This is the road we grew up on since we were very young, long before they paved it.  There are only two neighbors who still live there who have been there for a long time.  One of them is Miss Helen.

Miss Helen lives next door to Blackberry Flats where we grew up and where Mess Cat and her family, Elvis included, live now.  When Mama was in the hospital, Miss Helen, a few years older than Mama, helped us out with things like checking the mail and feeding the cat, Rev.  One evening, Mess Cat decided to go back and spend the night at Mama’s.  We called to let Miss Helen know that my sister would be at the house, so she wouldn’t be worried when she saw the lights.  “That’s all right with me,” Miss Helen replied.  That brought us joy, and wondering if something would be all right with Miss Helen was sure to bring a smile during those hard weeks.  It still does.

So yesterday afternoon as Mess Cat was asking folks if they’d seen Elvis, she was also telling folks she lived next door to Miss Helen.

And not many folks looked like they knew who she was talking about.  Which means that not many folks are making sure things are all right with Miss Helen.  Perish the thought!  I cannot imagine.

Turns out Elvis had made quite the “Family Circus” trek through and around the neighborhood.  Starting with Miss Helen, who said she had seen him earlier.  Unfortunately he didn’t check things out with her before heading over to the house next door to her and then the next and then the next.  Mess Cat had started knocking on doors of houses where there were other dogs, but in the end, he was found “chilling” on a back deck at a house with cats.

Yep.  That sounds about right.  Elvis has always been a pretty cool cat himself.

We are all so happy this little guy is home safe and sound.  And look at him bringing all the neighbors together!  Folks who might not have met otherwise.  He’s quite the social facilitator, bringing strangers together looking for him.  Elvis has always been pretty good at that too.  Leroy told me he got another call today in response to the sign he had put up.  A dear lady said she’d had an Elvis sighting but when she went inside, he left her yard too.

That Elvis.  Steeped in mystery.  Not the first time Elvis has disappeared after being spotted.

And today–he was so exhausted.  When we went in to see him and give him a welcome home pat on the head today, he was curled up on the couch in his favorite spot–Leroy’s.  He was OUT.  I mean, I realize he couldn’t hear me call his name, but couldn’t he sense someone was there?  I patted his head.  No response.  I immediately moved my hand to feel if he was breathing.

Relief.  Not only was he breathing, but he was also SNORING.  All that partying yesterday caught up with the old guy.  He was worn out.

Elvis home today where he belongs.  Love this little guy.

Elvis home today where he belongs. Love this little guy.

Tonight I’m thankful for this little dog who came into our life years ago, with the name that never fails to bring us a smile.  He is as much a part of our story now as any of us is, I guess.  I give thanks for the people who saw him and welcomed him, a stranger, into their lives without questioning it much.  There’s a lesson there, I think.  I am especially thankful for the ones who called after Leroy put up the sign, and that Elvis is home snoring away tonight.  In his own home.

Most of all, I’m thankful for a happy ending.  I expect Miss Helen’s all right with that.  I know I am.

Wishing you all a happy tail with a happy ending and an Elvis sighting that brings you joy.

Love to all.

Leroy’s “New” Plant

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

The one at Blackberry Flats.

Home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mama, what do you reckon that is?”

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

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

But a lovely one, to be sure.

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

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

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And this was the solution he came up with.

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

And I love it.

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

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

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

Love to all.

 

All Those Role Changes…..Bravo!

Today the littles, my brother-in-law Leroy, my nephew Shaker and I went to the Grand Opera House to see Junie B. Jones the Musical.

I love that place.  I really do.  It put the art in architecture.  Oh wait…..well, it is beautiful and a sight to gaze upon.  Add in a live performance, and it’s one of my favorite places to be.

Today was Shaker’s and Leroy’s first visit to the Grand.  We were in the right place at the right time and got front row balcony seats.

The play was funny and received many LOL’s (laughing out loud) from my crew.  Especially when the two tall male actors came onstage as Lucille’s best friends who rhymed, Camille and Chenille.  Because rhyming names is an important quality to have in a friend.  Hilarious.

