In the Waiting and Uncertainty

Yesterday I was at the Getting Place getting some “stuff,” and this gave me pause.

Black jelly beans.  They were Daddy's favorites.

Black jelly beans. They were Daddy’s favorites.

And made me a little sad.

The Easter Bunny brought us jelly beans every year, tucked in our green plastic grass that was put away in a bread bag every year for safekeeping until the next Easter.  And every year, I would dig through and pull out the black ones first thing.  And pass them to my right.  Where my Daddy sat at the end of the table.  They were his favorites, and little on Easter morning brought me as much joy as giving him these favorites of his.

This was in the day before they bagged the black ones separately all by themselves. Once they started doing that, I usually picked a bag up for him–sometimes for Easter, sometimes just because.

He’d keep the bag with a twist tie on it, and it would be stored in the little wooden box that sat by his recliner in the living room.  Daddy would pull out the bag, untwist it, pour a few in his palm, and eat the licorice flavored sweets.  Then he’d twist the bag back up, and tuck it away until his sweet tooth called out for them again.

I read something years ago about Holy Saturday, which is upon us now.  That first Saturday–the day after Good Friday.  It was described as a day of waiting, of uncertainty, of in-between.  A day of not knowing.

I think back to the time after Daddy was diagnosed with Lymphoma, his Giant to fight, in 2009.  So much of that time felt just like that–waiting, being uncertain, weeping for what we were most afraid of, feeling in-between, longing for resurrection in the form of good news–remission, a cure, a misdiagnosis, a miracle, something, anything.

What I didn’t know or see at the time is that in those moments of waiting, there were many small moments of redemption and life-affirming joy.  In the midst of the fear, there was faith.  In the grasping for answers, there was hope.  In the moments of worry and sadness, there was laughter and light in his eyes, his voice, his stories, and his words.  In those moments of being in-between, the who we were with conquered where we were.

And that’s as it should be, isn’t it?  Even in the hardest of situations, because of who I was with, I was able to get through the where and the what, and move beyond with a tad bit of hope and a whole lot of love.

Daddy’s jelly beans.  A precious memory.  But what makes it so special is the memory of his hand held out to accept what I offered from mine.  The smile on his face, acting like he was surprised that I didn’t want them myself.  The way his eyes lit up when he bit into the first one every year.  Daddy loved black jelly beans–he loved us even more.  And in the waiting, in the uncertainty, it was that love that conquered all.

May your waiting find you surrounded by those who love you, and may you find the joy and peace of Easter waiting for you on the other side.

Love to all.

 

A Birthday, A Couch, and a Whole Lot of Love

We moved the brown couch in our house eight days ago.

Cap on the brown couch during one of Aub's photo shoots in 2003

Cap on the brown couch during one of Aub’s photo shoots in 2003

It’s known as “Cap’s couch.”  There are so many memories around that couch.  Mama and Daddy bought it years ago and put it in the “big room/playroom.”  The blue fold-out couch was already in there, so now they each had one.  They always said that the brown couch was to go to Auburn, my oldest, when the time came, because she had spent so much time on it.

And now it’s here.

Daddy reclining on his couch as Mama and Cooter show off his new skills of standing and walking.

Daddy reclining on his couch as Mama and Cooter show off his new skills of standing and walking.

And my girl continues to spend time on it.

Aub asleep on Cap's brown couch.  Under Cap's argyle blanket we made him.  The argyle was a thing between us.  A precious sight.

Aub asleep this morning on Cap’s brown couch. Under Cap’s argyle blanket we made him. The argyle was a thing between us. A precious sight.

Each night she’s been home from college since we moved it in, she has slept on her Cap’s couch.  She says it’s so we’ll all remember that it is really hers, but I know she knows I know what she’s not saying.

Got that?

We all miss them.  And today we are especially missing Daddy, Cap.  He would have been 71 today.

Daddy and our Princess on his birthday back in 2008.

Daddy and our Princess on his birthday back in 2008.  It was on Daddy’s birthday in 2004 that I called him from Japan, where the Fella was stationed, to tell him of this precious gift due in November–our Princess.  What a birthday gift!

I’m still trying to wrap my brain around that.  Daddy never aged.  At least not until the lymphoma and the chemotherapy and radiation starting taking their toll.  He will forever, in my mind, be around 40–the age he was when I was in high school.  When he was calling out spelling words, helping me train for the state literary meet.  Helping me with trigonometry.  Teaching me to drive.  To pump gas.  Driving back to town to pick me up from work.  Listening to my stories of how my day had gone.  Watching football games and the summer Olympics with me.  Teaching me how to grow up and fly.

Oh Daddy.

The last time we were together before the day our world fell apart and everything changed–first the seeking of a diagnosis and then the fighting the diagnosis–I sat next to my Daddy on that same couch.  I was showing him a book in the Edward R. Hamilton Booksellers catalog that I was thinking about getting my Fella for his birthday the next month.  Daddy looked and nodded, but now I suspect he was having vision problems even then.  I sat almost shoulder to shoulder with him.  I can’t say why, but that day things felt different.  I felt protective of him.  He’d been having some balance problems but all the doctors had written it off as other things.  Never anything so serious as lymphoma of the brain.

Well, that’s enough of that.

Today I baked a cake, and we took turns saying what we loved remembering about Cap.  Our Princess said she loved it when they flew a kite together at Blackberry Flats.  Aub said she liked that he taught her big words.  Cooter shrugged and said, “Everything.”  Yep.  I hear you, buddy.

