Thursday, April 14, 2011


Today is bittersweet, as we "celebrate" the 11th anniversary of Mike's passing. There is a deluge of precious memories from the 30 years we had together, and the culminating heartache at the hospital when he slipped through our fingers, into the next and final chapter of his life. I remember the exquisite peace and comfort that comes from knowing we have been sealed in the temple for time and all eternity. Sweet memories are like time-released pain relievers that keep me pressing forward until such time that, if I live worthy, I will join Mike and we will both happily wait for the rest of you to come on home.

Ironically, today also marks the birthday of Mike's daughter from his first marriage, Tracie. I wasn't with him the day she was born, but judging by how thrilled he was when his other children and grandchildren were born, it makes me smile to imagine how excited he must have been with his firstborn. Circumstances did not allow them to remain close over the years, but it never lessened the love he had for Tracie. She is a delightful individual.

Tomorrow is my brother, Dan and his wife, Carolyn's wedding anniversary. It is especially poignant, as they represent a real-life miracle. They've always been perfect for each other, but they endured the grievous refining fire when they lost their only child in a sudden accident. Statistics will show that few couples ever recover from that tragedy. Their relationship today shines and that says a great deal about their faith, amazing strength and love for one another.

When Jen lost Jon, her first husband, she shared a concept with me that she learned, about the good and bad in our lives often being described as valleys and peaks, when in fact, it should be more accurately likened to railroad tracks, running parallel. The good is always present, as is the bad. Our human nature is to dwell more heavily on one or the other, whatever is the more obvious at any given time, but the other is always just as surely there, patiently waiting for details in our lives to change. We are never devoid of things to be grateful for, any more than we are completely without something regrettable in our world.

So today, I'm still missing Michael, but lonesome I am not. My heart is full and I am blessed beyond merit, grateful for all that is good in my life, along with manageable adversity, currently running side by side.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Money For Nothin'

Yesterday, I had occasion to drive my Dad to the VA clinic in Galveston for a follow-up visit from last Monday, when he saw a doctor for inflammation in his lungs. They wanted listen to his lungs again, just to be sure the treatments were working. Since I watch Brennan before school at 12:30pm, I dragged him up there with us. We were running late, of course, so Brennan didn't have time to find a Nintendo or anything with which to occupy himself. He was so patient during the hour-plus trip up, but was getting bored after another hour or so of waiting for Grandpa's turn to go in. We hit the vending machines and plied him with adequate amounts of chocolate and Dr Pepper. He was a happy, happy little man.

I mentioned to my Dad that Brennan could count to 100 without help and that I thought it was pretty good for a four year old. Out of character and to my surprise, Dad dug in his pocket for loose change and gave it to Brennan. I chuckled to myself when he did, thinking "what is he doing?maybe rewarding Brennan for knowing how to count?" Then he proceeded to explain to him how the pennies were worth only one, but a nickel was worth 5 pennies and so on up to a dollar, until I could see Bren, while being respectful, was totally confused. I reminded Daddy that Brennan was only four and was about to rescue him from his Greatgrandpa, when he seemed to be quite content playing with the coins. Next thing I knew, Brennan laid all the coins onto the seat of the chair and was making shapes and letters with the coins. Daddy's appointment was for 8:40am and we finally left the clinic about 11:15am and the majority of the time, Brennan was happily playing with money. Just before we left, Daddy traded him all the dollar's worth of change for currency. I figured Brennan would rather have all the coins to jingle around but when Dad showed him a dollar bill, his face lit up like a pin-ball machine! He spent it wisely. One more trip directly to the fascinating vending machine and he was the proud owner of yet another piece of chocolate for later in the day. We don't need no stinkin' Nintendo!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

I'm At That Point In My Life

I had a chance to yet again watch one of the Indiana Jones movies last night and a quote from a professor caught my attention. "I'm at that point where life seems to stop giving and instead, starts taking away." The question is, why didn't I ever hear it the several times before when I saw the movie? Because it wasn't talking about me before. Now it might be. I've lost my husband, a former husband, my mother, a treasured son-in-law, a young nephew, my step-father, both my parents-in-law, countless friends and other relatives. Many of the activities I used to enjoy are no longer an option for me, due to chronic idiopathic pain in both feet.

