middle of January

and before you know it,

it’s the middle of January

and you’ve only just put away the Christmas

and so your heart would already be a little heavy–

touching her things and giving thanks

that she shared them with you

and all the memories attached

with each little Santa or nativity

or snowflake

 

and you remember those words of blessing said

as her precious hands tucked them in their boxes,

words from your own mouth–

May the next time we open this box

our spirits and our health all be good

 

but it wasn’t to be

and the middle of January comes

 

bringing more memories

 

her smile over the simple cards you made

or the little trinket nothings you crocheted for her

that she always kept

over the many years of childhood

 

her joy and happiness over the lemon cake recipe

you found and made that had no cholesterol,

she tried to take good care of her health

 

and all the laughter once you grew up

over sharing mushrooms

 

she spent years making her birthday about everyone else

finding joy in the little things

making each person who wished her well

feel one of a kind special,

no matter how elaborate a gift they offered

whether a pencil drawing

or a new robe

(there was that one year)

each time she exclaimed

it was the best ever

and the joy in her eyes was genuine and true

 

her birthday

a day to remember and cry a little

for crying in the middle of January

is okay

more folks than a few usually do

 

as the calendar page turns

and I see her name with the cake and candle there,

drawn just as she always did on her own calendars,

my tears will blend in with those for whom

this month is just hard in general

 

I know how they feel

the joy that was just so full and glowing

full of light

and precious

has been put away

and is gone

 

Only Christmas will come around again

soon enough

but I won’t see her eyes twinkle or

hear her tell me how I am loved

or how beautiful she thinks I am

until I too leave this world

 

and so the tears and memories fall

as I blow out the candle

and remember

 

My Christmas Wish…..

Oh such a lovely day.

Absolutely shimmering with love and light, much like the fire I’m sitting by right now.  In much the same way as the sunlight danced on the water at the fishing pond this afternoon.  And just like the candles that lit the lovely old room where we shared stories and celebrated the life of St. Lucia this evening.

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Our folks out fishing, waiting on Santa to arrive.

The littles welcoming Santa and Mrs. Claus

The littles welcoming Santa and Mrs. Claus

Light in the darkness honoring St. Lucia--sharing stories and cookies to remember

Light in the darkness honoring St. Lucia–sharing stories and cookies to remember

Our girl as Santa Lucia

Our girl as Santa Lucia

 

A day filled with good things–visiting Santa at the Go Fish Education Center and fishing off the bridge while we waited for his arrival.  Listening to a precious conversation that Santa and Mrs. Claus had with our Princess and Cooter.  Reading the kind words my oldest’s godfather had to say about her.  Hugs and a visit with Mess Cat–those don’t come often enough.  The sun shining, the breeze just right.  Baking cookies from Maemae’s recipe for Swedish Ginger Cookies to share with people tonight at the St. Lucia Day service.  Putting together a wreath last minute from things around the house for our Princess to dress up as Santa Lucia.  Laughter and sharing stories over good food with great friends.

All of it–really, really good.

My heart is full to bustin’.

And yet I feel like weeping.

I feel…..sad.

Stories are overwhelming me–stories of families in need who can’t give their children the magic they would like to on Christmas morning, let alone put food on the table.  Stories of children in homes that aren’t theirs, being asked for the very first time to dream and wish and the list is oh so heartbreakingly long.  Imagine no one ever asking what you want under the tree–ever.  And then one day someone finally does ask.  Children.  They’re only little for just a little bit–we only have one chance to get it right, to make this world a safe place for them.  And I say we, because it’s up to all of us to care for the little ones of the world, whether we have little ones sleeping under our own roofs or not.

So much hope lost, so much brokenness, so many children without someone gazing on them with love and joy.

I was at the grocery store this morning (yes on a Saturday–but it was a quick in, quick out–it was SATURDAY after all), and I saw a Mama and daughter shopping together throughout the store.  The daughter wasn’t much older than our Princess.  At one point I saw the Mama throw her head back and laugh and then hug her daughter with a side embrace. As she looked down at her girl, love shining in her eyes, the Mama told her precious girl, “Oh you are so funny!”

