Y’all just look at that purple!

Sunday afternoon found us at my Aunt’s house.  A place of sanctuary and peace for me.  Maybe partly because it’s a place to go that Mt. Washmore doesn’t threaten to take me down nor is the sink threatening to erupt from all the dirty dishes.  But mostly I think it feels that way for me because it’s a place where things settle and grow–flowers, vegetables, fruit, animals, children, and souls.  It’s a place to set a spell and just visit.  And I love that they let me do that.

It was a beautiful day.  The littles always head immediately to the swings.  My Princess had already been told by my Cousin to ask his Mama, my Aunt, if she could pick the flowers.  They have such beautiful daffodils around the trunks of many of the pecan trees out there.  I was sure she wouldn’t want them picked, but when Princess asked, my Aunt told her to pick all she wanted.

Gracious.

Princess smiled the biggest smile and headed off to pick some flowers.  She passed by every bunch of daffodils and headed straight for the purple “flowers” over near the garden.  She skipped as she went, the bounce in her step showing her joy.  She had no idea she was about to pick what many would call “weeds.”

My Aunt looked astonished and then we both began laughing.  That’s how it goes, isn’t it?  You put time and energy and effort into something and it’s the thing that you had very little or nothing to do with that knocks people’s socks off.

Been there.  Some nights I sit and ponder and edit and worry and obsess and really pour sweat and tears into what I write, and it sits there commentless and nothing happens.  And then I write something about an earthworm on the sidewalk outside or vent about things when I have a splitting headache and folks respond whole-heartedly.  I’m not complaining, mind you, and neither did my Aunt.  It’s just one of those things that makes you laugh about how the world works.

It’s been a while, maybe even two years ago, since my Pastorfriend shared this but it stays with me, especially this time of year.  She shared a line from “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker.

I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about.  But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back. –Alice Walker, “The Color Purple”

I think she’s right.  About it all.  And ever since my friend shared this with us, I have made it my job to notice purple fields.  Weeds or no, they are beautiful.   When I see them, I call out, “Purple!” and inevitably one of us will say, “Good job, God!”  I love the fields of purple.  Beauty coming from an unexpected place.  I embrace that and give thanks for it.

Just like today.

Our Princess' bouquet she picked for me today.  I don't have a picture of the beautiful purple bouquet from Sunday.

Our Princess’ bouquet she picked for me today. I’m sad I don’t have a picture of the beautiful purple bouquet from Sunday.

We stopped by my Aunt’s again this afternoon, and I hope it becomes a habit.  (Hope they mean it when they say y’all come back now.)  We were pulling carrots and talking about nothing and everything and swinging and picking more flowers.  Princess thinks she might become a florist, and I think she has an eye for it.  As my bag was nearing full, my Aunt asked if we’d like any onions.

Onions?

That makes me tear up.  And not because they’re, well, you know, onions.

I love onions.

I love their bottoms and their tops.  I love the way they taste and everything about them.  When I was in college two of my classmates were cooking in the dorm kitchen on second floor.  It smelled heavenly.  When I walked by and said so, one said, “Oh, it’s just onions so far, but we’re adding meat and making spaghetti.”  The other said, “My Mama always said, if you need folks to think you’re cooking something delicious but you haven’t got it together yet, throw an onion in the skillet and you’ll buy yourself some time.”  (Usually for me it’s time to figure out what exactly I’m going to fix for this crew, but yes, someone always says, “Supper smells good.”  Thanky, thanky very much.)

When we pulled up the first one, Cooter came over and said, “Can I pull one too?”  These were a little more stubborn than the carrots had been.  My Aunt pointed out that maybe she should have brought the trowel to make it easier, which made so much more sense than what I first thought I heard her say–a towel.  (Well, maybe it would have helped us grip a little better and not pull the greens off?  I’m just sayin.)  I helped him get one out of the ground, or maybe he helped me.  Anyway, I stood up and offered it to him.

“Smell it,” I told him.  “That’s what springtime in Georgia smells like.”

And it does.

The beautiful onions we pulled today.  The smell of spring.

The beautiful onions we pulled today. The smell of spring.

The flowers are lovely and beautiful and their smell is pretty.  But I’ll leave that nectar to the hummingbirds and bees and yellowjackets and Billy bees that will be buzzing around all too soon.  As far back as I can remember, I have loved the smell of wild onions growing in a field behind Blackberry Flats.  Or out at my Granny’s.  Or when I’d catch a whiff of them, going down a highway, with them growing in the median or on the shoulder of the road.