My Daddy came across as the strong, silent type.  He was both of those things, but so much more.  He was more than his bearded look might suggest.  He was a wise man who was also intelligent and kind–not a combination you come across as much as you might think.  He was a good listener, and when he spoke, others listened.  When he retired, folks signed a card for him.  Several mentioned how much they would miss him listening and sharing his wisdom.  Amen, my friends.  Amen.

Daddy could be quiet and contemplative, but when he laughed his booming laugh, it seemed as though the whole house was shaking.  He could click his tongue and shake his head, very much like his Mama, and you just hoped you weren’t on the receiving end of that disappointment.   My Granddaddy used to say that when my Daddy pointed his finger at one of us, it was a MILE long.  It sure felt that way.  It seemed like he always had some cut or bruise on his hand or grease under his nails from working with his hands.  He loved to do that.  To create.  He inherited that from his grandfather and father, who were both talented carpenters.  He also created with words.  He wrote.  He read.  He observed.

Daddy was fascinated with the world.  But mostly with the little things that might be ignored by other folks.  He loved reading about science and philosophy and where the two meet.  Daddy loved children.  He loved talking with them and teaching them things.

Daddy loved wasps.

One summer he set up his video camera and recorded them.  For hours at the time.  He wanted to know the whats and whys of their actions.  The other day when Mess Cat and I were going through the video tapes at the house we found one marked “wasps.”  She sighed.  I laughed.  I love that about my Daddy.  After he got sick, the wasps practically took over his building out back.  I used to say that the ones he recorded thought they’d hit the big time and went back and told their family and friends to come and see.  I think Blackberry Flats was the “Hollywood” of the Wasp World.

A fascinating man who was fascinated with life.  He taught me to respect and tell the truth and take care of what we had.  And others.  Take care of others.  He once told me I didn’t need all the clothes I owned.  Just a couple of pairs of jeans and a few more shirts than that.  No need for all I had.  One day I hope I get to the point where I can pare it down to just that.  I’m afraid it won’t be anytime soon though.

Most of my happy memories with Daddy are from before his fight with the Giant began.  We had good times then too, it’s just that so much of that time we felt the weight of worry hanging over us, so it was hard to see past that.

An exception was when he came home after being away that first time for over a month.  He walked (!!!!!) through the back door on his own.  Slowly and steadily and by himself.  We had picked up pizza for their supper and driven over to meet them.  Leroy had driven Mama and Daddy home from Emory in Atlanta.  My children’s world had been turned upside down by the absence of their Maemae and Cap, but in that moment all was right again.  Cooter, a little over two and a half, was already digging into a slice of pizza.  He grinned so big with a mouthful and said, as though it were any normal day, “Hey Cap!”  Daddy stopped, reached out for the counter for support, smiled just as big and said, “Hey, Cooter.  How’re you doin’?”

Tears, y’all.  All was right again.  For a while.

My other precious memory is much later–almost two years later.  Daddy had become almost completely bedbound, partly due to the progression of the Giant and partly due to falling and breaking his hip months before.  He had been up in the wheelchair–maybe for an appointment at the Cancer Care Center?–and we were getting him back in the hospital bed in the living room.  Mama and I got him all the way back in bed and his head on the pillow.  As I was about to leave the room for a minute, he asked me if I could help him.

Oh Daddy, anything.

I leaned over so he could wrap his arms around my neck.  And I half lifted, half pulled him up higher in his bed, so he was in a better position.  Bless him, he couldn’t maneuver it very well himself anymore.  He lifted his head up off the bed enough for me to tuck his pillow back in place.  I asked him if that was better.

He closed his eyes and nodded.  I reached out and touched his shoulder.  Just as he had reached out and touched my toe after the birth of my first child seventeen years before.  No words were needed.

As I started to walk away, I heard him clear his throat.  I turned back.

“Thank you, Tara,” he said, barely above a whisper.

No, Daddy,  thank you.

Each day I left their house, as I said my farewells to my folks, I would go in wherever Daddy was, sitting at the table, reclining on the brown couch, sitting in his recliner, or finally, laying in the hospital bed, and I would say,

“Bye Daddy, see you later.  I love you.   Thanks for everything.”

I meant it then and I still do.

Happy Birthday, Daddy.  Love you.  See you later.  Thanks.  For Everything.

This picture was taken 19 years ago when I was expecting the first grandbaby.  He took me almost every week to DQ to get an ice cream cone.  I miss him every day.

This picture was taken 19 years ago when I was expecting the first grandbaby. He took me almost every week to DQ to get an ice cream cone. I miss him every day.

Something in the Water

I have a very clear memory of my Daddy, in his jeans and his blue chambray shirt that Mama made him, standing at my Granny’s sink near the door to the back porch.  He has one of her small red solo cups of water in his hands.  He is standing, staring out the back window over the sink, looking out over the cow pastures and the barn and the pasture where our horse was grazing.  He might have been thinking about hunting a tree in the woods come Christmas, or he might have been anticipating the weather and trying to decide what he could accomplish before the storm came up.  Or he might have been just resting his mind and heart for a few minutes.

He takes his cup and leans over the sink, refilling it at the faucet.  He takes a long drink, and the “ahhh” sound comes from him as he swallows.  It is refreshing and it is good.

It was only recently that I figured out why he always went and took a drink of water from Granny’s sink before we left.  Staring out at the place he grew up, he took a long drink of water–water that tasted like home.

The sink and view out the kitchen window--where I refresh my soul.  At Blackberry Flats.

The sink and view out the kitchen window–where I refresh my soul. At Blackberry Flats.

