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Mama

May 14, 2016

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Oh how she loved us

Because of her, I carry blessing for all of my days – days past and days to come.

With a full heart,

june

Babette’s Feast-ette

November 30, 2015

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“Blessed are the homesick, for they shall come home.”

So the quote goes from Karen Blixen aka Isak Dinesen, writer of Anecdotes of Destiny which contains the modern classic Babette’s Feast.

And as our Thanksgiving gatherings have come, and gone, this beatitude – if you will,  and the foolishness of Babette to spend her lottery fortune on one meal, have mish-mashed for me. 

 

The weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, found me (and my husband, son, and brother) working rather furiously to get my Mom’s house ready (enough) for our family to gather there for the holidays.  The weeks leading up to Thanksgiving also found me waking in the middle of the night feeling foolish.  The question through the dark was what are you doing?  That one, I could answer – spending all sorts of resources -  financial, emotional, time – on this endeavor.  Then, the accusing question through the dark was WHY?  Why, why, why?  I had no answer.  No end game in mind.  I only felt foolish.   And shame flushes your cheeks in broad daylight and your soul in the dark of night and puts an imperceptible-to-others limp in your gait.  So I limped to the finish line of getting the house ready (enough).    

 

A week ago, I found myself on the way to the grocery store listening to stories of Syrian refugees on the radio.  Blessed are the homesick…really, Karen/Isak?  Really?  And then I stood in the grocery store, and contemplated buying some exotic fruit for a table centerpiece that we probably would not eatReally, June?  Really?  And as I stood there, in that moment, the only whit of a thing I could do was buy the familiar fruit, with a sobering awareness that abundance is not for squandering.

 

At one point, during our Thanksgiving gathering, I stood in the kitchen and the hum of cousin voices and punctuating laughter filled my mom’s house.  (and now for a mash-up of Babette’s Feast quotes)  The windows of the house shone like gold.  Infinite grace had been allotted to them, it was but a fulfillment of an ever-present hope.  They had been given one hour of the millennium. Time itself had merged into eternity.

 

Blessed are the homesick, for they shall come home.  Are we not all homesick, longing to be where things are as they should be, could be?   Where we are sheltered and nourished and strengthened.  Is the longing ever satisfied?  Probably not.  Could the longing lead us?  Surely so.  To leave the light on, for those we love so much.  To open our curtain, for the neighbor across the street, and across the ocean.  To bear witness to the giving of one hour of the millennium, or even just one whit of an hour of the millennium.  To maybe, just maybe,  catch a glimpse of time merged into eternity, as the homesick come home.

With homesickness and hope,

june

Of Dandelions and Pinecones

September 28, 2015

While work in my mom’s house has been slow and not steady, there are some spaces that are coming together in a protracted way.  One thing I have wanted to incorporate are things that have associations with each of my mom’s grandchildren.  These botanical posters are the nod to my biology-loving daughter.  Twice in the spring, she accompanied me to paint, and I received a botany lesson in my mom’s yard.  I learned that a dandelion and a pine cone are amazingly complex.

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 vintage Jung-Koch-Quentell school posters are used in lieu of headboards

Pine on left, Dandelion on right 

 

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stunning, agree?

I remember the times I sat on the cub tractor, mowing the dandelions on that lawn.  And the times that I picked up pine cones, to ensure that clean pine straw could be raked.  Not once, did I wonder at the exquisiteness of these common nuisances.  Not once.

But redemption comes in unexpected ways and places.  No longer will I be able to view a dandelion and a pine cone the same.  Amen.

This poem comes to mind. 

May wonder be stirred,

june

 

A Farewell

September 1, 2015

I think that a cat’s purr may have saved me a few times in the past five years.

 

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Yesterday, I had a difficult trip to the vet.

There were gentle attending hands.

There were tears.

There was peace.

There was unexpected privilege.

 

Rest in peace, sweet Gabs.

j

Busted

August 15, 2015

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Behind my mom’s house, the goldenrod blooms – signaling that it is late summer.  And my daughter began school this week, which means my highly anticipated summer is officially over.