It’s almost as a good as a tea olive–it’s a balm for the soul.

Today, a day that started off with rain and worries over numbers and things that set my head to spinning and my heart to craving simpler times, by afternoon was filled with the things of soul tanning.  Sunshine, gorgeous cerulean sky straight from a Maxfield Parrish painting (oh y’all), green is starting to show more and more, folks helping other folks, laughter (thank you Lord), and the smell of fresh picked onions.

"Ecstasy" by Maxfield Parrish from maxfieldparrish.info  I once had a sweatshirt with this painting on the front.  This work of art has always touched my heart.

“Ecstasy” by Maxfield Parrish from maxfieldparrish.info I once had a sweatshirt with this painting on the front. This work of art has always touched my heart.

Oh me.  What a day.

On the way home the purples were more vivid, and the sun was more golden, and it occurred to me that this time next week, we will have more sunlight to enjoy.  Well, maybe not, but still…..as much as I love me a gray, rainy day, I do love me some beautiful barefeet weather.  And not to have to rush to have time to get supper done and walk Miss Sophie because we have more time in the evening? Well, I say bring it.

Wishing you all a purple field and the heart and soul to appreciate it.

Love to all.

Because I didn’t send a card in time…..

When she awakes in the morning and reads this, as she does so faithfully everyday, it will be her birthday.  This is part of celebrating her birthday “all week long” as Mama learnt us to do all these years (It’s also because not only did I forget the peaches, I also forgot the card.   And Cooter deleted the picture of the flowers I took that I was going to send.  *sigh*)

My first memory of her

is reaching up to take her hand

as she takes me for a walk down that old dirt road

and she smiles

the smile that has not changed once

over all the years

The smile that gave me comfort

and filled me with love

still does today

as recently as a few hours ago

She shared with me her love of reading,

of books, of yarn, of General Foods International Coffee

Irish Mocha Mint

(I felt quite grown up and proper, you know)

and of all things English

It was her name on the paper

We would be hers if “anything” happened

A promise to them she took seriously

and still does–there is never a time she doesn’t answer

She tells me stories of my Daddy

how he let her curl up next to him on his bed

while he was reading

How he read to her

(I wonder if she knows how much her big brother’s face always lit up

when he mentioned her name)

How he took her to a book store and ignited her love for reading too

Just as she took me all those years ago

I spent $3.85 and fell in love with having books on my shelf

A love that has filled my heart and my home

thank you

She makes me laugh and listens well,

a gift beyond measure

I see him and others in her eyes

and her voice is home to me

She was Mama’s friend,

the first day of school celebration with “Jeremiah Johnson,”

was that every year, I wonder

She listened and weeped with Mama and laughed over the

antics and joys of having grands

And when the time came she stood around a bed, not once

but twice, she loved them too

so very much

While on this journey she has offered carrots, advice, corn, onions, help,

sweet potatoes, newspapers, new potatoes, squash, beans, hugs, flowers, tears, and

Love

And cupcake tins are okay to use without the liner, you know, and

puppies in heat, well, good luck with that *smile*

And bail money?  “I got it, do what you gotta do”

She has sat by my side and said, “It’s okay” when I just couldn’t anymore

And she has looked at me and said “You are your Mama’s daughter”

more than once

and those words that once would have made me cringe

thirty years ago or twenty or ten

Are the greatest of all gifts to me now

She has hugged me and held me

And crossed her fingers and talked to God for me

She has remembered with me and

Sat in the dark with me, showing up

when I needed her most, always

She is a Mama, a Grandmother, a sister, wife, friend, and daughter

But forever and always, she was my first true love,

the first person I remember loving outside of the people who gave me life

and still today, her name means LOVE to me

Grace personified, a beautiful soul

who knows me and calls me by name

who loves me and gives me hope and

who knows a lot about math–

we had the same teacher you know, years apart–

multiplying the joys and dividing the sorrows,

she’s really good at both

I’m afraid that I need to learn another language

to find the right words, enough words,

to express how full she makes my heart

She would probably want me to say here, at some point,

“she is not perfect”

and there it is for any who believe it

but what matters is

She is a gift that God gave the world,

to show us the peace and wonder and light

there is in the midst of all the brokenness

She is a reminder that we are loved

And that will do for a birthday Monday

Sometimes you’ll stumble – sometimes you’ll just lie down
    Sometimes you’ll get lonely – with all these people around
    You might shiver when the wind blows – and you might get blown away
    You might lose a little color – you might lose a little faith

