Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanks Giving Day

It was before sunrise when I woke up this morning. The only light in our bedroom was the soft glow from the little lighthouse nightlight on JD3’s chest-of-drawers. In spite of the swish-whirr of the ceiling fan, the low hum of the heat pump, and the not-so-low snores of Prissy, our little Shi Tzu, the room was quiet and still. Reluctant to be fully awake, I burrowed deeper into the covers, warmed by the knowledge that, for now at least, all was right in my little world.

My sweet baby girl was home and sleeping in her own bed. Herman, her big white cat, was snuggled up close to her side. Keeping watch at the foot of the bed was Gracie, our goofy, immensely lovable 60lb puppy. Percy, our wild-child kitty-cat, had refused to come inside the night before and was asleep in his secret warm place outside. In our room, the previously mentioned noisy one had made herself into the small ball of fur that was snoozing in front of the bookcase. And sleeping beside me, hiney-to-hiney, was JD3, the man that I love and am growing old with. All the pieces to the jigsaw puzzle that is my life were in place.

As I lay there, trying to convince my bladder that I really didn’t need to be up yet, JD3 stirred and turned over. He tucked his knees into the bend of mine, threw his arm around me and settled back into sleep. It was no big deal, something married people do all the time. I’m not even entirely sure he was aware of it. But I knew that in that simple touch was the essence of everything that I am most grateful for in this life.

I know that I have family and friends who are always ready to throw their arms around me or hold my hand or hug me or pat me on the back or just sit beside me and make me feel safe and loved and part of something good. I have sisters who make me feel like I belong when they sit beside me and we talk about stuff; our childhood, our children, other peoples children who aren’t quite as special as ours are; just stuff. I have a mother who hugs me good-bye and makes me know she’s glad I was there and she hopes I’ll be back soon. I have a husband who makes me feel treasured by simply putting his hand on my knee as we ride along in the car, (or by throwing his arm across me in his sleep.) I have a daughter whose good-night kiss can right all the wrongs of the day. I have nieces and nephews whose hugs just plain make me happy.

What’s really exceptional (at least in my opinion) is that I have friends who give this kind of love long distance! These are the friends who held my hand as I worried about Anna after that awful wreck. They sit beside me every day and we talk about our families, our homes, our hopes for the future. If I’m having a bad day, their words make me feel like I’ve been held close in what one friend calls a “big ol’ boobie crushing hug,” the best kind of hug there is. With gentle pushes, they encourage me to try things I’ve never done before and then pat me on the back when I succeed. The fact that we’re so far apart seems insignificant. They’re my best friends and I’m oh, so grateful for them.

Yes, I’m thankful for my family. And I’m thankful for my friends. But what I’m most thankful for is God‘s presence in my life. During hard times, He wraps me close in His arms and, while I’m crying on His shoulder, He says, “Don’t worry. I’m here and I’ll never leave you.” He holds my hand when I’m walking through dark places. When I need direction, He puts His arm around me and says, “Listen, Bee. This is what I want you to do for me.” (Sometimes, I wish He’d just talk a little louder.) When I mess up, as I often do, He hooks my chin with His finger, tilts my face up to look at Him and says, “No, that’s not how I would have you do it. But I love you and I forgive you. Just try and do it my way from now on.” And I do try. I try every day to be the kind of person he wants me to be.

Thanksgiving Day is now officially over. Anna, Gracie and Herman are settled in for the night in Anna’s room. Percy, of course, is outside in his secret place. In a few minutes, I will turn off the lights here in the kitchen and head off to bed, where JD3 and Prissy are waiting for me. The room will be dark except for the glow from the little nightlight. I’ll crawl beneath the covers and hear the swish-whirr of the ceiling fan, the hum of the heat pump and the snores of my beloved little dog. As I lay there in the stillness, I’ll be warmed by the knowledge that all is right in my little world. I’ll know that I’ve been blessed beyond measure, and as I fall asleep, I’ll know that, for me, thanks giving day will never be over, but will come again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day. And every day.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Reflections at an Intersection

The light changed from green to yellow as she approached the intersection. If it had been a bright, sunny day, she might have tried to “squeeze the lemon,” her daughter’s way of saying, “Give it some gas and hurry on through before the yellow light turns red!” But it wasn’t a sunny day. Rain was spilling steadily down from a fuzzy gray sky that seemed to sag with the weight of all the water it held. She adjusted the windshield wipers from Intermittent to All-the-Way-On, pressed gently down on the brake pedal and, instead of squeezing that lemon, came to a soft, easy stop just as the light changed to red.