That’s when I sat up and took notice. Well we all did actually, but I started paying closer attention to exactly how many actors were in the performance.  I mean, there were a lot of characters–Junie B, her Dad, her Mom, her teacher, the bus driver, two girls on the bus, Lucille, Herbert (I think that was his name–her new BFF), Gladys Gutzman, Camille, Chenille, three other classmates…..

That’s a lot of people.

Leroy said he thought there were maybe fifteen people putting on the performance.

I watched costume changes and was amazed that this one actress changed shoes with every costume and character change–and these were the lace up above the ankle Converse type sneakers.  Nothing quick and easy.  No slide on shoes for her.

Turns out Leroy was way off.  When the play was over and they had the curtain call, there were six talented men and women on the stage.

Six.  That’s it.

I was amazed and very impressed.

Leroy and I were talking about it this evening.  He said, “Yeah, if that had been me, after about my third line or so, I would have said, ‘Okay, I’m outta here.'”

Me too.  Based on costume changes alone.

While the guys who played the two girls were good, I was most intrigued by the young woman who played Lucille and Ricardo and a girl on the bus.  Her costume change each time was from hair to toes.  And she went from playing a girl to another girl to a boy with a distinctive accent.  It was fun and mesmerizing to watch.

Leroy and I were very impressed with their changing roles and playing so many characters well.

After talking with him this evening about it, I headed out with my chauffeur hat on and delivered little people where they were supposed to be.  While sitting and waiting, I went through my checklist on what I needed to do when we got home.  And the rest of the week.

And then it hit me.

We are all like those actors and actresses, aren’t we?

Costume changes, role changes happening regularly, sometimes with only a moment’s notice.

And we do it.

The only difference is–

We’re winging it.

No rehearsals, no nets, no one to answer when we call out “Line!”

No second takes.

This is it.  And we have to be ready for our next scene at all times.

Now that’s what’s impressive.

We don’t give up after a couple of lines or ask for an understudy to take on the role.

We get up, we get out there, and we do it.

Might not be an award-winning performance every single moment, but hey–we show up and we perform and we play more roles than we ever imagined we could.

I think that deserves a standing ovation.

Tonight I am thankful for the opportunity to share live theater with those I love.  I give thanks for the hands that built the building we sat in and for the powers that be who make sure it stays as it has always been, an important and beautiful part of our cultural story.  I am thankful that the play was good, and that Shaker seemed to have a great time.  Most of all, I give thanks for those in my life who play numerous roles and have set the bar way high for the smooth costume and role changes.

So what if we don’t always seem to get our lines right.  The actress who played Ricardo entered the classroom as him and spoke in Spanish.  “He” then explained that since he speaks two languages, it’s hard for him to remember which one he’s speaking at the time.

I feel you, Ricardo.  It’s like that in real life too.  Sometimes there’s so much going on, I don’t know which way to turn, let alone what needs to be said or what I’m trying to say or where I’m supposed to be.  But, as with the other classmates, grace abounds and we move on.

Tonight I salute you all with a standing ovation.  Way to go!  You showed up.  And you haven’t given up.  It’s not easy, this living life thing, and you haven’t quit yet. That is phenomenal!

Who needs to hear the words “You done good” and get a standing ovation from you?  It’s free, and it doesn’t take long, and it just might put a smile on someone’s face.

And that’s the gift that keeps on giving.  Grace.  Encouragement.

Bravo!  Brava!  Well done!

Love to all.

Grace and Home Improvement

I learned something new today.

They say you should make that your goal each day, you know?  So today I did it, and that makes me glad.   Doesn’t happen every day, so it’s kind of a big deal.

Today Leroy and my Fella were hanging some shades for me.  It was no small task, and I am thankful they were willing to take it on together.

While they worked and Mess Cat and I visited, the thought occurred to me–the thing that Mama often quoted:

“Many hands make for light work.”

Truth.

But that’s nothing new; I already knew that one.

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And I thought about another thing I know from home repairs and home projects–“Measure twice, cut once.”

