Monday, November 26, 2007

All Boxed In

She walked toward the door facing her at the end of the long hall. The house was quiet except for the squeak of her left tennis shoe on the dark hardwood floor She paused at the arrangement of family photographs hanging on a wall that was precisely the same color as the organic butter she bought every week. She adjusted two of the frames and, satisfied that they were once again positioned the way she wanted them, continued down the hall, humming her favorite song.

Standing in front of the door, she reached out with her right hand, turned the knob and pulled it open. She flipped the switch on the wall just to the left of the door and a pale, golden light illuminated the closet . There, on five shallow, evenly-spaced shelves climbing the back wall, sat the boxes filled with her things, all of the stuff she needed to keep her life in order. She smiled as she took it all in. She loved that shelf paper; had chosen it because it was covered with tiny little flowers that matched exactly the wall color in the hall and coordinated nicely with the soft, muted red fabric covering the boxes. (Even people who had known her for a long time were surprised that red was one of her favorite colors.)

The arrangement of boxes reminded her of a regiment of soldiers, immaculate in in dress uniform, standing at attention before its commanding officer. There were two boxes per shelf, each placed exactly the same distance from the front edge. Their sides were parallel, the amount of space between a box and its neighbor the same as that between the box and the side wall of the closet. Centered on the front of each box was a creamy white label printed with bold, block letters proclaiming it’s contents and warning anything different to keep out.

Boxes marked “BLUE,” “RED,” “YELLOW,“ “GREEN,” “BLACK,” and “WHITE” were placed on the shelves at her eye-, shoulder- and waist-level. It was here, within easy reach, that she stored familiar items that could be relied on to function the same way every time she needed them. These were the things she used to keep her life running smoothly; to make sure there was a place for everything and that everything stayed in its place.

Two “BROWN” boxes occupied the bottom shelf. These boxes were, in fact, filled with things from her husband‘s past. Early in their marriage, he had shown it all to her. The things that she could use, she had put in the easiest to reach boxes and everything else had been packed away on this less visible shelf. Occasionally, he would want to take the things back out and tell her more about them, and she listen patiently because she loved him very much. But she didn’t like the way it made her feel and was glad that he didn’t want to do it often. (It made him as uncomfortable as it made her. )

On the upper shelf, accessible to her only if she stood on the wooden stool that her husband had built for her, were boxes that were rarely opened. The one marked “WILD COLORS” held gifts that had been given to her over the years, gifts that made her feel unsettled and Insecure. She didn’t know what to do with them or how to use them. She felt, though, that they were important to her and that she shouldn’t throw them away. Sitting beside this box , was one marked “PLAID.” In it were the things from her past that didn’t belong in the life she had now. They, too, were important because they had contributed to the person she had become. The things in these two boxes were messy and hard to control so she kept them where she wouldn’t be tempted to take them down and expose herself to all of that chaos.

Lately, her things had become unhappy being confined to the boxes in which she had placed them. They wanted her to know that there was more to them than red or blue. They wanted to show her that even plain old black and white had wild color talents and that they could do wonderful things if she allowed them to work and play with each other. But, each time they tried to show her something special they had created, she would lift the corners of her mouth in what might have been a smile, murmur “That’s nice” without meaning it and put them right back where she thought they should be. There was no light in her eyes, no joy or celebration, no appreciation of what they could do.

Now, unaware of the hurt and disappointment that lingered there, she reached into her neatly organized closet, took the “BLUE” box from its shelf, removed the cover and checked the contents. When she was sure that everything there was trying to do no more than be blue, she replaced the lid, turned on her squeaky shoe and started back down the hall to get on with her day; a day which would, for the most part, go exactly as she had planned it. Her things would make sure of it. Just as they always did.

I’ve stayed in this box since she put me here all those years ago. Small attempts to step out of it have been met with indifference and coolness.Since I stayed willingly, I guess it’s unfair of me to be angry with her for not wanting to see all the colors of my soul. But I am.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


On this warm Thanksgiving morning, I am sitting here attempting to string together pretty words and phrases into sentences and paragraphs that will tell the world how truly grateful I am for all that I have been blessed with. It’s that time of day that I like most - the sun is just barely up and it’s almost quiet in here ( HoneyPie is up earlier than usual and has turned on music.) My little family, including the pets that we love so much, is with me. My heart is full of love and gratitude.

As I think about my life and what is important to me, I find that the things I am most thankful for are not really things at all. Oh, I could list forever objects that I am happy to have in my life. I mean, indoor plumbing is wonderful . And sliced bread. And coffee makers. And my Goodness, computers!!! All good things that I am oh, so glad are a part of my world. But it's not stuff that makes me feel blessed way beyond what I deserve. What makes my life as rich and wonderful as it is, is living daily with my God, my home and my family.

As a child, I was taught religion and doctrine, but not much about the character of God. As the years went by, I thought about Him from time to time, but never really made Him a daily part of my life. In the last year or two, though, I started feeling like my life was a little off-kilter somehow. It was a good life, it was just missing something, a connection to something greater than me. I began to actively seek God and there He was with open arms. It was like coming home! I could almost hear Him saying, “What took you so long to get here? I’ve been waiting.” Now I am glad to have Him with me everyday. I try be the person He wants me to be but I mess it up really bad sometimes. Even then, I know He still loves me and just wants me to do my best. At last, I understand what people mean when they say they love God. I find myself ending my prayers sometimes with “I love you, God. Amen.” Kind of like I’m telling a family member, “Goodbye, I love you.”

When I tell you I am thankful for my home, your first thought is probably that “She said things weren’t important. But she’s thankful for her house. That’s a thing.” Well, I am thankful for my little house; it keeps out the rain and cold. But that’s not what I mean by home. It’s not a building at all. It’s a feeling of love and acceptance and “a safe place to land” as one of my friends puts it. It’s a circle of three, holding each other up when we’re tired and discouraged and holding each other’s hands to dance in happiness.