I feel the same way.  It was the last thing I used to do when I visited Mama and Daddy–fill my cup with “Blackberry Flats juice,” as Mama called it.  Well water, straight from the kitchen sink.  Nothing better.  I too stood, looking out the window over the sink.  Watching the littles playing on the swings, remembering our swingset Daddy had put up in the back for us when we were little.  He even brought home a slide from the landfill and worked to attach it to the playset and built a ladder for it.  I looked at the silver maple that has grown so much over the years, remembering sitting in a lawn chair out there, the summer after I graduated from college, moving the chair so I’d stay in the shade as the sun travelled across the sky.

There’s something healing about water from home, something that touches my soul.  And my Daddy’s too.  While he was at Emory University Hospital for those weeks while they worked out his diagnosis as he fought the Giant, whenever we went to see him, we took up washed out milk jugs filled with Blackberry Flats “juice.”  Daddy didn’t like the water up there, and I can understand why.  We even met my aunt and uncle once as they were passing through on their way up there to see Daddy, and  we handed off a couple of gallons.

My people are serious about their water.

And there’s nothing like cold well water.

Tonight I am thankful for the comforts of home. And the memories.  They refresh my soul and fill me up with good things–the strength and will to carry on and keep on lovin’ folks.  Just like Mama and Daddy did.

There’s something in the water y’all.

And it’s all good.

Laundry duty

I didn’t have anything appropriate to wear to my Mama’s funeral.  I couldn’t wear the black dress I’d worn to my Great Aunt’s almost three years before.  Mama HATED the color black and with good reason, so just no.  I didn’t think the denim skirt she’d asked me to wear to Daddy’s would work either.  At some point I was at the GW Boutique in the midst of all the other planning and I found a dress.  A muted brown that would go with the boots she and Daddy got me.  I thankfully purchased it and moved on to what was next to be done.

I took it home and planned to wash it and get it ready to wear on Tuesday afternoon.

Only I’d forgotten that our washer was broken.  The new one hadn’t been delivered yet.  In all of the running around, I forgot.  And then the message came from my sweet Neighborfriend:

“Stop by when you get home.  I have your dress and Princess’ too.”

Bless her.  She’d not only washed but dried and pressed our dresses and hung them on hangers.  All we had to do is get dressed when the time came.  What a gift.

I’ve been thinking about that gift this week as the date gets closer.  As I remembered the relief that the gift of her doing my laundry brought me, my mind drifted to the gift I had of doing laundry for others.  Three different times.

In 2010, when my Great Aunt died, Mama wasn’t able to go to her house very often and take care of things because Daddy was fighting his battle with the Giant.  One time when I was down there checking on things for her, I was cleaning up and putting things away.  I found my Great Aunt’s dirty clothes bin under the sink in a cabinet.  And there were her dirty clothes.  From her last few days.  I found a garbage bag to put them in and I saved the tears for the drive home.

I waited a day or two to wash them.  For whatever reason, I needed the time to prepare myself.  It felt so sacred, like I was on holy ground.  It was such an intimate thing to have her clothes that she had chosen to wear each day, laying there in a heap, waiting on her to save up a load and wash them.  It was very precious to me to be the one to do this instead.

I remember it was a quiet day around here.  Not sure why, or maybe it was just a quiet day in my heart and soul.  I put them on to wash, carefully putting each item into the machine and closing the lid.  A short time later, when the load was through, I took each item out, one by one, and placed it into the dryer.  I set the dryer to run and went back to other chores.  I went out to feed the cats in our side yard and experienced the most amazing thing.  My yard smelled like my Great Aunt.  It was beautiful.  I closed my eyes and felt the sunshine on my face. The gentle breeze that carried my Great Aunt’s essence upon it caressed my face and curled around my hands.  The dryer vent is on that side of the house, so the clothes were sharing their scent through the hole on the side of the house.  It was one of the most precious blessings.  For a few minutes, I was hugged by her.  One more time.

Last year during Mama’s HospitalStay, we moved her bag of clothes she’d worn to the hospital from the ER to her room to the next hospital and from one room to the next there.  Before she went down to surgery she asked me to take her clothes on back.  We didn’t want to leave all of that in her room.  I put them in the car and promptly forgot about them in all the events that ensued.  I don’t remember when exactly, but one day during that last week when she was in the STICU and I wasn’t allowed to visit as much, I found them and washed them.  Her outfit and coat and socks and all.  Again, holy ground.  I put them in a clean garbage bag to take back to her house.  We found the bag just a week ago in the bottom of her closet where I’d tucked them.  Clean and waiting.

A week after Mama left this earth, I sat next to our cousin in another hospital as she took her last breath.  Bless her, she’d had a rough go of it too.  The next couple of days after she passed, I had the sad task of cleaning out her room at the assisted living home where she lived.  After loading the last of the things from her room, her roommate’s sweet guardian and friend of our cousin and Mama, Miss D, called me into the bathroom.  “Sugar, I’m sorry to tell you this, but we’ve got a few things in here to take care of.”  We went through the drawers and cleared off the countertop.  She looked in a basket and clicked her tongue.  “Oh honey, I’m so sorry.  They shouldn’t have left this for you.  They should have washed these things before now.”  I shook my head and held back the tears.  More laundry.  I was thankful in a way.  I would rather be the one to do it than have the staff just throw it in with all the rest.  I found a bag, loaded the clothes and towels in, and brought them home.  Once again, I found an uncluttered afternoon and did her laundry.  As I folded the tops and pajamas and hung up her robe, I remembered and gave thanks for the one who had worn them just a few weeks before.