In many regards, this summer has been a bust.  There were plans to milk this last summer we will all be under the same roof for all it was worth.  There were not plans for three of us to get viral bronchitis and for each of our household to scatter to our own little corner of the house, trying to cough in peace, or escape the hacking contagious ones.  

 

The virus afforded  lots of time to lie around.  I had lots of time to think.   And there was lots of time for an insidious thought – the best has been. 

The best has been. 

That is the kind of thought that puts a faraway look in your eyes.

 

And then my son loads up his things for his first apartment.  He bends his six-foot-frame so I can kiss the top of his head, which is standard operating procedure for us.  And then, he looks me in the eyes and love busts out and he throws his arms around me, which is not standard operating procedure for us. 

Sometimes Plan A is overrated.  If only I had known. 

Those thirty seconds redeemed the  summer, and then some.   

 

May moments of redemption find you,

june

Coping

May 22, 2015

This week, my niece sent me these links, and these words, everyone has a different way of coping:

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Mark Seymour, of the UK, documented his father’s decline through Alzheimer’s with his camera.  Beautiful, poignant images. 

 

BREAKFAST IN BED

And photographer Maggie Steber’s,  captured her mom’s journey through Alzheimer’s, in  Madje Has Dementia.  Again, beautiful, and poignant.

These folks photographed their way through.

 

My aunt painted her way through.  When my grandmother died, my aunt picked up an easel and canvases and brushes and oil paints.  She was a prolific painter for three years.  It is only recently that I realized her painting season was her grieving season.  She had not painted before, and  has not painted since.

 

And my niece, who is my dreaming-and-scheming assistant, knows that is what I am doing at my mom’s house right now.   Sometimes coping and creating are one and the same

If you stepped into my mom’s house right now, things might appear a bit manic.  Paint cans and brushes and rollers, furniture in various stages of makeover, pine flooring piled and waiting to be put down, cabinets and appliances waiting for the flooring to be put down, and on and on.  But there is something about walking into that, deciding on the next little piece of work, and focusing on the task at hand  that calms me, contents me.   And when I catch a glimpse of what this space might mean to others and me and my family, I am so, so thankful for what coping can create. 

june 

Throwing a Party, Trader Joe’s, and The Beatles

April 2, 2015

Everyone is one of a kind, but some folks are a little extra so.  My hairdresser falls in the extra so category.  Today is her late dad’s birthday, and she will be taking the day off and doing something special, something fun.   Having lost her father a few years ago, and her mom more than a decade ago, this has become a time-honored personal tradition.  Always, on each of their birthdays, she takes a holiday from work. 

I think anyone that knows Lori, knows that she knows how to throw a party.  If I need a good recipe, with fresh ingredients, I know who to ask.  But not everyone that knows her, knows that she has these very set-aside days.    It hit me yesterday, when she was telling me her day’s plans of selecting and planting herbs and lettuces, that she knows how to throw a party for herself.  It’s in the setting aside, the enjoying.  What a way to remember.  What a way to honor.  Truly beautiful.

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Southern Living

So yesterday, while flipping through a magazine at the salon, I found a recipe for a coconut cake that looked divine.  Perfect for Easter, I thought.  My mom will love it.  Which meant that this morning, I headed to Trader Joe’s to get some ingredients.  I’m pushing my cart, gathering things, trying to feel hip as I search for coconut and a sympathy card I want to send.  I find the cards, but there are no sympathy cards.  Birthdays, Congratulations, Thank Yous, but no Sympathy.  Maybe they were out, or maybe they would be too party-kill in the land of the Hawaiian shirts and the happy chalk fonts.  So then I proceed with the coconut search, until I have to ask where’s the coconut?  And do you by chance also have coconut extract?  But there has been something at the docks and there are no coconut products.  Alas.