That one came in handy big time with this project.  We almost made a really big mistake.

It’s a good thing to remember–like “righty tighty, lefty Lucy.”  I use that phrase a lot–especially when I’m outside turning on the water spigot.  I love little memory tricks like that.

But it was when the project hit a snag today that I learned a new and important part of home improvement projects.

Leroy and the Fella were putting their heads together over what would be the best next step to take.  The Fella mentioned our local hardware store not far from here, and Leroy’s face lit up.  “Yeah, I’ve been wanting to go in there.”  They were both smiling at this point.  It was pretty close to precious.

“You know, it’s not a real home project until you have to make at least one trip to the hardware store,” Leroy told me.

Really?  No, I didn’t know.

But I do now.

After they returned and were working on putting holes where holes needed to be and not putting holes where holes didn’t need to be, Leroy put a hole in one of his fingers.  (Well, not a hole exactly, but there was plenty of blood.)  He asked for a paper towel and a band-aid.  As I went to gather them, I thought of another quote of Mama’s: “The right tools make any job easier.”

Leroy quickly cleaned himself up, put on the band-aid, and went back to work, announcing, “A trip to the hardware store and an injury.  That’s how you know we’re almost done.”

Again, good to know.  Duly noted.

Tonight I’m thankful for windows with shades and for the two guys who made that happen.  Isn’t it awesome that we all have different gifts and talents and that we can share those to help others around us?  I give thanks for a job well done and for lessons learned in the midst of it.  All other lessons aside, Leroy taught me once again about the gift of grace.  He set out to do the job, but his game plan allowed for grace.  Grace when all the necessary tools weren’t in place, and grace for when there was a mistake.  He didn’t beat himself or anyone else up and make the whole experience even more difficult than it already was.  He had built-in grace.  We need something we don’t have?  No worries, we can go see what they have at the hardware store that can work.   A slip of the hand and there’s a cut and blood?  No problem, clean it up, slap on a band-aid, and let’s finish this job.  I love it.  Today my brother-in-law and my Fella taught me that even in home projects, in the words of my Bubba, “It’s never that serious.”  It’s all about getting it done.   Doing the best we can with what we have and keeping our wits about us.  Working with others and helping folks out.  With smiles on our faces and grace in our hearts.

Kind of sounds like a good way to go about life too, doesn’t it?

Love to all.

Just Some Guy at the Pool

This morning we went with my sister Mess Cat, her husband Leroy, and their little guy Shaker for an early celebration at the pool where they swim.  It was wonderful.  Not another soul there, beautiful weather, clear water, children laughing, folks visiting.

Awesome.

Then Leroy decided to shake things up.  He thought Mess Cat was a little too comfortable, so he jumped in right behind her when her back was turned–SPLASH!   In her good-natured way, she shrugged it off, laughing.  Everyone wanted in on the fun.  The littles came up wanting to be played with.  Leroy obliged them by doing that for a few minutes.

“More, more!” they called after him.  “Uncle Leroy!”  “Daddy!”

“No.  No.  From now on, I’m not Daddy or Uncle Leroy.   I’m just some guy at the pool.”

We all laughed.

“Besides,” he continued.  “Today’s Sunday.  It’s my Sabbath.  No more working for me.”

More laughter.

Except for Cooter, my seven-year old.

“Yeah, back in the olden days, you couldn’t work at all on the Sabbath.  If you did, you could get arrested.”

Leroy nodded.  “Is that right?”

Actually it is.  I am so pleased with my little guy.  He was paying attention when we studied the Revolutionary War this past year.  At one point, we watched the movie “Johnny Tremain,” an old one done by Disney.  There was a scene where the silversmith and Johnny were working on the Sabbath, trying to make ends meet.  The constable (I think it was) was coming, so they quickly tried to hide everything.  In the rush, hot silver was poured on Johnny’s hand.  An important part of the storyline.  I remember us having a conversation about that at the time.  Isn’t it funny what sticks in their little minds?

