February 10–Frozen in Time

I write tonight so tomorrow can be all about him.  All about what happened seven years ago.  Instead of the same night one year ago.

I write tonight because it was a Sunday, a beautiful Sunday in February that my Mama went on up to The House.  To see her dear grandmother whom she never stopped missing.  Her Aunts and others she loved.  And my Daddy, whom she had spent the previous fifteen months trying to learn to breathe without.  And she did it with love and faith and a grace that was second to none.  She was amazing.

She wants tomorrow to be all about him.  I know that.  She loved my babies, and all of her grands, more than anything in this world.   That Sunday, one year ago, when I was going leave the hospital to meet my birthday boy and the family at the park for a half hour, leaving her and Mess Cat so I could wish him a happy birthday, I went over to her bed and said quietly, “Mama, the littles and Aub are coming up here.”  She immediately looked upset and shook her head no.  “No, Mama, we’re going to go to the park for a little while.  It will be fine.  They’re not coming to the room.  I’ll tell him you said Happy Birthday, okay?”  She nodded and tried to smile.  Okay.  Okay.

I left and when I came back, I knew things weren’t right.  I could tell she wasn’t doing well, and she was no longer alert.  In just that short of a time.  The tear in my heart began breaking even more.  Noooo.  It was too soon.  And yet her body had held off as long as it could. Twenty-five days in the hospital.  Twenty-four of them in the ICU.  Less than a week’s worth of being alert and awake during that time.  Twenty-four days in the same hospital where her grandson, my baby boy Cooter, was born six years before.

Six years apart.  Same building.  So much alike.

Both February 10 mornings I was awakened very early.  In 2007, I’d wakened to the contractions and the knowledge that a baby was coming soon.

In 2013, I gave up trying to sleep after a night of dozing in and out, getting up to stand by her bed and stare at the numbers on the machine, willing her blood pressure to come back up on its own following her third emergency surgery, performed just a few hours before.  I just knew if I stood vigil, it would help.  It would make her better.

One day I had my Fella by my side, grinning and excited about what was to come.

Another he asked to go see Mama while I sat in the car with the crew in the parking garage.  I don’t know if he knew he was going in to say goodbye.  I am so glad he asked, and he got to see her one more time.

Both days were filled with numbers and nurses, blood pressure checks and beeps–oh those infernal beeps that I can still hear in my sleep.  Both days we were blessed by people who were caring and attentive and concerned about the patient.  In one room, “It’s a boy!” was called out excitedly.  In another, “It’s time,” was whispered with resignation and sadness.  Both days found me greeting people who gathered in the room.  It was only in the expressions that the difference could be seen–those coming to welcome a new life, those coming to say goodbye and let go of one they so loved.

Both days I had to sign my name.

Oh dear God.  I had to sign my name.

The weight of signing one’s name to make a new life official and legal can feel momentous and very important. But the signing of one’s name to let your Mama go.  To say it’s time.  To give permission to give her peace and rest.  My hands shook, and I had to focus through the tears.  I never wanted to do that again.

Both days there were prayers said and voices raised in sharing stories and remembering.  Both days I held the hand of the one I loved.  One who would call me Mama, and the One whom I called Mama.  Both days I tried to freeze the moment, to remember what those hands looked like.  Both days I didn’t see how I could love the one I held more than I did in that moment.

Six years apart.  The joy and the sadness.  The laughter and the tears.

After Cooter was born, the nurse stopped my bed by a button on the wall, and I pressed a button.  Lovely music played all over the hospital.  The same sound I pointed out to Mama during her HospitalStay even when she wasn’t conscious.  “Mama, a new baby!  How sweet.”  After Mama passed over, there was no sound.  Nothing to mark the moment but a nod from the doctor’s assistant whom we had known most of our lives.  That nod and the tears that flowed without halting.

After Cooter was born, the nurses cleaned him and handed him over to me and the Fella.  My heart swelled with tenderness for this new little boy, my only baby boy, and I knew my life would never be the same.  After Mama passed, my heart was breaking into a million little pieces, but it still swelled with love for her.  This beautiful woman who gave me life.   And love.  So much love.  I took a washrag and wet it, and one last time, I washed her face.  Just as I had so many times during her HospitalStay, to comfort, to bring down her fever, to say “I love you.”  One last time.  And I knew my Life.  Would Never. Be.  The Same.

Tomorrow, Mama, tomorrow I will make it about celebrating this baby boy who has brought you and Daddy and all of us so much joy.  I give thanks for his life and am happy to be his Mama.  This one who loved to listen to you read but would hop up sometimes to finish playing with the cars on the floor next to you.  This one who loved your snacks and ice cream sandwiches.  This baby boy who decided very early he wanted to go with you and Daddy and his big sister, our Princess, on those Mondays after Stevi B’s lunches.  He didn’t want to miss a moment of the fun with y’all.  Tomorrow I will celebrate and take him on an adventure and fix him what he asks for to eat, and I will bake a cake or brownies or whatever he chooses to mark the occasion.  Just like you did for us.  I will cry as I remember the little baby he was and dream of the young man he will become.  I will hang on tight as I let him go.

But tonight, tonight is for you and me.  Tonight is about the tears and the heartache and the remembering a life well lived, a race well run, and a love that is stronger than death.  I know you are still with me.  I can feel your presence, and I know your love gives me strength to breathe and go on another day.  I know because I could not do this on my own.  I never could.

Not too long after Mama passed, I heard a song that I had heard many times, but it really hit me hard for the first time last year–“Over You” written by Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, and sung by Miranda Lambert. They wrote it in memory of Blake’s brother who died when he was young.  The beginning lyrics:

Weatherman said it’s gonna snow
By now I should be used to the cold
Mid-February shouldn’t be so scary
It was only December
I still remember the presents, the tree, you and me

But you went away
How dare you?
I miss you
They say I’ll be OK
But I’m not going to ever get over you

Two days.  Six years apart.  Both so very precious and dear to me.  Both days about the sacred and holy and thin moments of our lives.  Both shaping who I am in this very moment.  Both days tugging on my heart with their whispered stories and memories and all who shared each journey with me.  With us.

Mama, I love you and I miss you, and I’m not ever going to get over you.

But yes ma’am, tomorrow will be about him.  And I’ll remind him how loved he is.  Just as you have all these years for us.  Thank you for that.  The love.

Always, T. Annie aka Sugar Tag

Waiting for Another Day

There’s all of these thoughts that run through my head when Life gets real like it has today.

“This too shall pass.”

“It’s not the end of the world.”

“Keep on keeping on.”

