Working Out

It was June, I think, or maybe July.  I’m not sure.  I know it was very hot.  And that Daddy was still going for treatments at the Cancer Center.

This particular day Daddy’s physical therapist, Miss Ida, whom I loved and adored from my own visit to the PT office where she worked, had helped get Daddy situated in the passenger seat of Mama’s car.  Mama got in the back, and I drove the two of them down and over to Highway 96 where the Center is located about twenty minutes away from the house.

When we got there, I pulled up under the breezeway to let Daddy out as close to the door as possible.  Mama went in and came back with a wheelchair.  I helped Daddy turn his legs around, and then we wrapped his arms around my neck, and I lifted while he tried to help.

At this point the lymphoma was zapping his strength and his broken hip from a few months before, though healing, was hindering his physical abilities as well.  I lifted, but my efforts did little to get him from the car to the chair.  We tried again, and I got him up a few inches.  And then…..

I almost dropped him.

He almost fell onto the edge of the car and to the pavement below.

I was mortified.  Daddy was fine, but still.  WHAT IF?

A kind soul happened upon us then–no coincidence at all–and she came right over, enveloped my Daddy in her arms, gently placed him in the wheelchair, waved off our thanks, and went on her way cheerfully, wishing us a good day.

BLESS.

It was easier getting him into the car on the way home, and somehow we got him from the car to the house without another incident.

But that moment stuck with me.  My upper body strength was sorely lacking.  If I couldn’t take care of my Daddy, something would have to change.  Immediately.  I was broken over the fact that it had been a stranger who had come to his aid–that after all he’d done for me through all the years, I couldn’t help him–unfathomable.

And so I began working out back then.  Nothing too serious, just trying to build up my strength so that I could help lift him.  And when he was bedridden at the end and would slide down in the bed, I was able to move him back up in the bed.  I am thankful for that now.

A couple of days ago, I woke up thinking about how we work to build up muscles.  How we work and push them beyond their limits to be stronger and to be able to do more with them.  Almost completely recovered from a frozen shoulder, I am ready to start rebuilding my core and my ability to “lift and tote.”  Mostly for groceries, but still–it’s a good thing to work on.

Then I started thinking about our hearts.  And how we love.

That’s a good thing to work on too.

We don’t build up our arm muscles by continuing to do the same thing every day–by only lifting the laundry from the dryer or the groceries from the car.  We have to be consistent, and we have to go outside our comfort zones to be strong and stronger.  We have to lift things we wouldn’t normally lift.

I think it’s the same in building up our hearts–and our capacity to love.  We don’t do it by loving the same people all the time.  We do it by loving folks outside our comfort zones.  And by doing it consistently.  That’s the only way to build up our love muscles.  Loving those we wouldn’t normally love.  Going out of our way for them.  For others.

And that’s the only way to build up the kingdom too.

A kingdom where I’d really like to live.

Wishing you all a day of working out–and building up those muscles.  For the good of all of us.

Love to all.

Die_Frau_als_Hausärztin_(1911)_135_Bruststärker

“Die Frau als Hausärztin (1911) 135 Bruststärker” by Anna Fischer-Dückelmann – Die Frau als HausärztinLicensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 

The One About Borrowing Trouble

This morning my oldest was on her way back to college.  She was going straight to work first, and then classes after lunch.  She was doing fine until she felt like something was hitting her back tire.

She told me, “I don’t know.  I think something might have happened in that driveway last night.  I thought I had run off in the ditch, even though I hadn’t, because that last storm washed it out so badly.”

I asked her where she was, and she told me.  She was about twenty-five minutes away from me.  I immediately starting rearranging my day in my mind–I could get to her and get her to work, just a little bit late, but then she’d need to be driven from downtown where she works back across town to her college campus.  Four hours later.  Not exactly fitting in with my schedule, but I was determined we could figure it out.  And then I started worrying about who to take the vehicle to, wondering how serious it was, how much it would cost, how long it would take. She needs a vehicle to get to and from work at the very least…..

Then the thought immediately followed, conjuring up the scenario of a tire about to blow.  Realizing she was on the interstate and how ugly that could be…..

“Wait.  Is it doing it consistently?  This feeling?”

“Well, not when I go twenty, but when I get up to forty, yes, constantly.”

Forty?  On the interstate?

“I think you need to check it.  Now.  But be careful.”

She exited the interstate and went into a Zaxby’s parking lot because “it was closed and didn’t look ‘sketch.'”  I love her criteria for stopping points.

She got out, and I held my breath.  “Well, I know what it is,” she sighed, frustrated.

Oh me. “What? What’s wrong?”

“Well somehow my backpack strap got caught in the door and is hanging out hitting my back tire.  I can’t even right now.”

While she berated herself, I laughed.  And laughed.  To the point I was nearly in tears.

Tears of relief.  Tears of gratitude.  And tears of realizing how silly I had been.