So it was an interesting coincidence that we talked about the Sabbath tonight at Evening Prayer.  The literal Sabbath, as in a time to rest.

Ahem.

A couple of years ago, I read the book “Mudhouse Sabbath” by Lauren F. Winner.  She described their Friday preparations for the Jewish Sabbath the following day.  She and her husband hurried home from work, prepared meals, ironed clothes, took showers, and  did everything else that needed doing for the next day.  When the sun went down, they were done.  Or had to be.  It wasn’t that they just dropped everything either.  They had worked ahead so they wouldn’t have to.   The Sabbath began and no work was allowed.

At all.

May I tell you how much I love that?

So many present tonight seemed to feel the same way–that we would love to honor the Sabbath, to take time to rest, for meditation and to have a time to just “be” instead of “do.”  We would love to, but we don’t give ourselves permission to take that time.

For some reason I don’t need to hear it’s okay–I need to hear it’s required.  As in if I don’t take a day to rest, to rejuvenate, to “be,” then the constable is coming after me.

Isn’t it sad when we can’t do this for ourselves?

It would be easy to blame the companies that choose to be open on Sunday.  It’s all their fault.  If they weren’t open, I wouldn’t need to go.  I’d have to make do.

Ummm, no.

Or on our busy lives.  We have so much going on each day, and there’s business to handle, to take care of.  It’s more than we can do in six days.  There are dishes and laundry and a house to clean.  We’re at work five days and Saturdays we’re at the ball field or the pool or traveling to see friends.  Sunday’s the only day to get these things done.

Okay.  Or not.

The truth is, it’s a lifestyle.  It’s what we’ve chosen.  We’ve chosen to fill our days and sometimes nights too with activities and meetings and programs.  We’ve made the choice to have all these things that have to be taken care of.  We are the ones who won’t draw the line and reserve an hour, an afternoon, a day each week to sit and be.

It doesn’t even have to be on Sunday in my book.  When we were going to the Sunday suppers each week, and our Sundays were busy with preparations, I guarded my Mondays carefully.  When that ended, I guess I lost my rhythm, and that time fell to the wayside.

I think it’s time I start carving out some “be” time again.  Not “me” but “be.”  Time to be with my family, unencumbered by outside distractions.  Time to sit and think and rest.  Uninterrupted by distractions.

So, in a nutshell, it’s not the distractions that will change.  It’s my attitude.  My setting boundaries.  Making different choices.  My making time for rest. Making it a priority and working ahead so it can happen.  My soul is crying out for it, I can tell you that.

And if the world starts calling out with distractions, I’ll just be some guy at the pool.

Wishing you time to unplug this week.  Love to all.

 

“Let’s Get This Thanksgiving Started!”

This morning when he woke up my little guy Cooter came right up to the kitchen door and proclaimed quite loudly, “Let’s get this Thanksgiving started!”

That made me laugh.  I mean, the turkey had been in the oven for a while, but yeah…..it’s not Thanksgiving without the “fambly folk” there.  And how can your day go any way but great when it starts out with someone so excited to start the day right there by your side?

A morning of cooking after a day of baking yesterday, all with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade playing in the background.  I’m a purist.  We do NOT switch back and forth between channels and parades.  I do have someone on remote control duty to mute or block out the picture when certain commercials come on.  *sigh* I thought it was supposed to a family friendly program.  Ahem.

It was perfect timing as the last of what I was preparing was finished at the same time Santa arrived at the parade.  We did our traditional waving to Santa, and then we loaded up everything and headed to Mess Cat’s.  We had a wonderful meal with great folks.  As Mama and I used to say after Daddy died two years ago, “It was really good, contextually speaking.”

And yes, the memories came flooding back.  When I made Mama’s dressing and her gravy this morning, I thought back on all the years she made it and how sometimes she would make it just to give us a special treat.  Have I mentioned that cooking was her love language?

