family.

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I grew up in a tiny place in Texas. Eight kids in my graduating class and less than five hundred folks in the whole town. It was life in the middle of nowhere and intensely up-close with those sharing the space. It couldn’t be helped.  You get to know people on a deeper level when all you have is each other.  You know which house hands out the best treats on Halloween–The Bostons. (I still think about those popcorn balls!) You know which local business is most likely to hire you when you really need school clothes money and haven’t turned sixteen yet. The Cafe. (Who didn’t wash dishes there?) You learn who is most likely to tell on you for sneaking out with your boyfriend. (You know who you are…)  In essence, you learn what community means.  What it means to wrap your life up with people who aren’t even related to you. When those people die, you make casseroles.  When they got married, you buy Corningware and spatulas. (I still have mine from my shower twenty-five years ago.)  And, when a baby is born, you gather around to welcome it into the world. A joyous welcome usually reserved for a blood relation.  But, in a small town, in the middle of nothing, everyone is a relation.  Everyone is family.

For a long time, you live in that little pocket where you know every single person who lives in every single house.  You know who has scary dogs and who bought a new boat and who is having an affair.  You feel like nothing could ever change. You will always be in your hometown. But, it changes. Of course it changes. Friends begin to scatter. They leave for college.  They quit going home for the holidays or the reunions.  Their parents pass away. Then, one day, you scatter too.  And, before you know it, it’s been years since you’ve seen people from your home town.  But, you don’t forget.

You don’t forget what it felt like that first afternoon of Christmas break when the fire trucks would roll down main street throwing out bags of candy and you knew your folks had gifts hidden at home for you. You don’t forget what it felt like to see your classmates in tuxedos and prom dresses for the first time–a brief glimpse of what they would be like as adults that made you sad and excited at the same time.  You don’t forget what it felt like to cry over your team’s loss in a basketball game and feel an immeasurable pride as you sang the school song anyway (Out upon the rolling prairie….).

So, because you don’t forget, you always have that feeling of family for anyone from your hometown. If they fly into town for the weekend, you change the guest room sheets and welcome them.  If they lose their son or mom or anyone, you drive to the funeral.  If their daughter graduates, you send a gift.  If they get married, you spend all weekend on the road to be at that wedding.  And, if they are in trouble, you help.  You do that because that’s what your folks taught you to do.  All those casseroles and popcorn balls and Corningware  were our parents teaching us that the people God puts in our life are ours.  We’re meant to involve ourselves in their triumph and in their heartache.  We are their folks.  Their safe spot to land.  Their hometown.

What a blessing that is.  It means that, with these people, we share the memory of what it felt like to come over that last hill from Booker and see our little town spread out in front of us. We share the memory of the day the park downtown was forever dedicated to Jimmy.  The memory of how good a bierox tastes and what it sounds like when the crowd erupts into cheers after the melodrama. We share our growing up years with these people.  All the afternoons and choices and conversations and church services that turned us into who we are today.  Who can they be but family?

And, what better way to honor all that our little town gave us than to keep looking out for each other like family would. To attend those funerals, and send those gift cards and make each other a priority.  And, if one of us is in trouble, to push a button and donate what we can.  To send a clear message to each other and the world that where we grew up made a difference in our lives.  We are small-town kids with a huge family.  A family created in a tiny town in the far north-east corner of the Panhandle that will withstand time, and distance and scattering.  A town that, when I close my eyes, I can still walk the streets of  and that will always be a part of me.  Maybe, the best part.

 

Don’t it feel good to smile.

I am driving a lot these days.  There is a little boy who needs me.  So, twice a week, I load my little Volkswagen up and I make an almost five-hour trip.  That’s a lot of highway to travel.  A lot of bored reading the same signs and remembering to notice if the people in the yellow house have gotten around to taking down their Christmas lights miles. (They haven’t.)  So, in desperation, I put a call out to my music-loving friends on social media.  Please, I begged, give me some new music to listen to.  And, I got some replies.

