Another Trip to the Grocery Store

So today was St. Nicholas’ Day.  And as we are learning about holiday traditions from around the world, we read about St. Nicholas and (a day late–didn’t have necessary items in hand last night–ahem) tonight we are putting our shoes out in case St. Nicholas might do a return trip and swing back through here to fill our shoes with candy.

As I mentioned, we didn’t have the necessary things to make this happen, so after our tree hunt today, I asked the Fella to stop and let me run in the grocery store while he sat in the car with the littles.  I dashed in, grabbed the goodies, and (a rare occurrence) was able to go through the express lane.  I could have done the self-checkout but I worry about whether the sale prices will go through and frankly, I enjoy talking with the folks who work there.

Today did not disappoint.

The lovely lady in front of me was purchasing a gorgeous arrangement from the floral department.  It was a plant with a poinsettia tucked in the bowl as well.  BEAUTIFUL.  Really.  So much so that I had to say something.

Which I did.

“That’s beautiful,” I told the lady.  (It just had to be said.)

She nodded and smiled.  The cashier, Quintavious, jumped in and laughed, saying, “I know, isn’t it lovely?  She got it for me.  I am just in shock.”

He was so engaging and delightful that I couldn’t help but laugh and jump in the game.

“Oh yes, the customers here are the best in the world, aren’t they? Buying lovely arrangements for the wonderful folks who work here….” I teased.

“Yeah, I don’t get off until 7 tonight though, so I’m not sure what I will do with it.”  The cashier looked perplexed as the customer smiled and finished making her payment.

“Well,” I said, “I guess you’ll have to let her take it home with her until you can get it home later, right?”

Quintavious looked at me like I had lost a little more of my mind than I actually have.  “Oh noooooo.  It will sit right here, and then when I go home, I will carry it in the house, and my Mama will reach out and say, ‘Oh you shouldn’t have,’ and I will say, ‘Oh I didn’t have…..’ and I won’t be letting go of it.”

I laughed again–it was his intonation and his voice inflection–‘Oh I didn’t have…..’ This young man missed his calling as a comedian.

After we both said goodbye to the lovely lady and the exquisite arrangement, we continued our conversation.

“That’d be ugly, wouldn’t it?  If I went home and told my Mama that?”

Before I could answer, he dropped his tone.  He gestured at the treats I was purchasing.

A little quieter than before, he said, “You know, not many people know about this, but I am a taste inspector.”

Because of his hushed tone, I mistakenly thought he said, “I am a taste and spitter.”  (Which could, in essence, mean the same thing if you really think about it.)  And yes, I probably do need my hearing checked.  But he was talking quietly.  Apparently he’s been certified and it’s a bit hush-hush.

“Yeah, not a lot of people have heard of it.  But it’s a service.  A service here in the store.  I can check these”–he pointed to the chocolate– “and make sure they’re okay.  You wouldn’t want to buy something bad, would you?”

No, Quintavious, no I wouldn’t.

He’s a giver all the way, that one.

If someone hadn’t been behind me in line, someone who wasn’t taking part in the banter, and if I wasn’t thinking that St. Nicholas will drop the whole bags in the shoes instead of individual candies (I’ve smelled the feet that go in these shoes–won’t nobody want to eat them if they go in without the protection of a bag), I would have opened a bag or two right then and had him taste test them.

Because his teasing reminded me of a few things.

First, life is more fun when we are interacting with people.  I could have stood in the line and played with my phone.  *sigh*  Yeah.  I’ve been known to do that.  (When the magazine covers weren’t particularly interesting…..)  But when we talk and say hello and open the door for conversation–oh, the joy that can bring!

Second, grocery stores have amazing floral departments.  At least this one does.  Note to self–if you ever have to take flowers anywhere…..

Third, Quintavious’ story reminded me of my Mama.  When we were little and she’d bake chocolate chip cookies or peanut butter bars (ah the pre-food allergy days) with chocolate chips dropped in–basically anytime she’d use chocolate chips, she would call us in. We didn’t always know why, but once we saw the chocolate enter the equation, we started making sure we answered on the first call.

Mama would hand us each one or two chocolate chips, saying, “Oh I need someone to taste these chocolate chips and see if they’re okay.  We wouldn’t want to use them if they were poisonous.”

Yeah.

She said that.

Morbid, I know.

But at the time, it was delightful.  She played it up big, telling us how necessary it was for us to check them.

And we never had nightmares or anything.  It made us laugh.  And we felt very important.

Turns out there’s a title for that–a taste inspector (though “taste and spitter” is growing on me).

This evening I was making more of Mama’s cookies and, at the request of the Fella who was taking them to a shindig, I used our Star Wars cookie cutters.  Cooter and Princess eventually helped with the cutting out.  They are getting to be quite good at it.  When the first ones came out of the oven, Cooter wandered over and looked at them appreciatively.  He was about to reach for one, and I stopped him.  “Don’t do that.  Those are for Daddy’s get together.”

IMG_6035

Look at those cookies, just waiting to be taste tested…..

 

Cooter eyeballed Yoda for a long moment and said, “But Mama, I need to inspect it.  I need to make sure they are good enough for Daddy to take.  You wouldn’t want him to take bad cookies, would you?”

See, I’m a pretty proud Mama right now, because apparently, I have a certified taste inspector in my own home. I now know that’s a thing.   Who knew?  Maybe he’ll be able to get a job someday after all.

That’s a relief.

Tonight I’m thankful for the joy of happy memories–even the odd ones like taste testing chocolate chips to make sure they weren’t poisonous.  I love the joy that is in this house when cookies are being made, even when they aren’t for us.  And I give thanks for folks who do their jobs, no matter what it may be, with laughter and a joy-filled personality and who make others feel good when they are around them.