That said, I live a relatively comfortable life. My children and grandchildren continue to fill my days with happiness, making me grateful that I am still around. And they help me stay busy. But not as busy as my dad helps me stay. This morning, he came by to enlist me in helping him pick some of the Japanese persimmons he so loves to eat. It turns out that one of my nearby neighbors has a tree which was loaded with fruit that they were not interested in and gave him the go-ahead to pick the tree clean.

When Dad was growing up, those in his family were migrant workers, going from field to field, harvesting fruit trees so, that upbringing, coupled with the passionate disdain that he and I share for wasting anything, explains why we just had to do it. But we are a pair. Picture this . . . he is 87 years old and suffers from macular degeneration (so he can't see), almost total hearing loss and serious arthritis, too serious to consider climbing a ladder, so he picked from the ground. I too experience the delights of arthritis and said foot pain, but to that equation, add vertigo and the intense dislike I have for heights, even an eight foot ladder. However, I'm on it ~ precariously reaching for the fruit above and to either side of me.

It is imperative that you "leave the stem on the fruit" (that's a hilarious story for another day) and scissors are not adequate to cut the woody stems. All I could find was a pair of needle-nose pliers, so I'm looking very proficient up on that ladder, when Dad mentions what we really need is a 22' ladder to get the fruit in the tops of the tree. There is no way. "We need to leave some for the birds, Dad, and I'm not sure it's worth the effort for the 3 or 4 dozen persimmons left." "You may be right" he said. I knew full well at the time that was too easy. Without saying a word, he went to his truck and drove off. I was guessing nature called. When he didn't come back right away, I began to imagine him scouting for a longer ladder, but I was right the first time. Right and relieved. Daddy was too. Anyway, we made a haul and I'm grateful we have a plentiful number of persimmons to eat and share. As he drove away, he did mention that he knows someone with a tall ladder that would be glad to come and get those few surviving persimmons. I knew it was too easy!

The whole time we're picking, my thoughts drift to the many occasions Daddy has kept me busy. One year, he brought to me 60 freakishly large dead chickens that he had raised, and dressed out. Four extremely long days I spent canning chicken, but before I could can them, I had to cook and bone them because they were too large and tough to cut up raw. Imagine though, how thankful I was for the next long while, to simply open a quart jar of cooked, boned chicken for pot pie, noodles, chicken & rice, stew, or any other chicken meal I was preparing.

One year, Dad backed his truck up in my driveway, loaded with his first harvest of beets. The finished product was 90 quarts, not pints, but quarts of the best pickled beets I have ever tasted. I had never pickled beets before, nor canned chicken for that matter, but look how much I have learned, thanks to my Dad!

Most years, we've picked figs around the 4th of July. They are so yummy fresh, but we're like the Blue Bell ice cream people who "eat all we can and sell the rest." We eat all we can and preserve the rest. Figs, especially if they've had much rain just before harvest time, spoil rapidly, like in hours, not days. So, if Daddy brings me figs, I've got my work cut out for me, immediately. I try to keep plenty of sugar and strawberry jello on hand during fig season because I never know when he might show up with 5 gallon buckets of the sweet little things. (Just 3 cups of trimmed figs, 3 ounces of strawberry jello and 3 cups of sugar makes great strawberry fig preserves. Bring those ingredients to a boil for 20 minutes and ladle in hot jars. Viola!)

Daddy's always bringing us stuff to share with my siblings that 1) he bought on the side of the road 2) someone gave him 3) he produced himself 4) is enough to feed a small army. Fish, sweet potatoes, plums, citrus, to name just a few. It is part of his legacy. Most of the time, I am happy to receive it. Years ago, when he had a garden and chickens, he'd gather and head my way. In the 5 gallon bucket, I'd find eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and cantaloupe, in that order from bottom to top. Yep. Eggs on the bottom, etc. So we weren't always able to use everything he brought, or we might have to clean stuff up before we start working with it, but his heart is always in the right place.

I miss my Mom. She could "make a silk purse out of a sow's ear." She was a wizard with box cake mixes and could cook fish and wild game as well as anything from the grocery store. She was good at improvising because with having had six kids within 10 years, she had to be. Her penmanship was impeccable and she really knew how to squeeze the last drop out of a dollar.

I remember when she went to buy a used car, she wore a pair of white dress gloves. The salesman made an offer, too much in Mother's opinion, so she said nothing, just began to put her gloves on. The salesman, fearful of losing a customer, enthusiastically began to come down in price, so she took her gloves off and laid them in her lap to listen to his offer. This process was repeated several times until my mother was satisfied that it was a fair price.

