Betty

Today would have been my mother-in-law’s 85th birthday. As an awkward 20 year old newlywed, I didn’t know what to call her. Mrs. Bell felt too formal. Didn’t know if I should call her Mom. So I didn’t call her anything. It took me years to be able to call her Betty.

She loved me and loved on me. As a mother of three boys, I think she was glad to have a daughter. She always remembered birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day. She bought Key Lime pie when I visited. When she hugged me she would tell  me I smelled good. This poem is for her.

 

August 21, 2017

 

The phone rang early in the murky sleep-state of morning

Packed a bag, boarded the dog, headed home

Into the day-darkness of that solar eclipse

Alabama to  Florida

Ominous shadowed light dimly glowed all around me

Driving home to say goodbye

To someone who loved me unconditionally

Pulled off at a rest stop

Where a stranger loaned me his glasses

To behold this obscurity of the sun

As I looked through bleak eyes

To a future without her

 

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My Solace

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No Hard Feelings by the Avett Brothers has been my solace for the past year, though at times I’ve had to skip it on my playlist because it almost always makes me cry. I lost my mother-in-law in August 2017, then my Mom in February 2018, and today my dog, Loretta. Yes, I understand there are huge differences in losing a pet vs. a person, but when one comes on the heels of the other it is just nearly too much.

The song begins
“When my body won’t hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Will I be ready?”

I wasn’t ready to let any of them go, but in Loretta’s case, I think SHE was ready. She had a good life and enriched ours in so many ways.

Then
“When my feet won’t walk another mile.”
My dog, Loretta, hit this point  so suddenly last night I can’t wrap my head around it. She was fine and peppy one minute, then lethargic and unresponsive the next. She perked up once for a few minutes, a sort of last hurrah I guess, then just could hardly move. My husband carried her to our room where we’d made her a soft blanket “pallet” to lie on. We finally fell asleep, but both awoke at 2AM to sit on the floor beside her as she drew her last breath. I can only guess it was her heart giving out.

Listen to this song – more than once if you can. It is overflowing in meaning and may be a balm for YOUR spirit.

 

Monday Music #21

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“… for music alone can abolish differences of language or culture between two people and evoke something indestructible within them.” –  from Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

 

 

I was introduced to the music of JJ Grey and Mofro, many years back by my daughter. I’ve only seen him in concert twice; once in concurrence with the Jacksonville Symphony (with my daughter)  and then again in Birmingham (with my husband). On my many trips from Jacksonville to Tampa I’ve driven through Lochloosa and I always think of Grey’s love for Florida.

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View from the Buckman Bridge – 2013

 

My father-in-law had a little trailer in Astor on the St. Johns River for many years.  The pictures below are from a trip I took up the river with my brother-in-law and niece back in 2012. We went out to Lake George and stopped at Silver Glen Springs. It was one of the most relaxing days I’ve ever spent.

 

 

This song, The River, grips me every time I hear it. Growing up minutes from the St. Johns in Jacksonville, I never appreciated it like I do now. As a kid, it was just the river we crossed to get to downtown. Now I understand a little more about the vastness and beauty it contains. I long to get back to this river someday.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday Music #19

 

There are songs, special songs, that can transport us back in time to a certain point, a specific memory. Leaving On a Jet Plane is one of those songs for me. I think I mentioned it once before in a blog post.

The song, written by John Denver, was recorded by Peter, Paul, and Mary in 1967. So, I imagine it was around  the summer of 1968 or 69 when my cousin Paula and I sang it at the top of our lungs in the back of her parents station wagon. We, all us Graham/Denmark cousins, had been to the next town over to swim. We were headed home down a south Georgia two-lane, the summer air blowing our hair around as it dried our swimsuits, and I don’t remember if the song came on the radio or if we just started singing it. I’m not sure why this moment in time has stuck with me all these years. I think it was the pure joy of the moment, the carefree happiness of a childhood that was always made better when cousins were around.

A few weeks ago I reunited with Paula for a weekend in Arkansas. It was the first time, probably since that summer, that we had been together for any length of time. In fact, we’d only seen each other 4-5 times in the intervening years. But, there is something about the bond of cousins – the years made no difference – it was like we picked up where we’d left off so many summers ago.  We have led such different lives, yet the bond of family and the bond of Christ has held us together. For that I am grateful.