Would it be weird to call the store and find out when Quintavious is on the schedule and plan my grocery shopping accordingly?  That was more fun than a little bit today.  #stalkingnotstalking

As you go forth in your day, may you find joy in what you do and share the light of laughter and fun with all who cross your path.

Love to all.

If It Were Just a Little Hotter…..

This evening as I started out on my walk, I breathed in the fresh air and just soaked in the warmth from the sun.  The breeze kept it from being uncomfortably hot, and it just felt great.   I guess I am my Papa’s granddaughter.  He is known for having said in the middle of a sweltering summer, “If it were just a little hotter, it’d be right nice.”

That thought made me smile, as I dug through my memory bin and pulled out those of my Papa.  I was only five when he died, so the few I have are very precious and even more vivid as time passes.

My Papa, whom I adored

My Papa, James, whom I adored

I loved my Papa.  He was somebody special.  You just knew it.  He was very patient with me.  Papa is the one who taught me to play Chinese Checkers.  I loved lining up the marbles and getting it ready.  He also taught me about making folks feel at home.  He and I were playing one time (who knows if I was really capable of playing by the real rules at the time), and a car pulled up.  His niece was there to visit.  Papa said we should put the game away so we could visit with folks.  Another time he and I went to the candy store.  I don’t remember much about that one, except that I got a big round swirly sucker and he had us pick one out for his niece too, “so she won’t feel left out.”

Daddy and Papa raised cows together, so we were over at their house and farm a lot.  I remember getting silage with Daddy to feed the cows.  If I got out of the truck when the truck was weighed, then I had to get out again when the silage and truck were weighed after loading it up so they’d know how much we got.  Honesty was important.  Still is.  And to this day the smell of cows can make me cry with happy remembering.

My Papa and Granny

My Papa and Granny

Papa also raised pigs.  I can remember being there on hog killing day, but that was more about the hustle and bustle and pots over a fire in the yard.  Some of those blanks may have been filled in by imagination over the years, so I apologize to you who know what really happened–you know who you are.  The thing I most definitely remember are the baby pigs in the barn.  Papa put down red carpet for them.  I always thought that was the most special thing.  Forget Wilbur, those must be really, truly special baby pigs if Papa put down that beautiful red carpet for them.  I can still remember it, me leaning over the old wood rail to see them on their glorious red floor.  Sweet little baby pigs.  I was filled with delight and wonder.

I also remember Papa being very sick.  I didn’t know it then, but he had a brain tumor.  I remember him being in the bed in the front bedroom.  The room with the windows and light.  The grownups did a good job of carrying their sadness and worries on their own, because I don’t really remember being upset in the middle of everything, and for that I thank them.  The main thing I remember about that time was we were not to let the screen door slam.  We had to carefully hold it and return it to its frame.  Not an easy task for the six and under crowd, happy and carefree at their grandparent’s home and excited to be with each other.  I can still remember the feel of dashing out that door and leaping off, our feet barely touching the steps as we headed out into the yard to play.

Granny and Papa's house as it is today--I spent so many happy times there

Granny and Papa’s house as it is today–I spent so many happy times there

The day the call came I remember vividly.  A cold fall evening.  I was in the kitchen with Mama at our little house on Boy Scout Road.  I had turned five less than two weeks before.  Mama stood holding the black wall phone.  She turned her head and started crying as she hung it up.  My next memory is being at Granny’s standing out under the cedar tree with my cousins, looking back towards the sadness that hung over the house.  We were the most somber group of five, six, and seven year olds you’d ever want to see.  Someone said, “He was a good person.”  Nods all around.  Another said, “Yes, he’s in Heaven.  With the angels.”  We all nodded seriously and with certainty in every fiber of our being.  We KNEW.

Papa was a wise man.  He and Granny raised bright and thinking and thoughtful, caring children.  One bit of wisdom that has been passed down and shared with me more times than I can count is, “You got a car, you got car trouble.”  Amen to that, Papa.  When my Daddy and his older brother were little and they saw my Granny disciplining a puppy that she was raising, they got very upset.  They packed their bags and were headed out.  They told Papa they were running away.  He pulled them to the side and gave them each a nickel for their journey.  I think Daddy said they might have gotten to the end of the road before their second thoughts and lack of plans sent them back home.

Tonight I’m thankful for the breeze that blew in warmth and warm memories.  I am thankful it’s happiness that I feel when I think about my Papa and not the sadness that was a part of the last year or so of his life.  I give thanks for the cows and trucks and silage and pink pigs on red carpet that are the backdrops of my childhood.  And for Chinese Checkers and big colorful swirly suckers. Good things the happiest of memories are made of.

Waving At Strangers

This morning was perfectly beautiful. The sun, the blue skies, the trees waving in the breeze. We were all up earlier than usual, so the littles were dressed and fed and out the door well before 9, enjoying the reprieve from the busyness of the past few days and playing with their friends down the street.  I sat on the porch with a book I’ve just begun, rocking and reading and soaking in the beauty and calm of this summer day.  As I sat and listened to the sound of children’s voices laughing and squealing and calling to each other, I saw another neighbor driving down our street to his house next door.  I automatically threw my hand up in greeting.

As I pulled my hand back, I thought about the tradition of waving at folks and how instinctive it has become.

pic of country road

My little brother, the youngest in our family, is almost nine years younger than me.  When he was little, I would take him on walks down our country road.  His hand in mine, we would walk along looking for rocks and talking about all kinds of somethings and nothing much in particular.  I remember one time when I waved at the rare car that passed by.  He asked me why I was waving at them.  Did I know them?  Well, why was I waving?  What are strangers?  Who were they?  Questions.  So sweet to remember.  I told him that it was just something we did to say hello, to be friendly.  He seemed okay with that, and he waved at the next car that came along.