My parents divorced when I was 18, and Mother took all 6 of her children and bought a small home in Lake Jackson, not far from where I've lived for 32 years. Gutsy. Talk about tenacity! I think of all the women who stay in contentious relationships because they are fearful they cannot make it on their own. Mom was afraid of June bugs, but that's about all.

With reflection comes much gratitude for all that life has given me.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

It's Nice To Share/Are We There Yet?

"We have got to stop meeting like this", I told the receptionist/cashier at the pediatrician's office when Ella, Brennan and I left for the fourth time in less than a week.  Ella had what the doctor referred to as "a nasty ear infection".  Antibiotics.  Next, Brennan was diagnosed with the flu.  His appointment was for 4:40pm and we finally got home about 7pm, after chasing from one pharmacy to the other, trying to fill the prescription for Tamiflu, which everybody seems to be out of.  When we opened the package, there were pills for our four year old Brennan to swallow.  We swapped it for liquid and within 10 hours, he was like brand new.  It actually took longer to GET the correct meds than it did for the meds to take effect. Then, the day after, Ella complained with her throat, as it turned out, because she had strep throat. Different antibiotics. The day after that, Brennan spiked a high fever and we learned he also had strep.  More antibiotics.  If they could only learn to share everything else as well as they do their germs!

Naturally, they recovered in plenty of time to attend Maddie's birthday party in Pearland on Friday evening, but were completely spent, weakened, I suppose after a week in the infirmary and on the way home, expressed that they were tired of being in the car and "how much longer" was it going to take.  Anna and Ella fell asleep, but Brennan was awake and as we drove into Lake Jackson, he began to recognize a few familiar buildings and businesses.  "Mama, what land are we in?" he asked, wanting to know if we were close to home.  We tried not to laugh, but didn't have much luck.  The kids keep us in stitches with their innocent vocabulary as their minds develop.   I could share much more, but the censors would be all over us.

God's Country

He's gone.  My Daddy-in-law quietly passed away this evening and I will be forever grateful that yesterday afternoon, Chelle and I had an opportunity to visit him in Houston one last time.  

I wish you could have known him.  The quintessential gentleman, always impeccably groomed, a good dancer with the social proficiency of a diplomat.  In later years, when his sweetheart and wife was ailing, he took impeccably good care of her, without so much as a single complaint, and nothing else put the light in his eyes like talking about his children and grandchildren.

Knowing how intelligent and friendly he is, it saddened me to see him trapped in a phase void of memories.  Because he lived a full life, Dad now has countless wonderful experiences to remember again.  

I will miss him terribly until I follow, not only because I feel like I have lost another little part of my husband, but because Dad was always kind and made me feel loved.  But it does make me smile to think that now, he is literally in God's country.  Love you, Dad.  


Friday, September 18, 2009

This Birth That We Call Death

Earlier today I received a call from my late husband's sweet sister, Marsha, to inform me that my beloved Daddy-in-law is rapidly failing, both mentally and physically.  We've known for some time that he was easing away from us with Alzheimer's and now, his body is catching up with his mind. I tell you this, because I have already begun the grieving process.  

When I returned home from my granddaughter, Maddie's birthday party tonight, I had a message on my machine from Marsha's Jon, letting us know that Dad has taken a turn for the worse, that they don't expect him to live much past the weekend, if that long. My heart is so heavy and yet, I am buoyed up when I visualize the joyful reunion with his wife, whom he adores, his son Michael who adores him, and others that have gone before. 

My wise friend, Virgie, once confided in me that she thinks of death with parallels of the birthing process.  Some departures from this frail existence happen slowly and methodically, while others can be so untimely and quick that there is little time to take it all in. Her husband, for instance, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, in the middle of the night, just as many babies have come into this world.  But I think of my mother's passing; gradual and predictable, not unlike an infant, making that difficult passage through the birth canal, with our knowledge that a grand event is eminent.  Now, I never fail to think about the comparison of childbirth, when faced with the parting of a loved one.

The irony is, today we celebrate several birthdays other than Maddie's.  My brother-in law, John, was born on this day and more recently, my beautiful granddaughter, Amelia Grace. Our friends, the Ashtons, presented us with a brand new baby girl this week.  My husband, Mike died on his daughter Tracie's birthday and I lost a cousin yesterday to cancer. It is no wonder that in preparation for death, our thoughts are appropriately drawn toward the connection with new life.   