The memories took me back even further.  To when I was little.  We were having a holiday meal at my Granny’s house.  She had cooked and cooked and the food covered the stove and the countertop.  How she fit all of us in her house back then I have no idea, but she sure did.  I was finally old enough to fix my own plate, so I walked down the line and noticed there were two pans of dressing.  One had a lot out of it, and one only had a little.  I don’t know if I felt bad for the pan no one seemed to want (yeah, I do stuff like that sometimes) or if it was just easier to get some out of that pan because of the line.  Regardless, I got a helping out of the pan with more.  I realized my mistake on my first bite.  Mushrooms.  I really don’t care for mushrooms, but I sat and ate the dressing I’d spooned out for myself and didn’t say a word, exactly as I’d been taught.  On the way home I leaned forward in the backseat and proudly told Mama and Daddy how I’d eaten the dressing with mushrooms without complaining once.

Daddy laughed.  And then Mama.

It was a few minutes before they could catch their breath and tell me why that was so funny.

Granny, who also showed love with food, had made a special pan of dressing for her oldest, Daddy’s older brother.  Not mushrooms.  No.  Oyster dressing.  He loved it, so she made it especially for him.  Oh dear.  (Daddy later mused at what my Uncle must have thought, seeing more of his dressing gone.)

I may have shared that story before, but for some reason it came to my mind as we had dinner today.  Leroy, my brother-in-law, had prepared his dressing.  I don’t know why dressing was so important to me this year.  Maybe it’s because the past two years, even though I made many of the side dishes, Mama brought her dressing.  Aub would go over the night before and help her make her dressing and gravy.  They’d drive up mid-morning with all that deliciousness in tow.  As has happened with each family get-together since Mama passed on in February, the thought comes to mind–“Who’s going to make (fill in the blank) now?”  I knew I was going to make some dressing, and I knew Leroy was too.  But I also knew neither would be hers.

And you know what?

It was okay.

Leroy’s dressing was delicious.  I found out how much I really love sage when it’s added just right.  And while my dressing wasn’t hers either, it’ll eat.  I think I did her gravy justice, but Leroy’s turkey gravy was absolutely delectable.

It was a good day.  I realize that even though she’s not here to make her dressing, she is here with me.  Always.  I just have to listen a little differently now.  And as I was listening today, I remembered the Thanksgiving two years ago when Mama came to my house.  With her dressing.  And gravy.  Only one week after Daddy left this earth.  She came with dressing and love and time and smiles for all of us when that was probably the last thing she felt like doing.  There’s a lesson in that.

Today as I finished prepping the sides–the sweet potatoes and apples, the homemade cranberry sauce, Mama’s gravy, pineapple casserole, and other things we traditionally have, I remembered the people I love who taught me to make them or whose favorites they were.  And I realized that in trying new things, like Leroy’s dressing and gravy or Granny’s all those years ago, I was stepping outside my comfort zone and embracing the day.  Instead of mourning that Mama is gone, today–just for today–I was able to remember without tears, and take a taste of what this new different normal is like.

And it was actually rather okay.

And tonight I’m giving thanks for that.

(Oh and just to let you know, Cooter was ready to start the day because he loves peach cobbler.  He asked me to make it yesterday.  And today, as he sat eating it, I heard him tell his sister and cousin, “This is the best Thanksgiving ever!”

That’s more than I could hope for.)

Giving Thanks for Aunt Bee and Slow Readers

When I shared about my six-year-old son Cooter giving me the honor of naming me the “Meanest Person in the World,” I mentioned that he might not have school and learning as a top priority.  He’s very bright and he loves learning new things–about Star Wars, animals, the world.  Because of an episode of Andy Griffith (the one where Barney tries to marry Andy off), he really wants us to read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  I mean, he really wants us to…..as in he keeps asking me so many questions about it that I pretty much have our favorite used bookstore and the library on our agenda for tomorrow.  However, when it comes to phonics and math, he will do what he needs to, most of the time, but it just isn’t his thing.

And yesterday I gave thanks for that.