When Daddy was first admitted to the hospital and moved up to Emory and had a brain biopsy done and our world was falling apart and he was diagnosed with an extremely rare and atypical form of lymphoma, his mantra was: “We’re not going to go borrowing trouble.”

And looka there, Daddy, at what I did this morning.

I was borrowing all kinds of trouble.

Over a backpack strap.

I don’t know how often I do it, but I am sure I’ve made my Daddy shake his head many a time since he left this world, and I am sure this morning was one such occasion.  I can just about see him sitting there in his chair, shaking his head, cocking his mouth to one side and grinning, “See? Didn’t I tell you?  Don’t. Borrow. Trouble.”

Yessir.  You told me.

And I’ll try to do better. Next time.  And the time after that.

A backpack strap, y’all.  I was so relieved, I was almost giddy.

May you find yourselves, in the face of the unknown, able to stay afloat–steady and safe–and row away from the waters of borrowing trouble.  Nothing good is over there, and it’s rarely as bad as what we imagine.  Thankfully so.

Love to all.

The Sanctity of Life and the Miracle of Grace

In September 2011 I heard a name I’d not heard before.  I heard it on the radio, saw it on Facebook.

Troy Davis.

This young man only three weeks older than I am was convicted for the August 19, 1989 murder of Mark MacPhail, a police officer in Savannah, Georgia.  His execution was scheduled for September 21.  That day my heart was very heavy.  He had been denied clemency, but his execution did not happen at 7 p.m. as scheduled.  The Supreme Court was reviewing his case.

I sat on the edge of the bed in my dimly lit room.  My children were all asleep, the youngest piled in next to me.  The Fella was out of town for work and had been for quite some time.  I was alone, fervently praying for someone to save this man’s life, all the while fearing the worst.

In that moment, I realized that I did not, if I ever had before, have the stomach for capital punishment.

See, life and how very precious it is had just been impressed upon me greater than ever before.

My Daddy, my very much-loved Daddy, had just been admitted to Hospice only a few days earlier.

Life was precious.  And dwindling.

And in the quiet of the night, I begged God to step in, for someone to save a life that did not have to be ended.  Not like my Daddy’s.  His body had already given him a death sentence and clemency had been denied.

But for Troy Davis?  It could have been very different.

Only it was not to be.

The Supreme Court came back and denied a stay of execution.  And at 10:53 p.m. on September 21, 2011, Troy Davis was given a lethal injection.  Fifteen minutes later he was pronounced dead.

I can hardly type it without feeling sick.

I don’t want to argue the validity of capital punishment.  I don’t want to argue guilt or innocence.  I won’t even argue that if the function of prisons is to rehabilitate and change lives, why aren’t we rewarding those who do work towards that goal?

I am here to simply say, all lives matter.

If one says he or she is pro-life, doesn’t that mean pro-all life?

Earlier this past week, my sister-in-love shared the story of Kelly Gissendaner, who was scheduled to be executed on this past Wednesday night at 7 p.m. here in Georgia.  Kelly was convicted of plotting the murder of her husband.  The man who actually killed him is serving 25 years and will be up for parole in a few years.  I felt sick when I read the story my SIL shared for two reasons–the fact that I live here and this was the first I had heard of the story, and the fact that it was, once again, the willing ending of a life that didn’t have to be.

All that day my heart was heavy.  When the word came that the execution had been rescheduled for Monday, March 2, at 7 p.m. because of the inclement weather, I gave thanks.  I’ve never been so happy about snow in my life.

I’ve been piecing together Kelly’s story.  It is a heartbreaking and inspiring one, one of second chances and redemption.

I’m not going to talk about the certificate she earned while incarcerated.  You can read about that here.

I’m not going to talk about the women whose lives she touched and changed because of who she has become.  Her sisterfriends (and they call themselves that–oh my heart) do that so beautifully here.

I’m not going to share her words with you right now.  I hope you’ll watch this video and hear them for yourselves.

I’m not even going to talk about how unfair I think it is that the man who actually murdered Kelly’s husband, Doug, will be out of prison in 8 years because he took the plea deal first and testified against Kelly.  You can read about that here and find a link to copies of her request for clemency.

What I am going to say is that life is precious.  I know this.  For. A. Fact.  Like so many of us, I’ve had the lives of those I love taken away by disease and I. Am. Still. Heartbroken.   Because of that, I cannot be okay with inviting death in and ending a life like this.

I just can’t.

I was conversing with my wise writer friend, Lisa at My So Called Glamorous Life, about Kelly. Lisa lives out of state, and she shared this with me today:

“I had not heard of this case before I heard a radio dj mocking the prisoner because of her last meal order. I think that’s indicative of how people dismiss the value of a life.”