“Papa killed can’t.”  (They really told us that growing up.)

“If this is the worst that ever happens…..”

And the clincher, that Mama would say if she were here to answer my phone call, usually preceded by a sigh, “Well, at least they’re not shooting bullets at us.”

Today I’ve been talking back to my the voice in my head.

“How soon do I have to wait for this to pass? ‘Cause enough is enough.”

“It might not be the end, but I sure might be okay if it were, because this is hard.”

“I don’t have it in me to keep on anything.”

“Can’t.  Can’t.  Can’t.  Can’t.  I just can’t anymore.”

“It’s not.  The worst happened over the past two years, but this isn’t too great either.”

And finally, shaking my head, “No Mama, they’re not.  But sometimes these things hurt like bullets flying…..”

My head, my heart, my mind–it’s as discombulated as my Mama’s once neat house.  “Everything in its place” was her motto, but right now, you’d never know it.  Things being sorted, piles made, nothing where she left it.  I know it has to happen, I do.  It’s all part of the process of taking care of business.  It’s just that everything is lost, but mostly me.  I wander through what was once familiar, and I find nothing but chaos, mimicking the turmoil in my heart.

I promised I wouldn’t write about this every day, but today it has hit pretty hard.  The grief, the needing to talk to her, the need for her organization and my old home to be my safe place for sorting it all out.  The need for her wisdom.  The need for her.

Instead the time has come for me to sort things out myself.  I don’t even know what that looks like.  I do know that it’s what she would have wanted.  She would not have appreciated my dragging my heels or my moping about.  “Take a moment, do what you have to do, then let’s get this done.”  I can almost hear her whisper in my ear.

Today I found a little storage box with drawers that Daddy had kept on his worktable in the back bedroom.  Once my brother’s room, it had become a reflection of their interests, of who they were.  The drafting table with Mama’s art supplies, her sketches and drawings, rough drafts of stories, and stored underneath, copies of her favorite books for giving to those children she loved.  Under the other windows was Daddy’s table with his paper model airplanes–so intricate, the amount of patience they must have taken!  They hang in Cooter’s room now.  Daddy had notebooks with notes about interesting words and pages with drawings for his next woodcraft project.  In the drawers there were bits of wood, wood glue, and other materials he used in his projects.  I opened it today, and I saw Mama’s hand close it, and her voice saying, “We’ll just leave this for now.  We can just put it on this bookshelf for the time being.”  It was just yesterday that we moved things around, so we could put it on the shelf.  Just yesterday, I’m not kidding.  And now, today, we are having to make the decision without her.  What to do with it?  It’s funny that she let that one thing go.  She was so strong about going through other things and sending things like clothes to organizations that could use them.  She offered tools to the family.  We folded up the table to move it out of the room, but that little drawer, filled with this and that, she set aside for another day.

I decided that today wasn’t the day.  I closed the drawer, and I stopped for a moment to breathe.  It’s all gone by so quickly, this past year, and yet it hasn’t.  This year without being able to dial the same seven digits I’ve known almost all my life, and hearing her cheery “hello?” each time she answered.  Without asking her for her advice and then arguing with her that there was no way it could be better and then later finding out she’d been right all along.  Her hugs.  And telling me how much she loved me.  Yeah. All of that and her biscuits and pork roast gravy.  There’s a lot to miss in that little woman.

Mama was strong.  Right up to the end.  She didn’t give up, not once, through all the heartache and joys and ups and downs in her life.  I’m sure she wanted to, but she simply did not.  Tonight I’m going to take that thought to bed and mull and it over and see if I can garner some of that strength from across the thin veil that keeps us apart.  And hope that somehow one of the other things Mama would say at times will prove itself true.

“Go get some rest. Tomorrow is another day.”

 

 

 

Six-Year-Olds and the Sound of Music

Tonight we had the great honor and privilege of being with friends who are like family.  We celebrated Christmas with them by being together, laughing, eating, catching up, and going to the theater together.

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Theatre Macon in downtown offered their performance of “Sound of Music” tonight as a gift to Daybreak, with all ticket sales going to the shelter.  What a beautiful gift!  Before the performance started, Sister from Daybreak shared that we all need to work hard but also rest hard, and she hoped it would be a good night for all of us to do just that.  To laugh, to have a song in our hearts, and to enjoy a wonderful performance.

Check.  Check.  And check.

As the nuns began singing about a problem named Maria, I was mouthing the words to our Princess.  She laughed and whispered that I was silly.  She and Cooter, our little guy, were up way past their bedtime, and this was the longest play they’ve ever been to.   With the exception of a few wiggles, they did pretty good.  And they had moments when they were totally entranced.

As did I.

The cast was brilliant.  In the wake of all the negativity of  the Artist now known as “Someone Other Than Julie Andrews” playing Maria Von Trapp last Thursday night on live television, I guess I was a little nervous.

No worries.  The stories all over about how the musical is different from the movie version prepared me for the songs and song placement that were different.  The actors and actresses knew their lines perfectly and had beautiful voices that blended well together.  I adore Julie Andrews, but y’all, I never looked back tonight.  My Daddy used to say, “When you compare, you lose.”  And I think if I had spent the entire evening comparing this to the iconic movie version I would have lost a beautiful evening of entertainment and being with folks I love.

The talent was amazing, especially considering the first timers on the stage…..and the youngest actress–a kindergartener from our very own little town down here.  Y’all.  Precious don’t get any cuter than that.

She caught my eye immediately, as I suppose she did everyone in the theater.  But I was watching closely in the second half of the play, which I suppose was very likely past her bedtime as well, and I saw two of the older girls sit on either side of her.  I would not have noticed the “dead space” at all–it was not noticeable–if I had not seen one of the “sisters” put her hand on Gretl’s leg and the other patted her gently.  She promptly asked if Fraulein Maria was coming back.  Beautiful.

In this life we all need someone “older and wiser” to sit with us and give us a nudge or a pat or a shoulder when we need it.  We need to feel safe and secure on the stage of life, when one never knows exactly what is coming next.  We might know what we think is coming, but that is the beauty and tragedy of live theater and life itself–you never really truly know.  Someone could forget a line, miss their cue to move across stage, or just not show up at all.  Tears welled in my eyes when I watched how well those young actresses worked together.  If only we would take a lesson from that.  Don’t leave the folks around us hanging out to dry–if we can help, we should.  Remind folks what they already know.  Sometimes that is all it takes to get someone back on track.