She loved weather like this. The pavement was as black and shiny as the brand new, patent leather Mary-Janes she‘d worn every Easter when she was a little girl (except for that one year when, for some unknown reason, she‘d worn white.) The shimmery reflections of the red and white car lights on the wet street sent a little shiver of Christmas spirit right through to her soul, even though it was a warm September day. She had turned the radio off and the patter of the rain on the roof of her car had muted all of the normal busy-day traffic sounds. She felt secluded, happily cocooned in her own little world with just her thoughts to keep her company.

As she sat there enjoying the wait for the green light, it occurred to her that whether she turned left or right or continued straight ahead, she’d still get home, her favorite place in all the world, in about 20 minutes. And, no matter which direction she chose to go, there would be something to see along the way that would make her smile. Of course, no matter which direction she chose to go, there would the possibility that something would annoy her and make her scowl a bit, too.

If she turned left, she could cross the little creek that ran through town. Always lovely, it was especially pretty in the rain. After making the turn, she’d drive straight for about a mile, at which point the road would curve and she would cross a kind-of-bridge. The houses that lined most of the street would fall from view, making her almost forget that this was a residential area and not a country road. On both sides of the bridge, she’d see lush green ferns and willows and that plant with the pretty white flowers; the one she didn’t know the name of. (Granddaddy would have known what it was.) She would see trees standing straight and tall in the dark water, with kudzu and Spanish moss wrapped around the trunks and hanging from the branches. Maybe, if she was lucky, she’d see an ibis or a crane. The surface of the water, more graphite-gray than black, would be sprinkled with thousands of little pewter-colored rain dots. But - and there was always a but - that mile before you got to the creek had a reputation for being a speed trap; a well-deserved reputation that she could personally vouch for. And, once you crossed the creek, the country road once again became a city street lined with non-descript, (some down-right ugly,)houses and businesses.

If she turned right, she could ride by her favorite house in town, the little cottage with the stained glass windows hanging on the porch. A picket fence enclosed an overgrown garden filled with late-blooming flowers, birdhouses and quirky yard art. The owner was in the process of painting, so the house was half pink and half green. And had been for years. Though they had never met, she was sure that the woman who lived there - and she just knew it was a woman - had embraced her inner Bohemianess just as she had, and must be quite a wonderful person. The thing was, to get there she’d have to go through that goofy intersection, where she’d have to cross a busy street at an odd angle, zigging to the right, then zagging quickly to the left. You had to be very careful there because, when the light turned green, drivers unfamiliar with the area, thinking there was no opposing traffic, would turn left smack dab in front of you making you call them and their mamas ugly names.

Straight ahead, the road was lined on each side with massive oak trees whose branches met overhead and formed a lacy green tunnel. Traveling through it, she’d pass some of the town’s oldest houses; houses that were built when this area was still considered “way out in the country.” On her left, she’d see the new built-to-look-like-an-old-farmhouse house with the oh, so cool tin roof. A little further up on the right, would be the pretty white house and it’s wrought iron trellis that was all but hidden beneath a big yellow-flowering vine. What would be her most favorite thing to see, though, was the little garden that had been planted on land bequeathed to the town by the Shack Lady. For a long, long time, and to the consternation of her affluent neighbors, an old woman had lived in a broken-down, not very pretty little house on a much desired, very valuable piece of real estate. After her death, it was discovered that she had been quite well off and had owned the land outright. In her will, she deeded the aforementioned real estate to the townspeople, with the stipulation that no houses would ever be built there; that it would become a garden, instead. Now, instead of being ugly and unkempt, it was one of the prettiest places on the pretty tree-lined street. But - here’s that infamous but again - those pretty trees had big ol’ roots that had buckled the pavement in places and years of bad weather had caused pot holes that had never been repaired properly. The bumpy street just plain needed paving. AND, it headed straight into Five Points, the intersection where six, (not five, but six,) of the busiest streets in town came together. The state-of-the-art traffic light did a good job of keeping things sane, but sometimes you had to wait what seemed like forever for your turn to go.

While she was sitting there trying to name all six points that came together up ahead (much like she sometimes tried to name all eight of Santa’s reindeer or Snow White’s seven dwarves,) the light changed from red to green. She slid her foot from the brake to the accelerator, pressed down, and for no better reason than just because, went straight. “Hmm,” she thought. “Wonder what it would be like if life were like this; if every time you chose a particular life path, you already knew what was up ahead, the bad as well as the good.” In her heart, though, she knew that it wouldn’t be a good thing; that fretting over all the bad that could happen would keep you from fully enjoying all the good that was to be had. And besides, she just loved surprises.