It was enough to bring tears to my eyes.  The love in that Mama’s gaze.  I’ve seen that.  Every time my Mama looked at me.  Right up to the last time, when she wrinkled her nose in her “I love you” language, unable to say those three words out loud.

My Mama firmly believed that every child should be wanted and loved.  She loved each of hers so very much, and I don’t see how any of us could have ever doubted it.  Oh she fussed and she gave us one more chewing out on more than one occasion, but I never doubted my Mama loved me.  Ever.

And the fact that there are children who do have doubts–who cannot be sure that they are loved–and the fact that there are parents who love their children so very much but cannot provide the basic necessities…..

My heart and mind aches.

It’s like having the flu, but it’s in my soul.

And there doesn’t seem to be a cure for it.

I like to peruse the titles of books.  Sometimes I go to Doubleday’s website and just look at book covers and titles and wonder how the writers chose the design, the fonts, but mostly the words in their titles.  What about those words encompassed the meaning they were trying to convey?

Tonight I saw a title of a book that gave me pause.

Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good by Jan Karon.

I have no idea about the story, though I have read some of her books.

This is about what those words said to me.

Somewhere safe with somebody good

somewhere where there is enough food,

where love is plentiful, and there is enough so that just enough dreams

that float around through those little ones’ heads and hearts

can come true–

just enough so that hope is not lost forever.

Somewhere safe with somebody good,

someone who will fight tooth and nail and lion, tiger, or bear

to provide for and keep the little ones safe.

Somewhere safe with someone good

who will always gaze upon them with love,

so that even when the one who loved is gone,

the ones left behind will still feel the warmth

of that love.  Always.

Somewhere safe with somebody good–

that’s my Christmas wish.

For my little ones and for all little ones, young and old,

who share this earth with me–

somewhere safe with somebody good.

So that the doubts and fears and hunger pains

and sorrow over dreams that never came to be

will dissipate and never be a part of this life for the

precious little ones again.

That’s it.

It is all so overwhelming that I don’t even know where to start.

And so I pick up the one starfish I see, and I throw it back in the ocean.

And I pray that on Christmas morning the little one will look around

and know that he is loved,

that she is treasured,

and the seed of hope will once again be planted

in their little hearts and souls.

I pray that there will

always be a caring someone there to tend that seed and

help it to continue blooming and growing.

May we all get a chance to plant a seed of hope for someone today.

Love to all.

 

 

Making Do

Black bean burgers.

Yu-ummmmm.  I was so craving one.  On account of my sister Mess Cat talking about making her own a few weeks back, I made up a recipe and cooked some last week.  And they were some kind of good.

And I wanted more.

I went to the pantry in search of black beans.  Are you kidding me?  I ate them all already?

Well shoot.

This is what I get for not keeping a running grocery list like my Mama did.

All I could find were pinto beans.

I shrugged.  Well, when that’s what you have…..

"Making do" with pinto beans instead of black beans.  Use what you got, right?

“Making do” with pinto beans instead of black beans. Use what you got, right?

As I was mixing them up, I thought about something Mama said all those years.

They weren’t black bean burgers, but we’d “make do.”

Not looking too shabby actually.

Not looking too shabby actually.

And I laughed.

Maybe that’s why Mama said she was flexible.  She had a lifetime of “making do.”  In the first year she and Daddy moved to Peach County when I was quite small, they didn’t have a stove.

Just think about that.  No stove.  No microwave.  She had a little electric hot plate that she used to cook on.  A whole summer of this.  And then they got their first stove.  She was happy about her new stove, but she’d gotten by–because she made do.

When one of vehicles went kaput and they couldn’t get another one right away, I remember Mama driving Daddy to work so she could pick us up from school later.  They made do.

She sewed a lot of our clothes in the early years, and she made do with what fabric she could get.

When it came time to make something and she didn’t have a certain ingredient, she would figure it out and make do.

Sounds like she was into sacrificing, doesn’t it?

But she wasn’t.  She was so joyful most of the time.  Not Pollyanna exactly, but probably a first cousin.  She could find joy in the simplest or smallest of things. She did it with grace and a thankful heart.  On Mama “making do” looked like appreciation and ingenuity.   And her example of making do is a gift that I’m just now really growing to appreciate.