Imagine Dragons, a sad man singing mournful songs and a Kelly Clarkson song that I actually like.  But, then, there was my friend Michaela’s suggestion.  Michaela is that friend everyone should have.  Or at least every music loving person should have.  She loves music.  She loves it more than me.  That’s saying a lot.  She loves it so much that I actually slept in my car one weekend, not too long ago, at a gigantic music festival surrounded by thousands of drunk college students just to enjoy it with her.  She just makes music better.  Anyway, in her list were only two people.  Two Texas Country artists.  So, I added them to my new Spotify list and went on my way planning to listen to the list the next time I got on the road.

That turned out to be a beautiful Friday morning when the air was soft and I had the whole day to myself.  I was driving with my windows down and feeling the joy that comes from being on the road with good music to listen to. I had no way of knowing that in a few minutes I would be parked on the shoulder of the road sobbing. But, I was.  Crooked parked on some long winding driveway between Granbury and Stephenville on Highway 377 heaving sobs over a song. A song from Michaela’s suggestions.

I don’t even know how to explain it to all of you. I promise I’m not any crazier than I’ve ever been.  Same amount as usual.  But, somehow, that song gifted to me by my old friend, had transported me back to a million moments at a kitchen table.  My bare feet were resting on the cool legs underneath and my hair was unbrushed and my parents were there. MY parents. My mom and dad. Darvin and Sandra.  Those people, who I would give every penny I have to spend one more second with were, all of a sudden, there. The way they smelled (old spice and roses), the sound of Dad’s laugh and, most important, most amazingly important, the song remembered what it felt like to be with them together. Both of them in the same room.  With me.  How many years had it been since I felt that?

The song was shiny grocery store floors on early morning shopping trips with them.  It was Daddy tapping his foot with a fly swatter while he listened to mom read.  It was my mom’s hand on the back of Dad’s neck.  It was being woken up by the sound of them laughing with their friends at two in the morning.  It was laying on the couch on a Saturday afternoon and listening to them make a grocery list.  This song embodied everything that made my parents feel like the safest place to be when I was scared, or lonely or lost.  It was their gentle humor.  It was their understanding that we didn’t have much, but that it was ok to share it anyway. The dinner might be coming off a cracked plate and the ketchup bottle might be grimy and the noise level deafening, but when you were with these people you could lay your troubles down for just a minute.  Mom would ask what you had been up to and she would listen when you answered.  She would listen all the way.  She really cared.  Daddy would shuffle around and eventually a plate of food would land in front of you and then silverware and eventually a paper towel for a napkin, and sometime, much later, he would join you and eat his own food.

I hear so many experts talk about living in the moment, but I learned it from the two people who knew how to do it best.  Mom and Dad didn’t have an easy life and they struggled, but they had some deep wisdom that let them understand that there was nothing more valuable than the people they were going through all the troubles with.  They loved their folks.  They helped them when they could, but, mostly, they just enjoyed them.  My God, I pray for their wisdom.  I pray to stop managing and stop worrying and just put a pot of coffee on and watch people smile, make them laugh if I can and listen with my whole self when they tell me how they are.

At the end of the day, life is hard.  People you love die.  Storms come and bills pile up, but there are those brief moments we all get to just enjoy being together, to slow down, to enjoy being alive.  Those early mornings when the coffee is on and the baby is still sleeping and we are with people we love.  So, to Kevin Galloway and Michaela, I will be forever grateful for that song.  That song that caused me to pull over and cry into the early morning air and to remember what it felt like to be with my folks on an ordinary day. Kind, present people who enjoyed good when it showed up and survived the bad by being together. I can feel them urging me on.  To reach for their wisdom.  To enjoy the ordinary moments that help you survive the heartache. Moments spent riding around with my friend Austin while he plays us his new favorite song and turns the music up way too loud.  Moments spent poking at the fire while drinking coffee with my husband, Moments spent holding my daughter’s hand.  Moments spent kissing the bottom of my grandson’s feet.  Ordinary seconds in an ordinary life that will someday make you cry in someone’s driveway because they were so fantastically wonderful.

So, stay with me little song.  Keep showing up when I need you. Keep wrecking me. Do whatever is necessary to remind me that at the end of the day, no matter how troubled it was, don’t it feel good to smile?

