Funerals

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“All the same, thought Madame Michaud, you dress and adorn the dead who are destined to rot in the earth. It’s a final homage, a supreme proof of love to those we hold dear.” – Suite Francaise by Irene  Nemirovsky

I’ve thought a lot about funerals lately. I guess I can agree with Madame Michaud to a point; funerals can be a proof of love. Or they can be a racket that takes money from vulnerable people without even blinking. I have experienced this in recent months and don’t want my children to go through it. I want a plain wooden casket with no frills. I don’t think it will be necessary to offer refreshments to the mourners, or generic counseling to my kids, or bookmarks, or thank you cards with my obit inscribed on them.

 

“Still, since you brung it up, I’ll say this: my feeling bout buryin’ ain’t the same as your’n. You remember that.” – Love Simpson, Cold Sassy Tree by  Olive Ann Burns

I hope to be buried near the ocean. I would like my funeral message to be preached by a true believer who will tell those in attendance about Christ. And I hope  my kids will  have a few funny stories to tell about me.

 

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Crossroads

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Friendship Fountain

 

“It isn’t as though we were simply standing at the crossroads wondering what path we should take. It is more like we’ve been grabbed by the ear and dragged down a road we had never meant to travel.” – from On Reading and Writing Books for Children by Katherine Paterson

creek

Mandarin Park

 

I can’t say I’m exactly standing at the crossroads. It’s more like I’m looking down the road and wondering what’s over that next hill and thinking, will this road lead me back home? And I (we)  weren’t exactly dragged down this road in the first place, but more like told this is where you are going and tried to go with great expectations. Perhaps those expectations were too great, or perhaps we have failed ourselves. I think it’s a bit of both. And so many deaths, some expected, some swift and unforeseen, have taken their toll on my heart. Now, I just want to go somewhere that feels like home.

 

They say that home is where the heart is

I guess I haven’t found my home

And we keep driving round in circles

Afraid to call this place our own

And are we there yet?

Are We There Yet? – Ingrid Michaelson

 

 

 

One’s Native Place

visitjacksonville.com

photo-visitjacksonville.com

 

Nothing is as fine as one’s native place – from A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

I wasn’t born in Jacksonville, but I’m claiming  this definition from Merriam-Webster: Native – living or growing naturally in a particular region.

I moved to Jacksonville three months shy of my seventh birthday and lived there off and on for 33 of the next 49 years. I lived and grew there; I was shaped by the influences of family and community.

I long to return, though so much has changed and so many of those I love are gone. Though I’ve lived in two other states and different towns along the way, none of them feel like home. Home is where you share childhood stories and you can reminisce with those who get what you mean. I know that in so many ways ‘you can’t go home again’ is true. But if I can’t go home, where will I go?

 

 

 

Smell the Roses and Settle the Stout

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photo-spokesman.com

 

Everyone’s heard the cliche about taking time to smell the roses. After reading this glimpse of a pub in Ireland, I think “take time for the stout to settle” is better.

“He poured half my pint of Guinness, then let it stand for three minutes, in the time-honored way. This lets the stout settle. It also allows the barman to ask you who you are, where you’re from, and why you’re here. The other customers listen and nod. Then, he fills the pint, smooths off the head with a table knife with a parchment-coloured handle, and waits for you to take the first sip. And then the conversation continues.” – from McCarthy’s Bar by Pete McCarthy

 

Thoughts Inspired by This is Us #1

I started binge watching This is Us in early February, and midway through season one, I got a call from my brother. Mom was gone. No forewarning, no long illness. This was Mom who, at 81, wasn’t on any meds except the recent prescription she’d finished taking for her knee. This was Mom, who told me she’d only had one headache in her life, who didn’t remember any symptoms of menopause except,  “Well, I guess I did get a little hot.” This was Mom who packed a pistol for her trips to Georgia, who drove her friends to the store and hairdresser, who ran the Bridge Club. Now, I will eventually go back to watching This is Us, but I’ll be thinking of all the This Was Us episodes of my life, Mom’s life, our life. Below is what I’d written before I got the call.

S1/E8                                                                                                                          Pilgrim Rick

Yes, it’s February and I’m watching Pilgrim Rick, the Thanksgiving episode from season one of This Is Us. Better late than never. I was able to watch the first two episodes online – enough to know I HAD to watch them all. The three day wait for my DVD to arrive from Amazon was a long stretch.

The tears began to roll when the Pearson family ended up at the Pinewood Lodge. My flashback was to Christmas of 1995. We were about to have an early Christmas dinner and celebration with my husband’s father who had traveled three hours to our house, when I got the call. My dad was sinking fast; I should come home. So, we packed it all up; some food; the kids unopened presents, including hockey sticks; clothes for a few days; presents for extended family; and then we piled into the car. Our younger son rode with Grandpa Bell, the rest of us were like sardines in a can, cushioned with jackets and backpacks and suitcases into our Chevy Lumina. On the road to Jacksonville we sang along to Stevie Wonder cassettes and I tried to prepare for what was ahead.

We were fortunate to stay in the Homewood Suites sans Pilgrim Rick, where we had our family Christmas, the six of us snuggled together. We opened presents and laughed and hugged, making bittersweet memories. That night our younger son saw Star Wars for the first time and now, 22 years later, he is still a fan.