We were riding over to Mess Cat and Leroy’s house yesterday afternoon, and I went a different route.  After I had already committed to it, I clenched my teeth and looked in the rear view mirror.  I usually avoid going that way, but I let my guard down and was trying to go the quickest way I could.  My glance backwards showed my two littles entranced by the episode of Andy Griffith where Aunt Bee got into the “elixir” and was singing and playing “Toot Toot Tootsie, Goodbye” on the piano with all she had.  I was thankful.  They didn’t see the sign.

The sign for the club that we passed yesterday.

The sign for the club that we passed yesterday.

I’m not writing this to make a commentary on the people who work there or the people who go there.   I am writing because I struggle with what I will say when, as will inevitably happen, one of my littles asks me what that word means, and what kind of dances they are doing, and why do people have to pay $5 for them?  That.  I dread it.

Tonight we were going to meet Mess Cat and Leroy across town.  As we neared the movie theater where our favorite coffee shop is, something on the marquee caught my eye.

“Bad Grandpa”

What.  On.  Earth.

Okay, I just looked it up and read about it.  In the words of my math teacher from high school when she heard a far-fetched answer:  “Do wha-ut?”

Yeah, not even worth your time in checking it out.  Just my opinion, but yeah.  Who is making these movies anymore?

Again, I was thankful that my littles were distracted.  I did NOT want to have to answer what that might mean.

We make weekly trips up to Macon, and I have planned my route for a long time based on the location of a billboard that asks the question of where the reader will spend eternity.  It bothers me, as did the one before it that warned of one of the seven “deadly sins.”  I want to explain religion and spirituality to my children in my own way.  I’d rather not have to do it because one of my children is afraid of what will happen to them because of what it says on a billboard.  When it was first put up, I would try to distract my reader by asking a question or pointing out something in the opposite direction.  I am thankful in those moments that she is easily distracted, and we can get past such things without her reading them and wondering what they mean.  But most of the time, I tried to avoid that route.

So yes, Cooter can’t read well yet.  His sister was a late bloomer as well, so I’m not worried about it much.  She reads like a fiend now, zooming through her books as fast as she can, and she loves to read.  He’ll get there one day too.  But I am glad that he can’t read well yet.  He watches things and people a lot more than she does.  So I know when he does start reading well, I will have lots and lots of questions to answer.

I think I’m going to stop feeling guilty about and apologizing that my vehicle has a built-in DVD player.  I may be a little freer in letting them play their electronic games as we ride around from point A to point B.  I’m done.  I am happy for anything that will keep their minds innocent a little longer, and for a little while longer keep them from asking me the hard questions that I know are coming.  When they do come, I will answer the best way I can, but until then, bring on the Gilligan’s Island and Leave it to Beaver and Andy Griffith.  I’ll take those over a bad Grandpa any day.

Turning Over an Old Leaf

A wet leaf with few insects on it

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Tara, I have a mother.  She lives way up north of here,” my brother-in-law Leroy said.  He looked down at me and smiled.Last night at the Fair with Mess Cat and her family, the truth came out.

I try to fix people’s lives.  Way.  Too.  Much.

I don’t even remember what we were talking about that triggered this response from Leroy, but the

truth is it was probably long overdue.  No probably about it.  It was way overdue.

I teased him.  “You’ve never had a little sister before, have you?” I asked, knowing full well he hadn’t.

“No,” he answered.

“Well this is what one looks like.  All this I’ve been saying, it’s how a little sister acts.”

(Like I would know this.  I’ve never been a little sister in my life.  Leroy is the closest thing I have to an older sibling–all of my other in-laws are younger than I am.)

He laughed and I laughed and all was good.  And I really tried not to take care of things for him.  Until.

About five minutes later.  When we were looking for food, he decided he might forego what he had wanted to save a few minutes walk through the crowd of people.

When I started trying to “fix it” again before I could stop myself, Leroy turned to look at me.  I knew I was doing it again.  His look was patient and kind, but I knew.  Stop it, Tara.  Just stop it.

This morning I got a message from a sweet friend about something really bad that has happened in her family and she asked for prayers.  I was thinking about her taking time to let me know about this, and I take it very seriously.  She asked for prayers, and I have tried today to continuously let God know how much she means to me and ask that she have peace and that she not feel alone in this.   I do not take it lightly that she asked me to keep her in my prayers.