Towards the end of the play at the Salzburg Festival, Liesl had Gretl sitting in her lap.  The stage was dim and the Captain Von Trapp was singing “Edelweiss.”  I saw Gretl look up at Liesl and whisper something.  Never stepping out of character Liesl, only fifteen herself in “real life,” gently “shhhh’ed” her little sister.  When Gretl attempted to communicate again, Liesl shifted the little one who had been rubbing her eyes only moments before in her lap and shook her head gently “no.”  Well done.  Well done.  Not everyone would be able to handle a sleepy kindergartener after 10 p.m.  I was impressed.  A few minutes later little Gretl went up and tried to hand her doll to Maria as she was having a conversation at the Abbey shortly before their escape into the mountains.  I noticed a couple of the older children reach for her just as if it were all scripted.  Which it might have been.  Mix live theater with a six-year-old and who knows what you might get.

Tonight mixing it with my six-year-old led to a magical ending.  Towards the end he was also a little fidgety.  And, as luck would have it, OH MY LAND, he wound up with the squeaky seat.  Let it move a millimeter up or down and it squeaked.  I just knew everyone around us was going crazy from the sound.  I finally pulled him over in my lap, this little fella who at one point had taken off his sweater vest (our nod to show respect to the theater and the folks performing) and a little later leaned over and whispered, grinning, “I took off my boots.  My feet were too hot.”  Ah yes.  That sounds about right.  Country come to town.

But he made it.  And so did our Princess who is a wiggler from the womb.  (I actually did not believe the sonographer when he said there was only one baby in there.)  Our sweet friends also made it through, saying our littles were well-behaved, despite all the wiggles and squeaks.  (Love y’all for that.)  When it was over, our two littles were bouncing up and down–“Can we go meet the characters?  Please?!”  I looked at the crowd waiting to do just that.  And I looked at folks crossing the rows and taking the more direct route out that I so longed to follow.  Cooter and Princess remembered saying hello after “White Christmas” two years ago.  So I said yes and told the rest of our group I’d meet them outside.

So.  Worth.  It.

The talented cast of Theatre Macon's "Sound of Music" takes a bow

The talented cast of Theatre Macon’s “Sound of Music” takes a bow

Cooter wanted to meet the boy who played one of the Von Trapp sons.  They have something special in common, and he was determined to meet him and ask him a question.  Princess wanted to meet Brigitta who had blonde curls like she does.  So we waited just a couple of extra minutes and wound our way around to say hello.  I called out the boy’s name, and he turned around with a big smile.  Bless him.  And then it happened.  As I was introducing Cooter, my little baby boy stuck his hand out to meet him and say hello.  Because that’s what our people do.  Only he never has before.  Ever.  I almost started bawling right there, but Princess wanted to meet Brigitta, so I had to shove it back down and keep on moving.  I got a beautiful picture of the four of them that I will treasure forever.  For what is actually in the picture but even more for what took place moments before.

My baby boy took his first step to becoming a young man.

Somebody hold me.  Now.

I’ve watched his legs pumping so hard moving him rapidly up and down our neighborhood street on his bike.  I’ve stood amazed and entranced watching those amazing little legs, the ones that wouldn’t stretch out completely for several days after he was born.  The ones he toddled around on eventually, later than the girls had, thrilling and relieving me all at the same time.  And now, less than two months after kicking the training wheels to the curb, he’s ready for the Tour de France.  I’m not kidding.  Move over, Lance, I got a real champion on my hands here.

Or maybe an actor.  After he asked the young actor how old he was, he said thanks and goodbye, and I, being a little starstruck myself perhaps, said with a lump in my throat, “You were both wonderful.  I know you will treasure the memories from doing this for a long time.” And with that cheesy, gooeyness we walked away.  Only to hear my Princess say, “I sure will.  This was the best play ever!”  That, my friends, is just how she rolls.  As we walked down Cherry to Third and to our car, Cooter piped up, still thrilled to have met his new friend, “I wanted to know how old he is, and when he said twelve, all I could think was you are just like me!  I mean, he is, he’s just like me!”  And that’s how it all starts.  His wheels are turning for sure.

Tonight I am thankful for different ways of celebrating and giving this Christmas.  For our friends who made time to be with us tonight and gave us the gift of good company, last minute as our plans were.  I am thankful for theater companies who donate entire performance’s proceeds in an era when that could have really helped them.  I am thankful for Daybreak where I spend one afternoon a week, but where my heart is all the time.  Spending time with my family and live theater all rolled into one always fills me with joy.   But most of all, I’m thankful for the exuberance of my Princess, the presence of my oldest who’s in the midst of finals week,  and that handshake I witnessed tonight.  The tears I cry over it are good tears.  Tears of love and remembering and gratitude for being there to see him take his next first step.  Those are the tender and thin moments of this life I live as Mama.  And I am thankful.

The magic and lights of downtown Macon as we were leaving--the Cherry Street fountain.  Where my relationship with Daybreak had its beginnings.

The magic and lights of downtown Macon as we were leaving tonight–the Cherry Street fountain. Where my relationship with Daybreak had its beginnings.

The One Gift I Will Miss Giving This Year

Over the years my Christmas gift preparation list has changed.  That is to be expected, right?  Children are born, they get older, people move away, and so on.  Some can no longer have the sweets or would rather have a book than a sweater.  After my great-aunt who sent us a Whitman’s sampler every year died, I used to get one each Christmas–until food allergies struck that one off the list.  My experience with the Advent Conspiracy study two years ago changed the kind of gifts on my list.  Seems like there have been changes to the list every year.

And this year is no different.

Such a perfect calendar for Mama--"A Place for Everything."  She lived and breathed by that one.  This calendar has guided me through so much I've had to take care of this year.  Thankful she was so organized.

Such a perfect calendar for Mama–“A Place for Everything.” She lived and breathed by that one. This calendar has guided me through so much I’ve had to take care of this year. I am thankful she was so organized.

Each year the first gift I buy has almost always been my Mama’s.  Years ago, I don’t remember how long ago, I introduced Mama to Mary Engelbreit.  She started off using the wall calendar just like I did, but eventually she graduated to a weekly planner and a page a day–mostly for the beautiful paintings and inspirational messages.  You’ve never seen anyone who organized a calendar so well.  In the back she had cards she’d printed out with the most important addresses and contacts and all of the birthdays for her family–her children, grandchildren, cousins, and grand-nieces and nephews.  She never missed honoring their special day in one way or another.  She had appointment cards she’d saved from the previous year that she entered on January 1.  Oh to be as organized as she was!  Somehow I missed that gene, and I mourn it quite often.

Lovely.  Just a lovely experience the whole year through.

Lovely. Just a lovely experience the whole year through.  Wit and wisdom and whimsy all in one place. 