Tonight I’m thankful to be the one who was on laundry duty.  It was a gift to me–a time of tearful remembering and feeling close to them as I sorted and folded and stacked.  And I give thanks for my sweet Neighborfriend who made our journey a little easier with her gift of laundry and love.

That’s the key, isn’t it?  Loving through the everyday stuff.  Finding a blessing in it.  Acknowledging the holy and sacred in the piles and messes and brokenness of our day-to-day lives.  Remembering.  And giving thanks.  The gifts that can be found in the sorting and cleaning and putting away.  It doesn’t have to be glamorous to be beautiful.  It just has to be real.

My Daddy and His Way of Preaching

I have a memory of my Daddy that I’ve thought back on so often that the corners of the memory are wearing thin like the pages of my favorite books.  It is as comforting as the blanket I carried and then slept with for years and years (and still sleeps in the back corner of my bottom drawer).  I pull it out and think on it when I feel small and lost.

When I was in early elementary, Daddy came after school to pick me up.  That was very unusual because he normally didn’t get off from work until 4:30 in the afternoon.  Mama nearly always picked us up.  Except for that brief time in the third grade when they let me ride the bus.  Until a couple of days into it when the bus driver passed my house and dropped me off four doors down.  Back then it seemed like a very long walk home. When the driver came back by, headed to the school, Mama flagged him down and let him know she was not pleased.  He knew where I lived, but he hadn’t stopped in time.  Yeah, Mama could be a fierce Mama Bear when she needed to be.  I hope to be just like her.

I think we’d had some kind of party at school the day Daddy came to pick me up, maybe even the last day before Thanksgiving break, I’m not sure.  Mama had sent me with something incredible she’d fixed in a Tupperware dish.  I had my bookbag, lunchbox, and this empty dish to carry.  For some reason it seemed more hectic than usual that day with all of these big high school people wandering around, heads taller than me, seeming adult-like in their size and attitudes.  I looked around and I remember seeing Daddy materialize almost in front of my eyes.  This guy I thought was one of the high schoolers took a step towards me and I realized, That’s my Daddy.

Me and my Daddy--he was pretty close to 25 in this picture.  He looks like a baby to me here.

Me and my Daddy–he was pretty close to 25 in this picture. He looks like a baby to me here now.

He always did look young for his age.

And that’s what has always struck me about that day when I replay it over and over.  Sunshiny day, vibrant colors, lots of people moving in crowds with a sense of purpose, and then he steps in front of me.  I have laughed over the years about the fact that I thought my Daddy who was easily in his early thirties at that time was in high school.

Reading with my Daddy.  He loved books as much as I do.

Reading with my Daddy. He loved books as much as I do.

I was remembering it the other day, and I looked closer.  I always focused on the emotions I felt (relief, happiness, joy, love) when I saw my Daddy and realized who he was.  But this last time, I looked at my Daddy’s expression.  His eyes lit up, and he seemed relieved to have found me.  It was obvious he had been searching through the crowds all over.  And then we found each other.

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I understand a lot more about God from how my Daddy lived and treated each one of us.  I’m not saying he was perfect, but he did walk in the dust of the Rabbi, at least how I see it.  My Daddy was a man of few words sometimes.  He wasn’t a churchgoer for the most of his life either.  But he set an example without ever saying a word of how to live, and that example was full of love, compassion, giving, truth, and kindness. When I was seeing this memory in a new light, I thought about how Daddy was looking for me in this great crowd and didn’t stop until he found me.  I suddenly understood the story from the Good Book about the lost sheep so much better.  According to the story found in Luke 15:1-7, the Shepherd will leave his 99 sheep to go after the one that is lost.  It was always a comforting story and now even more so. He could have given up and let me try to find him when the crowd cleared or when I decided to go to where he was.  He could have gone to the office and let someone else find me.  No.  He came and looked for me himself.  Beautiful.  And humbling, to think that I am worth that.  That my Daddy and God would come after me whether I’m lost in a crowd of people or in a pasture of green grass, flowers, and trees.  Neither of them gave up on me.

Today we drove out to Little Union Cemetery at the request of our Princess who will always remember the significance of this day, because it’s the day after her birthday.   We passed by so many landmarks that trigger other Daddy memories.  The road we biked on to get to our Granny’s–a LONG ride.  The road that we drove on when he helped my oldest and me move to our first ever house.  The road we turned on so many times I could do it blindfolded–the one that led to Granny’s.  And then. The spot where Daddy had finally had enough.  He had come as soon as I called and said I needed help.  And with an intense love and protection that can only come from a good Daddy like him, he let anyone around him know, raising his voice choked with emotion, “That’s my baby right there.”  And I was safe.  I cried because I had made him tearful.  I think maybe God is that way too.  God looks around and sees the choices we are making and, as hard as it is, sits there biding time until we have had enough and cry out, “Help me.  Make me safe.”  And then God steps in with emotion and a passion born of great love for us, “That’s one of mine.  Don’t hurt her anymore.”

Oh how my Daddy loved us.  As my dear friend Weezer would say, “Warts and all.”  He never stopped coming when we needed him, and he loved us with a quiet fierceness that was the greatest comfort of all.

It’s been two years ago this afternoon since my Daddy went on up to The House.  It’s been a hard day.  For so many reasons, but mostly because it’s been two years.  We keep moving away from the time when he was still here to hug, to shake hands with, to listen to, to ask his thoughts about something.  Or to make laugh.  Oh goodness me, how I loved to make him laugh.

The view from Daddy's window at Blackberry Flats.  Cardinals love those those hedges.

