Friday, August 12, 2016
I wasn't sad at all this morning, but after reading an Instagram post by American journalist, Mary Katherine Ham, her words probed a still tender part of my soul, wounded deeply almost 42 years ago. As I typed that sentence, the number 42 haunts--it was the age of my daddy when he passed away in 1974, half a life, seemingly, instead of a whole, but that was the whole allotted him. MK's husband was given even fewer years, 34.
Mary Katherine wrote a sentimental birthday wish to their 3-year-old daughter; followers know her as the darling with the great hair. It's thick and full and wavy and however it falls it's always beautiful, often the subject of the nicest envy among MK's Instagram followers. In the post, MK also remembered her late husband who died in a freak cycling accident, thus missing the last 11 months of this precious one's life and the entire life of his second daughter who was still in her mother's womb at the time.
The number 11 haunts as well. I was 11 years old when my father died on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year. For the longest I hated the number 11 and sometimes still look at it with the same dread and loathing as others do unlucky 13. Not so often anymore, but the memory is there, capable of being touched, brought back to consciousness in empathy with someone who has had a similar experience.
Unlike MK's little halo-haired beauty and her infant, whom I hope has the same glorious locks when it comes in, I was old enough to remember my father, thus referencing him as "Daddy." Anyone can wax melancholy about what those little girls will miss--not remembering, not knowing--but my heart, now 42 years later, is also touched from a different perspective, that of a wife. And no, I have not lost my husband. God willing, we'll celebrate our 30th anniversary next month, but I never took it for granted. I've cried more tears of thanksgiving and relief than anyone besides God will ever know that my husband lived to see our two sons grown, married, and even to date, has met a granddaughter.
I barely acknowledge, and do my best to tamp down any fears which arise on behalf of my granddaughter. Perish the thought she lose her daddy. I can't go any further in this line of thinking. I just can't. Well, I did go as far as to tell my son, who graduated at the top of his university class with a degree in finance, to provide adequate life insurance for his family, but no farther.
MK wrote to her daughter words the little one will treasure in the future, "the last 11 months of our lives have been sad and hard and confusing, but they've also been beautiful bc (sic) God made all of us just as we needed to be."
God. Yes, God. The One people often blame for misfortune rather than the fallen nature of the world we live in, God has given MK strength to carry forward.
Forward I can think, imagining a time when MK finds love again, to a good man who will cherish her children as his own. Then I wince a little on her behalf, thinking of the milestones when their father isn't there in person to celebrate with them. Undoubtedly he will be there in spirit, his larger than life personality often depicted in MK's photographs and reflections tells me so. But still, that unavoidable pain will also be there. With the dignity and grace she has faced widowhood, she'll do the same on each occasion, and I suspect in a way her daughters may not even notice. It's what strong women do.
Perhaps it is nervy and presumptuous of me to think of another epic love, but I can because I am not the young widow. My mother was once, and chose not to remarry. Her marriage to my father was stormy, one to be survived more than one to have cherished memories to comfort her. Truth be told, she'd had enough of marriage in 24 years to last her a lifetime, but that was her story, not MK's.
MK has tasted and known the delight of marriage to a loving, vibrant person who did life enthusiastically with her. As a mother of young adults myself, I wish for her to experience that again. As the wife of someone who has spoiled and adored me for decades, I realize the twinge of fear--could that possibly come twice in one lifetime? But that fear doesn't keep me from hoping for her.
As a fatherless little girl, I would have welcomed a loving male presence in my life to protect me from all the things a little girl needs her father to protect her from. Mom had a different perspective--she said she wouldn't bring another man in her house "over" me and my sister because if he did anything to either of us she'd kill him. Mom was a gun-totin' and sometimes mean ole nurse, and she didn't talk just to hear herself. She would not have hesitated to pull a gun and fire on someone who hurt her children.
In MK's private thoughts, if she has yet allowed herself to think of another man in her life, this topic has surely been or will be broached. In a world which will swallow a good man alive, will it regurgitate another who is a wolf in sheep's clothing?