Beauty will be a boy.

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Once, many years ago, a quiet doctor who always wore her hair in a bun helped me bring a little girl into this world.  It was a big job.  It was a big job because it was me.  I’m nervous.  I worry about everything.  I try to manage everything.  I vocalize everything.  I think I wore her out–that quiet little doctor with round glasses, a soft voice, and her hair in a bun. She had to work hard to get that little girl here.  The hours were long and there was no extra money for any extra thing.  I told her very passionately, “I have to have this baby on my due date and I have to do it without any pain meds.  She’s pre-paid and I can’t leave with a bill.  There’s no money for another bill.  It has to happen just so.”  My little bird-like doctor smiled her lost little smile and probably went home to complain to her husband.  She probably said, “This job is too much.  These women are crazy.  They think they can control everything.  This job is just too, too much.”  But, because she was a good doctor, she showed up on the day I needed her to.  It was my due date and I was in pain with no money for any extras and somehow she got me through the whole thing.  The seconds, the minutes, the hours until she laid my little girl on my stomach.  I cried.  I touched her little head. I looked around the room for this tiny treasure’s real Mommy.  I said over and over, “I can’t believe I have a baby. I can’t believe I have a baby.”  I sincerely, after nine months of pregnancy and approximately three-hundred peanut butter sandwiches whose only job it was to make my girl move in my tummy, could not believe I was a mommy.  So, my fading, nervous, ready to leave doctor shook her head at me.  “Where did you think this was headed if not to a baby?”  I knew she was right, but I simply could not make my heart believe that this little person was my daughter.  My girl.  My Boona.  I was a mommy.  How was that possible?  But, I bundled her up and took her home that December morning in the snow and pointed out Christmas lights along the way and the magic began in earnest.  I never saw my shy, reserved, slightly unapproachable doctor again.  This miracle was to be my only one, but it was ok because she was everything.  Her soul was sweet and her humor was wicked.  She grew up wonderful, and in the moments of the years to come, I would see her walking across a parking lot, or a stage or simply down the stairs and I would catch my breath.  I would look around for my friend the doctor so she could see the wonderful thing she had helped me bring into the world, but she was never there.  I was the witness to my beautiful girl.  My best thing.  My miracle.  And, now, all these years later, she is also scheduling weekly appointments with a doctor.  A bespectacled, close-talking, blunt doctor. I bet he doesn’t know that there is someone special waiting to be born. Another mommy waiting for that switch to flip. Another magnificent miracle.  Probably with a stubborn will and a wicked sense of humor.  Most likely, so tall I will have to reach up for hugs someday. Arriving in June.  Driving home in the early summer when people are packing for vacations and school-kids are watching cartoons.  The worries about money are the same. The demand for things to go easily are the same.  But this time, her time, it will be a boy.  My daughter’s son. My daughter’s miracle.  Her chance to ride the ride.  To feel the love.  To catch her breath as he walks across a stage or ambles down the stairs.  I hope she’s ready.  I hope she knows all of this ends in a baby.  I hope her doctor understands her like mine understood me.  I hope he gets that she’s scared and unsure and ready to bolt, but if he will just show up when she needs him to they will make it happen. She will rise to the occasion and fight hard. And, in the end, my own little girl will be this precious little boy’s mommy. She will love him fiercely and protect him and teach him to read great books. She will laugh with him and discipline him and pelt him with pillows when needed.  It will be magic. I will watch and cheer and love them both fiercely.  I like this passing of the torch.  I know where this is headed and I am ready.  This time, beauty will be a boy.

Crappy People.

I am a skeptic.  I can’t help it.  I know people.  Too many people.  And, sometimes, these people I know are crappy.  It’s the truth.

Another truth?

Sometimes, I am even crappier.

I belong to the Lord.  I love him.  He is working in my heart and my conduct and I am still really crappy.

But, sometimes, the good Lord lets a little light shine through on this earth of ours. A brief glimpse into how things would be if His will were being done on earth as it is in heaven.  If you are a Houstonian, that glimpse came recently compliments of Harvey.