And then there’s my family. More than a litte eccentric, they are like characters in a TV sit-com. The three sisters, a bohemian, a spit-fire and an enigma, gave birth to five beautiful children: a drama queen, a scholar, a teddy bear disguised as a tough guy, a cloud collector and a little one whose still trying to find his place in the group. They all speak fluent sarcasm and use it to tame know-it-alls as well as to say “I love you” without being seen as too much of a softy. If one of us hurts, we all hurt. If one of us does well, we all celebrate. Children are shared. We can be ready to strangle, bite and kick one minute and huggin’ and kissin’ the next. If my "circle of three" is home, then this quirky group is where I go on vacation!

I once heard a motivational speaker, when giving advice for life, say “Try to have one exquisite moment every day.” In a little while, we will travel the short distance to Mama’s house where we will have the traditional Thanksgiving meal. There, gathered in one room, will be all of the most important people in my life. My step-father, who is given to making grand proclamations before a meal, will do so and then he will lift his arms towards Heaven and thank God for all that we are blessed with. If, as he sometimes does, he asks each of us to share our thoughts on this occasion, this is what I will say to my family. I will tell them that they are the ones responsible for most of the exquisite moments in my life; that I love them so much that it sometimes feels like my heart will swell right out of my chest. And in the middle of that exqusite moment, I will tell them that, as we pray, I will be thanking my wonderful God for each of them. Just like I do everyday.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

In Real Life

I’d like to tell y’all a story about a remarkable group of women. They came together In the beginning because they all liked feathering their nests. And they liked helping others feather their nests. And, when all the nests were prettily feathered, they liked getting together and “oohing and ahhing” over all of the said featherings.

Now, if you saw them all together, you would be right in thinking that they were quite an odd assortment of folks. Among them were young mothers caring for their first babies as well as grandmothers who knew all there was to know about raising children. Some commuted to work, while others stayed home (and worked!) There were single women and newlyweds and those who knew the agony of a painful divorce. There were those who had been married to the loves of their lives for many, many years and those who had found that, for them at least, love really was sweeter the second time around. Some had lots of money while others struggled to make ends meet. They were tall, they were short. They were blonde, they were brunette. Thin, not-so-thin. They were as different as they could be. Yet, as different as they were, they became fast friends.

Oh, the fun they had! All of the “aunties” rejoiced when a new baby was born into the group. When children cut their first teeth or went to first grade or graduated from high school or college, everyone shared in the bittersweet excitement of the event and were amazed anew at “how fast they grow.” When there was a wedding, they all became Maids and Matrons-of-Honor. Everything was a cause to celebrate, from new jobs to new cars. Mostly, though, they celebrated each other.

Just about every night, you could find these smart, funny women gathered together at their meeting place; some with a cup of tea or coffee, others with a beer or a glass of wine. They just enjoyed being together. Some loved it so much, they brought along their family members who were welcomed warmly and made a part of the group. They shared recipes and weekend plans. They debated who was sexier, McDreamy or McSteamy and who should be the next Design Star. The only rule for conversation was “if you can’t say something nice, stay out of the discussion;” snarkiness would not be tolerated. Ladies, all of them, they were also given to great belly laughs and slapstick silliness, which was obvious to anyone who had been at the party where being properly dressed meant you had a pair of panties on your head.

What knit the fabric of their friendship together so tightly, however, was something more profound than fun and laughter. Ulysses S. Grant said, “The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.” Had these women been his friends, he would have treasured them above all others. When one of their own was in the midst of dark hours, they gathered around and became a great well of caring and compassion. When a son or a daughter went to war, not only did the friends offer up prayers, good thoughts and a shoulder for Mama to cry on, they sent letters of encouragement and packages of goodies to the soldiers. When illness or death overtook family or friends, they became the wall of strength on which the worried and the grief-stricken could lean. When life became too much to handle for whatever reason, they became shelter from the storm, offering words of encouragement and sometimes, if needed, gentle admonition. Their arms were quick to hold and their ears were willing to listen.

You may be thinking that this is certainly not exceptional behavior for very close friends; indeed, it happens all the time. But what you don’t know, what made this group of friends extraordinary, is that, with a few exceptions, most of them had never been within 100 miles of each other. Their homes dotted the map on both coasts and all points in between, from the cold north to the deep south. Most of them, in fact, had never heard the others’ voices nor seen the others’ faces. They had come together on an internet message board to share decorating wisdom and had ended up sharing their lives.

I am one of the lucky ones who have actually met a few of these precious cyber friends. Each time, as I was preparing for a trip to meet one or two of them, my family spared no words in letting me know what a hare-brained, dangerous adventure I was about to undertake. Shaking their heads, they said things like, “You don’t know anything about them. They could be ax murderesses or perverts!” Or, “Are you sure you want to do this? Bad, evil things could happen to you!” I knew, that under other circumstances, their concerns would be justified. I just couldn’t make them understand that this situation was different; that these women were not internet predators setting me up for some horrible crime. “How do you know?’ they asked. “I just know,” I said. It was difficult for me to explain how, in fact, they are as real to me as anybody I know in real life. You see, I’ve been on the receiving end of their love and support and encouragement. I’ve laughed and joked and had fun with them. I look forward to talking to them every day. My only regret is that I met them too late to be a part of the “panty party.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Follow Your Bliss

I am not the person I pretend to be. This bit of information is going to come as a big surprise to some people who think they know me; even a few who think they know me really well. It’s something that my husband and daughter have only recently discovered and I think even they were more than a little surprised at first. You see, after all these years, I am admitting that I am not a nurse. Never have been, really. And I’m tired of playing that role and I’m oh, so ready to step away from it.

Oh, I went to nursing school, got a degree and took the big test to prove I knew what I was supposed to know. When I answered enough of their questions accurately, the State Board of Nursing for SC saw fit to issue me a license. They didn’t know I wasn’t a nurse, either. So, for twenty-three long years I have pretended to be one of those noble women who care for the sick and the dying. And they are noble, these women who choose this career for the right reasons. I have nothing but respect and admiration for them.

My reasons for choosing nursing as a career, however, were far less than noble. I wasn’t one of those little girls who dreamed of wearing the starched white uniform and the little pointy cap when I grew up. I never had the lofty notion that I wanted to help people in that way. I had never had role models who were nurses. Heck, I don’t think I even knew any nurses. I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the world, but not necessarily in the field of healthcare. No, I chose nursing for a very pragmatic reason.