It is a fear I hope is quickly dismissed. The loving gift from our Father in heaven of another father for her little girls. Another companion to walk out with her the days of this life. MK's recent ones have included an unspeakably difficult tragedy, yet she seemingly has put all her effort into living them bravely. I've no doubt at all she has kept the worst of her emotional suffering to herself (I peeked in my mother's bedroom when I heard her sobbing), and shared more with us the hope which drives her, as well she should and I commend her.
Good Lord, with social media, I've witnessed enough wallowing to last me a lifetime. A few days after my father's funeral, a nosy neighbor asked my mother what she was going to do. Mom's dark green eyes laser-focused on the woman as she said in a business-like tone, "I intend to stay right here and raise my children." She proceeded to do just that. Social media obviously wasn't around in the mid 1970s, but if it were, my mother would not have embraced the doubts her neighbor insinuated, that she couldn't do this by herself.
It really is none of my business, but the mother (and wife) in me wishes for MK another marriage in the appropriate timing. Someone who can find joy in sorrow deserves this.
The little girl in this 53-year-old woman who still tears up when she hears of another child losing their father wishes for MK's little girls to have another daddy. He can never replace or fill the shoes of MK's beloved Jake, but he could very well fill a hole in their lives and reap bountifully the love and delight in the company of three wonderful ladies.
My musings feel awkwardly personal, I've never met Mary Katherine Ham, yet through Instagram I have shared a little in MK's journey of widowhood. I've witnessed, through a child's eyes, my mother's. Retrospectively and through maturity, I have a degree of understanding of what each has endured.
On the girls' behalf, it's hard for me to comprehend which loss carries more magnitude, losing a father one knew for only 11 years or having few to no memories of one's father. Comparisons are odious in grief, each road different.
Nonetheless, I recklessly desire that someone I've never met will one day give love another chance. The hole in my life remained, the place where my daddy once lived, and I hope her little girls' hearts won't be quite as empty. As the wife of someone who has kissed the first age spot to appear on my hand and embraced my decision not to cover the gray, I want MK to have that as well.
(MK's instagram post which inspired this blog post)
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
My husband picked up a ribeye and trimmings from Texas Roadhouse after a long, hot July work day. Their kitchen was already hot and this kept ours cool.
I had plates, forks, steak knives and napkins on the table by the time he arrived home. No need for takeout to be eaten on styrofoam and with plastic. While he was getting drinks, I split the baked potato into two pieces and loaded them with the carefully packed condiments, butter and sour cream melted together, shredded cheddar, and bacon bits. He divided the 10 ounce ribeye into two pieces and forked one onto my plate. He passed the bread, we said a blessing and began this bountiful meal with our side portion sized salads, house for him, Caesar for me.
Like most Americans, we've had about all the Hillary and Donald we can stomach, so I turned on the music channel to soft rock. A number of tunes were from the late 1980s, the era we were married and began our family. We'd hear the next tune, try to guess the artist and the year. Madonna's sultry "Spanish Lullaby" played and the year was 1986, the year we said our wedding vows. We were eating in the same dining room, the same home, in the same spots where we looked at each other the morning after our evening wedding, both silently incredulous we'd indeed taken that permanent step to solidify the relationship we'd been building nearly four years.
The first dining table, an art deco metal-legged table with a gold-speckled white formica top, was a stand-in for the antique hard rock maple drop leaf table I found in the used furniture section of the local newspaper six months into our life together. The maple table served our family of four for 28 years, the last two of those years just the two of us again. Unlike many couples who downsize after the kids are grown, we stayed where we started. I couldn't get away from the familiar, but I could shake up the surroundings to reflect our beginning again as two, so we now dine at an oak table while seated on bent wood chairs with floral tapestry covered seats, another second hand find, continuing the re-purposing of others' cast offs as we always had, long before it was cool.
I had a clear flashback to our first morning living together as man and wife in early fall, 1986, when we looked at each other in what-have-we-done glances. I had on a pale pink baby doll top and matching bottoms, a gift received at a bridal shower, and he had on tighty-whities. We didn't know them by that name then, the fitting description came into our vernacular after our older son was mortified he was the only one wearing them when the boys at school changed into P.E. uniforms for the first time. I didn't know boxers were cool and tighty-whities were for nerds and old men. It was an honest mistake. My father and brothers wore them, my husband wore them, I bought them for my sons thinking it was what I was supposed to do.