Harvey was a nightmare.  People lost their homes and their memories and their livelihoods.  We drove around for weeks with the guts of houses standing testament to what happened to our beloved city.

But, in the middle of it all, something happened.  We found out that these people surrounding us are good in their middle.  Not all of them, but enough that it’s a comfort.

Now, when I am on the freeway, or in line at the store, I look at people differently.  I find myself wondering if the lady in front of me is the lady who posted about making dozens of meals to pass out to flood victims.  I wonder if that little kid riding on her mom’s cart is the little girl who held a lemonade stand and donated all the profits to people who needed them.  I wonder if the guy roaring down the highway in his big truck rescued families just in the nick of time.

I also wonder if people are looking at me the same way?  Are they holding me to a higher standard?  Do they expect more of me?  Do they watch my conduct a little closer?

I find my own internal dialogue has completely changed.  Before, my thoughts trended towards, “That figures.”  and, “Par for the course.” Now, I find myself thinking,  “Ok, now don’t be rude to your waitress–we’re Houstonians.  Remember what we just went through?” Or, “Come on, let that car in.  Be nice.”  And, my new favorite, “They need some help.  Better get on it.”

I say that is my new favorite because I believe Harvey changed us all.  We don’t wait for the “somebodies” any more to take care of things.  We do it.  We make the meals, and mud-out the homes, and do the laundry.  Whatever we can for whoever we can whenever we can.  It’s the Houston way.

Truthfully, we have months before we recover from those flood waters.  Businesses are still closed, piles are still waiting to be picked up and families are still displaced, but Houston is an okay place to be these days.  We are beyond thrilled about our Astros!  We are on task helping our neighbors and, I am happy to say, we are loving each other a little better.

My prayer this morning, for myself, and my city was, “Lord, keep our hearts soft, our spirits willing and our attitudes safe from crappy.”  From my mouth to his ears.

 

 

Harvey.

My whole body is feeling the pain of Harvey.  I wish I was just talking about my hip I hurt mudding out a house or my head that is killing me from all of the wet, moldy life- piles in front of every house.  But, no, I am talking about my body of people that I love.  They are all feeling the pains of this super storm that shook us all up and then dropped us like so many pick-up sticks. Lives are now scattered and jumbled and tangled.  Everyone is trying to find a way to pick through the mess that is left in a way that gets us all past this.

There is my friend who recently found herself single through no choice of her own.  She spent an entire night by herself in her house trying to keep drains clear and water out of her house.  And, she did it.  All by herself. But, I could hear the exhaustion in her voice the next morning and it hurt me.  Later, help came for her in the form of her son and his friend in a jacked up truck.  That night she slept and he kept watch.

Another friend watched the waters win the battle and come into her house.  There was no reprieve. It happened.  Now, her memories, her belongings, and her normal are all piled beside the road and dripping dirty water.  Her Facebook posts have been an equal mix of shock and jubilance.  Jubilance because church family came through the door when she needed it most.  They came with gloves and boots and brooms.  They tore out her sheet rock and hauled her furniture to the curb.  They filled trash bags with family pictures and Christmas decorations.  They were Jesus with a little Chip Gaines thrown in.

It has been like that all week.  Intense pain caused by watching someone you love going through something unthinkable and then some measure of relief as their needs get met. You’re just so happy somebody showed up for them.  That a band-aid was applied.  It doesn’t matter  what form the help takes.

For Richard and I, it was neighbors who faithfully sent us pictures of the water creeping up our yard while we were miles away.  Close was ok.  Another inch was bearable.  Not knowing wouldn’t have been.

And, when we finally got to come home, walked through our back door and realized that normal still lived in our own little house we cried.  Well, I cried.  Richard cleaned up the yard.

Then, we got busy.

Right now in Houston, you can’t sit by and watch everyone else hurt.  You have to get involved.  You have to do something.

Rescue people on boats, slap together sandwiches, organize relief efforts or, like my favorite rescue worker I’ve met so far, show up to a flooded house pulling an ice chest full of popsicles and ice cream and beer.

Cover your bases.  Have a band-aid ready for whoever you might meet.  In whatever form they might need it. Do what you can do until our body stops hurting.