I had been at a liberal arts college for 3 years. After taking a year off between high school graduation and the start of higher education. Because I had done so much babysitting, everyone thought early childhood education would be the "just the thing" for me and that I would be “simply wonderful” at it. So I took a few classes and, while I enjoyed them, decided that, no, it wasn’t "just the thing" for me. I then briefly thought about History and English majors. For about a week, I entertained the notion of being a sociology major. Well, more like a few days. Certainly not long enough to take any classes in that field. So you see, I had really no idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I was certainly enjoying college, though. I renewed a friendship with a girl from high school and we became best friends. I had recently lost seventy pounds and was enjoying the attention of the opposite sex for the first time in my life. I spent more time in the student center playing Spades and Ping Pong than I did in class. Thank goodness there were more than a few apathetic professors who didn‘t care if you went to class or not. I had friends who would tell me what the day tests were given and I went to just enough classes to get the needed notes. Miraculously, I managed to keep a decent GPR and not get thrown out. I was having a blast!

But I wasn’t even close to graduating and Daddy was running out of patience with his darlin‘ oldest daughter. It became clear that it was time to either fish or cut bait. BestFriend was in the same situation as I was. Her mother was an office manager for a physician and BestFriend did some filing for them a couple of days a week. While there, she talked to some of the nurses who told her that nursing jobs were abundant and the pay was good. “We can always go to nursing school,” she said to me one day. “Why not?” I answered. And that’s how we decided to become nurses.

Almost from the beginning, I knew that I had made a really bad decision. I never looked forward to going to work. That's a bad way to feel about something you will probably have to do for a long time. I was afraid every day that something awful would happen, something that I couldn’t handle and then everybody would know that I was an imposter. I called in sick often. I came up with lame excuses about why I couldn't be there. “I’m sorry I can’t work tonight, but my cat is having emotional problems and I really can’t leave her alone.”

In spite of the fact that my attendance was less than perfect, my job performance was great. I managed to keep jobs. As I grew older and life happened, my attitude changed and I went to work whether I wanted to or not. Not only did I need to make sure I kept a job for financial reasons, I began to see that it was just the right thing to do. However, the fear and the dread never went away.

Eventually, I started working for Hospice. During the first few months there I thought, “Oh, wow! At last, the nursing job for me!” But I came to realize that, actually, it was still nursing and I didn’t want to be there, either. Even so,I stayed the course and even managed to get promoted to supervisor, which only made things worse. After twelve years, I finally felt like I had couldn't do it any more; I had to make some changes. I felt like I was losing my mind. So, in May of 2006, I handed in my resignation and felt peace for the first time in many years. In June, however, knowing that I still needed some income and that this was a sure thing, I went back to work as a Hospice nurse. It was only one day a week, but it was still nursing.

So, here I am twenty-three years later, playing the role I was never born for. I’ve always told myself that I stayed in nursing because of the money. I needed to work, jobs were available and it was something I could do without further education. Good reasons all. Lately, though, I’ve come to realize that I was getting a whole lot more than a paycheck out of it. I was feeding my pride.

There’s a certain cachet in being a nurse. Some people rank nurses right up there with the angels. They put us on very tall, wide pedestals and some of us don’t dare peek over the edges for fear we might fall off. We hear the reverence in our mother’s voice when she says to her friends, “My daughter is a nurse!” Former patients and their family members come up to us in public and tell us how much we mean to them. When we shop while wearing our uniforms, people look at us differently, almost like we're something holy. They assume that we are good and pure and only interested in their well being. It’s very easy to buy into that feeling, to believe you own press, so to speak.

But I’ve started feeling like I’ve sold tiny pieces of my soul in order to stay on that pedestal. I took the path of least resistance and kept doing a job that I hated because I was good at it and I was paid well for it. And people were constantly telling me how wonderful I was. I liked it when my boss got letters from families extolling my virtues and saying how they didn’t know what they would have done without me. I loved it when the other nurses came to me asking for advice. “Let’s ask Bee. She’ll know what to do.” And I puffed up with pride when the boss asked for my help on special projects or assignments.

“Besides," this must be God’s will for my life,“ I told myself as I began to grow spiritually and seek His guidance. As a Hospice nurse, I was meeting some extraordinary people who were such blessings to me. I was invited into their lives at a time when other strangers wouldn’t have been. I heard their stories and I laughed with them and cried with them. I felt like I made a difference. I felt that if God had given me the talents required to minister to these people, then surely I was where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to do. And I would just have to learn to function in spite of the misery.

But what if I was wrong? What if Satan was using these talents against me, filling me with pride and self worth, making me cling to a job that made me miserable. And what if in that misery, I whined and cried so loudly that I couldn’t hear God’s voice telling me what He wanted me to do? And if I couldn’t hear him, what if I thought He had forgotten me? That he didn’t care what I did anymore? I decided I should start praying a little harder and searching for what I was really meant to do.

Joseph Campbell said, “When you follow your bliss … doors will be open to you where you would not have thought there would be doors, where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else.” I will be 50 years old in just a bit over 2 months. I think it's time, with God’s direction, to seek out my bliss and those open doors. And maybe buy back those tiny pieces of my soul. I’ve looked over the edge of the pedestal and have found, not a sharp drop off as I had feared, but a staircase with sturdy handrails that takes you back to the bottom. And there,standing at the bottom step, are the two people I care most about, ready to catch me when I stumble.

And I am stumbling. Those doors haven’t started opening yet. Although I have my own ideas of what I would like to do with my life, I haven’t heard that still, small voice of God saying, "Yes, this is what I want for you, too." I pray daily for his answer and I know that, in time, it will come. It’s just very hard to wait.

Whatever I end up doing with my life, I will do it with my whole heart and I will praise Him as I do it. I think that’s what God wants most from us, anyway. The people who matter most to me won’t care that I’m not a nurse anymore. To them, I will still be the woman they love and who loves them fiercely in return. My family will remain the best part of my life; my soft place to land. And I’ll be most glad to be off of that pedestal. After all, I’m afraid of heights!