Monday, November 3, 2008

I apologize...

to all of you who left such nice comments on Anna's story. When I posted it, I somehow got something out of order and she wanted me to fix it. The only way I could do it, it seemed, was to delete the whole stinkin' thing and re-post it. Just as I was hitting that blasted Delete box, I realized I would lose all of your lovely comments. I'm so sorry. They mean so much to both of us and I would never so callously delete them on purpose.

Since I am a notoriously slow blogger and my sweet, baby girl is something of a writer, herself, I asked her if I could share some of her work with you. I’m so glad she agreed.

Impressions of College LifeBy Anna L.
So, this last week I was anticipating a lot of questions about college life. It was this anticipation that prompted me to write down my observations. Without further ado, here is my little dabble into pseudo-editorial writing. I guess.

The rain forests aren’t in danger of disappearing. They are just in the process of migrating to Columbia, SC. Don’t believe me? Let us consider the similarities: The rain forest is a humid place. Columbia definitely has that area covered. I don’t believe there has been a single day with humidity below 89 percent. The rain forest is abuzz with the sounds of birds and insects. Indeed, Columbia, or at least parts of the USC campus, seems to demand the use of earplugs. Yes, animals, I understand that it has recently rained and is unbearably hot, but must you serenade us students as we hike to our different classes? And if you absolutely must, is there any reason that you can’t keep it down to a level slightly below ear-bleeding? Yes, Columbia is what one who has never been outside of the continental US might imagine the rain forest to be like: Hot, muggy, humid, steamy, hot, noisy, wet, hot, unpleasant, hot.

Speaking of animals, the squirrels in Columbia are just a little too comfortable with people to lend one peace of mind. Truthfully, the little buggers are downright terrifying. Should you be unfortunate enough to come across one of the furry fiends, DO. NOT. MAKE. EYE. CONTACT. Especially if they happen to be holding any kind of food – an acorn, a stray French fry, the remains of that freshman that just couldn’t get away in time. There is some sort of genetic quality about these squirrels that is just off, they don’t look like regular squirrels; they are more like the carnival workers of the rodent world. Sure, you know what they are by looking at them, but you still don’t quite know what else they could be. The squirrels are only rivaled in numbers by the cockroaches. All the t-shirts and posters that say “Go Cocks”? Yeah, those are actually shortened versions of “Go away Cockroaches.” If not, they should be. The little critters are everywhere. But if you see one at night, your new friend will kick them. Because he has a new mohawk and that’s the kind of things guys with mohawks do. Maybe.

A world of dining opportunities await you…in theory. Having a meal plan is a pretty nifty thing. You just swipe your card and voila! Your meal is paid for without the hassle of waiting for change, or even signing a receipt (a feat that not even Visa has managed yet). But speedy paying is about where the convenience ends. Should you want lunch, there are a few on-campus options with a decent location. You have an always crowded cafeteria, which those pressed for time usually avoid. Then there are your “fast” food options. Old favorites like Burger King, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Chick-fil-a are in a line just waiting for you to choose. Of course, everyone else has to choose too, and as we should all expect, everyone else also just happens to be in a cheese pizza mood. On days when you don’t particularly feel up to the limited selection of the steady familiars, there are some slightly slower options, that are just as frustrating. Pandini’s is a “fast” food Italian restaurant, similar to Fazoli’s. Word of advice: don’t get the pasta. Even if it has just come off the stove, through some natural phenomenon, it will be cold. The pizzas are pretty good, but ridiculously large for a single serving. Then there is the joy of supper, or lunper as I like to call it (because it comes at that odd time between lunch and supper). Yes, lunper is available (at Preston anyway) from 5:15 until 7:45. Which makes sense, because everyone knows that college students are all in bed by ten or eleven, and couldn’t possibly be hungry again by that time. Preston dining is good for certain types of people. You know, the ones that will randomly sit with a stranger, introduce themselves and strike up a conversation, all while you have grains of rice stuck to your lips. If, like me, you prefer to keep socializing and rice eating (I say rice because it is always the first thing in the line of food), Preston dining is a place you go to eat (because you have to) and awkwardly stare at your friends, who are also enjoying some sort of rice dish.

