Elephants and Plastic Cups

 

That tiny blue cup sitting in the windowsill next to the infant’s picture might look like just another gewgaw to you. It isn’t. It’s fraught with meaning. My grandson Ethan, 20 months old at the time, gave it to me on Thanksgiving morning as I left Lake Lure. I had received word about the passing of my stepson Chris and was battling shock, disbelief, and sadness.

As I prepared to return to Columbia, the precious tot came running up and, with a big smile, held up this miniature plastic chalice. I think he sensed my grief and wanted to cheer me up. I later placed it in a bathroom window beside Ethan’s picture, a reminder of his eagerness in offering it to me at such a low moment. Even in the grimmest of circumstances, there is beauty and love.

Ethan’s father Paul gave me a perfect segue into this post last week when he sent me a link to a Radio Lab podcast about things. I don’t know whether he sent me the link because of the reference to object permanence or because of my proclivity to surround myself with things that have special meaning to me. I have rocks, shells, and jewelry that once belonged to someone dear, were given to me, or were once in a special location.

According to the podcast, things remind us of events, people, locations. They evoke emotions, good and not so good. Some are imbued with the essence and energy of those who touched or owned them, and all could tell a story. Since objects can’t talk, it’s us to us to share their significance.

After listening to the podcast, I walked around my house and snapped these pictures in less than a minute. All are important—to me, that is. You already know about the blue plastic cup. Let’s take a look at the others.

See the sailboat? Paul made it when he was about 10 years old and gave it to my mother. She was delighted with this treasure and displayed it on a bookcase for years. After her death, I claimed it as mine, and I love it for the same reason she did: his little boy hands had created it.

The trio of wooden elephants reminds me of Dr. Peter Ekechukwu, friend and former colleague at Horry Georgetown Technical College. On one of his trips to Nigeria, his homeland, Peter selected the elephants and brought them back to me as a farewell gift. A trustworthy friend, he and I used to commiserate about our many challenges as department chairs, and when I left the college, he and his wife Angela prepared a feast for us, and even now I can smell the delicious bouquet of aromas wafting throughout their home.

The lovely lavender vase belonged to my grandmother, also known as MaMa Padgett. She collected small pitchers and vases and had quite a collection displayed in her china cabinet. A few years ago, her daughter allowed MaMa’s granddaughters to choose a favorite from the collection. I chose this one and two more, one for each of my daughters. Where did this one come from? What was it that caught my grandmother’s eye? I selected it because of its color and shape, and I like thinking that perhaps those were her reasons too. She saw it; she touched it. Now it’s mine to see and touch.

The huge shell belonged to my mother. Although she wasn’t much of a beachcomber, I think she felt a reverence for the sea and its bounty. This huge shell sat atop a bathroom cabinet and held fragment soap balls. I keep it on my dresser and display pearls in it. They’re pretty, and they serve as reminders that friction can create beauty.

What about you? Do you have a special letter? A piece of jewelry that reminds you of a loved one? What about a movie or theatre ticket? Some people even hang on to articles of clothing that they were wearing at a special event or during a time that they enjoyed.

Shining Moments

Nothing big or major here. Just a few observations on life.

I’m at the beach for a few days and have relished every moment of my time here thus far. Despite being overly fatigued, my daughters and grandchildren have added much joy to my life. Here are some thoughts, not too deep but worth considering.

On the way to the coast, I stopped in Conway to visit with an old and dear friend. One of the many things I’ve always loved about her is her ability to hear about a situation and assess it “spot on” without all of the emotional fringe stuff.  Then too there’s the fact that she’s wise, spiritual, philosophical, and practical. If that sounds like an interesting combination, well yes, that’s what makes her so special.

Before we had our conversation, I turned the corner (more like a soft curve) and spotted two women walking down the middle of the tree-lined street, and I recognized them as my friend and her expectant daughter. Immediately I recalled a moment that happened 35 (?) years ago when I saw her cross Main Street from Ninth Avenue cradling this same daughter in her arms. Catherine was a baby, and her mom was taking her to daycare before work. Those were the days—the crazy days of childcare and working that somehow we managed to get through.