The view from Daddy’s window at Blackberry Flats. Cardinals love those hedges.

Thankful that these things matter to a new nine-year old, I took time to go out to the cemetery today for our Princess and for me and for our family.  We stopped by Blackberry Flats, and I stood and looked out the window that was Daddy’s view for over thirty years from his recliner that sat next to it.  When he came home from the hospital for the last time, we had a hospital bed waiting to keep him comfortable and to help us better care for him.  And we put it next to his window.  This was the same view I saw in the moments I stood with the strong women I love–my Mama, his sisters, my sisters–as we listened to his breath growing quieter and quieter until he was finished with this battle with Goliath, and it was over.

After I looked back at some of the pictures this afternoon and listened to the quiet, the crew and I loaded back up and headed over to the cemetery.  I love the drive over there.  It’s just over the county line, I think, and the land out there just feeds my soul.  Mama said it’s because our people lived around there.  And she might be right.  That is one beautiful ride.  It’s the kind Sunday drives were created for.  When we got there, I stopped to look and remember.  It was my Princess’ birthday two years ago just after lunch that I had planned to meet our sweet and kind funeral director out there about Daddy’s plot.  We had just shared my girl’s birthday lunch with Mama, and Princess had finished her birthday treasure hunt.  It was about to storm, and Mama didn’t want me to go.  Call him. Just wait until tomorrow, she said. But I felt deep in my heart that I had to go then.  I met Mr. K out there, and I loved the spot immediately.  It had been a while since I’d been out there, but when I saw this path I knew.  Perfect.

20131117-233034.jpg“The foot of the path.  Is that okay?”  I remember choking up.

Mr. K nodded.  “Yes, that’ll do just fine. But I hope I won’t be seeing you about this for a long, long time.”

It was a little over 24 hours later.  Bless him, he and his wife are two of the most caring folks I’ve met.  They were called to do what they do, and they are good at loving on folks in the hardest of times.

Tonight, two years after I tried to sleep with Mama in her bed, and then moved to lay with Mess Cat on hers and we all played musical beds, I am thankful for this day of remembering.  My Daddy and my Mama are the reason I know how to behave.  They often said, “Know better, do better, and folks’ll like you better.”  And if that ain’t the truth, I don’t know what is. Some folks don’t have the truth in them and we call them “liars.”  My Daddy was a truther.  I expect he could tell a tall tale for entertainment purposes, but he didn’t have an untruthful bone in his body.  As Shakespeare wrote in The Merchant of Venice, “…..the truth will out.”  Daddy knew this, and he didn’t play.  He didn’t accept less than the truth, from himself or others.

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When our Princess walked up to the graves with me today, she smiled and said in that way she has that I’m sure has God and everyone else smiling and high fiving at what a good job they did on THAT one, “Oh look, it looks like they’re holding hands, the way the dirt goes across at the bottom.”  Oh baby girl, there is NO doubt that is exactly what they are doing.  Their love was something special.

I know not all men are created equally, at least when it comes to being daddies.  Some know how almost instinctively, some don’t. Some learn as they go, and others never do.  But I also know this–my Daddy was one of the best.  He taught me more about God’s love and pursuit and protection of us than any preaching from a pulpit ever did.  He was a good Daddy and a treasured friend, and I miss him with every breath.

Daddy took time to teach me about life and living things.  Daddy, me, our pony Adabout, and our dog Pete

Daddy took time to teach me about life and the living things. Daddy, me, our pony Adabout, and our dog Pete

Cardinals and Starlings and Remembering When

This morning our Princess was the one who took Miss Sophie out for her morning constitutional.  I heard the door open and close, and then immediately open again.

“Mama! Mama!  You have to come here!” she said urgently.

I really don’t like it when they do that.  It could be anything from a flower growing in a flowerpot (yay!) to a bleeding injury (boo!), and since I have no idea, Anxiety Girl always leaps in to jump to conclusions, and my stomach turns inside out.

“What is it?” I called out, making my way to the front door with a sense or purpose.

“There’s something dead in the front yard.”  She stopped.  “Yes ma’am, it’s something dead.”

We live at the edge of a wooded area.  That something dead could have been ANYTHING from raccoon to fox to cat to dog to mouse to mole to chipmunk to frog to snake to worm.  Considering the source, any one of those would have caused her to raise her voice as she did.

“What is it?” I asked, peering out into the yard.

“I don’t know.”

I walked outside, and there it lay on the grass.  Definitely dead.

Oh no.

A cardinal.

Cardinals are my favorite birds.  I can remember one flying across the bottom on my way to work many years ago, every single morning.  I felt like it was a good omen for my day, and I made up in my head that it was good luck to see a cardinal.  When Daddy was diagnosed with the Giant four years ago, I would see one at Blackberry Flats from time to time.  One day when things were particularly hard and discouraging, I went in and sat with Daddy, next to his hospital bed in the living room.  He was gazing out his window, the same one his recliner used to sit next to.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of red.  “Daddy!  It’s a cardinal.  That’s good luck.  It’s a good sign.”  He gave a half-smile.  And watched.

I gave Mama a cardinal Christmas ornament that year, and she kept it hanging from her lamp year round.

We love those beautiful birds.

And now. Today.  Poor thing.  My heart broke.

Of all weeks.  In the midst of emotions and memories and trying to wrap my brain around the idea that it has been almost two years since I last heard my Daddy’s voice and held his hand and looked in those eyes.  A precious, beautiful cardinal.  Dead.

Sadness.  Just this.  That sweet little bird, once so alive and flying high above it all–now, just gone.  No more.