Dad’s jacket.

I put on my Dad’s jacket today and went outside.  Life has changed a lot for me lately and I find myself living mostly in my own head.  It’s a fairly nice place, but I needed a change of scenery. Outside with Dad’s jacket seemed just the ticket.

Dad’s jacket is the one thing I asked my Mom for when he died. If a fire ever happens in our little house I will save my family and that jacket. It’s nothing special–just a red windbreaker with the name of a college neither one of us ever attended embroderied on the side. I don’t even know where it came from, but I love it. I also have a sneaky suspicion it’s magic.  I know it sounds crazy, but it might also be true. Let me explain.

When I put that shiny red windbreaker on I instantly feel calmer.  I go outside.  I look up at the sky.  I crouch down and dig in the dirt until I find bugs and then I watch them.  I sit on the rough steps of my hot tub and hold my little dog.  I breathe the smell of her hot fur and whisper that I love her.  I watch the waves of my pool reflect in the leaves of the red bush by the back door. I step down for a second from being in charge. I savor the freedom of taking a break from being the grown-up. I remember what it felt like to have a Dad standing watch.

I was married with two kids when my Dad died.  I was a grown-up by the world’s standards, but not in that little corner of my mind that kept me balanced. As long as I knew Dad was out there somewhere zipping up that jacket I wasn’t really in charge.  I could blow the whole thing and he would help me fix it.  The world’s problems weren’t all mine. Dad was my go-to guy. Until he was suddenly not going to be there anymore.  And, in those last moments when we use words as battering rams against what will happen anyway, I promised him I would take care of my family and I would take care of my Mom. And, I tried.  Really, really hard.  But, my kids still hit heart break and hard times.  And, one crazy day, a nice doctor from India told us Mom had cancer.

I had promised Dad I would take care of her and I couldn’t.  I could have ramps built and drive a thousand  miles what felt like a thousand times and express mail  her favorite tomato soup, but I couldn’t fix cancer. I couldn’t keep my two kids from hard things. I couldn’t do anything to make everyone feel better.  I was the grown-up and I was blowing it. Then, my mom died too, and, suddenly, there really was no-one between me and the edge of the world.  I could slide right off and that would be that.

I slowly realized my Dad must have felt the same way lots of times as he put on our jacket.  He must of slid it on while he worried about bills and roofs on houses and whether cars would start. He must have adjusted the collar as he contemplated what he would do about his kids and our heartbreaks. He must have doubted he could handle it all. But,  I never really thought about any of that then. Dad just stood strong between us and the edge. He was the hero. The bullet proof vest. The thing you could take for granted because it was so sure.  So strong. He was the guy zipping up the jacket and taking care of things.

But, my word, he must have needed a break every now and then.  He must have needed to go outside and study the bark of a tree like it was really, really important. He must have needed to lay on a diving board in the hot sun and watch planes fly over. He must have desperately needed to not be the guy in charge. Just for five minutes.

Now,  I wish I could go back and help Dad with his load.  I wish I could have treated him more like a person and not always just my dad.  I wish.

I wish I would have gone outside with him.  That we both could have watched the leaves blow, and listened to the guys across the street mow the lawn, and heard the kids two doors down yelling and laughing.  I wish I would have stolen a few of those moments with my Dad and just been human with him. Two people taking time off from being the grown-ups.  What a glorious thing that would have been.  How dumb I was to not know.

That is the magic in the jacket. Now, I know. I know that those around us carrying our loads are just people.  They get tired.  They need rest.  Figure out who they are and take them outside.  Buy them ice cream.  Go on a walk with them.  Pick them flowers.  Let them be a kid.  I promise you when it’s over they will zip up their jackets and stand guard again.  And,  you will be their magic–the very, very best kind.

Clean.

via Daily Prompt: Clean

I took swimming lessons when I was a kid.  Two weeks every summer at the local high school gym. Tedious mornings of cold water and synchronized bubble blowing where we learned very little and really participated only for the last ten minutes.  That was free time and payoff for most kids, but for me the payoff was something different. My payoff was afternoons at Beth’s house.  She was another kid learning to swim and she happened to live on the way home from my Dad’s work so I got to go home with her after lessons.  It was a normal occurrence in a kid’s life, but to me it was life changing.  I say that because Beth lived in something I had never experienced before. Something I didn’t even know existed.   A clean house.

