Friday, December 22, 2017


For quite a few years now I have had a Christmas Tradition with my OFTP. She comes down from the Buckeye and we traipse around a small corner of the Magnolia visiting cemeteries and placing festive trees on the graves of our sleeping ones. The day usually starts with me picking her up at her mother’s house. We visit for awhile, and end the day in the same way.  Now that her mother is one of the sleeping my friend isn’t coming this year, something I’m not thinking about and certainly not writing about.  Writing and thinking make it real, and I live in a pretend world full of fairies and unicorns all seen through rose-colored glasses.

So, let’s just say she’s going to be late this year.

Since she can’t be here in time I decided to go ahead with the Tradition because these souls depend on us.  Luckily, I had some trees left from last year, OK, I recycled them, but there’s nothing wrong with that, right? I did buy two new arrangements for our mothers, swanky gold glittered star-shaped Fancy Trees with red sparkly apples and berries, pinecones, and gilded ribbon. Our mothers would be so excited to be gifted something so fancy.  I loaded my car with the ornaments, wire from my husband’s trash pile, and wire cutters and off I went.

I like to start my errands from the furthest point and work my way home, so my first stop was my maternal grandparents on the far side of town. Here’s something I should have given more thought to before I decided to go it alone - with company, I am like granite.  I can visit graves, clear them of debris and place flowers all with a wink and a smile. Alone, I melt into a puddle of tears.  The first tears poured at the foot of my Granny. I gave thanks to God for my heritage and giving me such a wonderful woman to be my grandmother.  I thanked her for the Christmases past, and I left her a shimmering tree that reminded me of the aluminum one she used to have in her tiny living room, the favorite room of my childhood. As I prepared to drive away I dug a Sonic napkin out of the glove compartment and blew away my sadness.

Stop number two, my parents. Why doesn’t grass grow on their plot after nine years? I’ll never know, but the Christmas Miracle, the heart-shaped patch of rye grass planted by a Good Samaritan, was there again. I placed the Fancy Tree making sure to secure it firmly in place with wire, just as my OFTP taught me.  More tears. More thanking God for parents who gave me a wonderful life and Christmases that I’ll never forget. I wished them a Merry Christmas and walked across the street to my brother-in-law and left him a manly tree. Glittery, yes, but in a manly color. He would be pleased.

On to the next stop, my paternal grandparents. The puddle got deeper as I regretted never spending a Christmas with my grandfather and telling my grandmother that I miss her. Really, I do. She wasn’t the warmest person in my life, but I have good memories of her.  I think she liked me fine.

Then onward across the road and down a little to the founder of the tradition, Mr. S., my OFTP’s father. And even though I bought a Fancy Tree for her mother’s first year there, I was still startled to see it, that space that hasn’t settled quite yet even after six months.  I had to take a breath. In my happy world, she is still out there in Purvis, waiting on me to come pick up my OFTP for the Tradition.  I want to visit her there, not here.  Reality sucks.

Needless to say, they got two trees, one from her and one from me. She got Fancy, he got Traditional. Glittery yes, but traditional glitter. He would be pleased.  Her Uncle Burrell got one too, because she always thought of him and I was a mission.  I apologized to the electrician side of him for the awful way I cut and bent the wire to secure his tree, but I told him I was sure he understood.

The final grave in that cemetery was one I have visited at Christmas even before the Tradition. His is in a family plot with matching rose-colored granite footstones.  At Jimmy’s feet, the puddle turned into a small stream as I thanked him for making a little girl feel so special.  Blah, blah, blah… (Look! A fairy!)  He didn’t get a tree because it just wouldn’t look right with his family’s style, and because I only had one left and I had a special place in mind for it.  Regardless, he had plenty of cheer because the Good Samaritan visited him, too, and the Christmas Miracle lives on.