Because of her, I don’t take things sitting down.  If I have it in my head to do something, and I don’t have exactly what I need, I can come up with another way to make it happen and “make do.”  I think “making do” might be the mother of creativity.  Making do has created some pretty awesome school projects and costumes over the years.  Don’t have something?  Okay, let’s take what we have and make it work.

Tonight I’m thankful for a Mama who taught me the gift of making do.  I think it’s close relations to “appreciating what you have.”  A few of the thrifty folks out there have a tagline–“shop at home first.”  Mama was all about that way before it became the “thing” to do.  Making do was all about being frugal, a good steward, and being responsible.

Making do–it’s not a sacrifice, it’s a beautiful way of life.

 

My "Make Do" burgers.  Delicious.  And look at Miss Sophie photobombing, hoping for a bite.  Sweet girl.

My “Make Do” burgers. Delicious. And look at Miss Sophie photobombing, hoping for a bite. Sweet girl.

And by the way, the pinto bean burgers more than “made do.”  They were delicious.

Love and just enough to make do to all.

 

 

 

What True Love Looks Like

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

Then I woke up and remembered.  Silence.

Oh.  That’s right.

It was just a dream.

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

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

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

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

They both thought that was pretty cool.

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

*absolutely out of left field, that was*

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

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

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

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

Bless her.

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

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

Bless her.  I was watching.  And paying attention.

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

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

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

Love to all.

Not just another January 15

The first January 15 that I ever remember is the one when I was five. 1974. We were at my Granny’s farm. Daddy had cows there, and I absolutely loved them. Mama had asked me to leave them alone and stay out of the pasture, as it was a special day. All kinds of goings on in the house, so after I poked my head in and spoke, I wandered back outside. Before the morning was over, I had found the cows. Yep. Mama wasn’t happy. With three little ones– me, age 5, Sister, age 3, and Mess Cat, 7 months, she had her hands full on a non-special day. But that day…..

it was my Aunt’s wedding day.

I adored her then and still do today. I remember how in awe I was of her that day. She has always been so beautiful, but I still remember how especially beautiful she was that day. And I remember thinking she was so calm finishing putting the roses on her dress. She had crocheted the whole gown. In Tiffany Blue, before Tiffany blue was in style. With beautiful crocheted roses. (And if I have these memories wrong, please forgive me. They’ve been rolling around in there for forty years now.)

Her special day, and I was starting to smell like a cow pattie, or at least a cow. I remember Mama bemoaning that I’d need another bath.

My memory doesn’t recollect that I’d done all that disobeying on my Mama’s birthday. But I had.

January 15 is the day this spunky precious treasure entered the world as well.

Check out my Mama.  The original Princess Leia buns!  Wasn't she a cutie!

Check out my Mama. The original Princess Leia buns! Wasn’t she a cutie!

I don’t remember how old I was when I “got” birthdays other than my own. But I’m hoping maybe by the next year. Mama was born in 1946 in January–her birthday became a light in the midst of the after Christmas blues. Eventually I wanted to make her cake. Over the years I’ve made her pound cakes (more than I can count of those), banana pudding from scratch (her and Great Aunt W’s favorites), and there was the year or two I made White Mountain Cake with lemon glaze (as she loved her citrus, being a born Floridian and she needed to cut back on her cholesterol). I loved baking for her. And vice versa.

She didn’t have the happiest of childhoods, but the amazing thing about my Mama was that no one paid the price for that. Except her I guess. She was an amazing and loving and fun Mama, despite the fact that she had had no example set by her own parents. I credit her grandmother, her aunts and great-aunts, and her mother-in-law, my Granny, for loving her through it and empowering her to be more. She was amazed by their love, and she worked hard. She even went to nursing school for a bit, something which I, a self-diagnosed hypochondriac, always appreciated. (Her usual response–“Tara, it will either get better or it will get worse, and then we’ll know.” Wise woman.)

Mama in her nursing uniform.

Mama in her nursing uniform.