His little hand in mine.  That little guy who was still so small when I left for college.  The guy who came over and saw my first new little baby girl every Friday during his senior year of high school, bringing a hug and a tickle for her and a grilled cheese with extra dill pickles and sweet tea from Nu-Way for me.  Who left for his study abroad in England when I moved back home for sanctuary with my little one.    Who came to work where I was working, wearing his cargo shorts and workboots.  Who is now a grown man, a minister, living twelve hours away, now a Papa to three little ones of his own.  A good guy.  A good friend.

But today I remembered the little one who was my buddy so long ago.

And when, this morning, my own little guy just reached up and put his hand in mine, without my prodding, I smiled in sweet remembrance.  He reminds me of my baby brother sometimes–the youngest of big sisters, trying to make his way, even down to wearing the boots with his shorts.  Yep, when I looked down at the little one who was holding my hand and gazing up at me, I saw him with his shorts and t-shirt and these on his feet.

I don't think he even notices the holes in them.  I wonder if my brother would have at this age.

I don’t think he even notices the holes in them. I wonder if my brother would have.

I don’t even think he notices the holes.  And well, I just pick my battles.  Wearing holey boots with shorts is not on my list of battles to fight.  It’s just not worth it y’all.

There’s a joke that Southern folks are known for their friendliness because they are constantly waving….at the gnats.  I think in this world of “stranger danger” (which I support and teach/preach all the time to my own littles), waving at strangers may become a thing of the past.  Just like walks with baby brothers on old country roads.  But today, for a few minutes, I was back there, and life was good.

I wonder if he will go for a walk with me when he comes home again to Blackberry Flats.  One more time.  And together, we can wave at strangers.  As we travel down Memory Lane.

The Pineapple Story

Last Tuesday afternoon I stood out in the sun in the backyard at my folks’ place, Blackberry Flats.  The heat of summer was bearing down but the shade of the tree and the gentle breeze made it bearable.  I was visiting with Mama’s neighbor who lives across the road, and who has been such a huge gift throughout the past four years.  A quiet and gentle soul, he had finished doing the yard the day before and it looked great.  I told him how much we appreciated him keeping it up just as Daddy would have.

He said, “Yeah, I don’t know why, but it was something mowing this time.  I kept looking over there, expecting her to come to the back door.”

I laughed softly, as the emotion crept in.  “Yes sir, probably to ask you to help her with something else?”

He shook his head. “No.  She usually sent me home with something. Like fruit.”  He looked over, and we said the word in sync. “Pineapple.”  We laughed as the tears formed and the memories came flooding back.

As I walked into the grocery store the first time after Mama died, as soon as I rounded the produce section, I saw it.  The already prepared pineapple.  I felt like I’d had the breath knocked out of me.  “Who will cut my pineapple for me now?” I whispered to myself.  I almost left the store then as the tears and sadness and raw grief threatened to engulf me.

One of Mama’s love languages was cooking.  And sharing food.  Such as leftover biscuits (some of my favorites), leftovers in general, and fruit she’d pick up on sale and prepare for her grandbabies.  That whole Wal-Mart price matching–Mama took that stuff seriously.  She would pore over the sale papers and kept the current ones for different stores folded in a stack on the stool next to where she sat at the kitchen counter.  She would make her grocery list accordingly.  And when Aldi or Giant or Freshway had their {fill in the blank here} on sale, Mama put it on her Wal-Mart list and tucked her sales papers in her purse and headed out.  Love it.  Did I mention already that we were raised on sale?  With a coupon?  Yep.

And so one of the stores would occasionally have a great sale on pineapples.  And Mama liked the pineapples from Wal-Mart, so she would pick up a couple.  Price matched.  She had a special knife for the job. With it she could take a whole pineapple down to delectable bite-sized pieces, throwing the rest of it out in the compost.   The funny thing is, Mama really couldn’t eat pineapple.  Maybe a bite or two now and then, but it tended to bother her, so she avoided it.  But she knew how much my babies, especially my oldest loved it.  Daddy also enjoyed it when he was with us.  I’m not sure how or when but Mama later found out that her neighbors–one on the side and the other across the road–also loved it.  So she would prepare each of us a container (you know, the odd Cool Whip or yogurt or sour cream container) full and send it home to be enjoyed.  What a treasure!

Mama's cutting board and pineapple knife.....she brought joy and sunshiny sweetness to friends and family with them.

Mama’s cutting board and pineapple knife…..she brought joy and sunshiny sweetness to friends and family with them.

When my girl graduated a few weeks back, we had a gathering to celebrate.  A sweet friend prepared delicious goodies for us to enjoy.  As she was placing things on the countertop, she pulled out a single pineapple and sat it in a bowl.  Y’all.  For the love of all things Mama.  I had to walk away for a moment, and then, well, y’all who know me won’t be surprised, I shared the story of Mama’s pineapple legacy with my friend.  It.  Was.  Just.  Right.

The pineapple that made us smile and remember at Aub's graduation festivities.

The pineapple that made us smile and remember at Aub’s graduation festivities.

Tonight I am thankful for sweet reminders of my Mama and her love for us.  Her generous spirit.  Her kindness.  Her spunk.  Her thriftiness and determination to be a good steward of what she had.  All things I hope to have even a small bit of one day.  And though I am sorry others are sad, it is nice to be reminded that others miss her too.  That together we can talk about her and smile and cry and laugh and remember.   And for a Tuesday night, that will do just fine.

My Boots

My Daddy's boots

My Daddy’s boots

Growing up Daddy wore the same thing just about every day.  Jeans, belt, white t-shirt, and a chambray shirt made by Mama, matched with his work boots as he headed out the door.  When he’d wear one chambray shirt out, she would snip the buttons, and attach them to the new one she was making.  When Mama realized she did not enjoy sewing, he started wearing short sleeved button down Oxford style shirts–in light blue or white.   The last few years he interpersed those with a t-shirt, long or short sleeved weather dependent; often one I had embroidered a design on.  I think his favorite might have been the one that said, “Shade Tree Carpenter,” because that is what he was in his retirement.  He’d stand out there under the shade of the tree he called the trash tree because it made such a mess shedding its leaves, and he would create and build all kinds of wonderful things to be enjoyed by his grandchildren.  That was one t-shirt design he asked for.   It was a classic.

