Cutting the Crud

My stepdad asked recently how I spend my free time… Two days (on and off) kneeling on hard ceramic tile. Scrubbing grout. Woo-hoo. At first, I was pretty excited about finding a cleaning product that worked so well…now I don’t know if I ever want to see the stuff again!! To make the time pass faster, there was a crazy running monologue in my head. This is how it went:

Starting out: “Don’t go down on the bad knee first. Wait. Which one’s the bad one? OW! Yep, that’s the bad one. I can’t believe how fast this stuff is working. Holy moley, look at all that dirt coming up. That’s amazing. And gross. Really gross. But it’s quick. I’ll be done in no time.” Yeah right. “I didn’t think the grout would ever be this white again. I love this stuff! Ok, one square down. About 1827 more to go.” Slight exaggeration. “I have to pee. Too bad, not getting up. Don’t sneeze. Or cough. Coughing’s the worst. Keep scrubbing.”

About an hour later: “What is that on the bottom of the dishwasher? That’s disgusting.” Trying to reach the paper towels, I started pulling myself up holding on to the sink. Wet hands, wet feet… I slipped, on the way down hitting my chin on the counter, falling to my knee…the bad one. “Mother Hubbard!” (I didn’t say Hubbard.) “Are my teeth still there? Yep, think so. Chin’s bleeding a little. It’s ok. Don’t bleed on the grout. Keep scrubbing. If you gotta bleed, bleed on your shirt. Teeth are still there, chin hurts. Ok, kitchen’s done. We’re never walking in here again. The grout’s too white for that. Still gotta pee. Move to a dry part of the floor before you get up. If you hit your head, no one’s gonna find you. Until it’s time to go back to work and you never show up. Then they’ll come looking and you’ll be laying here and they’ll see the rest of the floor and the grout’s not done.”

A couple of hours later, after a pity party and a nap: “Ok, you’ve got this. Put on Pandora and get to work. Kitchen looks great. Gotta make the rest of the floor look like that. Keep scrubbing. Alright this is coming up pretty good. I love Van Morrison. We were born before the wind… (singing loudly)…Also younger than the sun… Keep scrubbing. Younger that the sun? I feel older than dirt. I wish I could sing. Oh I love this one. Lean on meeeee, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you caaaarrry on…This stuff really is amazing. The floor’s looking good. No, no, no….don‘t play Pink Floyd. I can’t stand Pink Floyd. Gotta change it.” (Crawls to the table where the computer is) “Lots of people like Pink Floyd. Is something wrong with me that I don’t? My brother likes their music. At least he likes the Eagles too so that’s something. Ok, that’s better. While I’m here, I should check my email… and I think I’ll finish watching that documentary on YouTube.”

An hour later…ok, two hours later…: “The floor’s not gonna scrub itself. That’s it, just finish the hallway tonight and do the rest tomorrow. Yep, that’s still the bad knee. This is really good stuff. I’m so glad I got it. Keep scrubbing. ‘I got one moooorre silver dolla, but I’m not gonna let em catch me, no. Not gonna let em catch the midnight riiiider.’ Keep scrubbing. Almost done. You missed a square. Dammit.”

Day two: “Make your coffee and finish this! You got it. Down ya go. One more room and you’re done. OW! That’s not even the bad knee. Start scrubbing. Keep going. I don’t care how good this stuff cleans, it’s from the devil. Who puts white ceramic tile in a house anyway? Well you bought the house, Einstein. Keep scrubbing. Yes, Pandora, I’m still listening and no you’re not playing to an empty room. ‘Tuesday’s gooooone, like the winnndd…’ Keep scrubbing…Floor’s done. But look at all that stuff under the bookshelves. You gotta get that. Maybe next time. Next time? You know that’s not gonna happen anytime soon. Get up, move the shelves…then there’s the light fixture… and the windows…

An eternity later: It’s all done. I’d take some ibuprofen but I’d have to walk in the kitchen to get water and the grout’s too clean.