She moved on from there to Valdosta State, where a friend named Cheshire introduced her to “The Joyner,” as he was referred to. Daddy wrote thoughtful and thought-provoking things, and this friend who was friends with Daddy too had already let Mama read his writings. I think it was at a Laundromat that they met for the first time. Where she said, “I could fall madly in love with you Mr. Joyner.” Oh boy. But I’ve already told y’all how that turned out.

Daddy was someone else whose love amazed her. Standing beside his bed, holding his hand, as he took his last breaths, Mama told God how thankful she was for having him in her life, what a beautiful gift he was to her. Y’all. Greater love did not exist. I promise you that. Theirs was one of the greatest love stories, a quiet one, mind you, but a great one.

That's my Great Uncle giving Mama away there.  He had nothing to worry about on that account.  And do you see how she's peeking up at him?  She adored him, and I know he thought she was pretty special too.

That’s my Great Uncle giving Mama away there. He had nothing to worry about on that account. And do you see how she’s peeking up at him? She adored him, thought she’d hit the jackpot in love, and I know he thought she was pretty special too.

They started their life out with Mama about to finish college, but during the spring semester she found out she was pregnant.  The doctors told her that it would be graduating or having a healthy baby. I’m glad she chose the latter, because by the time their first anniversary rolled around, I was a month old.

Mama doing what she did best--loving.  Me and my Mama.  How I miss her every single day.

Mama doing what she did best–loving. Me and my Mama. How I miss her every single day.

Three years later there was Sister, seventeen months after that Mess Cat joined the Fray, with her first words coming out–“My Turn.” Is it any wonder?

A little over four years after Mess Cat was born, and after some sadness and heartbreak, Mama’s Gem was born. Dark haired, blue eyes like his Daddy, Mama’s little cowboy entered into our family. She often talked about the first time she heard the song “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” with the line “Don’t let ’em pick guitars and ride in old trucks.” My baby brother had just gone on his first ride with Daddy…..in Daddy’s old truck. She knew she was in trouble then.

Mama who considered us her gifts--it was she who was our greatest gift.

Mama who considered us her gifts–it was she who was our greatest gift.

She loved her birthday cakes. Or maybe she was indulging me. I just know she is the reason I bake now. She let me mess up (as long as I cleaned it up) and use her cookbooks and experiment. I love baking because of her and my Granny.

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That Bassett Hound candle was originally on my cake.  I don't think we ever lit him, so he would show up from time to time like an old friend or a comfortable shoe.  I'd forgotten using him for her cake that year.

That Bassett Hound candle was originally on my cake. I don’t think we ever lit him, so he would show up from time to time like an old friend or a comfortable shoe. I’d forgotten using him for her cake that year.

Mama was an incredible cook. The whole time we were in Japan, I heard from my Aub that my food was okay, but it just wasn’t Maemae’s. I know baby girl, I know. Mama didn’t always have a lot to work with, but she made some delicious food from scratch and we never went hungry. (Unless there were mushrooms in the spaghetti and I just couldn’t deal with it that night. Let me amend that–if we went hungry, it wasn’t Mama’s fault.)

This is her "Don't take that picture--I mean it" face.  Ha.  We always did anyway.

This is her “Don’t take that picture–I mean it” face. Ha. We always did anyway.

The next round of January 15’s saw Mama gaining more children. She and Daddy have sponsored children through the Pearl S. Buck Foundation since I was born–even when times were lean. It just mattered to them to help others. Always. So they welcomed others into their home from time to time. And then they started gaining children-in-law. For Mama, that in-law part didn’t matter. In her heart, she now had four daughters (plus one more she loved like a daughter) and four sons, and she loved them just as fiercely as she did her own children she’d given birth to. As a matter of fact there were times when I suspected she loved my Fella more than she loved me. (Surely I was mistaken here. Ahem.) She found things to love about each one of us, and never stopped right up to her last breath.

Then the grandchildren started arriving. She would tell anyone who would listen and even folks who would not how GRAND being a grandmother was. She loved it. She was made for the part. Aub and I lived with them for a period of time, and though I know it wasn’t easy, she balanced being a grandmother with being more than that very well. I am so thankful for that. Each one of my children has precious memories of her, and for that I give thanks. Mama has fifteen (plus three who loved her as their Maemae too) grandchildren now, two of whom she gave a kiss and a hug to before they joined this world. They were her greatest treasures. Always.