My husband had no need to be cool so he still wears tighty-whities. The pink baby doll lingerie set is long discarded. Tonight he had on work out shorts and a shirt with Colorado emblazoned across the front of it, the adopted home state of our children who left southern Georgia's flatlands for a higher elevation in careers as well as hiking and climbing mountains. I had on work out shorts myself and a plain gray Old Navy T-shirt, so old the collar is frayed, but so comfortable I'm not ready to part with it. My younger son has a hard time parting with old clothes, not sure where he gets that trait.
We're at the stage of life where one restaurant meal comfortably fills two and this one ended with me saying it was the best meal I've had in a long time. The salads were fresh and everything was just right as all was seasoned with gratitude. Just last week, my husband traveled to bury a brother-in-law, a man who had been in his family since my husband was 11 years old, 51 years gone by since. I'd already buried a brother in '09. The goodbyes of our generation have begun. Eleven siblings combined, almost as many spouses, we marvel we made it this far. Same house, same dining room, same spouse. Thirty years come September 21st of this year should the good Lord see fit to allow us to see that day. We no longer have the luxury of taking that for granted.
He said I should check hotel rates at the beach and book a room this weekend. I was hung up on why. We'd taken a short vacation in May and said we'd sit out the heat of the summer at home, then decide what to do toward the end of this year, a trek to Denver at some point, an anniversary celebration, the good Lord willing.
In my childhood, when someone said something bizarre, my late mother used to say, "You talk like a tree fell on your head." I was looking at him like a tree had fallen on his head and again asked why.
We'd been transported to 1986 and landed back in 2016. Life was wide open ahead of us then. My husband was thinking of what lies ahead now, the lanes in our road of adventure narrowing. He finally answered my why with "I'm not getting any younger." I told him, "I am," and we laughed. I haven't yet made a reservation. I wanted to sit awhile longer in the sweetness and sadness combined called life--distilled memories from long ago, vaporized, condensed, then collected again in a new form in the same place we started this journey together. We had not foreseen this day, but we vowed long ago to get to it.
It's possible thirty years from now we may remember a song from 2016 and marvel at what has transpired between then and 2046. It's also possible that day may not come, so we'll bank on a date a little closer and walk down a beach hand-in-hand now. We still like to do that and it may well be the best walk we've had in a long time.
Monday, March 21, 2016
We had a good laugh this morning about the fine not-quite-linen coverings over your chicken houses, and another good laugh when I sent a reply, the YouTube link to Gretchen Wilson's break out hit, "Redneck Woman."
The chicken's heat source may be on the redneck side as a certain Christmas decor item you said is still on display at your place, but I see you as nothing less than a "high class broad," more high class, less broad.
Life has a way of dropping us on our heads sometimes and you have clambered up from that place with dignity, humor and class. People tend to look down on others in certain circumstances, certain dwellings, all in an attempt to look briefly away from themselves, I think, but you did the hard work of looking at yourself, being completely honest about what led to that drop on the head, then went about fixing the situation--doing the very best you could with what you had, kinda like the chicken house covering.
I've heard your heartbreak over those who would not embrace the beautiful reinvention of who you were originally intended to be, minus the self-destructive behavior. I've mourned some of those losses with you. We certainly don't end life with all the ones who started with us and as painful as that is, I'm old enough to realize we weren't meant to.
You and I have wept together over classmates we've lost, tried to make the final days of one a little more bearable. You did many things to bring comfort to another, I won't name them all here because I don't want to rob you of your reward in Heaven which will be much greater than the momentary "aw" or "like" a person might receive on Earth.