So I finish my shopping by returning to the entrance to pick up some tulips for my mom.  It takes me awhile amidst the rainbow to settle on a color, but I finally decide on pale pink with strong stems, for that combination just seems so like my mom.  Then I turn, and I see her.  Looking at the flowers, the big bouquets.   I know she is a caregiver.  I know when I speak to her that she will speak back with an accent and kindness.   And it goes as I knew it would.  She’s looking wistful, and a bit overwhelmed and asks my help in selecting a bouquet for the lady she cares for.  I just want to get her something.  For her children have come, but now they have gone.   I know that her purse is small, so I suggest the tulips, for they cost less.  And while I may have gauged correctly on the size of her purse, I grossly underestimated the size of her heart.  I want them to be beautiful, she says.  So we select two compatible big beautiful bouquets. 

And then I thank her for the work she does, and I am ambushed by grief.  Tears begin to stream down my face.  I have lost it, right there in the entrance of Trader Joe’s with the rainbow of flowers, with all of the a-comings.  She and I are the most un-hip pair in the store.  I feel eyes upon us, everyone’s it seems. 

I simply say my dad had a caregiver.  I don’t speak the rapid-fire snippets of memory. 

 Daddy, God had to look the world over to find the right person to care for you, and He found her in Jamaica.  His grin and adamant agreement.  Clover, his caregiver’s, return grin.  An emergency room visit, the doctor shows me an x-ray.   I’ll see you tomorrow.  We know this drill, we’ve been doing it for a year, hospital stay – things get a bit worse – but always, return home.  I wash his dentures in the washing machine, by accident of course.  Oh, Dad and I will have a great laugh over this.  But then, I show up at the hospital and we do not get to laugh for this is the day my dad will die.  There is no laughter, no words, the sound of a breathing machine, quiet phone calls and I sit by my dad’s bedside for 10 hours alone.  Twice, he looks at me, and squeezes my hand.  I call my brother, and say I think it’s time. He brings my mother and Clover.  My nephew comes.  I say in my Dad’s ear,  my oft-repeated good-bye phrase,  you are the best and I rush out in a blur of tearsWhen my husband takes me home, I crawl in the bed because I think my head is going to explode from the constant torturous sound of the breathing machine.  But really, though I can not comprehend it or even articulate it, my head is going to explode because my daddy is dying.  At midnight, we go back to the hospital.  We see my dad’s sister leaving in the parking lot.  It still does not register.  My husband and I walk to his room.  Two people are rolling a gurney out with a body bag.  Their faces are simultaneously kind and horrified, when they see me.  No words are spoken.  They simply roll him back in the room, unzip the bag.  Surreal, and very, very quiet.  I’m not sure what is appropriate for me to do, because all I know is that my dad is not in this hospital, not in that body bag, not even in the beloved body.   The funeral has come and gone.   And on the back porch, Clover says to me, through uncharacteristic tears.  Thank you, thank you for letting me be there when your father passed.  I was in Atlanta and not with my mom when she passed in Jamaica.  It was one of my greatest gifts, getting to be with him when he died.    Because you were not there in those last two hours, I felt like I could be there in your place.  Thank you.  Thank you.  He smiled, June.  He smiled, when he was leaving.

Ah, but I digress.  And quite a digression, I know.  Back to today.  This caregiver beams with the bouquet selection, and I learn that she is from Nigeria, and I wonder silently at the curious prominent scar on her neck.  She apologizes for making me cry.  I smile, and say you did not make me cry.   She has been hugging me from the side, but then gets closer, looks in my face and asks my name.  June, I say.  My name is Blessing, she says.  Blessing, she repeats, because she can tell I’m not sure I heard her right.  Blessing is my name.  Of course.  Of course

 

Three things converged on this day of mine, and that is my Easter story.  No, wait there is one more piece, the third piece.  The Beatles.   Yesterday, the yahoo news was that Cynthia Lennon had died.   And then this morning, in my reluctance to come into wakefulness, I think I heard something from the early morning radio personalities about Ringo Starr having  allergies and how when The Beatles travelled to India, his suitcase was packed with cans of beans.  Let me reiterate, I think I heard this, but I’ve not checked my facts.  Anyway, it made me think of The Beatles and Hey Jude.  Growing up, I  did not like my name.   I wished it could have been something  like Rhonda.  I must have complained to my mom one day,  for I remember her saying there’s even a very popular Beatles’ song with it.  Hey June.  I remember then, having a sneaking suspicion that there was some consonant confusion. 

  hey jude2    Hey Jude

A particular line from the song has played in my head today,   Take a sad song and make it better.