How I Met My Brother-for Mike

“Ashleigh! Ashleigh, I just…You need to sit down. I just…I have to tell you something!” Hearing my mother’s excited tone over the phone and her struggle to put words together made me know it was something big. I’d barely said,”Ok,” when she blurted out, “I just talked…a man called here…I just…you have a brother!”

“I’d heard Dad had a son named Michael.” Though she’s never said so, I think it drives my mother crazy that I’ve always spoken slowly.

“What? What do you mean you heard your Dad had a son?! How could you know and not tell me?”

“I dunno…” (Brilliant answer) “I know he was married a few times, so I figured there were probably other kids. I asked Aunt Inez one day and she told me there was a man in Mississippi named Mike Carter who was said to be Dad’s son.”

“How long have you known about this?” Poor Mom. I was in nursing school at this time- I think I found out about Dad having a son when I was still in high school. I’d never told anyone.

“I dunno.” (More brilliance) “A few years maybe?” As a child, I was painfully/abnormally shy and quiet (to the point it was almost debilitating) around anyone except family, and was sometimes very quiet even around them. This lasted well into young adulthood, and as a result I was pretty adept at keeping others’ secrets.

With a short exasperated sigh, Mom went on to tell me all about the phone call and her excitement soon revved up again. After calling a few wrong numbers and getting redirects, Mike had phoned my mother. He’d been told that my mother used to be married to my dad, was divorced and remarried, and someone gave him my stepdad’s name. This was an age way before Google and Internet Explorer, so it definitely took determination and a bit of luck on Mike’s part to reach her.

Mike shared with her that he was at a point in his life where he wanted some information on his biological father; Mom was happy to give him all the information he requested (and more!) After a lengthy conversation, she asked him, “Did you know you have a sister? She would like to know about you.” (He actually had two, as Dad had also remarried and had another daughter.) He politely thanked her, but said he really didn’t want the contact to go any further. After assuring him that she would respect his privacy and not tell anyone, they ended their conversation. She immediately dialed my number.

The next afternoon after class, I called his office- luckily he had given that number to Mom…or more likely she finagled it out of him. I left my name and number, and it wasn’t long before the phone rang. My heart was racing so fast when I answered the phone! Though I don’t remember how the conversation started or even what we talked about, I know we spoke for a long time that day and the following ones.

After spending hours on the phone and exchanging letters and photos, we had developed trust. Since both of us were convinced the other was not an axe murderer, we decided to meet in person and Mike drove to Alabama to spend the weekend with me. Knowing I was nervous, my college roommate waited with me, providing both emotional support and comic relief. She has a big heart and was just as excited as I was to finally meet him. If Mike was nervous at all, he certainly didn’t show it and his calmness helped to calm me. We had a wonderful weekend and went to my Mom’s and stepdad’s house for dinner one night so they could meet him too.

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“We didn’t plan the matching flannel shirts!”

It was probably a few months later when Mike and I went to Louisiana for him to meet our grandfather…both of us were nervous then and it showed. We got to town late that night and had to stop at three different motels, in the pouring rain, before finally finding one with an available room. We were both pretty tired and by then it didn’t matter (too much) that there was a flashing, partially broken hot pink and green neon sign outside shining through the broken window blinds, water was dripping from the shower head, or that we were kind of afraid to take our shoes off.

Mike waited until about 5:50am the next morning to wake me -Carter men like to get up early- and he did so with a giant cup of coffee in hand so we were able to remain friends. We decided the best strategy was for me to drive to the farm alone to tell Grandpa about Mike first since it was a surprise visit.

I sat with Grandpa, unsure how to begin, and finally said, “Dad has a son, Grandpa. His name is Mike, he’s here in town, and he wants to meet you.” Grandpa smiled, and then grinned. He got up and started pushing me toward the front door saying, “You go and get him, honey-bunch! Go get him right now. I want to meet him too!” I’ll never forget the smiles on the two men’s faces when they shook hands for the first time.