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Wonderful Gift by Bee L. for blog action day

Once upon a time there was a boy. Because he was much loved, he was given a wonderful gift - a large crystal sphere wrapped in a cloth of finely woven silver threads. It's intricately faceted surface sparkled with a beautiful kaleidoscope of colors; rich, warm reds, golden yellows and oranges, lush greens and spectacular blues, from the lightest icy hues to the darkest midnight tones.

It‘s breath-taking beauty, however, was only a small part of the magic of the sphere. The boy needed only to keep it clean and polished with the silvery cloth and it would provide him with all his needs. When he was hungry, he could reach inside and find nourishment. When he was thirsty, he could pour from it clear, cool water and drink until his thirst was quenched. When he was cold, he had only to hold it close and it would glow from within and warm him. When he was hot, he could lie down beside it and a gentle breeze would blow from it to cool him. During times of trouble, he could gaze into it’s depths and be comforted. And if he was lonely, he could roll it gently back and forth and a choir of angelic voices would sing to him.

Time passed and the boy grew older. As a man, he began to take his wonderful gift for granted. The cloth became trapped under a stone and he left it there, not wanting to lift the heavy rock to retrieve it. He used dirty hands to reach into the sphere for food or to pour his water and he always took more of each than he needed. He treated the sphere roughly and scratched it both inside and out He left fingerprints all over it’s sparkling surface.

Before long, the food was less abundant and less nutritious; the water became murky. The warm glow wasn’t as warm as it had once been and the cool breezes brought with them a stench. He could not see into the depths to be comforted any more and the voices no longer sang. Instead of sparkling and gem-like, the sphere’s colors were flat and dull.

Eventually, the man had a boy of his own and wanted to share the wonder of his gift. He looked at it now through clear eyes, eyes free of the scales of greed and apathy. He was deeply ashamed of how he had neglected the sphere. He was saddened to think that his son would never experience it’s magic.

It was then that he remembered the cloth. He rushed to the stone that held the cloth captive. Because he was older and the stone had become set into place, he had to work hard to pry it off of the cloth. When it was finally free, he shook it clean and looked at it. In the corner were embroidered the words “hope and diligence.” With tears flowing down his face, he went to his gift and began slowly polishing each facet one small surface at a time.

His son, who had been watching his father, understood the importance of what he was doing. He went to his father and held out his tiny hand. The man tore a piece from the cloth and gave it to him. He taught him how to use it and, together, they began the long task of saving the sphere from years of neglect. Others that had either known or heard of the original wonder of the sphere, gathered to offer their help. Soon, thousands of hands had taken small pieces of the cloth and were working steadily to restore it’s magic and beauty.

It wasn’t an easy thing to do. The sphere had been neglected a long time and the damage was great. Some came to jeer and make fun of them for working so hard. They urged the man to continue taking and taking from the sphere without thought given to the toll it might take. But the man and his helpers had grown wise and didn’t listen. They continued their work, steadfast in the hope for a complete restoration. Little by little, their diligence was rewarded. Once more, with sparkling gem-like facets, the sphere gave freely of its gifts. There was abundant food and fresh, clean water. The people were warmed and cooled and comforted. And once again, the angelic voices sang their songs.

Instead of being content to live ‘happily ever after,’ they continue to diligently clean and polish the sphere. And they teach their young to do the same, in hopes that all generations will be able to experience the wonderful gift.

It is my personal belief that God, indeed, gave us a wonderful gift - the earth. It’s beauty and grandeur far surpasses anything that man has created. It has provided us with all the necessities of life - food, water, shelter and yes, comfort. I know I have looked out over the Smoky Mountains and felt hugged by God. I love the song the earth sings to me, with it’s waterfalls and oceans and trickling streams. I love the colors it shows me in sunsets, sunrises and stormy skies.

Yet, for many years we have not kept it clean and polished. We have left our dirty finger prints all over our precious gift. I’m not talking just about major corporations dumping filth into our rivers or logging companies clear cutting our forests. That is certainly part of the desecration. But it’s also the little things that we, as individuals do on a daily basis. We take long showers, we fill our landfills with things that could be recycled. We think nothing of throwing cigarette butts out of car windows like the world is our personal ashtray. We drive when we could walk. Thousands of little things that add up to big abuse.

I am not a scientist with a magic plan. I have no statistics to spout off and show everyone exactly how much damage we are doing to our world. I am not even your typical, tree-hugging environmentalist (although I welcome the label.) I am a 50 year old, overweight wife and mother. I am, in fact, just one ordinary person. But I believe that if enough of us “just one persons” band together we can make a huge difference. We can walk more, take shorter showers. We can recycle and buy recycled goods. We can build “green” and use renewable resources to decorate our homes. We can adopt that zero-tolerance attitude towards litter and pollution. If we join together to polish it one facet at a time, we can help make our wonderful gift sparkle again. For ourselves and for our children.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sleeping with a Gun!

It was a dark and stormy night… Ok, it wasn’t stormy but it was dark. Dear John worked shift work and every third week meant night shift. Because he knew he would be gone so many nights, he taught me to use the shotgun; how to load, unload, cock and un-cock, and fire. I, of course, thought I would never need it, but still considered it useful information. And if I did happen to need it, I certainly wasn’t afraid of it. I was a brave girl; had always been the one to chase down things that go bump in the night with a baseball bat or whatever was handy while my mother and sisters huddled together in the dark saying “Be careful!”

But when I got pregnant, I lost my mind. I became the biggest scardey cat in SC. I heard birds in the chimney one night and stayed awake all night staring at the fire place, waiting on the aliens to come and get me and my baby. They already had my brain, after all.

On this particular night, I had gone to bed with all the lights on, like I did every night during my early pregnancy. It was around midnight or a little later (even back then I didn’t sleep much) when I thought I heard something in the back yard. Now, we live in the country. We have neighbors, but none I could really call to come and check all the little things I heard and none who should’ve been messin’ around my backyard. I listened for a few minutes and decided that, yes, there was something out there and I was not going to sit there and be a, well, a sitting duck. I got up, got the shotgun which was already loaded and hauled it into bed with me. I wasn’t a girl scout, but I still believed in being prepared, so I cocked it. And waited.