So tonight, as I stay up very late to finish this because time is of the essence, I’m not asking for anyone to do anything except–

PLEASE DO NOT DISMISS THE VALUE OF A LIFE.

All lives.  Yours.  Mine.  Kelly’s.  Everyone’s.

If you read her case, and think she deserves to die, then okay.  If you can be okay with it, then I have to respect that.  I hope you can respect that I cannot.

But if you read her case, and your heart cries out for things to be different, here are a couple of places you can go.  There is a Facebook page I just found that has a list of suggestions for helping here.  If you are a member of the clergy or know someone who is, you can sign this petition here.  (Out of state clergy are also encouraged to sign.)  At this point, it is my understanding that Governor Deal is the one who can step in and stop the execution.  I have emailed him twice, only to get no response, and I tried calling the number listed “in case of time sensitive matters,” and not only did I not get an answer but there also was no option to leave a message.  Simply no answer at all.  Here is the place to send him messages or call.  The video above also gives more contact information and ways to tag the Governor and the Parole Board if you are active on Social Media.

Thank you for reading this.  I am ashamed I was hesitant to write this at first.  I respect folks’ rights to their own opinions.  I don’t like to get into political rants, which is why I haven’t taken this to Facebook.  But my heart has been heavy about this–this is about life, the life of a woman who is my age.  Whose childhood and past led her to make some really bad choices and do some really, really bad things.  This evening I saw this on Love Wins Ministries‘ Facebook page, and I knew I had to write this.  Now.

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Because if I believe in redemption and grace, I have to believe in it for everyone.  And that’s why I’m writing tonight.  Because I do believe in grace.  And love.  And the sanctity of life.  Oh bless it, I know how precious it is.  That is why my thoughts and heavy heart have led me to write what I have the past two nights.

And I decided that I could not go to bed Monday night, whether the execution happens or not, if I didn’t speak up and ask for help.  Help in sending out the message that dismissing the value of a life, any life, is NOT OKAY.

Kelly Gissendaner after finishing her Theology degree through courses offered at the prison

Kelly Gissendaner in 2011 after graduating from the Theology program offered at the prison

May we all find ourselves filled with the peace that Kelly has found, and may a miracle come and give this story of redemption what it really deserves–grace.

Love to all.

 

Saying Their Names

Our Princess loves to check the mail.

I don’t blame her.  It was my thing once upon a time too.

Yesterday she brought in a stack of mail.  A bill, unsolicited advertisements, a catalog, a magazine, and a package.

An unexpected package, I should add, which sent tingles of delight and anticipation surging through us all.

Inside was a treasure.

Well, there were books, so yes, that was a treasure in and of itself, but there was also a letter.

But not just any letter.

This was from a dear soul who knew my Mama and my Daddy.  Daddy talked with her and listened and let her into his world, when everything seemed to be falling apart in his fight against Goliath.  She was such a comfort to us all in those days.  Especially for Mama.  I am convinced she is the reason Mama found her place after Daddy died.   Our friend invited Mama on an outing, and from that Mama found a place to be, a place to serve, and a place to love and be loved.

For all of the fifteen months she lived after losing her best friend.

And this dear soul was there when Mama took her last breath.  She was also there when our cousin, Miss B, took hers.  I don’t know what I would have done without her through all of those days.  A comfort to be sure.

This letter she took the time to write was no ordinary one.

It was a remembering, an honoring of the lives of the two people I love and miss so much.  I laughed and I cried as I read the two handwritten pages front and back.

What a gift.

Grief is an odd duck.  I’ve said it before, and this probably won’t be the last time.  The thing is I can go a day or a few without tears.  The missing them, the holes in my life, doesn’t go away, but I can cope.  I can function and I can go on.  (Which shocks me to be quite honest, I never thought I’d be able to.) Then a day will come and the thought of something I want to tell Mama about or a question I want to ask Daddy comes to mind, and I’m a weepy mess just as I was in the shower night after night those first few months.  The tidal wave washes over me, knocks me down, and I am LOST once again.

And in this, though there are so many others who loved them and miss them, wrong or not, I wonder if I am the only one still struggling like this.  It’s been two and three years since their passing on, and time heals, so they say, so maybe I’m the only one, so I don’t bring it up…..because I don’t want to upset anyone or because I figure I’m just crazy.  All depends on the day.

This letter was timely and purposefully so.  She remembered it was the anniversary of us saying goodbye to Mama.  And so she wrote.  And she called them. by. name.

I miss hearing their names.

Tonight I am thankful for the grief.

That sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

But the thing is, I fear a day will come and I won’t have the tears.  The memories might fade such that I don’t weep with the pain of missing them.  I never want their passing to be just a thing in my past.  I want to remember.

And I give thanks for the others who remember.  Who tell me they do, and who share their memories.

That right there.