 

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Can’t Separate

 

Can’t Separate

 

Can’t separate me from the past

my grandfather’s desertion

the tenacity of my grandmothers

the stories told and retold

by the aunts who remember  

 

Can’t separate me from my childhood

Dad’s bellowing and invented words

Mom’s steadfastness and silly jokes

brothers by my side, happy or not

supper in the kitchen every night

 

Can’t separate me from those cousins

who made paper dolls for me

we swam and skated and pretended

and whispered into the night

those first and forever friends

 

Can’t separate me from my husband

who made a new family with me

who grew and stumbled by my side

the one who really knows me

and loves me anyway

 

Can’t separate me from my offspring

flesh of my flesh who look like their dad

my babies grown up too soon

across state lines and time zones

in joy and sorrow, mine

 

Can’t separate me from this next generation

the little ones who let me love on them

these two with bits of me inside

this hope for the future

this family of mine

 

Written April, 2017

Grief

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Sometimes when you are grieving it helps to talk to someone. But, sometimes it helps to just lose yourself in a book (or TV show) and relate to a fictional character or situation. And cry.

“When you lose someone suddenly and unexpectedly it hurts differently…it’s like a lightning bolt you can’t even see reaching inside of you and tearing out your guts…” – Randall, This is Us

That was exactly how I felt when I got the call about my mom- like my guts were torn out. And then I had to go full steam for a while.

“And then I thought about my friend Bluford Jackson, the one who got lockjaw after firecrackers burned his hand last Christmas. He had died soon after New Year’s Day and now nearly six months later I was just finally seeing that Blue was gone for good.”  – Will, in Cold Sassy Tree by  Olive Ann Burns

I can relate to Will’s feelings. It’s been three and a half months since Mom died, and it hits me in unexpected moments more and more. Grief is sometimes elusive, sometimes a pressing weight.

“Grief is different from unhappiness. In unhappiness one is stuck in time. In grief, time is totally askew.” – Sold Into Eqypt by Madeleine L’Engle 

“When people die, they are not wiped out of our lives as though they had never been, they are still and always part of our history. ” – Sold Into Eqypt by Madeleine L’Engle  

Today would have been my dad’s 86th birthday, but he died at 63. After 23 years, he is still a part of so many stories we tell, so many memories we cherish. He is in the height of my older son and the curls of my younger daughter; he is in the work ethic of my brothers. I read his words of love in the letters I found after Mom died, and although he had a hard time expressing those words aloud sometimes, I knew it was there.

 

 

 

Monday Music #10/Wonder #5

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1st Christmas in Jacksonville – 1965

This is a 2-for-1 combo of Monday Music and Wonder (Years).

The Wonder Years is one of those shows I could watch over and over. In Season Two/Episode Six, Harper’s Woods, the childhood hangout of Kevin, Winnie, and Paul, is set for destruction. A shopping mall was on the horizon.

“ Every kid needs a place to go to be a kid” – the Wonder Years

Growing up, we had a Harper’s Woods of our own, though it didn’t have a name. We just called it The Woods. It was across the road from our little neighborhood, a street of about 45 homes, built in the mid-sixties. I’m not a good judge of size, but I’d guestimate it was 9-10 acres. Within those boundaries were trails walked, and for the fortunate few, ridden by mini-bikes; forts built by trial and error;  games played; and tons of imagination swirling around.

I never saw a parent enter our little territory. If someone was late coming home or needed by mom, a sibling was sent in to fetch the required kid.

“There’s something in those woods you can’t see with your eyes. You have to look with your heart. It’s my childhood.” – The Wonder Years

Our other natural playground was the large drainage ditch than ran behind the houses. There my brothers shot moccasins and brought them home to be skinned. I waded in, catching minnows and little crawdads, always on alert for snakes, though. At the end of our street, the ditch emptied in a little creek. Across that creek was a magical zone I discovered when I was just on the brink of being a teenager. In it was a patch of bamboo and a huge fallen tree that went across the creek.  I crossed the tree, albeit on hands and knees, and wondered at the beauty of it all that I had no words for. Years later, when I read Bridge to Terabithia, it all came back to me. It was exactly what I pictured when I read about Leslie and Jesse.

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Christmas, circa 1987

By the time I was a teenager, our woods were gone, replaced by more houses that expanded our neighborhood. I babysat a lot of kids in my neighborhood, and now I see that in just a few short years, the freedom to roam that I enjoyed was cut short for those kids who came after me.

And now this – I discovered this song by Twenty One Pilots a few years ago and it fits right in here I think. Makes me think of my grandkids and wish they had a place to play like I did.