Birthday Girl

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It’s another hot summer day in South Carolina, and on a sweltering day just like this one, a baby girl made her debut. Janna Caroline arrived at 6:50 on August 2, 1975 and changed my life forever. I’d like to dedicate this day to Carrie and share some special things about her that made her so endearing.

1) She’s a loving wife, one who supports her husband in every aspect of their partnership.

2) She’s a terrific mother, one who has “her finger on the pulse” of what’s going on in her children’s development, behavior, and inclinations. Braden, Brooke, and Emma are blessed to have her for their mother.

3) She’s multi-talented in areas that I can’t even really understand…scrapbooking, for instance. I LOVE seeing the finished product of her efforts but don’t have the patience or creativity to do it myself.

4) She’s quite the little gourmet cook. This week she bought the ingredients for homemade lasagna, and she and her sister Elizabeth prepared the most mouth-watering, delectable dish I’ve ever tasted. I would have opted for the Stouffers brand, but then I’m always looking for shortcuts.

5) She’s perky, outgoing, and friendly.

6) About the friendly aspect, she’s a loyal, steadfast, giving friend. This week she’s reconnected with some friends from her teen years, and when she goes back to GA tomorrow, she’ll get together with her friends there. She and Rich have lived several places in their 7 and ½ year marriage, and she’s quickly made new friends in each location.

7) She’s spiritual and earnestly seeks her Creator’s guidance in her life…right after she’s given thanks for his beneficence.

8) She’s tough and resilient. Trust me when I say that she and Rich have been through some heartbreaking situations in their life together, and Carrie’s indomitable spirit and strong faith have surfaced every time.

9) Did I mention that she’s beautiful too? Petite in stature, her blue-eyes and dark hair are but two of her features that combine to make her lovely. Just this week, Brooke stared at her and said, “Mommy, you’re cute.”

10) She’s a great daughter and has greatly enriched the last 32 years of my life!

Shirley and the Bridge

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In one of the courses I teach, Human Growth and Development, a recurring topic is obesity: its causes, consequences, and “cures.” From infancy and childhood and then on through adolescence, it’s a hot topic. When we reach the young and middle adulthood material, there it is again. When we discuss possible reasons for this “epidemic,” causes such as fast food, a sedentary lifestyle, air conditioned homes, television, video games, chubby parents, and so forth are mentioned. So I was a little surprised and somewhat intrigued by the study that came out earlier this week that found friendship to be  related to obesity more than family history, genetics, eating and exercise habits of parents…more than anything, in fact.

Yesterday I had some experiences that have me thinking that perhaps there’s some truth to this study. My college roommate who now lives in Montana was visiting SC, and she decided to spend the weekend with me. Wanting to make every minute memorable, we decided to go to Charleston and do something we’ve talked about since last summer: walk across the Arthur Ravenel Bridge. I’ve walked/jogged the BRIDGE more than twenty years in the annual Bridge Run, but until last year, conquering this phenomenal concrete and steel structure was only possible (except by vehicle) during the annual event itself. Now there’s a walkway on the side of the bridge that’s specifically for pedestrians and bikers.

To make a long story short, we did it! We walked briskly from Mt. Pleasant to Charleston and back again, taking stock of all the sights and sounds along the way, including a man who happily informed us that it was his 62nd birthday. After walking, we shopped, ate lunch, and then shopped some more. While narrowing down our selections at TJ Maxx, Shirley commented, “I know you’ll think it’s crazy, but I feel like I want to do the bridge again. Then I won’t feel so guilty about that huge brownie and ice cream that I devoured at Applebee’s.” Since it was getting late, we didn’t go the entire distance the second time across, but by our computations, we easily walked and talked nine miles that day.

We’ve been friends since college, and weight is something that we often discuss (along with aging, husbands, children, Harry Potter, religion, politics, flowers, and just about anything else that pops up). Yesterday we discussed the obesity study findings and agreed that there could be some truth to them. She keeps me in line and vice versa. We like being thin (her) to average (me) and often discuss our exercise habits and food choices. Except for that scrumptious, calorie-laden, fat-filled brownie and ice cream, we ate semi-wisely. Then we walked…and walked some more.

I can’t speak for all friends, of course, but for Shirley and Jayne, the obesity study has some truth.

Oops, Sorry Katherine

In reference to the entry entitled “Rites of Passage in the Front Room,” I’ve been reminded that Katherine, not Carrie, was the first grandchild to find her special mate. Katherine and Chad’s family shower was actually held on a sweltering July afternoon in Mike and Lisa’s backyard. As I recall, we used a Fourth of July theme, and some attendees even wore star-studded sunglasses.  Carrie and Rich’s party was several months later but was the first to be held in the russet red room at 511.