That’s a gift.  I clung to the phone as an older friend shared the story of my Daddy driving home from work as a young man, making the turn onto his road on two wheels.  That was it.  Nothing else to the story, but my knuckles were white and my heart listened to every detail and etched it into my memory.  Because she told me about Bill.  From long ago.

And the letter.  The paper is a little warped from the tears, but I won’t let them go willingly.  On it are the names of those I love.  And memories I don’t have, but that were shared with me. About Bill and Barbara.  I cling to those.

So if you’re ever wondering what you can do for someone who is missing someone they love, call them up, sit down over a cup of coffee or a glass of sweet tea, and call those folks by name.  Share your stories and listen to theirs.  Even if it’s been a year.  Two.  Ten.  Talk about the person.

Say their name.

May we all have someone who walks alongside us to remember and share stories with as we traverse this path of grief and loss and this whole journey of life.

Love to all.

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The Next Couple of Days

And so it’s time for the pages on the calendar that carry me away to a paradoxical place for a couple of days.

The days that are so full of emotion and good and hard things that it’s difficult to reconcile them all together in my one heart and mind.

February 10, 2007  My baby, my third and last baby–first son, was born.

February 9, 2013 I took my oldest, Aub, to my alma mater for Scholarship Day.  The beginning of her college life.

February 9, 2013 My Mama’s 24th day in the hospital and the date of her third emergency surgery.

February 10, 2013 I celebrated my baby boy’s 6th birthday with him for about thirty minutes.  The rest of the day I was at the hospital.  That night I signed the papers to let my Mama go.  And sometime after 10:30 p.m. she left this earth and headed on up to the House.

The precious church and cemetery out at Little Union.

The precious church and cemetery out at Little Union.

The paradox of welcoming (my baby) and letting go (my first born).

The paradox of life (my baby boy) and of death (my sweet Mama).

Yeah, it’s a lot to take in.

On the day that my baby boy came into this world, as they wheeled the two of us to our own room they stopped my bed.  There was a button on the wall that the nurse asked me to push.  When I did, a beautiful little tune played all over the hospital.  I remember hearing that same tune many times while staying with Mama at that very same hospital.  Though she wasn’t conscious, I still smiled and told her, “Mama, a new baby!”  I know she was smiling in her heart too.  Babies and little ones were her very favorite people in the world.

There was no button on the wall to press when Mama took her last breath.  Only more papers to sign.  And tears to shed.

On the same day six years apart, these hands of mine stroked the face of one so loved–first my little guy and then my Mama.  One hello, one goodbye.

I wondered if the Universe had a lesson for me when my Daddy’s battle with his Giant ended the day after our Princess’ seventh birthday in 2011.  To go from joy to sorrow so quickly as we remember and celebrate and honor is hard–but it’s something we do.   Every year.

And then this–to lose and gain all on the same day, years apart.

Oh, my heart.

And though it seems paradoxical and hard, it is actually also very beautiful in its brokenness.  This is my fragile time of year.  I am beginning to give myself grace and not set any expectations on what I should do or feel or think.  I just do.  Am.  Be.  And really, these days of love and loss and laughter and tears are the epitome of what Life is–joy and sorrow, life and death, tears and laughter.  And hugs.  Hugs of joy and hugs of sympathy.

And oh my, all of the stories.

As the ones who loved Mama so very much gathered around her bed that night, stories were shared.  Laughter was heard, and tears were shed. But most of all, the love in the room was palpable–so much so that if there had been an instrument to measure it, I am certain it would have set off all kinds of alarms.  Nurses would have come running, and oh, what they would have seen!  Love like that, the reflection of the love Mama gave to each one of us, doesn’t come along very often.

Earlier today I read this, part of today’s sermon given by Hugh Hollowell at Love Wins:

“It isn’t the man’s actions or even his faith that bring him healing – it is the actions and faith of the man’s friends. We don’t even know if the man has any faith of his own. We don’t know if the guy is even conscious. Was he a good man? A bad man? We don’t know. All we know is he has friends with faith, and that that is enough. And it is there that I find hope in the story.” – From today’s sermon on Mark 2

This story and Hugh’s thoughts have stayed with me today.  There have been times on this journey of letting my parents go that the ONLY thing that has kept me going, the ONLY healing thing in my life, has been the faith of my family and my friends.  They have carried me and given me hope, and for that I offer my gratitude.  My faith has waxed and waned over the past few years, even more so in the past two.  That my babies have lost the people who loved them so much–that breaks my heart.  Each time I think on it.  That there is a gravestone in the cemetery with my child’s birthday on it–there are days I just.  can’t.  even.

But there are those who love me who can.  And who have.  And that’s how I’ve kept going.

Tonight I’m thankful for all of it.  Every single “feel” I had then.  And every single one I’m having now.  I’m just as comfortable with the weeping as I am with the laughter. And I think that’s okay.  I miss my Mama and my Daddy every single day.  I look around me at those who know the story and still listen as I tell it over and over as many times, in as many different ways, as I need to–and I am thankful beyond measure.

