Lessons from a Stranger

Today is my granddaughter Olivia’s birthday, a day that reminds me of the juxtaposition of “things,” things like emotions, events, and experiences. I’m thinking of a man I never met who had a profound effect on my thinking. Because of him, I’ll never take my blessings for granted; nor will I ever be insensitive to the feelings of others (or at least that’s my goal).

On that spring morning the other grandparents and I felt excitement, mine bordering on giddiness. We walked and talked and snacked and waited. And then we waited some more. We were allowed in and out of Amanda’s room for part of the day, and then as the big event became more imminent, the medical personnel shooed us out. We adjourned to the huge waiting lobby filled with clusters of sage vinyl couches and found a vacant sitting area. As we made small talk, a feeling of anxious anticipation permeated the atmosphere.

“Dumas said all human wisdom could be summed up in two words, wait and hope,” I quipped. Anxious smiles greeted the remark. We knew the moment was close, and yet there was nothing the four adults could do. It was in the hands of the doctor and Amanda. And God.

Life teemed all around us. At least two groups of expectant parents came for “the tour.” Led by a member of the hospital staff, the excited parents-to-be were given instructions on where everything was and what they could expect on delivery day. The group stopped just short of the double doors that led to the labor and birthing rooms, and we listened as their guide informed them about what went on behind those doors. Securely locked, the doors were sacred portals beyond which no one could pass without permission and a code of some type.

Several medical personnel bustled about with clipboards and pagers, all busily intent on their missions. I watched the scurrying about of doctors, nurses, and orderlies and recalled Annie Dillard’s poignant passage in For the Time Being about an obstetrical ward in a busy city hospital. As Dillard described the activity level, she said there “might well be a rough angel guarding this ward, or a dragon, or an upwelling current that dashes boats on rocks.” She then asks if we, her readers, should perhaps “remove our shoes, drink potions, and take baths?” Because, Dillard writes, “This is where the people come out.”

Chitchatting about various topics, none of them too serious, we scarcely noticed the quiet arrival of an older man who came to join our group. Truthfully, he didn’t so much join us as he filled an empty seat for a few minutes. Because of the various seating combinations in the waiting area, and we had grown accustomed to sharing our space with an assorted crew of people as the day had progressed. He was just another seat filler, someone with whom we’d share small talk and commiserate about the waiting…or so I thought.

Cap pulled halfway down his forehead, his coal black eyes stared straight ahead. On the frail side, his downcast demeanor made him appear even more shrunken as he sat still and silent on the sage green sofa, his dark face immobile and unreadable. He appeared to be around 60, but frankly, it was hard to determine his age. Serious sorrow, rather than his age, could have been responsible for the deep lines etched beside his mouth and the empty look in his eyes.

The four grandparents-in-waiting continued to talk, and hoping to bring him into our conversation, I tried to establish some eye contact with the newest member of our cluster. My friendly overtures were to no avail, and I could tell from my surreptitious glances at his face that to him we might as well be pieces of furniture. He seemed oblivious to his surroundings as he dealt with some inner turmoil or heartache. Still and silent, he created a sacred inviolate space around him that no one could enter.

Looking straight ahead, the sad, silent man pulled a brown bag of plain M & M’s from his shirt pocket, and for the entire time he sat amongst us, he slowly and methodically ate the chocolate pieces. He didn’t tilt his head back and jiggle several at a time out of the bag. Nor did he spill a few in one hand and examine the multi-colored morsels before popping them into his mouth. He ate them unhurriedly, one by one, not savoring–merely chewing. Did he even notice their sweetness? Did eating them merely give him something to do, something to momentarily assuage his pain?

After a few moments, I noticed a lone tear streaking down his cheek, and then another and another. From my vantage point, I could see only his right profile, but I’m certain the tears were coursing down both sides of his face. Despite his sorrow, the candy man’s demeanor was one of dignity and restraint. The juxtaposition between our emotions and his couldn’t have been more obvious. Seeing his pain almost made me feel guilty for feeling so much hope and happiness.

What had happened to cause him such distress? Had he lost a wife or a daughter? Had one of the women in his life given birth to a stillborn child? Northside Hospital’s Women Center is a full-care facility that handles just about any women’s issue imaginable. From surgery to seminars, females from 12 to 100 are treated. The area where we sat was right outside of the labor and delivery area, but there were other sets of doors radiating from the waiting area, all leading to some mystery-shrouded ward. Which ward had he come from?

I’d like to say that someone offered him a tissue and that we became shoulders to cry on. But no, that didn’t happen. Subdued by the newcomer’s obvious distress, we grew quieter, and after a few moments we gave up our feeble attempts to continue our earlier lighthearted banter. We all tried to ignore him, not because we didn’t care but rather because we respected him and his anguish. The candy man had built an invisible wall around himself and seemed to be saying, “I’ve got to get myself together before moving forward.” His grief was a private thing, and we all sensed and respected that; we too had experienced punctured hearts.