Take a sad song and make it better.  That’s enough to start a revolution.

june

PS – Lori, at supper on the porch this evening, I doodled with my finger in the light faint coat of pollen on the table.  I smiled and thought of your dad.  Blessing.

The Heart of the Matter

March 16, 2015

Sometimes, a glimpse is all that you get. 

Let me try to explain.  Um.  Er.  Uh.  How do you explain something that you have only glimpsed?  If you can stay with me (tall order, I know:), I think I’ll try to work backwards.

 

Last week,  I found myself in Chatham County selecting a pile of pine for flooring.  Oh what a place!  They have been in the business of reclaiming heartwood pine, since before the reclaimed wood buzz. 

 

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Heartwood Pine Floors showroom

In their showroom, I was immediately drawn to the southern yellow pine (on the floor, on the left).  Suited my taste, suited the budget.

 

One week ago,  the den in my mom’s house looked like this.

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 Two weeks ago, it looked like this.

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And three weeks ago, the space  was a separated den and  living room.

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Six weeks ago, I began the task of cleaning out my mom’s house. 

 

Approximately thirty-two weeks ago, I nearly crumbled at the thought of clearing out my mom’s house.  The physical and emotional labor that would be required just seemed too much.

 

And sometime between six-weeks-ago and approximately thirty-two-weeks-ago, I got a glimpse of what the house could be.  I saw, in a dashing-by thought, a Thanksgiving meal taking place there with folks we’ve never shared a meal with before.  It was sort of weird, in a where did that come from sort of way.  (And even weirder and more wonderful, these folks are already planning to bring the turkey!)

So, the plans for the house are  it will be a sort of guest house.  My niece and her husband, who live in Davidson, plan to spend some time there.  I hope my family will get to spend some summer days  there.  And the doors will be open to others too. 

 

Back to the future.  The house has always been flanked by pine trees, so the heart pine flooring that was ordered last week seems fitting.  I think the house may still hold some more memories for my family.  But beyond Thanksgiving, who knows.  I have tried to bargain with God,  put some conditions on the house.   But when I have tried to shake hands, I have shaken air.  So I have called off negotiations.  And I now no longer wake at 4 am and wonder what am I doing?  I am simply acting on a glimpse.  Again, that is all you sometimes get.  And sometimes,  that is all you  need. 

Off to order a pneumatic floor nailer,

june

 

P.S.  Just found this photo – this is exactly what I hope the floors will look like!

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Houzz

Going Gray, Dame it

March 1, 2015

SPOILER ALERT:  If you don’t want to know what June;s hair might look like next winter, read no further.

 

judi-dench  ree mother in law  helenmirren            Dame Judi Dench                            The Pioneer Woman ‘s  mother-in-law                     Dame Helen Mirren

What’s up with the pressure to not show your age at any cost?  It’s a rhetorical question, that leads to an in-my-opinion  pervasive message.

At any cost, do not show your age – unless you look like a pretty young woman. 

Have you heard this message?  Twelve-year-old daughters have heard it – it sounds like look older.  Sixty-year-old grandmothers have heard it – it sounds like look younger.  And  the forty-five-year old single mom has heard it – it sounds like  you are invisible.

After my third baby arrived, I began to color my hair.  At first, it was to color up a little gray, but has progressed to color a head of hair that has been slapped silly with gray.  I adore my hairdresser.  I have not missed a salon appointment in the last fifteen years.  And if I had it to do over again, I think I would do the same thing. 