And waited a little while more. Of course, nothing happened. The few brain cells I had that were not suffering from PHT (pregnancy hormone toxicity) banded together and convinced me that sleeping with a loaded, cocked shotgun was a bad idea and that I should un-cock it. The one wee problem with that plan was that I had forgotten how to do just that. But I forged ahead until BBOOOOOOMMMMMM! It was no longer an issue. The walls rattled, my ears rang and the mattress smoked. Well, it didn‘t actually smoke. But it was missing almost the entire right lower corner (I had had sense enough not to point it in my direction!) The closet door, which was on the wall facing the foot of our bed and just to the right, was open. So Dear John’s one good suit (we were young bohemians who didn’t dress up often) got peppered with birdshot, as did the closet wall, some other clothes and a vintage Samsonite suitcase (although I didn’t know it at the time - I wasn’t into vintage then) that had been given to John by an uncle.

I sat there and waited on the neighbors to come rushing from all around and the police to come barreling down the road with their blue lights flashing and tires squealing to save little ol’ me . And nothing happened. Nothing happened! “Well,” I thought. “Good thing I wasn’t really in trouble!” After wondering for a bit how I was ever going to explain this, I turned the lights out and went to sleep until time for my sweet honey to come home.

It was still dark when I heard his key in the lock. The lights were on behind him and, as he came down the hall toward the bedroom, all I could see was his silhouette. (Good thing I knew it was him and didn’t have that gun all ready to go again.) Before he actually got in the room, I said, in a grave voice, “John, turn the lights on. I have something to tell you and its bad!” With his right arm, he reached to the wall beside his left shoulder and flipped the switch for the over head light. The look on his face was heartbreaking. It had drained of all color. The dark circles which he normally has under his eyes were darker than usual; a combination of steel dust and lack of sleep. And his expression was one of horrible expectation. I flung the covers back, exposing the wounded mattress and said, “I’ve shot the bed!”

I don’t know what he was expecting to hear, but that obviously wasn’t it. He sank to his knees at the end of the bed, dropped his head in his hands and slowly shook it back and forth. “Beverly, Beverly, Beverly!” he said. Only with a Southern accent it comes out, “ Bervly, Bervly, Bervly!”

After he recovered, we went back to sleep for awhile. When we got up, he was able to repair the mattress with iron-on patches and fishing line. The sheets and blanket, however, did not survive. It was then that he told me that if anybody ever did break into the house that I would have to club them to death with the gun because I wasn’t allowed to ever load it again.

The next week, when we were telling his mama what happened, I was touched by her care and concern….for the suitcase. “It was Samsonite!” she said.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Our Saga Continues

Move in day was set for August 17th. The week leading up to that day was kind of surreal. It was like we were cutting our own tails off a little bit at the time, all the while hoping that the final snip-snip would hurry up and the ordeal would be over. Excited dread, I guess you could call it. I was happy for Daughter Dear, excited with her about this giant step she was taking. But I knew it was going to be very hard to let go, to drive away and leave her there.

The whole family had come together the Sunday before for the going away party. What a bittersweet time that was - lots of laughter and tears. Aunt K read aloud a story Anna had written about a disastrous girls weekend trip that we had taken. The trip where 3 grown women had managed to get in a huge argument over what to call the various versions of fried eggs. (That trip is still referred to as “The Egg Trip” and makes us all howl with laughter- now. Wasn‘t so funny then.) Everyone brought little tokens to put in her conscience bag, a Crown Royal bag in which, as a child, she had placed all of her secret little treasures and carried it with her everywhere. She said she had named it that just because she liked the way the word sounded. The new treasures were to remind her of us when she was at school and feeling homesick. She could pull out one of the offerings (which included a plastic fried egg) and have a memory of a family who loved her very much. It was my job to present each one and explain it’s significance. I could barely speak through my tears as I explained the meaning off each little gift. After that, being the good Southern family that we are, we ate. And took lots of pictures. Ate some more. And laughed and cried a lot.

The next few days were spent getting everything together. We bought things we had miraculously forgotten to get - things that, until this point in her life she had never had a use for, were all of a sudden something that she couldn’t live without. If the kitchen table had had eyes, they would have bulged from the strain of everything we piled on it. We visited people who wanted to see her before she left; those who, like me, felt as if she were going to college in Siberia. We washed and folded clothes and packed them in clothes baskets and suitcases and boxes. We stayed busy and we talked. A lot. But we tip-toed around the proverbial elephant in the room. Not once did we mention the reason for all of this activity.

On August 16th, we finished with all of the preparations and loaded the cars. They were packed as full as they could be without stuff squishing out of the windows. Then we ate supper at home, watched a little TV together and went to bed very early. So we could get up very early. Insanely early. At the same time insomniacs who haven’t been to bed yet are awake. In other words, early!

The big day dawned. Well not really; dawn was still a long way off. But the date arrived. As is usual in our house, I was the first one up. I showered, made the coffee and, for a few minutes, I just enjoyed that peace that only comes before day breaks. The language of my house, those little noises that are unique to every home, comforted me; the refrigerator hummed, the ceiling fan clicked, the coffee pot sputtered. The lights were low. Everyone, including the dog, was asleep in their own little spot. The man of my heart and the dog were having their usual snoring contest. The cats had just started to play their in-and-out game. Everything was as it always was and it felt right. It occurred to me that this was the last time it was going to feel right for a good little while.

I got her up to and sent her off to the shower and, while my dear darlin’ husband slept a wee bit longer, I sat down at the computer and poured my heart out again to my board buddies - wonderful women who are as real-life to me as any friend I have in, well, real life. They had been so supportive and caring through the choosing of the college, the high school graduation and through all the preparations for the move. I was glad they were there that morning! Talking to them kept me from going nuts while I waited on everybody to get ready to go.