Decades later there were two blond, beautiful women ambling down a Conway street, one expecting a baby in less than two weeks. So in a sense, I was walking behind three generations although I couldn’t see the tiny one’s face or form – yet. Plus, they were in Conway. Conway. A city with a lot of history for these two and many, many others. You could almost sense the spirits of their ancestors hovering about.

Early the next morning my daughters and grandchildren were up and about making preparations for a couple of hours on the strand. I was in beach attire, and Colton, the little five-year-old kept playing (best word here) with my upper arms. “Why does your skin shake like this, Grandmama?” he asked as he flicked it back and forth.

“Leave Grandmama’s arms alone,” his mother instructed. “Do you think she’s enjoying that?”

Ah, the challenges of getting older. It’s neither fun nor attractive to have flabby arms, but what are my choices? Some people have surgery, but then there are scars to deal with. Plus, there may be more limited use of movement and strength. My intention right now is to keep them covered and focus on the wonderful things my arms have allowed (still allow). For starters, hugging people. I love that. Also driving my car, picking up things, and chalk painting furniture. I started to say “typing,” but I know there are people out there who might remind me of stronger souls than I who have learned to type holding a pencil in their mouths.

That same day I went for a walk on the beach, and four older ladies (75?) stopped me and asked me to take their picture. Happily, I complied. I snapped about four pictures, and hopefully one will be flattering of all four. When I handed the camera back, one of the foursome asked, “Can you even see her face?” She was referring to one of the group who did not want to have her picture made.

“Yes, she’s trying to hide, but she’s there.”

“Hey, it’s a memory,” I said. “Y’all are gonna love looking at it later and remembering this beautiful day when you were together and happy,”

“Yeah, listen to her. She understands,” one of the women said as I turned away to continue my walk.

That little five-year-old is now on the patio with me—no more writing for hours—maybe days. But life is good. I have great friends, arms to embrace this little fellow, and some good beach memories.

Doing my best to “seize the shining moments.” What about you?

The Pressure’s On

The pressure’s on. As Valerie and I sat together waiting for the meeting to begin Sunday, she leaned toward me and said, “I enjoy looking at your “Pic of the Day.”

“Aw, you’re so sweet,” I told her. And she is sweet. Charming too. And funny and lovable.

She continued, “I’ve started taking some pictures too. And so has Elodie. I got a camera for her, and now we both look for pictures to take every day.”

Elodie is in elementary school and is 6 or 7 years old.  I was stunned and surprised and pleased all at the same time. It’s one thing for an adult to begin noticing favorite sights to snap pictures of, but it’s quite another for a young child to follow suit.  I found the thought of mother and daughter looking for scenes to snap heartwarming, especially since they had been influenced by me.

Encouraged by Valerie’s news, I prattled on. “It’s amazing how much more attention I pay to my environment when I know I’m going to post something each night. Even if no one pays attention to the photographs, they mean something to me.”

“Oh, we love them,” Valerie assured me.

By the way, I can’t do justice to her wonderful accent. Having been raised on an island near France, Valerie’s speech is enviable and makes everything she says twice as delightful. We all want to talk the way Valerie does, melodic and pleasing.

The music started, and our meeting began. Three days later I’m remembering our conversation and thinking of how marvelous it is that we have the technology to take pictures instantly. As long as our smart phones are charged, we can snap as many photographs as we want to and instantly delete the ones that are “not-so-hot.” Some have too much light, others are taken from a funny angle, and still others don’t do the subject justice.