I grew up in a large family with a mom and dad who stayed around the dinner table with us for hours discussing big ideas and books and politics.  I will be forever grateful for those qualities in my parents, but, honestly, I just wish someone would have cleaned the bathrooms.  Or the kitchen.  Or anything.  I mean we didn’t live in call social services filth, but our house was always one step away from total chaos.  I remember bringing a little girl home from school once to play and as we climbed over the mound of dirty laundry to get to my room she asked me, “Doesn’t your Mom clean?” That was my first indication that maybe my house was different.  That maybe there was a better way of doing things.  However, that “better” way was never tangible until those afternoons I got to spend with Beth.

Folks, her carpet had dark tan lines through the plush where the vacuum cleaner had been.  I can’t tell you how beautiful that was to me.  There was absolutely nothing on her kitchen cabinets and laundry lived in drawers and closets.  Never on the floor or in doorways.  Her mom would bring snacks out on matched plates with matched glasses.  I grew up drinking out of tin chili cans that had been repurposed into glasses.  I honestly thought Beth’s house was perfect and my own home was a disgrace.

I would like to tell you that as I grew older and moved away from where Beth lived I grew up and learned to embrace my mom’s cleaning style, but I didn’t. Truthfully, I was a jerk about the whole thing.  I never missed a chance to rub my mom’s nose in how dirty our house was.  When she would ask me what my dreams for the future were I would always tell her I was going to grow up and have a clean house.  I told her there would be less books and more order.  I told her the top of my refrigerator would always be clean and there would never be trash overflowing.  I was very certain that my front door would never open to anyone if my house wasn’t totally clean. I picked up that torch and carried it with a vengeance.  And, guess what?

I did it.  My house was clean. Company never came that everything wasn’t perfect. Drawers were organized and corners swept. My son and daughter grew up in a house where dishes matched and appliances sparkled and they couldn’t have cared less.  In fact, my daughter prefers my best friend’s house that resembles my old home.  It’s not as messy, but there is that same air of “just let that go and let’s enjoy each other.”  All of my nights and early mornings cleaning never even registered to them.  They had always had it so it was their normal. It was just the way things were. But, I never quit.  To not have a clean house meant I wasn’t doing my job.  Good moms had clean houses.

Recently though, three things happened.  My mother died, my daughter got married and I finally stoppped cleaning.  Seriously. I just don’t care anymore. It’s just two of us here these days and cleaning should be the easiest it’s ever been, but the house doesn’t show that. I’ve quit my crusade. As I’m writing this, there are cokes on top of my fridge and crumbs in the toaster oven and it just doesn’t matter to me. Now, I want books stacked on chairs and socks under the edge of the couch and empty yogurt containers everywhere. I want the people who generate those things and I want them around my table. I want to let it all go and just enjoy each other. I want to tell my mom I’m sorry for giving her such a hard time for all of those years.  And, mostly, I just want the moments back I wasted on bathroom floors and tupperware cabinets.

As I mentioned, my daughter recently got married.  She called me one day to tell me she had hired a housekeeper.  I cried.  Part of it was jealousy, but mostly it was because I hope that my own daughter, raised in that tension between my mom’s way and my way, will live in that sweet spot of balance.  I hope her weekends and early mornings will be adventure and good books and that she’ll always be able to find a clean shirt or a matched pair of socks in the process.  And I try not to take it too personally when she tells me, with fire in her eyes, that she’ll never parent like I did.  She says her kids will have much more freedom than she did.  Good that she got that figured out so early.

 

To all the ladies who cook roast.

I’m getting older.  With that comes a lot of things.  Wrinkles on my face that weren’t there a few years ago.  Favorite music that my kids have no clue about.  And, sadly, a quickening procession of good people who made me who I am that are now gone.  That line lengthened this last weekend.