Beach Walks

04-07-07_13271.jpg One of the most wonderful experiences of my entire life is walking on the beach. I’m not sure what it is that I love so much, but there’s something about walking right on the very edge of the continent that is both relaxing and invigorating. I’ll even add inspiring and uplifting…not to mention the fact that it’s good for body and soul. Last week I felt like I was in heaven because I got to pound the sand not once, not twice, but four different times, once with Mike and Lisa and the other times alone. It could be the sound of the surf that I love; it’s so loud, soothing, and rhythmic. The water itself is so beautiful, sometimes green, sometimes blue, and sometimes gray. The frolicking children, young surfers, fellow walkers, and sunbathers also add to the enjoyment. The breeze from the ocean is an added plus, especially when it’s at my back. And the sun…ah, the glorious sun. How can anyone visit the shore and not find God?

Although some of my family members kid me about a statue of Buddha in my foyer, I think they’ll see the truth of his statement that, “If you wish to know the Divine, feel the wind on your face and the warm sun on your hand.”

Family on the Fourth

While I’m on this family jag, I’ll go ahead and jot down a couple of thoughts and memories from last week when I had the good fortune to get together with some family members in Myrtle Beach. It was the week of the 4th, America’s birthday, and on Independence Day we all celebrated with the traditional hamburgers and hot dogs followed up by an awesome display of fireworks on the beach itself.

At breakfast the following morning, Lisa smiled and said, “It was so nice to see the young people.” My sentiments exactly. True, they weren’t all there. We’re separated by geography and time constraints, and yet even our brief time together with Matthew, Elizabeth, Katherine, Chad, Paul, and Amanda (the younger set) was special. After devouring the blackberry cobbler and strawberry-embellished cake, we all noticed than Ann, my sister, was working a crossword puzzle. My brother Mike commented that we four (my siblings and I) all liked working them and that if one of us had begun one and put it down, another would pick it up and try to figure out the missing words. We chatted about our “obsession” and decided we must have gotten it from our father. While we were laughing about this common interest, Paul admitted to working a daily puzzle.

 So did we inherit this from John, or was it observational learning? Or does it even matter? It’s a family thing, and I will NEVER work a crossword puzzle again without thinking of my father, siblings, and son and know that we’re bound. By the way, does anyone know a four letter word for nonsense poet? 

Friends and Raindrops

Although it wasn’t our original intention, Connie and I ended up playing hooky from Sunday school, and we used part of that time to talk about truly important issues… like friendship, for example. She told me about a friend whom she hadn’t seen in years and yet who was once an integral part of her life. “Same here,” I said. “It’s weird how someone can be so close to you and then your lives go in different directions, and you slowly lose touch.” We agreed that we both needed to do a better job of relationship maintenance, perhaps by calling or emailing an old friend today.

Connie then went on to remark how every friend had influenced her in some way, perhaps in the creation of a new hobby, the sparking of a new interest, or a changed way of looking at the world. I never knew about “boxing day” in England before meeting Dorothy, and I probably wouldn’t have read about life in Mitford if Cindy hadn’t chosen a novel about it as a book club selection. I never knew there were such subtle differences in paint hues and tones until June taught me. What would have thought that mocha and khaki were so different?

Even though some of our amigas might not currently be part of our daily lives, they can live in our hearts and minds for decades. Our conversation reminded me of something I once read about raindrops on a windshield coming together as one for an instant before being divided again, each changed by the other and each carrying part of the other with it. Who hasn’t experienced this sight? And of course, it doesn’t end with two little raindrops, for each goes on to share what it has absorbed with other raindrops…with other friends.

Reunion Weekend

Elizabeth was the last to leave. I watched her little black Honda back down the drive and turn onto the street before reentering a quiet, still house. Only my husband and I now inhabit this space that had been so full of life all weekend. Laughter and tears and confidences and family stories had been shared, and new memories had been made. I expected to feel that dull ache in my heart that I always feel after my children leave, but surprisingly, what I felt was peace. “They’ll be back,” I thought as I reminded myself of something I’ve told them many times: In every hello, there’s the shadow of goodbye, and in every farewell, there’s the promise of another hello.

It’s Tuesday morning, and as I sit in the dining room, I’m surrounded by visions and sounds of the weekend. I look across the table and imagine Baby Emma sitting on it, being propped up by her grandmother’s hand while they had a conversation of sorts. There’s Brooke, her big sister, who had to try on her “princess dress” that Aunt Elizabeth brought her just as soon as she saw it. I glance to my left and visualize Braden standing at the patio door watching Paul and Amanda as they sat in the candlelit enclosed patio talking and laughing. Then there’s sweet and tough “little Mama,” Carrie, who was a constant whirlwind of energy and motion as she ministered to her children’s needs. I recall lovely Lib sitting in the recliner in the living room as she announced, “I like your house, Mom.” Something in me relaxed after hearing that from her, the daughter whose reaction to selling our previous home I had most worried about. Everywhere I look I see Paul and Amanda…talking, looking at old photos, entertaining Carrie’s children. I remember the terrible storms of the weekend and how concerned I was about their safety Friday night as they drove back from Columbia. I KNEW they should be home and had gotten up to peek out of the blinds when I saw his  4Runner turn into the drive, the headlights piercing the rainy darkness. Fast forward to Sunday, and I see Mrs. Crolley, the children’s grandmother, sitting between Amanda and Carrie, as we dined together on typical Southern fare: fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and the most sinfully delicious cakes that you’ve ever tasted.