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A couple of years later, I got married. Before the wedding, I called Dad and told him that Mike would be there. I felt it was the fair thing to do. Dad didn’t say anything yet still made plans to be there to give me away and to bring my little sister, Jordana, who was one of my bridesmaids. Leaving their meeting each other in Divine Hands, I didn’t give it a second thought until I heard my name being called at the reception. I turned around, and saw Mike, his wife Cissy, their daughter Catherine, Dad, and Jordana grouped together summoning me for a family photo! That was awesome.

Over the next months and years, Mike got to know his extended family and his father, and Dad experienced true peace, probably for the first time in his adult life.

I admire my brother’s courage for making those phone calls years ago, and am grateful to Mom for being too excited not to tell.

To the Little Girl with the Curly Hair-for Jennifer

Sometimes just hearing the voice of someone we love who loves us back can take away all our sadness and bring us “home” even if we’re miles away. That is what talking with my cousin Jennifer did for me a few days ago, and I’m forever grateful to her.

Growing up, I was blessed to have many cousins on my father’s side of the family. We came together for a few days every Thanksgiving at my grandparents’ farm- usually during the summers too- and those are some of the happiest memories I have. There were rides on the tractor, horse rides with uncles, and countless hours spent playing hide and seek in the big green barn.

Though I have younger cousins, and she and I are separated in age by less than a decade, Jennifer was the one I always thought of as my “little” cousin. Maybe it was because she was big enough to do some of the things that the ones my age could do, or maybe it was just because I liked having her around… she was my little cousin whom I loved and wanted so much to protect. And still do.

When my dad died, my sister Jordana was only a teenager, too young to lose a father. Jennifer and her sister Anne cared for my sister as if she were theirs. I remember they enveloped her, one on each side, whispering quietly to her as she cried and comforting her in a way that I couldn’t. It was a few years later that sweet, vibrant, funny, loving and loveable Joseph died. They were way too young to lose a brother.

Jennifer carries a Light within her that shines brightly, serving as a beacon for our family; during the times I’ve felt the most alone, she is the one I’ve sought. She loves others with her whole being, selflessly and sincerely, and with compassion and understanding. She comforts others when they have sorrow, and genuinely shares their joy when they are happy. She ends every conversation with “Love you,” and she means it.

When she was a very little girl, she had an incredible sweetness and purity about her. I always thought time would take that from her- I was wrong. If anything, those traits have grown stronger. I remember years ago when her family came into town (I think for a wedding); she ran into my aunt’s home, a tiny girl with curls bouncing, and into everyone’s arms one by one to give great big hugs. My cousin John and I adored her.

Jen, my sweet little cousin…how did it happen that you became my rock, my protector? I am so thankful to you for being in my life. Love you.

The Reason-for Austin

For the past 18 years, my son has found a Hot Wheels car in his stocking every Christmas morning. I don’t think I ever told him why…until now.

As it does for many of us, decorating the Christmas tree and looking at all the ornaments collected through the years brings forth so much nostalgia; there are my favorite handmade ones from my son Austin, old ones from my grade school classmates, ones Austin and I bought on vacations we took together (Mom and I started that tradition many years ago when we’d go on trips), some from my childhood, and many given as gifts by cherished family. There’s one from the wife of a patient who died –she gave it to me as thanks for caring for her husband- and another from the first new nurse I mentored. One of the ornaments I treasure is a hand-blown glass angel from Copenhagen. Mom took me there when I was a teenager and we bought matching angels. Some years later, when I moved out on my own, my mother packed up all the ornaments she’d collected for me through the years so that I could have them for my own tree. Despite her careful and gentle packaging, I somehow managed to break off the tip of one wing. For years, I’d position her on the tree so that no one could see the flaw. As I got older, that changed. The beautiful angel now takes her place front and center on the tree and is a reminder that sometimes we are stronger because our wings are a little broken.

But back to the point- I’m always painfully slow getting to one… thinking about Christmas brought me back to the one when Austin had just turned four. We went to the mall to have his picture taken with Santa. It seemed as if we were in line forever, his warm little hand in mine, and I wondered if he’d be ok sitting on Santa’s knee by himself-historically, that had not been the case! He did it, photos were successfully snapped, and he ran back to me afterwards with a big proud grin.