Meeting people is not so much a difficulty as it is an annoyance. Believe me, I never lack for companionship. In fact, I look forward to the times when the only person I have to talk to is myself…not that I…do that. All sorts of people will shove their way into your life, whether it be the indie music obsessed Yankee that thinks you are musically deprived because you, like most everyone else on the planet, haven’t heard of such obscure bands as Smoosh or TV on the Radio. Then there’s the guy of indeterminable age, who dropped out, but still likes to hang around campus and publicly kiss his girlfriend. (“You can’t spell “pretentious” without “Preston.” Actually, Chief? You can.) And don’t worry about no one knowing your name. In some of your smaller classes you will be forced to go around and introduce yourself. Repeatedly. Sometimes using visual aids! Not enough personal contact for you? How about assigned seating in a class of almost 400? That way you will be sure to meet your neighbors over the course of 15 weeks.

Reliable internet service? We don’t need no stinkin’ reliable internet service. Apparently a college campus – the campus of the state’s flagship university, no less – is not able to keep its servers up and running. Have there been some mysterious power outages? Solar flares? Maybe the wires are just melting in the heat. Whatever the problem may be, they really need to get their act together, as the professors - You know, the ones responsible for passing or failing the students - Yeah, they kinda like to give assignments through the internet and e-mail.

You will walk. A lot. This will not be lessened by associating with people who live closer to the state of Georgia than they do to the rest of the campus. These people will, for some reason, want to hang out with you. At their place. Oh, and did I forget to mention the stairs? As South Carolina is not a plains state, and as Columbia is in the Sandhills region, there are a lot of hills. Many of these hills are far too steep to be traversed using sidewalks alone. No, they must have stairs of varying widths and steepnesses (have a new word). Elevators do not help. Why? Because to use one without looking like a jerk, you must either have poor or no usage of your legs, or be a human version of a pack mule. What if you don’t fit either qualification? Then take the stairs you pansy! If you are fortunate enough to be on semi-level ground, you still have to beware of the bricks. Brick walkways are nice to look at, but they lose some of their appeal when they are coming towards your face at the speed of “trip” because you decided to answer that text message while walking. Enjoy your concussion, Grace.

Dorm living is very much like staying in a hotel. The walls are thin, and there always seems to be some idiot running up and down the halls at one in the morning. Not that you are asleep. The fan – which is your only way of controlling the temperature – has most likely done its job overly sufficiently and has thus turned you into an icicle. If the cold hadn’t woken you, the person flushing the toilet two floors above you would have. Which brings me to the plumbing: like all hotels, the shower head in the bathroom is designed for people under five feet and six inches. The water pressure is sufficient, but it won’t be winning any awards. Of course, the fact that the water is always hot makes up for this. Except for the early mornings, when it isn’t.

Washing dishes in a dorm room sink sucks. Yep, it really, really does.

Being a scholar does not improve your sense of direction. At all. In fact, it may make things worse. Imagine, if you will, a person who has had to drive everywhere since they got their license. Naturally, this person may get lost a few times, but as she (or he) would have to drive all of the time, she (or he) would quickly learn where to go. Now place this individual in a setting where she (or he) doesn’t drive but about once a week. This is just asking for the person to never become acquainted with a city that is, in theory (a theory which I don’t buy anymore) laid out on an easy-to-navigate grid. Ha! I say. Ha.

College doesn’t really change you. At least not right away. You will still think and believe the same way. The same things will still annoy you. You won’t go to sleep any earlier. You will still like the same books, movies, shows, and music. Your family will still be the most important thing to you. You will still be a picky eater, and you will still prefer cereal over a hot meal. You will laugh at the same things. You will still be the crazy person that you have become in your life thus far. No, you don’t really change. What does change is the atmosphere. Though you will still think the same way, you may be more open to someone else’s opinion. If something annoys you, you won’t be as quick to roll your eyes. Sleeping habits aren’t something that are really up for debate, but you will appreciate the need for sleep a little more. Your tastes will be the same, but you might be a little more willing to branch out if that means a better conversation with someone in the future. Family ties won’t change – they are too solid, but you may take more of an effort to stay in touch. You may be a picky eater, but you may try to behave like an adult and actually attempt to eat a vegetable every now and then. You will laugh at the same things, but may find yourself laughing more often (sleep deprivation has a tendency to make everything funny.) You won’t magically become sane; you will just realize that there are a lot of nut jobs that are worse off than you are.

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BeeMusing by Beverly Lane is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.