Tonight, I savor the cherished memories I have of this extraordinary man that I have loved and admired from the very first introduction.  Dad would be 90 years old in November and I am aware that nobody is getting out of this world alive, but I often find comfort in the following quote I'll have to paraphrase . . .

"Aren't we grateful that God doesn't leave the details up to us?  When, oh when, would we ever be willing to let go of those we love?"  I am hoping I will have time to visit Dad once more, even though he no longer knows me or will even know that anyone is there at all.  This, I do for me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sometimes They Call Me Aaron

Now that the dust has settled, I can relate MY first day of school.  Monday, we stood outside the door of the Pre-K class, waiting for the "gate" to open, allowing little ones inside for a brand new world of experiences.  In anticipation, Brennan was balancing on the hand rail while we spoke to a fellow classmate, AJ, who has a hearing loss and was slightly difficult to understand, so I thought he might have trouble with Brennan's name, since it is not common.  I told AJ that my grandson's name was Brennan, or sometimes we call him Bren or even Brenny. Without even looking up, Brennan said, ". . . and sometimes they call me Aaron".  So very true.  AJ's mother looked a tad confused ~ was Aaron a middle name? A nickname? When I explained it is my youngest child's name, she gave me an immediate knowing look.  To be fair, I call my son Aaron, "Brennan" just as often. Seems it happens in most families.  I know my own mother, on a regular basis,  used to go down the list of six children, ignoring gender differences and surrendering to "oh well, whatever your name is!"  My sisters and I were also often called by our aunts' names, according to their birth order and ours. I am hoping it is not necessarily because we have similar characteristics or personalities, but more about how the human mind works ~ or in the case of mothers, how it is OVERworked.

Ella has been ready for Kindergarten for at least a year, so her excitement was palpable. She is the most animated member of Jen's family, and her dancing around with an indelible smile on her face was not surprising.  Anna, who shares her uncle Aaron's motto regarding school ~ "it takes up all your time", was even ready and willing to begin. Typically, she'd much rather be outside looking for critters or riding her bike but she's experienced a major metamorphosis this summer and is now quite the young lady (yet still likes to ride her bike to the ditch to forage for varmints).  The thing I am most grateful for this year is that all three of Jen's kids attend the school where Jen teaches.  I can't help but feel it is a huge blessing, like an emotional umbrella or security blanket for the children to sense, in their current circumstance, that their mother is always nearby. For a short time, Anna attended a school other than the one where her mother was working, and I don't think even Jen liked it.  Next year, Anna will advance to a different campus, but for now, all the planets are aligned.

Perhaps its the new school clothes that make the older girls' attitudes seem agreeable, but for whatever reason, even Ciara and Cheyenne appeared ready for all the new challenges that lay ahead. Ciara's a new cheerleader this year and is already staying late for volleyball.  Chey knows this will be a difficult year with taking dual college courses and continuing to work part time, but is braced and planning to pace herself for the whole of it.  Bright and beautiful people all around me.

Chelle said Graham, Zach and Maddie were all appropriately cheerful about the beginning of the new school year too.  I racked my brain for a memory of a time that any of my children or grandchildren were less than excited about a first day at school, and I can't recall a single tear, unless you count my own personal tears of joy.  At a young age, I found it disheartening when I'd hear parents count down the days until the first day of school, thinking to myself, "if you'd raise your children with love, they would be a joy to you instead of a nuisance". Call it foolishness. Call it being naive . . . heck, call it Karma!  Now I'm one of 'em! Only I've been counting the hours instead of the days!!  I just don't understand it ~ we DID raise ours with love and they ARE a joy to us. I love cheesecake too, but I don't want it 3 times a day, every day without a break!  So all is right with the world.  School is back in session.

It goes back to the adage, "Always leave 'em wanting more".  I can hardly get through a day without the grandkids, but I have been known to say that "sometimes, the best part of the visit is the tail lights of the car!"  I told Jennifer, our resident teacher, that in my humble opinion, year-round school would be better than having to spend the first two months every new year reviewing all that was forgotten during the summer from last year. Think of it!  Families could even camp out when its cooler or take winter vacations to someplace that actually gets snow more frequently than once every decade or two.  The teacher said no.  Asked and answered.