But that was eight years ago. Today I’m feeling jangled by the memory of a stranger whose sadness continues to haunt me. What is he doing on this May afternoon? Have his tears dried? If we met today, would he talk to me? And if so, what would he say?

I think he’d tell me something that I already knew, that while there is suffering, there is also joy. And that perhaps pain serves to make us more aware of the exquisite sweetness of life. I hope that the candy man’s heartache has eased and that he has joy in his life.

Time is Life

It happened in church. Something the speaker said triggered a distant memory, and although I had a sketchy image or two in my mind of the event and the principal players, I couldn’t for the life of me recall the day of the week—or even the year. It was probably not a Saturday or Sunday. Of that I was certain. Could it have been a Friday? Memory is a hot topic in psychology, and yet there I sat, someone who’d been teaching about behavior and mental processes for a couple of decades, feeling lost.

I had probably lived (at that time) 16, 425 Fridays but could recall fewer than one hundred of them—or maybe fifty. Truthfully, I had a hard time coming up with twenty. Where had all the Friday nights gone? How had they been spent? And what about the Tuesday mornings? The only one I remembered with any detail was the Tuesday at 3:10 a.m. when my daughter Elizabeth was born.

Church ended, and I forgot about the time thing. Sort of forgot, that is. It was always in the back of my mind, and I made more of a conscious effort to commit some moments to memory by jotting them down in gratitude journals. Years passed, and a couple of years ago I began taking and posting a Pic of the Day on Facebook. My iPhone made this an easy task. In fact, it was a pleasure and forced me to take notice of things going on around me.

Later I became aware of a website entitled 100 Happy Days and decided to participate in that. Several people I knew were doing it so I jumped on the bandwagon with them. Sharing the 100 days with like-minded people added to the fun and challenge.

What was especially enjoyable about the two above activities was the visual record of sights I had either seen that day or that someone had shared. I made a Shutterfly book of the Pic of the Day photographs, and the 100 Happy Days site printed 100 photos for me—for a price, of course. Since many of the photographs include scenes and people of interest, family members enjoy looking at them almost as much as I do. It helps them recall places and things too.

One day this past week I listened to an NPR podcast (TED Talk) about the shifting nature of time. It was right up my alley, and I found it educational and interesting. Psychologist Dan Gilbert’s comments were particularly thought-provoking…maybe more so than those of the physicist who talked about when time began. Since I don’t know as much about physics as psychology, I had to work harder to understand him.

But the speaker I’m latching on to this morning is Cesar Kuriyama who has developed an app entitled the One Second Video. Easily downloadable, the app helps a person “stitch together moments of your life into mini movies that you can share with anyone, or keep for yourself.” At the end of a year, you’ll have 365 one-second videos spliced into seven and a half minutes (or thereabouts).

In Mr. Kuriyama’s words, “I have seconds that look incredibly boring, but represent ridiculously meaningful events in my life, and I have seconds that look gorgeous, but many have been relatively insignificant days of my life. Each second is a secret code to myself that only I know the hidden meaning of.”

The app costs $4.99. I downloaded it Monday and am going to start using it today. And no, I’m not working for NPR or Mr. Kuriyama. I’m just a person who realizes that time is life and that once it’s gone, it’s gone. I also know that a photograph or video can serve as a fabulous retrieval cue. So can some scribblings in a journal, but that’s not what I’m pushing today.

Was that morning in church in winter or summer? Was it raining? Were the children behaving? What was I wearing? All I know is that it was Sunday. I also know that today I’ll be recording my first one second video.

Birthday Request

IMG_5540

There’s nothing like a birthday to make one pause and reflect on where she’s been, where she is, and where she’s going. Serious reflection is even more likely when the celebrant is crossing the line between middle and later adulthood. That’s right: 65.

Years ago I came across William Hazlitt’s pronouncement that no young man believes he will ever die. “True for young women too,” I thought. If young people truly thought about the inevitability of their own demise, they’d probably do things differently, with more gusto and verve. They’d say yes more often to opportunities, adventures, and experiences and no more often to obligations that involve drudgery or cause resentment.

What’s the meaning of life? Does my life have meaning? Are people and relationships and connections (even those across time and cultures) what make life rich? These and dozens of other questions crossed my mind last week. To be honest, I think about those sorts of things quite often. I think it was Socrates who said that an unexamined life is not worth living.

I’m not sure (is anyone?) about all of the answers to the above questions. I do know that people count and that relationships need nurturing. I know that everyone you see is, has been, or will be fighting a hard battle. Everyone needs a hand, a hug, or a smile from time to time. Sometimes people need a lot more.

Last week when one of my daughters-in-law and I were chatting on the beach pondering such issues aloud, I told her that Thomas S. Monson, President of the LDS church, always asks for the same birthday request each year: that each member do at least one good deed on his birthday. He needs no gifts, and nor do I (but don’t tell my husband or children that!).