Later, as I was pondering her request and the honor and huge deal it was that she asked, my Fabulous Friend messaged me this:

“Sometimes everyone you know has too many opinions and bias when all you really need is an ear.” –Fabulous Friend

Yes.  Truth.

And yet, how can I possibly be this for someone?  I have it in me to try to fix situations/things/whatever for folks.  Is it being the oldest or my personality type that causes this?  Does it come from my fear of losing the people I want to fix things for because I’ve lost the ones I love the most?  I don’t know, but it’s in there.  And I’m having one more hard time trying to break myself of it.

To be an ear.  To just listen and not offer my help or my thoughts on how to fix whatever it is?  To simply be with someone? You’re asking for something mighty big there, my friend.

And yet, I think that is exactly what my sweet friend needs right now.

A week ago the guy who gets our fireplace up and running every year called and came out.  He is a really nice person.  We were catching up and he hesitated.  Then he shared with me that his daughter in her mid-twenties died in a car accident over the summer, leaving her son for them to raise.  Y’all.  Nothing will hush up somebody who’s a fixer faster than this.  There is nothing.  NOTHING.  that can fix bad stuff like this.  Which is a good thing, because that is exactly what I could come up with.  Nothing.  My mind was spinning, and I did wind up telling him about the children’s bereavement camp that the Hospice I worked with holds every year.  Right, wrong, or otherwise I felt the need to share that with him.  Maybe I should have just been quiet and only been an ear, but old habits die hard.  So it goes.

Since I heard from my sweet friend this morning about her family’s heartbreak, I have found out about another friend’s family member who died tragically, and about our Dear Lady friend whom my family loves and who is about to leave this world because of the cancer.  Cancer comes real close to making me cuss.  It makes me so mad whom it takes from us.  And so tonight I am sad.  For both of my friends and their losses and for this dear lady’s family and friends as they prepare to say “Bye for now.”  And what tears me up most is that there isn’t anything I can do to fix any of it.  Not a blame thing.

And so I look back to what my Fabulous Friend said.  I will try to be an ear and just listen and not try to fix it or suggest options or carry on about what I did in a similar situation.  I’m not promising anything, but I’m going to try.  You hear that, Leroy?

Tonight I will lay my head down on my pillow with a heavy heart, filled with love and peace-filled thoughts for my friends and our Dear Lady’s family.  I give thanks for friends who entrust me with their stories and who ask for my ear and my heart and my prayers.  And I am especially grateful for a brother-in-law who will call me on my stuff and still love me,  and for a wise Fabulous Friend who serves as a compass for me on my journey of letting go. I wish change weren’t so hard.

He’s One of the Good Guys

You know, you have family you are born into, and then you have family that comes up on the porch, opens the screen door and walks right in, sits down, and enters into the story seamlessly.  You kind of have a hard time remembering when they weren’t there.

My brother-in-law is one of those folks.

I like to call him Leroy.

I remember when I first heard of him, but I don’t remember when he walked in and I met him.  My sister had been staying with me and my girls over the Christmas holidays in 2005, while my husband was deployed.  My BIL worked with my sister in Atlanta, and they were just friends.  He had called her and said he was coming down to Macon for New Year’s Eve, that he wanted to get out of Atlanta.  She started to go meet him but decided not to enter into the crazy foolishness that can be New Year’s Eve in the “big city.”   When she called him and said basically, hey, just kidding, I’m not coming, his reply was that’s okay, I’ll be in town through tomorrow.  They had a New Year’s morning breakfast the next day.  I guess the old saying about what you do on New Year’s Day you’ll do all year long is true, because after that breakfast I just don’t remember Leroy not being a part of our lives.

This man is somebody really special, though if he sits down to read this, he’ll probably say, oh please, and push it to the side because something needs doing.  That’s one of the things I really respect about him.  He’s a guy who gets things D-O-N-E–done.  In looking back through my old photos, I don’t have very many, because he’s rarely still long enough for one to be taken.