All that is to say, Daddy was laid-back.

I think he was probably glad our rehearsal dinner was at Nu-Way, where a sign was put on the door early that morning–“Dinning (sic) Room Closed, 6 pm, Wedding Party.”  His daily dress was just right for the party.

During his last couple of months, when he was pretty much bed-ridden, Daddy and I would visit and talk about all kinds of things.  At the time I had been thinking about getting a pair of boots.  My oldest Aub had saved up and gotten her a pair, and that flung a craving on me I guess you could say.  Daddy and I talked about the best kinds, how to care for them (saddle soap and all), and what color we thought I could pull off.  I had seen a pair of bright red ones with white and turquoise flame stitching.  I really wanted to be the girl who could pull them off, but I just wasn’t sure.

It was mid-November when Daddy’s fight with the lymphoma came to an end.   In the midst of everything going on, I had not even thought about what I would wear to his service.  It was the day after he died, that Friday, that we were scrambling–meet with the funeral director, take the clippings from the tea olive and cedar to the florist for the spray, make many, many phone calls, feed the children, and last but not least, plan out what each person was going to wear to the service the following day.  Mama called me aside.  “I want you to go get your boots.  Go right now, you should have time, and get them.  And then I want you to wear them tomorrow.  You have a denim skirt, right?”

I nodded, thinking of how appropriate that was for Daddy.  Who rarely had a day he didn’t wear denim.  “Yes ma’am, I can make it happen.”

“Oh, and Tara?”

“Yes ma’am?”

“See if you can find some dress shoes for me.  You know, a nice pair of flats.  I don’t have any shoes to wear for tomorrow.”

So I was off on a mission, one of them nigh unto impossible.  Mama had not been shopping in ages while caregiving for Daddy, so I had some experience in the “shopping for her” arena.  And I knew how hard it was.  I won’t say she was hard to please, but let’s just leave it at sometimes “she had high standards.”  Ahem.

First stop was the ride over to the Western Wear and Horse Supply store near my house.  I walked in and looked at the red boots I’d told Daddy about.  No, they just didn’t suit.  I walked the aisles a time or two, feeling the pressure of time and a lengthy to-do list crowding in.  Then I saw them.  Just enough red to make me happy, and what a beautiful deep, rich red.  Those were MY boots.

I didn’t fare as well for Mama.  I went to her favorite clothing store, Belk’s, and found two pairs that were possibilities, and I got them both.  I could return either or both later.  Both it was.  Mama tried, but since her foot surgery, only certain types of shoes were comfortable.  Her sweet cousin wound up loaning her a pair of dress shoes that were just perfect.

The next day was the first time I wore my boots for real.  And I loved them.  Still do.  I don’t know if it is because they were christened with the red dirt of home, but when I wear them, I find a sense of strength that I didn’t feel before.  I kind of fancy them as my “kickin’ attitude” boots.  Usually it’s a good attitude, but when I had to meet with doctors and ask hard questions during Mama’s HospitalStay, I wore those boots.  When I have had to take a stand, my boots were right there under me.  And when I stood again at the little country cemetery, saying goodbye to Mama, I wore the same boots I first wore at Daddy’s funeral.  Imagined or not, perception’s what we are dealing with people, and I perceive that they give me strength.  Anyone remember Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking?”  Yes.  That. (Only with longer skirts…..)

pic of mah boots

In the past two months, I have acquired two more pairs of boots.  I wear them mostly to save the soles on my treasured pair.  I need to have them resoled.  I’ve done a lot of moving in them.   My sister found the black pair at her GW Boutique in Atlanta.  Can you believe that?  I don’t want to talk tacky, but I just have to brag about her skills–for less than $10!  Those boots were the perfect dress boots to give me what I needed on that bittersweet and precious Graduation Night of my girl two weeks ago.

It was a week after my sister made her find that we were at our local GW, and my 8 year old saw the red pair.  It was like there was a heavenly light shining above them.  Leading her to them.  She was enthralled and so happy.  They fit her and we brought them home.  The other day I asked her if she planned to wear them again, and she said, “Well yes, when I go riding horses.”  (Ummm, yeah, because that’s been pencilled in.)  Turns out they feel funny to her feet, and turns out they fit me just fine.  (She’s going to be really, really tall.)  So, score!

One cold night over a year ago, I was out rather late, picking Aub and her friend up from the movie theater.  It was past my bedtime, so I was in comfy clothes and threw on my lined Crocs and headed over.  As I was sitting there in the parking lot waiting for them and people watching, I saw a group of teenagers gathered together near the curb.  About that time a little man walked up to get his tickets.  The teens saw him and began to laugh and make exaggerated gestures, mocking this man.  He and his friends never noticed as they bought their tickets and went inside.  But it made my blood boil.  When Aub and her friend got in the car, I told them about it, and I lectured them that I better not ever…..well, you know the drill.  They might as well have been guilty the way I carried on.  As I drew to a close, Aub’s friend leaned over to look at my feet, grinned, and said, “Miss Tara, it’s a good thing you didn’t have your boots on or they’d have been in real trouble, wouldn’t they?”  See, even he knew.  I’m tough stuff when I have them on.  (Or so I tell myself.)