The next day we spent time with my brothers and their families, trying to be cheerful but not sure how to act without Mom and Dad there. Dad rallied for a few weeks, and I was able to stay with him and Mom for part of that time. He died on January 6, 1996, Mom holding his hand and me holding Mom.

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S1/E11
“Do the Right Thing”

Watching Rebecca and her mother discuss the prospects of life with three babies brings me back to when I told my parents I was expecting for the first time. I was so excited, but my joy bubble burst when all I heard in their voices was doubt and worry. It took them a while to adjust to the idea, but they hit the road as soon as we called to tell them it was time. They made the four hour drive to Clearwater, arriving just minutes after the birth of our firstborn. They didn’t persuade us to return to Jacksonville, but when we decided, they had a home ready to rent to us. Four years later we purchased it and two more children later we sold it. With those two children there was still hesitation on their part, the slow acceptance that this was our life and our family. But, they were there for us over and over – loaning us money and babysitting and being there at the birth of not only those next two, but the last, also. They drove to Georgia to be there the day our youngest was born. Mom was with me up until the last few minutes.

Mom is still with me and I’m grateful for the support and model she has been. Not perfect, but neither am I. Not by a long shot. The picture is of Mom and me, both pregnant with our firstborn.

me n mom prego

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It wasn’t long after I’d typed those words “Mom is still with me” that I found out she wasn’t. I pray that all she taught and modeled for me will live on in me.

Comfort Clothes

A few years ago, my cousin Debbie wrote a lovely piece about her trusty brown sweater. She says,

“This is my someone’s at the door, throw over your gown, warm, feel good, soft, sleep in, coffee stained (you can’t see them, thankful brown) enduring, lasting, missing one button, never fail me sweater. I keep it because it is the one thing I can trust to give me that peace of mind and comfort I need.”

This brought to mind Old Red. Old Red was an old red wool coat that belonged to my mom. Long past its prime, it hung in the closet for years. On Saturday afternoons when Dad would kick back in his recliner in the den, with a golf game on TV, he would say, “Go bring me Old Red.” I, or whichever of my brothers was closest, would go it from the closet. Dad would proceed to cover up and fall asleep. But we wouldn’t dare try to change the channel. He would stir up and bellow, “I’m watching that.” I wonder whatever became of that coat; it would have come in handy here in Alabama.

Then there were my overalls.
overalls

When I was in college at Georgia Southern, there was this great old fashioned hardware store in town where you could buy painters pants and overalls. In the mid-70s these were the fashion around campus. I wore my overalls a lot. A whole lot.  I have a picture of me in them a few years later at Clearwater Beach holding my firstborn son. I also remember that I had them on the day I rushed out of the house to take my neighbor and her son to the ER. I didn’t have time to change, just scooped up the baby and the diaper bag and flew out the door. Barefoot. I’m sure people were shaking their heads at me at the hospital, especially when I had to go into the restroom to unhook them in order to nurse my baby. Then, when I was pregnant with our second, I wore them through about my fifth month. I think I finally gave them up when they got too many holes in them.

My husband had a pair of comfort shorts. When he finally replaced them, we had a burial ceremony in the side yard. He put them in a  shoebox and dug a hole, and then we and the four kids all trooped out, very somber of course, while he said a few parting words over them. They had lived a good life and died with dignity.

I appreciate Debbie and her trusty brown sweater. Comforts clothes are akin to comfort foods. And to friends.  We need to keep them around.

I love how she ends her thoughts. Thank you, Debbie.

“People are constantly telling us we need to let go of the past and move forward. No, we don’t have to forget the past; it is a part of who we are, where we have been and where we are now. Holding on is what we call “memories” and what’s wrong with having those to fall back to?… It is the thread of life that connects us to each other and if I find it woven in a piece of clothing, I’ll hang on to it and I’ll continue to hang this sweater over me until it or I am no more.”

 

(originally published 11/15)

A Thought From All the Light We Cannot See

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“Werner thinks of his childhood, the skeins of coal dust suspended in the air on winter mornings…” from All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

For some reason, this stirred a childhood memory of milk. For a very short time when we first moved to Jacksonville, FL, we had our milk delivered by the “milkman”. On our front porch sat a metal crate where we would leave our empty bottles and take delivery of fresh milk. I remember the tops were sealed with thick paper lids. This milk was probably from Skinner’s Dairy, a hometown company that later built numerous drive-thru milk stores across Jacksonville.

In north Florida it didn’t get cold very often, but there were some winter mornings when we were excited to be able to see our breath in the chilly air. There was one winter I’ll always remember as the temperature got down in  the upper teens and our heat went out. Our dad was out of town at the time on one of his many business trips. We bundled up and played outside anyway. The very large ditch – like a creek – behind our house was frozen on the top. Our friend’s little dog, Ginger, skittered across easily. Our dog, Dixie, followed her and went right through to the icy water.

Other fall and winter days were filled with my brothers playing football in the front yard and a few evening fires in our fireplace. In high school it was a time to wear stylish sweaters to school, then go outside for PE in the short gym suits we had to wear. I remember being teased about the chill bumps on my legs – referred to as chicken skin.

After moving to Birmingham in 2014, I was so excited about our first fall and winter. Sweaters and boots and scarves were so much fun! But, then it seemed to last forever and I yearned for the warmth of spring.

Last year, summer far outlasted its welcome. And this year we’ve had our share of hurricanes in the south. Now I long once more for the cool air and some justification for a pumpkin spice latte.