Mama and Aub.  Sewing on her machine.  They loved each other to pieces--they were like two peas in a pod.  So thankful Mama was so much a part of her growing up.

Mama and Aub. Sewing on her machine. They loved each other to pieces–they were like two peas in a pod. So thankful Mama was so much a part of her growing up.

Over the years we gave Mama different gifts on January 15 (and later some years–it’s a rule, we celebrate birthdays all week long, sometimes longer). But the gift she gave us whenever she saw us was that smile. Even in the hospital when she was in so much pain, she would try to give us that smile. And the wrinkle of her nose that said, “I love you.”

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Oh Mama, yes woman, you are FABULOUS!

Oh Mama, yes woman, you are FABULOUS!

She loved reading. Especially children’s books. Her favorite thing, next to spending time with her family, was reading to the children in my Joyful friend’s class and her friend’s class over the years. They adopted Maemae as theirs and loved the books she shared, the animation in her voice, and the science experiments she would bring to show them. She loved children. She believed that every child deserved to be wanted and loved. God bless her, she tried to do it all herself sometimes. And as for us, the four who called her Mama first, she loved us and spoiled us rotten, never letting us forget about the switch bush right outside the door. Who was her favorite? I claimed it, just ask the nurses and doctors at the hospital.  But if you asked her, she’d tell you, “My favorite is the one I’m with right at this moment.” You gotta love diplomacy, don’t you?

Last January 15 we didn’t get to celebrate or party. My little guy, Cooter, was sick. Our Princess had ballet and tap that afternoon. Mama herself had been in pain herself since Sunday, two days before. Mama had told me all she wanted for her birthday was fluorescent light bulbs to replace the ones over her dining room table. They were doing that annoying flashing thing and it was time. Mama, not feeling good, sicker than any of us–including her–realized, did not feel up to going to Lowe’s and picking them out. She asked me if I would. “That can be my present,” she said. “You pick them out. Put them on my card. My gift is I don’t have to get out and get them.” She was going to ask her neighbor or Leroy to help her change them out.

Our Princess and I darted in Lowe’s that afternoon, hurrying and scurrying and then there were all these choices. Different colors of fluorescent lighting?  Who knew?  I mean, I thought a light was a light. Alas, no. Fingers crossed that I’d chosen well, but keeping the receipt in case I hadn’t, we checked out and hurried over to Blackberry Flats, leaving only a short time to visit before dance started.

I don’t even think we went all the way into the house. Mama really wasn’t up for company, and she knew we had to go. I hugged her and encouraged her to call me or the doctor if things weren’t better. I put the lights in the laundry room, and we made party plans for Friday. Friday and Stevi B’s pizza–it was a party date. We just knew everyone would be feeling better by then.

Only that wasn’t to be. Mama never saw those lights put up, though Leroy replaced them the following Saturday. I’ve thought about it a lot today. Do I regret the time at Lowe’s that kept us from visiting a few more minutes with Mama that day? Before everything started?

My answer, strangely enough, is no.

Mama believed in taking care of business. Getting things done. I think having those bulbs where she was then back in control of them being changed out was a gift that she needed. And the truth is, while I can’t call her up and ask her what on earth I should be doing or saying or thinking about this or that or the next fire that starts, I feel like she is still very much with me. Believe me, I wish I could hear her voice out loud, even if only over a “Speak to Your Loved One in Heaven” app or something like that, just for a few minutes. But this morning, when I was taking Miss Sophie out for her morning constitutional, I wished Mama a Happy Birthday and told her I love her.

And I swanee, I could hear her in my heart, where it really matters, whisper back:

“I love you too, baby girl.”

And that will do for this January 15.

Me and Mama, decked out in our best 70's fashion.  Pretty sure she made much of what we are wearing.  In case you haven't gathered this by now, I LOVE THIS WOMAN.  Always.

Me and Mama, decked out in our best 70’s (or 80’s?) fashion. Pretty sure she made much of what we are wearing. In case you haven’t gathered this by now, I LOVE THIS WOMAN. Always.

Happy Birthday, Mama! Thank you for everything.