As he gave me a huge hug, I asked him what he told Santa he wanted for Christmas. He said in the earnest way only small children do, “A hot wheels car, a blue cereal bowl…and earrings for you, Mommy.” The look of pure joy on his face when there were earrings for his Mom Christmas morning was unforgettable. The blue cereal bowl, too cracked by now for use, is carefully tucked away, there has been a Hot Wheels car in his stocking every year since, and he still has the same unselfish spirit he had when he was a young boy.broken-wings

The Cumulative Effect-for Jeff

Our hospital chaplain and I were talking earlier that morning about the effect seeing human suffering has on caregivers. Over time, it can change a person; seeing so much pain, fear, and death wears you down to the point that even the most joyous times (like watching a patient you never expected to make it walk out of the hospital) are just a little less fulfilling. Fortunately, for most of us, these feelings are cyclical. The pain subsides, the joy returns, and we go on…but you have to wonder about the cumulative effect. Who would we be if we didn’t witness all the suffering?

Yesterday one of our patients died. We tried to save her and we couldn’t. Every single time we have a code, I hope that it will be the last one I ever see…odds are it won’t be.

I was on the opposite end of the unit with a couple of the other nurses when we heard the code alarm. We rushed to the patient’s room where someone opening the code cart and CPR was in progress. As I took over chest compressions (I’m usually the one in that role first just because I’m tall), I thought of the many times I’ve had my hands on someone’s chest doing those same compressions and I prayed for the lady’s heart to start beating again on its own. It didn’t.

As charge nurse, by default I have to be the nurse leader during a code until we have a designated physician leader present; I don’t want to be the leader. It’s usually for only a couple of minutes but it feels like forever. I have to make sure someone is manning the cart and defibrillator, someone else is getting defibrillator pads on the patient, that we have working IVs, someone is recording, we have a backboard under the patient, and that someone is getting the meds ready.

When one of the young doctors took over compressions, I helped a nurse ventilate the patient while the anesthesia MD was preparing to intubate. I saw the panic in her face as she struggled with the ambu-bag initially then the relief as she got it right and heard me say, “Yes, sweetheart, just like that.” I’ve been in codes where people yell and it never helps anyone.

Real-life codes are not like the ones depicted on television. We are jammed together tightly around the patient and we are covered in sweat that is not just our own. Regardless of the outcome, everyone is shaken at the end of a code and there are some tears shed. We take it personally when a patient dies.

Dr. S was our physician leader; not only did he run the code perfectly, he was very calm and set the tone for everyone else. We gave numerous rounds of meds and performed CPR continuously. Everyone in that room worked hard to save the lady’s life. Several times, Dr. S had four of us do a final pulse check before he “called” the code; if one of us even thought we felt a pulse, we began the whole cycle again. After 46 minutes, there was nothing. He had to announce the time of death and one family was changed forever.

While we prepared for the patient’s family to see her, our chaplain met with her sons. I see death only occasionally; he shares others’ grief weekly- not just the patients and their families, but also our staff. Afterward, he updated me on the family while I was charting, then said he wanted to check on the nurse whose patient had just died one last time. As I watched him take the lonely walk down the then eerily quiet hallway, I thought to myself “But who’s gonna check on you, buddy?”

Please don’t ask me to cut my hair

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Beauty is something we women obsess over, cry about, and feel that we can never achieve. Because of our own insecurities, we find ourselves inadvertently bringing other women down with us, thereby fulfilling the old saying, “Misery loves company.” This is not an intentional act, but rather something that has been handed down to us from generation to generation. It is way past time to stop. We have been programmed since early childhood to “know” what a beautiful woman looks like. Madison Avenue tells us she should be tall, very thin, have long legs, porcelain skin, etc. The message is that women who look like this will be desired by all and will achieve ultimate happiness and women who don’t are out of luck.

