Monday, October 28, 2013

Welcome the newest addition (or is it edition?)

This, JR, is the model of my daddy's car.  You need to know this.

Dear John Robert, my newest great-nephew, on the occasion of you being born:

Yesterday morning I waited for the news of your birth.  I knew you were on your way, so I kept checking my text messages from your grandmother, the one you call BB, the one I call sister.  She told me when your mother started contractions and then stopped.  And then she told me when they started again.  She told me when your mother's water broke, when she got her epidural, when she was pushing, and finally when she texted 7lbs 5oz I knew you were here at last.  In a way I was there through every step but at least I got to sleep and she did not. Then I waited for a picture because I knew it was coming.  When my message sounded your face filled my screen and tears filled my eyes, just like they did when I saw a picture of your mother for the first time.

Throughout the day I saw pictures of you and wished I could be there and hold you and feel the joy that was in the air.  I wanted to hug your mother and father tight and tell them they done good.  I saw a picture of your mother holding you and thought how much she looked like her 7 year-old self in the picture I have of her holding my son when he was born. In my mind she is just a baby herself, too young to have one of her own.  Lord, I pray she feeds you.

I even dreamed about babies all night long.  One of them was you, but I'm not sure who the others were. Babies, babies, babies, all night long.  When I woke up this morning my mind was on babies, and you.

I thought about the fact that you will never know your grandfather, here at least.  I think you knew him before you got here, but you will most likely forget that after a few years.  I think you will hold him close though, like I do my own grandfather, a man I never met either, at least on earth. I think he must have been in heaven with me too, before I was born. Maybe that is why he feels so close to me.

You had great-grandparents too, John Robert.  They would have been thrilled with you.  You missed knowing them by only a few years, but that is always the way, isn't it?  I never knew my great-grandparents either, but sadly I never really knew their names or anything about them.  These things tend to slip away, silently and without warning.

Just remember, John Robert, that you are not the first. There are generations of people who came before you, and each person in that line has something interesting and unique about them.  Don't forget they were here.  Learn about your history and appreciate its richness. Be proud of who you are and the people who got you here.  We are all intertwined in some way, affecting each other whether we realize it or not.

Be good, John Robert, and I don't mean just behave.  Be good.  Be kind.  You have good and kind parents, and they will teach you how to be the same if you pay attention.

What other advice can I give you right now?  Let's see:  eat your vegetables, keep your elbows off the table, stay in school, just say no and for the love of all that is good and holy never run with scissors.  Money doesn't grow on trees nor does it belong in your mouth or up your nose or in your ears. I'll think of more and tell you later.

Be good, John Robert.  Be good.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Getting ready

Tomorrow I am leaving for a few days to attend a conference in Raleigh, NC.  I’ve never been to Raleigh, but I have been to other places in North Carolina and loved them, so when I was offered the opportunity to go to the conference I didn’t hesitate.  I wonder if I will feel as drawn to Raleigh as I was to Asheville.  We shall see.

I never know what to wear to a conference.  International educators are a mixed breed.  Some wear their best business attire, some wear jeans.  I try to fit somewhere in the middle.  I don’t want to look slouchy, but nor do I want to portray a false sense of who I am.  I bought a nice business suit for job interviews after college and haven’t worn it since I got my job many, many years ago.  I ended up giving it away to another college graduate, not that it would fit me anymore, not in size nor demeanor. 

I’ve spent the last week hunting and gathering, a pre-travel ritual I tend to go through.  I put together my outfits in my mind, but I’ve had to buy bits and pieces of travel extras along the way.  I used to love shopping for school supplies, now I channel that energy into buying tiny bottles of shampoo, toothpaste, and hair gel.  There’s something about gathering supplies together and thinking about the potential for their use that makes me happy.  Freak.

It took me about 20 minutes this morning to get it all together, organize it and pack it.  My purse holds a book, a netbook, pen, notepad, camera (always), a pack of Wet-Ones, snacks, zip-top plastic bags, my baggie of liquid items (do you still have to do that?), medication, reading glasses, lens cleaners, charges, phone, wallet, two handkerchiefs, a partial pack of tissue, and a flashlight.  In my daily life I carry a wallet and a phone.  What makes me think I’m going to need all that other junk just because I’m going away for four days?  By comparison my suitcase holds dry toiletries, one pair of shoes, an extra purse for going out, and exactly enough clothing for my trip, no more, no less.  I’m sensible that way at least.  I think my purse is heavier than my suitcase.

Packing for a trip makes me take stock of what I really need to get by.  I know I don’t need 95% of what I own.  Like my daddy used to say when I would say I needed something, “you don’t ‘need’ it”.  He never liked to hear words used in any way other than their literal sense.  Daddy was right, I don’t need much.   It’s just that I enjoy having my things about me, like Mary Kate Danaher Thornton.  (Did you get that?). 
I’m actually surprised I got it all my packing done today. Usually I wait to pack in a frenzy about an hour before I walk out the door.  So now what do I do?  I do this, I eat some ice cream, and wait for the sun to rise.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Needing graces

Usually when I write here I give a one-sided account of something going on in my life.  It’s all about me, me, me.  Isn’t that they way of the world these days?  Or so I’ve heard anyway.  This time I want to try a more interactive approach and see what happens.  Here’s the premise:

There is a problem that is worrying me.  I have prayed about it for a long time now, and my feelings go back and forth on the issue.  Sometimes I feel like God is telling me it is ok, let it be, go with the flow, it will all work out in the end.  But then I think about the gravity of the problem and I feel going with the flow is just not the right answer.  This confusion is the source of my greatest conundrum.  How do I know if I am being eased by the voice of God, or being teased by the voice of evil?  