Take Me Home, Kermit

This afternoon the crew and I were over at Leroy’s and Mess Cat’s house for a bit.  My littles were playing with Shaker, running through playing some game that kept them entertained and getting along.

*Win*

At one point, our Princess came running through carrying something and the boys were chasing her.  She stopped next to me, poised the bundle she was carrying just so and said in this special little voice, “It’s not easy being me.”

I looked over and laughed.

She had taken the Kermit the Frog that Shaker got for Christmas and wrapped his arms and legs all around him until he looked like what she deemed “Baby Kermit.”  She has played with this little critter every single time we’ve been at their house since Christmas.  It made me smile that she has such a fascination with him.  I think maybe it’s because of the movie trailers for the new Muppet movie “Muppets Most Wanted” coming out on March 21.  My crew wants to see it because “Daddy loves the Muppets.”

As I was thinking about Kermit and all of the Muppets this evening, my mind wandered to John Denver.

Yes, Rocky Mountain High.  That guy.

He was a guest star on The Muppets and then had two television specials with them.  He developed a lifelong friendship with Jim Henson, you know, the Muppets guy.   I think John Denver’s version of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” with the Muppets is the best one ever.  Hands down.  (I heard that song referred to as the “100 Bottles” song of Christmas, and I nearly laughed myself silly.  True.)

I started thinking of John Denver and his music and his untimely death at age 53 in 1997.  He was born the same year as my Daddy.  I grew up with his music.  When we had the awesome backyard Barbie Wedding about thirty-something years ago, my Aunt had a tape of “Annie’s Song” that we played during the wedding (or maybe as the Wedding March?  the brain’s a bit foggy).  That was a great day, as evidenced by the ease with which my mind and heart travelled back to it, with just the mention of John Denver’s name and legacy.

As I played through his other songs in my mind, I thought about Japan.  Yes, Japan.  When we were preparing to leave after our two and half year wonderful, awesome tour there at Yokota and Fuchu Air Bases outside of Tokyo, the Fella’s cohorts from the Japanese Base–Fuchu–threw a Hawaiian themed get-together for us and the other family moving away.  It was at the home of one of the Japanese officers.  All of our friends were decked out in their Hawaiian finest–shirts, leis, and the like.  Our greatest surprise, however, was when they gathered around and our dear friend began to sing, in his best, only slightly broken English, “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” which, bless him, came out something like, “I’m reabing on a jet prane, don’t know when I be bock again, oh babe I hate to goooo.”  Bless.  Him.  That’s another great memory.  I will never hear that song and not think of our good friends  and great times in Japan.  And the gift they gave us by singing that song and making the night and our whole time there so very special.

And then, as I thought a little longer about John Denver, I naturally started thinking about my Mama.

Oh take me home, country roads.

My Mama loved that boy.

As I write this, I have “Take Me Home, Country Roads” playing.  Only it’s not John Denver’s voice I hear singing it.

It’s my Mama’s.

She LOVED. That. Song.

It was maybe about twenty years ago that she got a CD of his.  Maybe his greatest hits?  She loved to play it.  When she was mopping, when she was cooking, when she was doing whatever, she loved his music.  But when she loved most to play it was when she was rocking her first grandbaby to sleep in her chair in the living room.

The CD player sat (and still does) on the corner of her big desk in the den.  Around the corner was the door to the living room, where she and Daddy each had a rocker/recliner chair.  Mama would carry our baby girl in there and if she’d forgotten to press play, she’d call out for me or Daddy to do so.  And she’d start singing.  Right along with Mr. John Denver.  Sometimes she’d sing louder to drown out the cries of a tired baby who never wanted to go to sleep for fear of missing out on something.  I might be wrong but I think that “Take Me Home, Country Roads” was the first song on the CD.  I remember Mama would measure how long it took her to get Aub down for a nap by how many songs it would take.  “She was out before ‘Take Me Home’ was all the way through!”  That was a triumph indeed.  I think my baby girl loved her some John Denver too.  John Denver a la her Maemae.

And that’s where my thoughts landed and stayed.  With my Mama.  Not that a day goes by that I don’t think about her.  It’s just interesting the twists and turns my brain takes each day to travel back to be with her again.