      We are each other’s angels – we meet when it is time
      We keep each other going – and we show each other signs

Tonight I had the privilege of hearing David LaMotte play live at The Light at Bare Bulb Coffee.  Hearing him play was the only thing that tore me away from visiting with my  Aunt, who makes me laugh and hears me cry.  And hears me laugh and makes me cry.  (in a good way) I am glad I did.  It was while sitting, listening to him perform this song “We Are Each Other’s Angels,” that I thought about her and her birthday and who she is.   She is my Angel.  She is a blessing. And I love her.

Happy Birthday!  And as Mama would say, Happy Everyday!  Love you.

this too shall pass

It’s a little hard to explain.  But here goes.

The tasks that are before me, the ones that take up so many “just a few minutes” in my day-to-day–the ones that are mine because she asked me if I would and I said yes–I do not regret having them to do.  I am honored that she asked and humbled by her choice.  And determined to do it right and make her proud.

So I do not begrudge the time it takes.  Or the energy.  Or the emotions.

I just get overwhelmed sometimes.  It’s a little bit here and a little more there.  Wait on this to happen, but I have to make that happen.

It seems like I might never have a conversation that doesn’t involve numbers or papers or decisions.  An irrational thought, but it feels that way nonetheless.

And then today…..in a conversation with a very wise and dear soul, I heard these words that give me hope.  I did hear them.  But it wasn’t until I was stirring the pot on the stove that I heard them replay in my mind, and they floated down to my heart and started soaking in.

“One day…..one day you will look back on all of this

and it will be behind you.” 

Oh, my aching heart!  Yes.  This.  Please.

And tonight, as supper was finishing itself up and I stood lost in thought, I saw that as a possibility for the first time ever.  There WILL be a time when I won’t be handling all of these details and bills and making all of these decisions.  It.  Will.  Come.  One day we might all get to sit and talk and remember and laugh together, without the decisions that need to be made rushing to the forefront, spoiling the stories that beg to be remembered and told just one more time.  We can remember without deciding.  Laugh without returning to the somber job of putting a life to rest.

After the sweet, quiet, wise words of this one who has guided me through so much of this journey, I heard another’s words, the words of the one who didn’t want to leave and leave all this to be done, but who had no choice.  I heard her wisdom too.  In words she said many times over the years.

“This too shall pass, Sugar Tag.”

Oh, Mama.  It’s okay that it hasn’t, but thank you, thank you for those words tonight.  And thank you for helping me really hear what the other one I love was saying today.  I’m hardheaded (yes, I’m admitting it) and I don’t always listen like I should.  But tonight, I hear you both.  And I give thanks for the hope that opened up and let a little light into my heart.

It gives me just enough strength to think about what comes next.  What I need to do to finish this up, so we can move on to the celebrating of your life.  Because that is what you deserve.  To be celebrated.  And loved. Always.

Love you both.  Thanks for everything.

Feeling Sanctimonious Around Here

So after waking up in the wee hours of the morning to hear the cats frolicking outside as they do, I fell back asleep.  I knew things were headed south with the condition of my nose and the passages therein.  I woke up enough to tell my oldest goodbye as she headed off to work.  Then I dozed.  And finally woke up to the stirrings and requests for breakfast of my littles.  I looked the clock.

9:30

Say what?

I could not believe my eyes, but yes, that was the correct time, even after rubbing them and putting on my glasses (after working to find them–that whole “I need my glasses to see where I put my glasses”–ahem).

I felt pretty awful.

At least a tad bad.

But the laundry was piling up and the sink was too, so I unloaded and loaded and washed and folded and then pretty much crashed around lunchtime.  The symptoms I had figured were allergies for others in my house?  Pretty much thinking I misdiagnosed, and this bad boy is a COLD.

How did that even happen?  I’ve been eating fresh vegetable soup all week.

Sigh.

Anyway, I did lay down to rest this afternoon, hoping to give the old immune system a boost.  It didn’t last long.  My mind was on my freezer.  And peaches.