But I think what I like best is that pictures, just like words, can be used to chronicle the events of our lives. I’ve kept a journal for the past 20 years, and while I plan to continue that, it’s even better to have an additional means of recording history, mine and yours and theirs. Plus, taking pictures forces me to be more mindful. Without a handy camera and a desire to look more closely at this wonderful world, I would have missed many breathtaking sights. Well, okay, all aren’t breathtaking, but all of my pictures tell some sort of story.

I’ve yet to snap one single picture today, but I’ll remedy that when I go on a walk soon. I hope Valerie and Elodie found something worth capturing and that my “Pic of the Day” will please them.
 

Kitchen Company

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No heavy duty thoughts tonight. Just a few insights and feelings that I had while working like a maniac in the kitchen Friday.

We were snowbound for a couple of days here in the sunny South this week, and at some point I started paying attention to recipes. A one-layer chocolate cake recipe grabbed my attention, and when I clicked the link, I saw the magic words “unsweetened cocoa.” How can a person go wrong with the real stuff in a recipe? I’ve made my share of chocolate cakes and have doctored them up to make them a little more delectable, but I knew that nothing short of bona fide cocoa could provide the rich chocolate flavor I craved. With the thought of my grandchildren arriving later in the day, I got out the big mixing bowl.

Lining up the baking soda, baking powder, vanilla, eggs, and other ingredients required more work than opening a box of Duncan Hines mix and adding eggs, water, and oil. And yet, I found that I got into the task (?) right away. I listened to my iPod and started measuring the all-purpose flour.

As I added the baking soda, I recalled the words of my mother. “Always break the lumps up. If you don’t, someone might bite down into a bitter clump in the cake.” I heard her voice again as I began applying butter to the pan. Years and years ago, I couldn’t figure out how to grease a pan with Crisco without getting greasy hands, and again my mother came to my rescue. “Just use a paper towel to rub it on,” she said.

I doubled the recipe because of the number of people who would be sharing the cake, and when plundering through the pots and pans to find a second one, I found a pink heart-shaped dish that my daughter Elizabeth had given me. “Perfect!” I thought. It will be Valentine’s day in a couple of weeks, and we can start celebrating LOVE MONTH this weekend. Then I thought about Lizbeth and how much she has taught me about placing culinary creations on pretty plates and platters. “It’s all about the presentation, Mom.”

Cakes in the oven, I took a look around the kitchen and felt a little heartsick. The counters were covered with cocoa and flour, cracked egg shells were resting in the sink, and the boxes and bottles of ingredients were scattered everywhere. And the mixer and beaters…what a mess. How in the world did so much batter get on the mixer???

Immediately I thought of my Grandmother Padgett, a superb cook but a messy one. Standing there looking at my counters, I could visualize MaMa Padgett whizzing around her small kitchen. From the sink to the counter to the stove and back to the sink she’d go, leaving a trail of flour with every move she made. I can still taste her “angel biscuits” and pound cake, the latter often chock full of walnuts.

But back to Jayne’s kitchen. After the cake cooled, I used a chocolate glaze purchased right off of the Wal-Mart shelf. It didn’t feel like cheating since I’d cooked the rest of the cake without a mix or short cut. Was it a success? Let’s just say that the last image I had of my grandson Braden before he and his family left my house yesterday was of him chowing down on the two pieces of cake I had put aside for our dessert last night. Did I stop him? No way! I looked at him and thought of what my mother would had done if she’d seen a grandchild enjoying that last little treat. I just smiled and tousled his hair.

If you’d seen me in my kitchen Friday, you’d have thought I was alone. But I wasn’t. I had three of my favorite relatives with me the whole time, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the dozens of lessons I’ve learned in the kitchen, some about food preparation and some about life.

Along the Waccamaw

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We were sitting in the Trestle enjoying lunch when my husband called. Although I rarely take calls while in the company of others, especially during a meal, I decided to answer this one. I figured it must have been important since I’d already talked to him once that day.

He has the  “find my phone” app and knows where I am 24/7.

“Hey! I see you’re already on the way home.”