Years ago a couple of us children would toss out gift ideas for Mama and we’d make sure someone was getting her calendars for her.  I think it might have been when we moved to Japan that it became a given that me and mine were getting the calendars.  I have enjoyed deciding where I could get the best price on them (she wouldn’t have it any other way–she was the Queen of bargain shopping).  I loved looking at the covers and peeking at one or two pages in her planner before wrapping them.  Over the years a quick glance at the calendar on her desk could tell what her week’s outings were.  It would make me smile to see where she had gone back and written “Tara and Crew :)” (smiley face hers) on a day that we had been visiting.  During the years that she and Daddy were playing logic games on the computer, they decided to play through the “levels” in order.  Mama would write what level they left off on at the top of the page a day.  Then they’d know which game to start with the next day.  If the page a day calendar message was one that made her think of you, she tore it off and saved it to give to you or  to tuck in a card.  If it didn’t, she folded it and put it in her round crystal dish and used the backside for grocery lists or notes or other things you need scratch paper for.  They are still sitting on the counter at her house, as is the page a day, still on January 17 of this year.  The day she left for her Hospital Stay.

This year I am missing having those perfect square packages to wrap.  I will miss how Mama always knew we wouldn’t forget to get her those calendars, and yet she’d be so pleased and seem so surprised that we did remember.  Last Christmas she told me to pick out my own planner and she’d “surprise” me with it.  I just ordered my 2014 book the other day, so all of this is on my mind and heart.  I just miss her.  Everything about her.  Her calendars were a big part of who she was.  They tell her story.

If you know of someone who would love the wit and wisdom and whimsy of Mary Engelbreit, let me know.  I think my Amazon cart is crying out, “What is going on?” as for so many years, especially those when we were out of the country, that is how I got them for Mama.  I would love to share it with someone you love, as that is how Mama rolled.  Always thinking of how she could help someone else.  Even when she was feeling so sick herself, we had several conversations about her wanting to find a way to help this person or that situation.  She just loved folks, and it showed in how she lived.  So in honor of Mama, if you know of someone who would enjoy a surprise treat this holiday, and in the spirit of FunGiving, drop me a line at imightneedanap@yahoo.com and I’ll choose someone randomly to send the surprise to from YOU.  Send me a note by midnight Tuesday, December 10th, EST and tell me about your special person, why they are “good company,” and whether they’d love a planner or a page a day calendar.  I’ll contact you on Wednesday if your special sisterfriend or awesome family person is the chosen one.

Thanks for playing along.  It’s all about making our own fun and sharing joy despite our heavy hearts.  Sharing one of Mama’s favorite things with someone you love will be muchly fun and bring a smile to my heart.  In the words of the themes of next year’s Mary Engelbreit calendars–“Keep Good Company” and make this the “Best Day Ever!”  Love to all.

O Christmas Tree

It has been decided.

christmas tree farm

christmas tree farm (Photo credit: The Shifted Librarian)

Tomorrow is Christmas tree hunting day.

We’ve had more to work around this year, it feels like, to make this work.  Between the evening/after Fella gets home schedule and Aub being gone during the week, we have finally circled tomorrow as a day we can all make it happen.

Which brings us to the next decision.

A tree farm, a live tree from the local hardware store, or a Frasier fir from the big name store over near the coffee shop?  They all have their pluses and minuses.

Tree farm–support local business, beautiful place to hunt, adventure, closer to what I grew up doing, but really expensive.  Depending on the tree, it can be either hard or easy to string lights and hang ornaments on.  Just depends really.  Most of the varieties they’ve had in the recent past were trees with less hardy branches.

Live tree–almost as expensive as the tree farm but we can plant it later, it’s environmentally responsible, natural color (the tree farm sprays theirs–not kidding), but it is harder to string and hang ornaments.

Big name store tree–it’s the least expensive of the three; the adventure aspect isn’t quite there, but it’s been the only place I’ve found a Frasier fir and those are awesome for stringing and hanging.

We’ve done all three.  And while we lived in Japan we had an artificial tree.  This was decided after I viewed the trees on the roof at the BX and saw what I deemed a pitiful offering at three times the price.  So we found an artificial tree.  The whole time I dealt with the tree that California code or whatever that warns of cancer risks when handling the tree and lights and so on kept ringing through my head.  (Yes, I’m a hypochondriac and I own it.)  It was beautiful, held every ornament we had, but I just couldn’t totally embrace it.  The retired Japanese gentlemen who were friends of my Fella’s came over for breakfast around Christmas.  They were fascinated by it and kept asking how many ornaments I thought we had on it.  I had no idea.  It was neat to see them so intrigued though.  Almost everything in Japan has to be done on a much smaller scale because their houses are on a smaller scale.  Our tree would have taken up half of a living room in a normal sized apartment home there, and it wasn’t even that big of a tree.

When we returned from Japan, we went back to the Christmas tree farm I’d visited years before.  One of the Christmases my Fella was deployed, Daddy went with us and helped us cut it down.  Aub and the littles have loved trekking all over trying to find the perfect tree.  It’s just that over the years the price tag has started turning my stomach.  It just broke my heart to pay that much for a tree we would gaze upon for a month, and then it would be gone.

So two years ago, less than a month after Daddy died, my heart just wasn’t in it.  We simplified Christmas. I didn’t pull out any ornaments or decorations.  We went to the local hardware store and found an evergreen that was more tall and straight than anything else.  We strung the tender branches with lights, and the children and I made ornaments–homemade cinnamon applesauce ornaments and we painted letters and glued them to rope to spell love and joy.  And that was our precious tree that year.  We planted it out back.  I think it’s a tender fellow still, and very timid, not quite sure if it wants to commit to living here or not.  There have been times I’ve seen brown among the branches and thought, “Well there he goes.”  But then he’ll green back up.  I have no idea.  Just thankful he’s sticking around.

Last year my heart needed Christmas.  The lights, the festivity, the decorations all over the house.  (Our Princess even has a tiny pink tree with glitter she puts in her room.  Gotta love it.)  I brought out things we hadn’t set out in a couple of years.  In the end we decided to go to the big name store because the prices were about 1/3 of what the tree farm was and the live tree selection wasn’t that good at that time.  We made it an adventure as much as we could.  It still took us quite a while to find the one we all could agree on.  In a way we made it the fun time we’d hoped for just with the right attitudes.  And my heart was much lighter as the cashier rang us up.  Yes.  That’s what I was hoping for too.   It was a beautiful Frasier fir, and it held the white lights (I insisted on those myself) and ornaments as long as we wanted it to.  Maybe it got a little dry a little sooner than we’d hoped, but it was a beautiful tree.