Here’s the deal…We all want to be happy and we all want to be desired. How many of us as very little girls twirled in our dresses wanting to be seen as beautiful? How many of us pretended we were a princess waiting for our Prince Charming? How many of us fantasized that we were the heroine of a story… beautiful, strong, and irreplaceable? I think the answer is that a lot of us did. So despite having grown into rational, clear-thinking adults, we are still influenced by past perceptions and hurts. Perhaps our fathers called us plain, or our brothers criticized our choice of dress. Maybe we were teased in school for being the ‘ugly duckling’. Our mothers may have been critical of our bodies, pushing us to lose weight for our “own good” so that we could “be happy.” Every woman has at least one story to tell, and most of us have several that have stuck with us for many years, and can still bring tears to our eyes.

We work toward achieving the image of beauty that has been burned into our minds and our very psyche, constantly striving and continually disappointed. Some of us live in despair knowing we will never obtain the perfection we are looking for, while others are just as frustrated seeing how close they are and thinking, “If I could just do a little more, then I would be happy.” Have you ever been witness to a conversation between two women who are good friends? Often it turns to the dissatisfaction over their bodies. You will hear one saying, “I only ate 500 calories all day yesterday, and I worked out for three straight hours.” The other will nod in commiseration, saying, “If I could just lose five more pounds, life would be good.”On and on this goes, as they discuss their self-hatred. It is such a sad thing to witness, and I certainly have been guilty of this same behavior. These are women who truly care about each other, yet instead of lifting each other up, they bring each other down in their battle for perfection. Certainly this is not what our Creator wants for us. He has decorated the world with His beauty:

Psa 93:1 The Lord hath reigned, he is clothed with beauty:

Surely He has made us beautiful as well.

Psa 45:2 (45:3) Thou art beautiful above the sons of men: grace is poured abroad in thy lips; therefore hath God blessed thee forever.

We spend countless hours and not an insignificant amount of money viewing information to make us feel bad about the way that we look. We watch TV shows and read magazines that tell us how we should dress, i.e. make your hips look smaller if you are pear-shaped or fuller if you are an apple shape (why is it ok with us to be compared to fruit?), dress to minimize your derriere or maximize it if it is too small, hide your full bust or enhance your small breasts, etc. In short, the message is that we should all strive for the same “perfect” body. Why should all women try to look the same? It seems we should rejoice in our diversity, each of us recognizing our own beauty that is a gift from God.

Women with pure intentions give their friends the same advice that they themselves have received from other women. They desire the best for their friends and want them to be happy, so they advise their friends on how to dress, on how to wear their hair (hence the reason for the title), and on how to do their make-up. Often, this advice, though it is given with love, has the opposite effect from what was intended. Instead of making us feel better about how we look, we feel worse knowing we have failed miserably in the area of “beauty.”

I have long hair; I like it that way and intend to keep it long. End of story. I have received numerous negative and unsolicited comments about my hair from other women, some who love me and some who don’t. Here are a few:

“Your hair is long.” My reply is usually, “Yes, it’s long.”

“Your hair is too long.” “What is the right length?”

“You should cut your hair.” “Why?” “Because it is too long.” See above.

“You would look better with short hair.” “Really?”

“Your hair is long. Are you gonna donate it to Locks of Love?” “No, I think I’ll keep it.”

And my all-time favorite (usually said with a self-righteous smirk), “You know, after a certain age, women should not wear their hair long.” “Who says?”

There has never once been a man who has advised me to cut my hair.

Why do we women do this to each other? It is a spirit of unrest, which does not come from our Father. There are always two forces at work, and Satan tries to destroy us by creating our fears and then preying upon them as he did with Eve. Life is brought forth from God through us when we give birth; Satan can bring only death. Isn’t it clear why he hates us? He is the one who brings us fear. In the Bible, whenever angels appeared to men, the first words they uttered were, “Fear not.” Instructions regarding fear are present in the Gospels as well, these being just two examples:

Luk 1:74 That being delivered from the hand of our enemies, we may serve Him without fear;

Luk 12:32 Fear not, little flock, for it hath pleased your Father to give you a kingdom.