It left me with a heavy heart.  I wanted to sit and cry and let this bird’s life not to have been for naught.

But as always happens, perhaps for the better, life intervened.  My zoo crew and my zoo all needed feeding and tending to.  I turned away, and wiped away the tears I was crying on the inside.  Time for that would come later.

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Tonight as I thought about the cardinal and how he spoke to my grief, laying there lifeless and still beautiful, I found this quote from a poem.  Yes, another Mary Oliver poem.  She speaks to me lately, and I give thanks for her.  I too long for these things she describes.

I remember sitting on the couch in the living room of the little house on my Granny’s farm on a cold Sunday afternoon in winter, listening to my Daddy and Granny talk about the birds that had been around.  When I feel small and lonely and miss those that have gone before I go back in time to that couch, listening, feeling small and safe and warm as the little heater worked to warm the room and the whole house.  And as they talked I gazed out the big plate-glass window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the birds they were speaking of.  I wanted to be able to talk about them too.  To belong. And be with.  The same things I want now. 

“Look, Daddy!  A cardinal.  That’s good luck.  Things are going to get better.”

Starlings in Winter

by Mary Oliver

Chunky and noisy,

but with stars in their black feathers,

they spring from the telephone wire

and instantly

they are acrobats

in the freezing wind.

And now, in the theater of air,

they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;

they float like one stippled star

that opens,

becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;

and you watch

and you try

but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it

with no articulated instruction, no pause,

only the silent confirmation

that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts,

that can rise and spin over and over again,

full of gorgeous life.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,

even in the leafless winter,

even in the ashy city.

I am thinking now

of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots

trying to leave the ground,

I feel my heart

pumping hard, I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.

I want to be light and frolicsome.

I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,

as though I had wings.

 

“Starlings in Winter” by Mary Oliver, from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays. Beacon Press, 2003.

The Puzzle of Prayer

pic of walk

Tonight after supper the littles asked to take a walk.

It surprised me.

I’m used to them asking for dessert, or to play some kind of electronics, or to watch a tv show.  But to take a walk? It’s been a while.  And the irony of them asking on this day.  It just about made me cry.

Four years ago exactly, in the evening, I was taking my second walk of the day.  It was a luxury I didn’t take lightly.  Walking through the neighborhood by myself, letting the breeze blow out the cobwebs.  My husband was home doing prep for a procedure, so when I saw him walking towards me through the shadows of dusk, I knew something was wrong.  It was Daddy.  He was in the hospital ER and it wasn’t good.

Tonight as the littles and I walked, off and on Cooter would reach up and take my hand.  So sweet.  And our Princess would lean over and hug me happily as we walked side by side by side.  The sound of thunder rumbling sped us along, as I didn’t want it to find us before we were able to get inside safely.  The dark was closing in on us as the clouds grew darker and closer.  Just as it did four years ago.  That blasted darkness.

Just the day before we’d gathered at Mama’s and Daddy’s to celebrate my nephew’s fourth birthday.  In the midst of the laughter and merry-making I sat next to Daddy on the brown couch in the big room.  He was unusually quiet.  I don’t claim to know something was going to happen but there must have been some kind of prescience as I remember wanting to hug him close and not let go.

We’d had at least six months of symptoms to seek explanations for, but it was when Daddy’s hand wobbled and he couldn’t get his glass to his mouth that day that Mama noticed and said, “It’s time to do something.  Now.” And so they went to the ER.

I was relayed the message that I was NOT to go to the hospital that night.  So I didn’t.  I did what I was supposed to do which was make calls and share the situation with family.

That night was the beginning of the change in my relationship with prayer.  Before this I really thought that if I prayed hard enough or believed enough…..

One family member asked what could be done.  I said, “Hit your knees and start praying.”  I was so convinced we could ward off the Giant with prayers.

The next morning I called to tell Daddy’s sisters and brother.  My Aunt and I cried together as I recall.  Her big sister, the one in the middle between her and Daddy, offered to pray with me, for me, for all of us.  I remember being comforted and some of her words have stayed with me–words about how much I loved and needed my Daddy.  And how much his grandchildren needed him too.  She knew, she got it–her Daddy died when she was in her twenties.  Her words covered me and held me tight as I knelt in the dark inside my closet, weeping where my children hopefully couldn’t hear me.

Prayer is a hard thing, you know.  Or maybe it isn’t for most folks.  But for me, I don’t get it.  I read part of a book where a man walked around the property he hoped would be his community’s church one day, praying around it.  And it “worked.”  They got the property and have grown since then.  I know people who say that their prayers have been answered in one way or another.  And I’m not saying they haven’t been.  I just know that when someone is sick or hurting or they ask for prayers……all I can say is “I’ll keep you in my thoughts” or “I will be thinking about you” or “You are in my heart and on my mind.”  Which is all true.  I cannot say “I will pray for you” because I don’t know what that is supposed to look like.

And here is why.

Starting very shortly after this date in 2009, when my children fully grasped that their loving grandfather, their “Cap,” was very sick, they ended their table blessings ALWAYS with “And make Cap better. Amen.” It was so much a part of their prayers that they even said it at his table with him sitting there after he came home from the hospital several weeks later.  Loving friends and family let us know they were praying.  Friends in Japan and Germany and young women in Ghana whom we never met were praying for us, for Daddy.  If ever anyone was covered in prayer, it was my Daddy.  And yet….