Last stop, my aunt’s grave.  She’s probably the only one I visit at other times of the year, and if I don’t stop I always wave to her as I pass on my way to mass.  She was only 13 ½ months old when she died of an accidental overdose of prescribed medicine. Accidental because the doctor prescribed it wrong. In 2017 that doctor would be sued for malpractice. In 1920, it was an accident.  My little aunt has no family near her, but she’s not alone. She is surrounded on all sides by other babies and small children who are also without families.  I wonder if the cemetery was set up that way on purpose, or if it all happened by chance. I left a tree for all of those babies.  My aunt only saw one Christmas in her life, and I doubt they even had a tree.  Some of those other babies never even saw a week, much less Christmas. By this time the stream was a river.

I ended the Tradition with a dull headache and Sonic napkin that could hold no more.  A sad day, yes, but a cathartic one as well.  I needed today.  These feelings have been welling up inside me for weeks, so it was better to release them this way instead of a breakdown over something stupid like burnt cookies.

Christmas is a time for remembering, good as well as bad.  In all of the places I visited today I relived good memories of Christmases past. The sadness was not in the memories, only in the process. I hope I will be a source of good Christmas memories for others in the future. Who knows, maybe I’ll even merit a Fancy Tree. I can only hope.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Let there be light and lots of it

What is it called when the world is yellow?  I call it “the world it yellow,” but I’m sure that’s not a scientific term.  You know what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about those late afternoons when the light is slanting in a certain way and the world looks like you are seeing it through amber-colored glasses.  When I was little I would run outside and twirl around and exclaim, “the world is yellow!”.  Wait, I did that not too long ago.  I guess twirling isn’t just for little girls after all.  And pink days! Don’t get me started.

A few weeks ago, we received some of the tropical storm bands from a diminishing Hurricane Harvey. That morning on my way to work I was waiting to turn onto the highway, and I was stunned by the light. To the west the bluish-gray storm clouds were mounting, and in the east the sky was clear with the pinkish-yellow radiance of the morning. In the middle, where I was, the light held a cool blue luster and it bathed my hands and arms with an icy glow.  I know yellow and pink, but that was my first experience with blue! I just sat there soaking it up, wishing there was a way to capture it in a bottle, or at least a photograph.

I’ve always been a fan of light, but I did go through those brooding teenager days (ahem, years) when I would spend hours, days even, shut up in my bedroom with the blinds drawn, lying on my bed listening to music or reading.  I remember a time in my college years I spent the entire summer holed-up in my bedroom reading.  I discovered John Irving that summer and only emerged from my cocoon to go to the library to get another volume.  At the end of the summer break when I was on campus registering for the fall I ran into some friends I hadn't seen since the previous school year.  It was like blinking into the sun after a winter’s hibernation.  The light of day and friendship brought me back to life from a dark place I had hid myself.

Over the years I’ve tried to stay out of the dark and I find myself craving light more and more.  I notice it everywhere.  I live in a house of many windows and few curtains.  Earlier this week I had to pull over to watch the sunset because the deep golden cast it was emitting was mesmerizing.  Although rain was falling the sun was shining through the mist, and it looked like the fields behind the houses on my road were on fire.  Not 20 seconds later the glow was gone and the sun was sinking like a rock.  Light can be fleeting.

But light doesn’t have to be in the form of an emanation from a source of energy.  Sometimes light can take the shape of kind words and warm smiles you know are meant only for you.  Or getting a phone call in the middle of the day from you niece to tell you something that had happened to her that was so special and unique she wanted to share it with you because she knew you would appreciate it and understand.  Light is having affirmation that you are important to another person.  It warms and reveals.

It doesn’t take much to be a light for someone else. Really, it doesn’t. Be nice. Be kind. Give a compliment to a stranger.  You will soon realize that light is at its brightest when it is shared.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Hydrangeas, Clocks and Piano Lessons

Think about one person who has been a constant source of value and encouragement in your life, even if from a distance.  Can you recall how that person became important to you?  I am thinking about one of those people right now, and I have been for some time.  I can’t remember the first time I met Nellie Rose, the mother of my Oldest Friend and Traveling Partner; even her name suggests the sweetness she endeared to me.  But I can almost remember the first time I stepped inside her home, up the steps to the back door, beyond the laundry room on the back of the house.  