And so the discussion continues this year.  I was given the grace I needed today NOT to pull out all the things I have.  I am happy for Christmas to be here, but I just don’t have it in me–physically, emotionally, or energy-wise–to get it all out and pack it back up in a month.  *shudder*  I can’t do that to me this year.  My mind goes back to this past January, helping my Mama pack up her Christmas things, so much simpler than it was years ago, but so much history in it all, and I just want to cry.  So yes, a tree, ornaments and lights, candles, but I think that will be it.  I hope it will be enough for all to feel that Christmas was special this year.

I believe we will probably go “over the river and through the woods” back over to the big name store.  (It’s actually more like drive by the grocery store and past the Waffle House, park next to the coffee shop.)  I love that my family will make it an adventure, and the cashier will make me smile.  It’s what we make it, and it will be okay.  I know too many folks who are in need to spend that much on a tree this year.  Not judging anyone else, just know what feels right for us.

I miss the days when I was growing up.  Oh the joy of the Christmas tree hunt!  My Granny had a good-sized farm with lots of woods divided through the middle with an open area.  We’d visit with Granny for a little while, and then we’d walk around back, past the horse and cow pastures, and head for the woods.  Daddy had all that he needed to get the job done, I especially remember the saw and his gloves.  We’d wander through, and it amazed me we would never get lost.  Daddy’s internal GPS would take us right back up to Granny’s house each and every time.

As we wound our way through the woods, we’d see some of the same cedar trees from year to year.  The perfect ones.  Getting bigger and stronger and taller each year.  Those were off-limits.  We never questioned it.  We knew.  Those were the woods’ Christmas trees.  The ones the animals would gather around on Christmas Eve and share their stories with others there.  We would get excited when Daddy would point out where a deer had been rubbing its antlers against the tree bark.  We called them corner trees because we could put that spot against the wall and it would never show.  Daddy said those trees didn’t have much of a shot of growing much bigger anyway, so we didn’t feel too bad cutting one down.  Finding one of those “deer trees” didn’t mean the hunt was over though.  We still had to walk around, just in case there was a more perfect one over the next hill.

Which is how I met the snake that time.  Daddy must have stepped right over it and never even noticed.  I turned to follow him and there in front of me, curled up asleep (at least I assume it was) was a snake.  What kind, you might ask?  A LIVE ONE, that’s all that mattered to me.  I refused to move another step; I was terrified.  Daddy came back and got me.  He didn’t harm a hair on its head like he did the one we’d found in the horse barn.  We were on its turf.  It’s also very likely it was not a poisonous one, but I didn’t take the time to ask or wait on an answer.  I wanted to be as far away as I could get from it.

Finally we would choose a tree.  As Daddy sawed and cut and moved around, laying flat on his back on the ground beneath the tree, we all clapped and cheered and yelled “Timber” as loud as we could as it fell, our echoes and the resounding thunk of the tree falling to the ground the most beautiful Christmas music of all.  Daddy would grab the tree at the bottom and drag and carry it out of the woods.  I took the hand of whomever was youngest (who had most likely spent some time riding in Daddy’s arms or on his back on the way in) and we walked back to Granny’s house.  I remember the crisp smell of the air and the satisfied and happy song in my heart.  It was about the tree hunt, but it was about so much more.  It was about being with the people I loved more than life itself and being ready to help my Daddy whenever he asked–something that brought me joy right up to the last time I held his glass for him to sip or helped him get in a more comfortable position in his hospital bed.  It was about love.  The tree became a symbol of that.

We did that every year when I was growing up (and after I was out of the house) until Granny moved to town.  The only exception I remember is the year that Daddy was so sick.  I was eleven or twelve I think.  Daddy had been struggling with bad headaches for a while and wasn’t able to take us hunting.  Mama went and bought a little magnolia (or was it a gardenia?!) in a pot and sat it on top of the piano.  She hung a few of our lighter (poor little plant…) ornaments on it, and we called it Christmas.  A stickler for tradition, I am sure I did not make that choice easy on her or Daddy.  I am sitting here right now, remembering looking at it in the beginning through glaring eyes, as though I could make it go away with my stare.  Oh my.  Mama told me years later we were lucky we didn’t lose Daddy then.  Sort of puts that poor little magnolia (or gardenia) into perspective.

So though our trek will be different tomorrow it will be about the same thing.  Love.  And laughter.  There’s always plenty of that to go around with this crew.  We’ll find a good tree I hope, but while I know I loved the way our trees looked each year, and that every year Mama would tell us we’d outdone ourselves and found the best one yet, I also know it’s not about what the tree looks like.  It’s about the memories attached.  And it’s about the children remembering what each ornament reminds them of–who gave it to them or why they got it.  It’s about another year of stringing the lights–that was my job growing up, and the simple action of hooking a hanger on the ornament and handing it to the right child.  (They will tell me if I get it wrong!  Of that I can be certain.)

I hope that your journey this season is filled with love and laughter whether there is a real tree or not, from a tree farm or the market down the road, or no tree at all.  It’s whom we are with that matters most.  But I am curious–real, artificial, pre-cut, cut down your own, Charlie Brown tree, or magnolia bush?  Or none at all?  Where are you this year?

Merry memory-making, my friends!

Why I Believe

English: Santa Claus with a little girl Espera...

English: Santa Claus with a little girl Esperanto: Patro Kristnasko kaj malgranda knabino Suomi: Joulupukki ja pieni tyttö (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s that time of year again.  The one where I stress that someone is going to tell one of my children some kind of foolishness.

Ridiculous stuff.  Preposterous.

Like they don’t believe.

Sigh.

This is something I really do stress over.  I mean, here’s the deal.  My Mama told me if you ever stop believing, *whispering* He. Stops. Coming.

*gasp*  No.  Just no.

So I believe.  And he has always come.  Ask my oldest, in her first year at college, she knows.  She believes because she doesn’t want to miss out on all of the fun.

I love the magic of Santa, Saint Nicholas, Sinterklaas, Father Christmas.  I love dreaming and wishing and hoping.  I love finding joy in what he does bring and being okay with what he doesn’t.  Really okay.  That’s life.  But what I love most of all is that the kindness of Kris Kringle is that of someone who does for others never expecting anything in return.

That right there.

That’s why I teach my children about Santa.  And why I teach them to share as he does, to do for others who may never know their names and without looking for a gift in return.  I think that is the beauty of the season.

