Thursday, July 24, 2014

Throwback Thursday July 24, 2014

Stunt cyclist, 1967ish, 4 years old  

My best guess is 1967, as that is the year my mother cut my waist length hair because of the rat's nests.  That's what she called the massive tangle of curls which was entirely, genetically, her fault.  The tricycle was red and I loved it. It was not long before I got my first bicycle with training wheels, a gold Hedstrom, and I promptly demanded Daddy take off the training wheels.  

I liked a challenge, living on the edge, even when my age was in the single digits.  

In my early teens, I saw a neighborhood boy riding a unicycle, and I decided I must do that, too.  I asked for and received one for Christmas.  I got two paint poles out of the utility room and used them like ski poles for balance until I learned to ride without them.  My Grannie later told me my mother said she didn't think I'd ever ride it, but Grannie told her I would.  

And I did.  I'm 14 here.    

This wasn't enough.  I would sneak off with a friend who had a vintage Harley and go riding with him.  We once clocked over a hundred miles an hour and another time went airborne after hitting a root in the Blue Springs region.  I had to sneak because I was forbidden to ride motorcycles.  My mother had seen some gruesome injuries when she worked in the emergency room, even described them to me.  It made no difference.  I wanted to ride a motorcycle and I did.  The last @$$-whoopin' I got was for doing just that.  It didn't stop me.  

Freshman year, same friend and I were supposed to go to graduation that year and play Pomp and Circumstance for the seniors.  The volunteer band was missing a tuba player and a clarinetist because we, dressed rather nicely, went motorcycle riding.  I had on yellow dress slacks and wedge sandals and I lifted my legs as high as I could when we rode through the dip at Cherry Creek so as not to get my clothes wet.  I got away with it that time.     

I wonder sometimes where this spirited girl went, but there is no question at all it was thoroughly and irrevocably in my genes:

My older son is standing; my baby boy is rappelling.  

More than once, a disapproving comment was made to me about the climbing nature of my baby boy.  To the best of my recollection, I never once tried to hinder him.  How could I deny something I'd genetically bequeathed to him?

I'd climbed my share of tall South Georgia pines, and it was one of my favorite things to do.  I roller skated, forward, backward, and as fast as I humanly could.  

Skating, I can tell you, is not like riding a bicycle.  I donned some roller skates in my mid-thirties, went one round, promptly exited the skate floor and took those off.  I'm 51 now, and have not, won't, try that again.  I will grow older as gracefully as I can, but there is a part of me which still longs for an adventure.  

Not some tacky midlife crisis, but a true adventure.  I look forward to blogging about it, whatever it may be.  

Monday, July 14, 2014




The day you have to let her go.  

The days, weeks or months preceding the time she exhales her last breath...and the time afterwards.  

I'm not an expert, but I've been in your shoes.  I scrolled through my Facebook news feed this morning, and near the top was a heart cry of someone in the agonizing wait, the transition of her mother from this part of eternity to the next.  Then there was another post which was foreboding.  Another daughter in mental and emotional pain over her mother's physical suffering.  

The words were not abundant in either post, but a person reading them who has walked that difficult road didn't need many to know.  Our mothers, in physical agony, give us life, and we, in emotional agony, release them from this world.

Once, I left the hospital for a short while and sat at a restaurant in the mall drinking something, God knows what, I forgot, maybe a Coke or sweet tea. Sitting by myself at the mall drinking a cool beverage wasn't something I'd ordinarily do; I simply needed to take a break from the surroundings my mother could not escape.  Life seemed so unfair at that moment.  I was 39 years old, able to come and go as I wished, and my mother, someone who'd always relished her independence, was tethered to an oxygen machine and IV fluid lines.  My break was physical only, as my mind and heart remained a couple of miles away where she was.    

How many times I wondered about what was going through her mind.  She sat on the edge of the bed calmly waiting for death.  After a career spent mostly in geriatric nursing, she knew exactly what, when, and how...and would that have been a mental torment in addition to the physical suffering? She didn't elaborate, true to her form.  I asked her once if she'd like to lie back and she said matter-of-factly, "I can't breathe."  She did say she wasn't afraid. And she wasn't.      

As she waited, she requested something I'd never done for her, a bath.  Mom was a borderline hoarder, her home a dusty, chaotic mess of practical and sentimental items she couldn't part with, but her personal hygiene was beyond meticulous.  She wouldn't go barefoot because she couldn't stand the grit of sand on her feet.  I gently washed her back, her feet, and she, not much of one for praise, said I did a good job.  