Her name was Margene and she was my nephew’s grandma and my first sister-in-law’s mama.  I came to know her back in the eighties when my hair was big and my goal was simply to get out of my tiny town and away from my own mama. That’s just the truth. What can I say?  I was young and dumb.

Anyway, I got my wish.  I went to a college seven hours from home. I didn’t exactly have the best car and it wasn’t long before I knew what it was to miss home.  I would call my Mom on the phone just to ask what they were having for dinner.  I would push the phone into my ear trying to hear the house noises that meant home.  Was the washer going?  Could I hear the TV in the background?  The rumble of my Dad’s voice?  Many a night I cried myself to sleep hungry for what I had ran away from so willingly.

In many ways, it was my brother and his new family that rescued my heart during that time.  They weren’t too far for my crappy car and I would go to see them on weekends.  When I did, Sunday mornings meant church and a roast for dinner.  We would sit through the sermon and then pile into a hot car and end up around Margene’s table.  And, every time, the roast would be ready.  Hot and fragrant and perfectly cooked.  There would be steaming  potatoes cooked in the rich juice from the roast and, if we were lucky, broccoli and rice casserole.  It never failed.  It was certain.

That’s a big word. Certain. Now that I am a mom, I realize how hard “certain” is.  To create that feeling for other people is a commitment and a life choice.  I wonder how many of those Sundays Margene would have liked to grab a burger on the way home, how many times she dreaded the sink full of dishes afterwards and the scramble to find dishes to save the leftovers?  I think how many times I have bailed on the responsibility to be the “certain” for my own little family.  Wonderful women like Margene know how to be selfless in a way I’m not sure I do.  I try.  But, let’s be honest, there haven’t been too many Sundays in my house where the roast was ready and waiting to be dished up as we came in from church.  Maybe three?  Yeah, probably not even that many.

I think, maybe,  in our rush to make life quicker, and more fulfilling and easier we have lost something that people treasured not that long ago.  A knowledge that some  of the best sweetness of life comes from creating moments for other people and doing whatever it takes to make that happen. Even if it means setting your alarm for an hour earlier than everyone else so you can make sure the roast is ready right on time.  Even if it means peeling extra potatoes when your new son-in-law’s sister shows up for Sunday dinner-again.  Even if it  means doing that for many faces, around many tables, for many years.  It means being ok being second if it means someone else can be certain.  Certain that they will find a smile, a kind word, a delicious meal.

So, thank you to all the ladies who cook roast every Sunday and thank you to one of my most treasured “fill-in” moms, Margene.  I can never really say how much those Sundays around your table meant to me.  I find myself pressing into my memories trying to hear us all there laughing and talking while our forks clinked on the plates. All of us loved and fed under your watch. I find myself homesick for a moment you built for us.  I will miss you and I will work harder to be ok being second and to be certain. Thank you.

Hebrews 13:16

That blanket.

You know those blankets you buy at Wal-Mart?  Not the super cheap ones in a bin, but the kind of nice ones?  They come folded in a square with ribbon buttoned around them.  They are made of that plush stuff that feels like velvet. Around thirty dollars?  I bought my mom one.  It was a couple of Novembers ago. It is those deep warm colors that mean Thanksgiving is coming and Christmas soon after.  Mom loved it.  She wanted it all the time.  She curled up in it to watch Blue Bloods and politics.  She drug it with her to all her chemo appointments. She loved it.

So, on that quiet early morning when she died and the two young girls who came to take her asked me, “Is there a special blanket you would like us to wrap her in?”  I gave them that one. That blanket.  The one that was mass-produced and meant nothing to me except that it was soft and I knew Mom liked it.  That blanket became the one that I tucked and smoothed around her while the young girls stood silently waiting in the next room. That blanket became the one they folded her into and took her away in a car that nobody needed me to drive. That blanket began my life without my mom.

A week later, on a hot June day, we had her funeral.  Afterwards, my sisters gave me a bag.  A Wal-Mart bag funny enough. Inside was something velvety soft and harvest colored. That blanket.

“The funeral home washed it and gave it to us and we thought you should have it,” said my sister.