And finally, we were ready to go. We each went to our assigned travel positions and hit the road to College Town, USA; Man O’Mine driving my car, Daughter driving hers with me in the shot-gun seat. We started out under dark skies and arrived at the college in bright sunshine. And lots of heat. And lots of people. Lots of busy people. Everybody looked like they were late for something. Hurry here and hurry there. Like ants on an ant hill that had been run over by a lawnmower.

The roommate was already there and had the bed put together, so it was easy to make it habitable. The girls and the moms unpacked schtuff and put it away while the manly daddies ran cables and hooked schtuff up. I, of course, felt like a failure as mother because Roomie had a rug to put in front of her desk and my sweet baby didn’t. How could I have not gotten my wonderful, beautiful child a rug?! “Well,” I thought. “I’ll just remedy that situation the first weekend she comes home!”

Soon, the room was done and it was off to the scheduled activities. That whole “Parents Depart” thing was getting closer and closer. Daddy and Daughter went to the bookstore to get a couple of things that we were unable to buy earlier and I went to the auditorium to wait for them and the Welcome Celebration to begin. The first thing that caught my eye when I walked in was a huge banner strung across the lobby screaming “Welcome home to LRC.” They wanted all of their students to feel like this was home?! I was so afraid that she might do just that, that I started crying. Then 2 of the biggest football players I had ever seen (Ok, in retrospect, they weren’t really that big) sauntered in acting all cool and looking dangerous and I thought, “How can I leave her here where people like that are free to just be anywhere? Whose going to protect her?!” And I cried even harder.

I saw them come up the hill and tried to wipe my eyes, but they knew that, once again, I had been blubbering. They wanted to know what had prompted this round of tears and when I explained it to them through fresh sniffles, they gave each other that look. The look that’s like a secret handshake between them. One that I could be jealous of, but that I think is so special I can’t find it in myself to be anything but awed touched by it. We went into the auditorium and found seats and the Celebration began. The campus pastor prayed a beautiful prayer and several people had nice things to say, and all of a sudden it was time to go. I felt like I couldn’t breathe! “ How can I say ‘goodbye’ in just a few minutes? Especially with my chest hurting soooo bad? How can I stop hanging on to her so tightly? Why won’t my arms move from around her?”

But my arms betrayed me and let go, and she turned and walked away. I will never forget that sight as long as I live. My child’s back as she walked away from me. Towards a new life, sure. But away from me. I turned and walked as fast as I could to the car, surprised at the families laughing and waving goodbye and acting like this was just another day, Another sleep-over at a friend’s house.

The newly created empty-nesters got in the car and headed out. We stopped for lunch, where I cried and cried and the waiter kept giving Hubby Dear dirty looks as if he might be responsible for my tears. I stopped crying after we had been on the road for a bit and felt much better when I realized that I could text her right now if I wanted to. So I did and asked her if she was ok. She texted right back and said she was fine and asked if I was ok. “No,” I told her. “But I will be.”

That’s when I decided to kill my husband. “Y’all know you aren’t going to be able to do that all the time, don’t you. It’s too expensive. You’re going to need to find another way to communicate.” I saw lights flash before my eyes. White hot anger surged through my blood stream. My first instinct was to reach over and put my hand into his chest and rip his heart out. Only two things kept me from following through: 1. The seat belt had done that hateful lockey thing where you can’t move forward even a centimeter, much less reach across the entire front seat to commit murder. And, 2. The knowledge, floating somewhere out there on the periphery of my anger, that tomorrow I would probably love him again and still want to spend the rest of my life with him. Plus, he most likely would have lost control of the car and I might have been hurt. It was a long, roaringly quiet ride home.

The first weekend there, she was homesick, she said, but felt like it would get better when classes started. She didn’t like all of those “forced socialization activities” as she called them. When I asked her if there were any sororities that she was interested in, she informed me that most of those girls had seemed like the ones she made fun of in high school. She had made a couple of friends and they were hanging out together at the activities. One of which was a pool party, the kind of thing my non-nature loving, sun-a-phobic daughter hated.

Monday she had some free time and decided to ride around and look at the country side. It could have been a lovely, relaxing way to spend the afternoon. Only she rode by a “patch of kudzu that looked just like the turnoff to Boykin," home to one of our favorite places to get a burger. So, instead of lovely and relaxing, it made her more homesick.

Tuesday, she resorted to the wildly expensive text message for communication. I was puttering around the kitchen trying to feel normal again when I heard my phone beep. I picked it up, pressed the SHOW MESSAGE button and read, “These grits suck!” So much for feeling normal! I wanted to fix a pot of grits and drive them up there to her. And deliver the recipe to the cafeteria.

And so the week went. We used every form of electronic communication known to us. We text messaged, talked on cell phones and land lines. We emailed and IM’d.
She even set up a little chat room where the 3 of us could talk together. I emailed the campus pastor and asked him to please pray for her, because she was so homesick. Every night I went to bed worried, hoping that in the morning I would hear from her and she would have turned that elusive corner and found contentment. Every morning, I woke up and talked to her and was assured that today might be the day. Every afternoon, I talked to her again, and knew that, in fact, it hadn’t been. I told her on Tuesday night that I would come and pack her up and move her back on Wednesday if she really wanted me to and was sure she wouldn’t ever be happy there. “No, no!” she assured me. She thought she should just tough it out for the first semester and see what happened then. I agreed with the plan, but was still uneasy.

Then, on Thursday night, we had the conversation that I had been hoping to have. The one where she was like her old self. She seemed lighter, happier. She joked with her daddy and I felt like, at last, we could all move on. I went to be and slept peacefully for the first time in a week, happy knowing that my baby was ok now.

As I said earlier, I usually get up very early, before sunrise on most days. I did the same things as I had done on the Friday one week earlier. I made the coffee, I packed Hubby Dear’s lunch . I let the dog out and the cats in. And out. And in again. I sat down at the computer and checked my email.

And there was the letter from my daughter, explaining very eloquently why she wanted to come home. Now. The letter she had been writing as she talked to us the night before! She had been praying all week and really seeking God’s guidance in a way that she hadn’t done in a long time, she said. And she felt like she wanted to leave there and come home and go to college here in town. She had thought it through and knew she still had time to withdraw without penalty and what she could do between leaving LRC and starting FMU. She wanted to do it now, but said she would stay the semester if we thought she should. But after one semester, she wanted to come home.