So today I’m thankful for Kermit and my Princess’ fascination with him.  I’m especially thankful for Mr. John Denver who has been on this journey with me most of my life.  I’m thankful for friends who used his song to remind us we were loved and appreciated.  Most of all, I’m thankful for his song that let me hear my Mama’s voice once more.  How I miss her and her…..well, every single thing about her.  Even the way she’d call me on stuff I’d rather not be called on.  Yes, every single thing.

Tonight as I was reminiscing and listening to his old songs I love, I came across a new one I’d never heard before by “JD” as Daddy sometimes called him.  (He also called him by his real name Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr.)  In it I heard words that touched my heart and helped me feel Mama’s hug, to hold her hand, one more time.

From “The Wings That Fly Us Home” by Joe Henry and John Denver:

The vision of your goodness will sustain me through the cold.
Take my hand now to remember when you find yourself alone: you are never alone.

 

Amen.

“The Little Lights, They’re Not Twinkling”

Y’all have all seen the movie, right?  National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?  In the scene where Clark W. Griswold has been working so long and hard to hang lights all over the outside of their house, and finally, after one mishap, then another and another, the lights are on.  Power is diminished in the town, and the Griswold home can likely be seen from space.  And the sheer delight and joy on Clark’s face as he wishes each family member, wife, children, parents, in-laws, and Cousin Eddie a Merry Christmas!  It is magical.

And in the midst of his joy and peace, Clark’s father-in-law Art, after Clark has wished him a Merry Christmas and thanked him for being there to celebrate with his family, says, “The little lights.  They’re not twinkling.”

Sigh.  I always find myself sighing for poor Clark.

“Thanks for noticing, Art.”

Poor Clark.

He worked so hard to make this Christmas magical for those he loves, and what he gets is a bit short of the appreciation he deserves.

I understand his letdown.

Speaking of Christmas shows, has anyone seen Alvin and the Chipmunks’ Christmas?  In it Alvin gives away his special harmonica to a very sick little boy in the hopes it will lift his spirits and help him get well.  He doesn’t tell Dave, who is expecting Alvin to perform with his harmonica at the Christmas concert.  When Alvin goes to the store in the hopes of buying another one, he finds he cannot afford it.  A sweet “little old lady” comes up and, for reasons I missed because I was doing the dishes, tells Alvin that it would help her and bring her joy to buy the harmonica for a young fellow and would he let her buy it for him?  Problem solved.  At the very end of the show, Santa Claus makes his trip and goes home, walking into the living room where Mrs. Claus sits knitting in front of the fire.  She asks how his trip was, and he tells her it was good, she really should come with him sometime, she needs to get out of the house.  She tells him oh no, she’ll leave all that to him.  And then as he starts snoozing, she turns around and looks at the camera and winks.  And it’s HER.

Magic.  Right there.

My oldest talks about her “spirit animal” and makes me laugh when she tells me who it is.  Well.

So yeah. Walt Disney is my spirit animal.

Actually a combination of him and Mrs. Claus.  With maybe a little Clark thrown in for good measure.

I love being a part of the making of the magic.

Of creating and orchestrating it.  Of lighting things up.

It’s my favorite part of the whole Christmas experience.  Probably why I’m up until 3 a.m. most years.  The staging and creating and setting up the magic.  Wanting it to be just so.  After weeks of preparation, it all comes down to this night.

And then, Christmas morning comes all too soon.  (Well not according to my children, but you know.)  And while their little eyes dance and the house is filled with laughter and the smell of apple cider and the sound of creative play and working together to build and tell stories, the magic is like fire it is so bright.  It is like the moment when the Griswold house is finally all lit up.  (I can almost hear the Hallelujah chorus, or at least “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” playing in my head.)

And then the day after comes.  December 26.  I put the Christmas music on to play, and I clean up the aftermath of the meals from the day before.  (Yes, I filled the sink and left it.  Don’t judge.  It happens–just keeping it real.)  And for whatever reason, I feel like Clark, when Art points out one small thing missing in the midst of all the beauty.  And my heart is heavy.  The tears want to come, and I’m not quite sure why.