The laughter and joy of planning the perfect gift.  So much fun.  Over the years I have had living examples of Santa’s giving.  My Great Aunt Hattie was one who gave freely and with love.  She wrapped up a purse filled with lipstick and perfume samples.  She made doll dresses and stuffed Raggedy Anns and Andy’s and Bugs Bunnies and a beautiful cat named Sylvia I still have.  And so many others.  She gave us a Whitman’s Sampler every year and sheets for our beds and dishtowels for Mama and bandanas for Daddy.  I don’t remember much of what we gave her as gifts.  I know it couldn’t have been much.  We always wrote thank you’s but I know she gave from her heart because she loved us and expected nothing in return.  That’s real love and giving in the spirit of Saint Nicholas.

Over my adult years there has been even more Christmas magic.  My parents celebrated the Christmas of 1889 (or was it 1888) one hundred years later, with real socks as stockings, filled with nuts and candy and oranges and pennies.  They wanted us to get it.  And eventually we did.

The Christmas Eve before The Fella, Aub, and I moved to Japan ten days later, we arrived home after midnight service and there were three of Daddy’s socks (poor guy, probably always wondered why there was a spare) waiting with goodies for us from Santa’s elves, Biph and Muffy.  I don’t exactly remember what was in them, but I remember wondering at how those elves got in my house.  I still have the socks.  (The elves had written on them.)  The magic and love in that gift tickles me to this day.  Turns out I may or may not be related to those crafty elves.  I won’t say, but I still believe.

During the years I lived in Japan, I had the help of an angel named Joy who would go out and pick up something for my Mama and Daddy to be from me and drop it off on their back steps on Christmas Eve.  I love her for that, and she proves there is a Santa, who loves and does without asking for anything in return.  Because she never did.  I will always love her for that, even if there weren’t hundreds of other reasons to love her. (Which there are.)

Santa’s magic brought my sisterfriend from New Jersey early to surprise me for our rehearsal dinner in the middle of December.  There is no way I could ever thank her enough or pay her back for that.  That’s how she loves too–freely and dearly.

I hope to continue the traditions started by my precious Aunt Hattie, “you know?,” and by the Christmas Spirit of 1888 (or ’89) and by Biph and Muffy.  I want my children to know what it’s like to be loved by someone who gives and doesn’t ask for a thing in return, and Santa is a pretty good person to start with.  But I hope their lives will be filled with sisterfriends and brotherfriends and family and elves who will continue to love in that magical way.  I want them to feel the Light in the midst of the darkness of winter, especially this winter, their first without that elf named Maemae for whom Christmas morning always put a twinkle in her eye.  I want them to know what it’s like to be loved by someone they may never meet in person.  And to know the value of saying a simple “thank you” and accepting what is given.

I believe in the magic inside each of us that has us loving on other folks, even when it doesn’t make sense–whether they’re naughty or nice.  I believe in the magic that has little children watching and listening for the sounds of an elf scampering through the house or for the sound of jingle bells on Christmas Eve–holding their eyes open wide until they just can’t anymore and they fall asleep filled with magical thoughts of the morning.

So much of the real stuff of life is hard.  That’s why I want the magic, the good, the love, the light, the laughter and joy to be REAL for them too.  And I am thankful for Santa, who makes all of those things a little more real for all of us.

Thank you Santa.  Merry Christmas.  Tonight I am thankful for you and for the two folks who brought your magic to life for me and never let me stop believing in the good of people, the magic of laughter, and the joy of giving.  Safe journeys, Sir, and much love.  I’ll leave the light on for you.  And oh, I won’t forget your Swedish gingersnaps and bottle of Coca-Cola either.  Maybe you’ll have time to sit and watch a Hallmark movie or two with me that night?  Love you Santa.  Always.

 

**Two of my favorite Santa/Father Christmas books I’ve found in the past few years:

Santa and Pete by Christopher Moore and Pamela Johnson–a wonderful story and there’s a movie too though I haven’t watched it yet.  http://www.amazon.com/Santa-Pete-Novel-Christmas-Present/dp/0684854953/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1386046517&sr=8-3&keywords=santa+and+pete

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien  (yes, same one!)  Absolutely delightful letters Mr. Tolkien saved that Father Christmas sent from the North Pole.  We love reading these as a family.  We are especially fond of the mischievous North Polar Bear.  Such wonderful stories from a magical writer–Father Christmas himself.  http://www.amazon.com/Letters-Father-Christmas-J-R-R-Tolkien/dp/0618512659/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386046629&sr=8-1&keywords=letters+from+father+christmas

What are your favorites?

 

 

“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.)

Road Blocks, Detours, and Bumps in the Road

Bumps in the road.  Detours.  Unexpected roadblocks.  Dead end streets.  The past few days these things have come up in conversation with friends.  Today when one friend and I were talking about our need to belong, I started thinking about how, even though I have folks whom I belong to, since my parents have both gone on up to The House, I need to change my way of thinking.  I have to wrap my brain around not having them here and the whole concept of belonging, as it exists now.

As I was replying to her, an image came to mind.  That of a Global Positioning System, GPS, Garmin, TomTom, whatever you might call it.  That thing that tells you when to turn and what road to take so you’ll get to your destination.  It’s like an inner compass.  Only on the outside.

My Fella likes to use the GPS.  No matter where we go.  When he entered in my parent’s address one day, I finally figured out he likes the feature that tells our arrival time.  So it stays plugged in most of the time.

I don’t usually use it.  Sometimes when my oldest is riding shotgun, she will punch in the address for the fun of it.  I still go the way I know.  In the spirit of “All roads lead to home” I like to change it up and go different ways.  If traffic is backed up, I usually know a different way to get where I’m going.  If we have errands to run on the way, I might have to switch it up.  And quite honestly, sometimes I go a different way than what the GPS says, just to mess with it.   Mama always said I got Daddy’s sense of direction, so sometimes I like to see if I still “got it.”

Have you ever taken an unexpected turn?  Gone differently than the prescribed way?  Had to take a detour for one reason or another?  If you have a GPS, do you remember what it did?  Do you remember what the screen looked like?

20131105-222257.jpg

When the GPS realizes the vehicle is heading in a direction that is different from what was mapped out, it takes a moment and looks at the other possible routes.  And then it redoes the mapping.

Yes.

This is what I find myself needing to do.  Recalculating.  There has been a major change in the route I had planned.  I did not foresee life without my parents at this age.  Not that anyone asked me, but they were supposed to be around to help get me through all this child-raising.  To see all of their grandchildren graduate, and to keep me sane and calm as one by one, they each leave and start off on their own paths.

But it was not to be.

Major change in route.  Without any preparation.