Tonight I’m thankful for a laid-back Daddy, and for a Mama who honored that and loved him for it.  I’m also thankful for my parents who raised me to be strong–to pick myself back up when I’m in the depths, and who bought me my first pair of grownup boots that remind me of that strength.  I love my family and friends who sit with me in those depths and cheer me on when I pull my boots out.  The thing is, I know there are more hard times ahead.  I also know, that even though things will get shaky and dark, in the end, I can handle it.  I’m going to come out on the other side.  Maybe a little more worn, maybe a few more scuffs, but still standing tall.

And for those who might have been deprived of Nancy Sinatra growing up–here she is, her and her boots.

Why I Want to Wear Black

pic of gibran quote

Yesterday I spent most of the morning with my children cleaning my great aunt’s house.  It has sat empty for over three years now.  We have a new realtor and high hopes this time.  When I went in for the first time in quite a while on Friday, meeting with the realtor, I knew we would have to come back and clean.  It was not a requirement or even a request.  It was a gift to one of the strong women who helped raise me.  I couldn’t kiss her forehead when she left, nor could I wash her face and hands one last time.  But I can make sure that folks who come into her home know someone cares and that it doesn’t look thrown away.  So we vacuumed and dusted and polished and swept.  It was a sacred morning.

Last night I was filled with sorrow and joy all at the same time (I know, I’m the crazy one in our family), and the first thing I thought was, “I want to tell Mama.”  And it all came rushing back.  I’m afraid the emotional tidal wave had me pouring my heart out in a raw, broken way.  And I’m sorry about that.

But I feel raw.  And broken.  Even still.  I get invited to do lovely things with wonderful people, and I want to do these things.  But when I think about it, the panic sets in and I just can’t.  I am so sorry for that too.  The panic.  The not being able to do things.  Be with people.  I do apologize.  But there it is.  And I don’t know what to do about it.  But wait, maybe?

This morning I thought about something I wrote less than a month after Daddy left this world.  Considering the trip I took on the Grief Wheel last night, I offer this for whatever it can be.  An explanation.  An apology.  The map of where I am for the time being.  With love to all.

I originally wrote this the morning of 12/13/2011. It is just as true today, and even more so.

The journey is over
He, who fought so hard, and did so much to stay
Had to leave
He told me so
Not long after he left and we all said goodbye
I saw him, in my dream
We were all gathered to say goodbye, and he was there
I ran to him and hugged him
“What are you doing here?” I was ecstatic and a little confused.

“I’m sorry,” he said as he hugged me back
“I had to go. I’m sorry.”
He looked so good. Healthy. Strong. Ready to take on the world again.
To create with wood and words and make us all laugh and keep us all straight. He looked full of life.
I know he is healed. So many remind me, trying to bring comfort.
One said, “God needed your Daddy more than you did.” I don’t think so. I cannot breathe sometimes I need him so much. But thank you for taking time to speak to me.
Others choose not to say anything or ask anything. Grief is not a fashionable accessory. It can make a lot of folks uncomfortable. And that is okay too.
And those that ask, I wonder. How long can I be honest? How long can I tear up when they ask? How long before someone tells me enough is enough? How long before the world continues on, as though the sky did not fall, as though it can still breathe, as though he did not even exist? As though none of this matters anymore?

There are things to do, hustle and bustle, and appointments to keep, projects to produce, shows to watch and restaurants to visit, vacations to take, and trips to plan. How long before Life throws its hands up and says, “Really we must go on without you, because this whole grief thing…..well, it’s really getting old.”
Perhaps the tradition of wearing black for a year is not as unfounded as we may have thought. If one is mourning, and one is marked as a mourner, perhaps that is enough. There is grace in that, I think. So that when I start to cry in the candy aisle at the grocery store, because I just thought about buying that candy for him because he loves it, folks will know. Or when I feel drawn to the cancer center, to reach out and hug someone going through just what we have, maybe folks won’t think I’m strange, because they will know. Or when I am trying to remember the name of the person who worked with Daddy, and I think, I need to ask him…..and then it hits me, and I burst into sobs. Folks will know. I need for them to know.

I need for them to know, because one day, one day soon I fear, I will reach out and grab hold of the closest person around and I will beg them to hold me, to wipe out all of the brokenness in this—my Mama who is alone; my sister who shuts the door to her office and cries at work; the grandchild on the way who will never know what a special man he is and was; my children who miss him so, the oldest who misses the man who loved her and raised her and the youngest who doesn’t know what to make of all this but just misses his car playing buddy who let him drive his cars around the rails of the hospital bed…..over and over; and his sister, who cries quietly because she misses her brother. I will reach out and grab hold and I won’t let go. As I cry and sob and let it all out, I won’t let go. Because I’ve done that already, and it hurts so much I cannot breathe. I need for them to know. Because I cannot forget.

pic of things quote

If You Were Ever A Child…..

The homeschool curriculum I use with my littles is literature based. There is a list of books for “required” reading and then another list of “suggested” books if you have the time and your child loves to read.

Which mine does.

It was touch and go her kindergarten and first grade year. I wasn’t sure we were going to make it. I gave her a copy of “Old Hat, New Hat” in November of her first grade year. Hoping she could read it. Eventually. Less than five months later she was reading Magic Tree House books. Something finally clicked. Now her favorites are the Rainbow Magic Fairy books by Daisy Meadows. I’m thinking that’s a pen name–you?

As we are looking at wrapping up the school year, I went through the suggested book list and put in many hold requests at the library. (Can I just say I LOVE Interlibrary loans?) We are running a bit behind this year because of the January/February HospitalStay, but reading will be a wonderful pastime for our summer break as well.

Yesterday the first of our hold requests came through, and we ran by and picked it up. Last night my second grader, who loves to read all the time, asked if I would come and read her a story. This was a special treat for me, as she enjoys being an independent reader. I picked up our library book, and we began reading.

Roxaboxen by Alice McLernan, illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran, illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Oh my, bless it. Precious.

