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!