My favorite variety of peaches are ready.  Now.  For a limited time.  I’ve been known to go down to the farm and get five boxes of peaches and put them up in the freezer over the next few days.  We canNOT be without peaches during the winter.  It made me laugh one day last winter when I served the canned peaches I got on sale (I know, *gasp*) and my little guy who is a peach fanatic, asked, with a sour look on his face, “WHAT are these?”  Yeah, I don’t do that anymore.  Lesson learned.  And I have to say that I am proud that he’s a little peach connoisseur, my little Georgia boy.

So it’s time to go and get my peaches and put them up.  But my freezer.  It’s not so good.  It has needed defrosting for oh, let’s say, about a YEAR.  The ice takes up more space than the food, and the food in there was starting to be frozen together.  This does not work so well.

So today, I felt awful, but I couldn’t rest knowing time is of the essence, so I got my act together, enlisted the help of my Zoo Crew, and we moved food into the small freezer and cooler and went to town trying to get it to defrost as quickly as possible.  So yeah, this happened today.

Feeling pretty good over this much needed job finally being done!

Feeling pretty good over this much needed job finally being done!

And then this.

Only thing left is to move the other things back from the little freezer tomorrow.  Whoo hoo!

Only thing left is to move the other things back from the little freezer tomorrow. Whoo hoo!

Despite feeling yucky, I got it done with the help of my crew.  The wet towels are already headed toward the dryer, and it all only took one phone call to my Aunt to check that I was following the proper procedure.  I’m calling it a win.

Mama had a saying when she got the dusting done (which she despised) or did something she’d been putting off for a while–she’d say she was feeling “sanctimonious.”  I think it got started when Mama called to tell my Great Aunt about her accomplishment one time,  my Aunt W replied, “Aren’t you feeling sanctimonious?”  The first thing I used to do after I mopped my floors or finished all the laundry AND put it away or finished putting up the five boxes of peaches I’d inflicted on my kitchen was to call Mama and tell her.  She was more than Mama, she was my best friend and I wanted to share.  And I knew the first thing she’d say would be just that: “Well aren’t you feeling sanctimonious?”  Yes ma’am.  For sure.

Tonight I was blessed to have my Aunt listen, answer my “technical” question about what I was doing, and say, when I suggested (ahem) I might be feeling sanctimonious, “Well I guess you should be.”  She and Mama shared that too.

Because there’s some things in life you should feel that way about…..like defrosting freezers when you just want to crawl back in bed (or just defrosting them at all–seriously), putting streusel in a pound cake (Imma need that recipe please ma’am), or dusting an entire house when it’s your least favorite task of all.  When we set our minds to something and get it done, isn’t it nice to have someone to share it with,  to pat us on the back, and to cheer us on?

Tonight I’m thankful for a clean freezer with food in it, and the anticipation of putting more in it (whoo hoo, Elberta peaches).  I am grateful for my children to pitch in, the many hands that make a task a little easier.  And I’m thankful for Mama who cheered me on, and for those, who like my Aunt, continue to do so.  Lifting each other up–that’s the good stuff in life.  Just like fresh Georgia peaches, there’s nothing else like it.

Oh Good Grief

Grief.  There’s an odd duck, right?  It’s like that friend you had in school you weren’t quite sure why you were friends, but he was always around, so you had to put up with him.  And he was so unpredictable.  Today you might get along okay, but then tomorrow…..who knows?

Well, thank you, Agent Obvious, for scoping out and sharing that in-depth insight.  Yes, I know, it is obvious.  You’d think none of this would surprise me since I worked with Hospice for over two years, and I learned so much from the precious families I was lucky enough to work with.

And yet, yes, I have been surprised.

Like when I bought this last week at the GW Boutique–

If she were here, Mama would have already washed, ironed, and worn this shirt at least twice since I bought it last week.

If she were here, Mama would have already washed, ironed, and worn this shirt at least twice since I bought it last week.

I bought my Mama a shirt.  Is that crazy?  It’s even her favorite brand.  The thing is, when I was buying it, I thought I was getting it for me.  A navy linen shirt for wearing over a sleeveless top or something like that.  It was after I washed it and was putting it away that it hit me.  If Mama were here, I would have delighted in surprising her with it.  She would have loved it.  The three-quarter length sleeves were her favorites.  I expect she would have worn it with a white top and khaki slacks to the two services and the Sunday School Class she attended at her church each Sunday.  And then she would have called to tell me that she’d worn it and how much she’d enjoyed it.  She was like that.  She loved to tell you when she enjoyed something you’d given her. Don’t get me wrong–if she didn’t care for it, I knew that too.  But over the years, especially in the past four since Daddy got so sick, I’ve gotten better at shopping for her.  And now less so for myself, I guess.  I look at this shirt and wonder if I’ll ever wear it.  And yet, I don’t think I can get give it away just yet.