“Oh, shit!” I said out loud as Mr. I-don’t-talk-much-ever-but-even-less-in-the-mornings went to pour his second cup of coffee. “What?” he wanted to know. I asked him to come look at the long email and see what his daughter had to say. He said, “Paraphrase it.” So I told him that she wanted to come home and that I had a gut feeling it was the right thing to do and that I was going to get her today.
“Ok. Be careful.” And he kissed me goodbye and went to work.

So that’s how I spent my Friday. I went to College Town, USA one last time and picked up my daughter, who was waiting outside the dorm like a little girl whose mother was late picking her up from the first day of school. She was pale, and shaky and afraid that we were going to be disappointed in her. “Never in a million years,” I assured her. We loaded the same 2 cars up that we had loaded before and headed home, which is always a good way to go. But first we stopped and I fed the child who had been so homesick that she had barely eaten all week. It was there that I asked her, "What would you have done if I had told you you had to stay the semester?" "I knew you wouldn't tell me that," she answered.

She had expected some good-natured ribbing from all of the family members, young and old alike. None came. We are family of fairly bright people who have all made some wild decisions over the years. Including many having to do with college educations. We all felt like she was just carrying on family traditions. And everybody was gracious and welcoming and glad to have her home. We even had a girls’-day-out luncheon to welcome her back. (Nobody ordered eggs!)
Her adventure was short. Not more than a single stitch in the tapestry of her life. But, like those single stitches add to the color and texture of a tapestry, Her time away will add dimension to the woman she will be. And although she was only gone a week, she changed. She came back with not only a clear plan for her future, but with what seems to be an almost reverent appreciation for home and family. We know that she will leave again one day. But none of us are in any hurry for that to happen. As long as it’s healthy for all of us, she knows she has a place here.

“The more things change, the more they stay they same.” I don’t know who said that, but I know it’s true. At least in my case. I wake up every morning before the sun comes up. I listen to my house as I make the coffee and the lunch. I feed and threaten bodily harm to the always in-and-out cats that I love. My husband and daughter and little dog are asleep in their beds. I sit down at the computer and read email and check in on the board where I say good morning to all of my friends. Once again, all is right with my world.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Parents Depart?!

It all happened innocently enough. We were back home from our trip to register for classes at college. I was still giddy from being told by my wonderful daughter that she was glad we had the relationship that we did; high on knowing that we like each other outside of the whole mother-daughter thing.

In an effort to be helpful, I was perusing the college website, looking for recommendations on the best lap top, what she would need in the dorm, meal plans, etc. All those things that parents want to know so they will be sure their babies aren't lacking anything that will make college life easier. It's a pretty website, with bright colors and lots of pictures. And there I was just leisurely looking around. Not expecting to be broadsided!

"Well, while I'm looking," I thought, "I might as well go look at this "Prologue" thing and see what move in day will be like." You know.To find out things like what time we had to be there, where we were supposed to go, would we have help with the heavy stuff. Those kinds of things that you need to know to make it a smooooothh experience. "Oh look," I said to myself. "There is a whole schedule of the days goings-on. How cool! I think I'll check that out."

And that's where those hateful words were hidden in seemingly innocent text. They were in bold faced type and they practically screamed from their place on the page. "Parents Depart." Or as I read it, "Go away. You are no longer needed." Right after the "New Students Welcome Celebration" we are expected to just casually go away and leave her there. Without us. All alone in the big bad, world!

"Parents Depart," just words on a page to them. Words meant only to move the day along from one event to the other. They didn't know! When we leave that day, life as we know it will change forever! For over eighteen years, it's been the three of us. Of course, there have been other changes in our lives during that time, but it's always been the three of us facing those changes; together - under one roof! We've had our individual interests and friends and times away. But those were all transient things and we knew that when we were finished with those, we would all come together at home and be "the three of us' again.

That will all change now. There used to be such a feeling of "rightness" when she, he, I, and both cats and the dog settled in at bedtime. I knew where everyone was and that they all were safe. Hard times might come in the morning, but for that little while, all was as it should be. How can I live with a change this profound?!

But how could I hold her back? This is what life is all about. A very wise woman I know always says that you give your children wings and that you have to let them go. And she is right. "Parents Depart" so that their child can become independent and strong, using those wings to reach amazing new heights. Secure in the knowledge that she will always have a safe place to land at home.

So I will leave her there, this child that I have loved with all my heart since the day she was born. I will depart, so that she may start on the next chapter of her life's book. And in doing so, I will start on the next chapter of mine. The chapter all about the empty nest and how it, too, can be a good place to live.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


My uncle died yesterday. My mother's only brother, 2 years her junior. He was the one who rode me around on the tractor when I was a toddler. He blew up a big yellow balloon and gave it to me when I cried for the moon. He was our favorite babysitter. He was a sailor, very handsome in his Navy uniform. He traveled to lots of places and always brought us wonderful surprises from all of them. He served in Viet Nam. He taught me to sing "Do, Lord." At that time, he was bigger than life, a hero in my young eyes. I could never understand why Daddy never liked him. Daddy always thought he was mean and more than a little "off." Even before the Navy and Viet Nam.

As we all grew older and he married and became the father of four children himself, I began to see what Daddy had seen all along. He was a mean man. A bully. So full of self-righteousness that he would tolerate no way but his and he meant, by God, to have that way by whatever means he deemed necessary. He beat his wife and children. He beat his wife in front of his children. Often. He controlled their every action. Everything they did was out of fear of how he would react to it. They wouldn't even eat the last of anything in their pantry for fear he would come in and want it. Fear that he would want it. They didn't save it as loving children would save something for their loving father.

In spite of being offered safe haven at my parents house over and over again, my aunt stayed with him. Far longer than I would have. But eventually, she had had enough. When her youngest child graduated from high school, she left him. Her children gathered around her and helped her make a good life for herself. And, they managed to grow into productive, wonderful people. People who still believe in good and doing the right thing. In spite of all he had put them through when they were young, they wanted to try as adults to have some kind of relationship with him. But each attempt was disastrous. He blamed them all for the trouble he had in his life and for not coercing my aunt into coming back to him. He continued to feel justified in all that he had done to them. Somewhere in his sick mind, he thought he had been the kind of husband and father that God wanted him to be.