On a cold morning in November of 2011 I was driving as quickly as I safely could to my parents’ house, my three babies in tow.  When our Princess realized we weren’t taking her big sister to school and that it was still rather dark out, she asked, “What are we doing?  Where are we going?”  I waited until we were on the backroads in case I had to pull over I guess.  I told her, “Baby, God is coming to get Cap today.  Sometimes He has to take folks to Heaven to heal them all the way.”  Or something like that.  And that’s when she started crying and said,

“Oh no, we didn’t pray hard enough.”

Dear God, what had I taught her about prayer?  And what do I teach her now?

It’s a hard thing.  And so I think about it more than I should probably.  And I worry over it.  Not so much for God’s sake as I figure I’m not the first to ask hard questions, but for those I love.  Those I love enough to want things to be better but not really understanding the process enough to commit–“I’ll pray for you.” How can I if I don’t know what I’m doing?

After Daddy died,  I spent fourteen months trying to get my faith and my prayers back on track. Then Mama went in the hospital. So many people praying, saying to us that they were praying for the surgeons, for us, for Mama. Three weeks later, after suffering more than anyone ever should, she too passed on from this world. My friend Mac has told me he has sat in the park and cried and prayed and asked God to take away the taste of alcohol. He’s prayed for strength. I’ve told God how much he means to me and asked God to help him through the constant battle of addiction. And still…..here we are.

I’ve talked with some folks about prayer. Told them that I don’t get it. I don’t understand exactly what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Expectation management as my husband would call it. If I’m praying, believing God can or will heal my Daddy, my Mama, Mac…..then is it any wonder that my faith is shattered and my heart broken when they aren’t healed? And if I’m praying, knowing it could go the other way, then why bother at all? That would be praying, having no faith that it could help. I’ve heard some folks say, “Well you must not have prayed hard enough.” NO. I can’t take that upon myself, nor can I believe in a God that would punish for prayers said wrong or not at all. Somehow I think we’re missing a piece of the puzzle here. I pray and…..? And what? There has to be another part of it.

I don’t know what the answer is and may not know in this world.  For now I borrow from a wise Mennonite minister, Hugh Hollowell, who shared in an old post that his prayers evolved into telling God how much someone meant to him and asking Him/Her to be with that person.  That I can do.  That doesn’t set expectations or requests–just puts someone in the Light for a few minutes. And I’m hoping that in the midst of the dark and brokenness that can be overwhelming, that if I talk to God and share how much I love that person, maybe for a moment the Light will shine through the darkness.  And shine a bit of peace through it all.  For that person I care about and for all of us.

Amen.

For the Birds

English: Picoides villosus, Hairy Woodpecker -...

English: Picoides villosus, Hairy Woodpecker — Whitby, Ontario, Canada — 2006 January, The red on the back of the head identifies this as a male. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I originally wrote this four years ago about a walk I took in August 2009.  I wrote it in December of 2009 to be included in a Hope Book of encouragement in which family and friends shared stories and pictures and laughter with Mama and Daddy, as Daddy began his fight against Lymphoma. 

Lately I’ve really gotten into cardinals.  I love them–males and females.  I can remember one flying across the bottom just before Evans Packing Shed on Highway 96 just about every morning on my way to work at Peach Area Child Care Center.  I made it up in my head that the cardinal was a sign of good luck.  I guess I felt like I could use it at the time.  Recently on a rare time of running an errand at Blackberry Flats by myself, I saw a beautiful flash of red in one of the cedars.  Breathtaking–and oddly comforting.

It’s interesting, because birds were always my sister’s thing–especially cardinals.  But birds go way back for me.  I remember Daddy telling me, while he was working to pull my tooth, some story about bluebirds in their mailbox when he was growing up.  I couldn’t concentrate on the story because I just knew that when one of those birds flew out of that mailbox, my tooth was going to fly out of my mouth.  That’s not how it happened though.  But to this day when Daddy asks me if I remember the bluebird story (a different one), I first recall the mailbox one and think, “No, I was only half listening back then.”

Back on an August Sunday morning I went on a walk before the neighborhood woke up.  It was a beautiful day.  I finally heard someone else who was up–a woodpecker.  Crazy thing, he was pecking at a metal light pole.  When he realized I was close, he flew over to a tree,.  I thought, “Well good, now he will figure it out, poor ignorant critter.”  I walked a ways before I turned back toward home.  By this time, the August heat was doing a number on me and the dew on the grass–steamy! I heard the woodpecker again, and would you believe that he was back on that metal pole?!

It hit me on the way home that I’m a lot like that crazy bird.  I’m just that hard-headed.  I will keep at something that maybe I wasn’t made to do.  Even when I might be veered in a different direction, sometimes I still go back–determined to make it work.  And that works out about as well as a woodpecker pecking at a metal pole.  And it can be just as discordant.

############

The Other Bluebird Story

Daddy told me this one several times, especially after he became so sick. 

It didn’t keep me from wanting to make him my top priority and

he didn’t quit reminding me where he wanted my priorities

to be.  I’m thankful for how much he loved our children and how he

wanted us to focus on them even in the midst of what he was going through. 

Sometimes remembering the strength of his spirit and

love makes me cry. 

There was a Mama bluebird and four babies in a nest.  One day

a bad storm was coming, and Mamd Bluebird knew it.  She

decided to move her babies to safety.  She didn’t

have time to get them all under cover, so she decided to move as

quickly as possible.  She took the first baby in her mouth and flew

towards safety. “Oh Mama thank you so much for saving me first.  When you

are old, I’m going to take care of you just like this.”

Mama Bluebird dropped the baby and went back for number two.

The same thing happened–“Oh Mama thank you, one

day I am going to take good care of you just like you cared for me.”