Mankind is drawn to beauty and through it we get glimpses of God’s glory. Who has not had his or her breath taken away by an awesome sunset where the sky is painted with deep shades of purple, pink, red, and orange? I believe that God created woman to be beautiful for men to be drawn to Him through her beauty. So, of course Satan will try to make us feel that we don’t have beauty. He certainly wants to keep man from moving towards God.

We have received instruction regarding concerns that we are ‘not enough,’ whether it be not smart enough, beautiful enough, or so on.

Mat 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father. Mat 10:30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

Mat 10:31 Fear not therefore: better are you than many sparrows.

I think of women I have been around, some of whom are from cultures different from my own, who are able to see the beauty (outward and inward) that they and their friends possess; they are a joy to be with because they are relaxed and at peace. Instead of striving in discontent, they have happiness which shines from their souls reaching their countenances. They enjoy each other simply for who they are rather than sharing unhappiness and personal dissatisfaction. How refreshing! Have you ever met someone who, at first glance, is not physically attractive, but once you got to know that person, you viewed them as gorgeous? And conversely, someone with great physical beauty that became completely unattractive once their spirit was revealed? Let us all stop the striving for the cookie-cutter beauty that Hollywood dictates we must achieve, and recognize the gifts that God has given us. Oh…and please don’t ask me to cut my hair.

 

 

 

 

The Eyes Have It-for Hank

Yesterday was my brother Hank’s birthday; driving to his home and looking forward to the celebration, I thought of some of the many things I love, admire, and respect about him…his love for his family, his integrity, his talent for great story-telling, his strong work ethic, his protectiveness (sometimes having to go so far as to privately tell us hard truths we don’t want to hear to protect us from ourselves- that takes a lot of courage). I want to be a better person because of him.

If someone were to ask me what my one very favorite thing is about Hank though, I’d have to say that it’s his eye rolls, and as his wife Claudia says, the degrees of those eye rolls!

The first is the story-telling eye roll. We love how it adds emphasis to an already funny tale! The second is the’ I’m-mildly-exasperated’ eye roll done with great exaggeration; the more irritated he is, the more pronounced it becomes. The third is the least common and rarely seen. It’s the ‘that’s-without-a-doubt-the-most-ridiculous-thing-I’ve-ever-heard’ eye roll and it’s to be taken seriously.

Hank is a kind man with a gentle spirit who has been married for years to the love of his life; they have two wonderful children. He grew up with three sisters and inherited another when his dad married my mom. He is quite patient with us all and we know he loves us. That being said, I think there’s not a one among us who hasn’t been the cause of an eye roll from time to time.

I love all the types of eye rolling, and this is why: his stories are so animated and his facial expressions make me laugh that much harder. The exasperated eye roll makes me turn my head away to smile (don’t tell him, but it’s really funny!) I always have to bite my lip hard to keep from giggling. The serious eye roll is the one I appreciate the most. As someone who tends to make things bigger and more dramatic in my mind than they really are, having a brother who loves me enough to let me know when I’m off track is just what I need most- I hope he knows that and keeps those eye rolls coming!

The Power of Hope- On Racism

Among those I admire most are people who are unafraid to have their voices heard; I’ve always longed for the courage to be one.

Recently a friend and I were talking about racism. Her parents were an interracial couple who married in the 70’s and lived in the Deep South, her mother Caucasian and her father African-American. It is difficult to imagine the prejudices they faced daily as they raised their four children. My friend’s parents shielded them from much of the hatred but they couldn’t escape it entirely as their mother was shunned by some of her family members. Their father’s family was completely accepting of them.

My friend and I each have a child, hers a teen-aged daughter and mine a son who will very soon turn 21 (yikes!) Our children have friends of different ethnicities and do not see “color” in the same way that we were shown through either direct teaching or observed behavior. They give us hope that one day racism may not exist. When my son was in high school and talked about new friends he’d made, I never knew what color their skin was until I met them, and I loved that.