Seriously, what I’d like for a belated birthday gift is for every one of my friends, relatives, and acquaintances to do something nice for another person. This could be paying for their meal in a drive-thru, giving a few dollars to a homeless person (even if you disapprove of what you think he might do with the money), spending time with a child, or simply paying someone a compliment. Mark Twain said that he could live for two months on a good compliment, and really, how hard would it be to give one???

About spending time with a child, this has one major qualifier. Make sure you give him or her your undivided attention. Put your cell phone away for a few minutes and really get to know the little one better. Recently I read about a person who said he could see a child’s internal light begin to dim when trying in vain to get his dad’s attention. The father was holding the child on his lap but was too tuned in to Facebook, a game, or a news report on his phone to even look at the child. Come to think of it, it’s not just children. It’s anyone we’re in a relationship with. Could you turn off the television for a few minutes and actually look at the other person while he/she is telling you something?

Enough instruction! You know as well as I do what constitutes something kind. Just go out and do it for my birthday. And me? When talking to my daughter Elizabeth, I told her that I was going to try to do 65 good things for people this week.

“Why not make it this month, Mom? A week doesn’t give you much time.”

So from now until the end of August, I’m going to commit up to 65 charitable (loving, nice, kind) acts. Later today, I’m going by a neat store called Coccadots and get some cupcakes on the way home from Myrtle Beach. I’m giving four of them to a special group of teachers, the Core 4, who teach at Aynor Middle School. And I’m counting this as four nice things instead of one. I have to get to 65 the best way I can!

What about it, Folks? What is something nice you can do to make my first chapter of later adulthood better? Will you accept the challenge?

Take the Time

What am I saying? Connections are important. Things like parties and signings and dinner dates with friends take time, but they’re important. Take the time for them!

I was a little tired after Wednesday’s 180 mile drive to Rincon, GA to see Braden on his 9th birthday. His great grandmother and I went down for the day so that we could share a Dairy Queen lunch (Braden loves that place) and some birthday ice cream.  After a few hours, we hopped in the car for the return trip.

Then on Thursday, the weekend got off to a great start with a movie at the Nick with Melissa, Martha, and Brenda. We went to see Kid with a Bike at the Nickelodeon and then walked down Main Street to Hunters and Gatherers for a bite to eat. When Brenda asked if anyone wanted to do some hunting and gathering, I thought she was asking if anyone wanted to go shopping! I didn’t know about this cool restaurant on the corner of College and Main, a superb location to soak up the ambience of downtown Columbia. That night there was some mellow music wafting outside to our table on the sidewalk, and we loved it. Loved the huge orange sun setting in the west too.

Then it (the weekend) got even better on Friday with Whitney’s pool party followed by a dinner date with Connie and Tilara. Whitney is turning 7 tomorrow, and her parents hosted her party a few days early. Although I couldn’t stay at the celebration very long, I can still hear the kids squealing and splashing in the pool. I joined my buddies at Salud for a great meal as we commemorated yet another birthday, Tilara’s. To our delight, there was a band playing that night, and I recognized the keyboard player from the night before.  Mellow and relaxing, the music set the tone for some good conversation and unwinding.

On Saturday, there was the book signing at Nephi’s Books, and afterwards, I scurried off to Wal-mart to get some last minute provisions for a honeymoon shower that we were hosting for Chris and Angie that evening. It turned out to be a fun event with lots of good food, especially Cindy’s and Judy’s yummy desserts. Mrs. Bowers’ slaw and Karen’s baked beans were a big hit too. And just in case you’re wondering, my fruit tray from Wally World also got some praise.

Sunday morning’s services were especially enjoyable. The speakers were awesome, and today I’m thinking of Brenda’s humorous opening sentences and Zach’s well-organized and confidently delivered talk. His parents have every reason to be so proud of him. And Primary was enjoyable too. The little children are funny, sweet, entertaining, and “fresh.” Their leaders are caring and concerned, and it makes me even more convinced that Primary leaders just like the ones in our ward were instrumental in helping to teach, guide, and love my children into the people they are today.

Church behind me, we scooted over to Irmo for another birthday celebration, this one for Olivia Jayne who turns 2 on Tuesday. She danced, talked, put on jewelry, ran around with boundless energy, devoured a chocolate cupcake, squealed with delight when her Uncle Matt threw her up in the air, and in general, just held her grandmother in awe as she (I) considered how much she had grown and changed in two short years. Olivia’s parents had come to Atlanta with their two little ones to spend Memorial Day with Amanda’s brother and his family, so I got to see the whole gang. Loved it! It was especially gratifying to see Ethan, my youngest grandson, being held by his paternal great grandmother.