The first impressions I had of her, though, were made by her flowers and her clocks. No one I knew had hydrangeas so I was in awe of the many bushes of the giant heads of blue, pink, and purples blossoms that grew effortlessly in her yard. And as far as clocks go, my father revered time pieces, so I was impressed she did as well.  I remember their asynchronous chiming, some weak, some strong.  I used to watch her pad around her cavernous house, starting in the ever-dark dining room, to wind them and adjust their hands to the correct time, each one just a few seconds off from the other.

My OFTP took piano lessons in those early days of our friendship so if I happened to go home with her on those days I would be alone with her mother until the lesson was over. It was awkward for me at first because I was always wary of adults, especially those who were not related to me, but she never gave me the option of timidity.

My friend was a late riser, and I an early one, like Nellie Rose.  We also shared a need for coffee in the morning, so when I slept over she and I spent some time alone in the early hours as well.  She sipped her coffee from a dainty china cup as she began preparations for lunch, the main meal of the day for her family. She was a talker and I was a listener, so our relationship was symbiotic in that respect.  Maybe our connection was born out of those few private hours over coffee and waiting on piano lessons.  Regardless, it wasn’t long before she was like a second mother to me. It was only fair since my mother considered my OFTP her fifth daughter.  I spent so much time in that gray house on Hall Avenue with a family that wasn’t mine that I seeped in somehow, slowly and tenaciously.  Like it or not, there I was, claiming them all as my own.  

Nellie Rose had a very open way of communicating and no subject was off limits.  To be honest I learned more about the ways of the world and the birds and the bees from her then I did from my own mother.  So, it isn’t surprising that in some ways I felt more open with her than I did my own, shy mother.  She was the one I knew I could turn to in times of emotional need without fear of reproach.  When my sister died, I called her, and at the sound of my voice she took over the conversation with soothing words of sympathy and comfort as I sat in my childhood room holding the receiver and listened and sobbed.

Now, as her time on this earth is winding down like her beloved clocks, I can’t help but remember her in this way; my comforter.  I’ve spent some time by her bed the past few days and looked into her half-closed eyes trying to find her. I teased her because that’s the way we were with each other.  I don’t allow myself to express sadness through my words, even though I feel it to my bones, because I think she can hear me even though she looks through me.  I can’t help but feel regret for all the years I could have made more effort to spend time with her, but I let the trivialities of life get in the way. I hate that about myself.

I know the pain her children are going to feel when she takes her last breath, and I feel for them. But I also know the bittersweet joy they will feel knowing she is released from her worn out body and Home with her Savior and reunited with the Love of Her Life.  I felt this same, albeit guilt-tinged, joy when my own mother passed because I knew she was tired and ready. Nellie Rose is tired, too.  I know because I’ve watched her struggle for sleep.

Godspeed, I prayed for my own mother years ago. Godspeed, I pray now for my other mother.  God, bless her tired soul.  

Friday, May 12, 2017


In the last two days I’ve attended three graduation ceremonies.  Three.  I don’t even have a picture of myself at my own high school graduation; my mother breezed in from out of town to attend and back out again as soon as the ceremony was over. She asked me not to walk in my college graduation because she hated them so.  I obliged, and sometimes, like today, I still feel a little cheated. Then other times, like today, I swear the only one I’ll ever attend again is when my own son finally makes his way across the stage. But that's not true.

I worked at a university for 27 years before I ever attended a commencement for the sake of watching my international students graduate. That was a mistake on my part.  I’m good at making mistakes.  I seem to make at least one every day to keep in good practice.  But every once in a while the stars align and everything falls into nice, correct order and I get something right, but it takes a day like today to realize it.