And then yesterday at our favorite Used Bookstore, I picked up this book.

Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz.  I think Daddy might have enjoyed reading this.

Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz. I think Daddy might have enjoyed reading this.

I did stop short of buying it after it hit me that I was looking at it with Daddy in mind.  He was an eclectic reader; he liked different sorts of books, and this one for sure sounded like an interesting read.  I put it back gingerly, almost patting it in place.  Maybe one day I will read it, but without Daddy to talk about it with, I just don’t know.

I’ve been surprised on this journey of loss and grief on more than one occasion.  Like my first time at the grocery store after Daddy died.  I wandered through somewhat aimlessly and then, going down the sugar aisle, saw some candy that I knew he would love.  I reached for it and then I remembered.  Or my first time in Target after Mama passed.  I had been on a mission to find her a new pair of khaki slacks for quite a while.  As I headed back to pick up what I had come for, I found myself detouring to look for the pants.  And again, I remembered.  Surprised.  I don’t know why our hearts and brains work the way they do, but I find it fascinating that they both can be taken by surprise regarding something I KNOW.

But I’ve also been surprised in good ways.  Surprised by how close I feel to them at times.  Like they are right there in the moment.  Usually it’s when I’m in my car by myself, which is not often.  Once I found myself replying to what I knew Mama had/would have said in that moment.  (That was interesting for anyone around, I’m sure–it was quite an animated conversation, as I recall.)  I also feel close to Daddy when I’m planting or with one of the animals or just outside at all.  I feel close to Mama at her kitchen table.  Or when I’m reading.  Sometimes *whispering* it feels like they aren’t even gone at all.

I’ve been surprised by laughter.  When my Daddy first went in the hospital I told my brother that I would not be able to breathe if anything happened to Daddy.  Some days it’s hard to take one breath after another, but then others, the laughter comes easily.  And hard.  And often.  And I know he would like that.

I’ve been surprised that I can function.  That I can cook the meals and wash the clothes.  TCB’ing, Mama called it, short for taking care of business.  It is when I actually finish doing something, like getting all the clothes washed and put away (before the ones they’re wearing are ready for washing), that I think YES! and know she would be cheering alongside me.  When I actually clean the floors and mop, and I would have called her to hear her say, “Well don’t you feel sanctimonious!”, that’s when I smile.  I know she’s still cheering me on.  I can feel it.

Last summer one of my aunts asked me how I was doing.  I was going out to the cemetery once or twice a week to water the tea olive we’d planted on Daddy’s birthday the previous March.   I told her that when I went out there by myself I felt like laying down next to Daddy’s headstone and just staying put.  She replied, almost immediately:

P.S.  If you want to lie down beside your daddy’s headstone, go for it.  Just be careful of the fire ants.

I love her and her wisdom, this aunt of mine, who has had more to mourn than most.  She made me laugh.  On my very next trip to the quiet little country church cemetery, as I was standing there talking to Daddy and crying and pouring the eight gallons of water from Blackberry Flats over the little tree, I felt a bite.  On my toe.  Great.  I stopped crying long enough to check for more ants.  Seeing none, I went back to my emotional breakdown, talking and crying and pouring, letting out all of the storm raging within.  Then *ouch* a second bite.

I laughed.

How could I not?

I am reminded of Mama’s favorite verses from the Good Book.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  

 a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up

Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 (RSV)

I guess what my aunt and those ants (the irony here is not lost on me) were trying to tell me is there is a time to grieve and break down, and a time to build yourself up, move through it, and take care of business.

Now I just have to work on figuring out which is when.  Preferably without any help from those ants.

Mama wrote this on the back of her Mary Engelbreit Page a Day calendar pages she used for note paper.  She handed it to me to remind me to read it.  I carry it with me in my wallet always.  I am finally starting to get what she was trying to tell me.  Thank you, Mama. <3

Mama wrote this on the back of one of her Mary Engelbreit Page a Day calendar pages she used for note paper. She handed it to me to remind me to read it. I carry it with me in my wallet always. I am finally starting to get what she was trying to tell me. Thank you, Mama.