Back in town, I scooted up to the hospital to see my aunt who’s recuperating from pneumonia. As an added bonus, I got to talk to one of my cousins, Sue, and to look at some beautiful family pictures.

What am I saying? Connections are important.  Things like parties and signings and dinner dates with friends take time, but they’re important. Take the time for them!

Older Brother

Ten years ago today a tiny baby came into our lives, and although he never breathed a single breath, he will always be Braden’s older brother and hold a special place in our hearts.

I stepped off the elevator to the sound of screaming. Poor soul, I thought. What pain there is in bringing a new life into the world.

            Flowers in one hand and a Wal-Mart bag of goodies in the other, I headed towards my daughter’s room.  Knowing that my grandson was going to arrive sometime that afternoon, I had slipped away to buy a few treats for him and his sweet mama.

As I turned the corner and headed down the long hallway, my heart stopped. I gasped with the realization that the screams were coming from the throat of my daughter Carrie. I raced to her room, only to find the door shut. Scarcely able to breathe, I pushed it open and saw her husband Rich on one side of the bed and her father on the other. Both were speaking tenderly to her and caressing her gently.  I felt helpless. Having given birth three times, I knew there was nothing I could do to assuage her pain. Saying, “You’ll soon be fine and holding your baby in your arms” seemed lame. 

Dr. Nelson burst through the door, and Carrie’s father and I walked out, leaving Carrie, Rich, and the doctor in the room. We stood outside waiting, trying to be brave. A little over an hour earlier, the doctor had decided that labor was progressing a little more slowly than expected and had broken Carrie’s water and given her Pitocin.

            He then left to do a C-section, and we, following his lead, had split up for a few minutes. Rich went to the hospital cafeteria, her dad went to the lounge to catch a few zzz’s, and I left for the Wal-Mart excursion. None of us knew things would happen so quickly, including the doctor.

Almost immediately after everyone departed, hard labor began, and with the doctor and the hospital’s only anesthetist on duty both involved in the C-section, there was no chance for an epidural. My daughter’s one tough cookie. She once experienced a perforated eardrum with neither whine nor whimper, but even she began to crumble when a progress that normally takes several hours was compressed into such a short period of time.

An hour and a half later, we stood outside the door, me with my chin trembling and trying not to weep. Her father, on the surface, appeared calm, but I knew that he too was troubled. I spotted a woman, probably in her 30’s with brown hair and dark glasses, looking at us with concern. A stranger, she walked over, hugged me, and said some reassuring words. I later learned that she was a doctor. There’s a lot to be said for the kindness of strangers, and eight years later, I still think of her compassion.

Carrie’s father and I made small talk while we waited, me tearful and him stoic, a rock. Both of us were remembering the events of a year and a half earlier. It was a chilly afternoon early in December, and I was in high spirits.  Cruising down Highway 501 in Myrtle Beach, I was looking forward to the end of the fall semester and the upcoming Christmas holidays. That afternoon we were hosting a reception for adjunct faculty at the college, and I was on my way to pick up some fruit and vegetable trays. Life was good.

            My cell phone rang, and I was surprised to see Carrie’s name as the caller. We had just talked the night before. She was seven months pregnant, and as the time for delivery grew nearer, we talked even more often than usual.

“Hey Sweetie. What’s up?” I asked.

“Hey Mama. I just wanted to let you know that I decided to go see the doctor this morning.,” she said.

“I thought it was another couple of weeks before you were scheduled to go again,” I responded, becoming aware of an uneasy, sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“Well, I just felt like something was wrong, so I came in, and when they checked the baby’s heartbeat, there wasn’t one.” She said

“What do you mean?” I asked incredulously.

“His little heart stopped beating,” she answered in an even- toned voice as if she were telling me that she was going to have lunch with friends or paint the nursery green.

Then I asked the ultimate in stupid, insensitive questions. “Did it start again?”

Quietly she said, “No Ma’am.”

I pulled into the Barnes and Noble parking lot and sat there, stunned and reeling with shock and pain. My child lived five hours away, and her husband, a Navy “nuke,” was in a submarine in an undisclosed location. I couldn’t think straight, but amazingly she could, Carrie told me that she had friends who would be with her 24/7 until I could arrive, and I promised to leave before dawn the next day.

Trancelike, I went through the motions of organizing things on the home and work fronts and pulled out of Myrtle Beach before sunrise the next morning. It was a tortured, angst-ridden drive. What would I say to her? How was she? Who was with her?

My husband had been in Allendale on a hunting trip, and I picked him up at a Burger King in Walterboro. He hugged me and remarked on my zebra striped socks before taking the wheel. It was easier to talk of socks and other mundane issues. Neither of us could say his name, Spencer, the baby who no longer lived, the baby who would be born the next day.  Born? Was that the correct term? Would “delivered” be a better one?