So if you are like me, and the day of December 26 is hard for you, know you are not alone.  I understand.  I envy those who have extended family to celebrate with and continue their “Christmas-ing” on through the weekend.  We went to eat with Mess Cat and her family tonight, and it was fun, but I did not hear a single “Merry Christmas” anywhere.  I’m the weirdo who wants to keep saying it straight through to January 6, Epiphany.  But I didn’t.  I just didn’t.

Maybe that’s exactly why the person who wrote the Twelve Days of Christmas wrote it.  I looked and could not find who it was attributed to, but maybe it was someone who needed to carry on with the joy and the magic and the lights for more than just one day.

Tonight I wish for you, if you are struggling with a Christmas that didn’t quite go as planned–the lights didn’t twinkle as advertised, a gift didn’t go over as you’d hoped, someone you care about didn’t make time to visit, you feel lost and sad as you’re missing someone this Christmas, or you just don’t even know what it is, just know that something’s out of place today–know that it is okay.  It’s not a good feeling, but you are not alone.  You’re not crazy or sick or maladjusted.  (Or if you are, there’s at least two of us.)  Even if it’s because you didn’t get the one thing you would have really loved to receive as a gift, it’s okay, you are not selfish.  You are human. We really set ourselves up, don’t we?  The Walt Disneys and Mrs. Clauses and Clark Griswolds and the Merry Magic Makers of the world.  We work hard to make beautiful and fun things happen, to create the “holiday experience” that we hope will bring joy to others, sometimes even for folks we have never met.  And then in the end, we are left with an empty theater, a sleeping Santa and elves, dirty cookie sheets in the sink, and someone to point out the one thing or several that didn’t go as planned.  (And sometimes that someone is our very own selves.)  And today our hearts hurt for what we didn’t get to do, for what there wasn’t time or resources to make happen, for the Christmas books not read, the homemade gifts or ornaments or cookies not made, the movies not watched, the visits not planned–all of the things we told ourselves back late December last year or this November would happen.  This Christmas would be different.

Grace, my friends, grace.  For you and for me.  It’s okay.

I’m trying to tell myself it’s okay that the lights aren’t twinkling, despite my best, frantic efforts.  (Yes, some days I did feel like Clark when he was swinging from the ladder with no one to spot him.)  I’m trying not to set up grand expectations for next year.  It’s all about making the magic the best I can in that moment.  And if the lights don’t twinkle, then well, maybe I need to step outside the box and open and close my eyes really fast.  You know, come up with another way to make it happen.  And other things I just have to let go.

Because I think that people don’t remember Walt Disney’s flops as much as they do the great ones–like Mary Poppins (yes the new movie is on my want to do list).  I’m betting Clark’s family didn’t remember years later that the lights didn’t twinkle that year.  After all, it was amazing!  And I’m hoping that I will be able to hold on to the magic that did happen this year, and not think about all the things I couldn’t or didn’t make happen.  After all, Mrs. Claus is only one person, same as you and me.  Don’t be down because not everyone recognized your efforts. Or be disappointed in yourself.  The most important thing is to love on folks as best we can.  And as often as we can.

That’s the magic I remember most about my Mama.  She could make any moment magical with her love and generosity and a laugh that could shake her whole body when she got really tickled.  Tonight, as I close my eyes and hope for sleep to come, that’s what I will remember and think about.  And give thanks for.  Because while I am sure that missing her is part of where the blues from today are coming from, I know that she would have none of that.  “Let’s make it a happenin’!” she’d say when we needed something to boost our spirits.  My friends who are struggling today, know you are loved, no matter what holiday magic you were or were not able to create. No matter what you are carrying on your hearts and minds.  Go and love on somebody that needs you.  Let someone love on you.  And share some laughter.  And most of all, let someone close to you know they matter.  That is a gift we all really want, isn’t it?  Best of all, it’s free for the giving.

And hey, don’t worry about those little lights not twinkling…..if they’re on at all you done good, Clark, real good.  😉    (…..and if they’re not, I won’t tell.  ‘Course in my book, you still have ten days left to turn them on…..only if you want to)

Merry Christmas to all!

(there, I said it, and it felt great!)