His abusive behavior wasn't limited to his wife and children. For years, after Daddy died and Mama remarried, he bullied her about the way she took care of Grandmama and Granddaddy. (She did an excellent job and he had no reason to complain.) He physically threatened my step-father on several occasions. After Grandmama and Granddaddy died, Mama didn't have to put up with it anymore for their sakes, so she didn't. She also severed ties with him. It's been three years since she last spoke to him.

And so, he died alone in his bed. The cleaning lady found his body yesterday morning when she came for work . He had charted the course of his life and it had ended just the way we all thought it would. I remember being very angry with him once when, as a teenager, I listened to him berate his 9 year-old son for losing a football game, promising him a beating when he got home. I was so mad I could barely breathe but before I bolted out of his car, I managed to choke out, "You know, they're going to hate you one day and you are going to deserve it." I don't know if they actually hated him or not, but of the 4 children and 7 grandchildren he had, not one of them had any kind of relationship with him. He had 3 grandchildren that he had never seen.

I find myself now wondering how I can feel no grief at all. No sorrow whatsoever that he isn't in the world anymore. No sadness for the passing of my childhood hero. I feel lots of anger toward him for the way he treated my mother and the hell he put his wife and children through. And I am still outraged at the lies he told more distant family members about my aunt and my mother. I feel like he died just like he should have - all alone. But I feel no sadness at all.

Does this make me a bad person? One with a hard heart? I know Jesus commanded us to "love one another." On occasion, I did feel pity for him and sorry that he had made his life what it was. And I never wished him harm. I hope that means that, on some level, I was able to love him.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


To me, the word "jumpstart" implies a quick action. A force intended to move things along at a faster pace than they would move on their own. A course with less obstacles. And I guess that's what it was in this case. The college where my sweet daughter will begin her higher education this fall had a whole day they called "Jumpstart." A day to start the college ball rolling. A day for registering for classes, getting lots of information on college life and some initial interaction between the students.

It was also a time which (here's that word again!) jumpstarted a subtle, yet profound, change in our roles as mother and daughter. Mapquest tells me it was about a 200 mile trip which took us about 3 hours to make. It was a pleasant drive to a new place in our relationship. We went from being mother and needy teenage daughter to mother and young adult, daughter and friend.

We made the trip up the day before the actual event so that we wouldn't have to leave home so early in the morning. Neither of us are really morning people and we probably wouldn't have talked much during the ride if we had made it a one-day trip. In fact, one of us would probably have slept the whole way!

As it was, we left in the late afternoon, just the right time to run smack-dab into Charlotte rush-hour traffic. In spite of the tense driving, we were able to talk. And talk. And talk. When we had finally gotten off the interstate and were getting close to our destination, she said the words to me that I will treasure for the rest of my life. She looked at me and told me she was getting ready to have a "mini-mushy moment" and said, "I am so glad that we have the relationship that we have. So many of my friends don't have that." Well, my heart darn near swelled out of my chest. All those agonizing moments of second-guessing my mothering skills, all those regrets for things I should have done, all that beating myself up was least for a while.

After that, we just talked about trivial things. We even joked about sex which is something we had NEVER done before. It was trivial, but it was different. It was during these conversations that I realized my daughter had truly become my friend. She has always been my buddy, my pal-around gal. But now, she was my friend!

I knew when I saw her walk down the aisle at high school graduation, that she was no longer a child, but the ride to "Jumpstart" was truly the defining moment for me, I think. We are still very much mother and daughter, a fact that always makes me very happy. I don't know why God chose to bless me with such a wonderful child, but I am so very grateful that He did.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Why a blog? As I grow older, gracefully of course, I keep having these profound thoughts about all kinds of things. At least they seem profound to me as I drive down the road, or stand in the shower, or lie in bed at night waiting to fall asleep. For some time, I have felt almost compelled to write these thoughts down. To preserve them so that in the future, my progeny will know what I loved and hated; what I found sad or hysterically funny. In other words, so that after I am gone, they can still know me.

Initially, I thought I would keep a handwritten journal. One with little doodles in the margins that, along with my handwriting, would give them further insight into what makes me me. I know I like to see how people form their letters and how they decorate their writing. Do they dot their i's or do they make little circles, hearts or smiley faces over them? Do they print rather than write? I thought my family might feel as I do. Surely they could get past the fact that my handwriting ain't what it used to be. So I bought a journal. A really lovely one. It has a finely pebbled black leather spine and back cover with a flint blue sueded front cover. It is filled with BLANK parchment-colord pages. And it has been BLANK for about 2 years now.

The problem with my thinking, I discovered is that the journal (or blog) should really be to help Me see what makes Me tick; to get in touch with the kinds of feelings and thoughts that make me driven to write them down somewhere. To read something I've written a year from now and either re-affirm those musings or smack myself in the head and say "What was I thinking?!"

I could still do that with pen and paper. But I have this perverse notion that other people may want to know about me and my journey to understand myself. I belong to a message board, a cyber home-away-from-home, if you will. While I have many friends there, two ladies in particular have touched me with their blogs. Their writings have made me cry, smile and laugh out loud. They write about their "Eureka!" moments when they discover something profound about life, either theirs in particular or about all of us . In sharing those moments, they allow me to know them better. It is these ladies who have inspired me to blog and someday, when I am more comfortable with this whole process, I hope to be able to share mine.

I want to avoid trying to "pretty" things up so that I sound like a fancy-schmancy writer. If I am pissed off about something, then I want to say, "I'm pissed off!" . If I am mad as hell at my husband, I want to spell it out, even if I know he will read it and maybe get his feelings hurt. I want to be eloquent, but I want to be real. That's just the kind of girl I am. (And I guess it wouldn't be bad at all to sound like a fancy-schmancy writer if I stayed true to myself.)

So, I begin my journey. We will see where I go.

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