We finally arrived in St. Mary’s, GA and spent the rest of the day and evening preparing for the next day’s procedure. On the following day, an overcast Saturday morning, my husband and I took Carrie to the hospital where she was induced for delivery. A couple of hours later, her father, his mother, and his wife arrived, and about 3:00 p.m., Rick arrived after an anxiety-ridden van ride from Port Canaveral. Knowing that he was the only person who could truly ease her distress, I was thankful to see his slim form racing towards Carrie’s room.

Standing vigil all day and well into the evening, we laughed, we cried, we talked, and we walked that hallway back and forth, back and forth. That evening around 9:30, Spencer arrived, a perfectly formed, beautiful three pound baby boy. Carrie wanted to take pictures so we did. All of us looked at this tiny body and wondered WHY.

I held him close, marveling at his perfect little face, willing him to open his eyes, gasp for breath, and start crying. No matter how much we held him and caressed him, however, his little body remained lifeless. Our hearts were broken.

Fast forward a year and a half, and Carrie’s father and I are standing at the opposite end of the same hall at that same hospital. We’re waiting, and it seems like we’ve been waiting for a very long time.

“What’s taking so long?” I wailed.

“It hasn’t really been that long. Things are fine. Nothing to worry about,” he replied.

Whether he believed his own words, I don’t know. I just knew that Carrie had stopped screaming, and there were only muffled sounds coming from the room. Was everything okay? Why didn’t they tell us something? Was the baby here? Was Carrie alright?

Then I heard it, the cry of a newborn. At first weak, Braden’s cry became stronger and louder. It was the most wonderful sound I’d heard in years. Laughing and crying at the same time, I looked at his grandfather and read relief and joy in his eyes.

After what seemed like an eternity instead of 20 minutes, we were allowed to push the door open and enter the room. And there was my grandson cradled in the arms of my beautiful daughter. Weeping with happiness, I hugged her tightly and then put my hand on Braden’s tiny chest as it went up and down, up and down, breathing in life.

That was eight years ago, and I still marvel at the miracle of his birth. And I still think of his older brother. While I mourn the loss of this precious child, I’m confident that he’ll always be perceived as the older brother of Braden, Brooke, Emma, Colton, and Seth.

Hey Grandmama!

After eating our kids’ meals, we all got Dilly Bars, and at the children’s request, we toasted each other with them. “Here’s to summertime!” everyone exclaimed. Then, “Here’s to families!” Indeed. Here’s to families! Whether departed, separated, present, or distant, they’re awesome.

Nothing deep or ponderous today. Just a few recollections of the days I spent with Carrie and her family last week. As mentioned in a previous post, my daughter gave birth to Seth Michael a couple of weeks ago, and I went down to help her out with her other four children.  They range in age from 2 to 8, and they’re pretty typical children. By that, I mean that they’re active, inquisitive, busy, noisy, demanding (when’s lunch???), demonstrative (I got lots of hugs and kisses), entertaining, and distracting.

When I look back over the days and nights there, everything sort of melds together into one long day. So what I’m going to do is hit the highlights. Since Rich, my son-in-law, was off on Saturday, I seized that opportunity to go to the library to do some work. Anyone who’s ever tried to do any serious reading and grading knows it can’t be done (at least not well) in a noisy environment, especially if little people are crawling on you and trying to play with your computer.

Hence, off to the library I went. Two hours quickly passed, and I gathered up my “stuff” and headed to the car. It was so hot!!!  While hustling to the car trying to get out of the heat, I heard a precious voice say, “Hey Grandmother!” I looked up and there was blond haired Emma running towards me from the park. She and her dad were on a daddy/daughter date, and her request had been to have lunch in the park. Though he was HOT and miserable, Rich had agreed to her plan, and when I drove off, the two of them were sitting side by side, Rich listening away as she prattled on about something.

Sunday was an interesting day, nice and memorable but kind of slow. It rained, and that kept us all inside. The girls dressed up in my Sunday clothes, experimented with lip gloss, and posed for pictures. Braden drew and colored, and Colton, well Colton basically was his usual adorable little self. I love to hear him say, “I take nap.” Yes yes yes yes yes.  Later in the day, I put on my Susie Homemaker apron and made some snicker doodles, and they were a big hit. For dinner that night, we had bagel bites and cookies. Sounds good to me!

Every single night I was there, Emma would burst through the door at some point in the early morning hours and join me in the single bed in Seth’s room. It was a tight squeeze, but I couldn’t refuse the little imp.  On the last night of my visit, Brooke joined us. That was the evening/early morning when I gave up on the idea of sleep. I sat in the rocking chair and read my Kindle while watching the little princesses sleep.

Speaking of nighttime, I love the fact that 8-year-old Braden likes to read before going to sleep. Anytime to read is fine, of course, but there’s just something special about losing yourself in a good book before dozing off. Braden uses a flashlight; I use a book light.