I watched her mouth move, but I had no concept of what those words really, truly meant.  Now, seven months later, I do.

That blanket is my snuggly, fake-fur covered heartache.  It has its’ very own spot in my linen closet, because how do you stack towels next to the blanket you wrapped your mom in?  It will never get used, because how do you choose that blanket when you are cold and need something to wrap up in?  For that matter, how do you live in the same house with it? And how could you ever, ever pack it away? What would it feel like to open those doors and not see it there peeking from a corner? Am I supposed to store it in a box in my dusty attic where I’ll seldom see it?  How could I do that? How can I not?  What do I do with that blanket?

On some level, I’ll be honest,  I kind of  feel like I don’t give it enough honor. I think there are people who would frame it or something equally as magnanimous.  Are there those people?  Maybe?  Honestly, I don’t know. Truthfully, a lot of the time I just want to get rid of it.  I want it to magically disappear from my linen closet.  I want to open those white doors and see nothing but red and blue towels, but I also know it would completely destroy me if it happened.  I would tear my house apart until I found it and it was safe in the linen closet again.

Right now, I’ve just accepted that I need it? I mean it’s a reminder of a time when Mom was here. A bridge back to then.  A life when I could call and ask what mom was doing and my sister would say, “She’s wrapped up in that blanket you gave her taking a nap.”  And, I would hope. Hope so big. Hope that maybe she was going to get better.  Hope that that one particular nap would restore her and give her the strength to fight.  Or other times when Mom would get on the phone and tell me she had the blanket covering her feet and was watching TV and eating something and it was, “de-lish.”  How beautiful and amazing was that freakin’ life?

I get it. I really do.  I’m not dumb. I used to watch Oprah.The blanket represents my grief.  Grief with homespun plaid and blanket stitching and velvety Fall colors. It is the one thing I hate and want to get far away from and the one thing I want to envelop myself in completely.  It is the push and pull of letting go.  Of moving on.  Of feeling happy again.  Of being ok with any of that.

So, I’m just passing days. And I’m ok with that I guess. Maybe, on a cold blustery day in the future, I will need just the right blanket to cover up with to watch a Hallmark movie and mom’s blanket will be carefully packed away and I’ll be ok with that. I’ll pick a blanket from the big basket by the couch and I’ll settle in to watch a Hallmark movie.  Maybe that car won’t cross my mind and maybe even if I think of Mom it will just be to remember how much she loved that blanket. On the other hand, maybe next time you visit me it will be displayed across my wall with floodlights accenting it.  I really don’t know.  This is an ongoing process.

 

 

 

I miss you in the margins.

My birthday hurt.

The holidays will be hard.

Mother’s Day will bring me to my knees.

But, more than those times, I will miss you in the margins. Those little places in life that shouldn’t matter, but they do.

When I’m walking to the parking lot and I don’t have to slow down to make sure you’re ok–that you are behind me and making progress. Knowing that if I stop to wait you will also stop and glare at me until I go again. No special treatment for you. No acknowledgment that your steps are slowing. That I might not have you forever.

When I’m shopping and wishing I had just lost you in the aisles like so many times before. Desperately hoping to find you around the next corner enraptured with an olive bar or a new kind of cheese. Or talking to some stranger about Le Mis.

When I’m in Hobby Lobby and I want to call and tell you the thing I just saw is perfect.  Perfect to make us smile.  Perfect to make Amy smile.  Just perfect.

When I see someone wearing an outfit and I want to turn around and raise an eyebrow and then watch your eyes search the crowd until you find the outfit too. I want you to mouth, “Who wears that?” I want to shrug and grin and pull you away before you embarrass us.

I want to hear your phone ring and I want you to answer. I want to take a few minutes to talk about you and then I  want you to let me whine.  Just for a minute or two.

” Things are moving too fast.”

” My feet hurt.”

“I know I’m supposed to like her, but I don’t.”

All the little things you only tell your Mom.  I realize more and more how much of me you absorbed.

All my pieces that don’t please.  That aren’t charming. You took those and sent them back to me smoothed out.

I was always likable when you were in the room.

I really, really miss that.