But for a while now, I have had the desire to go gray.  At first, I thought when my daughter finishes high school.   However, the desire grew stronger.   I googled “women with gray hair”, took some photos to my hairdresser, and said what do you think?  Her reply, yes, you can do it! We’ll go slow, take about a year, and no one will really notice what is happening. 

Interestingly, there was a twenty-something pretty young woman in the salon at the time I was having this conversation with my hairdresser.  She flipped her chair around, and said do it!  She gushed with excitement and encouragement.  I think it is quite possible my daughter will have a gray-haired mom at her high school graduation in a few years.

 

Another rhetorical question coming — could don’t show your age at any cost be just one of two equally viable options?

Going gray (maybe), damn it, dame it,

june

 

PS.  Highly recommend  As Time Goes By, Season 8, Episode 3 –  Lionel’s words to Jean in the next-to-last scene, beautiful! 

Winter Lesson: Taking Hold

February 12, 2015

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Last week, a lady told me her 83-year-old mom had just finished her second Ph.D.

Last month, my 77-year-old widowed aunt came calling with her 78-year-old widower beau.  It was as if Jean Pargetter and Lionel Hardcastle  (from one of my all-time favorite sitcoms,  As Time Goes By,)  had stepped into my living room. 

I was delighted by these folks.  They made me feel as if I could smile at the days to come — that contrary to some experiences, aging is not a specter.   And yet.  While these stories are heartening, they are also exceptional.  A dichotomy exists. 

Old age can hold delightful surprises.  Diplomas and love and a thousand other things.

And…aging is not for sissies.  For starters, there can be a lot of bad hair days.  Not to mention, that you will need to reach very deep, and draw upon decades of reserves. Or that you will likely lose your beloveds, and maybe your faculties and independence.  Aging is not for the faint of heart.

Last summer, my mom gave me a winter lesson.  We sat facing each other; me in the courtyard swing, she in her wheelchair. She had acknowledged my one-sided conversation with bright eyes and smiles, but no words . Then her head dropped, her eyes closed, and I thought she was dozing.

“You need to know,” my mom said, puncturing the quietness.  She struggled to raise her head and open her eyes. “You need to know,” she repeated, and paused.  She looked past me, and strained, “Sometimes you have to take hold of things you never thought you would have to.  But you have to take hold of them.”  A longer pause, “You need to know that.” And with that, she dropped her head, closed her eyes.

The breeze  stopped and the words had no air on which to float.  They landed, heavy and hard.

Only my mama and God know how much effort was required for her to articulate those words, get a message to her daughter.

Take hold of things. 

Face the rough things.  Head-on.   Ah, my mom knows human nature.  The default is to escape, not deal.  But here is the real deal, you can not outrun or outmaneuver the rough things.  Trying to escape does not make them less rough, less real. 

Dealing also does not make them less rough, less real.  But dealing does render, does reward.

Dealing involves another dichotomy – taking hold and letting go.  Letting go of the way things were.  Letting go of the way you wish things wereYou let go, so you can then take hold of what is. 

Interestingly, the original working title for the aforementioned sitcom was Winter with FlowersWho expects flowers in winter?  Who finds such a thing in a harsh season?  Maybe those who take hold of things they never thought they would have to.

Five Valentine’s Days ago, my family gave my mom flowers.  The little card in the flowers has been propped in her kitchen window ever since.  I remember writing this card.  I wrote it with hope and quiet doubts (a summary of my faith).   There have been times in the last years when I would glance at this card, and beg the words be trueAnd there have been times when I would glance at this card, and feel mocked. 

But now, the words ring true and pure.  It took awhile, but time has told.  

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the little card

And now for a little treat, click here.  (It’s worth waiting through the ad)

Ruth Moody of The Wailin’ Jennys’ sings with such a true and pure voice. 

In her words,

When that storm comes
Don’t run for cover

When that love calls
Will you open up your door


May you take hold, and let love through your door,

june