And so tonight I’ve told it one more time.  One more way.  The story of saying hello and saying goodbye and the years between them that were way too few.  And I thank you for reading and hearing it.  Tonight I had to write this, because I need to let it all out–the wracking sobs and the heartache.  Because on Tuesday, I will make it all about my baby boy. Who isn’t so much of a baby anymore.

Because I know if I don’t, I will be disappointing my Mama.  My Mama, who never would have chosen to leave when she did, and who adored that little guy like he was the best thing since sliced bread.  Or chocolate milk.  She loved all of her grandchildren that way, and I’ve felt her pushing me the past few days to go on and get this out.  So that we can party on Tuesday–and all the rest of the month.  Because that’s how she celebrated the day that those she loved came into the world–long and hard.  When she loved, she loved fiercely and with a love that was (and still is) unsurpassed.

Tonight I leave you with a song that my sisterfriend shared with me about a month ago.  This song is my heart right now.  I hope that Mama, Daddy, and all the others who have gone before us are dancing in the sky…..

that brings me comfort and makes me smile.

Because my Mama sure did love to dance.

Love to all.

 

proof of angels

for days and weeks and then months

so many spoke of “after the war is over”

and finally, when the months turned into years,

those words were spoken less and less

and the haze that hung over the city

and the dark curtains over the windows

were no longer distinguishable from what we remembered

from before

which seemed like a dream

 

there were even those for whom life without war,

without doling out what we had carefully,

had never been

 

and when the thoughts of the fighting,

the eternal fighting and hatred and fear,

were all we had

besides the occasional rumor that came along

to cause hope to flutter in our chests

if ever so briefly

 

and no one talked of it ever being over anymore,

I looked out the window one day, peeking around the curtain

before dawn

and I saw proof of angels–

of kindness

of caring for others

that was so natural for those who did,

it embodied who they were

 

and so it was that each day that began in darkness

the sun rose

and so did those who cared,

those who might no longer speak of peace

but who rose up from dreams of it

and shared what they could

 

the only weapons they carried were love

and a thermos of coffee

 

and both were more powerful than ever thought possible

 

 

The Best Day Ever

Today.

Another year passes.

And our Princess is ten years old.

And so I ask what every parent asks, “Where does the time go?”

Last year I shared the story of her arrival in this wonderful world she loves so much.  Tonight I’m thinking of another birthday, when she turned seven three years ago.

My Daddy had been fighting his Giant, lymphoma, for almost three years.  On our Princess’ birthday we took some lunch and snacks over to Mama and Daddy’s house to have a party and spend the day with them.  The Fella was not home so we had no reason to rush back.

Daddy had not been doing well the few days before the 16th.  And on the day itself I don’t know that he was awake or alert at all.  Despite that we had a lovely and fairly quiet day with Mama, who staged her traditional “treasure hunt” for finding the birthday gift.  Our girl was thrilled as she went from room to room, sounding out the words in the clues that Mama had so carefully printed in extra large and all capital letters.  And when she made it to the big room and looked inside the side table cabinet, what she saw had her squealing and putting her hands over her mouth in joy.  A Barbie Jeep!  And it was pink.  Perfect.  Maemae had outdone herself in the midst of all that was falling apart in our world.

Against what I wanted to do, which was stay there and never leave, I decided to head home, feed my crew some supper, feed the critters, and then head back to spend the night with Mama and Daddy.  Our precious Hospice nursefriend had told us the day before that it probably wouldn’t be much longer.

As we went in the living room where Daddy’s hospital bed was, he was still resting, seemingly asleep, but I wanted the children to tell him “‘bye” as we usually did.  We walked in, and our Princess was beaming from ear to ear.  “Oh Cap!  Thank you thank you thank you for the Barbie jeep!!!!! I absolutely LOVE it.  It’s so awesome and my dolls fit in it and I love sitting them in it and driving it around.  Oh Cap it’s just awesome!  Thank you so much.  This has been the BEST BIRTHDAY EVER!”

As she told her Cap all about the day and how much she loved him and appreciated his thoughtfulness, tears came to my eyes.  I am not worthy of this child, this ray of sunshine in our lives, who finds so much joy in just about everything and almost everywhere.  She’s not perfect, I won’t kid anyone about that–just this evening she was scrapping with her brother *sigh*, but when it comes to giving thanks in all things and loving on folks, somehow I think she might just be a step or two ahead of me.  I know the Creator must be really pleased with this one, and I am flabbergasted that I was chosen to be her Mama.  Again, not worthy.

Little did any of us know as she stood there, with light shining from her so brightly I could all but see the glow, that her Cap, my Daddy, had less than a day left here with us.   And still, through it all, my girl was shining.  Sad and heartbroken but still such a light for us in those dark days.

