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.

The Front Room

Houses have souls, and so do rooms. Even now without a stick of furniture in it, the “front room” is so loud! I stand in the center of it and hear the cacophony of voices from the past. Although this is not a room where the day-to-day living took place, it was where the clan gathered to celebrate holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I can feel the love and connectivity.

I look at the fireplace and can see the four oldest grandchildren dressed up as Pilgrims and Indians in their creative, homemade outfits. Earlier instructed by my mother, a.k.a. Granny, to get out of the kitchen so that she and the other adults could complete the Thanksgiving feast, they had all looked at her as if to say, “What are we supposed to do? It’s raining outside.” Never without ideas, she first had the little darlings create place cards using index cards, stickers, and colorful markers. With that task complete, they were there again, standing between the breakfast room and the kitchen looking for more guidance, either that or a piece of fudge. “Plan a program,” their grandmother said. “Start with the letters of Thanksgiving and go from there. Just stay out of this kitchen!” Gleefully, they skittered away to the guest room where, behind closed doors, they brainstormed for ideas. Four minds, four personalities, and four perceptions of “program” worked together and came up with delightful entertainment that provided plenty of pleasure and amusement for their parents and grandparents.  In fact, the program idea was so well received that even now we have some sort of structured activity for holidays.

Speaking of holidays, I’m surprised that strangers to the house can’t hear the loud exclamations of surprise and delight as the four of us Padgett siblings, their spouses, their children, and of course our parents gathered to open Christmas gifts. Tired of everyone just ripping into the gifts with little appreciation or knowledge of what others received, my mother decided that we’d draw numbers. When a person’s number came up, she or he could open ONE gift. That was somewhat successful…for the adults that is. The children were always so anxious! Granny tried other plans and schemes, but it always seemed “like a madhouse” wild with excitement in that living room, especially when the grandchildren began playing with their toys.

Lest I forget, there were also Christmas programs. At first, we just let the children get up and sing a favorite song, recite a poem, or tell a story, but there came a time when we became more organized. I can still see John David standing atop a short stool all decked out in his Christmas duds singing for us. Then there was little Ben (now a college graduate and a teacher) singing a catchy tune that his mother Lisa had taught him, complete with hand motions. Time rushes forward, and I see us laughing at our ignorance as we incorrectly guessed the answers to Ann’s Christmas quiz. Did someone really think that Gabriel was the father of John the Baptist? The room wasn’t always rowdy and raucous. I turn to the double windows where the sofa used to be and remember seeing David stretched out there, soundly asleep with baby Chris on his chest, also asleep. A lot of living took place within this soulful room.

Lessons from the Track

If you pay attention, you can learn something from just about every experience. I had that truism confirmed at the track this morning. From various walkers, I learned several lessons.

First, there was this man who was unbelievably jaunty. Walking energetically along, he seemed so full of vim and vigor that I began to feel a little envious. After all, I was moving at a pretty fast clip as he pranced by me with a merry, “Good morning.” By the time I’d gone another lap, however, I spied him again, and it appeared that his “get up and go had got up and gone.” He truly appeared to be depleted as he walked slowly toward the cars. The lesson: When we overextend ourselves, there’s nothing left to give. This is true in many areas, not just the physical ones. When our emotional, intellectual, social, or physical reserves are depleted, we’re left empty.

At one point I heard footsteps behind me, the chug, chug, chug type. I could tell that the jogger was trying her best but that it was somewhat of an ordeal for her. Soon the red-clad jogger plodded past me, head phones in her ears. Around the bend, she slowed a bit and then resumed walking. The lesson: There are times when we need to move ahead with gusto and give it (whatever the endeavor might be) all we’ve got, and at other times, we just need to keep moving steadily along. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? Being a tortoise is fine sometimes.

Then there was this sweet (or so she seemed to me) elderly lady who appeared to be concentrating on each of her slow, laborious steps. Using her cane to help hold her steady and to propel her forward, her morning constitutional was an arduous task to her. I almost felt guilty when I quickly passed her, but she hardly seemed to notice. She was, after all, running her own race. Around the mile-long, tree canopied track I continued, and when I next came up the lady with the cane, she wasn’t moving…not a muscle. She was standing perfectly still, leaning on her cane with her eyes cast downward. The person in front of me asked her if she was okay and must’ve gotten an affirmative, for she continued walking. On my fourth loop, I spied her sitting on a bench, cane across her knees.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

With dignity, she replied strongly, “I’m fine.”

“Did you drive here?” I asked. “There’s a man over there who looks like he might be looking for you.”

“I drove,” she replied. “But I know who you’re talking about. He’s already been over here to check on me once.”

That was my last lap, and when I headed for the car, I saw her once again in motion, persistent and strong. The lesson: Actually, there are a couple of them, the first being that we’re all connected and that we need to look after one another and offer to help. The second lesson is that we need to stop, totally stop, sometimes and take a few minutes to sit down and look at the trees as we gather strength for the next lap.

Today after finishing four laps, I decided to do something that I occasionally do for old time’s sake. I walked a lap inside the small track. It unleashed memories of bygone days when a brother and I took our children there to play as we alternately jogged and walked the quarter mile track. We’ve got the pictures to prove it! My favorite is of Carrie, Elizabeth, and Matthew atop a picnic table, laughing and happy about being alive, about being kids.

The main reason I did the final lap, however, was because of something I’d read many years ago about the importance of going the proverbial extra mile. An Olympic medalist was being interviewed, and when the interviewer asked him for secrets to his success, he said that when everyone else went home after practice(s), he always stayed 15 extra minutes. That really doesn’t seem that significant, but 15 minutes a day is over 91 hours a year! Anytime I’m tempted to fritter away time, I think about the value of 15 minutes whether it’s in studying, talking to a friend, walking around the track, or playing with my grandchildren. I surely don’t want to spend my 91 hours watching television.

511 Chesnut

dcp_0013.jpg“There’s a lot of love in this house,” June said emphatically. “I can feel it.” We were standing in front of the mantle in the “front room” of my parents’ home and had just returned from the cemetery. My father’s graveside funeral service had occurred a mere hour before, and many friends and family had gathered at 511 Chesnut to share memories, condolences, and perhaps a piece of cake. That was nearly nine years ago, and June’s comment and the way she said it stays with me. Touching my arm, she looked at me with such intensity as if to say, “Listen, this is important. Heed my words.” I’m wondering if the reason this conversation has recently lodged itself (uninvited) in my mind is because somehow I’ve taken the house for granted, have neglected it or treated it with disrespect.

After my parents’ deaths, my husband and I bought the house from my siblings and lived there happily for nearly five years. We then found ourselves thinking of ways to downsize as we began the transition into retirement. After much prayer and discussion, we decided to put the house on the market. Things happened quickly, and we soon moved into another home, a smaller one with lots of character. Did I mention that we were a tad hasty in this change? KNOWING that selling the family home was the right thing to do, we quickly found the home of our dreams and moved in. Months later, 511 sits unoccupied and well, deserted. Or that’s the way I’ve begun to think of it.

Lately I’ve started thinking more about the “soul” of that house, the home it was for all of us. Starting this week, I’m going to write about the life that took place there, the laughter and tears and conversations and heartache and joy. Maybe then it can let me go…and vice versa.