I do want to thank you, though, for lending me a dress to wear in a beauty pageant more than 35 years ago. Entering wasn't my idea, I let myself be pressed into the idea by a mutual friend. It may have been she who arranged for you to lend me the dress, too many decades gone by to remember that part with clarity. I didn't win, I didn't even place, but from that day I have a portrait of myself which captured the apex of any physical beauty the Lord may have endowed. Of course that is subjective, and evidently the judges didn't see it. (Insert emoji of laughter with tears running down face which you often use in our communications.) The pageant portrait I still have was done for free by a then-prestigious local photographer who would never have aimed a camera at a girl whose family was too poor to pay for his work.
The pageant was something I'd otherwise never gotten to do as well, wearing a dress my widowed mother could not have afforded to buy for me. I don't know how appreciative I was then, I'm reckoning not so much because I had the dress hanging in my closet for a long time afterwards, you had to ask for it back.
Anyway, I am grateful now. It takes some of us longer than others to develop genuine gratitude.
In the pageant I was forced outside my comfort zone, dancing to "Rock the Boat" onstage with the other girls. I was much more comfortable the night I jumped onstage at a local bar and cut a little rug. In the pageant, at the point where I was introduced individually, I choked. My brutally honest mother said she knew at that point I wouldn't place because "you were too stiff."
That was a precursor of who I really was at heart. I'd rather be heard than seen. I'd have never danced onstage at a bar without a few (or more) beers under me to obliterate my inhibitions. I found my voice behind a home personal computer and it is from this safe place I feel brave enough to let you, let anyone see who I think I am and say what I really meant to say.
I told you several things about our most recently deceased classmate I admired. Before either you or I kick the bucket, which I hope isn't too soon, I wanted to highlight what you mean to me, the sweet influence you've had on my life, both in the past and the present. I'm awfully good at turtle-shelling, but you won't have any of it, and that's good for me. Thank you.
Love you. Hugs. Happy Easter. Insert all the emojis. You're good at choosing all the right ones. Self-righteous people like to say, "I knew her when..." Well, I'd like to say I knew you before you got your emoji on, and you were as delightful a person then as you are now.
Thursday, February 11, 2016
I live in an eternal political existential quandary. It's not a comfortable place to exist.
Here is part of my ideal platform with no one to represent me:
- De-fund Planned Parenthood--not completely. Let those who want an abortion pay for their own. Contraception assistance makes far more economic sense than abortion. I'm not a fan of abortion, but I know it's not going away. I don't want someone else's blood on my hands.
- Amnesty for Illegals--all for it if evidence of productive "citizenship" is produced. It galls me the same people who hire them curse their use of our medical facilities. I bless those who have a hand in putting food on my table and don't wish to see them treated inhumanely.
- Socialized medicine--I'm 100% for it. I remember the moment that happened. I was at a restaurant after church and a fellow parishioner, a woman in her 70s said, "Just think about the horrendous waits once everybody has it." "It" was health insurance coverage, a reference to the Affordable Care Act. I confess I hated her at the moment for thinking she should be put ahead of any sick person simply because she had more money. I'm old enough to remember when most people carried catastrophic coverage and paid for doctor visits out of pocket. When the insurance industry started covering doctor visits, the costs went through the roof. Those becoming obscenely rich on pharmaceuticals--while people who can't afford them die--should be jailed. It won't happen, but the thought of justice feels good.
- Immigration--screen intensely, round up student visa overstays. Patrol the borders for American citizens taking bribes to escort people into the country illegally.
- Stop whining. Everybody. Please. It's unbecoming. You are not oppressed nor a victim. There's not a person alive who doesn't get crapped on in some form or fashion, it's part of living in a fallen world. Make your own life work and stop blaming someone else when it doesn't. Stick up for others when needed, but lift them to their feet, don't pat them on the head.
- I am unapologetically Zionist and support Israel with everything in my being. Good God in heaven, what was Obama thinking regarding Iran? (That really was a prayer, not a vain usage.)
- Women should not be required to register for the Selective Service. If they want to serve in the military in any capacity, nothing is stopping them if they meet the criteria. Volunteer away and thank you for your service. Those who want to protect their families and homes should not be wrested away from them.
- School choice, vouchers, yes!
- Overzealous gun control, no! Thorough background checks, great!
- Manners and decorum: OK, this will never happen, but those calling others "p---y" or "boy in a bubble" should not be allowed to become president.