“No, I’m in Conway having lunch with Carrie and the California crowd,” I said as I smiled at Emma who was devouring her chicken strips with great gusto.

“Oh.” And then after a pause, “Well, are you leaving from there?”

“No, I actually have to go back to the beach before I leave.”

“That’s crazy! Why are you doing that?”

“Because there are 11 of us, and we couldn’t all fit in one car.  I’m a driver today and have been pointing out some of the sights of the area to Rich’s mom and sisters.”

“Well, when are you leaving Conway? Right after lunch?”

I was beginning to get un poco annoyed. It was hard to explain the desire/need  to spend every possible moment with the people around the table to someone who lives within a 30 mile radius of everyone he loves.  “Uh, well, we’re doing the whole River Walk thing first.”

Silence. Then, “Let me know when you leave.”

I promised to be home by dark and hung up the phone just as Brook asked if I’d share my sour dough bread with her. The Trestle in Conway has the best sour dough bread in SC, and Brooke, my 8-year-old granddaughter, apparently felt the same way.

We laughed and talked and had several photo ops. I bought a huge piece of chocolate pound cake to share with everyone, but my plans came to naught since 4-year-old Colton apparently thought I had bought it especially for him. After getting impatient with sharing the fork, he dug into it with his tiny fingers and pushed a savory bite into his mouth.

When we got down to the last bite, I offered to split it and share it with him. Keep in mind that I had only enjoyed two measly bites.

“Okay,” he said. “But how about I get the big bite?”

Bills paid and tips left, we took off for a stroll along the River Walk, and what a great time was had by all.  With temperatures in the low 70’s and the sun shining down through the majestic trees, the weather was beautiful. Old Man River just kept on gliding along, and we felt ourselves relaxing to its rhythms. Boats and at least one kayak slid by on the calm surface of the Waccamaw, and dozens of people sat on benches or sauntered along taking in the beauty of the scene. It didn’t take much imagination to think that this could have been an October afternoon in 1713 instead of 2013.

While the need to head for home and responsibilities nagged at my consciousness, I refused to succumb to “duty demands” and was determined to relish every moment of the afternoon. The children picked flowers for Aunt Heidi’s hair, and she was a good sport about it. Later I noticed three of the little ones surrounding Heather on a bench overlooking the Waccamaw. They were caught up in conversation with her, and I loved seeing the interaction between them. Glancing at the scene, I noticed for the first time just how much Brooke looked like her aunts, her father’s twin sisters.

There are many scenes tucked away in my memory bank from that special afternoon, too many to recount. Still, I’m listing one from each of the people I shared the hours with.

  • Carrie snapping pictures right and left. At one point, Colton jumped on her as she squatted down to capture just the perfect picture of Seth. Seth decided to get in on the fun, and it was fun to see her immobilized by the two tiny people.
  • Emma picking up acorns and placing them in strategic places for the squirrels to find.
  • Colton picking up what he perceived to be a unique rock and asking me to hold it for him. (I still have it)
  • Braden gleefully fun photo bombing his aunts’ pictures.
  • Seth sleeping peacefully throughout the hustle and bustle around him throughout lunch.
  • The interaction between my grandchildren and their California grandmother and aunts. Love abounded, and it touched my heart.

It was an awesome afternoon with lots of laughter and special moments. Maybe someone else who was there beside the Waccamaw that day will chime in with a memory. Or maybe someone out there in Cyberspace will share a memory of a time when he or she snatched a few hours from the daily round to make some memories.

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!