And so I have to recalculate.

What will the path look like without them to guide me?  My compass is gone–their wise words and funny but meaningful stories from their own lives helped me make the right decisions when I needed to.  At least if I didn’t make the right one, I made an informed one and I had a safe place to land when I needed it.

Today I found out that someone I’ve know for most of my life buried her Mama last week.  On her birthday.  Her Daddy died on Christmas day several years ago.  I could see it in her eyes that aren’t ready to focus and make contact, and I could hear it in her voice that is too numb to speak very much at all–she has been knocked off the road, more times than I know, but this last one, it was a doozy.  She’s been hit and can’t even tell you what happened.  She’s going to need people to love her and help her recalculate her new path.  After she gets a second wind.  And that will take lots of time.  And grace.  I am thankful for my family and friends who are helping me figure it all out and start back out again.  I hope I can pay it forward for my friend.  And help her figure out this new life without them.

Recalculating…..

On life’s journey,

my folks were the compass to guide me

the tire jack to help me when things went flat

the team that responded when I sent up the flares.

They were the emergency blanket and poncho which kept me dry and safe

during all of life’s storms.

As I traveled down the road all of these years,

they were the road signs preparing me for the twists and turns up ahead,

and they were the fellow truckers who honked their horns when I needed

to know someone else was out there.

Most of all, when I needed to stop

and take a moment

in the midst of all the growing up, traveling, planning the journey,

they were the rest stop,

open arms 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

anytime and every time

they were a safe place to rest, refuel, and map out the rest of my way.

They were the key to my staying on the road. 

And now they aren’t here to do those things anymore.

Recalculating…..

About Remembering, Belonging, and Being Long-Suffering

My Mama spoiled me.  I know she did.  Because of her I’ve spent my entire life with high expectations for birthdays.  It wasn’t the gifts.  It was the attention.  You knew it was your birthday and so did everyone else.  Because while she loved everyone equally, your birthday was YOUR day.  Or week, that was how she rolled.

Mama made us cakes from scratch and enjoyed decorating them and surprising us with the design.  I remember the carousel cake she made me one year, complete with the most enchanting set of plastic horses on top.  I named each one.  I think the green one was my very favorite.  The one she probably worked the hardest on was the crossword puzzle cake.  She designed it on paper with words that described me, and then she transferred it in icing on the cake. That was my twelfth birthday, I think.  I wore the striped shirt she made me and I got Bogart the Bassett hound as my gift.  I had seen him at KMart and wanted him so much.  I slept with him up until I had my first child.  True story.

I’ve also had the angsty birthdays.  I remember it being a huge deal to go to double digits, and then thirteen.  The night before my twentieth birthday I sat in my dorm room on first floor in Persons (I was a Resident Assistant) and wrote a poem, “On the Eve of Turning Twenty.”  I don’t remember what I wrote, but I remember thinking it was very important that I get down my emotions before midnight when everything.  Would.  Change.  Yeah, I was that teenager.

Today has been a day.  My first without my Mama.  It was hard.  Not that the past two were worth writing home about either.  Last year we were all missing Daddy and anticipating the anniversary of his death coming up.  That and being worried about Mama’s declining health were two huge clouds hanging over the day.  Two years ago, Mama didn’t let me see Daddy when I went over to the house.  I was disappointed and mad.  It was my birthday, and I wanted to see my Daddy.  It was exactly two weeks before he would leave us for a better world, but we didn’t know that yet.  I’ve talked to her about it since she left.  A couple of weeks ago when I was in the shower, I told her again how much that upset me.  (Yeah, I talk to her a lot when I’m in the shower.)  And then I felt her there.  And I just knew, as clearly as if she’d said it, she had been protecting me.  I knew he was having a rough day, but I didn’t know how bad.  And that was why.  She didn’t want me to experience that.  And then I also “heard” her say that most anything and everything she ever did was to protect me.  Because she loves me.

I get it.  I have three of my own I love and want to protect.

This morning I had the honor and privilege of being invited to Mama’s Sunday School class and church for their All Saint’s Day services.  Mess Cat was there, and I had the whole crew with me.  Mess Cat met me at the door, “Get ready. I’ve already been crying.  A sweet lady came up and just took my hand and started crying.”  Bless her.  And all of them.  Y’all.  My Mama found a wonderful group of people to love and to be loved by.  They were all so gracious and welcoming.  And good gravy, as Aub pointed out, I believe they were channeling my Mama today.  They kept trying to feed us.  It was just so sweet.

The class at Trinity UMC were remembering three of their friends who passed this year.  When the service began, Mama’s dear friend Miss F stepped up to share about Mama.  She was so sweet and it was apparent she knew Mama well.  When Miss F talked about how Mama didn’t like to brag but you knew how much she loved her children and grandchildren, I lost it.  The tears were flowing freely by then.

When Miss F started talking about the fruit of the spirit, she listed them saying, “Is there any one of these that doesn’t make you think of Barbara?”  I smiled, but when she listed “long-suffering” I had to laugh.  (Quietly.  I used self-control.)  There is some family lore in describing my Daddy’s family as being “long-suffering.”  Mama was married to Daddy twice as long as she went by her maiden name, so she used to joke in recent years that she had earned her “long-suffering” ways of his family outright.  Fair and square.  I just know Mama was there laughing with me in the midst of the tearful remembering.

I loved that each one who shared and talked about “our brothers and sisters who have gone before” emphasized that they were no longer with us PHYSICALLY, but they were still with us all.  I like that, because I think that is very true.  That’s why I talk to Mama whenever I feel like it.  And Daddy too sometimes.

As the service in the Sunday School class wrapped up, several of the beautiful people in Mama’s class came up and introduced themselves and said hello to my crew.  “Are these your children?”  “Yes ma’am.  All three.”  “They’re just beautiful.”  “Thank you.”  One gentleman even teased, “Don’t they know they’re supposed to be misbehaving?”  (Ummm, let’s don’t put that out there.  We were touch and go there for a few minutes, but I didn’t tell him that.)

It was in the middle of these conversations that a memory was triggered.  It was Fall of 2007 and we were at a big Family reunion of my Daddy’s daddy’s people, my Papa’s sister’s and brother’s families.  We were gathered in a big barn, and the food overflowed.  My great Aunt had made many quilts that she generously shared at the end of the day.  I don’t remember what dish it was that we were labeling the same as everyone else was so it would come back home with us, but as a joke, I wrote on a piece of masking tape, “Belongs to Bill” and stuck it on my shirt.