Carrie’s birthday was Tuesday the 2nd, and one of her friends made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. As a birthday gift to Carrie, Cindy offered to keep the four older children so that Carrie, Seth, and I could go to Savannah for lunch and a tiny bit of shopping. We dined at the Olive Garden, her favorite restaurant, and although the air conditioning was on the fritz that day, we enjoyed our Italian cuisine and mother/daughter conversation. Seth is an angel baby so far and allowed his mother to eat without so much as a whimper. Our shopping consisted of Carrie going to Publix while I sat in the car with the sleeping baby. 

On the evening before I left to come home, Carrie and Rich went out to celebrate her birthday and left me with all five children! We all survived. Later we had cake and ice cream, and Carrie opened her gifts. I can’t wait to see her wearing the beautiful jewelry from Braden and Colton. I know that Germ-X from the girls will come in handy too.

If you’re still reading this account, you’re either a family member or a true friend. Interestingly, the more I write the more I remember. I won’t go into it all, however. I’ll just briefly describe our visit to Dairy Queen on my last day with the Masedas. It was wild and crazy and wonderful. After eating our kids’ meals, we all got Dilly Bars, and at the children’s request, we toasted each other with them. “Here’s to summertime!” everyone exclaimed. Then, “Here’s to families!”

Indeed. Here’s to families! Whether departed, separated, present, or distant, they’re awesome.

A Bride and a Baby

It’s funny how life goes along in a somewhat predictable way, and then BOOM, a whirlwind comes along and turns everything upside down. Knowing that not everyone in the world is interested in the goings-on in my family and yet wantingwith those who care, I’m going to hit some high points.


It’s been a busy, eventful, fun, exhausting couple of weeks. It’s funny how life goes along in a somewhat predictable way, and then BOOM, a whirlwind comes along and turns everything upside down. Knowing that not everyone in the world is interested in the goings-on in my family and yet wanting to share with those who care, I’m going to hit some high points.

First, there’s Jenny, a.k.a. Mrs. Kacey Carbery. She and Kacey tied the knot on the 15th of July after a busy few days of events. Actually, for Jenny, it had been a busy few months, but for the rest of us, many of the parties and celebrations occurred in July. They’re a much-loved couple, and their friends and family went all out to prove it. Because of their marriage, I met some truly interesting and delightful people, and I hope our paths cross again. In fact, we’ve been invited to spend a couple of days in Victoria, Canada next year on our way to Alaska.

Then one day last week, I started cleaning out my office. It’s too daunting a task to tackle in one day so I’ll be traveling to Sumter again soon to take the rest of the pictures off the walls and the books off the shelves. A friend asked me if it was hard, and I had to admit, “Not really.” My attitude is that I’ve had an office for a long, long time, and now it’s time to move on to whatever’s next. Luckily for me, we have a little room above the garage where I can read and write. It even has a skylight so that I can watch the changing sky.

Then my grandson Seth was born. What a precious baby! My former husband and Elizabeth and I spent last Wednesday in the hospital with Rich and Carrie, Seth’s parents, as we waited for his arrival. After the doctors determined that a C-section wouldn’t be necessary after all, we then had to bide our time until Mother Nature took her course. We walked, talked, snacked, dozed, read, and waited. And then we waited some more.

Finally, the moment arrived when it looked like the birth was imminent, and the doctor shooed us out of the room. A moment later, the door cracked open a little as Rich peeped out and asked if I’d like to come inside. I was so excited!!! I’d never witnessed a birth before and had been saying that all day in the hopes that the parents would take the hint. Having that experience was awesome and  unforgettable.            

As the nurses were cleaning the sweet newborn and putting silver nitrate in his eyes, I stood beside him and talked to him in my most soothing voice. Then the funniest and most marvelous thing happened. He opened first one eye and then the other and looked straight at me. I LOVE thinking that I’m the first person he saw and that perhaps the sound of my voice comforted him somewhat during his first scary moments of earth life. Soon Elizabeth and Frankie rejoined us in the room, and everyone got a turn holding the precious little fellow.

Elizabeth and I then went to Rincon, GA where my daughter Carrie lives and began caring for her other four children. They range in age from 2 to 8, and they kept their grandmother and their aunt busy and “engaged,” a word I’ve heard a lot over the last few days. I could go on and on and on about our special time together, but I’ll save that for another day. I just have to mention, however, that I love how Emma used a wet washcloth to subdue her blond curls so that she could make a good first impression on her new brother. She also took a pink purse to the hospital like a big girl.

That was last week. Now I’m back at home trying to finish the semester, and I’ll go back to Rincon later this week to help Carrie as her household adjusts to its newest member. Until then, end-of-the-term journals and assignments are calling my name. And then there’s the office thing. I wonder if Holly, the director of security, will make me turn in my key.