As the youngest of her four children, I doubt she'd expected that I'd be the one attending her.  It didn't seem likely.  I wasn't nurse material.  I had older siblings.  Two were incapacitated.  One she seemed to favor a bit more than the rest of us, was present, but there are things pertaining to a woman's dignity which are preferably done by a daughter.  

Mom legally appointed me to speak for her in the event she couldn't speak for herself because she knew I would, and I did.  To say no to a medication which would elevate her dropping blood pressure was hard to do, especially when I was required to sign a paper documenting the refusal, but the temporary condemnation of the enemy saying I was signing her death warrant was overcome by the memory of her frank words, "There are things worse than death."  She, helpless in a bed, rather than caring for someone in that predicament, was one of them.      

The day before she lost consciousness, when Mom and I were alone in her hospital room, she looked at me with her dark green eyes, pupils almost indiscernible, and said, "I know you'll be all right."  Even on the brink of death, her piercing eye contact was unnerving.  (Her best friend of over four decades, prior to becoming that, admitted she'd called her "Mean Eyes" behind her back.)    

Mom knew I'd be all right because I was the one most like her, good, bad, and ugly, a survivor, a scrapper, one who loved deeply, just most people didn't realize it because they saw only the 'don't cross my line or I'll push you back over it' side.  Our likenesses caused us to butt heads a number of times, a battle of wills which sometimes made Armageddon sound like child's play.  

I have few nurturing mother stories to tell.  One I do have came after her death.  I was in bed, burning up with a fever, and I sensed her presence, laying her hand across my forehead as she would when I was a child.  Some might say I was delirious, and I have considered that possibility myself, but ultimately concluded she was checking on me.

She had left my presence bodily, but the essence of her which cared deeply had not died.

She had a vision about heaven once, said the Lord spoke to her, told her He was going to give her a glimpse, just a glimpse, of what was to come.  It was so overwhelmingly beautiful and peaceful, she, ordinarily articulate, had trouble describing.  I believe that is what sustained her to the point her worn out earthly body would be exchanged for an incorruptible eternal one.

You may be told, with reasonable accuracy, when the end will come, but knowing it will happen and seeing it happen are two entirely different things. Be as brave as you can for your mother because hearing is the last sense to depart before her spirit.  (My mother taught me that when I was a teenager.  She was caring for two young men in the nursing home, both comatose, and she said she always told them what she was doing and why because she believed emphatically, and in contradiction to the medical science she practiced, that they were aware.) 

It is the oddest feeling, burying one's last parent.  It is as if one's boat has lost its anchor.  In the stablest of lives, which I was fortunate mine was, there is a compartment which feels uncontrollably adrift.  As long as my mother was living, I knew I had a place to go if I found myself in the position of having no other place to go.  I wouldn't have wanted to dwell among the mess of possessions she loved, but knowing I could if I had to was a back-of-the-mind comfort.  

Whatever age you are when your mother dies, you are finally, completely on your own.  

The lost feeling dissipates in time.  Be patient with yourself until that time comes.  

You become re-anchored in the strength she instilled in you.  You remember her wise responses to all manner of life's complications.  If she was a sweetheart, you cherish that, you give thanks she gave you life and taught you how to live it.  In cases where mothers fell short, bottom line, you are here, and she was responsible for that.  Whatever sacrifices she undertook to make that happen, God willing, you will come to a place of gratitude for that.

You'll get up each morning and go about your life on a grace I call autopilot. When the autopilot grace has done its job, the permanence of her absence on earth sets in, you continue on anyway, forced to be a little stronger. Everyone's journey of grief recovery is different, so I won't be so presumptuous as to tell you what the rest is like because I don't know.

I do know you will survive, the shroud of grief will eventually lift, though you'll always miss her, and the Words in the Bible about weeping enduring for a night, but joy coming in the morning show themselves to be completely and utterly true.  

In the meantime, know that everyone who has walked where you walk now cares deeply, they wish they could spare you this heartache, they know they can't, so they say prayers they believe will carry you through.  And they will.

My prayer for you is that the peace Christ promises which exceeds all human understanding will surround you now and always.

Rest in peace, Lillian Yvonne Allen Sutton, July 31, 1934 - January 21, 2003

Mom, front row, second from right

Monday, July 7, 2014

For July 7th?

My glamorous life of doing laundry most of Monday was unexpectedly rewarded with a bouquet of flowers!

It was 4:59, and I hear Mr. A coming in the back door, a bit early for him during Daylight Saving Time.  The days are long in more than one way when his work days stretch into early evening hours.