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A game of chase and hide and seek was also a part of the fun this afternoon.

This spot warms my heart.....and my toes.

This spot warms my heart…..and my toes.  As do the folks who sat around it with us.

 

This birthday weekend has been a busy one and filled with things I hoped would bring her joy.  And each time I was not disappointed.  Whether it was a surprise trip for doll shopping or having tea or her big sister coming home to celebrate, she was so enthusiastic and joyful about it all.  And when we sat around the fire (very possibly my new favorite place, y’all) this evening with folks she loves so much, she couldn’t stop smiling.  After a rousing game of monkey in the middle with Cuz’n, Shaker, and her siblings, with Miss Sophie in the middle, she said, “My face hurts from smiling so much.”

Oh baby.  I hope your face hurts a lot in this life.

I came across these words a couple of days ago, and they make me think of our Princess.  Again, I know she’s not perfect, but what she does have is infectious.  And Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson was speaking to my child’s heart, as she is doing just that.

 

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 “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Because tonight, just before heading to bed, she hugged me again, and said, “Oh Mama, this has been the best birthday ever!”  And I have no doubt in my mind that she meant every word of that.

She picked out the candles and decorated her own cake just like she wanted it.  With way more than ten candles.....and that's absolutely okay.

She picked out the candles and decorated her own cake just like she wanted it. With way more than ten candles…..and that’s absolutely okay.

Tonight I’m thankful for folks who make their lives interruptible to make sure our girl had a happy day.  I’m thankful for fire pits and hot dogs and roasting sticks and family traditions.  For ten-year old girls, especially this one, who still love dolls, I’m very grateful.  For big sisters and little brothers who are too excited to wait to give their gifts and for girls not quite so little anymore who want to decorate their own cakes, my heart beats in a thankful tune.  Most of all, for the gift of this precious child whose name aptly means “happy or joyful,” I give a heartfelt and humble thanks.  Thank you for this gift, this precious child, who opens my eyes to what gratitude really looks like.  She reminds me so much of her Maemae when it comes to that.

Wishing you all a day of wonderful surprises and joy-filled moments.  Still celebrating…..

Love to all.

 

Just a Bowl of Butterbeans

In the past week or two, I’ve had a couple of friends discussing favorite foods and they have asked me what “my people” ate.  Do I eat grits?  Yes.  Do I like okra?  Anyway you want to serve it–absolutely!  Chopped onions on my black-eyed peas?  Step back and watch me go.  Do I love buttermilk and cornbread?  While I know this used to be supper for my Daddy and his family sometimes and it’ll eat okay, my favorite is really cornbread and pot liquor.  I love fried okra, fried green tomatoes, and a big ol’ bowl of grits.  When the garden was in season it was not unusual for a pot of fresh picked snap beans with red potatoes and onions to be our supper with a slab of cornbread on the side.  I love me some home-cooked vegetables.

And this right here, this is my ultimate comfort food.

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Just a bowl of butterbeans.

And it’s not surprising really.

The memories in a bowl of these–feeds my soul for quite a while.

Of helping Daddy plant the garden.  Of beans drying on the floor in my Granny’s “cold” room in the winter for spring planting.  Of sitting in comfortable silence with Daddy when we picked–or having gentle conversation, as easy as the breeze that lightly blew in the evening air.  Of sitting with a fan blowing on us to help relieve the heat as Mama and I shelled them into a washtub.  Of watching Mama blanch the beans and put them on the towel to cool for freezing.  Of the times all I wanted to eat was a bowl of butterbeans.

Oh me.

I’ve been eating on this pot of butterbeans I cooked for a couple of days now.  And today it hit me what this weekend is and why I might need comfort a little more than usual.  My Daddy went in the hospital for the first leg of his battle against his Goliath five years ago this weekend.  Five years?  How can that be when I remember the details of that day so clearly?  How I made the calls and cried in the dark and told my brother I could not breathe if my Daddy was gone.

Just a bowl of butterbeans.

Here I am, five years later, and well, I guess I know better.  Daddy left this life over two years after that, but he is not gone.  He is in the summer evening breezes and the memory of conversations we used to have sitting outside watching the sun go down and swatting gnats.  He is in the music I listen to, the good stuff he raised me listening to.  He is in the couch sitting over there, so full of comfort because that’s the last place I sat next to him before it all fell apart.  He is in the yard I gaze out over, remembering his vision for it and how he helped us move here.  He is in the children I love as I see in them his eyes or smile or recognize his wit and his frustration with folks when they just won’t do right.  He is in the bowl of butterbeans and all the memories that swirl amidst the beans and pot liquor.  He is in my heart.

Gone?  Never.