Birds are Singing

I just got in from a hot morning walk, and my mind is abuzz with thoughts of other people and the trials they’re enduring today. For me, all is well. The sun is shining, birds are singing, my children and grandchildren are all healthy, and today is Braden’s 8th birthday. Except for maybe his Uncle Paul, no one can touch that kid in looks and charm.

Walking can be a form of moving meditation, for me at least. I just got in from a hot morning walk, and my mind is abuzz with thoughts of other people and the trials they’re enduring today. For me, all is well. The sun is shining, birds are singing, my children and grandchildren are all healthy, and today is Braden’s 8th birthday. Except for maybe his Uncle Paul, no one can touch that kid in looks and charm.

But other people aren’t having such a delightful day today.

  • When my daughter Carrie bakes Braden’s cake today, I know without a doubt that she’ll be thinking of Spencer, Braden’s older brother who never had the chance to crawl and walk and talk and go to school.
  • Then there’s my aunt who’s mourning the loss of her husband of nearly 60 years. It was a good marriage, but does that make her loneliness easier or more difficult?
  • I have a friend whose divorce is final today, and I know something that she doesn’t.  Nothing is ever really final. There are always after-effects, many of them some painful, that will continue for years and years.
  • I know a woman who’s happy that she has only two more radiation treatments for her breast cancer. The big C has awakened her to the realities of life and death and given her a new appreciation for each day.
  •  I have a beautiful friend whose husband is sick and frail, and her devotion to him is heartwarming.
  • Another friend is recalling a graduation of eight years ago when her handsome young son walked across the stage to receive his high school diploma. Little did she know that his life would end a few months later. Rather than succumb to pain and heartache with bitterness, she uses her grief to motivate young people to make good choices in their lives.

On the plus side, there are some good things happening to the people I care about too. I have a friend who’s beginning a new decade of life today, and I hope she’s focusing on the new chapter ahead instead of looking longingly at the past. It’s Sarah Beth’s birthday  too; she’s my beautiful young niece who has her entire precious life in front of her. Amanda and Olivia are safely back in Atlanta after visiting her parents in Salt Lake City.

My husband is playing golf with one of his brothers. He’ll complain about the heat when he comes home, and I’ll just smile and gently remind him that, “It’s all good.” If he doesn’t get the hint (to stop complaining), I’ll remind him of the people who don’t have a brother to play with or maybe of the people who can’t walk, much less play golf. He’ll say what he usually does, “You’re right. I have a lot to be thankful for.”And you know what? We all do. Even for those who are hurting today, the sun will shine for them again.

Crystal Coast of NC

My husband says a beach is a beach and that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. I say, “No way, Jose.” While there are some common features, each shoreline is just a little different from all others. Because of his attitude, my other half missed out on some beautiful sights last weekend.

We went to the Morehead City/Beaufort, NC area with some family members to celebrate my brother’s birthday and my husband’s retirement. It’s a lovely area, and although our primary purpose was to share a six-hour cruise excursion, we oohed and aahed like the tourists we were as we walked the downtown streets gawking at the pretty sights of Beaufort. We parked the car in the parking lot of FBC, and the “girls” and I chatted about how cool it would be to live in one of the charming homes and saunter over to church on Sunday morning. Afterwards, we might stroll down to the coastline and watch the harbor action. Everything was so clean, neat, and well-preserved.

We climbed aboard a catamaran that accommodated 42 people and began our sail out into the ocean. That was a stupendous adventure and one I’d recommend to everyone (more on this later).  After about an hour and a half, we reached Lookout Island, and our captain gave us some tips about shelling and instructed us on when to be back. The first moment that I set foot on the island, I was agog at the sight and “feel” of the place. All I could see was  beach, beach, and more beach…a wide expanse of sand and shells.  I looked down, and there were hundreds, no thousands, of shells of all types and sizes. The captain had provided shell bags for us, and I started collecting them right away. In fact, I became so involved with examining and bagging them that the rest of my party left me to go snorkeling. 

I probably walked a mile or more around the island gathering shells, watching people frolic in the ocean, chatting with fellow travelers, and listening to my sisters-in-law laugh as they enjoyed their snorkeling experience. There was also a bird sanctuary on the island that I didn’t enter; however, I did stand there for a while taking in the isolated beauty of the area. In the background, there was always the constant, repetitive sound of the ocean lapping on the sand. Calming, very calming.

Our next destination was Cape Lookout, part of the National Park Service. It too was breathtakingly beautiful. We bought a few souvenirs in the gift shop and then walked down pathway to the museum. Loved it. This is where my husband and I parted company. This is where he said, “If you’ve seen one beach, you’ve seen them all.” He sat in a rocking chair on the porch of the museum while I climbed the steps to lighthouse. Once at the top of the steps, I could see the ocean, and there was no way I could leave without seeing it up close and personal. I clamored down the steps and made my way down the path and over the small incline to get a look at the Atlantic Ocean.