As she and I talked that day, I said the words I’d never spoken out loud before: “My dad was a racist.”

Is it guilt, shame, or a sense of betraying my own father that makes those words so hard to say? He’s no longer here and cannot defend himself. I never asked him why he held the views he did and suspect that he just couldn’t move past what was taught to him. Hatred is a heavy anchor to be chained to and it drowns any happiness that comes along. I think Dad found peace near the end of his life and I’m so thankful.

Some of the negative reviews for Go Set A Watchman: A Novel are reflective of how we feel when someone we once looked up to lets us down: ‘I hated it!’ ‘Don’t read it! Read the other one instead!’ ‘How could Atticus act that way?’ ‘What an awful story!’ It’s not an awful book or even an awful story. Lee’s writing is descriptive and easy to read; the reader gets to know the characters and is able to visualize the settings, just like in To Kill A Mockingbird. All these years, Atticus Finch has been our hero- we loved him and loved Scout for being a part of him. In Watchman, we see the grown-up Jean Louise’s disappointment when she finds Atticus upholding laws that were in place even though they were wrong. Her hero is a human who has faults…that means she is too.

When I was a very young girl, Dad was overseas a lot working as a consultant for an oil company and was gone for weeks at a time. Mom and I often travelled to wherever he was working, but when I started school those trips were limited. When Dad would come home, there was no greater joy! I wanted to spend all my time with him…we went on walks and drives together, had our “cocktail hour” every night (his was bourbon and mine was coke), and he told me stories about when he was young while showing me the places he’d been on our lighted spinning world globe.

I was nine when I first became conscious of Dad’s saying the n-word and he said it often. Though I didn’t fully understand the implications of that word, I felt sad every time I heard it because it was uttered with such hatred. How could my dad hate anyone? Why did he hate people because their skin color was different than ours? I don’t know what else was going on in my dad’s life around that time, but I was definitely aware that my parents’ marriage was dissolving quickly. I wanted Dad to be happy and I felt like a failure because I couldn’t make that happen.

It was three years later when my parents divorced and my father quickly remarried. Two years after that, he had another daughter. By that time, my mom had remarried as well and was happier. Throughout my teen years, Dad and I stayed in touch and continued to spend time together, albeit rather sporadically and sometimes at my mother’s urging. I’d become someone he didn’t like very much who no longer sought his approval. He liked young women who were thin, pretty, and agreeable- I was none of those and he voiced his disappointment.

We still took trips together, mostly to my grandparents’ farm. It was during one of those trips that we had a heated argument about the Civil Rights movement; Dad always placed high value on education, and every time we were together he wanted to know what we were studying in school. He asked what I thought about it. I told him that the Ku Klux Klan was a group of cowardly monsters so afraid of showing their faces that they had to cover themselves with sheets, and that they were wrong to persecute and kill others. Dad had a completely different view and was furious over mine. He never asked for my opinion after that, nor did I ever ask for his. As years went by, he tried the best he could to maintain our relationship. My own effort wasn’t as strong as his- that’s something I have to live with.

There were some good times though. Dad had a dry sense of humor and could come up with the funniest one-liners. He loved to sketch cartoon characters with hilarious captions on paper napkins. He was an innovative thinker with a brilliant mind who was an avid reader; we shared the love of reading- many of the books I have in my home today were gifts from him.

Even as I was not the daughter he’d hoped I’d be, we attained a sort of reconciliation with each other during the last several years of his life. Secrets he had kept for most of his life were exposed, he got to know the son he had fathered years before, and he was relieved of the burden of living a lie. Joy, love, and acceptance began to seep into his heart leaving less room for bitterness and fear.

I was with Dad when he took his last breath and was blessed with the gift of time to be able to tell him that he was loved, to thank him for all he had done for me, and to let him know it was okay to go.