It wouldn't be like him to raid the funeral parlor, my birthday was last month, our anniversary is a couple of months away.  He was all smiles when he handed them to me.  

"July 7th?"  Leave it to me to question why I received this beautiful bouquet chock full of daisies, carnations, alstroemeria, lavender, and more.  

"For no reason?"  

It's not like he's never given me flowers.  I could never fault him for not giving sweet gifts on all the appropriate occasions.  He's fabulous at it!  But there always seems to be a reason.  

And there was.  He tweaked a sign at a floral shop and the owner asked what Mr. A was owed and he charged him...some flowers.

Long ago, more than 30 years actually, Mr. A gave me a bouquet of red roses he picked up from a starving artist sale by a painter named Robert Cox.  I dust them at least once a week.  I thought I'd capture the two together.     

Isn't the doily pretty?  It's an antique store find.  

My late mother said I asked more questions than anyone she ever knew.  I haven't stopped.  Presently I am wondering why the blog host thinks alstroemeria is misspelled.  I've checked two sources and they agree on the spelling I used.   

Anyway, I wanted to share my joy.  Happy July 7th to you, too!


Mrs. A

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Journal

This is the favorite book of a man who rarely reads but has had a book dedicated to him.  The chapters are similar, the dates, save for the year, are often the same, and much of the content is repetitive.  He will not read it, but prefers to experience it with his eyes closed.  He is like a child in that he never tires of the predictable story line.

It is ten years old now, started its life in Florence, Italy, and the rich blue leather blank book found its way to a Tuesday Morning store in southern Georgia.  I wrote the book the man had dedicated to him, and I am writing still this travel journal, the book he loves most.  This started out as a planning book, lists and an itinerary inked inside, of a family trip to St. Augustine, Florida.  It evolved into the minutiae of mini-vacations I wrote solely, so I thought, for my own pleasure.  

I do not remember when he first asked what I was writing, and I thought he'd be bored with the tedium of the content, but he was mesmerized.  A tradition evolved.  Each trip I'd write, and at some point I'd read to him the entry from the last trip.  

Entry photographed is from September 2013, an anniversary trip

I'm a collector of paper flotsam and jetsam, and those mementos, precious to no one but me and the man sometimes find their way into The Journal.  It has gotten to the point now, in June around my birthday, in September around our anniversary, or in December, just before Christmas, he asks if I remembered to bring The Journal.  

There was a trip two years ago I forgot it, but improvised on scrapbook paper of water and sand and taped those on the pages which would have been written on.

I think of this book's future, into whose hands it might fall, and who would care that in 2004 my older son pinched his brother's nose to the point it left a bruise or in 2008 I bought Pat Conroy's cookbook from Barnes and Noble? My baby boy, I think, might treasure it.  My older son, the less sentimental of the two, might sooner pitch it in the trash.  Would a St. Augustine historian be interested in what non-locals did and thought in their fair town?  

Who knows?  And here are a few excerpts from our last trip:  

June 23, 2014

Rick's surprise birthday gift to me was a two night stay on the top floor of The Edgewater.  Same beautiful view, elevated.  The St. Augustine shopping bug was satisfied as soon as we rolled into town.  Kenneth Cole sandals, Bath and Body White Citrus scented bath products, and a classic book of American short stories from Barnes and Noble.  We usually approach the island by way of the Bridge of Lions, but today we crossed the Mickler-O'Connell Bridge. When we first came into town, I spotted a roseate spoonbill in the marsh on the right side of Florida 16.

a Great Blue Heron photographed on my birthday
I cracked a joke about needing a sherpa to carry our "necessary" vacation items up to Room 201.  Zero gravity loungers, large camera bag, iPad bag, book bag, three days wardrobe for two...we don't exactly travel light, but these things are used and enjoyed.  Beach bag, suitcase, cosmetic case...  We quickly moved in, though, years of practice, then took a walk in a light rain, across the Bridge of Lions to the St. Augustine Municipal Marina to get a closer look at the El Galeon, a replica of a Spanish galleon.  We declined a tour at $40 for both of us (and later a trolley ghost tour $51 and a carriage ride $80) perhaps that demonstrates we are truly in love with this town, not the touristy element, or we're just cheap.  :-)  

I had a blue umbrella, Rick had a rainbow colored one and he wanted to trade with me so no one would think he was a lesbian.  It was hot and muggy and we were sweating through our shirts, but we didn't care.  We walked from the marina to downtown, St. George St., emerged from Fort Alley to S. Castillo Drive to Avenides Menendez overlooking the bay front to the Bridge of Lions to "home."  