If you have a child or know a child or were ever a child, you should find this book. And read it. Right now. It’s a story of children playing, imaginations taking flight, and the memories we carry with us into adulthood.

Yes, I cried. It was that good.

It reminded me of our little brick house on Old Boy Scout Road. The little two bedroom house where, when she brought home my baby brother, child number four, Mama told Daddy, “I don’t think another thing will fit in here.” And so we moved to Blackberry Flats. But before I was nine, we lived in that little brick house. There was a spot under the pines between our house and the one next door that was perfect for sweeping out and using the pine needles to mark off rooms and houses. At one point, two young girls lived next door and we would play out there for hours, sweeping and building and playing.

It also reminded me of playing at my Granny’s, where we built toadhouses along the banks between her yard and the peach orchard right next to her. We created whole villages and were allowed to bring cars out (“be particular”) to drive in and out of them. My cousins and I used to play “Cowboys and Indians” at their old house on Rabbit Road, where the deep slope of the yard made for some great chases and use of imagination.

When we moved to Blackberry Flats, we had a horse, Betsy. Each fall Daddy would go and get a load of hay to put back for the winter. I can remember the smell of the sweet hay and the feeling of hefting up a bale and handing it down off the truck to him. He stacked it up in the side area of his building. (I guess it was a workshop, but all we ever called it was “Daddy’s building.”) I remember crawling up to the top of the stack of hay in that little shed and reading. Mama let us have the boxes their checkbooks came in, and we created a post office, each of us having our own “mailbox.” We made up our “names,” and we spent lots of time writing letters and “mailing” them.

Creating. Dreaming. Playing. Imagining. Only it all seemed so real.

Just like in Roxaboxen.

I’ve driven by the old home place on Old Boy Scout Road since I was grown. It seems so much smaller now, like the woods crept up towards the house. The old sand pile is still visible at my Granny’s old house. And while there is no hay, the shed at Daddy’s is still standing, stock full of memories that bring a smile and a tear.

I am thankful for those happy memories of a carefree childhood and for my own “Roxaboxen” places. I give thanks for my girls who love to read and dream, and hang onto the hope that my little guy will also find a love of reading one day. As I write this I look out my front window where my two little ones are playing with their friends, and soon they will come in all breathless, eager to tell me about their latest “adventures.” I love that they too have their own “Roxaboxen” right here on our little cul-de-sac. And I give thanks for those who have gone before, sharing stories and reading books with us, helping us to dream and play and imagine. Right now, I can’t think of a better gift that’s ever been given.

Best Cookbook Ever

I love cookbooks.  One of my favorites is Aunt Bea’s Mayberry Cookbook that I got for Christmas probably twenty years ago.  I have some stand-by recipes from that one, including Mr. McBeevee’s Make Ahead Breakfast Casserole that I make every year for Christmas morning.  (And that is our big meal of the day!  I know, awesome, right?  I love our Christmases.)  I also love a cookbook that a dear sweet lady from Perry gave me as a wedding gift eleven years ago.  It is a small-town cookbook with awesome recipes, and I love that the ladies who wrote it tell you who in the family loved what recipe.  I use the sour cream pound cake recipe in that one faithfully.  (And I know that Miss Nelle always used 1 stick butter and 1/2 cup Crisco and Miss Mary used two sticks of margarine.  This is the kind of thing they share throughout.  Just precious.)

But I have to say that my all time favorite cookbook is one that has never been published.

It was when I was pregnant with my little guy almost seven years ago that I got a manila envelope in the mail from my youngest cousin.  She is a very smart young woman.  She knows how to cook delicious, healthy foods from scratch.  She can knit like nobody’s business, has a yen for yarn, and a heart for those in need all over the world.  And I love her more than I can put into words.

My most FAVORITE cookbook ever--filled with delicious recipes, all handwritten! (I've added the stains over the years.)

My most FAVORITE cookbook ever–filled with delicious recipes, all handwritten! (I’ve added the stains over the years.)

In the manila envelope was a four by six notebook.  It was lovely on the outside and I thought, well, how sweet.  I had no idea.  When I turned the cover, I saw that this notebook was filled on EVERY page.  With recipes.  Great ones.  But get this.  All.  Hand.  Written.  She sent it to congratulate us and to share her favorite recipes.  We are alike in this respect–we both love to bake, but cooking not as much.  One of my sisters says that my children are better off than hers, as she likes to cook and not bake.  “You’re going to feed yours, that’s a given…..and you’re going to bake.  Mine?  They pretty much get fed.  Baking not so much.”

So in this treasure of recipes, I have found some favorites that I have made over and over.  One of them is for Ginger Crinkles.  Guaranteed to put someone in labor.  I am not kidding.  After my little guy was born, I called my cousin and left her a message.  “The baby is here,” I said, and I left my number at the hospital.  We’re old school and hadn’t found out the gender, so of course she had to call back and say, “Well?”  I told her “it’s a boy” and his name, we chatted over his measurements, and then I said, “And it’s all your fault and those Ginger Crinkles.”  (I had made some on the Wednesday before he was born on Saturday–and I had been munching on them quite a bit.)

She laughed a little, and replied, “Yeah.  Sorry about that.”

“What?  I was just teasing you.”

She proceeded to tell me that ginger has properties that can speed up labor for a woman whose body is getting prepared.  She’s smart like that.  A wealth of knowledge that one.  And believe me, I’ve taken advantage of that wealth.  (She rescued us more than once while Mama was in the hospital.  Wow.  I’m not sure if I ever properly thanked her for that.)

So it turns out that the Ginger Crinkles, which I tend to make a lot in the fall, are extra special cookies.  Good for you and extra, extra delicious.  I promise you I will never buy another ginger snap.   (And these cookies had similar results for both of my sisters when they were pregnant!)