Mama Bluebird dropped it and headed back.

The same thing happened with number three.

When Mama Bluebird went back for number four, the

little bird sang out, “Oh Mama, thank you for taking such good

care of me.  One day I will take care of my little ones just like

you took care of me.”

And Mama Bluebird and her baby flew on to safety.

~The End~

And for those who can’t get enough of good bird stories, here’s a beautiful one from my friend over at Baddest Mother Ever–A Tuesday Kind of Miracle.  I never get tired of reading it. 

‘Cause Mama Said

"Because I'm the mother, that's why!"  A brilliant cup from Tervis.

“Because I’m the mother, that’s why!” My clever cup from Tervis.

Before our lives changed four years ago, Mama had been making a weekly trip to see my Great Aunt for years.  Tuesday was her day.  My Great Aunt was a mother to her, and their visits were times that they both treasured.  Occasionally one or the other of us children would go along, and after Daddy retired in 2003 he went sometimes, but mostly it was the two of them, visiting and taking on little projects around the house and yard.  And then there were the lunches with the banana pudding as dessert.  Whoa be the person who made them too late to get some of the one pan that was made daily at the Sidetracks restaurant.

Tuesdays were so ingrained that when I went to work full-time and Mama and Daddy kept Aub after school, Daddy arranged his schedule so he could leave work early on Tuesday and pick her up from school.  Tuesday became their day too.

But four years ago, when Daddy’s undecipherable symptoms hit full force unexpectedly, he was admitted to the hospital.  A week later he was moved to Emory where he stayed for over a month.  During that time, Mama was by his side the whole time.  The Tuesday visits were over for a while.  One of the first things Mama did was worry about my great Aunt.  She was in good health, but as often happens as the years go by, she was on many medications.  Each week before Mama left, she went to the kitchen counter, pulled down the many bottles of medication and vitamins and set them up in the 14-section medicine caddies.  Mama kept two completely set up in addition to the one for the current week–just in case she had to miss a week going down.

My great Aunt was a very bright woman, and since the death of her husband sixteen years before, very independent.  She and Mama had their own ways worked out.  So when I walked in that first week, scared and heartbroken over my Daddy, but determined to take this worry off of Mama’s list, I was a bit anxious.  Just as I had suspected, my great Aunt was having none of that–she did NOT want me to set up her medicine.  As she hadn’t done it in quite a while, I knew she was bluffing as she waved her hand at me, sitting in “her” chair, saying “Pshaw, I can do it.  Don’t you worry about it.  Come sit down and visit.”

Hmmmm.  Face my great Aunt or my Mama?  Who was I more willing to upset?

I sat for a few minutes and plotted and thought as we chatted about the weather and how Daddy was doing and so on.  Aub looked over at me and we exchanged a look.  I could tell she was interested to see how this was going to play out.  I was too.  Only I was the one who was risking making my aunt mad by going against her wishes.  Finally Mama’s words–my “out” my whole life–came back to me.

“Look if you don’t want to do something, if you know you shouldn’t, whatever, just blame it on me.  Say I won’t let you do it.”

Bing-o!

I got up from the couch and squatted next to my aunt’s chair.

“Ummm, we’re gonna have to leave in a few minutes and get on back home, but before I go, I’m just going to get your meds set up for next week, okay?”

“No, I already told you, you don’t have to worry about that.  I can do it later.  You just sit here and visit until you have to leave.” She waved that hand again.

I was ready this time.

I looked down and sighed.  I stared at my fingernails that were probably a disappointment to this beautiful and elegant lady in front of me.  I sighed again. “But see, Mama asked me to do it.  And she’s going to ask me later if I did.  And when I tell her no, she’s gonna beat me but good.  Please let me do it so she won’t beat me.”

A chuckle burst out unexpectedly.  She took a deep breath, and laughed even harder.  I had her.

“Well my gracious goodness, I certainly don’t want that on my conscience.  I guess you’d better do it then.  But I wish you wouldn’t worry about it.”

“No ma’am,” I said.  “I’m not worried about it, but I am worried about that beatin’.”

She laughed again and took the “tea cup” from our Princess and “sipped” on her tea.  “You go on ahead then. Do what you need to do.”

And our pattern was set.  From then on, each week, she would tell me not to worry, I’d tell her I was more worried about my Mama and her wrath and that promised beating.  And she would acquiesce.  Done.

I am thankful for Mama’s willingness to take the fall, to be the bad guy for me all my life.  If I was invited to do something that I really didn’t want to, that was my excuse.  If someone gave me a hard time about not doing one thing or another, I’d just shrug and sigh, so “burdened” by my overprotective parents–“My Mama won’t let me.”  If someone wondered why I was calling home or why I always did something a certain way, “Mama makes me.”  I appreciate that so much.  I still do it today.  If I ma’am someone and they wave it away, I always reply, “No ma’am, I’m sorry.  If I didn’t say ma’am to you my Mama (or my Granny) would come back and whoop me.”  (And really, physical discipline was not as common around our house as one might think from listening to me carry on.  But yeah, suffice to say, I don’t use my manners and act like I am somebody, one of them’s coming back to raise some kind of ruckus!)

I have told my children, especially my oldest, the same thing.  “Blame it on me.  You need an out, you got one.”  Yes, I want them to be strong and stand on their own and for what they know is right, but sometimes it helps to play the “Mama said” card for reinforcement.  After all, it works.  It convinced my great Aunt to change her mind–and that was no easy feat. ” ‘Cause Mama said”…..that’s the universal language for “this is how it’s gonna be.”