Today it was when one of the dear ladies asked me, “Do these precious children belong to you?” and I answered “Yes ma’am” that it hit me.  I don’t have anyone who can say that about me anymore.  Point to me and say, “Yep.  That one belongs to me.”  I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but with my parents both gone, I don’t belong to someone like I used to.  No name to put on the piece of tape so I can find my way home again.

And yet I do belong to something, to someone, don’t I?  I am loved.  Far beyond anything I could earn.  There is grace in being loved the way I am.  My day started off with children who, when they remembered it was my birthday, didn’t grumble quite so much about the cinnamon toast I made for breakfast.  (Yes, they’re spoiled.  They were holding out for pound cake.)  I had an e-mail from my Aunt who gave me a great gift in letting me know that it was okay if today was hard.  (Thank you.)  Mess Cat and Leroy made the day special and my nephew Shaker suggested that I might still be getting a binturang.  (Maybe for Christmas?) So many friends and family have made my day with sweet messages on Facebook and texts and phone calls.  Joyful tidings.  In the midst of the chaos and emotions and hard things that have been on our hearts today, my family still sat down and laughed tonight over leftovers and cocoa apple cake, and I got books and a beautiful literary bracelet.  (I am loved and known.)

The candle lit for Mama is on the far left.  The beautiful plaque has the name of members of this dear class who have died over the years.

The candle lit for Mama is on the far left. The beautiful plaque has the names of members of this dear class who have died over the years.

And at the end of the day, I was sung to twice–once this morning and then this evening with my people.  This morning Mess Cat threw me under the bus and told Mama’s Sunday School class that it was my birthday.  They sang to me and Miss M, who also was born on this wonderful day.  Candles were lit.  And during the church service this morning, when Mama’s name was called and the bell rang, they gave our family this beautiful flower in remembrance.

The white carnation given to us during the All Saint's Day service this morning.

The white carnation given to us during the All Saint’s Day service this morning.

As we were leaving the classroom, Miss F brought me a loaf of her legendary bread–I remember Mama sharing a slice with me last year.  But ONLY a slice–Mama was generous, but she wasn’t crazy.  It’s that good.  Miss F makes a loaf for each person who has a birthday or anniversary that week. (She’s a lesson in grace and servanthood all by herself, isn’t she?) Loving on folks with her gifts and talents.  No wonder Mama loved her so much.

The bread baked by Miss F with Love.  When I suggested that she might do something else with it (it's hard for me to accept sometimes), she said, "Unh uh" in such a way that there was no further discussion.  It was loving but firm.  I have to take lessons.

The bread baked by Miss F with Love. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?  It tastes even better.  When I suggested that she might do something else with it (it’s hard for me to accept sometimes), she said, “Unh uh” in such a way that there was no further discussion. It was loving but firm. I have to take lessons.

Candles, flowers, and a delicious treat.  The things all good birthdays are made of, even if they were a little different this year.

Tonight I am thankful for a different kind of birthday.  One of remembering and feeling loved, even if it’s not the same this year.  I am thankful for friends and family who walk this journey with me, those who share similar heartbreaks and those who don’t.  And tonight as I remember my parents, my Mama’s cousin Miss B, and my Fella’s cousin, I also think of my college classmates who have lost those they love in the past years.  I am thankful for the reminder that even though my heart breaks about Mama and Daddy not being here, I still belong to them and to many others who love me fiercely.  And who make me cry when they say they are thankful I was born to them.

And that will do for number 45.

Because I Kept Breathing

Today the writing prompt for our Rising Bloggers group was “Something your body has taught you.”  You can find other posts on this topic here

The night that the Fella came and got me on my evening walk in August of 2009, my whole world changed in that instant.  I went from being a wife, Mama, new homeschool teacher, and mildly concerned daughter of a Daddy who had been having a few problems to a terrified little girl who could not imagine life without her Daddy.

When my husband told me that Mama did not want me to come to the hospital that night, he said instead she wanted me to call my siblings.

I called each one, and tears and plans and hopes and fears were floating in the air above us like particles of dust do in the afternoon sunlight that pours in through the living room windows.

When I called my Brother, he was quiet for a moment on the other end.  He lives several states away and coming home in a hurry was not an option for him.  “Oh Bubba,” I said through my tears.  “If something happens to Daddy, I don’t think I will be able to breathe. I just can’t.”

But there’s this.

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In the weeks before my Daddy died, I stayed up late stripping pork roasts and putting them in the freezer, baking cakes to put back as well, and simply thinking and planning and trying to stay one step ahead of What Might Could Happen.  My body was exhausted but my spirit, my mind, and my heart said it must be done.  And they were right.

And my body is, at times, stronger than my spirit. Stronger than I ever knew.  When my heart broke completely at 4:30 p.m. on 17 November 2011, my body pushed through and did the impossible.  It kept on breathing, sleeping, doing what needed to be done.  Even when all I wanted to do was give up and crawl under a blanket and find myself waking up from a bad, bad dream.  And yet I kept breathing.

It’s amazing to me the balance between body and spirit.  When one is broken or lost, it seems that the other is there to pick up the load.  During Mama’s HospitalStay we all kept so many balls in the air, I know it was nothing but sheer willpower of spirit that kept us going.  Our spirits seemed to cheer our bodies on–“You can get up early in the morning to finish that laundry, to pay those bills, to make that phone call, to read to that child, to put supper in the crockpot…..”  It was three weeks later when Mama’s fight for comfort and healing ended that the roles reversed.  When she took her last breath and the nurse we grew up knowing nodded his head from her doorway, in that instant, my body nudged my spirit and said, “You take a rest. I’ll take it from here for a while.”

And so it was my body that took over as I washed her face one more time.  It had brought her such comfort in life, and now it brought me comfort.  As if by rote, my body got me through the whirlwind of the next few days–planning and running errands and welcoming and greeting and thanking folks and saying goodbye.

20131024-215518.jpgIf one believes that, as the Good Book says, we are created in the Image of the Creator, who is three in one, isn’t it fascinating to see how these two sides of our selves work together?  We are not all body or all spirit, but both as one.  Both need food to survive and time to rejuvenate and heal.  It takes both to live this life that is so full of laughter and joy and tears and sadness.  It takes both to love with our hearts and our hands.  It takes both to defend what we believe in with our minds and our bodies.  And it takes both to say goodbye.  To touch a hand and kiss a forehead one last time, and to let them go with our hearts where they need to go.

When I asked my body what it felt like was the greatest thing it could share with me and the world, it was this:

“I don’t work alone.”

And though I can’t run a marathon or even jog around the neighborhood, I am strong, stronger than I ever knew.  I know.  Because I kept breathing.