Back at the room, we freshened up, then drove downtown to Pizzalley's.  We shared a small "garbage can" pizza and a side of their wonderful steamed vegetables, served in the Chianti room by a nice waiter named Steve.  Having lived with a man for nearly 28 years and raised two, I know that little boys always reside within.  The little boy in the man who took me to dinner on my birthday eve wanted ice cream for dessert, so we walked to Kilwin's and got a waffle "bowl" with two scoops of sea salted caramel.  We faced each other, straddling a bench on St. George St., and not caring at all what we looked like, we shared like lovers.  

Window shopping, we saw hilarious in-your-face messages screenprinted on T-shirts and texted them to our four kids and Trinni.  There were singers and guitarists on a side street, looked to be in our age range, quite good enough to perform in paying venues, filling the night air with songs that took us to coming of age phases of our lives, the '70s.  

When we returned to our roost, we sat on the balcony; Rick lounged and I rocked and read us a sweet bedtime story about a family of four, with two young teenagers, and the things they did on a mini-vacation to St. Augustine.  At one point, I looked up and saw tears in blue eyes set in the crinkles of time. 

June 24, 2014

4 P.M.  On the balcony at The Edgewater after a sunny morning on the beach and an early afternoon lunch at O'Steen's.  It clouded up and sprinkled, wouldn't be my birthday without at least a little rain, and it's clearing again, very typical Florida weather.  What a luxurious pleasure, spending the prettiest part of my birthday on the beach, then being treated to shrimp for lunch.  The ocean temperature was just perfect.  Rick and I pretended to waltz in the ocean, then he joked and "dipped" me.  Of growing older, it happens on the exterior, but the interior feels much the same as when we fell in love over 30 years ago.  Serenely seasoned we are, and the love in his water blue eyes is an astonishingly undeserved gift, a daily reminder of the goodness of the Lord.

He's asleep next to me now, clutching his binoculars.  He comes to St. Augustine to look--at how the morning light shines on the buildings across the bay, at ospreys, and all manner of air and water craft.  The sight of families playing together warms his heart.  While we were standing in the Atlantic Ocean, Rick remarked how wonderful it was that all these people, he gestured toward the beach, could be here to enjoy this day.  He hoped they all were happy and I added that those who were not were surely being healed.  I walked out of the ocean today as whole as I've been in a very long time, thanks be to God.  There is an ache, ever slight, of our children now living across the country from us in Colorado, but balm and salve were both applied as both of them have contacted me today to wish me birthday happiness and to express their delight in where their parents are, a refueling station of a calm, inner joy in living.

June 25, 2014

We're at the beach again.  We'll have to ride home sandy, but how could we be this close to Vilano Beach and not go?  I walked into the ocean and promptly it sat me down, feet in the air in a V.  It had to be a funny sight, a 51-year-old woman with a floppy straw hat, Jackie O style sunglasses, and a two-piece polka dot Catalina tummy control swim suit.  Rick missed the ocean's prank and thought I had sat in it intentionally.  Many more people here today than yesterday.  

A gentleman, maybe a little older than Rick, stopped to chat with us after his bulldog greeted us first.  He was a local who'd moved there from Indiana.  His dog's birthday was September 11, and we shared our September 11 stories.  He was in Jacksonville on a jet which never made it off the ground.  He remarked this country was not the one he grew up in.  Rick cupped his hand into a bowl and refreshed the dog with spring water.  The man told us he'd recently had an automobile accident and suffered a concussion.  He looked well, but it was easy to tell the experience had shaken him emotionally as well and that he was grateful to be on the beach, alive, and walking his beloved dog.  

He told us his mother still lived in Indiana and there were many instantly understood but unspoken sentiments shared when I told him we had buried all our parents.  Rick spoke of his father giving airplane rides on American Beach, and the thrill of experiencing the landing of a small craft on the sand.  It was an era as bygone as the state of our nation the man knew long ago, and such is the nature of stories told by people with white hair atop their heads.

The man walked on to the rest of his life, leaving us to ours a bit richer for the ten minute friendship.  I envied him in the nicest way getting to live our dream life near the coast, and with no mention of a spouse or significant other or children, no sign that a wedding band had been on his evenly tanned hand, he may well have felt the same, with maturity giving us all gratitude for what had gone well in our respective lives.  

We bathed in the ocean once more, believing with hope we'd get to do it all again, then we reluctantly packed our chairs and memories into the Explorer.  Once we were far enough out of town it would not be feasible to turn back, we were happy to be headed home.