More Path Crossing

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post about seizing the special moments in life with the realization that you “may never walk this way together again.” A couple of things have reemphasized the truth of that statement, one being a wonderful conversation with my friend June last night and the other this picture hanging on the wall of one of our bathrooms. It’s a half bath right off the kitchen, and I find myself darting in and out of there often for scissors, cotton balls, or quick mirror checks

This photograph ALWAYS makes me smile when I walk into the caramel colored little bath. It was taken on a pier in Manteo, NC on November 13, 2011. My brothers, Mike and David, and I had just completed a half-marathon and were happy to be finished! The two young women, Elizabeth and Sarah Beth, had participated in an 8K the day before, and the handsome young man is my nephew Chris. He had arrived just that morning to cheer us on and was the first family member I saw as I neared the end. With a charming smile, he said, “Looking good, Aunt Jayne! The others are right around the corner.” The two other women in the photograph are my sisters-in-law, Lisa and Becky, our biggest supporters and the ones who kept all of us straight. That morning they had arisen at the crack of dawn to take us to the race start a couple of miles away.

Introductions and background complete, there are dozens of things that looking at this picture brings to mind. When I see it, I remember so many of the things we shared and did together in the Outer Banks that weekend. While we all have our individual memories, we have our shared ones too. In no certain order, here are some of mine:

  • Getting in a little fender bender on the way back from the Expo that first night. My brother David was driving, and when the light changed to green, he inched forward. Unfortunately, the car in front of us didn’t move, and he gently bumped it. Being honest and upright and all that other good stuff, we pulled over to a parking lot and called the police. There were no nicks or scratches on either car, and yet the woman driving the other car claimed that the incident had shattered the glass in her back of their small station wagon. Mysteriously, there was no sign of glass anywhere…not even in the window! Although the police report said there was no sign of damage, the couple filed a claim. David and Elizabeth and I were in the car at the time, and we all decided that it WOULD NOT spoil our weekend. There are fraudulent people everywhere, and we just happened upon two of them.
  • The delicious meal that Becky prepared on Friday night. Six months later, I can still see and taste the salad that she prepared for us. And the spaghetti was delicious too! During the scrumptious meal, we talked and laughed around the table, and afterwards we adjourned to the living room for more conviviality (Mike will love that I used that word).
  • The shell covered horse statue at the school where Elizabeth and Sarah Beth began and ended the 8K.
  • Our excitement as the girls crossed the finish line and had their picture made with a pirate.
  • Lunch at Big Al’s. Loved the food and atmosphere.
  • The afternoon spent shopping, browsing, and sightseeing in Manteo.
  • Trips down to the beach to collect shells and marvel at the majesty of the ocean.
  • Standing in her bedroom while Becky showed me her collection of shells.
  • The lights on the pier seen from the strand.
  • Thinking of parents and feeling their influence on us. Seeing their DNA reflected in my brothers, daughter, niece, and nephew.
  • Missing my sis and wishing she could be with us.
  • David preparing a small pre-race breakfast on marathon morning.
  • The sights and sounds along the marathon route, including a crazy looking lady cheering us along. She was really a man dressed like a woman.
  • Finishing the half marathon and seeing Elizabeth at the finish.
  • Aching feet. In fact, in the picture my shoes are unlaced, and I’m standing on the backs of them. I remembered that when I looked at the picture and wondered why my legs looked so misshapen.
  • Watching people get beer from a beer truck. Kind of funny.
  • Chowing down on a free barbecue sandwich.
  • Laughing and chatting with my family as we got caught up in the post-race excitement around us.
  • Stopping for the brief shining moment (above) on the pier before leaving Manteo. We loved the flags, especially the American one that was blowing so beautifully in the breeze that day.
  • Topping the weekend off with lunch at Big Al’s.
  • Packing up and bidding everyone farewell.
  • Driving/riding down that long, long, long road back to civilization and taking in the coastal, marshy scenes.

Since that day, there have been changes both large and small. Nothing ever stays the same, right? I began a grandmother again with the birth of Ethan Paul Crolley on March 4, and Chris graduated from law school on May 6. It’s nice having a new baby and a new lawyer in the family!

I’m so glad the eight of us were together for these moments in time. I can’t speak for the younger set, but I’m pretty sure that my brothers and their wives and I will be on that pier for yet another photograph this November. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even convince my husband that it’s worth the seven hour drive.