See, he's hardly ever NOT doing something--my awesome BIL taking care of the yard at Mama's a couple of years ago.  Love.  Him.

See, he’s hardly ever NOT doing something–my awesome BIL taking care of the yard at Mama’s a couple of years ago. Love. Him.

He’s a great Daddy.  My sister stayed at home with their son for a year.  After that time, with many factors playing into the decision, my brother-in-law left his job to stay at home with their son.  He sacrificed five years of his career to be a big part of his son’s life in a society–let’s face it–that doesn’t always know what to do with that choice.  He gives his love and affection so freely with his words and actions that it moves me to tears.  He’s a tough guy, but not always.

Leroy’s an awesome uncle too.  Two years ago my oldest was away in north Georgia on a youth trip.  She had some health issues come up and needed to come home.  It was this guy who drove and picked her up since he was closer.   I drove and picked my girl up from their house in Duluth, and we had a nice unexpected day with him and my nephew before heading back.

It was in 2009 that he truly shined.  And has since then.  When Daddy was admitted to the hospital in town on August 24 and transferred to Emory five days later, it was the beginning of a period in our lives of exhaustion, worry, frustration, and coping.  Daddy was sent home after about a month at Emory.  It was Leroy who drove Mama and Daddy home.  He had been so good about checking on them at the hospital or holding down the home front so my sister could be there as much as possible.  When Daddy came in the door at home that night, it was Leroy in the background, making sure everything was going smoothly, toting bags, making a pit stop, grabbing a slice of pizza and driving back to Atlanta that same night.  He made so many of those trips.  He got up at oh-dark-thirty, drove the two and half hours to my parents’ house, arriving soon in the morning, helping them into the van, and taking them up to Emory for Daddy’s treatment.  Later that day he made the trek back down to bring them home before he headed all the way back to his house.  When things needed doing, he was the one who talked it over with Daddy, such a gracious respect, and then he did them.  He and Daddy had something special.  It was Leroy who went with me over to the cemetery to pick out Daddy’s plot on what turned out to be one week before the funeral, five days before Daddy left this world.  He was patient as I wandered somewhat aimlessly around the old country churchyard, reading gravestones and calling him over to see them too.  It’s the quiet moments like this that truly make me appreciate all he is.

For the fifteen months that Mama lived without Daddy, this man was right there to help with things as Mama needed.  She respected and appreciated his opinion and would often ask him what he thought.  He always had her best interests in mind.  He’s a good guy like that.  And when she went in for her HospitalStay, he never blinked an eye at my sister staying indefinitely down here.  He came down as often as he could.  He took that time to make things better for Mama around the house, straightening up some things–for example, getting and putting together a shoe organizer for the back door–he wanted things to be just right when she came home.  Which, unfortunately, never happened.  And his heart broke too.

Mama loved all of her children’s spouses like they were her own.  And Leroy was special to her for sure.   She fussed at me or my sister when we would tease him–you leave him alone, she’d say.  I accused him of trying to be her favorite.  She’d grin really big at me and say, “Trying nothing.”  And he’d laugh.  Yeah, he was her oldest.  And seeing as how that used to be my spot, I think I’m okay with that.  And sometimes, just maybe, he was her favorite too.

Mama and her "favorite" cogitating on things back in 2011.  Love those two.

Mama and her “favorite” cogitating on things back in 2011. Love those two.

I always wanted an older brother.  I thought it would be cool.  And what do you know, I was right!  Because my BIL, whom I will henceforth call my big brother is giving us all a great gift–that of togetherness.  He and my sister are moving back to our hometown.  I’m so thankful for that gift, and I won’t let them forget it.

Today is my big brother’s birthday.  In honor of him and his special day, I won’t tell how old he really is (but yeah, older than me!) and I share this video.  Because he’s who they’re talking about in this video.  He is that friend.  He’s one of those legendary good guys.  I’m lucky he walked through that door and joined us.  (And didn’t run away hollerin’.)  Seamlessly.  Love you Leroy.  Happy Birthday!