Throughout history, each generation has complained about the one that follows- “Kids today don’t know how good they have it. They don’t have any respect. They don’t know the value of hard work. They listen to devil music. They don’t know how to dress. In my day…”-blah, blah blah. Our parents complained about us, and their parents complained about them. Everyone has their faults. What I see with my son’s generation is hope. I see young people speaking out against bigotry. I see college athletes, knowing they are role models for young children, publicly giving glory to God. I see love. Will they make mistakes? Yes, plenty- haven’t we?

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Gratitude

bills

 

When I finished paying bills today, I cried. Undoubtedly, this was not the first time in history paying bills has made someone cry, but these were different tears. They were tears of joy and thanksgiving.

Years ago when my son was little, his father and I separated then divorced. Expenses that I had not incurred became ones that were my responsibility; I was fearful of not being able to provide for my son and too prideful and ashamed to tell anyone of my struggles. At the same time, though, I was so grateful holding that sweet baby in my arms, knowing how blessed I was to have that special love!

At first, things were a juggling act…making partial payments to utility companies, paying with one card to make a payment on another… all things many of us have faced at times. Gradually things became better, and I remember clearly the day I’d paid ALL the bills and saw I still had money in my account. It was five dollars, and I was so excited! That was THE day I knew we would be okay. Five dollars between paychecks became a little more every time, and about a year later, I bought a blue portable stereo/cassette player from K-mart. It was the first non-essential purchase I’d made in a long time, and I felt really guilty until I saw how much my toddler loved “dancing” to the music and hearing me sing to him… that was back when he enjoyed my singing, and those days were short-lived! Understandably. I really can’t sing… or rather shouldn’t

Though I’ll never be rich in the material sense and there probably will be times again that may not be easy, today my son and I have everything we need, I was able to pay bills and have a little money left over, I have a job I like, a car to drive, and a house to live in. Most importantly, I have a few close friends, family I love who love me back, and great coworkers- riches I certainly don’t deserve but do appreciate. I thank God for that every day.

The Point

(There really is one; I’m just always painfully slow getting to it whether the communication is written or verbal. My friends, family, and boss can attest to that. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by very patient people!)

For those who are struggling, and there are so many, please hang in there and persevere. We develop our strengths the most when we are at our weakest; tough times really don’t last forever.

The One That Got Away

Or it’s all fun and games ‘til Jaws shows up…

Yesterday, I went to the beach at Grand Isle, and it was glorious! There’s definitely something soul-renewing about being on the beach, listening to the birds and the sounds of the waves, and feeling the warm Gulf breeze.

Before leaving, I decided to wade out into the water and had gotten only a few steps in when I saw a big triangular fin about twenty yards out moving parallel to the shore line. While I don’t remember backing out of the water, it was probably done at the breakneck speed of Wiley Coyote equipped with the latest Acme invention chasing the Road Runner. I thought of what Katie (my very smart niece who is pursuing a degree in marine biology) had said about sharks biting people because they looked like seals… ‘Try not to look like a seal’ and then ‘You’re standing on the beach already, Einstein.’

There were two state park employees nearby, a young man and woman, working on the bird sanctuary fence. I asked them, “Have y’all seen many sharks this summer? Because I see one now.”

Him, looking out into the water: “It’s probably a dolphin.”

Her, not looking up: “Yeah, it’s a dolphin. We see them all the time.”

Me (annoyingly persistent): “Ok… but it looks like a shark.”

Her, still not looking up, but friendly nonetheless: “It’s a dolphin.”

Him, finally seeing the fin: “Wait… it IS a shark. It’s a big one!”

Her, looking up now: “I see it too! It’s definitely a shark!”

shark fin

Not a dolphin!

Both of them whipped out their phones and started snapping pictures while I was thinking ‘Told ya…’

Her: “It’s not dangerous though… it’s not a bull shark. We don’t get bull sharks around here.”

(No offence, lady, but I’m not listening to you anymore. Aren’t you the one who told me the shark was a dolphin?!)

Him: “You might want to stay out of the water…” And off they went, speeding down the beach in their golf cart to take more photos.

Perfect timing- it is Shark Week on Discovery channel after all.