In the old days the cycle began with a blue piece of paper filled with scrawled words of great dreams and aspirations of how complete life would be if only they were accepted to my prestigious institution.  Now it’s usually a blip in an email, "it is my dream to study at USM".  I usually respond in a generic fashion with instructions for the first steps to making their dream come true.  When the application finally arrives our exchanges become more frequent and by the time they are admitted it’s as if we’re old friends. Months later, if the earth spins in the right direction and I throw salt over my shoulder and jump three times, I finally meet my correspondent face-to-face as they begin fulfilling their dreams of an American education.

Fast-forward a few years and they are sitting in a chair on a basketball court that has been transformed into a place of dignified order, and a velvet-lined hood is draped over their shoulders or a diploma is placed in their eager hands and they walk across the stage and into their future to accomplish great and wonderful things. That moment, my friends, is when the stars align and the earth spins in perfect timing and I know, I just know that for once, or maybe three times, I did something right.  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Dreams revisited

Recently, I had a dream that was both frightening and wonderful.  It centered around a great war, maybe it was Armageddon.  It was like when Voldemort was terrorizing Hogwarts and his voice surrounded the school with ominous doom.  It was like that but not exactly.  Instead there were terrible clashing mechanical noises and menacing voices booming in the distance. Then a darkness fell and a storm came with howling winds.  My daddy was there for a second and there were other people I don’t’ remember.  For a while I was with several people at my parents’ house, my dreams often center there, and we were powerless, sitting ducks. The house groaned from the storm like the sounds you hear in a horror movie haunting. I left briefly and saw my mother and then went back home.  I remember saying out loud that I was less afraid of the dark woods across the street then I was of going back into the house. Then I was all alone; divided and separated from everyone I loved. When I was younger sometimes I would wake in panic in the middle of the night and run through the house turning on every light to make sure I was not alone.  That is how I felt in my dream, panicked and desolate.

Then suddenly a calm came over me and I was at peace. Something inside told me the storm and the noises were just a ruse and all I had to do was go in the house and prepare and the storm would eventually pass.  So I did. I began closing windows and shutting up the house as if preparing for a hurricane.  In the front bedroom there is a door that leads to the front porch and I had trouble shutting and locking it against the hammering wind. When I finally clicked the lock securely I turned to shut the side window and I saw my daddy running in the yard along the side of the house.  Joy!  I no longer had to fight alone.  My daddy was there to protect me!  I began yelling, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!!” but my voice was weak against the howling wind.  I couldn’t get out of the door I had just locked so I tore through the house still yelling, desperate for him to hear me.  I bounded out the front door and I met him at the foot of the steps and flew into his arms.  He flashed me the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen and said something I only wish I could remember.  All that mattered at that moment was I reunited with my daddy when I thought I was alone and doomed. 

I attribute this dream as a visit, for that hug was real and he was there with me in that moment.  I think maybe I was in heaven at that split second, and I was offered a glimpse of what it will be like on that day when I do get to heaven and am really reunited with my daddy and my Father.  If the joy I felt in my dream is only a miniscule fraction of what it will really be like then let me count the days.

Separation. Divide and conquer. How much is that dream like our relationships with God?  Satan works best when he can get us alone and use our temptations and sins separate us from God. But when we fight back and brace ourselves for the storm we can realize it is all a smokescreen and we can become closer to God and experience the reunion.

I remembered my dream last night when I listened to the Gospel at the Easter vigil.  The feeling I experienced in my dream must be like the emotions the Marys felt when they met Jesus on the road after his resurrection.  They fell to the ground and grasped His feet in worship, so says Matthew.  Maybe it was also to assure themselves He was real, like I did when I held tight to my daddy at the foot of the steps to my childhood home.  And after communion when we sang, “I will raise you up on the last day”, I could no longer hold back the tears. Let me count the days.