The food of my people was the good stuff.  Things from the garden or pasture or barn with a can of Vienna sausages or a fried Spam sandwich thrown in for a snack every now and then.  The soul of my people can be found in the fields, in the breezes, in the songs of the birds as they fly from the cedar tree to the fig tree where Granny had hung pie tins to run them off.  It is in the sandpile where we built froghouses and on the dirt road where we walked and rode bikes and threw dirt bombs at each other.  It is in the memories, and I give thanks my soul is very full.

As I was eating my bowl of butterbeans today, a song blew in and began playing in my mind.  I thought for a moment.  Was it a real song or had I only imagined it?  It’s been so long since I thought of it.

And so I did some digging–thankful for the internet, right?–and there it was.  Waiting for me, patiently, like an old friend.  It’s not my Daddy’s voice singing it–but the joy of the little girls dancing, the agility of the couples enjoying the song, and the fact that this Daddy and child have been performing together over sixty years…..it comes in a close second.

Hope y’all enjoy it too.  Love and the goodness of a bowl of butterbeans to all.

 

BUTTER BEANS (Charles D. Colvin – To the tune of “Just A Closer Walk With Thee)

Little Jimmy Dickens – 1965

Also recorded by: Johnny Russell; Papa Joe Smiddy.

 

Just a bowl of butter beans

Pass the cornbread if you please

I don’t want no collard greens

All I want is a bowl of butter beans

 

Just a piece of country ham

Pass the butter and the jam

Pass the biscuits if you please

And some more o’ them good ol’ butter beans

 

Red eye gravy is all right

Turnip sandwich a delight

But my children all still scream

For another bowl of butter beans

 

Some folks think that cornpone’s best

Some likes grits more than the rest

But if I was a man of means

I’d just want them good ol’ butter beans

 

See that lady over there

With the curlers in her hair

She’s not pregnant as she seems

She’s just full o’ them good ol’ butter beans

 

See that big, fat, ugly lad

He’s made everybody mad

They don’t love him, by no means

He’s the hog that ate the last of the butter beans

 

When they lay my bones to rest

Place no roses upon my chest

Plant no blooming evergreens

All I want is’ a bowl of butter beans

 

Just a bowl of butter beans

Pass the cornbread if you please

I don’t want no collard greens

All I want is a bowl of butter beans

 

 

Old Enough to Have a Back…..and then some

Today I was blessed by the bounty from the efforts of another.  I had the privilege of picking beans I didn’t have to plow, plant, weed, and care for.  All I had to do was spend a little time out there picking them and putting them in the bag to bring home.

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Wow. What a gift.

As I worked my way down the row, lifting the plants gently to find the beans hidden underneath, plucking one after another, I thought of my Daddy.  I used to pick from the garden with him just like this.  First at my Granny’s where she and my Granddaddy had planted more than enough and let us pick whatever we could use.  I loved sitting on the edge of the metal bucket, picking and dreaming and being with my Daddy.  Guess which one of those was my favorite?  I think picking beans and peas with Daddy was when I learned about a companionable silence.  Oh we would chat some too.  (Okay–me.)  But a lot of those times we’d quietly work in tandem, gently taking nature’s gift to fill our table and our freezers.  Later on after we moved to Blackberry Flats we’d pick together in the garden there.  Where Daddy rotated his planting year after year, working to find the best spot for growing and so as not to overtax the land.  After tilling, he’d use two bricks with string tied between to line up his rows for hoeing.  I sometimes helped with the planting phase too.  Again, the quiet.

Much like today.

I thought of him so much as I worked my way down the row.  I was determined to get through one row completely before I stopped.  He would have liked that.  Be methodical and commit.  Don’t go in there willy-nilly, picking first from this plant on that row and then from that plant two rows over.  Start, focus, work hard, and finish.

When I was about a third of the way down the row, I almost broke the silence by laughing as a memory came flooding back.  One time when we were picking together, I was maybe nine or ten, I started slowing down my pace.  Daddy asked me what was wrong.

“My back hurts,” I said.  (and possibly whined)

“Oh, you’re too young to have a back,” he said, dismissing my woes.

And that became the thing.  When I was toting around his first grandchild, I was reminded I was young, too young to have a back.  When I was working at a packing shed and helping load boxes of peaches, too young to have a back.  When I was in graduate school, carrying my backpack to and fro, still too young to have a back.

It was almost three years ago now, when Daddy was just about completely bedridden with the lymphoma and his broken hip that was slow to mend.  We were still taking him for consultations at the Cancer Center.  I had ridden over to drive him and Mama to the appointment.  At one point, I positioned myself so Daddy could put his arms around my neck, and I could help lift him from the car and swing him around into the wheelchair so he could go into the building.  I wasn’t very good at it, not nearly as strong as I wished I could be, and it was the kindness of a stranger that got the job done, bless her.  Trying to lighten the moment, I said something to Daddy like, “Well, if I’d a had a back, maybe that would have gone better.  But I’m not old enough to have a back.”  He looked over at me, from where he was sitting waiting to be called back, raised his eyebrows just like my Granny would have and said, “Oh no, you’re old enough.  You have a back.”