Yes, the house is quiet this morning, but it isn’t empty. It contains the very breath and life force of my loved ones and is fast becoming “a holy place.”

Mr. Darcy in the Living Room

I’m not sure why I’m so into the importance of place lately, and yet homes, rooms, yards, seashores, landscapes, streetscapes, chapels, pathways, city parks, and even cemeteries are suddenly fascinating. Connie reminded me that my new house (new to us anyway) has its own soulfulness and will be the site of many gatherings. In fact, it already has been. Last week the New Horizons Book Club met there to discuss Pride and Prejudice, and although we got off the subject a time or two as we visualized the silver screen version of Mr. Darcy, it was a great meeting.

A motley mix of bibliophiles, we range in age, occupation, lifestyle, and personality, and each reader adds that certain something to the discussion. Last week I couldn’t help but notice the contrast between the youthful enthusiasm of the younger gals with the more serious, subdued demeanor of the more “mature” members. Crystal kept us in stitches while Cindy hardly said a word. Long story short, that living room will never be the same again after the spirited crowd that night.

Rites of Passage in the Front Room

The grandchildren began to grow up and older, and as they did so, some began to marry. My sister Ann and I decided that whenever possible, the family would give a family party/shower for the young couple. My daughter Carrie, the oldest grandchild, was the first to find her special mate, and my siblings gave Carrie and Rich a fun shower one Sunday afternoon in December of 1999. The young couple joined Granny at First Baptist for the 11:00 worship service before continuing on to 511. There they were feted with a great smorgasbord organized by Carrie’s aunts and uncles. Laughter and high spirits filled the cozy house. Adjourning to the living room after lunch, Carrie and Rich had to “endure” yet another Jeopardy game created by her Aunt Ann before opening some special gifts. Since their wedding was to take place a couple of days before Christmas, all the gifts had a Christmas theme. I think Carrie’s personal favorite was from her grandmother, a Spode bowl with the traditional Christmas tree in its center.

A couple of years later, Ann and I gave Will and his bride-to-be, Mary Catherine, a garden shower in the same location…different season, same purpose. Hot as the dickens outside, we stayed cool inside with lemonade and other summertime treats. The dirt cake concoction of crushed Oreos and chocolate pudding served in a garden pail was a hit with the younger crowd. It was SO GOOD. Ummm…delicious. In keeping with the garden theme, each guest gave the young couple a gift relating to the outside; anything from wheel barrows to grills was fair game. We took turns giving them sage advice about “nurturing” the seeds of their relationship, pulling up weeds that could destroy the beauty of the garden (er, relationship), and watering the plants they wanted to grow such as kindness and consideration. And yes, we played Ann’s famous Jeopardy game, this time comprised of questions that related to the bride and groom’s last names. Again, this was a high-spirited, fun evening experienced in the front room, and I’d like to think that the animated voices and laughter are still there, trapped within the red plaster walls.

Kith and Kin at 511

This beautiful red (Russet 6 from Lowe’s) living room has hosted many events that have little or nothing to do with my family of blood and roots, but rather my family of branches and water. On my way to work this morning I was thinking of a soon-to-be published book by my friend Kathy’s mother, Clara Vinson. Reading her manuscript over the last few days reminded me of a book club meeting which Kathy and Clara attended last year. It was my month as hostess, and I had invited a friend and colleague, Martha Alston, to come to the meeting and read selected sections of her book, Getting Maisie Married. Knowing that Clara was in the process of writing her memoirs, I knew that she would be interested in meeting Martha…and she was. Things went great! Few of us had actually met a “real live” author, especially one as funny and charming as Martha, and everyone felt comfortable about asking questions and getting involved in the discussion afterwards.  A good time was had by all.

 The room was the scene for other memorable events as well. Some friends and I gave Connie’s daughter Heather a bridal shower there one March afternoon. There were so many people coming and going that I didn’t know who all was in the house! I do know that everyone had fun chatting, eating the scrumptious goodies, and watching Heather open her gifts. On another occasion, my stepdaughter Lauren hosted a jewelry party there in the “front room.” I recall that she arrived early so that she and her father and sister could set up her displays. As the guests arrived, they were drawn to the table where they examined the many lovely pieces. Again, there was laughter and conversation. Lauren taught us some scarf tricks, and my sister and I still chuckle when we remember our efforts to copy Lauren’s finesse.