Another favorite is the Cocoa Apple Cake.  For years, a red velvet cake made by Mama (without all the red dye–come on, people–that stuff canNOT be good for you) was my traditional cake.  But since I started making my own cake the past couple of years during Daddy’s fight with lymphoma, this has been my go-to cake.  Yes, I know chocolate, apple, allspice, and cinnamon might not sound that good, but oh my, you cannot imagine what you are missing.   It is amazing.  I could seriously eat it all in one sitting, I think.

There are so many others that we have tried and enjoyed, especially all of the muffin recipes, but I think the one we have made the most often is her Banana Bread recipe.  It has been called by one friend, “World Peace Banana Bread,” because, he says, if it were sent to warring countries, they would stop fighting.  It is just that good.  Tonight before we headed out on our walk (I made good on my promise from last night), I used up our bananas that were on their way out the door, and made a double batch of this bread.  Oh.  My.  Land.  It is so good, the one big pan is almost gone.  And that’s just from three of us eating on it.  I like to tell myself that with the fruit, the oatmeal, and the wheat germ, it has to be good for us, right?

Best banana bread ever!

Best banana bread ever!

I was thinking about the cookbook from my cousin as I prepared the banana bread once again this evening, and how many memories are tied into the different recipes (just like in Miss Nelle’s and Miss Mary’s cookbook).  And as we went on our walk after, I reflected on those memories.  I am so blessed, and I don’t take that lightly.  Well not most of the time anyway.

Tonight I am thankful for treasured gifts.  For my Mama who let me flour up the kitchen and bake whatever I wanted to try.  My Mama would come over after I was grown, look at the floor in my kitchen, and say, “Oh you’ve been baking, have you?”  Guilty.  I make a mess when I bake.  Always have.  Good stuff can come from great messes, my friends.

I’m also thankful for the treasured gift of my sweet and spunky cousin who sent me this precious memory-filled, hand-written cookbook.  She’s been on my mind and heart a lot lately.  I cannot imagine how much time it took her to put this together for me.  Or what time, energy, and patience the socks that she made for me during our dark times must have taken. (She even made sure the yarn was fair trade and environmentally friendly–have I mentioned how much I love her?) And what a treasure the shawl she knitted for me is, the one that I’ve used to wrap myself up in love and comfort as I’ve said goodbye to both of my parents.  I am thankful for her generous spirit that has her giving so freely of her gifts and her knowledge.  She is one who honks less and seeks more–she inspires me with the way she uses her gifts and talents to share with those in need, and how she empowers her children to do the same.   Mostly I am thankful for her love.  She loves with all her being, and I, among many, am blessed by that.  Family.  If you got a good one, hang on tight.  And love on them as much as you can, even if it gets a little messy.  Remember that good stuff I mentioned before?  That.  Family–they are one of life’s greatest gifts.

Me, a few years ago, during my baker apprenticeship

Me, a few years ago, during my baker apprenticeship

Hey Girl

I originally wrote this when my Aub was away for a few days on 7/21/2008. I can only imagine how precious the Hey Girl will be in a few months, when she goes off to college.  As we prepare for her graduation tomorrow night, I am waxing reminiscent.   I realize that since I’ve written this, “Hey Girl” has been made popular by the Ryan Gosling meme, but for me, it will always make me think of Granny.  And my girls.

pic of coconut cake

My Granny holds a special place in my heart and memory. I still bake “her” coconut cake on her birthday every year that I have been able to. I think of her often and when I realize that she’s been gone over ten years, it takes my breath away. She was just as tough on us as she was loving, but that didn’t matter. Granny was Granny and always will be. I love my childhood memories of visiting her, but my most favorite ones are when I visited as a young adult, just the two of us, sitting and whiling away the time. We had serious talks, like when we both got rather vehement about the town’s Christmas decorations being put up before Thanksgiving could even be celebrated. Boy, that got her dander up. And mine too—so much so that I wrote a letter to the editor (at her goading, if memory serves). I think it tickled her. At least it got a smile out of her .
When I’d go to her door off the carport at her house in town—that’s what it will always be for me—her house “in town,” because, as we all know, Granny’s house is the one in the country—out on the farm at the end of that long dirt road I learned to ride my bike on. No matter whose name is on the title—it’s hers. But I digress. When I’d go to the door and knock—doorbells are for company (don’t knock on my door if you don’t know me)—I’d peek in and see her ambling over. In the beginning on her own, and later with her walker. She’d smile and I would too. I don’t know if she was always glad to see me—a new bride who just was seeking company in one of the places she considered home—but she never made me feel less than special on those visits. The first words that came from her were, “Hey girl.” I’m telling you it warmed the cockles of my heart. (Cockles? Really? Yep, look it up—it’s the fourth of fifth definition of the word.) I can still hear her voice, “Hey girl.” And the smile that accompanied the heartwarming melody went all the way up to her beautiful brown eyes. In that moment, I was home. We’d sit and talk and solve the world’s troubles in those times. I often would make her tell me over and over who so and so took after or how we were related to so and so. Later when she was bedridden and not doing too good, I’d knock and go in. When she’d see me, she’d still smile and so would I—“Hey girl.”
Now I know I’m not the only one she’d say that to, but the important thing is that when she said it, you were the only one. A term of endearment. That’s what it became for me, and I’m just starting to appreciate it.
Today I was on the road and missed a call from my treasured friend who was volunteering out in the heat for her son’s ball team. I quickly called her from my cell when I got her message. When she answered, obviously after glancing at caller ID, she answered, “Hey girl.” It took me back. Yes, it’s a term of endearment. I’ve said it myself without even realizing it. But only to my truest of true, “bosom” friends as they were once called. I say it in love and respect. It’s not something I say unless I know you and really care about you. You have to earn your “hey girl” with me.  I know that my precious friend had no way of knowing how much those two words touched me, but in that moment I was home, safe, and comforted in the warmth of our friendship.
My soon to be teenager has been gone for three days now for a wonderful mini-vacation with great friends from our overseas tour. I’ve called two nights in a row and she’s been out having the time of her life. We’ve all missed her. Her little one year old brother has been more vocal than he’s ever been, walking around tonight, hollering his nickname for her “Baba! BA-BA!!!!!” I thought when she left, Well, maybe she’ll come home and appreciate me a little more. I think the opposite may happen. She has a gift that she shares with us, her family, and that is missed. I’m thrilled that she is where she is, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if, when I pick her up at the end of the week, the first words out of my mouth are, “Hey girl.”