I know Satan is a sly one, the nuns taught me that much.  He knows how to get in your head and give you reasons to justify wrongdoings.  “Go with the flow” is something I would expect from that one, not from the Almighty.  That is why I’m so confused about the right things.  I know the problem I worry about has no easy solution, so when I feel like God is relieving me of it I immediately second guess and think I am being led astray by the wrong voice.

Here’s the interactive part.  I want to know how you, reader, listen for God’s voice?  How do you hear it?  How do you know it?  I’m in my fourth decade, nearing another one, and I don’t think I’ve ever really heard God.  I try to listen, I really do, but it is so hard to tune out all of the static. 

I know people who are staunch Christians who cross the threshold every time the church is open.  I know more relaxed Christians who still have strong convictions and share their faith openly.   I know missionaries and clergy.  I know Christians who diligently study theological ideas and can quote complex texts with complete understanding.  And I know, at least I hope, some of you reading this fall into one or more of these categories.  So here is my request: share with me.

I want to know how you hear the voice of God.  I want to know how you know you are going in the right direction.  Do give me scripture reference suggestions and relate personal experiences.  Do not give me theological essays to read.  I don’t want that, I want personal.  Can you help?  Comment here if you care to share openly or email me at  I may compile and share your ideas later.

Thank you, kindly.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Saving graces

This past weekend was another gathering of the cousins so my sister, the one in the middle, brought her old video camera and a tin full of tapes because she and the cousin otherwise known as the artist wanted to watch a video of a dance they did with another cousin, otherwise known as the dancing king.  Saturday morning, at least I think it was Saturday morning, my sister came out to the porch where I was sitting and told me she had to show me something and I was probably going to cry.  She popped out the tiny viewing screen on the camera and popped open the lid on Pandora’s jar.  But instead of my graces flying away I saw them captured on 24-year old video tape, in full living color.

The thing she was so anxious for me to see was an image of a little blonde-headed boy, just turned four, toddling out of the reception hall at my wedding; my first grace.  He was holding onto balloons and smiling, dimples shining.  When he heard his name being called he turned his head this way and that to find the source of the voice of the person who wanted his attention.  When he found it he smiled in a manner that showed he was so happy just being happy.  Watching, I gasped at the memory of the way he was.  His name was Mackie then, but that was subject to change in the coming years. It was Cole the day he left on his magnificent adventure.

When I realized what I was watching I had to stop because I knew if I kept watching I would become emotional seeing so many more people who are no longer here.  Nor did I want to see anything to do with my wedding.  My feelings have nothing to do with my marriage, just the ceremony surrounding it.  That day is a blur to me, most of the memories buried and lost like so many other memories of the younger years of my life.  When I do try to think of it I feel embarrassed.  It’s never been easy for me to be the center of public attention with all eyes on me.  I didn’t know how to act.  I felt foolish and clumsy.  What did I know about planning a wedding?  Nothing, I tell you.  Nothing. 

Hiring a wedding planner was not an option.  I didn’t even know there was such a thing.  In those days and in my circles you just did it yourself with the help of your extended family.  Caterer?  There was no caterer, yet the food overflowed thanks to my mother, her sisters, close friends and cousins.  That is what people in my family did.  They pitched in and made it happen.  My sister-cousin took it upon herself to do the decorating for the reception, and did a wonderful job.  If she had not volunteered I guess there wouldn’t have been any decorations.

So, I didn’t want to see any more evidence of the day.  I’ve never even watched the video my brother made for me.  The thought makes me squirm. 

On Sunday morning my sister got out the video again and I thought maybe I would glance at it so I could see Mackie’s face one more time.  This time she had backed the tape up and there I was, in the beautiful size 7 white dress my mother bought me, standing next to my new husband, sipping champagne. I didn’t look foolish or clumsy.  I looked happy.  I was smiling and appeared to be having fun.  Some maybe even considered me pretty with my ‘80s hair pulled into the poufy head dress my sister made for me.  I laughed, I joked, I showed off my dress and 27-inch waistline; another grace.

As the camera panned the room I caught glimpses of other graces immortalized on tape.  I saw the youth of the ones still living.  I saw the babies that are now grown and having babies of their own.  I saw my feisty Aunt Angela, chiding her brother-in-law, my Uncle Walter, King of the Pinch, for eating something she claimed was hers. “It’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine” she said.  Heaven has its hands full with those two.

Jimmy, my childhood champion, was there in the background, just like he still is in many of my dreams, waving at me from the other side.  

Then I saw my oldest friend in her blue bridesmaid dress, wiping her eyes at something my daddy said to me, or so she said.  I don’t remember the words he spoke.  She is still here, going strong, but her accent got lost somewhere in Ohio, or Illinois.  To her chagrin it lives on in the audio tracks of the video tape.  

I never saw my mother’s face but she was there too, wearing the beautiful dusty-blue dress we picked out the day she bought my dress.  Little did we know at the time she would wear it again at her funeral.

I wasn't looking at the screen when my sister Barbara went sweeping by. I missed her.  I miss her.

And Daddy, he’s there in a tux, holding a champagne glass and grinning in that way he always did on New Year’s Eves when he drank a beer or two.  He tips his glass in a toast to the camera and I take it personally, as a toast to me.  

I crave the faces and voices of my departed loved-ones.  I want to see the graces once again, and keep them alive just a little longer.  Just for the joy of them I’m taking the wedding video my brother made and having it transferred to a DVD so I can watch it in privacy until I feel I can watch it in front of others.   Good memories are worth it, no matter how much you have to squirm in the process.