Huh.  Well good to know.

I wonder when on earth THAT changed.  Can you imagine all the time I missed, when I could have been legitimately complaining about the back I finally had?

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Today I smiled again as I stood, looking back at the completed row.  I enjoyed picking beans with my Daddy today.  I enjoyed my crew spending time with Aunt, whom they love dearly.  I enjoyed the generosity of my Uncle who works so hard to be a good steward of the land he has.  And I really enjoyed the twinges that had me stooped over for a full five minutes after I tried to stand up straight.  I was reminded all over again that I do indeed have a back.  And it wasn’t happy with me at all.

And yet, for some reason, all I could do was giggle.

For those of you old enough to have a back, congratulations.  You may express your discomfort all you want.  You’ve earned it.  All the rest of you, you’ll get there one day.  Until then, we don’t want to hear a peep about your nonexistent back.  You’re not old enough to have one yet.  😉

Love to all.

What True Love Looks Like

I was standing in the yard, I think I was at Granny’s.  But the trees were ones Daddy had planted, so they were precious to me.  And as I stood staring at this one tree, it fell over.  Toppled right to the ground.  In that moment, my heart shattered.  I fell to the ground crying.  It was a link to him, and it was gone.  Another connection cut off.  As I wept, my tears falling into the grass beneath me, I wondered if it falling was a sign something bad had happened to Daddy.  I thought about Mama and worried how she was handling it if something had happened. 

Then I woke up and remembered.  Silence.

Oh.  That’s right.

It was just a dream.

Lunch for the little today.  Tortilla pizza.  They love it.

Lunch for the littles today. Tortilla pizza. They love it. Just like their Cap did.

Today for lunch I made two quick tortilla pizzas for my littles.  We hadn’t had them in a while until I whipped them up one last week.  They were so excited and ate every bite, so we’ve had them a couple of more times.  Today as I was using the pizza cutter to slice one up for our Princess, I remembered that Daddy was also fond of this version of pizza in his last couple of years.  After my dream last night, he and Mama were on my mind more than usual.

“Hey y’all, Cap loved this kind of pizza too.  He told me about it after Maemae made it for him the first time.”

They both thought that was pretty cool.

“Mama, let me ask you something.  Did you have to feed Maemae?”

*absolutely out of left field, that was*

I thought for a minute.  “No baby, I didn’t.  Maemae wasn’t really able to eat anything those last few weeks.  They had her using something to help her breathe.”  I held my own breath, fingers crossed there wouldn’t be any more detailed questions.

“Oh.”  She thought for a moment, carrying her plate to the counter. “Did you ever have to feed Cap?”

Oh my.  I did on occasion.  It was mostly helping him get the cup Mama had put a straw in up to his mouth.  Just at the end though.  The last couple of days he wanted nothing.

I remember noticing in those last months when Daddy lost some of his motor skills, that Mama was fixing him sandwiches and then wraps.  She’d put just about anything in a wrap–fried chicken, meatloaf, you name it–if Daddy liked it, it went in a wrap.  At first I thought they had joined the “wrap”apalooza that the restaurants all seemed to be going to at the time, but then Mama commented nonchalantly about how it seemed like it was easier for him to handle a wrap.

Bless her.

Mama’s love language was food.  We’ve laughed and joked about it over the years, and we even teased her unmercifully.  She used to lay out a spread and apologize that it might not be “fancy” or “enough.”  We’d shake our heads and dig in appreciatively.  After Daddy died, and she was so tired from the diseases challenging her own body, she’d put a Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese in the oven, roast some broccoli, fry up some okra, and put out carrots and hummus as a side–and she would APOLOGIZE.  Oh Mama.  Don’t you know all we tasted was love?

Because that’s how she showed her love the best, it was important to her to feed Daddy.  She couldn’t ease his pain, she couldn’t slow down the progression of the cancer, but she could by golly feed him.  And feed him well.  She’d cut up apple slices with at least one meal every day.  He always did love his apples, and if she placed them in a certain bowl, he could get them out and eat them all by himself fairly easily.  And the wraps.  I don’t know if she fed him meals when we weren’t there, but I do know she got very creative when it came to making him good food that he could eat himself.  She preserved his dignity through it all.

Bless her.  I was watching.  And paying attention.

I know that Walt Disney, bless his heart, has created an image of romance surrounded by singing forest animals, dancing and sewing mice, sea creatures, dancing until midnight, book-filled rooms with candlelight, and all kinds of happilyeveraftertheend’s, but for me, I know what true love looks like.

True love looks like hands held across a hospital bed.  True love looks like a smile and a wrinkled nose.  True love looks like tired eyes and vitamins served in a little cup every night.

True love looks like a wrap.  Made special.  For the one you love most.

Love to all.