That's my girl--ain't she a mess?

That’s my girl–ain’t she a mess?

Love Ya, Dear

She was regal and elegant and loved the Dukes of Hazzard.

She was regal and elegant and loved the Dukes of Hazzard.

It was three years ago this morning that I got a call from Mama.  “She’s gone,” was all she could choke out before she broke into sobs.

Mama would call my great Aunt Eloise, lovingly called “Aunt Wease,” every morning and every evening to check on her.  Mama traveled the hour and fifteen minute trip down to see her and stock her pill caddy with all her medicines at least once a week.  When Daddy went to Emory for those many weeks, and when Mama couldn’t leave him, my crew and I went down.  I am not happy about the reason, but I am thankful for those visits.

That morning Mama had tried to call and had not gotten an answer.  She had to drive Daddy to an appointment up in Macon for his MRI, so she waited and tried again when she got to their office.  When she still didn’t get an answer, she called Aunt Wease’s sweet neighbor, who basically had to break in and found her.  Bless her, she had passed on in her sleep.  Peacefully.  We were heartbroken.  And thankful.  She was at the point of having to make some hard decisions about moving out of a home she knew better than the back of her hand.

I told Mama I would pick Daddy up so she could make the long and lonely drive down.  I picked him up and spent the day with him at their house.  A day that was very long for Mama.  Making calls.  Planning.  Answering questions.  Making decisions one is not equipped to make in that state.  A regimen I now know all too well.  Bless her.

She asked me that evening if I wanted to speak at the service.  At first I said no.  But as I thought about it, I could not let her only be remembered by the pastor who had maybe met her once.   So I sat at the keyboard and poured out my memories and my heart.  I gave the eulogy that first Saturday in May looking out at my Daddy who was fighting his own battle with death, and my Mama, sitting holding the hand of my baby girl.  My Mama lost the woman who was a mother to her, and we had lost our grandmother.

It was after this service that Daddy teased me and asked me if I would give his eulogy.  I said yes, praying it would be a long, long time.  It was a way too soon eighteen months later.  

She was a wonderful contradiction of pearls, never wear white before Easter or after Labor Day, color coordinated everything, ending a phone call or visit with “love ya dear,” and loving those Duke Boys or taking us fishing.  What follows is what I shared that day about a beautiful woman who loved me as a granddaughter and helped shape who I am becoming–

May 1, 2010

Eloise Holder McQueen was many things before I came to know her—a daughter, a sister, a friend, a hard worker, and a wife. When I came to know her, she was just Aunt Wease, and yet she was so much more. From her jelly jar glasses to her love of easy listening music and the Dukes of Hazzard, she was a fascinating woman. She made me feel special—she never failed to make me feel beautiful, from when I was little, playing dressup in her clothes, until the last time I saw her. She taught me about beauty—“The sooner you wear makeup, the sooner you’ll need it.”

In the true essence of “it’s all better at Grandma’s” I can still taste the PET milk she
had—the best in the world, nothing like what Mama had. She made me feel grownup. She took me to her ladies’ meeting and she let me drink coffee (which was mostly the aforementioned PET milk!). She shared her wisdom—“If you hold your nose when you go under water, you’ll make your nose pointy.” She was a wonderful cook (or so I thought)—I thought it was a true sign of class to put almonds in casseroles like Aunt Wease always did. She was a classy and beautiful lady. When she loved you, she loved you fiercely and she loved you too much to let you slide. Recently during a visit, she pointed to my younger daughter and said, “She has beautiful hair.” I murmured a thank you, to have her promptly say, “It would be really beautiful if you’d run a brush through it.” (She was right!)

I also recently learned that she was not the cook that I remembered—she told me stories, laughing, about how she really didn’t like to cook. She had a great sense of humor. Over the years, Uncle Ray encouraged me to tease her constantly, asking her when she was going to get her hair fixed, though she had just been to the beauty shop the day before. This is something she and I have continued over the years. We still shared a love of Tweety Bird that Uncle Ray started years ago. Mostly she gave me the gift of time—we played Go Fish, she took me for ice cream, she took me fishing, we talked, and we laughed.

I have been blessed to know many strong women in my life—my Granny, my friends, my aunts, my sisters, and my Mama. Just as much a blessing are the strong men who love them and encourage them to be strong. Aunt Wease was just such a spunky woman, blessed by just such a man, Uncle Ray. They were best friends, travel companions, and so very, very dear to me. My favorite memory of them, and there are many, is when my friends showed up to go to our high school graduation together, and they told me there was a couple stopped on the side of the road about a mile from our house, putting signs on their car. It was Aunt Wease and Uncle Ray—putting on “Tara is Tops” and other such made up stuff to celebrate with me. Such silly fun.

God blessed me with Aunt Wease, and Aunt Wease gave me three great gifts—
She loved me fiercely.
She adored and loved on my children and not only allowed, but encouraged them to do things I was never allowed to do in her beautiful home!
She raised my Mama with love and kindness to be a strong woman too. Her legacy lives on through us today. Love fiercely, travel with laughter, give great hugs, be strong, and always say goodbye with “Love ya, dear!”

Aunt Wease and my Mama.....love ya dears!

Aunt Wease and my Mama…..love ya dears!