On this particular afternoon, the sea was calm, and the beach was flat. The water was amazingly blue, and if we’d had more time, I’d have “sat a spell.” Lisa and I walked in the water up to our knees and headed back to civilization…or to the boat, that is. This morning I’m wondering what’s more civilized, a natural habitat along the side of a continent or a city teeming with people, restaurants, cars, hotels, hospitals, museums, and shops. Both have their pluses, of course. I couldn’t go for too long without the busy, buzzy world I usually inhabit. At the same time, it’s reassuring to know that there are sanctuaries where one can find serenity and calmness.

Visiting these Morehead City and Beaufort was awesome. Walking their beaches was a highlight of my summer, and I hope to repeat the experience in the not-too-far-distant future. One of the men I met on the sailboat was from Ohio, and he said he and his family have been coming every year for ten years. So do some friends of theirs, also from Ohio. It’s amazing to think of people coming from so far away to visit the Crystal Coast when there are people in SC, NC, and VA who have never experienced its beauty. You might consider it for your next getaway. It’s a “shore thing” that you’ll enjoy it.

Memorable Memorial Day Weekend

The fish fry on Sunday evening was nice. So was yesterday’s cookout at my mother-in-law’s house. I even enjoyed reading on the porch and listening to the rain yesterday. And Sunday’s spiritual uplifts were numerous and satisfying too. Still…….the absolute best thing about the weekend’s events was the birth of Olivia.

It wasn’t the weekend I had planned, but it was AWESOME. Beach bound at last, I was cruising along I-20 on Friday when I noticed that I had a missed call from Amanda, my daughter-in-law. I knew she had a doctor’s appointment that morning, and I wondered if he had given her any exciting news about the baby’s expected arrival. Originally due to arrive on June 7, we had reason to believe that Olivia might make her appearance a little earlier. And YES, that’s what  Amanda had called to tell me.

I took care of a couple of errands in Myrtle Beach and then turned around and headed for home. We left Camden early Saturday morning and arrived at Northside Hospital in Atlanta around 10:30. What an awesome place! I learned later that they deliver around 70 babies per day there…or 18,000 a year. I loved the Women’s Center with its design, tile, architecture, colors, and so forth. But that’s a story for later. Right now I want to concentrate on Olivia and her parents.

For about six hours, several of us alternated between visiting with the soon-to-be-parents, eating lunch, chatting, reading, sleeping, and waiting waiting waiting waiting. Three of us tried to read books we had brought along, but I can’t say how much we were able to concentrate. At one point, an African American man came and sat with us while he calmly ate a big bag of M & M’s. We watched and listened to three tours of expectant parents and tried to be patient (not with the tours but with the situation itself).

Teri, Amanda’s mother, and I were in the room about 3:45 that afternoon when the doctor came in and indicated that we needed to skedaddle. Teri, Frankie, Otis, and I sat in the waiting room and made small talk for the next hour or so, and I finally asked Teri what time it was. I thought, “Gee whiz, the doctor’s been in there about 50 minutes. What’s going on?” Ten or fifteen minutes later, he came bustling through the double doors and announced that all was well.

He asked, “So how much do you think she weighs?”

“Seven pounds on the dot,” I ventured. No one else said anything.

“Nope.  Eight pounds and three ounces! And Amanda did great. Soon you can go in to see them both.”

He walked off and we began to laugh and talk again, giddy with our happiness and relief.

Soon Teri’s phone rang, and we were all invited to come back and meet Miss Olivia Jayne Crolley. There was Amanda sitting there as pretty and perky and serene as possible…and over in the rocking chair was Paul holding their beautiful new daughter. We grandparents all took turns staring at her precious little face, and of course, we all got to hold her as well. Once, she actually opened both eyes and looked at me as if to say, “Here I am. See, there was nothing to worry about.” Honestly, we communicated a lot in that brief glance, soul to soul, spirit to spirit. Okay, laugh if you want, but hey, I’m one of her grandmothers, and I know what that glance meant.

Later, two nurses came in to give her a physical and a bath. Loved the tiny pink bathtub! The nurses were not only professional and knowledgeable, but they were also “into babies.” I could tell by the way they touched her and talked to her. After her bath, Paul dressed Olivia, including tiny pink booties, mittens, and a hat. At one point she grasped his finger as if to say, “Hold on to me, Daddy.” One of the nurses fashioned a bow for the hat, and it definitely added to her little girl sweetness.

Alas, the hour was getting late, and we needed to get back home. We told the little family good-bye and drove home (in the rain), arriving close to midnight. It was sad to leave them, but as I’ve told my children many times, “In every good-bye, there’s a promise of another hello.” In just a few short days, I’ll get to see the tiny sweetheart and her parents again.

P.S. I must add that another highlight of the weekend was seeing Braden, Brooke, Emma, and Colton dance to one of Michael Jackson’s songs on Skype.  It was AMAZING and the perfect way to end Sunday.